Disclaimer: They're not mine (too bad)! And I don't make any claim to them with the intention of infringing on anybody's copyright. No money has changed hands -- just a whole lot of fun! However, I do reserve all rights to any and all original story concepts, continuing plot lines, or original characters; and would ask if you wish to "borrow" anything, just let me know.

My thanks to Sue (better known as the Blintz) for her masterful proof job on this little epic. Thanks Sue, for your encouragement, without which this thing may never have been finished, for your insight and wisdom, but most of all... for your friendship. You're the best, babe!

Feedback on this story is welcome. Just be honest... but kind, thank you!
Send email to: sillycat95815@yahoo.com

Note: Some dialogue from the episode "Nightmare" has been used to establish timing for the original story line. It's not intended to be a "word for word" regurgitation of the actual dialogue.


by: Mona Pulsipher

"Damn, those cops!"

Al Martin was fuming as he paced back and forth in front of the bail bond office. He had just come across with the price of the bond for those two perverts, Manning and Loomis, bringing the total they owed him to well over four thousand dollars. And now those two interfering cops were hauling his customers, not to mention any hope of his ever seeing his money again, off to jail.

Martin cursed his luck, those two "turkey perverts," but most of all those two lousy cops, as he watched the current objects of his wrath "cuff-n-stuff" his clients into a bright red Torino and roar away.

"I'm a patient man, but those two suckers are taking the bread right out of my pocket," he muttered. He stepped from the doorway and made his way down the street in the opposite direction than the Torino had gone.

Shoving through the outer doors of a rather neglected eyesore of a building on Channon Avenue, Martin plowed through the open lounge area. He didn't bother noticing its dark and smoky interior, worn out furniture, rickety pool table, or the collection of unsavory men that whiled away the daylight hours in an assortment of unwholesome activities.

"Snake!" he barked at one of the gorillas leaning over the pool table. "Get the boys together and get in here!" He crashed through the second door at the back of the room, slamming it behind him as he entered.

Snake stood for just a minute looking at the closed door. He'd seen the Boss this way before. With a fleeting glance at the other three men in the room, he nodded them toward the door.

"Come on, boys -- looks like trouble."

The men followed Snake and joined the Boss in his office, closing the door behind them.

"I've had it with those two cops!" Martin bellowed. "Manning and Loomis are a couple of pervert creeps, and I would've probably had to kill'em anyway, but those two cops are interfering with business and that ain't cool!"

Snake looked at the three other enforcers in the room. They were all from this neighborhood and, therefore, knew well of the two cops who were currently ticking off their employer. Just the thought of going up against the formidable duo made them all squirm.

"Look, Boss, me and the boys here like working for you -- you're okay. But you're pretty new to this neighborhood. You don't know these two cops like we do. They're smart and they're tough."

"Yeah, they're smart," agreed a goon named Roth. "You tried to nail'em once with the frame up for Manning's beatin', but that didn't stick. They got out from under that rap like that." He snapped his fingers loudly to illustrate his point.

Martin stared at his men like they'd all sprouted two heads. "So what if they're smart? So what if they're tough? They still bleed, don't they? Yeah, I'm new in this neighborhood -- but I AM the man! And I can't let two cops mess in my business, hauling away my clients, without hearing from me! I don't care who they are!"

He rose from his chair and sauntered back and forth behind his desk, a sadistic grin spreading across his face.

"No, my friends, it's time we send those two cops a message -- a message that they're stepping on some toes here. Snake, you and the boys get out there, get as much help as you think you're gonna need. You watch'em, pick the right time and the right place, then... you deliver my message... and deliver it good!" he finished, smacking one fist into the open palm of his other hand, all the while grinning like the devil himself.

The delightful sound of play and childlike laughter filled the cozy home with a warmth that no blazing fireplace could ever hope to rival. Lisa and Starsky were sitting in the middle of the Graham family living room rug surrounded by a small electric train, as it chugged around the track. Starsky was busy taking care of his duties as engineer, complete with appropriate "choo-choo" and "toot-toot" sound effects. Lisa had her hands full laughing at Starsky and encouraging a frisky little black and tan puppy to join in the fun with the train.

Across the room Hutch and Mitzi sat at the dining room table sharing a cup of coffee and quiet conversation. Mitzi shared Lisa's story with the big blond, telling of the decision she and Frank had made not to put Lisa into an institutional care home when it was discovered that she was "special."

"You know, that was the first time I ever saw Frank cry," Mitzi commented.

"Really?" Hutch asked with a smile.

"Uh huh," she nodded. "We went out there. It was a perfectly acceptable place, and the staff was kind. There were lots of little children Lisa's age, even some adults, too. But... we just couldn't leave her."

"Do you ever regret that decision?" Hutch asked, looking across the room at Lisa and Starsky at play.

"Nooo... I'm too selfish. I love being a mommy. Look at that puppy," she stated pointing to the little critter squirming in Lisa's grasp. "In six months, he'll be full grown. But Lisa will always be a little girl, and what mommy wouldn't love a child who never grows up?"

Chuckling lightly, Hutch looked across the room at his partner playing with Lisa, the puppy, and the train, clearly having the time of his life, and smiled, leaning in closer to Mitzi.

"What about two children?"

Laughing lightly, she reached up and patted his shoulder.

"He's all yours!"

Hutch looked into her lovely face a moment and smiled.

"Yeah... I guess he is, isn't he?"

"And you wouldn't have him any other way, would you?" she asked with a knowing smile.

His expression softened and with a small shake of his blond head, Hutch answered her sincerely.


Hutch paused and looked down into his coffee cup for a moment before he continued.

"There's a little boy inside Starsk that will always be innocent, always carefree, and will never grow up. And for my sake... I hope he never does."

Hutch paused, then looked Mitzi in the eyes.

"I guess that sounds a bit strange -- doesn't make much sense, does it?"

"Well, of course it makes sense," she replied with a smile. She reached out and wrapped her hands around his strong bicep and gave his arm a loving pat.

"Haven't you ever wondered why you and he, two people who are so obviously polar opposites in so many ways, seem to be drawn to one another?" She paused over the rhetorical question.

"It's because you both fill a need in each other, Ken. Dave's 'inner child' helps you reach a part of yourself that you thought long ago buried under duty and discipline. In turn, you give Dave a steadying influence, a deeper sense of discipline, if you will, then is his by his nature. You're two halves of a whole, Ken, only complete because you're together."

Hutch could only smile and shake his head in amazement at her knowing words. His reply was full of affection.

"Hey lady? How'd you get to be so smart, anyway?"

Mitzi smiled and leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Many years of study at the school of hard knocks, sweetheart -- many, many years."

Hutch leaned his head down to rest on hers for a moment, then reached up his hand to cup the side of her face, turned his head toward her and kissed her tenderly on the forehead. Yes, Mitzi had seen her share of hard knocks in life. Discovering her only child was a "special needs" child. Being widowed at a young age and left to raise and care for that child alone. Then, to have successfully raised her child to some level of independence only to see her brutalized and traumatized by the likes of those two pervert punks.

Leaning in to kiss her tenderly once more, Hutch whispered. "You're an amazing lady, Mitzi Graham."

With that Hutch rose from his chair, stretching his long, lanky form luxuriously. He scooped up their coffee cups from the table and took them to the sink to rinse them before turning back to Mitzi.

"It's getting late for Lisa. She has school in the morning, doesn't she?"

"Yes, she does," Mitzi answered, glancing at her watch. "Lisa honey, it's time to clean up the toys and get ready for bed." Mitzi called across the room.

It was two heads that popped up at that announcement and two disappointed "Ahhhs" that replied. Hutch and Mitzi shared a knowing smile between them before Hutch crossed the room to pat his partner firmly on the shoulder.

"Come on, little boy, it's time to go home. You can come play with Lisa again another day, okay?"

Starsky just rolled his eyes at the blond's sarcasm. "Okay, okay. I'm coming."

Starsky stood up and stretched the kinks out, then reached down and helped Lisa to her feet. The girl stepped into his open arms and hugged him tightly.

"Dave, I just love my new train. It's so much fun. And when I get some more cars, it will be even longer, and then it will be even more fun! I love you, Dave. Thank you."

"I love you, too, schweetheart," he replied in his best 'Bogey'. "Thanks for letting me play with you tonight." He leaned up right next to her ear and whispered quietly so only she could hear.

"Even though your mom does say it's bedtime."

They shared what could only be described as a ten-year old type giggle then Starsky turned and joined his partner at the door. They waved their final good-byes and slipped out into the cool evening.

"What was all that giggling about back there?" Hutch asked curiously.

An evil little grin tugged at the corner of Starsky's mouth. "Nothing you grown ups would understand, you big, blond, Blintz, you," he teased. Bouncing down the sidewalk, he narrowly evaded the approaching foot his partner had aimed at his blue-jean clad behind.

Hutch crossed the street to where the LTD was parked, still chuckling at Starsky's antics.

"Hey Starsk?" he called back across the street to where the curly head was bending over the door of the Torino, unlocking it. "It's only eight-thirty. You want to come over for a beer, maybe play some Monopoly?"

"Thanks partner, but not tonight. I got an errand to run."

"Errand? What errand?"

"You heard Lisa, Hutch," Starsky replied, waggling his eyebrows playfully. "I gotta train to build. I'm going back down to the Toy Chest before they close and see if they have the freight car and passenger coach for Lisa's train."

Hutch just shook his head and smiled affectionately at this partner. With a wave of his hand, he called to his partner. "You are definitely one of a kind, Gordo. Good night."

"And what would you do without me, you lucky devil?" Starsky teased with another waggle of his eyebrows as he dropped into the Torino's front seat and fired up the engine.

"See you in the morning -- seven forty-five," Starsky called out the window as he passed the blond who was just cranking the LTD to life.

"Right." Hutch pulled away from the curb still laughing at his partner, and headed the LTD down the street in the opposite direction.

As soon as the LTD turned the corner and disappeared from view, a dark sedan sitting at the end of the block pulled cautiously away from the curb, turned around, and went down the street in the same direction as the candy-apple red Torino with the flashy white stripe.

Starsky pulled up in front of the Toy Chest and quickly headed for the door. It was no Uncle Elmo's, but it was still a great old place, full of the charm of the old days of "boulevard shops." But the best thing about it was that the owner, Georgie Schmitz, had no intention of giving into industry pressure to modernize. His customers liked the shop just the way it was, and he intended to keep it that way.

"Hey, Georgie," Starsky called to the pudgy, balding little man behind the front counter.

"David! What brings you back here again this time of night?" the kindly face smiled with the question.

Starsky ducked his head shyly for a moment, then answered quietly.


"Ahhh... I see," Georgie said with a grin. "She's got the Western Flyer, Engine 65 set, correct?" the perceptive little man questioned. "What pieces are you looking for, David?"

Starsky's face broke into a huge grin. "You know me too well, Georgie. Have you got the passenger coach and the freight car?" he asked hopefully.

"Well, come this way and let's see."

Georgie led the way down the isle and around the corner to a marvelous, old-fashioned display case that held the prized train sets. It was made entirely of glass, including all the individual shelves that housed each treasure. And it was all secured by a set of double sliding glass doors that allowed an unobstructed view from any spot in front of the counter. It was a train-lover's paradise.

"Ahhh... I've died and gone to train heaven," Starsky sighed dramatically.

As Starsky and Georgie searched the large display case for the requested items, the front door of the shop opened once again. Four very large, gun-toting men stepped quietly through it. Two of the hoods moved down the aisle where Starsky and Georgie had gone, and the other two went down the adjoining aisle.

"Well David, it looks like you're in luck," Georgie commented as he scanned his display case. "I do have the passenger coach for that particular model." He turned back toward Starsky just in time to see the four gun-toting hoods surround them, and he froze.

At the same instant, Starsky felt the cold steel of a gun barrel jammed into the base of his skull.

"Don't move, man, or I'll blow your brains clean into next week," a cold voice hissed in his ear.

"Wha-what do you want here?" Georgie stammered.

"Never you mind what we want, Pops," Snake shouted into Georgie's face. And with that, he swung his arm up and brought the butt of his gun down across the old man's forehead, stunning him.

"Hey, what'd you do that for?" Starsky yelped, as he tried to reach out and keep his friend from dropping too heavily to the floor.

As soon as he moved, Starsky knew he was in trouble. He didn't even take two steps toward Georgie before all four of the thugs were on him. He lashed out with a quick left, then followed with a couple of well-placed kicks to assorted pieces of anatomy. He put up a valiant struggle, but he was simply out numbered and outmuscled. More quickly than he would ever like to admit, he found himself effectively subdued and basically helpless.

"Hutch... oh man, am I in trouble now."

Starsky thought fleetingly of his partner and fervently wished that he'd gone with the blond for beer and Monopoly.

Snake stepped up to stand in front of Starsky, who was securely restrained between the two biggest gorillas. He pulled himself to his full height, rubbed at his bruised ribs where Starsky had landed a solid punch, and glared down at the feisty cop.

"He wants to know what we did that for, boys. I think we should take him out back and show him what for." The man's lips curled into a sadistic grin, as he landed a vicious punch into Starsky's ribs that stunned the brunette with its force and left him gasping for breath.

"Take him out back, boys. Let's go to work."

The four armed goons hauled their captive through the back door into the alley. Still somewhat stunned from the last blow to his ribs, Starsky literally didn't know what hit him, as the first blows landed. He was able to return a few punches and a couple of solid kicks, but it wasn't going to be enough. The thugs seemed to be toying with him, knowing that he was really no threat to them.

After about ten minutes, Snake seemed to tire of the game and got down to business. Suddenly, the blows to Starsky's head and body were coming faster and harder. A club of some kind appeared.

Starsky felt the ribs on his left side give in with a blinding shot of white-hot pain. He knew that his left arm was already broken, as he had been using it to try and fend the club away from his head. He felt his strength slipping away. His head was pounding and his ears were ringing. Another vicious blow to his mid-section staggered him and he sank to his knees, reeling and gasping for each pain-filled breath.

From out of the gray haze that now seemed to be pushing its way into Strasky's brain, Snake materialized to stand before him. Reaching down, the hood grabbed a handful of dark curly hair, now matted with blood and sweat. Yanking up the brunette's head, Snake leaned right down into Starsky's face.

"We've got a message for you, cop. The Boss don't like cops that mess around with his customers and screw with his business. You got that?" he shouted into Starsky's face.

The only reply from Starsky was the sound of his ragged breathing.

"I don't think he's listening to you, Snake," Roth chided.

"Hey cop, you listening to me?" Snake growled.

Still no reply was forthcoming from the brunette.

"What do you think, boys? Since this one ain't listening too good, why don't we go deliver the message to his partner?"

"Hutch? No..."

The mention of his partner brought Starsky around to full attention again, and Snake noticed that this seemed to agitate their captive. He continued his cruel torment.

"Yeah boys. Let's go deliver our message to the blond pretty boy. Only I think for him, we'll make it a 'special delivery.' A little tender, loving care -- one-on-one special handling from Guido, here." He inclined his head toward the huge man who stood to Starsky's right.

"What do you think, cop? You think that pretty boy partner of yours is up for a little lovin', Guido style, huh?"

The rage that had been seething inside Starsky since the moment this torment began boiled over. From somewhere deep in his soul, he drew his last ounce of strength and lunged up off of his knees straight into Snake's leering face.

"No! I won't let you hurt him! Huuuuuuthch!" the battered man screamed, as he wrapped his hands around Snake's throat and squeezed with everything he had left.

The sudden attack took the four goons by surprise.

"Get him off me!" Snake choked out.

The other three goons broke out of their shock and reacted swiftly and decisively to the cop's attack. They pulled Starsky away from Snake and pummeled him to his knees once again. Snake came forward, pure hatred shining from his eyes and a large two-by-four club swinging loosely in his hand. Rubbing his tender neck gingerly, he looked down into his victim's ravaged face.

"Nobody does that to me and gets away with it, cop," he hissed savagely. He raised the club and brought it down across Starsky's skull with a resounding crack.

Their job done, the four goons turned and walked away. An eerie silence settled over the dark, filthy alley -- over the alley and over Starsky's bleeding, broken body lying motionless on the pavement where he'd collapsed.

Hutch was truly enjoying his drive home to Venice Place. The window was open allowing the cool sea breeze into the interior of the LTD. The radio was playing, and the strains of James Taylor's You've Got a Friend wafted through the air and drifted out into the evening. The music drew the attention and appreciative smiles of several pedestrians on the sidewalk. Of course, it didn't hurt any that Hutch's beautiful tenor voice sang along in perfect harmony with Taylor's voice and carried more strongly out into the glorious summer night than the tune from the radio did.

Hutch glanced out the driver's side window just as the song finished. Two young women waiting at the corner to cross the street were smiling brightly and clapping quite enthusiastically for the impromptu concert they'd just enjoyed.

Hutch blushed a lovely shade of crimson, smiled slightly, and waggled his fingers at them, just as the light turned green and he pulled away.

"There's no traffic behind me... should've gotten their phone numbers," he said to himself. "You're slippin' Hutchinson. Starsk would give you plenty of grief if he knew you let opportunity get away like that."

"Hutch... trouble..."

For just a split second, Hutch's mind was filled with the overwhelming impression that something was wrong. There was something there. Fear -- terror even -- he wasn't sure. It was just out of reach, too vague to get his mind around and bring into focus. Then it was gone, as quickly as it had come, leaving him confused and troubled.

Hutch reached over and turned the radio off, as he continued down the street and parked in front of his apartment. After locking the LTD, he headed up the stairs, two at a time. He was almost at the top when a wave of dizziness hit him so hard and fast that he had to reach out with both hands and latch onto the railing to steady himself.

Shaking his head to clear it enough so he could finish climbing the stairs, Hutch stumbled his way to his front door, opening it with the key he took from the overhead ledge. Closing the door quietly behind him, he leaned his back up against it for a moment, taking slow, deep breaths.

"Hutch? No..."

"What the hell's goin' on?" he questioned.

In just a moment, the dizziness passed and Hutch felt none the worse for wear physically, but the contented, happy feeling that had come home with him from Lisa's had been replaced by an ever-growing sense of unease. That sense that something wasn't quite right kept nagging at him, but he was frustrated at every attempt he made to make any sense out of it. It was all just too vague to define. He decided to leave it alone and go about his nightly routine.

"What you need, Hutchinson, is a nice hot shower and a very cold beer," he muttered, popping the top from his beer bottle and taking a long pull of the icy cold beverage.

After a quick shower, he pulled on a comfortable pair of sweats and a tee shirt and decided to take his book and his beer out to the greenhouse to read for a while before going into sleep. Pulling his cozy, yellow robe around his shoulders, he padded quietly out to the greenhouse.

Settling comfortably into a lounge chair, Hutch took another swallow of his beer and picked up his book. After ten minutes, he realized he was still staring down at the same page, his mind spinning on something other than the story he was trying to read. With an exasperated sigh, he snapped the book shut.

Hutch rose from his chair and stood among his plants for a moment, his confusion and unease growing at an alarming rate. Before he even realized what he was doing, he found himself in his room, pulling a clean pair of brown cords and a green tee shirt from the closet. He slipped quickly out of this robe and dressed. He was tucking the shirt neatly into his pants, when he suddenly stopped and looked down at himself.

"You've really outdone yourself this time, buster," he muttered with a healthy dose of self-deprecating sarcasm.

"No! I won't let you.... Huuuuuuthch!"

More dizziness -- and also -- pain! He staggered for a moment before coming back to his senses.

"Wha-what's happening? Starsk!"

And just that quickly, as quickly as the blink of an eye, it all jelled -- coalesced into one clear and definite thought. Starsky! His partner was in trouble!

Hutch rushed to the telephone on the nightstand and dialed the familiar number from memory. It rang and rang -- a dozen times or more -- and still it went unanswered.

"What was the name of that shop Starsk said he was stopping at tonight?" Hutch was talking to himself as he paced back and forth across his bedroom floor.

"The Toy Chest that's it! That's on Springer Boulevard." Hutch was flipping through the phone book looking for the name of the shop. He needed to have the exact street address so he didn't waste precious time searching along the boulevard for the tiny shop.

"Bingo! One-three-seven-five Springer!"

Hutch charged into the living room for his shoes, his gun and his jacket. He finished securing his holster, pulled his black leather jacket on over it, grabbed his car keys, and stormed out the door and down to his car. Gunning the engine, he slapped the Mars lights on the roof, hit the siren, and practically flew toward Springer Boulevard.

As he approached the correct address, a fast-moving ambulance running with lights and siren barreled out of the alleyway from behind the block of shops to which he was headed.

"Oh God."

Hutch turned the LTD down the alley and found his way completely barricaded by black-and-white patrol units, fire trucks, a rescue squad, and at least one additional ambulance.


Hutch brought the LTD to a halt and shut off the engine. He jumped out of the door and ran toward the commotion at the back of the small shop. He had to flash his badge at the officer patrolling the perimeter of the crime scene, but was allowed access without any trouble. He stooped to get under the yellow barricade tape and straightened up to find himself staring into the startled face of Captain Dobey.

Without preamble Hutch blurted, "What's happened to Starsky?"

"Hutchinson! What the hell?" Dobey growled. "I was just headed to Venice Place to get you. How did you know...? Oh, never mind! I'm just glad you're here now!"

Hutch's sky-blue eyes were boring into Dobey's dark brown ones demanding to know what was happening.

"Captain, please...." Hutch pleaded, feeling his patience disappear as his anxiety grew.

Dobey reached out and took Hutch by the shoulders, guiding him to the open passenger door of a nearby cruiser. Applying gentle pressure to the tense muscles under his hands, Dobey settled Hutch into the passenger seat, then crouched down in front of the blond so he was at Hutch's eye level.

"Hutch, I..." Dobey's voice faltered ever so slightly. He cleared his throat quickly and continued. "Starsky's been attacked, Hutch. He was pretty severely beaten."

The blond's eyes closed for a moment, and he let go a long, slow breath. He otherwise remained silent, so Dobey continued.

"Starsky was found out here in the alley. The owner called it in. He had also been attacked -- blow to the head. From what we could get out of him, four men came into the shop just after Starsky arrived. The owner thought they were going to rob him. But all they seemed interested in was your partner. They clubbed the owner, then brought Starsky out here and beat the ever-livin' hell out of him!"

"He came back here tonight to g-get Lisa some new cars for her t-train," Hutch stated, the slight stutter made more pronounced by his stress level. "W-was that him in the ambulance that just left?"


"Where are they taking him?"


Hutch dropped his chin to his chest and stared at the folded hands in his lap. He was silent for several minutes before Dobey finally heard him whisper the question that the Captain knew was coming.

"How bad?"

Dobey looked closely at the tightly controlled man sitting before him.

"It's bad, Hutch. The preliminary report I got from the paramedics suggests severe trauma to his head. They're concerned he might have a skull fracture."

Hutch's head came up and he looked Dobey in the eye.

"I've got to g-get to the hospital." Hutch's voice was shaking with intensity.

Dobey reached out to grip the trembling man by the shoulders and hoisted him to his feet. Once the blond was steady, Dobey guided him toward his car.

"Give Palmer the keys to your car." Dobey directed.

"No! Didn't you hear what I just said? I've got to get to the hospital!" Hutch was all but yelling at his superior officer now.

"Yes, I heard you! But you can't drive like this. Now give Palmer your keys!" Dobey barked.

Hutch lowered his gaze, embarrassed by his own irrational behavior. He pulled the keys from his pocket and handed them to the patrol officer without further question.

"Sorry, Cap," he whispered. "Don't know why I'm being such a jerk."

"Yeah, uh huh," Dobey teased, a slight smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

"Palmer, would you bring Detective Hutchinson's car over to the hospital for him?" Dobey asked.

"Sure thing, Captain," the officer answered. Then he turned back to Hutch.

"That was your partner that just left in the ambulance?"


"Wow, man, I'm sorry. I hope he'll be okay."


"Come on, Hutch, get in the car and we'll go to the hospital," Dobey directed, ushering his young detective into the passenger seat and closing the door.

Dobey sat down behind the wheel, fired the engine to life, and the two men headed to the hospital in a tense and worried silence.

"All hospital waiting rooms are alike," Hutch thought. "Walls painted prison gray or puke green, conspicuously drab tile on the floor, and furniture that has more in common with medieval torture chambers than with places of rest or comfort. Not to mention the assortment of five-year old magazines and old, ratty children's books with the covers torn off."

Hutch and Dobey had been waiting two hours for some kind of news on Starsky's condition. All they'd been told was that he'd had two seizures while he was in Emergency, his blood pressure was dropping, making an internal injury a high probability, a neurosurgeon had been called, and he was being taken into surgery immediately.

When Huggy Bear arrived shortly after the two o'clock closing time of The Pits, they were still waiting.

"Hey, my blond brother. What it is? What's happenin'?" he questioned, as he took a seat across from Dobey and Hutch.

Hutch looked up at him, his face a grim mask of worry and exhaustion.

"He's still in surgery, Hug. We don't know anything yet."

"But that's been... more than five hours ago now," the thin, black man marveled, glancing at his watch.

"We'll get some word soon, boys. Be patient," Dobey stated.

As if they'd been conjured up by Dobey's very words, two doctors suddenly appeared in the waiting room doorway.

"Are you men here for Sargent Starsky?"

"Yes!" Hutch yelped, jumping quickly to his feet. "How is he?"

"Are you family of the Sargent?"

He was met with a very tired, confused and silent stare.

"What is your relationship to the Sargent?"

"I'm his partner," Hutch introduced himself, his frustration evident in his tone of voice. He turned to Dobey and Huggy and completed the introductions.

"This is Captain Harold Dobey, our commanding officer, and Mr. Huggy Bear Brown, our close and dear friend." Hutch paused and thought for a minute.

"And yes... we ARE his family! Now, how the hell is my partner?"

"Hutch." Dobey's amazingly calm voice quieted Hutch instantly.

"I'm sorry for the third degree -- regulations, you know." The doctor apologized sincerely and pointed down the hall to a row of offices and conference rooms.

"Why don't you guys come with us? We'll talk in the conference room."

After they had all settled in around the table in the small room, the doctors began.

"I'm Dr. Kimball, this is Dr. Edmund," the tall, balding, sixty-something doctor said.

"I won't jerk you around -- Sargent Starsky is in serious condition. He's been severely beaten, most likely with a club of some kind. It's hard to say." The doctor paused and looked into the concerned faces staring back at him.

"His spleen was ruptured, and he's lost a lot of blood. We've removed the organ to stop the hemorrhage, and we're giving him whole blood and fluids to return his volume to normal and prevent shock. Two broken ribs on his left side, and his left arm is broken just below the elbow. And, of course, he's extensively bruised, cut, and scratched."

Dr. Kimball paused again, unable to keep his concern from his expression.

Hutch looked him squarely in face and said, "And?"

"I think I can better answer that question for you," Dr. Edmund replied. He was a thin, slightly built man, no more than five foot, seven inches tall. His dark hair was flecked with silver and his green eyes were warm and compassionate.

"Sargent Starsky has sustained a moderately severe skull fracture and concussion, resulting in swelling and inter-cranial bleeding. The build up of these fluids around the brain causes pressure on the delicate brain structures, actually shifting the structures slightly. Thus, the seizures he experienced in the ER. What we've done is made a small opening in his skull and inserted a drain. The drain allows excess fluid to be channeled away from the brain, reducing the swelling and relieving the inter-cranial pressure."

The doctor halted in his explanation, looking rather pensive.

"But there's more, isn't there, Doctor?" Dobey prompted.

"Yes, I'm afraid there is. What concerns me now is coma." He stopped at the stricken expressions on the men's faces.

"Anytime head injury and concussion are suspected, the patient is not normally placed under general anesthesia or given any type of drug that would further depress motor responses. But, in this case, the man was bleeding to death and needed immediate surgery."

"Wha-what does all that mean?" Huggy asked tentatively.

The doctor allowed his expression and his voice to soften, and his eyes filled with compassion as he answered.

"Your friend's neurological signs are all severely depressed. There's been no response to either vocal or painful stimuli, and his pupils are reacting quite sluggishly to light. The EEG we performed does shows brain activity, which is the good news -- mean's he still in there -- somewhere." He paused, and when he continued, his voice was even gentler than before.

"What this all boils down to, gentlemen, is that your friend is in a coma. How deep, I don't know, and when -- or if -- he'll ever come out of it -- I don't know. I'm sorry."

Dr. Edmund was silent, looking into the three stunned faces before him.

"Why don't you gents go on home now, get some rest. There's really nothing you can do here tonight anyway."

"No... no, this can't be happening," Hutch muttered, more to himself than to the others in the room. He looked up at the doctor, his jaw working furiously as he struggled to maintain control.

"I want to see him."

"Sargent, he's in a coma," Dr. Edmund restated with patient firmness. "He won't even know you're there. Go home. Come back in the morning."

"I want to see him now!" Hutch shouted, slapping his open palm sharply against the tabletop causing everyone in the room to jump at the sudden outburst.

Taking a moment to calm himself, Hutch spoke again.

"Please. You don't understand. I need to see him. He'll know I'm with him; he'll know."

The doctor was about to object once again when Captain Dobey interrupted.

"Doctor. If there's even a small chance that Starsky can be brought out of this anytime soon, he's your best bet," he said, gesturing toward Hutch with his chin. "If anybody can reach him -- Hutch can."

With an exasperated sigh, the doctor threw up his hands and agreed.

"Okay, okay. I'll leave word at the nurse's station that you're to be allowed free access to the patient. He's upstairs in ICU, Room 710."

In a blur of black leather and brown corduroy, Hutch charged out the door and flew down the hall to the elevators.

Room 710 in the ICU was no different from any other room in that unit, except for one simple thing -- Hutch's best friend in the whole world was lying in there. He stood in the doorway and watched the man in the bed for a long moment.

"He's so still... so still."

Starsky was a man full of the love of life and overflowing with boundless energy, and to see him this still was disquieting in itself. Hutch squared his shoulders and entered the room.

Standing close to the bedside, Hutch slowly looked over his friend. The man's handsome facial features were marred by a vivid assortment of purple bruises around his eyes, a large swollen contusion along his jawbone, split and swollen lips, and a bruised, swollen, most likely broken nose.

An IV dripping bright red blood flowed into a vein in Starsky's right arm. His left arm was in a cast due to the broken bones, so there was a second IV of supporting fluids attached to a very small, thin catheter inserted into the vein in his neck. Hutch gulped reflexively at the thought of having something like that stuck into his neck.

Starsky's chest and torso were bare except for the large bandage covering the surgical incision, and he was covered in a mass of red and purple bruises, swollen contusions and angry looking cuts and abrasions.

But the most heartbreaking thing of all to see was the clean, white-gauze dressing that stretched across his forehead and wound around the back of his head. This gauze strip was securing a large, soft dressing to the back of his skull, and nearly obscuring what little was left of Starsky's head full of unruly, dark brunette curls.

Hutch watched the slight rise and fall of Starsky's chest as he breathed. The rhythm was slow and shallow, but unassisted, with only a nasal cannula providing a supplemental supply of oxygen. The only sound in the room was the slow, steady beep of the heart monitor.

"He looks so peaceful... like he's sleeping. And all I'd need do is touch him and speak his name to wake him."

Hutch knew the thought was foolhardy at this point, but after he'd pulled up a chair close to the bed and settled into it, he couldn't resist the impulse to try and wake his friend. Carefully disengaging the lock on the bed's safety railing, he lowered it, then reached out and gently took Starsky's hand in both of his.

"Starsky? It's time to wake up now. You've been asleep long enough. Wake up now, buddy. Please Starsk... wake up now."

Hutch's quiet words turned to anguished pleas without his really being aware of it. He was so tired and so scared. He leaned over the side of the bed and rested his forehead against their clasped hands.

"Please Starsk," he begged. "Wake up now, okay? Don't leave me, buddy. I don't think I can do this without you. I need you, buddy. Please... wake up... please."

The quiet pleas eventually faded away to nothing, as the events of the day caught up with Hutch and he fell into an exhausted sleep.

Dobey and Huggy had followed their friend up to the ICU, but had hesitated to intrude on him. Instead they stood silently in the doorway without entering. Hearing the desperate voice finally quiet, they looked at each other, each man's own fear visible in his eyes.

Dobey nodded his head toward a linen cart at the end of the hall. Huggy never hesitated. He walked straight to the cart and retrieved a blanket. Returning to the room, he stepped through the doorway and approached the sleeping figure leaning on the bed. Unfolding the blanket, he draped it over the slumped shoulders, letting his hands linger there for a moment in an embrace of comfort. With a sigh, he straightened and looked down into Starsky's bruised face.

"Don't you stay asleep too long, Curly, m'man. Blondie here needs you. You dig?"

With that, Huggy leaned down and stroked a gentle hand across the battered brow and through the remaining tangle of curls.

"Mm, mm, mm... some dude sure did a number on your do, my brother. Ought to take that sucker's scissors away from him -- he's dangerous!" Huggy teased lightly.

Having not received the snide comeback he'd been secretly praying for, Huggy quietly, sadly, left the room.

Dobey lingered in the doorway a moment longer before stepping up to the bed on the opposite side from where Hutch was sleeping. He found himself doing the same type of slow, careful appraisal of Starsky's injuries that they'd seen Hutch do when he'd first entered the room. He leaned down over the young man's head and ran a hand through the unruly curls, while he whispered directly into Starsky's ear.

"I know it hurts, Dave, and I know you're scared, but you've got to be brave and to fight hard now. You're one of my best detectives, and I need you on my team. But most of all, Hutch needs you." Dobey reached his other hand across the bed to caress the blond head, too.

"We need you, Starsky. Come on back to us, son."

Giving each head one final, tender pat, he slowly straightened, scrubbed a hand quickly across his face, and quietly left the room.

Harold and Edith Dobey were seated at their kitchen table, talking quietly over coffee. Even though Harold would never admit this, Edith knew that he loved Ken and Dave. The two young detectives had come to be very important to Harold, and to Edith, too, as well as to their children, Cal and Rosie. And Edith knew that she and Harold both loved them like their own flesh and blood.

Dobey's voice was full of concern as he spoke to his wife. "I'm afraid for him, Edith. He's not eating and he hardly sleeps. He just sits there by Starsky's bed, talking to him, trying to get him to wake up. He looks terrible. If something doesn't give soon, I'm afraid we might lose them both."

Edith reached across the table to grasp her husband's hand. It had been six days ago now that he'd been called out to that dark, dirty alleyway only to discover that one of his best young detectives had been brutally beaten. And it had been six days ago that a distraught Hutch had taken up residence in his friend's hospital room, leaving only long enough to take a quick shower and change cloths, grab a cup of coffee, or to visit the men's room. For six days now they'd all waited, hoped, and prayed that this would be the day that they'd see some sign, some slight flicker of their Dave returning to them. But for six days now, they'd only been disappointed. And now, on top of it all, they were watching Ken self-destruct as well.

"If it's the good Lord's will, maybe today will be the day. We have to have faith that Dave is still fighting and trying to come back to us. I just can't believe that he'd give up," she whispered.

Dobey nodded his agreement. "You're right. I don't believe he'd give up, either. Especially if he knows Hutch is waiting for him, and I do believe he knows that."

"Why don't you go over to the hospital now, Harold, and bring Ken back here with you for a decent meal and some rest."

From the incredulous expression on her husband's face, she knew she'd just placed a tall order, indeed. If there was one thing she knew about Ken Hutchinson, when it came to Dave Starsky's welfare, you didn't make him do anything.

"Harold, I'm serious now. You said yourself that the boy is ruining himself with his worry over Dave."

Dobey just continued to look at her, one eyebrow raised as high as it would reach.

"Harold, I mean it. Ken has got to have something to eat and he needs to rest." She was grinning now with her next thought.

"How about you make it an order, pull rank on him. Cuff him, if you have to."

Edith was openly laughing now, both at her husband's expression and the visualization of Harold trying to cuff the six foot, one inch tall young man and drag him home.

Working hard to keep his dignity intact, Dobey didn't even venture to make a verbal reply to his wife's teasing. He simply reached around behind him and pulled his handcuffs out of his belt. He placed them on the table in front of him and with both hands, slid them deliberately across to her.

"You think it's such a good idea... you do it," he challenged.

Still giggling, Edith studied her husband's seemingly sincere expression. Expertly calling his bluff, she reached out and snatched up the cuffs from the table. Smiling down into her husband's face, she immediately upped the ante.

"Okay, let's go!" And out the kitchen door she went.

"Hmph! She would, too," was all she heard coming from the kitchen as she walked out to the car.

Huggy was growing more concerned about Hutch by the minute. The blond wasn't taking care of himself properly as he kept vigil over his fallen friend, and it was starting to show.

"Hutch, you got to eat, man. Come on down to the cafeteria with me. They've got some good lookin' salads today, not to mention a whole bevy of good lookin' nurses, too."

"Please, Huggy, no!" Hutch snapped. As soon as the sharp words left his mouth, he regretted saying them. He rose from his spot by Starsky's bed and turned to face his friend.

"Huggy, I-I'm sorry, man. I know what you're trying to do, and I appreciate it, but I just don't think I could keep anything in my stomach right now."

Huggy's eyes shone with understanding. He really wasn't feeling all that sociable himself. He reached up a hand and gripped Hutch's shoulder.

"I know, Blondie. Forget it."

So far, Hutch had done a pretty good job of controlling the anger and grief simmering inside him and had managed to keep both from boiling over out of control. But now, with the added physical stressors of hunger and exhaustion wearing him down, he suddenly found himself losing his grip on that control.

One look into Huggy's concerned and compassionate expression was the last straw. The floodgates opened and Hutch poured out his grief, fear and pain to the tall, thin black man. The blond's eyes shimmered with unshed tears, as the anguished voice choked out the words.

"It's been so long, Hug... so long. The doctor said the longer he stays asleep now, the worse the chances are of his ever...."

Hutch's last words were choked off by the sob that suddenly escaped from his throat. He ducked his head to hide the tears rolling down his cheeks, and returned to his seat by the bed. He leaned forward to once again rest his head beside his motionless partner.

Huggy sadly watched as Hutch's slumped shoulders began to quake in earnest with heavy sobs that seemed to be coming up from somewhere deep in the blond man's soul. He stepped closer to the bed and laid a soothing hand on the broad, but trembling back. How he wished he had the words to give his friend the comfort and encouragement that he so desperately needed at this moment.

"Lord, if I've ever done anything in this life that's earned me a favor, I could use it now. You dig?"

"It's okay, Hutch. Let it go. That's it, man. Let it out."

It was into this scene that the Dobeys walked. Huggy looked up at the sound of their arrival, and upon his seeing Edith Dobey, he knew his prayer had been answered. He didn't need to say a word.

Edith took in the sight of the distraught man at the bedside and Huggy's desperate expression, and didn't hesitate. She approached the bed, Huggy stepping back so she could get as close to Hutch as possible. Crouching down so that she was at his eye level, she reached her arm across his shoulders and began to speak to him quietly, as any mother would comfort her devastated child.

"It's all right, Ken, it's all right. You're so tired, dear. It's no wonder you're upset. It's all right."

Something of her nearness, the physical contact, and the love in her words and tone of voice, reached Hutch. He raised his grief-stricken face to look into her warm, beautiful smile and into her eyes, full to overflowing with her love for him. He responded to the motherly love he saw there, and raised himself from the edge of the bed to wrap his arms around her and hug her tightly.

Edith returned the embrace, as she continued to speak soft words of comfort. As soon as Hutch had gathered his composure, Edith stood up encouraging the blond to come to his feet. He looked down into her loving face as she spoke to him.

"Ken dear, you're at the point of physical exhaustion. You're coming home with us now, have something to eat, and then you're going to sleep for a few hours before you come back here." She took a clean linen hanky from her pocket and tenderly dried the remaining wetness from his face. "Okay?"

Too tired and spent to offer much of a protest, and deep down needing very much to be "mothered" right now, he nodded his head affirmatively.

"Okay then. You tell Dave that you'll see him in the morning, and we'll go."

Hutch nodded again, then turned to lean down over Starsky's head to whisper directly into the man's ear, only hoping the brunette could really hear him.

"I have to go now, buddy, but just for a little while. I'll be back soon, so you wait for me, okay? Don't you go anywhere while I'm gone."

Hutch ran his long fingers through the brunette curls and tenderly stroked a thumb across one bruised cheek. Then he lowered his voice to a nearly inaudible whisper and spoke into his partner's ear once again.

"I love you, buddy."

Rising from Starsky's bedside, Hutch turned and stepped directly into Edith's open arms, gladly accepting the comfort she was offering.

"Come on, dear, let's get you home." She turned leaving one arm firmly wrapped around his slender waist, and escorted him out the door.

Dobey and Huggy stood quietly at the foot of the bed and watched this amazing exchange in flabbergasted silence and grateful relief.

"Cap'n... I don't know how she did it, but I'm sure glad she did."

Dobey shook his head in astonished disbelief. "I'm just glad she 'talked' him out of here. She's got handcuffs in her purse."

And with that, Dobey left the room to follow Edith and Hutch down to the car, leaving one shocked Huggy Bear Brown standing at the foot of Starsky's bed with his mouth hanging open.

The trip from the hospital to the Dobey home was uneventful and quiet, except for the sound of deep, regular breathing, and an occasional snore, coming from the back seat. Edith continued to fuss over Hutch, occasionally turning in her seat to glance at the soundly sleeping man behind her.

"They're such sweet, decent young men, Harold," she whispered. "Why? Why would anybody hurt my boys like this? Who would want to do such a thing?"

"Her boys." Dobey smiled at the thought -- and had to agree with her. He contemplated the possible answers to her question, almost too numerous to voice in a lifetime, let alone in a few moments on the drive home. He glanced over at her quickly, his face warm with his love and respect for this sweet, dear woman.

"You've been married to a police officer for twenty-five years, baby. You know the answer to that question as well as I do. They haven't been in the department that many years yet, but the list of nut jobs that could have some kind of grudge against one or both of them is probably as long as my arm."

"I know, dear... I know," she sighed.

The sedan pulled into the drive of the Dobey home, and Harold shut off the engine. He turned around in his seat and glanced at Hutch, who hadn't even stirred, and chuckled.

"We better wake him. He's a little too big for me to carry upstairs in my arms and tuck into bed."

Edith laughed softly, remembering when Harold would do just that for Cal when he was small, and still did for Rosie when she fell asleep in the car. She used to ask him if he wanted her to take the sleeping child upstairs, but she soon learned that this was a special thing for her dear Harold. It was his chance to give direct nurture to his children, and he had never relinquished that privilege.

Dobey got out of the car and opened the back door. He reached in and gently shook Hutch's shoulder.

"Hutch... Hutch, we're home. Come on... wake up now."

Hutch stirred and blinked himself awake. For a minute he didn't seem to know where he was or what was happening.

Dobey reached in to help the young man to his feet and steady him for a moment before escorting him into the house.

"Come on, Hutch, let's get you inside,"

"I guess I'm a little more tired than I thought," Hutch admitted, stifling a sudden yawn.

"Staying awake nearly around the clock for six days would tend to do that to you, yes," Dobey replied, teasing the blond.

Hutch wasn't so tired that the sarcasm was wasted on him, and he let go a chuckling snort of laughter at his captain's good-natured ribbing. Ninety percent of the time Dobey was all bark and bluster, but Hutch had to admit that there were times when he thought of the man as more of a father than a commanding officer -- and this was one of those times.

"Thanks, Cap," Hutch said, the tone of his voice conveying more than the words ever could.

Dobey didn't reply, just smiled slightly and reached up a large hand and clapped the blond on the back.

Edith followed the two men into the house and spoke to Hutch as she closed and locked the front door behind her.

"Ken, come on into the kitchen, please. Here dear, you sit down at the table and I'm going to heat some soup for you."

Hutch did as he was told. A bowl of hot soup actually sounded good.

"Harold, while Ken eats his soup, would you go up and make sure the guest room is ready? Turn down the bed, please, and put out some clean towels. Thank you, dear."

Dobey nodded his agreement. "I'll take care of it." He headed toward the stairs just as his teenage son came down from his room, meeting his father on the landing.

"Hi Cal. Your sister asleep?"

"Yeah, she's all tucked in. How's Uncle Dave?" the youth asked, concerned for one of his two favorite "uncles."

"He's still the same, son -- still unconscious. He's healing some -- the bruising and cuts and whatnot look a bit better -- but he's still unconscious. Your Uncle Ken's in the kitchen. He's going to stay overnight with us."

"Wow, this must be about killing him," the youth astutely observed.

Dobey glanced back toward the kitchen and was silent for a moment before he sadly agreed with the boy.

"Yeah, just about. Why don't you go in and tell your mother and Uncle Ken goodnight. You've got school in the morning." He left his son in the foyer and went up the stairs to do as his wife had asked him.

Cal crossed the living room and was about to enter the kitchen when the sound of soft voices stopped him. He peeked around the corner at the two adults seated at the table. They were absorbed in intense conversation as a small saucepan of soup simmered on the stove behind them.

"You have to have faith, dear. I truly believe that Dave will be okay. It may take longer than we would like, and he may have a hard road ahead of him, but I do believe he'll recover."

With his head dipped shyly toward the table, Hutch hesitantly questioned her conviction.

"But how can you be so... sure? It's been so long, and the doctor said the longer he stays unconscious, the less likely he'll ever... wake up." He stumbled on those last few words, his exhaustion threatening to give his anguish free reign once again.

Edith rose from her chair and went around the table to where Hutch sat. She reached out and lifted his chin until he was looking up into her face. With one soft thumb, she caressed his cheek. She leaned down to him and tenderly kissed his forehead, then whispered into his ear.

"The Lord works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform." She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and pulled him to her in a warm embrace.

Hutch returned the hug, basking in the love and strength he felt emanating from this strong, caring woman.

Cal could only smile as he observed his mother in action. He turned to leave the room and head back upstairs, only to run smack dab into the imposing figure of his father standing behind him.

Dobey couldn't hold the scowl on his face, as he looked into the grinning features of his eavesdropping son.

"She is a pro, isn't she, son?"

"She sure is, Dad. I think Uncle Ken is gonna be okay now."

"I think you're right. Goodnight son." Dobey leaned in to give his son a hug and a loving swat on the behind as the youth scooted up the stairs.

Dobey peeked around the corner to see Edith holding Hutch in her warm embrace.

"No matter how old we get, sometimes a man just needs his mother."

He turned and quietly left the room, leaving Edith to work her magic on one young detective's shattered heart.

After telling Edith good night and leaving her cozy kitchen, Hutch lay awake for a long time in the comfortable twin-size bed in the Dobey's guestroom. He stared out the window up at the stars that were putting on a glorious display and thought about the last time he and Starsk had driven up into the hills to do some stargazing.

"Has it really only been a couple of weeks ago? Tried to pull a fast one on me, too, didn't you buddy? Pretending you didn't know a thing about the constellations and making me explain every minute detail."

It wasn't until Starsky had totally worn out his partner asking him questions and Hutch decided to start giving the "abbreviated" version of the answers that Starsky nailed him on some obscure point about Ursa Minor. That, and the devilish little grin that lit his face, was his way of telling Hutch that the game was up and he'd been had. When Starsky had started to chuckle at the incredulous expression on the blond's face, Hutch had decided that turnabout was fair play, and promptly pounced.

The ensuing wrestling match was a lot more about laughter and friendship than it was about payback, and soon they were both gasping for breath and grinning from ear to ear. They'd lain in the grass that night, flat on their backs and shoulder to shoulder, under the spectacular canopy of stars and talked into the wee hours of the morning.

They'd shared their hopes, dreams, joys and fears with each other, and Hutch remembered thinking that "this having a brother thing is really pretty cool." He told Starsky that, too, in just those words.

He remembered that Starsky got a rather serious look on his face, then looked into his partner's eyes for a long moment, before he'd said, "It is... ain't it?"

Then Hutch had rather shyly said, "You do have Nick."

Not for as long as he lived would Hutch forget what Starsky had said to him then. "Nicky's brother of my blood, Hutch. You're brother of my heart." He'd smiled then, that small, genuine little smile that reached all the way into his blue-violet eyes and made them twinkle like so many stars in the heavens.

The good memories flooded back into Hutch's mind so freely bringing a smile to his face, as he lay there in bed, remembering. But soon enough, his thoughts drifted back to their current situation and to his partner lying helpless in a hospital bed. Before he let his fears get hold of him again, he thought seriously about what Edith had told him.

"She's right. I've just got to believe that everything is gonna be all right. Starsky is such a good man -- a decent, gentle, warmhearted soul -- and somebody up there always takes care of special people like him."

These were the thoughts that bolstered Hutch's spirits and lulled him into a peaceful sleep, as the moon rose over the horizon of the city and shone its light through the window to splash across the comfortable little bed and its sleeping occupant.

Six o'clock brought the start of a new day to the Dobey household. Edith was in the kitchen fixing breakfast and packing lunches when the telephone rang.

"Oh dear! Cal? Cal, would you answer the phone please? I've got my hands full in here," she called to her son, who was just thumping down the stairs heading toward his breakfast.

"Got it, Mom."

In a flash, Cal burst excitedly into the kitchen.

"Mom! Mom, it's the hospital calling!"

Edith looked up at her son, the tiniest of gasps escaping her lips before she steadied her features and calmly spoke to Cal.

"Cal, run up stairs quickly and get your father to the phone, please."

The youth bounded up the stairs, knocked on his parent's bedroom door, and disappeared inside after receiving a reply. In three seconds flat, Dobey charged out of the room, bathrobe flapping in the breeze behind him. He thundered down the stairs, and picked up the waiting call in the front foyer.

"Harold Dobey here," he identified himself.

While Dobey listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, Edith and Cal joined him in the foyer, waiting expectantly for the call to end.

How Harold kept his face so passive while listening to what had to be good or, Lord forbid, bad news about their Dave, Edith would never know. Finally, after what seemed like hours, he said good-bye and hung up the phone, his back to his expectant audience. When Edith saw him reach into his robe pocket for a handkerchief and wipe his eyes, she couldn't stand it any longer.

"Harold, please! What is it? Is Dave alright?"

"Yes, he's fine." Dobey turned to face them, the biggest smile they'd ever seen shining on his face.

"He's going to be just fine. That was the nurse. Apparently our boy has been showing some very positive signs of regaining consciousness during the night. His neurological status has improved, and he's responding to vocal stimuli. Very early this morning, he even said a few words, mostly gibberish, but he spoke. Dr. Edmund just evaluated him, and he's hopeful that Starsky will be fully conscious in the next day, maybe two!"

"Hmmm." The soft moan sounded from the top of the stairs and drew their attention upward, just in time to see Hutch lose his battle with a pair of very rubbery knees and sit down hard on the landing. He wrapped his arms around his legs and rested his forehead against his knees, waves of blissful relief crashing over him.

Little Rosie, who had been standing in her bedroom door, approached Hutch where he sat on the stairs. She wrapped her arms as far around his shoulders as they would go, and buried her little face in his neck.

"Uncle Dave's gonna get all better now, isn't he? Then pretty soon, you can take him home. Right, Uncle Ken?"

Hutch looked into her sweet, innocent little face, and reached out to gathered her into a warm hug, pulling her up into his lap. She twisted around so she could wrap her arms around his neck and proceeded to hug the stuffing out of him.

"That's right, sweetheart," Hutch chuckled, pure joy radiating from his face. "You are absolutely right!"

It was nearly seven o'clock in the evening and Hutch had spent a very long, expectant, and ultimately disappointing day sitting by Starsky's bedside. The nurses kept saying he was doing great and that he was regaining consciousness, but Hutch had yet to see anything that looked to him like his partner was coming around.

"Patience, Hutchinson. This is gonna take how long it takes and nothing you say or do is gonna change that fact."

At about seven-thirty, the Dobey's arrived for visiting hours.

Edith approached him, greeting him with a warm hand on his cheek. "Ken honey, how's he doing?"

Dobey and Edith both couldn't help but notice the frustration and anxiety clearly written in the grim set of Hutch's jaw and the rigid line of his shoulders. The blond's sharp tone of voice verified their observations.

"I don't know. They keep telling me he's doing great, but I'll be damned if I can tell what's going on. I've been talking to him, and his eyes did twitch a little. But he hasn't moved a muscle or made any further attempt to speak."

Hutch suddenly bolted out of his chair by the bed and paced around, as much as the confines of the small room would allow.

"I'm telling you though, this waiting is about to have me jumping right out of my skin!"

"Hmph!" Dobey snorted. "Come on with me. Suppertime," he instructed, waving Hutch toward the door. "No, don't argue with me, just come on," he interjected quickly when Hutch started to protest.

Hutch gave in to the immovable object that was Captain Dobey, especially when his backup was the irresistible force that was Edith. With a resigned shake of his head, Hutch followed his Captain out the door and down the hall.

Rosie took that as her cue to go visit with her Uncle Dave. She was really too young to be allowed in the hospital, but the duty nurse had made an exception when the Dobeys said they were visiting Dave Starsky. The nurse had even encouraged Rosie to speak to Starsky, telling the little girl that he could hear her.

Rosie climbed carefully up on the edge of Starsky's bed, and reached out a little hand to pat him softly on the cheek. His jaw was still bruised a bit, but his nose wasn't swollen too badly anymore. His eyes were still pretty much ringed in purple, green and yellow bruises. Rosie thought he looked like the school bully the day after Billy Thompson punched him.

"Uncle Dave? Are you ever gonna wake up so we can play Chutes and Ladders? Cal's no fun to play with -- he cheats," she giggled, as her brother scowled defiantly at her.

"I do not cheat," Cal denied.

"Do to."

"Do not."

"Do to."

"Hurrs." A very quiet, slurred voice interrupted the exchange, and Edith went immediately to the bedside and took Starsky's hand in hers.

"What dear? What did you say?"

"Hurrs... it hurrs."

"It hurts? Is that what you said, Dave? It hurts?"

"Hurrs... m'head... hurrs."

"Yes, sweetheart. I know it does. I know it hurts." Edith was smiling and crying at the same time, her heart full to overflowing. "Cal, step out in the hall and tell the nurse that David's speaking, and they should call the doctor. Then go down to the cafeteria and get your father and Uncle Ken."

"No need, dear, we're back," Dobey announced coming through the door, Hutch at his heels carrying a cup of hot tea.

"Oh Ken, it's wonderful!" Edith gushed. "He just told me his head hurts. I mean, it's not wonderful that his head hurts, but... you know what I mean!"

Hutch just chuckled at her flustered state. He sat the cup down and gathered her in his strong arms, kissing her lightly on the cheek.

"I know what you mean, and I couldn't agree with you more!"

They all gathered around Starsky's bed. Hutch was in the chair close to his partner's side. Dobey, Edith and Cal migrated to the opposite side of the bed, and little Rosie was still in her spot next to her Uncle Dave.

Hutch reached out, took his partner's hand in his, and squeezed it gently, ever mindful of IV tubing and catheters.

"Starsky? Starsky, come on now. It's time to wake up. You've been asleep long enough," Hutch encouraged.

Dr. Edmund came in, drawing everyone's attention to the door at his arrival.

"Keep going, Sargent, that's good. Call him by name and ask him to do something simple like squeezing your hand."

Hutch turned his attention back to his partner.

"Starsk? Can you squeeze my hand, buddy? Come on, pal, squeeze my hand. Starsky? Squeeze my hand."

Ever so lightly, Hutch felt his partner's warm fingers curl around his own.

"That's great! You did it, buddy! You did it! Now, open your eyes, Starsk."

When the doctor nodded his approval, Hutch continued to encourage the semi-conscious man.

"Open your eyes, Starsk. You can do it. Please? Open your eyes, Starsky."

"Sargent, try speaking louder and more forcefully. You want to demand his attention and get him to focus on your voice."

Hutch looked a little dubiously across at Dobey at that instruction. Dobey shrugged slightly then nodded his encouragement. Clearing his throat, Hutch leaned in closer to his partner and spoke again.

"Starsky!" he barked, quite loudly. "Starsky, open your eyes. Come on, partner, open your eyes. Starsky!"

Hesitantly, Starsky's heavy eyelids worked at opening. It seemed to take all the strength he had just to raise them half way.

"Starsky! Come on, you can do it! Come on, buddy, open those baby blues!"

Slowly but surely, Starsky opened his eyes. He blinked, and finally focused on Hutch's smiling face.

"M'head... hurrs. Shud'up... would ya, huh?"

It was too much! Suddenly everyone in the room was laughing happily at this so typical Starsky-esk response.

"Wha's... laughin' at? Tha's not... very nice."

The brunette's voice had taken on a higher pitched, whining quality. Nobody seemed to notice it, except Edith. She'd heard that tone, indeed those very words, so many times before.

"What in the world?"

Edith risked a glance at the doctor. He had a puzzled look on his face, but he made no move to interfere, just continued to observe.

Hutch continued to chide his partner. "Oh come on, Starsky. Can't we tease you just a little bit? You've been out so long, and we've missed you."

Starsky's expression grew more and more unhappy, his bottom lip protruding in a perfect pout. Hutch was still chuckling at him, until he noticed that the violet-blue eyes had filled to overflowing with tears.

"Starsk? Hey buddy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. We're all just so damned glad to see you."

"You're mean. Go 'way," the brunette sniffed.

"Oh come on, Starsk. I'm sorry. Don't be mad, huh?"

The tears were really flowing now, and Starsky seemed beyond comforting.

Edith had seen enough. She leaned over the bed, stroked the unruly tangle of curls, and spoke in soft whispers.

"It's okay, Davie. We love you very much. It's okay, dear. Nobody's going to hurt you. Shhh... shush now, don't cry, Davie. That's right. Everything's going to be all right now."

Hutch and Dobey exchanged a long look at Edith's use of the diminutive form of Starsky's name. Hutch started to ask a question, but Dobey shook his head for him to wait.

The tears slowed, then finally stopped. Starsky reached up, scrubbed a fist into his eye, and yawned widely. Edith settled him further into his pillows, brushed a comforting hand through his curls and across his cheek, then leaned down and kissed him on the forehead.

"Goodnight, Davie. You close your eyes and go to sleep now. Everything will be better in the morning."

Starsky smiled up at Edith, complete trust shining from his face, then closed his eyes and obediently went to sleep.

Edith rose and ushered everyone out of the room. Once in the hall and away from the door, she spoke.

"I don't know what's happening here or why, but that is not an adult in there in that bed."

"What?" Hutch questioned in dismay.

"Edith, what are you talking about? Of course he's an adult," Dobey disagreed.

Edith shook her head firmly. "No, he's not."

She turned toward Dr. Edmund and continued. "Look... I may not have a medical degree or know the intricate workings of the human body, but I certainly know a five-year old child when I see and hear one."

"I-I don't understand," Hutch stated, clearly confused.

Dr. Edmund held up a hand to forestall the barrage of questions he saw were about to come his way.

"As strange as it may sound, I think Mrs. Dobey makes a valid point." The doctor proceeded to wave them all down the hallway toward a row of offices.

"Please... come to my office with me and we'll talk."

Edith asked Cal to take his little sister to the cafeteria for a snack, and the three adults followed Dr. Edmund into his office. Showing them into the room, the doctor motioned them to the large sofa and overstuffed chairs in the corner of the room.

"Please sit and be comfortable. As I said in the hall, I think Mrs. Dobey has made a very valid observation." He turned to address Hutch.

"Sargent? In your exchange with Sargent Starsky, did he do or say anything that made you believe he recognized you or knew where he was?"

"No, not really. The comments he made were not of a personal nature at all. He was simply stating facts. Telling me his head hurt, that I was mean, to... go 'way." Hutch's voice kind of faded away on that comment.

"Hmmm," Dr. Edmund paused, a look of deep concentration puckering his brow. He rose from his chair and paced slowly about the room for a moment.

"Post-traumatic retrograde amnesia?" he muttered, more to himself than to his guests.

"What are you trying to say, Doc?" Hutch prompted.

"Oh... I'm sorry. Let me explain. Some type of memory loss, or amnesia, is fairly common after the type of head injury Sargent Starsky has suffered. Most of the time, the only portions of memory that are lost are the time periods just before and just after the injury."

"There's obviously something more than that happening with Starsk," Hutch observed.

"Yes. Though it is fairly rare, there does seem to be some retrograde amnesia occurring in the Sargent's case."

"Retrograde?" Dobey questioned.

"A tendency to move backward or to revert to an earlier condition. And in the Sargent's case... it looks like he's reverted all the way back to his childhood, if you're observations prove to be correct, Mrs. Dobey."

"Oh my," she sighed sadly.

"How long is this gonna last?" Hutch inquired, struggling to push down a growing sense of overwhelming dread.

"Most significant recovery after severe head injury, in adults, occurs within the first six months, but smaller improvements could occur for as long as two years after injury."

"Oh God." The statement was just barely audible, but Hutch's pain was clearly evident in those two simple words.

"Now let's not think the worst yet," Dr. Edmund encouraged. "I'll make arrangements for Sargent Starsky to be evaluated by a psychiatrist in the morning."

Hutch fidgeted uncomfortably. "Psychiatrist?"

"Sargent? Would you say your partner is a strong man, mentally and emotionally?

"Most definitely."

"Yes. I would imagine that mental and emotional stability is a requisite requirement for the type of work you do," the doctor mused, then stopped when he noticed all the blank stares he was getting.

"I know this may not sound very medical, but I just have a feeling that the Sargent's condition is not solely the result of physical trauma. From what I've been told of the attack he endured, I'd be willing to bet he's suffered some emotional trauma, as well. I'm hoping the psychiatrist can answer those questions for us."

"I-I'm gonna go sit with him for a while," Hutch muttered, rising from his seat.

"It would be better if you let him sleep undisturbed now, Sargent. He'll be evaluated in the morning after breakfast, and I have rounds at ten o'clock. Why don't you come by here at about noon, and we'll talk. Then you can spend as much time as you like with your partner."

It was a very dejected Ken Hutchinson who nodded and followed the Dobey's from the office and out of the hospital.

Midnight, and The Pits was jumping with a lively crowd. Huggy Bear noticed Hutch as he came through the door and trudged his way down the stairs.

"Uh oh... that don't look good."

"Hey Hug." The blond greeted his friend half-heartedly.

"Hey, my blond brother. How's Curly?"

Huggy thought he'd seen despair before, but he'd never seen anything like the expression in Hutch's eyes now. He quickly reached across the bar and wrapped his long fingers around the blond's forearm.

"Tell me," he whispered.

"I-I don't know where to st-start," Hutch stammered, and sighed with exasperation at his weakness.

"How 'bout the beginnin'," Huggy replied, settling himself on a barstool in front Hutch. "Diane, honey, keep an eye on the bar. I gotta rap with m'man, here."

"Okay, Huggy."

"Now, Blondie, you have my undivided attention. Go ahead on."

So, for the next half an hour, Hutch shared with Huggy everything that had happened since the phone call had come into the Dobey's at six that morning, right up to leaving Dr. Edmund's office a little more than an hour ago.

"Amnesia? You got to be jivin' me?"

"I wish I was. Doc says it could be as long as six months for any significant recovery to be made. Hug? What am I gonna do with a partner who thinks he's a kid? What's all this gonna do to Starsk? What am I gonna do without Starsk for..." the last few words got stuck in the blond's throat, and he shook his head in frustration.

Huggy patted his friend's arm offering what comfort he could. "I don't know, m'man. But I do know it's too soon to be frettin' yourself about it. Wait. Talk to the doctors tomorrow. Then you'll know what's coming down."

Hutch folded his arms across the bar in front of him, leaned forward, and rested his head on his arms.

"When is this nightmare gonna end, Hug? When is it... gonna...." Silence.

Huggy leaned down to get a closer look at the blond's face. Sound asleep.

"Mm, mm, mm.... It's over now, my friend, at least for tonight," Huggy whispered in reply. He stepped around in front of the bar and hefted Hutch up on his feet.

"Come on, Blondie, nighty-night time."

Too exhausted to even protest, Hutch followed Huggy up the stairs to the apartment above the bar that Huggy kept for just such emergencies, and gratefully settled down on the bed, asleep before his head hit the pillow.

From a secluded booth at the back of the room, Snake, Roth and their two cohorts stood, dropped several bills on the table and left the room.

Hutch walked into the squad room the next morning just before eight o'clock. Sleep the night before had been anything but restful, filled with disturbing dreams, and it was showing on the big blond as smudgy circles under his eyes and a slight tremor in the hand that gripped the coffee cup.

Simmons and Babcock saw Hutch come through the door and head directly for the coffeepot. Simmons rose from his desk, crossed the room to Captain Dobey's office door, knocked and entered. A moment later, Dobey and Simmons exited the office, Simmons returning to his desk and Dobey hovering in the doorway, calling to the blond.

"Hutchinson? Can I see you in my office a moment?"

Hutch sighed inwardly. He was far too tired and cranky for a "Dobey-type" lecture. Screwing a tiny look of cooperation on his face, he headed toward the office.

"Sure Cap."

The Captain ushered Hutch into his favorite chair while he closed the door behind him and turned to settle in behind his desk. He took a moment to assess his young detective's appearance.

"Didn't sleep too well last night, did you Hutch?" Dobey's tone of voice was observational, not accusatory.

Hutch lowered his head to run a hand across bloodshot, gravely eyes. "No... I guess not. Bad dreams." He looked up and Dobey could read the turmoil in the icy-blue depths of the exhausted eyes.

"What's gonna happen to Starsk, Cap? What if he never remembers who he is?" Hutch dropped his eyes, and his voice was so quiet that Dobey had to strain to hear him.

"What am I gonna do without him?"

Dobey leaned forward, placing his elbows on his desk. He looked straight at Hutch and answered his questions as best he could.

"I wish I had the answers to give you, Hutch, but I don't. I can tell you though that Starsky's strong, physically and emotionally. I don't know what all is going on inside his head, but I do know that he'd never leave you alone, by choice. I've got to believe that he's trying to come back to his life as a cop and to you. It may take a lot of hard work and be a long road, but he wouldn't leave you alone, Hutch. He needs you just as much as you need him."

Hutch nodded in silent agreement.

"Cap? Would you come with me at noon to speak with the doctors?"

"Of course, I'll come with you. Where else would I be?"

Hutch looked up at Dobey and saw the slightest of grins gracing the big man's face.

"Thanks, Cap," he whispered.

"Anytime, Hutch. You know that. So, before it's time to go, why don't I get Simmons and Babcock in here and they can brief you on what's happening with the investigation?"

Hutch grinned a little sheepishly. "Sure, Cap. I guess I have been a little out of the loop on things the past week."

"So that's about the size of it, Hutch," Simmons concluded. "We haven't found a single witness to the beating, but that's understandable. It was rather late in a business district. At that time of night the area is already pretty well deserted."

"What's the word on the street?" Hutch questioned.

A loud snort of displeasure burst from Babcock. "What word on the street? Somebody's putting on the pressure big time, Hutch. If anybody knows anything, they're not talking, for fear of ending up like Starsky, I guess."


"Huggy hasn't heard anything either?" Dobey questioned the blond.


"Well then... you guys get out there and keep pressuring your snitches!" Dobey demanded, waving a beefy paw at Simmons and Babcock.

The two detectives rose and headed out the door. "Will do," Babcock acknowledged. "We'll keep squeezing. Something's gotta turn."

Simmons paused before he opened the door and turned back to look at Hutch. "Don't you worry about anything but that partner of yours, Hutch. Babs and I will turn the turkeys who did this. Okay?"

Hutch looked up at his colleagues and friends, knowing they were as good as their word.

"Yeah. Okay. Thanks, guys," he replied, a small smile curling his lips.

At just after noon, Hutch and Dobey knocked on Dr. Edmund's office door.

"Come in."

Opening the door, the two police officers were greeted by Dr. Edmund and introduced to another gentleman.

"Gentlemen, this is Dr. Charlie Stewart. He's the psychiatrist who evaluated Sargent Starsky this morning. Have a seat, gents, and we'll get started."

Hutch and Dobey settled themselves onto the sofa and the doctors took the overstuffed chairs facing them. Dr. Edmund began his report.

"First of all, let me just tell you that Sargent Starsky is steadily recovering from his physical injuries. He's young, strong and in excellent physical condition overall, all of which have contributed greatly to his recovery process. The surgical incision is healing nicely with no sign of infection. The cast will be on his arm for about six weeks, and his ribs will probably be tender for about that long as well. The bruises, cuts and contusions are already healing. Time and proper rest will facilitate complete recovery from the concussion and will heal the skull fracture, as well. And I think he's progressed well enough that he should be able to continue his recovery from home. There's no reason to keep him here any longer than necessary, so I'll be discharging him day after tomorrow."

"That is very good news indeed, Doctor," Dobey agreed.

"But what about his memory?" Hutch asked, turning his attention to Dr. Stewart.

Dr. Stewart flipped open the file he was holding and looked through it for a moment before speaking.

"Gentlemen, I spent several hours with Sargent Starsky this morning. Restating the obvious, the man is suffering from what I believe is post-traumatic retrograde amnesia. While physical injuries like the Sargent's do sometimes result in a retrograde form of amnesia, it is fairly rare. I believe there is an emotionally traumatic element working here as well."

The doctor paused, examining the concerned faces of the two police officers.

"This type of event is usually connected with severe emotional trauma. In the Sargent's case, we could suppose, based on the circumstances we know of his attack, that his abusers probably subjected him to some type of emotional torture."

"Torture?" Hutch yelped, angry at the thought of it.

"Yes, let me explain. Given the circumstances that we know, I'd say he was most likely threatened with additional physical abuse, perhaps of a sexual nature, and probably with death. Or perhaps a family member or loved one was threatened with some heinous act too horrendous for him to comprehend at the time. Whatever it was, it was so frightening that, after everything he'd already endured, this was like the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. His mind simply could not process this new threat, so he escaped -- the only way he could at the time -- in his mind."

Hutch and Dobey were silent, each absorbed in his own thoughts.

"God, Starsk... what did they do to you?" Hutch wondered.

"Doctor Stewart?" Dobey spoke up. "What are we dealing with here then? Will he recover?"

"During our visit this morning, I had Sargent Starsky perform a series of standard tests designed to evaluate his motor skills and his language and communication skills. He also took a standard IQ test. Based on these test results and my professional evaluation of the man, I'd say we're dealing with a child between the ages of five and seven. His language skills seem to suggest a younger mind working, rather than an older one. However, the IQ test suggests a high level of intelligence. He is quite clever and resourceful, and exhibits a warm, loving personality and a quick, sharp wit."

"But will he recover, Doc? Will he ever get his memory back and be the Dave Starsky we know?" Hutch questioned.

"Sargent Hutchinson, I understand what you're asking and why. Unfortunately, I can't answer that question for you. As his physical injuries heal, Dave will probably start remembering bits and pieces of his past, as well as what happened to him. But, it is entirely up to him whether or not he returns completely to the present. I can continue to work with him and try to get him to recognize and work through his fear, to face his trauma, but I can only do so much. Ultimately it will be up to him whether or not he wants to return to the present. Will coming back be worth the pain and fear? Only Dave knows that for sure."

With that Dr. Stewart paused, then smiled warmly at Hutch and Dobey.

"In the meantime, gentlemen, you have a rare opportunity here."

"What do you mean, 'rare opportunity'?" Dobey questioned.

"You have the opportunity to get to know the 'heart' of Dave Starsky -- the child within, so to speak. While this situation will no doubt be emotionally difficult for you as his friends, I think you will also find it a very unique and enlightening experience providing you with a totally new perspective on just who your friend is."

Doctor Stewart paused then, snapped the file he'd been reviewing shut, and quickly rose from the chair.

"Oh, one thing I need to re-emphasize as it relates to his being discharged from the hospital and his recovery care. He is about five to seven years old, gentlemen, in all the ways that count. He'll need round-the-clock supervision as any young child would. What will make this an even greater challenge is that his is a child's mind inside an adult body."

Brows puckered with confusion and eyes lined with concern looked back at him.

Dr. Stewart smiled. "While some motor skills are developmental miles stones, others are not. Let's just say 'he won't know his own strength'." With another encouraging smile, he left the room.

Dr. Edmund left the office to return to his duties shortly after Dr. Stewart, and he encouraged the two police officers to stay and talk. Dobey and Hutch graciously accepted, as there were many arrangements to be made before Starsky left the hospital on Thursday.

Hutch insisted that he would take care of his partner, and Dobey had expected nothing less from his young detective. So when Hutch requested an immediate leave of absence, Dobey readily agreed.

After Dobey called the office to have the paperwork for Hutch's leave started, they then called Edith and Mitzi Graham. Edith and Mitzi both were thrilled to be able to help, and between the four of them, they worked out a rotating plan whereby Starsky could spend his afternoons with Lisa and with Rosie and Cal. Hutch was grateful to the two women for this offer, as he was more than a little concerned about how he was going to be able to entertain his partner day in and day out, sixteen hours a day. He made a mental note to send each of them a dozen roses when all of this was over. "Whenever that is," he thought sadly.

It was decided that Starsky would return home to the familiar surroundings of his own apartment and that Hutch would move in with him. After calling Huggy to give him an update and to ask if he would serve as "emergency backup," Hutch seemed satisfied that they were prepared.

"Well, I think we're as ready as we're gonna get, Cap."

Dobey rose from his seat by the telephone, nodding in agreement. "Uh huh. I'm gonna head back to the station. Why don't you go spend some time with your partner? As I recall, the last time you spoke to each other it wasn't on the friendliest of terms. And this whole plan falls apart if he's still that negative toward you."

Hutch stood silently for a moment, looking Dobey in the eye, contemplating what the man had just said.

"Yeah," he agreed, as he turned and left the room.

Starsky had been moved from the ICU to a private room in a general surgical ward shortly after he'd regained consciousness. It was as Hutch proceeded down the broad, busy hall toward his partner's room that he noticed a commotion at the end of the corridor. There seemed to be a whole gaggle of nurses gathered in and around one door in particular.

Hutch tucked the plush toy Teddy bear that he'd picked up at the gift shop as kind of a peace offering firmly under his arm, and approached the milling, giggling, chattering group of women.

"Isn't he just the cutest thing?" one nurse asked another.

"And such a sweetheart! When I brought him his lunch, he must have noticed that I was frowning about something. He looked up at me with those big, blue eyes and asked me if I wanted his ice cream. I asked him why, and he said so I wouldn't be sad anymore."

"Oh dear! Doesn't that just melt your heart?" They all giggled for a moment, took one last peek in at the occupant of the room, then they all moved off in different directions, returning to their duties.

"Must be quite a kid," Hutch muttered to himself. That was when he noticed the number on the room the nurses had been gathered around. It was his partner's room.

"Should've known you were breakin' hearts before your seventh birthday, partner," Hutch chuckled to himself, as he stepped through the door and into the quiet hospital room.

Starsky was sitting straight up in the elevated bed, the tray table pulled up practically under his chin. His immobilized left arm was resting awkwardly across the table, and he held a bright red marking pen in his right hand laboriously trying to draw on the clean, white plaster of his cast. His head was bent over his project and he was so engrossed in what he was trying to do that he didn't notice he had a visitor.

Hutch stood quietly at the foot of the bed and just watched him for a moment. He could see what the problem was -- Starsk was left-handed. Hutch marveled at the single-minded determination his partner was exhibiting, as each time he grasped the marker in his right hand and began to draw, it would slip between his fingers and drop to the tabletop. And each time, he would pick it up and try again.

Hutch approached his partner and, leaning over the man's shoulder, wrapped his hand around his partner's, as he tried again to apply the color to the plaster cast.

"What do you want to write?" Hutch asked, smiling into the somewhat startled face that was looking back at him.

"M-my name -- Davie," Starsky answered, a slight tremor in his voice. "In red -- I-I like red."

Hutch quickly suppressed an amused snort. He smiled again and replied. "I'll help. I'll hold your hand steady, and you draw the letters. Okay?"

Starsky's face slowly lit up under a growing smile. "Okay!" Then he bent his still-bandaged head over his task once again.

This time Hutch steadied the awkward right hand, while Starsky stroked through each letter. In no time at all, the gleaming white plaster was adorned with bright red letters proclaiming "Davie" to all the world. When Hutch picked up a bright blue marker and looked back at the cast, Starsky watched him expectantly.

"May I?" he asked.

With a grin and a giggle, Starsky agreed. "Okay!"

Hutch pulled up a chair close to the bed, and proceeded to decorate the plaster cast in swirls and geometric shapes of blue, green, orange, yellow and purple. There were rainbows and turtles and frogs. There was a brown pony with a long golden mane and tail being ridden by a little, curly headed boy.

"Is that me?" Starsky asked curiously, as Hutch drew the form of a child on the pony.

Smiling back at the enthralled man-child in the bed, Hutch answered with a chuckle. "Yup, that's you."

"Draw you, too," Starsky encouraged.

"Okay." Hutch drew another horse, this time a golden Palomino, and then drew in a figure with blond hair riding it.

"You want to draw some more?" Hutch questioned.

"Sure!" Starsky agreed, picking up a bright purple marker. Hutch wrapped his hand around his partner's hand again and helped him draw a racecar, two motorcycles and a tank.

"It's all done!" Starsky proclaimed with a happy grin.

"Did you enjoy that?" Hutch asked.

"Yeah!" His grin slowly faded, and Starsky was quiet for a minute then, eyes shyly dropped to the tabletop. "You're not really mean. Sorry."

"At least he remembers me from yesterday." Hutch thought, a little sadly.

"Apology accepted, Davie. You were a little scared, huh?"

Starsky nodded shyly.

"And your head hurt pretty bad?"

Again the shy little nod.

"It's okay, buddy, I understand."

Hutch rose for his chair and stepped toward the doorway to retrieve the Teddy bear he'd left there. Returning to the bed, he placed the bear on the blanket beside his partner.

"In fact, I'm sorry I had to yell at you that way and make your head hurt worse." Hutch offered his sincere apology, smiling into his partner's disbelieving expression.

"Is this for me?" Starsky questioned, picking up the soft, cuddly little bear and hugging it to his chest.

"It sure is, pal."


"You're welcome."

Starsky watched Hutch, intently studying the blond's features. Hutch silently returned the gaze and watched, as the man's bright blue eyes scanned back and forth.

"It's me, Starsk. It's Hutch. Do you recognize me, buddy?"

Starsky smiled at the blond and asked an expectant question. "You're nice. Are you my Poppa? Huh?"

The innocent, affection-filled question caught Hutch completely off guard and he had to struggle for a moment with the sudden lump that was forming in his throat. Hutch shook his head and answered the question as honestly as he could, reaching out his hand to comb through the dark curls and cup a bruised cheek.

"No buddy, I'm sorry. I'm not your Poppa. Your Poppa went away a long time ago. I'm... your Uncle Ken." Hutch hoped this would be an easily understood relationship.

"My Poppa... died, didn't he?" Starsky asked innocently.

"Yes... yes, he did, buddy. I'm sorry."

Hutch watched the innocent face as it registered the grief those words brought to his heart. Slowly the violet-blue eyes filled with tears that were soon spilling silently down the bruised cheeks. From what Starsky had shared with him, Hutch knew that the man's father had died when he was fairly young and it had been quite a traumatic experience for the boy.

"And it still hurts, after all these years... it still hurts, doesn't it, buddy?"

"Ah, buddy, it's okay," Hutch comforted.

Knowing only that his partner was hurting and that he needed him, Hutch did the only thing he could think of to help. He stood up and moved the tray table away from the bed. Carefully, he slid his partner over in the bed just a little, making enough room for Hutch to slide into the bed beside him. He eased Starsky forward until he could slide his shoulders in behind the brunette, then he pulled the grieving man-child back against his chest and wrapped his arms securely around him in a warm, comforting hug.

"It's okay, Davie, it's okay. Just let it out. I know you miss your Poppa. It's okay."

The brunette shifted a little so he could drop his head to lay against the blond's strong shoulder, and turned his face into the broad chest. Somehow this seemed so natural to Davie, like he'd been comforted this way by this man before. Finally, something that seemed familiar and right in a world that had seemed nothing but wrong ever since he woke up in this place. He gave himself over totally to his grief, and to the comfort, acceptance and love he felt emanating from the man beside him.

It wasn't long before the tears slowed and the sniffles quieted, as grief brought exhaustion to the still-recovering body and the brunette man-child slipped into a peaceful sleep securely wrapped in his blond partner's warm hug.

"Uncle Ken?" A small voice was whispering in Hutch's ear.

"Uncle Ken, wake up." This time a gentle hand patting the blond's check accompanied the whisper.

"Uncle Ken, a giant is here. Uncle Ken!" The little voice had grown more insistent and the hand patted a bit more firmly.

"Wha-what?" Hutch startled awake. He was still in the hospital bed holding his partner tightly. He glanced quickly over at Starsky and saw abject terror in his blue eyes.

"What's the matter, Davie?"

"A-a giant! Look!" Starsky whispered anxiously, pointing across the room to the open door.

There, standing framed in the doorway, trying awfully hard not to completely bust a gut laughing, was Captain Dobey. Hutch started to chuckle, which completely did Dobey in, and he filled the room with his booming laughter.

Giving the frightened man-child another quick hug, Hutch slid out of the bed and stretched. He grinned at his partner and tried to assuage his fears.

"It's okay, Davie. He's not a giant. He's Captain Dobey. We... I work with him."

Starsky was staring intently at the large, black man in the doorway, and found himself warming to the smile on the man's face and to his friendly laughter.

"But, he looks like a giant."

"Nahhh, more like a life-sized, cuddly Teddy bear."

Hutch retrieved the Teddy bear from the corner of the bed and handed it to Starsky, who promptly wrapped his uninjured arm around it and hugged the toy to his chest. Before Dobey could bark his disagreement to his being compared to a Teddy bear, Hutch waved him over to the bedside.

"Cap, Davie... Davie, Cap," Hutch said by way of an informal introduction.

"Hi Davie." Dobey stretched out his hand to his man-child detective in a friendly greeting.

Starsky reached out his hand to shake Dobey's, never taking his eyes from the large man's warm, smiling face.

"Ar-are you sure you're not a giant?" he questioned timidly.

Dobey chuckled warmly.

"No son, I'm not a giant. I'm your friend, and your Uncle Ken's friend. And do you know what?"

"What?" Starsky asked, eyebrows rising with curiosity now.

"I have two children at home. My son's name is Cal, and my daughter's name is Rosie. Rosie's about your age, and I think she would really like to play with you."

"She would? But she's a girl," Starsky protested.

"Yeah, she's a girl. But did you know that she loves to play cowboys and pirates, too? And she thinks cops and robbers is the best!"

"She does? Y-you think I could come play sometime?"

Dobey grinned at the innocent question, stole a quick glance at Hutch, and winked.

"You bet you can. You can spend as many afternoons with Rosie as you like."

"Don't forget, Cap, there's somebody else who wants Davie to come play, too." Hutch confidently added the new information, playing along.

"There is? Who?" Starsky questioned, excitement growing in his voice.

Hutch started to explain. "Well, her name is Lisa..."

"Another girl?"

"Yeah, another girl," Hutch teased, reaching over to tousle the tangled curls that peeked out from around the bandage on Starsky's head.

Giggling happily at Hutch's teasing, Starsky laughed as he tried to lean his head out of the blond's reach. The sound was infectious, and soon both men joined in the laughter at the spontaneous game.

"Oh my," Dobey wheezed, holding his side. "I'm all laughed out, Davie. Hey, I almost forgot. I have something for you."

"A present?" Starsky asked, his voice full of excitement and anticipation.

"Yes, a present," Dobey chuckled handing Starsky three brightly wrapped packages.

Starsky tore the colorful paper off the first box with gusto.

"You haven't changed at all, have you partner?" Hutch chuckled, remembering the last time he'd seen Starsk tear into a gift.

"Wow!" Starsky's blue eyes were as big around as saucers, as he gazed at the colorful picture book featuring all types of mammals. The second package contained another similar book featuring birds of all kinds. And the third featured reptiles and insects.

"Thanks, Captain Dobey."

"Why don't you just call me Cap, okay?"

"Okay... Cap."

"I'm glad you like them, Davie. There for when you go home day after tomorrow. You'll need to rest for several more days before you can play, but you and your Uncle Ken can have lots of fun with these books."

Starsky looked over toward Hutch, puppy-dog eyes on full power. "Is it okay, Uncle Ken? Will you play with me till I get all better?"

"Oh man... you learned that hang-dog expression young, didn't you?"

Hutch laughed lightly, reaching out to comb his fingers through the brunette curls once again.

"Wouldn't have it any other way, sport,"

Starsky smiled brightly, and Dobey continued his explanation of the library.

"See, this one has dogs and cats and horses and lions and tigers and all kinds of stuff. And this one is full of birds. But this one," he paused picking up the reptile and insect book and started flipping through its pages. "This one is full of all kinds of slimy, crawly things that little boys just seem to love so much."

Dobey grinned into Starsky's expectant face, and leaned over the bed to show man-child the colorful pictures. He had the brunette's rapt attention as they flipped through the book together.

"See, this one has spiders and bugs. And... lizards, alligators, crocodiles and all kinds of snakes..."

At the mention of snakes, Starsky froze. His face lost all its color, save for the rainbow of bruises, and he started to tremble.

"Sn-snake? N-no, no Snake. I-I don't like Snake. Snake's mean... hurts! No! No Snake!" Starsky shouted in fear, trembling violently now. He reached out and tugged the book from Dobey's hand and threw it across the room.

"No! No Snake! No! No!" The brunette was shouting hysterically and tears were running down his cheeks.

"Cap, could you get the nurse, please?" Hutch asked the startled Captain.

"Surely." Dobey quickly left the room in search of a nurse.

Hutch slid back onto the bed beside his sobbing partner and wrapped his arms around Starsky's trembling shoulders.

"Shhh, it's okay, buddy. It's okay. Shhh... shhh," Hutch comforted, rubbing his hand up and down one trembling arm. "There's no snakes here, buddy. It's okay, no snakes. Shhh... shhh."

Dobey came back in with a nurse, who took one look at Starsky's condition and stepped immediately to the side of the bed next to the trembling brunette. She quickly ran an alcohol wipe across the medication port in the man's IV tubing and injected the sedative. Smiling at Hutch, the nurse spoke confidently.

"He'll be okay in a moment. Just keep comforting him."

"Thank you," Hutch said returning the smile. "Would you let Dr. Stewart know that we'd like to speak with him, please?"

"You bet. I'll have him paged." She looked down at Starsky. "There now, he's sleeping already." She smiled again and left the room.

"Hutch? What the devil was that all about?" Dobey questioned, still a little shaken himself.

Shaking his head in confusion, Hutch replied. "I really wish I knew, Cap."

"Snake? What are we gonna do, man?" Roth whined.

"I don't know! Just shut up and let me think, would ya?"

"It ain't no good to deliver a message for the Boss if that cop don't remember what we done to him."

Snake quickly spun around in his seat behind the wheel of the dark sedan and grabbed Roth by the collar of his jacket. Pulling the startled man right into his face, Snake glared at him.

"I said shut up and let me think!"

Recovering his bravado a bit, Roth freed himself from Snake's steely grasp.

"Yeah, well... you do that. But don't take too long about it. If we don't finish this job, the Boss is gonna hang us out to dry."

Snake just glared at his compatriot and reclaimed his position behind the wheel, fingers drumming out a nervous rhythm against the sticky vinyl. An evil sneer slowly crept over the man's hard features and he began to laugh.

"What do you suppose that blond cop would do if somebody was to tell him who did his partner and where he could find'em?"

"Are you crazy, man?" Roth demanded. "You wanna get busted and end up in the joint for sure?"

"We ain't gonna get busted, stupid."

"What're you talkin', man?"

"Look. You said yourself we ain't been able to get to Blondie because he's either at the hospital, the cop-shop, or somebody else is with'em. Right?" Snake questioned all of his companions in the car with him.

"Yeah, that's right," Guido answered. "There ain't been no chance to grab him without us being seen."

"All we gotta do is plant the right information with the right person and that blond cop will come to us. We won't even have to say pretty please."

"Oh man, I don't like it!" Roth protested.

Snake just stared at him for a moment. Then he reached up and patted the man on the cheek in a rather mocking gesture, a snide grin twisting his lips.

"That's the trouble with you, Roth. You never think positively."

"You just better know what you're doing, turkey, or we're all gonna end up doing ten to fifteen in stir for beatin' on a cop."

"Don't you worry yourself about it. I got a plan." Snake laughed as he fired the sedan's engine to life. He pulled the automobile out of the hospital parking lot and moved slowly down the street.

Dr. Stewart had answered his page to Dave Starsky's room promptly and had just spent the last twenty minutes discussing the man's strong reaction to the snakes in his picture books with his concerned friends.

"Doc, for as long as I've known him, Starsky has never been too wild about snakes, but I've never seen him react like that," Hutch explained.

"It could very possibly be connected to the attack, but it could just as easily be connected to some other event and his recent trauma has brought an old fear to the surface. Please try not to worry gentlemen. I'll start working with Starsky this afternoon, and hopefully we can get him on the road to recovery as soon as possible."

"Thanks Doctor," Hutch muttered. He was still sitting on the side of the bed, one strong arm around his sleeping partner.

"Yes, thank you, Doctor," Dobey offered, and walked the man to the door. After the doctor left, Dobey returned to Hutch's side. Reaching out to stroke a hand through the brunette's curls, he couldn't help but let go a tiny sigh.

"I guess I'll be taking off now and heading back to the station."

Hutch reached out with his free hand and squeezed Dobey's forearm.

"He's gonna be okay, Cap. Remember, you said yourself we just have to believe that everything will be okay."

Dobey smiled down into the blond's blue eyes.

"Yes, I did. Guess seeing him so... upset like that makes me impatient to have him back -- whole, healthy and just as exasperating as ever."

Hutch let out a burst of chuckling laughter.

"I'll see you later, Hutchinson." Dobey said, turning to leave the room.

"See ya, Cap."

When Dobey was gone, Hutch peered down at his sleeping partner. He'd been toying with the idea of calling Starsky's mother all along, but had hesitated because he didn't want to upset her and because he obviously didn't know what Starsky would want him to do in this situation. But after seeing his partner's reaction to the snakes and speaking with Dr. Stewart, he decided he needed to clarify some things and he knew Rachel was the only person who could help him.

Hutch eased his arm out from behind Starsky's shoulders and settled the injured man back down on the bed. He adjusted the pillow slightly under the curly head and pulled the blanket up around his shoulders.

Hutch carefully dragged the chair across the room to the far corner, then lifted the telephone from the nightstand and stretched the cord across the room to the chair. Settling comfortably into the chair, he dialed the New York number from memory. It was answered on the second ring.

"Hello," the melodic voice answered.

Hutch found himself momentarily speechless when he heard her voice. He loved Rachel. She was such a warm, loving soul, and he knew that her son got many of those same qualities from her.

"Hello?" the voice questioned again.

"Uh... Rachel? It's Ken."

"Ken, hello! How are you, dear?" Then the line went completely silent and Hutch could actually feel her fear growing as realization of his calling her hit home.

"David! What's happened to my Davie? Ken, please... please tell me he's all right," she begged.

"He's gonna be all right, Rachel. Please don't worry. He's gonna be all right." Once Rachel had calmed herself, Hutch made his voice as calm as possible and started to tell her what had happened to her son.

"Just over a week ago, Starsk was mugged and beaten. He's got a broken arm and some broken ribs. His spleen was ruptured and he was bleeding internally. But the doctors operated and he's doing great now. His physical injuries are healing nicely, and he's getting stronger everyday. He's being discharged on Thursday."

"His physical injuries are healing nicely, you say. What aren't you telling me, Ken?"

Hutch just shook his head in disbelief. "Can never get a thing by your son, either. Must be where he gets it."

"Rachel, Starsk was hit on the head with a club of some kind -- pretty hard, too. His skull was fractured, and there was some bleeding and swelling in his brain. The doctors operated and took care of all that, but..." Hutch hesitated.

"But what? Tell me, Ken, please."

"He was unconscious for a long, long time -- nearly seven days."

Hutch's tone was subdued as he explained all that they'd endured so far, and Rachel suddenly realized that this man had suffered right along with her son through all this.

"Go on, honey," she comforted. "It's okay."

"When he finally woke up, it was such a relief to see him looking up at me. But it turned out he didn't know who I was. He didn't know who any of us were. Edith Dobey was the first one to pick up on it because of the strange way Starsk was acting." Hutch was talking faster and faster, as the last week's events poured out of him.

"Kenny, honey, slow down, huh?"

Hutch spoke again, slower this time, but Rachel could hear the pain in his voice. She'd always known that in Ken, her David had found a very special friend -- a man that could be the friend and brother to her son that his own brother, Nicholas, could never be. She had long since given up considering him anything other than one of her own.

"He's got amnesia, Rachel," Hutch whispered sadly. "He thinks he's a kid. He thinks he's five years old."

"Dear God... no wonder you're hurting. David may be awake, but you don't really have your partner and friend back with you, do you dear?"

"Oh Kenny, you poor boy. I'm sure Davie's going to be all right. I just know everything is gonna be okay."

Rachel heard Hutch's amused laughter come through the phone.

"You sound just like Dobey," Hutch chuckled.

"Captain Dobey is obviously a very wise man," Rachel teased.

Hutch laughed, enjoying the moment with this delightful lady.

"The hospital had a psychiatrist come and evaluate Starsk and he gave him some tests. The doctor says we're dealing with a very clever, intelligent mind, a warm and loving personality, but a mind of between five and seven years old. He knows his name is Davie, and from our first real talk, I learned that he knows his Poppa died. At first, h-he asked me if I was his Poppa." Hutch heard Rachel's breath catch in her throat.

"I-I told him I was his Uncle Ken. I'll be taking care of him at his apartment when he's discharged, so I thought that my being his uncle would be easier for him to understand."

"Oh Kenny, how this all must be hurting you," Rachel observed, her concern for him clearly evident in her tone.

"Like mother, like son. He learned his compassion and empathy for other people from you, didn't he?"

"I can't say it's been the easiest thing to deal with -- treating my best friend like a kid -- but what choice do I have? He needs me, Rachel, and I'm not gonna let him down. I'll be okay. Please don't worry about me."

"I'll try. Ken? Please don't think me critical of you, but I just have to ask." She paused, seemingly searching for the right words.

"Rachel... what?"

Hutch could hear her giggle just a little bit and smiled at the sound.

"Honey, you are my David's very best friend, and I've seen such wonderful changes in him since he came to know you. You're good for him -- good for each other, I think. But honey, what do you know about taking care of a five-year old boy... especially that one?"

Hutch felt the blush rising in his cheeks and was very glad this conversation wasn't taking place face to face.

"I know. I've been asking myself the same question, believe me. But he's my friend, and I'll take care of him as best I can. Dobey granted me a leave of absence, so I won't have to worry about getting somebody to take care of him while I have to work. We'll be okay. He's going to be pretty much confined to bed and rest for the first week or so as he heals. He just won't have the strength to get into too much trouble."

"That's all well and good, sweetheart, but what happens when he starts feeling better? That boy came into the world loaded with energy and he hasn't sit still yet!"

Hutch's booming laughter filled the room, until he remembered his partner was still sleeping, and he toned it down a little.

"Have you ever got that one right," he said, continuing to chortle into the phone.

"But I'm serious, Ken. As a child, David was constantly on the go and into everything -- a true whirlwind of energy on two feet, propelled into action by an overabundance of curiosity. When he was awake, I couldn't leave him alone for a minute." She paused, laughing at a sweet memory.

"One day I had a roast in the oven and had to go check it. Well, Davie was in the front room and had his favorite cars and dump trucks all around him and seemed content, so I thought I would just pop into the kitchen and check the roast." She was laughing harder now.

"Do you know, when I came back into the living room, not a minute after I left, mind you, I found that boy climbing up the bookcase! He'd climbed up on the back of the sofa and stepped over on the lowest shelf. From there, he just used the shelves like a ladder and up he went!"

"Forever fearless, that's my partner! What in the world was he doing up there?" Hutch chuckled, looking affectionately at the sleeping figure in the bed.

"The little scamp thought he needed another car to play with and had decided his father's model 1926 Bearcat Roadster would be just the thing. Michael kept the model up on the top shelf for just that reason. Davie had always been fascinated with it."

"Oh brother. I bet his Pop had a few words to say to him about that?"

"Actually, Michael was a lot more patient with him than I was. He took the model down and spent nearly an hour playing with Davie, showing him how all the little parts worked, and telling the boy all about the automobile that the model represented."

Rachel paused, and when she spoke again, her voice was quiet and her tone was serious.

"Ken, you're gonna need some help with him. I could... f-fly out and be there to help."

Hutch knew that Rachel wasn't too thrilled with flying and he'd heard the slight hesitation in her voice. But he also knew that she'd do anything she had to for her son and for him.

"Rachel... Mom... he won't know you, and I don't want to put you through that. The Dobeys and Mitzi Graham are going to help out. Rosie Dobey is about seven years old and Lisa Graham... well, she'll always be about ten. When Starsk is well enough, his afternoons will be filled with playmates who know and love him. And who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and Starsk will get his memory back sooner rather than later," he finished optimistically.

"Are you sure, honey? I want to help you in anyway I can."

"Actually, there is something you can tell me that might help more than either of us knows."

"What is it, dear?"

"As a child, did Starsk ever exhibit an extreme fear of snakes?"

"Snakes? No, not really. On more than one occasion he brought home samples of the local flora and fauna stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. I do seem to remember that one such sampling included a tiny garter snake, squashed and long since dead. The poor little thing -- where he found it, I'll never know." Rachael chuckled, then paused, thinking.

"After he got back from the Army, his Aunt Rosie did mention once that David had acquired a rather strong loathing for the creatures. Why do you ask, Ken?"

"Oh, well Captain Dobey brought him three large picture books to enjoy while he's recuperating and one of them is all about insects and reptiles. When the Cap showed Starsk the snakes, he got really scared, started rambling about snakes being mean and hurting, then he grabbed the book out of Dobey's hands and threw it across the room. Now, I've seen Starsk scared stiff by snakes before, but I've never seen him react like that."

"Your Captain really brought him books? I always thought he had a soft spot in his heart for you two."

"Yeah, or maybe a soft spot in his head. I don't know which," Hutch replied with a chuckle.

"Oh Kenny, you stop that now," she teased. After a moment, she asked, "What do you think it means, Ken?"

"I really think it has to do with the mugging. Maybe they used a snake to threaten him or something."

"Oh Ken, how frightening," she whispered, her voice trembling slightly.

"Dr. Stewart says he thinks the amnesia is as much a result of emotional trauma as it is physical and that it's entirely up to Starsk whether or not he remembers anything -- ever."

"Oh Ken... my Davie. Who did this to my Davie? Why, Kenny? Why?" She was openly weeping now.

"Shhh Mom... please don't cry," Hutch comforted. As Rachel's tears slowed and came to a stop, he continued. "I don't know the answers to those questions, but I promise you this, I'm gonna find out."

"Thank you, Ken," she whispered, sniffling away the last of her tears. "I better let you go now. Give Davie a big hug and kiss for me, okay? And you take good care of yourself."

Hutch smiled at her sweet words. "I will, and I'll take good care of Starsk, too. I love you, Mom," he whispered.

"You always do, sweetheart. I love you, too."

Hutch listened until he heard the line go silent, then slowly set the phone back in its cradle.

Dr. Stewart's concentration was interrupted by the sound of a squeaky wheel on the dinner cart. His gaze turned from the obstinate individual lying in the hospital bed before him to the Candy Striper who was now delivering a hot dinner tray to that same individual.

With a heavy sigh, the doctor rose from his chair by the bed.

"It's time for your dinner now, Davie. We'll talk again later."

The only response he got from the curly headed brunette was the same scowl he'd been staring at for the last fifteen minutes accompanied by a large, flat tongue pointed in his direction.

The young volunteer who'd brought Starsky's dinner caught herself before she erupted with giggles.

"If you'll excuse me," Dr. Stewart said as he stepped out into the hall. He stood for a moment by the doorway, muttering to himself. He didn't notice Hutch coming toward him, returning to his friend's room after having a sandwich in the cafeteria.

Hutch stood quietly before the doctor for a moment listening to the man's ramblings.

"Uh... Doc? You keep that up very long and they're gonna send one of your colleagues down here to talk with you," he teased.

Dr. Stewart looked up, startled out of his musings by the sound of Hutch's voice.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Sargent Hutchinson. It's just... well, I've just had the most exasperating visit with your partner."

"Oh yeah? Was he able to tell you anything about what happened?"

"No!" the doctor replied sharply, then calmed himself as he realized he was still standing in the hall by the patient's room. He glanced into the open room next door and seeing it was unoccupied, motioned Hutch inside.

"Here. Step in here and we'll talk for a moment." Pulling the door shut behind them, the doctor turned to speak with Hutch.

"Sargent, I'm afraid I was unable to establish any type of rapport with Starsky at all. For the last fifteen minutes all we've done is stare each other down, and if it weren't for the arrival of his dinner tray, we'd probably still be staring at each other."

"What are you saying, Doc?" Hutch asked, just a little confused.

"I'm saying that I was unable to get Starsky to speak with me at all -- not even to tell me his name. He wouldn't answer any of my questions or speak a single word. Well... except for a rather colorful anecdote questioning my parentage, that is," the doctor stated with more than a little disgust in his tone.

Hutch was biting his lower lip between his teeth to keep from laughing at the poor fellow. He knew better than most just how stubborn one David Michael Starsky could be -- at any age.

"Uh Doc," Hutch chuckled, in spite of himself. "Sorry, but maybe I should try to talk with him, huh?"

"I think that might be a good idea, actually. You already have a rapport established with him as his 'uncle.' Given what you told me that his mother shared with you, I do think the snake incident is tied to the attack. Start with that and try to get him to talk about it. But don't push him too hard, especially while he's still recuperating. Let him get settled at home for a couple days, then try."

He reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a business card and handed it to Hutch.

"My office and home numbers are on this card. Call me anytime if you have questions or if you run into something that doesn't seem right. Okay?"

"Okay," Hutch agreed, then faltered a bit. "Doc? Are you sure this is the right thing to do? I mean... I'm no psychologist."

"No, you're not. But you are his friend, and he's already responding to you, even if he doesn't know who you are right now. And all you're going to do is get him talking -- he'll take it from there."

The doctor finished with a warm smile and an encouraging pat of his hand on Hutch's shoulder. Pulling the door open to leave, he stepped through it, once again muttering under his breath.

"Where does a child that age learn words like that, anyway?"

Hutch couldn't help himself and his amused laughter filled the room and followed the flustered psychiatrist out into the hall.

Thursday morning dawned bright, clear and beautiful, and found Hutch pacing the floors of Venice Place, having already been awake for several hours. He was more than a little bit nervous about caring for Starsky.

Starsky's physical limitations were not the problem. His partner had been injured many times before and Hutch had always been there to help him through his recovery. If the truth were told, Hutch wouldn't have it any other way. Starsky was his best friend, and he wouldn't have his buddy tended by anybody but himself. And, Hutch knew that Starsky felt the same way, too, and indeed, had provided many hours of tender, loving care to Hutch when he was sick or injured.

No, what was troubling Hutch was the amnesia thing and the fact that his partner thought himself to be a kid -- and such a young one at that.

"Rachel is right. What do I know about taking care of a kid?" Hutch questioned himself with a sigh.

But Hutch also knew his self-doubt wouldn't change a thing. Starsky was his partner, his friend -- his brother -- and the man needed him. So, Hutch slowly buried his discomfort and apprehension and went about his morning routine, planning to arrive at the hospital by breakfast time.

Hutch wanted Starsky to get used to the idea of Hutch's helping him while he was still in the protected environment of the hospital. This, again, Hutch knew was more for himself than for his partner.

"Who are you trying to kid, Hutchinson? Why, the other day when Dobey was there with the books, Starsk practically begged you to say it would be okay if I took care of him while he got better. He's gonna be just fine with all this. It's you who's scared shitless!" Hutch admitted to himself with a resigned shake of his head.

Finally wandering into the bathroom, Hutch stripped out of his robe and pajamas and climbed into the shower. The hot water eased some of the tension from his muscles and the fresh scent of the soap invigorated him. By the time he turned the water off, pulled the curtain back, and grabbed a towel, he was feeling much more encouraged and more comfortable with the whole idea.

"Do you want to see Starsk stuck in some cold, heartless rehab center until he gets better -- if he gets better?" he questioned himself.

"NO!" His mind fairly screamed the answer to that question.

Hutch stepped from the shower and wrapped the towel around his slender waist. He reached up and wiped the moisture from the mirror over the sink, looking his reflection right in the eye.

"And I've got great back-up in Huggy, Mitzi, and the Dobeys. And Rachel is only a phone call away. So, I'm not doing this alone. And who knows? This might actually be a lot of fun. Dr. Stewart did say this could be a unique opportunity to know Starsk from a whole new perspective."

Hutch watched his own features brighten under a huge grin. He brushed his teeth, shaved, and combed his hair. As he headed for his bedroom to dress, Ken Hutchinson had to admit he was feeling a whole lot better -- maybe even a little excited.

By the time Hutch reached the hospital, the breakfast trays had already been delivered. He entered Starsky's room to find his partner happily chewing on a rather large cheeseburger. There was a huge pile of French fries on the tray, and a tall glass full of what appeared to be strawberry milkshake.

"Hey buddy," Hutch greeted, as he walked toward the bed. He reached out and wrapped his hand around Starsky's hand that was gripping the burger and turned the mangled sandwich over so he could inspect it.

"A cheeseburger, fries and a milkshake, for breakfast?"

"Strawberry milkshake, Uncle Ken," Starsky said with a grin, taking another bite of his burger. "Sure's good. Wanna bite?" he asked, holding the rapidly disintegrating sandwich out toward his 'uncle'.

Hutch cocked his head and gave the burger an appraising look, appearing to be seriously inspecting the food. He pulled the hand that held the burger toward his mouth and bent forward a little to meet it, taking a large bite of the cheesy mess. Standing up straight, he slowly chewed the sandwich sample with the appropriate consideration, pulling his face into an exaggerated scowl of distaste.

Starsky watched Hutch's performance with growing delight, giggling happily as he watched Hutch pull his funny face.

"It's good, huh?" Starsky questioned, still giggling.

Hutch shook his head slowly, lips curled into a deep frown, and a scowl scrunching up his brows.

"Is too!" Starsky giggled.

Hutch shook his head more vigorously this time, still frowning, but energetically chewing his bite of the savory burger. It really was quite tasty, but this little game was tickling Starsky so that Hutch decided to run with it all the way.

"Is too!" Starsky laughed.

Hutch shook his head again, this time throwing his entire torso into the act, and screwing his face into the most exaggerated expression of displeasure he could manufacture.

Starsky was laughing heartily now. He reached over to the tray and dropped the rest of the burger onto the plate. He leaned back in the bed to catch his breath. Still chuckling, he quite naturally took this argument to its usual next step.

"It tastes better than those wheat germ shakes you have every morning, Blintz."

Hutch's head popped up, and his eyes grew round with surprise, as he sputtered on the bite of sandwich he was still chewing. Swallowing quickly, he looked closely at his curly headed partner, who was still giggling a little, but was now looking back at him with a "what'd I do?" expression quickly forming on his face.

"What did you just say?" Hutch questioned.

"Did I say somethin' naughty? I didn't mean to, Uncle Ken. I won't do it again," the man-child promised sincerely.

"No... no, Davie. You didn't say anything naughty," Hutch reassured his partner. He reached out a hand to caress one ketchup-smeared cheek. "Do you remember what you just said?"

"You... you make a yucky milkshake... for breakfast every morning?" Starsky asked, searching his memory for that tidbit, not really knowing how he knew that fact.

"Yes, I do."

"And you're a blond blintz?"

"Yeah... I guess I am," Hutch answered with a nod and a grin.

The smile was slowly returning to Starsky's face, as he looked up at Hutch, his eyes wide with wonder.

"That's funny. That's a pastry. Why do I call you a blintz?" Starsky asked with a giggle.

Hutch could only chuckle and shake his head.

"Has something to do with being crusty on the outside and soft and gooey on the inside," Hutch muttered.

Starsky laughed again.

"That's what makes a blintz so yummy." Starsky's eyes were twinkling devilishly as he asked his next question with all the innocence he could muster.

"Uncle Ken, are you all soft and gooey on the inside?"

Hutch looked down into the twinkling blue-violet eyes.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" he teased.

Hutch leaned over his partner's bed and reached out toward the brunette's ribs, all ten fingers "waggling" furiously. Now Starsky, being the ticklish fellow that he was, couldn't stand to even be "pretend" tickled, and started giggling with pure delight.

It was certainly good to hear his partner's laughter, but Hutch was all too aware of the man's injuries and that he was still recovering. He knew it wouldn't be wise to tire him too much with all the silly games. So, the blond dropped his "waggling fingers" to his sides, but continued to lean over Starsky's bed. He smiled brightly into brunette man-child's happy face.

"Okay, okay. You give? Say 'uncle'."

"Uncle! Uncle Ken!"

Starsky's giggling quieted, but his face never lost its happy smile. Suddenly his uninjured right arm shot up and wrapped itself around Hutch's neck, pulling the blond down into a tight hug.

"I love you, Uncle Ken," the suddenly shy brunette whispered into Hutch's ear.

"You've always loved unconditionally, haven't you, Starsk? That's one of the qualities that makes you such a good man and a better friend."

Hutch slipped his arms around Starsky's shoulders and returned the embrace.

"I love you, too, Davie," he whispered back.

Hutch slowly pulled himself from Starsky's tight embrace letting his hand linger on the man's shoulder a minute as he looked into the blue depths of Starsky's eyes.

"How about we get you cleaned up and dressed so you can get out of here today, huh? You do wanna go home today, buddy, don't ya?" Hutch questioned.


"You wanna be ready to go when the doctor gets here, don't ya?"


"Okay then, let's get you in the bathtub."


"Nope? What do you mean 'nope'?" Hutch asked, genuinely surprised at the sudden opposition.

"Don't wanna."

"You 'don't wanna' what?"

"Don't wanna take a bath."

Hutch grinned slightly and nodded knowingly. He was remembering that baths were never his favorite activity when he was a kid either. When he spent his summers with his Granddad on the farm, it never ceased to amaze him that Grandma would spoil an entire day of great "getting dirty" work by making him take a bath before he went to bed.

"Oh, I see. The dreaded bath." Hutch stood quietly before the bed rubbing his chin, seemingly in deep thought on the subject.

"Well, Davie. I've come to a decision. I really would like you to come home with me today. But, you can't come with me looking and smelling like a little piggy." Hutch pinched his nose and made a frowning face for emphasis. "So, since you don't wanna take a bath, I guess you'll just have to stay here and I'll have to go home without you."

Hutch watched as the brunette's face slid from happy giggles to pouting disappointment.

"But I don't wanna stay here," Starsky whined, blue eyes quickly filling with shimmering tears. "I wanna go home with you."

"Oh man, Starsk. You're breakin' my heart here."

Hutch took a deep breath to strengthen his resolve and squared his shoulders pulling himself to his full height.

"Don't crumble now, Hutchinson, or he'll have you wrapped around his little finger. Oh, who am I kidding? He already does."

"I'm sorry, Davie. If you want to go home with me today, you have to have a bath first."

The curly, brunette head ducked toward his chest, and a small, quiet reply floated up from beneath lowered lashes.

"Okay. I'll take a dumb bath."


"Very good, Davie. I'm proud of you," Hutch said, patting a ketchup-smeared cheek once again.

Starsky looked up at Hutch and beamed a happy smile.

"Uncle Ken? Can I have lots of bubbles? Huh?"

Hutch chuckled at those puppy-dog eyes that never seemed to fail when Starsk used them on him, more than happy to give in to that request -- if he could.

"Bubbles?" Hutch questioned, stepping toward the bathroom to survey the supplies. "I don't know if we have any bubbles here..." his voice trailed off as he looked toward the open room door.

There, standing in the doorway, was Starsky's night nurse, Sue, who was just coming off duty. She was stopping in to see her favorite "little boy" after making a quick stop in the Pediatrics ward. She walked up to the bed and ran a hand through the brunette's wild curls. She smiled up at Hutch, then spoke directly to Starsky.

"Actually, Davie, you can't really take a bath yet because you still have this big boo-boo on your tummy," she explained, pointing to the gauze-covered surgical incision in his abdomen.

"But, over there in the bathroom, there's a really cool spray nozzle on a long handle. You can take a nice shower, feel lots better and not bother your boo-boo a bit."

Starsky didn't look a bit happy at this revelation. "But what about the bubbles?" he whined.

Hutch shook his head sadly and started to consul the brunette. "I'm sorry, buddy, but you can't have bubbles in the shower."

"Uh... Sargent?" Sue's voice cut in.

Hutch looked over at her and found her digging deep into the pocket of her smock to pull out a tall, slender, bright red bottle of bubble solution.

"Never, never... deny a man his right to 'bubbles' in the shower," she chuckled, handing the bottle to Hutch.

Hutch grinned broadly and shook his head in disbelief. He reached out and took the red bottle from her hand, bending down to kiss her softly on the cheek, whispering in her ear.

"You're an angel."

Sue's face glowed with a lovely pink blush at the compliment and the sweet kiss.

"Don't spread that 'angel' stuff around," she whispered back. "It'll ruin my reputation." With a grin and a wave she left the room, Hutch chuckling behind her.

Turning back to his partner in the bed, Hutch grinned broadly and lifted his eyebrows in a very Starsky-like "waggle."

"All right, partner. Here are your bubbles. Now... hit the showers!"

As much as Starsky enjoyed the bubbles, by the time he was showered and dressed, he was feeling pretty tired. On top of that, there was the inevitable and interminable waiting for the wrap up of final paperwork to actually be discharged from the hospital.

By the time Hutch pulled up in front of the Ridgeway Avenue apartment, Starsky was slumping badly in his seat, head nodding, and eyes drooping to half-mast. Stepping around the front of the battered LTD, Hutch pulled the passenger-side door open and crouched down beside his very sleepy partner.

"Hey there buddy, let's get you inside and into bed, okay?" he questioned, reaching in to wrap his arms around Starsky's back and heft him carefully to his feet.

"'Kay," was the small, sleepy reply.

The trip up the stairs was taken slowly, but even so the effort took the last of Starsky's energy. By the time they reached the landing, he was leaning very heavily against Hutch, nearly asleep on his feet. Hutch opened the door and ushered his friend through it.

Closing the door behind them, Hutch steered Starsky down the hall to the bedroom. Settling the brunette on the edge of the bed, Hutch pulled the blue Adidas from his feet, pealed him out of his jeans, and gently freed his injured arm from his light jacket.

"There you go, buddy. You sleep for a while, huh?" Hutch whispered, as he helped Starsky lie back and settle under the covers.

"'Kay," was again the sleepy reply. Starsky smiled the tiniest of smiles as he settled into the pillows, sighed with sheer contentment, and went to sleep.

Hutch watched his friend for a few moments to make sure he'd actually settled into sleep. Then he reached down and pushed a stray curl from the man's still bandaged forehead.

"So good to have you home, Starsk. Just wish you knew you were home, too."

Hutch turned and quietly left the room, pulling the door closed behind him. He sauntered down the hall and gingerly lowered himself to the sofa. Looking toward the wall, he noticed that it was already three o'clock. No wonder they were both tired.

He pulled his jacket off, and unsnapped his holster, depositing the gun and jacket on the coffee table in front of him. Turning around on the sofa, he eased himself back onto the cushions, stretching his long legs out in front of him. A sigh of complete contentment, nearly identical to the one he'd just heard from Starsky, escaped his lips, as he settled his tired body into the upholstery and closed his eyes.

About an hour into his nap, the ringing of a telephone broke into Hutch's consciousness disturbing his peaceful slumber. Coming awake with a jerk, he stood up quickly and stumbled toward the kitchen to silence the hideous beast before its yowling woke his partner.

Snatching the receiver off the hook, the immediate quiet caused him to sigh in relief.

"Yeah?" he barked, a bit impatiently.

"Hutch, it's Babcock," an excited voice answered. "Listen, I know you're just getting Starsk settled in and all, but do you think you could meet us at the station, say in about an hour?"

"Uh, I don't know, Babs. Starsky's asleep right now. I really should be here when he wakes up. He's probably going to be a little confused, and I don't want to make that worse by not being here. Why? What's going on?"

"I think we've finally got a good lead on Starsky's case. We've got a meeting with an informant at five-thirty. From what he's said already, this guy may have actually witnessed the assault. Thought you might want to be in on it when we questioned him."

"I sure would! Look man, tell you what. Why don't you give me the address and I'll meet you there. I've got to take care of some things here for Starsk before I go, so I won't have time to get to the station by five."

"Sure, Hutch, no problem. It's the Highland's Bar, one-two-one-five Figueroa. All I ask is that you wait for us before you go inside. I don't know how hinky this guy is gonna to be, and if he sees somebody he doesn't recognize, he may rabbit on us."

"You got it. See you there at five-thirty," Hutch agreed, and hung up the phone.

He stood for a moment running a hand through his hair contemplating how he was going to work this all out. He snatched the phone up once again and dialed the number for The Pits. After three rings, a familiar voice answered.

"You've got the Bear, and what can I do for you this fine afternoon?"

"Hi Hug. I need a favor -- a big one," Hutch said in reply.

"Hutch, my blond brother, you have but to ask. What can I do for you, m'man?"

"I have to meet Simons and Babcock at five-thirty to interview an informant who may have witnessed the assault on Starsky." He paused, and Huggy heard the sigh clearly over the phone line.

"I can't leave him alone, Hug. It would be dangerous -- just as dangerous and irresponsible as leaving an actual kid alone. I know you agreed to be emergency backup for me, but this is awfully short notice."

"Never fear, the Bear is here. I'll have Diane open for me tonight, and I'll be there toot-sweet."

"Hug, you're beautiful!"

"I know, and I'm on my way."

"Great. See you in twenty minutes," Hutch said, hanging up the phone.

That little chore done, Hutch turned to the task of fixing some dinner. Knowing that Starsky's tastes had probably changed very little from his childhood as attested to by this morning's cheeseburger breakfast, he figured he'd be pretty safe fixing anything that was a current Starsky favorite. Scanning the refrigerator and the pantry, he discovered he had everything he needed to make a meatloaf. Gathering some onions, herbs and spices, it wasn't long before the meatloaf was ready and in the oven.

Hutch then rooted around in the back of the fridge where he found several large potatoes. After a quick wash and some prep work, he stuck them in the oven to bake with the meatloaf. He'd just closed the oven door on the spuds, when there was a knock at the front door. Striding quickly to the door, Hutch opened it before another knock could sound.

"Come on in, Hug. Starsk is still asleep."

"Right," Huggy replied in a whisper, crossing to the sofa to sit down.

Hutch joined him and turned to speak with his friend.

"There's a meatloaf and some spuds baking in the oven. They should all be done in about an hour. I hope he'll eat it."

"Not to worry, Blondie. Unless it's green and healthy looking, Starsky will eat it," Huggy replied with a chuckle. Then he sobered, an expression of concern creasing his brow.

"Hutch... Starsk ain't gonna be hip to who I am. Is my being here gonna freak him out?" he asked, worry in his tone.

Hutch looked worried.

"I don't know, Hug. That's why I asked you to come over so soon. He isn't gonna know where he is when he wakes up either. He's bound to be a little confused -- scared maybe. We just gotta wake him up and give it a shot. Come on." Hutch slapped his palms against his thighs and rose from his seat on the sofa.

The two men quietly entered the peaceful bedroom. Starsky was lying on his right side facing the door. He was curled up into a loose ball under the blanket, with his plastered left arm over the blanket supported across his hip. His right arm was in front of him, curled snuggly around the stuffed Teddy bear Hutch had given him in the hospital. The bear was resting right up under the brunette's chin, and it looked as if he was using it as a furry pillow.

Huggy paused, putting a hand to Hutch's shoulder. Signaling the blond to stay quiet, Huggy quickly left the room. When he returned, he was holding Starsky's camera, fiddling with the F-stop adjustments to accommodate the subdued lighting in the room.

Hutch was laughing silently at his friend and at what was about to become the best "blackmail" piece to ever hit the Metro Division. He continued to chuckle as he watched Huggy set up the shot.

Hug sat down on the carpet so the camera was almost at bed level, but just slightly above. He scooted in close to the bed, then used the features of the expensive lens to frame the shot as a close-up with only Starsky's face and the Teddy bear in focus. With several quick clicks of the shutter, the deed was done.

"Huggy... that's just cold, man, cold," Hutch chuckled. "But I love it."

Huggy grinned, then his expression saddened a little.

"Would be nice if Curly could enjoy the joke with us though, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah." Hutch reached out to give Huggy's shoulder a gentle pat and approached the bed once again. "Well, here goes nothing."

Sitting down on the edge of the bed, Hutch reached out and gave Starsky's shoulders a gentle shake.

"Davie? Davie, it's time to wake up now."

Thick, dark lashes fluttered open to reveal sleepy blue eyes blinking in the soft light of the night table lamp. Starsky looked up and focused on Hutch's face, a smile of genuine affection brightening his features. He reached his uninjured arm way up over his head and stretched languidly, like a cat that's just awakened from a long nap in a sunny windowsill.

"Hey buddy, did you have a nice nap?" Hutch questioned.

The curly head nodded a slow "yes," as Starsky stretched a bit too far and winced slightly at the pain in his ribs and abdomen.

"Carefully Davie. You still have a lot of getting better to do, so take it easy."

Starsky finished his stretch and was looking curiously around the room.

"Do we live here, Uncle Ken?" he asked.

"Sure do."

"It's nice."

Just then the curly headed man-child looked above him and giggled at his reflection in the large mirror over his head.

"That's a silly place to put a mirror."

"I always thought so," Hutch mumbled under his breath. Then louder so his partner could hear, "Hey Davie, there's somebody here to visit you.

Hutch turned and waved Huggy over to the foot of the bed.

"Davie, this is Huggy Bear. He's our friend."

Starsky's attention was now fully riveted on the tall, slender, black man smiling at him. He wore a brightly colored red, white and blue plaid jacket and bellbottom pants over four-inch platform shoes. A large, bright red bow tie adorned his slender neck, and his short, dark hair was covered by a matching plaid jockey's cap perched on top of his head.

Starsky grinned at Huggy and giggled.

"Are you a clown?" he asked innocently, as he continued to study the flamboyantly dressed man.

"No, Little Bro," Huggy chuckled, "I'm not a clown."

"At least not by profession anyway," Hutch teased.

Huggy scowled slightly.

"Keep it up, Blondie, and you'll be lookin' for another babysitter."

Hutch ducked his head and chortled behind his hand.

"Sorry Hug, but you've got to admit some of your wardrobe is a little 'out of this world'."

Huggy pulled himself up to his full height and slipped his thumbs behind his wide lapels, as he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. Raising his chin with pride, he spoke through barely contained mirth.

"I'll have you know, oh Fashion-Challenged One, that I shop in only the finest establishments, where only the elite and fleet of feet go to be properly attired."

Starsky, who was following this conversation with rapt attention and undisguised curiosity, looked over at Hutch.

"Uncle Ken, what did he say? Where does he shop?" he questioned, confused.

Hutch grinned at the question. "Oh, you know Davie. He likes all those fine places like Gordie's Five & Ten, Savin' Sammy's, and Plaids R Us -- all the classy spots."

"Ohhh..." Starsky said, with a serious nod of his head.

Hutch and Huggy both grinned at the totally serious and completely trusting expression on the brunette's face. Hutch reached over and patted Starsky on the shoulder. So far, Starsky seemed comfortable in his surroundings and with Huggy, so he decided to proceed.

"Davie, I need to go out and run an errand, so Huggy's going to stay with you until I get back, okay?"

Starsky turned over on his side and slowly sat up in the bed, swinging his feet down to the floor. He looked up at Huggy for a minute, intently studying the man's face. There was only the quickest flicker of apprehension that crossed his face, followed just as quickly by acceptance and trust.

"Okay," he agreed.

"Good," Hutch replied with a smile. He looked over his shoulder at Huggy and read his own thoughts clearly reflected on the black man's face.

"It's an awesome responsibility -- trust like this."

Huggy nodded his head in silent agreement.

"Okay pal, here's some pants," Hutch said, reaching out with a pair of gray sweat pants and helping Starsky get his feet into them and pull them up to his waist.

"I've got to go. There's some dinner in the oven. You guys eat and then take it easy tonight until I get home, okay?"

The brunette's curiosity, not to mention his appetite, was piqued at the mention of dinner. "What'd ya make, Uncle Ken?"

Hutch leaned in close to Starsky's shoulder grinning from ear to ear, playing at building up the suspense of the surprise.

"It's one of your favorites -- guess."

Starsky thought for a minute, then his face brightened under the full power of a thousand-watt grin.



"Yum! I'm hungry," Starsky declared, rising carefully to his feet.

"Good. Glad to hear it," Hutch stated, rising beside Starsky. "Okay. You guys enjoy your dinner, and I'll see you in a little while."

Hutch turned and started to leave the room, when a hand flashed out and snagged his shirtsleeve. He turned and found himself on the receiving end of a somewhat awkward, but no less affectionate, hug from his bruised, plastered and still-recovering partner. He wrapped his arms around the brunette and returned the embrace with as much enthusiasm as he thought his healing partner could handle. The dark, curly head found its way to his shoulder and the bruised, but beloved, face buried itself in his neck.

"I-I love you, Uncle Ken," the shy little voice declared.

Hutch suddenly found himself swallowing hard to choke down a huge lump in his throat.

"Please... let me always be deserving of his unquestioning trust and his unconditional love."

"I love you, too, Davie," he whispered in reply, stroking a hand across the curly head on his shoulder.

Stepping back, Hutch looked into Starsky's face, startled again by the complete trust he saw there.

"You go have your dinner now, okay? And you be a good boy, and listen to what Huggy tells you."

Starsky looked over Hutch's shoulder at Huggy and grinned. Looking back at Hutch he replied.


Starsky turned from Hutch and stepped over to Huggy's side. He reached out his hand and slipped it into Huggy's, curling his fingers around the long, slender, black ones. Huggy's face changed from astonished amazement to deep affection in the blink of an eye.

"Come on, Little Bro, let's see if that chow is ready yet," he said, leading his charge from the room.

Hutch watched their progress until they were in the kitchen and Huggy had settled Starsky in a chair at the table. Then he grabbed his holster and jacket and quickly left the apartment.

The drive from Starsky's place over to the bar on Figueroa would take about fifteen minutes, so Hutch knew he had plenty of time and wouldn't need to rush. Starsky had been a lot more agreeable to his leaving and having Huggy stay with him than Hutch had figured, leaving him with plenty of time to make his appointment with Simmons and Babcock.

Hutch was cruising lazily along Hawthorne Avenue when he glanced in his rearview mirror. The same dark sedan had been behind him for more than a mile. At the next intersection, he signaled and executed his planned turn. Thirty seconds later, the dark sedan came around the corner and continued to follow.

"Coincidence?" Hutch muttered, signaling to make the next left.

When the light turned green, he made the turn and watched his mirror. Sixty seconds later, the dark sedan came around the corner on the next green light.

"So much for coincidence," he mumbled with a frown.

Hutch knew he could be in trouble. He didn't know who was following him or why, and he was without back up, obviously. On top of that, he knew he couldn't lead potential danger to a meet with an informant.

"Sorry turkey. I don't know who you are, but you aren't invited."

Hutch punched his foot into the accelerator and the old LTD's engine roared loudly with the demand for speed. Tires squealed as he cranked the wheel, throwing the speeding car into a tight right turn at the next intersection, followed immediately by a quick left. He glanced in his mirror as the LTD roared down the straightaway of the boulevard. Spotting the dark sedan, he shook his head in disbelief. His pursuers had made the turns, too.

"Guess they want to do this the hard way."

Hutch pushed the LTD for all the speed he could get and now he was flying down the street, maneuvering skillfully around traffic like an Indy racer, putting every obstacle he could between himself and the sedan before he made his next turn.

Hutch lost sight of the sedan in traffic, so he made the next right, the LTD fishtailing wildly into a littered alleyway. Trash cans, boxes, and liter of all kinds went flying as he raced down the alley.

At the first cross street, Hutch threw the LTD into a tight left and skidded around the turn directly in the path of a large delivery van. The van's driver laid on his horn, slammed on his brakes, and left thirty feet of rubber on the asphalt to keep from smashing into the speeding LTD.

Hutch took the next left into another alleyway and flew back in the general direction he'd just come. Looking into his mirror, he wasn't really surprised to see the dark sedan still on his tail.


At the next cross street, Hutch laid rubber into a tight right turn. He flew straight and level for another half a block then cranked the wheel hard sending the speeding LTD into a left turn. Jerking the wheel back, he executed an immediate right. He was now actually on Figueroa, but many blocks to the south of where he was headed. As he roared down the boulevard, Hutch spotted a car wash ahead on the left and got an idea. Reaching up, he patted the palm of his hand against the dash.

"Sorry sweetheart. I wouldn't normally do this to you, but desperate times call for desperate measures."

With that, Hutch cut quickly across traffic and bounced the LTD's front end up the driveway of Harvey's Gleam & Clean Full Service Car Wash and Wax Emporium. Pulling up to the head of the line, he popped out of the car and turned it over to the attendant.

"Give her the full treatment, okay guys? That will take, what -- ten, maybe fifteen minutes?"

The attendant nodded as he closed the door and eased the LTD into the wash tunnel.

"That oughta be just about right," Hutch mumbled to himself.

As the LTD disappeared from view, Hutch followed the narrow walkway that ran along the edge of the tunnel to the other end where he had a clear view of the street. Sure enough, the dark sedan was just pulling out onto Figueroa from the last turn.

Hutch watched as it cruised slowly up the street, past the car wash, and down three more blocks before it made a left turn and disappeared. He stayed hidden and just waited. The LTD would be out of sight for a least five or ten more minutes. Before too long, the dark sedan made the turn at the end of the block below the car wash and cruised past a second time.

Hutch could see that the driver was angrily yelling at someone else in the car, and wasn't paying too close attention to his surroundings any longer. The driver slapped an angry palm against the steering wheel and the sedan continued on down the street, heading away from Hutch's location. With a chuckle, he waggled his fingers in a fond good-bye and watched until the dark sedan disappeared into the distance.

The LTD was just emerging from the end of the wash tunnel, clean and shining from a fresh coat of wax. After paying the man, Hutch opened the door and sat down.

"Sorry sweetheart," he said sadly, patting the dash again. "You should get a medal for this."

Hutch pulled out into the street and headed toward his meeting at the bar.

The Highlands was a typical skid row dive. One door, one window -- dirty and grimy. Litter was scattered along the sidewalk in front of the business and collected in little piles in the doorway alcove that reeked of vomit, urine and an assortment of unidentifiable, but no less nauseating, odors. One blinking, blue neon sign in the window declared "Pabst Blue Ribbon" for sale inside.

Hutch stepped through the door and stood for a moment letting his eyes adjust to the dim interior. The inside was as seedy as the outside. A half dozen dirty tables were scattered about the room, each with its own collection of dirty glasses, trash and family of flies. A few assorted derelicts sat at the tables, a few more at the bar.

Hutch couldn't help but wonder what had brought these people to their lonely existence in a dump like this. He sincerely prayed to whatever God happened to be listening that he would never personally be in a position to find out.

Scanning the bar's interior, Hutch spotted Simmons and Babcock at a table in the far corner of the dark, smoky room. The third guy at the table was obviously the informant. He didn't recognize the man, but that didn't surprise him. It was rare that officers in the same squad would know anything about their brother cops' informants, and vice versa.

Babcock looked up as he approached the table.

"We were beginning to wonder if you'd stood us up, Hutch. Anything wrong?"

"Sorry, Babs. No, nothing's wrong. Just had to give a couple guys in a dark sedan the slip on my way over here."

"Oh shit, man! You were followed?" the informant questioned hotly.

He was a thin, wiry little man, with long, stringy black hair and dark, squinty eyes that never stayed still, continuously shifting around the room. His worn, dirty jeans and shirt were rivaled only by his dirty moustache, hanging below the corners of his mouth and brushing his bottom lip when he talked. What teeth he had where stained and yellow, and Hutch could smell his whisky-soaked breath clear across the table.

"Shut up, Lenny!" snapped Simmons. He turned to speak with Hutch.

"Do you think you were followed?"

"No, I wasn't followed. I told you, I gave them the slip -- in a car wash," Hutch finished with a grin.

"A car wash? You took the Hutch-Mobile through a car wash? I don't believe it."

Hutch ducked his head to study his shoes for a moment, as his co-workers enjoyed a chuckle at his expense.

"Yeah well, I was running out of time and getting a little desperate," he muttered sheepishly.

"But I thought you said washing cars was against your principles," Babcock teased.

"Aww, shut up, would you?" Hutch snipped peevishly.

"Hee-hee-hee. Sure buddy, anything you say," Babcock continued to laugh. "Wonder what a certain curly-headed detective is going to say when he hears about this?"

Hutch just shot him a "you wouldn't dare" expression and ignored the rest of his chuckling.

"Babs, come on. Lay off, huh? We got business to take care of," Simmons admonished his partner.

Babcock, still chuckling, threw up his hands in surrender.

"Okay, okay. Hutch, this is Lenny. He's the guy we were telling you about," Babcock said by way of introduction.

Hutch leaned across the table and captured the roving eyes of the informant with his intense gaze and demanded their full attention.

"Okay, punk. They tell me you know who beat up that cop over on Springer. Let's hear it."

The dirty, little man shifted uncomfortably in his chair, his eyes never drifting from the blond's icy blue gaze.

"Well, not exactly," Lenny replied.

"What do you mean 'not exactly'? You better not be jerking us around, punk. Talk!"

"Me, personally? I don't know nothing, man," Lenny answered. "But I have this friend, who knows this guy who was talking to a guy in here one night, and he overheard some goons in the back talking about the job they'd just pulled. Turns out the job was a cop."

"What goons? What guy? Did he see it happen?" Hutch snapped, his patience with this rigmarole wearing thin all too quickly.

"I don't know, man! But my friend says that the guy from the bar wants to talk, in exchange for some heavy bread. He knows he's got good information and he's willing to deal."

"He wants to deal, huh? If he wants to deal so badly, why didn't he contact the police himself or come with you to talk with us tonight?" Hutch questioned, suspicious.

"He don't trust you pigs, man. He's an ex-con. He'd never come to a meet in a public place like this," Lenny replied sarcastically, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Hutch looked at Simmons and Babcock for a moment, silently seeking their opinions. They both nodded slightly in the affirmative.

"Okay punk. What does this friend of your friend want?" Hutch questioned, moving the negotiations forward.

"Three hundred big ones, man. Not a penny less."

"Three hundred?" snapped Babcock, jumping forward to latch onto the little man's collar and yank him out of his seat.

Hutch and Simmons jumped immediately to Babcock's side to run interference, if needed, but otherwise, they would simply add their presence to Babcock's implied threat.

"Uh, Lenny... you're irritating Detective Babcock here. I wouldn't do that if I were you," Hutch said, easily slipping into the role of "good cop."

"Now, let's have it straight. This friend of a friend wants three hundred dollars. Just what do we get for our money, Lenny?" Hutch questioned.

"Just what I told you, man. This guy heard them talking about the job they did on the cop. He can give you the mechanics who did it, man!"

Hutch studied the nervous little man in Babcock's grip for a moment.

"Okay. When and where?"

"I don't know yet, man. I have to contact my friend, and he'll contact his friend about the meet. He'll pick the time and place and tell my friend, who will get back to me. I'll contact Simmons or Babs here and they can contact you. Deal?"

Hutch moved forward around Babcock's shoulder and leaned into Lenny's face, his steely gaze boring twin beams of ice into the little man's eyes.

"Deal." Then his hand flashed out, wrapping itself around Lenny's throat, applying just enough pressure to bring a look of panic to the weasel's face.

"But... if you're conning us, Lenny, or setting us up for a double-cross, I will personally haul your skinny ass down to the county jail and introduce you to several good old boys who'd love to make your acquaintance. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yeah... yeah, sure," the snitch replied nervously.

Babcock and Hutch released theirs holds on the little man.

"Get out of here," Simmons said by way of dismissal, and they watched as Lenny scurried across the room and disappeared out the front door.

The three detectives were silent for a beat, studying each other's faces.

"I don't like it," Simmons finally volunteered. "I smell a set up."

"Yeah, me too," Babcock agreed.

"I know, I know," Hutch agreed. "But we've got nothing else. What choice do we have?"

"We don't. That's the bottom line," Simmons said, verbalizing the thoughts of each of the other men.

They were silent for another beat, Simmons voice finally stirring them from their thoughts.

"Come on, let's get out of here. Don't worry, Hutch. We'll keep working the street for anything we can get. In the meantime, we'll run this meet with Lenny's pal by Dobey so we'll be ready when he makes contact. We'll let you know when and where it's going down."

The three detectives crossed the room and stepped out onto the street.

"Thanks guys. I really appreciate all your help with this," Hutch said sincerely, getting into the clean, shining LTD.

"Mm, mm, mm... just look at this hunk of junk now, Babs," Simmons teased. "I never knew rust, primer spots and dents could be so 'purdy'."

"I never knew this collection of rust, primer spots and dents would stay assembled without the layer of dirt holding it together," Babcock teased.

"All right, all right. Give it a rest, you two, huh? It's bad enough I have to listen to Starsky bad-mouthing this fine machine all the time, now I gotta hear it from you, too?"

Simmons and Babcock chuckled as Hutch fired the LTD's engine to life. Babcock leaned down into the window for a moment, placing a firm hand on Hutch's shoulder.

"Don't worry, man. We'll get the guys who hurt Starsk, and they're going to do hard time."

"Take it easy, Hutch. Good night," Simmons called into the window. "Oh, and Hutch... watch yourself, huh?"

Hutch was silent for a moment, knowing Simmons was thinking the same thing he was -- who were the turkeys in the dark sedan, what did they want, and where were they now?

"Yeah," Hutch replied, looking at his two companions seriously. "Good night."

Hutch pulled the LTD away from the curb and headed toward the cozy apartment on Ridgeway.

Hutch's return trip to Starky's apartment was uneventful. He had purposely spent hours driving a meandering rout half way across town and back to draw any potential tail into the open and to give him the opportunity to spot the dark sedan. He thought he might have spotted it once and spent almost a full hour cautiously following his target, only to give up in frustration when the sedan pulled into a movie "Cineplex" and a woman and three kids piled out and went into the theaters.

With a little sigh of defeat, Hutch finally decided he'd had enough and headed toward home. It was nearly nine o'clock when he pulled up in front of Starsky's place. Exiting the car, he trudged slowly up the stairs and used his key to open the front door.

The living room was silent and dimly lit, the reading lamp on the end table the only illumination. Starsky was sitting quietly at the end of the sofa and looked up when Hutch came into the room. Huggy was nowhere to be seen.

"Davie, where's Hug...?" he started to ask, stepping around the end of the sofa to face his partner.

Starsky was sitting with his legs crossed in front of him on the cushion. He was contentedly perusing the colorful picture book about mammals that Dobey had given him, while Huggy snored peacefully stretched out on the sofa with his head resting on Starsky's thigh. The afghan from the back of the sofa had been draped over and tucked around the sleeping form, and the Teddy bear had been lovingly snuggled into the crook of his neck. It was quite a sweet picture, and Hutch couldn't help smiling.

Starsky grinned, bringing a finger to his lips, and whispered.

"Shhh, Uncle Ken. Huggy's real tired."

Hutch crouched down in front of Starsky. Reaching a hand up to stroke the side of the still-bandaged head, Hutch smiled into the bright blue eyes looking back at him.

"And you're taking real good care of him, aren't ya, Davie?"

Starsky just nodded his head against Hutch's palm, and smiled.

"He always takes good care of us," the brunette proclaimed.

"What?" Hutch asked in surprise at another flash of returning memory from his partner.

"He always takes real good care of us."

"That's right! That's absolutely right, Davie," Hutch whispered.

Starsky's grin grew. "I tucked him in, nice and warm, and brought him my Teddy so he wouldn't be lonely."

"You sure did. That was really very nice of you to do that. But why didn't you go get in your bed when Huggy fell asleep?"

The dark head tipped downward and the shy little voice was back.

"Cuz, I-I didn't wanna be lonely either," was the whispered reply.

"It's okay, Davie. I understand. I wouldn't want to be lonely either. Come on," Hutch encouraged, dropping his hand from Starsky's head to grip the man's shoulder. Straightening from his crouch, he encouraged Starsky to stand up, too.

"Come on, let's get you into bed."

Starsky carefully unfolded his legs and slowly slid out from under Huggy's snoozing head. He reached out as if to lift the Teddy bear from its resting place by Huggy, but hesitated, then turned and stepped away from the couch without it.

Hutch made no comment about the bear, but quietly escorted his partner down the hall to his room. He helped the brunette shimmy out of his sweat pants and get settled in the bed under the warm covers. Turning to leave the room, the shy little voice stopped him.

"Uncle Ken? Don't go 'way... please?"

Hutch looked into his partner's innocent expression for a moment and made his decision. He pulled off his jacket and holster, tossing them into the chair in the corner of the room. Sitting down on the corner of the bed, he reached out to pull the covers up around Starsky's shoulders.

"Close your eyes, Davie. It's time to sleep." Silence filled the room for a moment before Hutch whispered his question.

"Davie? Why did you leave your Teddy bear out there with Huggy?"

"Huggy needs him tonight."

Hutch puzzled over that answer for a moment.

"But don't you need him tonight, too?"


"No? Why?"

The brunette turned his face so he could look up at Hutch, the love in his heart shining in his violet-blue eyes and softening his expression.

"Cuz I have you, Uncle Ken," he answered sincerely. He settled back into the pillows and closed his eyes. It was only a few minutes before his body relaxed, his breathing slowed and deepened, and he was sleeping peacefully, secure in the knowledge that his "uncle" was there with him and he was safe and loved.

Hutch leaned over Starsky to reach the extra pillow on the other side of the bed. Stuffing it between his back and the headboard, Hutch twisted his body so he could put his feet up on the bed. His hand found its way to his partner's head where it lay on the pillow, and he tenderly combed his long fingers through the brunette curls for a minute.

"And you always will, partner. No matter what your future holds -- you always will," he whispered. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back against the headboard and soon he followed the brunette man-child into peaceful slumber.

If Hutch, Simmons, and Babcock thought their clandestine rendezvous with Lenny was going to bring a quick resolution to Starsky's case they were sadly mistaken.

Two days passed without word from Lenny about the meet. Two days turned to three, and three days turned quickly into four. Simmons and Babcock were really applying the pressure, putting the heat on the streets just to get a line on Lenny, who had dropped completely out of sight. Their luck had been dismal, to say the least.

Hutch listened to their reports and tried to offer encouragement, while keeping his own frustration under wraps.

"Don't give up, Babs. Something will turn. I have faith in Lenny. Greed is the one basic character trait you can always count on," Hutch encouraged, chuckling into the telephone.

"Yeah, you're right. It's just so damned frustrating. We were so close. Then to have it all disappear right before our eyes like so much smoke in a bottle, it's... it's maddening!" Babcock stammered, venting his frustration on Hutch. "Ah man, I'm sorry, Hutch. You don't need me adding to your burdens right now," he apologized.

"No sweat, Babs. Forget it."

"How's it going anyway? How's Starsky doing?"

"Physically, he's coming along, getting a little stronger every day. He got the bandages off his head yesterday."

"Oh yeah? How'd he take to that patch of missing hair?"

"That was amazing. He just stood in front of the mirror for the longest time looking at his head. I offered to buy him a new baseball cap, but he said no. He pulled himself up as tall as he could and straightened his shoulders. Then he looked over at me and told me in no uncertain terms that 'he was a big boy now and he wanted his hair all the same'."

"'The same'? What does that mean?"

"That's what I asked him. He said, 'You know, Uncle Ken. You go to the man with the funny chair that goes up and down'."

"You mean a barber? He wanted to go to the barber and get a hair cut?"

"Yup. But, he isn't strong enough yet for an outing like that, so..."

"Hutch! You didn't?"

"I did."

"You gave him a hair cut? I don't believe it. Well, how'd it turn out? How's he look?"

"You know, it didn't turn out half bad. It's really short, but he looks pretty damned good -- younger. At least now it's all 'the same'. Davie is happy as a clam with it."

"I'm sure he is, but what happens if Starsky gets his memory back before it grows out a little? What're you gonna do then?"

Hutch sighed heavily into the phone.


Babcock laughed heartily.

"Good idea. Because when Starsky gets a look at what you did to his hair, man, he's gonna pin your ears back, grease you up, and stuff you down the nearest storm drain he can find."

"Hmmm... I know, I know," Hutch moaned in misery.

"Hutchinson, you really sound pitiful," Babcock chuckled. "Well, take care, man. I gotta go. And tell that partner of yours to be a good little boy and to get well soon."

"I will, Babs. Thanks. Keep me posted on Lenny."

"Will do. See you later."

"Yeah. Later," Hutch replied, and hung up the phone.

Al Martin sat at his desk reviewing the pages of a large, blue ledger. The more he studied the figures, the angrier he became. He picked up a small stack of receipts and started riffling quickly through them, occasionally punching a figure or two into his adding machine and grimacing each time the total appeared. After running one more set of dismal calculations, he set his pencil down on the desk, closed the ledger, and slid it aside.

Rising from his chair, he went to the office door, opened it, and quickly scanned the smoky room. Spying the object of his current interest, he fixed a steely gaze on the man's face, planted his hands on his hips, and loudly cleared his throat.


The large, sturdily built goon looked up from the pool table and the shot he was about to take to see his boss standing in the office doorway staring menacingly in his direction.

"Y-yeah, Boss?"

"Get in here... now."

Martin turned around and went back through the office door without waiting for any kind of acknowledgement from Snake.

"Oh shit!" Snake sputtered, laying the pool cue down on the table.

Snake crossed the room and entered the office. Martin looked up and silently motioned him into a chair in front of the desk. He followed his man's motion across the floor and into the chair, never once shifting his penetrating gaze from the goon's face.

"A few short weeks ago, we sat right here in this office and talked about my business, Snake," Martin began his voice low, cold and menacing.

"We talked about my business and the fact that I didn't want anybody, not even the cops, messing in it. I gave you an assignment -- to deliver that message to the cops."

"But, we did, Boss. We hit that cop and gave it to him good," Snake replied, a slight whine in his voice.

"Yeah, I guess you did at that. Pounded on that cop good and put him in the hospital."

"Yeah, yeah... we did. Messed him up good," Snake concurred, thinking that maybe this wasn't going to be the dressing down he'd expected. He was wrong.

Martin flew up from his chair and rattled the rafters with the decibel power behind his next words.

"Then you tell my why, Snake! WHY AM I LOSING MONEY FASTER THAN THE TITANIC WENT TO THE BOTTOM OF THE ATLANTIC? I can't beg, borrow or steal a new customer because there's so much heat out there on the street nobody's willing to get close to me. There's more cops in the neighborhood now than when they were looking for those two child-raping perverts. Why is that, Snake? WHY?"

Snake squirmed uncomfortably in his chair, fidgeting with the end of his tie, then running his hand over his face and through his hair.

"WHY?" Martin bellowed again.

"Uh... well Boss, it's like this, see..." Snake stammered, suddenly finding the toes of his boots quite fascinating. "That cop we hit... well... uh..."

"He's not dead, is he?"

"No, no... absolutely not. He's not dead. He's... he's..."


"Boss... he's got amnesia. He don't know who he is or what happened to him. We gave him the message all right, he just don't remember getting' it," Snake finished, looking up at his boss.

Martin slowly eased himself down into his chair, jaw clenching and teeth grinding on the anger boiling inside him.

"Amnesia? So, he's got amnesia. What about his partner? After you hit him that should have backed off all those cops for a good while"

"Well... uh... well," Snake was squirming again.

"WHAT?" Martin bellowed, jumping up from his chair again.

"Me and the boys ain't been able to hit him yet, Boss." At the rising rage in Martin's face, Snake quickly continued his explanation. "We ain't never been able to get the drop on him."

Martin returned to his seat, staring at him in stony silence, so Snake continued.

"But, I-I got this idea, see. I thought that if we leaked word to that blond cop that someone knew who hit his partner, we could draw him out -- get him to come to us."

Martin's expression changed to one of curious interest, so Snake continued.

"And we got lucky -- had him alone in that beater he drives, but..."

"You lost him," Martin supplied, his words dripping with sarcasm.

"Yeah... well," Snake replied, a bit dejectedly.

Martin said no more, so Snake went on with his plan.

"Anyway... so, me and the boys got Lenny to contact the cops and set up a meet. Lenny told'em that he has a friend who knows a guy who heard some guys talking in a bar one night about a hit on a cop. It worked, too, Boss. They went for it. When Blondie shows up to get the story on his partner, we got him!"

Martin almost smiled.

"When's the meet? Where?"

"Uh... well... uh..." Snake was stammering again.

Martin's face turned to instant stone.

"This better be good," he said, much too calmly.

Snake knew there was no way around this and that Martin's reaction wasn't going to be pretty.

"Well... uh... the meet's not set yet. Uh... Lenny's got to make the call to the cops because he's supposed to be the only one who knows who the snitch is. Only he ain't made the call yet."

"And why, pray tell, would that be?" Martin asked sarcastically, flames of his barely controlled rage licking around the edges of the words.

"C-cuz he's... disappeared," Snake replied, really finding his boots interesting at the moment.

"DISAPPEARED!" Martin raged, exploding out of his chair to step around the desk and yank Snake up by the lapels of his jacket getting right into the man's face.

"YOU IDIOT! YOU STUPID SON OF A BITCH! You set up this plan -- not a bad one really, considering -- then you don't hold on to the guy who's got to make it happen?"

Martin released Snake's jacket and gave the man a none-too-gentle shove back into his chair. Visibly calming himself, he returned to his chair behind the desk and sat down. For several long minutes, the only sound in the small office was the ticking of a coo-coo clock hanging on the far wall.

When Martin finally spoke, his voice was deceptively calm, but edged with ice.

"Snake... I don't care what you have to do, but you're gonna turn Lenny and set the meet. Then you're gonna hit that blond cop for real, and finish off his partner, too. This has gone on too long and there's too many loose ends. I don't like loose ends, especially when they can get back to me. So you finish Lenny, too. Understand?"

Snake nodded his understanding.

"Roughing up a couple of cops and letting them know they're stepping on somebody's toes is one thing. Screwing up the hit and giving them plenty of time and incentive to uncover who ordered it is another."

Martin stopped and glared down at Snake.

"You take care of it, Snake. You take care of it, or I'm gonna take care of you."

Ice hung from the words and shown in Martin's cold eyes, and Snake knew that was no idle threat.

"Yes, sir," he murmured, and quickly fled the office.

Evening found the apartment on Ridgeway quiet and at peace. Dinner had been a sloppy, but fun, affair, with Starsky happily demonstrating his "one-handed spaghetti twirling" technique for Hutch, much to the blond's amazement.

Fork-full after fork-full of the saucy, slippery stuff was diligently chased around the plate until Starsky found exactly the correct angle to anchor it, then slowly and carefully coax the strands around his fork. Being that he was doing all this with his right hand only made the task more challenging for him.

At first, Starsky seemed overwhelmed by the task, but refused all offers of assistance from Hutch with a firm "I can do it by myself, Uncle Ken." He tried several different grips on the fork, he tried repositioning himself on one side of his chair then the other, and he even tried standing up in front of his supper.

Hutch had watched all this activity with a combination of amused fascination and nervous anxiety. He didn't like to see his partner struggling so with such a simple thing, when he was available to assist. But the level of determination Starsky displayed -- that almost overpowering need to gut it out to the "saucy," if not bitter, end -- was amazing to behold.

"From day-one you've tackled the challenges in your life the same way, haven't you partner? Just keep after a thing until you will it into submission... or die trying."

After many unsuccessful tries and a lot of sauce down the front of his shirt and pants, Starsky had finally mastered his technique. He spent the rest of the meal reveling in his accomplishment and showing his "Uncle Ken" how it was done.

Once the meal was done, Hutch hustled Starsky right off to the shower -- he was too saucy to even attempt a simple wash-up job at the sink. After turning on the water in the shower and helping the brunette peal out of his wet, messy shirt, Hutch left the "saucy" brunette to take care of business and returned to tackle the clean up job in the kitchen.

Hutch started clearing the table of dirty dishes and food, making quick work of packing the leftovers and putting them in the refrigerator. He had just filled the sink with hot water, soap, and sauce-covered dishes and was nearly up to his elbows in suds, when he noticed Starsky standing quietly at the edge of the room.

The brunette was dressed in a pair of old, navy blue sweat pants and a red tee shirt, his curls still damp from the shower. He was standing, almost shyly, with his right arm tucked behind his back.

Hutch tore his attention away from his task and glanced over at his partner.

"Hey buddy. Looks like you found some clothes for bed, huh?"


"Good job," Hutch praised, and went back to the dishes. After a moment, he realized that the brunette hadn't moved, and he glanced over at him once again.

"What's up, partner?"

Starsky bounced slightly on the balls of his feet and grinned.

"What'cha doin', Uncle Ken?" the brunette asked innocently.

Hutch's hands ceased their movement in the sink, as he raised his head to stare out at nothing for a moment, a puzzled expression creasing his brow. With a sigh, he turned to look at his partner once again.

"What am I do..." the exasperated question halting half way out of his mouth, as he caught a glimpse of his partner's twinkling blue eyes and mischievous grin.

Hutch's laughter filled the kitchen, as he pulled his hands from the sink and grabbed a towel off the counter

"Okay, buddy... what did you have in mind?"

Starsky's face lit up under a brilliant smile, as he eased his right arm from behind him. Clasped firmly in his hand were the three brightly colored picture books that Captain Dobey had given to him.

"Read to me, Uncle Ken? Would you? Huh?" he asked hopefully, eyebrows lifting high over large, pleading blue-violet eyes.

"How Rachel and Michael were ever able to deny you anything as a child, Starsk, I'll never know."

Hutch chuckled, finished drying his hands, and dropped the towel on the counter.

"You bet, partner. Come on," he said, leading the brunette over to the sofa.

Settling himself on one end, Hutch reached over and turned on the small lamp. Starsky sat down beside him and handed him the books. The brunette fidgeted trying to get comfortable. Hutch waited patiently while his squirming partner worked it out of his system. Finally, the brunette scooted down on the sofa and stretched out on his side. Laying his curly head in his partner's lap, he was finally still, a most contented sigh escaping from his lips.

Hutch just shook his head and chuckled to himself. "Comfortable?"

"Yup," was the happy reply.

Hutch held the book out in front of him, but down on his lap so that Starsky could see it, too. "Okay, which animal do you want to read about?"

Starsky reached up and flipped through the colorful pages until he came upon the section about cats. His eyes widened with wonder at the shot of a large, Bengal tiger stretched out full length as it leaped through the air.

"This one," Starsky said pointing to the tiger.

"Very good choice, buddy. This is a Bengal tiger, and they live in India."

Hutch began to read all about the Bengal tiger, completely capturing the brunette's attention. At each turn of the page, Starsky would let go a little "eww" or "ahh" at the pictures of the beautiful cats. They sat on the sofa for more than an hour until Hutch read through the entire section on cats -- from domestic tabby to the King of Beasts -- and Starsky absorbed it all like a sponge.

Finally, Hutch closed the mammal book and set it on the table.

"Ah, read some more, Uncle Ken. Please?" the brunette begged.

"Sure, okay," Hutch agreed and picked up the book on insects, reptiles and snakes. He flipped through the pages until he came to the section on reptiles and snakes. Choosing a photo of a large, green boa constrictor, Hutch began to read, paying close attention to his partner's response.

As soon as the page opened to show the snake, Starsky sobered dramatically. Hutch could almost feel him pull back emotionally from the situation. However, there was no quick, violent reaction like there had been in the hospital.

Hutch kept reading, gentling his voice, making it soft and soothing. He took care to read each item of information listed about the snake. Then in his own words, he explained other interesting things about the crawly creatures, making sure to emphasize that snakes had many good and beneficial qualities.

Hutch finished reading about the boa constrictor and flipped through all the pages in the snake section, and still Starsky didn't utter a sound. He closed the book and set it on the end table. In the calmest, most soothing voice Hutch could muster, he asked the question.

"Davie? Are you scared of snakes?"

No reply was forthcoming from the subdued brunette, so Hutch prompted him again, a little more urgently.

"Davie? Are you afraid of snakes?"

After another moment's hesitation, the curly head in his lap nodded in the affirmative.

"Why, buddy? Can you tell me? Huh?" Hutch coaxed.

More silence.

"It's okay, Davie. I'm right here and nothing is gonna hurt you. I won't let it. You're safe here with me," Hutch promised and encouraged.

Another moment's hesitation, then a shy, little voice wafted up from the head on his lap.

"I-I don't like Snake."

"Why Davie? Why don't you like snakes?

"Snake's mean, very mean. Hurts!" The voice was now revealing a bit of agitation and growing fear.

"Remember what we just read, Davie. Not all snakes hurt. Some don't even bite, they just run away."

"No, no! Snake don't run away! Snake's mean! He's mean and he hurts!" Starsky shouted, trembling now.

"No Davie, snakes aren't mean. When they bite, they're just trying to protect..." Hutch stopped, suddenly realizing what his partner had said.

"'He'? You said 'he's' mean and 'he' hurts. Davie? Are you talking about a man? Is Snake a person?"

The brunette turned onto his back so he could look up into Hutch's face. His blue eyes were bright with tears, and Hutch could tell he was terrified.

"It's okay, Davie. You can tell me. I won't let anyone hurt you," he promised.

Hutch put his arms around his partner and pulled him upward into his chest in a tight bear hug. Starsky snuggled into Hutch's chest as close as he could get, and lay there trembling in fear.

"It's okay. It's okay," Hutch murmured. "It's okay, Davie. Tell me. Is Snake a person who's mean?"

"Y-y-yes," the frightened little voice squeaked out.

Hutch tightened his hold around his trembling partner, and softened his voice until it was a mere whisper.

"Did Snake hurt you, Davie? Is he the one who hit you?"

For a few minutes, the only sound Hutch could hear coming from his partner were tiny sniffles, as the brunette man-child cried out his fear. Finally, the sniffles quieted and the trembling subsided a little.

"I-I don't know," Starsky whispered. He looked up at Hutch, his eyes still wet with tears.

"I-I don't remember," he said, turning his face into Hutch's chest again. "I-I can't... I can't remember, Hutch."

Hutch startled at hearing his name come from his partner's lip, and he let his hope rise that this would be the start of significant recovery for Starsky. Then as fast as that one word had raised his hope, it was dashed again in the very next moment.

Starsky raised his face from Hutch's chest, large tears rolling down his cheeks and little sobs catching in his throat.

"I-I don't know, Uncle Ken," he sobbed. "I-I don't know."

"Shhh...it's all right," Hutch comforted. "Davie, Davie... shhh. It's all right. You don't have to remember right now, okay? We won't talk about it anymore now."

Starsky snuggled closer into Hutch's chest, and Hutch held him tight, rocking gently from side to side as he would any young child who was upset. Soon, the tears slowed and the sobs quieted, and Hutch could feel the brunette's body relax against him. It wasn't too long before Hutch heard Starsky's breathing slow and deepen, telling him his partner was asleep. The blond lowered his cheek to rest upon the short, dark curls, and closed his own eyes for a moment's respite. With a deep sigh, he felt his heart clutch with pain for his partner's suffering.

"God... what they must have done to you to cause you such terror."

As soon as Hutch felt that Starsky was fully and deeply asleep, he eased himself forward, slid out from under his partner, and rose off the sofa. He settled the brunette down, tucked a pillow under his head, and covered him with the afghan. Stepping into the kitchen, he lifted the receiver from the telephone and as quietly as possible, dialed Captain Dobey's number.

"Dobey," the gruff voice answered.

"Somehow I knew you'd still be there tonight."

"Well, Hutchinson. How are things going? How's that partner of yours?"

"Hi, Cap. Things are going fine. He's getting stronger everyday. I think maybe tomorrow I'll take him over to Lisa's for a while."

"Good, good. Rosie's surely looking forward to having 'Davie' come and play," Dobey commented with a chuckle.

"I bet she is," Hutch laughed.

"What can I do for you, Hutch?" Dobey questioned, knowing that Hutch would call him only if it was truly important.

"I think I might have a lead on Starsky's attackers. We were reading tonight in the animal books you brought him, and I deliberately read about snakes."

"Oh no. How did that go over?" Dobey questioned, remembering the young man's reaction at the mere mention of the word "snake."

"Actually, it went quite well. He was nervous and frightened, but I was finally able to understand what he's been telling us all along. It's not 'snakes' as in slimy, cold-blooded reptiles he was reacting to at all. 'Snake' is a man, Cap -- a man who 'hurts'."

"Well, I'll be damned! Is this 'Snake' the bastard who beat him? Can Starsky identify him?"

"I'd bet a bundle that Snake's our man. Unfortunately, Starsk couldn't remember any details of the attack. He tried to remember, got pretty frustrated and upset -- even called me 'Hutch' once -- but he just couldn't remember. He was right back to 'Davie' with the next words out of his mouth, and I didn't have the heart to push him any harder."

"I understand, Hutch. What do you want me to do?"

"Have Simmons and Babcock check our case files for anybody with the alias of 'Snake' and for known associates using that name. I'm gonna talk to Huggy and see if he can get a line on any 'Snakes' in the neighborhood."

"You got it. Now... why don't you get yourself some sleep, Hutch? It's late, and you sound beat."

"Look who's talking. I will if you will," Hutch chuckled.

Glancing at his watch and seeing that it was past nine o'clock, Dobey chuckled into the phone.

"You have a point there, Hutchinson. Should I tell Edith and Rosie to expect you guys this Friday, as we planned?"

"Yeah, that would be great. I think Starsk's probably strong enough to start some regular outings. If we have any problems after Lisa's tomorrow, I'll call you. Otherwise tell Rosie that 'Davie' will be over to play on Friday after school."

"Will do. G'night, Hutchinson."

"Night, Cap... and thanks."

"Anytime, son," Dobey replied. He hung up the phone, retrieved his jacket and hat, and quietly left the office, headed for home.

"Lisa? Lisa, honey, please hurry and finish your milk. It's almost one o'clock, and Ken and Davie will be here very soon," Mitzi called to her daughter.

"I'm finished, Momma," Lisa replied, coming into the living room from the kitchen. "Davie? Davie? That sounds so funny to call Dave that," she said.

"Now, Lisa -- you remember what we talked about. Dave has been hurt, honey. He got a very bad bump on his head, and he doesn't remember who he is, or who Ken is, or me, or you."

"And... and he thinks he's a very little boy?" Lisa questioned.

"That's right, honey. He thinks he's a very little boy. Ken says he's probably five or six years old."

"Five years old? I'm older than that," Lisa observed sagely.

"Yes, honey, you are. And while I know you two are going to have a great time playing with your train and toys, you are also going to have to be the 'big sister' and watch out for Davie a little bit. You're such a grown-up girl, Lisa. Do you think you can do that? Can you be Davie's big sister while he's here?"

Lisa was beaming a happy, very confident smile.

"Yes, Momma, I can do that."

"I knew you could," Mitzi agreed.

Just then the doorbell rang, and Lisa sprang from the sofa fairly bouncing with excitement.

"He's here, Momma, he's here!"

"Well, answer the door, sweetheart and let them in," Mitzi instructed.

Lisa flew over to the front door and only slowed down long enough to take a quick peek out of the peephole, as she'd been taught. When she saw Ken Hutchinson standing before her, she squealed with delight and opened the door wide.

"Ken! Ken!" she greeted the blond, throwing herself into his open arms as he stepped through the door.

"Lisa! You get more grown up, and may I say, prettier, every time I see you," Hutch greeted her, as he wrapped her in his strong arms and hugged her tightly.

"I've missed you so much, Ken," Lisa continued, as she pulled out of his hug. "It's been such a long time since you were here."

"Well, darlin', we're here now, and we can stay all afternoon. How would you like that, huh?"

"I would like that very much," Lisa replied, smiling brightly at the blond. She then turned her blue eyes toward the very quiet curly headed brunette who was standing almost totally hidden behind Hutch.

With the natural charm and grace of a born nurturer, Lisa calmed her excitement and schooled her features into a soft smile. Stepping far enough around Hutch so that she could get to within arm's length of Starsky, she cocked her head slightly to the side and smiled into his hesitant blue eyes.

"Don't be scared, Davie," she said, her tone patient and her voice feather-light. "I'm like your big sister and that means I won't let anything bad happen to you."

Lisa moved a little closer to Starsky, who was now pressed up against Hutch's back, shyly leaning his head into the blond's shoulder. She reached out with her hand as if to touch Starsky, but stopped without making contact and just held her hand out to him.

Starsky looked from her sweet face, to her outstretched hand, and back to her face. She smiled brightly, and stretched her hand a little closer to him.

"We're gonna have so much fun. Come on, Davie. Let's go play," she encouraged, eager herself to have some fun.

Slowly, tentatively at first, Starsky reached out his hand towards Lisa's. When he felt her warm fingers curl tightly around his, he looked into her warm smile and smiled back.

"Come on, Davie. Let's play," Lisa encouraged, tugging on the large hand she held in hers.

Starsky's shyness was quickly forgotten, as his confidence grew in Lisa's friendly presence. Responding to her tug on his hand, he followed her lead.

"Okay," he replied. And with that, they took off, hand in hand across the living room, headed for the patio.

Hutch looked at Mitzi and shook his head with a grin.

"Whew! I didn't think we were gonna make it there for a minute."

Mitzi returned the smile and reached out to wrap a slender arm around Hutch's trim waist leading him toward the family room and patio.

"Never underestimate the power of play -- especially on a kid -- no matter what his age."

Hutch laughed out loud, wrapping his arm about her shoulders.

"A credo Starsky will live by -- from age five to a hundred and five -- I have no doubt."

"Oh... no doubt," Mitzi laughed. "Absolutely no doubt."

They settled on the sofa in the family room where they could enjoy a quiet afternoon of conversation, while observing the patio area through the open French doors.

Starsky was still recovering and, naturally, was limited in what his healing body would allow him to do. Hutch had been concerned that in his "youthful" exuberance to have fun, he'd overdo physically, well past what his body could tolerate. But, he needn't have worried -- Starsky seemed quite content to play the subdued games that Lisa had chosen. Maybe it was self-preservation and avoidance of pain on Starsky's part, or maybe it was simply "five-year old" shyness. But, whatever it was, Hutch didn't care. His partner was having a grand time and was healing; all of which was just fine with Hutch.

The pleasantly warm afternoon passed peacefully with Lisa and Starsky moving from one activity to the next. They'd played Candy Land, Lisa acting as tutor and coach for Starsky, and then they colored brightly shaded pictures with a big box of crayons. Starsky squawked in protest when Lisa brought out her baby dolls, but soon he was completely engrossed in a game of make believe featuring the large, rubber dollies. They had just settled into a game of rolly-polly with a big red, rubber ball and the puppy, when Hutch's eyelids began to droop.

Mitzi looked up from her sewing to see the blond struggling to stay awake. Chuckling, she rose from her seat to lay a hand on his shoulder.

"Ken? Why don't you stretch out here on the sofa and rest for a little while?"

"Oh, I'm sorry Mitzi. I can't seem to keep my eyes open any longer."

"Well then, give it up and rest," she giggled, pushing his shoulders down onto the sofa, reaching down to pull his shoes from his feet, and swinging his legs up on the soft cushions.

"But Starsk..." he protested feebly, his eyes already closed.

"Dave is just fine. Lisa's taking good care of him. Rest now."

"Mmmm, 'kay," was the only reply she heard, as she returned to her seat and her sewing.

Out on the patio, the puppy tired of the ball game well before his playmates did. So, while the little canine went to find a drink of water and a spot to lie down, Lisa and Starsky were on to another activity.

"I know, Davie. Let's play with the train," Lisa suggested with animated excitement. She dashed to the cabinet on the other side of the patio, and began pulling out the pasteboard boxes that held her small, electric train set and track.

"Come on, Davie. Help me with this," she motioned to the large box she was balancing before her.

Starsky stood up and helped her steady the box and sit it on the table. He one-handed the carton open and stood looking down at the tiny engine and cars, his face growing more severe, as his brow creased in concentration.

"You wait here, and I'll get Momma and Ken to help." With that she left him on the patio and returned to the house.

Starsky hadn't heard her, nor had he moved -- not since the moment he opened the box and looked down at the electric train cars. Since that moment, his mind had been filled with flashing pictures -- images of faces, people he didn't recognize. And then places -- a small shop, a large open office with desks, tables, and lots of people milling around. And then things -- train engines, freight cars, and passenger coaches, and a long two-by-four club, stained red.

He reached down into the box and pulled out the little engine. Holding it to his face, he studied it intently, as his mind struggled to make sense of the images flashing through it.

The faces -- so many faces. A fair one with blue eyes and blond hair, dark ones with warm, chocolate eyes, one thin and one chubby. And one, round and plump, with thin, balding hair. Then the image flashed to a gloved hand holding a gun over that balding head and the gun smashing down roughly on the face. Then the gloved hand was holding the two-by-four. The club was raised and smashed down on his head.

Lisa and her helpers returned to the patio just in time to see the tiny train engine slip from Starsky's hand and drop to the floor with a clatter.

Starsky reached up and clutched at his head, a soft moan escaping his lips. His stance was getting wobblier by the second, until finally his rubbery legs could no longer hold him upright and he sagged slowly to his knees, still clutching at his head.

Hutch sprang across the patio and was at the brunette's side before his knees hit the cement. He pulled his partner to him in a tight, protective hug, and held him close, speaking in soft, comforting murmurs trying to calm the trembling in Starsky's body.

"H-he hit him," the brunette whispered. "H-he hit Georgie... with a gun."

"What, Davie? What did you say?" Hutch questioned, not quite hearing or understanding all that Starsky had said.

"I went to buy a train car... and he hit Georgie on the head... with a gun," the brunette whispered, still trying to untangle the confusing images in his mind -- not really "Davie" at the moment, but not truly Starsky yet either.

Starsky was remembering the attack. Hutch struggled to keep his own voice calm and not break the brunette's concentration.

"Yes Davie, he did. What else did he do?"

"H-he... hit me... and hit me... and hit me. Hurts! Oh God... it hurts. No! It don't matter... gotta fight back. Gotta keep him from hurtin' Hutch. I-I won't let him hurt Hutch, too."

Upon hearing these words, Hutch's arms tightened around his trembling partner.

"No, Starsk, please. Please, tell me you didn't suffer all of this because you were trying to protect me."

But Hutch didn't voice his own terror, only held his partner tight and encouraged him to talk... to remember.

"It's okay, Davie. What happened next?"

"H-he's gonna find Hutch. He's gonna hurt Hutch, too. I-I can't... I can't let him hurt Hutch. I-I jumped at him... got my hands around his throat. I had to stop him. Oh God, the pain! The pain... I can't stand up... I can hardly breathe."

Starsky's voice vibrated with rage and terror at the returning memories. Tears were rolling down his face, and his entire body shook with the strength of his sobs as they burst from his chest.

"God... oh, God! He's gonna bash me in the head with that club!"

Strasky's hands suddenly clutched at his head again and his body shuddered violently in Hutch's grasp, a terrified scream erupting from his throat.

And then as if by magic, Lisa was kneeling on the cement before them. Mitzi approached, as if to pull her away from the men, but Hutch caught her eye and shook his head. She stepped back away from her daughter.

Lisa reached out a hand to the trembling man in Hutch's strong embrace. She stroked his curly head and spoke in a soft, sweet voice.

"It's okay, Davie. You're just a little boy -- just like Peter Pan. Remember? Peter Pan never wants to grow up either, and he's always happy."

"A little boy... innocent... nothing to fear."

Lisa's tender touch and soft voice reached Starsky. The flashing images slowly faded from his mind with all their confusion and pain, until he could only feel Hutch's strong arms around him and Lisa's warm hand against his head. Sniffling on the last of his tears and terror, he raised his head and grinned at her.

"You're pretty nice... for a girl."

Starsky pulled out of Hutch's embrace grinning up at him, then leaned out toward Lisa. She didn't hesitate, catching and immediately understanding the subtle movement. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him tightly, stroking his curls and rocking him gently back and forth.

"I'm not just 'a girl'," she teased. "I'm your big sister -- and don't you forget it," she teased, waving a slender finger in his smiling face.

"I won't," he sighed, and buried his face in her shoulder.

Hutch and Mitzi stood and quietly withdrew from the patio.

"I think he's in excellent hands for now," Hutch said, grinning at Mitzi. "I do need to call the hospital and talk with Dr. Stewart, however."

Mitzi was silent, marveling at the capacity for love and compassion exhibited by her special little girl.

"Yes, I think he is. You know, Ken? There's not a day that goes by that she doesn't teach me something." She looked up at Hutch, her eyes suspiciously bright.

Hutch reached out and wrapped her in a warm hug, his eyes shining a bit too brightly at the moment, too. He bent his head to tenderly kiss her on the cheek, then released her and made his way into the house to the telephone.

The dark sedan pulled up to the curb in front of the Hotel Garvey. Snake and Roth climbed out of the front seat and entered the lobby. Two minutes later, several shabbily dressed men and one woman burst through the doors and scattered out onto the street, quickly disappearing into the surrounding urban decay.

From inside, the sounds of a scuffle could be easily heard, as glass shattered and a scream of pain sliced through the air.

"Tell me, Jacky! Tell me where Lenny is or I'll cut out your tongue here and now!"

"I-I don't know, man. I swear! I ain't seen him in over a week, not since he had the meetin' with those cops. I think they got him, Snake! I think the cops got him!"

"No man, the cops ain't got him, cuz they're lookin' for him, too!" Snake tightened his hold around the frightened desk clerk's neck and pressed the sharp edge of the broken bottle deeper into the man's skin.

"You find him, Jacky, and tell him Snake's looking for him. He's got a job to finish for me. You tell him he better get his sorry ass over to the pool hall and take care of his obligations, or when I do find him, I'm gonna slice him into little pieces and feed him to the sharks off the pier! You tell him that, Jacky!" He dropped the bottle from the clerk's neck and turned the little man loose with a shove.

"Yeah, yeah... sure, Snake. I'll tell him. I'll find him, and I'll tell him," the clerk sniveled, rubbing at the trickle of blood running down his neck.

"That's good, Jacky," Snake mocked, reaching up to pat the clerk on the cheek. "That's real good."

A moment later, the lobby was silent. Snake and Roth exited the building and climbed back into the dark sedan. The car pulled away from the curb in a squeal of tires, laying a trail of hot rubber on the pavement as it sped down the street.

As quiet as the streets had been before the attack on Starsky, they were anything but quiet now. All of a sudden, rumors were flying, and all anybody seemed to be able to talk about was another "hit" on two cops. But specifics were hard to come by, even for a pro like Huggy Bear.

The Pits was packed and busy with its usual weeknight clientele. At the bar, at the tables, and in every booth, the conversation seemed to eventually turn to the rumored hit on two neighborhood cops. But try has he might, Huggy couldn't turn a thing on who the hit was supposed to be on, although he had his own suspicions.

"Now, if I was a bettin' man, I'd take Starsky and Hutch -- at four to one!" he muttered to himself.

Hutch had also asked him to get a line on some goon named "Snake." This request, as well as trying to locate a lowlife weasel named Lenny, was going just as badly.

For a busy night with the cash register singing happily, Huggy was uncharacteristically depressed. When the telephone behind the bar rang, it wasn't answered in the Bear's usual colorful and creative manner.

"Hello, the Pits."

"'Hello, the Pits'? What's the matter, Hug? Boxers in a bunch?" Hutch chuckled into the phone.

"Lay off, Blondie. If you must know, I'm in a deep blue funk, which is all your fault, I might add."

"My fault? How do you figure?"

Hutch heard his friend sigh heavily into the phone and realized Huggy wasn't jivin' him.

"What is it, Hug? What's the matter?"

"Sorry, m'man, but I'm gonna have to disappoint you, and I don't like to do that, especially when it could be important to you and Curly personally."

"Tell me, Hug? I'm listening."

"I got nothin' for you, Hutch. There's been absolutely nothing on a cat named 'Snake', and Lenny seems to have dropped off the edge of the planet. Knowing him, he's probably in a hole somewhere, drunk as a skunk, and it'll be a couple of weeks before he surfaces. The only thing everybody seems to be talking about is a possible hit against two neighborhood cops. Now... I've got no names to go with that contract, and I'm not suggesting anybody in particular, but if somebody was taking action on this one, you know who I'd put my money on."

"Yeah... yeah, Hug, I guess I do.

"Now, just because ol' Hug is in the dumper, don't you fret none, Blondie. You got enough to worry about just takin' care of Curly right now. I'll keep diggin'. Somethin' will turn. Hey, how is our curly headed kid, anyway?"

"He's doing okay, Hug. We went to Lisa's yesterday, and they played games all afternoon."

Hutch was suddenly quiet, recalling the flashes of memory Starsky had experienced, the anguish he'd suffered at their recall, and the blond's own pain at learning Starsky had probably suffered more than he would have if it weren't for his desire to protect Hutch from potential danger.

"Hutch? What is it, man?" Huggy prodded.

"He had some memory flashes yesterday, Hug. It was pretty awful. He remembered Georgie being hit, and himself being beaten. Then he kept saying 'he couldn't let them hurt Hutch'. He talked about jumping at his attacker and getting his hands around the man's throat to stop him from hurting me. He knew that goon was going to crack him on the head with a two-by-four, and he remembered it all -- even the pain. He screamed in terror with the memory of that pain, Hug."

Hutch sighed heavily, and Huggy could feel the guilt emanating from the man's soul even over the telephone.

"No, Blondie, uh huh! No! Don't you do that to yourself! This was not your fault. Curly was doing his job. If he felt he had to act to protect his partner, then that's what he had to do. And that's his job! Just like it would've been your job had the situation been reversed. And you can't tell me you would've handled the situation any differently, either. You both got a blind spot when it comes to standing by your partner, so don't even tell me you'd have done it any different," Huggy scolded, his tone of voice taking all the sting from the words.

"You're right, Hug. You're right. It's just so damned hard, you know?"

"I know, Blondie. I know."

Hutch brightened a bit and added. "I did talk to the psychiatrist, yesterday before we left Lisa's. He said it sounds like this was a significant recall event for Starsky, maybe even one of his most frightening memories. He thinks Starsk will probably start remembering more and more things now, until eventually, the need for his being 'Davie' is completely gone. He said that as long as Davie's around, Starsk is most likely protecting a significant memory, probably something that terrifies him. But as soon as he can recall it, face it, 'Davie' won't be necessary anymore."

"'Peter Pan' will have to grow up after all," Hutch added in silence.

"See now, there was something good to come out of Curly's experience yesterday, so cheer up, Blondie. It won't be long before 'Davie' will be gone and we'll have our very own Starsk back." Hutch could hear Huggy hesitate a moment.

"Although, I think I'm gonna miss the little dude some. You dig?" Huggy added, a little sadly.

Hutch smiled into the phone. He understood Huggy's feelings completely.

"Yeah, Hug. I dig."

The end of the week brought no new information to Bay City's finest. Only the rumor of a hit on two local cops continued to get any play, and even that was petering out slowly, as no new details became available. Huggy was still working the streets for a line on Lenny and a goon named "Snake," but even his well of information had gone bone dry.

Simmons and Babcock were diligently working on Starsky and Hutchinson's past case files trying to turn information on the same question. Who was "Snake," and how was he connected to their brother officers? And, they'd about given up on ever hearing from Lenny to set up a meet with his "friend-of-a-friend" informant. Needless to say, it was three very discouraged officers who were now conversing over the telephone.

"Hang on a minute, Hutch. Babs and I are both here and we're putting you on the speaker in the conference room. There... can you hear us?"

"Yeah, I can hear you," Hutch's strong voice came over the speaker and filled the room. "Any word from Lenny yet?"

"Sorry, Hutch, not a thing. We've been burning up the streets searching all his usual hide-y-holes and nothing!" Simmons replied, frustration oozing from his every word.

"Yeah, nobody seems to know anything. Word has it he's probably holed up somewhere on a long drunk and it will be days before he surfaces. You guys find anything in the files about a 'Snake'? Anybody we busted use that alias? Any of our busts have a known associate by that name?"

"Nope. Sorry, Hutch, but we just haven't turned a thing. And I mean to tell ya', it's more than a little discouraging," Babcock lamented.

"Yeah, I guess we could all use a little good news for a change," Simmons agreed.

"I know, guys, and I want you to know I appreciate everything you're doing. Starsky would too, if he knew what you were doing," Hutch offered by way of encouragement.

"How is our curly headed compadre' doing, anyway?" Babcock asked.

"Well now, on that topic, I can offer a bit of good news," Hutch replied brightly. "He had his last check up at the hospital this morning, and I'm happy to announce that the cast has come off his arm. You should've seen him. He was so excited. He kept asking the doctor if it was okay for him to play now. I have a feeling I'm gonna find out just what he meant by 'play' this afternoon. We're headed over to Dobey's. 'Davie' and Rosie have a play-date."

"Hee-hee-hee," Babcock chuckled. "Do you think we could come up with something that would put us in the Dobey's neighborhood this afternoon, partner? And where'd I put my camera?"

Hutch and Simmons were both laughing at their jokester friend.

"You come on over if you want to visit, Babs, but don't you dare show up there with a camera," Hutch scolded lightly.

"What? Don't you want a few pictures for posterity, Hutch? How about a nice eight-by-ten glossy of Detective Sargent David Michael Starsky playing Jacks? Now, why wouldn't you want a few shots like that around to commemorate this auspicious occasion?"

"A few shots, huh?" Hutch scoffed. "All 'suitable for hanging,' too, I'll bet?"

"But, of course. Wouldn't be much fun if they weren't!"

"Don't you dare," Hutch warned with a chuckle.

"Forget it, Babs. Blackmail's only fun if the victim knows he's been had. Right now, 'Davie' doesn't have a clue," Simmons reminded his partner.

The mood of the conversation suddenly took another nosedive, as the three officers were reminded of the seriousness of their friend and colleague's problem.

"Yeah... I guess you're right," Babcock agreed, very subdued.

"Hutch, we're gonna let you go now and get back to work. Don't worry -- something will break soon. And don't worry too much about Starsk. It sounds like he's getting better everyday," Simmons said in closing.

"Yeah. Thanks guys. You're right. He's a lot better physically, and he's even remembered some things, too. One morning soon, I expect him to come wandering out of his room, yawning and scratching, and ask me what the hell I'm doing on his couch and not home in my own bed, just like nothing had happened, you know?"

"Yeah. We hope it happens just like that, Hutch," Simmons agreed.

"And soon," Babcock added. "See ya, Hutch. We'll be in touch."

"Yeah. Thanks guys," Hutch said, and hung up the phone.

Simmons and Babcock shared a prolonged and concerned look between them, as the conference room was filled with the sound of the dial tone coming from the telephone speaker.

The doorbell chime sounded in the sunny kitchen, and Edith looked up from the pot of stew she was preparing. She looked out into the living room to see if one of the children was available, but didn't see anyone, and Hutch had already left to run an errand at the market for her.

"Oh dear. Just a minute," she called toward the front door, as she set the potato she was peeling down on the table.

Snatching up a towel, she wiped her hands dry as she approached the front door. A quick look through the peephole showed no one there.

"Who is it?" she called.

"It's the police, Momma... I mean ma'am," answered Rosie's sweet voice from the other side of the door. "Can we talk to you?"

Edith did her best to stifle the giggle that was threatening to escape her lips and opened the door wide.

"Oh, of course, Officer. You can talk to me."

Standing proudly on her front porch, all decked out in hats, gun belts, and silver badges, was one of Bay City's finest and her daughter. Of course, "Officer Rosie" was having a little trouble keeping the large hat on her head without it covering her eyes completely, and "Officer Davie" had used a piece of twine to join the ends of the too-small toy gun belt and hold it around his waist.

"Hello ma'am," Starsky said in a deep, "grown-up" voice. "This is Officer Reed," he pointed to Rosie. "And I'm Officer Malloy. There's a robber in the neighborhood, and we're gonna catch him."

"Oh, is that right? Well, anything I can do to help the police," Edith said, fighting valiantly to suppress her growing laughter.

"A lady told us that the robber might have come here and you might have seen him, Momma... I mean ma'am," Officer Reed informed her.

At that moment, Hutch returned from the market. He was parking the old LTD at the curb, when Edith was bitten handily by the "silly-bug."

"As a matter of fact, Officers, he was here! And I did see him!" Edith volunteered quickly.

"Can you tell us what he looks like?" Officer Malloy asked.

Looking out at the street where Hutch was pulling a large brown paper bag from the back seat of the car, she described the perpetrator.

"Well, he's very tall, slender, and nice looking. He has blond hair, a little longish and a little curly, but not too much, and he has big baby blue eyes!"

"Can you tell us what he robbed?" Officer Reed asked curiously.

Edith glanced out toward the street again to see that Hutch was just coming up the walk.

"Yes, I can, Officer. He took one brown paper bag containing a quart of milk, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of grape jelly, and one loaf of bread -- exactly."

Officers Reed and Malloy exchanged a quick and hungry glance between them.

"Sounds good," Officer Malloy commented with a giggle.

"Oh look! There he is!" Edith chirped excitedly, pointing toward the tall, blond man coming up the walk behind them.

Edith would never have guessed that what happened next could have happened in a million years. Instead of an innocent game being played by two "children," Edith suddenly saw precision police training and many years of experience fly into action, as "Officer Malloy" turned toward the suspected perpetrator.

Hutch stepped up to the porch where the three of them stood, noticed the "costumes" of Bay City's finest, and greeted them warmly, playing along with the game. The greeting was all but out of his mouth when all hell broke loose.

"Well, howdy Officers. What brings you here today?" the blond asked in a teasing tone.

Starsky spun toward his partner and in one swift movement, pulled the blond's free arm out to his side and deftly pulled it up between his shoulder blades causing Hutch to let go a little yelp of pain and surprise.

"Don't move! Police!" the brunette hissed his Hutch's ear. "Drop the bag, maggot, we got ya cold turkey," he added, pulling the trapped arm a little higher, causing the grocery bag to slip from Hutch's other arm, as the blond fought to keep his balance.

"Davie! What're you doing?" Hutch yelped, and started to struggle against the restraint. That was a big mistake.

Edith could only watch as Starsky released the tension he had on the blond's arm only to place a foot behind the startled man's knee and most efficiently drop his "suspect" to the ground, none to gently, to lay on his stomach fuming and sputtering into the grass. Pulling the captured arm up tight between the blond's shoulder blades once again and leaning a knee into the small of his back, Starsky had captured his man.

On instinct alone, Starsky reached into Hutch's belt and retrieved the man's handcuffs. He grinned over his shoulder at his "partner," and held the cuffs out toward the giggling little girl.

"We got him, partner. Cuff him!"

Edith was still in stunned shock, and before she could stop her, Rosie shot off the porch and took the cuffs from Starsky. She leaned down over Hutch and giggled as she worked. She snapped the cuffs around the wrist that Starsky was holding, then crawled on all fours to reach Hutch's other arm that was splayed out on the grass in front of him. Giggling, she gently pulled his arm back behind him and secured the other side of the cuffs around his wrist.

Starsky removed his knee from Hutch's back and carefully stood up. He grinned down at his "partner" like they'd just captured Al Capone. He extended his large hand toward her, and she reached up and grasped it with her little one.

"Good job, partner," Starsky praised. "The Captain's gonna be happy!"

"Yeah!" Rosie giggled, bouncing excitedly up and down beside her partner.

By this time, Edith had recovered sufficiently to come running to Hutch's aid, but now she didn't know whether to laugh at or scold the two "officers." She was saved from having to make that decision by the sound of muffled laughter wafting up from the grass below them. Edith bent quickly over Hutch's head to speak to him.

"Oh Ken! I'm so sorry! I had no idea this little game could get so far out of hand!" she apologized, as she rolled him to his side, and helped him sit upright.

Hutch was laughing so hard he could barely breathe, and it took him a moment to calm down. With one final deep breath and a sigh, he looked over at Edith and grinned sheepishly.

"Well... I guess that's what Dr. Stewart meant when he said Starsky might not know his own strength," he said, still chuckling. "You know, I just had a feeling this morning after he got that cast off that I was about to discover an entirely new dimension to the word 'play'."

Edith smiled at him and leaned down to quickly peck him on the cheek.

"You're certainly being a good sport about this, Ken. Thank you. But I think we better talk to Reed and Malloy there and make sure this doesn't happen again."

"I think you're right," Hutch agreed, with a grin.

"Oh, Officers," he called sweetly over to Starsky and Rosie, with a "come hither" expression on his face. "Officers, would you step over here for one moment please?"

Rosie and Starsky exchanged a look between them that, from any angle, could only be interpreted one way: "Busted!"

Edith folded her arms in front of her and tapped one impatient toe into the grass, letting the "officers" know that they didn't have a choice in the matter.

"Reed" and "Malloy" approached looking like they were about to hear sentencing in front of a hanging judge. Heads bowed contritely, they stood silently awaiting the verdict.

"Davie? Look at me, please," Hutch instructed.

Starsky raised his head and looked at Hutch where he still sat in the soft grass, hands cuffed securely behind his back.

"Davie, I know you're just playing here and having a real good time, but did you know that when you 'arrested' me just now, you hurt me a little bit?"

Starsky's face silently registered the meaning behind the words Hutch had just spoken, as he realized what he'd done. The deep blue eyes slowly began to fill with tears until they ran down his cheeks in long, wet trails and dropped silently off his quivering chin. He dropped to his knees beside Hutch and wrapped his arms around the blond's shoulders.

"I'm sorry, Uncle Ken, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt ya. I was only playin'," the shy little voice sniffled.

"Shhh, Davie. Shush now. It's okay. I know you were only playing and you didn't mean it. But, I do want you to think about what you're doing while you play. You're a big boy and very strong. I know you wouldn't want to do anything that might accidentally hurt Rosie, would you?"

Starsky looked quickly toward his playmate, slightly veiled horror showing in his eyes.

"No! I would never do anything to hurt her! She's my partner," Starsky replied proudly, then grinned at "Officer Reed" who smiled brightly back at him.

"Okay. Fair enough," Hutch said, looking up to wink at Edith. "Now, Officers... what's the beef?" he questioned, immediately resuming his role of captured crook.

Starsky and Rosie looked at each other, giggled, and happily bounced back into their alter egos of Reed and Malloy.

"We're taking you downtown," Officer Reed giggled, as she and Starsky helped Hutch get his feet under him and stand.

Edith leaned in toward the handcuffed "suspect" and whispered in his ear just before he was taken away.

"You handled that beautifully, Ken. You're going to make a wonderful father some day."

Hutch chuckled as he was led off to the lockup.

"Only if I can beat this rap, schweetheart," he replied in a very Starsky-like 'Bogie.' "Only if I can beat this rap."

Edith giggled and waved the prisoner a fond farewell, as she returned to her kitchen and her stew.

Seven-fifteen Friday evening found Captain Dobey pulling his car into the driveway in front of his house and sighing with relief that he was finally home. He noticed Hutch's old, beat-up LTD parked at the curb and a tiny smile curled his lips.

"Looks like Edith invited the boys to stay for supper. It'll be nice having us all together for an evening."

That was as far as Dobey's paternal musings got, however, as it was at that moment that he opened the front door of his home and stepped into another world.

The usually neat, orderly living room was littered with a wide variety of toys, games, trains, planes and automobiles. There were dump trucks, cranes, a fire engine and even a model tank. An assortment of dolls, four stuffed bears, two rabbits, three monkeys, a sheep and one rubber ducky lay scattered amidst the wreckage.

The dining room chairs had been pulled from their places around the table and were clustered in the center of the room. Several large blankets and quilts were draped over this conglomeration creating what had to be a "fort." Judging from the noise coming from inside this imposing edifice, it sounded like the cavalry had captured one, maybe two, prisoners who weren't too thrilled with the accommodations.

His eyes slowly scanning the slide area that used to be his front room, Dobey eventually spotted a familiar face amidst the chaos. Edith was sitting in the middle of the sofa, her feet propped up on the coffee table. She was slowly and calmly sipping a cup of coffee, a serene smile gracing her lovely features, her eyes closed in pure bliss, as she savored the mellow drink in her cup.

Dobey picked his way through the minefield scattered across the carpet to stand quietly in front of his wife. Now he could see that she looked exhausted and that several locks of her usually neatly groomed hair were sticking out every which way from her head.

The noise level coming from inside "Fort Apache" seemed to be growing, but Edith still sat quietly on the sofa serenely sipping her coffee. Dobey couldn't figure out how she could tolerate the din. He crouched down before her and laid a large hand on her knee. She opened her tired eyes and smiled sweetly into his somewhat concerned expression.

"Hello Harold," she said, still smiling. "You know? In the last six hours, I've come to several definite conclusions about... life! You want to know what they are?"

Dobey just nodded.

"Good. I'll tell you," she began. "One -- I'm old, Harold, and old people shouldn't try to deal with some children -- little boys named David Starsky, to be precise."

Dobey's lips twitched, as he fought to keep from smiling at his wife's travails.

"Two -- Rachel and Michael Starsky, God rest his soul, were both 'perfect' parents... or Saints! I'm not quite sure which."

Dobey gave up and grinned widely into Edith's harried face.

"And three -- put your hat back on. You're taking me out to dinner. Now, please."

Dobey couldn't hold it in any longer and chuckled heartily.

"You got it, baby. Let's go," he replied, holding a hand out to her and helping her up from her seat. "Just a question though dear?" Dobey asked, scowling at the decibel level emanating from them 'fort'. "How can you stand all this noise?"

There was no reply from Edith.

"Dear?" Dobey questioned again, touching her shoulder to get her attention.

"What dear?" she asked.

"How can you stand..." he started to ask again, when she held up a finger to stop him.

"What dear? Just a minute," she said. Then she reached up to her ears, popped out the soft plastic earplugs she'd been wearing, cringed at the noise in her home, and pointed her husband, who was now roaring with laughter, out the front door and off to dinner.

Their dinner had been a lovely affair, just the two of them at a quiet table with candlelight and soft music wafting through the air. Edith had spent the evening regaling her husband with the children's adventures, from Adam-12 and Pirates of the Seven Seas to the Cowboys and Indians game that was running when they left, much to her husband's delight. They were just walking up the front path as Edith was recounting the events of Hutch's "arrest."

"He pinned him?" Dobey questioned, wide-eyed with astonishment.

Edith nodded.

"Right on this very spot," she whispered with a giggle, pointing to the spot on the front lawn where the "suspect" had been apprehended.

"And she cuffed him -- with his own cuffs?"

Edith nodded again, hand discreetly over her mouth, as she tried not to laugh too hard at Hutch's expense.

Dobey roared with laughter, however, holding his sides against the powerful spasms.

"Lord-a-Mighty! What I would've given to have seen that!"

"Now Harold, stop that. It really could have escalated into a serious situation," Edith tried to say with a straight face. "In fact, Hutch did an excellent job of explaining to Davie that he was very strong and he had to take care not to accidentally hurt Rosie."

That statement sobered Dobey rather quickly, as he remembered what that one doctor had said -- something about Starsky not being aware of his own strength. Edith saw his change of expression and quickly reassured him that all had gone well after Hutch's reprimand.

"Davie was almost too careful after that -- kind of 'mother-henned' Rosie for a while. That is until she put her foot down stating in no uncertain terms that they should 'just play and have fun.' Well, Davie loosened up after that and they had a real good time, as you could see when you got home this evening."

Edith sighed, dreading opening the front door to the carnage that awaited them inside. The door swung open and they stepped inside. Only peace and complete quiet greeted them.

"Harold... where are our children?" Edith asked with a grin.

The couple stepped into the living room and was once again astonished. The entire room was neat, tidy, and straight. There wasn't a toy to be found on the floor anywhere. "Fort Apache" had been demolished, and all the chairs returned to their places. The blankets and quilts were folded and neatly stacked on the end of the coffee table, all except for the ones that were draped over the sleeping figures on the furniture.

Cal was lying kind of sideways in the armchair with his head propped on one arm and his legs swung over the other. Starsky, Hutch and Rosie were all on the sofa. Hutch had his head on one arm, Starsky's was on the other, and their legs were all kind of tangled in the middle. Rosie was curled up across Hutch's chest. He had his wrists that were now cuffed in front of him, draped across her back holding her in a light hug.

Rosie was still wearing the old cowboy hat she'd donned when the game changed from Adam-12 to Cowboys and Indians, and Starsky was still wearing the too-small gun belt. And Hutch, bless his heart, was again wearing the handcuffs. His role had obviously changed from "fleeing felon" to "rampaging red skin," but, unfortunately, it didn't appear as if a change of "wardrobe" had come with the new part.

Dobey and Edith just looked at each other, then back at "the kids," and chuckled.

"I think we better wake them and head them toward bed," Dobey suggested.

Edith nodded and approached her son in the chair, while Dobey stepped to the couch to wake his daughter and the boys. With a gentle hand to Hutch's shoulder, the blond was instantly awake.

"Oh hi, Cap," he said with a grin and a long stretch. "Guess we kind of fell asleep. Hmmm, tired."

"I wonder why?" Dobey teased, hooking a finger around the chain of the handcuffs and raising Hutch's hands to his eye level.

"Oh... yeah," the blond chuffed, a sheepish grin stealing across his lips. "I was Sitting Bull."

"Uh huh," Dobey replied sarcastically, retrieving the cuff key from the blond's pocket and setting him free.

Rosie and Starsky were stirring and were soon awake and aware of happenings around them.

"Daddy!" Rosie squealed as she stood and threw herself into her father's open arms.

"Hi baby. How's my girl?"

"Just fine, Daddy. Boy, did we have fun today," she said, pointing to Starsky.

Starsky was sitting up against the arm of the sofa, knees pulled up tight to his chest, and arms wrapped around his legs. His expression was a little somber, as he watched Rosie burrow into her father's warm embrace.

Edith roused Cal, who trudged slowly upstairs to bed. With a loving pat on the youth's back, she turned to address the others in the room.

"Ken, Harold, would you like some coffee?"

"That would be nice, dear," Dobey replied.

"Sounds good, Edith. Let me help you with that," Hutch offered, and followed her into the kitchen.

Dobey settled down on the other end of the sofa and cradled Rosie to his chest. "So, you had a fun day today with Davie?"

"We sure did. We played everything!" Rosie replied.

"Yeah, I could see that when I got home," Dobey said with a chuckle, as he hugged his daughter tightly.

"Did you have a good...?" Dobey turned toward Starsky and his question died in his throat. The brunette's face was buried in the knees he had pulled up to his chest.

"Davie? What's the matter?" Dobey questioned, reaching over to Starsky and hooking a finger under the brunette's chin, lifting his face upward.

The blue-violet eyes were full of tears. Dobey could hear the little sobbing sounds hitching in the young man's chest, as he hiccuped through his upset.

"M-my Poppa hugged m-me tight like that all the time," Starsky sniffled, watching Rosie and Dobey. "I-I miss m-my P-Poppa," he sniffed, dropping his head to his knees again. "I-I m-miss m-my P-Poppa."

The soft, plaintive sobs were all but heartrending. Dobey looked down into his daughter's sweet face, her eyes shining brightly with tears for her friend.

"Do you mind, baby?" Dobey questioned.

Rosie shook her head vigorously, slid from her father's arms, and crawled across the couch to kneel in front of Starsky. She reached out her little hand and patted him on the top of his head. When he looked up at her, she smiled and reached out to take his hand.

"Come on, Davie," she encouraged, and pulled him toward the other side of the sofa.

Starsky slid over next to Dobey, who was smiling with understanding, pretending not to notice the moisture standing in his own eyes.

"Davie, I know I'm not your Poppa, but I give pretty good hugs," Dobey whispered, reaching his arm out toward the brunette.

Starsky hesitated for only a second, then slipped into Dobey's open arm. He cuddled up snuggly to the big man's side, and couldn't help but sigh when the large, strong arm wrapped itself around his trembling shoulders and held him tight. Rosie crawled back up on Dobey's lap, cuddled up in his other arm, and let go a soft sigh of her own.

"You've always been like a father to me, Cap," said a quiet voice from against his side.

Dobey startled a moment, realizing Starsky must have had a flash of returning memory and couldn't help but be touched by the honest sentiment his officer obviously felt.

"And you've always been like a son to me... and you always will."

Dobey's tone softened as he comforted his two tired charges. "There now -- everything is all right with the world tonight. We're all snug and safe, and everything is all right tonight."

Dobey looked from the peaceful face of his sweet little girl to Starsky's innocent expression. The blue-violet eyes twinkled up at him from above a very contented smile. Dobey had seen that expression many times before -- this was a "child" that knew he was loved.

Edith and Hutch were returning to the living room with the coffee and found themselves unintentional witnesses to the uncharacteristically tender exchange. Hutch silently signaled Edith to return to the kitchen, and they left the living room as quietly as they had entered.

"Uh... I think... uh... we better give the Cap some warning before we go back in there," Hutch whispered with just a little hitch in his voice.

Edith smiled up at the big blond and nodded her head.

"He would never tell you this himself... but he really loves you boys. And so do I," she whispered in reply, laying a warm hand on his arm.

Hutch ducked his head shyly feeling a blush beginning to color his cheeks and shifted the coffee tray slightly in his arms. He raised his head and looked down into Edith's smile.

"Yeah... me, too," he whispered, and bent down to kiss her tenderly on the cheek. Straightening, he turned toward the living room and cleared his throat loudly.

"Let me help you with that tray, Edith," Hutch announced as they made their way back into the living room.

Much to the blond's surprise, but perhaps not to Edith's, Dobey remained on the couch as he had been. One child was still cuddled up in his lap and the other "child" was still nestled against his side. Each of them wrapped in his warm bear hug and soaking up all the tender loving care he could give.

Dobey looked up at their somewhat bemused expressions.

"Sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do," he said seriously, trying to keep from grinning. "But if either of you ever tell another living soul about this," he nodded toward the now dozing detective still snuggled up to his side, "I'll... I'll... disown you both!" he growled. He was trying to don a menacing scowl but wasn't quite making it.

"Ohhh... right, Cap. Not a word," Hutch chuckled, raising his fingers to his lips and "locking" them up tight.

"Your secret is safe with us, Harold... you ol' softy, you," Edith teased, leaning down to wrap her arms about her dear husband's neck and hug him tight.

Detective Babcock leaned back in his chair and reached his arms way up over his head, stretching and yawning in fatigue. Bringing his arms down to scratch luxuriously up and down his mid-section, he looked across the desk at his partner.

"Hey partner? How many files do you supposed we've been through tonight -- two, maybe three million?"

Simmons looked up at his obviously fatigued partner and grinned.

"It only seems like that many on a Friday night, Babs. You ought to know that by now -- case files multiply exponentially on the weekends," Simmons chuckled. He stood and gathered up the last tall stack of Starsky and Hutch's old case files they'd been reviewing.

"Here, hand me that stack you've got there, and I'll get these back to R&I."

Babcock gathered the files and handed them up to Simmons, who was now toting quite a stack in both arms.

"Just sit them on top, Babs. My hands are a little full at the moment."

"Okay, okay. Geez! Get picky in your old age," Babcock teased.

"Oh, shut up and hand me the files," Simmons replied with a grin. "And if you're nice the rest of the shift, I may even buy you a beer at Nellie's tonight."

Babcock let go a chuckling snort, as he plopped the files he was holding down on top of the stack under his partner's nose. He turned around and started to walk between the desks toward Dobey's office to leave a report on the Captain's desk.

"Yeah, that's what I like about you, partner. You're always looking out for us malcontents. Oh hey, wait a minute," he called back to Simmons, who was already halfway out the door headed for R&I. "Here's a couple more files that were in Hutch's box."

Babcock rushed toward the door to catch his disappearing partner, as Simmons turned quickly to come back for the files. They met rather unexpectedly in the doorway, and the two files Babcock had been holding in his hand went flying, as he ran full steam into his partner.

Simmons spun around twice, but somehow managed to hang on to the files he was carrying. He, however, found himself bumped up against the wall, while trying to maintain his balance. It was a losing battle, and before he knew it, he was sliding slowly down the wall, until he plopped on the floor, feet straight out in front of him and arms still full of undisturbed files.

Babcock was standing in the doorway laughing himself silly and got snarled at for his trouble.

"Babs! You're... you're... a menace!" Simmons yelped. "Well, don't just stand there laughing, turkey. Help me up, would ya?

"Sure, partner, anything you say," Babcock managed to wheeze out between spasms of laughter. "I bet you couldn't do that again if you tried."

"Oh shut up," Simmons snipped, as Babcock looped his arms around his partner's waist and hefted the man to his feet. "Do you think you could stop laughing long enough to gather up those other files you threw all over? Huh?"

"Yeah, yeah. Hold your water," Babcock chuckled, as he leaned down and started to gather the collection of papers that had flown from the files he was carrying. He was sorting through the pages, when suddenly he froze, his attention riveted on the page in his hand.

Simmons noticed that his extremely jovial partner had suddenly sobered.

"Babs? What is it?"

Babcock turned at the sound of his partner's question and held up the paper in his hand.

"We got him!" he yelped.

"Him? Got who him?" Simmons asked, confused.

"We got 'Snake'! It's right here, in this file... here it is, 'Graham, Lisa -- rape and assault. Looks like Starsky and Hutch just closed it."

"What does this Snake character have to do with a rape case?"

"Let's see... the perps were two lowlifes named 'Manning' and 'Loomis' and they are into some shark named 'Martin' for some big-time bread. Whew! About four grand's worth. There's a 'Snake' listed as a known associate of this Martin."

Simmons just grinned at his partner. "We got him, partner."

"I thought I said that," Babcock deadpanned.

Simmons turned to the nearest desk, set down the stack of files he was holding, reached up a hand and popped his partner on the back of the head.

"Smart-ass," he deadpanned, but with a grin. "Let's go have a talk with this 'Snake'," he chuckled.

"Yeah... right behind ya," Babcock agreed grinning sheepishly, and followed his partner out of the squad room gingerly rubbing the back of his head as he went.

The incessant ringing of a telephone cut through the loud chatter of voices and the clacking of pool balls until it finally drew one of the player's attention. The muscle-bound goon elbowed his way through the Friday night clientele and angrily yanked the receiver off the hook.

"Yeah?" he growled the greeting.

"Uh... it's Jacky, from the Hotel Garvey. Let me talk to Snake."

"Just a minute."

The goon let the phone hang down below his hip and yelled across the smoky room.

"Hey Snake?"



Snake put his beer on the table and hung his cue back in the rack. Taking the phone from the other man, he leisurely settled himself into a chair before answering the call.


"Snake? It's Jacky... from the hotel?"

Snake immediately came to attention.

"Yeah, Jacky. Talk to me."

"I got Lenny, just like you wanted. He's here right now... at the hotel. And Snake... he's drunk"

"You keep him there. We'll be right over," Snake replied, slamming the receiver down.

"Roth, Guido... get Tony. Lenny's crawled out of his hole. Jacky's got him at the hotel. We gotta sober him up, then he's gonna do his job, then... well, his troubles will be over."

The four goons checked the guns in their holsters, grabbed their jackets and left the pool hall on a run.

Once "Cowgirl Rosie" was tucked snuggly into her bed, and her curly headed partner, "Cowboy Davie," was settled into the guestroom, the Dobey's living room saw several hours of excellent, companionable conversation over hot cups of good coffee, putting a final, perfect touch on a long and eventful Friday.

Hutch was sitting in the armchair sipping his coffee contentedly. He looked up at the two people across from him.

"Cap. Edith. You two have done so much for Starsk and me since this all begin. I-I just want to say thanks," he offered shyly.

Edith leaned over and placed a warm hand over his. He looked up at her and saw the love in her eyes.

"No need for thanks, Ken dear. We're glad to help. Like I told you before, we both love you and Dave very much. Don't we, Harold?" she prodded her husband, trying to tease an acknowledgement out of him for the young detective.

Dobey looked over at his wife and harrumphed loudly, trying to figure out a way to avoid answering that question. He was saved from coming up with a reply by the sounds of a disturbance coming from upstairs.

"Trouble. Hutch! Hutch! I'm in trouble!" Starsky's voice yelled into the quiet night.

"What the devil?" Dobey yelped.

Hutch bolted to his feet and headed up the stairs, Dobey at his heels. "It sounds like Starsk, like he's dreaming!"

More yelling exploded from the guestroom, as Hutch and Dobey came through the door.

"No! No! I won't let you hurt him! I won't let you hurt Hutch! Huuuuuuthch!"

"He's having a nightmare," Hutch observed and sat down on the edge of the bed.

Starsky was thrashing about in the bed, the blankets and sheet tangled all around him. He was drenched in sweat and breathing like he'd run a marathon.

"Starsk? Starsky, wake up! You're having a bad dream, buddy. Come on, wake up now," Hutch urged while he shook the brunette's shoulders.

Violet-blue eyes flew open and were filled with confusion, roaming the room with no recognition of people or location in their panicked depths.

"Hutch?" the brunette questioned.

Hutch felt his heart leap. Could it be? Was Starsk finally back to his old self?

"Starsky? Is it you? Do you know me?" Hutch questioned hopefully.

"Hutch. I won't let you hurt Hutch," the brunette repeated.

Dobey was watching the young man carefully. There was something odd about his expression, his eyes.

"Hutch? I think... I mean... well, could he still be asleep?" Dobey asked, concerned.

"I don't know, Cap. Could be," Hutch replied. "I'll try shaking him again," Hutch said, reaching down to shake his partner a little more.

"Starsky! Wake up, Starsk. You're having a bad dream. Starsk, wake up!" Hutch urged.

The blue eyes blinked rapidly then slowly focused on Hutch's face.

"Uncle Ken?" the shy, little voice questioned.

Hutch was fast becoming an expert at having his emotions torn hither and yon. Hope that had risen so high and so fast that his partner was back with him, suddenly came crashing back to earth with that one, shy little "Uncle Ken." But at the same time, he was extremely happy that "Davie" was awake and seemed to be well, if a little confused.

"That's right, buddy. It's Uncle Ken. You okay?" he asked gently.

"I-I think so," the brunette replied timidly.

"You were having a dream, Davie. Do you remember any of it?"

Starsky's face grew more troubled and his eyes more confused. He was obviously struggling to make sense of the dream images he'd seen, and having no success at it. His confusion quickly led to fear and the blue eyes filled with tears.

"I-I don't know, Uncle Ken. I-I can't remember," he sniffed. "I-I'm scared. I-I'm scared somethin' bad's gonna happen to you."

Hutch leaned down over his curly headed partner and pulled him up to his chest into a tight hug, rocking him just a little. The brunette's arms wrapped themselves around the blond's waist and held tight.

"Hey... it's okay, partner. Nothing's going to happen to me. Shhhh... it's all right now. You don't need to worry about me, okay?"

Hutch felt the curly head nod against his shoulder, and he tightened his hold around his partner for just a minute before he pulled back to hold Starsky by the shoulders.

"Come on, buddy. Since you're awake now, I think we'll go home and get you in your own bed."

"'Kay," was the timid reply.

Hutch stood up and helped his partner untangle himself from the bedding, pull his jeans on, and slip his shoes on his feet.

"Cap, thanks again for everything, but I think I should take him home now."

"It's probably a good idea, Hutch. He should sleep in his own bed," Dobey replied.

Edith entered the room to stand by her husband's side as Hutch was tying Starsky's shoelaces.

"Ken? Why don't you and Dave plan to spend the day with us tomorrow? It's Saturday and the 'children' can play together all day. We'll barbecue for dinner."

Hutch grinned and looked at his partner.

"How's that sound to you, buddy?"

"Yummy," the very sleepy voice replied.

The three adults couldn't fight "five-year old" logic and laughed their agreement.

"I think that means we accept," Hutch said with a smile. He wrapped an arm around Starsky's waist to support the sleepy fellow down the stairs to the door.

Before stepping out in the warm evening, he leaned in and kissed Edith tenderly on the cheek smiling into her sweet face. He reached out and shook Dobey's hand firmly looking his Captain in the eyes for a long moment.


"G'night, Hutch," Dobey replied.

"Goodnight dear. Sleep well, and we'll see you in the morning around ten or so," Edith said.

"Sounds great. See you then," he replied, and walked his partner out into the night.

A "good night" and "sleeping well" is far from what the two young detectives got, however. Starsky was plagued all night by nightmares, each one a little more horrific than the last, but all seeming to focus around Starsky's frantic need to keep Hutch from being hurt somehow.

Hutch was quickly becoming convinced that it was this fear -- this emotional trauma -- that had somehow caused his partner's amnesia in the first place. And many times during the night as he held a trembling, sobbing "Davie," he'd felt his own heart fill with guilt, as he'd wondered again what those animals had done to his partner to cause him such pain.

By three o'clock in the morning, Hutch had been awakened by his partner's screams six more times. By nine o'clock when the alarm sounded, they'd both had a grand total of three hours' sleep. It was two very tired young men who rolled out of their respective bedrolls and started their day's activities. To make matters worse, Starsky had practically glued himself to Hutch's side since the second he got out of his bed.

The brunette followed him into the kitchen and hovered at his side as he made coffee and breakfast. As they sat at the table and ate their eggs, Starsky hardly took his eyes off the blond. After Starsky had showered and dressed for the day, Hutch thought maybe the brunette had come out of it, but it was not to be. Hutch found himself with a very attentive audience as he went into the bathroom to shower and shave.

"Davie? Why don't you go out in the living room and watch some cartoons while I get showered and dressed? Huh, buddy? I'm not goin' anywhere but right into the shower and right out again. Okay?" Hutch pleaded. They were both exhausted, he knew, and he was trying his best not to lose his patience with his obviously frightened partner.

Starsky looked up at him like he'd lost his last friend. It was almost more than Hutch could bear.

"It's okay, buddy. I promise. I'll be out in just a few minutes. You go watch some cartoons now, okay?"

Starsky ducked his head dejectedly and sighed.

"'Kay," he replied, and left the bathroom.

Hutch stood at the sink and listened until he heard the sound of Bugs Bunny coming from the living room. With an exhausted sigh, he reached into the shower and turned on the faucet. Stepping into the spray, his mood lightened a bit as the warm water soothed away some of his exhaustion.

Ten minutes later, Hutch was washed, shampooed, shaved and wrapped in a fluffy towel that hung around his lean hips. He opened the door to call out to his partner over in front of the television.

"See Davie, I told you I wouldn't be too..." he stopped short. His partner wasn't on the couch watching the television. Instead, he was sitting on the floor next to the bathroom door dutifully keeping tabs on his Uncle Ken.

"Hmmm," Hutch sighed in defeat. "Come on, buddy. Let's go find me some clean clothes, then we can go. Okay?"

"Okay," the brunette said, rising to his feet and most happily following Hutch into the bedroom.

Hutch and his curly headed shadow followed Dobey into the den. They'd just had a light lunch of peanut butter and jelly and were about to relax over a game of chess.

"Davie? Why don't you go play with Rosie? I think she's got Chutes and Ladders all set up in the kitchen." Dobey suggested.

The brunette just shook his head shyly and stepped closer into Hutch's side.

"He's been like this ever since he woke up this morning. It's like we're joined at the hip," Hutch lamented, setting up his game pieces and yawning deeply.

"Funny. I thought you two had always been joined at the hip," Dobey teased.

"Ha ha," Hutch smirked. "Seriously Cap, he wouldn't even let me get cleaned up this morning without being right in the bathroom with me. I finally talked him into watching some cartoons, or I thought I had. When I stepped out of the shower, there he was sitting on the floor by the bathroom door waiting for me."

"Hutch, don't worry. From what you told me, he had a fairly traumatic night. So this morning, and probably for the next day or so, he's going to be a bit clingy. It's normal," Dobey stated, trying to sound reassuring, as he expertly captured Hutch's bishop.

"Clingy?" Hutch questioned, moving his rook and stifling a yawn.

"Yes, clingy," Dobey replied, as he carefully studied the board. After a long moment, he made his move and looked up at Hutch.

"Hutch? It's your turn," Dobey prompted.

There was no response from the droopy-eyed blond.

"Hutch! It's your turn," Dobey said again, this time with a swat to the man's shoulder.

"Wha-what? Oh, sorry Cap," Hutch yawned, and looked down at the chessboard for a moment. He reached out and made a move with his queen, bumping off Dobey's knight.

"Mm, mm, mm," Dobey lamented, moving his queen to capture Hutch's queen. "Checkmate, Hutchinson," he announced with a grin.

Again, there was no reply from the blond, who was nearly snoring now. Shaking his head, Dobey could only chuckle. Looking over at Starsky who was sitting right next to Hutch's elbow, he grinned and nodded his head.

"You think we should wake him up and tell him the game's over... and he lost?" he inquired of the brunette.

Starsky grinned, then yawned.

"Nope. Uncle Ken's sleepy," he said through another yawn.

"Uh huh, I can see that. He's not the only one, is he?" Dobey asked with a grin.

"Me?" Starsky asked, then yawned widely. "I'm not sleepy."

"Okay, you're not sleepy. But I bet your eyes are a little tired, right?"

The brunette head nodded up and down.

"Yeah, thought so. I'll tell you what. Why don't you sit down right over there in that big old chair and just rest your eyes for a minute? Okay?" Dobey offered.

Starsky started to protest, not wanting to be away from Hutch.

"Uh... don't worry, Davie. Your Uncle Ken's going to be right over there on that sofa resting his eyes, too." Dobey said, seeing the panic start to rise in the brunette's blue eyes.

Dobey rose and prompted the curly headed man-child over into the chair, settling him in with an afghan and the Teddy bear he'd brought from home. Then he turned his attention to the blond napping on the edge of the card table.

"Hutch? Come on, son. Come lie down here and rest," Dobey said, maneuvering the young man to the sofa and spreading a quilt over him.

"Is Starsk okay?" Hutch questioned in concern.

"Yes, he's fine. He's right over there in the recliner sleeping like a baby," Dobey replied with a grin. "Now, go to sleep."

"Mmm, yes sir," was the sleepy reply, then nothing but soft snoring.

"Well now... that's more like it," Dobey chuckled and left the room, closing the door behind him.

About an hour later, Dobey wandered across the living room and joined his wife in the kitchen. Edith was busily patting, seasoning, and chilling a large tray of hamburger patties that they were planning to grill that evening. Dobey sat down at the table and couldn't help letting go a soft sigh.

Edith looked up from her work at the sound and turned to look at her husband. She smiled lovingly at his forlorn expression.

"Harold, dear, what's the matter?"

"Oh, it's nothing really," Dobey hedged.

Edith smiled knowingly into Dobey's face.

"Dear, we've been married for twenty-five years, and I know you better than that. Now... what's the trouble?" she coaxed.

"It's just... well, I've been thinking about Starsky and Hutchinson. You know, Edith, they are about the best detectives I've ever had the privilege of working with, but... well, for such young men, they've both had their fair share of trouble and heartache. I guess I was just wondering when life was gonna... settle down for them."

Edith had washed her hands and was now drying them on a clean, fresh towel as she smiled at her husband. She crossed the room to where he sat at the table and slid herself gently into his lap, wrapping her arms around his neck. Leaning her head down to him, she kissed him tenderly, then leaned into his shoulder and hugged him.

"You know, Harold? You sound just like a worried father fretting about his teenage sons," she observed sagely.

"Yeah... maybe I do," he agreed, wrapping his arms around her and returning her embrace.

"They're good, kind, decent young men, dear. Sometimes life's road is long and very hard, but I believe that someone always watches out for good people like our David and Ken. Try not to worry too much about them, Harold. Just be there for them when they need you, 'Captain', and... when they need you... 'Dad'," she whispered into his ear, knowing that this wonderful man in her arms couldn't hide his true feelings for their "boys" from her.

Dobey held her tight and sighed in exasperation.

"Have I really become so transparent?"

"After twenty-five years? Yes dear. You're as easy to read as an open book," she teased, nuzzling his ear.

"Mmmm," Dobey moaned, as Edith's lips trailed down his neck. "Guess I'll have to keep you around then, you think?" he teased.

"I think," she teased back, moving her lips to his to kiss him a bit more passionately.

Their tender interlude was not to be, however, as at that very moment, the ringing of the telephone shattered the tranquility of the kitchen. Dobey looked into Edith's face with an "it figures" expression, lifted her carefully off his lap, and stood to answer the phone.

"Hello," he barked into the phone.

"Cap? It's Babcock. Look... we just got the call from Lenny. The meet's been set and we need to get in touch with Hutch immediately. He and Starsk are there today, aren't they?"

"Yeah, they're here. Hang on, and I'll go wake him. They're both a little beat -- bad night for Starsky. Hang on," Dobey finished, and turned to put the phone down and go to the den.

"No need, Cap, I'm awake. Heard the phone," Hutch said with a grin, as he walked into the kitchen.

"Sorry about that, Hutchinson, but it's just as well," Dobey apologized. "Starsky still asleep?"

"Yeah. Who is it?" Hutch questioned, taking the phone from Dobey.

"Babcock. They heard from Lenny."

"Finally!" Hutch yelped, putting the phone to his ear.

"Babs? What ya got?"

"Lenny called about ten minutes ago. He says his 'friend' wants to meet. He'll give us the turkeys who hit Starsky for three hundred dollars," Babcock replied.

"Great! When? Where?" Hutch prodded.

"Hutch, slow down a minute and listen, would ya?" Babcock replied urgently. "Simmons and I got a line on this 'Snake' character. We found him in your file on a 'Lisa Graham', rape victim. Turns out he's a known associate of some loan shark named 'Martin' who your perps are into for some heavy bread. Could the attack on Starsky have anything to do with this rape case and this shark, Martin? If so, it may not be necessary for you to walk into this potential set up at all!"

That question gave Hutch pause, and his brow furrowed in concentration, as he recalled the details of Lisa's case. Manning and Loomis had gone right back to their five-and-dime rip-offs as soon as the assistant district attorney got the rape charges dropped, and Huggy said they were doing the rippin' to cover what they owed the shark. But how could this have anything to do with a hit on a cop? How could it possibly benefit Martin? His mind was too tired, and Hutch wasn't making any connection between the two cases.

"I-I don't know, Babs. I don't see what the connection could be. Did you guys talk to him?"

"No, we never could turn him. We went by the address where Martin hangs out, some dump of a pool hall on Channon, but nobody was talking."

"Terrific. And in the meantime, we may be giving up our best lead if I don't meet this informant." Hutch hesitated a moment, weighing his decision.

"I don't think we have a choice. This informant is still the only real lead we've got. So, what's the story? When and where?"

Unbeknownst to the three people in the kitchen, the telephone had indeed awakened Starsky. He'd yawned and stretched in the big lounge chair, quite content to stay right where he was -- until he looked over at the couch and saw that his Uncle Ken was gone. He popped out of the chair, still clutching his Teddy bear under his arm, and opened the den door. He heard the urgent voices in the kitchen and silently walked toward the room. He stopped just outside the kitchen door and listened to his "uncle's" voice on the phone.

"So, what's the story? When and where?" Hutch asked urgently.

"Okay. You're supposed to meet him in half an hour at the abandoned warehouse at the end of Pier 13," Babcock replied.

"Oh... terrific!" Hutch lamented. "My kind of place. You guys are planning on watching my back, I hope?" Hutch asked with a grin.

"Watch his back? His partner's supposed to watch his back," Starsky whispered, not really knowing what he was saying or why. His ramblings now had more to do with the strange and confusing images flashing through his mind, than with what he was hearing from the other room. He shook his head to clear the confusion, and turned his attention back to his "uncle's" conversation.

Babcock grinned at Hutch's half-serious question.

"You bet, buddy. We may not have the same panache' as that curly headed clown you're always hanging around with, but I think you'll find the service more than adequate," he teased.

"I bet I will," Hutch replied with a grin. "Okay, I'll meet you in twenty minutes at the waterfront. We'll go in separately. Oh hey... does this turkey have a name or does he just answer to 'hey you'?"

"Leone'... Guido Leone'."

"Guido?" Hutch questioned. "Sounds like he should be running an Italian restaurant, not playing informant for the neighborhood constabulary."

As soon as Starsky heard the name "Guido," his heart clutched in fear. There was something about that name... something so frightening, so terrifying.... Now Davie was really scared, scared for his Uncle Ken, and he didn't understand why. All he knew was that his uncle was going someplace to meet a man named "Guido" and that thought filled him with fear right down to his toes.

Davie made his decision. He wasn't going to let his uncle go meet this scary man without him. He crept quietly away from the kitchen door, crossed back through the living room, and pulled the den door closed. Then he silently opened the front door and slipped out of the house.

Davie ran down the sidewalk to where Hutch's old LTD was parked at the curb. Carefully, he opened the back door, and it squeaked just a little bit, startling him to quickly climb through the door and scrunch down on the floorboards behind the front passenger seat. Oh, so slowly, he pulled the door closed behind him, disappearing from view.

"Okay, Hutch. We'll meet you in twenty," Babcock acknowledged, disconnecting the call.

Hutch hung up the phone and turned to brief Dobey.

"The informant's name is Guido. He wants to meet in half an hour at the abandoned warehouse at the end of Pier 13."

"Oh beautiful," Dobey moaned. "Babcock and Simmons are going in with you?"

"Yeah. I'm meeting them in twenty minutes at the waterfront. We'll proceed to the warehouse separately."

Hutch spun and headed across the kitchen and through the living room to the entry hall closet where he'd left his holster and light tan jacket. Quickly retrieving both items, he shouldered into the holster, secured it under his arm, and pulled his jacket on over it. He glanced up to focus on the closed door of the den for a moment.

Dobey caught his troubled expression.

"He'll be okay, Hutch. Edith will take good care of him," Dobey reassured.

"Edith? All that TLC he got from you last night has probably spoiled the boy for anybody else, so you better include yourself in that little equation -- at least until I get back," Hutch teased, grinning like a Cheshire cat at Dobey's long-suffering expression.

"Well... the 'boy' will just have to deal with it -- I'm with you," Dobey replied, tone of voice and facial expression telling Hutch that the topic was not up for discussion.

Hutch thought for a moment, then agreed wholeheartedly.

"Thanks, Cap. I need all the good backup I can get on this one," he replied with a smile for his Captain.

"Okay then. Let's roll!" Dobey barked. He paused long enough to check the revolver he'd just pulled from its holster where it hung in the closet. Shoving the weapon into his pocket and buttoning his jacket around him, they charged out the front door.

The preoccupied men piled into the LTD and Hutch fired the engine. They pulled away from the curb, never noticing the small, stuffed Teddy bear that lay by the curb below the car's back door. A small, stuffed Teddy bear that had been inadvertently dropped by the curly headed stow-away that they never noticed they were carrying with them.

The beat-up LTD pulled in behind the dark blue four-door parked on Harbor Boulevard about a mile below where the Pier 13 wharf joined terra firma. Hutch and Dobey quickly exited the LTD and joined Simmons and Babcock in their sedan.

"Hutch, Cap," Simmons greeted. "Okay, how do we want to do this?"

"Most of these old warehouses down here have large loading bays that face out from the pier toward the water," Dobey offered. "They also have smaller bay doors for semi loading on the opposite side."

"Okay, that should work. I'll take the LTD straight down the pier to the main bay doors and go in that way. You guys go in from the other side and position yourselves as best you can around the perimeter. I may not get a chance to get a good look around so I'll need you to cover me from all sides," Hutch instructed.

"Sounds good," Dobey agreed. "Give us five minutes to get down there and get into position. Don't you come in until just after the appointed meeting time. Okay. Are we all straight?"

The other three heads in the car nodded in agreement and understanding. Hutch opened his door and climbed out. He rapped lightly on the roof, and the blue sedan pulled away from the curb heading down the street to the pier. Hutch checked his watch. It was twenty-five after -- five minutes and he would move.

Edith was busy in the kitchen preparing the rest of the food for the evening's barbecue, when she noticed that it was nearly two-thirty in the afternoon. Rosie and David both had been asleep for a long time. She dried her hands, exited the kitchen, and crossed the living room to go upstairs to her daughter's room. On her way past the den, she reached out and knocked firmly on the door.

"Davie. Wake up in there. You've been asleep a long time. Davie? Do you hear me? Wake up now," she called, turning the doorknob and pushing the door open before her. She stopped in surprise to see the room empty. She turned from the door and walked down the hall to the guest bath to knock on that door.

"Davie? Are you in there? Davie?"

Receiving no reply, she turned the knob and opened the door. The little room was empty, too. She had just started to climb the stairs to search the rest of the house when Cal bounded through the front door carrying the discarded Teddy bear.

"Hey Mom," he called to her. "Where's Uncle Dave? I just found this bear he's been carrying around out on the curb in front of the house."

Edith came back down the stairs and took the bear from her son's hand.

"Where'd you say you found this?" she asked, her worry starting to mount.

"Outside on the front curb, where Uncle Ken usually parks the LTD. It was just laying there in the gutter. Looks like the car might have run over it. The way 'Davie's' been so attached to it today, I wouldn't think he'd just leave it in the street."

"No... no, he wouldn't" Edith agreed, her worry turning quickly to full-blown fear. "Cal, run outside and check the yard and all around the house and see if Davie's anywhere out there, would you please?"

"Sure Mom. Be right back," Cal replied and ran out into the yard.

Edith climbed the stairs and efficiently searched each room, every closet, every nook and every cranny -- no Starsky! She even looked under beds and behind furniture -- no luck.

"Mom!" Cal called as he bounded back into the house.

"Yes, dear. I'm up here. Did you find him?" she asked hopefully.

"Nope. He's not outside anywhere. Where is he, Mom? What's going on?" he asked as his mother trotted down the stairs and headed to the phone.

"I'm not sure, Cal, but I think he might have gone with your father and Ken on a call. And since they haven't returned here with him by now, I can only assume that they don't know yet that he's in the car," she replied, her voice full of fear.

Edith picked up the phone in the kitchen and dialed the number for the station dispatcher.

"Metro Division. Officer Carver speaking."

"Officer Carver, this is Edith Dobey speaking.

"Oh hi, Mrs. Dobey. How are you?"

"Not good -- not good at all. Now listen to me carefully. This is an emergency. I need you to patch me through to Zebra-three or Zebra-nine. I need to speak with either my husband or Detective Hutchinson. Hurry, please!"

"It will take just a moment, ma'am. Hold on please."

The line grew silent as the dispatcher made the appropriate radio calls. It was more than two minutes before she came back on the line.

"Mrs. Dobey? I'm sorry, but neither unit is answering their radios. Dispatch says that Zebra-three radioed in about three minutes ago and asked for backup to be sent to their call. They are to wait and hold at Pier 10 until called to the scene."

"Oh dear. That means they've already gone in to meet their informant," Edith moaned in fear. "Officer Carver... Detective Starsky may have stowed away in the car, and neither Detective Hutchinson nor my husband are aware that he's with them on the scene."

"Wait a minute... isn't Detective Starsky still on medical leave suffering from some kind of amnesia?" the dispatcher questioned.

"Yes, yes! He's just a child right now, and he has no idea what he's getting himself into. We've got to let somebody know he's on scene and get him out of there!"

"I'll contact Adam-16 right now, ma'am, and apprise them of the situation."

"Thank you," Edith sighed. "And as soon as you reach my husband, please tell him to call me."

"Will do," the dispatcher agreed.

"Thank you," Edith replied and hung up the phone.

"Mom? Uncle Dave is with Dad and Uncle Ken? But, he's just a kid." Cal observed.

"I know, son... I know," Edith whispered, fear clutching her heart.

Hutch waited for five minutes, then ran back down the street, jumped in the LTD, and sped down the street to Pier 13. He cruised slowly down the pilings until he was directly in front of the large cargo bay doors. Exiting the car, he shoved the large bay door aside and stepped into the gloom of the warehouse.

Davie had stayed quiet and hidden on the floorboards in the back seat all the way to the pier. His mind kept flashing on names and faces -- Snake, Guido, and Hutch. He wasn't sure who any of those people were, but somehow he knew that Guido and Snake where not nice people and they wanted to hurt his Uncle Ken. He slowly eased himself up off the floorboards and curled himself into the back seat. He raised his head just far enough above the seat to see out of the car and just caught a glimpse of his Uncle Ken going through the big doors into the old building.

Hutch stepped into the gloom of the warehouse interior and waited for a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the lack of light. He quickly scanned the room. There were several good locations around the perimeter that would hide his backup, and with confidence in the skills and experience of his fellow officers, he knew where they'd be and that he was covered.

He walked slowly out to the center of the open floor and stopped.

"Guido! I'm here, maggot! Let's talk!"

All was silent for a beat, then Hutch heard footsteps off to his right. He turned his head in the direction of the sound, and watched as the form of a man took shape, as someone emerged from the deep shadows at the edge the room.

"For a minute there, I didn't think you were coming, pig," Guido smirked. "But then I figured you wouldn't want to miss a minute of this."

Guido nodded his head ever so slightly and another figure emerged from the shadows. This one was a huge man, and he wasn't alone. He was clutching something close to his chest.

"Oh God," Hutch whispered, as he recognized the somewhat bloodied and limp form of Detective Babcock. The huge goon had him in a vice grip around the neck, and was pressing the barrel of a snub nose thirty-eight into the side of his head.

"Now, why don't you have the rest of your little friends come out and join us, or I'll have Tony here put a bullet in your pal's head, right now!" Guido ordered.

Davie had stayed still and quiet in the back seat of the car and had watched the big doors ever since his Uncle Ken had gone through them five minutes ago. He hadn't seen or heard anything else since then. He was just about to open the car door and slip out to look for his uncle when he heard footsteps coming fast toward him. He crouched back down in the seat until they passed by the car.

As soon as the footsteps passed, he inched his way back up in the seat and peeked out. There were two men standing in front of the big doors about ready to go inside. Davie shook his head at the sudden rush of images that flashed into his mind.

Faces -- mean, hurtful faces -- they were hurting him, hitting him with a club. Oh God, the pain! Davie moaned and clutched his head at the memory of the horrible pain. Then a face swirled in front of his eyes and it was sneering at him, taunting him -- the face was going to hurt Hutch. Yes! That's it! This face was going to hurt Hutch. This face was going to let "Guido" do terrible, ugly things to his partner! And this face -- this face -- that face -- that face had been standing in front of the open bay doors and had just gone into the warehouse where his partner was!

"No! I won't let you hurt Hutch!"

Starsky stood and leaned out over the front seat of the LTD to riffle through the glove compartment.

"Damn, Blondie! When did you take your thirty-eight out of here?" he growled in exasperation.

Bolting from the back seat of the car, Starsky ran as fast as he could toward the large, open doors.

Hutch didn't have time to even open his mouth before Dobey and Simmons stepped from their hiding places and walked toward the center of the floor.

"Leave the hardware right where you stand, cops, and then, please, come join us," Guido taunted.

Dobey and Simmons laid their weapons on the warehouse floor and walked toward the group of men at the center of the room. Just as they approached Hutch's position, two more men entered the warehouse from the open cargo doors and joined the group.

"Well, Blondie, we meet at last," Snake sneered, as he pulled Hutch's jacket open and snatched the Magnum from its holster.

"Do I know you, punk?" Hutch asked hotly. "Don't seem to remember seeing your ugly carcass before."

Snake stepped in front of Hutch and leaned in close to sneer into the blond's face.

"No, Blondie, you don't know me... yet!" And with that he launched a powerful right jab into Hutch's ribs that forced the air from the blond's lungs with a "whoosh" and staggered him, leaving him unsteady on his feet.

"What's the matter, punk?" Hutch wheezed, trying to catch his breath, but still on his feet. "That all you got? My old granny has a better right than you!"

Roth and Guido kept Dobey and Simmons covered, and Tony still had a choke hold on the unconscious Babcock. There was nobody to stop him, and Snake was really beginning to relish his plans for this particular cop.

"No, Blondie... that ain't all I got. I got something special in mind for you," he spat into Hutch's face.

With an evil leer twisting his features into an ugly mask, Snake threw another powerful punch into Hutch's ribs, then caught the gasping blond with a vicious blow to the forehead with the heavy Magnum he still clutched in his hand.

Hutch, stunned and dizzy now from the powerful blow to his head, couldn't keep his feet. His knees folded on him, and he slumped to the ground. There he was met with another brutal right to his jaw, and a wicked kick to his mid-section that sent him crashing backward to lay flat on his back in the dust, nearly unconscious.

Dobey and Simmons chaffed and fretted at what they were seeing, but they were helpless, held most effectively by the threat to Babcock.

Standing over the bleeding, senseless Hutch, Snake laughed, calling over his shoulder to the other officers.

"Better watch close, pigs. You can't see this kind of thing just anywhere. Hey Guido, come here," he called to his cohort.

Guido's face twisted into an ugly grin, as he approached the prostrate officer removing his jacket and unbuckling his belt as he walked. He stepped up beside Snake and grinned.

"After you?" he asked, taunting the senseless, helpless man before them.

"No, after you," Snake replied, waving his hand toward their intended victim.

They both laughed, as Guido continued to unbuckle his belt and unzip his trousers.

Starsky stood at the very edge of the open doors, peering into the interior gloom. It took a few minutes, but finally his eyes adjusted and he could see pretty well. And what he saw made his blood boil with rage at the same time as it clutched his heart with fear. This was his nightmare.

"No!" he ground out between clenched jaws. "No! I won't let you hurt him! I won't let you hurt Hutch! HUUUUUUUTCH!"

The sound of that rage-filled scream tore through the interior of the warehouse and reverberated around the room freezing everyone in it for a split second. It was all Dobey and Simmons needed. As Starsky charged through the doorway and ran head long at the surprised Snake and Guido, Dobey and Simmons sprang at Roth and Tony.

Simmons snatched a backup piece he had in his belt behind him and popped off a quick shot that smashed into Tony's shoulder causing him to lose his grip on Babcock. The unconscious officer dropped to the ground at the goon's feet. Before Tony could react, Simmons was on him, dealing him a glancing blow to the jaw and one to the neck, stunning the big ape and dropping him to his knees. Before he even had time to holler in protest, Simmons spun him around and slapped his cuffs on him.

As soon as Starsky's scream split the air, Dobey threw himself sideways into Roth, who had been paying more attention to what his partners were up to than to his prisoner. The powerful blow knocked Roth from his feet and Dobey was on him, securing the man's wrists in cuffs before the thug knew what hit him.

Starsky's speed covered the distance across the warehouse floor in an instant and carried him a full fifteen feet as he launched himself into the air to gang tackle the two gorillas standing over his partner.

The powerful tackle knocked Guido off his feet and he found himself tangled in his own trousers that were still hanging down around his knees. Simmons and Dobey descended quickly on the hapless goon and cuffed him tight, leaving his pants -- and everything else -- dangling.

All of Starsky's focus and energy was now directed at Snake, who had recognized the curly headed cop as soon as he'd seen him flying across the warehouse floor. He tried to pull his gun and get a shot off, but Starsky was on him in a flash, knocking the gun from his hand with a quick and powerful kick.

Starsky lunged at him again, catching Snake with a powerful left hook to the jaw, followed by a left to his ribs, then a right cross to the eye. The brunette kept punching and jabbing until Snake couldn't stay on his feet any longer and slumped to the ground. But Starsky was consumed with rage and gripped by terror at all that he'd just seen done to his partner and all that had been done to him, as his returning memories kept flooding into his mind.

Dobey and Simmons ran to where Starsky was still pummeling the fallen hoodlum, yanking the brunette bodily from the subdued man.

"Starsky! Starsky! Enough! It's enough now!" Dobey yelled, his commanding voice finally getting through to the enraged detective.

Starsky stepped back away from the senseless Snake and stood trembling and panting breathlessly with the adrenaline that still coursed through his body. Dobey held on tight to the quaking shoulders, looking Starsky right in the face.

"Starsky? Starsky? Dave! Are you with me now? There now... take a deep breath," Dobey said, speaking calmly to the agitated young man.

Starsky seemed to shake himself mentally and looked hard into his Captain's eyes for a moment.

"Th-thanks, Cap. Guess I-I got a little carried away when I saw what they were about to do to Hutch."

Starsky's face suddenly went completely pale.

"Oh my God... Hutch!" the brunette screamed, as he spun out of Dobey's grasp and ran back across the floor to where his partner lay, bruised, bloodied... and so very still.

Skidding to a stop beside Hutch, Starsky dropped to his knees and leaned down over the blond's head. His hand trembled slightly as he reached out to stroke the blood-matted hair from his partner's forehead.

"Hutch? Hutch? Can you hear me, buddy?" Starsky questioned, terror filling his heart. "Hutch? Come on, buddy. Can you hear me?" he pleaded, moving his hands to grip the blond's shoulders and shake him gently.

There was no sound, no movement from the blond detective.

Dobey stepped up beside Starsky, placing a comforting hand on the young man's shoulder. But Starsky just continued to talk to his partner.

"Hutch? Can you hear me? Hutch?"

Starsky leaned over and slid his arms around the blond's back and lifted the man's shoulders from the floor. He shifted his position until he'd settled himself beneath his partner, then lowered the blond gently to rest in his lap, pulling him close in a tight hug.

"Can you hear me, buddy? Please... please hear me, Hutch."

Starsky watched as the blond head lying against his chest slowly lolled back and forth. Eyelids fluttered and Hutch's sky blue eyes blinked and eventually focused on the frightened, blue-violet eyes hovering just above him.

"Hutch? Can you hear me?" Starsky questioned, his voice trembling slightly, as he stroked a comforting hand through his partner's hair and down the bruised, bloody cheek.


The voice was just a raspy whisper, the word a mere puff of air, but Starsky thought it was the most beautiful thing he'd ever heard. His face beamed his joy under the full power of a thousand-watt grin.

"Starsk? Is that... really you?" Hutch whispered, not wanting to hope that it was really Starsky speaking to him instead of "Davie."

The brunette looked down at him, perplexed, suddenly wondering just how hard Snake had conked the blond on the head.

"What'd ya mean, 'is it really me'? Of course it's really me. Who were you expecting? Peter Pan?" he asked in exasperation.

Hutch snorted, Dobey exploded, Simmons guffawed, and the slowly recovering Babcock giggled like a schoolgirl until the warehouse was echoing with the sound of their joyous laughter.

Starsky just looked at them like they'd all lost their minds wondering what the devil he'd said that was so damned funny.

Starsky's face slowly colored to a deep crimson, as the growing blush spread up his neck and across his cheeks.

"F-five y-years old? I thought I was f-five years old?" he stammered with embarrassment. "Please... tell me I didn't do nothin'... humiliating. No! On second thought... don't tell me," he sighed, dropping his chin toward his chest.

Hutch had been home from the hospital for a week and was nearly recovered from a slight concussion, several bruised ribs and numerous cuts and bruises. He and Starsky were sitting in the brunette's living room enjoying the company of Huggy, Simmons, Babcock, Lisa, Mitzi, and the Dobeys, who had all gathered for an impromptu "welcome home" party for both Hutch and "Dave" Starsky.

"Humiliating?" Hutch teased. "Well... no. I wouldn't say humiliating exactly. Just... 'five'."

"Oh God," Starsky moaned louder.

"Oh Ken, you stop teasing him now," Edith scolded gently. "What David experienced was simply his mind's way of healing itself, just like the doctor said. 'Davie' was necessary to his healing process."

Edith crossed the room to sit down on the sofa next to Starsky, wrapping an arm across his slumped shoulders and "stage whispering" into his ear.

"But, if that partner of yours continues to give you grief," she paused, looked over at Hutch, and grinned mischievously. "Just ask him how it was he came to find himself laying flat on his stomach on our front lawn, handcuffed -- with his own cuffs -- while 'Officer Reed' and 'Officer Malloy' congratulated themselves on a successful collar."

The room filled with laughter, as Starsky and Hutch both moaned in embarrassment.

"But all was not 'humiliating', Curly," Huggy interjected. "Some very righteous happenin's occurred because of your little return trip to childhood."

"Al Martin and his men are going to prison for a very long time for their crimes," Dobey offered. "And every officer in this room is alive today because of you, Starsky -- stowaway that you were!" he barked.

Hutch was smiling brightly at his partner now, shaking his head in agreement.

"And I got a very real, very special thing out of all this," he stated.

Starsky looked up at him, the question in his eyes.

"I got to know 'Dave' Starsky a little better through getting to know 'Davie' -- a privilege I would never have had otherwise," he said sincerely, looking steadily into his partner's shy grin.

"Oh, and while you're on the mutual appreciation kick, I've got a little something for both of you," Huggy teased, reaching behind the sofa to retrieve two small, flat packages. Handing them to his friends, he smiled into their surprised, confused faces.

"Just thought you both needed a little memento to remind you of what you've got -- in each other," he said, grinning broadly.

The men looked at each other and grinned a little sheepishly, then tore into the wrapped packages. Both boxes contained identical double picture frames.

On one side of the frame was a color photo of Hutch lying on the grass in the sunshine fast asleep. The expression on his handsome features was one of complete peace.

Starsky recognized the shot.

"I took this one of you that day in the park, remember? You were still recovering from the Forest kidnapping. It was the first time in weeks I'd seen you that... peaceful."

On the other side of the frame was the photo Huggy had taken of Starsky as he slept, fuzzy Teddy bear cuddled under his chin. The photo beautifully captured the innocence of a child in sleep -- secure in the knowledge that he was safe and loved.

"We took this the first night you were home from the hospital, Starsk. You were so... I don't know... vulnerable, but yet, completely trusting of me, of everybody," Hutch indicated the others in the room. "I'd never seen you look so... innocent," Hutch whispered, looking up at his partner.

Their eyes locked for a moment and both faces brightened under a pair of goofy grins.

"Thanks, Hug," Starsky said to the flamboyant bartender.

"Not quite right for blackmail, huh Hug?" Hutch teased his friend with a grin. "Thank you, Huggy," Hutch added in a soft whisper. "Means a lot -- to us both."

"My pleasure, gentlemen. But we're not finished here yet," Huggy prompted.

"Yeah, there were lots of other good things that came from all this, Starsky," Babcock added. "Like... you didn't have to go to work for two months."

"And you got to eat cheeseburgers for breakfast," Hutch added.

"You got to spend a lot of time playing games and having fun with your friends," Mitzi chimed in, and Lisa nodded happily in agreement.

"And Uncle Ken gave you a neat-o hair cut," Rosie offered innocently.

Starsky came to stiff attention on that one.

"You? You gave me this haircut?" Starsky questioned, staring his partner down.

"Now... now Starsk," Hutch stammered, easing himself slowly out of his chair.

"You? You did this?" Starsky sputtered angrily, pointing at his short, dark curls, as he rose from his seat and slowly advanced on the retreating blond.

"Starsk, please... just calm down. Let's talk about this like two rational adults," Hutch bargained.

"You? My own partner? You did this to me?" Starsky yelped, as he stepped over to his desk and retrieved a pair of short-bladed scissors.

The polite giggles in the room were growing louder, as the brunette turned from the desk and stalked menacingly toward his backpedaling partner.

"Now Starsk, just calm down! You asked me give you a haircut. You kept saying 'make it all the same, Uncle Ken,' so... that's what I did," Hutch offered in explanation, his face sliding into a sick looking grin.

"What did I know? I was just a kid! You always do what some kid tells you to do?" Starsky yelped, pinning his flustered partner into the corner of the room.

"Starsk! Don't do it! Starsk!" Hutch yelped in protest. "Don't do it! Don't do something you're gonna regret!"

Starsky grinned devilishly into Hutch's worried expression, as he lifted the scissors toward his partner's golden locks.

Their guests offered nothing save billows of delighted laughter growing ever louder behind them.


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