Bonded

This is a companion piece to "Blooded" ( s/397674/1/Blooded)

The lanky blond man stiffly plunked himself down into the passenger bucket seat of the red Mustang. "You're late again, partner," he admonished with a growl. "Cap'n Arnold does realize the problem lies with you, not me, right?" He middle-fingered his oversized aviator sunglasses as far up the bridge of his nose as they'd go, being careful to look directly at the driver and lean toward him. He wanted to make sure the man knew the finger was meant for him.

The driver grinned crookedly and mischievously. "What's wrong, Hutch? Get up on the wrong side of an empty bed again? And careful that finger of yours don't get pinched in the frame." He tensed his right arm for the blow he knew would come. Fortunately, it wasn't too hard—this time. He hissed and gave an exaggerated grimace of pain.

Detective Ken Hutchinson sighed and faced forward. He wished he had called in sick today. After wrestling for hours with fervent demonstrators yesterday, every muscle objected to even the most miniscule use. Ordinarily, detectives weren't called in for crowd control, but the relatively peaceful Vietnam War protest had gotten out of hand rapidly, and the zebra units were ordered to assist. The protest had evolved into a very vocal and angry "memorial" to those killed and wounded at Kent State University less than three months before. He and his new partner for the last three months, David Starsky, didn't even have time to put on riot gear before they were drawn into the melee. Somehow, his partner had come through nearly unscathed, but he had been kicked, punched, pulled, pushed, and generally manhandled by violent college students. All the while, though, he had appreciated the irony of his being the heavy rather than the protestor as he had been just three years before; Payback can be hell, he had thought. Now, however, he wasn't willing to pay any real or imagined penalties associated with missing a tour so early in his detective career. He didn't want to risk anything just for another long, warm, luxurious soak up to his neck in a deep bathtub and bottles of aspirin and white grape juice within easy reach.

"Something puzzles me, Starsky." Hutchinson paused and rubbed his sore arm while he silently berated himself for socking his partner. Damn! Not quite ready to do that, he thought. Save all movement for the streets, idiot. "Why was I the punching bag, and not you?"

Starsky shook his head of short, dark curls in pity at his partner-without-a-clue. "Just look at how you're dressed."

Hutchinson widened his bright blue eyes in guileless wonderment. "What does the way I dress have to do with why I got beat up?"

The darker man's entire body shook with soundless laughter. "You still don't get it, huh? Hutch, ya look like ya just stepped out of a GQ centerfold!" Starsky flipped up the lapel of Hutch's dark brown gabardine sport jacket, then tugged at the button-down collar of the beige shirt. "How many times I gotta tell ya, you look like establishment. If you're gonna work the streets, you gotta dress diff'rently, or you're gonna keep gettin' the crap beat outta you just on general principles."

The blond self-consciously nipped up the crisp creases in each leg of his navy blue trousers. "Starsky, I take pride in my appearance, and I can't go around looking like, uh, like…" Hutchinson searched for just the right example that wouldn't insult his partner.

Starsky knew exactly what Hutch was trying to avoid saying. He wasn't about to let him off the hook this time; it was too much fun to watch him squirm. "You mean to say like me, right?" he asked with feigned hurt accompanied by downcast eyes.

Hutchinson swore to himself and was about to apologize when he caught a sly grin pop on and off his partner's face. "Starsky, I oughta…" He balled a hand into a fist and shook it a few times in the driver's direction. "Well, at least I got rid of the tie."

The other man snorted through his prominent nose. "Yeah, but only because that hop-head tried to strangle you with it." Geez, now that was a hairy situation.

"I'll think about it, okay? The way one dresses is a reflection of the man, Starsky. You look like a refugee from the losing side of a fashion war."

Indigo eyes surveyed the faded denim jacket with holes at the elbows, the formerly-white-now-ecru T-shirt, the Levi's jeans with a rip in the right knee and frayed hem, the red Converse All-Stars high-tops. "That may be true, your highness, but all I got was a bruised shin and a coupla scratches on my hand." Starsky focused on the huge black, purple, and royal blue colors that couldn't hide behind the sunglasses. "That shiner's turnin' out to be a big one, Hutch! Damn! She really nailed you." He burst into boisterous laughter at the memory. Between guffaws, he said, "I'm sorry, Hutch, but a girl did that to you!" Hutchinson simply stared ice-blue daggers at him.

"Whattsa matter, huh?" Starsky continued after a few moments. "Too much woman, Hutch? Wudja say ta her? Ask her out on a date?" Pleased to no end with himself, the dark-haired, well-muscled detective erupted into hiccupy peals of laughter, hugging his belly with one arm and pounding the steering wheel with the other.

Hutchinson groaned to himself. He wasn't sure he could tolerate the usual cocky, teasing exuberance of his partner today. Then he remembered that last night it was his partner and best friend who had drawn the hot water for his bath. Made him mint tea and vegetable soup - too much oregano, he thought fondly. Forced him to apply ice to the injured eye - griped the whole time about me not having any steak in the fridge. Made himself late for his date with Pamela, and called him twice later in the evening - hopefully during the less intimate moments.

After a few moments of Starsky's infectious laughter, Hutchinson found it impossible to be perturbed with him. He finally admitted to himself that the situation with the co-ed who had slugged him was funny in a way. Trying to reason with the riled-up woman had been a stupid, futile move. Besides, she was two inches taller than he and had him by thirty pounds. He began to snicker.

"Yeah, she was pretty hot and big, wasn't she? You know, a female Godzilla," he stated.

Starsky thought that was hilarious and laughed even louder. "A Magilla Gorilla."

"A goon." Hutch's snicker progressed to an enthusiastic chuckle.

"A baboon." Now Starsky roared and tears filled his eyes.

That set Hutch off into a full-bodied laugh. It was a full minute before he recovered enough to say, "Come on, monkey boy, we're late enough. To the house!"

It was another minute before Starsky settled down enough to drive. After they had gone a few blocks, he declared, "What a mug she had on her. Not exactly Cinderella."

"Yeah. More like Cinderfella."

Starsky started laughing again. "She broke the mirror when she asked it who was the most beautiful in the land."

"Starsk, that's another fairy tale."

"So?" He continued to giggle.

Hutchinson overcame his almost obsessive urge to follow a "logical" stream of thought. If he wanted to keep his sanity working with Starsky, he knew he had to expand his definition of logic—or throw it out all together. And he figured that probably wasn't a bad thing. "So nothing. So she got seven years of bad luck."

"Only for her boyfriend, pal, only her boyfriend!"

"And that won't be me, because I am free."

"'Cause you flee'd." Starsky rocked his head slightly in pride for his turn of phrase.

"Huh? What kinda word is 'flee'd'?"

Hiding his exasperation with his proper partner, Starsky said with pleading innocence, "I just wanted to make a rhyme."

The expression on his partner's face and the tone in his voice got Hutchinson to laughing again. "Well, Starsk, if poets can take liberties with words, I guess you can, too."

Starsky playfully shoved his blond friend against the car door. "Golly, professor, I didn't think I needed your permission."

Hutchinson, astonished that the little push and the contact with the door had elicited only minor discomfort, realized that much of the soreness had leaked away. "Yes, you do, young man," he teased in a nasal, didactic tone, "and don't you forget it."

Starsky let a heartbeat go by before bursting out in wet laughter and spraying the interior windshield with his spit. "You sound just like my high school algebra teacher Mr. Vance! Hadn't thought about that numbnut in years."

"Well, don't think I'm in that category. My nuts definitely aren't numb."

Starsky's eyes widened at the comment from the usually reserved man. All right! Loosenin' up some more. "Guess I'll take your word for that," he responded through titters.

Hutch cleared his throat and grinned at his friend. "How did your date with Pamela go? Is she ticked at you for calling me every five minutes?"

"Actually, she thought it was sweet that I kept checkin' on you," Starsky said through his own grin.

"So I can assume you got past first base?"

"Hey, when I play ball, I don't kiss and tell."

Hutchinson sniggled softly at Starsky's mixed metaphor before saying, "Home run, huh, buddy?"

Starsky rolled his eyes but kept grinning.

S&H

The rush-hour traffic slowed the detectives down considerably. What was normally a fifteen-minute trip to Bay City's Metropolitan Division had stretched to nearly thirty. They had been virtually stopped less than two miles from the station house for at least five minutes when Starsky became aware of Hutchinson's worming around in his seat. He narrowed his eyes in concern. "Whattsa matter, Hutch? You got ants in your pants or sumpin'?"

"'Or sumpin',' Starsk. When are you going to get a bigger car? The back seat's too small for our collars, and it kills my back when I have to wrestle them out of there." He didn't want to admit that he was sore as well, the relief he had before having vanished.

"Okay, okay. I was gonna surprise you. Uncle Al found me a real nice used Cutlass Supreme. Should be ready in a day or two. Some engine work, soupin' it up a little. And uh, getting, uh, detailed." Starsky studiously avoided looking at his partner.

Hutchinson, now wary and worried, asked cautiously, "What do you mean by 'detailed,' hmm?"

"Well, it's white, and I can't go drivin' around in a plain white car. So, one of his detailers is, uh, well, striping it."

The big blond exhaled audibly. "Explain 'striping'."

Starsky straightened his shoulders, fully aware that he could no longer keep this secret. The trouble had been how to break it to his somewhat stodgy partner. "It'll have two stripes along each side, and a off-center stripe on the roof with a matching one on the bonnet." There, it's out. Now that didn't hurt. He'll really like it. I know he will. He smiled affably.

"The bonnet?"

"Yeah. They call the hood that in England. Sounds cool, like 007, don't it?"

Hutch sighed. "What color are they?"

"What?"

Through clenched teeth, Hutch asked, "The stripes, dummy. What color are the stripes?"

"Oh, yeah. Uh, red, of course," he said, not believing that Hutch wouldn't have figured that out.

Hutch closed his eyes and slowly lowered his head to rest against the partially open window. "They better be thin stripes, Starsky."

Suddenly, traffic moved and Starsky nudged the Mustang forward slowly for about a tenth of a mile before stopping again. "Well, what do you consider thin?"

"Thin is thin, Starsky!"

The dark head canted to one side. "Not necessarily. Take Marilyn Monroe."

Okay, partner, I'll play along. "Fine, I'll take her. Now what."

"So, lookit those times when those European painters were painting these, well, hefty women. Those women were considered ideal."

"What does that have to do with Marilyn Monroe?" Hutchinson asked impatiently.

"So, what if Marilyn Monroe had lived back then? She'd be thin. But she's not thin now. I mean, if she was alive. Thin now would be Huggy's cousin Esmeralda. Or that model Twiggy." His expression asked Hutch why he didn't see the simplicity, the relativity, of it all.

"I see. Then let me rephrase." Hutch allowed some condescension to creep into his tone. "Tell me if the stripes are the ladies in Rubens' paintings, Marilyn, or Esmeralda."

Starsky pondered for a few moments before answering, "Yes."

Hutchinson squeezed his eyes shut and smacked his head with the heel of his hand. In a hushed, tight voice, he said, "I've got a headache the size of … well, never mind. Could you stop at a pharmacy so I can get some aspirin?"

"You got it! I'll stop at old man Bergmann's. Maybe the new batch of baseball cards he's expectin' came in." Starsky smiled to himself, pleased that Hutch had finally confessed to one of the reasons for his restlessness and that he had figured out a way to downplay the chink in Hutch's pride.

S&H

Shlomo Bergmann, a stooped, scrawny, balding man of about 60, held his arms up and shook with fear, even though he had lived through much more terrifying circumstances. "I tell you again, young man, I do not have the drug you vant!" he insisted in German-accented defiance.

"Well, you better come up with somethin' just like it, mister!" shouted the highly agitated and huge teenaged boy. His gun followed his erratic gaze until his dilated pupils fell upon some numbers tattooed on the druggist's forearm. "So I'll take your money instead, old man. That the combination to your safe?"

Bergmann gave the young robber a puzzled look. "Vhat you talk about?"

The teen huffed strongly and aimed the gun at Bergmann's arm. "THERE, you stupid shit! That tattoo on your arm! Now, give the numbers to Felix here" - he indicated the much smaller redheaded boy to his right just inside the door - "and show him the SAFE!"

Anger completely displaced fear in Bergmann. He shook his closed-fisted arm at the boy, and, incensed, yelled, "This is number the Nazis give me, young man!" Before he could continue, he saw the familiar red Mustang pull up in front of the store. He gasped loudly and repeatedly pointed at the car.

"WHAT?!"

"You in trouble, boy!" the druggist finally forced from his ruffly throat.

s&h

"Need anything else, Hutch?" asked Starsky as he opened the car door.

"Yeah. How about a ginger ale?"

Starsky, out of the car, closed the door gently but firmly. He looked back in at Hutch. "Asp'rin and ginger ale comin' up." And maybe I'll finally get a Harmon Killebrew for Hutch. He pirouetted twice and began to tango to the drugstore entrance.

Hutchinson chuckled despite the headache. At least he liked his ballroom dancing lessons. His grin turned into an amused grimace as he remembered his own childhood Saturday mornings misspent on dance lessons. Well, not entirely. Mary Margaret Callahan was really cute.

s&h

The armed robber whipped his head around to see what the old man was gesturing toward and talking about. For a moment, he thought he was hallucinating but quickly determined that the approaching man was actually dancing. And he assumed he was not hallucinating when he saw the man's jacket blow open to reveal a holstered handgun as he gripped the door's handle. "SOUUUUUU-EEEEEEEE!" he screeched. He swung his gun arm around to draw a bead on the dark-haired figure. The thief didn't see the pharmacist move to the right.

Felix wildly flapped his hands and shouted, "No, Bobby!" In an unsteady, crouching run, he rushed the door, spindly arms outstretched and ready to push it open.

s&h

The hairs on the back of Starsky's neck stood at attention when he heard the hog call and the "No, Bobby!" screamed in two frantic voices. His heart and lungs vied for which could move faster, and moisture deserted his mouth. He stooped over a few inches, turned his head to the left and jerked it once toward the store, and switched hands on the door so his left one could rest on his gun grip.

Hutchinson didn't hear the cries, but he did catch the silent signals Starsky transmitted. He ordered his headache out of conscious awareness, and reached for the radio's mike.

Starsky peered into the store through the glass but was able to make out only shadows. Something inside him told him to step aside. He was already in motion when the door swung open hard and sent him crashing first into the wall of the building, then to the concrete. All he saw was a streak of carrot-colored hair. Then he heard a gunshot. Shit! A .38?!

s&h

Hutchinson keyed the mike and took off his sunglasses as the bullet starred the Mustang's windshield, whizzed past him, and lodged itself in the back seat after passing through the driver's chair. His mouth feeling like dry ice, he managed to stammer calmly, "Zzebra 3. Sh-hots fired, Bergmann's Drugstore, two puh-lainclothes on scene, roll backup." At the same time, he watched the progress of the skinny, orange-haired boy who had bolted from the store, and whose action had probably saved his partner's life. When the timing was right, he jerked open the passenger door and sprang out of the car, oblivious to his soreness.

A tinny thump followed by a muffled thunk elicited a smirk from Hutchinson. A moment later, he was bending over the stunned boy to begin the process of taking him into custody. "Okay, Red, you're under arrest." His hand hesitated on the handcuffs hooked on his belt loop while he watched in fascination as the boy's nearly black eyes went from cloudy to sharply terrified. He's got to be hallucinating. Acid? PCP? Alarmed, he had the cuffs out in the next second, but it wasn't soon enough. The suspect started flailing his limbs with unnatural force, landing numerous blows to Hutch's legs, arms, and chest.

s&h

Bergmann jumped the much larger person immediately after the gunshot. The old, gaunt man was able to get one arm partially around the shooter's thick neck and pounded his head with his free hand, but to no effect except to further anger the boy.

Bobby bellowed. He grabbed the arm the druggist had around his neck, wrenched it hard, and used it to swing the hapless man into the shelves behind them. The popping sound of breaking bones summoned a broad, self-satisfied sneer, seasoned with an unexpected sexual kick, to the thief's pimply face. Thirsting for the climax he knew must be waiting for him, he went in search of more bodies to punish.

s&h

Reaching once again for the Smith & Wesson automatic tucked under his right armpit, Starsky leapt to his feet. Before the barrel could clear the holster and before his feet could plant themselves firmly, the door swung open again. Once more, it smashed him into the wall and he tumbled to the ground. I must be in some freakin' Keystone Cop movie! Hopping up this time proved not to be an option, in part because of his paralyzing awe at seeing the young behemoth exit the drugstore. Quickly he found his voice and his weapon in hand. "Freeze!" he shouted from his sit-up position. "Police!"

The immense teenager kept the gun at his side. Starsky shivered involuntarily at the puzzled, ominous, and lustful expression on the boy's face as he looked first at him, then at Hutch wrestling with his suspect. The detective's jaw dropped when the huge boy took off running in the opposite direction.

"Dammit!" Starsky spat under his breath. He lumbered up, aching from his harsh meetings with brick and concrete. Then his heart sank when he saw the webbed windshield. "Hey, you! Come back here! You shot my car!"

"Screw him!" panted Hutchinson through attempts at overpowering the surprisingly strong redhead. "I could use -" A glancing blow to his jaw stopped the blond cop from speaking further.

"Hutch?" Starsky called out with some urgency. Just then, he saw the redhead's sneakered foot strike very close to the home of future Hutchinsons. In empathy, he joined Hutch in turning white and cringed into hunched shoulders as he started for the two. He had one of the boy's wrists in hand when uniformed officers Lee Baker and Dean Cameron joined them.

"Took you long enough!" Starsky mumbled as the four grappled with the preternaturally strong teen. "Only two blocks away, for chrissakes."

Baker's brown eyes shot Starsky a dirty look. "Longer if we'd driven, Detective," he snarled.

Starsky chose to ignore the borderline insubordination in Baker's tone; he knew the seven-year cop desperately wanted a gold shield but had flunked the exam again. "Hutch, they got 'im. Let's go!" In his peripheral vision, he caught the swift approach of two more uniforms—his former partner and a cop with several years' experience who had just transferred from San Diego. "Steve! Babcock! Check on Shlomo!" The two cops were soon past the group and into the drugstore.

By this time, Hutchinson had backed away from the struggle with the redheaded youth. Despite the call of his throbbing muscles to rest, he signed his readiness to his partner over the yelled commands of Baker and Cameron and the trapped-animal shrieks of the boy.

Wordlessly, Starsky acknowledged, holstered his gun, and dashed off to the alley and neighborhood behind the pharmacy.

Before Hutch could follow, a cruiser pulled up. Emery Nicholson, Metro's patrol sergeant for the day tour, reached out his hand in a stopping gesture. "Run it down," he demanded.

"Hold-up, two suspects, one away, white, about six-six, three hundred, gun, Starsky's in pursuit on foot." Nearing panic because of the increasing distance between him and his partner, Hutchinson waved them toward the direction the teen and Starsky had taken. Not wanting to wait the fraction of a second before Nicholson and his partner drove off, he scrambled over the Mustang's trunk and hit the pavement in a flat-out run. Dammit, Starsky! How can I cover your back if you take off like this? His imagination fed him an image of his partner on the ground, lying on his side in a growing red lake. His stride lengthened, his pace quickened, his breath labored to get past the damp clod of fear in his throat.

s&h

Dammit! cursed Starsky silently as he slowed to keep from getting plowed over by a pink Cadillac. He had been closing in on the ponderous giant, but this delay gave the fleeing suspect an extra second or two. He somersaulted over the hood and landed on his feet with his body pitched forward. To avoid sprawling out on the road, he had to rotate his arms a few times. A couple of seconds later found the natural sprinter running at top speed again, after a suspect no longer in his sight.

He arrived at the next intersection just in time to see the huge boy, empty hands waving above his head, turn into an alley halfway up the long, void-of-pedestrians block. Where the hell's the gun? he questioned as he neared the entrance at a slower pace. He stopped short of turning in to follow. His back against a brick wall, he strained to listen over his softly audible respirations and passing traffic for sounds originating in the alley.

The wild, disjointed speech, rustling paper, and clanging metal told the detective the suspect was probably only a few feet into the alley. He took a deep breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth. He drew his weapon and clasped it in both hands, elbows straight, barrel pointed to the ground. And wondered where his partner was. "Hey, Mighty Joe Young. Police. Come on out, with your hands up and empty, okay? I won't hurt you, I swear." And shuddered and tensed when he heard a howl from the alley.

s&h

Hutchinson would have missed seeing his partner had it not been for the enraged shriek that drew his attention. He was in the process of making the turn to join Starsky when he saw the suspect charge out of the alley swinging something long, thin, and dark at Starsky's chest. Swiftly, it connected once, then again, before he could come to a complete stop and face the two at the alley. "Starsky!" he yelled—or thought he did, because he didn't hear it. He thought he saw a police cruiser in the distance past the pair before his vision fish-eyed in on his sinking partner and the giant. Suddenly he had his gun in his hands, and he bellowed, "Police! Drop it!" while he took long, purposeful, not-quite-running strides toward the two men, without telling his legs to do so. The primitive part of his brain—many powerful thousands of years old—sought dominance over the adolescent, civilized portion. He found himself becoming all instinct—ancient, inbred, bestial instinct. Inwardly, he thundered a hate-filled, angry, vengeful howl of his own.

s&h

Though Starsky had started to raise his gun, the young thug's yowl was so close and full of menace that he knew he wouldn't have enough time to respond appropriately. He figured his best bet would be to put some distance between them. Before he could do more than move his right foot, he calmly identified the object that pounded his right upper chest once, then once more. A friggin' rebar! He heard Hutch call his name before the pain forced him down to the limbo before unconsciousness and the sidewalk. A moment later, his torso was propped against the bricks, legs splayed out before him, arms—gun still in hand—limp at his side. Through the thick, frosted pane that his vision had become, he could just make out the snubbed nose of a .38 revolver pointed at his left chest and the incongruous peace symbol dangling from a chain around his attacker's neck. His left ear registered the click of the hammer being pulled back; his right ear detected the untamed, brutish undertone in Hutchinson's command, and it sickened his heart.

s&h

Hutchinson welcomed, even reveled in, the unfamiliar glacial, primal identity of predator, of protector, that flooded him. It sharpened all his senses, pumped energy into his muscles, clarified his course of action.

He knew he had negative time to set up a textbook shot. Slowed his forward movement. Squeezed the trigger on his service revolver an instant before the huge boy did the same. Prayed it would be a kill shot.

s&h

Not quite able to use his arms and therefore his weapon, or to kick out at his assailant, Starsky forced himself to slide to his right. His ears reverberated with stereographic gunshots and his nose clogged with gunpowder. He oomphed at the sting of a bullet that skated between two ribs. Terror and an adrenalin surge cleared his visual smog and motivated his body to act rather than succumb when he saw the revolver swing to the shooter's left and realized Hutch was the new target.

s&h

Hutchinson damned himself when it became apparent that the shot had hit the thug in his left upper arm. But it had been enough, along with Starsky's movement, to change the young tough's aim from fatal to minor. Now the weapon was pointed at Hutchinson. Good. He sneered at it and at the furious teen wielding it. He jerked his blond head to the right in a come-and-get-me gesture. When Bobby began advancing on him, the detective said with dangerous contempt, "Drop it, or I'll drop you where you stand."

Hutchinson leveled his weapon at the youth's chest, cocked the hammer, and cursed when he had to wait.

s&h

Officer Chris Brubaker had steered the cruiser around the corner and driven about halfway to the alley before Nicholson had instructed him to stop. The tall, stocky sergeant cursed fervently under his breath when he heard the weapons discharge as he exited the vehicle. At least Starsky's moving. He unsheathed his revolver, ran a few steps to better position himself, and yelled, "Police! Drop your weapon or I'll shoot!" The huge teen kept moving toward Hutchinson. Carefully, he drew a bead on the suspect's leg and fired, hoping that his aim was true and that it would stay where he put it—the angle was such that it was possible that the blond detective could get hit if the bullet went through.

s&h

Sonuvabitch's Peepin', Starsky thought as he suppressed both the urge to pass out and to cough. He wouldn't permit himself the luxury of doing either until the threat to his partner was over. After a moment or two of leaning on his elbow to rest, hopefully but unsuccessfully suck in one breath that wouldn't stab, and demand that his left arm function normally for only a second, he twisted enough to bring his automatic to bear on the threat's head. But his arms quivered too much and he knew he had to wait until he could fire without fear of his bullets going astray and possibly hitting Hutch or Nicholson.

He moaned sadly when he saw that Nicholson's shot had no appreciable effect. Please, Hutch, not you, not when you're like this.

Starsky drew on every ounce of strength he had to steady himself. He squeezed off two rounds in rapid succession. Unfortunately, he erupted into a series of hard coughs, which caused one bullet to graze the boy's crown and the other to miss entirely.

s&h

Nicholson was doubly astounded. Astounded at Starsky's shot considering his condition; it would have been dead-on had he not coughed. Astounded that the suspect continued on with hardly a note of what must have at least stung. Then he, too, came to the conclusion that the gigantic young man most likely was on PCP. He heard the suspect shout something at the other detective. As much as he hated to, he fired a second shot, this time into the other leg. Hutchinson, why don't you shoot him?

s&h

Hutchinson felt relief in a small part of his brain that Starsky was still alive and capable of aiding in his own defense. But the rage that had burst forth on the sight of his imperiled partner now drowned out any further thought, rational or otherwise. He concentrated on the huge figure approaching him. Coldly, purposely, he set up a lethal shot.

"You stinkin' dog! I shoulda got a German shepherd instead of you!" it screamed at him. "I'll make it so's you don't follow me or Felix no more, you hear?"

The suspect was close enough that Hutchinson could smell the sweet saltiness of blood mixed with chemical-laden sweat. He could even see the remaining bullets in the .38 and the smallest details of the plump, filthy hand wrapped around the grip. The thumb cocking the hammer back. The spittle hitting his face, and hearing the words, "I shoulda kilt you when you was a pup." The movement that signaled it was safe to shoot.

With the satisfaction of a hunter with a trophy buck in his sights, he fired his weapon.

s&h

Immediately after asking himself the question, Nicholson had the answer to why Hutchinson hadn't fired. He took several lengthy steps to put himself closer and to the left of the huge young man and out of the way of a through-and-through. When he saw the hammer on Bobby's gun ratchet back, he fired again, this time into the suspect's chest.

s&h

Starsky's coughing continued, causing his eyes to water and preventing him from safely using his weapon or allowing him to pursue the unrealistic alternative of tackling the gigantic boy. He startled at the sound of two more gunshots, at the few bits of soft tissue and bone and blood that splattered his head and face, at the touch of an unknown but reassuring hand on his left forearm.

"Ambulance on the way, Detective."

Starsky half-grinned at the adrenalin-shaky voice of the rookie Brubaker. He blinked several times and his vision cleared enough for him to see the collapsed boy-mountain a few yards away and the hate, the rage, the savage victory darkening his partner's sky-blue eyes. No, Hutch, no-no-no-no-NO! Tears re-clouded his sight and an internal sob added to the ache in his chest.

s&h

Hutchinson, breathing deeply and heavily through flaring nostrils, kept his gun trained on what was left of Bobby's head while he rapidly strode to his side. He stood there, silent, unmoving, staring, aim never swaying from the fallen youth while Nicholson secured the .38 that was still cocked and clutched in the boy's fist. Hutchinson failed to respond to Nicholson as he gently secured, then took the detective's weapon.

"Go see to your partner, Detective Hutchinson," the sergeant commanded in a hushed voice. With a slight shove, he directed the leaner man toward Starsky and Brubaker.

Hutchinson complied, at first with tiny steps, alert eyes still glued to the dead boy. He paused after several more steps, then looked at Nicholson. "Dead," he said without inflection or affect.

Not sure if Hutchinson had asked a question or was making a statement, Nicholson simply nodded his capped head several times. He shuddered when he saw the taut lips curl up at the corners. Never would've thought he'd react like this.

s&h

Starsky, his coughing having subsided somewhat but laboring hard to breathe, was sitting again, thanks to Brubaker. The detective grimaced from the throbbing pain in his chest and from the sight of his partner approaching him in a tiger-like stalk, his face clothed in a jubilant smirk. It stirred old memories and deep fears. Memories of seeing that attitude in a few of the men in his platoon, fears of some of those men lost forever in that barbaric state of being. Memories of that attitude in himself, fears that he could be lost again, and so would Hutch. Ain't gonna let it happen. He raised his hand to his best friend, and asked with plaintive tentativeness, "Hutch?"

Hutchinson didn't respond to Starsky's tone or to his furrowed brow. He squatted next to him, ignoring Brubaker, and placed his hand on Starsky's thigh. "I got that fucking bastard, Starsky." Empty, biting.

His pledge quickly forgotten, Starsky loosed an agonized groan, high in the throat, at what Hutch had become. He withdrew in revulsion and horror at the touch of his changed friend. It led him to a fit of spastic coughing. All aspects of his pain escalated exponentially and sent him to semi-consciousness. He was vaguely aware of being lifted onto a stretcher and into an ambulance. And he was acutely aware of Hutchinson browbeating the attendants into letting him ride along with them to the hospital and shouting down Sergeant Nicholson. Then he was aware no more.

S&H

Captain Morland Arnold, the head of Metro's burglary unit, bared his nicotine-stained teeth in a growl when he spied Detective Hutchinson arguing enthusiastically with two nurses, an orderly, and a security guard, all of whom were barely preventing him from barging into a treatment room. Dammit all to hell, the colorless man swore to himself. I warned Division about those two. Yeah, okay, so fuck me—thought it would be that 'Nam vet with something to prove who'd be the loose cannon.

In seconds, he stood a few inches behind the agitated detective. He was appalled by the barbarity evident in Hutchinson's demeanor. In his most authoritarian, disgusted, and angry voice, Arnold ordered loudly, "Stand down now, Hutchinson."

The detective abruptly stopped his argumentative and physical interaction with the healthcare workers. He stiffened, gulped, disregarded the collective sigh of relief that came from them, and about-faced. "Captain, I was just trying to get in to see about my par-"

"That's enough, Hutchinson." Arnold paused while he thrummed one of his puffed-out cheeks with his fingers. "Go pull yourself together. Fargo and Simonetti are still at the scene and will be here to get your story soon."

A questioning look spread rapidly across the flushed face. "Fargo and –"

"Two of the Internal Affairs officers at Metro," Arnold interrupted again.

"But Starsky," Hutchinson persisted.

Arnold sighed his impatience. "You'll get in to see him when the docs say you can, not before," he said, the impatience carrying over into his tone. He shot the detective an irate scowl when he saw the younger man was about to challenge him. "Listen up, you. . ." He paused long enough to reconsider dressing down the detective in public. He swallowed his ire and continued, "Listen, Hutchinson, I know you're concerned about Starsky. But you know the hospital rules. And you're under my command for nine more months. Which means, you will do as I say. Understood?"

The captain watched his detective's jaw muscles work hard, his hands clench into tight fists, and sweat stream down the sides of his face. "Understood?" he repeated with a touch more power in the word.

Hutchinson's nostrils flared once and his eyes narrowed to slits. "Yes, sir," he replied evenly in a quiet hiss.

Before Arnold could reprimand Hutchinson for his impertinence, both men turned to face the emergency room entrance as two other men entered noisily. Arnold recognized them first. "Corman! What the hell is going on?"

The man in question, Detective Richard Corman, had his arm around his partner's waist for support as the latter hopped on one foot. Corman attended to the source of his name. "Yeah, well, Captain, Deighton here tripped while chasing a bad guy and banged up his knee pretty bad." The ordinary-looking man easily picked up on the tension in the hallway. He snorted a half-laugh and smirked. "Heard about your second kill, Hutchinson, you cowboy. Got a taste for fresh blood, just like a dog. . ."

Hutchinson cleared the distance between them in a blink, getting to Corman before he could finish his sentence. The younger and taller detective forced Corman back into a hospital-green wall, leaving a surprised and pain-ridden Deighton to fall to the scruffed linoleum. Hutchinson placed his left arm against the older man's upper chest and leaned into it. He pointed a stiff index finger a few millimeters from the petrified, shocked face before him. "I will do whatever it takes to protect my partner, Corman," he said with fierce conviction, though his bruised face was calm, almost expressionless.

An instant later, Arnold and the security guard were pulling Hutchinson off the trapped Corman. Hutchinson spun away in several misshapen circles until he came to a stop several yards from the recipient of his wrath. The only thing keeping him from going after Corman again was Arnold, who had inserted himself between the two and had one of his arms outstretched in Hutchinson's direction.

"Hutchinson," the captain snarled, "I'm not far from taking your badge. It's only because of what happened to your partner that I haven't—yet. Just a hint of insubordination or harassment of the hospital staff buys you a ticket to a new career. Got it?"

The blond head issued a curt nod.

"I didn't hear you, Detective."

Hutchinson responded quietly and without emotion, "Yes, sir. I got it."

"Good. Now go cool off. You look like shit."

Hutchinson turned toward the treatment room that housed Starsky. The security guard, a former college football player, stood in front of the closed door. Any hopes Hutchinson had of getting by the guard were dashed as he watched the man's eyes narrow in a dare and brawny arms cross his thick chest. He spotted the restroom and decided that was the next best place to be at the moment. He stepped around the nurses and orderly who had come to Deighton's aid. He uttered an embarrassed "Sorry" to his fellow officer, and headed for the lavatory.

Corman rapidly recovered his voice and his bluster now that Hutchinson was leaving the area. "Captain, I demand –"

Arnold snapped his head around to confront the detective. "Corman, shut the fuck up. You'll demand nothing. And what the hell do you know about the shoot anyway, huh? No wonder you go through partners like shit through a goose." He elected to ignore the grumbling he heard as Corman rejoined Deighton, who was back on his foot, supported by the two nurses, and awaiting a wheelchair. The captain thrummed his cheek again. Don't know which is worse—zebra unit or narcotics detectives. He selected a dark gray metal-and-vinyl chair to sit on and wait for news of his injured man.

S&H

The bathroom door swung shut behind him. He stared at the three urinals along the opposite wall for several long breaths. Then he rubbed his face vigorously several times, not heeding the pain this caused on the left side of his face. Abruptly, the adrenalin vanished, and he could only trudge listlessly to the closest sink.

He turned the cold water faucet on full blast. It was a few moments before he splashed his face and dampened his hair. After turning off the water, he chanced a glance at the mirror.

At first, he didn't recognize the face there. Pupils still enlarged, the eyes showed only a thin rim of blue but a thick layer of rapaciousness. The lips were drawn and tight, accented with cunning scorn. He gasped when he acknowledged that vengeful, inhuman countenance was his.

His higher brain switched back on. He barely made it to a stall where he emptied his stomach contents into a toilet with one prolonged, forceful heave. The retching continued for a number of minutes, until he thought he would throw up his toenails and he could stand no more. Gingerly, he obeyed his achy, putty-like legs and sat on the cool tiles. He stifled the sobs of shame and of remorse that felt almost alien, that kept coming, attacking him in relentless waves. The repressed cries rapidly became sharp hiccups that added to his misery. He made no effort to stop them.

Sometime later—a minute, an hour, a day, he didn't know time at that moment—he reached for his weapon. Finding an empty holster, he crunched his eyes shut and rolled his head in agonized disappointment. "No-o-o-o-o," he wailed softly. He rested his head on a stall wall, drew his long legs up to sit Indian-style, and willed time and his pain and humiliation to cease.

S&H

The hospital grapevine was working with its usual efficiency. News of an injured cop and an altercation between another cop and hospital personnel reached Lieutenant Harold Dobey in the expectant fathers' waiting room mere minutes after the Hutchinson/Corman bout. His concern for a fellow officer made his decision to leave for a few minutes easy. He left word with the maternity ward clerk about where he could be found, and headed for the emergency room.

The wide-bodied black man turned the corner into the main hallway of the ER and collided with a gurney pushed by a nurse and an orderly. He heard a grunting moan come from the figure on the stretcher and sheepishly offered an apology as he stepped aside. As they passed, he saw that the figure was Starsky, nearly as white as the sheet that covered him. His stomach soured. "Wait! Please!"

The nurse instructed her aide to stop. "Sir, we need to get this patient to x-ray. One of the other nurses or the clerk can help you."

"You don't understand, Nurse"—he glanced at her name tag—"Steele. I am—was—this man's field training officer." Anxiously, he rubbed his Afro-styled hair a few times, unable to take his eyes from the plastic tubing that ran into both of the detective's nares. "What happened? Is it serious?"

The nurse smiled reassuringly. "We don't think so. He got hit in the chest with something, and shot, too. At least that we know is minor. But he needs a chest x-ray before we know anything else for sure. Now, if there's nothing else. . ?"

Dobey nodded absently once and murmured, "You'll be fine, Dave." His brain tingled with the premonition that he would see this sight in the future. He watched them until a tap on the shoulder drew his attention. Surprised, but not showing it, he looked around and down to find Captain Arnold.

"Harold, what are you doing here?" queried Arnold irritably.

"My wife Edith's in labor. I heard about an officer getting hurt and –" he stopped himself before he mentioned the fight "- wanted to check it out." Dobey took a deep breath. "What happened? Starsky was –"

"I know," Arnold interrupted. "And I also know it was your and Luke Huntley's recommendation that he and Hutchinson get partnered up as zebras." He whistled softly and shook his head before filling him in on what he knew to that point. "Listen, Harold, these two are hotdoggers—I can feel it. Yeah, they're smart and motivated and can think on their feet as good as you, but they're too aggressive. Hutchinson just shot and killed another suspect. His second one, and not three years on the force! Hell, Harold, I haven't even drawn my weapon in nearly twenty years! And that Starsky—he's wild, and you know it. You also know what the scuttlebutt is about his father. How he ever got accepted into the academy is beyond me. Like father, like son, I say."

Dobey bristled. "No disrespect, Captain, but those are just rumors and innuendoes about Starsky's father. The boy got in on his own merit, and the background check showed absolutely nothing even remotely suspicious, except for some street gang affiliation for a few years. John Blaine vouched for him—that should be enough for anybody! He's proven himself to be a damn fine cop, as has Hutchinson, and Huntley and I stand by our recommendation."

Arnold's sigh was heavy with annoyed pity. "Harold, you're one of the department's stars. You and Elmo were the top charter members of the zebra unit. You're in line for captaincy of the detectives at Metro, for crying out loud! Don't fuck that up with backing those two bozos. Trouble's gonna be right on their tails, like a pack of starvin' wolves."

Dobey despised the political, manipulative, protect-your-career game Arnold was playing with him. He had to fight with all he had to keep his temper under control. "Captain Arnold, I believe Hutchinson and Starsky will rank among the best of all detectives, and I will be proud to have them serve under me, should it come about."

The captain studied Dobey's broad, earnest face. He genuinely liked the man, and considered him one of Bay City's top cops. But after three months with Starsky, he feared that the lieutenant's judgment about the boy was compromised, that he had come to regard Starsky as a partner than a fledgling detective with more than the usual to prove. He feared the same thing of Huntley and Hutchinson as well. "Lieutenant Dobey," he declared rather formally, "for your sake, I hope you're right about them."

Dobey nodded confidently several times. He cleared his throat and asked, "Where's Detective Hutchinson?"

The captain twitted a little sardonic laugh. "I suppose he's still in the john."

S&H

Lost in his wretchedness and his hiccuping, Hutchinson didn't hear the restroom door open. It wasn't until Dobey shook him that he slid out of his self-made dungeon. "Lieutenant, what're you doing here?" he asked, voice full of surprise and bleakness.

Dobey flushed the emesis-filled toilet, dropped the lid, and then pulled Hutchinson to a sitting position on it. "Edith's having the baby. Heard about what went down on the street, and the ruckus here. Wanna tell me about it, son?"

The bloodshot blue eyes looked away in shame. He had admitted it to himself, and loathed what he had become, but he'd be damned to a lower ring of Hell before he'd tell anyone else. He answered only in hiccups.

Dobey sighed. His heart ached for what he knew the young detective was going through, and he was jealous of him as well for another reason—jealous of what was happening in his relationship with Starsky. He had had that with Elmo Jackson, but Elmo was dead, and he, Dobey, had deliberately steered his career onto a track where there were no partners. "When are the damned hoodlums gonna learn they should never mess with a cop's partner?" he muttered rhetorically as he straightened Hutchinson's coat.

At that, Hutchinson looked at Dobey. "What? What did you just say?"

Dobey smiled knowingly. "Just putting into words the reason why you did what you did today." He wanted to say more, but thought it best that Hutchinson absorb only that for the time being. "Come on, Detective. We can't find out how Starsky's doing if we're hanging out in the bathroom."

The younger man weakly smiled his appreciation. Wonder what Dobey'd think of me if he knew the whole story. Carefully, he rose to his feet and unsteadily returned to the sink. After rinsing his mouth a few times and finger-combing his hair, he said to Dobey, "Ready." I think.

S&H

Dobey and Hutchinson left the bathroom to discover Sergeant Fargo, a tall man with thick black hair that had grayed at the temples, bushy eyebrows, and a nose that left no doubt about his Italian heritage, deep into a conversation with Captain Arnold.

Hutchinson pulled up short, his hand on Dobey's arm stopping him as well. "Lieutenant, he's IA, isn't he?" He frowned at Dobey's nod. "I don't think I can do this right now." He couldn't tell the story of how his partner was almost killed. He couldn't tell how he had so enjoyed taking out the guy who dared to beat and shoot his partner, how he had spider-to-fly'd him in for the kill. How glad he was that the fucker was dead, and by his hand. Ashamed by his remorseless glee at ending someone's life and embarrassed by his cowardice in the restroom, he looked away from the angry brown eyes of his superior officer.

The lieutenant snorted. "Yes, you can, Hutchinson. You have to. Just tell him the facts." And nothing but. Deal with the rest of it later.

Still uncertain and unconvinced, but knowing Dobey was correct, he sharply sucked in some air and rubbed his thighs nervously. "Yes, sir," he said in a small voice. A quick, encouraging pat on his shoulder did little to shore him up.

Minutes later, Hutchinson and Fargo were talking over steaming cups of black coffee in the hospital cafeteria. Hutchinson told his perspective of the events in minute detail, having opened up under Fargo's expert father-confessor style. But he denied the IA sergeant access to the other details—he kept his monstrousness to himself.

S&H

The hallway population outside the treatment room had grown significantly during Fargo's interview of Hutchinson. Steve Lansing, Starsky's partner when he was in uniform, paced in an irregular ellipse around Dobey, Arnold, and the patrol sergeant. Cyril Babcock leaned against the wall opposite the room, doing his best to appear nonchalant but the tension in his arms and shoulders was easily observable. Chris Brubaker was sitting and drumming his knees with his fingers. Baker and Cameron, both looking worn out and disheveled, were just getting to the group.

Sergeant Nicholson was in deep and solemn conversation with Arnold and Dobey. He continued talking with his two superior officers when he noticed Hutchinson and Fargo approaching them. The look of respect and reassurance that flitted across his face jabbed Hutchinson in his conscience. The detective felt his legs give but somehow managed to gracefully stumble through his next two steps.

"What's the problem, Hutchinson?" asked Fargo as he took a firm hold on the blond man's arm. "You that tired?"

Hutchinson's fair complexion crimsoned. Nicholson looks ready to pin a medal on me when my career should be going right down the tubes. Tired? That's not the half of it. "Uh, yeah, Sarge, I suppose I am."

"Oh, one more thing, Hutchinson. You can't see your partner until Simonetti's had a chance to talk to him. Sorry, man. That's the way I run an investigation."

Wide-eyed and beginning to burn with fury again, Hutchinson balled his hands into tight fists, the nails cutting into the fleshy part of his palms. "But he's my partner."

All conversation in the corridor halted, and all eyes rested on Hutchinson. The silence and the stares that engulfed him were understanding, jealous, fearful, congratulatory, comradely.

Hutchinson's first impulse was to bolt, but the self-inflicted pain forced him to think beyond it. He thought about what had caused the silence and the stares.

Partner.

The word echoed through his brain circuits. The word sounded, felt, tasted, smelled differently than when he had said it so many times before. Yet even in its metamorphosis, it still possessed an air of familiarity for him. But there was more, and he couldn't put his finger on it. He blushed to an even deeper crimson and turned his eyes to the close inspection of the scuffed tips of his dark brown brogans.

The quiet creak of the treatment door opening seemed to be extraordinarily loud in the odd calm. Hutchinson tore himself away from the memorization of his shoes to see an older, dark-haired, mustachioed man in a white lab coat. Hutchinson covered the yards between them in a heartbeat, and skidded to a halt just shy of bowling the man over. With excited apprehension, he asked, "Are you my partner's doctor?"

Bright white teeth shone from beneath the brushy moustache. "If you mean that sturdy and lucky young man, I am his doctor." He extended his hand to Hutchinson first. "Paul Garcia."

Arnold smoothly insinuated himself between Hutchinson and the physician before either could speak again. "Doc, I'm Captain Arnold, Detective Starsky's commanding officer. What's the verdict?"

The physician gave Arnold a haughty glance, then proceeded to address Hutchinson. "Officer Starsky suffered a bullet wound to his left chest. Most amazing thing, too. The bullet traveled only a few inches between two ribs, and shallowly at that. Hurts like hell"— he flushed at his slip of profanity—"excuse me, the dickens, but I don't think it will even scar. Also inhaled some gunpowder in very modest amounts, but enough to irritate his airway. I suspect that will keep him coughing for only a bit longer. However, the blows he sustained to his right upper chest are some cause for alarm."

Hutchinson's face drained of all color and he shivered; this escaped no one's notice.

Garcia hurriedly continued. "X-rays show no broken, or even cracked ribs, and the lung is fully expanded." Surreptitiously, he placed his left hand in a coat pocket to locate an ammonia capsule. "But considering the mechanism of his injury and his symptoms, I suspect he may have a pulmonary contusion, a bruise, if you will, of the lung. He needs extra oxygen for awhile, and I'm admitting him for observation." The doctor smiled once more and patted Hutchinson on the arm. "He should be just fine in a couple of days, son. The nurse is preparing him for transfer now. You may go in for a few minutes." He nodded to Arnold, made eye contact with the rest of his audience, and re-entered the treatment room.

Hutchinson felt some small amount of warmth return, though none of it seemed to affect his soul. His relief at the mostly good news turned his legs back into putty. He winced at the strong hand that clasped his upper arm and kept him standing. Good old Lieutenant Dobey.

"Hutch, how about keeping me company in the maternity ward until Starsky's settled in his room?"

Hutchinson easily relented to Dobey's pull. Now that he knew his partner was going to be fine, the final remnants of his beastliness evaporated. He was actually relieved that he wouldn't be seeing Starsky right away. The memory of how his best friend had hotly recoiled from his touch only moments after immediate danger's end told him Starsky didn't want to see him, or even be in the same building with him—and rightfully so. Stooped in shoulder and in soul, he followed the lieutenant, knowing he wasn't worthy to be there for new life, having just so callously taken one.

S&H

Starsky had taken an immediate dislike to George Simonetti when they first met during the former's rookie year. He had found the smallish, beady-eyed man with the Jimmy Cagney-wannabe diction to be a prick. And that had been during the introductions before the preliminary interviews of an officer-involved shooting incident.

The detective knew he had been too kind in his initial assessment of Simonetti. Starsky had been in his private room for less than five minutes when Simonetti showed up. The IA officer had grilled him, obviously seeking even the smallest piece of evidence that would throw the smallest shadow of doubt on the shoot as a justifiable one. It was as if he wanted a cop's blood. So Starsky had given him attitude instead—his own dismissive contempt for Simonetti and his questions.

Simonetti had left in a snit, for which Starsky was grateful. Serves the bastard prick right, he had thought, trying to hang my partner out to dry.

Now finally alone in his hospital room and relaxing into the morphine he had received for pain control, he began to consider his take of what had been going on with Hutch. He wondered if, a year ago, he had set the stage for Hutch to respond to a threat in that manner—unnatural, hardened, unyieldingly vengeful—when he had asked if Hutch could and would kill again.

He remembered his own time, four years ago, when he was lost. His best friend blown in half by a land mine, and a piece of that shrapnel wounding him. His need to wreak havoc on the swarming company of North Vietnamese troops. His refusal to retreat, forcing his own reinforced platoon to stay despite being outnumbered. His delight in the slaughter of so many NVA. His abandonment of all things human, or all things human abandoning him, until his platoon sergeant showed him a way out of the cave, out of the fruitless, useless brutality.

He recalled his reaction to Hutch's touch earlier in the day. Just when he needed me, I rejected him. Well, fuck me, one and all. A fine partner I turned out to be.

Absently, he fingered the scar on his butt cheek. Within minutes of meeting Hutch, Starsky had simply known that they would partner up. He had felt the same thing between him and Hutch that he had felt between his father and his partner Silvio LaRusso.

Now he feared he might have destroyed what he had with Hutch. Eradicated it needlessly, because the full reason he had rebuffed Hutch was that he was actually repulsed by the memory of himself, in his lost and dark time. To add fuel to that fire, his visit with Steve while still in the ER had left him feeling unexpectedly guilty, as if he were responsible for Steve's clear envy of the detectives' relationship.

"Hutch, partner, I'm sssorry," he slurred softly as the morphine's effects rolled him into a restive, needed sleep.

S&H

Hutchinson felt miserably out of place in the fathers' waiting room. At first, he avoided interacting with any of the three anxious men by immediately burying himself in reading old sports and news magazines. But he stopped that when he came across an issue of Time that had pictures of the first moon walk. His stomach roiled with acid and bloody memory of Alberto, the man he had killed within hours of that historic event.

His next tactic was to feign sleep. He slid down a bit in the dark blue Naugahyde-covered chair, crossed his arms over his chest, stretched out his long legs, closed his eyes, and rested his head on the cool, pebbly, white wall surface. He could feel the lieutenant's penetrating eyes on him for what seemed like an eternity. Once he resolved not to let that bother him for the moment, he drifted into his jumbled, flighty thoughts.

The first thought he wrestled into submission was of Jack Mitchell, his best friend in high school. Wonder what you're up to, buddy. Been a long time. He sighed when he recalled seeing Jack off for his grand tour of Europe after graduation. Instead of going with him, Hutchinson had decided to follow his guidance counselor's advice and work as a hospital orderly for the summer. That experience had changed his focus from medicine to anything else, thereby blowing the plans they had to set up a practice together. Haven't had a friend as good as you since . . . until a couple of years ago.

He thought about Josh Carlson, his first partner on the force, and that last day they had on patrol together. He thought about his killing Alberto, how he didn't want to kill another human being, how he had pulled the trigger out of trained response. How today he had wanted to kill another person, and how he had done so from a deep desire—or was it need?—to protect his partner. How today, for the first time, there was someone in his life for whom he was ready to forfeit his humanity. How today he knew at last what it was to value someone else's life above his own and certain others, unequivocally, willingly, and gladly. He knew he'd put his life on the line for others because it was his job, if they let him keep it. But with Starsky, it was different; it was . . .

A kick to the bottom of his foot kept Hutchinson from finishing his notion. He opened his eyes to find a beaming, exultant Dobey rubbing his hands together vigorously.

"I'm a girl, Hutchinson! It's a father!"

Hutchinson face split into an amused grin at the mangled proclamation. He stood and enthusiastically shook hands with Dobey. "Congratulations, Lieutenant! Good to know you didn't let any of this rattle you." Hutchinson glanced at the other men in the room. Both were engaged in small, nervous, soon-to-be-doomed-themselves laughter.

Dobey looked puzzled for a moment, but his joy swiftly pushed that aside. "Rose Marie Dobey. What do you think, Hutch?"

"I think it's a good name for a father," Hutchinson declared as he patted Dobey's shoulder several times. "Gotta go, Lieutenant. Give my love to Mrs. Dobey, all right?" He marched out of the room, intent on being anywhere but here.

The stumped expression, tempered with some pity this time, came back to Dobey's broad face. "Hmmmph. Not like him to get so mixed up. What kind of name is Rose for a man, huh? Must be under a lot of pressure." He shook his head and swaggered off to the gift shop for cigars with pink bands and a bouquet of roses for the ladies in his life.

S&H

The sun had moved to a point in the afternoon sky where its rays shone through the open blinds and struck Starsky's closed eyes. This wheedled him out of his dream-filled, jittery sleep. Instantly, he was aware that he was not alone in the room. He sat straight up in bed too quickly. Drawing in several deep breaths to combat the lightheadedness and pain, he squinted into a dark corner that housed a long and lean shadow. "That you, Hutch?" he asked in a husky voice.

"Yeah, it's me, Starsk," Hutchinson whispered.

Starsky swallowed hard at the doubt, contrition, and self-hatred he heard in his friend's tone. "How long you been here, uh, there?"

"'Bout an hour. You always this restless when you sleep?"

It was several seconds before he answered. "Just dreamin' about what happened this morning, is all," he half-truthed. He didn't want Hutch to know about the other dream—the one of his dead time.

Hutchinson sensed he was holding something back, but thought it best not to pursue it. He continued, though, to tap-dance around the real issue. "Edith Dobey had her baby."

Starsky accepted the avoidance tactic. I'll follow your lead, partner—for now. "Girl, right?" Starsky welcomed the sight of Hutch's white teeth radiating from the dark.

Hutch chuckled. "Just like you bet it would be. You'll have to wait till payday to collect, though. I'm pretty tapped out right now."

"How's the LT?" he asked.

"Proud. Happy. I have a feeling little Miss Rose Marie is going to be a daddy's girl."

Starsky smiled widely and eased himself back to the raised head of his bed. "Rosie. I like that."

Five minutes of sticky silence followed. Neither man moved. Finally, Starsky's oxygen-dried voice sliced through the unsettling quiet. "You holdin' up the wall, or is it holdin' you up?"

Hutchinson snorted a partial laugh through his nose. Maybe he doesn't find me so abominable after all. Hands buried deep in his pants pockets, he sauntered to the olive green chair closest to his partner's bed. Slowly, he parked his stiff, sore body on the padded seat and relaxed a little. "You're looking okay, Starsky." Shy, embarrassed, guilt-heavy.

Starsky was proud and ecstatic to see that his Hutch had started the journey back. Just a little further, buddy. Bet you're still hurtin' about Alberto, too. I'm with you, okay? Let's work this together. He pulled at the oxygen tubing tickling his nose to cover up his shrewd smile. A little swig of sparkling Starsky dimwit to get started? "Yeah. Not bad for somebody with pulmonary confusion."

Hutchinson spewed a burst of genuine laughter. "I think you mean 'contusion,' Starsk."

Secretly, Starsky grinned. Outwardly, he kept a straight face. "Whatever," he said with just the right amount of bored petulance. He sensed Hutch loosening up and the emotional chasm between them rapidly closing.

"What is it with you anyway, going after that . . . gorilla like a jackrabbit in heat, without waiting for me to cover your back?"

"You think-uh me as some horny, mangy wabbit?"

"Don't hate me because I'm right." Hutchinson chortled at the dirty look Starsky tossed his way. He felt his muscles unwind a bit. "Okay, don't get your, uh, fur in a knot. The point is, Starsk, don't make like, ummm, Flash Gordon without being sure I'm there to cover your butt."

There it was—Hutch had unwittingly provided Starsky with the perfect map out of his labyrinth. "Aw, Flash Gordon is a putz. Wears stupid clothes. I wanna be compared to the real deal. Gordon Cooper. My favorite astronaut."

"You have a favorite astronaut?" Hutchinson asked with skepticism. "Starsk, only little boys have favorite astronauts." You are such a kid sometimes.

"That's what you think. He's my favorite for a few reasons."

"And those would be . . ?"

"He's the first one to sleep in outer space. And when he woke up, he was already at work. Didn't worry about being late," Starsky said with phony rebuke.

Hutchinson grinned and accepted the needling. "And the other?"

"What other?"

"The other reasons why Cooper –"

"Oh, yeah," Starsky interrupted. He was silent until he was sure he had Hutch's eyes. "His capsule was named Faith 7."

The gentle power Starsky put into those words stopped Hutchinson's breathing. As he tried to decipher exactly what it was his partner was telling him, he stayed locked on that intense cobalt gaze. In his tenuously human state, he found he couldn't quite read what must be in those expressive eyes.

His brain forced him to breathe again, and he temporarily broke eye contact so he could think. Come on, Hutchinson, you know this isn't just about some stupid space capsule. But self-condemnation and discovery of the savagery that prowled within kept the answers just beyond his grasp.

The deepening groove in Hutchinson's forehead told Starsky that his partner was floundering. It's about faith, Hutch. You have it. Now let this morning go. Starsky graced him with an encouraging, understanding smile. He reached out with his right hand, palm up, to Hutch, despite the pain it stirred up.

Hutchinson stared at the hand. He was speechless, motionless. What the hell is this? He wants to hold hands? He chewed on his lower lip, resisting the unique connection Starsky wanted him to admit. The sweat of undeserving fear raced down his backbone.

"I will if you will, partner."

Hutch's eyes darted back to Starsky's. Oh my God. The way he says "partner." And will what? Forgive me? "Starsk, you don't understand. I, I, I wanted to kkkill. To make it worse, I wanted him to su-suffer." He paused to try to tame the crackle in his voice. "And I was, well, fucking overjoyed to see him dead! How can you, or anyone, ever –"

"Forgive you for being human?" Starsky calmly finished for him.

"But I wasn't, Starsky!" Hutch's voice climbed a few tones. "Don't you get it? Or is that too much to get through that thick, childish skull of yours?" He stood up abruptly and smacked Starsky's hand away. He headed for the door.

For a split second, Starsky was tempted to jump out of bed and slug his partner. But the jump in pain helped him focus on the real problem. "No, you don't get it, Hutch," he responded, his tone just about ready to topple into anger and frustration. He was thankful when his friend stopped and spun 180 to face him again. "You were being human today. Not the best part, maybe –"

"WHAT?!" Hutch shouted to cut him off.

"You heard me. It's the part that's kept us, keeps us alive. We just need to, uh, control it. Sometimes it's real ugly, and a person can get stuck in it. But not you. I can see you hated what happened. Why can't you? You survived out there today. You're supposed to—you're the goddamned good guy! And you saved me, too." He stopped to catch his breath and relax the tautness that suddenly gripped his throat. "Now, if that isn't human, I don't know what is." Absolute and unquestionable certainty.

Hutchinson's body shook, eyes misted, fists clenched. It's about faith, isn't it? Faith in me, in you . . . thee. And forgiveness. And trust and . . . love. The remaining cold that had seized his being began to melt away at a rapid rate. Smiling timidly, he took a few long steps to return to the bedside.

Almost there, Hutch. Starsky could feel anticipation and hope building deep in his gut. He held out his hand once more. "You with me, partner?"

Partner. The way he's always said it to me. At long last, he could read his friend's expression. He placed his hand into the cradle of Starsky's and squeezed. "Anything you say, partner." The way I say it now.

Starsky grinned euphorically, even through the climbing pain, at the limitless trust and unconditional love in Hutch's simple, honest statement. "Anything?"

"Anything, partner." God, that feels so right!

Man, that sounds great! "Get a nurse to give me somethin' for the pain, wouldja?"

Hutch's concern rose at the matching gray of Starsky's voice and skin tones. Another quick squeeze of his partner's hand, and Hutch was up and making for the door. "You got it. You better be here when we get back."

Starsky coughed and grimaced. Damn, that hurts! "Ain't goin' nowhere." He watched and waited until the door closed behind Hutch before he let out a tiny whoop.

S&H

While the nurse, an older woman who looked like Burl Ives only with more facial hair, gave his partner a shot in the hip, Hutch looked on. He noticed for the first time, even though they had showered together in the academy gym almost daily during training, a well-healed, jagged, pale pink scar on his rump. When Nurse Burlette, as Hutch thought of her, was through and Starsky was tucked in, he returned to the chair at his friend's bedside.

"Did that hurt?"

"Nah. She's good. Hardly felt a thing."

"Not the shot. Whatever gave you that scar on your backside." Hutchinson bit his tongue and upbraided himself when he saw storm clouds gather in Starsky's eyes. "I'm sor-"

Starsky cut him off with a wave of his hand. "That's okay. Didn't hurt much. Guess I zigged when I shoulda zagged."

Hutchinson, you can be a real insensitive jerk sometimes. Deftly and desperately changing the subject, he queried, "You hungry? Must be. I think you slept through lunch."

Starsky forced his mood to brighten. "Nah, not really. You getting somethin'?"

"Was thinking about it. Thought maybe I'd call Huggy, tell him you're here, and ask if he could bring something from Julio's."

Starsky perked up at the mention of the eatery where Huggy Bear was currently flipping burgers and tending bar. "Well, only if you're gonna get you somethin'. How about a chilidog. No, two of 'em."

"Anything else?"

"Nah, yeah. Mustard and pickle relish."

"Okay, you got it."

"Wait. Make sure they're footlongs. And don't forget the hot peppers."

"Starsky, I thought you weren't hungry."

"I didn't ask for fries, did I?"

Hutchinson snickered. Good thing, too, or I'd have to take out a loan to pay Huggy. "Point taken. No fries. I'll be right back, Gordo."

"And tell Hug not to forget the potato chips, okay?"

Hutchinson stopped at the door and looked back at his partner, the reason for this different, this new way of being. The reason for putting himself second, for redefining "friend" and "brother." He had known this all along, but it had taken a threat to his partner's life for him to acknowledge the deep and singular connection they shared. He also knew he needed something more than faith, trust, and love to keep him out of that quagmire he had fallen into today. Humor and childlike lunacy works for Starsk. Maybe I ought to look into meditation . . .

"Hey, Hutch, take a picture—it'll last longer. If you wait any longer, I really will be hungry. And skinnier than Esmeralda. Come on, I'm wastin' away here."

Hutchinson smirked a mocking apology and gave his partner a middle-finger salute. You're down deep, David Michael Starsky. Way down deep.

The End

2001

"Bound," the epilogue to this story, can be found at s/8528343/1/Bound