The first thing he became aware of was the unnatural position of his head, giving rise to an awful pain in his neck.
The second thing he noticed was the fact that he was lying on the floor.
As he straightened himself out, he heard a high-pitched voice groaning from his own throat and took quick inventory.
"Oh. Right," he chuckled as memory came flooding back. "I'm ten."
Climbing to his feet, he grimaced as he looked around the destroyed bedroom. Feathers were everywhere, even sticking to the remnants of the pizza and floating in the soda. The pillows that had been used for ammunition sagged sadly, their downy load long since spent.
The covers lay in a sorry tangle at the foot of the bed. The pictures that had gotten knocked over but not broken lay where they had fallen.
And a pair of neckties were still lazily going round and round, draped over the turning ceiling fan.
Chuckling, the boy picked his way through the mess and moved blankets until, with a slight sound of satisfaction, he'd uncovered a sleeping blond little boy. "Wondered where you'd gotten to."
Stretching after he recovered the child, the dark-haired boy began to age rapidly. When he was a thirty-year-old man, he left the bedroom.
And with perfect timing, the phone rang. He scooped it up before it could ring twice. "Hello?"
"Detective Starsky," a woman's voice on the other end spoke. "It's Marcy Allen."
Starsky's eyes snapped with rage and he slammed the phone down. When it rang less than a moment later, he snarled into it, "What the hell do you want?"
Her voice was calm. "You recall when I told you about the gifts bestowed upon you and Detective Hutchinson? I told you we expected to be assured of your services."
"So what?" Starsky growled.
"Time, huh?" Starsky growled. "Well, suppose we don't want to help you?"
Starsky gasped, his eyes going wide. "You can't do anything, can you?"
"No!" He was laughing now. "You can't, can you? You work by intimidation by using the CIA name to bully people into helping you!"
"Detective, you are out of line."
"I don't think I am. Goodbye, Marcy." And he hung up.
Starsky had just gotten Hutch awake, dressed and 35, when a knock came on the door.
Answering it, Starsky groaned. "Aw, crap, what do you want?"
Marcy walked in. "I told you over the phone. It's time to put your talents to work."
"And I told you no!"
"Wait" Hutch gasped. "Wait, when did she call?"
"About an hour ago," Starsky sighed. "I just hadn't gotten around to telling you yet."
"But you were going to?" At Starsky's nod, Hutch nodded as well. "All right, then." Then he turned to Marcy. "You have some explaining to do. Get to it."
Marcy's eyes snapped. "First of all, Detective--"
Hutch interrupted, "First of all, Agent -- this is my house. As such, you do not come in here and take over. Tell me what is going on."
She sighed and ran a hand over her forehead. "There is a Children's Home just outside of Bay City. We had a family under witness protection. Something happened, I am not at liberty to say what but the boy was forced to go to this home. Two weeks later, the boy was dead."
Despite themselves, Starsky and Hutch were intrigued. "And that's why you want us," Starsky said.
She nodded. "Because of your... abilities... you are the best suited to go in and see what's happening in there."
Starsky and Hutch looked at each other. "Excuse us for a minute," Hutch said. The partners got up and went into the bedroom to discuss.
"What do you think?" Starsky asked.
Hutch sighed. "These are kids, Gordo. What do you think I'm thinking?"
Starsky smiled. "The same thing I am. I don't like how strong she came on."
"Me either, but--"
"But there are kids involved. Let's go tell her, then."
Hutch studied his face, then smiled and nodded.
Wednesday morning. Ten AM.
The small boy with the long blond hair and impossibly innocent eyes held fast to the hand of the curly-haired cop with the haunted expression as they walked into the office of the Bayside Waif's Home. With his other hand, he held fast to a white teddy bear.
"His name is Kenny Harris," Starsky informed the director. "We found him asleep in the back seat of a stolen car. We're trying to track down the boy's parents, but we're hitting a hell of a lot of brick walls."
The director smiled and rested a hand on top of the blond hair. "Don't worry. We'll take very good care of him."
With a nod, Starsky crouched and hugged the child. "Be good. You'll be fine."
"'Kay," the boy whispered and just for a moment the cunning adult shone in his eyes.
But it was enough. Starsky drove away from there more concerned for the Home than for Hutch. It wouldn't know what had hit it.
Especially not after a few more hours.
Seven hours later, "Social Worker Alice Markham" marched up to the door of the Home, half-dragging a surly, sullen ten-year-old boy with wild curly hair. "You best be sure you know what you're doing," she hissed out of the corner of her mouth.
"No worries, Marcy," he hissed back. "You made us what we are, remember?"
Her scowl deepened as the door opened to reveal the director. They were swiftly escorted into his office.
A few hurried words and "Daniel Silverman" was left alone as Richard Corbin walked the social worker from his office.
Starsky slid from his seat and started to head around the big desk when he found himself arrested by something in the trash can.
The white teddy bear Hutch had brought in with him lay stuffed headfirst into the can. The arm Hutch had been doggedly holding on to was ripped from its body and lay by itself in the can.
Starsky's eyes narrowed and his lips thinned. Before he could do anything, though, he heard heavy footsteps heading his way.
He just had enough time to get back into the chair before the door literally blew open. "You've got an attitude," Corbin snarled.
"So what?" Starsky growled.
He found himself backhanded out of the chair and hauled up by his shirtfront to feel the man's hot breath in his face. "You'll lose that attitude or you'll lose everything."
Starsky was literally shoved into a room with several other boys the New Arrivals Barracks, a sign on the door read.
As soon as the door closed, a tiny hand fluttered over Starsky's face and arms. "You okay, there?" Hutch's small voice whispered.
"That's my line," Starsky whispered back.
"I'm not the one with a huge bruise on his jaw."
"Corbin has a heavy backhand and a big ring."
And the child's eyes blazed. "He hit you?"
"Pull in the claws, you're supposed to be four." Starsky stood. "I'll be fine. Did he hurt you?"
"No. Just ripped Ollie Junior out of my hands and threw me in here. Literally."
Starsky shook his head. "He sure as hell doesn't like kids," he whispered.
"Agreed. So why the hell is he in charge of a Children's Home?"
Wednesday Night. Nine PM.
Lights out in the New Arrival Barracks had been a half-hour earlier. Starsky crept through on his way to Hutch's bunk when something caught his eye.
One of the new arrivals a child not much older than five carried a slip of material that was dirty and torn. Starsky's heart went out to the boy.
Crouching down, he put his fingertips on the material. Seconds later, it was whole and revealed to be part of a woman's blouse. Starsky smiled and re-aged it to the scrap but clean and unfrayed, though still carrying strongly the unmistakable scent of the woman who wore it.
He then resumed his trek to his tiny partner's bunk. He sat on the edge and gently touched his shoulder.
Hutch turned and smiled at him, his large eyes showing no sign of fatigue. "Hi," he whispered.
"Hi, yourself," he whispered back. "How are you holding up?"
"Profoundly relieved we can do what we do," Hutch grinned. "Keeps the sleepies and potty breaks at bay and lets me keep watch with you."
Starsky grunted softly. "You know we'll pay for this later."
"Yeah sleep for 24 hours straight and go like a river. But it's worth it. When do we make our first move?"
"In the mor--" He cut himself off as the door opened. "Hutch?"
But the boy's eyes were already closed and his body limp. Only his slightly erratic breathing betrayed he was faking sleep.
A woman's figure was illuminated in the doorway before she eased into the room. But as she approached, it became obvious that it was a teenager perhaps 15 years old. She crept toward Hutch's bunk and paused, startled to see "Daniel Silverman" awake and on guard, watching her.
She smiled and held out a familiar bear by way of explanation.
Starsky's eyes widened, but he grinned and jostled Hutch's shoulder. "Kenny....it's Ollie."
The large eyes stuttered open and he whispered, "Ol-lie?" Then unfeigned joy burst over his face and he took the bear from her, hugging it close. "Ollie!" he exulted in an excited whisper. "I thought I'd never see you again! Look, Danny his arm's even back!"
She nodded. "It wasn't right. A boy should have his teddy bear. We worked all evening." She smiled and turned to go.
"Wait," Starsky hissed. When she turned back, they both sat up fully. "We don't know the ropes mind if we ask you a few things?"
"Sure," she whispered, returning to sit on the edge of the bed facing them both. "What do you want to know?"
Her name was Whitney. She was a transient -- one with parents living, who only lived there a few weeks out of the year, when her parents were away.
She told Starsky and Hutch the Draconian rules of the institution. she told of the brutal punishments for minor infractions -- unless one became a favourite. She managed to infuse that one word with such anger and loathing that it startled both boys.
"What's a favourite?" Hutch asked.
Whitney smiled at the tiny four-year-old and pulled him into a hug. "You don't have to worry, Kenny. We won't let anyone make you a favourite."
Starsky's eyes went huge and he made a crude but descriptive sign behind Hutch's back -- asking Whitney if the favourites were abused in a horrific but hidden way.
Whitney nodded grimly. "We watch them get broken," she whispered. "Then they break the new kids."
Then she told him of how some of the older ones and transients were trying to keep the new and younger ones safe -- often at terrible cost. "I've been beaten twice -- and I watched Julian beat to death."
Julian. It was an unusual enough name that it caught their attention. Hutch raised innocent eyes to hers. "Julian what?" his childish treble quavered.
"Julian Morris," she replied with a sad smile. "We have to keep him safe," she said to Starsky.
Starsky nodded and took Hutch from her. Hutch took the hint and affected a giant yawn.
After tucking him in and watching him fake sleep, Starsky asked, "Why was he beat to death?"
"Corbin wanted him to be a favourite. He got a knee and a foot to the balls for his trouble. Corbin had it out for Julian after that. He'd beat him every chance he got -- and each time he'd go just a bit further -- till one day...." She shivered and wrapped her arms around herself.
Starsky let the silence stretch for a minute, then he whispered, "Hey...Whitney?"
After a moment, she raised haunted eyes to him.
"Why's Corbin in charge, if he hurts kids so badly?"
She sighed heavily. "Because every child that comes in is another btch of money he's given for their care. Not to mention he gets a steady supply of favourites."
"And it's only Corbin?" Starsky asked.
"Yeah," Whitney said. "Everyone under him loves kids and are good people -- they're just scared of Corbin. Why?"
He turned to the child on the bed. "Heard enough?"
"Yeah." Hutch sat up. All childish innocence gone, he looked at Whitney. "We can help those kids now that we know what we're up against."
Whitney frowned as the tiny boy got off the bed and stood by his older friend. "I....huh?"
"Whitney," Starsky said. "You can't tell anybody what we're about to show you, okay?"
"Okay, but I don't--"
Hutch held up a hand. "We were sent here to stop Corbin."
"Hutch," Starsky warned.
"Look," the boy shot back. "We were sent to find out what happened to Julian. we know what happened to Julian. And now, we can help these kids!"
"And waiting for Marcy would take too long," Starsky sighed. "All right."
Hutch grinned up at him. "Let's go, then!"
And Whitney gasped in shock as the boys became grown men right before her eyes. Whitney gave a shriek and scuttled backwards. "Who -- what are you?"
"We're policemen," Starsky told her.
"From what planet?" she yelped.
That made them both smile. "Whitney," Hutch said, "Gather the littles. Keep them safe till we get back." He looked at Starsky and jerked his head even as he picked up Ollie Jr and put him in Whitney's arms. "And keep him safe for me, too. He really is mine."
That brought a small smile to her face as she held the white teddy bear close.
As they left the room, Hutch whispered, "Starsk, we don't have our guns."
"We don't need them," Starsky reminded him. "Not for this scum."
Hutch nodded and they fell into step, striding down the hall to Corbin's office.
Finding it dark, they moved to the stairs to Corbin's private rooms.
"He's not here," Hutch snarled.
Starsky swore. "Then he's probably gone for --"
"The littles," they said together, shrinking in unison down to their fastest ages -- ten -- and bolting for the dorms.
Sure enough, they found Corbin trying to force his way into the New Arrivals dorm.
Hutch only paused long enough to become a larger, stronger 35 before he tackled Corbin, sending both tumbling to the ground.
Corbin yelled, shoving him off. "Who in the hell are you?"
"Kenny," Hutch snarled before sending his fist into Corbin's face. "And I'm nobody's 'favourite'."
Corbin spat on him. "Kenny's four!"
"There's been no proof." Starsky stepped forward, aging as he did so. He smirked as Corbin's eyes widened in recognition and horror as "Daniel Silverman" became the detective who'd dropped Kenny off in Corbin's office. "Hello, sir. This was not what I meant when I told you to take care of Kenny."
"No, no proof," Hutch snarled. "But there has to be justice. For Julian. For the 'favourites'. For us."
Starsky put a hand on the struggling Corbin's neck -- and his eyes went wide. "Nothing's happening!"
Hutch swore. "It must not work on living things."
Removing his hand, Starsky cursed as well. "If anyone deserved--"
Corbin tried to break free, and Hutch grabbed him by the back of his neck.
And Corbin was suddenly a teenager.
"I can't," Starsky cheered, "but you can!"
Hutch smirked. "Good-bye, Corbin. Meet justice."
And Corbin screamed as Hutch's hand closed over his forehead.
Marcy glared at the men who walked on either side of her. "That was entirely uncalled for."
"Oh, stop it," Hutch snarled. "We don't play by your rules, and you know it."
"We made you what you are--"
"Against our will," Starsky shot back. "And we know we have to do ... jobs... for you." He stopped and glared at her. "But you need to understand that we will do it our way."
She opened her mouth, and Hutch said, "You have no choice in this, Marcy. We have no choice but to work for you occasionally. You have no choice but to get out of our way and let us."
She sighed in defeat. "But still....what you did to Corbin...."
"Was justice," Starsky said. "And a mercy he didn't deserve."
As one, he and Hutch turned and waved at the house they were leaving.
The older woman waved back, cooing, "Such nice men, aren't they, baby? Wave at the nice men, now." She lifted the tiny baby -- just barely a newborn -- and manipulated his arm in a wave.
And -- suddenly realising they were leaving him behind -- the tiny boy that had once been Richard Corbin wailed in anger and fright. It turned into a snuffling whimper of shame as his infant body betrayed him.
His new guardian's loving words and gentle care undid him. He could not resist the love being shown -- craved it like a drug, thanks to the overwhelming instincts of an infant.
This was justice, then. Condemned to grow up under the care of loving, gentle people. Surrounded by such love and tender care that his new powerful instincts kept surrendering to it.
It was more than Corbin could bear. He didn't even notice when his mind snapped completely, burying his very self forever under the infant's reactions and instincts.
Wiping Richard Corbin completely away.
Killing him as completely as if Hutch had put a bullet into his heart.
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