1. What's A Partner For?

by

Rosemary


Finally, the noise faded. A screech of protesting wheels, a final barrage of bullets, a barely perceived streak of black and white as the police car fled the garage and then they were gone, as was most of his world. He was alone with his terror and the silence, a silence far more frightening than the deafening tumult of moments before. He forced himself to turn, not wanting to but knowing that he must. As in some heroin-induced vision. Black bullet holes marred the gleaming red surface of the Torino, red blood glistened brightly on the dulled blackness of the leather jacket. Red and black... Black and red... the colors of death. Somehow he was kneeling beside the huddled form, the precious figure so very, very still. His quaking hand gripped the leather-clad shoulder. He wondered why the flesh felt so hard, thin and strangely pointed beneath the soft leather. He turned the body and jumped back in revulsion. Black clumps of rotting flesh clung to the corners of empty eye sockets, seeped over the bleached skull. He opened his mouth to scream....

*~*~*

No sound emerged. The scream caught in his throat as his eyes shot open, his body one quivering mass of terror. Abandoning the couch, he stood in the center of the darkened living room, feeling as he hadn't felt since childhood. Icy prickles of fear tingled up and down his spine. Cold and alone, he was an intruder in the familiar room. He peered into the darkness, dream whispers of horror still haunting his memory, cold trickles of sweat sliding down his back, erratic thumping of his heart drowning out all other sounds. He felt unwelcomed by the inanimate surroundings. Terrified. Abandoned. All the horrible sensations and more he'd experienced in the moment he'd thought Starsky dead.

There was a need, an urgent force, compelling him to seek out another living being. Hutch didn't deny it, couldn't. He stumbled through the blackness, ignoring the furniture in his path. He reached the bedroom door, gently eased it open.

Silver moonlight, bright and friendly, squeezed through the widening crack. Of course, Starsky hadn't drawn the shade. In another three hours Starsky would be screaming about the intruding sunlight, but Hutch had never been so thankful for his friend's quirks at the present moment.

In the delicate illumination Hutch could see the black curls nestled safely between an elbow and the crushed pillow. No blood. No death.

Relieved, he sank back against the doorjamb, letting its unbending strength support his weight. The fear clutching his guts slowly lessened its hold. It hadn't left him completely since Starsky's...accident three months ago, but at least he no longer felt like screaming.

For a long time he stood motionless in the doorway, guarding his partner's childlike slumber. Eventually, the evaporating sweat and chilly night air became too much for him. He soundlessly crossed the room and covered the sleeper. A protective warmth filled him as he gazed down at the innocent face. He lingered a moment longer, then left, leaving the door open behind him, just in case....

Once back in the living room he felt strangely alone again and more than a little reluctant to go back to sleep. The darkness seemed to close in around him, trying to smother him. Wondering how he could manage to stay sane till morning, he went to the window. He started to carefully raise the shade, but with the characteristic contrariness of all of its kind, the cord broke free of his hand, sending the shade flying up with an ear-splitting clatter.

He waited breathlessly in the ensuing silence. Nothing.

Thank god. He needs his rest.

He looked out over the deserted street. It was ridiculous how one nightmare could make a grown man feel like a lonely frightened kid. But then, he lived through that particular nightmare, thankfully with a different ending, so Hutch figured that it was only sensible that he'd be disturbed by it. Such rational thoughts were of no help, however; right now he needed....

"Hey, what's wrong?"

The quiet voice and gentle touch on his arm nearly propelled him out the window.

"Damn it, Starsky, don't do that! What are you doing out of bed?" Hutch demanded.

"Somethin' woke me," Starsky mumbled, rubbing at his eyes with balled fists.

"Sorry, the shade slipped."

"No damage done. Least you won't have to raise it in the mornin' so them parasites don't die."

"Not parasites, plants." Hutch objected, beginning to relax.

"Uh huh." Starsky agreed, too tired to argue the point. "What're you doin' up anyway? My windows botherin' you now?"

"What?"

"Saturday, it was the refrigerator...."

"Starsky, the freezer door was frozen shut and the bottom was furry with mold...."

"Yeah. Well, when do we start?"

"Start?" Hutch asked, beginning to feel like he was losing track of things.

"Washing the windows."

"I wasn't going to wash your grimy windows."

"Then you're goin' back to bed?"

Realization dawned. He'd been outmaneuvered. Three fifteen in the morning, awakened out of a sound sleep and Starsky still had managed to out-think him. It was definitely time for some sleep.

"Right," Hutch agreed, heading toward the couch.

He did feel better. Maybe he could get a few hours sleep before...before it was once again time to spend another day with the temporary partner Dobey had forced on him. A stranger he did not know very well and had no desire to know better.

"What're you doing?" Hutch asked as his partner deposited himself haphazardly into the wicker chair.

"Figured I'd hang around till all the spooks left, unless you'd rather have a night light. Think there's one with Mickey Mouse's head on it somewhere around here," Starsky offered, digging noisily through the drawer of an end table.

"You should be in bed, Starsky."

"Ain't goin' nowhere till I find that mouse," Starsky said, abandoning that drawer and moving to one on the opposite side of the room.

Hutch didn't even ask what Starsky was doing with a Mickey Mouse night-light. Being partnered with Starsky for over eight years made it seem pretty normal that a full-grown man would be tearing his house apart at three-thirty in the morning looking for a kid's night light--normal, that was, for Starsky. Anyone else? Well, San Leone was only a few miles away.

To the comforting sounds of mayhem, Hutch dozed off.

"Hey, Hutch, look what I found...."

No answer.

Starsky listened for a few minutes, hearing only the sound of steady, unconscious breathing. He waited till he was certain it was not feigned, then headed to the bedroom, wondering what to do with Mickey.

*~*~*

Morning arrived with all its customary inconsideration. First it was Hutch's alarm clock, blaring three times louder than any decent clock had a right to. And now, forty minutes later, it was this. He'd screwed his eyes shut and pulled a pillow over his face three minutes ago to escape the sun and now he was smothering.

Resigned, he untangled himself from the sheets, tossed the pillow in the direction of the unshaded window, and wandered into the living room.

He halted at the sight of his still occupied couch.

"Hutch, it's twenty to nine."

"Wha...?" The tangle of long, fine hair burrowed deeper into the pillow.

"Twenty to nine. You remember--work, Metro, Cap'n Dobey...."

His words had an effect. Hutch jumped up, alarm written all over his face, and dashed into the bathroom. Pure mischief sparkled momentarily in Starsky's eyes at the thought of his ever-punctual partner being late for work. Then he remembered that he was not the one who would be kept waiting and the smile vanished.

Mornings were always the hardest. Watching Hutch prepare to hit the streets, knowing all the while that he wouldn't be going with him, tore at his heart. Starsky wanted out. Being an invalid was boring, and worrying about Hutch out there on his own with nothing but some green rookie for backup did nothing to make the time pass quicker. His doctors had sworn that he could return to work soon, but would give him no definite date. So each morning he choked back his anger and his fear long enough to watch Hutch leave, praying that he'd be wearing the same crooked smile when the day ended. They'd been lucky up to now, but Starsky had learned the hard way how treacherous luck could be.

The door banged open and Hutch came storming out of the bathroom. Starsky stepped from the kitchen into his path as his partner rushed for the door.

"Slow down will ya? You're makin' me dizzy."

"I'm late," Hutch said, gazing abstractedly around the room. "You know where my gun is?"

"Under the TV. What about breakfast?"

"I TOLD you. I'm late."

"So the kid waits a few minutes. Anyway, you can't go out like that," Starsky said, running his eyes over his friend. Drops of water dripping from sopping wet hair, spreading dark stains across the shoulders of the light blue shirt. Blood trickled down a pale cheek from a razor nick. All in all, Hutch was quite a mess.

"Like what?"

"Like somethin' the cat had better sense than to drag in."

"Starsky, you haven't got a cat and I haven't got any time." But he laughed nonetheless and allowed himself to be turned toward the kitchen.

A dishtowel appeared before him. Hutch used it to mop his streaming hair as Starsky brought him a banana and a glass of something white from the counter.

Hutch sniffed at the cup suspiciously.

"What is that?"

"Goat's milk and desiccated liver."

Hutch winced, hoping it didn't show. He hadn't had goat's milk in years and wasn't sure if his stomach was really ready for it. Cautiously, he took a sip, sputtering in surprise.

"It is not!"

"Of course, it's not. Now eat your banana and get to work. You're late."

Hutch gulped down the banana and started for the door. He stopped short as he reached it.

"What now?"

"My plants. I forgot to water them."

"I'll take care of 'em. Now get to work."

"You?" Hutch said, genuine fear entering his voice.

"Yeah, me. Don't worry; we'll all have a great time."

Starsky's promise of a great time didn't help.

"You stop pouring the moment the water seeps through onto the saucer...."

"Sure, sure, don't worry."

The door closed on Hutch, silencing any further cautions.

A short time later Starsky stood in the center of what he nostalgically remembered as his living room, only nostalgically speaking, it had never been this "living." It had all started a month ago when he had been released from the hospital and it had been decided that Hutch would move in until he was sufficiently recovered to be on his own again. First it had been a tiny fern. A delicate, wispy little thing what Hutch swore had to be sprayed three times a day. Originally it had resided on one of the end tables, though where it had gotten to now, Starsky couldn't say. He seemed to recall seeing it lurking in the bathroom windowsill when he showered yesterday, but he couldn't be sure if it was the same plant. His uncertainty came from the fact that in the past twenty-seven days his nice, normal apartment had been transformed into a jungle. The plants had mysteriously appeared, their arrival unannounced and at the time unnoticed, but Starsky had strong suspicions as to the culprit responsible.

The only plants Hutch hadn't brought with him were the palm trees growing out of the veranda floor. There were things hanging from dangling pots, crawling along the tables and carpets, climbing lamps and walls…it was a scene that made him extremely nervous. Besides that, he didn't know where to start. One thing he knew for sure was that he wasn't going anywhere near those cacti. They'd just have to wait for Hutch.

For a time he stood in the center of the room, shifting the water canister from one hand to the other, staring at the greenness around him. It wasn't that he didn't like plants; there were just so many of them.

"Well, my furry little friends," Starsky began, imitating the tone Hutch used when 'conversing' with them and feeling every bit as foolish as Hutch appeared when he did it. "That ain't exactly right, is it?"

No response.

"All right, Hutch's leafy little parasites, you all just cooperate a little and we won't ever have to bother with each other again. Okay?"

Silence, shadowed with defiance.

They weren't cooperative. It was a long day.

*~*~*

Lights. The bright, sometimes gaudy, lights of L.A. drifted lazily by the car window. At times they didn't seem real. At times none of it did. Recently, there were days and nights when he'd sell his soul to be cruising in the passenger seat of the striped tomato again, instead of behind the wheel of his own jalopy with an intruder where his partner ought to be. As seen from the Torino's safety, that other world seemed very far away.

"You gonna tell me what's wrong?" Starsky asked, seeing that Hutch had relaxed some since they'd entered the car.

"Nothing's wrong." Hutch answered quickly. It wasn't exactly a snap but it was damn close.

"Uh huh."

Five minutes later. "I don't believe ya."

"Oh?"

"Nope."

"Why not?" Hutch asked, still watching the lights.

"How long's it take to get from Huggy's to my place?"

Sometimes the workings of Starsky's mind made conversation very difficult. Hutch chose to answer the apparently incongruous question.

"Five or ten minutes. Why...hey, Starsk, where are you going?"

The supermarket they had just passed was nowhere near Starsky's.

"That's why I don't believe you. You should'a asked me that forty minutes ago. Now are you gonna tell me what's botherin' you?"

"I'm telling you this for the last time, Starsky; there's nothing wrong. Now will you please turn this...car of yours around and take us home?"

Starsky complied, doing his best to keep his attention on the road and off the blazing eyes which continued to stare at him.

Finally the defensive anger faded from Hutch, but Starsky's worry didn't give up the fight as easily. That there was something troubling Hutch was obvious. All evening he'd been withdrawn, barely speaking a word, despite Huggy's and his own attempts to cheer him.

But it wasn't only tonight which had Starsky worried. He was certain that last night's nightmare was not a unique experience. Lately pale cheeks, red rimmed eyes, and slightly shaky hands were the fashion at his breakfast table.

The dinner table was an entirely different set up. There it was a waiting game. Whose nerves would give out first? Hutch's strained to the breaking point by a day of rookie sitting, or his own, frustrated by boredom?

Now that he thought about it, Starsky realized that he was usually the one who cracked. When he did, Hutch would calmly accept the outburst, understanding the emotion behind it, always reassuring him that he'd soon be back on the job--sometimes those reassurances sounded more like a desperate prayer than anything else--and all the while Hutch's own pent up anger and fears remained unexpressed.

Still, it's no wonder Hutch's preoccupied. Starsky sympathized. Since the living room was too soggy to eat in after his watering caper and the kitchen was still strewn with soil and sharp, pointed pieces of shattered clay after the afternoon's efforts to salvage this morning's casualties, they'd decided to eat at Huggy's. There they had run into Hutch's temporary partner, Dave Lane.

For Starsky, at least, meeting Lane had been a good experience. The kid looked competent, which had somewhat alleviated his worry about Hutch, and Lane really seemed to like Hutch. Though from the way Hutch had treated him, Starsky couldn't see why. Hutch had all but ignored him.

Interplay of loyalties, a part of his mind suggested. Couldn't be too friendly with him for my sake.

Starsky admitted that a part of his had been pleased to see that he hadn't been replaced, but it had been hell on Hutch. Not knowing how to act with both of them around, he had retreated, silently concentrating on his dinner, the pool game, anything other than the conversation.

"You know, I'm kinda glad we ran into Lane, I like him. He's young, but that ain't his fault."

"Sure, he's a real sweetheart." The words were iced with sarcasm.

"Yeah, well, you coulda been a little nicer to him. He ain't responsible for none of this."

"He had no right to be there tonight. It's bad enough that I have to deal with him all day. I don't have to associate with him off duty, and I sure as hell don't have to sit here and listen to you tell me to be nice to him!" Hutch answered, feeling and sounding like a petulant child.

"He's your partner, man."

"YOU'RE my partner!" Hutch exploded.

The anguish in those three words made Starsky stop digging. He wasn't doing Hutch any good this way, only hurting him.

"I know, and that's the way it's gonna stay. You'n me, babe, for good."

It worked. Hutch smiled a bit, then said softly, "I didn't mean to yell at you."

"Forget it. What's a partner for?"

"I don't know all that he's for, Starsk, but I do know one thing that he's not for."

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Watering plants. Now, lets go home."

*~*~*

One of the worst parts about not working days, Starsky reflected as the late, late show began, was the fact that when night rolled around he wasn't tired enough to sleep. Luckily, tonight's feature was one worth waiting up for. THE THREE SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE. Next to Bogies and westerns, horror movies were his favorites. So he settled in with the popcorn and root beer he'd managed to sneak by Hutch and started to enjoy the picture.

Forty-five minutes of melodramatically staged tension later, he heard a scream more blood-curdling than anything he'd ever heard on the tube, made even more frightening because the voice was familiar. It was Hutch.

He grabbed his gun from the night table drawer and ran for the living room.

In the dim moonlight streaming through the ghostly plant shadows, Starsky could see no intruders or even any of Jonathan's skulls, only Hutch's dark shadow curled tightly on the couch in a fetal position. He put the gun on top of the bookcase and ran to him.

"Starsk...."

It was a sob, but Hutch wasn't awake. Tears flowed from the closed eyelids, running in glistening rivulets down the twisted face. Starsky had never seen his partner look like that, not even when he was kicking heroin.

Starsky sat on the edge of the couch and gently shook him. He could feel the curved back shaking with emotion.

"Hutch...Hutch, you okay?"

The blond-lashed eyes shot open. For a moment, terror dominated their unfocused depths, before they filled with teary relief as he recognized Starsky. Trembling, Hutch fell into Starsky's arms.

"You're...you're here...." The words were mumbled into a shoulder and were barely coherent.

"Sssh...easy...calm down. "Course I'm here. Where else would I be?" Starsky's own heart was roaring like his Torino's engine. "Relax, buddy, I'm right here."

At last, Hutch relinquished his crushing grip and sank back onto the couch. He lay there, taking deep breaths to still the trembling which just wouldn't stop and staring into his partner's worried face.

He couldn't go on like this much longer. Something was going to give, and from the way things were going he suspected that the something would be his sanity.

"You want to tell me about it?" Starsky gently coaxed, still tightly gripping Hutch's shoulders.

"The dream? The same--you dying. Only this time your body wasn't even in the clothes when I got to you."

"The same? You've had it before?"

"Yeah. Slightly different variations, but the outcome's always the same--you're dead." Hutch's tone changed, filling with desperation. "How many times can you watch your partner get blown away, Starsky? Never knowing when or where it's going to happen...innocent, safe places turning into death traps in the passing of a second.... Restaurants, garages, by god, your own bedroom, Starsky...."

Starsky shivered, not from the cold, but from Hutch's words and the memories connected with them.

"Nowhere is safe...nowhere. Even when you quit the force they still came after you. It didn't make any sense to stay away. You couldn't ignore the responsibility, so we came back. But I'm a cop, and a good one, so I take it all and learn to live with it somehow and when being a cop no longer matters or justifies the pain, I keep taking it because I can't let my partner down, but, Starsky, what do I do when my partner gets blown away?"

"Blown away? No one's been blown away, Hutch." Starsky whispered, really scared by the hollowness in Hutch's voice.

"You almost were--twice. Second time you actually died because of it. You were dead. Starsky dead! Your heart had stopped...the monitor buzzing...."

Hutch stopped, unable to continue. Why had he brought that up? It was the one thing he'd been refusing to think about for the last three months. Starsky's death, an awful "almost" reality that would not be forgotten.

"That musta been pretty horrible for you, having to watch and all," Starsky consoled.

"Having to watch? I..." Hutch shamefully confessed, "I wasn't even there, Starsky. Didn't get back from booking Jenny Brown until just after they resuscitated you."

A strange smile touched Starsky's lips. It was the unconscious satisfaction of a man who'd just received confirmation of a truth he'd know all along. How he'd been able to tell that Hutch hadn't been near when his heart had stopped, Starsky didn't know. The only recollection he had of that experience was sensation. A cold void sucking him from his suddenly crowded hospital room, repelled by the abrupt arrival of a frantic whirlwind of fear and love. He'd suspected that it was Hutch who had pulled him back, but had never known how to ask him about it.

But none of that mattered now. All that mattered was Hutch.

During the last few minutes, Hutch had slipped free of his grasp and edged away. His troubled countenance and rigid position conveyed a sense of isolation, aloneness, perhaps even fear. Sensing this, Starsky moved closer, closing the distance between them.

"It's okay, babe. All of that's over now. It ain't never gonna happen again. It's time to let go of it, partner."

"How can you say that? Starsky, didn't you hear a word I said? I wasn't there when you died! Doesn't that bother you?"

"Will you cut out that talk! I ain't dead. You're beginnin' to sound like a real ghoul."

"I...." Hutch couldn't remember what he'd been about to say. He looked toward the window, a thousand thoughts running through his head and just as many tears fighting to be shed.

Starsky was right, of course. He had no right to lay this trip on his partner. Starsky needed rest and playing psychiatrist to a partner who had a Poe-like inclination toward making things go bump in the night and practicing blood-curdling screams was no way to get it.

"I better go," he said suddenly, making an effort to stand.

"What d'ya mean, 'go?' It's three o'clock in the morning. Where you goin'?"

"My apartment."

"Why? You can't be lonesome for any more of your parasites; they're all here and your not-so-inconsiderable wardrobe's burstin' its way outa my closets."

"You need your rest. You're not going to get it with me around."

"Stop talkin' foolish. I need you."

"Aren't you a little confused about who needs whom?" Hutch asked, amazed by Starsky's stubbornness.

"No, we need each other."

There was no way Hutch could argue with that, but he still had to express his feelings, explain this craziness. "I...it's just that I'm still...scared that I'm going to lose you again, Starsky." Cops aren't allowed to be scared. Cautious, yes, but not scared.

"You haven't lost me yet," Starsky said, cheerfully slinging an arm across his partner's shoulders.

"But...."

"No buts. You ain't gonna lose me. Never. I promise. Have I ever broken a promise to you?"

"No." Hutch knew that it was foolish to feel reassured by Starsky's words--no mortal had control over such events--but somehow, coming from David Starsky, he could almost believe that the promise would be kept.

"And you don't have any reason to keep picking at yourself. You did all you could to prevent the accident." That was how they'd been referring to his shooting. "And you're here when I need you. You don't have nothing to feel guilty about. Now lay down here and get some sleep."

Hutch let Starsky push him down onto the couch and watched as his partner collected his blanket from the floor. With his usual flair, Starsky turned the unexciting, albeit unusual, task of tucking him in into an elaborate production.

Hutch wished there were some way he could show Starsky how much he meant to him, how thankful he was just to have him around, but could think of nothing at the moment.

As Starsky bent down over him, that devilish grin of his lighting his face, Hutch felt a familiar longing tug at his insides. Disturbed by the feeling he avoided Starsky's gaze, in case those perceptive eyes could read his emotions too well.

Starsky sensed the abrupt change in mood and decided that his partner was pondering his words. There was no stopping that, Hutch was a thinker by nature, but at least he'd no longer be brooding.

Starsky leaned over and placed a light, affectionate kiss on Hutch's forehead, hoping that the blond's overactive psyche would finally settle down so that Hutch could sleep undisturbed.

When Starsky attempted to stand up, a hand caught the back of his neck, pulling his head farther down and Hutch higher up. Before he knew what was happening, Starsky felt the cool, dry skin of Hutch's forehead replaced by a pair of moist lips. They closed on his own lips with a desperate hunger and he responded instinctively. All thought fled, leaving his senses reeling with unexpected pleasure.

At last they drew apart and silently regarded each other.

Hutch gulped in air, feeling his limbs go cold with fear. Only moments ago his action had seemed so right; the most fitting way to thank Starsky for all the years of caring. He'd offered the only gift he had to give--himself. It had been a stupid, impulsive thing to do, Hutch realized. The look in Starsky's eyes proved it, but at the time it had seemed right.

Starsky sat very still as the last remnants of shock faded from his system. He was vaguely surprised to find that he didn't feel any anger, but then, the word "vague" described him pretty well at the moment. He didn't know what to feel. He turned his attention outward to Hutch, seeking guidance or explanation. He found none. All he could read in the drawn features was fear. Hutch seemed to be waiting for the uncontrollable, brutal anger he normally directed at the creeps they busted to descend on him, Starsky's own partner.

A strange tenderness flowed through Starsky at this discovery. Whatever he did, he could never hurt Hutch. In dazed amazement, he watched as his hand reached out to lightly stroke a smooth cheek, then gently lift Hutch's chin till their eyes met. And after their eyes, their lips.

The coarse texture of Hutch's mustache against his upper lip was a new sensation. Not exactly unpleasant, but very different and definitely very ticklish.

He felt Hutch's surprise at his gesture, then hesitant response, as though Hutch expected the floor to open any second and swallow them. That would sure surprise Mrs. Greenberg downstairs, who was already none too pleased with her upstairs neighbor.

Mrs. Greenberg, the couch, and everything except Hutch slipped from his mind as a delicious tingling spread through his body. Hutch's hand slowly glided from his neck down his bare back, prickling his nerves into a shiver. His kiss became more insistent in response, his desire clearer.

Hutch broke free of the kiss, his arms releasing Starsky. Not a word was spoken as Hutch shifted to his side, making enough room on the couch for his partner to join him.

Wordlessly, Starsky complied. The spell was too delicate to risk destroying with speech. Awkward words would only awaken sleeping inhibitions, and at the moment Starsky didn't miss a one of them. A man of action, he found touch sufficient.

Hutch was accustomed to being physically close to Starsky, but not quite this close. Pressed tightly together, the healthy, quick beat of Starsky's heart, pounding so close to his own breast, shook his body. Each breath howled like the wind of Minnesota's winter between them, but it was warm here...so warm. He snuggled closer to Starsky, ran a hand through his wild curls. He'd always wanted to do that, but had lacked the courage.

Starsky smiled at his partner's fascination with his hair. For the past five minutes they'd been lying here, clutching each other like baby monkeys. He kissed Hutch again. Starsky was beginning to like the feel of that mustache and he certainly liked the feel of Hutch's hands moving over him.

They spent a long time exploring this new world. The kiss was practiced till it was perfected. Hutch found that, despite his most careful efforts, anytime he moved his kisses to Starsky's neck, his partner would erupt into an irrepressible fit of giggles--Starsky was ticklish. To his chagrin Starsky discovered that no amount of provocation could elicit the same reaction from Hutch.

Starsky's breathing had quickened to an impossible rate in anticipation. He noticed that the same was true of Hutch. Yet neither of them seemed willing to make the next move. Starsky waited as long as he could for Hutch as the initiator of this passion, to do some more initiating, but none seemed to be forthcoming. Unable to wait any longer, he slipped his hand lower down the flat stomach to the band of the ridiculous pajama bottoms Hutch was wearing. He opened them slowly, snap by snap, keeping a careful watch on Hutch's face for any sign of protest. There was none. Only an impatient desire to be free of the damned things. Starsky slipped them down past the knees--he'd never realized before how long Hutch's legs were--and Hutch kicked them over the back of the couch.

There was a slight rustle in the background, immediately followed by a loud crash as another pot bit the dust. Hutch's eyes seemed to register the loss, but Starsky was oblivious to it all, his eyes intent upon Hutch, or more precisely, on the part of Hutch revealed by the absence of the pajamas.

Starsky knew a second of fear as he beheld the sleek shaft, so proud in its masculinity. The panicked question, "What am I doing?" raced through his mind, but it stilled as admiration overcame his fear. Hutch was beautiful. There was no denying it. Starsky was determined to tell him that once they started talking again, but for now....

He was startled out of his reverie by a bristly kiss on the neck. He managed to keep from giggling this time, only because he was too busy shivering. Every nerve in his body was tingling, ringing with want and need. Starsky ran a hand down Hutch's chest, so much smoother than his own, stopping at the sharp hipbone. That, at last, got Hutch to stop nuzzling the back of his neck. Hutch's long, unbelievably skillful fingers copied the gesture, sending a chilling, exciting current racing to his groin in their wake. Hutch's fingers stopped somewhat higher than his own caress had, impeded by the band of his now bulging briefs.

For several moments an inconspicuous struggle ensued, Hutch doing his best to conceal his difficulties with another distractingly sensual kiss. But too much of Starsky's weight was resting on the back of the garment. Despite Hutch's best efforts, he succeeded in tugging the briefs down exactly one inch, and even then it was only on one side.

Finally Hutch drew back in defeat, every bit of the frustration he felt showing clearly in his eyes. He'd never be able to live this down.

Starsky bit back a smile and pulled Hutch back into the kiss, acting as if they'd just separated for air. It wasn't hard to get lost in the feeling; Hutch was a damn good kisser. When he felt the time was right, or in other words, when he once again felt Hutch give the obstinate underwear another hopeless tug, Starsky lifted his hips slightly and slipped free of them. Without breaking the kiss, Hutch eased them down past his knees. A small kick and they disappeared into the darkness.

Dignity restored, Hutch returned his full attention to the kiss, while Starsky privately congratulated himself on a maneuver worthy of any silver screen Casanova.

Now side by side again, Hutch moved closer, pressing the entire lengths of their now fully naked bodies tightly together. Starsky reconsidered his companion. Hutch might have lousy timing and atrocious taste in cars, but he sure knew how to make his partner feel good.

The intensity of their kisses and caresses increased as the drive within them became more insistent. Touches which moments before had caused only a tender tingling, pleasant, but not overwhelming, now caused flames that burned straight to the soul.

The feel of Hutch's hard, demanding shaft, so different from the pliant feminine softness to which he was accustomed, was incredibly exciting rubbing against his own burning organ. More arousing than he would have ever thought possible, but truthfully, he had never really thought about it before. To him the idea of making love to another man had always been an alien, slightly disgusting, and scary thought. The reality, of course, like most realities, was quite different. It wasn't alien; touching and holding a person who was loved as much as he loved Hutch couldn't be nor could it ever be disgusting. It was scary, though, as was any feeling which ran this deep. The fire spreading through his body was enough to prove that.

Sometime ago, he couldn't remember when, he had taken hold of Hutch's cock. He moved to explore it now. Hands, slightly clumsy at first, became more confident as he received visible proof of their ability to give pleasure. His first stroke from the fluffy blond base to the almost scarlet tip made the organ grow bigger, the pulse race faster. A stroke down and Hutch's hips arched frantically toward him. He looked at Hutch's face. It was strained, not with trouble, but joy. Joy so good that it was almost painful. Eyes closed tightly, Hutch moaned so softly that it was almost inaudible. Or maybe it was a whimper; Starsky wasn't sure what to call it. Either way, hearing it touched something deep inside of him. Something he'd never felt before. A feeling of incomparable strength, burning power and, ultimately, tenderness.

There was just so much love within him for this man. More love than he'd ever felt for anyone else in his life or ever would. Hutch was....

Hutch was Hutch. A precious, indefinable gift. A person he cherished above all others. Hutch was a part of himself. A part of him and yet a separate individual. Personality wise, they were opposites. Different as night and day most people said. But deep down inside, where it counted, Starsky knew they were really the same person, like someone had one personality in two and stuck each half in a different body. Hutch had gotten the refinement and class and he, he'd been really lucky; he'd gotten Hutch. Hutch, his partner, friend, companion, conscience....

And now lover.

Hutch squirmed in his hands as if trying to escape the pleasure he found there. There was no escaping it, however. Any inhibitions Starsky had felt earlier had long since vanished. He wanted this. Wanted to please Hutch. Wanted them to share this together. Wanted Hutch.

Eyes locked with sea blue ones, Starsky shimmied down the couch, then slowly lowered his head over the hard, burning flesh he held in his hands.

Hutch's eyes widened in surprise, his whole body tensing in anticipation. A sigh was torn from him as the soft and sensual lips of his partner encircled the head of his cock. The tip of Starsky's wet tongue lightly tickled the phallus tip even as his hands began to pump him. The tickling stopped, replaced by a steady sucking, rhythm perfectly attuned to that of the pumping hands.

Fire ran through his body as his mind left him. He was swimming in sensation, in feeling. Aware only of Starsky, Starsky's mouth insistently pulling, the pressure of his hands--each movement pure ecstasy. But it was his eyes mostly. Deep, hypnotic sapphires. They burned right through him, straight to his soul, demanding response. Normally he would have found such intense observation disturbing, but not with Starsky. He had no desire to hide from Starsky, and they WERE beautiful eyes. Besides, even if he had wanted to, he couldn't have concealed what he was feeling. Hutch had never been out of control, so subject to desire in his life. He shuddered, overwhelming, ecstatic flames swirling in one great, aching pressure point.

Helplessly, his hips arched up, breaking the steady sucking, thrusting his cock deep into Starsky's throat. Reality blinked in and out as the flames within him burst, consuming him totally. His mind, heart, and very soul ripped from him, spurting forth with his seed.

Piercing relief descended, almost as world shattering as the orgasm itself. One deep, shuddering breath, then another. Slow reality trickled back, soft and warm and amazingly gentle. Only that soft, warm reality was Starsky, stretched out beside him.

Hutch ran a hand down the dark chest, the hair there just as soft and delightfully curly as the locks on Starsky's head, the skin beneath it smooth as velvet, so soft, so fine, so…

Hutch's fingers stopped at the hard protuberance of scar tissue above Starsky's left breast, drawing back from the unwelcome reminder of mortality. No matter how hard he tried, it found him. The nightmare followed him…would forever pursue him…and some hideous day in the future it would be real. That chilled his soul, knowing that the time would come when it wouldn't be just a dream or an unpleasant memory to be dispelled by a lopsided grin. That grin would be gone, and he would be alone.

Startled by the sudden withdrawal, Starsky looked down at himself and immediately understood. He took Hutch's hand and pressed it flat against the now painless bullet scars. He held it there until he was certain Hutch could feel his heart pounding beneath the captured hand. Slowly he removed his own hand. As he'd hoped, Hutch obeyed his silent command to stay as he was. Putting on his most lecherous grin, he took Hutch's other hand and wrapped it around his own erect penis. This accomplished, he gave Hutch what he considered to be the most passionate kiss he'd ever delivered. If that didn't convince Hutch that he was alive, Starsky didn't know what would.

At first Hutch responded only to the kiss. It was only after their mouths separated that Starsky felt the first hesitant exploration of previously forbidden territory.

Hutch's touch was light, a roving, whisper touch, both patient and gentle, ultra-sensitive to his responses.

Hutch shifted, enabling his tongue and lips to partake. While fingers danced skillfully over Starsky's balls, a cool tongue glided slowly from the base of his cock up to the ridge, then back down again. Slowly...maddeningly slowly, allowing anticipation to build with the rising excitement.

At last Hutch took him into his mouth, sucking him as he'd never been sucked before. Starsky knew that it was the prolonged buildup of energy from the arousal he'd experienced during Hutch's climax--no one could be THAT good--but it didn't matter. He'd never felt like this before, like a cloud all filled with lightning, about to burst open any second, just waiting for another cloud to roll along and knock the lightning out of it.

A moan of protest was wrenched out of him as, mere seconds before he was about to come, Hutch's mouth and hands abandoned his aching groin and he returned to lie beside him.

The bewildered hurt in Starsky's eyes seared guilt through him. Starsk doesn't understand, of course. Once accused me of having a cruel streak. What must he be thinking now?

Perhaps he should have given his partner some idea of his intentions, but tonight had been so perfect, touch communicating all without the need of words, that Hutch hadn't wanted to disturb the peace with the crudeness of speech.

So, as quickly as he could, he let Starsky know that his abrupt movements didn't signify rejection, but were the prelude to an offer of a different form of completion. A form which sent butterflies spiraling through his stomach.

Hutch considered the idea carefully, measuring himself. Success depended solely on his willingness to give, to risk the hurt of another awakening to desertion. If Starsky left him like.... No.... Starsky was not like that, couldn't be if he tried. That type of heartless cruelty just wasn't in his tender friend. Hutch was uncertain of his abilities to succeed in what he planned, but he would try. For Starsky, he would try.

Ignoring the pain that couldn't be hidden in the guileless cerulean depths, Hutch pulled his partner up on top of him, purposefully spreading his legs.

The world, time, and Starsky's breathing all stopped, petrified in icy, clear crystal by Hutch's action. His intent was obvious, more than obvious. The mere thought of what Hutch was offering left him paralyzed, temporarily unable to move or to still his shaking. He opened his mouth to speak, found that his voice had left him.

Hutch's long index finger covered his mouth, and not knowing what else to do, Starsky kissed it. Shivered as it brushed along his cheek and slid slowly down his neck.

Could Hutch really want him to...?

It didn't seem possible, but why else would he...?

It wasn't necessary. Starsky would never have expected Hutch, another man, to submit to him this way. Apparently, it hadn't been an easy offer for Hutch to make. The lanky figure beneath him was shaking just as violently as he was, and buried beneath the trust shining in those bright, blue eyes Starsky could see fear, but the offer was not withdrawn.

In fact, as the seconds ticked by going more slowly than any seconds had ever passed before, and still he hesitated, Hutch seemed more at ease. That was good, Starsky reflected, because he was about to fall apart. It didn't make any sense. Here he was, burning as he'd never burned before in his life, desire a heavy ache in his throbbing cock, wanting to accept what was being offered, and yet, incapable of doing so.

Hutch watched Starsky's face, the play of emotions there. Hurt slipped painlessly into shock, shock to belief, belief to hesitance, and now this, an endearing mixture of reluctance and desire. Fleetingly, Hutch wondered how Starsky ever managed to operate undercover. How didn't matter. He did it. His partner was the best damn cop on the force and the best friend he'd ever had in his life. No one had ever loved him the way Starsky did. Automatic acceptance, unwavering loyalty, all flavored with pure love.

Why Starsky had picked him to give all that affection to, Hutch didn't know. It wasn't only because they were partners. Their friendship had started way before that, back in the academy. Colby, Starsky and Hutch--the three Corsicans. Then Colby had disappeared, and they'd been reduced to the dynamic duo. Starsky and Hutch, an inseparable team. Hutch couldn't imagine how it would've been if it had been Starsky who'd walked out of his life and not Colby. He figured that he'd probably be dead by now. He knew that he never would have made it alone, and he would've been alone without his ebullient friend. The only thing which held his life together and kept him hanging on was this Adidas shod imp. With Starsky, he felt as though he belonged someplace and strange as it might seem, he'd never felt that way before.

This was his chance to really belong and to please Starsky at the same time. He was frightened. And from the looks of things, Starsky was just as scared as he was.

Hutch reached up, tangled his fingers in the wild curls, and drew Starsky's head down into a kiss. Slowly he began to move his hips, undulating temptingly. There was no more resistance. Starsky pressed against him, falling in with the rhythm. One burning organ to another, blond, wiry hair against rougher dark, rubbing, soaring, sharing.

A strong knee parted his thighs and his partner's weight lifted off him. Hutch opened his eyes. Starsky had knelt between his legs, his hands resting on Hutch's hips, a final question blazing in his eyes.

Hutch nodded once, lifting his hips higher.

Starsky's hands gripped his buttocks, parting him with the gentleness one would use to handle a very old book or a very young baby. The touch of cool air there made him feel open, vulnerable. Hutch tightly closed his eyes, waiting. The expected pain of sudden piercing did not come ripping through him. Instead, he felt himself lifted a little higher, his lower back rested on tightly corded thighs as his legs were lain over muscular shoulders. The cool kiss of night air was replaced by that of warm human lips. A cool, wet tongue playfully tickled the tensely clenched muscles guarding the opening. Gradually, they relaxed as the fear drained out of him. The tongue continued to circle leisurely, as if it had all the time in the world, as if there were no fierce passion waiting to be sated. Finally, the mischievous rover poked itself up into him, causing an exquisite burst of pleasure while amply lubricating the walls of the passageway. Then the tongue left him, but not fear. He lay still as Starsky carefully positioned himself. The hard head probed the opening, gently slipped in, the shaft following, filling him.

His anal muscles spasmed at the intrusion of an object of such bulk. He gasped in pain.

He couldn't have gone any slower or been any gentler if you'd asked him to. You can't ask him to stop now, Hutch's conscience admonished.

Surprised, he realized that all movement had stopped. He opened his eyes to find Starsky's worried eyes on him. His partner's tense facial muscles and rapid panting revealed the need raging within him, yet he held back, unwilling to hurt his partner.

For a moment Starsky remained motionless above him, totally perplexed. Then his eyes lit with inspiration. Starsky's hand moved quickly from beneath him, fumbled for a few seconds with his now familiar cock, then concentrated on urging pleasure. Starsky could be quite convincing at times. Within minutes, Hutch found himself squirming with pleasure, each movement further impaling him, but by then the pain didn't matter.

Starsky began to move in sequence with the rhythm of his hand. Stroke down, push further in. Upward stroke, pull almost all the way out. Over and over. Each thrust buried Starsky deeper within him. There was no fear left at the sensation of being filled. He was filled, yes, but filled with love, with excitement. Another delicious stroke downward coupled with a frenzied thrust within him sent Hutch soaring with delight. The world faded to a comforting yellow as ecstatic release convulsed his body.

From a long way off he heard a sound. His name being cried--screamed aloud.

"Hutch...."

The sound echoed in the silent room, fading slowly.

Starsky slipped from within him, struggling to steady his breathing, then slumped over Hutch, drained of energy. Hutch embraced his exhausted partner, gathering him into his arms.

Starsky lifted his head. The sleepy, blue eyes glowed with a light, which Hutch had never seen before and which, for some unknown reason, blew a shiver down his spine. Starsky leaned forward and placed a light childlike kiss on his forehead, very similar to the one he'd given Hutch earlier when he tucked him in.

Hutch smiled, ruffled the already impossibly mussed hair, and watched Starsky snuggle closer to him.

*~*~*

The gentle, undemanding tranquility of night left, silently going wherever nights go when the day comes. Said day had definitely come, with all the subtlety of a Thanksgiving Day parade. Blissfully ignorant of how close they were to death, every bird on the west coast was cheerfully and noisily squawking beneath his window.

Reluctantly, he surfaced from the depths of sleep, gradually realizing that something was not as it should be. It wasn't the sun sadistically burning his closed eyelids or the maniacal clamor beyond his windows that unsettled him, but the fact that he was not alone. The warm weight of another body lay atop him. Many months had passed since he had last awoken this way.

Starsky opened his eyes, squinting in the bright morning sun, and remembered.

Night...silence...touching...tenderness...HUTCH....

Images of what they had done--TOGETHER--crept through his mind in shocking clarity. Shaken to the very core of his being, Starsky desperately sought understanding.

Denial was his first, instinctive reaction. That hadn't been him. He couldn't have done that--not with another man. Not David Starsky, but reality could not be long denied, especially when the proof of it lay so trustingly in his arms. Besides, what other man would Hutch have done that with? No, it had been him, all right.

He should be angry, he realized. At himself for not preventing this, at Hutch for starting the whole thing, but he wasn't.

It would be easy to blame it all on Hutch, to pretend that he was just an innocent victim, but that wasn't the way it had gone down and Starsky knew it. Last night he'd had it all figured out in his mind. What they had done was right. He loved Hutch. It scared the hell out of him to love him this much...and in this way, but he did. Morning didn't change any of that. Hutch wasn't simply a one-night stand, a body to be used and then forgotten. The blond, slightly neurotic man he held cradled in his arms was his life.

Starsky didn't understand why what had happened last night had happened, or why Hutch had made that first move, or why he hadn't rejected it. Too much fear, too much worry...too much love. The reasons were unimportant. The result was the same, unchangeable fact. It had happened. Starsky accepted it, and accepted the decision he'd made. He didn't know where they were going right now or how greatly last night would affect their future, but they were in this together. As long as that was true, Starsky knew they'd be all right.

It was some time before his sleeping partner began to rouse. The warmth on top of him shifted, pressing closer to him in an unconsciously sensuous movement. It was extraordinary how aware he was of the hard phallus resting against his thigh and the least of its movements.

God, he'd never felt like this about Hutch before. His stomach was doing flip-flops anticipating the moment his partner would awaken. What would he say?

His fear kept urging him to run, to split the scene as fast as possible. But he'd have to move to do that, and that was sure to wake Hutch; besides, where would he run to?

A soft sigh emerged from somewhere between the yellow gold silk and his chest. Starsky's heart raced faster in response.

Maybe I'll have another heart attack and then I won't have to...?

But it was too late.

The head lifted slightly off his chest. Starsky released his tight grip, watched as Hutch's hand flew to his face to clear the hair out of his eyes.

"Huh? W-what?" His eyes opened, bleary and confused. "Starsk? What are you...?" Then he remembered, shock and fear clearing the confusion.

"Morning," Starsky greeted, smiling from ear to ear, wondering if he'd had that same expression on his face an hour ago.

"Starsk...?" Hutch's voice faded and his eyes shifted from his partner to the window, then to the door, apparently searching for some means to escape. Finally they returned to Starsky.

"You hungry?"

Hutch nodded, eyes still uncertain.

"Good. Me, too. What d'ya say to you hittin' the shower while I hunt us up somethin' to eat."

Again the nod.

Hutch hauled himself up, moving so carefully that Starsky almost had to smile, but he didn't. Hutch looked so lost standing there beside the couch, trying to say something, but not knowing what or even how to say it.

"You all right, partner?"

All right? Last night he'd turned their entire world upside down and here Starsky was acting like nothing had happened, like it was perfectly normal for him to wake up with his naked, sticky partner in his arms.

Maybe that's how he wants to play it. Maybe it's the only way he can handle it. If nothing happened, there's no need of explanations or excuses…no need to end our friendship.

Hutch could see that it made sense; that it might even be the best way out. This way Starsky would still be his friend. Their lives could go on as usual. Nothing changed. Nothing different, except...except he loved Starsky. How could he pretend he didn't?

Somehow he'd have to. Otherwise he'd lose Starsky for sure.

What did you expect, Hutchinson? Haven't you learned by now that there ain't no such thing as happy ever after?

Hutch mumbled some response and headed for the bathroom, wondering why the mocking voice in his head suddenly sounded like Starsky.

Starsky watched him leave. He'd seen the hurt...the pain of betrayal slip into the light eyes. What had he said to cause it? Was Hutch angry with him for what they'd done last night?

An hour later Hutch emerged from the bathroom, tightly wrapped in his robe.

Starsky looked up from the frying pan he was tending as Hutch entered the kitchen, not saying a word about the amount of time he'd been gone. Hutch looked calmer and cleaner and even more depressed than usual, but at least the red eyes and shaky hands of the past weeks were gone.

"You're back. Great. Watch this will ya'? Be back in a minute."

Starsky ducked out the doorway.

Hutch stared at the empty doorway until the sizzling caught his attention. He glanced down at the pan and almost threw up. Yellow, orange, and something reddish and smelly were sizzling away to a revolting brown glob.

He looked at the table. The mangled philodendron and rootless dracaena had been shoved to one side, along with the soil and clay fragments. In the cleared space were two plates, each containing a slice of brown pumpernickel bread covered with boysenberry jam.

"How's it smell?"

He jumped. He hadn't heard Starsky return. After relinquishing the pan to his betoweled partner, Hutch took a seat at the table.

"What is it?" he asked dully.

Breakfast with Starsky was always an adventure. Dinner he could be sure of; it was his job to fix it, but breakfast was Starsky's domain. This morning an empty ache inside prevented him from being anything but mildly curious about the concoction, but at least it took his mind off his troubles.

"Quiche Lorraine, of course," Starsky answered, eager to keep Hutch talking. I would'a thought a cultured man like yourself would recognize it."

A blob of the stuff was plopped onto the dish before him.

"What did you put in it?"

"Oh, the usual." He watched Hutch skeptically lift his fork. "Eggs, Velveeta cheese," the fork lowered a fraction, "and salami." It crashed onto the dish. "Not hungry?"

Apparently, they were back to head shaking.

Tension seeped into the kitchen once again.

Starsky enthusiastically ate the mess for as long as he could, but eventually, the unwavering stare got to him. There was no accusation in it, just a sense of resignation waiting.

Their eyes met briefly, each filled with trepidation.

Starsky got up quickly, shoved the remainder of the meal into the garbage, and started to pile the dishes in the sink.

"Starsk?"

He stopped. There was no evading it.

"Yeah, Hutch?" Even he could hear the fear in his own voice. Hutch obviously regretted what they'd done last night. Now was the time to find out the price he'd have to pay for his actions.

"Why...why didn't you punch me out when I...when I kissed you last night?"

Strange prelude to a goodbye. Why'd Hutch have to remind him about that? Just thinking about that first, incredible kiss they'd shared sent a current of warmth rushing through him.

"If you don't know after all these years, I ain't gonna tell you now."

Starsky concentrated on tucking the towel more securely around his waist, anything but Hutch's watching eyes.

And what the hell was that supposed to mean? Is this Starsky's way of evading the issue or something more?

Starsky's downcast eyes and lowered head spoke of something deeper.

"I don't understand, Starsky. What...?"

"What do you want--an apology? Well you ain't gonna get one. Last night was good; hell it was perfect and I'm not gonna apologize for it." Starsky turned and stormed into the living room.

After a moment Hutch followed.

Starsky was seated at the end of the couch, shoulders slumped, looking totally defeated. He glanced up as Hutch sat beside him, but didn't say anything. What was there left to say? He'd blown his chances by losing his temper. The only thing he couldn't understand was why Hutch was still following him around instead of packing his clothes.

"You don't have anything to apologize for, Starsk. You...you didn't do anything I didn't want you to do, so don't blame yourself. I started it. I give you my word that it'll never happen again."

Was that supposed to help? Starsky thought, sinking further into his pain. Never again....

"You should've followed your first impulse and decked me," Hutch said bitterly, interpreting the cause of his partner's pain to be a crisis of identity, the doubting of his manhood. Hutch knew such reactions were natural at times like this. Starsky expended a great deal of energy at being tough. Last night was a hard scene to reconcile with that image.

"I did follow my first impulse. Look where it got us."

"What?"

"I'm sorry, Hutch, but I...I love ya, man."

"You love me?" Hutch echoed, shock, relief, and unexpected fear spreading through him.

"Crazy, ain't it?" Starsky asked, the words catching in his throat.

"No, it's not crazy. Why are you sorry about it?" It was amazing how calm his voice sounded. His insides were quaking with fear.

"Because you ain't all smiles like you were after a night with Gillian and because while I'm sittin' here tryin' to figure out a way to make this work, you're sittin' there talkin' about never again.

"Because I'm not the one who's sorry about what happened last night."

"Starsky, I don't regret what we did--I love you, too. You know that."

"Wouldn't'a a guessed it from the way you've been actin' this morning."

"Yeah, well I...."

"You what?"

"I was scared. Scared that you were mad and trying to hide it."

"Come off it. I wasn't mad and you know it!" His voice softened as Hutch shrank back from him. "Hey, what's really wrong? You don't want to play it this way; we won't. Just tell me what you really want."

"I...I don't want to lose you, Starsky."

"Lose me? You're not going to lose me. I told you that last night; I ain't goin' anywhere."

"I remember. Last night was beautiful, the best. I wanted it to last forever, still do, but when I think about all the other times I felt this way...Starsky, everyone I've ever loved has just walked out of my life. I don't want that to happen with you. You mean too much...."

The fear Starsky read in Hutch's eyes scared him. He understood it. The past had burned his partner badly, left scars that ran straight to the heart. Most still hadn't healed. Gillian...Abby...Jeannie...even Vanessa...they were still there. Starsky knew that dreams turned to nightmares as love's illusion wore off with familiarity. No one was to blame; it just happened. Only it was always Hutch who got hurt in the end. Idealistic, too serious Hutch.

What could he possibly say to make Hutch risk that again. And should he?

What if--no, there were no doubts in his own heart. This was a sure thing. He wouldn't fail Hutch.

"Hutch, I'm never going to walk out of your life. With me, it isn't a bubble that's gonna burst at the first little breeze. I know you. I LOVE you. Ain't nothin' that's ever gonna change that."

"You're so sure." Hutch lowered his head, frightened by the commitment being asked of him, terrified he'd once again become dependent on something as abstract and as transient as love. It never lasted, never could. The moment he allowed himself to need people they'd disappear, leaving him alone with his misery. No, not alone. Starsky had always been there to share the pain.

It was who do we trust time again. As always the answer was the same. He may have heard these promises before, but this time it was his partner saying those words. Starsky, whom he already depended on, who he already loved. The commitment had been made years ago. Partners for life. There was no backing out of it now. But he was scared, so scared.

"Trust me...please. I need you, Hutch."

The plea broke him. Under the best of circumstances he wouldn't have had the strength to deny it, but torn apart as he was right now, he responded without thought. He was still scared, but he refused to let that fear hurt Starsky. Instinctively he reached out, both offering and receiving comfort.

The second he touched Starsky, he knew it'd be all right.

Hutch remembered feeling like this once before--after Gillian died. Those same arms tightly clutching him, supporting him, carrying him through. Bereaved by his lady's loss and hurt beyond telling by her deceit, he'd needed an anchor to the living then…a reason not to die. Starsky had provided that. Now Starsky was teaching him to love again, asking him to believe it would last. Despite previous experience, Hutch suspected that with Starsky it might.

They kissed, a careful, delicate meeting of flesh, affirming their love.

More kisses...more hugs...less fear...fewer doubts...new hope.

Sometime later Hutch mumbled, "Hey, Starsk...?"

"Uh-huh?"

"I gotta go. I'm already late for work."

"You can't." Starsky whispered. "You've got to stay with me. After all, what's a partner--?"

"Don't say it." Hutch chuckled, pulling free reluctantly. "I guess we'll find out as we go along."

He left Starsky pouting on the couch as he headed for his clothes.


The End

On to Sequel: A Virgin In These Woods by Pamela Rose and Rosemary

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