The Bay City Affair

by GrandeRobino

Hutch was feeling pretty good. Which, itself, a year ago, would have been cause for alarm.

But that was before...

Funny, how he's come to think of his life as either "before" or "after" the attempt on the life of his partner. Maybe not funny.

But that's all it was. An attempt. Starsky lived, and he was getting stronger every day. He smiled as he pictured Starsky the way he had just left him, freshly rumpled and entirely content from this morning's typically mind-blowing romp, twenty minutes earlier.

And he sighed. He sighed, and that made him smile. Hutch hadn't sighed over the thought of a lover since...since...well, he honestly couldn't remember. And it didn't matter. Fate had finally brought him his destiny in the form of a 6' foot, New York born, curly-haired imp named Dave Starsky. And to think it only took them eight years and Starsky's latest miracle of survival for them to figure it out. Some detectives they were.

Yep...Hutch was feeling pretty good.

It was with that feeling he entered Parker Center, intending to catch up on some paperwork for the upcoming trial of one James Gunther. Gunther was the "mastermind" behind the afore-mentioned attempt last May. It was found out later that both Hutch and his partner were supposed to be eliminated as a result of Gunther's hit. But Starsky's refusal to go down without protecting his partner had, ultimately, saved them both. Yep, Starsky's stubborn nature and his (previously) much-maligned Torino had kept Hutch from being brought down in the gunfire. Thus enabling Hutch to get to his stricken partner and provide immediate first aid until the medics could get there. Made all the difference, the docs had said.

He had already resigned himself to the fact that his good mood would probably sour as he began to go through the Gunther files, when Captain Dobey's gruff voice caught his attention.

"Hutchinson, my office!"

You bellowed sir? Hutch could hear his partner's voice in his head, even as he made for his Captain's office in due haste, and he could hardly supress a smile.

He was startled out of his reverie by the presence of two unfamiliar figures in room. As the smaller man moved (with striking grace and efficiency) to quietly close the door behind them, Hutch's brain shifted into detective mode, immediately trying to piece together the scene by making observations:

Two Men.

One, tall and brunet, nice suit. The other, slightly smaller-but powerfully built-and blond, casually dressed, black pants and turtleneck.

Both seemed to project a certain air of authority (over who, Hutch wasn't sure), actually that was more the tall one. The Blond seemed to be on alert to possible danger.

Which was odd as they were in safety of the office of the BCPD Captain of Homicide Detectives.

Well this might be interesting...He thought.

Obviously representatives from some government agency. Which, in turn, put Hutch on alert, as his and Starsky's dealings with such agencies in the past have proven less than "acceptable".

One thing his mind also noted, after less than a minute in the room: these men were partners.

In the past, when the Feds had sent representatives, they usually came in twos or threes, but never seemed particularly connected, as with real partnerships. Partnerships like the one he shared with Starsky.

It's something that would probably go unnoticed to anyone who'd never worked with a partner. A true partner. An equal. Half of a whole. But once you've experienced that connection you could usually sense it in others.

Little things like an exchanged raised eyebrow or shrug of a shoulder, or how one moves in sync with the other.

Yep, these men were partners. That fact alone convinced Hutch that they may possess the humanity that was usually lacking in typical government flunkies. Maybe this unexpected meeting would be worth the time it was taking him away from the Gunther trial preparations...

It was at that moment he realized the taller agent had been speaking

" as I was saying Captain, we believe that we share a common, vested, interest in making sure that Mr Gunther's organization is brought down completely."

What the hell?! Who did this guy think he was? Of course Gunther would be brought to justice! But NO ONE had as vested an interest as Hutch and his partner...hell the entire BC Police Force. Government types never failed to think that their interests outweighed that of local enforcement.

"Excuse me..." Hutch's tone was even, if not hostile, and probably sounded a little menacing. Frankly, he didn't give a shit. So much for giving these guys the benefit of the doubt in terms of their assumed humanity.

"Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, meet Agents Napoleon Solo (which brought a polite nod from the Brunet) and Illya Kuryakin (the same gesture from the Blond)." Out of deference to his Captain, Hutch offered a firm handshake to each. His face, however, revealed nothing.

"Captain," replied Hutch turning his back as if to completely ignore the presence of the agents in the room "I thought we'd already established our jurisdiction in the prosecution of Gunther. The last thing we need is some grandstanding Government agency mucking up the waters."

Dobey sighed. He was afraid this would be Hutch's reaction. Hell, he could hardly blame him. Their past experiences had taught them that outside involvement in their cases usually ended badly. Still the Captain thought this agency was based on the same basic foundations to which had sworn allegiance, so many years ago, when he took an oath to protect and serve the public.

He was about to try to explain that when he was stopped by agent Solo's request that he be allowed to speak.

"Captain, if I may...?" Solo entreated.

Frankly, Dobey was relieved.

"Go ahead, Agent Solo."

"Detective Hutchinson, my partner and I have been part of an ongoing operation to bring down Gunther's organization. I'm not sure you're aware how 'diverse' his interests run..."

"We KNOW of how 'diverse' his interests run. It's why were able to indict him. On our own. With no help from your agency...Which was what did you say?..."

"Didn't." One word. Spoken in a clipped accent that Hutch could not quite place. Sort of UK...but not quite. Slavic?..Closer, but still not quite right.

He turned to the Blond...Kuryakin? So, Slavic, perhaps, was right...

"Suppose you do that now, then." Hutch said as a statement, rather than a request, to Kuryakin.

"United Network of Criminal Law Enforcement" Each word spoken in that same precise, clipped tongue. He said it as if no further explanation was necessary.

Well. This was interesting after all. UNCLE's activities had been somewhat well documented. Well, as well documented as they could be given the necessarily secretive nature of the organization. Still, they were certainly a proved, legitimate entity. Even local law enforcement seemed to have an acceptingly symbiotic relationship with them, when necessary. So unlike the typical Feds who almost always were intent on proving their superiority.

Okay. Hutch took a breath. Took another one.

Calmer, less hostile now, he spoke again. "So how, do you propose, we help each other?"

Captain Dobey let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding, and interjected, "The agents were just about to fill me in when you arrived; I thought you should be in on this from the start. Hutch I know you've got a personal interest in this case, due to Starsky's injury, but I also know you well enough to know that you won't let your personal feelings jeopardize the successful prosecution of Gunther and his associates..."

"Of course I wouldn't..."

"There is no 'of course' in this case" Solo again. "We can't afford to let our guard down now that we are so close to convicting Gunther. As I started to explain earlier, we believe his connections go beyond even those your investigation has already uncovered."

"Beyond the Federal Judges and major politicos we've established?.." Hutch seemed incredulous. Those connections had been difficult to pin down, but the BCPD (Hutch, mostly) had done it. He wasn't sure Solo was even aware of the names on the list.

Solo continued "We have reason to believe Gunther is part of a larger, international, organization bent on...well for lack of a better phrase: World Domination".

"We believe he is an operative for THRUSH. A Major Player, in fact. One highest up we have been this close to bringing to justice." This last information, from Kuryakin, set off Hutch's internal alarms again. Just when he was starting to think he might be able to work with these guys.

"Wait a minute! You're not going to try to tell me that you're going to offer Gunther some kind of deal! That's what the Feds always do. And then it turns out the information they get in exchange wasn't anything they couldn't have gotten on their own in first place. And another 'Major Player' gets away without paying the price for his crimes. I'm not gonna' let that happen Captain!"

"Hutchinson! Do I need to remind you whose office this is? I don't need you to tell me what the BCPD will and won't do." The Captain then turned to the agents and continued "And for the record, gentleman, while I don't condone Detective Hutchinson's lack discipline, I DO agree with his sentiments. We have enough evidence to convict Gunther without your help, so if you're here to say that you want to broker some sort of reduced sentence..."

Solo's calming, resonant tone interrupted "We assure you Captain, Detective Hutchinson, that is most definitely not what we are proposing. Our investigation of your investigation proved to us exactly what you just stated. You have gathered evidence enough to ensure Gunther will pay for his crimes...well maybe not all of them...but enough that he will be removed from society for the rest of his days. And that, I assure you both, is an outcome that we agree is more than satisfactory."

Then it was Kuryakin's turn. "I meant it before when I stated that Gunther was as Major a Player in THRUSH that has ever been successfully brought to justice. We are not interested in..."

He struggled, searching for the appropriate colloquialism, "Bigger Fish" Solo gave an almost imperceptible smile at his partner's correct use of the phrase.

"We are here only to ensure that nothing happens between now and his trial that might prevent his successful prosecution".

"What, exactly, do you think might happen to prevent it? You already said that your investigation, resulted in the knowledge that our case was solid."

Hutch tried not to bristle at the thought that these guys had seen fit to check up on his work. On a case that was, by all rights, his.

Sensing the detective's unease with their methods, Solo did his best to achieve some balance. He liked Hutchinson and sensed a bit of a kindred spirit, so he hoped to be able to establish a sense a report. "Detective Hutchinson, I hope you can come to forgive us the lengths to which we have gone so as to ensure success in this case. All I can say is that it is 'that important'. I have no doubt we can get past any initial distrust and become able colleagues for the duration of this assignment".

Well. Stranger things have happened, thought Hutch.

Mildly, he said "As long as you understand that this case is 'that important' to me and my BCPD colleagues as well, I don't see why we all can't get along."

"Excellent! In that case, I think- that is, if it's not too presumptuous of me...well of us,—" This last was said with a nod toward his blond partner "I think it would be a good idea for us to meet this Detective Starsky we've heard so much about"

Hutch was interested now. "And what, exactly, have you heard about my partner?"

"Oh lots of things" smiled Kuryakin.

"His exploits have earned him hero status around the offices on UNCLE." This from Solo.

"Please, don't let him hear you say that" groaned Hutch. But the agents could tell he was pleased, on some level, by the news.

"Actually, you both seem to have earned that reputation. Some sort of 'dynamic duo' or something." Solo was having fun with this. Though he wasn't quite sure why.

It was Dobey's turn to affect a scoff. "You needn't feed Hutch's ego, gentlemen. He's fully aware that he and his partner are known to be more than adequately able to perform their duties."

And this, all three of the other men in the room understood, was the utmost compliment, coming from the gruff no-nonsense Captain. Hutch, in particular, was struck by it.

Suddenly regaining his ability to speak, Hutch suggested that, after he picked up Starsky from his morning at rehab, they meet the UNCLE agents at The Pits.

"Which pits are these?" inquired Kuryakin guilelessly. Hutch figured giving the directions would suffice in explaining the destination.

And so Hutch went off to finish dotting i's and crossing t's on the various Gunther paperwork. When he checked the time and found that it was almost noon, he happily handed the files off to Minnie, and headed out to pick up his Partner.

"I wish you'd let me drive." Starsky stated the obvious as Hutch carefully navigated the final turn on their trip to Huggy's establishment.

"Some things never change, huh?" grinned Hutch. Knowing that his partner's impatience had as much to do with the news of their impending meeting with the two UNCLE agents at The Pits, as it did with his perceived lack of driving prowess.

"Anyway, your doc said, if you keep your current progress in your rehabilitation, he'll probably pass you for driving by the end of the week. That's good news, right?" To Hutch, the fact that his partner was breathing was good news. Anything beyond that was just icing on the cake.

But he knew Dave Starsky as well as he knew his own soul. And he knew how much his partner hated his independence being stolen from him in any part. Not being able to drive his precious Torino was torture for him. Still, marveled Hutch, Starsky didn't wallow in bitterness. And he had kept an amazingly positive attitude through his recovery and rehabilitation process.

If you asked Starsky, he'd say any progress he made was the direct result of the attentions and efforts of his partner. Hutch had been there at his side through his darkest days, early in his recovery. When everyone else was either too scared or too traumatized to be around him. Hutch was just always...there. Acted as though it was the most natural thing in the world that he be at his partner's side. Which was, exactly, the truth.

So they'd come through those dark times together. And their relationship flourished. Again, it almost seemed like the most natural thing in the world when they realized the true depth of their feelings for each other. After a false start or two, Starsky was finally the one to summon the courage to broach the topic of their how their love had deepened and changed. It wasn't that the love hadn't been there all along. Anyone who knew them at all could tell you that it was.

But for two, straight, guys to admit a romantic attraction to each other was pretty...well, scary. But once Starsky brought it up, Hutch was quick to confirm he felt it as well. It didn't take long for them to find out just how in love with each other they were. The rest, as Huggy Bear might say; is History, dudes.

And Huggy had said just that, when he learned of that particular turn of events. Wasn't surprised in the least. In fact, he claimed to have seen it coming down the pike (which seemed a peculiar turn of phrase for Huggy to use) long ago. Scolded them both for not realizing sooner. And with that, he became the first in a very small circle of their friends, family and colleagues to be privy to the permanently changed state of the two men's relationship.

The fact that it was, indeed, a permanent change was also important to both men. They weren't kids anymore. They'd experienced plenty of relationships. Some good. Many not so good. But none was so right as that which they shared with each other. So, they knew, from that first night (or was it afternoon?) they expressed their love in a physical and intimate way, that there was no going back. And they wouldn't have had it any other way. Stewardesses and pick ups at the local clubs no longer held any appeal.

Me and Thee, they had always said. And so it was. And would be. Always.

Starsky was just about to point out a prime parking spot in front of The Pits, when he saw a dark sedan slide into it, as though the spot was reserved just for them. He noticed a very well dressed man exit on the driver's side and, as his passenger exited and joined him, they both seemed to take a keen interest in surveying the entire street including The Pits and surrounding buildings and parking lots...

"So, lemme' guess...the jerk that just stole our parking spot and his blond pal there are these 'Secret Agents' we're supposed to meet."

"You know? That's very good! You should be a detective!" Hutch said, with not a little sarcasm, as he found a spot just a little further down the street. "C'mon. It'll do you good to walk a few feet further. You're getting stronger every day. Helps the rehab, right?"

"Hutch, have you forgotten I spent all morning with that sadist who calls himself a therapist at the rehab center? It's not like I haven't gotten enough exercise!"

"And have you forgotten that I know for a fact that you didn't spend all morning at rehab? I seem to recall leaving you purring like a kitten beneath the covers this morning when I left for the station."

And they both broke into dopey grins.

"Well, as I recall, I got a little exercise-courtesy of you-prior to the alleged purring..." this line was delivered with the patented waggle of eyebrows that Starsky knew could always make Hutch smile.

"Alright. I'll concede your point, partner mine. Time to go meet our new friends."

"Well, you may have decided they're your friends. But after the parking incident, I'm not so convinced."

"Parking Affair" Hutch corrected, somewhat absently.


"I said 'Parking Affair'. I seem to remember reading or hearing somewhere that UNCLE agents referred to their various assignments as 'Affairs'. "

"Well, thank you for that fascinating bit of trivia, which I'm sure will come in useful at some time in the distant future...Wait a minute. What do you mean you read it somewhere? Have you been checking up on these guys?"

"Would you be very disappointed in me, if I said yes?" Hutch asked, feigning an innocence he knew he did not possess.

"Hell no! I couldn't be prouder! That's why you're my Hutch. Always watchin' our backs. Feel like sharing what you found out?"

"It's not very much, I'm afraid. UNCLE secrets are pretty well guarded. I had Minnie run some checks to determine residency and stuff...Dobey confirmed with their Boss-some guy named Waverly-that he issued them this assignment..."

"Affair" Starsky corrected, amused at the whole turn of events.

"Yeah, I guess. The upshot is, they appear to be who they say they are. But I'm not completely ready to trust them yet. Feels like they're hiding something. But I guess that's how UNCLE agents live their lives. Play things pretty close to the vest. Maybe nobody can ever really trust them or feel close to them..."

"Except other UNCLE agents, maybe."

"Yeah, maybe. I can't seem to find fault with the organization though. They do good work, we share essentially the same motives. Protecting the innocent and that sort of thing"

"Good guys against the bad guys, huh?"

"Basically, yeah."

"Well we better get in there before these alleged 'good guys' decide we stood 'em up."

Hutch came around the car to offer his partner the assistance of his strong arm as he extricated himself from the Torino. Starsky still suffered stiffness after therapy followed by prolonged bouts of sitting in the car. Hutch suddenly felt guilty about their staying so long in their conversation that his partner would suffer for it. Starsky saw the look of guilty concern cross his features and tugged his sleeve.

"Stop it." He said.


"I know you Hutchinson." He said as he gently tapped the slight crease between the brows on his partner's forehead with his index finger. "I can see that brain of yours workin'. You can't take all this on your shoulders. And you're right, I'm getting better every day. It won't be long before we're back on the streets together, kickin' fanny and takin' names. But I gotta' get through some of this on my own. And, no, that doesn't mean that I'm shutting you out. It just means that it's gonna' hurt sometimes. I know that, and you've gotta know that too. You can't go feelin' all guilty because I hurt and you don't. Okay?" this last, said with a cocked eyebrow.

"Okay." A little smile from Hutch.


The Pits was pretty quiet, it being almost exactly midway between lunch and dinner crowds. It didn't take long to spot the two agents sitting at the same corner booth that Starsky and Hutch usually occupied. A fact that was not lost on Huggy Bear.

"You fellas want I should go tell those two to move to another spot?" The Bear offered, quite sincerely.

"That's okay, Hug. We're meeting them here." supplied Hutch.

"Yeah, and they seem to have a thing about appropriating our usual spots." added Starsky.

Huggy nodded and moved along, not wanting to intrude on what he assumed was some police matter.

Solo and Kuryakin were seated on the same side of the booth, no doubt anticipating the arrival of the two detectives. The Russian (thanks to Minnie, Hutch knew a bit more about the enigmatic foreign agent's background) spotted them first, and telegraphed the information to his partner, who promptly-if awkwardly given the way the booth restricted movement-stood to greet the partners.

Solo was smooth, mused might even say dashing, if one had a penchant for reading romantic spy novels. Which Hutch did not. Well, not usually.

"Detective Hutchinson, so good to see you again." And then, as if he realized how disingenuous that statement probably sounded, he added emphatically "I really mean that. Look, we've (he nodded to his partner) been discussing how we must have come across this morning, and we honestly couldn't blame you if you told us to go to hell. But we really do want to work with you on this Gunther case..."

"Affair" Starsky and Hutch said in perfect unison.

And all four men paused. And, slowly, almost simultaneously, grins appeared on all of their faces.

"Right. So, I take it you have done some research on us?" Solo asked.

"Can you blame us?" asked Hutch, though not in a particularly aggressive tone. "We're not about to compromise this case. As we've already acknowledged, it's 'that important'."

"Hello, Agent Solo. Agent Kuryakin. I'm Dave Starsky, and, just so we're clear, I'm in agreement with everything my partner has told you about our feelings on this case..."

"Affair" Kuryakin, this time.

"," Starsky continued, offering his hand to each man, "I didn't come back from the dead just to watch Gunther and his cronies get away with their crimes."

"Right. Then I think we really are on the same page." Solo seemed genuinely pleased.

"What can we do to be of assistance?" The Russian asked, simply.

And this was unexpected. Because the detectives were used to having to listen to the usual demands and unrealistic expectations of "assisting" agencies. And then argue and explain until neither side was satisfied. But this. This...willingness to actually work together. This was new.

Hutch responded first. "Well, you can begin by telling us what possessed you to come halfway across the country..."

"Actually, I think most would consider the trip from New York to California entirely across the country." And that was when Starsky noticed the accent Hutch had try to describe to him earlier. He hadn't mentioned the Russian's somewhat annoying know-it-all attitude.

"Really. All the more interesting then. What makes this..."

"affair" Starsky supplied.

" important?"

Solo chose to respond. "I understand why you'd wonder that. Frankly, we wouldn't have probably gotten involved, but for the fact that it seems the removal of James Gunther from his day to day activities has already had such a devastating effect on THRUSH's operations, that it became apparent he was more than just your average operative. Ensuring his successful prosecution just makes good sense in that it seems to be the best way to achieve our objective..."

"Protecting the innocent?" Starsky asked.

"In the larger scheme of things, that is the ultimate goal. For all of us, I think." The Russian, again.

As Huggy observed, from across the bar, the four men seemed to relax and had seated themselves on either side of the booth. Seemed to be the right time to take their orders. Huggy figured Starsky was probably starving as usual. It was nice to see his friend's appetite had returned to normal, and he considered it a good sign.

"Well gents," asked The Bear "What will it be?"

Hutch smiled. This was turning out to be a pleasant afternoon. Though, as usual, he was alert to his partner's state of health, and watchful that he didn't become exhausted. This was made the more challenging because he had to do it subtly. Starsky hated it when he hovered and had accused him, more than once, of playing "mother hen".

Starsky too, was pleasantly surprised by how quickly the agents and detectives got past their initial trust and communication issues and were able begin discussing strategy in earnest. He was also well aware of his partner's covert attempts to asses how he was holding up. He had to love him for it. And thought it was especially adorable, the way he tried to do it on the sly. He decided to tell him later just how much he loved that about him...better yet, he'd show him.

Some time later, Huggy brought their orders. Soups and Salads for Solo and Hutch. The same for Starsky and Kuryakin...except the 'patient' (I've gotta' keep my strength up, Hutch) and the Russian added Burgers, Fries and Onion Rings to their orders. Neither had trouble laying waste to their generous portions, while each of their partners watched with equal measures of awe (where does he put it?) and affection.

By the time the four had decided it was time to wrap up their meeting for the day, they were surprised that the afternoon had already passed into early evening. They parted company in front of The Pits, agreeing that the agents would come by the detective's place in the morning to get an early start on the day's plans of going through the files each had on the Gunther Affair.

Solo and Kuryakin arrived promptly at 9:00 am.

They noticed the cottage, near one of the Venice Canals, was fairly isolated. In most cases, in real estate, that would be seen as a plus. But not when one was concerned, as UNCLE agents always were, with personal protection and security. Tended to make things rather dicey.

The agents noted all of this and, without a word between them, each knew what the other was thinking.

"We could request that West Coast Operations send some additional security." Ilya suggested.

Solo considered the idea, then said "No. I don't think that would go over too well with the detectives. Besides, I'm confident they're quite able to handle most potential threats. You've seen the same data I have on their histories." As they continued their assessment, the pair slowly approached the front door.

Illya found it difficult to reconcile his combination of disgust for the American penchant for consumerism and his strange fascination with the Red and White Torino parked in the drive.

"How can they expect to NOT be targets driving around in what amounts to a large red and white bull's-eye?..." the Russian queried, to no one in particular.

Solo smiled. "Again, you read their histories. Seems they often are targets. They just appear to think that's in the job description, and, I'm guessing, they figure driving a different vehicle wouldn't make them any less so."

They paused at the door and rapped politely, three times.

Hutch greeted the agents warmly, welcoming them inside the cottage. Kuryakin smelled the coffee just as Hutch offered to get them each a cup. Though, he tended to dislike the way Americans prepared the brew, he couldn't deny that he appreciated the effects of caffeine in the morning. The agents took the cups that were offered. The Russian was pleasantly surprised by the coffee, and it must have showed.

Hutch smiled. "Since Starsky had to spend his mornings at home, during his early recovery, and the usual options of local coffee shops were off the menu for a while, we've learned to brew a decent cup at ourselves."

As if on cue, the dark-haired cop appeared from around the corner.

"And by 'we' he means me. Hutch couldn't brew a decent pot of coffee if his life depended on it. You. Would. Not. Believe. The kind of crap he used to try to pawn off on me as breakfast: Digested liver..."

"That's desiccated liver..." Hutch corrected, a slight grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.

"Yeah, yeah. Goats milk...butterfly bones. You know just because you can mix stuff together in a blender doesn't necessarily mean you should. " Starsky said shaking his head, also barely suppressing a smile.

Somehow, the agents could sense this was a recurring conversation between the detectives. Almost a routine. And they quickly felt at ease in the men's home.

So they spent the morning sharing the data they had on Gunther. Each team learning new and very useful information.

Then Solo felt it was time to introduce the topic he and his partner had briefly discussed upon seeing the cottage for the first time.

"Have you ever considered that you're fairly vulnerable in this location?" He asked, hoping he hadn't offended the men's pride.

Starsky laughed a little and replied, "Well, after nearly being killed in the Police Garage, we figure we're 'fairly vulnerable' in any location. We just gotta' live or lives, you know?" All spoken in good humor.

The agents noticed the tension that went through Hutch's body at his partner's mention of the attempted hit. Clearly, he still was having some trouble dealing with having almost lost the man next to him. They both sympathized.

"Still, you're acquainted with extent Gunther's reach..." Solo said, reasonably.

"And, for whatever reason, he seems to reserve a special hatred for you two." The Russian interjected.

This statement resulted in a smile from Hutch and caused Starsky to positively beam with pride.

"The reason probably has to do with the fact that we were in process of shutting down most of his operations, which resulted in him issuing the order for the hit..." Hutch explained, also reasonably.

"Not to mention, the way you, my Big Blond Lion, insisted on personally flying to San Francisco to serve him with the arrest warrant. Sormmin' into his office and slappin' that piece of paper on his desk. You gotta' admit Hutch, that was a little dramatic." Starsky said as if to scold, but clearly proud of his partner's actions.

"Still" Solo tried again, "We've established that you two and your testimony are most essential in this case. While Gunther could be linked to any number of operations without the evidence you present, it's going to be your first-hand accounts that ensure he be convicted once and for all."

"So, you're saying that he's probably still interested in seeing us killed. That's really not a new theory Agent Solo." Hutch offered.

"I suppose not, but we'd feel better if you'd allow us to help ensure your safety. I understand what you're saying about the tenuous nature of being able to stay safe, in general. But this really is a special circumstance. Or wouldn't you agree?"

It was hard to disagree with Solos assessment, and both detectives said as much. And Solo figured it was because each was thinking of their partner's safety rather his own.

This next bit was going to be harder, thought Solo as he tried to think of a way to introduce their plan as deftly as possible.

His partner beat him to it, in his typically straight-forward manner. Sometimes over thinking people's reactions was a detriment. Thankfully, Illya didn't suffer from the affliction.

"From what we've been able to ascertain from your files, gentleman, it seems as though you tend to get into more trouble when you're alone, than when you're together..."

Starsky opened his mouth to object, but was silenced with a look from his partner.

It was true. From Hutch's experience with Ben Forest's goons to Starsky's kidnapping by Simon Marcus' followers. They were definitely more 'vulnerable' when they were separated.

Hutch conceded "Point taken. But we can't spend 24 hours a day together..."

"Not without killing ourselves—or each other." added Starsky. Hutch took it in spirit in which it was intended.

"Of course not. We know Detective Starsky has to keep his appointments for therapy, and you, Detective Hutchinson, still have work to do on the Gunther case...Our proposal is simple, really. One of us will accompany each of you at all times when you are not together."

And that was it, really. Should've been simple enough to understand. Certainly, it was a reasonable solution. But as what the enormity of the change this would mean to their lives sunk in, the detectives became wary.

"Look, we really appreciate what you're saying, but we just couldn't ask you to do that. The trial hasn't even started, and it will probably go on for weeks. We couldn't expect you to put your lives on hold like that. You must have your own responsibilities, families and such back on the East Coast..."

But Hutch's protests were met by a firm yet sympathetic response from Solo.

"Believe me, gentleman, that's all been taken into account. We came here with the intention of staying until the case against Gunther is finally tried to its successful conclusion. And, by the way, you may or may not be surprised to know that Illya and I do not have all that many commitments back in New York, apart from UNCLE. This might actually turn out to qualify as a bit of vacation for us."

"I'm sure Mr. Waverly would like the accountants to file it as such." speculated Kuryakin.

"Okay, let's say we agree to this. There are a few ground rules we need to set from the start." Starsky said, taking the lead in the conversation.

"Certainly. State your terms, gentleman." Kuryakin said with a smile. And Solo considered, for just a moment, that he couldn't remember seeing his partner smile this much in a long time.

"Well, first of all I think my partner will agree that we're not very comfortable being referred to as Detective Starsky and Hutchinson all the time. I'm Starsky. He's Hutch." And both the detectives chuckled, as if this was an old joke.

"Very well, Starsky." replied the Russian. "Then we must ask the same courtesy. Please eliminate the mention of the word 'Agent' when conversing with us. You may call my Illya, as people have told me trying to pronounce Kuryakin can be...what you Americans would call 'a mouthful'."

"Yes, yes. And please call me Solo. Or Napoleon if you prefer." Solo was glad their plan was so readily accepted by the detectives. And he noticed again that his partner was smiling. This could turn out to be good for him...for them both. Maybe, it might turn out to be a bit of a vacation after all.

"No, Starsk. I don't think my having been a Sea Scout, as a kid in Duluth, qualifies as me having 'a lot in common' with Illya based on his having served in the Russian Navy. Not by a long shot."

The first few days of the newly formed "extended partnership" between the Bay City Detectives and the UNCLE Agents had passed without incident.

Though Starsky, being Starsky, had to complain about some of the logistics. Starting with why it was he ended up with the Smart-ass Russian most of the time and Hutch seemed to partner up with more affable Napoleon.

"I seem to remember, once upon a time, you having a thing for pretty blonds with Russian accents." Starsky said, trying to reason with his partner, on the third evening.

It was cute, really. Hutch couldn't tell if his partner was showing a hint of genuine jealousy at the memory of his relationship with Anna, or if he was merely fed up with spending time with Illya. Either way, he wasn't about to dismiss lover's concerns casually.

"That seems so long ago now. Almost another lifetime, don't you think?" He crooned softly and sincerely while holding his partner's gaze. "Babe, if you really have a problem with him, I can just suggest Illya stick with me for a while, and you can spend more time with Solo."

"Nah. That's alright. Sorry, I was just being grumpy. I feel a like we never get a chance to be 'just us' anymore."

"Well, that was kinda' the idea, right? Until the trial is over. Hey, at least we still get to be 'just us' when it counts..." That earned him a kiss. Noting his partner's improved attitude, Hutch set aside the guitar he'd been lazily strumming and decided introduce a little humor. "Of course if you really want to test that theory about my attraction to pretty blonds with Russian accents, I suppose I could suggest Illya join me for dinner or something...Unless you have other plans for me..."

"Oh, I've got plans for you Hutchinson. And they definitely do not include any Russians."

Hutch could hardly wait to find out what they were...

Except, all too soon, they were interrupted by the now-familiar successive three raps on the front door. Shaking their heads in disbelief, they got up from the sofa and went to greet the unexpected arrivals. As they suspected, it was, indeed, the UNCLE agents, looking both apologetic and concerned.

"Hi guys. Long time no see, huh?" Napoleon said, trying to diffuse the situation. It became clear that the usually unflappable Solo was a bit embarrassed as he quickly surmised, based on the detectives disheveled appearance and flushed cheeks, just what it was the UNCLE agents had interrupted.

"Well, don't just stand out there. C'mon in." Starsky said, making a sweeping gesture with his arm, while laughing at the absurdity of being interrupted mid-tryst. He turned on a few lights to supplement the candlelight that he and his partner had, previously, found sufficient for their activities that evening...until the arrival of their favorite UNCLE agents.

Kuryakin noticed an acoustic guitar leaning against the back of the couch, and fleetingly wished he hadn't left his own back in New York. One of the things he missed, lately, had been music. It helped him decompress during lengthy Affairs. He hadn't even brought along any of his favorite jazz albums.

"I'm starting to think it would be easier if we could just get UNCLE to issue you guys a set of these." The agent said indicating the communications device (which looked like a fancy pen) they'd seen him use. "In fact, until they do, one of us should leave ours with you when we part ways each evening."

"Pity, you couldn't have thought of that prior to just now." Illya stated, rather tersely, to his partner.

Smart-ass Russian. Thought Starsky for about the tenth time that day. Though he couldn't say he disagreed with the Russian's thinking on this particular point.

"The thing is, we've just heard, from UNCLE intelligence, that some of Gunther's THRUSH contacts have been seen in the area, and it's fairly certain that your elimination is their primary objective."

"Terrific. How 'bout a beer guys? My guess is you're gonna' wanna' hang out here for a while." Hutch looked at Starsky who nodded and sighed. Resigned to his fate of having to endure Illya and Solo, when all he really (really) wanted, was to be alone with his Hutch. Well, he supposed, it could be worse. He didn't really dislike the agents. Just resented the time being taken from him and his own partner. And he couldn't really blame them for that..though the thought had occurred to him.

"Typically, we don't drink while so actively involved in a case. I mean we should remain alert in case they try anything..."

"Fine." said the Russian "You may remain in full control of your faculties, Napoleon. I, for one, would like that drink. Thank you, Hutch."

A little taken aback by the seeming discord between the two agents, Hutch stammered a bit. "S-sure Illya. Is beer okay? I think we've got some wine here somewhere...or we have vodka, if you'd prefer..."

"N'yet. Never could stomach the stuff..."

Illya's response halted briefly due to the distinctly audible snort from his partner.

He recovered, and stated evenly, while glaring at his partner "A beer would be fine. Thank you Hutch."

Oh, this should be fun. Thought Starsky, rather gloomily. What the hell had gotten into the Russian? he wondered. Only thing worse than a Smart-ass Russian, was a Crabby Smart-ass Russian. Well, he thought, If you're gonna' ruin my good time, no reason you should be happy.

Starsky decided to help himself to a beer as well.

This brought a certain concerned look from his own partner.

"Oh, for God's sake Hutch! One beer. The doc said it was perfectly alright, now that I'm off practically all my pain-killers."

Hutch looked apologetic and embarrassed. Dammit! That was not the way Starsky wanted to make him feel. Ever.

He closed the distance between them in a few quick strides, relinquished the beer, brought his fingers up to the underside of Hutch's chin and caressed his jaw line, speaking softly and earnestly.

"Hey, Babe..."

Hutch just looked at the floor.

Softer, still..."'Hey', I said."

And Hutch's gaze rose to meet his partner's. And Starsky knew, without any more words being exchanged, that his own temperamental outburst had been forgiven. Just like that. Only, he knew he had to say the words, because Hutch deserved that much.

"Sorry for being such a pain in the ass."

The smile that had started in Hutch's eyes, spread to his entire face. And Starsky thought, not for the first time, that he was just about the luckiest bastard in the world to be able to make Hutch smile like that.

And he couldn't help himself. He kissed him. Really kissed him. UNCLE agents be damned.

Those very agents now found themselves feeling a little ashamed. Not for the display in front of them, at the moment. But, because they somehow knew they had brought unnecessary tension to this household tonight, which had resulted in the pair's near-conflict. They knew it was unfair as well as unprofessional of them to let their personal differences affect their colleagues this way.

"Look fellas..." Solo began in apology "We know you weren't planning on having to put up with us tonight. We're sorry...that is I'm sorry..." He faltered, as if suddenly uncertain of whether he should presume to speak for his partner.

"No. You were right Napoleon. We are sorry for causing any inconvenience or...discomfort, by our presence. I'm afraid I have not been a very gracious guest. I hope you will accept my apologies."

"Of course, we accept your apologies. But it's really not necessary. We're all under a lot of stress with this case. Let's just chalk it up to frayed nerves and move on." Hutch, ever the peace-maker, thought Starsky.

"Then I wish to apologize to you, as well..." the Russian said, as he turned to his own partner.

Solo was completely unprepared for this. He wasn't used to such contrition from Illya. His normal tendency would have been to be suspicious and to have offered some flip remark to that effect. But, as bad of an influence as they seemed to be on the detectives' earlier mood and behavior, it seemed the opposite was true, when it came to the agents moods being affected, in a good way, by the other partners' spontaneous show of affection.

"Hutch is right Illya. We're all a little on edge. You don't need to apologize to me." Solo spoke softy.

"And if I say I feel I must?" The blond eyebrows raised in question.

"Then I would say you are a stubborn Russian, Illyusha. And I accept your apology."

"Da Napasha. But I am your stubborn Russian." And with that he offered his warmest smile to his partner.

"Thank God for that tovarish." Napoleon returned the same warmth in his own expression, and briefly brought his had to rest on Illya's arm, giving it a gentle squeeze.

Okay. So that was settled. Whatever 'that' was, thought Starsky. But both detectives realized what they had just witnessed. And it confirmed what they had suspected about the nature of the agents' relationship.

An update came through from UNCLE, via Solos device, some time later. The THRUSH operatives in the area had been captured, and the immediate threat seemed to be over...for the time being.

The agents had moved to sit down the living room and Hutch noticed Illya unconsciously running his hand over the neck of his guitar, with a practiced touch, as he was looking at the piece of music which Hutch had been marking earlier.

"Do you play?" Hutch asked.

"Not very well, I'm afraid..." replied the Russian, smiling and seeming much more relaxed than when he had arrived.

"Well, that's simply not true Illya. You play beautifully." Napoleon boasted.

Illya, seemed to consider the statement, and concluded "You are saying that because you are biased where I am concerned." Stated, as though it were a simple fact.

"I won't try to tell you that I'm not biased where you're concerned. Because you're right. I am. But, regardless of my bias, I would reputation as an agent for UNCLE on my assessment of your talent." Solo stated, as if giving an oath.

Illya smiled, shrugged and pinked a bit around his cheeks and ears.

At that moment, Starsky reappeared from the bedroom with his own guitar, which he offered to Hutch, taking a moment to brush back a stray lock of his partner's golden hair that had fallen in his eyes.

He, then, proceeded to encourage the Russian.

"Hey, Why don't you play something? Hutch told me found this great new song," Starsky said pointing to the sheet music Illya had noticed earlier "and he was gonna' play it for me this evening. Maybe you could join him. Or ya' could try something you wanna' play..."

As Illya tentatively picked up the instrument, he had to admit it felt good to hold it. He could almost sense the tension leave his body as the strummed a few chords. He really had missed this.

"I think I would like to hear you play this song Hutch. And then, perhaps I will join you, once I feel comfortable with the piece?" Solo noticed an almost wistful tone in his Russian's words. He knew music was important to his partner; even though he would be reluctant admit to it.

Hutch started to play, and sing.

Tonight, tonight let's not go anywhere Let's turn the latch on the door And if the phone should ring, let's just let it The way we have before.

And let's have a quiet night in, together by the fireside We can talk without anyone else around to hear Lets have a quiet night in, the way we sometimes used to Don't they say every night at a party, soon wears thin Let's have a quiet night in...

Soon Illya joined in, playing softly at first, but eventually comfortable enough to try some counter-melody. Even he had to admit, they sounded good. He always thought that it was his mathematical/scientific background that helped him to identify suitable melodies with a certain kind of ease.

Starsky, as usual, marveled at his own partner's gift for music. And loved seeing Hutch as relaxed and unguarded as when he found a piece of music he connected with. They followed that first song, with some Jim Croce (Starsky's favorite) and folk rock tunes, ending the session with a rather rousing version of "Black Bean Soup". After the first verse, even Napoleon had joined in on that number, which, for some reason, had surprised the detectives.

The agents had settled in comfortably, and Hutch looked at Starsky who smiled and nodded in answer to his unspoken question

"Okay. It's really too late for you guys to head back to your hotel, if you want to get any rest before tomorrow. If you don't object to the rather Spartan accommodations of what passes for our 'guest bedroom', we'd feel better if you just crashed here tonight."

"Spartan accommodations suit me just fine." said Kuryakin. And that was the truth.

"I stand by my partner's decision in this matter." added Solo with a grin.

Hutch showed the agents the small second bedroom. Not much bigger than a closet, really. One full size bed, but he figured the agents would be able to work out the sleeping arrangements on their own. They acted as if they'd never seen as fine a room.

"Thanks for the hospitality. We really appreciate...everything you've done for us this evening." Solo said sincerely.

"Happy to have you here. G'night fellas." Starsky said as he grabbed Hutch's hand and happily dragged him down the hall to their own bedroom. For his part, Hutch seemed just as happy to be dragged.

That night, each of the four men went to sleep thinking that he was the luckiest man alive, to have the love and respect of the one who lay next to him.

And each man was, exactly, right.

"Mornin' Blondie." Starky's voice teased in his partner's ear "I was thinkin', if we wanted to be especially accommodating to our houseguests, we might try to save some time-not to mention hot water-and shower together, before they want to use the facilities."

"Oh, like we'd spend less time in the shower if we were in it together, Gordo!" Hutch said as he turned in his partner's arms and gathered him close while trying to keep his amused voice quiet in an effort not to wake the agents down the hall.

"Hey. I'm just trying to do the right thing here. If you don't think it's a good idea..." He said, affecting the voice if a petulant child, with a barely suppressed grin.

"I always think it's a good idea. But discretion kinda' dictates we might want to curtail those thoughts just now." He said regretfully.

"Okay, okay. Spoilsport." Starsky said with a rueful smile. He then dropped a kiss on his partner's nose. "I promise, your virtue is safe with me. But I really do think we should hit the shower before those guys wake up. I'll go first. And to make sure I keep it short, I give you permission to enter the bathroom to roust me outta' said shower after five minutes, and then I'll put on the coffee. Fair enough?"

"Starsky, you're a gentleman and a scholar."

"Hey, no need to start calling me names..." he said as he disappeared around the corner to the bathroom.

"Those guys" to whom Starsky had referred we're long since awake. But they had managed to find ways to keep themselves occupied quietly...well mostly quietly. The Russian thought he deserved some sort of prize for managing not to wake the house (or the whole of Bay City for that matter), given the ministrations of his partner.

True to his word, Starsky quickly conceded the shower to Hutch after the agreed on five minutes. Though, for a brief minute as they exchanged what started as a kiss-in-passing, they both nearly reconsidered being so accommodating to their guests. It was Starsky who broke the embrace first, and tried to regain some composure.

"Hutchinson! I'm surprised at you!" He said, feigning indignation, and still panting heavily. "Have you forgotten we have guests? And you there...trying to use your wiles on me..tsk, tsk"

"W-wiles?! Look who's talking! You wanna' talk wiles?..." And then they could no longer hold back the laughter.

Starsky gave his partner a final slap in the rear, pulled on his robe and turned on his heal to go make the coffee. As Hutch watched him saunter down the hallway he silently thanked God for giving him back a strong healthy partner, after Gunther's hit had almost taken him away.

Kuryakin smelled coffee. He dropped a final, contented, kiss on his partner's shoulder and then, thanking a God he didn't believe in, he followed his nose to the kitchen.

"Well, hello Illya." Greeted Starsky, though he tried not to sound too cheerful, as he suspected the Russian was not a "morning person." To himself, he wondered if there was any time of day the agent in his kitchen might find agreeable.

To Illya's credit, he managed a slight smile. It wasn't even all that forced. The earlier attentions of his partner and the promise of the coffee had him in a perfectly decent mood. He accepted the mug of coffee that Starsky presented and couldn't resist trying to drink too much, too fast and nearly scalded his lips (still a bit tender, from the morning's activities).

"You really do make excellent coffee. Thank you."

Starsky snorted. "Illya, for a while there, after the hit, I thought I might not ever be able to go back to Police Work, so I figured I better sharpen my skills in other areas...just in case."

"I'm familiar with the extent the damage your body sustained in that incident, having read your files. I will admit that I was very surprised, when we met, at how healthy you appeared. You must have amazing recuperative ablities."

"Yeah, probably. That and some pretty good doctors and therapists. I didn't make their lives easy during my recovery, I can tell you that. I bitched and moaned like you wouldn't believe. Hutch got the worst of it, really. That's the difference Illya. My partner is the reason I was able to come back as well as I have. Hell, he's the reason I get up in the morning..." Starsky stopped, realizing how sentimental he was becoming, and quickly added "But if you tell him that I'll have to kill you."

"Of course. I'm an UNCLE agent. We are good at keeping secrets." Illya, smiled knowingly.

"Who's keeping what secrets?" asked Hutch innocently, appearing around the corner.

"Never you mind there, Blintz! Here, have some coffee, I have it on good authority that it is more than adequate." He winked conspiratorially at Illya, who grinned and raised his mug in a salute.

Hutch was able to loan Solo a clean dress shirt, that fit him nearly as well as the tailored ones he was used to, and, as had become routine in the past few days, they took the agents' sedan downtown to the DA's office to help with the Gunther trial preparations. The trial was to start the next day. Illya stayed behind to accompany Starsky to his therapy.

After Illya's shower there was some time to kill before they had to make the appointment at the rehab center, which wasn't scheduled until early afternoon. As Starsky finished the breakfast dishes, Kuryakin started to examine the books the detectives had on their shelves, looking for nothing in particular. It was quite an eclectic assortment, and he couldn't help but wonder which partner favored which titles. He picked up a dog-eared paperback off the side table and smiled at the cover.

"I suppose you think those are pretty stupid, huh?" Starsky spoke up behind him.

"No, I actually like a good spy novel myself once in while. Napoleon does too, but do not tell him I told you..."

"Or you'll have to kill me?" Starsky grinned.

"Oh, definitely. As I was saying, I appreciate Fleming's stuff. I mean, a lot of it is utterly ridiculous and implausible...But, in some ways, he's almost a visionary."

"Hunh. And to think I was gonna' say it was just a pleasant distraction." Starsky chuckled.

"Well, that too." The Russian smiled, "I'll tell you something else that I find pleasant distraction, if you promise not to judge me too harshly." he said in some earnest.

"Scout's honor. Absolutely."

"I enjoy watching the occasional Police Drama on television. So you see, now it is my turn to ask you if you think my tastes are stupid." And, Starsky realized, he meant it.

"No kiddin'? Hutch and I will watch those once in a while. But we find it's a lot easier if we got a couple of beers in us. The best thing about those shows is that no matter how bad the case looks for the heroes, they always win in the end. And they always manage to do it in the span of an hour. I wanna' be those guys." Starsky scoffed.

"No. I do not think you do." Illya stated with certainty.

"Why would you say that?" asked the detective, honestly curious.

"Those shows rely heavily on exciting plots and such, to attract an audience I suppose, but the leading characters are always...hollow." Illya struggled with the word, not because of his fluency with the language, but because he was having a hard time expressing his feelings on the subject. Anytime feelings were involved, Illya struggled.

"Oh, I don't know. They seem to have it all, always good looking, flashy cars and clothes, plenty of beautiful women..."

"And what of a trusted partner?" interrupted Illya, "One to share the burdens and joys of their job and their life? I do not recall seeing that in any of the shows I watched."

And that gave Starsky pause.

"Wow. I never thought of it that way before, but you're right. None of those guys has a partner. You're right. I definitely do not want to be those guys." Starsky said decisively. Switching gears he continued "Okay, back to the spy novels. I'm gonna risk sounding really dumb here, but I was wondering about some of more romanticized, unrealistic aspects you mentioned..."


"Like, you know, the whole thing with meeting another spy you haven't met before and using some secret phrase to establish contact..." He really was feeling stupid, but he'd always wondered, and when the hell would he get a chance like this again to ask?

"Ah. You are talking about using a sign and countersign." supplied Kuryakin.

"Right. Like that. That probably doesn't happen in real life does it? I mean it seems like there's so many things that could go wrong with a system like that. Just probably a romantic idea some writer came up with..."

"What fresh hell is this?" Interrupted the Russian, seemingly apropos of nothing.

"Excuse me?" Starsky was puzzled.

"Those were my first words to Napoleon. That was the first part of our arranged communique'. His countersign to me was 'Hell, is other people'." Illya watched as the information sank in.

"No shit!?" Starsky was floored, but tried to remain dignified.

"I was still attached to the Russian GRU at the time. I was recruited for my post at UNCLE shortly after that meeting."

"No shit!" Starsky repeated. "Well, glad it worked out for you then." He said smiling and shaking his head in disbelief, but then thought a little more, "Still..." he began to wonder aloud.

"Yes?" Kuryakin was rather enjoying this conversation. Which was odd. He rarely enjoyed conversation.

"Well, when you think about it 'Hell is other people' is kind of a rough way to introduce yourself to somebody. Especially when you consider, how you guys ended just doesn't sound know...romantic" Starsky sounded a little disappointed.

"Oh. Trust me. It does when Napoleon says it..." And the gleam in the Russian's eye indicated that he was telling the truth.

Starsky brightened. "Well then, like I said, glad it worked out for ya'. Speaking of your partner, I have a couple other questions, but I'm trying to figure out how to ask without offending you or making myself feel too stupid."

"Well, I cannot guarantee either outcome, but I can assure you I will be as honest as I can." Which was the truth. Illya was honest to a fault, when not required by UNCLE to be otherwise.

"It's no big deal, really. Just wondering if Hutch and I are pronouncing you name correctly."

Illya wondered why the thought had even occurred to the detective, much less why he thought Illya would be offended. But, his years in the culture had taught him that Americans tended to spend too much time considering other people's feelings, so he put the man at ease.

"Yes. From the start, you both have pronounced it correctly. Which is not always the case, I may add, many Americans insist of calling me Ih-llya, even though I always stress the long E sound when introducing myself. I admit, that used you Americans say: 'get under my skin'. But, I realized, for the most part, they were not doing it intentionally. There are more important things to be bothered by."

"Okay...and here's why I was wondering...we've heard your partner say it that way. I mean with that short "i" sound, instead of the way we were saying it, so I just assumed..."

Kuryakin smiled. He could understand the confusion at his a Napoleon's little inside joke. Which, over the years, had evolved into part of their own shared code. Now, every time he heard his partner say his name, especially with the endearing (and intentional) mispronunciation, he heard love.

"Yes. Infuriating, is it not? I've heard some of the things you and your partner call each other. I'm guessing 'Blintz' is not generally considered an affectionate term. Unless, I need to study up on my colloquialisms. And who, exactly is this 'Gordo' person, he seems to confuse you with?" Kuryakin almost, almost, laughed.

Starsky did laugh. Who knew the Russian had it in him to

"Okay. I get it. And I've noticed the looks you guys exchange when you start dropping Russian phrases... Tovarish? I'm guessing..."

"Its similar to comrade, or partner if you will."

"Right, I figured. And Illyusha? Obviously a variation of your name, but it's more intimate than that, right?"

"Correct. But it's difficult to explain as an exact translation."

"But, if I were to call you that..."

Kuyakin replied, with humor, "I would have to seriously injure you, I'm afraid."

Starsky smiled knowingly, "Right. And your partner?"

"He might have to kill you." Just barely keeping from laughing.

"And if I were to call him, say, Napasha or Polya?" Starsky inquired, knowing the answer before the Russian spoke it.

"Oh. Then I would have to kill you." And he did laugh now. They both did.

"Of course you would. Well thanks for clearing all that up. You've been tremendously helpful comrade." Starsky said, still laughing.

When they arrived at the rehab center, Illya was glad as always to exit the Torino as quickly as he could manage. Simply driving it seemed to offend his sensibilities. Silly Americans and their obsession with cars.

His discomfort with Starskys' pride and joy, did not go unnoticed by the detective, who tried to stifle a chuckle.

"You know Hutch used to feel the same way about this car." Starsky said as he, himself, exited the vehicle. "Even referred to it as a 'Striped Tomato', if you can believe that." He said shaking his head.

Kuryakin could believe that. In fact, he could imagine worse ways to describe this bow to consumerism. But he chose not to voice them.

Ever able to read people, Starsky smiled as if he knew exactly what the Russian thought. "Anyway, he got over all that after the old girl protected him from Gunther's hit men. The paramedics told me later that his actions in stopping the massive blood loss at the scene allowed them to be able to save me at all. See I don't think he would've minded all that much going down himself. But saving me...he likes to think he's sort of "The White Knight" where I'm concerned. It's what he does." Starsky shrugged.

Kuryakin nodded, as they continued toward the entrance of the building. And he realized he was riveted. Certainly, these tales were more gripping than those he'd seen portrayed in those Police Dramas on television

"Surely, you have been known to return the favor, in all your years together. Remember, I have read your case files. There was the time Hutch was exposed to that viral plague as well the incident where he was kidnapped by some thugs working for Ben Forest-though the details of what happened during his captivity seemed vague..." said the agent, also remembering the various times he and his own partner had traded positions from being rescued to being the one doing the rescuing.

"Sure, sure. But this one was pretty rough. So, I come to find out later, that while I was in the hospital recuperating, Hutch had been busy arranging with my favorite mechanic, Merle, to have the 'Tomato' fully restored and operational. Including all the body work where the bullets from the automatic weapons had ripped through the metal..." He trailed off at this last, as if the thought of it was physically painful.

"So." He recovered "The day I'm scheduled to leave the hospital, what do you suppose he shows up in to drive me home?"

"The 'Striped Tomato'." answered the Russian, smiling. Understanding a little more, about why people sometimes placed such a value on things that he might normally see as inane objects.

"Yep. Lookin' like the first day I bought her off the lot! Coulda' knocked me over with a feather. Not that you couldn't have done that anyway, due how weak I still was, physically." He added with a chuckle.

"I mean it when I tell you he hated that car up until then. Was always wanting me to ditch it and go with something less flashy and more...practical. This was his perfect opportunity to be rid of it once and for all. And he just...just..." he stammered a little, "I mean, what kind of person does that for somebody? I think that's when I started to realize that not only was I in love with him, but that he just might love me a little bit too."

"More than a little bit, I should think." observed the Russian.

By this time they had reached the receptionist.

"Hiya' gorgeous. I believe you have my reservation. Starsky, party of one?"

The pretty red-head, Jenny, giggled and blushed. "Hi Dave. Tony is out sick today, but..." she checked the daily roster, "Gene has been filling in. I think you'll like him. Besides, from what Tony's been saying, you basically run the therapy sessions now. I don't remember ever seeing him having to make such an effort to try to keep up with a patient before. Don't tell him I told you though."

"You got it, schweethart." He replied, with what the Russian recognized as a very bad Bogart impression.

Within a few minutes Gene appeared at the desk. "You must be Detective Starsky. Pleased to meet you." For some reason, it struck Illya that the therapist was sizing up the detective in a peculiar way. Hard to say exactly why, but something seemed off.

By way of trying to ascertain a bit more information about this man, as well as wanting to somehow warn Starsky of his suspicions, Illya introduced himself.

"Hello Gene. I'm Arthur Kent, a friend of Dave's. Hope you don't mind my tagging along today. I promised his partner I'd convey any special instructions you might have as a result of today's session. We understand that Dave's almost been cleared to drive, is that right?"

Starsky had the same "off" feeling about the new therapist, and hearing Illya's little speech confirmed they were on the same page. He also found it interesting to note that the Russian suddenly hardly sounded...well...Russian at all. Affecting a more refined English accent, that was essentially flawless.

"Well, that's one of the things today's session might determine. Dave, I know Tony didn't have a problem with you allowing your friends to accompany you during therapy, but I'm not comfortable with that practice. No offense to you Mr. Kent, but in my experience, the patient tends to perform differently with an 'audience', and it interferes with my being able to make an accurate assessment of his progress."

That just sent up all kinds of flags.

"No offense taken, Gene. That makes good sense. Tell you what, Dave. I'll just run a couple of errands, and be back to pick you up hour?" He said raising his eyebrows in a question to the muscle bound therapist.

"Oh, I think two hours, at least." replied Gene. "You go ahead, I'll take good care of him until you get back from your errands."

Oh, I'll just bet you will. Thought the detective and the agent, simultaneously.

"Yeah, Art. Go ahead. See ya' when I see ya'." Starsky said as if he hadn't a care in the world.

Illya headed out to the Torino, quickly drove into the nearest shopping mall and parked it, in order to double back on foot to the rehab center.

"Open Chanel D" he transmitted as he was exiting the vehicle.

"Solo, here" Napoleon's voice replied almost instantly.

"I believe we may have a problem..."

Within minutes Solo and Hutch were on their way to the rehab center. Hutch wished he had a Mars light to stick on sedan's roof, but the lack of one didn't seem to hinder Solo from speeding to their destination.

No, no, no... Hutch's mind was reeling as he unconsciously clenched and unclenched his fists.

"He'll be alright." offered Solo, knowing what Hutch was thinking.

"You don't know that." He snapped. "Starsky's still recovering, he's just n-not strong enough...if he has to go through something like that again...he c-can't.."

"I know enough to have every confidence he'll come through this just fine." said Solo, with conviction. He'd been told his voice could have a remarkably calming effect. He hoped it would in this case.

"Hutch, I know you feel like Starsky is still somewhat fragile. But, that's because you're comparing him to how you know he's capable of performing when he's at his peak..."

"Exactly!" Hutch. Snapping again. Still not calm, noted Solo. "And I know he's not back to being at his peak..."

"Yes. But what I'm saying is, from an admittedly somewhat more dispassionate perspective, from what both my partner has witnessed at Starsky's rehabilitation sessions and from what I have seen myself in his day to day activity, he's in far better physical condition than your average citizen. Hell, he's in better shape then most cops I've seen." And it was true.

This, at least, caused Hutch to remain silent and not snap at him. It was a start.

Deciding that honesty would serve to broach the lingering concerns most effectively, the agent continued "I know what it's like to have a partner out there in big trouble. And I know how great it feels to get them back when it's over." He paused, noting Hutch's features relaxing slightly. He continued "And I know the temptation to try to do anything, anything to prevent them from getting hurt again...But you and I both know that our partners wouldn't be who they are, the men we love, if they allowed us to do that."

Hutch exhaled. He remembered Starsky's words from a recent conversation they had about his possible reinstatement, Hutch had been thinking it was too soon, and his partner's plaintive response: Whaadaya' wanna' do, Hutch, wrap me in cotton? We've got to get on with our lives. Otherwise, the bad guys win.

Okay partner. We won't let the bad guys win. But you better do your part to hang on until we can get you out of this. Hutch thought as they neared the rehab center.

Noting the Torino was still parked back in the mall lot, where Illya had left it, they pulled up in front of the rehab center and it was all Solo could do to stop Hutch from flying through the front doors.

"Easy. Let's not scare away the friendlies." Solo said calmly, nodding toward the patients and staff members as they entered the building. He didn't like involving innocents any more than he had to.

Hutch recognized Jenny, and strode up to the reception desk trying not to convey his stress.

"Ken, hi!" she said. "I thought Dave's friend Art was coming back to pick him up, was there a mix-up?"

"Something like that. We're sorry to bust in on his session, but something's come up and we (he nodded indicating Napoleon) really need to talk to him."

"No problem. Like I was telling him earlier, these last few sessions are just kind of formality, in order for him to satisfy the requirements for his reinstatement. He and Gene—Gene's filling in for Tony today—should be down the hallway, last door on the left."

Near the exit, of course. How convenient for someone trying to abduct him, thought both men.

They were not surprised to find the room empty when they got there. No sign of Starsky, Illya or the alleged therapist in the surrounding rooms or restroom either. Hutch wasn't interested in trying to keep his composure any longer, and burst through the exit door into the alley. Looking around he and Solo noticed long black skid marks, as if a vehicle had exited at great speed. Hutch bent down and touch them. They were still warm. Just missed them!

A glint of something metal caught Solo's eye near where the tacks ended. It was Illya's communicator.

Dark. Cold.

Starsky slowly became aware of his surroundings.

His head was throbbing. Well, I can't be dead, because if I was, I sure as hell wouldn't feel this lousy. He should know. He'd been dead before. Really, clinically, dead. For three minutes, according to the doctors at the hospital where he had flat-lined. And he remembered that death was easy. In a weird way, easy. You didn't hurt any more. Everything was just kinda' soft. For a few moments his mind went back to that day when he had died...

He remembered the sense of peacefulnes that was as powerful as any high he'd ever experienced, but also that something had stirred in the corner of his, not his brain. His heart. His heart knew he wasn't ready to leave this mortal coil. He actually had the clear sense that it was his decision to make. He could give in to the peaceful intoxication of the death so near, or he could have the suffering and agony that would surely accompany his survival. And he would have Hutch. So there was no decision to be made, really. He had come back. It was every bit as grueling and painful as he knew it would be.

But he had Hutch. So it was worth it. Someday he would have to tell his partner how important he really had been in determining his survival. At first, he didn't tell him because he didn't want to burden him with the thought that he was in any way responsible for the pain Starsky suffered during his recovery. But now that he was almost through all that...

Until now. Crap. What had he gotten himself into now?...

He tried moving. Couldn't much. Arms restrained behind his back. Ankles also secured, he realized. Damn.

He looked around. It was cold and dark. Damp. Why were these places always cold and dark? Not a room exactly, there were no delineated walls. The floor he was lying on was dirt...or sand or something. This did not look good. He felt a breeze from somewhere...And he couldn't shake the feeling that he knew this place.

He caught a small movement out of the corner of his eye. A glimpse of...blond hair?

"Hutch?" he ventured quietly. On some level hoping he was wrong, because he didn't want Hutch here if something really terrible was about to happen. He'd want him to be safe.

"Afraid not." Right. The Russian.

"So, what's the plan? I'm assuming you've spent the time while I was unconscious coming up with one."

"I've just recently been able to locate you. Wishing to keep my presence unknown to your hosts made that a difficult, I'm afraid. It would help me formulate a plan, if I knew where we were."

"Why don't you know that already?" Starsky moved a little to make it easier for Illya to free him from his bonds.

"By the time I made it back to the rehabilitation center, our friend Gene was in the process of removing your apparently unconscious body through the back door, into an ambulance waiting in the alley. I'll spare you the details, but I managed to attach myself to the vehicle. Unfortunately I wasn't in much of a position to take in the scenery. I was able to gauge the general direction of our journey. It seems we traveled mainly north and slightly west of our original location." Starsky could tell Kuryiakin was disappointed in himself for not being able to provide more details.

"Jesus. Bet that that'll make a good story someday." Starsky sensed more than he saw the shrug from the agent.

"I can tell you what I've been able to ascertain from my brief reconnaissance as I was looking for you." Illya offered. "I took the opportunity to separate from the ambulance after we obviously had left the pavement and were slowing down considerably. It also appeared, by that time, that we had entered some darkened structure. By staying in the shadows, I've been able to keep my presence unknown to this point. So we still have the element of surprise on our side." The Russian seemed encouraged by this fact.

Starsky processed the information as fast as the agent could share it. "How long do you think we traveled before the ambulance left the road?" He asked, trying to get a better idea of where they had landed.

"According to my watch, 15 minutes. At a fairly high rate of speed, if I'm guessing correctly."

"Yeah, I'm sure you're right about that. Not like they were out for a leisurely Sunday drive, I suppose." Starsky continued to try to narrow down the probable locations based on Illya's observations, as well as what he could see himself.

Then he had, what he thought, was a great idea. "Hey, what about your transmitter-thing? Could you use that to let your partner know what you just shared with me?"

Illya let out a snort that indicated he was disappointed, again, in his own performance. "If I hadn't lost it while climbing under the carriage of the ambulance, I would be able to do that..." the regret in his voice was not lost on Starsky.

"Jesus, Illya-you mean you rode underneath the ambulance until we got here? What were you thinking?! You couldda' been seriously injured..or worse!"

"This is what we trained for in UNCLE Survival School. Nothing I haven't done before..." he said matter-of-factly.

"Oh, I don't know if I believe that, but thanks. I mean it. Thanks." Starsky said shaking his head.

"I did manage to contact Napoleon as I was doubling back to the center, and alerted him to our concerns. So our partners should be looking for us as we speak." This was some good news.

"I suppose I'm still alive for a reason, I mean if they wanted to just kill me, Gene had the opportunity. I tried to stall from getting alone with him for as long as I could. But you can only come up with so many reasons to go the can. The minute I went through the door of the room at the end of the hall, he stuck me with a hypodermic. That's the last thing I remember."

"Do you feel like you're suffering any lingering effects from the drug?" Illya asked, concerned.

"No, nothing serious. A little fuzzy, but it's clearing more as time wears on..." And as Starsky continued to rack his fuzzy brain and take in what he could make out of his surroundings, he realized what this place reminded him of...15-20 minutes out of town...same damp, cold feeling...even, he realized, the smell...and he got a very bad feeling of deja vu.

"Illya, what did you see as you were looking for me? What kind of place do you think this is?" Although he wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer.

"Strange. This doesn't appear to be a building or man made seems to be a...cave or something of that nature. These types of THRUSH strongholds are more commonly found in remote areas, the countryside or the it's difficult to reconcile what I seemed to be seeing, this close to the city. It doesn't make sense, really." puzzled the Russian.

"Illya, have you been to many zoos in America?" Starsky introduced the seeming non sequitur.

"I have seen some, but I don't see what that has..." and then it dawned on him, "But I neither saw nor heard any animal activity..." he reasoned.

"That's because, if I'm right, this is the old Bay City Zoo. It was shut down years ago to make way for the new, new 'Super-Zoo' in Mandalay Heights." The more he thought about it, the more Starsky was sure he was right.

"Illya, when you read my files, do you remember the mention of my kidnapping a couple years back by some wacko cult group?"

"The Simon Marcus Affair? So you think this might be the same location?" The despair in his voice had vanished now. "So, you are familiar with this place. That will help as we strategize for our escape."

"Illya, I think the best plan, at his point is for you to slip back out, the way you came in. Get back to town as fast as you can, and send reinforcements." Starsky said decisively.

"That is not an acceptable solution." stated the Russian, firmly. "They could come back at any time..."

"Exactly..." Starsky tried to interject.

...and, until we know what they have planned for you, I will stay." still firmly, as he literally waved away Starsky's suggestion with a sweeping hand gesture.

"You're partner was right. You are a stubborn Russian." noted Starsky

"I am, when I know I am right." he stated, as though it were a simple fact.

"Well, you should probably tie me back up, so they don't realize I've had company, at least." Starsky reasoned.

"Alright. But I will leave enough give in the restraints, so you can manage to shed them when you need to." replied Illya.

As his friend made the bonds look convincing, Starsky started to tell him about the last time he had been held captive in this place, so he might be better prepared. Step one: watch out for bears, he cautioned. And his thoughts turned, briefly to that psycho Simon Marcus....

"Simon Marcus?!" Hutch couldn't believe he was having to revisit that little nightmare at a time like this. "Captain, what the hell does Simon Marcus have to do with any of this? We know this is the work of Gunther's THRUSH connections."

Dobey had ridden with the crime scene technicians to meet Hutch and Solo at the rehab center, to fill them in on this latest development.

"We decided to go through the records to see who Gunther may have had contact with, since he's been staying in the County Lock-Up. To see if we could find any connections to other cases you and your partner had in the past. And whose name do you think showed up?" the Captain asked.

"But how can that be? Marcus has been in Federal Custody since his conviction two years ago..." protested Hutch, still incredulous.

"It seems that through some 'clerical error' Marcus was transferred to County and spent the last two days in a cell adjoining James Gunther. How's that for a coincidence?" Dobey said in a tone that indicated he thought it was no coincidence at all.

"Captain. I've got to talk to Marcus." Hutch pleaded.

"Remember the last time Hutch? Something tells me we don't have time to listen to that madman's ramblings and riddles again. Gunther's trial starts tomorrow. My guess is he's hoping that by kidnapping Starsky, he'll be able to control you as well. So far we haven't done anything to let them know we've made the connection, and I think it's better if we don't tip our hand." Clearly Dobey had been prepared for Hutch's reaction.

"Hutch, I read the file on that case. Let's think about what Marcus could offer that Gunther might find of value." encouraged Solo.

Hutch tried to conceive of what could have brought the two men together. The connection seemed so unlikely. Gunther was a brutal yet focused, business-like enforcer when it came to his preferred brand of evil. But Marcus was simply mad. What could he offer Gunther that might be of Value? Well, he was local, for starters, while Gunther had always been based in San Francisco. There might be something of value in Marcus' knowledge of the area...Hutch gave his long fingers a snap.

"Captain. I think I know where they might be holding Starsky..."

They patched the expected call through to the Torino (Solo and Hutch had exchanged the sedan, in order to be able to utilize the Mars light, and have radio contact). Dobey was right, Gunther's operatives were planning on using their kidnapping of Starsky, to try to blackmail Hutch into changing his testimony in the Gunther trial.

"I'm not gonna' even listen to you, scum, until you let me talk to my partner, and he let's me know he's alright." Hutch said, hoping to sound a lot braver than he felt.

"Yeah, yeah. We knew that. That's why we didn't kill him. And we won't kill him if you keep your end of the bargain." the two men in the car listened as the caller's voice was broadcast over their police radio. "Go ahead cop. Say 'hi' to your partner."

"Hutch, that you?...What took you so long?" Starsky said, echoing the exact words he had used when Hutch had saved him from Marcus' followers two years earlier. This was all the confirmation Hutch needed to know that they were indeed on their way to the right location.

"Hang on, partner..." Hutch tried to sound encouraging.

"You know what Hutch? Hell is other people..." This didn't really make much sense to Hutch, but he figured it was all Starsky could do to keep it together.

The blackmailer was back on the line, "We'll be watching the trial coverage tomorrow. You'd better come through for your partner, if you want to see his sorry ass again." And the call ended.

Solo, who had looked somewhat more hopeful after Starsky's second statement, broke the silence in the car. "I told you he'd be alright" he said.

Hutch shared the significance of the first part of Starsky's message. Solo nodded and then began, "Say, did I ever tell you the story of my very first meeting with my partner?..."

He was just able to finish the story as they neared the entrance to the old zoo.

The sun had been down for a couple of hours. That was good. It gave Solo and Hutch extra cover. The two men had surveyed a map of the zoo grounds, given to them by Captain Dobey, even as they headed to the property. They narrowed down the most likely possibilities for the TRUSHIES' hiding spot. For his part, Solo's extensive knowledge of similar THRUSH activities helped tremendously in that process.

They parked the Torino well off the zoo grounds and headed in on foot. UNCLE agents as well as the BCPD were on stand-by, but all agencies agreed to let Solo and Hutch go in first, so as not to alert the captors of their presence too soon. The safety of their partners was the most important thing.

The fact that Starsky had used a coded reference to signal Illya's presence to Solo and Hutch meant that the Russian had also gone undetected. At least thus far. Surprise was a most effective tool in these situations.

Being a little more familiar with the terrain, Hutch took the lead. The Blond detective tried to keep focused on the here and now, and hoped he wouldn't flash back to the Marcus case...or even the time Crazy George Prudholm had lured his partner to this same abandoned property to try to exact a little revenge of his own. Hutch wasn't superstitious by nature, but he had to admit, this place had some bad karma.

Soon enough they approached the old underground entrance, once used for delivery of exotic animals to the zoo. Their maps had indicated this tunnel led to a series of cavernous enclosures. And Hutch remembered that Starsky had been held there by the Marcus cult members. Once inside it was almost maze-like, made especially confusing given the absence of sufficient lighting.

They slipped in. Moving forward cautiously, and quietly while looking for any sign of Starsky or Illya.

Suddenly, Solo grabbed Hutch and pulled him into the shadows and pointed to...some small source of light. They approached to investigate, but kept a safe distance. What they saw was not their partners, but a group of seven-no eight- rather nefarious looking men sitting around a folding table near an ambulance. They looked to be passing the time playing cards. Noting the location they continued in search of their partners.

After rounding a couple of more corners, Solo became aware of a lurking presence. Trying not to look directly toward where he felt it, he hoped to double back and return to check it out. Instead, he was brought up short by his Russian.

Without taking time for pleasantries, Hutch asked, "Where's Starsky?" Illya turned and stealthily led them to the chamber where the detective was being held.

Though all men were relieved to be reunited, they knew they weren't out of the woods yet.

"Have they been checking on you regularly? How long before they're likely to come back?" asked Solo.

"After they made the phone call, they brought me back here and told me to sleep tight. So I'm guessing they don't plan on coming back any time soon"

Hutch had to ask, "Starsk, are you injured? Do you think you can make it out with us if we make a break for it?"

"I'm fine. The drug they used on me must've cleared my system by now. I'm a little stiff from being tied up like this. But I guess I can get rid of these now." he said as he easily shed his restraints. "Just tell me you guys brought back-up."

"I've already signaled for them to join us." Solo informed him "Having left my tracking device back in the area where we noticed the THRUSH operatives gathered. We should be hearing the cavalry...just about..."

He was interrupted the distant shouting and firing of weapons.

"Now." finished Illya, sounding satisfied.

But it wasn't quite that easy, as they heard an engine, more shouting, and screeching tires. The four men headed toward the sound, and as they came around the corner saw the ambulance barreling toward them.

"That's Gene!" said Starsky. The next thing he heard was the unmistakable crack and echo of Hutch's Magnum. And he saw Gene slump forward in the driver's seat of the ambulance as it careened out of control and into a wall. The entire thing burst into flames.

Unfortunately, the burning vehicle effectively blocked the only obvious exit. The four men headed back into the cave-maze.

"Illya, you've spent some time poking around this place. Did you notice any other exits?" queried Starsky.

"Not exactly. But I do remember feeling drafts in certain areas, which would seem to indicate the presence of and exit of some sort." He stated.

"Lead on MacDuff" said Solo.

Within ten minutes the agents and detectives had found an exit and were breathing the cool night air of Bay City. Only then, did Solo decide he could shed his veil of calm, which had served him well to this point. He gave in to the emotion of the moment. Underneath the half moon, Solo gathered his partner into his arms and gave him a searing, life-affirming kiss, which was returned with equal fervor.

Hutch on the other hand, seemed reluctant to even touch his partner, as if by doing so, he might make him vanish. Starsky had seen this behavior before, and knew the best way to break the spell. Growling, he pounced on his partner and practically knocked him to the ground while kissing him and murmuring his name. When they broke for air, Hutch knew he had Starsky back. And the pouncing had reaffirmed the fact that he was the same strong, able partner he had fallen in love with.

Hutch took a deep breath, reached down and took Starsky's hand in his, drew it to his lips and kissed his open palm.

"I love you, Starsk. So much. You know that?" A rhetorical question, if there ever was one.

"Yep. I do know that. Good thing too, 'cause I happen to feel the very same way about you, you big blond thing."

The detectives took a few moments to nod thanks to the agents, who themselves nodded and shrugged, and all four headed toward the flashing lights of the various police vehicles that were gathered at the bottom of the hill.

Three weeks later, closing arguments were presented in the Gunther trial. One day after that, the jury found him guilty on all charges, including: racketeering, assault of a Police Officer, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit the murder of Police Officers Kenneth Hutchinson and David Starsky.

True, it wasn't a complete accounting of his wrongful deeds. But it was enough that he would never see the outside of a jail cell in his lifetime. So the BCPD and UNCLE were all satisfied.

Starsky and Hutch insisted on taking their two favorite UNCLE agents out to celebrate the victory. Given their choice of fine establishments, the Russian had decided that he would like to go to The Pits, because, as he put it, the establishment was 'unique to Bay City'.

"Oh, you can say that again..." laughed Starsky as Huggy Bear seated them in their usual booth.

Huggy pretended to look insulted at Starsky's jibe, and went off to get the men four beers.

They shared a pleasant, stress-free evening enjoying their meals and shooting pool. They also made plans for the detectives visit the agents the next time they were in New York, which was usually a couple times a year, to visit Starsky's mother.

After dinner, Solo insisted on driving to a special spot he had in mind for drinks and dessert.

The detectives followed the sedan, Starsky very happy to be driving his Torino again, as Solo led them up the scenic coastal highway. About thirty minutes out of Bay City, Solo pulled onto a side road, and then into what looked like a private drive. Pulling up to a stop behind the sedan, Starsky got out and asked if the agent was sure he was in the right place. This didn't look like any nightspot he's ever seen.

"Oh, quite sure." said Napoleon enigmatically.

Gesturing for the rest to accompany him, he followed a small path to fairly large beach house and produced a key for the front door. Once inside he turned on the lights to reveal a fairly luxurious, comfortably furnished space.

"Napoleon, what have you done?" asked the Russian with no small amount of skepticism.

"Now Illya. Why must you always assume the worst? How typically...Russian of you..." he chuckled.

Illya did not look amused. But waited for the explanation.

"Remember when I said this trip might turn out to be a much needed vacation for us? I decided that, for once, we would take the standard week allowed us following the close of an extended Affair. I've already called in to UNCLE headquarters and confirmed this with Waverly. Now before you start to argue with me on this..." Clearly, Solo had his counter-argument already prepared.

"I was not going to argue Napoleon. You are quite right. I think we could benefit from such a break." Kuryakin said, mildly. "But...all this..." he said looking around the room, questioning.

"Please, Illyusha, allow this little indulgence. I never get a chance to spoil you back home..." He purred.

The little scene was not lost on Starsky who turned to tease his own partner. "You know, Hutchinson, you might wanna' pay attention here. Take a little lesson in the romance department. We've lived here, what...eight years? And you've never brought me to a place like this."

"Well, actually..." Hutch began, as he produced a key from his pocket.

"Actually, Hutch is the one who told me about this place." Solo supplied.

"It's not the kind of thing I could probably afford on my own, but I thought it was big enough that we could all share for the week, and if we split the expenses..." Hutch trailed off, enjoying the look on Starsky's face.

"Hutch....Hutch?..." Starsky stammered in disbelief.

"You've been fully reinstated. And we're back on the duty roster, as a team, one week from today. Who knows when we'll get a chance like this again? Let's enjoy it, huh?" Hutch said beseechingly.

"Oh-KAY!" Starsky said enthusiastically.

"Great, because I've already brought out enough clothes and supplies to last the week..."

"Whoa, there. Pretty sure of yourself, weren't ya' Bronco?" laughed his partner.

Hutched blushed. Adorable, thought Starsky.

"I just thought it would save us having to make the trip back to town to get everything..." Hutch explained.

"Uh-huh. So where did you put my stuff, might I ask?" Starsky continued to tease.

"Oh, I thought we'd take that bedroom down at the far end of the hall." Hutch pointed to the room in question.

"Right. And, Illya, I took the liberty of putting our things in here." said Solo, indicating the bedroom on the other side of the large living room.

Noting that the rooms were at opposite ends of the house, Starsky chuckled. "Gee, think you guys coulda' found rooms any further apart?"

Illya also smiled at this.

"Well, you know Starsk,...with your snoring...I didn't think we should disturb our friends like that." said Hutch, reasonably "I mean, they did say this was supposed to be their vacation..."

The UNCLE agents had drawn a bit away from the other pair. Solo paused and held his Russian's gaze. As usual, those eyes—like clear blue ice—nearly undid him.

"I love you Illyusha." Spoken as a prayer, an oath...a vow.

Lesser men and women would have swooned at those words from the dashing Solo. Illya, was not a lesser man. Instead he replied, simply "I love you more."

"Why must everything be a contest with you?" Solo smiled, in mock exasperation.

"Polya, I think I should like to see our room now. Perhaps you could show me where you saw fit to put my things?" Illya could have almost pulled off sounding serious, if it wasn't for glimmer in his eyes and the smile that tugged the corners of his mouth giving away his not-so-secret agenda.

With the quick exchange of polite good-nights behind them, the detectives parted company with the agents, as each pair set off for their own room to properly celebrate the successful outcome of this entire Affair. And to contemplate just what they would do with a full week without the outside world intruding on their lives and their love.

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