Starsky lay on his back, stretched out on the blue and white striped beach blanket and thoroughly enjoying the day away from the police station. The weather was perfect, sunny and hot, but not too hot, and a gentle breeze stirred the air around him. The sand beneath him was melting away his aches leftover from a chase the day before. Cool blue ocean water lapped at the beach, making a hissing sound as it mixed with the sand. There was a cold beer in his left hand and a long legged female to his right. Life was good.

Starsky shifted as his blonde female companion cuddled closer, softly running her hand over his bare chest in small circles as she giggled. "I could stay here all day," he murmured before wrapping an arm around her and taking a long drink from the can in his hand.

Another giggle bubbled from the young women, this time taking on a monotone, musical quality. Starsky cocked his head. He looked down upon the top of her head and before he knew it, she was laughing again, and this time it didn't even sound like a laugh. More like...

ring

David Starsky opened his eyes to total darkness. An immense feeling of loss surged through him as he took in the familiar setting of his own apartment. He sighed, shifting under the thin sheet that covered him during the warm summer night.

ring

"Alright," he groaned, reaching out blindly and grabbing the phone off the bedside table. He glanced at the alarm clock. "It's five in the morning of my day off," he grumbled into the phone. "This had better be good."

"Starsk?"

"Hutch?" Starsky took note of the grievous tone in his partner's voice and his heart beat faster. "What happened?"

"It's Tina," the normally strong voice wavered over the phone line. "She's..."

Starsky sat up in the dark bedroom. "It's okay buddy, I'm on my way. Where are you?"

"I'm here, at home."

Starsky got to his feet, holding the phone against his ear with his shoulder as he stumbled into his jeans. "Can ya tell me what happened?" Starsky hated to imagine what havoc had been inflicted on his partner's love life this time. Couldn't they ever catch a break?

"She's dead."

Starsky paused for a second, his hands on the button at his waist. Once his heart settled back in his chest, he navigated to the closet by moonlight and grabbed a shirt off the hanger, not bothering to pick up the wire as it fell to the floor. "Shit... alright buddy, just sit tight, okay? Are you hurt?"

"It's my fault."

"Don't say that Hutch."

"It is. I neglected her for so long... I just found her like this..."

"Hutch," Starsky paused to pull the shirt over his head then pressed the phone to his ear once more. "You didn't kill her, some whack job did it and I promise you that we'll find him, okay?"

"She was really special..." Hutch whispered over the line and Starsky had to stop moving to hear him. "I've never seen another like her."

Starsky's heart grew even heavier. He wracked his brain trying to remember what this girl looked like. Surely he had seen her since Hutch was so obviously taken with her. Was she the one with shining coffee-colored hair?

Starsky felt a tug on the phone and he turned, cursing the handicapping length of the phone cord. Why couldn't they make a phone that you could take with you everywhere? He quickly moved to grab the phone's base and set it on the bed, giving him enough line to reach his trusty sneakers. "Hutch, you stay right where you are and don't move, okay? I'm coming over."

"I really screwed up on this Starsk," came the faint reply and Starsky could almost imagine the blonde detective curled into a painful ball on the floor.

He stood up, stomping his heels into his shoes and moved closer to the phone base. "I'm coming over to fix everything babe, just give me five minutes."

"It takes nine minutes to get from your place to mine."

"Well yeah, in a non-emergency situation. You just start counting." Starsky felt a smile stretching his face. "Stay there."

Starsky hung up the phone, grabbed his jacket and keys, then jogged out into the night, slamming the door behind him.

o0O0o

Four and three quarters of a minute later, Starsky let himself into Hutch's darkened apartment with practiced grace. A little suspicious, he paused, his hand over his gun as he pushed the door shut behind him. "Hutch? You still here?"

"In the kitchen."

Starsky let out a breath and made his way into the kitchen. The sun was just beginning to clamber into the deep purple sky, chasing away the stars as it did so. An eerie, soft pink light was cast on the city, a portion of which filtered through the small window above Hutch's kitchen sink. Starsky found his partner sitting on the floor with his knees to his chest and his back against the wall, facing towards into the light but hiding his face in his folded arms. Starsky had rarely seen his friend so small.

"I'm here now," he said, his voice barely above a whisper as he went to his knees beside the blonde detective. "It's gonna be okay."

Starsky heard a sniff, then "You're early."

Settling into position beside his partner, Starsky wrapped an arm around Hutch's shoulders and pulled them together in an embrace. "It was important."

Hutch lifted his head and Starsky couldn't help but notice the shimmering tear trails on Hutch's cheeks. "You didn't have to come," the blonde said quietly as his watery blue eyes searched Starsky.

"I- what do you mean I didn't have to come..." Starsky trailed off, dumbstruck. "Tina..." he started, unsure of how to continue.

"My fault," Hutch supplied, wiping a path of wetness from his face with a deep breath.

Starsky gripped Hutch's shoulder a little tighter. "Where is she?" he asked gently.

Hutch's eyes flickered to the shadowy half of his kitchen. "Over there."

Surprised, Starsky craned his neck and searched the darkness. "What happened," he asked, trailing off as he started to his feet.

Hutch made a grab for his hand. "I forgot about her. She was neglected for at least three weeks... she was just so small and delicate, I skipped right over her, wasn't there for her while she was..."

"Hey," Starsky soothed, still peering into the darkness. "It's okay, I'm gonna turn on the light now, okay? Do you wanna wait in the living room?"

Hutch pulled in a deep breath. "No. I did this, I have to face the consequences."

Starsky wished his friend would just stop caring so much. Hutch didn't deserve to feel so guilty over a woman's death. It just wasn't right. He put a hand on Hutch's wrist and looked into eyes as blue as his own once more before flipping the light switch and bathing the room in fluorescent lighting.

There was no one there.

Tension and heartache gave way to confusion. Starsky bent over and looked under the kitchen table. Nothing. The place was spotless. He stood up again. "Uh... Hutch, I don't-"

Hutch pulled out of his grip and walked to the table. His shoulder's sagged as he picked up a small pot. His lip trembled as the blonde used a finger to lift one brown, brittle leaf of what used to be an African Violet. "Tina's dead and I killed her!"

Starsky closed his eyes. When he opened them, Hutch was smirking at him. "You are so evil." Starsky said, his voice raising along with a pointing index finger. "I'm outta here. Going back to sleep. Five o'clock in the morning... of all the rotten things to do to a guy..."

Starsky left Hutch's apartment, muttering an eternal damnation and trying to ignore his partner's hysterical laugh.