Sweet Alice

A/N: This story is set after "A Coffin for Starsky"

"Are you serious?" Hutch said over his shoulder to his partner as he came into the squad room. "A bucket of blood?"

"Yup, dumped on top of her head. But that's when it got really good, ya see…"

"No, don't tell me. I don't want to hear anything more about it, Starsk."

"Oh are ya planning on going to see the movie?"

"No, I won't be seeing it. Starsky, why are you always drawn to those gory horror things they laughingly call movies?"

"Because they are good," Starsky said indignantly.

Hutch's phone began to ring as he sat down. He reached for it as he said, "Good? You wouldn't know a good movie if it bit you in the…Hutchinson here." Hutch's face fell as he listened to the person on the end of the line. Starsky caught the change in his demeanor and leaned toward his friend.

"When? Where is she? Listen, Bernie, I appreciate the call." Hutch slowly hung up the receiver as he processed what he had just been told.

"What's going on?" Starsky asked, concerned.

"It's Sweet Alice. She's been raped."

"What? Who?"

"They don't know. She's not talking. Bernie was one of the officers on scene and he knows Alice and I are friends…thought maybe I could help." Hutch stood up and pulled his jacket off the back of his chair. "Starsky, look…"

"Go, Hutch. I'll take care of Dobey."

Hutch rushed to the door then turned back. "Thanks, Buddy."

~ S/H ~

Hutch approached the information desk at Memorial Hospital and showed the older woman his badge, asking for Alice Kendall's room number. A moment later he stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor. He saw a detective stepping from Alice's room and recognized her as Lisa Schultz from Vice. She looked up at Hutch as she closed her notebook.

"What are you doing here?" she asked Hutch.

"I was about to ask you the same thing, Lisa. Why is a vice detective investigating a rape?"

"Lisa let out a weary breath. The woman is a prostitute, Ken."

Hutch's temper instantly flared as he expected this response. "Yes, but she's not the criminal here. She's the victim."

Lisa wasn't in the mood, it was late and she wanted to go home. "This isn't a homicide either so tell me why you are here."

Hutch looked away to try to contain his anger since the woman was obviously not going to fight with him. "I'm a friend," he said quietly and looked back at the dark-haired woman with a look that dared her to disagree. Instead, all he got in return was a scoff as the detective passed by him on her way to the elevator.

"Wait a minute. Where are you going? Fill me in."

Lisa wearily turned back to him. "Look, if you are here off duty, I really don't have to tell you anything, Hutchinson. But, we haven't been able to get anything out of her. All we know is that her apartment was broken into earlier today. She's not talking. There were no prints, no witnesses. Do me a favor though, would you?"

"What's that?" Hutch snapped.

"Let me know if you can get any information out of her." With that, Detective Schultz stepped onto the elevator leaving Hutch alone in the corridor.

Leaning against the wall outside Alice's door, he tried to clear his head of the anger he felt for the dismissive detective and steel himself for what he might see once he entered the room. He jumped as a female doctor stepped out of the door.

"Sir, visiting hours are over."

Hutch pulled out his badge. "I am also a friend," he said with a soft smile.

The doctor sighed. "Well she could use a friend right now. But please don't stay long. She needs to rest."

"Is she going to be okay?" Hutch asked nervously.

After a pause, the woman replied, "Physically, she will heal." She didn't need to say anymore. Hutch understood.

"Thank you," he said as he moved to enter the room.

Hutch let his eyes adjust to the dim light. He moved slowly to Alice's bedside. He drew in a breath as he saw her more clearly by the overhead light. Her usual honey blonde hair was flat and dirty. The right side of her face was swollen and bruised and there was a white patch of gauze covering what he assumed to be a stitched up cut. Hutch could make out the bruises in the shape of a hand along her throat. An IV was placed in one of the few spots on her left arm that wasn't bruised and her right wrist was in a cast. Her eyes were closed but her breathing indicated that she wasn't fully asleep.

"Sweet Alice?" Hutch whispered softly.

Alice's eyes flew open in abject terror and she pushed herself away from the figure beside her. Hutch realized how wrong he had been to just come up to her this way. He wanted to reach out and stop her flailing arms and keep her from hurting herself more but he also knew he couldn't do that until she was aware of who he was. Her right eye was almost swollen shut so she could not be seeing clearly.

"Shh, shh, Alice. It's me. It's Hutch, shhh." He soothed.

Slowly Alice calmed down but didn't relax. She looked at Hutch warily.

"Come on, Love. Come back down here and put your head on your pillow." Hutch said, his heart breaking. "I'm sorry I scared you. Do you want me to go?"

Alice winced in pain as she moved back down the mattress. She looked up at Hutch but didn't respond.

Hutch forced a smile. "I'd like to visit with you for a while. I can't stay long, though. It is past visiting hours and you need your rest." His stomach twisted in a knot as he saw the misery in the battered woman's eyes. He knew there would be no asking questions tonight. Tonight he was just there as a friend and supporter. He so wanted to scoop Alice into his arms and hold her, to somehow ease her pain and her fear.

As if sensing his thoughts, Alice's hand came up off the bed and opened. Hutch tenderly reached out and placed his hand in hers. She closed her hand around his gently at first and then her grip tightened as she began to cry.

Hutch reached and smoothed her tangled hair away from her face. As her cries became sobs, he wanted to hush her but knew this was what she needed. It was a first step in a long road of healing. He leaned over the bed rail and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, blinking back his own tears. As she cried herself out, her lids began to droop.

"I'm going to wait until you fall asleep and then I'm going to go." He felt her grip tighten and she looked up at him. "I'll be back, don't worry. I'll be back in the morning, okay?"

Alice nodded and her lids slipped closed. When her hand finally relaxed and her breathing evened out, he placed her hand under the covers and left the room.

Once in the corridor, Hutch was torn between anger and utter sadness. Looking at his watch, he figured Starsky would be home by now if he hadn't gone out after work. He headed out of the hospital and towards his partner's apartment.

~ S/H ~

Starsky stepped aside for Hutch to enter. "How is she?"

Hutch ran his hand through his hair and dropped down on Starsky's sofa. "She's a mess, Starsk." He leaned forward, placing his head in his hands. "She never spoke a word to me."

Starsky sat down on the coffee table across from his friend and placed his hand on Hutch's shoulder in support.

"I'm sorry, Hutch. I hope they find who did this to her."

Hutch's head snapped up. "Do you know they put Schultz on her case?"

"From Vice?"

"Exactly. Makes me sick. They won't put any effort into this – just because she…" he let the thought trail off as he pounded his fist into his open palm.

"Ya want a beer, buddy?"

Hutch relaxed his fist and leaned back again. "Nah, thanks. I am heading home so I can go in to see her before work."

"Sounds like a good plan. Luckily we don't have to be in until 11," Starsky said as Hutch stood up to leave. "Ya going to be okay, Blondie?" Hutch nodded wearily. "Tell her I said 'hey,' would ya?"

"I will, Starsk. Thanks. See you tomorrow."

Starsky shut the door after Hutch then leaned back on it. He let out a sigh. "What are you getting yourself into, Buddy?" he said as he shut off the living room light and headed for bed.

~ S/H ~

Hutch knocked softly on Alice's hospital door and waited. He heard a female voice say "come in" but knew it was not Alice speaking. He peeked into the room.

"You can come in, sir," the woman said. Hutch could now see she was not in a doctor's coat but had a hospital badge and held a medical chart in her hands. "Are you a friend?" she whispered and Hutch nodded. "I'm Dr. Carter, a staff psychologist. I haven't had any luck getting her to talk. Here is my card. Please contact me if you can get her to open up, please."

"Of course," Hutch replied, taking the card and tucking it in his shirt pocket.

After the woman left, Hutch put on a bright smile and approached Alice. She was curled in a ball on her left side, the IV having been removed. Her freshly washed hair fell across her face so Hutch reached out and pushed it back so he could see her better.

"Hey beautiful. Looks like you got all cleaned up. Did you do that just for me?" The teasing did nothing to change the blank expression on the young woman's face. "Hutch pulled the hard plastic chair closer to the bed and sat down. He tipped his head to look at Alice directly. He tried another smile and at least this time she met his gaze. "How you doing, Sweetie?" When he didn't get a reply he continued, "Starsky wanted me to tell you 'Hey.' He's rarely a man of few words but I know he's worried about you, just like I am."

Alice broke free of his gaze and her eyes looked down at her hands. She started to pick at the cast on her right hand. Hutch slipped his hand into her left one and held tight. This time she didn't squeeze back.

"Alice, I know you are hurting but do you think you could talk about what happened?"

Alice pulled away and turned her back to him. The hospital johnny fell open and Hutch had to bite his lip when he saw the bruises on her shoulders and the rug burns along her back.

"Aw, Sweetie. Please don't turn your back on me." He reached and pulled the sheet higher to cover her exposed skin. "Who did this to you, Alice?"

Hutch sat and tried to make small talk with the unresponsive woman. At one point a nurse came in and Hutch left the room to give Alice some privacy. The nurse came out of the room after a few minutes and told him the doctor would be coming by within the next twenty minutes. Hutch checked his watch and hoped the doctor was on schedule as he wanted to speak to her but also knew Dobey would be fit to be tied if he was late today after bailing out early last night.

Thirty-five minutes later, the doctor came into the room. Hutch stood and pushed the chair back into the corner.

The doctor smiled at him and then turned her attention to her patient. "Miss Kendall, I'm Dr. Zompa. Do you remember me from yesterday?" As Hutch moved toward the door, Dr. Zompa reached out and placed a hand on his arm. "I'd like to speak to you when I'm done here. Can you wait outside?"

"Of course," Hutch said and then turned toward Alice. "I'll be right outside, Love."

Hutch found a coffee machine and swigged the vile liquid as he paced outside Alice's door. Dr. Zompa came out of the room, walked to the nurse's desk and spoke briefly with a nurse there before coming back to Hutch's side.

"How is she, Doc?" Hutch asked.

She is healing fine and although I know she has not spoken to anyone, I have no reason to keep her here more than another day. I was wondering if you knew of any family or friends that could take her home.

"Her family is back in Kentucky and I…I honestly don't know if she has any friends. She lives alone...works alone."

The doctor let out a sigh. "I was afraid of that. May I ask what your relationship is with Miss Kendall?"

Hutch shifted uncomfortably. "Well, you know what she does for a living?" Dr. Zompa nodded, "Well, I'm a cop but despite that, we became friendly."

"Oh." Dr. Zompa replied, shifting her gaze away.

"Oh no, no. Not like that. I never…well. I've actually arrested her a few times. But she has helped me and my partner here and there. You know, given us information." Hutch stopped talking and rubbed his hand along his chin.

"Is there something wrong?"

After a moment Hutch pulled himself from his reverie. "No, I just thought of something. So, you were saying?"

"Yes, well, I'd like to release her tomorrow. I hate to think of her going back to her apartment alone where the attack took place."

"No, of course not. She lived on the first floor and that back slider was easy to pop open, I'm sure." Hutch was still lost in thought as he spoke. "Listen, Doc. I have to get to work but I'll be back here again in the morning when she is released."

"Well, if Miss Kendall agrees to go with you, I'm sure that will be fine. I have to continue my rounds now."

Hutch thanked the doctor and went back into Alice's room. She was sitting up in bed and poking at her now cold breakfast that the doctor had obviously told her to finish. Hutch sat down on the edge of her bed.

"Did you get the 'you better eat or you won't heal' speech?" Alice nodded slightly and Hutch was elated to finally get some sort of response from her. "Alice, you are going to be released tomorrow. Do you have anywhere you can go?"

A single tear glistened at the corner of her eye as she shook her head 'no.' Hutch reached out and brushed it away. "Would you like to come home with me?"

Alice's eyes flickered from her food to Hutch's face and then away again. In a raspy voice, she answered, "Yes."

Hutch beamed.

~ S/H ~

"Hutch?"

"What?"

"Whatya mean, 'what?' I've been asking ya for the Jordan file for the last two minutes."

"Oh, sorry," Hutch said pulling the folder from the pile on his desk and handing it across to Starsky.

"Where's ya head, Partner?"

Hutch looked up confused by the question. "I'm…I'm just working. Caught up in all this." He swept his hand across the files and papers in front of him.

"Bull." Starsky waited for a retort but there was none. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "You haven't moved since you sat down twenty minutes ago. Your mind is somewhere else and I think I know where that is."

Hutch brushed away Starsky's comment and began reading the sheet in front of him in earnest. Starsky's eyes narrowed. He placed his elbows on the desk, clasped his hands together then rested his chin on his clenched fists. "Hutch."

"Look, Starsk, I don't know what you are getting at." He checked his watch. "Almost time to go."

"T'rrific, let's hit The Pits for a beer and a burger."

"Uh, no thanks." Hutch forced a yawn. "I'm beat. I think I'll just head home."

After a pause and more staring through narrowed eyes, Starsky replied, "Tomorrow then, you and me?"

"Sure – oh but I have that date with Maria."

"Right, Maria."

"And if all goes well, I may still be tied up on Sunday. You know."

"Hopeful, are ya?"

Hutch smiled a little too widely for Starsky's liking. "Yeah, always hopeful." He gave a toothy grin. Getting up and pulling his jacket off the back of the chair, Hutch seemed out of sorts. Starsky continued to scrutinize him. Hutch backed up toward the door, continuing to wear the forced smile. "Well, goodnight, Starsk."

"G'night, Blondie."

Hutch backed into the door leading to the hall, laughed lightly with an exaggerated 'oops' and then quickly turned and bolted down the corridor.

~ S/H ~

Hutch arrived at the hospital at 9 AM and found Alice again poking at a plate of long cold bacon and eggs. He leaned over and kissed her forehead and was rewarded by a small smile. He picked up the fork when she laid it down and tried a bite of the eggs. Pulling an exaggerated face of revulsion earned him another smile.

"That's disgusting. How about I make you a nice brunch when we get to my place. I make a mean fruit smoothie. Just ask…on second thought, don't ask him." Alice smiled again but her eyes were still so sad. Hutch wrapped his arms around her and she buried her head in his chest and sighed. "It's going to be okay, Sweetie," he said as he stroked her hair.

The doctor came in with the discharge papers and went over Alice's aftercare with Hutch. Return in a week to remove the stitches, arrange a follow up with an orthopedist and her gynecologist. He had to admit, he was feeling like he bit off more than he could chew. Sure, he'd nursed his partner back to health more times than he could count but this was…different. Realizing that Alice did not have any clothes with her at the hospital, Hutch went into a panic until the doctor assured him she would give her a set of scrubs to wear home. A nurse came in to help Alice dress as Hutch waited in the hall and when she came out of the room in the requisite wheelchair, Hutch draped his jacket over her shoulders, ignoring the shocked looks when the staff and visitors saw his holstered gun.

Packaging Alice into his beat up old Ford, Hutch drove carefully home avoiding potholes and sudden turns.

Hutch held tight to Alice's elbow as she painfully maneuvered her way into the house. He led her over to the bed. "I changed the sheets for you and put an extra blanket on in case you get cold." He pulled back the covers and placed two pillows up against the headboard. Alice took a hesitant step back. "What's the matter, Sweetie?" Hutch was at loss and then hurriedly said, "I'm sleeping on the couch, see?" He pointed to a pile of sheets, blankets and an extra pillow neatly stacked on the sofa.

Alice sat gingerly down on the bed, her cheeks tinged pink in embarrassment. Hutch smiled inwardly amazed that despite her chosen profession, she was still modest.

"The bathroom is right here – I'll leave a light on so you can find it in the dark. Will you be comfortable enough in the scrubs? I'll go over to your place in a little while and pick up some things for you. He picked up a pad of paper and pen from the headboard shelf and handed them to her. Crouching down in front of her, Hutch asked, "Alice, is there someone at your apartment complex that I can ask to help me pick out what you need? Do you have a girlfriend, a coworker that I could ask?"

Alice looked down at the list that she had begun to make out and wrote "Candy, apartment 2F" at the top.

"Good girl," Hutch said gently. "Now you lie back and I'll see about getting you something to eat."

Forty minutes later, Alice had managed to finish a half a glass of a smoothie and some fruit salad. She dozed off not long after.

Picking up her apartment keys and his jacket, Hutch slipped quietly out, locking the door behind him.

~ S/H ~

Hutch stood outside apartment 2F and hoped he wasn't interrupting anything when he knocked. The door opened and a small thin young woman looked him up and down. She leaned on the door jam as she took a drag on her cigarette. "What can I do ya for, gorgeous?"

"Uh, I was wondering if I could ask you a favor." The woman's eyes brightened and she pushed the door open wide. "No, uh, no. Alice…Alice said that maybe you could help me pick up a few of her, uh, th…things." Hutch clenched his teeth and cursed silently at himself.

"Sweet Alice? How is she? I've been worried sick about her. Hang on." Hutch waited uncomfortably outside the door until the woman came back out wearing much more than she had on when he arrived. She led the way down the stairs to Alice's apartment.

"I'm…Ken, by the way." Hutch decided to keep his own profession to himself. "Tell me, were you here when Alice was…attacked?"

"I was at my place, yeah. No one heard a thing, though. He made sure of that, the bastard. She was messed up. You sure she's okay?"

"Yes, she's out of the hospital and staying…with a friend," Hutch said as he unlocked Alice's apartment door.

Hutch handed Alice's list to Candy and as she went about collecting the items, Hutch looked around the living room. His stomach rolled as he took in the overturned furniture, the blood on the carpet, and the white fingerprint residue left behind from the police investigators. Hutch resisted the urge to continue questioning Candy as he had read the report himself and knew they were thorough in their investigation. What he wasn't sure of was if they would continue to pursue it and find her attacker.

Walking toward the back slider, he was glad to see the department had secured the door. 'This was the way he got in,' he thought to himself. He remembered just two months ago when he stood outside that door and came face to face with one of Alice's clients. Hutch let his mind wander back to that horrible day when he raced against the clock to find the person who had poisoned his partner. Janos Martini was a prime suspect and he and Starsky had harassed him at his studio. It turned out he wasn't the one they had been looking for and they left to continue the search. Hutch closed his eyes briefly, thankful they had solved the case and Starsky's life was spared.

Locking the door behind them, he thanked Candy for all her help.

"Anytime," she said with a coy smile jutting her hip out as she rested a hand on the stairway banister. Hutch nodded nervously and left with the large paper bag filled with Alice's needed belongings. He promised himself he would return soon and clean up the mess before he brought her home.

Feeling good about picking up the few items that would make Alice feel more at home at his place along with some groceries to try to entice her appetite, Hutch began to whistle as he put the key in his own front door. Until he heard the screaming.

"Alice!" Hutch yelled as he fumbled with the key in the lock, dropping the packages on the porch. He pulled his gun from the holster and burst through the door. He scanned the inside of the house, gun raised, then ran toward the bed where Alice lay, the covers tangled around her, her arms thrashing at her invisible attacker. Without bothering to re-holster the weapon, he dropped it at his feet and reached for the hysterical woman.

"Shh, Love. Wake up. It's me, Hutch. Wake up, Alice."

The screams died away as her eyes flew open. He held her head in his hands and forced her to look at him, to see that she was safe. She went limp in his arms then as she began to sob. He pulled her to him and sat on the edge of the bed rocking her as he stroked her hair.

"It's okay. I'm here. I'm sorry I left you. I won't leave you again, Alice. I'm here."

"Oh, Hutch. Why? Why did he hurt me again? Why?"

Despite his relief to hear her speak, his heart sank at her words. He leaned her back against the pillows but didn't let go of her. "Alice, did Janos do this to you?"

Alice's sobs were so strong, she couldn't catch her breath so Hutch pulled her to him and continued to rock her. Hutch's thoughts went back in time again.

While Starsky was in the hospital recovering from the effects of the poison that Professor Jennings had concocted, Hutch had stopped to pick up a six pack of beer and ran into Janos. Hutch couldn't help but sneer at the weasel of a man but tried to avoid him. After taunting Hutch for a few minutes, Martini finally took a swing at him. Hutch was so taken by surprise, he wasn't able to counter and Janos Martini was arrested for assaulting an officer but the assistant DA took into account that Hutch had harassed the two-bit porn king at his studio and let Martini off with time served.

Alice finally pulled away and pushed her hair away from her face. Hutch handed her a tissue and she wiped her eyes and blew her nose.

"Let me get you a glass of water," he said gently.

"Got anything stronger?" Hutch turned back and gave his house guest a stern look. "Aw come on, Handsome Hutch. Like I always say, one sip of scotch…"

"And the whole world mellows right out," Hutch finished for her. "Well, you aren't on any medications so…why not." Hutch poured two glasses of scotch as Alice pulled a blanket around her shoulders and moved to the couch. Handing her one of the glasses he smiled as she thanked him.

"What are you smiling at?" Alice said, trying to smooth her hair, suddenly feeling self-conscious.

"It is so nice to hear that lilting southern drawl."

Alice smiled and looked into her glass. She looked up with a much more serious expression on her face. "I don't want to talk about it."

Hutch took a sip of his drink and placed it back on the coffee table. He leaned back and got comfortable. "You are going to have to talk about it at some point, Love." Alice shook her head. "I need to call and report…"

"No! No, please don't, Hutch. I shouldn't have said anything." She leaned toward him and grasped his forearm with her casted hand. "Please."

Hutch picked up her hand and laced his fingers through hers. "He has to pay for this. I could put him away for good – or at least a long time."

"Oh please," Alice said sarcastically as she released her fingers from Hutch's and leaned back onto the far arm of the couch facing him. "He hardly got a slap on the wrist the last time he went after me. Nobody cared that he almost beat me to death."

"I cared."

Alice's big blue eyes pooled with tears. "Aw, Hutch, you always know just what to say."

Hutch shifted so he was facing Alice and sat quietly looking into her eyes. After a few minutes, Alice started to fidget and smooth her hair again.

"I brought your things. Candy was a real help. Would you like to get cleaned up and change into a nightgown?"

"I'd like that."

Hutch stood up. "You wait right here and relax." He kissed the top of her head and Alice closed her eyes and took in a shuddering breath.

A few minutes later, Hutch returned and reached out for her hand. Alice took it and followed him into the bathroom. The room was sparkling in candlelight from tealights set along the tub and across the shelves. The bath was full of steaming warm water and a lather of fragrant bubbles.

"Here is a towel and I put a nightgown and robe on the back of the door for you." Alice leaned over and kissed Hutch on the cheek. Hutch closed the door behind him as he told her, "You just relax and take your time. I'll check on you in a little while."

Hutch went out and straightened the tangled covers on the bed then went into the kitchen to make dinner. He went back into the living room and picked up his glass of scotch. Looking at the closed bathroom door, he downed the rest of the drink and headed into the kitchen to pour another. He needed to relax and think. He didn't want to break Alice's confidence but he wanted to nail Martini for what he'd done. The phone rang and he had just decided to ignore it when Maria popped into his mind.

"Shit," he mumbled under his breath. "Hello," he said into the receiver. "Maria, I was just about to call you. No, I hadn't forgotten about our date but I just got called into work. Yeah, I know. I'm sorry too. Yes, I'll call you soon. Okay, bye." Hanging up the phone, Hutch cursed again, upset that he had to lie to the girl. He went back to preparing the dinner salad.

Thirty minutes later, he heard the sound of the tub drain being released. Alice came out not long after in her nightgown and Hutch's terrycloth robe. Her hair was combed out and laid slick against her back.

"Oh my, I'm so relaxed and warm, I could just ooze into a puddle right here on the floor."

Hutch grinned and handed her two aspirin and a mug of hot cocoa. Alice looked over at the coffee table for her scotch on the rocks but Hutch cut her off before she could complain. "This is better for you – it will keep you warm and 'puddled' and the aspirin will keep you from stiffening up later."

Alice smiled widely. "Well, you are just a regular mother hen, aren't ya?"

Hutch tipped his head and grinned. "What can I say, I get a lot of practice with Starsky." Alice looked genuinely confused. "He's always getting banged up or sick, you know." Alice nodded then and giggled, which was music to Hutch's ears.

The two friends ate dinner in silence. Afterwards, he settled her on the couch and went back to clear the dishes.

"Would you like to watch a movie or something?" Hutch asked. Alice shook her head 'no.' "Okay," he said sitting down beside her.

Alice dropped her head and let her hair fall from behind her ear covering her face. Hutch went to drape his arm across the couch behind her when he felt her begin to shake.

"Hey, hey – what's wrong?" Hutch asked, reaching to touch her face.

Alice slid away from him to the far end of the couch and turned her face away. "Please don't."

"Don't what? Alice, talk to me." Hutch instinctively moved toward her but Alice jumped up and ran into the bathroom and slammed the door.

Hutch put his palm on the door and leaned his forehead on the back of his hand. "Alice, please come out. Talk to me." He heard her sniffling and waited a moment. "Alice, you're safe here. I promise. Open the door."

"Give me a minute," she said quietly.

Hutch let out a sigh and went into the kitchen. He pulled the scotch down from the cabinet and poured two glasses, set them on the coffee table and sat down to wait on the couch. Five minutes later the door to the bathroom opened slowly and Alice came out. She hung back with her hand still resting on the door knob.

Hutch held out the drink to her. "I think we both could use this," he said. He set the drink down at the end of the coffee table and then got up and moved to a chair. Alice inched her way back into the living room and sat down.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"No need to be sorry, Sweetie."

Alice took a sip of the scotch and closed her eyes. She wrapped Hutch's robe tightly around her.

"Are you cold?" Hutch asked softly and she shook her head. "Alice, I want you to know that you are safe here," he repeated. "I'd never do anything…"

"I know. I know, Handsome Hutch. I just…" she didn't know how to explain how she felt. She took another sip of the liquor.

"I'll be here for you…whenever you are ready to talk, I'm here."

Alice looked up at Hutch, her blue eyes again pooled with tears. Hutch ached to hold her but kept his distance. She downed the rest of her drink then rested her forehead on the cold glass for a moment. "Maybe TV is a good idea," she said, attempting a smile. Hutch leaned over and turned on the television, finding something inane and meaningless to watch. Within twenty minutes, Alice was asleep on the couch. He thought about carrying her to his bed but thought that might be a bad idea so he tucked a pillow under her head and wrapped her in a comforter. He shut off the television and lay down on his bed. Lying on his back, he rested his head on his hands and stared out at the starry sky through the colored windows beyond the couch. Watching the clouds float over the moon, he eventually fell asleep. Sometime during the night, he woke up to find Alice in the bed beside him. His fingers twirled around a long strand of golden blonde hair as he listened to her even breathing. After a while she started to mumble incoherently and he inched closer to her whispering softly in her ear until she settled back down. He fell asleep with her fingers laced through his own.

Hutch wasn't aware of how much time had passed when he felt the thrashing in the bed beside him. He woke up immediately and tried to again calm the nightmares of the woman beside him but nothing helped her this time. She again woke up screaming. When Alice pushed him away, Hutch jumped out of the bed but continued to talk in a soothing voice until she calmed down. He sat at the end of the bed as she sobbed. After calming down, he could see her eyes staring at him, glistening in the dark.

"Tell me," he said simply. After a moment she reached out and he took her hand.

"I was home," she began. It was about noon and I was asleep". He heard her breath catch in her throat. "I had had a John that previous night, so I was still asleep. I remember hearing something but didn't quite wake up." She paused.

"He broke in the back slider," Hutch said and saw her nod in the dim moonlight.

"I woke up with his hand over my mouth. He said he knew I had ratted him out to you and Starsky." Hutch winced as she spoke. Why didn't he move her someplace safe after she gave them Martini's address?

"I tried to fight him off," Alice continued. "He released his hand from my mouth and I tried to reason with him, tried to bargain with him." Hutch squeezed her hand tighter as she struggled to remember the details. "He said I would pay for what I did, said that he should have finished me off the first time in front of the cameras," she fought back a sob and let go of Hutch's hand to wrap her arms around herself. "He dragged me into the living room and told me to get him a beer. I brought him one hoping it would calm him down but he just kept talking about how I sold out and betrayed him. He was so angry. I never saw him so angry. I…I thought he was going to kill me." Hutch tentatively moved closer to Alice and once again reached for her hand but she pulled away. She drew in a hissing breath as she relived Janos' hard cold hands on her body. "He threw me on the floor and…" she picked up a pillow and pulled it to her chest, burying her face in it. "I couldn't move, I couldn't fight. He…he hurt me." She bagan to rock, pulling the pillow closer to her. "Hutch, he hurt me."

Hutch again reached for her hand and this time she let him. "Alice, I won't let him hurt you again. Please let me help you." He held out his other hand and she took it and then pulled him close as she dropped the pillow. Hutch slid closer and she wrapped her arms around his neck. She cried deep, mournful sobs into his neck as he rocked her. She moaned as the sobs wracked her sore body. Hutch reached for the aspirin on the bedside table and handed her two with a glass of water. She managed to choke them down. Eventually the sobbing eased and she grew still. Hutch laid her back against the pillows and in the dim light he wasn't sure if she was still awake until she spoke.

"I laid on the floor for a long time after he left, unable to move." Her voice was just a murmur. "I hurt all over. I felt I had been pummeled into the floor." Hutch's mind flashed back to the blood stains on her carpet and his stomach lurched. "I just wanted to die right there. But he didn't hurt me that bad. He left me alive enough to suffer." She pushed Hutch away and held her casted wrist in front of her face and studied it. "I don't really remember how this happened. It must have been when he dragged me out of my bedroom." Her voice became distant and detached. "Isn't that odd?"

Alice got out of the bed and wandered around the living room. "Isn't that odd that I don't remember?" Hutch followed her at a distance that he felt was safe enough to give her room to move but close enough to grab onto her if he felt she needed it. She went back to the bed and sat on the edge looking out through the colored glass at the hazy stars. After a few minutes she looked back at Hutch standing beside her.

"What am I going to do now?"

Hutch wasn't sure exactly what she meant but he answered her. "You are going to help me put Janos away."

Alice turned her head away. Hutch stooped down to face her, his face lit softly by the dim light spilling from the bathroom. She reached out and stroked the side of his face and smiled sadly. "You know you can't do that."

"I will!" Hutch said forcefully, afraid he'd spooked her but she just continued to shake her head sadly.

"Let it go, Handsome Hutch." She stood up and walked into the bathroom and shut the door. Hutch heard the door lock and went back to sit on the bed to wait. After five minutes he started to get worried when he never heard anything beyond the bathroom door. He got up and knocked softly.

"Alice? You okay, Love?" He waited another minute and knocked again. He tried the door even though he knew it was locked. "Open up, Alice, please." He jiggled the handle and pressed his ear to the door but heard nothing. "Alice? Please open the door." Hutch tried to keep his voice calm despite the panic he felt. He grabbed the door knob and twisted it sharply, hearing the snap as the cheap lock broke. He pushed the door open and drew in a breath. Alice sat on the edge of the tub, the left sleeve of his robe pushed up to her elbow. In her right hand she held a razor blade.

"Alice?" Hutch said, his chest tightening in fear. She looked up at him, her blues dark with sadness. The blade clattered on the floor and Hutch carefully scooped it up and deposited it into the trash.

"My father used to tickle me," Alice said as she rested her elbows on her thighs and ran one hand through her hair, staring at the floor. "I would laugh so hard. He knew just the spot." Hutch sat down on the closed toilet seat and let her talk. "I loved him so much. One day he went out into the fields…he never came back alive…I guess it was a heart attack." She pulled at her hair until some strands started to come free. "My first step-father didn't like me very much. He beat me and my sister. The next one…he would act like he was being nice. He would tickle us too but…it wasn't the same."

Hutch hung his head and resisted the urge to reach for her, afraid she would stop talking.

"One night, he came into our room. I heard him threaten my sister to keep quiet. He came over and got into my bed. I smelled the alcohol on his breath." Hutch finally couldn't stop himself and put a gentle hand on her knee.

"My sister ran away about a month later. I never saw her again. She was only 17. I stayed until I was 16. I kept hoping my mother would see what he was doing to us…to me. I saved enough money working at the five and dime and got on a bus on my 16th birthday." She lifted her head and looked at Hutch with red-rimmed eyes. "I ended up here eventually and went to work for Belle Kates. The rest is history, as they say." She reached out and put her hand on Hutch's cheek and looked at him for a moment. "Nobody ever hurt me that much…until Janos."

Hutch stood and pulled Alice up. He looked at her as if asking permission and feeling he had it, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and led her to the bed. He helped her lay down and covered her up. He kissed the back of her hand and moved toward the couch.

"Please, stay with me," her voice was hoarse. Hutch came back and lay beside her on top of the covers. She turned her back to him but pushed herself up against him. He buried his face in her hair and kissed the back of her neck. There was nothing he could say now. He laid his arm across her and she took his hand and tucked it under her chin. She told him of her life after leaving home until she was talked out and fell asleep.

Hutch dozed on and off until he heard the Sunday paper get dropped at the front door. He carefully slid off the bed as to not disturb Alice. Tip-toeing into the kitchen, he poured himself a glass of carrot juice then headed for the door. He opened it up and leaned down to pick up the newspaper when he spotted blue tennis shoes on his front step. His eyes tracked from the shoes to muscled legs, blue and white shorts, long sleeve NYPD t-shirt and ended at his partner's grinning countenance.

"Howdy," Starsky said leaning against a post and crossing his right leg over his left ankle.

"Uh, hi," Hutch said trying to pull the front door closed but Starsky was across the front porch in two steps and tried to walk into the house. Hutch kept his hand on the door knob. "Hey, Starsky. How are you doing, Buddy?"

Starsky stopped pushing at the door and took a half step back. "I'm just fine, Partner. How are you?"

Hutch relaxed and let go of the door. "Oh, I'm great. Thanks." Hutch wasn't fast enough to stop Starsky from pushing through the front door but he did manage to grab his friend by the back of his shirt collar and drag him back outside.

"Hey, what the hell?"

"Shh, Starsk. I told you I was hoping to be 'busy' this morning. You know, I had the date with Maria last night." Hutch forced his cheesiest grin and bounced his eyebrows up and down a few times.

Starsky again leaned on the post and folded his arms across his chest. His face had that smug Starsky smile that Hutch was oh so familiar with. "Well, Pal, you forgot one small detail."

"Detail? What do you mean?" Hutch felt his eyebrows climb into his hair as he tried to act innocent.

"You forgot that I have met the Greek Goddess Maria and that blonde woman in there ain't her." Starsky stood on his tip toes and pointed above Hutch's head into the house to punctuate the word her. Hutch deflated and his eyebrows slid back down his forehead to their rightful place. "What's going on, Partner?"

"Oh come on, Starsk. You know what's going on." Starsky nodded and sat down on the top step as he patted a spot beside him and Hutch sat down. "Look," Hutch angrily began but Starsky cut him off.

"Don't get your panties in a wad, Blondie. I haven't even said anything yet!"

"But you will," Hutch turned and pointed an accusatory finger at the dark haired man but Starsky just grabbed it and pushed it back down.

"I know that you know that you are breaking all kinds of rules and things with this set up." He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder at Hutch's front door. "But we've both done plenty of that kinda thing before."

"And?" Hutch snapped, readying his index finger for another round, if needed.

"And I'm more worried about what you are doing in here," Starsky said, placing his own index finger on Hutch's chest. "And in here." Starsky placed his palm on Hutch's forehead.

Hutch smiled as Starsky playfully mussed his hair before lowering his hand. He then sighed and rested his cheek on his fist. "She didn't have anywhere to go."

"Come on, you know as well as I do there are places for women to go."

"Aw, Starsk, I…"

"Couldn't let her go to one of those places. Hey, you are preachin' to the pulpit here, friend. But you two…you have some history, some electricity going on – always have."

Hutch scrubbed his face with his hands then ran them through his hair. "It's not like that now. She's so…so broken. Ja…he really messed her up."

It was Starsky's turn to lose his eyebrows up into his hair line.

"Janos?"

Hutch grimaced. "I didn't say that."

Starsky leaned back, his face awash with conflicting emotions. Leaning toward his partner again he grabbed his forearm. "It's because of us breaking into his studio, isn't it?"

Hutch just nodded glumly, knowing that he could no longer hide what he knew from Starsky. His head snapped up. "But you can't let on you know. She didn't mean to tell me and is scared to death I'll go after him."

"Whatya mean?" Starsky yelled but lowered his voice when Hutch put his finger to his lips and pointed back at the front door. "We can't let him get away with this, Hutch."

"I know, I know. But let me worry about that. Let me try to convince her that we can nail him. Please?" Hutch now put his hand on Starsky's forearm and tilted his head to see his partner's downturned face.

Starsky lifted his head and scrutinized his partner again through narrowed eyes. After a moment he replied, "Okay. But Dobey is going to have your head if…"

"Not if he doesn't find out," Hutch cut in.

Starsky nodded then patted Hutch on the thigh as he pushed himself up. "I hope you know what you are doing."

"Not a clue," Hutch said as he also got up off the step and turned toward the door.

"Call me if you need anything. Don't forget you have a job tomorrow." Hutch thoughtfully stared at his house for a moment and then turned back towards Starsky. "Oh, don't tell me. You think you are coming down with something, right?" Hutch smirked self-consciously and Starsky sighed loudly. He headed toward the Torino waving behind him.

Hutch picked up the newspaper and went into the house. He looked over at the bed and saw that Alice was up. He glanced into the kitchen and then noticed the bathroom door was closed. He dropped the newspaper on the couch and called out her name. He heard the toilet flush and the faucet run and relaxed a bit. The door opened and Alice came out with a yawn and then a grimace.

"Hey Handsome Hutch," she said rubbing her neck.

"Good morning, Love. Do you need more aspirin?" Hutch headed to the night table but Alice shook her head. I already took some. Where were you?"

"I went out to get the paper. I'll make us some breakfast in a few minutes. I just want to take a shower."

Fifteen minutes later, Hutch opened the bathroom door and walked into the kitchen. Alice was standing at the stove emptying a pan of scrambled eggs onto two plates. She started to struggle with buttering two pieces of toast, the cast impeding her progress. He took the knife from her hand and finished the toast and placed one on each dish.

"I'm impressed. You did pretty well with only a half of your right hand."

"Just wait, you may be coming across a few eggshells in there."

Hutch laughed softly and picked up the plates. "Hey, let's go eat out on the patio." He motioned to the table and chairs that were visible through the window. Alice bit her lip and looked worried. Hutch put the plates back down on the counter and took her firmly by the shoulders. "I'm here, Alice. You don't have to be afraid." Alice nodded and Hutch picked up the plates and placed them on a tray along with the two glasses of juice she had poured for them and some napkins. As an afterthought, he took a small vase from on top of the fridge and filled it with water and placed it on the tray too.

Alice settled at the table outside and began to take the plates and glasses off the tray. Hutch walked over to his flower garden. He broke off three fully bloomed zinnias and came back and placed them in the vase which he then put in the middle of the table. Alice reached out and gently ran her fingers along the bright petals. They again ate in silence and when they were done, they relaxed and enjoyed the filtered sunlight. A bee buzzed over and lit on one of the zinnias. Alice watched it work. Hutch was wrapped up watching her. The swelling around her eye had gone down quite a bit. The bruises on her face were changing from deep blues and blacks to the lighter shades of purple and green as the blood was reabsorbed. She had replaced the gauze over the stitched cut with a simple bandaid and he was happy that there wouldn't be much of a scar as he first feared. Alice's looks were her bread and butter. Hutch's heart skipped a beat as he remembered the time she said she would one day go straight and 'get' him. After hearing about her childhood, he now understood how she came to LA and ended up being taken in my Belle. Hutch turned away as he thought of all the men that had run their hands over Alice's body, most likely not very gently.

Alice broke his reverie. "What are you thinking about, Hutch?"

Hutch pasted a smile on before turning back to her. "I was wondering about your childhood when your father was still alive. You did have some good times, right?"

Alice grinned. "Oh, yeah. I had a good childhood when my Daddy was still alive. We didn't have much but we made do. I grew up in a tiny little town called Goose Creek." Hutch laughed and repeated the name back to her. "Honest, that's the name. My folks had a tobacco farm and a few years before he died, Daddy tried his hand at growing hemp."

"Oh really?" Hutch asked, intrigued.

"Yes, indeed. He called it diversifying and he was sure he was going to make a lot of money some day." She looked down at the table and fiddled with her fork.

"I'm sorry. We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."

"No, that's okay. I like talking about it. In all my complicated grown-up life, I can look back and find something that is real, that is mine. Ya know?" Hutch nodded absently and reached to tuck a curl of hair behind her ear. Alice leaned into his palm and closed her eyes. "I was happy then."

"You can be happy again," Hutch said as he slowly slid his hand from her cheek to her lips.

"Maybe. Ya know, I think I'll go to Boston, start a new life. I think I'll start over, where no one knows my name. I'll get out of California, I'm tired of the weather." Alice looked up into the blue cloudless sky as her words got stronger. "I need a new town, leave this all behind, ya know? I hear it's nice in Boston in the summer and some snow would sure be nice." She looked hopeful for the first time since he'd known her. She smiled at him and tipped her head. Hutch swallowed hard and withdrew his hand from her arm where it had been resting.

"That sounds wonderful, Alice. It really does." Hutch again turned away from her and watched the birds in the ficus tree beyond the garden.

After a few minutes, Alice stood up. "I'm going to go take a bath."

Hutch blinked a few times to clear his vision before looking up at her. "Sounds good. I'll clean up here."

After her bath, Alice put on a t shirt and yoga pants and went out to wander around near Hutch's little bungalow. Hutch followed her out. "Look at you," he said smiling sweetly.

Alice turned to look at him. "I did some thinking in the tub."

"Oh you did, did you?"

"I can't live my life afraid. I've come this far, I can't start that now. I've paid the price for the life I chose."

Hutch reached for her hand then without thinking, pulled her close. He leaned down and kissed her full on the mouth and Alice responded at first then put her uncasted hand on his chest and pushed herself away. Hutch didn't want to let go but was mortified by what he'd done. "Oh Alice, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have done that."

"Don't you worry yourself about that, Handsome Hutch. Do you know how long I've wanted to kiss you?" Hutch smiled and slid his hands up and down the silky skin of her arms. Alice took one of his hands and kissed the palm before stepping back out of his reach. Hutch's shoulders slumped a bit. He understood that she wasn't ready for him.

"Let's take a little walk. Are you up to it?"

Alice nodded and they walked side by side along the river. When they returned, Alice went through her paperwork from the hospital then curled up on the couch with a glass of scotch. Hutch opened a beer and then played a few songs on his guitar. Alice clapped happily and he took a bow.

"Well, you are just full of surprises, Handsome. I never knew you played and sang."

Hutch put the stereo on. When 'Fire and Rain' came on, Alice stood up and wrapped her arms around his neck. "Oh, you are tall," Alice said and Hutch threw his head back and laughed. They glided around the room for a few minutes until Alice tired.

"Tell me about little boy Ken," Alice said tracing circles on the back of hand that rested on her shoulder.

"Oh, now that is a story for when you can't get to sleep. It will put you right out like a light."

"Oh stop. I'm sure you have lots of stories you could share with me."

"I honestly believe that if you look up 'white bread' in the dictionary, you'd find a picture of my family." Hutch laughed and Alice shook her head at him but smiled.

The phone rang and Hutch excused himself to answer it. It was Maria and although Hutch tried to underplay it, Alice knew he was giving a lady the brush off because of her. She wrapped her arms around her knees as he hung up and sat back down.

"You don't have to stay here because of me, Handsome Hutch."

Hutch waved her words away. "Oh that was just a friend. I'd rather stay here with you, Sweet Alice."

Alice studied Hutch's face carefully then rested her cheek on her knee. "Will you play some more for me?" she said, motioning towards his guitar resting at the end of the couch.

Hutch sang 'Ex Lover' and then 'Let's Have a Quiet Night In.'

Alice leaned back as he placed the guitar back in its case. He sat down next to her and put his arm around her. "My, you have a lovely voice." She rested her head on his shoulder and he put his cheek against her silky hair.

"Not as lovely as yours," he said softly. A few minutes later, Hutch could tell by Alice's steady breathing that she had fallen asleep. This time he felt more comfortable moving her so he scooped her up and placed her in his bed, pulling the covers over her.

She opened her eyes. "Goodnight, Handsome Hutch."

"Goodnight, Love."

~ S/H ~

"You made it," Starsky said as Hutch strolled into the squad room and sat down at his desk.

"Yeah, what do you know." Hutch replied. Starsky watched his partner a few minutes as he shuffled files and papers, looking very interested in what he was seeing. "Must you always stare at me that way, Starsk?"

"I'm just surprised to see ya here, that's all."

Hutch picked up a stack of file folders, stood them on end and tapped them on the desk then placed them in his outbox. "Well, she is feeling much better so I thought I'd better save a sick day for when I need it."

Dobey's door opened and the captain stuck his head out. "Starsky, Hutch, in my office," he said gruffly.

Dobey sat down in his chair. "I thought you two would be interested to know that Janos Martini was arrested last night."

Hutch leaned forward, "Arrested? For what?"

"Statutory rape. Seems he had an underage girl working for him at the studio and got really rough with her. She went straight to the police and is singing to her father's attorney right now."

Starsky saw the joy on his friend's face and slapped him on the back. Hutch stood up. "Is that all, Captain? I'd like to make a phone call."

"No, that's not all! I need you at this address ten minutes ago. Check in with Dwyer and St. Pierre when you get there."

Starsky could see Hutch's internal struggle so his grabbed his wrist and pulled him from the room. "Come on, Blintz. The phone call can wait. I'm driving."

~ S/H ~

Starsky pulled up in front of Hutch's bungalow. "Man, I'm beat. We never stopped all day."

Hutch yawned and stared at his darkened house. "I know. Thanks for driving me home. If you pick me up in the morning, I can take my own car home tomorrow night."

"Are you sure you can't come for one beer at Huggy's, Hutch?"

Hutch looked over at Starsky and felt bad for the man. "You know I want to talk to Alice." As Starsky nodded, he continued. "Tomorrow night, I promise. You and me, okay?"

Starsky grinned. He was disappointed and missed hanging out with Hutch but understood he took the back seat to Alice right now. He wondered if he would be riding in that back seat all the time now. "Well, I'm going over to Huggy's for a few to celebrate Martini's 'unfortunate' incarceration. I'll see you bright and early tomorrow."

Hutch fished his keys from his pocket and leaned into the passenger side window. "Thanks, Pal."

Hutch waved and quietly walked up to the front door. 'Alice must already be asleep,' he thought, seeing no lights inside.

Hutch stepped in and could see in the dim light that Alice was not in bed. He turned on the light and moved into the kitchen. The bathroom door was open but he peered in calling her name. Suddenly he started to panic but reminded himself that Janos was sitting in jail. He wondered if she had gone for a walk when he spotted the envelope lying on the bed. He stood there staring at it, his name written in flowery script.

~ S/H ~

Starsky had foregone the customary booth in favor of a bar stool since he was alone. He and Huggy were catching up and flirting with any woman that would look their way. As one more woman turned away from Starsky and rejoined her friends across the room, Starsky caught the look on Huggy's face as he looked at the entrance. Starsky turned and saw Hutch standing just inside the door.

"If you weren't sitting here in front of me, I'd say that was a man who just lost his best friend," Huggy said as he poured another beer and handed it to Starsky to take to the blond detective.

Hutch hadn't noticed Starsky but instead shuffled over and flopped into their requisite booth. Starsky slid in across from him and put the beer in front of him. It was then Starsky noticed the crumpled envelope in his friend's hand. "How'd ya get here, cab?" Hutch nodded and Starsky didn't say anything more but sipped his beer and waited.

"She's gone, Starsk," Hutch finally said. He pushed the beer aside and dropped the letter in front of him on the table.

Starsky reached for it then looked into Hutch's eyes. He saw the look saying that he could read the letter himself. Starsky slid the paper from the envelope and unfolded it.

My Handsome Hutch,

I could never put into words how much you have meant to me these past few days. I don't know where I would be right now if it wasn't for your kindness, your sweetness, your love. I'm leaving Bay City, leaving California. Like I said, snow sounds good about now. Please don't look for me. You go be with that lady that called you and forget about me. I know I told you that I would get you when I went straight but I was just fooling myself. You find yourself a pretty 'white bread' lady to put in the picture with you in that dictionary.

And don't worry about me. I heard on the radio that Janos got arrested for doing to some other poor girl what he did to me. But you probably know about that already, don't you, as you are the big city detective and my knight in shining armor.

Have a wonderful life and I hope you'll remember me as fondly as I will remember you.

Love always,

Alice

Starsky folded the letter and tucked it back into the envelope. Hutch picked it up and the paper crinkled loudly as he clutched it in his hand. Starsky put both his hands on Hutch's free one and squeezed it tightly. Hutch closed his eyes and his breath shuddered.

"Aw, Hutch, why did you have to go and do that for?"

Hutch opened his eyes and looked at Starsky with confusion. "Do what?"

"You went and fell in love with her."

Hutch tossed the envelope down the table and picked up his beer, taking a long swallow. "Don't be ridiculous, Starsky. I'm just sorry she left without saying goodbye."

"Hey, this is me you're talking to, Partner." Hutch avoided Starsky's gaze despite the brunet's attempts to meet his eyes. Starsky let the smile fall from his face and he leaned back. Hutch quickly flicked a tear from the corner of his eye and downed the rest of his beer. He motioned over to the barmaid for another.

"You going to be okay, Hutch?"

"Oh, sure. I'm fine, Starsky," Hutch said as he thanked the woman for the round and handed her a tip. He looked down the table and reached for the crumpled envelope. He smoothed it lovingly and traced the letters of his name with his fingers.

"Sure you are," Starsky said quietly.

The End

A/N: Alice's speech about going to Boston was paraphrased from the song 'Boston' by Augustana

Epilogue:

Starsky sat at his desk and stared at the envelope he had in his hand as the squad room slowly emptied out. It was noon and most of the other officers and detectives were headed down to the cafeteria for lunch. Hutch didn't want cafeteria food and had offered to run to the sandwich shop down the block and pick up a sandwich for Starsky and a salad for himself.

The return address on this particular piece of mail had caught Starsky's eye. Alice Kendall Riley, Boston, Massachusetts. It had been two years since Alice had left. Hutch had been devastated and spent many a night with Starsky by his side drinking away the pain. Starsky had been afraid Hutch wouldn't bounce back from that and then he had met Gillian. His friend was happy again, things were looking up. But Gillian had been killed and the spiral down began again.

Starsky dropped the envelope back into the pile of mail that sat on the edge of his desk where it abutted his partner's. He ran his hands over his face and up into his hair. Just a few months ago, Hutch's ex, Vanessa had been killed. Could Ken Hutchinson survive more? What was in this envelope? If nothing else, it was full of memories Hutch had tried to bury. Starsky's hand reached for the envelope when Hutch burst through the double doors into the room.

"Now we are in business, Starsky. This is food. Here, try that sandwich. You are going to love it." Hutch sat down across from his partner and popped the top off his salad. He glanced up when he noticed his friend didn't grab at the sandwich he had put in front of him. He saw the expression on Starsky's face and misunderstood. "Aw, come on, Starsk. Just try it. I promise you'll like it."

"No, Hutch, that's not it," Starsky said as he pushed the envelope across the desk.

Hutch put down his fork. "What is it?" He picked up the envelope and instantly recognized the flowery script. "Alice?" he whispered and then looked back up at Starsky who nodded slightly.

Hutch pushed the now unwanted salad aside and studied the envelope as if it would begin to speak and unveil all its secrets to him.

"Ya gonna open it?"

Hutch sighed, "Sure, of course." After a minute, Hutch picked up a letter opener and sliced the top open. He pulled out a folder letter and three photos. He spread the photos out. One was a picture of a toddler, a little girl with big round blue eyes and a tuft of strawberry blond hair. The next was Alice standing cheek to cheek with another pretty woman with red hair. The third was Alice standing beside a tall handsome man with straight black hair. Hutch studied the photo and ran a finger tip across Alice's face. A detective entered the room and pulled Hutch from his reverie. The man grabbed a folder off a desk and left, leaving them alone in the room.

Hutch picked up the letter and Starsky waited as his friend read it quietly. He resisted the urge to snatch the papers from Hutch's hands but knew that in time he would know what the letter said.

Hutch finished one page and went onto the next, his blues getting misty. At the end of the second and final page he looked up across the desk and gave Starsky a melancholy smile. Reaching for the picture of the little girl he turned it around and handed it to Starsky.

"That's Jamie, her daughter." Starsky smiled down at the photo and then looked up at Hutch in surprise. "Turns out she got pregnant by Martini." Hutch swallowed down the emotion he felt but smiled again when Starsky handed him back the photo. "Isn't she beautiful?"

Starsky nodded, "Just like her momma."

Hutch laughed and carefully placed the photo down. "Her father's name was James and she named her after him. He picked up the next and handed it to Starsky. "That's Pam, Alice's sister. They hadn't seen each other since they were teenagers. Alice went to Boston and it turns out that is where Pam had run off to."

"And they found each other?" Starsky asked, amazed.

"Yes, incredible, isn't it?" Hutch took the photo of the smiling woman back and placed it next to the one of the little girl. He picked up the last one and held it for a few minutes before handing it across to Starsky. "That's Michael Riley, Alice's husband. He's a councilman and plans on running for Congress some day." Hutch nodded at Starsky's amazed expression.

Starsky handed the photo back and Hutch wiped away a tear as he studied all three again. Starsky was glad that no one was in the room at the moment so that his partner and friend could work through the emotions caused by the letter.

"She's happy, Starsk. She's okay." Hutch tucked the letter and photos back into their envelope and leaned back in his chair. He took in a long breath and blew it out.

"And you are okay, right Partner?" Starsky said, smiling sadly at his friend.

Hutch nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine." Starsky narrowed his eyes and studied Hutch. "No, really, Starsky. I'm okay." He picked up the letter and put it into the top drawer of his desk then picked up his fork and began to eat his salad. "Now go ahead, try that sandwich and tell me it isn't the best."

People started to come back into the room, some carrying their lunch while others jumped right back into their work. Starsky unwrapped the sandwich, picked it up and sniffed it warily. Hutch munched on his salad happily as he watched. Taking a small bite, Starsky chewed it for a moment before smiling and nodding. "That really is good."

"I told you you'd like it. Have I steered your wrong before?"

"Well..."

"Yeah, don't answer that." Hutch said, laughing.

Starsky continued to eat and grinned, happy to see the smile in his best friend's eyes.