Chapter Four

The waiting was interminable; each minute that passed added to Hutch's jaw grinding tension and irritability.

When the hell was he going to get to see Starsky? His own rising impatience was wearing Hutch down. Making do with pacing and vending machine coffee, he waited for Dobey to join him again. His captain had left to talk with the two Homicide cops and the female lawyer representing Starsky – the four of them huddled on the opposite side of the Emergency Room waiting area, but still within Hutch's full view. Not privy to the investigation involving Starsky, Hutch felt displaced at being excluded from any discussion that concerned his partner. His resentment left him edgy and ready to erupt.

Eventually the lawyer and the detectives exited; he knew they were headed to see Starsky. At the thought of Starsky being questioned by the two cops – even with his lawyer present - Hutch felt his neck grow stiff.

Then Dobey returned.

"So the doctor's cleared it for Homicide to question him?" Hutch's tone was resentful. "I thought they would have to wait until his medical state improved."

"He's only allowing them a few questions," Dobey said. "Starsky won't be ready to be seriously questioned until tomorrow. Tanya's in with them –she'll field the questions."

"I damn well hope she does." Hutch was tense. "And what about IA? Are they going to try to get to him again tonight as well?"

"Calm down, Hutch. No. The closest they'll get to Starsky before tomorrow is to his lawyer."

"Thank God for that. The last thing Starsky needs is another round with Carlson tonight. He shouldn't even have been permitted to get to him the first time."

The look Dobey gave him was wary and Hutch knew he was treading around him carefully. No doubt his captain was picking up on his thinning tolerance. "The two Santa Monica boys want to talk to you when they've finished with Starsky. Just a few minutes that's all. Some brief questions."

Hutch sighed. "When do I get to see Starsky, Cap'n? Can you clear it with them to let me in when they've finished with the both of us?"

"We'll see what they have to say after they talk to his lawyer. I suppose it depends on whether they think they've got enough basis to pin an arrest on him or not."

Hutch swallowed at the thought. He couldn't go there – couldn't allow himself to consider the complications and pain a formal arrest would cause for Starsky.

The Santa Monica cops were done quickly, Starsky's lawyer obviously doing her job.

Dobey eyed them as they approached. "You ready for this, Hutchinson?"

Hutch merely pressed his lips together in resignation. He wasn't ready for any of this. How could any of this be happening? Starsky shouldn't be segregated from him under police watch and he shouldn't be waiting for two cops to ask him about his ex-wife's murder.

Dobey stood. "I'll see if I can clear it with the doctor for you to have some time with Starsky." He stopped and fixed Hutch with a steely eye. "Try to keep your cool, okay? Antagonizing them won't protect your partner."

Hutch would have smiled if he weren't so tired. "Too late, Cap'n. My 'cool' left long ago. But – don't worry – " he added as an afterthought, "I'll keep it together as best as I can."

The two detectives moved together across the room. They were both in their mid forties and obviously seasoned cops. Hutch had already picked them as established partners. He only hoped their experience would go in Starsky's favor.

Hutch consoled himself by thinking that two solid cops could make short work of shaking out Starsky's innocence in Vanessa's death. That he himself had no clear idea of what Starsky's role in her death entailed was too frightening to think about.

As it turned out, their interview was brief, their manner courteous and their questioning direct. Hutch did his best to answer their questions. He had to admit again that he was ignorant of Starsky's secret meeting with Vanessa and how she might have been involved with him. He hated knowing he was in the dark about it and was in his apartment stewing over thoughts of Starsky and Lydia while his partner and his ex-wife were fighting for their lives in Starsky's home.

He accepted the usual advice to remain in the city, wishing he could ask them what they intended to do with Starsky. They wouldn't discuss Starsky's involvement with him, regardless of his status in the Department.

"Can I see my partner now if the Doc allows me in?" Hutch asked them. "I haven't laid eyes on him since he was brought in here and –"

The two cops looked at each other before the one who had introduced himself as O'Hanlon spoke. "We're aware of that, Detective, and your captain has already requested it. Officer Perez has been instructed to allow you in. We'll need to confer with your captain and the lawyer about arrangements once Sergeant Starsky is released from the hospital. Oh – and Detective Hutchinson, might I add our condolences on the death of your ex-wife. I understand how difficult this whole situation must be for you."

Yeah – a murdered ex-wife and my partner and best friend as prime suspect. It sure doesn't get any more difficult than that…

Hutch only nodded and walked away, his body taut. He'd never felt this much apprehension at the prospect of seeing Starsky.


Outside Starsky's exam room, Officer Perez acknowledged Dobey and Hutch and moved aside for them to enter.

Dobey stopped Hutch before he pushed open the door. "You go in by yourself. You need some time with him."

"Thanks, Captain. I appreciate it." Hutch wasn't sure what he needed from Starsky, this whole situation was new terrain for both of them.

Dobey looked like he understood Hutch's uncertainty. "The doctor says he can go home once they arrange for some pain meds and make sure his nausea has settled. I need to square up the paperwork from the treating doctor and arrange for his discharge into your care. Homicide and IA have agreed to allow him to go home with my assurance that he will be available for additional questioning tomorrow."

"So, no formal charges?" Hutch asked. Dobey hesitated a little too long, prompting Hutch to add. "No arrest?"

"No. Of course, he's suspended from duty – his gun is evidence, and he'll have to turn in his badge. Starsky's already been informed."

Hutch considered Starsky's situation. Life hadn't been easy for him since the Clare and Carlson debacle, but this evening's events had propelled Starsky's life from being rocky to treacherous.

"Go on in, son," Dobey said. "I'm sure he's as impatient to see you as you are to see him."

Finally, he was standing at the doorway of Starsky's exam room. His partner was still, lying flat on the narrow bed, dressed in one of those ridiculously flimsy gowns that Hutch knew Starsky abhorred. Suppressing a smile at the desperate hold Starsky had on the inadequately small cover sheet, Hutch could feel his partner's mortification at having to wear the get up.

At the sound of someone entering, Starsky turned his head quickly and Hutch got his first look at him. His normally olive complexion was chalky against the white pillow, and the bruising from the blow to his head was already beginning to mottle his temple and forehead. As Starsky realized Hutch was there, he scrabbled to pull himself into a sitting position. Before Hutch could get to him, he was upright, his arm bracing his middle to splint his tender ribs. "Hutch – Oh God. Finally…" he croaked out, his voice coarse with emotion.

"Whoa there – not so fast." Hutch made it to his side in time to stop Starsky from hitting the floor, his face bloodless.

"Ah – shit." He teetered toward Hutch, his legs giving out as Hutch seized him under the arms and managed to hold him up.

"Starsky! Jesus – what the hell are you trying to do? You're supposed to be on the bed, not beside it on the floor. Just relax, will you - " Hutch stilled his twisting movements, "and let me get you back in bed."

Hutch made short work of getting him horizontal, easing Starsky's head down and his body onto the bed. Starsky moaned and tried to roll onto his side. Hutch knew his partner well enough to recognize the imminent signs of Starsky about to be sick.

"Don't feel - so hot Hutch. Oh hell…I'm gonna – be –"

Holding Starsky with one arm, Hutch reached over to snatch a plastic kidney tray from the side table with the other. "It's okay, Starsky – Just let it go."

Starsky took a death grip on his partner's arm and fixed him with a stricken gaze that Hutch knew had more to do with his emotions than his physical state.

Hutch held him firmly while he watched his friend breathe deeply, swallowed back what was obviously a building wave of nausea. Hutch knew he was trying to win the battle against his churning stomach and as Starsky swallowed and breathed he found himself unconsciously breathing with him, willing the sensation to pass. He knew how much his partner detested vomiting and would do anything to circumvent it. He found a small hand towel on the table and quickly doused it with ice water from a small tray of cubes and used it to gently dab at Starsky's brow and clammy neck. He was rewarded when some color returned to Starsky's skin.

"Oh God, I hate that. There is nothing worse than that feeling. You know how I hate to spew, Hutch." Starsky moaned as Hutch was still patting his mouth with the damp cloth.

"I know you do, babe, so why don't you act like a good patient and lie still, hmmn? It's all the sudden movement that is causing the nausea."

"But I need – I need – to get up and talk to you, Hutch. When I saw you finally – I – well I've been waitin' and waitin' for you to come… I need to tell you what happened – Vanessa –" Starsky's normally confident voice sounded like a bewildered child's and it ripped at Hutch's insides. He didn't trust himself to give into his need to reach out and offer the comfort he so wanted to give. Instead, he lapsed into serious mode to hide his reactions.

"Have you been sick already? You know that's a sure sign of a serious concussion, Starsky."

Starsky shook his head. "Not sick – no. Only just now." He took a jagged breath. "There's so much I need to tell you, Hutch. Just let me sit up a little to – "

Despite Hutch's advice, Starsky gripped Hutch's shoulder, struggling to sit up. The look in Starsky's eyes – dark blue and storm-filled in his bruised and swollen face - was now too much for him to bear. Hutch cursed softly as he eased his hip onto the narrow bed. Unaware that he was even doing it, he reached out to release a curl of dark hair trapped beneath the bandage on Starsky's temple.

"God damn it, Starsky, you're a stubborn man." Hutch frowned in frustration. "I'm going to have to sit on you if you don't lie still. There's a nurse hovering outside, and if she gets one look at you like this, there's no way you'll be getting out of here tonight." With firm pressure, he pushed Starsky back against the pillows. "There – is that better?" Hutch was pleased to even more color returning to Starsky's face. "Is the nausea passing?"

Starsky's grip on his shoulder intensified and he fixed Hutch with an almost desperate stare. "Vanessa was shot, Hutch, with my fuckin' Beretta in my apartment. My own gun, for God's sake. I couldn't get to her…" He closed his eyes and forced out the words. " I'm sorry – sorry I couldn't save her Hutch."

"I know, Starsk. I know Vanessa is dead."

"You know?" For one wild moment, Starsky looked disoriented. As Hutch became concerned that he might have a significant concussion, Starsky shook his head as though to clear it. "Of course you'd know. That's why you're here."

"Starsky, I'm here to see you. Are you sure you're alright? How bad is the head – really?"

His questions were brushed off as once more Starsky looked frantic. "They would have gone to you after – he would have gone to you after he left me. Carlson? Did Carlson tell you?" Starsky's eyes grew dark with anger.

"Yes – Carlson and Simonetti, both of them. I thought when I saw them at my door…I thought they were going to tell me that you were seriously hurt – or dead." Hutch squeezed Starsky's hand transmitting the fear he'd felt and his relief that it had not come to pass.

"I should have been the one to tell you, but they wouldn't let me. I'm so sorry, Hutch. Van – killed in my own place and I couldn't even be the one to tell you." Starsky's hand patted at his partner's cheek, and Hutch brought his own hand up to cover it. "You okay, Hutch? It must have been such a shock to be told like that."

"Yeah – I'm okay, babe. Just thankful that you're in one piece – even if a bit beat up." Hutch touched Starsky's discolored temple.

"Hutch – I didn't have a chance to stop them. I would have stopped her dyin' if I could –" He cut off midsentence when a nurse entered the room and stood to the side, waiting. He sighed at the intrusion, and Hutch felt apologetic for her as she stood awkwardly watching them. They remained as they were, close to each other.

She looked unsure as she moved closer to the bed. "Can you excuse me for a moment? I need to do the last set of observations on Mr. Starsky now, and then the doctor wants to see you both."

Hutch nodded and moved off the bed. "Of course."

Starsky however made it clear he did not appreciate the interruption. "How many observations do I damn well need? I'm sure you only did those five minutes ago. I was talkin' to my partner." Starsky was not usually offhanded with the nursing staff and his irritated remark underscored how tense he was feeling.

"That's correct, Mr. Starsky – head injury observations need to be done very frequently," the nurse said.

"Starsky, just let the nurse do her job, will you? Just try to relax. We can talk later." Hutch stood off to the side and gave Starsky a small smile of encouragement, pleased to see him lay passive as she checked his pupils and blood pressure.

The nurse picked up the abandoned kidney dish on the bed. "Are you experiencing nausea, Mr. Starsky?"

Hutch jumped in before Starsky denied it. "He had a bit of it when I first came in. Has he been vomiting?" Hutch didn't miss Starsky's scowl.

"No, he hasn't, and he's here lookin' at you so why don't ya just ask me instead of her?" Starsky grouched.

The nurse threw a knowing grin at Hutch. He raised his brows back at her. "Just ignore him – he's never a happy patient."

The nurse smiled, relaxing in their company. "No, he has not been sick, and the tests have all been satisfactory. Apart from a nasty cut and some swelling near his hairline, he appears to be stable."

"There – ya see? I'm fine," Starsky said.

Voices at the door signaled the arrival of Dobey and the doctor, and Starsky threw up his hands at the second interruption. "Hutch, please, I need to tell you –"

"Later – you can tell me everything you need to later, Starsky. Just let the doctor tell us what he has to." Hutch understood his partner's impatience. He, too, wanted privacy so the two of them could talk this whole thing through.


It took another thirty minutes to finalize the discharge. The doctor was satisfied that Starsky would have supervision for the next twenty-four hours, and Dobey would vouch for his detectives to be available the next day for questioning.

Starsky sat quietly during the discharge proceedings and accepted everything said to him with quiet reserve. By the time they were ready to leave, Hutch felt that his tired partner would have agreed to anything if it meant getting out of the place.

It was not much different for Hutch either. As Hutch pushed Starsky out to his beat-up car in a wheelchair, he wondered if they would find the energy to have the talk Starsky wanted. Hutch leaned down to him. "You ready to leave?"

"If it means gettin' out of here – I'd let you wheel me out on a hospital bed," Starsky said, summoning up a weak smile.


Settled into the passenger seat of Hutch's latest crummy Ford, Starsky found his last reserve of energy expended on the flyaway bucket seat which, despite whatever lever he cranked, still managed to drop backwards precariously into a sudden, sharp recline.

"Useless piece of shit. Can't even give me a break when I'm in an invalid state."

Hutch shrugged philosophically. "Tonight, that might work to your advantage. Put your head back and rest."

Starsky would have normally added that he had little choice in the matter, his seat angle already determined by the general decay of the car's moveable parts. Tonight he didn't.

Their combined mood was somewhere between somber and shell-shocked. Starsky knew Hutch wanted to hear all the details of his hellish night, but he also knew Hutch understood that he desperately needed a reprieve.

Silence, for now, was recuperative.

Tonight, home would be Venice Place for both of them, and Starsky looked forward to getting to their destination. His own ocean side apartment was, after all, a crime scene, soiled with blood and covered in forensic dusting powder. Violated, just as much as he felt violated by the messy drama of Vanessa's murder.

They made good time getting back to the familiar sandstone façade of Hutch's small apartment. It was so familiar that Starsky felt almost weepy by the time they climbed the stairs, like he was returning home after some drawn out jail sentence. Walking into the homely confines of Hutch plant-filled home, the guilt started to fall away from Starsky.

He was accepted here; he mattered here.

That was because this was where Hutch lived, and Hutch - out of everyone in the world - accepted him unconditionally.

For Hutch, Starsky knew, he would always be the good guy. No matter how much angst and rage and shit he threw around, Hutch knew who and what he was deep down.

Just as well, too, Starsky thought, because lately he was forgetting it himself. Lately, he was starting to believe his own bad press and he was getting sick of it. After the horror of the night he just had, he wanted to move on from all of the anger he harbored and projected onto the world since Clare had betrayed him.

They made it inside, weary and battle worn, and when Hutch closed the door, Starsky could not help but think he was closing the door on the world outside, sealing them both inside to the cocoon and safety of Hutch's domain. It was a poetic thought for him, and it wasn't like him. He wasn't prone to artful expression or fancy metaphors but right then, Starsky knew it was very close to how he really felt. After all, nothing about the last twenty-four hours had been typical for him anyway.

He stood in the middle of the room taking in the comfort of Hutch's small living space. He tried to find the words that he was so eager to get off his chest when he first saw Hutch back at the hospital. Now all the unspoken urgent words were stuck in his throat like small rough stones, abrasive and choking as though they really were rammed in his airways.

"The first mistake I made I was not tellin' you she wanted to see me –" he tried to begin, feeling pitifully inadequate with how it sounded.

Hutch walked a few steps away and shrugged out of his jacket. Away, not toward him and Starsky was suddenly unsure of what it meant, and even more unsure of himself.

"Hutch –"

"Are you up to a shower? I'll have something ready for you to eat when you get out," Hutch asked him as he folded his jacket with slow precise movements and draped it over the back of the kitchen chair.

Starsky waited a breath, thinking about what Hutch was doing and why. Making it easier for him, or at least thinking he was doing so. Transitioning him into the difficult part where they faced each other about what had gone on.

"Aren't we going –" Starsky tried again.

"Not yet. You're beat and need a shower to ease down."

"No, what I need is to talk to you."

"Shower then food – then we'll talk. Neither of us can sleep anyway."

Starsky closed his eyes against the determined strength that was Hutch. "This is our life, isn't it, Hutch? Always needin' each other to take the sharp edges away?"

"Yeah – this is our life, Starsk. Always getting hurt and hurting." Hutch's eyes shone with what Starsky suspected were probably the first real emotions he had allowed himself since he had learned Vanessa was dead. His words cut right into Starsky's heart.

Starsky held his hand out toward him. "I would never hurt you, you know that don't you? Whatever happened tonight – I never meant for anything like this to happen or for this to hurt you."

Hutch busied himself with hanging his gun and holster in the entry cupboard, his eyes anywhere but on Starsky's face. Starsky stood still. He couldn't move. Not until Hutch gave him some sign that he believed him. He felt like he'd damn well stand plastered to that very spot until he did.

"Hutch, tell me you know that there is nothing I'm keepin' from you."

And then the distance was closed and Hutch was beside him, his big hand a little shaky as it reached up to touch Starsky's mouth with his long fingers.

Unsure of what the action meant and still fearful of Hutch's emotional distance, Starsky felt his whole tired, aching body hum to the feel of those fingers.

"Ssshh. It's okay, Starsk," Hutch said, his voice molten with emotion, chasing away all Starsky's fears that he felt any degree of anger. "I just need time to catch up, that's all." He gave Starsky the sort of smile that always left him warmed all the way through before slowly disengaging those calloused fingers from Starsky's now parted lips. "I'll get you some food and fresh coffee."

Starsky wanted to say that he didn't want food and coffee – he just wanted Hutch not to take away his touch.

When the warm fingers lost the contact with his lips, Starsky was shocked at how bereft he felt. He was left with an inexplicable sense of loss so acute that even ten minutes under a steaming jet of hot water and a heavy dose of sensible rationale didn't take away.


Hutch pushed the plate with the uneaten sandwich he had prepared for Starsky to the side of the coffee table and surveyed his partner as he sagged against the couch. He was showered and dressed in old track pants of Hutch's and a faded t -shirt, which, Starsky suspected, may have well spent its early life in his own wardrobe. So much of their clothing wound up in each other's laundry baskets it was no longer possible to know who was who's. Not that it even mattered to either of them. Starsky fingered the soft fabric of the t-shirt, pulling it away from the raw skin of his battered chest, and then stopped suddenly when he realized Hutch was watching the movement of his hand on his own chest.

"Hurting?" Hutch's eyes trailed Starsky's hand as it settled to a stop on his chest.

"Some. Not too bad."

"Not hungry?" Hutch asked.

"Thought I was. Turned out I'm not." Starsky's tired half grin tried to lighten the heavy atmosphere. "Sides – my jaw and temple ache when I chew."

"I could make you some soup," Hutch offered, but didn't look like he could move off the couch, Starsky thought. He seemed almost as battle weary as Starsky felt.

"Nope. Nothin'. Just want to sit."

Here with you where everything feels good and safe and…

The gaze that was fixed on his chest was torn away and focused instead on his head, the soggy bandage long gone in the aftermath of Starsky's refusal not to wash his hair.

"That's some lump you've got on your head. You shouldn't have pounded it with water – you're lucky you didn't open up the cut again."

Starsky grimaced. "Can't stand dried blood in my hair. It's like shit on a blanket. Anyway it's not that deep so I think it'll heal up pretty fast. Thank Christ I didn't need sutures. Hate havin' those damn things in my skin."

"I'll drink to that," Hutch said. And he did, swirling around what must have been his fourth generous nip of scotch. His eyes tracked around the room and Starsky couldn't help but think he was looking a little lost in his own home.

By rights, Hutch should have been drunk by now, but didn't appear anywhere near it. Maybe, Starsky thought, that was because Hutch's denial was thick and resilient. It would take a lot of alcohol to get to the raw grief and shock beneath that, that Hutch hadn't seem inclined to go anywhere near while they'd been talking.

It was late, closer to morning than night, and even though Starsky knew they were both emotionally wrecked, he sensed they both felt reluctant to sleep. Neither of them seemed able to close out the terrible events of the evening, or, for that matter, let them in.

It was only by being this closely attentive to each other, aware and responsive to each other's mood and shifts in emotion, that they could cope with the reality of the night's horror. They had talked for more than two hours, close together, side by side on the couch, like they had done so many times in their long friendship. Starsky had poured out the memories of the evening, reliving the hell all over again as Hutch sat close, absorbing and buffeting much of Starsky pain.

Now Hutch seemed to have hit the wall, still and pensive as he withdrew into himself, crouched over his glass.

Starsky put his hand on Hutch's arm. "Hey there, Blondie, you've gone all quiet on me."

Hutch looked down into the amber splash of scotch remaining in his tumbler and rubbed at his drawn face. "I – I still can't believe she's dead, Starsky. I can't get it into my head. Tomorrow, life goes on – but – Van is no longer part of that life. You think I'd be used to it – and I am. Hell it's our whole life, death happens most days in our job one way or another…."

"This ain't work, Hutch, and Vanessa was not a job to you. She was a big part of your life."

"Was." Hutch centered on the single word before he threw the last dregs of scotch back. Starsky wondered if he was referring to the fact that she was now dead or her lack of involvement in his recent life. Either way it sounded sorrowful and empty.

He wondered if Hutch was going through the whole event all over again in his mind. Not so different to how it was for Starsky since he couldn't keep the brutality of Vanessa's death playing over and over in his aching head. Starsky could see Hutch's own distress etched deeply in the crease between his eyes, puckered with tension.

"The worst of it, Starsk, is that she died leaving me angry with her and – that's just so wrong. The entire last two years of our marriage I was angry at her, with her, and all the years in between. And since she came back the other night, if I'm being honest, I was still angry with her." He stopped and lifted his head. "It shouldn't have been like that. She came back here – she damn well should have come to me with all of this shit and laid all her troubles on me – not you. Greedy and selfish. Up until the very end. That was the Vanessa I knew, the Vanessa I was married to. Jesus – the woman never changed."

"We don't know the full story behind her relationship with this Marco guy." Starsky tried to take out a little of the heat in Hutch's vitriol. "Maybe it was real love and not the money from the drugs she was after." Not for a second did he really believe that, but it wouldn't hurt for Hutch to think it.

"That's hardly the case and you know it, Starsky. You knew Van as well if not better than I did when it came to her love of the better things in life. Still, even that's not why I'm so damn angry with her - you know?" He was looking at the wall, then he looked straight at Starsky and the pain in his blue eyes was illuminated by unshed tears. "It's what she did to you."

With each word the weight of his anguish seemed heavier on his shoulders, his self-reflection getting closer to the core of his emotions.

"Vanessa came to you, Starsky," he said, " to the closest person in my life, and brought this danger right to your door. She came back here to LA to corner you. She lied to me to get to you, all so she could try and use you. Dragging up your past for her own gain… Christ, Starsky, you should never have agreed to meet her. Van's always trouble – you should have told me she wanted to see you –"

"I've been through that already, Hutch." And he had, but he could see the ramifications of it all was crashing in on Hutch now that the alcohol had loosened his carefully constructed wall of denial. "I should never have agreed to meet her without your knowledge – but I did and I can't change that now. In some crazy, round about way of fucked up logic I thought that I could somehow stop what Vanessa was planning to do to you by agreeing to stand between the two of you. "

Like I had always tried to stand between her and the pain she caused you. I hated her for that – I'm not apologizing for how she made me feel about her because of what she did to you.

"You know I suspected her illness act was a story. I thought I could get to the bottom of it – without you getting hurt anymore." Starsky added.

"You were right about what you said the other night, Starsk. I was always a complete sucker for her. But I knew this time – I knew she was lying. I just didn't want to tell you –"

"Yeah well we both screwed up. We should have admitted to each other that we didn't buy it, and confronted her with it. It could have changed everything."

"Maybe – though I doubt she would have told us the truth. God knows she rarely ever told me the truth. Even when she was in so much danger, she chose to take it to you, not me, her own ex-husband and a cop."

"Only because she thought I could help her. That I had these connections she thought would help to drag her out of the mess she was in. That's the only reason."

"And in doing that, she came so close to getting you killed with her. I – I almost hate her for that. You could have so easily been killed tonight, too. If you'd died because she – I wouldn't have even known why – never known for sure what had gone on with you and her tonight. How would that have left me feeling?"

"It didn't happen – for whatever luck was on my side this evening, I got to live, and thank Christ I did, because you know I could not stand to think of how it would have been for you to go through years never really knowing or understanding what happened." The next bit was not easy for him to say but he had wanted to say it all night. "I was just so worried that I couldn't get to talk to you and tell you my side of the story until so much later. All the time I had to wait until they let me see you, Hutch, I kept thinkin' you would have been feelin' that I had somehow betrayed your trust. I was sure Carlson would distort it all to make you doubt me." He watched Hutch carefully as he came clean with his admission.

"I'm not proud to admit it, but I can't deny it either, Hutch. I was more devastated about what you'd think of me being found with Vanessa dead, rather than her being dead." There – he'd said it. Not surprisingly, coming clean didn't lessen any of the pain he carried inside. "Shit – isn't that a terrible thing to have to own up to – to you, Hutch – about the woman you were once married to?"

Hutch didn't look like he was judging him in anyway.

"While we're doing confession," Hutch said, "when Carlson told me that Vanessa was dead – in your apartment, with you there, too – " he stammered, then stopped before looking Starsky in the eye. "Christ, Starsky, the fear was so strong that – well that, knowing how you felt about Vanessa – I was so terrified that she'd somehow pushed you into – "

"What a pair, hey?" Starsky shook his head with the hint of sad smile on his lips. "I was worried you'd think I'd betrayed you with Vanessa and you were thinking I was that damn pissed off with her that I might have killed her…."

Hutch's hand curled around his glass in a fierce grip.

"Hey, hey…." Starsky reached out, laying his hand over Hutch's clenched one. "Take it easy on that glass – we don't want to have to drive back to the emergency room to get your hand stitched up when you bust it to pieces. One casualty between us is more than enough for one night." Then he pulled back enough to lift Hutch's chin and get a clear look at his troubled eyes. "It's okay, you know, to let out some of that walled-up emotion – lower those stoic Hutchinson defenses."

Hutch swiped at his face with the heel of his hand and shrugged. "Thing is, Starsk, I don't even know how I really feel about it all. About Vanessa. It's all mixed up with my anger at what could have happened tonight – to you. What's going to happen to you now because of her death."

Starsky nodded in understanding. "I can't say I'm looking forward to what I'll be dragged through either because of her murder – but that aside, Hutch, Vanessa was your wife once. Allow yourself to feel some grief, not just resentment."

"I don't know, Starsk – I can't say what I feel about her being dead. There's shock – of course, there's that…but loss, a sense of loss? I'm not sure what I feel."

"Grief takes time, you know that."

Hutch looked uncertain. "Right up to the end, she was still making selfish choices, still knowing just how to hurt me the most."

"I don't think she was doing any of it to hurt you purposefully. She was just grasping around for solutions – desperate and scared. Fear makes people do that. Fear makes people selfish. Trust me – messing with Tony Durniak is enough to make anyone fearful and more than a little desperate."

Hutch sighed. "What a fool she was. She threw her lot in with some creep who could triple her money by pushing meth around New York."

"She paid a big price for that mess, Hutch. It got her killed."

"Yes, and no doubt her supposed friend in New York – the one she says was helping her – he'll probably end up dead very soon, too, once those guys track him down."

"Hutch, I've given some thought to that. This won't be the last of it. The guys who killed Vanessa won't stop looking for the meth. I don't think Van was telling the truth when she told them her friend in New York had it. If they can't find it, those boys will skew it so that we have Durniak on our tails."

"That's not our only problem, buddy. Lieutenant Carlson is out for your blood."

Starsky tried a small grin. "You know, I don't think Carlson likes me very much, Hutch."

Hutch choked back a snort. "It's the women you choose, pal. They got you into this mess. Clare specifically."

"You're right," his tone adamant and just a little teasing. "That's it for me, Hutch. No longer will women fuck me around."

Staggering a little as he stood, Hutch moved in closer, so close that Starsky could feel and smell the earthy peat of scotch on his moist breath. "Nah – I know what you need Starsk." He paused as though suddenly distracted by the closeness of his partner. His blue eyes deeply earnest and focused despite his inebriation, he brought his hand up to tug gently on Starsky's curls. "What you need, David Starsky, - is to stop fucking women."

Starsky felt Hutch's hand lingering in his hair, his blue eyes unwavering as they held Starsky's gaze for a drawn out moment, before he broke away with a small stumble. Lurching a little Hutch began fumbling clumsily with his shirt buttons, the scotch playing havoc with his co-ordination. Preoccupied with the mammoth task of getting his shirt off, Hutch was no longer looking at him and Starsky was oddly relieved. His face was acutely hot and he knew he was flushed with shock at what Hutch had just said.

"Solid, sound Hutchinson advice." Starsky smiled, trying to cover his flustered state. , "I'll make sure to take it on board, pal."

"Yeah, well – you do that, Starsk, because – because – well, that's what I wanted to tell you. You need to know it, and I – I needed to say it." He looked up again from his button fumbling and Starsky couldn't watch him anymore and smacked his big hands lightly out of the way while he finished the job himself.

Hutch scrunched up his face in thought. "There's probably a better an end to that sentence – it sorta came out all wrong, but right now I don't know what the better end is, so I'm going – to shut up. My mind has gone to sleep, which is where I need to be."

He stood very still, obviously attempting to look serious and in control before he summoned up something else to say. "And you – you – should be in bed. You're s'posed to be restin' that head. Don't forget; we have to meet with IA in only hours." He stabbed a finger at the air with paternal emphasis.

Starsky tried to look suitably put in his place with the advice. His partner was in 'care mode', albeit a slightly drunken one.

"So," Hutch turned around, as though looking for something he had misplaced. "I'm – I'm going to bed." He stared hard at the couch, his face solemn with concentration as though he was trying to solve a very complex problem.

This time Starsky could not help but smile. It had taken long enough, but Hutch had finally succumbed to the scotch. "What's wrong, Hutch? You lost something?"

"There's a problem with my bed," he slurred.

"What problem is that, buddy?"

"Umm - you're on it."

"That's right, I am. That's because it's my bed. You're not taking the couch in your own home, Hutch. Your back..."

"Your poor head." Hutch leaned in to him, patting at the dark curls like he would a small dog, his eyes misty and full of open affection.

"My head is okay. The drugs from the hospital are still working –"

"No - your poor head is busted, Starsk. You need your sleep or you'll be a mess tomorrow."

"Not nearly as much of a mess as I think you're gonna be, babe." Starsky chuckled and moved to steady him as he listed a little too far to the side.

Hutch was making a sound that started out as a weak giggle and became a yawn. "You'd better move or I'm goin' to – to fall asleep on top of you. And, Starsky, I use 'fall' here lit - literally…not –" he tugged ineffectually at the shirt that refused to leave his shoulder and arm, "not the other word, which I can't think of now either. Can't seem to think of anything right."

"Yeah, I can see that." Starsky made short work of freeing him of the shirt just as Hutch tilted precariously toward the couch and tried to lever himself down. Starsky caught him around the waist as he swayed again. Somehow, between the two of them, they managed to get his body onto the cushions so he didn't topple to the floor. With a little more rearranging, Starsky felt satisfied that the long limbed body was as comfortable as he could hope to be on the couch.

With Hutch down for the count, Starsky turned off the lamps and took the plates and glasses to the kitchen. He closed the shutters against the light that would soon be filling the small apartment and took himself off to Hutch's bed in the studio alcove. Knowing that his exhausted body was crying out for sleep, he willed himself to sink down into oblivion. Oblivion that would be short lived, he knew, when waking would bring back all the memories of the horror filled night.

Yet, his mind refused to close down, and so he shut his eyes hard against the first rays of the early grey light and allowed himself to revisit what was in the back of his mind. He went back to what Hutch had said – or rather hadn't said - when he was reflecting on Starsky's declaration to stop allowing women to fuck him around.

"What you need, David Starsky - is to stop fucking women."

Was it the alcohol or had Hutch intentionally omitted the last word "around" to that piece of advice?

All at once hot, constricted and suffocated by the bedcovers, he wrestled them away from his body, sighing with the frustration of chasing sleep that should have taken him as soon as he'd laid down. Careful of his sore ribs, he rolled onto his side and stared out across the half lit room. When his eyes adjusted, he could make out the top of Hutch's head atop the armrest of the couch, the fair hair a ghostly shimmer in the half darkness.

He thought more about Hutch's words and the intent behind them before he gave himself a mental shove.

Jesus, Starsky, you've just escaped death, become the subject of a murder investigation, and been placed on suspension, and what is it that is keeping you awake and taking up all of your thoughts? Trying to figure out the drunken ramblings of your best friend?

How pathetic is that? What the hell is that all about?

He shouldn't have asked himself the question because he'd known the answer for a while now.

With his eyes fixed on the muss of silvery hair, he succumbed to sleep.