I Love You, But

Hutch pulled his Firebird into a parking spot, leaned back and rubbed his tired eyes. Starsky, in the meantime, was humming some annoying tune and was full of energy.

"What is that you keep humming, Starsk?" Hutch asked with a yawn.

"Haven't you seen 'Chariots of Fire,' Hutch?" after seeing Hutch shake his head in the negative, Starsky continued. "Well, only people who live in caves or have little kids like you haven't seen it. Great movie. Hey, what are we doing here?" Starsky craned his neck to look up at the courthouse.

Hutch opened his car door and got out. He leaned down to smile at Starsky. "I'm picking up the final adoption papers. Wait right here, I won't be long."

Starsky immediately jumped out of the car causing Hutch to roll his eyes and laugh. "That's t'rrific, Pal. Boy, you didn't waste any time."

"Well, I didn't want to wait seeing what happened with Alice's first husband. I want Jamie to have a proper father in her life."

"And you being in this line of work…" Starsky's sentence trailed off when he saw the look of disgust Hutch flashed him. "Hey, come on, Hutch. Ya can't deny, we have a dangerous job. You gotta be sure you sign those papers before…"

"Starsky!"

"What?"

"Don't you let Alice hear you talk like that," Hutch admonished. Starsky simply smiled, grabbed Hutch by the arm and pulled him up the steps into the courthouse. Hutch allowed himself to be dragged along, all the while hiding a smile. It had been three weeks since the wedding on Christmas Eve and Starsky's mood was still bubbling and happy. Hutch hoped it continued this way. He didn't want to see the gloomy, depressed Starsky again.

"Hey, after this can we stop at the The Pits for lunch?"

"Sure, Starsk. My treat."

"Your treat? That's the second time this week you've offered to pay, Mr. Moneybags."

"Well, you know what they say," Hutch said with a grin. "Two can live as cheaply as one."

"Oh, is that what they say?" Starsky asked, his smile mirroring his partner's. "Well, I'll take you up on that offer."

~ S&H ~

Hutch pushed his plate away and finished the last of his drink.

"What did you say you were drinking?" Starsky asked as he slurped at his soda through a straw.

"Sweet tea," Hutch replied. "Alice has me hooked on the stuff."

Starsky puckered his face up. "I'll stick to soda and as soon as 6 o'clock strikes, give me a beer."

"Don't knock it 'til you try it, Partner. Are you coming to dinner tonight?"

"Nope," Starsky answered simply and started to wiggle in that familiar too-much-to-drink way.

"Oh? Why not?"

"I'm busy tonight. Maybe tomorrow."

Hutch studied his friend and tried to decide if he was being evasive or not. He pointed towards the back of the restaurant.

"What?"

"Go pee, Starsk."

"How do you…"

"You're dancing over there. We've worked together for over nine years; I know when you have to go and as soon as we get in the car you'll be whining to pull over." Starsky made a disgusted face at his best friend but slid out of the booth. "We still have a long day ahead of us, buddy boy." Hutch saw Starsky stick his tongue out just as he disappeared into the men's room.

Huggy sauntered over and sat down across from Hutch. "How you doing and how's married life?"

"Wonderful, Huggy. Never been happier."

"I can see that," Huggy said nodding. "And your partner there seems much more chipper since he got back from New York. Could you have predicted you and Alice getting married would snap him out of his funk so easily?"

"I'm not entirely sure that's the only reason, Hug."

"Oh?" Huggy asked, intrigued.

"Has he been around here lately – without me, I mean."

"Come to think of it, no."

"Well, he hasn't been at my place. And he disappears from his house around dinnertime most nights. Shows back up – alone – around midnight."

"Well, he is either out on dates or is carrying a second job."

Hutch's eye brow crawled up his forehead momentarily. "He would tell me if he was working somewhere."

Huggy laughed at the worry on Hutch's face. "Please, Hutch. Would Starsky ever want to work more than he already does?" Hutch relaxed and joined Huggy in a laugh.

"What are you two laughin' at?" Starsky said, returning from the men's room.

"You," Hutch replied getting up from his seat and pulling out his wallet. He paid the bill and slid the money toward the bar owner. "Thanks, Huggy. See ya later."

Huggy counted the money as he snickered at the partners' banter.

"What's so funny 'bout me?"

"Your face, for one."

"Huh?"

"Nothing."

~ S&H ~

"Man, that was rough," Starsky said as Hutch drove them home that night. "I thought that lowlife would never crack."

Hutch yawned. "Me too. Or maybe we are losing our touch."

Starsky scoffed, "What? Us? Nah. We are still the best at interrogating. Just ask Dobey."

"Yeah," Hutch mocked, "I'll make a point of asking him tomorrow. Oh hey, are you in a rush? I want to stop and check out this new book store for a minute." Before Starsky could reply, Hutch found a spot out front and jumped out of the car.

"By all means," Starsky said sarcastically and got out of the car to follow his partner into the store.

Hutch was already skimming along the rows of old books when Starsky entered. The bell over the door tinkled and the older gentleman behind the counter welcomed Starsky. With a nod Starsky started to roam the store. He had his hands clasped behind him as he reached the counter. There was a small, very old book in the case in front of him. Starsky leaned over and tried to make out the name on the cover.

"Interesting, isn't it?" The gentleman said.

"It is. That leather is odd, crinkly," Starsky said leaning down to get a closer look.

"Well, it's not cow leather," the man replied. Starsky looked up and saw a very creepy grin on the man's face.

"Oh?" Starsky asked and looked back down at the book. By now Hutch had heard the exchange and was coming to join Starsky at the display.

"Why no, it is covered in human skin," the man said calmly.

"What?" Starsky jumped back from the display, colliding into Hutch who luckily had his wits about him enough to stop Starsky's backward momentum just in time to keep him from knocking over a shelf full of reading lamps.

"Be careful, please!" The shop owner exclaimed.

"I'm sorry," Hutch said to the man as he grabbed onto Starsky's flailing arms. "Starsk, would you calm down."

"He's selling human skin-covered books, Hutch."

"Oh no, I assure you this book is not for sale. It is most likely one of only a few on this coast. It is my prized possession."

"That's disgusting," Starsky said and turned toward the door. "Let's get out of here, Hutch."

"Wait a minute, Starsk, I haven't had a chance to look around. We just got here."

"But…" Starsky grimaced and gestured back at the display case.

"Starsky, it was a common practice to use cadaver skin to cover books back in…"

"I don't want to know. Just stop, please."

"Fine. Could you give me a few minutes," Hutch said, finally letting go of Starsky's arms after the man gave one last shudder.

"Perhaps, you'd be more comfortable in the back, sir. I have recent publishings back there."

"Fine," Starsky repeated. He headed toward the back after walking as far around the display case as he could.

A few minutes later Hutch found Starsky in the back corner studying a book. "You ready to go, Buddy?"

"Huh? Oh yeah."

"What do you have there?" Hutch asked as he took the book from Starsky's hands. "'The Excruciating History of Dentistry'? Really, Starsky? I thought you hated the dentist." Hutch handed the book back to Starsky.

"Well, it's not for me. I thought…well, I know someone who would find this interesting. I'm going to buy it."

"For Mary Sue?"

"Who?" Starsky asked.

"Mary Sue, your date that worked at the library."

"Oh. No, it's not for her. I'm going to buy this too," Starsky said, holding up a small hard-covered journal with an attached pen.

"A journal?"

"Yeah, I'm thinking of writing my memoir."

"Memoir? Oh yeah?" Starsky grinned and nodded. "Starsk, that's a great idea."

"Oh?" Starsky asked, the smiling dimming.

"Yeah. I'd love to read it when you are done."

"Are you messing with me?"

Hutch reached out and rested his hand on his partner's arm. "Starsk, I wouldn't do that." Starsky gave Hutch a sideways glare. "Well, I would mess with you but not about this, Buddy." Starsky took a few steps toward the front of the store. He remembered the skin-bound book and looked at the items in his hands. "Uh, never mind. I'll buy these someplace else."

"What? Why?" Hutch asked but then soon realized the problem. He snatched the books out of his friend's hands before he could put them back on the shelf. "Give me that. I'll pay for them. You can pay me back in the car."

"Thanks, Pal," Starsky said with a crooked grin. "I owe you one."

Hutch went up to the counter mumbling something about a 37-year-old child while Starsky slid around the perimeter of the store and out the door.

Oh the ride home, Starsky took the journal out of the bag and opened it. "Hm, where do I begin?"

"How about, 'I was born a poor black child.'"

Starsky's head spun to face Hutch. "What?"

"Oh come on, you must have seen the movie 'The Jerk.'" Hutch replied, laughing loudly.

"No, I didn't."

"And you accused me of living in a cave!" Hutch sputtered out.

Starsky went back to pondering his first line in the little book then his head shot up. "What a sec, did you just round-about call me a jerk?"

Hutch couldn't answer since he was still laughing so hard. The journal bounced off his temple. "Ow, cut it out, Starsky. I'm driving."

Starsky picked up the book and slid it into the inside pocket of his jacket. He then folded his arms across his chest as his so-called best friend continued to giggle.

~ S&H ~

Alice met Hutch at the door as he came home. She looked out the door hoping to see Starsky but his car was already backing out into the street.

"Where is he going?"

"Don't know. He didn't say."

"Is he okay?"

Hutch yawned. "Yeah, he seems great."

"Oh good. And how are you, Handsome Husband?" Alice asked as she wrapped her arms around him.

Hutch grinned and patted the front of his jacket. He reached in and pulled out the envelope. "I got them."

"The adoption papers?" Alice looked at him wide eyed.

"Yup."

"Jamie," Alice called over to the little girl playing with her toys on the living room floor. "Look what Daddy has." Alice looked back and smiled at the expression on her husband's face.

Jamie stood up and came over to see. Hutch stooped down and held out the paperwork. "Do you know what this is, Sweetiepie?" Jamie shook her head 'no.' "This means that I am going to be your Daddy forever and ever."

Jamie reached out and took the papers from his hand. They didn't seem very special to her. They weren't pretty colors and there were no sparkles but her Daddy seemed to think they were something important so she hugged them and smiled up at him. "Forever!" Hutch could only nod at her, his eyes bright. "Okay," Jamie said handing the papers back and going back to her dolls.

Alice laughed and gave Hutch a hug. "She'll understand one day, don't worry."

Hutch smiled and kissed Alice but then began to yawn again. "I'm sorry," he said.

"Don't be silly, you poor thing. I know Jamie has been keeping us up lately. I don't know what has gotten into that little girl."

"I think she is taking after Uncle Stars, keeping strange hours," Hutch said, grinning and Alice laughed.

"Well, dinner is almost ready and I'll bring it right in here for you. Sit." Alice pushed Hutch down onto the couch, handing him the newspaper and the television remote.

~ S&H ~

The door to Dobey's office opened and Detectives White and Wilson stepped out. They looked worn out.

"Hey Tom, Don; that case giving you trouble?" Hutch asked.

Tom White leaned a hip against Hutch's desk. "Sure is. They found another girl, dead."

"Oh man, that's rough," Starsky said.

"Hey, we actually just spoke to Dobey about pulling you two into this investigation. Are you up for it?"

Hutch pushed his chair back to better face the two detectives. "Sure, right Starsk?"

"Yeah, whatever we can do to help."

Tom motioned toward the hall. "Got time now? The conference room is free." He picked up a stack of case files off his desk and the four men left the squad room and headed to the conference room down the hall.

Don went to the small table in the corner and began to make coffee while Tom spread the files across the table. He ran through each file quickly to give Starsky and Hutch an overview. There had been six disappearances of girls 16 to 19 years old in the past eighteen months. Two girls had been found dead in the past year with a third being found last night.

"What's the M.O.?" Hutch asked pulling one file open.

"That's just it, there isn't one. Each girl was murdered in a different way," Tom said as he took the coffee Don offered him. "Thanks, Buddy."

"Then what ties them together?" Starsky asked, also accepting a cup from Don.

"Not much except that each girl was shown to have recently given birth."

Hutch let out a quiet groan. "Were the babies found?"

"No."

Starsky sifted through the open folders on the table as he drank his coffee. "These are the girls that haven't been found yet?" Tom and Don both nodded. "And you went through everything to try to tie them together?"

"I can recite everything in there in my sleep. I don't know if we are missing something or the families haven't given us the information that would link the girls together." Tom leaned back in his chair and rubbed his eyes.

Hutch glanced over at Starsky with sympathy. They both knew what it was like to have a case consume them on shift and off. "Hey, let Starsk and I take these files and go through them with fresh eyes. You both look like you need to put this aside for a while."

Tom leaned forward and looked over at his own partner and nodded then turned back to Hutch. "We appreciate it, guys. I'm not sure either one of us will be able to completely get it out of our heads but you are welcomed to see if you can find anything."

Hutch reached over and patted Tom on the forearm. "Sure, we'll take these back to our desk and follow up with you tomorrow some time."

Don stood up and stretched then quickly downed the rest of his coffee. "I'd give my right eye for some routine pickpocket work or something, know what I mean?"

Everyone in the room nodded. Starsky pulled his eyes from the picture in the file in front of him and slapped it shut. He picked up the rest of the files and stacked them together. "Glad to help, come on, Hutch."

~ S&H ~

"Starsky, I'm not driving again."

"Come on, Hutch, please?"

"I've driven the last three days and you just sit there writing in that damn journal. You are supposed to be keeping your eyes peeled for trouble."

Starsky made a face but knew he was beat. He pulled out his Torino keys and grabbed his jacket. Hutch smirked and followed him out of the squad room.

An hour later Hutch was finishing up with a woman whose purse was stolen. "We'll be in touch, Mrs. Andrews."

"Thank you, Detective," the woman said.

Hutch climbed into Starsky's car and saw his partner writing furiously in his journal. "Would you put that away."

"Yeah, yeah. I just don't want to forget something. When it pops in my head, I have to get it down on paper." Starsky, stowed the journal in his inside jacket pocket, started the car and headed into traffic.

"You see how I spotted that thief while you drove? That's how it works," Hutch said.

"Okay, okay. I'll stop writing," Starsky replied.

Hutch's expression softened. "Well, keep writing. Just do it on your own time. Although, I can't imagine when that will be since you are always busy these days." Hutch watched Starsky carefully but his friend didn't take the bait.

"You said you were coming to dinner tonight. We still on?"

"You bet."

The radio crackled. "All units in the vicinity of Oaktown Mall, 211 in progress. Haxton's Liquor Store."

That's just a few blocks from here, Hutch said as he pulled the bubble light out and slapped it on the roof. He picked up the radio handset and let them know they were rolling on the call.

Starsky approached the liquor store and saw a crowd of people gathered out front. As Hutch jumped from the Torino, a man came up to him. "He went across the street – into the theater!"

Starsky joined Hutch on the sidewalk. They both looked over at the Orchid Theater and pulled their guns from their holsters. As Hutch ran through the traffic, he yelled back "When the black and whites get here, send them this way."

Starsky took the right side of the theater while Hutch took the left. The show had ended and the place was empty. They carefully checked each row at the back of the theater. Hutch reached the center of the theater first and nodded over at Starsky before moving to check the front rows. As Starsky nodded back he saw movement behind Hutch. A man rose up from the rows of seats and aimed a gun at Hutch. In the blink of an eye, Starsky covered the distance between him and Hutch and leapt into the air just as the gun went off.

Hutch didn't have time to react as his partner landed on him knocking him down on the floor. As the gunshot sounded, Hutch heard Starsky let out a loud grunt before landing on the floor beside him. Hutch was back on his feet in an instant, aiming his gun at the retreating man.

"Freeze!" Hutch shouted. The man dropped his weapon and raised his arms just as two uniformed police officers arrived. Hutch looked down at Starsky who had his arms wrapped around his midsection and was writhing in agony. "Get me an ambulance, hurry!"

Hutch dropped his gun back into its holster as he knelt down next to his best friend. "Starsky? Oh my God, Starsky." No, not again, Hutch thought.

Starsky looked up at Hutch with fear and pain in his eyes. He was having trouble catching his breath. Hutch reached out to run his fingers through his friend's hair to calm him while he reached down with the other to where Starsky was holding his abdomen. "Let me see, Starsk." Hutch pulled Starsky's hands away but there was no blood, no bullet wound. He began frantically to run his hands all along Starsky's flank then to his back but saw no evidence of an injury. When his hands ran over the site that Starsky was protecting, he saw Starsky flinch.

Hutch could see Starsky was starting to breathe a little more easily but was still in a lot of pain. He pulled away Starsky's jacket to get a clearer look when he heard something drop onto the carpeted floor. "The ambulance is coming, Buddy, hold on," Hutch said softly as he picked up the object from the floor. It was a bullet. Realization dawned on Hutch's face and he reached into Starsky's jacket pocket and pulled out the journal. There was a jagged indent in the center of the book.

The theater's overhead lighting came on giving Hutch a better view. He pulled open Starsky's shirt and stared in amazement. There was an ugly red welt forming on Starsky's left side but no bullet wound.

"Hutch?" Starsky finally managed to say between gasps. "How bad?"

Hutch smiled and held up the bullet and the journal. "Look."

"My journal…it stopped…the bullet?" Starsky panted.

Hutch sat down and rested Starsky's head in his lap. "Why did you go and do that? You could have been killed."

"You…would have...been…a goner. Alice…Jamie…need you."

Hutch sighed heavily as the ambulance attendants approached with a stretcher. "I need you too, Buddy. Next time, just tell me to duck, would ya?"

~ S&H ~

"He's going to be fine, Alice. No, don't come down. It looks like he may be released tonight. I'll stay with him at his place tonight so he can sleep in his own bed. He is pretty sore. Okay, Love, I'll see you later." Hutch hung up the phone and sighed in relief. He headed back into the emergency room bay where Starsky was resting.

"Alice sends her love," he said as the nurse finished removing the I.V. from Starsky's arm.

"Well, I'll see her soon. They are springing me. The pain pills they gave me are starting to kick in too." Starsky said with a goofy grin.

Hutch picked up Starsky's clothes from the chair nearby and put them on the gurney. He was about to offer to help Starsky put them on when he heard a commotion in the hall and then a woman rushed in.

"Oh my God, David!" The woman exclaimed as she leaned down to kiss Starsky.

"Allison?" Hutch asked, confused. "Allison May?"

"I'm okay, Laura. Calm down, I'm okay," Starsky said as he flashed a slightly doped-up version of his lop-sided grin.

Allison ran her hand through her hair and wiped a tear from her cheek. "I…I thought you were shot."

"Well, I was, sort of. Look at this," Starsky said as he held up the journal to show her. He then pulled up his hospital gown to show Allison the now angry-looking bruise on his side. "Hurts like hell," Starsky laughed.

"You really are okay?" Allison asked, now stroking Starsky's cheek.

"Uh huh. Ask Hutch. Really, Laura, I'm okay." Starsky's lids started to droop as the painkillers took effect.

Allison turned toward Hutch and saw the confusion on his face. "Hi, Ken."

"Allison, I haven't seen you in a long time – or is it Laura now?"

Allison could see Hutch's confusion. After seeing Starsky's eyes close and his breathing even out, she let go of his hand and reached for Hutch's and gave it a squeeze. "It's Allison. Only David calls me Laura."

"How…why are you here?"

Allison cringed. "Oh boy, I don't think he meant for you to find out this way."

"Find out? Find out what?"

Smiling, Allison explained. "Last month when David was in New York, we ran into each other. I recently left my job and was about to start back to college so I took a trip to see the old neighborhood. Although I will keep the identity the FBI gave me, since my father died I don't have to be so secretive. David and I met up one afternoon in Brooklyn after you and Alice came back after the wedding. Oh, congratulations, by the way!"

Hutch smiled wanly, "Thanks, but I'm still a little in the dark."

Allison nodded in understanding. "Well, we started seeing each other when we both got back to Bay City." She went back to Starsky's side and rested her hand on his arm. "He asked me not to say anything to anyone. I guess he's had some bad relationships and since we've known each other since we were little, it made sense to me to see how it went before we made it 'public,' so to speak." She waited while it sunk in for Hutch and then said, "My best friend works here in the ER and she called me when David was brought in. And here we are…hi!" She laughed self-consciously.

Hutch walked to the other side of the bed and watched Allison run her fingers through his friend's hair. Starsky snuggled up against her hand and smiled in his sleep. Hutch grinned up at Allison. "Hi," he replied and Allison laughed. "Now I know why he's been so happy."

"Aw, thanks, Ken. I'm glad you know now. I just wish it was under better circumstances." She looked back down at Starsky with a worried look.

"Hey, he's fine. He's even going home. Well, if I can get these clothes on him, that is," Hutch said holding up Starsky's jeans.

"Oh, let me help. Between the two of us, I think we can manage."

Hutch reached and shook Starsky's shoulder. "Hey, Pal, can you wake up for us?" Starsky stirred but snuggled back against Allison's hand.

"Come on, David, wake up. Don't you want to go home?" Allison asked as she gave his cheek a gentle pat. She was rewarded with deep blue eyes looking at her.

"Hiya, beautiful," Starsky said sweetly. Hutch started to inch Starsky's jeans up his legs. Starsky twitched and looked confused. "Whatya doin'? I thought we were gonna wait," Starsky said groggily but smiled sweetly up at Allison who blushed.

"No, David, we are putting your clothes on," Allison said, avoiding Hutch's eyes.

"Oh yeah? Was it good?" Starsky asked and Hutch couldn't hold in a smirk.

Allison covered her face with her hand and giggled. "Well, this is awkward." She reached and began to tug at the jeans alongside Hutch.

"Don't worry, I doubt he'll remember any of this in the morning," Hutch said, laughing.

"Oh sure, but you will." By now Allison was giggling so hard she couldn't get the jeans the rest of the way up so Hutch gave one good tug then leaned over on the bed laughing.

"Are you laughing at my face again, Hutch?" Starsky asked, frowning.

Pulling on Starsky's arm, Hutch managed to get him into a seated position on the gurney. "Not this time, Buddy. Here put your arm in," Hutch said, holding out Starsky's shirt. He was happy to see Allison wriggling Starsky's feet into his sneakers. He pulled off the hospital gown quickly and got Starsky's arms in his own shirt before she looked up. He wasn't sure how much the woman knew about Starsky's almost-fatal shooting a few years back. The ugly scars were sure to upset her whether she knew about it or not and Allison was already upset about today's incident.

"Tickles," Starsky said cheerfully.

"What does?" Hutch asked, just trying to keep him talking and awake.

"Yup," Starsky answered and Allison laughed again as she tied his second sneaker.

Hutch buttoned the final button on his friend's shirt then picked up his holster, gun and jacket. "Let's go home."

"Kay."

Hutch stood on one side of Starsky while Allison was on the other. They both helped the man to his feet and were happy when his legs didn't go out from under him. They each wrapped an arm around Starsky's waist.

"Can you walk, Partner?"

"Sure I can walk. Why wouldn't I be able to walk?" Starsky took a faltering step and Hutch had to grab onto his belt to keep him steady.

Out in the parking lot, Hutch pulled the Torino up to the door while Allison stayed behind with Starsky. They managed to get him into the passenger seat and by then Starsky was more alert. He looked up at Allison and Hutch before they closed the door. "Laura?"

"Yes, David, I'm here."

"Hutch, look, it's Laura," Starsky said unnecessarily.

"Yes, we've met," Hutch said with a smile. He shut the door and looked over at Allison. "Thanks a lot, Allison. I can take it from here."

"I'll meet you at the house, Hutch. I'll stay with him tonight." Allison blew a kiss through the window at Starsky then trotted across the parking lot to her car.

"Oh," was all Hutch could reply.

~ S&H ~

"Are you sure she's okay with him out there, Hutch?" Alice asked, peering out the back window at Starsky's house.

"Of course she's okay. And we are right here if they need anything."

"Who is she again?"

Hutch yawned. "Come on; let's go to bed and I'll explain everything."

~ S&H ~

The next morning, Hutch was pouring himself a cup of coffee when there was a tap at the back door. He opened it. "Good morning, Allison."

"Morning, Ken. I hate to leave like this but I have a class."

"Oh, don't worry about it. That's one of the perks of having his house in my backyard," Hutch smiled.

Allison put her hands in her jeans pockets and smiled back. "Well, he's awake. He woke up about 2 AM in pain. I gave him some pills then and he should take them again now before the pain gets away from him."

Hutch could see the woman felt out of sorts. "Hey, can you come in for a cup of coffee?"

"No, I don't have time. My class is at 9 and across town," Allison said as she waved hello to Alice who had come into the kitchen. "I'll see you soon, I guess."

"Allison," Alice said before the woman walked away. "Can you come back for dinner tonight?"

"Oh, sure. That would be nice, thank you."

"Six o'clock – or sooner if you are free."

"Thank you, Alice. Thank you too, Ken," Allison said as she turned and walked away.

Hutch shut the door and kissed Alice. "Thank you for inviting her. I think she feels a little weird still."

"Well, if she is dating my second favorite man, I need to get to know her," Alice said then winked.

"Let the inquisition begin," Hutch said in a deep voice.

"Damn straight," Alice said with a smirk. She pulled two more coffee cups down from the cabinet, filled them then handed one to Hutch. "Take this with you. I'm sure he'll want some coffee."

Hutch looked at Alice lovingly and ran his hand down the back of her neck. He pulled her in close and kissed her again. "I'll see if he is up to coming for breakfast but I think he'll probably just hang out at home."

"Give me a holler if you need some eggs or anything. He hasn't been home much so I doubt he has any food over there."

"Well, now we know where he's been," Hutch said staring across the yard at Starsky's house.

Alice nodded and followed Hutch's gaze. "I hope she is good for him. I like that they have known each other since they were kids. And that they aren't rushing into anything."

Hutch continued to stare out into the yard. "Our little boy is becoming a man." His face was serious for a minute then he grinned.

Alice slapped her husband on the backside. "Just go and see how he is doing."

"Yes ma'am."

Hutch carefully carried the two full coffee cups across the yard and around the pool to Starsky's front door. He juggled them so that he could knock on the door and then opened it when he heard Starsky call out 'come in.'

"Hiya, Starsk. How are you feeling?"

"Sore as hell…good morning," Starsky said shifting uncomfortably on the couch.

Hutch came around and put the coffee mugs on the table nearby. "Where are your pills? I'll get them for you."

"No, I already took some when I brushed my teeth. I'll be okay."

"Are you sure? Do you need some pillows, a blanket?" Hutch asked looking toward the bedroom door.

"Just sit down, Blondie," Starsky said as he picked up the coffee mug and tasted the brew. "Mm, nothing better than Alice's coffee."

Hutch sat down across from Starsky and sipped his coffee. There was silence for a few minutes. Starsky put down his mug and stared at his hands for a moment then looked up at his friend with a sheepish look.

"So," Starsky said simply.

"So…Allison."

"Yeah, whatya know."

"Starsk…" Hutch began but then didn't know what to ask.

"I'm sorry I kept it from you, Hutch."

"No, don't apologize. I guess I can understand."

"Hey, after all those crazy women I was parading through your house, I figured I'd better take this one slow."

"Yeah, but Allison isn't crazy…well, she didn't seem crazy anyway." Hutch grinned.

Starsky laughed softly. "It's just…well, not everything lasts. I've gotten hopes up so many times, I stopped keeping track. I get all worked up then get let down. I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever find someone but I realized I was trying too hard. Right before Christmas, I had decided that I wasn't meant to find anyone and that maybe Terry was my one shot and I lost it…lost her." Starsky took a breath as Hutch closed his eyes at the memory of Terry.

"Then I went to New York and you and Alice came and got married. I really felt that living in your pool house and being part of your lives this way was how my life was going to go. And hell, it still may be. But then right before I was going to come home, I'm taking a walk in the snow and there she is. Right there on 84th street is Laura – just like I knew her twenty something years ago. It was amazing. It was…"

"Kizmet?"

"Yeah, yeah, that's it. Kizmet. Like it was meant to be or somethin', us both standing there on that street where we played so long ago." Starsky took another breath and looked down at his coffee cup. Hutch finished his coffee while he waited for his friend to gather his thoughts. "You know, I was – what – twelve when Laura died?" Starsky made quotations in the air as he said the word. "It was horrible. She was my best friend, my little sister. I was so close to her family." Starsky drew in a ragged breath then winced as his injured side protested.

Hutch pulled his chair closer and reached to rest his hand on Starsky's arm. Starsky seemed to draw strength from the gesture and continued.

"But I got her back. I won't get Terry back but I got Laura back, Hutch. After her father died, we sort of kept in touch but things were tough for her back then. She pushed me away, I think. I can't say I blame her after everything that happened. We went to get a drink when we found each other that day in Brooklyn. We spent a lot of time talking about the old days and about what she wants to do now. She's been working as a dental hygienist but she quit and went back to school to become a dentist." Starsky looked up, his eyes sparkling. "Isn't that cool? A dentist – my little Laura."

"Oh, so that's who that book was for," Hutch said.

Starsky tipped his head and grinned. "Yeah. She loved it. Anyway, we made plans to get together when we were both back here. I didn't think much of it and I guess I never mentioned it to you but once we started to hang out, I realized she was more than a little sister now." Starsky squinted up at Hutch. "Is that weird?"

"No, it's not weird, Buddy. Not weird at all. Hell, she's a beautiful and sweet person. I'm really happy for you."

"Thanks, Hutch. That means a lot." Starsky looked out the front window. "How's Alice feel about all this?"

"Well, this came out of nowhere for her. She doesn't know Allison at all. I hope you don't mind but she invited her to dinner tonight."

"No foolin'?" Starsky asked, grinning. His eyes began to droop and he slid down more so that his head was resting on the arm of the couch.

"No fooling, Starsk. Hey, let me help you into bed. You look beat."

"Nah, I'd like to just hang out here."

"You should eat."

"I'm not very hungry. How about something later? I think I'll just rest my eyes for a while."

Hutch watched as Starsky drifted off to sleep. He tiptoed to his side and pulled the red blanket from the back of the couch and draped it across Starsky. Picking up the empty coffee mugs, he let himself out of the house.

Alice met him at their kitchen door and took the mugs from Hutch. "How is he?"

"He's a little sore. He's sleeping again. He wasn't hungry but I think he will be when he wakes up in a few hours. He's glad you invited Allison to dinner."

~ S&H ~

Alice had made a simple supper of soup and sandwiches so the meal would be quick and Starsky wouldn't overtax himself. Alice had cleared the dishes while Hutch got Jamie settled in bed. Allison and Starsky moved to the living room. Starsky got as comfortable as he could on the couch and put his left leg up on a foot stool to take the pressure off his bruised side.

"You okay?" Allison was asking him when Alice and Hutch came in carrying coffee mugs and a cup of cocoa for Allison.

"I'm fine, Laura, thank you," Starsky said with a grin.

"I can't believe you don't drink coffee or tea," Alice said, placing the mug of cocoa on the coffee table in front of Allison and handing Starsky his mug. "How do you wake up?"

"Ah, I just do because I'm not addicted to the caffeine," Allison said with a warm smile, not wanting to offend anyone. Hutch looked impressed so she added, "I do admit to the guilty pleasure of cola from time to time, however."

"So, Allison," Hutch said after sipping his coffee and placing it down on the table, "tell us more about little David Michael Starsky."

Starsky blushed and Allison looked at him with a sideways glance. "Hmm," she said, "what stories do I have?"

"Aw, come on, Laura."

"Hush up, Starsky. We want to hear this," Alice said and Hutch laughed.

"Well, did he ever tell you the one about when he decided he was old enough to start swearing?"

Starsky covered his eyes and groaned while Alice and Hutch scooted closer to the edge of their seats to listen.

"No, do tell," Alice said with a wink at Starsky who just dropped his head back onto the couch.

"Well, he was the ripe old age of – what was it, David – nine? He had….borrowed my mother's copy of The Catcher in the Rye…"

"Starsk, you were a thief? How have I not known this about you?" Hutch asked, smirking.

"Shaddup, Hutch," Starsky said, not lifting his head from the couch.

"Well, anyway, he thought he was full of angst and rebellion so he wanted to test the waters, ya know? We went into Mr. Williams' soda shop…"

Starsky's head popped up, "That was Andy Williams, ya know. That was his actual name."

Allison swatted over at Starsky. "Hush up, David, nobody cares…" Starsky's eyebrows rose up his forehead, Alice stifled a grin and Hutch laughed outright. "So, we go in and order a root beer float, just like we always did – two straws…"

"Awww, how sweet," Alice said. Starsky rolled his eyes and Hutch shooshed Alice who promptly stuck her tongue out at her husband.

"So, David takes a big sip and then spits it out on the floor and says…"

"Laura, please…"

Alice, Allison and Hutch all yelled out, "Shut up!" making Starsky's mouth drop open in amazement.

"So, David says, 'This tastes like hell, Mr. Williams!'"

Starsky groaned again but Alice and Hutch just looked at each other in shock. Hutch finally broke the silence. "Tastes like hell? Like hell, Starsky?"

Starsky dropped his head back onto the couch cushion and covered his face. "I was nine! Give me a break, would ya?"

Everyone, except Starsky, broke out into laughter until Hutch put his finger to his lips and pointed at the ceiling warning them not to wake his daughter. Allison covered her mouth to quiet herself. Alice quieted down until she snorted from the effort and everyone started laughing loudly again. Starsky raised his head and 'scratched his nose' with his middle finger which only made everyone laugh more. Eventually, Starsky started to giggle along with them and held his side in pain.

"Ow, that hurts?"

Allison felt bad and rested her hand over his but continued to giggle. "I'm sorry David."

After a few minutes, the foursome was able to go back to drinking their coffee and cocoa. Alice leaned back with a contented sigh. "This was nice, Allison. Thank you for coming."

"Oh thank you for having me, Alice. You too, Ken."

"Hey, what about me?" Starsky asked, pouting.

"What about you? All you did was show up at the back door like a stray dog," Hutch said kiddingly. Starsky went back to 'scratching his nose.'

"Well, I should get going; it is a school night – literally," Allison said, laughing. She leaned over and kissed Starsky on the cheek. "Can I walk you home, big boy?" she asked with a Mae West tone.

"Alright, we've seen what you can do with a boy. How are you when they come a little bigger?" Starsky said sitting up. There was silence while Hutch and Alice looked at each other then at Allison who was grinning.

"What the heck was that?" Hutch asked.

Allison looked at him, shocked. "That was John Wayne from The Coyboys."

"I see you're a man with ideals. I better be going before you've still got them," Allison said again in a Mae West voice.

"By God, she reminds me of me," Starsky replied.

"Oo, that's from True Grit, right?" Alice said, laughing.

"You got it, sweetheart," Starsky answered.

"And we are back to Cagney. Seriously, Starsk?"

"What? You love my Cagney."

"No I don't."

"Laura loves my Cagney, don't ya?"

" Yes, I do – and the Duke. Now let's go." Allison said, kissing Starsky and then taking him by the hand to lead him to the back of the house.

"All right, all right – I'm injured here, slow down, would ya?"

"Was that someone?" Alice asked looking up at Hutch.

"Yeah, that was Brooklyn Dave," Hutch said, rolling his eyes and following after his friends.

"Thank you again," Allison said waving back at Alice and Hutch as she led Starsky out the back door.

"Let's do this again!" Alice called out.

"Absolutely!"

The door shut and Alice and Hutch stood and watched Allison maneuver Starsky into his house. The lights turned on and a few minutes later she emerged and headed to her car.

"So, what do you think?" Hutch asked, reaching to shut off the back porch light.

"She's fantastic."

Hutch wrapped his arms around his wife and rested his chin on her head. "I agree."

"And you say they have never…"

"Nope."

Alice pondered this for a few minutes. "Well, that is a little weird."

"I know, huh?" Hutch replied, giggling.

"No, it's sweet…but how?"

"Got me – look at that woman, she's gorgeous."

Alice leaned back and glared up at her husband saying, "And Starsky – who can keep their hands off that man?"

"Truce?" Hutch smirked.

"Truce," Alice giggled and headed up the stairs.

~ S&H ~

Hutch met Starsky in the driveway. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Now let's go."

"Dobey will give you another few days off."

"I don't need any more days off, Hutch." Starsky got into the passenger seat of the Firebird.

"Well, if you get tired or uncomfortable, just say the word and I'll bring you home."

"Enough."

Hutch pulled out into the street and drove in silence for a while. "It's just that…"

"I know," Starsky said softly. "But I'm okay." He watched Hutch run his hand through his hair and knew this incident had scared his friend. Except for a slight concussion during an arrest, Starsky had stayed out of harm's way since Gunther had him shot.

"But what if you're not."

"Whatya mean? Doc gave me a clean bill of health."

"No, I mean, what if you…if something…" Hutch trailed off.

"We always know that's a possibility. But, you have Alice and Jamie now."

Hutch slammed on his brakes causing Starsky to reach out and grab onto the dashboard. The cars behind them laid on their horns. "What the hell, Hutch!"

"Don't ever say that again!" Hutch yelled.

Starsky's gaze went from Hutch's angry face to the cars honking and people swearing behind them. "Calm down, would ya? Get out of the way, Hutch."

Hutch pulled his eyes away from his partner and looked behind him, realizing what he'd done. He maneuvered the car over to the side letting the cars pass. He seemed to not even hear the angry words being shouted at him as they went by his window. "Are you okay, Starsk? I'm sorry about that."

"Yeah, I'm okay but don't ever complain about my driving again, would ya?" Starsky's tone lowered as he spoke and his nerves calmed.

"Just…just don't ever say that again."

"Say what?" Starsky asked sincerely.

"That stuff about me having Alice and Jamie – like that would make losing you any easier!" Hutch turned away from his partner and closed his eyes. "I had to work two and a half days this week without you there and it was two and a half days too long." He turned back to face Starsky. "I don't ever want to do that again." Hutch's voice was just a whisper.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Hutch. Hell, you don't think I worry just as much about not having you right here next to me? Why do you think I jumped in front of you the other day? He had you dead to rights, Partner. I don't know what I'd do…" Starsky stopped talking as he got choked up. Hutch reached and pulled Starsky toward him. Starsky rested his forehead on his best friend's shoulder. He sniffed and cleared his throat then lifted his head and smiled. "Hey, people are gonna talk." He looked around at the people passing on the sidewalk.

"Let them talk."

"Whatya say we get to work before Dobey pops a blood vessel or somethin', huh?"

Hutch smiled and nodded then pulled back into traffic. "Again, I'm sorry for stopping like that."

"You should be, I could have smacked my head on the windshield."

"And got amnesia?" Hutch asked smugly.

"Oh yeah, man I can't believe I forgot about that. I can't believe you did that to me!"

Hutch grimaced and was sorry he had brought the subject up. "Come on, you know I feel bad about doing that." He glanced over at Starsky who was looking straight ahead and smiling.

"Oh oh, what are you smiling about?"

"Neither Alice nor Laura know about that. I'm going to be the one telling a story at dinner next time."

Hutch groaned. "Well, I deserve that. Be gentle, would ya?" Starsky scoffed and Hutch grinned.

"That one's going in the book." Starsky reached into his jacket and then remembered the journal wasn't there. "Shoot, I need to get a new journal."

"Check the glove compartment."

Starsky looked at Hutch, confused. He popped open the glove box and found an identical journal and pen. "Aw, Hutch, ya shouldn't have." Starsky opened the new book and ran his hand over the first smooth blank page.

"Just promise to keep it on you at all times."

Starsky slid the journal into his jacket pocket and patted it. "You got it."

~ S&H ~

Starsky walked into the squad room and raised his hands. "Have no fear, I have returned."

"Welcome back, Starsky," Tom White said, patting Starsky on the shoulder.

"Yeah, glad you're okay," Don Wilson added.

Starsky grinned and placed his hands on his chest, "Why, thank you."

"Okay, Starsk, take it down a notch," Hutch joked.

"Pfft, you're just jealous," Starsky kidded back. He sat down across from Hutch and smiled. Hutch winked back at him with a grin.

Starsky looked down at Hutch's desk. "You still have Tom and Don's case files? Any progress?"

"Nothing. It's all a dead end, Starsk. Every girl is different; black, white, blond hair, brown hair, red hair."

"White slavery? Sex slave? Then they get pregnant and it's all over for them…maybe?"

Hutch sighed. "Maybe. Hey, let's stop by The Pits later. Maybe Huggy has some kind of information."

"Did you clear that with White and Wilson?"

"I did and they were thankful for us going to him."

Later Starsky and Hutch grabbed their jackets and headed to The Pits for a late lunch. Starsky looked at his watch and stopped short causing Hutch to bump into him.

"Do you mind, Starsk?"

"Rats, Hutch, I need to go to the bank but I just realized the branch here closed at noon. Can you drive uptown before we head to Huggy's?"

"Oh come on, Starsk, can't it wait until tomorrow?"

"No. I'll bounce checks if I wait. Please?"

"Okay, come on."

At the bank, Starsky got in line behind two women in their late thirties. Instantly bored, he listened in to their conversation to pass the time.

"Oh my goodness, she's beautiful, Maryann," one woman said to the other. Starsky leaned closer and caught a glimpse of a photo of a newborn with a wisp of strawberry blond hair. Starsky smiled thinking that the baby reminded him of Jamie.

"Thank you. She's three days old today." Starsky looked startled since the woman seemed to be in good shape for having just given birth. "I'm here to deposit the savings bonds that we were given."

"Well, adoption makes it a lot easier, doesn't it? You'd still be home in bed otherwise."

Starsky nodded knowingly. That explains it, he thought to himself. He glanced over the women's shoulders to see the photo again. He grinned until he realized they were both glaring at him. "Uh, beautiful baby."

"Well, I never," exclaimed the mother.

"Aw, I bet you have," Starsky kidded then stepped back quickly suddenly afraid of being slapped. "Geez."

Ten minutes later he came whistling out the door of the bank and jumped into Hutch's Firebird.

"It's about time."

"Don't get your panties in a wad; it was busy in there."

"Leave my panties out of this," Hutch replied, pulling into traffic. "By the time we get lunch, it will be dinner."

"Oh that reminds me…"

"What now?" Hutch asked, only slightly as irritated as he sounded.

"I need to stop and pick up some tomato sauce. Allison is coming over for dinner."

"Aw, Starsk, just borrow a can from us. I just want to go straight home tonight."

"I don't want to be a mooch. I mooch enough from you guys."

"Well, you know Alice loves when you need her."

Starsky smiled, "That's true. Okay."

"Well, that didn't get us anything," Starsky complained as they left The Pits after eating and speaking to Huggy Bear.

"No, but now he'll keep his ear on the streets for us."

"True," Starsky replied. "I'd like to take another look at those files."

"Remember this isn't our main case, Starsky."

"I know, I know, but I feel like we are so close. There are at least three other girls whose lives may depend on us."

Hutch nodded and headed back to Metro.

At the station, Starsky had two rows of three files each in front of him. Along the top were the files and photos of the three murdered girls. Along the bottom, closest to him were the files and photos of the three still-missing girls. Starsky stared at each face as if they would suddenly tell him where they were. He tapped his pencil on one file and stared at the face in the photo. She was fair skinned with chestnut hair and blue eyes. The next girl was black with black eyes and full lips pulled into a wide smile. The last girl was pale with red hair and a splash of freckles across her nose and cheeks.

"Sorry, Starsky, but I need those files back," Don Wilson said.

"Huh? Oh yeah, sure. Here you go."

Starsky leaned back and stared at the air in front of him.

"Earth to Starsky," Hutch said reaching over and placing another file on Starsky's desk.

"Huh?" Starsky said again.

"That one needs a report typed up."

"Oh, man," Starsky whined, reached for the typewriter and pulled the rolling table to his side. "All right, I'll do it."

~ S&H ~

"Thanks, Sis," Starsky said, planting a kiss on Alice's cheek as he took the tomato sauce from the cabinet.

"Do you have everything else you need?" Alice asked.

Hutch sat at the kitchen table, legs crossed, reading the paper. "Yeah, like a pan full of water?" he mumbled as he flipped to the next page.

"What was that?" Starsky said leaning toward him.

"Oh nothing, nothing," Hutch replied, hiding his grin behind the paper.

"All right, then. I'll see you tomorrow, Pal. But not too early." Starsky flipped the can of sauce in the air as he walked out whistling.

Alice stood at the kitchen door watching him go. Hutch heard a car door. "Alice, get away from the window."

"She just arrived."

"We shouldn't spy on them," Hutch said getting up and pushing Alice aside so he could see more clearly. She giggled and smacked at him.

"Oo."

"What?" Alice asked, trying to see past Hutch.

"Starsky shut the drapes," Hutch replied turning toward Alice, his eyes wide.

"Ohhhh?" Alice said with a sly smile. Hutch grabbed her and leaned her back burying his face in her neck. He heard a giggle, this one from behind him.

"Oh oh, she's onto us," Hutch whispered.

"Daddy and Momma, you are funny," Jamie said pointing at her parents.

Hutch turned and crouched down low. "Oh, you think that is funny?" Hutch took hold of the little girl and nibbled on her neck making growling sounds until she collapsed in a heap of giggles. "Now that was funny."

The next morning Hutch opened one eye and saw it was early morning. The sky was a dreary gray. He stretched and rolled toward Alice who was just waking up also. "Good morning, Handsome."

"Good morning, Love."

Alice lifted her head and listened. "Is she still asleep?"

"I think so and she didn't even keep us up late last night." Hutch slid his arm behind Alice's head and leaned in to kiss her. He heard 'Momma' from down the hall and dropped his head back onto the pillow.

"Oh, dang-it, Hutch. We should have seized the opportunity before we went to sleep."

"Are you serious? I don't even remember my head hitting the pillow, do you?"

Alice rested her chin on his shoulder. "No, come to think of it." She kissed him quickly and got of bed, grabbing her robe and putting it on. "You know the drill."

"Coffee, coming right up.

Alice came downstairs holding Jamie's hand. She brought her over and sat her in her highchair. "Waffles?" Alice asked her daughter.

"Waffles, yeah!"

"Whole wheat waffles?" Hutch asked as he handed Alice a cup of coffee.

"Of course."

"Well, I'll take a couple of those," Hutch said as he headed to the front door to retrieve the newspaper. He came back a few minutes later. "That's odd."

"What is?" Alice asked.

"Allison's car isn't there."

"Already? Did you hear her leave this morning?"

Hutch sat down at the table across from Jamie and scratched his head. "You know, I remember waking up last night to the sound of a car speeding off. I remember looking at the clock. It was about midnight."

"Do you think it was Allison?"

Hutch thought about it a little more then looked up at Alice. "Yes, it was – I remember the sound of Starsky's front door slamming. That was what woke me up at first. I was so tired, I fell right back to sleep."

"But I thought she was going to stay the night last night?"

"Well, we were just going on speculation. Starsky never did say he was going to spend the night with her." Alice looked out the kitchen window at Starsky's house. The drapes were still drawn so she didn't know if he was up yet.

"Do you think he's okay?"

"I'm sure he's fine. And I don't want to wake him this early."

Alice turned away from the window and started to make the waffles for her family. Hutch stared at the paper in his hand but didn't actually read it. He had a feeling something was wrong. He glanced up at Starsky's house again and tried to shake off the feeling.

Two hours later, Hutch came from the living room to look out at Starsky's house for the tenth time. This time he saw that the front blinds were open. "He's up, Sweetie," he called to Alice who was playing with blocks on the living room floor with Jamie.

"I made another pot of coffee. Take him a cup. Tell him I said 'good morning.'"

Hutch smiled as he pulled two coffee mugs from the cabinet and filled them. "You are always thinking, aren't you?"

"Who me?" came an innocent-sounding reply behind him and he grinned wider.

Hutch had to knock twice before Starsky finally came to the door. "Good morning, Buddy."

"'Mornin'." Starsky answered, his voice was thick like he hadn't yet spoken. His eyes were blood shot and Hutch could see an empty bourbon bottle sitting by the sink. There was a record of instrumental piano playing on the hi-fi.

"Brought you some of Alice's coffee. She says 'good morning.'" Hutch held out a cup. Starsky took it without saying anything and took a long sip. He moved over to the couch, put the cup down on the coffee table and dropped onto the cushion. He rubbed his eyes and tried to clear his gravelly throat.

Hutch gave up on the nice act. "You look like hell."

Starsky stopped rubbing his eyes and peered over at Hutch between his fingers. "Gee, thanks."

"Everything okay? How was dinner?"

"Dinner was very nice, thank you." Starsky propped his legs on the coffee table in front of him as he took another long drink of his coffee. Hutch waited.

"And?" he asked after a moment.

"That's it. Nothing else to say."

"Starsky…"

"Come on, Hutch, butt out," Starsky said angrily then regretted the words. "I'm sorry. Forget I said that."

"Hey look, Starsk, I know it's none of my business but if I didn't come in and find you looking like you'd been on a mini bender, I wouldn't say anything. Allison came for dinner then left at midnight. Nothing unusual about that, right?"

Starsky's head snapped up when Hutch mentioned the time. He was spying on me? He thought, but knew better. "She woke you up?" Hutch nodded so Starsky added, "Sorry."

Hutch put his coffee cup down and leaned toward his friend. "Don't worry about that. I actually dropped right back to sleep but didn't put it together until I woke up this morning and saw that she was gone." He looked down at his hands before saying, "I just had the feeling last night…you and Allison…you know."

One side of Starsky's mouth lifted in a sarcastic smile. "You know?" Hutch smirked. "Always the gentleman, huh, Hutch?" Starsky sighed. "Well, I thought so too."

"So, what happened – but if you don't want to tell me…"

"No, it's all right, Hutch." Starsky reached up and pulled open his robe exposing his chest and the three jagged scars. "This happened." Seeing the confusion on Hutch's face, he continued. "We had a nice dinner, she helped me do the dishes, we had some wine and were having a nice time. Things got heated so we moved into the bedroom. I took off her shirt then she took off mine…"

"She saw the scars and got upset?"

"Freaked is more the appropriate word," Starsky said disgustedly and pulled his robe closed. "I told her the whole story. She wanted to know more and more and then she just ran out."

"Oh Starsky, I'm sorry. Give her time to calm down, maybe…"

"I don't know, Hutch. She was pretty upset." He scoffed and then his eyes brimmed with tears. "She said she loved me."

"Hey, that's fantastic. You just need to give her time to wrap her head around the job. Try to reassure her."

Starsky was shaking his head as Hutch spoke. "No, Hutch. She didn't say it until she was leaving. She said, 'I love you, David, but…' That 'but' just cancelled it all out."

Hutch got up from his seat and sat down next to Starsky, resting his hand on Starsky's leg. "Don't give up just yet, Buddy." Starsky nodded sadly and tried to smile through the tears. Hutch reached out and hugged him.

"Second hug in two days," Starsky said into Hutch's shoulder. "People will talk."

Hutch smiled sadly and rubbed Starsky's head. "Let them talk."

After a moment, Hutch released Starsky. "What's that playing? It is very nice."

Starsky wiped his eyes. "Oh, George Winston. Allison gave it to me." Starsky reached behind the couch and picked up the album cover and looked at it. "This song is called 'Longing Love.' Ain't that ironic?"

"Aw, Starsk. Why don't you call her? Maybe she's just waiting for you to call."

Starsky shook his head. "I don't think so." He stood up and went to the sink to rinse out the empty coffee mug. He picked up the empty bottle of bourbon and dropped it into the trash with a sneer. "I think I'll just go for a walk."

"Want company?" Hutch asked but he already knew the answer.

"Nah," Starsky said as he pulled the robe off and went into his room to retrieve his clothes. He was putting on a long-sleeved shirt when he came back out. He snapped the last button closed.

Hutch looked out the window. "Looks like it might rain."

"Eh, I could use a shower anyway." Starsky pulled an old pair of tennis shoes. "See ya later, Hutch."

"See ya, Buddy."

Hutch closed Starsky's front door behind him as he watch his best friend take off down the street at a brisk pace. He stepped back into his kitchen and put the coffee cups beside the sink. Alice came in from the living room.

"Well?" she asked. Hutch sighed and put his arm around her and steered her back to the couch.

Over an hour later, Hutch came downstairs and looked around for Alice. He found her in the den staring out the front window. The rain had started about thirty minutes earlier and was getting heavier by the minute. "What are you doing, Love?"

"He should be back by now. It's pouring out there."

"Let it be. He needed to clear his head."

"We should go look for him."

"No, Sweetie. Besides, Jamie is taking a nap."

"You go then, or I'll go and you stay with Jamie." Alice stood up and went to the window.

Hutch stood behind her and rested his hands on her shoulders. "Alice…" he began but felt her shoulders tense and she let out a small gasp. He followed her gaze out the window and saw Allison's blue pacer coming down the street. "Well, I'll be."

Alice left the den and went to the back door. Allison had jumped out of her car and ran to Starsky's door. Alice opened her door and called to her.

Allison jumped the puddles on the walk and came up onto the porch. She wiped the rain from her face when she reached the safety of the awning. "Is he here?"

"No, he's not," Alice answered and saw Allison turn look at Starsky's Torino in the driveway. "He went for a walk over an hour ago."

"I have to find him, Alice." Allison looked up at Hutch as he came to the doorway. "Do you know which way he headed?"

"Come in and wait for him, Allison," Hutch replied but she was already shaking her head.

"No, I have to talk to him."

Before Hutch or Alice could say anything more, Allison was rushing down the driveway toward the street. Hutch ran to the front door and opened it. He called to the woman and when she looked at him he pointed and said, "He headed toward the beach." Allison mouthed 'thank you' to him and ran down the road, her clothes already soaked to the skin. Hutch shut the door and turned to face Alice whose eyes were glistening with tears. He reached out and took her into a hug.

Allison slowed down after a few minutes. It was getting harder to see in the driving rain. She pushed her dripping hair off her face as she continued to walk.

Starsky stood in the wet sand and watched the waves crashing up on the beach. His side began to ache and he regretted not taking a jacket as it was raw and cold. His head throbbed lightly caused by the half bottle of bourbon he downed late last night. I'm a real winner, he thought to himself. He picked up a stone and threw it out into the water. Doing that brought back the memory of when he and Hutch stood on the very spot and tossed their badges into the ocean. He shut his eyes as he remembered when he had met the woman now known as Allison not long after that. Something about her seemed so familiar. He and Hutch were at her house when they found her photo album. There she was, his Laura, smiling up at him from the pictures. For a moment he thought she must be a relative of the Andersons and that was why she had the old photos but his heart told him different. Laura? He asked. Hello, David. Starsky rubbed his eyes as he remembered how his head swam. It was as if time itself had split apart giving him two realities. One where he lost his best friend and one where she hadn't died in that car accident.

Starsky shuddered partly from the cold and partly from the emotions racing through him. He turned to head back to the road and saw a shadowed figure up ahead. Who else is fool enough to be walking out in this mess?

"David?"

Starsky stopped and squinted into the rain. "Laura?"

"David!" Allison called out and started to run toward him. Starsky was so stunned he stayed where he was. As Allison approached him, she slowed down then stopped a few yards away.

"What are you doing here?"

"I came to talk to you. Alice and Ken said you had gone for a walk."

Starsky stood frozen in his spot. He was afraid to ask her what she came to talk about. His heart beat loudly in his chest. "I thought…" he began but stopped.

"I'm afraid, David."

Starsky slumped at the words. He hung his head. "I know, Laura. But there is nothing I can do about that. It is what is."

Allison's arms were straight down by her sides. Her hands were balled up in fists. "I…I love you."

Starsky looked up and squinted through the rain. He tried to read her face. "I love you, too." I always did, he thought.

"I…I want to be…"

"What, Laura? You want to be what?"

"I want to be with you."

Starsky's heart skipped a few beats but he remained scowling. He pulled open the top two buttons of his shirt. "This is part of the package. I can't guarantee it would never happen again. You have to know that."

Allison's fists clenched and unclenched. She nodded. "I realize that. I want to be with you."

Starsky's scowl softened. "I need you, Laura."

"I need you too. Forgive me?"

Starsky took one step forward. Allison relaxed and took a step forward herself.

"It won't be easy," Starsky said, taking another step.

"Nothing is ever easy," Allison said, stepping closer.

"You've had a tough life; do you want to do this thing?" Starsky moved closer.

"Yes," Allison nodded. "Yes, I do," she whispered.

Only a few inches remained between them. Starsky smiled slowly. Allison let out a laugh and threw herself into his arms. "Oh David, I love you so much."

Starsky wrapped his arms tightly around her and kissed her. "I love you, Laura. I love you too."

They stood there in each other's arms for a moment more. "You're freezing; I can feel you trembling." Starsky turned her to head back toward the house.

"I am cold but that's not what's making me shake," Allison said, laughing lightly as they started walking home.

"It's you and me, kid," Starsky said in his Cagney voice.

"And Ken and Alice and Jamie?"

Starsky stopped and turned toward Allison. "You betcha, every step of the way."

Allison threw her arms around his neck again and held him close. "Okay, then," she whispered into his ear.

Alice was again standing in the window in the den. She heard Hutch and Jamie coming downstairs just as she spotted two figures coming up the street. "Hutch! There they are!"

Hutch hurried into the room with Jamie in his arms. "She found him?"

Alice laughed, "Yes and they are walking arm and arm."

"Oh, thank God," Hutch said softly.

"Thank God," Jamie said back and Alice laughed again.

"Look, Jamie, it's Uncle Stars," Alice said pointing out the window.

"Oh, he's all wet, Momma."

"He sure is," Hutch said, watching the couple head down the driveway and into Starsky's house. He turned toward Alice whose brow was furrowed.

"You are not going to know what's going on in there and it's killing you, isn't it?"

Alice nodded as she chewed on her lip, "Uh huh."

~ S&H ~

Sunday morning, Hutch picked up the paper off the front stoop and smiled when he saw Allison's car still in the driveway. It was a beautiful sunny morning. He stepped out onto the lawn and peeked around the house toward Starsky's place. The drapes were firmly closed. He snickered, "Way to go, Buddy." He stepped back into the house and called to Alice in the kitchen. "It's a beautiful day, Sweetie. We should have breakfast on the back porch. I'll get Jamie's jacket."

"Kenneth Hutchinson, you know they will think we are spying on them."

"Yeah, and?" Hutch said, laughing.

"Well we don't want them to know," Alice laughed.

"Okay, okay. We will give them a few hours but then I am going out and use my own porch." Hutch was surprised to hear a knock at the back door. "What the…?" He walked into the kitchen and opened the door to find a grinning Starsky and Allison. Allison wore one of Starsky's old flannel shirts and had the sleeves rolled up and the tails tied in a knot at her waist.

"Well, look what the cat dragged in," Alice exclaimed. "Come on in!"

"I hope you don't mind," Allison said timidly.

"Honey, I told you, it is tradition for me to spend Sunday morning with them." Starsky leaned in for a kiss from Allison. Hutch shot a happy look over their heads at his wife who mouthed, 'he called her honey' back at him. He wiped the grin off his face as Starsky looked back up at him.

"Well, it sure is tradition. Actually, we were thinking of having breakfast out on the porch, weren't we Sweetie?"

"Well, we sure were. The chair should be dry, just pulled them away from the house and sit down."

Starsky led Allison back out the door but not before turning toward Hutch and giving him a wink. Hutch's smile beamed back at him.

The couple passed the day relaxing on the porch and playing in the house with Jamie. Alice and Allison took a stroll at one point and had a heart-to-heart girl talk. Starsky smiled as he watched them. "I think Alice is going to be a big help to Laura. She's such a strong woman."

"Don't sell Allison short, Starsk. She's been through a lot herself, remember. She's tough too."

Starsky thought about that. "She is; you're right."

~ S&H ~

The next morning, Hutch waved goodbye to Allison as she pulled her car out of the driveway and headed to class.

"You know, I think I'm a little jealous of her," Alice said staring after her.

"What?!" Hutch asked in shock.

Alice looked over at him, confused by his tone and then laughed. "No, silly. I'm jealous of her going back to school."

"Oh!" Hutch said, relieved. He blushed before saying, "Well then you should go to school too, Love."

Alice scrunched up her face. "Oh, I'd have to get my high school diploma first. Forget it."

"No, don't you dare forget it. Listen, all you have to do is get your transcripts from Kentucky and you can get your high school equivalent right here. I'll find out everything you need to know today."

"You really think I can do this, Handsome Hutch?"

"Of course I do." He wrapped his arms around her waist. "All you have to do is figure out what you want your major to be. Hey, you should talk to Allison about it – maybe she can bring you some pamphlets from UCBC."

Alice thought about and then grinned. "Okay, I'll do just that."

"Great!" Hutch kissed his wife. "I have to run but we'll talk about this later, okay?"

"Yes. Jamie, wave bye-bye to Daddy." She picked up their daughter and Hutch leaned in to kiss her on the head.

Jamie and Alice went onto the back porch to wave goodbye to Starsky as he hurried out of his house. "Bye-bye, Uncle Stars."

"Bye, James!"

Hutch got into the passenger seat of Starsky's Torino. Starsky climbed in and backed out of the driveway. He whistled as he drove. Hutch smiled over at him.

"It's nice to see you smiling again, Starsk."

Starsky glanced over at him. "Thanks, Pal. What a weekend, huh?"

Hutch snorted in agreement. "You can say that again. Back to the old grind." He watched Starsky for a moment. "What are you thinking about, Buddy?"

"Aw, I don't know. I don't want to put the cart before the horse but I'm just daydreaming of maybe buying a house somewhere around here, maybe shooting out a couple of kids."

"Oh, nice visual," Hutch laughed. "Does she want kids?"

"Actually, she's worried she'd getting too old. She wants to have one right away…that is, if things work out. We are still taking a baby steps." Starsky laughed at his pun. "Baby steps, get it?"

"Well, you could always adopt an older child."

Starsky turned toward his partner and began to agree with him when suddenly he stopped the car short. Luckily, there was no one behind him.

"Hey, watch it, Starsk!"

"What did you say?"

"I said watch it."

"No, you said we could adopt."

"Yeah but like you said…"

"No, Hutch, that's it." Starsky gunned the engine and floored it. "I gotta get to Metro. I need to talk to Wilson and White."

"What's this about?"

"The case they are working on. I'll explain when we get there."

Starsky burst into the squad room and looked around for Tom and Don. Millie saw them and pointed toward Dobey's door. "They are in there."

Starsky headed toward the office just as the door opened. Wilson and White stepped out with their heads hung low. "I'm sorry, fellas. I know you've been working hard to solve this."

Starsky waited somewhat patiently for them to stop talking. "Cap'n, excuse me."

"Starsky? What's going on?" Dobey demanded.

"It's a baby black market."

"What?" Wilson, White and Dobey all asked simultaneously.

"The girls are abducted, impregnated and when they have the baby, it is sold to the highest bidder. The girls are then disposed of. Don'tcha see?"

Hutch stepped forward, "Starsky, if what you are saying is true, there may be more girls involved and they may be forced to have more than one child for these sickos."

"It's a good theory, Starsky, but there is one thing you don't know." Wilson said.

"What's that?"

"They found Monica Laplante, the fourth missing girl. She's barely alive. She was found in a dumpster yesterday morning…along with her newborn son. He's dead."

Starsky stumbled back. "What?"

"Yeah that blows that idea out of the water," Don said sadly.

"What a minute," Hutch said. "No it doesn't. She still had a baby, right?"

"Yeah, but since it was found with her…"

"What shape is she in?"

"She received a massive blow to her brain. It's touch and go. They must have thought she was dead when they dumped her."

"And the baby? What did the coroner say?"

"She's working on him right now," Dobey said.

"We need that report on the baby immediately," Starsky said, picking up on Hutch's line of thinking.

"Of course," Dobey said loudly. "We aren't a penny ante operation here, Starsky."

"I know, I know. Sorry, Cap'n. But Hutch and I have an idea. Tom, Don, can we run with this?"

"Yeah, of course," White said after getting a nod from his partner.

Starsky poked two fingers into Hutch's chest. "Let's go down there now, I ain't waitin' on this."

"Me neither. Thanks guys," Hutch said as he and Starsky hurried to the medical examiner's office.

"Why, yes. I just finished my examination of the child." Stacy Metters was just removing her lab coat when Starsky and Hutch came into her office.

"May we see the report?"

"Yes, of course, Detective. But I can sum it up for you." After Starsky and Hutch nodded, she continued. "The baby had Down Syndrome. A fairly mild case."

"Down Syndrome?" Starsky asked while Hutch put his hand to his head trying to remember where he had heard the phrase.

Dr. Metters sat down and folded her hands on her desk. "Most people know it as Mongoloidism. An ugly name."

Hutch swallowed hard. "Doctor, did the baby die from this affliction?"

"No, he could have lived a fairly normal life, with some mental and physical impairment." She took off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. "In the past these children were institutionalized."

"How did he die?" Starsky asked softly.

"He was suffocated to death."

"Could it have happened during childbirth?"

"No," the woman was obviously upset and Hutch hated to push her. "It is all there in my report but he was born alive and killed shortly after." She reached out to pick up a photo on her desk. Hutch came around to her side and saw a little girl with an infectious smile and pink framed eye glasses. Dr. Metter ran her finger across the picture. "This is Cindy. My daughter."

Hutch rested a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it gently. "Dr. Metter, may we take the report with us? We will return it later this morning."

The woman nodded slightly and Starsky turned to leave with Hutch but stopped and looked back. "Thank you, Doctor."

"Starsky, this means that this girl was part of a baby selling ring and because she gave birth to an imperfect child…"

"She and the baby were disposed of. God, Hutch, these people are monsters. We have to stop them."

"I think God is just who we need right now. Let's pray that girl survives and can help us stop this madness."

"Let's get this report to Wilson and White."

Hutch followed his partner down the hall. "Starsk, how did you figure this out?"

"It was when you mentioned adoption. I remembered seeing a woman in the bank the other day that had just adopted a little girl. She looked like Jamie. It just clicked."

"Well, keep clicking, would ya?"

"I'll try."

When Starsky returned to the squad room, White had just hung up the phone. "I called her parents. They are headed to the hospital now."

"Well, we have some information you'll want to see. And then you'll want to head down there to speak to her parents about it."

The four detectives headed to Captain Dobey's office.

A few hours later, Wilson and White came into the squad room after going to the hospital to speak to the injured girl's parents.

"How are you doing?" Hutch asked, although he could see both men were emotionally spent.

"Hanging in and so is Monica. They are seeing a slight improvement after releasing some pressure on her brain."

"That's t'rrific," Starsky said. "Keep us posted, fellas."

"We will and thanks again, Starsky." White sat down and scrubbed his face with his hands.

"Hey, it's almost quitting time. Do you want to join us for a beer?" Hutch asked.

"Thanks, but no. I just want to get home to my wife and kids."

"I hear ya," Hutch replied. "Consider it an open invitation."

Both men said 'thank you' and returned to the paperwork on their desks.

"How about you, Starsk? Or do you want to get home to Allison?"

"She's got a class until 7."

Hutch picked up the phone. "Well, I'll let Alice know that I'll be a little late. You earned a beer."

~ S&H ~

For the next few days, Starsky and Hutch were involved in a drug ring investigation of their own. They were working the night shift and on a stake out. Hutch sat in the passenger seat of the Torino while Starsky was sprawled in the back trying to get some sleep.

"You know, Hutch, say what you will about this car but it's roomier than yours – especially the back seat."

"Well, I have to agree with you there, Starsk."

"I'm gonna miss this old girl when she's gone."

Hutch put down the binoculars he was looking through and turned to look at Starsky. "Gone? Are you thinking of selling it?"

Starsky sighed, "Yeah. It's getting to be more expensive to keep fixing her than buying a new one."

"What are you thinking of buying?"

Starsky sat up, "Well, I've been looking at…" he stopped talking and looked down. His hand slid along the seat. "I don't wanna talk about it here."

"Why not?"

"She'll hear me, Hutch. I don't want her to know."

"Oh come on, Starsk. It is just a piece of metal. A striped tomato-colored piece of metal."

Starsky sighed. "That may be the last time you get to say that to me."

Hutch started to feel bad. "Hey, I'll help you sell her. We'll find her a good home. I bet one of the UCBC students would snatch this beauty up."

"Yeah? But only if they promise to treat her right."

Hutch put the binoculars back up to his eyes and smirked. "Yeah, sure they will."

Starsky gave up trying to sleep and got into the driver's seat. "You go ahead, Hutch. I'll take the watch."

"Nah," Hutch said as he reached into a bag and pulled out a celery stick. He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. He offered the bag to his partner but Starsky just made a face and shook his head. "Starsk…"

Starsky waited then asked, "Yeah?"

Hutch put the binoculars down again and looked at his friend. "Alice and I are having a will drawn up."

"Oh yeah? That's a good thing, right? You need to take care of little Jamie if something happened to both of you." Starsky's stomach lurched at the thought of losing both Hutch and Alice.

"I'm glad you mention that…"

"What? Oh my, God, you're sick? Alice is sick? You're both sick, oh Hutch."

"No, no – nothing like that."

Starsky slid down the seat and let out his breath. "Don't scare me like that, Buddy."

Hutch pulled out a carrot and started to chew on it. "You do that to yourself, Starsk. Quite the imagination."

Starsky blushed and shrugged, "Yeah, well…"

"Anyway, Alice and I have been talking. We need to name a guardian for Jamie if something does happen to us."

Starsky nodded, thinking of Alice's sister Pam way out in Chicago. His stomach lurched again thinking about never seeing his little James.

Hutch saw the worry cross over his friend's face and knew what he was thinking. "We'd like you to take Jamie."

Starsky was lost in his own thoughts so that what Hutch said didn't register right away. "Wait a minute, what?"

"Would you agree to be Jamie's guardian?"

Starsky stared at his friend. "You're serious?" Hutch nodded and smiled. "Oh man, Hutch. Oh man, yes!" Starsky grinned for a minute and then became more serious. "But Hutch, she needs a normal family. If Laura and I don't work out…"

"You are all the family she needs, Starsk. You love her as much as we do and she loves you too."

Starsky's frown faded and he was grinning his 1000-watt smile again. "I do love her." Starsky gulped. "Thank you, Hutch."

Hutch sat up and put his hand on Starsky's shoulder. "Thank you, Starsky."

Starsky stared out the front window of the car. "I'm gonna be a dad."

"Hey, wait a minute. Don't go killing me and Alice off."

"Oh, no. I wouldn't do that." Starsky looked serious and Hutch smiled and went back to crunching on his carrot.

Zebra Three, come in.

Hutch picked up the radio handset. "This is Zebra Three, go ahead."

You are requested to meet Captain Dobey in his office at 0100 hours.

"Dobey? What's he doing up at this hour?" Hutch asked and Starsky shrugged.

"Roger but please advise on our current assignment."

Captain Dobey has two replacement detectives on their way to your location now.

Hutch, hung the handset back onto the radio. "Well, that means this case hasn't been called off." He looked over at Starsky. "What are you thinking?"

"Wilson and White's case. It's gotta be." Starsky spotted a dark car with its lights off pulling up beside them. Hutch rolled down his window and updated the detectives on what had gone on during the stake out which was basically nothing. Starsky then started the car and headed back to Metro.

They entered the squad room and saw Dobey's office door open. "What's up, Cap'n," Starsky asked nodding at Wilson and White.

"Go ahead, Tom. This is your case," Dobey said nodding at the two other detectives.

"Monica Laplante came around earlier today. We were able to get enough information out of her and have located where she was being held."

"That's t'rrific!"

Wilson nodded in agreement. "We currently have the compound surrounded and are about to go in but since you two played such a pivotal role, we wanted you to be there when we did."

Starsky's chest puffed out and he smiled over at Hutch who said, "This is great news. Fill us in."

~ S&H ~

Hutch slid out of Starsky's car as he parked it at the house. "Man, I don't think I've ever been so tired."

Starsky stretched his arms over his head. "Me neither. The sun is already coming up. I am going to sleep all day."

"Yeah, just in time to go back on surveillance tonight," Hutch said and Starsky groaned. "Great job tonight, Starsk."

"You too. That was rough to see but it's over. Four young girls are headed home."

"And countless others have been saved from that horror. Whatya say we stop at The Pits tonight to celebrate."

"Before work?" Starsky asked, surprised.

"Yeah, before work," Hutch grinned.

"It's a date."'

~ S&H ~

That weekend Allison came over and the two couples hung out at Hutch and Alice's house. Hutch turned on the stereo. Starsky set up the train set that he had given Jamie for Christmas and the two of them played for over an hour. Allison sat back and watched them. 'Fire and Rain' came on the stereo and Alice looked over at her husband. His hand slid over to hers and she grabbed onto it. They both remembered that day after Janos had landed her in the hospital and Hutch took her to his house on the beach. They had danced to this song.

Allison and Alice spoke about their past and how they had gotten to where they were now. Hutch thought about how different they were but how they had both come through adversity to become amazing, strong women. He thought they could end up being close friends…he hoped they would.

Hutch looked from Starsky to Allison. "Tell me, Allison. Does he seem any different than he was when he was ten years old?"

"Hmm," Allison said as he rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "Now that you mention it, no."

"Ha ha, you two," Starsky said sarcastically. He stood up and cringed as his legs refused to straighten right away. "Uhn, I may be young at heart but my body sure has seen better days." He hobbled over to the couch and flopped down next to his girlfriend. They continued to watch Jamie play. She started to rub her eyes.

"Oh, someone is getting tired," Alice said. "Nap time, Jamie?"

"Nuh uh." The little girl shook her head and climbed up onto the couch next to Starsky. She sat with him for a minute than climbed on top of him lying on her stomach, her head tucked under his chin and her legs straddling his waist.

Allison tipped her head and whispered, "How sweet."

Starsky slowly ran his hand along the back of Jamie's head until he could feel her go limp. "She's asleep." Hutch reached to pick up his daughter but Starsky swatted his hand away. "No, leave her here. Please?"

Hutch shrugged, "Sure but she'll start to get pretty heavy."

Starsky placed a gentle kiss on top of the little girl's head. "I don't mind." He reached for Allison's hand and gave it a squeeze. "It sure don't get any better than this, does it Laura?"

Allison shook her head. "No, this is pretty close to perfect, David."

The End

AN: I got the idea for the human skin-covered book after seeing one in Providence, Rhode Island, while on a ghost tour. Allison May is from the Season 4 three-part episode, Targets Without a Badge.