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HEALING

Co-written by Elisa Valero and Cristina Pereira, and wonderfully edited by Mary Millard. Thanks, Mary!

This story was written purely for entertainment and is not for profit, and is not meant to trespass in any way on the holders of the rights to Starsky and Hutch.

 

"Wanna know what I think, Hutch?" Starsky glared defiantly at his partner as he spoke. "I think you just wanna keep havin' me under your control!"

"That's what you really think? Huh?" Hutch snapped, his eyes flashing, aware things had already gone too far in the argument neither he nor Starsky seemed able to stop.

"YEAH! THAT'S WHAT I REALLY THINK!" the brunette shot back, too angry to think before he spoke. "And I KNOW I'm right!"

"Oh, FUCK!" Hutch slapped his hands against his thighs. "KNOW SOMETHIN', PARTNER? I'M NOT ABLE TO KEEP TALKING WITH SOMEBODY AS MULE-HEADED AS YOU!...GO TO HELL STARSKY!" Hutch shouted, already opening Starsky's front door. "I don't care WHAT you do anymore!"

"OKAY! TERRIFIC! GET LOST!" Starsky yelled back at him. "AND DON'T BOTHER COMIN' BACK! I'M TIRED ENOUGH OF YOU BABY-SITTING ME THE WHOLE FUCKING DAY!"

A noisy slam of the door was the only answer from the blond this time. That and the squealing of the Fords' tires as Hutch burned rubber rushing away.

"Oh, God, Hutch…don't..." Starsky mumbled, going to the front door, then resting his palms and forehead against the wood. "Aw shit, I really did it now..."

He and Hutch had had a hell of a row; one of the many the had in the past few weeks, and probably the worst so far. And it had all begun with a trivial matter, when Starsky had asked Hutch to go to spend a little while at The Pits.

Nearly two months after being discharged from the hospital, Starsky was tired of feeling like a prisoner in his own home, his friend and partner always on guard. When Hutch had firmly refused Starsky's request to go out, insisting his friend was "still too weak" the brunet’s hot temper had blown.

Over the last months death had brushed Starsky much too closely, but despite all the odds he survived. After nine long weeks in the hospital after Gunther's bullets shattered his body, he had gone home, ready to begin his long road to recovery. Now, though he still often felt weak and pain-ridden, Starsky desperately needed to get back some of his normal life.

And as he struggled to recover, Hutch was always by his side, putting aside his own life and work to be friend, support and nurse. As time went on, however, the strain began to show on Hutch also, leaving him almost as drained of emotional and physical strength as Starsky was.

The end result of the intense ordeal was that both mens' patience grew thin as the weeks went by, until it took virtually nothing to start an argument. Yet they loved each other deeply, and no matter how much his partner succeeded in upsetting him, Hutch thanked God every day for letting him still have Starsky by his side. Hutch knew he needed more time to himself, but he wasn't willing to leave Starsky on his own…Not yet.

Conversely Starsky, though he was nothing but grateful for all Hutch was doing for him, soon began to feel unbearably suffocated by his best friend. Now able to get by on his own, Starsky could no longer bear his partners' twenty-four hour, seven day a week mother hen routine.

Thus was how, what should have been merely a silly argument had turned into a bitter exchange of cruel and hurtful words, resulting in Hutch leaving at last.

Starsky suspected they both had regretted the words even as they left their lips.

xxxxxxx

Starsky stepped away from the door after a short while, feeling a lump in his throat and a pain in his chest that was all too familiar now. The effect of the last pain pill was starting to wear off and it was time to take another one.

Oh, well. Hutch already told you the way it is, Starsky, boy… he thought, despondent. You aren't in shape to go anywhere. Right now you're nothing but a useless invalid. Try to sink that into your thick skull, and maybe it'll make things easier to accept.

Discouraged, he took a pill from the proper bottle in the bathroom cabinet and went to the kitchen to wash it down with some juice. Then he dragged himself back to the living room where he fell onto the couch, utterly drained. The fight with Hutch had left him miserable and exhausted -- The idea of going to The Pits or anywhere else wasn't any longer appealing for him.

Hoping to take his mind off what had happened, as well as from the nagging pain in his chest, Starsky reached for the remote control and turned on the tube. He ran distractedly through all the channels, finally stopping at a ball game. As the pain medication worked its magic, he stared sightlessly at the screen ... finally his eyelids grew heavy and he fell into an unsettled, drug-induced sleep.

xxxxxxx


Damn! What's going on with me? Hutch thought, angrily slamming his hand on the steering wheel as he drove along the boulevard.
Okay, so Starsk is acting like a spoiled brat. Right now he's nothing but a pain in the ass ? so what? For Christ's sake! With everything he's going through, he has a right to be a pain! And me? What am I doing?
Just making him even more upset with my stupid mother hen routine!


Hutch hated how wrong things had been going lately between them, and he knew it was partly his fault. He knew that his proud and independent friend only wanted to have some control back over his own life. Hutch also knew,  though he refused to admit it, that he had to learn to give Starsky that control. Unfortunately his fear of losing Starsky was still very strong -- too strong yet to let his friend go.

A few miles later, Hutch halted his battered car near the beach, starved for the smell of the fresh salty air. He got out and walked slowly toward the seashore where he sat for a while in the moonlit sand. The memory of the shooting in the police parking lot was always with him. The still vivid and frightening sight of Starsky's body lying bloodstained and apparently lifeless on the ground beside his car. The race against the clock to the hospital, the cardiac arrest... his fear of losing not only his partner but also his best friend, and the promises he'd made to God if only Starsky could somehow survive…

Okay, Starsky did it, Hutch thought, shaking off the memories. He's alive and fighting hard to get better, but what does he get from me? Hutch kept brooding on. Sure, I look after him, I take care of him, and Starsky knows that. But I'm not behaving like his friend; I'm acting like some kind of hovering, grumpy nurse. I know how much he hates it. SHIT! I'm being a jerk! And that's gotta change… starting now!

Firm in that resolution, Hutch got to his feet and went back to his car. He would go back to Starsky's, to apologize and ask his forgiveness; then do his best to again be the friend Starsky needed right now. Turning the key in the ignition, Hutch sped back the way he'd come.

At a familiar intersection, Hutch turned, deciding to humor his friend by bringing back one of his favorite cakes. That'll be a nice peace offering, he mused, smiling to himself, heading for the little nearby bakery where, before the shooting, Starsky often used to stop in for a treat.

The owner was a pretty young woman named Janet Ableman who had a soft spot for Starsky and his amusing ways. She enjoyed seeing the tough street cop turn into a big kid, eagerly picking out cakes and pastries, then making her blush under his enthusiastic praise of her baking skills.

As soon as she learned Starsky was home from the hospital following the shooting, Janet had been giving Hutch assortments of fresh and delicious homemade pies, muffins and cookies as Starsky's get well gifts. "To help your nice partner to get his appetite back and put some weight on him." she told the blond detective whenever he would stop by. "I want to see him back in here again."

Geez Starsk! Everybody cares about you! Hutch realized. I wish I were just half the kind man you are. Climbing the stairs to the bakery, Hutch suddenly realized that love had replaced all the earlier anger in his heart.

"Good evening, Janet," Hutch said lightly, closing the door before looking up. "I came..." His words faded as he saw the terror-filled eyes of the woman behind the counter, her face pale beyond words. Hutch knew in a split second that something was very, very wrong there -- he was almost afraid to learn what it was.

xxxxxxx

During Starsky's restless sleep, disturbing memories sneaked into his brain. The many arguments with Hutch, the angry words they had exchanged earlier that evening, the overwhelming certainty that their time together as work partners was over, that nothing would ever be the same again. All of it stabbed his soul like the sharpest knife.

He kept turning and tossing on the couch, feeling cold and sick to his stomach as a thin layer of sweat covered his face. Then suddenly, he jerked upright as a wave of nausea propelled him to rush to the bathroom on unsteady legs.

Falling to his knees, Starsky just had time to bend his head over the toilet before throwing up the meager contents of his stomach among painful heaves. Some time later, his body aching and feeling his legs about to give way, he managed to stand. Stumbling, he got to the sink and splashed cold water on his flushed face.

Aww…Hutch…I need you here buddy, I really do! I feel like crap!Starsky thought. He felt sad and lost as a little kid.

Shit! Looks like I really screwed up things this time. You're real mad at me, Hutch, aren't you? But ya have to come back sometime, don't ya? Please…

Leaning on the walls for support, Starsky made his way back to the couch with the room spinning around him like a top. His doctor had warned him that the pain pills could have some nasty side effects, but Starsky had never felt this sick. Knowing he could pass out at any moment, he collapsed back onto the sofa and closed his eyes, feeling totally defenseless and weak.

xxxxxxx

Doing a quick visual evaluation of the situation in the bakery, Hutch assessed the man standing at Janet's side. In his early forties, he was tall and strong, with red-hair, a beard and ponytail. He was armed, and pointed his gun at Janet's head.

"Your hands, guy." The stranger gestured to Hutch with his gun. "Put your hands where I can see them or I'll shoot her."

Silently, Hutch followed the order, holding his palms up and arms extended as he approached the counter with deliberately slow steps. Meeting the mans' brown eyes told Hutch of his madness and he knew he couldn't take any risks. The detective knew from past experience the man would much rather shoot than talk.

"Are you okay, Janet?" Hutch asked her softly, reassured when she nodded through her tears.

"Aw! So much concern is breaking my heart," the intruder mocked Hutch sarcastically. "Let me guess -- you're one more of the long string of low-lives this bitch had in my bed while I was shut in that damn nuthouse. Ain't that right?" he asked, smiling wickedly. "Well, let me give you a tip, pal. You should pick your dates better because ya know something? This bitch chick here is mine! She's my fuckin' WIFE!"

Until that moment Hutch hadn't known it, but the man in front of him was Matthew Preston, Janet's husband. Janet had confided to Starsky that she married when being still a teenager, a marriage that had failed only when she could bear no more of her husbands' abuse.

Shortly into the marriage she had learned of her husbands' severe and progressive mental disorder, which at times changed him into a violent, paranoid maniac. Even when he persisted in both emotional and physical abuse Janet had stayed with him, until a beating had nearly ended her life.

At that point, unable to bear his false accusations of infidelity and nearing an emotional breakdown, Janet had finally pressed charges against him ... the jury had no problem finding him guilty, following up with an indeterminate sentence to a mental hospital. Hutch couldn't recall any mention of divorce in Starsky's tale of Janet's woes.

"Listen, sir," Hutch began slowly, "I don't know what you want, but whatever it is, I'm sure we can work things out. Let's just sit down over here and have a talk."

"I don't wanna talk, smartass," the man shot back. "I want justice! To make this damn hooker pay for what she's done to me. I want the whole damn city to watch how I blow up her fucking little bakery!"

As he spoke, Preston pulled a hand grenade from his jacket pocket and placed the menacing object on the counter in front of Hutch. His hand with the gun never strayed from its position beside Janet's head.

Looking from the grenade to Preston's face, Hutch glared at him coldly but didn't dare make a move. He knew at that point any action on his part might well cost Janet her life.

xxxxxxx


Still lying on the couch in misery, Starsky finally dared to open his eyes. The walls weren't spinning around him any longer and his nausea had eased just enough to find the phone and call Hutch.

Listening the phone ring, the detective looked at his wristwatch, realizing Hutch had left his apartment nearly three hours before. No matter how rough things had grown between them, Starsky felt sure his partner wouldn't deliberately leave him alone for such a long time.

As the dark, cold pain spread across his torso, Starsky held his breath and waited for it to ease ... the phone kept ringing until after ten times Starsky finally slammed it down, closing his eyes.

"Aw Hutch, partner! C'mon, where are you? Don't ya think I already feel lousy enough without havin' to start worrying about you too?" He said out loud in the loneliness of his apartment.

Now wide-awake and trying to distract himself from the pain that persisted, Starsky again picked up the phone, dialing Dobey's home number this time. It was late enough that he guessed his superior officer would already be home.

The soft voice of Edith Dobey answered the phone. "Hello?"

Starsky forced his voice to sound steady, trying to hide his weakness.

"Hi, Edith. It's Starsky."

"Dave, son," she said warmly. "Is everything okay? May I help you?" Concern, rather maternal, filled her voice.

"Oh, no. But thanks, Edith. Everything's fine." Starsky hesitated, hoping she wouldn't detect the pain in his voice through the phone.

"Is Hutch with you?" she asked.

"No, Edith, he's not here. In fact I was wondering if he was over there with you."

"No, I'm sorry, Dave, but he isn't." She sounded apologetic in her tone. "Are you sure there isn't something I can do for you? Harold isn't home yet; I could run over if you need anything."

"Hey, no," Starsky said quickly. "But thanks. Take care." He hung up, only to immediately dial again.

A few minutes later Starsky already knew that Hutch wasn't at the precinct nor had he been at Huggy's. The brunet ran a frustrated hand through his curls. Everywhere he could think to call for Hutch had proven equally fruitless. It seemed that his partner had fallen off the face of the earth.

xxxxxxx


In the bakery, things were going from bad to worse for Hutch, especially when Preston got bored and ordered Hutch to "assume the position" against the counter with arms outstretched. The blonde winced as the man frisked him, easily finding and removing his gun, badge, wallet and handcuffs. It was all he could do to remain still.

"Well, look WHAT WE GOT HERE," Preston whistled. "A COP FOR ALL THINGS!" Holding out Hutch's badge like a trophy, his words were accompanied by a spine-chilling laugh.

"Know something, pal? That perfectly suits my plans! Now I just must call the good old police department and a coupla TV stations, and then we'll all be set for the big show."

"Matt…Matt, please! Stop this nonsense!" Janet pleaded. "What you're doing is a mistake! The police will arrest you. They'll take you back to the hospital! Let me go and Hutch…We can help you. Please!"

"Oh, I gotcha," the man snarled. "You're tryin' to protect your lover boy here." Fiercely grabbing Janet's wrist, he wrenched it even harder when she cried out in pain. "SHUT UP! DAMN BITCH!"

Watching Preston punch Janet hard in the face was more than Hutch could bear. As she crumpled to the floor, unconscious, the blonde rushed her abuser, pleased to get in a few hard blows of his own. In the process, however, he neglected to remember the location of his service revolver ... he cursed himself for his carelessness as white heat from the bullet Preston fired tore through his shoulder and back.

"N-no more, Preston. D-don't beat her." Hutch hissed the words through clenched teeth as he clutched his useless arm and shoulder, fighting a black haze as he sank to the floor. "Let me? help."

"Sorry, Blondie, but it's your own fault," the man responded, kicking Hutch's blood-soaked shoulder viciously. "See what a guy gets for messing with other man's wife?" Matt's voice oozed contempt with every word. "Maybe this'll teach you both!"

Though Hutch heard Preston's last words, they were also the last thing he heard as the sickening pain forced him into merciful unconsciousness.

Watching him, Preston nudged Hutch with his foot then smiled. "Okay,
you two wanna be together? So I'll let ya. I'll just tie you both up."

Looking around, he spied the roll of heavy twine Janet used for shipping goods out of town. "This way I don't have to bother with either one of ya? for now." He was grinning wickedly as he bound first Hutch then Janet with their hands behind their backs as they
lay face down on the floor.

xxxxxxx


After Matt Preston had called the police and press as he'd promised, the bakery was silent for a while, allowing the man to fondle the hand grenade and wait.

Expecting the sound of sirens to alert him, Preston started when the bell chimed on the opening door. He kept Hutch's gun steady as he strode toward the oblivious customer. The young man froze, his eyes widening at the sight of a firearm pointing at him.

"Hey! What the hell are you doing here, pal?" Preston asked, his tone menacing." You wanna join the party too?"

"I'm s-sorry, sir;" the man stammered, as all color faded from his face. "I-.I don't wanna have any trouble. I-I just w-wanted to get a cake for my wife. She's pregnant and…"

"Oh SHIT! Shut up!" Matthew gestured the man to get down on his knees. "I know what you're doing here! You're one of `em. Another one of those bastards that she's had in my bed!"

"No sir! I-I just…" The man looked around desperately; then saw Hutch and Janet's crumpled forms n the floor.

"P-Preston…Stop it!" Struggling to keep conscious, Hutch's speech was slurred.

"Matt! Please, no!" Janet implored then. "I've never even seen him. Let him go!"

"Please, please sir, don't hurt me," the man begged. "I…my wife ..."

"Shut up! Everybody!" Matt screamed. "You're making me nervous!"

"Don't kill me. Please!" The man began sobbing as Matt levelled the gun at his head.

"Ya know something, buddy?" Preston asked him. "As of this moment, the party is over for you!" Laughing hysterically, Preston pulled the trigger; hitting the man squarely between his eyebrows.

Hutch heard Janet give a gasp of horror, then saw her eyes roll back as she fainted again. Closing his own eyes, Hutch feigned unconsciousness also, trying to formulate a plan through his haze of pain.

xxxxxxx


Upset by the growing feeling that something was very wrong with Hutch, Starsky sat on the couch debating what to do. He knew he was in dire need of another pain pill but refused to take it, knowing he couldn't drive if he did. Instead, grabbing the Torino keys, the dark detective clenched his teeth as he wriggled into his leather jacket and prepared to leave.

Though he hadn't been cleared to drive yet, Starsky knew he had to go and search for his friend. He wrapped one arm around his chest and ribs, pausing to catch his breath -- suddenly words from the forgotten TV caused his head to whirl. He scrambled to turn up the volume on the set.

"…According to the spokesman of Bay City Police Department, Sergeant Mark Robertson," Starsky heard, "there is a hostage situation in progress at Janet's Gems Bakery. Apparently the suspect is holding his alleged wife, Janet Ableman, owner of the bakery, at gunpoint, along with Detective Ken Hutchinson from Metro. We have not been informed if either hostage is believed to be injured at this time.

"We do know, however, that the suspect has displayed a hand grenade to our cameras and onsite police officers, stating he plans to destroy the building as punishment for his wife. Just when he plans for that to happen remains unknown."

"Christ Almighty!" Feeling his knees start to buckle, Starsky sunk down on the couch, his pain all but forgotten as he stared at the screen. There were images of the street, cordoned-off around the bakery, with a swarm of police officers trying to secure the scene. Several reporters from the local TV channels were working frantically to make their way past the yellow police "Do Not Cross" tape.

"As Channel Eight told you earlier," the reporter continued, "the kidnapping suspect has been identified as Matthew Dean Preston, an inmate from the County Mental Hospital. Unknown to hospital authorities, Mr. Preston escaped from the facility this morning where he was serving undetermined time for spousal abuse." Starsky grimaced as the announcer droned on.

"A short time ago Channel Eight reporters received a phone call from the suspect, who expressed a desire to be heard ..."

As the screen flashed a picture of Preston while his words filled the TV speaker, Starsky sat forward intently, the face in the TV screen triggering a long-buried memory.

He knew that man…

"I don't want money," Preston was saying at that moment on the phone. "All I want is justice. My dear wife, who I have here with me, sentenced me to hell with all her lies about me ... Now it's her turn to pay. I just want everybody out there to know I was the one who brought her, and by luck, her cop lover to justice here in Bay City tonight."

xxxxxxx

In the brilliantly lit street outside the bakery more people gathered beyond the police lines, while police officers monitored the situation awaiting the arrival of Hostage Negotiators and the S.W.A.T. team. Press staff and cameramen had flooded the crime scene, just as Matt Preston had ordered them to. Nearby, several fire apparatus, EMT's, and two ambulances stood by in case of need.

Though it wasn't yet a known Homicide situation, Captain Harold Dobey was working the scene as well, his main concern being the hostages, primarily Hutch. Though Preston had bragged to the press about his cold-blooded murder of the bakery customer, that hadn't yet been confirmed. Not to mention that no one would dare enter the building
containing a deranged mental patient with a live hand grenade he clearly intended to use.

xxxxxxx

With no further thought, Starsky grabbed his gun and raced from his apartment at the first mention of the hand grenade.

I won't let ya down, Hutch, Promise.  He mentally told his friend with determination. Just hang on, partner. I'll be right there.

Sitting in the driver seat of his beloved Torino for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime; Starsky turned the key and automatically shoved the engine in gear. If he hadn't been so worried for Hutch and in so much pain he would have relished the long-missed sensation of his love affair with the car -- his hands grabbing the steering wheel, his foot on the gas pedal making the powerful engine roar smoothly into traffic, the joy of finally being in control. But that night none of those things occurred to him, his mind focused on a single thought: He had to get to Hutch in time and help free his
partner from the maniac he knew Matt Preston to be.

With the bakery less than six blocks from his apartment, Starsky was there in under four minutes, squealing to a stop behind Dobey's car. Wracked with pain, he couldn't jump from the car like he used to but nonetheless made excellent time sprinting over to the police line.

"I'm sorry, sir. You can't go in there." A young police officer whose badge read Phillips stopped Starsky from crossing the tape. His eyes widened as Starsky flipped open his badge and stared at him; the man before him barely resembled the Detective David Starsky he had met only once, more than a year earlier.

"Detective Starsky," Phillips stepped back, almost saluting. "I-I'm sorry... Please - go right ahead."

Not willing to waste time, Starsky shoved his badge case into his hip pocket as he strode past Phillips, unaware of the many surreptitious glances he received. Unlike the fit and strong man they remembered as Dave Starsky, this thin and frail man looked very ill. No one else said a word as he headed straight for the large black man standing nearby.

"Is Hutch still in there, Cap'n?" Starsky demanded. "Do ya know if he's okay?"

"Starsky! What the hell are you doing here?" Startled, Dobey barked louder than usual, but softened at the sight of Starsky's pale, strained face. "Dave… you shouldn't be here, son. You still need to rest."

"FOR CHRIST'S SAKE! WOULD EVERYBODY STOP TREATING ME LIKE AN INVALID?" Starsky shouted as his patience snapped. "I'VE ASKED YOU A QUESTION! IS HUTCH OKAY?"

"We don't know anything about his condition or Janet's," Dobey responded, recognizing the detectives' need to help his friend. "We know Preston claims he killed a man awhile ago; a customer who went into the bakery, but we don't know if that's true. However, he DOES claim it wasn't Hutch."

Starsky pinched the bridge of his nose before looking up into Dobey's eyes. "Mind telling me how come my partner is a hostage in a bakery and I had to hear it on the fucking TV?" Starsky's anger simmered barely below the surface,
fueled
even more by his pain. "Is that the new procedure now, Cap? Huh?"

"Take it easy, Starsky, will ya?" Dobey grumbled. "And let me tell you something! Your comin' here is a big nonsense! You aren't even supposed to drive. You could hurt yourself even worse bein' out here and then you wouldn't be any help to any of us, especially not to Hutch!"

Though Dobey was trying hard to look angry, his eyes didn't fool anyone, Starsky least of all. He was deeply concerned for the dark- haired detective, and doubly worried what the results of his rash actions could mean for his recovery. The pain lines on the thin face didn't escape his searching dark eyes at all.

"You finished now, Cap?" Starsky asked, his tone softer but still defiant. "Look, I'm not here to get any sermons. I'm here to get Hutch outta there. And that's exactly what I'm gonna do!"

"Listen, Starsky, if you're even thinkin' of going up there, forget it," Dobey said sternly. "That guy, Preston is  a very sick man. Besides bein' a first class nut case, he's armed with a gun and a hand grenade. He doesn't care about living himself, or dying, just gettin' back at his wife." He paused. "You are NOT going to do anything that could put your life in risk too! And that's an ORDER!"

"Look, Cap. I know what I'm doin' and I gotta go in there," Starsky reasoned. "Preston's nuts, yeah, but he won't hurt me. I know the guy…"

"You WHAT?" Dobey asked in amazement "You KNOW Preston? But …How?"

"I didn't put it together until I saw him on TV, but when I was livin' at Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie's place, we were both kids. We hung out together with a few other kids and did …well, ya know, stuff. Preston was the oldest one from all of us, sorta the ringleader. But back then we were friends. He used to call me kid, and he was real protective of me …If I can get him to remember, I know he'll talk to me now."

"Sweet Lord!" Dobey dried his sweaty forehead with his ever-present white handkerchief, trying to make sense of Starsky's words.

"Okay, now we got that settled," Starsky stated. "What's the plan?"

"We've been waiting for SWAT and trying to talk to him," Dobey answered. "We've offered him a deal if he gives up Hutch and Janet, but he's not buying anything. He just keeps saying he wants the city to watch him blow Janet's bakery sky high."

Starsky hesitated a moment, then asked, "So why hasn't he done it yet? I mean, what's he waitin' for?"

"That's what we've all been wondering'." Dobey replied, shaking his head. "I don't know, Starsky. No one knows except him. We're guessing he doesn't really wanna kill the girl."

"Okay, whatever his reasons are, he hasn't done it. That's the only thing that matters right now." Starsky thought out loud. "Look Cap, I'm goin' in there. I'll talk to him. Maybe I can get through to him to give it up." Without giving Dobey time to answer, Starsky looked around at the officers nearby. "Will somebody get me a telephone, radio, whatever? I need to talk to this guy!" His sapphire eyes were flashing as he watched a handful of uniformed officers scramble to meet his demands.

"Son, listen to me," Dobey protested. "You aren't in any shape to handle this alone. It's too dangerous, and I can't allow you to go inside. Let us take care of things from here."

"No way, Cap," Starsky answered firmly. "I have what you might call a very personal interest in seein' this turning out okay."

"Damn it, Starsky! I'm giving you a direct order!" Dobey bellowed, his face beginning to flame in frustration as it always had. "Starsky, you KNOW Hutch wouldn't want you to do this. Think about him."

"Sorry, sir, but I AM thinkin' of him. And I AM going in. Later you can fire me, or arrest me if you want; whatever... But you're not gonna stop me now." Grabbing the portable police radio being held out to him, Starsky marched toward the bakery entrance.

"Starsky! David! For God's sake, man! Stop! ... Dave!" Dobey trotted after Starsky, grabbing his arm and forcing the detective to meet his eyes.

Even after all their years together, the rage in Starsky's eyes surprised Dobey  enough that he let go of the detectives' arm. In that moment he knew no one and nothing could stop David Starsky from going to the aid of his partner and best friend. As Starsky's furious blue gaze flashed into gratitude, Dobey realized he'd had no choice since the detective had arrived on the scene... He had to let Starsky do things his way.

Making his way up the stairs, Starsky panted painfully for air, one  arm wrapped tightly around his ribs and chest. Never since the  shooting had he pushed his body so hard, and the idle time had taken  its toll. Even before he reached the bakery door, he felt his minimal stamina begin to fade.

`Damn! Those dumb doctors were right. I'm nothing but a useless  crippled!  A wave of self-pity washed over him briefly but Starsky forced  the gloomy thoughts aside to focus on the situation at hand. Opening  the door quietly, he stepped carefully into the store with his gun  drawn and his sharp eyes darting everywhere.

His first sight was that of the dead customer on the floor before  him, a tiny bullet hole in his head. An instant later he spied Hutch  and Janet, tied with their hands behind their back. He didn't need to  be told that it was taking all Hutch's strength to be sitting up, his  face pale and drenched in sweat as well as blood.

A quick glance at Janet worried him also, taking in the blood and  bruises on her face. Still lying on the floor, her eyes were open but  vacant with shock; Starsky was almost glad her mind had shut down.

Seeing no sign of Preston, Starsky willed his partner to see him but  had no luck. "Hutch!" Starsky hissed the word, and watched the blond  head turn his way. "Hang on."

 “Watch out, Starsk!" Hutch shouted out as he saw Preston rushing his friend from behind.

The warning was useless as the bigger man tackled Starsky, knocking  the gun from his hand with a single blow. In his weakened condition  the dark-haired detective was no match for a madman, and despite his  most valiant efforts, he found himself pinned to the floor as Preston  straddled his back and pressed Hutch's gun to Starsky's temple hard.

"M-Matt. Wait." Starsky managed to turn his head to meet Preston's  eyes. "It's me…Davey"

He had no idea if the man would remember. He could only hope …and  pray. After a momentary frown, something seemed to click in  Preston's mind.

"Davey? Davey Starsky? Is that you, kid?" Starsky no longer felt the  cold metal against his skin, and a moment later the pressure on his  back released as Preston rose.

"Ye-yeah. It's me," Starsky responded, rolling onto his side and  coughing dryly as he struggled to catch his breath. He couldn't let  Matt know how much he hurt, no matter what the price.

Looking bewildered, Preston watched Starsky closely as he  moved. "What are you doin' here?" he demanded. "How'd you find me?  Where's the trick?" His expression now a combination of fear and  suspicion, his eyes reminded Starsky of a trapped animal. He wasted  no time retrieving Starsky's gun from the floor and tucking it inside
the waistband of his jeans.

"Take it easy, Matt," Starsky soothed. "I came alone. I just wanna  get Hutch and Janet outta here." Making his way to his feet with the  aid of the nearby counter, he forced himself to ignore his partners'  worried gaze.

"You're a cop, Davey. I know that." Preston's eyes narrowed as he  talked. "After Vietnam you went into the police academy. Word got  around, ya know. You're one of them, those idiots out there," he gestured. "They think they can trick me by sending you in here as bait, right? I know how you cops work."

“No, Matt. It's not like that." Starsky felt himself begin to sweat  from the pain. "Nobody could fool you that easy; you're too smart.  When we were kids you were the cleverest guy of all of us. You still  are. You know that, don't ya? Matt?" Starsky hoped his voice sounded  much calmer and far more steady than he felt.

For just a moment Preston smiled, pleased by Starsky's praise,  apparently forgetting for a moment where he was. Then quickly his  eyes narrowed, and he stared back into Starsky's eyes.

"Okay, then tell me somethin', kid. If you ain't here to distract me,  why did you come?"

"Like I told ya," Starsky said patiently. "I wanna get Hutch and  Janet outta here. They're hurt, and you're gettin' yourself in some  big time trouble if they die." He paused. "Man, ya gotta give it up.  Things are gettin' worse for ya every minute. Look, you've already  killed one innocent man…"

"Innocent?! Don't give me that crap, Davey!" Preston shot back. "That  pig was fuckin' my wife! Just like that blond over there! That's why  I shot `em. They're just bastards! They deserve to die."

"You're wrong Matt," Starsky reasoned. "Hutch hasn't been with Janet  at all. Matt, look at me," he encouraged. "You're sick .... You need medical help. If you'll just let me, I can…"

"SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN!" the madman bellowed, his brief trust in  Starsky abruptly gone. "Over there, next to your buddy cop."  Grabbing his arm, Preston roughly shoved Starsky toward Janet and  Hutch.

It took every ounce of his willpower, but Starsky managed not to  utter a sound as the jerking motion tore through his body like  multiple knives. He looked around, desperately wondering what other  tactic he could try.

Then his eyes fell on the hand grenade laying on the counter not far  from Hutch. "That thing really work?" he asked, looking from the  bomb to his former friend. "Yeah, I s'pose it does."

"Of course it works," Preston snapped, glaring. "What kinda dumb question is that?"

"That thing is dangerous, Matt," Starsky responded. "You can get us  all killed havin' that around. And I KNOW ya don't want to kill us;  that other guy was an accident. Now will you just get rid of it?  Please?"

"NO! I don't wanna get rid of it! I wanna blow up this fuckin'  bakery!" Preston picked up the hand grenade, nearly stopping  Starsky's heart.

"Whoa there… Take it easy, friend," Starsky soothed. "Try to  understand what I'm tellin' ya, Matt. What you're doin' here is nonsense. This place is surrounded by cops. You don't have a chance.  You got the press here too, like ya wanted. Why don't you just make  your peace by talkin' to them?"

"SHUT UP! What I'm doin' ain't none of your business!" Preston began  to pace nervously in front of Starsky and Hutch. Too weak to speak,  Hutch could only struggle to remain conscious and helplessly watch  the drama unfold.

"Sorry, Davey," Preston said finally. "Your buddy cops are tryin'  somethin' out there. I just know it. I'm already runnin' out of time to do  what I came here for." He looked fondly at the grenade still in his  hand. "I gotta do it now or it'll be too late."

Then, suddenly, he looked at Starsky with the light of knowledge in  his eyes. "He's your friend, ain't he?" he asked, nodding his head  toward Hutch. "That's why you came here with no  protection. I should’ve known." He gave a soft chuckle and shook his  head.

"You have always been a brave kid, Davey. And loyal. Even when we  were kids, you would’ve never let a buddy down. I bet you're still as stupid and brave and loyal now."

"You got it, Matt," Starsky replied candidly, hoping honesty would be his best move. "That's Hutch -- he's my partner on the force, and my  best friend." He paused, struggling for breath. "And you're right,  I'm here to help him. And Janet. But I'd like to help you too. You  were my friend too."

Before he could continue, Starsky felt a sharp pain in his chest,  this one too intense to hide. Giving a short gasp, he clutched his  chest tightly, the dark head dropping to his chest as he fought for  control.

"S-Starsky!" Hutch struggled fruitlessly to get up and over to his  partner only to receive a vicious kick coming from Preston that landed him in a heap on  the floor.

"Don't move, pig!" the maddened man shouted
, leveling
the gun at Starsky again. "You move, he's a goner. Understand?"

"Starsk, y-you okay?" Though he couldn't move, Hutch's eyes were  locked on his friend.

"Starsk?"

"F-fine, Hutch," Starsky managed, slightly lifting his head. "N-no  sweat." But his smile was as tremulous as his voice.

"Hey, kid! What happened? You sick?" Behaving like a chameleon,  Preston laid the grenade down the counter then knelt at Starsky's  side. He put an arm around the detectives' shoulders as his eyes  showed a pinch of genuine concern.

"I'm…I'm on sick leave, Matt," Starsky replied in a raspy  whisper. "A couple months ago I-I got shot. Really bad. Only been  outta the hospital from a little while. Didn't you see it in the news?"

"Shot?" Kindly, Preston helped Starsky to his feet. "No, kid, I  didn't know. They don't let me read nothin' in that loony bin. They  just kept makin' me talk to their doctors and take dopey pills all  the time." He paused, then grinned.

"But finally I did it," he said proudly. "I got `em. And I got outta  that place. Today." Then he heard Starsky draw a ragged breath, and  seemed to really notice for first time how weak and thin the  detective looked.

"Davey, kid, you look really sick, you know that?"

"Yeah, I know," Starsky grinned weakly. "I am. Now …can we please  put an end to all this? I just wanna leave here with Hutch and Janet  and go home and rest. I'm tired, Matt," Starsky admitted, leaning  against the counter. "I can't take much more."

"I can't let go, Davey," Preston responded, his tone somewhat  desperate. "They cheated on me. You know that too, don’tcha, Davey?  She's just a bitch!"

"No, Matt. They didn't cheat on you," Starsky repeated  wearily. "Please, let me get `em outta here. They're both hurt, and  Hutch has lost a lotta blood from that shoulder. He needs help."

Unashamed he had resorted to begging, Starsky hoped his desperate  plea would reach the bit of sanity he knew still existed in Matt  Preston's insane mind. In the silence that followed, he thought he  might have succeeded -- for just a moment, Matt smiled at Starsky  with a shadow of tenderness.

"Know something, Davey?" he asked. "You still are the same soppy kid  you used to be... Always willing to believe in the honesty and good  of people no matter how bad they were.

"But this time you're wrong, kiddo," he said, his
demeanor
abruptly  changing. I know what they were doing while I was in that damn  nuthouse ... and now they gotta pay."

Keeping the gun pointed in Starsky's direction, Preston stepped  toward the entrance, looking through the window down to the street.  At the sight of the SWAT team converging on the sidewalk, he resumed  his nervous pace.

"Damn it, the SWAT team is out there, Davey!" he muttered. "Those  fuckin' cops don't believe what I said I'd do. Well, now they're ALL  gonna find out what Matt Preston is REALLY able to do!"

“Hey, Matt, come on… Killin' isn't like  you. If ya give up now, nobody else has to get hurt… including  you.” Starsky kept coaxing Matt into giving up, while very slowly approaching closer to him. Time was running out and he hadn’t managed to change Matt’s mind. He had failed. The taste of his own failure mixed with a wave of nausea and the unbearable pain in his chest threatened to make him crumble.

"MR. PRESTON! This is LIEUTENANT GARRET!" The booming voice coming from a megaphone startled Preston from his reverie. "I'm with the SWAT TEAM!  You must give up now, Mr. Preston!…Please,  come out with your hands raised!"

Through the pain-filled fog that covered his mind, Hutch, more worried at that moment for his best friend’s condition than for his own safety caught a glimpse of the desperate look in Starsky's eyes, a look he knew far too well  from the recent months. It meant Starsky was hanging on by a willpower  that had nothing to do with physical ability.

“Starsk?” He muttered.

"I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOU, DAMN BIGMOUTH! SHUT UP!" Completely out of control Preston shouted out, turning the gun on Hutch and taking careful aim. In the instant before he pulled the trigger though,  Starsky gave a yell and launched himself at the madman, focused on his shooting arm. The  shot went awry and the gun flying as the two men grappled, ultimately  shoving the unlatched door open and rolling down the short flight of stairs in a tangled heap.

"STAAAARSKYYY! NOOOOO!" Hutch yelled, struggling to get to his feet just as the SWAT team entered the store. As the Lieutenant cautiously took the grenade, two other officers hurried towards Hutch as he again lost his battle with consciousness.

xxxxxxx

With armed SWAT team members and police officers surrounding the doorway, they were on Preston and Starsky the instant they hit the base of the stairs. As a team of officers dragged a raging Matt  Preston away, several paramedics surrounded the fallen detective lying motionless on the ground.

Standing nearby, Capt. Dobey felt sick when he saw Starsky, his frail  body ravaged once again. A thread of blood slid from his mouth down  his chin, and his right arm was twisted at a frighteningly unnatural angle. The paramedics worked quickly,
administering oxygen and  settling him carefully on a backboard with a protective cervical  collar around his neck. Dobey closed his eyes and prayed as Starsky was carried to a waiting ambulance.

Regaining consciousness while the police were cutting the ropes on  his wrists, Hutch fought off the paramedics as he all but fell down the stairs to get outside. The blond detective almost looked like a madman himself in his desperation to reach his partner and learn how he was. He narrowly escaped knocking down the paramedics loading Starsky into the ambulance.

"S-Starsk ... Oh God, buddy…t-talk to me," Hutch pleaded, holding  himself up on the ambulance door. "P-please partner, talk to me..."

"Detective Hutchinson. Please." Another paramedic grabbed Hutch at the ambulance door. "We have to get your partner to the hospital.  And you need to lie down."

"N-no...Please. I have to ..I have to be with him. He…Starsky saved our lives."  Yet even as he was muttering his protests, Hutch knew he was fading out once again. This time there was no interference as the paramedics took Starsky off to the hospital while their counterparts attended to Hutch.

Inside the bakery, Janet rallied from her stupor as the pain of her injuries being treated roused her senses from the state of shock. Relieved to know both detectives had survived the ordeal, she placidly accepted the treatment and gave thanks for being alive.
 
Meanwhile, no longer needed at the bakery, Capt. Dobey went directly to the  hospital, calling home to reassure his worried wife who, like Starsky, had seen the incident on the TV news. Then he settled himself on a sofa to begin the endless wait for news on his two detectives and friends.

It was well past midnight when a familiar figure came through the waiting room doors, still wearing his surgical scrubs. Doctor Steve Kellerman, the man who had saved Starsky's life after Gunther's shooting, smiled as he saw a frazzled Captain Dobey approach.

"Captain Dobey." Kellerman reached out his hand to shake Dobey's. "It seems we meet again."

"Yeah; except this time you've got both my boys. How're they doing, doc?"

"They'll both be fine, Captain," Kellerman smiled, hoping to ease the big mans' concern. "We removed the bullet from Ken's shoulder and gave him a blood transfusion, but unless he has some unexpected complication, in a few weeks he'll be back causing trouble again." He paused.

"As for David," he said
somberly,
"I'm very upset with him personally  for whatever he did to end up back here. He may not realize it, but he very easily could have suffered a heart attack out there."

"But he didn't…did he?" Dobey's apprehension was clear. "He's still … going to be fine?"

"He now also has a broken right arm and many cuts and bruises, besides an impressive lump on his head. Naturally he irritated everything in his chest cavity that WAS healing too." Dr. Kellerman sighed, shaking his head.

"However, even with all the setbacks, everything will heal properly if he gets his rest and follows my instructions this time. Of course we both know that's up to Dave." He smiled briefly, as did Dobey, then sobered again.

"Because of the shooting, we don't want to take any chances with him. Right now he's very weak, but stable. For the next few days we'll keep an eye on him here. And once he's discharged he will NOT be allowed to drive or do any of the other heroics I heard about tonight.

"Frankly, I don't even know HOW he did it," Kellerman confessed. "His body shouldn't have been able to endure that much stress so soon. He's certainly an example of the power of the mind overcoming the physical. Unfortunately this little episode definitely compromised his healing processes and will set him back. He'll have to increase his pain medication and muscle relaxants, and hold off on more physical therapy for now. Somehow David did everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, he wasn't supposed to last night. I strongly suggest you to try to put some sense in that stubborn young fellow so he doesn't try any other nonsense like this; at least until he's cleared for duty," he added knowingly. "Any questions? Or have you heard enough?"

"More than enough," Dobey grumbled though his eyes were twinkling. "And just one question …can I see them now?"

"As soon as they're out of Recovery, which should be shortly." The doctor responded. "They should be going to a regular room within the hour -- the same room, by the way," he grinned. "I'm sure you agree we don't want either of them walking the corridors looking for the other as they've done in the past." Arching his brows and smiling, Kellerman left, knowing he had the answer in Dobey's glistening dark eyes.

xxxxxxx

The room was stark white and impersonal. An ordinary hospital room just like the others he had  been in before.

After a night of unsettled sleep, Starsky began to wake up. Then he saw his partner in the adjacent bed.

"Hutch? You awake?" Starsky asked softly. "Hutch?"

"Yeah, I'm here, Starsk," Hutch answered, barely able to look at his friend through his own anger and guilt. "That was some work you did there at the bakery. Thanks for saving my life, partner."

"No big deal," Starsky said lightly. "Just forget it, okay? How are ya feelin'? Is the shoulder givin' you much pain?"

"I'm fine, I think. Still too doped up how to feel anything, I guess," Hutch joked. "You?"

"Terrific." But Starsky's moves were slow and cautious as he turned on his side to face Hutch.

"Did you really know him?" Hutch asked curiously. "That guy Preston, I mean… I know he sounded like he knew you, but…"

"Yep. We were friends as kids....Hell! That was a lifetime ago..." Starsky sighed. "And despite what he did yesterday, back then he happened to be a good guy. I mean; he could be pretty quarrelsome, but I was not a role model either…  Matt was a good guy, Hutch, believe me… but somethin' just drove him over the edge till he went nuts." Starsky added thoughtfully.

Hutch nodded then fell silent, his eyes still diverted from his friend. Then at precisely the same moment both men broke the silence at once.

"I'm sorry, Starsk."
"Sorry, Hutch…."

Relieved, they both chuckled, sensing for first time in weeks that things were starting to go back the right way.

"I am very sorry, Hutch," Starsky said quickly. "I mean it. I was too pissed off at the world to think straight, I guess. I dunno why you keep sticking with me the way I was."

"Aw, c'mon Starsk! You don't need to apologize," Hutch protested. "I wasn't treating you very well, I guess… You had every right to be mad."

"I'd say we've both been under a lot of pressure, partner." Starsky stated wisely. "It takes two to make a fight, ya know."

"Yeah, I know. But you got the worse hand in this game, Starsk. You've been going through a lot of physical and emotional pain. I shouldn't have reacted the way I have. I'm sorry for that."

"Hey, you think that I don't know how hard this has been on you too?" the dark detective responded. "Hutch, when I heard your name there on the tube as bein' a hostage,  suddenly nothin' that went down between us before made any sense. I just wanted to get you outta there and back home with me. To hear ya tell me I couldn't do this or that or …everything I wanna do and know I can't." He paused, then looked at Hutch with a lopsided grin. "Ya know, I think I'm startin' to like your mother hen routine after all."

"Look partner, I..."

"No, wait a minute, Hutch. Lemme finish. I know that what's been happenin' lately was my fault. I knew that I was bein' stubborn, tryin' to do all the stuff I know I can't. But I'm so tired of this crap," he confessed, sighing. "I'm tired of feelin' like an invalid and bein' so helpless and doped up all the time.

"And I'm scared, Hutch," he whispered. "´cause I know I'll never be able to go back with ya on the streets." Staring at the ceiling, Starsky fought back rising tears.

"Aw no, Starsk. Don't say that, buddy." Locking his jaws against the pain in his shoulder, Hutch got up and sat on Starsky's bed. "We'll just start again from the beginning. We did it before, and we'll do it again. This time it'll be easier. You'll see." He laid his hand on the soft, dark curls. "You can't give up on us now, Starsk," he murmured. "Not after what we just went through."

"I'm not givin' up, Hutch." Starsky reached out to hold Hutch's hand. "I'm just tryin' to be realistic for a change. Maybe I just need to accept I can't be the same man I was before the shooting. And maybe you need to terms with that too. It's been how long already?... two months? And look at where I still am… nowhere."

"You will be the same man, Starsky," Hutch vowed, squeezing his hand with determination. "Everything will be fine, you just have to give  yourself enough time. I know patience isn't your strong suit -- or mine either -- but we will work this through. I'm gonna be here with ya all the way, okay, partner? Friend?"

The sapphire eyes grew misty again as Starsky met Hutch's gaze, finding more strength than he'd felt so far. "I-Yeah, I know you'll be here, but ,  I also know that somehow, sooner or later, I'll manage to drive you crazy again. And what'll happen to us then?"

Hutch laughed softly, looking down at their clasped hands. "Oh, geez, Starsk. We really were acting like two silly kids, weren't we? Two silly and spoiled kids who both wanted things their way. Maybe if we try actin' like adults this time, we'll be okay."

"Maybe you're right, but; ya wanna know something?"

"What?"

"Ladies have a soft spot for handsome, like-kid guys. That's why Janet liked me in the first place. Ya know?"

"Oh, Starsky, you're beautiful, ya know that?" Hutch smiled. "Incorrigible but beautiful too."

"Yeah, I know." Suddenly Starsky's eyelids grew heavy, his hand relaxing as he drifted into a peaceful sleep at last. "I love you too."

For a moment Hutch sat and cherished his partners' smile, then winced as he returned to his own bed.

EPILOGUE

Friends and acquaintances kept streaming into "The Pits", filling the place like a growing human tide. It was a great day, a day of celebration, and all of Starsky's fellow officers and friends were there. Including, of course, Captain Dobey and his wife Edith as well.

The last one to arrive was Janet. The woman carried a monster-size chocolate cake to the table where Starsky stood “For my favorite customer.” She said to the curly-haired detective, softly kissing his cheek.

Blushing, Starsky shuffled his feet and thanked her. For one of the rare times in his life, he was at a total loss for words.

United by their friendship with Starsky, everyone was soon mingling very comfortably, holding drinks in one hand while nibbling from the endless trays of snacks and canapés as Starsky's favorite songs played on the jukebox.

The brunet was excited as a kid. He kept himself busy chatting with the familiar faces, flirting with some of the ladies, sipping a beer and picking at the assortment of delicacies that Huggy and his staff had prepared. Once again he looked healthy and happy, full of life and more fit than he'd ever been. Invariably, a gaze would appreciatively linger on his sparkling blue eyes or impish smile; or, in the case of some of the ladies, on other equally attractive body parts.

A while later,
once the party was in full swing, Hutch stopped the music, clapping his hands to get attention turned his way.

"PLEASE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. PLEASE!" Hutch's voice resounded
through the microphone. "If you all would listen for just a moment, Detective Starsky has something he'd like to share with us all."

Turning, he ceremoniously invited his friend to get closer to the microphone. "Here you go, Starsk," Hutch invited, handing over the microphone as he watched Starsky flush. "It's all yours."

"Thanks. I…I really think I would be a lousy showman," Starsky said shyly as the people around him laughed.

"Well, never mind. Though this Big Blonde here believes in my skills as a clown," Starsky cast a fond glance at Hutch. "I've never wanted to be anything but what I was. What I am. And that means being a cop."

Nothing but respectful silence filled the air when he paused. "As all of you know, a little over a year ago I thought my dream was over for ever. That was when I got shot. At first nobody thought I'd even make it …But I did it. And from there I began an exhausting journey on the road to recovery I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. During that time I wanted to give up more often than I wanna remember. At first the pain was just too much to bear and pretty soon life lost all its meaning for me. I was too tired and weak and too angry at the world to keep up the fight. I was hurting all the time; I couldn't go anywhere or do anything. I just wanted to feel sorry for myself. My body was ruined so I figured my career as a cop was over …and with it, my life."

Most of the sympathetic eyes watching his heartfelt speech were misty when Starsky paused to glance around. He didn't dare look over at Hutch.

"During all that hell I had lots of great people with me, looking after me, making me feel loved and cared for… friends that are here right now, sharing this evening with me.

"And at the top of that list was somebody special, someone who was always there for me no matter what. Without him I just wouldn't be here talkin' to you all tonight. He was -- and despite the hell he went through with me -- still is, my best friend, my soul brother. He was there at the start of my nightmare, and he went through it with me every day since. When I wanted to give up and quit, he wouldn't let me; instead, he helped me pick up the pieces and keep going. He is , as you already know; my partner, Hutch."

Tears were falling freely down Hutch's cheeks, but strangely he didn't care nor did anyone else. He simply smiled through his tears and gripped Starsky's hand when he briefly bent down.

"And now," Starsky said, his voice louder, "even though I've already talked too much here, I wanna share some special news. Some of you may have already heard it, but I'm gonna make it official now…I'm comin' back to the streets," Starsky announced, his eyes glistening with excitement. "A few days ago the police review board cleared me for active duty again. No more sittin' behind a desk for me!" He couldn't resist casting a mischievous glance at his Captain, who was unsuccessfully trying to hide his tears. "Well, at least paperwork isn't ALL I'll get to do all day long," he amended, then
grinned at the hearty laughs.

"Next Monday Hutch and I'll be back on our beat. Coverin' each other backs and puttin' our lives on the line like we used to do. That day, against all the odds I was given, we'll be doin' what we were meant for since the day we met at the Police Academy -- We'll be partners on the street again …"

Deafening applause thundering from the ecstatic crowd was music to Starsky's ears. His eyes were shimmering with unshed tears as he accepted the warm embrace Hutch offered him, then hung on. At long last his painful journey was over. Starsky knew he and Hutch were now on the road to the bright side of life.

The healing process had come to a happy end.

 

THE END

 

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