The Mirror Crack'd
by Hutchrules3

SHSVS, Episode 703, Part 2

Back to Part 1

Uh-oh!
Up on the rooftop, reindeer paws...
Who is it who is it who is it?
Are they back? Santa's little helpers!
Shhhh...not a creature should be stirring, not even a mouse.

"Holy--" Hutch's voice trailed off as they entered the house. In all his years as a detective, he'd never seen anything quite like this.

On the walls of the hallway just inside the door, wires dangled on either side. Starsky inspected them, glanced up at the ceiling, and indicated the area with a jerk of his head.

"Booby trap," he said succinctly, and Hutch followed his gaze to a small pistol hanging from the ceiling. Fortunately, Brady and his deputies had known enough to enter the house with caution and had managed to disarm this security system that, from its angle, was set to fire a warning shot at any intruders.

Past the wires and into the living room, which was off to the left of the door, the walls were covered with papers. Newspaper clippings; magazine articles and covers; pages of handwriting that ranged from tiny, cramped, and organized, to wild scrawls that bled off the page onto the wall itself. Each article, every notation had something to do with medical research and experimentation. Some were as absurd as the ubiquitous rumors of genetic mutations from supermarket tabloids, and some were from legitimate science and mainstream publications. The articles grew more technical farther down the hall, accompanied by miniscule and coherent printing. But as the detectives entered the living room, the subjects became more speculative and sensational, and the handwriting more bizarre.

Hutch touched one carefully. "Word salad," he murmured, recalling a term his father had used from time to time. "Shows when schizophrenics are getting more disorganized."

"Hutch."

Starsky had stepped around the furniture, clearly laid out in a bizarre pattern to confuse and distract intruders, and taken in the careful but meaningless arrangement of multicolored doilies on a dining room table, which sat in the middle of the room. He had paused there to look up at the ceiling, where he now directed Hutch's attention.

Hutch turned from his perusal of the chaos on the wall. Frowning at the light fixture, he crossed the room to join his partner, and whistled.

Suspended from the lamp and stretched to the top of the walls, were hundreds of razor blades, attached meticulously to wire so fine it was barely visible. The wires extended to where the ceiling met the walls, and then disappeared behind a dully gleaming rail of trim that ran around the ceiling's perimeter. Gathered the way they were, they looked like nothing more than interesting adornment, but as Hutch watched, Starsky's eyes traveled along one set of wires to the wall below, then flicked to the corner just outside the living room. Frowning, Starsky wove back through the furniture and craned his neck to peer without touching at an elaborate wall sconce. After a few moments' examination, he glanced over his shoulder at Hutch.

"Step back," he instructed. "All the way out of the room."

Puzzled, Hutch took in the two alternatives--the way they had come in, or the entryway that led to a small breakfast nook and galley kitchen. Given the hazards they'd run into so far, he opted for the way he knew was clear, and joined his partner in the entryway.

Starsky turned a knob on the sconce. A large, soft bulb at the top sprang to life, but otherwise nothing happened. Hutch glanced at his partner and began to move back into the living room, but Starsky's hand stopped him before he could take the first step. Shrugging, Hutch crossed his arms across his chest and waited.

The seconds passed. Then, about a minute after Starsky had turned on the light, there was a soft whirring sound, and suddenly, the railing flipped up and the dozens of wires zipped down grooves in the walls, slicing through the air with a whistle and encasing the room in a gleaming, deadly spiderweb.

"Criminy," Hutch said under his breath.

"Yeah," Starsky breathed beside him. "Turn on the light so you can see what you're doing, and this thing gives you just enough time to get inside and get sliced up like so much salami."

He turned the switch again, and the wires hummed back up to the ceiling, where the railing closed over them once more.

"What the hell are we dealing with here?" Hutch wondered out loud. "Some kind of sick defensive genius?"

"Looks like it," Starsky said, eyes still on the wires that waved gently in the wake of their own movement. "I don't know about you, but I think I've seen enough."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed fervently. As confident as he was in his and Starsky's ability to anticipate just about any kind of trouble, he had a bad feeling about this place. The basic criminal mind was one thing, but sprinkle that with a good dose of insanity, and it seemed the best thing to do was retreat until they could gather further information.

As if by mutual agreement, they stepped back toward the front door and let themselves out. Walking to the car, Hutch felt a chill ripple over him, and he paused, turning to look back at the house. On the driver's side, Starsky waited.

"What?"

Hutch gazed at the house for a moment, sweeping it from the cupola on the second floor to the tiny pebbled windows that obscured the view to the basement. He shook his head. "Nothing, I guess," he said, but even he knew his voice lacked conviction. "Just...seemed like someone was watching us."

"Given what we saw inside," Starsky said as he pulled open his door and slid inside the car, "that wouldn't surprise me a bit."

"Wonder how Brady and his guys missed that little gem?"

Hutch contemplated the sarcastic remark he really wanted to make in response to that, then shrugged and decided to give Brady the benefit of the doubt. "Cathy said it was morning when Dad came out here and she attacked him," he noted. "Maybe they just never turned on the light."

And I heard him exclaim as he flew out of sight,
"Disaster to all and to all a good fright!"
They're gone they're gone they're gone you can come out now.
They found the web. They found the Plans.
They have to be from the Project. They have to be.
Attention all personnel: Code Yellow. Increase security to Level Two.

Sutherland Psychiatric Hospital was located several miles from town, on a stretch of land that rolled gently and extended lush green hills as far as the eye could see. As Starsky started down the entrance road, he was surprised to see no fence and no security guards, particularly as they topped a small rise and came upon a huddle of small brick cottages. People in street clothes lounged on the patios and front porches, while others traveled the paths that ran between the small structures, or followed the one that led up to the next hillock.

"Patients?" Hutch guessed, turning to watch out the back window. "Or staff?"

"Maybe both," Starsky speculated, flicking a glance at the rearview mirror. The people they had passed had given the rental car a perfunctory look, nothing more, and returned to their activities. Even the ones walking the path beside the road paid little attention to the two detectives.

The road rose over another hill and curved sharply to the right. Around that corner were the miles of tall chain-link fence the detectives had expected, which broke into gates at two imposing brick pillars that flanked a large security shed. Starsky pulled the car to the entrance and rolled down the window.

"Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson to see Dr. Reed," he said, passing their badge wallets to the guard, who was dressed in a white shirt and dark slacks rather than a uniform. He was unarmed. A small badge pinned to his pocket gave his name as Brett Henderson, over bold print that read Sutherland Psychiatric Hospital. The guard inspected the badges and the two detectives' photos, then glanced up.

"Is she expecting you?" he asked in a surprisingly pleasant voice.

"Possibly," Starsky hedged. "Sheriff Brady might have called to let her know we were coming."

"Just a moment, please," Henderson requested politely, closing the window. He reached back for a telephone that squatted just inside the shed's window, and pressed several numbers.

While they waited, Hutch occupied himself by examining the shed, which was small but neat as a pin. The windows were so clean they were nearly invisible, and he could see easily inside to a bulletin board with neatly hung notices, and a counter that held a sign-in book, a walkie-talkie, and a bank of security monitors. "Nice environment," he commented to Starsky, who nodded as Henderson finished his conversation. "Looks better than your locker on its best day."

"Or your car," was all Starsky had time to fire back before Henderson slid open the window and passed their badges back through.

"She's on one of the units right now, but she said to go on in and one of the aides will meet you and take you to her office," he said. He leaned out the window and pointed toward a four-story brick building with white trim that stood at the end of the driveway. "Just go straight ahead, then swing left for visitor's parking. There's an emergency bay there--it's clearly marked--and Lisa will meet you there to take you upstairs."

"Thank you," Starsky said sincerely. It was rare they got such cooperation from security guards, generally referred to with scorn as "rent-a-cops" by those who considered themselves the genuine article. Though there were a few exceptions, most of the guards they ran into were Academy failures or dropouts, who seemed to hold a grudge against every individual who'd made it through--particularly those who'd risen to the level of Detective Sergeant.

"You're welcome, gentlemen," Henderson said with another polite smile, handing a set of plastic visitor's passes through the window. "Here, let me help you with that."

He startled Starsky enough that he didn't protest as the guard clipped the pass to his collar. "Thanks--" he began, then stopped as Henderson frowned and adjusted the pass minutely. "That's good," he said, but the guard was already shifting it once again. "No, really."

"It's just...not quite right," Henderson fretted under his breath. "Just...maybe another half a centimeter here--"

He reached through the window again, but Starsky gently pushed his hand away. "It's fine," he reassured the man. "Honest." He gunned the engine and pulled away, just as the arm with its blindingly white, crisply ironed sleeve began to emerge from the window once more. "Thanks," he tossed over his shoulder.

"Nice guy," Starsky said, handing Hutch his badge and the plastic visitor's pass as they moved through the gates toward the main building.

"Yeah." Hutch took the badge and pass without looking, his attention on the information Brady had given them.

"What was that all about, I wonder?"

"What was what all about?" Hutch's tone was absent as he slipped the badge into his hip pocket and clipped on the visitor's pass.

Starsky stole one last glance at the rearview mirror as the guard shack disappeared behind a rise, then shrugged. "Nothin'."

He glanced over at Hutch and the pass dangling crookedly from his jacket collar, and reached over to straighten it.

Hutch looked down at the pass for a moment, then shifted curious eyes to his partner, one eyebrow cocked. "Starsk?"

"Yeah."

Hutch opened his mouth, closed it, then shook his head, deciding he didn't want to know.

"Never mind."

A young woman was waiting at the emergency entrance, and she stepped forward to greet them as the doors closed behind them. Like the others they had seen on the grounds, she wore street clothes--jeans, in fact--and a turquoise polo shirt and a pair of sneakers. "Detectives Starsky and Hutchinson?" she inquired. When they nodded, she continued, "I'm Lisa Evers. If you'll come with me, I'll show you to Dr. Reed's office."

"Thanks," Starsky said. They fell into step behind her as she led the way to an elevator.

"This is a nice place," Hutch commented when the doors had closed and the elevator began its journey upward. Lisa flashed him an appreciative smile.

"Thank you," she said. "It's a relatively new facility, and the staff and patients work hard to make sure it's clean and welcoming."

The doors opened and Lisa led the way down a well-lit hall, which was decorated with deep rose carpeting, a number of chairs and small tables, and tasteful artwork arranged at pleasing intervals along the walls. "This is Dr. Reed's office," she said, pushing open a door about halfway down the hall. "She's down on the second floor with a patient at the moment, but she said she'd be up in about ten minutes." She gestured toward the desk that stood at the office's far end. "She had one of the ward clerks bring up Ms. Perkins' chart; she thought you might want to familiarize yourself with her history while you're waiting."

"Thank you," Starsky told her; she smiled warmly at him again and withdrew. Hutch watched Starsky eyeing her, and nudged him.

"Stop staring," he ordered. "It's rude."

Starsky tore his eyes away and stepped into the office. "Think she's a patient?"

"Absolutely," Hutch teased. "Only a crazy woman would lay that kind of smile on an ugly mug like yours."

"Funny," Starsky retorted. He crossed the office to a window by the desk and gazed out at the lawns, numerous trees, and picnic tables scattered at intervals across the grounds. "Nice place," he echoed Hutch's earlier comment. "Beats the hell out of Cabrillo State."

Hutch raised and lowered his eyebrows in a gesture of emphatic agreement. "Boy, you got that right," he said, remembering the dim, chilly halls of the mental institution where they'd once gone undercover as patient and orderly. From what they'd seen so far, he was fairly certain there were few, if any, rooms where the patients were completely restrained as Starsky had been. He wandered over to the desk and picked up a thick chart labeled "Perkins, J." Flipping it open, he sank into a maroon overstuffed chair and began to read, starting with the discharge summary that lay on top.

"So what do the records say?" Starsky asked idly after several minutes, from a bookshelf where he was examining a number of titles on schizophrenia.

"That she was released about seven months ago, 'in remission'," Hutch declared, slapping the file shut and tossing it back onto the desk, his previous good humor gone. "'In remission', my ass," he spat, shoving himself to his feet. "Determined, no doubt, by the same kind of test that got Commander Jim sprung just before he killed Helen."

Pacing, he missed Starsky's wince at the mention of the policewoman who had once been his lover, long before he and Hutch had ever looked at each other as anything but partners and friends.

"This system makes me crazy, Starsk," Hutch went on, too angry to hear the irony in his words. "Seems like every time we turn around, some psychopath ends up gunning for someone we care about--"

"Janine's psychotic, Detective, not a psychopath," a feminine voice corrected from the doorway.

Starsky turned from the bookshelf, and Hutch halted abruptly in his pacing. A sturdy woman with shoulder-length hair stood in the doorway, arms crossed, one eyebrow raised.

Hutch's first impression of her was of a distinct lack of color and flair. She wore beige knit slacks, a matching sweater set, and flats; her hair was light brown and tucked hurriedly behind her ears. Even the frames of her glasses were nondescript, nearly blending into a face devoid of makeup. Pale blue eyes blinked behind thick lenses, as hands with neatly trimmed, bare nails tapped on the crossed arms.

"Psychotic," the woman repeated. "There's a difference."

"Is there, now?" Hutch said, his tone barely civil.

"Yes," the woman said firmly, crossing the threshold to her office.

"And what might that be?" Hutch inquired.

"Oh, brain chemistry, a history of violence, and a little thing called remorse," the woman informed him crisply. "Contrary to popular belief, most schizophrenics aren't violent, and the ones who are usually act on the command of auditory hallucinations, or because their distorted perceptions lead them to believe their victim is someone they're not."

"Like who?" Hutch challenged, ignoring the warning look Starsky darted at him. Seating herself behind her desk, the woman glanced up at him, then reached for the file he had tossed down.

"Well, in Miss Perkins' particular case, it could've been demons from hell, or some figure from her past," she replied, as she studied a page in the chart. "We're talking about a woman who suffered incredibly serious abuse when she was first committed, at the ripe old age of twenty-one." Her eyes lifted from the chart to meet Hutch's in a level gaze. "Back then, some practitioners tended to see their patients as nothing but guinea pigs for medical experiments and their own perverted pleasures."

Hutch felt an embarrassed flush rise to his cheeks, but he wasn't yet ready to let go of his anger. "So if she was so sick, why was she released?" he demanded, ignoring the light touch of Starsky's hand on his arm. "Results of some test score?"

"Really, Detective," the doctor said chidingly. "No self-respecting clinician would release a psychotic patient without a battery of tests, clinical interviews, and observations in increasingly independent settings. Janine Perkins' transition from our institution to the community took over a year, with one of our finest psychiatrists overseeing her release evaluation. She did exceptionally well in her trial release, and until she stopped taking her medication, was one of our success stories."

The flush on Hutch's cheeks deepened.

"Now that I have hopefully assured you that we do have some measure of competence," the woman continued, "perhaps we could go back and introduce ourselves?" She rose to her feet and extended one hand. "I'm Martha Reed, chief psychologist and administrator here, but everybody calls me Marty. I assume you're the detectives investigating the attack on Dr. Hutchinson?"

"Not really," Starsky said, stepping in when Hutch seemed disinclined to respond. "We're from Bay City, but we're working with the local department on the attack."

"California?" Marty looked up sharply, forehead creasing in a puzzled frown. "Really? Odd, I can't imagine Jason letting any outsiders horn in on his case, particularly two detectives from California." Her gaze flicked from Starsky to Hutch, and her frown deepened. "How--?"

She stopped abruptly as she took in Hutch's facial features and his frame, which in its current rigid state was nearly identical to his father's.

"Oh, my God," she murmured. "You're Richard's son, aren't you? You're Ken."

Hutch nodded once, curtly.

Her eyes softened. "Ken--" she began, then in deference to his tense expression, corrected herself. "Detective Hutchinson, I can't tell you how sorry I am. Your father is tremendously respected here, and we were devastated by what happened."

"By the attack on my father, or the failure of your 'success story'?" Hutch said tersely.

"Both," she replied bluntly. "We care a great deal about all of our patients, Detective, and our staff."

There was a moment of awkward silence, as Hutch felt his anger ebb away to be replaced by remorse at his belligerent attitude. "I'm...sorry," he apologized at last. "I'm sure you can understand my--. We've seen this kind of thing before, with pretty disastrous results."

"I do understand," Marty said, the defensiveness leaving her own voice. "I also know there are a lot of agencies out there who don't take nearly the care we do. Believe me, they leave as bad a taste in my mouth as they do in yours." She picked up the file and moved from behind her desk, gesturing toward a couch and the overstuffed chairs. "Why don't we make ourselves comfortable, gentlemen, and I'll tell you what I can about Janine and how your father fits into the picture."

Hutch took a seat on the couch, as the flush finally faded from his cheeks. Starsky elected to perch on the back. Declining the doctor's offer of coffee, Hutch nodded toward the chart in her hand. "So...what exactly happened to Janine?"

"Graduated high school here in 1965, went on to Minneapolis immediately afterward," Marty recounted, not even opening the chart. "She's an incredibly brilliant girl; she was working toward a double major in engineering and physics at a time when women just didn't do those things. She'd sailed through high school, earned near perfect scores on her college entrance exams, and was earning straight As at the University of Minnesota, when she had her first psychotic break, right before finals in her senior year."

"What happened?" Starsky asked curiously.

"Well, she suddenly stopped going to class, and when some of her classmates tried to find her, she wouldn't come out of her room, wouldn't even answer the door. They could hear her moving around in there, but she wouldn't respond to any of them. They had to get the school custodian to take the hinges off the door." She shook her head. "It was amazing, what they found--the walls just covered with newspaper clippings, and the strangest, most dangerous little booby traps all around the room. It took weeks to clear the room and find all the things she had set up to protect herself."

"Like her house now," Hutch noted, and Marty nodded.

"Like I said, Janine's incredibly bright. She was headed for a brilliant career in the defense industry before her illness manifested. When she first decompensates, both her paranoia and her talent for engineering and design kick into overdrive. It's only later, as she becomes more ill, that she becomes completely disorganized." She shook her head again. "Obviously, this time was the worst of all," she said unhappily. "In all the years she's been in treatment and in the community, she's never physically assaulted anyone."

"What do you think triggered her?" Starsky inquired.

Marty shook her head once more. "No one knows what really precipitates these things," she replied ruefully. "We've got some theories, of course, but what we know about schizophrenia is still so new that we're just finding the right medication so those who suffer from it can return to society." Her face gathered in a sorrowful frown. "Unfortunately, what's the right balance in here may not be adequate under the stressors of independent living, and some patients have a similar experience to Janine's."

"How'd my father get involved?"

"Richard had cut back on his hours at St. John's, as I'm sure you know," Marty told him. "But apparently the inactivity was beginning to make him stir crazy, just when our chief psychiatrist left us high and dry. He'd been consulting with us for some time, and he was more than happy to cover out here until we could fill the position." She gazed down at the chart in her hands. "He and Janine hit it off immediately. She could really sense how much he cared about her recovery, and how much he wanted to see her back in the community. He lobbied long and hard for her release when the time came." She looked back up at the detectives. "When we called to let him know she hadn't been in to the clinic for her medication, he was as close to frantic as I've ever seen him. He wanted to go out right away, make sure she hadn't barricaded herself like she had in college, but we managed to talk him into waiting for the police to check things out first."

"Or so you thought," Starsky interjected. Marty smiled wryly.

"Or so we thought," she agreed. "I had no idea he'd gone out there until I got the call from Brady, asking if we'd seen Janine or heard from her. Apparently, Richard had gone out to...hurry the police up a bit."

"Which they didn't appreciate," Hutch predicted.

"I see you've met Sheriff Brady," Marty quipped. "And when he didn't get the answer he wanted, being Richard, he simply took matters into his own hands." She spread her hands. "As for how she came to attack him, I'm afraid you'll have to talk to your father about that. But as I said, I suspect Janine was actively hallucinating and saw Richard as one of the doctors from her first institutionalization."

"What about the Christmas song?" Starsky asked suddenly. Hutch frowned at him, puzzled by the apparent non sequitor. "Remember, your sister said she was singing some Christmas song when your dad tried to call her?"

"Oh. Right."

The concern in Marty's eyes grew as she opened the chart on her lap. "I didn't know about that," she murmured as she flipped through the pages. "That's...well, that's a pretty good sign of how deep Janine is into her psychosis." She paused, and handed the chart to Hutch. "This is a drawing she made when she first got here, before she was stabilized."

Hutch examined the drawing closely as Starsky looked over his shoulder. Like Janine's living room, it was a peculiar combination of adult sophistication, childish delight, and a primitive sense of terror. In the center was the realistic portrait of a man with sharp, chiseled features, bearing a strong resemblance to Hutch's father but with the white beard extending past his chin to his chest. Below his head, the body deteriorated into a clumsy crayon drawing, a vividly red Santa Claus suit with chunky white cuffs. In stark contrast, the hands emerging from the cuffs were cruel, precisely formed tools of pain--hypodermic needles, a finger ending in a sharp nail, a razor blade. Around the border of the picture ran the words of the popular song "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." The words varied as crazily as the ones on Janine's walls, from neat printing to a nearly illegible childish scrawl.

Hutch felt another chill race down his back as mixed feelings began to churn inside. He passed the chart to Starsky so his partner could take a closer look, and got to his feet, moving to the window to try to gather himself together.

Behind him, he heard Starsky heave a philosophical sigh. "So we've got a brilliant, psychotic woman, who's disappeared and who makes some of the most lethal weapons we've ever seen," he summarized glumly. "Any idea where she might've gone?"

"Under other circumstances, I'd think she'd go straight back home," Marty said immediately. "Defended the way it is, it's the only place she'd really feel safe."

"We don't know that she's there," Hutch mused from the window, running images through his head of their brief visit to Janine's home.

"But we don't know she's not," Starsky pointed out. "If she's still as good at hiding out as she was in college--"

"And my guess would be that she is," Marty agreed.

"Then she could be holed up anywhere...attic, basement," Starsky finished.

There was silence for a moment. Handing the chart back to Marty, Starsky cast a concerned look at his partner, who under normal circumstances would have picked up the investigative ball at this point. But, though Hutch seemed to be doing nothing more than gazing out the window at the clinic's grounds, Starsky saw the set of his jaw and the restless way his fingers played with the string that operated Marty's blinds. His partner clearly was struggling with something, and, knowing Hutch, Starsky suspected it was a battle between his sympathy for the girl's plight, and the irrefutable fact that she had nearly killed his father. He felt a flash of compassion for Hutch, remembering his own confusion over Commander Jim, and turned back to Marty to give Hutch a few more minutes to work things through.

"You obviously know her pretty well," Starsky said, pulling a card from his pocket and writing a phone number on the back. "We'd appreciate it if you'd let us in on any other thoughts you have about how we can find her without anybody else getting hurt--including her."

"I've been thinking about that," Marty said. "And I wonder if the first step is to approach her with a protective figure from her past."

"Such as?" Interest piqued enough to put his own conflict on hold for the moment, Hutch had turned and was now leaning against the window, eyes on the psychologist.

"Possibly her brother, Michael--he's been a tremendous resource for her since she was first hospitalized," Marty mused. "But I'm not sure where he is now; I'll have to go through her chart more thoroughly to find out." She sighed. "She's been well for so long, it's been over a year since I spoke with him."

"Well, when you find something--" Starsky said, rising to his feet.

"We're staying at my folks' house, at least until my dad gets better," Hutch added, pushing away from the window sill and joining his partner. "You give her the number?"

Starsky showed him the card in response. "If you'd give us a call there when you think of something, we'd appreciate it." Starsky pressed the card into Marty's hand and gave her a reassuring smile. "We'd rather see her get the help she needs, instead of ending up in jail or shot by one of Brady's deputies."

"So would I," Marty said with feeling, also rising to her feet as the two detectives headed toward the door. They had just crossed the threshold when her voice stopped them. "You know," she said thoughtfully, and Hutch turned to see her inspecting him. "You actually remind me a lot of your dad."

Starsky saw the usual wince hit Hutch at the words, followed by a somewhat brittle smile.

"I guess that's not necessarily a compliment," she said gently, sensing his discomfort. "But Richard is an amazing clinician. He really cares about his patients, and he'll go to any lengths to help them--even asking for advice from a non-MD like me." She smiled at him. "Just like you did."

Hutch relaxed visibly, and his smile became more genuine. "I know he's a good doctor," he told her softly. "I've always known that."

He turned then and exited the office while Starsky lingered for a moment.

"A good doctor," Marty murmured, looking after Hutch's retreating figure, "but not the best father, I gather."

703-3.jpg "Let's just say Hutch didn't learn his bedside manner from his father," Starsky told her with a dry smile. "Thank you for your help," he continued. "We'll keep in touch."

"Please do," she requested. "And good luck."

Starsky nodded and started to go after Hutch, then turned back.

"Uh, Doc," he said, somewhat hesitantly. "One last thing."

On her way back to her desk, Marty turned, her eyes inquiring.

"The guy in the guard shack," Starsky said. "Do you think he's a little...strange?"

"Who, Brett?" Marty's voice was startled. "Why? Was something wrong?"

"Not wrong, exactly," Starsky hedged. "But the, uh, place was real clean, and he kept...adjusting my visitor's pass after he put it on."

"Oh." Marty relaxed and gave a little laugh. "Well, I guess you could say he's a little unusual, Detective Starsky." She continued her journey behind her desk and sank into her chair. "When they reach the work program, a number of our patients take small jobs around the facility. It's rare that someone is allowed to staff the guard house, but even under successful treatment, Brett's...condition gives him an attention to detail that makes him particularly suited to that task."

"Oh." Starsky started to leave again, but his curiosity got the better of him and he turned back once more. "I gotta know," he said apologetically. "Exactly what is his condition?"

Her eyes twinkled. "Obsessive-compulsive disorder," she replied, and her smile broadened.

Starsky's widened in response, and he winked at her, then turned to catch up with his partner.

They rode down the elevator in silence, Hutch focusing on the blinking floor numbers as if this were required to make the machine work properly. Watching him, Starsky considered telling him what Marty had said, then changed his mind at the pensive look on Hutch's face. Clearly, his partner was still mulling over facts and feelings, trying to pull the pieces together into some kind of coherent picture he could work with, personally as well as professionally. He needed to think at his own pace at times like these, and so Starsky merely laid a reassuring hand on his back as they exited the elevator and then the building, and squeezed his shoulder again before they moved to their respective sides of the car.

Sutherland was several miles behind them when Hutch emitted a soft, "Huh."

This was usually a sign that Hutch had come up against something, but it wasn't clear whether it was something logical or one of Hutch's unique side roads.

"Nickel for 'em," Starsky invited. Hutch chuckled.

"Thought the going price was a penny," he teased.

"Yeah, well, anything that deep's gotta cost a little more," Starsky said matter-of-factly.

Beside him came Hutch's characteristic half-laugh deep in his throat, then his expression sobered.

"I've just been trying to sort all this out, I guess," he said slowly, fingers fiddling with the electronic controls for the windows and door locks.

"What happened, or how you feel about it?"

There was another throaty chuckle, and Starsky allowed himself a smile. Do I know my partner, or what?

"Both," Hutch admitted. He jiggled one of the switches. The window went down an inch, up, then down again. Starsky let him play for another moment, then surreptitiously flicked a button on his own door, the one that gave him sole control of the windows and locks. Hutch pressed the switch a final time, shrugged without surprise when nothing happened, and went on. "This girl is very, very sick," he said thoughtfully. "And I know she wasn't really attacking my dad; it's pretty clear from that picture and what Marty said that she was seeing some other monster in her head, some son-of-a-bitch that tortured her a long time ago."

"Right," Starsky encouraged.

"And...well, dammit, Starsk, my father isn't my favorite person in the world, but after Diana played that "Psycho" shower bit on me, I wouldn't wish a nasty stab wound on anyone." Hutch's fingers strayed toward the window controls again, then away as if he remembered he could no longer manipulate them. "And she almost killed him, which means--"

Starsky saw him press steepled fingers against his lips. Reaching over, he touched a finger to his partner's temple.

"Lots of things goin' on in there," he observed, then moved the hand down to Hutch's chest, where he caressed briefly. "And there."

"Yeah." Hutch breathed out a sigh, relieved he didn't have to explain. "That's it. I know I should be angry, and I know I should want nothing but to see this woman behind bars, be it a jail cell or a mental institution. And in a way, I am angry, but I can't decide whether I am because I think I'm supposed to be, or because I'm really--" He stopped, and his fingers now worked in the air in front of him, as if he were trying to physically locate the words he was seeking.

Starsky let him search for a minute--Hutch sometimes preferred to fill in his own blanks--then gently supplied, "You're scared."

Beside him, Hutch heaved another sigh, and his shoulders slumped. His hands dropped to his lap, and he nodded. "Yeah," he repeated. "Dammit, why does he still have this much power over me?"

Starsky took a hand from the wheel and clasped the damp hands in his partner's lap.

"Because he's your dad and there's something you want from him," he said simply. "And if he's dead, you'll never get it."

Hutch's hand turned and curled around Starsky's and squeezed.

This time, there was no need for the confirming "Yeah."

They were both silent until they pulled into the hospital parking lot, where, with a grin, Starsky released the door locks. Not seeming to notice, Hutch opened his door and stepped out, then over the roof of the car continued as if they'd just spoken.

"So, where do you think we go from here? We've got a brilliant engineer, whose equally intelligent voices are telling her something."

"Something frightening enough for her to arm the whole house against invaders," Starsky noted, joining him as they both started across the parking lot. Hutch nodded.

"And with her paranoia, she's going to see anyone who goes near that place as the enemy," he continued. "We only saw a few of her traps--my money's on there being several more, all around the house."

"Mine, too," Starsky agreed.

"So how the hell are we going to approach her?"

"Hutch, we don't even know she's in the house," Starsky reminded him.

"Not for sure," Hutch admitted. "But if you put yourself in her shoes, it's really the only place to go. It's closed in, it's familiar, and most important, it's defended."

"But she'd have to know they'd be watching the place," Starsky pointed out.

"Oh, sure," Hutch conceded. "But she'd expect that, whether they were or not, because of her paranoia. And I'm guessing she's had a return route planned from day one, for just such an occasion."

"Which brings us back to the big question: How do we find her...and how do we bring her in without either her or us getting hurt?"

"Marty said something about finding someone approachable from her past," Hutch reflected. "Her brother? Sounds like he's the best place to start--let's call Marty tomorrow about that."

"Sounds like a plan, unless one of us comes up with somethin' better overnight," Starsky sighed. They climbed up a flight of stairs, then traveled along a walkway that led to the hospital's main entrance. For a moment, Starsky was reminded of the two of them walking down a motel's rickety metal stairs, joking about being shooting gallery targets even as they kept a lookout for their potential assassin.

Alexander Drew.

His memory rewound to him and Hutch in the locker room one morning, Hutch bare-chested, combing his hair and whistling, Starsky uncharacteristically quiet. When Hutch had commented on this, Starsky had proceeded to bombard him with a series of observations that had gradually driven Hutch from distracted amusement to studied indulgence of his partner's idiosyncratic thought processes.

What if your parents had never met? You might've never been born. What if your name had been Anderson instead of Hutchinson? You might've been a doctor. There's a lot of what-if questions you can ask yourself, Hutch. You just gotta think about it.

As was often the case, however, Hutch had the last word, as Starsky pulled himself from his reverie and started nagging him about the time.

C'mon...you don't wanna be late for work, do ya?

Still wearing his most patient expression, Hutch had gathered his jacket and a carton of milk and started out. At the door, however, he stopped for a beat, then turned to Starsky and asked, What if we were?

Since then, the "what-if" game had taken on a series of meanings, some more ominous than Starsky wanted to think about.

Mac's car blew sky-high.

What if?

What if he and Hutch had not parked in the police garage that day back in 1979? What if they had left an hour sooner, or an hour later? What if, since the office was being repainted anyway, they had simply decided not to go into the station at all, but straight to their beat?

What if Janine Perkins had gone to a different college, been hospitalized somewhere else, been released to another town? What if the absent psychiatrist had waited another month to depart Sutherland, or Dr. Hutchinson had waited another year to cut back his hours at the hospital? Or what if he had heeded everyone's advice and let the police make the first move on Janine's house?

What if?

"Hey."

Realizing Hutch was standing in the hospital entrance, holding open the door for him, Starsky shook himself back to the present and ducked inside. As they turned toward Intensive Care, Hutch tossed him a puzzled look and asked, "Where'd you go, back there?"

Starsky shook his head. "There's something about this that feels kinda familiar."

"Alex Drew," Hutch said with a nod, as if he'd been privy to Starsky's thoughts all along.

"Lot of similarities, don't you think?"

"Weapons expert, brilliant mind gone a little haywire, all kinds of obstacles to location and capture." Hutch ticked the points off on his fingers. "Yep, I'd say he and Janine Perkins have a few things in common."

"At least this time, we're gettin' more cooperation from the administration," Starsky observed.

"And she's not out on the streets, gunning for us," Hutch added.

"Good thing," Starsky snorted. "At this point, we need all the breaks we can get."

By this time, they'd arrived at the Intensive Care waiting room, to find Miranda and Cathy talking with one of the nurses. This wasn't Rita, but a plump woman with curly coal black hair and dancing dark eyes, who introduced herself as Collette Iverson and told Starsky she'd known Hutch "since he was a pup." Hutch smiled absently at the jibe, to which he'd become accustomed, but his attention was focused on his mother and sister.

"You guys look a lot better," Starsky commented, echoing his relieved thoughts.

"I finally went home and got some sleep and a little real food," Miranda admitted. "And Cathy's glow is probably due to the fact that Craig flew in this afternoon, and she got to spend a little time with him before she came back here."

Hutch couldn't resist tossing a teasing smile to his sister and pulling her close to his side in a one-armed hug.

"Dad's awake," Cathy blurted out, unable to withhold the good news any longer.

"That's great," Hutch said with relief. From the little he knew about amnesia following a head trauma, he knew a brief period of unconsciousness meant a lower chance of brain damage.

"But," Collette interjected, waving a warning finger at Cathy, who subsided. "There are some complications."

"What...complications?" Hutch asked warily.

"He's more than a little disoriented," Collette said in the straightforward tone Hutch remembered well. "He knows where he is, and he recognizes your mother and Cathy, but--"

"He's not exactly in the present day," Miranda filled in. "He thought Cathy was still in high school, and kept asking about you and Vanessa."

"How long should that last?" Hutch asked Collette.

Collette shrugged. "Not long, I should think," she predicted. "His body's had a pretty major shock and his brain just hasn't caught up...but I'd be surprised if he weren't back to his old self in less than twenty-four hours."

Gnawing the inside of his lip, Hutch rocked back on his heels for a moment to absorb this new bit of information. "Maybe I should wait to see him, huh?" he said at length. "Wait until he's back in the here and now?"

Cathy and his mother exchanged glances, and Miranda stepped forward to place one hand on his arm. "I think it might be good for you to go in there, see him now," she told him gently.

Hutch raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to elaborate.

She took a breath, and her own brows drew in as she spoke, clearly choosing her words carefully. "I know you and your father have had less than a banner year, sweetheart--"

Hutch couldn't restrain a snort. "Make that a banner decade," he muttered bitterly.

"But...there was a time when he was proud of you, even when he was driving you the hardest," Miranda went on, ignoring his outburst. "He's still so dopey right now, it's like--like there are cracks in that hard shell, and you can see all the vulnerable bits." She raised pleading blue eyes to her son. "Just once, Ken, I'd like you to have a chance to see your father without the mask he seems to wear around you all the time."

Hutch drew in a breath, puffed out his cheeks, and blew the air out again. He looked at Starsky, who met his gaze, then gave a minute tilt of his head. Despite his consternation, Hutch nearly broke into a grin. Only his partner could convey so much in a simple brief gesture--encouragement, love, and a promise to be there no matter what happened.

"All right, Mom," he relented. "I'll go in for a little while. But if he starts harassing me about my grades or college boards, I'm right out of there."

"He won't," she said confidently. "Go on, dear. It'll be good for you to spend some time with him like this."

Squaring his shoulders, Hutch took one last bit of strength from Starsky's eyes, then headed down the hall toward Richard's room.

Much of the paraphernalia was gone, which was expected, given the fact that they planned to move him to a regular room that evening. The head of the bed was propped up slightly. Richard reclined against two fat white pillows, eyes closed, one hand moving gently from side to side. As he neared the bed, Hutch heard faint snatches of his father's favorite opera, and knew Richard was indulging in a once-favorite pastime--conducting the orchestra in his head. Hutch forced a smile.

703-4.jpg "Hey, Dad," he greeted Richard softly. "How're you feeling?"

Richard's eyes slitted open. For a moment, Hutch held his breath, waiting for the blue coldness to surface, for the harsh words to emerge from his father's lips as he once again ordered Hutch out of his life.

Then, to his astonishment, the lips did something he hadn't seen in years: they turned up at the corners into a welcoming smile.

"Ken," Richard murmured in a hoarse, slightly slurred voice. "Come sit down, son. That respirator tube they had in my throat'll make it damned hard to talk for a day or two."

Still cautious, Hutch moved toward the bed and settled himself at the edge of one of the chairs. Richard's eyes followed him, and the smile broadened.

"Look at you," he said. "Taking time out from college to come see your dad. Shouldn't have done it, though; you need to stay at those books to keep your grades up."

"I know, Dad," slipped automatically from Hutch's lips; this was much more familiar territory.

"How is school anyway?"

"Fine," Hutch said. "Great."

"Good." Richard's eyes drifted closed, flickered open for a moment, then closed again and didn't move. "Keep up the good work, huh?"

Hutch swallowed. "You bet, Dad." Hardly able to believe he was doing it, he reached forward and laid one hand over Richard's, noticing as he did how fragile his father's skin seemed, how prominent the veins. "Listen," he said huskily. "I'm...I'm gonna go now, let you get some rest. I'll be back later."

"Good," Richard repeated without opening his eyes, the words barely audible. "Take care of your mother; make sure she gets some rest."

"I will," Hutch said, relieved to tell one truth in this bizarre little scene. "Don't worry about it."

Richard nodded infinitesimally. Taking this as a dismissal, Hutch rose to his feet and started quietly toward the door, figuring his father was drifting back into sleep.

A set of final whispered words stopped him.

"Proud of you, boy," came from the bed, so softly Hutch could almost believe he'd imagined them. "Damned proud of you."

Unable to stay in the room a moment longer, Hutch took two rapid strides to the door and fled.

When he reached the waiting room, Starsky and the women turned to him expectantly. He must have looked dreadful, for his mother paled and Cathy asked worriedly, "Ken? What's the matter?"

Throat tight, he shook his head. "Let it lie for now, Cath, huh?" he requested. He turned to his mother. "We're going back to the house," he told her. "You want to come with us, or stay here for a while?"

"I planned to stay for a while," Miranda replied, her eyes fixed to his face. "But if you want me to go back with you now, so you can talk about this--"

"No," he refused shakily. "Sorry, Mom, but I just can't right now. I have to--. I need to figure out what it means, I guess, and how I feel about it."

"Well, all right, then," she conceded. "But I'll be home in a couple of hours, if you want to talk then."

"Fine," he said, pulling her into his arms for a hug. "Get something hot for dinner, and call if you don't feel like driving, huh? We'll come out and get you."

"All right," she repeated, and kissed him softly on the cheek. "Be sure to eat some dinner, and maybe take a good hot shower." She turned to Starsky and planted a motherly kiss on him, as well. "You, too, Dave."

Cathy also hugged them both. "I'm going over to the hotel to spend some time with Craig," she whispered into her brother's ear. "Dave's got the number, so if you need anything, call me, okay?"

"Promise," Hutch said, then gave her a final squeeze and extricated himself from her arms. "Come on, Starsk, let's go."

As he strode down the hallway, he was aware of Starsky's curious expression. But fortunately, Starsky knew him better than his mother and sister, and refrained from commenting on his almost frenzied flight from the hospital. He kept his peace during the walk across the parking lot, and the entire trip home. Fleetingly, Hutch felt a pulse of admiration and gratitude for his partner, who managed to restrain his own caretaking urges until they were in a place where he could indulge them freely.

The minute they entered the house, Starsky took Hutch's hand and started upstairs. Docilely, feeling shell-shocked in a way he didn't entirely understand, Hutch allowed himself to be led to his room and gently lowered to a sitting position on the bed. Then Starsky pressed a tender kiss to his brow and waved a hand toward his clothes.

"Off," he instructed, his voice as gentle and loving as the kiss. Too preoccupied to protest, Hutch automatically toed off his shoes and began unbuttoning his shirt. Starsky watched for a moment, then kissed him again--this time on the lips--and walked softly out of the room, kicking off his shoes as he went. A moment later, Hutch heard the shower go on in the adjoining bathroom.

He unzipped his jeans and rose to push them down past his hips to the floor. From the bathroom came the sound of the shower curtain sliding closed, then Starsky reappeared, shedding his shirt as he crossed the room. Still in a weird daze, Hutch didn't move until Starsky had dropped his own jeans and extended his hand again.

"C'mon."

They entered the bathroom. Starsky pulled back the shower curtain and jerked his head toward the water. "In."

Hutch climbed in, closing his eyes blissfully as the water, warmed to just the right temperature, poured over his head. He felt rather than heard Starsky step in, then the shower curtain closed and they were both enveloped in the cleansing shower spray and accompanying steam. Seconds later, Starsky's arms wrapped around him, and that beloved body pressed against his back. His partner didn't speak, and there was nothing urgent or even sexual in the embrace...just Starsky's presence, not asking what was wrong with him, not questioning his mood, simply holding him, as if to help him keep himself together.

A few moments passed with no sound but the water pattering around them. Gradually, Hutch felt his whirling mind begin to slow, resembling itself again instead of the uncontrollable cyclone it had become back in the hospital. As if Starsky could sense that his head had cleared, he pulled back and began to soap his partner's body. Hutch kept his eyes closed and relaxed, letting himself luxuriate in this simple yet eloquent expression of Starsky's love.

When Hutch was clean and rinsed, Starsky began to run the soap over himself. Silently, Hutch took the bar and washed his lover's body with the same care and attention Starsky had given him, adding a few grateful kisses to Starsky's lips and the warm, pulsing indent at the base of his throat. When he finished, he allowed Starsky to move under the spray until the soap was gone, then folded his partner back into his arms.

As Starsky's arms tightened around him in response, he buried his face into the wet, sweet-smelling hair. "Love you," he whispered, and felt a kiss pressed against his neck.

703-5.jpg "Love you, too."

Then, without further words, they climbed out of the shower, toweled themselves dry, and slid into the bed. Once under the covers, Hutch reached out and pulled Starsky close again. Burying his fingers in the damp curls, he lowered his lips to his partner's, savoring the familiar taste and softness. Their lips parted, and Hutch slipped his tongue inside. Starsky's met his in sensual greeting as he reveled in the damp warmth, wondering how in the world he'd made it for so many days without this touch, this deliciously tangled oral embrace.

For the moment, he let himself forget his father. Richard was mending, and in the haze of recovery, he'd let down his guard and given Hutch the words he'd always wanted to hear. Proud of you. For the moment, Hutch allowed himself to simply savor the memory, rather than thinking ahead to the time when Richard would recant and return to cool questioning and aloof disapproval.

For now, there was only acceptance. For now, there was only Starsky's body encircled in his arms, head tucked under his chin, mouth now moving with deliberate slowness across the sensitive skin on Hutch's neck and trailing down to his chest. He shivered as one hand preceded Starsky's mouth, brushing down to his abdomen, resting there until Hutch's quivers stilled.

"You okay?" Starsky murmured against him. The feather of breath raised the flesh on Hutch's arms; he shuddered again.

"Yeah," he whispered, kissing the top of Starsky's head. "More okay than I've been in a long time, I think."

Starsky delivered a soft kiss to his chest. His hand continued its journey downward, and Hutch drew in a quiet gasp at his partner's touch, amazed at the arousal that jolted through him. He began to trace circles on Starsky's back, losing himself in the multiple sensations at his chest, his fingertips, his groin.

"Oh, God," he moaned, as the wave of feeling built inside him. "Wait...it's too soon--"

He knew Starsky was smiling; he could feel the curved shape of his lips as another kiss was pressed against his chest, followed by a swift teasing tongue as Starsky's fingers continued their steady rhythm. He tried to hold back, tried to stem the rise of his climax, but Starsky turned his face upward to kiss his chin. Against his thigh, he could feel the pulsing of Starsky's erection, also straining to be released.

"Don't hold back, babe," he heard. "Just go with it."

And he did, pinwheels exploding behind his eyes, trembling with the force of it, clutching Starsky's body until they were both shaking, feeling the damp stickiness of Starsky's orgasm. Then he brought one hand under Starsky's chin, tipped his partner's face up, and kissed him until both their lips were swollen.

"Starsk, you...I..."

"Shhh." Starsky's lips covered his. "I know."

Hutch pulled him close to his chest, tightened his arms until both could barely breathe.

"I love you, Starsk," he told the tangle of curls under his nose. "God, do I love you."

"I told you, Hutch," came the soft reply. "I know." Lips pressed against his chest once more. "Now go to sleep."

He laughed drowsily, then closed his eyes, and obeyed.

Unit One, report.
Auxiliary outer defenses armed and ready, ma'am.
Unit Two?
Phase Two defenses nearly complete--I anticipate readiness in less than sixteen minutes.
Ten. Unit Three.
The neighbors have been outside at the barbecue, ma'am. Phase Three operations will have to be delayed until they finish their meal.
Very well. In the meantime, help Unit Two. Unit Four.
He's making his list, checking it twice, gonna find out who's naughty and nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town.

It was dark outside when Hutch awoke a few hours later. For a moment, he simply lay there, relishing the familiar heaviness of Starsky's head on his shoulder, inhaling the unique scent he knew he'd recognize anywhere. Then, the memory of why they were there crept back into his senses, nudging away his tranquility and replacing it with a restlessness that forbade further sleep. With a reluctant sigh, he dropped a kiss onto Starsky's lips and eased himself gently out of the bed. Silently, he groped for his bathrobe and tied the belt around his waist, then tiptoed out of the room.

As he moved down the dim hallway, he could hear the quiet murmur of Miranda's voice from the master bedroom. He paused and listened for a moment, long enough to learn that she was talking to Cathy and Craig, making plans for breakfast the next morning. Apparently, his father had fallen back to sleep and was, in the traditional words of hospitals everywhere, "resting comfortably." A heaviness descended onto his chest, and he continued down the hall until he reached his grandfather's old study.

The house had originally belonged to Miranda's father, the only grandparent who'd still been living when Hutch was born, and who had died just after Hutch graduated from high school. James Hyde had been that rare man, the kind who could combine refinement and heartiness into a welcoming personality that embraced the universe and accepted everyone as they were, yet somehow made people want to strive to be better. In Hutch's teenage years, when his father had been the most critical and demanding--as well as most absent--as the hospital demanded most of his time, Hutch had never failed to find solace with his grandfather. Somehow, James managed to support young Ken without condemning Richard; perhaps he, like his grandson, held onto the hope that someday the two would be something more like father and son.

Hutch settled himself into his grandfather's plump, worn easy chair. Propping his feet on the ottoman, he gazed around the room that had retained the essence of James' memory, from the pictures of him, his children, and his grandchildren along the walls, and the photographs he himself had taken, to the smell of his tobacco and cologne that somehow still lingered in the air after all these years. Though Richard and Miranda had redone much of the house after James died and left the residence to his daughter, this room remained largely untouched. The only new item was a baby grand piano that gleamed in one corner--the battered upright that had once stood there now resided in Hutch's apartment, a legacy from the grandfather who had taught him to love music as he had.

"Hey."

He looked up to find Starsky peering in the door. With a chuckle he shook his head, realizing he wasn't really surprised to see his partner there. Starsky gave him an answering smile and entered the room, closing the door quietly behind him and sinking into a chair opposite Hutch's. He looked around for a moment, his smile broadening as he, too, absorbed the room's atmosphere, then turned his eyes to Hutch.

"I'm okay," Hutch assured him as if he had spoken.

"You sure?" Starsky pressed, his voice dubious. "That was a minor meltdown you had at the hospital. What was goin' on?"

Hutch leaned his head against the back of the chair and folded his hands in his lap. "I'm...not entirely sure," he said slowly.

"What did your dad say?" Starsky asked. "Somethin' upsetting about you and me?"

"No," Hutch replied. "In fact, it was just the opposite, it was like--" He shook his head, frowning. "It's hard to describe, Starsk. I mean, he was...it was like my dad but not my dad, like some 'Twilight Zone' version of my real dad meeting my image of what a father should really be."

Starsky blinked at him. "You wanna run that one by me again?" he requested. "In case you forgot, we haven't had a lotta sleep."

Hutch leaned forward and laced his fingers through Starsky's, and started over. "He was--. I went in there, Starsk, and he smiled at me." He shook his head. "That sounds ridiculous, to say out loud, but I honestly can't remember the last time he looked at me when I didn't feel like he was inspecting me for the inevitable flaws." He chuckled ironically. "'Course, he thought I was still in college, which is about the last thing I ever did that he approved of."

"So, he smiled and...then what?" Starsky prompted, as if he sensed there was more to the story.

"Well, that was so damned surreal, it just got to me," Hutch admitted. "He asked about school, told me to take care of Mom, and started to drift back to sleep. I got ready to go, then he woke up a little, said he was proud of me, and dropped off." He chuckled again, this time with a hint of sheepish disbelief at his own reaction. "Sounds crazy, I know."

"Run that last part by me again?" Starsky asked. "The part about being proud of you."

"Yeah, I know." Hutch shrugged and, to his chagrin, found himself fighting back tears. "I'm telling you, Starsk, honest to God, I can't remember the last time I heard him say that." He tipped his head back again and focused on not bursting into sobs like a five-year-old. Almost before he could draw breath, he felt Starsky's arms envelop him from the arm of the chair. "Stupid, like I said."

"I get it," Starsky assured him, and Hutch felt a kiss brush against his temple. "Sounds like there's a part of you that knows that won't last. Makes sense it would make you sad."

"Yeah." Hutch swallowed the tears at last and drew a shaking breath. "Yeah, that's pretty much it. If, as Collette said, he'll be back up to speed by tomorrow, he'll have a damned different reaction to seeing me."

Starsky's hand nudged him forward and began a gentle massage across his taut shoulders. "So...what do you wanna do?"

Hutch released another breath. "What we came here for, I guess," he said. "Find the woman who attacked him and get her some help. Whether he acknowledges it or not, I'll know I did something for everybody--including him."

On to Part 3