Heartfelt Thanks
by pepcidDC

SHSVS, Episode 614, Part 1

Wednesday Afternoon:

Headquarters had gone insane.

The first clue was the extraordinary number of police vehicles parked out front.

"Something's up," Starsky commented as he circled the lot again, looking for a space.

Hutch nodded. "We were only gone, what, two hours?" On a fruitless interview that had yielded nothing on a case going nowhere. Hutch sighed and let his head drop back on the seat, as Starsky circled again, found a spot, and slid in before a black-and-white could grab it.

A space in the outside lot.

They still avoided the garage whenever possible--a mutual decision they never really discussed. Hutch closed his eyes, remembering when he had brought Starsky home from the hospital.

"How'd you know--?" Hutch frowned, obviously puzzled how Starsky could know where the bullets had lodged since he'd never seen the car in its damaged state.

"I know one went through the window, and there were two in the side." Starsky squinted at the car. "I figure, the two that hit me here," he pointed to a spot on his stomach, "and here," then to another spot a bit higher, "must'a gone in right about there. The one that nailed my lung had to be the one that shattered the window."

"How did you know the window was broken?"

"Shattering glass," Starsky said, more to himself than Hutch, his fingertips resting lightly against the bottom of the restored window on the driver's side. "I...I remember shattering glass." He swallowed. "In dreams sometimes. It's not very clear. Good to know I was right, though. Now I know I'm not nuts."

"Not about that, anyway," Hutch quipped, trying to lighten the mood a little. "Ready to go now?"(1)

Hutch opened his eyes and rubbed his head, banishing the images from his mind. He ignored his partner's worried glance as they headed for the station.

The next clue came when they walked through the doors of the squadroom and into an utter madhouse. The halls were filled with people--all shapes, colors, and sizes--all in handcuffs. They were handcuffed to the railings on the stairs, to benches and chairs, to file cabinets. There was even a long chain stretched between desks, with people chained along its length. From what Hutch could see, they were spilling out of the interrogation rooms. The noise level was intense, with everyone talking and complaining, some at the top of their lungs.

"What the hell?" Starsky stopped dead, his sneakers squeaking on the floor. There was a chain wrapped around the vending machine and a couple of guys chained there as well.

"Hutch! Starsky!" Dobey's voice called. "Get your butts in here."

They moved farther down the hall and into the squadroom to see that every available table and desk was filled with officers processing perps. Lizzie and Arturo were there, with a handcuffed prisoner in a chair by each of their desks. Through the door, they could see Dobey standing at his desk, apparently taking a guy's fingerprints. Starsky stopped dead in his tracks for a second time. "Captain? Booking?" He clutched at his breast and staggered, bumping into the desk.

"Wise ass. Get to work." Dobey took his prisoner's hand and rolled it on the inkpad.

Hutch grabbed his chair. "What the hell's going on?"

"We was framed." A fat, sweaty man in the chair next to Hutch's desk squirmed in his handcuffs.

Arturo snorted as he pulled a report from his machine. "B & E decided to run a sting operation in our neck of the woods. They set up a pawnshop, used cops from another precinct to man the thing, and started doing business. Let it be known that they weren't choosy as to where the merchandise came from." He signed off at the bottom. "In a fit of creative stupidity, they invited their 'customers' to a pre-Thanksgiving party. A 'thanks-for-your-support' kind of thing. Passed along the story about having a big spread. Open bar. Women. They went so far as to hire a hall."

Starsky snickered. "A great big hall, with a band and all."

Everyone, including the perps, rolled their eyes.

Arturo stood, gesturing for his guy to stand. "All their customers showed up, eager for a party."
He pulled the guy into Dobey's office and seated him in a chair. "This one's ready for prints, Cap'n."

Dobey snarled as he pressed his current "customer's" fingers on a print sheet. "Worked even better than they thought it would. As a result, booking is overwhelmed and we're taking the overflow."

"This is the overflow?" Hutch looked a little dazed and pitied the guys in booking. "I didn't think we had this many cells."

"I didn't know we had this many handcuffs," Starsky commented.

"Yeah," Dobey growled. "Unless these guys are all processed by tonight, it blows the hell out of the holiday sche--"

"Hey, man! I gotta go!" one of the guests out in the hall called out, and he was joined by hoots and hollers of some of the others.

"Damn," Dobey snorted. "I better see if I can get a uniform for escort duty. If one needs to go, they'll all have to go."

"Nah," Starsky said. "I'll do it." He moved back to the hallway. "All right, you bums, who's first?"

Lizzie shot a glance at Dobey's back.

"Problem?" Hutch asked quietly, as he got ready for his first customer.

She puffed out a breath of exasperated air. "No, just that I had asked to get off early tonight and for tomorrow off. Now, thanks to these idiots--"

Arturo chimed in, "We'll get it done, Lizzie."

Lizzie glared at the hapless man sitting cuffed in the chair next to her. "What's your name?"

The guy scowled at her and stayed quiet.

Lizzie narrowed her eyes.

The guy swallowed hard and complied with the demand.

Sadly, eighty-five percent of police work is paperwork. Neat, accurate, and done right the first time. Once they got into a routine, the detectives really started cranking out the work. It was just a matter of getting it all done.

"Hey, Hutch."

Hutch never looked up as he typed. "Yeah, Arturo?"

"You got plans for Thanksgiving?" The younger man was banging away at his typewriter. "Carolyn says you should come over to our place."

Starsky waltzed in with a fresh suspect for Lizzie. Hutch couldn't help notice the grace of his movements, as he almost seemed to dance. He caught the vague sound of Starsky humming under his breath. "Hey, Starsk."

The dark curls danced as the head swiveled in his direction, eyebrows raised in a silent "what?"

"Arturo's inviting us for Thanksgiving."

Starsky shook his head. "We got plans."

"We do?"

"We do." Starsky made his way through the press of bodies into Dobey's office. "Captain, got any ready to go?"

Hutch shrugged. "Guess we got plans, Arturo."

Arturo laughed. "Guess you do." He cleared his throat a bit. "How about you, Lizzie?"

Lizzie looked up from her desk. "Huh?"

"Carolyn wanted me to invite you and your daughter for Thanksgiving." He looked abashed. "I know it's kinda late notice, but it'd be nice to get together."

Hutch held his breath. Lizzie stopped what she was doing and looked at her partner. "Well, we were gonna get together with my mom."

"Bring her, too."

Lizzie looked back down at her paperwork. "I'll talk to her tonight and give you a call."

Verducci spoke up. "Hey, Arturo, did I hear Carolyn's expecting?"

Arturo smiled proudly. "Yeah." He pounded on his typewriter. "How old is yours now, Verducci?"

The pride in Verducci's voice was obvious. "Seven months." He pulled his report from the typewriter and started signing. "We really wanted to take the baby to see my in-laws this year. My wife's dad's not so good and can't travel. I've got the time, but with a house, three dogs, plants, and goldfish, no way we can leave the house empty. You know how much they charge at the kennel?"

Lizzie looked up. "Bad?"

"Bad." Verducci sighed. "And you can't kennel goldfish."

Everyone looked at him.

He shrugged. "My wife, she's real attached to the fish. And no way in hell the goldfish are going with us."

Dobey stood in the doorway to his office. "I'm caught up. Anybody ready for fingerprints?"

Verducci stood. "Here ya go. This guy's ready." He got his guy up and moving, then returned to his desk. "Hey, Hutch, you guys still thinking about buying a house?"

Hutch shrugged. "Yeah. Been too busy to do anything about it besides talk." Internally he winced. Yeah, they'd been busy, but there were other considerations.

"Starsky, I've been thinking."

"Oh, God. Why do those words always strike terror in my heart?" Starsky kidded.

"Oh, be quiet." Hutch smacked Starsky's forearm where it lay on the tabletop. "I'm serious. I've been thinking more about us buying a house."

"Yeah?" Starsky was wary but willing to let his partner have his say.

"Yeah, I think we should cool it for a while on that."

"Why? I thought you liked the idea of us moving in together." Starsky wasn't sure if he should be hurt or not. Hutch's next words let him know he needn't worry.

"Finney." Hutch almost spat out the IA man's name. "He's watching us; he as much as said so. I don't think he can do much about us being at each other's places, not unless he bugged our apartments or something, but us buying a house and moving in together would send up a red flag even he couldn't ignore." Starsky's hand was still lying on the table, and Hutch placed his on top. "I want to live with you more than anything, but I don't want us risking our jobs after we fought--you fought--so hard to make it back." Starsky turned his hand under Hutch's until their palms were against each other and they could entwine fingers.(2)

Verducci's voice brought Hutch back to the present. "Well, ya got plans for Christmas? I was kinda thinking, what with you thinking about buying a house, maybe I could get you to housesit. Kinda try it out for a week, maybe ten days." He smirked. "I got a hot tub out back. Chicks really dig a hot tub."

Lizzie laughed. "How would you know, Mr. Been-Married-Forever?"

Verducci drew himself up. "My wife is a chick."

Arturo grinned. "I feel the same away about mine, mi amigo."

Hutch grinned, too, but he was thinking about getting a certain curly-haired lover sprawled in a hot tub. "Don't know yet, Verducci. Let me think about it."

Lizzie was rubbing her forehead. "Anyone got an aspirin?"

614-1.jpg Starsky walked in. "Got one for you, Verducci." He escorted a tiny, elderly black woman to the chair. She was dressed as if for church, in a pink two-piece suit with matching hat, purse, and shoes. Starsky smiled as he settled her into the chair. "Here you go. Comfortable?"

"Yes, thank you, Detective." Starsky left with a smile as she turned to Verducci, who stood with a stunned look on his face.

Verducci called after the departing detective, "Starsky, you sure there isn't a mistake?"

"Young man." The little old lady sat straight up in her chair. "I have been in the business since you were in diapers."

Hutch turned his head and laughed. "Hey, Mrs. Dobsen."

She turned, pink hat perched on her small head. "Detective Hutchinson, how nice to see you." Her eyes widened. "You shaved your moustache!"

"Yes, ma'am." Hutch grinned at Verducci's face. "Meet Mrs. Dobsen. She supplements her Social Security with the occasional theft. Her priors would fill a book. It's not a mistake."

Mrs. Dobsen settled back in the chair. "It was a very clever bust. I just wish they'd served dinner before they arrested us. The food smelled good."

Hutch grinned. "Not to mention the open bar."

Mrs. Dobsen smiled back, a twinkle in her eye. "Well, I do like a good snort once in a while." She patted her hat to make sure it was in place. The silver handcuffs made an odd counter-point to her thin, dark wrists. "Now, young man." She turned to look at Verducci. "I'll give you my name and address, but I am not telling you my age."

Hutch turned back to his own desk, chuckling. Starsky came back into the room, with a coffeepot of clear water. He moved to the coffee maker and poured the water into the back. He was singing that tune again, under his breath. Hutch could barely make out the words. "If I knew you were comin', I'd'a baked a cake. Baked a cake, baked a big fat--"

Dobey was standing in his doorway again. "Anybody?"

"Give me a minute, sir," Lizzie responded. "Almost done here."

Dobey leaned against the doorjamb. "Hey, Hutch. You and Starsky got plans for Thanksgiving? Edith wanted me to invite you over."

Starsky responded, "We got plans."

Dobey frowned. "Plans?"

Hutch shrugged. "Apparently."

Dobey's voice was tinged with worry. "You two aren't going out of town are you?"

There was a pause as every head swiveled to look at Starsky. "Nope."

"It's just that things happen when you guys go out of town," Dobey said.

Now the sun was starting to set, and they had decided on a change of clothing for the evening and to get a nice dinner on the main gambling strip. Hutch knew Starsky had his hopes set on finding a large buffet somewhere. The rest of the night could unfold as it would.

Hutch jerked awake as the car came to a stop and Starsky turned off the engine. He hadn't realized they were that close to the hotel, nor that it was almost sunset.

"Time to get cleaned up for dinner!" Starsky announced happily, reaching into the back seat for his camera bag. "After we get changed and our stuff is stowed away, we'll ask the hotel manager where the best buffet is. I bet he knows where the best slots are, too."

"Sounds good. We can--" Hutch broke off, as he saw movement from a car several spaces down to their right. Something made his hair stand on end. "Starsk...."

Keeping his eyes on the occupants in the car, Hutch could feel that he had Starsky's attention.

"I see 'em, Hutch. Looks like they're interested in us, too."

There were three men who were getting out of a car and were heading their way. The men were too well dressed to be travelers or at the hotel on vacation, and they had been watching him and Starsky as they drove in. The men didn't look concerned that he and Starsky obviously knew they were on their way over.

"They're packing." Hutch sighed to himself as he moved to get out of the car. Their own guns would have to be in the trunk.

Getting out, Hutch shut his door and leaned back against the car, waiting for Starsky who was walking around the car. As they came within speaking distance, the man in the lead nodded politely at him. Hutch nodded back just as Starsky settled next to him against the car.

"Gentlemen, I'm looking for Detectives Hutchinson and Starsky, from the Bay City PD." The tall, gray-haired man reached into his jacket pocket and revealed a detective's badge. "I assume you two are the ones I'm looking for?"

Hutch gave Starsky a guarded look, which was returned.

Why do I feel that the smart answer would be no?

"That's us," Starsky answered without emotion, holding out a hand to receive the badge that the other detective surrendered reluctantly. After glancing at it, he handed it to Hutch. "What can we do for you, gentlemen?"

Hutch glanced at the badge and the ID card that accompanied it. It was authentic.

"I'm Detective First Class Abner Reighter. These are Detectives Frost and Williamson. If you don't mind, we'd like to have a word with you two."

"Voluntarily or involuntarily?" Hutch asked, wondering how important this was and how pushy the detectives would be.

Reighter raised his hands, palms up. "Really, it could go either way. We can discuss it here, or downtown. You gentlemen know the drill."

"Great," Starsky murmured unhappily. "There goes one nice day down the toilet. You might as well come in."

"Okay," Starsky said impatiently. "Let's get this over with. Why are you here?"
The three men exchanged glances.

"Look, gentlemen," Reighter began, sounding as if he were trying to control his anger. "We know that you're cops, but you're poaching on our territory. And, frankly, we don't need any help, haven't asked for any, and resent the fact that you feel you can just walk in and do whatever you want."

"Wait, wait!" Hutch snapped, glancing at Starsky to see that he was just as confused. "I don't know what the hell you're talking about! My partner and I have a few days off and are on vacation. A spur-of-the-moment vacation that we didn't even know we were taking until late yesterday afternoon."

"So if you want to start making some sense," Starsky continued, irritation radiating from him, "then you'd better start at the beginning of this fantasy of yours."

"You want us to believe that you're not here on a case? Or here for a personal vendetta?" Frost asked.

Hutch shrugged helplessly at Starsky before replying. "What do you want? A lie detector test? We told you why we're here. How about telling us why you're here?"(3)

"Hell, things happen when they stay in town," Verducci observed.

"Hutch! Freeze!" Starsky hissed. "Don't move!"

"What?" Hutch looked up at him in surprise but held himself still.

It moved again, slick and smooth in the darkness, just under the hem of Hutch's pant leg. As Hutch started to open his mouth to say something he stopped, the fair features going pale in the dim light, eyes wide as they met Starsky's.

It was moving again, this time under the hem of Hutch's bellbottoms, moving around his ankle.

"There's...something..." Hutch gulped audibly, bloody hands gripping the back of the seat tightly.

"Yeah, I know. Just don't move, okay? Let me get some help."

"Hold still, Hutch. Just. Don't. Move."

"Wasn't planning on it," Hutch said softly, looking and sounding brittle. "I can feel it moving around. It's moving up my calf and has a good grip on my leg. Starsk, it's big!"

614-2.jpg "Lookit, Hutch, this is what we're going to do." Starsky signaled to the fireman who was half in the window on the other side of Hutch, fire extinguisher ready. "You lean as far over toward Fireman...uh..."

"Joe," the fireman volunteered quickly.

"You lean toward Joe as far as you can, so he can aim the extinguisher over your front and toward your knee. It's going to be really cold, and as he moves it down your leg the snake will feel winter comin' and decide to leave. When he does, I'm going to pin him down with the flat end of the tire iron. Joe is then going to drop the extinguisher, grab you and pull you out'a the window, and patrolman--"

"Jack."

"Yeah, Jack here is going to shoot it. Got it?"

"Sounds like fun," Hutch muttered as he began to lean away from Starsky. "Let's hurry this up, okay? This guy can't wait around anymore."

On the count of three, Joe the Fireman switched on the extinguisher and aimed it at Hutch's knee. By the surprised look on his partner's face, Starsky knew it must have been really cold. The spray was moved farther down his leg, and as it moved, Starsky could see the snake move as well. After a moment, the broad, flat head of the snake appeared near the toe of Hutch's boot.

Jamming the flat end of the tire iron down on the back of the snake's neck, Starsky yelled for them to move. Before Hutch was halfway out window on the other side, Jack was over Starsky's shoulder with the gun. Starsky kept up the pressure on the twisting reptile, could feel it lose its struggle to hang on to Hutch. But as soon as it lost its hold and Hutch was out the window, Jack shot three times at the writhing reptile.

It stopped moving after a moment, but Starsky, not being one to trust a snake any further than he had to, used the tire iron to roll the carcass into a plastic sack someone had handed them. The next thing Starsky knew, he had pulled the heavy sack through the window and had dumped it several feet behind the wreck.

Almost shaking with relief, it was all Starsky could do not to pull a shell-shocked Hutch into his arms. Instead, he settled for thumping him soundly on the back, earning a glare instead. "Just our luck, huh?"

"And how's that?" Hutch asked, looking tired and a bit jumpy.

"Well, what are the odds that we would run into a snake? Is that freaky or what?"

"Par for the course, I guess."(4)

Starsky straightened, the coffee machine making its familiar chortling sounds behind him. "After last year, we have plans. Him. Me. A turkey. Capice?"

Everyone nodded and returned to their work. All except Dobey, who gave Starsky a long look, leaning in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. Starsky turned back to the pot, but he could feel Dobey's eyes on his back.

The phone rang and Hutch picked it up. "Hutchinson."

"Hutch, my man."

"Huggy. What's going on?"

"Wanted to see if you and Starsky had plans for Turkey-day. I'm getting together with my cousins, and you're invited."

Hutch tried to picture a Thanksgiving dinner that would feed all of Huggy's cousins, and his mind boggled. "Nope, sorry. We got plans."

"That's okay, my friend, glad to hear it." Huggy cleared his throat. Hutch could hear the familiar sounds of the bar in the background. "Listen, need to ask a favor."

"Name it."

"Need you here at the bar, Saturday, four o'clock."

Hutch frowned slightly at the worry in Huggy's voice. "Something wrong?"

"Nah, just need you here. Okay?"

"Hang on." Hutch cradled the phone on his shoulder. "Starsk. Huggy wants us to come to The Pits Saturday afternoon. Anything in our plans prevent that?"

"Nah. That's good." Starsky had grabbed the coffeepot and was filling cups. When he turned, he could see Dobey was back in his office, fingerprinting another suspect.

"We'll be there," Hutch spoke into the phone.

"Good. Thanks, my man."

Hutch put the phone down, concerned about Huggy, but too busy to give it much thought.

"Anybody else want coffee?" Starsky held up the pot.

There was a ruckus in the hall, with someone shouting obscenities at someone else. Starsky headed for the door, but Lizzie beat him to it.

"ALL RIGHT!"

The hall went still.

Lizzie stood in the doorway, her eyes on fire. "Listen up, assholes. My daughter is in her school play at eight tonight. You stand between me and hearing her say, 'You are welcome to share our food.' You or anyone else slows me down, and I swear my vengeance will be cold, merciless, and painful."

There was complete silence. Everyone in the squadroom exchanged wide-eyed looks.

"There's less paperwork if I shoot you. Understand?"

There was some muttering from the hall.

"I can't hear you." Lizzie's voice cut like a knife.

There was a soft chorus of "yes, ma'am's."

"Fine." Lizzie stomped back over to her chair, sat down, and scowled at the room. "What are you all looking at?"

Everyone got very busy doing something else.

Mrs. Dobsen leaned over and touched Lizzie's arm. "You poor dear. Is it that time of the month?"

"Down to the last ten, guys." Starsky made the announcement as he brought in another one for Lizzie. He was still humming that damned song under his breath, as he took a finished suspect from Dobey's office and headed for the hall.

It was down to the wire, now. Hutch took a quick glance at the clock and realized Lizzie would make it to the school play with some time to spare.

But there had been too many hours, too many bodies, too many forms, and everyone was getting numb. A mistake was bound to happen.

And happen it did.

There was no real warning, just an odd scuffing sound from out in the hall. But Hutch's head jerked up, and he was out of his chair in the next heartbeat, before the shouting started. He managed to beat Arturo and Lizzie out the door.

There was a uniformed officer down on the floor. Loose prisoners were scrambling for cover, diving into doorways and under benches. There were shouts and screams, but one thing blazed right into Hutch's brain causing him to brace and bring his gun to bear.

There was a large Hispanic man standing in the middle of the hall, his cuffs flopping on one wrist. One arm was wrapped around Starsky's throat, and the other hand had a gun pressed into his dark curls. Starsky was having trouble breathing and stood on tiptoe, his sneakers dragging on the linoleum.

Hutch snarled.

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

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

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

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

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

At that moment, Hutch knew he could kill the inmate with his bare hands if he ever got the chance. He could feel the white-hot surge through his veins, making his blood run too fast. Making him hot and flushed and then cold and numb. Causing his breathing to accelerate until he was almost panting. His mind reeled with terror and helplessness.(5)

Not so helpless this time. Hutch drew a bead on the bastard's head.

"Hey, mi amigo. What is happening? Why you want to do something like this?" Arturo's voice came from behind Hutch and continued in a low soothing tone, but Hutch could only hear the roaring in his ears.

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

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

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

It's going to be okay, it is. It's going to be okay. Hutch whispered the words internally to both of them. He'd bargain with the devil himself to make it be true.(6)

Starsky's eyes were focused on his partner as he held onto his captor's arm, trying to relieve the pressure. Something was wrong, very wrong. Hutch's eyes held a glazed look, as if he weren't really here. Yet the gun's aim never wavered, and those blue eyes that could hold such love seemed focused with such hate.

His captor was talking to Arturo, shouting actually, in a half-English/half-Spanish patter Starsky couldn't follow. Lizzie had appeared briefly in the hallway then darted back. When he heard a slight sound behind him, Starsky wasn't surprised. The door to Dobey's office was behind them, and Starsky suspected Lizzie and Dobey were waiting for their chance.

For brief moments, the shouting continued, with Arturo trying to talk the guy down. Starsky concentrated on breathing and on his partner. Beads of sweat were forming on Hutch's forehead, but the gun in his hand never wavered.

His captor gasped, and a soft voice cut through the noise. "That's my gun at the base of your skull." Lizzie's voice was sharp and deadly and gave even Starsky pause. "You shoot, I shoot."

"Let him go, amigo. She's not in the best of moods, eh?" Arturo's voice was serious.

"Yeah," snarled Lizzie. "It's that time of the month."

The arm around Starsky's throat lowered, and Starsky took a step forward. From the sounds, Dobey and Lizzie were securing the gun and handcuffing the suspect, but Starsky's eyes remained on his partner. "Hey, partner."

Hutch was frozen, his eyes distant, the gun still pointed at the suspect.

Arturo looked over at Hutch and reached for his shoulder, but stopped when Starsky jerked his head. "Hutch, it's over."

At that moment, Hutch knew he could kill the inmate with his bare hands if he ever got the chance. He could feel the white-hot surge through his veins, making his blood run too fast. Making him hot and flushed and then cold and numb. Causing his breathing to accelerate until he was almost panting. His mind reeled with terror and helplessness.(7)

"Come on, Hutch. Let it go. No harm done." Starsky moved closer into Hutch's space, raising a hand to push the gun down.

Hutch turned his head slightly, as if seeing Starsky for the first time. "You...you okay?"

"Never better," was the soft reply.

Hutch grabbed him in a hard hug. "I got you back," Hutch whispered into Starsky's neck. "I got you back."

"Yeah." Starsky pulled back, considering the audience. "Lizzie is dangerous when she's on the rag."

The hall filled with laughter as the crowd started to break up. Dobey jerked the officer up from the floor and handed him his gun. "In my office. Now." He turned to look in their direction. "Lizzie. Give that idiot to your partner and get the hell out of here.

Arturo hustled up and grabbed the suspect. "Oh, man, I think you just tripled the paperwork on your ass."

"Starsky." Dobey was standing there, considering them.

"Yeah." Starsky was still standing close to Hutch, who staggered a bit as he holstered his weapon.

"Take your partner home and take care of him. I don't want to see either one of your scrawny asses back here until Monday morning."

They had turned to go, but Starsky looked back at that statement. "Captain?"

"You heard me." Dobey had an odd look on his face.

Starsky studied him for a moment, then flashed a smile. "Who am I to argue with my superior?" He turned and headed off with his arm around Hutch's shoulders.

But he could feel Dobey's eyes on his back long after they were out of sight.

As the car pulled to a stop, Hutch looked around and realized they were at his place. He turned to see that the street light gave just enough light to see dark curls, a flash of white teeth, and his partner's eyes glittering at him.

Those lovely eyes.

"Come on, partner."

Starsky was out of the car and moving before Hutch could say a word. The door opened, and warm hands tugged at Hutch's sleeve.

"I don't know what's wrong with me," Hutch spoke quietly, as Starsky wormed under his arm and helped him up the stairs.

"I do. Too much work, too much pressure, too many people, not enough 'us'," Starsky muttered as they entered the apartment. Hutch heaved a sigh and leaned against the door, just watching as Starsky passed him toward the fridge and opened the freezer. There was a "thunk" of something going into the sink. Hutch's curiosity was killed by a yawn that almost split open his head. He blinked bleary eyes to see Starsky reach for his hands. "Come on, lover."

He allowed himself to be pulled into the bedroom. Starsky turned on the small lamp by the bedside, and then returned to tug Hutch's shirt out of his jeans. "We're gonna cuddle, Blondie. Cuddle and kiss and sleep." Starsky's voice was low and soft, and he drew out the word "sleep."

Hutch wrapped his arms around him and gave him a quick hug. "Should shower. Stinky."

"You're not stinky. You just smell like you." Starsky pulled the shirt up and over Hutch's head. "Shower in the morning. When we can do something besides get clean."

Hutch had to chuckle at that. He gave in and helped Starsky remove their clothing. In moments, Starsky had them under the covers, wrapped in each other's arms. Muscles he hadn't known were tense seemed to ease as the bed warmed.

614-4.jpg Starsky smiled as he felt his tall lover relaxing into his arms. "We have four days off. Four days of 'us'. We're gonna concentrate on each other. Okay?"

A soft "'kay" let Starsky know Hutch was almost asleep. Pressing lips to Hutch's forehead, Starsky couldn't help contrasting this moment with another.

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

"I never did bandage this."

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

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

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

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

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

"Uh huh."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We can't think like that, Hutch, or we'll both go crazy. All we can do is love each other and appreciate those miracles." (8)

Starsky drew a slow breath and settled down in the arms of his lover, giving silent thanks for his miracle. All of his miracles.

Thursday Morning:

Hutch woke slowly, drawn by the light pouring into the apartment. There was an odd sort of thunking noise coming from the kitchen. Since Starsky wasn't in bed, Hutch made the deduction that his partner was in the kitchen, and probably causing the noise. He rose, threw on some sweats, and wandered into the kitchen, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Only to find his partner assaulting a turkey with an ice pick.

"What are you doing?"

Starsky looked up. "'Morning!" He returned to the hapless bird and jammed the ice pick into the cavity, peering into its depths. "Got home so late the bird ain't defrosted all the way. Gotta get the gizzards out." He jammed the ice pick in a few more times.

"I think I'm gonna be ill." Hutch clutched his stomach, trying not to burst out laughing.

Starsky gave him a mock frown, waving the ice pick at him. "You just wait. I got all the fixin's. Gonna feed you good, Blondie."

Hutch held his arms up. "I'm gonna go for my run."

"Okay." Starsky returned to contemplating the turkey, as Hutch let himself out the door, chortling all the way.

When Hutch returned, the kitchen was immaculate. All evidence of turkey mutilations had been erased, except for the heat coming off the stove. Starsky was wrapped in a robe and sitting at the kitchen table with breakfast spread out and ready. "How was your run?"

"Good." Hutch pulled up a chair. "Muffins?"

"Yeah. Figured we'd leave room for the good stuff."

"You sure we aren't gonna have to call for pizza?" Hutch picked up a muffin and broke it open.

Starsky grinned. "You just wait. You're gonna be begging my forgiveness when you taste my turkey." He shot a glance at Hutch and licked some of the crumbs from his thumb. "Gotta admit, cooking gets me all sticky."

Hutch grinned right back. "Well, isn't that a coincidence? Running gets me all sweaty."

"Hmmm." Dark eyes danced. "Sweaty. Sticky. Sounds like we need a shower. A long, hot shower."

Hutch laughed and crammed the rest of the muffin in his mouth.

The phone rang as Starsky cleared the table. Hutch already had the water running, but those cop instincts are hard to kill. "Starsky."

"David! Happy Thanksgiving!"

"Hi, Ma. Whatcha got planned for the day?" Starsky leaned against the counter and listened, as his mom rambled on about the family get-together. It was good to hear her voice, sounding well and happy.

"Oh, Ken, you're kidding yourself if you think that." Rachel smiled. "I can't say that this is what I wished for my son--I hoped for a wife, children for--"

"Ma, don't--"

"Starsk, it's okay, just let her finish," Hutch interrupted, holding up a forestalling hand toward his partner.

"What I started to say was that I realize the depth of what's between you two--I knew it when I visited you in the hospital, David. Because when Ken came to pick me up at the airport, I looked right past him. The man who came to get me was so tired, so...so much older than the handsome young man I'd just seen a couple years before...I knew something had almost destroyed him, and he wasn't recovered yet. I didn't even recognize him until he came up and spoke to me." She looked at Hutch. "But looking at him now, I see that handsome young man again, and I know it's because you lived and you're all right. That kind of depth...it doesn't just happen overnight. Can you honestly say you never had...different feelings for David before he was hurt?"

"No," Hutch responded softly, the word barely audible as he shook his head slightly.(9)

"Enjoy the day, David. Give Ken my love."

"Okay, Ma. Love you."

"Love you, too." The dial tone filled Starsky's ear, but he stood there with the phone in his hand, staring at it like it was an alien. The shower was still running, but Starsky there was something he had to do first. He reached over and dialed a number he hadn't called in quite some time. Pressing the buttons and hearing the familiar tones brought back a painful memory.

"There's something else I need to tell you the truth about, and you might not like to hear it, but you gotta know. You're too important to me not to know."

"Sounds serious."

"It is, Uncle Al." Starsky took a deep breath and expelled it slowly. "Remember before I went to New York, you thought I was seeing somebody special because I hadn't been around too much?"

"I knew it!" Rose said triumphantly, smiling brightly. "I just knew there was someone--tell us about her! Don't keep us in suspense."

"Uh, well, it's someone you already know real well." Starsky swallowed, glancing at Hutch a little uneasily. "And it's not a 'her'."

"What do you mean, dear?" Rose asked, taking a drink of her coffee. "I thought you said there was someone in your life?"

"Rose, let him talk, honey," Al chided with a smile.

"Hutch and I are...together."

"You're partners, of course you're together. What does that have to do with--?" All of a sudden reality dawned, and Rose's eyes widened. She looked at Al, who was more or less frozen in his chair, shock plain on his face.

"We've always been best friends, more like family to each other, you know that. After I got shot, we spent a lotta time together, and we started realizing that...that we didn't want anybody else. So, um, we...."

"Deepened our relationship," Hutch added, saving Starsky the struggle for words. There was a long ensuing silence.

"Say something," Starsky finally pleaded, unable to take the blank faces and unreadable silence any longer.

"Does your mother know?" Rose asked finally.

"She knows. I told her a while ago."

"But all the women you've dated. You were so in love with Terry, and you felt so bad when she died...how could that have been a lie?" Rose asked, tears threatening her voice.

"I'm not gay." Starsky paused, looking at Hutch, who shrugged. "Maybe people would call me that because I'm in love with another man. I don't know. I never got together with men, or even looked at 'em, before I...before Hutch and I...before we...."

"Got together," Hutch supplied calmly, knowing Starsky had backed himself into an embarrassing corner.

"Yeah. I love Hutch and it doesn't matter to me that he's a guy. I mean, I don't want him to not be a guy, but it's not a bad thing that he is--I'm not sayin' this right."

"I think what David's trying to say is that we love each other, we want to have a life together, and the outside packaging just isn't the most important thing." Hutch paused. "I love your nephew with all my heart, and I'd love him no matter what form he came in. I can't love anybody else that much, and I'd be living a lie if I tried."
"You're awful quiet, Uncle Al," Starsky said, looking over at the heavy-set man as he remained situated in the overstuffed chair he occupied.

"I'm tryin' to understand how you could go from a healthy, normal, red-blooded man to...to bein' some kind of--"

"Al, don't," Rose interrupted. "Don't say something hateful. Better to say nothing at all."

"Maybe we should leave and talk about this when we've all had time to calm down a little." Hutch stood up now, too, feeling like Starsky's and his welcome was definitely close to wearing out.

"There's nothin' to talk about. I don't wanna hear about this," Al said, storming out of the room and up the stairs. A door slammed hard somewhere on the second floor.

"Rose, you haven't said much about how you feel about this," Hutch said carefully, not sure he should say anything at all, but feeling like Starsky shouldn't be going through this completely alone.

"Shocked, I suppose. I don't know how I feel. It's a sin, David. My God, it's a sin, how you're living."

"It's a sin to love somebody? Just because they're put together differently than somebody else?"

"Oh, David." Rose pulled him in for a hug. "Honey, I'd love you no matter what you did. You're like my own son. How could I stop loving you because of this?"

614-5.jpg "I hope you can't." Starsky returned the pressure, swallowing hard to keep his composure.(10)

The sound of the phone connecting brought Starsky back to reality. "Hi, Aunt Rose. Wanted to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. How you doing?"

Hutch paused, then leaned on the doorjamb as he listened to the conversation. While it sounded stilted and awkward for both, still it was a beginning. He waited until the conversation ended, then smiled as his lover came into view.

Starsky sighed. "I wanted to wash your back, but--"

Hutch interrupted. "You needed to talk to your mom, and you called Rose and Al." He quirked his head to the side. "Have I told you recently how much I love you?" He reached for Starsky's hand. "I may be clean, but I sure as hell am not finished." With that, he pulled Starsky into the bathroom and closed the door.

Flashback references

On to Part 2