PARTNERS IN CRIME

By: Karen B.

Summary: Set after the episode: Starsky Vs. Hutch and leading up and into SR.

Warning: Dark violence.

Disclaim: I don't own the charecters. I make no profit. I do this for fun/hobby/expression.

Thank you, Dawn:You really help me a long. Teach me lessons. And let me know it's okay to go places I'd normally not go. To challenge myself.

Authors note: When I start a story, I never know where it is going to take me. I write because I want to see what will crop up next, where will it land? Even if on the moon. What could, should or would happen. What if? How come? Why not? Welcome to my playground, and thank you for your time and care!

A pretty lady offers a lot of things. The romance starting off much like in the movies. Giggles of warm laughter. Goofy playfulness. Delightful dinners by firelight. But this romance had gone wildly off course fast, then crashed into a snowdrift, like a bad Santa who couldn't drive his sleigh on Christmas Eve.

And now this? Was this a dirty joke? Some sick dreadful wrong turn into someone else's bad dream? Starsky crouched down next to a single white sheet that was spackled in red. Underneath it lumped a lifeless tangled form. His fingers gripped a corner, but he didn't pull the sheet back, not wanting to reveal what lay beneath it. Just behind Starsky, Hutch stood rigid with his hands at his sides. The room was full, but quiet, all eyes on the two detectives.

That stinking sick feeling Starsky usually got in the pit of his stomach just before he had to view a dead body was there. Normally he could keep it in check. Keep it from swooping up his esophagus and out his mouth. But this? This wasn't normal. Starsky lifted the sheet, pulling it far back. What he saw was nasty and grim.

"Jezz-us!" Hutch turned his head away.

Kira's mouth was covered with duct tape, her wrists and ankles also bound with it. A large amount of blood saturated her unbuttoned blouse and the floor under her torso. Judging by the way her legs were abnormally twisted off to the side had led Starsky to figure she had been roughly thrown around until she landed in that spot.

Starsky let go of the stained sheet, pulling it back up, and then watching it flutter down over her face. He looked up to the nearby coroner. "Tell me."

"Apparently she was working undercover, trying to crack a child pornography ring. Last night was supposed to be her night off, but it looks like she was working alone. Department received a call today from the Super who always checks the girl's rooms every morning. He found her like this." The coroner, known to all as Jim Harding, stopped, choking back his own emotions at seeing a fellow officer this way. "I'm estimating the time of death between ten and midnight. She's missing a shoe, and an earring, and her heart." Jim winced, pointing to the bloody stain on the chest area. "Also, given the bruises on her cheek bones, and several stab wounds on her hands and forearms, she struggled, put up a good fight. Autopsy will tell us more," he whispered the last line in a muffled tone.

Starsky kept an air of stiff professionalism about him, letting his eyes wander. The room was about the size of a walk--in closet. The broken down building itself was situated in one of the poorest sides of town. Starsky looked closely at the wall nearest the window, seeing where spots of blood had splattered. Sickened, he glanced back around. The room contained little furniture. There was a small unmade bed, next to the bureau with several half open drawers, most with clothing hanging out. The walls were painted a flat shade of gray that was severely cracked and peeling in most places. The studio was a hell hole, and Starsky was certain for every hole in the wall, there was a cockroach that went with it.

"When was the last time anyone talked to her?" Starsky looked into the crowd of officers, asking no one in particular.

"Why don't you tell us, Starsky." Nigel Diggins stepped forward, looking from the curly head to the blond, then back again.

Diggins was a tall cocky redhead who wore cheap aftershave. He didn't look like a cop at all, his long slender physique made him look more like a basketball player. He'd only been with the department eight months, but already had moved up through the ranks, becoming detective sergeant first class. He'd had it out for Starsky and Hutch from the day they met. He knew the high reputation the two partners had within the department, but that didn't stop Diggins from wanting to be the big man on campus. In his mind, the two detective's skirt--chasing and drinking habits were unbecoming of officers, and he would be there when they fell off their pedestal.

"It's kinda weird, isn't it?" Diggins looked around, questioning the others in the room. "You two are all about protecting and serving your own asses. Rumor has it you and your partner in crime there---" He glanced between the two detectives again. "Were taking turns jumping aboard the love train." Diggin's words were damning, as he ambushed everyone in the room with the truth.

Starsky's eyes went wide with disturbed anger. He released a growl from deep within his throat, and leapt to his feet, ready to rumble. Before a word was said by anyone in the room, Starsky had his hands wrapped tight around Diggin's throat, and was shoving him like a bullet train until the officer's back rammed violently up against a far wall.

"You don't know nothing about it!" Starsky snarled.

The place was still and silent. Nobody dared make a move, except Hutch, who glided across the length of the room and now stood beside Starsky. He too seethed with anger, but, didn't unleash it, at least not yet.

"Starsk." The single word was said so quietly only those closest to the partners could hear it.

Out of respect for his partner's request, Starsky immediately let go the choke hold, barely taking a step away. He glared at Diggins, letting the silence stretch several minutes; watching the man squirm in front of him.

"Starsky," Hutch softly spoke again. It was all the prompting Starsky needed, and he took another step backward.

"Watch it!" Starsky said to Diggins, his eyes moving to meet Hutch's. Their blueness was not lacking for the pain he felt inside. He gave Hutch a small, and then stormed out of the room.

"You two think you're so righteous." Diggins winced, rubbing his throat, then brushed rudely past Hutch, heading for the door as well. "You should be nailed to a cross," he mumbled.

At that, Hutch's blood pressure shot up. All eyes were on him as he smoothly reached out grabbing Diggins by the bicep and whirled him around to face him. "Diggins ! I'm going to tell you how it's going to be right now. You so much as breathe in my partner's direction---" Hutch gritted his teeth, edging closer, his whole body trembling in anger. The look in his eyes could freeze over hell's water. "I'll nail you in a full length winter coat to a cactus out in the desert." Hutch's voice was, drop-dead serious.

Diggin's mouth went dry and he swallowed. Starsky, he could handle. But, Hutchinson? He was pure fierce grace, and Diggins nearly pissed himself standing in the blond man's threatening shadow.

Disgusted by the coward before him, Hutch couldn't even stand to touch the man any longer. He loosened his hold, shoving Diggins backward, sending him stumbling into another officer; then like the wind. Hutch was gone from the room.

Who could have been capable of such a crime? Who would want a human heart to keep as a memento?

Starsky stumbled down the stairs of the badly maintained apartment building, barely making it around the corner to the side ally before having to lean against a wall to keep himself standing. It was dim, cold, dirty, and it smelled badly of rotting rubbish. It was a fitting backdrop for the way he felt at that very moment. Starsky stood trembling, one hand braced against the brick wall, his head hanging low. This was one of those twists of fate that hit so hard. It almost seemed dreamlike. Kira, the lady he thought he had loved. The lady he and his partner had shared a bed with, had fought over, had walked away from, was dead. Murdered.

He knew the rumors that had been going around the station about the three of them. He wasn't sure who had started the gossip. He and Hutch had tried to keep it quiet, but the talk just seemed to have been born out of nowhere. Maybe it was Kira, who seemed to have a desperate need after that day at Huggy's. A need that drove her to discredit Starsky and Hutch as friends, slander their character as cops, even partners. Obviously Diggins had gotten an ear full. It was one question Starsky was sure, that now, he would never know.

Starsky sighed, thinking back. Like a charging ram, the images came to him. Spilling his guts to Hutch about how he loved her. He said it loud and clear, as if shouting the words into a megaphone.

Hutch's expression as he emerged from Kira's bedroom crowded his thoughts. Starsky remembered being stunned. He could hardly contain himself as he'd watched Hutch pulling on his shirt, trying to tuck it in. All cool, calm, and collected. His partner, Hutch, looking completely out of character. Looking for all the world, worn. Looking like a man who had just stolen the Bible out of the hotel drawer, and yet holding a degree of empathy with his 'let's sit down and talk about it' eyes.

Starsky swallowed hard, still unable to stop his trembling. He clenched his teeth, trying to get a hold of himself. Trying to chase away the churning images, but he couldn't. They hounded him like the local press hunting a story, always poised in front of him no matter where he went, with notebook and pen in hand.

At the time, Starsky could hardly keep control of his anger. He itched to jump Hutch and beat on him. He had tried to move heaven and earth not to lose control, but heaven and earth were far too heavy, and he had rammed Hutch into the wall, blindly shaking, muscles flexing, hands waling.

It all happened instantly, and seemed so vivid, even now. Starsky reminded himself to breathe, and sucked in some air. It was Kira who had kept him from sending his partner to hell. Seeing Hutch hunched over from his sucker punch, it was all he could do to saunter away.

Later at Huggy's, he was still hurt and confused, but he was afraid to have it out with Hutch. He was glad when they didn't spare much time talking. They both had played second fiddle to Kira. Neither lacked for pain, but they pushed their emotions aside, not realizing there were far too many loose ends left too fix up, and no mechanic on duty that was willing to make the repairs. Kira had opened hell's gate, grabbed hold of their hearts, then dropped them into oblivion.

They had almost lost their friendship over that woman. Maybe they still had lost it. Things were not the same. Would they ever be again? Everything had changed. It was impossible to go back. The trust between them had been roped and gagged. Kira was intoxicating, and they both had taken a gulp of her poisonous drink. They had made a colossal error in judgment, and were nearly trampled by her high heeled shoes.

Starsky shook his head, shutting his eyes to the memories, shutting his eyes to the filth of the alley, and held his breath. He was weary and felt sick. He didn't want to pick up that sheet. He knew what was underneath. A dead relationship. A dead lover. A dead cop. A dead friendship. His and Hutch's.

Looking at dead bodies had over the years become almost routine. It was a sad fact of the job, but today everything started too overlap itself. The past. The present. The future. Half truths and all out lies. His mind busy leaping from here to there. He pictured Hutch's arm slung around his neck in friendship. Hutch standing in the doorway of Kira's bedroom naked, a prideful look on his face. The sound of sirens. The smell of cigarettes. The scratching of lead tip pencils on paper. His hands strong and harsh around Hutch's throat, squeezing, blocking the flow of his partner's airway. The static of dispatch talking back and forth with the officers on the scene. The rolling wheels of a gurney. The sound of a heavy zipper and the crinkling of plastic.

Starsky uttered a groan, feeling as though he had been spinning in circles for hours. He tried to swallow back the fragmented imagery, tried to swallow the taste of acid in his mouth. He tried to wipe away with his shirt sleeve the smell of blood that still assaulted his nose. He opened his eyes, then closed them again, squeezing tight against the visions. Trying hard not to see the gaping hole in Kira's chest, a chest he once caressed gently with his own hand. Trying not to remember, that in his anger, for one brief moment, he'd wished his partner's heart would stop beating. A river of nausea flooded him. Starsky began too breathe faster and faster, swallowing over and over, his head bowing lower, and lower. He gagged once, then vomit flowed freely in one long stream from his mouth, splattering onto the ground.

No sooner had he released his innards, Starsky heard the sound of footsteps creeping up behind him. He froze, listening. The steps drowned out every other noise, then suddenly, they stopped, silent. Starsky's heart quickened, but instead of turning around, he drug shaky knuckles across his mouth, wiping away any residue that might be there.

"I'm okay," Starsky gasped, forcing himself to straighten, yet still glaring at the brick wall.

"You're sure you're okay?" Softly said.

"What have we learned so far?" Starsky asked, ignoring the question.

"Nothing yet." Hutch frowned, then stepped up closer behind Starsky, his hand about to make contact when Starsky suddenly turned to face him, putting on a brave face. Hutch let his hand quickly fall away.

Every since the incident with Kira they had grown distant. They had had very little discussion on the subject. Starsky had deemed the 'Kira case' closed. It was a taboo subject. He wanted nothing more than to go on like it never happened, to just get back to the business of how things used to be, only remembering the good times. They were friends, partners. Kira didn't matter. Even now, Starsky would step in front of a speeding bullet for Hutch, and he was pretty damn sure Hutch would do the same for him. There was no point in dragging the matter through the slop.

Hutch opened his mouth to say something, anything. He felt all alone in this, a tiny speck, in a giant ocean, and it irritated him that Starsky refused to talk in detail about what had gone down between them and Kira. He didn't understand Starsky's logic. Forgive and forget. The forgive part was good, but to forget? To walk around it like a slow dance not discussing who would lead just wasn't going to work for him. Maybe it was Starsky's way of trying to protect his tough guy image? But Hutch knew, you couldn't jam that jumbled mess into the past, until it was settled in the present. It would only come back to slam them both to the ground.

"Starsk, it was a bad choice." This was the way Hutch always tried to broach the situation. "I never meant to--"

"You okay?" Starsky cut him off like as he always did when Hutch stepped over the line he'd drawn months ago.

Hutch's belly knotted, and he dropped the subject for the hundred and tenth time. "Remember, I asked you first, partner," Hutch said. Starsky's eyes drew downward. He knew the talk was something Hutch needed to do. He needed it to, but he just couldn't handle it yet. "What's going on in that head of yours?" Hutch raised an eyebrow. "Starsky, just talk to me."

"Nothing." Starsky looked back up. " I'll be fine. Just need some time."

The silence hung thick in the air, and Hutch could see the dark shadow that ate away at his, and his partner's insides.

"Buddy--"

"Later, Hutch. I just--I gotta go." Starsky said, charging off.

"Later might be too late," Hutch whispered, feeling his friend brush by.

Hutch felt like he'd been running headlong into a brick wall. Was this Starsky's way of paying him back? Keeping the door of communication shut? The frustration welled inside him. Hutch's chest felt tight, his heart ached. When would they, could they really talk? Things could never be completely right between them, until they did, and for that, he needed Starsky's help. Hutch pursed his lips, and scowled., starring after his partner Several long minutes passed as he continued to watch Starsky rapidly walk away, until a voice, and a touch of a hand brought him around.

"Hutchinson!" Hutch barely heard the word. "I asked you if you were okay?" Dobey's face was creased with worry.

Hutch shuddered, coming out of his haze, barely hearing the popular question of the day, he could only nod his response.

"Is he okay?" Dobey turned his gaze to watch the red and white blur that just tore away from the area.

"I don't know, Cap. I really--- -don't know."

Starsky didn't know why he'd come back to the station. He just knew he couldn't go home. Not yet. It all seemed so bizarre. How could Kira be dead? How could he and Hutch be at such odds? Oh, sure they talked. They were still partners. Even went out for beer and pizza like they always did. Each trying to keep their friendship alive in his own way. But everyday, Starsky tried to rewrite the past, recreate the future, only to find out that at the end of the day, all he had collected was a trash can full of crumbled paper. And now more was added to his mix of emotions. Kira was dead.

Walking slowly and dejectedly down the hallway, Starsky, suddenly found Babcock from IA standing in front of him, blocking his path. Both hands on his hips.

"Where's your sidekick, Starsky?"

"I'm not in the mood, Babcock." Starsky tried to sidestep the man, but Babcock moved to block him again.

"I understand you and your partner had a thing for, Kira. Want to tell me about it?"

"Not particularly," Starsky said, in a dull tone.

"Where were you last night?"

"Out!" Starsky's spat his short answer, feeling like a teenager under the scrutiny of his father.

"Does this mystery place have a name?" Babcock coolly asked.

"What the hell are you trying to imply?" Starsky growled.

"You can tell me now, Starsky or it can come out in court later," Babcock said. "Rumors about the two of you being overly friendly with each other have floated around the locker room for years. And the newest rumor of you and your partner both having an simultaneous affair with a woman officer, well--" Babcock paused. "The person I talked to today, tells me the best thing I can do for you and Hutchinson now is find out the truth."

"Best thing you can do for yourself, right now, Babcock, is move out of my way!" Starsky took a threatening step forward.

"Is that the way you handle everything, Starsky? With hostility? Based on the information I received. Yours and Hutchinson's careers are on the line here. And If I can do anything to help that process along-- you better believe I'm going to." Babcock was another officer who seemed to have grievances with the two detectives. He couldn't help but wish one or both the officers would someday crack under the pressures of the job. Maybe this was his chance, he smiled cruelly.

"You got a job to do, Babcock, do it! Mean-time, stay clear of me and Hutch," Starsky roared. "You follow me?"

"I follow you," Babcock frankly stated. "But get this, Starsky. And get it good. I'm a man of my word, and I'm going to make a short story out of this mess. Now you can tell me now, or you can tell me later. Where were you last night between 10pm and 12?"

"Hutch and I were at Huggy's bar," Starsky said, pulling his shoulders back, standing in attack position. He knew he didn't have to answer any questions, but he wasn't in the habit of backing down.

"What time?"

"Eight."

"What time did you leave?"

"We didn't." Starsky straightened further, and took a step forward, moving into Babcock's personal space. "Look," he said, in a low and dangerous voice. "Huggy's a friend. The bar was packed. Check it out for yourself. We stayed to help him clean up after a water pipe burst in his kitchen."

"When was the last time you or your partner had any contact with Kira?" Babcock continued to push, a sly menacing grin on his face. He knew he was inches away from Starsky's fist hitting his face, but that would only add good things to his report.

"Four months ago," Starsky snapped, knowing exactly what the man before him was aching for.

"I don't believe you."

"Believe what you want." Starsky had had enough. His fists were balled and his eyes flared, pushing past Babcock, he stormed down the hall. Hell, if he was going to give him what he wanted. He had to get away before he nailed Babcock to the wall.

Babcock was a bulldog, he wasn't giving up his bone. Keeping step with Starsky, he followed by his side. "Come on, Starsky, you got enough problems already."

"You're going to have one hell of a problem, Babcock, if you don't back off." Starsky entered through the double doors of the detective squad room, and made his way over to his desk. Starsky wasn't happy to see the room temporarily empty. It gave him free reign if he decided to put action to the feelings that were welling up more and more inside him.

"There isn't any question in my mind, Starsky. Confess. You and Hutchinson are--"

"Are what?" Starsky turned about violently. He wanted to hit Babcock square in the nose, but instead he turned around, concentrating his anger on a file folder lying on his desk. He nabbed it, clutching it hard in his hand, bending the edges. "What are we, Babcock?" Starsky egged the man on, glaring back up, bitterness in his voice.

The squad room doors opened, stopping the heated discussion. "They're clear," Sims announced. "I already checked them out. They were at Huggy's place." It was no secret where the two partners spent much of their time, and it was the first place Sims went to check out. "I got more than a dozen witnesses. Including the plumber they called at two am. Got a copy of the work order right here." Sims waved a yellow receipt in the air. "Hutchinson paid the bill, put it on his credit card."

Starsky dropped the file folder to his desk and turned to go get a cup of coffee, disappointed not to have hit the bastard.

"This isn't over, Starsky. You're lying and I'm going to prove it." Babcock followed Sims to the door, pausing he turned. "You got it, hot head?" he said, then left.

Starsky gave up on the idea of coffee and stood staring at his half full cup. He and Hutch had hit a dead end, and he had no idea where he was going from here.

"Yeah, I got it," he said to the empty room.

Hutch had gone back to Venice Place. He'd taken a hot shower, changed into an old blue tee shirt, and guzzled four beers, but it still wasn't enough to get him to come down off the wall he was climbing. He tried to read. That did no good. He played his guitar. That made him feel worse. He tried talking to his plants. They didn't talk back. Nothing helped. What happened to Kira was beyond sickening, it horrified him, and what was still happening between he and Starsky felt like he, they, were falling into a bottomless black hole.

Hutch finally stopped pacing his apartment, and found himself pacing the quiet beachfront that was several blocks away from his home. He felt cold and alone. Time had escaped him. The sun had not quite risen yet, but it was light enough to see. Hutch stalked back and forth along the boundaries of sea and sand. The power of the ocean that so often inspired him went unnoticed this time.

The thunder of the waves clapping to shore only matched the thunder in his heart. His hair blew shapeless and wild, but that didn't detour him as he continued to pace. Five steps one way, stop, turn about, five steps the other, slicing a path in the sand. He'd been at it for hours, taking in deep breath after deep breath, feeling as if the next would be his last. He shivered. The air was cold, but after the past few months of trying to chip away at the block of ice his partner had placed between them, Hutch wondered if he'd ever feel warm again. Not to mention the crime scene of only a few hours ago, which kept playing over in his head. It made him feel miserable, and it was the starring role of his sleepless night.

Hutch stopped his pacing, crossing his arms over his chest and facing the wind. The tide rolling in, soaking his socks and shoes, but Hutch never noticed. The smell of blood was still in his nose, and to top it all off, he couldn't keep the images of the past away.

Like a barrage of firecrackers the memories shot off in his head. What was he thinking? Sleeping with her. Did he think he was her knight in shining armor? Saving her from what? His best friend? He hadn't played fair, but neither had Kira. She seemed almost to have a desperate need to prove she could wedge between the two best friends, as if it were the ultimate challenge. Sadly, she had verified the fact, that it could be done. Some how he and Starsky had managed to wise up, see through her charade, but the damage was already done, and where once they had always gone the same way together, now both headed in two different directions.

They'd worked it out enough, both turning their backs on Kira to remain partners, though things were now strained. Starsky especially seemed to be affected. He was a closed window. Where Hutch was an open door. Starsky seemed to have even less patience than before. He lost his temper more frequently, with Hutch and anyone else who happened to be in his line of fire. While Hutch wanted to talk, to flesh this whole Kira thing out, Starsky kept slamming his open door. Hutch became depressed, and more and more, often times distracted as the months passed.

The truth? They were both running blind, unable to feel one another's radar any longer, neither one close to the mark they once stood together upon.

A heavy sigh came to Hutch's ears. Startled, he turned to see his partner standing there in a drawstring dark blue sweatshirt. "You scared me," Hutch breathed a sigh.

"I didn't even try to." Starsky gave a weak smile. "I've been looking for you."

"You found me." Hutch could see there was something Starsky came to tell him. "What is it?"

"I'll give it to you easy." Starsky stepped forward. " IA wanted to know where you and I were last night."

Hutch pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose; he should have expected as much. "Did I hear you right?" Hutch asked, his hand falling away.

"Not what you expected, huh, blondie?"

"That stinks."

"To high heaven."

"Diggins been putting his words to song, huh?" Hutch asked. Starsky shrugged. "What happened between us and--that's our personal business. How the hell did he find out?" Hutch shook his head and started to leave.

"Hey." Starsky's open hand to Hutch's chest stopped him. "Where you going?"

"If I heard you right, I need to go defend myself, buddy."

"Hutch, a cop was killed." Hutch shifted nervously from foot to foot. Starsky obviously had gotten a handle on his earlier break down.

"A cop you and I slept with!" Hutch was angry, frustrated.

"Look," Starsky said. "We got nothing. No prints. No weapon. Krazy Carl the pimp she'd been trying to take down has a solid-clad alibi."

"So do we! Dozen of witnesses saw us at Huggy's place," Hutch said, running his fingers back through his hair, trying to tame the wild strands.

"You know it's procedure." Starsky prolonged a moment longer before telling Hutch he'd already talked to IA. If only for wanting to toy with his partner." 'Sides," he decided to give in. "The grapevine already checked us out. We're clear."

"You know you didn't have to talk to them without a lawyer, Starsky."

Starsky pulled his shoulders back, took in a deep breath and exhaled forcefully. "You think I need a lawyer, partner?" he asked in cold disbelief.

Hutch looked down at the surf, waited a beat, then his eyes came back to lock on Starsky. Oops, he had accidentally jumped into a lake of fire. "Starsk," Hutch softened, "you know what I meant. What's wrong with you?"

"You don't think that I--do I get a phone call, officer Hutchinson?" Starsky's voice quavered, his shoulders trembling with pent up anger. "Maybe you ought to read me my rights."

"Awe, come on, Starsky, forget it. You understand me."

"Yeah, I understand you alright, buddy." Starsky's face flushed red with heat.

"Look, we got to clear this air between us." Hutch stepped forward. He couldn't take the broken bridge between them any longer. "Starsk," he said, his eyes on the verge of tears. "You know I never meant to hurt--"

"Hutch!" Starsky shrunk back, his body going stiff. "We're not doing this," he said, his jaw set with determination.

"Why not, Starsky! What the hell are you afraid of?" Hutch boomed, taking another step toward his partner.

Hutch felt the request was small, compared to the end result if they didn't get it all out in the open. Right here. Right now. "Buddy," Hutch automatically taking the edge of anger out of his voice. "Our friendship didn't come as a prize out of a box," he said, his blue eyes open and wide, staring straight into Starsky's. "We can't bury this until we talk."

"We already talked," Starsky snapped. "Four months ago."

"No! No we didn't, Starsky. We have to do this!" Hutch took another step closer, then stopped when Starsky retreated back. "We haggled over her like she was some sort of damn business deal, and when she turned down the share and share alike proposition, like we figured she would, after doing all the damage she could do, we left Huggy's." Hutch glanced away, picturing he and Starsky walking out of the bar proudly, arms playfully slung over one another's shoulder. He glanced back, pain filling his eyes. "We got drunk, passed out, and never talked about it again." Hutch thumped a closed fist against his chest, and fired, "It hurts! You know? Right here." Taking a chance, Hutch leaned in closer, but it only made Starsky feel more trapped.

"Hutch, stay away." Starsky backed up again.

"That's what I'm talking about, Starsky!" Hutch yelled in frustration. "I- I can't even get near you. It's like you've built an igloo around yourself.

"We're still partners, still friends, Hutch, what else do you want from me?"

"I want you to talk. It's not the same. We're both tied up in knots, and you're dangling over an iron rail fifty feet up, and won't let me pull you in. Stop pretending you're not mad at me." Hutch felt hellfire rumble deep inside. "Partner, just talk to me, say whatever you need to say."

Starsky turned away. "I can't." The wind carried his voice off, but Hutch heard the whisper.

Hutch had no control over what happened next. He immediately took the two lumberingsteps toward his friend and gripped his shoulder. "You won't," Hutch said, never once doubting the trust he had in Starsky. "Buddy, we can't bury this in the sand." Hutch had a firm hold on Starsky's shoulder now, but he didn't fight him when Starsky abruptly pulled away. In the past that wasn't like his friend, but these days that was the reaction Hutch had come to expect whenever he was around. "Starsky." Hutch moved quickly in front of Starsky, blocking his path.

Starsky froze in mid-step. "Hutch, don't." Starsky's face screwed with anger. "This isn't the time, or the place." He turned back toward the sea.

"The time has never been better and the place doesn't matter! What do I have to do, Starsky? Tie you up until you talk to me? Is this another one of Starsky's rules? This isn't going to go away! What the hell are you afraid--"

Starsky didn't tolerate Hutch's words any longer. He rebelliously whirled around to face off with his partner. "You don't understand!" he yelled. Hutch immediately saw the way Starsky's hands shook and the flash of fear in his eyes. "Hutch, I might hurt you! Damn it!" Starsky took two steps backward "At Kira's, that day." He paused. "I wanted to--I was so hot--If Kira hadn't kicked us out. I could have killed you," Starsky said softly, then stopped, breathing in and out heavily. Hutch stood stunned, as he watching his best friend take a few deep breaths before he was able to continue. "Just stay away from me, Hutch, or I might hurt you.," Starsky pleaded, looking down the long stretch of empty beach.

For a long time they both just stood in the sand. Maybe it was only minutes or it could have easily been hours. Neither man knew what they thought about as they remained motionless, only the waves in the background moved against the shore. Suddenly a million emotions seemed to fly through Hutch. He wanted to throw his arms around his friend. Hug him. Hit him. Scream at him.

How had it all come too this? They couldn't live like this anymore. He took a good look at Starsky. His partner looked tight, panicky, angry and anxious, as if he would strike out if the slightest breeze lifted a curl. This couldn't go on. The heat between them could break records. Hutch wouldn't stand on the sidelines anymore. They needed clarity. There was nothing more to think about. And the 'why' this all happened seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle. Hutch shook with fear, but it wasn't himself he was afraid for. He was desperate. It might be friendship suicide, but he had to do something.

"Starsky." Hutch waited, but his partner didn't acknowledge him. "Starsk." He took one pace forward, closing the gap on his friend, but still got no response. "Buddy," he tenderly called. Deep blazing blue eyes finally shot his way. "If--If hitting me will ease the pain, get us back, then do it." Hutch braved. "If that's what it's going to take--" Hutch took a fighting stance putting words to action knowing he was walking a fine line.

"Are you as crazy as you look?" Starsky seethed.

"Crazier!" Hutch uncharacteristically broke down, wagging a finger in the air.

"Sounds about right," Starsky mumbled sarcastically.

"Look, Starsky," Hutch stepped right up into his face and it was all Starsky could do to contain his fists. "If you won't do it--" When Hutch's fist hit Starsky's lip, it was purely a gut level response. The cold cock to the chin sent Starsky to his butt in the sand. "Then I will," Hutch breathed out heavily, glaring down at Starsky and shaking the sting from his hand.

Starsky blinked away his astonishment quickly, then with New York styled vengeance, he dove at Hutch's knees dragging him down to the beach with him. They exchanged a chorus of grunts, and gasps, along with a few swift and sure blows, as they rolled over one another along the edge of the water. Sand clung to every part of them, filling their nostrils, the saltwater stinging their eyes. Time hung suspended as they uncontrollably struggled with each other and their own demons. Both inflicting unnecessary pain upon the other. Both letting go of all they had harbored. Starsky clipped Hutch in the chin. Hutch anchored a fist to Starsky's mid section. Hands clawed at one another, feet kicked about. The waves joined in the fight, rolling over them, pounding sand and rock against them again and again. The memory of that day with Kira repeated over and over in both their heads as they fought.

Starsky finally got the upper hand. He ripped Hutch's shirt sleeve as he flipped him over, pinning Hutch to the ground. Starsky was almost past his breaking point, his chest heaving as he kept Hutch forcefully down. He could feel the rage boiling inside him, like a man far removed from reality. Hutch started up at him unblinkingly. Holding Starsky in the highest regard, Hutch finally let his body go limp, let himself be consumed by his guilt, let himself become vulnerable against Starsky's anger.

Starsky's every breath was forced, his face red and sweaty. To any civilized man he looked like a rabid beast. Suddenly his eyes popped wide as he absorbed the situation. His worst nightmare had come true. He had released that primal cord deep inside him. The one he held in check that day at Kira's. The fierceness of which scared the living hell out of him. He hadn't felt this raging murderous type of anger since 'Nam. Starsky immediately gave up his position, letting loose his hold on Hutch. He twisted to sit in the wet sand, facing the ocean. Still breathing heavily, he hung his head low in shame.

After a moment of catching his breath, Starsky looked across at Hutch. "Are you hurt?" he asked keeping his voice very low.

"No." Hutch glanced up at him, and Starsky could see the pinched look around the shadowed corners of Hutch's eyes. "Not as far as I can tell," Hutch admitted, wiping sand from his eyes.

Starsky took in a quick sharp breath, and looked away. "How could I have let it go this far?" he asked, hanging his head again.

"We, Starsk. How could we have let it go this far?" Hutch corrected, painstakingly gathering himself. He spit sand from his mouth, then crawled over to sit next to Starsky, he too staring out at sea.

"The last person in the world I wanted to hurt--" Hutch stopped, picking up a handful of sand and then letting it sift slowly through his fingers.

"You know what they say, Hutch?" Starsky's foot twitched nervously. Anger no longer fueling him, he dug his foot into the sand symbolically trying to bury what he felt inside. "You hurt the ones you love the most."

"Guess we're both doing a fine job of it, huh, buddy?" Hutch said, surveying the ocean. He tried to take slow breaths, as he continued to pick sand up and repeatedly let it sift through his fingers, hoping to hide the tremble there.

"What about Kira?" Starsky's heart fell. "What do you think she hoped to find in us?"

"I don't know, buddy," Hutch shot Starsky a quick glance. "Take my word for it, though, neither one of us was her knight in shining armor. She was a good cop. I can't believe she's dead." Hutch started to reach out a hand toward Starsky, but stopped, pulling his elbow back close to his side. It wasn't time. The closeness was still something they needed to recapture. " Maybe if I hadn't--maybe she'd still be--"

"Don't do that, to yourself, partner." A chill swept through Starsky, he too felt responsible. "I was scared, Hutch. Scared to look under that sheet. Was the hardest thing to do." Starsky absently picked at a hole in the knee of his faded blue jeans. "But not as scared as how I felt when I saw you come out of her bedroom. I wanted to- I could have. I was angry, jealous. For awhile there I thought I could actually do it. Hurt you bad." Starsky relaxed, a thoughtful expression now on his face. "But all that wouldn't be as hard as it would be if I let this whole mess, murder our partnership, our friendship."

Starsky's words were barely above a whisper. He slowly shook his head. The roll in the sand, the punch to his chin, the release of pent up emotions, had done something to him. It had cooled the long burning fire inside him. He would never hurt Hutch. He was too important to him. Nothing was worth that. Starsky locked his arms around himself still feeling as though he couldn't reach out to his friend just yet. Time would still have to work its way through the wounds. He'd chalk the last four months up to temporary insanity, pure and simple, on all three of their parts.

Hutch started to say something but thought better of it, backing down. The load was off, but they still had mending to do.

"You say something?" Starsky asked.

"No, nothing," Hutch assured.

The uncomfortableness of the past few minutes had to go. Starsky's eyes narrowed allowing only tiny crinkles of laughter along the edges of his skin. "You know you didn't have to hit me."

"Yes I did," Hutch said, a thin smile on his face. He was a little reluctant to play, but knew they both needed the lightness.

"Give me one good reason why?" Starsky questioned.

"I can give you two," Hutch raised his brow. "Me and Thee."

Starsky studied Hutch in silence a long time. They were always physical with one another, and the fight that never was allowed to take place at Kira's seemed to have placed them in a situation they couldn't escape from. They were sinking fast, and there wasn't anymore room in the life boat. Starsky's eyes grew wider as he realized what Hutch had done by taking the first punch. He had literally knocked the sense back into them both. How many times had touch comforted them? Healed them. Even the punch he took from Hutch after Gillian was murdered knocked an angry blameful Hutch back from the brink of darkness.

Even though this touch was even more rough and tumble, it still did what it always had done in the past. Hutch watched as the anger melted away from Starsky, and a slow grin came to his face, realizing his friend's intentions were good. Both needed to sink to their lowest to wake them from half sleep.

Hutch was the first to break the silence. "Just say it."

"Say what?"

Hutch's mouth was dry and his heart pounded, bringing the silence back. Starsky angled sideways, now face-to-face, he watched Hutch swallow, struggling to find the words he wanted. "Starsky, just say you hate m--."

"I hate that shirt," Starsky stopped Hutch cold.

He could see the pain in Hutch's eyes, eyes that always held him up when he wanted to fall. He could feel it in his every bone. Kira had infected them both. Played double agent, left them like lepers, alone and scared. There had been enough pain, enough suffering, enough death. Starsky wasn't going to let their friendship dry up this way, dripping like wet paint down a wall. The wind kicked up, but neither man seemed to notice.

"What'd you say?" Hutch's blue eyes narrowed, surprised to see Starsky smiling at him.

"I said, I hate that shirt." Starsky eyed the ripped tee shirt.

Hutch kept careful watch of Starsky, he knew they both were very conscious of what they were really talking about. "This was my best shirt," Hutch said. 'Starsk, you're still my best friend.

"Still is," Starsky confessed.

"Still is," Hutch repeated gently.

"You know, I wanted too kill--I wanted too rip that shirt into shreds, first time I saw it." Starsky looked to Hutch, brows raised high on his forehead did his partner really understand?

They'd both taken a bite out of the apple, and now it was time to see if they had enough antidote, enough love left to rise above its poison. Hutch looked to the sand, then back to his best friend.

"Starsk, you couldn't live without----without seeing me in this shirt."

"I know," Starsky said without hesitation "Guess I was jealous, never wanted to admit to you. I really liked the damn thing."

"Guess I was always trying too prove you wrong," Hutch sighed, feeling both their boxing gloves come off. "So--" Hutch paused, then faced the wind again, not sure he wanted to hear the answer to his next question. "What's going to happen to my shirt?"

"I'll just have to buy you another one," Starsky said.

Both men were hurting and had damaged hearts. Neither was ever likely to be voted into saint-hood, each holding a bit of fault. Perhaps they had just cracked under the pressure of the job. Or maybe they were trying to see just how far they could push one another. Or Kira may have just been a competitive game, a game possibly planned out by Satan, squeezing all three of them between a rock and hell. Starsky and Hutch could look for answers, and challenge who was right or wrong until the end of time. They may never truly understand themselves what had gone down, and in the effort they knew they could lose the one thing true in their lives, each other.

All either man knew now, was, there was an acceptance of one another's mistakes. They wouldn't battle over this any longer. They would survive, because the link between them was powerful, going beyond the word friendship. It was strong, and they fit together in such a way that nothing could destroy their bond.

And together they would find who murdered a good officer of the law.

They still didn't touch. The pain still strong, but their hearts were on the way to healing. Together, Starsky and Hutch walked side by side through the sand. The fresh salt air making them feel as though things were changing. The sound of the waves rhythmically speaking, you and me, me and thee.

As they made their way toward the parking lot, where Starsky had left his car, the tenderness they felt for one another seemed to break free. Like a clogged stream, it slowly began to trickle back into their lives, letting each other back into each other's world; like sunlight breaking through the clouds after a long and heavy storm. They still had a long way to go, but the release of earlier emotions had set their course straight.

Reaching the Torino, Starsky looked at his watch. "It's almost six, we should check in with Dobey." He hurried to the driver side door, stretching through the open window to take the mike.

"Maybe they have something from the autopsy report," Hutch said, leaning exhaustedly against the trunk of the Torino.

"Zebra Three to control."

"Go ahead, Zebra Three."

"Request a patch through to Captain--"

A dull thud refocused Starsky's attention. He quickly turned to see Hutch on his knees, a figure hovering over him. There was a pained look on Hutch's face as he held a hand to the back of his head.

Making sure he left the key on the mike compressed, Starsky dropped it to the seat, and reached for his gun, forgetting he hadn't bothered to strap it on. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Diggins?" Starsky snapped.

"Just the two people I wanted to see," Diggins replied sourly. "Get up." He waved a very large and very familiar handgun at Hutch. "You should be more careful where you put your house key, Hutchinson." Diggins grinned. "Go stand by your partner."

Hutch struggled to his feet, but didn't move. Only starred at the gun in Diggin's hand as he realized it indeed was his. He had left it at home, hanging on the door like he always did, not wanting to carry its weight on the beach. Diggins was a detective, and a smart one at that.

"Move!" Diggins waved the magnum again, and this time Hutch did as he was told. He was still a bit dazed from the butt end of his gun hitting him in the back of the head, but not so much so that he failed to notice that Diggins held a plastic bag in his other hand. It was full of something bloody and about the size of a human fist. Starsky looked away feeling sick, then his eyes met Hutch's and they both knew at the same time. Kira's death had been a crime of passion, committed by a cop who'd gone over the edge. Could it have easily been either of them? The question was there in both their eyes.

"That's right," Diggins said, seeing both detectives eyes flash with surprise. " I killed her. She ruined my life. Wouldn't love me. But you two." He waved the plastic bag about, sloshing its contents again. "She could love you." Starsky edged slightly closer toward Hutch. He could see in Diggins eyes that his rational mind had shut down, his violent outpouring had cut out the very heart that wouldn't love him. "Yes, Starsky, the two of you are going to take the fall. Is that what you wanted to do when you found out your partner had slept with her? Is it, Starsky? Did you want to kill him? Then kill her? You didn't have the guts, boy! But I do!"

"You're a sick man, Diggins," Starsky said, with a shudder in his voice.

"And you, Hutchinson." Diggins eyed him bitterly. "What made you betray your partner? Are the rumors I've heard here and there around the station about you true? Were you that jealous of your partner? You couldn't have Starsky all to yourself so you slept with his girl?"

Diggins, a fellow officer, had turned, like Dr. Jekyll once did, into Mr. Hyde. He had turned into gun-wielding, cop killing, psychopath.

"You disgust me, Diggins," Hutch spat venomously.

"No!" Diggins rejected both men's idea. "Kira was the one who was sick. She was the disgusting one. She had her way with me, then went on to her next lover, and her next. I loved her, but she was a gypsy. Wanted no more of me once she had me. Going from man to man. By day she was an undercover vice detective, by night--" Diggins paused. "She liked to play games. Play rough and play hard, a real party girl. A hooker who didn't ask for money. Her reward was watching you both fight and gravel for her affection. It was a power trip, a game she liked to play." Diggins needed to bare his soul, but now all he wanted to do was take souls. He shook the heart he held in the plastic bag, sloshing it grotesquely around. "Detectives, you do see the possibilities here? I watched Kira closely. You just happened to fall right into the plan nice and neat, when you decided to sleep with her. Wrong place. Wrong time for you both. I spread the gossip, waited for it to set in good. If I couldn't have her, no one would."

"It's obvious you're insane, Diggins. Venice Beach is no place to do this. It's almost daybreak. There'll be witnesses." Starsky stalled for time.

"A cop murdering cops, a woman." Hutch added. "It's--"

"Justice." Diggins blindly repeated, "It's justice."

"I'd hardly call killing over the green-eyed monster, justice," Starsky said.

"Look who's talking, Starsky. That little fight you just had was a nice added touch to my plan. I'm going to put bullets in both of you. Press your lifeless fingers to print Hutchinson's gun, and leave her heart under the seat of your car, Starsky. The department can have a fun time of it deciding which one of you actually cut it out of her chest. My guess is they'll pin it on you, Starsky." Diggins shook his head. "I only wanted her to love me. Just me." Diggins continued.

"Think, man." Starsky tried to reason. "Think about what you're doing. We won't let you get away with this."

"You forget so soon. Detective Starsky? Dead men don't tell tales." Diggins grinned evilly, his gun hand shaking with fury. "No more thinking!" he yelled. " I loved her. Told her and told her how much. She wouldn't listen. I wanted her, but she wouldn't be with me. I tried to get her out of my brain, but it kept over and over again like a broken clock, tick tock, day and night. Oh, she was good. Too good. She could twist and twist until everything in my head hurt. She wouldn't stop twisting." He gritted his teeth. "So I tied her up. Kissed her one last time before taping her mouth shut and cut out her heart." Tears formed in the crazed man's eyes but they didn't fall. "She did a job on me. Looks like she did a job on you too." He waved his gun wildly cocking the hammer. "I'm going to fix it. Fix it so I can sleep again. Get her out of my mind. Out of my heart. She's a snake." His voice was a mere whisper. "And her poison is in me. It's in you." Diggins expression grew hard and cold, his gun aiming at Hutch.

"This isn't the way," Hutch said softly, tilting his head when he heard the sound of sirens wailing in the distance.

"To hell it's not," Diggins shouted, his hand dangerously shaking, as his finger pulled the trigger.

"No! Huuutch!" Starsky catapulted himself in front of his partner like a shield. Both men slammed to the ground, Starsky sprawling over the top of Hutch.

The bullet barely missed its mark, the Torino's side view mirror now shattered. More bullets bit around them, one flattening a rear tire. Starsky wrapped his arms around Hutch rolling them as one, across the pavement until they were around to the backside of the car, still lying flat to the ground. The sirens were growing louder, getting closer.

Diggins looked up to see a half dozen police cars heading his way. He seemed stunned chewing his lower lip. His emotions were going up and down like an elevator. His breathing quickened. The hunger he felt inside, for love, for revenge, the bitterness, the anger, it all seemed to be drowned out by Kira's screams. Did killing her really make a difference? The pain was still there. Would always be there. It all threw him into a tailspin. He wouldn't survive in jail. What had he done? He'd done what others only envisioned in their darkest dreams. He had acted on his anger. He was sick. He had to kill her. In his mind there was no choice. Just like now. Now there was no choice. Diggins took a breath, clutching tightly to the plastic bag in his hand. He then calmly and methodically placed the barrel of Hutch's gun into his mouth and pulled the trigger. From under the car, Starsky and Hutch watched the body hit the ground, blood splaying, and a darkened spot suddenly saturating the area.

Starsky gasped, seeing Diggins fall and the blood rushing out of him. Dead before he hit the ground. Starsky felt unsteady. He couldn't save Kira, couldn't save this troubled officer, by God he wasn't going to lose Hutch or their friendship.

Hutch looked on at Diggins laying in the wake of his own body fluid. Nervousness and guilt flooded him. The man had brutally murdered Kira, yet he saw in the dead man's eyes how quickly things could spiral out of control. Like a paper house in a hurricane, you can find yourself in a place or situation you never thought you'd be in. Like he and Starsky had a few months ago, like tonight on the beach.

Both Starsky and Hutch seemed to be in shock. Was that it? Diggins had killed her. Was going to kill them but instead killed himself. There wasn't anything to say. Kira, or rather love, ate at him until all the good in him was gone and he was empty inside. Until there was nothing but hatred, and thoughts of revenge. Until there was nothing for the man to do but strike out at the very thing he had loved the most.

Both men were still sprawled on top one another. Starsky came out of his daze first, squinting against the headlights of the police cars that now surrounded the area, watching as a jungle of uniformed officers storm onto the scene.

Starsky looked at Hutch. "You want me to do the explaining?"

Hutch struggled to free himself. "First, how about getting off me, Starsk. 'Case you haven't thought of it." Hutch gave a painful grunt.

Starsky moved rolling off to the side. "How's my partner?" he asked, anxiously looking Hutch over.

"Starsky, why'd you do that?" Hutch was shaken, yet he was armed with the knowledge, his partner had as much gut as heart. "You--You could have been killed!"

"What about you?" Starsky shot back. " He was aiming at you. What was I supposed to do, Hutch? Consult with you first? You don't trust me?"

All the strength drained from Hutch's body, and he slowly slipped against Starsky. "I'll always trust you," Hutch breathed out, wincing and drawing a hand to the back of his head.

"Me too, Hutch," Starsky responded instantly, not missing the quiver in his partner's voice. "Are you all right?"

"Think so, just a bump on my head."

"Hang on." Starsky hooked an arm around Hutch's waist and pulled him up to his feet, leaning him against the Torino.

Both men glanced up, to watch a heavy-set figure moving fast toward them from out of the shadows, looking much like a runaway horse.

"It was Diggins, Cap," Hutch spoke up first.

"I heard. We all heard. Thank God you left the channel open." Dobey shook his head looking sorrowfully at Diggins lying in his own blood. A bad cop, a cop pushed over the edge, it always hurt him deeply. He always wondered where and when they had made the turn for the worse. What was in their head? What was in their heart? It was a nagging unease Dobey carried deep inside. The questions never just flitted across his mind, they kept him awake nights. "You two sure know how to push all the wrong buttons." Dobey loosened his tie, and clearing his throat, he waved a finger at two uniformed officers. They swiftly holstered their guns and moved to cover the body.

"Or all the right ones," Starsky mumbled.

"Starsky!" Dobey shouted tensely, not in any mood. He ran a hand over his face then looked to his two best. Seeing his men so rumpled, and mentally exhausted, he softened, and held back the bombardment of questions going off like rockets in his head. "Go home. Wash up." Dobey looked at the Torino with its flat tire and shattered mirror. "Take my car. Be back in the office in a few hours. I want those reports. I'll wrap it up here." He dismissed his men, simply by tossing them his car keys like a trusting father, and walking away.

Starsky caught them. "I'll drive."

"Naturally." Hutch winced as they walked side by side toward Dobey's car. "Starsk, you know if it would help us get back what we almost lost more quickly, I'll put in for a new part--"

"Hey!" Starsky moved around to stand in front of Hutch, stopping him from walking. "No." He frowned. "It'll be fine, Hutch. We'll be fine, just give it a little more time. Okay?" Starsky gave a curt nod.

"Okay," Hutch repeated, as they started walking again.

Mutual trust was slowly coming back to them, but they would have to take it step by step. Both men refusing to give up on each other.

"Sure your head is okay?" Starsky asked.

"The throbbing let's me know I'm still alive." Hutch smiled at his friend, reaching a hand to the back of his neck rubbing the tension away.

"Where to?" Starsky hiked a brow.

"Your call," Hutch said, as they reached the car.

"Your place," Starsky smiled.

"My place. And a shower." Hutch added.

"Your place, a shower, and a cold beer," Starsky continued.

"I like the sound of that, Starsk."

"Me too, Hutch."

TAG: THREE MONTHS LATER

Hutch eased into the chair next to Starsky's bed, unsure of what to do with his hands, he shoved them between his knees. He'd never felt so alone, so helpless; looking at his comatose partner, gazing at all the wires, tubes, and thingamabobs that surrounded him. Listening to the sound of the heart monitor ever so slowly counting out the weak heartbeats. He knew right then and there his partner was only alive, hanging on by a sheer force of will. Hutch shut his eyes.

It all happened in a moment. A fraction of a second. Hutch's present mind scattered like the bullets he'd been firing. In that moment, he retrieved every memory he and his partner had shared in the seven years they had been partners and best friends. Some were of good times. Some of pain and suffering. The last few, a mixture of confusion, guilt, betrayal, disappointment, and the hidden energy of how vital and happy they were when just concentrating on being together and having a good time; like only a short while ago. How for the last few months they were slowly, but surly, recovering from Kira, from what they had almost lost. But now, to Hutch, that all seemed gone forever.

Instead of getting down like he should have, Starsky had once again proven he had as much gut as heart. He had stayed on his feet. Hutch had dropped so hard and fast he'd taken on a few bruises and scrapes. To him, it was the only thing that made any sense. By the time he'd gotten to his feet and fired a few shots off at the escaping police cruiser, it was all over. Stunned that he had not heard his partner's voice or one round being shot from his gun, Hutch yelled out to his friend.

Breathing like he had just run a four minute mile, he rounded the Torino. Hutch had suddenly lost all strength, and he went numb, like whiskey flowed through his veins instead of blood. There it was. The one thing that he feared the most in this world. Starsky always did make left hand turns without checking for on coming traffic. His partner's stubborn, stay on your feet, never give up, go down swinging attitude had finally caught up to him.

Starsky lay on the ground, his blood seeping into the pavement, gasping for air. Hutch's gut began to rebel, and he had to swallow repeatedly to keep the sickness down. He took one step toward Starsky, but couldn't carry his own weight, and clumsily collapsed to his knees, hands flat to the pavement, vomiting. As if Starsky's life depended on it, Hutch couldn't move. The clock stopped ticking. He stayed on all fours, his body became tense and rigid, as he was thrust into the thick of a nightmare. There on all fours and looking over to his wounded partner, Hutch's emotions came fast and he couldn't harness them as they went spinning out of control. Fierce anger. Spine tingling fear. Infinite sorrow. And then there was guilt.

Hutch quickly wiped his mouth of lingering spew. All he could do was watch and plead for his partner's life. He watched nearby officers run to crouch at his partner's side. He watched Starsky's eyes flick open once, showing of haunted blue, then his sweaty curls fell over them and they shut. He watched blood drip from his partner's mouth, his lips turning white, blood pumping from his chest like a broken water main. He watched his partner shiver uncontrollably. Watched his breath be taken away like a cold winter's wind. He watched as the ambulance pulled up, and the medics jumped out, their faces eager and intense. One medic pressed both hands hard to Starsky's chest, desperate not to let the man beneath them die, and somehow Hutch found comfort in that.

He heard a man's voice calling to him. It was soft and kind. "Hutch. Hutch, what happened?" But he could not answer.

"I'm sorry," it said. "Do you know what happened?" This time the voice was more demanding. Hutch bowed his head, he didn't want to look anymore. They were just getting back to normal. Their friendship almost back from the depths of what once was despair. But now, now once again Hutch couldn't feel Starsky's friendship. All he could feel was death. He could still smell gun smoke mingling in the air along with the blood of his partner.

"I'm sorry," Dobey said again, and this time Hutch knew the voice to be that of their Captain. "He'll be okay," the heavy set man uttered. But Hutch couldn't answer, and Dobey no longer questioned him.

Could it have all been just a dream? It was so real. He could feel he and Starsky connecting again like they once had been. Before Kira. It had started out to be a great day. Would have been a beautiful dinner. No matter who paid.

Hutch opened his eyes, shook the image of the parking garage away, and looked back up to his partner lying on his back in the hospital bed. Starsky's closed eyes told him that his partner was slipping away. It was painful to watch. Hutch took in a deep breath and held it tight within him until it hurt not to breathe.

How could Starsky have not listened to him? When would he learn? He had no business trying to keep standing. Whatever possessed him to--me, it was me! Oh man, he was protecting me. Starsky could die, die protecting me. No. Please, no. Don't go. I never wanted any of this. Never wanted to hurt you. I think we both were afraid. Afraid of how deep our friendship was going, so we pulled back. We were afraid. We'd gotten too close. Needed--no--clung to each other too much. The emotions building high between us since the day we met were to overwhelming, and they had nothing to do with sex, as some in the department liked to keep insinuating..

I wish I could take it back. All of it. Kira. The bullets. Our partnership. Friendship. Everything. If it would save you. I would. God, Starsk, I would.

I can't watch you die. Please don't make me watch you die.

Hutch 's eyes welled with tears, feeling his heart breaking inside. He gingerly picked up Starsky's hand, touching, really touching, for the first time in months. He softly stroked it with his fingertips, and let out his long held breath.

"Please. Don't."

The end.