Authors' Note: we don't own the guys... but they certainly own our hearts! Please give reviews. They are the air we breathe...the water we drink...the creative juice that will keep this story moving nicely along. Now enjoy the ride and don't forget to pay at the end with a review!

Hutch noticed it the first time he met his new partner. Dave Starsky had been a lot further and seen more than most people. When he was not focused, his far-away blue eyes told the story of something...something unfathomable and profound. He was able to hide it well, and he did it for some reason the blond just couldn't figure out-yet. Dobey, their Captain, was explaining his reasons for pairing the two detectives together and what he expected for them to accomplish in the Bay City Police Department, but Hutch wasn't paying attention. He was listening to something else far more interesting as he studied his new partner from his position by the file cabinet.

But he was looking too deeply. The curly haired brunet, who had taken the chair on the opposite side of the room, felt the gaze and glanced to the side, eyebrow raised and blue eyes inquisitive. Hutch quickly pretended to be engrossed in listening to the Captain talk as he bounced a small racquet ball. Bounce, catch, bounce, catch. Glance. Bounce, catch. Glance.

Then it happened. His new partner held out a hand. Without thinking about it, Hutch bounced the ball on the floor between them and it flew into Starsky's hand like his palm was a magnet and the ball was steel. He bounced it back to Hutch, who deftly caught it as well. The back and forth began.

Dobey was still talking, but neither one of them was listening. They were throwing the ball back and forth, nodding in all the right places, but they were listening to a deeper conversation. In a way Hutch could have never explained to anyone.

Realizing that made him smile to himself, and then Starsky smiled too. However, he became quickly self-conscious, and he looked away when Hutch tried to catch his gaze again.

Hutch felt a little uncomfortable in that red car with such a flashy white stripe on both sides.

It didn't fit police business, and he found it even a little embarrassing ... but Hutch was also aware that his old Ford wasn't enough reliable to make him insist on using it. His new partner didn't say anything while he saw it, but Starsky's look was of slight disapproval when he watched the battered, rusty and creaking car. Hutch didn't even bother to start explaining his opinion about cars: a man who painted his own that way couldn't probably understand the charm and the charisma that lived in a veteran car full of scars and different from any other one of the same model. Or maybe he could understand? Hutch wasn't sure.

The only certain thing was that they were in his partner's "striped tomato" now, as he defined it in his own head without saying it loud, and they were about to have a quick breakfast together before starting their first day on the streets. The day before they agreed it could have been nice to know each other a little before going to work but for some reason neither of them spoke during the ride. They didn't want to be rude, they were just testing each other in the reciprocal presence: that magnetic spark between the two wasn't over yet, but it was hard to determine how much it was pulling them together and how much it was pushing them aside, as if they were either two opposite or two similar poles of that magnet.

Starsky suddenly pulled over in front of a small cafè and explained, "Breakfast here is terrific!"

"Great!" Hutchinson added with an open smile.

Starsky didn't like men who smiled too much or too wide… he thought they were either demanding something or just foolishly unaware of life. However, there was something in Hutch's grin that made him smile back. "Strange thing," he thought.

"A salami sandwich with a lot of cheese and a coke, please," Starsky asked the waitress.

Hutch stared at him with the same kind of wide eyes that his partner had when observing his own wrecked Ford for the first time. At first he thought it was kind of a joke, but the lady nodded as if the request was the most normal in the world and Hutch assumed this was Starsky's usual idea of breakfast .

"An orange juice, wheat toast and some blueberry granola, please ma'am," Hutch said, casting a quick glance to the brunet sitting in front of him. The other man noticed it but he didn't move one single muscle.

"Well, partner." Starsky added when the waitress was gone, emphasizing the word as if he wanted to test it in order to make their new partnership more familiar, "Seems you are the one who'll watch my back, if things come down to it…. Are you sure you'll have the energy to do it after such a rabbit meal?" the tone was sarcastic but it wasn't judgmental and Hutch laughed a little.

"I will, partner," he answered using the same irony, "and I hope your salami breakfast won't slow you down too much to watch mine!"

They both chuckled for a moment, but Starsky's eyes went darker in a minute, as if a veil had covered them all of the sudden, and he ate silently.

Hutch started an easy conversation to break the ice and get to know a little more of the dark-curled head in front of him, but the brunet answered questions without asking any. He seemed quite talkative but Hutch had the feeling that all topics were always grazed and never hit.

The sun outside came in from the glass door of the cafè and it made Hutchinson's golden hair shine, and his blue eyes looked like a piece of sky in the bright white frame of his smile. There was something extremely noble in that creature, Starsky thought, something aristocratic in that well-educated man who drank his "healthy" juice. Maybe there was something too refined in his new partner's shiny revolver hidden under the leather jacket, which couldn't match his own quick Beretta. Maybe. Both men paid for their breakfast and stood up. They walked slowly across the cafè to reach the door, while Hutchinson still had a piece of bread in his hand, chewing as they left the restaurant.

Starsky was about to open the driver's door of his red Torino, when he noticed that his partner wasn't behind him. He stopped and looked for him, and after a second, he spotted Hutchinson by the corner of the building. He was crouched and was giving the remaining part of his toast to a shaggy little dog with large, soulful eyes.

A half- smile escaped Starsky and he thought that, eventually, they would have fit. If not for the past. If not for the jungle and what happened there. The memories caused his smile to turn sad and when Hutch looked up at him, he found he had to look away, the dark veil coming down between them once more.

For a first case, it was grisly. The girl lay in a tortured position on the hotel's dirty excuse for a bed. A small amount of money, less than twenty dollars had been left there, strewn about the body. The bruises on her face and arms, along with the bruises on her throat, showed that she'd been beaten and strangled.

"How old do you think she is?" Hutch asked.

Starsky glanced to the side, meeting Hutch's eyes as he looked up from the small notebook he'd been writing in. "Hard to tell. Sixteen?"

Hutch nodded, eyeing the girl's skimpy outfit and heavy makeup. Her mascara had run, darkening the area underneath her eyes as if she'd shed a few final tears for her squandered life. Instead of transforming her into someone older, the crude makeup only served to emphasize her youth and vulnerability. The abject misery over the loss of life hit him so hard, that he felt his stomach lurch painfully. Unwillingly, he made himself kneel down beside the bed to examine the young girl. He'd seen death before, and he knew this probably wouldn't be the last time he would see such a ghastly scene. "Track marks on her arm." He pointed them out and Starsky made a note.

"Wonder if it was her john that killed her or her pimp?" Starsky stated the facts blankly as if he'd seen this before and Hutch looked up quickly, surprised. Of course…Starsky had been working this part of the city before and the ninth precinct was one of the oldest and most crime-ridden. It was definitely not where the upper crust of Bay City lived.

How did someone get used to this, he thought? He glanced at Starsky again and caught him staring at the girl. For a brief moment he saw a look on his partner's face that matched the feeling he felt in his own stomach. He watched Starsky's face darken and become a mask again, once he realized he was being watched. This guy was obviously not heartless, but he still remained a mystery to Hutch.

"We'll have to have a toxicology screen, but she probably died of compression of the larynx which would have caused asphyxia." Hutch said.

"Sounds like you know what you're talking about, 'Dr. Hutchinson.'" Starsky's voice was not unkind, just inquisitive and slightly teasing at Hutch's extensive use of medical terminology.

Hutch shrugged. "I took two years of pre-med," he explained.

"Oh yeah?" Starsky raised an eyebrow. Maybe that was the difference he'd sensed in his new 'partner' earlier. He'd been to college. No one in Starsky's family had ever made it as far as college, but Starsky had received officer training when he'd gone into the military. "How come you didn't finish it out?"

Hutch shrugged again. "Let's just say I didn't fit the clothes that my family had laid out for me. I wandered around with some hippies for a while, playing guitar, then I ended up here…doing this."

Starsky surveyed him closely, giving a noncommittal nod. Then, he turned instead to give some orders to a uniform at the scene. Damn, thought Hutch, wasn't there anything he could say right to this guy? It made him feel a bit surly and defensive.

Starsky finished instructing the fellow officer to call for a coroner's wagon and police photographer, and ordered another officer to round up witnesses from the seedy hotel for questioning. Then he narrowed his eyes as he took another look at his "partner."

With the good looks, golden hair and perfect smile, he could see this guy a few years younger wandering around with some peace-chanting, soldier-hating hippies. He walked across to the grimy window and looked out, thinking about how badly he'd been treated when he'd finally left home in New York for California.

His hair had still been army-short and he'd had on his green fatigue jacket when he'd gotten off the bus that cool, crisp fall day. There'd been a few strung-out hippies sitting at benches in the station, and he'd heard their derisive comments as he'd walked by. "Baby-killer" and "How many kids did you murder, GI-Joe?" were two of the nicer things that had been hissed at him. He'd done nothing they'd accused him of, but it still stung, on top of everything else he'd been through. This guy Hutchinson didn't seem the same, somehow…but it still made Starsky even more doubtful about his new partner.

He sighed heavily, pushing the unpleasant memories away. Not that there was too much else pleasant to think about, he realized as he turned back to Hutchinson and the dead girl. "We should go interview witnesses." He suggested.

Hutchinson stood up from where he'd been examining the contents of a suitcase on the floor. "Sure." He pointed to the open suitcase and a large macramé purse hung on a chair. "No ID." He said. "Maybe we should check missing person's reports. Go back a few years."

Starsky agreed. "Somebody is missing her, for certain." His eyes were again drawn to the body of the young girl; the empty expression of death on her face was like a movie marquee with all the letters taken down. He'd seen that expression before. On the faces of friends and fellow soldiers. "Damn. We're gonna get this guy…whoever he is." His denim blue eyes met his partner's. "Let's go, Hutchinson."

The more Hutch learned about his new partner, the more he realized he didn't know. The pained expression on Starsky's face as he stared at the victim showed Hutch that he wasn't uncaring or unfeeling. Whatever was going on with him was much more complex than that, and Hutch knew it would take a while to earn this man's trust. However, he could be patient when he needed to be.

"Call me Hutch. Friends call me Hutch." He said.

Starsky turned around and glanced at Hutch, surprised. He couldn't help but return the blond's smile with a tentative one of his own. "Ok, Hutch. Let's go do some interviewing."

Basically, there was no new information to be discovered by the interviews. Witnesses remembered someone…an average height male with brown hair had knocked on the door, but the little old lady who had witnessed it had horrible eyesight. No other distinguishing features were known. Due to the lack of air conditioning, Starsky and Hutch were both hot and frustrated by the time they were done. They'd missed lunch without even realizing it. Hutch wondered how he could be hungry after such a scene.

They hopped back in the Gran Torino and Hutch's stomach growled noisily for the third time. "You know…" Starsky began. "There's a guy that owns a restaurant in this precinct. He knows a lot about what's happening on the street."

"Informant?" Hutch asked.

"Uh…Not exactly. Huggy's sort of a friend."


"Yeah. Wait till you meet him. Pretty cool guy."

"As long as his place has air-conditioning and something to eat, I'm in." Hutch nodded.

Starsky gave him a brief lopsided smile in response.

Hutch was just finishing up his burger and fries while watching Starsky play pool with another of Huggy's regular customers. Apparently the game had been a little heated last Friday night, so the rematch was that much more intense. There was a little money riding on the game as well; the customer, whose name was Jeff, and Starsky had both put up $40. The winner of 2 out of 3 games would take all.

"Starsky's gonna win." The man that Starsky had pointed out as Huggy came over and pulled up a chair next to their booth, so he'd have a good view of the match.

"He seems to play pretty well." Hutch replied, moving his eyes from the match to the owner of the place, a thin black man who looked too young to own his own restaurant. "I'm Ken Hutchinson, Starsky's new partner."

"Huggy." He shook Hutch's outstretched hand. "So Starsky finally got himself a partner, huh?"

"Guess so." Hutch replied.

"Well, well…he's been fighting it for a while now." Huggy replied. "Guess old Dobey finally found someone Starsky could get along with."

Now this was interesting. Hutch tried to seem casual as he went on with the conversation, although he wanted to grill Huggy for information. "What do you mean?"

Huggy shrugged. "Starsky's run off a couple of partners before you. One of them only lasted a day before he put in for a transfer." He raised an eyebrow and examined Hutch more closely.

"Well, it's only been a day." Hutch smiled as he took a sip of his beer. "He's still got time."

"I like you, Hutchinson." Huggy chuckled. "You just might have what it takes to meet the lieutenant's standards."

Hutch's brow furrowed in confusion. "He's a detective sergeant."

Huggy waved a hand. "No, no, man. I mean in the Army. Starsky was in the Army. He can be uh…difficult to work with, so I hear. He only got back from Vietnam a couple of years ago." He became contemplative. "I think that his head's still over there though…know what I mean? You can kinda see it in his eyes sometimes."

Hutch soaked in the information, his mind connecting the dots. "He had a hard time over there?" He stared down into his glass for a second, then moved his eyes back to Huggy's, showing concern in his eyes.

"Yeah." Huggy replied. "I ain't one to spill a guy's secrets or anything, but he needs a friend." He examined Hutch more closely, to judge how much to trust him with. "He lost a lot of people over there, I think. He don't have many left here." He waved a hand toward Starsky, who made a successful shot. "I mean, he knows everyone, and he's as nice a guy as you ever wanna meet. He just don't like to get close to anybody."

"I think I can understand." Hutch said softly. He tried to imagine how much death Starsky had seen. What made someone who'd seen the worst of life decide to be an officer of the law, where he might see much more death and chaos? Starsky certainly didn't enjoy seeing it…that much was obvious by the events of the afternoon. Perhaps the ex-soldier still felt some sense of duty…

Hutch's eyes drifted over to Starsky, who sat watching his opponent, a half-smile on his face. There was something honest and open in that smile but every time Hutch got close to it, Starsky shut the door.

"I heard that you guys were investigating a working girl who got murdered." Huggy glanced Hutch's way.

"Yeah. How'd you…?"

"News travels fast on the street, Hutchinson. I hear that the dead girl was one of Vince Maris's girls, but that's just rumor." He shrugged. "He's a middle level drug hustler with some kind of connections. Hard to track down though…he plays it real cool and has other people do his dirty work."

Hutch began jotting down some of the information in the notebook he carried in his jacket pocket. "It's a place to start, Huggy. I appreciate your help."

Huggy heard the sound of glass breaking in the kitchen and hurriedly stood up. "Well, as you can see, I might be needed in the kitchen. Good luck. And…take care of my man Starsky. He's one of the good ones."

Hutch nodded and shook the outstretched hand. "You bet, Huggy."

The day had been long and the investigation seemed to go on slower than it was expected to.

The face of that girl, as white as wax, was now a nagging thought that didn't leave Starsky and Hutch's minds for one second.

The only positive feeling in the cruel reality of this inquiry was that each one of them could sense in the other the same inexplicable perception about the case. Sharing the same instinct was a new and slightly exciting experience. In fact, they were sure there was something missing in the picture. Something they hadn't got yet but that was bugging both of them.

Feeling in sync with each other had helped them relax a little during the day but their thoughts plagued them. On one side Hutch couldn't shake the words he heard from Huggy the night before. He couldn't watch Starsky's hands without visualizing the blood they had had to touch; he couldn't listen to his strong voice without imagining it broken; he couldn't look at his partner's eyes without picturing in his own mind the images that they could have seen. Starsky was a strongbox full of emotions and memories and Hutch was determined to find out a way to break in, even though he didn't know what key to use. He was just fumbling in the dark. In fact, he didn't even know the reason it was so important for him to find a way to the other man's soul. It wasn't just the wish to figure out his new partner, it was more like the need to reach out to Strasky and feel part of his world.

On the other side, Starsky couldn't shake off the notes of a song that had begun replaying in his head. The radio had been playing the song when he had received the terrible call some years before, and now, after Hutch's references to his own past, all these memories stormed back.

The words of that song were still so strong in his mind… "you're old enough to kill but not for votin', - you don't believe in war, what's that gun you're totin'…" The song was called 'Eve of Destruction' but that horrible day hadn't been the 'Eve'. It had been the aftermath. It was just like he'd gotten the phone call yesterday…the phone call that told him that his old friend Ray decided to swallow a handful of painkillers and antidepressants in order to stop his suffering forever.

Starsky had known that his friend had gone through hell when he had come back from Vietnam with only one leg. He'd been a strong man, always full of energy and plans for the future, but after Vietnam, he felt that his life was over when he found himself in a wheelchair, wrecked by pain and haunted by ghosts.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, pacifists were marching with striking slogans, colorful peace symbols and long hair. Starsky could imagine Hutch with that long blond hair, and blue eyes glaring against war. Protesters spit words at veterans—horrible accusations which were so far from the truth—but in the meantime they could march on both legs. Ray couldn't anymore. He had left his leg together with his ideals in that jungle. He had left himself over there, but had been able to come back home anyway. Only a few months later he decided to give his life away. No Vietcong took it from Ray. His own fatherland did by its treatment of him.

This was something Starsky hadn't been able to accept and so, after a few weeks, he left Brooklyn, but he was aware that moving away wouldn't change the fact that something in him was lost forever. He had both legs but something else was gone and wouldn't be back anymore.

Starsky and Hutch had forgotten how long their shift had been supposed to last and they had kept leafing through files and comparing pictures of missing girls till late in the night. The searching had wiped them out, so they decided to get a hamburger at Huggy's and then call it a night.

Sitting at a small table with a beer in front of their eyes, they found themselves thinking in absolute silence. "She had nobody," Hutch suddenly stated, as to himself, staring at his own glass and obviously talking about the young murdered girl.

"We all die alone, " Starsky answered in the same soft tone. There was no rage and no provocation in these words, only a sad awareness.

"Maybe. But nobody should have to live alone," Hutch dared, with a tentative voice, testing the reaction of the man in front of him.

"Sometimes it's easier that way," Starsky replied, his eyes challenging Hutch to argue.

"You know, I think it takes courage to believe in human relationships again if you have known loss and grief…I know it's difficult to believe in the system again when you feel it has failed you." Hutch was sure to have touched a raw nerve now, and he wasn't sure what he could expect.

Starsky looked up at Hutch, not sure if he referred to something specific or if his words hit the target by chance. "Well, as far as I know, you made your voice heard about the system in your hippie times, didn't you?" He asked, trying to figure out what Hutch meant with his vague comment.

"I did…" Hutch admitted, "We all try to do it in our own way. And we all make mistakes, but we try our best. I left the pacifist movement when I understood that I didn't share a huge part of the protest. When I saw those soldiers coming back from Southeast Asia, I became finally aware that they were victims of war, more than anyone.

"One day I got into a fight with a few men of the movement because I stood up for a poor guy in uniform who had lost his reason in that jungle. He didn't even know where he was, Starsky. And the guys I called my friends kept lashing out at him, even if he couldn't fully understand what they were saying. They were always repeating that soldiers were blind fanatics but I realized they were much blinder than them." Hutch's face showed how much the scene had troubled him.

"I took that man to a cafè, and I listened to him talking about war for a whole afternoon…then I left the hippie movement and I never came back. I wanted to help people, not to rub it in the faces of those who were already suffering more than enough. I wanted to talk less and act more. So... well...I'm here now... a cop… That's been quite a change."

Starsky listened to Hutch's words with a solemn expression on his face. "I was there. In 'Nam I mean." he spoke softly, as if talking too loud would break the spell his partner had created.

Hutch nodded and Starsky immediately got that his partner already knew it. Then the blond went ahead, "I know it's difficult to let anybody in, after everything you have seen, but…"

"No, you don't get it," Starsky interrupted.

"Starsky, I won't pretend to know what you have been through, but I can imagine you can hardly trust anyone to…"

Starsky shook his head so violently that Hutch trailed off. When he didn't go on after long moments, Hutch went on. "It doesn't have to be me, but you gotta trust some—"

"It's not you. I don't trust myself, Hutch! " Starsky cried out. There were no more tactics in his words, just a genuine vent that had been suffocated for too long.

"I failed them. I lost my men… I lost Ray. Even after coming back home I couldn't be more helpful than I had been there." Hutch didn't know who Ray was but it wasn't important at the moment. Starsky continued, as if the words were a flood that, once released, wouldn't stop. "I know what it means to put your life in the hands of other men and to ask them to do the same. And I know what it feels like to…. " his voice trailed off here and Hutch reached out to him, putting a hand on his forearm.

"You'd better stay away from me, partner," Starsky's low voice held a defensive tone to hide the overwhelming emotion.

This time Hutch didn't feel pushed away by the other man's words and he squeezed his arm a little stronger to let him know he wouldn't step back. "Trust me to trust you, Starsk, and I promise I won't let you fail yourself." He understood that it wasn't that Starsky couldn't trust him, the brunet just felt as if he couldn't let himself allow someone to care for him that much. Because he was afraid he might fail them. It made Hutch feel as if his heart might break.

Maybe it was because of these simple meaningful words, or maybe it was because of that familiar and natural abbreviation of his name, but Starsky felt his eyes stinging with tears. For such a long time he had thought he wasn't able to cry anymore.

A/N: Ok, step carefully off the ride and don't forget to deposit one comment in the box below! We'll be back with chapter two before you know it!