Author's Note: Greetings all, I'm back again with a story I hope you will like. No dogs and lots of hurt/comfort. Just how we like it, right?
Thanks to the lovely Jen, my very patient Beta.
"Here. Drink this."
Starsky set the cold bottle of beer on the table with a firm thump, then took the seat across from his partner. With a weary sigh, he tried to meet Hutch's haunted gaze. "You gonna be okay?"
Hutch nodded stiffly, a motion Starsky was familiar with. Yesterday, the partnered detectives had been assigned a frustrating and difficult kidnapping case. The victim was a nine year old girl. She had been stolen from her bedroom in the middle of the night without any clues as to who had taken her, where they had gone, or why the crime happened in the first place. The parents were understandably frantic and eager to place the blame, but Starsky and Hutch had been the most convenient targets and they bore the brunt of the emotional storms. Initially, the heartbreak and rampant emotions served to spur the detectives into one of the most thorough investigations of their lives. Then, after twenty straight hours of investigating, Starsky began to notice his partner's unusual attachment to the case. The blond was always compassionate about their work, but now Hutch seemed to be bordering on depression. So far, all of their efforts had been in vain. No clues as to the little girl's whereabouts had surfaced and Hutch was growing more distant by the hour.
Starsky was brought back to awareness when Hutch finally raised his gaze and drew in a suffering breath. "Yeah, I'll be alright." His gaze dropped to the open bottle. "Thanks."
Starsky lifted a hand a few inches from the table and flicked his wrist, accepting and dismissing his partner's gratitude. The kidnapping of April Bently was a case that ranked strongly in the top five of Starsky's own personal emotionally-draining cases. When he wasn't assuring the senior Bentlys of his complete attention or Captain Dobey of their nearly non-existent progress, Starsky found himself subtly comforting his partner in an attempt to avoid Hutch's complete breakdown. While Starsky had a professional knack for keeping a strict barrier between work and his personal life, Hutch did not and often succumbed to emotional distress that rivaled that of the people they were trying to assist. Hutch's empathy was a characteristic that Starsky both treasured and cursed.
"How's my favorite dynamic duo?" Huggy asked lyrically as he approached seemingly out of nowhere and threw a companionable arm around Starsky's shoulders. "Enjoying the fine beverages of my top-rated establishment?"
A small smile bent Starsky's lips and he glanced at Hutch. "What's happening Huggy?" Starsky asked when he realized Hutch was remaining silent.
"Well you happen to be looking at the most recent lottery winner, my dark-haired pal," Huggy sing-songed, waving a small, flashy red piece of cardboard between the two detectives.
Starsky's eyes opened a little wider as he turned to face the bartender. "How much did you get?" he asked, and couldn't help noticing Hutch looking somewhat interested too.
"One hundred big ones," came the proud response. "And there'll be more where that came from."
Starsky raised an eyebrow. "What makes you so certain?"
Huggy grabbed the seat across the table and plopped down with a grin. "I have connections," he started as he leaned in closer. "You see, my cousin has the gift of foresight. She can see things in the future," Huggy was whispering now. "She told me about a dream she had with these numbers," he held up the lottery ticket for emphasis, "And the next day- pow! I won!"
Starsky couldn't help but notice the excitement pouring off of the bartender. "Just like that, huh?" he asked, looking to Hutch for the blond's input.
Hutch met his gaze and took a breath, as if chiding a child about tracking mud through the house. "Huggy, there's no such thing."
Starsky knew Hutch would be optimistic and he was not let down. But, he'd rather have a gloomy, outspoken Hutch than a brooding, silent one.
Huggy looked offended. "If my cousin is not psychic, than how do you explain this?" he asked, raising his hand and drawing attention to the ticket.
Hutch rolled his eyes and turned back to his beer bottle. "If psychics can predict lottery numbers, than why aren't they all millionaires?"
There was a fraction of a pause while Huggy seemed to consider the retort, then the bartender rose from his chair. "I don't know. I'll go ask my cousin," he jabbed, then moved off with his usual flourish.
Starsky's attention fell back on Hutch. "You didn't have to burst his bubble like that," he goaded, hoping for a Hutchinson comeback.
Hutch smiled softly into the bottleneck and began picking at the soggy paper label. "You shouldn't encourage him," he replied, glancing quickly at Starsky.
A few pounds was lifted from Starsky's chest and he smiled then slouched in his chair. "I think Huggy encourages himself."
Just when Starsky thought he was making progress, a cloud settled over Hutch once more as the blond swirled the bottle on the table, entranced by the watermarks. "Too bad psychics don't really exist." He stilled the bottle and dropped his voice. "We could use one on this case."
Starsky closed his eyes for a heartbeat, trying to ease the stinging sympathy in his chest. "We'll find her," he said, projecting confidence in his gaze.
Hutch sighed and straightened before gazing around the room. Starsky had a feeling Hutch wasn't really seeing anything.
"How can you be so sure?" Hutch replied. The question wasn't sharp or said with malice, it was just... honest.
"Come on Hutch, we're Me and Thee, remember? We'll-"
"Cut the crap Starsky!" Hutch snapped, dropping his hands and facing Starsky head on. "A little girl is missing and there's not a damn thing we can do about it!"
Starsky faltered for a moment, unable to believe the anger that was seeping from his partner. When at last he looked up, he said, "Hey, it's me partner. I'm here to help you, remember?"
Hutch looked into Starsky's eyes for a long moment, then had the good graces to look embarrassed. "You're right," he sighed. "I'm getting too involved in this. I just feel guilty sitting here while that little girl is God knows where..." Hutch trailed off and Starsky remained silent until Hutch looked up and asked, "Forgive me?"
"Of course," Starsky grinned, leaning back in his chair. Hutch was still miles from being 'alright', but this was a good start. "Ready to call it a night?"
Hutch nodded as if he had been waiting for that question all evening. Perhaps he had been.
Starsky and Hutch rose simultaneously and exited the moderately crowded bar. The sunlight was dwindling and draping long shadows over buildings, cars and people. The afternoon heat was retreating with the sun and left the city enjoying cooler temperatures than it had experienced in days. The crisp air nipped at the two detectives, causing shivers to ripple down their exposed arms. Starsky hunched his shoulders against the sudden temperature change and he walked by Hutch's side until they reached their cars. Plans were uncertain when their shift had ended, so each detective had driven his respective car to Huggys'.
"I think I'm gonna call it a night," Hutch said as he reached his car and turned to face Starsky.
Starsky nodded and tried not to look disappointed. "Sure. I gotta... do... some stuff anyway." Yeah, that wasn't pathetic. "See you tomorrow?"
One side of Hutch's mouth raised in a signature smile. "Of course, Gordo."
Starsky smiled reflexively and briefly wondered when it had become a reflex. He watched as Hutch got in his failing LTD and heaved the door shut after him.
As Starsky headed for his own car, he winced as the cough and squeal of the LTD's motor pierced the evening's calm. Starsky shook his head.
If Hutch's heart could bleed over a kidnapped little girl, Starsky's could bleed over his partner's poor choice in transportation.
Hutch watched his partner through the car's dusty windshield. Starsky's shoulders were tensed with irritation, but the rest of his body gave the appearance of a little boy who'd lost his puppy. Hutch's own shoulders slumped in depression. He shouldn't have snapped at his partner. Starsky had always been there for him. Starsky deserved better.
Hutch shifted the car into drive after he heard the obedient purr of the Torino. As bad as he felt for taking his anger out on his partner, Hutch couldn't bring himself to change his mind and keep Starsky company tonight. His spirit was shot and Hutch needed to recharge in peace. An early night sounded wonderful right now. Just a quiet night amongst the plants and a good book. Tomorrow would be a new day and Hutch vowed to make it up to his partner first thing in the morning. Maybe he'd even spring for those doughnuts Starsky always fell for.
The streetlights grew thin as Hutch made his way home. The familiar sounds of a not-dead-yet car enveloped Hutch in a calming trance. He was well aware of Starsky's opinion of the LTD, but to him, the car was peaceful. It was his faithful companion, as Starsky was, and didn't deserve to be condemned to a junk yard because it wasn't flashy like the Torino. To each his own, Hutch had told Starsky before, and the LTD was Hutch's until the motor turned over for the last time. He smiled at the faithfulness of the ugly car.
After a few moments, Hutch's smile fell as his thoughts turned back to the kidnapping case. It troubled him deeply and no matter how hard he pushed, none of his efforts did any good. They were no closer to finding the girl than they were the moment she was stolen from her bedroom. He had experienced this frustration before.
Hutch was brand new on the force; a rookie with too much pride and arrogance. He believed that he alone could save the world. His first real case was a kidnapping that occurred in broad daylight when a mother and her child were at the park. The little girl was five years old when she was stolen from the playground by two masked men. Hutch worked hard in attempt to meet the high expectations of his superiors, but it soon became much more personal. The mother was young and heartbroken... and single. The child was all she had left. Hutch searched for the little girl around the clock, even when he wasn't on duty. His fellow detectives frowned upon his fruitless, almost obsessive efforts. The mother sank into depression before his eyes. Three months later, the little girl's body was found in a dumpster.
Three months and one day later, the mother's body was found with a bullet hole in her head and the gun in her limp hand.
Hutch blinked away the wetness in his eyes and turned his attention to the road. April Bently would not be found dead in a dumpster if Hutch had anything to do with it. He would not fail again.
Up ahead, a small figure on the side of the road captured Hutch's focus. He squinted, barely making out the pale outline of a small child, a girl, in an oversized shirt.
Hutch's heart nearly stopped as he squinted at the small figure just on the edge of the headlight's beam. What was a child doing outside alone at night? Was she alright? Did she need help?
Then the girl set one foot on the road.
Hutch's eyes grew wide and he felt his heart screech to a halt, echoed by the burning rubber of the LTD's sliding tires. His breath caught in his throat as the car continued in it's momentum, trying in unsuccessful obedience to come to a stop on the pavement.
Unable to stop and closing in on the dark-haired girl way too fast, Hutch jerked the steering wheel to the right. As the vehicle sped past, the child transformed into a lithe deer that bounded away unscathed.
As Hutch looked away from the animal and towards the rapidly approaching guardrail, he realized that he would not be so lucky.