To Bear Witness
by Keri T.

SHSVS, Episode 605

**********

"Did you know it rains more than 255 days a year in Seattle?" Starsky asked his partner, momentarily taking his head out of the book that was fascinating him.

Hutch smiled before answering, enjoying the look of pleasure on Starsky's face and the relaxation of his prone form, spread out comfortably on top of the bed's comforter. He tossed a sweater inside the open suitcase he was packing. "That sounds about right."

"Bet you don't know Seattle's nickname, though." Starsky continued to read as he spoke, brutally manhandling the pages of the travel guide.

"Is that a challenge?"

"Nope. Just a question. Do you?"

Hutch paused in the inventory of items in his shaving kit. "Um, something with a jewel, I think. Ruby? Sapphire? Something like that." He picked up the kit from the dresser and started for the bathroom. "I forgot deodorant."

"Better go get it. You don't wanna have stinky pits on your visit to the Emerald City," Starsky said with a smile that was positively triumphant.

"You know, Starsk, you are reading from a guide book. You don't have to look quite so smug."

"Ha! That's what you think. I'll have you know I knew it was the Emerald City before I read it." Starsky crawled off the bed and straightened the covers, before joining Hutch in the bathroom. "Did you pack your eye-drops?" he asked, while glancing through the shaving kit himself.

"Oh, shoot, I think I forgot those, too."

"You also forgot a razor." Starsky shook his head a little, as he added the missing items to the kit. "You're not a real good packer, are you?"

"I wasn't finished yet," Hutch mumbled indignantly.

"Sure you weren't. I bet you think Seattle is the capital of Washington, too."

"Starsky? What on earth does one have to do with the other?" He spoke with a hint of irritation in his voice, distracted by what else he might be forgetting.

"Answer the question," Starsky demanded, while adding a bottle of aspirin to the rapidly filling leather container.

"Seattle is not the capital of Washington; Olympia is." The kit's zipper was stiff from lack of use and required several firm tugs before Hutch had it closed. "Satisfied now? Do I know enough about Seattle to make the trip?"

"Do you know the capital of Kansas?" Pure mischief danced in the dark blue eyes, which caused Hutch to burst out laughing.

"You want to explain to me what made you think of Kansas when we were talking about Washington?" Hutch asked, once he had the giggles under control.

"The Emerald City, of course. Now what's the capital of Kansas?"

Hutch stared as he tried to make the connection, knowing Starsky would pester him to death if he missed an easy one.

"Come on, don't tell me you college boys didn't have to know all our state capitals before you got your degrees? I knew them all in the sixth grade."

"I know them all! That's not what I'm thinking of."

"What are you thinking of, then?"

"Oz!" Hutch shouted out. "Ah, ha! 'The Wizard of Oz.' You were thinking of that movie."

"That's right, I was, and the other answer is Topeka. I don't want you to short-circuit something in your blond head while you try and remember it." Starsky tried to skip out of the way of the large palm sailing in his direction, but it caught him smartly on his pajama-clad rump. "Ouch!"

"Serves you right. Now, are you planning on getting dressed this morning, or do you want to drive us to Metro wearing only these?" Hutch grabbed the elastic on Starsky's waistband, snapping it playfully. "Arturo is expecting you to drive him to the airport, too, remember? He's going to be waiting for us."

"If you'd quit trying to bruise me, I'd get in the shower. Why don't you finish packing?" Starsky grabbed a quick kiss before he shoved Hutch out of the bathroom and started the water.

Fifteen minutes later, showered, shaved and wearing his favorite cotton work-shirt tucked into his next-to-favorite pair of jeans, Starsky joined Hutch at the front door, where he was waiting with his small suitcase. Hutch closed the travel guide he was browsing through and tucked it under his arm. "All set?" he asked, after watching Starsky palm the car keys.

"All set."

The two men made their way to the Torino, neither speaking. Hutch noticed a change in Starsky's mood since his earlier playful behavior. Now he was wearing a thoughtful, serious expression.

Hutch waited while Starsky got the trunk open and then swung his bag inside. "I'm gonna miss ya, you know." Starsky spoke without looking at his partner, and quickly slammed the trunk closed. His hand was enveloped in a quick squeeze before they got inside the car and started off. "I mean, who knows how long you're gonna be gone?" Starsky continued.

"It shouldn't be more than five days, maybe even four. I'm not happy about having to escort this slime-bag all the way to Seattle, and then be stuck in a courtroom testifying and hanging around. Neither is Arturo."

"I know all that," Starsky interrupted. "I just wish it was me goin' with you. That this was one of our cases and we were closin' it together."

"Arturo and I didn't work that many cases when we were temporary partners," Hutch said softly, while brushing his knuckles against Starsky's cheek. That earned him a half-smile, and he settled his hand in a light grip behind Starsky's neck. "Believe me, if we'd known this guy was working for the syndicate, we might have avoided arresting him altogether." He sighed when Starsky didn't laugh at his attempt to lighten the mood. "Come on, buddy. You know we don't have any other choice. It makes sense to have Arturo and me escort Leonard to Seattle and deliver him to their jail. We testify about what we uncovered in the sting, Leonard sings, and about fifteen hoods take a fall from here to the great northwest. The courts will decide if his permanent, life-long address will be Washington or California. He broke enough laws in both states that they can pretty much play eennie-meenie-miney-moe."

"Catch a hoodlum by the toe?" This time Starsky smiled full out, and Hutch was relieved to see it.

"I think we've got him by the neck, Starsk."

"Yeah, I guess so. Leave it to my partner to stumble into a multi-state crime operation, while working what was supposed to be a simple drug bust."

"'Simple' never seems to be the operative word, does it?"

"Really. Well, Lizzie and I will sure have a swell time doing paperwork, while our partners are off touring the Space Needle."

"I'll bring you back a glow-in-the-dark miniature, okay?"

"Okay."

The rest of the drive to work was filled with brief attempts at small talk, but both men were too distracted by thoughts of the coming days apart to really complete any conversation.

**********

Lizzie Thorpe smiled a greeting from the filing cabinet she stood at, as the detectives entered the squadroom. "Good morning."

"'Mornin', Lizzie," Starsky called out on his way to the coffeepot. He poured two cups and carried them back to their desks where Hutch was already sitting.

"Where's your partner?" Hutch asked, before taking a tentative sip of the hot, nearly thick coffee.

"Good question. He's normally here before the night shift is off duty." She glanced at the wall clock as she spoke. "Something must have held him up at home."

The door to their captain's office opened, and Dobey caught the eyes of his three detectives, then beckoned them inside. "We've got a problem. Get in here."

Starsky and Hutch hurried into the office, with Lizzie right behind them. The three didn't bother finding chairs, as Dobey was unseated and walking around the small room.

"What's the problem, Captain?" Hutch asked for the group.

"Where's your partner, Thorpe?" Dobey directed the question at his female officer without answering Hutch's question.

"I don't know, sir. He should have been here already--"

"Did you call his house?" Dobey interrupted her.

Lizzie shifted her weight minutely from foot to foot. "Not yet. I was looking for a file, and I--"

"Call him, just as soon as I'm done here," Dobey broke in. "This concerns him, too, but I'll let you bring him up to speed when he gets his lazy butt to work."

"What's the problem?" Hutch repeated.

"The problem is yours and Arturo's transportation to Seattle."

"Did the airline cancel the flight?" Starsky asked, wondering why their captain seemed so flustered.

"No. Leonard's attorney did that."

"Come again, Cap'n?" Starsky asked incredulously. "How the hell did he pull that off? He own American Airlines or something?"

"It seems that Leonard has a psychological disorder." The captain raised both hands to silence the laughter that followed his words. "Quiet down!"

"Oh, come on, Captain. What criminal doesn't have a psychological disorder or two?" Hutch said derisively. "How did that get the flight canceled?"

"Because, Hutchinson, Leonard suffers from aviophobia, and he has a signed doctor's release form to back up his claim."

"What the hell is aviophobia?" Starsky asked, stumbling a little over the word's pronunciation.

"It's fear of flying," Lizzie supplied before Dobey could. "How come this never came up during his extradition hearing?"

"I don't know, but it's come up now, and it's rock solid. They even have the ACLU backing them up. We put Leonard on a plane with a known psychological disorder, and we're violating his civil rights."

"Well, golly-gee, we sure wouldn't want to distress the young man, would we? It could scar him for life." Hutch shook his head in obvious irritation, tenting his hands across the bridge of his nose. "So, what now? We take him by car? What about the court date set for day after tomorrow?"

"His lawyer got that postponed until Friday, which should give you and Flores plenty of time to get there by train."

"Train?!" Starsky and Hutch both cried out at the same time.

"Yes, train. We don't have a choice." Dobey raised his hand again warningly. "A car wouldn't be safe. Too many places to have to stop for gas, bathroom breaks, and food. Too many chances for Leonard to get away, or be helped to get away."

"Yeah, but, Captain, it's going to take us longer to get there by train than if we drove straight through," Hutch stated emphatically, clearly displeased by the added travel time.

"Not by much. You leave tonight at seven, and you'll arrive in Seattle thirty-six hours later. You couldn't do too much better by car, and this is safer." Dobey's tone was brooking no argument. "I already have your reservations arranged."

"Oh, boy, Hutch, you get to ride on a choo-choo train!" Starsky said with a smile, wanting to deflect his partner's obvious annoyance before it escalated.

"That's not funny, Starsky." Hutch favored him with a withering frown. "Think of the logistics. We're going to have to keep Leonard guarded and give him breaks from the cuffs, or I'll just bet we'll have his lawyer chewing our asses out for police brutality. It's going to be a long trip."

"Welcome to the fun-filled world of law enforcement, Sergeant Hutchinson. How are you enjoying it so far?" Dobey's grin was expansive, and Starsky placed a calming hand on Hutch's arm.

"Cap'n, Hutch does make some good points. It's one thing to guard a cuffed man on a three-hour plane ride, and it's something else to guard him on an almost two-day train trip." Starsky zeroed in for the kill. "I think I better go along with them. They're going to need help, and I don't want my partner coming up short."

"Excuse me, Starsky," Lizzie spoke up. "My partner is going to be on that train, too, and I want his back watched as much as you want your partner's back watched. I'd like to go as well as you. Or instead of you," she finished determinedly.

"Wait a second, Lizzie, I think…" Starsky looked up mid-word at Dobey's again flying hands.

"Neither of you are going," Dobey said authoritatively. "The budget only allows for two. Even if I could find the funds, I can't have another one of my detectives out of service for a week, and that's final. Hutch and Arturo are going, as originally planned. They're just going to be gone a little longer, and I have every confidence in them. They'll be able to handle anything that comes up. Now everyone get back to work, and, Lizzie--find your partner."

**********

Starsky and Hutch returned to their desks, watching as Lizzie headed for the phone. Since they'd been scheduled to be on their way to the airport, neither had any case folders opened to work on. Hutch plopped into his chair heavily, then sighed. "Okay, I definitely didn't pack enough clothes."

Starsky grinned at his friend, knowing Hutch's distaste for wearing the same thing more than once without its being laundered. "Well, we've got the whole day now, since you don't leave until tonight. We can swing back over to Venice Place, and you can find a few more things to dazzle Seattle with."

"Very funny, Starsk. I just want clean clothes to wear, and now I'll be gone at least three more days." Hutch glanced up as Lizzie approached. "Did you reach Arturo?" he asked.

"No," she responded, rubbing a kink in her neck. "I did reach his wife, though. Arturo left the house ninety minutes ago. It's a twenty-minute drive from his house to here, and if there was traffic or his car broke down, he would have called in. Something's happened," she said with a slight catch to her voice.

Hutch locked eyes with Starsky briefly before turning his full attention to Lizzie. "Take it easy. We don't know that anything has happened, yet. He could've been working a lead, or gotten a call from a snitch. You two been working anything hot recently?"

"No, nothing. We cleaned up our last case five days ago, and if Arturo had received a lead on something new, he would have called me."

Starsky placed a steady hand on the woman's arm. "You're right. He would've called you. I know I'd ream Blondie here a new one if he didn't call me if something was goin' down."

Hutch coughed lightly before speaking. "I still say it's probably nothing, and Arturo is going to walk in here any second, but we do need to let Dobey know and get some cars out on his route." Hutch got to his feet, but before he and the others could go back to Dobey's office, the door opened again and the captain came out, walking fast. The small group met in the middle of the squadroom.

"Captain," Lizzie began, "I called Arturo's house, and--"

"Hold on, Thorpe." Dobey turned steady eyes on his nervous detective. "I just got a call from Memorial Hospital. Arturo was brought in by ambulance nearly thirty minutes ago. He was attacked in a coffee shop in his neighborhood by a couple of punks robbing the place." Shocked faces met the news.

"How badly was he hurt?" Lizzie cried out, not noticing the hands gripping both of her elbows.

"The hospital said he's conscious, but he was beaten and sustained a blow to the head. You get on over there and check on him. I'll be there myself, as soon as I call his wife and get briefed from the officers on the scene. They're not from this division, but their captain is sending them over to talk to me personally, since it was one of my men injured. They're on their way in now."

All three turned heel and headed toward the door briskly, barely hearing Dobey's last words: "Call me as soon as you know how he is!"

**********

Memorial Hospital was staffed with some of the best medical personnel in the state, but like any hospital any of the three had ever waited in, its emergency waiting room had chairs guaranteed to insure that no one would wait comfortably. Starsky wasn't even attempting to sit. He was pacing nervously in between runs to the vending machines to bring back unwanted packages of nuts and candy, and wanted cups of truly awful coffee.

Hutch looked up in annoyance as a pack of gum landed in his lap. He was sitting next to Thorpe and had one arm wrapped loosely around her shoulders, but he used his free hand to snag Starsky's sleeve. "Would you light somewhere, please?"

Before Starsky could respond, a doctor holding a clipboard approached them. "Are you the people waiting for Detective Flores?"

Lizzie and Hutch jumped to their feet and joined Starsky in a semi-circle around the doctor. Hutch spoke for the group. "We are. How is he?"

"He's going to be fine. Mild concussion, but no fracture."

Hutch opened his mouth to speak again, but closed it quickly when he saw Dobey moving with great speed down the hall. He had a hand on Carolyn Flores' arm, but whether he was guiding her, or she was pulling him, was impossible to determine.

"My husband?" Carolyn asked in a calm but shaky voice, once the pair skidded to a halt. Her tear-streaked face betrayed her state of mind.

The doctor reached for her elbow, smoothly taking her from Dobey's grip. "Mrs. Flores?" he asked to be certain, but didn't wait for an answering nod. "I've just been telling your friends that your husband is going to be fine. He took a bad beating, but there won't be any permanent damage. We're going to keep him overnight for observation, then with a few days' bed rest at home, he'll be as good as new."

"Thank God." The tears began to flow freely as Carolyn whispered her prayerful thanks, then burst out with a radiant smile. "Can I see him, Doctor?"

"Certainly," the man said with a kind expression. "I'll escort you back myself. We'll be transferring him upstairs shortly, but you can spend a few minutes with him now."

The doctor began to lead the way, but turned back, confused, as four voices assaulted him. "I'm afraid you'll need to speak one at a time."

Dobey and his three detectives all nodded understandably, then all started speaking again at the same time. The doctor turned quizzical eyes on Carolyn. "Do you know what they're asking, Mrs. Flores?"

Carolyn was nearly weak with relief, which was causing her stomach to bounce and her knees to shake, but she answered with laughter in her voice. "Yes, sir. These good people are all police officers, too, and they want to talk to my husband, but they're going to have to wait their turns. I'm going in first, but I'll be fast." With a gentle pat to Hutch's arm, Carolyn left with the doctor to see her husband.

"What do we know from the uniforms, Cap'n?" Starsky asked as the pair hurried off. Hutch and Lizzie reseated themselves to continue waiting.

Dobey lowered himself carefully into the snug plastic chair next to Hutch before he answered. "One witness. A girl about eighteen, working behind the counter. Flores was the only customer, and she'd just finished ringing him up when two men burst in, wearing ski masks and dark clothing. One went to the register and one went to Arturo. The girl said he announced he was a police officer, and that's when the perp started beating on him."

"Armed?" Starsky asked quietly, taking a seat himself.

"Both of them--small handguns," Dobey said, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees. "They didn't touch the girl, and they were in and out in no time."

"Well, they took enough time to pound Arturo," Hutch said bitterly, before standing back up and pacing the length of the chairs. "He tells the punks he's a cop and then they lay into him. Why? They had their guns drawn when they came in, right?"

"Right," Dobey confirmed. "That's what the girl told the investigating officers."

"Cap'n," Starsky started, then interrupted himself to watch his partner increase the speed of his pacing for a few seconds. "Hutch? Ya wanna sit back down before you make all of us dizzy?"

Hutch looked daggers at his partner. "Oh, you're a fine one to talk. How much money did you give the vending machines?"

"That was before we knew Arturo was okay." Starsky left his chair to join Hutch and lightly patted his stomach. "Now we know he is, so you can relax, buddy."

Hutch peered into the warm orbs focusing on him and felt some of the tension drain away. His mouth quirked into a half-smile as he barely nodded.

"I'll feel better when I--when we--can see him for ourselves," Lizzie said in a strained voice.

"It shouldn't be too much longer," Starsky spoke confidently, and with a patience often absent from his nature. He was well aware that if it were his partner in that treatment room, nothing would be keeping him outside.

As if on cue, Carolyn and the doctor returned to the waiting room. The doctor motioned to the tense group. "You can go in now, but just five minutes, so have your questions ready. My patient needs to get some rest."

**********

On Dobey's orders, Starsky and Hutch drove Carolyn home, while he and Lizzie headed back to Metro. The brief visit with Arturo had yielded no further information, and for now, the case would be turned over to Robbery for investigation.

After telling her friends of her plans to get her daughter settled for the day with a neighbor before returning to the hospital, Carolyn asked both of them about the upcoming trip to Seattle. "What will happen, now? Arturo won't be able to travel for who knows how long. Will they postpone the trial?"

"I don't know, Carolyn," Hutch answered from the back seat. "This is a pretty hot case for the Seattle district attorney. They want Leonard in their jail and in their courtroom. Arturo and I both witnessed the same thing during that drug sting, but honestly, we're small potatoes compared to the rest of the evidence they have against the guy. They may go with just my testimony, as long as we can get Leonard delivered."

"One thing's for sure..." Starsky stared straight ahead, eyes on the traffic as he spoke. "...Dobey isn't sending you alone."

"Thinking about a visit to the Space Needle, Starsk?"

"I'm thinking about your back." Starsky looked away from the road for a moment to peer over the seat. "I intend to make sure it's covered."

Hutch's answering smile was both sweet and hopeful. "I guess we'll have to see what Dobey has in store for us. I'd bet the rent he's burning up the phone lines right now."

"No doubt." After a few more minutes of driving, Starsky slid the Torino to a stop outside the Flores' home. "Can we see you inside, Carolyn? Is there anything you need?"

"No, I'm fine now that I know my husband will be all right. I don't need anything, and you two need to get back to Metro. I've been a police officer's wife for a long time, now. I understand how things work." Carolyn added a pat to Starsky's cheek as she exited the car, then bent down to address them both through the open window. "Please, both of you promise to be careful. I don't like this case. I don't like it at all." With a final nod and a brief smile, she left them to hurry inside her house.

Hutch climbed over the back seat to take his normal place beside Starsky. The car was started again before he was completely seated, but his balance was good, and long years of practice kept him from bouncing around. Once he was settled, he placed a hand on his partner's thigh. "I know what you're thinking."

"Yeah? Well, it isn't a number."

"I know. It isn't a color, either."

"No, it isn't, and Arturo could've been set up."

"You're thinking if Arturo was set up, I could be next?"

"That's what I'm thinking."

"That's what I thought. Starsk--"

"And I'm not letting that happen. No way. No how. If you're still going to Seattle tonight, and Dobey assigns someone other than me to go with you, I'll buy a goddamned passenger ticket if I have to, but you're not going without me watching your back."

Hutch stroked along the tense thigh, wanting to ease his partner's stress, while knowing if the situation were reversed, he'd feel the same way. "Let's see what Dobey says, babe." The stroking hand moved up to tangle itself in the dark curls. "I love you that much, too."

"I know. Now help me think of some good arguments while I get us there."

**********

It was late morning when the detectives entered the squadroom for the second time that day. They went straight to the captain's office without stopping to remove their jackets or check their desks for messages. Starsky rapped twice then entered without invitation. "We're back, Cap'n," he stated, making room for Hutch to enter behind him.

Dobey looked up from his desk with a tired expression. "Sit down, both of you. I've been on the phone since I got back here from the hospital."

The partners exchanged a knowing glance before focusing their attention back on Dobey. Starsky spoke first. "Is Leonard's transfer to Seattle still planned for tonight?"

"Yes. The commissioner has been working with our DA, who has been working with the Seattle DA since I called him about what happened to Arturo. Seattle says no delay. The trial will go on with Hutch's testimony, and, if they need to, they'll bring Arturo in later. Our directive is to get Leonard to Seattle tonight."

"I'm going with him, Cap'n." Starsky spoke steadily and with the ultimate confidence of a determined man.

"Do I look like a stupid person, Starsky?!" Dobey bellowed. "Just who the hell else do you think I'd assign to go with your partner now that Arturo is out?"

Hutch watched the two dark heads as they bobbed in heated conversation.

"Never said you were stupid, Cap'n; in fact, both me and Hutch think you're pretty smart. I just wanted to put my cards on the table."

"Well, Detective, you can just pick up your cards and move your flashy behind right on out of here. Go clean up whatever you need to on your desk, then go home and pack a bag. You're both meeting the county guards at five-thirty tonight at the train station. You'll be escorting William Leonard to the Seattle jail, and I expect it to go smoothly."

Starsky nodded as he bounced from his chair. He was halfway to the door, when Dobey called him back. "Starsky, for now, plan on staying until Hutch is done testifying. Until we know more about Arturo and when--or if--he'll be going...well, I just want it that way. You'll hear from me if I want you back early. You'll be sharing a double room with your partner at the motel, just like Arturo was going to do, so there's no need to get a reservation in your name, but the train reservations have to be switched. We'll take care of that from here."

Starsky's eyes flicked briefly in Hutch's direction, but he checked it, nodded again and left the office. Hutch rose more slowly and gave his superior a grateful smile, as he followed his friend back out to their desks. Starsky was already seated and scribbling something on a yellow legal pad. Hutch perched on the desk itself, scooting back far enough to let his legs dangle.

"What are you writing down?" he asked, then picked up the long since cold cup of coffee he'd left earlier.

"Even I wouldn't drink that," Starsky commented without glancing up.

"I'm not going to drink it; I was thinking about refilling it if you're going to be a while. What are you writing?" he repeated.

"Just some notes for Minnie. I owe her some files, and I was going to take care of them while you were gone. Now that I'm gonna be gone, too, maybe she can sweet-talk one of the junior guys into doin' 'em for me."

"Oh, dream on, Starsk. Not even Minnie thinks you're that cute." Hutch folded his arms across his waist and enjoyed the smirk offered as a response.

"I'll have you know, Minnie thinks I'm adorable. However, you may be right in this instance, but if I leave the notes and run…"

"I'll be strolling right behind you. Can we go now?"

"You got the notes on Leonard?"

Hutch was beginning to feel antsy and it showed. "Of course I do, I packed them this morning, remember? I was supposed to be on a plane right now."

"Sorry," Starsky said, slightly chagrined. "I'll just be two more minutes." He finished his notes, then glanced around the squadroom once, before grabbing his jacket and jerking his chin in Hutch's direction. "We're outta here."

It was a short drive to Starsky's place, and just like the earlier morning's ride had been, this one was also spent mainly in silence. Once inside, Hutch headed straight for the phone.

"Gonna check on Arturo."

"Okay, I'm gonna get packed." Starsky headed for his bedroom closet and pulled a small duffle bag down from the top shelf. The early afternoon sun was flooding the room, causing the wine-colored bedspread to glow with warmth. He stuffed shirts and sweaters inside while listening to Hutch's brief, one-sided conversation, then smiled when his partner entered the room and flopped unceremoniously atop the wide bed.

"Any change?"

"Nope. He's resting comfortably."

"That's real good."

"I know. It could've been a lot worse." Hutch grabbed a pillow and jammed it under his head, then flipped to his side so he could watch Starsky more comfortably. "Can you grab a couple of my shirts and stick them in, too?"

"Sure." Starsky hurried through the hangers with nimble fingers, finding two of Hutch's cotton shirts hanging together between his own. He held them up for inspection. "These okay?"

"Yeah, fine," Hutch answered with a lazy smile. "Are you about done?"

"I just need to grab some stuff from the bathroom." Starsky paused to gaze fondly at the relaxed form. "What's the rush? We have close to three hours before we have to be at the train station."

"I just thought we could stretch out together for a while. It was a pretty tense morning, and it's going to be a tense trip tonight--sleeping in shifts, having Leonard cuffed to one of us, keeping the other passengers away, and watching for …well, whatever. I just thought it'd be nice to do some relaxing now."

Starsky grinned and dove for the bed playfully. He scrunched up close to Hutch's side from behind and gave him a brief squeeze, then left his arms in a loose hug. "Sounds good to me."

"I saw that little look on your face in Dobey's office before," Hutch said without turning around. "Do we need to talk about it?"

"What little look?"

"Starsk, come on."

"You know I'm past all that."

"Then why the look?"

Starsky tightened his hold a little, while his fingers played with the buttons on Hutch's shirt. "I was just surprised you hadn't said anything about sharing a room is all."

"I honestly didn't give it a second thought." Hutch captured one of the roving digits and entwined it with his own. "You and I always shared rooms when we traveled on a case. It's just budget stuff."

"Yeah, but with us, we wanted it that way, even before… I mean, always."

Hutch laughed throatily and brought two fingers to his mouth to kiss. Then he released them and shoved Starsky back a little so he could roll over and lie face to face. "I know what you mean, Starsk, but even if we hadn't wanted it that way, we would have had it that way, regardless. That's all I'm saying."

"Guess I just prefer being your only roommate." Starsky reached over to push some hair out of Hutch's eyes, letting his hand linger to smooth the broad forehead. "You know I'm sorry as hell about what happened to Arturo, and maybe I'm feelin' a little guilty that I'm…well, that…"

"I know all that," Hutch said, following with a slow grin. "I know every single little thing about you."

"I'd like to think I have some mystery about me." Starsky spoke in a mock-indignant tone, causing his partner to laugh out loud.

"Not an ounce. Don't even bother arguing with me."

"But--"

"You're upset about Arturo getting hurt. You're concerned whether it was really a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if it was a deliberate attack to keep him from testifying. You're worried about me, and happy as hell that you're the one going with me." Hutch's grin was toothy, as he accepted the wide-eyed, open-mouthed stare being leveled at him. "I think that sums it all up."

"You really think you've got my number, don't ya?"

"Oh, yeah. I'll tell you something else."

"Do I wanna hear it?"

"Definitely." Hutch scooted closer until he pressed against his partner's length. One leg was thrown over Starsky's thigh, and Starsky could feel the warmth of his partner's breath on his face. "I know what you want to do with our three free hours."

"Yeah?"

"Sure do." Short, nipping kisses accompanied the words, and Starsky arched his neck to accommodate the full lips traveling over his throat and face. "Let me tell you what it is."

"I'm listenin'." Starsky was trying to anchor the roving blond head as it made its way toward his ear. Electric quivers ran up and down his spine when Hutch curled his tongue and drilled it wetly inside the tiny cavern. "Oh, babe, talk to me."

One hand found its way to the buttons on Starsky's shirt, opening them quickly, while the other hand swirled through his hair, massaging his scalp at the same time the sweet mouth was staking its claim. "Well, first of all, you want to get this shirt all the way off." The one-handed unbuttoning was now complete, and the hem was being drawn from Starsky's jeans.

"You're right, I do." Starsky lifted up a little to help the removal of the long-sleeved garment from his arms, then he tossed it to the floor and lay back down on his side. Hutch began awakening each of Starsky's nipples to the delight that long fingers could bring, while he traced slightly reddened lips. "Tell me more."

"Hm," Hutch whispered before scooting lower in the bed. "I need to get these a little wet, first." He indicated the pulsing nubs under his fingertips with a few gentle twisting tugs, then moistened each one with the tip of his tongue. The stroke was feather light and darting. Guaranteed to make a man's knees weak, and Starsky was grateful he was lying down.

"Hutch…."

The flushed face looked up with a grin. "You know those really big sponges? The soft kind?"

"Sponges?" Starsky was beginning to get distracted, while wishing Hutch would go back to doing that thing with his tongue. He arched his chest, hoping to get Hutch back to business. "What about sponges?"

"You want to get some."

"I do?"

"Of course you do, what else would you use? Those nice big sponges, all dripping and making the lather get into all those little hard to reach places." Hutch flattened his palms and began to rub lazy circles on Starsky's chest and taut belly. "You'd want to use a circular motion like this, wouldn't you?"

"A bath?" Starsky thought he was catching on now. "You want us to take a bath?" he exclaimed, while reaching around to stroke an upraised hip. "I can get into all of your hard to reach places and you know it."

Hutch's hand was circling just above Starsky's groin, now, not making purchase with anything but air, and still Starsky gasped the same way he would if Hutch were actually stroking him…bare…handling him. "Hutch?"

"You ready now, babe?" Hutch whispered, letting his hand begin to skim across the straining denim. "You want to get started?"

"Thought we were," Starsky answered, trying to push against the maddeningly light touch that was teasing him to distraction.

"We can't do it here, Starsk."

"The bed? We can't do it in the bed? Since when?" Starsky was speaking far too quickly, and he was also blinking rapidly. "Oh, wait, the sponge. Bath. We're doin' it, there."

"Now, how can we do it there? We have to do it outside."

"Outside? In broad daylight?!"

"Of course, that's where the car is."

"The car? Okay, you've lost your mind, right?"

"You said just this morning, how dirty your car was, and how the first thing you were going to do when you had some free time was wash and wax it." Hutch delivered his words calmly, but he was nibbling on his own lips as soon as he was done. Starsky saw the laughter in the light blue eyes, though, and in two seconds, Hutch was pushed roughly to his back with his partner's weight pinning him to the mattress.

"Oh, you're gonna get it!" Starsky used one hand to pin both of Hutch's wrists over his head. The other hand was occupied with providing a firm massage to Hutch's groin. "You're gonna get it but good!"

"Show, don't tell," Hutch rasped out, then added almost primly. "They say physical exertion is a very good stress reliever."

"Just watch me exert you." Starsky hadn't released Hutch's wrists yet, but he managed to wiggle liquidly anyway, allowing his chest hair to tickle the finely shaped nose on his partner's expectant face. At the first feel of a wet tongue dampening the crisp hair, Starsky whistled through clenched teeth, then rested a hungry nipple against the parted lips.

Hutch didn't seem to need any further encouragement, and Starsky released a sigh of pure contentment as he felt the protrusion's capture between sharp teeth. Then, the real toying began, and the sigh turned into something deeper. Momentarily caught as a very willing prisoner, Starsky held his upper body rigid, but worked a knee up to continue tormenting the now bulging crotch his hand had abandoned. "Gonna make you sweat, ya know."

Hutch raised his own knees high and let them fall open as widely as he could, in order to enjoy the full benefit of this unorthodox massage. One that was making him murmur feline noises deep in his throat, as he lavished tongue and lips over the pulsing nub, while fingering the other just as lovingly. The strong knee found his balls, and Hutch released the nipple with a groan. "Oh, Starsk…good…that's so good."

"Bet your ass it is." Starsky grinned wickedly and released Hutch's wrists with a warning. "Keep 'em over your head. I'm going to get you naked now."

The commanding voice added to Hutch's arousal, as he began to imagine how this was going to play out. Starsky in control was fine with him; in fact, he loved it when his innovative partner got a little pushy in bed. Demanding fingers began exploring his rigidly encased cock, and his eyes squeezed shut, sensation starting there but traveling through him like liquid fire. The next groan of pleasure was silenced by a warm mouth doing more than kissing him. It was joining them, merging their souls again in preparation to the merging of their bodies.

Hutch locked his fingers over his head, feeling so lucky; so wanted. When Starsky raised his mouth from his own, the tender wetness illuminated the smile he loved so much. Normally, they made love at night, or in the gray dawn of morning. To be able to see the sun-bathed face so clearly, ripe with passion and longing--longing for him, made Hutch's heart soar. Then Starsky pushed Hutch's knees down and straddled him, and Hutch felt his zipper being released. Jeans and briefs were tugged low, as his cock was engulfed in two hands. One squeezing its base, as the other thumbed the slick ridge and found the pulsing vein running the underside's length with pure fuel.

It was music. It was the "Prokofieff Third," and Starsky was playing him like a master pianist at a beloved Steinway. The heat in the room was cool in comparison to the inferno building inside him, as Starsky found every pleasure point and made it hum.

Hutch's eyes had closed languidly when the fondling began, but the sound of Starsky drawing his own zipper down caused Hutch's lids to fly open, for he could never get enough of seeing his partner undress in preparation for this act. Each time was the first time, and each time was poetry.

Starsky's cock was as beautiful as the man himself--its thickness bold with color in this bright light. Hutch craved to handle it, but he waited for his partner's next move, filled with as much romantic tenderness as he was with anticipatory need.

Hutch watched as Starsky drew his jeans all the way to his ankles, then chuckled deeply, as Starsky cursed when the material refused to pass over the sneaker-clad feet.

"You're really beautiful, babe, but you need to lose the shoes."

Starsky grinned and hopped off the bed in order to remove the offending footwear. In short order, he returned naked and resplendent, causing that feeling again in Hutch. The feeling that had nothing to do with sex, and everything to do with love and completion.

With hands still resting above his head, Hutch enjoyed the motion of his shirt being opened and his chest smoothed and stroked, as Starsky re-straddled him. The verse of a long ago learned poem played in Hutch's head, and he whispered part of it out loud.

He was my north, my south, my east and west
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song…

Starsky looked up from his exploration of quivering muscle under sleek skin. "You know it makes me even hotter when you start spouting off like that, Blondie. That's real pretty, finish it."

Hutch thought of the remaining verses, and a tiny chill combated his body's heat. He shook his head simply before he answered. "We have better things to do than talk, don't we?"

"Yeah, I guess we do." Starsky abandoned Hutch's chest in order to finish undressing him. When Hutch's lower body was completely nude and the last of the open shirt pulled free and tossed to the floor, he nestled on his side, tight against Hutch. He used his index finger to smooth the line between the gold-colored brows, as he smiled sweetly. The other hand possessively lodged in Hutch's groin. "So, babe?"

Hutch reached up to stroke the uncovered cheek; his own smile was just as sweet. "I'm going to roll over."

Starsky didn't even nod. He just made the necessary room, then stretched to reach inside the nightstand drawer to retrieve the lubricant. Preparation was practiced and skilled. The long legs beneath him only needed the briefest nudge to widen. The tight hole needed only moments of swirling attention before it opened to welcome him. Starsky slid in smoothly, then leaned forward across Hutch's back to clasp his hands in his own before he moved, listening to Hutch's sigh of contentment.

Hutch was right, he realized. No words were needed.

**********

Ten minutes early for their rendezvous, the detectives waited inside the comfortably appointed train station, each with a small bag at his feet. The large area was crowded both with people waiting for trains to take them to their destinations, and those who were there to pick up arriving passengers. A crowded public place was not an ideal venue for a prisoner transfer, and both men felt the tension in their muscles and tendons as they watched the doors for the arrival of the county guards and William Leonard.

"Did Dobey say if Leonard's attorney was riding along?" Starsky asked, watching as Hutch cracked and popped a wad of gum in his mouth. "How many pieces are you chewing?"

"Two, and he didn't say. Even if he is, he knows he can't sit with us or try and approach Leonard en route. We're in the last car, in the last row. The seats are arranged two on one side of the aisle, and two on the other. Remember what Dobey said? The budget allowed for one extra ticket, so no one sits with us. It just didn't allow for that seat to have an officer in it."

"I wish we could'a checked out the train ourselves, before we board it with Leonard," Starsky said, his tone worried. "I don't like not knowing what's around us or where the exits are."

"Yeah, I know, me, too, but considering how fast they had to book us and change the arrangements, I think we probably have the best set-up possible. At least with our being in the last car, we'll have some kind of privacy. The other passengers won't pass by us on their way to the dining car or the lounges." A few additional gum-cracks followed the thought.

"Guess we'll make the best of it. Would've been nice to be in a sleeping car, though, wouldn't it?" Starsky mentioned longingly. "You don't have to remind me of the budget either. Never thought I'd get so sick of a single word in just one day."

"Nothing we haven't heard a million times before, especially during salary talks." Hutch glanced at the doors again, before turning his attention back to his partner. "You're the train lover and expert. Do you know how many passengers one car holds?"

"About fifty or sixty, I think." Starsky was about to elaborate further, when he spotted a large group of men entering the station with their prisoner in the middle. Leonard was wearing a leather belt around his waist, with wrist cuffs attached to it. Although he was dressed in normal street clothes and not prison issue, the cuffs combined with the armed guards surrounding him had already caused attention in the waiting room. "Okay, it's show time," Starsky whispered softly. He and Hutch quickly walked over to the group. Both had their identification badges out and open when they approached.

"Here's your man," the guard holding Leonard by an elbow said, once the detectives' badges had been thoroughly inspected. "We have transfer paperwork for you to sign."

"Got a pen?" Starsky asked, reaching for the clipboard. Starsky signed all the forms while Hutch removed his set of handcuffs, clicking his left wrist inside one half, while the other remained open. "You're takin' first shift?" Starsky clarified while handing the paperwork back to the guard.

"That's right," Hutch answered before moving toward the prisoner. He took a moment to size him up before speaking. Hutch hadn't seen him since the night he'd arrested him, but he remembered the temper and disgust William Leonard had displayed that evening. That same temper was barely being restrained now, as Leonard glared with unblinking, cold eyes. He was thirty years old, tall, and carried a large, heavily muscled frame. His complexion was pale and pasty, the result of months spent residing in the county jail awaiting his transfer and trial.

Hutch ignored the look of contempt and hatred being transmitted by thin lips and knitted eyebrows, instead speaking to the guard holding the prisoner's arm. "Let me cuff him first, and then you can take the gear off." He reached for Leonard's right wrist, but the man pulled back as much as he could and held himself stiff, arm tight against his hip, refusing to cooperate. The guard shook his head in disgust, and forcibly lifted Leonard's wrist the few inches his restraints would allow.

"I can't say I envy you two." The man was helping Hutch secure the wrist cuff as he spoke. "Mr. Leonard hasn't been one of our all time favorite guests at the Hotel Shangri La, have you, William?"

Leonard's lips curled dangerously. "Whats'a matter? You still upset 'cause I wouldn't give you any on the side?"

The guard paled slightly, but retained his composure. "That's it, Billy. It was your ass I was after all the time. Too bad for me, but I'm sure you'll meet plenty of nice fellas just fighting for it for the rest of your natural life."

Starsky stepped forward quickly. "Okay, let's put an end to these heartfelt good-byes, shall we? We've got a train to catch." He checked the wrist cuff himself, then looked Leonard in the eye. "Now, we're all gonna have a peaceful trip, is that understood? You're gonna sit quietly and enjoy the view. If you try and give either my partner or myself any trouble…well, you'll wish you hadn't." Starsky widened his smile enough to show teeth. "Got it?"

Leonard said nothing, but he didn't look away either.

"He who remains silent is understood to agree," Hutch quoted, with a nod to Starsky. "Let's go."

Starsky retrieved his and Hutch's bags, tucking one under his left arm and carrying one in his left hand. When he rejoined the cuffed pair, he grabbed Leonard's unrestrained left arm and the three walked in formation toward the platform and the waiting train--the Coast Starlight. By pre-arranged agreement, they were boarding before the other passengers. Starsky handed the tickets to the porter, who looked hard at all three before taking them from Starsky's hand.

"We're police officers transporting a prisoner," Starsky hurried to explain. "Your management and the engineer have all been notified."

"Yes, sir." The porter's stance was a little more relaxed as he spoke. "The staff has also been notified of your special circumstances. I'll take your bags and show you to your car now."

Starsky gratefully handed over the bags and tightened his grip on Leonard's arm. The aisle was too narrow for the three to walk abreast, so Hutch led the way behind the porter, followed by Leonard and Starsky. It was an awkward walk--with the detective and prisoner cuffed together--and a long one, but finally they reached their destination. The porter began storing the bags.

"Hey, what is this?" Leonard cried out, obstinately trying to avoid Hutch's hand guiding him to his seat. "You're not gonna tell me we're sitting up all night, I hope. This train has sleeping cars. All trains have sleeping cars. I know, because I take a lot of trains."

"Sit down!" Hutch shoved on the stiff shoulder forcibly, until Leonard dropped into the aisle seat. The angry man jerked his right arm harshly, painfully causing the wrist cuff attached to Hutch to wrench his arm until he regained control. "That's enough, punk! Now you sit there and watch yourself." Hutch caught Starsky's eye on the other side of the aisle, and gave him a quick headshake before positioning himself to take his seat. The porter finished shoving the bags in the storage compartment and hurried from the car.

"My lawyer is gonna hear about this, I can promise you that. You're not supposed to keep me sitting up all night. I've got rights, and one of those rights is to be able to get a decent night's sleep."

"Hey, Hutch, did you pack any tissues?" Starsky asked. "This sad story of our abuse is choking me right up."

"Let's see if you're still laughing when your back is ready to break from this chair after a few hours, Cop."

"Yeah, well, the way we figure it is we can thank you for that," Hutch said as he got settled. "If it weren't for your phobia, we'd already be in Seattle. You'd be in your nice cozy jail cell, and we'd be in our motel room. You changed the status quo, and at the eleventh hour, to boot."

Starsky was watching Leonard closely, trying to gauge the impact his partner's words were having. All he could ascertain was a notable smirk. "Are you listenin' to my partner? We really aren't interested in your whining."

"Whatever. I'll let my attorney have you for lunch over this, though." Leonard made another jerk on the cuffs, hard enough for Hutch to feel it through his shoulder, before he continued. "And I'll have you know that aviophobia is a condition that a lot of people suffer from. It's in all the textbooks, if you two clowns can read."

Neither detective chose to dignify that with a comment. Instead, Hutch pulled back on the cuffs with more force than was necessary. "Time for you to settle down and enjoy the ride."

"I want some dinner," Leonard shouted. "There's no way you can starve me on top of making me sit here like a statue."

"Mind waiting until the train pulls out?" Starsky asked disgustedly. "In case you haven't noticed, we're the only passengers on board, and the train isn't moving. When it does, we'll get you something to eat, 'kay?"

"I don't want any stinking sandwich; I want a real dinner."

Hutch used his free hand to rub his temples before responding. "You know, you may want to pace yourself on pissing us off. We've been together twenty minutes, and we have about thirty-six hours to go. Plenty of time for you to be a major pain in the ass."

The prisoner stared straight ahead, then grinned and leaned back against his seat. "You have no idea what pain even is."

Starsky rose from his chair, and in a few short steps was in front of Leonard. "Now, that wouldn't be a threat, would it, chump? Because making threats would be a really stupid thing for you to do."

"I was just commenting, not threatening you at all." Leonard raised his cuffed hand a little after he spoke. "What do you think I could do trussed up like this?"

"Not a damn thing," Starsky replied in a low tone. "I'm glad you realize that."

From the front of the car came the low murmur of voices and the sound of luggage being stored. "They're starting to board," Hutch pointed out. "Why don't you practice being really quiet, Leonard?" Another smirk was his only answer.

Starsky returned to his seat, and all three were silent as the car filled with about fifteen people. Not even close to its capacity, and none of the passengers were in any of the rows near them. After a few minutes, the train slowly pulled out of the station. The steady clicking of the wheels changed to a low hum as their speed increased with each passing mile. Soon, they were traveling at the maximum velocity.

"Gonna check things out," Starsky muttered. "I'll be right back."

Hutch nodded in agreement, knowing that Starsky wanted to map out the emergency exits, as well as look over the other cars and passengers. Both knew there was a possibility the train reservations made for all three earlier that day had been traced. It was easy enough to do by someone who wanted the information badly enough. Leonard was a low man on the totem pole as far as ranking in the crime syndicate he served, but he had a lot of information on those higher up the food chain. His testimony, if he cooperated, would bring about arrest warrants for men not anxious to go to jail, men who might try to stop Leonard from testifying. Hutch shifted restlessly, as he contemplated the feeling of vulnerability about the unknown that was now with him. "Ten?" he asked.

"Or less," Starsky answered, before sauntering down the aisle.

While his partner was gone, Hutch concentrated on tuning out Leonard's renewed stream of complaints, wishing it were both legal and permissible to gag a prisoner while transporting him. The concentration was bringing few results, however, and the droning voice was getting louder. "Give it a rest, Billy."

"I never gave you permission to call me by my nickname."

"Give it a rest, asshole," Hutch said clearly. "Do you like that nickname better than Billy?"

"Fuckin' cops."

Hutch had no trouble discerning the venom in those two words. "Yeah, it's all our fault. If we'd just stayed out of your way, you could've had a happy life robbing, dealing, using… hurting innocent people. Yep, it's all our fault for misdirecting your lofty goals."

"Hey! I haven't been tried yet. You ain't supposed to talk to me that way. Makin' accusations."

Tiny flickers were presenting themselves behind Hutch's eyes, indicating the onset of a headache. The whole of his right palm traveled hard across his face before he composed himself and responded. "For the last time, and I do mean the last time, shut up."

**********

Starsky moved casually through the cars, glancing over all the passengers in turn. Most were seated facing the front of the train, although some of the chairs did swivel. It would be easier to see the passengers when he walked back to his car from the front. He wasn't looking for anything in particular, just looking. The intent was to get a feel for the train's layout, as well as see if there were any recognizable or suspicious faces. He knew it was a remote possibility, but neither he nor Hutch would be comfortable until the check was made.

Once he was at the end of the first car, he waited a few moments before starting his slower walk back. This time he concentrated a little harder on the faces and the stances of the individuals he passed. The train was filled with men in business suits, already loosening ties and removing jackets, as well as families with children of all ages. No one struck him as suspicious or even slightly dubious, until he reached the third car from the rear. There, Starsky paused against the train's vibrating wall, far enough away to go unnoticed, but close enough to get a good look.

There were four men in one of the middle rows, two on each side. None were talking to each other, but all were sitting fairly close together. It was the man in the right aisle seat that Starsky was staring at the hardest. Now that's a familiar face. I've seen that guy before, but where? Mentally, Starsky flipped through recent booking sheets and FBI flyers, trying to match the faces running through his head with the one in front of him. Nothing was matching up, and unknowingly he narrowed his eyes a bit. Look at them. They may not be talking but they all know each other. This group is traveling together, no question. Now, where the hell did I see that guy before? Starsky continued to ponder to himself, until one of the men looked up and caught his eye. The man did not smile, and Starsky reluctantly continued on toward his own car.

When Starsky reached their seats, his brow was still lightly wrinkled in thought, but it was Hutch's forehead that caught his attention. Hutch was roughly attacking the furrow between his brows with two fingers. He's getting a headache. Leonard will probably give us both migraines before this trip is over.

"You're back," Hutch stated, raising his chin a little as he captured Starsky's eyes with his own. Starsky made a seesaw motion with his hand, answering Hutch's unspoken question.

"Yeah. Hey, after we feed our friend here, why don't we switch cuffs for a while so you can take a walk, too?"

Hutch nodded slowly and opened his mouth to speak. Before he could get a word out, though, Leonard began again. "Okay, we're moving. The dining car hasta be open, and you have to get my dinner now."

"Remind me to tell you William's nickname later, Starsk," Hutch muttered darkly.

"I've got some names I'd like to call him." Starsky planted both hands on the armrests of Leonard's seat and leaned in close. Opening his eyes wide, he began to speak very slowly. "I'm gonna hurry right off and get your dinner, now. Before I go, do you want to tell me if there's anything you hate to eat, because if I hear one complaint out of your mouth when I bring your food back, you'll be wearing your dinner."

Leonard's mouth opened and closed a few times, and his eyes flashed dangerously as Starsky continued to stare him down. After close to a minute of silence, he finally answered. "I'll eat anything but liver, and I don't want a sandwich. Bring me real food."

Starsky shook his head in disgust, slowly raising himself to his full height. "You want me to bring you back something? A snack?" he asked Hutch.

"Thanks, but I'll eat later, after we switch cuffs. You should get yourself something, though."

"I plan to." With a quick wink for his partner, Starsky headed off for the dining car. Thoughts of the man he couldn't place were mixing with thoughts of what he could find Leonard to eat. Hopefully, he'd find something appealing enough to keep him quiet and uncomplaining for at least a little while.

The dining car was only partially filled, Starsky noted as he entered. The selection of choices was decent, and he quickly filled a tray with slices of roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetables, and a roll from the steam counter. For himself, he found two hot dogs and a bag of chips. The tray was getting heavy as he added three cans of soda and, as an afterthought, a container of yogurt for Hutch, just in case he changed his mind about a snack to tide him over.

At the register, the young woman ringing him up smiled pleasantly, as she waited for Starsky to retrieve his wallet. The snug jeans he was wearing precluded a quick removal. Once he had it out and opened, he handed her a ten-dollar bill.

"There ya go. Sorry to make you wait."

"No trouble, sir, just one thing, though. We just opened up and I don't have a lot of change. By any chance do you have fifty cents? That way I can give you a dollar bill back and keep my change for the next customer."

Starsky tossed his wallet on the tray, as he smiled winningly at the woman and started digging through his front pockets. His key ring, several pennies, a lint-covered breath mint, and a rubber band all joined the wallet on the tray, before he found two quarters and handed them over. "Your wish is my command."

The girl shook her head a little, as she felt her cheeks turning pink under the words of her charming and handsome customer. Without saying anything else, she handed him a one-dollar bill and waved him through.

Starsky had noticed the blush, and he couldn't resist adding a wink as he departed. He loved Hutch with all his heart, but it was fun to think he could still charm an occasional lady.

He quickened his pace, even under the burden of the heavy tray laden with food and the contents of his pockets, unwilling to deliver a cold meal to their hot-tempered prisoner. He had just entered the car before theirs, when a screeching whistle began blowing, and the train began to vibrate wildly. There was a bone-cracking jolt that caused both the tray to fly from his hands and the passengers around him to start screaming.

Starsky grabbed the back of the nearest seat, to try and steady himself from the frantic motion of the train that now seemed to be traveling in the air instead of on the tracks. Oh, God, this is gonna be bad, he thought, not knowing what was happening, just knowing this was not a normal malfunction. Ignoring the terrified wailing all around him, he tried to move quickly toward his car. The train had an almost suction-like action pulling against him as he tried to run. He didn't know how long it took him to cover the short distance, but it felt like minutes instead of seconds.

Two more terrifying jolts preceded his entrance, almost sharp enough to topple him over. Once inside, his eyes started scanning as fast as his legs were pumping, and he saw the top of Hutch's blond head at the back of the rows. Then another jolt and the blaring whistle began playing inside his head as he rolled over and over, bouncing against walls and windows with excruciating results to his body and stunned brain…and then everything went black.

**********

The smell roused him before the sounds did, but both were frightening enough to almost make him slip back into the darkness from which he was awakening. Starsky recognized the smell--it was the metallic tang of blood. But for long moments, he couldn't make sense of what he was hearing--why there was moaning and crying; why every inch of his skin felt like it was on fire; why the car had an eerie, flickering light, appearing intermittently along with a battery whine. It added to the surreal sense of fear. And his face…why was his face wet? Slowly, he reached a tentative hand to investigate the dampness.

I'm bleeding. Oh, God, it's in my eye. It's in my nose. Where's it coming from? He worked his hand up farther and felt a deep gash at his hairline. Scalp wound. Okay, they bleed a lot. How, though? What happened? Gotta get up. Gotta see what happened.

He slowly raised himself to an elbow, then fought dizziness so intense he saw dark spots dancing in his eyes. His breathing became shallow as his heart raced, all at the same time he realized he couldn't move his legs.

No! I have to get up! What's wrong with my legs? He fell back down, panting, trying to concentrate on moving his limbs. Prickles coursed from his thighs to his knees, and Starsky knew intense relief. They tingle. They're there. They're there. I can feel them; I just can't move them.

With a huge heave, leaving a trail of sweat to mix with the blood covering his face, Starsky got himself to a sitting position. He was unaware of the ground glass falling from his hair in a gritty shower, for all he could see with eyes gone wide with shock, was the body lying across his legs heavily. The head atop the body was destroyed, and there was no doubt the man was dead. A sickening surge of bile rushed up Starsky's throat, and at once the fog cleared.

The train! The train crashed! We went over something, fell a long way. What happened to…? Where's…?

"Hutch!" he screamed, spewing bile and saliva and blood, as he frantically found his voice. "Hutch! Where are you?! Answer me!" No longer moving slowly, but fueled by manic fear, Starsky pushed at the corpse trapping him. He got one leg freed, and that allowed him enough mobility to move farther down and reach under the body's right arm. It took two tries, but he was finally able to roll the man off his other leg. Movement was slow to return to his lower body. The prickles were now hot needles, pricking his limbs as the circulation began to return. He did his best to ignore it and got up on both knees. Now he was able to see more of the carnage surrounding him, and again, Starsky fought down searing nausea.

My God, we tipped over. The car's on its side. Starsky looked around him as he got to his feet. Most of the windows had shattered, and he realized he'd been lying in broken glass. Some of the seats were still bolted to what had been the car's floor, but just as many more had been torn loose and were scattered everywhere. A cool evening breeze was blowing in from an opening at least five feet wide on the back wall.

And the people….

With horror, Starsky saw more than one twisted and broken body. A glance at several, and he didn't need to check for pulses to know they were dead. Tears stung his eyes, and he tried to blink them away. Oh, God, babe, where are you?

"Hutch!" he screamed again, unable to concentrate on the other passengers until he found his partner. He started moving around the wreckage, trying to make his way to the back of the car where Hutch and Leonard had been sitting.

The entire car was wobbling shakily as he progressed, making his way over and around fallen baggage and torn seats, plus the thick layer of glass spread everywhere. It was taking all his strength to ignore the powerful throbbing coming from his own injuries, mainly a steady pounding in his head and the sickening feel of blood prickling his back in spots where the glass must have cut him. It was causing its own itching torment along with the pain. Starsky's nerves were as sharp as the broken glass, so when he felt a wet palm grab his ankle, he yelped out loud.

"What the hell?" Starsky recoiled against the sudden grip, but it only tightened in response.

"Mister, can you help me? My mom and I are trapped."

Starsky looked down at the sound of the young, frightened voice. It was coming from a boy about thirteen years old. Lying next to him was a woman, barely conscious and bleeding from her shoulder. Lying on top of both of them, were two of the heavy car chairs.

Oh, shit. I gotta get 'em out from under there, he thought, still desperate to find Hutch, but the woman was bleeding heavily and he couldn't leave them trapped like that. Starsky quickly assessed the situation and started to tug on the closest seat. "Hold still," he cried out to the boy. "Let me see what I can do."

His back and legs were a misery to him, as he maneuvered the heavy pieces and loose debris. Again he tried to ignore it, focusing on speed. The sooner he could get these people free, the sooner he could get to Hutch. "What's your name," Starsky asked the teenager, trying to distract both of them as he worked.

"Robert…um, Bobby," the boy answered with chattering teeth. It was getting very cold in the car.

"Are you hurt, Bobby?" Starsky asked, having just freed one chair.

"No, no, I don't think so, but my mom…my mom's hurt. She was crying at first, but now she's not saying anything."

"She's alive, Bobby," Starsky spoke with authority, wanting to ease the boy's fears. "Don't you worry, I can see her just fine and she's awake, but I think she's in shock. You're gonna have to help me with some first aid for her, okay?"

"Okay."

The second chair was finally off, and Starsky pushed away the remaining debris before he dropped to his knees. He looked hard at both mother and son, noting that Bobby didn't appear to be suffering from anything more than cuts and bruises. "Can you move your arms and legs, okay? No pain? Wiggle your toes, even?"

The teenager nodded affirmatively and began to roll to his side in order to see his mother for himself.

"Go, slow," Starsky cautioned, already checking the mother's pulse. "What's your mom's name?"

"Dolores." Bobby was now sitting up without any signs of distress. He reached for his mother's hand. "How come her eyes are open but she's not saying anything? She's not even crying anymore," the boy appealed to Starsky.

"She's gonna be okay," Starsky said, again in as reassuring a tone as he could manage. He wasn't a doctor, but he couldn't find anything wrong with the woman except a heavy gash in her shoulder, causing the bleeding. He had a hand over the site, applying pressure. "Dolores, can you hear me?"

The woman nodded her head briefly and began to moan and move her legs.

"Easy, just stay still," Starsky murmured, before turning to Bobby and pointing at his chest with his free hand. "Are you wearing a shirt under that sweater?"

"Uh, huh."

"Good. Now, I know it's gettin' cold in here, but I need you to take off your sweater and shirt and come up here by me. You can put your sweater right back on, but you have to use your shirt on your mom's shoulder." The boy complied quickly, and was soon holding both shirt and sweater. He clutched the garments and gave Starsky a look both terrified and confused. It went straight to Starsky's heart. "Put your sweater back on, Bobby," he directed softly. "Come up here by me. I'll show you what to do." Starsky waited until the boy had the sweater on and was at his side, then he demonstrated the first aid. "See how my hand is putting pressure on the cut?" Bobby nodded, white-lipped, and again holding his mother's still hand.

"Now, Bobby, we have to hurry because I need to get you set up so I can go look for a friend of mine." Starsky's chest constricted at his own words.

My friend…Oh, God, Hutch, please be okay.

With an effort, Starsky returned his attention to showing Bobby how to apply the pressure. Thoughts of his partner had him desperate to move. He had to find Hutch right now.

"Okay, you got it," Starsky encouraged while getting to his feet. "Just keep that pressure on, and try and use your body to block as much wind from your mom as you can. I have to go now."

"Are you coming back?"

Starsky was already trying to negotiate down the primitive, quasi-aisleway, but he stopped and turned his head when he heard the fear in the boy's voice. "I'll be back, but I don't know how long it'll be, so you stay put and take good care of your mom, you hear?"

"Okay, thank you, Mister."

Starsky tried to smile, but it was impossible. He settled for a brief nod before he started moving again.

**********

Starsky stayed on his feet as long as he could, but a huge pile of wreckage was dangling precariously over one section where part of the train's wall was collapsing. He had no choice but to continue on his knees, since the wreckage was shoulder-high and blocking his route.

Damn it, more glass, Starsky moaned to himself, as he felt the knees of his jeans tear open and the jagged pieces both cutting and imbedding themselves in his flesh. He gritted his teeth and began shouting again.

"Hutch! I'm comin'! Hang on, Hutch!" he hurried forward, then added another cry. "Can you hear me Leonard? If you can hear me, shout. Let me know where you are!"

Starsky knew by now there was no hope that Hutch wasn't hurt. If he were able to, he would have answered Starsky's shouts, or been looking for him. The fact that he wasn't, convinced Starsky to be prepared to find his partner injured.

But not bad, babe. You can't be hurt bad. You just can't be. Starsky had to stop briefly to catch his breath and try to control the fear, making emotion mix wetly again with the streaked blood on his cheeks. You and me. We can handle an injury, right? We been down that road lotsa times and we always make it, so don't you be doing anything stupid. Don't you dare be dying on me, Hutch. Don't you dare. He rubbed his face hurriedly and continued on, shouting the whole time.

"Hutch!"

"Leonard!"

He was listening hard as he moved, and when he had to stop to clear another path, he almost sobbed in frustration. Angrily, he shoved suitcases--open with their contents spilled all over--aside, as well as more debris from the crumbling car.

My God, this thing is falling apart around us!

One last bundle still needed to be tossed, but something about it made Starsky pause. He pulled it close to his face, frustrated again by the flickering light that seemed to stay off longer and longer. Starsky waited until once again the dimness recurred, then he could read what the package said. It was an emergency kit, torn loose from its former berth on the wall. Gratefully, he hugged it to himself for a second before continuing on. Once he was done clearing a small path, Starsky was able to get to his feet again. His knees were wet with blood and stung horribly, but he limped forward. After two steps, he heard it. A weak cry, merely a shadow of the owner's normal voice.

"We're here! We're back here! Help me, I'm hurt!"

It was Leonard.

Starsky felt a surge of hope, as he approached the nearly destroyed rear of the car. "Keep shouting! Let me know where you are!"

"Here! I'm here!" The voice was weak but close. Starsky shoved another chair out of his way and rushed forward. At first, he couldn't see anything--the car was totally dark except for the brief sheen of moonlight trickling in and the occasional glimpse of the failing, battery-operated light. Again, he dropped to his knees, feeling with his hands as his eyes scanned frantically whenever the light appeared.

"Leonard, I'm here! It's Detective Starsky! Tell me where you are!"

He felt a weak kick against his sore knee, as once again Leonard spoke. "I'm here. Oh, fuck, I hurt all over. Ya gotta help me, please!"

Starsky felt another deep shudder from the wall beneath his knees, as he grabbed the lightly flailing ankle. "I've got you! Where's my partner?!"

"What? What?"

"My partner, you son-of-a-bitch!" Starsky shook the ankle he held in frustration. "Where's Hutch?!"

"He's underneath me." Starsky could clearly hear Leonard's heavy gasps as he continued to cry out. "Get me out of here, now!"

"Is he moving? Has he said anything?" Frantically, Starsky eased himself farther along Leonard's calf until he reached a solid obstruction. He tried to reach underneath the small amount of exposed limb to feel for Hutch, but only felt more wreckage. "Tell me, goddamnit! Is he hurt bad?"

"I don't know, man, he hasn't moved." Leonard kicked his foot out weakly again. "Please. Please, get me out."

Starsky ignored the plea. "Can you find Hutch's arm?" Starsky was examining the obstruction with his hands as he spoke. It was cold and heavy steel. Must've torn loose from the wall. He maneuvered it a few inches while continuing to shout. "Find his wrist! Feel for a…feel how strong his pulse is and tell me."

"I can't move!"

"Do it, now!"

"Are you deaf?" Leonard's voice was weak and raspy. "I'm fuckin' tellin' you I can't move. I can't find his arm."

Starsky bent down lower in order to get a shoulder under the heavy sheet. He budged it a few more inches, panting with the exertion and never letting his verbal assault stop. "Leonard, listen to me. I know you're hurt. I know this thing on you is heavy, but you can breathe and you can move your legs. I'm workin' this metal off you right now, then I'll be able to start liftin' you, but you've got to help me."

"How? How?"

"Use your legs. Feel for Hutch. Tell me if you're laying completely on top of him, or if there's some room next to you. Are both his legs trapped?" he fired off rapidly to no answer. "Tell me something!"

There was silence for a few minutes as Starsky continued to work the sheet. He could feel the effort Leonard was making to try and comply with his questions.

"I think--" A low moan followed Leonard's words.

"What?"

"Oh, man, hurts so bad…I think only one of his legs is under me. I can feel his hips and one leg. Just one."

Starsky bit his lip and pressed on. "Tell me how he's positioned. Face up? Face down?"

"He's gotta be face up." More silence, then Leonard's legs began moving again. "Yeah, he's face up. I'm face down, though, and I hurt! Please, man!"

By using his strong thighs to brace against the weight of the sheet now lying across his back, Starsky was able to heave it to the side of Leonard's prone body. He was sucking air in quickly, trying to replace what had been lost in the endeavor. He grabbed Leonard's leg again and looked all around the dark area, praying for the low light to return.

Please, God. Need some help, here. Just a little light for now.

Starsky continued to work blindly, while he waited for his prayer to be answered. Using his hands, he felt around the perimeter of Leonard's body, trying to gauge how wedged in he was, and what was causing it.

Son-of-a-bitch. More steel. Not over him, though, it's just around him, plus… Using his forearms as well as his hands, Starsky was able to gauge more of the loose debris. Then a loud hum made him look around as the battery lights once again came on weakly. Now he could make out the scope of the metal pieces, the broken and whole chair seats scattered and on top of Leonard, and most importantly of all…what was underneath the man.

A flash of blond hair, streaked heavily in red. The left side of a pale, still face lying just next to Leonard's shoulder. Starsky's throat constricted to a tight and painful ball, making the word he uttered a whisper and not a scream. "Hutch."

That was all he could see, since Leonard's body was blanketing his partner everywhere else, but it galvanized Starsky. New resolve, fast burning and energized by pure terror, coursed through his pain-stricken limbs. He worked furiously to clear the wreckage one piece at a time, and then two and three, as he got deeper.

"Almost there, Leonard." Starsky was unaware that his voice was now little more than a husky croak. The heavy dust in the air was coating his throat. He coughed dryly for a few seconds before speaking again. "Try to move your arm; try and get some of your weight off Hutch."

"Can't move yet!" came the weak but forceful reply.

"Try!" Starsky croaked out, thinking of the large muscled frame lying on top of his partner. "You've gotta be crushing him!"

The unmistakable sound of sobs reached Starsky's ears, and he found himself feeling sympathy for the trapped prisoner in obvious pain, but he hardened his heart in order to continue ordering Leonard to try and get some weight off Hutch. "You can do it. Just raise up some on your knees. Your legs are free!" Slowly, Leonard complied, moving his knees up an inch at a time, raising his hips and thighs, but leaving his chest still on top of Hutch.

Starsky's fingertips were now bleeding as freely as his knees and back were. The rough edges of the metal he was clearing, plus the other wreckage, was tearing them up. Grimly, he went on until he had all the visible debris cleared off Leonard and around the area. He drew breath to tell Leonard he was going to help lift him now, but stopped before sound came out. He had no energy to waste, and instead, he flattened himself above the slight crevasse that was holding Hutch and the prisoner. Part of the wall they were all on top of had formed a depression.

With an effort, Starsky got one shaky arm under the trapped man and started to roll him a little at a time. His torn shirt-sleeve left bare exposed skin, and Starsky had to bite his lip and keep moving when he realized the coolness he was brushing against was Hutch's leather jacket.

Keep movin', keep movin'. Can't get to Hutch until I get this guy off him. Gotta stay focused. He tightened his grip and got Leonard almost to his side, when the man let out a piercing scream.

"SHIT! Oh, shit…my arm. Oh, fuck, you son-of-a-bitch, I think you just snapped my wrist."

Starsky's heart was jumping at the added tension, and his dry mouth and throat were barely able to croak out a response. "What are you talkin' about? I just rolled you. I never touched your wrist."

"The fucking cuffs, asshole! My arm was already bent funny, and then you moved me against the fucking cuffs!"

Jesus Christ, the cuffs. He and Hutch are cuffed together. How the hell did I forget that?

Starsky's stomach rolled dangerously with this forgotten fact, while Leonard continued to moan loudly. If Leonard's wrist snapped, what happened to Hutch's hand? He couldn't think, and the pain-filled shrieks were distracting him more. "Shut up! Jus' shut up a minute," he demanded mercilessly. "Let me think. Your wrist was probably broken in the crash. You're just feelin' it now, but I gotta move you a little more, so just hold on. There's no other choice."

Leonard didn't respond. Starsky only paused briefly, then continued as gently as possible, but also as fast as he could. He almost had the man moved to the side of his far too still partner.

Move, babe. Move, please. Make a noise…something…please.

Finally, he had Hutch as free as he could from this position, and he wasted no further time stretching to reach for Hutch's neck. His hand was shaking when it felt the damp stickiness of blood over the exposed throat, but Starsky kept moving his fingers, desperate to find it.

Left side. It's strongest on the left side. Where is it? Frantic fingers stretched and changed position, looking for the life beat that had to be there. Has to, I'm just missing it. He pressed more firmly and moved fractionally, terrified by the still and quiet form and the chilled skin. Then he found it. Faint and weak, but it was there. There it is! There it is! Oh, yeah, there's a pulse. Oh, thank you, God, thank you.

Starsky wanted to weep in relief. He held himself still for a few precious seconds to just acknowledge the miracle that Hutch was still alive. Then, needing even more reassurance, he curved his palm in order to catch as much of the tiny throb as possible.

You did it, Hutch. You did it. You stayed alive for me. Now, I'm going to get you out of this hole, and get us both the hell out of this mess. Gonna get you to a doctor in no time, and they'll fix you right up.

Starsky didn't let his thoughts go farther than that. He couldn't waste the energy wondering where they were, or how the car was positioned, or where the rescue crews could be. He started carefully inching himself around to try to get closer to Hutch.

Where are the rescue crews? How long has it been since we crashed? Where are the other passengers? The unbidden thoughts refused to be ignored and whirled in his head as loudly as Leonard's moans were assaulting his ears. Starsky didn't even know where they were geographically, or how precariously the car was positioned. All he knew was he was cold and scared and hurt. But Hutch was alive. Nothing else mattered but getting him to safety.

"Hutch! Can you hear me?" Starsky flattened himself again, cursing the darkness, but able to feel Hutch's head and upper body now. He strained to see anything, using his hands and fingers in place of eyes that could make out very little. Starsky ran gentle fingers over Hutch's head and shoulders, feeling for broken bones and identifiable injuries. He took longer with the left arm, the cuffed arm, and winced when he felt the broken bone. His fingers touched the cold steel of the cuff, and, wanting to make Hutch more comfortable, Starsky went to his pocket to get his keys. It would be a tough and awkward reach from this position, and with no light, but he didn't want the wrist to swell even further against the restraint. He had to try and get it off. Automatically, his hand traveled to the pocket in which he always kept his keys. He didn't even have to reach inside to know it was empty, as all at once he remembered the tray flying out of his hands--the tray that held his wallet and keys. The wallet meant nothing to him, but the loss of the keys carried with it a new wave of frustration.

Aw, shit. Of all the goddamned things to lose. I'm gonna have to try and find Hutch's ring, and I don't know what pocket he put them in, or if they're even there anymore.

He couldn't search Hutch in this position, so he pushed the missing keys out of his mind and felt his way back up to Hutch's face. He leaned over as far as he could, finding an ear covered by matted hair. "Babe, it's me," he whispered brokenly. "I'm here. Can you hear me? Can you wake up? Please, Hutch, wake up."

He listened closely for any sound, but none came from Hutch. Leonard's moans were increasing, though. "Oh, Jesus, it's so cold in here. I'm fucking gonna freeze to death."

"No, you're not," Starsky responded gruffly, both hands now blanketing Hutch's face. "No one's gonna freeze to death. You just gotta stay still and not bother me so goddamned much. You're not gonna die."

"Easy for you to say, man. You're not lying here cuffed to a corpse, with your arm--" He got no further.

Pure fury coursed through Starsky, causing his jaw to snap open and close several times before he raged. "You shut your fucking mouth unless you want me to break your other arm for you. My partner is alive, and if you'd just shut up I could figure out how bad he's hurt."

"You're dreamin', man. He ain't even groaned."

Starsky forgot his angry retort when the cold face under his hands began to move minutely. "Hutch?" he murmured, moving his hands to gently support the back of the blond head. The motion continued with more force, then came a croaky moan and a rush of breath. Starsky's heart was pounding hard in nameless relief. "That's it, babe, that's it. Come on back to me, Hutch, come on. Wake up."

"Starsk?" his voice was weak and gravelly, but he was talking. Unstoppable tears welled in Starsky's eyes and spilled over. "Starsk?" Hutch tried again, beginning to move his arms as well. This time his cry was loud and pain-filled. "Oh, God…"

"Easy, easy." The cry pierced through Starsky, as Hutch realized what had happened. "Just stay real still, you got banged up some." The tone he used for his partner was gentle and soothing.

"What--?"

"The train crashed," Starsky supplied simply. "I don't know what happened, but you're alive and that's all I care about." He twisted his fingers softly in Hutch's hair as a caress. "You had me a little nervous for a while there."

"Sorry…oh, it hurts."

"Tell me where," Starsky said quickly. "Where all does it hurt?"

"My arm." Hutch's voice was so weak it was almost unrecognizable. He tried to clear it and moved his head more forcefully, causing another moan. "And my head. Head hurts bad. Can't see."

"None of us can see," Starsky answered reassuringly. "Lights went out in the crash. The emergency ones have been comin' on and off, but they've been out a while now." He rested a palm against the damp, broad forehead. "Help will be here real soon. We just gotta hang on. How are your legs? Can you move your legs?"

Starsky listened to the noise of effort. Hearing a brief scraping, but feeling a shudder. "Hutch?"

"I can move them."

"Thank God."

"Leonard?" Hutch almost panted the question out.

"He's--" Starsky was cut off by an angry voice.

"I'm here. Laying here dying while you two have this touching reunion."

"Our prisoner is fine, Hutch. Don't need to worry about him." Starsky wanted to punch the man, and he had to choke back a response, preferring to stay focused on Hutch and how to start getting them better positioned.

"Starsk?"

"Yeah, buddy."

"You okay?"

"I'm just fine," Starsky lied as smoothly as he could.

It was quiet then, but Starsky could feel Hutch nod his head slightly before speaking again. "Starsk?"

"I'm right here, Hutch, but you need to lay still and rest for me."

"I-I think I might be bleeding."

Starsky instantly moved his hand to Hutch's scalp where he had previously seen the bleeding coming from. The area was still sticky, but it didn't feel like blood was currently flowing. "You were. Must'a banged your head real good in the crash, but I think it's stopped now."

"No, not there," Hutch corrected softly. "I think my side is bleeding."

The matter-of-fact tone chilled Starsky, and, without saying a word, he ran his hands down Hutch's chest, under the parted jacket as far as he could reach. He felt sweat, but no blood.

"Left side," Hutch croaked out.

Starsky stretched desperately, trying to keep his weight off Hutch and to make his abused muscles cooperate. Then he felt it and drew in a sharp breath. There was a depression on Hutch's left side, and a large pool of blood. "Oh, no," he said under his breath, quickly moving back to Hutch's head where there was a little more room. He'd taken his jacket off right after they'd boarded the train, but he had a loose shirt worn over his t-shirt to conceal his holster. He quickly ripped it off and inched his way back down. "Hutch, give me your right hand. Slow and easy." Starsky was balling the shirt up as he spoke.

Hutch complied as best he could, but his arm flopped limply over his stomach. It was enough, though. Starsky was able to get the shirt near his hand. "Babe, I can't reach you real well. I need you to press my shirt over the wound."

Hutch didn't answer.

"Come on, Hutch, take the shirt," Starsky said loudly.

Still no answer, and Starsky felt his heart begin to drum painfully in his chest once more. He thought quickly, trying to reposition himself again, but before he could accomplish it, he was distracted by noises coming from the front of the car. Then the eerie glow of several flashlights.

Flashlights. A rescue crew. Thank God, help is here, he thought joyfully.

Starsky was about to shout, when he heard a loud, gruff voice. The voice was moving closer, but he could barely make out the words.

"You stay right where you are, kid. Don't move."

Kid? Starsky thought, then remembered the boy, Bobby, and his mother. Why's he shouting at Bobby and not helping him? Something's wrong.

All of Starsky's warning signs kicked in, and he tried to get his gun unholstered with a stiff and uncooperative hand. He was too slow, though, and before he could even try to stand, the light and the voice were in front of him. He felt the beam travel up his body until it stopped directly on his face, blinding him more than the darkness had. His eyes squeezed closed, as he fought to remain calm even as the fear grew. One hand clutched a handful of Hutch's jacket, as he swallowed a few times. The light didn't leave his face.

"Who are you?" Starsky demanded with as much authority as he could muster. "Who's there?"

There was no reply, but the harsh beam moved from his face, traveling over Hutch's prone body, and Starsky could see that his partner's eyes were closed and his mouth slightly open, as ragged breaths were dragged in and out. Starsky could hear the shuffling of feet--more than one pair--and then the light left Hutch and traveled just beyond him.

"Hello, Leonard." The voice was thick and gruff, and there was a hint of laughter in the tone. "We didn't expect to meet up with you quite this soon."

Starsky's eyes were drawn to the sharp light, now clearly revealing Leonard's terror-stricken features. The man was moaning again, but this time it wasn't in pain.

"M-Mikey?" Leonard's voice was pitched higher than before, nearly a squeak. "That you, Mikey?"

"Sure it's me, Billy, sure. Who else but your old friend, Mikey?" He spoke in the same slightly amused tone, chilling all his listeners. "I've got Charlie with me, too. You remember your old friend, Charlie, I'm sure."

A second voice, soft as a whisper came next. "Hiya, Billy. You ain't lookin' too comfortable down there. You uncomfortable, Billy?"

"Oh, man," Leonard said with another moan. "Oh, man…guys, listen to me, okay? I know what ya might'a heard, but you gotta believe me…"

"We gotta believe you, Billy?" Mikey echoed derisively. "Did you hear that, Charlie? Billy here says we gotta believe him. I wonder what he means by that?"

"Maybe we should ask him, huh?" Charlie responded. "After all, his version might be so much better than ours. At least it'll be entertaining."

"That's right, that's right, just listen to me a minute!" Leonard cried desperately. "I wasn't gonna serve anybody up in court! I swear I wasn't. You can ask my attorney. Ask the DA. You can!"

"Sure we could, Billy, but that isn't why we got on this train tonight."

Starsky sat quietly during the exchange, his mind working frantically as he kept a hand on Hutch's shoulder. Hutch had started to move again, and Starsky was trying to signal him to stay still, not sure how much, if any, of the exchange his partner was absorbing. The man named Mikey continued to talk.

"No, Billy, we got on this train tonight to kill you. See, we just don't like a lot of loose ends, and you're a loose end, pal. A real messy loose end."

"No! No!" Leonard started to cough and wheeze after the cries.

"We figured to do you in Portland after this formerly fine locomotive stopped, but the crash changed our plans considerably. It took some effort to get back to this car and find you, but Charlie and me…see we're luckier than you. We didn't get hurt in the crash at all." The flashlight left Leonard's face then, and traveled up and down Hutch's length, before moving to center on Starsky's face again. "Yeah, unlike you or your two pig friends here, we didn't get hurt at all."

Starsky's stomach turned over dangerously, and another sickening surge of bile tried to make its way up his throat. He swallowed hard and pressed a hand against Hutch's head.

They're gonna kill us all. Kill Hutch…I've gotta get to my gun. Gotta keep Hutch still. Maybe if they think he's already dead…

A rough hand under his elbow forcing him upward interrupted Starsky's thoughts, and he struggled not to fall over on the prone men trapped in the tiny cramped space. "Stand up, Cop," came an order. Starsky couldn't tell who owned the voice, only that the crumbling car was shaking under his feet. Unless he could reach his gun, he had almost no hope of gaining control of this nightmare.

Starsky spoke his first words, as he tried to make his shaky knees support his weight. "You better not move us around so roughly, or this car may come down around all our ears."

Brutal hands pawed at Starsky's tender sides, and his heart sank as they connected with his weapon. "We're not worried about that, Officer. Car feels steady enough for what we need to do." Starsky's gun disappeared and, in the dark, he had no way of seeing where it was.

"And just what do you need to do, besides kill my prisoner?" Starsky asked with as much false bravado to his voice as he could manage.

The hand on his elbow moved up to capture Starsky's upper arm in a tight clench. He didn't see the fist that flew before the man's words did, but he felt the massive connection to his lower belly with every nerve ending in his body, and couldn't even draw breath to scream. He would have sunk to the ground if it weren't for the unforgiving grip on his arm.

"Are you beginning to understand what we intend to do, Cop? Charlie and I figure this crash was a godsend just for us. See, this way, we don't have to bury any bullets in your heads. Bullets that might lead to questions we don't have to worry about anymore. You're all so banged up from this nasty little crash, that all we gotta do is use our hands to…add to your injuries. Whenever a rescue crew shows up, all they'll find is some battered bodies. Dead of course. Poor, unfortunate victims of the accident."

A heavy undercut cross to Starsky's chin straightened him miserably, and this time he did groan with the savagery of it, unable to even reach up and stop the blood now flooding his mouth. Then there was new terror, as he felt his airway cut off by the blood and sickness filling his throat.

**********

From his position on the ground, Hutch was fighting to stay conscious, confused by both the pain assaulting him and the strange voices that were fading out and then roaring back in his brain. At first, all he was aware of was a buzzing in his ears. Then, with a start, he realized Starsky's hand was no longer on his shoulder. A soundless name formed on his lips, and, with an effort, he blinked eyes that felt so heavy, forcing them to stay open.

Light's back. There's some light. Where's it coming from? Where's Starsky?

Hutch struggled up partially on his free elbow, wincing at the pain, but trying to ignore it as something worse filled his mind. Not a nameless fear--it had an all too familiar name. Starsky. Where's Starsky?

Then he heard it. The sickening sound of flesh being pummeled, and before he could force his eyes to the sound, drops of blood splattered his face. He knew instantly it wasn't his blood.

Starsky! Starsky!

Hutch thought he screamed his partner's name aloud, but the screams remained lodged in his throat as the panic climbed. Now, he could make out the words being said by people he didn't know. People who were hurting Starsky. He knew it, even though he couldn't see the blows. He could hear the groans, though. They were coming from his partner, and rage was added to the kaleidoscope of emotions assaulting the injured man.

Gotta stop them. Gotta get up. Starsky! Desperately, Hutch tried to clear his head, to make his brain send the needed signals to his limbs. The next blow delivered to Starsky was so loud that Hutch's head began to spin and vertigo claimed him. The sound of weak coughing and wretched gagging came next. No! Oh, Starsk, no. Stinging tears burned unshed, as Hutch was forced to bear the knowledge that Starsky was suffering not two feet from him and he could do nothing to help. He couldn't even stand.

Something…think. Think…do something. Lie still. Don't let them focus on me. Surprise them. Somehow…surprise them. Has to be fast. Has to be now! Hutch's body shifted involuntarily, as his twitching and cramped muscles protested their abuse. All at once, he became aware of the forgotten weight under his left arm. My gun…I still have my gun, he thought in deep gratitude.

As calmly as he could, Hutch began to devise a strategy, at the same time he started to slowly work his right hand under the jacket's fold. The cold steel under his colder fingertips brought a small sense of control to the panicked detective.

Focus on the shapes, he told himself determinedly. See where Starsky is and how close the one not beating him is to him. Can't go for that goon. Not yet. I may only get one shot, and it has to take out the one hurting Starsky. Sweat pooled in the corners of his eyes, but he tried to ignore it. He tried with every ounce of strength he could call on to think clearly.

Focus! One shot. One clear shot. If I screw it up, there might not be time to get another one off.

Hutch stared past the flashlight's beam, trying to clear his vision as much as possible. He knew he had to have his targets separated, or in this dark hellhole he could shoot his partner by mistake. The horrific thought almost made him gasp audibly. A harsh voice broke into his planning.

"Let's finish the cop first, Mikey."

"What the hell do you think I'm doing?" came a raspy response. "Working out my fist? I'm finishing him off right now!"

"This is too slow. That kid could get curious and walk on back here," Charlie said hurriedly. "Just get your hands around his throat. I'll start on Billy." He withdrew a small switchblade from his pocket.

Hutch couldn't see the weapon, but he heard the singularly unique sound of it being expelled, and knew what it was. He also heard Leonard whimpering the very word hammering in his head. No. No. No. Then the whimpers turned to a roar, and Hutch knew a new kind of agony when the cuff being pulled on by the terrified prisoner manhandled his broken arm. The screams lodged in his throat were almost ripped free, but Hutch used every bit of self-control he had to prevent them, by clamping his teeth down sharply on his raw lips.

STARSKY! Oh, please…hurts so bad…can't mess up. Can't let them see me go for my gun. God, help me.

Hutch was breathing through clenched teeth, as he watched a hulking shadow approach closer to where he and Leonard were lying. The flashlight's glare changed wildly, flaring first high then low, trailing over a pair of jean-covered knees slouched low. Then the illumination found Starsky's face, and Hutch felt ice-cold fury mix with the fear he felt for his partner, when he saw the mangled mouth, dripping blood, and eyes only half open. Then the light veered again.

Hutch heard a swishing noise, loud and fast, then a low groan followed by a sickening gurgle. Involuntarily, he squeezed his eyes shut, knowing by the sounds alone that Charlie had succeeded in killing Leonard.

It was all surreal, and Hutch felt himself begin to drift again, but with a huge effort he shook it off.

Now. Now while this goon is distracted. Now. Move!

Moving as quickly as his stiff limb would allow, he first fingered the holstered weapon, then unsnapped it. Withdrawing the Magnum, he was only vaguely aware that his arm was shaking as he straightened it, while lifting his head fractionally.

A loud and steady whine distracted him briefly, then filled him with shock as the car filled with a weak light, illuminating the tableau with players now frozen in surprise.

Two beefy hands were around Starsky's throat, but the man choking him was blinking at the light, his face slightly turned away from Starsky's scarlet-colored one. The other man was hovering over Leonard's dead body.

Hutch squeezed the trigger.

The power behind the blast reverberated up his arm, then forced him flat back. He struggled to regroup, trying to stiffen an elbow to support himself, needing to see….

Two bodies fell heavily. Both covered in blood. One fell backwards; the other fell across Hutch's legs.

Hutch's elbow wouldn't cooperate--wouldn't take his weight--and his vision was swirling wildly Starsky?

The hand holding the gun trembled harder, as Hutch tried to tighten his grip, tried to find Starsky, barely aware of the form standing over him menacingly. All he could think of was the shot. Had he missed? Had he hit…?

Oh, no, Starsky….

The misery the thought brought was far more painful than anything Hutch was feeling in his body. Desperation strengthened his arm, allowing him to put some weight on his elbow, and this time he was able to raise himself a little. He still couldn't see much, but he heard a gun cock at the same time a moan came from the man across his legs. The moan was unrecognizable, but not the sound of the gun. There was no time to analyze. No time to think. And again, barely the vision needed to aim, but aim he did, directly at the sound. Hutch's hand was slippery with sweat, and never before had the three pounds of steel felt like thirty. He was barely conscious when two shots went off almost simultaneously. One from his gun, and one from the weapon he never saw Charlie draw.

**********

For the second time that night, Starsky began a slow and painful return to consciousness. Unlike the previous time, it wasn't the smell that roused him, but a gentle shaking on his shoulders and a young frightened voice.

"Mister? Oh, boy, you're beat up bad. Mister? It's me, Bobby."

The pats on his face turned into mini-slaps, as Starsky groggily tried to regain consciousness and his equilibrium. At the moment, both were just out of his grasp, but the sharp slaps, combined with the humming in his ears, were beginning to make an impact.

"Oh-oh, God. Oh, man." Starsky began to curse, as he slowly raised his hands to lock on the throbbing ache that was his head. He squeezed the sides in a fruitless attempt to stop the pounding, then gave up and forced his eyes open. He recognized the boy but couldn't answer, as he took in the horror show surrounding him.

Death. At its ugliest extreme. The body lying at Starsky's feet, was Mikey, the man who had been trying to beat him to death. There was a gaping hole in the man's chest, and Starsky remembered hearing the Magnum's roar just before he'd finally passed out.

Hutch. Hutch must'a got to his gun somehow…. Hutch?

"HUTCH!" he yelled, with as much breath as he could expel from aching lungs and a pummeled diaphragm. He struggled to sit up, cringing as he recognized the stab of at least one broken rib, and, at the same time, he saw another dead body within touching distance. Only the need to get to Hutch prevented him from curling away from the horrific images. Starsky had seen more death than he ever wanted to remember in his years on the force, but this sight, in this claustrophobic smashed train car combined with the searing pain in his body to make this truly a waking nightmare. "Hutch!" he cried again, feeling a steady hand on his elbow.

"Mister?" The frightened young face pushed in close to Starsky. "Mister, let me help you. Where are you going?"

More awareness was coming back to Starsky, and, with a start, he realized he was practically lying on top of Hutch--at least on top of his legs. "Help me, Bobby, please. Help me up some."

Together, they made their way to Hutch's head. There wasn't room for both of them, but Bobby stayed close to Starsky's back. Supporting him with his hands and knees. When Starsky reached his partner, he was instantly relieved to see his mouth moving. He got down as low as he could to hear the whisper.

"Starsk? Starsk?"

"Oh, yeah, babe. Oh, yeah. I'm right here, and it's all over now. All over." He found Hutch's seeking right hand and gripped it as firmly as he could. "Hutch? Were you shot?" He couldn't see a bullet wound, but he had to ask. There'd been gunfire. There were two dead men obviously from Hutch's Magnum. Relief climbed a little higher when Hutch shook his head slowly.

"Okay," he murmured. "Okay, then. We're gonna get you out." At the same time he was trying to reassure Hutch, Starsky heard Bobby let out a gasp of distress.

"Bobby?" Starsky asked distractedly, trying to find the strength to get Hutch's head in his lap.

"Look! Oh, God, look at that!"

Reluctantly, Starsky turned his head to see what the boy was pointing at. The sight made him wince. It was their prisoner. Eyes open and staring with a switchblade buried in his throat.

"Look away, Bobby! Look at me!" Starsky directed firmly. "I need your help."

The boy continued to stare with trembling lips.

"Please, Bobby. Just listen to me and help me, okay? I need you to straighten my friend's legs out. Get your hands under his ankles but wait for me. Okay? Okay, Bobby?"

White-faced and trembling from head to toe, Bobby seemed to hear him that time, and he scooted down to Hutch's feet. "O-okay."

"Good boy." Starsky didn't waste anymore of his strength on words. His own pain and dizziness were making him barely able to function, but he had to get Hutch out. He had to get them all out. Hutch, Bobby, his mother…all of them, and he was the only one to do it. He pulled in a weak and shaky breath, then squeezed down on his side in order to reach Hutch's left arm. The cuffed and broken arm, he remembered with a heavy heart.

He went to the dead man's shoulders, and with a pain-filled cry, dragged him as far from Hutch as the cuffs and the limited room would allow. This gave him just enough room to reach Hutch's front pants' pockets. If the keys weren't there, Starsky knew the only other thing he could do to free his partner would be to force Leonard's arm out of the cuff. The thought of manipulating that dead limb in such a manner sickened him further.

Please let them be in his pocket.

Cold and stiff fingertips reached the top of the left pocket. The stretch to his upper body was torture, and from this position he could see more of the wound in Hutch's side. The one he'd been trying to put pressure on before the thugs had arrived. Starsky had no idea how much time had passed in that deadly exchange, but he knew just from looking that Hutch had lost a dangerous amount of blood. Hutch was also moaning again, crying out for him, and he wanted nothing more than to crawl back up to his partner's head, to cradle it and offer some kind of reassurance that they were all getting out of this alive.

The keys first, he reminded himself with grim determination, redoubling his efforts to search the pocket. It was flat and empty. Starsky sucked back his sigh of disappointment, and stretched farther to reach the right pocket.

"Starsky? Starsk, where…Starsk?" The weak plea coming from Hutch sounded more like delirium than consciousness. That scared Starsky even further, but still he tried to answer.

"I'm right here, partner, right here. I'm getting you out now." Starsky's shaking fingers covered the pocket. He found the small hard bulge at the bottom and gratefully dug inside until he was able to retrieve the ring. "Got it! Can you hear me, Hutch? I got the keys. We're on our way."

"Heard…a shot. Heard it. Starsk…."

Starsky was sorting through the ring to get the right key--the small one--as Hutch was muttering. "Easy, buddy. Bad guys are dead. You just lie still for me, okay?" Starsky forced his fingers to work and managed to insert the key without disturbing Hutch's arm too much. With a satisfying "click," the cuff was off the swollen and bruised wrist. Just knowing he'd accomplished that much--that Hutch was no longer cuffed to Leonard and they could move him to a more comfortable position where he could start to take care of him--buoyed Starsky at least a little bit.

He returned to the top of Hutch's head and tried to squat down, but that position put more pressure on his damaged midsection. This time, he groaned aloud with eyes squeezed tightly closed.

Hutch heard the sound, recognized it even in the shape he was in, and raised his right arm weakly, trying to reach behind him where Starsky was. "Starsk?" he cried out softly, his reserves long since spent.

Starsky swallowed hard and dropped to his knees. It gave him a little relief, but he knew he was on borrowed time. He was too badly hurt to expect much more from his body. Still, he tried again to reassure Hutch when he felt the arm bump his legs. "Sorry, partner. Didn't mean for you to hear that."

"How bad?" Hutch whispered, with enough coherency in his voice to surprise Starsky.

Starsky was getting his hands under Hutch's arms as he spoke. "Well, you've got a busted arm, so we're gonna go real slow moving you. I need to see what's causing that bleeding in your side and get that bandaged up--"

"Not me," Hutch interrupted. "You. I heard them. I saw… You. How bad?"

Starsky signaled to Bobby while he thought quickly, trying to figure out how much to tell his partner before he jumped to his own conclusions. "Bobby? Take his feet. We're gonna move him together, but wait for me."

The boy nodded and wrapped his arms around Hutch's ankles.

"Tell me, how bad?" Hutch tried again, his voice cracking and barely loud enough to be heard.

"Shhh, Hutch, easy. You don't need to worry about me, okay? They got some licks in, and my jaw feels like hamburger, but you stopped them before it got bad." Starsky prayed his lie would be believed. He only had a rudimentary understanding of first aid and injuries, but he knew Hutch was in shock, and he had to keep him as calm as he could and get the bleeding stopped.

Whether Hutch understood him or not he didn't know, because his words were barely out when Hutch went limp in his arms.

"Oh, God, Hutch!" Frantically, Starsky felt for the carotid artery in Hutch's cold-as-ice throat. It was there, but far too faint.

"Now, Bobby! Move backwards until I say stop."

Each inch they moved was agony for Starsky, but slowly and carefully they got Hutch into the more open area. Starsky was panting with pain and exertion, but he hurriedly ripped open the flaps of Hutch's shirt and peeled the jacket back as far as he could. The dim light made him want to scream in frustration, as he tried to see how bad the wound was. Then he remembered the flashlights the dead men had brought with them.

"Bobby, look around your feet; look all over the ground. See if you can find a flashlight. There should be two around here somewhere." Starsky placed the flat of his hand down on the wound in an attempt to slow the bleeding. This elicited a moan from Hutch, and his eyes fluttered open and shut a few times.

"Hey, babe, gonna stay awake for me?" Starsky encouraged, his own emotions severely reined in.

"That hurts," Hutch cried softly, making an attempt to turn away from the pressure.

Starsky was about to speak when Bobby held a large bundle aloft. "Look what I found! It's an emergency pack," he cried excitedly.

Having forgotten all about the pack he'd found earlier, Starsky could only nod in relief. Inside that pack would be a blanket for Hutch, and bandages, and a flashlight. "Rip it open," he ordered in a voice so hoarse and broken it could have belonged to a stranger.

The blanket whirred once as Bobby shook it open. Starsky caught it by the edge and wrapped it carefully around his partner, whispering to him as he tucked the edges around Hutch's legs with one hand, while the other smoothed the matted blond hair.

"I love you, Hutch," he murmured, not caring if Bobby heard him. The need to say it out-weighed anything else. The need to make Hutch hang on was primal. Basic. Strength gone, waiting for Bobby to unwrap the bandage, all he could do was repeat it from his heart--make Hutch hear him. "I love you…" Then he looked up in shock as the car began to fill with loud shouts. He and Bobby looked at each other for long seconds as the shouts drew nearer, both of them almost afraid to believe. When the first firefighter reached their area, they knew it was real. They had been found.

**********

Harold Dobey sat as quietly as he could in the hard, stiff-backed chair, watching his unconscious friend closely. The doctor in charge had reluctantly given his permission for him to wait inside the room, instead of the waiting area. It had taken all of Dobey's power of persuasion to convince the doctor that he had to be there when his detective woke up.

The battered face was pale and still, against the stark white pillow, and it was so hard to not think back to that other time, not that long ago, when this same man had lain in a similar bed fighting for his life. This time, Dobey reminded himself seriously, his life was not in danger. Two broken ribs, a concussion, and more bruises and contusions than Dobey could count made up the worst of his injuries. He would recover after a period of rest and healing. From what little information Dobey had been able to learn regarding the details of the crash and Leonard's murder, full recovery would be no small miracle.

The captain glanced at his wristwatch, his sleepless night showing in the slightly unfocused numbers on the wide face. He scrunched his eyes a bit until he was able to clearly read the time, and with a start, realized it was almost 8:00 in the morning. He'd received the call from this small hospital at 12:30 that same morning. The news of the crash had already been reported by that time, and he had been dressed and ready to start the eighty-mile drive to the crash site when the phone interrupted him. The knowledge that his men had been rescued eased some of the fear the horrible images of the burning train flashing from his television had brought him, but the nurse told him almost nothing of their conditions, only that they had been brought in.

The car radio had filled in some of the blanks during the long, frightened drive. A big-rig truck had stalled on the tracks less than an hour after the train had departed the Bay City station. The collision had been unavoidable, since the engineer simply had no time to stop the train, and the truck had no ability to get off the tracks. Some of the cars had derailed while others caught fire in the horrific chain of events. Some passengers walked away without a scratch, but many more had been injured and some killed. The numbers weren't in yet, nor was the search and rescue of all of the cars complete at that point. Dobey sighed heavily, as he remembered hearing these reports and wondering about his men.

When he'd arrived at the hospital, controlled chaos met him. Triage teams were in the parking lot, and ambulances slowly negotiating narrow passageways brought in some of the rescued passengers. The town only had one hospital, but there were two others in the surrounding area, and all were sharing the unexpected patient load.

Now he waited. Waited for Starsky to wake up. Waited for Hutch to come out of surgery. Waited to know….

Starsky moaned softly from the middle bed. The room held four beds, all occupied with men both asleep and awake with scared and confused expressions. Dobey ignored them as he hurried to Starsky's side. Black smudged eyes opened to look at him dazedly, and he picked up a limp hand and gave it an encouraging squeeze.

"Starsky. You're awake." Somehow, saying the obvious aloud was reassuring to the worried man.

"Cap'n? How?" Starsky moved his head slowly as he spoke, taking in the room and his surroundings. Dobey could hear his breathing quicken before he spoke again. "Where's Hutch?!"

"Hutch is in surgery," Dobey said as calmly as he could, making sure he had his free hand on Starsky's shoulder. It was a wise move, since the injured detective immediately tried to get up.

"Surgery. My God, while I've been just laying here?" Starsky tried to shake off Dobey's grip and move the sheet at the same time. "Let me up, Cap'n. I need to find out how my partner is."

"Lie down, Starsky, you're not going anywhere, and if you thrash around you'll get me tossed out of this room." Dobey punctuated his words with a gentle but firm shove to Starsky's slightly raised shoulders, forcing him back against his pillow. The sheet was redrawn a little awkwardly under Starsky's chin, and Dobey smoothed it as he tried for a soothing tone. "Hutch is going to be okay, and as soon as he's in the recovery room they're sending a nurse to tell me, so we'll know right away."

"What are they operatin' on him for?" Starsky held still for the answer, recognizing the return of the headache that had been present ever since the train had crashed. He thought back to his last glimpse of his partner, as they were both loaded into an ambulance. After that, he couldn't remember anything else.

"He lost a lot of blood," Dobey began.

"I know that, I was there." The throbbing was hard to ignore, as Starsky tried to speak slowly. "I couldn't get him clear to be able to stop it until the very end, and by that time the rescue crew was there. I knew it was bad, though." One hand flew up in frustration to pull at a tangled curl. "I should'a--"

"Starsky, you were in a train wreck with serious injuries yourself. I'm sure you did all you could for your partner." Dobey glanced down at the tortured face, wondering if he should wait to make his next comment. He thought for only a moment before he jumped in. "Starsky, I spent a lot of time last night in the waiting room with a young man named Bobby. He was waiting for his mother to be treated."

"Did you hear if she's gonna be okay?" Starsky asked. "Bobby was real worried about her, but then he came to help. He was…oh, shit." He paused to angrily wipe at his eyes, momentarily focusing on something other than fear for his partner, as he remembered Bobby's fear for his mother. The boy had so willingly gone to his aide….

"Yes, I did." Dobey was grateful to have some good news to give his stricken detective. "They're keeping her a day for observation, but she didn't need surgery, only a pile of stitches. Bobby called his father in Portland--that's where they're from--and his dad was catching the next plane. They're all going to be fine."

"That's real good," Starsky said briefly, his thoughts already back on Hutch.

Dobey tried again. "Starsky, Bobby told me what he saw. Between that and what the ambulance attendants who brought you in told me, I think I know a bit of what happened." He finished carefully, not wanting to upset Starsky any more.

"So, you know about Leonard," Starsky replied wearily.

"Yes, I know." The breath Dobey took in was deep and shuddering, literally moving his ribcage. "Starsky, I…" the words died in Dobey's throat as he imagined the horror his men had experienced. What Starsky and Hutch both had to see and fight to live through.

"Finish tellin' me about Hutch," Starsky demanded. "I don't want to think about anything else right now."

The captain nodded simply. "Okay, we can talk about the rest of it when you're feeling stronger."

"Cap'n, please."

Dobey placed a palm over Starsky's hand a little awkwardly. "Something punctured Hutch's side, you know that from what you saw, but the bleeding wasn't just on the outside, it was internal as well."

"And?"

"They're operating to repair the damage. That's all I know, Starsky."

Starsky felt an unwelcome tremor in his chin, and he used a finger to steady it. "How long?"

"Since the crash?" Dobey asked to clarify the question.

"No, how long have they been operating?"

"I'm not sure, son. It's been a few hours now, I guess."

"Jesus." Starsky turned pleading eyes on his superior. "Cap'n, I can't just lay here without knowing something. Please, go find out how he is."

Dobey could see the grief and barely restrained panic, so he stopped himself from explaining he'd just checked on Hutch's condition not thirty minutes before. "Okay, I'll be right back, but you stay in that bed!"

With a warning nod Dobey headed for the door, only to have it open before he could reach it. He stood back to make room for an exhausted-looking man wearing green hospital scrubs.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Olson, are you the man waiting for information on Detective Kenneth Hutchinson? I was told you were waiting in this room instead of the waiting area."

Dobey ignored the disapproving tone, but before he could answer, Starsky cried out loudly from the bed, "How's my partner?"

The doctor stepped to the bed with one finger at his lips. "Calm down, there are other patients here trying to rest."

Starsky didn't give a damn about the other patients, and he asked again in only a slightly lower voice. "How's my partner?"

The doctor glanced at Dobey, who was returning to the bed himself.

"Doctor, this is Detective Hutchinson's partner, Detective David Starsky. He just woke up a few minutes ago, and he's been very anxious to get some information. We both are," he added in a low tone, praying the news would be good. The sight of Starsky's white, stricken face caused an uncomfortable lump in his throat.

The doctor reached a hand down to Starsky's shoulder, patting him a few times before he spoke. "Your partner came through the surgery beautifully, and I was able to repair the damage caused by the puncture. He'll be receiving blood transfusions as well as IV antibiotics while we get him back on his feet, but I believe he'll be just fine."

Starsky closed his eyes, savoring the words, incapable of speech at the moment. However, the men watching him closely saw everything on his face that he wasn't saying with words. Bruised and battered though it was, the expression was still very recognizable. David Starsky was beaming.

**********

"Hey, Starsk!"

Even though he was pulling a casserole from the oven when the shout reached his ears, Starsky shouted back, a small smile on his face at the petulant tone that had been delivered.

"Whatcha want, Blondie?"

"I want that hanger thing. My arm is itching under this damn cast!"

"Go get the hanger thing, then. I'm gettin' dinner and your legs aren't broken," Starsky responded firmly, laughter just under the surface of his words.

"Come on, Starsk, I just got comfortable on the couch, and I don't want to get up and find it."

"I'm holding a hot dish of noodles and God knows what else right now. You're gonna have to wait or find it yourself."

Some heavy grumbling was issued from the living room as Starsky put the casserole down, opened the lid, and then began stirring it a bit suspiciously. He only looked up briefly when Hutch entered the kitchen, scratching furiously inside the top edge of his cast as he leaned against the doorframe. "I can't find it."

Starsky put the spoon down and turned around with a smile. "Come 'ere, I'll find something that will work," he said, beginning to rummage through the silverware drawer.

Barefoot, and clad in only a tank-style shirt and cut-off shorts, Hutch shuffled over to stand next to his partner. He extended his casted arm gratefully and waited for the cure. "Hurry?"

"Here we go, this'll work." Starsky held a long wooden skewer in his hand, as he grabbed Hutch's arm carefully.

"What the hell is that?" Hutch asked, then began to wriggle. "Hurry, Starsk."

"Big baby." Starsky inserted the skewer and began to gently move it up and down inside the cast. "To answer your question, this is a fondue skewer."

"When do we ever eat fondue?" Hutch wondered aloud, even with his eyes closed in bliss. "Oh, yeah, there, babe…right there."

Starsky smiled indulgently and increased his efforts to bring relief to the encased arm. "I seem to remember those words from our distant past." Hutch had been home from the hospital for over a week now, but it was only the last day or two that he'd started to feel like himself again, the casted arm not withstanding. "Have I told you today how good it is to have you back home?"

Hutch opened his eyes and wrapped his right hand around Starsky's neck. He leaned in tight and very softly kissed him. "No, I think you forgot to mention it today, but you can tell me right after you tell me when we've eaten fondue. Do we have a fondue pot?"

Laughing hard, Starsky withdrew the skewer and tossed it in the sink before going to Hutch's waist and drawing him close. "Somewhere in this house we have a fondue pot, but don't ask me where it came from, and, no, we've never eaten fondue." His hand traveled lower to caress Hutch's hip and nearly naked thigh. "Wanna see what we're eating tonight, though?"

Together, they walked to the steaming casserole, and Starsky reclaimed the spoon, giving the dish a few heavy stirs.

"What is that?" Hutch asked, taking a tentative sniff. "I can see the noodles, but the rest is all gray."

"I have no idea," Starsky replied cheerfully. "You know as well as I do that all the kind ladies in our life stocked both our refrigerators and freezers with all these dishes. All I do is read the attached note and try not to burn it, I claim no responsibility for knowing what it is."

"Which kind lady gave us that one? I know it wasn't Edith, because Edith knows how to cook."

"I'm tellin' you I have no idea. The note wasn't signed." Starsky closed the lid again.

"If I left that at someone's house, I wouldn't sign the note, either," Hutch said decisively. "Here we are convalescents, and someone leaves us that. It's enough to make you wonder if she really likes us at--"

Starsky silenced him with a deep kiss, one ripe with meaning, then released him to say, "You know what, babe? I feel all better now. How about you?"

Hutch sighed loudly, feeling a hunger that had nothing to do with food start somewhere deep inside him. "I feel pretty damn good, Starsk, but I don't feel like dinner."

"No?"

"No. I think we both need an early night, starting right now." With a smile heavy with promise, Hutch led a more than willing Starsky toward the bedroom, and neither spared a glance at the gray-colored food intended to satisfy their appetites. That, they'd take care of on their own.

The setting sun provided a warm, soft hue to Starsky's bedroom. The bed itself was unmade, since Hutch had napped earlier, but the rumpled sheets looked very inviting to both men.

"I need to kiss you," Hutch stated simply, wrapping his good arm around Starsky's waist and pulling him close. He gently touched his nose to Starsky's, then nuzzled against the bristly cheeks. "Been so long, huh?"

"Too long, Hutch, but are you sure you feel...ready?" Starsky's lips remained parted after he spoke, chin tilted in anticipation.

Hutch just nodded and began to show Starsky how ready he was. Their kiss was deep and long and soft and lovely. It was as intoxicating as wine, making both feel light-headed. They parted at the same time, moist lips simply smiling at each other, as they stood chest to chest. Hutch moved his hand from Starsky's waist, skimming it over supple denim full with curves. His breath quickened when he felt Starsky's answering stroke, first on his covered buttock, then on his bare thigh. He couldn't contain a little shiver when that hand made its way up past the hem of his cut-offs to explore.

Hutch pushed forward, but Starsky pulled back with a deep, throaty chuckle. His hand remained inside Hutch's shorts, splayed fingers softly kneading. "Why, Detective Hutchinson, you seem to be missing your underwear."

"You're such a good investigative cop," Hutch said, wearing a faint blush on cheeks that had been too pale for weeks. "Its hard to get dressed with one hand, so the less I put on..."

"Means the less I have to take off," Starsky finished for him. "I think I'll take care of that right now."

Starsky fumbled deliberately at Hutch's zipper, delighted to feel the hardness waiting for him. The snap pulled free with a loud "crack," but it went unheard compared to the loud knock at the front door that occurred at the same time.

Both men looked at each other in shock, as if a knock at the front door was an unknown event. "Is that someone at the door?" Hutch asked stupidly, momentarily forgetting the stream of visitors they'd been having since, first Starsky, and then himself were released from the hospital.

Starsky shook his head at his partner, grinning slightly at the shocked expression he wore. "Well, I don't think the wind did the knocking, so, yes, I guess someone's at the door."

"If we ignore it, they'll go away," Hutch said with determination, again pulling Starsky close.

"If we ignore it, they'll either bust in or call an ambulance," Starsky replied, pulling out of Hutch's embrace. "We're convalescents, remember? We're supposed to be here." He ran a quick hand through his hair, then glanced at Hutch's flushed face, and the way-too-tight shorts he was now wearing. "You stay here, I'll get it. If it's the Avon Lady, I'll be right back."

"Try and get rid of whoever it is fast, okay?" Hutch asked, then went to the bed and began making a show of smoothing the sheets.

Starsky didn't bother replying, but he did close the bedroom door on his way out. The knocking at the front door had started again, while he tried to quickly straighten his clothing. "Coming, hang on!"

He opened the door to find Lizzie and Arturo standing there, both wearing impatient expressions. "About time, Starsky. Liz and I were about to set up a picnic right here on your balcony." Arturo brushed past Starsky as he spoke, bearing a large covered bowl.

"Um, hi," Starsky mumbled, quickly grabbing a six-pack of Pepsi that Lizzie was juggling with another bundle, as she, too, entered the apartment. "This is a surprise, guys."

"We did think about calling, Starsky, but the afternoon started to disappear on us," Lizzie said, already inside the kitchen. "Then we had to stop by my place to pick up the food I made last night. We figured you and Hutch must be getting pretty tired of warmed-up casseroles by now."

"That's the understatement of the year, but you really shouldn't've gone to the trouble."

You really, really shouldn't have, Starsky thought in frustration, wondering what Hutch was thinking of this turn of events from behind the bedroom door.

Arturo settled himself on the couch, as Lizzie started to busy herself in the kitchen. He smiled at Starsky warmly. "We haven't had much of a chance to really visit with you and Hutch. I mean, sure, we took the drive when you were both still laid up in the hospital, but neither of you were even awake very long. Eighty-mile drive, too." He finished with a laugh.

"True, but I seem to remember you were still wearing that fancy hospital headband at the time, Arturo," Starsky teased back, before joining him on the couch. "You'd barely been released yourself, then."

"Speaking of being released," Arturo said, changing the topic, "where's your partner? Is he napping?"

"What the hell is this?" Lizzie cried from the kitchen, at the same time the bedroom door opened, and Hutch joined them wearing a pair of loose fitting jeans and a crew-necked t-shirt. A barely there wink greeted Starsky before Hutch answered Lizzie's question.

"Thatwas going to be our dinner, but unless I heard you wrong, you've brought us something else?" Hutch walked to the middle of the living room as he spoke, then turned his head to catch Arturo's eyes. "And, no, I wasn't napping. I'm just about done with the invalid routine."

"Beside the fact he took a two-hour nap earlier this afternoon," Starsky supplied, followed by a chuckle.

"It wasn't two hours," Hutch protested loudly, then turned to Lizzie who had just joined him where he stood.

Lizzie laughed at the harmless bickering, then reaching up, captured Hutch's face between her hands. She inspected him closely before kissing his cheek. "You do look better, thank God. Still too pale, though. Why don't you sit down?"

"I think I'll do just that," Hutch made his way to the couch, perching on the arm next to where Starsky sat. "You going to join us?"

"Nope," she responded, turning back to the kitchen. "I'm going to toss out your intended dinner, because it looks like dog food, and then lay out this nice meal we brought. We're eating right away. Arturo and I aren't staying late. He needs to get home and you two still need rest."

"I'll give you a hand, partner," Arturo said, quickly getting up from the couch. "Let's get these two bums fed."

Ten minutes later, the group was seated around Starsky's kitchen table, enjoying the shrimp and vegetable salad, along with numerous pieces of hot crusty French bread, dripping butter.

"This is incredible, Lizzie," Hutch commented, eating more than he had since he'd been injured. "I'd forgotten what fresh food tasted like."

"Listen to him," Starsky grumbled, lips shiny with butter. "I've been keeping us fed."

Hutch found himself drawn to those lips, briefly imagining the extra softness and taste provided by the butter, so he hurriedly pulled his eyes away and turned to Arturo. "Have the Feds turned any connection yet between the punks that jumped you and...Leonard?"

The day following Hutch's surgery, federal agents, as well as senior detectives from the police division investigating the assault on Arturo, had interviewed him and Starsky. The two teams were working together to configure both crime scenes: the robbery and assault at the coffee shop, with the attempted murder of Starsky and Hutch and the murder of William Leonard. The killers on the train had been traced back to the Washington-based crime outfit that Leonard had been working for.

Arturo looked up quickly, then put down the piece of bread he'd been eating. "No, nothing. You already know the perps that took me down left no fingerprints and were wearing masks. I've been interviewed so many times I've lost count. They ask the same questions, and I give the same answers. I didn't see their faces or recognize their voices." He glanced around the table, taking in all his friends in turn. "I'll tell you something. I have a new appreciation for the witnesses we question every day. Sometimes the answers just aren't there."

Lizzie covered his hand briefly, before starting to clear the table. Starsky started to rise, but she motioned him back down. "I've got this." She made a quick trip to the sink, then came back to the table. "I also have my partner. And we have our friends--you two. You all came way too close." A deep sigh followed her words and she quickly gathered more dishes.

Arturo watched her back for a moment, before addressing Starsky and Hutch. "Lizzie's right. We're damned lucky to have you two back. Hearing about what happened--"

Starsky glanced at Hutch, noting the change in his complexion. The events of that night, when they'd both had to find resources they hadn't known they possessed to save the other, would not be forgotten easily. They'd spent a lot of time talking it out with each other, once they were home. Facing what each had felt when he thought the other could be lost. Combined with this, was inevitable guilt that Leonard had been murdered while in their custody. Both knew they'd done everything in their power to stop it, but that didn't change anything. The man was dead. It was all still raw pain to remember, and it belonged only to them. Even friends as close as Arturo and Lizzie would never know its depth.

"You're right," Starsky interrupted quickly. "We were real lucky." He cleared his throat before speaking again. "How about I make some coffee?"

Returning from the kitchen, Lizzie only had to look once at the forced smiles before answering quickly. "Sorry, but we have to be heading out now. Carolyn will be wondering what's taking so long."

"You should have brought her," Hutch said, getting to his feet.

"Next time," Arturo answered hurriedly. "This was spur of the moment."

Neither Starsky nor Hutch reminded them that they'd said the food had been made the night before. They all just walked as a group to the front door and exchanged warm good-byes.

Hutch closed the door sharply, then walked to the kitchen. Soon, the sound of running water reached Starsky's ears, and he joined his partner at the sink.

"Better finish cleaning up, huh?" Hutch said with a bright smile, beginning to wield a sponge one-handed. He looked up in surprise when Starsky took it away from him.

"No, that can wait ''til morning." He reached a hand behind Hutch's neck, his clasp warm and possessive. "It won't always hurt this bad, babe."

Hutch shut his eyes, nodding as he released a shuddering sigh. "I know. It's just that sometimes...I can still hear it in my head. Their voices. What they were doing to you."

Starsky tightened his grip. "And sometimes when I close my eyes, I can still see you layin' there, with all that blood, and me not knowing if I could get you out. If I could stop it."

"But you did get me out."

"And you did stop them from killing me."

"And we both survived."

"That's right," Starsky whispered, reaching his other hand around Hutch's waist. "We both survived."

Neither spoke again. They walked as one into the bedroom, then Starsky lit the few candles in the room before pulling off his shirt. Shoes and socks were removed before he sat on the bed and held a hand out to Hutch, beckoning him closer. "Come 'ere."

Hutch never took his eyes from his partner's face as he crossed the floor to join him. Once seated, he turned bright eyes on Starsky, his expression thoughtful and tender.

"Whatcha thinking about?" Starsky asked, lacing his fingers through Hutch's fine hair.

"About how good you look in candlelight," Hutch answered in a whisper. "Or moonlight or sunlight…about how good it's going to feel to make love to you." Hutch's hand was slow and gentle, as he stroked Starsky's side and belly. Appreciating the bare skin that had been wrapped in tape to protect his healing ribs until a few days ago. "So…good."

The honeyed tone Hutch used went straight to Starsky's heart. "We're gonna make love to each other...slow and easy," he said gently, finding the bottom of Hutch's t-shirt and pulling it free. "And I'm not the only one in this room who looks pretty damn good in candlelight." Starsky started to lift the shirt. "Raise your arms."

Hutch did as he was told, pulling both arms over his head. The weight of the cast was barely noticeable when Starsky began nuzzling under his right armpit, holding his shirt high. Hutch squirmed in pleasure, delighting in each tug Starsky's teeth were delivering to the hair there, then a kiss in the same spot, before the shirt was pulled over his head.

His arms remained over his head, as he enjoyed the feel of his partner's delicate touch, painting his sternum and throat with just the tips of his nails, then Hutch felt his arms being lowered by his elbows. Somehow, he then found himself on his back, not quite sure how he'd gotten there. Or when his legs had reached the bed, for that matter.

"Starsk?"

"Down here, babe," Starsky replied from the foot of the bed. He was working to remove Hutch's shoes and socks as he spoke.

"Why don't you get back up here?" Hutch settled a pillow behind his head as he spoke. Now he could see his partner, and he loved what he saw. The auburn hint in the dark hair backlit by the glowing candles. The working muscles in both Starsky's arms and stomach. The slightly flushed, bare chest. He could look at this man forever, but right now he needed to touch. "Don't make me wait."

"Don't be so impatient," Starsky said with a wide grin. He took hold of both Hutch's bare ankles, spreading his legs until there was enough room for Starsky to knee-walk in between them. Briefly, he hovered over Hutch's groin, then lowered himself to plant a trail of moist kisses along Hutch's jaw and throat. "See," he murmured against his neck. "I'm right here."

"Right where I want you," Hutch responded, curling a leg over Starsky's thighs to press him closer. Then using his good hand, he stroked the back of Starsky's neck, guiding him back to his mouth. "Gonna kiss you a whole lot," he declared, then ran his tongue around Starsky's lips, circling them wetly, before starting a gentle dart to part them.

Starsky eagerly welcomed that seeking tongue inside his mouth, but he let the gentleness only last a second, before he took the lead, and that sweet kiss changed to a searing thing. Together, they hummed their pleasure, and neither knew how long they took to just enjoy this simple act again. Letting it ignite their passion into a steady blaze.

"I could kiss you all night," Hutch got out between breaths, when they finally parted.

"Sorry, Blondie, but with what I have in mind for us--well, let's just say you'll be sleeping like a baby when we're done."

"Says you," Hutch whispered.

"Says me, all right." Starsky returned in a very confident voice. He rolled off Hutch to lie next to his left side, right against the hard cast. Then he used gentle fingers to trace around the bandage Hutch still wore over his surgical site. "Just one thing, though."

"What's that?" Hutch asked, picking up Starsky's hand and depositing it on his own swollen crotch.

Starsky ran the heel of his hand over the cloth-covered mound several times before he answered, waiting until Hutch began to squirm. "I'm directing the show. I know you're feeling okay--and I intend to make you feel even better momentarily--but I don't want you getting too physical, so I'm in charge."

"You love to get tough," Hutch hissed out, his concentration all between his legs and what Starsky was doing to him with that hand.

"I love you."

"That's mutual, babe." With an effort, Hutch pushed Starsky's hand away and started fumbling for his own zipper. His erection was demanding its freedom. "Just watch how fast I'll be on my belly once I get these damn jeans off, then you can direct this show and screw me into tomorrow."

Starsky laughed deeply and replaced Hutch's hand with his own. The stubborn zipper came down easily, and one fast tug had Hutch's jeans and briefs bunched on his thighs. Starsky stared unabashedly, soaking up the beauty of all that naked masculinity. He gripped the long cock firmly, just holding it for now. "Nuh, uh. That's not how we're doing it."

It was impossible to think clearly with Starsky's hand wrapped around his hungry length, making him throb, making him want to thrust, making him want to reciprocate. He needed to feel Starsky, needed him out of those pants. He grabbed Starsky's waistband. "No more talking. You get naked and then I'll do any damn thing you want."

"That's an offer only a fool would pass up." Starsky got off the bed in order to expeditiously shed the last of his clothing. He undressed with his back to Hutch, well aware of his partner's fascination for his ass. His own erection was swaying, so Starsky used a hand to steady it as he climbed back on the bed, kneeling next to his partner.

"God, you're so beautiful," Hutch whispered, reaching for that thick length he couldn't take his eyes from.

"Flattery will get you royally laid, babe," Starsky returned, quivering when Hutch found his balls. Even one-handed, Hutch was delivering an exquisite torture to the snug testicles--first letting them lie in his large palm, then squeezing them ever so slowly and softly.

"Wish I had the use of both my hands," Hutch said regretfully, leaving Starsky's balls to trace a thumb around the head of his moist cock. "I don't like having to do things one at a time."

"Aw, man. Aw, Hutch…God, so good. You're doing just fine. Too fine, in fact. Been so long since you touched me like this. I feel like a horny seventeen-year-old."

"You feel pretty damn good to me." Hutch began to stroke in earnest, curling his hand tightly. He made the rhythm as erotic as he could, ending each stroke with a tease to the head and putting just a little pressure under the crown--enough to make Starsky cry his name again.

"Hutch!"

"Yeah, Mr. Director?" Hutch laughed before resuming his actions, knowing he was in control of his partner's pleasure, and reveling in the joy that brought him, while he brought joy to this man he loved with all his being. So caught up in the feel of that delicate skin sliding through his closed fist, at first Hutch barely registered the fact that it left him with a smacking noise, then he looked bereft. "No fair, Starsk."

"Shut up, Blondie, and lay your gorgeous self back down." Starsky punctuated his words with a slight shove to Hutch's shoulders. Once Hutch had complied, Starsky hurriedly moved to strip the forgotten jeans and underwear from the strong thighs. He took a moment to massage them, one hand on each thigh, before seeking out the satiny inner skin, lavishing it with attention. "Gotta get you real, real hard."

"I am hard," came Hutch's rejoinder. "Feel me. I'm real, real hard."

"Little bit more." Starsky dipped his head and drew Hutch's cock slowly into his mouth, loving the gasp of surprise Hutch issued, as if he'd never gone down on him before. Starsky worked the head first, tonguing it wickedly while his hand gripped and caressed the base. Then he tugged at the sweat-dampened hair just to entice, letting that tiny bit of pain sharpen the pleasure his mouth and tongue were bringing his now groaning partner. Starsky sucked in one inch at a time, until his mouth could hold no more, and Hutch was simply writhing.

"OhGodohGodohGod."

That's it, baby. That's it. Feel my mouth all around you, making you so hot. So crazy. Gonna do you so good. Starsky continued his silent encouragement along with his sensuous sucking, until he tasted Hutch's juices and knew he had to pull off. He knelt over him, panting, catching his breath, and trying to control his own raging desire.

Hutch's wet cock stood straight up in anger. Its owner was even less pleased. "Starsky!"

"Hang on, we're gettin' to the main event now."

Hutch groaned in frustration, then watched as Starsky fumbled in the nightstand drawer. His frustration turned to renewed anticipation, when he saw the half empty tube Starsky held in his hand.

"Me?" he asked, beginning to draw up his knees.

Starsky pushed them back down. "Us," he answered, quickly squirting a stream of the silky jelly over Hutch's erection, then spread it carefully, knowing Hutch was right on the edge. He handed the tube over when he was finished, then turned around, straddling Hutch's chest on all fours, his bottom only inches from Hutch's face. "Put some in me, babe."

Too excited and far too mesmerized by that lush ass to worry about how he was going to balance himself on one arm while penetrating his partner, Hutch simply did as he was told. He coated the warm passageway thoroughly, then pumped two fingers inside it, relaxing the muscle.

Starsky bit his lip, the feel of his lover's fingers stretching and working his asshole so intense, he was afraid just that was going to make him lose it. "'Nuff," he cried hoarsely, crawling forward away from those magical digits. "That's all we need."

Hutch watched in fascination, as Starsky turned around to face him again, then deliberately knelt over Hutch's raging erection. He grabbed it at the base, then positioned it over his center, rubbing the head against his clenching orifice to wet it more. He grinned at Hutch, who was staring at him wide-eyed and open mouthed. Without a word he lowered himself, taking an inch inside, letting the head of Hutch's rigid cock spear him and open him to this delight. "Oh, yeah, oh, yeah. I got you now."

"Who has who?" Hutch wondered aloud in delicious confusion. One centimeter at a time, his shaft was engulfed in that tight heat, making his blood roar in his ears, as he watched Starsky's face. Watched each erotic gesture that massaged his cock until Starsky was sitting, squirming, flush on his lap. "Oh, babe."

Starsky was breathing as hard as if he'd just completed a foot race, but his expression was pure smug lust. "Gonna fuck me now, baby?" he asked, as he began to raise himself again, just enough to let the tiniest amount of air pass between their joined bodies.

Hutch couldn't answer with words, but his hips made his intent clear. With his good arm wrapped around Starsky's ass, helping his rise and fall, Hutch began to pump.

It was shattering, this union. Hearts pounded as their bodies sought to bring each other to a sweet crescendo. Again and again, Starsky raised up while Hutch soared to meet him, then finally he anchored him down. Starsky sat still, while he watched Hutch's face change, watched the orgasm first show itself there, sparking the blue eyes until they closed tight, and Hutch's mouth went slack, then he felt the creamy jets inside him. It was that look. That look of pure bliss and the knowledge that he'd put that look on Hutch's face, that finished him. With no additional stimulation to his throbbing cock, Starsky came, spraying Hutch's chest.

Long moments were spent staring at each other in wonder. Amazed that they could always make it this good, this special. Their caresses were tender as each loathed to leave the other, needing to touch, to relax and come down from the peak while still joined. Both knowing that nowhere on the planet were there any two people more in love than they were.

"I love you." From the heart. From the soul. Said simultaneously by both men. Then Starsky eased himself up and off of Hutch's body, lying next to him to cuddle close.

"Wanna take a bath together?" Starsky asked, after a few quiet moments. His fingers dipped in the fluid on Hutch's chest as he spoke, motivated by a strong need to prolong the intimacy a little bit longer.

"Only if the bathtub is now located bedside." Hutch was simply too sated to move, although the offer was tempting.

Starsky took his hand. "Come on. One quick bath. I'll even use those big sponges on you, and I know for damn sure you'll probably fall asleep in there."

Hutch allowed himself to be towed, knowing when he was out-maneuvered. "Well, if I do, don't let me drown, okay?"

"Not a chance. Don't you know by now that with me you'll always be safe?"

Hutch felt a lump in his throat, as he digested the truth and beauty of those words. "Yeah, that's one thing in this world I can always count on. Just like I know the sun will rise and set, and tomorrow I'll love you even more than I do today."

"That's mutual, Blondie."

Together, they headed for the tub.

**********

Send your comments to :
ZebraThree Productions: z3prod@yahoogroups.com
Author: rosiered2000@aol.com

In two weeks on Starsky & Hutch:
Surprises! by Lucy

SHSVS Home || Zebra3 Productions || Episode Main Page