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Truly, Madly, Deeply

Chapter 1

The present

All I want is black bean soup
And you to make it with me.........

His voice was thin and reedy in the blackness. How long had he been singing? He had no idea, the hours days and weeks blended into one long red haze of pain. The usual silky, velvety country singer's voice had disappeared to be replaced by a rasping parody of his usual vocal accomplishments. Hutch sang only for company and comfort. He sang into the blackness as his mind closed down to those few words... All I want is black bean soup and you to.......there was something wrong? He should have something else.....A guitar. The blond struggled to look down at his bandaged hands, secured to the sides of the cot with soft medical restraints and laughed hysterically into the dark. Can't strum a guitar now, can ya? By the looks of them, he wouldn't be able to do much with them any more.

It wasn't just his wrists that were secured by the restraints. His ankles, chest and neck were similarly tied down and had been for as long as he could remember. He could hardly feel his legs and arms any more, the lack of movement making them numb and useless, the joints stiff and aching.

Just outside his field of vision, he heard a noise. A door opened and let a sliver of cold neon light into the room he'd been kept in. Unseen hands pushed the blindfold back down over his eyes and started to undo the buckles on the restraints. Another round was about to begin and the flaxen haired cop didn't think he'd survive any more pain. In his misery and fear he shouted out to whoever might listen.

'NOOOOO'

But the hands ignored him anyway.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

2 weeks ago

'You gonna be OK Blondie? I'll only be gone a couple of days I think, a week at the most. Ma's coming out of hospital tomorrow an' Nicky's conveniently out of the country. So until Aunt Rebecca gets there, it's up to me'. Starsky was packing his things as he spoke, pausing now and again to add extra socks and tee shirts to the overnight bag.

It never failed to amaze Hutch that given his partner's sometimes erratic behaviour, he was so tidy and methodical when it came to his possessions and private life. Starsky had once told him that it all stemmed from spending three years in the Army, but Hutch suspected there was more to it than that. Underneath it all, David Starsky was a neat freak!

'So you'll have to do everything for her?' Hutch asked as he passed a tube of toothpaste and the brunette's toothbrush.

'Pretty much. Her hip replacement went well, but she has to stay off her feet as much as possible for a while, just till it heals'.

Hutch made a face. 'What, everything? Cooking? Please God not that!'.

Starsky paused. 'What ya tryin' ta say, huh? Ya don't think I can look after my own Ma?'

'Oh I'm sure you'll clean her apartment to within an inch of its life and tidy her into a corner, but can she live on beef burritos and onions for a whole week till Aunt Rebecca gets there?'

Starsky threw a newspaper at the blond and snorted. 'I'll have you know I can make Chicken soup as well as the next man. Wouldn't be much of a good little Jewish boy if I couldn't, would I?'

'I could come with ya?'

Hutch liked Rachel Starsky. She was a tiny woman who ruled her brood with a rod of iron, tempered with as much love as her tiny frame would allow, and then some. Starsky had always been her favourite and Hutch had come to treat her almost as an extension of his own somewhat dysfunctional family.

'She'd love ya to come, but you know what she's like. If she has visitors she has to cook an' I'd never be able to keep her sitting down like the Doc wants. But thanks anyway. Besides, who'll argue with Dobey if we're both away?'

Both men busied themselves with the rest of the packing, grabbed some lunch and watered Starsky's one plant before setting out for LAX. On the way, the brunette was still fussing. 'Ya gotta be careful buddy. Promise me? With that lunatic out on the streets we don't know what'll happen next'.

Starsky was referring to two murders that had happened in the past two weeks. Both victims had been male professionals, mid thirties with blond hair and blue eyes, and more than one cop at the Metro had made the connection with Hutch. There had been some jokes, but mostly with a sense of urgency beneath them. "Watch your back; you're no different than them". But Hutch was careful. He'd even taken to locking his apartment door when he was at home.

So he returned the brunette's gaze levelly. 'Will you stop being a mother hen? I'll be fine. Safer 'n' your mother will be when she has to cope with your cooking'. He shook his blond head and chuckled. 'Besides, have ya seen Gonzalez recently? He's a man mountain. If anyone can look after me he can'.

Jose Gonzalez was a new cop at the precinct. He was fulfilling the 'fill in' role at the moment. If anyone didn't have a partner for one reason or another, Gonzalez filled in. Hutch had taken an immediate liking to the big guy, especially when he came into the squad room the first day with a tofu burger and power shake. From that moment on, he and Starsky had invited him on a couple of nights out and the odd ball game. Although Hutch didn't usually like to work with anyone else when Starsky wasn't around, he didn't mind so much this time. And if there was a blond hater on the streets, who better to watch his back when the brunette wasn't there?

They pulled into the parking lot at the airport and Starsky got out, retrieving his bag from the trunk. Notorious for not liking goodbyes of any description, Hutch knew better than to go with the brunette into the airport. Instead he merely flipped a quick wave to his partner as the curly haired cop trudged his way into the departure hall. Turning the car around, Hutch headed back into the lunchtime traffic and aimed for the Pits.

As he drove he mulled over the scant information they had on the murders. Two men, both 35 but from different areas of the town. Both professional although one was a dentist and one a stock broker, so no readily identifiable connection there either. Both men had had horrific injuries, but whereas one had been shot, the other had been strangled. At first the two murders hadn't been linked together. It was only the fact that both men had been missing for a few days and when their bodies were discovered, they'd both had some of their injuries tended to that had connected the two together.

Hutch shook his head. There were some real sickos about, that was for sure. He pulled his battered, much loved car into the alleyway at the back of the Pits and went in through the back door of the bar. Getting his eyes used to the dim light after the bright afternoon sunshine, Hutch finally found Huggy Bear, the Pits' owner clearing tables at the back of the room. The blond waited until Huggy had finished then stood at the bar while his friend and informant poured him a cool beer.

'So, what ya got for me Hug?' he said, taking an appreciative pull at the amber liquid.

Huggy leaned forward conspiratorially. 'Word on the street is that a guy called Mark Harley has been looking for a Kenneth Hutchinson. Never seen this guy Harley before, but with investigations into the murders goin' on, I thought you should know'.

Hutch knitted his eyebrows, concentrating. 'Harley? Mark Harley. Name doesn't mean anything to me. Unless he's from outa town. Ya got anything else?'

'Nada amigo'. Word is that it's not real healthy to be friendly with any blond blue eyed guy right now. If he happens to be a policeman too, that's double trouble'.

'Oh, hey, I'm not that bad' the blond feigned distress. 'Talk like that an' I'll get a complex, ya know'.

The barman sniggered. 'If the goon with the blond fetish gets ya, you'll get more 'n' a complex.. You be careful my man, 'specially if you're cruising' alone. How longs Starsky gone for?'

'Till his Aunt can look after his Mom. Maybe a week. But I got backup. Remember Jose?'

Huggy chuckled. 'Well with Mr 'Built like a brick cabin' at your side you should be safe'.

Hutch finished his beer and headed for the door. 'Ya hear anythin' else Hug, ya know where I am'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Across town three figures were huddled around a table in the small front room of a large clapboard house.

'You seen him yet?'

'Sure, but he's always with that dark haired one'.

'That's Dave Starsky. They're inseparable'.

'Well not any more. He went to the airport this morning'.

'So Ken's on his own?'

'Seems that way. Perfect opportunity. We get him while he's on his own. When d'ya want him?'

'Now! The other two you brought were close, but they weren't Ken. I want him'.

'We get him tonight, then. Are you ready?'

'I've been ready for weeks. I've got the equipment and the room. It's all set up. I had my practice with the other ones. He'll love it'.

'We'll wait till its dark and jump him at his apartment'.

'Be careful. Don't want anyone to see. It has to be a surprise!'.

'Oh it'll be a surprise alright. Just not the sort he's used to'.

'Aint that a fact? Stupid cop!'.

The sound of a slap.

'Don't you bad mouth him. You don't know him'.

'Nah, not yet. But he's gonna get to know us pretty quickly' the voice said with a wicked laugh.

Chapter 2

Hutch made his way back downstairs from the squad room. He'd just met with Gonzalez and given him the information that Huggy had supplied. The big Latino cop was on his way to RandI at that moment to try and find out anything about Mark Harley. A brief question around the squad room had revealed nothing. None of the guys on duty that evening had heard of him and even a cursory call to the neighbouring precinct drew a blank.

'I dunno. Maybe it's a false lead. Maybe this guy just likes my car or somethin' Hutch mused as he sat with a final cup of coffee before clocking off duty.

Gonzalez gave him a pitying look. 'Now ya see, that's where Starsky and I agree. Face it Hutch, your taste in cars is crap'.

Hutch gave him a withering look. 'As my Father used to say, they all have to stop at a red light, son. Just because my car doesn't have a neon sign over it saying "hey girls look what I've got" doesn't mean that it's crap'.

'It's a crap car an' you know it' Gonzalez shot back as he strode out of the room. 'You're living a delusion Hutchinson!'

'I won't dignify that with an answer' Hutch shouted. 'Other than to say that I don't need to make up for the size of my appendages by having a big fancy car'.

With a final chuckle, he phoned down to control and signed off for the night. He shouldered into his black leather jacket, pulling the collar up at the back and bounced down the front steps of the big stone building to the parking lot. Hutch fumbled with the car key in the lock, got in and turned the ignition on. It always felt strange to be driving on his own, even just driving home. He'd become conditioned to having the noisy brunette at his side day in and day out and when they weren't together, he sometimes felt as though his right arm had been cut off. More than once, some of the other guys had commented that Starsky and Hutch were like an old married couple. And to a certain extent there were a lot of similarities. They cooked meals for each other, alternated laundry at each others apartments and even slept in each others beds occasionally. On a purely platonic basis. One thing that could never be said about either Hutch or his partner was that they were anything other than red blooded males. It was another source of amusement that the two went through women like a kid goes through candy.

It wasn't that Hutch was a poor lover. On the contrary, he was one of the most sensitive guys around when it came to the opposite sex. It was just that with the odd hours they worked and the closeness he shared with Starsky, Hutch had never found a woman who understood enough to commit to a long term relationship. His partner had managed that once, but poor Terry had been shot in the head. A lesson to both men that a relationship left them and their loved ones open to any flake out on the streets.

So Hutch motored home on his own, wondering of his partner had arrived safely in New York and whether Rachel was well enough to come home from the hospital. He wondered whether to send her a bunch of flowers, and decided that tomorrow he probably would.

In the distance he saw a bunch of flashing lights and as he got nearer realised that there'd been an accident in the road. There were already black and whites at the scene along with an ambulance and he wondered whether he should stop and see if they needed help. Seeing so many gathered around, he decided against it and instead drove slowly round the obstruction and along the road, turning eventually onto his road and pulling up in his customary place outside his apartment block.

He stopped the car and got out, opening the big front door and flicking the light switch to the hallway. Nothing happened and he flicked it on and off another couple of times, irritated now that the janitor hadn't rectified this problem. No matter. He cautiously made his way along the short corridor and up the stairs, his eyes acclimatising to the dark. He'd lived here so long he knew each step anyway, so darkness wasn't a big deal.

He reached the top of the stairs and got to his front door, reaching onto the lintel for the key. He put it in the lock and turned it, but was surprised that the door was unlocked to begin with. Chastising himself for his carelessness, he opened the door and went in, taking his jacket off as he did. He reached around and switched the light switch. Again, nothing. He wondered what was going on. Was it a power out to the whole block? Hutch sighed and tried to remember where he'd put the candles and his torch.

He unclipped the stiff saddle leather holster from his waistband and shrugged it off his left shoulder, hanging the holster with gun still in it behind the door of his closet, negotiating carefully round his furniture to the kitchen to see if he could find the candles.

He tripped over a shoe lying in the way, cursing himself for his own untidiness and hung onto the kitchen countertop as he bent down to retrieve the torch from the cupboard.

Hutch didn't see the silent black shadow creep up behind him. He didn't hear as the figure lifted a heavy cosh high into the air. But as the implement hit a sidelong blow to his head he saw the stars, felt a flash of pain and then noticed the ground coming up to meet him very quickly.

The figure was joined by a second one, also dressed from head to toe in black. Between them, they took hold of the blonde's body, one holding the arms and one the legs and carried him from the apartment. Checking outside to see that no-one was around, they quickly carried the unconscious cop to a panel truck parked around the corner and threw him into the back, chuckling as the body made a satisfying thud against the metalwork. One of the figures got in beside Hutch and proceeded to bind duct tape round his ankles. It then pulled his arms savagely behind his back and taped the wrists there adding another loop just below the elbows so that there was no movement in the arms at all, and finally placing a blindfold over the eyes and sitting back to watch.

As the other figure set the truck in motion, the rocking of the vehicle brought the blond round. He was disorientated and at first he wondered what the hell had happened. He remembered looking for the torch, then....He tried to rub the sore spot on his temple, but realised his hands were bound behind his back. The motion of the van made him rock from side to side and aggravated the pain in his head adding to the discomfort in his chest which was stretched tight from the bonds round his elbows. He tried to open his eyes and saw only velvety blackness. Shit, he was blindfolded!

As he started to struggle to try and sit up the figure by his side swung an elbow into the blonde's midriff, expelling the air from his lungs forcibly. Hutch's body reflexively bent forward, curling round as he tried to protect himself from further damage.

'Ungh. Oh shit!......What the.......where am I?' he gasped painfully.

Another blow, this time enough to knock his head sideways against the side of the van, adding another bruise and making the blond retch. He lay still a moment, battling to catch his breath and trying hard not to loose his supper over the floor of the truck. The pain in his head made him sick to his stomach, and the blow to his middle made him wheeze as he fought to draw in enough air. He battled to bring his breathing under control.

'What ya doin?' he tried again, bracing himself for any more blows that may come his way.

There was a voice close to his ear. 'Shut it pig, or I'll shut it for ya'.

Hutch lay on his side and wondered just what the hell was going on. A small fear started to bloom in his mind. A vision of two broken and battered bodies, both male and blond, both with horrific injuries. Oh fuck, Hutchinson, what have you gotten yourself into? He tried to still his imagination, knowing that thinking about such things would only lead to panic and if he was going to get out of this he'd need a clear head. No-one knew he'd been taken, no-one would think to try and contact him till tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. And his partner was out of town. Sometimes he and Starsky had an almost telepathic ability. They'd joked about it more than once. But he wished some of it would rub off on the brunette now. Come back buddy, I need ya NOW.

The truck drove on for perhaps half an hour, although Hutch couldn't tell for sure. He rode out the pains in his head and stomach as well as he could, although the nausea was getting almost unbearable. He thought he may have a concussion, but realised that was probably the least of his worries right at that moment. He tried to remain calm. If he could reason with whoever had taken him, maybe he stood a chance of getting away.

The truck came to a stop and Hutch felt a cool breeze on his arms through his short sleeved shirt as he realised the doors to the truck had opened, then hands took hold of him and dragged him out of the van. He had no time to get his feet under him as the unseen men pulled him across a gravel area. The stones cut sharply at his knees and shins as he tried desperately to get to his feet, and he could feel the tiny tickle as blood started to trickle down his legs.

He felt the surface change and suddenly he was being pulled up steps and into a building. Along a corridor, up more steps and into a room. The hands holding him let him drop suddenly to the floor and an involuntary gasp escaped his lips. He tried to get to his knees, but with his feet and arms bound, he couldn't manage it and had to lie on his side on the ground, panting and gasping as he tried to calm his rapidly beating heart.

Hutch heard footsteps and felt another presence in the room. He stretched his neck, trying to see below the blindfold, but it was no use. He thought he felt something touch his body and wriggled round to try to find out what it was. A mistake. He felt the boot connect heavily with his ribs and felt something in his side gave way. There was sickening pain and he tried to curl himself into a foetal position to guard against other blows, but instead of attacking his chest again, he felt another agonising blow to his back, right over his kidneys.

Throughout the ordeal so far Hutch had kept his lips clamped shut, not wanting to give these suckers the satisfaction of hearing him scream, but the pain in his back was so intense that he couldn't hold the sound in. His body arched backwards against the blow and another foot connected again with his chest, targeting the same rib. He felt it move and knew he'd sustained some internal damage. He coughed with the pain, saliva stringing from his gasping mouth as he panted through the spasms. He spat onto the floor and those around him saw it was stained with blood.

Through gritted teeth he managed to stammer 'What do you....w want with me?'

He got no answer, but no other blows either. For a moment he lay in the terrifying darkness of the blindfold, the breath rasping through his teeth as he fought down the pain and fear. He tried again.

'Tell me.....what ya w want, punk'.

Silence again, then a hand in his hair, pulling his head back, stretching his neck taught. He tried desperately to breath past the pain lancing through his body, gasping as the hand pulled his neck an extra centimetre backwards.

'We want ya to suffer' a voice said as it slammed his head down on the ground and the world blessedly winked out.

Chapter 3

The world was a very painful place. Hutch knew that now and he tried hard to settle back into the grey place between sleeping and waking where he felt a measure of safety, but the constant aching in his head and the sharp pains in his chest and back made that simple task impossible. Instead he tried to open his eyes, but he realised that the blindfold was still in place and all he saw was the terrifying darkness. Being bound he could cope with. He could even withstand the beating to a certain extent, but the loss of his sight made the blond anxious and jumpy, his nerves jangling at each noise or other outside stimuli. For a moment he braced himself thinking that the beating was about to begin all over again. What had the guy said? We want you to suffer? Well ya got that pal he thought. Every bone in his body seemed to be throbbing and crying out for relief.

He felt that something had changed since he'd blacked out though. He was lying on his back now and his arms were no longer pulled uncomfortably behind him. He tried to move them, but was dismayed to discover that they were still tied, but this time to something that felt like bars alongside him. Instead of hard ground beneath him, he felt a softer surface. A mattress? Was he in some sort of bed?

He swallowed hard, trying to calm the panic he was still feeling and immediately felt something round his neck, like a wide collar anchoring him down. He felt a wave of increased panic pass over him as he felt a similar pressure across his chest and realised his ankles were also fastened. What the hell was going on now? He couldn't move more than an inch in any direction and the feeling of confinement only added to the panic as he struggled against the bonds. Although all were tight, they weren't digging into him, just holding him down effectively.

Suddenly he felt a hand on his forehead. He flinched away from it, expecting more pain, and scrunched his eyes up beneath the blindfold, biting back a gasp. But instead of administering more pain, the hand soothed him, gently running a cool cloth over his face and down to his neck above the collar. The hand continued down to his chest, all the time wiping the cool cloth across his skin. It felt so good after the maltreatment that for a fraction of a second Hutch wondered if it had all been some sort of nightmare and his body relaxed marginally. But then the hand gently pressed at his ribs and red pain flashed through his body again, causing another bout of coughing. Unable to sit up because of the restraints Hutch was unable to rid himself of the excess saliva and so he had to swallow it down again, noting the coppery taste of blood which accompanied it. He knew instinctively his rib had broken and was digging into his soft tissues. He groaned deeply as the hand continued down leaving a fiery blaze of pain in its wake. The blond suddenly realised that the hand was touching bare skin all the way down to his legs. Crap, he was naked! That was all he needed. Bad enough to be left in the hands of some sadistic bastards who wanted to hammer him into the ground, but to loose his clothes too! It left him feeling even more vulnerable and alone.

He realised the hand had stopped. He took a steadying breath, but realised he was getting more breathless by the minute, his chest rising and falling frantically as he fought for enough oxygen. Trying to ignore the pain from his damaged rib he licked his dry lips.

'llo?'

The hand was back, soothing his forehead again. A voice was speaking to him. 'Ssh, don't try to move, they've hurt you quite badly. Just try to relax and I'll take care of you'.

Hutch was confused. This voice was telling him to relax, but he was tied down to some sort of bed. How the fuck could he relax?

The woman's voce was still speaking. 'You have a broken rib and it's caused a haemothorax — blood in your chest. I'm going to have to relieve some of the pressure and put a drain in. You need to be still for me'.

Hutch was beside himself. He knew with his medical training that a haemothorax was not only dangerous; it was something that shouldn't be treated anywhere but in a hospital and he was damned sure he wasn't in a hospital room. No hospital he knew of would hold down a patient like this. He was sweating now as he struggled to get away, pulling ineffectually at the restraints round his wrists and ankles

'W where am I?' he gasped

'Don't worry, you're safe with me. I'll take care of you'.

There was something about that voice. Hutch tried to search his memory, but the pain was fogging his thinking. If he could just remember where he'd heard that voice before. It seemed so familiar to him, but he couldn't think why. He felt something cold on his side and the tiny shock caused him to inhale sharply, setting the pains going again. He realised he was having greater difficulty breathing and thought the diagnosis was probably right, but he'd have preferred to be dealt with in a hospital. He tried again.

'Why 'm I tied down?'

'That's for your own safety. I don't want you to hurt yourself'.

Oh that's rich, the blond thought. With a broken rib and God knows what else, they don't want me to hurt myself. Great.

He heard metal tinkling against metal and then cold and wet again on his side. The woman was back and obviously had some equipment with her.

'I'm going to evacuate the blood from your chest now and put in a drain' she said calmly and Hutch felt hands on his side, searching along his ribs for the appropriate spot. She seemed to know what she was looking for as he felt her draw an imaginary line from below his armpit across towards his nipple. Hutch felt her pause and then pick something up with her other hand.

'W wait. Ya gonna numb it?' he asked as he felt the cold metal on his skin. OK. Guess not he thought, trying to brace himself for the incision. He felt a push, a white hot pain and then something being stuffed into the opening. He gasped, unable to hold the sound in.

'Argh.....Oh shit......' he grunted as the hands pressed the tube of the drain into place.

Even though the operation had been almost barbaric in its lack of anaesthesia, the blond could almost immediately feel the benefits of the drain. Whoever this woman was, she seemed to know what she was doing, even if she wasn't the gentlest person in the world. He breathed a little deeper, experimentally. Although there was still the pain from the broken rib, he could breathe just a little deeper. He felt another small stinging pain as he realised she was suturing the drain into place. Then a pause and something being taped over the area.

'There now. Isn't that better' she asked him, the hands coming back to wipe the sweat from his forehead. 'Can you breathe better now?'

'Mm.....yeah....better'. Hutch was exhausted. 'Just....need to....sleep'. Between the beating he'd received and the ministrations from this woman, he wondered if he'd ever be able to inhabit a pain fee world again. And that voice. It battered at his unconscious. He should know it, but the name escaped him.

Instead he concentrated on where the hands were going next. He'd hoped they'd just leave him alone for a little. He was exhausted and just needed to be left alone. After that he'd be able to understand what they wanted of him, he was sure. But the hands were still there and he realised they were probably going to remain. There was a distinctly southerly direction to them and he felt her push gently at his belly just above his pelvis.

'Ungh...' anther pain he rode out as she pressed around the area.

'I think they bruised your kidney. I saw some blood. I need to put this catheter in, just so as your body can rest and get better' she explained.

Hutch wanted to tell her that a dose of antibiotics would work just fine, but he realised he was in no state to argue. He heard something being stripped from a wrapper then cold hands on Little Kenny as something even colder was swabbed around the tip. Hutch closed his mind to the horror of the invasion and tried not to think about what was happening to him as he felt the alien tip of the rubber tube pushing against his sensitive opening. He felt a burning as it pushed its way in and gasped as it seated at the entrance to his bladder.

Dear God what had he gotten himself into? This was like an insane asylum. Who was this woman and why was she treating him like this? Surely it would be easier if she just took him to a hospital and left him there. Why was he strapped down? And why was he still blindfolded? That scared him more than anything. He'd always hated being out of control, that feeling when you don't know what's going to happen next. And this was being out of control in the worst possible way.

He tried reasoning one more time.

'Where am I?' he asked again, his voice raw with pain and uncertainty.

The woman came back up to the head of the bed.

'I told you, you're safe. I'll look after you now'.

'Take the blindfold off........please?' he pleaded.

'Why would I want to do that?' she asked.

That chilled the blond to the bone. 'What? Because I don't like it?' he rasped.

'But you won't need me as much if you can see' the voice said.

The more he heard it, the more the voice seemed familiar. He needed to keep her talking.

'Ah....I'll always need you while I'm sick' he said, his mind racing now. 'Just take the blindfold off then I can see you, to thank you properly'.

'But you've seen me before' she said teasingly.

He felt her hands wandering over his body again. It sent goose flesh over his chest and down his arms as those fingers dappled over his skin, lightly dancing up over his chest and down to the top of his left arm. The fingers stopped, tracing the faint silvery scar across his muscle there. The fingers seemed to know about the scar and suddenly Hutch knew exactly who the vice belonged to. His breathing hiked up a notch as the skin on his belly crawled.

'D Diana? That you?'

Chapter 4

Gonzalez waited impatiently in the squad room for Hutch to show. He glanced at his watch for the tenth time that hour and then checked the time with the clock on the wall. No, they both showed the same time. Hutch was 45 minutes late. Gonzalez was beginning to get a little anxious. In the short time he'd known the blond he'd come to realise that Starsky was the one that was always late, not Hutch. In fact you could usually set your watch by the blond, he was so punctual.

Gonzalez had rung Hutch's apartment three times now, thinking maybe the blond had got up late, or was in the shower, but after he'd had no answer from the third attempt, he'd gone to the Metro and told Dobey. With all the hype about the 'Blond Murders' as they were being called, he had an ice cold feeling in the pit of his stomach. Dobey was making his own enquiries as Gonzalez waited and as he checked his watch yet again, Dobey's substantial mass came through the door into the squad room.

'Black and white called by his apartment, but he wasn't there. It's not like Hutchinson. I've put an APB out on him. I don't like this Gonzalez, not one little bit. Did he say he was going out last night?'

The big man shook his head. 'No. He said he was heading off home and I went down to RandI to get any information on the Mark Harley. There was nothing, by the way. It's either a false lead or a false name'.

Dobey grunted. 'I want you to get back over to his apartment and do a thorough search. The patrolmen were just doing a cursory run by. Let me know what you come up with'.

'What about Starsky?' Gonzalez asked. He knew the brunette would be beyond angry if he knew Hutch was missing and he wasn't told.

Dobey grunted. 'I know he's supposed to be looking after his Mother, but I wouldn't want to be around him when he found out we hadn't told him about Hutch's disappearance. I'll give him a ring. No doubt he'll be on the next available plane back'.

Gonzalez went back to Hutch's apartment and let himself in with the key Hutch left at work. Going into his friends lounge felt strange, like an invasion of the blonde's privacy and the big man had to steel himself to poke around and check out the various rooms. It was obvious the bedroom hadn't been used during the night and that worried Gonzalez a lot. He wandered out into the kitchen and felt at the kettle. It was stone cold and the cooker rings hadn't been on at all. Hutch hadn't made it home from the Metro the previous evening. He was sure of that. Going back outside and locking the door behind him, he went downstairs and out into the street. Hutch's car was parked outside in its customary spot, but there was no sign of a struggle, so he must have been taken somewhere between the car and his apartment.

Like a good detective, Gonzalez began working the case. He called at all the other apartments in the block asking if anyone had heard or seen anything the previous evening, but drew a blank. Casting his net wider, he checked the next buildings to either side, but got nothing there either. Finally frustration set in and he headed back to the precinct to let Dobey know the bad news.

As he got back to the big black man's office, he heard the tail end of a telephone conversation.

'.......so we'll expect you back tomorrow late afternoon. No, we're doing everything we can till then. Gonzalez has just got back. Look, just get your Mom organised and take your time. And Starsky........don't worry we've got it covered'.

Dobey put down the phone and looked up as Gonzalez entered.

'Starsky's coming back as soon as he can get his Mom fixed up with some care. If he could have grown wings, I think he'd have flown down here! You got anything?'

The Latino shook his head. 'Hutch obviously didn't make it back home last night, or if he did, he wasn't in it very long. No sign his bed had been slept in, no sign he'd set to making his super or breakfast. His car was still parked outside, but there was no sign of a struggle either in the building or the car. Whoever took him was quick. There was no blood anywhere so if they hurt him, it wasn't a gunshot or the like'.

Dobey wiped his face over with his handkerchief. 'So. Where do we go from here?' he asked.

Gonzalez sat down heavily in the chair opposite the desk. 'Well, we got the APB. I'm gonna go see Huggy, see if he's heard anything. We drew a blank with this name Harley, but I'll ask RandI to run a wider search. Maybe one of our regulars has another identity? I dunno. It's a start'.

'Go do that. I've informed the patch office if they get anything out the ordinary to let me know. Hope we get somethin' before Starsky gets back tomorrow. He's gonna be madder'n' hell'. Dobey drained the dregs from his cup of coffee and headed out for a refill.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Hutch had remained in the darkness of the blindfold since she'd left him. As the recognition of the voice finally sunk into his tired brain, he'd tried to keep his fear under control. He knew Diana Harmon was a mad woman. Since she'd seen him that one time at the hospital and sutured his hand, she'd stalked him continuously. His mind went back to his time with her

At first he'd felt flattered that she'd followed him to the bar and he'd introduced her to Starsky. He hadn't noticed that she completely ignored the brunette and sat with her eyes fixed on him all night. When he'd taken her back to her apartment and she'd gotten changed into her blue nightie, he'd thought all his birthdays had come at once. Not only was she caring, but beautiful too, with her thick auburn hair and large wide brown eyes. She'd laughed at all his jokes that first night and their love making in front of the fire had been slow and sensuous. But Hutch had expected it to be a one night stand whereas Diana wanted a long term commitment, weddings and children. It wasn't that Hutch was afraid of commitment. He just needed to choose the right girl carefully. He'd had one messy relationship with Vanessa. He was going to make damned sure he got the next one right. So at the end of the evening, he'd told her goodnight, let himself out after he'd retrieved his shirt and closed that page of his life.

It was more with horror than surprise that he'd found her in his apartment the next evening, cooking angel hair pasta at his stove, like she'd known him for years. Trying to be gentlemanly and not upset her, he'd agreed to go to the disco with her and Starsky and Kathy, but things had gone downhill from there. After the showdown at the Metro where she'd completely lost it, he thought he'd seen the last of her.

He didn't suspect anything the night she'd gotten into his apartment and it was like a scene from Psycho when she came at him in the shower with that knife. Afterwards, as his partner had manhandled her away from him and handed her over to the patrolman, he collapsed down on the floor, more in shock than anything. He'd managed to dry his hair and get some jeans on and drape a shirt over his shoulders and Starsky had taken him to the hospital. It was normally the brunette who needed hospital care and it was normally the brunette who wouldn't allow Hutch out of his sight while he was hurting. But that night the roles had been reversed.

Hutch hadn't been able to stop shaking, even though he'd gotten warm and dry. As the nurse approached him in the ER, he'd felt like a little kid waiting to go to the dentist. He remembered grabbing Starsky's arm and telling him not to leave, and the brunette had stayed by the side of the bed all the time he'd had the fifteen stitches put into the wound. The nurse had looked at him like he was seven shades of a coward, but he didn't care. Just at that moment, he needed his curly haired partner more than ever and he'd locked his eyes onto the brunette's deep indigo ones and lost himself there for a while.

Afterwards, when he'd gone to the hospital to see Lynda, he'd put a brave face on it. But the combination of the experience with Diana, and his fear of needles from the time he'd been strung out on heroine had been almost too much to hide and he'd almost run out of the place as soon as he'd been able, sweating and with his heart racing. Only Starsky ever really knew how much the whole thing had affected him, and he knew the brunette would keep the secret with him for ever.

And now, here he was in Diana's care again. She'd seemed so happy when he'd finally figured out who she was, like she'd been waiting for him to recognise her. She hadn't taken his blindfold off, but she'd held a straw to his lips and he'd gulped down some cool water. It felt wonderful against his parched throat and when he'd had another mouthful he managed to gasp at her

'What are you doing here?'

'They needed someone to take care of you, so they found out I was an Emergency Room nurse and brought me here' she explained.

'What d'ya mean "brought you here"?' he asked, something not quite ringing true in his head.

'They just came for me and brought me here' she explained. 'I don't know where "here" is and I was so scared till they brought you to me. But I'll look after you now, don't worry. Just rest'.

'Who are they?' he asked, trying to get his thoughts in order. It was difficult to think clearly through the pain and he wanted to rub his eyes, to get some clarity, but of course his hands were secured. 'How many of 'em are there?'

'There's two men, but I don't know who they are' she said, although her voice didn't seem particularly scared. 'They said they were going to hurt you. But don't worry, I'll make you better, honest I will'. She was babbling now.

'S'ok' he managed to grunt as another wave of pain took him and shook him. 'Just give me somethin' for the pain huh?'

'Oh no, I'm sorry, I can't do that. The doctors said I could use all the equipment, but they won't let me near the drugs'.

'Ya mean there's doctors here?' he wondered just where the hell he'd come to, when there were doctors who let a man get beaten up in their hospital.

'No, silly! The doctors aren't here. I'm here. Your fiancÚ. I told the two men what a coincidence it was. I thought they'd leave you alone, but it just seemed to make them madder' she explained.

Hutch froze. What had she just said? FiancÚ? Oh no no no. Not again. Please not again.

He had to try to explain. To get things straight between them before he could think of an escape plan.

'Diana, honey' he started carefully. 'I'm sorry if I ever lead you on, truly I am, but you're not my fiancÚ. Ya never have been. I don't have a girlfriend'.

He felt the movement at his side and knew she'd stood up, feeling her anger.

'You're with that trollop again aren't you? That Lynda. I thought I'd seen her off, but you're just a womanising monster Kenneth Hutchinson'.

And with that, he felt her brush past him and leave him in the darkness.

Chapter 5

Hutch didn't know how long he'd lain there. The darkness wasn't quite so frightening any more and now he hugged it to him like a kind of security blanket. In the darkness there was no —one to hurt him. He felt his body stiffening up as the bruises across his back and chest developed. If he tried to move his body he felt the drag of the drain still in his chest and her words came chillingly back to him. The Doctors let me use the equipment but they don't let me near the drugs. He still couldn't get a handle on where he was, but he was pretty sure it wasn't a regular hospital.

Diana had been back once to see him. She'd run her fingers over his chest and had poked a little at the chest drain and done something with the catheter, but she didn't speak to him, which was chilling in itself. She'd obviously decided that the drain had done its job, because he heard a trolley being wheeled next to him, the tinkling of instruments, then the sickening feeling as she'd pulled the tube out of his side. He knew then that he must have been there at least 24 hours for the drain to have had any effect. Even when she'd finished and he'd managed to say 'thank you' she'd ignored him and he knew she was sulking at him. Great, he thought. That's all I need. A psycho nurse who's pissed at me!

His mind drifted in the blackness after that and he never truly relaxed as every small noise made him freeze and hold his breath, wondering what was happening. From the numbness in his body from the inability to move, he thought he might have been there on his own about another 12 hours after Diana had been back, although they were some of the longest hours of his life. He'd kept himself occupied by trying to go over the moments leading up to his capture, but try as he might, he couldn't remember anything about the two men, or what they'd done or said to give a clue as to why they wanted him. They hadn't asked him any questions, just beat him to a pulp and left him. And why had they taken Diana? Although he wasn't fond of her, he wished her no harm, and knew that if he had the chance to get himself out of this shit, he'd take her with him. After that, to keep his mind occupied and his fear levels under control he'd taken to reciting times tables, poems and songs in his head. Just to keep himself sane. To do nothing would be to admit defeat and that was something he'd never do, not so long as he lived.

He felt a change and again knew there was someone in the room with him. His hearing seemed to have grown more acute now that his eyes were covered. He braced himself.

'Diana. That you?'

'Yes my sweet. How do you feel? Do you need anything?'

He almost laughed out loud. Of course he needed something. He needed to get out of this hellhole. But he knew he needed to play this cute if he wasn't to get her angry again.

'Drink? I could really do with a drink...honey'.

She was there immediately with the straw again, holding it to his lips as he felt the glorious cool trickling down his throat.

'Is that better?' she asked, taking the drink away.

'Diana', he started gently 'will you let me up? I promise I won't do anything; I just need to move my arms 'n' legs a bit. They're numb'.

He heard a sigh. 'I can't release your arms, but let me see what I can do elsewhere'. He felt her touching the bindings round his left ankle and suddenly it was free of the restraint. He felt her hands round his joint, lifting his leg and making it bend at the knee, flexing his leg back and forth. It was agonising after the inactivity of the last 36 hours and his muscles protested every movement, but she kept on going, seemingly pleased as she heard him bite back the gasp. After a few minutes of the exercise, she buckled the restraint back round the left leg and repeated the process with the right, and again the blond fought the painful sensations and grunted as the pains threatened to overcome him. By the time she'd finished he was sweating and gasping again.

'Is that better, my sweet?' she asked.

'F fine' he stammered, 'but why don't ya just let me up huh?'

'I told you, they won't let me' she replied sharply. 'Don't argue with me Ken. Just let me look after you'.

He tried again, with an even gentler tone of voice. 'Will you at least take the blindfold off?'

'Tomorrow, maybe' she whispered, bending down to gently kiss him. 'Anything for my fiancÚ'.

The kiss creeped Hutch out more than anything and his frustration broke his resolve. 'I'm not your fiancÚ' he yelled, frightened, fed up and in pain. Hutch had come to the end of his patience and struggled against his bonds again, almost strangling himself as he tried to get up.

He knew it was a mistake as soon as he'd said it, and felt her leave, pushing past him in his darkness.

'No. Diana, don't go. Please. I didn't mean it' he gasped, but he knew she didn't want to hear him and for the next however many hours he was once again on his own.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Back at the Metro a curly haired whirlwind was aiming for the squad room. As Starsky pushed through the doors, Gonzalez met him and they both shouldered their way into Dobey's office.

'What ya got?' the brunette asked as he flung himself down into the chair in the corner of the room. Dobey and Gonzalez filled him in on what they knew so far which was pitifully little.

'So, where do we go from here?' he asked at the end of the explanation. Starsky had spent some of the worst hours of his life waiting for the plane, then the interminable flight back down to Bay City. His Mom had understood completely when he'd explained about Hutch. She treated him as a third son anyway, so as soon as he'd gotten a neighbour to look after her, Starsky had booked his ticket, re-packed his bags and hot footed it back home. As he'd fidgeted in his airplane seat, his mind had gone back over the facts he knew from the other 'Blond Murders' and those facts left him feeling sick to his stomach. The thoughts of his partner being subjected to some of the injuries those other men had suffered made him shudder and he sent out a silent prayer, hoping that whatever God was looking down would smile kindly on the blond.

When the plane landed he took a taxi home, picked up his Torino and sped to the precinct, anxious for any news. And now, he was staring at his blue Adidas, trying to make any sense out of the jumble of non related facts they had at their disposal.

'Ya say there was no blood in his apartment or his car?' Starsky asked, seeking clarification from Gonzalez.

'No. And no sign of a struggle, so whoever took him surprised him and incapacitated him somehow'.

'Hm. More 'n' likely they either drugged him or hit him over the head' the brunette mused, not liking either scenario very much. 'Cap, I'm gonna go over there an' look around again'. He smiled over at Gonzalez. 'Not that I don't trust ya, its just I know him an' know what to look for'.

Gonzalez held up his hands. 'Hey don't apologise Bro. Just go for it'. I got nada, but I hope you find something — anything. We all want him back in once piece.

So Starsky went back to Hutch's apartment and let himself in to that familiar space. It felt too empty without the blond there and the thoughts of Hutch being missing sent a shiver up his spine. The last time anything like this had happened, Hutch had spent a day and a night under the wreckage of his car after it was run off the road. It'd taken him a long time to recover full use of his leg after that serious break and even now, when the weather was really cold it still caused him to limp sometimes. But this time, his battered brown LTD was still outside his apartment.

Starsky sat down on the couch, leaned back and closed his eyes, trying to define something — anything from the room. He breathed deeply and Hutch's scent was there. The oh so familiar perfume which was a mix of Sandalwood soap, hair shampoo and Paco Rabanne that was essentially Hutch. He got up and wandered round, opening drawers and doors. As he pulled open the door to the closet, he saw the holster and gun hanging on its customary hook. Just that one sight brought a lump to the brunette's throat. Hutch never went anywhere without his gun, and just seeing it hanging there made the situation all the more real.

Realising he'd not get anything more out of being there, Starsky closed the apartment door behind him and got into his car. Making a swift decision, he headed uptown to the Pits. He needed a stiff drink and a friendly face and he knew he'd get them both from Huggy.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

In a room at the house, the voices were having another discussion.

'How is he?'

'Sore, but he'll live'.

'Is he gonna do what you want?'

'Don't think so, he still won't admit it'.

'So what do you want us to do?'

'He's still healing from the last beating. Leave him till tomorrow, then we'll try again'.

'What if he won't admit it?'

'If we work him over enough he'll admit anything!'

'Aint that a fact?'

'Any requests?'

'I'll leave that to you. You got his ribs good last time, so better leave them alone for now. Ya wanna try for his legs this time?'

'Yeah. I can work with that'.

'OK. Tomorrow it is then'.

Chapter 6

Hutch was noticing a pattern now. It was a painful pattern, but a pattern nonetheless. He'd lost count of the days (or was it weeks) he'd been there now, but he soon came to realise that each time he annoyed Diana, the two goons would come for him and work him over. The first time it had been a simple process of unbuckling the restraints and dragging him to his feet. He'd been tied down so long that he couldn't move his legs readily and they'd dragged him back into another room, still blindfolded.

He'd felt someone attach metal cuffs to his wrists and then he fought as he felt his hands being raised over his head and secured there. He felt a wall against his back and leaned against it as the pins and needles in his numb legs caused him to constantly move his weight from one foot to the other. His arms were pulled tight above his head and the position put added strain on his broken rib, causing deep agonising flashes of pain each time he breathed. He tried to keep his movements to a minimum, but it was difficult to keep his balance as he fought to acclimatise to being upright again. His head swam from being vertical after lying down for so long and the disorientation was added to by the fact that he still couldn't see anything.

He waited, wondering what they were going to do to him. What they were going to ask him. He thought that whatever it was would be painful and he tried to brace himself for it. His partner had once described how they'd been taught in the Army to build mental barriers and he tried now visualising putting blocks in place to defend him against the onslaught. He didn't have to wait long as he felt a sudden blow across his shins. He thought they were using a piece of wood or metal. Whatever it was it hurt so damned much. He sucked his breath in between his teeth, riding the white sparkling pain as best he could, sweat beading across his whole body as he slid another mental block into place.

'Oh shit......What the hell do ya want with me?' he shouted through the red haze of pain. 'Fuck...Just tell me what ya fuckin' want'.

But there was silence from his two tormentors and another blow landed in the same place. The fact that he couldn't see what they were doing added to the pain and as each blow landed, he found he couldn't hold back the screams. They seemed to spur the men on and the blows fell faster and faster until one pain seemed to run into the next as his sweat soaked body jangled and jerked on the end of the chain attaching his wrists to the wall.

Hutch lost count after the seventh blow. His body was sagging against the wall and his full weight was supported from his wrists. As the blows had reigned down on him, he tried desperately to dance out of the way and free his hands and now he could feel a warm trickle of blood down his arms from the tears around the skin of his wrists. Sweat dripped down his chest and made little puddles on the floor around him. The salty fluid ran down the sides of his face too, stinging his eyes and dripping from the dark golden bangs across his forehead. It soaked the material of the blindfold making it even more uncomfortable. Another blow now and as that one struck he again felt the sickening sensation of something giving, and he realised his right shin had probably broken.

'Uhngh......no. No more, please no more' he moaned into the blindfold, his whole body alight with pain. He'd screamed his voice raw, each blow forcing the almost inhuman sound from between his lips. His head hung down between his taught arms as he gasped for each breath. He hated himself for pleading with his captors, but he was almost at the end of his resistance. He knew he was so close to passing out now and in a way he longed for the darkness and for the emptiness to claim him and take him away from this personal hell. But another part of his mind was afraid of what they might do to him while he was unconscious.

Seemingly satisfied that they'd done sufficient damage to his legs, and noticing that the tortured screams had weakened some, the two men waited a moment, watching the blond gasping to catch his breath as he hung from the metal handcuffs. As he lifted his head wearily, the taller man stepped forward and rammed his fist into Hutch's stomach, driving any remaining breath from his body and sending the blond spiralling down into blackness.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Starsky was pacing the office, running his fingers through his chocolate coloured curly hair.

'Cap it's been ten days an' we're no further forward. There's no sign of him. It's like he's just disappeared off the face of the earth'. The brunette stopped his pacing and leaned down over Dobey's desk. 'Where the hell is he?'

Dobey could feel Starsky's pain and felt just as lost himself. They'd tried every avenue they could think of, but there was just no news, no leads. None of the snitches the two men usually used had any information at all. No-one knew of a Mark Harley and since Hutch's disappearance there had been no more blond murders.

'Well, at least we haven't found him dead' Dobey said, trying to find a positive to fix on.

'No, that's probably coz they're still havin' fun with him Cap. You saw what the other bodies were like. They'd been beaten and tortured before they were killed. Both the guys had only been missing a couple of days. Hutch has been gone ten. If they're doing this to him, he's gonna be in a bad way'.

'I know, Starsky, but we've tried every avenue an' still nothin'. I've had extra patrols out lookin' but they've got nowhere. I don't know what else to do'.

Starsky was thinking. 'What about perps he's put away over the years? Have any of them got out recently? Have any of 'em had a similar M.O. before?'

Dobey shook his head. 'It's worth a try. At this point anything is worth a try' he reached for the phone and put the request through to RandI, asking for all Hutch's arrest files to be pulled. There were the usual moans and groans form the guys in the records office, but when they knew they'd be doing it to help Hutch, they shut up and redoubled their efforts.

Within an hour, Dobey's desk was piled high with buff coloured files. Starsky peered over the top of them.

'Didn't realise we'd been such busy boys. Do we get a bonus or somethin'?' he asked.

'Humph. You should be so lucky! OK let's go through these. You pull all those still locked up an' I'll take those who're dead or definitely out of the area'.

They worked in silence for the next three hours, Dobey averaging ten files per cup of coffee. At the end of that time, they'd reduced the pile by about three quarters.

'OK, now what?' the brunette asked stretching his back to ease out the kinks and rubbing his hand over the back of his neck.

'Now we read the M.O.s and hope one matches' Dobey grunted and sighed as he looked at the still substantial mound in front of him.

Starsky shrugged. 'Well, sooner we start, sooner we get through and find Blondie'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Hutch awoke and groaned deeply. He couldn't find a single part of his body that didn't hurt with a vengeance, but something was different. He could see! Not clearly for the room was very dimly lit, but it was such a relief to have that damned blindfold off his head that for a moment he almost felt like laughing. That feeling lasted mere seconds however, as he raised his head slightly and looked down his body.

There was a large white dressing taped over the side of his ribs where Diana had inserted, then removed the chest drain. Beneath the dressing and appearing in a large margin around the edges was a dark purple bruise which he estimated must have been about twelve inches across. Next to it and a little further to the middle and down another large fresher bruise was blooming and his usually flat stomach was slightly swollen beneath it. He could see a lot of smaller bruises down his chest, stomach and flanks, in various colours ranging from purple and navy blue to sickly shades of yellow and green.

He saw that the restraints still held his wrists to the bed, this time with white bandages beneath them, where the injuries he'd caused to his wrists had been dressed. Another strap was secured around his chest, but he couldn't feel the one round his neck and he luxuriated in the simple pleasure of moving his neck from side to side. His ankles were free, but as he looked down he realised why. His shins from just below the knee to his ankles were bruised and bloody, gore oozing from multiple wounds across his lower legs. Seeing the injuries brought the pain and he groaned again, screwing his eyes up against the assault on his senses. He was near the end of his human responses and whimpered to himself. Dear God, somebody help me. Starsk where are you buddy? If ever there was a time, its now. Coz if you don't get here fast, I think it'll be too late.

He saw a movement in the shadows to his side and knew that Diana was back. She came over to him and stroked his forehead, smiling into his eyes.

'Hello there, my sweet' she cooed.

'D Diana, get me.......out of here' he gasped between breaths as she ran her fingers down his chest.

'Oh I can't do that sweet. But I can look after you' she repeated as her hands got down to his shins.

'Aaah' he yelped as her hands gently probed the wounds there. 'Oh sweet Jesus don't' he ground out between gritted teeth.

'I know it hurts' she said softly, busying herself now with cotton swabs and water in a bowl. She added a white powder to it and stirred it gently around and too late Hutch realised it was salt.

Picking up a cotton swab she dipped it into the salt water, and then ran it over the raw wounds on his legs. Hutch's body bucked against the restraints on the bed as sweat broke out all over his body. He screamed again and again as she repeatedly dipped the swab into the water and bathed his wounds.

Hutch found the pain so intense that his body shivered and jerked involuntarily even after she'd finished her ministrations. She came back to the head of the bed and rested her hand on his chest, seeing it was slick now with sweat. With the other hand she reached up a thumb and gently wiped the pain tears from his cheeks.

'I told them not to do this to my fiancÚ' she said softly. 'That's what you are isn't it my sweet? Tell me what you are to me'.

Hutch's world had gone mad. He could no longer make any sense of anything, his mind slipping away into a warm and empty vacuum where pain couldn't touch him. Why was it so important to her to have him say he was her fiancÚ? He couldn't say it. He wouldn't say it. Right at that moment he hated her almost as much as he hated the two men who caused him such pain.

He gathered himself and rasped at her with a voice raw from screaming. 'Not your.... f fiancÚ. N never was'.

He knew she was mad again, but wasn't prepared for what came next.

Chapter 7

'Zebra three, zebra three, see the man called Bear at the corner of twelfth and Chandler'.

Starsky grabbed the mic. 'Will do Minnie. Zebra three out'. He slapped the Mars light on the roof of the striped tomato and set the sirens blaring as he executed a neat U turn in the road and headed back towards town. Screeching to a halt at the given address, he saw the tall lanky frame of Huggy Bear standing on the corner and saw the barman wave and come over to the car.

Huggy got in and sank into the passenger seat, resting his elbow on the window frame and propping his head on his hand.

'So, what ya got Hug?' the brunette asked impatiently.

'You're not gonna like it amigo' Huggy said. 'I overheard two punters in my bar talking about an escape from the mental hospital upstate. Three absentees, one I've never heard of one whose name we know and one woman'.

'Yeah? What's this got to do with Hutch?'

'Well the guys name is Mark Harley. No prison form but he obviously got sent to the nut house for somethin'. It's the woman, Starsky. The woman that escaped and is on the loose with these two psychos is one Diana Harmon' he let the news hang in the air as the brunette absorbed it before slamming his hands against the steering wheel.

'That fucking bitch. Oh God. Ya think she's got him somewhere?'

'I dunno my man, but it seems too much of a coincidence' Huggy said thoughtfully. 'I got ya the address of the hospital. Thought you'd want to go. Ya want company?'

Starsky smiled a tight smile. 'Thanks Hug. That'd be good'. He turned the car back out onto the highway and gunned the engine.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Diana hadn't liked it when Hutch had told her he'd never be her fiancÚ. That was all she'd ever wanted. All the time they'd been giving her the treatments at the hospital she'd fantasised about the blond and how one day he'd be reliant on her for everything. So when he'd said that, she knew he'd have to be even more reliant. She re-buckled the padded leather restraint around his neck as he'd struggled to free his hands. Going back to the cupboard where she kept all her medical paraphernalia she took out a long metal tipped tube with a spigot on the end and a roll of tape.

She came back over to him and lovingly stared into his eyes. She placed one hand on his forehead, further immobilising his head and pushed the tip of the tube up into his nostril.

Hutch felt the invader and his stomach clenched. Shit, no. not this, but the tube was going higher, making his eyes water as it touched the top of the inside of his nose. He felt it pass down into the Eustachian tube leading from his nose and then he gagged as it tickled his throat.

Diana grasped his head harder. 'You need to swallow it down now sweet' she said lovingly and Hutch swallowed once as he felt the tube pass down his throat and continue its journey down into his stomach. Before she taped it to his cheek, she took a syringe and attached it to the end of the tube withdrawing the plunger. Satisfied she had stomach contents and not air, meaning the tube was where it should be and not in his lungs, she taped it down, tied the blindfold round his eyes again and left without another word. Now he was all hers, completely at her mercy for food, water and even for his toilet as the catheter was still in place.

He felt objectified, like a piece of meat. He felt like his whole personality had been taken away from him and he was nothing more that a practitioners doll for her to play her sick nurse games on. In his darkness and loneliness he felt tears of frustration and fear prickle at his eyes, and then angrily he stopped himself. There was no way she was going to dehumanise him like this. He was stronger than Diana, more astute. She wanted him to admit he was her boyfriend, her fiancÚ. But even though that might mean an end to some of his pain, Hutch knew that to say those words would rip his identity from him once and for all. He needed to battle to the end because he had a feeling that there was going to be no miracle rescue from this one. He'd been here for so long now. He knew his partner would be looking for him, but how long can one man look? Sooner or later Starsky would come to the conclusion that Hutch was dead. If he was going to die, he'd do it his way, even if it was the most painful option, he'd have the satisfaction of knowing he'd never given in.

Hutch swallowed convulsively against the foreign object in his throat. He felt like he needed to swallow it down, but of course he just couldn't get rid of it. It irritated in his nose and vied with all the other pains and discomforts in his body. He felt sure his right leg was broken now and she'd left his legs without drying them so the salt water was still biting sharply at his skin, but she hadn't re-buckled the restraints round his ankles and he experimentally moved his left leg, enjoying just for a moment the simple sensation of being able to flex his knee after it had been fastened down for so long. It hurt more than he thought possible, but she'd made one tiny mistake and the thought that she may eventually make others added a spark of hope to Hutch's feverish mind.

Coupled with all his other injuries, he knew he was indeed starting with a fever. His chest still wasn't healing well and he thought he may have the start of pneumonia to add to his troubles. Grimly he realised that of the maltreatment didn't kill him, the lack of drugs to cure him surely would.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Diana made her way back into the other room where the two other men were sitting paying cards. They looked up as she entered.

'Well? Has he come to his senses yet?' one asked her.

'Not yet, but nearly' she said. 'Another round of treatment from you two and he'll realise he can't live without me looking after him. Then he'll have to admit he's my boyfriend and that we'll marry.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Starsky and Huggy had radioed in to the Metro and spoken to Dobey telling him of the information about Harley, Harmon and the other man.

'We're heading up to the hospital now Cap' the brunette said as he nursed his big car round the bends in the road. 'Soon as we know anything, I'll call' He put the mic. down and concentrated on his driving.

Huggy had driven with the curly haired cop before, but never when Starsky had been in such a hell fire rush to get to a place. He hung on as the brunette flung the car round corners, his head connecting more than once with the window to his side.

Within an out, they'd reached Brock Hurst Institution for the Criminally Insane. It was a large modern building set out in the countryside, obviously in an attempt to give the residents some attempt at a decent quality of life. Starsky drove up the long driveway and parked at the front of the imposing main building. The two men got out and climbed the steps to ring the doorbell.

Starsky was more than acquainted with these types of places and had been in similar establishments twice. Once as a patient when he and hutch had been undercover at Cabrillo and once when Ross, an old girlfriend had become deranged.

They waited until the intercom sounded and a disembodied voice asked for their names and business. Starsky gave the information and within a minute the large secure door was opened by a doctor in a white coat. He allowed Starsky and Huggy inside and closed the door firmly behind him, checking the locks. Once happy all was secure, he shook hands with both men and introduced himself.

'Good afternoon. I'm Dr Jacobs'.

Starsky introduced himself and Huggy and followed the doctor into a small consulting room off the main corridor. They sat down around a small table and Dr Jacobs poured a coffee for them all, then sat beck expectantly.

'We have reason to believe that you are missing three of your inmates' the brunette began, but was stopped as the doctor held up a silencing hand.

'They're residents, detective Starsky. 'Inmates denotes someone who is incarcerated as punishment'.

It was like a red rag to a bull and Huggy cringed inwardly as the hot headed brunette leaned forward in his chair and slammed his coffee cup down on the table, brown fluid spilling in a puddle by its side.

'Three of your inmates doctor are missing and I know what they've been up to. I just need information from you on how to find 'em' he spat as the doctor took an involuntary move backwards.

'And what exactly do you mean "up to" he asked as mildly as he could. 'Harley Harmon and Snape have been on the register for privileges now for some time. They've all shown a marked improvement in their behaviour over the last year'.

Starsky fished into his jacket pocket and brought our colour polaroids. He laid them out side by side on the table. 'Hope you have a strong stomach, Doc. This is what your three well behaved people have been playing at while you've been sat up here in your ivory tower congratulating yourselves on what a good job you've been doin'.

The doctor glanced sideways at the pictures of the two mutilated bodies, then put his hand over his mouth and turned away.

'It ain't pretty, is it?' the brunette asked, calming himself.

'They...they couldn't have' Doctor Jacobs stammered. 'They were dong so well. Those men.....they're....dead?'

'Oh yeah, dead as the proverbial dodo. But they got looked after for a while first. That's Harmon's work isn't it?'

The doctor looked shell shocked. 'I never thought it would lead to this, Oh God, what've they done' he was muttering to himself.

Starsky put his face up close to the doctor's. 'Where'd she get the stuff to do all that huh?' he asked.

The doctor focussed his eyes, seeming to come back from a trance. 'It was all part of her therapy' he explained. 'She needed to feel useful. Diana has a need to feel that she's needed. She has a disease called Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. It's a disorder where patients, usually someone who has taken on a caring role, fabricate symptoms in others, thus subjecting them to unnecessary medical tests and/or surgical procedures. In some cases, the patients also inflict injury themselves and can even kill in the process. But she was doing so much better. We gave her the equipment to play with, so that she could feel that she was fulfilling a caring role again. She must have saved it up some way. But we never gave her drugs, juts the equipment'.

Starsky's voice was cold as ice. 'And the other two?'

I didn't think they knew Diana. They were two men from different walks of life who both suffered from sadism'.

'What, you mean like in those kinky clubs?' Huggy asked.

'No, no' the doctor explained. 'in the original sense, sadism describes a psychiatric disorders characterized by feelings of sexual pleasure or gratification when inflicting suffering upon the self. Both Harley and Snape had tendancies towards sadism, but again, they seemed to be improving so much.

'Hm, seems like a marriage made in heaven, to me' Starsky chuckled grimly. 'Snape and Harley work 'em over and Diana tries to put 'em back together again. Doc, we gotta find 'em now. Diana stalked my partner, Ken Hutchinson last year. She ended up trying to kill him because he didn't love her. Now he's missing and has been for eleve days now. I think they have him'.

Jacobs nodded. 'yes, it would fit. Diana had a tendancy to beccome fixated with things or people. If she has been fixated on Detective Hutchinson, they may well have taken him'.

'Swell. Where do we start looking?'

Chapter 8

Hutch's mind was ebbing away, he could feel that now and he didn't know what scared him most: the fact that he was loosing it, or the fact that he realised he was loosing it. Diana had left him alone again after she'd forced the naso-gastric tube down him, but she'd come back later that day and been all sweetness and light again.

Carefully she'd taken the collar from round his neck and also the one from round his chest, which he found disconcerting, but he rode with it for a while. Tenderly she bent over him and kissed his dry and cracked lips. 'You must be hungry' she said, running her fingers through his hair.

Hutch couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten, although she'd kept him supplied with water. In fact once of her little diversions was to have him drink a gutful, then clamp off the catheter and wait until the cramps in his stomach made him writhe and cry out. His temperature was spiking now and in his lucid moments, he knew he had another infection down there too, to add to the burgeoning pneumonia. In a grim moment of clarity he wondered if it was such a good idea to have some medical knowledge because what he knew scared the crap out of him.

He saw Diana take hold of the spigot end of the NG tube and affix a syringe, clamping the tube closed to stop any air becoming trapped. Deftly she poured some clear fluid into the syringe, then unclamped the tube and let it flow into his stomach. He waited a moment. Internalising the odd sensation, when suddenly his stomach started to heave and he realised why she undone the restraints. He was barely able to push himself to one side before he lost the meagre contents of his stomach over the floor.

He rolled back onto his back again, gasping for breath as he realised she must have poured salt water or similar down the tube. He whimpered to himself, no longer ashamed to show his weakness. He'd had just about as much nursing as he could stand and he wanted out, now. If she wanted to kill him, he'd let her. He'd even welcome it and in his delirium he cried out 'Just let me die for Christ's sake'.

She was buckling the restraints round his neck and chest again, wiping his lips carefully with a cool cloth.

'Now why would I want to let you die?' she said conversationally. 'You're my fiancÚ, I need to make you well'.

Hutch rolled his head on the table. There was a sore raw spot there now and he knew he had pressure sores all down his back, his shoulders, hips and heels from lying in one position for so long. 'Go....to....hell' he rasped as he watched her leave the room angrily. The brief show of defiance warmed him for a moment and gave him back a measure of self esteem.

Hutch knew, however, what would happen next and sure enough, within a few minutes the two men arrived. They quickly untied him and jerked him brutally off the table and back into the torture room, as he'd come to call it. He had no fight left in him and allowed the rough hands to manhandle him as they pleased.

This time was different. They sat him in a chair, still blindfold and tied his wrists to the arms and his ankles to the front legs. Hutch waited breathing quickly as he strained to hear what they were going to do next. He heard them muttering quietly together then, felt a sensation of them being close to him again. His senses quested out around him, trying to define where they were and what they were going to do. He felt a hand take hold of his little finger on his right hand. He tried to jerk it out of the way, but the hand held it down, then slowly began to pull the finger backwards towards the back of his hand. He felt it reach almost to right angles with his hand, then there was a sickening snap and a white hot blaze of pain as the finger broke.

Hutch's body bucked in the chair as sweat broke out all over him. He screamed then groaned low in his throat as he tried to ride out the pain. It was no use asking them what they wanted. They never answered him, never asked any questions. The unseen hands just pulverised his body into so much raw meat. Hutch felt the hands there again, this time holding his ring finger and pulling it back. His mind recoiled at the horror as he tried to get away from these monsters.

'NOOOOOOOOOOO' he yelled as the next finger broke and the hands came back for more. Over and over a total of ten times, the action was repeated until every one of Hutch's fingers and thumbs was broken and standing out at odd angles from his hands. His mind had withdrawn in on itself and although the voice screamed with every violation, Hutch seemed to be watching the process from a long way away. Although he felt the pain and knew what was going on, his brain couldn't take in any more of the horror and had taken him away to a different place.

As the final finger broke, the dam burst in the blonde's head and darkness claimed him. As he felt the emptiness take him he wished it could be for the last time, his ravaged body being unable to take any more and his mind now unable to comprehend the world around him.

He felt himself being carried back to the table and fastened back down and then there was a whole other realm of pain as Diana tried her best to reset, splint and bandage his destroyed hands. All the time she was ministering to him, he found he was in another place. He was aware of what was going on, but his mind sought out solace in the familiar.

Slowly, words surfaced and as she took off the blindfold and put out the light, leaving him alone, he started to sing quietly and shakily to himself.

'All I want is black bean soup and........

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Doctor Jacobs had give Starsky and Huggy several ideas of where the three escapees might be and the two men had spent the best part of the next three days going from house to house, checking addresses, acquaintances and the families of the two men and Diana. Neither man had had very much sleep and now they were both sitting once again in the Torino drinking coffee and regrouping.

Starsky scratched his fingernails over the three day growth of dark stubble on his chin and finished by rubbing his fingers over his eyes.

'I dunno Hug. We've tried every address the Doc. gave us, plus more that the other residents have supplied us with and nothin' We're missing somethin' and I don't know what'. He slammed his hands down on the steering wheel in frustration.

Huggy too was exhausted. The whites of his eyes were coloured red and his usual pristine appearance had gone, to be replaced by open collar and rolled up sleeves, his own five o'clock shadow rivalling that of the brunette's. 'Just lets go over this one more time. Three people. Two who like dispensin' pain an' one who fancies herself as the next Dr Kildare. The two bodies we found both had some of their injuries cared for, so she has some equipment with her and.......'

Starsky froze. 'That's it Hug. The medical equipment. Where's she getting' all the equipment? They wouldn't have given her a whole bunch of stuff all at once, so where's she getting' it from huh?' he reached for the car mic.

'Minnie honey, patch me through to Dobey......Cap? Where's Diana getting all her medical stuff from? Can you run a report on any hospitals or pharmacies who've reported stolen items? Yeah I'll wait'.

The brunette spent long moments holding the mic. and drumming his fingers on the steering wheel before Dobey's voice came back

'Starsky? Yeah, we got one pharmacy, two blocks south of Memorial Hospital on Bayside Road East. I'm sending a Black and White now for any more information'.

'On my way Cap' Starsky flung the mic.down and spun the car round, racing back towards the city.

'So now we got an address of a pharmacy, what we gonna do with that?' Huggy asked.

'We check all the surrounding houses. We see who's lived there a long time, who's just moved in. We go back to old fashioned grunt work and work the streets' Starsky spat out, thankful now that he had some sort of lead.

It took him just over half an hour to get back to Bayside Road East and another 15 minutes to set up an incident desk and co-ordinate the patrolmen to start the house to house search. Although not confident that this would work, Starsky was happy to be doing something. The pharmacy owner had told him they'd had a lot of small items of equipment and devices stolen over the past month, but had at first put it down to petty pilfering. It wasn't until the patrolman had asked the question that he'd put two and two together and come up with the right answer.

Over the next couple of hours, the patrolmen came and went as the brunette crossed addresses off his search grid, eliminating house after house. He was beginning to think that this was a wild goose chase when a young officer came panting into the small room he'd set up.

'Detective, I think I have something. I was questioning a little old lady at a house over on Channing. She was in the middle of telling me she didn't sleep well at night and had to get up frequently. She told me she had some new neighbours in the house opposite — two men and a woman, and the woman wore a nurses white uniform'.

Starsky was on his feet, almost knocking the small table over in his excitement. 'Terrific work, Pete, show me where, then go get some back up and phone Dobey'. He ran after the young patrolman towards the location seeing the big clapboard house set back up a gravel drive from the road. A high fence sheltered it from the road and Starsky could see a brown panel truck parked on the driveway.

Quickly he reached under his right arm and drew his Smith and Wesson 59 9mm pistol, pumped the carriage and primed the barrel. He checked it, 13 bullets in the clip, one in the pipe, primed. He clicked the safety on. Cocked and locked they called it, and in a tricky situation the hundredth of a second it saved could be the difference between life and death. Starsky's semi automatic wasn't as heavy weight as Hutch's Colt Magnum Python, but what Hutch's had in power, Starsky's made up for in rate of delivery. Whichever gun they used, they were both as deadly in their skilled hands.

As the brunette stuffed the gun down the back waistband of his jeans, Gonzalez came trotting up.

'What we got?' he asked.

'Three psychos holed up in there and hopefully one live blond' he said grimly. 'When we go in, you're high, I'll go low. Shoot to kill if ya have to and mind you don't get the Blintz huh?'

Both men gave a reassuring nod and one by one ran from one piece of cover to the other until they were either side of the door. As Starsky counted down from three, Gonzalez braced himself against the door side and as the brunette moved forward, he turned and used his considerable mass to kick down the door. As it sprang off its hinges, Starsky crouched, gun pointing forward into the house and yelled

'Police. Come out with your hands up'.

Chapter 9

Just outside his field of vision, Hutch heard a noise. A door opened and let a sliver of cold neon light into the room he'd been kept in. Unseen hands pushed the blindfold over his eyes and started to undo the restraints. Another round was about to begin and the flaxen haired cop didn't think he'd survive any more pain. In his misery and fear he shouted out to whoever might listen.

'NOOOOO' the word ending in a pitiful whimper as his body flinched away from the painful stimuli.

But the hands ignored him anyway. They once again jerked him off the bed and he cried out in pain as one of his broken hands snagged against the man's body. The yelp made his captor laugh and Hutch felt his hand grasped in a vice like grip. The pain was sufficient to tip him towards the edge of unconsciousness as he groaned pitifully. His body sagged against the two men as they dragged him back into the other room. Once again, they placed metal cuffs around his wrists and inserted a chain between them, pulling his arms up tight above his head.

All I want.....is black bean.....soup and you his voice thin and almost inaudible.

'What the fuck's he sayin'?' Harley asked Snape.

'Dunno, think the fuckers singing for us!' he jerked Hutch's chin up and slapped him across the face open handed. Hutch's head lolled to the side, but the words kept coming.

Honey.... won't you be...... my love while ...love...... will stay

'He's gone fuckin' mental' Snape giggled, getting ready to backhand the blond again.

His hand was just drawing back when suddenly all hell broke loose. Both men heard the front door snap open and a surly voice yelling 'Police. Come out with your hands up'.

Snape and Harley looked at each other then back at the hanging body in front of them, and then listened to the sound of doors downstairs crashing open and heavy footsteps now coming up the stairs quickly.

They had no time to think before two men, one the size of a small elephant and one with mahogany curls burst into the room, guns pointing forward and fingers lying next to triggers. Starsky took in the sight in one glance, but could hardly recognise the hanging body of his partner. Swallowing down his anger he hissed.

'Hands where we can see 'em punks'. As he saw Snape hesitate, the brunette levelled his pistol at the man's head. 'Just gimme a reason' he spat. Harley looked back at Snape, a lingering look that said we're better than these guys and as Gonzalez sprang forward to cuff the two men, Snape lunged towards him followed by Harley. Immediately, the brunettes' finger twitched against the trigger and the discharge from his weapon deafened everyone n the small room as the two men's bodies fell lifeless to the floor. Alerted by the noise, Diana came into the room through a door in the corner and skidded to a halt. Seeing the brunette and the bodies of her companions, she immediately raised her hands in the air and Starsky walked over and not too gently cuffed her. He couldn't trust himself to speak to her, instead he merely pushed her towards Gonzalez, who propped her in a corner and levelled his gun at her, eyes full of anger.

With the three perps. dealt with and waiting for patrolmen to arrive, Starsky ran over to the blond hanging by his wrists against the wall. Very gently he reached up and took the blindfold from Hutch's eyes, sickened that there was a red welt across his face where the material had been. Just how long had he been forced to wear that thing?

Hutch's eyes were closed and he was muttering something under his breath. As Starsky removed the blindfold, Hutch flinched away with a small cry and screwed his eyes up as the unaccustomed light stabbed at them.

'Hutch? Hutch it's me buddy' Starsky said softly, not knowing where to touch his partner's emaciated naked frame. Every inch of the blond seemed to have some sort of injury, hidden by a bandage or exposed, bleeding and raw.

Hutch didn't seem to hear him and he tried again, smoothing his fingers gently over the grimy face. 'Hey Hutch, I got ya. I got ya buddy. Gonzalez, get over here an' help me get him down'.

The two men unhooked the length of chain from the cuffs and gently lowered Hutch's body to the floor. He lay there semi conscious as tremors shook his body. He was filthy and his usually flaxen coloured silky hair was matted and plastered against his head, blood and pus oozed from the various wounds across his torso and the brunette could see open sores on the backs of his shoulder blades, down the bony parts of his spine and on his hip bones. Starsky felt the heat from the wounds and saw the flush on the blonde's face. He was feverish and very weak.

'Gonzalez, get that ambulance here quick' he said as he took in the clumsily bandaged hands and the raw, bleeding, beaten legs. He quickly crossed the room and frisked the two men's bodies on the ground, finding the key to the cuffs. He undid them quickly, throwing them away in disgust as he saw the blood seeping fresh through the bandages already round the wrists. Gently he sat behind the blond and shuffled up until Hutch's head was on his lap and he could look down into his friend's face. Letting go of the blond head, his fingers came away wet with blood. 'Jeez, Hutch, what they done at ya pal?'

Softly, so as not to upset the broken man he whispered 'Hey Blondie, s'me, you're ok now, I got ya'. He gently stroked the matted bangs from off the sweat soaked face and Hutch stopped his fevered mumblings and cracked open his eyes. A shadow of a smile crossed his dry cracked lips as he recognised his partner. Starsky felt the body relax marginally as Hutch realised he was finally in safe hands.

'Knew you'd....come' he whispered between agonised breaths. 'How ....do I ....look, huh?'

'Beautiful, ya look beautiful ya big lummox. I never thought I'd see you again' the brunette whispered softly.

Hutch closed his eyes again against another wave of pain, waiting till his body stopped trembling. 'Didn't....think I'd......get through' he gasped.

'Ssh, don't talk, just relax and we'll get ya to a hospital Ok?'

But Hutch's body had gone rigid at the mention of hospitals.

'N no' he mumbled. 'No hospitals......hurts.......' He reached weakly for Starsky's hand and looked beseechingly into his eyes. 'P promise no h hospitals......please' he gasped before his hand slid away.

'Hutch you need real care babe. Ya need drugs an' x-rays an' stuff. I can't do that for ya'.

But Hutch was trembling more now, thrashing his head weakly from side to side. He was mumbling over and over again 'no....please no...'

The brunette slowly stroked the blond head and sighed. 'Ok, Ok. What'm I gonna do with ya huh?' he sat in silence for a while as patrolmen and coroners came and went around them, taking the bodies of Harley and Snape away and leading Harmon from the room, until only Starsky and his broken partner were left. In the distance Starsky heard the ambulance sirens and felt Hutch tense again.

'Hutch, at least let the paramedics look at ya.' Starsky said gently. 'I'll be right here. I won't go anywhere. Just let 'em look at ya an' we can take it from there'.

The blond opened his eyes and locked on to the indigo ones above him. He sighed a little. 'K' he said wearily. 'But 'm not.....going with 'em'.

'Ok, we'll just let 'em look then. See they're here now. Just let me go talk to 'em. I'll be right back. Promise'. He struggled out from under the blond and laid the head down on the ground as gently as he could. Hutch seemed almost beyond pain now, which worried the brunette more than if his partner had been screaming in agony. He met the paramedics at the top of the steps.

'Hey guys. My partner's in there. He's in a bad way, but he's just been held an' tortured for 2 weeks by a psycho dressed in a nurses' outfit. He's real scared an' I think it'll freak him out if he sees uniforms. He says he's not going to hospital. I need to know what you think'.

The lead paramedic nodded his understanding and both men shouldered out of their coveralls, entering the room as civilians. Starsky was back at Hutch's side, gingerly holding his bandaged hand as the two paramedics walked in quietly and knelt at the side of the broken man.

'Hi there, just take it easy, I'm John, I'm a paramedic. Will you let me check you over?' he asked gently.

Hutch opened his eyes and looked first at John, then back up to fix on his partner's eyes. 'K' he whispered as the two paramedics got to work.

Gentle as they were, they couldn't help hurting the downed detective more than they would have liked and at the end of the preliminary examination, Hutch was writhing and moaning as wave after wave of fresh pain shook him. The two paramedics stood and motioned for Starsky to come with them.

'Hutch buddy, just gonna go talk to the paramedics, OK? Be right back'.

Hutch mumbled something and his eyes flashed open briefly as Starsky left his side. He joined the two medics.

'I don't think he can escape a visit to the hospital' John said. 'He's a mess! So far as I can tell, he's had a broken rib with an attempt to put in a chest drain. He's got bad bruising over his stomach and I think there may be some internal damage there. All his fingers are broken as is his right leg below the knee. The other leg is so badly bruised it may as well be broken. He won't be walking anywhere any time soon. He has multiple lacerations over about 80 percent of his body, notably his wrists and legs and welts around his neck, chest and ankles as if something has continually rubbed at his skin. There's what looks like pressure sores all down his back. He's dehydrated even though someone has passed an NG tubes into his stomach. We aspirated some fluid and it contained blood, so we think he's been fed some irritant or poison. Finally he has a high fever, probably due to a kidney and lung infection. He's got an indwelling catheter, but it hasn't been cared for, so infection is common. All in all I'd say if he doesn't get good hospital care now, you might loose him'.

Starsky let out the breath he'd been holding as he heard the litany of injuries. He'd unconsciously balled his hands into fists and if the three mental patients had been there he wouldn't have been responsible for his actions.

'So, what d'ya suggest?'

'It's no suggestion' John said grimly. 'We need to get him to hospital. Now'.

The brunette pursed his lips. 'You saw what he was like when you came near him. If he's as bad as you say, what'll it do at him of he gets so stressed again?'

John shrugged. 'I can only tell you the facts'.

'What if he was sedated?' his colleague asked.

Starsky shook his head. 'Same problem. You'll never get near him, an' he has a phobia about needles'.

'You could do it' John said.

'Me?' the brunette squeaked. 'You got the wrong guy buddy. Been on the sharp end of enough needles to last a lifetime, but I've never injected anyone'.

John took hold of Starsky's arm. 'If we don't get him there soon.....'.

He sighed and looked back at his partner who had stopped shaking for the moment and had gone back to his mumblings. He knew deep down that if anyone was going to stick a needle into Hutch, he'd rather it be him than a stranger. 'Ok. What do I do?'

John gave him a brief lesson and finally the brunette walked back over to Hutch and knelt by him, the loaded syringe held behind his back.

Hutch opened his eyes as he felt his partner at his side. Gathering his strength he licked his dry lips. 'How bad?'

'As bad as it gets buddy. You need real care, but I got a deal for ya. If you didn't know anything about the hospital and I promised to stay with ya the whole time, would ya let 'em do what they had to?'

Hutch tried to understand. 'Don't know.......huh?'

'If you were asleep. I'd stay with ya till they'd done what they had to, bring ya home and look after ya there. You just gotta go to sleep first'.

'Yeah?......... When?'

'Now buddy'.

Hutch struggled against Starsky's hand on his shoulder. 'Don't want 'em near me. Don't....want 'em'.

'No, s'ok, Blintz, they won't touch ya, promise'.

'Yeah?'

'D'ya trust me?'

'Sure.....why' Hutch whispered, the pain still arguing with him.

'If ya trust me, I'll give you the injection, then you'll know nothing more till home, honest. John showed me what to do, but ya need to let me. Can ya do that, huh?'

z

Hutch closed his eyes a moment then gave an almost imperceptible nod. Quickly, Starsky tied the tourniquet around the blonde's upper arm and swabbed a small area on the unwashed skin. .With a steadying breath and a reassuring look from John, he felt for the vein, feeling it springy and turgid under his forefinger. As gently as he could, and keeping the needle parallel with the skin, he drove the needle home, quickly pulled back on the plunger seeing a little blood enter the barrel. He released the tourniquet and injected the contents firmly into his friend. As Hutch's eyes closed he whispered

'Glad you're...not a doctor......hurts'.

Chapter 10

Once Starsky had ensured Hutch was asleep and after John had assured him he'd remain that way, the brunette agreed to tail the ambulance in his car and get to the hospital as soon as he could. As he watched the two paramedics carry the body of his partner away, Gonzalez, who'd been looking around the house, shouted for him to go look at something.

Starsky followed the big man into the back room and stood at the door aghast at what he saw. The room was large and had a high ceiling. Along one wall was a range of kitchen cabinets, their medical contents spilling out and onto the floor and in the middle of the room was a single bed. It had a bare mattress and attached to the mattress was a set of brown leather medical restraints for wrists, ankles, chest and neck .Starsky had seen similar before, notably at Cabrillo, but now he understood exactly where the various red welts on Hutch's body had come from. As he looked closer he could see that the mattress was filthy with blood and other fluids dried into the black and white striped ticking. As he realised his partner must have spent the best part of the two weeks tied down, alone in the dark dingy room, his blood boiled and he had to fight down the wave of nausea.

Gonzalez saw the look on the brunettes face. 'It's inhuman' he murmured. 'D'ya think he was.......?'

'Yeah, strapped down in here, on his own in the dark, waitin' for that psycho witch to come an' play her medical games on him' Starsky ground out, trying to control his rage. All he really wanted to do was go find Diana Harmon and ...........he couldn't think what he wanted to do with her. All he wanted was for his partner to get well, and he knew he'd have an uphill struggle with that.

He checked that Gonzalez could cover wrapping the case up and made his way back to his Torino. The drive to the hospital gave him room to think and to regain some composure, his mind on his driving. He pulled into the Memorial's parking lot and trotted into the ER, looking for Hutch.

The blonde had been taken straight into one of the side rooms and as the brunette peered through the small window, John was just coming out. He motioned Starsky to enter and introduced him to the doctor leading the team caring for the flaxen haired detective.

'Doctor Tucker, this is Detective Sergeant Starsky. He's Detective Hutchinson's partner, the man I told you about? I think you need to discuss the history with him, but like I said, I did promise that Ken wouldn't know anything about being in hospital'.

The young female doctor thanked the paramedic and took Starsky to one side. 'John said that Ken is your partner?'

'Ah, yeah, police partner. We've worked together about eight years'.

'Can you tell me a little about what's happened to him?' she asked bright green eyes boring into the brunette's indigo ones.

'We've been investigating some murders involving blond males. Hutch was the next victim. He was stalked last year by a nurse who used to work here. A Diana Harmon? Turns out she was a psycho and she stabbed him. Nothing too bad, but enough that she was committed to Brock Hurst. Her doctor says she has Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. She was still fixated with Hutch and two of her friends took him and worked him over for two weeks while she tried to put him back together'.

'And his aversion to hospitals?'

'She was a nurse. She kept him for two weeks strapped down to a dirty bed, in the dark, and she wore a nurses' uniform. Go figure'.

'Ok' she smiled, realising he was upset and didn't mean to be rude. 'Apparently he has a phobia about needles?'

'Yeah. Some whippos got him a couple of years ago. They wanted an address and encouraged him to tell 'em by stringing him out on heroine. He's never been able to stand the sight of needles since'.

The doctor was shaking her head in disbelief. 'What sort of stuff do you get involved in?' she asked incredulously.

He smiled grimly. 'You wouldn't believe it Doc. They should write a TV series!'

Doctor Tucker was getting down to business. 'Well, what do we do with him? He's going to be out of it for a few hours anyway, then he'll be going to theatre to have a lot of his injuries dealt with and we'll keep him in a medically induced coma for a couple of days after that until his body and his mind have a chance to rest. After that?'

'Is there any way I can see to him at home? I promised him he'd know nothing about the hospital'.

'Do you have any nursing skills?' she asked.

'No, but I'm a quick learner'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

And so Hutch was in theatre for six and a half hours. He had his fingers set and splinted. Two breaks required pins to be inserted. His leg was set. Fortunately the break there was clean, but because of the extensive wounds on both his legs, no cast was applied. The leg wounds were debrided, cleaned and sutured. The pressure sores along his back were debrided cleaned and dressed. The chest drain wound was cleaned and re-stitched closed and the various other contusions were dealt with. Fortunately, the swelling on his stomach under the enormous purple bruise was nothing sinister.

The NG tube was working adequately and remained in place, but the catheter was removed and replaced by a new, sterile one.

Eventually Hutch was brought back to the private room and laid on a ripple mattress to aid the recovery of the pressure sores. He was pale and had two saline drips in his arms and a central line for various drugs into a port on his chest, but his face looked peaceful and he was given a reasonable prognosis.

Over the next three days Starsky stayed by his side learning how to care for the catheter, how to change the drip bags and check for blown veins and how to change Hutch's position every two hours to make sure his sores were healing well.

On the afternoon of the third day, Doctor Tucker came into the room and closed the door. She checked Hutch's chart and made various assessments of his wounds and vitals.

'Ordinarily we'd think about waking him up now' she told the brunette, who looked almost as pale as the patient. Starsky had had very little sleep and was nearing exhaustion, the stay in hospital being the end of a long two week hunt for his partner.

'What are you saying Doc?' Starsky asked.

'I'm saying that although you've learned a lot over the past three days, his injuries are still so severe that he needs hospital treatment. It would be dangerous for him to go home so soon'.

Starsky's shoulders slumped. 'You didn't see his face Doc. The terror when I said he needed to go to hospital. I promised him he'd be home when he woke up'.

'Dave, you've got a choice. Let him wake up here, but be safe and cared for if and when complications occur, or take him home and risk him getting worse. I can't say it plainer than that'.

'So when are ya gonna wake him?'

'Now'.

'Will ya promise me one thing, then? No nurses in uniform OK?'

Doctor Tucker smiled at him. She'd never seen a man so hell bent on caring for his friend, and she was touched by the closeness these two men so obviously shared. 'Ok, deal. I'll have a word with the nursing staff and we'll put blinds up at the window so he can't see the corridor. I'll also have a second bed put in here so you can stay and get some sleep. Deal?'

Starsky smiled back at the doctor. He didn't often get on with medical staff, mostly because he was usually on the receiving end of their care and it hurt. But he'd taken a liking to this young woman. She was different than some of the others. Maybe she hadn't been in the game too long to have had the humanity knocked out of her. So he trusted her and gave a brief nod. 'Deal'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Later that evening, with the windows curtained off and furniture inserted into the room, it looked a little more cosy and less like a hospital room. Two nurses had been assigned to look after the blond, 12 hours on and 12 hours off and had both been briefed on the request for no uniforms. So at that moment, Sarah was standing by the head of the bed, injecting a strong antibiotic into the port on the central line. She was dressed in jeans and a white tee shirt and looked just like the 'girl next door'. Starsky sat, as he had done for almost three days now beside his partner, with a hand on the pale arm, needing and giving comfort through a single touch.

Sarah had just finished and was doing routine observations when she noticed eye movements. She mouthed to the brunette that she thought Hutch was coming round and moved away to the back of the room so that the blond wouldn't be startled when he woke. Starsky perched on the edge of Hutch's bed and watched as he became more animated until the blond licked dry lips and his eyes cracked open just a little, showing ice blue beneath thick blond silky eyelashes.

The brunette leaned forward and stroked a hand over his friend's forehead.

'Welcome back Blondie' he murmured as Hutch's eyes opened a little more and he tried to focus.

'Hi yourself' he croaked.

The eyes closed again for a moment as he tried to orientate himself, then opened fully to lock on to his partners.

'Starsk?'

'Right here'.

'Knew ....would be......stay?'

'Not goin' anywhere. D'ya think I'd leave ya now after it took all that time to find ya?'

'Nah.....Starsk?'

'Yeah?'

How long?' Hutch's voice was raw and rasping and he coughed, trying to clear his throat.

'Since I found you, almost four days' Starsky said gently. He knew from bitter experience that those first few moments after Hutch woke up would be scary as he came to terms with pains, sensations and dizziness.

'Four?.......wow!......where?' There was a tiny hint of panic in that voice and he tensed, his head moving from side to side on the pillow as his eyes focussed on the room around him. 'Ow...shit........'urts'.

'I know. You've got a lot of healin' to do. You've just gotta take it easy buddy. Just rest, OK?.

But the ice blues were looking round in panic now. 'Hospital?' he gasped.

'Yeah, I'm sorry, I tried, but I'm right here. Not goin' anywhere, promise. I can look after you, but you need professional care buddy. Ssh, just rest Blintz'.

Hutch was fighting to keep his eyes open, still showing signs of panic as he made a grab for Starsky's arm, forgetting about his broken hands.

'Ungh.......Oh God......S Starsk.......don't go.........d don'......leave me. Where is she?'.

'Hey Blondie, aint goin' anywhere, just go back to sleep, huh? All the bad guys are gone. She's a long way from here. She's locked up and the two guys are dead. I won't let anything happen to you now' Starsky rubbed up and down on Hutch's bare arm, watching the eyes slowly close.

A final murmur from the blond ' 'K....tired.......stay?' and then once more sleep took him

Chapter 11

Hutch slept peacefully for almost all of the night. When Sarah came back into the room around 2:00am, she smiled as she saw that the second bed had been pushed over until the two beds touched and the brunette was asleep on his side, fully dressed, his right hand resting on his partner's shoulder. Hutch too was asleep, his right arm bent up and his bandaged right hand covering the brunette's. It was the first night Starsky hadn't been up every two hours turning the blond from one side to the other, allowing the pressure sores lining his back, shoulders, hips and heels to start to heal. Now the ripple mattress was deemed sufficient and when Starsky and Sarah had dressed the multiple sores the last time, she'd been pleased at their progress. Hutch had youth and vigour on his side and his body was responding well to the antibiotics and Tinct. Benz. dressings. As dawn broke, Hutch started to stir and immediately Starsky woke, pushing himself up and out of the bed, trotting round until he could see the blond without Hutch having to turn too much.

Hutch's eyes were open and he was looking around him, but more calmly this time. He saw the brunette and the shadow of a smile played across his lips. He seemed more relaxed and most of the anxieties of the previous days had left him.

'Starsk. You OK?' he rasped, his voice still weak and raw.

'Ya got that backwards, don't ya? How are you?' the brunette said softly.

Hutch closed his eyes and mentally explored his body. His hands and legs hurt the most and he had pains in his chest when he breathed. He was hot, but he felt fairly comfortable and, more to the point, he felt safe.

'Sore 'n' then some' he answered truthfully.

'I'll get you something' Starsky said, checking the stuff on the table at the end of the room. Seeing the drug he thought he needed, he paused, unsure how to break it to the blond that there was a nurse involved. He took a deep calming breath.

'Hutch, there's someone ya need to meet. She's called Sarah an' she's helpin' me look after ya. She's ah.....she's a nurse'.

He saw the slight narrowing in the blonde's eye at the news, a look of sheer terror flashing just for an instant across the handsome features, but then Hutch nodded is head slightly giving his consent and Starsky rang the call button. Immediately, Sarah appeared and poked her head around the door.

'Hutch, this is Sarah' Starsky introduced.

The pretty nurse stood back, knowing better then to crowd the sick man. 'Hey there. Glad to see the colour of your eyes finally. It's been a long time. I'm Sarah. Do you mind if I call you Hutch?' she asked.

Hutch looked back at his partner, seeking just a little comfort from those eyes, then back at the nurse, nodding. 'S'my name'

'He's got some pain?' she asked and Starsky nodded, walking with her to the cabinet. He picked up the ampoule of morphine and the small syringe. Sarah checked it and he broke the top off the tiny glass bottle, inserting the needle into the glass and drawing the brown liquid into the barrel. Upending the syringe, he depressed the plunger until the fluid was at the level of the needle, flicking the barrel to rid it of any air bubbles before expelling a tiny bit of morphine from the top of the needle. Checking with Sarah that she was satisfied, he walked over to his partner, who'd been watching in wonderment.

'Where d'you..... learn to.......do that?' he asked weakly.

'Hey, I promised I'd look after you. If I can't do it at home, I can do it here. Ya ready for the good stuff?' He inserted the needle into the line and depressed the plunger, watching as it flowed into Hutch's chest.

'Hey....you're getting....better' he mumbled as he fought the heaviness of the drug.

'Starsky snorted. 'Yeah, you're givin' me enough practice. Go to back to sleep Blintz, I'll catch ya later'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Later on, once he satisfied himself that Hutch was sleeping a little more peacefully, Starsky let himself out of the room and headed down the corridor. The nurses had said he could use one of the bathrooms down the hall and so, armed with soap, shampoo and a change of clothes the brunette trudged into the white tiled, clinical looking room and luxuriated in a hot shower for a while.

He stood in the shower stall letting the hot water hammer down on his back and neck, taking out some of the stress and strain of the past two weeks. He was tired beyond belief, but he wouldn't let himself rest until Hutch was well on the road to recovery.

At the beginning of all this, Starsky had been worried that Hutch may have had an accident and when he got the phone call from Dobey while he was in New York, he'd immediately thought of the time the blond had been run off the road and had lain for two days pinned under his car. Starsky vividly remembered his wild race down that hillside to the side of Hutch's car and the way his heart seemed to rise into his throat when he'd seen the damage his partner had sustained from the car crash, and then the relief when those ice blue eyes had opened just a little and he heard the weak groan. Hutch's leg had never really fully recovered, and although Hutch could still outrun Starsky in a sprint, he no longer had the full power for a longer pursuit. It suited both of them and in their day to day activities, they worked around it. If it looked like a sprint would catch the bad guy, Hutch'd be out of the car in a flash. If it looked like a longer chase was the order of the day, they both preferred to be in the Torino. It gave them the edge, and they realised that neither of them were getting younger.

His mind went back to another time when Hutch had gone missing. Again he'd had "that" feeling and this time, when he'd seen his partner's wild eyes and sweat soaked, filthy clothing in that back alley he'd had to swallow down his anger at the sick flakes who'd strung the blond out on heroine. He'd never been able to forget the demented look in those red rimmed watery eyes as the hurting blond asked time and again for his "medicine", fighting with the brunette to get out onto the streets for another fix. Each time Starsky thought about it, he'd break out into a cold sweat.

He'd felt powerless these last two weeks when he'd used every bit of his considerable police experience to try and work the clues on Hutch's disappearance. Not that there had been many clues. Starsky was even contemplating going back to the psychic he and Hutch had used to find a young girl the previous summer. He knew he was grasping at straws but by the end of the eleventh or twelfth day of the blonde's absence, he was willing to try anything. God, he'd even have tried Papa Theodore if he thought it would have helped. And then that wonderful feeling of having been useful: of having been able to make a difference when he'd gotten the lead from Brock Hurst. He could almost have laughed out loud with relief.

But he had to admit that these past four days of watching his partner's battered and broken body trying the heal itself was the most tiring of all. He never realised just how much it took out of him to care for Hutch. It wasn't that he didn't want to do it, it was just that whatever he seemed to do, or wherever he seemed to touch brought more pain to the blond and the last thing on earth Starsky wanted to do was to hurt Hutch more.

Starsky turned off the shower water and stepped out of the stall, wrapping a towel round his lean hips as he stood in front of the mirror to shave, he almost didn't recognise the man that stared back at him. The face was gaunt with worry and the dark shadow of four days growth gave him a vaguely sinister look. He chuckled to himself. Well Ma, ya wouldn't say I looked like Paul Muni now, would ya?'

Completing his shave, he pulled on fresh jeans. He'd chosen his palest blue ones because they were almost threadbare and as soft as velvet. They made him feel more comfortable. He added a short sleeved black tee shirt, leaving it loose from his jeans, and his customary blue Adidas — just how many pairs had he gone through over the years? — they were his trademark and he never felt properly dressed without them.

Stopping only long enough to get a coffee and sandwich at the small cafeteria he made his way back up to the small hospital room that had been his world for the past four days and went back to his customary place at Hutch's bedside.

Hutch was beginning to wake up again when he got back, which wasn't really what Starsky wanted at that particular moment. He and Sarah were about to change some of the dressings on Hutch's legs. The last time they'd done it, two days ago, the blond had been unconscious, but even then, the pain of the operation had broken through Hutch's chemically fuddled brain and he'd cried out as old dressings were removed and the wounds were cleaned, treated and dressed again. God knows what it would be like this time. Starsky didn't really want to contemplate it. He plastered a reassuring smile over his face as he walked in.

'Hey buddy, how ya doin'?'

Hutch's eyes were clearer now and for the first time in such a long time, Starsky could clearly see the ice blue beneath the flaxen lashes. The brunette was braced for any reaction. Over the days that he and Sarah had cared for Hutch while he'd been unconscious, they had discussed what the blonde's mental state was likely to be. Sarah had, for someone so young, a surprising depth of understanding and Starsky had been through enough trauma himself to know that it could swing either way. Hutch would either withdraw into himself or would be so damned mad that nothing would calm him. Those were the two extremes, with reactions possible anywhere between the two.

So Starsky was happy, but suspicious when Hutch smiled calmly back at him.

'Been better' he answered as a twinge of pain made him wince.

'Yeah, and you were a whole lot worse when we found ya' Starsky said softly. 'Any pain?'

''Yeah, some. Just tired and stiff and sore, ya know?' His voice still held an edge of pain there, and was weak and raspy. To Starsky it didn't sound like Hutch speaking, but he'd get over it and in the coming days, he knew the velvety voice would return. He smiled grimy to himself. That's what 2 weeks of screaming'll do for ya.

'I'll get Sarah to give you somethin'. You might wanna try sleeping again, buddy? We're gonna sort out the dressings on your legs again. It erm....it might hurt a bit, ya know?' The brunette expected Hutch to become agitated, or start asking questions about Diana and the others, but instead, he just murmured his agreement and snuggled his head back into the pillow.

Sarah appeared and gave him a small shot of morphine but Hutch showed a fair amount of interest as she got together the equipment she and the brunette needed. She cast a quick look at Starsky as Hutch started asking her about what medication they were using, what ointments and how many stitches. It was almost as if the blond was asking about someone else's treatment, not his own. The brunette shrugged his shoulders, uncertain what was going on in that flaxen head, but expecting the worst.

As they took off the bandages and the air got to the wounds making them smart, Hutch clutched at the sides of the bed, his knuckles white. As Sara started to swab out some of the deeper injuries with a mild saline solution, he started to sweat and as she probed the deepest ones to make sure they were clear, Hutch could no longer remain silent, and whimpered between clenched teeth as she finished up.

'Oh shit.......God that hurts.....Ungh.....Sorry Gordo...... didn't mean yell' he apologised, refusing to look Starsky in the eyes.

'Hey, s'ok Blintz, Just hold on, nearly there'.

Starsky held on to him and the blond squeezed his hand as she redressed the wounds, leaving some of the smaller ones unbound now, and as she finished up and Hutch finally let go, Starsky saw a perfect thumb shaped bruise starting to form over the back of his hand, realising just hw much the blond had endured.

Eventually, as Sarah cleared the detritus from the procedure away, the effects of the morphine and pain of the procedure took their toll and Hutch fell into a troubled and nightmare packed sleep. Starsky rubbed absently at his hand and sat back down in his chair to return to his vigil, wondering how many more times they'd have to repeat that particular performance.

Chapter 12

During the night, Hutch's temperature spiked again and he thrashed about on the bed, mumbling unintelligibly as Starsky gently but firmly held him down so that he wouldn't hurt himself or re-open any of his wounds. Once or twice, the eyes would fly open and he'd stare at the brunette, a terrified look in his eyes, flinching away as Starsky carefully wiped his forehead and sponged the broad, lightly tanned chest with cool water.

All the while the brunette murmured to him. 'Ssh, s'ok babe. Just rest. Nothing's gonna get ya. I'm here, not going anywhere. Ssh'.

But it was difficult knowing if the blond heard him. The thrashing didn't stop, but sometimes it slowed down a little and Hutch would shout out.

'NO!.....no don't , please.....no more. No...... hurts.....NOOOO'

It tore at the brunette to hear Hutch in so much pain and terror and be able to do nothing about it. Sarah sat with him for part of the night, more for company than for anything she could do. Hutch would have to battle these demons on his own, although some were painful and all were terrifying for him. Towards morning, the fever broke and she helped Starsky change the linen on the blonde's bed as it became soaked in his sweat.

At perhaps 5:30, Hutch opened his eyes and looked around, a lost and frightened look in his eyes, before he finally settled on his partner. Satisfied the brunette was still there, he closed his eyes.

'....Bad dream......Starsk?'

'Hmm?'

'Diana's gone?'

'Yeah, Blintz, it's just me an' thee, like always'.

Hutch snuggled down on his pillow, a little smile on his lips. 'Hm...me 'n' thee.........like that' and he was asleep.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Later that morning, after Hutch had managed to drink a small amount of water and even a cup of tea, Sarah removed the NG tube, pronouncing the blond well enough to eat on his own. He was tired from his difficult night and still weak, but he looked a little brighter and was readier to talk and Starsky managed to prop him up in the bed so that at least he could start to look around and take an interest in the world. It still worried the brunette that Hutch was so calm, but he knew each person reacted to trauma differently.

About 11:00am Dobey arrived to visit. The Captain took in the curly haired cop's dishevelled appearance but said nothing, bracing himself as he saw all the injuries over the blond detective's body, bandages striping the lightly tanned skin, clashing with the red welts round chest, neck and across the eyes. Hutch was awake again and he managed a smile as his Captain gruffly asked

'How's it doing there?'

'M'Ok' he mumbled still with the some of the morphine in his bloodstream. 'Just glad t'be outa there'.

'Well you're safe now. You concentrate on getting well again' the black man muttered, patting Hutch on his shoulder. Dobey was always awkward around sickness and although Hutch appreciated that his Captain had visited, it really didn't bother him that the visit was short and perfunctory. Dobey motioned Starsky out into the hallway, and it tore at the brunette when he saw the anxiety flit across Hutch's face as he left the room.

'How's he really doin?' he asked as the door swung shut.

'Well he's healin' Cap, but I'm not sure about his mental state. He's only been awake for short periods, and he can't cope without me being there. I haven't really bothered him with anything other than the basics yet. He seems real calm about it all. Better 'n' me. I'd be freaked out by the whole thing. Why?'

Dobey cleared his throat, uncomfortable with his news. 'Just got off the phone with the DA. He needs a statement and he needs him to testify, twice, otherwise there isn't gonna be a trial'

'What? How can he say that?' the hot headed brunette was livid. 'You tell him to get down here an' see what those flakes did to my partner. Tell him to come down and listen to him bitin' back the screams when me an' Sarah change his dressings and then ask him why there might not be a trial. What is it with these guys?'

Dobey held up a conciliatory hand. 'It's not the man's fault Starsky, so cool it. Diana is a state mental patients. Law states there has to be primary evidence of any crime when an incompetent is involved. The burden of proof lies with the Prosecution and they need his testimony. Your partner is the primary evidence whether he likes it or not. He's gonna have to take the stand'. And Starsky, before they allow the prosecution there'll have to be a competency hearing, so he'll need to do it twice'.

Starsky was pacing the floor. 'I just don't believe this. They hold him for a fortnight, nearly kill him an' then the law protects Diana? She had "sufficient present ability" to torture him for 2 weeks straight with a "reasonable degree of rational understanding". So I'd guess she has a pretty good "rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings" against her, wouldn't you? What's that all about huh? What are we playin' at here Cap? Cos if this is right, I just don't think I want anythin' to do with the law ever again'.

'Will ya cool it? I don't like it any more than you do, but if this is what it takes to get her moved from the State Hospital to a secure unit or a maximum security prison, then this is what we'll have to do. An' its gonna be down to you an' me to make sure he can go through with it. Understand?'

The brunette took a deep calming breath, running his fingers through his curly hair. 'OK. If that's what it takes. But I'm not tellin' him yet. He's got enough to deal with. When d'ya need the statement?'

'By Monday. That's three days. Enough?'

'It'll have to be' Starsky said grimly, pushing through the door and letting it go in Dobey's face

Hutch had heard raised voices in the corridor. 'What did he want?'

'Nothin'. Just wanted to make sure you were OK. Told him it'd be a couple of days before you were back on the streets'.

Hutch grunted. 'I might be sick, but I'm not stupid. You're mad about something, you gonna spill?'

'S'nothin, he was just bothered about you'. Just concentrate on getting' well huh? We can talk later'.

But Hutch wasn't so easily placated. He tried to wriggle in the bed, getting more comfortable, but grunted as a flash of pain knifed through his hands.

'Goddamit, tell me what he wanted!' he panted with the effort. 'Oh shit that hurts. Jeez Starsk, I can't even turn over on my own' Hutch closed his eyes, feeling an irresistible urge to break down and cry. Instead he directed the feelings to anger and tried again, hurting his hands again in the process and snagging his broken leg in the sheet.

Starsky was at his side immediately, hands solicitously helping him, but Hutch batted then away, angry.

'Leave me be! Just leave it huh? I've had it'. He reached up and gasped again as he tried to reach for the glass of water by his bedside.

'Let me get that for ya' the brunette started, but stopped as Hutch turned an angry stare on him.

'I told ya to leave it. I can do it. I should be able to get myself a drink for Gods sake'. He reached again, but the bandages on his hands stopped him gripping the glass and it fell to the floor. Hutch stared at it in frustration, tears coming now and running unchecked down his cheeks.

'What's she done at me?' he asked, staring down at his hands and legs as if seeing the bandages for the first time. 'What's she done? The bitch did all this and now I can't even get drink on my own' he was sobbing, deep wracking sobs, shaking his whole body as the realisation of the full extent of his injuries hit home.

Starsky sat on the side of the bed and gathered the blond up in his arms, wrapping them round his partner and rocking him, rubbing circles on his back. 'S'ok Hutch, just let it out. Let it all out' he murmured as he held tight to the hurting man.

'I was so fuckin' scared' Hutch whispered, getting his emotions under control. 'She was there all the time. She made 'em beat me so I'd love her! I hate her Starsk. I hate her so damned much. They hurt me so much. She knew what they were doin' and she'd come an' bandage me up. Then make me sick, so she could look after me some more, and I couldn't do anythin'. I couldn't do a fuckin' thing coz she'd strapped me down'.

'Have you any idea what it's like to be strapped down for all that time? My legs an' arms were so numb it was like they weren't there any more. An' then when they did come an' move me it hurt so damn much, my legs had seized up. An' it was always dark. She'd leave me alone for hours then they'd beat me again.........I was just so scared. And through it all I couldn't do a fuckin' thing'.

Starsky held the blond as he poured out his frustration and hurt, rocking him again and again until the sobbing died away and Hutch disengaged his weary body from that of his partner.

Gently the brunette eased him back onto the bed. Hutch looked absolutely drained, the emotions having shaken him to the core. He was flushed and Starsky realised his fever was up again, but was torn between calling for Sarah and spending some valuable time alone with the blond.

Hutch was staring at Starsky, seeking out his eyes and locking on to them as they often did when one or the other was in pain. It afforded both of them a measure of comfort and strength, and Starsky returned the gaze levelly.

'Ya gonna make it?' he asked gently, raising his eyebrows in a silent question.

Hutch let out a sigh. 'Honestly? I dunno. I feel .....lost. Like she's stripped somethin' from me'. He stopped and ran his tongue over his lower lip, trying to express in words what he felt deep down. 'I don't know how to explain it. When she was calling me her fiancÚ and trying to make me agree with her, I was so certain I could hold out. It was just me 'n' her an' I knew I was stronger then that. But as time went on and they kept working me over and the pains got worse I needed help and I was angry at you coz you weren't there to help me. I just needed you to be there for me and you weren't. Oh Starsk, I'm so sorry!'

Starsky was confused. 'What's to be sorry about?'

'Coz I should have known you were looking for me. I doubted ya. I was laid in the dark cursing you coz you weren't there for me'.

'She was playing with your head buddy. No need to be sorry'. Starsky swallowed down the lump forming in his throat. Hutch didn't need his partner to be a big mush heap on the floor at that particular moment.

Hutch was continuing. 'She was crazy. She'd act like she was making me better then she'd do somethin' t'make me sick again. Then I realised. Each time I made her mad, the two guys'd come in and work me over. An' every time they did it, I lost a bit more of my grip on reality. At the end it was like I was looking at myself from the outside. Like I was watching a movie. I could feel what was happening, but it wasn't happening to me. Does that make sense?'

Starsky smiled. 'Well that explains the Black Bean Soup'.

'Say what?' Hutch asked, not understanding.

'When we found ya. You were....hanging there. God you were a mess, but it was like you couldn't feel anythin' an' you were just mumbling that damned song over an' over'.

'Yeah?' Hutch mused. 'I always hated that song'.

Chapter 13

For the rest of that day, the two men just enjoyed the opportunity for some quiet time. Sarah came in and out with medication, checking out the blonde's drip, but she left any checks on temperature and the like to the brunette. She was beginning to bond with Hutch and reticent as the blond was to allow any woman, let alone a nurse into his life at that moment, Starsky could see that the ice was melting and that, if Hutch would allow, there may be something more to their friendship than purely nurse and patient.

The rest of the time, between Hutch sleeping for long periods, they just talked about anything and everything. They decided on a vacation and wondered if their friend Traff might like to join them, although Starsky was never happy about Hutch's choice of venue. He always maintained he was cut out for the playboy lifestyle, not roughing it in the woods somewhere, communing with nature. But right at that moment, Starsky would have happily gone to the moon of Hutch had have wanted to, such was his relief at having the blond back again.

There was only one small incident to mar the day and that was when a nurse who hadn't been briefed on the situation came into the room unannounced. She was dressed in the same white uniform and hat that Diana had dressed herself in and she knocked on the door and came into the room asked for Sarah's whereabouts. It was during one of Hutch's waking periods and he looked up to see her stood in the doorway. It didn't help that the nurse had brown hair and suddenly the blonde's body went rigid and he gave an involuntary cry as Starsky looked around and angrily ushered the startled woman from the room. Once outside, the nurse was all apologies, but the damage had been done and Starsky tried hard to temper his anger

Coming back in, he could see the cold sweat on the blonde's forehead and the slight tremor in the hands as Hutch used the bandages on his hands to wipe his face. With a self conscious smile he shrugged his shoulders.

'Sorry Gordo. Guess I'm gonna have to work on that a while' he grinned shyly 'she just took me by surprise'.

Starsky snorted. 'Noting that a good night out with a couple of Memorial's finest won't cure'.

But he saw the haunted look in the ice blue eyes and immediately wished he could eat his words. 'Sorry Blintz, that was crass. You'll get over it. Ya just gotta give it time'.

'Don't apologise' Hutch said, trying to keep the trembling under control. 'God, if you have to watch everything you say, we'll never have a conversation. And as for the nurse thing. I'm in a hospital! Not gonna avoid 'em for ever, am I?'

'No. S'pose not. But I still wish we could've done this at home' Starsky said with feeling. 'I feel like I let you down. I promised you, when you were.......when I found ya, that there'd be no hospitals, but they wouldn't let me take ya home'.

It was Hutch's turn to dole out a little comfort, seeing the sheepish look in his partner's eyes. 'Hey Gordo, you did the next best thing'. He waved his hands at the extra bed and the blinds at the windows. 'You couldn't do all this at home. With all this lot' he looked at all the gauze and bandages, 'I'm keeping Glaxo in business at the moment. I'll be home soon enough, then you got me all to yourself. If you want?'

'What's that supposed to mean, "if I want". Wild horses, partner. Wild horses. Apart from that, you can see how it feels. I've been on the end of your nursing often enough. It's the patient's revenge!'

'You might want to reconsider, buddy. I don't think I'm gonna mend overnight you know' Hutch said, staring at his bandages again.

Starsky sat on his bedside. 'Hey, partner. I'm here as long as it takes, you understand? As long as it takes. And speaking of as long as it takes, do you feel up to a serious talk?'

Hutch stared levelly back. 'About what?'

'About what Dobey told me yesterday. The three nuts who got you. We know they were mental patients, so before they could have ever have stood trial there would have had to be a competency hearing, an' you'd have to testify .As it is, there's only Diana now but the situation's still the same. An' if Diana was found competent, you'd have to testify again at the main trial' Starsky said it all in a rush, wanting to come clean about the state of things.

Hutch closed his eyes and rested his head back against the pillow, a look of pain flashing across his handsome face as he considered the options. 'So I gotta give a statement first for them to establish whether an already convicted psycho is still psycho, is that it?'

'That's about the size of it pal, an' you need to do it fairly fast. The DA needs your statement tomorrow. You up to this?'

Hutch paused, considering. He felt like he was only just coming to terms with what had happened to him and still when he thought about his days spent in the dark and in pain it made him break out into a cold sweat. To have to tell someone else about it, even this man who was closer to him than a brother was more than he thought he was up to.

'I dunno Starsk. God, I'm supposed to be the cop. I'm the one that catches the bad guys and gets the evidence. I'm not supposed to be the evidence. What am I gonna say? Well, Your Honour, a woman who'd convinced herself that she was my girl had me kidnapped and tortured me just to make me love her? Who's gonna go down the insanity route then huh? You can just hear defence counsel "And, Mr Hutchinson, what makes you think you are so special to this woman?" Its still crazy enough in my head, how's it gonna sound to a jury, if it ever gets in front of one?'

'Well, you've got the choice of taking the stand and hoping she's convicted and moved to a maximum security facility, or her staying at Brock Hurst and hoping they can do something to help her. The choice is yours'.

Hutch took a deep breath. There was silence in the little room for a while. 'So, you gonna take the statement then?' he asked.

Starsky nodded. 'If that's what you want Blintz. Or if you'd prefer someone.....'

'No, just you, OK? And do it now before I change my mind'.

And so for the next two hours, Hutch dictated his statement to the brunette. Throughout it all Starsky tried to remain quiet and impartial but there were times when Hutch described the treatment he'd received at the hands of the three that he couldn't keep his temper in check.

'You mean she kept you blindfolded for the whole two weeks?' he asked incredulously.

'Pretty much, yeah' Hutch answered him. He'd tried hard to keep the account to a strictly factual level, knowing that it would hurt his partner to hear everything that had happened to him over the 14 days, but there were certain things that had to be said and he worried as he saw the set of Starsky's jaw when he mentioned the various tortures he'd had to endure.

'Well that explains the welt across your eyes then' Starsky glared angrily at the statement form as though it was the papers entire fault that this had ever occurred. 'And she did the chest drain thing with no local?'

'Yeah'

'Jeez, I bet that smart!'

'More 'n' you'll know' Hutch chuckled grimly.

'God I wish I could've got my hands on her. When she came into the room after I'd shot Harley and Snape, I cuffed her then handed her over to Gonzalez. I was too anxious to get to you. If I'd known what she'd done to you, I'd have...'

'You'd have done what any good cop would've done, read her her rights and bundled her into the nearest black and white' Hutch finished for him. 'Look, Starsk. I know you feel bad, but I need you to be calm for me right now. Just be my voice of reason here. I need you to keep me sane right now, coz I'm in danger of loosin' it if I have to tell all this to anyone else. I just need you to be strong for the two of us. Will ya do that for me? Huh?

Starsky closed his eyes, getting his emotions under control before nodding with a sigh. 'Ya have to ask Blintz? You've done the same for me often enough. We'll get through this, and Diana'll end up where she belongs'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

After the conversation and the statement, Hutch started to improve rapidly. As soon as the wounds on his shin had healed well enough, he was given a general anaesthetic and had his leg set and placed in a bright white cast. By the end of his first week in hospital, Sarah and Starsky had managed to get him out of bed and into a chair, although it hurt Hutch more then he let on. It just felt good to be out of a bed and in some semblance of a vertical position again after so long. The physiotherapist came and started him on some simple exercises to build up his muscle tone, and once the orthopaedic surgeon had deemed it OK, they had him up and walking.

The first time he tried to stand, he was dizzy and nauseous when he stood up, but as the physio pointed out, he hadn't achieved that position for over a month so it was to be expected. Hutch didn't, however, expect the pain as he stood. Bright white flashes lanced through his shins as he took his weight on his legs, causing him to sweat and grunt in pain, but he refused to give up and by the end of the second session, he was walking on his own. Difficulties occurred because he couldn't use his hands to hold crutches and so he was still beholden to his partner to walk with him everywhere, but they both felt that it was a big step forward to be mobile again.

Pretty soon, Hutch felt confident enough to have the brunette leave him for periods. He realised some people may have thought him crazy or weak for wanting his partner around, but then, very few people knew exactly what he'd been through. Privately Sarah and Starsky were amazed at the speed of his recovery. He could even cope with the sight of nurses in uniform again and the blinds had been taken down from his window so that he could see something of what was going on in the hospital. Only Sarah remained in her street clothes when she looked after Hutch, and the two had bonded well together. Such was the extent of their rapport that on the ninth day of his hospitalisation, Hutch told Starsky that if he wanted to go home and get some rest, he was fine about it. He had been sitting in his chair by his bed and Sarah had been standing at his side. As he'd said it, Sarah had looked fondly down and placed a supporting hand on Hutch's shoulder.

At first, the brunette was reluctant, but he felt he was becoming almost institutionalised and deep down he longed for just one night of full sleep. Since being at Hutch's bedside he'd wakened constantly during the night, either because the blond needed him, or just because the noise in the hospital kept him awake. So finally on the evening of the ninth night, he said goodbye to the blond, who was chatting with Sarah, and made his way back to his apartment

Chapter 14

It felt strange to walk back into his own place knowing he'd be stopping for the night. He'd dashed back two or three times for changes of clothing and his shaving stuff, but this time, as he walked in, he sighed deeply, got a beer from the fridge and flung himself down in front of the television. There was no food in the house — he'd eaten at the hospital mostly to be near his partner, but a liquid supper suited him just fine. Starsky put his feet up on the table, leaned back against the brightly coloured throw and tried to watch an old Buster Keaton movie, but within minutes, his eyes had closed and he was dead to the world, his head resting back half on the cushion and half on the arm of the settee. His dreams were all about the blond, the last three weeks or so playing over and over in his mind so that he tossed restlessly against the material of the couch and moaned in his sleep,

Later, although how much later he didn't know, he was rudely woken by the ringing of the telephone. He got up quickly, wincing at the crick in his neck, his first thought being that Hutch had had some sort of relapse and he was needed back at Memorial. He dived for the phone and picked it up on the third ring, his voice still heavy with sleep as he wiped his hand over his eyes.

'Yeah?'

He heard the familiar deep tones of Dobey's voice on the other end of the line. 'Starsky, get down here to the office now. We've got a problem'.

'Is Hutch OK?'

'Yeah, for the moment. Just get down here now and I'll fill you in'.

Not wanting to waste any time by asking questions and catching the urgency in his Captain's voice, Starsky pulled on his holster, checked his weapon was loaded, then shouldered into his familiar brown leather jacket and raced out to his car.

Looking at his watch he realised it was only2:30 in the morning. He'd been asleep for less than four hours. The traffic at that time was light and he didn't need the lights or sirens to get down to the Metro in good time, screeching to a halt in his customary parking space at the front of the building and bounding up the front steps of the stone building two at a time. Starsky was breathless by the time he got to Dobey's office and as he barged in he realised the Captain was not alone. He slowed and stopped as he recognised the Doctor from Brock Hurst.

'Cap? What's going on?'

'Sit down Starsky. You're gonna want to hear this'.

'I'm all ears, an' now I'm worried' the brunette said as he sat down on the chair in the corner of the office, leaning forward, arms resting on his knees.

Dobey was continuing. 'Doctor Jacobs came to see me the minute they found out. Diana Harmon was served with a copy of Hutchinson's statement this afternoon. She didn't take it well, still maintaining that Hutch is her fiancÚ'.

'That crazy bitch, what's with her? What part of "no" doesn't she understand?' Starsky interrupted, his hands balling into fists.

'Starsky. Shut up an' listen' Dobey barked, realising the hot headed brunette was not going to like the news. 'Doc, why don't you fill him in?'

Doctor Jacobs sat forward in his chair, clearing his throat. 'Miss Harmon was upset at the contents of Mr Hutchinson's statement and we had to give her a mild sedative to calm her down. She had become quite agitated.......'

'Agitated? She should'a thought of that when she was torturing my partner and keeping him strapped down in the dark for two weeks' Starsky yelled, his face and neck reddening with anger. 'Have you seen pictures of him? There aint a part of his body that doesn't have some kind of injury on it'.

Dobey was round from the back of his desk in a trice, moving impressively quickly for such a big man. He stood by the brunette's side and put a heavy restraining hand on Starsky's arm, feeling the brunette tremble in rage. 'Will you cool it? I said shut up an' listen' he thundered. Then in a gentler voice 'Starsky, you need to hear this. All of it'.

Starsky heaved a deep sigh and forced himself to calm down. He looked over at the doctor. 'Sorry Doc. Go on'.

The doctor looked anxious, needing to tell this curly headed hellion everything, but unsure how to begin. 'As I said, Miss Harmon became agitated, so we gave her a mild sedative and took her back to her room. One of the nurses stayed with her until she was asleep and then left her. We checked on her at 6:30 and she was still resting, but at 9:00 she had erm....... disappeared.

'Disappeared? What d'ya mean disappeared?' Despite Dobey trying to hold him back, Starsky was on his feet now, bending over the terrified doctor.

'She, erm......she left the hospital' he finished lamely.

'Cap, I gotta get back to Hutch. She'll go for him.' He was running for the door.

'Starsky, get back here' Dobey yelled, stopping the brunette in his tracks. 'I got that covered. There's a patrol outside the hospital and three armed guards outside his room, she won't get in there. You need to be out looking for her and I'm gonna send Gonzalez with you'.

The brunette came back into the room, his eyes now burning indigo pools. He walked carefully over to the doctor and bent down, putting his hands on the arms of the chair and effectively trapping the doctor where he sat. 'If anything, or anyone hurts my partner again, so help me I'll have your ass busted until you're an orderly and your little facility is closed up and burned to the ground. Ya hear?'

Dobey pulled the curly haired cop away, some sympathy in his eyes and said softly 'Get out there and find her. That's the best you can do for Hutch right now, OK?'

He watched as Starsky slowly stood, still glaring at the doctor, then turned on his heel and left the room.

Dark thoughts still rushing through Starsky's head, he found Gonzalez waiting for him in the squad room, pacing the floor, equally anxious to be out on the streets looking for the crazy woman. He looked up as the brunette came in, reaching for his jacket and following silently as Starsky acknowledged him with a brief nod and walked purposefully out to his car. Getting in, he sat quietly as the curly haired cop gunned the engine and set off down the street.

'Where we goin' first?' he asked.

'Gonna find Huggy. If anyone knows what's goin' down, he will and he'll keep his ears and eyes open for anyone asking about Hutch' Starsky explained. 'Other 'n' that, it'll just be a case of cuisin' round and tapping up any snitches who happen to have insomnia'. He looked at his watch again — 3:15am. Surely they'd be able to find a lone woman out on the streets at that time?

Starsky drove out of town to Huggy's apartment and knocked hard on the door. It never failed to amaze the brunette that whatever time he happened to call on the lanky barman, he was always immaculately turned out. This time was no exception. Huggy opened the door cautiously, his eyes bleary with sleep, but his canary yellow pyjamas were pristine and unwrinkled. Starsky idly wondered if he slept flat on his back, unmoving all night. He pushed his way in.

'What's up, my man?' Huggy asked, suddenly wide awake. 'Its not Hutch, is it?'

'Kinda. Diana is out on the streets an' I need to find her. That fuckin' doctor is about as useful as a chocolate teapot! It's a wonder he has any patients left in his hospital' Starsky spat. 'Need your help Hug. Need you to keep your ears open and let me know the minute ya hear anything about her or someone looking for Hutch'.

'Hey, no need to ask. You know I'll do whatever I can. Is he OK?'

'Yeah, Dobey has guards on his door and a patrol outside the hospital, but I have the feeling if she wants to, she'll find him anyway. I gotta get to her before she gets to Hutch. She'll kill him for sure this time'.

'No problemo, amigo' Huggy said as the two cops headed for the door. 'And Starsky? Watch your back'.

Starsky smiled 'Hey that's why I got my own personal bodyguard' he said, pointing at the considerable bulk of Gonzalez.

Once outside, both men decided they'd cover the city faster if they split up, Gonzalez taking the East side and Starsky the West. They'd make contact every hour and re-group back at the Metro at 8:00am if they hadn't had any luck. From there, they'd talk through their plans with Dobey and decide what to do next.

With that in mind, the brunette drove Gonzalez back to the Metro to pick up his own car, then both men set off around the city, looking for Diana, or anyone who may be able to give them a lead on where she might be.

It was still dark as Starsky drove, his eyes scanning the roads, the sidewalks and the doorways for the small figure. His mind was still back with Hutch in that hospital room, hoping that Harmon wasn't so cute as to be able to bluff her way into the hospital as a nurse. She'd done similar before. In fact that was how she'd gotten into the blonde's apartment the first time last year, telling the caretaker that she was Hutch's cousin come to visit. She'd been proud of her accomplishment, never realising her behaviour was so wrong. As Hutch got to know her better he realised just what a flawed character she was. At one point Starsky had told him to end it, but Hutch, ever the gentleman, couldn't bring himself to be so abrupt. That was his failing. As a lover and as a boyfriend he was so considerate that he'd go out of his way to ensure his other half was happy, even if it meant that he himself was uncomfortable.

Starsky caught sight of a familiar figure on a street corner and swung the big car round in a U turn, pulling up as the small man looked around in alarm.

'Hey Billie, How ya doin?' Starsky asked the startled man, noting the slight trembling in his limbs.

'Oh, you know how it is. Ah, somethin' you need?' Billie said, eyes darting from side to side.

'What's up, Billie, ya don't like me having a friendly chat now 'n' again?'

Billie snorted. 'It's not the chat, it the folks who see us chatting that's the problem'.

'Ok, I'll make it quick then. There's someone looking for Hutch. They've already hurt him once. He's in the hospital. Need to know if anyone asks about him. You heard anything?' Starsky reached into his back pocket and pulled out a roll of notes. He peeled off $50 and waved it under the small man's nose.

The snitch's hungry eyes tracked the money and the brunettes could read the need in them. 'Aint no-one asked me about Hutch' he stammered, his trembling getting worse as he spoke.

Starsky thrust the money at him. 'This is on account. You tell me the minute you hear anything huh? It's that important Billie'.

The small man snatched at the money. 'Yeah, right away Starsky. Right away. Is erm.....is Hutch ok?' the question was genuine. Most of the regular snitches liked the two detectives. They had a reputation for being hard, but straight.

'He will be Billie. I'll tell him you asked!'

The brunette trotted around the front of the car and got back in. He picked up the mic. and asked for a patch through to Gonzalez.

'Jose? Starsky. Ya got anything?'

The disembodied voice came back. 'Zip this end. You?'

The brunette sighed deeply. 'Nothin'. Listen, I'm gonna head back to my apartment, pick up some aspirin then get back out on the streets. I'll catch up with you in an hour'.

'Yeah, no problem. Gonzalez out'.

Chapter 15

Starsky drove back to his apartment in frustration. He'd gotten a headache, partly from being woken from a deep sleep and partly from anxiety at having that mad woman out on the streets again. He couldn't understand how someone as inherently dangerous as Diana Harmon could be committed to somewhere as insecure as Brock Hurst. He shook his head. One of the most frustrating things about being a cop was the fact that after all the hard work they put into catching the bad guys, the punishments doled out were rarely sufficient, in his eyes, to fit the crime.

He pulled up outside his apartment and got wearily out of the car, feeling at least 100 rather than his real age. What he wouldn't give for a vacation, or even a weekend away, just to wind down. He felt like he'd been living on a knife edge now for weeks and just craved some down time to relax, swim, God, even camp in the woods if that's what Hutch wanted. He put they key in the lock and turned it, pushing the door open. Dawn was coming up and he didn't bother putting on the light, finding his way through the familiar shadows of his apartment to the bathroom. He reached for the bottle of aspirin, shaking three small white pills out onto the palm of his hand and swallowing them down with a handful of water. He paused and on impulse ran the cold water over his hands, then splashed the cool water on his face, wiping his wet hand over the back of his neck to try to ease the tension he felt. He stayed bent over the wash basin staring at the water coursing down the plug hole, his mind pleasantly blank for a moment, then stood, wiped his hands and face on the towel and stared at his reflection in the mirror, almost not recognising the weary gaunt face staring back at him. Yep. He definitely needed that vacation!

Finishing up in the bathroom, he closed the door, anxious to get back to the search and ignoring the headache. Surely the pills would work before long. He dry wiped his face again and was just about to head back out to the car, when a tiny movement at the back of the room caught his eye. It was nothing really, just a flick of the curtains against the wall, but it was enough to make the brunette nervous. Quick as a flash he reached under his right arm for his gun, realising stupidly that he'd taken his holster off when he'd gone to get a wash. He could see it out of the corner of his eye, hung on the chair back near the door, but his eyes were now firmly on the figure that had emerged from behind the couch and was staring at him, eyes baleful and angry.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

On the other side of town, Gonzalez was having very little luck tracking down any sign of Diana Harmon. He'd tried all the usual snitches who were about at that hour, but truth to tell, at 6:00 am most of them were either back in their beds or finding a convenient hole to crawl into for the day. At this time it was in between when the daytime guys were surfacing and the night time guys were turning in. He sighed, disheartened and frustrated and hoped Starsky was having better luck. In the short time he'd known Hutch he'd come to really like the guy and he wanted to do anything in his power to make sure he remained safe and secure from the woman.

He reached for his mic. and asked for a patch through to zebra three and sat waiting through the inevitable delay. It seemed to take much longer than normal and finally Minnie's voice came back on the line.

'Gonzalez, you still there honey? No answer from Starsky. Do you want me to keep trying?'

Gonzalez' heart rate hiked up a notch. He been a little suspicious when Starsky hadn't gotten back to him at the pre-arranged time, but he'd hoped it was because either his notoriously bad timekeeping had kicked in or he was following a lead. But not answering his hail over the car mic. made the Latino more than anxious.

'No thanks love. But can you patch me through to Dobey, fast?'

Again the short wait, then he heard the familiar gruff voice. 'Dobey here'

'Captain? Gonzalez. I can't get an answer from Starsky. He was going back to his apartment, then he was gonna check in 15 minutes ago. He didn't and I can't get an answer. I'm worried'.

'You checked his car mic.?'

'Yep, Minnie couldn't raise an answer. He was going back to his apartment then back out on the streets. I'm gonna go and check if he's at home first'.

I'll join you. I'm on my way' Dobey said calmly. 'I'll meet you at his place. And if you get there first, be careful'.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

At the brunette's apartment, things were tense. Starsky froze as he saw the woman get up from behind his couch where she'd been hiding. How the hell had she gotten in? She was staring wildly about her. Diana was still dressed in her hospital issue nightgown and still had the admission bracelet around her wrist. Fleetingly, he wondered how she'd managed to get from Brock Hurst to here without being noticed. It said a lot about LA when she could wander the streets dressed like that without anyone stopping her. She stood staring at him a look of pure hatred in her eyes.

Starsky held up a placatory hand, not wanting to startle her at all. He hated what she'd done to his partner and he hated the fact that she was here in his home. But his inner voice of reason also hated that fact that n some way the system had failed her. She needed expert help, even if she didn't realise it and that help just wasn't forthcoming. If ever there was a case of being locked up for her own protection, it was standing here in front of him.

'Diana, what are you doing here?' he asked, trying to keep his voice level and calm.

She shook herself as if his voice had broken her trance and her eyes looked at him as though she saw him for the first time.

'Where is he?' she asked, her voice dripping venom. 'You took him from me and I want him back. You don't understand, he's hurt and he needs me'.

'He's somewhere you'll never get to him' the brunette answered, suddenly seeing the large carving knife in her hand. 'Honey, I know he's hurt but he's being looked after. You need looking after too'

She walked toward him, holding the knife out in front of her as though to fend him off. 'I'm fine. You have it all wrong. Hutch needs me to look after him. No-one else can do what I do for him. He's mine. He belongs to me and you can't have him. You want to take him away from me, but you can't have him' she shouted, her eyes wide now as she took another step closer.

Starsky was backing up. He knew how handy she was with the knife. Hutch had the scar to prove it, and he didn't want to be her next victim. He tried reasoning with her again, realising that it was probably useless. She was lost in her own world of delusion and rage, and a part of him felt sorry for her. But he hardened his heart.

'Diana, put the knife down honey. You don't want to do this. Let us help you. You need a doctor's help. Hutch isn't your guy. He never was'.

But instead of his words quietening her, they infuriated her more and she lunged at him with a cry.

'You're lying. He's my fiancÚ. We're going to be married. He loves me and I love him. You're just jealous'.

She was almost face to face with the curly haired cop now and Starsky could see the madness in her eyes, white showing all around the brown irises as she stared at him. As she lunged toward him he reached up and grasped her wrist, trying to wrestle the knife from her hand. She was surprisingly strong, The madness adding to her strength and he had difficulty keeping a hold of her as she went berserk, kicking and screaming at him as with her free hand she clawed at his face with her nails, raking four bloody furrows down the side of his face from eyes to chin.

Starsky struggled with the woman preferring not to hurt her if possible, but doubting that he could handle her without. 'Diana Stop' he yelled as he tried to keep his hold on her knife hand, seeing it waving sickeningly close to his face. She landed another glancing blow with her free hand and the shock made him loose his grip on her hand. Starsky staggered backwards and tripped over the coffee table, falling backwards and seeing the madwoman as she dived on top of him screaming. He rolled to one side trying to get out of her way, intent now on getting to his gun hanging on the chair by the door, but she was on him again, kicking, biting and screaming in her dementia.

In a red haze of anger and pain he saw her hand rise up, the metal of the knife glinting dully in the dim light and then he saw the downward arc as she brought the point down towards his neck.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Dobey had run from the Metro to his car with impressive speed and with his lights and sirens activated sped the few miles over to the brunette's apartment, his mind going over the various scenarios he may find. As he drove, he was reassured by the heavy weight of his Colt Python hung under his left arm. It had saved his life and the lives of others countless times over his many years on the force and he had the uncomfortable feeling that it was going to be needed again soon.

Traffic as beginning to build up and he threaded his way speedily through the commuters as he raced towards the brunette's home. He reached the quiet avenue at the same time as Gonzalez and they both screeched to a halt, fenders mere inches apart. Getting out quickly, both men drew their weapons, thumbing off the safeties as they heard screams and crashes from inside. Racing up the steps, Gonzalez threw open the door as Dobey readied himself, slightly crouched, gun held double handed and pointing into the room.

He immediately saw the woman on the floor, the curly haired cop on his back beneath her, trying to fend off the huge carving knife as it started its deadly descent towards him. Even the shout of 'Police freeze' did nothing to stop her, and with a sense of regret, Dobey sighted down the barrel of the gun, locked onto his target and fired once, watching sadly as Diana's body slumped forwards over the brunette.

There was a moment's silence in the room after the deafening discharge of his big Colt cannon, then Dobey heard a low moan and saw Gonzalez rushing forward to pull the woman's body from the downed detective. As the big man lifted Diana's lifeless body, Dobey saw Starsky roll onto his side and curl up in a ball, groaning in pain as blood coursed from a deep wound on his upper left arm. He rushed forward, worried at the amount of blood, but glad that at least the curly haired cop was in a position to make some noise.

'Starsky, you OK?' he panted as he gently rolled the dark haired body back towards him.

The brunette grimaced in pain and squeezed his eyes closed as a wave of pain washed over him, making him feel sick and dizzy. 'Been better' he groaned through clenched teeth as he struggled to sit up.

'Just wait there and I'll call for an ambulance' Dobey said, pushing him back.

But Starsky fought him, eventually propping himself up against his settee, sweat dripping down his face. 'No, d don't need an ambulance. Diana?' he panted, looking over at the body.

'Dead' Dobey grunted

'Your timing's impeccable' Starsky muttered 'She was here when I came in, muttering the same crap about Hutch being her guy. She was just crazy Cap. She wouldn't listen to anything I said'.

'Well, she gone now. At least Hutchinson will get some peace now. We need to get you seen to now, you're bleeding a lot'.

Starsky looked down at the blood dripping from his elbow. 'K' he muttered, realising finally how close he'd come to being stabbed to death. Shakily he held out his uninjured right arm, allowing Dobey to help him to his feet. While Gonzalez cleared up and waited for the coroners wagon, Dobey helped the stricken detective into his car and drove him back to Memorial.

A couple of hours later, a bandaged and medicated Starsky was laid on Hutch's bed while the blond sat in a chair by the side, eyeing the deep nail marks on the brunette's face and down his chest..

'......so that's it. She's dead now, so no more worries' Starsky ended, having updated Hutch on the whole thing.

'Part of me's sorry' Hutch said thoughtfully, then caught the inquisitive look on the brunette's face. 'Not because I had any feelings for her. Just that no-on helped her'. He nodded at Starsky's arm. 'Bet that stings' Hutch said pointing to the brunette' arm, now wrapped in white gauze and supported by a sling.

'Don't know what hurts more. The wound or how it was caused' he chuckled grimly. 'Talk about love hurts!'

'Hey' Dobey stood in the doorway to the room, overhearing the last part of the conversation. 'There was no way you could get out of the way in time, and no way she was gonna give up that knife'.

'I know Cap, and believe me, I'm more 'n' grateful you were there. God knows what would've happened if you'd been a couple of minutes later. But this hurts' the brunette grouched.

Hutch was looking confused now. 'Any knife wound'll hurt, but you've been stabbed before. You know the score'.

Starsky snorted. 'This is no knife wound Blintz. Cap came in like a bull, stood at the door and saw Diana. So he did the only thing he could an' he shot her'.

'Yeah, I'm with ya so far' the blond nodded, still looking confused.

'Well, Diana didn't do this. She was on top of me when the Captain shot her. The bullet went right through her and then my arm'. The brunette lifted recriminating eyes to his boss.

'Is there anything in the police manual about having your Captain shoot ya, coz I can definitely feel compensation setting in?'

Epilogue — 4 months later

Tired of drifting, searching, shifting
From town to town
Every time I slip and slide
A little further down
I can't blame you if you won't take me back
After everything I put you through
But Honey you're my last hope
And who else can I turn to.

The fingers moved hesitantly and a little stiffly over the neck of the worn and loved guitar as the velvety voice sang out the words clearly and sweetly. At a small sound from the back of the room the blond stopped and shyly put down the instrument, smiling as he turned to see Starsky leaning against the door, arms folded.

'Hey don't stop, Blintz' he said. 'It's the first time I've heard you sing for ages. I kinda missed it'.

Hutch snorted. 'Yeah, right! After all you used to say about my singing, I'd have thought you'd maybe pay to keep my hands bandaged for good'.

'I'm not that much of a philistine ya know' the brunette looked hurt. 'How's it feel to get back to it?'

'Feels good. Still hurts a bit, but Sarah said it was good exercise'.

It was Starsky's turn to snort. 'I thought you and Sarah had all the exercise you could handle' he laughed. Hutch had been seeing his nurse on and off since his discharge from Memorial a little over 6 weeks ago. There was nothing serious in their relationship, but Hutch was happy to se her, and Starsky was happy to see his partner begin to smile again and be more comfortable around women in general and nurses in particular.

He was walking unaided now and the bandages had finally all been removed from his hands and the pins removed. Only the occasional twinge of pain narrowed his eyes, but he still felt the need to have his curly haired partner close to him and he'd been living at the brunette's apartment since his discharge.

'So ya ready for the vacation tomorrow?'

Hutch looked expectantly. 'Sure. When's Traff's plane land?'

'I'm setting off to LAX in a couple of hours, ya wanna come?' Starsky asked thinking the blond may like a change of scenery.

Hutch picked up his guitar again and started to strum slowly. 'No thanks. That last time I saw you at that damned airport, this whole affair started. I'll just be happy to see the two of you when you get back. Where we goin' tomorrow anyway?'

'Now that'd be telling, wouldn't it, but you'll love it. No tents, no creepy crawlies, just two whole weeks of relaxation to look forward to, and not a single psycho in view'.

As Hutch started to play again he murmured to himself 'Well that'll be good. Have we ever been anywhere where things are just straight forward?' He chuckled and started crooning the next verse as he heard the front door close softly behind him.

End