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If Hutch had ever been glad for a week to be over, it was this one. Double shifts, criminals who had shit for brains, and just enough rain to soak through clothes and keep him perpetually damp until he got home each day.

He frowned at his reflection in the bathroom mirror and then bent to finish brushing his teeth. And wasn't this just great—he could hear Starsky already snoring away in bed. Good to know at least one of them was able to sleep.

Just the topper on a weird day and even weirder evening when all he wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep for a month. He shook his head at the absurdity of the day.

He wondered if he wrote a book if anyone would believe a story of being cursed by the woman they arrested for selling all sorts of potions that she claimed could make a person fall in love, make a person fall out of love, make a person rich, make a person lose all their money.

He'd cuffed her after she'd thrown one of her potions at him , ignored her screeching and spitting, and gave her a grim smile as he put her in the black and white. She'd looked at him then and smiled back and cursed him—oh not with swear words. No this had been a genuine curse. Well at least she said it was a genuine curse. Hutch wasn't so sure. She'd twisted her hands around and looked at Hutch and told him he didn't even deserve the love of a dog. Weird as curses went but she seemed satisfied with it.

"You too, lady," he'd said and then had to listen to Starsky laughing about it for the rest of their miserable shift.

Hutch spit out toothpaste, rinsed his mouth again, turned off the bathroom light, and fell into bed beside Starsky. He elbowed him when the snores continued and wondered if he'd fall asleep before the alarm went off for another day of fun in the BCPD.

"Stop. Stop it." Hutch threw his arm over his face to fend off the attack of sloppy kisses and a cold nose.

Wait. A cold nose? What the hell? He opened one eye and saw only brown curly hair.

"Starsky?" His voice sounded strained. What the hell? He opened the other eye and saw not only brown curly hair, but also a wagging tail, a pink tongue and four legs.

A puppy? Had they gotten a puppy and Hutch didn't know about it? No. He was pretty sure when he'd gone to bed the night before they had not had a dog in their house.

"Starsky!" He got out of bed and the puppy followed him, wagging his tail and jumping up in joy with each step Hutch took. But Starsky wasn't there. Hutch looked outside. No, the Torino was there.

"Where the hell did you go, Starsk?" Hutch asked and he looked down at the puppy who was standing beside two small dishes. One already had water in it and the other a few pieces of kibble.

"I'm going crazy," Hutch muttered. "I lost my mind somewhere and…" He bent down as the puppy bowed and wiggled his butt, ready to play.

"Starsky? Is that you?" Hutch whispered and got a puppy kiss for his trouble.

Oh shit.

There was no way Hutch was leaving Starsky alone in the house. He was a puppy for God's sake, a little puppy who needed attention and playtime and walks. And it wasn't as if Hutch was going to be able to get home during the day and take care of him. There was a leash hanging on a hook by the door and Hutch's car was not there.

He slid into the driver's seat of the Torino and Starsky immediately jumped into his lap.

"What if…" Hutch hesitated before turning the key.

"What if I just dreamed everything else?" he asked the curly haired, wiggling, wagging puppy in his lap. "What if Starsky the man was the dream?"

Starsky kissed him again and Hutch started the engine. He leaned over and opened the window on the passenger's side.

"You sit over there," he told Starsky. "It's not safe for you to be on my lap while I drive."

When Starsky made no effort to move, Hutch lifted him over, patted the little head, and said firmly. "Stay."

Hutch turned on the radio and was surprised to find it on his favorite station. Maybe he had really gone around the bend. Maybe he'd dreamed the other Starsky. He'd know when he got to the station. Obviously Captain Dobey would bellow "Where's that partner of yours?" if the real Starsky was a man with curly brown hair, indigo blue eyes, and the cutest ass on the planet. If the real Starsky was the puppy who was currently alternating between licking the window and sticking his nose out same said window, well then Dobey wouldn't act as if anything was out of the ordinary.

"No!" Hutch said as Starsky started chewing on the gear shift. And if the Starsky Hutch remembered was a man, he was damn sure the puppy Starsky wasn't manStarsky turned into a puppy because the thought of manStarsky doing anything to damage his precious car was ludicrous.

Wait a minute. Hutch was relieved when he stopped at a light. He leaned over to open the glove box and pulled out registration and insurance papers.

"No, Starsky. No." He pulled the paper away from puppy teeth. "No eating paper." He kept one hand there while he pulled the papers closer with the other and let Starsky lick his fingers.

His stomach clenched as he looked at the papers. The Torino was registered to Kenneth Hutchinson. Bay City California.

A horn blared behind him and he let the papers fall to the floor. Starsky put his little paws on the back of the seat and let out a little yip.

"You tell 'em, Starsk," Hutch said. He wondered if he should tell Dobey he'd officially taken a trip to cuckoo land.

He pulled into a parking space at the police station, turned off the engine, and took a moment to lean his head against the steering wheel only to have a warm little body wiggle its way between his arms and lick his face.

"Yeah, buddy," he said. "I'm okay. Let's go to work, huh?" He clipped the leash back onto Starsky's collar and opened the driver's side door.

Of course it took them far longer to get into the station than Hutch expected because the puppy had to stop and sniff every tire and mark it as his property. He wondered how such a tiny body could hold so much pee.

"C'mon, Starsk. Hurry it up. We're gonna be late." He nodded his head at a few of his fellow cops, none of whom seemed the least bit surprised to see him with a puppy he was calling Starsky.

Finally Starsky appeared to have completed his inspection of the parking garage and Hutch entered the building.

"Well, hey there, Hutch." Minnie Kaplan gave him a wide smile as he stepped into the elevator. "And hey there, Starsky." She bent to receive a faceful of puppy kisses. "Is your partner treating you well? Giving you plenty of treats?"

Hutch wiped his brow. How on earth—had he been transported to another plane of existence? Was he dreaming? Had he died in his sleep?

"Hutch?" Minnie asked. He opened his eyes to see her concerned gaze. "Are you feeling alright, honey?"

"Yeah. Yeah." Hutch let out a breath as the elevator door opened. "Just...had a rough night's sleep."

"Starsky keep you awake, huh?" Minnie said. "If you ever need someone to watch him, you know my number."

"Um. Yeah, okay." Hutch nodded. "I, uh. Work."

He stood in the hall and heard a whimper and felt little paws against his leg. "What do you want?"

He started to walk only to find Starsky wasn't coming along with him. He was stretched out on the floor, paws braced.

"What? C'mon. You can walk. You walked all over the parking garage." Hutch dropped the leash and put his hands on his hips. "Let's go. It's time to work."

He heard a few snickers from the direction of the squad room.

"Starsky. I said, let's move."

Starsky rolled over onto his back for a belly rub.

"Oh for pete's sake," Hutch said and picked him up. "You're being a very bad puppy, you know that?"

He got a lick on the lips for that comment. Hutch sighed and resigned himself to carrying Starsky.

He pushed open the squad room door and sighed as he saw the pile of paper on his desk. Looked like today was going to be a day for tackling reports.

"Hey Hutch," Simmons called from his desk. "Simonetti's been looking for you."

"What the hell does he want?" Hutch asked, sitting down and putting Starsky on the floor. That evidently was not where the puppy wanted to be and he soon had a dog on his lap, circling around and around before curling up after letting out a tiny woof.

"You know Simonetti. He's always after someone in this department." Simmons brought Hutch a cup of coffee. "Maybe he's got his nose outta joint since this whole dog thing started." Simmons sat down in the chair across from Hutch.

"Dog thing?" Hutch tried to sound dis-interested as he put paper in the typewriter.

"Yeah," Babcock said. "He's been sounding off again about how having dogs like Starsky here in the police department is an insult and demeaning. So much for the pilot program and all the results you're getting with things calming down because of having a dog along."

"Hmm…" Hutch continued to be non committal. He still felt detached from reality—as if the man Starsky he'd dreamed had been real and the puppy in his lap was the dream. "That so?"

"You gotta admit Starsky here is great with victims and certainly helps to de-escalate bad situations." Babcock motioned with a pencil. "I mean, who can resist a puppy?"

 

Said puppy decided that hearing his name was enough to get up and jump off Hutch's lap and sniff around the squad room. Hutch began work on a report—a self-proclaimed witch who'd been arrested for selling potions that turned out to be toxic. Thankfully no one had died from her love potions but a few people had wound up in the hospital.

"Takes all kinds," Babcock said and shook his head from the desk across from Hutch.

Hutch looked up from his typing and for a moment he saw a curly haired, blue eyed man with a roguish grin sitting there--not Babcock.

"Starsky?"

There was a little yip as Captain Dobey's door opened.

"Hutchinson, get in here," Dobey yelled.

"Good luck," Babcock said as Hutch walked past, feeling as if he was walking to the executioner's block.

Hutch nodded and went into the office, fully aware that Starsky was right by his side.

"Simonetti," Hutch said. He gave his best icy stare to the man who stood with arms crossed by Dobey's desk.

By his right foot, Starsky left out a little growl.

"This is exactly what I mean, Captain," Simonetti said. "We can't have dogs going around snarling at people in this police station."

"Starsky is hardly snarling," Hutch said. "Be quiet, Starsk."

The growling continued, this time accompanied by another yip.

"He doesn't even listen to you, Detective Hutchinson," Simonetti said. "It's unprofessional."

"I'll be sure to explain professionalism to a god damn puppy," Hutch shot back.

"Hutchinson, cool it," Dobey said. "You too, Simonetti. You might not be under my command but I still outrank you."

"You wanted to see me, Cap?" Hutch asked. He sat down when Dobey motioned to a chair.

"I wanted to talk to you about the Gunther investigation," Captain Dobey said. He looked at Simonetti. "I'm sure you have something else to do, Sergeant."

Simonetti nodded and turned to leave but not before Starsky darted out from his space beside Hutch and sunk sharp little puppy teeth into Simonetti's expensive leather shoes.

"What the hell?" Simonetti raised his foot with Starsky hanging on and Hutch was out of his seat grabbing him before Simonetti could complete the kick.

"This is going to be reported, Hutchinson," Simonetti said. "Just you wait."

"He didn't even break the skin," Hutch said. "You afraid of a little puppy?"

"Enough!" Dobey roared and Simonetti disappeared through the door, muttering words Hutch was pretty sure Dobey didn't hear. He sank back into the chair Dobey pointed to and put Starsky on the floor. When Starsky jumped back onto his lap, he let his fingers rest on the soft fur, petting slowly, letting his breathing fall into an easy rhythm.

"Gunther," Dobey said. "What do you, Simmons, and Babcock have?"

Hutch sighed. "Not much, I'm afraid. We know he's got his hands of plenty of pies—mortgage companies, magazines, oil, import and export, but nothing to make anything stick."

"The commissioner is getting impatient." Dobey pushed a folder towards Hutch.

"I know that," Hutch snapped. "Believe me. We're getting impatient too. It's as if every time we get a lead, someone is one step ahead sweeping things clean."

Dobey said nothing but looked out his window for a few moments. Then he turned and leaned towards Hutch. "You think we've got someone working for him on the inside?"

Hutch swallowed and looked down at Starsky's fur. He patted his head before looking up. "We do. Maybe even multiple someones."

Dobey nodded once. "There's a reason you three were put on this."

"I know," Hutch said. He didn't avert his eyes from Dobey's intent stare. "We'll stay on it."

"Get to work, Hutch."

Hutch got up and went into the squad room with Starsky at his heels. He motioned for Simmons and Babcock to follow. They went into the hall.

"Dobey's with us," he said in a whisper. They exchanged knowing looks. Then Hutch raised his voice. "I'm gonna go down to The Pits and see if Huggy's got any inside information."

Babcock touched Hutch's arm. "Be careful."

"I've got Starsky with me," Hutch said. "We're gonna be okay."

 

Starsky trotted happily on the leash as Hutch went into The Pits. Huggy saw him and pointed his chin towards an unoccupied back booth.

He came over with a small bowl which he placed on the floor and a beer for Hutch.

"How's things?" Huggy asked, as he sat down across from Hutch. Starsky jumped up beside Hutch as soon as the water was finished.

"No," Hutch scolded as he pushed the beer away. "Puppies can't drink beer."

He took a long draft and then pushed it towards the back of the table out of the reach of Starsky. He looked at Huggy. "Not so great. Roadblocks everywhere."

Huggy nodded and waited while Anita brought over two burgers and a small plain one for Starsky who immediately jumped back down to eat. "I hear you, my man."

"Anything else you been hearing?" Hutch asked after he took a bite of the burger.

Huggy grabbed the catsup bottle and pushed it towards Hutch. "Word is Gunther's gotta people in his pockets. Important people."

Hutch picked up the catsup, took the small folded paper from the bottom and slid it into his holster.

"You be careful, Hug," he said.
Huggy nodded. "Word is he's got certain people in his sights."

Hutch looked at the burger, his appetite suddenly gone. "Yeah. I get that."

"C'mon, Starsk," he said and picked up the leash. "We have work to do."

He felt his stomach twist into knots. Danger—his gut, his every instinct was screaming it at him. The only problem was he didn't know where it was coming from.

A day on the street didn't help that feeling of danger go away. Not a single snitch had information for him—or if they did, they weren't talking. Even Sweet Alice only opened her door a crack for him, just enough to tell him she didn't know anything, but he heard her sigh and caught the way her eyes looked sad.

If nothing else, at least the antics of an over-exuberant puppy brought the occasional smile to his face. It was as he got back to the station garage that he finally opened the folded paper from Huggy's.

Simonetti was typewritten on the paper.

Simonetti? Was Simonetti the mole in the police station? Granted, Hutch didn't like the man, but then again, no one really liked anyone from Internal Affairs. The man had an exemplary record and wasn't that far from his twenty years. Would he risk blowing everything to work for Gunther? Why would he even want to? What could a lowly IA sergeant in Bay City offer one of the most powerful men in the country?

Or did Simonetti have the 'in' Hutch, Babcock, and Simmons needed?

Hutch let out a groan and leaned his head against the steering wheel.

"Tell me what to do, Starsky," he muttered. Starsky whined and wormed his way under Hutch's arm before settling on his lap. Hutch buried his fingers in the soft fur and stroked him slowly feeling his worry melt away.

"Let's get going, huh?" he asked. He clipped the leash onto Starsky's collar and got out the car with Starsky not far behind.

There was a sound of screeching metal and Hutch looked up, confused.

Everything happened so fast—he saw a car headed straight towards him, and Simonetti behind the wheel—and then Starsky was growling and barking and taking off running. Hutch ran too, trying to catch him and the car stopped, but Starsky was on the concrete, sideways, panting and whimpering. Simonetti was out of his car, staring down at Starsky, a malicious grin on his face and there were others there and Hutch was down on his knees, afraid to touch Starsky, broken. Starsky licked his fingers as he brought a hand to the curly head and Simonetti was laughing and Hutch was crying.

"Don't go, don't go. Starsky, no."

He tightened his fingers in the curls.

"Ow!"

Hutch opened his eyes. What?

"Starsk?" His voice was surprisingly hoarse and his mouth dry. And he wasn't in their bedroom either.

Starsky sat up—human and staring at him with reddened eyes that spoke of too little sleep and tears. But Starsky didn't cry—at least not as easily as Hutch did. And why would Starsky be crying anyway?

"Starsk?" He tried again.

Starsky held out a spoon with a bit of ice on it and slid it into Hutch's mouth. "How's that, babe?"

Hutch let the ice chips melt—they soothed his dry throat. "What? Where?"

"You scared me," Starsky whispered as he held out another spoonful. "I thought this time…" He stopped and put down the cup.

Hutch looked as Starsky took hold of his hand and stroked his fingers lightly over the back of it.

"What's the last thing you remember?" Starsky asked him.

"Arresting that lady and then we went home and when I woke up, you were…" Hutch stopped.

Starsky raised his eyebrows in question but then a nurse came in, quickly followed by a doctor, and the next few minutes were taken up with questions of name, birthdate, year, and all the other questions doctors seemed to want to know when someone woke up in the hospital. Hutch felt as if he was taking a test. At least he only got the date and day wrong. Somehow he'd lost three days.

"If you keep making progress, Detective, we'll be looking at releasing you in a few days." The doctor, who looked way too young, patted his shoulder and smiled at both him and Starsky. "You gave us all quite a scare. It took us some time to figure out what you were poisoned with, but that's all water under the bridge now, and you're going to be just fine."

Hutch closed his eyes when they left, suddenly exhausted. "Poisoned?"

"Some of those potions weren't so harmless," Starsky said and the way he said it made Hutch realize that maybe things had been a little too close for comfort. "She'll be charged with attempted murder of a police officer too."

Hutch opened his eyes, sought out Starsky's familiar, beloved face. "You're real. You're here."

Starsky frowned. "I've been here all along, babe. Nothing I could do to figure out what was wrong with you. You just collapsed after the arrest and nothing would wake you up." His voice caught.

"I'm sorry," Hutch said.

"Not your fault." Starsky finally smiled. "And when I get you home, I'm gonna take good care of ya. We got some new sheets to break in."

Starsky stroked his arm, brought his hand up to rub gently at Hutch's head. "You kept petting my hair when you were out of it," he said. "Why did you say I was real?"

"I was...dreaming?" Hutch wasn't quite sure what to call it. Maybe hallucinating? Who knew. "We went home. We slept and when I woke up, you weren't there."

"I wasn't?" Starsky's voice was a low murmur—the voice he used after they made love when they were drifting into sleep. "Where was I?"

"You were sorta there," Hutch said, feeling his face redden. "Youwereapuppy."

"What?" Starsky didn't sound alarmed or amused, just confused. "I didn't understand that."

Hutch motioned for the cup of ice and Starsky obliged by popping in another spoonful. Taking a breath, Hutch said it again, slower. "I said, you were a puppy."

"A puppy," Starsky repeated. "You were dreaming I was a puppy."

Hutch watched as Starsky tried very hard not to smile, but he knew every expression on that mobile face and saw the way Starsky's lips were slightly quivering. "I knew you were gonna laugh."

"I'm not." Hutch knew how valiant an effort Starsky made but it was no use. Starsky started to laugh softly.

"Was I cute?"

"Adorable. All brown curly hair and bouncy. You were my partner. And you bit Simonetti and then he…" Hutch didn't want to remember the next part. "We were after Gunther and Simonetti drove his car at us in the parking lot and you tried to save me and it was too late and you were dead."

"Oh babe." Starsky nudged Hutch's shoulder and took off his shoes.

"We've done it before." He got into the bed.

Hutch sighed into his embrace, felt strong arms surround him, smiled as Starsky pressed a kiss onto his hair.

"I'm here," Starsky said. "Go back to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up. I promise."

Hutch closed his eyes and rested in the comfort of his lover's arms.

 

Meanwhile in another universe…

"Hey, Hutch." Simmons knocked on the door of Hutch's hospital room. "How you doing?"

Hutch shifted in the bed, winced at the pain. "Had my first physical therapy session today."

"Ouch," Simmons said as he sat down on the chair beside Hutch's bed. "You see the news at all today?"

Hutch shook his head. "Too tired." He looked at his friend and fellow detective. "Something going on?"

Simmons grinned. "We got him, Hutch. Gunther was arrested today."

Hutch gave him a tired smile. "Great. Did you and Babcock make the arrest?"

Simmons nodded. "I swear the old man nearly pissed his pants when we showed up with the warrant. Simonetti sang like a canary once the DA promised him immunity."

"Yeah," Hutch said softly. "He puts me in here and Stars…" He stopped as there was a commotion in the hall. He could hear nurses laughing and someone loudly making a shushing noise.

"Knock, knock." Babcock stuck his head in the door. "You up for another visitor tonight, Hutch?"

"Congratulations, Babs. Sims told me you two nabbed Gunther."

Babcock still hadn't entered the room and kept looking away.

"C'mon in," Hutch said. "You and Sims can give me all the details." Hutch did his best to sound chipper but the depression that had been nagging him ever since he woke up in the hospital two weeks ago depleted his energy. He could still hear the metal as Simonetti drove the car towards them, still hear the gunshots.

"There's someone else with me, Hutch," Babcock said as he came in.

Hutch heard the pitter patter of four feet and suddenly a brown curly-haired puppy was put up on his bed.

"Starsky?" Hutch hadn't had his voice go that high since he'd gone through puberty. "Starsky!"

Starsky covered his face with puppy kisses, making little yips of excitement.

Hutch buried his face in Starsky's fur and let the tears come. He was aware of Babcock and Simmons sitting there quietly. When he finally looked up, he saw Simmons hurriedly wipe his eyes.

"I thought Simonetti got him. I thought he was dead. And no one would tell me."

Of course Babcock and Simmons hadn't had much time to visit and Hutch had been half out of it on pain killers most of the time.

"He spent a week in the animal hospital," Babcock said. "Muscle strain, a bullet graze." Before Hutch could speak, he continued. "But he's going to be fine. No jumping or running for a while though."

Hutch looked and noticed where hair had been shaved away. "How'd you get him in here?"

"Doctor Bennet gave his approval," Simmons said. "Thought it might cheer you up."

"You gotta get out of here soon, Hutch. How on earth do you ever keep up with him?" Babcock shook his head. "Thank goodness I have kids who keep him occupied. Although you do owe me two pairs of sneakers. He chewed one of each pair."

Hutch just nodded, all his attention back on Starsky. He didn't even notice when Babcock and Simmons stepped out of the room.

"Starsky," Hutch whispered again and again. "You're such a good boy—you saved my life. You know that, right?" He stroked the wriggling body and sighed. Everything seemed just a little bit brighter now.

His eyes grew heavier as his medications took effect.

"Good Starsky."

Hutch felt a warm body snuggle up close and a cold nose nudge against his neck. He let his hand rest on Starsky's head and fell asleep with his best friend by his side.