Comments on this story can be sent to:


You could only try to force sleep for so long. The fourth time that Hutch woke with a scream, he gave sleeping up as a lost cause. Gulping in a sobbing breath, he fought his way clear of the sweat-drenched bedding. It was tangled around him from elbow to feet, all but hog-tying him, and after last night, he couldn't take the idea of being forcibly restrained.

Last night . . . .

He shied away from the memory, but he couldn't shake it, not with the way it had been replaying in his dreams.

Hutch could barely get his mind around it all. Even now, he could feel Anderson's fingers shoving up into his body, feel that obscene wafer the Satanist had forced into him, its sharp pointy end digging into him . . . .

His stomach lurched in revulsion at what had been done to him. Bile stinging the back of his scream-roughened throat, Hutch shot out of the bed, making for the bathroom.

But the sheet was still tangled around him. It brought his legs out from under him and he hit the floor with a painful thud. He lay convulsed with dry heaves.

Damn, damn, damn.

He couldn't decide which was worse: the cramps as his empty stomach tried to expel its lining or the chills wracking him as his sweat dried in the cold morning air. Pain, shudder, shiver, retch, over and over.

Taking deep breaths, Hutch tried to work his way through the spasms. He had to calm his body, keep those dark thoughts at bay long enough to pull himself together. He was a cop, for God's sake, not some vestal virgin . . . .

But he'd been a virgin. And now . . . now Starsky didn't even want to meet his eyes, never mind touch him. He knew that shouldn't be his major concern in all this, but the change in Starsky's attitude towards him only seemed to ram home all that he'd lost last night.

Just thinking about the horror Starsky hadn't been able to keep out of his expression made him cramp up all over again. He couldn't hold in a groan as the new spasm twisted through him.

He was gasping in its wake. Nausea, cramps and fever were all symptoms of peritonitis. He tried to tell himself that they were also the symptoms of about a million other things, including shock, but his ragged mind was having none of that. As he lay there shuddering on the carpet, he could almost feel the infection growing in him . . . .

Stop, right now.

Hutch gave himself a mental shake. Starsky had checked him out. There were no tears or rip. But, as his partner had said last night, Starsky wasn't a doctor. How was his partner supposed to know what was and wasn't acceptable after being anally violated?

Rape was such an alien concept. The department didn't even train cops to counsel victims, let alone teach them how to handle that kind of assault on a personal level.

Not that this was your typical rape. There were mitigating factors in this case that put last night into a category all its own.

Mentally sidetracked by trying to classify just what last night's events qualified as on a legal level, Hutch was almost unaware of his stomach finally unclenching, his body relaxing as it responded to all those deep breaths he forced himself to take. After a few more minutes, the cramps finally let up.

He was still shivering, but that was from lying on a cold floor.

Hutch realized that the dry heaves were probably the result of a combination of shock and too little sleep.

Glad that no one had been present to witness his breakdown, Hutch hauled himself to his feet. He was still shaky, but at least he was standing.

His first step towards the bathroom reminded him of exactly what had been done to him. His . . . anus hurt like a son of a bitch, like there were sand granules embedded in the sensitive area that were rubbing together and abrading the already abused flesh with every chance movement.

He'd been hurt worse. It was just that this hurt was in a part of his body he hardly ever thought about, a part of his body that was so intimate that only doctors had ever touched him there before—the part of him that Anderson had shoved his fingers into and left that hideous wafer in—the part of him that Starsky had been forced to fuck last night . . . the part of him whose violation made him feel less than a man. It left him shaking again, barely able to hold his emotions in check.

All he could see was that look in Starsky's face, like something precious had been sullied beyond redemption. Maybe it had. He certainly felt that way.

The reality he'd been running from all morning slammed into him like a punch to the gut. He'd been fucked last night. Fucked against his will. Another man had stuck his cock up inside him and taken him in front of an audience while he'd been tied helpless. It was every man's worse nightmare, but it was his reality now. That the man who'd done all those things to him was his partner made it all too much to handle.

On the verge of panicking again, Hutch wondered how a person lived with that kind of reality. How did you just pick up the pieces and go on with your life after something like that? Thousands of women did it every day, but standing shivering in the shattered remains of his self-respect, Hutch couldn't fathom how.

He'd never really given much thought to the effect rape had on the female victims he'd dealt with over the years. He'd seen how it hurt them physically, even understood how it messed them up mentally, but he'd never really thought about what it was like for them afterwards, after the scars faded and it was back to day-to-day life. Every now and then in the course of the case, he'd been forced to deal with the issue on a superficial level. Linda Moscelli had been in his face about it during the Farenti case, as had Slate's daughter's roommate. Their viewpoints had stirred both his and Starsky's sympathy, but it wasn't really a situation most men could truly relate to.

No man ever believed that rape could happen to him. Although he'd been injected with drugs, kidnapped, shot with bullets, beaten and stabbed, it had never once occurred to Hutch that he could be raped. Now that the unthinkable had happened, he had no reference points, no past experience at handling the problem. All he had was pain . . . and shame, more shame than he'd ever felt.

How did a person live with something like this? He was unable to see his way clear of the pain.

Trapped in that hurtful morass, he jumped as a sudden sound pierced the early morning silence. The ringing of the telephone seemed too coincidental to be anything but a cosmic response to his plight.

As he listened to the blare of the phone, knowing who it must be on the other end of the line, Hutch had his answer as to how he'd get through this—the same way he got through every other curve life threw at him—together with Starsky.

Hutch hurried to the ringing phone.

Abruptly nervous about what he could say after last night, Hutch hovered indecisively over the phone. But if Starsky had the courage to make that call, he sure as hell had to find the nerve to pick the receiver up.

His hand was trembling, his guts tightening up, but he got the receiver to his ear and managed to respond with a nearly normal, "H'lo?"

"Hutch, my man. How ya doin'?" The voice that greeted him was familiar and concerned, but it wasn't the voice he was expecting . . . the voice his shattered self-image so desperately needed to hear.

"Hug?" he asked, thrown by the surprise.

"Yeah. How's my White Knight doin'?"

Huggy's laid-back attitude told Hutch that this wasn't a business call. Huggy calling to enquire after his health out of the blue was so weird that it put him immediately on the defensive, arousing all his cop instincts, despite the fact that Huggy Bear was his closest friend after Starsky. The call was just too conveniently timed to be sheer coincidence.

"You didn't call just to ask how I'm feelin'—didjya, Hug?" he challenged.

"Actually, I did."

"And why would you do that?" Hutch knew that his demand was less than gracious, but he was barely up to civil this morning. Polite was going to have to wait in line until he was in a better state of mind.

"I got a freaky call from your partner at some ungodly hour of the a.m. asking me to call 'n check up on you first thing. So this is your check up call. You okay, man?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" Hutch stonewalled. He hated himself for being so rude, but he couldn't risk anything else. His control was so fragile that he feared he'd shatter at the first kind word.

His attitude worked. Huggy went from a concerned friend to an irritated man awoken out of a sound sleep in zero to sixty.

"I don't know," Huggy shot back. "Why don't'chya tell me what this is all about? Your partner calls here soundin' like his dog just died and now you're actin' like Dobey on a bad day. Why didn't Starsky just call you hisself?"

Hutch froze. That wasn't a question he was able to answer. He had his suspicions, of course, but, he hoped he was wrong about most of them.

Starsk was probably in the same headspace he was occupying himself—freaked out and barely functional. Starsky had the added burden of having to make sure that his partner was all right after last night's . . . activities. Since he obviously wasn't up to doing it himself right now, Starsky had commissioned Huggy to act in his place. Thoughtful, but right now Hutch needed to hear from his partner, not a stand in.

"Sorry, Hug." Hutch tried to tone his aggression down. None of this was Huggy's fault. "We had a bad night. That's all."

"Bad night, huh?" Huggy seemed instantly mollified. "So why ain't the man of steel lookin' after you hisself?"

"That's complicated, Hug," Hutch hedged.

"Uh-huh. So, do any of these here . . . complications involve broken bones, bullet holes or bleedin' wounds?"

"No. We're fine—physically." It was one word too many. The moment he uttered it, Hutch knew that he'd committed a tactical error.

"Wha's that s'posed to mean, and don't'chya even try the word nothin' on me." Huggy knew them both too well to be fooled by any evasion Hutch might try to concoct. They both knew that something extreme had to have gone down for Starsky to have delegated Hutch's care to a third party, even one as close to them as Huggy was.

"Starsky's undercover assignment went bad last night," Hutch said by way of explanation.

The tension on the other end of the line became palpable.

"That devil worship gig?" Hug asked. By nature of his position as their main source of street information, Huggy often knew more about their on-going, sensitive investigations than most of the other detectives in their division.

"Yeah," Hutch replied.

""His cover get blown?"

"Not exactly. Mine did."


"I was gettin' dinner at that burger joint two blocks down from Anderson's church. Baldino musta seen me in there, 'cause on the way back to the van, someone stepped out of the woods on the side of the road behind me and knocked me out. When I woke up, I was in the Church of Satan."

"Damn. Did Dino mess you up bad? That dude is one scary operator."

"No, he didn't hurt me, just tied me up," Hutch said. "They, ah, were gonna use me as the sacrificial victim in one of their private ceremonies before Starsk came to the rescue."

Though grossly abbreviated, what he'd told Huggy was technically the truth.

Unfortunately, Hutch had forgotten whom he was speaking with. It was Huggy who had given them the low down on some of the kinkier aspects of Anderson's cult in the first place. The silence that stretched on the other end of the line told Hutch that Huggy was putting one and one together and coming up with the correct answer.

"Ahhh . . . ." It was clear that Huggy was having trouble phrasing his next question. Finally, he just spat out, "How long did those sickos have ya?"

Hutch appreciated the discretion, even as he tensed at the necessity of answering. How he responded would set a precedent as to how he was going to handle the issue. As tempting as it was to simply blow off Huggy's question and hide from the truth, Hug was a part of their team. He'd helped wean Hutch from smack. Huggy had more than earned the truth. Gritting his teeth, Hutch confessed, "They had me about an hour too long."

"Shit," Huggy cursed. Though possibly the most street savvy person Hutch knew, Hug rarely used profanity. That he did so now was an indication of how upset he was. The pause that followed was so rife with tension. At last, Huggy made a hissing sound like a punctured balloon and gruffly offered, "I'm sorry, man, so sorry."

There was no doubt from Huggy's tone that he knew precisely what had happened while Hutch was in Anderson's clutches last night.

Hutch waited for the inevitable probe into the gory details, but it never came.

Instead, Huggy asked, "How ya holdin' up?"

"I'm here," Hutch replied, so overwhelmed with gratitude that he thought his knees might give out. He'd never been so thankful for anyone's discretion in his entire life.

"You want some company?"

The offer was genuine. Hutch could feel Huggy's concern enveloping him over the phone.

"Thanks, but . . . ."

"Yeah, I know," Huggy said softly. "The last thing ya want at a time like this is sight-seers."

There was so much raw emotion in Huggy's voice that Hutch felt confused. He sensed that there was a hell of a lot more imparted by Huggy's acknowledgement than a simple expression of sympathy. Not sure just what they were talking about right now, Hutch asked, "You do?"

"Yeah, man. The world don't always run in the straight line you think it's gonna. When it takes one of these detours, it can really mess ya up. Ya dig?"

"You, ah, been down this kinda detour yourself?" Hutch asked.

Huggy was quiet for so long that Hutch wasn't sure he was going to answer, but then he admitted, "Yeah, a time or two."

A time or two? Christ, that meant that Huggy . . . . 

"Hug, I-I didn't know. I don't know what to say . . . ."

"There ain't nothin' to say, my friend," Huggy cut in before Hutch could even phrase the emotions forming in his mind into some kind of coherent statement. "It was a million years ago, part of the past. That's what you gotta make this, part of the past. It happened, you got through it—that's all that counts. The bottom line is survival. You dig?"

"Yeah, I hear you." Hutch's pitiful attempt at evasion went over just about as well as it would have with Starsky.

"Uh-huh." Huggy sounded spectacularly unimpressed. "I know you 'n the man of steel like to make like super-heroes, but this ain't somethin' you can handle alone. If ya try to keep this inside, it's gonna twist ya up. Take my word for it. If you can't talk to your partner about this, you come to me. You got that? There ain't nothin' ya can say that'll shock me, man. I wish I wasn't, but I been where you are 'n I knows the drill. So you call me when you feel up to talkin'. You hear?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Hug."

"You'd do the same for me," Huggy said.

"I sure as hell hope I never have to," Hutch replied.

"Yeah." Huggy was quiet for a moment, then asked, "You sure ya don't want me to come around?"

"No. I gotta check into the office and . . . find Starsk."

"He ain't takin' it so good, huh?"

"You could say that."

"He gonna be takin' any heat on this one?" Huggy asked.

"Huh?" Hutch didn't know if it were his stressed out condition that was to blame, but he felt as if he'd just missed a vital part of the conversation.

"I'm assumin' that the doer ain't gonna be around to chit chat about what went down. Is my man Starsky up on charges?"

Hutch started shivering again. The assumption that the perp would automatically be dead shouldn't be their best friend's first thought, but, once again, Huggy knew them both too well.

"No, Starsk's in the clear," Hutch answered. "It was a righteous shoot. Anderson was about to stab me; one of his henchmen had a loaded gun on Starsky through the whole ceremony. There was no question that deadly force was called for."

"Good." Huggy sounded satisfied. "That ties it all up neat'n'clean like. The world sure ain't gonna be missin' the likes of them."

"Yeah." Tiring of the conversation, Hutch said, "I gotta get movin' now, Hug."

"You remember—ya need me, ya call. It don't matter how late it is."

"Thanks, Hug."

"I'll see ya around, my friend. Stay strong."

"Will do," Hutch answered.

The conversation had been getting too deep, when there was only dead air in his ear, Hutch felt bereft and isolated. He stared around the sunlit apartment for a minute, not knowing what to do, or even what he should be feeling.

Normally, when the morning sun drenched the room like this, it was his favorite time of the day, but right now his apartment was too quiet. His own breathing echoed through the silence like a crank caller's. The only other sounds were a clock ticking with maddening regularity and the bathroom faucet's synchronized drip. All three seemed to be building to some type of ominous crescendo.

Hutch reached an unsteady hand for the phone.

When he got a dial tone, he put his index finger in the tiny round hole of the first digit and dialed the number his fingers knew by heart.

Ten . . . fifteen rings . . . there was no answer.

Thinking that maybe he'd misdialed in his nervousness, Hutch tried again. After thirty rings, there was still no response. Feeling those walls he'd constructed around his urge to panic begin to crumble, Hutch hung up the phone.

His entire body was shaking. He was just a heartbeat away from cracking up completely. All because Starsky wasn't there to pick up his phone.

How could Starsky not be there? Starsky had said to call him if he needed him. Surely, his partner had to have some idea as to how Hutch would be feeling this morning, how badly Hutch would need to see him . . . but, maybe that was just it. Perhaps Starsky did know and wasn't interested in being there for him. Maybe Starsky really did see him as the piece of human garbage Hutch felt like right now.

And why wouldn't Starsky feel that way? His partner had been there, had seen what Anderson had done to him. Who wouldn't be totally disgusted by that freaky scene? Who would want to hang around with Anderson's leftovers, let alone go the places Hutch had hoped they were heading before last night? No one else had ever wanted him enough to stick it out in the past. Perhaps last night had been enough to finally drive Starsky away as well.

Hutch stood there locked in the grip of self-doubt. Then his frantic gaze fell upon the black vinyl guitar case standing in the corner, the Martin Starsky had bought him for his birthday a few years back to replace the Fender Diane Harmon had destroyed. Starsky had spent the last twelve years trying to make life better for him. There was no way his partner was just going to run out on him, even after a scene like last night.

Though it was hard to shake those shameful doubts, Hutch forced himself to think clearly. If Starsky weren't at home or here, and he wasn't at Huggy's, where else could he be?

There was only one possible answer. Work.

He had a bleary memory of Starsky saying that he'd handle the paperwork . . . that Starsky would be the one to perpetrate the lie in their report. Although Hutch was pretty sure that they'd agreed to go in together this morning, Starsky might have decided to go it alone, to make it easier on both of them. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed that that was exactly what his friend would do.

Taking a deep breath, Hutch dialed headquarters. This time the phone was answered on the fifth ring.

"Willful, homicide," a bored voice answered.

"Hi, Joe." Hutch was amazed by how normal his voice sounded. Starsky would be able to read through his front, but casual acquaintances wouldn't.

"Hey, Hutchinson, what's up?" Joe asked. "Great job you guys did last night! It's about time somebody closed that bunch down."

With everything that had happened, Hutch had lost sight of the importance of the case they'd solved. Anderson and his wackos would never hurt another kid again.

"Ah, thanks, Joe. Have you seen Starsky around?" Hutch tried not to feel stupid asking the question. It was so rare that they lost track of each other's whereabouts that Hutch couldn't even recall the last time he'd had to locate Starsky.

"He was here at eight when I got in," Willful said. "Dobey sent him home around nine, thank God."


"He was in some mood. Looked like . . . I don't know. Sorta like that time we were lookin' for Tito Calendar. Strung out, like he was gonna snap any minute. That was one hell of a long undercover job he had, huh?"

Hutch's blood turned to ice. He couldn't help but wonder how much Willful and the others knew about last night's . . . events. Starsky had talked about editing their report, but Hutch couldn't quite remember if he'd talked Starsky out of the dishonest idea or not. His memories of everything after Starsky shot Anderson and Baldino were sketchy at best. He thought Starsky had said they weren't gonna talk about it, but now he wasn't so sure. All he could recall with any certainty was that horrified expression in Starsky's eyes.

Police stations were like any other organization. The only thing that spread faster than secrets were rumors. If Starsky had been honest in his written report, then it would all be common knowledge by now. Everyone from his fellow detectives to the file clerks would know what had been done to him.

On the verge of losing it, Hutch stopped himself short. If Joe'd had any idea of what went down last night, he wouldn't have been his normal self on the phone. There wouldn't have been any mystery surrounding the cause of Starsky's bad mood, let alone comment upon it. If Willful had known about . . . the rape, he would have freaked out when hearing Hutch on the phone.

"Hutch, you all right?" Willful's concerned question called Hutch back from his anxious fugue.

"Yeah, fine, Joe. Like you said, it was some case." Hutch replied. "So Starsky went home, then?"

"I guess. Last I saw of him he was asking a uniform to drop your car off for you. Didya get it all right?"

With everything else going on, Hutch had all but forgotten that he was without wheels.

"Ahh, hang on a minute." Hutch picked up the phone and reeled its cord as far as it would go from the jack. Leaning over sideways, he could just make the window that overlooked Ocean Avenue. Sure enough, his banged up black Ford was sitting out front in its usual spot. "Yeah, the car's there. Guess I'll try him at home again."

"Sounds good. See ya later, Hutchinson."

"Yeah. Thanks, Joe."

Once again, Hutch hung up the phone. He tried to sort it out in his mind. Starsky had been at work, but had apparently left hours ago. There wasn't any place else Starsky would have gone, other than home. That meant that Starsky either didn't want to or wasn't up to speaking with him at the moment. Either way, it meant that Starsky was there and ignoring his call.

Hutch couldn't deal with it. He'd felt like dirt since he'd woken up this morning. Now he felt worse than that. If Starsky wouldn't even talk to him, what the hell was he going to do? How were they going to get through this?

If only to torture himself further, Hutch tried his partner's number one more time. He let it ring fifty times before he hung up. Not even Starsky could sleep through that.

At a loss as to what to do, Hutch stared around his empty apartment. Huggy was right. He needed to talk to someone. If he stayed here in these lonely rooms, listening to that clock tick and that faucet drip, he'd end up eating his gun.

He considered calling Huggy back, but Huggy was too close to them both. He didn't want Huggy in the middle of this.

Which left . . . who?

Hutch had never had it driven home to him so sharply how few friends he had once he eliminated Starsky and Huggy. There were dozens of people they hung out with, but it was always as a matched pair. He and his partner were like some old married couple. They didn't know anybody individually anymore, only as a doubles act. And, out of all the people they did know, who could he go to with something like this? Jackson Walter's family? Kiko and his mom? One of the girls he used to date or one of their fellow cops? That idea was ludicrous.

The only other relationship that he'd maintained was Luke Huntley . . . and Luke had been in prison now for over a year and a half, doing time primarily because of Hutch's testimony.

Hutch was on the point of despair when he thought of the person he should have taken this to the minute he woke up; the one person who wouldn't be scandalized by anything he had to say. The only person Hutch had ever entrusted his secret to.

He didn't know this number by heart. He had to check it in his address book. Even when he had the name and number in front of him, he hesitated before dialing. It was Saturday morning; his friend wasn't going to be in the office or on the job today. Even though he'd had the home number in case of emergencies, Hutch had never used it before.

A sleepy, Southern voice picked up on the second ring. "Hullo?"

"Hi, Hank. Sorry to call you so early," Hutch said,. He still wasn't sure that he was doing the right thing. "It's Hutch—Ken Hutchinson."

"Hutch!" The genuine warmth in the older man's voice was instantly reassuring. "It's been too long. How are you?"

Instinct almost had him stonewall again, but he managed to force out an honest, "Not so good, Doc. That's, ahh . . . sorta why I'm callin'."

"Oh?" Even awakened from a sound sleep, Hank Bouchelle was good. He was instantly in professional mode, that one inquisitive syllable inviting a world of discussion, without forcing the issue.

"I, ahh, know I let you down last time, not comin' back after that last session . . . ." Hutch cut himself off when he realized he was blithering. He was too nervous to think straight. He'd only taken the coward's route once in his life. Bouchelle was the only man who could pin that label on him, if the psychiatrist were so inclined.

"We'd merely reached an impasse on that particular front, Ken," the doctor quickly assured him in that calming voice that made him so good at his job. "What you did or didn't choose to do in your personal life would hardly affect our friendship."

Hutch could remember that same voice from a year in the past, telling him how Hutch was wasting both their time. There was no point in continuing their sessions if Hutch were determined to wallow in the agony of unrequited love. He either had to tell Starsky how he felt about him or find someone else to focus his romantic interests on . . . .

"I should have returned your phone calls," Hutch said, wondering why he'd thought calling Bouchelle would help. Apparently, there wasn't a single relationship he had that didn't come with a truckload of emotional baggage. He'd known from the start that he never should have chosen a friend for his shrink, but there hadn't been anyone else he could trust with his secret. So, in typical Hutchinson style, he'd fucked up yet another relationship. The guilt he felt for avoiding his friend while avoiding his shrink was almost more than he could handle at the moment. Hank Bouchelle was a good, decent man. He'd deserved better than that.

"And I shouldn't have played hard ball that last time we met," Hank said. "We both made some mistakes. Can we take the apologies as read?" Hank seemed willing to let bygones be bygones.

"You don't have anything to apologize for, Hank. I shoulda called . . . ."

"You're doing it now. Let's not sweat the small stuff, Ken. All right?"

"Okay . . . thanks," Hutch said when it became clear he wasn't going to get off the hook that way. He'd called Hank to talk; Hank was willing to listen. He was going to have to go through with this.

"So, what's up with you, my friend?" Hank asked.

Hutch hadn't a clue as to how to even approach the issue. After a long silence, he said, "Something happened at work that I need to talk about."

"Is it as bad as the last time the job brought you to my door with that poor Terry Nash fellow?" Hank asked.

Hutch swallowed. "It's worse, Doc. This is . . . personal . . . . As bad as it gets . . . ."

"In that case, I think you better get over here. I don't have any plans today, so don't even try any evasion tactics. You remember where the house is?"

"Yeah, on that hill overlooking the water."

"Good. I'll see you in a short while, then."

Though the idea of probing at all this stuff made him even more anxious, Hutch knew he'd go crazy if he didn't sort this through with an objective outsider. So, he forced himself to answer, "Yeah, I'll be there. Thank you, Hank. Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome. I'll see you soon. Drive safe."

An hour later, Hutch found himself climbing the white painted wooden staircase to the porch of a compact beach house not too far from where the assassin/professor Gage had kept a house. Bouchelle's place was a lot less ornate than Gage's. The simple wood building was nestled amidst a tangle of naturally occurring bushes and tall grasses that would have driven most homeowners insane. The psychiatrist had made no attempt to tame his surroundings to his tastes. Hutch didn't know how Hank kept the raccoons and other wildlife out of the house with the landscape coming right up to his front door, but it sure was pretty. Bouchelle's home blended in with the cliffside scenery, rather than standing out from it like most of these beach houses did.

Hutch had always loved the place and today its wild beauty touched him on a level he wouldn't have dreamed possible this morning. Instead of knocking on the door immediately, Hutch found himself crossing to where the ocean view was best, in the corner beside a couple of beat up wooden lawn chairs. For a long moment, he just stood at the far end of the porch, staring off past the side of the house to the turbulent sea out behind it.

The wind was high today and the white-capped breakers were roaring in on the rocky coast a hundred or so feet below in furious, foamy plumes. He took a deep breath of the cold, briny air, holding it in his lungs for a long moment as the wind battered his face and whipped his longish hair around his head. He could hear the gulls and terns crying down below, but drowning out that and everything else was the ever-present thunder of the rushing tide.

Even though his life was still as screwed up as it had been when he pulled into the weedy driveway, Hutch felt better inside after watching the water for a few minutes with the warm sun beating down on him.

When he turned around to go in, he jumped to see Hank Bouchelle sitting perched on the porch fence behind him.

His friend hadn't changed that much in the time they'd been apart. Big and burly, Hank Bouchelle still looked like he belonged more at home on a horse with a cowboy hat on his head than in his tasteful office in the big city. At least today he wasn't wearing the tweed jacket and formal wear he wore when seeing his patients. Bouchelle actually looked comfortable for once. In his sneakers, loose white cotton pants, blue denim shirt and gray sweatshirt jacket, Hank might be mistaken for any other beach bum.

"It never changes, does it?" Hutch said by way of greeting, his words encompassing more than the spectacular view below.

His double meaning wasn't wasted on his companion. Hank's craggy face split into laugh lines as the psychiatrist chuckled and said, "Cryptic lines are supposed to be my forte. It's damn good to see you again, Ken."

Hutch accepted the out-stretched hand, his nervousness melting under the force of Hank's amiable charm. "You, too, Hank."

The light, hazel eyes scoured Hutch's face. "You look like hell. What's been going on with you?"

And as easy as that, they'd gone from small talk to therapy. It was one of the things Hutch loved and hated most about Hank. Bouchelle worked psychiatry the way Starsky and he worked the streets. The man never beat around the bush, never let his patients waste their time bull-shitting. It was cut to the chase, down to business and on with life. Hutch only wished they could get to the on-with-life part without the gut-wrenching soul-searching that usually preceded it. But that was what he was here for—to talk this out and see if he could find his way back to normality again. Right now, normal was feeling about as far away and out of sight as the other side of that ocean down there.

Unable to find a tactful way of leading into the events that had brought him here this morning, Hutch found himself answering sharply, "Well, let's see. Thursday night I seduced my strung-out partner and last night he was forced to rape me in a Black Mass while undercover. It's been a hell'uv'a week, Hank."

There was a part of himself that took a sadistic glee in trying to shock this imperturbable man, but, as usual, he failed dismally. The only reaction that showed in Hank's wide, chiseled face was a little twitching around the eyebrows, as though Hutch had really shocked him for once. But Bouchelle didn't loose his cool. For all the outer reaction he gave, Hank might as well have been one of the wind-carved rocks below. The waves would crash over him eternally, but it would take almost that long to alter him in any perceivable manner. Hutch had never met anyone so together, and it wasn't just an act to impress his patients. Hutch had known the man for over fifteen years now; he was literally unshakable.

"I see. I'm glad you came to see me. Do you want to go inside and discuss this or would you prefer to talk out here?" Hank asked.

Hutch stared out over the tortured water. It was hardly a day to be outside. The wind was cold, the sun's glare punishing, but it was sort of cleansing and he didn't want to be locked away from it. Besides, inside, he'd be forced to look at Hank directly, and he wasn't sure he was up to it. His answer bordered on the truculent. "Out here is fine."

"Can I get you anything before we start?" Bouchelle asked.

"Peace of mind might be nice. Think you can give me that, Doc?" Hutch sneered. He must have been crazy to come all the way out here. This wasn't going to work. What could Hank possibly do to make any of this more bearable?

His attitude bounced off Hank as the waves did on those rocks below. Though he wasn't outwardly perturbed by Hutch's sarcasm, Bouchelle wasn't entirely unmoved by it. Hank wasn't ungiving like the rocks. Instead of allowing the angry tide to recede in its senseless pattern of attack and withdraw, Bouchelle seemed to take a little of Hutch's pain into himself when he gently pointed out, "You know I can't give you peace of mind, Ken. No one can do that. But I can help you try to find it for yourself, if you want to give it a shot. Since you're here, talking to me, I think you do, so let's just get to it, shall we? The last time we met, you were convinced that revealing your feelings for your partner would destroy your relationship. How do you feel about the alteration of your friendship from a purely platonic one?"

Answering one question led to twenty more. Before he knew it, Hank had him sorting through the morass of confusion and fear surrounding Thursday night's seduction.

Finally, Hank summarized the whole situation with, "So, what you're saying is that your partner was the first one to reveal his sexual feelings, that Starsky seemed to enjoy what you shared Thursday night and that Starsky did, in fact, leave an encouraging note hinting that he was interested in pursuing a sexual relationship with you. I'm not understanding how any of this jives with your insistence that you took unfair advantage of him."

"He was strung out with tension, vulnerable. I misused his trust . . . ."

"Did you force yourself upon him?" Hank demanded in a harsh tone.

"Of course not!" Hutch said, meeting Hank's evaluating eyes, furious at the very suggestion. Physically, he was backed into the corner of the porch, with Hank blocking the way to freedom on one side and a hundred foot drop or so on the other side. Emotionally, he felt the same.

"Did you do anything to purposefully arouse him sexually?"

"No!" Hutch answered, trembling at the idea that this man who'd known him for fifteen years would think he'd take advantage of his best friend that way.

"Then how did you misuse him? He turned to you in need and you met his need with compassion. Would it have been better for either of you if you had ignored his need or rejected him outright?"

Hutch thought back to that night, to how close Starsky had been walking the edge. "If I'd turned him down or made a big fuss of it . . . it might have gotten him killed. He needed someone . . . but I took advantage of that."

"You gave him something that he needed. That you needed it as well in no way diminished your gift. Do you think he would have felt half as good afterwards if you hadn't enjoyed it, if it was something you hated and suffered through just to make him feel better? If your positions had been reversed, would you want him to have sex with you just to humor you?"

Hutch's chin snapped up so fast that the angry motion almost hurt. "No, of course, I wouldn't!"

"Then grant him the same privilege. He's not a child, Hutch. He's a grown man. From the one time I met him and from everything you've told me about him, it's clear he knows his own mind. His need initiated the alteration in the nature of your relationship. Even though it signified a tremendous change in his lifestyle and self-image, he was mature enough to take responsibility for his action and handle it in an adult manner the next morning. He could have left you without a word or even 'freaked out'. But he didn't do that. He didn't blame you. To the contrary, he went out of his way to reassure you the next morning and thank you. If he doesn't see your response as a misuse of his trust, then why do you persist in seeing it that way?"

Hutch watched a sandpiper scuttle along the angry water's edge on the rocky sand far below. Finally, he said, "I guess I just wanted it so long that I couldn't believe it could be that easy, that I could actually have it without losing everything."

"You don't think you deserve to be happy?" Hank asked what Hutch always considered to be the typical shrink question.

Hutch's lack of patience with that approach made him respond testily, "Not at the cost of our relationship."

"And what if that change in your relationship was something that your partner needed as well and just never recognized till that night? As you've said, he had a very traditional upbringing. Isn't it possible that it might take something like that to bring the possibility to his conscious attention?"

"I guess, only . . . everything's ruined now, Hank. Starsky can't even look at me anymore . . . ." To his horror, he felt himself begin to shake as the tears he'd successfully kept at bay welled up in his stinging eyes. There was no mastering them this time. The grief claimed him as it hadn't in years, not since Gillian died.

Hutch didn't know how long he stood there with his head bowed, facing the sea, with the icy wind drying the hot tears on his face almost as soon as they fell. All he knew was that it felt good to just let it all go. A strong hand squeezed his shoulder, and then patted the back of his black leather jacket until he'd gotten control of himself again.

"Do you feel up to telling me about last night?" Hank asked softly after Hutch used a wad of tissues the psychiatrist handed him to dry his eyes and blow his nose.

Hutch didn't feel up to thinking about last night, let alone talking about it, but that wasn't going to get him through this. He looked up into Hank's worried, shadowed face, reading nothing but compassion and empathy there.

The fact that he had to look up revealed how shaken he was. Though he didn't recall making the move, he was sitting on the wide arm of one of the heavy redwood deck chairs, with his arms wrapped tight around his middle. Hutch forced himself to unfold his arms and take a few deep breaths.

When he felt like he could talk without his voice catching, he nodded and turned his gaze back towards the sea. In the tone he'd use to make a verbal report to Dobey, Hutch detailed the events of the previous night. For once, Bouchelle didn't interrupt him.

Hank really didn't have to ask. Hutch had started his narrative almost as a formal dissertation, but now that he was at its end, his voice was hoarse and raspy, almost crying again.

"I've been trying to get in contact with Starsky all morning, but he's not answering his phone. I-I don't know what I'm gonna do if he won't . . . if he doesn't want me around anymore . . . ."

When the silence behind him stretched much longer than was normal, Hutch turned back to face Bouchelle. Although it had been over a year since he'd quit coming, he was used to Hank just observing him during these kinds of sessions. To find Hanks' back turned to him was something of a surprise, but Hank was looking out over the overgrown front yard, the same way Hutch had been staring out to sea.

"Doc?" Hutch said nervously.

Hank started and turned around immediately. "I'm sorry, Ken. I . . . It's not always easy to remain objective when it's a friend you're dealing with."

Bouchelle's face was no longer so inscrutable. There were fault lines to his calm. He looked green, like he was trying hard not to be sick.

Although Hank had offered the words in the form of an apology, Hutch was deeply touched by his empathy. "I guess it's not your everyday kinda couch conversation, huh?"

"No, thank God. You've been through an appalling trauma that would have destroyed most men, Hutch." Hank seemed to be speaking as a friend at the moment, "You should be proud of your perseverance."

"I don't feel proud, Doc. I feel . . . dirty . . . and ashamed. Even if Starsk did want to see me, I don't know if I could look him in the eye . . . ."

He couldn't even hold Hank's gentle hazel gaze.

Hank's voice interrupted him as he sought the solace of the sea. "Hutch!"

"Yeah?" Hutch forced his eyes back, braced for anything.

Pure steel met his uncertainty. After a moment of staring down at him, Bouchelle moved to the chair beside Hutch's and sat down in its seat, so that their gazes were level.

Hutch hadn't even been aware that their positions were bothering him, but the change made him feel immediately better.

"None of this is your fault," Hank said in his best shrink voice. "It could have happened to anyone. Your partner, me, any man. You know that—don't you?"

"It doesn't make it any easier . . . ." Hutch whispered.

"Why don't we talk a little about how you feel about your partner right now. Do you hate him? Are you angry at him?"

"What?" Hutch gasped as if he'd been doused with ice water.

"There are some who would blame their partner in such a situation . . . ."

"Starsky was just as forced as I was," Hutch snapped, unable to believe how protective and enraged he felt all of a sudden. "He did everything he could to get me through it okay."

"But he didn't get you out of it. He still did it . . . ."

"It was my choice!" Hutch found himself shouting. "I made the decision. He just followed through."

"Your choice?" Hank asked.

"When he first walked in and saw me there, he was ready to take them on. One against nine. He had no back up. Hell, he wasn't even armed. They would have killed us both. We both knew it was a no win situation, but he gave me the chance to end it fast . . . ."

"And you think he holds that choice against you?"

"What?" Hutch froze in his chair, sensing a trap. But he was unable to see it clearly.

"Do you think your partner is holding what happened against you? Do you think that Starsky is blaming you for being taken hostage, for choosing the course that gave you both some hope of survival, even though it entailed great suffering on your part? Does that seem at all something that the man you've called your best friend for the last fifteen years would do?" Bouchelle asked in a gentle, reasonable tone.

"He won't answer his phone . . . ."

"Hutch, you are barely twelve hours out of this trauma. Isn't it possible that your friend might be needing some recovery time himself? You described at great length how over-stressed your partner was because of this long-term undercover assignment. Do you think he's seeing things any more clearly than you at the moment?"

"You didn't see his face, Doc. He . . .he was so disgusted he couldn't even meet my eyes," Hutch said, before voicing his deepest fear. "It's like . . . what they forced him to do ruined me for him . . . ."

"You were both under a great deal of stress at that moment, Ken. Is it really wise to allow something so fleeting as an expression to color your entire view of the situation? Wouldn't it be better to wait and speak to your partner before deciding how he feels?"

Hutch dragged in a lungful of the icy air. He wished his mind were clear, but his emotions had left him feeling more like the breaker-battered shore.

Part of him knew he could never make an outsider understand what was between Starsky and him, that it was useless to even try. But he had to give it a shot, because if he didn't get his head together, this situation wasn't going to get any better, for either Starsky or himself.

"You don't understand. Starsk and me . . . We've always had this connection. Almost from the first time we met, we understood each other. It's like . . . I know how he feels under his skin. He can fool everyone else, but never me . . . ."

"And this . . . emotional radar you have on each other can never be wrong? You've never misjudged what he's feeling? Your own emotions have never clouded your perceptions?"

Hutch recalled the Kira debacle. He'd never read Starsky that wrong in his entire life.

As if sensing his sudden uncertainty, Bouchelle said, "Expressions can be very misleading, Hutch. No matter how well you know a person, you can never really tell what they're thinking. You can make a guess, but that's about it."

"Hank, it doesn't take much brains to know what anyone'd be thinking after . . . what we went through last night."


"Don't give me that 'oh' crap. You know . . . ."

Hank cut into his tirade calmly. "Shall I tell you a story about how easy it is to misinterpret a friend's expression. You play a major role in this tale, by the way."

Intrigued in spite of himself, Hutch dropped the attitude. "I'm listening."

"The day we became real friends would be a perfect example of a misinterpretation of expression," Bouchelle said, as if Hutch were immediately going to know what he was talking about.

Hutch searched his memory, but could find nothing the least bit controversial in their first meeting. "You mean when we talked after the Denton case?"

Bouchelle's testimony had been instrumental in putting that psycho behind bars where he belonged, instead of in the mental hospital Denton's lawyer was aiming at with the insanity plea he'd copped.

Hank's craggy face gentled, something almost self-deprecatory entering his attitude as he shook his head. "No, that night we met again about eight months later. I was in a bar I had no business frequenting, working out some personal issues in far too public a forum."

"You mean the raid on the Goldenrod?" Hutch finally remembered.

"Yes, the Goldenrod." Hank bit his lower lip, and then stared out over the ocean for a moment before meeting Hutch's gaze again. "I was mortified when the cops came crashing through the door. I knew there was no point in running . . . I'd seen what happened to those who tried to escape. So I just sat there and waited to see how much my stupidity was going to cost me. When you laid your hand on my shoulder and said 'Come along with me, sir.' in that official voice of yours, and I looked up and realized the arresting cop was someone I knew, I saw my entire career go down the tubes. You looked so perfect in your uniform, so cool and removed from everything around you, like some untouchable Aryan storm trooper. In my fear, I assigned certain attitudes to you, based on what I thought your expression was telling me. I thought you were disgusted at finding someone you knew in that gay bar. When you put the cuffs on me and marched me out, I thought you were going to beat the tar out of me like some of the other cops were doing to the other patrons."

Hutch shifted against the chair's uncomfortably cold wooden slats and pushed the windblown hair out of his eyes again. "That was the first time I was ever ashamed to wear my badge."

From the start, he'd known that the raid on the gay bar was total harassment. There were more drugs being dealt at the go-go club down the block. He'd told his sergeant that, but the brass didn't want to hear it.

Before Lionel Rieger's death, that raid had been the closest Hutch had come to turning in his badge. Sometimes, even after all these years, he still had nightmares about his partner at the time bringing his billy club down across the face of a petite, blond transvestite. Bouchelle's storm trooper comment had been apt. They'd been blood drunk monsters that night. Hutch had spent the night running interference between the worst offenders and their would-be victims. He'd called for more ambulances after that raid than he had in his entire career.

"When we got outside," Hank said, "and you took the cuffs off me and told me to go home in that soft voice of yours, I swear to God, I thought you were going to shoot me in the back. I could tell from your face that you were suppressing so much rage . . . and I thought it was directed at me."

Hutch stiffened in shock. "You thought I'd . . . ."

As he remembered the bloodbath he'd escorted Hank out of, he realized Bouchelle had a point. He'd been afraid himself that a couple of the patrons weren't going to make it alive to the paddy wagon.

"Remember, I'd only met you a couple of times before that and . . . I was going through a difficult period back then. I could barely accept who I was. It seemed impossible to me that someone as . . . upstanding as yourself wouldn't despise me. It took every ounce of courage I had to turn my back on you and walk to my car. None of that was your doing, Ken; it was all me. You were trying to help me. Probably anybody else in the same situation would have seen that you were a decent man in a bad position trying to do the right thing, but my fear colored my entire perception of the event."

"You never let on. You were cool as a cucumber," Hutch admired. He remembered how in that chaos of noise, violence and panic, Bouchelle had sat there at his table, calmly sipping his drink while the world exploded around him. That quiet dignity was what had spurred Hutch to break his resolve to remain on the periphery of the events that night. He'd broken the letter of the law for the first time in his career when he released Bouchelle outside the club, and, had there been a way he could have done it, Hutch would have done the same with each of the other suspects they'd rounded up—or hospitalized—that night.

"Like I said, looks can be deceiving," Hank pointedly reminded him with an arch of his brow.

"Touché." Hutch forced a small smile, then quickly added, "But the situations aren't comparable . . . ."

"You're right. By choice, I was in a place most respectable people wouldn't be caught dead in. You were a bound hostage last night," Bouchelle corrected.

"You're twisting things around again . . . ."

"I'm merely giving you an outside viewpoint."

"Outside viewpoints don't count. All that matters to me right now is Starsky. You didn't see his face, Hank," Hutch said. "He . . . ."

"He'd just been forced to brutalize his closest friend. They forced him to do things to you that he'd never do to anyone under normal circumstances. Hutch, you described at great length how over-stressed your partner was because of this long-term undercover assignment. Do you think he's seeing things any more clearly than you at the moment? Think about it, man. This is hard for you, and you are incontestably the victim in this situation. How do you think he must be feeling after being forced to do those horrible things to you? Do you think it is you he despises right now? Could it not, in fact, be himself he hates and blames? If your situations were reversed, how would you be feeling about yourself right now? Would you think your partner would even want to see you after something like that?"

Hutch was glad he was sitting down. He felt as if his legs had just been chopped out from under him. Stunned, he listened to Hank's totally logical evaluations, unable to believe he hadn't thought about those things himself.

Of course, Starsky was feeling guilty. What man wouldn't after what went down last night? How could he have failed to see this himself?

"I . . . you're right, Hank. He must feel like shit. How could I have not seen . . . ?"

"It isn't like you didn't have your own problems to deal with, Hutch," Bouchelle reminded him softly. "You've got a lot you have to work through . . . ."

Hutch had stopped listening and was up on his feet. "I've gotta go see him. I have to . . . ."

"You have to sit down and finish what you started. You're going to be no good to anyone until you've sorted yourself out."

"You don't understand . . . ."

"I understand fully. Come on inside. I'm going to make us some lunch. We'll talk some more. You can't help him until you've helped yourself."

Hutch was ready to dispute the appraisal. Only, deep down, he knew Hank was right. If he was too screwed up to understand how bad Starsky must have been feeling about himself after last night, how could he possibly hope to be clear enough to lead them through this situation? Starsky had been at his breaking point Thursday night. God only knew what emotional state his partner was in today. Hutch knew he would have to be strong for them both, but right now he just didn't have it in him. Maybe if he sat here a while and talked to Hank, the rest might become less cloudy.

"I . . . . "

"Come on inside, Ken," Hank urged him, taking his arm.

With one last look at the roiling face of the sea, Hutch allowed himself to be led into the shelter of the beach house.

Seven hours later, Hutch felt physically improved, if nothing else. Two meals and a five-hour nap on Hank's couch had done wonders for him. After Hutch had forced down a lunch of some hot tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, Hank had let him talk himself out. He didn't remember nodding off, but the deep, dreamless sleep he'd achieved seemed to be just what his body needed. He'd awakened confused, but energized, to the delectable aroma of a nearly cooked pot roast.

As he drove back to the city, Hutch considered how nothing had really changed, but somehow, just talking everything out with Hank had unburdened him immensely. Bouchelle was right. His problems were far from over, but at least he felt like he could function again. He was still nervous about seeing Starsky, but it was nothing like this morning's crippling fear.

But before he faced that challenge, there was one thing he had to take care of first.

Headquarters was hopping when he walked through the double doors. There were at least three phones ringing off the hook. Bayliss and Randall each had a suspect sitting by their desk. Minnie had the phone propped between her shoulder and ear, while both hands flew over the Selectrix in front of her in a dazzling burst of sound and motion. The usual flow of clerical staff and uniformed officers in and out added a dizzying air of busyness to offset the aural barrage of phones and voices. All in all, it was a typical Saturday night.

Hutch paused inside the doors to drink in the normality of the hectic scene.

"Hey, there, Hutch! How's it hanging?" Randall greeted when he noticed Hutch.

After stepping aside to allow a uniformed officer to escort Randall's prisoner away, Hutch looked over at the muscular black detective and had to smile. Randall was the best of the new crop of recently promoted detectives. Normally, he came across as a fairly dangerous dude, but his huge body looked totally absurd when he hunched over the manual typewriter at his desk to laboriously finger pick his way through a report. Positioned as he was next to Minnie of the lightning fingers, his dearth of typing skills was more accentuated than it might have been had he been seated on the other side of the room, say next to Starsky, who had a way of making even Hutch's own inadequate typing skills look polished.

Hutch forced a smile and said, "I'm hangin' in there. How 'bout you?"

"Been better," Randall replied with a lugubrious sigh and ran a hand through his full Afro. "Thought you were out on leave today?"

"I am. There's just one or two things I need to clear up," Hutch answered, trying to keep things light.

"Man, that is dedicated." Randall shook his head, his amazement obvious.

"No, that's called not havin' the sense to come in outta the rain," Minnie's voice joined in as she replaced the phone's receiver on its hook. "You do not want these boys for your role model, Joel. Take my word for it. Hutch, what are you doin' here?"

Her exasperated demand was just so blessedly normal that he had to smile at her bespectacled face.

"I missed seein' your sweet face, Minnie. Which is looking especially fine tonight, I must say," Hutch said.

"Don't you be gettin' fresh with me!" Minnie warned.

"You let Starsky sweet talk you all the time," Hutch reminded her, needing this interaction. Just being here in the middle of the squad room, partaking in the regular repartee made last night seem a million miles away. He knew it was only a temporary reprieve, but he grabbed it like a lifeline.

"Yeah, well . . . that trashy boy's a law onto himself and don't be givin' me those baby blues. I got too much of my own work to do here without worryin' 'bout yours as well . . . ."

"I wasn't . . . ." Hutch began to protest.

"No, of course, you weren't," Minnie sassed, appearing totally unappeased. "What are you doin' here, anyway? You should be home. You're white as a ghost, except for those pink cheeks. You got a fever, Hutch?"

Confused for a moment, he belatedly remembered the windburn he'd gotten on Hank's porch this morning. "Ah, no, it's windburn."

Her dark eyes studied his face. Gentleness overcoming her streetwise features, Minnie said, "Well, don't be sayin' I never done nothin' for you. Just leave whatever it is on top of my inbox and I'll get it back to you by mornin'," she promised.

"Leave what?" Hutch asked, totally distracted now.

"Whatever you were trying to sweet talk me into typin' for you. And you can save that butter-won't-melt-in-my-mouth look. I know a snow job when I hear one," Minnie said.

"Minnie, honestly, I don't have anything for you to type," Hutch swore.

"Then what's with the jive talkin'?" she demanded.

"No jive, honey. Just the truth. You're lookin' fine this evening," Hutch said.

The way her bony face lit up at his throwaway compliment made him feel more than a little guilty.

"Yeah, well . . . ." she seemed totally flustered by the small kindness.

"Hey, Minnie?" Randall called from beside her, his dark, boyish features nearly bursting with amusement.

"Yeah?" she answered.

"That's a really lovely ring you've got there. Do you think you could find the time to . . . ?" Randall could barely get his question out, he was laughing so hard.

"Don't even try it!" Minnie snapped with her usual ire. "You gotta pay your dues before you can impose on Minnie and, boy, you ain't come near to that point yet!" Minnie was in rare form tonight. "Boy, you gotta learn some style. You don't just come out 'n ask someone to do your work for ya. Ya gotta make them wanta . . . ."

Hutch was smiling as he hurried past the battlefield to the safety of his own desk. His good humor faded abruptly when his gaze fell upon the whiteout-pocked carbon of last night's report sitting on top of his inbox. The note paper-clipped to it was easily identified as Starsky's hurried scrawl, which made his usual illegible handwriting look like calligraphy by comparison.

The note was brief and came straight to the point—"Hutch, Captain Dobey's got my original. Your statement's below mine, waiting for your signature."

The note was signed only "S".

Hutch took a few minutes to read the documents before him. In his own report, Starsky had detailed every facet of yesterday's chauffer job, listing all the names and addresses of the places Anderson had visited throughout the business day. Starsky's entrance into the Church of Satan was equally well documented. What followed after the moment Starsky stepped into the ceremonial chamber and found his partner held hostage there was perhaps the most brilliant report writing Hutch had ever seen. Starsky related the chanting and the non-sexual elements of the ceremony in which the participants mocked the Christian ritual with such vivid detail that the reader would never realize that a major portion of the events had been severely edited.

What Starsky had done with Hutch's own report was worthy of a Pulitzer. Hutch's statement mainly outlined the arrival of the satanic congregation, and then told how Hutch had been taken hostage by Baldino. Starsky never once mentioned how Hutch's clothes had been removed or how he'd been tied to the altar. It just said that Hutch had been tied up and witnessed the events. The report went on to give an outsider's view of the ceremony Starsky had related in his own version. Starsky made it sound like Hutch was just a trussed up witness to the event, rather than the main attraction. The astounding thing was that Starsky didn't tell a single lie. He just omitted mentioning the fact that he'd been forced to sodomize his partner before an audience.

When he finished reading, Hutch sat staring at the pages, torn apart inside.

Starsk had told no lies, but . . . a lie of omission was just as damning as an actual prevarication. Not telling what they'd been forced to do was the same as not mentioning seeing your partner plant a gun on an unarmed suspect's dead body after a shooting.

And yet . . . Starsky was right. What purpose would be served by telling all? The perps were dead. There'd be a few hearings, but there wasn't any case to further.

The opposing viewpoints chased themselves around in his head in an endless debate. Neither option felt right. Hutch didn't want this getting around anymore than Starsky did, but lying on a report went totally against his grain, just as it had when Dolan had asked him to verify that the casualties at the Goldenrod had been the result of the police defending themselves, instead of the outright brutality it had been.

And once again Hutch found himself facing down that familiar foe—the wall of silence. Tell the truth or go with the flow and keep your mouth shut. It was usually the first crisis of conscience every rookie ran up against. Did you shop your partner when you saw him take that graft or did you look the other way like everyone told you to and do your best to keep your own nose clean?

Hutch had been lucky throughout the years. Most of his former partners had been pretty straight-laced; if they'd done anything illegal, they'd been damn careful to keep it out of Hutch's sight. His brief stint with Dolan had been the only time he'd ever been put to the test that way. In that situation, Hutch had done what everyone had told him was the right thing. He'd signed the damned report and put in his transfer request the very next day. Then he'd spent the next two months on Bouchelle's couch twice a week, trying to live with his decision.

Was he going to put himself through that all over again?

The situations weren't the same. Hutch recognized that fact. They weren't trying to hide any impropriety or criminal actions. They were just trying to maintain the respect of their peers, which would be lost if Hutch did tell the truth.

Normally, Hutch would take this type of moral dilemma to his partner's door. For all his bad boy image, David Michael Starsky was the most honest, straight arrow Hutch had ever met. Once he'd been partnered with Starsky, the problems he'd had with his former partners were a thing of the past. He didn't have to worry about payoffs, police brutality, or wrongful shootings with Starsky. His partner just seemed to know what the right thing to do was—and did it. So, if Starsky could make this decision and take full responsibility for the omission, who was Hutch to say that it wasn't the correct course?

It wasn't even the first time Starsky had done this. When Forrest had hooked Hutch on horse, Starsky had moved heaven and earth to keep Hutch's heroin addiction out of the official report. Hutch hadn't made a big stink about that then. In fact, he'd been guiltily relieved that Starsky had protected him that way and that he'd only learned about it after the fact.

But this was different. It wasn't after the fact. He wasn't incapacitated in some hidden locale while his friends decided what was best for him and did it. This time he was being called upon to actively conceal the truth. If he put his signature on that annotated report, he would be part of an official conspiracy. He hadn't even been able to conceal the $28,000 he'd won at the Vegas craps tables in his report on the Mitchell case. How was he ever going to hide something this big?

Hutch sat there agonizing over his choices for nearly an hour. Finally, he took both reports to Dobey's door. A last deep breath, a single knock, and he was committed.

"Yeah?" came the captain's unwelcoming rumble from within.

Hutch cracked the door open and asked, "You got a minute, Cap'?"

Dobey sat at his desk, lit by an island of light from his desk lamp in the darkening room. In his rolled up shirt sleeves and thick five o'clock shadow, Dobey looked like he'd been working longer than the thirteen hours he'd been here.

"What are you doing here, Hutchinson? You're supposed to be out on leave." Dobey stared at him a moment, then ordered, "Well, come in already. Don't just stand there."

Closing the door firmly behind him, Hutch entered his superior's office and took one of the familiar chairs in front of Dobey's desk. For the briefest instant, he wondered if Starsky had told Dobey, but their captain's irritated scowl made it clear that the man wasn't privy to the truth about last night.

"So what are you doin' here when I'm payin' you to be home recuperatin'?" Dobey demanded, dividing his attention between a stack of paperwork thicker than the phone book and his detective.

"I, ahh . . . need to talk to you about something."

"So talk," Dobey said, his gaze fixed on a piece of paper with more whiteouts than even Starsky managed.

Hutch gathered his flailing courage around him and continued with, "I need to talk to you about our report on last night."

"Yeah?" the captain's bored voice encouraged him as he signed the scarred sheet before him. "What about it?"

"We, ahhh . . . left somethin' out that . . . ."

Dobey's head snapped immediately up. Slowly, very deliberately, the captain lowered his pen to his desk. Dobey cleared his throat in that nervous way he had. His face going very still and serious, he asked, "This something you're talkin' about, it wouldn't have to do with the shootings—would it?"

"Huh?" Hutch was confused by the near palpable dread emanating from his superior officer.

"You tellin' me that the shootings weren't righteous?"

Understanding Dobey's concerns, Hutch opened his mouth to answer, and hesitated as the image of Starsky shooting the knifed Baldino flashed through his mind.


"I wasn't talking about the shootings. Deadly force was called for. Starsk had to take all of them on. It was nine to one. He lost it at the end a bit, but even there, the kill was righteous," Hutch admitted.

"Baldino?" Dobey guessed.

"How'd you know?"

"The bodies were out of there when I arrived, but I saw the report. A knife in the chest and a bullet through the forehead. It seemed like overkill," Dobey said.

Hutch met Dobey's gaze. "Baldino was down, but he still had a dagger on him. Two, if you count the one in his chest. If Starsky hadn't shot them, we might not be here."

Even though Hutch knew that Baldino had been no threat when Starsky killed him, Starsky had still followed regulations. The suspect was armed and dangerous. Therefore, deadly force was merited.

Dobey seemed mollified. "Thank God. So, if not the shooting, then what exactly did you leave out of your report that's eatin' at your conscience now?"

Those dark eyes bore into him, waiting.

"First, can I say that the . . . omission wasn't Starsky's fault. He-he was trying to protect me . . . ." Hutch floundered.

"He was trying to protect you by lyin' on his official statement?" Dobey challenged him.

"He didn't lie," Hutch snapped. "He just . . . failed to mention something."

"Cut to the chase, Hutchinson. What are we talking about here?"

Hutch tried, but he didn't have it in him to just spit it out. He could tell Hank, whom he saw so infrequently, the full details, but to vividly outline what had been done to him with someone he worked with on a daily basis was beyond him. So he tried a roundabout explanation. "Do you remember the ceremony we taped on Wednesday night?"

Their captain was a deeply religious man, a good Baptist. Dobey shifted uncomfortably in his chair. A guarded expression coming over his joweled features. He nodded. "Vividly."

"After Baldino captured me, they took my clothes and tied me to that altar." Hutch looked down at his scuffed brown cowboy boots. "I was an unwilling participant in the same kind of ceremony we taped Wednesday night."

"You mean Anderson and Baldino . . . ." Dobey stammered, his horrified shock coming through in his gruff tone.

Still not meeting Dobey's gaze, Hutch shook his head. "No. It was just like Wednesday. Starsky was forced to . . . ."

"Oh my God . . . ." Dobey whispered.

"He didn't have any choice, Captain. He didn't dare make a play. It was nine-to-one, and we didn't know how many of them were armed. If he'd left me there to go call backup . . . Anderson would've taken his place before he got back . . . ." Hutch banked down his rising panic with a deep breath. That hadn't happened. It could have, but Starsky had spared him that.

"Are you . . . ?"

Reading Dobey's almost fatherly concern in his pained gaze, Hutch answered the question his captain hadn't been able to voice. "I'm . . . dealing with it." Just to set the record straight, he preempted the next inevitable question. "I wasn't hurt physically."

Dobey seemed to appreciate his stonewalling. Hutch could only imagine how his captain was feeling, how he would feel if he'd sent two of his men into a situation like that.

"Do you need to . . . talk to someone? You know the Force has . . . ."

Hutch interrupted his awkward offer. "I spent the day with Hank Bouchelle. I'll be seeing him again tomorrow."

"He's a good man," Dobey said. Most cops knew Bouchelle by his reputation as a reliable psychiatric consultant on cases.


"What about Starsky?" Dobey asked. "Did he go with you to Dr. Bouchelle's?"

"No, I, ah, haven't seen him since he dropped me off this morning. He came in to write the reports and . . . . About the report . . . ."

Dobey coughed, almost as though his usual throat clearing weren't enough to deal with discomfort of this magnitude. "The report is fine."

Despite Dobey's words, Hutch felt compelled to try to explain Starsky's action. "Starsky didn't want to do it, Captain, but the alternative . . . ."

"Some things go into official reports, Ken," Dobey said, his expression pained. "Some things don't. Starsky made the right choice. Your partner's report contains all the pertinent details. The rest is . . . personal."

It was childish, Hutch knew, but he felt like a ten-ton weight had been removed from his conscience. "Thanks, Captain."

Dobey nodded. "You and Starsky are a right pain in the butt sometimes, but . . . you're two of the best officers I've worked with."

Hutch felt his face heat at the rare praise. He knew Dobey appreciated them, knew the three of them had more than a simple working relationship, but in the stress of day-to-day police work, that simple fact often got lost in the shuffle. "Ahh . . . thanks."

Dobey looked guiltier than Hutch had ever seen him. "I'm sorry this happened to either of you. If it's any comfort, Lowery's gonna lose his badge over this. It was only pure luck that you both survived his negligence."

Needing to know, Hutch asked, "What happened to him? Why didn't he look for me or report the silent mike?"

Appearing intensely uncomfortable, Dobey said, "It appears that Detective Lowery fell asleep shortly after you left the van. He didn't wake up until Starsky shouted his name into the mike after . . . everything was over."

"Oh," Hutch said.

After another quiet moment, Dobey asked, "Is . . . what happened going to affect your ability to work with Starsky?"

"Huh?" Hutch stared blankly at his captain.

Hutch was aware that Dobey's gruff exterior hid a gentle, compassionate heart. He just wasn't used to seeing that side of his captain. He certainly wasn't used to having the protective, concerned expression that Dobey was currently wearing turned on him.

"Some officers would have understandable difficulty working with their partner after . . . something like this. If you want, I can give you a temporary . . . ."

Hutch hadn't even seen Starsky yet. He didn't know for a fact that his partner felt the same way about this as he did. For all he knew, Starsky might want a temporary partner. That was his greatest worry, that Starsky would see him as being as sullied as he felt and not want him around anymore, but, like Hank had said, that was just his fear talking. He had to trust his heart, and his heart was telling him that Starsky wouldn't just dump him like that, no matter what.

So, he cut Dobey's words off, not even wanting to think about splitting the team. "No, no temporary partners. It wasn't Starsky's fault. It wasn't mine. It just . . . happened. We'll work through this. We just need some time . . . ."

"That's not a problem. I'm puttin' you both on leave, as of today. Take a week, take a month, take whatever you need," Dobey said.

"A week'd be good, Cap'. He's . . . he was walking the edge before this happened. I don't know where his head's at now . . . ."

"What about you?"

How did you tell someone that your own mental health was completely dependent upon someone else's? No matter what, this wasn't going to be easy, but Hutch knew if he could work things out with Starsky, they would be all right in the end.

"Hutch?" Dobey prodded.

He shook himself out of his daze and sat up a little straighter in his chair. "I don't know where I'm at right now, either, Captain. One minute, I think I'm okay and the next . . . . Last night was . . . pretty extreme . . . ."

Dobey nodded, not even trying to pretend he understood. Hutch could tell from his troubled face how far outside Dobey's experience all of this was.

"You know you don't have to ask. If there's anything I can do . . . ." Dobey said.

"Yeah, I know. Thanks . . . I, ahh, better get movin'," Hutch said.

"You goin' home?"

Hutch gave a slow shake of his head. "I gotta find Starsk."

Dobey looked like he had something to add. That pinched, worried expression he sometimes got was working overtime right now, but all he said was, "Well, if anyone has a chance of salvaging some good out of all this, it's the two of you. Good luck."

"Thanks, Cap'."

Dobey's voice momentarily stopped him as he started to rise to his feet. "Oh, and, Hutch?"


Dobey squarely met his gaze. "I appreciate your integrity."


"About the report," the captain reminded.

Hutch sighed. "That wasn't integrity. I just . . . couldn't handle that on top of everything else. Besides . . . you needed to know . . . in case we can't work through this . . . ."

He wished Dobey would voice some comforting nonsense, something that would give him hope that things weren't as bleak as they felt, but their captain was too honest a man for that. Dobey's misgivings were as plain as his emotional distress. They both knew Starsky too well. Last night's events might have been too big a blow to Starsky's machismo for even the man of steel to shrug off. Dobey wasn't the type to patronize Hutch by saying everything would be okay when they both knew damn well that there was every chance his best team might never be able to work smoothly together again.

So instead of giving him some comforting lie, Dobey just nodded his understanding and said, "If you need anything . . . ."

"I'll call. Good night, Cap'."

"Take it easy, Hutch." Dobey's liquid brown gaze relayed what his simple words couldn't. He looked about ten years older than he had when Hutch had entered his office.

For a moment, Hutch wondered if he'd done the right thing by taking this to Dobey's door, but their captain had a right to know what had gone down. Hutch didn't know what toll this incident was going to take on Starsky and his relationship. It could definitely affect their job performance. At least if the captain knew the cause behind the problem, it might give them some leeway to work things out.

Wishing that he could have spared Dobey the grief, Hutch forced an unconvincing smile and made his exit.

The true test of his courage came a half hour later when he pulled his Ford to a stop in front of Starsky's place, which was situated at the end of a cul de sac, set back from his neighbors. Despite the fact that the Torino was parked in the driveway, the house looked deserted. Every window was dark. Normally, when an unannounced visitor arrived this late, Starsky would be at the window, gun in hand, checking to see who'd pulled up. Tonight, the shades never stirred.

That meant one of three things. Either Starsky was zonked out and too deeply asleep to have noticed his arrival or he'd recognized the noise Hutch's motor habitually made and already knew who it was. Hutch wasn't willing to even think about the third reason why Starsky might not have responded to his arrival or any of his calls this morning. If he'd been thinking about eating his gun this morning, how must Starsky have been feeling?

Hutch cut off the dark thought. His nerves were just shot to hell and he was over-reacting to everything.

For a long moment after he turned off the lights and motor, Hutch sat in the car, staring up at the silent house. Maybe Hank was right and he should have waited until tomorrow, given them both a chance to recuperate. But his instincts had kept insisting that he had to see Starsky tonight. Now that he was here, he was no longer so sure. The house was so dark and quiet. Whenever Starsky was home, there were lights on, music playing, the television chattering away. This silent pall was completely unnerving.

Garnering his nerve, Hutch removed his keys from the ignition and left the car. As he approached the house, he watched the windows. There was no response what-so-ever to the car door slamming.

He climbed the stairs and hesitated before the front door. Normally, since Starsky's convalescence, he'd use his key, but nothing felt normal right now. Still, if he knocked, that would seem even more strained, and if Starsky were simply asleep, it would disturb him.

Deciding to just slip in and leave immediately if Starsky were resting, Hutch used his key and opened the door.

It was dark inside, but Hutch knew the place well enough to navigate by streetlight without injuring himself too severely.

When the door snicked closed behind him, he left the overhead off and entered the shadowed living room. The rattan chair, coffee table, lamps, bookcases, end tables and couch were all familiar silhouettes. Hutch paused in the middle of the room, studying the heavy shadow that was the couch for any sign of habitation. Most times when Starsk was depressed and in retreat, he'd hole up on the sofa for the duration. Tonight, that comfy couch appeared to be vacant.

Hutch wasn't sure how to interpret that.

Feeling like a thief, he crossed to the bedroom doorway. Starsky's brown leather jacket, empty holster and the boots he'd worn last night lay in a tangled mess on the carpet beside the bookcase that divided the living room and bedroom.

Hutch peered through the open door.

It was darker in the bedroom, but the sheets were white and picked up the available light. His partner's new brass headboard glinted against the far wall. A mound of pillows obscured the sturdy bars at its bottom right corner, the side closest to the door.

In the dim light, Hutch could see a still figure huddled there. Starsky's dark curls were a sharp contrast against the pillowcases, but everything else was cloaked in deep shadows.

Straining his eyes, Hutch could make out yesterday's bright red corduroy shirt and rumpled blue jeans, but he couldn't tell if Starsky were awake. His partner was propped up on the pillows with his right arm resting across his forehead. The skin of the wrist sticking out from the sleeve of the red corduroy shirt was almost eerily white in the dimness. The pose left Starsky's eyes hidden and possibly blocked his partner's view.

For the longest time, Hutch just stood there, staring at his friend. Even in repose, there was a sense of power, of danger, about Starsky. Starsk's broad shoulders, well-defined chest, slender, blue-jean covered hips, and lean-muscled thighs all appeared prepared to leap into action at a second's notice. Even Starsky's sprawl was feline, provocative, but potentially lethal.

The very air seemed to catch in Hutch's lungs and freeze there, while his heart pounded against the wall of his chest. He could feel a cold, dank sweat break out all over him as an icy shiver blew down his spine. His stomach was clenched up tight with a nervousness that was almost fear at just the sight of his partner.

Hutch hadn't counted on his body's physical reaction to being in Starsky's presence again. At that first sight of Starsky, he was lost in time, trapped in memories of last night that weren't nearly far enough away for him to deal with this with his normal cool.

Starsky's mouth going down on him, Starsky's cock penetrating him . . . .

He shook under the flashbacks, frightened by their visceral impact.

He'd fantasized both those things happening for years, but the shame and horror of the reality, not to mention the pain of it, left Hutch almost subconsciously afraid of his friend. Mentally, he knew that Starsky wasn't responsible for what went down last night, but Hutch's body couldn't seem to forget that it was his partner who had taken him while he lay bound helpless on that obscene altar.

"Starsk?" he whispered. He needed to hear his friend's voice, to know that he was with his familiar partner and not the degenerate Villar persona Starsky had donned these past few months.

"Yeah," came the uninflected reply.

Shivering at the dull monotone, Hutch stated the obvious. "You're awake."

"Yeah. The alternative ain't too appealin'—ya know?"

"Yeah, I know," Hutch replied. "You . . . ahh . . . been awake in here all this time?"

No matter how bad things had gotten in the past, Starsky had always made it out of bed.

"Pretty much. What're you doin' here, Hutch?"

Though not exactly unwelcoming, the soft question put him even more on edge. "I came to see how you were."

The fact that Starsky was lying here in a pitch-black apartment, unable to sleep, still wearing yesterday's clothes gave him a pretty fair grasp of his partner's mental state.

"I should be askin' you that," Starsky said after a long silence.

But he didn't ask and that damn arm still hadn't moved from where it was shielding Starsky's upper face. Hutch felt like he was talking to an eyeless sphinx.

"Did you eat at all today?" Hutch asked. He scanned the night table for dirty dishes and found not even a water glass in sight.

He wasn't surprised when he received no response. Starsky was probably the strongest person he knew emotionally, but even he had his limits. When Starsk was pushed past his emotional capacity, he just seemed to collapse inside. Hutch never knew how to handle these infrequent funks Starsky suffered. At the best of times, they left him feeling useless. Tonight was most definitely not the best of times.

Forcing a cheer he didn't feel into his tone, Hutch asked, "How 'bout I make you some eggs or—"

"How 'bout you just go home?"

Hutch stiffened. He tried very hard not to respond to the words. He knew how Starsky got when he was depressed, but his own emotions were too raw tonight to just roll with the punches.

"That's great, Starsk. That'll solve everything. Why don't you get up and we'll try to deal with . . . ."

Once again, he received no verbal response.

There was an answer of sorts, however. Starsky rolled over onto his right side to face the far wall, turning his back on Hutch.

It was more than Starsky just closing him out. Hutch had caught the barest glimpse of his face. He'd never seen Starsky look that upset, that miserable.

Keeping his rising frustration firmly in check, Hutch decided to try again. He crossed to the bed and tentatively eased down onto the mattress behind Starsky's back. That simple gesture took almost every bit of courage he possessed.

It was ridiculous, but he felt like he was courting death here. Last night was still too close. His fear was out of control and he was seconds away from panicking. There was a part of him that expected Starsky to turn around and brutalize him if he got too near. He knew how absurd the anxiety was, but his body remembered all too vividly the feel of Starsky's engorged cock violating him. He could smell Starsky all around him here on his bed. Where once that would have comforted or even excited him, tonight it unnerved him.

Suddenly, he understood why Hank had been pushing him so hard to examine his feelings for Starsky this afternoon. He hadn't expected to feel this way. He knew Starsky had been forced last night. He'd thought that knowing the truth would be enough to get him through this, but he'd had less fear when he was sitting alone in that interrogation room with the psychotic Simon Marcus than he did right now.

Forcing the incipient terror from his mind, Hutch tried to concentrate on his partner.

Either his eyes were adjusting to the dimness or the proximity afforded him a better view; in either case, he could see Starsky far more clearly. Not only could he feel the increase of Starsky's tension through the mattress, he could see it in the stiffening of the muscles of his back.

"Come on, Starsk. Please. We gotta try to get a handle on this . . . ."

"Go home, Hutch. Please . . . ." Starsky's voice was low and gravelly. Not cried out, just hard from lack of use.

As much as his own nerves were urging him to bail, Starsky's raw pain made it impossible for Hutch to even consider doing as requested. Starsky looked like he was still in that scary headspace Hutch had woken up in this morning, like he'd spent the whole day trapped in its tormenting web without even allowing himself the release of tears.

Starsky's pain was the one thing he'd never been able to ignore. Drawn, in spite of his body's instinctive fear, he inched closer. He kept telling himself that this was Starsky—his best friend. Starsk would never knowingly hurt him, would die to protect him. His fear was stupid and had no place here.

Aching for a return to normality, Hutch did the only thing he could that had ever helped either of them when they were hurting this way—he tried to ease the pain with touch. The long fringe on his jacket played over the soft corduroy of Starsky's shirt as he reached out to give a reassuring rub. It was a simple gesture, asexual, one they'd shared from almost the start of their friendship.

Never before had the world exploded around him because of such a small action. His fingertips had barely made contact with the soft corduroy when suddenly it wasn't there anymore.

Starsky rolled to the other side of the bed almost quicker than the eye could follow.

"Don't . . . ." Starsky growled.

Hutch couldn't have felt any more hurt if his partner had delivered a kick to his balls. He sat there staring at his outstretched hand, watching his jacket's fringe rock back and forth in the empty air beneath it, shocked beyond reaction.

Nothing was said for the longest time.

He looked to where Starsky was poised at the top of the bed. Starsky's head was lowered, his broad shoulders hunched down, his knees pulled up to his chest with his arms wrapped tight around them in a classic defensive posture . . . all because Hutch had laid a single hand on him.

Finally, Hutch gathered what strength he had left and said hollowly, "Okay. You gotta tell me how we're gonna play this, 'cause I haven't got a clue."

The tangled mass of curls slowly lifted as Starsky raised his face from where he had it buried between his kneecaps. The light was so dim that Hutch couldn't clearly see Starsky's gaze, couldn't get a handle on his expression. His partner's eyes looked like pools of shadows, staring out of a haggard, stone-blank face.

Hutch really wished he could have read more from his expression. Having to settle for Starsky's attention, Hutch continued, carefully restrained. "I've been feelin' like human trash all day, buddy. I don't need that kinda reaction."

It took every bit of his courage to be that honest, to lay it out that openly.

"So go home," Starsky answered.

Instead of wounding or scaring him, the nasty response sparked Hutch's own temper. "How's that gonna help?"

"How's anything gonna help this? I don't understand you. How can you even wanna be here after last night?" Starsky whispered raggedly.

Hutch almost passed out under the relief that flushed though him like a fever. Hank was right. It was guilt Starsky was feeling. "I thought we went over this territory last night, Starsk. None of it was your fault."

"That don't change nothin'. Hutch, I still . . . ."

"Yes?" Hutch prompted when Starsky fell silent again. Anything had to be better than this strained silence between them.

To his consternation, Starsky just released a weary sigh and repeated, "Go home. Just go home."

"Not until we've talked this out."

"There ain't nothin' to say."

His patience snapped. "Is that so? Well, you left me a note yesterday mornin' that seemed to indicate somethin' different."

That took the wind out of Starsky's sails. Wincing like Hutch had actually hurt him physically, Starsky quickly averted his gaze. "That was a million years ago, Hutch."

It felt that way to him, too, like they'd gone someplace they couldn't get back from. Thursday's innocent beginning had been all but shattered by last night's savagery.

"So that's it? We pack it in without even trying? Throw the baby out with the bath water?"

"Why are you doin' this to me?" Starsky lowered his face back to the shelter of his bony knees.

"Doin' what? I'm just trying to—"

"Torture me?" Starsky suggested. "I know you got the right, but . . . ."

The dull monotone was gone. What replaced it almost made Hutch wish for it back. His heart twisted in his chest at the abject misery in Starsky's voice. "I don't wanta hurt you, Starsk."

"Then go home, Hutch, please . . . ." Starsky all out begged him, raising his head back up, as if that tormented tone weren't enough to rip Hutch's heart out without the added benefit of his torn expression. "I can't . . . ."

"You can't what?" Hutch encouraged him in his least contentious voice.

"I can't . . . handle this . . . ."

"You think you're gonna be able to handle it any better tomorrow, or Monday, or a week from Monday if we don't discuss this now?"

Starsky's gaze shied away from him again, but at least he didn't hide his face in his knees. "You don't wanta be here . . . ."

"Starsk," Hutch cut in, only to be over-ridden when Starsky demanded, "You looked at your face in the mirror? You're white as a sheet. I never seen you so scared, not that anyone could blame ya . . . ."

Hutch tensed up again. He'd thought he'd hidden that, but when had he ever been able to really hide from Starsky? His partner's failure to recognize Hutch's feelings for him during these past few years was more from a lack of reference points rather than a failure to observe.

Taking a deep breath, Hutch tried again. "I'm scared everything's gonna fall apart if we don't work this out now."

"Everything has fallen apart, Hutch," Starsky argued.

Hutch could see that his partner took no joy in that acknowledgement, that Starsky was possibly even more hurt by all this than even Hutch himself.

And why wouldn't he be? Hutch tried to imagine how he'd feel if the scales had been turned last night, if he'd been forced to rape Starsky. Like Hank had said this morning, Hutch was unquestionably the victim; his role was clear. But Starsky's . . . his friend had been forced to brutalize the person he'd sworn to protect. Not only was Starsky's victim his working partner and closest friend, but also his brand new lover. That was more pain and guilt than any one human being should be asked to shoulder.

"No," Hutch said, correcting him gently, "it only feels that way."

He took a chance and shifted closer to his partner, moving up the top of the bed until he was sitting, facing Starsky.

As Starsky turned his gaze on him, Hutch almost wished for a return of the masking shadows. That bleak despair was so hopeless. Starsky really looked as though he believed everything in his world had been destroyed. His face was all haggard lines, harsh angles and plains. The deep red shirt he wore, which usually offset his color, dark hair and laughing blue eyes perfectly, only seemed to accentuate his sickly pallor. Hutch couldn't recall Starsky looking this bad since the weeks immediately following Gunther's assassination attempt.

"How can you say that?" Starsky asked, his eyes spearing Hutch out of the darkness.

"Because it's true." Hutch made sure that his face was calm, his voice soft and reassuring. If Starsky had been close to the edge Thursday night, he was over it tonight, dangling there, waiting to fall. There was no way in hell Hutch was going to push him. He didn't know what would be left once he crumbled. The parts of Starsky that got him through intense traumas weren't always easy to deal with—if you were his friend. And if you weren't . . . aside from Prudholm, Hutch didn't know very many of Starsky's enemies who'd survived meeting that side of him. Anderson and Baldino certainly hadn't.

Starsky gave a ragged inhalation that was more sob than intake of air, but he was looking at Hutch directly again, no longer averting his gaze.

"Listen to me," Hutch pleaded. "You pulled us through that last night. I was outta my head, Starsk. If you hadn't held it together, we wouldn't be alive right now."

Starsky bit his lip, lowered his gaze, and whispered, "But they made me . . . ."

"They made you. It wasn't you, buddy."

"It was my body. My . . . cock," Starsky almost choked on the last word, like it was something he hated now and not the part of his body that brought him his greatest pleasure.

"Do you think I would've wanted it to be anyone else but you?" Hutch questioned, shifting closer. "Do you think I could've lived with one of those degenerates doin' it?"

"No, it's so much better from a friend," Starsky sneered. His sarcasm seemed to hurt himself more than Hutch, if his wince were anything to go by.

"Starsk . . . ."

Starsky cut him off again, "I-I . . . can't even apologize to you. How do ya say you're sorry for somethin' like that? How could ya even ask somebody to forgive . . . that?"

"There's nothin' to forgive," Hutch insisted. "The way I see it, you kept us alive. Please, babe, don't do this to yourself."

"I don't know how you can even look at me now. Only a sicko would've been able to get it up in that kinda scene. I was no better than the rest of those freaks. Worse, even, because—"

"That's enough!" Hutch let his frustration out. A certain amount of guilt, he could deal with here. Listening to his partner compare himself to those freaks was beyond his capacity to endure. "You're not like those weirdos, so don't even go there."

"I got it up the same as they did," Starsky bitterly reminded him. "What does that say about me, that I could get turned on in that kinda freak show?"

"It wasn't the same for you."

"No?" Starsky's whisper sounded devoid of hope. "I came the same as they did. You know that, better than anybody."

Hutch grimaced at the indelicate reference. "Yeah, but your motivations were different."

It was dangerous ground. Even mentioning Thursday night's intimacy when his partner was this overwrought might be enough to ruin everything forever if Starsky weren't up to facing it. Hutch knew it, even as he said the words, but he didn't know any other way to get them through this.

"How's that?" There was no curiosity in Starsky's tone. They were just hollow words, put out to keep the silence at bay.

"You weren't getting off on the chains and the pain and the humiliation, partner."

"No?" Starsky sounded unconvinced. "Then how'd I . . . ?"

"The same way you did Thursday night, babe," Hutch gently said. "We got close to each other and our bodies did our thinkin' for us."

"You . . . didn't," Starsky denied, his disbelief obvious.

"I might have . . . if Anderson hadn't . . . he hurt me too much for me to think of anything else," Hutch admitted reluctantly.

His confession seemed to hang in the quiet for an extremely long time. All he could hear was their breathing.

Starsky still looked more upset than he could ever remember seeing him, but Starsky no longer appeared as distraught. He was listening, at least, not disputing every word Hutch said.

"Don't let Anderson win, Starsk, please," Hutch pleaded, not knowing what else he could say to make this any better.

Starsky's eyes locked with his own. They looked lost. "You don't think he already has?"

Hutch felt too naked for this. Everything inside him was still too raw and vulnerable for any kind of bluffing. There was no way he could hide his heart from Starsky tonight. He knew Starsk could read everything he was feeling right now. If that truth weren't to Starsky's liking . . . Hutch didn't know if he could take it if Starsky no longer wanted to explore the route they'd been heading for Thursday night.

Taking a shaky breath, Hutch answered, "Anderson can't destroy me 'n' thee. We're the only two people who can do that."

To his horror, tears welled up in Starsky's eyes. For an agonizing minute or two, Hutch thought he'd lost everything. They hung frozen there in place like two flies trapped forever together, yet apart, in amber. Then, Starsky vented a ragged sob and launched himself at Hutch.

Hutch caught his warm weight and pulled Starsky close to his chest. He wrapped his arms around Starsky's strong, shaking back and held on. After a slight hesitation, Starsky melted against him, slipping his hands around Hutch's waist to return the hug. Starsky rested his head on Hutch's left shoulder, burying his wet face in the hair at Hutch's neck.

Hutch's palms rubbed reassuringly over the velvety corduroy covering Starsky's spine. He buried his nose in his sweaty curls and whispered, "Everything's gonna be all right, Starsk, I promise. Everything's gonna be all right . . . ." while Starsky cried his heart out against his chest.

For some reason, his acceptance seemed to make Starsky shake even harder, like gentleness was the last thing he'd expected. The sounds of his grief grew more intense. His helpless sobs were interrupted only when Starsky called Hutch's name out over and over again.

Hutch shivered as hot tears trickled down his neck.

He hadn't seen Starsky cry in years. Now, he'd held Starsk while he fell apart twice in three days. Tonight seemed worse than Thursday, which was pretty understandable. The kind of damage they had sustained last night could break a man forever. Hurt like that wasn't easily purged from the soul. Starsky's tears streamed like they'd never stop, just like his had when Hutch had lost control on Hank's porch this morning.

Hutch eased back until he was resting against the headboard. He supported both their weights there, while Starsky's tears soaked the front of his fringe jacket. He just held on and hugged back, so grateful for this normal contact.

Starsky didn't exactly stop crying. One moment, the grieving was intense, then a heartbeat later, all sound ceased. When Hutch looked down at the tear ravaged face on his shoulder, he found Starsky's eyes shut, Starsky's shuddery breathing giving over to the steady rhythm of sleep like a cried out baby's.

Exhausted and emotionally drained himself, Hutch sat still for a long time. He watched Starsky sleep, making sure that he was finally resting. When it became clear that it was no brief catnap, Hutch's right hand slipped from his warm hair. He groped around on the bed beside him until he snagged one of the tangled blankets. Pulling it over them both, he shifted down in the bed and tilted them over to the right, where the pillows were.

He still wasn't sure what, if anything, had been solved. But holding Starsky beat facing it alone.

His own exhaustion overtaking him, Hutch rested his windburned cheek against Starsky's curls and closed his eyes. For a long time he lay there listening to the rhythm of their breathing, then there was only blessed darkness and much-needed sleep.