Mine to Lose
by Keri T.


SHSVS - Episode 6

**********

Cops were used to phones ringing in the middle of the night. It was part of the job, and most grudgingly accepted it in the same way they accepted days off being canceled with little notice, or a longed-for vacation request denied due to lack of personnel, or a departmental crisis. The insistent ringing of the phone, pulling him from blissful slumber was the worst as far as Dave Starsky was concerned. Despite years of experience dealing with late night and early morning calls, they still pissed him off.

"Starsky," he mumbled harshly into the mouthpiece, once he'd located the phone.

"Dobey here. You awake?"

"Cap'n, it's the middle of the night. No, I'm not awake."

"It's 4:30 in the morning, and I know you were sleeping...but so was I before the commissioner called me and got my ass out of bed! Now I'm calling you. See how all good things roll downhill?"

The tone of his captain's voice had Starsky sitting up on an elbow and rubbing his bleary eyes. "Okay, Cap'n, I got the picture. What's up?"

"Levy."

"He's willing to talk?" Starsky fumbled for the lamp, blinking as the harsh light flooded the bed.

"That's what he told his lawyer about three hours ago. We get one hour with him, then he goes into solitary for his own safety until the trial is over, if we can really nail Edwards. Then they'll transfer him to some maximum-security prison back east. His lawyer is still working out the details, and he stressed that time is critical. If we want Levy to give up those names and dates--and I don't need to remind you that we do--we need to get his statement this morning." Starsky was listening quietly, willing his brain to become fully alert.

"Starsky?"

"I'm here, just thinkin'. Cap'n, Levy's in San Quentin. That's what, 500 miles away? Just how fast can we get there?"

"You and your partner have a flight at 6:30. That's in two hours, and I need you both in here ten minutes ago for a briefing." Dobey's loud voice forced Starsky to move the phone a little away from his ear. "Oh, and, Starsky, I tried to call Hutchinson first and there was no answer at his apartment. So if you know the number of whatever lady he's spending his nights with these days, you'd better call her now. I need you both in here right away, and I'm assuming that Hutchinson is letting you know his whereabouts as he's supposed to do, according to procedure? I know how all my men follow procedure."

Starsky ignored the sarcasm. "Actually, Cap'n, Hutch is here at my place. He crashed on my couch last night."

"Then wake him up, and I'll expect you both in my office in thirty minutes."

Starsky hung up the phone and rolled over. "Guess you heard all that?"

"I heard enough to know we're going in, and that Levy's gonna blab." Hutch's voice was still thick with sleep, but his smile was gentle as he touched Starsky's face. "How much time do we have?"

"Dobey said thirty minutes. We have to get briefed before the plane trip." Starsky rolled back over to his own side of the bed in order to rise. His chest muscles felt particularly stiff at this early hour, and he had to bite back a groan as he heaved himself from the bed.

"You okay, Starsk?"

"Oh, yeah, I'm fine, it's just that not all of me is awake yet." Once he was on his feet, a few stretches and some deep breaths helped to work some of the kinks out. He glanced at the pale face that was looking at him so hard. As always, it was difficult to ignore the look of concern in his partner's eyes. "I promise, okay? Now, are you gettin' out of bed or what?"

"I guess, 'or what' isn't an option?" Hutch tossed the covers back and swung his legs to the floor. "God, we didn't get much sleep last night."

"Don't remind me. If you'll find us some clothes, I'll take a two-minute shower and leave the water running for you. I gotta get my eyes open."

"Okay." Hutch got to his feet reluctantly. "Hey, Starsk, we don't have to pack, right? I mean we're in and out, today?"

"I guess so. Besides, we don't have time to pack so we'll have to wing it either way."

"Isn't this shaping up to be a fun day?" Hutch made his way to the dresser, shaking his head a little as he went.

"Really," Starsky agreed. He moved toward the bathroom. "I'll be quick."

"So will I."

Starsky left the bathroom door open, then started the shower and found both their toothbrushes. He left Hutch's on the counter as he scrubbed his own teeth, wondering what was in store for them at San Quentin.

**********

"All right, you two, is everything clear?" Dobey asked for the third time.

"Cap'n...." Starsky spoke in a complaining tone, but Hutch cut him off before he could continue.

"Yeah, Captain, we're clear." Hutch raised his brows in Starsky's direction and received a quick nod in return. Starsky was standing close to the door, nearly hunched over the coffeepot, consuming the strong stuff as quickly as possible, and waiting for the caffeine to kick in. He watched his partner drain his own cup in one long gulp and get to his feet, then he listened as Hutch's smooth tones finished reassuring Dobey, "So, we'll report back in this afternoon."

"I'll expect you to come straight here from the airport," Dobey ordered. He picked up the thick manila folder from his desk and handed it to Hutch. "Everything's inside. Case notes, the Q&A list, and directions to the prison. Your tickets are waiting for you at the United counter, and there's a reservation at Hertz for a rental car."

"I'll bet it's for an economy car, right?" Starsky asked rhetorically, well aware of the department's strict budget guidelines.

Dobey gave him a sharp look. "That's right, and don't be thinking about upgrading when you get there. I'll be the one going over your expense reports, remember? Oh, and I'm so sorry, but first class was all sold out, so we had to book coach seats for your royal rears."

Hutch rubbed at his still tired eyes and motioned for his partner to grab both their jackets. "Not to worry, Captain. Our royal rears will be just fine in coach."

Starsky went to the door, holding it open as Hutch passed through. "See ya later, Cap. Oh, and, Cap? Maybe you should go home and get some more sleep. You're kinda grumpy."

"Get out of here, Starsky!" Dobey roared.

Starsky flashed a grin and a wink at the large man then slammed the door behind him. The sharp noise inflamed the small headache right behind the captain's eyes, and he reached for the aspirin in his desk drawer.

**********

The United terminal was very crowded, even at the early hour of 6:00 a.m. Impatiently, Starsky and Hutch waited in the long check-in line, watching the minutes tick by.

"Hutch, what if the plane takes off and we're still in this line?" Starsky checked his watch against the large wall clock over the registration desk for the tenth time.

"I don't think that'll happen," Hutch answered calmly. "Look at all these people in line with us. Some of them have to be on our flight, and they're not going to take off and leave a lot of angry passengers on the ground."

"What about schedules? Remember that commercial with the two hot girls?"

"Can you be more specific?"

"Come on, you know the one. They both had great tits and were wearing really short skirts. I can't remember which airline it was for, but they were singing this song about how important my time was to them, so their airline would fly on schedule, always. The song didn't really rhyme or anything, but they sang it pretty well."

"I'm sure they did," Hutch's tone was dry and his hand firm as he pushed Starsky forward. "Move up, Starsk; it's almost our turn."

Finally, the two detectives were waved to an open agent, who hurried them through with a warning: "You only have eight minutes 'til take off, and you're leaving from Gate Fourteen. You'd better run."

Both men took off at a dash for the security post leading to the gates. The line there was depressingly long, and they had little choice but to push their way to the front. Starsky got his badge out first, waving it to catch the security guard's attention. "My partner and I are cops, and we're carrying our weapons. We need you to check us through as fast as possible because we have a plane that's about to leave, and we gotta be on it."

"Step to the side, Officer, I'll be with you in one minute," answered the burly guard.

"Mister," Hutch stepped forward, removing his own badge. "We don't have a minute. Now we're really sorry to cut in line like this. But this is official police business, and you need to check us through right now."

The man took one look at the four blue eyes staring him down, and instantly produced a tray. "Put your guns in there. I'll carry them to you once you're through the metal detector."

Once through, both men holstered their guns simultaneously. Starsky was glancing at the direction the gates sign were numbered in, as a final boarding call for their flight was announced. The dark-haired man started first, calling over his shoulder as he sprinted. "Run!"

**********

The flight was fast and uneventful, though the cops spent the first few minutes trying to catch their breath. It was 7:25 a.m. when they arrived in San Francisco. They quickly located the Hertz desk, and by 7:45 were seated in a very small compact car. It took two tries for Starsky to start the engine, and he shook his head in disgust over the pathetically weak turnover. "Geez, Hutch, I expected small and economical, but this is a tin can."

"At least you can fit your legs all the way in," the taller detective complained. "I'm going to be shaped like a pretzel by the time we get to the prison."

"Speaking of which, ya wanna haul out those directions and tell me which way to go?"

"Yeah, okay, give me a second." Hutch fumbled in the folder he'd been holding since leaving Dobey's office, grimacing a little at the lack of legroom.

"Did you push the seat all the way back?" Starsky asked, noticing his pained expression.

"I don't see a lever. I think it's back as far as it'll go."

"Check under the seat."

"I can't reach under the seat, Starsk, I'm practically pinned here."

"I'll find it, you just look for the directions." Starsky reached between Hutch's legs until he located the lever under the seat. A few sharp pushes released the gear, and sent the chair back a few blessed inches. "There. That'll give you a little room."

"Thanks." Hutch stretched out his legs as far as possible. It helped, but his knees still remained uncomfortably high. Ignoring the slight discomfort, he peered again at the map. "Okay, we need to pick up 101 north and take it to the bridge."

"The Golden Gate?" Starsky was impressed.

"The very same."

"I haven't been over that bridge in years. In fact, I can't remember the last time I was in San Francisco." Starsky guided the little car out of the parking lot and headed for the airport exit. "How about you?"

Hutch looked up sharply, his face was shrouded for an instant in intense pain. It took him a second to recover his emotions and offer a small smile. The long months of Starsky's recovery had trained him well. "It hasn't been all that long for me."

Angry at his own casual words, Starsky shook his head. "Aw, Hutch...babe, I'm sorry. I didn't think. I just didn't think."

"Hey, it's okay," Hutch murmured, and used a strong palm to massage Starsky's knee. Neither spoke again until Starsky had made the turn onto the freeway, Hutch's hand still resting on his leg. "I still think about that day a lot, you know."

"I know," Starsky took his right hand off the wheel and covered Hutch's hand solidly. "What you did took a lot of balls. You went in there alone, and you nailed the bastard."

"I wasn't alone, Starsk."

"Huh?"

"I said I wasn't alone. I took you there with me, in here." Hutch took both their hands and placed them on his chest. "I wasn't alone for a second."

"My partner, the romantic," Starsky said gently, removing his hand from Hutch's to reach up and briefly cup his face. "I may not have ever said it enough, but I was damn proud of you."

"Starsk...."

"I was, and we don't have to talk about it right now, so don't get all tense. We're here, we're together, and we're about to get enough information to nail Edwards' ass to the wall. Everything's good."

"You want to talk about last night, then?" Hutch asked in a husky voice. Any mention of the man who'd almost succeeded in taking Starsky from him always tore open his own healing wounds. Starsky wore his scars on the outside. Hutch wore his on the inside.

"Last night? Now, last night was spectacular." Starsky grinned. "If only we could have gotten a little sleep this morning."

"Come on, Starsk, you know what I mean."

"You didn't think last night was spectacular? You sure looked like you were havin' a good time. Felt that way, too," Starsky teased.

"I was ready for more, that's all. I just wish you'd have believed me."

"No you weren't."

"You think I don't know what I want? That I don't want you that way?" The blond's voice held a hint of anger now.

"Of course not. I know you want me that way. I know you want me to fuck you, and I'm going to. And it's going to be spectacular, but you're not ready yet."

"And just how do you know that, hotshot?"

"Because I know you, okay? I know you better than anyone has ever known you, or ever will know you. You can't hide those kinds of secrets from me, Hutch. You want it, but you're not quite ready. I'll know when you are, and then I'll make it so good."

Hutch's belly quivered at the spoken promise. "I hope you'll tell me when you know."

"I won't be keepin' it to myself, I can promise you that," Starsky moved his free hand firmly up and down Hutch's thigh, feeling the rigid muscle beneath well worn jeans. "Your leg gettin' cramped up, or are you just tense about questioning Levy?"

"A little of both, I guess. I can't help wishing we were all done and on our way home. There's a hell of a lot riding on our getting this statement down rock solid."

"Piece o'cake, Hutch. Hey, Dobey sent his top team, didn't he? That should tell you something." Starsky moved his hand back to the steering wheel as he approached the turnoff to the bridge. "Look at that! Damn, is this thing beautiful."

Hutch responded with a brief nod, barely acknowledging the towering columns of the suspension bridge as they started across. Glistening moisture clung to the rust colored, painted steel.

Starsky admired the tiny dots of rainbow-like colors that bounced from the metal as the sun hit the condensation, but Hutch appeared not to notice. Starsky squeezed his thigh again. "Hey, just relax and enjoy the view. We'll be at the prison in no time, and we only have an hour with Levy, remember? We'll be back on this bridge before you know it, and headed for home."

"Okay, let's just get there and get this over with," Hutch replied in a clipped tone.

"Is something else bothering you?" Starsky asked, not liking the expression Hutch was wearing. The broad forehead was creased in the way it always was when the blond was troubled.

"Nothing...it's nothing. I just...nothing."

"We got time to talk if you want."

"It's probably lack of sleep, Starsk. I just feel a little tense."

Starsky studied his friend's face briefly and decided not to push any further. "Hey," he began, wanting to lighten Hutch's mood. "When we get home, you can nap and I'll cook. We'll have a steak dinner, some wine...and anything else your little heart can think of. How's that sound?"

Hutch smiled and the tension left his face. "That sounds like a date, buddy. I may even sleep over."

"That's the plan, Blondie, that's the plan."

"Then let's get there already. I'd like to start your plan as soon as possible."

**********

San Quentin prison had opened in 1852, and since that first day had never lacked a steady stream of inmates. Nestled close to the bay, it was located on a beautiful strip of California real estate. These amenities added little joy to the lives of the convicted men imprisoned in its interiors. Most were serving hard time, and many were housed on the prison's death row. Life inside was ruled by a disciplined, unvarying routine. Meals, work details, and lights out occurred at the same time day after day. Both the inmates and the guards controlling them lived with boredom and unending stress.

Mike Andrews had been a correctional officer for twenty years and was well respected by the other guards. Today, he was working a new shift and fighting the remnants of the flu. He didn't normally pull "swing," and his body was feeling the effect of his disrupted sleep pattern. He walked the perimeter of the laundry, trying not to yawn, and felt ill at ease. All the prisoners were going about their tasks in a routine manner, and yet something had his nerves tingling. His co-worker was supervising the other side of the room. Soiled linens were removed from huge blue rolling baskets and stuffed inside washers by the inmates. Nothing was out of the ordinary, he finally decided, as he once again tried to stifle a yawn. He just had to hang on a little bit longer, until the day shift took over and he could finally go home and get some sleep.

**********

"There it is," Hutch pointed, as the huge gray complex came into view. "The next right should take us to the gate house."

Starsky nodded and brought the car to the first barred entrance to the prison. Inside the glass booth, the armed guard opened a small window. "We're detectives, here to question an inmate," Starsky explained, handing over their badges and some paperwork Hutch passed to him. The guard reached for the lot silently and carefully inspected the paperwork and IDs, staring hard at the two men to be sure their faces matched the pictures in the leather folders. After a few minutes of perusal, he returned it all to Starsky and opened the gate. "You're clear."

"Thank you," Starsky mumbled, thinking a smile would probably break the guard's face. He drove to a small parking area near the administration entrance, and shut off the engine. Turning to Hutch, he offered a wink. "You ready to unfold those legs?

Hutch groaned as he fought with the door handle, which was located inconveniently just behind his elbow. "More than ready. I may walk back to the airport when we're done." He swung his cramped limbs from the car. "If I can regain the use of my legs, that is."

The sound of Starsky's laughter calmed Hutch's jittery nerves somewhat, as he followed his partner inside the building. Two uniformed corrections officers were standing behind an area enclosed with wire mesh. Hutch took the lead. "Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky, from the BCPD. We're here to question inmate Matthew Levy. I believe you've received a call from our captain, Harold Dobey." Hutch offered his badge, as did Starsky.

The taller of the two officers was holding a clipboard as he walked over to the detectives. Hutch glanced at his nametag, quickly registering the name Parkinson, as the man rifled through the papers he held. "Yes, Detectives, we have you scheduled. If you'll step over here," Parkinson indicated a table flanked by rows of lockers, "we'll get you processed in, and then escort you to the room where you'll be meeting Levy."

"Thanks," they uttered in unison as they moved to the table. Without being told, both men unholstered their weapons and handed them to Parkinson.

"Thank you, Officers. We'll tag these and lock them up for you. You'll be coming back out this way when you're done, so you can retrieve them then." Parkinson walked over to a nearby wall phone and dialed four numbers. "This is Administration, I need an escort to take two detectives to interrogation room thirteen, and I need prisoner Matthew Levy," he stopped to consult his clipboard again, "number 11044, to be taken from his cell to meet them." He hung up and turned back to the waiting pair. "It should only be a few minutes, and Levy's lawyer is already in the room."

**********

The heels of Hutch's boots clicked loudly against the cement floor they were walking on. It was the only sound ricocheting off the barren walls, as the two partners followed their escort down a cool corridor, toward a set of interrogation rooms. They passed no cells, for they were still in the outskirts of the administration wing, which fed into the main part of the prison.

Their armed escort brought them to a halt at the second door on the left, and retrieved a large ring of keys from an attachment on his belt. He opened the large door quickly and waved the men inside. "Levy will be here shortly, and you'll have an hour with him. If you need anything, or have any trouble, just press this buzzer right here." The guard indicated a round black knob on the inside of the door. "If you ring it, I'll be right in. I'll leave the three of you now to introduce yourselves." The guard left, without acknowledging the small, balding man who sat at a wooden table in the middle of the room. The door closed with a loud snap, as it automatically locked. Starsky glanced over his shoulder at the noise.

"I hate that sound, Hutch."

"I know." Hutch strode to the edge of the table and extended his hand. "I'm Detective Hutchinson, and this is my partner, Detective Starsky. You must be Mr. Carlson, Levy's attorney?"

The small man remained seated as he grasped Hutch's hand in a weak grip, shaking it briefly. He had a pale, bland face, from which a pair of sharp brown eyes blinked a few times. "Yes, I am, and I'm pleased you could get here so quickly. As I explained to your commissioner, I've been working closely with my client to obtain his...cooperation, and in return, the best deal for him I could get. As you know, his sentence was life in prison. The details aren't finalized yet, but if his statement leads to a conviction for Edwards, he'll serve less time, and at a far more comfortable facility. Edwards is the one you've all really wanted to see put away."

"That's true, Counselor," Starsky said, stepping forward. "But make no mistake, we've got no regrets that your client is behind bars."

"Starsk," Hutch muttered warningly.

"It's okay, partner. I just want to make sure Mr. Carlson understands that while we're very grateful for his client's cooperation, we're not unhappy that he's no longer helping Edwards' syndicate distribute coke to half the high schools in the state."

Carlson remained motionless, but he blinked again, rapidly. "I appreciate your position, Detective. I do hope you're not planning on sharing it with Matthew, though."

"Nope, just wanted to get it out on the table before he joins us. During the years he stood at Edwards' right hand, he did his share of killing, and it didn't even muss up his pretty, handmade suits." Starsky pulled up a chair and sat down casually. He placed both hands on the rough table and continued, "So while we're grateful for his help in bagging Edwards, and we understand that you're doin' your job in getting him a good deal, we don't have to like the fact that he'll serve one day less than he's got comin' to him."

The attorney leaned forward and met Starsky's gaze. "He'll serve plenty of time, Officer, you needn't worry about that."

Hutch briefly laid a light hand on Starsky's shoulder, before pulling out his own chair and sitting next to his partner. "As my partner said, we're grateful for his cooperation." All three men looked up, as the door opened and a tall, heavyset man entered, followed closely by the guard who'd led the cops to the interrogation room.

"Matthew, hello." Carlson rose to his feet and indicated the empty chair beside him. "Sit down and I'll introduce you to the officers who'll be taking your statement."

"No need for that, Stuart. These two men were part of the welcoming committee that arrested me two years ago. I remember them." Levy joined the others at the table, glancing insolently at the partners as he sat down. "Starsky and Hutchinson, right?"

"That's right, Levy," Hutch began in a quiet voice. "We only have an hour, so why don't we get started?"

The guard spoke from the door. "That's right, one hour. I'll be right outside if you need me." The lock clicked back in place as the man exited the room.

**********

Inside the laundry area, Mike Andrews rubbed his sweaty forehead and glanced at his watch again. He was very relieved to see that his shift was finally over. Any minute now, the day guards would be here, and they would take over the supervision of the stiflingly hot room. Over the roar of the heavy-duty washers, he noted the sound of movement outside the locked door, and vaguely registered a team of convicts being marched down the corridor to the outside yard. That meant some of the day shift was already on duty. He stifled annoyance at the fact that his own relief had not yet arrived.

That was his last thought as he felt something solid and heavy hit between his shoulder blades. Confusion washed over his face as he tried to understand why the floor was rushing up to meet him, then he sank into the blackness and was still.

From the far corner, the other officer saw his co-worker go down and reached for his walkie-talkie with one hand and his gun with the other. His hands moved quickly, but not fast enough to stop the large, grinning inmate who was suddenly at his side. The guard swallowed convulsively, willing his mind to remain calm, even as laundry baskets were overturned, and harshly grunting prisoners rooted through the scattered prison-issue items to retrieve handmade weapons. The taste of bile scalded his throat, at the same time another, shorter convict stepped behind him, removing the walkie-talkie from his grip. His right hand was clenched with punishing strength, forcing the gun from his hand as pandemonium broke out, and the locked laundry room doors swung open.

The convicts in the corridor quickly overtook the men who were leading them to the yard. The suddenness of the attack was its strength; the well-planned and well-timed actions of the jailed men resulted in two guards lying in bloody pools, while two others were disarmed and restrained. The men from the corridor joined the stream from the laundry, and their ranks were now twenty-two. A single shot rang out as they began their march toward Administration and the warden's office.

**********

"Okay, Levy, let's go over June nineteenth one more time." Hutch concentrated on the notes he'd been jotting down while the taciturn Levy gave his statement. He wanted to be sure they'd covered everything before the hour was up, and Starsky had just signaled him with a tap to his wristwatch. "You said Edwards was there at the warehouse as the...."

A series of loud, intermittent horns began screeching through the loudspeaker, startling all four men in the interrogation room, and stilling Hutch's voice.

"What the hell?" Starsky was out of his chair and to the door in a few quick steps. It opened before he could ring the buzzer, and the guard who'd been standing watch was hurrying inside.

"Levy, stay seated, the rest of you, get out of here, now!" The guard gestured wildly with his hands.

"What's going on?" Hutch asked, joining Starsky at the door.

"Lockdown signal, we're going to lockdown, and the why I don't know. All I know is I have to get civilians out of here right now. Just leave, and head straight back to Administration."

Levy started to rise from his chair.

The guard unholstered his weapon and pointed it directly at the convict. "I said, stay down, Levy." The convict returned to his hard chair.

Carlson hurried to meet the two detectives at the door, casting a regretful glance at his client. "I'm sorry, Matthew. I'll contact you as soon as I can. Shall we leave, Officers?" The attorney started out of the room.

"Wait," Starsky cried, grabbing the man's thin arm. "Oh, my God, Hutch, look!"

Hutch followed Starsky's gaze and felt his jaw drop open. "Get back, get back!" He shoved Starsky behind him and reached for the attorney, trying to pull him quickly from the doorway. The sea of blue work shirts was advancing fast, and each running step seemed to mark a beat of his heart as he struggled to shut the heavy door, but the attorney still blocked part of it. "Get back, now!"

The rest happened before the blond could speak again. His arm was almost wrenched from its socket as he was pulled from the room and swung in a near arc, before he was released to slam head first against the opposing cement wall. He skidded almost seven feet along the slick concrete floor, feeling every inch of the rough block wall against his side. He lay dazed, trying to clear his vision against the darkness that threatened to claim him. Hutch struggled for awareness, hearing the horns blaring even more shrilly as pinpoints of pain soared along his skin. Only one thought was real. Starsky. Starsky.... Get back, please get back. You have to get down....

Starsky saw Hutch flung from the room, but nothing more as he was quickly engulfed by two of the rough-hewn men. Behind him, Carlson was shoved into a corner, and Starsky was vaguely aware of the attorney's whimpering and the sound of a gun being cocked. None of it mattered as he battered against the men holding him, keeping him from going to Hutch. The nightmare had been reduced to one single thought for the captured detective: Getting to his partner. "Let me go! Let me get my partner!" He roared, kicking and clawing to no avail.

Harsh hands drew him further back inside the room, even as he kicked forcefully, trying to stop the motion pulling him backwards. He felt the strain in his neck as he craned it as far as possible, trying to see what had happened to Hutch. "Hutch!" he screamed, "Hutch!"

Starsky slammed his hip hard against one of his captors and twisted with all his strength, desperate to get loose. From somewhere behind him another pair of arms grabbed him around the waist, effectively stopping his frantic attempts to free himself. From the corridor, he heard the sound of creaking steel and a loud crash. Starsky couldn't see what it meant and didn't know that a previously hidden set of bars had just fallen down in the hallway, one foot in front of where Hutch was lying semi conscious on the cold ground.

The sound of the horns faded to a whisper, then roared back to Hutch's ears as he tried again to clear his vision. Over it all, he could hear his own name and the panic with which it was called. Gotta get to Starsky, gotta get him out of there. Oh, please, God, please, don't let them hurt him. Please. Hutch got to a knee and reluctantly gave his body a moment to adjust to the change in position. Once he was able to get to his feet he turned back toward the direction of the interrogation room and was faced with the wall of bars. The sight shocked and confused him further as he staggered toward them. From somewhere behind him, he could hear the sound of many feet pounding at a run. It had all happened too fast, and Hutch was too stunned to do more than strain to hear his partner's voice among the chaotic noise coming from in and around the interrogation room. He clutched the cold steel and realized with a sickening jolt that Starsky was behind that barrier. That he was cut off from getting to his partner. His heart beat at an almost hurtful pace as he squeezed the bars. Before he could gather the breath he needed to shout his partner's name, he was grabbed from behind, turned around, and confronted by more correctional officers than he could count.

"Do you know what happened? Who are you? How many convicts did you see?" The man holding Hutch by his arms fired the questions without pausing for breath. Hutch wrenched out of his grip.

"Let me go. My name's Sergeant Hutchinson, and my partner's in there! I have to get to him."

"Sergeant, we don't know what we're dealing with yet. The security cameras captured part of the disturbance, and we know we have at least two wounded or dead guards, but we don't know how many others are being held hostage. We also know the disturbance began in the laundry room, and at least ten convicts are responsible."

"Disturbance?" Hutch asked incredulously. "Mister, that's no disturbance you have in there. It damn well looked like the makings of a riot, and there's more than ten convicts." He placed a hand at his temple to try and quell the stabbing pain he felt there. The warm stickiness on his hand surprised him, and he roughly wiped the blood on his pant leg. Again he strained to hear Starsky's voice, realizing with a start that now there was only silence under the roar of the sirens, where just seconds before there had been frenzied shouts. The calm was chilling. Hutch felt his controlled panic begin to turn to terror.

Why is it quiet now?

What are they doing?

How the hell did this happen?

"Hutchinson, I don't have time to argue with you. You need to step back right now, so my men can secure this gate. You're injured. Your head needs to be looked at, and we need to get a statement from you immediately." The officer motioned two of his men forward. "Please escort Sergeant Hutchinson to administration. Put him in the warden's secretary's alcove, get him some first aid, and take his statement. Report back here immediately."

"Wait just one goddamned minute!" Hutch was still feeling lightheaded, but anger was giving him strength. "Did you hear me before? I said my partner's in there. They've got my partner, and I'm not going anywhere until I know what the hell is going on, and what you're going to do to get him out of there!"

"Listen to me. Right now we have to secure this area. We need to know everything you know, and I don't want to hear it here! Those men are standing just out of our sight, but not out of hearing range, do you understand me?"

Hutch nodded, realizing the logic of the man's words. He didn't want to give the convicts any more ammunition than they already had. "I'll go and give my statement, but I'm coming back." He turned once more to look at the area where his partner was being held, just out of his reach. No one noticed the slight tremor in his upper lip, as he straightened to his full height and followed his escorts to Administration.

**********

Starsky had stopped struggling when the blunt end of a gun was shoved under his chin. Though his body was still, his eyes flicked to the left, and his cop's brain registered the face of the man holding the gun. Large. Hispanic heritage. Eyes squeezed into almost slits, making the color impossible to note. Starsky winced as the gun moved slightly, pressing hard against his jawbone. "Easy, go easy with that thing," he managed to whisper.

The gun was lowered an inch, removing pressure that had become painful. The man shoved at Starsky's shoulder until the cop moved backwards. "No talking, not a word. Move back." The words were spoken with the hint of a native Mexican tongue and delivered in a calm, measured voice. "I'm in charge here, and I want quiet. Absolute quiet." The other convicts pressed closer into the room, crowding it almost unbearably, but they moved quietly, and no one said anything. In seconds, the only sound remaining was the noise of the frightened attorney as he drew in harsh, ragged breaths.

Starsky ended up behind the table where he and Hutch had been sitting, just moments before. Carlson and Levy were standing close together in the far corner. The interrogation room guard, who had tried to get the civilians out of danger, was now in the most immediate danger. His eyes were wild as his neck was surrounded in a tight grip by one of the jailed men. His gun had been appropriated; when and how Starsky didn't know. It had to have happened while he was trying to get to Hutch.

Hutch, he thought, in agony. Aw, babe, please be okay, please don't be hurt. He tried not to imagine all the things that could have happened to his partner after he was wrenched from the room, but it wasn't working. Focus Starsky. You have to focus, he told himself, taking deep breaths and feeling his Adam's apple bobbing in his throat like a rock, as he swallowed convulsively. Fear mixed with pure fury, and both went down bitterly to form a well of acid in his stomach. A final deep breath, and he was able to draw his eyes back to the guard.

"He's gonna black out," Starsky directed at the man who proclaimed himself in charge. "You better get your friend off him, or you're going to have a dead man on your hands."

"I said quiet," the prisoner replied, but he turned toward his fellow inmate and the guard he held and drew a finger across his throat. The man was released immediately and slumped to the floor, trying to breathe in air as fast as possible.

Knowing he couldn't go to his aid, and hearing the sounds of breathing begin to come at a smoother pace from the floor, Starsky turned his attention to the whole interrogation room. Inside the cramped quarters were nineteen inmates, he quickly counted, four who were armed with guns. There were three correctional officers, including the recovering guard on the floor, Levy, Carlson, and himself. Dimly, he thought of the small interrogation rooms at Metro, thinking they would never have been able to hold this many men. Nineteen cons, twenty if I count Levy, but nineteen with some kind of goddamned agenda. All armed with something, and five holding pieces. Six hostages. Again, if I count Levy; the bastard could fit on either side of this game board. Starsky concentrated his thoughts on both the count and the categorizing of the weapons he was able to see. Oh, God, what the hell do they think they're going to do? He waited in silence for the next card to be played.

**********

The walk toward Administration seemed three times as long to Hutch as it had been just an hour ago. He knew that was impossible, he was traveling the same distance. But now his shoulder wasn't lightly touched by Starsky's shoulder. His boots weren't keeping time with a worn out pair of blue sneakers, and his nose wasn't filled with the scent of the man who was his heart.

The ache inside was physical.

Finally, Hutch was led to a small room, close to the area where he and Starsky had checked in. The sound of sirens continued to wail from outside, competing for dominance with the cacophony of sounds still blaring from the prison's speakers. County sheriffs, and probably SWAT, he thought, trying to find some relief in the knowledge that reinforcements were right outside. Another siren's roar, slightly different, caused his stomach to roll. Ambulances. For the wounded, or the dead. He rubbed again at his bloodied temple, barely noticing the hand on his elbow, guiding him to a swivel chair. He had to shut his eyes for a moment.

The desire to run back down that long hallway and tear the bars apart one by one, was so strong he could see it in his mind, see his own hands tearing the bars from their cement holds. Ripping them all down until he could get to Starsky.

"Sergeant?" The correctional officer lightly shook his arm. "Sergeant, do you want me to take you outside to the ambulances? Maybe we should have a paramedic look you over before I get your statement."

"Huh?" Hutch asked, confused by the question. He didn't know his face had gone to a near chalk color after the short walk, or that he'd missed the first questions asked of him.

"Sir, you're obviously not well. You didn't seem to hear me a moment ago." The guard's eyes scanned Hutch's face nervously. He knew nothing about head injuries, and his instructions had been to provide some basic first-aid and get Hutchinson's statement. He could wash a wound, and apply a bandage, but if the white face in front of him was any indication, the man needed more care than that.

"No, I don't need a paramedic. I heard you before; I was just thinking about something else," Hutch lied.

"You're sure?"

"I'm sure, and the first-aid can wait. I'll bandage my own head later." He saw the argument about to come forth from the guard and stopped it before the man could speak. "That's final. I'm here to give you my statement, then you can hand me a bandage, and watch me go back to where my--my partner is."

"Okay, let's start at the beginning," the guard spoke softly and pulled up his own swivel chair, after grabbing a notepad from the desk. Before Hutch could begin, the front area of the office was filled by the arrival of several men wearing dark suits and ties. The guard jumped to his feet. "Warden Hayes. You're here, sir."

"Of course, I'm here." The warden spoke sharply, all business. "Go find your superior officer, Riley, and bring him back with you. I want an immediate report of what we're dealing with."

Hutch looked with a mixture of hope and curiosity at the suited men. Other than the warden, he had no clue who the others were. He barely noticed that Riley was the name of the guard who'd been trying to talk him into seeing a paramedic. Everything that wasn't about getting Starsky released was extraneous information to the dazed blond. He watched Riley scurry off and then rose to his feet.

"Warden Hayes?"

"Yes, who are you?" The warden asked, although he was being signaled to join another suited man, this one holding a folder.

Hutch ignored the question. "Warden, they have hostages. They have my partner."

**********

Sweat. The smell of sweat assaulted Starsky's nose. Not the clean sweat of a hard workout, but the stench of fear moistening the pores of the men being held captive. The convicts were also sweating profusely. The small room containing both captors and captives was stiflingly hot, encouraging the sticky, damp wetness. Starsky estimated that it had been at least five minutes since they'd been ordered to be silent.

The lockdown horns were still blaring.

Starsky watched the large Hispanic convict whisper something to the inmate closest to the door. The man nodded and left the room. The eerily calm voice of the inmate "in charge" broke the silence.

"My name is Sanchez. For the last five years it's been 10098, though. For as long as I've been incarcerated in this hellhole, that's what I've been identified by. A number. Now my friends and I have been planning this situation for a long, long time. Make no mistake. We know exactly what we're doing and exactly how we're going to accomplish it. If we have to kill any of you we will have no regrets. So, if you want to stay alive you'll do exactly as you're told." Sanchez nodded at Starsky and Carlson. "Our plan now includes you two as hostages. Who are you? You go first," he pointed at Carlson, "and speak very softly."

The attorney had been biting his lip and clenching his hands together while the convict spoke. His pale face was drenched with perspiration and his breaths were still loud. "I'm an attorney. I'm Mr. Levy's attorney. I-I was only here to conduct a statement. That's all, just a statement. Detective Starsky was here to take the statement, and Matthew was...I-I have a wife and children...please...please don't hurt me."

Starsky shut his eyes involuntarily as Carlson gave him up without even realizing it. The damage had been done.

"Detective Starsky? You're a cop?" The inmate's tone dripped with venom. "Well, well. That's an added bonus. A cop. Here to join our little party." The man leaned in close to Starsky, his breath hot and foul on his face. "That's very good to know, Officer. We'll be watching you extra close. You have special bargaining abilities. Special value. You'll be worth much more than a couple of screws and an abogado.

"You gonna let any of us in on what your plan is?" Starsky asked softly, trying to turn his face away from the sour stench.

Before Sanchez could speak, more men crowed inside. Starsky saw the inmate who had just left the room, now joined by three new men. They were carrying the limp and bloodied body of a guard.

"Andrews? Sanchez asked the group. "He's alive? What about Samson?"

"Samson's dead, we left him in the hall. Andrews is still breathing," the first convict answered.

"What about the gates?" Sanchez showed no emotion over the knowledge that one correctional officer was dead.

"They got us closed in, man. Gates are down just before the laundry and right outside this room."

Starsky listened to the exchange closely. Taking in the new men, trying to get a feel for the psychological makeup of the group holding them. They were racially mixed, which surprised the detective. Such an organized group who worked with such deadly precision had to have been working this attack out together for months or more. Starsky was educated enough on prison sociology to know that different races tended to stick together and not mix with others. That wasn't the case here. Blacks, whites and Hispanics were all represented. The ages of the men looked to be between twenty-five and forty. He pulled his attention back to the exchange.

"And the man you pulled out of here? Where was he?" Sanchez continued.

"We couldn't find him. He musta got away before the gate came down."

Hutch...thank God, he got away. He must be okay if he was able to run. Starsky was so relieved to know that Hutch wasn't lying hurt in the hallway, or captured in another part of the prison that he didn't stop to think that Hutch would never willingly leave him. He felt himself begin to breathe a little easier. Hutch was okay, he had to be, and wherever he was now, Starsky knew he was doing whatever he could to get them released.

**********

Anyone observing Hutch closely would have found his eyes to be dilated. They would have noticed how he was standing much too stiffly, as if he had a board positioned against his spine. They would have also seen that his hands were clenched tightly and the set of his jaw was unnaturally still. They would have noticed all those things if anyone had been paying attention. No one was.

Hutch had been virtually pushed off to the corner right after the warden and the representatives from the FBI had arrived. His head was still unbandaged but the bleeding had stopped. His temple, forehead and part of one cheek were stained with the drying dark blood but Hutch didn't feel it. All he was doing was watching and waiting. The warden had nodded at him with a touch of compassion when Hutch had tried to explain what had happened. They were interrupted almost immediately, though, and the warden was pulled back into the tight circle of FBI agents. He called briefly over his shoulder. "Just be patient for a minute, Detective Hutchinson, we'll be able to speak soon."

The request for patience had nearly caused Hutch to crush the smooth lapels of the warden's suit. He'd run shaky hands through his hair, feeling some stickiness there as he fought to keep his panic under control. Two minutes, he promised himself. I'll give them two minutes, then I'm going back to the interrogation area and they can just try and find a way to stop me.

Hutch knew the procedures for a hostage situation. He knew that information had to be gathered and a strategy devised, he knew all of this intellectually and from his years of police experience, but the fact that it was Starsky being held captive was making it very difficult to remember his training now.

More men crowded inside the small office area. They came from outside the prison and the interior wing. All wore uniforms and were armed. One man went instantly to the warden, his posture erect and his facial expressions hard and drawn. Hutch recognized him. It was the man who had insisted he leave Starsky to give his statement. He moved quickly out of the corner and listened intently.

The warden spoke first, "Miller. What's the situation?"

The guard straightened further and squared his shoulders. His chin tilted upward before he answered. "They have at least seven hostages, sir. Five guards, and we think two civilians."

Hutch wanted to throw back his head and scream. When the hell would they listen?! "Excuse me. Please, listen!" Hutch was nearly shouting. "I know you've asked me to be patient but I can't do that one more second. If you'll listen to me I can tell you exactly who the civilians are."

Miller glanced over at the seething detective. "I was just about to explain that your partner is one of them, Officer."

"That's right, he is. He's also...it's been a.... Yes, he is." Hutch blinked hard against the moisture that was threatening to pool in his eyes before he continued. "There's also an attorney, Stuart Carlson, and another prisoner, the one my partner and I were questioning. His name is Matthew Levy."

Two of the FBI agents were scribbling in notebooks as Hutch gave his information. The warden came over to the distressed man and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Detective." He turned back to Miller. "Anything else on position?"

"Right now they're holed up in interrogation room thirteen, sir. We can hear some sounds but can't make out what they're saying. We know they're armed and they have at least five guns all from our staff. At least one of the hostages is badly injured, maybe dead." Miller spoke in a calm measured tone. All facts. His face remained expressionless.

Hutch felt his stomach flip over and threaten to empty itself. He had to swallow several times before he could speak. But what he spoke was really nothing more than a choked cry. He stumbled a little, then found his footing and strong-armed his way through the men standing in front of the guard.

"Which one? Which hostage?" Hutch cried out, his fear so strong it had a taste on his tongue. Bitter. Foul. He had to fight not to gag.

Hutch didn't notice the sympathetic look that crossed the guard's face. Or the gentle way he answered the question. "It's not your partner, Sergeant Hutchinson. We saw them carry the man into the interrogation room. It's one of my men."

Relief was so sweet it was almost dizzying. Not Starsky. Not him. Not him.

Hutch nodded his thanks and cleared his throat noisily. His voice was a little stronger when he spoke this time. "I'm sorry about your man."

"Thank you." The guard's expression returned to its hardened mask and he turned again to the warden. "That's all we know now, sir."

The warden nodded. "All right. Miller, keep your radio on and return to your post. The county police and SWAT are going to be positioning themselves in the corridor, the roof and the grounds. Until we know what the hell the bastards want, all we can do is wait and be ready."

"There's one other thing." Hutch glanced up at the new voice coming from one of the FBI agents. "I'm sending two of my men with you, Miller. The prisoners are going to show their hand soon enough. They're going to want to talk and tell us what they're bargaining for. When that happens, it'll be trained FBI agents who negotiate with them. Is that clear?"

Miller answered the agent but kept his eyes on the warden. "Yes, sir. Am I dismissed?"

"Dismissed. But, Miller, report any changes in status immediately," the warden ordered.

Two of the FBI agents moved to join the guard. He started to lead them toward the interior entrance when Hutch moved in front of them. Perhaps only Starsky would have noticed the glint in the pale blue eyes.

"I'm going back with you."

"That's out of the question, you're a civilian and this is a hostage situation." The FBI agent managed to speak without looking at Hutch at all. He started to brush by him, but Hutch caught his arm in a hard grip.

"Let's get something straight right now. I'm not a civilian and neither is my partner. We're cops. Detective Sergeants, First Class. This fact should concern you, because if those goons holding my partner find out he's a cop, you know as well as I do that he'll be in a lot more jeopardy than the other hostages."

The agent met Hutch's gaze but tried to wiggle his arm free. Hutch held on tighter. "Now, I am going with you. I'm a trained professional and I have no intention of getting in your way, but I have to be there. Please, don't try to stop me."

"Hutchinson, it's out of the question. You're too emotionally involved and, besides, you have an injury."

Hutch dropped the man's arm and turned pleading eyes on the warden. "Warden Hayes?"

Hutch felt the warden's eyes scanning his frame. He could feel his pulse racing while he waited for the man to speak, and tried to think of another solution besides brute force, which could get him thrown out of the building should the warden say no.

He didn't. "Let the detective go with you. And, Hutchinson?" Hutch released a pent-up breath and listened. "Don't make me regret this decision."

Hutch closed his eyes in gratitude. "I won't, sir."

The four men made their way quickly down the corridor to wait beside the steel bars. They hurried past a regiment of deputy sheriffs, prison guards, and SWAT, all lined against the walls and pressed close to the barred closure. Miller elbowed some of his own men aside to make room at the front. Quickly, but quietly, he issued orders. "I want a table and four chairs brought in immediately, along with extra radios and flak jackets. Four jackets. I also want one of you to wait for the report being compiled on whomever the hell we're dealing with. The warden's staff is working on that." Three of his men rushed off to comply with the order.

Hutch turned to one of the men at the gate and asked with a catch in his voice, "Has there been any word? Have you seen any of the hostages?"

Miller intervened, speaking in a voice barely above a whisper. "Detective, my men answer questions from me. Now, you're here under the warden's generosity but this is my turf and here are my rules. You keep quiet and you keep still. Just nod if we're clear."

The nod Hutch gave was brief and revealed none of the rage he was burying along with his terror. He barely heard the FBI agent who spoke next. "Miller, you're in charge of security, but remember that I'm in charge of negotiations."

Great, just great. Everyone wants to be in charge. Let's see one of these John Waynes actually do something, Hutch thought in frustration.

**********

Inside the interrogation room, Sanchez was listening closely. He could make out enough of the conversation to know that the negotiators were beginning to set up. All was going exactly as they'd planned. He'd give the FBI some time to stew, then they'd know what they were dealing with, and they'd take them very, very seriously. A small smile crossed the convict's face as he turned to the group inside. He raised his gun slowly and trained it on the hostages, one by one.

Starsky stood ramrod straight as the gun passed by his face and lingered on Carlson. The attorney was limp with fear, alternately pressing himself against his client and the wall. Levy had remained stoic and completely quiet since the room had been invaded. He looked up and met Sanchez's eyes as the gun stopped on him.

Sanchez continued his quiet tones. "I don't know you, man. But you're a brother con. I may ask you what side you want to be on, but I haven't decided yet."

Levy said nothing and Sanchez's smile widened to a smirk. "That's good, man, that's good. Keeping your options open?"

"Something like that," Levy glanced at his attorney. "I'm a business man. In all things I want to negotiate the best possible deal."

"Well, business man, that's what we're here to do. Negotiate."

Starsky saw an opening, and he took it. "So, what's the game, Sanchez? Just what are you going to negotiate for?"

"Cops. Always going on with the questions. You're all just born nosy, aren't you?" The gun the inmate held was trained on Starsky again as he spoke. "Let me satisfy your curiosity, Detective. We're here to negotiate for the life of a great man. A true leader. We're all willing to sacrifice our own lives to save his."

Starsky's heart sank at the words. The situation was worse than he'd imagined or had been able to anticipate. Armed convicts willing to die, in whatever cause they were fighting, meant that they'd have even less regard for the lives of the hostages than he'd originally thought. He'd known all along that this group couldn't believe that the prison officials would just release them, but if they were after easier work conditions or a transfer to a minimum-security prison, they'd be more willing to try to not harm more of the hostages. I guess it was too much to hope that they just wanted meatloaf on Thursdays, Starsky thought with a bitter, internal laugh. I've got to keep him talking.

"So, whom is this great man you're willing to die for?"

"Shut up, Cop. You'll find out soon enough." Sanchez motioned to two of the inmates holding guns. Wordlessly, the men moved up to the door. Sanchez followed, walking backwards, his eyes and gun still level with Starsky. When he reached the exit to the room, he raised the gun high, arm straight and fired off one round. The noise was ear piercing in the small area and chunks of cement fell to the floor leaving a chalky dust in the air. He nodded in satisfaction and turned in the open doorway.

The sound of the shot caused the men closest to the bars to hit the ground at lightening speed. All but Hutch. He stayed on his feet, needing to see whatever he could, to hear whatever he could. The sound of his own heart pounding in his ears frustrated his desperate concentration. Someone was pulling on the cuff of his jeans, but he ignored it and stayed on his feet.

The SWAT officers moved up stealthily, ready for any command.

Miller was the first to raise his head from the ground when no other shots were issued. He was starting to rise when a voice rang out from the interrogation room.

"We're ready to give you our orders!" Sanchez shouted. "Are you listening?"

"We're listening." The shorter of the two FBI agents shouted back.

"I want to hear from Warden Hayes. We say nothing until he speaks."

"Get the warden. Fast," Miller hissed to his closest man.

The agent watched the guard scurry off before he continued. "The warden will be here in a minute. Why don't you tell us the condition of the hostages while we're waiting for him."

Hutch drew in his breath sharply. Please. Please.

"The warden first." The convict's voice was loud but his speech slow, nothing hurried, no trace of panic.

"How about your name? Can you tell us that?"

"The warden first. Don't piss me off, man," Sanchez replied, almost casually.

Nothing further was spoken on either side until Warden Hayes reached the area. The men carrying the requested table, chairs, radios and jackets followed him closely. Hutch turned his head as he heard the men approach and noted that the warden had removed his suit coat and was already wearing a bulletproof vest. All at once, Hutch longed for the familiarity of his own captain. If he could only anticipate what the warden or the FBI agents would do or say, like he could with Dobey on any day of the week, he'd at least have some of the unknown removed. All the men surrounding him were strangers, though, and he had no way to know how they'd react in any given circumstance.

And it's Starsky's life at stake.

The table and chairs were quickly placed in front of the bars, and a team of sheriff's deputies moved in front of it, creating a loosely formed human barrier. The flak jackets were handed out and put on by Hutch, Miller and the two agents. The warden moved to the bars and, with a signal from the chief negotiators, began to speak loudly. "This is Warden Hayes. What do you have to say?"

"I'm going to say it to your face, Warden." There was a collective stirring from the men listening as Sanchez spoke. "Tell your people to put down their guns, because I'll be coming out with a hostage and I'll have a gun to his head. My fellow inmates will have a gun pointed at his back. You shoot me, and he dies."

"My men can't disarm. I'll order them to not shoot, though. Will that satisfy you?" Hayes turned to the men behind him to make sure they understood his meaning.

"We'll be out in thirty seconds." Sanchez responded. "Remember, the hostage will die first and bloody if one shot is fired on me."

Hutch had been clenching his fists open and closed throughout the exchange and now blood tinged, crescent shapes laid across both palms where his nails had dug for purchase. There was no moisture in his mouth to let him speak, even if the words would form. All he could do was wait, while his partner's voice whispered in his head, and his partner's face appeared so clearly before his tightly closed eyes. Thoughts of the night before pounded away without invitation, but Hutch couldn't stop the memories of their last lovemaking. How sweet it had been, how hot. How he'd failed.

They'd undressed each other lazily, with long, slow kisses in between the unsnapping of each of Hutch's shirt buttons and the loosening of the hem of Starsky's t-shirt. Long moments were spent exploring the taste and texture of each other's chests and nipples. Then zippers were reached, and crotches rubbed hard over denim coverings. The two partners had knelt facing each other on the wide expanse of Starsky's bed, breathing fast, wanting more. Working together, they each drew the others jeans and underwear low, not off, but low, resting in a bunch against the bent knees. Then they'd pressed together so close. Dark and light colored pubic hair formed a nest in which the two hardened cocks dueled against each other. So good, so hot.... Then Starsky's hand had found the crevasse of Hutch's ass and it lingered and teased. One finger circling the opening to his body, while dark blue eyes searched his face for every reaction...and it was good, so good. He'd cried out when one finger pierced him, and he wanted more. Starsky gave it. Two fingers went in, but not far. Not nearly far enough, as his body tried to repel the invaders that his heart wanted so badly inside him. Starsky had to draw him forward when his treacherous body pulled away from the penetration. The hand that had been playing with him so sweetly moved up to cup his face and Hutch knew he'd failed.

There was a sharp tug on Hutch's arm, which ended his reverie. "Sergeant, move back. They're coming out." Miller spoke in a low tone, trying to drag Hutch backwards. Hutch threw him off and clung to the gate.

**********

Starsky had listened to each word spoken between Sanchez and the men outside, with mounting trepidation. He knew what the FBI did not. That these men holding them held no value for their own lives let alone the lives they were threatening. He glanced behind him where the other hostages were clustered. The injured guard had still not regained consciousness. The convicts hadn't allowed anyone to go to his aid, so Starsky had no idea of the extent of the man's injuries. The other three guards had blank expressions on their faces. From training, or simple shock, Starsky didn't know. Carlson looked the worst of anyone. The man was convulsively shaking, and even his teeth were chattering intermittently. It wouldn't take much to reduce him to pure hysteria. Starsky was almost certain which hostage Sanchez would pick as his shield while he gave the warden his demands. He just hoped he was right.

Sanchez came back all the way into the room. Starsky watched as he nodded to the other inmates. Then he looked straight at Starsky and raised his gun again. "Come here, Cop. We're gonna go talk to the warden, just you and me."

I was right, Starsky thought as he slowly moved to where Sanchez stood. Instantly, a strong arm was around his throat, making it even harder to swallow and threatening his airway. A service revolver was shoved hard behind his left ear. He had to fight his instincts down. Fight the feeling of desperation, as he had to gasp in air from his mouth. Then they were moving. Starsky's feet half walking and half being dragged as the convict propelled them roughly from the room.

**********

"Sergeant! Sergeant Hutchinson, get back away from those bars, or I'll have you escorted right the hell out of here!" Miller hissed angrily.

Hutch didn't spare him a glance, but the angry threat did penetrate his concentration. Reluctantly he stepped back a few feet, but remained close enough that his view of the hallway was unimpeded.

A skidding sound reached the men's ears before they saw anything and then the inmate was in front of them. Arrogant stature, no visible fear, and he held Starsky tightly around the neck.

Hutch bit his bottom lip hard, to prevent the moan lodged deep in his throat from reaching his lips. Frantically, he scanned Starsky's face but his partner hadn't seen him yet. To Hutch's view, it looked like Starsky was being held too tightly to move his head at all. Hutch heard a harsh gasp and recognized the sound. It was Starsky. The bastard was holding him so tightly that he was choking him.

Then Hutch saw the gun. The muzzle buried in the dark curls. The grip held firm by the convict who stood so still and silent.

At that moment, Hutch knew he could kill the inmate with his bare hands if he ever got the chance. He could feel the white-hot surge through his veins, making his blood run too fast. Making him hot and flushed and then cold and numb. Causing his breathing to accelerate until he was almost panting. His mind reeled with terror and helplessness.

The convict stood with Starsky two feet from the bars. Hutch watched with burning eyes as the man loosened his grip on Starsky's neck enough to allow the detective to turn his head and breathe freely, but the gun remained, pressing so deep that Hutch knew it had to be painful against Starsky's scalp.

Look up, babe. I'm here, I'm right here. I'll get you out, Starsk; I swear to God I'll have you back safe. Look at me, please.

He did. Hutch felt it before he saw it and, despite the gripping fear, his heart soared when once again his partner's eyes locked on his.

It's going to be okay, it is. It's going to be okay. Hutch whispered the words internally to both of them. He'd bargain with the devil himself to make it be true.

No one uttered a sound until, finally, the convict spoke. Looking directly at the warden, he began: "My name is Juan Sanchez. Myself--and many good men, brothers, have appropriated part of your prison and we are holding six men. We will shoot them all unless our demand is met."

Hutch turned to the motion between the FBI agent and the warden. The agent had just put a light hand on the warden's arm. Then he asked the first question. The only question. "What is your demand?"

Singular, Hutch thought. One demand? How can they only have one demand? He waited for the response.

With a chillingly calm delivery, Sanchez continued. "Locked away on this prison's death row is a great man. The true messiah. His name is King Jones, and this state has condemned him to death and this prison intends to carry out that order in two days. We want that sentence commuted from death to life. We demand his immediate release from this prison, and we want signed proof of that agreement delivered to us by six o'clock tonight. Signed proof from the governor of this murderous state. That's it. That's our only demand. Do that, and the hostages will be released. Fail to do that, and they will all be killed starting at 6:01."

Hutch shut his eyes in disbelief. He knew without any confirmation that it was an impossible demand. He also knew without a shadow of a doubt, that the man they were dealing with was insane.

Sanchez went on. "In case you're curious, the first hostage we'll execute will be this cop. At 6:01. Now, you have one hour to discuss this amongst yourselves. Then I'll want an update on when the governor's signed release will be arriving."

Without another word Sanchez backed away, dragging Starsky with him. Hutch saw a flash of desperate appeal coming from Starsky's eyes and parted lips. Appealing to him. Ignoring everyone else and saying everything with his eyes. Hutch heard every word.

The sound of the interrogation room door being slammed and locked, released the men from their frozen positions. The warden and the FBI agents headed back down the hall at a run. It only took Hutch a moment to follow them.

**********

Once the four men were back in the administration alcove, Hutch waited impatiently for someone to speak, to explain what the hell they were going to do. The alcove now looked like war a zone, with controlled chaos reigning supreme. The FBI agents were hurriedly dumping files from the previously locked cabinets onto the long counter. Hayes was rifling through them silently when Hutch's patience snapped.

"Well? Now what? What're we going to do next?" He asked the group at large.

"What we're going to do, Detective, is find Sanchez's file and see if he was one of King Jones' puppets on the outside." The warden didn't look up as he spoke.

"Do you mind explaining to me how the hell that's going to help? Obviously this goon has some tie to Jones or why the hell would he be pulling this stunt?"

"Why don't you calm down, Hutchinson, and let us do our jobs?" The FBI agent's words enflamed Hutch further.

"I'll tell you why not," he said icily. "That man Sanchez just put a death sentence on is my partner! Did you hear what he said? They're going to execute Starsky in a matter of hours and you're looking at files!"

Hayes looked up, casting not unkind eyes on the frantic detective. "We understand how you feel, but you have to understand that they don't just have your partner. They have five other men as well. We have to understand what we're dealing with so we can form a plan to get them all rescued safely."

Hutch knew they were right and that if he were running the situation under different circumstances he'd probably do the same thing, but these weren't different circumstances and he wasn't running anything. All he wanted was his partner back unharmed and he could barely think of anything else.

"Do we call the governor's office at all?" the taller agent asked wonderingly. "I mean we know the policy."

Hutch's throat closed a little more.

"Yes," Hayes answered. "We'll call and inform him, and then we follow the sanctioned policy."

"Which is?" Hutch asked thickly.

"We don't release convicts. King Jones stays on death row."

"And what do you tell Sanchez? How come we can't get the governor to draw up a fake release order?" The questions were tumbling out of Hutch's mouth almost before he thought them up.

"Hutchinson, give us a little credit for understanding prisoner mentality. We don't believe the inmates have any intention of freeing the hostages no matter how many signed forms we stick in their faces. They'd want proof that Jones was free, and Jones will never be released." The warden pulled up a chair as he spoke. "Sit down before you fall down, Detective."

Hutch dropped down in the proffered seat and held his head for a moment, in order to try and quell the dizziness he felt. With an effort he resumed in a quieter voice. "So, let me understand this. You're saying that we're going to ignore the demand? That we're not even going to try and find out if the governor would go along with a release? We could tail Jones' every move and have him back in custody in no time. Maybe the governor would be willing to try that."

"Do you know anything about Jones, Hutchinson?"

"No, I-I mean not much. He's some kind of religious fanatic, right? He killed a couple of people up north?"

"He killed four ministers and one priest. He and his followers believe that he's the messiah. The answer to all their troubles and an end to society as we know it. They believe that all religious leaders are liars and working for evil. That's why the clergy were killed. And that's just the ones we were able to pin on Jones. God knows how many other murders have been committed all over this country in his name. He has a huge following of mainly sick scum. We knew there were many inmates who were his disciples, but not how many. And we didn't know they were organized." The warden paused for breath. "Believe me, the governor will never release Jones."

"Then please tell me, what do we do?" Even Hutch could hear the quaver in his own voice.

"We take them out," the lead agent answered for the warden. "Here, we have the blueprints." The agent motioned for his co-worker, and together they unrolled an unwieldy thickness of documents on a low table.

"Blueprints?" Hutch asked tiredly. Nothing was making sense now.

"Blueprints to the administration wing of this prison. We're going to find a way in that interrogation room, and put our best sharpshooters in charge of taking the key inmates, the ones with guns, out."

"Kill them," Hutch stated.

"Kill them," the agent confirmed, "or at least wound them badly enough to storm the room from the front."

"Jesus," Hutch moaned. "Jesus, do you know how many things can go wrong with that plan of yours?"

"It's our best chance to get most of the hostages out alive."

"Most?" Hutch got to his feet. "What do you mean, most?"

"How long have you been in law enforcement, Detective? Surely you know that in any hostage situation, the likelihood of casualties is high."

"Yes, I know that. Now I'm here to tell you that my partner will not be a casualty." Hutch moved to the spread-out prints. "Show me exactly what you're planning."

**********

The interrogation room still smelled abominably, but Starsky didn't notice it anymore. The long hours of his forced confinement had accustomed his sense of smell to the foulness permeating the enclosed area. He stole a quick glance at his watch, and then brushed some of the sweat from his eyes with the back of a hand.

It's been ninety minutes since those guys told Sanchez they were working on it. That they were working with the governor's office. Yeah, sure they are. I'd give my left nut to know what they really are working on. At least Sanchez using me as his key hostage again let me see Hutch another time. Damn, babe, what's that old saying? So close and yet so far? You standin' not ten feet from me, and me with a gun at my head....

Starsky thought longingly of his partner, and of his strength. I bet you're driving all those suits bat shit, aren't ya? I bet they'd like to toss your ass right on out of here. A cross between a sob and a laugh nearly escaped Starsky's throat, but he stifled it and shut his eyes, bringing his partner's face to mind. And what's with that hard head of yours? You got yourself good and pounded, and not even a bandage on an open wound. I'm gonna give you hell for that, Blondie, soon as I get out of here. Yep, I'm gonna give you the tongue lashing you'd give me if I pulled a stunt like that. And I will get out of here. I have to. I have to for you, because I know you'll fold up inside if I don't and I won't let that happen to you, I won't.

The heavy pacing of three of the armed convicts broke Starsky's reverie. He sat down on the cement floor and drew his knees up high, wrapping his arms around them. He laid his head down and continued to wait.

**********

Hutch gulped down his second cup of cold coffee in an hour, ignoring the burning feeling as it landed in the pit of his empty stomach. The frenzy of preparation had been going on for over ninety minutes now, and he'd had to step back to be by himself for a moment. He had to gather his thoughts and concentrate. He knew they were close, but the knowing was urging him on even harder to move, to act. It hadn't taken him long to realize that the plan devised by the FBI agents, the warden and the warden's chief officers was the only option available to them. But the risk....

There were so many things that could go wrong with the plan that Hutch tried to not analyze them one for one. He knew them all, and if one happened, just one, any of the hostages could be killed.

Starsky....

"Officer Hutchinson?" The young guard was someone new, and Hutch barely registered his voice. "They're ready."

"Thank you." Hutch turned to go back to the direction where the warden's team was circled. He took two steps and stopped, then rubbed a hand against his left side.

"Wait a minute," Hutch called to the guard. "Come back here." He dug in his pocket and pulled out a tag. "In the lockers behind the check-in post is my gun. I want it now. Can you get it for me?"

"Sir, I'll have to check with my superior officer."

"Please. Just get it. I'm going in with the back-up team whether they know it or not, and I'd rather have my own gun than one of those service pistols."

The young man scanned Hutch's face. "All right, I'll get it, but you'll explain it to the warden?"

"I will." Hutch tried to smile in gratitude, but it settled across his features as a grimace. He gave up and walked to the team.

"Hutchinson." The warden waved him closer. "We're just about ready. The sharpshooters are in position right over the air duct. The passageway was only big enough for two, though. They've just radioed in."

"Two?" Hutch cried in disbelief. "I thought you said that the ceiling pipe could possibly position three men? Damn it! We know at least five of the convicts are holding guns. They're gonna get shots off if you've only got two sharpshooters trying to take them out!"

"Sergeant, we've gone over every option, as you know. Now we're damn lucky that interrogation room thirteen has an air duct. Not all the rooms do. And we're damn lucky we were able to get those sharpshooters up in the ceiling, in an area not barred off, so that they could crawl their way to room thirteen. Basically, we're damn lucky, and you should remember that. It's our only choice. And it's the only chance the hostages have."

"Okay, okay. And the front? We're ready there?"

"We're ready, or we will be. Once we get the radio signal from our sharpshooters, the bars go up, and we go in."

"I'm going in with the back-up team, Warden." Not many would have recognized the grim determination on Hutch's face, but to the warden's credit, he did.

"Yes, Sergeant. I'm approving it."

"Thank you."

"Let's be clear on what I'm approving. SWAT goes in first. You stay back with the deputy sheriffs. You're approved to be in the area, Sergeant, but that's all."

Hutch chose not to argue. Getting in was enough for now; he'd make the rest happen on his own. "I understand."

The FBI agents and the warden's team were preparing to move back down the corridor when the guard with Hutch's Magnum reached them. He handed it to Hutch with a look at his superiors.

Hutch quickly strapped on his shoulder harness and housed the Magnum. There was a touch of defiance in his stance as he thanked the guard. "Let's go."

The warden gave him a chilling stare. "Remember my orders, Sergeant."

Hutch nodded briefly. "Let's go," he repeated.

The team of men left then, quickly. Everything now depended on timing and position.

************

Starsky felt a tap on his leg. He raised his head slowly and saw that Levy was the one who had bumped him. Starsky started to speak, but stopped at Levy's expression. The inmate was holding his face completely still, but his eyes were cast upwards. Starsky followed them and felt his pulse race faster at what he saw.

Okay. They did have something else up their sleeves.

The corner of the air duct grate was moving slowly upwards. Starsky got to his feet, casually, and slightly flexed a palm downwards at Levy and Carlson, trying to indicate for them both to remain in their positions on the floor. He tried to catch the eyes of the guards who were huddled together near their fallen co-worker, but none looked up.

Wish I knew what the hell I need to be ready for, Starsky thought anxiously, being careful not to glance at the ceiling again. He moved another step away from the corner.

"Where exactly are you walking to, Cop?" Sanchez asked testily. The wait was beginning to wear down his previous coolness. "Sit back down. Now!"

"Okay, no problem, I just wanted to stretch my legs." Starsky raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Nothing to get all excited about."

Then he heard it. The grate crashed to the floor, initiating a startled roar from the convict standing closest to it. The man raised his gun upward, holding it tight with both hands. But before he could get a shot off, the sharpshooter still hidden in the ceiling, fired, hitting him in the chest. He fell backwards without issuing a sound.

"Son of a bitch!" Sanchez screamed, raising his own gun to the ceiling. He fired three times before falling on the ground in a defensive roll. "The ceiling!" He cried out to the other inmates. "They're up there, shoot them! Shoot them!"

Starsky dove for the floor, yelling at the other hostages as he went. "Get down! Get down, flat, now!" He covered the back of his head with his hands but kept his eyes open and looking upwards. Starsky saw the rest in slow motion, although in actuality it was happening at breakneck speed. Two more of the convicts holding guns were picked off by the rifles still hidden from view. An inmate grabbed one of the guards and a knife was instantly at his throat. Starsky squeezed his eyes closed against the sight that came. Blood spurted everywhere as the man's throat was sliced open from ear to ear.

From somewhere behind him, Carlson was screaming in terror.

More shots came from the ceiling and more inmates were dropped. Sanchez got up on one knee. Starsky watched helplessly as the inmate turned his gun directly on him. They were only three feet apart.

************

Behind the bars, the large group of armed personnel waited for the signal to advance. It would come as soon as the sharpshooters felt they had the best opening for the attack, and the men waited with crackling nerves.

Hutch had insinuated himself slowly and without drawing attention, as close to the team of SWAT officers as he could get. He listened with the others for the radios to come to life. It was another two minutes before the signal was given, but when it was, the warden instantly radioed for the bars to be raised.

To Hutch, it seemed to take forever for the creaking steel to climb upward. He desperately wanted to throw himself to the ground and roll under the metal to get inside that room. Instead, he unholstered his gun.

The captain in charge of the SWAT team nodded his head and went in first with his men right behind him. Hutch was right behind them. A heartbeat later, shots rang out shrilly and screaming could be heard from the interrogation room. The men rushed forward.

************

Starsky had nowhere to run from the gun pointed at his head. He didn't have time to think or speak. Needing to do anything, he rolled to one side, and as he did, a large flying blur rushed past him.

Then the gun was fired.

A moan from his right drew his attention briefly and, with something close to amazement, he saw that Levy had been the blur running in front of him, and that Levy had just taken the bullet meant for him. The large man was sitting up clutching his leg where he'd been hit.

More shots were ringing out. More than Starsky could count, and suddenly the room was filled with SWAT officers. He was still trapped on the floor, though, and once again Sanchez had raised his gun.

The shot that rang out next was a distinctive sound, and one with which he was very familiar. He watched in horrified fascination as Sanchez collapsed in a heap, part of his head blown away by the single shot. Starsky looked up desperately and saw....

Hutch....

His partner stood with his legs slightly apart for balance, and the heavy Magnum was clutched in both hands. His eyes were staring straight at Starsky.

"Hutch, hey, Hutch...."

Then it was over. The SWAT officers quickly subdued the remaining inmates and worked to get the hostages from the room. The nightmare had ended for them as they were led in shocked silence away from the carnage and on to the waiting medical teams.

Starsky ignored the hand of an officer trying to help him to his feet, and got up on his own. He moved toward his partner at the same time that Hutch finally lowered his gun and started for him.

"So, what took you so long, partner?" Starsky asked with a smile that turned into a choked sob. He collapsed against Hutch's chest.

"Missed me, huh?" Hutch managed to get out, gathering Starsky close to him. "Come on, Starsk. Let's get you out of here and into some fresh air."

Together they half walked, half stumbled through the chaos going on all around them until they reached the outside of the administration office. Gratefully, Starsky pushed the door open and led the way into the cleansing, cool air. Without saying a word, they each reached for the other and held on tight in a fierce, desperate hug.

"I got you back," Hutch whispered into Starsky's neck. "I got you back."

************

Amidst the frantic bedlam surrounding them, the two partners continued to cling tightly together. Neither spoke further, nor did they notice the loud voices rushing past, or the sirens that still roared, and had been roaring since the siege began.

Starsky felt a pull on his elbow and gently disengaged himself from Hutch's arms. He looked up to find a microphone heading fast for his face and a camera crew, circling close. A blonde-haired woman, wearing at least a half-pound of makeup, held the microphone.

"Detective Starsky, I'm Cindy Barron from KTVU. Can you tell our viewers about your horrifying ordeal?"

"Um, I think that better wait until I give my statement to the police, ma'am," Starsky answered politely. He felt Hutch's grip firm on his upper arm.

Other crews were approaching the pair. Starsky saw microphones bearing the call letters of KGO, KCBS, and KNBR. There were others, and he unconsciously pressed against his partner. "Hutch?"

"I see them. Come on, we're getting out of here." The blond tightened his grip on Starsky's arm. He began firmly guiding them away from the prison's entrance.

"Hutch! We can't just go, I have to talk to the cops and give 'em my statement. And so do you. They're gonna want us to tell them how everything went down while it's still fresh in our heads. You know that."

"We're going. You can give your statement in the morning, and so can I."

"We gotta tell 'em at least."

"Fine. Let's go in and tell them, then we're leaving." Hutch's expression was unreadable, even to Starsky.

"Detective Starsky, please. Just a few words for our viewers." The blonde reporter interrupted. She was first on the scene and, in the world of competitive broadcasting, had a tiny edge on this story that she didn't want to lose, especially with her competition closing in fast.

"No story, lady. My partner's been through hell," Hutch swallowed thickly before continuing. "There's not going to be any statement to the media today. Now, if you'll excuse us?"

Without another word Hutch maneuvered them both back inside the administration office. There, the chaos was still at fever pitch.

Starsky viewed it all and fought down the sense of claustrophobia the small area with too many people brought him. He could feel the tremor in his legs and arms and hoped that Hutch wouldn't notice. His partner was strung bowstring tight as it was. His words were being delivered in the clipped tone the blond always used when he was at the end of his endurance. All at once, Starsky wanted Hutch out of there as badly as he himself wanted to leave.

"Buddy, maybe this isn't a good idea. Who the hell are we supposed to tell? Maybe we should just wait outside until things calm down a little. Someone will come get us, we can give our statements and then we can go home."

"No. Not tonight. I'll get someone's attention in a minute." Hutch was staring so hard at him, Starsky wondered what he was seeing.

"Hey, partner? Do I look that bad? You're staring at me like I was something out of a horror movie."

Hutch softened his gaze. "No, no, of course not. You just look...tired. Real tired. It shows on your face, I guess. I can see it all...see what those bastards put you through." His large hands balled into fists. His eyes left Starsky's face and his expression hardened again.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked, concerned over the blank stare that covered Hutch's features. "What is it?"

Hutch shook his head, not hearing the question. He returned full focus to his friend. "Starsk, go sit down, babe. You look exhausted. I'll take care of this and get us the hell out of here. I'm going to take care of you. I promise."

"You're the one who looks like he's ready to fall over," Starsky replied, but his comment was addressed to Hutch's retreating back. Starsky shook his head a little at his partner's stubbornness. He looked around for a chair or anything to sit on while he waited. Finding nothing, he simply sank to the floor in the same spot he'd been standing. He rubbed at burning eyes, then watched as Hutch approached one cluster of people after another. Finally, he had someone pulled aside. Starsky noted the motion of Hutch's hands and the animation of his mouth. He couldn't hear the words, but he knew Hutch was making his points clear. A moment later, the tall man was striding back to Starsky.

"We're good to go. I told them that you're exhausted and that you can't go through a statement tonight."

"Aw, Christ, Hutch. I'm a cop, remember? Not some weak, helpless baby. Why'd you tell them that?"

"Because it's the truth. You've been through hell and I want you the fuck out of here! Okay?" Hutch's cheeks flamed pink and his frame looked shaky, unsteady to Starsky's eyes.

"Okay, babe, okay. You're right," he soothed. His tough guy image could take a small beating if it brought his partner a little security, a little peace. Hutch needed this, needed to be in control. Needed to take care of him. He'd let him for now. Allowing that was Starsky's way of taking care of Hutch. The outburst told him that Hutch was on the very edge. "How about a hand getting me off this floor?" Starsky smiled and offered up his palm. Hutch took it in a firm grasp and hauled him to his feet.

"Do you still have the car keys?" Hutch rasped out.

Starsky checked his jean pockets and retrieved the keys to the rental car.... It seemed weeks ago that he and Hutch had been laughing at the Hertz counter, wondering how small the economy car would be. "Here they are," he said gently.

"I'm going to drive," the blond stated. Starsky nodded in easy acceptance.

The two men started for the exit but turned back at the sound of Hutch's name being called loudly. "What now," Hutch muttered darkly.

"Maybe they changed their minds 'bout us giving our statements in the morning?" Starsky wondered.

Hutch didn't have a chance to answer as he saw the person who had shouted for him. It was the same young guard who had retrieved his gun from the locker earlier. As he made his way to the two detectives both men were able to see what he was carrying.

"Sergeant Hutchinson, I thought you'd both want to take this with you." The young man was carrying Starsky's gun. "I saw it in the locker when I got your gun for you before. When I heard you were leaving, I got this out for you." He handed it to Starsky, still sheathed in its holster.

Starsky smiled a thank you and put the holster on quickly, while Hutch mumbled a thank you to the clearly impressed young man.

Taking the lead again, Hutch pushed them both through the crush of people and out to the parking lot. He deftly ignored all the reporters who once again tried to swarm them, heading straight for the small rental car. Both men eased inside the cramped space gingerly, then Hutch started the engine and blared the horn to clear a path through which to pull out.

They left San Quentin as quickly as Hutch could safely drive. Once through the security post, Hutch increased his speed. Neither looked back.

"Do you need me to find the directions to the freeway?" Starsky asked, resisting the urge to close his eyes.

"No, I know where I am."

"Hutch, you okay to drive?" Starsky couldn't keep the note of concern from his voice. Even considering what they'd both just been through, Hutch was alternately silent and distant, then angry and emotional. He seemed to be hearing only about half of what was said to him. At once Starsky remembered the blow to his partner's head. "Hutch, is your head okay? Does it hurt still? Maybe you should pull over and let me drive."

Hutch laughed a little harshly, "Starsk...I'm fine. You're forgetting which one of us was just held hostage, threatened, roughed up...I'm fine. Why don't you close your eyes and get some sleep? I'll wake you when we get there."

"Where is there? Wanna tell me where we're going?" Starsky asked around a yawn.

"San Francisco. We're getting a room for the night. Go to sleep, Starsk. I'll wake you when we're there," he repeated.

"I'm okay, too. You know that, right, partner?"

"Of course I do. I can see that. You just need some rest...some sleep, and-and food. You're just fine."

"You'll wake me if ya wanna talk?"

"Sure."

"Okay." Starsky closed his eyes and let the steady motion of the car and the protection emanating from his friend lull his exhausted body to sleep.

***********

Starsky opened one eye when the car stopped, but didn't rouse himself further until he saw Hutch outside the vehicle, handing the keys to a young man wearing dress pants and a white shirt. Hutch was also pressing some bills into his hand. Starsky got both eyes open and glanced out his own window. He saw a bank of flags on the lower roof ridge of what appeared to be a palace. Hutch had driven him to a palace.

"Hutch?" Starsky fumbled with the door handle, then nearly stumbled as he drew himself to his feet. "Hutch. Where the hell are we?"

"Oh, good, you're awake. We're here."

"Where is here?"

San Francisco, buddy. Nob Hill to be exact." Hutch moved around the car to join his partner on the curb. The valet bowed a bit from the waist, then jumped in the car and drove off.

Starsky craned his neck to see more of the magnificent building in front of him. "We're standing in front of a palace."

"We're standing in front of the Fairmont Hotel. Nice, huh?"

"Very nice, but, Hutch.... We're not on vacation, we just need a bed for the night, we're going home after we give our statements tomorrow."

"So? Any law that says we can't have a nice bed in a nice hotel for the night? Come on. Let's go in." Starsky followed his partner inside a foyer so grand that it almost hurt his eyes. Opulent. That was the only word for the luxuriously appointed lobby. Hutch strode to the registration desk, with Starsky trailing a few feet behind.

"Good evening, sir," the registration clerk greeted the detective from behind the mahogany desk. The man was dressed better than he'd ever dressed for any New Year's Eve or wedding, Starsky thought, finally joining Hutch at the desk. "May I help you with your reservation?"

"Good evening," Hutch replied in a silky voice. "Thank you, no. My friend and I don't have a reservation, but we'd like a deluxe room, with a king-size bed and a large bathtub for the night."

Starsky's mouth fell open.

"Certainly, sir. Let me see what I may have available to accommodate you. I'm afraid we're quite full at the moment, so it may be a tad difficult." The clerk began skimming through his motorized card file.

"We understand, but I'm sure you'll find us something," Hutch answered with a smile that that didn't part his lips.

"Ah, yes, I do have one small suite available."

Starsky found his voice. "A suite? In this place? Hutch...."

"A suite will be fine," Hutch spoke to the clerk, then turned to Starsky. "A suite will be fine, Starsk."

"Very good, sir. If you'll just sign here," the clerk pushed the register closer to Hutch, "and I'll just need your credit card to book the suite. It is quite lovely. I'm sure you'll both be very comfortable."

Starsky's mouth fell open again and his eyes widened.

"Thank you, I'm sure we will." Hutch reached into his wallet and pulled out his slightly worn Master Charge card.

"I'll have the porter bring your luggage up," the clerk said, as he reached for the bell. Hutch stopped him with a slight tap.

"We don't have any luggage. Can the hotel please provide us with two bathrobes? We'll also need a first aid kit and a shaving kit. If you can have the porter pick those items up at the gift store, you can add them to our bill. I assume your laundry services are still open? As well as room service?"

"Yes, sir. All our services are still open. I'll have the boy pick up the items you've requested and deliver two complimentary robes to your suite. You'll be staying in 1133."

"Thank you." Hutch took the key, and with a slight tug at Starsky's arm, started them both for the elevator.

Starsky punched the up button viciously. He waited until the door was open and he and Hutch had entered the empty car to speak. "Hutch. What was that all about? I've never seen you like that. You may as well have told the guy that you and your lover needed a room for the night. Why did you stop at friend?"

"I didn't feel like being coy. I wanted a room with a comfortable bed and bath. Is that okay with you?" Hutch stepped away from his partner, planting his back against the smooth elevator wall.

"Hutch, we're in the Fairmont Hotel."

"We're in San Francisco. The clerk might be going home to his own male lover." Hutch shut his eyes against the wave of dizziness that the swift elevator ride was causing. He took a sharp, deep breath as the car reached their floor. They both stepped out, but only Starsky started to walk. "I didn't mean to upset you, Starsk. That's the last thing I wanted to do."

The catch in Hutch's voice pulled at Starsky's heart. He turned back and captured Hutch's face with both hands. "Babe, I'm not upset. I just want to know what's going on in that head of yours. I know how hard today was on you, but--"

Hutch pulled his face away and captured Starsky's hands in his own. "Hard on me? I was safe. I-I was safe. You w-were...and I.... I was safe. You were the one who suffered."

Starsky peered into the light blue eyes, now gone dark and dilated. His worry escalated another notch. "Let's go to the room, buddy. It's time for both of us to rest and get comfortable. You did the right thing getting us a good room. Come on." Starsky led them both to the suite, and refrained from commenting when he opened the door and saw the splendor inside. We'll be eating at home for a year to pay this one off.

Both men checked out their surroundings, noting the plushness of the king-size bed and the mountain of fluffy pillows resting against the headboard. There was an armoire that looked to be an antique. A large, console TV with a stereo system resting on top of its shiny, solid wood top, was in the corner, and in the center of the room was a small grouping of chairs surrounding a velvet-covered love seat. The room was lit softly with small lamps from the nightstands and sconces scattered on the cr'me-colored walls.

They both took off their jackets and holsters, putting them in the closet closest to the door.

Starsky spoke first. "I'm gonna check out the bathroom. Why don't you sit down and get comfortable? I bet those deliveries you asked for will be here before I can even finish peein'. A place like this doesn't make the guests wait." Starsky waited for an answering smile but all he got was a nod. He continued in a gentle voice. "I'll be right out."

Five minutes later Starsky returned, with his sleeves rolled up and a few buttons undone at the top of his stained shirt. He'd taken a moment to wash his face, hands and neck, although a hot shower was what he really craved. He glanced around the large lavish room for his partner and then saw him standing at the window. Hutch's back was turned, his face partially hidden in the crook of one arm. Somehow the bent of the blond head and the weariness in the stance went right to Starsky's heart and he quickly crossed the room. We're okay, babe.

"Hey, you should see the swimming pool in the bathroom." One hand reached up to scratch underneath Hutch's right shoulder blade, then crossed to the left, scratching softly there, then up and down the stiff spine. Hutch sighed a little but said nothing. Starsky lowered his arms and reached around the trim waist, circling it protectively. He rested his head against Hutch's back. "I suppose some rich folks might think it's just a big bathtub, but it sure looks like a swimming pool to me. Wanna take a dip, later?"

"You need to eat," Hutch said abruptly. "You haven't eaten all day."

"Neither have you."

"I had coffee."

"Oh, yeah, that must have filled you right up."

"I'm fine, but I want to order you something."

"Let's order us both something, and maybe those bathrobes will get here while we wait for our dinner. I'd sure like to get out of these filthy clothes." He grabbed Hutch's hand. "There must be menus by the phone, let's pick out something good."

"Whatever you want, Starsk. You can order the whole menu, God knows you've earned it."

What I want is to see that look off your face, that blank expression. I want to see your real smile, Starsky thought, while leading them to the loveseat and the phone on the small table in front of it. A large, tasseled menu was next to the phone, and Starsky opened it up wide enough for both of them to look at the choices. The columns of food were a little overwhelming, but after a moment Starsky found his choice. "That's it," he pointed to a small description. "That's what I'm having. A half-pound cheeseburger on sliced San Francisco sour dough bread. Fried onions on the side, too, and it comes with dinner fries. Perfect."

Hutch frowned a little at his choice. "A cheeseburger? Why don't you get a steak, or maybe the baked chicken?"

"Because I want the cheeseburger. Now you. What are you havin'?"

"I don't know. I'm not really hungry. Maybe I'll just steal some of your fries."

"Nuh uh, no way, Blondo, I'm eatin' them all. Now pick something."

Hutch glanced at the menu again. "I'll have the soup, I guess."

Starsky decided not to push. He reached for the phone but Hutch grabbed it. "I'll call it in, why don't you stretch out on the bed? Get some rest."

"I'm fine right here, next to you. Go ahead, call it in."

After the order was placed, Hutch put the phone down and gathered Starsky close. He petted the dark curls silently while Starsky curled in to the warmth being offered. Starsky felt his body begin to completely relax, but his partner still sat rigidly, nothing moving except the large hand sweeping over his hair. We're okay, babe.

A sharp rap on the door interrupted them. Hutch gently pushed Starsky aside and got up, reaching for his wallet as he walked. Starsky watched as Hutch took the two terrycloth robes, hanging on padded hangers, and several bundles from the porter. He saw Hutch press several bills into the young man's hand and casually wondered if they had enough cash to tip all the people they were going to probably have to tip before they went home. The porter was saying something to Hutch about laundry bags, but Starsky wasn't really paying attention to him. He was keeping his eyes on Hutch.

Hutch thanked the man and closed the door after him. He hung up the robes in the bathroom and dropped the shaving and first aid kits on the tiled vanity counter. Starsky heard the noise of containers being opened and closed and items scattered. He looked up as Hutch rejoined him on the love seat.

"We have everything we need now." The blond said, patting Starsky's knee. The first aid kit is stuffed, and after you eat you can shower and then I'll tend to your cuts."

Starsky shook his head with a smile and reached gentle fingers up to Hutch's temple. He traced the gash that was heavy with dried blood. Bruised and swollen, it stood out like a beacon on the pale face. "I think I'll have a go at tending to this, before you put any bandages on my scratches."

There was another tap on the door, which effectively silenced what he knew would have been an inevitable argument. "Food's here. Great." Starsky started to his feet, but Hutch pushed him back and rose himself. "I'll get it, you stay comfortable."

A heavy sigh. "You're gonna run out of money eventually, Hutch."

Hutch ignored the comment and opened the door. A short time later he was back with the heavy tray. Starsky reached up to help with an end, but again he was ignored. Hutch held on to his burden and pulled the coffee table closer with a foot, before placing the tray on it. He carefully sorted out the different plates, and silverware, arranging Starsky's dinner carefully and putting the condiments in easy reach. Then he shook out a linen napkin and handed it to his partner.

"You planning on cuttin' my burger into easy bite-size pieces, too?" Starsky asked with a short laugh.

"Very funny. Come on, start while it's hot."

"I am starting," Starsky answered around a french fry he was chewing. "How about joining me?"

Hutch nodded and sat back down. He pulled his soup bowl closer, but didn't start eating the soup. Instead he began buttering a roll. Careful, deliberate strokes evenly spread the butter from end to end. Starsky said nothing; he just watched and ate his burger. Finally, the roll must have been buttered to Hutch's satisfaction because he put it down on the plate. He didn't taste it either.

"Hutch, try some of your soup," Starsky said patiently. "I want to know if it's good enough for me to share."

Hutch pushed the bowl in Starsky's direction. "Here, have all you want. It'll be better for you than that greasy burger, anyway."

Starsky pushed the bowl back. "You first. Why don't you just pick up the bowl? It'll be easier to eat it that way. This table is too low for you to bend over and spoon up soup."

"Okay, okay." Hutch grabbed the bowl and sat back against the cushions. He drew a helping to his mouth as Starsky watched, trying to determine if there was a tremor in his partner's hands. For a few moments the only sound was thoughtful chewing and the clink of a spoon against porcelain. Then a pain-filled yelp as Hutch dropped the bowl of soup on his chest. "Shit!" He shot up quickly, and the now empty bowl crashed to the floor. He was dripping hot soup all over his shirt-front and frantically pulling the soggy material away from his skin.

Starsky sprang to his side. "Easy, let me help." The thick soup was dripping everywhere as both men tried to work the shirt buttons at the same time and made little headway. "Hutch! Let me do it!" Starsky batted his hands away and quickly undid the rest of the buttons. He pulled the damp shirt off, then wiped at the soup clinging to Hutch's chest with flattened palms. "Aw, buddy, that's gotta hurt," he stated sympathetically. The skin was reddish in color where the soup had landed. "Let's go in the bathroom and hose you down. You're a mess."

"It's okay, I just don't know how I did that."

Starsky didn't feel the need to remind his partner that under emotional stress or when extremely tired, his often catlike grace was replaced with the clumsiness of a three-year-old. "Doesn't matter how, I just wanna get the rest of this hot mess off you. Come on."

The balled-up shirt was tossed in a corner before Starsky led the way into the spacious bathroom. He started the cold-water tap running and grabbed for a towel. Hutch was hovering in the doorway. "Get in here," Starsky ordered, reaching for an arm and pulling Hutch to the sink. He ran the cold towel over Hutch's chest and stomach slowly, capturing the remains of the clinging substance, then wrung out the towel, and rinsed it with cool water again. He pressed it firmly against the most prominent red spot. "Hurt much?"

"No, I told you, it's okay."

"Well, it doesn't look as bad as your head, that's for sure. Or your jeans. God, Hutch, you've got this stuff everywhere." He grabbed another washcloth and anchored Hutch's head with one hand. "I'm going to wash this gash out now, while I'm cleaning you up. Hold still." Hutch squirmed and sighed under the ministration but said nothing. Starsky got the wound clean and then soaked and soaped the cloth again. This time he rubbed at the blond strands that were flecked with dried blood. Half of Hutch's head was dripping wet before the wound and the hair were cleaned to Starsky's satisfaction. He tossed the cloth in the sink and looked around. The large tub caught his eye. A nice soak might calm him down and get him sleepy. "I think you should try out that tub and let me stuff those jeans in the laundry bag."

"Will you try it out with me?" Hutch asked simply.

Starsky smiled and nodded. The thought of a hot bath did sound wonderful. His body was exhausted by the events of the day, and every muscle he had was twitching at intervals. What he really craved, though, was the closeness with his partner. Maybe the intimacy of a shared bath would break down the brittle barrier Hutch was holding up like a shield. "That's the best offer I've had all day. Why don't you finish chucking your clothes and I'll start the water."

"No, let me do it. I'm the one who knows how to get the temperature just right for you, remember?" Hutch went to the tub and knelt in front of it. Soon the taps were running at full blast and Hutch was examining the assorted bottles of oils, soaps and shampoos, provided by the hotel in a wire basket. "This thing really is huge," Hutch commented in a bright cheerful voice.

"Uh huh." Starsky began unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way, and gratefully pulled off the dirty garment. He tossed it in the corner as he watched his friend fuss with the small bottles. Hutch's bare, broad back was stretching as he reached and poured, fiddled with the taps and circled a large hand in the steamy filling water. Starsky wanted nothing more than to massage those tight tense muscles. I bet it's aching something fierce, but you'll never tell me if it is. I'm just going to have to take care of it my way.

He started on his belt, quickly undoing it and drawing it free. That too went in the corner, followed quickly by the worn blue sneakers and the smelly socks. Hutch was making larger circles with his hand, causing a small whirlpool in the giant tub as Starsky reached for his zipper.

Hutch glanced up at the sound of the metal teeth coming undone. Starsky watched his face as he pulled off the jeans, then the briefs. He waited to see the expression Hutch always wore when he undressed in front of him. That softening of the eyes and the slow smile that would cross the full lips, making Starsky feel like the most desirable man on the planet. That look that said he was loved beyond reason and wanted completely. There was something else in Hutch's expression, now. The sky blue eyes did scan his form thoroughly, but they were not soft. They were sharp, as if he were looking for evidence, and then turned away as Hutch started adding more oil to the bathwater.

Babe, we're okay. How do I convince you?

Starsky strode to the side of the tub, looking down at the fair head bent in its task. He swallowed thickly, and then reached a hand to Hutch's chin, guiding his eyes upwards.

I love you.

"Hey, don't you think you've put enough junk in there?

"It's not junk, Starsk. It's bath oil, and it'll make you feel really good when I work it into your skin." Hutch grabbed the hand under his chin and pulled it forward. "Water's perfect now. Jump on in and relax."

"Need I remind you that I'm not the one covered in soup?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. You get in first while I get undressed and find the washcloths."

Starsky refrained from commenting further as the tense blond got to his feet in search of the missing linens. He stepped into the warm tub, the water at a perfect temperature as Hutch had promised. Slowly, he sat down in the silky heat and stretched his legs out. It felt wonderful, and he couldn't stop the tired sigh that he released.

"Is it too hot?" Hutch asked in a concerned voice from the counter.

"It's perfect, but there's one thing missing."

"What?"

"You. Now quit your fussing all over the place, and get your blond ass undressed and in here with me."

Hutch nodded and tossed several cloths in the direction of the tub. They landed softly in the water. He bent over to pull his boots off one by one, and then started on the socks. Soon, they were all clenched in his hands. Starsky watched his partner look around the room as if he had no idea where to put the items he held.

"Just drop them in the corner, next to my stuff."

"Okay." Hutch started on his jeans, and soon had denim and underwear bunched together in a pile on top of his boots and socks. He brushed some hair out of his eyes and looked around the room again.

"Hutch, we've got everything we need to take a damn bath. Get in here." Starsky leaned an arm outside the tub, stretching his hand toward his partner. "Come on, get in."

Starsky smiled and continued to wave his hand until he had his partner moving toward the tub. Hutch reached a leg over the side, and then pushed a little on Starsky's back with his left hand. "Scoot up some, Starsk. I need some room."

"There's plenty of room in front of me, dummy."

"I wanna sit behind you. Come on, just scoot up."

"Fine, okay, just get in here already." Starsky moved forward, bending his knees just before he reached the ornate faucet. He waited until he felt Hutch sit down behind him, and then pushed back with his feet. He bumped into Hutch's calves, which were crossed one over the other. "Stretch your legs out, buddy, there's plenty of room in here. Hell, I think we could fit five people in here if we wanted to."

"Luckily we don't." Hutch answered shortly. He arranged his legs on either side of Starsky's hips, and reached for his middle. Starsky felt himself being pulled backwards, the water lapping high on the sides of the porcelain. "I'm going to do your back first."

Wordlessly, Starsky handed back a washcloth and a small bar of soap. It was so tempting to capture the long fingers that brushed his as the items were transferred. So tempting to pull the large hand to his mouth and kiss the palm, suck on the fingertips...so tempting, but this was Hutch's show for now. Starsky would give him a little more time.

Starsky felt the soft cloth start at the back of his neck. It was slick with soap and the hand guiding it was firm but gentle. Tiny circles started at his hairline, widening as they traveled down the length of his spine. Up and down with frequent stops to dip the cloth back in the warm water and add more soap. Starsky leaned forward a little when the sweep widened to include his lower and middle back then up to his shoulders. Hutch lingered there. Using both the cloth and his hands to provide a brisk rubdown.

"Your muscles are really tight, buddy." Hutch murmured, adding some extra pressure with his thumb along the cord of Starsky's neck. "After you soak for a while, I'll give you a real massage when we go to bed. That way, you'll be able to get a good night's sleep without cramping up."

"And I'll return the favor." Starsky sighed a little as Hutch's strong hands found more and more sensitive spots along his neck and shoulders. Places he hadn't even known were aching responded to the kneading motion. First a quick flash of a deeper ache as the muscles were explored, then the release, as relaxation replaced the pain. "Aw, buddy, that feels so good. You could do this for a living if you wanted to, or if I lost my mind and decided to let you work on any naked body but mine."

"I don't have any plans to ever work on anyone but you."

"That's good, even though we could probably make a fortune renting you out," Starsky teased. "Hey, let me have a go at your neck and back now, you've got my back clean and the worst of the kinks out. It's your turn." Starsky started to get to his knees in order to reverse their positions but Hutch stopped him. He wrapped both arms around Starsky's middle and pulled him backwards. "Hutch? What the hell? I was trying to turn around so I could do your back."

"Starsk, just relax. Lay back against me while I do your chest."

"I think we need to talk, pal," Starsky said seriously. "You're beginning to worry me just a little."

"I don't know why, and I don't want to talk right now." Hutch buried his nose in his lover's thick curls and made a little noise. What it was Starsky couldn't identify, but he felt the long body beneath him shudder slightly. Then the cloth was back, stroking his chest and arms, over and over. Starsky felt the arm Hutch had draped around his upper shoulders tighten slightly, even as Hutch continued bathing him with the other hand. Starsky tried to relax against the pressure but he couldn't do it. Forcefully, he twisted around with Hutch's arm still circling him, until they were lying chest to chest and he could look Hutch in the eye.

"Talk to me. What's got you tied up in knots? Is it that you had to kill Sanchez? I know what it does to any of us when we gotta fire."

"No. No. I've got no regrets that he's dead. He would've killed you. He was choking you, earlier, and-and, your face...you made this gasp." Hutch tightened his arms. "I've got no regrets that he's dead."

"Then what? Hutch, you saved my life today." Starsky moved to brush some of the damp blond hair away from the wounded temple. Hutch stopped him by placing his hands over his wrists and forcing him to sit up. Then Hutch climbed out from under him and out of the tub. Starsky just stared as Hutch stood naked and dripping, breathing hard and somehow looking so fragile.

"Babe, what is it?" Starsky asked, beginning to climb out as well.

"You said I saved your life today."

"You did," Starsky answered, grabbing for a towel to drape over Hutch's shoulders.

"That's a lie."

"What are ya talkin' about? You were the one that took Sanchez out right before he was goin' to shoot me!"

"It was my fault you were there in the first place. I was the one who almost cost you your life."

"What the hell are you talking about? Dobey sent us there to question Levy. How was any of that your doing?"

"That's not what I mean." Hutch sank back against the vanity. Starsky moved to stand next to him and encircled his waist snuggly.

"Then tell me what you mean," Starsky continued, holding the lanky body securely.

"When it started to go down...."

"Yeah."

"The sirens, and that guard, remember? That guard told us to leave." Hutch stopped, and a new look of concern crossed his face. "Did he make it out?"

"I think so, but forget about him for now, and tell me the rest." Starsky was trying his best to make sense of what Hutch was trying to tell him. Hutch was trembling, now, from stress or the cold air on his wet body, Starsky didn't know, but he grabbed for the two robes, carefully draping one over Hutch and one over himself. Then he took Hutch by the hand. "Wait a minute. Let's go climb into bed, and get warm, huh? I want to hear it all, but I want to get us more comfortable first."

Hutch just nodded and let Starsky take control, following after his partner toward the bedroom. Once they reached the huge bed, Starsky pulled down the covers and fluffed a few of the front pillows before reaching for Hutch's robe and removing it. He reached a tender hand back to Hutch's temple.

"I never did bandage this."

"It's fine." Hutch sighed a little.

Starsky narrowed his eyes slightly but refrained from commenting further as he took Hutch by the elbow. "Come on, partner, hop on in. You're gonna feel better all stretched out."

Hutch acquiesced, lowering himself to the bed slowly as Starsky drew the covers further down to make room for his legs. He leaned back into the nest of pillows, and then laid an arm over his eyes. Starsky just looked for a moment. Taking in the tense features and the quick rise and fall of the smooth chest. "Ya gotta relax a little for me, okay?" A slight response came in the tilt of Hutch's chin.

One smooth motion had the sheet and blankets drawn to Hutch's waist, then Starsky went to the other side of the bed, shed his own robe, and hurried in himself. In an instant he had the blond on his side and cuddled close against him. Starsky took a moment to kiss behind the long damp neck and to stroke the arms his partner held so rigidly. Then he kissed an ear and whispered, "Now, finish telling me."

Hutch took a deep breath. "When we were at that door, you were in the front, then Carlson, then me. You saw the convicts first."

"Uh huh."

"You were at the front, Starsk," Hutch repeated, turning over and looking at Starsky directly. The dark-haired cop knew he was missing something important.

"Okay, I was at the front. I don't understand where you're going with this."

"The problem is," Hutch sat up angrily as he spoke, "that I changed your position. Once I saw the convicts heading toward us, I panicked and shoved you behind me."

"You were trying to protect me, like you always do." Starsky sat up, too.

"That fucked-up protection of mine nearly cost you your life." Starsky just listened, letting Hutch get it all out. "Don't you see? If I hadn't done that, if I hadn't pushed you behind me, then you would have been in the front and they would have pulled you out of that room, not me. You went through hell because of that. It should have been me that they held hostage all day. It should have been me they threatened and shot at.... It should have been me, don't you see?"

"Aw, babe. Aw, Hutch." Starsky got up on his knees and captured the stricken face between his two hands. "Is this what's been eating at you? You're somehow blaming yourself? Babe, that's just stupid. None of it was your fault, not one thing. And you did save my life today."

Hutch pulled back, refusing to be placated. "Of course, I'm blaming myself. God, Starsk, how many times have you been hurt when I've come away unscathed? How many? How many times when I should've been there to protect you?" He clutched desperately at Starsky's shoulders. "I'll tell you how many, Bellamy, Simon Marcus, Lockley and that punk Joey, Bagley, Gunther." A shiver passed through his frame. "Gunther. I still have fucking nightmares about that damn garage."

"Hutch, stop." Starsky grabbed his face again. "Just stop. None of those things were your fault and if you want to run down a catalog of times we've been hurt on the job, well, you've got an impressive list yourself."

"Today was different." Hutch tried to make his voice steadier. "Today, my bad decision, my need to try and protect you is what put you in danger. It was my fault. Oh, God, Starsk, I wanted you out of there so much I couldn't think straight and if I could have, I would have begged the cons to take me and let you go."

"You think I don't know that? You think I don't know what worrying about me all day was like for you? I've been on that side, Hutch, don't forget that. I know that if you could have traded yourself for me you would have, because that's what I'd want to do for you, but...I'm glad there was no way you coulda done that. Knowing you were safe was the only thing that gave me any peace and made it bearable at all." Starsky stroked a finger around Hutch's mouth. "There's one more thing. If our positions at that door had been reversed, I would have done the same thing. I'd have pushed you behind me. Don't you see? It's what we do, what we've always done. We protect each other the best way we can."

Starsky's words were having an impact, finally. The blond recognized the logic but still his fear and guilt lingered. "Starsk," he started softly. "Getting you back today was a miracle. How many more of those can we possibly get?"

"We can't think like that, Hutch, or we'll both go crazy. All we can do is love each other and appreciate those miracles." Starsky leaned in slowly and laid his lips against Hutch's, just touching them softly before pressing closer and turning his head to create the perfect fit to really kiss his troubled blond.

He sighed when Hutch parted his lips willingly and let his seeking tongue inside. The darting muscle filled Hutch's mouth and he shuddered against the perfection of it. Starsky wrapped his arms tightly around the velvet expanse of Hutch's damp back, feeling the shudder and trying to still it with a deeper plunge inside the sweet cavern, but the shudders didn't stop, and at once Hutch pulled away with a gasp.

"Hutch?" Starsky reached a gentle hand to his partner's face and found a new dampness there. "Hutch?"

Hutch couldn't speak. At once the trauma of the day washed over him like a tidal wave, and sought its release in a flood of hot tears. He shook his head briefly and tried to stop them, but couldn't.

Finally. Finally that pressure found a valve. Starsky thought gratefully, then looked more closely at his lover and felt his worry climb back up his throat.

The sight of Hutch crying wasn't what caused Starsky's heart to pound heavily, because he'd seen that enough times before. This time was different. This time there was no sound and almost no motion, just a stream of tears raining down a still, pale face. Starsky gathered him close and eased them both down again on their sides. He pressed tightly against Hutch's length and rubbed a hand over his face.

"Let it out, babe, let it all come out."

Long seconds stretched into minutes as Hutch sobbed without sound. Starsky petted his back and his ribcage, rubbed around the abdomen, whispering soothingly until the flood ebbed, and finally stopped. One last shudder and Hutch was still.

"There ya go," Starsky encouraged. "Got that out of the way and now I think you need a cloth or something."

"I need you," the blond said softly.

"That you got, for always."

"I need you now."

"I'm right here."

Hutch rolled over and blinked the last of the tears away from his gold-colored lashes. He touched Starsky's face. "I need you inside me."

"Hutch...."

"I do. I need you. I need to feel you inside me, I need to feel you wrapped around me like a blanket."

"But, Hutch...."

"Please, please."

Starsky looked again. Really looked. This was too important to him, to both of them, to do for the wrong reason. He had to be sure that it wasn't just what Hutch thought he needed but what he desired as well. He kissed him again.

Now there was hunger. The lips under his own were widely parted as Hutch tried to draw his tongue deeper and deeper inside the wet warmth. Then Starsky felt the sweetness of that wide mouth on his eyes and forehead. His cheekbone was lavished on one side and then the other before Hutch dropped his head lower to nibble under his chin and bathe his neck with a liquid stroke.

Starsky grabbed a handful of the blond hair and held on, anchoring Hutch's head at his neck. Then he released the hair to pet it, pressing Hutch's face against the beat in his throat. "Slow down, love. Slow down."

"I want to love you. I want to give you everything, all of me."

"You do, Hutch. Every day, and in every way."

"Then let me give you this."

For a moment, Starsky felt almost humbled by the depth of emotion behind the words and in the blue eyes that were no longer shrouded in pain. Now, they shone with trust and so much more.

So much love and he wants to give it all to me. He'll spend his life giving it to me, and I'll spend my life giving mine to him.

Starsky knew then that the time was now. This was what Hutch needed and Starsky was going to love him so hard that the day they'd spent chasing death away, again, would be a pale memory next to the night they'd share reaffirming life and love. He felt his own desire stir at the thought of what they were going to do. In a flash, he thought of their conversation just that morning, a lifetime ago now. His own words replayed in his head: I'll know when you're ready and I'll make it so good, then....

Now, to keep that promise....

Starsky reached a hand under the covers until he found his partner's sleek belly. He ran the flat of his palm in a circle, loving the feel of the tight warm flesh and the way Hutch responded by running the short of his nails slowly down his back, bringing on a series of delightful quivers.

"Oh, yeah, the way you do that. Feels so nice," Starsky slowly commented, then lowered his hand to Hutch's groin. He rubbed the awakening length firmly with the heel of a hand then used his thumb on the crown--short, tiny strokes that caused Hutch to gasp.

"Hey," Starsky murmured. "I have to go get something but I'll be right back. You just lay there and when I get back I'm gonna make you so hard."

"Don't leave now, what do you have to get?" Hutch asked, unwilling for that wonderful hand to leave him.

"Something we'll need. I'll be just one minute." With that, Starsky slid from the bed and went to the bathroom. The room was a mess from their shared bath, and water and clothes were scattered everywhere, but it didn't take Starsky long to find what he wanted. The first aid kit was well stocked. Starsky was grateful when he had the pouch opened. He knew he'd find it in here and he did. Nestled next to a stack of bandages was a small jar of Vaseline.

He hurried back to the bedroom, not unaware of the fact that there was a flock of nervous butterflies in his stomach. He swallowed them down and with a smile climbed back in the bed and into Hutch's waiting arms. He tucked the jar under a pillow and spent a few minutes being blissfully kissed and kissing the man he loved.

"Love you," Hutch whispered. "I love you so goddamned much." He captured Starsky's mouth in a deeper kiss, and then began to map his throat and shoulders with small nips and licks. The feel of the bath oil they'd both just soaked in added to his arousal, since Starsky's always-smooth skin now had a satin-like covering. "You feel so good, you're so beautiful," he spoke before fitting his length on top of Starsky and attaching his mouth to a small needy nipple.

Starsky had never understood how Hutch was able to draw so much pleasure out of those small nubs that he used to take for granted. He couldn't remember any lover before Hutch ever making him feel much of anything when his nipples were touched, but when Hutch put his mouth to them and suckled...all Starsky could do was toss his head and bite his lips as his cock surged and filled. His hands clutched at Hutch's back when he felt Hutch's teeth tug on his chest hair, just enough to increase the sensation electrifying his skin. Then the wide mouth fell on the nipple's mate and laved it in the same way while the one just left was pinched and pulled in Hutch's fingertips.

The feel of Hutch's cock rubbing against his own, was so delicious that it took real effort for Starsky to still the motion of the moving hips and roll them over until he was on top. "Too much of that and my rocket might go off way too soon. Can't let that happen." Starsky whispered into the shell of an ear then licked around the lobe. Starsky spread his legs until they were widely positioned outside of his partner's long limbs, then he raised himself to his knees. One hand raked through the tangled blond hair and he looked at Hutch's face, which was filled with expectancy and so beautiful in the dim light. "I want you to turn over for me, babe."

Hutch smiled and nodded. Starsky was grateful to see that there was no nervousness showing in the eager expression. That's good, he thought. I'm plenty nervous enough for both of us. He didn't let it show, though, as he helped guide Hutch onto his stomach. The blond settled against one pillow, turning his face until just his right cheek was resting against it. He began to draw his arms underneath him but Starsky stopped the gesture.

"Just leave those at your sides, okay?" he asked before starting to knead the muscles along Hutch's shoulders with strong hands. "I just want you to relax and let me do the work, now."

"Since when is making love to me, work?" Hutch teased, but he did relax further under the strong massage.

"Smartass," Starsky laughed, with a gentle slap to a lean flank. His hand lingered in a lazy circle, smoothing the curve of one buttock then skimming along the thigh that was feathered lightly in soft hair. "Oh, Hutch...love you...."

"Show me. I want you so much."

Starsky swallowed at the sound of the naked desire--as naked and needy as the body he now held his weight against. He used his hands and lips to blaze a moist trail down Hutch's spine, then his sides. Stroking everywhere and using his nails to gently tickle sensitive flesh. When he reached the base of his partner's spine, he used his legs to start encouraging Hutch's further apart, then scooted down in the huge bed until his face was resting atop the pale ass.

Tenderly, he nuzzled the taut globes, loving their warmth and scent. So pliant and spongy and yet rock hard with muscle. The short area between spine and separation was thoroughly kissed as Starsky simultaneously used his hands to briskly rub heat into the sides of both hips. The sound of Hutch's gentle groan told him he was setting his partner's body on fire. The knowledge made his heart swell and he reveled in the joy of his masculinity and what he was able to make his partner feel.

He settled himself more comfortably, fully intending to enjoy this and make it last. His tongue wet the top of one cheek then the other, making them glisten in the soft light, then he insinuated it at the top of the division and slowly ran it a few inches down, going as deep as he could.

"Starsk, Starsk!" Hutch cried out, and Starsky wanted to laugh at the surprise and passion in the sweet cries. He couldn't, though, not and continue what he was doing, so he anchored Hutch's hips more firmly and let his tongue continue its downward journey.

"Oh, God," Hutch moaned, at the same time that Starsky used his thumbs to gently part his ass. "Starsky...."

"I'm right here. Spread your legs a little more. Make them nice and wide." He waited while Hutch complied and once again he had to still one of the large hands that tried to creep under his lover's body. "Not yet. Not nearly yet. You just lay real still for me." Starsky spoke and then blew a stream of warm air in between the parted cheeks. He lowered his face again and lightly touched the tip of his tongue to the puckered opening that was now clearly visible.

He was prepared for the reaction that came, and held firm to the now wriggling ass. His confidence was growing with each lap of his tongue and each cry from his partner. Starsky made sure the orifice was thoroughly lavished with teasing strokes that enticed and inflamed. He was on fire himself. The act he was performing was stimulating his body in ways he didn't think possible, and he added his own low moans to the ones coming from Hutch.

"Starsk, babe...can't take much more...."

Starsky did laugh this time and continued his loving torture. He rimmed the opening again and again in between broad strokes over it all. When Hutch was quivering from head to toe he slowly stopped, but not before he planted a firm kiss over that tender hole. Reluctantly, he raised himself up and moved to the front of the bed. Hutch was panting against his pillow and Starsky stroked his hair with one hand while using his other to find the jar of Vaseline. He made his way back between Hutch's spread thighs on knees that felt like liquid. He opened the jar and dipped just the tip of his thumb into the goo, bringing out a small dollop. He looked at Hutch lying flat against the mattress and asked, "Can you raise up just a little for me? Just scoot your knees up some, I want your beautiful ass just a little higher."

With an effort, Hutch managed to get his rear raised slightly. "That's enough," Starsky purred, "that's real good right there." Then he firmly pressed his coated thumb against the opening and pushed it inside the tight heat. Using his long fingers he grasped Hutch's balls in a soft cradle and tickled the wrinkled sac, while his thumb continued to push in and out of the clenched ring of muscle.

"Is this good, Hutch? Tell me, babe, is this good? Do you like it?"

"Yes, oh, God, yes, keep going, don't stop."

"I'm not going to stop. I'm gonna get you all open for me, and then I'm going to bury my cock as far inside you as I can. Unless you tell me to stop. You can tell me to stop any time, Hutch, and I'll love you just the same."

"No. No, please, don't stop. I'm so hot now, want you so much." The blond was gasping out the words as his body tried to suck the creeping thumb further inside. "Give me more."

Starsky did, grabbing the jar again to add some grease to his index and middle fingers. He pulled his thumb out and replaced it with the two digits, pumping them hard to give Hutch a sample of what was to come. The opening began to further relax under the steady pressure and when the nub inside Hutch's body was stroked, he almost came off the bed.

"Now! Starsky, now," he gasped out. "I can't wait anymore, you're driving me insane. Give me your cock. Please, give it to me now. I want you to fuck me."

"Okay, easy, okay. No more waiting, I'm gonna fuck you and love you and make you come harder than you've ever come before." Starsky spoke at the same time he removed his hand and lay down next to Hutch on his side. He reached for his lover and positioned him on his side, back to Starsky's front. With a hand that shook, he helped Hutch raise his top leg until it formed an inverted V shape, then he pressed the blunt, wet head of his cock against Hutch's opening.

"Take a deep breath, Hutch," he spoke, and slowly, slowly inched his steel length inside until he was sheathed halfway. Hutch bit his lip against the sharp pain, not unexpected, but intense. He said nothing, but Starsky knew. "Keep breathing and give yourself a minute. I'm not going to move more until you tell me to." Starsky reached around until he found Hutch's member, surprised that it wasn't as firm as he thought it would be. His fingers were still slick with Vaseline, and he used that to help his hand create a fast smooth friction up and down the sleek flesh. Hutch's cock responded quickly, fully filling again and soon rock hard. At once, Starsky felt Hutch's ass open a little more, but he held himself rigidly still and continued to work Hutch's shaft.

"Now, Starsk. Move now, I want it all."

With a groan Starsky continued, still pushing slowly and carefully and still pumping Hutch's cock. "Oh, shit, Hutch...shit. You're so tight, so hot around me. Feels so good," he moaned. He tried a gentle undulation, hoping to find Hutch's tiny gland again. "This good? Is it still good?"

"There, oh, God, there, there. Again." Hutch was barely getting the words out as the inside of his body lit up with ecstasy and the hand working his cock brought him to the brink. "Fuck me hard, babe, do it hard, I'm gonna come."

The words excited Starsky unbearably and he increased the rhythm of his hand and hips, amazed at the intensity rushing through him, amazed that it could be this good, this hot. Amazed at the gift he was being given, one that he'd never forget. He tightened his hand, squeezing just under the head and that was all it took. Hutch came in a powerful flood, bathing Starsky's hand with creamy, warm fluid. Almost from a distance he heard his partner's soft pants and attempted words, but he was too close himself to really hear. He drove himself now like a piston into Hutch's sated body, and soon he roared his release.

Hutch was boneless against him, as he shuddered and tried to catch his breath. A large hand reached for one of his and he felt his fingers entwined with his lover's. It took a moment to hear the whispers that were forming words and to have them make any sense. Hutch was pressing back against him as his cock shrank while still inside his partner's body. Some of the words Hutch was whispering were starting to make sense, now.

"So beautiful. That was so beautiful. I've never felt like that, not ever. You made it so good. Thank you, babe, thank you." Hutch spoke with a trace of thickness, and Starsky could hear the emotion behind the words.

"I'm the one who's supposed to be thankin' you, Blondie," Starsky whispered against Hutch's neck. He buried his nose in the sweaty strands of blond hair and sighed deeply. "You were incredible, the way you took me in, gave me everything I'd ever dreamed it would be." His organ had stopped throbbing now and was completely soft. Starsky eased out slowly and carefully, but still Hutch uttered a short hiss.

"Babe? Did I hurt you? You okay?"

"Of course I am, it's just a little sore."

"Was I too rough?"

"Starsk, you are the most gentle and considerate lover.... No, you weren't too rough. It was perfect, but it was my first time, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I don't think I'll ever forget. It's not every day that a man takes the virginity of the guy he's in love with you know."

"And it's not every day that a man gives his virginity to the guy he's in love with," Hutch replied.

They were both profoundly moved by the experience they'd just shared, but they were also exhausted. With the physical release from their bodies came a deep need for sleep.

"I probably should stick you back in the tub, or at least get off my dead ass and get a towel to clean you up with. Clean us both up with," Starsky said as he yawned hugely.

"That can wait until morning. Right now all I want to do is go to sleep with your arms around me. Okay?" Hutch asked softly.

"Okay." Starsky tightened his arms and soon both were deeply asleep.

************

The next morning, both men were pulled from slumber by the increasing level of sunlight drifting over the bed. Hutch was the first to completely give up on the idea of sleeping anymore, and he carefully extricated himself from the loose grip still encircling his chest. He sat up carefully, trying to quietly leave the bed when Starsky stirred a little more.

"Where ya goin'?" Starsky mumbled with one eye open.

"I'm going to the bathroom. Go back to sleep."

"You 'kay?"

"Yes, I'm fine but I have to pee, Starsk."

Starsky thought a moment and opened the other eye. He peered at his partner through a cloudy haze of messy curls. "Now that you mention it, so do I."

"Well, I thought of it first so you're going to have to wait your turn." Hutch laughed, finding his robe on the floor.

Starsky gratefully watched the easy movements Hutch was making, feeling a little bit of relief that everything was moving easily. "Hurry up, Blondie, I'll be right behind you." He sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes fiercely.

Hutch laughed all the way to the bathroom.

True to his word Starsky was right behind him, unceremoniously entering the bathroom just as Hutch was finishing relieving himself. He flushed and tried to frown at his partner but he couldn't do it. "Here, the john's all yours. I'm going to start a shower."

Starsky ambled to the bowl but not before catching sight of the pile of filthy clothes in the corner. "Damn, we never sent those things out to be cleaned last night."

"Tell you what, why don't you call for the laundry service while I shower? Tell them we'll pay extra if they'll rush them. We have a lot of phone calls to make, anyway, before we can go anywhere."

Starsky knew exactly what he was referring to. They still had to give their statements and clean up all the loose ends they'd left at the prison the day before. Starsky refused to let the thought interfere with his good mood and he started to nod in agreement with Hutch's plan when a new thought struck him."

"Oh, my God."

"What?" Hutch asked on his way into the shower.

"Hutch, we never called Dobey. We never told him anything. Shit, he's gonna roast our nuts over an open flame."

"Somehow, Starsk, I doubt it. After all, we may have forgotten to call him but we are coming home. Both of us. I think he'll be damned grateful."

"Maybe you're right, babe, maybe you're right."

**********

It was late afternoon before the detectives were back in Bay City and seated in front of their captain's desk. The day had been filled with statements, paperwork and even a brief on-camera interview between Starsky and the eager female reporter who'd tried to interview him after the rescue. Starsky didn't have the heart to turn her down twice. To both men's relief, they were able to give their statements at the sheriff's office as opposed to the prison itself. Neither wanted to ever return to that dark place. They were both so drained that the five-minute tongue lashing Dobey was still in the middle of, was only partially registering.

"Now! Are we completely clear on this, you two?"

Starsky glanced at Hutch desperately. He hadn't heard the last part of Dobey's tirade and was unsure about what he was supposed to be clear on. Hutch gave him a brief nod and answered for both of them.

"Yes, sir, we're both clear. It'll never happen again. If we're ever on a field assignment and one of us is taken hostage, we'll be sure and call you as soon as it's over."

"That better not be sarcasm, Hutchinson!"

"No, Captain, of course not," Hutch assured him with a sly wink in Starsky's direction.

"Good, okay." Dobey straightened in his chair, very glad to have the mandatory reprimand out of the way. He cleared his throat and continued. "Now with that understood, let me just say that I'm damn glad to see you both back in one piece."

"Thanks, Cap," the partners answered in one voice.

"I've been on the phone for a good part of the day with the prison authorities and I've been told that you both handled yourselves admirably and that you're to be commended. "Good job, boys." Dobey's smile was uncharacteristically broad. "You'll also be happy to know that we heard from the hospital while you were in flight. That wounded guard, Andrews, he's going to make it."

"That's real good," Starsky said softly.

Dobey went on. "Also, your file of Levy's statement was recovered so that situation will proceed as scheduled."

"How is Levy? Did you hear?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, he's going to be fine, although he'll probably walk with a limp for a long time. They got the bullet out clean, so once he recovers he'll be able to testify."

"I keep wondering why he did what he did." Starsky glanced at Hutch as he spoke. "I mean, he was on the ground, and then he was flying between me and the bullet that Sanchez wanted to bury in my head. Did he try and willingly save my life, or did he just panic and try and get out of the room?"

Hutch swallowed before answering. "Maybe we'll get a chance to ask him that, but whatever his answer, I plan on thanking him. It's also good to know that the reason we went there in the first place was successful." Hutch shook his head a little as some of the events replayed themselves in his head. I could have lost everything, but I didn't. He's safe and he's mine.

"That's it, you two. Get out of here now and go get some sleep. I don't want to see you back here for two days."

"Thanks, Cap," they answered again at the same time, and rose to their feet.

The sun had completely sunk in the sky when they entered the parking lot and found the Torino.

"Well, partner," Starsky asked as he unlocked the door. "What do you want to do tonight?"

Hutch grinned hugely. "I thought that was all planned out, Starsk. Something about you cooking me a steak dinner when we got home, and, oh, wasn't there something about giving me anything my heart desired?"

"That there was, buddy-boy," Starsky answered with a grin of his own. "Hop on in, we're going home."

**********

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Special Feature Week Two

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"Echoes of the Past, Part 1," by Candy Apple

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