Echoes of the Past, Part One
by Candy Apple


SHSVS - Episode 7

**********

"I still think this is a bad idea," Hutch said, straightening his tie and looking over at Starsky, who was sitting on the foot of the bed, tying a pair of dress shoes.

"It's Aunt Rose's birthday, and she wants us there for dinner."

"She invited you."

"Same thing," Starsky responded without looking up from his task.

"It is when you're married, but--"

"Like I said, same thing," Starsky insisted. Then he looked up. "If an invitation doesn't include you, then I don't need t'be there."

"I feel like we invited me along. What was she supposed to say when you said we'd be there?"

"Nothing. She knows we've always been tight, Hutch. She wasn't even surprised when I was plannin' on bringin' you along." Starsky sighed. "I think we oughtta tell 'em."

"About us?"

"No, that Huggy waters down his beer on Saturday nights." Starsky got up and joined Hutch at the mirror, checking his own tie. "'Course about us, you dumb blond."

"Your Aunt Rose is Catholic. You know how Catholics are about gays."

"We're cops. You know how cops are about gays. You gonna beat me up for bein' a horny queer?" Starsky swatted Hutch's butt as he walked behind him and picked his sport coat up off the bed.

"Starsky, I'm serious."

"I know that." He paused, sighing. "And I know Ma didn't take it too well, but she's tryin' to come around. Rose is gonna know anyway--she knows me too well. She's one'a the sweetest ladies in the world. She loves you."

"She doesn't know I'm having sex with her nephew. And we're not even talking about your Uncle Al. Starsky, you can't tell me you're not even a little worried about how they're going to react."

"'Course I'm worried," Starsky admitted quietly. "They're my family, Hutch. I don't wanna be on the outs with 'em. I just...I gotta believe they love me enough to get over it."

"If they don't, are you going to be able to handle it?"

"I'm not gonna have much choice."

"Starsk, I...I don't think this is the right time. Not at her party. That'd be a lousy thing to do if she doesn't react well to it. This is your aunt's night, not ours."

"I know you're right." Starsky rested his butt against the dresser, crossing his arms over his chest. "I guess I'm just lookin' for one place we can go and...and not worry about how we act."

"I'm afraid we're in that place, babe." Hutch pulled his lover into a hug. "For what it's worth, I'd like to kiss you right in the middle of the cafeteria at lunchtime. I'm not ashamed of you, or of how we feel," Hutch pulled back, framing Starsky's face with both hands, "but I don't want either one of us to die for it."

"Me either," Starsky agreed, his expression solemn. "Think we'll ever be able to be together without hiding?" Starsky asked as Hutch patted his cheek and moved away to tuck his wallet in his pants pocket.

"I don't know. It's a nice dream to hang onto."

"We're gonna be late. Let's go." Starsky tossed Hutch's jacket to him and they headed for the door.

**********

Starsky's aunt and uncle were one of the most mismatched couples Hutch had ever seen. Starsky's mother's younger brother, Al Goldman, was a short, stocky Jewish man with dark, curly hair not unlike his nephew's, though it was considerably less abundant and mixed with silver. He had a rich belly laugh and a playful, affectionate nature that reminded Hutch very much of his partner's own personality.

Rose was a tall, almost statuesque woman with dyed auburn hair, green eyes, and fine features. She was quieter and more reserved than her husband, but she had a warm, gentle nature and a real knack for making her visitors feel like family. An Irish Catholic girl who grew up as Rose O'Connor, she had defied the wrath of her family to marry outside her Church, while Al had drawn similar fire from the elders of the Goldman family for marrying outside his own faith.

Feeling a bit alienated from both families, the couple had moved to California shortly after their marriage and had lived there happily ever since. Al's used car business had prospered, and Rose had worked as a receptionist and bookkeeper for the business.

Whenever Hutch spent time around these two people, he found himself immensely grateful that Starsky's exile to California had resulted in him finding such a loving and positive environment. Losing his father and then being uprooted from everything he knew had to be a traumatic upheaval for him as a child, though he usually shrugged it off as being "for the best."

Childless themselves due to a medical condition Rose discovered shortly after they were married, they had welcomed the relocated David with open arms and raised him as if he were their own. The only complaint Starsky could ever conjure up about his stay with Rose and Al was Rose's cooking--which ranged from bland to toxic, according to Starsky. Fortunately, Al knew how to cook and prepared meals that were more complicated than mixing something that came in a box.

Celebrating her 67th birthday, Rose looked at least ten years younger than her real age. Whether it was her outgoing personality, her carefully done hair and make-up or just her energetic nature, Hutch wasn't sure.

Tonight's party was a gathering of family and friends, though mostly the latter. With the exception of Starsky--and Hutch, whom Rose referred to as "the only blond Starsky I ever met" as her way of adopting him into the family--everyone else at the party were either neighbors or long-time friends. Rose was in the middle of it all now, putting on a show of shaking one of her wrapped birthday gifts before opening it with all the relish Hutch had seen in Starsky's gift wrap-tearing frenzies.

"You want a beer?" Al asked Hutch, who was standing somewhat on the periphery of the group. An ill-timed run to the john had lost him his seat closer to the action, where Starsky was sitting.

"Sounds great," Hutch responded, following him into the kitchen. A momentary break from the din and merriment of the gift opening was something of a relief.

"She'll drag that out for another hour at least," Al said, laughing affectionately as he handed Hutch a bottle of beer out of the refrigerator. "Taught Davey everything he knows about tearin' into presents, I'll tell you that," he added.

"Starsky's a lot like Rose."

"They spent a lot of time together after he moved in with us. I was workin' a lotta hours...keepin' the dealership going. Rose dropped back to working part time at the showroom so she'd be here after school--things like that."

"He was lucky to have you two. Had to be a terrible shock--losing his father, moving out here..." Hutch shrugged.

"Mike's death was a big shock for all of us."

"Were you two close?" Hutch asked.

"When we were kids, yeah, real close--our families grew up near each other--that's how Rachel and Mike got together in the first place," Al explained, referring to Starsky's parents. "We drifted apart later--with the whole mess over Rose and me gettin' married--our families were pretty riled up about that. Ma wanted me to meet a nice Jewish girl, and her folks were hoping for a nice Catholic boy." He shook his head. "Worked out okay for us. Not sure what the big deal really is with religion in marriages. 'Course, we didn't have kids, so it wasn't a reason to fight--Davey was raised Jewish so he went to Synagogue with me. Not that Rose didn't drag him to her bake sales and her Christmas concerts at the church. He was a cute little kid--she wanted to show him off. She should'a had a whole mess'a kids."

"He must have missed his mother a lot when he got out here. I'm sure spending time with Rose helped."

"Yeah, he did. Rachel didn't have a lotta choice about sendin' him out here, but I know it wasn't a decision that came easy."

"I guess raising two boys alone would be a hell of a challenge," Hutch said, taking a drink of his beer.

"Alone?" Al frowned, and Hutch continued.

"After her husband died--when she sent him out here to live with you and Rose."

"What are you--"

"Al?" Rose's voice interrupted them. "Good grief, you two, you're missing the whole party!" Rose linked an arm through one of Hutch's and one of her husband's. "I'm going to open Ken's and Davey's gift next and I thought you two ought to be with the rest of the guests instead of guzzling beer in the kitchen. Al, you know what the doctor said about too much beer."

"He also said I oughtta take up joggin'. He's got lots'a bad ideas," Al responded, smiling a little impishly. Rose had to laugh at that.

"He's hopeless. Maybe you can influence him," she said to Hutch as they returned to the living room.

"I wouldn't count on it. I haven't had much luck with your nephew."

Hutch rejoined the party-goers, happy that a few people shifted around so he could sit next to his partner--jammed tight against him on a crowded sofa. It was stuffy in the room from the press of bodies, and Rose was dragging out her gift-opening like a Shakespearean actor drags out his death scene, but Starsky was having fun. Even if they didn't know the real story on the two men's relationship, it was one place they could go for the evening as a couple and be treated as two halves of a whole, among family.

Despite all the festivity, Hutch's mind traveled back to his conversation with Al. Something wasn't adding up--that moment of confusion on Al's face and his attempt to clarify Hutch's comment about Rachel Starsky raising her boys alone. It would be a long time before Hutch could simulate the right "spontaneous moment" again to finish that conversation.

**********

"Think she liked the punch bowl?" Starsky asked, starting up the car. They'd trailed through every store in the city looking for something Starsky approved of for his favorite aunt and surrogate mother, and finally, the day before her birthday, had achieved success with an ornate milk glass punch bowl. Rose liked fancy ceramics and dishes, and Starsky had been elated with their find.

"She loved it, babe," Hutch responded, smiling. "I think it was her favorite."

"Really?" Starsky's face lit up, and Hutch had to smile.

"Really." Hutch waited a few minutes, and then decided to capitalize on Starsky's good mood to probe him a bit. "I was talking with Al for a while--he was reminiscing a little."

"He does that once in a while. Hope he didn't bore you with too many old family stories," Starsky said, checking the rearview mirror and making a lane change.

"No, not at all. When I said something about it being hard for your mom to handle you two boys alone, he reacted kind of strangely."

"Oh?" Starsky didn't take his eyes off the road.

"Yeah. It was like he didn't know what I was talking about."

"She wasn't alone," Starsky said matter-of-factly. "My grandmother was still alive back then and there were some other relatives around, so maybe that's why he didn't think of her as bein' alone."

Hutch stared at his partner's impassive profile as he watched the traffic. Starsky was lying. As Hutch had accused him multiple times before, unless he was undercover, he was a lousy liar. There was something off in the inflection in his voice, the tilt of his head and his expression. Starsky was the most genuine person Hutch had ever known--which was probably why, when he lied, it stuck out like a sore thumb in contrast with everything else he said.

"What?" Starsky finally stole a glance at Hutch.

"Nothing. I guess you're right. Your family has always been pretty tight--clannish." Hutch looked out at the dark road himself now. "Well, your Aunt Rose came in then, so we didn't really talk more about it."

"Nothin' more to say," Starsky added, almost mumbling.

Smooth, Hutchinson. You ever think of being a detective? he berated himself silently. If Al knew something Starsky didn't want divulged, there'd be no getting it out of him now.

Still, Hutch was more concerned with what Starsky was keeping from him than his own curiosity. And why, in all the years they'd shared what he thought was every confidence, was there still one held back? Especially now that they were intimate with each other in every way. Total trust and openness...except now, there was something hidden.

Falling silent for the remainder of the ride home, Hutch did his best not to turn what could be a molehill into Mount Everest.

**********

The mattress dipped behind him as Starsky got into bed. There was more movement--probably the watch going on the nightstand--and then the light went out and the other body was moving closer. Hutch kept his back to his partner, though he knew Starsky couldn't be that easily fooled into thinking he was asleep already. Two warm arms slipped around him, and Starsky nuzzled his neck.

"I'm tired, Starsk," Hutch said, his voice coming out a little sharper than he'd planned. Starsky paused a moment, then went back to nibbling gently at the soft skin of Hutch's neck.

"You don't have t'do a thing, babe," Starsky whispered in his ear, tugging at the lobe with lip-covered teeth. At the same time, Starsky's hand made its way down to the waistband of Hutch's boxers.

"Starsky, come on, knock it off," he said, annoyed now. His mind was still obsessing over what he'd come to view as something Starsky was hiding from him, and for some reason the breach of their usual trust was festering into a wound of significant proportion. Sex was the last thing he wanted any part of tonight.

Starsky's hand froze on its journey and he slowly withdrew, the warmth of his body moving back to its own side of the bed.

"Sorry, Hutch," Starsky responded quietly. "You feelin' okay?"

"I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"Do I have to be ill just because I don't want to do it like dogs all night?" Hutch shot back angrily. He'd no sooner said the words than he wanted to take them back, hating how horrible and cruel they sounded. Part of him had wanted to hurt Starsky the way he'd been hurt by being shut out of some significant part of his lover's past. The other part of him recognized that he was only being cruel for cruelty's sake, because Starsky didn't understand why he was being treated this way.

"'Course not," Starsky finally answered. "'Night, Hutch." There was clear hurt in his voice, but he didn't say anymore. He simply rolled over, his back to Hutch, and fell silent.

Almost an hour passed as Hutch lay awake with his own thoughts, staring at the opposite wall, when Starsky's voice startled him.

"Why are you mad at me?" Starsky's voice was quiet, a bit hesitant, bearing an almost childlike quality. He'd been so silent and so still for so long that Hutch had finally assumed he'd dozed off to sleep.

"I'm not mad."

"You're mad about something."

"I just didn't want to have sex. That doesn't mean I'm mad."

"You coulda just said 'no'."

"I tried that and you didn't get the message the first time."

"You just said you were tired. I was just gonna make you feel good--you didn't have to do anything."

"Starsky, I just wasn't in the mood."

"Whatever it was, I'm sorry," Starsky said sincerely. "It's not worth you bein' this mad at me. So whatever I did, I...tell me what it was and I won't do it anymore."

Hutch was about to accuse him of being a martyr, but there was such sincerity in that voice that he knew Starsky's sentiments were genuine. If Starsky was one thing, he was perceptive--and he knew Hutch too well not to see that something was behind his sharp retorts.

"I'm sorry, babe. I didn't mean to snap your head off. I'm just tired." Hutch finally relented and rolled over, waiting while Starsky did the same. "Honest. I'm not mad at you," he told the troubled face that finally turned toward him, barely visible in the shadows of the darkened room. "But I'm kind of mad at me for being such a jerk." He reached out and cupped Starsky's cheek, surprised to feel a little moisture there. "Buddy, I'm sorry," Hutch added, pulling Starsky into his arms.

"What's wrong, Hutch?" Starsky prodded again, returning the embrace with a sort of desperate intensity. "I thought...I thought you liked how things are with us...makin' love almost every night."

"I do. I--" Hutch's response was cut short when the phone rang. "Might be business," Hutch said, regretfully.

"Shit." Starsky pulled away and rolled over to answer it. "Starsky," he snapped into the phone. After a grim pause, he responded to whatever the caller had told him. "Right. We're on our way," he said dismally. "That was Dobey." He swung his legs over the side of the bed and rubbed at his face quickly with both hands, then reached up and turned on the light. "Domestic disturbance call turned out to be a homicide. He wants us to take it. Looks like a sticky one." Starsky was heading for the dresser now, rooting around to find clothes.

Hutch got out of bed, resigned that the conflict between them wasn't going to be resolved tonight.

"Did Dobey know I was here?" Hutch asked.

"He didn't ask, but he probably called your place and got no answer."

"He didn't say that, though?"

"No, he didn't mention it." Starsky pulled on a pale blue shirt. "I guess I shouldn't've said 'we're on our way'. I sort of forgot."

"Hard to remember to be so careful all the time. Of course, it's not like I never stayed over before there was anything to be careful about."

Starsky snorted a laugh as he buttoned the shirt and tucked it in. "I'm fuckin' everything up tonight. Maybe you better go on the call yourself. Probably shoot myself in the foot." Starsky strapped on his holster as if to underscore the statement.

"Starsk, you didn't fuck anything up. I said I was sorry about earlier. That wasn't your fault, okay?" Hutch spared the moment it took to lightly caress Starsky's hair. "Don't worry about it." After Starsky nodded, his Adam's apple bobbing a little, Hutch realized his hand was lingering in the soft hair a little too long, and it was time to get back to business. "Did he give any more details?"

"Not really. Guess a black-and-white went out on a domestic and the wife blew the husband away. One good shot in the head, which is all over the living room now. One rookie spent most of the time with his head in the shrubs, and his partner's never handled a homicide."

"Great. Glad I had a big meal tonight."

**********

Starsky pulled up in front of the crime scene, behind the black-and-white unit. A second police car was there, and two uniformed cops were out on the lawn keeping gawking neighbors at bay.

The house itself was an unremarkable two-story frame structure in a neat, working class neighborhood. White with blue shutters and window boxes holding pink flowers, it looked deceptively innocent and inviting despite what lay behind its doors.

Hutch led the way inside, both flashing their badges at the cops outside before heading up the three steps onto the front porch and into the house. There was a small child crying somewhere in the house, most likely on the second floor. Another older child's voice could be heard coming from the back of the house, mixed with the sounds of a woman crying and speaking intermittently between sobs.

In the living room lay the body of a man, what was left of his ruined head in a pool of blood on the hardwood floor.

"Murder weapon was a small hunting rifle," a voice startled them from behind. A middle-aged uniformed officer stood just inside the doorway to the room. "It's right there. We didn't want to bag it or move it until you guys got here." He gestured at the gun, which was leaning against a nearby wall.

"Crime lab boys aren't here yet, huh?" Hutch asked.

"They're on their way. The woman's in the kitchen. She's not making much sense--she's pretty hysterical. There're two kids in the house--the boy that's with her is about nine and the girl upstairs is four. Jane Danner was in the other unit that responded, so she's upstairs calming the little one down." He referred to a young policewoman.

"What happened?" Starsky asked simply.

"Near as I can tell, he was drunk, started slappin' the wife around, then he went after the boy when he tried to help his mother. While the victim was whippin' the kid, Mom blew his brains out."

"In front of the child?"

"Yeah--she said she did it to stop him from hitting the boy."

"We'll wanna talk to her in a minute," Hutch said, moving closer to the victim.

"Looks like she got him from the side," Starsky surmised, looking a little nauseous as he gave the unpleasant-looking corpse a visual once-over. "She must know how to handle that thing. Looks like she hit exactly what she aimed at."

"Splatter patterns look like she must've been standing roughly at this angle, give or take a little," Hutch moved away from the body, positioning himself approximately where he thought the shooter had stood. "Look at that blood, Starsk."

"What do you mean?"

"Look at the angle. Now look at the head wound."

"This better be leadin' somewhere interesting," Starsky said, cringing a bit as he took a closer look at the substantial hole in the dead man's head. "Yeah?"

"It goes in about here," Hutch said, gesturing to a spot about in line with his earlobe, "and comes out up here," he finished, pointing to a second spot on the other side of his head, close to the top of it. "Either she was on the floor when she shot him, or she's a really short lady."

"Maybe we ought to go take a look at her and ask a few questions, huh?"

"Yeah. Looks like the lab boys are here."

Kay Jenkins was a small woman, barely five feet tall and slender, with somewhat ragged blonde hair and brown eyes. The photos they'd seen on the walls of the house had shown her to be a pretty woman when she was dressed up and composed. The child with her was a boy about nine who kept one protective arm around his mother's shoulders as he stood next to the kitchen chair she occupied. He most definitely resembled his mother, both in his coloring and features.

"I'm Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky," Hutch introduced, as they pulled up two of the three empty chairs around the table. The uniformed officer who'd been waiting in the kitchen with her left them to their discussion. "I realize this is a difficult time for you, but we need to ask you some questions about what happened here tonight," Hutch explained, ignoring the obvious fact that they would probably be arresting her before the night was over.

She stared at the surface of the table, obviously past the worst of her tears and hysterical first reactions. She was fidgeting with a tissue, twisting it in her small hands, which were accented with red nail polish.

"M-my husband drinks," she began in a strained voice. "He gets violent when he's drunk." She looked up, and both men could see the beginnings of a black eye and swelling around the corner of her mouth. "I'm not going to make a lot of excuses for what happened. I wasn't going to let him keep beating Danny," she said, reaching up to pat her son's hand. "I...I just...I couldn't stand it anymore."

"Did you say anything before you pulled the trigger?" Starsky asked, jotting down a few notes. Hutch could detect an almost imperceptible tremble in the hand as it held the pen, and wondered if it was the bloody crime scene or the knowledge of what the child had endured that was unnerving his usually steady partner.

"I told him to stop it. I was screaming at him to stop it, but he didn't listen." She let out an ugly sound that was a perverse approximation of a laugh. "He never listens. Nothing gets through to him when he's drunk. It wouldn't have mattered what I said, Detective. I had to do something." She pulled the collar of her robe more tightly around herself, then drew her hand back, somewhat horrified at the sight of blood.

"Would you like to change, Mrs. Jenkins?" Hutch asked, noting the considerable blood stains on the pink robe she wore. He made a mental note to go back to the living room and see if there were spatter patterns in the general area where she must have stood when she fired the gun."

"Yes, please. They wouldn't let me before you got here."

"I understand there's a policewoman upstairs with your daughter." Starsky stood up. "I'll walk you up there and she can help you out."

"I don't need help putting on a clean robe, Detective."

"You might be wise to get dressed," Starsky responded. "And having a policewoman in the room with you will be necessary at this point."

"I'm not going to escape, if that's what you're worried about." She finally stood, then rested her hand on her son's back.

"Danny can wait here with me," Hutch said, smiling.

"I don't want him questioned. He's been through enough," she countered immediately.

"I agree. We won't talk at all unless Danny feels like it," Hutch responded, smiling at the child, who regarded him with some suspicion.

While Mrs. Jenkins and Starsky left the room, Hutch motioned to the boy to sit down in the chair his mother had vacated. Fortunately, Danny didn't appear to have any significant blood stains on his Incredible Hulk pajamas.

"How old are you, Danny?" Hutch asked, smiling. The child simply stared back at him. "Incredible Hulk, huh? When I was a kid, Superman was my favorite." The child's face remained still, as if carved in stone. There was no smile--there was little or no reaction at all. Considering his options when the child's parent had expressly forbidden the questioning of the child, Hutch finally added, "I know this is a scary time for you and your mom and your little sister, but we're here to help you. We don't want to hurt you or your mom."

"Are you gonna put her in jail?"

"I don't know yet, Danny. We need to talk to her some more, find out what happened."

"I don't want her to go away," he stated flatly, without the emotion Hutch would have expected to accompany such a statement. Danny was indeed old before his time, the violence and fear that had reigned in his home for so long obviously having robbed him of much of his childhood.

**********

Starsky waited in the doorway of the little girl's bedroom while Officer Danner accompanied Mrs. Jenkins to her room to change clothes. The four-year-old girl was sleeping now, clutching a rather well-worn doll. She had brown hair like her father's, but Starsky could see very little of her face as it was buried in her pillow and behind her doll's frizzy hair.

He rubbed the bridge of his nose tiredly, blinking a few times, trying to push down the images that were flashing through his mind. His desperation to escape them only diverted his thoughts back to the odd strain that had been felt between himself and Hutch earlier, and what had led his partner to not only pull away from him, but to do so with such harshness. Hutch had a razor sharp tongue, but he rarely unleashed it on Starsky. That he had tonight not only puzzled Starsky but also left an ache in his heart he couldn't seem to dispel at a time when he needed most to feel loved by the most important person in his life.

Think about the case, Starsky. God, pull yourself together.

Take Kay Jenkins, for instance. She was just a little thing--about the size of his own mother, actually. Wouldn't stand a chance against a big, angry drunk intent on cleaning her clock, and couldn't do a hell of a lot for the boy, either. Not without a weapon. Starsky let his head drop back against the wood of the door frame. A lot of women lived with fat lips and black eyes and a lot of children saw a lot of things they shouldn't see, and a lot of families were held hostage by a single violent member. Many of those people survived, found their way out somehow...and not all of them used a hunting rifle to do it.

Still, it was hard to muster sympathy for a bastard who beat his family...but it was equally hard for Starsky to muster sympathy for this woman who took the easy way out. There was no easy quick-fix for domestic violence, but there were ways out that didn't end up with someone carried out in a body bag.

"Are you arresting me?" Kay Jenkins asked, startling Starsky out of his thoughts as she approached him in the hall, Officer Danner behind her.

"We have a few more questions to ask you, ma'am. We'll be taking you downtown for that. If you have a family member who could take the children, this would be a good time to make arrangements."

"My mother can take them." She walked calmly down the steps and picked up the phone on a small table near the staircase. She paused and watched as the gurney bearing the zippered body bag was wheeled past them and out of the house. Standing stock still for a moment, staring after it, her eyes fluttered closed and Starsky caught her just as she collapsed.

**********

"Doctor says she'll be fine. She's in shock, but she'll be okay," Hutch said, hanging up the phone. Seated at their desks at the station, they had been awaiting word on Mrs. Jenkins' condition. "Her sister's over there now."

"While you were on the phone, Dobey got a call from the DA," Starsky explained. Their captain, who was also pulling an all-nighter in his office because of this case. "He said we should go ahead with questioning the kids."

"The four-year-old?" Hutch's eyes widened.

"You and I both know she could've seen or heard something. She'd probably be more honest than the boy. He's gonna protect his mother--but she's pretty little to make up alibis."

"You know, Starsk, this whole damn thing stinks. A woman finally has all she can take of getting whacked around and watching her kids beaten up, loses it and does something about it, and we have to figure out a way to turn her own kids into witnesses for the prosecution."

"Let me tell ya somethin', partner," Starsky began, leaning forward on the desk with an intent look in his eyes, "there are lotsa women out there gettin' slapped around and lotsa kids gettin' beaten up by asshole drunks, and not all'a those guys end up in body bags. Blowing his brains out was a great shortcut for figuring out how to solve a bad situation."

"I'm not condoning what she did. I'm just saying that she was caught in a situation that made her desperate, and unless this guy's got some huge life insurance, she sure didn't kill him for his vast estate. The boy's got some ugly bruises on his arms that would be consistent with an adult grabbing him, and he's got almost no emotions or reactions left anymore. She didn't make the right choice, granted, but I never feel good about pushing to put someone in prison whom I don't believe would ever kill again, and who only killed the first time in a state of desperation."

"She had a bad problem, and she took the easy way out." Starsky stood up and gathered up their notes on the case so far, tucking them into the file folder. "Let's get movin'. I wanna talk to those kids before their grandmother has much more time to coach 'em."

A little stunned at his partner's hard-nosed reaction to the situation, Hutch shrugged and slipped on his jacket, about to follow his partner out of the squadroom when the phone on his desk rang.

"Hutchinson," he barked into the receiver, the unsuspecting caller receiving the ill humor Starsky's little tirade had created.

"Yeah, Hutch, this is Mike in the lab. Thought you might wanna know that the gun was wiped clean of all prints but Mrs. Jenkins'."

"There are no other prints on it?" Hutch frowned, and now Starsky moved back toward the desk, watching him with interest.

"Just hers. I figured that was a little weird because wasn't it the husband's gun?"

"Supposedly, yes."

"Kind of odd she'd wipe it clean and then handle it again--especially when she's admitting to shooting him anyway."

"Thanks for letting us know, Mike. What about the angle of the shot? I thought that looked a little...odd."

"She's a small lady, isn't she?"

"About five feet tall, I think."

"Possible then. The victim was a little over six feet tall, and the shooter definitely fired the shot at an upward angle, but it looks like she oughtta be a few inches shorter yet. 'Course, some of that could be due to how she held the gun or the angle she fired it. We're still analyzing things."

"Okay. Let us know what you find out," Hutch concluded. After hanging up, he met Starsky's inquisitive expression. "The gun was wiped clean of prints except for hers. Why would you wipe your prints off a gun, then handle it again, then admit you'd done the shooting?"

"Maybe she was gonna try lyin' about it at first, then decided to tell the truth and that's why the gun was wiped clean at first and then had her prints on it."

"Could be. Guess we'll have to ask the lady for more details."

**********

Mrs. Jenkins' mother, Fran Sternowski, was a petite woman in her late fifties who bore a strong resemblance to her daughter. Though she wasn't overjoyed to receive a visit from the police shortly after dawn, she offered the two men coffee from the pot she'd just brewed and went upstairs to get the children from their temporary lodging in her guest room--one child at a time. Both men were concerned that together, the children might either confuse each other or the older boy might guide his sister's answers. Therefore, the little girl was brought downstairs first.

"These two nice men are trying to help Mama," she said as she reached the foot of the stairs, which were in view of the living room where Starsky and Hutch sat. The child had seen both of them when she was taken out of the house, and she showed some slight glimmer of recognition. "We're going to talk with them a little while, okay?"

"When's Mama coming home?" she whined, her head drooping on her grandmother's shoulder as the woman carried her to the living room.

"As soon as she can, honey." Mrs. Sternowski sat in an overstuffed chair across from the couch where the two detectives sat, with the child in her lap.

"Sally, I'm Dave," Starsky began, moving over to sit on the ottoman that matched the chair. "Do you think I could ask you a couple questions?" he asked, smiling hopefully at the child. His response was a silent nod. "Good girl." He paused, groping for the right way to launch into such an unthinkable line of questions with a four-year-old. "You were wakened up a long time after your bedtime, when it was still dark outside, weren't you?" She nodded.

"Mama was yelling at Daddy," she said.

"Could you hear what they were saying?"

"No." She shook her head emphatically.

"When you heard Mama and Daddy yelling, what did you do?"

"I called to Mama."

"Did she come?"

"No."

"When your Mama didn't come upstairs, did you call to her again?" Her response was another shake of the head. "Why not?"

"Daddy was mad...I don't...like Daddy when he's mad and he smells funny. He smells like cough medicine, and he hurts Mama."

"Did he hurt Mama last night?" Starsky waited, and she nodded. "Did you see him hurt Mama?" This time, she shook her head.

"Mama was crying, and I heard the bad sounds."

"Bad sounds?" Starsky asked, feeling the bottom drop out of his stomach. God, what bad sounds...fists connecting with soft, female flesh, cries of pain...things no child should hear.... He closed his eyes, fighting down a wave of something that threatened his very equilibrium.

"Hitting noises," she whispered, as if she were confiding something of the greatest secrecy.

"What happened after the hitting noises, Sally?" Starsky asked, swallowing hard, feeling the sweat springing up in beads on his forehead, his heart pounding a little too rapidly.

"I'm not s'posed'ta get out of bed when I hear the bad noises...Mama said so."

"Did you get out of bed? I promise you aren't in any trouble, Sally. You can tell me the truth."

"I opened the door and looked out. Danny saw me and he made me get back in bed."

"Danny was in your room?"

"He was in the hall. He made me go back to bed and said he'd tell if I didn't."

"What did you do?"

"I got back in bed."

"What happened then?"

"Lotsa yelling," she said, her head drooping back on her grandmother's shoulder. "Then there was a big boom and Mama was yelling and crying."

"Did you get out of bed again?" he asked.

"Not 'til Jane came," she said, referring to Officer Danner.

"Thanks for talking to me, sweetheart," Starsky said, smiling at the little girl, who looked at him for a long moment before returning the smile very faintly. "You've been a really brave girl."

"You want to go back to bed, honey?" the child's grandmother asked her. She nodded, yawning widely. "Come on. We'll go back upstairs." She headed for the stairs with the drowsy child and began her ascent to the second floor.

"What do you think?" Hutch asked his partner, who was still sitting on the ottoman, staring somewhat fixedly out the nearby front window.

"I'd like t'know what Danny was doin' upstairs. How could his father be beating him if he wasn't even downstairs?"

"Maybe he went downstairs and that's when it happened."

"Sally never mentioned hearing Danny yelling or crying. Just her mother." Starsky swallowed hard. "Nine-year-olds make plenty'a noise if they're getting beaten up."

"Maybe not as much if they're used to it."

"A child doesn't get used to that." Starsky stood up and walked over to the window. "Any more than he gets used to watchin' his father smack his mother around."

"I'm sorry, but Danny won't come downstairs," Mrs. Sternowski said as she re-entered the living room. "I'm not going to force him."

"We need to speak to him, ma'am. He's an eyewitness," Hutch responded.

"You can come upstairs and ask him a couple of questions, but if he won't talk to you, I won't let you force him. Not after what he's been through."

She led them to the second floor of the attractively decorated older home and opened the door to a guestroom where Danny Jenkins sat in the middle of a double bed, glowering at the adults in the doorway.

"Danny, we talked at your house last night. My name is Hutch, remember?" Hutch approached the bed, thinking that perhaps he would have a tiny advantage through the child's familiarity with him.

"When're you gonna let my mom outta jail?" he retorted.

"She isn't in jail, Danny. She's in the hospital. She's going to be just fine, but she was pretty shaken up about what happened last night and she needed some rest." Hutch sat on the foot of the bed. "We need to know what happened last night. Do you think you could help us out? See, we want to be fair to your mom, make sure we understand how things really happened."

"I don't remember."

"Danny, this is important, honey. Tell the truth," Mrs. Sternowski interjected.

"I don't remember," he repeated, crossing his arms over his chest. "I wanna see my mom."

"I told you we'd go see her today, Danny," his grandmother replied. "If you remember anything about what happened, it's very important that you tell these gentlemen," she said, sitting on the side of the bed next to the reticent child.

"I don't remember anything and I wanna see my mom!" he shouted back at her.

"I guess your questions will have to wait," she said, looking up at Starsky and Hutch.

"Son, I know you've had a bad time of it, but don't use that tone with your grandmother. She deserves your respect," Starsky said, and Danny regarded him with considerable surprise--as did Mrs. Sternowski, though she said nothing. "I know you think you're doing what's best for your mom, but not telling the truth about what happened isn't gonna make things better for her." Starsky moved toward the door of the room. "Mrs. Sternowski, please call us if Danny remembers anything. We'll be back in touch," he concluded.

**********

"What was that about in there?" Hutch asked as Starsky started up the car.

"What?"

"That little lecture to the kid about respecting his grandmother. Under the circumstances, it's not too surprising he's a little confrontational."

"Them lettin' him turn into a nasty little shit who yells at women isn't gonna help him any. He's had a real bad example with his father and he's gonna have to start learning a little respect for women. If he can't learn to use it with his grandmother, he's not gonna be good for much."

"You can't solve that, Starsk."

"He's got to see that there are men out there who respect women."

"That was nice work with Sally," Hutch said, hoping something positive would help lift the odd cloud of tension that seemed to hover between them.

"Thanks."

"Starsk, what's the matter? I know we had an argument last night, and I'm sorry about that. I don't know what else to say."

"You don't have to say anything else about it."

"Then what's wrong?"

"Nothing, now can we drop it?" Starsky retorted, annoyed.

"I just don't understand what you're so angry with me about."

"Join the club. I didn't understand why I was gettin' my ass chewed last night because I did what we always do every night'a the week unless one of us is sick. You got all quiet after we went over to Rose and Al's, and then we got home and you light into me for no good reason."

"I apologized, Starsk. I don't know what more you want from me."

"Maybe you ought to tell me why you were so mad at me for tryin' to make love to you."

"Maybe because I didn't think we kept things from each other until last night."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Starsky spared a confused glance at him before diverting his eyes back to the traffic.

"It means that...it means that I think there's something you're not telling me about your family."

"Like what, for instance?" Starsky asked, his voice rising an octave.

"Why you really moved out here."

"Ma needed help raisin' us, and Rose and Al offered. I need to draw you a fucking picture? My dad cashed in his life insurance policy to pay off some debts and we didn't have two nickels to rub together. Ma didn't have the money to take care'a two of us. One of us had to go and Nicky was too little, so I went. That answer your question?"

"I didn't know things were that bad."

"Yeah, well, surprisingly enough, we might've been poor, but we had a couple shreds of pride left. Some things are family business."

"Funny. I thought we were family."

"You know what I mean."

"There's not one single stupid thing about my childhood or my family that you don't know. I've got no secrets from you. I feel like a fucking criminal for asking about your past."

"Maybe not all of us had money out the ass and fancy prep schools and summer jobs as lifeguards around country club swimming pools. Some of us have cesspools in our past we'd just as soon not go back and wallow in."

"I'm sorry I brought it up."

"So'm I."

They rode in silence for quite a distance, until Starsky finally pulled into the parking lot near the station and cut the engine.

"Hutch."

Hutch froze with his hand on the door handle.

"Babe, I'm sorry. I just...this case is makin' me a little crazy, I guess. And...there're some things I just don't wanna talk about."

"I'm sorry for how I treated you last night. You didn't deserve that."

"Maybe after we get done with some'a the paperwork, we could go home and make up?" Starsky waggled his eyebrows and Hutch chuckled, risking a caress to his lover's face.

"I love you."

"I love you, too, Blondie. Gonna show you as soon as we get home."

**********

Plans for a romantic interlude at home had to be postponed for another trip to the hospital to question not only Kay Jenkins, but also her sister and brother-in-law, who had been with her at the hospital since the previous night. The medical report from the doctor who had briefly examined both children before releasing them to their grandmother's care had revealed a few interesting facts.

"Mrs. Jenkins, according to the analysis of the gun, it had been wiped clean of all prints except for a single set of very distinct ones--yours. How do you explain that?" Hutch asked.

"I was advised not to talk to you anymore until my lawyer was present."

"You aren't under arrest, ma'am," Hutch clarified. "The information we get now, the results of our investigation, are what will determine what kind of charges are brought in this case. We would appreciate your cooperation, but of course, you have the right not to answer questions."

"Then I think I'm going to invoke that right. I just want to get released from the hospital and be with my children as long as I can."

"This whole thing is ridiculous," Karen Delaney, Kay's slightly older sister, interjected angrily. "He was beating her child. What was she supposed to do? What would any decent mother do?"

"There's more than one way to end an abusive situation than with a hunting rifle, Mrs. Delaney," Starsky retorted sharply. "We have to form our own opinions about your sister's actions without her cooperation. Also," Starsky opened up his notepad, "the doctor who examined Danny last night didn't report finding any new bruises or indications of a recent beating or even a spanking. The only bruises the child had were fading bruises on his upper arms, which appeared to be the result of someone with large hands grabbing him." Starsky looked up from his notes. "So you see, there's something here not adding up, and if your sister doesn't want to help us put the pieces together, we'll have to do it on our own, based on the evidence."

"What's going on here?" A dark-haired man of about forty, dressed in jeans and a sweater, entered the room carrying two cups of coffee. Obviously, Karen's husband had made a cafeteria run. "Kay, I thought I told you to wait until Jake got here," he added.

"I haven't told them anything," she replied, running a hand back through her hair. "Jake is my lawyer," she clarified. "And he isn't here now, so I'd like you to leave."

"You must be Mr. Delaney?" Hutch asked.

"And you are?"

"Detective Hutchinson, this is Detective Starsky. We're the investigators assigned to your brother-in-law's case."

"Didn't she tell you she wasn't going to answer more questions?"

"Yes, she did, and you know what? She doesn't need to. We'll base our conclusions on the evidence, because what's adding up isn't looking good." Starsky headed for the door and Hutch, a little surprised, followed. "Your sister-in-law is this close to bein' arrested for murder one. A little cooperation at this point would be a real wise thing to consider."

Once they were out in the hallway, Hutch spoke up, punching the button for the elevator.

"You think threatening her with murder one is the best route right now?"

"All I know is, she's hidin' something. And we've gotta rattle her cage until she spills it." As the elevator doors opened, they waited for a couple of nurses to exit before entering the empty car themselves and pressing the lobby button. "I'm beginning to think she wanted her husband out of the way and used the protective mother story to get herself off the hook."

"Her face is bruised up, and the kid has old bruises. The little girl is no stranger to abuse in the household. We know the abuse part of the story isn't fabricated."

"That's true, but it's the immediacy we have to worry about, Hutch. Did she have to shoot him then to protect her child, and if she did, was it necessary to blow his brains out over it considering the kid's got no new bruises?"

"Maybe it was open-handed slapping, something that wouldn't leave a bruise."

"Guys like that don't open-hand slap their kids. They hit hard enough to knock 'em on their asses. They leave bruises and they break bones. This kid hadn't even had a healthy swat on the ass according to the doctor. I'm just getting the feeling she wanted to get rid of the guy and she's usin' her kid to do it. I'm not sayin' he wasn't a jerk."

"In the long run, you and I both know the kids'll have better lives without him."

"Yeah? Well, getting rid of him and shooting him are two different things."

"Maybe she couldn't accomplish one without the other."

"Since she's not talking, I guess we'll just have to figure out what was goin' on in her head." Starsky led the way out to the car, and the two men rode in silence for a while. "It's gettin' late. Let's sign out for today and get back at it tomorrow."

"Good idea," Hutch concurred.

They picked up a bucket of chicken, some potatoes and coleslaw from a take-out restaurant near Starsky's place. Upon arriving in the apartment, they shed their jackets and holsters and, after grabbing a couple beers, began devouring the meal. They'd spent most of the day running down leads, and lunch had been part of a hamburger before they'd responded to an armed robbery in progress.

"How about a shower?" Hutch suggested, smiling softly at his lover. They'd had a miserable day and the strain between them wouldn't feel resolved until they took the time to show each other again how much love there was between them--and how little the minor squabbles really meant.

"I'll get the water started while you clean up," Starsky said, grinning a little devilishly.

"Nice try, Gordo. Come on, you can manage dumping your bones."

"I'd rather be jumping your bones," he retorted, grudgingly tossing his old chicken bones in the depleted bucket while Hutch did the same.

"Patience, babe. I don't think we want stinky chicken bones and coleslaw for breakfast." Hutch put away the remaining portion of salad, and together they cleared the table and disposed of the trash. "Of course, judging by what you usually eat in the morning, it probably would be better for you."

"The first thing I usually eat in the morning is you, babe." Starsky wound his arms around his partner from behind, his hand finding its way to the growing bulge in Hutch's jeans. "And this bone ain't no chicken bone." Starsky was nuzzling Hutch's neck now. "You sure we need t'clean up all'a this stuff, or you think maybe it could wait, hmm?"

"Go start the shower," Hutch responded in a husky voice. "And get naked," he added, angling his head back for a kiss.

"Best way to take a shower," he quipped, swatting Hutch's butt before retreating into the bedroom, already unbuttoning his shirt.

Hutch lost no time in disposing of the trash from dinner and then stripping off his clothes and leaving them in a heap next to Starsky's before going into the steamy bathroom. His naked lover was carefully adjusting the water temperature, and Hutch paused to enjoy the play of muscles in Starsky's back and shoulders. He'd worked hard to regain his tone after the shooting, and he looked damn good now. Not that he hadn't always looked beautiful to Hutch, even when he was underweight and his muscle tone was fading.

Now, though, he had that healthy, strong, Starsky look about him again. The scars were fading as scars generally do, and while someone who hadn't seen Starsky shirtless before would most likely give them a second look, they were just a part of the landscape to Hutch now. Fortunately, Starsky's own insecurity and self-consciousness about them seemed to have waned a bit in recent weeks.

"Oh, shit!" Starsky jumped when he turned and saw Hutch standing there. "What're you tryin' to do, give me a heart attack?" he challenged, breathing heavily from the surprise of Hutch just appearing behind him, his approach unheard.

"Sorry, babe," Hutch said, smiling. "I was just enjoying the scenery."

"Oh yeah?" Starsky moved over and slid his arms around Hutch's waist.

"Yeah." Hutch reached up and caressed Starsky's cheek. "I love you."

"I love you, too, you old blond blintz," Starsky said, turning his face to kiss the palm of Hutch's hand. Then he moved forward to capture Hutch's mouth, covering it with his, a hungry tongue demanding entry.

"Maybe we oughtta move this under the water?" Hutch suggested when his lips were momentarily free.

Together they moved toward the shower, finally stepping in and pulling the curtain closed. Bathing together had always seemed like their special retreat from the world. There was something about pulling the curtain closed, about the steamy closeness, that seemed to lock everything else outside, where it belonged.

Hutch took his time shampooing the thick curls, smiling when Starsky indulged in the endearing habit he had of slipping his arms around Hutch and resting his cheek against a wet shoulder while his hair was washed. Hutch smiled as Starsky purred low in his throat, thoroughly enjoying the feeling of Hutch's long fingers gently massaging his scalp.

"Tip back, babe," Hutch said softly, carefully rinsing Starsky's curls under the spray, shielding his eyes from the shampoo and water with a protective hand. He grabbed the towel he kept handy on the shower rod to blot the worst of the water from the soaked hair, which would trickle into Starsky's eyes for the rest of their shower if it wasn't absorbed now.

"Must be real easy not havin' so much hair to fiddle with all the time," Starsky observed, taking his turn at shampooing Hutch's hair--a project which, at his most languid, he couldn't drag out very long. Hutch's hair was fine and a little fragile, but there was still plenty of it for Starsky to bury his fingers in while he shampooed.

"Your hair is beautiful, Starsk. I've never seen anything like it," Hutch said honestly, feeling the wet curls with his fingertips. "When you used to wear it shorter--in the Academy and when we first went out on the streets?" Starsky nodded, cringing a little at the recollection of his old, rather flat-to-the-head look. "I used to wonder what would happen if you let it grow out, do what it wanted...the way it always curled up right away in the shower or in the rain."

"You were lookin' at my hair back then?"

"I never was with anyone who had hair like yours. Not so thick or curly. Most of the women I'd been with would have killed for hair like yours."

"A few inches of it is enough, babe. Some poor woman with a foot or so of this stuff would go nuts tryin' to beat it down," Starsky concluded with a chuckle, giving Hutch the same careful rinse job Hutch had given him. "Hope you don't mind if I don't grow it down to my shoulders."

"The thought had occurred to me," Hutch admitted. "What it would feel like...in bed."

"Me, with hair down to my shoulders?" Starsky laughed softly. "I'm not seein' it, buddy," Starsky concluded, soaping up his hands and using them to wash Hutch's arms and shoulders.

Tired of waiting, Hutch lathered up his own hands and started working his way over Starsky's slick flesh. They ended up bumping into each other, and their method was less than efficient, but neither was willing to wait for his turn to touch. Finally, Hutch's hand made its way down to cup the sensitive balls, feeling the velvety skin sliding beneath his soap-slippery hand. With Starsky's back to the spray, Hutch was shielded from the onslaught of water. He lowered himself to his knees and, after stroking the partially erect cock twice, engulfed it in his mouth.

Starsky braced himself with one hand on the tiles, the other gently caressing Hutch's head, encouraging the soft bobbing motion that accompanied the suction. Hutch knew just the right combination of motion and pressure that would send Starsky over the edge, dragging a phenomenal climax from the pit of his soul. He slid both hands up the back of Starsky's thighs and grasped the firm buttocks, kneading them as he worked the hard shaft.

"Aw, God, Hutch," Starsky groaned, barely able to contain the natural tendency to thrust. Hutch could feel the tenuous restraint and began moving a bit more himself, encouraging Starsky to let go just a little. His heart swelled with love at the gentle way Starsky used his mouth, even when he was being overwhelmed with passion. "So good, babe," Starsky managed just before he let out a loud shout of Hutch's name, then another, as he released his completion into his lover's waiting mouth.

Releasing the spent organ, Hutch kissed his way up Starsky's body, taking his time reaching the eager lips that latched onto his and kissed him before he had time to take the lead. Starsky's tongue was probing his mouth, tasting what Hutch had just done.

"Let me take care'a you, beautiful," Starsky whispered in a husky voice.

"In the bedroom, babe. I...I want to be inside you," Hutch said against a curl-shaded ear.

"Then we better get dried off, because somebody's gettin' tired of waiting," Starsky teased gently, reaching down to give Hutch's erect cock a quick, light stroke.

A few nights of wet pillowcases had convinced them that the time to thoroughly dry Starsky's hair was a worthy, though frustrating investment. Hutch happily assisted with the project, taking the opportunity to keep his cock interested by brushing it against the rounded cheeks that would soon be embracing it. He fought down the carnal thought of pushing Starsky forward right there in front of the bathroom counter and going at it...that could wait for another night when it was about playing. Tonight was about love and reaffirmation, and it had to be beautiful and gentle and perfect.

When they finally made it to the bedroom, Starsky impatiently yanked back the covers and pulled Hutch down with him into the bed.

"Calm down, babe. I wanna love you all night," Hutch said against Starsky's mouth before devouring it again.

"Not gonna last that long, Blondie," Starsky countered, thrusting up against Hutch.

"You can wait. You've fired one round already tonight," Hutch teased, kissing Starsky again. Then he began trailing feather-light kisses all over Starsky's face, loving the smile and the slightly scrunched up expression they caused. Then he was very still and waited for the dark lashes to flutter open again. "I love you, Starsk. Don't even think about the stupid shit I said last night, okay?"

"Already forgotten," Starsky assured, reaching up to touch Hutch's face, but Hutch intercepted the hand and kissed it.

"You know that's not true." Hutch knew he'd been forgiven, but he also knew that Starsky's emotional wounds ran deep, and for all his tough exterior, someone he loved had enormous power to slice into his heart with the wrong harsh words. "But I'm telling you now it was a load of crap, and I love how things are with us. Okay?" He kissed Starsky's hand again and smiled back at the grin that earned him.

"Okay," Starsky said agreeably. "On one condition," he added. At Hutch's puzzled expression, he waggled his eyebrows. "That you start kissin' more than my hand."

"If you insist," Hutch joked, releasing the hand and kissing Starsky's mouth again before moving down his chin to his throat, pausing at the side of his neck to create a bright passion mark.

"Watch it with the Nadasy routine, babe. It might show."

"Then somebody's gonna have to be sure his collar covers it," Hutch responded, kissing the mark. "Because I'm gonna eat you alive, and I might leave a little evidence behind."

Hutch planted wet kisses across the hair-dusted chest, pausing at the little nipple hiding on the right side. He took his time flicking it with his tongue, making Starsky groan and arch beneath him before sucking it into his mouth and working it in earnest. One of Starsky's hands was in his hair now, encouraging the suction, the other skimming over his shoulders and back. Warm, hairy thighs wrapped around his hips as Starsky thrust upward again, making Hutch release the little nub long enough to let out a low groan of pleasure. His cock was rock hard, ready for action, having waited through Starsky's completion in the shower and again on hold during this self-inflicted prolonged foreplay.

Hutch moved to the left side and found that little protrusion, subjecting it to the same sweet torture he'd given its mate. He finally slid his hands down and tried to still the thrusting hips, knowing that a few more undulations from Starsky and the party would be over before it started.

"Hutch...yeahhhh..." was the most eloquent thing Starsky could come up with to respond to the stimulation of nipples and the growing desire in lower regions.

Spurred on by the reaction, Hutch abandoned the nipple and kissed his way down the center of Starsky's chest, making the conscious determination not to treat the scarred area any differently tonight. Often, he made it a point to make love to the marred part of Starsky's flesh with particular enthusiasm in hopes of reassuring his lover that there was nothing unattractive about it. Tonight, he didn't want Starsky thinking about scars and bullets and near death experiences. He wanted him to think about love and being loved and nothing else.

He paused on the soft skin of Starsky's stomach, teasing the dark valley of navel with his tongue.

"Better try the one lower--I don't think you'll get in very far there," Starsky teased.

"Shithead," Hutch retorted, laughing against Starsky's stomach, making a somewhat unattractive sound in the process.

"You always sweet talk your lovers this way?" Starsky asked sweetly.

"I don't know. Can't say as I remember the others very well anymore," Hutch said sincerely, moving up to kiss Starsky again.

"You're real good with words, babe," Starsky whispered back, as if he wanted a reassurance that it wasn't just sweet talk.

"I am when it's the truth." Hutch leaned his forehead against Starsky's. "You captivate me," he said softly, and heard the little indrawn breath from Starsky. "No room to think about anybody else when I'm touching you." Before Starsky could respond to the romantic words, Hutch claimed his mouth again, lingering over this kiss until they parted, gasping.

Hutch moved back down again, kissing the soft skin beneath Starsky's navel as he pushed up on the underside of the sturdy thighs. Ignoring the hard shaft that stood among its nest of dark curls, Hutch moved lower still, nuzzling and kissing the tender skin of Starsky's perineum, dragging a little groan of pleasure out of his partner. Starsky knew where he was headed and what was coming.

The tip of Hutch's tongue teased the edges of the little pucker before carefully probing inside.

"Aw, God, Hutch...I'm gonna come.…"

"Not yet, you're not," Hutch responded in a firm, but gentle tone. Loving the groaning and wanton writhing his actions were causing, Hutch continued to dart his tongue in and out past the tight ring of muscle until Starsky was crying out his name, poised on the edge of his climax. "Shh, easy, babe. We've got a ways to go yet." Hutch moved up and kissed a flushed cheek. "Hang on for me, beautiful man. I want to enjoy you." He ran his tongue around the shell of Starsky's ear, then blew hotly into it.

"You're killin' me, babe," Starsky gasped, smiling and running his fingers along Hutch's cheek. "Love you so much."

"Words'll never cover it, buddy." Hutch kissed his forehead. "Let me show you."

He fumbled for the tube he knew would be stashed under the pillows and coated two fingers. As relaxed and eager as Starsky was, the preparation wouldn't be prolonged or difficult. Gently, he eased one finger inside the tight opening, circling, stretching, massaging, his free hand stroking the tender underside of Starsky's thigh. He knew better than to stroke the erect cock; Starsky was too close.

"Just a little more, babe. Just to get you ready," he said softly, withdrawing the single finger and returning with two, stretching and scissoring them inside the tight heat. Starsky wriggled a little but showed no signs of discomfort. His breathing was labored with passion and his internal muscles were clenching around Hutch's probing fingers.

Withdrawing, Hutch coated his own rigid shaft with a generous amount of the gel, then moved back up for one more kiss.

"I love you," he said against Starsky's mouth, then kissed him again before moving into position and aligning his cock with the slick opening. He pushed in slowly, letting Starsky's body adjust to the joining. Finally, he felt himself taken in the final inch.

Braced on his arms, he lowered himself until their chests almost touched, moving slowly in and out, his body demanding more but his heart wanting to prolong this--to show Starsky how much he was loved.

Starsky was never a passive partner, and tonight was no exception. He was clenching his internal muscles, wrapping his legs around Hutch and writhing in time with the thrusting. His hands slid up Hutch's chest until they stopped at the small nipples there, rubbing and rolling them until they were pebble-hard. Those warm hands on his chest and the incredible hot tightness around his cock was too much, and Hutch started pumping faster, unable to stifle the cries of pleasure that joined with Starsky's as they worked together toward their shared climax.

Still breathing heavily, his hair plastered to his head in sweaty strands, Hutch found the strength, somehow, to move up and support Starsky's quivering thighs on their descent from around his body to the mattress. Though the physical connection had been broken, the look they shared in that moment made it clear that the soul connection had been deepened...yet again.

Starsky reached up, and Hutch accepted the invitation to nestle into those warm arms, his head pillowed on Starsky's chest.

"Never think it's possible to love you more than I do, and then we make love." Starsky rested his head against Hutch's. "And somehow, when we get done, I love you more than I did before we started."

"Me too, babe," Hutch agreed tiredly.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah?" Hutch raised his head at the slightly more somber tone.

"I'm sorry I was holdin' out on you after Aunt Rose's party. You deserved some answers and I was evading 'em like any good perp," Starsky concluded, smiling.

"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to. I know if it had something to do with us, if I needed to know it, you'd level with me."

"I didn't say anything before because Ma wanted it that way." Starsky started to straighten a little and Hutch moved, both of them sitting up against the headboard.

"Your mother?" Hutch asked, frowning. Though he hadn't spent a lot of time with Rachel Starsky, one thing she always seemed was very forthright and honest.

"There're some things that are...family business, you know? This is one of 'em."

"What is, babe?" Hutch asked gently, reaching over and taking a hold of Starsky's hand, which closed gratefully on his.

"My father was still alive when I came out to live with Rose and Al."

"Then why...?"

"He had a really tough job, Hutch. He and his partner spent most of their time rousting small-time hoods who worked for the big bosses, and trying to find their way in to bust one of the big boys. It was as bad, probably worse, than what we do. It would be like fighting guys like Stryker and Amboy and Roper every damn day of the week."

"Were you in some sort of danger?"

"Well, I suppose we all were, bein' his family, and the way he went after those guys, but that wasn't what this was about. See, when Ma first married him, they had it really good--they were like the perfect couple, y'know? All hearts and flowers. When I was born, I guess things were still pretty good, and he was real happy about havin' a son, real proud."

"But something happened?"

"The job got worse, and he got in deeper...his first partner, the guy he was working with when I was born? He was shot and the department wasn't investigating it the way he thought they should--they said it was a suicide, but he said no, that it was murder, a retaliation hit for a bust that went down on some guy who was tryin' to take over Durniak's territory." Starsky snorted a little laugh. "So he knew it wasn't Durniak who ordered the hit--for once, they were on the same side, both wanting to see this guy in the joint."

"Were they close--your father and his partner?"

"Yeah, they went through the Academy together, and I don't think he ever really got over it. He worked with another partner, but it wasn't the same. The job was just as gritty and dangerous, but Ma said he was just never as passionate about it in a good way again, if that makes any sense. He was still as obsessed with it as ever, but I think he was always hopin' he was gonna uncover the big clue that would break the case of his partner's shooting. He never did," Starsky added, shrugging.

"I still don't understand what this has to do with you."

"He started drinking. I don't remember exactly when, because I was pretty little at the time, but I know that by the time I was old enough to wander around the house on my own...to remember things...he was coming home drunk sometimes. And he used to hit Ma on the times when he got really drunk."

"I'm sorry, buddy. I didn't know..."

"Nobody knew. Ma turned bruise excuses into an art form. People really believed her when she'd explain how she fell doing this, or ran into something doing that--she had an answer for everything, and nobody suspected my dad of anything." Starsky sighed and stared straight ahead. "In a sick sort of way, things went along pretty smoothly for a while. Dad did the job, brought home the paycheck, Ma kept house, took care of me and put up with him going out drinking a couple times a week--and sometimes gettin' drunk enough to hit her. I guess I'm what threw things out of balance."

"How?"

"Ma always told me to stay upstairs--that no matter what I heard, I should stay upstairs. I knew when she told me that it meant he was probably out drinking. Usually I did like I was told, but one night, when I was six, I went downstairs. Nicky was in a crib yet, so he couldn't go anyplace. I saw Pop hitting Ma and I just...I guess I lost it, as much as a six-year-old can lose it," he added, smiling a little sadly. "I yelled at him to leave her alone, started pulling on his arm, keeping him from hitting her again...and it worked. He stopped hitting her."

"Maybe you seeing it was a wake-up call for him."

"Well, not exactly. He stopped hitting Ma and went after me instead. I don't know why I was surprised when he smacked me across the face the first time--but y'know, little kids, their logic isn't as good as adults. You get in the way of a mad drunk and you're gonna get walloped." Starsky's hand flexed on Hutch's a little. "All I remember about that time was Ma screaming and trying to grab onto him, and I remember a lot of hitting. I know it hurt. I was home from school a few days after that."

"My God." Hutch covered their joined hands with his other hand. "Damn that son-of-a-bitch. I hope his ass is frying in Hell right now."

"The thing was, he didn't go back to hitting Ma. It was like he worked it out of his system when he worked me over. From then on, when I heard him go after Ma, I came downstairs, because I could handle a lot better him hitting me than I could listening to him hit her. If I went downstairs, I could make him stop hitting her," Starsky repeated, swallowing hard and wiping past his eyes with his free hand. "Shit, I didn't expect it to be so fucking hard to talk about after all'a this time."

"It was a trauma, babe. A little kid being treated that way. You probably haven't talked to many people about it."

"Not even Rose and Al, really. They knew, but not because I told 'em." Starsky took in a deep breath and seemed to regain his composure, which he'd never totally lost.

"If the first time happened when you were six, when did you move out here?"

"When I was nine--same age as Danny Jenkins."

"This went on for three years?"

"Give or take a few months, yeah." Starsky paused. "It's not like he was this falling down drunk who did this every night. It'd happen once, maybe twice, every few months, and he didn't always get all that drunk when he went out, or that violent--things just escalated sometimes. Ma said something, or he was drunker than usual...." Starsky shrugged.

"Something had to make her take action--get you out of there."

"Nicky was still little--he stayed upstairs like he was told. He was only four when I left home to come out here."

"It seemed like you two spent more time together than that."

"Yeah, well, he'd come out and visit sometimes, and after Pop died, I went back home for some visits--spent some summers there."

"What made your mother send you to live with Rose and Al?" Hutch prodded gently.

"I'd gotten in his way six, maybe seven times in the three years it went on, and the last time was the worst. He must'a come in later than usual because I was sound asleep, and I didn't even hear anything goin' on 'til a lot had happened." Starsky shook his head. "When Sally started talking about the 'bad sounds' today...I could hear them again. That night...he...he really...hurt her, Hutch," he managed, his voice breaking badly on the last words. His heart heavy with Starsky's pain, Hutch moved over and pulled him close, sheltering him in a tight embrace.

"It's okay, buddy. It's over now. I'm right here," he whispered softly, rocking a little.

"I wanted him dead," Starsky admitted miserably.

"That's pretty understandable. He hurt you and he hurt your mom."

"I went downstairs...I told Nicky to stay put because he was gonna follow me. When I got there, I saw him push her down on the couch...and he was...hitting her...."

"Take your time, babe. It's okay," Hutch soothed, stroking Starsky's hair gently.

"I ran over to him and just...jumped on his back and hung on. He couldn't get a good swipe at her with me on him like that." Starsky was quiet for several seconds, seeming to just soak up the gentle motion of Hutch's hand in his hair and the warmth of the arms that held him so securely. "I lost my grip and fell when he got up real fast." Starsky swallowed. "I don't remember much except waking up in the hospital and my right arm was in a cast and everything hurt like crazy."

"Didn't anyone do anything? You were hospitalized--"

"He was a cop, Hutch--and a good one. They said I fell down the basement stairs, and the doctor believed it. Or...if he didn't, he didn't have the balls to challenge it. Now, I'm not so sure."

"But he was drunk! How could a doctor take the word of a man who probably couldn't walk a straight line and reeked of booze?"

"Ma called Uncle Sol--he was my dad's brother--and he took me to the hospital and said it happened at his house, that I was over there staying with them. I did that sometimes because I was pretty close with my cousin, Frank, who was a year older than me. Ma and Pop came to the hospital in the morning."

"Your mother must have had bruises."

"I don't remember all that well. I had a concussion and my arm was broken in two places. I don't remember much of anything until about three days later when I got outta the hospital and never went home again."

"Never went home?"

"Aunt Rose and Uncle Al came with Ma to get me when I was released, and they went right from the hospital to the airport." Starsky shuddered a little at the memory. "I still remember Uncle Al tryin' to keep a good hold on me and not hurt me. I was screamin' for Ma...I didn't wanna leave her. Mostly, I didn't wanna leave her alone because I knew I wouldn't be there to help her anymore. I think I cried all the way to California on the plane."

"Did you ever see your father again?" Hutch asked softly, kissing the curls near his face.

"No," Starsky responded, his voice little more than a whisper. "I was so scared, Hutch."

"I know, love." Hutch was quiet a moment, just holding Starsky close and searching for something to say that might ease the pain of the old memories. "Thank God she got you out of there. And that she survived."

"I guess Uncle Sol had it out with my father--he was the oldest brother, and he always had a big influence on Pop when he was growin' up. Ma said he didn't hit her anymore after that, but I don't know if I believe that, or if she just didn't want me to feel bad."

"What about Nick?"

"The first time I tried to explain to Nick what had really happened, why I went to live in California...he called me a 'dirty fucking liar.' We didn't talk again for years. He wouldn't speak to me from the time he was sixteen until he was almost twenty. He loved Pop...idolized him...like he was some kind'a god or something."

"Your father never hit Nick then?"

"My dad was only really violent when he was drunk. He punished us sometimes when he was sober as a judge if we were actin' up, but it was punishment...not...not injury."

"That day, at my place when you came in and I was meditating, and you remembered something about your eighth birthday...you weren't just messing with my head, were you?"

"No, I really remembered it. I hadn't thought about it in years--that incident, I mean."

"What happened?"

"I don't wanna talk about that tonight, okay? I'm really tired."

"I understand, babe. You don't have to say any more than you want."

"Aunt Rose and Uncle Al were so good to me. I loved it out here once I got used to it. They spoiled me a lot, I know--not so much with material stuff...I mean, Al did okay with the car business, but we weren't rich or anything. Aunt Rose spent all kinds of time with me, we went on family vacations all the time...Uncle Al taught me everything I know about cars, bought me my first one...."

"I'm glad you had them. They're good people."

"The best." Starsky sighed heavily. "When we go to sleep tonight?"

"Yeah?"

"Don't let go, huh?"

"Never, babe. I'm right here. You wanna lie down and get comfortable?"

"Yeah, beats sittin' up all night." Once they were settled comfortably again, the lights out and the room in a restful darkness, Starsky said, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you before."

"I'm sorry I pushed you, babe. I just...I wanted to help. I can forgive you for not talking if you can forgive me for pushing you so hard."

"I could forgive you just about anything, blue eyes. But loving me so much that you need to know everything about me is okay."

"Good." Hutch chuckled softly, picking up Starsky's hand where it rested on his chest and kissing the fingers tenderly. "That's why you felt pretty angry about how Kay Jenkins handled things, huh?"

"Yeah. Ma could'a grabbed Pop's service revolver any one of a hundred times but she never did. It was always in his holster, hangin' on the back of his chair at the table before he'd go into work, or on the back'a the door in their bedroom...instead, she took the beatings. Not that that's a good solution either, but she didn't murder him, and she didn't blow his brains out in front'a me. She found a way to get me outta there, and I guess Uncle Sol straightened Pop out enough that she could get by."

"How'd you feel when your father died?" Hutch asked hesitantly, not knowing how painful that would be for Starsky, but still wanting to know.

"Relieved." He was quiet a few minutes, and Hutch almost thought that was the end of what he would say on the subject, but he finally spoke again. "I felt real guilty about that, but when I heard he was dead, I knew he couldn't hurt Ma anymore...and that he'd never make me go home. That was somethin' I used to have nightmares about. Al and Rose were so good to me...and I used to be afraid it would all end, and I'd have to go home...I'd wake up screamin' my head off, and Uncle Al used to come into my room and take me back to their room and let me sleep with them so I wouldn't be afraid of somebody comin' to get me in the middle of the night. Dumb, the things kids are afraid of."

"Those boogeymen are real to a child. Especially one who's been traumatized." Hutch ran his hand up and down Starsky's back in a soothing motion.

"It was real to me. I kept waitin' for it to happen. Uncle Al would always say that I should go to sleep, 'cause he was between me and anybody who'd come after me. I guess him bein' so big, I figured that was good enough, and I went to sleep," Starsky concluded, smiling, referring to his uncle's girth more than his height. Though he was slightly under six feet tall, he was heavy-set and stocky in build. "'Course Aunt Rose would always sing to me...some stupid show tune or somethin'--she didn't know any lullabies," he added, chortling.

"Explains your strange taste in music, Gordo," Hutch teased.

"I listen to you, don't I?" Starsky countered.

"I guess that would qualify," Hutch concurred, laughing.

"I was kidding, babe. You've got the most beautiful voice in the world."

"Don't let Aunt Rose hear you say that."

"I'm serious," Starsky rose up on one elbow. "Listenin' to you sing is my second favorite thing in the world."

"Gee, I wonder what the first is." Hutch reached up and pulled Starsky down for a long kiss.

"Maybe I oughtta demonstrate."

With that, Starsky pounced on his lover, and sleep was postponed for quite a while.

**********

"There are some things here that aren't adding up right," Mike Simons, the crime lab technician, stated. "First off, why wasn't the boy blood-spattered if the father was beating him when he was shot?" Mike pulled the child's pajamas out of a plastic bag. "We confiscated these when the child was taken into the emergency room for a routine exam after the shooting. There's only one small spot of the victim's blood on the shoulder of the pajamas, and that appears to be about the size of a thumb print." He opened the file. "According to her story, she shot him in the act of beating the child." He looked up. "That's impossible. If that were true, he'd have been covered, and so would these."

"Maybe she just got sick of taking the abuse herself," Hutch suggested, casting a quick glance at Starsky, who had been inordinately quiet during the discussion.

"Which puts us back to murder one, even if she's got a good story for the jury. You don't 'just grab' a hunting rifle and blow somebody away. She had to get it out of an upstairs gun cabinet, load it, take it downstairs and let him have it. Calling that 'heat of passion' or 'self-defense' depends on how good her lawyer is."

"Mrs. Jenkins' mother claims her daughter hated having the hunting guns in the house and never touched them," Hutch said, checking his notes. "I think she thought she was helping, but that doesn't look good. She had to learn how to use that gun in order to hit her target with that kind of precision on the first shot. If she didn't normally handle the gun, that meant she intended to use it for some purpose. I don't think she had taken up hunting recently."

"I think we need to pay Mrs. Jenkins another visit, and if that turns up empty, turn this over to the DA," Starsky concluded. "I'm figuring murder one."

"The kid didn't have any fresh bruises, did he?" Mike asked, looking through his notes.

"No he didn't," Hutch responded, leaning back against the counter.

"Doesn't look good for her, does it?" Mike shook his head. "You know, it's real hard to feel sorry for some bastard who smacks his family around. Makes you feel like giving her a medal instead of a warrant."

"Yeah, well, a lot of women get smacked around, and they don't solve the problem with a rifle in front of their kids," Starsky retorted, heading for the door. "It's still murder one, no matter how you slice it." He continued out the swinging doors of the lab, leaving Hutch standing there a bit awkwardly.

"Guess I hit a nerve there," Mike said, shrugging. "My sister used to date some jerk who slapped her around. My two brothers and I paid him a visit. Our only regret was that we had to leave the fucker breathing when we were finished."

"I didn't just hear that," Hutch responded, rolling his eyes and heading for the door.

"Just don't tell your partner. He'll probably have me on death row."

"You'll have to forgive Starsky. He tends to feel strongly about first degree murder," Hutch shot back sarcastically, as he pushed the door open to leave.

"Hey, Hutch, I didn't mean anything by it. Just a difference in opinion, right?"

"Right," Hutch said neutrally, still bristling a bit at Mike's remark about Starsky. Truthfully, it wasn't all that vicious by itself; Mike had no way of knowing Starsky's reasons for reacting as he did, and telling him would be the last thing Starsky would want. Deciding it was easier to leave things on a civil note, Hutch added, "Let us know if anything else turns up, huh?"

"Will do."

**********

Kay Jenkins was staying at her mother's place, and when Mrs. Sternowski led them into the living room where her daughter was reading to Sally, the younger woman looked up and shook her head.

"Apparently there was some part of my refusal to answer questions that you gentlemen didn't understand," she stated flatly. "My attorney is not present, and I'd like you to both leave."

"You don't have to say anything, Mrs. Jenkins." Starsky moved over to stand closer to the woman and child, holding steady eye contact with the suspect. He averted his eyes downward briefly, noticing that two large brown eyes were watching him, the small face troubled. "Hi, sweetheart. Remember me?" he asked, his whole demeanor transforming as he spoke to the child, who smiled a little and nodded. "Think you could go play with Grandma for a little while so we could talk to your mommy?" The child nodded and wriggled off her mother's lap, heading for her grandmother's outstretched hand. The older woman led her upstairs. "Mrs. Jenkins, we're here to level with you. The evidence isn't looking good for you, and our next logical step is to pursue first degree murder charges against you in the death of your husband. We're only here to offer you one final opportunity to talk with us--with or without your lawyer present, whichever you prefer."

"Or you'll charge me with murder? My husband was beating my son--"

"There's no evidence of that, ma'am," Hutch spoke up. "I'm not saying he didn't ever hit the boy, but there's no physical evidence to support your claim that he did it the night of the shooting."

"He has bruises--"

"Old bruises, Mrs. Jenkins." Starsky sat on the opposite end of the couch. "Look, it's not too hard to prove that you were in an abusive situation. There's a record a mile long of family disturbance calls for your address. You've still got bruises from whatever was going on the other night before the shooting. But that's not the point. The point is that your story about how your husband met his end isn't adding up, and once we make it official, you're going to be under arrest and answering questions downtown."

"If you have so much evidence, then I'd suggest you take it through the official channels. I have nothing more to say to you."

"That's your prerogative," Hutch said, looking at Starsky. "Let's go."

"You may not care what happens to you, but your kids are gonna be without a mother a lot longer if you don't start cooperatin' with us just a little bit, lady," Starsky said angrily, then turned and strode through the living room and out the front door.

"I don't appreciate being threatened," she said to Hutch.

"Believe it or not, he wasn't threatening you, Mrs. Jenkins. He was just telling you like it is, out of concern for your children. Murder one carries some heavy time with it. If you change your mind, you can reach us at this number." Hutch held out a card which she finally, reluctantly, accepted.

**********

When Hutch joined his partner in the Torino, Starsky was staring pensively through the windshield and didn't react to his presence.

"I know this is hard, Starsk, but you're going to have to back off a little. You went after Mike this morning, and your hardball approach in there didn't exactly get her to open up."

"Do you ever get the feeling she wants us to arrest her?"

"All I hear is her hiding behind her lawyer, which makes me think she has something significant to hide, but what do you mean?"

"She's antagonizing us." Starsky sighed. "She's doing everything she can to goad us into arresting her. Why?"

"Maybe she doesn't care what happens to her...maybe she doesn't feel any remorse...I don't know."

"Come on, Hutch, think about it. You've seen her with her kids. She loves 'em and they love her. She's gotta care about that. About being' with 'em if she can." Starsky ran a hand over his face tiredly. "I think she's protecting somebody."

"Who? The only other people in the house that night were the children." Hutch paused, then shot a shocked look at Starsky.

"The angle of the bullet entry and exit wounds indicates that she was either on the ground, or shorter than she is. According to her story, she was standing up. If she was, she couldn't've shot him at that angle. The shooter had to be shorter. I think we can eliminate Sally, obviously. That little girl couldn't pick up one of those guns, let alone fire it. But most men who are into guns and hunting wanna teach their sons how to handle one."

"Danny," Hutch said, nodding. "I wondered about it at first, but then I figured she was just using the abuse situation to get away with killing her husband. Express lane divorce."

"I knew how to shoot my father's revolver when I was seven," Starsky said, still not looking at Hutch. "He made a real big impression on me that it wasn't a toy, that you didn't aim and fire it unless you wanted the person on the other end dead. Lookin' back, he must've thought somebody was gonna be out to get him...maybe all of us, because he didn't just show it to me so I wasn't curious about it, he taught me how to shoot. And shoot well." Starsky paused. "It crossed my mind more than once to go get his gun and...and make him stop once and for all," he admitted quietly, his voice a little strained.

"Aw, buddy," Hutch muttered, reaching over and taking a hold of Starsky's hand where it rested on the car seat. The hand didn't move to grip his like it usually did.

"Danny probably knows how to handle his father's hunting guns, and he probably made up his mind that he was gonna end it."

"He's nine years old, Starsk."

"I was six years old the first time my father...the first time he hit me with his fists." Starsky closed his eyes and swallowed. "And by the time I was seven, I could fire his gun pretty damn straight. If I'd decided to take him out one'a the times he got drunk, I could've done it when I was younger than Danny. All I had to do was get my hands on that gun, aim and pull the trigger. All Danny had to do was take it out of an unlocked gun cabinet, load it, go downstairs and finish it."

"Which would explain why his mother was blood-spattered and he wasn't," Hutch added.

"She just lied to us about who got the beating and who did the shooting. She'd rather we arrested her than focus on the boy."

"What she's not thinking about is that while he'd probably be given counseling and maybe spend a little time in a facility of some sort designed to give him therapy or help, she'll spend the rest of her life in prison."

"Sometimes people protecting the people they love is the biggest disaster of all," Starsky said, more to himself than Hutch.

"You thinking about your dad?" Hutch probed, knowing very well that was what Starsky was thinking, but wanting to draw him out with the question.

"Sometimes I think if I'd stayed upstairs and minded my own business like I was told...." He swallowed, then looked down. "I think sometimes that maybe it wouldn't'a gotten so bad. I mean, he hit Ma, but at first, it was pushing and slapping stuff. Things you should never do to a lady, but stuff that didn't leave bruises like the Jenkins woman's got. I loved her and I couldn't just...watch it, y'know?"

"I know," Hutch tightened his grip on Starsky's hand, and this time the fingers curled around his in response.

"I provoked him, interfering like I did. He got madder, he got wilder.... Ma knew best how to handle him, but I wanted to protect her, and I...turned it into a bigger disaster..."

"Hey, you did what you did out of love," Hutch interrupted gently. "Don't blame that little boy for having the love and the instinct to protect his mother--and the courage to do it even when he knew he was out-classed in size and strength."

"I wonder sometimes if he...if he wouldn't've gotten shot if...if things hadn't been so bad at home. Maybe he was distracted and that's why--"

"Starsk, you said yourself it was mob-related. Joe Durniak even said so. Your father angered the wrong people, and he paid for it with his life. That had nothing to do with you. That was his job. Just like us getting in Amboy's face, or Stryker's...or Gunther's."

"Maybe he took more chances. Things were all messed up in our whole family. He and Uncle Sol were at each other's throats all'a the time after that. Ma said they never got along after Sol threatened him to shape up. He lost his partner...the one that mattered to him...and his family fell apart...."

"He tore his family apart, babe. You were his victim. Don't try to turn it around like he was yours."

"He's dead, Hutch," Starsky said, swallowing a little convulsively.

"And you're not--thank God your mother sent you out here when she did."

"He wouldn't've killed me. He wasn't some sort'a monster murderer or something."

"The blow to your head, accidental or not, could have killed you at a different angle. A lot of abuse-related deaths are accidental--at least, they aren't intentional murders. They're beatings gone wrong."

"There were long stretches of time where he didn't do anything like that. Times that...he was...we had some good times, Hutch. He wasn't some falling-down drunk, and he didn't hit Ma or me all the time," Starsky insisted, his voice strained.

"I know you loved your father, Starsk. And I know, from what you've always said, that he was good to you--sometimes. He and your mother had some good times before the job stress got to him...I'm not saying he was a monster, though anyone who hurt you like that...it's hard for me to see him as anything else. No one outside your household knew what was happening until you were hospitalized. Nobody could help. Maybe if someone could have helped, maybe if he'd had a good friend who could have given him a reality check...I don't know. Something might have done some good. You don't have to defend him to me, babe. And you don't have to justify loving him. We still love people who hurt us sometimes."

"I'm sorry," Starsky mumbled as he used his free hand to swipe at his eyes, trying to hold in the emotion that was obviously ready to break free.

"You wanna go home for lunch? We're about due for our break anyway." Hutch watched as Starsky nodded, swallowing hard. "You want me to drive, buddy?"

"I'm okay." Starsky squeezed his hand and withdrew, starting up the car.

**********

Why Starsky chose to go to Hutch's apartment for their lunch break, Hutch wasn't sure. They'd started out at Starsky's place that morning, and Hutch wasn't even sure he had anything worthwhile in the refrigerator. Truth be told, Hutch had primarily wanted to guide them somewhere private, somewhere he could finally respond to the raw pain in Starsky's eyes that he'd been prevented from assuaging earlier. He knew that holding and comforting his partner in the car in front of a suspect's home wasn't exactly acceptable behavior in their line of work, and doubted Starsky would have yielded to it anyway in such a public setting.

Now Starsky was out in the greenhouse, looking at the plants as if he hadn't seen them all numerous times before. Starsky liked the greenhouse and seemed to find a certain peace there among the lush foliage with the noonday sun making its way through the glass. Since they were still on duty, Hutch opened a couple of colas and took one out to his partner, leaving the beer for later. Starsky accepted the bottle with a small smile.

"None of it was your fault, babe. You know that, right?" Hutch asked, watching Starsky take a sip out of the bottle.

"Sometimes it feels like it. Like I...upset the balance."

"A man slapping his wife around isn't balanced. Little boys who love their mothers too much to watch them hurt aren't guilty of anything."

"Danny Jenkins is never gonna be right in the head after what happened. You don't blow your father away and then just go on like nothin' ever happened. Just...just because I thought about it sometimes...it was like this fantasy...y'know, like kids are supposed to imagine bein' Batman or Superman, goin' after the bad guy? I used t'think about what it would be like to shoot my father...kill the bad guy." Starsky set the bottle of pop on the plant shelf in front of where he stood, and Hutch saw his Adam's apple bobbing furiously as the first silent tears started.

"I'm here, babe," Hutch said gently, pulling Starsky into his arms and holding on tightly. The quiet tears got a bit louder as the first sobs escaped. "That's it, buddy. Let it go. It's okay."

"What kind...wh-what kinda person...wants to...shoot...his own...father?" Starsky managed.

"A scared little boy who knows how to handle a gun way too young and has been hurt too many times. A little boy who feels helpless to stop someone bigger and stronger from hurting his mother."

"Then somebody...shot him...and...." Starsky gave up on the words.

"And you felt guilty because you'd thought about doing it yourself." Hutch closed his eyes as he felt a violent shudder run through Starsky's body. "Aw, babe, you didn't do anything wrong. Nothing at all," Hutch repeated softly, patting Starsky's back lightly. "You didn't hurt your father. It wasn't your fault."

"I wanted him dead!" Starsky shouted, his hands flexing where they held Hutch's shirt in a death grip.

"Wanting someone dead doesn't kill them." Hutch turned his head and kissed Starsky's temple, then rested his head against the dark curls. "Did you ever cry for your father when he died?" Hutch asked carefully, feeling sure, deep in his heart, that he was riding out with Starsky the very first expressed grief.

"No," Starsky muttered in response. "Felt like...b-betraying Ma."

"But she mourned for him, didn't she?" He felt a nod against his shoulder. "It's okay to remember the good things about him, babe. It's okay to admit to yourself that you loved him," Hutch concluded, rocking them a little.

"He wasn't...always...like that," Starsky said, struggling to get the words out.

"I know. You've told me some of the good things about him, about the games of catch he played with you, how you used to help him shovel out the driveway after the big snowstorms, when he taught you how to make snowmen, going to Coney Island in the summer. He was a man with a lot of conflicted emotions and confusion and something...wrong inside that made him lash out and hurt his family. He was a man who needed some help, some counseling...and back then, cops were even less likely to get help from a department shrink, and men in general usually didn't get counseling for beating their families. They usually got away with it. Hell, too many of them still do."

"I got out here...and I...I wished...he wasn't my father. I...I wanted Uncle Al...to be my father."

"You wanted a father who'd love you and take care of you and teach you things--the kind of father your father started out to be before everything went sour."

"It still hurts, Hutch," Starsky admitted quietly. "Just thinkin' about it...."

"I know, buddy. I know it does." Hutch waited until Starsky had grown nearly silent in his arms. "Come on. Let's sit down, huh?" He guided Starsky toward the bench and they sat down. He retrieved the abandoned bottle of cola and kept it nearby, pulling out his handkerchief and blotting the moisture from the damp face that was resting against his shoulder. "Just relax, babe."

"We gotta get back to work."

"We haven't been signed out for lunch all that long, Starsk. We're okay. Here. Blow." He handed Starsky the handkerchief and smiled as his partner snorted a little laugh, but complied. "How about a drink, huh?"

"A double scotch'll work," he retorted, accepting the soft drink instead and taking a gulp. Then he straightened up and moved away a little. "I hate digging this shit up again."

"Maybe it's been buried too long." Hutch rested a hand on Starsky's back, then rubbed gently. "It has to be healthy to get rid of some of that old pain."

"Then why do I feel more fucked up now than I did before I started reliving all of it?"

"Because remembering it hurts almost as much as living it. Sometimes more. But after it's over, you're not running from it anymore. You've relived it, which is the thing you feared the most about remembering it--the pain. So there's nothing left to run from anymore. You've taken it on and dealt with it."

"Sounds real good, anyway."

"Isn't it a little liberating to have faced it again? To have met it head-on and survived?"

"Right now, it just...aches." Starsky swallowed. "Like a gut-punch. Maybe there're some things that just don't have an up side." Starsky sighed. "One of the dozens of things I love most about you is that you always wanna find the positive part of something, even if it's a fucking nightmare," Starsky added, smiling. "But there isn't a good part'a this, Hutch," he added, his smile disappearing. "My father's still dead, Danny Jenkins' father is still dead, and we still have to deal with this case." Starsky stood up and walked to the window, looking out at the city. "I always liked this place, because...things're so ugly and...and dangerous out there, and in here, it's like some kind'a paradise in the middle of it. All green leaves and sunshine...and you," Starsky added, a smile in his voice.

"You even like it at night, Gordo. No sunshine then," Hutch teased, walking over to join his lover at the window.

"There's still sunshine." Starsky turned toward Hutch, reaching up and cupping his cheek. "'Long as you're here."

"I wish I could do something to make this easier, babe," Hutch said honestly, covering the hand with his own, turning to kiss the palm.

"You are." Starsky paused. "I'm sorry I kept all'a this from you so long. God, Hutch, I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to...hide something from you. It's just that Ma tried so hard to keep it quiet. There're lots'a people in the family who don't even know for sure what happened there, why I ended up living with Rose and Al. Some of 'em think that Rose was so unhappy with no kids that Ma let me come out here to live with them because of that."

"But you know that you and your mother have nothing to be ashamed of, right?"

"Yeah, well, it's still sordid." Starsky sighed, moving away and returning to the bench, sitting again. "Bad enough that Durniak was always hangin' around, but on top of that, there's this."

"Why was he always hanging around?" Hutch frowned. "I thought he and your father just had a sort of grudging respect for each other."

"Joey ran his organization as fairly as a mob boss can run anything," Starsky said, leaning back on the bench as Hutch joined him. "He ran the territory my father patrolled when he was in uniform, and later, when he made plainclothes, he spent most of his time trying to figure out if he oughtta work on busting Joey or leavin' him where he was. The new guys who would've taken over were...bloodier, more violent, greedier. They turned whole neighborhoods into porno rows just to make more money, and they terrorized and beat up and killed shop owners who didn't sell out to 'em."

"Durniak didn't do any of that?"

"I'm sure he did his share. He was no altar boy." Starsky snorted a little laugh. "That's sorta funny, 'cause Grandma actually scolded him 'cause he was."

"What do you mean?"

"I vaguely remember this conversation that Pop and Joey were havin' this one time...Joey didn't show up at our place very much, but he did once in awhile. Usually late at night, usually after I was in bed. And I remember once, Grandma staying with us...I think they were painting her apartment or something. Anyway, she started readin' Joey the riot act, shaking her finger at him," Starsky recalled, smiling, "and then she said, 'you oughtta be ashamed of yourself, it would break your mama's heart to see her little altar boy making money off other people's sins'."

"Your grandmother had a dangerous quality of speaking her mind, didn't she?"

"My grandmother would've told off the devil himself. There wasn't a hell of a lot she was afraid of. Joey's mother and Grandma went to school together...I guess they were friends. His family were all Italian Catholic, real religious. Makes sense Joey was an altar boy back then." He looked at Hutch. "What'd Joey tell you--that day in the back of the truck?" In all the years since it'd happened, Starsky had never asked, and Hutch had never brought it up.

"What makes you ask that now?" Hutch couldn't help but ask. "After all these years...?"

"Guess I didn't wanna hear the answer. You were still speakin' to me afterwards, so I figured he didn't tell you anything too bad about us."

"Your family, you mean?" Hutch watched as Starsky nodded. "Starsk...nothing Durniak could have said would have made a difference to me." Hutch reached up and ran his fingers lightly into the dark curls of Starsky's hair. "It wouldn't have mattered what he told me. I wouldn't have loved you any less, or thought less of you."

"There're lots of things I wonder about sometimes. Things maybe I don't wanna know. Like some'a those names Joey was gonna name when he testified." Starsky was up and pacing again. "He said I wouldn't like it. He was worried about what I'd think of what he was saying, about how I'd feel. Why did he worry about that, Hutch? I mean, among the underworld scum, who could he name that he thought I'd be upset about?" Starsky turned to pin Hutch with an intent, somewhat pleading gaze.

"I don't know," Hutch finally responded, then added, a little hesitantly, "maybe somebody Nick was involved with. Maybe Nick himself?"

"Shit." Starsky turned away and started pacing again. "God, Hutch, what I did to Nicky," he said, shaking his head.

"What are you talking about?"

"I deserted him. He was right when he said I wasn't there for him. I got out, and you know what? I didn't have it in me to go back home and live there. There was no reason after Pop died for me not to stay there all the time. Ma was all for me stayin' out here with Rose and Al. She knew what kind of characters I would've ended up hangin' around with. Guys like Spider McGinniss, Big Billy Hayes--guys Nick ended up thinking were some kind of heroes."

"You don't think you got through to him at all when he was here? You think he's still into all that crap back in New York?"

"Aw, come off it, Hutch. Nick's a hood. You know that as well as I do. He's the kind of small-time hustler we either bust or use for an informant. You think for one minute he's not still sellin' hot stereos and peddling a little weed here and there?" Starsky rested his hands on his hips as he stared out the window. "I know he's got a good heart, that underneath all'a that tough guy crap, he's a good man. Deep down inside. He's my little brother and I'm always gonna love him, but he's all fucked up, Hutch, and a lotta that's my fault."

"You keep blaming yourself for things that happened when you were a child, Starsk. You weren't responsible for Nick. Your mother and father were. When your father was gone, Nick was your mother's responsibility--"

"It's not her fault how he turned out."

"I'm not saying it was her fault, Starsky, but I'm saying that it sure as hell wasn't yours. Your mother wanted you to have a good life, and the last thing she'd have wanted back then was for you to go back to New York and get drawn into all the crap Nick was into. Because that's what would have happened. Not you pulling Nick out of it--you'd have gotten pulled into it."

"Yeah, probably." Starsky sat at the small table where they often played chess, and fiddled with one of the pieces. "Maybe it's hard knowing' there was so much wrong with your family and you couldn't do a fucking thing about any of it."

"You got out, your mother survived, and you said yourself that Nick's basically a good man, even if he is doing some stuff that's on the wrong side of the law. It's not ideal, but it could be worse."

"I guess."

"You up to hittin' the road again?" Hutch asked, checking his watch.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Guess we better stop someplace and get some food, huh?" Starsky said, standing. Hutch walked over to meet him halfway.

"I love you," he said simply, pulling Starsky into a hug that was returned with a tight squeeze.

"I'm real glad about that, 'cause I love you, too, you old blond blintz."

"Y'know, Starsk, one of these days I'm gonna think of a nickname in retaliation to that one," Hutch said, chuckling and pulling back.

"Blintz?" Starsky asked, looking like the picture of innocence. Then, with surprising sincerity, he added, "The best blintzes are all golden on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside. That's how I always thought'a you."

"Maybe we can get out of work at a reasonable hour, get a decent bottle of wine and spend the evening in the sack," Hutch suggested, and Starsky grinned.

"Now there's an incentive for goin' back to work."

**********

Once the suggestion was made to Dobey that Danny Jenkins was their best suspect as the shooter, the pieces seemed to fall into place with remarkable ease. The child's height was consistent with the angle of the entry and exit wounds, the lack of blood on the child's pajamas versus the considerable amount on his mother's robe, and little Sally Jenkins' recollection of her brother being upstairs when she first heard the "bad sounds" all supported the conclusion.

Accompanied by a social worker from Child Welfare and a black-and-white unit, Starsky and Hutch made their way to Mrs. Sternowski's home to take the boy into custody.

"You okay, partner?" Hutch asked as they turned the final corner and headed for the house.

"I keep wondering how this is gonna mess this kid up if we're wrong."

"We're not wrong, buddy. Look at the evidence. The gun cabinet was upstairs--Mrs. Jenkins never could explain how it ended up being handy downstairs for her to use. It explains the prints wiped clean off the weapon except for hers--she wiped her son's off and then gripped the gun herself. It all makes sense."

"Maybe if my father had done as...as much, as often to my mother as this asshole did to Kay Jenkins...maybe if I'd gotten beatings as often as it looks like these kids did...." Starsky shrugged. "Maybe I'd'a done the same thing he did."

"Maybe so. But it wouldn't have been any favor to you, nor would it be to him, to let it go. You said yourself he'd never be 'right' after this, and maybe he won't. The thing is, there's really no hope for him to be a healthy, normal adult if he gets no help now after what he's done."

"Yeah, I guess." Starsky sounded entirely unconvinced as he pulled into the driveway, the squad car behind them, the social worker pulling up the rear in her deceptively non-threatening Chevy sedan. They hadn't had time to cut the engine before the curtain in the front window parted briefly, then dropped closed again.

"We better get a move on." Hutch got out of the car first, and the two detectives made the initial approach to the door as the uniformed officers hung back. The social worker, a young Hispanic woman with long, dark hair in a single large braid, joined them on the porch.

Mrs. Sternowski opened the door, eyeing them all with worry.

"Mrs. Sternowski, we'd like to speak to your daughter. May we come in?" Hutch asked.

"Do I have a choice?" she responded.

"We have a warrant, so we have the right to come in one way or the other, ma'am," Starsky replied, flashing the paper.

"You're arresting her?"

"Excuse me, ma'am," Starsky stepped in through the door past her and Hutch followed, the social worker close behind him. "Would you call your daughter, or should we go get her?"

"Kay! Come down here. The police are here," she called, and within moments, Kay Jenkins walked down the stairs, dressed in jeans and a sweater, her blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail.

"So now it's official?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Mrs. Jenkins, we're here to take Danny into custody for the shooting of your husband," Hutch stated.

"No, you can't be serious!" Mrs. Sternowski interjected. "He's just a little boy! This is monstrous!"

"We have plenty of evidence or we wouldn't be here." Starsky pinned Mrs. Jenkins with an intent gaze. "There are officers watching the house, so leaving other than through the front door isn't an option. Miss Hernandez will go upstairs with you. She's a social worker from Child Welfare. We want to be as...gentle with Danny as we can be. But we still have to take him out of here now."

"You're sick. Sick, perverted bastards, all of you!" she spat out angrily. "You can't put a case together against me so you take my son? I already told you I shot the son-of-a-bitch! What more do you want?"

"We want the truth," Hutch said simply. "And your account of the events of that night doesn't match the evidence. This conclusion does."

"He's nine years old!" she protested.

"Which is why I'm here, ma'am," Elena Hernandez spoke up. "Because he's a child. I'll take him with me, in my car. One of the detectives will ride with us. He'll be questioned only with the advice of a child psychologist, who has been called in to be present. We don't want to traumatize the boy any more than he already has been."

"You aren't going to question him. I'm calling my lawyer!"

"Then you'd best do it, because we're taking Danny into custody now," Hutch stated. "If you don't want to go get him, we will."

"You're going to pay for this! You haven't seen a lawsuit until you see what kind of charges I'll bring against the police for what you're doing to my son!"

"I'll get him," Mrs. Sternowski said softly, much to the horror of her daughter. "Right this way," she said to Miss Hernandez, who followed her.

"I want to go with him," Mrs. Jenkins said firmly. "You can't take him out of here, away from me, and not scare him to death."

"You can ride with him in Miss Hernandez's car."

"Why can't you just accept my confession?" she asked, her voice carrying a more desperate quality now. "You have a killer. Lock me up but leave him alone! He's just a child!"

"He's a child who committed a murder," Starsky responded. "He may have had some understandable reasons for doing what he did...we don't know all that yet--the investigation is still underway. But hiding what he did...that's not going to do him any good in the long run."

"Neither will going to jail! He's a child!"

"We don't put nine-year-olds in adult prisons, ma'am," Hutch said. "What ultimately happens with Danny's case will be up to the DA and the judge. Our job is bringing him in and presenting the evidence we have. I can tell you that destroying a child is never the goal in arresting one."

Mrs. Sternowski came down the steps hand in hand with her grandson, the social worker behind them. As soon as they were at the bottom of the stairs, the child rushed to his mother and held on tightly.

"I don't wanna go, Mom. Don't make me go!"

"We have to go, honey," she said, holding the boy close. "Mom's riding with you. We're going to go with Miss Hernandez and answer some questions. Everything will be okay."

"Hey, uh, maybe he'd like riding in the squad car better," Starsky suggested. "What do you think, Danny?" He crouched down low near the child, who eyed him suspiciously from his haven against his mother. "You ever see the inside of a real police car?" Starsky waited while the boy shook his head. "I know those two guys pretty well out there. I bet I could talk 'em into lettin' you turn on the lights and the siren for our ride downtown. Whaddya think, huh? Beats riding in a boring old car, doesn't it?" That drew a nod. "Is it okay if Mom rides with us?"

"Am I going to jail?" he asked directly.

"We don't put kids in jail, Danny. But you might have to stay somewhere besides home for a while. That's not up to us," Hutch spoke up, sensing that though he was young, Danny Jenkins was a bright child. He might be momentarily enthralled with the prospect of the inside of a squad car, but he was nobody's fool, and he'd grown up way too fast.

"I told him not to hurt my mom anymore, but he didn't listen," Danny stated, and Kay Jenkins covered her mouth, tears trailing down her cheeks as her other hand caressed her son's hair.

"Danny, no, don't say anymore, honey," she advised.

"I was gonna tell 'em anyway, because they were gonna put you in jail. I heard you and Grandma talking. Remember when I blamed Sally for breaking your blue lamp?"

"What?" The woman looked positively puzzled a moment, then memory dawned. "Y-yes," she said, nodding, though still confused.

"You said you weren't punishing me for breaking your lamp--that I was getting punished for lying and making Sally take the blame. You said you're supposed to tell the truth when you do something wrong so other people don't get blamed."

"Oh, Danny," she sobbed, pulling the boy into an embrace.

**********

Hutch lay staring at the ceiling, listening to the rain beating out a steady rhythm on the roof and the windows. The thunder and lightning were putting on quite a show, full of sound and fury, but through it all, Starsky slept soundly in his arms, only stirring a little at the loudest claps of thunder.

Their lovemaking had consisted of nothing more exotic than some humping and a shared hand job. Starsky had refused to relinquish full body contact long enough for anything more complex. Even now, he clung to Hutch like a lifeline, his face partially hidden against Hutch's neck, warm breath dancing over Hutch's collarbone with each exhalation.

His mind traveled back to that day in the back of the truck when he'd passed a few hours with Joe Durniak--an unnervingly likable man who probably had been responsible for as many people getting knocked off as some of the most notorious serial killers. Still, Durniak had that easy-going personality and a knack for storytelling in that gravelly voice of his that made it nearly impossible not to like him. Most of what Durniak shared with him were tales of the old days. Of running his territory in New York with a code of honor that the new guys just didn't understand. All he'd said about Mike Starsky was that he was a damn good cop who knew how to keep the peace in his district. He'd actually said very little about his connection to the Starskys, or why he'd paid for the funeral. Ironic that Starsky had made the arrangements for Durniak's. He and Starsky had been the lone mourners at the ceremony, since Durniak had sold out most of his cohorts and had no surviving family. Though the dead man's estate covered most of the expenses, Starsky paid for the spray of flowers on the casket himself. It all had a certain sad irony to it, a sense of coming full circle.

Still, Durniak had looked distinctly uncomfortable talking about Starsky's father, and Hutch never forgot the somewhat disconcerted look on Starsky's face when Durniak insisted Hutch ride in back with him. He'd spent a number of sleepless nights trying to imagine what it was he didn't know. He wondered now if Durniak knew about the abuse. If his glowing testimonial about the elder Starsky was merely an attempt to honor the family's almost obsessive desire to hide their dirty laundry. Hutch had felt uncomfortable with the odd eye-play between Starsky and Durniak, as if there was so much left unsaid beneath the surface....

"It's getting deeper," a sleepy voice said as one finger came up to trace the worry line between Hutch's eyebrows. Hutch caught the hand and kissed the fingertip.

"Just thinking."

"Supposed to be sleepin'," Starsky countered, yawning. "What's wrong? Back botherin' you lyin' flat?"

"Yeah, I probably better move," Hutch said, figuring blaming his cranky back was easier than opening up an uncomfortable conversation. Starsky kissed his neck and turned over on his side, which gave Hutch the attractive option of spooning around him. He did so quickly, savoring the physical connection.

"Better?"

"Terrific," Hutch said, kissing Starsky's shoulder.

"'Kay then, go t'sleep," Starsky mumbled, and within moments, he was snoring softly.

Hutch lay there holding Starsky's warm body close, figuring his worry line wasn't getting much of a break. Sleep was elusive, and too many questions plagued his detective's brain. He wondered how many answers Starsky had and hated that, for the first time in their lives, he just wasn't positive how open his partner was being. Though that thought plagued him uncomfortably as he drifted into a restless sleep, he found it impossible to be annoyed or angry with Starsky. He'd suffered more than enough for the sins of his father, and Hutch was not about to exact any more suffering from him for trying to keep them hidden.

**********

With Kay Jenkins, her attorney and Miss Hernandez present, Danny Jenkins made a full confession to Starsky and Hutch two days after his arrest. After lengthy discussion between the DA, the family's attorney and Child Welfare, the decision was reached that Danny would confess to the killing. Consequently, he would be placed in a facility for emotionally disturbed children until it was determined that he was not a threat to himself or others, and that he had received proper counseling for the trauma he had suffered--not only from the shooting itself but from the abuse which led to it.

"I heard my mom crying, and I knew Dad was hitting her," Danny began, his calm demeanor somewhat unsettling. His psychological evaluation had revealed that he had an above normal IQ for a child his age, and his articulate speech was clear evidence of that. "I tried to stop him before, but I wasn't big enough to do any good," he said, pausing.

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who was also seated at the conference table. His folded hands rested on the surface of the table and his eyes were closed. He'd insisted on being part of this session, but Hutch couldn't help but wonder what value there was in it.

"What did you do next?" Hutch prodded gently.

"I went to the gun cabinet and got the rifle. My dad taught me how to load it and shoot it. He never would let me quit practicing my shooting until I could hit the center of the target," he added. "We used to practice out behind Grandpa's house."

"My in-laws have a farm with some acreage," Kay Jenkins clarified quietly.

"I was thinking I'd just scare him...make him think I was gonna shoot. I thought maybe it would make him leave Mom alone. When I was up in the hall, Sally came out of her room, and I told her to go back to bed or I'd tell. She was afraid of that, so she went back in her room and closed the door. I didn't want her to follow me downstairs."

"What happened when you got downstairs?"

"Dad was yelling at Mom, hitting her, and she was crying and she couldn't get up--she was on the floor, and when she tried to get up, he hit her again. I told him to stop it, to leave her alone."

"Did he listen?" Hutch asked, shooting a look at Starsky out of the corner of his eye. The knuckles of the clenched hands were turning white.

"Sort of. He stopped, and then he started coming after me. That's when I shot him. The gun kinda went up 'cause I didn't have time to aim it and hold it just like he showed me."

"What did you do then?"

"My mom was screaming, and she went over to look at my dad. I went upstairs to make sure Sally stayed in bed, and then the police got there."

"I knew Andy was dead the minute he fell," Mrs. Jenkins spoke up, "and when Danny ran out of the room and went upstairs, I wiped off the gun and picked it up myself. Lying was never Danny's idea. I didn't want him going to some home somewhere," she said, her voice breaking. "He did it for me."

When Hutch stole a glance over at Starsky, he was rubbing the bridge of his nose, his Adam's apple bobbing a couple of times.

**********

"Are you okay?" Hutch asked, finally unable to leave the subject unexplored any longer. Starsky hadn't uttered a word since they'd signed out for the day and gotten into the car.

"Yeah, just tired."

"Your place or mine?" Hutch asked, trying to put a little levity into his voice.

"Yours," Starsky responded, his tone much more serious. "I don't think I can call Ma tonight." Starsky referred to his weekly telephone call to his mother. It was Friday night, and she'd be expecting it. "Could you call her...say something?"

"Will she worry too much if I say you're sick?"

"Not if you make it somethin' simple. Bad cold and I lost my voice, somethin' like that."

"Okay." Hutch didn't ask any more questions. It was Starsky who broke the silence again.

"He did the right thing," he said quietly. Hutch had to process that thought a moment before he fully realized what his partner was talking about.

"Danny?"

"He did it right. He took care of his mother. She's never gonna have to be afraid of that son-of-a-bitch again." Starsky let out a shaky sigh. "Me? I cut and ran. I left her there with him. Came out here and started over."

"Starsky, for God's sake, you were nine. You didn't have a choice!"

"I don't know how many times he hit her after I left." Starsky leaned an elbow on the car door, his forehead resting against his hand. "I wasn't there for her."

"You didn't make the decision to move. Your mother did."

"In my head, I know that." Starsky swallowed, then covered his heart with his hand. "In here, it feels wrong. Like I let her down. Like I should've known how to fix things. Here's this little kid the same age as me, and he took care of his mother."

"He still killed a man to do it."

"I know."

"There's no good ending for a situation like that unless it's intervention from the outside--help. A woman can only protect her children so much, and a child can only do so much to help his mother. Without someone helping...the family's bound to...implode. Just like yours, just like the Jenkins family, just like God knows how many other families all over the world."

"There's part'a me that knows that what this kid did was wrong. Shouldn't'a happened. I know I couldn't'a done it...at least, I don't think I could've. I don't think I could'a aimed at my father and...and pulled the trigger. This other part'a me thinks it's just as wrong for that jerk to be beatin' on his wife and that he got what he had coming."

"Danny's just a child. He'll get therapy, counseling...hopefully he'll get past this and be able to get on with his life someday." Hutch shook his head. "I don't know if he was right or wrong. I know when people take the law into their own hands, you've got chaos. I guess that means we have a stance we have to take." Hutch paused. "We've got the record of the domestic disturbance calls at that address. The guy was a real bastard. That's no surprise. Did he deserve what he got? Probably. But God help us if all the domestic violence victims in Bay City start firing shots at their abusers. Kay Jenkins never pressed charges. Not once. The system never had a chance to work because she never tried it."

"At least she had some options. Back in the fifties, a woman with two kids...married to a cop? A cop with a good reputation? If she'd made a call to the cops, they'd have laughed it off, sided with my dad, and that would've been the end of it. She knew it, too. Ma's always been pretty shrewd about stuff like that. Knowing what her options were."

"Yeah, well, Kay Jenkins had a lot more chances to change things for herself and her kids, and she didn't even try. She never tried leaving the guy, she never tried pressing charges, and she never tried getting her kids out of there. Your mother may not have had many choices, but she made the most of the ones she had. She got you out alive, and she kept Nick pretty safe, apparently."

"Nick wasn't even six years old when our father died. And he obeyed Ma and stayed upstairs, I guess. He never knew the real truth and he never wants to. So I gave up on telling him."

"Best I've got in the refrigerator are some eggs."

"Rainy night and eggs for dinner. You got the feelin' we've done all'a this before?" Starsky asked, one side of his mouth tugging upward in a grin.

"At least this time you're not fighting me."

"I didn't say that. We could order a pizza," Starsky countered as they got out of the car and sprinted toward Venice Place, trying to avoid getting soaked to the skin.

Once they were inside, Hutch turned on the lights and went to the kitchen to look in the refrigerator. As he'd predicted, the only fresh thing in sight was half a carton of eggs.

"I've got cheese, ham and onion," Hutch offered, checking out the rest of his supplies. "Huevos rancheros de Hutchinson. How about it?"

"Ham and cheese, huh?" Starsky thought on that for a minute. "Okay."

"Wash up and start dicing." Hutch put the meat, cheese and half an onion on the counter. There was something comforting and cozy about the ritual of preparing the meal together. Maybe Hutch found he felt a need for domestic peace in the midst of all the domestic violence they were facing.

Starsky washed his hands and started dutifully chopping onions, because he seemed better able to do it without tearing up than Hutch could. Hutch watched his lover working and got caught, earning him a sweet, slightly smug smile from Starsky. Despite his temper, despite his capacity to throw the fear of God into a perp at a moment's notice, Starsky was remarkably gentle. Even though theirs was a partnership of equals, he took care of Hutch and protected him solicitously whenever the chance arose--even if it was merely from the perils of chopping an onion. Hutch found himself unspeakably grateful to Rose and Al for the loving home they'd provided, and for the example they'd given Starsky. And to Rachel Starsky, for loving her son enough to do what was best for him, despite the fact that it had to be akin to cutting out her own heart.

"I should call your mother," Hutch said quietly. "You sure you don't want to talk to her?"

"Find out when she'll be home next week. I'll call her an extra time, before the usual Friday call. I just...I just don't want to talk with her tonight. She's gonna know something's up, and I don't want to get into this with her. Not now. She's happy, got a good life. I don't want to take her down a lot of old roads."

"Don't you think she goes down those roads plenty on her own, babe?" Hutch asked, resting a hand on Starsky's back.

"Yeah, but she's pretty good about movin' on." Starsky smiled, then shooed Hutch away. "Better get away from the onion, baby blue. Go call Ma. She likes talkin' to you anyway."

"Okay." Hutch patted Starsky's back and went into the living room to call Rachel Starsky and craft an excuse for his partner.

**********

Once Hutch had given his partner a re-cap of his conversation with Rachel Starsky, the remainder of dinner was eaten in comfortable silence. Dishes were cleared away and rinsed off with the exchange of just a few routine words. Once they were heading for the living room, Starsky spoke up as he landed on the couch.

"Ma sound okay?"

"Yeah, she sounded fine."

"You think she believed that I was sick?"

"She believed it."

"I hate lyin' to her. Don't think I've done it more than once or twice in my whole life."

"Just as well to wait to talk to her until you feel like it. She'd just worry more if she knew you were having a hard time with this."

"I s'pose." Starsky turned on the TV with the remote control. "I gotta get one'a these," he commented, settling back into the cushions. Hutch's old set had finally died a natural death, and he'd decided to upgrade to a remote control model when faced with buying a new one. Truth be told, Starsky had decided he needed a remote control, and since it was rare for Hutch to spend an evening on the couch without his other half nearby, he'd caved in fairly easily.

"Maybe for Hanukkah, if you're a good boy," Hutch joked, sitting down next to Starsky, running his arm behind him on the couch and slumping down a bit.

"I'm always a good boy," Starsky said, looking up at Hutch with a devilish grin.

"Give me that." Hutch took the remote and turned it off.

"Hey--that looked like a good show."

"Shut up." Hutch covered the protesting mouth with his own, and within moments, the lips beneath his relaxed and became pliant and welcoming. Pulling Starsky into his arms, he relaxed into exploring that warm, responsive mouth, one hand cupping the back of Starsky's head, the other arm winding around him. "I love you," he said against Starsky's mouth, smiling as Starsky did.

"Sometimes I want to make time stand still, y'know? It goes by too fast," Starsky said, reaching up to stroke Hutch's cheek lightly. "One lifetime isn't long enough."

"Guess you'll just have to clean up your act so you can follow me into Heaven," Hutch teased, kissing Starsky playfully, smiling and waiting for the indignant response.

"You're the one corrupting me and making me do unnatural things," Starsky teased, one hand moving down to cup the bulge in Hutch's jeans.

"That's me. Corruptor of the virtuous, defiler of virgins."

"Yeah, well, this defiled virgin ain't complainin', babe," Starsky responded, pulling Hutch with him until they were stretched out on the couch, Starsky somewhat squished against the back of it, with Hutch's longer body blanketing him.

"I seem to remember you doing a little defiling of your own," Hutch said, nipping at Starsky's earlobe.

"Had t'even the score, didn't I?" Starsky claimed a long kiss.

"We're keeping score now?" Hutch nuzzled Starsky's neck until he found a perfect spot to do his devilish business. He began working on a large passion mark, waiting for Starsky to give that little telltale undulation from beneath him, that gave away just how much he liked the hot suction on the tender skin of his neck. Starsky's hands grasped Hutch's shirt and pulled it out of his jeans, then began fumbling with the buttons.

"Somebody's in a hurry," Hutch whispered hotly against Starsky's ear, darting his tongue into it briefly.

"Oh, God."

"Not quite. Just me, love," Hutch responded, the gentleness of his tone reclaiming their earlier romantic mood.

"Just you. Just everything that matters," Starsky said, sliding both hands into Hutch's hair and drawing him down for a demanding kiss. "Want you so bad, Hutch," he muttered before another breath-stealing kiss.

"Maybe we ought to move to the bed, huh?" Hutch suggested, recalling that their last night of passion on the couch had ended with Starsky's ass getting more intimate with the coffee table than it did with Hutch, as he'd slid off the couch and bruised his butt on it before hitting the floor. Hutch had lost count of how many times he'd been called on to kiss that particular "boo-boo", and how many times he'd willingly complied. Still, a large, soft bed beat a narrow, lumpy couch any day.

They got up off the couch and moved about the apartment, turning off lights until they met again by the bed. The rain had subsided, and the moonlight was casting a silvery glow on the greenhouse and filtering through to the sleeping alcove. Starsky turned away a moment, tuning the little radio on the nightstand until he found an easy listening station. The soft instrumental strains from the tiny speaker wafted around them as they slowly undressed each other, worshiping each bit of revealed flesh with hands and mouths, making love as if they'd never made love before.

When both were naked, they pushed the covers back and lay on the bed.

"I wanna love all of you, babe," Starsky whispered against Hutch's mouth before moving down to the semi-erect cock where it rose from its nest of gold curls. "Love you, Blondie," Starsky said with a grin, kissing Hutch's thigh. Then, without further preliminaries, he engulfed the head of Hutch's cock in his mouth, one hand wrapping around the base while the other gently cupped and rolled the heavy sac beneath it.

Hutch let his head drop back on the softness of the pillow, moaning in pleasure as Starsky's talented mouth teased and pleasured him, his tongue at first dancing tantalizingly over the slit before moving down to take more of Hutch into his mouth. Grabbing fistfuls of the sheets, Hutch willed himself not to thrust upward too much. Starsky slid a hand beneath him and kneaded a buttock firmly.

"Ooh, yeah, babe, that's it...." Hutch murmured, finding himself moving with the motion of Starsky's mouth. The questing hand on his buttock moved lower, finding the valley there, a finger dancing over his center, probing until it lingered there and just rubbed at the wrinkled skin. "God, Starsk, more...." Hutch was trying to bear down on the finger at the same time he moved up into Starsky's mouth.

Unexpectedly, Starsky slowly withdrew, then moved up to whisper in Hutch's ear.

"You're gonna come while I'm inside you, babe." Then he moved in for a kiss, and Hutch pulled him tightly into his arms. When they parted, Starsky was smiling. "Guess that means you like the idea?" he teased, grinning and kissing Hutch again quickly before moving away to find the lube. Hutch took that opportunity to move up on all fours. "Talk about a room with a view," he quipped, kissing one exposed butt cheek before approaching the tight opening with a coated finger.

For as teasing and passionate as he could be, Starsky never rushed this part of the process. He carefully stretched and lubricated Hutch, stroking his hip and thigh, planting little kisses down his spine until he concentrated his efforts with those hot, moist lips on the soft skin of the pale, firm but fleshy buttocks.

Hutch moaned and whimpered at the stimulation, so much and yet so little where he felt the need the most. His straining cock was deliberately neglected--Starsky knew he was close, and he was determined they were going to come together.

Just when he thought he could take no more preliminaries, Starsky withdrew the stretching fingers, and Hutch could feel the motion behind him as his lover prepared himself. Then, a moment later, a blunt slickness was rubbing against his sensitized opening, then easing past the initial resistance.

Hutch exhaled and concentrated on relaxing. Starsky would never push until he knew Hutch was ready, and that peace of mind made relaxing for the penetration much easier. Starsky was moving in now, slowly and steadily, until they were fully joined.

"Wish I could get inside you and stay there forever," Starsky whispered against his back, kissing the soft skin there. "God, I love you, babe."

"You are inside me forever, Starsk. Always have been."

Starsky didn't have an answer for that. Instead, he reached down and gently massaged the neglected cock as he began to move slowly in and out of the slick passage.

"Come on, babe, let's move," Hutch urged, grabbing the brass headboard and thrusting back against his partner. He knew Starsky would take the counter-thrust as the playful, passionate challenge it was.

Taking his cue from Hutch, Starsky began moving more rapidly, going deeper, the bed rocking with their motion, their combined moans and grunts of pleasure drowning out the radio.

"Yeah, that's it," Hutch managed. "Harder."

With a groan, Starsky complied, angling his strokes to graze against Hutch's prostate, dragging shouts of pleasure from the pit of his soul. He could feel his body seizing up for release just as Starsky's moves became more erratic and frenzied. They came together, incoherent cries mingling until neither knew their origins.

Hutch slumped down flat on the bed, Starsky lying on his back, making a feeble effort to kiss his shoulder, tired fingers pulling damp blond hair back from his face. Warm lips found his cheek then, and he couldn't help but smile as Starsky's cheek rested against his own.

"Mmm," Starsky purred, nuzzling Hutch's cheek.

"That was good, babe," Hutch managed, stifling a yawn.

"Just 'good'?" Starsky prodded.

"Phenomenal. That better?"

"Yeah, that's more like it." Starsky moved enough to ease out of Hutch. "C'mere, Blintz." Starsky was on his side, and Hutch shifted to face him, accepting the waiting kiss and settling into Starsky's arms.

"Shit."

"What?" Starsky frowned, opening bleary eyes that were ready for sleep.

"I'm in the wet spot."

"It's your wet spot," Starsky countered.

"It's your fault I made one," Hutch shot back, and Starsky snorted something that resembled a laugh.

"Can't argue with that logic." Starsky hauled himself out of bed and staggered to the bathroom, finding a couple of towels. "Raise up." He stuck a bath towel over the offending spot. The other towel they used to clean themselves off.

"I suppose a washcloth would have been asking too much."

"It won't kill ya to be a little sticky," Starsky replied, yawning and settling back into bed.

"You're too good to me," Hutch shot back sarcastically.

"You want a washcloth, babe?" Starsky seemed to be rallying a little more now, and Hutch really didn't want to see him lose the lassitude of their lovemaking. He'd had a hellish few days, and if he was boneless and relaxed, Hutch wanted him to stay that way.

"Go to sleep, buddy. I'm fine." Hutch let Starsky quiet down, the two of them nestling together in each other's arms, before adding, "It's your belly hair tonight, but it'll be mine in the morning."

"Enjoy it," Starsky mumbled through a yawn, cuddling close to Hutch. "Love ya."

"Love you, too, babe." Hutch smiled and let himself drift.

**********

Hutch was reluctant to give up on sleep. He was warm, comfortable and relaxed...and Starsky-less. He pawed the sheets nearby, but the familiar form he was used to finding under his questing hand wasn't there. He heard music, and since he was somewhat discontented without his partner in his arms, he finally opened his eyes and confronted the new day. The music was coming from the little radio on the nightstand and Starsky was sitting on the edge of the bed, dressed in his favorite blue robe.

"I was hopin' you'd wake up pretty soon, Blondie," Starsky punctuated the love name by lifting a few stray strands of blond hair off Hutch's forehead. "Man, you sure are somethin'." There was so much love in the look Starsky was giving him that Hutch felt his breath catch in his throat when he met his lover's eyes. "Last night was really magical."

"It always is," Hutch responded, smiling and catching the hand that was in his hair, kissing it. "What're you doing up so early?"

"I dunno. Something woke me up and then I got thinking and couldn't go back to sleep."

"Case bothering you?" Hutch asked unnecessarily. He knew what was on Starsky's mind, enough so that he'd wriggled out of his usual phone conversation with his mother.

"Just a bunch of stuff I can't get out of my head." Starsky swallowed. "It's so stupid how you can go for years and not think so much about something, and then you get thinking about it again, and it won't go away."

"Pretty understandable how this case would get to you, buddy." Hutch slid up into a sitting position.

"Feelin' okay?" Starsky asked, concerned.

"I'm fine, babe. I know you were in there, but I'm fine," Hutch added with a chuckle. "You left the radio on."

"Didn't wanna wake you up. Guess we better make breakfast, huh?"

"We ate the eggs last night."

"We also ate the ham, cheese and onions, and toasted all'a the good pieces of bread."

"Guess we better start out early enough to stop for breakfast," Hutch suggested, getting out of bed, kissing Starsky on the end of his nose as he moved past him, heading for the bathroom.

"Who died and gave you automatic first turn in the shower?" Starsky challenged.

"If you don't want me to go first, you better get in with me, stinky," Hutch shot back.

"You didn't think I was stinky last night," Starsky challenged, pouting a little as he followed Hutch into the bathroom.

"My brain was clouded with passion. Besides, everything that smells sexy at night is stinky in the morning."

"Damn, if those aren't words to live by," Starsky quipped, laughing.

The two men shared a quick shower, foregoing anything more exotic than a shared hand job in deference to the need for breakfast. As they moved about the bedroom with the coordination of two well-practiced dancers, grabbing fresh underwear and clothing and putting it on without seeming to get in each other's way, Starsky noticed the radio was still playing quietly near the bed. He reached to turn it off and paused. Then he turned it up instead. Moving back toward Hutch, he wound his arms around the firm body from behind.

"You're tonin' up real nice, babe," Starsky said against Hutch's ear. Hutch could feel the hot blush spreading across his face. He'd worked hard to get back into shape, and was finding it more and more of a challenge to keep the body he'd taken for granted several years ago. "'Course, I loved your love handles, too. Just more'a that gorgeous skin of yours to love."

"We're gonna be late, Starsk," Hutch managed, trying to dislodge the arms that were keeping him from buttoning the last few buttons on his shirt.

"Dance with me."

"Starsky, we're gonna be late if--"

"We've got now, Hutch. I don't want to wait for tonight. Dance with me."

"What's wrong, buddy?" Hutch asked gently, turning in Starsky's embrace.

"When something means a lot to me now, something I really wanna do? I don't like putting it off for later." Starsky paused, then looked Hutch in the eyes. "Sometimes, you do that, and then later doesn't come."

"Don't say that," Hutch responded quickly. "God, Starsk, don't say things like that." He framed Starsky's face with both hands. "See, if you don't have a 'later', I don't either."

"Then dance with me. I wanna dance with you right now, to this song."

"I suppose you want to lead?" Hutch teased, smiling.

"Don't care. Just want to hold you." Starsky illustrated his point by winding an arm around Hutch's neck, the other latching onto Hutch's hand and holding it close to his heart. "I saw this movie when I was off work, and I got sick--remember?" Hutch nodded, remembering the flu that had sidelined Starsky on his first foray back into nightlife. "All I could think about was you."

"'Love Story'? I guess that's us, huh?" Hutch responded, kissing Starsky's cheek, loving the smile that earned him.

Starsky straightened a little as they swayed slowly to the music, and then a warm mouth was near Hutch's ear, and that light, sweet singing voice of Starsky's was wrapping itself around the words of the song.

He fills my heart with very special things
With angel songs, with wild imaginings
He fills my soul with so much love
That anywhere I go, I'm never lonely
With him along, who could be lonely
I reach for his hand, it's always there.

How long does it last?
Can love be measured by the hours in a day?
I have no answers now but this much I can say
I know I'll need him till the stars all burn away
And he'll be there.

Long after the song ended, they stood there in each other's arms, still swaying a little, despite the fact that the radio was now broadcasting the morning news report.

"That was beautiful," Hutch whispered, tightening his embrace.

"This is beautiful. Just bein' with you." Starsky pulled back a little. "Sometimes 'now' is what matters most, because it's for sure."

"I want you now," Hutch leaned in for a kiss, "later," another kiss, "and until we're so fucking old that we can't dance without banging our walkers together."

"Even when I'm old, I think I can figure out somethin' better to bang than your walker," Starsky quipped, patting Hutch's butt before kissing him one last time and breaking their embrace. "But I like the idea of all'a those years, just you and me."

"It's always been just you and me, buddy. Me and thee, remember?"

"Always," Starsky responded, smiling softly, the expression incongruous with the gesture of handing Hutch the holster that carried his weapon. Love and guns...they certainly could come together in some strange ways.

**********

Danny Jenkins was en route to a juvenile psychiatric facility within the week. It was a nice place, and everyone involved with the case felt satisfied that the child would receive counseling and care there. Still, the child's mother was devastated at being separated from her son, and Starsky still struggled with the feeling that a young boy was being punished for doing something to defend his mother--and that his mother should have done something to change the situation before it escalated to such a horrific climax.

Starsky forced himself to concentrate on the report in front of him as he sat at his desk. Hutch was hunting and pecking his way through a number of forms, and Starsky's job was the report on the arrest of a purse snatcher earlier that afternoon.

Danny Jenkins was incarcerated, his father was dead, life went on.

"You want anything?" Starsky asked Hutch, standing and digging in his pocket for change.

"Grab me a soda, huh?"

"Okay." Starsky made his way to the hall, pushing the swinging doors open and wandering to the soft drink machine, still counting his coins.

"Detective Starsky?" A woman's voice startled him. He looked up to see Kay Jenkins standing there.

"Mrs. Jenkins," he said, a little puzzled.

"Could we talk a moment?" she asked, casting an eye around them.

"Sure. There's an interview room right down the hall. Would you like anything?" Starsky gestured at the machines, but she shook her head. Together, they walked down the hall and into the small interrogation room.

"I got a letter from Danny today," she began, sitting down. "He wrote it as soon as he arrived."

"How's he sound?" Starsky asked, sitting. He wasn't sure where this was leading.

"He's such a...little man," she said, smiling. "He'd never tell me if he was miserable. He'd want me to be happy and not worry."

"For what it's worth, I think Danny's a good kid." Starsky paused, weighing his next words carefully, but feeling they needed to be said. "I understand why he did what he did."

"I know you do," she responded. "I saw how you reacted to his statement. And after some of the things you said to me that day when you came to my mother's...you sounded like someone who'd been there." She seemed to hesitate, then continued. "I hope everything worked out all right in your situation."

"More or less," Starsky said cryptically. He'd only recently shared his memories with Hutch; he wasn't ready to discuss them with virtual strangers.

"I guess I mainly wanted to thank you for getting Danny into a good place, instead of one of those horrible juvenile homes."

"That was up to the DA and the judge."

"But I know you and your partner helped."

"We did our best to support that idea," he admitted. "Putting a nine-year-old in a detention facility isn't the best way to go if you can avoid it. They learn more criminal behavior there than they probably knew before." Starsky paused. "How's Sally doin'?" He smiled. "She's a great little kid."

"She is," Kay confirmed, smiling brightly. "I think she's doing okay. She misses her big brother, and it's hard to explain all of this to her--especially about Andy." She sighed and raised her eyebrows a little. "Sometimes I don't understand about Andy." She smiled again slightly, and started to get up.

"Mrs. Jenkins?" Starsky's question halted her progress, and she remained seated. "I know this is probably none'a my business, but...I'd still like to know."

"What?"

"Why did you stay with him? Why didn't you press charges one of the times the cops showed up for a domestic disturbance call?"

"Loaded question, Detective," she responded, visibly impacted by the thought of trying to explain it.

"I shouldn't have asked," Starsky said quickly, feeling a bit guilty at using this woman to gain an insight into his own mother's motives. He'd never pose such a question to her; it would make her feel as if he blamed her. Nothing was further from the truth.

"No, I think you have a right to know. After all, I do know that I narrowly escaped being charged myself for concealing evidence. I guess those good words you must have put in for me, too, should entitle you to some answers."

"Any good words we put in for you, we believed in. You don't owe us for that."

"I loved him. It sounds so lame and so...school-girlish to say that's the reason you let a man beat you and hurt your children. But it's the truth. When you love someone so much..." She paused, swallowing hard. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I shouldn't have asked--"

"No, it's just...hard." She pulled a tissue out of her purse and dabbed at her eyes. "I know that when Danny did what he did, I should have been relieved. I should have been happy. But now all I can think about is how things used to be, before everything fell apart. I loved him so much. When you love someone so much that you'd die for them without a moment's thought, when they're everything in the world to you, sometimes taking a few blows to stay with them doesn't seem that impossible. He only got that violent when he was drunk, and he'd be so sorry the next day. Things would be really good for a while, and...and when we made up, it was almost like having a honeymoon all over again."

"What about the kids?"

"That's the part of this I can't forgive myself for. Probably don't deserve to be forgiven for it. I loved him too much to walk away, to put him in jail, to end it. So I stayed, and I didn't do a very good job protecting Danny and Sally. Especially Danny. He's older, he's an active little boy, and he gets into the kind of trouble little boys do, and when Andy had a few drinks under his belt and Danny got into something...." She shook her head. "Sometimes he just talked back or didn't do something he was told, and it set Andy off. Andy always had a violent temper. I knew that when I married him. The worst thing he'd ever done before we got married was grab my arm really hard once, and then he apologized for it for two straight weeks." She twisted the tissue in her hands, then looked up at Starsky. "When you love someone more than your own life, when you think you can't live without them, it's amazing what kind of a hold they have on you."

The words chilled Starsky at the same time they made a sort of tragic sense. If Hutch turned on him tomorrow and beat him to a pulp and he were unable to defend himself effectively, would he walk away at the first opportunity, or would leaving hurt more than the bruises? Would he cling to the hollow apologies and impossible promises that it would never happen again? The answer was frightening, and the understanding it brought dispelled the need for any further questions. He offered silent thanks that he loved someone that intensely who would easily choose hurting himself over hurting Starsky.

"Love is a powerful thing," he said, still reeling a bit himself from that revelation.

"It can be a prison of sorts. There are no bars and no locks, but getting out of it is just as impossible." She stood up now, and Starsky did the same. "It's strange how much I miss him. Things were so difficult these last few years, it was hard to focus on the good things. But I miss him so much. How twisted is that?" she asked, mostly rhetorically.

"Sounds pretty human to me." Starsky hesitated, then added, "My mother lived through a lot before...things ended. I'm sorry if I pried with what I asked you. I just didn't know how to ask her."

"She finally left your father?"

"No, he was killed in the line of duty. I don't know how long she would have stayed."

"What about you?"

"Me? I was living with other relatives by then."

"She did the right thing for you, anyway," she said sadly. "I wish I could have had the courage to do that for Danny. Sally was so little yet, and Andy never really hit her. I'm not sure why he didn't, but I was always grateful for that."

"I hope everything works out okay for you and your kids."

"Thanks. I'm going up to see Danny next weekend. They didn't want me to visit right away, but they said I could see him then. Thank you again for doing what you could to watch out for him."

"I'm glad it worked out. Take care of yourself--and those kids," Starsky added with a smile.

"I will." She returned the smile, then turned and walked down the hall and through the swinging doors leading to the stairs.

"Thought you got your arm caught in the soda machine again," Hutch quipped, coming up behind Starsky, who jumped a little at his approach. "Hey, you okay, buddy?"

"Yeah. Uh, that was Kay Jenkins."

"What did she want?" Hutch frowned a little.

"Just to say thanks for helping get Danny where he is, instead of a juvenile home."

"He's better off where he is. But she ought to be thanking the judge, not us."

"She knows we put in a good word for him. How much longer d'you need to get through that paperwork?"

"Couple hours. There's something else, isn't there?"

"Guess I just learned a lesson or two from talkin' to her. You mind if I leave early? I wanna go home and call Ma."

"No, I can finish up here. You want me to come by when I get done?"

Starsky just cocked his head and smiled, as if Hutch questioning that he should do precisely that, was the most absurd and needless query ever made.

"See you at home tonight then," Hutch replied, grinning and patting Starsky's shoulder before returning to the squadroom.

I'd do anything, be anything, endure anything for you. I'd die for you. If you had it in you to hurt me like that, would I still love you? God help me, I could stop breathing easier than I could stop loving you no matter what you did, were or became.

Starsky shoved his hands in his pockets and headed for the exit.

**********

Starsky picked up the telephone and dialed the familiar number. It rang quite a few times, but finally his mother's voice came over the line.

"Hello?"

"Ma?"

"David! Are you feeling better, honey? I tried to call you earlier but there was no answer, so I thought you must be back to work."

"Ma, I...I lied about bein' sick." Starsky wasn't sure what he was going to tell her was the reason, but lying to his mother was something he almost never did, and on the rare occasions he had, it ate at him until he confessed.

"Why?" The question wasn't angry or accusatory. She sounded more worried than anything else.

"I was kind of havin' a bad night and, uh, Hutch was willing to call for me." He struggled for the right thing to say next, and decided on the truth. "We've been working this case about a lady and her kids...the husband was drinking and..." He paused again, not sure how to go on, but his mother was as perceptive as always.

"It brought back some bad memories from when you were a little boy?" she asked gently.

"I told Hutch, Ma. I couldn't help it. He knew somethin' was up and I...I needed t'tell him. I know you said it was family business, but--"

"Hutch is family, honey. I know that." Then she asked, "What happened in this case you were working on?"

"There was a little girl, just four, and a little boy, nine. The father had hunting guns in the house, and he taught the boy how to shoot.... One night when his father was beating on his mother, he shot him."

"Oh, no," she muttered. "That poor child."

"I got thinking about how...how he fixed it for her. He took care of her, Ma. She doesn't have to ever get hurt by that guy again." Starsky felt his voice breaking and fought to maintain some control. "I'm sorry I left you, Ma. I'm sorry I...."

"Oh, honey, don't," she said, her own voice cracking a little. "You were a little boy. You did your best. It wasn't your fault." There was a long, painful silence. "It was mine."

"No, Ma, it wasn't your fault either. But I should'a done something more for you--"

"David, you were my little hero. You never let your father hurt me badly. I didn't want you to come downstairs and...and I didn't want you to be hurt," she added, tears in her voice. "You took the hurt yourself to protect me. There's no greater love you can give someone than to take pain for them."

"But I left you there," Starsky countered, angry that he wasn't better able to keep his voice steady as he wiped at his eyes. "I went with Rose and Al and I stayed out here and I didn't look back."

"That wasn't your decision. You didn't want to go. I remember how hard it was for Al to hold you back and drag you to that plane. Nothing in my life has ever made me as happy as it did to know that you were happy. That you were safe. You were safe from your father, and then later, safe from...from growing up without him. You had the kind of life you could have never had here."

"I shoulda done more. Somethin' to help you so he didn't--"

"Honey, you did. You stood up for me, even when you were too little. After what happened, after you moved away...things changed with your father. When Sol talked to him, something changed. Whatever he said got through to him."

"You're trying to tell me he never hit you again?"

"No, David, I can't tell you that. He really tried." She paused, swallowing audibly. "I think he always hoped we could be a family again, if things changed enough at home. He did love you, even though things were so...so bad at the end."

"Ma, I know you always told me things weren't so bad with Pop after I left, but I gotta know if you're tellin' me the truth, or just tryin' to make me feel better."

"He did his best, David. He didn't mean to hurt any of us."

"But he didn't stop, did he?"

"He stopped," she said softly.

"As long as he was alive, he didn't stop, did he?"

"He never laid a hand on your brother. I saw to that."

"I knew it." Starsky was up and pacing now, carrying the phone. "I knew I shoulda never left you like that."

"I needed more help that you could give me, David. It was beyond what a child could do and you didn't accept that, and that's why I had to get you out of there."

"Why didn't you leave him, Ma? Take Nicky and go stay with some'a the relatives? Come out to Rose and Al's and--"

"Stop it!" she snapped back unexpectedly, making Starsky flinch a little at the loudness and the sharp tone. His mother rarely raised her voice, but when she did, it was for a good reason. "It's over, it's history, and it's done. Your father is dead. Let him rest in peace."

"But, Ma, I'm just--"

"You're just reliving a lot of old pain for no good reason. You're forgetting all the good things your father was--"

"He abused you!"

"That's enough! You don't know anything about what my life was like back then. You don't know anything about what was going on, or why I had to handle things the way I did. It's over. It's in the past. Let go of it!"

"I know it was hard for a woman on her own with kids, but we had Uncle Al and Aunt Rose, and they have a big house, and you know they would've let you and Nicky move in, too--"

"Oh, David, you're looking at this through the simplistic eyes of a little boy. You're a man now. You know that very few things in this life are ever that easy. Rose and Al weren't responsible for my life and for my mistakes. I was. Nicky loved your father, and imperfect as it was, we still had a family. Nicky stayed upstairs like I told him, and we got by."

"You sent me away because I was causing trouble, is that it? Ma, I love you. I couldn't stay upstairs and let him hurt you like that!"

"Why are you doing this?" she asked, her voice sad and defeated now, with a faint tremor. "David, I did the best I could. I didn't do what all the women's rights people would tell me I should have done, but times were different. People took marriage seriously, as a lifelong commitment. Keeping a family together was important. There were a lot of reasons I couldn't leave your father. I did the best I could--"

"I'm not blaming you, Ma. I just want to understand this."

"Maybe you can't. You aren't a woman, and times have changed. Maybe you just have to let it lie. You didn't do anything wrong, and you have nothing to feel guilty about."

"Neither do you, Ma. I...I don't want it to sound like I blame you or I'm judging you. It's just that this case...seeing this woman and everything she went through, it makes me realize how bad things were for you, and I guess I wanna go back and fix it somehow. Understand how you could still love him--"

"I did what I had to do. Please, David. Let it go."

"Okay, Ma." Starsky sighed as he sat back down on the couch. "I'll call you Friday, usual time, huh?"

"I'll be here, honey," she said, her tone softening considerably.

"I love you."

"I love you, too. Be careful now. Give Hutch a hug for me."

"Yeah, okay," he responded, chuckling a little. His mother was working hard to come to terms with the new dimension of his partnership with Hutch, and little comments like those were a small way she showed her acceptance. "'Bye, Ma."

"'Bye, honey."

Starsky hung up the phone and stared at it. Leaning back into the cushions of the couch, he felt no more resolved than he had before he called. In some ways, he felt worse.

**********

Hutch walked through the front door of Starsky's apartment carrying an armload of groceries.

"Honey, I'm home!" he called out jokingly, kicking the door shut. It wasn't until then he noticed the slumped figure on the couch, dark curls resting against the bright afghan. "Starsk?"

"What time is it?" Starsky straightened a little in the seat, squinting at his watch in the shadowy apartment.

"Almost seven. I called to tell you I was gonna be a little late, but there was no answer."

"I must've just ignored the phone. I was thinking."

"Anything wrong?" Hutch set the two bags on the counter and walked into the living room, sitting on the other end of the couch.

"I called Ma."

"You talked to her about...things with your father?"

"Yeah. She got pretty upset. Wanted me to back off. I don't know what it is, Hutch, but somethin's not right."

"How do you mean?"

"There's something she's not telling me. I know Ma pretty well, and there's something she won't say."

"Sometimes it's a little difficult for people to talk over their marriage relationship with their children. It's a little...unnatural. At least, I can see how it would feel that way."

"I understand that."

"But it doesn't answer your questions."

"Not really. I know her, Hutch. I know how she reacts to things. This isn't like her." Starsky stood and walked over to the table to look in the bags.

"You probably just caught her off guard."

"Yeah, maybe."

Hutch moved up behind him and slid his arms around the body that was stiff with tension.

"This has to be hard for your mother to relive, too," he suggested gently. Starsky sighed and leaned back into the embrace.

"There's this missing piece'a the puzzle, Hutch. The rest of this isn't fitting together right. Guess it's just a gut feeling."

"What do you want to do about it, buddy?" Hutch asked, moving away and starting to unpack the groceries.

"I wanna go to New York."

Hutch froze in his movements, a box of crackers suspended in his hand, interrupted in its journey from bag to table top.

"You think talking to your mother in person is going to solve something?"

"My mother's not the only Starsky still alive out there. My Uncle Sol is still alive, and some'a the other relatives." Starsky paused. "And some'a the cops who worked with my dad when he was killed have gotta still be there."

"You want to re-open that whole can of worms, don't you? What about your mother and Nick? You've been afraid for them--for what would happen if you probed into your father's death."

"I've been a cop a long time, Hutch. We both have. And after all those years, we've got instincts." Starsky walked over to the window and stared outside a moment before speaking again. "And all my instincts tell me that somethin' doesn't smell right here. I'm never gonna rest until I know what it is."

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2...

**********

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Next week on Starsky & Hutch:
"Echoes of the Past, Part Two," by Candy Apple

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