Echoes of the Past, Part One
by Candy Apple

SHSVS, Episode 7
Part 2

Back to Part 1

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!"

On to Part 3

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