Hey gang! This is my latest Muse-Story (Thanks Diana, the Tiny Idea Central! *bow*), and I hope you´ll like it!

Disclaimers still the same: I don´t own the ones WORTH owning, but at least my guys kinda...win. *grin*



by wuemsel

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

(Dylan Thomas)

"Man, I'm beat!"

Turning to his partner from where he'd been opening the door to his apartment, Ken Hutchinson couldn't help coughing in annoyed surprise at that statement.

"From doing what exactly, Starsk? Sleeping with your feet in my face?!"

"Hey!" Starsky defended himself and followed Hutch inside Venice Place, letting the door fall shut behind him, while he exaggeratedly rubbed his stiff neck. "Have you ever tried sleeping in your heap of a car?"

"Not recently, no," Hutch shot back on his way to the fridge.

Behind his back, Starsky rolled his eyes. "You could have woken me up, y'know," he informed his friend, sitting down on the couch heavily. "Though it'd have been unfair to do that, because THAT was YOUR shift, partner. Fair share."

"Oh?" Hutch exclaimed, turning from where he'd opened two beer bottles for them, and leaned against the breakfast bar for a moment. "You call it fair share when I watch the building for about six hours, when you had to do it for only three?"

Leaning back to cast his friend an innocent look, Starsky shrugged. "That was the plan. Nothing unfair about it. In case you don't remember, smart one," he added, and now it was Hutch rolling his eyes. As his partner continued, he pushed himself off the breakfast bar and walked over to the couch, all the time imitating Starsky's rambling with mute 'blah, blah, blah'-gestures.

"We decided I'd be watching until Palmer comes in, and you'd be watching until he comes out again." Pause. "Or until our shift ends, whatever would come first. That's what we decided, and there's nothing-"

"Yeah, speaking of that," Hutch interrupted him, and sat down on the couch next to him, placing the bottles onto the couch table. "When exactly did we decide that again? While I was sleeping?"

Starsky blinked innocently, a glimmer of hardly hid amusement evident in his eyes. "Oh... were you asleep? Man, Hutch, buddy, I'm sorry. I thought no answer was the same as saying 'okay'."

"I bet you did."

Quickly looking down to suppress a contented grin, Starsky picked up his beer and took a sip. "Well," he said a moment later, glancing at his tired friend next to him, "maybe it's a comfort for you to know that I really just did it to save you from sleeping in all that trash you bunk on your back seats." A mockingly concerned look crossed his face and he arched his brows worriedly. "I hope I don't come down with something, a rash or so." To underline his words, he gave a quick, violent shudder.

Hutch smirked. "Don't worry, buddy. Yogurt-bugs, they go straight for the brain. No danger of any damage taking place there."

Starsky, though, didn't counter with another "hah, hah"-gaze or a comment, but arched his brows even more, suddenly appearing very serious. "Yogurt bugs?!" he repeated in clear disgust. "Uh... I'll just wash my hands. Be right back."

And off he was, faster than any amused remark Hutch might have thought of. Chuckling to himself, the blond slid down on his couch a little more, and closed his eyes. He couldn't recall the last time he'd been that tired.

'Well,' he thought with a dry smile to himself, 'probably yesterday. And the day before, and the day before, and...'

Ever since they'd been assigned to the Jeremy Palmer case, sleep had turned into a luxury. The 'bust of the century', as the three very committed, very excited and very, very young FBI-agents used to call Palmer, had up until then only turned out to be the insomnia of the century for the two detectives. One boring steak out followed the next. To Hutch it seemed as if he couldn't even recall the last time he'd actually made a real arrest, and whenever he was awake, Starsky would complain endlessly about the perversion of caging two street cops in their car.

"I swear, Hutch," he'd stated a few days ago, after they'd spent another whole day just sitting tight and watching another grey, large building. "If I'd see one baby taking another one's lollipop right now, I'd chase it. With the car."

"I'd be right at your side," Hutch had muttered.

A very brief pause had occurred, and then--much to Hutch's silent resignation--it had started again, Starsky's litany. "I hate this job."

~ sigh~ "I know, Starsk. Me too."

"I hate this guy."

"Yeah, me too."

"I hate this case."

"I know."

"I hate those Federal Kindergarten of Investigation-kids."

"I know."

"And I hate your car."

"Starsky, we're sitting in your car."

"So? I still hate yours."

Hutch had just sighed again and let his grumpy partner be for the rest of the shift. That was the clearest sign of how much this case annoyed them--Starsky had long ago stopped trying to keep himself busy with getting on Hutch's nerves. Instead, he'd just whine. Or sleep.

Sitting there on his couch in his apartment, Hutch thought that they really, REALLY needed to finish this job soon, before they both went nuts with boredom. But that was the problem exactly. It wasn't their case, and so they couldn't finish it. But the FBI-kids, whose case it was, were so new and inexperienced that it took weeks for them to get undercover assignment permissions. They'd gotten the case merely by coincidence, because they'd manage to bust a close friend to Jeremy Palmer ("By accident, I'm sure!" as Starsky used to grumble.) and it was pretty obvious that the Bureau had assigned them to the Palmer-case, because they were desperate. Jeremy Palmer was known everywhere in the Bureau and every Police Division in the city. And both institutions had tried countless times to get him. No need to mention that everyone had failed. So when three young, promising FBI-agents appeared on the scene, it was only logical to let them have a go at it.

"I bet it's the official FBI-welcoming ceremony," Hutch had told Starsky after they'd been assigned to the case. "They assign you to the Palmer-case, and then when you're ready to kill yourself over it, they laugh at you and only THEN you'll get your badge and officially belong to the group."

"You think?" Starsky had answered enthusiastically. "So when we're done here, we'll be FBI-agents?"

"Nope, buddy, WE'll just be older."

"That sucks."

Indeed it did. But still they were assigned to the case and weren't allowed to work on anything else. Dobey had made that very clear when he'd presented them with the news and their three new superiors, who'd been so nervous about being able to give ANYONE orders, it'd been almost cute to watch.

"Why us?!" Starsky had asked after the three had left the office, throwing his arms in the air in clear frustration. "Cap, you know as well as we do that Tick, Trick and Track there won't bust Jeremy Palmer! Forget it! It's a waste of time!"

"Yeah, I know that," Dobey had simply answered.

The detectives had exchanged a surprised, helpless look, before Starsky had exclaimed, "So?!"

Dobey had sighed and leant back in his chair. "The Bureau asked me to pick two of my men who are... nice."

The sudden silence that had followed had stretched itself, until Hutch had repeated, with a hint of indignation in his voice, "Nice?"

"Nice?!" Starsky had echoed and finally had sat down again.

"Nice," Dobey had nodded.

"You mean," Hutch had started slowly, "'nice' as in 'competent, smart, experienced...'"

"'Good-looking'," Starsky had added dryly.

"Uhm..." Had been the hesitant answer. "Not really. The Bureau wanted two detectives on this who are... nice. See," he'd added at the looks he'd received from his detectives, "they think those three guys have potential, and they don't want the job to be ruined by having them working with cops who can't take orders from inexperienced, young agents. Therefore they asked me to assign two detectives to the case who are-"

"Nice," Starsky and Hutch had finished the sentence in unison.


"And what makes you think that we can take orders from 12-year-old FBI-boys?" Starsky had asked.

"Because if you don't," Dobey had replied with a smile, "I'll have you on traffic control for a long, long time. Understood?"

"Oh yes," they'd both replied eagerly.

"So will you boys be good and listen to the other kids?"

"Absolutely," Starsky had nodded.

"We'll be as nice and lovely as always," Hutch had muttered sarcastically.

And so they'd been just that for over two weeks now. They had showed up at each and every stake out, as useless as it all seemed, since you couldn't arrest anyone just from seeing him walking in and out of buildings, and they were both pretty sure that they'd long ago had been made, anyway. The whole plan the three agents had worked out had just been to obvious right from the start, and Starsky and Hutch both felt like they were wasting their time watching Jeremy Palmer day in and day out.

What they really needed for this was an undercover permission, and that was the one thing the three agents were responsible for. And the one thing they just couldn't seem to get.

It was frustrating.


Hutch had dozed off a little on his couch, with the beer in his hand hanging dangerously to the right, when a sudden crash and a following loud "Shit!" tore him out of his slumber.

"Wha-what..." As he jerked fully awake, almost falling from the couch in the motion, he only barely managed to catch the bottle that had momentarily slipped his fingers, and put it back on the coffee table.

"Starsky?" Turning around on the couch, he found his partner in the back of the apartment, where he hadn't cleaned up for quite some time, studying the ground that Hutch couldn't see from where he sat, while swearing to himself under his breath.

"Hey, buddy, what happened?" he asked, still sleepy, and rubbed his eyes. "D'you stumble over something?"

"Yeah, uh... yup," came the somewhat hesitant answer that immediately sent the alarm bells in Hutch's head ringing.

"Anything broken?" he asked, while he stood up from the couch to approach his friend, who backed away as if afraid.

"Nope, I'm alright. Thanks for asking," Starsky replied quickly and grinned at the joke. "I'll, uh, see you then tomorrow, Blintz, okay? See y-"

"Wait!" Hutch's growl held the smaller man back with him visibly cringing at the sound of his partner's voice.

"Don't move," Hutch ordered, the Hutchinson Warning Finger making an appearance, and stepped closer to where his friend stood. Starsky's shoulders slumped like a little kid's that been caught red-handed, and he bowed his head expectantly.

"Okay, what did you brea..." Hutch started in his best interrogation-voice, when suddenly a tiny movement on the floor caught his attention. Frowning, he stared at the little insect, when suddenly it was covered by a blue Adidas sneaker.

Looking up, Hutch was met by a wide, nervous grin that was obviously supposed to look innocent. "What was that?" he asked quietly.

"What was what?" Starsky replied, lifting his brows. The embodiment of innocence. He didn't move his foot an inch.

Hutch watched him closely and paused, before asking, "Starsky, was that an ant?"

"Ant?" Starsky laughed nervously, when suddenly something caught his attention, and he quickly stepped to his side with obvious force. "Wh-why would there be an ant in your apartment? Don't the rats eat them all?"

Ignoring the poor attempt at humor, Hutch sighed deeply at the sight of more ants crawling out from behind a large framed picture, circling Starsky's feet, before determinedly making their way into his apartment.

"Did you break the ant farm?" Hutch asked tiredly, and at his friend's helpless look squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger.

"Maybe," Starsky answered in a very small voice.

"Maybe yes or maybe no?"

"Maybe... yes."

"Great," Hutch muttered and dared to look again at the thin lines of tiny brown creatures still coming out from behind the picture. "Just great."

"But," Starsky started in a defensive tone, "I think I have to inform you that placing an ant farm behind a large object against a wall is absolutely not the right way to keep it. I should be calling Greenpeace on this."

As if to underline his threat, he stepped onto another ant.

Hutch cringed. "Stop smashing them into my carpet!"

"Uh... sorry," Starsky replied and quickly drew his foot away, only to step on another one by accident. "Uhm... sorry again," he muttered, arching his brows.

Looking around at the small flood of tiny moving spots, Hutch finally let out a deep breath and shrugged. "You know what, Starsk? You broke it, you deal with it."

With that, he turned to grab his jacket from the couch.

"Uh... what's that supposed to..." Starsky started, dumbfounded. "Hutch?"

"I'm beat. I need sleep," Hutch informed him, hand already on the door knob. "Don't forget to scratch the corpses out of the carpet."


"Oh, and, Starsk--I find ONE in my fridge tomorrow morning, you won't have to call Greenpeace but Amnesty, buddy."

"Uhm..." Starsky muttered, looking helplessly at the movement on the floor. "Uh... Wh-where're you going?"

"Your place." And with that, he was gone.

"Hutch! Huuutch!!!"


He was so tired, he probably shouldn't even drive anymore. But then he hadn't planned to do so, so logically, if something happened, it'd be Starsky's fault.

Actually, he decided, he felt a whole lot better if he simply blamed everything on Starsky, anyway. After all--serious!--how was the guy supposed to get in the way of half a million ants on their way to his supplies?!

'Okay, say one thousand ants... hundred... Oh, who cares!' Winking at himself, he pulled over in front of his friend's place and, asleep on his feet, made his way up the stairs and into the dark apartment as if in trance.

Never looking right or left, he headed straight for the bedroom, where he simply crashed on the bed, fully clothed and with his shoes still on.

But only to scramble to his knees the very next instant, as he noticed he'd fallen onto something scratchy and fragile, he could feel thick paper crumbling under his cheek.

Rubbing his tired eyes with one hand, he reached out and found his fingers closing over a photograph that lay among others on Starsky's bed.

Frowning, he reached for the bedside lamp and in the soft light illuminating the room, he sat back, blinking in surprise at the small mass of pictures covering his partner's bed.

It wasn't that surprising that Starsky would re-arrange his photos, he often did that, part of his hobby, a mixture of his love for photography and his neat freak-habit of arranging things. Every once in a while, Starsky decided to do something new with his growing collection of pictures, sometimes with a creativity that to anyone but Hutch would have been surprising.

No, that there WERE pics didn't surprise Hutch, what surprised him was, that they weren't Starsky's. They were looking way too old, faded, and at the second sight, Hutch suddenly recognized them as old family pictures. Who he first had thought to be his partner, he suddenly recognized to be Michael Starsky, and, as always, the resemblance between the two amazed him. Except for his startlingly clear blue eyes, Starsky was the picture of his father, the same thick brown curls, the same angular features, and thought Hutch had never met Michael Starsky, somehow he was sure that the man had walked with the famous Starsky strut that his son had developed into an art form years later.

As always, when Hutch was looking at pictures of Starsky's Dad, the increasing feeling grabbed him that he would have loved to know the man. He found himself studying Michael Starsky's eyes, remembering the few things his friend had told him about his father. But then that had been, of course, the description of a sometimes still grieving ten-year-old. Starsky had never had the chance to get an adult's view of his father, and though he knew that, he'd at one point in his life decided that that was probably for the better, anyway. Ironically, Michael Starsky had achieved what every parent dreams of--to be his son's hero forever and never be doubted in his character--by dying as early as he had.

Still, though he knew that as well as Starsky, Hutch found his friend's childlike view at his father comforting to listen to. Since he'd never experienced the engulfing feeling of being absolutely loved and secure at his own home, he liked to listen to Starsky's stories about his childhood and parents. More than anything else, it felt like he then understood where his friend's ability of unconditional love came from. He didn't know why, but knowing that Starsky's childhood had been a good one full of love, fun and a father figure he could look up to until it'd been taken away from him so brutally, always eased Hutch's mind, made him less sad when he thought about the great loss his friend had had to endure so early in his life. He had no doubt that that was the reason Starsky had become the person he was, not the least bitter, but an eternal believer in the good in life. Because his childhood had been worth remembering, he had been able to always keep the child inside him close.

They were very equal in that way, Hutch sometimes thought, only that his inner child carried sadness and self-doubt in its grown-up shell. It was a good thing he had Starsky, he used to think in such thoughtful, melancholy moments, and he would smile to himself. A good thing indeed, for him and that lost and found child.

Smiling in that moment too, sitting there on his friend's bed, looking at a crumbled picture of a man he'd never met and yet to whom he owed so much, a sudden thought hit him, and he frowned, lowered the picture back onto the sheet and stood up to walk into the kitchen, where he knew a small calendar hung somewhere.

He didn't even need to arrive there, before he knew his thought had been right, and, still walking, he squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger, mumbling a low "Aw shit!" to himself.

As if to at least punish himself for his insensitivity, he took a look at the calendar, and like he knew it would, the reprimanding date staring back at him, proved his memory right.

The day of Michael Starsky's death. And not only had he forgotten all about it, he'd forgotten all about it for a whole 24 hours, since it'd been the day before.

It wasn't that anything really happened on those days--birthday too--but Hutch had long ago found out that, just like a ten-year-old, Starsky took comfort in actually dealing with those days. It probably was a healthy way of dealing with grief, giving it exact dates to show up and engulf one. And that was exactly what Starsky did on those important days, he let himself fall back into his memories, to once more really grief over his still missed father, and of course, Hutch always noticed. He'd notice and though he never told his partner or said anything at all, for that matter, he'd try to give him as much of an easy day as he could. He'd put his own stuff aside, if there happened to be any, and, though he didn't know how, he'd sort of open his Starsky-radar to let his friend feel cared for without ever saying a word.

Them being them, it always worked. And, though they both knew about this tradition of them, they'd never needed to verbalize it. Like many of what was going on between them, it worked in silence, something totally indescribable that lay embedded in their friendship.

Well... until now. Scratching his forehead, Hutch inwardly kicked himself for a few minutes, recalling the day before much clearer than he would have liked.

Starsky had been especially grumpy--Hutch actually winced, thinking about it now that he knew the true reason--and that had made Hutch angry, because he'd been so sick of his friend's extroversive bad mood by then. So instead of being there for his partner and trying to cheer him up with nonsense bantering, he'd given him a hard time about purposely creating the case from hell for him, Hutch, with his endless whining and complaints.

Though he'd regretted his words even back then, it had satisfied him greatly that Starsky had at last fallen utterly silent for the rest of their shift.

Now, his hand wandering downwards to once more squeeze his eyes, Hutch felt like the meanest, most insensitive asshole of a partner one could think of.

'We need to finish this damn case. We SO need to finish this God damned case!!!'

Clinging to this angry thought as if to keep the overwhelming guilt crawling its way towards him, at bay, he leaned against Starsky's breakfast counter, placed one arm on his elbow to support his chin and started to think.


"Hey Stars..." Stopping his energetic entry with the open door still in hand, Hutch raised his brows at the scenery before him. "...ky... Uh... Starsk?"

The soft snoring coming from the still form on the ground proved his first impression to be right, and so he tentatively closed the door, before he stepped closer to crouch down beside his sleeping friend.

Only then did he notice the salad bowl that sat upside down next to Starsky's body, with a heap of mud under it that had obviously once belonged to one of Hutch's smaller plants.

Frowning, Hutch bent in closer, and a wry smile spread on his face when he noticed tiny remains of food around the heap, as well as one lonely ant that crawled up the glass wall of its prison.

'Clever. Gotta leave you that, buddy.'

Studying the round ant farm a little longer, a sudden thought crawled up Hutch's mind, like the ant exploring the ceiling of its world, and the frown returned.

'How's he going to get them off the floor again?'

"Starsk?" Gently, he shook his partner's shoulder without taking his eyes away from his newly-built ant farm. "Starsk, wake up."

"Hmnnnhmpf... two more minutes, `kay?" the sleepy detective mumbled into his sleeve and curled up a little more hiding his face in his arms, but only to give a disapproving sound, like a disappointed moan, and lift his head an instant later.

Casting Hutch an almost sulking look, he then sat up, stretching and rubbing his doubtlessly aching neck.

"Mornin'," Hutch smiled.

"Hmpf," Starsky replied.

"Slept well?"

"Oh yeah, great," Starsky muttered grumpily, still rubbing his neck. "Can't imagine why I don't do that more often."

"Well..." Hutch muttered in mock innocence, stretching the word, but before he could add any more, his partner shot him a disapproving look. "Falling asleep on the floor when you're sober is different, Blintz, okay?! I mean, when you're loaded, it doesn't matter if you sleep folded in a trunk--you feel like streetmush the next day, anyway. But this is mean."

As if to underline his words, he stretched some more and winced at the process.

"I'd say you just discovered a new way of overnight-achievement of looking like streetmush, buddy," Hutch stated with honest sympathy breaking through his amused sarcasm.

"Great. Should write a book about it," Starsky muttered, and rubbed his face, before looking at his other achievement next to him. All stiffness forgotten, he suddenly grinned at his partner, pointing at the bowl. "Hey, did you see I managed to not kill one? Well... uh..." he added, his grin fading, "except for the ones I stepped on, I mean."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded and stood up, helping his friend to his feet too, so that they were looking down at the bowl now, "I noticed."


"So what?"

"So what d'you say?" Starsky exclaimed excitedly.

"How are you going to get them out of there again?" Hutch asked quietly, folding his arms in front of himself.

"Huh?" his partner muttered, caught totally off guard. "What d'you mean? I just pick up the bow... Oh." His gaze falling upon the bowl, his face fell, and he frowned slightly. "Uhm... hm. How `bout... uh... D'you know what?"

"What?" Hutch asked, suppressed amusement audible in his voice.

"I think it looks great just where it is. Yeah," Starsky added after a second and stepped around the bowl like, gesturing like a salesman trying to convince a customer. "Think about how very... Greenpeacy this is compared to your old ant farm. Here the poor things won't get thrown around all the time by their irresponsible owner who turned their shelter upside down all the time for fun."

"I never-"

"Don't you deny it," Starsky interrupted his friend, pointing a poor version of the Hutchinson Warning Finger at him. "I saw you! Down there, they'll be much safer."

"Hm-mm. Until they starve."

"What d'you mean? You just feed them, just like before. Think of this as a new kind of ant farm. Maybe I'll claim the copy-right for this, you know. First ant farm under real-world conditions."

Sighing, Hutch rolled his eyes. "And how exactly am I supposed to feed them, Starsk?"

Starsky grimaced mockingly. "Just lift the bowl, dummy!" Pause. "Oh." Biting his lower lip, he once more looked down, then flashed his partner a grin again. "You know what? I think about something on our next stakeout."

"Good plan," Hutch answered and shook his head, though he couldn't suppress a chuckle, then checked his watch. "Wanna grab a shower, before we hit the street?"

"You mean, before we fall asleep on it," Starsky corrected grumpily and turned for the bathroom.

"Yeah, hey," Hutch exclaimed, snapping his fingers, "I almost forgot. I got an idea how we could get this do-"

"You know something, partner?" Starsky interrupted him from inside the bathroom, without being aware of it since he hadn't heard the blond's words. "Maybe we should just take things in our hands, know what I mean?"

Stopping on his way to the kitchen, Hutch tilted his head to one side, as he heard his friend's voice over the sound of water running.

"Like, we two know we've been made, right? But they probably don't know we know it. So, I was thinking, why don't we just tell them? Huh? Like in pretend we want to..."

"... work for them," Hutch finished in unison with Starsky, and smiled at the closed bathroom door.

It was exactly the plan his thinking had brought him to the night before.

"Good idea, buddy!" he called a few minutes later, when the water had stopped and turned to lean against the breakfast bar, steaming cup of coffee in hand.

"What?" came the answer, and a moment later, the bathroom door was opened to reveal Starsky, still toweling his hair. "What d'you say?"

"Good idea," Hutch repeated. "Did you come up with that yourself?"

"Nope," his friend answered, "one of the ants did."

"Thought so. Coffee?"


Finally, finally, finally things had changed. Finally they were in on a real job again.

Finally they had a plan.

"Think Dobey's gonna like it?" Starsky asked on their way to the precinct.

Next to him on the passenger seat, Hutch lifted his brows. "Oh, you want to tell Dobey?"

"Funny, Blintz."

Hutch sighed, scratching his forehead. "Well, he'll probably like it when he hears the alternative, right?"

"What, that we'll be glued to our seats for the rest of our life if we don't do this? Not that we're not glued to the seats in YOUR car, anyway, what with all the yuck on them."

"Right," Hutch nodded. "Except for the part about my car."

"Yeah, under those conditions, he'll probably like it."


"You want to do WHAT?! Have you lost your mind?!"


"Don't cap me, Starsky! What the hell are you thinking?!"

"Uhm... what we just told y-" Starsky started, but was cut off by Hutch quickly, who shot him a silencing glance.

"Cap`n, we need to finish this case. It's driving us crazy."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded. "And don't you miss us too?"

At the dirty look, accompanied by a growl, he received for this, he lifted his brows innocently, looking from the captain to Hutch and back. "Well, we miss YOU."

Though he couldn't help chuckling, Hutch hurried to the rescue of their plan, stating, as serious as he could, "You've got to admit that this at least sounds as if it could work, and that's a lot more than the Marx Brothers have to offer."

"Right," Starsky nodded, in on the convincing team again. "We've been made weeks ago, anyway. Which had," he added, glancing at Hutch next to him, "nothing to do with my car!"

Hutch chuckled, but remained silent.

"The only logical thing to do is to use that fact," Starsky continued, looking at Dobey again, who studied them with an expression that proved their victory already completed. "Palmer doesn't know much about us, he's more into agents."

Hutch grinned and took over again. "Right. He'll believe it."

"I don't know," Dobey replied, though it was obvious his questions were now only part of the creating-the-plan-process. "What about Palmer's men? What if someone there recognizes you?"

"So what?" Starsky answered, shrugging. "We won't use alias. Every cop's bribable."

At the two pairs of eyes that settled on him, he quickly added, "Except for us, I mean. We're just PRETENDING to be." Pause. "Stop looking at me like that, will you?!"

"He's right," Hutch finally turned to Dobey again. "We've been offered bribes so often, why wouldn't we go for it at last?"

Now it was up to him to pause. "Theoretically speaking."

"Hm," Dobey murmured after a moment's thought and leaned back in chair, rubbing his forehead. "So let me get this straight. You'll be on your own with no undercover permission, which you wouldn't need, anyway, since you won't be undercover, but actually just committing a crime that could cost you both your badges."

"Yup," Starsky nodded.

"That's about it," his partner added, and they exchanged a look as if thinking about something else their captain might have missed.

Dobey studied them like an exasperated father, sighed and bent closer again. "And why are you telling me about this?"

"Uhm..." the two detectives made in unison, exchanging an amused glance.

"`Cause we like you?" Starsky finally tried, and Hutch grinned.

At the deep growl he received for his answer, Starsky backed away in his chair, slightly reaching out for his partner as if for comfort.

Ignoring him, Hutch arched the corners of his mouth like a little kid. "Cap`n-"

"Okay," Dobey cut him off, exasperated. "I got it!" A deep sigh escaped him, and once more he scratched his forehead. "Why do I always go for your crazy, irresponsible--"

"Illegal," Hutch muttered, but bit his lower lip at the look to kill that hit him the instant his mutter had slipped from him. "Uhm... w-we better go get everything set now," he stuttered with a nervous smile. "Come, buddy."

Suppressing a grin, Starsky saluted and followed, but they were held back at the door by Dobey's low, suddenly very serious voice.

"You two keep me updated on this, you hear?"

Smiling gratefully at the genuine worry they saw reflected in their superior's eyes, the detectives nodded and left.

Left behind, Dobey leaned back heavily, sighing to himself. "Why me? Why always me?"


"Look who's gracing my humble establishment with their presence," they were cheerily greeted by a familiar melodic voice, when they stepped into the shadowy emptiness of 'The Pits' half an hour later. "My two best customers."

Both stopping on their way to the bar, the detectives exchanged a confused look, turned to glance behind them, then looked back at each other.

"Think he's talking about us?" Starsky muttered, while they slowly started to walk again.

Hutch shrugged. "I don't know, Starsk. Don't 'customers' pay for what they drink?"

"My point exactly," his partner replied, grimacing slightly.

"Oh," Hutch mumbled and flashed Huggy a wide grin as they arrived at the bar. "Hey Huggy."

"Hey Hug."

"No 'hey'-charmin' your way out this time, gentlemen," Huggy informed them, and, again, they exchanged a look.

"Told you the line's getting old," Starsky wise-cracked, but Hutch was kept from countering by a small item being pushed into his raised hand from the other side of the bar. Casting Huggy a confused look, he received a smile along with the explanation.

"Say hello to your bill. Time for some good old-fashioned pay up time today."

"Huggy," Starsky chided, unaware of Hutch's slowly widening eyes at what he was looking at, "when did you get so focused on money, man?"

"When he found this tab, I guess," Hutch answered and glanced up from the certificate of their bankruptcy. "What're you planning to do with this, move to Rio?!"

"Bahamas," Huggy corrected him without the slightest indication of humor in his voice.

"Nice," Hutch smiled dryly. "I would ask for a postcard, but I may be living on the street then, so-"

"What the... Gimme that," Starsky cut in, unnerved, and snatched the bill out of his partner's hands, but only to unceremoniously hand it back to him the moment he'd glanced at it. "Boy, am I glad it's your turn."

"My turn?" Hutch repeated, arching his brows in disbelief.

"Yep. Your turn. Come on--pay the man."

"Starsky, two words for you: ant farm."

Glaring at his friend for a moment, Starsky took the bill again with a snort. "I didn't know it was made of platinum."

Still muttering under his breath, he produced his wallet, looked inside, hesitated, put it back and presented Huggy, who'd followed the banter in amused silence, with the best ear-to-ear grin he had to offer.

"Hug. Pal."

Hutch rolled his eyes, took a step away from his partner as if out of reflex, and squeezed his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger.

Huggy folded his arms in front of him, looking at the soon rambling detective with an exaggeratedly expectant expression.

"Look, we didn't really come here to, uh, start a new tab, but because we need your help. You know how much we appreciate your help. Don't we, Hutch?"

When his partner failed to answer, Starsky shot him a quick look, seeing that Hutch still squeezed his eyes shut.

"Hutch," he repeated urgently.

"Huh?" Looking up as if he'd just woken from a daydream, Hutch smiled eagerly, nodding. "Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, partner."

"Uh huh," Huggy mumbled, obviously not convinced. "Enough to pay your bill?"

"Uh..." Starsky started, casting Hutch a helpless glance. All he got from there, though, was a questioning gaze, looking as if the blond wondered about that too.

"Well, uhm, yeah," Starsky continued hesitantly, then quickly added, "When we start a new tab. Naturally, we can't start a new one, when the old one hasn't been paid, yet. It's simple logic. Right, Hutch?"

Again, he was met by wide-eyed silence and cast his friend an unnerved look. "Hutch."

"Oh. Yeah," Hutch quickly nodded, smiling at Huggy, who'd glanced from Starsky to him. "Absolutely."

"Right," Starsky took over again, "so how `bout we ask our question, you grace our presence with your knowledge, and then we come back, let's say... later and start a new tab." Pause. "Isn't that a plan?"

Unimpressed, Huggy looked from one to the other. "Does this plan include actually paying your bill sometime in the not-so-far future?"

"Uh... yeah," Starsky replied, glancing at Hutch for help again, who added, "Sort of."

Huggy sighed. "Okay, question being?"

"What do you know about Jeremy Palmer?" Hutch asked, as he and Starsky finally sat down on bar chairs, Starsky's hand almost instinctively reaching out for a small bowl of nuts standing on it.

"His shadow looks a lot like a Torino," Huggy answered dryly.

Exchanging an unnerved glance, the detectives sighed in unison.

"Thanks, Hug," Starsky muttered sarcastically. "At least now I know where I've been these last weeks."

Ignoring his partner, Hutch explained, "We want to get close, but therefore we need a connection. No big deal, just someone who maybe talked too much."

At that, Huggy frowned. "You watched the guy 24/7 for weeks, what're you coming to me for?"

"We know as much about Jeremy Palmer's employees as Jeremy Palmer does," Starsky answered. "Nada. Coming to think about it," he added in frustration, "we don't know shit about him, except for his weekly tennis schedule."

Blinking as if trying to understand, Huggy finally gave up. "Man, I don't get this. What've you been doing all this time?"

"We're the victims of under aged higher powers," Starsky stated, "who used us for their secret plan to eliminate earth by draining humans of their time, starting with handsome, intelligent, police officers with great style, whose importance for world history is undeniable. And Hutch," he added after a pause.

In the silence that followed, the movement of Huggy's eyes towards Hutch seemed to break through it like a squealing.

"He had a lot of time for comic books lately," Hutch explained and patted his partner's shoulder as if to prove point. "So, Hug, d'you have something for us?"

"I don't know, man. The only one I can think of is Candy Man Cameron, but you can't be sure. Rumor is he's back in the biz with big words, but you know him. Could be all talk."

"It's worth a try," Hutch replied, smiled and stood to leave, followed by Starsky. "Thanks, Huggy. We owe you."

"Don't say," the bar owner replied dryly, and Starsky's grin widened as he sped up his steps.

"Yeah, right... See you later, Hug."

"Bye, Huggy."

Growling something unintelligible, Huggy watched the detectives leave the bar and shook his head to himself with an exaggerated sigh. "There go the Bahamas."

Outside, Starsky cast his friend a regretting look. "We need to find a new bar, partner."

Sighing deeply, Hutch looked back at the building with mock sadness. "Every time we finally grew accustomed to a place."

"I know," his partner nodded and got in his car. "Real shame."


"Hey," Starsky broke the silence in the car a few minutes later.

"Hm?" Hutch made, turning his head to cast him a questioning gaze. "What?"

"I think I figured it out."


"What to do `bout the ant farm situation," Starsky explained impatiently.

Smirking, Hutch repeated, "'Ant farm situation'? You mean the heap of living mud on my floor?"

"Yeah that," his partner said, rolling his eyes. "I'm never gonna hear the end of this, am I?"

Hutch waggled his hand in a mocking gesture. "Depends. What've you figured?"

All excited about his brilliant plan again, Starsky raised his index finger. "Okay, listen. We'll just built a NEW heap..."

At Hutch's reaction--he hid half of his face behind one hand, glancing through his fingers like a child watching a scary movie--Starsky trailed off, unnerved.

"On a PLATE, smart ass," he explained sternly, and Hutch slowly lowered his hand, frowning as if thinking.

"We're going to put exactly the same stuff on a plate," Starsky continued, "and voilá, we can carry the whole nation outside without any loss."

Hutch thought a second longer, then suddenly deepened his frown as he cast his friend a childlike sick puppy look.

Starsky sighed. "Yeah," he said, stretching the word, "and if you promise to treat the poor things better, you'll get a new ant farm. Okay?!"

Grinning contentedly, the blond leaned back in his seat for a moment, before yet another thought crossed his mind. "Starsk?"


"What if it doesn't work?"

Instantly, Starsky opened his mouth to reply something, but found he didn't know what and grimaced slightly at himself, before snapping his fingers. "How `bout we trade apartments then?"

Hutch's gaze slowly wandered over to settle on his partner, who obviously had just in that moment gone completely insane. "Yeah, good idea," he stated calmly. "But I got another one here, buddy. How about we don't?"

"Hey," Starsky defended himself, briefly lifting his hands from the steering wheel. "Just a thought. It's your home made garden."

Shooting his partner a look to kill, Hutch mumbled something unintelligible to himself, and turned to look outside again, when a familiar figure caught his attention.


At the cop-modus audible in Hutch's voice, Starsky instantly followed his gaze. "Found him?"

"Yep. Over there. And," Hutch added, stretching the word like he was waiting for something to happen, before nodding in satisfaction, "He made us. Here we go."

With that, he leaned back, satisfied, casting his friend, who quickly pulled over at the side of the street, an expectant look. "Your turn."

Already half outside the car, Starsky turned to glare at his partner. "Hey! No fair! It's always my tur..." At the sight of Hutch opening his mouth, accompanied by the lifting of his index finger, he rolled his eyes, though, muttering, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, 'ant farm'. Gna, gna, gna," and crawled the rest of the way out, where he turned again to his partner. "Y'know, one day it's gonna be your turn for a change, part!"

Before Hutch had time to even smirk, his friend was off for chasing Candy Man Cameron down the street and around a corner.

Inside the Torino, Hutch checked his watch, yawned and slowly emerged from the car to lean against its side, folding his arms before his chest as he watched the street expectantly.

He didn't have to wait long. Only a minute later could he see the gasping form of a middle-aged, somewhat small, but trim man turning around another corner that led straight to the waiting detective. Behind him, in very close distance, came Starsky to a sudden halt, a little out of breath himself.

As the realization that he'd been chased into a trap hit him, Cameron slowed down, throwing his arms in the air in an exasperated gesture. "Hey, guys, man, I didn't do anything!"

Hutch grinned, but didn't move an inch away from the car. "Hello to you too, Cam," he greeted the man, then shook his head sadly at his approaching partner. "One minute fifty, buddy. Told you you need to work ou-"

"Oh, shut up," Starsky gasped, coming to lean against his car next to Hutch, so that they were both facing Cameron, who knew them too well to even think of trying to break for another run.

"What d'you punks want?!" he demanded excitedly. "I didn't do nothin'!"

"Oh?" Starsky asked, arching his brows. "Then why'd you run?"

"Uh... Reflex?" Cameron tried with a shrug.

Hutch laughed amusedly, Starsky rolled his eyes. "Good answer, Cam. Good answer."

"Hey," Cameron defended himself desperately, "you guys know how it is. I mean, we see you, we run. It's the whole, like, rule of this game!"

The detectives exchanged a glance, Hutch clearly trying hard to suppress his laughter.

"Shut up, will ya?" Starsky ordered, shaking his head as he opened the passenger door of the Torino. "Rule of the game!" Looking up at Cameron again who hadn't moved, he impatiently waved his hand at the back seat. "What're you waiting for, a written invitation?! Get in."

"But I..." Cameron started, but at the looks he received, just sighed and crawled onto the car's back seat obediently.

"Rule of the game," Starsky repeated again, once more shaking his head as he watched Hutch get onto the passenger seat and threw the door shut behind him to turn around the car and get inside too. "Weirdo."

"I wanna talk to my lawyer," Cameron stated once they were all inside and folded his arms before him like a sulking kid.

The detectives exchanged an amused glance, and Hutch studied Cameron's face in the rearview mirror. "Thought you don't have anything to talk about, Cam."

"And that's right, I don't," Cameron replied quickly, shooting Hutch an angry look.

"Then why're you sitting in a police car?" Starsky wise-cracked, and his partner chuckled.

"That's so funny, Starsky," Cameron growled.

"I know," Starsky grinned and finally turned on his seat to look directly at the man. A brief silence followed, until Cameron obviously couldn't stand it any longer and squirmed under the detective's gaze.

"Will you tell me what you want or are you just gonna stare at me all day?!" he asked, exasperated. "`Cause if you have time to waste, that's great, but me, I've got work to do, you know?"

Never taking his eyes off Cameron, Starsky let a few more seconds pass by, before he quietly stated, "I think you know what we want, Cam."

When the only reaction he received was Cameron glancing away, he bent a bit closer, arching his brows like an inquiring teacher. "Hm?"

Moments passed. Cameron studied the Torino's floor, so nervous sweat was beginning to show on his forehead.

From where he leaned over his seat, Starsky shot his partner a quick look, and Hutch took over again, still watching Cameron in the rearview mirror. "Cam," he said almost friendly and smiled slightly when Cameron's gaze found his.

Wiping a trembling hand over his face, Cameron glanced away, then back first at Starsky, then at Hutch again. "Don't do this to me," he finally pleaded, genuinely scared. "I mean, guys, what've I ever done to you?"

"Nothin'," Starsky answered innocently, looking over at his partner confused. "Or has he?"

"No," Hutch quickly replied, shaking his head. "Not at all. He's always been the most co-operative, decent citizen."

"Right," Starsky nodded, and turned back to Cameron, who for all the world looked like he was about to cry any second. "You see, we don't want to do anything to you, Cam. We like you. Don't we, Hutch?"

"Oh yeah," Hutch agreed and once more smiled at a by now very sweaty looking Cameron.

"Yeah," Starsky said, smiling too. "`Cause we're old buddies, aren't we, Cam?"

The poor man just stared, his gaze flickering from one to the other in increasing panic.

"And friends," Starsky continued quietly, "they help each other."

"H-hey," Cameron finally cut in, forcing the least bit of self-confidence to show in his quivery voice, "you can play your psycho shit on someone else, `cause I'm not gonna tell you anything `bout Palmer, got that?!"

A triumphant glance was exchanged, before Starsky arched his brows again, the embodiment of unknowing innocence. "Jeremy Palmer?" he asked.

"Oh, c'mon, don't give me that crap!" Cameron burst out. "Everybody knows you two've been watching him for weeks! There´re bets running out there how long you'll keep that bullshit up."

Starsky couldn't help but grimace at that information, looking pissed off enough for Cameron to back away in his seat, and even Hutch sighed, squeezing his eyes shut briefly, before he, too, turned to lean over his seat.

"Okay, Cam, here's the deal, straight and simple. We want you to-"

"Have you heard anything of what I just said?!" Cameron interrupted him frantically. "I'm not gonna do any-"

"Let him finish his sentence, creep!" Starsky cut him off fiercely, and the man instantly fell silent.

"Thank you," Hutch nodded in appreciation, and turned to Cameron again. "We want you to get us a meeting with Palmer."

Cameron stared.

"Soon," Hutch added. "Like yesterday."

Dragging his chin up again from where it'd wandered due south, Cameron swallowed dryly, blinked, blinked again.

"Will you do that for us?" Starsky asked friendly, when still nothing but silence filled the car. "Cam?"

Cameron's wide-eyed stare wandered from one to the other and back. "H-have you... have you lost your mind?" he finally asked.

"Sort of," the detectives replied in unison.

"That's plain suicide, you really sure you want me to do that?"

"Can you?" Starsky asked impatiently.

At that, Cameron suddenly laughed, a mixture of awe and relief spreading on his face. "Sure I can, man. No prob. It's not my grave I'd be digging. What shall I tell Mr. Palmer why you want to see him?" he asked, while he wiped the sweat off his forehead, looking as happy as a child that'd just found out the dentist's practice was closed.

"Tell him we want to offer him a deal," Hutch answered.

Cameron almost choked on his cough of surprise. " A deal?!" he asked, incredulously.

"You know that word, don't you?" Starsky asked, unnerved.

"Are you guys sure you're feelin' alright?" Cameron asked, chuckling.

The detectives rolled their eyes, and Hutch opened his door to get out and push the seat forward, gesturing for Cameron to follow him. "Out, little guy."

Visibly enjoying the day of his life, Cameron crawled out of the car, grinning at the blond who got inside the car again. "Always a pleasure working with you."

"Just make sure you deliver the message," Starsky muttered, adding, "And, Cam, we hear about this from someone else than you and Palmer, you WILL be digging your grave. Understood?"

"Sure, Starsky" Cameron nodded, still too relieved to feel actually threatened. Watching as Starsky started the engine, he suddenly frowned. "Hey, what kinda deal shall I tell Mr. Palmer you've got in mind?"

Leaning over a little to gaze at Cameron, Starsky said, "Tell him we're going to make him an offer he can't refuse." And with that, the Torino sped off, leaving a confused looking Candy Man behind.

Inside the car, Hutch cast his partner an amused look. "'An offer he can't refuse?'"

Starsky grinned. "I always wanted to say that."

Rolling his eyes, Hutch suppressed a chuckle, before asking, "Okay, Don David Corleone, what now?"

"Uhm," Starsky murmured, checked his watch and sighed deeply. "Tennis."

Joining in the frustrated sighing, Hutch slid down a bit on his seat, squeezing his eyes shut with his thumb and index finger. "Here we go again. I hope Cameron's fast on this."

"Me too, partner," Starsky muttered. "Me too."




"Yuck. Come on, Hutch, that's no real food. Pick something else."

"Food's food," Hutch said lazily, tiredly rubbing his eyes. "Your turn with 'l'."

Starsky sighed. "'L', huh? Uuuuhhh... uhm..."

"I'd know something," Hutch informed him, settling for watching the building they were parked across again.

"I know something too, brains" his partner shot back, unnerved.

"Then say it, Gordo," Hutch groaned, leaning back in his seat heavily as he decided that playing 'Find something to eat that starts with the last letter of the previous word' with Starsky was giving him a headache.

"I will," Starsky insisted. "I just want to think if I can find something better."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "This isn't mind chess, Starsk. Say the damn word."

"Okay. Labrador."

"That's a dog, mushbrain."

"So?" Starsky shrugged. "Some people eat dogs, don't they?"

"That's disgusting," Hutch stated, arching his brows at his friend, who didn't look at him, but across the street, replying only, "Your turn with 'r'."

For the hundredth time that minute, Hutch sighed. "Ribs."

"No plural," Starsky reminded him of the rules, raising his index finger at him without looking.

"Okay. A rib then."

"Blintz," Starsky replied instantly. "Your turn with 'z'."

"I give up."

"What?" Starsky whined, casting him a brief glance at that. "C'mon!"

Shrugging with his hands raised as if in self-defense, Hutch countered, "I can't think of something to eat that starts with a 'z'. You win. Go nuts."

"Okay, I'll help you," his partner offered eagerly and before Hutch could refuse, added, "Uhm... zebra. I bet if you wanted, you COULD eat a zebra. So, my turn with 'a'... Uhm... aligat-"

"Starsk," Hutch interrupted him pleadingly. "Just give me a beak, okay? We've been playing this stupid game for almost two hours now. If I hear one more exotic creature SOME folks MIGHT eat SOMEWHERE, I'll be sick all over your seats, and you don't want that, do you?"

"But I'm bored," Starsky complained and waved at the building desperately. "How long's he been in there, anyway?! How long can a person survive inside a club house? Doesn't he have to come out and have someone killed every now and then?!"

"They probably have a phone in there," Hutch muttered dryly, again wiping over his exhausted features, before he glanced outside, where the sun was already setting over the city.

After watching Jeremy Palmer attending his daily tennis schedule, the two detectives had spent the rest of the day parking across from Mr. Palmer's club and playing various 'car-games', as Starsky had once named those simple, mostly unnerving, increasingly annoying games he regularly forced his partner to join.

Sighing in frustration, Hutch reached out to grab his partner's arm and look at his watch. Starsky didn't even seem to notice.

The sigh intensifying, Hutch let go of his friend's arm again, and leant back, stretching his stiff neck. "Your watch has to be broken, buddy," he informed Starsky sarcastically and received a quick glance for that. "Either that or it's changed sides."

Frowning, Starsky glanced at his watch himself. His brows flew up at what he saw. "Aw, no, come ON," he then chided the poor chronometer. "Bad watch!"

Minutes passed in silence, both men lost in their own thoughts.

"Know something?" Starsky asked after a felt eternity spent in utter, engulfing boredom.

"What?" Hutch asked unenthusiastically and slightly turned his head to look at his partner.

"Maybe we should see the bright side of this."

"Which would be?"

"Well," Starsky replied, stretching the word as he flashed his friend an ironic grin. "When did we two last get the chance to watch the sunset together? Don't you think this is just incredibly romantic?"

Gazing at his partner blankly at first, Hutch laughed and started to hum the first lines of "Incurably romantic". With a grin, Starsky joined in, and soon they were quietly singing the whole song together, none of them ever taking his eyes off the building they were supposed to watch.

They were just about to repeat the chorus after the second stanza, when suddenly a figure left the club through the back door. Instantly, the detectives fell silent, cop-modus kicking in.

"Not Palmer," Starsky muttered, and Hutch nodded in agreement, but frowned a second later, when the unknown man started to cross the street, heading straight for the Torino.

"Either," he started calmly, never leaving the approaching figure out of his sight, "Cameron IS fast or..."

"... we're about to get a parking ticket," Starsky finished the sentence, he, too, watching the man, who'd arrived at their side of the street, coming up for the driver's side.

Exchanging a quick glance with his partner, Starsky rolled down his window, as the man came to a halt next to the car and bent down slightly to talk to the detective.

"Can we help you?" Starsky asked.

"I believe you asked for an audience with Mr. Palmer?" the man, a tall, eerily blank looking owner of a spotless black suit, said with absolutely no emotion whatsoever audible in his voice.

"That's right," Starsky answered with a nod. "I take it's been granted then?"

Ignoring the question, the man half turned again. "Please follow me."

Again, the detectives looked at each other, shrugged and left the car, following their guide over the street and to the back entrance of the club house, where he opened the door for them, scanning the area with a quick glance, before he entered the house too and took over the lead again.

The short, rather dark hallway they'd entered soon led up a stair to a warmly lit one, which classic style Starsky acknowledge with an impressed whistle.

The walls were half wainscoted with large mahogany boards, and the huge lamps hanging from high ceilings had golden borders that shimmered in the equally golden light they flooded the hallway with. A few wine red armchairs stood in small groups, widely distanced from each other, at the sides.

Marching along behind who appeared to be Mr. Palmer's personal assistant the detectives took in their expensive surroundings with the same shared feeling of not belonging there that always connected them whenever they came across such a place on their job.

"You know," Starsky said in a low voice, so that only Hutch next to him could hear him, "maybe this idea is even better than we thought. I never been in a club. You? I mean, it's kinda nice here, isn't it?"

Hutch shrugged. "I always hated the time at the club when I was a kid."

"Yeah, well, you never had any style," Starsky teased, and his partner grinned wryly.

"Whereas YOU fit perfectly in here, Mr. Starsky. Just watch out that you don't break anything."

Shooting Hutch a look, Starsky settled for grumbling something unintelligible under his breath, when they turned around a very small corner, leading down a narrow, more plainly decorated, hallway with no chairs in it, and came to a halt in front of one of the few doors in it.

Turning for the detectives for the first time since they'd entered the building, as if to check if they were still behind him, their guide knocked softly at the door, then opened it before hearing an answer.

"Mr. Palmer," he said and stepped aside, so that Starsky and Hutch could enter too.

The all too familiar form of Jeremy Palmer, seated behind a large wooden desk at the far end of the small room, raised his head with a smile and a greeting gesture. "Gentlemen."

Both detectives gave a curt nod, but remained silent, tensing slightly out of pure reflex.

"That'd be all, Mr. Crowe," Palmer waved his employee off, and with an obedient nod, the man left, quietly closing the door behind him.

Gesturing for a half circle of chairs in front of his desk, Palmer offered, "Please, have a seat," and watched them exchanging a glance before strolling over to sit down.

Looking at their host again, Hutch suppressed a confused frown, as the sudden thought that there was something odd visible in Palmer's expression, something... unexpected in the way he studied them.

"Detectives Hutchinson," he tried questioningly, looking at Hutch, who nodded. "Yes," Palmer smiled, "and Starsky." His gaze wandered over to settle on Starsky, and again, Hutch couldn't fight the feeling that something was happening. Something they hadn't seen coming. Something dangerous.

But then, he might be just nervous.

"I would offer you something to drink," Palmer continued and shrugged slightly," but I'm not very fond of small talk. I'm a busy man, I like to get straight to the point. I've been told that you gentlemen wish to talk to me about something you wouldn't reveal to the messenger. Naturally," he smiled with dry humor, "I'm curious about what it might be."

"First of all," Hutch started, as always the one for talking when it came to their long and well trained appearance schemes, "we'd like to thank you for accepting our demand."

Palmer made a small waving gesture.

"As for your question," Hutch continued, making a show out of searching for the right words, "you may or may not have noticed that we've been... let's say, crossing your path a little often recently."

Palmer grinned. "I noticed you tend to park your cars close by with increasing enthusiasm. Coincidence, I guess," he added casually.

Hutch returned the smile, tilting his head to one side slightly. "Not quite," he answered.

A brief pause followed, Palmer's gaze wandering from the blond to his silent partner and back. "I think I'd like to offer you a drink after all," he stated and stood to cross the short distance to a huge bureau filling a corner and half of the wall. "Scotch?" he asked, and when he received no answer, filled three glasses.

"I think," he continued, carrying the glasses over to the desk, placing on in front of each detective, "I understand the reason for your being here now. And I must admit I'm not surprised."

"Believe us, we're not either," Starsky said. "I hate to tell you, Mr. Palmer, but your life's boring as hell."

Laughing amusedly at the cocky attitude in the younger man's voice, Palmer lifted his glass. "I'll drink to that."

All three took a sip from their drinks, then Palmer leaned back in his chair, studying the detectives for a second, before he spoke again. "I had you checked out. Routine," he added as if for an apology.

Starsky and Hutch remained silent. They'd anticipated that.

"I have to admit, I liked what I read."

That brought the shadow of a frown to both detectives' foreheads, and they exchanged the quickest of glances.

"You're good cops," Palmer continued. "I like that. You see," he explained, bending closer again, "good cops, they don't go for the money. I'm not saying one doesn't need that type too, but good cops, they're far more... fascinating," he finished, his gaze jumping to Starsky.

Watching in confusion, Hutch felt a cold shudder crawling down his spine. He couldn't point his finger at it, yet, but something was definitely going on. And not the way they'd planned it.

Breaking the eye contact with Starsky, Palmer leaned back again, folding his arms in front of him, 'talking business'-style. "Well, what's your offer, detectives?"

But before Hutch could even say what they'd thought of--something mostly centered on them clearing the paths for larger deals in the future, using their authority as assigned detectives--Palmer waved, stating, "You know something, I don't even want to hear it. I'd accept everything, just for the kick of it. Let's be honest, gentlemen," he grinned with open amusement, "I can't trust you, anyway."

At the returning wry smiles he received for that, his gaze once more found Starsky, and he added, "But I like you," before looking at both again, continuing, "and I think that I have the perfect job for you two. Something you won't... throw back at me right away," he finished with a smirk.

Restraining himself from searching for his partner's probably equally frustrated look, Hutch forced a curious expression on his face. "Job?"

"Like I said," Palmer replied with a gesture indicating his gracious personality," I like you. Just think of this as a job interview. Which you have most successfully passed."

"And, uh," Starsky said, his surprise coloring his words, as he looked from Palmer to Hutch and back," what kind of a job would that be?"


"I can't believe this is happening."

Wincing at his partner's half whined statement, Hutch hit his head back against the headrest of the Torino's passenger seat, utterly unnerved. "D'you think you could start believing it some time soon, `cause if not, I'm going to get out and sit on the tomato until you will."

Surprised, Starsky glanced at him and raised his brows innocently. "Grumpy aren't we?" Pause. "Maybe we should play a-"

"Don't," Hutch cut him off fiercely, his notorious Hutchinson Warning Finger popping up like a weapon, "say it. I don't like seeing you in danger, buddy, and if you suggest ONE more crap of a game, you'll DEFINITELY be in danger."

Starsky gazed at him blankly for a moment, then turned his head again, stating absolutely serious, "Yep. Grumpy."

Hutch swallowing the comment this stirred in his head, they sat in silence for some time, once more doing what everybody else suddenly seemed to think they could do best--watching a building.

"I don't believe this!" Starsky had informed his partner about his feelings regarding the job Jeremy Palmer had offered them (and which they had--naturally--accepted), once they'd left the club and returned to the Torino.

"How can he do this to us?! We've never done anything to HIM, have we? I mean... not... yet. But still, this is just... mean! I'm telling you," he'd added, so lost in his rambling, he hadn't even noticed his partner's utterly resigned expression, "he's looked right through our plan. That's why he's doing this. He wants us to lose it, so he can get rid of us! I bet it's a widely laid-out, cosmic scheme, and Palmer's in it, the Bureau-freaks are in it, Dobey's in it..." Suddenly jerking his head to Hutch, he'd watched him through narrowing eyes. "Hey, you're suspiciously un-pissed `bout this. Are you in it too?"

But the blond had been too effected by their "new" mission to even bother to roll his eyes at that. "Just drive, Starsky," he'd muttered tiredly. "We don't want to screw our first underworld assignment."

Their first underworld assignment, their chance to prove--faked--loyalty to Jeremy Palmer was, as they'd acknowledged with widening eyes, watching a hotel in the south of the city and wait for a man named Jack Tinto to leave it and follow him. Tinto was, or at least had once been one of Palmer's more important employees, his best known connection to northern California and one of his greater dealers. Of late, though, he had made himself look a bit suspicious.

At least that was what Starsky and Hutch had been told.

And of course, Palmer was right; this was something the detectives couldn't possibly, even if they were setting him up, hold against him, it wasn't a crime to spy on another person. Actually, Hutch had to admit, it was an impressively smart move of the big boss to use them for small tasks until he could be sure of their corruptibility.

"Keep your friends close," Hutch had muttered on their way to the hotel, and his friend had, with a squint, finished, "But keep your enemies closer. D'you think that's what he's doing?"

"Hm," Hutch had muttered, frowning in thoughts. "I don't know. It's just... Don't you find it strange how enthusiastic he was about... us," he'd finished, suddenly realizing what he'd wanted to say had been 'you'.

Unaware, Starsky had just shrugged, not taking his eyes off the road. "He sees cops changing sides every day. I guess it's no big deal for him."

"Yeah," Hutch had nodded, unconvinced. "Probably. Still..."

"Still what?" Starsky had asked, when his partner had failed to speak on.

"It felt... wrong. Back there."


"Yeah. Like we're on the wrong side of the trap."

After a moment's thought, Starsky had stated, "Well, we'll be careful then. Besides, you know, we're closer to him now too."

Puzzled, Hutch had frowned. "Huh?"

"The saying," his partner had explained patiently. "'But keep your enemies closer'. No one ever takes the time to think about that the enemies are closer to them, too, that way."

"Starsky logic," Hutch had replied with a wry smile.

"Best ya can get."

Two hours later, with the sun completely gone and night light flooding the street, Hutch sat in the blessed silence filling the Torino and realized he still hadn't managed to shake off the feeling of dread accompanying the whole mission. A feeling he hadn't had before, but that had started the moment he'd seen Jeremy Palmer's satisfied smile, the shimmer of triumph in his eyes.

It could have been just the arrogant joy of a criminal about yet another pair of honest cops taking a fall, the 'I KNEW no one's THAT pure!'-kinda joy he and Starsky had seen so often on the faces of their opponents over the years, usually just before they made a show out of destroying that joy by refusing the offer.

It was only natural for a man like Jeremy Palmer to seem so self-confident, when actually he was careful enough to not trust two cops. Hutch knew that.

But still... Something HAD been going on inside the man's head, something that, Hutch feared, had damaged their trap before it'd been even laid out, had taken the control from them.

Stretching his stiff neck once more, he turned his head to the side slightly and got a glance at his partner, who sat slumped in his seat, gaze ahead, but as far as Hutch could tell, not watching anything but whatever his inner eye presented him with.

He was just about to make a comment on Starsky's obvious lack of attention, when a very sudden, very sharp flash of guilt hit him as he recalled last night's discovery. He'd been so wrapped up with the new turn their case had taken, he'd completely forgotten about it, but now that he was secretly studying his partner, the guilt he'd felt returned with a vengeance.

"Rat," he said after a moment's thought and watched Starsky jump slightly, then look at him in clear puzzlement.


"Rat," Hutch repeated. "My turn with 'r'. Your last word was 'alligator'. So--rat."

As understanding crawled its way through the remains of Starsky's day-dream, the widest of all wide Starsky Special Grins spread on his face, and he couldn't even suppress half of it, when he tried to make a face. "Are we still playing things to eat?"

"Uhm..." Hutch murmured, indeed having totally forgotten about the topic of the game. "Well," he then shrugged, "I guess some folks eat rats somewhere."

Chuckling in clear appreciation, Starsky nodded in mock agreement. "Okay, that counts. 'T', huh? Uh... Tinto."


"No, no, no," Starsky interrupted his partner's sighed comment, pointing at the hotel across the street. "There's Tinto. See?"

Now also recognizing the man they'd been waiting for hastily leaving the hotel and waving for a cab, Hutch smirked. "Gotta leave the guy his timing's perfect. Game-wise."

"Yep," Starsky agreed and, happily humming the James Bond title melody to himself, started the engine to smoothly slide the Torino onto the street behind the taxi.

At his partner's puzzled look, he explained, "I always wanted to follow a cab like this when I was a kid."

Hutch chuckled. "What, not race after it with light and sirens on?"

"That too," his friend affirmed with a grave nod. "I guess I genuinely liked the idea of following cars."

"Glad to see you picked the right profession," Hutch smirked and watched the street again, where Tinto's cab slowly made its way through the beginnings of night life city traffic.

The drive wasn't a long one, though, only a few minutes later the cab pulled over, and as Starsky drove past, the detectives could see Jack Tinto emerge from the car and enter one of the many bureau buildings on that street.

The moment the man had vanished from their sight, Starsky parked the Torino too, glancing at his partner questioningly. "So, what now? Mission done."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded, watching the building in the rearview mirror, thinking, before he raised his brows at Starsky and shrugged slightly.

Starsky returned the shrug, and they both got out of the car to stroll over to the building Tinto had entered. It was a rather small, shabby looking old house that in its better days had given space to maybe two or three firms. Checking the signs on the door, the detectives found it to be deserted now, though, the remains of a few painted firm logos having faded over the years.

In the first floor, one lonely light glimmered through a dark curtain shielding a room's window from their gazes.

Exchanging a look, Starsky and Hutch again shrugged simultaneously and were about to enter, when suddenly a gunshot broke through the relative quietness of the young night.

Since he'd been the one pulling the front door open, Hutch didn't miss a second to race inside, whereas Starsky turned on his heels for the back door, reaching for his gun in the same instant.

Turning around the corner of the building, he squinted his eyes to make out what he was looking for in the dim light of a flickering street lamp and had just found the door, when it was thrown open with frantic force, almost hitting his nose and startling him enough to lose his balance and fall onto his back on the alley.

Due to his fast reflexes, he still managed to aim at the figure, who, after the first shock of almost running into an armed man, had started for the street.

"Freeze! Police!" he yelled from where he remained half lying on the ground, not wanting to be moving just when the guy would turn around. After all, he was most likely armed too.

And indeed the man whirled around at the call, gun risen, eyes searching for the cop in the semi-darkness. He himself, though, stood right in the orb of pale light the street light provided.

Normally, Starsky would have been faster, would have shot the second he'd seen the intention of defense in the suspect's movement.

But at the sight of the man's face, he froze, and in that split second, the suspect shot, missing the detective by mere inches, then turned and ran.

Starsky lay where he was, eyes wide with shock, not even hearing Hutch's frantic calls for him from inside of the building or reacting, when his partner stormed out through the back door, taking in the scenery with clear fear shaking his voice.


Skittering to his knees next to his fallen friend, Hutch tried to ascertain the situation, touching Starsky's shoulder, where he knew his partner couldn't be hit, since he lay propped up on the elbow.

"Hey, buddy, y'okay? You hit?"

When he got no response, the blond quickly looked for blood and, finding none, cupped his friend's cheek to turn his face to him. "Starsk, are you alright?" He waited, watching with increasing distress the shock slowly ebb out of the other man's gaze and gently shook his chin. "Are you with me? Starsk?"

"Y-yeah," Starsky stammered, voice shaking, and blinked a few times as if coming out of a trance. "Yeah, `m fine," he stated a little steadier then, pulling away from Hutch's touch. "Just ran into the door. Fell on my butt. I'm okay."

"You sure?" Hutch asked, concerned, sitting back to give his friend some space. "You don't look okay. Did you get knocked out?"

He was about to reach out again to feel for bumps, but Starsky staggered to his feet, before Hutch could touch him, putting his gun he still held back in its holster.

Eyes still filled with worry, Hutch stood up too, ready to support his partner if it'd be necessary. "I heard a shot."

"He missed," Starsky answered flatly and swallowed dryly, trying to get his emotions under control.

Hutch frowned. Now that he was on his feet, it was obvious that Starsky wasn't hurt, but he was deathly pale and visibly distressed, much more than he should have been from just taking a fall, Hutch thought.

"Are you really okay?" the blond asked urgently, bending down a bit so he could look directly into his friend's eyes. "You look like you've seen a ghost or something."

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Starsky waved his partner's concern off. "He just startled me. Didn't... expected him," he finished quietly.

Watching Starsky closely, Hutch decided to drop it for the time being, though he made a mental note about the eerie explanation. "Tinto's dead," he said, changing into business tone. "Shot in the head. Looks a lot like execution."

Trying hard to let his relief over Hutch not inquiring his condition any further not be shown, Starsky nodded in acknowledgement of the information. "It was a trap."

"Guess so," Hutch agreed with a sigh. 'But--for whom?' "Guess Tinto was set up," he added.

Starsky looked up at him, frowning. "Palmer?"

Hutch shrugged. "Who knows. But it's a strange coincidence that we've been following Tinto to his death, don't you think?"

Cobalt blues suddenly snapped up at this, and Hutch thought he could almost see a piece of an inner puzzle fall into place inside Starsky's head.

"Yeah," the smaller man muttered as if to himself, his gaze wandering off for a moment. "Awfully strange." Suddenly, he seemed to recall he wasn't alone and looked at his partner again, suggesting, "Maybe this was our welcoming test."

Opening his mouth to shoot back a reply, Hutch suddenly stopped himself, thinking. "You know, that actually makes sense."

"Hm-mm," Starsky made absent-mindedly, gaze wandering off again down the alley his attacker had vanished in.

"So--what're we going to do now?"

"Call Palmer," Starsky replied without looking at Hutch, who stared at him, puzzled.

"I meant about Tinto. We've to call this in, we can't just leave a crime scene."

"Huh?" Once more snapping out of his thoughts, Starsky blinked and finally turned at his more than slightly worried partner. "Oh. Right. Well, uh..." Suddenly raising his index finger at Hutch, he checked his watch, then looked up at the blond again with a half shrug. "Our shift ended hours ago. What we do in our free time is our business, so we just happened to drive by when we heard a shot and stopped to see what's going on. Happens all the time."

"Could work," Hutch admitted. "And why didn't we call for back-up?"

"`Cause we're stupid," Starsky replied with an unnerved sigh. "No one but our superior would deal with that, anyway, Hutch, and our superior's Dobey, right? He knows, and we're going to tell him the truth about this too."

"That we just stood by and watched a man heading for his execution?" Hutch asked sarcastically, bringing his hand up to squeeze his tired eyes shut briefly.



It was early morning, when they were finally allowed to leave the precinct after their statements had been taken.

Inwardly squirming in the eerie, thick silence filling the narrow space between him and his partner inside the Torino on their way to Venice Place, Hutch cast Starsky a concerned look. They hadn't talked to each other since calling the murder in, and they hadn't heard the other one's statement, either, but whenever Hutch had been able to get a look at his partner, he'd found him uncharacteristically subdued, withdrawn, and, though he hadn't heard it, from the mere look of him Hutch could have sworn that Starsky was lying.

And not the way Hutch himself was. Not about the part they'd only tell Dobey.

Studying his friend doubtfully, he suddenly couldn't restrain himself from breaking the silence any longer. "How's the butt?"

Starsky threw him a quick glance that made it clear he knew exactly what Hutch was doing, but didn't gave up his quiet surface, as he stated, "I'll live."

Hutch nodded slowly, preparing to carry the conversation over the nonsense starting line. "So, what d'you make of all this?"

That at least brought a reaction to the smaller man's face, and a somewhat strained sounding sigh escaped him. "I've no idea," he answered after a moment's thought, and looked at his partner once more. "But it wasn't part of my plan."

"Hm." A long pause stretched itself into the beginning of yet another uncomfortable silence, before Hutch drew in a deep breath, bracing himself. "Starsk..."

Suddenly finding he couldn't ask what he wanted to, he hushed himself, gaze fixed on his partner, who wouldn't meet his.

'He's scared,' Hutch thought, surprised. 'But--of what?' Narrowing his eyes, he tilted his head to one side slightly, trying desperately to read his friend. 'Or maybe... of whom?'

Whatever it had been that had altered Starsky's behavior ever since the incident, he obviously wasn't ready to talk about it yet, anyway, and, still confused and startled himself, Hutch finally decided to drop it for the moment, when his partner pulled over in front of Venice Place.

Reluctantly, Starsky cast him a glance, and after a pause opened his mouth as if to speak, but thought different. Biting his lower lip, he swallowed as if it were the words he didn't want to say he had to gulp down, and forced the ghost of a smile on his face.

"Don't be late for tennis lesson tomorrow."

Under his partner's piercing look, he sensibly stiffened, the smile fading quickly, until Hutch released him and turned away to get out of the car. "Don't worry."

Outside, Hutch stopped, door in hand, and bent down to try and look at his friend once more. "Hey."

The curly head turned visibly unwillingly. "Yeah?"

"D'you think it's wise to keep this on?" Hutch asked, unhidden concern evident in his voice. "Maybe we should stop and play it right. From our side of the fence."

Starsky's gaze dropped, and once more Hutch couldn't help thinking that, for some reason, his partner couldn't face him. That he was afraid of what might be seen in his eyes.

"No," he said, and started the engine like a signal for the blond to release the door, "I don't think we should." Without looking up into his friend's eyes, he then reached over and closed the passenger door himself, before he sped off, leaving a very puzzled Hutch behind to helplessly stare after the car until it turned around a corner.

And even then he didn't move for another few moments, but remained where he stood on the sidewalk, feeling as alone as he hadn't felt in a long, long time.


The events of the day replaying themselves in his head, forming an obscure knot of dreads, fears, theories and facts, he finally made his way up to his apartment, the hope of at least some hours of merciful sleep minimizing with each step he took physically as well as inwardly.

Inside his living-room, on his carpet, awaited him an upturned salad bowl, armies of ants exploring the walls of their new world, coloring it a rusty brown.

As his gaze instantly found the microcosm, he let the door fall shut gently and leant against it heavily, wiping his exhausted eyes with his thumb and index finger.



"Oh come on, Cap! How were we supposed to know the guy was going to get his head blown off?!"

Letting his fingers wander over his tired, burning eyes to rest on the bridge of his nose, Hutch peeked up at the impressive form of Captain Harold Dobey leaning forward almost threateningly in his chair as he waved his finger like a fist at a very hot-headed Starsky, who was fiercely pacing behind Hutch's chair.

Seated in the middle, Hutch felt like a referee. An immobile one.

"I didn't say you were supposed to know," Dobey shot back, as furious as his detective. "I said you weren't supposed to be THERE at all!"

Hutch sighed. The fight had started almost the second they'd stepped into Dobey's office that morning, and he couldn't help thinking that Starsky had started it even before that, in the car on the way to the precinct, on the stairs to the squad room. Probably at home.

Only now he had Dobey to verbalize it.

"We were doing our job! There's nothing we could have done about it!"

Cringing at the volume Starsky reached in his anger, Hutch shot him a glance that was missed entirely. With a suppressed sigh, he finally turned ahead again, allowing himself to slouch down a little in his seat. He knew the look on his partner's face.

Starsky wasn't seeing, Starsky wasn't hearing, Starsky was enraged. And he needed to yell it out of his system.

"How about not LYING afterwards?! D'you have any idea what mess you get ME into with this?!"

The only problem was, Dobey didn't know that the detective's anger had nothing to do with him. Not even with their argument. He'd made the first mistake by merely addressing Starsky, something Hutch had wisely tried to avoid on their ride to work, but instead of recognizing the unmistakable symptoms of a Starsky Fit, Dobey had, after the first snapped blows, soon joined the verbal match. He'd had a phone call from the FBI agents before, and to Hutch it was obvious that he needed someone to pile his irritation up on almost as badly as Starsky.

Why no one ever cared about HIS nerves, though, the poor blond detective couldn't figure.

"Yeah, well, maybe we should've lied to you too-"

"`Ey, watch it, buddy," Hutch quickly intervened at that, throwing his ranting partner a warning look, before Dobey had even pulled up his chin again. "We're all moody today," he added calmly, raising his hands as if in self-defense, "so let's not say things we might regret later, okay?"

Starsky grumbled something unintelligible and finally let himself fall into the chair next to Hutch like a sulking teenager in the principal's office.

True to his role in that picture, Dobey cast him a reprimanding look and leaned back with a deep sigh.

"What happened happened," Hutch continued diplomatically. "There's no use in arguing about whose fault it was. What's important is how it affects our case."

"If it still is your case," Dobey replied, the reminders of a whole morning of suppressed anger still evident in his voice.

"Of course it's our case," Starsky shot back, all tensed up again, as if he'd just waited for a line to renew his energy. "We found the body!"

"Right," Dobey said impatiently, "so logically THAT´S your case."

"Then what're we arguing about?!" Starsky snapped.

Hutch secretly squeezed his eyes shut briefly, trying hard to remain calm. 'That's what we'd ALL like to know, buddy.'

"Cap'n," he addressed Dobey, before the Captain could answer Starsky's remark, "it's obvious that the murder is connected to Palmer. One way or the other. It wouldn't be very wise to drag us off Palmer now only to have us investigating on-"

"Hey, wait a second," Starsky cut him off. "Palmer's our case! We can't back out now, we've just made a connection!"

"The FBI-" Dobey started, but didn't get very far.

"Screw the FBI! What do they know?! Those punks've never seen the guy! They're just sitting around all day behind their fu-"

"For Christ's sake, Starsk, shut up!!!" Hutch efficiently stopped his partner from further ranting. "Jeez."

In the eerily ashamed silence that followed, he turned to Dobey again. "He's right, the triumvirate doesn't have a clue about what's going on."

"And you do?" Dobey asked sarcastically.

Next to him, Hutch could almost sense Starsky bite his lip to keep a comment from slipping out. Inwardly thanking his friend, he replied calmly, "We're into it now. It'd be plain stupid to stop now."

"Yeah, 'into it'," Dobey growled. "Nice way to describe it." Suddenly looking incredibly tired, as if aging in front of the younger men, he raised a large hand to wipe it over his exhausted features.

"Cap'n," Hutch started, feeling sorry for the man, "we know how it sounds, but--"

"You do? Then please enlighten me, Hutchinson, `cause I've no idea how it sounds other than bad." Looking up at his detectives, the old gruff expression quickly found its way back into dark eyes, as the Captain went on, "You offer a guy like Palmer a FAVOR, and he HIRES you?! For murder witnessing?!"

He paused, underlining his words with a meaningful glance that Hutch could only return with a sheepish smile. "Don't you think that sounds interesting enough for further investigation?"

At least that brought a snicker from Starsky, much to Hutch's relief, though now it was him finding himself the target of the Captain's look to kill. "Don't get cute with me, Hutch."

"Sorry," Hutch mumbled ruefully and exchanged a quick glance with his partner, who hurried to his help, obviously having calmed down enough. "`Sides, we're no witnesses, we're investigating officers. There's a difference."

Ice blue eyes snapped to him, yet their owner remained silent.

Dobey, on the other hand, frowned. "Thought you saw the hit man."

"Me?" Starsky asked innocently and shook his head. "Nope. You?" he asked Hutch.

"Uhm..." the blond started, suddenly unsure of what he read in his friend's eyes."Yes. No. I'm not sure," he added in a half whisper, as if only speaking to Starsky.

Sensing the tension increasing in the room, Dobey cleared his throat for a final exclamation. "Okay, I'll leave the murder case to you, in addition to your FBI assignment." Once more, he paused, longer this time, until the detectives stood up to leave, before he added in a low growl, "But be careful."

"Will do, Cap," Starsky grinned, much to Hutch's surprise. Usually, his partner wasn't that fast with the cooling down after such a show.

"Hmpf," Dobey grumbled, when they were already at the door. "And I don't want any more panic calls from the agents, got that?"

"Don't worry, Cap'n," Hutch replied with an assuring smile, but his words were lost in Starsky's muttered "It's not their case anymore, anyway."

Looking after his partner with a frown, Hutch followed him, but not without exchanging a glance with Dobey, before the door fell shut.


It hadn't been just a line; Hutch really had always hated the days he'd have to spend at the club, most of the time with his mother, who'd always forgotten about her bored and therefore withdrawn company as soon as she'd set foot inside the widely ranged building.

If at all, little Kenneth Hutchinson had been given a book to occupy himself with while he'd sat in his chair in the hallway, waiting. He'd been one of a handful of other children allowed in the club's rooms, and this privilege his parents had not only bought for him, but they had also thumped into him that he was to respect and honor it by behaving himself to the point of becoming invisible. Melting into the furniture for a few hours a week.

He hadn't been allowed to leave wherever he'd been disposed in the long hallways, nor, of course, had he been allowed to make any sound at all. Just like the other children, he'd been doomed to silence while the chatters of adults had flooded the halls.

So he'd read or, sometimes, had just studied the walls, trying to figure out things he couldn't understand. Like, for example, why it was that his mother was so sad.

Why it was that he could sense that sadness so deeply that it filled his young heart to the point of aching, while she didn't seem to need or even want his sympathy, his caring.

Along with the anxious boredom that naturally befalls a child force to sit still, unoccupied, for hours, Hutch most of all recalled the disturbing feeling of dread, distress, that in his memory was linked to club rooms.

He recalled the child's feeling of helplessness at his not understanding the emotions he'd sensed in the person he'd loved most at that time. The one person, whose feelings he--unnoticed--shared, without her knowing about it, and even though as an adult he DID understand what it all had been about, even though he'd had his own share of feeling trapped and empty in his life, the child's fear still lingered somewhere in the back of his soul, waiting to grab a hold of his heart again one day, with old, but strong claws.

And as he and Starsky followed the ever completely ironed looking Mr. Crowe down the hallway to Jeremy Palmer's private room once more, the sudden realization hit him that that old feeling was exactly what filled his heart right then.

Glancing at his partner walking slightly ahead of him, the thought even fastened, as the physical distance seemed to remark the climax of what had been going on ever since they'd left Dobey's office that morning to start their daily useless stakeout.

Subdued to the point of not hearing Hutch when he directly addressed him, Starsky had not spoken a single word to his partner by his own means, but had stoically stared at whatever place Palmer had been at, seemingly not lost in thoughts, but with increasing determination.

A determination to do what, Hutch had no idea. And it scared the hell out of him.

Being Hutch, though, he could almost feel Starsky slide away, secretly, as if he was inwardly sneaking out of the sphere that was them.

And the worst thing was, Hutch didn't know WHY.

He could sense anguish, as well as fear and the unhindered flow of constant glaring anger washing through his partner, but he couldn't understand it. He wanted to help, but his help wasn't asked for. He wanted to be there, but he was shut out.

He wanted to grab his friend's shoulders and stop him to have him look at him, to do what he was good at--kick some sense into a stubborn David Starsky. But, ironically also because he was Hutch, he knew it would be pointless. Since he knew the other man so well, knew him by heart, he KNEW that whatever was going on wasn't something he would understand.

At least--at the moment.

And so he kept his agonized silence; observing, waiting, questioning quietly, ever there to catch, but unable to see. Just like little Kenneth Hutchinson had so many years ago.

His gaze wandering over the wood clad walls of the hallway, that comparison suddenly terrified him.

"Gentleman," Palmer's baritone voice greeted them as they entered his private room, almost startling Hutch. He hadn't even noticed they'd arrived.

"Again," Palmer went on with a grin, "I'm not surprised to see you here."

"Funny," Starsky replied, coming to a halt in the middle of the room, before the desk, "this time we are."

For the second time that day puzzled blue eyes snapped to him, and for the second time he didn't notice.

Before Palmer had any chance to verbalize his amused reaction to that, Starsky added, absolutely serious, "It would have been nice to know that you don't pay good cops, before we accepted the job."

Hutch almost coughed in surprise.

Palmer blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"We watched Tinto for you," Starsky explained matter-of-factly, producing a crumbled looking small piece of paper from his shirt pocket that he held out for Palmer to see, before starting to read out loud, "11: 17 pm--Tinto leaves hotel."

Hutch fought hard against the frown threatening to settle on his forehead, as he couldn't help feel confused, even slightly hurt, by his partner's solo move.

But if Starsky sensed his friend's distress, he ignored it, reading on, "11:18--Tinto enters cab. 11: 25--Tinto leaves cab. 11:26--Tinto enters building in Blinn Street. 11:27--Tinto gets his head blown off. Done."

His expression innocence itself, he looked up from his 'notes' at a by now widely grinning Jeremy Palmer.

"You're here because you didn't get paid?" the man asked in an incredulous tone that was obviously just a show.

Exchanging an equal act of a look with his partner, who tried his best to keep up with the performance and suppressed the urge to stare his friend to the ground, Starsky shrugged.


Palmer's grin faded to a thin smile, as he locked eyes with Starsky, who didn't even blink, but held the gaze with an expression in his midnight blues his partner could only identify as dangerous. Overloaded.

He'd seen this look before, he suddenly thought. Hell, he saw it every day. Silent communication. He was witnessing a discussion, and he didn't have a clue what it was about.

What he could see, though, and clearly, was that the two men were agreeing. Deciding something. Together.

After what to Hutch felt like an eternity, the eye contact broke, and Palmer, clearing his throat, averted his eyes. "The man who shot my employee, did you see him?"

As he waited for the answer, his gaze wandered back to the detectives, only grazing Starsky and heading straight for the blond.

Before Hutch could answer, though, Starsky did. "Yes."

Since Palmer still held his gaze, Hutch couldn't throw his partner the absolutely exasperated look that formed behind his eyes, but inwardly, he was doing the yelling and shaking he'd thought about earlier with much more force than would have been healthy for Starsky in reality...

Not even waiting for the blond's answer, Palmer looked at Starsky again, pausing, before he slowly leaned back in his seat. "Mr. Crowe," he addressed his employee, without taking his eyes off the curly haired cop. "Please leave us alone."

With a mute nod, Mr. Crowe obeyed.

"Please," Palmer said, when the door was softly closed, "why don't you gentlemen have a seat?"

"Because we like to stand," Starsky replied curtly.

A thin grin snaked over Palmer's features, otherwise he ignored the comment. "Frank Navacelle," he started after another short pause, eyes quickly snapping from one to the other to catch their reactions.

Going through his encyclopedia of a memory, Hutch thought the name sounded slightly familiar, but he couldn't point a finger at where he'd heard it. Probably it'd once been connected to a case or something he and Starsky had been working on, he figured.

Yet his partner, as curtly as before, stated, "Never heard of him."

"He used to work for me," Palmer said, rubbing his chin as if nervous. Hutch, though, couldn't shake the feeling of watching a very well-trained performance. Everything about the man seemed to be faked, planned. But why, Hutch couldn't tell. All he knew was that something strange was going on. And he seemed to be the only one noticing it.

"But then one day," Palmer continued and absently played with a small bronze figure that stood on his large desk, "he changed sides. Never found out why." A shrug. "Probably a case of severly payment." At the bitter joke, he glanced up, flashing the detectives a wry smile that faded, as he added, "Killed some very good men of mine. Mostly cops."

Silence followed, so thick Hutch thought he would choke on it. Secretly glancing to his side, he found Starsky staring at a point over Palmer's head as if wanting to pretend he was looking at him, but couldn't. He'd paled a few shades, and, squinting his eyes, Hutch suddenly found he'd clenched his hands to fists.

'What the hell is going on here?!'

Still busy playing with the small item, Palmer missed the detective's individual reactions to his revelation. When he glanced up again, both quickly adjusted their expressions again.

"Isn't it funny about people and revenge?" he asked in an amused tone. "Like, take me," he added, lightly laughing. "Here I am, having everything... And I'd give a lot to see that man pay for what he did. Though I know it wasn't meant to be personal," he added matter-of-factly.

"A lot," Starsky repeated in a mixture of innocence and that dangerously low tone Hutch thought he'd never heard in his friend's voice before, "huh?"

Eyes once more directly focused on Starsky, Palmer lifted his brows with a smile that showed interest. He visibly waited for the detective to speak on, but Starsky didn't.

Looking from him to Palmer and back, Hutch could feel the first signs of clear and utter annoyance. Here he was, part of the team, and he felt like he was watching a scene from the outside. Of course he understood perfectly what Starsky was silently offering, and under every other circumstance, he would have thought it a brilliant idea, but naturally it bothered him to have been so completely left out.

'It would have been nice to know we're into illuminating people too now, buddy!'

"I take it," Palmer started in a business-like tone, "since you two brilliant cops never sleep, you just happened to guard the streets, looking out for evil beings, when an innocent man got shot in a very respectable part of town then?"

Starsky smiled briefly without any humor reaching his eyes.

"And naturally," Palmer continued, "you're the investigating officers now."

"Naturally," Starsky muttered.

"And," the other man blinked innocently, as he glanced around the room, "you know the name of the man now. Oops."

"Yeah, uhm," Starsky said in faked interest, "you wouldn't possibly know if Mr. Navacelle tends to, like, run from cops?"

"Don't they all?" Palmer asked with a sigh.

"Yeah," Starsky nodded. "Pity. Even a good cop can only shoot then."

Hutch couldn't help rolling his eyes. 'Talking of bubbling Godfather-style... he thought, unnerved. Wait 'til we're outta here, PARTNER!'

As another long, understanding glance was exchanged by his friend and Palmer, he actually had to suppress a comment threatening to slip out. He was annoyed, puzzled and most of all, though he wouldn't admit it to himself, he was scared. He couldn't recall Starsky ever acting on his own like that. Not about something they both were involved in. Not about something that big.

"Well," Palmer said, when he broke off the eye contact to busily shove papers from one end of his desk to the other, "I'll contact you about your deleted payment then, detectives. I'm awfully sorry this happened." With a smile, he glanced up. "Big business, this. Things like that happen."

"Hopefully not again," Starsky replied and without another word turned to head for the door, leaving his partner so surprised he was already outside, before Hutch had even had time to notice.

Clenching his jaws until it almost hurt, he kept his distance as he walked behind Starsky out and to the car.

Only when they were inside, did he sharply jerk to his friend, reaching out as if to grab him, but fighting that urge.

"What the HELL was that?!"

Starsky blinked innocently. "What d'you mean?"

"You know exactly what I mean, Starsky!" Annoyed, Hutch almost yelled, and, as if he'd only waited for another chance, his partner adapted the volume level, angrily shooting back, "We got the hit man's name, don't we?!"

"Yeah," Hutch replied fiercely, too furious himself to let his worries quiet his voice. "That and a new job! 'Even a good cop can only shoot'?! God, anyone for vomit too?!"

"I thought we decided to play it this way!" Starsky defended himself.

"When?!" Now, Hutch was actually yelling. "When the hell did we decide we were going to offer our killing abilities?! When I was asleep again?!"

"What the fuck is your problem?!" His partner's reply came high-pitched, his eyes burning with fury that, Hutch knew, couldn't be caused by just that fight. "We know the guy's name!"

"My problem is," Hutch replied, lowering his voice to the point of almost whispering, "that my partner just pulled a solo, and that sucks, buddy. The least you could have done was to tell me what you were planning to do."

Starsky stared at him, visibly distressed by the blond's suddenly softening expression. It was obvious that he wanted to fight with Hutch and not feel sorry because of the genuine hurt he saw reflected in his eyes.

Working his jaw as if fighting with words that still pressed to be yelled out, but would only hurt an innocent man, he averted his gaze.

"Starsk, what is it?" Hutch tried, bending down a bit to look into Starsky's face.

A pause followed, almost an answer itself, and Hutch was just about to speak again, when his friend's curly head came up and he quietly stated, "I want this guy, Hutch."

"Which one?" The blond's whisper came so soft, almost like a whisper that hung in the air like a faint fog, cold and silky.

His partner averted his eyes, drew in a quick, nervous breath and looked back at Hutch. He didn't answer.

Once more, their eyes met, and the midnight blues that just a few minutes ago had glared at Palmer so hard and determined, shimmered pleadingly now, the very soul behind them opening itself to let lighter ones catch a glimpse.

Once more, decisions were made, but true ones, based not on believing and acting, but on trust.

Hutch was the first to break the contact, turning his head to look ahead at the street like a gesture for his friend to get going, take the lead.

He'd follow.

With a tiny sigh of relief, Starsky started the engine.


Funny, how you could trust someone with your own life, but not his. Funny, how you could stand by one's side instinctively--as a part of your nature--and at the same time know it was the wrong thing to do.

Funny, how much that knowledge scared him, Hutch thought.

The ride to Huggy's had been spent in silence, the blond occasionally glancing at his partner, doubt nagging at his heart, the rational part of his mind pushing him to speak up, to ask the questions circling in his head. Again, the urge to simply grab Starsky and force him to let Hutch in on whatever was going on was hard to suppress.

Yet, he managed, and another part of his mind knew why.

If Starsky sensed his friend's discomfort, he didn't let on, but stared straight ahead at the street, seemingly concentrating, though Hutch knew that expression as one showing distress. Doubt. And--as if there was an argument going on behind those narrowed blue eyes--determination.

Huggy greeted them with a wry smile, looking up from where he'd been busy wiping at a particularly dark spot on the counter with obvious lack of enthusiasm. At this early hour, the place was deserted, and even the waitress seemed to be late, if the expression of annoyed boredom on the bartender's face was any indication.

"Your Captain called," he exclaimed, when the detectives came to a halt at the counter.

Exchanging a surprised glance, they both climbed onto bar stools, before looking back at Huggy, who explained, "Said if you don't check in with some kid agents, you'd both be sorry. Personally, I believed him."

Heads falling forward in resignation, Starsky and Hutch muttered a synchronous "Aw shit!"

"By the way," Huggy went on, obviously in a bad enough mood to enjoy getting drawn into a discussion about his friends' misery. "What's this `bout you two wasting Jack Tinto?"

Rolling his eyes, Hutch answered, "That's what people with common sense call bullshit."

Starsky snickered, earning a surprised look from his partner. Up until then the curly haired detective had kept on his subdued appearance, and the clear signs of tension were still visible in his whole posture.

At least for Hutch.

"Oh?" Huggy replied sarcastically. "Pity. 'Cause you might have gotten my money from him."

"You'll get your money," Starsky said, a faint glimmer of his usual humor rushing through his eyes, "when--"

"You start a new tab," Huggy finished unenthusiastically. "Yeah, I know. So what can I do for you for my two most gracious brothers if not collect?"

Hutch grinned, and his partner replied in mock gravity, "Help making the world a better place, my friend."

The bar owner snorted. "I'd rather make the Bahamas a better place. By spreading the gift of my presence."

Throwing his partner an amused glance, Starsky nodded in slow-motion, a mocking frown crawling over his forehead. "Yeah, Hug, uhm... When we're done here, you can do all the spreading you want, 'kay? Right now we need your help."

"Don't you always?"

"Aw, bro," Starsky said, putting on a light version of his deadly sick puppy look. "Please?"

Unnerved, Huggy turned to Hutch. "Okay, what?"

"We're looking for Tinto's killer," the blond explained.

"His name's Frank Navacelle," Starsky took over, also changing into business-tone. "He's only recently arrived from New York, and he probably won't be too keen on staying too long, so this has 'urgency' on it. We need information like yesterday."

Unaware of Hutch's sudden shocked glance he was the target of, Starsky lifted his brows at Huggy questioningly. "So--got something?"

Frowning ever so slightly at Hutch's reaction to his partner's words, Huggy opened his mouth, but was kept from his original answer by a very quick, pleading shake of the blond's head.

"Uhm," he started, pushing the questioning look from his face and turned to Starsky again, who cast Hutch a glance, but only found his partner watching their friend with the same interest he himself had in the answer.

"I think you could be lucky," Huggy continued. "There was some talk going on about Palmer's connections to NY. I thought you knew. What with having his name on your weekly paycheck now."

"There's plenty we don't know," Hutch muttered quietly, too soft for Starsky to hear, who was already asking the next question, but Huggy heard, and once more, he shoot the blond a startled look.

"Let's assume we don't know nothing," Starsky talked over his friend's whispered words, unnerved. "Could you find out if the connections have dropped by for a visit lately? And maybe where they might have dwelled, too?"

"Sure," Huggy nodded, all teasing forgotten as he sensed Hutch's sudden change of mood. "I'll see what I can get."

"You do that," Starsky said with a grateful

nod. "Give us a call."

"Got it, Starsk."

"Thanks." Jumping off his stool, Starsky turned to leave. "See you, Hug. And don't worry, the Bahamas won't run," he wise-cracked as he strolled towards the door.

Watching him carefully, Hutch slowly slid off his own bar stool, turning to his friend with a whisper, "Huggy, when you hear something--call me."

Puzzled, Huggy frowned. "I said I--"

"No," Hutch interrupted him urgently, still keeping his voice low enough that Starsky, who was already half out of the bar, couldn't hear it. "Call ONLY me."

"Hutch, you comin'?" Starsky called from the door, and the blond turned with a nod.

"Yeah. Comin'."

Shooting Huggy a last, pleading glance over his shoulder, he quickened his step to catch up with his friend.

Left alone, Huggy watched the door fall shut, a cold shudder crawling up his spine.


Wasn't it a strange thing, life? Or time? Or the human memory?

Wasn't it strange things, happening to you just all of a sudden? One moment you were doing your job, you were boring yourself to death and getting on your partner's nerves for fun, and the next you found your life upside down.

And, God, you longed for the boredom to return.

Strange, wasn't it? One moment you were playing children's games, and the next you WERE a child all over again. The child's emotions betraying your own. The child's memory reflecting the adult's decisions.

And, God, how you wished to be a child again. How you wished you were helpless. Not armed.

How you wished you would NOT have the power to do what you always thought you wanted to do.

Funny, wasn't it, what a scary thing power was?

Sitting in the Torino parked across the building where he'd just had the valuable experience of being reprimanded by three FBI-agents, whose combined age was probably that of his baby brother, Starsky drummed a rapid rhythm on the steering wheel, desperately fighting against the thoughts threatening to grab, rattle him.

When they'd left Huggy's, Hutch had suggested splitting up for the rest of the day, explaining that one day they would have to tell the Feds the truth about their private party, and that it'd be wise to have at least something to show them then.

Seeing the sense in that, Starsky had--most willingly actually--agreed, and so Hutch had returned to the precinct to write their reports, while Starsky was to check in with "their" agents to ease Dobey's wrath and to get new stakeout instructions he and Hutch could ignore.

It'd taken all his patience to not lash out at so easy targets like the young Feds in his still overwhelming anger, but somehow he had managed and instead had mutely listened to the guys' complaints about the detectives never updating them.

He'd even muttered an apology through gritted teeth, an achievement he should have been awarded for, he thought with a bitter chuckle as he sat in his car.

Blinking, he suddenly noticed he'd absently stared at the empty seat next to him for the last few minutes, and, irritated, averted his eyes, the drumming pattern speeding up a bit.

Now that he had time to think about it, time to reflect on the past half day, doubt started to nag in his mind. Questions could suddenly be heard he'd blocked out with inward yelling before.

'Why didn't you just tell him? He'd have understood. You could have talked about what to do. You could have decided something together. Together. You don't have to be alone with this. Do you want to be? Do you want to be alone? Why don't you want to hear his opinion? Why don't you want him to know?'

'What are you so afraid of?'

Closing his eyes, he stopped the drumming; let his head sink in overwhelming frustration and grief he'd believed to be long forgotten.

The real problem was that he knew all the answers. He just didn't want to hear them. What he wanted was to yell. To act.

Not to think.

He wanted to be true to the broken child and at the same time it scared him. Scared him with its vulnerability. Scared him with its simple emotions, its simple hate, its simple hero-worshipping.

Hutch would understand. Starsky knew that. He'd understand, but he'd be concerned. He'd listen, and then he'd talk, and he would--there was no doubt about it--he would talk sense into his friend. Because he knew him as he did, which was, Starsky thought with a wry smile, probably better than he knew himself, Hutch would know what Starsky thought, planned--and what he could never do.

Like killing his father's murderer. Like taking revenge. At any cost.

'Right. At any cost. At the cost of taking revenge for a man, who maybe did nothing but lie all his life! Who maybe wasn't worth was much as the badge he was wearing! Who...'

Fury spreading inside him like a fire, he hit the steering wheel with his flat hand and let it lay there, drawing in deep breaths to calm himself.

'You don't know that. You don't know what Palmer knows. You don't know shit. Look at you!'

Obediently, he opened his eyes, his reflection in the rearview mirror a desperate looking man, pale, tired, confused, alone.

'You're walking around like some sort of zombie! You don't even know what to believe. You don't know who's working for whom or whose planning what. You don't know nothing. Only that he's here. That's the only thing you can sure of. He's here and somehow you've got to deal with that.'

The expression on his reflection's face suddenly softened.

'Talk to Hutch.' He closed his eyes, slightly turned his head.

'Talk to Hutch, Dave.'

For a long time, he sat with his eyes closed as if against the soft, urgent voice in his head, begging for the anger to return. Fury was better than despair, blind hate was better than grief. Maybe if he satisfied the child, he wouldn't have to tell it the truth about its hero. Maybe the truth would go away if he concentrated on the illusion of power.

With a last sigh, he opened his eyes again, wiped over his exhausted features and started the engine.

He'd talk to Hutch alright, he knew himself that good. But later. Later.


"Uhm... talk to you later," Hutch excused himself, when he saw Linda Baylor glancing at him from the door to the squad room, a thin folder in her hand, and quickly stood up, flashing the colleague he'd just talked to an apologetic smile.

Seeing he was on his way, Linda stepped away from the door to lean against the wall next to the entrance, waiting for him.

"Found it?" Hutch asked, when the door fell shut behind him, his eyes already fixed on the folder in her hand.

"Yep," she nodded and handed it to him. "Was as easy as stealing files from the archive."

At his glance, an ironic chuckle followed. "Yeah, okay, not that I DIDN´T steel it from the archive..."

Hutch laughed and flapped the folder open to the first page, when she stated with an almost apologetic gesture, "Seems it's not that much in it, though."

Surprised, Hutch looked up from where he was already reading the first page. "You didn't read it?"

"You said you couldn't have anyone knowing about this," she replied honestly.

He flashed her a grateful smile. "Thanks, Linda. I appreciate that."

"You're welcome," she said and after a brief pause asked, "This is about Dave, isn't it? If you don't," she added quickly, raising her hands as if in self-defense, "want to tell me, I understand. I just... He's not in any trouble, is he?"

"No, he's not," Hutch replied with a warm smile that faded quickly as his gaze wandered down to the folder he was holding. "Not yet."

Watching him silently for a moment, she finally gave a parting nod, turning to leave. "See you, Hutch."

"Yeah," he called after her without looking up from his reading. "Thanks again, Linda."

Stopping on her tracks at the strained look settling on his face, she opened her mouth, but was kept from asking anything by another detective calling him from inside the squad room.

"Hutch, Phone."

"Y-yeah, b-be... right there," Hutch stammered, visibly torn out of his thoughts, and turned to re-enter the room, unaware of Linda's look still lingering on him until he was out of sight.


The man on the pictures looked a lot like him. The same wavy brown hair, the same smooth features, actually, it seemed that the only difference was the color of their eyes. Michael Starsky's eyes had been green. Or rather, as his son recalled, a greenish grey. Like swamp plants.

But other than that, he bore a striking resemblance to his late father.

And he'd always thought it wasn't just looks. He could remember the man's laughter, and he knew it'd sounded a lot like his own. He remembered certain ways of speech, certain ways of moving, certain opinions, preferences, the way his Dad would talk about his job or how he would sit in the kitchen, putting on a huge act of reading the newspaper after a fight, waiting for his son to come and start a nonsense-conversation so that they could make it up over the funny pages.

All that he remembered and he knew many of his father's habits had become his. Occasionally, he still talked like him, used words he still heard in his father's voice.

Small things. For a lifetime he'd clung to small things. The tender kiss to the nose Michael Starsky had always greeted his wife with in the evenings. His love for ships. His childlike delight in playing practical jokes at every member of the family.

It was a natural thing to do, saving the small things. Locking them in your heart, keeping each and every one shiny and cared for. Your most precious belongings.

Yet, of course, there were big ones too. Big words. Justice. Principles. Duty. Courage.

Big words he just didn't use, when thinking about his father. Because to him they were his father. To his son, Michael Starsky was a shape of meaningful words, big enough to cover his whole appearance. And this form, this wrapping was filled with the beloved small things, like a golden box filled with diamonds.

The picture he'd held fell out of his grasp, but Starsky didn't care. Lids dropping, he leaned back on his bed, his head finding the wall for support. He sat in the darkness of closed eyes and tried to catch his thoughts. Or to run from them.

He wasn't sure. He wasn't sure of much anymore.

What did he really know about this man, Michael Starsky? Not Dad, not the "old man", how he privately called him, when he had inward conversations with him. Not his picture of him, but him, the real man. What did he really know?

He'd been a uni. Never made detective. He'd grown up in a neighborhood along with people you could read about in the papers. Often. But none of them had ever been arrested.

He had never had financial problems. David recalled their place in New York. Small, yes, but their own. The cars the family had had over the years. His mother's much beloved Studebaker.

He recalled his father's friends who he would sometimes meet at church. Or at least back then he'd thought they'd been friends. They'd behaved like friends.

Opening his eyes, he stared at the ceiling of his own apartment. No matter how fast he ran, the thoughts caught up with him. He was a cop himself now. He KNEW what unis got. He knew what cars unis drove. And he'd been on so many stakeouts he knew the way the family greeted "friends".

Not that he could recall Palmer. He couldn't. But then--just theoretically speaking, how important could a uni like Michael Starsky have been?

'Important enough to get shot. "Killed some very good men of mine. Mostly cops." Some. Just a message. With many letters.'

A bitter snicker escaped him, followed by an agonized sigh, and his head fell forward into his hands, where he shook at, suddenly so incredibly ashamed of himself.

'What am I thinking?! What are you thinking?! This is DAD, Dave! He'd never...'

He didn't finish the thought, but grabbed one of the numerous pictures spread all over his bed and himself and stared at his father on it. His eyes were burning with unshed tears of anger, but, once more, at the sight of this man who looked so much of him, who'd for so long been his ideal of a future version of himself, his expression softened.

Death spared Michael Starsky. It had fastened his role in his son's life, had made it unchangeable. And as much as he couldn't defend himself against David's silent doubts, he couldn't be hated by him, either. Couldn't even really be doubted. Death had made it clear that he could only be loved and worshipped.

Gently, almost tender, Starsky reached out to tip one finger against the picture, but the ringing of the phone startled him, tearing him out of his thoughts. Wave of sudden business washed through him as he scrambled his way out of the sea of pictures on the bed and hurried into the kitchen to the phone.


"Starsk, it's me," Hutch's voice answered and Starsky instantly knew something was wrong.

"Hey. What's up?"

"Uhm... I-I... I need to talk to you," Hutch stammered, only increasing his friend's worry with his stress stutter making an appearance.

"Okay," Starsky replied calmly, instinctively slipping into a comforting tone of voice. "Where are you? At the precinct?"

"No!" Hutch almost snapped.

His friend frowned.

"Uh... I mean, no, don't go th... I'm at home," he nervously corrected himself. "Can you come here? I really need to talk to you."

"Sure," his partner answered. "I'll be over in a sec."

"Good. See you then."

"Yeah," Starsky muttered, feeling uneasy at his friend's audible discomfort and hung up, his forehead meeting his hand on the receiver as his eyes closed with sudden exhaustion.

'Here we go, Dave. He made you.'


The ant farm was still there. That was the first thing Starsky noticed when he entered Venice Place, glancing only so briefly at his partner, who'd opened the door for him with a mumbled "hi".

Stepping further into the room, the smaller man came to a halt directly in front of the insects' home, inspecting it unenthusiastically. "You could at least have made air holes in it, y'know. Half of them's probably dead by now."

Still standing at the now closed door, Hutch smiled half-heartedly. "They'd all have crawled out, dummy."

"Oh. Right."


They stood in silence, not looking at each other, the only sound a soft rhythmic knocking of Hutch's knuckles against the door.

Finally, Starsky lifted his head with a resigning sigh, casting his partner a tired look. "You found out about Frank Navacelle, didn't you?"

Having expected the question, Hutch nodded. "New York," he said. "That gave it away."

"Yeah," Starsky muttered, not even caring about his mistake, and averted his eyes.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Hutch asked after a moment. None of them had moved yet.

Starsky sighed. "I really don't want to talk about this, okay, Hutch? Please?"

"No." The blond shook his head, folding his arms in front of him, but still didn't approach his friend. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I didn't want to," Starsky said hard and the same time wondered why he was reaction like that. Why was he getting angry at Hutch? Why couldn't he feel anything but anger recently?

Studying him with a patient look, Hutch asked, "Did you recognize him last night? In the alley?"

"Yeah," Starsky muttered, gaze resting on the ant farm.

"When had you seen him before?"


"Pictures?" Hutch repeated softly, his voice gentle, comforting. "At the precinct in New York?"

Starsky nodded.

"You never met him in person?"

Starsky shook his head.

"And you recognized him in a dark alley, over twenty years later?" Hutch was astonished.

"I would have recognized him anywhere," his partner replied gravely and looked up to meet the blond's eyes.

Thinking he definitely believed that, Hutch softened his expression even more. "I read the report. They never found enough evidence to make a charge. No eye witnesses. Nothing."

"You know how it is," Starsky said. "They arrested him, and they asked us about him. And suddenly they didn't have a thing against him anymore. And the case vanished. That doesn't change the fact that he did it."

Briefly glancing away, Hutch nodded. "Yeah, I know." He paused, then looked back, no accusation on his light blues, just caring, love, openly offered support. "You could have told me, Starsk."

Starsky's gaze fell. "I know, but... I... It's complicated," he finished helplessly.


Exasperated, the smaller man threw his hands in the air. "Hell, Hutch, because it is, okay?! It's not your everyday bust, your father's killer, y'know?!"

"Bust?" Hutch asked quietly.

Starsky stopped in mid-rambling and turned from where he'd started pacing back and forth next to the bowl on the ground. Hutch still stood at the door, eyeing him calmly. "Yeah, bust. In case you didn't notice, partner, we're after Navacelle right now."

"I thought we're hired to kill him."

At his friend's absolutely serious tone, Starsky froze, staring at Hutch, who looked back at him patiently. Drawing a small breath, Starsky started, thought different, and glanced away. A visibly trembling hand came up to drive through his hair.

Hutch watched a few moments longer, having to restrain himself from approaching his suffering friend and just drag him into a bear hug, to protect him from all the evil, the doubts, the pain that had so cruelly crept into his life.

"That's why you didn't tell me, buddy, isn't it?" he asked softly and waited, but received no answer. "Because you knew that you wouldn't do it, anyway."

An almost hysterical little laugh broke free, as Starsky jerked his head up, flashing Hutch a pleading look. "Do i... C'mon, Hutch, that's ridiculous. D'you really think I'd have... That was just an act, you know that."

Hutch studied him for a long moment, until it became almost unbearable, and when he spoke, his voice was steady, firm. "I arrested Navacelle a few hours ago. He's at the precinct."

Starsky looked as if he'd been shot, all color draining from his face in watchable speed. "Wh-wha'... ?" he stammered, taking a small step toward his partner, who watched him closely.

"Huggy called when you were with the Feds," Hutch explained quietly, not moving an inch. "Said he heard about a guy from New York having something going down near the airport." A shrug. "We got lucky. It's him."

Gritting his jaws so hard a cracking noise could be heard, Starsky glared at him, burning fury working into his eyes like boiling water. "Why didn't you call me?" he asked in strained patience.

"I thought," Hutch replied quietly, "it'd be better to do this without you."

"You had no right to do that." Starsky's voice turned dangerously low, and yet another step was made towards the blond. "We're partners. This is my case too."

"I did it, because you are my partner," Hutch said softly, the calm coolness on his face once more being replaced by one of concern, support. "Look at you, Starsk. You're not thinking straight."

"Says who?!" Starsky snapped, almost yelling again. He'd now walked around the ant farm and came to a halt in front of his partner, clearly enraged.

"Me," Hutch answered gently. "I watched you. You're too angry."

"'Too angry'?!" Now, he actually yelled. "Oh excuse me, Detective, if I'm not your cool-headed ideal of someone having just run into his father's murderer! Sorry for feeling slightly pissed at the fact that the scum who shot my father is still running around, free as a bird! Sorry for also being pissed at my so-called partner not trusting me enough to let me do my fucking job!"

The last accusation worked almost like a physical blow, leaving Hutch hurt and defending himself. "You know that's not true. I didn't do it because I didn't trust you."

"Oh?! Then why, Hutch? Huh? Why?"

"Because... I-I..." Hutch started, but trailed off, not finding the words. Somehow, it WAS true. He hadn't really believed Starsky to be capable of shooting someone for revenge, of course, but he hadn't trusted him to deal with the situation alright, either. He'd been afraid for his partner, and he'd wanted Navacelle in the safety of a cell, where he was safe from Starsky, and Starsky safe from him.

Actually, if he was truly honest with himself, he'd simply not wanted Starsky to ever see the man again.

And that decision still felt right, no matter how loud his partner would yell at him.

"I thought it was a good idea at the time," he finally said.

Starsky bit his lower lip, visibly biting back on a reply he might regret later.

"Starsky," Hutch started after a brief silence, the air between them filled with so much tension and anger it was hard to breathe, "you know I'm right. Look at how you're reacting now. I arrested your father's killer, and you yell at me. Why? You've done nothing over the past two days but yell. You're so wrapped up in fury, it's a miracle you haven't exploded yet."

He made a short pause, looking directly into his friend's pain-filled eyes. "It's me, buddy. It's Hutch. I'm here. You can yell at me, if that makes you feel better. Rant on all you want. But I know you know I'm right. You didn't tell me, because you didn't want to listen to it yourself." Again, a pause. To his dismay Hutch could see that, though he did reach Starsky, just listening to his words brought so much pain to his partner it was hard to watch.

"You never would have killed him," he finished so softly it was almost a whisper. "We both know that."

Starsky drew in a deep, shaky breath, his eyes suspiciously bright, but he couldn't seem to help the bitter anger still washing through him. Deep down, he knew Hutch was right. But he wasn't ready for heading for deep down just yet.

"I would have liked to find out," he replied sharply.

Hutch bowed his head sadly. "Starsk--" he started pleadingly, but his partner cut him off sternly.

"That man was the last person my father saw before he died. D'you understand that? The very last thing my father saw in his life was this man pointing a gun at him and pulling the trigger."

The words were unmercifully clear, true, and it hurt Hutch just to listen. Fighting against his own emotions to overwhelm him, he endured it, though, knowing his friend needed to say them. Hear them.

"Not me or my mother or Nicky, but Frank Navacelle. A hit man. And that..." He had to stop, briefly squeezed his eyes shut and went on. "That I can't forgive, Hutch. I know it was someone else who ordered it. I don't know who, but frankly, I don't care. It was HIM who my father saw when he lay on the pavement and fucking bled to death. He died all alone on a God damned street, and that was Frank Navacelle's fault! And I want him for that!"

"You got him now," Hutch offered softly, but Starsky looked at him with so much despair reflected in his eyes, the blond had to avert his eyes.

"Yeah, but... It doesn't feel like it's enough, Hutch."

"And killing him would change that?"

A long silence passed, and finally, Starsky shook his head, his whisper so soft it was barely audible. "No."

Brows arched in shared pain, Hutch reached out to gently touch his shoulder, but hesitated as he suddenly remembered something with painful force.

With a deep, frustrated sigh, sounding like he was bracing himself for the next big storm, he took a small step away from his friend, starting in a nervous tone, "Uhm... There's... something else, buddy."

Frowning at his partner's reluctance, Starsky asked, "What?"

"He, uhm, Navacelle, he wants to make a deal with the Feds. He wants to testify against Palmer. So they'd guarantee him immunity."

At first the true meaning of that information slipped Starsky's inward grasp, but after a moment, his eyes narrowed. "Immunity?! As in he walks away a free man?!"

Hutch nodded. "Yeah, but, listen, we don't have to--"

"Over my dead body," his partner cut him off fiercely, "that bastard gets immunity! Before the Feds go for that, I shoot him myself!"


"We can get Palmer our way! We don't need Navacelle for that! We--"


At his partner's half-yell, Starsky fell silent, furrowing his forehead. "What?"

"We won't go for it. Okay? I'm on your side. Stop treating me like the enemy here!"

"I'm sorry," Starsky replied, still at his anger-volume and rolled his eyes at himself, when he noticed. "I'm just--"

"But," Hutch interrupted him, obviously needing to say more. Something he knew would only add fuel to his partner's anger.

Or better--what would get to the bottom of it.

"He, uh, he's gonna offer a lot of knowledge," he continued, not looking at Starsky.

"What?" Starsky asked, when his partner's pause stretched itself. "What did he say?"

"Uhm..." Hutch started, but trailed off, a nervous, bitter little laugh breaking free on his face. "Aw, babe, this is hard."

"Why, what d' he..." Starsky asked anxiously, but froze, realization hitting him like a slap in the face. "Is this `bout my Dad?"

"Buddy, it's--"

"No," Starsky cut his friend off, who was searching for the right words as he also stepped closer again, ready to give support. "I don't wanna hear it."

Surprised, Hutch's eyes snapped up to him, sudden understanding evident in them. "You knew?" he asked, puzzled.

"I said I don't want to hear it, Hutch. Let it be."

But the blond was too close to answers to back out now. "How d'you... Palmer," he muttered, remembering their latest meeting with the mob boss. "Palmer said... Oh God, Starsk. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because there's nothing to tell!" Starsky forced out through gritted teeth. "Let it be."

Piercing ice blue eyes resting on him, he looked away, his hands coming up to hide his face behind them.

Hutch watched in dismay. "That's it, isn't it? That's what frightened you so much. That's why you're so damn angry. Not Navacelle, but... D'you really think your father--"

"Let it be, Hutch!" Starsky all but screamed; the faint grip he'd had on control lost. Hearing the words would make it all real. And he didn't want it to be real.

Startled by his friend's powerful outburst, Hutch took an involuntary step backwards, but kept a searching gaze on the smaller man, wanting with all his might to help him, be there for him. Wanted to free him of the fury he was trapped in.

"Starsky, please, talk to me."

"No!" Starsky shot back, heading for the door with swift steps. "I'm gonna go--"

"Wait," Hutch exclaimed pleadingly, grabbing his friend's arm. "Please, buddy, wait. You need to talk about this. Can't you see what it's doing to you?"

Jerking at his arm to free himself from Hutch's grasp, Starsky stumbled back a bit, but caught his balance, throwing his friend a warning glance. "Let me go."

"No," Hutch replied, softening his voice and taking a step to his side so that he was standing between Starsky and the door now. "Not before we talked about this. Please, Starsk. Don't shut me out. Please. I know how much your picture of your Dad means to you. I know how much doubting him must hurt--"

A very sudden, very hot flash of pain cut him off, and the next thing he knew, he was lying on the floor next to the door, dazed, a thin trickle of blood running down the side of his face from where the force of Starsky's fist had cracked the skin above his cheekbone. Instinctively, his hand came up to gingerly hold the area around his rapidly swelling eye, and the ringing in his ears almost blocked out Starsky's voice that seemed to come from a far distance.

"Don't you dare! Don't you dare say I..." But at the sight of Hutch still half-lying on the floor, shaking his head slightly to clear it, wincing in the process, all of Starsky's anger vanished in the air.

'Oh my God.'

His gaze wandering down to the throbbing knuckles of his right hand, he stumbled a step back.

'I hit Hutch. Oh my God.'

Still dazed, Hutch tried to sit up, but found that to be the second bad idea in a row that day--right after provoking an obviously confused Starsky.

Blinking the eye that was not busy swelling close open, he caught a glimpse of the guilt and shame quickly settling on his partner's appalled face and was about to croak out a calming wise-crack, when Starsky turned and fled, leaving the door open, the sound of the Torino's engine audible soon afterwards.

"Aw damn, Starsk," Hutch muttered, wincing once more at the pain every movement shot through his features, and tried to drag himself up the wall.

He didn't manage, though, and decided to just sit back for another few minutes until the room stopped spinning.

Leaning his head back, he closed his good eye, feeling the blood already dry on the other side of his face.

'Man, am I glad he's usually on my side...'

Dozing off against his will, still a bit stunned; he didn't hear the three men enter his apartment and softly close the door behind them.


The man who'd taken his childhood from him sat behind a thick, large window, smoking, looking bored.

There it sat, a world full of tears, and smoked a cigarette. Like any other ordinary man.

The last person on earth his father had seen. Nothing spectacular. A face like any face. Older now, of course. Wrinkled. Less hair. Less energy running through the trim body.

But it had been that man, that face.

Outside, Starsky closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the cool glass. An ordinary man, that was what he was seeing. Not the embodiment of evil, not even someone he'd hated almost all his life. Just a suspect.

Slightly hitting his fist against the glass next to his face, he whispered a soft, "Damn it."

In the alley, it'd been different. There, Frank Navacelle had shot at him too, had run... Now, he sat in the halls of law. For him it was over.

And not the slightest hint of satisfaction came from that. Nothing.

After all... his childhood had been gone for so long now...

His hand hurt, and, cracking his eyes open, still with his head against the glass, he glanced at the red spots on his knuckles.

He'd hit Hutch. He'd hit his best friend. And hard. Enough to send him flying against the nearest wall. Enough to draw blood.

His eyes squeezed shut as he drew in a shaky breath, trying to block out the pictures that were engraved in his mind. What the hell was wrong with him?! He'd NEVER hit Hutch before. He hadn't known he COULD!

He'd cruised around for almost an hour, aimlessly, just driving, just trying to comprehend what had happened, trying to comprehend that moment, when something in his head had simply snapped.

But he couldn't understand. When he recalled the event, it always seemed like he was watching a stranger facing Hutch, not him. A furious, dangerous man, who pushed away Hutch's offered comfort and then Hutch himself, literally.

And once more, he was pushing away--from the window glass, coming to stand close in front of it, his own dim reflection half covering the sitting form of Frank Navacelle, who didn't notice the colored shadow of the man, who looked so much like his victim, upon him.

Suddenly agonized by the obscure picture, Starsky averted his eyes, for once overwhelmed by the resemblance he bore to his father.

As he gazed aside, he froze. Leaning in the doorway, arms crossed in front of him, stood Christian Donahue, one of the three FBI agents.

The detective stiffened. He hadn't heard the younger man enter, and he had no idea how long Donahue had been watching him.

The moment he knew he was being noticed, Donahue replaced the intense look of cold curiosity on his face with a light smile. His acting skills wouldn't have earned him an award, though.


Starsky gave a curt nod, watching the man through narrowed eyes.

"Good work," Donahue said, gesturing at Navacelle behind the glass.

Starsky remained silent, eyeing the young agent who stepped nearer and came to a halt next to him.

After a moment, he grinned proudly. "They didn't think we could do it, you know. But we showed them. Thanks to you and your partner," he added quickly, flashing Starsky an appreciative glance. "Don't get me wrong. We know how much we owe you and we really appreciate your work."

"I don't know," Starsk replied quietly, "what you're talking about."

Donahue blinked, puzzled. "Why, Palmer, of course. What d'you think?"

Feeling the dangerous symptoms of his temper stirring, but unable to fight it, Starsky slowly turned to look directly at the man. "I think," he said in a low voice that wiped the smile off of Donahue's face, "that that," he pointed at Navacelle without looking, "is not Jeremy Palmer in there. This man's name is Frank Navacelle, and he's going to get the book thrown at him for murder one in at least two cases. Probably more."

A pause followed as Donahue seemed to let the words sink in. When he spoke again, though, his tone or expression hadn't changed, youthful arrogance still coloring it. "And you're sure `bout that?"

Starsk clenched his jaw, his shoulders tensing so much he was almost trembling.

"Because," Donahue continued, either not realizing he was starting to endanger his well-being, or not caring, "he seems to be pretty eager to help us. And you know us, Detective. We're nice guys. We wouldn't let a man help us and not help him instea-"

The rest of his self-contentedly drawled statement was roughly cut off as Starsky grabbed him by his collar. Almost lifting the younger man off his feet, he shoved him into the nearest wall, holding him in place with a choking grip at the front of his shirt.

Startled, Donahue coughed, but wasn't let go. Instead, Starsky gave him a hard shake, growling, "You offer that son of a bitch anything, I swear you're gonna be sorry. You got that, kid?"

"Lemme go," Donahue gasped, struggling desperately against the detective's strong grip, until he was finally released and stumbled away from Starsky, rubbing his throat. Casting the glaring detective a hateful look, he left the room.

With his hands clenching to fists, his body trembling with anger, Starsky stared after the escaping agent, rational thoughts slipping away as the boiling anger was starting to bubble.

His gaze wandered over to the man behind the window again, who hadn't heard or seen any of this--and he lost it.

Fortunately, there weren't many objects in the room he could throw--only a couple of chairs and, of course, his fists--but what was there, was doomed to be destroyed as the enraged, desperate man lashed out, sending one of the chairs flying to a wall, where it split and landed on the floor in pieces, and even then it wasn't safe.

He didn't think, he didn't even really yell, he just very effectively took the room apart, until there were small spots of blood from his knuckles on the walls, and pieces of shattered wood lay everywhere.

He didn't notice Navacelle standing up, confused at the loud noises coming from behind the mirror, and he didn't stop until a booming voice, like thunder, echoed through the room from where its source stood in the doorway.


Starsky whirled around and, as if a switch had been turned, stopped, his shoulders slumping, wide eyes meeting Dobey's.

The only sound filling the shocked silence Starsky's ragged breathing, the two men stared at each other for a moment, before the detective bowed his head, stormed past his superior and ran. Ran as fast he could.


It was dark outside, when the Torino came to a halt in its usual parking space in front of Starsky's apartment.

He was tired. Felt like he hadn't slept in days. Slowly, moving like an old man, he crawled out of the car.

The few steps up to his front door were a mountain to climb.

'Gotta call Hutch.' The key in the lock not yet turned, he paused and looked back at the car. 'Maybe I should drop by... sort things out...' But after a moment's thought, he shook his head with a deep sigh and opened his door.

'Better call him before. Maybe better get some sleep before. Maybe better just go to sleep. Maybe it's all just a dream. Bad dream.'

But the bad dream lay yet before him.

Closing the door behind himself, he switched on the light, then turned--and froze.

The door to the terrace was hanging inward on one angle, open, broken, and in the shattered glass a lifeless figure lay, back facing the shocked detective, whose gaze instantly fell upon the familiar mop of tousled blond hair that was caked with blood now.

"Oh my God! Hutch!"

Hurrying to his friend's side, careful as to not move him in the mess of pieces, Starsky crouched down to check his pulse that he found to be strong, if rapid.

Swallowing hard, he winced at what now met his eyes.

The rags that'd once been Hutch's shirt barely covered a mass of bruises and cuts on his torso, and his wrists, that'd been tied in front of him, had raw rope marks on them, slender streaks of blood having dried on his arms and hands. A couple of his fingers seemed to be broken, as well as at least two of his ribs, as Starsky's quick, gentle inspection affirmed.

Two large stripes of duct tape covered Hutch's mouth and eyes, and, as his partner noticed with disgust, even his ears had been taped closed, and thoroughly.

"`Sokay, Hutch, I'm here now," Starsky soothed, out of pure reflex, not sure Hutch could hear him. Not sure whether he was awake at all, due to the tape over his eyes that stuck to dried blood on the left side of his face. The whole area around his left eye was swollen and bruised.

Starsky closed his eyes, a wave of guilt washing through him at the sight. Ever so softly, he ran his thumb over the relatively untouched right side of Hutch's face, while he searched for his pocket knife, all the time continuing his soft mumbles.

"Starsky's here now, babe. It's okay. Aw God, Hutch, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. But it's gonna be okay, you hear me?"

The rope securing Hutch's wrists came away bloodied, and when Starsky gingerly lowered the now free hands, careful as to not accidentally touch the broken, swollen fingers, Hutch stirred, the tiniest of moans muffled against the tape.

"`Sokay, Hutch," Starsky soothed, once more touching his friend's battered face, as he braced himself for tearing off the tape, since there was no other way to do it. "`Salright, it's over. I'm here now. D'you hear me? Hutch? It's okay."

But apparently, Hutch did not hear. Considerably dazed, in pain and unable to see, he panicked, when he felt someone touching him and tried to roll onto his back, away from his partner's hands.

"No, Hutch, it's me," Starsky spoke a bit louder, dismayed at the fear evident on the blond's face, even though most of it was covered by bloodied stripes of tape. "It's Starsk, buddy. You're safe now."

The weak struggles didn't stop, a few more small moans followed, if out of pain or fear Starsky couldn't tell. What he realized, though, with appall, was that Hutch didn't hear a thing.

"Buddy, this is gonna hurt now, but I don't know what else to do," Starsky said desperately and, while with one hand holding Hutch in place in order to keep him from rolling into more glass, he swiftly pulled the tape off the blond's mouth, causing a startled gasp.

"Aw, `msorry, Hutch. Sorry."

Hutch coughed weakly, blood trickling down his chin. For the time he needed to greedily gulp in air, his struggles stopped. Taking the opportunity, Starsky quickly cleared most of the floor behind Hutch from pieces and carefully eased his dazed partner onto his back, using his own jacket as a pillow.

Scared, Hutch tried to crawl away, weary hands ineffectively flapping against Starsky's knees.

"Shh," Starsky soothed, as useless a gesture it was, and started to gently stroke back the blond hair, discovering the source of the blood in it; a nasty looking gash just underneath Hutch's hairline. "I'm here, Hutch. Right here. I got you. It's okay."

It took a few moments, but at last, the injured man relaxed slightly, his head lolling to his side as he lifted his chin with a clear wince. "St..." A painful cough cut him off, and Starsky's hand quickly came down to help him turn his head so he could breathe easier.

"Starsky?" It was the tiniest of whispers, hoarse, more a croak, but Starsky heard and, relieved, softly touched one of Hutch's palms.

"St...arsk..." Trying to close his fingers over the hand he felt on his, the blond let go of a hoarse cry.

"No, Hutch, don't... I think they're broken," Starsky muttered, more to himself, since he knew Hutch couldn't hear him.

Getting desperate, he bent closer into the bruised face, gently tipping one finger to Hutch's chin to turn his head some more in order to get a better look at his left ear. He knew that he needed to get the tape off of Hutch's eyes and ears. He didn't know how worse his partner's other injuries might be, and he hadn't even called an ambulance yet.

But then, the thought of leaving his terrified, hurting partner in a heap of glass, blind and deaf and with no way of telling him where he'd go just wasn't an option.

"Wh-why's... `sd-dark..." Feebly, Hutch tried to reach his eyes, but was too weak to even lift his arm enough. Grimacing at the pain, when he lowered it again, he tried to roll his head back, weakly pressing against Starsky's light grip. "Stars... y'th-there?"

Biting his lower lip, holding back tears of frustration, Starsky softly stroke Hutch cheek with his the back of his curled fingers, effectively calming him, and then carefully started to scramble at the first stripe of tape covering almost all of Hutch's left ear.

The blond gasped, and Starsky instantly stopped. He waited a second and continued to slowly pull the stripe off, swallowing hard each time Hutch flinched or gave an involuntary moan.

All the time, he would talk non-stop, willing Hutch to start hearing him at one point. "You're doing fine, Hutch. Just a bit more. Almost done. Almost done."

The first stripe indeed came off, but stuck to another that was taped vertically over the length of the ear.

"Okay, just this one and we're done, buddy, okay?" Starsky muttered and bent over Hutch's face. "Okay? Hutch? Can you hear me?"

But Hutch just lay with his right side pressed into Starsky's jacket, his fingers twitching slightly at each flinch and whimper he tried to suppress.

"Aw, babe," Starsky breathed, once more stroking through the damp blond hair, agitated himself at the amount of pain his friend seemed to be in. "It's gonna be okay. We'll have you in the hospital in no time. And I'll be right there with you."

Hutch didn't hear. And it started to frighten Starsky, who turned back to the taped ear with a frown. Just one stripe of duct tape covering his ear shouldn't block Hutch's hearing like this. Something else had to be wrong.

He didn't know how right he was, until he pulled the tape off the skin below Hutch's earlobe and all of a sudden found himself staring at a thin trail of blood running out of his friend's ear, followed by another one.

Appalled, he tried to hurry and used more strength to pull at the tape, yanking it half off, until an unbearably agonized scream stopped him, along with Hutch's head jerking to his side, pushing Starsky's finger away.

More blood ran freely out of Hutch's ear now, and with the covering tape half off, Starsky could now see that his friend's whole ear shell had been filled with crumbled duct tape, sharp edges cutting into the sensitive skin inside.

As if he'd been scalded, Starsky drew his hands away, eyes wide with shock. He couldn't see where the tape ended, how deep inside Hutch's ear it'd been pushed. It was painfully obvious, though, that merely touching the stuff meant agony for Hutch, who was still trying to get his breathing under control as the pain lessened. Stifled groans tore at his partner's heart.

"Aw shit," Starsky whispered, his own hands trembling when he ran them through his hair. "Shit, Hutch."

Softly, he touched his partner's face again, meaning to give comfort, but was met with a violent flinch.

"N-N-no..." Hutch whimpered, wincing at the burning pain shooting through his fingers as he lifted his hands to swap blindly at Starsky. "P-plea...se, don't... n-not `gain..."

"Shh," Starsky soothed, gently catching Hutch's hovering wrists to carefully lay his hands back onto his chest. "Shh, `sokay, partner, we won't try that again. But something's gotta come off, okay?" Sighing deeply, he once more stroke Hutch's head.

But, though still confused, Hutch sensed his partner's hesitation, and he tensed up, scared. "Starsk," he whispered and had to cough, another very thin trail of blood appearing on his chin.

Starsky swallowed, his own fear threatening to overwhelm him. Yet he willed himself to stay calm, his hand slowly, for Hutch to notice, wandered down to his friend's uninjured temple, where he tipped his finger against the edge of the tape a couple of times.

Understanding, Hutch sucked in a shaky breath and held it, giving a tiny nod.

This time, the scream was weaker, more a very loud gasp, as Starsky mercifully tore the tape off his partner's eyes.

Throwing the tape away in disgust, Starsky knelt next to Hutch, who squeezed his burning eyes shut, and gently took his face in his hands, turning it to him. A few spots had started bleeding again, and there were tears running down Hutch's cheek, leaving streaks in the crusted blood on his face.

"Hutch, hey, open your eyes. Hutch? Buddy?"

Blinking rapidly, Hutch finally managed to crack his eyes open, squinting against the sudden bright light.

"Hutch? Can ya see me?"

"Starsk," the blond whispered, again wanting to lift his hands, but was restrained by his partner. "Wh-why can't I hear?"

"Don't you remember?" Starsky asked, appalled.

"What?" Hutch asked and coughed again. "I-I can't..." A sudden pain shooting through his middle section cut him off and, wincing, he rolled half onto his side, reaching for Starsky, who caught his wrists.

"Don't move, Hutch. Don't... aw damn it! Hutch." Lying one hand onto his friend's cheek, he turned his head to directly look at him. Very clearly he then said, "Ambulance."

Hutch nodded. Tears still ran down his face, that were softly brushed away by Starsky's thumb, as he flashed him a warm smile.

"`K-kay," Hutch whispered.

"Okay," Starsky said and slowly pushed himself to his feet as if not to startle his friend on the ground. Once he was standing, though, he ran to the phone.

Hutch tried to move, to bend his head, to look after him, but everything hurt and he didn't want to make too many sounds, having seen the distressed expression in his friend's concerned eyes.

Besides, he was so tired, his could barely keep his eyes open. His ears hurt, he could hear his blood roaring so loud it sounded like a shell was permanently pressed to it.

A sudden touch to his face startled him, his eyes snapped open. Only now realizing he must have dozed off, he forced a wry, strained smile to his face at his partner's teary look.


Starsky sniffed and smiled too. Hutch could feel fingers softly stroking his hair. Confused, he noticed that he was now covered with a blanket.

"Wh-where d'you go?" he asked his friend in a strained whisper, surprised that talking hurt. He could taste blood too, and it scared him. "Starsk?"

"Ambulance," Starsky mouthed.

The blond frowned, feebly lifting one hand. "C-can't hear. Starsk? Can't hear. Wh-why...?" A violent cough cut him off and he whimpered in pain, his eyes squeezing shut as if by their own will. "Starsk?"

He couldn't hear the reply, but he felt the hand on his shoulder, the soft touch to his face. Dimly, he recalled that there was something important he had to tell his partner, but he couldn't remember what it was. "Starsk?"

The light didn't return even when he opened his eyes.




Lightly slapping his friend's pale cheek, Starsky tried again, louder this time. "Hutch!"

In the far distance, sirens whined.

"Hutch, please! Hey, wake up! Hutch!"

A small noise came from the unconscious man, like a gargled groan, and more blood spilled from his mouth, running down his chin, soaking into Starsky's jacket underneath.

"Oh my God. Oh my God, Hutch, no, don't go, don't... Hang on, okay?" Starsky was begging. "Please hang on! Don't give up! Don't you give up now, you hear me?!"

His hands trembled against Hutch's clammy, blood crusted skin. He was scared to draw them away. So scared. As if the moment his touch went, Hutch would too. There was still a pulse flattering under his searching fingers, Hutch's chest still rose and sank.

But there was also blood running down his chin, bright red streaks that dried on his ashen skin.

"Hutch, please!" Shaking fingers grabbed broken ones, but they remained limp, the brief pressure he applied going by unnoticed. "Please."

"Paramedics!" a voice outside suddenly exclaimed. "We had a call."

Starsky was on his feet like a shot--and froze, staring at his hands, then down at Hutch, whose chest rose and sank softly.

"Would you please open the door? We had a ca--"

Sprinting to the door, Starsky almost fell into the two paramedics, just barely catching his balance.

"Woah, Sir, did y... Oh shit." Hands outstretched to catch the pale man, they spotted Hutch, and Starsky was left in the doorway, forgotten.

Silent, afraid to simply break down if he'd let go off the door, he stood, watching, tears that wouldn't fall seemingly scalding his eyes from the inside

"Oh God, Phil, look at this. What the fuck's that stuff in his ears? Damn... people are crazy, man..."

Starsky stood where he was, afraid to get in the way. Afraid to look away.

"Okay, on three, One, two..."

He never let Hutch out of his sight, until they shut the ambulance doors in front of him.


The man in the waiting area was pacing. Non-stop. Like an athlete warming up before a marathon, concentrated, silent, lost in his own air of anxiety.


But when he looked up, his normally lively blue eyes seemed to lack light. As if there was nothing behind them they could function for. It seemed that long before his feet, they'd come to a halt. Nothing was left to look at.


He didn't hold his superior's gaze any longer than for muttering the single word, but glanced down again, shame washing through it like heat.

"What happened?" Dobey asked, crossing the short distance between them to stand beside him. "The hospital called the precinct, but they wouldn't tell wha-"

"I-I found him," Starsky stammered, not looking up. "At my place."


"They..." Starsky interrupted him, but stopped, drew in a deep breath. "They beat him up. Badly. Threw him through my terrace door. Doc said he punctured a lung, but..." A sigh. "He's been in surgery for hours now. No one wants to tell me a thing."

Dobey cleared his throat, the sight of the normally so optimistic young man so desperate almost too much for him to endure. "You been here all the time?"

A tired nod, and, his energy seeming to vanish in a sudden rush, the detective sank onto one of the chairs in the room, his head falling into his hands.

The Captain watched him for a moment, wanting to give him space, his own expression darkening in shared pain. "Starsky," he finally asked and sat down next to the younger man, "who are 'they'? D'you know who did this?"

"I hit him." A mumble into shaking hands hiding his face.

"What?" Dobey asked, puzzled.

"Earlier today," Starsky explained and lifted his head. Yet, he wouldn't meet Dobey's eyes. "I hit him, and I left him on the floor with the door open."

"Starsky-" Dobey started in an almost harsh growl, but was kept from his characteristic comfort routine, as Starsky added bitterly, "It was all my idea."

"What was?"

Starsky didn't answer.

Dobey eyed him for a long time, concerned at the grim determination evident in the younger man's expression.

"Starsky," he finally asked again, "do you know who's responsible for this?"

"Yeah," Starsky nodded to the ground. "Yeah, and he's going to pay."

Before the Captain could ask any further, an exhausted looking man in blue scrubs entered the waiting area, and Starsky was on his feet so fast he almost lost his balance.

"How is he?"

"Stable," the doctor answered instantly, much to Dobey's surprise. But then, he figured, the poor man had probably already come across the agitated detective's way of reacting to unanswered questions concerning his partner. "He's stable, Detective. Calm down."

Relief hitting him so violently it seemed to wash away his last bout of strength, Starsky closed his eyes and nodded. When he swayed a bit, the doctor reflexively reached out to grab his arm.

"And maybe," he said sternly, leading the paling man back to a chair, "you should also sit down again. I'm not eager at having to tend to you too. Your partner gave us enough of a scare for the day."

Anxious blue eyes snapped open. "What's that supposed to-"

"It's okay. We have everything under control. Trust us, will you?"

Starsky eyed him doubtfully. "Uhm..."

Quickly clearing his throat to keep his detective from uttering an insult, Dobey sat down on the other side of the doctor, who turned to him with a questioning gaze.

"Excuse me, I'm Detective Hutchinson's superior-"

"Oh. Hi," the doctor smiled, obviously relieved at the prospect of not having to deal alone with the worried man he'd had to talk to before. "Dr. Surtee. I operated on your detective."

"What about his lungs?" Starsky asked from the other side, and Surtee turned to him again.

"I was right, he did puncture his right lung, but," he hurried to add at Starsky's widening eyes, "we managed to get it re-inflated, and he won't be on the respirator longer than for a few hours more. I know it probably didn't look like it when you found him, but your friend was extremely lucky. The damage wasn't as bad as we first thought."

Starsky listened intensely, looking directly into Surtee's eyes as if he wanted to make sure he wouldn't miss a lie. "So... he's going to be okay. Yeah?" he asked tentatively, sounding like a little boy, scared of hearing the truth.

The doctor nodded, trying to soften his exhausted features, as he sensed the shaken man's distress. "Yes, he's going to be fine, Detective. Don't worry."

Starsky wasn't convinced. "But he... he couldn't remember-"

"He suffered a very severe concussion, probably from a blow to the back of his head." Surtee explained patiently, obviously affected by Starsky's rarely hidden concern. "That would explain the disorientation you mentioned."

Unseen, Dobey winced at that and shot Starsky a sympathetic look. The detective, though, only had eyes for the truth in Surtee's eyes.

"But he's going to be okay," Starsky asked once more, the question coming out like a statement. "Right?"

"Yes," Surtee nodded, stretching the word to emphasize it. "Don't worry. Your friend will be back on his feet in no time."

Starsky stared at him.

"Well, okay, maybe it'll take SOME time, but he'll definitely be ok-"

"What about his ears?" Starsky suddenly cut him off, his brows once more arched in dreadful fear.

Caught off guard, Surtee feel silent for a moment, his gaze dropping. "Oh, uhm..."

"They stuffed duct tape into his ears," Starsky grimly told Dobey, who'd frowned in confusion at his question and now widened his eyes in awe. "I tried to get it out, but..." His voice fading, Starsky drew in a shaky breath, before he turned to Surtee again. "He's... he's not going to be... I-I mean... He couldn't hear at all."

"Well," Surtee started, visibly uneasy. "Uhm... He's still unconscious, so we don't know if he... can hear."

Wincing inwardly when he saw the face of the man before him turn sheet white, the doctor quickly added, "But we got the tape out, and it didn't tear his eardrums. That's good."

An uncomfortable pause followed, until Starsky spoke again. "But... ?"

"But, as I said, we're not able to say how bad the damage is until he wakes up. I'm sorry I can't tell you more."

Nodding he'd understood, Starsky bowed his head, rubbing his face tiredly. "Yeah. Thanks."

Surtee watched, a look of utter sympathy forming on his face. "The blood you saw all came from minor wounds inside his ear," he explained as if wanting to at least try to lighten the suffering man's pain somehow.

All he achieved, though, was to make Dobey at his other side feel sick at the image of Hutch's ears bleeding.

"It's most probable that there'll be no lasting effects at all."

Aware of the doctor's attempts at cheering him up, but too drained to acknowledge them, Starsky just nodded into his hands. "Yeah. Okay. Thank you, Doc."

Both not knowing what to say, Dobey and Surtee stared down at the miserable heap on the chair, silence engulfing the scenery.

"Uhm..." Surtee spoke again after a little while, his voice soft as an adult one's talking to a child would be. "D'you want me to take a look at your hands?"

"Huh?" Puzzled, Starsky looked up, then at his hands where his knuckles showed raw red marks as well as a few spots of long dried blood. Swallowing dryly, he shot Dobey a quick glance, but didn't wait for a response from his superior, before he suddenly stood, absently rubbing the injured places. "No, thanks. I, uh, I've something to do first."

Determination replacing despair in his eyes, he started to head for the door.

The hairs on the back of Dobey's neck rose immediately, and he also came to his feet, calling a warning "Starsky..." behind his detective, who turned in the doorway.

"You stay with Hutch, Cap, okay? I'll be back soon."


"Cap," Starsky cut him off, looking directly into his eyes. "Please."

Returning his detective's gaze with a mixture of concern and trust, Dobey sighed in grim resignation. "Okay."

With a small thankful nod, Starsky continued on his way, but once more stopped by Dobey's near whispered, "And Dave... don't do anything stupid."

Shooting him a glance over his shoulder, Starsky smiled in bitter humor. "Who, me?"


Starsky stared into the darkness. "Don't you have any light in here?"

The guard mumbled a shy apology and quickly switched on the light in the tiny cell Frank Navacelle had been given for the night.

"Thank you," Starsky said coolly, his gaze focused on the man on the bench, who'd obviously just been torn out of his dreams by the detective's sudden intrusion.

Squinting his eyes closed against the bright light, he scrambled into a sitting position, mumbling something unintelligible that to Starsky didn't exactly sound like a decent greeting.

Without looking at the guard, he told him to leave them alone and waited until the door had been closed behind him, before he took a step further into the cell, blocking the prisoner's exit from the bench.

His eyes shimmered in the white light like frozen water, and when he spoke, his voice matched them. "I've been hired to kill you."

Navacelle stared back, disheveled, wide-eyed. "Wha... Who the fuck are you, freak?!"

"Starsky," Starsky replied quietly. "My name is David Starsky. I'm a detective. You shot at me a night ago. After you had killed Jack Tinto."

Realization dawning on him, Navacelle tilted his head to one side. "I know you."

Starsky watched, silent.

"Starsky..." Navacelle muttered, trying to follow his mind back in time, and then, suddenly, he remembered. "Oh shit."

Ignoring the increasing look of fear on the older man's face, Starsky continued to speak calmly. "I know that Jeremy Palmer hired you to have Tinto killed. And I know that-"

"H-hey, kid," Navacelle interrupted him hastily, raising his hands in front of him as if to show he was unarmed, "I-I know you're pissed, and... I understand." A bitter smile. "Believe me, I do. But you gotta see the circumstances, I mean, your Dad, he really was-"

"And," Starsky cut him off sharply, causing a violent flinch, "I know that you talked to my partner, when he arrested you."

Not having expected that, Navacelle clamped his mouth shut, listening with his eyes fixed on the detective.

"You offered to testify against Mr. Palmer, and in return you would..." Starsky had to pause, but, after a dry swallow, finished, "In return you would go free."

Navacelle stared at him.

"Does that offer still stand?" It was almost a whisper.

A surprised gulp could be heard as the prisoner's eyes threatened to pop out of their holes. After a brief moment, though, he settled for an eager nod. "You can bet it still stands."

"`Kay," Starsky replied hoarsely and had to clear his throat. "Okay. Consider it accepted."

Without another glance, he turned to call for the guard, but a soft voice from behind him froze his hand in mid-air.

"Detective... Why?"

Working his jaw, hands clenched to fists, as if he needed to restrain himself from jumping into the man's face and just choke him to death, Starsky drew in a few deep breaths, before he turned again, piercing blue eyes finding those of his father's murderer.

"Because I want Palmer to pay for something he did."

Navacelle blinked, honest curiosity displayed on his face. "More than you want me?"

"I'd rather," Starsky answered after a long moment, "go on hating you, knowing you're out there somewhere, than have the same go for him."

"Why?" Navacelle asked, almost softly. "What'd he do to you?"

Starsky opened his mouth to reply, but thought differently and called for the guard instead.

"Oh," he spoke again, when he was already half out of the room, turning to Frank Navacelle one last time, "I almost forgot. When this is over--leave my city. And don't ever think of coming back again."


Once more, he was looking through glass that separated him from someone he hated. Actually, he felt as if lately he'd been always looking through glass. As if he'd been separated from everything all of a sudden. Love, hate, Hutch, his father.

Tired, he rubbed his aching eyes, longing for sleep, while at the same time he knew he wouldn't find any. He'd called at the precinct after dragging Jeremy Palmer into an interrogation room at Metro, but only to hear that Hutch hadn't regained consciousness yet.

Arresting Palmer had been easy. Most things were in the middle of the night. He and two fellow detectives who'd been on night-shift hadn't even had to use much force. Being as known a criminal as he was, Palmer was used to getting "asked" to follow officers to a precinct every now and then. For him, it was no big deal, he'd just call his well-paid star lawyer and be out again in no time.

'But not this time,' Starsky thought and allowed himself to smile slightly as he studied the man's self-contented grin through the glass. 'This time you're going down, pal. Never pick on a man's partner.'

But... Funny, he couldn't shake a disturbing feeling of dread. As if he'd made a huge mistake. He just couldn't figure why.

'Well, mushbrain, you DID make a mistake, didn't you? Leaving Hutch there all alone after knocking the living daylights out of him! You should have known Palmer wouldn't be too pleased when he'd find out about Navacelle's arrest.'

But that was just another disturbing thing. Though Starsky had really done his best to not get too near Palmer, when his colleagues had put cuffs on him, he'd gotten a good look at the surprise on the man's face. They had found the man ASLEEP in his house, and that after a former close companion of his had been arrested. He must have known Navacelle would go for a deal in order to safe his own neck.

Actually it had surprised Starsky himself so much to even FIND Palmer there that he'd almost missed the smug grin the kingpin had shot him, when he'd been led past the detective. A grin back then, with the adrenalin still pumping through him, had only increased Starsky's rage, had affirmed his conclusions.

But now, in the silence of the room next door, he couldn't help thinking that it hadn't looked like an evil grin. Not like the grin of a man who had his partner beaten and tortured, but more an appreciating, amused grin. The grin of a big gangster boss, who acknowledged a little street cop's attempts at finally getting him, when he knew he wasn't in any danger.

The truth was, Starsky thought with a cold shudder running down his spine, Palmer hadn't looked like he'd known about Hutch. Or Navacelle. He'd looked like he'd lost a bet or something. As if he'd wondered all the time if Starsky would really go for it, would really shoot his father's killer, and now that he knew it hadn't happened, he was slightly disappointed, but nothing more. Not even nervous.

Nothing fit, and, standing so close to the glass he once more saw his own reflection on it, Starsky watched himself paling as a sudden, horrible thought grabbed him like an ice cold claw.

"Nice work, Detective," a sudden voice sent him whirling around.

In the doorway stood Christian Donahue and his two colleagues, all of them wearing contented smiles.

Starsky stared. He hadn't called them yet. There was no way they could know. Except for one.

"Thought you would change your mind," Donahue said cheerfully. "Eventually. I mean," he added with a half shrug, "we're all professionals, aren't we?"

Chuckling at the detective's appalled expression, the agents entered the room, coming to stand on each side of Starsky as they studied Palmer in the other room.

"By the way," Donahue continued, not looking at Starsky, "we dropped by Frank Navacelle earlier to get him some place safe. Wouldn't want anything happen to him." A brief glance, an amused smile. "Would we?"

Starsky swallowed dryly, clenching trembling hands. "H-how did you... How... ?"

Innocently lifting his brows, Donahue half turned to him. "How what, Detective?"

Again, Starsky swallowed. His mouth was just too dry. And, God, he felt so small. Helpless. Alone. "How did you...did you know I..." Unable to finish the sentence, he trailed off, dreading the answer.

"I guess," Donahue replied, the smile widening on his face, "we're just clever. Either that or you're horribly predictable." A cruel wrinkling of his nose accompanied the next whispered sentence. "Whatever you prefer to believe."

Realization acting like almost like a physical blow, Starsky stumbled back, away from the agents, who ignored him, wrapped up in their delight over watching their prisoner. Their future.

Eyes darting around the room frantically as he stepped further and further away from them, Starsky felt his heart wrench in his chest.

'Hutch,' was all he thought. He needed Hutch. And he needed him now.

"Oh, Detective," Donahue called after him, when he all but ran from the room, "say hello to your partner from us."


If Hutch had been awake, he would have been able to see him through the glass. There wasn't a mirror on his side.

But his eyes were closed, one still swollen shut, anyway, and the other one pressed down by unconsciousness. Lying limply with his bandaged hands resting on his equally bandaged chest, he was unaware of Starsky standing outside his room, watching him through the small window next to the door.

The respirator had been removed, as well as most of the machinery Starsky knew had been there before, but he was still unconscious and now that the blood had been wiped off his face, the many bruises and cuts stood out against the pallor of his lifeless features.

Softly, Starsky pressed his fingers against the glass. "I'm here, partner," he muttered so lowly no one could have heard him. His gaze fell onto the healing spots on his own hands, and he quickly drew them away again, out of his sight.

He couldn't tell which abrasions came from pummeling the walls at Metro and which from hitting Hutch.

"Oh God," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut, his head bowed.

How long he just stood there--he didn't know. But eventually, he looked up again, drew in a bracing breath and entered Hutch's room.

Dobey had gone only minutes ago, but Starsky was glad he wouldn't have to face him. He didn't think he would have been able to look into his eyes. Not that night. He hadn't been able to look into anyone's eyes up until then, and the ones he'd been longing to see were closed.

Carefully, he closed the door behind him as if afraid to wake Hutch. And maybe he was. Maybe he didn't want Hutch to look at him after all.

A chair stood close to Hutch's bed, where Dobey had sat before. Starsky sank into it heavily, his shoulders slumping in the motion. His gaze finally coming down to settle on his friend's bruised face, on all the tiny cuts he could see in his ears, he placed a gentle hand on Hutch's forehead, stroking back silky strands of blond hair.

When he spoke, his voice wasn't more than a choked, shaky whisper. "Hey Hutch." He sniffed, his other hand reaching out to lovingly rest on one wrapped up hand. "Hey babe."

There was no response, and he was briefly surprised at the realization that he was glad for that. He wasn't sure he would have been able to talk if Hutch had been awake.

"I..." he started and stopped to sniff again. "I'm here now. You hear me? I'm right here now, I won't go again. I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier, but I-I..." His voice broke, badly.

"Oh God... Hutch... I..." A tiny sob escaped him, and he could feel moisture sting in his eyes. "I screwed up, partner. I screwed up bad. I made a terrible mistake. I-I'm..."

His voice fading into a sobbed whine, he let his head sink down against Hutch's shoulder, his eyes closing as the tears fell at last.

"I'm sorry, Hutch. I'm so sorry."

Resisting the need to hug his friend closer, Starsky continued to sob until he was finally spent enough to fall asleep.


He awoke to pain. His chest, his head, his hands and, Oh God, his ears. It seemed to engulf him, cover him like a blanket.

Blanket... Blanket... Starsky had covered him with a blanket, hadn't he? In his living-room. And Starsky had... left. Hadn't he? But where? Where was he? Where was Starsky?

'What... ?'

Wincing when a sudden flash of pain exploded inside his head, he squeezed his good eye closed that he'd just managed to crack open. He could hear his own groan in a far distance.

'What... my ears?'

Yes, he remembered not hearing. But he could hear now, couldn't he? Lifting a hand to touch his left ear, he moaned once more, this time at the agony that tiny motion sent running through his broken fingers.

'Yep--ears definitely work. Should be glad for small things.'

And yet another noise he suddenly heard. Another moan. And it wasn't his.

Bracing himself for the pain this time, he blinked his eye open again, squinted briefly against the dim light in the room, and finally found his partner's curly head resting on the mattress next to his shoulder.

Starsky's breathing was even, he was obviously sound asleep.

With a warm smile that probably looked more like a grimace, Hutch turned his head a bit more, biting his lip at his skull's cruel way of chiding him for that, and studied his partner's face more closely.

He was pale, dark smudges under his closed eyes, and on his cheek Hutch could see dried streaks of tears.

'Aw Starsk. What happened?'

A different kind of pain grabbing his heart, he tried to move again, wanting to touch his partner, unable to just lay there and stare at him, when it was obvious Starsky had been through some sort of personal hell. But his body didn't quite agree with him on that idea, and so this time the groan came out more like a low yelp.

Once more squeezing his eyes shut, Hutch tried to catch his ragged breath, when he suddenly felt a soft touch to his face.

"Hutch? Buddy, you awake?"

Out of pure reflex, Hutch nodded--and whimpered at the new pain that brought.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked in dismay, brushing blond hair off Hutch's forehead with his other hand. "Hey, y'okay?"

Knowing himself how very hard it was to ask clever questions at hospital beds, Hutch let it go by without rolling his eyes (which would have been a rather painful thing to do, anyway, he figured) and whispered a very strained "yeah" instead.

Blinking his good eye open again, he found his partner's worried face hovering over him and arched his lips to a half smile. "`Ey," he croaked.

"Can you hear me?" Starsky instantly asked, fear evident in his whole expression.

This time, though, Hutch couldn't help rolling his eyes, and just like he'd thought it would, it hurt like hell. Yet he managed to make the agonized groan sound a lot like a chuckle. "I just answered ya," he forced out through gritted teeth and had to catch his breath, before he could add a faint "mushbrain."

"Oh," Starsky replied sheepishly. "Right. Right. So your hearing's alright, yeah?"

Seeing the anxiety in his friend's eyes, Hutch gave the tiniest of nods. "Hurts," he added in a whisper.

"What, your ears?"

"Every...everythin'," he answered through a weak cough.

"Oh, hey, wait," Starsky rambled, grabbing a cup of water with a straw in it from the nightstand. "Here. You thirsty?"

Hutch sniffed affirmatively, and Starsky helped him to a tiny sip.

"Thanks," Hutch said, his voice a tad stronger than before, and for the first time glanced around, taking in his surroundings. "What happened?"

"You were beaten up," Starsky told him softly, settling for stroking his hair once more.

Hutch smirked. Or at least he tried to. "Don't... say."

Starsky snorted a soft laugh, before he grew serious again. "What d'you remember?"

"Not much," Hutch replied, frowning as he searched his memory. "Dark. It was dark... and... couldn't... I couldn't hear. Something in... in my ears." Slightly agitated by his own tale, he once more tried to lift his hands, but Starsky gently kept him from it by carefully placing one hand over his.

"Shhh, `sokay, babe, it's okay. I'm here."

"A-and then there was, I don't know... Something hitting my back. Flew."

Using his free hand to lovingly caress the blond's forehead as if wanting to smooth away the frown there, Starsky replied, "They threw you through my terrace door."

Hutch blinked, the frown only deepening beneath Starsky's fingers. "Who did? I-I can't remember... Everything's so fuzzy."

At that question, Starsky swallowed dryly and settled for a soft, soothing noise as he continued to stroke Hutch's head.

"Starsk?" Hutch asked, sensing his friend's increasing distress. "Starsky, what is it?" Despite his partner's gentle force, he finally managed to lift one hand all the way up, suppressing a wince, and tipped one good finger against Starsky's cheek. "Tell me."

Sitting still to not accidentally move against the fragile touch and cause more pain, Starsky looked into his friend's searching eye. "I'm sorry I hit you," he said at last, gaze dropping.

"Hey, buddy," Hutch replied, wearily let his finger creep closer to Starsky's eye, trying to get him to look at him again. "Hardly feel it."

Starsky laughed faintly, catching Hutch's hand to carefully lower it back onto the blanket. He paused with his own thumb brushing over the still cool flesh, gaze fixed on it and finally said quietly, "I arrested Palmer tonight."

Hutch watched him in clear puzzlement, but remained silent.

"I accepted Navacelle's deal. Palmer's going down. The Feds are all over him already." The last sentence was spoken with so much darkness in the strained voice Hutch had to fight the urge of sitting up and wrapping his partner in a comforting embrace.

Swallowing past tears, Starsky raised his gaze after a long moment, the expression in his eyes almost too much for Hutch to bear. So much shame, so exhausted. He seemed to search for understanding in Hutch's eyes, for love, for safety, for something he could lean on when he'd finally fall.

But at the same time it was so clear that he dreaded finding it too. As if he was punishing himself. As if he thought he had to feel the despair that filled his heart.

"Starsk..." Hutch whispered, appalled.

Starsky sniffed. The tears weren't falling this time, but they were there. "It wasn't him, Hutch." Ashamed, he averted his eyes. "It wasn't Palmer. I was so blindly going for revenge, I... I didn't see it wasn't him. I didn't even want to see. I..." He couldn't go on, and squeezed his eyes shut with his fingers briefly, before he looked back at Hutch again with teary eyes. "I'm so sorry, Hutch. I'm so sorry. They... If I had accepted that stupid deal, none of this would have happened. But I was so damn stubborn all the time! I didn't even realize they were using me."

Hutch stared at his nearly sobbing friend, everything tumbling down on him in a rush. The enormity of what his friend had endured to find out all alone hit him like another blow, and he didn't feel the pain this time, when he lifted one hand to softly lay it against Starsky's hair.

"Us, partner. They used us."

"No Hutch," Starsky replied in a shaky whisper, once more taking the bandaged hand to lay it back. "They used me."

But Hutch's good fingers wouldn't let go as he tried to hold his friend's hand. "Since when is that not us anymore?"

Starsky gazed back, a single tear cascading down his cheek. He sniffed against more threatening to fall. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"Hey, hey, no," Hutch soothed, weakly struggling his hand out of Starsky's grasp to brush the wetness away. "You've got nothing to be sorry for, Starsk. You couldn't have known they'd do that. Hell, they're Feds! I'd have assumed the same. It was the only logical thing to assume."

"There's nothing we can do," Starsky said sadly. "They're gonna nail Palmer for what they did to you too. No one will believe us. Palmer's gonna go down and..." His voice darkened as he continued, "... and everybody else will just walk away."

Overwhelmed by the sudden realization of the sacrifice his friend had taken for him, Hutch braced and sat up abruptly, leaning back against the headrest with an agonized wince.

"Hutch! What-"

"Shht," Hutch ordered through a breath against the pain slowly easing in his chest. "Shht. Just c'mere." His hand barely touching the sheet, he patted the mattress next to him.

"No, Hutch," Starsky shook his head, having jumped to his feet, his hands nervously hovering over his friend's body, wanting to push him back down, but not sure where he could touch that wouldn't bring pain. "No, you're hurting. C'mon, lay back down, okay?"

"I guess," Hutch said softly, shifting his position a bit so that he could breathe easier, "we're both hurting."

"Hutch-" Starsky pleaded, but was cut off.

"Do I have to remember you that you punched me, buddy? You owe me, so shut up and c'mere!"

A tired grin breaking free on Starsky's face, he finally sat down on the edge of Hutch's bed very, very, VERY carefully and even more carefully wrapped one arm around Hutch's shoulders. Satisfied, the blond let his aching head sink down against Starsky's with a sigh.

"Comfy?" Starsky asked doubtfully.

"Actually--yup," Hutch mumbled, his lids drooping as he snuggled up on his friend. "All this lying down's gravely over-rated."

"Uh huh," Starsky muttered, still not fully convinced, but having to admit that Hutch really sounded as if he was in less pain this way.

They sat in silence for a while, each one seeking, offering and gaining comfort.

"Starsk?" Hutch's soft whisper finally broke through it.

"Hm?" Starsky murmured, restraining himself from moving to look down at the blond's face.

"I'm sorry `bout your father."

His gaze lost in the dim nothingness of the room, Starsky froze, Hutch's weight leaning on him the only thing that kept him in the here and now.

"Starsk?" Hutch asked, when his partner failed to answer.

"I don't know," Starsky said quietly, one hand coming up to lovingly brush his fingertips over his friend's bruised face as if wanting to make sure he had his eyes closed.

What he felt, though, was a confused frown. "What d'you mean, you don't know?"

He smiled. "Maybe it's nothing to be sorry for. I mean... I haven't heard his side."

Understanding, Hutch joined in the smile, his good fingers weakly tipping against Starsky's shoulder like a small version of squeezing it. "I'm glad you see it that way."

"Me too," Starsky muttered and sighed. "Hutch, I'm... I... I'm really sorry I hit you. I shouldn't have done that, but-"

"I agree to that," Hutch interrupted him with an audible forgiving smile. "But you were entitled. I understand. I'm sorry I provoked you. I just..." He stopped, searching for the right words. "You scared me, babe. I didn't know what it'd happened to you, you know?"

"Yeah," Starsky mumbled, guilt washing through him as he recalled the past two days. From his own experience he knew how hard a thing to deal with the fear of losing connection was, and he fully understood the burden he'd laid upon his partner all that time. "I'm sorry."

Hutch sighed. "Starsk?"


"Stop apologizing."

"Oh. Okay." Pause. "Sorry."

Exhausted, Hutch gave a weary chuckle and slid down a bit, so he could half lay, propped up against Starsky's side.

"You wanna lay back down?" Starsky instantly asked, concerned.

"No," Hutch mumbled drowsily. "This is fine."


Another long pause followed, and Starsky had already assumed his friend to have slipped back into slumber, when a faint whisper reached his ears. "I know what you've given up for me. Don't think I don't know."

A warm smile settled on Starsky's lips. "I know," he replied reassuringly. "Don't worry."

"Good." The word was only breathed out, as if Hutch had fallen asleep the moment it'd left his mouth.

And Starsky believed that, when he whispered, "I'd give up more for you than hate and revenge, Hutch. I'd give up much more."

Listening to his friend's even breathing, he let the relief after all the emotional draining overwhelm him and fell into a deep slumber himself, his head lolling aside a bit, so that one side of his face was nestled into the blond hair beneath it.

And beneath that, Hutch smiled, wincing ever so slightly at the movement of his features. "Love you too, buddy."

Soon, his own exhaustion pushed his lids down again, and, unconsciously leaning back in the warm safety engulfing him, he fell asleep.


"Starsk, please tell me you didn't clean up my place while I was away."

At his friend's dreadful gaze, Starsky grinned, letting go off Hutch's arm for just a second to open the door to his apartment.

It'd taken Hutch a week to convince Dr. Surtee that he'd behave himself at home and not overdo it and not go get himself into trouble within five minutes after leaving the hospital garage, and finally, finally he'd been released--into Starsky's care.

His ears had healed nicely, as well as his ribs and head, and though occasionally he would still feel dizzy or hear a slight ringing sound, Surtee had agreed on letting him go--under the condition that he'd "listen to his partner", an advice Starsky could only give his most heart-felt nodding to.

"Weeell," the curly haired detective now drawled as he helped his partner inside the apartment, "not ALL of it, of course. I mean, let's be honest, I only had that much time."

Throwing him a "ha, ha"-glance, Hutch slowly stepped inside the living-room and grinned.

The ant farm was gone.

Following the blond's gaze, Starsky smiled and closed the door behind them. "I even scratched the corpses out of your precious carpet."

"Aw," Hutch murmured, throwing him a dry smile, "you didn't need to do that, buddy."

Grumbling a low "hm-mm", Starsky led him over to the couch, where a few more blankets than usual lay neatly folded on both armrests.

"Uh, sorry," Starsky muttered quickly, grabbing two of them to carry them into the bedroom. "Meant to clean that up, but something sorta came up, so..." Trailing off as he briefly left the room, he didn't see Hutch's puzzled look following him.

"Yeah," the blond muttered, "sure, Starsk. Sure..." Looking around, he suddenly found that the place indeed looked a lot tidier than he'd left it. Tidier and still not like an apartment no one had lived in for nearly two weeks. "Starsk," he asked when his friend returned, "did you, uhm... did you live here?"

Blushing slightly, Starsky opened his mouth to reply, thought different, looked away. "It's closer to the hospital," he finally muttered.

Hutch grinned.

Unaware, Starsky rambled on, "And I had to water your plants and-"

"Starsk," his partner finally interrupted him with a warm smile, "it's okay."

"Oh. Uhm... `kay. Oh," Starsky exclaimed as he suddenly remembered something and jumped off the couch he'd just sat down on, "I've got something for you."

Surprised, Hutch blinked expectantly, trying to stretch his neck enough to look after his partner hurrying into the bathroom and back again, carrying a--huge plate with an equally big salad bowl on it.

Hutch stared, for once at the loss of words, as his friend placed the thing onto the coffee table with a proud grin.

"There you go. The first original Starsky Ant Farm."

"U-uhm..." Hutch stammered, bending closer to inspect the bowl more closely. He had to suppress a wince, though, as his body felt obliged to remind him of his limited motion span.

Seeing it, Starsky gently pushed him back by his shoulder and explained, "It's got holes in it, so THESE ants won't die. Contrary to the other ones, by the way," he added with a grimace. "I put them into your fridge. Thought what with your eating habits you probably know a salad recipe. 'Ants & Plants' or so."

At Hutch's stare, he quickly winked. "Just kidding. I buried them in one of the plant pots."

Missing the equally appalled glance Hutch shot him for THAT, he stood to crouch down next to his invention on the table to explain to his audience, "See, this bowl has no holes in it."

"Starsk-" Hutch started, but was interrupted by a snapping up index finger.

"But," Starsky went on, stressing the word, "they won't crawl out, because under this bowl," he briefly lifted it, "there's another one. And that one has holes. So the ants won't die--at once. Eventually, of course, you gotta lift the bowl for a few moments to have new air get into it. But that you can do outside or so. See? This way," he grinned, "the ants are grinning and you are winning."

Hutch stared--and laughed. "'The ants are grin...' Starsk, was this Huggy's idea?"

Starsky's grin faded. "Uhm... we sorta figured it out... like, together."

Hutch tilted his head to one side, arching one brow.

"Yeah, okay, yes, it was his idea. But I paid his damn bill, so I figure I paid for the copyright."

Impressed, Hutch whistled. "One expensive copyright, that."

"We're planning on selling those. All we need are more ants."

Hutch waved one hand helplessly, pressing the other one to his chest. "Ow. Please, buddy, stop. It really hurts when I'm laughing."

"Hm," Starsky grumbled, sitting down next to him again. "You'll see, we're gonna make a fortune outta this."

"Sure," Hutch gasped.

"I mean it. Think `bout the original ant farm. People buy it. People like ant farms." Pause. "You like ant farms, don't you?"

Still fighting his chuckles, Hutch shrugged. "I liked my old one."

"You're just saying that now 'cause I broke it," Starsky accused in a boyish whine.

"No," Hutch replied dryly, "because you could turn it and watch all the ants fall down."

Slowly, Starsky turned his head to glance at his friend in mock disgust. "You're a sadist, d'you know that?"

"You want to keep them in a salad bowl," Hutch defended himself. "Besides, I always imagined it was sort of fun for them. Like a day at the amusement park."

"Would you like it if I turned your place upside down?"

Looking at his partner for a long time, Hutch finally nodded. "Good point."

"I know," Starsky said seriously and nodded.

A few seconds passed, both men watching the tiny brown spots crawl up and down inside two salad bowls on a plate on a table.

"My Dad once gave me an ant farm," Starsky finally said.

"Oh?" Hutch asked, turning his head to look at him, noting the relieving lack of sadness in the cobalt blues that were focused on a long faded inward picture.

"Yep. For my ninth birthday."

"And did you like it?"

Grinning, Starsky shot him the quickest of glances, replying, "Loved to turn it upside down all the time."

Hutch chuckled.

"And then," Starsky continued, "one day I broke it." A pause. "In my parents' bedroom."

Hutch's gaze snapped to him, a giggle caught in his throat.

"Never told anyone."

Silence swelling with suppressed laughter, they glanced at each other--and burst out loud, Hutch's high-pitched laughter interrupted by half a dozen brief, half-whined "ow"'s.

"What," the blond gasped after a moment, "what d'you tell your Dad what happened to it?"

The wide grin changing into a very warm, very Starsky-like one, the smaller man replied, "Told him I let the ants go. You know, that I freed them of the glass." His eyes once more drifting off to a place all his own, he added with a genuine, loving smile, "I think he liked that."