A Rose By Any Other Name

This story was written fondly for Brook, who was the inspiration and the driving force behind its completion. A big mahalo (thank you) goes out to Strut, Cris P., Eli and S'gal for your ideas, encouragement, humor and advice. This story would never have been completed without all of you!


Thursday, mid-morning (La Cruces, New Mexico)

She walked quickly through the busy streets, her long blond tresses blowing in the warm breeze. Tourists came often to La Cruces, New Mexico, drawn by the eye catching attractions and the beautiful Mexican art and museums that flourished there. Her new shop was thriving; customers ranted and raved over her unique collection of Indian and Mexican artifacts and pottery, and her name was already well known among the residents of this vast and antiquated state, rich in its cultural history. It was hard to believe that she had only moved here three short months ago. She loved her new home, her father was safe and well, and everything would have been perfect, if not for the empty void that still resided in her heart.

Soft dark curls, an adorable lopsided grin, and brilliant blue eyes rose unbidden to her mind. She quickly squelched that image down... the vision of that familiar face that haunted her every waking moment, that visited her nightly in her dreams, that followed her everywhere since she had moved here with her father.

Her mind drifted to her dad whom she loved so very much. She knew that her father had been involved in things outside of her knowledge, shady things that she would rather not think about, but he was always a very loving and doting parent to her, especially since the passing of her mother two years ago. Frank Malone may not have been a typical father, his former occupation wouldn't allow for that, but he tried his best to shield his only daughter from his unscrupulous past.

Just this morning, he had called her, telling her that he would be out of town for the day, but promising to return in the late evening. Although they did not share the same abode, her father called her daily and saw her each night for dinner, cautioning her, like he usually did, about strangers and about being aware of anything out of the ordinary. Rosey smiled. Her dad had always been overly vigilant, prone to being over protective when it came to his daughter's happiness and well-being.


She had never thought she would fall so hard... so quickly... for that dark haired, handsome man. A virtual stranger that she had met one day on her morning run through the park. A cop. Who would have thought that Frank Malone's daughter would fall head over heels in love... with a cop! An officer of the law! It had been the hardest decision of her life, choosing between David and her father, but she knew her dad needed her. In her eyes, there had been no choice... she had an obligation to her father... he was, after all, family.

And David? David was the sweet dream of a white picket fenced home, filled with laughing children and a man who loved her; an unfulfilled fantasy, now a bittersweet memory that brought tears to her eyes, whenever she allowed herself to think about him. Rosey smiled softly. If there was one thing that Rosey was, it was a realist. It would have never worked, she silently rationalized, sadly shaking her head; her long blonde locks swaying gently with the movement.

That was when she saw them. Two men who were standing at the newspaper stand, looking nonchalantly over some magazines. She had seen them earlier today in the park where she jogged, in fact, now that she'd seen them again, she'd recollected that she had seen them several times this past week and that thought gave her pause.

She discreetly glanced over her shoulder again, brushing strands of her long golden hair from her face. Yes, they were the same two men she'd seen, once at the open market, another time in a restaurant, and still yet, another time at an art exhibition. A prickly sense of fear raced up her spine. Words of caution that her father constantly spoke to her, filled her mind with trepidation. She crossed the street and entered the cobblestone alleyway, ablaze with bright, colorful flowers, home to many little shops like the one she owned. She inconspicuously watched as the two men discreetly entered a little cafe, diagonally across the alleyway, and sat by the window... a perfect spot to see the entrance to her gallery.

Rosey unlocked the glass French doors to her shop, walked in and pulled down the shades. She worried her lip as she thought about what she should do. She had no idea how to contact her father, didn't even know exactly where he was, he had never really told her where he was going she realized belatedly. All she knew was that he was coming home, this evening, and that they would go out for a late dinner together, as usual. She glanced at her wristwatch and knew she would have to open up her shop soon; it would look too conspicuous if her doors remained shut. Not knowing what to do and at her wits end, Rosey closed her eyes. An ocean of cobalt blue swam up from the mists of her mind. Making a decision, Rosey picked up the phone.

Thursday, early morning, (Bay City)

"Look Starsk... I think it's healthy that you do it... I mean, you haven't gone out with anyone since Rosey left," Hutch said cautiously, keeping an eye on the brunet's face, knowing how moody his partner could be whenever her name was brought up. It was time Starsky moved on with his life and Hutch knew just the thing that would get him back in the saddle. "Sharon is a great girl, and she's always wanted to meet you. She's a stewardess for Continental and she's flying in today from Phoenix. It might be a nice change... I would think you'd be tired of just seeing my mug around."

"I don' know Blondie," the brunet said in a matter of fact tone, never taking his eyes off of the road, "You kinda grow on people ya know... like mold grows on old bread." The brunet shifted his sparkling blue eyes to glance at his partner, a grin tipping the corners of his mouth.

Hutch snorted softly, which widened the lopsided grin his partner was so well known for. It had been a difficult, long three months since the Malones' left town, leaving Hutch to pick up the broken pieces of his wounded partner's heart. Hutch had seen first hand, the devastation of Rosey's departure, his partner closing away the part of his heart that held the dreams of living happily ever after. The blond had watched his partner grow despondent and withdrawn, refusing to talk to anyone about it.

It frustrated the blond, that Starsky would choose to shut him out like that, but Hutch waited patiently, never pushing, just being there for support, as he watched his partner struggle through the pain of rejection... alone.

Hutch felt a twinge of guilt lurking in the back of his mind. Maybe he had been too hard on his partner that day Starsky was made by Frank Malone. He thought back on the harsh words he'd used with his partner, in the brunet's apartment, after finding his partner at home.




"Okay... you're in pain... that's gonna pass... we've still got a job to do..." the blond said, standing next to his partner near his bookshelf, not touching the dark haired, hurting man, although he wanted to, needing to snap his injured partner out from the depths of despair that he'd sunken to.

"Save the pep talk coach," the brunet retorted, angry, agitated, a caged animal ready to lash out and erupt, self-loathing and heartbreak mixing together to form an explosive combination of barely restrained ill temper.

"Okay, c'mon Starsk, you're no teenaged kid who's just lost his date to the prom. You're a cop and you're on assignment!" Hutch pressed, not allowing his partner to hide away in his cave to lick his wounds.

"Get off my case!" the brunet snapped, instinctively knowing what his partner was trying to do, but resenting it anyway. He turned his heated gaze to the blond, burning blue eyes flashing angry sparks.

"The Captain wants to see you," Hutch said quickly, raising his finger in defense, "Don't you look at me like that... I'm not the enemy. I know your wounded and I know there's nothing anyone can do, but don't lay down Starsk... don't quit!"

"You got it okay? You got it! Now go tell the Captain that I'm on my way!" Starsky snarled, taking deep breaths to control the rage that tore at his heart, wanting to smash something... anything, to take away the pain and guilt that ravished his soul.

"Then ride down with me?" Hutch asked gently, knowing he had succeeded in getting his partner up again, ready to do battle, when all the brunet wanted to do was stay down, hiding away in his guilt and shame at using Malone's daughter.

"Aw... you go on, I got a stop to make..." Hutch remembered his partner's hurt filled eyes and tense, rigid body, "Hutch will you go on? I'm on my way..."

Yes, Hutch reflected silently, maybe he had been a little too harsh. He had thought the quick wink he given the brunet would have silently explained the reason why he chose to handle it the way he did, but maybe Starsky was too wounded, too filled with pain to comprehend the motive behind their heated discussion that day.

Hutch knew Starsky had to be ready to disclose his feelings and never pushed or nagged him about it. They had touched upon it briefly a couple of weeks ago, the day they were jogging in the park. Hutch remembered that Starsky was in high spirits that morning, keeping up with the long strides of his blond counterpart, not even getting winded after they had gone around the park once. It made the blond happy to see his partner like that, laughing as they shared their usual light-hearted banter.

That was when he saw the woman, golden hair swaying as she paced herself and jogged right by them. Hutch knew by the look on his partner's face that he thought it was her. Rosey. It tore the blond up to see his curly haired friend give chase, only to be disappointed when he realized that Rosey was truly gone.

Hutch finally caught up with his partner who stood on the park's merry-go-round, a sad look of dejection plastered on his face, the pain in Starsky's heart, radiating out in tangible waves. For a moment, Hutch was at a loss for words, seeing his partner hurting like that, made the sensitive blond hurt too.

Hutch looked out of the Torino's passenger window as they traveled together to work... his mind drifting back to that day in the park, finding his sad, dark haired partner standing on the merry-go-round like a lost little boy...

"How you doin'?" Hutch asked gently, grabbing onto the metal bar of the merry-go-round, knowing his partner had once again been sucked down to that dark, lonely, secluded, place he had harbored in, these past three months.

He watched as the brunet drew in a deep breath, "Okay," Starsky sighed, both of them knowing, it was everything, but okay.

"It's not easy forgetting a girl like that is it?" The blonde watched as the brunet silently shrugged, wanting to see his partner's playful smile, needing to see it, especially after their light-hearted bantering just moments ago.

Hutch wracked his brains, wondering what he could do or say to make things better for his friend, who leaned silently against the bar of the merry-go round, "Maybe you ought'a stop trying," Hutch lamely finished, suddenly spinning the merry-go-round into motion, watching as his partner nearly lost his balance, and then hung on.

The spinning of the wheel, the dizzy rush of wind blowing back dark curls, and the vortex of colors and sound eventually brought a smile of pure joy to the lips of the brunet. Hutch watched as his partner closed his long dark lashes, clenched the brightly painted bar between his thighs and spread his arms out in childish abandon. The look of joy on the brunet's features brought a wide grin to the blond's face, and he spun the merry-go-round as fast as he could and quickly jumped on the wheel to share in the last of the ride, the breathless, soul-freeing excitement that gradually lessened and finally stilled, as the merry-go-round came to a stop.

Hutch watched as his friend slowly opened his eyes, their gazes connecting, until Starsky quietly snorted and then looked away. The brunet sat down on the edge of the merry-go-round, legs dangling, and Hutch quietly sat down next to him. They stayed like that for a while, in companionable silence, as park-goers did their activities all around them.

Eventually, the brunet looked up and smiled sadly, "I miss her Hutch," he said simply, a vulnerable quiver in his voice, which immediately softened the blond's heart and pale, blue eyes, "I see her everywhere... here... at home... in restaurants..." The brunet shrugged lamely, avoiding contact with his blond partner's soft, blue eyes.

"I know buddy," Hutch said gently, his voice soft and soothing, as he put his arm around his partner's shoulder, "I know... you loved her and for what it's worth pal, she loved you too."

"Yeah, but she still chose her father over me." Starsky said petulantly, annoyed with himself for feeling so peevishly towards Malone. He quickly swallowed that bitter emotion down, remorse instantly filling his heart, as hazel-green eyes brimming with tears flashed across his memory, "I hurt her Hutch... used her like some dirtbag, scum ball, Casanova-womanizer just to get information outta her..." Starsky looked down at his fingers clenching the metal siding of the merry-go-round, muscles tense and rigid.

"You done calling yourself names Starsk?" Hutch gently chided, watching as his partner wearily shrugged. Hutch took his arm off the brunet's shoulder, put two feet up on the metal floor of the merry-go-round and turned his long body to completely face his partner, leaning his back against the colorful bars.

"Look buddy... hear me," Hutch said gently, purposely softening his voice, using it to build a cocoon of warmth and safety that wrapped around them, hiding them from the public's eye, knowing his partner would need the illusion of privacy to bring down the walls of his heart, "You were always attracted to her... before we even got the assignment remember? You didn't use her Starsk, you..."

Starsky raised pain-filled blue eyes, dark with self-loathing, as he quickly interjected, "I slept with her Hutch... she gave herself to me thinking I was someone else... someone who loved her... and I... I took what she gave me, knowing I wasn't the person who she thought I was... I lied to her Hutch! I used her and I hate myself for it!" The brunet looked away, averting his eyes with the shame he carried in his heart. Maybe that was the reason Rosey inevitably chose her father over him... at least her father never pretended to be anything he wasn't.

For a moment they sat in silence, the blond feeling the self-reproach and remorse that flowed from his partner. He knew Starsky was pulling at straws as a way to explain the hurt and rejection he felt from Malone's daughter. If anyone understood the complexities of guilt and how it had the potential to twist reality at times, it was Hutch.

The blond gently put his hand on his partner's back, "You didn't use her... you loved her and she loved you buddy... when she gave herself to you, she gave it with love... for you! You didn't just sleep with her Starsk; you make it sound like it was a one-night stand. You made love to her, made love with her." Hutch watched the changing expression on the brunet's face as his words started to sink in, seeing the soft, gentle smile that grazed his lips as memories of Rosey and their time together flickered behind his expressive blue eyes.

"I know you feel bad about the way things turned out, but you were caught between your job and your attraction for Rosey. You handled it in the best way you knew how Starsk, and even if it's hard to swallow buddy, you have to know that Rosey handled leaving in the best way she knew how too!"

Starsky looked up, cobalt eyes connected to sky blue, "She didn't have to leave Hutch... I would'a taken care of her, protected her and..."

"I know buddy, but it wasn't about you, and what you could do for her... her decision was about family loyalty, about being his daughter Starsk... it wasn't because she didn't love you. Sometimes people just have to do what they think is best... remember Abby?" Hutch gently rubbed his partner's back. For a moment they were both silent as they remembered Hutch's old girlfriend, who left Hutch after being attacked by a perp they had been after. Hutch sighed softly then said, "Rosey loved you buddy... as much as you loved her, but it just wasn't meant to be."

Starsky looked down and snorted gently, "Just like Romeo and Juliet huh? Star-crossed lovers, fated to never work out..."

Hutch chuckled and shook his head, "I don' know buddy... is that how you tricked her into falling in love with you... did you tell her that you were her Romeo and that she was your Juliet huh?

The brunet snorted, eyes twinkling impishly, "Nah... I told her I was a dentist, and then later on, that I was a plastic surgeon." Hutch burst out laughing and thumped the brunet gently on his back, "C'mon pal, I'll race you back to the car, and the loser has to buy the burritos!"

Hutch smiled as that memory faded, he shifted his focus on the streets outside, on the people going about their business.

"What?" Starsky queried, knowing his suddenly silent partner was thinking about something as he gazed out the window. When Hutch didn't respond, Starsky glanced over at the blond and smiled, "Okay... okay... I'll do it!" he slowly said, gauging the reaction in his blond friend, and finding he was disappointed when Hutch just stared blankly back at him.

"Do what?" Hutch puzzled, seeing the look of annoyance that crossed the brunet's features.

"I don' believe you," Starsky ranted, "You been buggin' me all week to go out with your friend Sasha..."

"Sharon." Hutch interjected, a smile spreading across his face.

"Okay, you been buggin' me all week to go out with your friend Sharon the stewardess from Continental, and now that I've finally agreed to it, you flake out on me..."

"Easy buddy... no one's flaking out on anybody, in fact, Sharon's gonna come down to Metro today to meet you." Hutch said, seeing the incredulous look his partner gave to him.

"Wha'... hey, what if I didn't want to see her huh?" Starsky asked as they pulled into the police garage, "You shouldn't just make assumptions, Hutchinson," the brunet miffed.

"Oh c'mon Stark," the blond chuckled, "No one knows you better than me. I knew once you met Sharon, you'd jump right back into the river... get your feet wet again... it's like swimming, you just have to take the plunge..." Hutch got out of the car once his partner shifted the Torino into 'park'.

"Yeah? Well, Mr. Minnesota Farm-boy, it's not about a river... it's about a bike!" The brunet grinned, his twinkling deep blue eyes connecting with his partners' across the shining red hood, seeing the look of puzzlement that crossed the blond's face.

"What bike? What are you rambling about Starsk?" Hutch asked.

"A bike! Most people who are not from Hicks-Ville say, 'It's like riding a bike, you just hav'ta get back on.' You said I hav'ta jump back in the river and get my feet wet... how long you been in Bay City anyway? Just goes to show ya Hutch, that you can't take the country outta the boy."

"Yeah, but you can take the boy out of the country and partner him up with a monkey from the New York zoo!" Hutch grouched, while the brunet chuckled and locked the door to his car.


Thursday, mid-afternoon (Bay City)

Hutch walked back into the squad room, went to his desk and looked over the recent files that were piled up there. It seemed like he had just cleared a stack and another reappeared. God, he hated paperwork! He looked over at the stack on Starsky's desk and smiled, at least he'd be finished with his reports before his partner even made a dent in his.

"Hutch... get in here!" Dobey yelled from his office. The tall blond put down a manila folder he had just picked up and went into his Captain's office, just as Starsky's desk phone began to ring, "Where's Starsky?" Dobey snapped.

"Ah... he'll be right in here Captain... um... he... went to the restroom." Hutch grinned, sky blue eyes twinkling, "Too much burritos."

The rotund captain glared at the blond, but his lips twitched in a semi-smile. "Okay... I want the bulk of those reports on my desk by the end of the day, so you tell your partner to get cracking on it, and go answer his phone... that ringing is driving me crazy!"

"Yes sir," Hutch said respectfully, "I'll do that Cap." The blond went over to his partner's desk and casually picked up the receiver, stilling the incessant ringing, "Detective Starsky's d..."

The voice on the other end of the phone quickly interjected, not allowing Hutch to finish, "David it's me... Rosey... don't hang up... look, I--I can't talk right now, especially when you're at work, but please take down this number and call me in a half and hour okay? Area Code 505-977-6673. I-I gotta go now... oh, and David, thanks!" Hutch heard a soft click and the line disconnected. He hung up the phone and looked at the note he had hastily scribbled for Starsky.

The caller said her name was Rosey. There was only one 'Rosey' that Hutch knew of, and that was Rosey Malone. A worried frown creased his brow, his mind instantly rejecting the idea of handing this note over to his partner. Why would she be calling Starsky now, after all this time? She did sound worried, Hutch surmised after replaying the conversation mentally, Well she should be worried... especially if her daddy caught wind of her calling the police station! the blond thought angrily, irritated by the fact that she would sneak behind her father's back to secretly call his lovelorn partner, after leaving him broken-hearted the way she did. To think that she would just assume that Starsky would jump at her beck and call made the tall blond quietly fume. She was probably in such a rush, afraid to get caught red-handed by her father that she couldn't even wait for Starsky's reply! Hutch huffed silently.

Hutch pondered over what to do. Starsky was slowly leaving the sadness and hurt from Rosey's departure behind, and today was the first day that Starsky really seemed to be coming around, smiling and joking like usual, and he'd even accepted that date with Sharon. If he gave this note to Starsky now, Hutch knew his partner wouldn't hesitate to call Rosey, and he knew that his partner would just end up getting hurt again, spiraling down once more when she inevitably left him.

Hutch looked up as his bouncing partner entered the squad room, whistling some inane tune, eyes sparkling as he thumped one of the uniforms on the back, "Hiya Sam... how's the wife?" Starsky asked in passing, smiling as he shared small talk with the older man. Hutch looked down at the note again, knowing how angry his partner would be if he knew of his deception. If Starsky knew that he had willfully withheld something as important as a message from the lady in his life, it might ruin the deep trust and respect that ran between them.

Correction... former lady in his life, Hutch thought silently, seeing his partner's cobalt eyes making contact with his own. Hutch looked quickly down, knowing he looked guilty as the heat rose in his face. Damn! the blond thought, crushing the slip of paper in his large hand, He's going to know something's going down for sure.

"Hey buddy..." Starsky grinned, his perceptive gaze noting the blush on his partner's cheeks as the blond quickly looked away, "You okay... hmmm?" Starsky walked up to Hutch and bent slightly as he tried to look the blond in the eye. "Somethin' you're not telling me maybe... hmmm?"

Hutch snorted softly, raising his pale blue eyes to his partner's knowing look, "W-What are you talking about, dumm..." he stammered, suddenly turning his gaze to the squad room door as it gently opened.

Starsky too, turned to look at the door, when he saw the big smile that broke out on his partner's face. A tall, buxom red head stood just inside the room, looking around until she saw Hutch; her face lighting up in recognition. "Ken!" she said, smiling brightly, her emerald green eyes flashing quickly to the curly haired cutie standing next to her friend.

"Sharon!" Hutch greeted, extending his hand to her to draw her into the room, "So glad you could come down here." The tall blonde gave her a chaste peck to her cheek and led her to Starsky who stood smiling the whole time.

"Hope this isn't a bad time for me to be here... I know I'm a little early," Sharon said apologetically, her eyes never leaving the brunet's face.

"Ah... no, not at all," Hutch said, "Actually, your timing is just perfect!" Hutch glanced at his partner who stood right where he had left him, grinning like a buffoon. Jeez, Hutch thought silently, Talk about perfect timing... Hutch felt a twinge of guilt in his conscience, knowing he wasn't being completely honest with Starsky, but it was his job to watch his partner's back... wasn't it? You're damn right it is! Hutch silently rationalized, And that's just what I'm doing.

"Ah... Sharon, this is my partner, David Starsky," Hutch said, "And Starsk, this... is Sharon!" The blond watched as his two friends shook each other's hands; feeling pleased with the fact that he had set them up like this, hoping this date would fill the empty gap that Rosey had left in his best friend's heart.

"Hi Dave!" Sharon said, her sultry voice soft and low, as she stared into the sparkling blue eyes of the brunet. She squeezed his hand gently and suggestively stroked her index finger against his warm palm before he hurriedly pulled his hand back. "You don't mind if I call you Dave, do you?"

"Ah... No... um Sh-Sharon, Dave is fine," Starsky stammered, slightly taken aback at the forwardness of the woman, the palm of his hand still burning from her touch. Starsky raised uncertain eyes to his grinning partner. The blond was obviously pleased with the way things were going so far.

Since Rosey left town, Starsky had dropped out of the dating scene, despite constant encouragements from Hutch to do otherwise, choosing instead to stay at home, quietly reading, watching TV, or building his model ships. He needed that time to just think and remember... and heal. It was the same, when he lost Helen... and Terry.

There had been many lady acquaintances in the life of Dave Starsky, but only three ladies had ever made an impact on his soul and unfortunately, two of them had already passed on. Nobody enjoyed the company of the opposite sex as much as Starsky did, especially when there were no strings involved, but with Helen, Terry and Rosey it was different. He looked at Sharon who giggled and licked her ripe luscious lips. Maybe it's too soon, he thought silently, grinning nervously back at the advancing woman.

"You are just too cute Dave!" Sharon said as she sidled up to the brunet, pressing her firm breasts against the side of his body, pinching his cheek as it turned bright pink. "I mean, Ken said you're a really nice guy, but he didn't tell me how cute you were! Are you ready to go now honey?"

"Go?" Starsky looked at his partner, blue eyes questioning silently, as he tried to take an inconspicuous step backwards to put some space between their heated bodies.

Hutch snorted, realizing the precarious position his suddenly bashful partner was in, "Ah... yeah Starsk, Sharon thought she'd pick you up here and I'd just take your car home tonight and pick you up tomorrow morning... same as usual."

"Same as usual?" Starsk voice cracked, bright blue eyes screaming for help, "Ah... I don' know Hutch... why don'cha come with us... huh?" Starsky tried really hard to keep from pleading, as the fiery redhead ran her long fingers through his dark curls.

"Mmmm," she purred softly, "I love your chocolate brown curls, and it's so, so soft." Sharon closed her eyes and rubbed her face against the brunet's hair, "I can just imagine what this would feel like all over my body," she whispered seductively into the brunet's ear, teasingly sticking in her moist tongue, as he shivered and squirmed uncomfortably, staring at Hutch the whole time.

Hutch chuckled, "Ah... Sharon... um... we're at the police station and ah... people are staring... ah... I tell you what, why don't the two of you go already... and ah, I'll wrap up here... you two go and have a good time!"

"Um... I still got so much reports to do Sharon and... m-my captain would chew me out if I didn't get these done today," Starsky said, indicating the stacks of manila folders on his desk as he desperately tried to think of something that would get him out of this, "I know!" he said, blue eyes widening as he snapped his finger, "What if we meet ya tonight at Huggy's place? Huh Hutch? Sounds like a plan?"

"What sounds like a plan?" Dobey growled, sticking his head out of his office to see what the commotion was all about. His dark brown eyes lighted up when he saw the beautiful young woman by Starsky's side.

"Ah... Captain, this is Sharon Connors, a friend of mine, and she and Starsky are going out tonight on a date." Hutch said, as he introduced the pretty redhead. He smiled as Sharon and Dobey shook hands and exchanged pleasantries.

"And I was just telling Hutch," Starsky quickly interjected, as he addressed his Captain, "That I had so many reports to do... I know you must want 'em today Cap..."

The Captain eyed the blonde who inconspicuously nodded towards the redhead and winked at him. Dobey knew what Hutch was attempting to do, for he knew how badly it had affected Starsky when Malone's daughter left town. Although he hadn't said anything to anyone except his wife, Edith, he was silently worried about his dark haired detective. He knew Starsky had grieved for Rosey, as he had for the other two important ladies in his life.

Sometimes Dobey worried that his boys would never find the right lady for themselves, a loving and godly woman like his Edith. Life on the streets could be rough if you never had someone warm to cuddle next to at night, someone who could make you forget all the horrible things you saw out on the streets, someone who loved you unconditionally and who shared your heart through all the bad times, as well as the good. It made his heart glad to see that his boy was finally getting back into the swing of things.

"Actually..." Dobey said, clearing his throat, "Those reports can wait until Monday. In fact Dave, why don't you punch out early... go and have a good time. It was a pleasure meeting you Ms. Connors." Dobey gave Starsky a big grin and returned to his office, leaving Starsky open-mouthed and excuseless.

"Well Dave," Sharon purred, "Time's a wasting honey... shall we go to your place? You can shower and shave and I'll take you out to dinner." Sharon giggled as she added; "Maybe I'll just join you in that hot shower!" She grabbed the brunet's hand and led him to the door throwing over her shoulder, "Thanks Ken, I owe you one!"

Hutch smiled fondly at the brunet who glanced over his shoulder as he was led out the door. Those blue eyes were filled with trepidation and the last look Starsky gave his partner was one of near panic. The tall blond chuckled softly as the door swung close, feeling almost bad for his partner.

Hutch knew Sharon was a bit on the aggressive side, but Starsky was always able to handle ladies like that... in fact, his playful nature almost always encouraged girls to be more flirtatious. If there was anyone who could get Starsky back into the river and get his feet wet again, then Sharon most definitely could.

Hutch turned towards his desk, surprised to see the crushed paper still in his hand. Rosey's note to Starsky. A wave of guilt once again washed over the sensitive blond as he threw it into the wastebasket. Well, after tonight with Sharon, hopefully the memory of Rosey would be forever obliterated from his partner's mind.

Thursday, late afternoon (Starsky's Apartment)

The closed door rattled as the woman pushed her body against the dark haired detective, pressing her soft curves into his hardened form. Her slim hands found their way into his open collared denim shirt, rubbing seductively against his hairy muscled chest.

"R-r-r-r" she growled softly into his ear, rolling the r's on her tongue, "You make me so hot for you Dave," she panted, her breasts heaving with each breathless gasp. She pressed her open mouth to his, her tongue running against his tightly closed lips as he gently, but firmly tried to escape from the hold she had on him. He grabbed her roaming hand as it continuously crept lower, rubbing enticingly.

Starsky looked down into Sharon's bewitching green eyes. She was definitely alluring and provocative, beckoning him with her come-hither look, her long red-gold tresses curled wantonly around him. Sharon would have been any man's dream come true... a ravishing siren, bent on seducing and capturing any unsuspecting male... it would be so easy to just lose himself in her... to deeply bury his pain and hurt... to forget. She was so willing, and yet, as Starsky stared into her emerald depths, an image of an angel with hazel-green orbs, a dimpled smile, and long golden hair passed before his eyes. Rosey.

"M-Maybe we should take a breath huh?" the brunet said, using the same words Rosey had used with him on their first date. He gave her his patented grin and watched as Sharon slowly backed up, her fingers still twirling the hair on his chest. "I'll ah... I'll get us some wine... hmmm," he said, dark brows wagging with his suggestion.

Sharon smiled seductively, "Then can we take that hot shower?"

Starsky chuckled, skillfully moving out of her embrace, "Well, let's cross that bridge when we get to it 'kay?"

Sharon smiled and sat on the couch, tucking her long, shapely legs under her. She looked over to the end table and saw the flashing light from the answering machine. She watched as the handsome man came out of the kitchen with a bottle of wine, "You got a message," she said as she casually pressed the 'play' button, "It might be Hutch." She lifted her hand to take the wine glass from the handsome brunet as the message started to play.

"David... it's me... Rosey," the hesitant voice spoke softly, "I guess you're not at home..."

Sharon attempted to drag the brunet down on the couch, but at the first sound of the message, she felt the brunet stiffen. "Oh come on honey," she cajoled, tugging at his hand, "Come lie down with me..." She huffed, as Starsky fixed his attention to the machine, intently listening as the message continued.

"I-I'm sorry to be calling you like this... after everything that's happened, but I'm scared and I don't know who else to call... daddy is away and... I think someone is following me David... they've been watching my store... please call me when you get this message, I'll be here tonight... until late... 505-977-6373."

"Oh c'mon Dave," Sharon begged again, sitting up as Starsky rewound the message to play it once more.

"Ah... listen Sharon..." Starsky said as he hurriedly looked through the phone book; looking up the area codes to the different states, listening to the machine as it played back Rosey's message, "I-I'm really sorry, but I can't go out with you tonight..."

Sharon watched as the brunet ran his index finger down the list of area codes, growing angry when he smiled and tapped the page with his index finger saying, "505... she's in New Mexico!" Sharon glared emerald shards of glass, feeling her planned evening of passionate lovemaking slip through her fingers, as the brunet stared off into the distance, his lavender blue eyes sparkling at some memory that crossed his mind.

Sharon stood up abruptly, hands on curvy hips, full red lips pouting. "Dave, did you forget I'm here?" she snapped. "Does this mean we're not going to bed either?"

"Huh?" Starsky looked up, blue eyes gleaming as a soft smile tugged at his lips, "Um... no, I don't think so. I gotta go somewhere, hey... why don' cha call Hutch hmm? I know he's gonna be all alone tonight... maybe he'd go to bed with ya!" Starsky said brightly as he led the angry redhead to his front door.

"But, but..." Sharon stammered, as Starsky opened the door and gently nudged her out, she closed her emerald green eyes as the brunet lowered his head, his lips tenderly brushing hers. Sharon opened her eyes to see twinkling cobalt spheres, "See ya!" the brunet whispered softly, gently stroking the side of her face before closing the door.

Starsky smiled as he heard Sharon stomping down the stairs, muttering under her breath about giving it good to Hutch. He chuckled and quickly lifted the receiver to his phone. He dialed the number Rosey left and listened to it ringing on the other side. Finally someone picked up.

"Native Arts... how can I help you?" It was her. Starsky closed his eyes, long dark lashes lay against his cheeks; a flood of emotions filled his heart at the sound of her voice. He could feel his heart beating rapidly, seeing her sweet smiling face before his eyes.

"David?" her soft voice was hesitant, unsure.

"Yeah," he said simply, "I'm here Rosey... I'm here."


Thursday, late evening (La Cruces, New Mexico)

It was after 10:30 p.m. when the cab pulled up in front of the little cobblestone alleyway. Starsky paid the cabbie his fare and stepped outside into the warm night air. He silently stretched and looked around, his detective senses alert and aware, but the night remained calm.

It had been a mad rush to get to the airport in time to make the flight to Albuquerque, New Mexico. La Cruces, was a small town, about a hundred thirty miles south of Albuquerque and after riding in the cab for almost two and a half hours, the brunet's muscles were feeling tight and uncomfortable.

Starsky's cobalt eyes glimmered in the dark, as he looked at the bright lights from the interior of Rosey's new establishment and read the sign above the arched entranceway. "Native Arts," he whispered softly, a gentle smile tipping the corners of his mouth. He knew she would be inside, waiting. She had promised him that she would lock herself in there until he came. He picked up the black duffle bag he had set down for a minute and walked up the cobblestone alleyway to the entrance of her gallery. The soft flowery sent of roses filled the air and the brunet carefully picked a delicate bloom for the lady he loved.

He rang the little brass bell that hung just outside the shop and waited. The shades had been drawn over the glass doors and Starsky could just make out the silhouette of the woman he had thought he would never see again. Rosey. He saw her peek out from behind the shade and heard the lock turn as the door was opened.

For a moment, time stood still. Beautiful hazel-green eyes locked onto the dark blue orbs she had only been able to dream about, since she left Bay City... and David behind. To see him standing there in the warm, sultry night made her heart skip a beat. The lopsided grin she had grown to love made her deep dimples come out as she smiled for the first time today. Her eyes grew moist, as he held out the softly scented flower to her.

"Rosey," Starsky whispered, as she shyly took the flower, her light green eyes glistening with unshed tears. He watched as she gently touched the delicate, soft petals and raised the fragile blossom to smell its sweet scent. She lifted her eyes to his, and Starsky found himself floating away in her hazel-green depths, his heart beating rapidly. He put down his duffle bag and opened his arms.

The brunet tenderly gathered the slender blonde woman into his gentle embrace, feeling her slight form trembling. He smelled her soft perfume, as it wrapped around his senses, "God Rosey... I've missed ya." he whispered against her hair, breathing in her essence. He felt her hands press against his back as she laid her head against his chest. Starsky gently tipped her chin up to gaze into her eyes. He closed his own eyes, as he lowered his mouth to her soft lips. The magic was still there between them... it would always be there. Perhaps that was why it was so hard for him to forget about Rosey Malone... he knew she was special inside and out. The brunet lifted his head and looked into her eyes once more, his thumb gently tracing her bottom lip as it quivered slightly. Starsky grinned, dark blue eyes twinkling impishly, "Do ya think I can come in... hmmm?" he winked.

Rosey smiled, twin dimples peeking out in her cheeks, hazel eyes gleaming, "Only if you're still a dentist!" she said laughing. She opened the door wider and closed it behind the chuckling brunet, who had picked up his bag and put it down next to the large Indian woven basket that sat next to the door. Rosey followed him into her shop, watching with pride as he slowly looked around her gallery.

Starsky gave a low whistle. The collection of numerous Indian and Mexican art; exhibited in eye catching displays, astounded the dark haired detective. Everything was tastefully done and the decor was welcoming and aesthetically pleasing. The brunet walked around, picking up pieces to look them over with his discerning eye. He turned to look at the beautiful proprietor of this stylish gallery, as she watched his every move, a slow blush blooming in her cheeks when she saw the pride reflected in his eyes.

"This place... its fantastic Rosey!" Starsky looked at her, as she stood to the side, her hands demurely folded in front of her, her eyes sparkling with the praise he lavished upon her. Seeing her standing there, made Starsky's heart beat a little faster. "C'mere," he said in a low voice, holding out his arms to her, needing to feel her, hardly believing that he was once again in her presence, "Oh Rosey Malone," he whispered as she melted into his arms, "Where hav'ya been all my life?"

"I love you David," she sighed, pressing her lips against his, smelling that provocative scent of sandalwood that was such a part of this man, his essence able to stimulate and excite her, while at the same time, filling her heart with love and tenderness. The warmth of his lips against her own made her tingle all over, made her forget the nagging fear that had stayed with her all day, made her forget the two men who had lurked outside her gallery for hours. All she knew was now, this moment, locked in the strong arms of the man she loved with all of her heart. David.

"Well, well... what have we got here..." the snide voice quickly broke the couple apart, and Starsky hastily shielded Rosey's body with his own, as he tucked her behind him to face the interlopers who intruded quietly into the gallery, catching them unaware.

"That ain't her father," Shelby snapped at his men, his eyes never leaving the detective's face, "Does your father know you're still seeing this cop?" Ray Shelby smirked, as he nodded to Rosey. Shelby walked further into the shop, followed by two of his goons, both of which had guns trained on the dark haired detective.

"Oh my god, you're those two men who's been following me around," Rosey whispered, the hairs on the back of her neck rising with the recognition of the two burly men who held the guns trained on them.

"What are you doin' outta Bay City Shelby," Starsky casually drawled, feeling Rosey's trembling form pressed behind him, his mind racing, as he calculated the odds of reaching for the gun that was tucked away in his shoulder holster. Seeing Ray Shelby here in New Mexico threw the detective for a loop. He was the last person Starsky expected to see, and yet, he berated himself for not figuring it out sooner. If Shelby caught wind of Malone snitching to the Feds, chances are the new mob leader would come looking for the traitor. Shelby had grown very powerful since Malone "retired" from the business. Most of Malone's associates turned to Shelby now for leadership.

"Don't even think it pig!" Shelby snarled, "Or we'll shoot her first... disarm him," he directed to one of his henchman, and the syndicate mob leader watched as his man roughly snatched the brunet's gun from his person.

Starsky felt Rosey squeeze his hand as she stood behind him, and he knew she was frightened. His quick detective's mind pondered over what to do. Shit! If only he had Hutch here, but regretfully, he had left without a word to anyone. Thinking how worried the blond would be when he came to pick him up in the morning, made the brunet regret his impulsive decision; but he knew without a doubt, that Hutch would have objected to his reconnection to the Malones', and there was nothing that would have stopped him from seeing Rosey again, especially if she needed help.

"Where's your father?" Shelby snapped, staring at Malone's daughter with malice.

"She doesn't know anything Shelby!" Starsky said, voice low and menacing, "Leave her outta this."

"She knows exactly what's going down... has known from the beginning." Shelby shouted, glaring at Rosey. "Now we know too. We've been following both you and Frank around for weeks now, and we saw who picked your dad up this morning... now where is he and where did they take him?"

"What?" Rosey said, raising questioning eyes to Shelby's hardened face, "I don't know what you're talking ab..."

"Don't give me that innocent bullshit!" Shelby sneered, "You and I both know your pop is a snitch! We know he's been blabbing his big mouth off to the Feds about our operations. I would've never thought that'd be his style, but people change. We saw him just this morning going out with the 'suits'. So now, we got his kid, and I know Frank would do anything to get his baby back... he'd even come out of hiding to turn himself over to us if he thought it would spare your life."

"He pleaded the fifth, Shelby, you know that. He didn't say anything to anyone. He wouldn't sell you out. That's why Malone took his daughter and left town... leaving all of his business to you!" Starsky retorted, his mind racing for a way to get them out of this mess in one piece.

"Yeah, his cover worked for a while... had all of us fooled, but I've got my sources in Washington and I know for a fact that Malone has been up there testifying... selling us all out. For the last time," Shelby snapped to the quaking woman, "Tell me where your father is."

"I-I don't know... I swear it!" Rosey said, eyes wide with fear and uncertainty, "H-He said he had something to do today... I haven't seen him all day..."

"Step away Starsky," Shelby said, nodding to his men as they advanced forward, "Give the girl to us."

One of the Shelby's boys grabbed Rosey by her wrist and received a swift upper cut from the brunet. The other man, lunged for the detective, bringing him down as they scuffled on the ground. Shelby reached out and dragged Rosey next to him; cocking his gun and shoving it against her head, "Ah, ah, ah... Starsky," he said, smirking, "One more move from you and this bitch is dead."

The soft "snick" from the gun made the brunet immediately stop his struggles, dark blue eyes blazing furiously, as he saw the fear in Rosey's face. The man who had grabbed Rosey now reached for the curly haired detective. He yanked the brunet's arms behind him as the other man swung a meaty fist, once into the detective's unprotected abdomen, and then another time into his ribs. The brunet doubled over, gasping as the air was knocked out of his lungs.

"No... please..." Rosey pleaded, "Please don't hurt him." Shelby let her go as the brunet crumpled to the ground, one hand holding his mid section. Rosey ran over and crouched next to the hurting detective, her hand on his back as she tried to help him stand.

"I forgot to tell you Starsky, Leo always wanted to be a boxer, before he worked for me, he used to practice on the carcasses in the butcher shop... let's hope he didn't crack any of your ribs there!" Shelby laughed, seeing the detective in pain. Shelby nodded to Joe, his other burly guard, "Take her!" he ordered.

"Whatta 'bout the cop?" Leo asked, "You want me to waste him?" He pointed the gun at the cop and waited, as his boss looked at the detective who slowly rose to his feet, hand still pressed against his ribs, breathing heavily as he struggled to get a hold of the pain that wracked his side. Ray Shelby looked at his rival's daughter and saw the concern she had for curly haired cop. He saw her slight form shake as she braced her slender body against the brunet's to help him stand.

"Nah... take 'im with us too... I think I know how we're going to persuade Rosemarie to tell us where her daddy is!" Shelby laughed menacingly.


Friday, early morning (Hutch's apartment)

"H'lo?" Hutch cleared his throat and rubbed the corner of his eye, glancing at the glowing digital clock on his nightstand. It was only 4:27 in the morning. The long pause on the other end of the line brought the sleepy man to attention. "Starsk?" the blond asked hesitantly, the cold hand of fear stroking his spine, his mind racing back to that horrible night when he got that call in the early morning hours from his poisoned partner.

"Don't you hello and Starsk me you jerk!" the shrill voice snapped into the receiver. "You lied to me... you said he'd be so excited to meet me and that we'd have a good time Hutch!"

"Sharon?" Hutch queried, reaching over to turn on the lamp on his bedside table. "Sharon... slow down... what's going on?"

"What's going on? Oh don't give me that Hutch. Did the both of you have a good laugh on my account? Look... my flight leaves in two hours and I just wanted you to know how pissed I am! Hutch, I thought we were friends... how could you fix me up with that moron?"

"Wait a minute Sharon... where's Starsky?" Hutch asked, sitting up now as worry for his partner filled his being.

"You know what? I don't give a damn where he is... try New Mexico!" she screamed and hung up, slamming the phone in the blonde's ear.

Hutch looked at the receiver he held, then leaned over to drag the phone onto his bed. He hung the receiver up and stared at the phone, dragging his eyes to the digital clock once again. Making a decision, he reached for the phone and dialed the number he knew by heart. The blond listened to the endless rings before finally hanging up. "Damn!" he whispered to no one.

Friday, early morning (Starsky's apartment)

Hutch quietly let himself into his partner's apartment. When he first got there and saw the lights on from the windows, Hutch felt relieved for some reason, but now that he entered the apartment that he knew as well as his own, he knew without a doubt that his partner was not there.

The blond walked into Starsky's bedroom. His detective's mind noticed every nuance as his mind tried to piece together what had happened. The open closet door, the missing black duffle bag, articles of clothing strewn about as things were taken hurriedly out of the drawers, told Hutch that his partner had left in a hurry. He walked into the bathroom and the missing toiletries that his partner used confirmed his speculations. Hutch walked out to the living room noticing the empty wine glasses near the phone and the unopened bottle of wine on the table. He walked over to the glasses and picked one up, the flashing light from the answering machine catching his attention.

Hutch shuddered as the fine hair on his neck rose. He quickly rewound the message and played it back, listening to the soft voice of Rosey Malone as it filled the quiet stillness in the room.

"David... it's me... Rosey," the hesitant voice spoke softly, "I guess you're not at home..."

Hutch listened to the whole message twice, seeing the notepad and pencil next to the wine glasses. He picked up the pad, noticing that a page had been torn out. He quickly picked up the pencil and shaded over the indentations made from the previous writing. Soon an address could be discerned. "Native Arts." Hutch said quietly. He played back the message once more to listen to the number and picked up the phone book to look up the area codes. "Damn! He is in New Mexico," Hutch fumed, frustration and agitation causing the blond to throw down the pencil he still held in his hand.


Friday, early morning (Chihuahuan Desert, New Mexico)

Starsky could feel someone stroking his hair back. The touch was gentle and loving. "Hutch?" he mumbled, feeling the painful pounding in his head as he struggled to open his heavy eyes.

"Shhh, it's okay David..." a soft feminine voice soothed. "Don't try to move..." Thick, dark lashes lifted to reveal dazed orbs, confusion swimming in a sea of blue. Rosey tried to smile, pushing down the fear she harbored, trying to put the wounded man at ease. She gently pressed the edge of her long, flowing skirt against the wound to the side of his head. Although the bleeding had finally stopped, she could tell that there was a nasty gash from where the butt of the gun had connected to flesh and bone. Rosey smiled down at the bewildered man, flinching when he winced in pain. He closed his eyes again and she continued to gently soothe him, while her mind went over the nightmare that never seemed to end...

Seeing David pistol whipped as he tried to protect her, and watching the detective as he crumpled to the tiled floor of her gallery was horrifying to the young woman, and she begged for his life while he lay unconscious, struggling against the man who held her. Rosey watched as Leo pointed the gun at David and she quickly broke free and ran to the curly haired man, throwing her body over his in an attempt to shield him. She listened as the three men laughed mockingly.

"How touching," Ray Shelby sneered as his men continued to chuckle, "Don't worry, we ain't gonna kill him... not yet anyway. Get them outta here," he ordered.

The ride was stuffy and uncomfortable and Starsky remained unconscious the whole time, the wound to his head steadily leaking blood. Rosey had tried to stem the flow of his wound with her handkerchief for the duration of the ride and finally as they neared their destination, the blood had trickled to a stop.

It was dark, but from what she could gather, they were in some kind of hacienda type abode in the middle of the desert. She knew it was the Chihuahuan Desert because it was close to La Cruces and they had not traveled that long. The desert night air was cold after the being in the warm, crowded sedan. Joe hefted the unconscious detective over his shoulder, and then Leo dragged Rosey along by the arm, his massive hand squeezing her tender flesh.

"Lock 'em in the storage room for now," Shelby ordered, gloating in the fact that he now had his rival's daughter to use as leverage against the former syndicate leader.

"Please..." Rosey pleaded, "He's hurt and needs medical attention," she said, indicating Starsky who lay draped over the burly man's shoulder.

"Ask me if I care," Shelby snorted, "He'll be dead anyway, once we get your daddy. Lock 'em up now... we got some work to do." Leo yanked Rosey along and led the group to an old storage room towards the back of the hacienda, where he unbolted the heavy door. Starsky was dumped unceremoniously onto the hard earthen floor, where he lay unmoving.

"We'll be back," Leo said laughing, "Make sure you wake him up. He wouldn't want to miss out on all of the fun!" The two men walked out, bolting the heavy wooden door behind them.

Rosey sighed softly and looked around the room. They had called it a storage room, but Rosey could see that sparse furniture had been recently dragged into the room by the marks left in the earthen floor. The small room was barren except for a cot, a small table, two wooden chairs and an overhead light fixture. It was cold in here and Rosey could feel herself shivering as she continued to absently stroke the soft head of curls that lay in her lap. A long mirror extended along one side of a wall directly across from the cot.

"Hey..." the soft voice brought her out of her quiet contemplation and she quickly looked down at the man she loved.

"Hey," Rosey said gently, smiling softly as she saw that grin she so adored, "I was beginning to worry about you," the slender blonde woman smiled, twin dimples appearing as she heard the brunet snort softly.

"I was just... pretending to... be asleep." Starsky said softly between breaths, "I... like lying... on your lap."

"I should have known you'd have an ulterior motive!" She grinned at his attempt to put her at ease. "You have a cut on your temple from where they hit you," Rosey said gently, turning his face slightly so that she could see the damage they had done. She gently pressed her skirt against the wound again and saw him wince, "At least the bleeding has stopped... I hope it doesn't leave a scar." Rosey frowned as she saw the detective flinch once again, but his lopsided grin reassured the uneasiness she felt.

"Yeah?" Starsky took a deep breath, feeling hot, burning pain flare up in his side; he exhaled slowly and took in shallow breaths, "Don't worry honey... I used to be... a plastic surgeon... 'member?"

Rosey smiled, although she felt her heart beat faster, instinctively knowing something was wrong, his breathing was too rapid... too shallow. "David," she said soothingly, "Do you think you can try to sit up?"

"Yeah..." Starsky said. He pulled himself into a sitting position with the help of Rosey. The sharp pain in his side made him gasp softly as his hand immediately covered his ribs; he shut his eyes as the room began to spin. He could feel the fear and worry coming off of Rosey in waves, and he struggled to get a hold of the pain, not wanting to alarm her any further.

"Let me see," Rosey said softly, opening his denim shirt. She gently pressed her cool fingers against the brunet's ribs, examining the bruised area and she heard him softly gasp in pain. She could see the area was already swelling and she worried her lip, hoping that none of his ribs had been broken.

"Hey..." Starsky grunted, "No... groping on the... first date!" The brunet knew his ribs had been busted with Leo's brutal punch in Rosey's gallery, knew he was having trouble breathing because of it. He took in shallow breaths and forced himself to stand, clutching his side as he gritted his teeth to keep himself from groaning out loud at the sudden lancing pain that took his breath away.

Rosey was worried and watched as Starsky closed his eyes, knowing he was still dizzy and disoriented from the hit he took to his head. She made herself smile, knowing the wounded man joked to ease the concern that filled her heart, "Too late," she said with forced cheerfulness, "We already had our first date... remember you almost fainted when you smelled my onion breath at that Mexican place you took me to?" She slid her slight form under his arm, one hand around the brunet's waist, the other pressed against his abdomen as she led him to the narrow metal cot that was against the wall opposite of the mirror.

"Yeah..." Starsky gasped softly as he slowly sat down on the thin mattress, "I remember... you wouldn't let me... walk ya up to your door... said... you would'a groped me... to death!" The brunet looked up at the slender blonde woman who laughed out loud and sat down carefully next to him, his dark blue eyes twinkling mischievously at her beautiful smiling face, despite the pain that wracked his body.

"Wait a minute buster..." Rosey grinned, "I didn't say that, and anyway, you got that backwards... I told you not to walk me to the door because you would find it too difficult to be a gentleman and I..."

"Would find it... difficult to be a lady..." Starsky interjected, eyes softening with the memory of their first date as he reached out to gently cup the side of her face, "It's the... same thing as wantin' to... grope me," he whispered, an endearing crooked grin spreading on his face, as he lowered his mouth to hers, long dark lashes hiding the intense blue gaze she had been lost in, just moments before.

They both felt it, that wonderful electric current that raced throughout their bodies as their lips connected, that same miraculous enchantment that drew them together in the first place, that even now, transported them out of the dire situation they found themselves in, to someplace warm and safe... a place of dreams and hopes and everlasting love.

Rosey stared at the man who had just kissed her as he pulled away slightly, totally immersed in the sparkling fathomless blue depths of his eyes. She saw him wince and turn away, trying to shield her from the pain he was in. "Oh David," she whispered, cupping the side of his face in her palm, "I'm so sorry I got you involved in all of this."

The dark haired detective turned his head and looked into her hazel-green eyes, "Hey," he said firmly, "I love ya Rosey... I wouldn't... choose to be... anywhere else." He took her cold hand in his and gently squeezed it, grinning at her to relieve the fear he read in her eyes. They suddenly heard the key turning in the deadbolt lock, and Starsky slowly rose with Rosey's help, to face their abductors.


Friday, mid morning (Metro, Bay City Police Station)

"Well, the passenger manifest from Western Airlines states that a David Starsky was a passenger aboard the five o'clock afternoon flight; leaving for New Mexico on Thursday." Dobey gruffed, snapping the paper against his palm, dark brown eyes locked onto the worried blond, "Your hunch was right Hutch, but what the hell is Starsky doing in New Mexico?"

"The Malones' are there." Hutch said softly, leaning his head against the back of the chair that was facing his Captain's desk. The blonde felt ill. He should have known that Rosey would've called Starsky's home. Now his lovesick partner would meet up with her and get his heart broken all over again.

"What?" Dobey snapped, dark brows creasing with irritation, "How do you know that?"

"Remember that phone call you told me to answer on Starsky's desk yesterday? It was Rosey and she mistakenly thought I was Starsk. Before I could get a word in edgewise, she basically told me to call her later on and left a number, then hung up." Hutch explained.

"And you gave it to him?" Dobey asked incredulously, obviously annoyed with what he perceived as stupidity on the part of the blond.

"No I didn't give it to him," Hutch retorted, voice harsh with irritation, "I threw the message away," the blond said, feeling suddenly guilty again, "Starsky was finally going out on a date and I... I thought it'd be best if he just moved on. Giving that message to Starsky would've just opened up an old wound."

The Captain glanced at his desk phone as it began to ring. "Yeah... only you're assuming that that wound was healed..." Dobey said, both of them knowing that their curly haired associate was still grieving over his lost love. The heavyset man picked up his phone on the third ring, "Dobey," he grouched. "Yeah, put him through." He looked at the blond and said, "It's Huggy and he wants to talk to Starsky."

Hutch reached over for the handset and listened as Huggy was patched through, "Hey Huggy," Hutch said with a smile as heard his friend's voice.

"What it is... my tall, blond amigo," Huggy said, recognizing Hutch's voice, "And where might I find that curly haired dude you call a partner... tell him I gots the dirt he's been wantin' me to sniff out for him."

"What info is that?" Hutch said slowly, trying to remember if they had asked Huggy for information on one of their cases, "Ah... Starsky's outta town right now..."

There was a pause, then Huggy said, "Yeah? Well then he ain't the only one! Tell m'man when he gets back, that Ray Shelby's been outta town for about a week now. Jus' thought he was lyin' low for a while, but the word's out on the street that he ain't even here. Curly-top asked me for a personal favor a while back, and wanted me to keep an eye on Shelby's movements."

Hutch felt a cold shiver run down his spine. He replayed Rosey's message in his mind, hearing the fear in her voice. If Ray Shelby were after the Malones', then Starsky would be in danger. "D-Did you hear where Shelby went?" Hutch stammered, pale blue eyes connecting with the dark brown orbs of his Captain.

Huggy could hear the sudden anxiety in the blond's voice, "You alright Hutch? Is Starsky in some kinda trouble... again?" The lanky black man chuckled softly, but stopped as he registered the silence on the other end of the line. "Hey man, what's goin' down?"

"I don't know... just a strong suspicion I have and I don't like it!" Hutch said seriously. "Look Hug, do me a favor would you? I want you to find out where Shelby went. If you hear anything, let me know... and Hug... it's important."

"I can dig it, you don' need to tell me that," Huggy replied, "My friend works for Shelby's organization and she owes me a big one... if she can tell me where he is, I'll let you know."

"Okay, just call the station and have them patch you through to me," Hutch said, then he added softly, "Oh and Hug... thanks!"

"You got it," Huggy said, "And I'll jus' be addin' this to that long list of I.O.U.'s you've both been rackin' up." Huggy groused good-naturedly before he hung up.

"Well?" Dobey demanded the minute Hutch hung up, "Is Shelby involved?"

"I don't know Cap, Huggy's gonna look into that for me, but if he is, if Shelby's syndicate is after Malone for retribution, then Starsky will be right in the middle of it, he'll be in danger." Hutch shuddered suddenly, feeling sick with worry for his missing partner. The blond thought quietly for a moment then snapped his fingers, "Captain, I need you to call the Feds... call those two idiots... um... Goodson and um..."

"Chambers... Ed Chambers," Dobey filled in.

"Yeah," Hutch said, "Call them and find out what they know about the Malones'... see if anything might have set Shelby off to make him leave town the way he did. The tall blond watched as Dobey picked up the phone. He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling tense and rigid. If only he had given Starsky the message... if only he had talked to his partner about this, instead of hiding it from him, maybe then they could have flown up and dealt with this together. Now his impulsive partner was alone... with no one to watch his back.


Friday morning (Desert Hacienda, storage room)

Starsky stood rigid as the door to the storage area was opened and Shelby and his men walked in. Although his ribs ached and pain lanced through his unsupported side, Starsky quickly moved his hand away and inconspicuously maneuvered Rosey behind him.

"Well, did you two have time to familiarize yourselves with your accommodations?" Shelby laughed, turning to glare at the dark haired detective, "Glad to see you've finally woken up Starsky. I was just telling Leo that we all know how hardheaded you are... didn't think he could've damaged it that much with just that little tap he gave you."

"Yeah?" Starsky drawled nonchalantly, feeling Rosey's trembling form behind him, "Whatta ya want with us Shelby? I would'a thought you would know the ramifications of abducting a police officer..."

"This ain't Bay City, and it ain't your jurisdiction, and as for the ramifications of taking you and the girl... well this is the desert my friend... many people get 'lost' out here." Shelby smoothly interjected. The older man looked over at the cocky detective who stood between him and Malone's daughter. The brunet's confident arrogance irritated Ray Shelby who was used to having bigger men than Starsky obey his every command. He turned his attention to the young woman who stood cowering behind the detective. Red, hot anger rose anew at the thought of Malone's betrayal. "Come here Rosemarie." Shelby demanded.

"Leave her alone Shelby... she doesn't know nuthin'," Starsky snarled, "If you wanna find Malone, I'll help ya, but Rosey's not to be harmed and you need to let us go."

"Shut up Starsky," Shelby sneered, "You ain't in no position to wheel and deal here. I don't know if you're up on current events, but you're my prisoners and she's the ace up my sleeve to get Malone. Now... are you comin' Rosey, or do we have to come get you?"

"Rosey," Starsky cautioned, tightening his hold on her hand when he felt her stepping forward, cobalt blue eyes never leaving Shelby's face, "Where Rosey goes, I go too," the brunet said

Shelby laughed and nodded to his two goons who launched their huge, bulging bodies towards the wounded detective. Starsky quickly pushed Rosey out of the way and turned to face his attackers. His quick speed allowed him to make the first hit. Although Starsky got one good roundhouse punch into the first man's jaw, Leo tackled the brunet to the floor.

The jarring motion on the detective's ribs took his breath away and Starsky struggled to his hands and knees; gasping as white-hot pain stabbed into his side. Leo stood and sneered, "You don't know when to stay down, d'ya?" The big man knew he had hurt the fallen man's ribs back at the gallery and he drew back his large steel toe boot, aiming for that same spot.

The brunet couldn't keep from crying out as Leo's large shoe connected with his already bruised and fractured ribs. Starsky was lifted from the impact and flew to the side of the room from the force of the blow, his body rolling limply until he lay wedged against the cot. He could hear Rosey crying and pleading with them to stop, and it angered him that he couldn't protect her from their clutches. Breathing heavily, the detective struggled to ride out the wave of pain that pierced his side. Bracing himself against the cot, he valiantly rose to his feet once more, his hand wrapped against his damaged ribs. He was quickly grabbed by Leo and Joe who brutally twisted the detective's arms behind his back. Shelby raised his gun aiming for the brunet's head.

Shelby smiled. "You still don't get it, do you Starsky? I always knew you and your partner were idiots... I call the shots here! The fact that you're still breathing at all is because of me! I make the decisions here, hot shot, not you!" The older man chuckled as he cocked the lever of his gun.

"No... please," Rosey cried out again, "Please... don't hurt him... I'll go with you... just... just don't hurt him anymore."

"Rosey..." Starsky whispered, smoky blue eyes locked onto watery hazel depths, as he continued to struggle against his assailants, gasping in pain when they twisted his arms even more. The brunet could feel perspiration dripping into his eyes and he blinked them away, focusing only on the woman who walked across the room to stand beside Shelby. Starsky felt red-hot, anger and frustration fill his heart, feeling helpless, as he was unable to prevent Rosey from having to leave with Shelby. "Rosey," he called out again as he watched her step through the doorway with her father's rival, the door slamming shut behind them.

"Hold him," Joe said, as Leo grabbed both arms of the struggling detective, "I think I owe this pig a good one," the burly man said, rubbing his large hand against his aching jaw.

Starsky struggled against Leo's hold as his arms were brutally stretched and twisted behind him, splaying his ribs wide open. The brunet gritted his teeth to keep from groaning aloud as he barely was able to draw in a breath. The pain in his ribs was excruciating, but nothing prepared him for the punishing blow he received to his unprotected abdomen.

"Uungh," Starsky groaned, doubling over as the wind was knocked out of him. Leo immediately wrenched the brunet back up, forcing him to stand and take another blow to his mid-section.

"Not so tough now... are you cop?" Joe sneered, as he drew back his meaty fist and sank it into the brunet's stomach. White, crippling pain exploded in the detective's abdomen as he doubled over once again. Joe chuckled as he saw the dark haired man gasping in pain, the air brutally expelling from the wounded detective's lungs.

Starsky could barely breath, gasping for air, his breathing rapid and shallow. The brunet lifted his weary, sweat drenched head and he blinked the perspiration from his angry, glittering blue eyes. "Yeah..." he gasped, attempting to draw more air in, his breathing labored, "Especially... if it takes... you two punks... to hold down... one guy..."

"Shut him up already," Leo grumbled, locking the detective's arms in his strong grasp.

"Lights out cop!" Joe laughed as he slammed his fist against the struggling detective's jaw. Leo laughed as the dark, curly head whipped to the side. He abruptly let go of the brunet's arms as the dark haired man dropped to the floor. "Sweet dreams pig!" The big man gave a swift kick to the unconscious man's side, turning him face down into the earthen floor with the force of the impact. The two large men laughed as they made their way out of the room.


Friday, mid morning (Metro, Bay City Police Station)

Hutch hung the phone up and dragged his hand tiredly through his fine, golden hair. The blond silently thought over what the Bear had just told him. He raised pale, blue eyes to his Captains'. "Well, Huggy said his friend found out that Shelby's been in New Mexico for over a week now... said that he owns some real estate out in the Chihuahuan Desert, near the Mexican border. They use that property to store stolen merchandise and to ease the trafficking of illegal drugs into the States." Hutch stood and walked over to the window to look out at the city, "I need to be in New Mexico, Captain," he said softly.

"It's out of our jurisdiction," Dobey said gruffly, "We have no authority in New Mexico and we'd have to get a waiver t..."

"Then get it!" Hutch snapped angrily, eyes the color of ice, sparked and burned into the coffee colored eyes of his rotund captain. Hutch felt agitated and worried, barely able to control the temper that wanted to flare and erupt. The blond took a deep breath and closed his eyes, knowing he was taking his irritation with the system out on his Captain, but getting a waiver meant just another delay in getting to Starsky. Hutch listened as his captain made some quick calls to secure a jurisdiction waiver.

"I'm sorry Cap," Hutch sighed softly when Dobey got off the phone, "I-I just have to be there now... h-he needs me Captain, I feel it... he's in danger and he's alone." Just hearing those words and imagining Starsky hurt caused the gentle blonde's heart to accelerate.

Dobey's bloodshot eyes gave his detective the once over. He knew Hutch was worried and frustrated and so was he. Although Starsky's impulsiveness angered the seasoned cop, Dobey could understand the motives behind the brunet's rash behavior.

The big man heaved a sigh, "Well, according to Goodson and Chambers, Malone's been testifying up in Washington D.C. to expose different crime organizations not only here, but in different states across America. In exchange, he wants himself and Rosey to be put in the Federal Witness Protection Program."

The Captain watched as his blond detective focused his attention to the window again and noted the clenched fist that was pressed against his abdomen, "Look Hutch, go home, get packed, and in the meantime, I'll call New Mexico and inform the police there so they'll be expecting you. I'll book a flight for you and meet you at the airport with the waiver. Go home and I'll call you with the flight information."

Hutch turned his gaze to his Captain, grateful for the man's compassionate nature. He walked quickly to the door turning back at the last minute, "Thanks Captain... a lot!" he said softly.

The soft blue eyes made Dobey feel suddenly uncomfortable and he cleared his throat, "Don't thank me Hutchinson, just get your pig-headed partner back in one piece!" The heavy set man heard the quiet snort from the blond as he gently closed the door behind him. Dobey sighed heavily, and then picked up the phone to call New Mexico.

Friday, late afternoon (New Mexico, Albuquerque Airport)

When Hutch arrived in New Mexico, two detectives from their police department were already waiting for him at the gate. They introduced themselves as Sergeants' Guillermo and Barnes. Hutch shook Jake Barnes' outstretched hand. The young, tall blond had a twinkle in his light brown eyes and a quick smile to his lips. Hutch then shook the darker man's hand, his long black hair falling into his deep brown eyes as they exchanged pleasantries. Hutch learned that these two men had been partners for about as long as Starsky and himself.

"We're sorry to hear about your missing partner," Barnes said softly, "Me and Art will do everything we can to help you find him."

"Art?" Hutch questioned, raising light blue eyes to the Mexican detective, "Art as in Arthur?"

"Nah," Guillermo laughed, "It is Art as in Arturo, but Jake calls me Art. He says it makes me sound more American. This stupid gringo doesn't know that I am American already." The smaller dark haired man grinned up at his blond partner who grinned back at him. Hutch could tell by their bantering that these two men were close friends, as well as working associates, and it made him miss Starsky even more.

Barnes filled Hutch in as they rode in a southerly direction. "Malone flew back into New Mexico late last night, but the feds are holding him. They've caught wind of Shelby's activities and from what we understand; Malone is pretty pissed off because his daughter was expecting him. We're on our way right now to La Cruces, a small town close to the desert where the Malones' lived. The daughter owns an art gallery there called..."

"Native Winds." Hutch said quietly, "I know... she called my partner and left her number and the name to her establishment."

The two New Mexican detectives looked at each other, but said nothing. After a while, Barnes said, "We're going to the shop now, the Feds will be bringing Frank Malone there in an hour or so... he's demanding to see his daughter so he can reassure himself that she is safe. We decided we will all meet at this daughter's gallery, however, that was before we discovered that no one has seen the young lady since last night."

"Have you tried looking for his daughter at her home?" Hutch inquired.

"We've been calling, but there is no response. The La Cruces marshal went over to her apartment, but it appears no one was home. Do you think your partner and the young lady have maybe gone somewhere outside of New Mexico?" Guillermo asked.

"I don't know," Hutch said, "A source of mine found out that Shelby owns some kind of real estate property out in the Chihuahuan Desert. Is there a way we can check on this?"

"Yes, I will call it in and they can work on finding that information at the department." Guillermo said. The dark haired man looked in his rearview mirror at the tired blonde in the backseat, "It was a long flight my friend," the dark haired man continued, "Enjoy the ride, it will take another hour to get to La Cruces."

Hutch closed his eyes and leaned back in the rear seat of the sedan. An image of twinkling blue eyes and a lopsided grin rose behind his lids. Hang on Starsk, the blond said silently, Hang on buddy... I'm on my way.


Friday, late afternoon (Desert Hacienda, Storage Room)

Rosey ran to the inert form lying on the earthen floor. His stillness alarmed the young, frightened woman. She gently turned him onto is back and cradled his head in her lap, stroking back his sweat drenched curls as she brushed the dirt from his cheek.

She had been forced to watch through the two-way mirror as Shelby's henchmen pummeled the detective. David never had a chance to retaliate being held the way he was by Leo, unable to defend himself or protect his mid-section from the punishing blows. Joe's last crack to the winded detective's jaw knocked the brunet out, and the two men left the room laughing, congratulating themselves on a job well done.

Ray Shelby chuckled as she had cried softly, her fist pressed against her mouth as she witnessed the man she loved being hurt. "Remember this Rosemarie," Shelby said, whispering in her ear, "If you don't do as we tell you, the detective dies. Tell me where we can find your father? Where is he hiding out?"

"Please... I told you... I don't know where he is," Rosey sobbed softly, gazing through the mirror at the still form lying in the dirt, "H-He told me that he would be gone for the day, but that he would be back to meet me for dinner last night."

Shelby roughly grabbed the young woman, turning her to him so that he could stare into her frightened hazel eyes, "Don't fuck with me," he shouted, shaking her for good measure, "We know he didn't come to the gallery at all last night. I have men posted there and no one showed up accept for that stupid cop. Now where is he?"

"I don't know, I swear. I..." Rosey's head snapped back as Ray Shelby struck her across her face. Rosey covered her hot reddened cheek; her lip bled slightly where his ring had cut her. Shelby took a deep breath and released the woman. He ran his fingers through his hair and slowly adjusted his tie, never taking his eyes off of Rosey.

"Alright Rosemarie," Shelby said softly, "I will make some calls. I'm sure my sources can pinpoint if your father left New Mexico or not. Until then my dear, you best pray that we get a hold of him soon."

Shelby opened the door to the storage room and shoved the tearful woman inside...

She knew they were still being watched right now, but her only concern was for the broken, wounded man whom she cradled on her lap.

She could see that his lip was split and she dabbed at it with the hem of her skirt. She stared down at the face she had grown to love. His dark lashes lay thickly against his cheeks and she gently brushed back the damp curls that lay against his forehead. I should have never called you, the woman silently berated herself, and yet, the need to see him had been so strong. Her heart had yearned for him these many long months and being able to hold him, to feel his strong arms around her once more, was something she had never thought she would ever experience again. When she was with David, it seemed like no time had passed.

She worriedly listened to his labored breathing and watched as his lashes twitched, knowing he was fighting his way to consciousness. All I ever bring to this man is heartache and pain, the woman thought sadly, hazel eyes brimming with tears. I love him so much! she quietly thought, Yet, if I loved him, wouldn't I want him to be happy? Rosey knew that if she and David stayed together, life for them would never be completely happy. Her father would most likely get in the way of that.

Her rational mind weighed the pros and cons of them being together. It would never work, she mused again. In the first place, her father would never allow it, and Rosey also knew David would never tolerate what her father was. His morals and ethics were too high, and though she admired that trait in David, she knew that it would also be her undoing for their life together would never be a peaceful or joyful one. She took a deep breath, resolving to herself that if they ever got out of this alive, she would leave David Starsky for good, even though it tore her heart apart.

Yes, she thought firmly, It would be better if I was forever gone from his life. David deserved someone better, someone "normal," someone whom he wouldn't be ashamed to bring around his friends and work associates.

The young woman bit her bottom lip, knowing how hard it would be to leave him again and yet, Rosey understood that it sometimes took sacrificing your own wants and needs to spare and protect those you loved. She had seen her mother do it countless times for her father, putting aside her own needs and desires to support her father in all of his decisions, whether she believed in them or not. Love is never selfish my sweet Rose, her mom would often tell her as she was growing up.

If she stayed with David, then her love for him would be a selfish one, for their love could never reach the full fruition as it was meant to, not with all of the cards that were stacked against them. For all she knew, his partner, would probably never accept her either because of who her father was.

Rosey stroked the detective's cheek and brushed his dark curls back, hearing his soft groan, his breathing shallow and rapid. "Shhh... it's okay... take it easy," she said softly.

"Hutch?" the brunet softly gasped, lashes flickering as he tried to surface from his senseless state. A part of him wanted to remain in that dark nothingness where no pain could reach him, but he knew he had to get up, knew he was needed. He lifted heavy eyelids, his blurry eyes trying to make out the form that swam above him.

"Hey..." Starsky smiled, wincing as the movement caused his split lip to twinge in pain. "You ain't Hutch..." he mumbled, gingerly raising his fingers to his lip.

"If I didn't know how much you loved me, I'd be jealous," Rosey laughed softly, deep dimples appearing at the corners of her mouth, "This is twice you called me Hutch. I take it you and your partner are very close?" The slender blonde woman watched as David's eyes softened.

"Yeah," the brunet whispered, a look of concern crossing his features, "He's probably... going out of his head by now... probably doesn't know... if he's more worried or pissed at me... for high-tailing it outta town. He's the best... friend I've ever had... closer to me than my own brother."

Starsky gritted his teeth as he tried to sit up. His body ached and screamed out against the movement he made, and the shallow breaths he took caused hot burning pain to lance throughout his side. He felt weary and talking about Hutch made him miss his tall blond friend. If Hutch had been here, he could've let down his guard and rested more, but Starsky was on his own. He needed to stay one step ahead of the bad guys, needed to keep his guard up, couldn't give in to the pain that ravaged his bruised and broken body; Rosey was there and he needed to stay strong.

Starsky pulled himself into a sitting position; his battered abdominal muscles were bruised and protested loudly, making the detective unwillingly gasp in pain. The brunet's eyes hardened when he noticed Rosey's red and swelling lip. "Did that... bastard hit you?" he snarled softly, reaching his hand out to gently touch her bottom lip.

"It's nothing," Rosey said, holding onto the wounded man's hand as he reached for her, "He thought I was lying... thought I knew where my father was..." She helped the detective get to his feet, noting how he gritted his teeth and covered his ribs with this hand. His breathing alarmed the slender blonde woman, but to her credit, she said nothing, instinctively knowing he was trying to shield her from the agony he was in.

Even the slightest movement caused his ribs to grate mercilessly, blazing white heat burning into his ribcage as they reached the cot. Starsky sat down heavily, gasping as he tried to take more air into his starving lungs. He knew Rosey was silently worried about him, he could see it on her beautiful face, her hazel-green eyes turning almost brown with the anxiety that she felt.

The brunet forced himself to smile at her, his bright, patented, lopsided grin lit up his whole face and Rosey couldn't help but smile back.

"Did anyone ever tell you that you have a smile that could melt any woman's heart?" Rosey laughed, gently cupping the side of the Starsky's face with the palm of her hand. "I've never met anyone with such a captivating smile."

"D'ya think... I was born this way? Maybe now... you'll believe I was a dentist... capped all these teeth... myself!" the brunet said impishly, deep blue eyes twinkling beneath wagging dark brows. Starsky was weary, wanting only to curl into the pain, but he forced himself to ride it out, not willing to add to the worry he knew Rosey felt inside.

It made him feel happy to hear Rosey laugh, despite the trouble they were in. He could feel his heart surge with the tenderness and love he held for this woman. He gently brushed her long, golden strands of hair away from her face and looked deeply into her hazel-green depths. "Aw Rosey Malone... I love you!" Starsky said between breaths, his eyes growing soft with emotion he felt in his heart.

Rosey stared into the pain filled lavender-blue eyes, the love he felt for her was so evident in his gaze, that it made her heart break. "David... we need to talk," she whispered.


Friday, early evening (Native Arts Gallery, La Cruces, New Mexico)

"Then where the hell is she?" Frank Malone snapped, turning hard angry eyes to the detectives around him. "I want you to find my Rosemarie now!" The former syndicate boss turned his glare to the two Feds who had accompanied him to the gallery, "You said that if I did this, my daughter and I would be protected... if any harm has come to her... so help me... you're all dead men!"

"Now listen here, Malone," one of the federal agents calmly spoke up, "We can't say for sure that Shelby has her, and if he does, he wouldn't hurt her. He'd want to use her as leverage to get to you..."

As the heated bickering continued, no one noticed as the tall blonde detective from Bay City quietly perused the gallery, taking in every nuance and detail of the place. His pale blue eyes alighted on every piece of art... the earthen pottery, the beaded jewelry, the Native American blankets and the large woven basket by the door. His eyes were drawn almost magnetically to the black duffle bag placed almost inconspicuously next to the basket. He recognized it immediately. It was Starsky's.

"Shelby has her..." Hutch said softly, pale blue eyes locked to the tiled floor as he slowly walked around the gallery, "And she wasn't alone." All eyes turned to the tall blond detective, watching as he stopped and stared at a small brown stain on the floor. Hutch stooped down and carefully touched the dried spot, "It's blood," he said quietly. In his heart, he knew it was Starsky's. Fear and anxiety for his partner's well-being flooded the blond detective's heart as he quickly rose to his feet.

"What? How do you know that?" Malone questioned, watching as the blond picked up the black duffle bag, and placed it on the counter near the cash register.

"This is my partner's... Starsky's with her." Hutch said, turning to face the older man.

"Starsky? You mean that punk cop from Bay City that was hounding my daughter?" Malone snarled. "What the fuck was he doing here?"

"It was your daughter that called him!" Hutch snapped, "He wouldn't be in this mess, if you had been more vigilant with your daughter's welfare. She called him because she was being followed and you weren't around! She was scared... she didn't know where you were!" Anger and frustration made the blond rigid and tense, turning his pale blue eyes to the color of ice. "Now my partner's involved and he's probably been hurt... trying to protect your daughter in your absence!" The blond's cold eyes flashed angrily, causing Malone to look away.

"Hey... now is not the time to be killing each other eh?" Guillermo said quietly, "We need to pull together to bring back both your partner, and your daughter."

"If they want me," Malone said, "They can have me, but only if they let my Rosemarie go."

"Let's not be hasty," one of the federal agents spoke up, "We need you Malone... alive. We'll find a way to make a deal with Shelby..."

"Not at the expense of my daughter's life!" Malone snarled, "I've had enough of your promises to me, it's cost me my daughter!"

"Look," Barnes said gently, "We know where they might be, thanks to Detective Hutchinson. The department checked on that lead you gave us Hutch, and Shelby does own property near the border like you said. Your daughter and Detective Starsky are probably being kept there."

"Yeah, I know of that place..." Malone said, "He owns several holdings like that in different areas around the States."

"So what are we gonna do?" Guillermo asked, his gaze darting from Hutch's face, to the phone on the counter, which suddenly rang.

Hutch grabbed the receiver and listened to a voice he knew so well, "Let me speak to Malone," Shelby said.

"Not before I speak with Starsky," Hutch said angrily, "Where is he?"

"I don't believe this," Shelby sneered, "It's the other idiot... give me Malone now. We know he's there!" Shelby demanded.

"You want Malone, you talk to me," Hutch snapped. "Listen Shelby..." the blond growled, "You want Malone and I want my partner back. We can make a deal."

"I don't deal with cops!" Shelby said, "Put Malone on the phone now."

Frank Malone quickly snatched the phone from the blond's hand, "Ray... it's me... Frank. I want to speak to Rosemarie."

"Uh-uh Frank," Shelby sneered, "You don't call the shots anymore... not since you've turned rat fink on all of us. I'm disappointed in you Frankie... never thought you'd turn yellow and snitch like that, but stranger things have happened... like that stupid cop who came out here to rescue your little girl whom you left all alone." Shelby made a clicking noise with his tongue, "Tsk, tsk, not too bright are you Frank?"

Malone's eyes locked on the tall blond who stood across from him, his pale blue eyes filled with desperation and concern. The former syndicate boss knew Shelby wouldn't kill his daughter, not yet anyway. He knew they needed her alive to get to him. His mind understood the thinking of these degenerates, for he himself had been one, not too long ago.

Malone was tired... tired of all the drama and intrigue... tired of all the killings and threats and underhanded tactics used to hurt and bully people, tired of innocent bystanders getting in the middle of mob dealings... like that detective. Seeing the pain in the blond's eyes caused Malone to feel a twinge of guilt. "The cop Shelby... is he still alive?" Malone asked quietly, he listened as Shelby burst out laughing on the other end of the line.

"Oh my god," Shelby chortled, "I can't believe you even asked that question! The great Frank Malone is growing soft!" Shelby's voice grew hard, "Don't worry about the cop. He's nothing but a pain in our side, something to be squashed, but you know that already Frank... it's not like you haven't snuffed out any cops yourself in the past. Now listen up Malone... if you want your daughter back in one piece, you need to meet us. Lose those agents and cops. If we catch wind of just one of them tailing you, Rosemarie is dead. You got that?"

"Yeah," Malone said softly, knowing they were being watched as they spoke, "Where and when?"

Malone watched as the blond detective listened attentively, silently begging him to also deal for his partner's life. Malone thought back to his meetings with Starsky. There was something different about that curly haired cop his daughter had hooked up with, months ago in Bay City, something that made Frank almost grudgingly respect him. If he were honest with himself, Malone knew he would have liked that young man were it not for his profession; and the fact that he had risked his own life, to save the life of his daughter, earned the detective another notch in Malone's favor. "The cop... he's part of the package." Malone added softly, seeing the renewed hope that bloomed in the blond cop's eyes.

There was a long pause on the other end of the line, then Shelby said, "Frankie... you're in no place to wheel and deal... I hold the cards remember? Leave the gallery now and remember, we're watching you. No cops. Go to your house, we'll call you there with instructions." The phone went dead on the other line and Malone quietly hung up. He raised his eyes to the silent blond.

"No deal," Malone said softly, almost apologetically, to the blond, "If I know Ray, your partner's a dead man. They'll probably keep him alive until the meeting place is set. Once that goes down, your partner will be snuffed. At least that's what I would've done."

Malone watched the anguish and anxiety that leaped into the blond's eyes at his words, and he silently looked away, sickened by the pain it caused the detective. I'm too old for this, Malone thought tiredly. All he wanted now in life was to live in peace with his daughter. It was times like these that he missed his Teresa the most, his beautiful wife who looked so much like his Rosemarie. Teresa would have known what to say to the young blond man to encourage and lift his spirits when everything seemed dark and dismal.

Malone turned to the other men in the room, "I'm leaving here... they're watching us closely... any signs of cops hanging around and my Rosey will be killed."

"Tell me where you're going?" Hutch asked softly. He knew Malone had leveled with him and spoke truthfully as he painted the grim reality of Starsky's future. Just the thought of Starsky being hurt made the blond tremble, but the thought of his partner being killed, filled the blond's heart with an unbearable void, a dark chasm of emptiness and despair that Hutch just couldn't face. He would do whatever it took to save his partner, even at the expense of his own life, for in essence; saving Starsky would be like saving himself.

"I told you, no cops!" Malone said quietly, feeling almost remorseful as he recognized the anxiety and fear in the pale blue eyes of the blond. He knew the cop was worried about his partner... hell, he felt those same emotions himself as he thought about his daughter, "I go alone!" As he turned to leave, Hutch grabbed onto his arm to stop him.

"Listen to me..." Hutch said, almost desperately, "I know you have to leave here alone. I know they're outside somewhere... watching... probably have been all this time, that's why Shelby knew where to call, but we gotta work something out. We need to save both my partner and your daughter. You owe him Malone..."

"I owe him nothing!" Malone snapped, "He didn't have to come out here, I didn't twist his arm, so don't lay it on me! He's a big boy... he made his own choices. Nobody asked him to play the role of a hero..."

"You're right," Hutch interjected angrily, his velvet voice as cold as ice, "Nobody twisted Starsky's arm. He made the choice to come out here to help your daughter when she was alone and vulnerable, all by himself. Yet, if you had told her, filled her in on what was happening, if you had left a contact number or had taken her with you, my partner would still be at home... safe. You made your own choices too Malone, and your poor choices indirectly affected my partner's. You owe him..."

"They told me to go home," Malone said slowly, not understanding why he was even telling the blond cop this, only knowing that there was a hint of truth to the cop's words and it played on the older man's conscience, "Said they'll be calling me there... with directions for the meet."

Hutch took a deep breath, to still the adrenalin rush that made his hands tremble, "Okay... okay..." Hutch said slowly, his mind racing, "We need to help each other. Whether you want it or not Malone, you'll need our help, especially once we get your daughter back for you. Every syndicate family will know of you turning states evidence and will know of you testifying openly against them to the grand jury. They'll be out to get you Malone, and Rosey too. You'll both need to be under the Witness Protection Program, where they'll change your identities and give you a new start in life somewhere. The old Frank and Rosey Malone will be no more, and you'll be able to live your life in relative safety and peace."

Malone thought on that. The idea appealed to his weary soul. If he didn't enlist the help of the police and the feds, he and Rosey would be constantly on the run and he wouldn't want that kind of life for his daughter.

Malone turned tired eyes to the blond detective, "What can I do? My hands are tied. They are watching my every move. If they even suspect I'm working with you, Rosey is as good as dead. She's my life... and I won't jeopardize her safety."

"But you will be jeopardizing her safety, if you don't allow us to help you." Hutch gently coerced, "Once they get you Malone, what's to stop them from killing Rosey too? You'll be just playing into their hands if you go out there alone. You'll be doing what they want... c'mon Malone, you know how it'll go down, you know how Shelby's mind works. It hadn't been that long ago when you were calling all of the shots."

Malone sighed as he pondered over the detective's words, "Alright, what's your plan of action and make it fast. They'll be expecting me to leave here. I'll get on the bus and head on home like they want me to... and if we get out of this alive... you owe me. My daughter and I will have that life you promised us under the Witness Protection Program."

Hutch turned to look at the federal agents who slowly nodded, giving their solemn promise to offer assistance to the two would-be refugees.

"Okay," Hutch said excitedly, "When you get home, they'll be calling you for the meet. We need to have a predetermined place so that we can be there before you. Then we can cover you and Rosey and get you out of there before anything goes down. Now I'm not from here, so where would be a good place for them to meet? Somewhere where we can stay out of sight until need be, and yet still have a good view of the exchange?"

"The rock quarry maybe?" Guillermo suggested, "It's close to the desert and there'll be a lot of places where we can stake ourselves out and not be seen."

"We've used that place before for some of our successful dealings," Malone said, "Shelby might go for it. I'll try to steer the meeting there."

"No..." Hutch said softly, "It needs to go down in a public place. In that way, we can ensure the safety of your daughter. They would be more hesitant and wary to pull anything underhanded with so much people around and we can blend in with the crowd."

"Yeah," Malone agreed, "That makes sense. As much as possible, we try to stay away from public places for our dealings... I don't know if Shelby will go for this..."

"He has no choice and you need to make him see this," Hutch said determinedly, "You're the ace that he wants, you can use your concern for your daughter's welfare to persuade him to agree to your demands. He won't hurt Rosey, not until he has you in his clutches and we'll be there to make sure he doesn't get anything."

Barnes scratched his head thoughtfully; "There's a cultural fair that will be held tonight in Eagle Rock, the next town over from La Cruces. There's usually an animal exhibit at the fair... you know... cows, horses and donkeys are displayed." The young blond grinned at his dark haired partner, "Maybe we can have the set-up take place there... you'd blend right in with the donkeys my friend!"

Guillermo laughed out loud. "Today he says donkeys... usually he calls me the other word for that animal." Hutch grinned, but turned his attention to the older man who stood quietly thinking.

Malone eyes flashed determinedly as he turned to look at Hutch, "I'll get them there," he said firmly, "But I can't guarantee the life of your partner though... Shelby wouldn't go for it. I'll try my best to persuade them to include Starsky in the trade."

Hutch slowly nodded as he watched Malone leave the building, a feeling of dread filling his heart, like a dark warning or premonition of something terrible to come. The blond sighed softly, shuddering slightly, as he felt the fine hair on the back of his neck rise with his apprehension.


Friday, early evening (Storage Room, desert hacienda)

"Talk about what?" Starsky said slowly. Speaking was becoming difficult, as was breathing itself. The curly haired detective was exhausted, every muscle in his abdomen silently screamed out at the abuse it took and the pain in his ribs were excruciating, but he could sense the urgency in the young woman sitting next to him and feel the sadness coming off of her in waves. "What is it Rosey?" he asked gently, his thumb softly tracing the cut on her lip.

Rosey looked down at her hands, knowing this had to be done, yet finding it so difficult to let go of the only man she had ever loved. She sighed softly and took in a breath, raising liquid hazel depths to his. "When you were unconscious, I made a decision and I need to share it with you now." Rosey said, her voice barely audible in the still, dark room.

"'Kay... any decision you make... affects the both of us," Starsky said softly, knowing in his heart that this was something he would rather not hear. He watched as Rosey wretchedly twisted her hands together, willing her lips to speak, but finding that nothing was coming out.

"My ma always told me... when I was a little boy... that if you just... spit it out, it'll... go easier," Starsky suggested, gasping breathlessly, a small grin tweaking the corners of his mouth as he gently covered her hands with his own.

"I wish I could've met your ma David," Rosey said, her eyes were sad and filled with remorse, "I know I would've loved her... she raised you up into a wonderful man!"

Starsky snorted softly, blushing at the praise he received, "I don' know... about that. I bet... she wishes I'd call her more... than just on Fridays." Seeing the small, hesitant smile appear on Rosey's face, made the detective want to draw her trembling form into his arms to shield her from the pain he knew her words would bring to the both of them, but he remained still and patiently waited for her to speak her heart.

"You would've liked my mom too, David," she began slowly, "She was a beautiful lady... inside and out..."

"Like her daughter," Starsky said, his lavender-blue orbs growing soft; the bittersweet sadness he felt in his heart spreading into his eyes.

Rosey attempted to smile again and lowered her gaze to their hands that were still joined, "In fact, it's sort of because of my mom, that I've reached the decision I've made."

"And what... decision is that?" Starsky gasped softly as he shifted his body nearer to hers, "What is it honey?"

"I-If we ever get out of this alive," Rosey said, lifting her gaze to his face, "You and I both know we can't be together anymore..." Rosey waited for the detective to comment, but when only silence filled the stillness in the room, she slowly continued, "The way I see it, we could never be truly happy together, not with my father being what he was."

"Rosey..." Starsky began, but stopped when she gently pressed her fingers against his lips.

"No... let me finish David," Rosey implored, "I've had a lot of time to think, and the way I see it, if we get rescued, my father and I would probably be put into some kind of government program to protect us..."

"It's called a Witness Protection Program." Starsky whispered.

"Yeah..." Rosey said sadly, "In any case, we would probably enter this program and they would change our identities to save our lives. If we stayed together David, and got married, you would have to change your identity too. You would have to stop being a cop and you'd never see your family and friends again. You would have to leave behind all you ever knew... just for my father and I. My mother would say that this type of love is a selfish one, and that it would never work because you'd be sacrificing everything for me."

"Your mother... never met me." Starsky said quietly, wanting to dispute her words, but knowing in his heart that she spoke the truth. An image of laughing, pale, blue eyes and golden hair flitted across his mind, and his heart ached at the thought of not being able to be with Hutch anymore. And yet, he would be willing to give up anything for Rosey.

"Sometimes loving... and sharing... your heart is enough," the brunet whispered. His mind drifted to that special someone who had taught him that... a perky young schoolteacher who had also made a decision that impacted his life. Terry. Would he ever be able to not feel pain whenever his thoughts took him to her?

And through it all, through all the suffering and valleys he had endured in his life, the one light that always shone bright, that always lead him out of the darkness, that always made life bearable again... was Hutch. Would he be able to leave Hutch? Would he be able to go on with his life and never attempt to make contact with his big, blond, buddy again? Hutch was the best friend he had ever had... could he just pretend that Hutch had never existed, had never been an integral part of his life?

Rosey smiled sadly when she heard the heavy sigh that came from the curly haired man that she so loved, knowing he was thinking about all the ramifications and sacrifices he would have to make if he chose to stay with her, watching as sadness and shadows passed across his expressive blue eyes. "It's okay David... I'm not asking you to choose between your life and me... the decision has already been made."

Starsky looked deeply into Rosey's eyes that suddenly filled with tears. He gently wiped away a silent tear that ran down her cheek with his thumb, sadness and resignation filling his heart, as his adam's apple quivered with the emotion he suppressed, "Loving buys me rights too, ya know... don'tcha think I should... have a say in this decision of yours?" He attempted to grin, that lopsided grin that he knew she loved.

Rosey smiled and then chuckled, as she gently brushed his curls back from his temple, "You would've had a say if you hadn't been sleeping at the time!" They both chuckled at that, and Starsky had to hold onto his side as pain lanced through his ribs again, but he still laughed anyway, loving her sense of humor, her wit, knowing that she made that difficult decision alone, so that he could be absolved from any guilt or regret on his part.

"I love you Rosey Malone." Starsky whispered, cobalt eyes shining soft and sad in the dark, coldness of the prison they were in.

"I know." Rosey said simply, "I love you too... ya know?"

"Yeah... I know." Starsky said as he lowered his mouth to hers. There was a bittersweet sadness to their kiss this time, a finality... an ending of something wonderful that could have been... should have been... if only the fates had been kinder. Starsky could taste the warm salt from the tears that flowed between them and he held her tighter against him, instinctively knowing that this would probably be the last time that he could hold her this way. The thought broke his heart. He lifted his lips and cupped the side of her face, memorizing the details of her features when the door was unlocked and Shelby walked in.

Starsky slowly stood and faced the Malone's rival. "Now what?" he said disgustedly, "Did anyone... ever tell you... that your timing sucks Shelby? Hmmm?" the dark haired detective cockily drawled, as he eyed the big men entering the small enclosure.

Shelby ignored the cop and turned his attention to the woman who stood beside him. "Spoke with your father, Rosemarie, and we're going to meet him to exchange your life for his. Let's go shall we? We don't want to keep your poor father waiting."

"No..." Rosey said, "What about David? What's going to happen to him?"

Shelby chuckled darkly, "Now why would I waste my precious time worrying about some wise-cracking, pain in the ass cop? In our line of business Rosemarie, we permanently remove things we don't want to think about." Shelby whipped out his gun and pointed it at the dark haired detective. "Can't say you'll be missed, Starsky!" Shelby sneered.

To Rosey, everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, seeing the gun appearing in Shelby's hand, knowing the sudden fear as she saw the older man aim the weapon at David's head, feeling the shocking jolt and pain as David quickly pushed her out of way from the line of fire, recognizing the loud sound of the gun discharging and watching in horror as the force from the bullet's impact threw the detective against the wall. She heard the detective cry out in pain as the warm stickiness of his blood smeared against the white of the wall as he slowly sank to his knees, clutching his stomach. The blood trail it left sickened the traumatized woman and she watched as the spot of red on David's denim shirt near his abdomen blossomed and grew into a larger stain that seeped through his fingers. She saw him collapse on the dirt floor and screamed in horror, "No... no David..." Rosey quickly moved towards the fallen man, sobbing loudly, when she was roughly grabbed by Leo.

"Leave him," Shelby said, "He's a dead man anyway... no one survives a gut shot."

"Oh god David," Rosey moaned, sobbing as she was dragged away, her eyes never leaving the still form that lay face down in the dirt, noticing that there was blood on the lower back of his shirt as the door to the storage room was slammed shut.

"After the exchange," Shelby said quietly to Leo as they pulled the woman down the hallway, "Come back here and get rid of the cop's body."

"Whatta you want me to do with it boss?" Leo said, yanking the struggling woman along.

"Now why do I have to tell you every single little thing... huh Leo?" Shelby snapped irritably, "There's a lot of hungry coyotes out there in the desert... feed 'em!"


Friday night, (Cultural Fair Night, Eagle Rock, New Mexico)

Hutch could see Frank Malone standing in front of the bullpen from where he casually stood behind one of the many food booths that littered the fairgrounds. To any passerby, he looked like any older man looking over the huge black steer that glared at its admirers.

It was the opening night of the annual Cultural Fair that lasted for three days in the small, quaint town of Eagle Rock and the place was packed. There was an excitement to the air as music from the many colorful, and brightly lit rides, blared loudly. People continuously crowded in to check out each vendor and exhibition that was displayed. The tall blond inconspicuously lifted the walkie-talkie to his lips. "He's in place... are you guys in position?"

The radio crackled in answer to Hutch's question. "You bet!" Barnes said, "Guillermo's next to the donkey pen, but you can't see him because he blends in so perfectly with those jackasses!"

Hutch snorted softly, a quiet smile came to his lips as he saw the dark haired man with the brown cowboy hat, casually leaning on the fence as he looked at the burros.

"Hey Hutch," Barnes said over the radio, "Remember... stay outta sight until it's over... Shelby knows what you look like and you could blow this whole thing sky high if he makes you before the exchange."

"Yeah," Hutch said softly, "You got it!"

Hutch smiled. Those two young detectives reminded him so much of Starsky and himself. Always joking around with each other, exchanging friendly banter, and yet, anyone who watched them could see the abiding respect and friendship they had for one another. Their relationship was a solid one... like the one he shared with his partner.

Starsky. The thought of his curly haired friend brought a frown to his pale brows. He was worried. What if Malone couldn't convince Shelby to bring Starsky along for the exchange? The cold finger of fear had not left the blond since leaving the gallery and his stomach had been tied in knots all day.

Hutch took a deep breath to relieve the anxiety he had been carrying around. He had to remain focused and he pushed the cold hand of fear back down to the depths of his heart.

"It's going down..." the radio in his hand crackled to life and Hutch swiftly looked to where Malone stood, seeing Ray Shelby and four of his goons, one of them holding Rosey by her arm, walking quickly towards the older man. The tall blond's heart fell as he realized that his partner was not with them. His breathing accelerated and he could feel his heart pounding. Oh god Starsky... where are you? He watched as Shelby and Malone spoke briefly, wishing he could hear what was being said, sending a silent prayer up that his partner was safe somewhere.

"All units... all units... move in now!" the radio buzzed and Hutch watched as the undercover cops swarmed in, much to the unexpected surprise of Shelby and his men. Hutch ran over to the bullpen as the New Mexican police handcuffed the syndicate leader and his boys. The tall blond went over to Rosey who stood wrapped in her father's embrace.

The young women looked over at the approaching blond, "I know you... you came to my store in Bay City... you must be Hutch!" Rosey said, her hazel eyes filled with tears.

"Yeah, my partner... where is he?" Hutch asked, trying to still the trembling in his heart at the sight of her tears. "I-Is he hurt?"

"He's dead already," Shelby sneered, "You're too late Hutchinson."

Guillermo slapped the older man's head, "Oh, I am sorry... my hand... it slipped. Let us go eh? Already I am hungry for dinner." He roughly shoved Shelby along as the other cops took Leo and the henchmen to the unmarked cars.

"David," Rosey sobbed quietly, "They shot him... I don't know if he's alive or dead... they left him there... in that storage room..."

"Get in my car and we'll double back to Shelby's place," Barnes said quickly, "I'll radio in for an ambulance that can meet us there." The two blond men raced for the parked sedan, praying that their haste would not be in vain.


Friday, late evening (Storage room, desert hacienda)

Hutch stopped abruptly at the sight of his partner lying face down in the dirt. The smeared bloodstain that ran down the wall sickened him. The only sound in the room was the ragged panting from the blond, as he caught his breath from his mad dash to the back room where he knew his partner was. Starsky's familiar body lay still and broken on the hard dirt floor, and Hutch could feel his heart shattering with anguish and fear.

"Oh god... Starsk," the blond whispered brokenly, hesitantly walking into the darkened room, almost afraid to touch his still and inert partner, seeing the sticky, bloody shirt plastered to his partner's back, praying that he wasn't too late. Hutch knelt next to his curly haired friend, hot bitter tears flooding his pale blue eyes. He raised his hand helplessly, not knowing where to touch; fear and emptiness at the possible loss of his partner filled the blond with anguish.

Hutch rubbed the silent tears away and noticed the weak rising and falling of his partner's upper back and sides. He could feel himself smiling a tentative, hopeful smile, feeling the sudden joy that replaced the dark chasm in his heart, knowing that for the moment at least, his partner was still alive and with him.

Hutch gently tugged at the brunet's denim shirt that was still tucked into the tight jeans his partner was so fond of. He slowly lifted it so that he could see the damage the bullet caused.

The blond could tell by the torn and ragged opening that it was an exit wound, and that meant that his partner had probably been shot in the abdomen or somewhere in his side; the fiery bullet tunneling out from his back. In a way, Hutch felt relieved that the bullet had gone through his partner because there was less of a chance of infection, but an exited bullet, also meant more blood loss, and that worried the blond, for the loss of blood could send his partner quickly into shock.

The tall blond knew his partner was having difficulty breathing and Starsky's position on the earthen floor was impeding the airflow and was not allowing adequate oxygen into the brunet's lungs. Although Hutch worried about moving his partner, he knew Starsky wouldn't last much longer if he couldn't breathe.

"Starsk? Hey buddy..." Hutch whispered, as he gently and carefully turned his partner over. He heard a slight gasp and a soft moan come from the brunet as he shifted his long frame and gently lifted his partner's upper body against his own chest to clear his partner's airway and aid in his labored breathing. Starsky's eyes remained closed, his thick dark lashes fanned out against the paleness of his cheeks, and Hutch gently rubbed at the dirt that stuck to his partner's damp and clammy face.

"Oh god, Starsk," Hutch whispered, catching sight of all the blood that had spilled out on the front of the light blue shirt near his partner's mid-section. It was difficult to see exactly where the bullet had entered because the dirt had mingled and stuck to the soaked shirt, but by the looks of the wound, the shot was fired at close range. The sickening coppery, metallic odor filled his nostrils, and yet, as Hutch pulled and cradled the brunet against him, he could still smell the soft scent of sandalwood that ensconced his partner.

"Uungh" Starsky moaned softly, his broken and bruised body grew rigid as a wave of pain washed over him. His bloodstained, dirt-caked hand, clawed desperately for the wound in his gut, but Hutch instantly trapped his partner's searching fingers, the pitiful, hurt filled gasps tearing at the blond's heart.

"Easy Starsk... take it easy buddy," Hutch soothed, his usually calm voice, broken and steeped with worry, "I know it hurts, but I can't let you go tearing at it like that."

"Unngh... H-Hutch," Starsky groaned, his body arched in pain as his hands convulsively clutched his stomach despite Hutch's efforts to hold them down.

"Oh god... easy buddy, take it easy..." Hutch said softly as he rubbed his partner's chest, almost feeling the pain himself from the agony the brunet was going through, "I'm here now... right here Starsk," Hutch whispered, sickened by the rigid tenseness in his partner's body as the brunet curled into the pain, gasping painfully as he surfed through the burning agony the stabbed into his mid-section.

"How is he?" Barnes said softly, carrying in towels and blankets, "Thought you could use these," he said. He knelt next to Hutch, "Oh Jesus," the young blond whispered as his eyes locked on the blood-covered shirt of the brunet. Barnes lifted light brown eyes to frightened, pale, blue ones and swallowed, "Here let me help you," he said softly, "The ambulance should be here shortly."

"Take one of those towels and wad it up," Hutch directed, making sure to keep his tone soft and soothing, not wanting to aggravate or worry his partner with the desperation in his voice, "I'm going to turn Starsky slightly and I need you to come over on this side. There's an exit wound on his lower back, I need to put pressure on that to stop the bleeding.

Jake Barnes quickly wadded a towel up and moved to the other side of Starsky's body as Hutch slightly maneuvered him, so that Barnes could slip the towel under the brunet.

Although it was just the gentlest of movement, it caused the wounded man considerable pain and he gasped, his breathing rapid and shallow. "Hu... Hutch," the brunet groaned, cobalt blue peeped out from beneath heavy raised lashes.

"Hey buddy... take it easy, I've got you," Hutch murmured, turning his partner so that his lower back pressed against the layered cloth, wincing as Starsky hissed softly in pain when his ragged flesh made contact with the towel. Hopefully, the thick cloth would staunch some of the blood that continuously seeped out from the brunet's back. The tall blonde looked to his hurt partner and smiled when he saw a slow grin spread over his friend's features, perspiration causing the dark haired detective's face to glisten in the dim light.

"H-Hey Hutsh..." Starsky gasped, "What... took ya... so long?" His normally strong voice was weak and breathy... sounding foreign to his own ears. The brunet felt shaky and tired, his weary mind registering that it was probably from the blood loss. He hurt so badly, every ragged breath he took caused pain to lance sharply into his abdomen and ribs, but it hurt him even more to see the blond looking so worried and sad.

Hutch snorted softly, knowing his partner was trying to put him at ease as he probably understood how serious his wound was, "Oh... I don' know buddy... Sharon says you're a moron... guess I'm one too," the blond grinned lamely, as he gently rubbed his thumb against his partner's cold cheek.

"Yeah?" Starsky gasped, "Was Sharon... as good... as she looked?" The brunet grinned wearily up to his blond counterpart, knowing how deeply worried his friend was for him, desperately wanting to ease the pain in his partner's soft blue eyes.

Hutch snorted softly, "Don' know buddy... she was pretty pissed at me too!" The blond was about to smile himself when he spied his partner's lopsided grin quickly turning into a grimace, as hot burning pain locked the brunet in its cruel and punishing embrace. Starsky turned his face into his partner's chest and curled suddenly into the pain, his breathing labored and shallow, his bruised and battered body grew rigid and tense, as the brunet once again tried to make a grab for his abdomen.

"Oh god, Starsky," Hutch said softly, grabbing his left arm while Barnes grabbed his right, "It's okay buddy... take it easy... just try to breath through it..." He listened to the painful gasps coming from his hurting partner and the sound sickened the sensitive blond. He closed his pale lashes and rubbed his partner's chest, soothing the brunet with his gentle strokes, until the merciless spike released its unwilling captive. Hutch opened his eyes as he felt his partner grow limp in his arms, but was surprised to still see Starsky looking up at him. "You did good buddy," Hutch said softly; continuing to rub his partner's chest with his large, warm hand.

"H-Hutch," Starsky gasped, weakly grabbing onto the blond's hand, "Rosey..." the brunet gasped, his breath shallow and rapid.

"She's fine buddy..." Hutch said absently, already scanning his partner's body for other injuries, "She and her dad are with the federal agents now... they're protected and safe. You just rest now Starsk, you don't need to worry about anything, I've got you buddy." Hutch smiled softly when he felt his partner's rigid body ease in his arms; the brunet knowing his was safe and trusting his partner to look after things for a while.

"'M tired," Starsky murmured wearily, closing long dark lashes to rest in the brief respite he was given from the stabbing pain that tore through his exhausted body.

Hutch's main concern now was stopping the blood flow from the brunet's abdominal wound and preventing his partner from going into shock. His cold, clammy skin alarmed the blond and spurred him into action.

"Bundle up several towels and put it under his head," Hutch said to Barnes, "And make sure his head and upper chest are elevated to alleviate his breathing," he said, carefully slipping out from his partner's heavy torso, as he helped the New Mexican detective lay Starsky's head to the soft pillow of towels.

Although Starsky gritted his teeth, the gentle jostling made the brunet moan softly, but his body remained limp and still. Starsky could feel the anxiety rolling off his partner and he tried hard to remain passive against the pain that ripped through his mid-section. He wearily opened his eyes once again to look at his worried friend.

Hutch quickly grabbed another towel and wadded it up, forcing himself to smile when he realized his partner's eyes never left his face. "Hey buddy..." Hutch said gently, his velvet voice a soothing balm to the hurting man, "I-I'm gonna have to try to stop the slow leak you got there on your stomach okay Starsk? It's gonna hurt a bit..."

"'Kay... th-thirsty," Starsky whispered, seeing the pain in the big blond's pale blue eyes, wanting to take away the worry and anguish he saw there, wishing he could make it easier on Hutch, but so glad that he had his partner there to watch his back again. "Jus' h-hurry up... I need a b-beer." The brunet weakly gasped, feeling exhausted, but happy, when he saw the small smile appear on Hutch's face.

Hutch snorted, "You hang in there pal, and I promise I'll buy the beers at Huggy's when you get out of the hospital okay?" Hutch quickly unbuttoned the denim shirt and opened it up to view the damage.

"Aww buddy," he whispered as he saw the bruised and battered condition his partner was in. From the discoloration of the brunet's ribcage and his labored breathing, Hutch suspected Starsky had a least one or two ribs fractured, and the gash to the brunet's temple looked deep, but at least the bleeding had stopped. From the dried blood on this temple, Hutch figured it was probably an older wound; probably got hit on the head and at Rosey's gallery, the blond surmised.

What had his undivided attention now, was the bullet hole in his partner's mid-section that still harbored a slow leak of his partner's lifeblood. Part of the denim fabric had dried and helped the top of the wound to clot, but the lower half of the bullet hole still bled slowly. Hutch was afraid to apply pressure to the wound, wondering if it would make the clotted area tear open again; but he had no choice in the matter. The bleeding had to be stopped.

Hutch swallowed, not wanting to cause his partner any more pain than he was already in. "Okay buddy..." Hutch whispered, "Hang tight... gonna put some pressure now on your wound..." Thoughts of ruptured organs and internal bleeding caused the blond to almost waiver, but he knew direct pressure was the fastest way to stop external bleeding.

"'Kay," Starsky whispered, his deep blue eyes were groggy and glazed, but were so full of trust that Hutch felt a lump form in his throat. For a moment their eyes locked and held, then Starsky looked away as pain tore into his mid-section again, trying to shield his friend from the gut-wrenching agony he was in.

The brunet gasped and tightly scrunched his eyes as he felt Hutch press the wadded towel against the gaping hole in his abdomen. He could feel his aching flesh tearing away from the dried fabric of his shirt, and the pain took his breath away. Starsky curled around the burning pressure in his abdomen, his hands immediately dug into Hutch's larger ones as the blond pressed firmly down onto the fiery hole in his partner's lower mid-section.

"Uungh... oh jeez... H-Hutch," Starsky unintentionally moaned, his soft gasps of pain tearing away at the blond's heart. The blond watched as the brunet tightly closed his eyes, gritted his teeth and held his breath, not allowing any more unwanted sounds to escape from his lips.

"I know it hurts buddy, just take it easy," Hutch soothed, sickened by the rigid tenseness that flooded his partner's being, "Cover him with several blankets," Hutch directed to Barnes, afraid that his partner might rapidly go into shock. Hutch prayed he wasn't doing more damage to his partner, and was thankful when he heard the sirens from the ambulance and police approaching. "Hang in there buddy, help is on the way."


Sunday, (La Cruces Memorial Hospital, 3 weeks later)

"Ya know Hutch, ya ever notice how almost every state has a hospital in it named Memorial... huh?" Starsky looked to the blond who sat quietly on the chair facing his bed, his head and face covered up by the newspaper he was reading. The brunet frowned when he got no reaction from this partner, then yawned loudly; wincing as he cautiously stretched his arms out above his head, attempting to gingerly stretch his aching muscles in his back and sides. "I'm bored," the brunet grouched, sticking his lip out in a petulant pout.

The brunet heard a quiet snort from behind the paper and watched as pale blue eyes peeked over at him as the newspaper was slightly lowered, "Yeah? Well, just be glad that you can be bored buddy... you almost didn't make it!" The blond put the paper aside and grinned, happy to hear his partner bitching about mundane things. After what they had went through, Hutch was glad to listen to his partner's incessant grumbling... it just meant that Starsky was feeling that much better; a few weeks ago, you wouldn't have heard one complaint, much less a groan, if the brunet could help it. The tall blond smiled, "Now hurry up and eat your oatmeal before it gets cold."

The brunet eyed the bowl of mush disdainfully. He lifted his spoon and poked at the thick, pasty mixture. "I hate it!" he said and sullenly pushed it away from him, his flashing blue eyes glared at the bowl like it was his enemy.

Hutch snorted softly, scooped up a generous portion of the steaming oatmeal and lifted it to his own lips, relishing the soothing, warmth from the mixture as it slid down his throat. "Mmmm, it's great buddy... try some." Hutch scooped another spoonful and held in front of the brunet's mouth, which remained stubbornly closed. The blond waved the spoon under his partner's nose, trying to entice the brunet to open up his mouth, "C'mon buddy... big mouth... let's be a big boy about this."

Starsky stared at his hovering friend, amazed by his mother hen antics. The brunet snorted and pushed the blond's offending offering away. "No way Blondie... ain't puttin' that crap in my mouth... it might kill me!" The brunet leaned back into the pillow that was propped behind him, looking irritable and moody, not realizing the impact his words had on the suddenly silent blond, as Hutch's mind drifted back to the night they brought his weak and wounded partner to this very hospital. Thoughts of that night flitted across the blond's memory, as his dark haired companion ranted on and on with his endless complaints...

" ...Could it kill him?" Hutch asked wearily, his legs feeling suddenly weak as he stood in the hallway next to the small Asian doctor who had just come from the operating room after working on his partner for several hours.

"Like I said, Detective Hutchinson, your partner's small intestine was nicked by the bullet. Luckily, this was the only organ damaged by the bullet as it passed through his body and believe it or not, it is the most common organ to be damaged because it takes up the most space in the abdomen." Dr. Sugiyama repeated himself, speaking slowly and calmly to reassure the anxious, tall blond. "However, your partner has a perforated intestine, and he runs the risk of infection because the bacteria in his small intestine leaked out into his abdominal cavity. We call this Peritonitis and the danger of the bacteria entering the bloodstream could send Detective Starsky into septic shock if he develops a high fever. In cases like these, when the patient finally becomes cool and clammy, all the blood vessels dilate and the person's blood pressure drops, thereby killing them."

Hutch sighed heavily and dragged his fingers back through his fine golden hair. He put his palm up against the wall and leaned his weight on his arm, his fingers from his other hand dug at the corners of his eyes, attempting to rub the grit away. His brows furrowed as he worried over the welfare of his partner. Starsky... what if he didn't make it?

Hutch angrily pushed that dark image away, feeling incensed with himself for betraying his partner with his morbid thoughts, and yet, the blond selfishly realized that he didn't know how he could go on, if the other half to his soul was eternally snatched away. He sighed again and felt a hesitant hand on his shoulder; he quickly looked down into the concerned almond eyes of the doctor.

"The good news is that it usually takes many hours, twenty-four or more, to die of Peritonitis if you are a healthy person, and your partner is young and very healthy." The tiny man soothed, "Survival depends on a lot of different factors..."

"Such as?" Hutch questioned, feeling the tiny spark of hope flare to life in his heart.

"How much blood the person lost, how healthy the patient is to begin with, but most importantly, how soon they get to a hospital and get help. Getting the patient to the hospital and giving them antibiotics and IV fluids can save most people with peritonitis." Dr. Sugiyama said.

"But Starsky lost a lot of blood..." Hutch said, trying to read the doctor's placid face.

"Yes..." Dr. Sugiyama began hesitantly, "Blood loss can kill a person much faster than infection, and it becomes a problem if one is shot in the intestines due to the many blood vessels located there, but in the case of Detective Starsky, his bleeding was already clotting when you found him. The dirt from the storage room floor, mixed with his own blood and the fabric from his shirt, formed a sort of pasty patch that kept him from extensively bleeding out. He was bleeding internally too, but we have remedied the problem. Ironic isn't it Detective Hutchinson? That same dirt that saved his life, could also be the cause of infection for your partner... we've relocated him to his room and he'll be on a regiment of antibiotics and analgesics to help with the post op pain and the fracture to his ribs."

"Will he make it doc?" Hutch asked softly, almost afraid to hear the answer, but realizing he desperately needed to know. Pale blue eyes locked onto dark almond shaped orbs, and he watched the expression on the doctor's face grow serious.

"I will not lie to you, Detective Hutchinson," Dr. Sugiyama said, "Your partner was starting on a fever in the recovery room. We have already started his antibiotics and we can only wait to see if his body accepts it. His incision from the laparotomy will be painful, as will the break to his ribs. He will be on anesthetics for some time to help with the pain, but you may go and see him if you like. The nurses are setting him up in room 21."

"Hey... you okay Blintz?" Starsky drawled, suddenly realizing his silent, blond partner wasn't even listening to his dramatic whining. He should have won an Oscar for his laments and to find out that his peevish grumbling was being ignored, especially when he had put his heart and soul into his performance, irritated the brunet to no extent. "You think I'm bitching here for my health... hmm Blondie?"

"What's that?" the blond asked absently, his pale blue eyes softened with the affection he felt for his curly haired partner who groused and threw a mild tantrum on the bed. It was so good to see his partner like this, when only weeks ago it was touch and go on whether this vibrant, whining man would survive or not...

For a while the blond had worried because they couldn't get the high fever down. It pained Hutch to see his partner in so much pain as he sponged the heat from his partner's chest and neck. For the most part, the fever and the painkillers kept Starsky unconscious; Hutch's only the companion was the labored breathing of his partner and the erratic rise and fall of the brunet's tightly wrapped torso. Those few times when his partner woke up and they conversed, were precious to the blond.

Hutch dipped the fever-warmed cloth into the stainless steel bowl of cool water and wrung it out, only to once again stroke the heat away from this partner's flushed face with the cool rag. He repeated the process several times and watched with anticipation as the dark lashes rolled to and fro, a sign that his partner was waking up.

The cool cloth against his hot skin felt refreshing and enticed to brunet to swim to the surface of awareness. Even though he knew that pain lay in that direction, he also instinctively knew that that was the direction where he could find Hutch. Starsky could feel the anguish and anxiety his blond counterpart was feeling and he knew he had to ease some of that burden from his friend. The cool strokes led him from the dark embrace of peaceful nothingness, to the sharp intensity of unbearable agony, as sudden pain lit a fiery path from his lower abdomen and up to his aching ribs.

Hutch listened as his partner's breathing grew rapid and shallow, knowing his partner was finally becoming aware of the crippling pain that bombarded his being. A soft moan escaped from the brunet's dry lips and Hutch gently stroked back his partner's soft curls. He watched as the dark, heavy lashes lifted and familiar blue peeked out from beneath them. His partner's eyes were dazed and disoriented as they slowly tracked the ceiling of his hospital room, his mind attempting to piece together details to clue him in on his surroundings. The brunet's pain filled eyes alighted on the blond's face and Hutch saw a weary, lopsided grin tip the corners of his mouth.

"Hey buddy..." Hutch whispered, cupping the side of the brunet's face, feeling the burning heat radiating out between his fingers, "How you doing huh?"

Starsky took in shallow breaths of air, the pain he felt was excruciating and he closed his eyes and turned away from his partner to get a handle on it, forcing himself to ride out the punishing wave that pummeled his bruised and battered body, "'M... 'kay" he gasped softly, his words barely audible as he clenched his fist and pressed it down against his bandaged abdomen, willing the pain to leave him, "You?" he asked wearily, valiantly opening one blue eye to give his blond companion the once over.

Hutch snorted softly, knowing he looked haggard and worn, "Just fine buddy... better than you anyway."

"Then... I must... look like shit," Starsky gasped between breaths, a small grin spread across his flushed features as he heard his blond companion chuckle.

"You got that right buddy," Hutch laughed softly, "With you all bandaged up the way you are, you look like ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag!"

Starsky's grin widened, his breathing shallow and raspy, "You sure are... a ray... of sunshine... Hutchinson," The brunet gasped, the few words he was able to speak were achingly exhausting, but he knew the blond needed to hear him... if only for a little bit. The brunet held his breath and closed his eyes as jolting pain stabbed into his lower abdomen, causing the wounded man to double over in pain, his arm wrapped tightly around his mid-section.

"Take it easy Starsky," Hutch soothed, rubbing his partner's chest, sickened by the rigidity of his partner's body, as the brunet curled into the pain, his soft gasps the only sound in the still room. Hutch knew his partner was soon due for another shot of anesthetics and he reached for the button to call the nurse.

"Don't," the brunet gasped, "I just... woke up H-utch... don't wanna... sleep again."

Hutch looked down at his brave, but suffering partner, his pale blue eyes soft with admiration and love, "It's okay buddy, you need to rest and heal. You're in pain Starsk and your body needs to rest to battle this fever you have. I'll be right here the whole time... sponging you off with my trusted rag." Hutch waved the damp cloth in the air and smiled when he heard the soft snort from the brunet. He stuck the rag back into the bowl and wrung it out again, dabbing at his partner's forehead and face and stroking its coolness against the raging heat in his partner's neck and chest.

Starsky closed his eyes, sucking in a trembling breath, while savoring the cool, soothing caresses from the damp cloth when the nurse walked into the room, a small tray in one hand. "Okay David, you must be ready for another dose of painkillers. It must be getting bad now... we don't want the pain to get in the way of the rest you need," the nurse said smiling, as she compressed the hypodermic into the IV line that was stuck in the crook of Starsky's arm. She walked out, winking at the tall blond who stood above the brunet with the damp rag in his hand, "Keep cooling him off... you're doing a good job. I'll bring some ice chips so that David can moisten his throat." The nurse left quietly, as Hutch rinsed out the rag once more to continue his never-ending ministrations to reduce the fever that burned his partner from the inside out.

Hutch gazed fondly down at the brunet who was attempting to fight the nebulous pull of drug-induced sleep. His partner's dark, heavy lashes kept lifting to reveal dazed, blue orbs, which would then close again to fan out against his flushed cheeks, "It's okay buddy," Hutch whispered softly, "Just go to sleep..."

"Hutch?" the brunet mumbled drowsily, eyes closed, a soft smile on his lips, "You... stayin'?" he gasped softly.

"Yup," the tall blond said gently, reassuringly. Hutch smiled fondly down at his sleepy partner, affection for the brunet warming his heart. His drowsy partner looked so boyishly innocent lying there like that, his soft brown curls tousled and unruly, fighting sleep like any child would do, "You know I wouldn't be anywhere else... after all, I need to watch my partner's back. Me and thee remember?" Hutch watched as the smile gently faded from his partner's lips as deep slumber claimed the exhausted brunet, "Goodnight buddy, get some rest," Hutch whispered as he once again wrung out the towel to sponge bathe his fevered companion.

"Hello... earth to the Blond Blintz... anybody home in there?" Starsky sarcastically said, raising his voice as he waved his hand before the blond's pale blue eyes that softened once again with affection for the brunet's playful antics.

"Sorry buddy... kinda zoned out for awhile." Hutch smiled apologetically, eyeing the irritable brunet who continued his theatrical whining for his audience of one.

"Yeah? Well you better pay closer attention Hutch 'cause it ain't easy to get worked up like this." Seeing his partner's blue eyes grow soft brought a lump to the brunet's throat, as he basked in the unconditional love that flowed from the blond. Suddenly a grin broke out on Starsky's face and his eyes danced impishly, "Hey, why don' we call Guillermo and tell 'im to bring some o' that New Mexican chili burritos he was talkin' about the other day huh? Please Hutch... wouldya do that for me... huh?"

"You know I can't do that buddy," Hutch reasoned, "You can't have anything spicy for a long time and even though you're getting out of here in a few days, you know you'll be on a restricted diet. Dr. Sugiyama already told you that." The tall blond dreaded the thought of that. It did not bode well to deny and keep Starsky from the things he loved most. Things like beer, pizza, burritos... and Rosey. The thought of the young woman concerned the blond, bringing a deep furrow to the pale brows.

"What?" the brunet asked, reading the hesitation and frown that came to his partner's face.

The blond sighed. They hadn't once spoken of Malone's daughter since the night they rescued Starsky's bruised and battered body from the storage room. In all honesty, there really hadn't been time to sit and have a heart to heart talk with one another, what with the severity of the brunet's wounds and his slow and painful recovery; and now that Starsky was well enough to go home in a few days, the blond belatedly realized that his partner had never mentioned Rosey's name, not even once. Maybe he wasn't ready to talk about her... and maybe it wasn't his business to pry when the brunet had obviously not broached the subject at all. The blond chewed on the bottom of his lip and he lowered his eyes to the rings on his partner's pinkie.

"C'mon buddy... spill it... what's eatin' at ya... huh?" The brunet's dark blue eyes twinkled as he saw the blush spread from the blond's neck up to his cheeks. "Okay... what is it that you ain't tellin' me huh?" The brunet waited patiently until the pale blue eyes of his partner connected with his own.

Hutch snorted self-consciously, not knowing where to begin, especially because it really wasn't any of his business... it's not like his partner was asking for his advice or opinion about Rosey. In fact, now that Hutch had given it some thought, it surprised the blond that his partner had no reaction whatsoever... there was no anger or moodiness and there didn't appear to be any sadness or remorse... or anything! Hutch looked to his curly haired friend lying innocently on the bed, and gave him the once over. What was going on here? the blond silently mused.

"What?" Starsky said again, intrigued now by the display of emotions that flew across the blond's face. At first, Hutch seemed hesitant, awkward, and almost uncomfortable. Then the blond seemed surprised and amazed at some thought he pondered over. Finally a look of bewilderment crossed Hutch's features; and if Starsky didn't know any better, he would swear a look of suspicion entered the pale blue eyes that looked him over intently.

"I was just wondering when were you going to tell me?" Hutch said; his pale blue eyes locked onto the dark cobalt depths of his partner's.

"Tell you what?" Starsky asked, perplexed now by the tone of his partner's voice.

"About Rosey..." The blond said quietly.

"What's there to tell?" Starsky said vaguely.

"What do you mean... what's there to tell?" Hutch said quizzically, "She was the love of your life Starsk. It took you three whole months to forget about her and move on with your life, and then you see her and she leaves again, and all of a sudden... you're like... absolutely fine..."

"She's gone Hutch... whaddah you want me to say?" Starsky shrugged lamely, as he lowered his gaze to his hands. Although the brunet's voice was matter of fact, Hutch detected a hint of sadness in his partner's tone and the blonde silently berated himself for opening the wound that Starsky was so determined to close.

"I'm sorry buddy," Hutch said, softening his voice, regretting his actions, "I shouldn't have even brought this up... it's none of my business..."

"It is your business Hutch," Starsky said quietly, stormy blue eyes lifted to the tall blond detective, "We're partners... anything that affects me, affects you."

Hutch's eyes grew soft and he gave an imperceptible nod that encouraged the brunet to continue.

Starsky sighed deeply, feeling the ache in his ribs, and his heart, as he wrapped his arm around his side and lowered his eyes once again, "I love her Hutch and she loves me, but she'll be startin' a new life now, as a brand new person."

"No matter who she becomes or where she goes, she'll still be the same girl inside... A rose by any other name would smell as sweet... so Rosey would, were she not Rosey called..." Hutch murmured quietly.

Starsky looked up at the tall blond, "Hey, I know that... that's the guy who wrote all those plays and spoke funny..."

"Yeah... it's a line from 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare. I just added in Rosey's name... that line pretty much sums up what I was trying to say." Hutch smiled gently, feeling his partner's sadness, "No matter what her new name becomes, she'll always be the same Rosey, and she'll always love you buddy."

"Yeah... she's really special..." Starsky said, "Ya know Hutch, Rosey made me realize that if I left with her, I'd have to leave ya behind," the brunet whispered, "And I couldn't do that. You're the best friend I've got in the whole world Hutch... I'd never be able to pretend that you didn't exist, that our friendship was just an illusion. My life with any lady would mean nuthin' if you weren't there to share it with me." Starsky lifted shining blue eyes to stare into the suddenly watery, sky blue depths of his partner's.

There was a palpable pause as the blond digested everything he heard, his heart overflowing from the soul-felt sentiments of his partner. The sudden silence made the dark haired detective squirm uneasily in the bed. The brunet snorted self-consciously and sheepishly smiled, feeling almost bashful from the spiel he just made.

"I don't know what to say buddy," Hutch said softly, touched by the outpouring of his partner's feelings.

"My ma always said, 'When you don't know what to say... it's best to remain silent.'" Starsky smiled, blue eyes twinkling, "I ain't never had a friend like you before Hutch... someone I can trust implicitly."

The tall blond inconspicuously rubbed the tear from the corner of his eye, feeling suddenly guilty about the note that he had never delivered to Starsky. Hutch always knew that his partner trusted him without a doubt, but now that it was so openly declared, it shamed the blond because he knew he had purposely withheld information that was so important to his partner. Perhaps if he had been honest about Rosey's call in the first place, his friend wouldn't be in a hospital recovering from a gunshot wound that nearly stole his life.

"Sometimes I don't think I deserve a friend like you," the blond whispered, seeing his partner's bewildered expression. "Maybe you trust me too much Starsk," the blond said sadly. The brunet silently searched his partner's face, reading the guilt and remorse in his friend's pale, blue eyes; suddenly understanding what his partner was feeling guilty about.

The brunet grinned lopsidedly, "If you're feelin' guilty about that message from Rosey that you never gave me, jus' don' sweat it, pal... I've known about that before I even left Bay City to come here."

Hutch looked swiftly at his partner, shock and disbelief written all over his face, "What? You knew that Rosey called the station? How? When?..."

Starsky chuckled at the incredulous look on his partner's face, "Rosey told me she spoke with me at the station and apologized for calling me there. I put two and two together and figured it was you..."

Hutch stammered, turning red as he spoke, "I-I'm sorry buddy... I should've given you the message, but..."

"But you were watchin' my back," Starsky interjected, "I was mad at first Hutch, but I knew you were just tryin' to take care of me like you usually do... that's why I didn't erase Rosey's message at my house... knew you'd figure it all out."

"Well... I wouldn't have found you so quickly if Sharon hadn't called me, pissed as hell about you being a moron." Hutch smiled at the memory, "She gave me a good piece of her mind buddy, and I called you soon after and found out you were gone."

Starsky smiled, "And here I was doin' ya a favor Blondie... sending Sharon your way to sleep with ya and give ya the time of your life, and what do you do Hutchinson? You blow it!" The dark haired man shook his head and snorted, holding onto his mid-section as both he and Hutch, began to laugh out loud, "Man," Starsky grinned sarcastically, catching his breath, "I'd sure like to see her face again."

"Well buddy," Hutch smiled, "That can be arranged you know? I still got her number and I know she'd like to see you again... Dave... Rrr" Hutch rolled the r's off of his tongue, and licked his lips, emulating that red-haired tigress to a tee.

Starsky immediately quieted down, eyes wide with apprehension, "Now Hutch... you wouldn't do that to a wounded man would ya? And anyway, doc says I can't have anything spicy for a long time, even if I am getting' outta here in a few days..."

The brunet saw the evil gleam in the pale blue eyes of his partner and the wicked smile that broke out on the blond's face, "Remember Hutch? Restricted diet and all... Hutch? Huuuuutch!"

~ Finis ~