Hell's Afire
by pepcidDC and Firefly

SHSVS, Episode 704, Part 2

Back to Part 1

He sat in his car, his nose running, his eyes filled with tears. Sobbing, unable to get a breath, he pulled his shirttail out of his jeans and blew his nose.

His fire, his lovely fire. It had died before it ever really got started. Oh, the windows had blown good, that'd been okay, and the flames had flared, that'd been good, but then...nothing. It had just petered out with a bunch of smoke, nothing more. He watched down the street as the firefighters killed what was left of his fire.

And Dan had tried to kill him! What the fuck? Joey blew his nose again hard and wiped his eyes. Tried to fucking shoot him. Joey was still shaking as he stuffed his shirt back into his jeans, looking at the gun on the seat next to him. They'd been fighting about the cop, yelling like crazy, Dan saying all kinds of nasty things. Then he'd pulled the gun. Joey'd never been so scared in his life, and he still didn't know how he'd gotten the gun away from Dan. All he remembered was the sound of the shot and lighting the fuse before running from the building.

Which turned his eyes back to his failure. The fuses. He hadn't gotten the fuses right. He gripped the steering wheel tight as hate flared deep in his heart, and snarled. He'd seen them take out the body bag, seen them load his bait into the ambulance. He couldn't go back, couldn't try again, and Dan was dead, and nothing was perfect, and it was all The Blond's fault. His world crashed in around him, and Joey put his head down on the steering wheel and sobbed.

He took a deep breath, tried to get calm. He had his car at least. With all his stuff. He glanced at the bottles on the floor of the passenger seat, then thought about the stuff in the trunk. Still had that. Still had his lighter. He wiped his nose on his sleeve. Yeah, he still had that. He carefully pulled out his lighter and flicked it, watching the flame, growing calmer as the metal warmed in his hand.

He could fix this, still make it perfect, still make it work. It'd be okay. He pictured The Blond in his mind's eye, burning, burning, burning. His breathing slowed, and the familiar comforting tingle started in his groin. He watched the flame as he rubbed his privates through his jeans.

Just as the ache grew, Joey stopped, catching his breath. No, that was for later. After he'd fixed this.

He started the car and slowly pulled away from the curb, careful not to jar his bottles too much.

Hutch pulled the car over and shut off the engine. Starsky eased out of the vehicle and simply stood, staring. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. Yellow tape cordoned off the block, and the fire chief's people were picking through the debris. On either side of a blackened hole stood the gutted shells of former apartment units. Slowly, it sank in that that blackened hole used to be his home. One wall was all that was left standing, and it was propped precariously by charred timbers and rubble. Smoke still curled out of that rubble, testament to the amount of fuel and the heat of the fire. His apartment had been the epicenter. He had been the target. Starsky braced his hands against the car. He had only vague memories of the explosion.

704-6.jpg He became aware of Hutch coming to stand close to him, a hand coming to rest on his back, deftly avoiding the bandage there.

"I'm sorry," Starsky whispered.

"For what?" There was obvious confusion in Hutch's voice.

Starsky inclined his chin toward the blackened ruins, his eyes remaining glued to them. "For putting you through that."

Hutch took in a shaky breath, but his hand never stopped its gentle rubbing. "N-not your fault. I-I'm just so grateful you weren't in there."

Starsky nodded, reaching back with one hand and gripping Hutch's wrist. They stood in silence for a while. "You know, I don't really remember the explosion. I ran out back to pitch the trash. The next thing I know, there's this loud blast and I'm doing a bird imitation, flying through the air. Surprised I didn't break my neck. Something slammed me in the back of the head, and that's all I remember until I woke up someplace else. But that's all still kinda hazy. Clearest memory is waking up in the hospital this morning with your bright blue eyes starin' at me." Starsky finally turned away from the sight of the wreckage and focused on Hutch with a smile.

Hutch returned the smile. "You ready to go?"

Starsky glanced once more at the smoking blackened rubble of his former home. "Yeah, let's go."

He didn't say anything as Hutch hovered while he eased himself into the car. Hutch shut his door and hurried around to the driver's side. Hutch never once looked at the ruins. Starsky understood.

"You know what's stupid?" Starsky asked, halfway to Hutch's place.

"What?"

"I'm gonna miss that pizza box."

Hutch glanced at him, confusion plain. "Pizza box?"

"Yeah, the pizza box. Been through two Christmases, seems a shame it won't see another."

Hutch's eyes widened incredulously for a moment. "Pizza box?" he mouthed, then the light dawned. He started laughing. Starsky grinned and chuckled quietly.

Hutch watched as Starsky eased his battered body under the shower spray. Starsky's hiss of pain as water struck the various burns was almost inaudible.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Hutch asked softly, quickly stepping in behind him and laying steadying hands on Starsky's hips.

Starsky turned slowly, smiling sweetly at him. "I am now." Barely more than a whisper, but Hutch thrilled to hear it.

"Let me take care of you. Please? I-I--"

Starsky pressed fingers to his lips. "Shh. It's okay. I'm here, I'm okay. I'm all yours."

Hutch swallowed, then nodded jerkily and drew Starsky slowly into his arms. Starsky came willingly, meeting Hutch's seeking lips in a gentle kiss. Starsky sighed and rested his forehead against Hutch's shoulder. Hutch swallowed again and simply held him for a time, reveling in the fact he still had Starsky to hold.

Gently, thoroughly, and with the utmost care, Hutch began to bathe every inch of Starsky. He started with his hair. He lathered and rinsed the thick dark curls until every trace of the smoke smell was gone. It was nearly impossible to avoid the deep burn striping the back of Starsky's shoulders, but the protective burn bandage remained sealed.

While his fingers massaged Starsky's scalp, his lips sought Starsky's mouth. He seemed only too eager to comply. A faint groan escaped Starsky as he attempted to raise his arms to embrace Hutch. Hutch stopped him with a gentle touch, sliding his fingers lightly to the livid purple bruise spreading over Starsky's left shoulder. Starsky twitched at the barely there touch, but quickly relaxed into the soothing caress.

Finished with Starsky's hair, Hutch soaped his hands and began a sudsing massage of Starsky's body. He left soft kisses in the wake of the rinsing water. He urged Starsky to lean against the wall, and began to lather the hairy chest, combing through the fine pelt. Starsky gasped when Hutch's fingertips grazed his taught nipples and he smiled tenderly into Starsky's heavy-lidded eyes. The corners of Starsky's lips turned up. Hutch leaned back and let the water rinse the soap away. He admired the firm masculine chest, becoming mesmerized by the precious expansion and contraction of the ribcage.

Light fingers traced down his cheek, snapping him out of his reverie. He raised his eyes to Starsky's. Understanding, love, and affection shone back at him.

"I'm here," Starsky whispered. "I'm okay."

704-7.jpg Hutch nodded, swallowing again. He lowered his head, slowly, holding Starsky's gaze as long as possible. Then, he latched onto one nipple. Starsky gasped again, his good hand coming up to card through Hutch's hair. After a long moment, Hutch left the nipple he was laving, flicked his tongue over the other, then captured Starsky's mouth. More than passionate, the kiss was loving, affirming, a recommitment.

"Love you so much," Hutch murmured against Starsky's lips. He didn't wait for Starsky's hummed response, as he sank to his knees. Kneeling in front of Starsky, he continued his bathing ministrations. He sudsed and rinsed and caressed Starsky's lower limbs, carefully avoiding his lover's obvious arousal. His hands stilled, coming to rest on Starsky's hips. He gazed up at Starsky, making sure he had his full attention. Starsky was still smiling, his eyes glowing with love.

Hutch soaped his hands once more. With tender care, he wrapped his fingers around Starsky's shaft and balls, stroking and cleansing. Their eyes remained locked. Starsky's lips parted as his breath began to come in shallow pants.

Hutch let the water rinse away the soap, his hands still caressing, his gaze still latched to Starsky's. Slowly, slowly, he leaned forward, watching. Starsky licked his lips, his breath even shallower. Hutch opened his mouth and swallowed Starsky's cock. Starsky shouted, then groaned as Hutch twirled and twisted his tongue around the sensitive shaft. Starsky's eyes slid shut, and Hutch began to suck and lick. Starsky's hand was back, alternately combing through his hair and caressing the shell of his ear. He watched the pleasure chase over Starsky's face. He bobbed gently up and down, letting his cheeks hollow with the suction. While his mouth was busy, he once again soaped his hands. He wrapped one around his own straining shaft, the other fondled Starsky's balls. Starsky moaned again, spreading his legs a little more. Hutch took the invitation and slipped a finger inside. Starsky was moaning constantly now.

Hutch kept a slow and easy rhythm with mouth and hands. He wanted to savor Starsky, to worship him, love him. Starsky's hips started to rock, and Hutch increased the pace. Hutch worked Starsky's cock with all the skill he'd learned over their past two years together. His finger thrust in and out of the tight ass, his palm gently bumped the furred sac on each push, his fisted palm kept pace on his own cock. Hutch felt Starsky's balls draw up, and he plunged his finger deep inside, hitting the pleasure nub he sought. Starsky cried out and warm fluid jetted down Hutch's throat. Hutch continued to suck until he was sure he'd sucked Starsky dry, then lapped and licked the slowly softening shaft as he gently pulled away. His own release was almost an afterthought, as he watched Starsky's pleasure.

Starsky's eyes slowly opened and he gazed down at Hutch, his chest heaving in the aftermath. He smiled sleepily and tugged weakly on Hutch's hair. Hutch got shakily to his feet, braced his hands on either side of Starsky's head, and leaned in to capture the still parted lips.

"Love you, Blintz," Starsky said softly.

Hutch kissed Starsky deeply. "Love you, too, Starsk. More than I can ever show you."

Starsky traced his lips, smiling fondly. "Feel the same, Hutch."

They shared another long kiss, before Starsky broke gently away. "Much as I love ya, Blondie, the water's startin' to get cold."

Hutch nodded and reluctantly stepped away and turned off the water. Carefully, he helped Starsky out of the shower and dried him off. Starsky heaved a sigh as he settled into their bed.

Hutch stood by the side, glass in one hand, pills in another. Starsky shook his head. "Nope. Aspirin, Tylenol, okay. No pain pills."

"Starsk, you're gonna hurt in the morning."

Starsky nodded. "Maybe. But I'll be awake and alert. That's where I need to be." He looked closely at his partner. "Now get into bed and help me get comfy."

Hutch smiled and crawled in. It took some doing, but they finally found a comfortable position that didn't stress the burns on Starsky's back, falling almost instantly asleep.

When the phone rang hours later, it was long moments before Hutch's arm reached out to snag it. Tension flooded through him as he listened to the caller. As he hung up the phone, he met Starsky's questioning, concerned eyes.

"Dobey. The station's on fire."

The fire chief was outside when they arrived. Mike O'Leary flashed them a rueful grin as they walked up. "We gotta stop meeting like this."

The corridors were black with smoke and filled with water. Dobey was swearing when they found him. Apparently, the suspect had walked through the station spreading some kind of clear gel over walls and floors that ignited and burned. O'Leary thought it acted a lot like napalm, and he wasn't happy.

They gathered in one of the conference rooms that had escaped damage. Everyone had a mug, and Arturo had snagged a pot of coffee from one of the other departments. They talked, comparing notes, reviewing the old case file again, trying desperately to find one shred of a lead. After a few hours, Hutch went to the window and braced one hand on the wall. Starsky watched him out of the corner of his eye.

Finally, Hutch turned and focused on Starsky. "What do we know, partner?" Hutch's voice drew the attention of the others, and all eyes were focused on him.

Starsky felt his mouth go dry and looked away. His gut rolled, telling him he wasn't gonna like this. "Don't want to hear this, Hutch."

"There comes a time, you gotta step back and look at a case, look at it hard," Hutch's smooth voice continued. Starsky noticed that Dobey was studying his coffee mug, and Lizzie was looking at her shoes. A quick glance told him that Arturo had found an interesting spot on the wall. Hutch kept talking, his reasonable and professional voice low and polished. "So, partner, what do we know?"

Starsky finally looked into those bright blue eyes. I know I love you. I know that as soon as this is over, I'm getting you alone and loving you until you can't walk. Then I'm gonna kill you for what you're about to do. Because we both know the only answer to this problem is to lure the guy out. Starsky closed his eyes and answered his partner. "We know his name is Joey."

"Could be a nickname," Dobey muttered.

"We know he's a chemist, or has a background in chemistry," Lizzie added.

"We've assumed that, Lizzie," Hutch corrected.

"He's a firebug," Arturo said quietly.

"Yeah." Hutch's voice was just as quiet. "And he's using explosives as well."

"We know--" Starsky's voice cracked in his throat. "We know he's focused on you."

And his bright, golden blintz nodded. "Yeah."

"We know anything else?" Dobey asked. "Did we overlook anything? Any leads, any known associates, any place to start looking?"

Silence.

"Suggestions?" Dobey asked.

Hutch gave a soft snort, put his mug down, and stretched that long lean body, lifting his arms over his head. "Sure." Hutch lowered his arms and stood there, a resigned smile on his handsome face. "There's only one thing to do."

Everyone looked at him except Starsky. Starsky knew if he looked at his lover, his life, his fucking soul, the growing anger in his gut would spill out.

Hutch continued, "We set a trap using the only bait we got. Me."

Starsky yanked Hutch into the men's locker room and shoved the door closed, locking it. He braced himself against it and crossed his arms over his chest.

"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I'm trying to catch a murdering arsonist!"

"By making yourself bait? Have you forgotten what this guy almost did to you in that theater? What he almost did to me?"

Hutch slammed his fist into a locker door, leaving an impressive dent. "Of course I haven't forgotten! That's why I have to do this! I have to stop this guy before he kills somebody else. Starsky, he's after us. If we can lure him out on our own terms, we stand a much better chance of catching him before he gets the drop on us again."

Starsky stared at Hutch unhappily. He knew Hutch was right, but he wasn't sure of Hutch's motivation.

Hutch moved a little closer, holding out his hands beseechingly. "Starsk, I can't go through that again. I thought I'd lost you in that explosion. I thought our luck had finally run out. I've got to stop him."

"And do you think I could handle losing you any better?" Starsky asked quietly. "Because if you do, you're wrong."

Hutch looked stricken. "Of course not. I-it'd just be--"

"Easier for you to do this than let me? I know, and now you know how I'm feeling right now."

Hutch dropped his gaze, nodding slightly. A moment later, he lifted his head and met Starsky's eyes again, determination written on his face.

"We have to catch this creep, Starsk, and this is the best way to draw him out. This is no different than any other time we've made ourselves bait."

704-8.jpg "You sure about that? This is more personal than other times we've done this. Are you sure you're not out for some vengeance?"

Starsky was glad Hutch didn't answer right away. It meant he was giving the question serious thought. Finally, Hutch looked at him again. "Maybe a little, but it really is the best way."

Starsky continued to frown, studying Hutch. He dropped his arms and straightened. "Yeah, it probably is. I just wanted to make sure you were doing this for the right reasons. But this doesn't mean I have to like it."

Hutch smiled slightly, moving close enough to touch him. "I know," Hutch whispered. "But I also know you'll be there to back me up."

Starsky gave fleeting thought to stopping his grin, but let it form. "You bet your sweet ass I'll be there," he said throatily. He darted a kiss to Hutch's lips then turned and pulled the door open, leaving a suddenly dazed Hutch to gather his scattered wits.

Starsky chuckled silently as he pranced back to the bullpen. He tossed a grin over his shoulder when Hutch caught up to him moments later. Hutch's expression warned of payback to come. Starsky looked forward to it.

Lizzie sat down next to Arturo on the bench outside the men's locker room and handed him a cup of coffee. "They still at it?"

"Yeah." Arturo thanked her with a smile and took a sip. "Is Dobey setting up surveillance?"

Lizzie nodded, then winced as she heard someone or something hit one of the lockers. "Sounds bad."

"Nah," Arturo said, chuckling. "They've locked themselves in and been going at it hammer and tongs. They're just lettin' off steam. Glad to see it. Hutch was scarin' me there for a while."

Lizzie shot him a look and rolled her eyes. "Men."

Arturo laughed.

Lizzie leaned back against the wall and sipped her coffee. Arturo clearly didn't have a clue, and she wasn't about to give him one. Hell, she wasn't sure how she felt about it. Part of her was amazed at how "normal" they seemed, and part of her was uncomfortable thinking about certain physical aspects.

Part of her was terrified for them.

But the largest part of her rejoiced that they'd found each other, that they had each other's love and strength.

It grew quiet in the locker room, and Arturo looked at her. "Told ya they'd work it out."

Lizzie just smiled and let a very tiny part of her wonder what they were really doing in there.

Joey flicked on the light and looked around. Nice place. He liked the plants.

Easy enough to follow the cops from the hospital. Easy enough to spread some stuff around the police station and cause some trouble. Not perfect, but it didn't have to be. Perfect was for later.

He went into the bedroom, looked at the rumpled sheets, and decided to start with the bed. He'd have to time this one better, so he would have time to get to the station. That red and white car was so pretty. It'd look good going up in flames. If he did it right, there'd be nothing left. If he did this right, he'd get the car, Curly Hair, and The Blond all at once. That would be so perfect.

Joey smiled, rubbed his crotch, and went to work.

Hutch wanted coffee and aspirin. He closed his eyes, rubbed his forehead, and sighed.

Actually, what he wanted was about forty-eight hours alone with his lover. Somewhere safe and sane and very isolated.

Instead, he and his partner were in one of the undamaged conference rooms on the first floor of the station. As before, Dobey and the other detectives were gathered around. This time, with O'Leary and some of his arson investigators. For once, the commissioner was taking the hands-off approach, but he wanted hourly reports. It was only a matter of time before the press made a connection, and that would make their jobs even harder.

The goal now was to set a trap, and they were centering their attention on Hutch's apartment. Dobey had sent a fire crew and some undercover officers to set up the first ring of watchers and to check the apartment. Hutch, with Starsky hovering nearby, had been working with a sketch artist, trying to get something on the arsonist. Hutch's memory was hazy, but at this point, they were desperate.

Starsky shifted in his chair and eased his shoulders. The burns on his back must be bothering him. Hutch looked at him in concern, but Starsky waved him off, pointing at the developing portrait. Hutch nodded and refocused on the artist's sketch.

The phone rang. Lizzie grabbed it, then handed it off to the fire chief.

"What?"

Every head turned.

O'Leary started cursing, and Hutch had to admire the man's command of the language.

"Our man beat us to it. Hutchinson's apartment was rigged to blow on a timer." Everyone started cursing, Dobey the loudest. "The bomb squad was called in and they managed to get the bomb out, but the fire started when they tried to disarm it." O'Leary caught Hutch's eye. "Sounds like your bedroom went up in flames. Other than that, smoke and water damage, but some of your valuables are salvageable."

Hutch caught his breath and glanced at his partner--his relatively healthy partner, standing there staring back at him. His wonderful, loving, intelligent partner, who got his message loud and clear and sent it back with a quirk of his lips. The most valuable thing I have is right here in this room.

"...safe house," Dobey was saying. "In Nova Scotia. I want you there yesterday."

"Arctic Circle," Arturo offered. "Nothing to burn."

Starsky raised his eyebrows and turned to fill his cup. Hutch picked up the ball. "No way, Captain. This nut is out of control, and we need to get him off the streets."

Starsky moved to lean against the window, looking out over the parking lot.

"Nut is right. This has to be a head case of some kind, someone who gets off on lighting fires." O'Leary looked as exhausted as the rest of them.

"If you put them in a safe house, you're gonna have to leak the location of the house to the press," Arturo said. "Gonna have to get him to come to us."

Voices were raised on that point. Hutch rolled his eyes and focused on his partner, who was standing at the window, frozen in the act of raising his cup to his lips.

"Hutch."

Hutch reached his partner's side in a few steps and looked out the window. He backed away from the window quickly and moved off. "Captain--"

Starsky pulled back as well, putting his mug on the table.

Hutch continued, "There's a man with long hair, doing something to my car."

"He's got a gun in his waistband," Starsky growled.

That got everyone's attention. "No way," Lizzie said. "He can't be that fucking stupid."

"Yeah, he can." O'Leary rose. "They like to watch, you know."

"Is he still there?" Dobey asked, reaching for the phone.

"Yeah." Starsky was tilting his head, staying as far back as possible, but still keeping the guy in view. "Still there, but--"

"All right, let's do this quiet--" Dobey didn't get a chance to say anything more. Someone on the street started yelling.

Starsky was out the door, Hutch right behind him. Lizzie and Arturo moved as well, drawing their weapons as they ran for the doors.

Starsky and Hutch burst through the doors to the outside just as shots were fired. Hutch caught a brief glimpse of a uniform down on the sidewalk, as he dived for cover behind a squad car. Starsky moved in the opposite direction, finding his own shelter by one of the fire trucks closer to the Torino, pressing his body against the metal.

Other officers on the street were scattering, running for cover wherever they could find it.

Joey was standing by Hutch's car, Starsky's gun grasped in both hands, screaming something.
Hutch couldn't make it out. The gun in his hand barked twice, slamming rounds into the fire truck. Hutch watched in amazement as the kid lowered the gun and reached back into the car. What the hell?

Lizzie and Arturo hit the doors at that point, moving out and covering the kid. Arturo headed slightly off to the side, yelling for Joey to surrender, but Lizzie moved straight in, trying to take advantage while the kid had his back turned, getting much closer.

Too close. Joey turned, jerked up the gun, and fired without even aiming.

Lizzie went down like a stone.

Hutch gasped, hearing Arturo's scream of rage as he lunged for cover close to Starsky. Joey swiveled, trying to bring the gun to bear on Arturo, but he'd already ducked out of sight. Hutch couldn't see Lizzie well enough to determine her condition, and he didn't dare take his eyes off the kid for an instant. Instead, he focused on what Joey was screaming as he pulled something from his pocket.

"You fucking bastards! You've ruined it!"

Hutch had no clue what was going on in Joey's head. At this point, he just wanted a clear shot. He moved around the front of the vehicle, knelt, and took aim, just as Joey threw something in the car window and ran toward Hutch.

KABOOM! The car blew all to hell, engulfed in flames and black smoke.

Hutch was rocked by the force of the blast and the heat. Through bleary eyes, he saw Joey run past him and jump into a different car. Even as he fumbled for his gun, Joey pulled the car out and sped away from Hutch's position.

Hutch staggered up, desperate to get off a shot, but when he stood, he realized Dobey was standing in the street, facing down the oncoming car.

For brief seconds, it looked like the captain was playing chicken, waiting for the kid to blink first. But the whine of the engine told Hutch that Joey had no intention of stopping.

Dobey got off two shots, cracking the windshield and causing the driver to swerve wildly. Dobey jumped back, and Hutch watched...praying.

The car clipped Dobey as it passed, tossing him to the side like a broken doll.

Hutch moved, rage building in his chest, getting into the street, gun at the ready, taking aim at one of the tires from behind. But movement drew his eyes to the sight of Starsky making a jump for the Torino, and in an instant he saw it. Saw the kid's plan. Set fire to Hutch's car and lure him and Starsky into the Torino for a chase, then blow them and it all to hell in one fell swoop.

Hutch didn't have any air in his lungs, but he screamed anyway, trying to stop his lover, knowing the car was a death trap.

Starsky didn't hear, didn't stop, moving for the car door.

Arturo heard and tackled Starsky, taking him down to the sidewalk.

In an instant, Hutch's eyes flicked and focused on the fleeing car, and he brought his gun to bear, taking two shots at the tires.

The car veered and hit a telephone pole at full speed. The noise was deafening--the scream of twisted metal and shattering glass. Hutch started running, pausing as he neared Dobey and Lizzie. But firemen and paramedics were spilling from vehicles and the building, and Hutch kept moving, intent on securing Joey. Arturo and Starsky were also moving, staying low, trying to get into position.

The front of the car was crushed, steam rising from the engine. The kid had a cut on his forehead and looked dazed and confused. There was some kind of liquid dripping from the trunk, and when Joey opened his door, liquid spilled out from there as well, pooling on the pavement.

Hutch could smell gasoline mixed with other things, and his eyes started to burn. He aimed his gun and moved slowly forward. Behind him, he could hear the sounds of other officers and rescue personnel, but his focus was on the man in the car.

Joey still seemed dazed, looking at him without really seeing him.

"Get out of the car. Slowly." Starsky moved to flank him as Arturo moved around. Hutch repeated his words until Joey turned his head to look at him. Awareness flooded those eyes, as did anger.

"It's all your fault, you fucking asshole." The kid started crying. "The theater, you ruined it. Ruined it." The veins in the kid's neck stood out as he screamed, spittle flying.

Hutch stopped where he was, still aimed at Joey's head. "Get out of the car, now!"

Joey fumbled for something on the seat of the car, even as he screamed his hatred. "Fuck you! I'll show you perfect. I'll show you all--"

"Arturo, down!" Starsky yelled as he tackled Hutch, throwing them both to the pavement.

Joey held up his lighter. "You fucking assholes! It's gonna be--"

Starsky rolled them over and over, moving away from the vehicle and the leaking fluids. Hutch scrambled to help, each pulling the other to get as far away as they could before--

"Perfect!" Joey flicked the lighter. A spark flew, but nothing happened. His mouth wide open in fury, the kid screamed again as he flicked it harder. "Perf--"

The car blew--a ball of pure, bright, perfect flame that surged straight up into the sky.

The scream went higher for a second, then cut off as the once human figure slumped forward against the wheel. Hutch and Starsky scrambled, feeling the heat wash over them as they reached cover behind a vehicle. The gas tank went for a second explosion.

For long moments, there was only the sound of their panting breaths as they tried to fill their lungs. Sirens went off in the distance, and the fire from the car crackled behind them. They both sat there, looking into each other's eyes.

Hutch turned his head slightly to see Arturo and some paramedics helping Lizzie. She was sitting up, but looked to be in pain. "I think Lizzie's going to be okay."

"Good." Starsky wiped his forehead with his hands. "Dobey?"

Hutch leaned forward to see Dobey arguing with paramedics. He slumped back. "Looks okay."

"Good." Starsky focused one eye on Hutch. "I hate Halloween."

704-9.jpg "Me, too," Hutch croaked. "I love you."

Starsky nodded. "Me, too."

A fireman moved their way. "You guys okay?" When they waved him off, he grimaced. "Whatever you do, stay away from that red and white car. It's rigged to blow and we gotta get the bomb squad to disarm it." He headed toward the Torino, where a crowd stood a safe distance from the car.

Starsky rubbed his forehead. "I need a shower."

Hutch blinked at him. "I don't think we have a shower anymore."

"Yeah." Starsky lifted his head. "Remember that big old claw-foot bathtub in that house by the freeway?"

Hutch nodded. "Yeah." He sagged onto the sidewalk. "Let's call Teddy and make an offer."

Starsky flopped next to him with a stifled groan, resting his aching head in his hands. "You got it, partner."

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Coming December 23, 2003 on Starsky & Hutch:

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