He sat up suddenly, breathing rapidly, heart pounding painfully in his chest. He slowly released his clenched fists, as he became aware of his surroundings. Trying to still the trembling in his hands, he took a deep, calming breath and ran his fingers through his damp curls. The detective in him rose to the forefront, as he tried to piece together what had wakened him in the dead of the night. His apartment was quiet and dark, yet a sliver of moonlight escaped through the heavy drapes of his bedroom, bathing everything in a soft, silvery glow; causing the fine sheen of perspiration on his chest and arms to glisten in the dim light. Other than the rumpled beddings that ensnared his limbs, everything seemed to be in order. He glanced at the digital clock that rested on the nightstand near his bed, 3:58 a.m. The compelling urge to call his partner made the brunet instinctively reach for the handset on the phone, but he reluctantly returned it to its cradle after giving it a moment's thought.

If he called, it would be the third time this week that Hutch would have gotten up in the middle of the night to reassure his partner that he was fine. Starsky tiredly dry washed his face and climbed out of bed. He flipped on the light switch and squinted as the bright light flooded the bathroom, quickly filling a glass with cold water from the tap. Tense, smoldering blue glared back at him in the mirror above the basin. Golden fields, swaying in a mist of smoky haze. He saw it as clear as day, and wondered why he dreamt that each night. Cobalt eyes, refocused on the mirror and Starsky quickly drank the water down, quenching the parched dryness in his throat. He felt agitated and restless as he always did after one of these dreams. He padded softly back to his bed and quietly sighed in the dark, stillness of his room, resigning himself to wait for the day. From previous experiences of tossing and turning, the brunet knew that sleep would be unattainable and he relinquished the idea of even trying. With a heavy sigh, he reached for the book on his nightstand.

"Hey buddy... the light's not gonna get any greener." The big blond chuckled softly as he eyed his brooding companion, who absently stared out of the window.

"Hmmm?" the brunet mumbled, startled back into the reality of the here and now. "Oh," he said simply as he realized the light had changed, and he stepped slightly on the gas pedal, easing the Torino through the intersection.

"You okay pal... is something wrong?" Hutch asked, one brow rose in inquiry, trying to understand what was eating away at his partner. A silent, still Starsky was never a good sign, and Hutch knew it had something to do with the early morning calls he received earlier in the week from his out of breath partner. Although Starsky had quickly reassured him that it was just nightmares, Hutch grew more concerned as the week went on, especially with his friend's continued despondency. "Wanna talk about it?" he gently asked.

"Hutch, will ya get off my back... huh?" the brunet snapped irritably, hands tightly clenching around the steering wheel, turning his knuckles white. Starsky knew how determined his blond counterpart could be when it came to digging out information, and it annoyed the brunet immensely because frankly, he didn't know what was troubling him. All he knew, was that the dismal feeling in the pit of his gut grew more and more oppressive as the week went on; perplexing the dark haired detective and filling his heart with anxiety and dread.

Knowing his partner and expecting that outburst, Hutch silently reached over and rubbed his partner's tense back. "Hey... take it easy, buddy." Hutch knew his partner had been on the edge this whole week, and though he really didn't understand what was bothering his friend, he knew it had something to do with those early morning calls. He could feel his partner slightly relax at the touch of his hand and heard him take a deep, cleansing breath, releasing it slowly.

"Yeah... 'm... sorry Hutch... don't know what's the matter with me... jus'... tired I guess." Starsky murmured, averting his eyes from the knowing gaze of the tall blonde. The soothing voice and the warm touch of his friend's hand were already easing the heat of frustration that stemmed from the brunet's failure to understand the distorted images that haunted his sleep.

"You still getting those nightmares?" Hutch asked softly, concern causing the crease between his brows to deepen. At his friend's stubborn silence, the blonde cautiously continued, "Do you remember what those dreams are about?"

Hutch silently waited as his dark haired partner stared moodily at the road ahead and he knew that for now, the topic was closed. It was obvious that Starsky was unwilling to share whatever was causing his melancholy brooding, so he would withdraw for now; knowing they'd be talking about it when Starsky was good and ready. Respect and trust was a critical component in their relationship as partners, and as friends. He squeezed the brunet's shoulder compassionately and drew his large hand back.

"Hey... pull over would you? Let's get some breakfast," the blonde said cheerfully, casually changing the subject. Although Hutch had purposely lightened his tone, he was quietly concerned over his partner's inability to get a restful sleep and knew something was aggravating his friend. He hoped the mention of food would help raise Starsky's spirits somewhat. Sugary doughnuts usually had that magical effect whenever his partner was in a dour disposition.

"Don' want no alfalfa or seaweed shakes this mornin'," the brunet groused, "My gut's not feelin' too great already... eating stuff like that'll push me over." Though his voice was gruff, Starsky looked over at his partner and flashed him a quick lopsided grin.

Hutch snorted. "That's because you're probably constipated from all those doughnuts and burritos you eat all the time. How many times do I have to tell you Starsk, that your system needs better nutrients and you can't g..."

Starsky grinned to himself, tuning his friend's repetitious monologue out. He knew how to get his partner on a roll, deviously steering him away from the uncomfortable topic of his disturbing dreams. He wondered again why those dreams bothered him so much and struggled to remember more than just that hazy field of gold that always swam before his eyes.

"...and don't think I don't know what your doing... I haven't forgotten about those phone calls in the wee hours of the morning, buddy!" Hutch said smugly with a shake of his ever-present finger.

Starsky sighed, then slowly began to chuckle. "'Kay Hutch, you win. Let's grab a bite to eat at that diner and then we'll talk." He glanced at his partner and slyly winked, "And you know what you can do with that finger of yours, Hutchinson!"

Hutch snorted, "Yeah? Well if you bend over Gordo, I'll show you what I can do with my foot, too!"

They both chuckled together, but their grins slowly faded away when the radio crackled to life and the dispatch came over loud and clear, "Zebra Three, there's a 187, I repeat, a 187, in the warehouse district near the docks."

Starsky sighed and stepped on the gas while Hutch answered the call, "10-4, Zebra Three, we are responding." The blonde adeptly adhered the mars light onto the red roof of the Torino, the other hand holding the dashboard to steady himself, as his partner made a sharp U-turn towards the docks.

"Must be in those abandoned warehouses they condemned recently." Hutch stated quietly then added, "You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Light blue eyes connected with the darker blue of his partner's. "Yeah... there goes my breakfast!" Starsky grumbled to himself, as the siren wailed above them. He knew that this might yet be another victim in the grisly chain of murders that had plagued Bay City in the past few months. The killer was very intelligent and covered all traces of evidence. It almost seemed at times, that the perpetrator was playing with them, staying one jump ahead of the duo; seeming to know ahead of time, the few leads they stumbled upon, leaving the Bay City Police Department at its wit's end.

"Just be glad that you don't have anything in that trashcan, you call a stomach, of yours," Hutch advised grimly, "If this is number four, then we know what we're going see in that warehouse... you might miss breakfast whether you eat or not!" He chuckled darkly at the disgruntled look on his partner's face. He thumped the brunet on the arm, "Don't worry buddy, maybe after this, a seaweed shake won't look so bad after all."

The blonde chuckled quietly, much to the irritation of the brunet, who sent a withering glare his way, "Very funny Blondie... very funny."

The crime lab team and several black and whites were already on the scene by the time they got to the warehouse. Starsky got out of the car and followed Hutch into the abandoned building. The sinking feeling in the pit of his gut grew heavier as he got closer to the corpse.

Hutch lifted the sheet that covered the body. Raising light blue eyes, he made contact with his partner's, nodding his head almost imperceptibly. The tall blonde gently replaced the sheet and stood. He walked over to Tom Chaykin, a seasoned officer, who stood talking to one of the lab boys who was already packing up his equipment.

Starsky let out a soft sigh, and then turned to one of the uniforms standing nearby, "What'a we got here?"

"Same as the last one sir, found the body tied up over there..." the blonde uniformed officer pointed towards a burnt wooden column in the center of the room. Starsky noted how young the officer looked and wondered if he was a rookie cop. He gently patted his shoulder. "You all right?" the dark haired detective asked, empathizing with the pasty, green look on the youth's face.

"Yes sir, I-I just don't understand how someone could do that to another human being." The young officer looked down on the ground then stammered, "The c-corner's wagon is on the way... whoever did this is one sick bastard."

"Yeah," Starsky sighed heavily then added, "Hey, why don't ya go sit down." He slowly walked over to the charred remains of the wooden beam. The same powdery substance coated the floor and the bottom of the beam. Whoever did this, had used some type of extinguisher to control the flames. They had tried to track down the killer by tracing the purchasing of extinguishers in Bay City, but since it wasn't uncommon for customers to buy more than one for their homes, this soon turned into a dead end, as no more than two purchases were registered to the same customer. Starsky hesitantly reached out and touched the burnt surface of the beam. A tingle radiated up his arm and a hazy image of gold wavered before his eyes. He could still smell the residual scent of smoke and burnt flesh and he closed his eyes to get a handle of the fear and nausea that rose within him. His knees felt strangely weak and he would have buckled had it not been for the strong hold that grabbed onto the back of his jacket.

"Hey buddy... you okay?" Hutch gently held his partner up, concerned eyes raking across the brunet's worn features, noting the dark smudges that lingered beneath the lowered lashes and the quick shallow breaths his partner took in.

Starsky straightened slowly and looked his partner briefly in the eye before turning away. "Yeah... you gonna keep askin' me that all day?" he queried softly, a grin barely appearing as he thumped his partner's chest, "'m fine Blondie... jus' hungry 's all..." he finished lamely. He took a step back and turned away from his partner's perceptive gaze, "Let's get outta here Hutch, Dobey's probably chomping on the bit for the report."

"Well?" Dobey demanded gruffly the minute his detectives walked into his office, "Same M.O. as the last three?" The rotund police captain took a quick bite of his sandwich, chewed, and washed it down with a big gulp of coffee.

Starsky slouched down in the closest chair facing his captain's desk and immediately put his feet upon it; long legs stretched out, blue Adidas crossing at the ankles, which earned him a bloodshot glare from his disgruntled captain. The brunet ignored the look immediately began to peruse over the files he brought with him as the blonde got two cups of water from the fountain.

"Starsky... your feet!" Dobey growled, as the dark haired detective turned innocent, wide, blue eyes to his superior.

"What's that Cap'n?" Starsky waited patiently for his captain to swallow the French fries he had shoved into his mouth, while he took the offered water cup from his partner and thanked him politely.

"Don't give me that, 'What's that Cap'n?' routine, when you damn well know what I'm talking about. Your feet... get them off my desk... NOW!" Dobey bellowed, roughly dragging a napkin across his mustard stained chin, as he glowered at the brunet.

"Oh..." Starsky gasped, "Sorry Cap'n..." The brunet quickly lowered his feet to the floor, hiding his smirk behind the paper cup he raised towards his lips.

"Well?" Dobey snapped, shifting his glare to the blonde, who quickly wiped the smile from his own face and grabbed the files from this partner's hand.

Hutch quickly looked the files over and said, "Um... the M.O. is the same as the last three victims, Captain. Ahh... all four of them were found tied up, sometimes to a stake, or to a beam of some kind, beaten, stabbed, then set aflame... the killer probably stood there and watched, since the fires were always under control and were put out quickly. The victims suffered first and second degree burns on various areas of their bodies, but they were never burnt beyond recognition. Autopsy reports indicate the victims were drugged -- compound unknown -- possibly a type of sedative or narcotic that aided in their abduction and kept them subdued. Other than coloring, the victims have nothing in common... age, occupation, education, financial status... all differ in the victims. It appears the perp has no particular gender attachment either -- two of his victims were male and with today, the other two were female. So far, all of the victims have had no family or loved ones that claimed them. Hopefully, the victim we found today will have a family that's looking for her.

Pale blue eyes lifted and briefly connected with the dark blue eyes of his silent partner, "All of the victims though, had dark, curly hair and blue eyes." The blonde finished his detailed accounting and rested his hip on the arm of the chair his partner was slouched in. He glanced at Starsky, who lowered his eyes to his hand holding the paper cup on his lap.

"Well, it appears we got us a serial killer." Dobey gruffly announced, as his detectives simultaneously lifted wide eyes to stare at their captain. "Got the reports in a half an hour ago... appears our killer was also in the Washington and Oregon area for awhile... the bodies found there, match the description and M.O. of the ones here."

"What-it-izzz, long time no see amigos," Huggy welcomed his friends as they walked into his establishment. He sauntered over to them as he gave them the once over. He could immediately tell that something was bothering his curly haired friend. Not enough bounce in his stride, the lanky, black man thought silently. "And what pray tell, can I do for you gents this evening?" he asked cheerfully.

"Hey Hug..." Starsky greeted solemnly, "Jus' bring me some beer huh?" The brunet slid in a booth towards the back of the darkened room and moodily focused his attention on twirling the silver and gold rings he always wore on his pinkie.

"Hi Huggy," Hutch smiled warmly when the owner of "The Pits" glanced his way, "Bring us some burgers along with those beers huh?"

"You got it m'man... just say the word, and it is heard!" the thin black man saluted dramatically, and then turned to fulfill their requests.

The tall blonde slid into the booth across from his dark haired partner; soft, blue eyes filled with concern as he watched his curly haired friend absently twist the rings over and over again. Heavy, dark lashes hid the expressive eyes of the smaller man, and Hutch could only guess at what was bothering Starsky.

"You hungry?" Hutch tentatively asked, voice soft and low. He noticed his partner exhaling slowly and waited.

It was still fairly early so the usual crowd that frequented Huggy's place in the evening had yet to arrive, but Hutch still had to lean slightly across the table just to hear his partner's soft reply in the quiet room.

"Nah..." Starsky sighed, "Jus' wanna beer, then I'm probably gonna go home Hutch... call it an early night." Hutch waited for his friend to make eye contact, but his dark lashes remained in that same lowered position.

"Well buddy, I ordered us a couple of hamburgers and I'm even paying for them. Besides, you haven't eaten anything all day, Starsk," the tall blonde rationalized.

"The Bear is here, with my famous Huggy Bear special hamburger deluxe, and I threw in the fries for free!" Huggy placed the plates and the beer on the watermarked table and stepped back to admire his cuisine. He watched as his curly haired friend quickly drank down the foamy, amber colored brew and frowned when the blonde raised troubled eyes at him. At the stilted silence that permeated the booth, the tall, skinny black man put his hands to his thin hips and scowled down at his customers who sat quietly, burgers before them. "Well? What'cha waitin' for Starsky? Dig in!"

Hutch chuckled and took a quick bite from his burger, "It's great Hug... thanks!" Hutch chewed thoughtfully, then raised light blue eyes to the man dressed in bright, fuchsia colored polyester pants. The grin slowly fading from his lips, Hutch turned serious and said, "Hey Hug, have you heard anything on the streets about a hit going down in the warehouse district near the docks?"

Hutch watched as his partner's smoky blue eyes affixed to the countenance of the proprietor, gauging the expression on Huggy's face. There seemed to be a sudden tenseness in his partner's body that Hutch immediately picked up on.

Huggy released a sigh and moved into the booth next to Hutch, who quickly slid over. "I heard what went down. Pretty ugly... tortured and burned... whoever's doin' this is one crazy dude. Dig, I ain't been told nuthin', but I'll keep my eyes and ears open... somethin'll turn, always does." His dark eyes locked onto the brunet sitting across him, "And you best eat my hamburger, ya hear Starsky? I didn't slave over no hot stove fo' nuthin'!"

"Yeah... thanks Hug," Starsky relaxed a little and grinned as Huggy slid out of the booth, "And bring me another beer, will ya?" the brunet said, as he took a bite from the burger.

"What the man wants, the man gets!" Huggy bowed with a flourish, silently acknowledging Hutch's grateful wink before leaving the two detectives to start on their meal.

Starsky ate with a gusto, suddenly realizing how famished he was. Maybe it's just hunger that's got my gut in knots the brunet rationalized and the thought made him grin at his blonde companion, who immediately grinned back.

"Ya know Hutch," Starsky said between mouthfuls, "I was thinkin', maybe after we catch the sicko whose doin' all of these killings, you and I can take a few days off, go somewhere where we can relax, like Vegas or Disneyland or somethin' huh?"

Hutch snorted, "You can't do much relaxing at Disneyland, dummy" the blonde said smiling affectionately at his partner, then turning slightly, he eyed the two men drinking over at the bar, recognizing one of them. "Hey Tom!" he called out to the older of the two and waved them over to the booth. "Starsky, you remember Tom Chaykin," he said when they got to their table.

"Hey Tom," Starsky said shaking the older man's hand, "Saw you today at the scene... pretty gruesome huh?"

"Yeah... sick is what it is, hey, this is my new partner, Jonathan... Jonathan Winslow, just transferred into B.C.P.D. a couple of months ago. Starsky recognized the young blonde cop who spoke with him at the crime scene. "And these two hotshots are two of Bay City's finest, Detective Kenneth Hutchinson and Detective David Starsky." Tom continued.

"Hey Johnathan, don't let him fool you" Hutch laughed, extending his hand. The young cop shook it vigorously and turned to smile at the dark haired detective.

"Hi Sir, thanks for today... I kind of lost it there for awhile." Jonathan smiled sheepishly, as he shook Starsky's hand.

"No problem kid... Jon... I kinda lost it too." Starsky grinned and winked at the young cop, "You a rookie?"

"No... he just looks like one," Tom laughed. "Jonathan's been a cop for several years now."

"Yeah?" Starsky joked, "You look too young to be in this bar with that beer in your hand... you even shavin' yet kid?"

"Tell you what, I'll catch the next round to prove to you guys that I'm legal," the young blonde laughed, turning to make his way to the bar.

"He's a good guy," Tom said, "All of these murders are getting to him though."

"Hey," Hutch said, "We'd be worried if it wasn't."

"Poor kid," Tom added, "His parents were killed when he was little... told me that was why he became a cop."

Starsky shook his head and gave a low whistle, "That's tough." He felt for the young officer, his own dad was gunned down on the streets of New York. Losing one parent was horrible, but to lose both parents? Starsky couldn't imagine how he would have turned out if his mom had not been there for him. It was his mother's wise decision to send her hotheaded son to California, which probably saved the brunet from a life of crime on the streets. Starsky glanced at his partner; the soft, knowing eyes held compassion and understanding and Starsky realized that Hutch knew exactly what was going on in his head. It was uncanny sometimes how they could almost read each other's minds and the brunet felt truly grateful of that connection they shared, for it had probably saved his hide more than once. The men continued to talk about the details of the case and smiled when Jonathan returned with more beer.

"Well kid, looks like you're legal," Starsky laughed, as he took a bottle from the tray Jonathan's held. The young cop quickly passed a bottle to his partner and then one to Hutch. Starsky took a long swig, feeling the cold brew bathing his throat. It felt good going down and the brunet could slowly feel himself unwinding. The men swapped stories and jokes all evening long. It was a good way to end a bad day.

Hazy. It was always hazy, unclear and confusing, until the golden fields of wheat waved in the smoky stillness. Fear, anxiety, eating away at him, darkness loomed all around the edges. Focus, need to focus... soft golden wheat and clear, blue skies, soothing and calm... shadows moving, alerting him to danger... need to warn him, help him... Huuutch!

He sat up, sweat drenched and trembling in the stillness of his bedroom. The shrill echo of his partner's name still ringing in his ears, as he willingly tried to slow his breathing and still the pounding of his heart. Starsky rolled over and fumbled with the phone, dialing the number he knew by heart.

"H'lo" Hutch rasped after several rings, clearing his throat he tried again, "Hello?" A slight pause, and then, "Starsk?" He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and listened to the heavy breathing on the other end of the line, "Starsk, you okay buddy?" the blonde asked gently; voice softening.

Starsky closed his eyes and held the handset tighter, hand shaking slightly. The sound of his partner's voice never failed to soothe and reassure him. "Hutch... 'm sorry... I thought I... I thought..."

"Hey buddy," Hutch's warm voice interjected, easing the tightness in the brunet's chest, "You don't have to apologize... me and thee... remember?" Hutch listened to his partner's rapid breathing, he instinctively knew his partner was frightened. It was about time he found out what this was all about. "Listen to me buddy," he said gently, "I'm coming right over okay? Why don't you put on some coffee and I'll be there in twenty."

"'Kay," Starsky said, suddenly feeling awkward and foolish, "But ya don't hav'ta Hutch... aw jeez, it's almost four in the morning," he said regretfully as he glanced at the clock on his nightstand. "Why don't we talk tomorrow, I'll be pickin' you up in a few hours anyway."

"It's not a problem Starsk, I'll come over and we can ride in together. I'll even drive... it'll save you a trip... okay buddy?" Hutch waited patiently, not wanting to push, but knowing his partner would make some lame excuse if he didn't.

"Yeah... 'kay... see ya" the brunet gently placed the handset on its cradle and ran a hand through his unruly curls. He softly sighed and got out of bed to make some coffee for the long haul ahead of him.

"So that's all you remember?" the tall blonde asked quietly, sipping the strong black brew, eyeing his partner over the rim of his mug. He sat on the armchair and regarded his partner who moped on the couch.

"Yup," the brunet replied gruffly, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and his forefinger; trying to ease the slight ache that drummed behind his tired eyes. "Just a bunch of hazy shadows 's all, peaceful golden fields, blue skies and a feeling of somethin' comin'... somethin'... I don't know... bad maybe. I heard myself call out for you Hutch."

For a minute, Hutch caught the look of terror in his partner's stormy blue eyes, before the brunet lowered heavy, dark lashes to conceal his fear. "I've been dreaming the same thing now for a couple of days Hutch, and it jus' gives me the creeps." The brunet raised dark blue eyes to his partner's, "I'm scared," he said softly, his bottom lip jutting out dejectedly.

That little boy quality in his street-wise partner never failed to touch the big blonde's heart. Feeling protective, the tall blonde leaned over and squeezed the smaller man's knee, "Hey... take it easy, buddy. There's nothing to be scared about Stark, we've been under a lot of pressure lately with these murders, but we're gonna crack it, we always do. Things we've seen lately could give anybody nightmares."

"It's just that I can't remember... I feel like there's somethin' I need to remember and it's driving me crazy Hutch." Starsky heaved a frustrated sigh.

"Dreams are always vague Starsk, distorted images and scenes that sometimes mesh together and know no boundaries, I don't always remember every aspect of my dreams buddy, especially if I drank four bottles of beer the night before." He finished this last statement with a smile and wink.

The dark haired detective softly snorted, and then drew in a quivering breath, "Yeah..." he said, a lopsided grin appearing, "But then again, you had five bottles of beer..." Hutch snorted softly, then ruffled his partner's dark curls. The brunet's smile slowly faded and he heaved a heavy sigh, "Yeah... okay... look Hutch, why don't we just catch a few winks until we hav'ta get ready for work huh? I'm kinda beat... you can take the couch."

"Sure... just give me the alarm Gordo, Dobey'll have our hides if we come in late once more this month! The way you snore buddy, I'd never hear the alarm if it wasn't right next to me." Hutch chuckled and ducked, as a pillow came flying towards his head.

"They got a positive ID on the Jane Doe you found in the warehouse," Dobey said, between bites of the sugary doughnut he held in his large hand. The police captain handed the manila folder over to the tall blonde.

"Elise Richardson," Hutch read, glancing to the affixed photo, "Nice looking girl... studied psychology at the community college... lived on 12th and Harding."

Starsky made a grab for the box of doughnuts that sat in front of his captain and Dobey quickly rapped his ruler across the roving hand of his curly haired detective. "Will you get your own breakfast?" Dobey growled.

Starsky turned hurt filled eyes up to his captain, stuck his bottom lip out in a pout, as he rubbed his abused knuckles. Dobey glared back and snarled at Hutch, "I suggest you take your hungry partner and find out all you can about her from her family. They reported her missing two days ago... said they would have reported it earlier, but they thought she was staying at a friends' to study for a mid-term exam. They were informed earlier this morning that we found her body and they're expecting someone to get a statement from them."

"C'mon buddy," Hutch cajoled, grabbing his partner by his upper arm, "We'll pick up something along the way okay?"

"'Kay," Starsky said with a petulant frown, sticking his tongue out childishly at his captain when the big man looked down to pick up another doughnut. Hutch smiled, trying not to laugh as he steered his partner towards the door.

"I saw that Starsky," Dobey huffed; though he never looked up, "And don't slam the door on the way out... DAMN!" The detectives heard the captain cuss as the door slammed shut behind them. They looked at each other then chuckled.

"Can you believe him?" Starsky said indignantly as they made their way down the hallway, "I always share my food with him... I even buy him candy bars sometimes from the machine!"

Hutch laughed, "I don't think he's had his coffee yet Starsk, you know better than to stick your hand in a bear's cage while he's eating... the bear might be liable to rip your hand off."

"Yeah... either that or bite your head off!" Starsky grouched.

"Hey Hutch, Starsky," Tom Chaykin called out from a side corridor. "Thanks for last night." The detectives detoured from their route to the parking garage to chat for a few minutes with their friend.

"Hey... where's that legal aged, rookie-looking partner of yours hmmm?" Starsky grinned. "Hutch 'n me had a real good time last night and my generous partner here, said it'll be his turn to buy the beer tonight if you want to meet us at Huggy's." The brunet turned mischievously sparkling blue eyes up to his tall partner who rolled his own eyes towards the ceiling.

"Sounds great Hutch! Jonathan's still in the locker room," Chaykin replied amiably, "Said he wasn't feeling too good this morning, didn't get much sleep...

He ain't the only one. Starsky thought sourly, but his frown turned quickly to a grin as the golden haired youth came into sight. For some reason, Starsky had taken a liking to the young officer, wanting to take him under his wing. The feeling surprised the brunet. It was usually Hutch who quickly allowed people in, drug addicts, street urchins and even hookers, could touch the gentle blonde's heartstrings, as well as purse strings.

For Starsky, it was quite the opposite. The dark haired man carefully picked and chose whom he would allow within his inner circle, for loyalty and trust were big matters in his life and he never took that responsibility lightly. Not that Hutch did either, but the tall blonde tended to have more faith in people than his dark haired counterpart. Growing up on the streets of New York could make anybody cynical, Starsky reasoned, and seeing your dad gunned down, and watching your world fall apart as a kid didn't help much either. Perhaps that was the reason Starsky felt akin to Jonathan. The young cop and he, had more in common than just a badge and a gun.

Starsky grinned and watched as Jonathan neared them. There was a vulnerability and wholesomeness in the boy that one seldom saw in hard-nosed cops. In some ways the brunet pondered, Jonathan reminded him of what a youthful Hutch would have looked like... all naive and farm-boyish. The thought of a young Hutch, all barefoot in overalls, caused the curly haired detective's lopsided grin to widen even more and set his dark blue eyes a-twinkling.

"Hi," Jonathan said brightly as he caught sight of the blond and brunet duo, "Thanks for last night. I had a great time!" The young cop's bright blue eyes were marred by the dark circles that betrayed the youth's weariness.

"Yeah? For someone who had a great time, you don't look too hot" the brunet pointed out. "You okay?"

"Tom says you weren't feeling too good this morning, Jonathan. Didn't sleep too well huh?" the older blonde asked kindly.

"I think I might have had too much to drink or something," Jonathan smiled sheepishly, his face turning bright red in embarrassment.

"Shit," Starsky chuckled, "I thought only Hutch could imitate a stop sign like that... the kid's redder than you are Hutch when you do that blushing thing you do."

Hutch smiled and felt his cheeks grow hot. He immediately caught himself and frowned at his gaping partner who burst out laughing. "You know Jonathan, you're lucky Tom here, is your partner... look what I have to put up with!" Starsky stopped laughing abruptly and glared at the tall blonde, which caused the others to chuckle.

"Where are you two off to this morning?" Tom asked. His question pushed all humorous thoughts aside and the two detectives grew serious.

"They got a positive ID on the victim in the warehouse. Dobey's sending us out to talk to her family." Hutch said. He glanced over at his suddenly too quiet partner, and knew that Starsky was dreading the meeting as much as he was. Having to inform families of their loved ones demise was never easy and it was a part of the job that both detectives detested.

"Who was she?" Tom questioned.

"A college student, her name was Elise Richardson... hopefully her parents can give us clues as to who she was with before she was killed." Hutch answered, "The hard part was done at least, the family was already informed of her death this morning. We're just going in to get statements and answers to some questions. We better go Starsk, before Dobey tries to track us down again... see you tonight at Hugs... at about seven?" Hutch asked.

"Sure... why not, then you can not only buy us beer Hutch, but you can let us know what happened with your meeting." Tom said smiling, eyes narrowing as he turned to watch the detectives leave.

"Seven sharp!" Starsky threw over his shoulder, "If you're a minute late, Hutch won't buy you a burger."

"Good luck!" Jonathan called after them, "Hope you get some good leads!"

"They know, Victor" The voice squealed, hysteria raising the pitch to a shrill. "They know. When they talk to her parents they'll find out. You gotta stop 'em Victor." There was a slight pause then more quietly, "You know what to do."

"You gotta stop 'em Victor" a hoarse voice rasped breathlessly, "You know what to do" it mimicked. "Whenever you fuck up Frankie, it's always me that has to rescue you. These are cops, you idiot! You always fuck things up and expect me to fix it for you, don't you? I told you to stay away from her. She was no good... just like the other one. They're all the same. Just like her. And now you want me to do it to cops too?" The raspy voiced coughed and wheezed, struggling to catch a breath.

"We could leave?" Frankie's voice rose higher, "Get out from this place..."

"Not enough time you idiot!" Victor rasped, "If we just disappeared now, it'll be just like pointing the finger our way. We gotta do it the right way, then there'll be no suspicion. Dammit Frankie, I don't want to waste no cops...."

"They're good cops too," a calm voice joined into the heated conversation, "Two of Bay City's finest. It won't be easy to take them."

"The one with the dark hair," Victor wheezed, "Who is he?"

"His name is Starsky, Detective David Starsky. The blonde one is his partner... Ken Hutchinson."

"They know!" the panic-stricken voice screeched. "We can't wait anymore. They're getting closer as we speak. If they find out, we'll all take the fall together. I swear, I'll tell!"

"Shut the fuck up faggot!" Victor's guttural voice sneered, "You open your fat mouth Frankie and I swear, you'll be the first to go." He coughed, hacking up phlegm, which he spat at Frankie's feet.

"Watch it Victor," Frankie screamed, his high-pitched voice piercing the other's ears. "If it weren't for you, we wouldn't have to be afraid. Now everyone's looking for us. We can't even stay in any one place. If it weren't for you I..."

"If it weren't for me," Victor's dry voice ground out, "You'd be dead, you're the reason why we can't stay in any one place. I have to always save your white ass, you mangy faggot!"

"Knock it off," the third voice slowly whispered, "They said they'll be at a place called 'The Pits' tonight. We'll go there and see how much they know..."

"If we have to," Victor's hoarse voice dropped to a whisper, "The dark haired one... Starsky, he's mine."

"What kind of sick person would do that to our little girl" Amy Richardson sobbed, "She was only nineteen." Hank Richardson put his large hand on his wife's shoulder and squeezed gently, as she cried softly.

"We need to know if your daughter was seeing anyone ma'am," Starsky asked softly. "Anyone she might have spent time with just before she disappeared? We were hoping you might have some names or pictures of her friends or acquaintances..."

"Our daughter was a good girl detective," Hank replied firmly, "She wouldn't be hanging out with murderers."

"No one said she was sir," Hutch spoke softly, "We just need a lead... maybe some of her friends from school could help us get information... anything that might help us get this scum off the streets before he, or she, kills again.

"Or moves to another state," Starsky added in quietly.


"What?" Starsky questioned, dark blue eyes riveted to Amy's tear stained face.

"Gina... Elise told me she recently made a friend in one of her classes named Gina. I've never met her and I don't know her number, but maybe if I call around..." Amy's quivering voice failed, as tears filled her eyes again.

Hutch handed a card to Hank Richardson who looked at it briefly. "Look, if you can reach Gina or you remember anything... anything that might help us, please don't hesitate to call either Detective Starsky, or myself."

"Hey, ya made it just in time," Starsky said, glancing at his wristwatch, "Alright Blondie, bust out the beer and the burgers!" the brunet laughed, blue eyes twinkling merrily.

"Yeah, the next time will be on you Gordo," Hutch grouched good naturedly, "Huggy, beers for these leeches please." The "leeches" laughed as Huggy left to fulfill their order. They talked and joked around, each offering to take a round of beer buying.

"Well kid, looks like it's your turn again," Starsky grinned into Jonathan's youthful face.

"Hey, he bought us beer last night, give the kid a break" Hutch laughed.

"Hey, hey, what's fair is fair, everyone took a round so it's my turn now." Jonathan smiled as he stood up to make his way to the bar.

"Yup!" Starsky declared with a firm nod, "Kid, I like your style!" They laughed and talked until Jonathan returned to their booth with four cold bottles.

"Here you go," The young cop said, doling out the bottles, "One for you Tom, and one for you Hutch, and here's yours, Starsky."

"Thank you very much!" Starsky grinned. "This is the best part of the whole day." He studied the brown bottle, "And what a day it was!" he sighed, expression turning solemn.

"How'd it go at the Richardson's?" Tom asked nonchalantly, the jovial ambiance of the evening dimming as reality once again sunk in. He cleared his throat, "Must've been hard for the parents" he stated to no one in general.

"Really." Starsky agreed then sighed, "They're gonna call us if they contact anyone Elise hung around with."

"Hopefully it'll bring us one step closer to our killer." Hutch added softly.

"Yeah, before he can kill again." Tom added, looking across the booth into Starsky's deep blue eyes.

"It could be a she," Starsky shrugged lamely, "Though I highly doubt it." He titled his head back and took a long swig from the bottle he held in his hand.

"Only a male would be strong enough to lift the victims up while binding them to a beam or something, especially if they were drugged." Hutch pointed out, he swallowed a mouthful of beer and eyed his partner.

"Could'a been one of them heavy weight wrestlin' girls, they're pretty strong " Starsky joked then yawned. His weary blue eyes watered and he rubbed them with the back of his hand.

Hutch looked over at this partner and knew he should be taking him home. Maybe he should invite himself over to spend an uncomfortable evening on his partner's couch. At least that way, he could be sure that his partner would have at least one night of undisturbed sleep. "Well buddy, you ready to roll? We got another big day tomorrow."

"Ya know Hutch, ya really know how to be a party pooper!" The curly haired detective grumbled, yet he didn't complain when his partner helped him up. The room spun crazily as he straightened and attempted to stand. He would have fallen on his face, had his partner not been holding him up.

"Whoa Starsk," Hutch chuckled, "It's a good thing I'm driving tonight huh? Well boys, hate to drink and run, but it's been a long day and it'll be an even longer one tomorrow... especially for my buddy here."

The older man laughed, "Drive carefully, Hutch," Tom advised, "Wouldn't want to have to take you down to the station for driving under the influence. Looks like both of our partners had a little too much huh?"

Hutch glanced down at Jonathan who had his arms folded across the table, head buried deeply in them, fast asleep. He snorted, "Yeah, looks like you have your hands full too Tom, drive safe. See you bright and early..." The two men groaned then chuckled. "C'mon Starsk," Hutch hefted the almost dead weight of his partner, "Let's go home buddy."

"Looks like our curly haired friend had a little too much fun," Huggy called out as they neared the back door.

"Yeah... g'bye Hug," Hutch said smiling as he lugged his heavy partner; one arm around the brunet's waist, the other locked around his wrist, his arm slung over the blonde's shoulder.

"They're leaving, they're getting away. We have to stop them, get them now!" The shrill voice whined as fear settled in. "They know something. You gotta fix it for me Victor, fix them good." The panic stricken voice raised an octave higher, piercing the ears of his companions.

"Will you sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up," Victor's hoarse voiced whispered menacingly, as he grabbed Frankie's hand and squeezed painfully. "Don't make a scene here Frankie," the grating voice warned, "Just calm down and let us handle this. Do you know where they're going?"

"He'll be taking Starsky home. He lives at 2000 Ridgeway Avenue," the calm voice continued, "I know the place."

"Well, what are we waiting for huh? Let's get outta here now!" Frankie nagged, already standing up.

"They don't know anything yet..." the calm voice reasoned, "We can just lie low and do it the right way, we leave once everything is in order and just start again somewhere else."

"No, no, no!" Frankie sniveled, they're gonna find out soon. They gave her family their card." Frankie looked at the others and saw indecision on Victor's face. "Vic... if we waste them, then the other cops will be focused on finding their killers, and then the murders will take a backseat, it'll take the heat off of us for a while and we can get out the right way... nobody'll know... it'll buy us time Vic!"

"Yeah," Victor grated, "For once this faggot is making sense."

"Look," the quiet voice interjected, "I don't think we should waste a cop. If you think the heat is bad now, wait 'til we blow away one of their own. The cops would hunt us down for sure. There would be no place we could run to anymore..."

"So what are you saying? You chickening out on us?" Victor rasped, coughing violently as he glared at both of his accomplices. "I say we do it now, before anyone figures anything out. The faggot is right... what are we waitin' for?"

"I don't feel right about this," the calm voice whispered hesitantly.

"Just shut up and follow along like you always do." Victor growled softly. They stood and left.

Hutch glanced over at his sleeping partner who was pressed up against the door, dark ringlets resting against the window glass, one hand curled under his chin. Hutch smiled to himself in the dark, the passing streetlights softening his expression as it intermittingly illuminated his face. Sleeping like that, his partner looked like an innocent child. He pondered whether he should just go home to his own place, but he knew Starsky would feel more comfortable in his own bed. Hutch pulled into a gas station that was getting ready to close. He pondered over his sleeping partner while his tank was being filled. The dreams had started about a week ago, the blonde surmised, and since then, his partner had grown more pensive, brooding now and then throughout the day. Even though he tried hard not to show it, Hutch knew that whatever was bothering his partner was starting to wear him down. He looked at the brunet. Although Starsky's head was tucked down into his jacket's collar, Hutch could make out the long, dark lashes that smudged his partner's cheeks. They rolled and twitched as his partner dreamed. "Thanks," Hutch said to the gas station attendant handing him some cash, as he started the LTD up.

"Mmmm... no Hutch... no." The soft mumblings from his inebriated partner drew the blonde's attention. He listened attentively, hoping to understand what was plaguing his friend's sleep, but the soft ramblings stopped, although the brunet's body continued to twitch now and then. Hutch shifted into gear and made his way to the home that was as familiar as his own.

He pulled his brown LTD behind his partner's flashy red Torino and parked in front of his friend's apartment. Hutch wondered how he would get his partner up the stairs. Since leaving Huggy's, the brunet had been dead to the world. The tall blonde stepped out into the cool night air, closed his door, and hurried around to the passenger's side. He cautiously opened the door and caught his partner before the sleeping man could hit the pavement.

"Hey buddy, c'mon Starsk, wake up, we're home." Hutch struggled to pull his partner from the car, but the sudden pain spiking in his back from his awkward position made him stop. Starsky slumped over and Hutch gently pushed him back up. "Starsk," the tall blonde gently slapped the side of his friend's face. The clammy feel of his partner's skin was what first alerted the blonde to the fact that his buddy's inability to wake, might not be from liquor alone. He quickly propped the brunet up against the seat. Starsky's head immediately dropped down to his chest, his breathing shallow and erratic, "Uungh," the dark haired detective moaned softly, obviously still unaware that they had arrived home. Hutch's suspicion turned to fear when he lifted his partner's heavily lashed lid and saw one dilated blue eye staring back at him. 'Drugged' was the blonde's last conscious thought before the lights went out.

"And?" the soft voice whispered in the quiet room.

"And that's all! Some neighbors found you on the pavement outside of Starsky's -- your passenger door wide-open, blood leaking from the blow you took to the back of that hard head of yours. They called the cops and an ambulance and I met them down here at Memorial." Dobey gruffly explained. The big black man vigorously scratched his head, and then rubbed his large hand across his face.

"And... St-Starsky?" The soft, stammering voice caused the gruff captain to make eye contact with his wounded detective. Confusion and pain were reflected in the light blue eyes that Dobey knew so well, and he dreaded the fact that he would have to tell the blonde the news of his partner, especially when Hutch was injured himself.

Dark, brown eyes softened as he fondly stared down at his wounded detective. The captain purposely gentled his voice, "He's missing, son." He watched as pale, blue eyes stared blankly up at him, unable to understand or make meaning of what was just divulged. Dobey cleared his throat; "He's gone... they hit you over the head so they could get to him. The neighbors said they heard a scuffle and by the time they went out to check, a car was screeching away and you were knocked out on the pavement. If it weren't for them, we wouldn't have found you so soon."

"Wha'?" Hutch gasped softly as he tried to raise his upper body into a sitting position on the bed. He grimaced in pain, one hand to the back of his head, eyes closed tightly to stop the sudden spinning of the room.

"Easy Ken, you've got a few stitches in you and a slight concussion. Just stay still and stop moving around so much." The captain gruffly said. The large man gently pushed his detective back down. "They're getting some mild pain killers for you... just try to relax."

The nurse padded softly into the room holding a small tray in one hand. She checked her patient's charts and produced a hypodermic from the tray. "You're doing great, no neck injuries, no vomiting or nausea, no memory loss or seizures, no blurred vision or slurred speech, but there is that painful lump on the back of your head." The elderly nurse smiled kindly at the tired detective, "It's alright dear, this is just a mild painkiller, it will help minimize the pain so you can sleep," she softly soothed, as she injected the contents of the hypo into the blonde's IV line.

"N-no, don't want to... sleep," the blond gasped, breathing heavily, fighting down the fear that arose in his heart, "What... about Starsk..." he turned panic stricken eyes towards his captain, "We've got to... find him... now."

"Shhh, just rest, son. We'll do everything we can. Go to sleep and we'll talk again later." The large black man watched as his detective fought valiantly against the drug coursing through his veins, but in the end, his pale lashes lowered and closed, succumbing to the numbing analgesic.

His world was dark... black as ebony. He came around slowly, trying to lift his heavy head that hung between his raised arms. As he floated towards consciousness, he became aware of the pain radiating down his forearms and biceps and across his back, the pounding ache that drummed in his skull, matched the rhythm of his rapidly beating heart. Starsky struggled to get his feet under him to support the weight from his hurting arms, his body swaying as he tried to gain purchase. He could feel the rivulets of blood running down his sweaty forearms from where his raw wrists were tied above him. Though he couldn't see, his detective instincts told him that he was indoors somewhere, probably in a basement since the air was stifled and stale. He could feel his sweat drenched tee shirt clinging to his upper back and chest. By the ache in his arms and back, he knew he'd been hanging suspended for several hours. He heard it then, faint whisperings that caused him to tense, he turned his head slightly in the direction it came from; unable to see, but understanding at once that he was blindfolded.

"I told you, he's awake now... see, you never listen to me Victor, he's awake now," a high-pitched voice whined.

"Just shut the fuck up! I told you no names, you idiot!" a hoarse voice rasped, coughing every now and then between words.

"What do you care if he knows our names?" the piercing voice continued, "It's not like he's gonna be alive for very long... right Vic... you are gonna do him... right?"

"Find out what's happening," the harsh voice grated out, "We should've taken the other one too."

"We couldn't," the piping voice whined, "Someone was coming... I heard 'em. We couldn't take the two of 'em together... there wasn't enough time. And anyway Vic, you really didn't want the other one, he's not like him."

Starsky felt some of his anxiety ease as he realized that his partner was safe. The unbearable strain radiating out from his arms caused him to gasp softly when he tried to twist his raw and bleeding wrists free from its bonds.

"He's conscious now," a different, softer voice spoke up. There was something about that new voice that gave the bound and hurting man pause, and he struggled to listen as the voice softly continued, "See, he's listening to us."

Starsky heard footsteps approaching and he physically tensed, groaning softly as his weary muscles protested. What was it about that voice, Starsky wondered. It was so hard to think. He felt disoriented and unclear, his foggy mind trying to piece together what had happened, but the agony he endured from his stretched limbs kept distracting him from remembering where and when he had heard that voice.

The dark haired detective jerked his head back as he felt unseen fingers gently stroke the side of his face. "Where am I?" the brunet growled out, breathing heavily, "Take this damn thing off and let me see ya..." he challenged defiantly, "What are you afraid of huh?"

He cocked his head and listened to the retreating footsteps. He shook his head to clear the residual fuzziness from his brain, but quickly regretted it as the movement caused burning pain to rip down his arms and back. He inhaled sharply, biting back a groan, as an overwhelming sense of dizziness washed over him.

"He thinks he's so tough," the raspy voice spoke out suddenly. "You're just like him -- you think your so perfect -- that everyone needs to be like you," the voice grew louder, clearly more agitated and aggressive.

Starsky cocked his head to listen to where the voice was coming from and knew that he was slowly being circled. He felt the sweat drip down his back, tensing for whatever was coming, not knowing when to brace for an attack since he was unable to see.

"And when someone is not like you, you hurt 'em don't you?" the high-pitched voice screamed out, "You hurt me, and now I'm gonna hurt you... do it Vic... do it now... give daddy what he deserves!" The shrill voice turned into an almost childish whine.

The blow came out of nowhere. White, crippling pain exploded on the detective's right side, the air brutally expelling from his burning lungs. Starsky wanted to curl into the pain, gasping, trying to take in air, while at the same time holding back the scream that lodged in the back of his dry throat. He clenched the taut ropes from which his wrists were tied. "Uunghh," the bound man groaned softly, head hanging down between sweat drenched arms, short rapid breaths raising and lowering his bruised ribcage.

"Was that swing good enough... huh? Did we hold the bat just right like you taught us?" the high-pitched voice continued, "Do it again, Vic... please Vic... one more time" the voice nagged.

There was a moment's pause then Starsky could hear his tormentor taking heavy breaths, "What about the other cop?" Vic hoarsely panted, "We gotta check on that one and bring him here if need be."

Hutch. Starsky pushed back the pain, his breathing rapid and shallow, "You... leave my partner... outta this," he growled, his body twisting as it fought against its bonds. Sharp, agonizing pain flared in his side from the jarring movements, but the brunet continued to struggle.

"Shut up you asshole," Vic growled, swinging the bat once again. The blunt edge of the wooden weapon connected with the splayed rib cage of the bound man, the area already bruising from the first blow. The dark haired detective cried out as his ribs gave way, the sickening sound of shattered bones could be heard in the stillness of the room. He gasped weakly, head hanging down, sweat dripping from his dark curls. He couldn't even pull away when he felt fingers gently lifting his chin.

There was a slight pause, then the soft voice interjected, "Cut him down Victor, just keep his hands tied. You want me to check on his partner, then I will, but we can't leave him up like this. You broke his ribs; he'll just suffocate to death if you leave him hanging there. Just give him another dose, it'll keep him still and quiet until we return." The hand that raised the hurting man's chin; gently lowered the brunet's head until it rested on his heaving chest.

"Why so soft on this one huh?" Victor demanded. "He's just like HIM. You know that. You never interfered before... why now?"

Another pause. "Just do it my way for once Victor," the calm voice said, almost pleading.

Starsky struggled to get a handle on the pain. Breathing heavily through the piercing agony that lanced through his ribs, he felt hands at his wrists as they fumbled with the ropes. An explosion of pain buffeted the brunet as he fell to the floor with a thud. He immediately curled onto his left side and moaned softly, arms twitching uncontrollably as stabbing hot pinpricks branched out in his limbs when the blood began circulating once more. Starsky valiantly attempted to remove the blindfold, fingers still numb, but both arms were yanked brutally behind his back. "Unnngh," the detective groaned, desperately trying to keep from throwing up as his stomach heaved violently.

They tied the brunet's hands securely behind his back. Starsky jerked as he felt something sharp slide into his neck. He gasped as the needle was roughly removed, feeling the cold serum traveling slowly throughout his overheated body. The wounded man shivered and attempted to roll over, but was unable to even move. He listened for a while to the footsteps that walked around his prone body and trembled from the overwhelming pain and fatigue that racked through him. He could feel the icy numbness that raced throughout his body and vaguely felt someone stroke his damp curls. "Goodnight Starsky," he faintly heard the soft, dreamlike voice whisper in his ear, as the curly haired detective finally gave in to the pain and exhaustion.

Sympathetic eyes inconspicuously glanced at him as he walked through the precinct. They knew. It never failed to amaze Hutch how quickly news traveled throughout the station when an officer was injured, missing or killed.

"Hey Hutch, we heard," Tom Chaykin put his hand on the blonde's shoulder and squeezed compassionately.

"How could it have happened? We were together just a few hours ago." Jonathan said softly, his blues looked weary and red rimmed, his voice soft and lost. "Starsky would have put up a fight, there should have been something, some fingerprint or evidence we missed or... something."

"He was drugged." Hutch said. Just saying those three words tore away at the tall blonde's heart. The silence that ensued was deafening.

"What? How do you know that Hutch?" Tom finally said, eyes narrowing, as he focused in on the tired blonde standing before him. "Weren't you knocked out from behind? I mean... that's what everyone's been saying."

"Yeah, but I got a look at Starsky right before it happened... his eyes were dilated." Hutch stared at the older cop suddenly feeling irritated by the questions. Time was wasting away. Every minute lost made the trail grow colder and Hutch knew the task of finding his partner would be near impossible with the lack of evidence and witnesses.

"Well, we both know that your partner had a little too much fun last night. Overindulgence of alcohol can cause pupil dilation." Tom said casually, "You can't say for sure that he was drugged by something other than what he drank last night."

The silent rage that the blonde suppressed rose to the top with a fury. Hutch grabbed the seasoned officer by the collar and slightly shook the surprised man. "Look Tom, I'm gonna let that slight against my partner go. You don't know Starsky like I do. If anyone can handle a few beers, it's him." Hutch slowly released the material he clenched in his fist, and smoothed it out, taking a deep breath to control the helpless anger and frustration that ate away at his soul.

"Hey Hutch, I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by that comment. I mean... I wasn't trying to disrespect Starsky in any way. You know me Hutch, I think you guys are the best." Tom said as he slowly reached out his hand to pat the tall blonde's shoulder.

Hutch took another deep breath, head bent, he nodded slowly then raised light blue eyes to the uniformed man, "Tom... I'm sorry I... I just..." The blonde felt another squeeze to his shoulder.

Jonathan watched the conflicting emotions that played over the detective's face. Everyone at the station knew about the deep and abiding devotion the partners shared towards each other, and he understood the anguish of losing someone close. The young cop truly liked the playful and spunky curly haired detective. "We'll find him, sir," Jonathan said encouragingly, "We just have to..."

"We will Jon, that's a promise." Hutch said softly, determinedly. He smiled at Tom and patted the young officer's shoulder and quickly walked into the squad room. Seeing his partner's empty desk made the blonde want to tear apart the room, but he quickly pushed the heated emotion down.

"Hutchinson... in my office now." Dobey's gruff voice snapped through the open door. He watched as the tall blonde walked in and indicated the chair with a quick nod of his head. The younger man immediately sat down, wearily pushing back the fine blond locks that fell across his forehead, head pounding in time with the frantic beating of his heart.

The large black man looked him over before he said gruffly, "What the hell are you doing here? You should still be at the hospital. You have a slight concussion, not to mention four stitches in the back of that head of yours. I told you to stay at the hospital and that's an ord..."

"You told me to sleep Captain, I did." The blonde quietly interjected, "What about Starsky?"

Dobey eyed the blond, then looked down at the paperwork on his desk. "We're working on it. So far, we haven't got anything... no witnesses, no prints, hell, by the lack of evidence, excluding you almost getting your head knocked off, Starsky could have just walked off the scene."

"He was drugged," Hutch said softly, "I didn't remember until I woke up this morning."

"Woke up in the hospital bed where you should still be!" Dobey snapped, "I can't have you on the streets like that, you need to go home and g..."

Hutch could feel the pent-up frustration and anxiety once again flare to the surface, temper barely held in check, the blonde glared at his captain, ice-blue eyes flashing angrily, he nearly shouted, "I need to be here Captain, and nobody's going to stop me! Someone's taken Starsky. He was drugged, barely conscious, and I'm going to find him!" The blonde quickly stood up and steadied himself by grabbing on to the arm of the chair.

Captain Dobey's dark brows drew together as he gave his detective the once over. Deep, brown, bloodshot eyes locked onto stubborn, flashing blue ones. The big man sighed heavily. He could feel the worry and fear that was lodged in the blonde's heart, hell, it was lodged in his own heart as well. "Well..." he conceded, "Where are you going after this?"

"To Huggy's," Hutch said, his temper slightly cooling, "If Starsky was drugged, then it must have been at Hug's. We had some beer there last night. I-I thought Starsky was just tired... he hasn't been sleeping well lately and I thought... I thought he was... tired," the blonde finished quietly, eyes downcast. I'm scared. He could hear his partner's soft voice whisper in his head. A flash of frightened blue eyes and a pouting lip haunted the blonde's mind. Oh God, Starsky. And what did I do to help him? I gave him some psychological bullshit on the vagueness of dreams the blonde berated himself silently.

The wise captain watched as guilt crossed over his detective's features. If anyone understood what was going through the blonde's mind, he did. He blamed himself for the longest time when his own partner disappeared then showed up dead, hanging from a meat hook. The sense of guilt and failed responsibility to the welfare of his partner were burdens that were never far from Dobey's mind. If not for the love of his wife, Edith, and the warmth of his family, the large man would probably be locked up in Cabrillo State right now.

"Look Ken," the large captain said gruffly, clearing his throat, "It's only been twelve hours... you go to Huggy's and fi..."

"Excuse me..." a soft, hesitant voice called out from the open doorway. The two men stood to look at a young woman who quickly glanced down at the card she held in her hand. "Is this where I can find a Detective Starsky or a Detective Hutchinson? I was told to come here and speak with one of them. My name is Gina... Gina Mitchell."

He hurt all over. It was difficult to breathe, even the shallowest intake of air caused excruciating pain to flare in his ribs and side. He turned his head slightly and groaned. The movement caused his gut to wrench painfully and he fought back a wave of nausea that threatened to spew out. Starsky slowly opened his eyes and was surprised to see that his blindfold was removed. He was disorientated and winded. His vision was blurry, fuzzy, and he squeezed his lids shut to clear it. He opened them again slowly, as bleary blue eyes tracked the cracks in the ceiling and noted the dim light coming from dirt stained windows. His eyes took in the old pulley and chain that hung near the ceiling and surmised that that was what probably held him suspended by his wrists, while they were playing pinata with his ribs. The air in the room was stale and Starsky struggled to take more air into his burning lungs. The piercing pain in his side made the detective scrunch his eyes shut again to get a handle on it. His rapid, shallow breaths were the only sound in the quiet stillness of the room. He was tired, his arms and fingers numb from lack of circulation. His hands, stretched tautly behind his back, pulled and strained his bruised ribcage causing him to take shallower and shallower breaths. He looked down towards his legs and noticed that they were bent at the knees. He attempted to straighten them and gasped as his swollen hands and arms were tugged down. He panted heavily, groaning softly, heavy dark lashes closing against the pain that ripped through his sweat, drenched body.

He wanted to give in to the welcoming arms of sleep. There, he could escape the relentless pain that spiked through his battered body, but he fought against it. Willing his weary mind to focus, to think, to piece together something that might help him get out of the dire situation he found himself in. The voice. It nagged at his memory. He knew he heard it before and it frustrated him when he couldn't place it. There were three of them, and he silently went over the nicknames he gave them in his head -- 'whiner', 'bullet' and 'flat-line'.

He put his detective mind to work and wracked his cloudy brain for their true names. Frankie. Frankie was the whiner. His voice was high-pitched and irritating. He was probably the youngest of the three, impulsive, antsy and scared. Victor, or Vic as he was sometimes called, was the bullet. Angry, hotheaded, ready to shoot out and hurt anyone that got in the way. His hoarse and demanding voice grated on the others and Starsky knew they were afraid of him. Flat-line, his name hadn't been revealed yet. This was the voice that was somehow familiar to the brunet. The calmest of the three, he was definitely the anchor to the others, rational and smart. The others seemed to listen to him, although it was apparent that Victor was the leader of the bunch.

There was something strange about the way the three communicated with each other and Starsky mulled it over in his weary mind. Blindfolded and trussed up the way he had been, the curly haired detective could only depend on his other senses to clue him in to his surrounding and his abductors. Solely depending on his sense of hearing, Starsky had noticed their strange pattern of speech. The brunet played back the time spent with his abductors. It seemed that there was always a pause, no... it was a little too long for a pause, more like a short, silent gap that stretched between each voice. Hurting and trying to shake off the effects of the initial drug, Starsky hadn't noticed it before, but now he pondered over that new bit of information. He groaned as he tested the strength of his bonds. His raw and bleeding wrists screamed out against any tiny movement.

All of this thinking was wearing away at the wounded detective. The exhausted brunet tried to roll over. He needed to get away... now, but the white-hot blaze that flared in his side took his breath away. He coughed and groaned, gritting his teeth against the crippling wave of pain that washed over him, as he struggled to ride it out.

He gasped and went limp as the pain released him, and his mind wandered to the very thing he needed most right now... his partner. "Hutch," he whispered softly in the quiet stillness. His cramped and abused muscles screamed out for attention, but the brunet smiled softly as he pictured his partner's soft blue eyes and gentle smile. He could almost "see" his blonde friend relaxing before him with a beer in hand, strumming soft melodies on his guitar, and it brought a kind of peace to his frightened and anxious heart. Although he was thankful that his partner was spared the anguish and pain he was going through, he wished Hutch could be with him now, to comfort him with a warm touch of his hand or to soothe away his fears with his gentle voice. "Aww Hutch," the dark haired detective sighed softly, blinking away the beads of sweat that blurred his vision, Hurry up willya he thought, Don't know how much longer I can last. His thoughts were quickly replaced by the frantic pounding of his heart, the detective's bright blue eyes flashed to the door, hearing footsteps approaching.

"Ah... come in Gina," Hutch said indicating his recently vacated seat, "I'm Detective Hutchinson and this is Captain Dobey. I take it that you spoke with the Richardson's?"

"Yes," Gina said, sitting in the seat Hutch was just in. "Elise's mom got a hold of me last night and told me what had happened... I can't believe it... how could anyone do that to her... she was such a... sweet person." The redhead' s green eyes filled with tears.

"Do you know if she was seeing anyone on a regular basis just before she was murdered?" Hutch asked gently, eyes quickly locating the clock on Dobey's desk. Just the other day, it was imperative that these murders be solved, but today, this case took a backseat to finding his partner, and Hutch could feel the frustration rising again with the passing of each minute. His partner needed him to be out on the streets looking for him, not sitting here taking notes from a college kid. The blonde struggled to pay attention and remain passive, pushing down his impatience for the young woman in front of him.

"Well... not that I know of, we all kind of hung out in a group... you know?" She smiled at the handsome blonde.

"Could you give me a list of names of those people she hung out with?" Hutch asked, taking out his notepad from his back pocket. He patted down the front of his shirt and smiled sheepishly at his captain, when the large man handed the tall blonde a pencil from his desk.

"Sure, but Mrs. Richardson told me that you wanted pictures, so I brought the most recent one where we all went hiking." Dobey came over as she handed the blonde detective the snapshot and Hutch quickly looked over each face. There was an assorted bunch of kids, all smiling broadly, wearing backpacks and canteens. Elise stood in the middle with Gina at her right. To her left, with his hand on Elise's shoulder was... Hutch raised startled eyes to his captain, a cold chill running down his spine. "W-Who is this right here?" He pointed to the young man standing next to Elise.

Gina leaned over to look at the snapshot, "Oh, that's Frankie Winters... he's in our psych class... I think he's kinda hot for Elise, but he's harmless... kind of on the hyper side... you know what I mean?"

Hutch didn't know what she meant, nor did he care. "D-Do you know where we can find this Frankie?" At her confused look Hutch added, "Think Gina... it's very important that we locate this man... it could mean life or death for someone very close to me."

By this time, Dobey was on the phone making calls and the sudden tenseness in the room confused and frightened the young girl. "Gina." Hutch said gently, drawing her attention back to him, "Do you know where this Frankie lives?"

She stared into the pale blue eyes that somehow seemed to glow from a blaze within. "I-I don't really know," she stammered, sensing the urgency that permeated the captain's office, "He said he lived in an apartment, but I don't know where... I'm sorry."

Dobey snapped, "Give me an A.P.B. on Officer Jonathan Winslow, that's right, Jonathan Winslow. I need his address and number... and his files... now!"

"Please don't apologize," Hutch said kindly, hope filling his anxious heart, "You did great... more than you could know. Look Gina, I want to thank you for coming in, if there is anything else you can think of that might help us find Frankie, anything at all, please don't hesitate to call me, no matter what time. "

Starsky physically and mentally braced himself for whatever was going to come through the front door, but wide blue eyes betrayed his astonishment when the door opened softly.

"Kid... Jon... how, what are... you doin' here?" He looked at the young police officer dressed in uniform, a feeling of relief surging through his heart. Starsky felt hope take the place of the weary resignation that filled his soul just moments ago. "Hutch? I-Is he outside?" the dark haired man panted, short gasps filling the silence. He watched as the young blonde slowly closed the door behind him and turned to stare at him lying on the dirt covered floor, bound and hurting.

"No... nobody's here, but me." Jonathan said slowly, softly, as he made his way towards the fallen detective.

Starsky felt a chill race up his spine. That voice. He now remembered where he heard Flat-line's voice. It was Jonathan's voice... It belonged to Jonathan Winslow; legal aged, clean shavin', beer totin', farmboy. He suddenly knew there were no other cops around to assist... no Hutch. He struggled to right himself, ignoring the pain that ignited in his side, but he was unable to even sit up, hog-tied the way he was.

"I'm sorry sir," the young police officer said, kneeling next to the curly haired detective on the cold, hard floor. "I-I want to help you... you've always been nice to me, and you're funny, you make me feel like I belong... I-I like you a lot."

"Listen... to me... Jon," Starsky gasped, gently lowering his voice, noticing the trembling in the blonde's fingers, "It's okay... take it easy... I like you too... a lot. You gotta... help me Jon... untie me before the others... come back..." Starsky panted, speaking was definitely adding an extra strain to his already bruised and breathless body.

"I-I don't know... Vic... he'll be mad! He wants to kill you Starsky. You look too much like someone he hates."

"Yeah... who?" Starsky asked. He could see the uncertainty and fear in the young cop's eyes, he vaguely remembered what Frankie had called him. He gentled his voice, "Is it Frankie's dad?"

Jonathan quickly locked eyes onto the hurting detective's face and nodded slowly. "H-he hurt Frankie all the time... beat him, cut him, once he even tied him up and burned him with his cigarettes... he blew smoke down Frankie's throat, choking him..." Jonathan's voice quivered, "That's when Vic came. Frankie couldn't take anymore... Vic... he-he killed him Starsky, t-took a bat to him, beat him, cut him and set him on fire... Vic did to him, what he always did to Frankie. Then he d-did her too."

"Her?" Starsky gasped, pain and inadequate oxygen was making it difficult for the detective to follow what Jonathan was saying. He briefly struggled against his bonds, as he lifted his head to make eye contact with the young blonde, who sat in a daze next to him, tears swimming in a sea of aqua blue.

"Frankie's mother... she used to just sit back and let it happen... she never cared like a mom's supposed to do, she'd laugh at Frankie and then leave with his dad. They'd leave Frankie tied up and bleeding... crying," The blonde wiped the tears from his eyes.

"Jon," Starsky said breathing hard, "I can... help you... all of you... just untie these ropes... and I can... help you... I promise."

Jonathan took in a deep quivering breath and scooted over to the bound man. The young cop shook as he raised a trembling hand to start working on the knots of rope that bound the hurt detective. He leaned over Starsky's body and the brunet could feel the tremors that buffeted the young blonde.

The dark haired detective nearly cried out as his legs were released. Hot, stabbing pain flared in his stiff limbs as the blood rushed down to his toes. He could feel the blonde working on the ropes at his wrist when suddenly it stopped. He turned to look over his shoulder, "Jon..." Starsky panted, "What'sa matter?" He felt a chill run down his spine as the young cop put his head in his hands and started trembling.

"No... not yet... need more time..." Jonathan mumbled softly.

"Jon... listen to me..." Starsky gasped, trying to maneuver his battered body so that he could sit up. "Jon... you okay... huh?"

The young cop turned his blond head slowly to look at his captive, blue eyes wild with rage, voice raspy and hoarse, "Jonathan ain't here anymore... it's just you... and me."

Starsky eyes widened, the fuzzy remnants from the drug still running through his system and the excruciating pain in his side, made it difficult for him to understand the sudden alteration that just took place before his eyes. "Jon?" he whispered hesitantly, knowing instinctively that the young blonde kneeling before him, though same in stature and appearance, was not the Jonathan he knew.

"Shut the fuck up!" the young cop snapped, striking the bound man hard across the face. "I told you, Jonathan's gone now. I know what you're up to... you no good bastard... you're trying to take him from us," the hoarse voice screamed out as he took a handful of dark curly hair and yanked the brunets head backwards. "You always think you can hurt us, don't you? First Frankie, then me, and now you want to hurt Jonathan too. Well I'm on to you asshole, I know your intentions." He abruptly released the brunet's hair and attempted to hop over the detective's curled body.

Adrenalin pumping, pushing his weary limbs to react, Starsky wrapped his legs around the passing man's ankles, tripping him. The detective struggled to his feet and scrambled towards the door, groaning as his broken ribs shifted. Hands still bound behind his back, the brunet was unable to hold and support his fractured ribcage.

Agonizing pain blossomed in the back of his right shoulder blade as something popped from the force of a blow, sending shards of red, hot spasms to pierce through the bound detective. The little air he had in his lungs was abruptly forced out of the already winded brunet, as he fell hard to the dirt-covered ground. Gasping, he curled on his left side, as he bit back the scream that wanted to rip out of his throat He groaned, clenching his teeth together as his heaving body twisted and curled into the crippling pain that radiated from his injured shoulder and ribs.

"Oops, looks like I heard your shoulder pop..." the young blonde grinned as he lowered the bat, "A dislocated shoulder hurts like the dickens don't it?" Victor's hoarse voice almost gentled in empathy, "Yeah, I know because that happened to me more than once."

Victor prodded the brunet's shoulder with the blunt end of the bat, causing the curly haired detective to grind his teeth against the excruciating pain that speared into his already swelling shoulder. Victor pulled out a switchblade from his pocket and knelt next to the gasping man. "But then again, you know that don't you? After all daddy, you were the one who kept dislocating it... remember?" Victor quickly cut the ropes that bound the brunet's wrists behind his back.

Starsky groaned, as his arms were released, hot stabbing pain radiating out as blood began circulating again. His shoulder screamed in agony as Starsky cradled his right arm over his broken ribs and against his chest, trying to immobilize the shoulder against any movements, which made the pain unbearable. The brunet almost passed out, but he fought back the waves of darkness that threatened to wash over him. He closed his eyes to ride it out and gasped when he felt his left arm being grabbed roughly.

"Not yet asshole... you ain't gonna pass out on me..." Victor grumbled to himself, dragging the wounded man across the cold, dirt floor by his good arm, "...not when we still have a lot of reminiscing to do." He stopped when they were right under the pulley.

"We have every available man on the lookout for Winslow," Dobey said reassuringly, "We'll find him, son." He glanced over at the brooding blonde who stood silently before the window, absently watching as the last dregs of daylight dimmed and surrendered to the night's dark hold. He could feel the barely contained rage and the helpless frustration that emanated from the tall detective.

Hutch continued his silent vigil and mentally went over what had been done since finding out about Jonathan Winslow.

It had been hours since they saw Gina's picture and pieced together Winslow's involvement in the serial murders. After Gina left the captain's office, Hutch had hurried after Tom Chaykin. He caught up with the older man as he was entering the parking garage. "Tom..." Hutch called out, "Where's Jonathan?" he demanded.

"Hutch?" Tom answered perplexed by the harsh tone in the blonde's voice.

"Where's Winslow? Dobey's just put an A.P.B. out on your partner, Tom. We suspect that he's involved with not only Starsky's abduction, but with the serial murders as well."

"What?" Tom said; an incredulous look pasted on his face, "You've got to be kidding Hutch, Jonathan's a good kid, he's got a clean record, he's a hard worker and dedicated police officer. There's no way that..."

Hutch handed the photograph to the seasoned officer, "The girl in the middle is Elise, the latest victim we discovered in the warehouse." He didn't have to direct Tom's attention to the young blonde on the left. By the older man's expression it was clearly evident that he immediately recognized his partner in the photograph.

"Jonathan went home right after we spoke Hutch," Tom said slowly, eyes still affixed to the photograph, "He said he wasn't feeling well this morning... I told him to go home, called it in for him, too... there's gotta be some mistake or something... Jonathan's a good kid..."

"Let's hope so Tom," Hutch replied quietly, both of them knowing that it was probably a futile wish. "I'm going over to Winslow's place, Dobey already sent some black and whites over there. You want to ride with me?"

"Yeah..." the older cop said sadly, I'd like to be there when you find him." They left together, both men concerned and troubled over their missing partners.

The search of the young cop's sparse apartment turned up nothing except newspaper clippings of each of the four murders in Bay City, as well as the murders in Oregon and Washington State. Looking at the collection of the clippings arrayed on his desk, Dobey picked up the oldest one. It was yellowed and tattered and water-stained, but Dobey could still read the horrific story of the brutal slaying of an older couple in the basement of their home in La Pine, Oregon. Both the man and the woman were bound, beaten, stabbed and burned in their farmhouse basement. The captain's gruff voice seemed louder than usual, in the quiet stillness of the dim office, "Parents to one surviving son, a Franklin Winters, age 16, who was later put into a foster home until his coming of legal age." Dobey looked over at the blonde and flicked the newspaper clipping against the palm of his other hand, "This homicide occurred several years before the serial murders began in Oregon."

The quiet blonde's pale, blue eyes glanced at his captain then returned to stare out into the city lights. Although his voice was hard, there was a tremble in it that drew the captain's attention. "Frankie Winters... he killed his own parents. The M.O's the same as all of the serial murders." The blond took a deep breath to steady himself, "And somewhere out there, he has Starsky, probably h-hurting him as we speak." In his mind, he could see the battered and burnt bodies of the victims of this serial killer and he visibly shuddered. Oh God Starsk, hold on, I'm coming.

"It says here, they had just one son, do you think Winslow and this Frankie Winters were identical twins?" Dobey asked, turning to face the blonde. "Hutch?" the large man called out after waiting for a response, "Did you hear wh..."

"I heard you Captain," the blonde interrupted softly, "The records at the college state that Frankie Winters was enrolled as a part-time student in two classes... a psychology course and another one in astronomy. It said he had no siblings. Jonathan Winslow's records list no siblings either. In answer to you question Captain, I don't know if they are identical twins, but I certainly hope they are. If they aren't brothers, then the only possibility is something I'd rather not think about."

"Which is?" Dobey asked gruffly, bloodshot brown eyes locked onto the silent form by the darkening window, the blonde's reflection in the glass evidently showing the strain and tension on his pale Nordic face.

Hutch turned slowly away from the window and looked his captain in the eyes. "Multiple Personality Disorder, Captain. I remember studying about this in my psych classes in college. The more I think about it, Captain, the more convinced I am that this might be what we're facing, and it makes sense, because the killer has always been one step ahead Starsky and me this whole time. If one of Frankie's alter egos is Jonathan, then we've been feeding him information without knowing it. If Frankie has other alter egos, then they could be the ones buying the extinguishers and we'd have never known it. These alter egos help to keep the host personality safe, and the host, is Frankie."

"I don't know Hutch," Dobey raised dubious brows at the blonde, "It all seems kind of far-fetched to me... identical twins... I can handle that, but different personalities within the same body... I don't know... sounds like something from the 'Twilight Zone'."

"No Captain," Hutch raised his index finger, his quick mind racing a mile a minute, "It makes sense. Frankie's parents were murdered in the same way all the victims have been killed. In most of the studied cases of Multiple Personality Disorder, the host's ego was fractured due to the suffering of some horrific abuse." Hutch tapped his finger in the air as he spoke, voice growing stronger as his continued to divulge his knowledge on the subject to his captain, "Being unable to handle the trauma being inflicted upon him or her, the mind splinters and creates new alter egos to help cope with the trauma, and those alter egos take over the host's body, coming and going, depending on the host's needs."

"So knowing this, how do we help Starsky?" the Captain's gruff voice replied, taking the wind out of the blonde's sail.

"I don't know..." the tall blonde quietly sighed, obviously frustrated; then meeting the deep brown eyes of his Captain's, Hutch said determinedly, "What I do know, is that sitting here is not helping Starsky. I'm going to Huggy's Cap, maybe he's found something out."

The large man knew his detective was chomping at the bit to go out and do something... anything! Sitting here just fanned the burning rage and the helpless frustration that harbored in the blonde's heart. Waiting for information was always the most difficult aspect of an abduction case, especially when it concerned the welfare of your partner. They both knew that if Huggy had any information it would have been relayed right away, but Dobey knew that Hutch needed to stay active, thinking about what his partner was going through was eating away at his soul.

"Okay," Dobey finally agreed, "Just keep your radio on and stay in touch. If you find out anything, Hutch, you let me know and I'll do the same from my side. We have a lot of men out there searching for Starsky, something's bound to open up soon."

"Yeah..." Hutch said, grabbing his leather jacket from the back of the chair that Starsky had sat on, only a couple of days before. Hutch glanced at the chair; he could almost picture Starsky sitting there with his feet up on Dobey's desk. Hold on buddy, just hold on. "I'll keep you posted Captain," he said softly, as he walked out of the office.

The cold water jarred the bruised and beaten man to consciousness. "Uungh," the weary brunet groaned softly, arms straining as rivulets of sweat, blood and water ran down his forearms and sides. Starsky didn't know how long he had hung, suspended from his arms. When Victor first retied his hands in front of him and hooked him up with the pulley, the brunet had cried out against his will and had slipped into unconsciousness from the excruciating pain in his ribs and dislocated shoulder. Victor had to finally use smelling salts to bring his victim back from the dark void he had escaped to.

Starsky coughed and slowly lifted his head, trying to clear away the perspiration that stung his eyes. Although he immediately felt the white-hot pain that lanced through his broken body, he made not a sound, swallowing the cry that wanted to escape out of his parched lips. He noticed that his tee shirt had been cut away and lay in a crumpled heap near his worn, brown leather jacket. The brunet wearily looked around the room and took in how dark it was, lighted only by a few candles. He figured he must have been out for a while, for the sun had already gone down. He saw a brazier set up before him, splintered pieces of wood and charcoal set up for lighting, a can of fuel on the floor next to it. His detective's mind tried to clear the fogginess away so that he could focus and think. He took in the fire extinguisher on the other side of the room. He raised his weary eyes to look at his tormentor. The excruciating pain and the lack of oxygen caused the brunet to almost give in to the darkness that beckoned him, but the weary detective struggled to stay conscious. Starsky tried to think, to focus on a way to get out, but he could feel himself slowly succumbing to the ebony vacuum he was being sucked into, a dark emptiness devoid of agonizing pain and worry. He quietly gave up the struggle and could feel himself floating away in the dark emptiness of painless unconsciousness, when he was once again jarred back into painful reality, as Victor threw a bucket of cold water over the shivering detective.

"Uh-uh Daddy," the hoarse voice whispered in his ear, sending a chill down the captive man's spine, "Can't have you passing out on me yet... you need to be wide awake to experience everything I went through, remember this?" The young blond turned to snatch the ice pick from the dusty shelf in the corner of the dark room. "Remember how you used to make me scream daddy?"

Starsky's pain filled, but calm blue eyes, met the raging glare of the young blonde. The brunet took in rapid, shallow breaths as he hung by his arms in the still, dark basement, his glistening chest heaving with each tortured intake of breath. Yet, there seemed to be no fear in him, only pitiful compassion for the broken young cop standing before him.

"What are you fucking looking at?" Victor screamed; the detective's silent stare unnerved him. Usually his victims were screaming for mercy by now, begging him to stop, to spare them. Hearing his victims crying for compassion empowered the blonde and made him feel superior and in control. Something that Frankie never felt in his young and brutalized life. Yet, though he knew that the man who hung suspended before him was in unbearable pain, the curly haired detective seemed to be in control of not only his pain, but his fear as well. It brought an unwelcome sense of admiration from the young blonde, and the unsettling emotion confused and overwhelmed Victor.

Starsky saw the hesitation in Victor who stood before him, ice pick clenched in his hand, body trembling. "Jonathan," Starsky called softly, panting with exertion, "Jonathan... I need... you to listen... to me."

"No..." Victor screamed hoarsely, eyes blazing, fighting for control. The dark haired detective cried out, head flung backwards, as the ice pick was thrust deeply in to his left side, the young blonde breathed deeply still holding onto the handle of the sharp weapon embedded in the brunet's flesh, eyes locked onto his victim's face. The bruised and beaten brunet wearily lowered his head and watched as the angry blues eyes turned frightened and soft. The young cop's body trembled and he quickly let go of the ice pick's handle, scrubbing his bloody hand against his uniform, slowly backing away from the bound and bleeding brunet.

"Oh God, no... I don't want to be here, I don't want to see this!" Jonathan moaned, sinking to his knees on the dusty floor. He covered his face with his bloodstained hands and wept bitter tears of remorse. "I'm not a part of this... I'm not..."

Hutch drove in silence. The blonde knew he could have just called Huggy to spare himself the trip, but doing nothing was eating away at him. His gut clenched and heaved as he thought of Starsky suffering at the hands of this madman. He could once again, visualize the battered and burnt remains of the four victims, and his tormented mind quickly shied away from that mental image. He knew the answer the 'Bear' would give him, but he refused to think that far. Instead, his mind replayed happier times spent with his partner as he quickly drove to Huggy's.

"Hutch, if ya jus' listen t'me," Starsky said excitedly, bouncing around, as they walked through the department store, "I know you're gonna love this!" His dark blue eyes gleamed happily as he stared up at his blonde companion.

Hutch rolled light blue eyes to the store's ceiling. Somehow he always allowed his exuberant friend to talk him into absurd ideas. He couldn't believe that he was here, in the department store, indulging the whims of his curly haired partner. "Starsk, I don't need another wristwatch, I told you that already."

"Yeah, but Hutch, this jus' ain't no ordinary watch. This watch can light up so you can see the time in the dark." Starsky's smug look and lopsided grin brought a smile to the tall blonde's lips.

"And why would I need to see the time in the dark, dummy?" Hutch said, smiling warmly at his rambunctious partner.

The curly haired detective's voice took on a low and ominous tone and he raised one dark brow and leaned closer to the blonde, "'Cause what if one night we're in a dark alley chasing some bad guys and then we suddenly remember that we needed to report to Cap'n Dobey at a certain time? What if it was so dark in the alley, I mean dark, DARK!"

The blond softly chuckled at the wide blue eyes and dramatic gestures and voice of the brunet who stood before him, arms stretched high and fingers curled like a zombie from one of those B horror movies he so loved.

"I mean so dark Hutch, that you couldn't see the hands on that golden clock you have chained t'ya all the time. Well, if you had this watch buddy, all ya gotta do is press this little button on the side, and tah-dah, it lights up. We'll always be on time and maybe Dobey'll give us a promotion or somethin'. The grin on the brunet's face lit up the store.

The blonde stared incredulously at the smaller man bouncing at his side as he rambled on, "And that's not all this here watch does Hutch, do you know that it's waterproof too, and it has this little compass thingy in the corner that tells ya what direction you're in at all times! This watch is jus' perfect for ya Hutch... I know how you like all that outdoorsy, nature stuff. You ain't never gonna get lost out there in the rain with all of them lions and tigers and bears. You'll be safe, and then I can sleep in my nice, soft bed at home and not worry all night about you traipsing around in the woods.

The blonde stopped walking and stood still in the middle of the store's aisle. Realizing he was missing his partner, the brunet stopped and backtracked to where the blond stood. "What?" Starsky asked as he peered up into the light blue eyes of his partner, "Hmmm?"

The tall blonde quietly snorted, eyes growing soft with affection for his dark haired partner. Hutch said with a gentle smile, "I don't need a watch to keep me safe buddy... I've got something better... I got you." He reached out his large hand and gently squeezed his partner's shoulder.

Starsky could feel the love and friendship he had for his partner bubbling up to the surface from his heart and he quickly lowered his dark lashes to hide the emotion there. He could feel the warmth from his partner's hand and it sent comforting waves of trust and acceptance flowing throughout his body. He wondered what he ever did to deserve a friend like Hutch.

"Hey buddy," the blonde's gentle voice broke through the brunet's sentimental thought, "You okay?"

The brunet swallowed then raised bright blue eyes to his partner's. "Yeah... more than okay 'cause I have you Hutch... Me and thee always."

That remembered moment brought a quiet smile to the blonde's lips and he silently begged his partner to hold on. The radio crackled to life, "Zebra Three, we have a call for you from a Gina Mitchell, her number is 777-6590. She says it's urgent."

"Patch me through, will you Mildred?" Hutch replied into the receiver.

"Will do Hutch, hang tight." Hutch could hear the compassion in Mildred's usually professional voice and he knew she was worried about Starsky too.

"Detective Hutchinson?" Gina's voice sounded hollow over the radio.

"Yes Gina, it's me." Hutch said wearily, hoping this call would lead to the whereabouts of Frankie Winters.

"Detective Hutchinson, I'm sorry I'm calling so late and all, but you did say to call if I remembered anything that might help you locate Frankie..." Gina hesitated then softly said, "Well, I just remembered something a little while ago and it's probably just nothing, but I thought I'd better call you..."

"Go ahead Gina, anything you remember might help me." Hutch said, barely containing the hope that suddenly filled his heart, as a surge of adrenalin raced through his body.

"Well, I remember Elise told me a while back that Frankie wanted to take her out to the Old Canyon Road. He said there's a deserted farm on the right side a mile into the valley. She told me that he wanted to show her some constellations that night and that this farm even had an old cellar basement that he could show her. Frankie told her that it was like the place he grew up in. Elise couldn't go, and nothing came of it. I'd forgotten about it until now. I don't know if this can help you, but you said if I remembered anything at all, to call."

"You did good Gina, I'll check it out. Thanks so much." Hutch said. He quickly made a U turn and headed north, up to the Old Canyon Road. Hang on Starsk, hang on buddy he sent a silent message out to his partner. He increased the speed of his car, pushing his old LTD to its limit. Picking up the receiver he called dispatch. "Mildred, it's Hutch, patch me through to Captain Dobey."

"You bet, Hutch... I mean, 10-4 Zebra Three." Mildred hollow voice acknowledged.

After a few seconds the gruff familiar voice broke through, "Dobey."

"Captain, it's Hutch," the blonde detective said, barely keeping his hopeful excitement in check, "Just got a call from Gina Mitchell. She remembered a place that Winters mentioned before, it's on the Old Canyon Road about a mile back into the valley. It's an old deserted farmhouse with a cellar of some sort. I'm on my way to check it out."

"Okay," Dobey said gruffly, "I'm sending several black and whites to assist." There was a slight pause then more gently, "I'll also call for an ambulance."

Hutch clenched the receiver tightly in his hand. "Thanks Captain," he said softly, "Let's hope it's not needed huh?" Though he spoke lightly, the heaviness in his heart was evident in his voice.

Starsky closed his eyes against the pain that buffeted his body, riding out its punishing waves. He could feel the warmth of his own blood as it trickled down from the puncture wound. Each labored breath causing the ice pick in his side to send shocking waves of agonizing pain throughout his body. Hearing Jonathan's voice, Starsky struggled to open his eyes. Heavy, dark lashes lifted to reveal weary blue eyes that glimmered in the dim glow of the candles.

"Jonathan," the brunet whispered between gasps, "H-help... me..." His broken plea brought the blonde's head up. Starsky's head lolled against his outstretched arm, closing his eyes again as pain racked through his broken body, causing the dark haired detective to tremble with weariness.

"Starsky?" Jonathan's soft voice whispered in the dark, "I'm so sorry... I didn't want them to do this to you." The young cop stood and walked over to the bound man. "I'm so afraid... Vic's going to come back, he always does." He reached a shaky hand to touch the bruised and shattered ribs of the brunet.

The curly haired man grew rigid with pain and he moaned softly at the gentle touch, his sweat covered torso shrinking away from the young blonde. "Jon..." he gasped, "Help me... cut me... down... you can... do it kid... I believe... in you... always have."

Jonathan slowly released the chain, allowing the pulley to slowly lower the wounded man to the dirty floor. The brunet gasped as he was lowered, the slight jarring movement causing the battered detective to want to slip into the darkness that beckoned him.

"No sir, please don't go to sleep," Jonathan begged, he quickly cut the ropes free from the raw and bleeding wrists of the detective, and got the canteen from the shelf, once the brunet was lying on the ground. He wet a handkerchief that he took from his pocket and gently wiped the sweat from the brunet's face, squeezing some water on the wounded man's parched lips, all the while mumbling, "You gotta tell me what to do... I don't know what to do..."

The brush of the cool cloth against his hot face slowly brought the detective around. He licked his dry lips and slowly opened his eyes, steeling himself against the pain that bombarded his being. He clutched his left side, slim fingers wrapping around the handle of the ice pick embedded in his side, as a sudden spasm of pain ripped into him. "Uungh," he cried out softly, twisting his rigid body, as a white-hot pain seared through him. He gritted his teeth, locking his jaw against the scream that wanted to burst from his lips as the young cop gently lowered his right arm to lay it against his heaving chest.

"We got to get out of here now sir," the young cop whispered, as he tried to help the wounded man up.

Starsky, shivered uncontrollably then cried out as Jonathan tried to lift him, "No... Jon" he gasped, trying to get a handle on the pain that coursed throughout his battered body, "Leave me... go get Hutch... c-cold," the brunet trembled weakly.

Jonathan quickly got the worn, leather jacket and tried to cover the detective; making sure the ice pick's handle was not jarred in the process. "I don't think I should pull this out sir, you'll bleed to death. I'll light the brazier, then go and get help. It'll keep you warm, you're going into shock... please don't go to sleep and leave me sir... please stay awake." Jonathan squirted some fuel on the wood and charcoal and lit it quickly.

Starsky could feel the young cop gently stroking his damp curls. As the warmth from the blaze started to seep into the brunet's torn and bruised body, his eyelids grew heavy, but he vaguely heard Jonathan's soft voice from a distance say, "I'll be back sir, just hold on. I'll make things better... I promise sir... if it's the last thing I do."

The crashing sound of splintering wood brought the unconscious man around again. He lifted weary dark lashes as he tried to clear the haziness from his vision, but darkness continued to loom all around the edges. Fear and anxiety filled his heart and he tensed, jolting his bruised body, as he grew rigid. The sudden jarring caused pain to radiate out from his puncture wound and his broken rib cage. The brunet wanted to cry out in pain, but he clamped down, swallowing the cry between gritted teeth. He couldn't breath lying in the prone position he was in, broken ribs pressed up against his lungs making it near impossible to draw a breath. Focus, need to focus... he silently thought, eyes at half-mast as he stared through the smoky haze coming from the brazier.

"Starsk." Golden colored wheat fields wavered in front of him and he tried to concentrate on the light blue orbs that floated before him. Like the sky the wounded man thought, fatigue making his eyes close again, a gentle smile gracing his cracked lips, a soothing sense of peace filling his weary heart. Golden fields swaying in a mist of smoky haze, the brunet finally understood... it was Hutch.

"Hey buddy," Hutch said gently, reaching out to touch his wounded partner. He watched as the brunet struggled to open his eyes, but was immediately alerted, the fine hairs rising on the back of his neck, when those cobalt blue eyes suddenly widened and filled with fear at the dark shadow that loomed behind Hutch. The blonde detective swiftly ducked and rolled to the side, firing his canon at the silhouette that trailed him.

Hutch got slowly to his feet, his weapon still drawn and pointed at the still, dark mass on the floor. "H-Hutch" he heard the brunet call out weakly, as he cautiously approached the unmoving form. It was Jonathan. His sightless blue eyes, stared up at Hutch. Although he knew it was senseless, the detective knelt over the inert form feeling for a pulse. The young police officer lay dead, a bullet hole between his eyes, his gun clenched in his hand. Hutch stooped down to take the gun from his limp grasp, and gently ran his hand over the young cop's wide, sightless eyes, to close them. The soft moans from his wounded partner, wiped the remorse that flooded the blonde detective's gentle heart.

"Mmmm... no Hutch... no," the wounded man mumbled softly to himself, his body trembling uncontrollably, his left hand clenched around the handle of the ice pick lodged in his side. "Jonathan... wanted... to help," the brunet gasped, struggling to raise himself.

Hutch knelt before his bleeding and battered partner. "Shh Starsk, take it easy..." the blonde soothed his hurting partner, "Just try to relax... we'll talk about it later, everything's fine now... you don't need to worry... it's all over buddy."

Hutch could tell his friend was starting to slip into unconsciousness, as hardly any breath was being drawn from the wounded man. He was afraid to move the brunet, shocked by the injuries his partner sustained, yet, he knew he had to help him. He mentally assessed the damage done to the brunet's ribs and the ice pick lodged in his partner's side. "Oh God, Starsk" Hutch whispered as he scooted behind his fallen friend. He put the guns down next to him and sat behind his wounded partner, gently lifting his broken, bleeding body, supporting him up against his own warm chest to clear the brunet's airway.

As gentle as he was, the movement caused the brunet to cry out in pain, his body twisting in the blonde's arms. "Easy Starsk... take it easy... you need to breath buddy, c'mon Starsk, hold on... just a little longer..." the blonde detective coached as he held the brunet close. He gently rubbed his partner's chest, noticing for the first time the dislocated shoulder. "Oh God, Starsk" he whispered again, anger and fear for his friend's welfare warring within the blonde's heart. He could feel the smaller man's body trembling in his arms and it filled his heart with despair. "I'm here buddy, I'm here now, it's all over..."

Dark lashes lifted slowly at half-mast to reveal lavender-blue orbs, "H-Hutch..." the battered man rasped, pain and confusion evident in his unfocused gaze, "I-I thought... I wasn't gonna... see ya... again," his voice ended in a soft gasp, expending all the air from his lungs. The brunet took in rapid, shallow breaths, as he closed his eyes against the pain.

"Shhh. Don't talk. You need to save your energy Starsky," the blonde smiled gently down at his wounded partner, pale blue eyes soft with concern, "You know you can't get rid of me that easily, Gordo."

The brunet slowly opened his eyes and smiled, snorting quietly, but quickly grimaced as a spasm of pain lanced through him and locked him in its agonizing hold. The wounded detective arched suddenly in the blonde's arms, the excruciating pain making it near impossible for the brunet to draw a breath.

Hutch gently tightened his hold on the gasping, straining brunet as the pain once again impaled his partner's body. He rubbed his large hand against Starsky's chest, trying to ease the agony his friend was going through. He felt his hand suddenly squeezed and looked down to see Starsky's bloodstained fingers clenching his, the winded brunet turned and pressed the side of his face against the blonde's chest, trying to get a handle on the pain ripping through him.

The blonde gently stroked the side of his partner's cool and clammy face, "Starsk, it's okay buddy... I'm here now, just try to relax and breathe..." Seeing the damage inflicted on his friend's torn and bruised body, angered the tall detective, but he pushed down the heated emotion, not wanting to upset his wounded friend.

The tall blonde listened; straining to hear the distant sounds of the sirens over the labored breathing of his friend, the smoky haze from the brazier stinging his eyes. "Just a little longer buddy, the cavalry's on their way," he said as he felt his partner's cold fingers dig into his hand, as the straining brunet rode out the wave of pain that surfed through his battered body. Hutch scanned the darkened room, noting the pulley hanging above them. Ice-blue eyes looked down at Starsky's raw and bloody wrists and anger once again boiled to the surface at the pain and suffering his partner was forced to endure.

The dark haired detective grew limp as the pain finally released him, and he gasped, breathing in quick, shallow breaths. He raised weary eyes to look at his blonde partner. The soft expression in the brunet's gaze brought a lump to Hutch's throat.

"Tired," the curly haired man gasped, as he struggled to take in more air into his burning lungs."

"I know buddy, you did good... just hold on a little longer okay?" Hutch whispered against the curly hair of his friend.

"Where... are..." the brunet brokenly whispered unable to finish his question, his breathing rapid and shallow. The blond held his partner's torn and bloody wrist, pulse rapid and weak, he noted.

"We're in a root cellar or basement of sorts," Hutch said, understanding his partner's unfinished question, hearing the sirens getting louder.

"T'rrific," the brunet gasped, "Th-thirsty..." The dark haired detective licked his parched lips.

"I know buddy," Hutch said softly, his voice soothing the brunet, despite the pain from his injuries. The blonde knew his partner was going into shock and he quickly, but gently, began removing his own jacket, trying not to jostle the wounded man in his arms.

The gentle movements grated on Starky's shattered ribs and the brunet hissed sharply, back arching in agony. Hutch immediately comforted his partner, covering him with his large, warm jacket; then carefully leaned over to snag the brown leather one, which had fallen to the side as his partner thrashed about. This too, he covered over his friend's trembling body; carefully avoiding the shaft of the ice pick that jutted out obscenely from the brunet's side. He knew from his medical studies that a penetrating object should never be removed from a puncture wound, but seeing that offensive hilt sticking out of his hurting partner made the blonde want to tear it out. He stared at his partner's bloodstained fingers, as they wrapped around the handle again and Hutch could feel his eyes begin to water. He worried about the internal damage his friend might have sustained. The sirens were loud now, and Hutch knew they would be here in a minute or two. The big blonde fussed with the edges of the jacket, tucking it closer under his partner's chin, hoping the added warmth would hold the shock his friend was heading towards at bay. Starsky lay pale and unmoving in his arms, and the sudden stillness frightened the blonde more than the rigid tenseness, that earlier spiked his friend's body. Hutch heard the sirens being shut off outside, vehicle doors slamming and voices speaking,

Feeling the firm, warm chest of his partner pressed into his back and the toasty, comforting weight of the jackets that covered him, Starsky felt himself sinking back into oblivion, wanting only to close his eyes and surrender to the pain. He felt safe and protected, knowing he didn't need to be strong anymore because Hutch was there to watch his back. He startled, as something warm splashed on his cold cheek. He struggled to swim up from the enveloping darkness that called to him. It was the hardest thing he had to do, knowing that pain and agony lay in that direction, but he instinctively knew his partner needed him. He could feel the slight tremor of worry and fear that raced through the blonde's form.

"...utch?" he mumbled drowsily, forcing his long, heavy lashes to lift wearily again, tensing at the sudden pain that bombarded his overwhelmed senses. "H-Hey..." he murmured softly, his voice but a whisper.

"Hey yourself, buddy..." Hutch smiled warmly, eyes bright with unshed tears. "Everyone's here now Starsk, we're gonna take you to the hospital, fix you right up!"

Starsky softly snorted, a lopsided grin barely appearing, "Jus'... gimme... a beer... th-thirsty," he rasped. It was exhausting to speak, but the brunet knew his partner needed to hear his voice, needed to know that he would pull through this.

Hutch snorted, "The next time we have beer buddy, it's on you... and the burgers too!" The blonde gently rubbed his chin against the dark curls pressed against his chest, as his wounded partner snuggled closer into the encompassing warmth that surrounded his aching body. That little movement spoke volumes to the blonde's heart of the trust and love their partnership held for one another, and it filled the taller man's heart with a tenderness for the curly haired man he held in his arms. Hutch watched as the uniformed policemen and the paramedic unit swarmed into the once still, and quiet room. The sudden cacophony grated on the blonde's raw nerves and jarred the brunet, who startled involuntarily at the sound. Starsky, whose eyes were closed once again, grumbled softly as Hutch shifted, trying to make way for the paramedics who blustered about the hurt man.

"Starsk," the gentle blonde whispered, "I-I gotta go now, they need to check you out buddy," He looked down at the pale, clammy face of his partner, lashes; dark smudges against a washed out complexion, the sound of his shallow breathing lost amid the din and the sudden activity in the room.

Starsky, slowly lifted his lashes to reveal drowsy blue eyes, "'Kay, don'... go... too far," he gasped. Hutch gently ruffled his partner's soft curls and quietly shifted out of the way. He watched as the paramedics lay Starsky flat on his back and slightly tilted back his chin to open up his airway. He stood for a moment, watching the paramedics work, feeling suddenly chilled after losing the warmth of his partner's body against his own. He gazed over to the expired cop, and saw Tom Chaykin gently cover his former partner with a sheet. Hutch walked slowly over to the seasoned officer.

"Hey Tom, I-I'm sorry about Jonathan, he came out of nowhere..." Bowing his head slightly, the tall blonde could feel regret fill his heart, and he watched as the older man slowly rose to his feet.

"Hutch... I saw what he did to Starsky... I can't believe it... he was such a good kid," Tom said sadly, shaking his head, pushing his glasses back on the bridge of his nose.

"Yeah," Hutch agreed softly, resting his hand on the older man's shoulder, "He was a good kid... Jonathan was probably the man that Frankie always wanted to be." Hutch looked at Tom and noticed his glasses. At the blonde's silent question, the older man smiled sheepishly.

"Always had these," Tom said indicating his glasses, "My wife told me to wear 'em, said she's tired of me squinting around all the time."

Hutch snorted softly, "Yeah... you better listen to her Tom, too much frowning can give you one of these," the tall blonde pointed to the deep furrow between his brow.

They both watched as the coroner's team carted the body away. At Hutch's questioning gaze, the older cop shrugged, "Dobey called the coroner's wagon along with the ambulance Hutch... just in case." Hutch knew they were both talking about the possibility of finding Starsky's body as victim number five. "Yeah... thanks Tom, I'm sorry things had to end this way..." Something, some extra sense, drew the blonde's immediate attention back to the paramedics working over his exhausted partner. Hutch hurried back to where his partner lay, amid all the medical equipment.

Starsky feebly struggled as a young paramedic gently prodded his shoulder while the other medic worked on impacting the puncture wound, immobilizing the shaft for transportation to the hospital. "H-Hutch." The brunet weakly called out, his voice barely above a whisper. He raised his bloodstained hand and flailed it in the air... fingers reaching... searching. The brunet gasped as the paramedic moved from his shoulder and carefully probed his shattered ribs. "Uuungh," the curly haired man groaned weakly, trying to jerk away, gasping as he tried to breath through the pain.

Hutch quietly moved between the working paramedics and slipped his strong, warm hand into his partner's cold, weak one, silently daring the paramedic to send him away. The paramedic raised questioning eyes at the blonde, but said nothing as the brunet immediately settled down. "I gotcha buddy..." the blonde said soothingly. He watched as one paramedic took his partner's vital signs while the other paramedic attempted to start an I.V. drip into the crook of his partner's arm. Hutch gently squeezed the brunet's hand as the thick needle was inserted. Starsky winced and moaned softly. All the noise and activity, the prodding and probing were wearing him down. "It's okay buddy... I'm right here... take it easy" the blonde gently soothed.

Hutch watched as the paramedics efficiently immobilized his partner's ribs and shoulder and he helped them lift his wounded partner onto the gurney. "I'd like to ride in with you to the hospital," the blond said to the older paramedic who was crouched on the side, putting his equipment away.

"I'm sorry sir, I don't think there'll be enough room in the vehicle, your partner sustained broken ribs which might be compromising his breathing. With the extent of his many injuries, it would be hard to keep him stabilized for transport if there is..."

"Yeah, yeah..." the blonde snapped irritably, knowing the paramedic was right, but selfishly finding it hard to separate from his partner again.

"Hutch?" Tom called, as he approached the blonde, he glanced quickly at the battered brunet who lay pale and unmoving on the gurney and raised compassionate eyes to the tall detective, "Captain Dobey just called, said he'll meet you at the hospital. He wants you to stay and give a statement about what occurred tonight, but the report can be typed up tomorrow."

Hutch watched as blankets were laid over his partner's still form; straps were secured to keep his partner from falling off the gurney as it was wheeled away. "Yeah, okay, thanks Tom," the blonde said wearily, "I'll be right with you." He hurried after the retreating paramedics.

Hutch held Starsky's cold hand in his as he walked him out to the waiting ambulance; ready to transport the wounded detective to Memorial Hospital. "Starsk, I'll be right there as soon as I can, okay buddy? You just take it easy... they're gonna fix you right up and when you wake, I'll be there."

"'Kay," the whispered word could barely be heard, but there was such a vulnerability in its weary tone that the blonde felt tears well in his eyes. Hutch gently stroked the dark curls and squeezed the limp hand he held. "Remember the beer and burgers buddy, I get to be the leech this time." The blonde heard a quiet snort as they collapsed the gurney into the vehicle.

Take care of him," he said to the young paramedic, as the youth climbed in after the gurney. Hutch wanted more than anything to ride with partner to the hospital, the separation and the anxiety of finding his partner in time, still fresh in the weary blonde's mind, but he had a job to do and questions to answer. He hurried back to the basement; the sooner he could get this over with, the faster he could be with Starsky.

"Well... you ready to split this joint Gordo?" Hutch said with a huge smile as he deftly wheeled the rolling chair into the hospital room, "Limousine service awaits you..." He looked over at his curly haired friend who stood by the window looking out. Hutch sent up a silent prayer of thanks and marveled that his friend looked as well as he did. The light blue pullover he wore, accented the vibrant blue of the brunet's sparkling eyes as he turned to grin at the blonde.

"Hey... where ya been? What took ya so long?" the curly haired man said amiably, wincing, as he absently rubbed his upper right chest.

Hutch frowned slightly knowing his partner's ribs and chest still caused him some considerable pain, but the doctor said that was to be expected. It had been four weeks since the night Hutch found his partner in that dusty root cellar, beaten, stabbed and near death. The tall blonde thought back on all the suffering the brunet underwent on his long and painful road to recovery...

Hutch had paced many long hours in the sterile corridor of the hospital's waiting room. Dobey had stayed with him for a while, but had decided to head on home when they were told that it would be several hours before they would know anything. The large man tried to convince Hutch to go home too, but the blonde immediately refused, promising his captain that he would let him know about Starsky the minute he heard anything.

He dry washed his weary face and braced his arm, palm flat against the cold, white wall. His stomach grumbled from the bitter, black coffee the nurse had handed to him an hour before. "Starsk," he sighed softly. Closing his eyes, Hutch could picture his hurting partner, barely able to breathe on his own, the hilt of the ice pick horribly jutting out from his side. He leaned his weary forehead against his bicep and rubbed his tired eyes against his sleeve.

"Excuse me, are you here for Detective David Starsky?" a weary voice said, startling the blonde into standing up straight "I'm Dr. Mercer" the doctor politely introduced himself, extending his hand in greeting.

Hutch took the offered hand and shook it saying, "Yes, I'm his partner, Ken Hutchinson. Doctor, how is he?" Hutch asked anxiously, eyeing the doctor's features to determine if the news was positive or negative.

"We've stabilized your partner, Detective Hutchinson. He's been in recovery for a while now. You may see him for a few minutes when we take him to his room. Your partner was severely brutalized Detective, sustaining severe injuries, as I'm sure you are well aware of. He sustained a chest wall injury, due to the blunt trauma he received from the baseball bat."

"Chest wall injury...?" Hutch questioned, "Please doctor... could you explain this in layman's terms..."

"Certainly Detective, why don't we sit down, it's been many hours since I got to put up my feet, so to speak," the weary doctor smiled, escorting the blonde to the uncomfortable, plastic hard back chairs, he had so recently vacated. "Chest wall injuries are extremely common following a blunt trauma. It can vary in severity from minor bruising or an isolated rib fracture, to severe crushing injuries leading to respiratory compromise. Multiple rib fractures like in the case of your partner, may sometimes lead to pulmonary contusions... a bruising of the lung. In Detective Starsky's case, his lung has been severely bruised, but fortunately, it was not punctured. Our main concern now is preventing the development of pneumonia, which is the most common complication of chest wall injuries. We need to protect Detective Starsky's underlying lung by allowing adequate oxygenation and ventilation."

"Will his ribs and chest be splinted then?" Hutch asked, pushing a weary hand through his golden locks.

"Obviously Detective, you have some knowledge of medicine." Dr. Mercer smiled tiredly, "While strapping the chest to splint rib fractures is a common procedure in most cases, it would not be appropriate for your partner. Splinting him would impede his chest wall movements and would prevent adequate oxygen and ventilation. Analgesia is the therapy for most rib fractures and it will be the mainstay of therapy for Detective Starsky. For severe chest wall injuries like that of your partner's, the best analgesia is a continuous epidural infusion of a local anesthetic agent. This provides complete analgesia allowing normal breathing and coughing without the risks of respiratory depression. The epidural will be inserted into the thoracic area of his spine."

At the panicked look on the blonde's face, the kindly doctor quickly explained, "The membrane that covers the spinal cord and nerve roots in your spine is called the dura membrane. The space surrounding the dura is called the epidural space. Nerves travel through this space to the mid back and along the ribs. The epidural infusion will shoot anesthetics into the epidural space through a catheter to decrease inflammation of the nerve roots, hopefully reducing the pain around David's rib cage. The catheter will be left in his spine and it will allow us to pump more anesthetic medicine into him for pain control. It will help him to heal faster and will provide relief from the pain he will certainly be in.

"Oh God," Hutch whispered, "W-What about risks?" The blonde stammered as he thought about what his partner would have to undergo.

"First of all Detective Hutchinson, let me assure you that we have the best anesthesiologist on hand here at Memorial. His name is Dr. Berjiak and he is very skilled and familiar with epidural infusion procedures. I will be with him to assist in the procedure."

"Risks..." Hutch repeated; closing his eyes to control the anger and helpless fear that quickly surfaced at the thought of Starsky permanently injured in any way.

"Well... because this treatment is invasive, there are certain risks. If the epidural needle accidentally punctures the epidural vein and causes bleeding, building pressure can lead to permanent tissue and nerve damage. The worst-case scenario, of course, is permanent paralysis, but this, is highly unlikely because of the skilled precision of Dr. Berjiak."

There was a long pause as the blonde mentally digested everything the doctor said. Dr. Mercer smiled and attempted to rise, but slowly sat down again at the detective's next question. "And the rest of his injuries?" Hutch was almost afraid to ask. His pale blue eyes locked onto the doctor's warm brown ones. He could feel himself trembling and he nervously dragged his hand through his fine blond hair.

"Well, everything went well in regards to the puncture wound to his side. It's a good thing the ice pick was not removed, or your partner would have surely bled to death before arriving here. Surprisingly, no major organs were damaged and there was no internal bleeding."

"Thank God." Hutch whispered softly, closing his eyes in silent gratitude.

"What about his shoulder?" Hutch queried softly, wanting to see his partner, to touch his friend, to validate for himself that Starsky was still alive and here with him. Though the doctor didn't seem overly concerned, Hutch was filled with anxiety over his partner's well being. He silently vowed to do whatever it took to help expedite his friend's recuperation and rehabilitation.

"Detective Starsky's dislocated shoulder was 'reduced' or put back into place and repeated x-rays were performed to ensure that the shoulder joint was indeed in the correct position. Had this been the only injury to his shoulder, it would have been a fairly simple procedure, however he also suffered a tear to the tendon in his rotator cuff when his arm was forcefully yanked in an upward position." The doctor sighed heavily, "By the look of your partner's raw and mangled wrists, it appears he was suspended for a long period of time which would have put unbearable pressure on his already damaged shoulder, thus causing, what we call a ' traumatic tearing' of his rotator cuff tendon. We've operated on his torn tendon and thankfully the damage was repairable. We will probably start him on a series of cortisone shots, injected into the joint to reduce inflammation, thus allowing the shoulder to heal properly, and his arm will be in a sling for a while to help keep the shoulder immobilized. Physical therapy of course, will later follow."

"These cortisone shots doctor, are they painful and are there side effects I should be aware of?" Hutch asked, feeling his stomach clench.

"The cortisone injections can be slightly painful, especially if injected into the joint as we will have to do with your partner. He will have no more than three shots, less if there is an immediate improvement. The cortisone injection can have several side effects, the most common being what we call cortisone 'flare-up.' This is a condition in which the injected cortisone crystallizes and can cause a brief period of pain worse than before the shot. The pain usually lasts a day or two and is treated by icing the injected area. There's also the rare case of infection, especially if the cortisone is injected into a joint area."

The tall blonde sighed, nerves jittery and tense, stomach queasy and upset. "When can I see him doc?" Hutch asked quietly, worry and fatigue wearing away at the weary blonde.

Dr. Mercer gave Hutch the once over and shook his head, "You're exhausted detective, you should go home, take a shower and rest. He'll be here tomorrow. They're probably just setting him up now in his room. I believe he'll be in room 611. Freshen up and see him tomorrow detective. It'll probably do the both of you good," the kindly doctor smiled.

"When does my partner get the epidural and the cortisone injection?" Hutch asked, as the doctor rose to leave, "And will he be conscious when it's given to him?"

"We'll be starting the epidural catheter as soon as he regains consciousness from the general anesthesia he received from surgery. It should soon be wearing off. We need him conscious and aware during the epidural procedure so that he can tell of us if there are any tingling sensations or numbness that he may be feeling as we insert the needle into his spine. As for the cortisone injection, that will also be administered as soon as possible... possibly tomorrow if all goes well." The doctor looked at his wristwatch, "Your partner should be slowly waking up about now. He'll still be very groggy though. Go home Detective Hutchinson, your partner is in good hands."

"I'd like to see him now, if that's okay doctor, and be with him when they administer the injections." Hutch gently pushed.

"You can see him for only a few minutes then, the nurse will probably ask you to leave when Dr. Berwick is ready to start the epidural procedure." The doctor smiled and turned away.

Hutch quickly reached over and grabbed the doctor's arm, "Dr. Mercer, I-I need to be there with him, when he gets the epidural, it'll help him get through this... he's been through so much already." Hutch entreated.

For a moment, Dr. Mercer's warm brown eyes latched onto the pale blue eyes of the weary blonde, then smiling gently he said, "Very well Detective Hutchinson, your partner has been through something very traumatic, if you can be of further comfort to him, then I'll give you my permission. It will help if you can keep him calm, especially during the epidural procedure. I've heard about the two of you from Dr. Franklin, a friend and colleague of mine... I truly believe that the love of family and good friends are the best medicine to healing any injury. You may stay then, until the epidural catheter is in place. Good night Detective Hutchinson, or should I say good morning?" The doctor chuckled softly and walked down the deserted corridor, tearing off the green scrub cap as he went.

Hutch slowly pushed the heavy door open to room 611. He poked his head in and quickly scanned the interior. Typical hospital room, full of monitors and tubing, curtains, two chairs, a bedpan and that sickly odor that permeated all hospitals. The only thing that made this room stand out from any other room was the dark haired man lying on the bed, covered up to his mid section by a pristine, white sheet. The blonde could tell from where he stood at the door that his partner's rib cage was lightly wrapped with soft bandages for support and a sling encased his partner's damaged shoulder The tall detective crept closer to the bed until he stood above his sleeping partner. His dark curls stood out against the clean, white pillowcase and Hutch gently reached out to touch his partner's soft, chocolate brown hair, smiling as one errant curl wrapped around his index finger. God, I could have lost you buddy, the blonde thought quietly, unable to stop weary eyes from watering as he thought of the trials ahead. How much could one person endure? The tired detective gently put his large hand into his partner's warm, limp one, noticing for the first time that the brunet's wrists, were bandaged too. Hutch closed his pale lashes, but opened them immediately when he felt a weak squeeze on his hand. He looked at his partner's still face and watched as heavy dark lashes twitched, then lifted slowly.

"Hey sleeping beauty," Hutch whispered softly, smiling as the weary lavender-blue eyes of his partner focused, and found his gaze, "You getting' up for me... huh?"

The brunet lowered his lashes; thick dark smudges against pale cheeks. He took in a quivering breath, and a tiny smile tipped the corner of his mouth, "O-only... if you... wake me up...with a k-kiss." His voice was barely audible, but it filled Hutch's heart with unspeakable joy.

The blonde snorted loudly and gently squeezed his partner's hand. "Dummy... I make it a rule to never kiss anyone with hair on their chest." Hutch's eyes softened as he saw that lopsided grin slowly appear, that impish grin that his partner had patented.

"Yeah?" the brunet retorted softly, slowly opening one eye, "What about... that gorilla... ya took out... last week... huh?"

Hutch noticed his partner was out of breath by the time he finished his sentence and he gently rubbed his thumb over the bandaged wrist of his groggy friend. "Okay buddy," the blonde smiled, "You win this time. How you feeling?"

"Tired... thirsty..." the brunet mumbled sleepily, his eyes closed wearily. Hutch glanced over at the clear fluid running into his partner's arm from the IV line. He looked to the door as it opened. An older, chubby, sweet-faced nurse walked in with a small tray in her hands. She smiled at Hutch and stopped at the foot of the bed to check her patient's charts. "And how is Davey doing this morning?" she said softly. She glanced at the tall blonde and smiled warmly, "I'm Hannah, Hannah O'Flannigan. I'll be his nurse until the evening shift, and you be...?"

"His partner...Ken Hutchinson," Hutch smiled shaking her offered hand, "We're detectives."

"Oh, yes, it's a shameful pity what was done to poor Davey here. He's suffered so much, but never you mind Kenny, our Davey's strong and he'll pull through."

Hutch smiled warmly at the use of his partner's given name. "I was wondering if there were any ice chips that I could give to my partner," Hutch said, "He mentioned that he was thirsty."

"I'll be getting' that for you right away Kenny," Hannah smiled. "You need to go easy on that though, he's slowly coming out of anesthesia so he might be nauseous for a while. If it gets too bad, we have some medication for that." Hutch walked her to the door. Her warm demeanor and motherly looks touched the blond detective. He was glad that Starsky had Hannah for his nurse.

"Ahh... Hannah?" Hutch said softly as she turned to leave, "Dr. Mercer said they'll be inserting an epidural catheter into Starsky... ahh, David, and I wanted to know when the treatment will begin. He also mentioned cortisone shots for his shoulder?"

"Well now, I'll have to check and get back to you on that," Hannah said, "I'll ask Dr. Mercer... he should be by later with Dr. Berjiak to check on Davey. In the meantime, I'll get you those ice chips and some extra blankets and fresh towels. The doctor did say you had clearance to stay with Davey..." Her kindly gaze traveled over the worn features of the blonde. "You know Kenny, there's a bathroom with a shower stall in it, right around the corner. They say the water's real hot." She smiled as she added, "And, if you put these two chairs together, they say it can be a mighty comfortable place to catch a few winks." She nodded at the tall detective, and left with a gentle smile on her lips.

Hutch walked over to his partner who was fast asleep. He reached out and gently pushed back an unruly curl from his friend's forehead. Hutch swallowed and sat down in the padded chair to wait. The quiet stillness in the dim room slowly began to drain the pent up tension in the blonde. Hutch slouched in the chair as bone aching fatigue filled his being. It seemed like centuries had passed since he had taken Starsky home from their fun filled evening at Huggy's, the evening this whole nightmare began. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the spine of the chair, careful of his stitches, his own pain forgotten in the frantic search for his partner. He could feel his body unwinding, lulled by the comforting sound his partner's soft breathing...

The tall blonde woke with a start. For a minute he was disoriented, fuzzy images raced through his mind as he tried to figure out what had woken him. He focused on the cup of partially melting ice chips placed on the roll away table, and smiled at the nurse's quiet consideration, upon seeing him fast asleep in the chair. Hutch immediately stood, ignoring the sharp pain that flared in his head and back, as he heard the soft moans from his partner.

The brunet squirmed restlessly, his dark heavy lashes twitched and rolled, "No..." he mumbled softly, obviously agitated by the dreams that still haunted his sleep. His sharp eyes noted the flushed cheeks and the dry heat that radiated off his partner.

"Hey, buddy," the blonde whispered, his soothing voice soft and gentle. He stroked the side of his partner's face, feeling the heated flush beneath his fingers. He frowned, feeling the unnatural warmth, the furrow between his brows deepening with concern.

Starsky could feel the dream ebbing, frightful images being replaced by a warm touch and a velvet voice. It pulled him ever upward, until he surfaced from the darkness that held him. He could feel the pain that bombarded his body, though somehow he knew it should feel worse, and he struggled to open his heavy eyes to see for himself that familiar face that made him feel safe, accepted and loved.

"Hey Gordo," Hutch smiled hugely, joy filling his heart at the first sight of the ocean blue depths in his partner's eyes. He wanted to take his partner in his arms and squeeze him tightly, assuring for himself that his partner was truly here and whole, but he refrained from the sudden exuberance that burst from his heart, and limited himself to just a gentle stroking of his partner's good arm. He watched as the brunet's tongue slowly peeked out and moistened his parched lips. "I got something for you Starsk," the blonde said, as he picked up the cup and slipped a piece of ice into his partner's mouth.

Starsky closed his eyes as the wonderful moist coolness slipped down his dry throat. He sucked contentedly on the ice until it was just a sliver, slowly opening his eyes and his mouth at the same time, silently begging for another.

Hutch snorted softly, Like a baby bird he thought with a smile as he spooned another small chunk of ice and gave it to the curly haired man. He watched as the brunet sighed and sucked it down, the ice chip melting quickly in the surrounding heat of his partner's mouth. The blonde frowned again as he lightly ran his hand against the brunet's forehead and down his neck. Starsky was starting on a fever and it disturbed and frightened the blonde.

Sensing his friend's agitation, Starsky opened one eye, "What?" he gasped softly, savoring the coolness as the last of the melted ice dribbled down his throat.

Hutch was spared a reply as the door opened and Hannah came bustling in. "Well hello Davey," she said smiling, warm brown eyes twinkling, "Glad to see you awake, and what blue eyes you have dear!" she said jovially. She noted his flushed cheeks and quickly felt his forehead, frowning, "It seems you're startin' on a little fever Davey, I noticed it when I brought your ice chips in a little while ago. Dr. Mercer and Dr. Berjiak will be here soon to speak with you. I've told Dr. Mercer about your fever." The nurse walked over and checked the IV line running into inner elbow of the brunet. "We'll probably be starting a mild antibiotic drip to help with that fever dear, don't worry... everything will be just fine." She smiled at the brunet and winked at the blonde, then left.

Starsky groaned softly as he tried to move, the pain getting increasingly more uncomfortable by the second. The general anesthetic from the surgery was slowly wearing off and the discomfort was becoming apparent. Starsky gasped softly, a burning hot spike flaring in his chest and side. He quickly looked away from his partner, not wanting Hutch to see him hurting, knowing the blonde would suffer along with him.

"Hang on buddy," Hutch comforted, squeezing his partner's left shoulder, "They're gonna be giving you something for the pain soon." Hutch could feel the beating in his heart grow frantic as he watched his partner's left hand clench the side of the bed, fingers rigidly digging into the crisp, white sheet.

"Yeah..." the brunet replied breathlessly. Blue eyes lifted to the door as it opened.

"Hello David," Dr. Mercer smiled, "I'm Dr. Mercer and this Dr. Berjiak, your anesthesiologist." Dr. Mercer smiled, nodded at Hutch, and continued, "David, you suffered a blunt trauma to your ribs which caused a chest wall injury to occur. I will keep this brief because I know your anesthesia from the surgery is wearing off. We need to keep the pain in control to promote healing and so we will be giving you a thoracic epidural anesthetic infusion. This will keep the pain and inflammation at bay and will be your main therapy for your chest wall injury. Dr. Berjiak will be administering the epidural catheter into your spine. You will feel almost instant relief David... do you understand?"

"Yeah..." Starsky said, breathing through the pain growing in his side and shoulder. He lifted his eyes to his partner and could sense the concern and apprehension that flooded the blonde's heart. He tried to grin, as Hutch's light blue eyes connected with his own, hoping to ease the anxiety that radiated from his friend. Hutch smiled back, knowing what his partner was trying to do. He looked to the anesthesiologist as the doctor spoke.

"David, we are going to roll you onto your left side. We will be careful of the puncture wound, but you need to help us. Do you understand?" Dr. Berjiak said calmly. At the brunet's silent nod, the doctor continued, "We will help you lay on your side, and then we will sterilize your upper spinal area with iodine. It will feel a little cold. We will numb the surface of your skin so that it will be easier to insert the epidural bore needle. Then, you will need to get into a position that might be uncomfortable, but necessary for the correct insertion of the needle."

Hutch swallowed, as the doctor continued speaking to Starsky, several nurses brought in wheeled trays covered with sterile white cloths. Hannah smiled empathetically at the blonde, hanging a bag of amber fluid to the IV stand, and attached a drip into Starsky's IV line. At Hutch's silent question, Dr. Mercer replied, "The clear bag is a saline solution to keep David hydrated and now we are also giving him a mild antibiotic to help with his fever."

"Alright Detective Hutchinson, we need you to help us roll David onto his side facing you." Dr. Berjiak said. Although they turned the brunet as gently as possible, Hutch could tell the slight movement caused his partner considerable pain. Starsky's body was rigid and tense, and his shallow rapid breathing unnerved the big blonde. "It's okay buddy, I'm right here...we'll do this together."

The blonde's velvet, soft voice wrapped around the hurting brunet, easing the burning pain in his side. Starsky slowly opened his eyes, unaware that he had even closed them, and stared into the sympathetic light blue eyes of his blonde counterpart. He shivered as he felt the cold swabbing of iodine on his upper back.

"Very good David," Berjiak calmly continued, "We're going to get ready to numb your skin, so that we can put the epidural needle in place. Do you understand David?"

Hutch saw his partner nod, wincing and clenching his jaw as another shaft of pain lanced through him. The blonde watched over his friend's shoulder as the white cloth was lifted to reveal a long hollow needle, a microbore catheter and a hypodermic syringe. He masked his expression to cover the apprehension he felt and gently grasped his partner's warm hand. "Right here buddy," he whispered softly. The still, quietness of his partner added to the anxiety that washed over the blonde. He felt Starsky weakly squeeze his hand in return, his dark, blue eyes focused on the wall behind the tall blonde detective.

"Alright David, you're going to feel a prick and then a stinging sensation as the local anesthetic starts to numb the upper layer of your skin, your epidermis." Dr. Berjiak took the hypodermic from the tray and swabbed the brunet's back again.

Starsky winced and exhaled softly, as the thin needle was slowly injected into several areas of his upper back. He could feel the sharp, stinging sensation as the numbing analgesic was introduced, but he concentrated on the large warm hand pressed against his own. He breathed slow, shallow breaths, shifting his gaze from the wall to lock into his partner's concerned face. "Hutch," he whispered between breaths.

"Yeah, right here Starsk, I'm right here." Hutch smiled encouragingly, although he was dying on the inside. He knew how much his partner hated needles, hell, he did too, especially after his horrific ordeal with Ben Forrest and his goons. His gut clenched and he fought down a wave of nausea at the thought of what was to come. Oh God, let this be over, the blonde silently prayed, Help me be strong for him.

"You're doing fine David," Berjiak's calm voice permeated the room, "The surface layer of your skin is numb now, so we will start the insertion of the epidural needle. Before I can do this, you need to get into a certain position for me. I know this is going to be rather uncomfortable with the injuries you've sustained, but you will only need to stay in this position for a brief moment, until we've inserted the needle and catheter. What I need for you to do is to tuck your chin in as close to your chest as possible and bring your knees up to your chest. This will put some strain on your ribs, but I will work as quickly as possible with your cooperation. Once you are in the required position David, I must ask that you be as still as possible. I will tell you when to start, do you understand David?"

"Yeah," Starsky responded, never breaking the comforting connection of his partner's gaze. At the doctor's word, the brunet slowly lifted his knees to his chest, grunting with the effort as pain racked his broken ribs. He could feel Hutch gently nudge the top of his head down and helped him tuck his chin to his chest. Body curled tightly into a fetal position, put a tremendous strain on the hurting man, making breathing near impossible. He gasped at the agony that tore at his ribs and continued to mentally focus on the warm hand clenched tightly in his own. Stormy blue affixed to sky blue, and he felt Hutch's other hand gently embrace his lower back for support.

"Alright David, take a deep breath and hold it, don't move whatever you do."

Hutch felt sickened by all of this. He knew Starsky was struggling to control not only his pain, but his fear as well. The blonde knew his partner had to be in excruciating pain because of the position he was in, the tight curl to his posture had to be agonizing on his already broken rib cage. Pale eyes watched as the long needle indented the skin on his partner's back and he felt his partner's cold hand squeeze his own.

The brunet felt a sharp pressure as the thick needle broke skin, but jolted as it slid deeper into his back, eyes scrunched tight; breaking the visual connection he had with his partner, gasping at the brutal invasion into his spine. He could feel Hutch grasping his hand and he dug his fingers in, clinging to it like a lifeline. He clenched his teeth to keep from groaning, knowing it would upset the sensitive blonde. Starsky could feel his knees beginning to straighten out, wanting to jerk away from the sharp pain that impaled him, but he felt Hutch wrap his long body around his curled one, to keep him in place, firmly holding him down. The extra weight added to the strain on his ribs, but Hutch wouldn't let him escape the agony that dredged in his spine. He could feel the needle being adjusted inside of him; the sharp point was pulled back and reinserted into the epidural space "Uungh," the groan slipped out before the brunet could get a handle on it.

"Take it easy buddy, I know it hurts babe, but you can't move, just hang on to me Starsk, it's almost over." The blonde swallowed down the sour bile that rose in his throat. He felt like he was torturing Starsky, holding him as he watched the thick steel needle drilling into the curvature of his partner's spine. What if they were making a mistake? What if this permanently damaged his partner? Hutch swallowed down his fear and tightened his already firm hold as he felt the brunet straining to shift away from the thick needle penetrating his spine. He could hear is partner softly moaning, shredding his heart into bleeding strips. "Take it easy Starsk, just try to hold still buddy, I'm right here... it's almost over."

The brunet tried to focus in on that familiar, soothing voice as he struggled to surf through the pain. Oh God, Hutch... it hurts the brunet silently cried out in his mind, refusing to make eye contact with the blonde, knowing it would betray the excruciating pain he was enduring. Instead, the brunet brought his chin in closer to his chest, as he attempted to hide his face from his tall friend. It made him physically sick to know that Hutch had to be a part of this invasive, painful process. He knew how he would feel if the roles were reverse, and he had to watch Hutch suffering. He pressed his lips together tight and held his breath.

"Alright David, don't move, we are inserting the catheter through the needle." Dr. Mercer's calm voice broke through the pain-muddled thoughts of the brunet, as he threaded the catheter through the needle held by Dr. Berjiak. Starsky could feel the thin catheter slipping into his upper back. "Do you feel any numbness or tingling David?" Dr. Mercer asked. At the quick negative shake of the curly haired man, Dr. Mercer continued, "We'll be starting the anesthesia now."

Starsky could feel his body trembling from the strain on his ribs. He shivered as the cold anesthetic was pumped into his spine. The brunet couldn't control the soft gasp that escaped his lips as the needle was slowly pulled out from around the catheter that remained in his spine. He breathed rapid, shallow breaths, but was surprised to feel the pain lessening in his ribs and chest, the agonizing tightness that made breathing near impossible, loosening up, letting his chest expand naturally with each breath, his legs straightened on their own accord, as Hutch slowly let go of his body and stood on long, shaky legs. The blonde watched as his partner gave in to the exhaustion he felt; heavy dark lashes closing with fatigue.

"You did very well David," Dr. Mercer said gently, "You should be feeling some relief now from the pain. We will keep the catheter in for a while, as we will need to give you more pain medication, until you can get control over it naturally. We will be lessening the dosage daily as the narcotics used in this type of therapy are strong and can be addicting."

Addicting. At that last word, Hutch quickly lifted his head and looked at the doctor; his mind racing back to the ordeal he suffered at the hands of Forrest and Monk. He remembered the devastating effects of the heroin, the horrible craving need for it, the shaking, the vomiting, and the willingness to sell his soul for the relief a quick fix would bring. Hutch looked fondly down at his dark haired partner, a slight smile appearing, as he remembered the brunet's warm, but firm embrace, the gentle strokes against his sweat drenched, straining neck, the determined, encouraging voice floating above his pain-racked body, "You're gonna make it huh... you big lummox" He closed his pale lashes, remembering how safe he felt in those strong arms, even as the abhorrent pain from the heroin sliced through him.

The brunet could already feel his exhausted body drifting as the pain slowly ebbed. "Rest now David, I'll be back later to check on you," he vaguely heard the doctor saying. All he wanted to do was to give in to the weariness he felt and the artificial peace the analgesic brought to his battered body, but the sudden tenseness he felt from his partner made him slowly lift his lashes. He wondered what thoughts were plaguing his partner who stood above him with his eyes closed, pale lashes almost invisible against his fair Nordic complexion. He could feel the blonde's large hand trembling in his own. He watched as his partner took a deep breath and opened his eyes to stare at the doctor.

Dr. Mercer made eye contact with the tall blonde and smiled, "Thank you for your help detective, he'll be fine for now, the epidural block will help him to sleep and heal... he just needs to rest... as do you." The doctors left quietly, but Hutch remained, keeping a silent vigil over his wounded partner, listening to the even breathing of his friend, trembling slightly from the ordeal he witnessed and participated in. His gut clenched and roiled as the turbulent acid rose in his empty stomach. It made him sick to think he helped to hold his partner down as they drilled that thick needle into his spine.

Hutch felt a weak squeeze on his hand that was still held by his partner's. "You... okay?" the brunet weakly asked, blue eyes dark with concern, as he looked over his friend's haggard appearance.

"Don't you think I should be asking you that buddy?" the tall blonde whispered as he leaned over to brush back the unruly curls from his partner's forehead.

"Go home, Hutch" he heard his weary partner whisper, eyes closing slowly, dark lashes smudged against warm flushed cheeks. Hutch had forgotten they were still joined by their hands.

"You still awake buddy?" Hutch asked gently, rubbing his thumb across the palm of the brunet's hand. "I thought you passed out on me." The blonde smiled softly as dark lashes lifted wearily, exposing dark shaded circles beneath glassy, blue orbs.

A slight grin, tipped the corner of the drowsy brunet's mouth. "Wanted to... but you're thinkin' too loud... would ya... knock it off... huh?"

"W-What?" the blonde stammered, looking away from the knowing gaze in his partner's eyes. Sometimes it was almost unnatural the way Starsky could read his thoughts, the way they communicated without words, with just a glance or a nod, and yet, it was a testimony to the bond they shared. He felt the smaller man squeeze his hand again, and glanced down into those familiar blue depths. Hutch gently ruffled the dark curls on his partner's head and smiled affectionately at the brunet.

Starsky's grin slowly faded as he cautiously turned onto his back to look the blonde in the eye, "Wouldn'ta made it through that... without ya, Hutch..." He closed his eyes wearily, long lashes hiding his feelings, but Hutch saw it all in that one look, the fear he felt for the procedure, the need for his partner's presence, the pretense of having to appear strong in front of the doctors, the safety he felt with Hutch there, the love and the gratitude... and it warmed the blonde's heart.

"Just be careful there buddy," Hutch said softly, "Don't squirm around too much... they still have the catheter in your spine... don't want to have to go through that again if it falls out." He could feel his stomach tighten again as he remembered the firm grip he had to use on his battered partner, to keep him from struggling against the needle burrowing through his spine. The image of his gasping, hurting friend trembling in his arms made him want to throw up. He swallowed, sickened by the thought of his unwanted role in this ordeal, and yet, he wouldn't have wanted to be anywhere except at his partner's side.

Starsky snorted softly, "You tellin' me..." The brunet inconspicuously glanced under thick lowered lashes at the suddenly too quiet blonde, noting his friend's guilt ridden face. Aw Hutch, not again the brunet thought fondly. His friend's gentle and sensitive spirit, though very comforting and warm, also allowed the blonde to empathize and feel for others; making him sometimes carry the burden of guilt over things imagined. Probably blamin' himself for havin' to hold me down the brunet thought warmly, inwardly smiling at his tenderhearted counterpart.

"Ya know Hutch," the brunet said softly, eyes still closed, "At first, I didn't want ya to see me like that... hurtin' and stuff... because I know you'd hurt right along with me."

Hutch leaned closer to hear his partner's soft words, words that slurred a little as his drowsy partner struggled to stay awake. He could feel the warmth that radiated off his partner's flushed cheeks. The blonde ran his fingers through the dark curls, pale blue eyes focused on the dark, heavy lashes that remained shut as his partner rambled on.

"...but, I sure am glad... that you were here buddy, wouldn't have... been able to keep still like the doctor's wanted... if you hadn't... held me down like that. You probably saved me... from being permanently injured. It hurt Hutch... but if the needle had hit anything else in there..." The quiet pause, gave both men food for thought and the possibilities it created for the blonde made him silently offer up a prayer of thanks for his partner's safety. He hovered closer as the brunet softly continued, "I-It would'a killed me, if I... couldn't go back on the streets with ya. I know that was hard for ya Hutch... holdin' me down like that... knowing it was causing me pain and stuff... but, I couldn't have done it without ya buddy."

Hutch felt the dark burden of guilt slowly lift and dissipate as his partner absolved it from his spirit. He watched as his curly haired friend slowly lifted his lashes, revealing sparkling, glassy eyes.

"'M tired Hutch," Starsky said drowsily, the strong narcotic running through his spine, made him feel dopey and lethargic. The agonizing tightness in his chest and ribs was almost gone, only slight spasms of pain remained, but even that was dissipating. "I gotta sleep... don't want ya to sit here Hutch... your back ain't gonna love me tomorrow if ya stay... go home... 'kay?

The tall blonde snorted softly, touched that his battered partner would be worried about his silly old back injury. He squeezed the warm hand in his and lifted his own hand to once again, brush back the unruly curls from his partner's warm forehead. He couldn't help touching his friend, knowing his partner was still with him, that he wouldn't be another statistic in the serial murders like Elise Richardson. "Go to sleep Starsk," his said, purposely making his voice velvet-soft to soothe and lull his partner into slumber. He listened to the soft, unencumbered breathing of his partner, tucked the blanket securely around the bandaged torso, and quietly turned to leave. He stopped at the door when he heard his partner's drowsy voice.

"Hey... Hutch," the soft whisper was barely audible, "...see ya "

The tall blonde felt salty tears fill his eyes, and he quickly brushed it away with the back of his hand, "Yeah buddy... tomorrow, bright and early... I'll see you tomorrow."

"Well... what'cha standin' there gawkin' at huh?" the brunet grinned, obviously glad to see his friend. The brunet could feel the warm affection radiating from the tall blonde's soft blue gaze, and it brought a lump to his throat.

"I don't know Starsk, just find it hard to believe that I get to take you home today buddy!" The blonde said happily, spinning the wheel chair around so that his partner could easily climb into it.

"Yeah... I bet," the brunet playfully grouched, "Did ya wash my sheets and turn my bed down... clean up my pad... make me a pot of chicken soup... fill my 'fridge with healthy, wholesome, nutritious junk... pay my bills and my rent... wash my Torino... put a stool in the tub so I can sit on it, jus' in case my knees buckle while I'm takin' my hot shower... made sure you went over the 'mother hen' list of how to care for Davey, not once, but twice..." The brunet cocked an eyebrow at the squirming blonde, amusement making his dark blue eyes gleam with mischief.

The tall blonde snorted softly, causing the lop-sided grin to appear on the brunet's face. Hutch had the decency to blush, as his partner's perceptiveness was embarrassingly accurate. "Well... ahh... I-I still have to put the stool in the tub..." Hutch stammered, sheepishly lifting sky blue eyes to his partner's animated, sparkling ocean blue depths. Quiet snorting could be heard that steadily grew by decibels, until the two men laughed loudly, filling the sterile room with joyful mirth. Starsky snickered, left hand holding onto his right shoulder as his body shook with merriment.

"Well, what are you waiting for buddy, hop on..." the tall blonde said, smiling broadly as he picked up his partner's duffle bag. He watched as the joyful look on his partner's face faded away.

Letting out deep sigh, the brunet walked to the bed and leaned his slim hip against the side of it. "Can't..." he said abruptly, "Doc says I gotta take one more shot of that cortisone for my shoulder." Starsky held onto his right shoulder as he carefully stretched it out, dark head tilted slightly as he peered up at the blonde.

The big blonde sighed, dragging his hand through his fine hair. How much more did his partner have to take? He lifted pale, blue eyes at the brunet, who shrugged lamely, an uneasy smile on his lips. Cobalt blue eyes looked down to the cold tiled floor, feeling the frustration emanating from the blonde. "It's only one more Hutch, then I can go home," Starsky said quietly.

Only one more. Hutch was sick of seeing his partner used as a pin cushion. Hutch knew he was being unreasonable, but his recovering partner had been through the mill. Not only did his wounded partner have to go through the excruciating experience of the epidural, but the slight fever he also had, grew into a raging inferno the following day. Fear of infection from the puncture site in his partner's side had the nursing staff running in and out of his room all night; leaving Hutch to sponge bathe his friend with cool cloths in between the painful poking and prodding of the doctors and nurses. Then came the day Starsky had to have his first cortisone shot. Seeing the long needle being inserted into his partner's shoulder joint made Hutch nauseous. He knew his partner was in a lot of pain, but he gritted his teeth and took it; never once complaining. That was so like his partner. One little splinter would have the curly haired man ranting and whining all night, but shoot him with a bullet or stick a knife into his shoulder, and the brunet took it stoically, quietly, holding his hurt and pain close to his heart; unable to share or burden others with his agony.

Hutch slowly shook his head, trying to free himself of the helpless anger and frustration that ensnared his heart. He wanted to take his suddenly, too quiet partner, and make a run for the door. He selfishly wanted to take Starsky home NOW, this instant. Home, where he could be safely guarded and coddled, protected from needles and infections and raving ice pick wielding lunatics.

And yet, Hutch reasoned, under the excellent care of Dr. Mercer and Dr. Berjiak, his partner had made remarkable gains quickly; not only physically, but mentally too. His nightmares became few and far between. Starsky had undergone counseling while being laid up at the hospital, to walk him through the horrors he had experienced as Winslow's captive. Jonathan's disorder was thoroughly explained to the curly haired detective by Memorial's clinical psychologist and though the brunet understood the cause of the young cop's fractured mind, it took the love and support of his best friend to finally lay it to rest...

"Ya know Hutch," the brunet moodily whispered, stormy blue eyes fixed to the white ceiling of his prison, in room 611, "I can understand why he did it... me lookin' like his dad and all... but how could Jonathan live with the guilt of killin' all those people... especially the dames... he was a cop for Christ's sake."

Hutch smiled fondly at his recovering friend. For Starsky, there was only black and white, no grays areas in life. There were either good guys or bad guys, right or wrong, gorgeous babes or gorillas. Hutch chuckled softly at that last absolute, earning a pouty glare from his partner.

"What?" the brunet asked sullenly, sapphire eyes gleaming in the dim light of the room. He stared at Hutch who sat, as usual, in the padded chair by the side of his bed.

"Oh, nuthin' buddy," Hutch smiled, "I think Starsk, that the alter ego Jonathan, truly couldn't live with the guilt anymore. His training as a cop made him want to serve and protect, but he stood by and let Vic murder those innocents, because in a strange way, it was serving and protecting Frankie, and Frankie was his first obligation."

"I don' know..." Starsky said doubtfully, wincing at the sharp pain in his side, "They were all the same guy Hutch." He quickly swiped away the perspiration that beaded his forehead.

"Noooo..." Hutch said slowly, noting his partner's pale complexion and shallow breathing, "They were different personalities within the same body. Frankie was terribly abused as a child, unable to cope with the trauma, he mentally fractured, compartmentalizing himself, forming alter egos who could handle the trauma and who would protect him so that he could survive. You see Starsk, if the host died, so would the alter egos. Jonathan was the ego who brought in a paycheck, helped them stay one step ahead of the police by covering their tracks, transferring and moving them from state to state when it got too heated. Vic, on the other hand, was the ego, who from what you told me, appeared during the abuse Frankie was taking. This ego harbored the rage and hurt of an angry helpless child in an adult's body. It took revenge and dealt out punishment for the pain and fear that Frankie lived with. Together, the three of them lived in one 'house', so to speak, constantly moving just to survive."

There was a long quiet pause, then the brunet let out big sigh as he stared at the ceiling, "All I know Hutch, is that I really liked that kid. There was somethin' about him, kinda childlike and innocent... he had a really good heart ya know?" He cautiously shifted against the pillows, gasping softly at the movement.

Hutch softly smiled at his partner's words, words that he would have used to describe the brunet lying awake in bed, as he pondered over the enigma of Jonathan. The blonde watched as his partner's wide, sparkling eyes clouded over in pain and a grimace contorted his features. Hutch discreetly glanced at the wall clock, it would be another 20 minutes before more anesthetics would be pumped into Starky's epidural catheter; already the pain was coming back. They had slowly decreased the narcotic daily, stretching the time between each dose. It hurt Hutch to see his partner suffering, but he understood why it was being done. Being a surviving addict himself, he never wanted to see Starsky going through what he did. He noted how the brunet gingerly placed his left hand against his right rib cage, supporting the ache that throbbed there.

"Well Starsk, I know he liked you too." The blonde smiled as his partner shifted his gaze from the ceiling to his face. Hutch stood up and came over to the brunet who lay upright against the pillows.

"Yeah... how do you know that huh?" Starsky asked quietly, gazing into his friend's sky blue eyes.

"Well, because you're still here... he cut you down Starsk... Jonathan wanted to save you because he liked you... he got to know you and he realized that not all dark, curly haired people who looked like Frankie's dad were evil." Hutch playfully tugged on one of the chocolate brown curls that grew rampant on his friend's head.

Starsky looked away, his left hand pressing down against his ribs, his breathing becoming more rapid and shallow as they spoke. Hutch gently rubbed his partner's arm, trying to soothe and take away the pain he knew his partner was feeling, he continued talking, hoping it would take his partner's mind off of the pain, "Think about it Starsk, I think Jonathan really wanted me to save you. I didn't even know he was in that basement with us. When I broke through that door, I made a quick sweep, but there was nothing. He could have had the drop on me anytime, especially because he had a gun. He didn't have to creep up on me that way, not with a gun in hand... I think he wanted to die... to end their horrible existence."

"Yeah..." the brunet said softly, agreeing with the logic of the tall blonde. It did make sense. Starsky shuddered, just the thought of Hutch being shot, with him hurt and battered, helpless to stop it, made him feel sick to his stomach. He silently thanked Jonathan for sparing his friend's life. He felt suddenly tired and sad, wanting to change the morose subject. He looked at his blonde counterpart, an impish grin appearing, "Ya know Hutch... I think your jus'... tryin' to get me riled up... by sayin' that people... with dark, curly hair... might be evil."

"Don't be an idiot," Hutch chuckled, "It's just a generalization, I mean, look at Jonathan, not all blondes are angelic and pure."

"Angelic..." Starsky sputtered, raising one dark brow, "Who said blondes are angelic?" Starsky gasped as pain lanced through his side, breathing deeply he said, "I think you should have said... not all blondes are a pain in the ass. Although... I know one... who fits the bill..."

Hutch laughed and ruffled the dark curls, glancing at the clock again, hating to see the his partner hurting, In 10 minutes the automatic pump would fill the catheter with the much needed analgesic. Hutch felt proud of his partner, as his dependence on the painkiller grew less and less every day. "Yeah buddy? Well... I know someone who is an ASS and guess what his name is?"

"Starsky." Both men looked to the door to see their captain walking in, a fruit basket in hand. "How are you doing, son. You look a lot better than you did two weeks ago."

"Hey... Cap'n," Starsky smiled widely, "Thanks for comin' by." The brunet eyed the basket of fruit and added, "Course a basket of burritos... would'a been better..." Hutch noted the strain on his partner's damp face, and knew that Starsky would carry on, not allowing himself to show weakness or pain with someone else in the room.

The large man set the basket down on a table and turned to take a good look at his wounded detective who turned his own gaze away. The brunet looked pale and clammy, perspiration running down his face. "You okay Starsky?" the captain asked gruffly, "You're sweating all over the place. Do you want me to call a nurse?"

"Nah... I'm fine... jus' fine..." the brunet said, gritting his teeth as pain flared in his side. Speaking was beginning to wear him out and he glanced at the clock on the wall. Just a few more minutes... he wanted to curl into the pain, as it got more and more intense. By this time yesterday he would have already gotten his pain medication, he would have been able to breathe easier, and rest without this constant throbbing in his side. Dark, pain filled blue eyes lifted to pale blue ones, concern making the furrow between the blonde's brows deepen. Starsky clenched his side and gave his partner a weak grin. He knew Hutch understood what he was going through and it somehow made it easier to bear.

"I think I better call a nurse Dave," the captain said, concern filling his deep brown eyes, it was obvious that the brunet was in pain by his shallow, rapid breaths.

"Um... Captain, actually, I think Starsky just needs to rest now. In fact, I was just heading out because Starsk asked me to... said he was kinda tired tonight."

"Oh... well, not a problem Starsky... I'll come back another time, maybe with Rosie, she's been dying to see you." Dobey said, grabbing an apple from the basket.

"Thanks Cap..." Starsky said as Dobey headed out into the hallway, followed closely by Hutch, "Give Rosie a hug... from me."

"G'night buddy," Hutch said gently, poking his head back in to look once more upon his curly haired friend.

"Hey... Hutch..." Starsky whispered, blue eyes soft with emotion, "Thanks... a lot."

"See ya tomorrow," Hutch said smiling, listening to the hum of the pump as it started the analgesic infusion into the epidural catheter.

"Yeah..." Starsky whispered, closing his eyes, feeling the immediate relief as the narcotic spread throughout his aching ribs, "See ya."

Hutch looked up and realized his frustrated frown and angry silence was making his friend feel uncomfortable.

"Uh... look Hutch," the brunet said softly, blue eyes focused on his blue Adidas, "You don' gotta stay when they do it... doc said it'll be fast and then I can go home. So... you can wait for me in the hallway... 'kay?" Starsky looked up and glanced uncertainly at his blonde counterpart.

"Dummy," Hutch said affectionately, "Of course I'll be here, it's just that..." the blonde quieted as the door opened and Dr. Mercer walked in with Hannah close behind, holding a little tray in her hand.

"Good morning David," Dr. Mercer said smiling, and then he nodded to the blonde, "Detective Hutchinson..."

"Mornin'" Starsky said brightly, attempting to remove his light blue pullover. Hutch quickly walked over to assist his partner as they gingerly lifted it over his right shoulder. "Kinda stiff this mornin'" Starsky said, as Hutch took the garment from his hands.

"Well you've been working your shoulder a lot which can sometimes cause swelling and inflammation. The physical therapist told me that you've come a long way with that shoulder, David. Another shot of cortisone will bring down the inflammation and swelling and will take the pain and stiffness away. It'll bring more mobility back into your shoulder. With the gains you've been making this will probably be your last shot. Let's take a look shall we?"

Hutch watched as the doctor gently maneuvered his partner's arm and shoulder in different positions; noting the painful expression on Starsky's face.

"Alright David, I want you to sit in this chair and we'll administer the injection."

Starsky sat in the chair and sighed, he briefly made eye contact with his partner, but quickly looked away when the doctor came over with the hypodermic.

"Would you like Detective Hutchinson to leave or stay?" Dr. Mercer asked kindly.

Starsky shrugged, "Whatever he wants to do is fine with me." He watched as Hannah swabbed his right shoulder and he clutched the armrests of the chair he sat in. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath in, feeling the slight pinch in his rib cage.

Suddenly he felt a warmth radiating up from his forearm and he opened is eyes to see Hutch's large hand on his, "Me and thee buddy," the blonde softly whispered, stilling the brunet's rapidly pounding heart with those four little words.

The doctor came over and stood over Starsky's right shoulder. "Okay David, take a deep breath in and hold." Hutch watched as the doctor removed the cover from the long needle. He slipped his hand into his partner's right hand and held firmly onto his right arm.

Starsky closed his eyes and took a deep breath, jerking as the needle pierced his shoulder. His breaths grew rapid as he felt the sharp point dig into his joint. The pain was excruciating and he clutched the hand he held, fingers digging in, body rigid and tense. He closed his eyes and gritted his teeth to stop himself from groaning.

Hutch felt sick, as he watched the long needle sink deep into his partner's joint. He held tightly to Starsky's hand, feeling the brunet's fingers dig into the back of his hand, knowing the agonizing pain his partner was enduring. He could hear the shallow breaths his partner took, a soft gasp escaping from his lips.

"Don't tense up David," Dr. Mercer calmly advised, "Deep breaths, it's almost over," he said as he compressed the syringe and gently pulled the long needle out. Hannah immediately pressed gauze over the puncture and taped it down to hold the gauze in place.

"There, that wasn't so bad David." The doctor said pleasantly, as he put the syringe onto the tray.

"Yeah... easy for you to say," Starsky said, flexing his shoulder, "Can I go home now, huh?"

Hannah laughed and ruffled his curls, "Ah now Davey, what's the hurry? We'll all be missing you around here," she said smiling.

"Take care of him, Detective Hutchinson. If his shoulder starts to ache and the pain becomes unbearable, you need to ice his shoulder right away to avoid a cortisone 'flare-up.' I highly doubt that this will occur, as it didn't when he took his first shot."

"Thanks doc..." Starsky said, shaking the doctor's hand and giving Hannah a light kiss on the cheek.

"Doctor," Hutch said, shaking the hand held in his own. "I appreciate everything you've done for my partner and for me."

"It's been a pleasure working with the both of you," Dr. Mercer replied, "I can see why Dr. Franklin has only positive things to say about the two of you. Goodbye David, and take care of that shoulder and ribs!"

Hutch helped his partner pull his shirt back on and helped him into the wheelchair. He stuck the duffle bag on his lap and wheeled him out.

The sun felt good to the brunet and he basked in its warm, healing rays. "Man Hutch, it feels good to be outside again" The brunet said smiling, "I feel like I haven't seen the sun in a month."

"Well buddy, you haven't... it's been four weeks since you were first brought here." The blonde smiled softly as he watched his friend close his eyes and take in a deep breath of the fresh air. Hutched smiled and stopped at the curb, locking the brakes on the wheels, watching as his partner excitedly got up off the chair.

"Oh my god, Hutch," Starsky said exuberantly, "There she is! I haven't seen her for so long." The brunet almost bounced, as he quickly walked over to the shiny red and white striped car, parked along the curb. He ran his hand almost reverently along her sleek, polished side. His shining, blue eyes, wide with wonder, looked up at Hutch, "You washed and polished her... just for me?"

Hutch snorted, the look on his partner's face was priceless. Like a kid in a candy store, Hutch thought, affection softening his pale blue eyes.

"Can I drive her... huh Hutch?" Sapphire eyes pleaded longingly, "Please Hutch... huh? Can I please drive her huh?" Hopeful blue eyes stared at the blonde, as the brunet waited on bated breath.

"Ahh... I'm sorry buddy, I don't think that's a good idea. Doctor Mercer said it'll take another week or so before you can get behind the wheel, but as soon you get the all clear from the doc, she's all yours." The tall blonde watched as the brunet lowered his eyes to the pavement, his face crestfallen. It broke Hutch's heart to have to say no to his partner, especially after all he had been through. Hutch silently wondered if this was how parents felt when saying no to their children. He gently ruffled the dark curls, "C'mon buddy, hop in," Hutch said, opening the heavy passenger door for the brunet. He helped his partner get settled, noticing the pinched expression on the brunet's face. Hutch knew that his partner's ribs were still very tender. The doctor said it would take about 6 weeks to fully recover from a severe chest wall injury, but he was amazed at how quickly Starsky was healing.

Hutch started up the Torino, watching Starsky smile as he listened to the engine's familiar hum. "Man Hutch, it's good to be goin' home." The brunet sighed and leaned his curly head back against the sun-warmed headrest.

For a while, they rode in companionable silence, the tall blonde stealing glances at his quiet passenger, who looked eagerly out of his window, a soft smile on his lips. He watched as Starsky, leaned back against the seat and closed his eyes, noting how he gingerly held onto his ribcage.

"You hurting?" the blonde asked nonchalantly, knowing how his partner would hate anyone to know he was suffering.

"Nah," the brunet replied softly, "Jus' enjoyin' the moment Hutch. Where we goin' huh?"

The blonde looked over at his partner, surprised by the question, "Well, ahh... I thought we'd go back to your place, get you settled in bed, so you can rest for a bit before dinner. It's your first day out Starsk, we don't want to overdo it."

"No." The brunet said quietly, firmly, eyes still closed.

"What?" the blonde asked, "W-What do you mean 'no'?" Hutch stammered, watching his partner's thin lips press together in sudden stubbornness.

"I mean, NO, Hutch" Starsky said, long lashes lifted, sparkling blue eyes flashed in defiance. "I don' wanna go home yet. I've been lyin' in bed for four weeks now and it's drivin' me crazy." He sat up straighter, inconspicuously holding on to his side, "I wanna go to the beach Hutch," he declared suddenly, "Go sit on the warm sand somewhere and watch the waves."

Hutch wanted to stare, open mouthed, at his water-hating, nature-phobic friend, but he was driving, so he could only glance repeatedly at the brunet who stubbornly sat, straight backed, in the bucket seat of the Torino.

Starsky waited for Hutch to "mother-hen" him to death, to deny him this little outing. He knew the blonde was only concerned for his welfare, but dammit, he deserved a little break. The silence was almost palpable, as both detective's mutely sat in their Mexican standoff.

Finally, the blonde snorted softly, glancing at the brunet who still sat all rigid and defensive-like. The blonde knew the tense posture was probably killing his partner's ribs, and a part of him was almost glad about it. Serves the pig-head right the blonde thought smugly, but seeing his partner wince as the Torino ran over a pothole in the road, took the hot air out of the blonde's self-righteous sail.

"Okay buddy," the blonde gently said, "You win... we'll go to the beach for a little while, then you need to promise me that you'll rest when we go home... okay?"

Seeing the radiant smile that appeared on his friend's face was worth the compromise the blonde had to make. It filled Hutch's gentle heart with such joy to see his partner happy and excited over something so small.

"Ho boy, I promise Hutch... I promise I'll be careful and be good and not move around too much on the sand." The brunet took a quick breath and continued, "And I promise to not put up a fight when you say that it's time to go, and I'll take a bath and lay down 'til dinnertime when we go home."

Hutch chuckled at his friend's almost childlike exuberance, as he turned the car around and headed for the beach. "I'm gonna hold you to those promises, buddy" the blonde cautioned, raising his finger in warning.

Both men suddenly laughed out loud, as they simultaneously remembered that morning so long ago, when Starsky told Hutch what he could do with his finger.

They sat on the warm sand, listening to the sounds of children laughing, watching as they chased the tide and splashed at each other in joyful abandon. Hutch peeked at his partner from the corner of his eye, noting the brunet's quiet demeanor. It seemed his friend had something on his mind, and Hutch patiently waited for his partner to voice it. It felt good to be out in nature, and the blonde relished the quiet peace that came over his heart. He lounged back, facing the vast ocean, long body stretched out on the sand, one knee bent, weight supported on the back of his forearms and elbows, as he listened to the lulling sound of the tide's ebb and flow.

"Have you been to his grave yet?" the soft whisper could barely be heard above the sound of the tide rushing to shore. Hutch looked over at the brunet, who sat up cross-legged, staring out at the horizon.

"You mean Jonathan's?" Hutch replied slowly, eyeing his partner as the brunet gently supported his ribs. Starsky looked tired and worn, but the spark of something still flickered in the depths of the brunet's deep blue eyes.

"Yeah..." Starsky replied gruffly. "I want ya to take me there one day... promise me, Hutch." The brunet turned his gaze to his partner, smoldering blue eyes, intense and reflective. Gone was the childlike wonder that infused his curly haired friend's spirit when they first stepped onto the warm sand, now in it's place was cold steel; a street-wise, toughened, hard-nosed cop.

Hutch sat up slowly, consumed by the blue-fire that blazed in the brunet's penetrating stare. "Sure buddy... we'll go together... okay?" He said gently, turning his voice velvet-smooth, soft and soothing. He watched, as his words seemed to calm the curly haired detective. Like a diamond, the different facets of his partner's personality never failed to amaze the blonde. One minute, his partner could be like this, cold and unrelenting, almost predator-like. Hutch knew this was the side of Starsky that probably got him through Nam. Then, there was the little boy persona that brought out the protective streak in the blonde. The brunet's childlike rambunctious behavior and curiousity could warm the tall detective's heart, while at the same time, completely annoy the crap out of him. There were times his partner could be jovial and playful, bouncing all over the place, and other times, when his angry outburst would rival the eruptions of Mount Vesuvius. Yet, the one thing that always remained a constant within the brunet was his deep sense of loyalty and honor that he bestowed upon those he loved. These traits were so deeply ingrained in the brunet, that Hutch knew Starsky would give up his own life in a heartbeat just to protect him.

The blonde stared at his partner, as Starsky focused his burning blue gaze back to the children romping in the surf. "It's not fair Hutch," the brunet said, though his voice was soft and subdued, it bristled with controlled anger at the injustice of it all. "He was just a kid... like those kids out there. His life could've been so different Hutch, if he had another set of parents..."

Hutch's eyes softened, it was so like Starsky... always ready to forgive those he allowed into his life, ready to fight and protect the underdog, not even focusing on the fact that a month of his life was spent in painful recuperation and rehabilitation. Not once, did his partner blame the young blonde for the painful torture and abuse that was inflicted on his person, only knowing that Jonathan's life was cut short, snuffed out because of the unfair cards fate had dealt him. Hutch knew that Starsky rarely let anyone get close to him, but those whom he allowed in, had his sworn loyalty and utmost respect.

"I liked him Hutch, I liked him a lot. Jon was a good kid... he was decent and wanted to do what was right... they ruined him, tore him up, made him go nuts... how could people do that to their kids... huh?"

Starsky turned to stare at his quiet blonde counterpart, bright blue eyes glassy with unshed tears, "Huh Hutch? You always know the answers to things... why did this hav'ta happen to Jon?"

"I don't know buddy," Hutch said quietly, gently, letting his partner take the lead, unsure of where Starsky was headed in all of this. Hutch had hoped they had resolved this the night they talked about Jonathan in Starsky's hospital room. His partner seemed to understand the circumstances of Winslow's fractured mind. Hutch reached out his large hand and gently rested his palm against his partner's back, rubbing soothing circles into the tense muscles there. He could feel his partner slowly relax into the calming massage.

For a while they listened to the tranquil sounds of the waves rushing to shore and watched as the sun sank towards the horizon. "Ya know Hutch," the brunet finally said, gazing out to the sea, "He was scared... he asked me to stay awake... but I... I was so tired Hutch. I hurt so bad, I just wanted to sink into the darkness where the pain couldn't reach me anymore." Starsky looked down at his hands, "He tried to help me... to lift me up, but it hurt to move... I was so cold and he lit the fire for me, to keep me warm. I shouldn't have drifted off Hutch, I should've stayed awake, I left him when he was so afraid..."

"Hey buddy," the big blonde said gently, "You're not to blame... it's okay..."

"No Hutch, it's not okay... I let him down," Starsky said, turning to look at his blonde companion, "I let him down Hutch... and now he's dead."

"Listen to me buddy," Hutch said softly, soothingly, "You didn't let anybody down. You held on and fought when others would have given up. You were able to reach out to Jonathan and show him that not all human beings were cruel and hurtful. You didn't let him down Starsk, you saved him... you saved him from himself. You empowered Jonathan to stand up for what was right, against the others, and you made a difference in his life... just like you always make a difference in mine."

Starsky looked up at that, eyes shimmering brightly, to gaze into familiar light blue eyes, soft and filled with emotion. "Hutch..." the brunet whispered, swallowing hard to dislodge the emotion stuck in his throat. Hutch's words were like a soothing balm on the open wound of Starsky's heart. The brunet sighed, releasing the guilt he had harbored over the young cop's death. He slowly reached his hand across the sand to meet the larger hand of his partner's. They sat like that until the last rays of the sun painted the sky in soft shades of pink and purple.

"Ready to go Gordo?" the blonde finally asked, smiling at his curly haired friend.

"Yup," the brunet quickly replied, "I promised ya that I wouldn't put up a fight when you said it was time to go home." Starsky grinned up at the tall blonde who stood and dusted the sand off the back of his jeans. Hutch reached down to help the smaller man up and dusted the sand off his bottom too.

"Hey... watch it Blondie," the brunet grouched good-naturedly, "I'm ticklish there... no mauling on the first date."

Hutch snorted, "C'mon Romeo... let's get your sorry ass home."

"Hey..." the brunet said, his cobalt blue eyes twinkling, a disapproving look on his face, "My Juliet wouldn't be usin' words like that... such vulgar language!"

"Okay then," Hutch chuckled, "Let's get your skinny ass home then." His friend had definitely lost some weight during his month long stay at the hospital, and Hutch was already mentally checking off his list of "mother-hen" duties to ensure that his partner regained the stamina and resilience he once had. "As soon as we get home, I'm going to heat up that chicken soup, and you're going to jump into the shower, and then get some rest. You hear me?"

Starsky snorted, as Hutch latched onto his right arm to help him. Sitting up for so long, had caused his tender ribs to ache and protest, but he wasn't about to let Hutch know that. Hutch could be really overprotective at times; especially when Starsky was hurt or recovering from some injury. He's probably going over his mother-hen checklist right now as we speak! the brunet thought smugly, smiling to himself because he knew his friend like the back of his hand, kicking up sand as they trudged back to the Torino.

Hutch glanced over at Starsky, grinning like an idiot, and it brought a smile to his own lips, "What's so funny?"

"Hmmm?" Starsky looked up at his blonde counterpart, his big, blue eyes gleaming with mischief and mirth, a huge grin still pasted on his face, "Nuthin'... jus' hopin' that you didn't forget to add: put the stool in the shower for Starsky, to that long list of mother-hen duties ya got goin' in your head."

Hutch stared, open mouthed, at his now chuckling companion, "Get in the car you dummy," he said affectionately, ruffling the chocolate brown curls, "And don't you tell your mother what to do!" Hutch smiled and helped to settle his hurting friend in the car, as he silently reminded himself to add 'the stool' to the long list of things to do for Starsky. Hutch smiled broadly as he walked around the car to the driver's side, all the while thinking, God, it so good to have him home!


Author's Note: In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association changed the designation of Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) to Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I have taken liberties in my story with Frankie and his alters to enhance both character development and reader empathy. In reality, there is no unity of consciousness in MPD. The alter egos are said to occur spontaneously and involuntarily, and they function more or less independently of each other.