All usual disclaimers apply, I don't own the rights, I don't get money and this is for entertainment only. Please excuse any errors; they are entirely mine.

WARNING! This story is DARK. If you are sensitive, please pass this one by.

"Things are going to get a lot worse before they get worse"— Lily Thomlin

By Starsky's Strut

The portly interloper tripped over a rug in the ramshackle house that he was nosing through. Curious, he knelt down and lifted up the rug. There was a trap door under the rug. He carefully opened it, then lay on the floor and cautiously peeked into the hole. He noticed a ladder on one side of the hole. "Hey! Guys! C'mere, I found something!"

The rest of the men came running and peered into the hole in the floor. They had to hold their noses at the stench as they waited for their eyes to become acclimated to the darkness of the pit. Bolstered by beer-induced courage, they made their way down the ladder and into the labyrinth under the house, their flashlights flickering along the mineshaft walls.

First they took the right hand passage and opened a heavy wooden door and found an empty cell dug into the wall of the tunnel. The cell had been used at one time, but there was nothing in it now. They made their way past the cell and further down the shaft, it seemed to go on forever. Not wanting to get lost, they made their way back to the ladder and headed down the left hand passage.

They opened another heavy wooden door and they found another cell. But there was something in this one and they gave a collective gasp when they all trained their flashlights on the figure locked inside. They simply stared for a time, too stunned for words or action.

"Oh dear God…" Two of the men crossed themselves at the sight.

"C-call the sheriff…" Stammered another one of the group.

"We can't do that! We're trespassing-" The third member of the party was cut off by the forth member.

"This is far worse then us trespassing! Bixley's dead. Who's gonna press charges? Nobody! We'll be heroes. Todd, you call the sheriff and an ambulance and we'll try to get him out of there."

They found the keys to the cell and carefully removed the poor soul from the dank and horrifying pit. He was so thin; he was more of a scarecrow then human. They took him up the ladder and sat him on a chair at the kitchen table.

One of the men put a blanket around the man's shoulders. The others paced the kitchen floor as they waited for the authorities to arrive. The man did not move a muscle, he rarely blinked, he just stared.

"God, his eyes are givin' me the creeps!" Todd, the youngest of the group rubbed his upper arms, trying to rub out the goose bumps that were flocking there.

"Shhhh! Jaysus H Christ! Ain't ya got no manners? The poor guy's been through hell… wonder how long he's been down there?" The speaker shuddered "He's got the thousand-yard stare"

"What's that?" Todd stopped rubbing for a moment.

"Back in Nam, if a guy saw too much action, he'd look just like that. Guys like that, their eyes could burn holes through steel and yet, not see anything at all" The portly man shuddered and continued "You might know it as 'shell shock'"

They tried to get the man to talk, but he spoke not a word. He just sat there and stared at nothing.

Unnerved, they sat with the silent man for nearly a half an hour before sirens interrupted the silence that had prevailed over the little group. They were sober now and regretting it. The sheriff and ambulance pulled into Bixley's front yard. They walked out onto the porch to meet the sheriff.

Sheriff Jake Clemmons stomped the brakes, stopped the squad car and got out. "What the hell are you guys doing out here? Wait, let me guess, havin' a little look see at the place now that the last Bixley's dead, that it?"

The trespassers ducked their heads, shuffled their feet and refused to make eye contact.

"Damn it! The body ain't hardly even cold and you all have to get snoopy and look around" Sheriff Clemmons shook his head at the men, who shuffled their feet nervously.

The self appointed leader of the group, Bake Baker pointed to the house "Before you get too far in this ream-out session Sheriff, why don't ya come see what we found"

The ambulance crew got out their gear and followed the sheriff and the men into the house.

"Good God! Where'd he come from?" Clemmons gaped at the scarecrow man still seated at the table.

"From down there" Baker opened the trap door in the floor. The scent of human waste and rotted food wafted out of the hole.

The ambulance crew swarmed the unmoving man and proceeded to take vitals and attempted to get answers from the victim. They got his vitals, but got no sound from the staring man. They gently lay him on a gurney and wheeled him to the ambulance.

"Which hospital?" Clemmons called after them and nodded at the response that the crew chief hollered back. He then radioed for assistance and proceeded to take down the witness statements. He had each man sit in the squad alone with him, leaving the others outside so that he would get each man's story without the others interrupting him.

Other officers arrived and the scene was secured. Sheriff Clemmons headed to the hospital to check on the victim and see if he was talking yet.


"How is he?" Clemmons asked the doctor upon his arrival to the hospital.

"How is he? He's malnourished, dehydrated and catatonic" Was the doctor's angry reply to the sheriff's question. "I'm not angry at you, Sheriff, its just… good God, what happened to that poor man to get him in this deplorable condition?"

"I don't know, doc, but I sure as hell am gonna find out, bet on it. I always knew Bixley was a nut, but I thought he was harmless… Obviously I was wrong. Do you have any idea how long he might have been in Bixley's hands?" Clemmons looked at the doctor.

"Weeks, maybe a couple of months, hard to tell. One thing's for sure"

"What's that?"

"He's not likely to tell us, not in the condition he's in right now"

"Damn. Well, I gotta get back to Bixley's place and see how things are going. Call me if he starts talking" Clemmons jotted a few notes on his notepad.

"Will do, it'll be easier to help him once we find out who he is. It's a wonder what family and friends can do to bring someone out of something like this"

"Yeah, once he realizes he's safe and in good hands, he'll come around. I'll try to find out who he is ASAP; I'll get back to you" Clemmons put his notepad away and exited the hospital, anxious to get back to Bixley's ranch.


"Eat Blue Eyes, you need to eat." Nurse Judy Tidewater urged the silent man. She pushed the wheeled bedside table closer, hoping the smell of soup would rouse the man.

He sat there, silent; the only move he made was the rise and fall of his chest and the occasional blink of his eyes.

"If you don't eat, we will have to feed you through a tube in your stomach, it won't be very pleasant." She waited.

No response from the man.

"Here, just try a spoonful. It's good, tomato soup; it's my favorite, mmm" She waved it under his nose.

The metal spoon gently bumped his lips, seeking to deliver its warm, savory cargo. He kept his lips closed. No, I'm not eating, never again.

Judy continued to try to feed the silent man. She gently urged him, speaking softly as one would to a frightened child. She felt she might as well be talking to a wall for all the response he gave her. The poor man. He might have physically survived his harrowing experience; mentally however, was a different story entirely.

She cataloged what she could tell about him from his body. He had blue eyes and his hair would need a good washing before she could determine the color, his ratty beard would need to be shaved off. He was dehydrated and under weight. From the calluses on his hands, he had been doing some type of hard manual labor. And he had been the captive of a madman for an unknown period of time. Maybe months.


"Sheriff! Sheriff Clemmons!"

Sheriff Clemmons heard the loud yell from all the way in the house and he responded to the yell and headed to the barn at a run. "What is it? What did you find?"

"It's a car, sir; it was hidden under the hay. Over a hundred bales were stacked on top and around it. There was a tarp over the car, so no one actually touched the car. We should be able to get prints off of it. Got the license plate number 537-ONN, California plates"

"Well, who does the car belong to?" The sheriff did his best not to roll his eyes at the deputy. They already knew who put the car there; prints would probably not play a major part in this case.

"Don't know sir, we just finished uncovering it" seeing the sheriff's stern expression, the deputy added, "I'm going to call it in now" He hustled out the door.

Clemmons looked at the car; it was a Ford Torino, red with a custom paint job. He seemed to remember something about a similar car a couple months ago. He snapped his fingers as his memory was jogged and the information replayed its self in his head. Something about two missing detectives from… where was that? San Francisco? No, Bay City, that's it. He spun on his heel and headed for the barn door when his deputy nearly ran him over on his way back into the barn.

"It belongs to one Detective David Starsky, of Bay City. You remember hearing about that, right?" The deputy was nearly hyperventilating with excitement "He and his partner disappeared about two months ago; there is an APB out on them. Looks like we found one of them… where is the other one?"

"Good question, I gonna go call for more officers. We're gonna need all the help we can get to search this place. What is the contact person's name on the APB? I need to inform them of what we found" After the deputy gave him the information, Clemmons placed a call to one Captain Harold Dobey of Bay City Police Department, Metropolitan Division.


Captain Dobey drove to the small town four hundred miles Northeast of Bay City, to the Coopersville hospital to hopefully identify the silent and still man.

Dobey stood at the doorway of the hospital room and stared at his detective, who lay slightly propped up in the hospital bed. Dear God in Heaven Hutch, what happened to you? He barely resembled the man that Dobey had known for years.

The attending doctor stood at the Captain's elbow at the door. "Do you know him?"

"It's Hutch… Detective Ken Hutchinson" Dobey stopped talking to the doctor and went to the younger man's side and looked him in the face "Hutch? Hutchinson? It's me, son, Captain Dobey" He grasped the hand nearest him, picked it up and gave it a gentle squeeze. The blond detective just sat there, unmoving and occasionally blinking; but that was all. "Ken? Hutchinson?" Dobey looked at the doctor. "What's wrong with him? Why doesn't he answer?"

"He's catatonic. He's been like that since they found him. He won't eat or drink. He doesn't move. At least while there is someone in the room with him"

"What does he do when he is alone?"

"He pulls his IV out. That's all he does. We haven't been able to catch him doing that though. Oh, and he blinks twice whenever someone says the word 'eat'… it's strange."

Dobey gave the doctor an odd look and turned to Hutch "Eat" the blond responded with the two blinks. "What the hell?" He looked askance at the doctor, who shrugged.

"Must have to do with the hell he was put through," the doctor mused out loud.

"And what do you know about that?" Dobey's dark brown eyes locked on the doctor's face and all of his cop instincts went into overdrive. "Two of my men went missing, any word on the other one? David Starsky?"

The doctor shook his head "Just the one man was brought in. Sheriff Clemmons could better fill you in on those details"

Dobey grunted in response. He intended to speak with Clemmons and dug the man's phone number out of his pocket "There a phone I can use?"

"In my office" The doctor led Dobey to his office and left him there to make his call.


Dobey climbed into the sheriff's car after having called him. He wanted to see for himself where Hutch had been held prisoner. "How did you find Hutchinson?" He asked the sheriff as he settled himself in the passenger seat.

"Yesterday afternoon, James 'Big Jim' Bixley, suffered a massive heart attack in the grocery store; he died on the way to the hospital. Some of the local's got liquored up and went to check out Bixley's place. That's when they found the trap door in the floor of Bixley's house. They found your man and called me. We found the car buried under hay in the barn, got the plate number and called it in"

"So you never knew this Bixley person was capable of this?"

"No, Bixley was the last of his clan. He was forty-two and built like a brick shithouse. He was always an odd duck, just like the rest of his family. They all kept to themselves for the most part. Quiet. Never caused any trouble and always willing to help out and do odd jobs. Damn, I always thought that Jim Bixley was odder then a five legged calf, but harmless, you know? If I had only known…" The sheriff trailed off.

"I'm missing two men; have you found any trace of Detective David Starsky?"

The sheriff paled at the question.

Dobey felt a chill run down his spine "Did you find a b-body?" He closed his eyes for a second sending up a quick prayer for a positive answer. He opened his eyes and his heart muscle clenched at the look on the sheriff face.

"No body. We found some bones though" The reply was choked out "We're not sure if their human or not, they're in tiny pieces"

"Oh dear God!" Dobey clutched his heart.

"They could be animal bones, we don't know yet" The sheriff hastened to add, worried "You alright? I can take you back to the hospital" He flicked a worried look at the captain.

"Just keep driving" Dobey mopped his dampening brow.


Hutch was dimly aware that something had changed. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something was different. He kept waiting for Bixley to show his demented face again. Every time he closed his eyes, he could see the madman. He tried to keep his eyes open as much as possible.

He remembered the day that he and Starsky had been captured by that man. They were returning from a weekend of camping and fishing. Nothing bad had happened. They caught fish and relaxed. They had found two lovely ladies who were also camping and the four of them had a great weekend together. When it had come to an end, he and Starsk had loaded up their gear and headed back towards Bay City, relaxed and refreshed.

Then they met Bixley. His truck had a flat. Starsky had pulled over and they both got out to help the man. While Starsky had started to help the man remove the flat, he had gone to the back of the truck to get the spare. He remembered nothing until he had woken up in that tiny disgusting cell.

Starsky and he had been made to work in the mine under the madman's house. The fool thought that there was gold in that mine. Bixley had been wrong about the gold; it was iron pyrite – Fool's Gold. It didn't matter how Hutch had tried to explain it, Bixley didn't care what he said. Bixley's daddy had told him it was gold and his daddy was always right. So he and Starsky were made to dig for the worthless Fool's Gold. Bixley was stock pileing the worthless stuff in one of the 'played out' shafts.

So he and Starsky were made to dig. Bixley worked them in shifts, having only one of them out of their cell at a time. He had bragged to them that his family had kept slaves for years so he knew every trick that they would try. Bixley wasn't particularly smart, but he did seem to be able to know what they would try and when they would try it. Whatever move they made to escape, he would counter it.

Bixley dealt harshly with escape attempts. He was handy with a cattle prod, as well as his fists and he would withhold food or water, or both if he got angry enough. It didn't take much to make Bixley angry. He didn't like to be looked at and he didn't want them to talk, not to him, not to each other. Breaking or ignoring those two main rules brought the harshest punishments.

Bixley never called them by their names. He called Hutch 'Blue' and he called Starsky 'Blue Too' or maybe he meant 'Blue Two' It just hadn't been worth thinking about.

The food (the word 'food' was being used in its broadest possible context in this case) was barely edible and smelled like dog food and that was on 'good' days. Sometimes Hutch could even make out a kibble or two, but for the most part, he didn't look at it. Just ate it. It was all there was. But sometimes, just sometimes, he got meat. Usually it was burned beyond recognition but food was food and when you got hungry enough, you ate whatever was given to you.

In the darkness of the cave, the days melted together. There were work shifts, but those changed whenever Bixley had a whim. And he had lots of whims; it was difficult and exhausting trying to keep up with all of them.

Hutch and Starsky had worked out a way to communicate, well, sort of communicate. They would tap a small piece of rock on their bars. Just once though, Bixley would hear more then one tap. So whenever they could, Hutch would tap, or Starsky would tap, and the other would answer with a tap, that way they would know that the other was still alive. It wasn't much, but it was all they had, for Bixley never let them see each other.

Then came the time when Hutch realized he had forgotten to tap for… he couldn't remember the last time he had tapped. He couldn't remember hearing Starsky's tap for awhile as well, so when he was returned to his cell, he waited and counted to a thousand to give Bixley time to exit the mine shaft and then tapped. He counted to a thousand again and tapped again. Nothing. It was possible that Starsk was sleeping. Sleep was the only escape they had. He kept counting and tapping until he fell asleep against the bars of his cell.

And about that same time, Bixley had started to bring him meat on a paper plate. Bixley had been doing that a lot lately, bringing meat. It was burnt, as usual. But, it was meat and meat was now a rare delicacy. Hutch would chew and suck on the bones. Then he would crack the bones open and eat the marrow, knowing that marrow contained a lot of calories.

His body craved the food and he did not question his good fortune, at least not until the day came when Bixley woke him with a jolt from his ever-present electric cattle prod. Hutch rose to his feet and kept his head down, not looking at Bixley and waited for him to speak.

"Well, the meat is gone now, at least until I can git some more. Hope you enjoyed it" Bixley zapped him again with the prod.

Hutch flinched at the zap and nodded, knowing by now that a negative response from him and Bixley would cut off his food for a few days. Or maybe forever, with Bixley, you could never tell.

"Ya haven't heard from Blue Too for a time, have ya?" Bixley started to giggle madly.

Hutch stiffened at that giggle. It always meant that Bixley's spells of madness were on a downward spiral. His mouth dried and his throat cinched up, barely allowing any air to pass through.

"You think I didn't notice? You think I'm too stupid to notice? DON'T YOU?" Bixley picked up a bit of rock and tapped once on the metal bars of Hutch's cell. "I know what you two have been up to! You can't hide it from me! I know everything there is to know about you! You think that you are smarter then me! You think you are better then me! You're NOT! You wanna know why you're NOT better then me? HUH? DO YA? DO YA? Answer ME!"

"I-" Hutch began

"SHUT UP WHEN I'M TALKING TO YOU! Do you think I'm talkin' to hear myself TALK!" Spittle dripped down Bixley's chin "Answer ME!"

"N-no" Hutch whispered.

"I thought I told you to SHUT UP!" Bixley rattled the cell door; specks of spit sprayed the area around the madman. "You wanna know WHY I'm better then YOU?"

"Y-yes w-why?" Hutch was petrified now, Bixley was worse now then he had ever seen him and he was desperate to do whatever he could to calm the madman down.

Bixley's eyes rolled wildly in his eye sockets and then stillness came over him. He closed his eyes for several moments and his breathing slowed and then he opened his eyes. He ducked his head a little down to Hutch's level; when he saw his prisoner peek at him through his lashes, Bixley whispered "I'm better than you because I don't EAT my friends" The madman whooped with laughter and left.

Hutch stared through his bars at the heavy wooden door as Bixley's words slowly sank in. He hadn't heard from Starsky for some time now. Did that mean the meat he had been eating lately had been…no! "Starsky? STARSKY! Answer me! STARSKY!" Hutch screamed, he begged, pleaded for his friend to answer him and when his best friend in the whole world never answered him, he had his answer and he vowed never to eat again.


The media hounds had been listening to the police scanners and were now waiting impatiently, to speak to anyone who was willing to give them information on this breaking story. Several news vans were parked just outside of Bixley's property and they swarmed the sheriff's car and pointed cameras to get footage. The sheriff kept driving and made it through the throng.

"It didn't take long for them to show up" Clemmons muttered.

"Huh, it never does, especially in cases like this. It's going to be a regular feeding frenzy for some time around here" Dobey grunted back.

The sheriff parked the car next to the house and led the captain to the trap door in the kitchen floor.

Dobey descended the ladder and surveyed the scene of his men's prison. The cells were small and not nearly tall enough for either of his men to have stood completely upright in. The forensics team had been through already and had gathered what little evidence there was to be found. It was discovered that his men and most likely other unfortunate people had been held captive in those tiny cells over the years.

Dobey heartily wished Bixley were alive so he could kill Bixley himself for what that insane man had put his boys through. He turned to Sheriff Clemmons "Any sign of David Starsky?"

"No, but we found this in Hutchinson's cell. The forensics team collected this item, here's a picture of it"

Dobey looked at the picture; it was of a cross made from what looked like pieces of bone that were tied together with a bit of cloth. On the cross was etched the name 'Starsky' Dobey dropped the picture and sat down hard on the rock floor of the mine. "Oh dear God in Heaven" Dobey crossed himself "Starsky" he then said a little prayer and when he was done, Dobey got to his feet "I've seen enough, take me back to the hospital"

Dobey needed to stay with Hutch. It now made sense to him why Hutch wasn't talking or eating. Starsky was dead.


Sheriff Clemmons left one of his deputies to guard the Bixley property to keep the curious and the reporters away from the scene. They would begin the search for bones and possible gravesites in the morning.


Dobey stood outside Hutch's hospital room and collected himself. He didn't know what to say to Hutchinson 'I'm sorry' seemed inadequate. 'I know how you feel' didn't seem right either. His shoulders slumped and his head bowed. He had the distinct impression that he had lost both of his men. He prayed that Hutch would recover from his ordeal.

All Dobey could do now was be there for him. He entered the room and sat beside his failing detective.


Starsky didn't know how many hours or days he had been wandering the mineshafts. His lamp had burned out some time ago. He lived in fear that Bixley would find him and illogicality, also feared that Bixley would not find him. He was lost.

Part of the shaft had collapsed as he worked it. The collapse had occurred between himself and Bixley. He had tried to remove the rocks to get back to Bixley's side. He had not wanted to be left there to die and besides, Hutch was still back there and he wasn't about to leave him alone with the deranged Bixley.

He tried to dig his way back, but rocks kept falling down and after while, he decided that the only thing left for him to do was to try to find his own way out of the labyrinth. He followed the mineshaft and kept making right-hand turns, that way if he came to a dead end, he would only have to make left-hand turns to get back to more familiar tunnels.

Eventually the fuel ran out of his lamp and he was trapped in the impenetrable darkness of the mineshaft. He felt his way along the walls and kept moving despite his increasing thirst, growing fear and hunger. He grew weaker and weaker, but he made himself move and took only short rest breaks. He had to get out of this mineshaft.

The darkness of the shafts was almost palpable. The inky blackness began to work on his fear, building it until he was nearly paralyzed by it. The only thing that kept him going was the thought that Hutch was waiting and counting on Starsky to help him.

He thought that he imagined it at first. But finally he was sure that he could smell the foul stench of the cell area where he and Hutch had been kept. He moved eagerly forward, pushing his aching, exhausted body beyond what it wanted to do.

"Hutch?" he croaked, "Hey, Hutch" He felt his way to the cell area and found the door to the cell was open, he went in and felt around, the cell was empty. Fear rose in him, but this might be his own cell, so he felt his way to the wooden door and opened it. He felt his way past the ladder that led up to Bixley's kitchen.

He moved as quietly as he could. He didn't want to wake Bixley. This was the opportunity to escape that he and Hutch had been waiting for. Adrenalin coursed through his system, giving him the strength to keep moving. He felt along the wall and found Bixley's spare flashlight and turned it on. He was blinded by the light and turned it back off. His eyes burned with pain, so he closed them and made his way to the through the other wooden door to Hutch's area.

He found that cell open and empty as well. Where was Hutch? Fear made his heart pound hard against his chest wall and he didn't know what to do. He sat down on the pallet of straw and rocked back and forth, afraid. What had Bixley done to his partner? Was Hutch dead? Was Bixley somewhere out in the mine with Hutch? Were they upstairs?

Starsky calmed himself as best he could and moved out of the cell and attempted to stand up, his knees buckled. The adrenalin rush was now over and he felt as if his limbs were made of cast iron. He forced himself to crawl. He decided that he was going to take the chance and climb up the ladder to the kitchen and go for help. Hopefully Bixley had a phone.

It took all he had to climb the ladder, his head swam with the effort, he pushed the trap door open with his head, as he needed to keep both hands on the ladder to keep from falling back down. With the last of his strength, he pushed himself up and into the kitchen. He tried to move away from the trap door, but couldn't. Consciousness slipped silently and irrevocably away from him. Exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition finally claimed him as their spoils.


The deputy exited the squad car to do an interior check of all the buildings. He had already chased off a handful of nosy teenagers tonight. He just didn't understand the attraction of wanting to see where someone had suffered and possibly died. He shook his head as he entered the house and flicked on the kitchen light. He then turned around to begin his check of the house and let out a yelp when he found a body on the floor next to the open trap door.


Captain Dobey had been ecstatic when he heard the news that Deputy Smyth had found Starsky unconscious on the kitchen floor when he had gone inside to do his hourly check.

Forty-five minutes later, Starsky was brought into the hospital, he was in even worse condition then Hutch was when he had arrived. Starsky had apparently been lost or had escaped into the mine and had finally found his way out of that hellhole.

Starskywas in serious condition and after over twenty-four hours in the hospital, he not regained consciousness and was not improving. Finally, Dobey insisted that Hutchinson be brought into Starsky's room. It had taken a great deal of hollering and blustering, but he had finally succeeded.

Dobey had everyone leave the room. He then closed the door and turned around to look at them. He remembered what the doctor had said earlier about Hutch pulling out his IV when no one else was in the room. Maybe, just maybe, Hutch would know that he was now in the same room as his friend and perhaps it would snap him out of his catatonic state.

That was hours ago now and Dobey continued to keep watch over his men. Starsky had started to improve a little with each passing hour, but Hutch simply stared holes in the opposite wall. They were together, yet they were alone.

Together, yet alone Dobey snapped his fingers and lowered the guardrails on the left side of Starsky's bed and the right side of Hutch's. He then unlocked the wheels of Hutch's bed and pushed it over to Starsky's. When the beds were as close as he could get them, he re-locked the wheels.

He then leaned over Starsky and extended Starsky's left hand and did the same with Hutch, but extended Hutch's right hand. When the hands were touching, he backed away from the pair. He pulled up a chair to the foot of the beds, sat down and watched. "You are together now, you are safe, feel it, know it!"

For a long time nothing happened, then a little movement, so small that Dobey nearly missed it. Hutch's fingers moved a bit. Seeing this, Dobey smiled and got up and left. His part in this was over, for now.


Something had changed. Hutch felt something. He had been trying very hard not to feel anything. He wanted to die. Shadowy figures with muffled voices moved about him. Sometimes the voices wanted him to eat. But he would never do that again. Never. He didn't deserve to live. Not after what he had done. It didn't matter that he had been tricked. It was inexcusable, unforgivable and he could not, would not, live with himself.

But now, something had changed. He blinked. The last shadow left the room and he knew he was alone. He moved his fingers of his right hand so he could pull his IV out. But something was in the way. A hand. A familiar hand. Impossible. It could not be. There was a rightness about that hand. 'It can not be' he thought 'it must be another one of Bixley's sadistic tricks'

Still, he held that hand. He could not make himself let go. Whose hand could it be, to have such an effect on him? That hand did not move, but it was warm and he continued to hold it, occasionally giving it a little squeeze.

He had to look. He had to know. For the first time in days he turned his head and looked. Starsky lay in a bed next to him. 'It's a trick, it's gotta be' He slowly reached out to touch the face of his friend. He pulled back, but like a magnet his hand was drawn to the wild dark curls and he brushed them back. He blinked rapidly at the feel. He moved to gently touch a closed eyelid and the lid slowly opened.

"What are ya tryin' ta do? Poke my eye out?" A midnight blue eye squinted up at him, suspicious, the gaze was a little unfocused, Starsky wasn't completely awake yet.

The voice was but a whisper, dry as the desert, but he knew that voice "Starsky?" Hutch was hesitant to say that name, but he could not stop himself.

"Who else would I be?" The dry voice whispered sarcastically, his focus was tightening, awareness sharpening, yet not quite sure of the change in their circumstances.

Hutch watched as his friend woke up a bit more and blinked in a bewildered fashion. Hutch wasn't quite ready to believe what he was seeing, yet either. As he watched, Starsky raised himself up a bit on his elbows.

"Wait, where are we?" Starsky appeared to just notice that his surroundings had changed and he looked around the room "This ain't a dream, is it?" He returned his gaze back to Hutch "Are you really here?" He looked down at their clasped hands and gave Hutch's hand a hesitant squeeze before again making eye contact with the blond.

"Hospital, no it isn't a dream and yes, I'm here" A faint smile played across Hutch's lips "at least I hope it ain't a dream, because if it is, than that means that…" he trailed off.

"It's good ta see ya blondie, I had my doubts for a while" Tears began to brim Starsky's eyes.

Hutch's own eyes filled "Where did you go? I tapped and tapped on the bars, you didn't answer and then B-Bixley s-said that… that…" Hutch stopped, unable to continue. He dropped his eyes and tightened his fingers around Starsky's. His left hand clutched fitfully around a handful of bedding, suddenly fearing that this whole scene was a madness induced dream.

Starsky rubbed at his eyes with his free hand and then wiped it down his face. He paused for a moment and gathered his thoughts "Bixley and I were working in the mine. There was a cave-in, the rocks fell between us and I couldn't get back, I tried, I dug and dug" He closed his eyes at the memory "Then I tried to find my way out of there… the lamp ran out of fuel and went out. I-it was s-so dark" He shuddered at the memory "I got lost in that damned mineshaft. I wandered for… for… I don't know how long…" he trailed off as the memories swamped him.

"You got lost? I thought…" Hutch interrupted and then stopped, not wanting to tell his tale or horror just yet. But, he knew that he had to, he owed it to his friend, even though he was afraid that Starsky would hate him for it. He clutched nervously at the bedding. He still wasn't convinced that Starsky was truly with him and that they both were safe and away from Bixley.

"It was so dark and quiet, but I kept going, I had to, I knew that you would be stuck alone with him. I couldn't stand that thought" Starsky sat completely up and looked into Hutch's eyes "This is real, isn't it?" his right hand crept up to brush back a fallen blond lock.

At that touch, something broke in side of Hutch and he grabbed his friend in a bear hug "You're ALIVE! You're ALIVE!" He thumped Starsky hard on the back and buried his face in his friend's shoulder as the tears streamed down his face.

"Not for long if ya keep squeezing me like that" Starsky gasped but hugged the blond back just as hard. It felt so good to comfort and be comforted, his throat ached and his heart pounded at his sternum, threatening to burst through it. Tears of joy and released fears ran down his face.

"Sorry" Hutch loosened his grip a little "sorry, it's just… I thought I h-had…" He tried to stop the tears and failed, his voice cracked.

At the break in Hutch's voice, Starsky forced his emotion laden eyelids open and took a closer look at his friend. His exhaustion fell away as he noticed the tears streaming down Hutch's face and wiped one away with his thumb "I'm glad ta see your ugly mug, too. I didn't think I'd get the chance ever again" his own voice broke and he tightened up his grip around his best friend.

Both were drained of the emotion and still wrapped in each others arms, they fell asleep like that. And when they awoke, Hutch slowly explained to Starsky what he thought had happened to him.

"Bixley told me t-that the meat was y-you" Hutch turned away, not wanting to see the look of horror that must be forming on Starsky's face. "I-I d-didn't know, I d-didn't know-"

"Hutch… look at me Hutch" Starsky reached over and gently turned the silently sobbing blond's face to him "look at me"

Hutch's chin quivered and he choked back the sounds of anguish he wanted to make. He didn't deserve to make them. He clenched his eyelids down tightly, not wanting to see the condemnation in his former friend's eyes.

"Look at me" Starsky whispered, "its okay, really. Bixley is a nut. He will be put away. No one will condemn you for what you thought happened. Least of all me" He waited, keeping a firm hold on Hutch's chin. Slowly, the clenched eyelids eased open and the blond's light blue eyes cautiously met his.

"You are still my best friend"

Hutch lurched forward and gave Starsky another rib-crushing bear hug, but this time, Starsky did not complain.



Dobey informed them that Bixley was dead of a heart attack and that a group of local drunks had found Hutch and freed him.

"We owe that bunch some beer!" Starsky told Dobey who had joined them just in time for the hospital lunch hour.

Hutch chuckled and pushed his plate away "I told them specifically 'NO MEAT' what did they give me? MEAT!" He grimaced and pushed the tray further away from himself.

"Do you mind?" Dobey picked up the hamburger and began to eat it.

Hutch looked away in disgust "Yuck! How can you eat that? It was a living, breathing animal; it did not deserve to die just to feed us. And I never really did understand why they call it 'hamburger' there is no ham in it"

Starsky rolled his eyes and looked longingly at his hamburger before reluctantly pushing it away. "So, the only kind of burger you're gonna eat is a tutu burger?"

"TOE-FU! It's called tofu! Starsk, not tutu, that's what a ballerina wears."

Dobey finished Hutch's burger and looked longingly at Starsky's "Uh, do you mind?"

Starsky gave it a sad, longing look before saying "No, not at all, help yourself"

Dobey muttered his thanks over a mouthful of burger "mmumf oo"

Starsky sighed "your welcome"

There was a knock on the hospital room door "Pizza delivery for a Ken Hutchinson"

"In here!" Starsky's mouth watered at the thought of pizza and he rubbed his hands together in anticipation.

"I didn't order a pizza" Hutch sniffed.

Dobey stood up and paid the deliveryman "My treat" he grinned at Hutch.

"Thanks Cap! Put it right here!" Starsky moved his empty plate to the nightstand and patted the empty space on the hospital table.

The deliveryman put the pizza down and left.

"Oh boy, I can hardly wait!" Starsky lifted the lid and his face fell.

Hutch's face lit up "Vegetarian pizza! Thanks Cap!"

The End


Author's note: The Thousand-Yard Stare is a painting by Thomas Lea. That picture is what I had in mind for what Hutch looked like when he was catatonic.