Copyright 1996: Story by Striped Tomato (stripedtomato@hotmail.com) This is an amateur publication produced solely for the entertainment of its readers. It is a non-profit venture, and is not intended to infringe on any rights held by anyone to the Starsky & Hutch characters and/or stories.


I would like to dedicate Rites of Passage to the memory of Eric Carr, late drummer for the rock band KISS. His courage, strength and class in the face of a tragic illness defined the term "indomitable spirit." His example never ceases to inspire me.

And, of course, to PMG and DS: thank you for so expertly and magically developing these characters for us.


"I'm just the shadow of the man I used to be,

And it seems that there's no way out of this for me.

I used to bring you sunshine,

Now all I ever do is bring you down..."

--"Too Much Love Will Kill You" by Queen

Words & Music: Brian May, Frank Musker, Elizabeth Lamers

Starsky looked out the fifth floor window at the world below. After almost two months in the hospital, not having ventured outside the sterile walls, the thought of going home was a little terrifying. Maybe it was just parking lots that scared him. He snickered at the thought. Gee, Doctor, I really want to go home, but in order to do so, I'd have to go through a parking lot, and they scare me silly.

What could be safer than a parking lot outside a police precinct? Unlocking the door to his own car, ready to start out for the day, bickering with Hutch about dinner won over a game of ping pong...God, do I even have the strength to play that dumb game anymore? Starsky wondered. He remembered a question born during a recurring nightmare: what did I do to deserve this? In the nightmare he could feel that horrible white-hot pain ripping into his flesh, feel the terror of knowing he could never hope to draw his weapon fast enough and having nowhere to run...trapped against the side of the Torino, hearing Hutch calling out to him from somewhere that seemed miles away...

The battered LTD was making its way into the lot now. Life in the hospital had reduced Starsky to watching the lot for Hutch's car, or Huggy's or Dobey's or somebody's. Some days, after he had graduated to sitting in a chair instead of being confined to the bed, he'd stare out at the cars for hours, watching people come and go, speculating on who was a visitor and who was staff, eventually identifying these same people, watching them pick up family members and take them home, seeing life move on while he watched.

Gunther had certainly paid him back a hundred fold for helping bring down his operation. His insides had been tossed around like a garden salad and stitched back together again. The doctors had written him off after surgery, started a death watch. Then he recovered, to everyone's amazement. The Amazing Starsky, he thought with a snort of laugh. Recovers against all odds to sit in a chair and watch a parking lot.

Well, maybe that look of unbridled joy and infinite relief on Hutch's face was worth pulling through for, he decided. The first thing he had seen upon regaining consciousness was that expectant face, which had burst into such happiness he thought Hutch might explode right there. He wondered if his partner considered him such a bargain anymore. Every night after work, he'd been at the hospital, every day off...Starsky could still strain his memory back to when Hutch had a social life...any kind of life of his own that didn't revolve around hospital visits and Starsky's recovery. A recovery that was supposed to lead him back to the force. He had professed a desire to go back to work as soon as he could. Now that the day of reckoning was in sight, it terrified him. Oh, there'd be a few more months to hide behind his recovery before he could be back on the streets again, but it was in sight now. Could he endure another set of bullets ripping into what felt like very delicate insides now? The devastation to his body had been so complete, and the pain so incredible, that it had left him in wide-eyed awe of it.

And he was left with the fear and uncertainty that made the hospital parking lot look like a war zone to him. He knew he was unreasonably dependent on Hutch, at least psychologically. As long as Hutch picked him up, took him home, stayed with him, took time off to help him out...in essence, turned his life over to Starsky...he could face the thought of venturing outside of this little cocoon where he had struggled so hard to heal.

But eventually, he'd be well, and Hutch would go on with the parts of his life that were separate from Starsky's, and he'd be depending on Starsky again for back up and to do his part and Starsky felt himself positively trembling at the thought of touching his gun again, let alone risking one being aimed at him, ever again.

"Hey, buddy, ready to break out of here?" Hutch asked cheerfully as he entered the room pushing an empty wheelchair. "Talked the nurse into letting me drive."

Starsky only smiled faintly in response. Geez, I should be able to rejoice a little. He's so damn happy I'm going home today.

"Starsk--you feeling okay?"

I feel great, Starsky thought. Try putting your guts through a meat grinder and then tossing them all back in and stitching them back together and tell me if you feel okay. He swallowed an illogical lump rising in his throat.

"Starsky?" Hutch walked over to the chair now and crouched next to his partner. "Hey, are you feeling worse?" He rested a hand on Starsky's arm. Hutch was a little shaken at the fact his partner still looked so pale and fragile, even in his street clothes.

"No different." Starsky forced a smile. "I'm just a little shaky about goin' out there again. Haven't seen the outside world in quite a while."

"I think it's gonna feel pretty good once you try it. It's a beautiful day out there. Sunshine, nice breeze. Fresh air--there's a new concept, huh?"

"Right. Sounds good." Starsky looked into Hutch's worried eyes and came up with a more genuine smile. It seemed to put his partner at ease.

"Let's go, buddy." He brought the wheelchair closer and then reached out to support Starsky's arm as he stood. "Nurses get you all packed up?" Hutch grabbed the duffle bag that was on the bed and hung it by the handles on a handle of the wheelchair.

"That's everything. Underwear and a few paperbacks."

"How does it feel to be in real clothes again?"

"Funny. Tight."

"I bought you bigger jeans."

"I noticed. If I get up suddenly I'll probably moon somebody."

"Okay, are we ready for lift-off?"

"Anytime." Starsky hoped he sounded enthusiastic. He didn't, and Hutch picked up on it, but chose to ignore it. He pushed the chair through the open door to the room and headed down the hall for the elevator. A nurse joined them with a couple of final forms for Starsky to sign.

If I refuse to sign these can I stay? That question ran through Starsky's mind as he scrawled two signatures and she made some friendly farewell small talk as she rode down in the elevator with them so she could take the chair back inside after they left.

Hutch was right about the day and the fresh air. It surrounded him instantly and filled his lungs, which were used to the sterile, stale hospital air. The breeze toyed with his hair, and the sun felt foreign on his face. He squinted against it. He was glad not to see the Torino. It was part of his nightmares, a red and white blur in a moment of such utter anguish that even remembering it made his stomach twist into a knot.

"No complaints about the car?" Hutch probed as they drove out of the lot. There was a symphony of creaks, crunches and rattles in the old car that normally would have jangled Starsky's nerves, but this hideous monstrosity had been the omen of Hutch's arrival every day for so long that Starsky had forgotten to hate it. It was a friendly sight and one that made him feel safe--not to mention far less ridiculous that he would have felt riding around in the ill-fated compact convertible Hutch briefly owned and had named Belle.

"Give me time," Starsky responded, trying to sound chipper.

"Probably feel pretty good to sleep in your own bed again, huh? Listen, I had your couch put in storage, and I rented a sofa bed. If I'm gonna stay with you, there's no way I'm sleeping on that lumpy excuse for a couch."

"That's okay. Look, Hutch, I don't blame you if you don't want to do this. I could still get a visiting nurse, and the department's been great about paying for everything."

"Starsk, what's eating you anyway?" Hutch seemed annoyed, and Starsky didn't blame him. "You've been acting funny ever since I showed up to pick you up."

"I don't want to be burden." Starsky said it before he thought about it, but then that was a luxury of his relationship with Hutch--he could say what he needed to say without weighing it very carefully.

"I thought we had this discussion already."

"You wouldn't be honest with me about this. You wouldn't say, 'yeah, Starsk, I do feel bogged down taking care of you and having no life'. You'd never admit it."

"That could be because that's not how I feel. What's that old song--'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Partner'?"

"That's brother, not partner." Starsky had to laugh a little in spite of himself.

"Same difference." Hutch smiled. "You couldn't be a burden to me if you tried, so will you please quit worrying about it?"

"Okay, but I still mean I don't want you to feel trapped into playing Florence Nightingale."

"You see cuffs on me anywhere? I'm not trapped."

"Okay." Starsky watched the buildings move past the window as the car headed toward his apartment. "My plants still alive?"

"Watered them once a week. They're fine."

"You didn't get a bunch of people lined up at the apartment to jump out at me and yell surprise, did you?"

"You said you didn't feel up to it, so I took you at your word. I think you're probably right. Our friends never know when to go home anyway." Hutch seemed to have relaxed in his seat a little, and was calmly steering the old car with one wrist that was draped on the bottom of the wheel while the other elbow enjoyed the fresh air where it rested on the window frame.

Thoughts of what the doctors had said both reassured and haunted Hutch. In one breath they had said that Starsky would make a full recovery, and would be able to eventually get back in shape and return to the old job. At the same time, the doctor had expressed doubts about how well Starsky's system would handle another massive shock to it in the future. The cardiac arrest had nearly killed him, and there was no escaping the fact that a good portion of his insides had been so extensively repaired that it was doubtful they'd withstand being ripped apart and patched up again. As long as no one shoots at him, we'll be okay, Hutch thought with a grimace he hoped passed for a smile. After all, it was a day he never thought would come. Even after Starsky had managed to overcome cardiac arrest, and then regained consciousness, he seemed so damned weak and miserable and dependent that the thought of him getting out of bed, getting dressed, and sitting in a chair waiting to go home from the hospital seemed like a fantasy sequence.

Seeing his partner's smile spread into his dark blue eyes like it used to would be a dream come true. It was as if his body were living, but something in his spirit had passed to the other side. Maybe he saw Terry while he was dying...Hutch had read about people seeing loved ones when they were on their way to the other side and then pulled back. Maybe Starsky didn't want to be here at all anymore. Impulsively, Hutch took a hold of the wheel with the hand that had rested on the window frame and reached out to take Starsky's hand, which was resting on the seat of the car. He didn't say anything, just squeezed the hand.

"I'm glad you're here," he finally said. Starsky squeezed back, and this time a little of the smile did creep into his tired eyes.

"Me too, partner." Starsky didn't pull away, but absorbed the warmth and camaraderie of the gesture. Maybe Hutch is happier even with this stitched up, patched up version of me than nothing at all, he thought with a smile.

"Look familiar?" Hutch returned both hands to the wheel for the job of parking the car. Starsky's apartment building seemed like a distant memory relived.

"Where's the Torino?" Starsky scanned the street, almost dreading the sight of his prized possession.

"I rented it a room at Merl's. Figured you wouldn't want it out here on the street for two months."

"Thanks. I wouldn't."

"We'll get it back in the next few days. The doctor said you shouldn't be driving for a while yet anyway."

"Doesn't matter." Starsky opened his door.

"Stay put 'till I get there," Hutch directed, taking charge again with his best nurse's tone. He hurried around the front of the car and supported Starsky's arm as he got out of it.

They took the short flight of steps leading up to Starsky's door at a snail's pace. Starsky had seen his grandmother take the stairs faster to the longest day of her life. Even now he was breathing heavily and that damned pain was there that came every time he put too much demand on his respiration or exerted himself at all.

The inside of the apartment looked the same as always, except for the new sofa bed, and a bunch of balloons tied to the back of one of the kitchen chairs.

"You didn't want a party, but I had to do something to mark the occasion," Hutch explained. "'Huggy sent over a bunch of food earlier, so you'll be sure to have indigestion within the first hour of getting home."

"These beat all those stupid flowers at the hospital. I was starting to feel like I was laid out in my casket, not recuperating." He tugged at one of the strings and watched the balloons dance. "So what'd Huggy bring over?"

"Gettin' a little hungry?" Hutch returned from the bedroom, where he had tossed the duffle bag on the bed.

"I missed chicken in snot sauce over dog biscuits--today's lunch special...that's gonna be a hard act to follow, pal." Starsky found his way to the new couch and sank down into one of the seats.

"I can stick the pizza in the oven--one of Huggy's 'Double or Nothing' specials."

"You're voluntarily feeding me one of those? I must be dying and you haven't told me yet."

"Just saving you the energy of fighting with me--at least for today. Don't think you're going to eat garbage every day, though. I did some grocery shopping of my own yesterday."

"Dear God. Do you think the hospital would still take me back?" Starsky looked over the back of the couch at Hutch, who was putting the pizza box in the oven.

"Watch your mouth, smart ass, or I'll make you eat what I bought for myself at the health food store."

"I thought you were glad I survived...you just wanted the chance to kill me slowly, huh?" It had been a long time since Starsky had felt at ease enough to make a mortality joke. Even longer since Hutch had felt comfortable enough to laugh at it.

"I got some steaks and chicken and stuff to make spaghetti. I won't poison you, Starsk. I promise." Hutch dropped onto the opposite end of the couch.

"So what do we do today?"

"Eat lunch, and then you get some rest."

"All I've done is rest for the last two months." Starsky shrugged. "'Course I'm not good for much of anything else, so I guess that's okay. I didn't sleep much last night anyway."

"Why not?"

"I dunno. I'm on a lot less medication now, so it takes a little getting used to. I'm not as knocked out as I was for a while there. I have nightmares sometimes."

"Nightmares? You never mentioned that before."

"If I had, you'da been at the hospital all night too. You had to have some time off to get some sleep, Hutch. You couldn't spend all your off hours baby-sitting a basket case."

"About the shooting?" Hutch probed.

"I don't want to talk about that now. I smell pizza, and if I get going on that topic, I'm gonna lose my appetite."

"Okay, buddy."' Hutch returned to the kitchen and worked on extracting a couple of pieces of pizza from the warm box. He delivered the pizza to the living room and then went to the refrigerator to get a couple of bottles of cola. Beer and pain pills didn't seem like a smart combination, and Starsky was about due for another dose of his prescription.

"Tell me about what you're workin' on," Starsky asked, nibbling on the pizza. He didn't seem to have his old vigor.

"Nothing too special. We did bust Gordon Callahan yesterday."


"Dobey had me teamed up with Tony Sheridan--the new guy?"

"Don't think I met him." Starsky washed down a couple small bites of pizza with a drink of his pop.

"He started about six weeks ago--I guess he wasn't around before...Anyway, he used to work in San Francisco, homicide. He's a damn good cop. Good instincts. Really knows his way around on the streets. We've been following up on a few old leads you and I were working on a few months back about Callahan's whereabouts, and Sheridan activated a few of his contacts up north, and before long, we had a good lead. Found the guy holed up in a condemned apartment building--right under our noses practically. Taking him in was a little tricky. You remember what a psycho the guy is."

"A real head case. I remember. You can't dice up a half dozen girls and have all your marbles rolling the same way."


"So what happened--when you tried to take him in, I mean?"

"I'm tellin' ya, Starsk, I didn't think I'd be making it to pick you up today. He had me cold--but Sheridan's good back up. Snuck up behind the bastard and got a gun right up to his head before he knew what was happening."

"Remind me to thank Sheridan when I meet him."

"I'd like you to meet him. Think you'd like him." Hutch had almost finished his first piece, but Starsky had only toyed with his and now set two-thirds of it aside on the plate. "Not hungry?"

"I guess I'm just tired. I'm sorry, Hutch. All of a sudden I'm winded." Starsky made it to his feet slowly before Hutch could get up from his seat on the couch.

"Need some help?"

"Nah. I'm just gonna get in my pajamas and go to bed for a while. I've been so anxious to get up and dressed, and now I just wanna sleep."

"You've got a ways to go before you get your old energy back. Don't worry. It'll come with time."

"I guess."

"You're about due for your medicine, so I'll get that while you get changed."


Starsky chided himself for feeling such an odd pain in his chest at Hutch's enthusiastic description of Tony Sheridan. Hell, maybe it was just an odd pain in his chest and nothing more. Where does your chest end and your stomach start? he queried absent-mindedly. Maybe its my torn up guts hurting from climbing up those damn steps. Wanting Hutch to stop and stroke his ego in the middle of their discussion was immature. What was he supposed to say? "Sheridan's okay, but of course, he pales in comparison to you, Starsky?" Yeah, right. Nobody's indispensable, or irreplaceable. That hurts, damn it.

Back in the familiar pajamas, Starsky crawled into his bed, vaguely annoyed at the weight of the spread on top of the covers, but too tired to pull it back. It felt mushy and foreign compared to the hospital bed. The sheets were fresh. Hutch had done his homework. Full-time cop, part-time housekeeper, Starsky thought with an ironic smile.

"Hey, pal, you're gonna roast to death under that." Hutch entered the room and set a glass of water and a pill bottle on the nightstand. He pulled back the spread and folded it, tossing it on a chair. "Better--or are you cold?"

"Much better. I'm just right."

"Okay. Drug time." Hutch sat on the edge of the bed and took a pill out of the bottle and handed it to Starsky, who popped it in his mouth and then gulped a little of the water out of the glass. Hutch returned it to the nightstand and adjusted the covers over his partner as he went through his usual quest for a comfortable position. When somebody rearranges your insides, how do you find a comfortable position? Hutch wondered if anything didn't hurt. He remembered that horrid, strangled yelp of pain from the other side of the Torino, barely audible over the shooting. Starsky finally gave up and returned to his back.

"If you need me, I'll be right outside the door in the living room. I'm just gonna sit there and read for a while."

"Anything good?" Starsky asked, his lids drooping a little.

"Poetry. I'm not sure how good it is. I'm still deciding."

"Read me a little?"

"Sure." Hutch hurried out to the living room and found the book among the pile of personal effects he had stashed next to the couch. Starsky was still awake when he returned, regarding him with an expression he wasn't sure how to identify. Maybe the odd look was just fatigue or discomfort. "Okay. Close your eyes, relax, and let the words carry you. There's one in here I do think is pretty good." Hutch searched the pages until he found it, and settled on the empty side of the bed, leaning against the headboard and crossing his legs at the ankles. Starsky grinned a little, seeming happy at the company.

"I close my tired eyes

And wander to the sandy shore

And step into a small boat

Waiting on the beach.

The boat drifts languidly

On blue-green waters,

And I pass through a rainbow arch:

The passage to imagination.

On the banks

Of a narrowing waterway,

Tall grasses sway

Dotted with exotic flowers.

I drift aground

To wander among the blooms,

The sun warm and gentle

On my face.

There are no sounds

In my secret place,

Save for the song

Of birds...

But as I lie in the grass

Dreams sweeping me away,

Only the sweetest sound

Can draw me back...

Through the blooms

And the grasses

And the rainbow arch...

To yours, the gentlest of voices."

Hutch looked at his sleeping partner. He didn't know if it was the pain medication, the poem, or the company--or some mystical combination of all of them, but Starsky was breathing evenly, his face turned toward Hutch, a little smile still curving his lips slightly.

Hutch re-read the poem. It wasn't any masterpiece. It was more of a lullaby than great prose, but there was something calming in it, and Hutch almost felt able to doze himself. He carefully slid off the bed, and when Starsky didn't stir, he slipped out of the room noiselessly.

It seemed to Hutch that his partner was sleeping more now than he had while he was in the hospital. He had gone to bed around two that afternoon and slept until six, when he responded to the smell of steaks and vegetables being prepared in the kitchen. His appetite seemed to be back in gear, and he appeared to enjoy the meal, though his mood was subdued.

"Sure beats hospital food," Starsky commented as he leaned back in his chair. "You do all right with this whole housekeeping thing. Interested in a new job?"

"Full-time maid, huh? Thanks a lot, Starsk." Hutch got up and started clearing away the dishes. "Hope you saved room for dessert."

"You made dessert? Is it something healthy?"

"I promise you it has no redeeming nutritional value at all," Hutch replied as he removed a small decorated cake from a bakery box. He stuck one candle in the middle of it, lit it, and set it in front of Starsky. The blue writing said simply, "Welcome Home, Starsk".

"Hey, that's really great, Hutch."

"Well, until you're up to the whole party, I had to settle for the cake and the balloons." Hutch took his seat once he had gathered a knife and two plates from the cupboard. "I don't know if you're supposed to make a wish on one of these cakes, but it seemed a little bleak without the candle."

"I'll figure something out." Starsky stared at the dancing flame a moment. I wish it had never happened, he thought. I wish I hadn't been shot. I wish I was still myself. I wish we were still out on the streets. I wish I didn't have to sit here like an invalid and watch you do what we should be doing but with a new partner. I wish you didn't like working with Tony Sheridan so well. I wish you didn't have to take a leave of absence to play nurse to me, and I wish you wouldn't rather be working with Tony than cooped up here with me. I wish...

"Must be a hell of a wish." Hutch's voice broke what had become a long silence. He was smiling broadly.

"It's a big one." Starsky looked at the candle. "What would you wish for if it were your candle?"

"I don't think I have a right to ask for anything else. I already got my wish, partner--and it was a big one too. The only one that really matters to me."

Starsky felt a lump rising in his throat. He was angry with himself for getting all misty and emotional about everything lately. If somebody said something about the weather, I'd probably cry, he ridiculed himself silently. He blinked a time or two and smiled back at Hutch.


"Ah, Starsk, if you don't blow that thing out, I think it'll set the cake on fire pretty soon."

"Sorry." He smiled and pushed the cake a little toward Hutch. "Since I couldn't come up with much to wish for either, maybe we should blow it out together--maybe that way we'll both get what makes us happy."

"I think we've been lucky enough to have that for quite a long time." Hutch could see Starsky shifting a little uncomfortably at such an obvious display of sentimentalism, and he felt the need to explain it just a little. "You know, Starsk, there were a lot of long bleak nights when I didn't think I could ever say anything to you again--anything that mattered. All the stupid shit we went through with Kira--"

"That's over, Hutch. We resolved that."

"I know we resolved it, but it doesn't change the fact it happened. I just feel like I've taken so much for granted lately, and then this happened, and suddenly there were no more chances. All the times I held back something I wanted to say to you, or was so sparing with my friendship that I only let you have a little at a time...Maybe you take people you love for granted so much that you forget you're not ever telling them."

"It's not like I walk around every day telling you I love you. I think we've always figured it was obvious, that it didn't need to be said. I don't blame you for not getting all gooey with me all the time. I never doubted how you felt about me... well, maybe a little when the whole Kira thing happened, but we worked that out. We never needed a lot of words, Hutch. You're my best friend, and I love you--I always have. Always will. But I guess it's something that's so much a part of who I am, and of my life, that it's like breathing--I don't think about it. I just do it, live it." Starsky looked at the shrinking candle. "Well, we sure do get sticky by candlelight, don't we?" He grinned at Hutch, who chuckled a little in response. "You wanna blow this damn thing out now?" Starsky's question turned Hutch's chuckle into a full-blown laugh. They both leaned forward and blew out the candle.

"I should've been able to do something," Hutch said soberly as he sat back.

"About what?" Starsky was removing the candle, licking the frosting off the base of it.

"What happened..." Hutch shook his head. "I just stood there."

"As opposed to doing what? Flying over the top of the car? We were separated by the car. I was in the line of fire--that was just the way it went down. I couldn't have gotten to you any faster if the reverse had happened." Starsky could feel that heaviness in the pit of his stomach at reliving the experience in his mind. "I didn't have time to do anything for myself. They were just there all of a sudden..." Starsky shuddered almost visibly.

"I'm sorry I brought it up again, Starsk."

"It's okay." Starsky realized suddenly that by making Hutch walk on eggshells about this subject, he was denying him the chance to share his feelings with the one person in the world Hutch seemed willing to share them with openly. "Hutch, there was no time to react rationally. No time for you to get to me. Don't you think I know that you would have done anything you could to prevent this from happening to me? How many times have we risked our lives for each other? It's not like you had a choice this time. Shit happens."

"This is kind of a big thing to shelve under the category of 'shit happens'."

"That's the category it belongs in. It was something you couldn't fix, couldn't stop, couldn't change. It just was."

"I guess."

"Listen to me. You couldn't stop me from being shot. You had no choices. But you could choose what you did after it happened. You could have sent me a couple of get well cards and some ugly flower arrangement and told me to get a visiting nurse to take care of me when I got out. You were there every day, and you're still here, taking time off work to take care of me. When you have a choice, Hutch, you make the right ones."

"I'm glad you feel that way."

"I do. I also am sick of looking at this cake and not sticking my fingers in the frosting and tasting it, so can we cut it now?"

"You got it." Hutch cut the cake, and they finished dessert and spent a couple of hours in front of the TV before Starsky took his final dose of medication for the night and went to bed.

It was a surreal image. The lot was longer, wider, more open than it really was. The whole thing was blurry, but there was the Torino, and Hutch laughing and saying something, and then the sound of grinding metal, and a police car coming toward them, and from somewhere in space Hutch called out, "Get down!" and it echoed millions of times through his mind in horrible waves. He reached hopelessly for his gun, panicked at the sight of the weapon protruding from the window, that split second of anticipation of the agony before it came...thousands of times more horrible than he thought anything could be. The impact came to his senses first, throwing him against the car and the glass shattering, and then the shredding of his body by the hot metal tearing into the tissue...Hutch was calling out somewhere, a flash of blond hair disappearing on the other side of the car...and the pain and the fear and the darkness and the solitude of the world the pain was creating...He screamed out for Hutch, for that fleeting glimpse of hair and then under the car, the sight of his dodging feet as the gunfire roared around him... and the pain...God, he wanted to cry from the pain, but the strength was gone out of his voice, his lungs wouldn't support it anymore.

"Starsk, come on, buddy, it's me." Hutch's voice was so close, but how... "Starsky!" Hands were on his shoulders, then gripping his arms, shaking gently. "Starsk, it's me, come on, wake up."

Starsky opened his eyes. In that moment of recognizing it was "the nightmare" again, and he wasn't lying on the cement next to his car, it took him a moment to grasp that this was not a hospital staff person, firmly and clinically explaining to him that he was dreaming. This was Hutch. Somebody who might even care what the nightmare was about or why he was having it.

"Hey, partner, it's okay. It was just a dream, buddy." Hutch was smiling slightly, reaching up to wipe a couple of tears off Starsky's face. "Try to take a couple deep breaths and relax. You're gonna hurt pretty badly if you get out of breath."

Starsky reached up and wound an arm around Hutch's neck. His partner scooped him up with both arms and pulled him close. His tired lungs would support his voice and his tears now, and he let them go, holding onto Hutch as if he were a lifeline. And he felt like one at that moment: safety, security, and warmth. The hand that was gently intertwined in his hair, the other that alternately rubbed or patted lightly on his back.

"Pretty scary dream, huh?" Hutch asked softly. Starsky didn't speak. He couldn't. "Shh. I know, Starsk. I know, buddy. Just hang on to me, it's okay." After a while, Starsky just let himself relax in his partner's arms. Hutch didn't move for quite a while, just stroked through Starsky's hair very gently and continued to murmur an occasional word of comfort. "You wanna lie back now, buddy?" Starsky nodded slowly, and Hutch made the downward motion with him, still supporting him as if he were made of china. "I'll be right back." Hutch got up and left the room for a moment, but returned quickly with a glass of water and a washcloth. He bathed Starsky's face with the cool cloth, pushing sweaty ringlets of hair off his forehead. Usually if a nurse was satisfied he was dreaming and not actually dying, she left the room without further comment, and Starsky was used to lying in the semi-darkened room alone, watching demons dance on the ceiling until dawn. He looked back at Hutch, and finally said what his partner had hoped to hear earlier.

"It's really good to be home."

"It's really good to have you home, you big dummy." Hutch set the cloth aside and picked up the glass of water. "How about a sip, huh?" He held the glass while Starsky took a couple of swallows. "Better?" he asked, rearranging the covers neatly.

"A lot."

"You wanna talk about it?"

"It's just the shooting, over and over again. Same dream. But it's the fear and the pain...it's like it goes on longer in the dream than it really did. I was so helpless, and I knew what they were going to do, but I couldn't get my gun, I was trapped by that damned car..."

"Shh. Take it easy." Hutch stroked his cheek lightly.

"I heard you calling me, and I felt that pain, and I wanted to reach you, but I couldn't...I was so scared, Hutch. I thought I was gonna die, and I was afraid of that pain..."

"I know, buddy." Hutch took his hand and rested his forehead against Starsky's for a moment. "God it must have hurt like hell." He moved away again. Starsky just nodded. "You've been having the same nightmare for a long time, huh?"

"Since they started cutting back on the medication. I was so drugged for a while there that I didn't know the difference. But once they started cutting it down as I got better, my mind was working again."

"I wish you'd told me sooner."

"Hutch, you were at the hospital just about every second you weren't at work. If I had told you about this, you'd have been there every night, too, and I didn't want you to get so worn out that you'd wind up getting yourself killed because your reflexes were shot."

"Then I'd have taken my leave sooner. I haven't been worth a hell of a lot to anybody working by myself anyway."

"What about Tony Sheridan? I thought that was working out pretty well."

"Sheridan's a good guy--real sharp. He'll make somebody here a hell of a partner."

"Somebody--but not you?"

"I already have one, remember?" He patted Starsky's shoulder.

"I thought you liked working with him--I won't be upset if you say you did. I mean it's not like cheating on your wife, working with another cop while I'm laid up."

"Sheridan had to bail me out yesterday because my mind wasn't where it was supposed to be. And there was something off in the way we worked together. It's like the timing isn't there. That innate, instinctual thing that doesn't need a game plan."

"That takes a lot of years to build up to. We screwed up a few times when we were first starting out together."

"Yeah, but you could always read me, anticipate me--same with me where you're concerned. We work like two parts of one being--in tandem."

"A two-headed cop with eight limbs. Sounds like something out of a really good late show." Starsky was grinning, and Hutch had to laugh. It was time to lighten up a little.

"Feel like you could sleep a little?"

"I think so." He paused as Hutch stood up from his position on the edge of the bed. "Hutch?"


"You think you could hang around for a few minutes?"

"You got it."

"Do you have that book you had earlier--you know, the one with the poem?"

"It's in the living room. Want me to read to you?

"I'd like that."

"Then you got it, buddy." Hutch retrieved the book and then settled into position on the other side of the bed, where he had sat to read earlier. "Same one?"

"Maybe a different one first. Pick one you like." Starsky settled into position, his face turned toward Hutch as it had been earlier.

"Okay. This one's called 'Memories'. I think it's perfect for right now. Just relax and let yourself drift. I'm not going anywhere, okay?"

"Okay." Starsky smiled and closed his eyes.

"'I used to be afraid

To close my eyes

And to remember...

I used to fear

The past and the ghosts

That danced in my dreams...

Then you whispered to me

That dreams are only movies,

And memories only pictures...

They are imprisoned

Behind the bars of time

And I have conquered them...

I have risen above

These pathetic ghosts,

These impotent images...

I have overcome

And they are my prisoners,

Under my dominion...'."

"I like that one too," a sleepy voice commented. "Where'd you get that book? It's not as weird as some of that other stuff you've read." Starsky opened his eyes and focused on the small book with the plain cover.

"You're cheating, pal. You're supposed to be sleeping--or trying to, remember?"

"Okay. Read that other one--the one about the boat?"

"It's called 'Passages'."

"Okay, whatever. That knocked me out the last time, but want to hear how it ends. I fell asleep somewhere in the grass, I think," Starsky said with a smile.

"That was the idea, Starsk." Hutch shifted his position a little and flipped through the book to the right page. "By the way, buddy, you don't have to stay awake and keep me reading to keep me here. I won't go anywhere."

Starsky only grinned his response, listened to the poem, and fell asleep in the comfortable silence that followed the last line.

The insistent rapping on the door disturbed Hutch first. He forced his droopy eyes open and squinted at the sunlight. Starsky was still sleeping soundly by his side, but that wouldn't last long if the persistent visitor wasn't satisfied quickly. Hutch carefully stood up and hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him. The odd angle his neck had been in all night made him stiff and irritable. Sleeping half-sitting against Starsky's headboard hadn't been a refreshing experience.

"All right already!" Hutch yanked the door open to see Dobey standing on the other side of it, holding a plant.

"Good morning to you too, Hutchinson."

"Sorry, Captain. Long night. Come in." He stood aside as Dobey entered and then closed the door. "Starsky's still asleep."

"It's almost nine--thought I waited late enough."

"Don't worry about it. Thanks for stopping in. Want some coffee?"

"Sounds good." Dobey set down his plant on the coffee table and took a seat at the kitchen table. "How's Starsky?"

"Tired, weak, sore...not much different from when he was in the hospital. Sometimes I wish I'd killed Gunther when I had the chance." Hutch poured water into the top of the new coffee maker Starsky had bought for himself just before the shooting. He was intrigued to no end by the timer function, and usually had it set so it was making coffee by the time Hutch showed up in the morning to pick him up for work.

"You don't mean that."

"The hell I don't."

"Didn't it ever occur to you that killing Gunther would have been doing him a favor? Picture a man like Gunther in prison, where he's gonna spend the rest of his miserable life, and tell me if that isn't a fate worse than death in his case."

"I hadn't really looked at it that way."

"Because you're too busy having revenge fantasies. Revenge isn't always as sweet as you think it'll be. Ask Gunther." Dobey accepted the coffee from Hutch, and the detective joined his boss at the table.

"I hate to say this, Captain, but that is the ugliest damn plant I ever saw."

"Venus flytrap."

"I used to have one of those. I think I," he cleared his throat, "accidentally killed it."

"The clerk at the store said it preferred flies but would eat anything. Somehow I thought of Starsky." The two men laughed quietly.

Starsky stirred and opened his eyes. The sunlight was filtering in through the curtains, and Hutch and his book were nowhere in sight. He rolled over slowly to look at the clock.

It was a little after nine. How can you be tired before you even get up? His stomach and side hurt, but that wasn't anything new. Time for another damn pain pill. He attempted a deep breath, but found it shaky and shallow. His injured lung was almost healed, but it still had a few limitations. He got out of bed and pulled on his robe. There were voices coming from the other room. Opening the door, Starsky spotted Dobey and Hutch sharing a congenial moment at the kitchen table. Odd to see those two relaxed for a change, he thought happily.

"Morning, Cap," Starsky greeted. He felt almost as upbeat as he sounded, though his tired, frail appearance was a constant reminder of what had happened.

"Morning, Starsky. You're looking more like your old self again," Dobey lied pleasantly. Starsky accepted the courtesy at face value, and then lit on the couch to examine the plant.

"This for me?" he asked, surveying the numerous bristly mouths supported by waxy green stems.

"Call it a welcome home present."

"Yeah. Its eating habits are actually worse than yours. I think we should congratulate the captain for finding something we could say that about," Hutch needled. Oddly enough, Starsky enjoyed being teased again. The constant flow of gentle, good-natured words had made him feel like a dying man all the time. This was like being back to normal again.

"Thanks, Cap. You may have hit on something I can actually do now--feed a plant." Starsky was smiling brightly as he said this, meaning it with the best of intentions, but his defeatist attitude toward his future seemed to creep into every conversation sooner or later.

"Well, I have a meeting downtown at ten, so I better get a move on." Dobey stood and started toward the door. Hutch took care of the niceties of walking with him and opening it.

"Hey, thanks for stopping in and bringing this," Starsky called after him. Dobey regarded the prematurely aged face of this young man, one of his best and brightest. No wonder Hutchinson wanted to kill Gunther. Sometimes Dobey would have liked the pleasure himself. Starsky seemed to be picking up on the prolonged glance in his direction. Dobey shook himself back to reality. No need to gape at him like I think he's dying, he chided himself.

"Take care of yourself, Starsky." Dobey left the apartment without further comment.

"How're you feeling this morning?" Hutch asked as he joined Starsky on the couch.

"About the same. Feel more like I have my land legs back--being out of the hospital. Thanks for sticking with me last night." Starsky kept his eyes focused on the unsightly plant.

"I never thought too much about what it was like for you--psychologically, I mean. We were all focused so much on you healing up physically, and what to expect for your recovery that I don't think any of us, myself included, spent much time thinking about what had to be running through your mind."

"You wouldn't think you'd have time to think about it. A machine gun comes out a window, you go for your gun even though you know it's useless, the bullets come out--you can see the flash--and they tear into your guts. I don't know what I really noticed first: the impact or the pain, but I felt both. And all that shit about your life flashing before you?"


"Doesn't happen. There's no time. But there was the impact, that pain, the glass shattering and all the shots and somewhere I heard you--and when I hit the ground, I saw your feet moving for a split second, and I knew you were alive, probably not hit, and I let go."

"Let go?"

"While it was all happening, my brain was trying to process the situation, and the pain, but I was afraid you were hit, because I couldn't get a clear view of you. Then I saw your feet moving around when I was lying by the car, and I relaxed. Stupid bastard that I am, I was trying to figure out how to draw my gun, but I couldn't move my arms anymore, and I was trying to help you, 'cause one person against all that ammo, just wouldn't stand a chance."

"Oh, God, Starsk." Hutch rested his hand on Starsky's arm. "You've got four bullets in you and you were worrying about me?"

"Sorry, pal. Just instinct. As long as I'm breathin', I'd try to be your back up." Starsky took a deep but shaky breath. "How about some of that coffee?"

After a light breakfast, Starsky insisted on getting dressed and going somewhere. The apartment was becoming claustrophobic, and he knew Hutch had to be going stir crazy too. He felt weak, but almost human after showering, shaving and going to his own closet and picking out his own clothes. Before pulling the t-shirt over his head, he paused to regard his reflection in the mirror. The lower half of his body looked pretty much the same as it always had, free of any significant scars except for a couple of small ones on his leg from minor bullet wounds. Child's play compared to this, he thought with a bitter smirk. He pulled on his jeans and then his eyes fell on the central portion of his body. He scolded himself for this moment of bruised vanity. Why can't I just thank God I'm alive and leave it at that? I have to complain. He ran his hand over the scars the bullets and resulting surgeries had left behind. Feeling tears well up again, he turned and surveyed a couple of smaller marks on his back. Maybe they'd fade with time, he told himself, pulling the blue t-shirt over his head and reaching for his jacket. Fade, but not disappear, he reminded himself. Damn, I'm shallow, he heard his conscience chastising him. He sniffed and ran a hand past his eyes. Oh, well, one more thing to mope about and snivel about. All I do lately, he reflected, heading for the door. He hesitated and picked up his sneakers, kicked off the previous day and tossed in the corner. A nurse had tied them at the hospital for him, the downward curving of his body still uncomfortable at the sharp angle shoe-tying required. He would be damned if he called to Hutch to come in and tie his shoes too.

Hutch finished getting dressed and put the breakfast dishes in a sink full of water. It wasn't exactly the best method of cleaning up, but he had no interest in washing dishes now...of course, it never was an activity he engaged in when he could avoid it. Of course turning Starsky's apartment into a pigsty wouldn't exactly qualify as helping him, so he resolved to clean things up when they got home.

Gunther in prison. Hutch lingered with the thought for a moment, tasted it, savored it like a fine wine on his palate. Gunther had exacted a grisly revenge on them for their part in his downfall, but the sweetest revenge belonged to the good guys, Hutch thought triumphantly. And Starsky fooled you and lived anyway, Gunther. Screw you, you bastard. We won after all...

"Ready to go?" Starsky appeared behind him.

"Yup." Hutch wiped his hands on a towel and turned to face his partner. "Need some help with those?" He indicated the sneakers that hung a little defeatedly from Starsky's left hand.

"You mind? I tried but I'm still havin' a little trouble curling up like that to tie 'em."

"Park it right there. No sweat." As Starsky sat at the kitchen table at his direction, Hutch slipped the shoes on and tied them. This had to be driving Starsky nuts, being this dependent. This was the man who had crawled off the couch in the back room of that Italian restaurant to try to help him even with a hemorrhaging bullet wound in his back, who was trying to draw his weapon as he lay dying by the Torino only a couple of months earlier. A man who could walk around with poison flowing in his veins and still save his partner's life before collapsing...Hutch couldn't picture what being unable to tie his own shoes must feel like to his fiercely independent and remarkably strong partner. He looked up to meet Starsky's eyes when he'd finished the task. I said wanted you back no matter how you came back, and now I have to help you be all you can be now, and I have to make you feel like all this shit is worth it, Hutch thought to himself. "You've always wanted an excuse to make me kneel before you," Hutch joked, straightening up. Starsky smiled, but the humor didn't spread to his eyes. "Where d'you wanna go?"

"I don't know. Can't do much of anything. I'm just getting a little wacko being cooped up all the time."

"Well, let's go for a drive, and if you're still feeling okay, maybe we can stop by The Pits for lunch."

"Okay." Starsky stood up, waving away Hutch's offer to help him.

"Now all this is on one condition," Hutch began, picking up his jacket off the couch. He was wearing his shoulder holster like any normal day. It pierced Starsky not to be putting his own on, armed with that gun and a strong, confident body to go with it. Now I'm just an invalid, and Hutch will have to look out for me. INVALID. IN-VALID. Not valid. Not a valid person anymore, not a valid partner. A lump of pummeled, repaired flesh tagging along for the ride. "...hear me, partner?"

"What?" Starsky looked at him blankly. They were almost to the door.

"As soon as you feel tired, or you're ready to come home, you let me know. And I don't care how good you feel, we'll be coming home after lunch so you can get some rest."

"That's fine."

The breeze that blew in the open windows of the car was a refreshing change from indoor air. It seemed odd not to hear the police radio breaking in on them from time to time, but Starsky wasn't about to complain about the peacefulness of leaning back in the seat, almost dozing at times, while Hutch drove them farther into the country, taking some winding and scenic country roads to nowhere in particular. He seemed to understand his partner's need to do something, but nothing in particular. Even going to Huggy's made him uneasy. No one else would know to look at me that I can't tie my shoes and that my partner has to read to me and sit up with me half the night and chase nightmares away, Starsky thought. But he still felt self-conscious about everything--his dependence on Hutch, most of all. They had always been openly dependent on each other professionally and emotionally, but this level of physical dependence was depressing and stifling for both of them. To recover just to sit in his apartment and be Hutch's responsibility rather than his friend was no life at all. No life at all worth living...

"You like this one, don't you?" Hutch turned up the radio. A Jim Croce song was starting. Starsky wondered if his voice still worked. Haven't sung a note in months, he thought. Jim was starting... "Well I know it's kinda late, I hope I didn't wake you..."

"Yeah, I know it's kinda strange, but every time I'm near you, I just run out of things to say, I know you'd understand, every time I tried to tell you, the words just came out wrong, so I have to say I love you in a song," Starsky sang along, and continued to keep up with the song. His voice was still there, unharmed. It wasn't long before Hutch couldn't resist adding his own vocal back up to his partner, and they were giving poor Jim Croce little chance to be heard singing his own song. The experience seemed to buoy both their spirits, because Starsky had discovered one thing he could do just as well as he could before the shooting, and Hutch had found one thing they could still do together no matter how much further Starsky progressed with his physical recovery. From that point on, no singer on the radio was allowed dominion over his or her own song. Their singing ranged from serious to silly, but it was the first moment of totally light-hearted, genuine fun they had experienced together since the game of ping-pong the morning Starsky had been shot.

Maybe I did survive this for a reason, Starsky thought to himself as they quieted down for a few minutes. No singing along with the morning news, unfortunately, he thought, smiling. The announcer's words caught both their attention: Gordon Callahan had escaped custody that morning, as he was being transported from the jail for his arraignment. One officer was killed, another wounded when Callahan had managed to somehow get free of his bonds and brandish a previously concealed weapon.

"I wanna go with you downtown," Starsky said immediately.

"Starsk, you're not up to this. I'm gonna drop you off at home and then I'll make a quick run in to see if they need me. Probably won't take long."

"Damn it, Hutch, I want to know who bought it, and I want to be there. I'm still a cop, even if I'm a sick excuse for one right now."

"Starsky," Hutch chided.

"Hutch," he said, mimicking the other's tone.

"You're impossible." Hutch shook his head as he took the necessary turns on the country roads to take them back to the precinct.

Hutch thought nothing of driving into the lot, as he had done dozens of times since the shooting. He had flinched the first few times too, but now it was beyond that for him. Starsky's reaction was understandably different. As Hutch pulled up near the door to drop him off, he noticed his partner almost visibly trembling.

"Starsk, let me take you home."

"No. I want to do this."

"Wait for me inside. I'll park and be right in."

"Right." Starsky got out and made his way slowly to the entrance.

He waited obediently just inside the glass doors for his partner. He was in no mood to go up to the squad room alone, to face all this for the first time since the shooting by himself. Hutch parked quickly and was actually sprinting up the sidewalk to the doors.

"Still feeling okay?" he asked Starsky as they started walking slowly to the elevator to go upstairs.

"Physically. God, this is weird. It's like walking into my nightmare, only this time I'm awake."

"But this ain't two months go, buddy. Anybody looks at you the wrong way, they've gotta go through me."

"I'm not logically afraid of something really happening. It's just..." Starsky shuddered a little as they stepped into the empty elevator. When the door closed, Hutch took a hold of Starsky's arm.

"I know. First time I came in here, after you were in the hospital, I felt like my stomach was going to fall out."

"Then you know the feeling." Starsky reached up and patted the hand on his sleeve briefly. "Let's go see what's happening," he stated confidently as the doors opened and they heard the commotion in the hall outside the squad room and Dobey's office. Familiar faces were whizzing by in every direction, and a few stopped to briefly greet Starsky or offer a hasty well-wish.

Hutch tapped on Dobey's closed door, and when the permission to enter was barked from the other side, he opened the door and they entered Dobey's office. Just like coming home again, Starsky thought, as he watched his superior finishing up a heated phone conversation, a look of astonishment spreading over his features to see Starsky there with Hutch.

As the conversation ended, Hutch encouraged Starsky to sit down, and he did himself. Dobey ran his hands through his curly hair and then leaned back in his desk chair, looking generally frazzled.

"What the hell are you doing here, Starsky?"

"I'm Hutch's partner, remember? Where else would I be when this is his case?" Starsky regretted sounding so defensive. "I mean I wanted to show some support--a cop's been killed."

"Hutch, the officer killed is someone you know. There's no easy way to say this. It was Tony Sheridan, Ken." The use of Hutch's first name signaled to Starsky that a friendship, or certainly a very good professional rapport had to have developed between Sheridan and his partner, because Dobey obviously felt the need to soften the news somehow.

"Dear God." Hutch slumped back in his chair. "The guy wasn't even thirty years old yet."

"Sorry, pal." Starsky instinctively reached out and took a hold of Hutch's forearm where it rested on the arm of the chair. "How'd it happen?" He looked at Dobey, but left his hand on Hutch.

"Apparently Callahan had a friend on the inside. Damn creepy thought. We've been questioning everybody, investigating everybody from the administration to the cleaning people. He got his hands on a .45 and a cuff key. Sheridan, Mitch Daniels and a couple of uniformed officers were escorting him. When he pulled the weapon, Tony was right next to him. Took it in the chest at point blank range. He died almost instantly."

Almost instantly. Almost. He died. Alone. Killed by that lunatic he saved me from the day before yesterday, Hutch thought painfully. He liked working with me. Thought of me as a partner, even though he knew I planned on waiting for Starsky and working with him again. Tony worked with me like a real partner nonetheless, and laid his life on the line for me just the same. And if that had been you that was killed, Starsk, I'd have fallen right down and died with you...Hutch patted the hand on his arm briefly. He knew a verbal response of some sort was expected of him.

"Has anybody called his wife?" It was a dumb question, but the best he could come up with. If her husband had been killed in San Francisco, all his friends would have been there to honor him. They probably still would, but he was a new guy in a department full of strangers, except for me. We got to know each other, and we were friends, damn it. Damn Callahan. Real friendships are such rarities, and while no one could replace Starsky, this young detective was starting to be another good friend.

"She was notified before anything was announced on the radio. We sent someone to see her instantly. I plan on visiting later personally. I was wondering if you'd like to accompany me? You were the closest thing he had to a partner here."

"I'd like that."

"Any leads on Callahan?" Starsky asked.

"He's driving a maroon Chevy Impala, a '76. Beyond that, we haven't had any luck tracking him. He's probably ditched the car by now anyway. We've got the whole department reeled back in on this. Listen, Hutch, I know you're on leave, and under the circumstances, I'm not putting you back on the active duty roster."

"Me being the circumstances?" Starsky asked. He had never felt more like a disabled liability in his life. "Look, Hutch, if you drop me off at my place, I'll be okay if you need to do something."

"I do want to see Tony's wife. After that, I heading home."

"I'll be going over there in about two hours. Meet me back here and we'll ride over together," Dobey instructed.

"Will do." Hutch stood, and this time Starsky didn't shoo away the arm that supported him as he did the same. He was feeling tired and stressed out by horror of the morning's events.

He paused on their trip to the door to look at his desk. The top was cleared off, as if he'd never been there.

"Your stuff's in the drawers, locked up," Hutch explained. "Something you want to get?"

"Nothing," Starsky responded, and followed Hutch out of the noisy, crowded area.

Hutch pulled away from the curb and drove determinedly back to the precinct. He was a little concerned at leaving Starsky, moreso because Callahan was out running around loose. The thought of Starsky whisking open the door and getting a gut full of lead from another vengeful lunatic bothered Hutch. He had warned his convalescing partner to keep the door locked and look before he opened it--damn, did I really give him stupid instructions like that? Guess so, Hutch thought guiltily. Damn, I'm not even treating him like he's a rational adult, let alone a cop. But damn it, if anything happened to him now, I couldn't handle it, Hutch reflected. Just when I thought everything I could wish for was here...he thought about the candle on Starsky's cake the night before. That moment of feeling on top of the world was fleeting. That feeling of peace and inner tranquillity (in spite of the stiff neck) that came from sitting on the bed, reading his stupid poetry to the only other person in the world he'd share it with, seeing it transform Starsky from tense and shaken to a state of complete rest and security and peace...it was a moment to be savored because all that sense of peace was shattered now.

Starsky had followed Hutch's directives and made sure the doors and windows were locked. He changed into his pajamas and robe, planning to take a nap. Suddenly he was uneasy, restless, and even the prospect of another painkiller didn't appeal to him. He went to his desk and unlocked the top drawer with the small key he kept hidden on the bottom of one of the larger drawers. He knew Hutch had stored the Beretta and its ammo in there. He loaded the gun, and took it with him to his bedroom. Still, he hesitated to take the medication that would make him yet sleepier. He felt some strange instinct to stay alert...as if he knew something just wasn't right, and that he would have to take some kind of action soon.

He lay on the bed and stared at the wall for a while. He could occasionally find a moment of comfort on his right side, and he was taking advantage of that. The gun was under the pillow, easy to reach. He pulled it out and held it. It gave him an odd chill. The power to kill and be killed by these things was so painfully predominant in his mind now, he wondered if he'd ever be able to draw it in a professional capacity again. If I really had a good reason, I could, he told himself. For Hutch, I would in a minute...hell, I'd get in the middle of another shooting match for that turkey, he thought with a slight smile.

His own groan woke him up. Starsky opened his eyes and looked at the clock by the bed. It was dark in the apartment. The clock read eight o'clock. He was confused. He sat up, groaning again at the pain that was dancing freely inside of him, unrestrained by medication. He had missed at least two doses of the stuff that kept him comfortable, but stoned. Where the hell is Hutch? Starsky shivered a little. Hutch would have been in here and covered me, or more likely agitated me into taking one of those damn pills. Or eating something. God, I'm hungry, he thought, finally sitting up, holding his side for a moment.

"Hutch?" he called out hopefully. No response. The apartment was dark and silent. No reason to expect one. He was still alone here. He pulled his protesting body to its feet and wandered out to the living room, turning on a lamp by the couch. Poor old Hutch. Never did get to try this sofa bed contraption out, did ya? Wound up sitting up with me all night, he thought. Now a cold panic was washing over him. It wasn't just the insecurity of suddenly being alone and not having someone fussing over him. There was an underlying sense of dread that had started to assert itself before he ever dozed off. He remembered his gun and went to retrieve it from under the pillow. Clutching the cold steel in his hand, he returned to the living room. He thought of reaching for a pain pill, but rejected the idea. Need a clear head, Starsky, he told himself. Damn, there's something wrong here.

He sat on the couch and dialed the number of Dobey's office. The captain barked an answer on the second ring.

"Cap, it's Starsky. Is Hutch still over there?"

"Not that I know of. Hold on a minute." Dobey left the phone, and Starsky could hear movement on the other end of the phone, as if Dobey were looking out of his office, which he probably was. The receiver was picked up again. "No sign of him around here, Starsky. We split up in the parking lot after we got back from talking to Stacy Sheridan. Anything wrong?"

"Well, yeah, kind of. Hutch isn't here yet. When did he leave you?"

"Around four."

"Captain, something's really wrong. He wouldn't take off and leave me here that long. I mean I'm all right and everything, but he just wouldn't do that."

"You're right." Dobey was silent a moment. "Damn it. I'll put an APB out on Hutch right now."

"God, you think it's Callahan?"

"He got Sheridan, I wouldn't put it past him to be crazy enough to hang around and go after the other cop who arrested him. My best guess is that he'd skip town as soon as he got loose, but then I'm not a psychopath. Who the hell knows how they think? Look, Starsky, I'll put out the APB, and then I'll get somebody over to your place."

"I'm all right. I've still got a gun and I haven't forgotten how to use it."

"I'm still putting a man outside and offering to arrange a visiting nurse--"

"Just worry about Hutch. I'm accounted for. He isn't, and right now that's the only thing I care about."

"Take it easy, Starsky. We'll do everything we can."

"I know. Call me if there's...anything."

"I will. Try to get some rest. You'll have a guard outside so we can spot Callahan if he tries anything."

"Okay. Thanks." He hung up the phone. The darkness of the apartment was abnormally oppressive now, and he turned on every light in the place. He wanted to do something to ease the pain, but if he passed out into that dopey sleep and something happened...if Hutch needed him. If Hutch needs me, what the hell good am I? He fought the urge to sit on the couch and cry like a baby. The pain and the helplessness were unbearable in their combination. Either alone would be trying. Together, they were excruciating.

When Hutch came to, his first thought was Starsky. How long have I been gone? Damn, how long have I been out cold? He looked around him now, frustrated not to be able to identify the place he was in. It was a storage facility of some sort. Looked like a damn warehouse. He squinted in the darkness. There were crates everywhere, big storage containers of various shapes and sizes. His hands were bound behind him, his feet bound at the ankles. Damn it, damn it! he cursed under his breath. He could vaguely remember the car rushing up behind him, running him off the road, and everything going black at some point.

Starsky. I dumped him off at home to go do my duty to some guy who was my partner for a few weeks. Warped idea of where my damn loyalties lie, he scolded himself. Enough self-deprecation, he decided. Time to start thinking like a cop instead of sitting here contemplating the meaning of life. He managed to push himself into a standing position against the heavy crates behind him. His moment of accomplishment was shattered when Gordon Callahan appeared, flipping a switch and flooding the large room with light. He held a .45 in Hutch's direction. Same gun you killed Sheridan with, you S.0.B., Hutch thought.

"You're awake." Callahan was smiling his warped smile. He was an ugly man, really. Even aside from his insanity, his thick features and greasy black hair were not pleasing to the eye. He was a hulking big creature at 6'4" and at least 265 plus pounds. And there was considerable muscle in that hulk. He had strangled one of his victims with one hand. She was a small girl, and he had grabbed her throat and held her well above the ground...and the things he did to some of the others...

"What the hell do you want, Callahan?" Hutch tried his best bravado routine. You've got no damn back up this time, a voice inside him taunted. No Starsky to ride in on his white horse--or his striped tomato.

"Well, I've been giving that some thought." Callahan looked him up and down as if he were deciding just what activity would be suitable for Hutch. "Had a chat with your partner a little while ago. You know, the one who got his guts full of lead a few months back? Man, he talks a lot when you know where to hit him."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Hutch felt a cold panic wash over him, but he maintained a steady, arrogant tone to his voice.

"Guess your boy Starsky's not as tough as he used to be. Paid him a little visit earlier. He wasn't too friendly at first, but it doesn't take much to knock him on his ass now."

"You son of a bitch! Where is he?"

"Probably still on the floor of his apartment in his own puke." Callahan moved closer. "Had a little fun with him after I got the information I wanted. I can see why you two stayed partners all these years."

"Damn you!" Hutch lurched forward but fell to the ground. The images of what this psychopath would consider fun, and the insinuation of his remarks sent a horror through Hutch he couldn't describe, or even coherently process.

"It wasn't until I had him on the floor, with my knee in that sewed up belly of his that he'd tell me anything worthwhile. Mentioned something real helpful then."

Hutch didn't care what this animal thought he knew. He could only imagine the horrible pain Starsky had suffered to extract it from him, and he didn't want to think of his pain and degradation and horror, dying alone on the floor, being subjected to Callahan's sick perversities when he was too weak to even put up a good fight. And he was effectively restrained from expressing any of this mounting rage and grief and horror physically. He was reduced to asking what was the vital question.

"Did you kill him?"

"No, I left him there just like he was. "Course I don't think there was much left of him to live...he was sort of breathing, but with all that blood running out of him, I don't imagine he's alive anymore." Callahan got closer, and Hutch writhed into a sitting position against the crates, both to get away from his captor's foul breath and to sustain himself with their support. Oh, God, Starsky, I'm sorry... Callahan resumed his monologue. "Yeah, my new buddy David mentioned a little substance that comes in a syringe that you have a special relationship with..."

Starsky stirred, and the pain was there again, and when he opened his eyes, nothing had changed. It wasn't a nightmare. Hutch was still missing. He sat up on the couch and looked at the clock. Four a.m. The pain was worse without the medication, but his mind was clear again, for the first time in months. And the depression was better. He was in his right mind, and damn if that didn't feel good. He headed for the bedroom, conscious of his pain but also realizing a level of energy he hadn't felt since he'd been shot. Could those damn pills have made me the whimpering, shivering, weak basket case I've been all along? Starsky pondered the question as he got dressed. He'd had enough of this shit of letting others do what he could do better than any of them: find Hutch.

Starsky walked out into the silent night and approached the police car across the street from his apartment.

"Hey, Todd," he greeted the young uniformed officer inside the car. "I need a lift."

"Where to, Sergeant?" He straightened up, looking a little concerned. Starsky was his superior in rank, but he was under Dobey's orders.

"Merl's body shop--I'll direct you. I need to get my car. I'll take the heat from Dobey. I'll tell him I pulled rank on you." Starsky smiled and made it into a good-natured joke, but the young man knew the detective would do just that if he wasn't met with instant cooperation.

Callahan had taken a seat on one of the crates and was regarding Hutch with interest. He couldn't tell if the reference to the detective's well-concealed heroin addiction had brought about the trembling in his limbs, or if it was the vision of his partner being brutally tortured, assaulted and dying alone on the floor of his apartment. Damn, I'm good, Callahan praised himself. I got this pig right where it hurts. Two places where it hurts. Almost makes me wish I'd gone over to the other one's apartment and had a little fun with him for real. I could tell Hutchinson some stories he'd never forget...Oh, well, there really hadn't been time for fun and games with Starsky. He hadn't been involved in the arrest, and he was a side issue in Callahan's mind. Although, hauling him over here and letting the cop watch might be fun...

You've got a cop captive, idiot, a voice scolded. You don't have time to luxuriate with him like you could with any other victim. Watching while I do things to his partner he couldn't even picture in his worst nightmares...Callahan basked in the thought, having heard what a close team the detectives were, and having seen the obvious devastation in Hutchinson's eyes at the thought of his Starsky being ripped up and tortured by this killer. I am a fearsome S.O.B., he praised himself silently. I've got this cop quivering in the corner like a sick dog, I mowed down that other cocky bastard right in front of his pig friends and I could just as easily deal with the other one. Well, maybe after I'm done here. Maybe I'll still drop in on Starsky some dark night when the cops aren't looking for me anymore...

"What the hell do you want from me?" Hutch demanded finally.

"I want you to think about a few things for a while. I want you to think about your last ride on the Horse. I want you to think about how your partner liked getting to know me better... and then we're really gonna have a little bit of fun together. I've got a healthy dose of some really fine stuff, pig. We'll get high together, and then maybe I'll show you a few tricks I tried with Starsky. Think about that for a while. I'll be back later." He rose from his seat on the crates, turned out the light and disappeared.

"Callahan! You son of a bitch! Come back here! I'm gonna kill you, you sick bastard!" Hutch was venting now, and he knew it. Callahan was gone, or at least obscured in the shadows somewhere. He had to try to push all the horror of Starsky's demise aside and figure a way out of this.

"All right, all right, all right!" An angry voice came from the other side of the door to Merl's apartment over the garage. The small black man swung open the door and was stunned to see Starsky standing there.

"Sorry to roust you so early, Merl, but I need my car."

"Thought you were laid up, Starsky."

"I was, but I'm back. I need my car. Please?"

"Sure thing." Merl pulled a jacket on over his robe and followed Starsky's slow descent of the wooden staircase.

"I'm all set now, Todd. Thanks!" Starsky waved the young officer away, and he started up his car and pulled back out onto the road.

"I kept your baby nice and safe. When're you gonna let me do a real paint job on this tomato, anyway?" Merl pulled back the tarp covering the car. It had been restored to perfection. Starsky tried to swallow some of the horrifying memories seeing it sent flooding back. Then he smiled. Hutch's voice was in his mind, soft and reassuring: "...dreams are only movies and memories only pictures...I have overcome and they are my prisoners, under my dominion." Thanks, partner. Under my dominion. I'm in control again, thanks to you, pal. Now I'm gonna get you your life back too, and we'll be okay. We have to be. We blew out that damn candle together, didn't we?

"Starsky?" Merl's voice brought him back to the shadowy garage.

"What do I owe you?"

"Nothin'. Hutch took care of it."

"Great. Thanks, Merl. It looks great." Starsky took the keys from the mechanic and slid in behind the wheel. Just like riding a bike, he thought happily, gunning the engine and speeding out of the garage into the feeble pre-dawn light.

Starsky rolled down the window and turned on the police radio. Nothing interesting coming over the waves. He picked up the speaker.

"Zebra Three to control. This is Starsky. Patch me through to Dobey."

"Captain Dobey is not in his office."

"Damn it. Forget it." He hung up the speaker and kept driving toward the precinct. This might be just as well. Less interference about him working the case, and he needed the files on Callahan.

Hutch was living a waking nightmare. How many hours had he been tied up here? The damn knots were impossible. He'd worked on it for hours, but all he'd gained were bloody wrists and sore arms.

Starsky. Oh, dear God, what did he do to you, Starsk? What did you think about while you were dying? I told you I wasn't going anywhere...and even when we talked last night, I never said "I love you" right out. I sort of said it, but you had the courage to really say it, and you reached out to me so willingly and trustingly, and you depended on me. You were weak and you counted on me to be strong for you, and here I am hog-tied by this nut...and there you are, suffering and dying alone. I'm so sorry, Starsk.

Starsky burst through the doors of the squad room and headed determinedly for his desk. He was in full-blown pain now, but it didn't matter. It didn't slow him down. He jerked the locked drawers of his desk. He had no keys.

"Anybody got the keys to this fucking desk?!" he demanded angrily. Time was precious, and these assholes were sitting around sipping coffee like this was a damn diner. Pain and fright were not making him a friendly man, and he had no use for niceties. Hal Stevens, a young detective, rose from his desk and came forward with a key from his own desk drawer.

"I think this one fits most of 'em in here, Starsky. Try it."

"Thanks." Starsky snatched the key and used it to release the lock. "Here. Thanks for your help." he tried to sound civil, and it worked. The other detective smiled.

"A lot of us have been working on finding Hutch. You wanna know what we know?"

"Sure do." Starsky sat in his chair, and motioned to Hal to do the same.

"Well, we don't have much, but Hutch's car was found in a ditch," he opened a well-worn road map on one of the adjoining desks, "right about here." He indicated an area that was not too far off the beaten path: a short cut between the precinct and Starsky's apartment. "There was a small amount of blood on the steering wheel, which we assume is from Hutch hitting his head there when the car crashed. There are skid marks on the road, and a second set of skid marks and tracks indicating somebody helped him into that ditch."

"Nice of somebody to call me."

"Dobey said he'd call you when we had something definite."

"Well, this'll do for starters. So what's been checked out so far?" Starsky was noticing a crescendo of pain building in his mid section, and it must have shown on his face.

"You okay, Starsky?" Stevens looked concerned. Everyone at the precinct knew the extent of his injuries, and that he was considered as good as dead for quite a while in the hospital. And this pain was bad. Real bad.

"I'm not sure yet. Give me a minute." He closed his eyes and let it happen, feeling it and not running away from it. He had felt worse. Whatever this was, it would have to work itself out. If he could just last long enough to find Hutch, he could worry about falling apart then. "Okay, what've we go so far?"

"A bunch of us have been going out to talk to all the family, friends, known associates of Callahan that are listed in the file." Stevens crossed the room to his own desk and located the folder. Starsky was still rifling the desk drawers. There were notes in there from one of his and Hutch's all night, Chinese take-out brainstorming sessions that might help. "We've been to see his mother, his aunt and uncle, his old girlfriend, and a whole bunch of other degenerate weirdos he used to hang out with. So far we've drawn a blank."

"Stevens, think like a psycho for a minute. You're a perverted psycho nut that likes to torture your victims. What do you look for in a place to take them?" Starsky took the file for a moment and scanned through its contents. The things Callahan had done to some of his victims made Starsky's skin crawl, even after all the years he'd been a cop. He thought nothing could shock him until this case. Needless mutilation, unthinkable torture--just for the pleasure of the killer. And now this man had Hutch...he pushed that thought aside and kept searching for something that would spark an inspiration.

"I'd want it secluded. Most of his murder sites were out in the country. I'd want to make my victim scream, and I'd want to be able to enjoy it without muffling it, without worrying about getting caught."

"Good. Did anybody check out that farm--isn't it his aunt and uncle that live on a farm out in the sticks? He killed one of the girls--Glenda Foster, I think--in the barn out there while the old folks were out of town."

"I went out there myself about two hours ago with a black and white unit. The couple were real cooperative about letting us search. We came up empty."

"Damn. Okay. You've got the cop that tried to put you away. You're going to kill him, but you want to enjoy it first. What's a good scene for that?" Starsky was pensive a moment.

"It's gotta have an atmosphere, something that'll spook him."

"And it's gotta mean something special..." Starsky ran a hand through his hair and then started sorting through the handwritten notes he and Hutch had made that night that seemed like a lifetime ago. It had only really been about four months. "Okay." Starsky settled back in his chair, and winced at a spasm of pain. He was exhausted now, with or without medication, and after months of drug-regulated pain levels, the sudden withdrawal of all medicines was catching up with him. He forced his eyes to focus more sharply on the paper in front of him.

"We can follow up anything you think we should. You don't look so hot, Starsky."

"I don't feel so hot. But I've gotta do this and do it right. We don't have much time." He scanned a list of the murder sites. "Hutch and I made a list of the murder sites, and we made notes about their characteristics and similarities."

"Killing a cop at a murder site would be kind of a rush, if you were a psycho."

"You're pretty good at this, Stevens."

"Thanks, I think." he smiled uneasily.

"The most brutal of the murders took place right here--at an abandoned warehouse on the docks. Most of the buildings in that section are empty or condemned. When Hutch and I found that girl, all bets were off about not letting a crime scene get to you. We got through it without puking, but we stayed up all night, sitting at these desks, drinking coffee and trying to get the picture of that shredded girl out of our minds...I don't think we ever totally got rid of that image." Starsky's mind was wandering back to it again, and he shied away from it, as if he were flinching away from something painful touching him. Pain... almost forgot that, he thought, grimacing a little at his constant discomfort. He needed something to take the sharp edge off. "Here," he began, pulling out his car keys and handing them to Stevens. "You know what my car looks like?

"Everybody does, Starsky."

"Smart ass," he responded with a smirk. "Get it and bring it to the door, okay? I had to park a ways away and I don't feel so hot right now. I need some back up. You available?"

"You got it." Stevens took the keys and hurried out of the room.

Hutch didn't know if he had fallen asleep or passed out, but now there was daylight trying to filter through the filthy windows. It was a warehouse, and a chilling memory was coming into his mind. He wondered for a moment if Callahan had drugged him, but he would have never done so without taking plenty of time to enjoy Hutch's panicked reaction.

Starsky is dead by now, a voice inside his mind told him. He has to be. He was weak to begin with, and if he was hurt badly and left for dead, he was probably finished by now. There was an odd peace in that thought. No more pain, now, buddy. You're free...whatever he did, it's over, and you're flying free somewhere. Starsky always seemed to believe in something beyond death, and Hutch clung to that hope. Maybe he'd see Starsky again by the end of this day...

Instinct for survival kicked in, and he started trying to get a better look at his surroundings. He made it to his knees and finally struggled to his feet. Where the hell was Callahan? This place was familiar. In the cold light of day, it was familiar. Horribly familiar. He could almost see Starsky half-sitting on a crate across the room, taking notes from an overwrought vagrant who sometimes used the old warehouse for shelter during storms. It had been raining that day, torrential rains... "Good weather if you're a damn duck," Starsky had grumbled, pulling his jacket up over his head on the way into the building...Hutch dismissed this vision of his partner. Thinking about Starsky was too painful to cope with right now. Somehow letting himself lie here and die seemed like betraying his partner. Starsky had laid down his life readily how many times to save Hutch's? And now to throw it out? You'd be plenty pissed at that, wouldn't you, Starsk? Hutch found himself almost smiling. The upturn of his mouth was short-lived when he recalled the sight of the young woman who had been Callahan's last victim. He had never seen such devastation of a human body at the hands of another...so that's where I am, he thought. And I'm supposed to stay here long enough to remember. Now I remember. Now what, Callahan? he thought, scanning the empty silence around him.

Dobey entered the squad room as Starsky was heading out, ready to hop in his car and head for the warehouse. The captain's face registered no small degree of shock.

"Starsky! What do you think you're doing?" he bellowed after the younger man, who was moving swiftly with a look of obvious discomfort on his pale, sweaty face.

"Finding my partner. I left you a note. I'll be in touch." Starsky kept moving despite protests from Dobey. "So fire me," he muttered under his breath.

Stevens was waiting in the Torino, and Starsky slid into the passenger seat without attempting to take over driving. Stevens pulled away from the curb.

"You sure you're up to this?"

"I need to stop by my place first. Need to take a pain pill." He directed Stevens to his apartment, and then handed him his keys. "Will you go inside, get the prescription bottle off the night stand and bring it and a cup of water out here?"

"Sure. Be back in a flash."

He watched Stevens bound up the steps and then enter the apartment. Starsky leaned back in the seat, exhausted and wracked with pain now. Something was wrong, and one pill wouldn't cure it. Something was worse, pulled or damaged...and it hurt like hell. Probably nothing compared to what Callahan's done to Hutch by now. The thought sobered him, and when Stevens returned to the car, Starsky took the pill and bolstered himself to continue.

Hutch knew there was a warehouse that was in use about a block away. He started working on the ropes again, ignoring the pain as they chafed against his already raw wrists. I've gotta get out of here now, he thought desperately. Of course Callahan was probably watching from somewhere. But maybe not. Maybe that was paranoia.

"Good morning, Hutchinson. You're up bright and early." Callahan seated himself on a crate again. He had a small box with him. It was frighteningly familiar. A syringe and a small bottle inside. Dear God, not again, Hutch thought with a rush of fear. He had thought that nothing would matter if Starsky were dead, anything would be okay. Especially if he died at the end of it. But he wondered now if Callahan had any plans to kill him. Oh, God, he's gonna get me hooked and leave me that way, without Starsky to bail me out, to cover for me...

"Time to ride the white horse, cop. You remember the rush, don't you? You can fly high for a while, but then you'll crash, and when you do, you'll be hurting. Remember withdrawal? Lots of fun, huh?"

"How'd you find out?" Something in Hutch rejected the image of Starsky telling Callahan anything, let alone anything like this. No matter what kind of pain he was in, even if he thought he was dying--all the more reason he'd see no point in betraying Hutch. His life would be taken anyway. Whatever this bastard knew, he hadn't gotten from Starsky. As a matter of fact, Hutch thought, I've got no proof he's ever been near Starsky. He didn't know why he was feeling bolstered by this spurt of hope, but he went with it. "You're bluffing, Callahan."

"Oh really? Want me to tell you a little more about the time I spent with your partner last night?"

"A bunch of horror stories doesn't prove anything. You're sick enough to make that up." Hutch thought he read something in the madman's eyes at that point. The fear of having been discovered, the frustration of his plan not working. Maybe he hadn't really killed Starsky. Maybe he did, a voice mocked, and he's just getting really mad at you for challenging him. But maybe he didn't...

The Torino pulled up a good distance from the warehouse. Starsky pointed in its general direction to a maroon Impala parked near the door.

"Damn," he muttered. "He didn't even trade off the freakin' car and we still couldn't find him 'til now."

"Want me to call for back up?"

"Yeah, but tell them no sirens, real quiet and sneaky, and to stay back until you give them the signal."

"I give them the signal?"

"Yeah, 'cause you're going to stay here and wait for them."

"You can't go in there alone--damn it, that's suicide, Starsky."

"I know how Callahan thinks. He's probably pretty preoccupied right about now. I know the layout of this place, and I can't take any chances with Hutch's life...if he's still alive. Give me, say, fifteen minutes. If I don't come out in that time, you come down on that place with every damn cop car you can reel in." Starsky checked his weapon and then looked at the other detective briefly. "I know you think I'm nuts, but Hutch and I can work without a lot of signals between us, and we might need that to get through this, and I won't have time to give anybody else directions."

"This is your shootin' match, Starsky. I'll wait fifteen and we'll flood the place."

"Good deal." Starsky got out of the car, reeled a little at the drowsiness the medication had brought on, combined with whatever it was he knew was not right inside himself. The pill had only numbed it a little, but that was what he needed to get through this. Just the sharp edge taken off the pain.

He slipped up to the side of the maroon Chevy, but there was nothing inside it. He continued to the door of the warehouse, but of course found it locked. He edged along the building to the nearest window, and finding a portion of it that would open that was just wide enough for him to shimmy through, made a difficult and painful climb inside. There were voices coming from the center of the large building. It sounded like Callahan's deep, booming voice. Woulda made a great radio announcer if he wasn't a lunatic, Starsky thought to himself, following the sound. Weird thoughts, courtesy of pain medication and no sleep. And then he froze in his cautious, slinky movement between the rows of empty old crates. Hutch's voice. Something about Callahan bluffing, but what the voice said didn't matter. It was Hutch, and he sounded strong. Starsky peered around a bank of crates and could see Hutch, bound at his hands and feet. There was a bloody lump on his forehead, but the steering wheel probably accounted for that.

Dear God, no. Callahan had a syringe, and the sight of it had Hutch mesmerized with fear. It could only be one thing.

Starsky rushed to the next bank of crates, and now he had a clear shot to Callahan. The syringe poised, he was reaching to turn Hutch, get a hold of his arm. Starsky couldn't yell "freeze", couldn't hesitate. If that needle went in...He aimed his gun, his hands steadied by grim determination in spite of the pain, fatigue and fogging of his senses by the medication.

Hutch wasn't sure what he processed first. The sound of gunshots ringing out in the silent building or the fact Callahan's body was too devastated with lead to inject him. The large man crumpled at his feet, blood oozing out of at least three bullet holes.

And then he saw him. Starsky was racing, a little raggedly, toward the spot where Hutch stood, feeling stupidly immobile in his restraints.

"Boy am I glad to see you, partner," Hutch said honestly, wishing he could come up with something that would convey even a little of what he felt. There was Starsky, untouched by Callahan, working furiously at untying his ankles. He cursed and pulled out a pocket knife and sawed at the rope until it gave way. He did it like he did most things: with a single-minded determination that didn't allow him to think of anything but his task.

"Turn around," he ordered Hutch, who could see there was more to his brisk manner than determination. Starsky looked like he was about to collapse, and he was in pain. But somehow he got here. Starsky's words from earlier replayed in his mind: "As long as I'm breathin', I'd try to be your back up."

With Hutch's wrists freed, Starsky didn't rise from the place where he knelt by his partner. Sensing he didn't have the strength anymore, Hutch reached under his partner's arms and pulled him to his feet. Starsky collapsed against him, holding on tightly.

"I thought he killed you," Hutch murmured as he hugged his partner. Starsky was weak, and something was definitely wrong, but he was alive.

"Ditto," Starsky whispered. They could hear the sound of other police rushing into the building.

"We've gotta get you to a hospital, pal." Hutch broke free of the embrace but still supported Starsky with one arm around his waist.

"Damn. Just got out of that place," he muttered with a crooked grin.

Hutch knew that a fatal shooting with no prior warning would raise questions as to the appropriateness of Starsky's actions. Only they knew why avoiding that syringe was as imperative as it was, and while it could be argued that since he didn't know what was in the syringe, Starsky would have been right to prevent the injection at all costs, there was no point in dragging a man who had recently nearly died through an inquest. Hutch's report reflected the shout of a warning, which was ignored, prior to firing. It was born of a whispered pact in the back of an ambulance, and at least for the moment, the heroin in that syringe only meant something significant to Hutch, Starsky and Dobey. And none of those three would be commenting on it anytime soon.

Starsky's setback had not been a major one, though it had confined him to the hospital for a few days. There was minor internal bleeding, which was controlled with rest and medication. Hutch found great solace in returning to the hospital after finishing his report to watch his partner sleep. It was a heavy, drug-aided stupor that would probably blast any dreams he might have out of the realm of his consciousness, but Hutch used it as a mental excuse to let himself sleep in the chair in Starsky's hospital room, still more than a little shaken by the imagery he had conjured up of Callahan brutally torturing and murdering his partner. Callahan would be one of the immortal monsters, Hutch thought with an icy shiver, watching Starsky's quiet, even respiration from where he sat in the shadows. People will write books, make movies, go on talk shows...and they'll bump their gums for years about the perversions this one human monster inflicted on society. The death of Tony Sheridan would be a dull little footnote in the Callahan reign of terror. It wasn't grisly enough for the bloodthirsty public. He just shot the guy. No sex crime, no prolonged torture, no dismemberment: just a dull old shooting, instant death, pure and simple.

Hutch remembered his reaction to Sheridan's death. He felt an odd sense of loss, like a microscopic slide of what losing his long-time partner would be like. Tony was friendly, energetic, devoted to his job...and his boundless enthusiasm for life had made Hutch think of another young detective, before Gunther had shattered his body and traumatized his spirit. Hutch leaned back in the chair, tried to stretch. Oh, Starsk, we're both tired, aren't we? I see guys like Sheridan, just like you six or seven years ago, and then I met Stevens--really got a chance to talk to this guy. I see myself a little in him. Quieter, more introverted, but taking an instant liking to you. Even unable to dazzle him with your usual confidence bordering on arrogance, you impressed the hell out of this new guy. He thinks you're super cop. Hell, he's right. Look what you did for me. You were ready to give your life, throw out all you fought for here for two months, just to rescue me yourself. You didn't trust anybody else, did you? Well, I wouldn't either, buddy.

Sometimes I wish you didn't want to come back to this damn job so badly. I want out, but all you want is back in, no matter what the cost. You know I'll never leave as long as you're still in it. Hutch closed his tired eyes, realizing he had Tony Sheridan's funeral to attend the next morning. Seeing that mop of dark hair against the beige crepe pillow in the funeral home earlier that day had hit too damn close to home. All the nightmare images of Starsky, murdered by Callahan, had come rushing over him, until he had rushed out of the room. Mrs. Sheridan thought it was emotion for her dead husband, and if that comforted her to see what she thought was such grief, let her hang onto it. He did grieve for Tony Sheridan. He was a good cop and he could have been a good friend. Somebody you might watch football with or invite to your next house party. Burying him at such a young age was wrong. Cosmically wrong...unjust. Burying Starsky at any age, even if he's old and bent and grey when it happens, was unthinkable. As if to answer a mental plea, blue eyes opened and regarded Hutch with a mixture of concern and curiosity.

"Hey there, pal." Hutch smiled, but he knew that he was the one now who wasn't reflecting any humor in his eyes.

"What time is it?"

"About four, I think."

"Damn it, Hutch, go home."

"It's nice to see you too, Starsk."

"You look wasted, and I'm okay."

"So why're you awake if you're so 'okay'?"

"I probably felt your eyes boring two holes in me," Starsky replied with feigned irritation. "What's got you down? The funeral tomorrow?"

"Oh, yeah. Probably that's all it is."

"No it isn't. You went to see Tony today. Pretty intense seeing somebody young and healthy you work with laid out dead."

"It wasn't just that. You never saw Tony Sheridan, did you?"

"Don't think so, no."

"He looks like you. I mean not exactly, but he has...had all this dark hair and this big silly grin you couldn't help but respond to...I think that's why I worked so easily with him. He reminded me of you."

"Callahan played some nasty headgames on you, didn't he?"

"A few."

"Like what? I know you thought he killed me, but he had to work that story for all it was worth."

"He added some colorful details, yeah."

"Damn." Starsky's gaze moved from Hutch to the ceiling. "I couldn'ta stood that if it had been reversed--knowing what he did to his victims."

"The only reason I didn't just lie there and wait for him to kill me was because I thought about how many times you had risked your butt to save mine. I thought it somehow invalidated all that if I just gave up. But I've gotta admit, Starsk, I can't even put into words what it felt like."

"Well, I'm dented but I'm not dead, so you're not gonna have to find out anytime soon. Of course, I got a taste of working the street again, and I don't know if I'll ever get the right stamina back for that."

"You were supposed to be at home, medicated and in bed half the day. You pushed yourself to the edge, pal. When you're recovered..."

"I know. I can go out and get shot again." Starsky shook his head slightly on his pillow. "I dunno, Hutch."

"What are you saying?"

"I would walk right in front of a firing squad for you, you know that."

"I know," Hutch smiled a little at the exaggerated imagery. Pure vintage Starsky. The sentiment touched him.

"But to risk all that for anybody else, I just don't know anymore." Starsky looked a little sheepishly at Hutch, almost flinching visibly away from what he thought might be angry or disappointed reprisals. None came. Hutch just smiled at his partner.

"You really mean that?" Hutch couldn't hide his relief.

"You're not mad?"

"Mad? Why would I be mad?"

"If I didn't come back to the force, it would kinda mess things up for you, make you adjust to a new partner...I didn't want to make you feel like Gunther won."

"Starsk, you're alive. You're going to stay that way. We won, buddy. The rest of this stuff is just details." Hutch leaned back in his chair. "I'm real tired, pal. I don't know if I want to do this anymore either. I'm sick of worrying about you, worrying about me...and take this whole situation with Callahan and the heroin. I've had to live in fear of somebody finding out. If IA got a hold of it, they'd use it against me." Hutch shook his head slowly. "All the stress we've handled in the last few years, I wonder if I want to give my life for it. I know I don't want to give yours."

"Why didn't you say something to me about this -- we've never had too many secrets before."

"You were struggling so hard to recover, and you were in pain all the time and the only thing you kept talking about was getting back on the streets again, back in action. If I suggested not doing that, I'd be robbing you of motivation to get well."

"So if we don't stay cops, what'll we do? Better yet, what'll I do?" Starsky turned his head away from Hutch to stare at the ceiling again. "You've got a degree, you could probably get something. I've had a few classes here and there, but the only real experience and education I've had came through the academy and the force. I don't have much choice but to recover and be a cop until I get shot once too often."

"You could go back to college."

"Yeah, right, Hutch. I can afford to be a professional student for two or three years with no job. And don't forget I'd have to pay all my medical expenses and physical therapy expenses if I leave the force because I won't have any insurance."

"Don't worry about that crap, Starsk. If you want out, you know I'll help you."

"Support me? Pay my bills? I don't think so. I love ya like a brother, Hutch, but I'm nobody's dependent. I'm not going to live like a lounge lizard off you while you work. If I'm not gonna be a cop anymore, I have to find something else to do to support myself."

"Then we'll have to figure something out."

"We could start our own business." Starsky turned back to have eye contact with his partner. "I'd like to still work with you doing something."

"I wasn't too crazy about breaking up our partnership, either, partner," Hutch replied with a slight smile. "But what?"

"Well, there's always the obvious--a PI business."

"If we're trying to avoid risk, you know what that would reduce us to."

"Snapping photos of fat, middle-aged executives holed up in hotels with their secretaries? Looking for lost dogs? Snooping for lawyers in low-risk cases? Sounds pretty bad, doesn't it?"

"And if we went for the big cases, we'd be taking the same risks without back up." Hutch rubbed his eyes. "Nah, that's not a good option."

"You could be a singer. I could manage you." Starsky's serious tone on what Hutch considered an absurd idea startled him. He was prepared to be patronizingly kind to his drug-influenced partner.

"Well, I don't think I'd hitch my wagon to that star, buddy."

"Why not? You've won some amateur nights. I know you don't believe me when I tell you you're terrific. But all those people can't be wrong."

"Starsky, they were a bunch of drunks and the competition wasn't all that stiff."

"You've got a great voice, and you can write some good stuff. Why can't we try it?"

"You're serious about this?" Hutch was smiling a little at Starsky's wide-eyed enthusiasm at the idea. He hadn't seen that look on his partner's tired visage since the shooting. He couldn't bring himself to shoot him down with reality. "We'll talk more about it tomorrow."

"No, you'll put me off about it then, too. I'm serious, Hutch. You have a real gift--maybe you're finally ready to break away from all this ugliness and do something beautiful for a change." Starsky took a deep but obviously uncomfortable breath. "I know I'm no Colonel Parker, but I could learn. I've had a couple of business classes, and I have a friend who's friends with a couple of rock bands who could give me some pointers."

"Starsky, you have a friend who has a friend...?"

"She's real sharp, Hutch. She knows the business pretty well."


"Yeah, her name's Rhiana Blake. She's owns a boutique on Rodeo Drive-"

"Since when do you shop Rodeo Drive, Starsk? We couldn't afford to buy a cup of coffee there let alone clothes."

"I don't shop there, dummy." Starsky tried to shift to lie on his side but gave up and flopped on his back. Hutch pulled his chair into an easier line of vision for Starsky.

"Still hurts, huh?"

"Quite a bit. Only when I breathe," Starsky responded with a smile. "Anyway, I met her and one of the bands at Huggy's one night -- about a year ago. I told you about her but you weren't listening, as usual. We went out a couple of times, but our schedules are both pretty erratic, and she sometimes travels with one of the bands. She's a shrewd businesswoman, Hutch. She could teach me what I needed to know to help you negotiate a deal."

"I can't believe you're serious about this."

"I can't believe you're not even willing to consider it."

"It's insanity, Starsk."

"So is getting shot at on a regular basis, but we've done that for years. Why should the fact something's not too rational or a little off-the-wall stop us from trying it now?"

"You still believe in magic, don't you?" Hutch asked the question aloud, but it was something he really wanted to keep to himself. He didn't know why it popped out.

"When I was shot, and I was lying there in the few seconds before it all went dark, I thought I was dying. And from what you said, and what I've been told, no one here thought I'd live. They wrote me off for dead. You believed in magic then, Hutch. You didn't write me off. And here I am. I'm not everything I used to be, maybe, at least not yet, but I'm alive. That was a long shot. So is this. If one can work, why can't another?"

"Okay. I'll think about it."

"You're placating me."

"No, I'm not." Hutch was shocked to find himself actually picturing the rush he had felt at the last amateur night contest he'd played, and won. Starsky had been the agitator that made him sign up for the first one he ever tried, and he had cheered him on every subsequent time. Even when stage fright had made him falter and stumble through a song, Starsky had encouraged him. He had even jumped up on stage with him and sung along once. This idea was so damn crazy, so pie-in-the-sky. "I really mean I'll think about it. We've got some time yet--I'll be on a leave of absence while you're recuperating, and you'll be on a physical therapy program for a while yet. We don't have to announce any big decisions anytime soon."

"You sound serious," Starsky said, his face displaying an expression of hope and disbelief.

"I am. I will really think about this. There's just one amendment to your proposal."

"What's that?"

"How would you feel about performing with me? We should both know the business end of it, and we can do that together. I'll need back up--I can't be a one-man band. We'd eventually need other musicians, but with two guitars and two voices, we'd be more powerful to start."

"I'm no musician, Hutch," Starsky responded with a grin.

"The hell you aren't. You can play the guitar. You have great voice--"

"I do?" It was a genuine question. Starsky looked too tired and uncomfortable to be playing games and fishing for compliments.

"You do. You know we sing well together. We've had enough practice singing along with the radio."

"And at parties..." Starsky was smiling a little at the thought. "I do love to sing..."

"You look exhausted, buddy. Why don't you get some rest? We don't have to launch our world tour tonight." Hutch rested his head on the back of the chair, and felt sleep creeping up on him.

"We won't tell anybody about this, right? Just think about it for a while?" Starsky was regarding him under droopy lids.

"And sleep on it." Hutch smiled as he felt himself dozing.

Starsky was released from the hospital a couple of days later with firm orders to rest and stay off his feet and away from his workplace. He had no interest in disobeying these orders, as he had put Huggy on the secret mission of obtaining for him a veritable library of books on the music business. Hutch would probably be mad that Huggy knew what they'd discussed, but Starsky knew he could trust Huggy to keep it between the three of them. As soon as he felt more presentable, and more knowledgeable, he would call Rhiana.

Hutch was relieved to be on leave from work. The most strenuous and challenging job he faced during any given week was grocery shopping. He had the unenviable task of keeping his partner on a somewhat healthy diet and not incurring his considerable wrath regarding this point at the same time. Still, the quiet hours he spent reading or working on his music were restoring his soul. He had a renewed interest in song writing again, and there seemed to be some purpose in it. Starsky was burying himself in books on the music industry, and Hutch basked in the role of the artiste, letting his partner digest the technical information and relate it to him in capsule form. This was probably a silly kid's fantasy, but it was brightening what would have been dark, depressing days while Starsky was still unable to start his regime of exercise and physical therapy that would put him back in shape. Starsky seemed to view his pain as a mere inconvenience to be endured while he prepared to launch their new career.

Hutch was amazed when he swung open the door one day to see a pretty redhead on the porch, dressed in a tailored dress and heels, carrying a briefcase.

"You must be Hutch," she began, extending her hand. "Rhiana Blake."

"Oh, yes, Starsky's told me about you." He shook her hand. "Please, come in."

"Thank you. Is he in?"

"He's in his room. Have a seat. I'll let him know you're here." Hutch tapped on Starsky's door and entered, closing it behind him. His partner was sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed, which had become a sea of books and notes. Hutch couldn't remember generating that much of a mess during his entire college experience.

"Is that Rhiana?' Starsky asked, getting up slowly, but after three weeks of convalescence, moving more smoothly.

"Yeah. You didn't mention calling her."

"Didn't I? Sorry about that. I want you to hang around. She's going to give us some information on putting together a demo tape."

"A demo tape? But we haven't--"

"Hutch, how long have we been singing together?"

"About as long as we've known each other, but--"

"So, next time we do it, we'll have a tape rolling, that's all."

"It isn't that simple."

"It's only as complicated as you wanna make it, partner." He went for the door. "It's rude to keep your company waiting."

"Dave, you look great." Rhiana hugged Starsky as soon as he emerged. They seemed to have the easy rapport of good friends.

"Still a little tired, huh?" She evaluated his face carefully.

"A little. But I'm feeling pretty good now."

"I was so glad to hear from you. You know, after your shooting, I didn't want to intrude, but I was worried."

"Let's sit down. Would you like anything--coffee, a soda?" Starsky asked as he and Rhiana sat on the couch while Hutch occupied a nearby chair.

"I'd kill for a pop. I've been running around all morning and it's hot out there," she responded, referring to the eighty-plus degree June weather outside.

"I'll get it. Starsk?"

"Yeah, me too."

"Starsky has been telling me you're quite an expert on the music business," Hutch said, returning to the room with three glasses of pop balanced in his two hands, which he set on the coffee table, handing one to Rhiana.

"Thanks," she responded with a smile. She really was pretty, and something about her fine features and friendly manner reminded Hutch of Terry. She didn't look like a groupie. "I have a few really good friends in the music business. I've always loved music, and I was fortunate enough to meet some really great guys while I was in college who are now in a band together. I dated WildChild's guitarist for a few years, but we never made a commitment...I think he's more in love with his guitar than any woman, but that's another whole story it took Dave and me about three hours to wade through over pizza one night. The long and short of it is that I know quite a bit about the whole recording process, and at least about approaching record companies. I have to admit I don't know too much about the business angle of handling a musician's career, but I do run my own business, so I have a few ideas that might help there. Do you have anything on tape?"

"Nothing," Hutch responded. Starsky was sitting back quietly, letting his partner build some rapport with a woman he felt would have knowledge and connections that would help them both.

"Well, that's not a big thing. Ever been in a recording studio before?"

"Only to watch--briefly." Hutch seemed to be feeling defeated by his own negative answers, but Rhiana wasn't daunted.

"That's one thing I can help with. Gary--Gary Olson, my old boyfriend--has a studio in his home. He's on tour right now." She took a small key out of her purse. "He said you two would be welcome to fiddle around in there a little and get used to the environment. He also said you should go ahead and do your demo there if you want. Now I know of a drummer who could probably help you out if you want. His name's Eric March--he's with Kingpin."

"They're pretty hard rock, aren't they?" Hutch asked.

"Yes, but he's wonderful. He can play anything. He's not available this week." She opened her briefcase and pulled out a small calendar book. "He's going to be in town next week. I called him after I talked to Dave, and he said he'd be glad to sit in on your demo tape if you need accompaniment. He's got a super voice, too, so if you need backing vocals, he can help there too."

"Rhiana, what's the good of getting somebody like that if they're only in it temporarily? And we don't have any material put together."

"First off, Dave, all you need to do is impress one record company enough to sign you. Getting a drummer isn't the end of the world. Once you're a signed band, there're plenty of good session musicians out there. As far as putting material together, you're going to have to pull together the stuff you sing at amateur nights--songs you've written yourself are best. But if there's one you love to do that's not an original, the record company can usually take on the battle of getting you the rights to do it if they think it's worthwhile. The most important thing is your sound. And the fact neither one of you is too hard to look at won't hurt matters any."

"I don't want to be judged by something as shallow as how I look." Hutch hadn't meant the comment to sound cutting, and to a lesser personality, it might have been. Rhiana was a resilient creature, and very little ruffled her.

"Look, Hutch, I don't mean to compromise your artistic integrity here, but sometimes you need to catch someone's attention before they will bother to look any further. The music business is shallow and superficial in a lot of ways, but the lasting artists, the really fine musicians, make it on their talent in the end anyway. Any good-looking guy can make women swoon and buy albums and posters and t-shirts for a while, but if he's an idiot with the IQ of a pea, he won't last. I've heard Dave sing, and I know he's got a great voice and a lot of feeling. I haven't heard you yet, but he seems real impressed, so I figure you must be pretty good too. There are some realities of life in this business just like there are in your current line of work that you probably won't like. But, Hutch, the rewards are great. And I'm not just talking about money. One thing I really learned while I was with Gary was what a high you get from the crowds, what an outpouring of love you get from your fans, and how great it feels to see something you create from an idea on a piece of paper or a melody you hum in the shower turn into a work of art that thousands, maybe millions, of people, possibly all over the world, sing and dance to. Fall in love to, get married to, remember the rest of their lives. It's something miraculous, and as corny as it sounds, it is the universal language. I went to Japan on tour with Gary a few years ago, and it amazed me to see these reserved Japanese teenagers finally stand up--they always stay seated, not like the frenzy you see in the US--and actually sing songs in English, even though many of them didn't speak a word of it. For that moment, it didn't matter that Gary's British-born, I was an American and they were all Japanese. We sang together just like there were no boundaries."

Starsky was watching his partner's reaction, and he was immensely grateful to Rhiana for giving Hutch an image that carried him away. Thoughts of universal understanding and creating works of lasting beauty would appeal to Hutch, and the whole concept of being musicians and traipsing around the country with Hutch and doing something that wouldn't get them killed appealed to Starsky.

"So when can we go over and try out this studio?" Hutch asked.

"Right now. I have a free afternoon, and I can show you a few things. Gary's sound guy will be available sometime tomorrow. I'll call him and get a time. He could let you test-record one track, even if we don't have Eric and you're not ready to do the demo tape. Just to let you get a feel for it."

"Thanks for doing all this, Rhiana. We don't really have too much other way of starting out," Starsky stated honestly.

"It's my pleasure. Besides, I expect a thank you in the liner notes of your first album."

Gary Olson's estate was impressive. Starsky and Hutch both found themselves gawking shamelessly at the elaborate landscaping and imposing Spanish architecture of the home. Rhiana looked right at home unlocking the big double doors and leading them through the huge entry. The tiled floor and winding staircase with the black iron filigree railing was dramatic to say the least.

"The studio is kind of a cave," she explained, opening a heavy door to reveal a staircase into the basement of the house. "Gary likes the whole subterranean feel of it. Or something like that." She smirked a little discussing her old flame and current friend. "I think he spent most of our relationship down here." She unlocked the door to the studio, a shocking display of modern technology in a house that almost could carry one to old Spain with a little imagination. Suddenly, Hutch felt like the poor farm boy standing there with his guitar case in hand, and Starsky wasn't sure how he felt, except intimidated by the control board in front of them.

"Do you know anything about..." He gestured toward the controls.

"Only what I learned looking over Gary's shoulder. I can tape something for you if you want, but the sound quality might not be as good as it will with Ed behind the panel. You'll be in there." She turned on a light and opened a door which led into the artists' area, visible through a window in the control booth. It was a big open room, with richly paneled walls displaying numerous works of art, all obviously expensive. "Gary loves collecting lithographs. He spends most of his time here, so his best stuff is hung in here where he can look at it all the time." She looked back at her guests. "Well, if you want to practice a little while in private, go ahead. I'm going to run upstairs and call Ed and see what his schedule's like for tomorrow. I also want to double check with Eric to get some definite time set for next week--do you want him to help out?"

"What do you think?" Starsky asked Rhiana.

"I think you should have a drummer, and he's a really great guy. He'll put you right at ease, and he's got a lot of experience."

"Get him if you can," Hutch responded.

"Will do. Go ahead and play a little. I'll be back in a half hour or so." She headed up the stairs.

Starsky looked at Hutch. Hutch looked at Starsky. They both looked around the room, and then back at each other.

"What the hell are we doing here?" Hutch sat on a stool.

"Take that thing out of its case and let's find out." Starsky took out his own guitar and perched on the other stool.

"You're still serious about this?"

"You're the one that told her to go ahead and get the drummer."

"Heat of the moment."

"Come on, buddy, let's live in the heat of the moment. Maybe we'll mess around and find something great."

And they did. They launched into a couple of Hutch's own compositions they both knew, and before long, they had forgotten the surroundings, and were carried into the magic of the music. Hutch watched with a pleased amusement as his partner played along on his guitar, belting out the song with a strength and confidence in his voice that bode well for his recovery. Hutch was challenged by his enthusiastic partner to sing more loudly and strongly, to play with more passion and to feel the magic this new enterprise promised. The expensive lithographs and rich paneling and intimidating controls disappeared. Suddenly it was just two friends doing something together they loved doing. And there were no shots being fired, no danger and no risk of loss. Starsky was strumming for all he was worth, his leg moving up and down a little with a beat that was missing except in their minds. Eric the drummer would fill that in next week. Hutch, for his part, was reveling in the moment, singing his heart out, playing the music he loved, and seeing the life blood returning to his partner in a way it hadn't for months. Neither of them could wait until Rhiana made a tape so they could hear if the magic they were experiencing would translate into a recording. When they finished, Hutch was grinning from ear to ear, as was Starsky. He reached out and gave his partner a high five.

"You know what, Starsk?"

"That was great!" he responded excitedly.

"Yeah, it was. But you were right about believing in magic. Cause if that wasn't magic, buddy, I don't know what is." Hutch took a deep breath and set his guitar aside. "I haven't felt this good in years."

"You look happy." Starsky was smiling. "I haven't seen any real happiness in your eyes in a long time, Hutch. When we were playing that music, we forgot about all the other stuff."

"And let the music carry us...But I'll feel better when somebody who knows something hears us and tells us we aren't tone deaf."

"Do I count?" Rhiana entered the room from the sound booth. Neither of them noticed her return, and she had been lurking behind the controls, tapping her toe to their last collaboration.

"Didn't know you were here," Starsky responded a little shyly.

"I just got here about halfway through the last song. You guys were great. And there was this...electricity when you sing together--a chemistry and a rapport that just made me feel good watching and listening. You were having so much fun that I had to have fun watching. Plus you're really good. Your voices are both strong, by yourselves or when you sing together. I'm excited, guys. How about you?" She was beaming and even bouncing up and down a little on her heels as if she might burst from the enthusiasm.

"Yeah, we're pretty psyched too," Hutch looked at Starsky, whose big smile bordering on a laugh answered him eloquently.

"Yes!" Rhiana jumped a little off the floor and then tried to calm down. She was genuinely excited, and she had seen some of the industry's best up close. "Okay. I called Ed, and he said he could work with you guys tomorrow afternoon, starting at about one. He has another commitment at six, so you'll have to be fairly time-efficient. I told him you'd only probably try to do one song tomorrow because you'll have to take some breaks so Dave doesn't get too worn out. You'd be surprised, but going over and over a song until it sounds right is hard work. Ed has done some work as a producer, and he's pretty ruthless. Unless you sound the best you possibly can, he'll tell you in no uncertain terms that the performance stinks."

"That's something to look forward to," Starsky rolled his eyes a little.

"I think you ought to figure on working on a ballad tomorrow. You sound pretty good right now, and if you do something that doesn't require a drummer, you could lay down a final track tomorrow. I got a hold of Eric, and he's going to be back in town Friday, but he said he'd have a whole day on Sunday, some time Tuesday and Wednesday, and next Saturday he could spend about three hours in the morning."

"He's doing all this for free?" Hutch asked, incredulous.

"He likes working with new talent, and he's always open to do a guest spot here and there on other people's albums, if they're any good. He also does some song writing on his own, separate from Kingpin, so if you ever want to collaborate, just talk to him. He basically loves music and likes meeting new talent, so yeah, he won't be billing you or anything."

"Rhiana, you're an angel." Starsky caught her around the waist and kissed her cheek.

"Yeah? And you're a devil, Dave Starsky. Don't bat those big blue eyes at me. You know I'm not impressed." She returned a little squeeze around his waist. "You know, you'd look really hot in a suit of leathers," she said, stepping back a little and evaluating Starsky.

"Don't encourage him," Hutch spoke up.

"Well, it's probably wrong for your image anyway. Of course, I can see you in a white leather suit. I saw a really great one I ordered from a distributor out of London last week--oh, it was amazing. All white leather with silver accents and a fringe. Maybe if you get rich and famous, you'll both dress up that way once just to humor me."

"I think I could see myself in leather," Starsky responded, looking himself over.

"Oh, I can see you in this red and black leather outfit I have at the boutique right now. Oh, well, you guys did want to try a dry run at recording something, didn't you? You'll have to forgive me, but I'd love to have you two for human mannequins in my shop."

"I'm flattered," Hutch responded with a grin.

"Well, I'll go get things ready in the booth. You two decide what you want to do and let me know when you're ready. Then if I can find the right controls, we'll try it."

"Let us know when you're ready," Starsky called after her. She nodded as she took a seat at the control panel.

"Leathers, huh?" Hutch looked at his partner. "I don't know about this, Starsk."

"We wanted to do something different."

"I guess we got our wish on that point."

"Hey, Hutch--did you hear what you just said?"

"What?" Hutch was tuning his guitar again.

"You said 'we got our wish'--what'd you wish for on the cake candle--you know when I first got out of the hospital?"

"It's bad luck to tell."

"Not if you already got it. I wished something would happen that would make us both happy again. I didn't care what it was."

"Then I guess I got mine, too, because right now, I'm about as happy as I've ever been. What're we gonna play for her?"

"Are you suddenly real nervous?"

"I think all my vocal cords have constricted into a ball in the middle of my throat, but other than that, no."

"Are we going to be recording studio-phobic?"

"Looks that way." Hutch smiled uneasily at Rhiana, who was giving them the signal to go ahead anytime. "We gotta do something real easy, pal."

"'Black Bean Soup'?" Starsky suggested.

"It's not our most impressive," Hutch retorted.

"It's the one we've done the most."

"Good enough. Hit it." They signaled Rhiana, and she started the tape rolling. Before long, they forgot the tape and Rhiana, and the same magic of the music was loosening them up again. When they finished, she decisively hit some control to stop the tape and applauded excitedly. She motioned to them to come into the booth.

"Now this is probably going to sound really raw, because I don't have all the experience playing with all these controls to perfect the sound." She rewound the tape, and they waited anxiously until she hit the play button. Once the music started, it was obvious the magic had translated well on tape. The sound was a little ragged in parts, as she warned it would be, but it sounded good, and she hadn't lied about how good they sounded together. When it was over, she hit the stop button and smiled triumphantly. "Well, gentlemen, I think you're on your way."

"We're on our way, you mean. You're part of this too." Hutch looked at Starsky, who nodded an answer to an unspoken question. "How would you feel about managing us?"


"Well, you may not even have a lot of experience, but we have less, and so far you haven't steered us wrong," Starsky spoke up. "I think we make a good team."

"I'd love to."

They sealed the alliance with a friendly three-way hug.

"So should we go out and celebrate? Huggy's?" Starsky suggested.

"I'd like to, guys, but I have to get back to the boutique. My salesperson gets done at five, and I'm open until eight tonight."

"We could pick you up after work."

"Go home and get some rest, Dave. We need you in top form for tomorrow. We'll have plenty of time to celebrate. Besides, I had a late night last night, and I'm a little wiped out myself. Raincheck--maybe tomorrow after the session?"

"It's a date." Hutch replied.

Starsky was stretched out on the couch, yawning and looking only moments away from sleep when Hutch returned to the living room with a pizza and two bottles of beer.

"Some rock star you're gonna make," Hutch teased him, handing him a beer and settling in a chair he pulled closer to the coffee table. "Damn. Forgot plates."

"Ah, who needs 'em." Starsky reached into the pizza box and pulled out a piece, successfully getting the end of it in his mouth before disaster struck the upholstery of the rented couch. "Don't worry. If I drop anything, it'll land on me first," he reasoned, chewing.

"If you eat lying down you'll probably choke to death."

"Thanks, Hutch." Starsky glowered a little as he straightened to a sitting position against the arm of the couch. "Happy?"

"Overjoyed." Hutch was eating his own piece of pizza now, having given up on the plates himself. "How are you feelin', buddy?"

"Tired. But it's a good tired--not that lethargic, too-many-pain-pills-tired."

"Any pain?"

"A little. Not like it used to be. I'm stiff, and the scars feel tight--kind of weird. I get tired too fast to suit me, but not as fast as I did at first." He was quiet a minute. "It's been really great to have you around the last few weeks," he said without looking up from his pizza.

"Might as well find out if we can stand each other as roomies before we take our show on the road," Hutch answered lightly.

"Are you really excited about this? Sometimes I just can't believe we're trying it. I'm so excited I can't even tell you."

"Yeah, Starsk, I'm excited about it too." Hutch had to smile at his partner's unabashed, almost child-like enthusiasm that made it hard for him to sit still when he talked about the whole music venture.

"Man, I never thought you'd be willing to try it." Starsky finished the first piece and reached under the lid for another.

"Me either. Can't believe sometimes I am trying it." Hutch took a couple gulps of his beer and leaned back in his chair. "Can you picture Dobey when we tell him? 'Sorry, Cap, but we're turning in our resignations because we just signed a recording contract, and we're going to be big stars."

"We'll send him a framed copy the first time we're on the cover of 'Rolling Stone'." Starsky laughed a little at the mental image. "I'll miss Dobey."

"He's been really good to us."

"Ever think we're doing the wrong thing?"

"No..." Hutch wanted to continue, to say that the last time he had any doubts, Starsky had walked through the apartment shirtless, and the network of scars had shaken him back to the reality of what their old jobs had cost both of them. But he kept that observation to himself.

"No what?"

"Huh?" Hutch looked up from his pizza.

"You were going to say something else."

"Just that it cost us too much."

"Hutch, if you ever feel like you want to go back, I won't be mad. Even if I can't, I wouldn't be mad at you if you did."

"You'll be able to eventually if you want to."

"I don't know that for a fact. I hope I'll have all my old strength back, but I really still mean that I don't want to drag you down with me."

"All I know is that today wasn't dragging me down. Today, you lifted me up with you. You made me do this, and it was the best thing I ever did--that we ever did."

"I'm glad, but if you ever don't feel that way, I don't want to be the thing that ruins your life. I couldn't stand that." Starsky looked him in the eyes. "If I ruined your chances to do what you really want to do with your life, I couldn't live with that. Even this music thing--if you don't want to do it--"

"What makes you think you're ruining my life?

"I don't exactly, but I just wanna be sure."

"I'm really happy right now, Starsk. I'm relaxed, I'm writing music again, and we're both out of the line of fire. This is where I want to be. Even if you didn't need me for anything, I'd still want to be doing this, and doing it together."


"Yeah, really, ya big dummy."

"So what'd you think of Rhiana?"

"She's something, isn't she? What a lady." Hutch smiled.

Hutch tossed and turned on the sofa bed. The upcoming recording session was keeping him awake, with both a sense of anticipation and dread. He finally strained his ears to listen for the sounds of deep breathing and occasional snoring from his partner. With the bedroom door ajar, Hutch could usually hear him if he listened carefully enough, but there was little or no sound coming from the room. He finally had had enough insomnia and probed Starsky.

"You awake?"


"Nervous about tomorrow?"


"Me too." Hutch stretched a little and entwined his fingers behind his head, lying on his back. "Excited?"


"This has been a real profound conversation, Starsk. You're really at the top of your form tonight."

"Yup," Starsky replied with a laugh. "I was just thinking about a lot of things. About how the shooting changed everything."

"Is that good or bad?"

"Both," Starsky responded, the humor slipping out of his voice. "I love what we're doing. I'm just tired of recuperating, ya know? I wanna be out there, doing things again. I can't believe I even miss going for a run. I feel like a wet noodle."

"You'll be starting therapy next week."

"Wow. If I'm in real good shape I can walk briskly around a track a time or two."

"I'll go with you. We can make plans..."

"Or write profound song lyrics? Right. It's just a dose of night depression, Hutch. Don't worry about me. I'm okay."

"I'm not worried that you aren't okay. I wish you weren't depressed though."

"When I can't sleep, all I can do is lie here and think. My mind keeps wandering over everything, back over what we've done...what we'd be doing right now if I hadn't gotten shot--"

"But you did, and we aren't in that situation. It's not going to do you any good to keep over-analyzing what might have been."

"Yeah, I know that. It's just hard sometimes."

"You seemed so happy about the music project. I guess I keep forgetting that you've got more to deal with here than I do." Hutch got out of bed and wandered to the door of the bedroom. Starsky looked up at him and smiled.

"I'm really okay."

"I'm hungry," Hutch stated, surprising his partner. Night munchies were usually Starsky's department. If Hutch was doing this for his benefit, it made him happy enough that he didn't question it. He knew the actual physical need for Hutch to stay with him had passed some days ago, but with their new music project on the horizon, his partner hadn't seemed inclined to go home. For his part, Starsky had been relieved to have someone with whom to share his occasional bouts of insomnia.

"So what'll we have?" Starsky got up, pulled on his robe and followed his partner into the kitchen. Over cold chicken, they made plans for which song to do during their recording session the next day. Two hours and several pieces of chicken later, depression was replaced by indigestion, and they both crawled drowsily back to their beds, setting an alarm for nine o'clock, so they'd have time to rehearse.