This is a follow up to my story 'Sweet Alice' and takes place just as 'Starsky and Hutch' ends

Life is Sweet

Hutch pulled onto Abbott Kinney Boulevard and maneuvered into a space in front of Venice Place. He rested his head on the back of his hands as they gripped the steering wheel. He, Dobey and Huggy had spent most of the night in Starsky's hospital room. Well…both of his hospital rooms. The original one and the second one they moved his partner into after the sprinklers went off drenching the first. Hutch leaned back and stared out the windshield at the mid-morning sun. The streets were quiet on this Sunday morning. He yawned hoping he would be able to get some sleep. He chuckled at the memory from the previous night - the sight of Starsky next to him soaking wet with the platter of veal in his lap.

"You idiot, Huggy," Hutch said aloud and shook his head. "Who hangs a lantern from a sprinkler? A drunk man, that's who." He laughed aloud again. Rubbing his tired eyes, he again said a silent prayer of thanks that his best friend was okay. He'd never come so close to losing him. He thought about them finally getting off the streets. A desk job didn't look so bad now. He wondered if Starsky would agree.

Hutch got out of his car and slammed the door as he fished in his pocket for his house key. The old Ford's hinges groaned and the door yawned back open. Hutch slammed it again and then again. This time it was him that groaned as he firmly grasped the door and shoved it closed. It shut this time and he nodded happily and headed toward the entrance to his apartment building. As he turned toward the front of the car to move to the sidewalk, he saw her. A woman with honey blonde hair was standing next to a bench about 20 yards away. The sun was behind her and he couldn't make out her face but he could tell she was looking right at him. His heart skipped a beat as he wondered who she was but then pushed the thought away. 'She's three thousand miles away, Hutchinson.' He stepped up onto the sidewalk, and looked again. The sun's rays were now blocked from this angle and he could clearly see her face.

"Alice?" The word was no more than a whisper and although he knew she hadn't heard him, she nodded all the same. Hutch's heart seized in his chest and he reached behind him to steady himself against the Ford's fender. It really was her. Hutch watched her as she looked down at the bench. There was a pink shoulder bag and a package of some sort laying on it.

Hutch tentatively let go of the car and once he knew his legs would carry him, he slowly walked toward her. She looked back from the bench and he could now make out those beautiful blue eyes. She smiled and he broke into a run but when he got close he stopped short, resisting the urge to wrap his arms around her.

"Is it really you?"

"Hey there, Handsome Hutch," she replied. Her southern lilt just as wonderful as it always had been.

"I see you haven't picked up that Boston accent yet," he said, still not quite believing that she was standing in front of him. She shook her head and chuckled lightly. Hutch's heart now fluttered at the sound of that laugh.

"Naw, still a country girl, born and bred."

Hutch nodded slightly and just stared at the woman before him. "You haven't changed a bit."

Alice blushed, "Well I'm not so sure about that. Childbirth changes a woman, you know." She motioned at the 'package' on the bench beside her. Hutch looked down and only then realized that it was actually a red-headed toddler lying on the bench, wrapped in a blue blanket. She had been partially hidden by the bag.

"Oh my gosh, Alice, let's go inside." Hutch suddenly felt awkward and out of sorts, seeing Alice's daughter. It shook him back to the present and he reminded himself she was not only a mother but a wife. He helped her bundle the sleeping girl into her arms then picked up the shoulder bag and led the way into the apartment building. As he reached the stairs, he moved aside to allow her to go up ahead of him. "Can you manage?" he asked as she started up the steps.

"Oh, don't worry about me. I'm used to lugging this little one all around town. She can walk but prefers not to." Again, her laugh made Hutch's heart sing. He chided himself for allowing it. This was someone else's wife. She was just a friend now. He mused that she had really only ever been a friend but he had hoped for more three years ago.

Hutch stepped in front as they reached the top of the stairs and unlocked his apartment door mentally running down the mess that he had left behind that previous day. With Starsky in the hospital, he had not taken the time to clean up after himself. Closing the door behind Alice, he rushed ahead and pulled the stacks of newspapers and strewn clothes from the couch so that she could set the baby down.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "I haven't been home a lot lately so…"

"Oh don't worry yourself about that, Hutch," Alice said as she checked on the sleeping little girl. She looked around, "Well, this is a nice place you've got here."

Hutch seemed confused for a moment. "Oh right, I was over near the water when you…well, last time you saw me." Alice sat down on the couch and looked sadly up at Hutch. Hutch sat down close to her and leaned forward. "Oh, Swee—uh, Alice, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought that up."

"Oh you stop that right now. I was just thinking how terrible it was that I just up and left on you that way. I'm the one who is sorry."

Hutch shook his head, "Don't be. I…I understand…" Hutch leaned back and his eyes grew distant. He really didn't understand why she left. He thought he did but after he received her letter from Boston, his beliefs had changed. The note that she left behind had led him to believe she felt she wasn't good enough and she wanted something better for him. But after receiving her letter last year, he just wasn't sure what had happened. He had felt something between them before she left, he was sure of that.

"Where'd you go, handsome?" Alice said as she patted his leg.

"Oh, sorry," Hutch said self-consciously. He shook himself out of his self pity and leaned toward her again. "Alice, I'm so happy you found your sister. Thank you so much for letting me know where you were and that you were…okay."

Alice got a wistful look in her eye and turned toward her daughter. She laid a hand on the sleeping girl. "Can you believe that? I guess there is a connection between all of us that we just don't realize. Of all the places for me to end up."

Hutch remembered the picture of Alice and her husband that he still had tucked away in his desk drawer. "It was meant to be," he said, trying to hide the sorrow in his voice.

Still watching her baby sleep, Alice nodded sadly. She then looked at Hutch. "Could I have a glass of water?"

Hutch stood up quickly. "Of course, I'm so sorry. Where are my manners?" He headed to the kitchen.

As he pulled two glasses from the cabinet, she said from behind him, "Or I'll take some carrot juice if you have any."

Hutch closed his eyes, his mind once again going back in time.

"I'm sorry. We don't have to talk about your childhood 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 turned away from her and watched the birds in the ficus tree beyond the garden.

Hutch cleared his throat, trying to shake himself from the memories. He took the glasses into the living room and placed them on the coffee table and sat down. Alice was whispering quietly to her daughter as the little girl began waking up.

"Well, hi there my little sleepyhead. Did you have a good nap?" She cooed. The girl nodded and rubbed a balled up fist on her eye. "Jamie, I'd like you to meet my friend. This is Mr. Hutchinson."

"Oh no, she can call me Hutch."

Alice smiled. "Okay, this is Hutch. Hutch, this is Jamie Marie Kendall."

"Hi there, Jamie. Oh, would she like some juice? I have a plastic cup."

"If you have a straw, we can share this one."

Hutch came back a moment later with a straw. Jamie was off the couch and exploring his apartment. He watched as Alice's eyes followed her every move. "Uh uh, Jamie. Don't touch," she said sweetly.

Hutch stepped over to the closet near the front door and reached up to take a small cardboard box down from the shelf. He brought it to the couch and placed it on the floor. "Jamie, look what I have. Do you want to play with my game?"

Alice tipped her head at Hutch and smiled sweetly. "Candy Land? My knight in shining armor plays Candy Land?"

Hutch blushed. "Well no, but I have had a niece and nephew visit on occasion and this was left behind."

Jamie tentatively stepped over to see what Hutch had in the brightly colored box. "Here you go, Sweetie," Hutch said as he took of the lid of the box and handed the girl one of the game pieces. Jamie smiled up at Hutch as he got off the floor and sat down on the couch next to her mother. They watched her play for a few moments. "Alice, you said her last name is Kendall." Alice nodded, never taking her eyes off her daughter. "I thought, with you being married, he would have…" Hutch now felt that he was intruding and wished he never brought the subject up.

"Adopted her?" Alice finished his thought.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't pry."

Alice leaned back against the cushions and stared out in front of her for a moment. She then took in a deep breath. "He never had a chance." The words were just a whisper.

Hutch turned to her and saw a tear run down her cheek. "What do you mean?" Hutch asked just as quietly. His stomach twisted in a knot as he watched her face crumble.

"The paperwork was all set. There didn't seem to be any rush. But Michael…Michael died."

Hutch reached out and grabbed her right hand as she pulled a tissue from her purse with her left. "Oh my God, Alice. How?"

"He was on his way to meet with his campaign manager." Alice stood up and stepped away toward the door to the terrace. Hutch realized she didn't want Jamie to see her upset so he followed her. Alice stood staring out the window at the bright blue sky. "An 18-wheeler…the driver fell asleep at the wheel." Hutch reached and pulled the woman to him. She cried quietly into his shoulder and then pulled back. "I can't let her see me like this."

"Alice, I'm so sorry." Hutch said as his mind reeled. How could more misery be thrust upon this wonderful woman? Thoughts flew through his head as he worried about why she was here. Was she going back to her old life now that she was a widow? He wanted to ask so many questions but knew he had to take it slow.

Alice stepped away so she could keep Jamie in sight. Her back was turned toward him when she asked, "How is Starsky?"

Hutch was taken aback by the question but assumed she was trying to change the subject. His heart sank knowing he had to tell her what had happened to his partner. Alice walked to her purse and pulled out a folded newspaper article. She held it out to Hutch. It was from The Boston Globe a few weeks prior and told the story of the attack on Detective Sergeant Starsky. She knew.

"I can't believe this made the news all the way out on the east coast."

"This article said he was in critical condition. Hutch, he isn't…"

Hutch's eyes flew from the article to her face. "No, no. Alice, he's okay. He survived. I was coming from the hospital when I saw you on the street."

Alice sat down heavily on the couch and wiped her remaining tears away. "Oh thank goodness. I was so worried about you when I saw that. I just had to come."

Hutch dropped the article on the dining table and came toward her. He sat down next to her and took hold of her shoulders. "You are going through hell and you came all the way out here to see if I was okay?" He couldn't help but smile at her sweetness.

They sat together and watch Jamie play with the game pieces for a few minutes more until Hutch broke the silence. "We have a lot to talk about." When Alice nodded, he asked, "Where are you staying?"

"The Ritz-Carlton."

Hutch looked at her in shock. "At the marina?" When she nodded he added, "We do have a lot to talk about." Alice grinned like a Cheshire cat. "I didn't think councilmen made that much money," he said elbowing her playfully.

"He came from money and he also was a successful lawyer. As you can imagine, my in-laws didn't think too highly of him marrying someone like me but they didn't contest the will, thank the Lord."

"When did it happen, Alice?" Hutch asked sobering again.

"Six months, three weeks, four days."

Hutch wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Jamie stood up and handed the blue game piece to Alice with one hand and stuck the red one in her mouth with her other.

"Jamie, yuck. Don't put that in your mouth." Looking at Hutch she said, "I think she's getting hungry."

"Well, I don't have much here – I've been spending most of my spare time with Starsky. Let's go out. Where would you like to go?"

"The Pits."

Hutch drew back from her, "Seriously?" he asked, chuckling.

"Will you take me?"

"Of course. Your chariot awaits," Hutch said as he stood up.

"Hang on a sec," Alice said to Hutch as she motioned towards the bathroom. "Come on, Jamie. Let's go pee pee."

Hutch snickered as Alice shut the door of the bathroom. He flopped back down on the couch and ran his hand through his hair. 'Wait 'til Starsky hears this,' he thought to himself. He was glad that he had told his partner that he wouldn't be returning today after such a long night of eating and drinking. He wondered if Captain Dobey had a hangover. Realizing he hadn't slept since the previous day, he figured that had been the best way to avoid a hangover himself.

~ S & H ~

On the ride over to the restaurant, Hutch asked Alice how she managed to find him since he had moved and his phone and address were unlisted.

"Oh, I still have my contacts out here, Handsome Hutch. You'd be surprised what I can find out," she smiled wickedly and Hutch grinned.

"We could use you on the force then, Sweetie." Hutch instantly regretted using the term of endearment since he didn't know where he stood with her but since she was no longer someone's wife, he let it go. They rode in silence a while until he pulled to a stop at a red light. Alice held Jamie on her lap and was pointing at things out the window. She looked over at him to find him staring at her. They both smiled. Hutch reached his hand out and she took it. They sat there like that until they reached The Pits.

Hutch settled Jamie and Alice in his and Starsky's customary booth. It felt good to be there with someone he cared about even if it wasn't his best friend. Huggy came from behind the bar with an astounded look on his face.

"Well if it isn't Sweet Alice, as I live and breathe."

"Why, hi there, Huggy. I just go by plain old Alice these days. This is my daughter, Jamie."

Huggy took Alice's hand and kissed it. "There ain't nothin' plain or old about you, if you know what I'm sayin'." Hutch laughed as Alice blushed. "And hello to you, young lady," Huggy said to Jamie. Jamie held out her hand to the black bar owner and he kissed it the same way as he had her mother's. Jamie giggled and all three grown-ups laughed. "I can see she is going to be a heart breaker, just like her momma."

Alice looked over at Jamie, "Oh she is going to be a good girl, aren't ya, sweet thing?" Jamie nodded and then laughed along with the grown-ups.

"Well, I will have to catch up with you later, when it quiets down a bit. I'll send Veronica over for your orders," Huggy said with a wave. Jamie waved excitedly, yelling, "Bye bye."

"I think she likes him," Hutch teased.

"Well, what little girl doesn't like a bear?" Alice answered.

While waiting for their food, Hutch filled Alice in on what happened to Starsky and even told her about the previous night's antics. Laughing, Alice said, "Oh my, you two are still quite the pair. And how funny that Captain Dobey got in on the fun." She put her hand on Hutch's. "I'm so glad he's alright, Hutch. I really am."

Hutch put his hand over her smaller one. "Me too, Alice. I've never been so scared in my life." Hutch closed his eyes against the memories until he felt her hand squeeze his.

"After this, you can drop me at my hotel and head back to the hospital."

"Oh no, I think I better lay low after that debacle," Hutch said laughing. "Besides, I told him not to expect me until tomorrow." Hutch stifled a yawn. "I will need to get some sleep, however."

"Well, alright then. Lunch and then off to bed with you." Alice's cheeks tinged pink and Hutch smirked. "Well, I mean – well, you know what I mean." Hutch nodded but reached up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. Alice closed her eyes and shuddered slightly at the touch.

They kept Jamie occupied until their lunches arrived. Hutch smiled sweetly at the little girl as she plunked a long French fry into her ketchup and took a bite getting most of the ketchup on her face instead of in her mouth.

Hutch sipped his ice tea, then asked, "How long are you staying out here?"

Alice chewed her burger slowly before replying. "I'm not going back." Seeing Hutch's surprise, she explained. "There is nothing back there for me. The house is for sale and I've agreed to split the proceeds with Michael's brother."

Hutch smiled warmly at her. "You have a big heart, Love. What about your sister?"

Alice flushed at the use of his pet name for her. "Pam got married last fall and moved to Chicago. I know I said I wanted to see snow but I'm not that much into snow." The two friends laughed and Jamie added her own giggle to theirs which made them laugh more.

"And your mother and family back in Kentucky?"

"My mother died a few years ago. She never got to see her grandbaby. But she and I weren't close, not after what her husband did to us." Alice looked away and it was Hutch's turn to place his hand over hers. Alice looked down at it and turned her hand over to grasp his back. She looked up to find Hutch staring at her intently, his blue eyes sparkling.

"I shouldn't have left."Her words where breathless.

Hutch broke his gaze and looked down at the table. He admitted he was heartbroken when she disappeared and would have loved to have been part of her life if she had remained but he also knew that there was a lot of good that had come from her adventure to the East Coast. He looked back up at her.

"Don't say that, Alice. You found your sister – that's the most important thing. And you fell in love and married. It breaks my heart that you lost him so soon but…"

Alice waited and then asked, "But?"

"But I'm so happy to have you back," he said and she nodded. "And look at the life you have now, Miss Ritz." Alice giggled. "Who's to know what you'd be doing to support you and Jamie." Alice's brow furrowed and he added, "Waitressing doesn't pay that well." Her frown dissipated and he took both her hands in his and kissed them.

"Mama!" Jamie said pointing a ketchup-y fry at Alice, dripping it onto her arm. Alice let go of Hutch's hands with a laugh and picked up a napkin. She dipped the corner in her water glass and wiped her arm clean then went after her daughter's face. Jamie squirmed away and Alice made a game of getting the little one's face clean. Hutch enjoyed the show as he finished his salad.

~ S & H ~

Hutch pulled into the Ritz Carlton's parking lot. "May I walk you up?"

"I'd like that," Alice replied. He parked the car and pulled Alice's bag and purse from the back seat. Alice gave the door a shove and the hinges creaked loudly. "You really need to get a new car, Handsome Hutch."

Hutch feigned insult. "Hey, this is a fine automobile. I wouldn't be caught dead driving around in that striped tomato my partner drives."

"Well sure, but there is nothing wrong with having a nice car," she replied, brushing the dirt off her hands before picking up Jamie and heading toward the hotel.

Once inside Alice's room, Hutch walked around slowly admiring everything. "Swanky," he said as he dropped down on the ample sofa in the sitting area of the room.

"I'll be right out," Alice said, heading for the bathroom with Jamie.

A few minutes later, Alice came out of the bathroom followed by her daughter. "Well, thank you for the ride…" she stopped short as she saw Hutch, head back, mouth agape, sound asleep on the sofa. She laughed quietly and pulled a pillow and blanket from the closet. She put the pillow down beside his half prone body, gently easing him over until he was lying on his side. He barely stirred so she tucked the blanket around him and then smoothly pulled off his shoes. Again, Hutch hardly seemed to notice. Alice took Jamie's hand and made a "shh" gesture with her finger to her lips. "Want to go for a walk, Punkin?" Jamie nodded happily so Alice quietly closed the door behind her and headed for the lobby.

~ S & H ~

Hutch stretched his arms out and tried to roll onto his back. He realized that he wasn't in his own bed and sat up quickly. The blanket slipped from his shoulders. He looked behind him and saw Alice sitting up in bed with a novel in her hands. She smiled sweetly at him. "Alice. What time is it?"

"It's about 8:30."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I guess I dozed off," he smirked.

"That's okay, Sugar."

Hutch stood up and stretched. He looked down and saw his shoes neatly placed beside the sofa. He picked up the blanket and began to fold it. "You have enough to take care of without tucking me in." He looked around the room. "Where is Jamie?"

"She asleep in there," Alice answered, pointing towards a partially-opened door across from the bed. Hutch peeked in and saw a crib set up next to a full-size bed.

"I didn't even notice this before."

"Well, I'm not surprised," Alice drawled. "You were out like a light before your heels had even cooled."

Hutch laughed self-consciously. Alice patted a spot beside her. Hutch looked lovingly at her as he sat down on the bed. She was dressed in blue yoga pants and a bright yellow short sleeved sweater. He tipped his head to better see the title of her book.

"'Evergreen' by Belva Plain."

"I just finished it. It is about a Jewish immigrant woman but I see myself in this story. She goes to her husband's employer to ask for a loan for him to start a business. She is lured upstairs and nine months later she has the employer's daughter. Her husband does well with the loan and she becomes quite affluent. The little girl grows up and marries well and never knows who her true father is."

Hutch's heart skipped a beat thinking about how Jamie came into the world. He turned the book over and read the dust jacket. "This is set in New York City." Alice noded. "This could be one of Starsky's relatives." They both laughed and then Hutch grew more serious. Taking her hand, he stroked the back of it gently. "Alice, I'm so sorry you had to go through what you did but I'm also so happy for you now. Jamie is a beautiful little girl." Hutch looked up from staring at her long fingers and manicured nails to see her big blue eyes brimming with tears.

"I love her so much, Hutch."

Pulling himself closer to her, he reached out and wiped away the tears that begin to spill. "I can see that. She's lucky to have you."

Alice nodded and sniffled. Leaning down, she kissed Hutch softly on the lips. Hutch let go of her hand and wrapped her in his arms. His heart beat hard in his chest and he closed his eyes as he finally had her where he had always wanted her to be. He leaned down for another kiss, this one more passionate than the first. Lifting his head and staring into her eyes, Hutch pulled away slightly. "I should go."

Alice wrapped a hand around his wrist and said the words he only dreamed of hearing, "Please stay."

~ S& H ~

Hutch ran into Metro just in time to make a 9 AM meeting with Dobey. He then spent the rest of the morning following up on a few leads on the case he had been assisting two other detectives with. At 11:45, he grabbed his long-sleeved shirt, slipped it on and headed to the hospital.

As Hutch came into Starsky's room, he found his partner making a face at the plate of food in front of him as he poked at a gelatinous substance. Without looking up, Starsky asked, "What is this stuff?" The nurse beside him rolled the BP cuff up and tucked it in her cart.

"Just eat it, David." She winked at Hutch as she passed by.

Hutch stuck his hands in his pockets and watched his partner take a tentative bite.

"Blech. I can't believe they think this shit will actually help me heal." Starsky finally looked up to see Hutch beaming at him. "Well, you don't have to look so happy. I'm sufferin' over here."

Hutch came closer and pulled his usual chair close to Starsky. "I'm sorry, Buddy. Can't help but smile when I see you alive and complaining."

Starsky stuck another mouthful of the mystery food into his mouth and studied Hutch. "That's not what you are smiling about," he said eyeing Hutch closely.

"Whatya mean?" Hutch said as he tried hard not to flush red.

"Hmm," Starsky said through a mouthful of food. "You look a little too happy today. It's Monday, for crying out loud. And I don't know about you, but I'm still hung over from Saturday night." Hutch shrugged non-committedly but Starsky continued to interrogate his friend. "Come on, you've been gone for just over 24 hours, what could possibly have happened in that short time? Ah, wait a minute. Did you get some?" Hutch's eyebrows slid up his forehead as he tried to appear innocent. "But, it is more than just a spring in your step."

"Starsky, you didn't even watch me walk in so you don't know what you are talking about."

Starsky watched Hutch through narrowed eyes for a moment more then seemed to forget the topic of conversation altogether as he blurted out. "Guess what!"

"What?" Hutch chuckled as Starsky's brain jumped from one track to another as quickly as he u-turned his beloved Torino.

"I'm getting sprung from here – finally!"

"Starsk, that's fantastic," Hutch said leaning over and slapping his best friend on the leg. "When?"

"Wednesday," Starsky said, happily taking a bite of the green beans on his plate. He stopped and grimaced. "Aw, that's terrible," he said choking down the food. "First stop when I get outta here: The Pits."

"That's a deal, Partner." Hutch leaned back and grinned. Alice was back in his life and his best friend was going home. 'At this moment, life is sweet,' he thought.

The two friends talked about nothing much until Hutch stood up to return to Metro. "I'll be back to see you tomorrow and I'll tell Dobey to take me off the roster Wednesday so I can take you to my place."

Starsky got his usual petulant child's expression. "I don't wanna go to your place. I wanna go home."

"Starsky, after what you've been through, I can't just drop you off at your house and drive off."

"I'm fine. If I wasn't fine, they wouldn't release me. I'm goin' home." Once Starsky crossed his arms over his chest, Hutch figured the argument was over.

"Well, alright but you know I'll be over every day."

Starsky uncrossed his arms and grinned. "Wouldn't have it any other way, Partner."

Hutch gave Starsky's leg a pat. "See ya tomorrow, Buddy. Call me if you need anything."

~ S & H ~

Hutch called Alice as soon as he got back to his desk. He needed to stock Starsky's kitchen and make sure the place was in order for his return home. "I know it sounds dull, but would you want to join me?"

"I sure would, Sugar."

Hutch smiled into the phone. "Okay, I'll pick you up at 6. We can grab a bite to eat too. I didn't tell Starsky you were back. I think it would be nice to surprise him, what do you think?"

"That sounds great."

After saying goodbye, Hutch headed into the file room and noticed that he did indeed have a spring in his step.

~ S & H ~

Wednesday came and Hutch arrived at the hospital to find Starsky pacing his room like a caged animal. "There you are, finally. For crying out loud, I've had my release papers for almost an hour." He snatched the bag of clothes from Hutch's hand and tore off the pajamas he was wearing. "I was about to walk out of here in these," he said as he tossed the offending bed clothes onto a chair.

"Starsky, it's called 'discharge papers,' not 'release papers.' You weren't in prison." Starsky shot his friend a look. "Yeah, well, I guess that is up to debate. And I've seen you walk out of this very hospital in less than this," Hutch picked up the discarded pajamas and began folding them.

"Leave those there – or burn them," Starsky said stepping into the jogging pants Hutch had brought.

"Hey, I bought these for you."

Starsky screwed up his face in distaste but relented. "Fine, bring them along. But I hope to never need them. You know I don't wear nothin' like that at home."

Hutch scanned the room, picking up Starsky's other belongings and tossing them into the same bag. "I think that's it. You ready, Starsk?"

"Are you kidding me? I was ready three weeks ago." As Starsky reached for the door, a nurse came in pushing a wheel chair. Expecting an argument, she placed her hands on her hips.

"Sit."

Starsky spun around and gave Hutch his best 'help me' look but Hutch just pointed a finger at him. "You know the rules and the faster you sit down in that thing, the faster I can get you home."

Sighing loudly, Starsky plunked himself in the seat. Hutch grabbed the paper bag of belongings and held the door open for the nurse to push Starsky out into the hall. Nurses, orderlies and residents said their goodbyes. Hutch was sure there would be a few 'thank goodness that one is gone' comments as soon as the elevator doors closed. Starsky was not always the best behaved patient – never had been.

As they left the building, Starsky spotted Liz who had been his primary nurse those first terrible days in the hospital. She came running up to them.

"I'm so glad I got to see you before you left, Sergeant Starsky. Hello, Sergeant Hutchinson."

Starsky accepted the kiss on the cheek she gave him. "Liz, we told you to call us Dave and Ken."

Liz shook her head. "No, that's just not right. You are important detectives and you should be respected."

Hutch held out his arms. "One last hug, Liz?"

"Only if you promise my feet will stay on the ground this time."

Once at Starsky's place, Hutch hovered behind him as he climbed the stairs. He could see the excitement of the day had taken its toll on his best pal and knew Starsky would be asleep before long. He hadn't even been able to finish the burrito he ordered at The Pits so Huggy wrapped it up for him to take home.

"You okay, Starsk? Are you out of breath or in pain?"

"A little of both," Starsky said breathlessly but still wore a smile as he reached the top of the stairs. Hutch knew his partner had lost a lot of lung capacity because of the trauma to his chest. He had been pushing him to do his breathing exercises while he was in the hospital and would continue to make sure he worked his lungs. The staircase would be a good performance indicator to see how his 'patient' was progressing.

Starsky took a minute to walk around and check on his house plants, look in the fridge and just enjoy the feeling of being back at home. "Place looks great." He yawned loudly.

"Come on, Starsk. In bed."

"Oh, you buy a guy a burrito and suddenly he owes you somethin'?" Starsky joked.

Once Hutch heard Starsky snoring, he locked up and headed to the Ritz to meet Alice.

~ S & H ~

"Wow, Alice, that's fantastic," Hutch said as he kissed Alice on the forehead. "Congratulations. I can't believe you made an offer on a house that fast."

"It was only the second one I looked at but it was just what I pictured myself in."

"Does it have a white picket fence?" Hutch asked and Alice's mouth gaped open in shock.

"How did you know that?"

Laughing, Hutch took her in his arms. "I just know how you think." He kissed her and breathed in her scent. She had always smelled wonderful but these days there was a little more class in the perfumes and shampoos she chose. Looking around the room he crooned into her ear. "Where is Jamie?"

Alice pulled him toward the bed. "Napping." Hutch allowed himself to be tugged along and they both fell onto the bed laughing.

~ S&H ~

Later that afternoon, Hutch called Starsky to check up on him. He sounded well rested.

"I'm coming by in a little while, are you up for some company? I have someone with me."

"Oh really?" Starsky replied, intrigued. "Sure, stop by anytime."

Hutch hung up the phone. "You ready to go?"

"Let me just grab a few of her toys to bring along."

"No need, Starsky has a closet full."

"Oh, from his nieces and nephews?"

"Nope," Hutch answered with a roll of his eyes. Alice smirked. "Jamie, let's go for a ride in my car, okay?" Hutch stooped down and put out his arms.

"Otay!" the little girl answered and ran to throw her arms around his neck. Hutch picked her up and looked over at Alice smiling.

"My my, would you look at that. Jamie, do you like Hutch?" Alice asked tickling her daughter under the chin.

Jamie leaned back to look up at Hutch. She patted him on the cheek. "Hush nice."

"Well, that answers that," Alice laughed as she headed out the door.

Hutch carried Jamie up the stairs at Starsky's place. He put her down near Alice and knocked on the door then stuck his head in when he heard Starsky call out to come in.

"Hey there, Partner."

"Hey, Blondie. Come on in."

Hutch stepped aside and Alice walked into the room holding Jamie's hand. Starsky, who had been sprawled on the couch reading the paper, dropped what he was doing and got up.

"Alice?"

"Yeah, it's me but you sit back down, Starsky."

"Well okay, but only because I may fall down from shock." Starsky looked over Alice's head to see Hutch beaming. "So this is what had my partner grinning from ear to ear."

"Starsky, this is my daughter, Jamie. Jamie this is Starsky."

"Stars?" Jamie asked as she wrapped her arms around Alice's leg.

"Close," Starsky chuckled as he sat back down on the couch. "Hutch said he was bringing company but I never expected such a beautiful pair of ladies. Look at those red curls. What a heart breaker she'll be."

"That's pretty much what Huggy said," Hutch replied, sitting down next to Starsky on the couch as Alice sat across from them.

"Aw, Huggy knew you were here and didn't say anything?"

"I asked him not to. Wanted to surprise you," Hutch said, winking.

"Well, you sure did."

After Hutch pulled some toys from Starsky's stash to keep Jamie occupied, the three friends caught up. Hearing about the death of Michael Riley saddened Starsky but he relaxed a bit. He had worried that Hutch's heart wasn't going to survive a brief visit from Alice. Finding out she was going to stay in town gave him mixed feelings. He hoped Hutch wasn't setting himself up for heartbreak. He'd had enough of that.

When Starsky got back from the bathroom he found his spot on the couch had been taken by both Jamie and Alice. He sat across from them in the arm chair and felt like he had been forgotten. Jamie dozed in her mother's arms and Hutch and Alice were cheek to cheek looking down at the toddler. Eventually, when Jamie was asleep, Alice laid her down on the couch and looked up at Starsky.

"Oh my, I'm so sorry, Starsky. We just plum took your spot."

Starsky grinned a toothy smile. "That's okay, Alice. I'm enjoying the view from here." He glanced at Hutch who smiled back at him. 'Yup, he is in love.' Starsky thought to himself.

It wasn't long before Starsky was dozing in his chair so Hutch and Alice decided to leave. Hutch helped his groggy friend into bed. "'Night, Alice," Starsky called back.

"Goodnight, Starsky," Alice chimed after him.

Hutch came out of Starsky's room and went to scoop Jamie in his arms. "What are you two going to do the next two days? I have to work." Hutch pouted as they headed down the stairs to his car.

"I'm hoping to hear from the realtor about my offer. I may be looking at more houses if it doesn't go through. I may also look for a short-term apartment. The Ritz is no place for a little girl, as nice as it is."

Hutch laid Jamie on the back seat of his car. He came around to open Alice's door but before she could sit down he leaned against her. "Stay with me."

"What? Oh, Handsome Hutch…"

"Please think about it, Love. It will just be until you close on a place and move in. Please?" He stood back so Alice could get in the car. Giving her a peck on the cheek, he shut the door. Climbing in beside her he just smiled but didn't bring the subject up again. He could tell Alice was thinking about his offer and his heart soared.

~ S&H ~

Alice called Hutch mid-morning the next day to tell him that her offer had been accepted. He told her they would go out and celebrate.

"Only if Starsky is up to it and can come along."

Hutch grinned into the phone. "We can both bring our kids along, right?"

Alice giggled. "I don't want to exclude him. I know how close you two are and I don't want to get between that. Especially after all he's been through.

A detective came over to look through a stack of files next to Hutch so he turned away and cupped his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. "Do you know how wonderful you are?"

"Oh, hush now," Alice said with a lilt in her voice. "I just want to hold you, I don't want to hold you down."

Hutch closed his eyes and was glad his back was to the room now as his face lit up with a smile. "I can't wait to see you tonight."

"Back at ya."

~ S&H ~

"Now, are you sure you are up to this?" Hutch asked, tossing Starsky a pair of jeans and a button down shirt.

"Come on, Hutch, we are just going to The Pits. Cut me some slack, would ya?"

"I just don't want you to overdo it." Hutch heard a mumble from Starsky and turned. "What?"

"Nuthin'"

"No, what did you say?"

Starsky sat down on the edge of his bed and pulled on the jeans Hutch had given him. "I said, I don't want you to overdo it."

Hutch turned to face his friend. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Starsky blew out an exasperated breath. "Never mind." He could see that Hutch wasn't going to let this go. "Just be careful, would ya?" Hutch stood looking at him, not quite understanding what Starsky was getting at. "I don't want ya to get hurt. Not again." Hutch put his hands on his hips and turned away. "Forget it; forget I said anything, okay?" Starsky said, trying to brighten the suddenly somber mood.

Hutch rubbed his eyes and then turned back. "No, its okay, Starsk. I know that you are just looking out for me."

Starsky relaxed a bit as he pulled off his t-shirt. Hutch winced as he saw the jagged scars across his best friend's chest. Starsky slipped on the shirt and started to button it. Hutch stepped forward and helped him. Starsky let his hands drop and smiled, letting Hutch finish. "Can I at least tuck in my own shirt? Do you mind?" Starsky said with a laugh and Hutch smiled as he realized what he'd just done.

"Oh yeah, sorry."

Starsky tucked in the shirt and then ran his hands through his hair as he looked in the mirror. He watched Hutch's reflection and saw the worry he had caused. Turning around he lit up with his famous grin. "Come on, let's go pick up those lovely ladies, shall we?"

~ S & H ~

Huggy welcomed the foursome with a flourish. "Welcome to The Pits, owned and operated by none other than Yours Truly. May I show you to your table?"

Alice tucked her arm into Hutch's crooked elbow as Starsky picked up Jamie. Huggy led them to a quiet corner table that he had spread with a white table cloth complete with lit candles.

"Huggy Bear, you sure know how to make a lady feel important," Alice said as she sat down. Huggy kissed her hand, took her napkin and spread it on her lap.

"It is not every day a good friend of mine becomes a home owner. Congratulations."

Starsky sat Jamie down on her booster seat and slid the candle away from her reach then sat down across from her. He pulled two pieces of paper and a small pack of crayons from his jacket pocket and showed them to Alice who smiled and patted his arm. "Thank you for joining us, Starsky."

"Thank you for inviting me, Alice," Starsky said reaching over to lay one piece of paper in front of Jamie. He then gave her two of the crayons.

"Starsk, what's the other piece of paper for?" Hutch asked, winking over at Alice.

Starsky pulled a green crayon from the pack and smoothed the paper out before him. "Whatya think it's for, Blondie?" He said, as he began to draw a tree.

Alice laughed and reached her hand across the table. Hutch pulled his hand away and picked up his napkin. He placed it on his lap and smoothed it, not meeting Alice's eyes.

Once dinner was over, Starsky asked to switch places with Alice so he could sit next to Jamie. He could see the little girl was getting antsy after sitting still so long and wanted to keep her occupied. Alice sat down in Starsky's vacated chair and wrapped her hands around Hutch's forearm. Hutch cleared his throat and excused himself. Alice sat back, bewildered.

Huggy delivered an ice cream sundae to Jamie who instantly picked up her spoon and dove in, laughing. "You're welcome," Huggy said.

"Welcome." Jamie repeated through a mouthful of whipped cream.

Starsky took the chance to lean over towards Alice. "I'm sorry, Alice. I'm afraid my blond partner is acting the way he is because of me."

Alice's brow furrowed. "What do you mean, Honey?"

"Ya see, we were talking before and I told him I didn't want him to get hurt…" Alice thought for a minute and then nodded. "Its nuthin' against you. Its just…he's been through a lot. And he has a habit of jumping in with both feet, no life preserver…you know what I mean?" Starsky gave a meek smile.

"He's told me about the last few years, about Gillian and Vanessa," Alice said and Starsky nodded, glad she knew.

"Its nuthin' against you." Starsky repeated and took Alice's hand.

"I know, Starsky. I know you care about him like he's part of you. I don't want to hurt him. But I'd like a chance to make him happy, if you'll let me."

Starsky smiled and patted Alice's hand that rested on top of his. Seeing Hutch emerge from the men's room, Starsky pulled his hand away and winked at Alice. She nodded and winked back.

"Welcome back, Partner. Hey, I was just thinking – yeah, I know what you are going to say…you don't want me to hurt myself doing that." Starsky chuckled and Hutch gave a weak smile. "Anyway, you two need to go out - just the two of you. Why don't you let me babysit little Jamie here tomorrow night? Its Friday tomorrow and you can stay out late since it ain't a 'school night.' Whatya say?"

Both Hutch and Alice shook their heads and Hutch was the first to speak. "Starsky, we appreciate it but I don't think you are up to babysitting a two-year old just yet. This is your first night out since you got out of the hospital." Starsky started to protest but Alice spoke up.

"Starsky, that's very sweet, but Hutch is right. Jamie is a good girl but I just wouldn't feel right leaving her with you."

"Well, what about if we double team her?" Huggy's voice came from nearby. He stepped up to the table.

"What?" Hutch asked.

"Starsky is right, you two lovebirds needs some alone time so I'll come over to Starsky's house tomorrow night and help him watch Jamie."

"Huggy, that's a Friday night. You can't be away from this place," Hutch said, concerned.

"Hell, I have been in this business long enough to be able to run it from down the road. And there is something called a phone, you know."

Alice looked over at Hutch with an expectant look. Hutch thought about it for a while and then replied, "Okay then, you've got yourself a deal."

~ S & H ~

Hutch and Alice arrived at Starsky's place with little Jamie in tow. Huggy had already arrived and was sitting on the couch drinking a soda. Alice handed Starsky a bag that contained Jamie's dinner, toys and pajamas.

"I can't thank you two enough for doing this for us."

Both Starsky and Huggy made a 'pfft' sound and Starsky said, "Hey, this is all about me. I can't wait to hang out with Jamie for the evening, right Jamie?" He held up his hand and Jamie gave him a high five.

Hutch looked over at Alice. "When did he teach her that?"

"Ya got me, Sugar," Alice replied and Huggy chuckled.

"Where are you too dining tonight?" Huggy asked.

"I made reservations at The Top of the Bay," Hutch replied and Alice raised her eyebrow at him then leaned over and gave him a kiss.

"Excellent. Don't worry about us then. We will have a good time and as soon as Jamie is sound asleep, I'll head out. I think Starsky here can manage her once she's out cold."

"Great, Hug, thanks again," Hutch replied, wrapping his arm around Alice's waist and maneuvering her out the door. "We'll call in a little while to check in." Alice blew Jamie a kiss and followed Hutch out the door.

After being seated and placing their order, Alice leaned back and relaxed. "Look at that view." The moon was out and in the distance storm clouds brewed. Lightening could be seen streaking across the sky over the water.

Hutch, never taking his eyes off Alice, replied, "It is gorgeous, I agree."

Alice looked back at him and realizing what he was saying blushed slightly. "Handsome Hutch, you always could make me feel special."

"That's because you are special."

Hutch leaned back as the waiter came with a bottle of wine and served them both. After he left, Hutch picked up his glass and held it high. "Here's to your new beginning."

Alice picked up her glass, the crystal clinked lightly against his. "To new beginnings," Alice replied.

They each drank a sip and placed the glasses down on the table. Hutch reached across the small table and grasped Alice's hand in his. They stared into each other's eyes for a few moments.

"I love you, Alice," Hutch said as he brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it tenderly. He looked back at her to see her eyes shining in the candlelight.

"I love you too."

Dinner arrived and the couple chatted as they ate.

"You know, Hutch, I noticed at The Pits yesterday that you were a little 'off.'" Alice put her fork down and wiped her mouth.

"I…I'm sorry. It's just that…well…" Hutch looked down at his plate as he fumbled with the words.

"He loves you," Alice said and Hutch looked up at her surprised. "I understand why he is worried about you but don't pull away when he's there. I love you and I won't hurt you…again."

Hutch dropped his fork and reached for her hand. "I know that, Alice."

"And he will too. Just give it time."

Hutch shook his head and stroked Alice's cheek before picking up his fork again. "You are amazing."

"So are you."

"Hey, are you up for dessert? Let's go all out tonight." Hutch smiled. "You ask for the dessert cart while I go call Starsky. Order me something decadent."

"Okay, Sugar," Alice said, grinning.

Hutch returned a few minutes later. "They had a great night and Jamie is asleep. Huggy was just leaving."

"And Starsky is okay?"

"He sounds fantastic, actually."

Hutch and Alice enjoyed their dessert and finished the bottle of wine. They were in no hurry knowing that Starsky and Jamie were probably both asleep by now. Hutch asked the waiter for the check.

"It has been taken care of," the man replied.

"What do you mean?" Hutch asked, confused.

"All I know is that someone has already made arrangements to pay your bill for tonight." The man bowed and left the table.

"Well, I'll be," Hutch said and Alice nodded in amazement. "Starsky most likely, although Huggy may be in on this too."

"I'm feeling a little guilty for ordering dessert."

Hutch laughed, "Don't." He stood up and reached for her hand.

They left the restaurant arm and arm. When they reached the street the rain had begun to pour down. Thunder claps made them both jumped and they laughed. Hutch tipped the valet attendant who handed him the Ford's keys. Hutch seemed to sense an attitude from the attendant but he brushed it off and helped Alice into the car. It took a few slams of the door for it to finally shut. When Hutch went around and opened the driver's side door, the horn blared. Hutch looked up at the attendant who rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Hey, it's a classic," Hutch replied, chuckling.

Once on the road, Hutch drove slowly turning his wipers up to full. "Man, it's really coming down. I hope the thunder doesn't wake up Jamie."

"Once she's asleep, she's out cold. I wouldn't worry about it."

The ride took fifteen minutes longer than usual because of the rain and traffic but Hutch finally pulled up in front of Starsky's place. He heard Alice gasp.

"Oh my God, Hutch, fire. Jamie!"

Hutch looked up to see flames coming from Starsky's kitchen window. He and Alice were out of the car and running for the stairs. He grabbed onto Alice and stopped her at the bottom of the steps. "No, Alice, I'll get her. Run to the downstairs neighbor and call the fire department. Go!"

Hutch took the stairs two at a time and tried the door. It was locked. He yanked the key chain from his pocket that held Starsky's spare front door key and quickly unlocked the door. He felt something on the other side of the door that kept him from pushing it open. His stomach jumped at the thought.

"Starsky!" He yelled as he leaned his weight against the door, finally opening it enough to slide inside. He heard something at his feet. The room lights were out and it was quickly filling with smoke from the kitchen. Hutch felt around at his feet. He heard a cough and a small sound. His hands finally landed on the small soft form of Jamie. There was a wet towel over her face. Scooping her up and placing the towel back over the baby's nose and mouth, he reached out and grabbed onto Starsky's arm. He could hear his friend wheezing and knew the smoke had overcome Starsky's already taxed lungs.

"I'll be back for you, Buddy," Hutch said as he stepped out into the fresh air and ran down the steps.

"Oh, Jamie!" Alice screamed as she watched Hutch approach her.

"Take her, I think she's okay."

Hutch turned back to see the black smoke now pouring out the open front door. He could hear sirens approaching but knew he needed to get Starsky out of that house. He was at the top of the stairway in an instant and ducked down. He crawled into the dark, smoke filled room feeling around on the floor until he again felt Starsky's arm. His heart almost stopped as he realized he could no longer hear Starsky's wheezing breath. Coughing loudly, Hutch pulled his best friend into a sitting position and then threw him over his shoulder. Standing up caused him to be engulfed with the vile black smoke and he choked. He pulled the door open and stepped out onto the stairway. He grabbed onto the railing as his head swam from lack of oxygen. He could hear Alice screaming his name from below and followed her voice. When he at last felt solid earth beneath his feet, he gently laid Starsky onto the ground.

"Is he breathing?" Alice asked, her voice shaking.

Hutch put his hand on Starsky's chest and then leaned over him. There was no sign of life. Hutch began CPR as he heard Alice sobbing above him. The only thing that gave him hope was the healthy sounds of Jamie's own cries.

Hutch was so intent on giving his partner and best friend life sustaining breaths that he didn't notice the paramedics arrive.

"Step aside, sir." A male voice said near him.

"He's not breathing!" Hutch yelled out and continued to breathe for his friend.

"Step aside, we will take care of him. Please, sir."

Hutch felt someone pull him up and away from Starsky. He stumbled back into the arms of Alice. He looked around and saw that another paramedic had taken Jamie from her and was making sure she was okay. Her face was streaked with soot but she was crying and trying to get back to her mother.

"Go, Alice. Sit with her so they can check her over," Hutch said, looking back to the prone figure on the ground. 'Please, Starsk, please be okay.'

"Spontaneous breath sounds. He's coming around," Hutch heard the paramedic say as Starsky began to cough roughly.

Hutch's legs went out from under him and he knelt down next to Starsky who opened his eyes and looked up at Hutch. "You made it."

Overcome with coughing, Starsky could only reach out and grab onto Hutch's hand. He nodded and managed a crooked smile.

~ S & H ~

"Well it is a good thing I didn't move in with you. He's going to need a place to stay."

"Hush sad?"

"Yes, Sweetie Pie. Hutch is sad."

Starsky opened his eyes slowly to see Hutch and Alice standing on the far side of the room. Jamie was sitting on the floor playing with a toy fire truck. "Don't be sad," he croaked out. He grimaced at the burnt taste inside his mouth.

Hutch was at his side in an instant. "Hey, Starsk. You're awake." Hutch picked up a cup of ice water and held the straw to Starsky's lips.

After taking a few good mouthfuls, Starsky laid his head back on the pillow. "Yeah, and I intend to stay that way." He looked over at Alice who was now at the other side of his bed holding Jamie in her arms. "Is she okay?"

"Starsky, you saved her life," Hutch answered when Alice's eyes filled up with tears and all she could do was nod. "You got that wet cloth and almost had her out the door. If it wasn't for your lungs already compromised, you would have made it out."

"Thank God we came back when we did," Alice said, finally finding her voice. She leaned over and kissed Starsky's forehead. "Can you say thank you to Starsky for saving you, Little One?"

"Thanks, Stars." Jamie held out her arms and Alice leaned over so the little girl could wrap her arms around Starsky's neck.

After a few minutes, Alice picked Jamie up. "I'm going to head back to the hotel. This little one needs her sleep. It has been a big day. I'll be back to see you tomorrow, Sugar." Starsky nodded and after kissing Hutch, Alice left the room.

Starsky pulled at the nasal cannula that snaked under his nose.

"Uh uh, leave it, Starsk."

"It itches."

"Too bad, you need all the oxygen you can get, Buddy."

Silence fell between the friends and Hutch put his hand on his partners arm. "Once again, you scared the hell out of me."

"Hey, I'm fine," Starsky wheezed then looked contrite. "Well, almost fine. What the hell caused it, anyway?

Hutch let go of Starsky's arm and run both hands through his hair. He walked to the window and looked out at the driving rain. "Fire chief said it was a lightning strike. The fire started in the kitchen."

"My place is a wreck then, huh?"

"Fraid so," Hutch said, continuing to stare out the window

"Aw, you're just happy that I get to go home with you now," Starsky whined and Hutch let out a small laugh.

"Starsk, what do you think about retiring."

"From the force?"

Hutch turned to face his friend now. "Yes."

"Where did this come from, Blondie?"

"It's been on my mind for a while – every since you were shot."

"Which time?" Starsky said but the joke fell flat and Hutch didn't react. "Sorry," Starsky mumbled.

"I'm serious, Starsky."

"I know you are."

"So?"

"What the hell would we do?"

"Well, what about private detectives?"

"What?"

"Sure, why not. When we quit the force a few months ago, we were a pretty good team out on our own. We already have the pieces that we bought after we turned in our guns. Dobey would be on our side and we will always have Huggy."

Starsky contemplated the idea. "Starsky and Hutch, Private Eyes."

"I was thinking Hutch and Starsky Detective Agency."

"Oh, please."

"Yeah, you're right," Hutch said with a sad smile as he pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down.

"We'd be stirring up more hornets nests and not listening to what anyone says."

"True," Hutch said, nodding.

"What's the difference between doing that as cops and doing that as private detectives?"

Hutch hung his head for a moment then looked back up. "Then let's do something completely different. Heck, we could be florists. You and me."

Starsky grinned at his friend as he reached out a hand. Hutch took it.

"Look, Buddy, we are good at what we do. Some day we may not be able to do it and then we can think about what the next chapter is." He waited as Hutch absorbed what he had said. "I don't wanna quit now because if I do, then Gunther wins. They all win – all those lousy creeps that want us off the streets."

"I'm just looking at my life here – I'm trying to get one thing right."

A nurse came in. "Sergeant Hutchinson, it's late."

Hutch held up a hand impatiently. "Yeah, yeah – in a minute." He then softened. "I'm sorry. Just a few minutes more." The nurse smiled, nodded and left the room. "I gotta get going, Starsk."

"I know. We okay?"

Hutch grabbed onto Starsky's wrist and held tight. "Yeah, we are okay."

"Me and Thee."

Hutch nodded and picked up his jacket and turned toward the door.

"Hey," Starsky said from behind him. He turned.

"Yeah?"

"She always said she'd go straight and get ya." Hutch's cheeks tinged pink and he chuckled.

"That she did." After a moment Hutch looked back at Starsky. "I love her, Starsk."

"I know you do. And I couldn't be happier for you."

"Really?"

"Honest."

The two friends shared a look that spoke volumes then Hutch saluted at Starsky and headed home.

The End