Thirty Minutes

Chapter One

Long dark lashes hid the smoldering blue of blazing sapphires as desire and ecstasy burned its way up his fevered body. He could hear himself shamelessly moaning, her slender, deft fingers lightly skimming his sensitive flesh, trailing seductively along his body, stopping briefly to twist his hardened nipples only to proceed ever downwards to wrap around his aching manhood.

Starsky arched his back against the sweat-drenched mattress, his breath leaving him with a gasp as warm lips surrounded his cock. He could feel the slick lave of her tongue as it swiped along the slit at the tip of his rock hard shaft, probing and penetrating the small opening to extract every bit of the salty, clear liquid that continued to leak from the tender orifice.

Bolts of electricity quickly ran from the top of his throbbing manhood to spread throughout his body as muscles convulsed and limbs jerked uncontrollably from Ann's lustful ministrations. Starsky's arm shot out, nearly knocking over the water cup that stood on the nightstand and the beautiful, naked woman laughed seductively, blue eyes searing his soul as she quickly reached over to right the tottering glass of sloshing water.

"Careful stud," Ann whispered into the shell of his ear. Silky blond tendrils slid from the velvety skin of her shoulders to tickle and tease the man beneath her, sending tingles racing along his spine. "You don't want to get yourself all wet, baby; I'm wet enough for the both of us."

Starsky moaned again at the wanton image that came to his mind from her enticing words. He pushed his hips upwards, silently telling her of his body's need to join with hers. His cock, standing erect and swollen, begged impatiently as his fingers dug into the soft flesh of her buttocks. Ann smiled playfully, lifting her hips to align her moist hot center to the rigid tip of his shaft, her blue eyes twinkling impishly as she stared down at the handsome brunet thrashing between her thighs.

Starsky groaned in anticipation, feeling the heat emanating out from her slippery opening, the tip of his stiff cock ready and poised for entry into her warm, wet slit. Licking her red shiny lips Ann breathlessly whispered, "You ready to get wet, lover boy?"

Peeking out and under from the veil of his long dark lashes; Starsky's blue eyes, glazed over with passion, now widened in surprise as he saw the woman holding the glass of water over his head.

"Wake up, baby," she enticed as she tipped the glass, her voice softly fading away...


The frigid splash of water jolted the brunet awake; the pelting sting of small melting ice cubes dragged him unwillingly from the black depths where he'd finally escaped, into the dismal awareness of the here and now. Starsky bit his lip to keep from groaning as he came to. The cold water snapped circulation into his body and the dark haired detective could feel excruciating needles stabbing mercilessly throughout his battered being. Though his bruised body and aching arms screamed out for him to voice his pain, the dark haired detective stubbornly resisted the temptation.

Starsky grunted between breathless gasps, head thrown back to hang backwards between his outstretched arms, eyelids and fists clenched in agony as one of the sneering thugs used his chest as an ashtray, grinding the burning stub of the saliva wet cigarette into the already mottled flesh of the detective.

For a moment, all Starsky could hear was the loud sound of his own labored breathing until the hostile laughter enveloping him finally reached his ears, growing louder as the blinding wave of pain began to recede and his mind could once again make meaning of his surroundings. The sharp sting and stench of burning flesh made the brunet want to hurl and Starsky had to force himself to swallow down the bile that rose from the depths of his gut.

The battered brunet forced himself to open his eyes once more, blinking back the water and perspiration that blurred his vision until the rough, hewn beam and the rusty chain that bound him came into view. They'd been beating on him since they captured him in the wee morning hours of the night, stripping away his jacket and shirt and stringing him from the rafters of the warehouse.

His bare feet struggled to gain purchase on the slippery concrete floor amid the hostile taunts and jeers surrounding him. The weary detective allowed his head to droop once more between his aching arms; dark curls dripping water to add to the shallow puddle beneath him. Although he seemed incoherent, Starsky's mind kept vigil over the bastards who took him, alertly listening to them as they continued to joke and laugh around him, bantering lewdly with one another as they lit up more cigarettes and took swigs of whiskey from the bottle they jovially passed around. It seemed the thugs were taking a much-needed break from their brutal sport of torture and the battered cop was thankful for the brief respite.

Starsky closed long dark lashes, his chest and ribcage heaved with every ragged breath that he drew in. The tendons and joints in his shoulders and arms felt like they were tearing from the weight of his dangling body and for the millionth time, Starsky silently berated himself for his stupidity and impulsiveness that got him into this dangerous predicament in the first place.

Dobey's gonna skin me alive, the captured detective thought, knowing he'd broken every rule in a cop's book about doing a stakeout alone. He wasn't even supposed to be on last night, but the thought of Hutch being under and alone with these hoodlums scared the shit out of Starsky. For months now, he and Steve Parker, another detective in the precinct, had done surveillance along with another team, taking turns to watch Hutch's back as he went undercover to infiltrate the ring of treacherous gunrunners. Over the months, posing as one of their own, the tall blond had earned the renegades' trust and respect positioning himself at the top of the group's hierarchy right under Ox, the leader of the operation.

Starsky wearily sighed, feeling the blood dripping from his temple to pool in a sticky mess in the groove of his collarbone. He should have been more careful. He should have stayed by the car, hidden behind the large crates that lined the docks by the shipping lanes; but he'd grown careless over the duration of the case, taking chances where he normally wouldn't have, growing recklessly confident as the case drew rapidly to a close. In a day or two, all of this would have been over and Hutch could have come home safe and sound.

If Starsky could, he would have kicked himself for jeopardizing the completion of Hutch's hard work. But at the time, he'd just wanted to catch a glimpse through the binoculars of his blond partner, needing to know that Hutch was alive and well.

Thinking back to his capture, Starsky realized it had taken a moment for the hard tip of the gun to even register as it dug into his back, and the sharp blow to the side of his head came out of nowhere, spinning him face first into the darkness that claimed him. Now he was here, the center of all this unwanted attention, the proverbial punching bag for these brutal derelicts that took great joy in inflicting pain.

The only positive light that continued to shine in this whole circus of agony and humiliation was that Hutch hadn't seen him yet. Ironically, Hutch wasn't even at the warehouse last night when they got the jump on the dark haired cop. Starsky hoped that his partner would stay away, but he knew it was only a matter of time before Hutch would find him strung up like a bloody side of beef. The brunet knew it would kill the sensitive blond to see him like this and Starsky hoped and prayed that Hutch wouldn't blow his cover to save his partner's stupid ass.

The obnoxious bantering of the ruffians stopped altogether as all heads turned towards the annoying sound of metal scraping on metal; the portal of the warehouse sliding open to reveal a large dark shadow silhouetted against the bright rays of the morning sun.

The short Mexican who crushed his cigarette stub into Starsky's chest stood up on stocky legs. "He's here. Finally." 'Berto said, quickly lighting another cigarette that he pulled from the pocket of his denim vest. "Hey, mi amigo! We caught a surprise for you, Ox."

The bulky shadow took a few steps into the dark interior of the warehouse as two of his men slid the metal door closed. Starsky listened to the crunch of footsteps drawing closer, his labored breathing picking up speed as he prepared himself for round two.

"What do you mean he hasn't shown up yet?" Hutch asked; worry lines marring his forehead. His large hand clutched tighter around the handle of the phone. "He and Parker were staked out behind the loading docks, keeping an eye on the warehouse. I could have sworn I saw the unmarked car parked there the other night just before I left." Hutch quickly glanced around the docks from his squatting position in the cramped phone booth as he listened to the deep voice on the other end of the line.

"What? You saw the car there? Starsky wasn't scheduled to be there last night, Hutch." Dobey said frowning. "Damnit! He probably went out again without back up."

"Without back up?" Hutch repeated, his voice rising in panic. Yet the blond knew his partner wouldn't be above that kind of disobedient behavior; especially because Starsky didn't like the idea that his partner was under and alone. "Damn, I told him not to do that again." The tall blond rolled his pale blue eyes in annoyance, remembering how he'd busted Starsky snooping around alone a few months ago.

Dobey said sarcastically. "You seem to have the same problem, if I recall right. Anyway, how's it going, Hutch? Everything still on schedule?"

Hutch frowned, feeling the tightness in the muscles along his back. Taking a deep breath in, Hutch made an effort to relax the tension that never seemed to leave his body. Being undercover for so long and mixing with murderous criminals could do that to anyone. "Yeah. It's still going down today. The shipment is already in. We can bust them with the evidence we need to put these creeps away for a long time."

"Everything is ready on our end, Hutch. Everyone is already in place. How much time do you need?"

"I'll make my way back to the warehouse as soon as we hang up. Give me a half hour to settle back in and then you can move in."

"Good." Dobey said. "A half hour. I'll call it in now. It'll be good to get you out of there, Hutch. Maybe now we all can get some decent sleep around here and..."

"Cap?" Hutch interjected, his mind still focused on his missing partner; "What about Starsk?" He could hear the large black man sighing on the other end of the line and the sound raised the hackles along the blond's neck.

"I just called his house. No answer." Dobey said, scratching his head in frustration.

"Fuck!" Hutch snapped, dragging a hand through his overly long hair, haphazardly tousling the fine golden locks. The months spent undercover trying to crack the illegal gunrunning operation had taken a toll on the normally patient blond; his already frazzled nerves were frayed and torn.

Hutch was tired of playing the role of "Ace", the tough and foul mouthed right hand man of Ox, who organized and headed the smooth gunrunning operation, illegally gathering and shipping guns and armaments around the world. Just thinking of the huge black leader made the blond cop bite his bottom lip in worry. The things he'd seen that man do would frighten even the most hardened of criminals. If it weren't for the brief glimpses of his partner watching his back, Hutch would have been tempted to give up the assignment a long time ago.

"He didn't check in last night either, Hutch. Not that he had to. Like I said, the idiot wasn't even supposed to be on shift." Dobey reminded, mumbling under his breath.

The blond detective could feel the cold finger of fear running up his spine as he thought of his missing partner. "M-maybe he's on his way to the station. Maybe you just missed him," Hutch said hopefully, the slight stammering in his sentence giving away the sudden anxiety the undercover cop felt deep within his gut.

Dobey closed his eyes in vexation. "If he is on his way to the station, he's not answering his radio." He could hear the worry in Hutch's voice and it echoed his own. "I'm sending someone over to his apartment right now." Dobey said grimly.

"What the hell, Captain?" the tall blond growled, pale blue eyes scanning the deserted docks for imminent danger while his mind raced, unconsciously reaching out to mentally connect with his missing partner. He didn't need this right now, not when things were coming to a head, not when he could finally wake up from this living nightmare.

"We just gotta stay calm, see the case through to the end!" Dobey said, worry sharpening the tone of his voice. "Look, there's no need to panic, Hutch. Knowing Starsky, he's probably out eating a burger. As soon as he gets his butt in, he and I will make it down to the docks. We wouldn't miss this bust for the world."

Hutch sighed, running his free hand tiredly over his face, taking in a calming breath though his gut continued to churn with anxiety. "Okay. I'm heading back to the warehouse," the weary blond said, glancing at his wristwatch. "Give me three minutes and then send in the troops a half an hour later."

"Got it." Dobey said, glancing at his watch to synchronize the timing.

"See you in a bit." Hutch said with a smile, ready to hang up the phone, only to stop when he heard his Captain call out.


"Yeah, Cap?"

"Be careful."

The handsome undercover cop snorted softly, "Will do. And when Starsky finally shows up, give him a kick in the ass for me would you?

Large, rough hands brutally grabbed a handful of curly dark hair plastered down with perspiration, forcing back the drooping head to rest once more upon aching shoulders and arms pulled taunt with the weight of his own dangling body. Hideous bruises of various shades mottled the sweat-drenched torso of the shirtless detective; horrific evidence of the abuse the brunet had already suffered at the hands of his captors.

Starsky gasped feeling a jolt of pain burning its way through his battered being, igniting a fiery path that raced down the sides of his straining neck to the small of his back. The dark haired cop blinked back the perspiration that spiked his long lashes, breathing hard through his nose as he tried to clear the haziness from his mind. His jaw clenched tighter in an effort to keep himself from groaning. There was no way in hell he would give these malicious bastards the satisfaction of hearing his pain if he could prevent it.

"I am not a very patient man, so I am going to ask you only one more time. Who the fuck are you?"

At the bound man's continued silence, Ox continued, his voice low and menacing. "You a cop, boy? Is that what you were you doing with those binoculars? Spyin' on us, bitch?" the black man asked in a deceptively soft voice. "What the fuck were you lookin' for, huh?"

Dazed blue eyes squinted at the vague, blurry shape standing before him. Starsky shook his head to clear the cobwebs, droplets of sweat and water spraying out from his tousled curls. The other goons formed a loose circle behind the huge black man, taunting the detective with laughter and lewd remarks.

Breathing hard, Starsky forced himself to sneer cockily at his tormentors, the blue of his eyes glittering like ice as he stared them all down. "You. Was... lookin' for you..." The brunet paused to drag in a labored breath and continued. "The zoo said that... the ugly gorilla escaped... thought I... found it." Starsky nodded in the direction of Ox, smiling derisively when his derogatory comment angered the black man.

Ebony eyes narrowed and Ox glared murderously at the bound man. For a minute silence enshrouded the warehouse as 'Berto and the others held their breaths in anticipation, but Ox surprised them all when he calmly walked behind the brunet and then chuckled ominously. Nodding to his men over Starsky's shoulder, the big black man said, "Boys, looks like this prick needs more lessons."

Starsky groaned as the gunrunners took turns jabbing him in the sides and mid-section with their huge meaty fists, laughing as the bound man spun crazily from the rusty chains attached to the ceiling of the abandoned warehouse, the twisted ropes binding his numb hands were cutting into his already bleeding wrists. Starsky gasped, his breathing short and erratic, trying to suck in air to replenish what was expelled from the force of the blows. Raucous laughter filled the room, adding to the hammering that thundered within the brunet's skull.

"Enough!" The sharp, low growl was called out from somewhere, but it was hard to tell from which direction the voice came since the chains that held Starsky were still twisting his aching body. The dark haired detective vaguely heard the familiar sounds of the door sliding open once more, but he was too hurt to lift his head to see who it was and too tired to even care. The dizzying rotation made his guts want to heave.

Callous fingers cruelly dug into Starsky's side bringing the nauseating spin to a sudden halt. The detective forced himself to swallow down the sour bile that threatened to spew out. The now unraveled chains swayed almost gently with his body weight, adding to the flaring pain that increased ten fold in his shoulders and arms. His pummeled body screamed out in agony and the brunet valiantly blinked back the black spots that swam before his eyes, threatening to push Starsky over the edge of consciousness as he dazedly stared at the damp floor beneath him.

The exhausted brunet could hear footsteps coming towards him as he struggled to stay awake; shiny, black, steel-toed boots came into view. The polished handle of a bat materialized out of nowhere and tipped his chin back revealing the burly black man, arms thick and sleeved in tattoos. His head, shaven clean and bald, shone from the waning light coming from the unwashed windows of the warehouse. Heavy gold chains adorned his stocky neck and a massive onyx ring wrapped around his thick index finger on the same hand that loosely held the bat. A long scar ran from temple to jaw along the dark man's face emphasizing the dangerous glint in his ebony eyes. The bald man smirked at the battered brunet, then chuckled at the defiance and rage he still read in the glaring sapphire colored orbs. The black man quieted until the only sound in the room was the erratic heavy breathing that came from the bound man.

The crack of a hand across his face nearly sent Starsky under again, but the stubborn brunet fought back the waves of darkness. Blinking away the black dots that swam in his peripheral vision, Starsky raised his head once more. Slivers of blue lifted to see the bald man smiling widely, gaping holes where missing teeth should be made Starsky think of grinning Jack-o-lanterns on a dark Halloween night.

"No, my friend," the black man whispered threateningly to the dazed brunet. "You will not pass out on me again." The bat's handle under his chin pushed in until it pressed menacingly against Starsky's throat. "Not until you tell me what I need to know." Ox roughly slid the bat away and grinned as the dark haired prisoner wearily dropped his head once more.

"What the FUCK is goin' on?" a familiar voice, hardened and gruff, breached the fuzzy haze in Starsky's mind. A feeling of dread and despair quickly replaced the fear Starsky had kept contained throughout his capture and ordeal. Footsteps made their way to the front of the room and Starsky closed his eyes in anguish.

Hutch. No. The bound man silently groaned. Starsky didn't need to lift his head to know his partner was in the room. He could already "feel" Hutch there; feel the waves of worry and hurt and anger coming from the outraged blond as he stared at the broken man before him. Starsky kept his eyes closed, refusing to lift his head, as Hutch's intense feelings bombarded the brunet's already battered soul.

"Ace! Dude, it's about time you got here, man," 'Berto called out jovially, a lit cigarette hanging from his bottom lip. "Today is Christmas and we have a present for you. It's play time, buddy!"

Hutch swallowed, the Adam's apple in his throat convulsed as he stared at his strung up partner. Starsky's head was lowered so he couldn't tell if his friend was even conscious, but if he had to guess by looking at the brunet's bruised and burnt torso he would have sworn his partner was out for the count.

It sickened the blond to see his friend so battered and brutalized. Anger surged within as Hutch wondered how long Starsky had been enduring the abuse from these lunatics. He knew he should have made his way over to the unmarked car last night before leaving, but the blond cop was sure that the surveillance team would have left soon after he was gone. That's how they always did it in the past. Hutch pushed down the guilt and remorse that wanted to overtake him and replaced those useless feelings with the hard veneer of "Ace", the role he'd perfected over the long months of undercover work.

"Where the fuck did you get this side o' beef?" Hutch rasped, his lip curling back in a sneer as he turned to face his leader who calmly palmed the head of the bat. The sight of the thick wooden weapon in the hands of the black man made the blond inconspicuously shiver with dread. Hutch turned to look back at his bound partner, noting the bruises that covered Starsky's bared torso. The fair haired detective quickly swallowed down the anger that once again flared to the forefront as he struggled to get it together. Now was not the time to blow it. He needed to be level headed and cool if he was to get both Starsky and himself out of here in one piece.

Ox grinned, the whiteness of his teeth emphasizing the gaps in his gums. "The boys found this son of a bitch snooping around. We were just tryin' to get the stubborn ass to spill his guts when you came moseyin' in. Where the hell ya been, bro'?" The black man tossed Hutch the bat and the blond deftly caught it in one hand.

Hutch opened his mouth to reply, but it was soon forgotten as two more of Ox's men came into the warehouse, forcefully sliding the metal door behind them. "We found it boss," Charlie said excitedly. "His car was parked behind the crates near the shipping lanes. Found this stashed in the glove compartment." Charlie tossed the worn wallet to the big black man who opened it with a flick of his wrist.

"Well, well..." Ox grinned, lifting his eyes from the badge that glinted in the sparse light of the warehouse. "Looky here, we got ourselves a pig!"

Chapter Two

"Answer me, you fuck!"

The sharp crack of Ox's meaty fist whipped the brunet's head to the side, the big onyx ring splitting the bottom lip of the bound man.

Hutch angrily twisted the handle of the bat to keep himself from reacting; his hands were sweaty and tense. The blond watched as Starsky lifted his head once more to glare contemptuously at Ox before spitting out the blood that filled his mouth, aiming for and splattering the face of the large black man.

"You piece of shit!" Ox growled, wiping the blood from his cheek. Turning to 'Berto he snapped, "Bring it!"

Hutch felt sick as the short Mexican hurried to get the equipment they stored in the back of the warehouse, already knowing what they were going to do to Starsky. The tall blond shifted his pale blue eyes to his partner who refused to look at him, not once making eye contact; avoiding any and all connection that Hutch so desperately needed.

Hutch knew what Starsky was doing; the stubborn brunet knew him too well, and Starsky was right to keep their bond severed. One look was all it would take for Hutch to break his cover and take his chances at saving his partner. Starsky would do everything in his power to not jeopardize the case. They both knew they had worked too long and too hard on busting these scumbags, yet it killed Hutch to just stand there and do nothing while his partner was suffering at the hands of these creeps.

The dark haired cop hung his head between his outstretched arms while Ox walked over to the bucket of water and washed the blood from the large onyx stone that bejeweled his finger. Hutch stared at his bound friend, watching his partner's chest rise and fall heavily with each heaving breath, hoping to see just a glimpse of the familiar blue of his partner's eyes. The creaking of the rolling cart snapped Hutch's head around, fear racing up the blond's spine.

Oh God, Starsk.

He'd seen them do this once before, torturing one of their own men who had turned snitch. Once they got their hands on him, the malicious gunrunners derived sadistic pleasure from their crude means of extracting information before the screaming man nearly died from one too many jolts. The blond warily eyed the battery and cables that sat on the top of the cart, his mind racing as he tried to think of a way to get them safely out of this. Hutch glanced at his wristwatch; only thirteen minutes had passed since he'd first walked into this living nightmare.

Thirteen minutes.

Seventeen minutes to go before the Calvary would show. Hutch knew lot of irreparable damage could be done in seventeen minutes to his already wounded partner. Seventeen minutes was an eternity right now and pending on whether or not Dobey and his reinforcements made their move on time, Starsky's living hell might go on even longer.


The grinning Mexican rolled the cart over to Starsky's side. The men watched in anticipation as Ox stood from his crouch near the bucket and casually walked over to the cart, idly picking up the sponges that lay near the cables. The blond cop bit his lower lip in trepidation. He had to do something and he had to do it now!

Hutch glanced once more at his partner and was surprised to see Starsky looking straight at him, dark blue eyes filled with the same tension and fear that mirrored his own. The slight shake of Starsky's head made the undercover cop realize that his partner was reading him again, inconspicuously telling him to not do anything stupid to jeopardize the case. Hutch stared at his partner, the horrific reality of what was to come sinking in as the brunet turned away once more, unable to keep the connection, refusing to have his fair haired counterpart share in his agony.

Hutch let out a breath, unaware he was even holding it as the bucket of water was dragged over and the sponges were saturated. 'Berto made a show of putting on a rubber apron and rubber gloves as he puttered over his torture devices. No, no, no. This can't be happening. Hutch's mind refused to accept what was transpiring right before his eyes, his hands flexing helplessly around the bat.

"No one can withstand this for very long, so you might as well spare yourself the pain and spill your guts now, cop." Ox grinned, tapping the side of the battery. "Tell me! What were you searching for? Our guns?" The large black man shrewdly eyed his dark haired captive who glared back with all the hate he could muster.

Hutch took a few steps forward as Ox walked closer to Starsky, wanting to protect his vulnerable partner, but unable to do so without breaking his cover. Starsky lowered his head again to hang between his outstretched arms, but Hutch knew by the tension that rippled throughout his partner's body that the brunet was very much aware of everything happening around him.

"Hmmm. Maybe it's not only the weapons you're after. Maybe you know someone here? Someone who's pretending to be one of us?" Ox glanced over at his men, suspicion flaring in the dark depths of his eyes; his angry gaze passing over each of his men to finally lock upon the tall blonde who stood a few steps away. "Maybe we have another pig in our midst, an inside man."

"Look, you... son of a bitch," Starsky growled in a low voice, blue eyes blazing in pain and fury as he lifted his head to glare at the huge black man. Inwardly, the brunet quaked with fear knowing intuitively that Hutch was in danger. His partner wouldn't be in this situation if Starsky hadn't totally fucked up. The curly haired cop knew he needed to take away the attention from Hutch, but it would surely cost him. Breathing heavily, Starsky eyed the black man with scorn. "Can we just... get on with the program here?" the brunet rasped sarcastically. "Hanging... with you assholes... jus' ain't my cup of tea."

Ox laughed at the injured man's bravado, a glimmer of respect shone from the intense blackness of his eyes. "You are either very brave, or very stupid, my friend," the tattooed bald man said, walking even closer to Starsky only to stumble back with an ear splitting curse as the bound man sucked in his breath and kicked out at his captor, fists grabbing onto the length of chain that wrapped around his wrists to lift himself up and out, stomach muscles clenching in agony as he put all that was left of his depleted strength behind his kick.

"YOU FUCK!" Ox screamed, falling hard on his ass as the brunet's strong muscular legs connected hard with the tender groin of the black man. Ox's large hands grabbed the hefty sac hanging between his legs, gingerly clutching onto his aching balls that now flared with agony. "I'm gonna kill you, you fuckin' pig, gonna fry you until your eyes pop out!" Hutch and two other men hurried over to help the black man to his feet, but Oz angrily shrugged off their attempts to lift him up and violently pushed them out of his way.

"Hook him up now!" the black man ordered, watching as 'Berto carefully connected the cables to the battery's terminal then clipped a sopping wet sponge to the other end. Hutch's pale blue eyes widened with horror as 'Berto nodded to the man standing closest to the bucket of water and grinned when the contents were tossed upon the hanging man, dousing Starsky thoroughly, water dripping from his body to the slippery floor beneath his bare feet.

Though the bound man attempted to brace himself, nothing could prepare Starsky for the jolting stab of lightening that arced its way through his body, burning through muscles clenched in pain as it ran up the conduit to his brain. Contorting and pulling against the chains that held him, Starsky cried out; his body unable to stop convulsing as currents of electricity seared his whole being.

Hutch clenched the handle of the bat and closed his eyes in agony, unable to bear the sounds of his partner's guttural screams as it tore into his soul. The gruesome image of Starsky's wet hanging body, contorting in pain, burned behind the dark screen of the blond's eyelids making Hutch want to throw up, his own body reacting violently to the suffering he was witnessing until 'Berto mercifully yanked the wet sponge pressed against his partner's sternum.

Starsky gasped, trying to bring air into his burning lungs, his throat raw from crying out, his body still shuddering as remnant spasms of electrical current still made its way out of his body. Waves of darkness swam in his peripheral vision and Starsky shook his head to clear his dazed thoughts, his breathing labored and ragged.

Unable to help himself, Starsky shifted his eyes to his partner's seeking the comfort he so desperately needed. The pain and frustration reflected in the familiar blue eyes of Hutch drove home again to the brunet how stupid he was to risk both their lives by not following the rules. I'm sorry, buddy, the weary detective thought dazedly, blinking water from long lashes that framed the cobalt blue of his eyes.

"Feel good, pig?" Ox grinned with malice, his dark eyes gleaming with sadistic pleasure as he stared at the hurt detective. "'Berto is muy bueno with his toys, knows how to make a man scream!" Ox chuckled maliciously, the lingering ache and burn in his testicles dictating his next decision. "You ready for more, cop?" the dark man taunted. "This time, I'm gonna have 'Berto fry your balls, just like you did to mine. Gonna make you feel real good..."

"AHH FUCK!" Hutch snapped, blue eyes flashing silver daggers as he eyed the men around him. "I'm fuckin' sick of you panty wipes! This ain't no way to get information from a pig. To think I'm fuckin' associated with you pussies makes me wanna puke!"

The rowdy bunch of gunrunners stepped back nervously as Hutch stepped forward, the bat swinging lightly in the palm of his hand. They knew first hand how crazy the blond could get when he got angry. Ace had a reputation that preceded him and he was known in the underground organizations for his unstable demeanor. More than one man in the room had suffered a broken rib or two from Ace's adeptness with the bat as a weapon. Everyone knew the tall blond liked it rough, liked to get in close; hand to hand or a simple weapon was Ace's preference in a fight. Getting in close took balls and Ace said many times that that was the way to prove your manhood. The men respected the ferociousness of the ill-tempered blond; it was what made him move up the ranks so quickly until he became the trusted right hand of Ox himself.

"What? This works all the time, man," 'Berto said defensively as he eyed Ace who came up even closer. "I mean, a few jolts of this and..."

"SHUT THE FUCK UP, YOU LOUSY SPIC," Hutch snarled, picking up the bat and abruptly bashing the top of the battery, barely missing 'Berto's rubber gloved hand. The other men jumped back as Ace went off the deep end.

"What the fuck, man?" 'Berto whined, stepping back from the menacing blond who swung the bat crazily in the air before bashing the side of the metal cart, tipping it over in the process, the battery falling loudly to the cement floor.

"Easy, Ace!" Ox said in a soothing whisper, knowing how his right hand man could snap if provoked. "Take it easy, my friend." The black man walked over and laid his large hand on Hutch's shoulder, sending shivers of repulsion running down the blond's spine at the gunrunner's touch.

Ace angrily shrugged off his leader's hand and walked over to the bound captive whose head was down again, dark curls still dripping water. "This fuckin' pig needs a lesson. What's a little jolt of electricity gonna teach this bastard, huh? Hutch turned his icy glare on the men who stood behind them, until they lowered their eyes uncomfortably. "You guys act like a bunch of broads, hanging him up like this so he can't fight back. What the fuck?" Hutch turned to look at Starsky and tipped the brunet's chin up with the handle of the bat.

Hutch grounded himself as familiar blue eyes filled with pain and resentment made contact with his own. The tall blond forced himself to keep his hand from trembling, to keep his eyes from growing soft as Starsky stared dazedly back at him, the trickle of blood that ran from the corner of the brunet's mouth made Hutch want to draw his partner in, made him want to hold and comfort the shuddering brunet.

Starsky blinked back the stingy perspiration that blurred his vision until it cleared and Hutch stood before him. The dark haired detective swallowed then smiled wearily, feeling the anxiety leaving his battered body. His befuddled mind tried to make meaning of what just happened. All he knew was that Hutch was here.

He was safe now.

It was over.

Starsky let out a shaky breath; the color of his eyes softening to lavender-blue, almost closing with the exhaustion that wanted to overtake him. The brunet could feel himself letting down his defenses; longing to hear the soothing voice of his partner, needing to feel the comforting touch of his hand. Starsky swallowed again, his throat dry. He licked his cracked lips, his half-mast eyes never leaving the familiar form that stood before him. If he could have, Starsky would have reached out to the tall blond, but all he could do was call out to him, his voice hoarse and raspy. "Hut..."

The slap across his face came out of nowhere, slamming the brunet's head against his raised arm, effectively silencing him once more as he tried to gather his bearings and clear the confusion that filled his mind.

"What a fuckin' loser!" Ace sneered, turning his back on Starsky to look at Ox and the others, his eyes turning to molten steel, his heart breaking into a million pieces. He knew Starsky was disoriented and dazed and it killed Hutch to strike the brunet when his best friend needed him most, when he was trying to call out to the one person he always depended on. Though the tall blond continued his ruse as Ace, Hutch silently berated himself, unable to bear the look of hurt confusion on Starsky's face.

Hutch pushed down the agony that was tearing him up inside and continued his rant in a rough voice filled with derision. "You mean to tell me you idiots wasted this whole fuckin' time and you couldn't get this asshole to spill his guts?" The tall blond turned to the Mexican, curling his lip with contempt. "You cowards make me sick, using these kinds of fancy contraptions because you don't wanna dirty your hands and do the job the right way! And you call yourselves men?" Hutch snapped, gesturing with the tip of his bat at the toppled battery and cables.

"Well, Ace," Ox said calmly. "What would you have done differently?" The huge black man kept one eye trained on the bat, knowing how unpredictable his short-tempered friend could be. "It's obvious this pig has been scoping out our operation, that he knows about the shipment; but I think there's more to this. I think that he might have someone on the inside..."

"Yeah?" Hutch angrily interjected. "Who?" The blond eyed those around him, his voice demanding and threatening. At the uneasy silence that filled the room, Hutch snorted derisively. "You're all a bunch of chickens, that's what you are!"

Hutch turned back to look once more at his hurting partner, almost glad to see that Starsky had finally closed his eyes, long dark lashes pressed tightly against sweaty cheeks. "A quick little jolt of juice every now and then ain't gonna get nuthin' outta this guy. You can see he's a stubborn piece a shit! He needs something long lasting, more crippling, something he can take with him to his grave."

Hutch swung the bat over his shoulder and inconspicuously glanced at his watch. Eight minutes passed! Just eight minutes from the last time he looked at his wrist.


"Yeah? Like what? Why don't you demonstrate for us your skill with the bat, Ace," Ox enticed, his dark eyes gleaming in anticipation, knowing how his blond counterpart could pulverize anything with a bat in his hand and make a good showing of it too. As the leader of this pack of renegades, the black man shrewdly knew how to use people to instill fear in his men and Ace always did an exceptional job of that.

Sweat beaded the brow of the blond detective, his head raced as the seconds ticked off in his mind. Hutch knew he needed to buy his partner and himself some time. In nine minutes, if all went well, Dobey would be here and he needed to be ready to get Starsky out before all hell broke loose.

Hutch forced himself to grin insanely at the others, a feral gleam coming to the frozen chill of his eyes. "My pleasure, Ox. I'll break him for you. Easily. Today, you fuckers are gonna see how a real man works." Ace said smugly to the crew of wary hoodlums who stood around silently watching the blond.

Hutch turned to look at Starsky once more and was surprised to see him staring back, a glint of firm determination in the cobalt depths of the eyes he knew so well. He could see that Starsky was more coherent now, the brunet understanding what was going down. Hutch knew then that Starsky would suck it up and take whatever he dished out to protect his cover and that thought sickened the fair-haired cop.

He could feel the eyes of the others shooting daggers into his back, but it didn't matter to Hutch. He hated them all and a part of him wished he held his Magnum instead of the bat so that he could blast them away for what they did his partner. Hutch pushed down the raging anger that boiled to the surface so that he could think clearly. He knew the gunrunners couldn't see his face and for a second all Hutch wanted to do was expose his true feelings to his partner. The tall blond allowed his pale blue eyes to soften to the color of the sky revealing the worry and fear and love he felt towards his best friend; pleading silently for forgiveness for what he needed to do to get them out alive.

Starsky could feel his eyes start to mist over as he looked at Hutch, feeling his partner's inner turmoil and pain. The dark haired cop blinked rapidly forcing himself to stay strong, shifting his eyes downwards so that Hutch wouldn't see how his gaze affected him. Starsky knew this whole charade was killing Hutch. Shit, this was killing him, too. He also knew Hutch had a plan up his sleeve, though what it was he had no clue. But whatever it was, Starsky was determined to help and make it as easy as possible on his partner.

"What the fuck?" 'Berto snapped impatiently, "Get on with it, gringo. Show us what a tough man you are!"

Starsky lifted dark blue eyes to the short Mexican and then shifted it back to the blond who ignored 'Berto altogether as if the stocky man didn't exist. The brunet glared at his partner, needing to snap Hutch out of his pensiveness.

The blond could feel his partner's anxious stare and he struggled to shake off his guilt ridden conscious. "Shut the fuck up, 'Berto, or I'll wrap those cables around your fat neck and hang you from the ceiling!" Hutch threatened, making the stocky man gulp down his sudden fear.

The tall blond gunrunner turned to his captive. "You think you're tough, huh? Tell me what you were lookin' for? You have someone working undercover here?" Hutch goaded the brunet, stepping back into the role of Ace although his eyes continued to speak volumes, expressing what his words could not.

The handsome blond tapped the bat threateningly into the palm of his other hand as he stepped closer to the brunet. "Listen to me, cop. You and me are gonna make a go of it and you ain't gonna pass out on me. Y'hear me, pig? You're gonna hang on, hang by those chains that got you strung up, because all hell's gonna break loose real soon." Hutch made a show of glancing at his watch.

Five minutes left!

Hutch looked hard at his partner and growled, "Let's see you stubborn ass... five minutes, that's what I'll give you. It'll take five minutes for me to break you, and you're gonna wish you were never born if you don't open your fuckin' trap and tell us what we want to know now!"

Starsky shook his head to clear his mind, knowing Hutch was trying to tell him something. Dark blue eyes wearily searched his partner's face and the dark haired cop could see how difficult it was for Hutch to remain distant and removed, struggling to keep up the pretense of a cold and calculating murderer when in reality, he knew that his best friend had the sensitive soul of a poet.

Starsky forced himself to sneer derisively at his partner, "I ain't tellin' ya nuthin'... so why don't... you and that gorilla... go fuck yourselves!"

"Break the mother fucker's ribs," Ox said with a smirk. "I want you to hit it outta the ball park. I wanna hear the sound of his bones cracking!"

Starsky could see the indecision and hesitation in Hutch as the blond closed his eyes in anguish; pale lashes hiding the pained expression in his sky blue eyes. The others could only see the strong back of his partner, but Starsky had a front row seat to the play of emotions passing over Hutch's countenance. Ace wouldn't flinch at the thought of killing a cop, but too many seconds were going by with Hutch doing nothing at all. He knew Hutch's cover was gonna soon break under the stress he was under.

Straightening himself as best he could, Starsky hardened the look in his own eyes and glared heatedly at Hutch, sending out vibes he knew Hutch would "feel" until the blond looked at him once more. Different shades of blue connected then merged as silent communication passed between the detectives.

"Go on," Starsky goaded, his voice raspy and worn, his eyes scorching the blond with sapphire flames. "Show me... what you got, prick!" the dark haired detective urged.

Hutch could hear the men snickering behind him; he could feel Ox breathing down his neck, expecting his orders to be carried out. He could feel his partner's heated gaze, knowing Starsky was trying to make it easier for him. His damp hands clenched tightly around the handle of the slippery bat.

Starsky took in a breath, watching the battle going on within his friend, knowing he needed to be pushed once more.

"I think... you might be... the biggest pansy here!" Starsky said, forcing his voice to harden. "They're all watchin'... go on... make it good, Blondie... 'cause nuthin' you do to me... is gonna make a difference!

Hutch swallowed down his despair and buried himself deep under his cover while "Ace" rose to the forefront, a malicious sneer curled the blond's lip as he angrily lifted the bat and let it swing.

An explosion of pain burst in Starsky's side, red-hot spikes flared near the bottom of his heart, causing the dark haired detective to cry out in pain, his eyes scrunching in agony as the sickening crunch of wood against bone could be heard in the sudden stillness of the warehouse. Gasping, the dark haired detective felt his rib give way, splintering under the shattering force of the bat as raucous laughter, cheers, and a high piercing whine filled his ears. The shrill wailing grew louder as waves of blackness overtook the broken brunet, dragging him under as Starsky finally gave in to the pain and exhaustion that surged and washed over him.

Breathing hard, swallowing back the bile that wanted to spew out, Hutch watched the dark head of his partner drop down to hang listlessly over his bruised chest. The tall blond blew out a breath of relief knowing Starsky had passed out. As it was, Hutch could feel his own legs trembling, wanting to buckle under so that he could fall to ground, yet the blond detective willed himself to toughen up. There was no time for remorse or guilt, no time to beat himself up over what he did to his best friend because he could already hear it; the distant sounds of sirens growing closer. He needed to think, and think fast. All hell would soon break loose and Hutch knew if he didn't play his cards right, both he and Starsky would be caught right in the middle of the war.

Chapter Three

"Yo! Shut the hell up!" Ox snapped as he strained to listen. His men became silent as they too, turned their ears to the oncoming sound of sirens reaching the docks.

"Fuck! It's the cops!" Hutch snarled, a look of feigned disbelief and anger flaring across his features. The tall blond quickly reached up to unchain his unconscious partner. "Ox, the guns!" Hutch cautioned the leader of the gunrunners, expertly playing out his role as Ace, while simultaneously masking the joy and relief that rose in his heart now that help was on the way.

"Quick, stash the guns." Ox directed. "And you Ace, take the cop out back and get rid of him. Make sure you do a good job of disposing the body. We don't need any more loose ends. Charlie, go with Ace..."

"Fuck that!" Hutch swore. "I can take care of this myself. I'll sink him in the water, then come back to help these losers." Hutch said, lifting his partner's dead weight over his shoulder, feeling relieved when he saw the large black man nodding his head in agreement.

"Charlie, get your ass over there and help the others. Lock up the front of the warehouse and move the guns to the back..."

More directives were barked out from the huge black man, but Hutch never looked back as he made his way out the rear door of the warehouse; knowing he and Starsky were all but forgotten in the frantic rush to get the cargo stashed before the police arrived.

Hutch stepped out into the bright sunlight balancing the weight of his unconscious partner over his shoulder. Hurrying to the large crates that were lining the waterfront approximately five yards away from the warehouse, the tall blond detective gently lowered his precious burden and eased his partner to the ground, propping Starsky up against the side of a wooden crate.

Hutch carefully wiped the perspiration from the brunet's brow and the trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth with the bottom of his shirt, watching intently as Starsky's long dark lashes slowly lifted to reveal dazed blue orbs filled with pain and confusion. "Take it easy, buddy." Hutch whispered.

"Hu... Hutch. Th-that you?" Starsky gasped, wearily searching the familiar face that hovered above his own.

"Yeah, it's me, Starsk." Hutch assured, gently running his hand through the dark profusion of curls on his partner's head. The blond smiled as one errant lock clung to his little finger, his heart heavy with the guilt he was carrying inside. He knew his partner was dazed and befuddled, but to think that Starsky had to even question if it was really him, and not Ace, made the blond detective bow his head sadly. In his mind, Hutch could still hear the sickening crunch of bone as his partner's ribs gave way beneath the sturdy wood of the bat. It hurt him terribly to know that he caused his best friend even more pain than what Starsky had already had suffered at the hands of the gunrunners. The tall blond detective shook his head in denial as he looked at Starsky's battered side, the bruising already spreading out across the brunet's abdomen. "God Starsk, I'm so..."

Instantly, Hutch stopped in mid-sentence, watching helplessly as Starksy suddenly arched his back and groaned at the stabbing that flared in his left side, his eyes scrunching closed as he tried to breathe through the pain. The dark haired detective pressed his hand against his aching ribs and Hutch quickly covered it with his own.

"Take it easy, Starsk," Hutch soothed, his heart hammering in his chest as he witnessed his friend's suffering. He felt sick inside as he watched the brunet struggling to surf through the pain that ran havoc in Starsky's body. "Hang on buddy, help is here. It's over now; it's gonna be okay." Hutch whispered, trying to keep his voice steady, using the gentle tone that he only reserved for his longtime friend.

Hutch let out the breath he was unconsciously holding once his partner slumped against the crate, mercifully being released from the devastating claws of agony that tore through his side. Hutch squeezed the hand he still held in his own. "Take it easy, Starsk. Just try to breathe. Help is on the way."

Starsky nodded wearily, too tired to even speak. He watched through hooded lids as the blond cautiously peeked around the edge of the crate that sheltered them, and then closed his eyes. After the darkness from the warehouse, the bright sunlight was almost too much to bear, making the brunet feel dizzy and nauseous.

The blue and red lights from the surrounding black and whites squad cars fronting the warehouse flashed around the edges of the structure they'd just escaped from, reassuring Hutch that Dobey was truly a man of his word. Thirty minutes. Thirty minutes had passed and they had made it by the skin of their teeth.

Thirty minutes...

Just a half hour...

And yet, for them, it had been an eternity...

"You... in the warehouse. This is the police! Come out with your hands over your heads!" the booming voice of Captain Dobey could be heard over the bullhorn, filling Hutch's heart with gladness and reassurance. The weak tug on his shirt caused the blond to look down at his partner whose fist held on tightly to the frayed edge.

"H-Hutch?" Starsky gasped, dark lashes lifting to reveal a sliver of blue. The brunet coughed and struggled to draw in a breath, grimacing with pain. Hutch quickly shifted his body behind his partner's, gently leaning Starsky against the wall of own his chest to support him and allow his friend to breath easier.

"I'm here, Gordo." Hutch whispered comfortingly, rubbing small circles into the brunet's shoulder until the coughing jag eased. The blond frowned as he listened to the labored breathing of his partner. Knowing that he might have broken, or fractured a rib or two of Starsky's, filled Hutch with self-loathing.

Hutch knew the damage to his partner's ribs might also be causing injury to his lungs as well; and anger flared within as he tried to think of different ways the whole scenario in the warehouse might have been played out. Yet, his one goal had been to bring them both out alive and if he had blown his cover and tried to fight all the gunrunners single-handedly, there was no way he or Starsky would be sitting here right now.

The faired-haired detective gently tightened his hold on his friend as another round of coughs plagued his dark-haired counterpart who grimaced and clutched his side to support his aching ribs. "Take it easy," Hutch soothed until the coughing finally subsided. Tired, sapphire blue orbs peeped out behind a veil of dark lashes. The tall blond detective smiled, "Hey, pal. How you doing, huh?"

"Been... better." Starsky said, his voice, but a whisper. Hutch leaned closer, feeling the need to hold his partner tighter, a surge of love and remorse filling his heart. "Wha's... happenin' huh?" the dazed brunet asked.

"The good guys finally showed up." Hutch said softly, shifting his eyes to access the damage on his partner's bruised torso. The mottled flesh and cigarette burns made the blond livid with anger.

"Y-yeah?" Starsky murmured, his breath wheezing softly. "It's a... wonder... they came at all... with that scary face... of yours."

Hutch snorted, relaxing the scowl that darkened his features. Pushing down the anger he felt within, the fair haired detective smiled when he saw the lopsided grin that tweaked his partner's lips, knowing Starsky was trying to lighten the mood with their familiar bantering.

Yet for Hutch, what they had just lived through was far from forgotten. It pained the blond to even look at his partner, knowing that he used the bat as a weapon of hurt against his friend. The anguished blond shifted his light blue eyes to Starsky's ribs, the color of his irises darkening as he stared at the horrific bruising on his partner's left side. I did that, the blond thought sickeningly, guilt and despair tearing him up inside. "Starsk, I..."

"D-Don't..." Starky gasped, closing his eyes once more, his long, dark lashes pressed tightly against his sweaty cheeks as a spasm of agony tore through his bruised and battered body, making the brunet clench his side in pain, twisting in his partner's arms; his hand fisting, clutching even tighter to Hutch's shirt.

"Easy... easy, Starsk," Hutch soothed, wishing he could take the pain away from his wheezing friend who curled in against his chest. The tall blond cop laid his chin against the dark curls and covered his partner's hand with his own, squeezing it tight until Starsky could breath again. "I gotch'ya, buddy," Hutch whispered, "I gotch'ya."

The sudden and frightening sound of bullets jolted the blond, causing him to inadvertently jostle the brunet. Starsky winced and grunted softly in pain as Hutch quickly bent over his prone partner, shielding him while a rain of gunfire exploded from the warehouse as a warning for the police to stay back. The sound of engines starting up and squealing tires made the blond raise his head once more.

The firm, but familiar voice blared out through the bullhorn again. "We are surrounding the building. You have no way to escape. Give up your guns and surrender!" Dobey demanded, as more squad cars pulled up in back of the warehouse, just fronting the crates the detectives hid behind.

Hutch wanted to shout for joy. Their luck was picking up and the tide was turning. He had wondered at first how he was going to get Starsky to the front of the warehouse where he could get the help he needed; and now help had come to them. The hacking cough and jolting body in his arms brought Hutch's attention back to his partner who struggled to catch his breath.

"Ungh," Starsky groaned softly, his right arm wrapped around his bruised midsection, his breathing labored and heavy.

"Easy, buddy. I know it hurts." Hutch whispered. The tall blond gently shifted his partner in his arms and looked over his own shoulder in the hopes of seeing any of his fellow officers coming their way. From his angle behind the crates, Hutch couldn't see much of anything. The fair haired cop shifted his eyes down to look into the familiar blue of his friend's eyes. "How you holdin' up, buddy? You okay?"

Starsky nodded wearily, feeling his bruised and broken body already shutting down as he struggled to remain conscious. It was difficult to breathe, any intake of oxygen causing his lung to spasm resulting in crippling coughs that tore him up from the inside out.

The dark haired detective blinked back the black dots that swam in front of Hutch's countenance. Starsky needed to tell Hutch how sorry he was for fucking up the way he did, for putting them both in unnecessary danger; but he was so tired and he hurt something fierce. Right now it took too much effort to think. Hell, it took too much effort to even breathe! Maybe when we get out of this mess, and I have time to catch my breath I could -- I could... Starsky tried to focus on the blue of Hutch's eyes, but everything was blurry and his mind just drifted away.

"Starsk?" Hutch said abruptly as he watched the blue of his partner's eyes roll back into his head. "Starsk?" The blond gently shook the brunet in his arms then turned his head to shout out to whoever could hear him. "Hey... HEY, we need some help back here. Get an ambulance! NOW!"

Hutch turned his attention back to his unconscious partner, his heart racing as he watched the labored rise and fall of Starsky's battered chest. Thank God, he's still breathing! He could hear several footsteps hurriedly making their way over. The fair-haired detective looked up as a shadow covered Starsky's torso.

"Oh my God, Hutch! What the hell happened here?" Steve Parker crouched down beside the blond detective who still held his wounded partner in his arms.

"I need an ambulance!" Hutch said sharply though he kept his voice soft. "He's having trouble breathing. We gotta get him to a hospital."

"Yeah," Steve said rising to his feet. "I'll call it in. I'll also radio Dobey. The captain was looking for Starsky all morning. How the hell did he..."

"They got him," Hutch interjected. "Had him strung up to the rafters by the time I got in. They worked him over..." the blond's voice trailed off, words were not needed when the visual evidence of the abuse Starsky suffered was so blatantly obvious.

"No shit!" Steve said angrily, his dark brown eyes flashing in the light of the sun. "Fuck! They sure did a number on his ribs! By the look of the bruising and swelling, I'd say that at least a couple of them are fractured or broken; it's probably why he's having trouble breathing." Without another word, the young detective who had partnered with Starsky during the months of Hutch's undercover work ran quickly back to the squad car to radio in for help.

Hutch sighed and closed his eyes, the sickening feeling of guilt flooded his being as he held his partner even tighter against his own chest, knowing his own heartbeat was somehow comforting the brunet even in his unconscious state.

Like a recurring nightmare, Hutch could still see and hear his partner screaming as currents of electricity jolted his battered body causing Starksy to dance obscenely like a puppet on a string. He could still feel his partner's ribs giving way under the crushing blow of the bat. Hutch scrunched his eyes, his head pounding under the strain of self-condemnation.

"Fuck! They sure did a number on his ribs! By the look of the bruising and swelling, I'd say that at least a couple of them are fractured or broken; it's probably why he's having trouble breathing."

The words that Parker unwittingly spewed out, only added to the overwhelming oppressiveness that plagued the exhausted blond. The sense of failing his partner increased by leaps and bounds as Hutch carefully cradled his friend, gently covering his hand over Starsky's heart if only to reassure himself that it was still beating. Heavy footsteps coming their way made Hutch look up.

"God, Hutch!" Dobey said, panting heavily as he kneeled next to his boys. "I was afraid of this." The big man quickly ran his dark eyes over the mottled torso of the brunet, gently pressing his huge hands along Starsky's sternum and ribs, silently assessing the damage done to one of his finest men.

Starsky groaned softly and shifted away from Dobey's probing hands, though his eyes never opened. "Shh, take it easy, Gordo," Hutch gently soothed his unconscious partner, whispering soft words of encouragement until the brunet stilled.

"They got him, Cap," Hutch whispered brokenly. His eyes, slivers of shining silver, drifted over to stare at the large black man. "I should've checked on him last night. I should've known something was wrong. I usually do whenever it concerns Starsk. I-I can somehow feel when he's in danger, but this time I... I didn't feel anything. Shit, I didn't even think anything! I just assumed that Starsky's shift would leave the docks once I did, and I..."

"Hutch!" Dobey interjected firmly, his soft brown eyes growing hard. "Hutch, that's enough, son. None of this is your fault. There is no blame here; your conduct has always been above reproach." Dobey turned his head in the direction of oncoming sirens and then turned to look at the guilt-ridden cop.

"We don't have time for guilty feelings." Dobey continued, heaving himself to his feet. "You got him out and the ambulance is on its way. Take your partner to the hospital, Hutch. I have a warehouse full of punks that needs to be put away." The large black man sighed wearily, glancing once more at the wounded brunet. "He's gonna be fine, Hutch. You and I both know he's lived through worse."

The weary blond nodded, "Yeah. I know. He'll be okay. He has nine lives right?"

Harold Dobey softly snorted in reference to their jokes about Starsky's life resembling that of a cat's, and then turned to the young detective standing just behind him; his voice was gruff and business-like once more as he snapped, "Parker, have them take out the smoke bombs and get them loaded. We got some stinkin' rats to clear outta this barn!"

Hutch stirred the liquid that was slowly coming to boil. The delicious aroma of chicken soup filling the air in the small space of Starsky's kitchen was both soothing and healing to the weary detective.

The handsome blond smiled tiredly. After eight days of being tied to the hospital, it was good to finally be home again where Starsky could get some real rest. No doctors coming in at all hours to prod and probe, no visitors with well wishes, no nurses to monitor temperatures or heartbeats, adjust IV drips, or record data on charts. It was just Starsky and him.

'Me and thee.'

Hutch smiled as he ladled the steaming soup into the shallow bowl, glancing out the kitchen window at the darkening sky. The fair haired detective yawned tiredly and then smiled, feeling thankful to be home and not out working the streets that he was growing to hate.

Humming softly to himself, Hutch opened the oven door and took a peek at the garlic bread that was just about finished baking, the enticing smell wafting into the air. He's gonna love this! the blond thought excitedly, slipping the oven mitts on to remove the hot cookie sheet from the oven rack, only to place it on top of the range to cool.

Cooking, baking, and playing the role of domestic homemaker was something Hutch relished and missed over the months in his role as "Ace." Thinking of his undercover persona made the blond frown angrily; the face of Oz coming to the forefront of his mind; taking Hutch back to the last few minutes at the warehouse when the gunrunners begrudgingly came out with their hands on the top of their heads, smoke from the bombs making everyone's eyes tear.

But it was the angry bloodshot glare of Ox that Hutch would never forget. The huge black man started shouting in rage the minute he saw Hutch standing by the gurney that carried Starsky. Even now, in the quiet and peaceful lull of the kitchen, Hutch could hear the black man cursing, his mind drifting back to that horrific day...

"You FUCKER! I should'a known it was you!" Oz snapped, rushing in rage towards the blond, his thick tattooed arms pumping to propel him forward as several uniformed police officers quickly apprehended the bald black man and dragged him down to the ground.

"I'm gonna kill ya, Ace! Y'hear me? You're a walking dead man!" Ox roared, his ferocious bellowing waking the wounded brunet, who jolted under the blankets that were covering his broken body.

"H-Hutch?" Starsky gasped and then grimaced from the jarring movement. "What's... wha's... you okay?"

"Shh, I'm fine. I'm right here, buddy," Hutch whispered, all but ignoring the threatening hulk who continued to holler in the distance as the cops struggled to drag him back to the wagon where his men were getting in.

"Y'hear me, Ace? A dead man, that's what you are! They can't hold me forever and when I get out, you're a goner, you mother fucker..."

"We're getting you ready to go to the hospital, pal," Hutch continued soothingly, as if the angry screaming wasn't even audible to his ears; his eyes softening to the color of the sky as he gazed at his wounded partner. The tall blond hovered closely over the brunet as if to shield his partner from Ox's wrathful rage. He watched as one the paramedics skillfully inserted the long IV needle into the crook of Starksy's arm, wincing along with his friend as if he too, felt the sting of the prick.

"'Kay," Starsky whispered breathlessly, his breathing shallow and rapid, his dark blue eyes never leaving the familiar face that he trusted above all others. The dark haired detective wearily reached out to grab onto Hutch's worn T-shirt, "Where... you goin'?"

Hutch smiled reassuringly, about to answer his partner when another paramedic nearly jostled into him. "Excuse me, sir," the older paramedic said irritably, an oxygen mask hanging from his hand. "We have to get this patient ready for transport. His oxygen levels have dropped and we need you to clear out of the way."

Hutch nodded, not wanting to impinge on his partner's care, yet Starsky fisted his hand tighter into the material of Hutch's shirt, refusing to let go of the tall blond.

"Hu-Hutch? Don't..." Starsky agitatedly whispered before a round of coughs silenced the hurting brunet, his throat muscles convulsing, his hand wrapping around his ribs once more as he struggled to breathe and ride out the pain that tore through his battered body.

"Sir?" the paramedic repeated, eyeing the tall blond detective as Hutch gently cupped the side of the patient's face, rubbing the pad of his thumb along the brunet's cheekbone.

"It's okay, Starsk. I'm not going anywhere." Hutch said, shifting his eyes to the paramedic with the mask, his gaze determined and final. Though his tone was gentle and soft, the medic could hear the warning that tinged the blond's voice and he nodded his acquiescence especially after seeing how the blond's presence calmed his patient.

Hutch tipped his chin in silent thanks continuing his conversation with his partner as if nothing transpired. "They're gonna put an oxygen mask on to help you breathe, okay buddy? I want you to wear it and I promise to ride with you to the hospital if you cooperate, okay?"

"'Kay," Starsky said wearily, closing his eyes, his lashes looking like dark smudges against his pale complexion. The light dose of painkillers that dripped through the IV lines took the edge off the pain that had kept Starsky aware and conscience of everything going on around him. Now the brunet could feel himself wanting to fall into the dark abyss that sweetly beckoned him.

The tall blond detective smiled with fondness as he gazed down affectionately at his partner who reminded him right now of a little boy, so trusting, so tired and sleepy, his hand still wrapped around a fistful of material, refusing to release Hutch's shirt, almost like he was holding onto a security blanket. Hutch watched as Starsky fell into a light sleep, feeling relieved that his partner could finally get some rest as they readied to leave for the hospital.

"Hey Hutch," Steve Parker greeted softly as Hutch helped the paramedic slip the mask over his friend's face. "How's Starsky doing?"

"They're giving him some oxygen. He's ready for transport." Hutch whispered distractedly, gently rubbing Starsky's knuckles before carefully releasing his fingers from his shirt.

"Yeah, we're ready to go too. The creeps have been loaded up. They'll be locked up at the station." Steve said, watching as the paramedics lifted Starsky's gurney into the awaiting ambulance. The young detective shook his head sadly. "His ribs were bashed up pretty bad. Wonder what they used to hit him with?" Steve asked absently, walking beside Hutch as the blond made his way to the ambulance.

Hutch stopped in mid-stride and turned to look Steve Parker in the eye, his voice suddenly hard and cold. "You wanna know what they used? They used a fucking bat, that's what they used. They strung Starsk up, electrocuted him with a car battery and then the bastard hit Starsky square in his ribcage with a bat. I heard his bones cracking myself as the wood connected..." Hutch's angry tirade faded softly, his eyes dropping to the ground as Steve laid his hand comfortingly upon the blond's shoulder.

"Hey, hey, it's okay, Hutch" Steve said. "I know you did whatever you could to prevent it from happening. If anything, I hope the bastard who did this to Starsky gets life in prison. The fucker deserves no less."

Hutch swallowed and nodded, refusing to make eye contact with the younger detective. "Yeah," the tall blond whispered, his voice lifeless and flat. "The fucker deserves no less."

"Hey Hutch?"

The familiar voice broke Hutch from his morbid thoughts and the blond hurriedly took out a small plate from the cupboards and put two slices of garlic bread onto it, then loaded it on the tray next to the bowl of soup.

"Comin'!" Hutch called, picking up the tray, only to put it down again as he remembered the glass of orange juice he had put in the refrigerator to chill.


"I said, I'm comin'," Hutch rolled his eyes, grabbing the tray again as he made his way to the back bedroom where his "Royal Highness" was sprawled out. The tall blond smiled at the grinning brunet as he entered the room and carefully set the tray down over Starsky's lap. "There you go, your Majesty!" Hutch winked as he tucked the napkin under his friend's chin.

"Heeeey," Starsky sighed with pleasure after taking a whiff of the garlic bread. "My favorite! Except..."

"Except what?" Hutch frowned. "Except... you forgot the salami slices," the brunet pointed out. "I always eat salami with my garlic bread."

"Uh-uh. Nope." Hutch said.

"Nope?" Starsky questioned.

"Nope. No salami until you get better." Hutch replied firmly.

"But Hutch, I'm better already," Starsky pleaded. "Pleeaase Hutch? Just a little slice that's all I ask." The brunet pouted when he knew the oily, delectable meat wasn't forthcoming. "C'mon Hutch, I said pleeeaaaasssee!"

"You want some cheese and crackers with that whine of yours, buddy?" the tall blond snorted, and then sat down on the side of the bed.

"Awww c'mon Hutch..."

"No!" Hutch said firmly, "Pretty soon you'll be asking me to make salami for breakfast."

"Really?" Starsky said excitedly. "Would ya?"

"Su-u-u-re, why not," Hutch said sarcastically, a grin breaking out as he saw the hopeful expression on Starsky's face. "Now eat your soup, Starsk. It's getting cold.

"Ho boy!" Starsky said, lifting a spoon full of chicken soup to his lips.

Hutch smiled as his partner noisily slurped the tasty broth and then smacked his lips appreciatively, the salami slices all but forgotten as the brunet took the first bite of the freshly baked bread.

"Mmmmm," Starsky mumbled, his mouth full of the delicious morsel. "This is great, Hutch! You outdid yourself, buddy! I think ya missed your callin', Blondie; you should'a been a chef instead of a cop!"

Hutch blushed with pleasure, feeling pleased with his partner's exuberant praise. "It's just soup and bread, Starsky," The blond said modestly, leaning over to ruffle the dark curls as Starsky crunched the last of the bread. "Something simple and light for your body to digest."

"Hey... was that... the phone I heard earlier?" Starsky asked, licking the garlic butter from his fingers. "Could'a sworn I heard it ringin'."

"Yeah," Hutch replied. "I'm sorry if it woke you, buddy."

"Who was it?" the brunet queried, tipping the bowl back to catch the last drop of soup. "Hmmm?" Starsky looked up at his friend, sapphire colored eyes wide with curiosity.

Hutch shook his head and leaned over to pull a hanging noodle off of his friend's chin. "I'd forgotten how sloppy you can be, buddy," the blond snorted. "You eat like a pig!"

Starsky frowned, then stuck out his tongue to lick the corners of his mouth. "I may be a sloppy eater, but you're a sloppy housekeeper. I bet my kitchen must be a mess right now."

The blond had the decency to blush once again and he quickly brought them back to the subject at hand. "It was Dobey... on the phone."

"Yeah?" Starsky replied, dark blue eyes growing serious as he stared at his fair-haired partner. "What did he want, besides seeing how I was holdin' up and all?"

The blond eyed his partner as he downed the glass of orange juice in one gulp. "Well," Hutch said nonchalantly, beginning to clear away the tray full of dishes. "Besides asking about you, he just wanted to clarify a few things on the report I filled out on the warehouse bust." The tall blond put the tray on the nightstand and busied himself with dusting away imaginary crumbs from the blanket that covered his partner.

"He still pissed at me?" Starsky asked. "I mean, he seemed okay when he came to the hospital to visit the other day."

"Yeah well, you know how he gets. He was upset at first, but I think he was more relieved that you made it out alive. At his partner's sudden silence, Hutch continued to ramble, trying to appease the now sullen brunet.

"I mean he couldn't be that mad. W-we got the gun shipment, the creeps are in jail awaiting trial, and everything turned out okay in the end." Hutch finished lamely, feeling his partner's intense gaze.

"So in the report... you told him everything?" Starsky asked moodily, his previous good humor disappearing with the conversation at hand.

"Yeah," Hutch said softly. "I told him everything. He knows it was me that busted your ribs." An awkward silence filled the room. Hutch quickly glanced at his partner, whose eyes were now locked upon his hands fiddling with the fringe on the blanket.

They had never talked about what happened in the warehouse. Whenever Hutch tried to broach the matter at the hospital, Starsky would somehow change the subject, or a visitor would drop by, or a nurse or medical staff would enter the room, or Starsky would be too tired. The list was never-ending, and as such, Hutch was even more thankful to be home so that they could finally be having this conversation.

"Look Starsk," Hutch began uncertainly. "I know you don't want to talk about what happened at the warehouse. I-I mean, I don't blame you. In a way, I don't want to talk about it either, but..."

"Then leave it alone, Hutch," Starsky snapped irritably, cobalt colored eyes flashing dangerously. "It's over. We're fine. Everything's back to normal." The brunet closed his eyes and pulled up the blanket, grunting softly as he turned over onto his good side, hoping his partner would catch the hint and drop the subject.

Starsky knew Hutch wanted to talk things out, needed to rectify things, absolve his guilt. But as far as Starsky was concerned, Hutch was blameless in this matter. Starsky knew this whole mess was his fault, and his alone. If he hadn't gone out to the docks by himself, everything would have gone down smoothly like it was supposed to. Like it should have. It sickened the brunet to know that his stupidity had almost cost not only his own life, but his partner's as well. Thinking of Hutch dying at the hands of those renegades made the brunet want to toss his lunch.

If Hutch had died that day...

That thought shook the brunet, as it always did. Being cops, Starsky knew the risks involved in their line of work; and everyday that was spent with Hutch was treasured and cherished. If he had lost Hutch that day at the warehouse, Starsky realized that life as he knew it would be over. Losing Hutch would be like losing himself. Hutch was his better half, the yin to his yang; and he refused to even think about that possibility, much less talk about it. Starsky evened out his breath feigning sleep, hoping Hutch would quietly leave the room so that he could pull himself together.

Yet, the blond had more tenacity than Starsky gave him credit for. He could feel Hutch carefully crawling into the space beside him, taking great pains not to shake the bed and jolt his still mending ribs.

"Starsk?" Hutch said hesitantly, gently laying his large hand upon his partner's shoulder. "I-I know you're awake... and uh, I know you don't want to talk about what happened, but I just have to. So... uh... you just... you just lie there and listen, okay?" The blond paused, staring at the rigid back of his friend, taking solace when nothing was said in return.

Taking a deep breath, Hutch began. "I guess I just wanted to tell you that I'm... I''m sorry for busting your ribs, buddy. I've been wracking my brains, Starsk, replaying everything over and over in my head, wondering what else I could have done to spare you the agony you suffered from those bastards, but I just didn't know what else to do. I knew in a few minutes Dobey and the others were coming and I-I just stood there and let them hurt you and then I took the bat and..." Hutch paused and cleared his throat, swallowing down the guilt he felt rising to the surface, "M-maybe if I had my gun, I would have..."

"You would have what?" Starsky interjected harshly, cutting the blond off as he grimaced and rolled onto his back to look directly at his partner. "Huh? You would have what... blasted your way out of there like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?"

At the sheepish look that came over the blond's face, Starsky rolled his eyes and snorted, "You're kidding me, right? Not only would you have blown your cover and ruined the case, but you would have gotten us both killed. How could you have held those bastards off single handedly, and then taken the time to unchain me and get us out of there alive and well? I was unconscious, Hutch! I couldn't watch your back. So it would have been one man against what? Twenty? You think you would have made it? I highly doubt that Blondie, no one is that good."

At the blond's silence, Starsky continued, awkwardly pulling himself up into a sitting position until his dark curly locks rested against the headboard. "Look," Starsky said wearily. "I know ya blame yourself, Blintz, for what happened to my ribs and all, but it ain't your fault. None of it is. Hell, if it weren't for your quick thinkin' I wouldn't even be here having this stupid conversation with you."

The brunet held up his hand to stop his fair-haired counterpart from interjecting. "No, just listen. Hear me, Hutch," Starsky said softly. "I don't know why, but ya always blame yourself for everything, pal. I knew you would be feelin' guilty because of what went down, but the truth is, everything bad that happened, happened 'cause of me."

Starsky closed his eyes, feeling the sting of tears threatening to fall. "I mean, what I did was stupid. Somethin' a rookie would'a done. I almost jeopardized the case, Hutch. But even worse than that, I almost got ya killed." The weary brunet took in a shuddering breath. "If anything had happened to ya, Hutch... if anything had happened to ya because of me, I couldn't live with myself."

Bright blue orbs peeked out from beneath long, dark lashes that slowly lifted. "The way I see it, I was lucky to walk out of there with just a few busted ribs."

"Well, it was more than just a few busted ribs and you know that, Starsk." Hutch said softly, remembering his partner being electrocuted from the car battery. "It nearly killed me to watch them torturing you like that," the blond whispered. "A-and when I had t-to use the bat..."

"Yeah, well..." Starsky cut in, knowing his stammering partner was hurting as he relived the memories of those long thirty minutes. "Like I told ya in the warehouse... nuthin' you do to me was gonna make a difference. I love ya, Hutch. You're the brother I wished I always had. You're my best friend in the whole world and you saved my life that day. I fucked up royally, and you pulled me from the fire. What you did took guts and a level head. I owe you so much, buddy. I owe you my life."

The dark haired detective cleared his throat and looked away as Hutch's pale blue eyes shimmered with unshed tears. It wasn't often that Starsky bared his soul the way he just did, and his words went deep into the sensitive blond's heart.

After a quiet moment, Starsky dared to shift his eyes to his partner and then grinned as he saw Hutch smile. "We good?" the brunet asked, nodding his chin in the direction of the blond. "'Cause I don't know how much more soap I can dish out!"

Hutch snorted, "Yeah, we're good."

"Good!" Starsky said, "'Cause I gotta be honest and tell ya, Blondie, you crack the bat like a big ole pansy!"

"W-What?" Hutch sputtered, his eyes widening at his partner's incredulous statement. "I don't hit like a pansy. Shit I broke your ribs, buddy."

"Nah, the doc said they were probably hair-lined fractured already from the pummeling I got from those dickheads! You just helped it along with the crack of the bat. Thanks, buddy!" The brunet chuckled and winked at his flustered partner.

"Oh yeah?" Hutch snorted. "The doc said that, did he?"

"Yeah," Starsky said smugly, "And the doc also said that salami should be served at every meal to promote the quick healing of bones. So that means, Blintz, that you should..."



"Shut-up and go to sleep." Hutch said; leaning over to help his hurting partner lay down once more.

"I will, but only if you lay down here with me and get some rest too." Starsky added with a big yawn, feeling suddenly lighter now that the dreaded "talk" was finally over. "Didn't think those circles under your baby blues could get any darker, but now you look like one of those cheesy monsters in those Bella Lagoosi movies I watch."

"Lugosi" Hutch corrected, stifling a huge yawn behind his hand.

The tired brunet closed both eyes for a while, only to open one moments later to glare at his partner. "Well? You comin' or are ya jus' gonna sit there and stare at me all night? What are ya waitin' for?"

"Y-you want me to lie down in this bed with you?" Hutch stammered. "But your ribs..."

"They're fine. Now shut up and get in. And turn off the light while you're at it." Starsky grumbled, grunting as he turned to sleep once more on his good side.

"Huh." Hutch huffed as he clicked off the lamp, gently shifting his body until he was also in a prone position. The blond smiled as he felt the kinks straightening out in his back, easing the tension that he'd been carrying around for so long. It felt good to know that Starsky was right beside him, safe, where he could keep his eye trained on his friend. This wasn't so bad after all, and if he was real careful and hugged his side of the bed, he knew Starsky would be fine. "This feels good, Starsk, lying here... you and me."

"Me and Thee," came the quiet reply. "As always Hutch, it's me and thee."

Hutch smiled, feeling his heart flood with love for the rambunctious man lying beside him. "Goodnight, Starsky," the blond whispered, turning onto his own side, his back pressed against his partner's. Hutch smiled as he felt the brunet snuggling closer, the warmth of Starsky's bottom pressing against his own, squirming until he was comfortable. Hutch pulled the covers over both of them then sighed in peaceful relaxation.

"Goodnight, Hutch," Starsky whispered back. "And remember... salami for breakfast, right?"

The brunet listened to the gentle snores that came from his tired friend and he frowned in the dark, trying to discern if Hutch was faking it. "Right? Hutch?"

"Hmm?" the blond mumbled sleepily, not even bothering to turn around.

Starsky winced; carefully looking over his shoulder at his partner who still had his back turned towards him. "The salami," the brunet whispered. "Remember? Salami for breakfast? Huh? Hey..." Starsky nudged the blond with his elbow.





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