Story disclaimer: Although the story's inspiration is based loosely around a true to life event... names have been changed and the story itself does not depict any actual facts. This story is purely fictional and was written solely for the purpose of entertainment. No profit is made and no rights to Starsky and Hutch are claimed.


by: Shawne 'til Dawn, Brook & Karen B.

Chapter One

The door to the interrogation room slammed opened. Starsky roughly shoved the suspect onto the hard wooden chair almost tipping it and the Irishman over in the process. "Sit down!" the dark haired detective snarled as his blond counterpart calmly entered the room, gently closing the door behind him.

Hutch pulled out the chair at the end of the table and sat down, arching a pale brow to give William McVee the once over. 'Billy', as the older man was called by his cronies; glared up at the brunet, egging him on with a look of despised loathing although he wisely remained silent, almost daring the hot tempered cop to react as his lip lifted in a sneer of utter contempt. After a moment's silence, the need to talk far outweighed the need to be wise as McVee grinned. "Ye can see I'm sittin' lad, but I shan't be talkin' t'ya without me lawyer," William said, using his most cordial voice, knowing it would irritate the already furious cop.

"Don't think we don't know about you McVee," Starsky snapped, dark blue eyes glittering dangerously. "You're a sick man!"

"Ah laddie, enough with the compliments and accusations," the Irishman said snidely, knowing he was succeeding in riling the brunet's temper. "I've had me a most tryin' day and as much as I love being with you gents, I don't believe me attorney will be very pleased that I'm talkin' to ya boys, so I think I'll have to take me leave now..." The older man stood up only to have the dark haired cop shove him abruptly back down onto the chair.

Hutch sighed heavily and dragged his hand wearily over his face. It had been a long six months. Six months of tailing the perp sitting beside him. Six long months of researching and taking statements from the different witnesses. Six months of surveillance and uncomfortable stakeouts parked outside the Irishman's apartment complex with cold pizza, lukewarm coffee and for entertainment... some skin magazines bought at the corner store by the curly haired detective who was now literally fuming; his cobalt colored eyes spitting blue fire as he glared at the smiling Irishman.

"Sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up!" Starsky exploded. "We know that you're responsible for the mall bombings in several states asshole, so don't try to charm us by your fake Irish accent! Your first mistake was coming to Bay City with your son, and your second mistake was when you made it personal by bombing that school. What kind of sick bastard bombs a school for special kids... huh?" Starsky fisted his hands, breathing hard. He fought to control the anger that surged within him at the thought of Sally and the others who had lost their lives in the senseless bombing that rocked Bay City.

"Starsk," Hutch said softly in warning, a deep groove appearing between the blond's brows as he frowned. He knew McVee was provoking his partner, goading the brunet into possibly throwing a punch and knowing his hot-tempered friend as well as he did, Hutch knew it wouldn't be long before Starsky completely lost it. Starsky wanted retribution and he wanted it now.

The bombing of Terry's school the other day, ignited a streak of hot vengeance in the brunet and it was all Hutch could do to keep his partner level-headed in light of the situation at hand. The tall blond wearily stretched out his long legs beneath the wooden table, chewing the inside of his bottom lip as he mentally prepped himself for a long session of blarney with the smooth talking Irishman.

"Yes laddie, ye bes' listen to your good-lookin' partner over here. T'would be really a shame if I walked outta here on account that you couldn't hold onto your ire." McVee snickered, his green eyes dancing with unbridled mirth as he watched the brunet struggle for control over his emotions. "Now if ye gentlemen will both excuse me, my son must be wonderin' where his da has disappeared to," the Irishman said, yawning in exaggeration as he stood once more. "And t'be quite honest I can't stay any longer 'cause you're borin' me to tears..."


Hutch quickly looked up; the sudden grunt of pain drawing his attention from the deep scratches on the wooden tabletop of the interrogation room where he had been focusing just moments ago. The pale blue eyes widened as he saw his angry counterpart drag the Irishman from the chair to brutally slam him up against the wall, his fists clenched around the worn material of McVeigh's jacket.

"Take a good look at my face you son of a bitch," the dark haired cop snarled, angrily pulling the Irishman away from the wall, only to brutally slam him against it once more. "'Cause we're gonna put you away for what you've done, for the people that you've killed or hurt," Starsky growled, his rough voice was both low and ominous. "And when we do, and you're sittin' in your stinkin' cell hole rottin' away, I hope you remember me because I'm gonna be outside celebratin' you being locked up like the sick dog that you are... you asshole!"

"Starsky!" Hutch said sharply as he quickly wedged his long frame between the struggling men. "Starsk!" The tall blond finally succeeded in pulling his partner away.

"Sit down McVee!" Hutch ordered as he held his angry partner back, one arm wrapped across the brunet's heaving chest. "And don't move!" Hutch snarled, finger pointing warningly at the older man, who trembled in his seat. With that, the blond detective manhandled his partner to the door and slammed it closed behind them.

Once they were out in the corridor, Starsky angrily shrugged free from his partner's hold. "You should'a let me hit him Hutch! That piece'a shit was just askin' for it!"

"What?" Hutch whispered angrily, pale blue eyes flashing like silver; very aware of the spectacle they were making of themselves as they stood out in the open corridor of the precinct. "And throw away six months of hard work? Are you crazy?"

"Fuck!" Starsky snapped, angrily pounding a fist against the wall. "I want him so bad Hutch... I want him so bad I'm shakin' inside. I wanna put him away so fast and so hard that he won't know what hit him!"

"Starsk," Hutch said soothingly. Feeling the need to protect his hot-tempered partner Hutch moved his tall frame closer to his friend to shield him from the gaping spectators, nodding curtly to the people to move on, and refusing to speak until they did so.

The fair-haired cop took in a grounding breath and carefully laid a large, warm hand upon his partner's shoulder, eyes widening in surprise as he felt the slight tremors that wracked the brunet's body, "Hey buddy." Hutch's brows drew together in concern. "Try to take it easy okay? I-I know how you feel... I loved..." The tall blond detective took a stabilizing breath in, eyes softening with sadness as he looked at his partner, sky blue eyes connecting to dark sapphire. "I loved Sally too buddy, and we're gonna nail him, but we have to do this the right way so that it sticks... so that we can make sure he'll be locked up for a long time... okay Gordo?" The tall blond smiled, his voice soft and soothing. Visibly seeing his partner relent, Hutch nodded, as he felt the pent up tension leave the brunet's rigid body.

"Yeah... yeah okay," Starsky sighed softly, reaching up to tap the comforting hand on his shoulder. "Thanks buddy... I almost lost it in there... almost blew it." The dark haired detective closed his eyes and then snorted quietly, shaking his head as he said once more. "Sorry pal!" The contrite brunet looked up to smile apologetically at the tall blond and Hutch could see the plum colored patches of exhaustion under the bright blue of Starsky's eyes.

"No need to apologize... tell you what... after this, let's go back to my place and I'll scramble some eggs up for us... or if you like, we can go back to your place and you can buy the beer and pizza... sounds like a plan?" Hutch grinned, wanting more than anything to take his weary partner and leave the precinct this very moment.

After all, it had been only seven months since Starsky had rejoined the force since his near fatality in the police garage shooting. It had taken almost a year and a half for Starsky to bounce back to the man he used to be. A year and a half of pain and recuperation, of meds and therapy and Hutch had stood by his partner all the way. It took a year and a half before Starsky was cleared by the board and could return to work.

A part of Hutch was so thankful that Starsky had returned to the streets with him, and yet, a part of the sensitive blond wished that Starsky would have used the interim of healing to consider another profession. A safer one. One where Hutch wouldn't have to constantly worry about his partner's well-being, especially now that Starsky had a compromised lung... a parting gift from Gunther's failed assassination attempt.

"You're on!" Starsky grinned, reaching out to turn the doorknob to once again enter the room from which they came, when the click of angry heels on the polished corridor floors stopped them in their tracks.

"Excuse me officers, I am William McVee's attorney, Sharon Neilsen, and you have no right to keep my client and question him without legal representation." The salt and pepper haired woman reached up to push the bottle-rimmed glasses further up the bridge of her hawk-billed nose. "I am here to release Mr. McVee from these premises."

"Hey wait a minute... hold on," Starsky objected heatedly, his eyes narrowing with anger. Hutch put his hand on his partner's shoulder once more to calm his friend as he glanced down the corridor to see Dobey standing in the hall by the door to his office.

"No, you need to hold on... you see, I've already talked to your Captain and I am taking my client out of here this instant!" Neilsen said smugly.

Both detectives turned to glare at their heavyset Captain who gruffly nodded, motioning them with a wave of his hand to let the attorney in. The dark haired detective angrily turned the knob and pushed the door back allowing the woman access, while Hutch walked swiftly down the corridor towards his captain.

"What's going on Captain?" Hutch asked, as he kept an eye on his incensed partner. "What the hell happened?"

"We have to let him go... we didn't have enough evidence to hold him here and apparently McVee has an alibi that will hold up in court," Dobey said gruffly.

"Yeah? And what's that?"

"It appears he was with a co-worker of his, a Larry Jenkins, who can vouch for McVee's whereabouts on the day the school was bombed. Apparently Jenkins, McVee, and his son Timothy were together all day, and they were nowhere near the school when it blew."

Hutch watched as Neilsen and a smiling McVee walked passed the dark haired detective. A gloating look of triumph plastered William's face as the older man sneered up at the cop saying snidely, "Tsk, Tsk... too bad detective... can't say it's been a pleasure..."

Hutch rushed back to his partner's side as Starsky's hands instantly shot out, much to the chagrin of the attorney who started yelling at the top of her lungs. The brunet grabbed the lapel of the Irishman's jacket, nearly lifting the struggling older man whom he immediately slammed against the wall. Starsky's face just inches away from McVee's; the angry cop whispered menacingly, "You better make damn sure you stay clean and walk the straight and narrow 'cause I'll be there... I'll be there waitin' for you to fuck up McVee... I'll be watchin' your every step and when you slip up I'll be there and then you'll be behind bars so fast... so fast you won't know what hit ya!" The dark haired detective could feel the strong hands of his partner as Hutch tried to loosen his hold on their suspect.

"Starsky! In my office now!" Dobey hollered angrily as the brunet allowed his partner to pull him away, dark blue eyes glittering dangerously, shooting daggers at the older man who never lost his smug smile the whole time the cop had him against the wall. McVee made quite a show of dusting the lapels of his coat as the dark haired cop dropped him abruptly to his feet.

"You can be sure detective," Sharon Neilsen said with a huff. "That my client will be filing a complaint against you for harassment and police brutality. Let's go Mr. McVee."

"Certainly Miss Neilsen," William said gallantly, letting the woman pass before him as he winked and waved his fingers at the furious curly haired cop. "Toodles detective!" he laughed as he passed Starsky by.

"Starsky?" My office NOW!" Dobey snapped as he turned to enter his office leaving the door open behind him.

"Shit!" Starsky let out a heavy sigh as Hutch draped a heavy arm over his shoulder. "You think someone's pissed or what?" the brunet glumly queried.

The tall blond shrugged, "You mean besides you?" Hutch chuckled softly and smiled wanly at his partner's glare. "Well, it's my guess that Dobey ain't a happy camper right at this moment..."

"Tell me about it," Starsky mumbled under this breath as both detectives walked into their captain's office, taking a seat before Dobey's desk.

"Just what the hell was that?" Dobey growled as he glared at his dark haired detective. "You know better than that Starsky... we do things by the book here and threatening a suspect isn't one of them."

"Yeah... well..."

"Don't 'yeah, well' me," Dobey interjected. "Anymore crap like that and I'm taking you off this case. As it is, you shouldn't even be on this one... it's too personal and..."

"Cap," Starsky broke in, eyes blazing angrily, "I can do my job... I'm a cop and a professional..."

"Then act like one!" Dobey snarled. The heavyset man sighed. He peered at the blond who sat quietly, flicking his eyes over to the sullen brunet who wisely shut his mouth.

The perceptive Captain could read the fatigue in both of his men, could see the weariness in the fine lines around their eyes and mouths and the dark circles under the brilliant blue eyes of the hot tempered brunet gave the black man pause. Almost to the day Starsky came back to the station, they'd been put on this case, going non-stop all the way, and now with the bombing of the Marshall Center for Special Children...

Dobey propped an elbow on his desk as he scratched his head in frustration. "I know how you're both feeling. I know it's Terry's school and Sally was an innocent victim, but Dave, it's no cause to go ballistic on McVee. I mean, we don't have enough evidence that can even indict him in the first place..."

"You hear that?" Starsky said to his partner. "He called me Dave!" Hutch snorted softly, but remained quiet as dark man glared at the brunet.

Starsky sighed, "Okay, so we don't have enough to make it stick, but Cap, my guts tell me..."

"Your gut feelings won't hold up in court Starsky... you know that." Dobey said in a kinder voice as he watched his discouraged detective sink back into the chair and wearily close his eyes in frustration, long dark lashes smudging pale cheeks, a testament to the weariness the brunet felt inside. The captain looked over to the blond detective who was watching his partner with concern.

"Take him home Hutch... he can have the rest of the day off... and you too. I think you both deserve some time to R&R, but be back here bright and early tomorrow morning. You got that?"

"Yeah, tomorrow morning... bright and early," Hutch reiterated as he helped the brunet get to his feet; his hand at his partner's back. "And um... thanks Captain," the blond said softly as he and Starsky made their way out the door.

"Yeah, thanks Cap," the dark haired detective parroted as he pulled the door closed behind him.

Chapter Two

"Your place or mine?" the blond detective asked brightly as he glanced worriedly at his partner, who was slumped against the passenger door, his dark curly locks pressed against the rolled up window. When no answer came forth, Hutch turned to look at the silent brunet.

"Okay then," Hutch said turning his gaze back to the road. "Let's go to my place since I just bought a case of beer the other day, and then you and I can jump in the sack together!" Hutch quickly flicked his eyes over to see his partner's reaction, then frowned as stared ahead once more. " Hello?" You in there somewhere buddy?"

"Hmmm?" Starsky mumbled, dark reflective eyes gazed up at his partner. "You said somethin'?"

"Nope," Hutch snorted. "You know pal, you shouldn't think so hard... you might permanently damage something in there," the blond lightly tapped the side of his head, a smile lighting up his handsome Nordic features.


"Never mind... we'll just go to my place then," Hutch chuckled, pale blue eyes softening with fondness, feeling suddenly protective of his worn out partner. "As soon as we get home, you can take a hot shower and I'll get out the eggs and..."

"I should'a been there more..." Starsky said quietly, dark blue eyes hardening as he returned his gaze to the window, lazily tracking the people walking along the sidewalk as they passed through the city.

Hutch glanced over at his slumped partner almost feeling the guilt and remorse that was washing over his brooding friend. The tall blond detective swallowed hard before answering, "Well, we both should've. Don't do this Starsk. What happened to Sally... it's not your fault."

"I promised her, told her that I would look after Sally and the other kids," Starsky said softly, turning to look briefly at his partner, the sadness and concern in the lavender-blue of his eyes speaking volumes to the sensitive blond's heart, before the brunet once again turned back to look placidly out of the window. "I should'a been there more..."

Hutch swallowed down the lump that came to his throat, his knuckles turning white as he unconsciously tightened his grip on the wheel. "I know buddy," the blond said soothingly, softening the honey richness of his voice, using the special tone he reserved only for his partner. "I know..."

Hutch turned his gaze back to the road, not knowing what to say. He knew Starsky was exhausted not only physically, but emotionally too. The senseless bombing of the Marshall Center shook the detectives to the core and for some reason it had filled the brunet not only with anger, but also with a sense of despair and guilt, dredging up old feelings that Hutch had thought his partner had put to rest.

"Listen to me buddy," Hutch began gently. "Terry... she was an exceptional teacher and she loved those kids, but she loved you too, Starsk. I know you feel guilty because we haven't been to the Marshall Center for some time now, but that hit you took in the garage... and trying to recover from that... well it took a lot of time buddy. Even now, with us being back on the streets, and being on this case... well..."

"I know." Starsky said simply, his voice rough, yet soft at the same time, "But I should'a made the time Hutch. Somehow I think that's what Terry would'a wanted."

"Terry would've wanted you to be well and whole. She would've understood Starsk. I know she would've," Hutch said softly, reaching over to squeeze his partner's thigh. "And I know she would've wanted me to make you some eggs. She wouldn't like how skinny you've gotten." The tall blond grinned as his partner turned to look at him.

The brunet raised a skeptical, dark brow at the blond's last comment, a slow grin lifting the corner of his mouth, his voice taking on a chastising quality as he said softly, "Skinny huh? I'll have you know Hutchinson that this body of mine hasn't been better than this in years, and the few pounds I've shed has just enhanced my manly physique, sculpting it so you can see the definitions in my abs and biceps and..."

"Is that so?" Hutch interjected, chuckling as he did. He was glad to see his partner responding to the banter that made their relationship so very special. The fair-haired detective turned to look at his long time friend, his voice dropping softly as a frown marred his forehead. "Well, maybe someone should tell the ladies about your new physique because I don't see you filling up your dance card these days with dates, buddy," Hutch said; his light blue eyes filled with concern, his tongue gently swiped his bottom lip as he waited with bated breath for his partner's response. Hutch knew he was taking a risk on bringing up a sore subject just to emphasize the point he'd wanted to make.

If it were possible Starsky seemed to slouch even more, his eyes once again drifting back to gaze out his window. "Yeah... well since the shooting, I just haven't felt like going out and anyway, we've been really busy with this case and all... there's just been no time to... you know..."

"Yeah. I know. There's been no time at all and that's why Terry would understand buddy," Hutch cleverly interjected, glad that Starsky had fallen right into his hands. "She would've wanted us to catch this jerk and put him away and she would have never blamed you for what happened to Sally... and neither would she have wanted you to blame yourself... you understand Gordo?"

Starsky frowned thoughtfully for a moment, and then softly sighed. "Okay. Understood. No more trips down guilt alley. I got'chya mom!" the dark haired cop said, lifting two fingers to his temple to sardonically salute the blond.

For a few minutes they rode in comfortable silence; enjoying the waning sunlight as it got ready to bow out to the oncoming colors of dusk. To the west, gray clouds seemed to be rolling in and the smell of rain hinted at the air. "So what're you gonna whip up with those eggs huh?" Starsky asked, finally breaking the companionable quiet that lulled over the both of them as Hutch pulled up along the sidewalk fronting his Venice apartment.

Hutch grinned. "Oh I don't know, something to help build up that manly physique of yours... maybe some artery clogging bacon or ham or..."

"Salami?" the brunet hopefully cut in. "There's nothing like fried up salami and scrambled eggs Hutch," Starsky grinned as he saw the sick look that crossed his partner's face. "Now that's what I call a meal!" the dark haired detective said as he got out from the beat up LTD that Hutch drove and slammed his side of the door. "Salami and scrambled eggs... haven't had fried salami since..."

"Since you went into the hospital and we're gonna keep it that way," Hutch promised as he slammed his door, shutting out the annoying sound of his blaring horn. I really need to get that fixed, he thought as he made his way around the car, following his partner up the long flight of stairs to his apartment above. The brunet stepped out of the way as the blond walked over to the front door of his apartment.

"You know, you really should find another place for your house key Blondie," Starksy chided, as he leaned against the wall while he waited, arms crossed, eyeing his friend who reached around on the lintel above the doorway. "I mean, I would think that run in you had with that crazy nurse would have taught you a thing or two by now Hutch."

"Yeah? You would think huh?" Hutch grinned. The tall blond fumbled with the lock, opening the door to let his partner in; only to fall in step behind the brunet as he kicked the door closed with his foot. "Well you know me buddy, I'm just a trusting kind of guy."

"You mean trusting or stupid?" Starsky snorted as he took off his holster and draped it over the arm of the couch. The dark haired detective yawned and stretched the small of his back as Hutch chuckled, removed and hung his holster on the edge of the closet door, and threw his key onto the counter.

"I don't know about you Blondie," the curly haired cop continued, "But I feel like we're wastin' time here, like we should be out there on the streets right now following that bastard around before he hurts anymore people," Starsky said, his voice growing sharp at the end.

Hutch turned to look at his partner, studying the weary lines of fatigue around the brunet's eyes. He could see how exhausted his dark haired counterpart appeared. 'Fragile,' was the word that came to mind as Hutch watched Starsky walked into the kitchen and lean into the refrigerator to grab two bottles of beer.

"Yeah, I know Starsk," Hutch said calmly. "But Dobey's right. We've been running on empty for a while now. We need to refuel and rest so that we can be on top of our game, especially because I have a feeling we're gonna bust McVee real soon." The tall blond walked over to the couch and sat back against the soft cushions, feeling his own weary body giving an inaudible sigh of relief. He grinned as he reached out to take the cold bottle of beer from his partner as the brunet neared him. "Man, I feel tired... wasted. How 'bout you?"

Starsky shrugged, feeling his partner carefully scrutinizing him, and then stretched and rolled his neck, a grimace of pain coming to his face. "I dunno. Been better I guess."

"Get over here dummy," Hutch said, grabbing onto his partner's forearm, pulling him onto the couch beside him. "Neck still bothering you?"

"'M fine, Hutch."

The brunet mumbled a half-hearted protest as Hutch turned him, so that he could lay his strong hands along Starsky's shoulders, massaging away the tension and knots that kinked his friend's neck and lower back, taking the time to carefully ease away the strain of the last six months.

The blond detective smiled as he heard the soft sigh of relief that escaped his partner's lips as the persistent ache in the brunet's shoulders and neck began to ease up. Hutch shook his head, snorting derisively. "Yeah right, you're fine... my ass! You feel like shit and you look like it too buddy... even with your manly physique and all. You need to rest Gordo and you know it."

"Hutch?" Starsky murmured; eyes closed as he reveled in the healing massage his partner was generously bestowing upon him, feeling the need to sleep as it suddenly washed over him.

"Yeah buddy?"

"Shut up," Starsky mumbled. "Ain't got no time t'rest with that creep out on the streets... and you know it."

The tall blond chuckled softly to himself at the pigheadedness of his partner. Using a pillow to cushion his back, he leaned against the arm of the couch, pulling his stubborn friend against his chest. "C'mere meathead," Hutch murmured, smiling as he felt the brief resistance suddenly leave his partner's body. It was almost comforting somehow to feel his partner lean heavily against him, turning his dark head so that his ear rested against his heart, knowing Starsky was listening intently to each and every beat, and that the slow, rhythmic cadence would soon lull his worn-out partner into replenishing sleep. During his painful rehabilitation, there had been many times that Starsky had fallen asleep just like this, with his head pressed against the blond's heart; the slow, soothing beats able to put his partner to sleep where pain meds had failed.

The fair-haired detective gently smiled, his pale blue eyes growing soft as he felt the dark haired man squirm in his arms to get into a more comfortable position. Sable colored curls tickled his nose as Starsky snuggled closer against his chest; the brunet's hand reaching out to reassuringly fist onto his partner's dark green tee shirt.

Hutch unconsciously squeezed the brunet, running his hand up and down the arm of the dark haired man whose breathing evened out and grew deeper in the stillness of the living room. Outside, Hutch could hear beginning sounds of a gentle drizzle as the raindrops hit the pavement. He loved the smell of rain. It somehow always made him think of his grandfather's farm in Duluth and it made him feel secure and warm inside. The rain had the ability to somehow wash away any troubling thoughts he might have had, even if only for a brief time.

The blond detective sighed softly, a feeling of safety and contentment filling his heart. Out on the streets with Starsky, he was ever vigilant, ever aware of the dangers lurking behind every corner, feeling the constant stress and strain of the job; needing to be one step ahead so that he could protect the man he now held in his arms. Times like these, where both he and Starsky could be tucked away safely at home were too far and few between and Hutch treasured these rare moments of peace.

Soft murmurings drew his eyes down to his partner's face. The long, dark lashes that curled against the olive toned cheeks of his longtime friend caused the blond to smile. "You got lashes like a girl's," Hutch whispered softly, soothingly; comforting his friend back to sleep before he leaned his own head back against the cushion, his mind racing back to the those long days and nights of pain and suffering that his partner had endured.

As long as he lived, Hutch would never forget the horrific day Starsky was gunned down in the police garage... a place where they both felt safe, where their guard was down. To come around the Torino and see his partner lying amid the shattered glass, his dark curly head nestled in the tire rim of the car...

Hutch shook that image from his mind. Though no one had ever dared voice their concern to him, Hutch knew that everyone doubted that Starsky would ever return to the force. After all, his heart had stopped beating in the hospital.

'Massive damage... massive damage.'

He could still hear the doctor's voice ringing in his head, could still feel the fear that squeezed his heart at that time. It was a miracle that Starsky had managed to live and Hutch knew he would be forever grateful... grateful to God or whatever powers that be; indebted to that merciful and omniscient being who allowed his partner to still be here with him, lying in his arms.

Hutch yawned. He was so tired and the gentle patter of rain began to work its magic, lulling him to sleep even though he knew he should be starting on dinner. Starsky would be wanting those eggs...

The weary blond closed his eyes only to snap them open again.


Blood on his hands, on his jacket, blood oozing from the multitude of holes decorating his partner's chest, blood pooling on the hot tarmac of the police garage...

Hutch tightened his hold on his sleeping partner; unconsciously turning his cheek to press it into the soft dark curls against his chest. After all this time, the image of his partner lying there in his own blood still haunted and traumatized the blond detective, filling his heart with a helpless sense of fear that still had the ability to shake him.

So close.

He had come so close to losing Starsky that time, so close to losing his friend... his best friend in the whole world. If Starsky had died...

The abrasive ringing of the phone startled him out of his morbid reverie and Hutch carefully stretched for the receiver, consciously making an effort to not jostle his still slumbering partner.

"H'lo" Hutch whispered, the fingers of his free hand absently stroking the riotous curls, smiling as one errant tendril wrapped around his pinkie.

"Hutch? Hey m'man, what it iz! Good to hear your voice, dude!"

"Hey Hug! 'S good to hear from you too!" Hutch said softly, "Haven't seen your face in what..."

"Six months, but whose countin'," Huggy said snidely, his voice softened as he continued. "Anyway, it ain't like I didn't know y'all been busy. Heard about the Marshall Center... how is he? How's Starsk?"

Hutch swallowed as he looked down at his partner who mumbled incoherently as he turned and slid downwards, snuggling against his upper thigh. Hutch's hand followed in his friend's wake and continued stroking the dark curls softly, trying to soothe his partner back into deeper sleep. He dropped his voice down to a mere whisper, "He's... well, he's pissed and he wants to nail that scum bag... get him off the streets before he hurts anyone else."

"Yeah," Huggy agreed softly, "Sally was a good kid Hutch. I know she meant a lot to him and Terry."

"To me too, Hug. She meant a lot to me too." Hutch said, his heart heavy with sadness as he thought of those happy days when he and his partner would hold basketball games down at the center with Sally waving her pom-poms as she cheered the team on.

For a few seconds there was only silence before the Bear self-consciously cleared his throat and said, "Well... when you get the time, come down to 'The Pits' to unwind for a bit. Maybe Curly could let loose and play some pool... have a few beers... it might help him ease the load off of his mind y'know what I mean?"

"Yeah, thanks Hug," Hutch said. "If we can swing by, we will. I think it would be good for Starsky to just hang out for bit. We've been kind of running these last six months... it would be real nice to just kick back for a while."

"Okay then, mi amigo," Huggy said warmly, "I'll have your brews frosted just the way you like 'em. See ya soon then... and Hutch? Be careful man. If it is McVee that's doin' the blowin', the word on the street is that he's a loose canon, no pun intended."

"Yeah. I just can't imagine what it must be like for that kid of his. I mean the boy must know what his dad is doing. Anyway, thanks Hug... for everything!"

"No problema! Tell that stubborn partner of yours that the Bear hasn't forgotten that he still owes me for the beers he drank the last time he dropped by."

"Will do, Hug," Hutch chuckled, reaching over again to gently return the receiver into the cradle of the phone. Sighing softly, the blond detective dragged one hand through his golden locks. He looked down to check on his partner, surprised to see the bright blue sapphire gaze locked to his own.

"That Huggy?" Starsky said, his voice rough with sleep.

"Yeah, sorry I woke you buddy," Hutch said regretfully, wishing his partner had more time to rest. "It's okay, go back to sleep Gordo," the blond whispered soothingly, his hand softly stroking the dark curls resting on his lap as his friend rubbed the sleep from his eyes with the back of his hands. The gesture seemed almost childlike and Hutch felt a surge of protection fill his being for the brunet who yawned once more.

The dark haired detective turned slightly and snuggled against his partner's warm thigh. He closed his eyes once more, long, dark lashes fanning out again, hiding the plum colored smudges that bruised the soft skin under his eyes. Hutch smiled with relief. It would behoove his exhausted partner to get more sleep.

One eyelid lifted suddenly; the dark sapphire orb seeking the blond out as a cocky smile lifted his lips. "Fooled ya, didn't I?"

The tall blond snorted softly. "Seriously Starsk, you should rest some more," Hutch said, knowing he was beginning to sound like a worried mother hen. "I mean it hasn't even been an hour yet."

"Nah," The brunet said as he groaned softly and pulled himself into a sitting position, "Ain't tired no more. 'Sides, I'm hungry and your back's probably killin' ya."

"But Starsky..."

"You're naggin' Hutchinson," Starsky said with a snort, stretching his arms overhead as he stood and eyed his still reclining partner. "You sure you feel up to cookin' tonight? We could just order some pizza or somethin'."

"I'll cook," Hutch said. "In the meantime, why don't you go lie down and try to get some sleep. I'll wake you when dinner is ready and..."

"Don't Hutch," Starsky quietly interjected, his dark brows drawing together in a frown over bright blue eyes that glittered dangerously.

"Don't what?" the blond queried, a look of confusion crossed Hutch's face as he mentally tried to track what he had said in the last few minutes to piss his partner off.

"Don't treat me like an invalid," Starsky growled, anger tingeing his words. "'M fine okay? How many times do I have'ta tell you that?"

"I know you're fine buddy. It's just that..."

"No," Starsky cut in, "Don't tell me to rest... not when that scum is still out on the streets!" The blond detective watched as his partner got up and crossed over to the window to look out upon the rain-swept streets below. "He's out there Hutch... probably scheming up somethin' else to blow up, while we're just sittin' in here... resting!"

The silent blond watched as his partner fisted the worn curtain, feeling the anger, frustration, and pain that roiled within his friend. Sighing softly, the blond relented, rubbing his suddenly sweaty palms against his denim covered thighs. "Okay Starsk. I hear you. We'll go out first thing in the morning and find him, okay? We'll tail him all day long if need be... together... me and thee."

Me and Thee.

The brunet turned at that last statement, the hard glimmer in those cobalt depths softening as he gazed at his longtime friend. "Okay," the curly haired cop softly relented, letting the cloth of the curtain slip through his fingers. "Okay," he said once more, his voice a bit stronger this time, feeling better as he mentally processed his partner's suggestion of finding McVee. The dark haired detective swaggered over to the couch, a crooked smile dazzling his features as he held out his hand to Hutch who grabbed onto his forearm, allowing the brunet to pull him to his feet.

"First thing in the morning then," Starsky said again, as if to seal the promise made by the blond.

"Yeah. First thing in the morning we'll hunt that bastard down Starsk," Hutch assured, raising his finger suddenly in the air as his partner was about to speak, stopping the brunet before he uttered a word. "But only if you promise me that just for tonight, we'll take it easy, eat some eggs, watch some TV and then go to bed early. Is that a deal?"

Steel colored eyes locked onto dark cobalt blue until Starsky snorted softly, a grin lifting the corner of his mouth as he shook his head slowly. "You drive a hard bargain Hutchinson, but it's a deal!" The dark haired cop stuck out his hand, feeling the warmth of his partner's, as Hutch took a hold of it.

The two detectives chuckled as they shook on it. Then smiling, the two men parted; the blond turned to rustle up the eggs from the refrigerator in the kitchen while the brunet turned to saunter into the bathroom to finally take that hot shower he'd been anticipating all evening.

Chapter Three

It looked like a serene portrait -- one far off the beaten path of horror, destruction, and soul crushing pain of the most recent bombing.

Starsky looked out the window at a dusty ball field surrounded by the shade of several large old trees. The sky was a cloudless blue, and the California ocean breeze, warm. Out in left field a father squatted, patiently throwing a ball back and forth with his nine-year-old son. Both wore matching red and white Los Angeles Angels ball caps. It made Starsky want to throw up. McVeigh was anything but an angel, yet looking at him right then with his son, was like looking at a Norman Rockwell portrait.

The scene playing out before Starsky brought fond memories of him and his father doing much the same thing so many years ago. Father and son, tossing a baseball out behind their New York home in an empty open grassy field. The only difference -- Starsky's father had taught him morals. Taught him right from wrong. Taught him to respect life and the law.

What cold and devious things was McVee teaching his son?

What parts of a bomb go where? What switches, fuses, and chemical compositions were best to use. How far away to be when the device detonated, and how many bodies could you expect to kill per explosion.

Would McVee's son learn from his father's mistakes -- or follow in his footsteps?

"Look at him, he's pathetic," Starsky grumbled as he watched McVee continue to toss his son a baseball underhanded. "You'd think he was an ordinary dad, playing ball with his kid on a sunny day.

"Partner." Hutch angled Starsky's way. "To his kid that's exactly what he is. An ordinary dad," he said in a sad voice.

Starsky avoided Hutch's gaze. He didn't want to believe that fact. Didn't want to think about what all this would eventually do to McVee's young son, Timothy. Starsky wrung his hands together feeling Hutch's worried gaze upon him.

"Starsky you okay? Do you think--"

"I can handle it, Hutch!" Starsky turned and implored his partner, "I can handle it."

"Cut the crap, Starsky! I know this is eating you up inside."

Starsky's eyes grew dark and hard. "What about you? What's this all doing to you?"

Hutch swallowed and cocked his head. "Same as you. But I'm controlling it. I know you, Starsk. You're reliving Terry's death all over again through Sally. You're blaming yourself. I love you, buddy. I can't stand to see you do this to yourself."

Starsky's hard gaze softened as he mulled over all that his friend had said. "I love you too, Blondie." He reached a hand over, slipped his fingers around the back of Hutch's neck, and gave a squeeze. "You let me do the worrying, buddy." Starsky let his hand drop away.

"That's what's worrying me," Hutch gave a heavy sigh, turning to look back at the ball field. "Uh-oh. Looks like he made us."

"Fucking, bloodhounds!" McVee yelled, flipping them the bird, gathering up his son, shoving him into the backseat of his car and tearing off.

They had lost track of McVee for about forty minutes, but finally caught back up to him at his home. Hutch parked his car behind a camper. They didn't need to be blown off again. After a short time, McVee got into his car alone and headed down the road. Hutch gently eased out from behind the camper and followed the Irishman to Mill's Market on Seaside Street. They watched McVee strut inside the market, quickly agreeing Starsky would go in and keep tabs on him. They didn't need to waste time losing him again. Starsky opened the car door and was just about to exit when Hutch's hand grabbed on to his forearm.

"Remember, Starsky what Dobey said about watching our step on this one. We can't--"

"I got this, Hutch. Don't worry."

"The thought never occurred to me," Hutch deadpanned. "If you're not back in five minutes..." Hutch glanced at the car clock. "I come in after you."

Starsky nodded and walked away.

Starsky breathed in deeply, pushing his empty shopping cart through the produce section of Mill's Market. The tang of citrus, tart apples and the unmistakable sweetness of concord grapes perfumed the air. The smell reminding him of his Aunt Sandy's grape cobbler, the memory easing some of the tension he felt in his shoulders.

Starsky causally edged past a pretty woman with short brown hair bagging apples. Her young daughter safely sat in the child's seat happily sucking on a pacifier. The youngster giggled, and served only to remind him of all the children lost in the strategic explosion. The woman briefly met his gaze and Starsky managed a small smile on the outside, but inside his heart hemorrhaged.

Nothing could have prepared him for the bombing of The Marshall Center and the death of one of Terry's most beloved students. Walking up and down the aisles, he felt a mindless blur take over. Terry had asked him to watch over Sally. Never to let her give up. She had come so far -- now she was far-gone.

Starsky gripped the handle of his cart feeling as though the floor had turned to liquid and he would sink into the ugly white tile if he didn't hold tight. To lose Sally over a crazed man with a bomb was volatile, senseless and fucking sick!

Starsky's anger suddenly flared. He watched in an almost Twilight zone way, as William McVee rounded the corner pushing a cart. He parked in front of a bin to inspect the vine ripe tomatoes that were on special.

Starsky was frozen in place, couldn't stop watching. Couldn't stop thinking of all the things he could do to McVee if he gave himself permission. He could shoot him right now and his life would all be over. He could capture McVee. Drag him out to the desert, hogtie him to a cactus and leave him for dead. He could tape a bomb to his chest and watch him evaporate into small particles. He could -- oh hell what was he thinking. He was a cop. He could stake him out, hoping against hope to catch McVee in some illegal act and gather some sort of evidence to prove what they already knew to be true. That was what he could do. Prove beyond any doubt that William McVee was the man behind the mall bombings. That he was the man who left the Marshall Center in smoking ruins. That he was the man who murdered Sally. Murdered all those children. The only thing Starsky had left of Terry.

It wasn't in Starsky's nature to seek revenge like a vigilante cop, but something inside him cracked and fissured like an iceberg melting in the summer sun. A deep growl bubbled in his throat. McVee looked up, shocked to see the detective glaring at him like a rabid wolf.

A slow smirk crossed McVee's face. Never taking his eyes off Starsky, he reached down, plucked a tomato from the pile and squeezed it between his fingers. The meaty guts and pulp squirted out, chunks of red skin stuck to his fingers, and juice dripped like blood to the floor.

"What a shame," McVee gave an antagonizing laugh. "Such a mess I've made."

The metaphor McVee had conveyed didn't go unnoticed. The blood of all those children. Sally's blood dripping from his hands. Hands that were still free to kill again. Starsky didn't think it was possible to feel any more anger than he already did. He wanted to draw his gun. Put a bullet in the man's so called heart. But he held a badge, and something deep inside him wouldn't allow him to cross that line. McVee continued to smile, an unabashed grin that ate at Starsky's very soul.

"Ahhhhhhhhh!" Starsky's growl turned into a tribal scream.

In sudden, uncontrolled fury, and with all his power behind the shopping cart, Starsky rushed forward. The cart's wheels squeaking in an ear-piercing way, as he darted across the aisle crashing into McVee. The force sent the man, his cart, and half the bin of tomatoes toppling to the tiled floor.

Breathing heavily, Starsky glared at the man as he squirmed to gain purchase on the slippery tomato covered floor.

The woman with the child who had smiled at Starsky frowned disapprovingly, as she hurried on by. Several other patrons had gathered around to see what the fuss was all about. Ooh's and aw's filled the air...

"What is all this?" A man in a blue blazer, with a nametag that read manager yelled.

"That man's crazy!" McVee pointed a red sauce covered finger at Starsky. "He attacked me. For no reason."

"I have every reason... you sick son of a bitch!" Starsky panted.

McVee stood wiping tomato paste off his clothing in vein. "Where's there a payphone in here? I need to call my lawyer!" He screamed at the manager.

"You can use the office phone but first I'm calling the police," the manager informed sternly.

"H... Hold it!" Hutch skittered around a corner badge pushed out in front of him. "I'm the police."

"We're going to nail you McVee. There isn't a grain of sand you can hide under!" Starsky's voice was dangerously low as he took a threatening step toward the man.

"Easy." Hutch grabbed his partner's arm stopping him.

"Who's going to pay for this mess?" The manager angrily asked, placing his hands on his hips in a no nonsense stance.

Hutch shoved his badge back into his pocket in trade for his wallet, dug out a few bills, and handed them to the man. "This outta cover damages."

"You're a walking dead man, Starsky," McVee threatened.

"Have at it!" Starsky strained against Hutch's hold.

"Calm down sir, and come with me. We'll talk about this at Police Headquarters," Hutch said, as he headed Starsky toward the front door.

Back in Hutch's car, both men sat quiet in the market parking lot.

"He won't stop, Hutch. He-he's going to bomb another place," Starsky panted, completely out of breath. "More -- more people, more children are going to d-die if we don't stop him." The brunet's uncontrolled anger reflected in his eyes.

"We're on his back." Hutch looked Starsky's way. "We'll get him," he nearly whispered. "But, not like this." Hutch waved a hand toward the market. "Starsky, you can't go around--"

"I know that!" Starsky stiffened, and a fisted hand slammed down on the dashboard. "Ow!" he screeched, and waggled the sting from his hand. "Damn it, Hutch!" Starsky squeezed his eyes shut.

"Starsk." A gentle hand dropped to his shoulder. "I know you're hurting. Hell, I'm hurting too. But you gotta pull it together, partner. Okay?"

No answer.

"The tougher you make it on McVee; the tougher it's going to be for us to make the bust. We can't allow any mistakes or he'll get off on a technicality. Come on," Hutch said in a feather soft voice. "You know that, buddy, right?"

Starsky gave a small nod of acceptance, his answer coming in the form of one lone tear streaming down his cheek and dripping to the leather seat.

Starsky turned his head and opened his eyes to meet his partner's.

"I got you back with me?" Hutch smiled.

"You got me, Hutch."

"That's my partner." Hutch gave a squeeze to his friend's shoulder. "Oh, and Starsk," he said in after thought.


"You could have hit him a little harder."

Both men chuckled.

Fifteen minutes later, Hutch looked up just in time to see McVee putting his groceries in the trunk of his car.

"There he is. Finally." Hutch gestured with a nod of his head. "You good to go, buddy?"

"Let's... get... this... monster," Starsky pounded out each word.

Just as Hutch was about to pull out of his parking slot and follow McVee, dispatch broke in.

"Captain Dobey wants to see you and Starsky in his office, now!" Mildred's voice came over the air. "Code 3. Lights and sirens. Get here now!"

"We're really in for it, huh, Mildred?" Hutch asked.

"You got bulletproof vests?" Mildred asked in a serious tone.

"In the trunk." Hutch frowned.

"You better put them on," Mildred drawled.

"Terrific," Starsky mumbled.

Dobey was on his feet pacing his office, furiously fumbling with his pencil in one hand. He stopped in front of his Rookie Of The Year Award. Where had the time gone? It seemed a lifetime ago that he solemnly swore to serve and protect. He was proud of his life on the force and he knew the men who worked under his command were equally as proud. However, Starsky and Hutch were walking on dangerous ground. Their emotions, especially Starsky's, had gotten the better of him. Yet, he knew the blood seeping out from under the rubble of the Marshall Center would haunt them all for years to come. It was enough to make the Pope sell his soul to the devil to see McVee get what he had coming to him.

Using his thumb, Dobey snapped his pencil in two, one half falling to the floor. It filled him with sadness at what had happened years ago to Terry, and even sadder the short-lived lives of the children, especially one special young lady named, Sally. And what about all those people at the malls?

The whys and heartache of the job hung thick in the air. To put on the uniform meant to put one's own heart on a shelf. Dobey knew there was a thick book of laws conceived from the very roots of this country. A book that was meant to uphold humanity. Meant to keep order and justice. Without it, we would eat each other alive. Red meant stop. Green meant go. He had to be strong, had to uphold the laws. What his two detectives were doing was wrong, though their hearts were in the right place; their emotions were like a runaway train on the wrong track.

Dobey took a deep breath, holding back his tears when he heard a knock at his door and two rogue detectives slowly entered his office.

"It's about time you got in here!" Dobey growled as he went to sit behind his desk.

Starsky and Hutch moved toward their usually seats in front of the mahogany desk.

"No!" Dobey screamed at the top of his lungs, and pointed his broken pencil at his men "You stand!"

Starsky and Hutch snapped to attention, hands behind their backs, awaiting their captain's tyrant.

"Are you two hard of hearing?"

"No, sir," both men answered.

"Good. Because I am only going to say this one more time. I'd love to tell you to haul McVee in. I'd love to tell you to avoid slapping the cuffs on him and send him straight into hell where he belongs!" Dobey barked. "But I won't! I can't! That is not how the system works!" Dobey dropped his broken pencil into the trashcan next to his desk. "McVee has contacted his lawyer. This is your last chance to back off of him. I want you on this case, but if you continue with these antics of yours--"

"Captain," Starsky interrupted.

"Starsky!" Dobey shoved up out of his chair and pointed an aggressive finger at the dark haired man's chest. "Quiet!"

"Yes, sir." Starsky's right leg twitched; he pressed his lips together and brought his shoulders straighter.

"Look, Captain," Hutch started.

"Don't, 'look captain' me, Hutchinson!" Dobey took a breath and shook his head in regret. "I know how you both must feel. You think I don't feel the same? But if you continue I'll have to pull you off this case and put you both on suspension -- without pay!" Dobey looked to the ceiling wanting to escape the pain he saw in his men's eyes. Gathering strength, he made eye contact once more. This was serious and he had to send his point home. "I've called McVee's lawyer. It took some doing, but I got her to drop the harassment charges against you. One more slip, one more incident of playing super cop and it's over! Do you hear me, you two?"

Starsky and Hutch's heads bobbed in silent understanding.

Dobey laid both hands flat to his desk, leaned over, and glared at his men. "I... said... do... you... hear... me?"

"Yes, sir," Starsky and Hutch said in a low voice.

"Good. Now go get him. By the book!"

Noticing the sick look on Starsky's face, Hutch placed a hand to the small of his back and guided him out the door.

After Dobey morphed their strategy from push him until he cracks -- to sit on the sidelines and wait it out, Starsky and Hutch found themselves at the Pits. The longer McVee was on the street the more likely another bombing would occur.

Starsky angrily picked up his pool stick and chalked the tip. None of this felt right. It was like putting your shoe on the wrong foot, only you couldn't fix it 'cause you're hands were tied behind your back. Dobey drew his line, and Starsky and Hutch couldn't cross it.

Hutch leaned over the table. The blond carefully lined up his shot, took aim, and sent the cue ball breaking the triangle apart with a loud clack. The colored balls wildly went rolling dropping three solid colored balls.

"I'm solids." Hutch stood straight, and grinned.

"Terrific," Starsky grumbled, as he strutted up to the table and bent way over to take his shot.

This was their fourth game and Starsky hadn't won a round yet. It sure was doing nothing to ease his rapidly souring mood. "Twelve ball, corner pocket." Starsky took careful aim, and shot, sinking the solid purple number four ball instead.

"I said I was solids," Hutch chuckled. "Thanks for the helping hand, pal, but I don't think I need it."

"Just take your shot, Hutch!"

"Sore looser." Hutch bit his lower lip wanting to say so much but thinking better of it. Instead, he leaned far over the table and lined up his next shot. "Five ball, side pocket," Hutch muttered, but before he could take it a voice from behind stopped him.

"Another round for my Compadres." Huggy smiled.

"What's wrong with my curly headed man tonight? That's one nasty game you've got going." Huggy handed Starsky and Hutch each a frozen mug of beer. "What did Hutch do? Pay you to lose, Curly? I don't think you've played this bad since you were sho--"

"Huggy, not now," Starsky snarled, and tossed his pool stick to the center of the table disturbing all the remaining balls obviously ending the game.

"Whoa, My man. If it's your game strategy you just have to concentrate a little more."

"Sorry, Hug, my partner here isn't much in the concentrating mood. It's the case we've been working on," Hutch offered. "The mall bomber."

"Yeah. It's a bad situation." Huggy shook his head sadly.

"Hug, were searching for anything. Any information you can find. Starsk and I are all tapped out," Hutch said taking a swig.

"I know what Dobey is saying. We have to follow the law." Starsky took a huge swallow from his mug. "But if we don't get this guy, and soon, more people, more kids-- " He slammed his beer down spilling a large amount to the green felted table. "I don't want to lay anymore pompoms and teddy bears on anyone else's coffin." Starsky lifted his mug and took another deep swallow of beer choking the rest of the liquid down.

"Starsk, relax," Hutch said in a honey soft voice, moving to stand near his friend.

"That's some heavy blues." Huggy shook his head sadly. "I better dig something up or I'll be recovering my table and maybe even buying a new bar if hothead here doesn't calm way down." Huggy gathered the empty beer mugs and sat them on his tray. "If Curly can keep his grove for the next ten minutes -- give The Bear time to see what he can find out. I'll make a few calls," Huggy said, and walked away.

Starsky picked up the eight ball and shook it hard. Feigning the magic eight ball game he asked the question, "Will we ever nail this turkey?" Starsky held the ball close to his face hoping the answer would float to the top.

Hutch snorted. "What's it say, partner?" he asked playing along.

"Reply hazy try again," Starsky snipped.

"Try again, then," Hutch encouraged.

Starsky shook the eight ball, and said, "Mother may I? Simon Says. Mirror... mirror. Open... says me."

Hutch smiled. At least his partner seemed distracted. "So what's it say, now?"

Starsky looked up and pinned Hutch with a murderous look. "Very doubtful. Don't count on it." Starsky's voice raised three decibels, "Outlook not good! Damn it, Hutch!" Starsky erupted.

In his frustration, he flung the black billiard ball to the floor and watched as number eight rolled out of sight under the pinball machine.

"Hey, hey," Hutch soothed, quickly at his friend's side. "Easy -- easy, buddy." Hutch glanced around and frowned. Several of Huggy's patrons had nervously got up, mumbling how the place had gone down hill as they left the bar. "Starsk, come here," Hutch said, leading his friend by the arm over to a private corner. "You've got to settle down. You're not helping the situation blowing up like this. We'll get him. We've worked--"

"Six months, Hutch. Six! And we still got nothing!"

Starsky needed to scream. Needed to break something. The only thing around close enough now was his partner and the paneled wall in front of him. He chose the latter, fisted his left hand, drew it far back, and punched a hole in the wall.

"Aw!" he screeched out in pain, quickly withdrawing his hand and coddling it to his chest. "Aw, damn it that hurt. I'm such a complete idiot!" Starsky blinked back the tears, and shook his head. That was the second time today he'd injured to his hand due to his own anger.

"Nah." Hutch reached out a sympathetic hand. You're only half an idiot, Starsk -- you still have some parts missing." He smiled weakly. "Come here, let me see that." Hutch pulled Starsky's hand away from his chest and held it flat upon his. A layer of skin was scrapped off the knuckles. They were tinged red with blood and swollen, the pinky ring finger seemed to have taken the worst of the damage. Hutch raised Starsky's hand higher up and inspected the area intently. "That's gotta hurt, but I don't think it's broken, Gordo. It looks like it's going to be deeply bruised, though." He probed his friend's fingers gently.

"Hutch, people are staring," Starsky grumbled, and fidgeted back and forth.

"I'll give them something to stare at," Hutch said puckering his lips.

"Don't you dare kiss my hand, Blondie or--"

"Huggy's going to kill you, Starsk." Hutch glanced at the wall. "That's a nice hole, maybe next time punch a pillow," Hutch suggested as he pulled a hanky from his pocket and wrapped it around Starsky's knuckles.

"I can't exactly carry a pillow around everywhere, ahhh--" Starsky winced as Hutch tied off the hanky. "Smart guy."

"Starsky--" Hutch pinned him with serious look. "Justice. Not revenge, okay, partner? We'll get, McVee. I know we will!"

"Hutch, you can't know that." Starsky coddled his bandaged hand to his chest and paced in a small tight circle, like he was the last caged animal on earth. "The creep has no conscience. McVee's not afraid to die and he's not afraid of us. He's got a rock solid alibi and his sleazy lawyer on his side. Even Dobey said to, 'back off.' Starsky took in a deep shuddering breath. "You tell me, Hutch -- how are we going to get him?"

"Buddy." Hutch dropped his head and stared at his shoes. "I don't know. I just don't--"

"Chill out. I know how!" Huggy bounded over with a piece of paper in his hand. "McVee's going to bomb The Old Stone Church on Seaway Drive. My man, Reliable -- he plays the horse track. McVee was there betting high stakes, and shooting his drunken mouth off about the church. About how it sits high on a hill above a daycare and how he plans on blowing it in such a strategic way that it all comes crashing down on the little kiddies below." Huggy swallowed. "He said it was going to be a beautiful sight. His masterpiece. Here's the address. Reliable said he'd meet you there. He wants to help out."

"Call 'im back and tell him to stay home. He'll only be in the way if McVee's really there," Starsky said, reaching for the paper, only to wince as he drew back his injured hand.

"Hey, what about my wall?" Huggy ranted, as he waved the paper around.

"Later, Huggy!" Starsky snapped.

"Later, Huggy. Not now, Huggy. Sorry, Huggy." The bar owner chanted his dismay.

"'Reliable', better be reliable," Hutch said, ignoring Huggy and snatching the paper with the address. "How you going to hold a gun in that hand?" Hutch questioned as he and Starsky bolted from the bar.

"I'll hold the Statue of Liberty in this hand -- if it means getting that crap off the streets!" Starsky said firmly, sliding into Hutch's car, and tearing down the road toward the Old Stone Church.

Chapter Four

Starsky and Hutch approached The Old Stone Church on foot, having parked Hutch's car a block away. If McVee was there, they didn't want to alert him of their presence.

The church had been abandoned in recent years and now stood an empty hollow near hidden behind a jungle of heavy vegetation that clung all around the building. Once a majestic cathedral, the church looked more like a creepy haunted house than a place where people once flocked to praise God or speak to the Holy Virgin.

Starsky poked his head out from behind a large tree shining his flashlight about. The lower level windows of the church had been securely boarded up. Several yards away, a set of stone steps led up to a large intricately carved wooden door.

"What do you think?"

"I think Dobey's not going to like this," Hutch said uncomfortably, shining his flashlight's beam at a broken window one story up.

"Dobey doesn't even know we're here, Hutch." Starsky winced as he slid his gun from his holster.

"That's the part he's not going to like." Hutch frowned, the crease between his eyebrows deepening. "How's the hand?"

"Next time I'll punch a pillow," Starsky drawled. "Look, we gotta check this out before we call in the troops," he reasoned.

"Starsk." Hutch inched closer to his friend. "I don't want your anger clouding your judgment here." Even in the darkness Hutch's pale blue eyes were piercing. "If we find McVee--" Hutch let the unspoken words hang freely between them.

"I know." Starsky's gaze trailed off to look down at the ground. "It ain't like--" Starsky stopped.

There was something rustling in the bushes to their left. Both detectives drew their guns instinctively going into a shooting stance.

"Police! Come out!" Starsky snapped.

"Don't shoot we have a mutual friend, Huggy Bear. I'm Reliable," a nasally voice rattled off in one breath.

Stepping out of the bushes with shaky hands raised high in the air was a small red haired man with a round beer belly. The corner of Starks's mouth curled into a small smile. Years of being on the force had schooled him in the art of knowing what felt right and what felt wrong. This guy was telling the truth. Besides that, the stout man reminded him of a plastic gnome his Aunt Rosy always kept in her garden. She had always told him that a gnome in your garden would bring good luck. Starsky only hoped the flesh and blood type would be equally as lucky.

"Don't shoot." The small man's voice shook as he waddled toward Hutch. "You Startchy and Hudson?" he asked nervously.

Hutch cocked a brow at the odd usage of their names as he pulled his badge. "This is my partner, Sergeant Starsky." Hutch pointed a finger at his darker counterpart. "I'm Sergeant Hutchinson. "Let's see your ID."

The smaller man slowly pulled his wallet out, and handed Hutch his driver's license.

Hutch shined his flashlight at the man's ID and studied it a few seconds. "It's good," Hutch told Starsky flatly, handing the license back to Reliable, and lowering his weapon.

"You two alone?" Reliable's head swiveled left then right. "Where's the rest of the cops?"

"Still in Oz," Starsky deadpanned.

"He's not very original -- is he?" Reliable directed at Hutch, hitching a stubby thumb Starsky's way.

"Too much television," Hutch said dryly, then quickly getting to the point. "If I understood Huggy right, you know something about McVee hotwiring this church?"

"Yes." Reliable straightened his shoulders, making him seem a few inches taller. "I recognized McVee right away from all the press the bombings are getting. He was at the racetrack last night, doused in whiskey, and shooting his mouth off to me. I don't trot around this city claiming to be a Saint..." Reliable's eyes slid toward the cross at the top of the steeple, then back. "But I owe Huggy in a big way!" The short man's voice grew louder. "Besides, I don't go for killing no kids -- special kids at that!

"Keep it quiet." Hutch placed a finger to the smaller man's lips to hush him.

Reliable took a stumbling step backward, and lowered his voice. "I don't think McVee is around. Maybe he was just flapping his gums, drunk and all. I haven't seen anyone and I've been here for two and a half hours waiting. You suppose he realized his mistake of telling me what his next move was?"

"I don't know, but we have to check it out," Starksy sighed in exasperation. "It's all we got. Let's go," he said moving out from the shadows, carefully watching his surroundings.

All three men quickly took the ten concrete steps and stood in front of the large intricately carved door of the church. Hutch reached out and tested the handle, the door opened fractionally, and the men looked to one another in surprise.

"Guess it's true. God's door is always open," Reliable said nervously pulling his own flashlight from his pocket. "I haven't stepped inside a church since I was twelve. Sister Sarah would have my hide if she knew that."

"You don't have to go in," Hutch said. It might be risky."

"I don't, but I am. Just tell that one..." Reliable glared at Starsky. "Anymore Oz talk and I'll call in my flying monkeys."

"Terrific," Starsky mumbled.

Two steps inside, the men stopped, their flashlight beams jumping about and adding to the mix of shadows on the walls. It was unnaturally quiet. The inside of the church held a medieval quality, steely gray, cold, and dusty.

"Be ready for anything." Hutch's voice bouncing off the walls made the place feel like a cave rather than a church.

The men stepped further in. Although it was known that the church was not abandoned that long ago, most of the pews on either side of the long aisle had been broken. Several pedestals that lined the walls were obviously missing the precious icons that once sat reverently upon them. Behind the crumbled alter, high up on the wall was a large round stained glass window. The glass appeared to be one of the only things in the church left unbroken. Once a motif of color, the glass although well crafted, was now coated with a layer of dirty film. However, one could still make out the depiction of a man with bleeding wounds in his hands, feet and side -- lying lifeless in his mother's arms.

Hutch automatically moved along the left wall. Starsky slowly slid along the right, Reliable behind him. The sound of their feet echoed between the stone walls; as they circled the perimeter and met in front of the crumbled alter.

"Nothing so far." Starsky cringed, the emptiness filling his throat like an air bubble. He swallowed the nothingness down to the pit of his stomach, and it sat there heavily.

"You sure about this tip of yours, Oz?" Starsky turned to face the little man with a glint of venomous suspicion in his eyes.

"You think I'd be taking any unnecessary risks if I thought I wasn't?" Reliable rolled his eyes. "And further more, I wouldn't play my man The Bear like-- "

"Bang!" The loud noise echoed through the church.

Starsky's heart slammed into his chest, his thumb slid over the hammer of his gun, and he whirled to point the barrel at--

"Damn you, Hutch," Starsky cursed under his breath, berating himself for his jittery nerves. "Don't do that!" He lowered his piece.

"What! What happen?" Reliable glanced around wide-eyed.

"Sorry." Hutch waved a hand toward a thick leather bound bible on the floor near the crumbled alter. "Dropped it."

"Somebody should keep a closer eye on that clumsy partner of yours," Reliable said, trying to stop his legs from shaking.

"Somebody should," Starsky agreed, as he let his eyes alone rove the area. "You two look around down here." Starsky nodded toward the staircase he'd just took note of. "I'm going to check upstairs."

"What are we looking for?" Reliable asked.

"Anything that looks out of place or ticks," Starsky said sharply.

"Starsk--" Hutch stiffened, and took a step toward him.

"It's okay." Starsky slipped past Hutch, his hand brushing against the blond's arm for reassurance. "I'll just be a few minutes. I don't think anything is going on here. You've made enough noise to wake the dead. 'Sides--" Starsky glanced at Reliable. "Someone has to make sure a house doesn't fall on--" Starsky cut himself off with a snicker when he met Reliable's angry gaze.

"You leave that witch out of this." Reliable sarcastically played the curly haired one's game.

Starsky stood at the bottom of the staircase shining his light upward and listened. Nothing, but the sound of his own breathing. The staircase was dark, his flashlight barely helping him to see. With his gun in his left hand, he braced his right shoulder against the wall and took the stairs slowly -- one at a time. He wasn't even halfway up when Hutch called to him.

"Five minutes, Starsk. Hutch instructed sternly. "Then we go talk to Dobey."

Starsky peered over the railing and smiled. "Scouts honor." He gave Hutch a two-fingered salute.

"That'd be three fingers, buddy boy," Hutch drawled as he watched his partner disappear up the staircase.

The silence was unnerving -- the shadows scary. As Starsky climbed the stairs, he started to think of Sally. How she must have felt in the final few seconds of her life before the building collapsed around her. He swallowed his guilt and regret. He had a job to do; this was not the time to let emotions take over. Hutch was right about that.

It didn't take Starsky long to reach the top floor. The room was spacious and obviously used for storage. All along the walls were stacked cardboard boxes. They looked to be full of papers, sheet music, and hymnals. A billowing white gown with long sleeves hung on a hook to his right. Even under its protective clear plastic garment bag the sequence sparkled in the beam of his flashlight. The ghostly dress made him think of Terry. He sadly wondered how she would have looked in such a gown. He took a deep breath pushing the thought out of his head.

Something suddenly burst out from behind a box and scampered across the floor. Starsky jumped back a step and nearly fired off a round, before he focused in on his target -- a small gray mouse. He chuckled at his own edginess, and watched the tiny creature run a zigzag pattern across the floor until it disappeared behind the foot peddles of an antique pump organ.

Starsky moved closer to the organ. Although dusty, its ornate wood looked to be in mint condition. He pressed on a few keys. A- a flat. B- b flat. With a little work, Hutch might like--

Starsky's heart lurched just as he saw a small black box sitting on top the instrument, as he recognized the steady sound of ticking. He slowly reached up toward the box when the unmistakable feel of a gun pressed into his back stopped him cold.

"Could it be that yer playin' some sort of love song, Starsky?" The familiar Irish accent filled the dark room. Starsky stiffened and started to turn, but froze when he heard the click of the hammer. "Don't move lad! Or I'll shoot you right now! Hand over yer gun," McVee ordered.

Starsky hesitated.

"Just pretend yer a puppet on a string, Starsky. I control yer every move. Do it -- do it now."

Starsky had no choice. He let his gun slip around his finger and dangle there a moment before handing the gun back.

"And the flashlight. I'll be takin' that too."

Starsky bit his lower lip as he started to hand the flashlight over, but thought better of it. Instead he let his Baretta fall to the floor with a thud, hoping to give his partner downstairs some sort of warning.

"Bad puppet." McVee shoved his gun hard into Starsky's ribs.

"Hmph," Starsky grunted. "Okay. Okay. Where to?"

"That's better. Downstairs. To hell with harassment charges. I got a 'charge' of me own." Starsky half-turned to see a small detonator device in McVee's hand.

"What's that?" Stasrky asked.

"Yer executioner." McVee kept his voice low. "Gonna tie you and yer partner up and watch every stone come down around yer ears. Gonna have t'blow this place a little early though. It's a cryin' shame that it won't have the same effect since the little kiddies aren't havin' milk and cookies this time o' night. Too bad. Spoils of war and all that y'know."

"You twisted bastard," Starsky growled.

"Just move!" McVee shoved the gun harder into Starsky's back. "And don't be sayin' another word."

With McVee close behind him, Starsky moved to the top of the stairs again he hesitated, but the shove of the gun propelled him downward.

Halfway down, Starsky could see the broken pews and crumbled alter over the rail of the staircase, but he saw no sign of Hutch or Oz.

"Call to yer partner," McVee whispered in Starsky's ear. "Go on... call t'him."

Starsky shook his head in a 'no' fashion. Maybe Hutch and Oz were outside waiting for him. If that really was a bomb, and McVee was determined to set it off with them inside -- he didn't want Hutch getting blown to bits along side him.

Bad news hit hard, as Starsky saw Oz poke his head out from behind a broken pew. If Oz was alert to McVee, Hutch was too. Starsky readied himself to make a move, but said nothing.

"What string do I have to pull, puppet?" McVee gave Starsky a small shove. "I said, call your--"

"McVee!" Hutch's voice crackled with anger as he stepped out of the shadows and stood at the bottom of the staircase, his .357 hot in his hand, his finger steady on the trigger.

Starsky felt the muzzle of the gun at his back falter; at the same time he saw Hutch's eyes cut to the right. Starsky's eyebrows flew upward seeing the broken rail and knowing what Hutch wanted him to do. Crash -- dive -- or move out of the blond's line of fire. Let Hutch take out this mad man, go for the wing shot. But Starsky couldn't do that. What Hutch didn't know was that in McVee's other hand was the trigger to the bomb. If Hutch took the shot, the bomb could go off with all of them still inside.

Instead, Starsky shoved backward into the barrel of the gun, knocking McVee off balance and fighting for possession of the detonator. He whirled and grabbed for a hold of the McVee's wrist, trying to pull the device from his hand.

McVee's gun accidentally fired, the bullet plowing into the wall. The recoil sent the detonator device flying through the air. For a split second Starsky's gaze met with Hutch's. Starsky ducked low and Hutch aimed his weapon at McVee's right shoulder. Just as Hutch squeezed the trigger, McVee had managed to get hold of Starsky and jerk him back up using him as a shield and sending Hutch's bullet ripping into Starsky's right shoulder.

Starsky's startled gaze met with Hutch's, then his eyes rolled and he went down.

"Starsky!" Hutch yelled just before there was a large white flash, a loud roar, and everything went ebony black.

Hutch woke and realized quickly what had happened, as he shoved several pieces of wood off his right leg. When the bomb went off he'd managed to hit the ground and belly crawl under one of the few unbroken pews, before the entire church came down around him. Hutch was shocked to see his flashlight was still in his hand and working. His gun lay only inches from him. He dragged himself out from under the pew, grunting when he felt a sting of pain in his right calf. Using the beam he shined the light down the length of his leg. The hems on both pant legs were shredded, and he could see through the fabric that his right leg was badly bruised and swollen. Luckily, there were only a few small cuts, and the bleeding was minimal. Hutch took in a few small breaths orienting himself. Everything was quiet, and murky, and it took him a minute to get his bearings. Shining the beam of light about he stared in amazement. The church was a pile of stone, metal, dirt, and dust.

"Oh my, God," Hutch muttered, as his fingers spider-crawled the few inches to where his gun lay in the swirling dust. He checked the clip, and holstered it. "Unggg," Hutch groaned, as he pushed himself to his feet.

Squeezing his eyes shut a moment he shook his head, clearing the fog from his brain. He looked left then right. Everything had changed in just a few split seconds. The scene before him was dizzying, but he set his jaw and moved to his left. It was hard to maneuver about in the rubble, but Hutch immediately began searching for his partner.

"Stars," he weakly coughed on the gray dust that still swirled around in the air. "Starsky," Hutch choked, as he lifted a few pieces of debris and tossed the rubble aside determined to find his partner alive. "Alive?" He berated himself aloud. "Son of a bitch, Hutchinson, you sh-shot him. Starsky, answer m-me!" Hutch yelled as loud as he could, completely distressed by the thought of his partner bleeding by his own hand.

Sweat dripped off the tips of Hutch's dampened hair, the dirt plastering the wispy strands to the sides of his face. His hands shook hard, as he continued to search through the ruins. It was hard to imagine that only a short time ago this was a building with walls. Now it was nothing more than a pile of junk. Looking up, Hutch judged that he had fallen through the floor to the basement. The twirling dust let him know he couldn't have been out for too long. Ten, twenty, thirty minutes maybe?

Hutch could only search and pray that his partner and Reliable were there... somewhere... alive. He rubbed at his eyes, clearing his vision of the dust that still flew around. He felt the bile creep up into his throat, as he thought about the day care center. If he and Starsky hadn't gotten the tip from Reliable, this could have been so much worse. Hutch took comfort in knowing the center below the church, although probably destroyed, was void of its children and teachers at this hour of the ni--

"Ahhhh." Came a miserable groan.

"Hold on! I'm here!" Hutch frantically called, as he ignored his injured leg and scrabbled over a particularly large mound of misshapen metal.

"Buddy? Starsky, it's me." Hutch's eyes went wide when he saw a bloodied hand reaching up from out of the wreckage accompanied by another loud groan. "Partner, don't try to move." Hutch shoved several chunks of wood aside quickly shining his beam down on the face of -- "Re-Re-Reliable," Hutch stuttered in utter despair.

"Sorry to disappoint you," Reliable said, slowly sitting up.

"Are you hurt?" Hutch shook off his unhappiness; at least he wasn't alone now.

"Think my left arm is broken, but everything else seems in working order." Reliable held his arm protectively to his chest, and glanced around. "That sick bastard really did it," he said almost in awe.

"Can I help you up?" Hutch held out a hand.

"No, think I'll just sit here and have tea with the Queen," Reliable snapped. "Of course, help me up!"

Hutch got Reliable to his feet. "Oh my God. Are we the only two still breathing?"

"No!" Hutch fumed. "Starsky's alive, I just can't find him in all this mess -- yet! He's alive!" The blond softened. "You still got your flashlight?"

Reliable fumbled with his good hand and pulled the metal tube from his back pocket. "You can always rely on Reliable. That's me." He smiled flicking the light on and off to prove his point.

"Good. We stick together. Move slow and quiet. This place is unstable. If... you... see something..." Hutch annunciated each word slowly. "Anything, we both stop and check it out. Don't forget." Hutch raised a stern finger. "McVee is still in here too," he warned.

Shoulder to shoulder Reliable and Hutch moved through the demolished church stepping carefully as they went. Hutch was extremely quiet, the veins in his neck throbbing with worry.

"Don't worry so much, Hutchinson. That partner of yours seems too smart-aleck to let a little thing like this take him down." Reliable tried to comfort the obviously distressed blond.

"I-I-Jesus. McVee pulled him right into the path of my bullet. I shot--shot my partner in the shoulder." Hutch nearly gagged on the words.

"Don't worry, Gene Autry gets it there all the time." Reliable tried to lighten.

Hutch stopped and stared blankly at the short man next to him. "That's what Starsky always says."

"He's not going to die!" Reliable smiled.

"Says you." Came an Irish accent from just up head.

Hutch and Reliable's flashlight beams came together to spotlight on the face of one William McVee. The Irish man was sitting with his back against a wall, a large cut across his forehead dripping blood down the side of his dirty face.

Hutch took a threatening step forward. "You're under arrest, McVee."

"Look who's still here," McVee chuckled and glanced down to talk to the ground, and for a moment Hutch thought the man was delusional. "I was just telling yer partner, Hutchinson, that we were on our own. Guess I was wrong, huh, Starsky?"

Hutch's heart stopped and his flashlight beam snapped downward to light up the ground near McVee's right leg. Starsky lay stretched out, face up and unmoving, Was he breathing? Hutch was unable to determine, as his gaze, like a magnet, steeled to the bloodstain on Starsky's shoulder.

"Christ," the blond muttered in a breathy whisper.

"Now, now Hutchinson, let us not take the Lord's name in vain."

Hutch caught sight of Starsky's pistol, which McVee pressed hard against his partner's temple.

"Drop the gun!" Hutch gathered his wits, lifted his weapon, and pointed it at McVee's chest."

"Hutchinson." Reliable stepped closer to the distraught blond and placed a steady hand to his shoulder for comfort. "I don't think--"

"That's right Hutchinson, like the wee man said, you don't think!" McVee growled. "Me bullet is much closer to its intended target than yers. Do the math laddie."

Unsettled pale blue eyes scanned his injured partner more closely. Starsky's face was dusted in whitish gray, even his curls and eyelashes were sprinkled with the powdery remains of the church. Hutch couldn't stop looking at Starsky's shoulder wound, making his legs wobble like jelly. He felt like he was in a trance-like state of being. The gunshot wound he had inflicted on his partner looked like it had bled a lot, but now it appeared to have stopped, as the blood crusted his shirt to his skin. Hutch couldn't see any further injury from where he stood, but it looked like quite a lot of rubble covered his partner from the waist down, only his blue Adidas shoes poked out from under the wreckage.

"Starsk." Another breathy whisper, as he took a small step forward.

"Hold it!" McVee pressed the barrel of the pistol hard enough to put an indentation into Starsky's temple, still the injured man didn't move.

"Okay," Hutch muttered, and lowered his weapon, as he now was close enough to see his partner was still breathing. He looked up to McVee and asked, "What now?"

"Me time is short. But before I go, I think you'll watch me have some fun with curly here." McVee moved his free hand down. "Hutchinson, you toss that gun over here to me now!" The Irishman ordered as he gripped a one-inch thick metal rod and gave it a small twist. The action did what Hutch's voice or the gun to his temple couldn't -- it brought the seemingly lifeless curly haired man to pain filled consciousness.

"Ahhh." Starsky barely moved his head. "Pl---lease."

"Aye, 'tis too good to be true... this time he begs me instead of telling me to 'fuck off'. I like that," McVee said with a smile.

"Buddy. It's Hutch. Easy, I'm here." Hutch started to rush forward.

"Stop!" McVee ordered and gave another twist of the metal rod, bringing Hutch to a standstill.

"Grrrrrr," Starsky made a gurgling sound, as his eyes fluttered open and his face twisted in pain.

Something wasn't right. Hutch shined his light on the rod and craned his neck. His gaze trailed down the metal, through the rubble. He gasped, as he could just barely make out his partner's bleeding torso. Hutch's horrified gaze snapped up to meet McVee's. Pale blue eyes seemed to spit fiery sparks, as Hutch made the awful discovery. The metal piece McVee held in his hand was embedded in his partner's right side.

"For God's sakes! Have you lost your mind? You're not going to get away with this!" Hutch bellowed and raised his gun. "Back away from him now!" he yelled, his voice full of fire and fury. "Now!" Hutch cocked his gun, his finger itching to pull the trigger, and kill this mad man.

"Hu-Hu-Hutch," Starsky called, barely able to push out the word. "D-don't"

"Drop the gun!" McVee calmly stated.

Starsky lifted his head slightly and locked eyes with Hutch, his usually bright blue gaze was dull and unfocused, "H-Hutsh," he called out weakly, his left hand lifted slightly as it searched for his partner. "Hut-ch." Starsky muttered once again before his head fell limply back.

"Buddy." Hutch's voice quivered, completely undone at the weakness in his partner's voice, his eyes locking upon the wavering hand of his friend as it fell limply back into the rubble. The tall blond shivered imperceptibly, the cold finger of fear ran up his spine, images of Starsky's still and bloody form lying on the hot tarmac of the police garage filled his mind's eye.

McVee tapped incessantly on the rod with his index finger, the action caused Starsky to squeeze his face up and turn away with a low guttural whimper.

"I'm waiting, Hutchinson. Or better yet, I could just shoot him instead. Maybe ye'd rather I did that." McVee bellowed with laughter.

"You lousy, punk." Hutch lowered his gun.

"Ye be such a poor sport lad! The way I see it, only thing lousy is your sense of humor, " McVee gave an evil grin.

Reliable took three steps backwards, hoping to make a get away and find help. "No!" McVee gave a hard twist on the rod, this time sending Starsky's body into a quivering convulsion. "Nobody leaves here. Tell them, puppet." McVee directed to his captive.

McVee's throaty laughter continued until it was interrupted by a loud rumbling sound and the dust grew thicker. Hutch and Reliable exchanged a horrid look. Maybe no one would come out of this alive.

Chapter 5

Stillness settled once more in the debris-littered basement they found themselves trapped in. The residual sound of McVee's cruel laughter echoed eerily in Hutch's mind. In the darkness, the only audible sound now heard was the sharp gasps that came from the bleeding brunet. Though McVee abruptly stopped twisting the metal rod, his hand still remained lightly on the rebar. The tall blond detective struggled to reign in his anger and frustration at seeing his wounded partner hurt by the callous and insane Irishman.

Hutch swallowed heavily and willed himself to look away from the bleeding brunet. Squinting steel blue eyes, he peered into the dark shadows silently taking in and assessing their dire situation using the flashlight he still held in his hand. The weak shaft of yellow light picked up the powdery dust motes floating around from the explosion, which had brought most of the Church down around them.

Ironically, the upper floors of the Old Church had collapsed in such a way, that two huge crossbeams intersected as they fell, amazingly holding up the unstable "ceiling" of broken rubble. Hutch could see wicked looking rebars, rusted and ridged all around, protruding out at odd angles from the large assorted stones that had once served as the walls of the Church; creating a metal web that wove throughout the makeshift "ceiling" of their prison. Hutch speculated that it wouldn't take much more to have all the stones come crashing down around them, crushing them immediately. As it was, the fair-haired cop didn't know how long their air supply would hold out before a rescue attempt was made.

"I'm not a very patient man, detective." The harsh Irish brogue rang out in the quiet stillness of the basement, dragging the blond back to the situation at hand. Hutch gripped the handle of his gun tighter. "'Tis a shame yer so stubborn, lad." William smirked, his own hand lightly lifting from the rusted metal rod skewering his partner's side, only to rest heavily on the downed man's bleeding shoulder. "I'm sure yer hurtin' partner here won't appreciate yer hesitation, Hutchinson."

Never taking his eyes off the blond cop, the older man grinned as he slowly squeezed the brunet's wounded shoulder, making sure to shove his thick thumb into the little hole left by Hutch's misplaced bullet. The reaction was instantaneous and Hutch watched with sickening horror as Starsky suddenly cried out, his back arching off the dusty floor of the basement, his spine rigid with pain.

"Starsk!" Hutch shouted. It made the blond want to throw up to see his partner writhing against the waves of agony that seared into his shoulder, yet the imbedded iron rod hideously pinned his lower torso to the dirty slab of stone like a helpless insect.

"The gun, detective," McVee said calmly, obviously enjoying the discomfort he was inflicting upon the hurting cop. Digging his thumb in deeper, McVee grinned as more blood spewed from the enlarged wound. "I can do this all day y'know... I love to see this little laddie dance just for me." McVee laughed once again as Starsky dragged his swollen left hand over his abdomen, reaching out to ineffectively grab at the wrist of the Irishman. McVee ground his thumb in deeper, as curly haired man squeezed his eyes shut and groaned, his body trembling in agony.

"Okay!" Hutch snapped, slowly lowering the muzzle of his gun, pale blue eyes riveted upon his prone partner. Starsky gasped, his breath labored, eyes tightly clenched as he tried to ride out the fiery lancing pain that stabbed into his shoulder. "Okay, just... just let him go... don't hurt him anymore," the blond said softly, feeling a sigh of relief escape his own lips as McVee slowly pulled his blood-covered thumb out of the bullet wound, causing the writhing brunet to collapse back onto the floor.

"I always pegged you t'be the brighter of the duo," the Irishman mocked. "Now hand yer gun over to that litt'l redheaded leprechaun," McVee demanded, carefully watching the blond cop's every move as he cautiously held his large hands up and away from his body, deftly allowing the gun to spin on his finger and dangle uselessly in the air.

"Leprechaun? You talkin' 'bout me? What is this with all the nicknames, huh?" Reliable huffed indignantly, pressing his injured arm tightly against his abdomen, "The name's Reliable..."

"Whatever... get the gun and bring it over here." McVee's voice hardened as he cut the indignant informant off. He gestured with his own gun, waving it over before he once again pressed the gun's muzzle against the temple of the hurting brunet.

"Wait," Hutch said, as Reliable reached out to grasp his weapon, his eyes flicking over to McVee. "I'll give you the gun, but I wanna go over and check my partner out."

"I don't think yer callin' the shots here, laddie," the Irishman reminded smugly. "Give the elf the gun now."

"Hey!" Reliable grumbled, his face growing as red as the hairs on his head.

"I don't care what you say," Hutch snapped angrily, his steel colored eyes shifted to lock upon his partner's still form.

The brunet mumbled incoherently, grimacing as he reached over the rubble covering his torso with his left hand, only to wrap bruised and cut fingers around the rebar protruding from his side. Starsky's face was beaded in perspiration, he gasped and turned away to hide his pain The blond gentled his voice, knowing his angry intonations were affecting his friend. Hutch took a deep breath to calm his frazzled nerves, purposely willing his voice to soften when all he wanted to do was rant in frustration.

"I know you're calling the shots here, but I don't think you've thought this through McVee." Hutch took a tiny step forward, conscious of the gun now pointing his way. "I mean... you'd probably want to make some sort of deal to get out of here and I can help you with that. But if Starsky dies, and if you shoot me, you'd be losing your only trump card."

"Hey, you guys forgot about me or what? What am I, huh... chopped liver?" Reliable put his two cents in, but he shrugged as the other two men completely ignored his presence.

"You can shoot me now McVee, because like it or not I'm comin' over," Hutch replied calmly, "But kill me or my partner, and you lose the only hand you got going for you to get you out of this mess you created. Instead of thinking of yourself and your petty need for vengeance, maybe you outta think of your son, Timothy. I know he loves you and would want to be with his father once more."

Something lit up in the Irishman's eyes at the mention of his son's name and Hutch was quick to capitalize on it. "We could... we could make a deal. I'll talk Dobey into getting your son here and maybe we could work something out for you; but in return, I need to get my partner to the hospital and you're gonna let him go when the time comes." Hutch knew there was no way in hell that Dobey would ever make a deal like that, but he was banking that McVee didn't, and his main concern right now was getting his partner out of here at any cost.

At the squinted glare that came from the Irishman, the tall blond raised his hands out soothingly, masking his face into one of acquiescence, his voice calm in the quiet darkness that enshrouded them. "It'll be a fair exchange... your son... for him." Hutch nodded his chin towards his fallen friend.

McVee rubbed the stubble on his chin as he pondered over what the blond cop had said. The older man glanced down at the suffering detective whom he despised with a passion, a mocking sneer spreading over his face. "Ye strike a hard bargain, Hutchinson. Frankly, I'd like to kill this prick meself, right here... right now! He's been a thorn in me side for too long."

"Maybe I pegged you wrong, McVee," Hutch replied, forcing his voice to remain calm as an imperceptible shudder ran down his spine. The irony of McVee echoing the exact same words his partner had said to him just a day ago in his apartment was not lost on the blond, but there was so much more pending now on this bargain than just eggs and a quiet evening spent at home. At the Irishman's continued silence, Hutch continued, "Thought you were more of a betting man than that McVee..."

The shrewd bomber eyed the sweating dark haired cop who gasped as a spike of pain tore through his damaged body. "Tsk tsk. He don't look too good now, does he? I don't know if he'll last until they dig us outta here, but I'll take ye up on yer offer! Whether this idiot dies this night or not, ye'll get me son, Timmy, and help me get out of this alive."

McVee nodded to Reliable, his eyes never left the tall blond's visage. "Now hurry up and give the gnome yer gun and get yer arse over here. Ye can tend to yer friend's wounds," the Irishman demanded. "But like I said before, whether he dies or not, ye've given me yer word that ye'll be helpin' me t'get outta here and my son goes with me. Do we have a deal detective?"

Hutch nodded, his eyes shifting to his partner once more as Reliable took the gun from his hand. The tall blond cop blinked the perspiration that clung from his own lashes and waited impatiently for Reliable to amble over and hand his gun down to McVee who still sat slouched against the wall. The Irishman reached up to grab the weapon with one hand, and shoved the gun behind him into his waistband. He then reached over to gingerly touch the side of his head, smearing the blood on his fingertips as he carelessly rubbed them together.

"Help me up litt'l leprechaun," McVee directed. "While our handsome young detective checks his friend, we'll go and inspect this hovel we're trapped in. Perhaps we'll be lucky enough to find at least an airway that will allow us to breathe in here whilst we wait for the good police and firemen above to dig us out."

"The name's Reliable... not leprechaun, or Oz either!" the red-haired informant snapped, turning to look back at the tall blond detective. "And I ain't little neither!" Reliable declared before he reached out his hand to help the bleeding Irishman up.

"Maybe you can look around for any kind of material that might serve as bandages and some water too," Hutch said, as he waited impatiently for the men to get out of the way. He watched as Reliable fumbled under the heavy weight of McVee, but the minute they left Starsky's side, the tall blond detective rushed over, falling to his knees among the rubble. His trembling hand glided lightly over the contours of his partner's ravaged body. "Hey buddy... hey... I'm here now." Hutch whispered softly, making his voice as soothing as possible.

"H-Hutsh?" Starsky's voice was tremulously weak; long dark lashes remained pressed against pale, sweaty cheeks as his left hand flailed out helplessly, trying to make contact with his partner.

The tall blond detective grabbed onto his partner's searching hand. "Right here Starsk," Hutch whispered, "Take it easy buddy... I'm right here... it's okay now..."

For a few seconds, Hutch listened to his friend's labored breathing, watching as Starsky's throat muscles worked convulsively as he tried to swallow. The brunet valiantly lifted one corner of his mouth in an attempt to grin, "Ooh, that's good," the curly haired cop replied, his voice was whisper thin and Hutch wished desperately for a bottle of water.

"H-how... how do I look, huh? Huh?" Starsky continued, his face contorting in agony as a wave of pain washed over him. "H-how do I look?"

"Well..." Hutch began softly, his eyes racing over his friend's body, mentally assessing the damage from the blast. A sickening look of despair crossed his smooth features as pale eyes lighted upon the bleeding hole in his friend's shoulder.

Fuck, I did that.

Accident or not, it made him sick inside to know he shot his partner. The blond knew that berating himself wasn't going to help the situation. Steel blue eyes traveled downwards, over the rubble and debris that littered his partner's chest and torso until they alighted upon the horrendous metal bar that protruded obscenely from his friend's side. One end of the rebar was still embedded in the block of stone that had fallen at an odd angle on its side, but the other end of the steel bar had found its mark. The tip of the rebar pointed at an angle towards the makeshift ceiling, trembling with each ragged breath that his partner drew in. Apparently in the blast, Starsky must have been lifted from his feet only to fall upon the metal rod, the steel bar piercing his side. The rod went deep, ripping through cloth, muscles, and flesh. A seeping puddle of blood appeared beneath Starsky's side, carelessly mixing with the dirt and dust from the remnants of the Church.

It looks bad.

That thought sent a chill of fear racing up the blond's spine. Hutch managed to plaster a reassuring smile on his face as he looked down into familiar sapphire blue now dulled with pain, peeking out from under eyelids raised at half-mast.

"Well... it's kinda hard to tell buddy, with that crumbled rock of a blanket you got all over you."

Starsky snorted softly then coughed spasmodically, his eyes clenched tight, spiked lashes smudged against his pale, glistening cheeks. He labored to catch his breath and ride out the pain that flared in his side.

"Take it easy buddy, take it easy," Hutch whispered softly, grabbing onto his partner's right hand that remained limp at his side, "Just try to breathe it out pal..."

"Ungh!" Starsky groaned, gasping painfully as the coughing finally subsided and Hutch breathed a soft sigh of relief, gently squeezing the cold hand he still clasped. It killed him to know that his partner was hurting and it pissed him off to know there was nothing he could do about it. Starsky needed to be in a hospital now. He was slowly bleeding out, but they were trapped, held at gunpoint by a lunatic who had little regard for life.

Hutch bit his lip in trepidation knowing his partner needed to be reassured. "I didn't think you could cough like that with all those rocks covering you buddy," he finally said, resorting to the thing they both loved to do, hoping the gentle bantering they shared with one another would bring some sort of comfort to the wounded man. "Guess you aren't as skinny as I thought Gordo. You weren't lying about your manly physique and all..."

"Y-yeah?" Starsky breathed, his mumbled response made the blond's eyes soften with affection as he looked to his best friend in the world.

"Yeah," Hutch said gently, his brows drew together as he listened to his partner's labored breathing. The tall blond looked up to glance over at Reliable and McVee who stood to the far left of the basement discussing something that Hutch could give a damn about. He turned his attention back to his partner who seemed to be struggling to breathe.

"Listen buddy," Hutch said softly, "I have to check out your wounds okay? The blast knocked you over and you fell on something which... well... it's in your side." The tall blond's eyes roved up and away from the protruding rod to the bullet wound in Starksy's shoulder. "And I gotta check your shoulder wound..." Hutch's voice lowered in remorse, guilt stabbing a hole into his gut as he replayed that whole scene that happened not so long ago.

In his mind's eye, he could see the bullet meant for McVee, as if in slow motion, ripping into his partner's shoulder, blood splattering from the small hole, the look of surprise and pain morphing Starsky's face before his eyes rolled back and the explosion plunged them into this dark hell hole of a nightmare.

Hutch bent his head as he carefully looked for an exit wound, but like he expected, he found none. Though that bullet had McVee's name on it, the man's quick thinking and Irish luck saved him from suffering the same fate his partner was in. The fair-haired detective bit his lip with indecision.

"I'm ah... I'm gonna have to remove some of the rubble from your chest buddy and then we gotta cut through that shirt of yours..."

"M-m sh-shirt?" Starsky whispered, a frown drawing his dark brows together. "That's my... f-favorite one... you're gonna... owe me... Hutchinson..."

Starsky's lips twitched at the soft snort that came from Hutch. Its quiet sound was a soothing balm to the dark haired cop who struggled to contain the pain he was in, not wanting to hurt or worry his blond counterpart any more than he had to. If anyone knew how to do guilt it was Hutch, and Starsky didn't want his friend tripping down that road again.

"Okay, tell you what Gordo, when we get out of here I'll buy you a new one." Hutch smiled and added, "I promise."

"Promises, pr-promises..." Starsky rasped, a grin turning up the corner of his mouth. "T-Terry always said that... best friends... didn't have'ta pr-promise..." Though he said the words as a joke, Hutch saw the flash of hurt that entered the blue of his partner's eyes before Starsky closed them in exhaustion.

"Hang on buddy... this might hurt..." Hutch said grimly, cringing inside at the thought of causing his friend anymore pain.

Some of the larger stones looked pretty heavy and Hutch knew it would jostle the rusted rebar that was embedded deeply into the side of Starsky's torso. His partner had already lost so much blood and that thought made the blond shiver imperceptibly with fear.

"'Kay," the brunet whispered, as a sliver of blue peeked out beneath dark, long lashes spiked now with perspiration. Though his normally strong voice was weak and threadbare, the complete trust he had in Hutch was adamantly clear and it brought a lump to the blond's suddenly dry throat.

"Take it easy," Hutch said, as he began to clear the rocks and rubble that littered his partner's chest. Although he tried to be as careful as possible, the grimace on the brunet's face and the clenched jaw spoke volumes to the blond. "Almost done pal... almost done."

When most of the rubble was cleared and the larger pieces of stone removed, Hutch gently pressed along his partner's ribs and sternum to make sure that no bones had been broken. The tall blond eyed his friend's face the whole time, gauging the hurt he knew his partner was feeling. Now that the wound was free of debris and stone fragments were removed, the rusted bar piercing through Starsky's side looked even more hideous and grotesque than it did before.

It was all Hutch could do to keep the worry from his face, wanting to shield his partner from the horror and fear he felt within. He could feel his heart beating frantically as McVee's snide voice whispered in his mind...

'He don't look too good now, does he? I don't know if he'll last until they dig us outta here...'

Hutch quickly took off his jacket and holster, tearing the bottom of his T-shirt into long strips for makeshift bandages. Though the material wasn't the most sterile, it was still soft and Hutch hoped it would staunch the slow flow of blood that continually dripped from the shoulder wound and leaked from the deep puncture in the brunet's side.

The tall blond looked around and grabbed a large shard of red glass from the many shattered pieces that lay strewn around the dusty floor. Its sharp end would provide a tool to cut through Starsky's shirt. An image of the beautiful stained glass he'd seen as he entered the Church flashed through his mind. It would be ironic if the red-colored piece he now held in his hand had served as part of the blood of Christ in the depicted scene.

Hutch sighed, shaking his head as he tried to clear his mind of those inane thoughts. He needed to focus, to stay one step ahead of the situation, but worry, stress and a possible knock to his own head made it difficult. He felt thankful to see his partner's chest rising and falling in the shadows created by the dimming light of the flashlights that McVee and Oz waved around as they searched through the wreckage for useful things to help them survive.

"Hey pal," Hutch whispered, "Gonna cut through your shirt now okay? Hang tight buddy... this might hurt." At the slight nod from his partner, Hutch grabbed the bottom of Starsky's shirt and sawing with the sharp end of the glass, the blond painstakingly shredded the material enough to tear it through.

Biting his bottom lip, knowing the pain it would cause, Hutch squared his shoulders. "Okay Starsky... I'm gonna tear it now... it'll hurt, but it'll be fast." Though the brunet never opened his eyes, his left hand lifted weakly, flailing in the air until Hutch caught it in his own.

"Take it easy buddy," Hutch soothed, "I got ya, pal." The tall blond looked up from his friend's face, searching the darkness. "Damnit Reliable! What's takin' so long? Did you find anything yet?" Hutch lashed out sharply, the pent up frustration and worry he felt inside for his partner making his tone harsh and grating. The tall blond could feel the brunet flinch and he quickly looked down as Starsky weakly squeezed his hand.

"H-Hey..." the wounded cop grimaced and said, "Did I... did I ever t-tell you... that you s-sound like Dobey s-sometimes?"

Hutch snorted softly, a smile of apology gracing his lips as his mind raced back to a small, dingy backroom of an Italian restaurant, while the rain beat a rhythmic cadence on the pavement outside. His partner had almost died that time... again.

"Yeah, Starsk. Yeah, you did buddy. I'm sorry pal..." Hutch murmured soothingly, gently squeezing the cold hand he held in his.

Hutch looked up as Reliable slid in carefully beside him. The short red-headed man anxiously looked over the brunet, his green eyes dark with worry. "I found this," the stout man said, handing over a long piece of white cloth. "Must'a been an altar cloth or somethin'. Oh, and McVee found a plastic bottle filled with some water. We thought it might be Holy water, but part of the bottle got busted in the blast and now there's dust and debris clouding the water."

"Damn!" Hutch whispered, already worried about Starsky's wounds getting infected. Adding dirty water would just increase that risk.

Reliable scratched his head, "Do you think there's a way we could clean the water... maybe... maybe siphoning it through that cloth? I mean at least it would take out the chunks of rocks and stuff."

"If'n yer lookin' to clean out his wound, perhaps this will work better."

Hutch quickly looked up, surprised to see William McVee leaning against the wall behind him, a tall dark bottle held loosely in his hand. It shook the blond detective that he didn't even hear the man creep up behind him.

"What is that stuff?" Hutch asked, pale blue eyes widening as McVee tipped his head back and took a long swig from the lip of the glass bottle.

"Ahhh," McVee sighed, smacking his lips before wiping them with the back of his hand, "Only the finest brew I've ever tasted," The Irishman chuckled, "Those hypocritical pious priests must'a been damn drunks with the amount of bottles I found packed away and hidden in crates down here. I can't see why they didn't take these when they closed and boarded up the church, but their loss is our gain!" McVee grinned and then took another long swig, swishing the wine in his mouth before gulping it down loudly.

"Wine?" Hutch asked.

"Aye, and plenty of it." McVee chuckled and belched disgustingly.

Hutch looked to the red-haired man crouched beside him. "Quick Oz, go get me a bottle. We can use that to sterilize his wounds," the blond said, his attention once again returning to his friend, who except for his labored breathing, remained still and motionless. Without another word, Reliable stood and turned to carry out his task.

Hutch wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand and ran the tip of his tongue over his bottom lip. "Hey Starsk... I'm gonna have'ta tear that shirt now okay? I want you to hang on to me, okay pal? This might hurt, but I promise to do this real fast."

"'kay," the brunet acknowledged softly as Hutch placed Starsky's hand on his own thigh.

"Okay... on the count of three. One, two..." Taking a deep breath, the blond quickly ripped the torn hem up to the collar of the stained T-shirt before his partner could tense up and make it worse. He could feel Starsky's fingers digging almost claw-like into his muscled right thigh in its desperation to anchor onto something and ride out the waves of pain as the shirt yanked against the metal rod.

"God... I'm sorry Starsk," Hutch soothed, running his hand through the dusty dark curls, hating the soft gasps that emitted from his partner's dry lips. The brunet had turned his face away to once again shield his partner from the obvious agony he was in; his left hand clutched weakly at the base of the bar to steady it. "Easy buddy... take it easy... it's done," Hutch said, barely holding it together himself as Starsky's fingers slowly loosened.

Hutch's right leg and thigh throbbed to the pulse of his heart, and he realized that his own wound was forgotten in light of Starsky's.

"Here it is," Reliable said as he crouched beside the blond once more. "That Irishman ain't lyin'... there's crates of this stuff jus' waitin' to be tasted."

Hutch ignored Reliable and scooted around to gently lift Starsky's head onto his lap. "Hey buddy... I want you to drink some of this okay? It'll make you feel better... take away some of the pain I know you're feeling."

Long, dark lashes lifted slowly to reveal dazed and hurt-filled sapphire eyes. "Huh?" Starsky huffed out, licking his dry lips as he tried to focus on the bottle Reliable held out to him, "Wha'...'s it?"

"Just some wine Starsk," Hutch said as he grabbed the bottle and gently lifted his partner's head, placing the rim at the brunet's lips. "Drink some Gordo... it will help."

Like a child, Starsky obediently swallowed down a few gulps before he scrunched his face and turned it away, spilling some of the wine from the corner of his mouth.

Hutch quickly wiped away the dribble, the dark liquid reminding him of blood. "Just a little more, Starsk," the blond encouraged, worrying that the alcohol might dehydrate his friend, but wanting to inebriate him from the pain that was to come.

Starsky gasped, his hand rising weakly to swat away the offending bottle, "Don'... don' want... no more." The brunet wearily closed his eyes as Hutch placed the bottle down beside him.

"Okay, okay," Hutch said, wanting to appease his hurting friend. He gently laid his partner's head back down, grabbed the bottle and knelt beside Starsky.

"Starsk... listen to me buddy," Hutch began, hating what he had to do next. "I'm gonna have to clean out your wounds and then I'll have to try to stop the bleeding."

"N-not... fun," Starsky murmured.

Hutch snorted as a slow grin pulled at his partner's lips. "No pal... not fun at all, but it has to be done. I'm gonna pour some of this wine to sterilize the wound and then I'll have to apply some direct pressure..." Hutch stopped mid-sentence as his partner's hand came up once more, searching vainly in the air until the blond caught and held on to it.

"Hutsh?" the brunet slurred.

"Yeah buddy... I'm right here..."

"Jus'... jus' do it... gettin'... tired of you... tryin' t'feel me up..."

Hutch chuckled, so very appreciative of his partner's attempt at levity. He knew Starsky was aware of the pain involved, but the brunet was more concerned with the worry and hesitation he heard in his friend's voice.

"Okay," Hutch said softly. He nodded wordlessly to Reliable and the smaller man moved into position to help hold the brunet down. "Just hang on buddy..." Hutch whispered as he carefully poured the dark liquid onto Starky's lower abdomen, holding Starsky's good shoulder. Starsky gasped sharply and arched up off the floor, the alcohol burning a hole through his shredded flesh.

"Easy... easy Starsk," Hutch soothed, as he tried to wipe away the small particles of dust and dirt embedded in the wound around the metal bar; pouring more of the wine to wash away the loosened debris until the blood ran freely from the oozing injury.

"Hand me some of that cloth," Hutch demanded to Reliable. He could hear the small man tearing the cloth in half, but his whole attention was focused solely on Starsky whose jaw was clenched shut to prevent any unwanted sounds from escaping. "Breathe buddy... breathe," Hutch coaxed gently as he took the cloth handed to him.

Hutch waited for a brief moment until he heard his partner raggedly draw in oxygen, then taking a deep breath in himself, Hutch scrunched the cloth around the protruding bar and pressed down firmly. The tall blond closed his eyes tightly hearing his friend cry out in pain. He could feel Starsky's fingers close around his own, scrabbling futilely as he tried to claw away the stabbing pressure on his gut.

"Take it easy Starsky," Hutch said again, the words sounding meaningless even to his own ears. It was killing him to do this...


Pale blue eyes snapped open, immediately fusing to lavender blue orbs swimming in a sea of a pain and confusion.

"Hutsh?" Starsky gasped, his familiar blue eyes dazed as they began to roll backwards.

"I'm here buddy... right here," Hutch said softly, his own eyes swimming in the suffering he was witnessing. "Just go to sleep Starsk... it's okay... I'll be right here... just go to sleep."

To see his partner finally lose consciousness brought a sagging sense of relief to the blond who continued to bear down on the still bleeding wound in his friend's side; his hand turning red in the process. It made him sick to his stomach to see this and his mind raced back to another day when the color red stained his fingers...


Blood on his hands, on his jacket, blood oozing from the multitude of holes decorating his partner's chest, blood pooling on the hot tarmac of the police garage...

Shaking his head, Hutch cleared his thoughts. Now was not the time to freak out. He had to stay focused. After he stemmed the flow of blood on his partner's side, he would still have to tend to the hole in his Starsky's shoulder...

A hole I created, the blond thought bitterly, so very glad that Starsky would be out for that too.

Hutch frowned. There was no exit wound, so in a way it was good that the bullet was still impacted, for Starsky couldn't afford to lose any more blood. Yet, the niggling worry of infection was never far from his mind. Even now, Hutch could feel the heat radiating out from the brunet's skin through the quickly saturating cloth. Starsky needed to get to a hospital and he needed to get to one NOW!

"You think he's gonna make it?" a voice startled Hutch out of his dark thoughts. The blond detective turned to look at Reliable who still crouched quietly by his side, the informant nearly forgotten with the agony welling up inside Hutch's heart. "I mean... he don't look too good right now."

"Aye, he don't look too good at all," McVee's voice rang out softly from behind, echoing the smaller man.

The tall blond disregarded that last statement. "He's a fighter... he'll make it!" Hutch said calmly, his eyes anxiously watching the rise and fall of his partner's chest. "By now, everyone must know about the demolition of the Church; the rescue team must be on their way. Huggy knew we were coming to meet you here Reliable... he'll let our captain know and Dobey will do everything within his power to bring us all to safety. It'll just take time to get through all of this mess."

Though he spoke confidently and reassuringly to the informant, the tall blond swallowed down the fear his words stirred, for he knew within his own heart that time was something Starsky just didn't have on his side.

Chapter 6

Huggy wielded his damp cloth over the bar with force and flair. It had been a loud-drunken night everything moving fast and crazy. Two words brought it all to a grinding halt.

"Last call!"

A half an hour later the noisy, smoky, exuberant tavern was nothing more than a room. A room that needed cleaning. The garbage can was over flowing, the ice bin needed filling, full ashtrays needed dumping, empty beer mugs and shot glasses needed washing, and the day's wages needed counting.

Closing down the bar always left The Bear feeling hollow, but after the final beer was poured and the official 'last call' announced his day was not over. Huggy still had several hours of work ahead of him. He would turn the lights and the volume of the television down low and make himself a drink. He was a Pina Colada sort of guy, although Huggy Bear Brown never got caught in the rain.

It didn't take Huggy long to cut up tomorrow's lemons and limes, and crush some ice the old fashion way with a hammer. Still, his job was not done.

Stepping out from behind the counter, he began to stack the now empty black leather seated barstools. One at a time he turned them upside down and placed them on top the bar like he had done so many times before -- he could do the job blindfolded.

The underlying tone from some old black and white movie hummed in the background; while the blue from the television screen highlighted and sent shadows boogieing across the walls.

Huggy took another sip of his drink and glanced up. An old time Western was on. The Calvary rode upon their saddled horses fast approaching the bareback riding Indians. It was the same old story and the Indians were losing again, their blood being spilled across the dusty plains. Huggy was glad the show was in black and white he hated the sight of blood, it always made him gag. Reaching up, he turned the knob, and changed the channel.

"The Flower That Ate New York," Huggy chuckled. "Curly's missing a good one."

Huggy frowned, feeling something strange flutter inside, but blew it off to the bowl of ten-alarm chili he ate for dinner. He left the monster eating blossom on as he busied himself gathering up the glasses and trash left behind by his patrons.

Bartending was his passion. He could pour a few drinks, flip a few burgers, tell a few jokes -- just being himself and making money while doing it. Bartending and Huggy Bear Brown fit together naturally, like Martinis and green olives. Starsky had told him that once.

"Starsky," Huggy mumbled as he washed glasses in the small sink located underneath the bar. He cringed, he always did have a sixth sense and his vibes were on high alert. Huggy had thought of Starsky twice in a matter of sixty-seconds. That was always a bad sign. He knew where his friends had gone, and he knew Reliable was reliable. What if?

Something didn't jive deep down inside. Huggy glanced up at the television. With dripping wet hands, he moved closer and switched the channel back. The cowboys and Indians were gone, replaced by some late night newsflash. Huggy briefly admired what the newscaster was wearing. A deep purple tie and pinstriped suit when suddenly he gasped as the picture changed over to a pile of smoldering smoke and rubble. Huggy stared at the nearly muted TV. His stomach rolled, and he felt the devil dance across his heart. He didn't have to turn the volume knob up to know exactly what he was witnessing.

For a moment he stared blankly as if he was still watching that old black and white show. Like a well-choreographed play, fireman canvassed the mound of twisted metal, beams, glass and smoke as they attempted to put out the flames. The camera panned back to the debris littered street that was now blocked off. In the background, Huggy caught the slightest glimpse of the one of a kind red and white striped Torino.

His mood fell dark; he needn't have to hear the soft voice of the newscaster to know what was happening. The walls of his bar seemed to shake and his legs trembled right along with them. In the midst of the chaos Huggy's eyes settled on the large gold cross that once stood reverent atop the steeple. He blinked several times and his lower lip twitched. The cross was now haphazardly embedded into the trunk of a large tree, twisted and mangled from the force of impact. Huggy suppressed a groan and looked away.

"Starsky. Hutch," he whispered.

It took Huggy only half a second to build up the courage to move toward the telephone. He inhaled deeply, his fingers slick with sweat as he picked up the receiver and dialed the home of Captain Harold Dobey. Ever since Gunther's failed attempt at Starsky's life, Dobey and Huggy had grown closer. Vigilant nights watching their comrade nearly die could do that to anyone. Since then, The Captain's phone number had become one of those automatic numbers etched upon his brain.

While trying to remember to breathe, Huggy counted each harsh ring, desperate to control his rising panic.

One. Two. Three. Four. Five...

"Come on!"

Six. Seven. Eight. Ni--

"Do you know what time it is?" The Captain's gruff voice penetrated Huggy's ear. "This better be good."

"Captain, please!" Huggy yelled. "Turn that boob-tube of yours on."

"My what?"

"Your television."

There was a brief pause as Huggy paced in small tight circles.

"The Flower That Ate New York?" Captain Dobey growled low and deep into the receiver. "Huggy, is this some kind of joke? Because if it is--"

"Channel six."

There came another brief pause.

"Oh, Sweet Mother Mary and Joseph." The words little more than a breathy whisper.

"It's another bombing," Huggy informed. The Old Stone Church. Starsky and Hutch are there somewhere in that mess."

"How can you know--"

"The Bear is down, and is no clown!" Huggy's voice became high pitched with panic. "They got a call from a compadre of mine, said McVee was there hotwiring the place to blow. They went to check it out." Huggy took a deep breath. "Captain, they could be--"

"I'm heading down there now! I'll handle this!" The Captain bellowed loudly just as the phone went dead.

"I know you will," Huggy whispered and hung the phone up his eyes still glued to the set.

Dobey brought a few of his men ordering them to wait in their squad cars while he checked things out. He perused the area, his brown striped tie draped around his neck and flapping in the wind. He meant to knot the garment on his way, but was too hurried to get to the church to bother. The scene before him was alarming. The stone building that once stood was now smashed to the ground.

The church had crumbled like dry bread and the street was littered with debris, while a large portion of the church had slid down the hill and half covered the day care below. There was a lot of smoke, but not too many flames. The sight of the day care below the church was a sight Dobey would never forget. Thank God, at this hour the day care would have been empty. If only Sally and the other kids and teachers at the Marshall Center could have been so lucky.

A quiet panic flew through Dobey when he saw the Torino parked only a few yards away along the side road. Confirmation, his men were somewhere under the smashed cathedral. Dead or alive? He didn't know, he swallowed hard as he approached Bay City's fire chief and long time friend, Jessie Kroger. The dark skinned, dark haired man was well built and amazingly calm as he directed the chaos around him. Dobey always thought the volcanoes of hell could be erupting around Jessie, and yet every ounce of the man's being would hold steady and unnerved.

"Get that number two hose over to the south corner," Jessie ordered.

As a result four men picked up a hose and willingly moved toward the flames cropping up out of the debris.

"Jessie," Dobey panted.

"Harold?" Jessie turned to the captain surprise showing on his face. "What in blue blazes are you--?"

Wasting no time Dobey cut Jessie off, "Two of my detectives are trapped under that rubble." Dobey pointed a sausage like finger toward what was left of the church.

That was all Jessie Kroger needed to hear. When it came to his respect and high regard of the Police Captain and his friend, Jessie became a 'no questions asked' sort of guy. If Dobey said the sky was falling -- then the sky was falling.

"Ben, Pat, Ike!" Jesse shouted with cool calm. "We've got men trapped in there.

"What? Are you kidding?" One man frowned. "I can't believe -- no one could--"

"Ben!" Jessie sternly shut the man up speaking with his eyes only. "What are their names?" Jessie brought his attention back to Dobey.

"Detective David Starsky and Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, and I have reason to believe two others. A man they were working with and possibly the Mall Bomber."

"You men know what to do -- and get Seagraves on it now!" Jessie pointed his finger and the firefighters moved off changing their efforts from clean up and control too search and rescue.

The smoke and dust still flying through the air burned Dobey's eyes, using his tie he swiped at the tears. Dobey's imagination stretched, if he was on top this massive mound of twisted metal and crumbled stone, hurting -- God help his men.

"They're both strong, young, and smart," Dobey offered as he took in more of the destruction. "They're alive I--" he stopped as he realized his emotions were gaining control.

"Harold." Jessie lay a comforting hand to steady his friend. "You and I both know -- it doesn't always work out that way. With a collapse like this we have to be realistic. It's highly unstable, if what you say is true there could be another bomb that hasn't exploded yet." Jesse gave a hard squeeze to the shoulder beneath his hand. "Thank the heavens the day care below was empty or we'd have a huge body count on our hands.You know I'll do everything I can to find them."

With one last squeeze Jessie was gone. Dobey back peddled a few steps and leaned heavily against a fire truck. There wasn't anything else he could do at this point. He was in no shape to go crawling around in the mess. He knew Jessie would work a miracle if he could -- Dobey had every faith in his friend.

More importantly, Dobey had another type of faith, and knew this was out of his jurisdiction.

"Dear Lord," Dobey said the words quietly as he looked up at the night stars. "Help them."

If anyone could over come the impossible odds Dobey knew who to put his trust in.

Hutch could feel the heat pouring through his partner's body, sweaty curls stuck to his forehead. He caressed the side of Starsky's cheek, pushing back a curl that fell over his friend's left eye.

"Mmmm," Starsky moaned, his breathing pattern changing as he began to come too. "Uhhhh." His head rolled toward the touch of familiar fingers.

"Easy." Hutch cringed, feeling his partner's pain like a sharp knife in his own heart. He wished he could escape the suffering image before him

"Where?" Starsky mumbled, hardly aware.

"I know you can hear me, Starsk," Hutch said, hoping that was true. "We're trapped. Remember? Just try to relax, pal. I'm right here."

Starsky's eyes fluttered open as he glanced up in recognition. Hutch sat close by looking like an angel in the soft glow of the flashlight's beam.

"Hutch?" The brunet's voice cracked, and his fingers twitched.

"You holding on for me, Gordo?"

"G-guess so." Starsky licked his lips.

"You guess so?" Hutch raised his brow. "Need you to do better than that partner." He smiled.

Starsky glanced toward Hutch's leg needing to get the attention off of himself for a while. "How -- how's your leg?" he asked, wincing when he saw Hutch's torn pants and bloodied lesions.

"Legs not bad, buddy. I'm more worried about you."

"There is one good thing," Starsky breathed heavily.

"What's that?"

"You won't be wearing those ugly pants ever again."

"Hey." Hutch kept his voice quiet. "I paid plenty for these. More than you paid for that shirt."

"You have poor... poor taste. Those are the ugliest pants I've ever -- ever seen," Starsky coughed.

"Guess, you'll just have to get out of here and help me pick out a new pair, huh, buddy?"

"Guess -- guess so. Ahhhhh!" Starsky arched his back eliciting a cry, his eyes rolling wildly in his head.

"Starsk. Come on now. I need you to stay awake, buddy. Stay with me here."

"Don't... think... I... can." Came the lethargic reply.

"I'll help you," Reliable said, sinking down right next to Starsky.

"Hey." Starsky smiled weakly. "Oz, how you feelin'?"

"Like a house fell on me," Reliable snipped lightheartedly. "How do you think I'm feeling?"

Starsky tried for a laugh, instead coughing and squeezing his eyes shut.

"Easy, Starsk," Hutch said taking his partner's hand.

"S' okay. I'm okay." Starsky's fingers twirled around Hutch's.

"You worried about me, Tin Man?" Reliable softened his tone. "What? You finally find your heart or something?"

"Or... or something," Starsky said opening his eyes again, fighting to hold on.

"Ye' lads make me want to throw up in me pot of gold." McVee gestured with his gun toward the three men. "Maybe I should plant a bullet in his brain now. Put the poor bastard out of his misery, so ye' all would shut up. Me head hurts! Just shut 'ye mouths!" McVee shouted, his tone full of violence and hostility.

The high-pitched screech of McVee's voice caused Reliable to shudder and fall back onto his butt.

"You shut your mouth, McVee," Hutch snapped. "Good people died -- my partner could..." Hutch took a steadying breath. "What if it was your son? You can't see what you're doing, but you're ruining your son's life," Hutch said, shaking his head. "You're going to lose him."

"I can see plenty well, laddie," McVee said sadly, as he stood unsteadily against a fallen beam. "I already lost him."

Hutch couldn't argue with McVee on that point.

"I've killed a lot'a people. Good people," McVee mumbled "Me wife. Me wife was one of 'em. T'was -- t'was an accident ye know?" McVee held back his tears. "She was burnt so badly, the mortician couldn't even -- Christ, there's not a thing I can do to change that now." The anguish in McVee's voice almost sounded human. Putting the muzzle of his gun to his head, McVee pressed the weapon hard into his temple as if he considered suicide. "It hurts. Me head. It hurts so bad."

Hutch frowned and made eye contact with Starsky.

What is going on with this guy?

"Ever since me wife died," McVee continued, "I've made Tim blueberry pancakes every mornin' for breakfast. Except lately -- lately I can't -- Ohhhhh," McVee moaned. "These headaches the doctors told me they would get worse and that I'd -- blueberry pancakes." McVee stopped to take in a few shaky breaths.

"Oz... isn't it 'bout time... to go find those flying monkeys?" Starsky whispered. The brunet gave a curt nod toward Reliable, and silently mouthed the words 'get out of here.'

"Would help if I could remember their names," Reliable said, taking the hint and nonchalantly scooting inch by inch away from the insanely rash Irishman.

"Oh God, Tim, what have I done?" McVee mumbled, the gun still shoved against his temple, and his shoulders hunched.

One drop of sweat rolled off Hutch's nose as he began to push to his feet. He had no idea why, but McVee was losing it. He had one open slot if he didn't do something soon, Starsky would die.

Running on pure instinct, Hutch reached around and in a snake-like action grabbed the nearest piece of stone. With all the power of a desperate man, he made a move toward McVee.

Noting the movement instantly, McVee yelled, "I'm not crazy!"

In blind anger he brought the gun down away from his temple and pulled the trigger. A single bullet ricocheted off twisted metal. The shot shook the area, and a shower of debris rained down upon them.

Several large chunks hitting the rebar stuck in Starsky's side, sending pain cutting through him.

"Arrrgh," the brunet cried out as he tried to arch away, but was tugged back down like a chained dog.

"Starsk!" Hutch went weak, his knees buckled as he sank down and used his entire body to shield his partner, the stone forgotten, rolling free from his hand.

"Don't move! None of you move!" McVee shouted, now pointing the muzzle of his gun at Reliable.

As the dust settled, Hutch raised his head and his eyes held the Irishman's. "We're all going to die here, McVee, if you don't put that gun down and agree to work together," Hutch said struggling to hold back his rage.

"This pain cutting into my head is what's killing us." McVee shuddered. "Death is inevitable."

"Hutch," Starsky called, barely able to raise a hand as his body twitched with pain.

"Stars." Hutch reached down and took a strong hold of his partner's hand.

"Wha'..." weak blue eyes stared up at Hutch. "Wha' happen? W-we still got McVee with us?"

"It looks that way, pal," Hutch said, gently, and puffed out a breath. "It's okay. Just a little excitement. Everyone is cool, right McVee?" Hutch peered up briefly at the Irishman.

"For now," McVee snapped standing more erect. "Just don't try anything stupid like that again."

Starsky's whimper quickly brought Hutch's attention back to him, as he inched forward over his injured friend. "Hey, buddy."

"'S okay," Starsky coughed jaggedly. "Jus'... Hutch... can you... can you ease up on the hand?"

Hutch raised a brow and gazed down at their entwined fingers, noting the knuckle-white grip he had on Starsky's hand. "Sorry." The blond eased up, and instead wrapped his fingers around Starsky's wrist. "Better?" Hutch tried for a smile, but it faded quickly feeling the thin erratic pulse, while listening to Starsky's struggling gasps for air.

"Truth?" Starsky pushed out with a heavy breath.

Hutch finger brushed the gritty dust that clung to the clammy sweat on Starsky's cloudy-white cheeks. "Nah, you can lie a little, pal," he chuckled softly.

"Would you... would you believe me if... if I... if I did?"

"Course not." Hutch winked.

"Thought sooooooo." Starsky's reply escaped like a breathy whisper through his lips. He shuddered once, and his hand slid limply from Hutch's grasp just before his eyes rolled up into his head.

"Starsky! Starsk!" Hutch called urgently to his friend. Using his thumb Hutch gently pushed open one eyelid to reveal a large black pupil swimming in a small sea of blue. "Starsk? Can you hear me, buddy?" No response. "Starsky?"


"Is he... is he...?" Reliable stuttered nervously.

Hutch watched the pale yellow light of the flashlight's beam dance across his partner's face. Holding back his panic, Hutch quickly turned his face and put his ear close to Starsky's mouth. "He's breathing," Hutch sighed with relief.

"Too bad," McVee chuckled.

"He won't be able to hold on much longer without help." Hutch ran his nervous fingers through Starsky's damp curls, watching perspiration droplets slowly slide down his partner's cold cheeks like condensation on a beer mug.

"Maybe--" McVee tapped the trigger of the gun with his itchy finger. "Maybe we should pull him free of that thing in his side."

"What?" Hutch's eyes snapped up horrified to see the sick fascination in McVee's eyes. "He'll bleed to death you sick bastard."

Tired of this game and only concerned for his partner's well being, Hutch began to get his feet under him again. No way McVee was going to touch his friend. If he had to move a mountaintop to keep him away Hutch would. A strange noise paralyzed Hutch.

"I'll put every last round I have in you, Hutchinson if you don't stop," McVee threatened. "Then where will your precious partner be?"

The strange sound came louder sounding like a dog barking, but how could that be?

"Hear that?" Reliable piped in

"What is it?" McVee cautiously scanned the area.

"Look there!" Reliable pointed to a small white form that darted their way over the ton of stone, glass, and metal.

Hutch looked past Reliable's shoulder. "It's a dog."

The small brown and white Jack Russell Terrier made his way quickly over the rubble. He looked wet, dirty, and cold, like he'd been wandering around for a while. "Here boy. Come here," Reliable called the animal to his side. "How the hell did he get in here?" The small man questioned as the dog came to stand next to him and nudged his hand. "He has something strapped to him." Reliable undid the small pack from around the animal's belly, and opened it. "It's a Walkie Talkie, and a bottle of water. There's a note."

"Well, read what Toto has brought us!" McVee ordered.

Reliable unfolded the paper with shaky hands.

"Meet Seagraves. Bay City Fire Department's Search and Rescue dog. Know that we are here. We are looking for you. If you can -- use the walkie talkie. We are waiting for you to make contact. If you receive static -- try to make your way to higher ground. We will get you out."

Reliable looked up with a huge smile on his face. "Smart dog." Reliable pet the animal's head. "We're rescued. We can go home" His joyous laughter danced and echoed off the walls of their tome.

"Stop clicking your heels, Dorothy!" McVee shouted. "Maybe you forgot why we are here in the first damn place! No one is going to escape here! No one!"

Hutch felt Starsky shiver. He lay a gentle hand to his partner's chest feeling the slow rise and fall. "Easy," Hutch said softly, then turned his full attention back to McVee. "Look, my partner is close to dying. I need to get him some help now, and if you love your son the way I think you do--" Hutch paused to take a breath. "Don't be stupid. Let us use that two-way radio. We can let the rescue crew know we are alive and maybe just maybe you can see Tim again -- he must be so scared not knowing where you are." Hutch studied McVee's reaction to his plea, feeling much like he was fanning the flames of a raging fire with dried palm leaves. "Help me, William." Hutch fixed the Irishman with a determined stare. "Help me to help you -- and your son."

McVee started pacing nervously, rubbing his temple with thumb and forefinger of his free hand. "This don't sit well with me."

"Hello, hello, hello!" Reliable kept his voice low as he spoke into the two-way, while Hutch seemed to have McVee's attention.

McVee squeezed his eyes shut. "Timothy me boy," he shook his head.

"Can anyone hear me?" Reliable tapped the side of the radio only hearing static.

McVee suddenly stopped pacing and spun on his heels. "I told ye' Leprechaun--" he aimed his gun toward the small man. "No one goes anywhere... there'll be no escape!" McVee yelled as he fired off another shot.

A numbness overtook Hutch as Starsky's chest suddenly stopped moving under his hand.

Chapter Seven

Although more debris and dust fell from the impact of the random bullet, Hutch's eyes never left his partner's prone position. The sudden stillness from the labored rise and fall of Starsky's chest caused the blond's own heart to clench painfully.

Fuck, he's not breathing!

A chill swept through the tall blond as he stared at his motionless partner. "No way Starsky! Damnit! You aren't doing this to me! Not here... not like this!" Hutch raged, his usually mellow voice was now determined and hard as steel. Hutch quickly moved into action. He leaned over to lay his ear against the brunet's chest, pale blue eyes widening as he made out the quiet thrumming of Starsky's heart.

Thank God, he has a pulse!

The fair-haired detective made eye contact with the stout informer who crouched close beside him. At Reliable's silent question, Hutch stuttered, "H-he has a pulse, but he's not breathing!"


Hutch swore silently, his mind racing to remember the steps to render aid. He hurriedly moved to tilt Starsky's head back and lift his chin to open his airway. He knew the next few minutes were crucial, as he made ready to administer rescue breathing to sustain the life of his partner.

Paralyzing thoughts of 'brain damage' and 'death' crossed his mind as Hutch gently pinched Starsky nose shut, sealing his own lips against those of the unconscious brunet's. All doubts and fear faded from his mind as Hutch concentrated on breathing for his partner; making sure to give one breath per every five seconds, watching as Starsky's chest rose each time life giving oxygen was pushed into his lungs.

"What can I do to help?" Reliable asked, a look of worry and concern etched upon his sweaty face.

Hutch ignored the smaller man, silently counting the seconds between breaths. One-one thousand. Two-one thousand. Three-one thousand, making sure he took another breath in at four-one thousand only to breathe more air into Starsky on the count of five-one thousand. After a minute of manually breathing, Hutch checked Starsky's pulse and then repeated the process once more, vigilantly watching as Starsky's chest rose each time oxygen was administered. Hutch could feel himself tiring after thirty-eight breaths. He knew that twelve breaths approximately made a minute, and so far Starsky had not been breathing on his own for over three minutes.

"C'mon Starsky... don't you fuckin' give up on me!" Hutch railed, as he leaned over once again to check his partner's pulse. "Don't you do this to me!" Hutch panted as he tilted Starsky's head back and lifted his chin once more, only to start breathing for him again. It took too much effort to talk, but the mantra continued silently in his mind...

Don't you leave me. C'mon Starsk... not this way... you aren't dying on me buddy... breathe dammit... BREATHE!

One-one thousand. Two-one thousand. Three-one thousand. Four-one thousand. Five-one-thousand...

Perspiration ran down the blond's reddened face as he continued to breathe for the brunet. It surprised and touched him to see Reliable gently holding Starsky's limp hand in his own.

Leaning against a wall, his eyes glued to the rise and fall of Starsky's chest, McVee smiled eerily, "He dead yet?" The Irishman snorted softly to himself when no one responded, his gun still leveled at the two detectives.

"M-Maybe you should just stop," Reliable said softly, gently rubbing Starsky's knuckles. "I mean, maybe this is a blessin' and all. He was injured too badly and was in so much pain... maybe he..."

"Shut up!" Hutch snapped as he moved to lean over his friend's chest once more, "He still has a pulse and as long as his heart is beating I'm not giving up on him!"

The tall blond detective moved to tilt the brunet's head again. Pale blue orbs swam in a sea of tears as he watched the little dog come over and gently paw at his partner, a soft whine filling the quiet darkness of their makeshift tomb.

"Looky that... even the dumb mutt knows the lad's a goner," McVee snickered, but he quieted as the dog gently licked the side of Starsky's face. The endearing gesture from the small dog made Hutch look away as he blinked the tears back. Don't do this to me Starsky... please...

Hutch swallowed down the lump in his throat, getting ready to breathe for his unconscious partner once again. He used his index finger and thumb to gently pinch Starsky's nose shut, but the sudden raspy cough made him quickly release the brunet.

Starsky gasped, struggling to draw air into his burning lungs, wrapping his arms around his mid-section, raggedly coughing and wheezing.

"Easy buddy," Hutch soothed, his spirit lifting as the painful clenching in his own heart loosened its strangling grasp. The tall blond smoothed back the unruly, dark curls. "It's okay Starsk... take it easy. You're okay now... just breathe in slowly... that's it!"

Starsky tried to regulate his breathing until the coughing jag subsided. He listened intently to the sound of his partner's voice as Hutch gently talked him through it, feeling the reassuring warmth of his hand upon his chest.

"That's it Starsky, just breathe in... take it easy buddy..." Hutch eagerly watched as the brunet slowly lifted long, dark lashes to reveal familiar sapphire eyes that were now dull and glazed. Yet, the sight of those blue depths brought a huge smile to the blond's face. "Hey Gordo... you scared us for a moment."

"Hu-Hutch?" Starsky's usually strong voice was a ragged whisper.

"Yeah buddy, right here... right here," Hutch said leaning over to hear his partner's voice.

"Y-you okay?" the whispered reply made Hutch shut his eyes for a brief second, his heart twisting as he saw the look of concern and confusion in the weary blue of the brunet's gaze. No matter what the situation, Starsky never failed to put him first and knowing that brought a lump to the throat of the sensitive blond.

"Yeah buddy, I'm fine." Hutch smiled encouragingly. "I-I think I should be asking you that question."

"Yeah? Wha'... what's happ'n?" Starsky asked groggily, wincing when he tried to move.

"No, no," Hutch said quickly, easing his friend back. "Don't move Starsk. Just rest for now... just rest and breathe."

The small dog whined softly and buried his cold, wet nose under Starsky's limp hand drawing the brunet's attention.

"H-hey," Starsky rasped, a smile tweaking the corner of his lips. "Cute mutt. H-how the hell... did he get down here?"

Hutch leaned over and grabbed the water bottle that was still strapped on Seagraves. "He's part of the search and rescue team. They're up there buddy, trying to get us out so you have to hang on okay? We'll be out of here in no time. Hey... looks like you got a friend, Gordo!"

Seagraves licked the hand that weakly scratched him behind the ears making Starsky's smile widen even more, "S-smart dog. He has g-good taste."

"Yeah." Hutch smiled, twisting the cap off the bottle. "Here you go Starsk, I want you to try and drink some of this water." The tall blond carefully lifted his partner's head and tipped the bottle towards the brunet's dry lips. "Easy Starsk, just a few sips at a time okay?" Though the dark haired detective slowly drank, he soon turned his head to the side, not wanting any more.

"Just a little more, Starsk," Hutch softly urged, but the brunet wearily closed his eyes and stubbornly refused, reaching up to feebly clutch at the blond's torn shirt. It hurt to breathe, and drinking made breathing near impossible.

"Don'... don't want anymore..." Starsky's whispered, causing the blond to worry once again.

Damn! He sounds so weak.

Hutch poured some water onto a strip of cloth and then twisted the cap back on the bottle, a deep frown of worry etched upon his brow. Starsky's breathing was labored and he knew the level of pain his partner was in had to be excruciating. Hutch tenderly wiped away the dirt and perspiration from his friend's face, noting the trembling breath Starsky drew in as the damp cloth touched his fevered cheeks. "How you holdin' up, huh buddy?" Hutch smiled reassuringly as he continued to cool Starsky down.

A sharp spasm tore into the brunet's side. Starsky clenched Hutch's shirt in a vise-like grip. The detective cried out and twisted his torso, struggling to ride out the fiery stabbing pain that flared out in waves of agony.

Hutch held on tight as his partner grimaced; trying to keep the brunet still as he anxiously monitored Starsky's breathing. His own gut roiled and he swallowed hard to keep himself from being sick as more blood gushed out from the brunet's side. "Shh... take it easy Starsk. No, no, no... I know it hurts, but you can't move around... you're gonna tear yourself up!"

Starsky gasped harshly as the pain abruptly released him. His other hand trembled wrapping around the metal rod that was deeply embedded in his torn and bleeding flesh. He felt exhausted and he knew he was fading fast; blood loss and shock were taking its toll on him. A part of him wondered if he would make it out this time. Maybe his stroke of luck had finally run out... maybe he had finally used up the "nine lives" that Huggy always poked fun at. God, he hurt everywhere... if it wasn't for Hutch...


He could feel the tension rolling off the blond; could feel the worry and anxiety Hutch was feeling for him with every panting breath he drew in. He knew Hutch was remembering the hit he took in the garage as he tried to stem the flow of blood. That time almost killed his sensitive partner. It almost hurt more than his injuries to know that he was inadvertently hurting Hutch. Almost... but not quite. Starsky tensed, feeling Hutch apply pressure once more to the wound in his side. He would have screamed if he had the energy, but the most he could do was groan softly, wanting to sink into the dark abyss that beckoned wantonly to him.

Starsky wasn't sure if he passed out, but the whispered words of encouragement Hutch spoke to him drew him back to consciousness.

"Take it easy, buddy. I'm here... right here..."

Starsky struggled to focus in on the voice, but the garbled words made no sense right now. The soothing intonation pulled and tugged, floating him to a level of awareness... and with awareness -- came the pain.


The large warm hand gently stroking the side of his face gave Starsky the courage to lift the heavy weight of his eyelids. The pain was bad, but he needed to see Hutch... needed to tell him. He was so tired, if he didn't make it this time he knew Hutch would carry the blame and that wasn't an option.

The blond detective plastered a grin on his face watching dark, heavy lashes spiked with perspiration roll back and forth beneath closed lids before they finally lifted. Though the familiar blue of sapphire was both murky and unfocused, they still brought joy to Hutch's faltering heart. "Hey buddy, y-you did good. You gotta... you gotta hang on okay? Hang on for me."

"H-hurts," Starsky gasped, his voice weak and raspy. He struggled to focus on the pale blob floating above him, squinting his eyes wearily to bring Hutch's face into view.

"I know it hurts Starsk, but you're strong and you're gonna make it. In a little while we'll all be out of here and..."

Hutch stopped mid-sentence. Starsky desperately fisted his shirt, dark blue eyes locked upon the soft blue of the sky. "Dunno if... if I can this t-time... s-so tired Hutch. If I don't m-make it, I n-need ya t'know s-somethin'..." Starsky panted, pausing to take in a struggling breath. He wearily watched as the blue of a summer's sky turned into an angry dark storm.

"No. No! You listen to me, Starsky," Hutch demanded, his voice sharp and desperate. "You are not dying here. You and I will make it out of here alive! Do you hear me? Together! Me and Thee like always. You will hang on because I'm not letting you go! You're not doing this to me... to us... not now! I know you're tired. I know you're hurting, but you're gonna suck it up and survive and when we're finally out of here..." Hutch took in a breath and licked his dry lips. "I promise I will listen to whatever you want to say, but not now. Right now you're gonna save your energy and focus on just breathing. You're gonna concentrate on just getting through this and I will be right here with you the whole time. You got that?"

Starsky sighed wearily, noting the way Hutch's lips thinned as he spoke. The way the blue of Hutch's eyes grew brilliant and shimmered like crystal swimming in a sea of unshed tears brought a lump to the brunet's throat.

Black, suffocating fear radiated from the blond. It was so tangible and smothering that Starsky could feel the terror wrap around his own heart. He could see it in Hutch's eyes. It would kill Hutch if he let go... it would kill them both. "Y-yeah," Starsky whispered as he cleared the rasp in his voice, "I hear ya... l-loud and clear."

Hutch smiled though his heart ached. His partner didn't look good at all; and if the truth were known the thought of Starsky dying down here made the blond paralyzed with fear. For a minute it looked like the brunet wanted to give up... wanted to throw in the towel. To hear Starsky almost verbalize the same thing was something Hutch was unwilling to acknowledge. No one was going to take Starsky away from him... not even Starsky himself.

"Good! I like when you're obedient, Gordo... those times are too few and far between, buddy." Hutch grinned, the blue of his eyes growing soft again with affection as he tried to stomp down the rising panic that wanted to take over.

Starsky snorted, a small grin lifting the corner of his mouth until a grimace took it away. Pain once again took hold of him. Made him arch and lift off the ground, despite the rusty rod that pinned him to the floor.

"Easy buddy... I got you... take it easy, Starsk." Hutch held onto his suffering partner until the spasm passed and the brunet slumped wearily against him. "Y-you did good, Starsk. We're gonna make it, you hear? I want you to take another sip of water for me okay?"

We're gonna make it. Hutch wondered if he kept saying that for his own benefit or for Starsky's. With the severity of the injuries and the ravaging pain that tore into his wounded partner, even to him the words rang false. Would Starsky make it this time? How much longer could he hold on?

"One more sip, Gordo. Don't want you dehydrating on me."

"N-no... don' want n-no more..." Starsky whispered, turning his face away from the offered bottle.

Hutch sighed, and then smiled. "So much for obedience, buddy. That didn't last too long." The blond shook his head and poured more water onto the cloth to once again wipe his partner's fevered brow, watching dark lashes drift closed once more.

"You heard him. Stop wasting the water. He don't want no more. It's a good thing too, maybe now we all can get a go at that bottle," McVee said suddenly. "I'm thirsty as hell and since this is the only source of drinkable water, maybe we should think about saving it for those who will mostly likely make it through the night instead of giving it to this dyin' bloke."

"Shut up McVee," Hutch snarled, his pale blue eyes turning the color of ice. "The water is for my partner and no one else." The tall blond detective carefully loosened the brunet's hand that still clung to his shirt and raised his eyes to look at Reliable.

"Give me that," Hutch said, holding out his hand for the two-way walkie. "Let me see if I can get us through."

"Uh-uh, not so fast laddie," McVee said caustically, as Reliable was about to hand off the radio. "I make the decisions down here... now give it to me!" Reliable looked uncertainly at the detective, not knowing what to do.

"Now!" McVee snapped impatiently, his eyes darting quickly to Seagraves who growled at him and wedged his stout, little body closer to the wounded man. The little dog pressed up against Starsky's side; the hackles on his back rose in warning as he glared at the Irishman.

Reliable quickly gave the radio to McVee and shrugged apologetically to the tall blond. "Um... I guess he's the boss since he holds the gun."

"Damn right I am!" McVee agreed, turning the knob on the top of the radio, trying to catch the right frequency. The sudden sharp static in the quiet darkness of the basement made everyone jump and McVee quickly turned the volume down a notch, simultaneously compressing the button on the side of the walkie to speak. "Hello... can anyone hear me? Come in... is anyone out there?"

The strong voice that suddenly resounded in the basement took everyone by surprise. "This is Fire Chief Jessie Kroger. Please identify yourself. Who am I speaking with? We need to know how many of you are down there and how many are injured?"

"This is William McVee. There are four of us down here. One of us, a cop, ain't lookin' too good right now. I want to speak to someone who can get me out of here. I want to make a deal."

There was a slight pause and then Kroger's voice came on again. "We need to speak to either Detective David Starsky or to Detective Ken Hutchinson."

"Ye don' get to speak to anyone unless I allow it!" William screamed angrily into the walkie, only to press the heel of his hand against his forehead in agony. Taking in deep breaths the Irishman panted, "I make the fuckin' rules here... ye understand? I have a gun aimed at yer cop friends and I'm not afraid t'blow them to smithereens. I have nothing to lose at this point."

"Alright, calm down sir," Jesse said soothingly, his deep voice filled the dark interior of the basement. "We need to get you all out of there... is anyone injured?"

"I want t'speak to Cap'n Dobey," William said, squinting as he pinched the bridge of his nose; the pain throbbing in his head made him dizzy. "G-get him for me, I'll wait until he gets there. Ye best hurry. I don't think someone will make out of here it if ye don't move yer arse."

"Captain Dobey's right here," the deep, calm voice floated out from the radio. "I'll call him for you... hold on."

McVee pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead, turning bloodshot eyes to the blond detective. "Remember our bargain... you promised me. I want me boy here! I want them to bring Timmy to me."

"Yeah," Hutch said wearily. "I haven't forgotten. Just give me the walkie. When Dobey gets on I'll talk to him about it, but likewise, you better live up to your end of the bargain. My partner goes to the hospital as soon as they dig us out... deal?"

"Dobey here." The captain's strong voice rang out in the quiet darkness, suddenly severing its occupant's conversation. The tension in the basement was palpable as both men glared at each other. "Captain Dobey here! Who am I speaking with?"

"Um... guys?" Reliable said hesitantly, his eyes drifting from one man to the other. "Um... the captain's on the radio," he said quietly, stating the obvious.

Hutch glared at the bomber, waiting until McVee nodded slowly, trying to read the sincerity on the man's face as he silently sealed the bargain. The tall blond watched as McVee suddenly grinned lifting the radio to his lips, compressing the button, "This is William McVee, Captain... 'tis wonderful t'hear your booming voice again. I'm sure yer boys must be ecstatic that you are here to support them in this rather trying time, especially since one of them might not live to see the sun come up."

"Let me speak to one of my men," Dobey's said caustically, yet Hutch could hear the worry behind the strong voice. The blond detective gently rubbed his partner's good shoulder, soothing the brunet who was drifting in and out of consciousness.

"Let me talk to him," Hutch said softly, holding out his hand for the radio.

"I'll let you speak with Detective Hutchinson. The other detective I'm afraid is in no condition to chat with anyone at this time," McVee said smugly, his voice hardening suddenly. "Understand this, Captain. I run the show here. I want my demands met or none of us will come out of this alive." The Irishman carefully handed the two-way to the tall blond. "Remember... no tricks. I'll be listening to every word you say," the bomber whispered as he grudgingly passed the radio.

"Captain, it's Hutch."

"How is he?"

Hutch could hear the anxious concern in the captain's curt question and he wearily rubbed the grit from the corner of his eye as he gazed down at his wounded partner. The brunet was burning up, fever already taking over his weakened body. Starsky slowly tossed and turned, inadvertently wincing at the pain his movements brought. Blood was still oozing from his side no matter how much Hutch tried to pack it.

Starsky gasped and suddenly arched, white-hot spikes of pain lanced his weary body, startling the blond at the intensity of it.

"Take it easy buddy," Hutch whispered, gently squeezing the brunet's shoulder until Starsky was released from the punishing grip that flared within him; leaving him weak and breathless. The brunet collapsed against the hard debris ladened floor. "I'm here buddy," the blond soothed. "I'm right here. Take it easy, Starsky... just breathe..."

"H-hurts... ugh!" Starsky gasped, body rigid with agony. Biting down on his bottom lip to swallow up the pain, Starsky grunted, his hand clenching the base of the rebar that protruded grotesquely from his side.

"I know buddy... I know..." Hutch soothed helplessly, feeling guilty and frustrated in the face of the overwhelming suffering his partner was experiencing. "Easy... just take it easy. Hang on for me Starsk. We'll be out of here in no time. I'm talking to Dobey right now, okay? Just hang on Starsky..."

"Dunno if... if I can this t-time... s-so tired Hutch. If I don't m-make it, I n-need ya t'know s-somethin'..."

The blond detective closed his eyes, his partner's weak voice echoed insidiously in his mind.

"Hutch? Answer me! How is he?"

The booming voice startled the fair haired cop. "N-Not that good, Captain," Hutch whispered, frustration making his voice grow in intensity as his temper rose, "He's in a lot of pain. Look, we need to get him out of here and into a hospital... NOW!"

Dobey's audible sigh came through the radio loud and clear. "We're working on it Hutch," the Captain said, his worried voice and desperate sigh taking the anger out of the blond's heart, "Tell me... everything."

Hutch swallowed as he gazed once more at Starsky's straining body. Long, dark lashes lay spiked against the brunet's sweaty, dirt stained face and the blond found himself once again stroking his partner -- silently trying to soothe Starsky with his presence.

"We ah... we got a tip from a friend of Huggy's. His name's Reliable and he's down here with us. Said that McVee was gonna blow the Church up so we came to check it out. Starsky found McVee lurking upstairs and one of the bombs accidentally detonated in the scuffle." Pale blue eyes shifted to the Irishman who suddenly dropped his own eyes uncomfortably.

"We're stuck in a basement of some sorts," the blond continued looking up. "Everthing is unstable. The 'ceiling', if you can call it that, is just made up of debris and large, broken concrete slabs, held up by a crossbeam and some rebars. It's a miracle it hasn't fallen yet. I don't know how you intend to get us out of here, but whatever you do might just make this whole thing collapse on us."

"Okay. I'll let Chief Kroger know. We'll figure out something on our end." Dobey's voice came through the two-way, "And... about Starsky... what do I need to tell the paramedics?"

Hutch could hear the hesitation in his captain's usually strong voice and he looked down once more, his heart clenching tightly. "He ah... he's got a rebar jutting through his side... must've... must've fallen on it in the blast. He'll have to be c-cut loose from the metal rod. He's burning up Captain, lost a lot of blood and he's got a gunshot wound to his shoulder," the blond added guiltily. "Cap... we gotta get him out of here quick. We'll need a chopper standing by to take him to the hospital as soon as we can... he's already stopped breathing once... he's not gonna..."

"Okay Hutch, I hear you," Dobey interjected. "I'll call in for a chopper, okay? We're doing all we can up here. Starsky needs you to stay calm."

"Don't you think I know that?" Hutch snapped, his temper flaring at the helplessness of the situation.

"I need you to stay calm." Dobey said; his unusually soft and worried voice stilled the hot anger in the blond.

"Yeah. Okay." Hutch sighed, rubbing the dirty heel of his hand into the burning sting of his eyes. "Just hurry up and get him out of here."

The blond detective looked up at the Irishman who held the side of his head and glared -- the bomber's eyes almost seemed to glow in the dimness of their surroundings. "McVee is willing to make a deal, Captain," Hutch said quietly, knowing that Dobey never made deals that would aid the bad guys. "He's gonna let Starsky out of here if you bring his son, Timothy, to the site."

"What else does he want?" Dobey's gruff voice was still deceptively soft. "You know that's not all he wants and you know I don't make deals, Hutch. If we do this, he'll just make more demands."

McVee snorted derisively at that last comment. "Damn right I will... me boy and I are getting' outta here..."

"Just bring the kid!" Hutch said tersely, his voice hard and unrelenting. "I'm not gonna watch my partner die down here because of your damn morals, Captain! Get the boy and McVee'll let Starsky get the medical help he needs."

The long pause that ensued made the blond detective lower desperate eyes to his suffering partner. "Starsky needs your help, Captain. H-he won't make it if you don't help us..."

Hutch could hear Dobey clear his throat uncomfortably before he said, "We'll do what we can. Hang in there, Hutch. Just... just keep the faith. Out."

McVee snorted as the two-way radio became silent once more. "Well, it looks like the good Captain ain't too concerned 'bout his poor, wounded man," the Irishman sneered.

"He'll bring your son," Hutch assured him, pale blue eyes once again focused on his partner's well being. "Just make sure that you live up to your end of the bargain, McVee."

"Aye, I will. Ye can be sure of that, lad," the bomber smirked, eyeing the wounded cop. "A McVee is always a man of his word. Ye best pray though Detective Hutchinson, that yer partner doesn't die. T'would be a shame if yer friend doesn't live long enough for me to hold up my end of the bargain!"

Chapter Eight

Dobey gripped tightly to the handheld radio pacing back and forth as near to the smoldering ruins as he dared to get. Through the smoldering ash, he watched and listened for any sign that Jessie and his hardworking crew had found his men.

The progress was slow and according to everything he'd been able to hear the entire place was unstable shifting and sliding with each footstep. At least he knew his boys were still alive. At least they had been -- Dobey looked at his wristwatch -- two hours and twenty minutes ago. The radio in his hand had quit working shortly after his transmission with Hutch. Jessie had told him to expect that. Reception in these cases was bad, and they were lucky to have made contact at all through the tangled mess of thick steel and solid stone. Dobey stopped his pacing, shuddering to think Starsky and Hutchinson could have so easily been vaporized by the bomb blast -- just like the poor souls at the Marshall Center.

The Captain was exhausted and sleep pulled at his eyelids. Jessie had told him to go home; that he would call the minute they broke through and found the trapped detectives. Dobey wouldn't hear of it. As long as his men were here -- so was he.

There wasn't much to do to while away the hours, and Dobey's mind worked overtime to fill the long-suffering silence of the radio. Images bounced around in his head. Images of dozens of people rushing out to the police parking lot, the muffled sound of gunfire, flashing lights, blood filling the cracks in the pavement, a ghostly still blonde, and the unmoving head of curls cradled in the narrow rim of a candy apple red car. The images sickened him all over again.

Dobey had spent day after day with no sleep. Days of not eating and barely drinking while he waited in the hospital. Waited to know if one of his best would live to cash another paycheck. The Captain had spent his time, thinking and thinking and rethinking of where he'd gone wrong in keeping his police station secure and safe for his men.

An officer down -- it was a picture that made the most hardened of law officers shrink away in dread. Now Dobey stood in that same position all over again. Thinking and rethinking where had he gone wrong -- for now he had two officers down on his hands. Dobey wondered if somehow he was responsible. He'd been really rough on his men. Telling them to keep away from McVee. Had he forced them to go it alone?

A faint crackling of the radio in his hand brought him back to the present. Dobey adjusted the tuner, lifted the two-way to his lips, and thumped the key. He had been trying to reach Hutch every ten minutes since their first conversation, but with no luck.

"Hutchinson, do you copy?" The captain let loose the button and waited for a response. Getting none, he tried again. "Hutchinson, come in. Do you read me?" He waited a few beats, swallowed his fear and tried again. "Detective... answer me!" Dobey bellowed in desperation hoping his commanding voice would do what it had always done back in the squad room -- bring his men rushing to him obediently.

"If you can hear me... I have Tim on site. He can talk to McVee on the two-way."

Dobey didn't like the idea of bringing the young boy to such a scene but his hands were tied. If McVee would ensure his men's safety upon hearing Tim's voice, then Dobey had to give Starsky and Hutch that shot. He wouldn't let any harm come to Tim, and he wouldn't make a deal with McVee. He only hoped that the boy's voice could calm the man enough to reason with him.

"God... dammit!" Dobey bit his lower lip until it bled, kicking at the dirt in frustration, he never swore.

All the captain could do now was wrap his arms tightly around himself to ward off the chill, pick up his pacing, and continue to pray for his men.

Every now and again, he glanced over his shoulder at a young boy whose nose was pressed up against the glass of a squad car.

Hutch, unable to reach his captain for hours shoved the walkie-talkie into his jacket pocket. The blonde glanced around the debris all at once noticing a small shaft of light coming from above.

"This place is shifting. We should try to dig through the rubble. Maybe we can find a way out." Hutch knew it was a long shot that digging could possibly bring down what was left of the church, but what choice did he have. He couldn't keep sitting here doing nothing while his friend was slowly dying before his eyes.

"You cops think you know it all."

McVee shined his flashlight's beam toward the tiny opening. "You touch one thing and it will all come crashing down."

"Hutch, he's right." Starsky weakly coughed. "My glass is half empty. You -- you gotta do... do somethin' for me. Hutch you gotta... gotta..." laboring to breathe Starsky continued. "Tell Mom... tell Nick.. Tell them, Hutch. I love 'em."

"Starsk, your glass is never half empty and no way am I going to let you play hero, dying with your boots on -- do you hear me? We're going to get out of here! And when we do, I'm taking you to the finest most expensive seafood and sushi house in Bay City."

"Sweet talker," Starsky mumbled.

Hutch continued in his attempt to distract his hurting friend. "Nothing sweet about calamari, oysters, and snails."

"You, you being funny, there, Blintz?" Starsky made a face.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Gordo." Hutch tried for a laugh but the sound didn't quite make it past his throat.

"Gotta be serious, Hutch. You gotta promise... tell them... tell..."

Unable to continue, Starsky squeezed his eyes shut a coughing jag bucking through his body.

"Arrrghhh," he cried, the rebar tearing more of his flesh.

"Shh." Hutch put a hand to Starsky's chest, worried that he didn't see much blood. "Don't talk." Hutch fought to keep his voice from shaking, but it was a loosing battle. Starsky was getting worse; certainly he had to be bleeding internally.

"Need to get up. Need to... get this thing... that's..." Starsky took in several quick mouthfuls of air. "That's sticking in me out!" he cried, trying to pull away from the metal.

"No... no!" Hutch took a strong hold of Starsky's shoulders trying to hold him down. "Starsk, don't fight me."

"He's really hurting," Reliable muttered, above the now barking dog.

"He's not fighting you, cop. He's fighting the pain," McVee said almost in sympathy.

"Shut up!" Hutch gnashed his teeth. "Just shut the hell up! All of you." His attention quickly going back to his partner's frenzied movements. The brunet continued to thrash, feebly trying to rid himself of the object of his agony. "Easy. Starsky, easy. Still. Be still." The more he told Starsky not to move the more Starsky needed to move. His arms and legs twitching. "Slow it down. Come on now." Hutch tried to remain calm practically on top of Starsky to keep him still, and pressing down harder.

Not understanding what was happening, Seagraves whimpered and came to Starsky's aid still barking and wildly prancing around. The feisty little dog took a mouthful of Hutch's sleeve growling and tugging with all his might, in a brave attempt to defend the curly haired man.

"Get this dog outta here!" Hutch spat, giving his arm a quick jerk to detach the teeth that had a hold of his sleeve.

"Maybe we should do what he asks." Reliable knelt down next to Starsky. "He's suffering."

"We can't. We don't know what internal damage we would cause. Not to mention the fact he will start hemorrhaging the minute we try to pull him off that damn thing." Hutch winced as he desperately bore more of his weight down on his friend. "Partner, please." Starsky continued to struggle. "Starsk!" Hutch yelled. "I can't hold him," Hutch said, completely out of breath.

"You're going to have to hit him," Reliable stated firmly.

Hutch shot Reliable a disbelieving gaze. "What?"

"Sorry, Tin Man," Reliable said, without further explanation, curling his fist and cuffing his balled hand across Starsky's jawbone instantly knocking the struggling man unconscious.

Hutch turned toward Reliable and yelled, "You son of a bitch!" He reached across his partner and grabbed a handful of the small man's shirt and dragged him up to meet his eyes. "Why the hell did you do that!" Hutch demanded, beyond angry.

"You couldn't. Somebody had to do it." Reliable tried to inch away, but Hutch pulled him closer. "You know that, Hutchinson. I did it for him." The smaller man lowered his eyes unable to stand the heated blue lasers emitting from the blond.

Hutch paused to glance at Starsky, who now lay quiet and pain free. "I know." The blond detective let out a long held breath, and loosened his grip on Reliable, both men sinking back down to the ground. "Damn it, I know."

It was hard to breathe again, and Starsky gagged when he sucked in a small breath.


He was falling into a deep dark black vortex and that scared him. Who had put out his lights and why? He was grateful for one thing -- he could no longer feel any pain. His body was numb, and he couldn't twitch so much as a finger. His heartbeat hammered in his ears, but he could still make out Hutch's voice over the thrumming. Starsky opened his eyes fractionally to see what was happening, but his vision was foggy. Where was he again? What was going on? He couldn't be sure. Everything felt like a bad dream sequence -- he only hoped he'd wake up soon.

"Starsk? Hutch bent over his friend and laid two fingers to the side of his neck feeling his weak heartbeat. "Starsky... can... c-can you hear me?" Hutch stared into half-open vacant eyes, getting no reaction.

"What's the matter with him?" Reliable asked nervously. "Did I... did I... was it my punch? Oh, man, I shouldn't have hit him in the face. Tin Man?"

For a moment there was silence, seconds felt like centuries and no one dared move a muscle.

"He'll be needin' his death certificate." McVee broke the silence. "That's what the matter is." A smug look spreading over his face.

"He's in shock." Hutch met McVee's gaze, struggling to remain calm. "He needs help. Now!"

"I'll help him." McVee pointed his gun at Starsky's chest. "I'm going to kill him, put him out of his misery. Then I'm going to do the same for me' self." McVee frowned as a wave of dizziness struck him and he swayed on his feet.

"You'll have to go through me first." Hutch adjusted his position slightly so that he was now the target of McVee's intended bullet. "What if this was your boy who was trapped? Hurt?" Hutch tried to reason with the crazed Irishman. "Tim needs you. He's hurt. He's scared. He's crying for his Dad. What do you do? Let him die? Blow him up too?" Hutch's tone was hot but steady, never taking his eyes off McVee.

The talk of his boy being injured, hurt, or dying made McVee's gun hand tremble.

"No. No. I'd never hurt me' boy. Didn't mean to, oh... me' wife."

"That's right." Hutch improvised. "Remember your wife? You hurt her?" Hutch raised his eyes in thought, what had McVee said earlier about her. "You -- you burned her... didn't you?" He stumbled over his words trying to imagine what had gone down. "Was it one of your bombs?" McVee's eyes widened at the word bomb -- bingo. "You killed her. You killed your wife." Hutch could tell by the painful look on McVee's face he was right. "Your boy is already growing up without a mother. Do you want him to grow up without a father too? Give me the gun, and I'll make sure you see your boy. Make sure he is taken care of."

"Me wife. It was an accident. I was doing an experiment in me garage." McVee's finger twitched spasmodically against the trigger of the gun. "I left to -- oh, God! I left... and she... Gloria, bumped into the workbench as she was bringing in the groceries. It... the bomb... fell to the floor, unstable. It was too unstable. The whole thing went up." McVee took in a breath, seemingly in a trance-like state. "The mortician couldn't even -- I killed her. I took me boy's mother away from him. All because of this thing in me head." McVee slammed the muzzle of the gun to his temple. "Tim. Tim me boy." McVee looked down at Starsky's glassy unfocused eyes. "I'm sorry, son. So sorry I hurt you. I let you down," McVee said the words in a breathy whisper.

Seagraves frantic barking disturbed the moment. He darted to the right, bouncing around. His ears perked forward and every muscle in the tiny dog's body was taunt.

"I think he hears something," Reliable said, exchanging a hopeful look with Hutch.

"Shut that mutt up!" McVee seemed to snap out of his trance-like state, picking up a rock and throwing it at the dog.

Seagraves tucked his tail and scooted out of the rock's way taking off, his barking carrying through the darkness.

"Maybe the mutt found a way out, and wants us to follow." Reliable stood on shaky legs wincing as a sharp pain radiated up his arm. "I'm going after him."

"Why you, Lucky Charms?" McVee snorted, and waggled his gun about.

"Name's Oz." Reliable looked sadly at Starsky, deciding he liked what the brunet had dubbed him. "Besides, who better? You yourself said I'm a leprechaun. I'm small and have magical powers," he said sarcastically. "I'll get out of here and bring your son--"

"Me son. Timmy boy!" McVee's eyes became unfocused again as he gawked at Starsky. "He -- he needs me."

Hutch stiffened. McVee was sweating, fatigue and tension taking its toll on the Irishman. Whatever was going on inside this psychotic man's head was coming to a boil. This could be Hutch's one and only chance. He had to gain control of McVee. Starsky was fading and he wouldn't last much longer.

Hutch grabbed a handful of dirt in his right hand and took in a deep breath. This was it.

"Get the hell outta here!" Hutch yelled at Reliable as he jumped up, throwing the grit into McVee's eyes temporarily blinding him. Like a man possessed, Hutch launched himself toward McVee. Even with his injured leg, Hutch was quick. He pushed the Irishman full force up against a large steel girder. McVee grunted in pain. Blinking away the dust, he greeted the pale blue eyes of fury, as one large hand wrapped around his Irish neck in a tight chokehold.

"How does it feel?" Hutch growled, and stepped even closer. "You like pain?" Hutch's lips barely touching McVee's while he spoke. "You like to steal the breath away from little children?"

"Smart mo-move," McVee smirked. "But if you know what is good for you..." he gagged, trying to suck in air. "You'll let me... go."

"Now why would I do that?"

"Because if you don't... I'll finish him off."

Hutch heard the unmistakable cocking of a gun, he'd forgotten about his Magnum.

"Me' father always taught me to keep a spare key under the matt, a spare tire in the trunk, and spare gun in me waist band." McVee gagged as Hutch's hand tightened around his throat pinning him further against the beam. "Ye' might -- might want to loosen y' grip," McVee threatened with a smile. "If 'n' ye don't want your impaled partner to take another bullet."

Hutch looked at the gun in McVee's free hand, closed his eyes, and bit back a moan. Time stood still and all was silent except for the simple sound of Starsky's weak breaths behind him.

Regrettably, Hutch gave McVee one last shove, letting go of the man's shirt, and taking three steps backward.

"That's very smart of you, detective." McVee kept the gun pointed directly at Starsky. "Don't you make a mo--"

A sound not unlike a thousand bowling balls rolling down the alley lanes interrupted McVee's words.

Hutch looked up in horror. "Oh, man!" The sound grew louder and the walls around them shook violently. "The rest of this building's coming down!" he frantically yelled.

McVee forgotten, Hutch darted toward Starsky, and hunkered over him.

Fine dust and bits of falling fragments sprinkled down upon them, yet the collapse Hutch anticipated didn't come. He lifted his head marginally. A flood of light sent shadows dancing around like a well-choreographed lightshow.

"Stay where you are! We're sending someone down to you." Came a voice blasting through a bullhorn. "My name is Jessie, we're going to get you out. How many are still with you?"

Hutch could just barely make out the fire department personnel above him. They were covered in dust and smoke, and looked like they'd been picking through the rubble for days.

"Three." Hutch stood. Stepping a few inches away from Starsky, to where he could see the firefighters better. "We're missing one, he ran off after the dog."

"Seagraves. Don't worry, that dog knows what he's doing."

"How's everyone holding up?"

"My partner." Hutch glanced over his shoulder at Starsky. "He's seriously injured." A few more small pieces of the old church crumbled, and Hutch held up a palm shielding his eyes from the fine powder. He knew the whole place was about to collapse like a house of cards; only each paper card would slice like a sharpened blade. "Take it easy up there! This place is about to..."

Hutch didn't have time to finish his sentence, as the thousand bowling balls were back. He looked straight up to see a large shadow bearing down on them.

"Heads up!" Jessie's strong voice came over the bullhorn.

Before Hutch could think straight, he heard McVee shouting and looked just in time to see the Irishman running his way.

"Timothy! No, no!" The crazed man propelled himself through the air, using the full force of his body and shoving Hutch hard sending him to his knees at Starsky's side "Protect me' boy!" Instinctively, Hutch bent over his friend trying to cover as much of the brunet's body as he could.

A tremendous roar and a thick cloud engulfed everything keeping Hutch from seeing. When the fog cleared, Hutch slowly lifted his head, and looked to his left. He winced at what he saw -- The Irishman was alive, but trapped, crushed, twisted, and bleeding under a large cement slab.

"Me' boy. Me' boy," McVee cried out.

"You all right down there?" Jessie called in the calmest voice Hutch had ever heard.

"No, damn it! We're not all right down here! There's another man injured," Hutch coughed, feeling his partner's body tense beneath him. "Get us the hell outta here!"

Hutch was exhausted and for several long minutes all he seemed to be able to do was cough, and gag on the swirling dirt, as things started to go black.

When he finally gained control of his rapid breathing, Hutch found himself sitting up against a wall with an oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, emergency workers swarmed all around him. Everyone was doing something. Several men appeared to be jamming things against the walls for support, a team crowed around the crushed form of McVee, and yet another team hovered over Starsky.

Hutch removed his oxygen mask and crawled closer to his friend. "How--how is he?"

"Get that mask on, and let us do our work." One medic advised not even taking the time to look up at Hutch.

"Just tell me how he is!" Hutch insisted, just close enough now to reach for Starsky's limp hand and hold it in his own.

"His blood pressure is hanging in there," the medic mumbled, barely interested. "But he's bleeding internally."

"Can you get him off that thing?" Hutch's voice shook.

"We can't pull him off, it's too risky. At least six inches of that beam penetrated into his side. No telling what the internal damage is. We'll have to cut the rod, and a trauma surgeon will have to remove the rest. Going to have to work fast." The medic looked up to yet another emergency worker speaking as if Hutch wasn't even there. "That chopper ready?" he asked his colleague. We're going to have to move him fast."

"E.T.A. on the chopper... three minutes."

"Uhnnnn-ahh," Starsky moaned.

Hutch watched his partner's eyes roll and tremor under closed lids. "Easy," he said, bending over to whisper in his ear. "I'm here." He squeezed Starsky's hand, feeling how cold his skin was made the blond's heart beat faster.

Hutch felt like he was the witness to a bad dream, standing on the sidelines, unable to move or do a damn thing to help his friend. No matter how much he wanted to help with the rescue of his partner, Hutch knew he had to stay out of the way. He slid his free hand under Starsky's head for support.

"I'm here, Starsk. Talking to you. I know you can hear me, partner. You're holding on real good. Real good."

The medics continued to talk to one another while they worked feverishly on Starsky, putting in IV's, and administering aid. They used some sort of vice or clamping device to keep the rebar from moving around so much. Placing a protective sheet over Starsky's face and handing Hutch a set of safety goggles for protection, they began to cut into the rebar.

Hutch could only cradle his unconscious friend's head and hold his hand, gently talking Starsky through the worst of it, certain Starsky was aware and would feel the pain.

"Partner, I'm not going to lie to you, this is going to hurt." Hutch leaned in to whisper, as sparks and fragments flew off the rebar into his goggles. "I'll talk you through it, Starsk. Don't worry," Hutch said, hoping he sounded confident. "Trust me on this, buddy. I know it sounds bad, and feels bad, but just trust me."

Hutch was far from confident. He was worried sick. What if Starsky started bleeding and they couldn't control the flow? What if he stopped breathing again? He tried to shake the thoughts from his head. Watching the crew who worked determinedly to cut the rebar quickly. Hutch knew from high school shop class, metal cutting into metal caused friction. The rebar would heat up causing extreme pain to the most comatose of victims.

Starsky's eyes fluttered open only for a second before they fell shut once more. He could hear the powerful sound of a motor, and tried to theorize what was happening to him. All he knew was he couldn't respond or move a muscle. There was some kind of shield covering his face, yet sharp pieces every now and again hit and bounced off his cheek. He could feel the cool breeze of oxygen readily available, but still it was hard to breathe. A rippling vibration shuddered through him, his body involuntarily bucking.

"Keep breathing. Breathe deep." He could hear Hutch saying repeatedly.

"Arrghhhhhhh!" He tried to answer but only ended up gagging.

"Almost there, Starsk. They're almost done. Breathe," Hutch demanded.

Starsky inhaled slowly and deeply.

"You got it. That's it."

Hutch's voice was quiet in his ear even over the sound of the loud motor, but nothing made any sense to him.

"You're doing fine. Almost there. Can you hear me, buddy? Can you hear me?" Hutch requested continually.

Starsky could feel his heart flutter, and his body was unreasonably cold, yet his side burned. Now he knew how a cow felt when it was being branded.

"Starsky, squeeze my hand if you hear me." Another request was made.

Starsky could feel the familiar warm skin against his hand and elicited a low moan. He struggled to control his body, finally able to give a small squeeze in return.

The action made Hutch smile.

"I hear you. I hear you, buddy." Hutch held tighter, careful not to break contact. "I got you, babe."

The sensation in Starsky's side was agonizing, all his senses on overdrive, but he was unable to do anything about it. He concentrated really hard. Could almost see Hutch's worried face, and knew there were a lot of other people circling around him. He gritted his teeth and swallowed hard, his body shivering, fighting the cold steel embedded in his body.

"Unnnggggg." His lips parted and a cry escaped.

"Still! Keep him still!" Someone shouted.

"Shhh." Was all that was said into Starsky's ear -- it was enough, and he stilled.

Before Starsky could process further what was happening to him, he felt his body sag unrestrained to the ground. The brunet groaned from the flash of pain that ripped through his side.

"Take it easy on him, Goddammit!" He heard Hutch shoot his venom, sounding much like Dobey."

Starsky could feel hands easily lifting him upward, pain slicing down to the tips of his toes.

"You're going to make it, buddy."

That was the last thing Starsky heard before the pain finally ebbed and he fell into a place of nonexistence.

Starsky's ice-cold hand slipped away from Hutch's like a wet bar of soap as he was carefully lifted into a gurney basket.

Unconsciously feeling Hutch release his grip, the brunet's back arched up off the gurney and his body quivered intensely from shock.

Hutch slumped to his butt, his jaw muscle flexing with fear as he watched Starsky being fastened in. His partner didn't look good at all. Starsky's face was ivory white, and perspiration beaded on his skin. His sweat soaked clothes clung to him, his breathing was uneven, and a piece of hard steel still rested deeply in his side.

"Auuuuggghhh," Starsky gasped.

"Choppers here!" Jessie's calm confident voice came from above.

"We have to move!" A medic shouted. "Now! His blood pressure has dropped... 60 over 30."

That was the last thing Hutch heard as the gurney was quickly drawn upward out of the shadows.

Hutch swallowed the bile burning the back of his throat, still looking up to the hole in the ceiling of their tomb. He watched the dust churn as fast as his stomach, and wished he'd never taken several semesters in medicine.

"60 over 30," Hutch mumbled, and hung his head.

He knew full well what that meant. His friend was bleeding out from the inside, and that low of a blood pressure was only a step away from no heartbeat. Once you had a cardiac arrest from bleeding out -- it was hard to bring someone back.

"He's not going to make it." A crewmember's comment shook Hutch deeply bringing his attention to the man trapped beneath the heavy stone slab.

Hutch was surprised to see McVee was still very much conscious.

The Irishman turned his head slowly and looked into Hutch's eyes. "I need to... me son. The pipes they be callin' me name."

"Yeah." Hutch showed no emotion on his face.

Raising a brow, the blond silently questioned the rescue worker tending to the Irishman.

A simple 'no' shake of the paramedic's head was the unspoken answer. What the Irishman man said was true. He wasn't getting out of their tomb.

"I need to talk to me' son." McVee turned his head unable to look into the pale blue eyes of fury. "After all I've done ye' can just say no."

"I can," Hutch said smoothly pulling the walkie-talkie from his jacket pocket. "But -- I won't." Hutch scooted closer to McVee, turned the two-way on and thumped the key knowing he would get reception now that their tomb had been opened. "Cap, it's Hutch. Do you copy?"

"Finally! Hutchinson, are you all right?" Dobey asked in a short-tempered voice.

"Cap, I'm fine. How's Starsky?"

"They took him straight to the hospital in the chopper." There was a long pause, which brought a nightmarish chill over Hutch. "He's alive, Hutch, but it's not looking good." The words hit Hutch like a gust of winter wind sweeping across a frozen lake. He shivered, goose bumps prickling up his arm. There was nothing he could do right now -- Hutch knew that. "Look, Cap, did you get, Tim?"

"He's here."

"I need him on the horn."

There was another long pause. Hutch figured Dobey was contemplating his answer -- dying man's request. Even the most condemned of criminals got that.

"McVee's not going to make it," Hutch informed his captain as the Irishman looked his way, tears forming in the corner of his eyes.

"Ten-four, Hutch," Dobey said sternly.

"Hello," came the young boy's voice not but a minute later.

Hutch lowered the walkie-talkie toward McVee's mouth, and thumped the key for him. "Tim, you listen to me now, son...".McVee took in a breath, knowing he was on the verge of death. Knowing these would be his last words.

"I-I've been a bad man, me' lad. Don't... don't make the same mistakes. Yer Mother... I loved her. I'm sorry. Tim I..." McVee took a deep breath, held it tight in his chest, then released the puff of air long and slow. His entire body shivered and his wide opened eyes turned black.

With one hand on the radio, Hutch reached out with the other to lay two fingers against the side of McVee's neck lingering until he was certain there was no heartbeat.

"Tim." Hutch brought the radio to his lips. "It's going to be all right. Can you put Captain Dobey back on for me?"

"Dobey, here."

"Cap... McVee... he's..." Hutch stopped, he couldn't tear his gaze away from the dead man's eyes.

Reflections of Sally and all the children and teachers of the Marshall Center swam in the Irishman's lifeless orbs. All those innocent people shopping utterly carefree at the various malls that he'd bombed. It was always so unbelievable to Hutch, that one man could do so much damage. One man could bring on so much pain. Yet, the man had saved his life and probably that of his partner. Whether he knew he was doing the good deed or not. One man could so change the world, be it good or be it bad

Hutch had his serious doubts if this time justice had truly been served.

"Hutch." Dobey called over the airwaves, bringing Hutch back to the present. "Child Services has been called." Dobey had immediately understood what was on the detective's mind. "It's taken care of. Just get yourself out of there now."

Hutch could only nod, too drained to respond any other way.

Hutch was brought up from the depths of the rubble, trying to remain on his feet as a crewmember undid the harness. His cage was rattled, he stood motionless trying to get his bearings and recognize his surroundings.

It was a strange feeling to know only hours ago there stood a church, sidewalks, streetlamps, bushes, a road. Now, the entire building was gone, smoke rising up from between the rubble. The only thing that resembled the church was several yards away -- a large golden cross-pierced through a tree like a shining knight's giant lance.

Hutch stood speechless and dazed. His hard beating pulse filled his ears as he watched the firefighters still clambering about the ruins. He focused in on a single red flashing light atop a nearby fire truck twirling round and round in an eerie dizzying silence. The red glow seemed to be captured by a slow creeping fog that hung thick in the air. Hutch swiped at the fog, swaying off his feet, but managed to catch his balance.

"I think you might be in shock. Let's get you onto this gurney," the nameless crewmember said, taking off his own equipment. "Get you to a hospital." The man shouldered the safety harnesses and got a hand on Hutch to help him.

"I'm fine. Just give me a minute," Hutch said pulling his arm away.

"I'll wait right over here," the man said in understanding, seeing the distress on the detective's face and knowing he'd just been through hell.

Out of the red glow of misty smoke, Hutch immediately recognized his captain's large shadowy figure lumbering his way.

"Hutch!" Dobey panted, concern lacing his tone. "I want to know right now--" he stopped mid-stride. "Who gave you, and that hotheaded partner of yours permission to go off on some wild private par--"

"Harold!" A tall dark-skinned firefighter fast approached. "Let the kid breathe." Jessie dodged around the orderly chaos and came to stand next to Dobey. "Can his ass tomorrow -- after he gets that leg looked after." Jessie waved to the crewman standing off to the side. "Medic!"

"Cap," Hutch swiped a shaky hand across his eyes to clear his blurring vision. "McVee... he... he got the easy way o-out." The blond winced at the sharp pain he felt in his leg.

"Hutch," Dobey laid a firm hand to his detective's shoulder. "McVee didn't get away with anything. He'll pay his penance."

"You really believe that?" Hutch's eyes widened.

"I really believe that, Ken."

"Detective," Jessie cut in. "We have an ambulance waiting to take you to the same hospital we flew your partner too."

Hutch looked past Jessie's shoulder to see a child leaning dejectedly against a black and white unit, sobbing. A uniformed officer seemed to be trying to calm the boy down to no avail.

"What about McVee's son?"

"We'll be dropping him off at Child Services. They'll try to locate another family member or place him in a foster home." Dobey shook his head sadly.

Hutch desperately needed to find out about his partner, but seeing the orphaned boy nearly blinded by tears and looking lost to the world ate him up inside. After all, it wasn't Tim's fault what his father had done.

"Give me one minute to talk to the kid."

Ignoring the pain in his leg and his need to get to his partner, Hutch pulled away from Dobey's touch and hobbled the few yards to the car.

"Hey, Tim," Hutch stepped up to the young boy who stared at him through puffy red rimmed eyes. 'I got this,' he mouthed to the uniformed officer who politely moved back. Hutch swallowed the rug in his throat and said, "I know... I know this has been really tough on you. But you don't have to be afraid. We're going to help you." Hutch bent forward, and reached out a hand. "We're going to take you someplace where you will be safe."

Like a cornered animal, Tim backpedaled until his back slammed up against the squad car to escape the touch.

"My father," the boy mumbled in a zombie-like trance.

"I'm sorry about your dad--" Hutch continued to reach out slowly until his hand rested on the boy's shoulder. Tim's face was hard; his eyes a kaleidoscope of emotions that Hutch couldn't read. Denial? Anger? Guilt? Fear? Hutch couldn't be sure. "I know he loved you."

"My father didn't know what love was!" Tim violently pulled away from the blond's caring hand. "My mother loved me and she's gone -- because of him. I rather he be dead!" The boy shouted.

Hutch stumbled back, stunned by the angry almost evil outburst coming from such a young soul.

"Leave me alone! Everyone! Just leave me alone!" Tim hissed, folding his arms tightly across his chest he slid back into the squad car and slammed the door shut on the world.

Hutch bit his lower lip. The boy was an emotional jumble that Hutch couldn't understand. He only hoped the social workers could help the disturbed child. It would take a lot of recovering to get the young mind back on the right track or he'd end up just like his...

"Hutchinson." Reliable tugged at the blonde's pant leg.

"Reliable." Hutch looked down in surprise at the small man wearing an arm sling. "You made it."

"Ol' pro like me can roll with the punches--" Reliable gave a small shrug. "Or just follow the wagging tail," he added. "Besides, a broken arm won't stop 'The Great and Powerful, Oz'!"

Hutch's smile faded, and he clenched his jaw at the use of Starsky's silly nickname for the smaller man.

"I've got to go to him."

Chapter Nine

Hutch eased into the dimly lit room letting the door swish quietly to a close behind him. It took a few seconds for his vision to adjust to the dark interior of the hospital room since he'd just come from the lighted hallway. As soon as they were able to, his tired bloodshot eyes immediately sought out the figure lying so still under the crisp white sheets. Tubes and wires ran out from under the bedding and blankets; IV drips were inserted and taped to both forearms that lay over the covered abdomen of his sleeping partner. The steady beep and hum from the machines and monitors kept time to the beat of Starsky's heart; and the small fluorescent light above the bed created an almost eerie halo over the familiar dark curls.

The tall blond detective sighed wearily and limped without a sound to the side of the bed looking over the still and placid features of his best friend. It was hard to believe that they had made it once again. Who would have thought that the "ceiling" of the church would have held up long enough for all of them to make it out safely. An image of McVee pinned under the rubble flashed through his mind and Hutch closed his eyes with an almost pained feeling of regret. If it hadn't been for McVee, he probably wouldn't be here at all.

Hutch frowned, rubbing at the weary lines of exhaustion and worry that creased his brow. It had astounded him that the Irishman would sacrifice his life at the last minute the way he did; especially knowing that McVee's sole thought throughout their whole ordeal had been to find a means of escape for his son, Timmy, and himself.

The thought of the boy looking dejectedly out of the window of the police car made Hutch twinge with guilt and remorse. McVee was a murderer and a lunatic, but no one could deny the love that he had for his son. Knowing the system as well as he did, Hutch didn't envy the turn Timothy's life had suddenly taken; and he could only hope that maybe someday, Timmy could find some kind of stability in a foster home somewhere.


The quiet blond looked down at his sleeping partner, dark thoughts of the fatherless boy fleeing his mind as a small, wistful smile began to curve his lips. They had made it again! They were here... together... and alive!'

Hutch silently shook his head and wondered how much longer their luck would hold up. This time it came close. Too close! The thought of losing his partner sent a shiver of fear racing down the blond's back and Hutch shuddered at the possibility that one day he and Starsky wouldn't be so lucky anymore. That thought was crippling!

Looking around the room he spotted a chair and carried it over to the side of the bed. Carefully lowering the guardrails, Hutch lightly ran his thumb on the inside of Starsky's left wrist feeling the reassuring pulse beneath the pad of his fingertip. The gentle beat under the thin skin brought immediate comfort to the tall detective who clutched tightly at the limp hand he held in his own. He could feel the unnatural warmth emanating from Starsky's body. The doctor had warned him about the possibility of fever, but nevertheless, it still worried the weary blond.

His legs felt suddenly shaky as the adrenalin he'd been running on since they'd dashed out of Huggy's finally left him. Hot, burning tears suddenly blurred his vision; the brunet's features swimming in misty waves as exhaustion and relief hit the blond hard.

"God Starsk, we made it again, but I... I don't know how long we can keep doing this buddy... how long I can keep doing this." Hutch whispered. He took in a quivering breath, trying hard to hold it together but failing miserably. "If I ever lost you because of this damn job..." The tall blond quickly brushed away a warm teardrop that had silently fallen on the brunet's cheek. "I just can't do this any more. I can't keep seeing you lying here like this. One day it won't just be in a hospital bed, and I refuse to stand over your coffin buddy... not if I can help it. Since you took that hit from Gunther, there's been so many times that I wanted to tell you that this job's just not worth it anymore. Yet I know how much you love working on the force, Starsk. It defines who you are. Between the two of us, you've always been the stronger one. For you, the glass is always half full."

Hutch angrily swiped at the tears that streamed down his face, his voice quivering as he continued. "That time in the police garage? You were bleeding out and I couldn't do anything to stop it. I thought..." Hutch sighed softly. "Yet, somehow you made it. In spite of all the odds placed against you, you made it! I had almost hoped that you'd be forced to quit the streets by taking a desk job, but no one is as stubborn as you are, Starsk. No one! You wanted to come back so badly and when you set your mind on something..." Hutch snorted bitterly and sadly shook his head.

The weary blond sat down heavily on the chair, his large, warm hand still wrapped around Starsky's, worrying his lower lip between his teeth. "This job's gonna one day be the end of us... of you. Today. I almost lost you again. I can't keep doing this. I won't do it," Hutch whispered brokenly, lowering his forehead to their joined hands, noting Starsky's fevered limb felt too hot. Hutch lifted his head and reached over to run his hand over his partner's brow. The waning light from the fluorescent bulb caught the highlights in Hutch's golden hair and the darkness and gloom surrounding the melancholy detective was almost tangible.

If Starsky's life had been forfeited this time, Hutch knew he wouldn't have lasted either. After all, the brunet was his lifeline. It was Starsky that made the horrors of their job bearable to the sensitive blond. As it was, Hutch knew this life as a cop was hardening him, making him almost callous at times, corrupting the gentleness of his soul. Thoughts of Kira and how he had hurt his partner in the past floated through the murky memories of his mind and Hutch quickly slammed that door shut. Guilt gnawed a gaping hole in his gut as he watched Starsky sleep. Like a movie reel running at high speed, thoughts of times gone by flashed through his mind, haunting him until it finally caught up with their present moment. He could almost "hear" the recent conversation he had in the hallway with the doctor who had operated on Starsky...

"Well, it was touch and go at times; he was in shock and had lost a lot of blood. He was lucky though; the rebar missed his organs by just mere inches. Had the rod punctured any of them, there was no way your partner would have made it out of that rubble."

"But he will be okay... I mean, he made it through surgery, right Doc?" Hutch asked anxiously, carefully watching the surgeon's expression as the older man took off his thick glasses and rubbed at the corner of his eye. "That means he's gonna recover right?"

Dr. Matthews sighed, exhaustion evident by his slumped shoulders and sweat stained scrubs. Starsky had been in surgery for over five hours. Bleeders had to be tied off before they could carefully remove the rebar shank still firmly embedded in the detective's side. Torn and ravaged muscles, damaged vessels and bruised organs needed attending before the doctor could even begin to take a look at the gunshot wound to Starsky's shoulder. If not for the stamina and health of the dark haired detective, Matthews knew a lesser or weaker man wouldn't have made it through surgery.

"Detective Hutchinson, your partner has been through a lot, but he's young and healthy. Right now, his body needs all the rest it can get. There might be a possibility of a fever coming on, but that is common after what he's been through. I could tell by the scars on his chest, that he's already come through some fairly recent ordeal and by the looks of those scars, whatever happened to Detective Starsky must have been very traumatic indeed..."

"He was hit," Hutch paused to take a breath. "In... in the police garage, gunned down by a semi-automatic... they didn't think he would make it that time," Hutch said, his voice whisper thin. "But he did... t-took some time, but he even made it back to the force."

"Must be a stubborn son of a bitch!" Dr. Matthews smiled wryly, noting the worry and anxiety the blond was trying valiantly to suppress.

Hutch snorted softly, pale brows lifting in surprise at the doctor's blunt statement. "Yeah." The blond detective grinned. "Yeah, I guess he is that. He's a fighter!"

"Then he'll fight... he has youth, health, and the right attitude on his side... couldn't ask for more in a patient," Matthews said reassuringly. The surgeon glanced down at Hutch's wrapped leg and frowned. "They'll soon be moving Detective Starsky into Room 17 down the hall. I'll have someone let you know when he's settled in. He'll probably want you there, but don't stay too long. I think you need some rest yourself, Detective."

"Thanks, Doc," Hutch said, feeling the throbbing ache in his leg. "I just wanna check on him... make sure he's okay and comfortable. I appreciate all that you've done for Starsky."

"Just doing my job. The real effort has to come from your partner." Dr. Matthews smiled kindly as he shook the hand the detective gratefully offered. "Go grab yourself a cup of coffee from the machine. It isn't the best, but it'll keep you standing. Might even put some hairs on your chest."

Hutch laughed and watched the doctor walk down the hallway. Though he felt somewhat reassured, the tall blond knew he wouldn't feel better until he got to actually see Starsky with his own eyes. "Hang on buddy," Hutch whispered, "I'm coming as soon as I can!"

The blond cop shook his head and sighed in the quiet stillness of the hospital room. "Yeah, and here I am blubbering away like a baby!" Hutch murmured regretfully, glad that no one was there to witness his unusual display of emotion and his rather pathetic monologue. Rubbing the back of his hand against his burning eyes, the tall detective then dragged it through his hair as he took in a deep, cleansing breath.

The soft groan from his partner quickly brought Hutch back from his thoughts, his attention immediately focused upon the familiar features of his longtime friend. The blond gently brushed his fingers against the brunet's fevered cheek.

"Hey buddy," Hutch whispered, squeezing the limp hand he still held in his own. "That's it Starsk... I'm right here. You just need to open your eyes for me..." Hutch watched as Starsky's eyelids rolled back and forth; the dark line of lashes lifting slightly with each pass. Hutch smiled encouragingly willing his partner to wake, needing to hear the gentle banter that he and Starsky loved to engage in; knowing innately that if he could just hear his partner's voice and see his grin once more that the world and everything in it would somehow be alright again.

"You know what, buddy?" Hutch said soothingly, using his honey-laced voice as a compass to guide the slumbering brunet back to consciousness. "You got ridiculously long lashes like a girl's. Anyone ever tell you that Gordo, hmmmm? So dark and thick and you're not even using mascara!"

"H-Hutch?" the brunet's voice was raspy and weak, lashes still pressed against flushed cheeks.

"Right here, pal." Hutch smiled, gently rubbing Starsky's wrist. "I'm right here beside you... like always. Time to get up Starsk... just for a little bit."

Just so I can make sure that you're really here.

Hutch watched as Starsky struggled to lift the heavy weight of his eyelids, long dark lashes lifting at half-mast to reveal sapphire blue orbs, now fever-glazed and confused with exhaustion.

"H-Hey." The brunet blinked sleepily, trying to clear the hazy aura that surrounded the golden head of his partner. "Y-You... 'kay?"

"I'm fine Starsk. I'm fine now, but I think I should be asking you that. How're you feeling buddy?"

"'M tired," Starsky whispered, his voice rough and thready. "Feel c-cold too."

"Yeah, I know," Hutch said, pulling the blankets up. "You're feeling cold because you have a fever, but the doc said it's a common occurrence and there's nothing to worry about."

The brunet wearily looked around the drab hospital room and shrugged slightly with his good shoulder. "Th-thought I was at the beach."

"What's that buddy?" Hutch asked.

"The beach. I thought I was there. I heard the waves. M-Must've been dreamin'."

The curly haired cop closed his eyes once again; a grimace of pain morphed his face as he tried to turn on his side.

"No, no... try not to move buddy," Hutch cautioned, his hand pressed lightly against the brunet's chest. "Just lie still. They got you hooked up. I'll have the nurse bring in some more painkillers, okay?" The blond said as he pushed the call button.

Starsky swallowed hard as he rode out the pain that suddenly flared in his side. His mouth was incredibly dry and he listened intently to the sound of water being poured into the plastic cup that sat on the tray beside his bed.

Hutch helped to lift the curly dark head. "Here, take a sip of this water. I'll ask the nurse for some ice chips and something for the fever when she gets in here."

The door opened and an elderly nurse with an ample bosom quietly entered the room. Her white hair matched the color of her uniform and she carefully put down the small tray on the rollaway cart beside the bed. "There now... you're awake. My name's Maggie." She smiled, then checked the monitors, turning once more to look at Starsky. "I'll be giving you a little more medicine for the pain and then I'll bring you some ice chips, okay?" Maggie clucked her tongue as she ran her hand over the brunet's forehead. "You have a fever. Guess I'll be bringing you something for that too," the nurse said sympathetically.

Starsky licked his dry lips as Maggie took the syringe from the tray and inserted the sharp tip of the needle into the IV that ran into one of the forearms of the brunet.

"There. That will help with the pain." The elderly nurse smiled then winced with sympathy as Starsky licked his lips once again. "I know you're thirsty. I'll go fetch the ice chips," she soothed. Turning to Hutch she said, "You can give him a little more water, but just a few sips... don't want him to get sick." The kindly nurse smiled at the detectives and then exited the room as quietly as she entered.

Hutch silently lifted his partner's head once more and then raised the cup to his lips. Starsky relished the small sips of cool water as the liquid ran down his burning throat. "Wha' happ'n?" the brunet rasped.

"We made it... that's what happened. Fire and rescue got us out before the Church collapsed. You were in surgery and the doctors patched you up good. Now all you gotta do is get better so we can get out of here."

A small grin tentatively lifted the corners of the brunet's lips only to fade as a frown suddenly marred his forehead. "Wha' 'bout McVee?" Starsky opened one eye to peruse his partner's face when no answer came.

Hutch snorted softly then shook his head and said, "He didn't make it out. A part of the 'ceiling' started to collapse and he shoved me out of the way. It fell on him instead. Starsk, he saved m-my life." The tall blond rubbed the back of his neck and looked away.


Hutch looked back to his partner to see both eyes opened, cobalt blue locked onto his own pale blue orbs.

"Don't d-do that."

"Do what?" Hutch asked, clearly confused, trying to make meaning from his partner's stilted words.

Starsky let out a heavy breath through his nostrils and closed his eyes once more. The task of staying awake grew more challenging by the minute. "Don't f-feel bad..."

"He had a kid Starsk, and now that boy..."

"Will get a ch-chance at a better life..." Starsky interjected breathlessly, dark lashes lifting drowsily once more. "He killed Sally, Hutch. He killed a l-lot of p-people..."

"Yeah, but..."

"S-Savin' you..." Starsky continued; though he tried to fight it, his voice grew weaker as sleep began to overtake him once more. "W-was his way to m-make amends... you s-saved each other." The brunet closed his eyes, too weary to resist the sweet lull of the morphine that ran through his veins, pulling him into the welcoming and healing arms of slumber.

Hutch quieted at that and pondered over what his partner had just said. McVee sacrificed his life back at the Church, but maybe Starsky was right. Maybe McVee wanted to somehow make amends for the wrongs he'd done and saving a cop at the last minute...

Hutch could feel the guilt he'd been carrying slowly lifting. Starsky was good at that. The brunet always had a way of magically releasing the heavy burden of guilt from his partner's shoulders. Starsky's simple wisdom never failed to astound the fair-haired detective and Hutch smiled as he gazed down with affection at his now sleeping partner.

"I don't know how you do it Starsk, but yeah, you're right," Hutch whispered, stroking back an errant curl from Starsky's heated forehead. "Maybe we did, pal. I mean, I never thought of it like that, but maybe we did save each other."

Hutch sighed and then carefully smoothed and tucked the blanket that covered his friend; his eyes growing soft with the fondness he felt for the slumbering brunet. "Get some rest buddy. I'll go find the nurse and make sure she brings you something for that fever of yours," Hutch whispered. "When you get better, I promise to take you to the beach myself." The tall blond snorted quietly as he turned away, glancing over his shoulder to take a last look at his partner. "I'll be back in the morning Starsk and if you're good, maybe I'll even sneak in a donut for you."

Laughter rang out amid the quiet snapping of burning logs and twigs from the bonfire that lit up the night sky. The quiet rumbling of the surf in the distance created a soothing background of white noise. The brilliant stars that twinkled across the heavens, painted a backdrop for the most perfect evening that Hutch could remember having in a long time.

The tall blond tipped his head back and gulped down a swig of beer from the longneck he held in his hand. The cool night breeze lifted the soft tendrils of gold from his forehead as Hutch scanned the familiar faces gathered, searching for one in particular. His eyes zeroed in on his target and he frowned.

It had been a rough month for Starsky. Dr. Matthews had cautioned them both about the abdominal cramping and lingering pain and sensitivity that Starsky would be feeling for a while. Any type of penetrating wound would have caused this same kind of discomfort, and healing would take time he'd said. If that wasn't bad enough, the painful rehab visits for Starsky's shoulder would leave the brunet white lipped and tense with muscle spasms twitching uncontrollably. Many a night, Hutch would ice and then massage his partner to sleep, trying to ease the soreness and alleviate the pain that radiated from overworked muscles and torn tendons.

It killed Hutch to see his friend suffering so much. It was so unfairly ironic that the process of healing would sometimes be even more painful and agonizing than the wounds themselves. For the most part though, Hutch worried over the brunet since Starsky's disposition had somehow changed.

Since leaving the hospital, his usually rambunctious and playful partner now seemed more quiet and reflective, prone to brooding silently about something that he wouldn't reveal no matter how many times Hutch inquired. The moody brunet would just become irritated and abrupt the more Hutch pushed as he tried to get Starsky to open up and talk about whatever it was that was bothering him.

The blond's eyes widened as he caught the gaze of the brunet from across the expanse of the bonfire's flickering light. Starsky smiled warmly, the crackling glow from the shifting flames brought a twinkle to the dark sapphire eyes that carefully studied him. Starsky quickly winked, lifting his chin in silent acknowledgement of his friend's perusal. Hutch smiled and lifted his beer bottle, hoping his curly haired partner would excuse himself from the small crowd that encompassed him and come over to sit beside him.

"Hutchie m'man," Huggy grinned as he swaggered by blocking the blond's view of his partner. "This is one great parteee! I told Reliable I was glad that I thought of the idea!"

"Good try! The idea was mine, but I appreciate all of the help with the food and the drinks, Hug! Couldn't have done this without you," Hutch chuckled. "I know it was a happy surprise for Starsk."

"Yeah, well he deserves it! It's good to have old Curly back on his feet again." The black man flicked a bit of ash from the sleeve of his bright, magenta silk jacket. "Man, I hate bonfires, but it sure adds to the ambiance of the evenin', don't it?" Huggy grinned as the flamboyant black man continued. "Oh, by the way, I baked Starsky a cake in honor of the occasion so when you find him, drag his ass on over would ya so we can cut the damn thing?"

"Will do, Hug!" Hutch said smiling.

"Okay dude, I'm headin' in the direction of the cooler. Gonna meet Reliable over there. You want another beer or somethin'?"

"Nah, I'll get another one later on," Hutch said, watching Huggy quickly disappear into the small crowd hanging around the fire. Hutch looked once again to the spot where he last saw Starsky; disappointment clearly etched upon his face as he noticed that his partner was now gone.

"Great party, Hutchinson!" Dobey growled, startling the blond as he slapped his big hand to the back of the detective's shoulder. "We all needed to get out like this and what better reason to celebrate! Starsky looks great! Although he's lost a few pounds I'm sure he'll be back on duty in no time."

"Yeah," Hutch replied, a warm smile gracing his lips though his heart thudded painfully in his chest. "Hey Jesse," the blond detective greeted the tall black man standing next Dobey. "Thanks for coming." Hutch's pale blue eyes lit up as he saw the small dog that Jesse held on a leash. He squatted down to pat Seagraves on the head and scratch the little brown and white dog behind his ears. "Hey, boy! Starsky would love to see you!"

The fire chief chuckled. "Well, Seagraves and I wouldn't have missed this shindig for the world!" Jesse said, "Besides, Harold said Huggy Bear makes some killer ribs!"

"Yeah, he does!" Hutch said. "The best ribs in Bay City! By the way Cap, have you seen the guest of honor around?"

"Starsky? Yeah, he was just there," Dobey said, pointing past the bonfire. "Hmmm... well, I thought he was just there. He's probably just making his rounds... you know, guest of honor and all..."

"Yeah, thanks Cap. Huggy said there's tons of ribs and beer. Help yourselves to more."

"Don't mind if I do!" Dobey grinned. "Um... just don't tell Edith though... she's somewhere around. You know how she gets!" he said, gingerly rubbing the wide expanse of his generous girth.

"Sure, Cap. Your secret is safe with me," Hutch chuckled. He watched as the two large men and the tiny dog sauntered away in search of more ribs. The blond stood and stretched his long limbs, yawning, as he took in a deep cleansing breath of the salt tinged air. Hutch looked around once more, stopping now and then to chat with friends and co-workers, but the thought of finding his partner was never far from his mind.

"Hi ya, Hutch!"

"Hey, Mildred! You having fun?" Hutch grinned.

"You bet, honey!" the perky dark haired lady smirked as she sipped the burgundy colored liquid in the glass she held.

"Hug said there's more wine and ribs if you want."

Mildred rolled her eyes and patted her stomach. "Oh my God, I'm stuffed Hutch!"

"Well, there's not much to fill," Hutch chuckled. "By the way Mil, have you seen Starsky around?"

"Yeah, he was right here a few minutes ago," Mildred replied, looking around. "Hmmm... maybe he went for a walk or something. I'll check around and let him know you're looking for him. I'm surprised that he's not with you right now, you know how you're both usually joined at the hip, Hutch!" the woman laughed, a glimmer of mischief in her eyes.

"Funny! Very funny Mildred! And for your information... we're usually attached by our lips," Hutch joked, chuckling at the sudden look of surprise on the woman's face. "I can tell you haven't heard all of the gossiping going around the department!"

Mildred laughed and playfully punched the tall blond on his arm. "Oh I've heard 'em and it's all a bunch of bullshit! Anyone who knows you two, know that you're straighter than a ruler," Mildred giggled. "Well, anytime you or that hunk of a partner of yours want my lips all you need do is just say the word." With that, the spunky policewoman emptied the rest of her glass and fanned herself. "I better get a refill now from Huggy before I jump your bones. Drinking always makes me hornier than a hamster!"

Hutch laughed and moved away from the bonfire, stopping to pick up two fresh bottles of beer from the cooler. His eyes roamed up and down the near deserted stretch of beach, slowly adjusting to the darkness beyond the flame's light. Had it not been for the waning light of the quarter moon that hung in the sky, Hutch would have missed the dark figure that sat alone on the sand a ways down from where the party was.

He knew it was Starsky, though there was no distinctive feature he could pick out from this distance. He and his partner always had that special "connection" and it was what probably saved their lives countless of times on the streets. The tall blond detective squared his shoulders and slowly made his way over to the dark form. The sand between his bare toes still had some remnants of the day's warmth locked within, and the blending of warm and cold tickled the soles of his feet. Hutch could tell that his silent approach took the brunet by surprise when Starsky startled and suddenly looked up, dark curls ruffling in the gentle sea breeze that caressed them both.

"Hey, mind if I join you?" Hutch grinned, keeping his voice quiet and soothing, handing the bottle of beer to his friend like some sort of truce offering for interrupting the brunet's self-imposed solace.

Starsky snorted softly and reached out to grab the brown longneck. "Nah, I don't mind. Get your butt down here Blintz, hurts my neck to look all that way up!"

The tall blond chuckled and eased himself down upon the sand next to his partner who returned his gaze to the pounding surf in the distance. For a while they sat quietly, the ebb and flow of the tide rushing to shore masked the laughter and the sounds of gaiety from the party they'd left behind. Hutch peeked out from the corner of his eye to give his friend the once over. He could tell there was something on Starsky's mind, hell he knew it, but the question was whether or not the stubborn brunet would ever spill it. A part of Hutch wondered if he should try to push the issue once more... maybe now was not the time with the party and all.

"Stop starin'."

"What?" Hutch replied; his mind still stuck on his own thoughts.

Starsky sighed, and then turned to look his partner in the eye. "I said t'stop starin'."

"Me? I wasn't staring. I mean, why would I? I see your ugly mug everyday, pal. You'd think I'd be tired of it by now," Hutch joked, trying for the familiar banter that would ease the sudden tension that wound around them in the darkness of the night. He could feel his partner's intense and probing stare.

Starsky searched his eyes, as if looking for some answer that he himself was unaware of. Whatever the brunet saw, he quickly shielded it by looking down at the bottle he held in his hand.

"Hey, you okay, Gordo?" Hutch queried gently, his pale brows drawing together in concern as he looked to his silent partner. "What is it, Starsk?" he whispered.

Starsky took a swig from his bottle and Hutch watched his friend's Adam's apple bob as he swallowed down the cold brew. The brunet lowered the longneck and silently gazed at the bottle, his thumbnail scraping at the wet paper, peeling it away from the weeping smoothness of the colored glass.

Hutch heaved a frustrated sigh and dragged his hand through the locks of his hair. "Look Starsky, I know you better than anyone and I know something's been bothering you ever since we left the hospital and maybe now's not the best time to discuss this, but I think yo..."

"I had a dream," Starsky said quietly. "Shortly after I came home from the hospital." The soft, raspy voice immediately stilled the tirade that wanted to burst forth from the blond. "I mean... I think it was a dream."

"A dream?" Hutch reiterated. "What... what was it about? Do you remember?"

A heavy sigh followed, but Starsky's focus remained on the bottle he held in his hand; the wet paper was nearly all but removed.

"Starsk," Hutch began again. "Is this dream the cause for what's been bothering you all this time?" The blond turned to look at his partner. "Because I know something's been eating away at you for a while now and every time we get anywhere close to discussing this, you pull away. You retreat and brood and shut me out with silence and I just... I just..." The fair haired detective sighed. "I'm just... concerned about you. I just want you to know that I'm..."

"...Here, if I need you... I know," Starsky interjected, finishing what the blond was going to say. "And that's the problem."

"What?" Hutch questioned, even more confused now that Starsky seemed willing to talk. "What are you talking about? You know that I'll always be here for you Starsk. We're partners, friends... you're my b-buddy."

The intense look from those cobalt orbs seemed to pierce into the deep recesses of his soul stuttering Hutch to silence. The sound of the surf, the distant laughter, and the music filling up the quiet that enshrouded them seemed suddenly loud and distracting.

Hutch searched his partner's face and hesitantly said, "I-I guess I don't understand how my being here for you would be a problem, Starsk."

The brunet rubbed the heel of his palm across his eyes then heaved another tired sigh. For a minute, Hutch thought his partner would retreat into brooding silence once more, but Starsky surprised him when he said, "It's not a problem as long as you're here... with me."

At Hutch's look of confusion, Starsky continued. "That dream I had... we were stuck in this alley with our backs against the wall. The bad guys... they made you kneel Hutch, with your hands on your head and then they plugged you and I... I couldn't do nuthin'." The brunet's dark blue eyes roamed over the blond's face. "It was like I was frozen or somethin' and I couldn't even move. I couldn't save ya, Hutch. You were gone." Starsky snapped his fingers and looked out to the dark waves. "Just like that, you were gone."

For a moment they sat in the dark, listening to the surf as it rolled towards the shore. Both men lost in their own thoughts, their own fears. In the distance, they could make out the lights of a cruise ship that had anchored offshore, those same lights blended in with the twinkling spatter of stars that decorated the night sky. Hutch turned to face his partner who continued to avoid his gaze.

"It's okay Starsk, it was just a dream. I'm..."

"Here?" Starsky turned, his face full of anguish. "For now, Hutch. You're here right now, but what about the next time we hit the streets? What about the next time we pull into a convenience store for a bag of chips and walk in on a hold-up, huh?"

Hutch looked down at his hands. He had no answers. Those same thoughts often crossed his own mind and he wouldn't lie to his best friend to appease his worries. That was the risk they took everyday being cops and he knew Starsky knew it too.

The curly haired brunet turned his gaze once again to the sea, his voice quiet and reflective. "When I came outta surgery and they brought me to my room, I could'a sworn I heard ya talkin' to me. At first it was just the sound of your voice, like it was callin' me, ya know? It was weavin' in and out, but then, I began to really listen to what you were tryin' to tell me. I was dreaming of the beach, of sitting here like this with you and I could hear you... the words you were sharing with me."

Hutch abruptly turned to stare at his partner, his mind racing back to the words he'd spoken to his slumbering partner; the emotional fragility he'd felt at that time boiling up to the surface once more...

"God Starsk, we made it again, but I... I don't know how long we can keep doing this buddy... how long I can keep doing this."

"This job's gonna one day be the end of us... of you. Today I almost lost you again, and I can't keep doing this. I won't do it!"

"At first I thought your words were part of my dream, ya know? They were soft and sad, like the sound of the waves rushing to shore, but the more I listened; I knew they weren't part of the dream at all. You were actually talkin' to me as I was lyin' there, weren't ya?" Starsky asked, sapphire eyes fixed squarely upon his partner's face, reading every nuance, every unspoken thought, noting the sudden anxiety and fear that Hutch tried to shove down.

Hutch swallowed. "I'm sorry. I was pretty shaken. I'd almost lost you again in that Church, Starsk. I mean... shit... you stopped breathing..." The tall blond took in a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart. "It was just... just hard to see you lying in a hospital bed again, so soon after... "

"I just can't do this any more. I can't keep seeing you lying here like this. One day it won't just be in a hospital bed, and I refuse to stand over your coffin... not if I can help it..."

"It's hard because the scare of Gunther is still with us," Starsky added, his perceptive gaze reading the vulnerability on his partner's expressive face. "I know Hutch, I'd feel the same way if it were you lyin' there instead of me. I mean, who knows, one day it might jus' be a coffin for either of us."

"Since you took that hit, there's been so many times that I wanted to tell you that this job's just not worth it anymore. Yet I know how much you love it, Starsk. It defines who you are. Between the two of us, you've always been the stronger one, buddy. For you, the glass is always half full."

Hutch shuddered imperceptibly, picturing his best friend trussed up in his best suit, lying still and motionless in a fancy wooden box. The thought made the fine hairs on the back of Hutch's neck stand up. "I know you love the excitement of this job, Starsky; the fact that you're out there helping people, trying to make the world a better place, making the streets safer for everyone." Hutch shrugged and returned his gaze to the cruise ship that grew even smaller as it headed out for the open sea. "Hell, no one knows this better than me. That's why I became a cop -- to save the fucking world!"

Starsky snorted. "Yeah, that white knight thing you got going is hot! The chicks all love it!"

"Yeah," Hutch chuckled. "Well... I don't know if it's all worth it anymore," the blond detective whispered. "I mean, not if it means losing you." Hutch hesitantly raised lowered lashes to peer up at his partner whose gaze never left his face.

"I know," Starsky said, clearing his throat uncomfortably. "I heard ya... that time in the hospital... thought I made all of that up in my head somehow. Took me all this time to figure out that it was really you I was hearin' and not some dream that wouldn't go away."

"I'm sorry pal, never meant for you to hear all of that," the tall blond said sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "I thought you were out."

"Really?" Starsky replied, "I'm glad I heard how you really feel. I kinda wished you'd have talked to me 'bout it. Been waiting all this time actually for you to bring it up and all, but you didn't. How long were ya gonna keep this from me, Blintz? How long were ya gonna jus' keep on pretendin'? I thought we told each other everythin'? No secrets between Me and Thee, remember?"

Hutch had the decency to blush. "I don't know. It just never seemed to be a good time to tell you and I know how much you love this job."

"Yeah, overheard a good friend once say that this job 'defines' me," Starsky said quietly, his perceptive gaze never missing anything that crossed the blond's face.

Hutch bit his lip, eyes lowering to his hands. "Well, I know how much you love the job Starsk. I mean... I do too, but..."

"Fuck the job, Hutch!"

The bluntness of Starsky's words drew the blond away from his own racing thoughts, pale blue eyes searched the dark brilliance of sapphire, looking for an answer he didn't think he'd find. "What?"

"I said, fuck the job!" Starsky reiterated. "This job ain't worth it if you're not gonna be there. No one could watch my back like you do, Blondie." The dark haired cop grinned.

Hutch snorted with derision. "Yeah, bang up job I'm doing so far, pal!"

"I'm here, ain't I?" Starsky said simply, the confidence and faith he had in his partner's ability evident in the conviction of his voice.

"You give me too much credit, buddy," Hutch murmured, slowly shaking his head.

"It's true," Starsky said. "And if you ever left the streets, I'd go with ya."

"You love this job, Starsky!" Hutch said adamantly. "I don't want to force you into anything or keep you from something that you love."

"Maybe I love you more," Starsky said softly. At Hutch's look of surprise, the brunet quickly continued. "This is just a job Hutch, but you're my best friend. You're the brother I've always wished for. Next to you, Nicky's a poor excuse! The job wouldn't be the same if you weren't at my side."

Hutch shook his head. "I don't know what to say, buddy."

"Good. Then would ya jus' shut up and listen?" Starsky grinned. "The way I see it, I'd like to one day buy a house, get married, have a kid or two and I know that you'd like that too. Maybe we could even buy a house next door to each other and our kids could be the best of buds like you and me, ya know?"

Hutch snorted. "I can see it now... all these curly haired little ones running around the neighborhood causing havoc wherever they went."

"Yeah," Starsky chuckled. "Your kids would be taggin' along getting into messes with mine... the neighborhood would hate us!"

Hutch laughed, sky blue eyes twinkling with mirth at the intimacy of their shared dream. Starsky laughed too, but he soon turned serious once more.

"It would be wonderful... I mean, if it happened like that, but it ain't gonna happen if one of us gets blown away -- no house, no wife, no kids, no grumbling neighbors."

Hutch sighed and shuddered, the heavy darkness once again wrapping around his heart as he pictured his wounded partner lying amid the rubble. If his brooding partner could open up and be so communicative, then so could he.

"Starsky," Hutch began quietly. "Back in the Church you were hurt so bad. I-I didn't know how we would get out of there alive. The structure was so unstable; I thought this might be the end -- that there would be no escape for us this time. I felt so... trapped. Then at the hospital when I saw you lying there all bandaged up and hurting, I could still feel that heavy feeling I'd been carrying around and it dawned on me there that I've been feeling like this for years," Hutch sighed. "I guess I realize now that this 'trapped' feeling I've been harboring inside comes more from the job itself. It just seems sometimes that there's no escaping all the crap we go through from being in this line of work."

The blond detective peeked out from under long pale lashes to glance at his silent partner, wondering what was going through the brunet's head. Hutch self-consciously ran his fingers through his hair and dragged in a deep breath. "I don't know, Starsk. Maybe I'm just tired you know? Tired of the filth of the streets, tired of knowing we can't always make a difference, tired of worrying about you; always wondering when we leave the safety of the station if this will be the last time we're together." The blond detective looked out towards the open sea, squinting his eyes to make the blurry outline of the cruise ship visible.

"I don't know, maybe I just need a long vacation," Hutch continued, nodding his chin towards the open sea. "Like maybe I should take a cruise on one of those ships and just relax for awhile. Maybe then I could come back to this job refreshed, with a new perspective on life."

"Maybe," Starsky agreed, squinting as he gazed at the distant liner. "A long vacation does sound good. I could soak up the sun and you could get all pink like a lobster," the brunet chuckled.

"Right! Unlike you buddy, when I tan I turn golden. You on the other hand, become like crispy pork... all black and hairy." They both laughed at that, and Starsky quickly flicked some sand at the blond, who dodged and deflected the granules. "Better watch it, Gordo, you're still not a hundred percent yet and I can take you anytime."

"Yeah right, even wounded and hurting I could kick your ass!" Starsky boasted, a grin lighting up his face, his dark blue eyes twinkling with mischief and challenge.

Hutch laughed and tilted his head back to empty his bottle. Sighing contentedly, the big blond gazed fondly at the brunet who winked and then tanked down his own beer.

Hutch chuckled softly, and then shrugged. "Yeah, well... maybe we both should take a long vacation before we make any life changing decisions. Whatta'ya say, buddy?"

Starsky grinned. "Sounds good to me pal!"

For a moment, the ebb and flow of the tide filled the companionable silence and Starsky looked out to the open sea. A whisper of sea breeze ruffled the dark curls and Hutch watched as the brunet turned back to look at him, feeling the sudden heat of sapphire upon his face.

"Look, Hutch," Starsky began. "I know you think it's the job that's important to me, but you're wrong. It's not. It's you and me that matters. We've been friends for a long time and that's what counts. It doesn't matter what we do... as long as we do it together. Me and Thee right?"

Hutch smiled, his heart overflowing as he put his arm amiably around the brunet's shoulders. "Yeah. Me and Thee... like always. Whatever the future brings, wherever we go, its jus' comforting to know that we'll be doing it together."

Starsky snickered, his eyes twinkling with mirth. "Man, Hutch, you sound like a chick! I swear we're getting soapier the older we get!" The brunet's grin grew wider as Hutch burst out laughing.

"C'mon," Starsky growled with a smirk, standing up suddenly as he held out his good arm to his longtime friend. "I may not be able to wrestle you to the ground, Blondie, but I can race you back and win."

Hutch grinned as he grabbed Starsky's offered hand and stood, dusting the sand from his jeans. "You're sure about that?"

"Yup!" Starsky said smugly. "Always could beat your ass when it came to runnin'."

"Only if you didn't twist that weak ankle of yours like you usually do!" Hutch said as a quick come back.

"Alright, alright, put your money where your mouth is Hutchinson," the brunet taunted.

Starsky grinned as Hutch threw an arm around his shoulders saying, "Nah, we'll race another time Gordo, for now, let's just enjoy a leisurely walk back to the bonfire. You'll be busy once we get back to the party because everyone's been looking for the guest of honor and I know Huggy baked a huge cake for you."

"Really?" Starsky said, licking his lips. "What kind of cake? Chocolate?"

"Don't know," Hutch said. "Anyway, it might be too late. They were gonna slice it a while ago, that's why I came looking for you in the first place."


Hutch laughed out loud and shook his head as he watched his partner and lifelong friend dashing back toward the firelight, sand spewing out in the wake of his flying feet. The tall blond cop grinned. Although nothing was really resolved, Hutch felt like a burden had been lifted somehow and a feeling of peace settled over his heart as he remembered his partner's words...

'We've been friends for a long time and that's what counts. It doesn't matter what we do... as long as we do it together. Me and Thee right?'

A huge smile lifted the corners of the Hutch's mouth as he watched Starsky running ahead and suddenly, a feeling of excitement and joy raced through him.

"Hey, Gordo," Hutch called out, as he began to sprint towards his partner. "Wait up! Me and Thee always... remember?"


Back to the Bay City Library