Crossroads

By Cynatnite

 

 

 

Hutch handed the shoulder bag to Starsky and stuffed his hands in his pockets.  “You have your boarding pass?”

 

            Starsky held it up for Hutch to see.  He gave his partner a nervous look and adjusted the bag on his shoulder.  “Maybe I should wait.  I can go home anytime.”

 

            With a smile, Hutch shook his head.  “We’ve discussed it, Starsk.  This is a perfect time for you to go.  You’ll be back full-time in a few weeks and the doctors gave the approval to fly home.  You may not get another chance once you’re back to work.  Besides, your mom is expecting you and so are all your relatives.”

 

            “But two weeks?  Hutch, that’s a long time, you know.”

           

Hutch’s laugh was a sympathetic one.  “It’ll be over before you know it, buddy.  Take it.  You deserve it.”

           

Starsky stepped forward after hearing his flight number being called over the intercom.  “This is it.  I’ll call when I get in.”

           

“Do that,” Hutch told him.

 

            Pulling Hutch in a tight hug, Starsky said, “Take care of yourself, partner.”

 

            Hutch was glad to return the embrace and gave Starsky a gentle rub on the back.  “It’s not forever."  He stepped back.  “Get going before you miss your flight, turkey.”

 

            Watching Starsky leave brought a lump to Hutch’s throat.  After his partner boarded the plane, he wandered to one of the enormous plate glass windows showing the tarmac.  After a few minutes, the plane began pulling away from the terminal.  Seeing Starsky’s faint face in the window, Hutch raised his hand.  His smile didn’t feel real as his partner gave him a wave back.  He didn’t move until the plane was out of sight. 

 

            He pushed away from the window and started walking through the terminal.  Starsky needed it, he thought.  Seemed like only yesterday he was shot down when it was almost six months ago.  Starsky’s family had remained patient while he recovered and for that, Hutch was glad.  For the first time since he had known his partner, he wanted Starsky all to himself.  He didn’t want to share him with anyone. Hutch was confident no one could take care of Starsky like he could.

 

            For the first time in a long time, Starsky needed him and Hutch was more than willing to give it.  He needed Starsky to need him.  A new sense of purpose had reinvigorated him, and Starsky’s desire to get back on his feet was so strong, Hutch had thrown himself into his partner’s care and recovery. 

 

            Before, they had been partners, but not working as a team they were so famous for.  Two separate entities working towards the same goal, but on opposite universes opposed to each other.  Hutch could never put his finger on when everything changed and he knew he could name the millions of little things that happened along the way to accelerate the shift in their relationship.  As much as it killed him to see his partner’s close call with death and the hellish recovery afterwards, they had worked as one to bring Starsky’s body back as close to before the shooting as humanly possible.

 

            Hutch got in the Torino and started out of the parking lot.  As he headed home, he gripped the steering wheel.  Starsky’s mother had wanted to come out, but with a recent bout of the flu, his partner wouldn’t hear of it.  After talking to the doctors and Dobey, it was decided two weeks in New York would satisfy everyone except for Hutch.  He plastered a stupid smile on his face and told his partner it was the perfect solution.  He wanted to go just to be with Starsky, but with the recent manpower shortages, Dobey needed every cop he could get.  His partner almost changed his mind, but Hutch wouldn’t hear of it.

 

            The trip was necessary.  Starsky needed to reconnect with his family and Hutch knew how important family was to his loving partner.  Hutch's own family was as emotionally distant as the miles between them.  Listening to Starsky talk to his mother, Nicky or any of the other numerous family members, made Hutch envious.  He had to admit he wanted it more than he’d ever say to anyone else.  As Hutch drove, the heavy blanket of loneliness settled over his heart.

 

            Goddamn it, Hutch swore.  He loved his partner needing him.  It made him feel so damn good, but needing Starsky the way he did, hurt.  Standing in the airport seeing Starsky off, Hutch had to fight the strong urge to throw himself into his partner’s arms and beg him not to go.  During Starsky’s recovery, their interdependency had grown almost too fast.  He could already see it now.  He’d be waiting by the phone in anticipation of every phone call.  God, he was going to miss Starsky.  How in the hell was he going to get through the next two weeks without him?

 

            Hutch took deep breaths in and out as he looked over the past years.  Becoming a cop was what drove him, and when he and Starsky finally graduated from the academy, Hutch had carried the rulebook like a Bible, and with every fiber in his being, he was determined to save the world.  He’d been so idealistic in those days, and how cynical his partner was.  It was the perfect balance.  A cop wanting to make every wrong right, and his partner with the street smarts kept an even steadiness in a world gone crazy.

 

            When did he start to lose the want and the need to make the world a better place?  It was several things.  Kidnapped and shot up full of heroin, Gillian’s death and even the death of his avaricious ex-wife certainly helped it along, Hutch remembered with morbid fascination.  Years of hard street work and watching that cement wall of death and despair grow no matter how hard he pounded against it with his bare fists.  It was clear the difference in the world he was striving for was making little headway.  Now, Hutch thought with a sigh, he felt all used up.  All the love, passion and idyllic views of the world were gone.  Just getting through each day sometimes was even more difficult than the day before, it seemed.

 

            He pulled off the freeway and turned towards Venice Place.  The closer he got to home, the more it became clear to him.  In his mind's eye, Hutch could see Starsky’s smile and that wonderful Starsky strut which made it obvious he owned whatever room he walked into.  That boyish grin almost made Hutch smile.  Every Starsky foible, Hutch loved.  All the little things from the nerve-wracking Starsky logic to the unending thirst for knowledge, even at its most inane, Hutch just loved.  How much can one human being love another, Hutch mused thoughtfully.  Is it as much as I love Starsky?  Probably not. 

 

 

~*~

 

 

Over the next three days, Hutch worked as much as anyone could.  Dobey finally ordered him home by the third.  He stayed busy with taking care of long-neglected tasks, which included his precious plants.  He’d done little more than water them.  He went to Starsky’s, checked the mail, watered those plants and even unnecessarily cleaned the apartment.  By the fourth day, Hutch was bored.  Without Starsky’s presence, his own world was somber, dark and damn depressing.  The two phone calls from Starsky left Hutch needing more than he had any right to ask.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Hutch moved to the back of the bar to a quiet table.  He’d become almost a regular in this little place off the beaten track.  In the last three weeks he came here when Starsky was too tired and he didn’t want to face his lonely apartment.  Hutch didn’t want to smother his partner so an option was to take a quiet night away from anyone and everyone that knew his face.  This place was it.  It was obvious to Hutch the bar was the same for others.  Hetero and same-sex couples frequented it and the few times he’d been approached, he made it clear he wanted to be left alone.

 

            There was one person who began making himself a regular since he started coming here.  Hutch studied the younger man, who would sit at the bar nursing a drink.  Hutch wasn’t going to lie to himself.  The dark blue eyes and equally dark curly hair reminded him of Starsky, and the tight jeans and the leather jacket struck an undeniable chord that pulled on unspoken desire.  There were times Hutch’s eyes never left the lone figure.

 

            When the gaze of the man’s eyes settled on him, Hutch averted his gaze back to his drink.  He didn’t have to look up to see his approach, and Hutch took a short sip from the glass.

 

            “Hey.”

 

            Hutch glanced up; the stark differences between the young man and Starsky were apparent.  The hair didn’t seem nearly as curly and the dark blue eyes didn’t have the mischief his partner’s did.  The skin was lighter and softer than Starsky’s own rugged appearance. 

 

            “Hey, yourself,” Hutch said in a low voice.

 

            The young man shifted and gripped the drink in his hand.  He motioned towards where Hutch sat.  “Is it okay?”

 

            He shrugged his shoulders.  “Sure.”

 

            The young man slid into a chair next to Hutch and took a swallow from his glass.  “I’ve seen you here.  Watching me.”

 

            “Not gonna beat around the bush, are you?”

 

            The young man met Hutch’s eyes.  “Don’t see a point in it."  He held his hand out.  “Ricky.”

 

            Hutch hesitated.  He didn’t want this connection or involvement outside of the world he had created for himself, but out of politeness he’d go along with it.  “Ken."  Still mistrustful, he shook his hand.

 

            Ricky took another sip and wiped the remnants off his mouth with the back of his hand.  “I was wondering why you watched me.”

 

            Hutch wasn’t in any mood for games.  “You remind me of someone.”

 

            “Oh, guess that explains it.  You come here a lot?”

 

            Hutch stroked his mustache.  Okay, I’ll amuse him.  “Sometimes.  Quiet and out of the way.”

 

            Ricky smiled and nodded.  “No hassles.  I can dig.”

 

            Hutch sensed Ricky knew his reasons and everything told him to get out of this place.  Instead, he motioned for the waitress.  “You want another?” Why was he going along with the charade?

 

            Reaching for the cigarettes in his inside pocket, Ricky nodded.  He lit a cigarette and offered one to Hutch.  Ricky took a long drag and leaned back while his companion ordered two drinks.

 

            Hutch glanced at Ricky, giving him a quick once over with his cop eyes.  Nice clothes, gold chain, and he needs a few pounds, he thought.  The kid screamed hustler, and as he paid for the drinks, he wasn’t about to turn his back on him.

 

            “Listen, man,” Ricky said, “you feel like talkin’ or somethin’?  You look like you could use it.”

 

            Hutch’s smile was sarcastic and didn’t reach his eyes.  “Don’t pull that shit.  I know what you are and what you’re looking for.”

 

            “What?”

 

            Such an innocent act, Hutch thought smugly.  Did Ricky think he was a fool?  “I’m not interested in whatever it is you’re selling.”

 

            Ricky took a long drag from the cigarette and blew the smoke out of the corner of his mouth.  “I ain’t sellin’ anything.  Wanted to know why you was watching me and you looked lonely is all.  You want me to take off?”

 

            The forcefulness of Ricky’s response made Hutch a believer and his cynical attitude remained.  He took another drink.  “No.  Keep me company.”

 

            Sensing an opportunity, Ricky leaned forward.  “I’d like to.  I ain’t got any place to be and I’d like to know you better, if that’s okay.  No scam, man.”

 

            Hutch nodded and took a long drink.  “I’m a cop,” he asserted.  “Any ideas you’ve got to pull a fast one won’t get you far.”

 

            “Figured it was somethin’ like that,” Ricky mumbled.  “Troubles with the cops is something I keep away from.  I’ve never even been busted.”

 

            A relief came over him.  He sure as hell didn’t want to be dragged into the melodrama of bailing this kid out of trouble.  He’d rather just walk the other way.  “Seems like the safest route would be to get a job.”

 

            A harsh laugh escaped Ricky.  “Yeah, right.  I can’t see a guy like me pulling a nine to five."  He put the cigarette to his lips.  “Can you do a job like that?”

 

            “No.”  Hutch lowered his eyes.  “Wouldn’t know what one was like.”

 

            “So we live dangerously,” Ricky said with a deep chuckle.  “The only way we know how.”

 

            It wasn’t in Hutch to voice his agreement.  This was the closest he was going to connect with Ricky.  He took another long drink from the glass.

 

            “Hey, man,” Ricky said.  “Why don’t I get the next round?  Make it even, you know.”

 

            “I’ve got an early morning,” Hutch hedged.

 

            “One more.”

 

            Hutch agreed and watched Ricky eagerly call the waitress over.  Maybe he’s as lonely as I am.  Another drink and he was going to crawl back to his dark apartment and onto the couch.  Since Starsky’s departure, sleeping in bed just didn’t seem to be an option.  Rather than look at the meaning behind it, he watched Ricky fumble with the lighter.  It dropped to the floor and Hutch leaned down to pick it up.  He handed it to Ricky.  Taking a drink, Hutch began wondering what this young man’s story was.  Stop it, he ordered himself silently.  I’m not doing this.

 

            They spoke of more meaningless matters for the next half hour.  It was a relief to keep to more mundane and safe topics.  Hutch took another drink and the image of Ricky blurred.  He started to push himself up from the table and thought he’d made it clear he needed to go home, but he wasn’t sure if the words came out.  The room was tilting and before Hutch knew it, a warm body was close, guiding him.

 

            The next thing Hutch remembered was a soft bed beneath him.  He felt warm all over and searched for the buttons on his shirt.  Strange, he thought.  Where’s my shirt?

 

            Ricky glanced up from his task at the drugged police officer.  He needed to hurry before the cop’s wits sharpened.  When he finished, Ricky went to the bed and grabbed Hutch’s arm.  He pulled the tourniquet from his pocket and wrapped it around Hutch's upper arm.  Ricky checked the syringe, careful of the amount.  Hutch already had a drug in his system and too much of a second would kill the cop.  He flicked at the vein with his forefinger and it rose at demand.  Ricky steadied the syringe and ignored the drunken reach of Hutch’s free hand as he pushed the willing needle in.  He pulled back on the plunger and blood filled the hypodermic.  Then Ricky gently pressed on the plunger and closely watched as the contents easily flowed into the cop.

 

            The euphoria was almost instantaneous.  Hutch felt his body rise and he hummed deeply as that familiar wave washed over him.  Where’ve you been? he wondered.  The rise of sweet nirvana was blissful and pure.  Nothing seemed more perfect than now.  Feeling the tug of his belt, Hutch forced his eyes open.  A dark head was bent over him and pulling on his jeans.  Smiling through drug-hazed eyes, Hutch tried to help.  The jeans were pulled from his body, dragging the underwear with them.  Hutch sighed with contentment as the dark head lowered.

 

            When the warm mouth touched his abdomen, Hutch reached for his companion.  This was it.  All he wanted in the world was this fulfillment warmth and love. 

 

            “Starsk,” Hutch whispered.  He forced his hand to the head and guided it.  God, he was so hard.  The dark head lifted and Hutch’s vision came in focus briefly.  The once unrecognizable face morphed into Starsky’s.  Calming beauty filled him.  “Love you, Starsk.”

 

            The face disappeared and Hutch’s hips surged forward at the warm hand on his erection.  He closed his eyes and smiled when the hot moist mouth took him.

 

~*~

 

 

The first thing Hutch felt when he opened his eyes was pain in every pore of his body.  He covered his eyes and waited for the bout of nausea to pass, then lowered his hand and pushed himself to a sitting position.  He froze at seeing the strange wall in front of him.  He looked around at an unrecognizable studio apartment with dirty, yellowed walls.  Looking down at himself, he groaned at his nakedness.  It took everything he had to move his legs to the side of the bed.  When he was on his feet, Hutch’s eyes immediately went to the small table.

 

            “Jesus,” Hutch whispered in shock.  The evidence of the previous night sat there.  Candle, burned spoon, syringe and leftover heroin. 

 

            The shaking started then.  Hutch ran his trembling hand through his hair and his eyes raced through the apartment. 

 

            “Starsky?” Hutch asked in a small voice.  Panic swept through him and his heartbeat refused to slow down.  His eyes raced through the apartment, looking for his partner.  God, Starsky!  Where in the hell are you? Hutch’s heart screamed.  He was at the very edge of withdrawal and hell was approaching.  “Starsk,” Hutch whispered desperately.

 

            “Hey!”

 

            The voice startled Hutch and he whirled.  Sitting up in the bed was Ricky, just as naked as he was.  Hutch scanned the room and found his underwear crumpled inside of his jeans.  He snatched them up and fumbled to get the underwear and jeans on.

 

            Ricky moved out of the bed, pulling on an old pair of sweatpants.  He went to Hutch and put his hands on his arms.  “Hey, man.  Relax.”

 

            “What the fuck happened?” Hutch ground out.  “I told you….!”

 

            “It wasn’t like that, Ken.  I swear!”

 

            Hutch tried to button his jeans, but his shaky hands wouldn’t cooperate.  “Wh-what time is it?”

 

            Ricky glanced at the clock on the wall.  “Almost seven.”

 

            The heroin on the table beckoned and Hutch tore his eyes away once he realized he was watching it.  “Got to go to work,” Hutch bit out, trying to get a grip on the warring turmoil inside of him.  Panic was growing as he searched for his shirt.

 

            “Hey, man.  You’re wired.  You go in like that and they’ll know something’s up.”

 

            Hutch spotted his shirt on the chair and took two long strides.  He grabbed it up and froze at the heroin sitting so innocently on the table.  His body remembered and it shook.  His mind remembered and it yearned.  He didn’t even hear Ricky’s approach.

 

            “There’s enough to take the edge off.  You’ll get through work with nobody knowin’ and you can come back for a good hit later.”

 

            Shaking his head with vehemence, Hutch said, “I’m a cop,” he breathed.  Starsky should be here, Hutch swore.  He was with me last time.

 

            “You gonna arrest yourself?”  Ricky rested his hands on Hutch’s shoulders.  “It won’t be much.  Just enough.”

 

            Hutch didn’t resist as the hands guided him to a chair.  He sat down and winced once his butt hit the wood.  Why did that hurt?  Hutch swallowed the enormous lump in his throat as he watched Ricky prepare the syringe.  He almost bolted from the room, but remained hypnotized by the promise of a better day.  Just enough to get through, Hutch swore.  This would get him through the day and he’d go home.  Kick it himself and Starsky will never know.  By the time his partner got back, Hutch would be back to his old self and things would go back to normal.  This mistake would be long forgotten.

 

            Feeling the tourniquet tighten around his forearm, Hutch knew he wouldn’t forget.  Never.  His weakness was raw and painful.  His stomach threatened to rebel nothing would quell the craving.  Hutch knew in his current condition, with withdrawal upon him with no relenting, he’d never make it.  He flinched at the stab of the needle and the rush came back.  Oh, thank God.  A sigh of relief escaped and the foreboding problems seemed so far away.

 

            After a moment of getting used to the warm blanket around him, Hutch got to his feet.  He swayed a little and held to Ricky’s arm for balance.  “Don’t come looking for me,” Hutch warned him.  “This was a one-time shot.”

 

            “Yeah, man."  Ricky knew he’d be back.  He’d seen it a million times.  He watched Hutch dress and sat down on the chair.  “If you change your mind, you know where to find me.”

 

            Hutch scooped up his wallet and stuffed it in his back pocket.  He grabbed his holster, jacket and went to the door.  “I won’t be back." 

 

 

~*~

 

 

Once at work, Hutch soon busied himself, allowing for as little contact with other people as possible.  The warm hum still ran through him, convincing him he would make it through the day.  But one look from Dobey, and Hutch froze in his tracks.

 

            “You look like hell, Hutch!”

 

            The statement shook Hutch to his very core.  “Rough night, Cap’n."  Hutch grabbed a form, sat down and stuffed the paper into the typewriter.  He kept his focus on the task as his grumbling captain left the squad room.

 

            The more he yearned for the day to pass, the slower it moved.  It was an unnerving snail’s pace that reminded Hutch of the previous night.  By the end of the day, he didn’t feel so warm.  In fact, the chill made him shiver.  No one had to tell the veteran cop what he was beginning to experience.  When Hutch finished the last report, he yanked it out of the typewriter, quickly scratched his name at the bottom of it, and after dropping it on Minnie’s desk, Hutch made his escape.

 

            Walking into his desolate apartment, Hutch was confident he would be fine.  He grabbed a beer from the fridge and took a large gulp it as he fixed soup on the stove.  By the time Hutch sat the bowl on the table, he realized the brew wasn’t having the desired effect.  Even knowing alcohol wouldn’t cure what ailed him, Hutch found a bottle of scotch and poured a glass.  He downed it, then as he sat, he refilled it.  He concentrated on eating and sipping the harsh liquor in between bites.

 

            By the time Hutch finished eating, the shaking was considerable.  A cramp rolled through him like an angry salty wave crashing into the shore.  He stood up, and without thinking went to the phone.  Hutch picked it up, ready to call Starsky, then stilled.  Tell Starsky I picked up a hustler and got high on juice.  Jesus!  Hutch cried inside.  How can I tell him that?  He set the receiver down.  With a firm shake of his head, he thought, No, I can’t tell him.  I’ve got to ride it out.  I can do this.

 

            Hutch walked around to the couch and sat down.  He grabbed a pillow and held it as though it were Starsky he was holding onto.  The shakes were uncontrollable and Hutch threw the pillow to the floor.  Swearing he was going to kill Ricky, he grabbed his jacket and headed out the door. 

 

            Seconds later, the ringing of the phone echoed through the empty apartment.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Ricky jumped at the loud knock at his door.  When he opened it, he wasn’t surprised to see Hutch standing there.  The cop was sweating and the effects of withdrawal were well underway.  Ricky pulled Hutch inside and closed the door.  “Surprised you lasted this long.”

 

            “You did this,” Hutch accused through shaky breaths.

 

            Ricky sat Hutch down on the bed and found his stash in the bathroom.  He walked to the table and looked over at him.  “Man, you seemed willing enough."  Ricky turned back and began preparing the syringe.  “I’ve got to tell ya,” he chuckled, “you sure were lovin’ it.  Never saw a guy wantin’ the stuff—and whoever you thought I was—as bad as you did.”

 

            The guilt weighed on Hutch and his shoulders hunched lower.  He stared down at the floor, then moved his eyes to the syringe that was pulling the sweet promise into itself.  The anticipation grew like a man getting his first drop of water after crossing a desert. 

 

            Ricky moved in front of Hutch and set the syringe on the small nightstand.  He pushed the jacket from Hutch’s shoulders and knelt.  After rolling up Hutch's shirt sleeve, Ricky wrapped the tourniquet around his forearm, tapped the vein and it rose in need.  Hutch took shaky breaths and when he saw the syringe in Ricky’s hand, he closed his eyes.  He couldn’t watch.  Knowing where he was and what he was allowing to be done to him, the weakness almost brought tears to his eyes.  The agonizing pain tore at Hutch’s heart and when the needle pricked him, he breathed in relief, knowing it would soon leave him.

 

            Hutch moaned as the ecstasy moved through him like warm honey.  The world went away, along with the misery he carried inside of himself.  The shirt was pulled from him and Hutch’s heavy eyes lifted to the dark head before him.  This time he knew it wasn’t Starsky, but how easy it was to pretend.

 

            The warm body leaned down and Hutch grasped the face and pulled it close.  He was reminded of who it was not, by the scent.  Closing his eyes, Hutch kissed the mouth and stepped out of himself.  He could only see himself with Starsky.  No other.  Hutch watched himself pull the clothes from Starsky’s body.  He smiled happily seeing Starsky’s hands wrap themselves around Hutch.  It was Starsky he loved, it was Starsky’s cock he held in his hands and it was Starsky’s cock he put in his mouth.  Hutch closed his eyes and moved back into his own body.  It was Starsky he wanted to fuck.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Over the next several days, Hutch was still running.  Running away from the pain and running away from Starsky.  Avoiding the pain became an art, as was avoiding Starsky’s calls.  Hutch knew that as long as he avoided the calls, he’d avoid the questions.  It was easier not to talk to his partner than to lie.  Lying to Starsky was never something Hutch could do.  Starsky knew him too well.  Knew his mannerisms, the lilt to his voice, and could detect the slightest waver.  The cop instincts in his partner were so well honed Hutch could do nothing but to avoid them.  Side-stepping the messages, not going home and staying away from his desk was the easiest.  Hutch was more than willing to go out on the street and face a wide array of dangers rather than to face the man he loved more than his own life, even if it was a long distant phone call.

 

            Ricky always had an endless supply of stuff, for which Hutch was grateful.  He knew he shouldn’t be, but it was easy.  Easy to pretend that, after the nirvana was swimming inside of him, it was Starsky under him and he was under Starsky.  It was his universe and he could escape reality in the utopia with promise of heaven.  Every time it was easier.  He no longer looked away or closed his eyes when Ricky gave him that sweet dose of delicious promise.

 

 

~*~

 

 

In New York, Starsky set the receiver back in the cradle.  It had been over a week since he'd last spoken with Hutch.  Everything seemed fine over the phone.  He’d left messages with Dobey, Huggy and everyone else that came to mind.  He even called Hutch’s landlady.  What was odd, Dobey assured him that even though Hutch was looking a little ragged, he went on about his duties as normal.  Starsky shook his head. 

 

            He stood and went to the kitchen where his mother was busy at the sink.  “Ma,” Starsky said, “think it’d be okay if I head home a few days early?”

 

            Ruth looked into her son’s troubled eyes.  “David, is something wrong?”

 

            “I don’t know,” Starsky sighed.  “Hutch won’t return my calls.”

 

            “Nothing’s happened to him?”

 

            Starsky put a calming hand on his mother’s shoulder.  “No, Ma.  It’s…I don’t know…  I just think I ought to head home and check on him.”

 

            Ruth gently smiled and put a warm hand on Starsky’s cheek.  “You love him so.”

 

            “Yeah, I do.  I know it’s bothered some of the family that I never….”

 

            “David.”  Ruth took his hands in hers.  “Do what makes you happy.  It’s all I’ve ever wanted for you.”

 

            Relieved she understood, Starsky hugged her.  “Thanks, Ma.  I’d better go pack.”

 

            Ruth stepped away and looked into his troubled eyes.  “I’ll make your reservations, and don’t worry, David.  He loves you, too.”

 

            Starsky gave his mother a kiss on the cheek and headed upstairs.

 

 

~*~

 

 

In the dark street, Hutch pulled his jacket around him and glanced over at Ricky.  “You sure about this?”  The chill was starting to get to him.

 

            Ricky shoved a nervous hand in his pocket.  “Yeah, he’s reliable and he’s never been busted.  It’s where I’ve been going for ours.”

 

            Hutch looked down the dark alley.  His need was great and when he showed up at Ricky’s, the hustler was on his way out the door to score.  Hutch almost didn’t go, but knowing how bad he was starting to hurt, he changed his mind.  Ricky’s habit was considerably higher and Hutch knew that it’d hit him much harder.  His eyes shifted up and down the empty street.  “You need any money?”

 

            Ricky’s eyes locked with Hutch’s, then he looked away.  “No, man.  It’s all good.”

 

            Hutch ran a shaky hand through his stringy hair, wishing he had at least taken a shower.  He had questioned Ricky about how the young man was supporting two habits, but the answers were allusive and met with a new promise of heaven each time.

 

            A lone figure walked to towards them and when Hutch started, Ricky put a hand to his chest to keep him in place.  “Just wait,” Ricky whispered.  “It’s better this way.”

 

            He nodded and watched Ricky meet his dealer.  He observed the short conversation between them and at the wild gesture of Ricky’s hands, Hutch started towards him.

 

            “You fuckin’ shorted me!” Ricky accused.

 

            “It’s all I’ve got,” the well-dressed man told him.  “Make due until tomorrow.”

 

            Ricky pointed a finger at the man.  “You’re supposed to make sure I was well connected!”

 

            “You get what you get,” the man said with a wave his hand.

 

            Hutch halted and both men looked at him.  The dealer was unfamiliar to Hutch and he breathed an uneasy sigh.  “There a problem?” Hutch asked, reaching inside of his jacket.  The magnum was in his grasp.  Hutch was well aware of how bad a deal could go down.

 

            Ricky stepped in front of Hutch.  “No, it's okay, Ken.”

 

            Hutch’s eyes never wavered from the man, who pulled his jacket back, exposing a weapon in its holster.  He started pulling his weapon and Ricky’s hand caught his wrist.  “Are you fucking nuts?”

 

            Doom settled over Hutch when he heard the sarcastic chuckle from the well-dressed man.  As the supplier left, Hutch closed his eyes and let his head drop.  He had witnessed a drug deal go down and done nothing.  He looked up and watched the figure disappear down the street.  Hutch said nothing as Ricky pulled him towards his car.

 

            Back at the studio apartment, Ricky fixed the delicious sweetness, and after seeing to Hutch, he dealt with his own need.  Filled with a sexual desire and a high merging together, Hutch was pulled down onto the bed.  After divesting themselves of their clothes, he was suddenly more alert than any other time he remembered.  Feeling Ricky’s hands on him, the desire was beginning to wane.  Hutch shifted on the bed, allowing for better access, and once penetration was reached, he realized he needed more for that sweet heaven he’d grown accustomed to.  Hutch grunted loudly to the thrusts and he closed his eyes.  This time willing Starsky’s presence was much harder.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Starsky told the cab driver to take him to Hutch’s place.  When he arrived, seeing the Torino brought a sigh of relief.  Shaking his head, he chastised himself for getting worked up over nothing.  Not seeing Hutch’s car, Starsky assumed it was either in the shop or his partner was out.  The late morning was growing warm and Starsky wiped the perspiration from his brow after paying the driver.

 

            He hustled up the steps and knocked on the door.  “Hutch,” Starsky hollered.  Starsky fished his keys from his pocket and unlocked the door.  He set his bag down once inside and glanced around the quiet apartment.  Moving inside, Starsky noted how unkempt it was.  Sheets and a wadded up pillow were on the floor near the couch, the apartment was littered with dirty clothes, and at seeing the bedroom, Starsky stopped.  The bed was made and unused.  His eyes wandered to the dresser where two drawers were half-open.  As he moved about the apartment, his eyes went to the dirty kitchen, and when he went to the greenhouse, Starsky’s unease was compounded by the neglect of his partner’s beloved plants.

 

            Ignoring his luggage, Starsky hurried from the apartment and hopped into the Torino.  He rushed to his place, hoping to find some answers.  Once inside, Starsky leaned against the door.  He grabbed the pile of mail on the floor, knowing Hutch hadn’t been here for days, either.  After dropping it on the coffee table, he left.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Starsky didn’t notice the looks coming from fellow officers as he headed to Dobey’s office.  His only thought was Hutch.  He opened the door to and closed it behind him.  “Where’s Hutch?”

 

            “Dave, you need to sit down,” Dobey ordered in a low tone.

 

            Seeing the serious look in his captain’s eyes, Starsky shook his head.  “No, I ain’t sittin’ until you tell me that he’s not dead.”

 

            “No, son.  He’s not.”

 

            Starsky breathed a sigh of relief, but his insides wound up tight as Dobey motioned towards the chair.  He moistened his lips and moved to sit.  When his captain pulled a chair close to him, he closed his eyes.  It’s bad, Starsky thought.  If Hutch ain’t dead, he’s dyin’.  God no, Starsky prayed.

 

            Dobey sat down and cleared his throat.  “I called your mother and she said you’d taken an early flight back.”

 

            Starsky’s nod trembled.  “Yeah, Hutch didn’t return none of my calls and I got worried.  Jesus, Cap’n!  Just tell me what happened to him!  I can’t take not knowin’!”

 

            Dobey put his hand on Starsky’s shoulder.  “Hutch was picked up early this morning, Dave.”

 

            Starsky shot out of his chair.  “What the hell for?” he yelled.  “Why ain’t he here tellin’ me this?”

 

            The large man ran an uneasy hand over his face to get a handle on his emotions.  “He’s in a holding cell, Starsky.  I’ve been waiting for Huggy come and take care of him until you got back.”

 

            “A holding cell?” Starsky asked in disbelief.  “Have Huggy take care of him?  Cap’n, you’re not makin’ any sense!”

 

            Dobey’s eyes locked with Starsky’s tumultuous ones.  “I need to know, Dave.  Have you been covering for Hutch?”

 

            “Covering for Hutch?  What the hell are you talking about?” Starsky exclaimed.  “Just tell me what's going on so I can go get Hutch!”

 

            Dobey took a deep breath and slowly got to his feet.  Starsky watched the disturbing looks cross his face.  He readied himself.  For what, he didn’t know. 

 

            “Dave, Hutch is looking at charges of possession, distribution and solicitation of a prostitute.”

 

            Starsky stumbled back and his hand caught the wall behind him.  “Mistake,” he said in a whispered breath.  He shook his head.  “No, Cap’n.  You know Hutch.  He’d never…”

 

            “He was found with a male prostitute and several ounces of heroin.”

 

            Starsky’s mind scrambled for words…for understanding….  “Hutch must’ve gone on his own.  Looking for a dealer or something.”

 

            Dobey moved behind his desk and eased into the chair.  “Starsky, Hutch was high.  Officers found several tracks on his arms.”

 

            Starsky’s lower lip started trembling and he reached for the chair.  “There’s got to be a mistake, Cap’n.  Hutch would never….”  He raised his eyes and straightened.  “You asked me if I’d been covering for Hutch,” he said with unnerving calmness.  “You think all this time…since what happened before….”

 

            “Since you’ve been gone, Hutch has been on a steady decline.  Given his state, we thought it was due to you being gone and the workload.  It made sense.”

 

            “No!” Starsky yelled.  “I don’t know what the hell went on while I was gone, but Hutch has been clean since Forest shot that shit into him!  He was set up, Cap’n!”

 

            Dobey slammed his fist on the desk.  “Don’t you think I want to believe that, Starsky?  There are enough tracks on his arms to know this has been going on a while!  He showed up here!”  Dobey pointed towards the squad room.  “What the hell am I supposed to think when he’s dragged in here at four in the morning and can barely say his own name!”

 

            Starsky kicked at the chair sending it across the room.  “I know Hutch!  I know more about him than anybody else on this planet!”  Starsky raised an angry finger at Dobey.  “He’d never go back to that shit willingly and I’d stake my badge on it!”

 

            “You might have to!” Dobey yelled back.

 

            He stilled.  “IA?”

 

            “They’re pulling out all the stops on this one, Starsky.  It’ll be you and him under the gun.  Every case you two have worked on will be gone through with a fine tooth comb.”

 

            Barely able to believe the twist of fate he was faced with, Starsky’s mind worked for explanations.  “Hutch was the primary witness at Gunther’s trial.  They’ll ask for a new one.”

 

            “And they might just get it when this gets out.”

 

            He planted his hands on Dobey’s desk and leaned forward.  “Cap’n, Gunther’s still got money and some pull.  Discrediting Hutch would be the way to go.”

 

            “Proving it won’t be easy, Starsky.”

 

            Starsky straightened.  “I will."  His searching eyes met Dobey’s doubtful ones.  “Cap’n, I’ll need some help on this.  People we trust.”

 

            “Babcock and Simmons aren’t doing much.”

 

            “Put them on this prostitute.  Don’t let them make any moves on him just yet.  Just follow the guy and keep tabs on who he meets with.”

 

            The door swung open and Huggy walked through.  “Starsky!” Huggy exclaimed with surprise.  “You’ve no idea how good it is to see you.”

 

            “Later, Hug,” Starsky said firmly.  “Right now, there’s some things you’ve gotta do.”

 

            “Name it, bro.  I’m here.”

 

            Starsky gave Huggy a pat on the arm.  “Go to my place and pack some things.  Hutch has stuff there, so grab his, too.  Hit the store…you know what to get, and hook up with me at Hutch’s place.”

 

            “You takin’ him there?”

 

            Starsky shook his head.  “No, I left my luggage there and I need it.  Hutch has got to go someplace different.  Not like before.”  He swung around and looked at Dobey.  “The cabin.  Nobody’ll be there and it was just remodeled.”

 

            Dobey nodded.  “We added a bedroom and had the wiring fixed, plus a new phone line installed.  It’s better than the last time you two were there.”

 

            “I need time, Cap’n.  Gotta find out what went down with Hutch and you need to buy me some.”

 

            Dobey nodded.  “I’ll take care of it, Dave.  I just want you to be right.”

 

“I know I am, Cap’n.”  Starsky looked to Huggy, then to Dobey.  “Tell them to pull Hutch out.  I’m on my way down.” 

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Starsky ignored the looks coming from his fellow officers as he headed to the stairs.  The questions in their eyes were directed at him, wondering if he’d been covering for his drug-addicted partner.  Starsky’s jaw clenched in anger at them and at himself for not being here when Hutch needed him.

 

            He started mentally preparing himself as he headed down the hallway.  Seeing strung-out Hutch the last time had nearly killed him.  The fear, the hunger for relief, and the pain in his partner’s eyes had almost been more than he could bear.  Starsky realized he didn’t know much about Hutch’s condition from the conversation in Dobey’s office.

 

            Starsky kept his demands short when he went to the officer in charge.  He followed him to the holding cell and his steps faltered.  Could he see it again?  He swallowed the hurtful lump in his throat and stepped forward when the cell door opened.

 

            Hutch sat on the edge of the bunk, with his body sagging.  His stringy hair fell around his collar and Starsky wondered what his face looked like.  The trepidation in his steps seemed too obvious and Starsky had to force his feet to move to stand in front of him.

 

            “Hutch,” Starsky said.  He didn’t want any accusation or any type of emotion in his voice to give away what he was feeling at this moment.

 

            The blond head rose, and seeing Hutch’s face, Starsky felt his legs almost give.  The hollow look and glassy eyes stabbed inside him like a deep knife to his soul.  Starsky forced himself to grab onto Hutch and pull him to his feet.  He held tight to his partner as he guided him out of the cell.  They were halfway down the hall, when Hutch mumbled out a ‘No’ and feebly tried to wrestle from Starsky’s grasp.

 

            Starsky pulled Hutch to a nearby bathroom.  Thankful it was empty, he put Hutch against the wall.  He kept his hands on Hutch’s shoulders and forced his partner to look at him.

 

            “Listen to me,” Starsky said in a tone that brooked no room for argument.  “I’m takin’ you outa here and you’re goin’ with me.  I don’t give a shit if I hafta drag you to my car.  You’re goin’ whether you like it or not.  Understand me, Hutch?”

 

            The quiet nod was enough for Starsky.  He yanked several paper towels from the dispenser and moistened them, then gently wiped the perspiration from his partner’s face.

 

            “We’re gonna go someplace quiet and by ourselves, Hutch.  Get this mess worked out, and then you and me are gonna become joined like twins.  I ain’t never lettin’ you outa my sight again and that’s a promise, buddy.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Once in the car, Starsky headed to Venice Place.  Huggy stood outside waiting and Starsky was thankful for his friend’s faster-than-lightening speed at getting the tasks done.  He pulled his car to the curb and turned to look at Hutch curled up in the back seat.  Starsky wanted nothing more than to have his partner close, but he just couldn’t chance Hutch making a stupid decision like jumping out of a running car in hopes of scoring.

 

            He tossed Huggy the keys and looked back at Hutch.  “We’ll be there before you know it, Hutch.  Gotta wait a little longer." 

 

            Hutch mumbled something intelligible and Starsky looked back where Huggy was loading the trunk.  When the lid was slammed shut, Huggy came around to the driver’s side and opened the door. 

 

            “Huggy, what you do you think you’re doin’?”

 

            “You think you can do this by yourself?  You’re gonna need help, Starsky, and you know it.”

 

            It didn’t take Starsky long to realize his friend was right.  He got out and crawled into the back seat with Hutch.  He pulled his partner’s head onto his lap and cradled him.

 

            Huggy started the car and put it in gear.  “Just point me in the right direction, my friend.”

 

~*~

 

 

It was a relatively quiet ride on the way to Pine Lake, except for the one instance Hutch needed to throw up.  Huggy was quick to pull the car over and Hutch scrambled out.  Starsky hovered close and kept his hands on his partner while the spasms passed.  Then he helped Hutch back into the car, and they were on their way.

 

            Huggy drew the Torino to a stop in front of Dobey's vacation cabin, then stepped out and folded down the front seat.  He assisted Hutch to his feet, and when Starsky was out of the car, they guided the incoherent man inside.  Once in the bedroom, Starsky eased Hutch onto the bed and pulled his shoes off.  Hutch groaned and pulled the pillow close.

 

            Seeing the slow rise and fall of Hutch's chest, Huggy pulled Starsky out of the bedroom.  “He should sleep for a little while before it starts.”

 

            Starsky nodded and turned on his heel.  After hiding Hutch’s shoes, Huggy and Starsky unloaded the car, and in the kitchen, neither spoke as they put the groceries away. 

 

            Starsky set the orange juice in the fridge and closed the door, then leaned against it, resting his head.  “How, Huggy?” he asked in a low voice.  “Tell me how this could happen.”

 

            Huggy looked down at the sack half-filled with groceries.  “Don’t got any answers, Starsky.  That man in there’s got ‘em,” he said with a look toward the bedroom door.

 

            Starsky moved to the sack and pulled out a couple of cans, then opened a cabinet door and set them inside.  He put his hand on the cabinet door and hit it as hard as he could.  “Bullshit!” he yelled with an accusing glare at Huggy.  “You had to have known what was going down, Huggy!  Jesus Christ, you’re the one with the first word on anything that happens out there!”

 

            Huggy stared off in the distance, wondering how he didn’t know, himself.  “I wish I had,” he hoarsely replied.  “Hutch hadn’t been coming around much since you left.  Went by his place several times and he was never there.  Heard about some hustler named Ricky he was hangin’ with and I figured it was either one of his causes or a cover job."  Huggy leaned against the counter and looked at Starsky.  “I swear, man, if I’d known what was really goin’ on, I would’ve tied Hutch to a chair and called you straight away.”

 

            Starsky sagged against the counter.  “Sorry, I just wanna try and figure it all out and nothin’s makin’ sense right now."  He took a deep breath and reached for the sack again.  “Tell me about this Ricky character.”

 

            Taking a deep breath, Huggy resumed emptying out the sack as well.  “Small nickel-and-dime hustler with a habit.  Expensive one, I heard.  Last month or so, he’s been gettin’ his stuff elsewhere.  Don’t know who.  Maybe a new ice cream man.”

 

            Hearing movement coming from the bedroom, both men paused.  Starsky turned to Huggy.  “This time will be different, Hug.  We both know it.  Chances are it’ll be worse and a hell of a lot harder than before.  Not sure if either of us’ll be ready for what’s gonna happen.”

 

            Huggy put a hand on Starsky’s shoulder.  “I should’ve pushed, Starsky.  God knows I love Hutch, too.  I should’ve never—”

 

            “It’s done,” Starsky said.  “We’ll both carry our share of this, but ain’t nothin’ we can do ‘bout it now.  Hide the keys to the Torino and get on the phone to Dobey and a couple of your buddies.  Tell Dobey he can’t call us, but we’ll be checkin’ in with him.  Find out what you can about this Ricky.  He could be runnin’ other scams or maybe he’s bein’ paid off.  I want to know every extracurricular activity that son of a bitch has got goin’.  When you’re done, stash the phone and block that door.  It’s gonna take both of us keepin’ him in here and I sure as hell don’t want him near that phone."  Starsky took firm hold of Huggy’s hand.  “He’ll be okay, Hug.  I swear it.”

 

            Starsky turned to the bedroom and paused.  This is it, Hutch.  You and me, just like always.  Starsky opened the door and moved in with determination.

 

            Hutch sat on the bed, rubbing his eyes, and looked at Starsky.  “Where am I?”

 

            “Dobey's cabin at Pine Lake.”

 

            Rather than question Starsky’s presence or how he'd gotten there, Hutch managed to get to his feet.  “Need to get going, Starsk.  No time for vacations.”

 

            Starsky patiently watched Hutch checking himself and he leaned against the wall near the door.  “We are on vacation, Hutch.  Dobey said we’ve got the place as long as we need it.  I figure three to four days max should do it.”

 

            Hutch averted his eyes, refusing to meet Starsky’s head on, and did a visual search of the room without moving.  “Where’re my shoes?  You can have at the fish this time around.”

 

            “Strangest thing happened, Hutch.  A wild shoe-eating bear stole them.  I wasn’t about to cross paths with him and you sacrificed yours for mine.”

 

            Seeing the humor in Starsky’s eyes, a grin pulled at the corners of Hutch’s mouth.  “Enough of the jokes.  Give me my shoes.”

 

            Starsky pushed away from the wall.  “Tell you what, Hutch.  You’re worn out.  Get some rest and I’ll fix you dinner.  Even bring it to you in bed.”

 

            “I’m not hungry, Starsky.  Just give me my shoes, and have Huggy bring the car back.”

 

            Starsky shook his head.  “Can’t do that, buddy.  Huggy’s already here.”

 

            Hutch stiffened and his eyes darted to the open bedroom door, then to Starsky.  “Huggy’s here?”

 

            “Yeah, Huggy’s here.”

 

            “You brought him to a cabin way out here with us?”

 

            Starsky tilted his head.  “Said he always wanted to try roughing it.”

 

            Hutch took a few steps towards Starsky and shoved his trembling hands into his pockets.  “I’m not gonna stay nice forever about this, partner.  I can drive just as good without shoes as I can with ‘em.  I want to go home and get a shower.”

 

            Starsky pointed to the small bathroom.  “Shower’s right there.  Dobey had the place remodeled so it’s got a few more modern conveniences than last time.”

 

            “New Age weirdos rather than rabid cultists?” Hutch quipped.

 

            Starsky chuckled in relief that Hutch could find a sense of humor even with the nervous look in his eyes.  “Things never stay the same, do they?”

 

            Hutch sidestepped Starsky and headed to the living room.  His eyes immediately saw Huggy sitting in a large chair at the front door.  He turned at Starsky’s approach.  “Don’t trust me, partner?”

 

            “You hungry?” Starsky asked.  He could see the muscles in Hutch’s jaw working back and forth.

 

            Ignoring Starsky, Hutch headed to the kitchen and started searching the cabinets.  Not finding what he was looking for, he glanced over at Starsky.  “Hope you brought that scotch from your place.”  Seeing nothing given away in Starsky’s eyes, Hutch went to the fridge.  He could always count on beer.  After not seeing any, Hutch slammed it shut.

 

            “Forgot to tell you, Hutch.  Decided we’d do this little vacation dry.”

 

            Hutch turned and left the small kitchen, rounding on Starsky.  “This is not a fucking joke!" he yelled.  "I want my goddamn shoes and I want to go home!”

 

            Starsky folded his arms and looked squarely at Hutch.  “I think stayin’ here’s a better idea.”

 

            Hutch was about to give his partner a royal tongue-lashing when a cramp seized control.  He put his hands on his legs and waited for it to pass.  Starsky came close and Hutch staggered away.  Being near Starsky was too much, too close and too real.  Feeling his stomach roll over, Hutch shot to the bathroom and just managed to make it.  The pain tore at his insides as he threw up what little food there was inside of him.  When the final spasms ended, he collapsed in exhaustion on the floor and looked up at Starsky, who stood close by with a wet washcloth. 

 

            “Must’ve been something I ate,” Hutch offered as he took the wet cloth.

 

            Starsky remained silent as Hutch rubbed the cloth over his face.  Leaving the cloth on the floor, Hutch struggled to his feet and shrugged off any help from his partner.  “Need something to drink."  Hutch’s throat was raw and he followed Starsky to the kitchen.  While his partner poured a cup of coffee, Hutch stole a glance at Huggy, who remained stationed at the door.  “You plan on living there?

 

            “Best spot in the house,” Huggy bragged.

 

            Starsky doused the coffee with large amounts of sugar and stirred it, then pushed the cup towards Hutch.  “Drink up, there’s plenty.”

 

            Hutch grabbed the cup and brought it to his lips.  He needed both hands to still the shaking mug.  He made a face, but the sugar-rich coffee helped to a degree.  Hutch finished off most of the hot drink and as he did, he sent thoughtful glances at both Starsky and Huggy.  There was no getting out now.  Hutch set the cup down and headed into the bedroom.  He ran his quaking hands through his hair and stared at the window.  His thoughts were so focused on the window he never heard Starsky’s approach.

 

            “Since all those Satan-worshipping freaks got busted, people have been really scared of this place."  Starsky knew Hutch was trying to hide the tremors from him and remained steadfast in his mission to help his partner.  “Dobey said that not one of those really nice townspeople would even come near the place.  Nobody around for miles.”

 

            Hutch whirled around and clenched his fists.  “What the hell do you think you’re doing?  If you think you can keep me here, you’ve got another think coming, pal.  I wanna go home.”

 

            Starsky’s eyes softened and searched Hutch’s resentful ones.  “When’s the last time you been home, Hutch?  How long did you stay there when you finally showed up?  Long enough to shower, change clothes and leave?”

 

            Hutch turned away from Starsky and his eyes focused on the window, eager for escape.  “None of your fucking business!”

 

            Starsky moved in close behind his partner.  “It's okay, Hutch.  When you’re ready, you’ll tell me.”

 

            “Leave me the hell alone."  The order was firm, without debate.

 

            “Get some rest, Hutch.  You’re gonna need it.”

 

            When Hutch swung around, Starsky was headed for the door.  He watched it close and sank down onto the bed.  He put his arms around his stomach and rocked back and forth, terror-stricken.  Starsky knows.  Oh, my God! Hutch’s mind screamed.  How the hell did he find out?  ...It was Huggy. 

 

            He closed his eyes as he remembered:  cops busting the door open, flooding the room, surrounding him and Ricky.  They'd been on the bed together, half undressed.  Hutch searched for a story to tell Starsky to explain it all.  Panic filtered through his entire body when none came to mind.

 

            He stood and paced the length of the room.  Another cramp radiated through his body and he took deep breaths as it passed.  A little worse than the last one, but he could take it.  He’d take it until he got the hell out of here.  Hutch looked towards the door.  Starsky was just on the other side and Hutch hated it.  Hated Starsky seeing him like this and hated his partner for keeping him here.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Over the next few hours, the gut-wrenching cramps steadily worsened.  Hutch gritted his teeth each time, not wanting anyone to see the agony he was going through.  The coldness seeped into his bones and he dragged the bedspread close to him.  When the latest spasm ended, Hutch sagged deep into the bed in relief, only to feel another malevolent cramp seize him and an agonizing groan escaped. 

 

            Seconds later, warm hands surrounded him and pulled him close.  The warm body next to him offered reassuring touches and Hutch moved in close, relishing the warmth.  Another cramp hit and he reached for the body next to him. 

 

            “Hold on, Hutch.  You can do it.”

 

            Through chattering teeth, Hutch spoke.  “N-Need something.  Gotta take this f-fucking edge off."  He grabbed onto the hand and squeezed.  “Just a l-little,” he whispered.

 

            Instead of Hutch getting what he wanted, a cup of coffee was put under his nose.  Hutch gulped the liquid down, not caring how hot it was.

 

            Another agonizing wave of pain struck and he groaned as his muscles screamed for relief.  “God-fucking-damn it!” he swore.  “H-Help me!” 

 

            The hands continued massaging him and his begging went unanswered.

 

 

~*~

 

 

Time had no meaning and the hours passed, with tormenting pain ravaging his aching body.  Hutch begged, cajoled and threatened Starsky and Huggy.  More coffee was poured down him and after two near misses a trashcan was put near the bed.  Starsky saw the heave and he got Hutch’s head to the wastebasket just in time.  It was taking everything they had just to keep Hutch hydrated from the continuous vomiting which plagued him in between the bouts of severe cramping.

 

            Starsky’s exhaustion was beginning to take its toll, but he remained resolute at Hutch’s side.  At one point, Hutch had urinated on the bed.  Not caring, Starsky and Huggy quickly changed the bedding and managed to get him in a fresh pair of sweatpants.  During it all, Hutch had cursed at them for not doing what he wanted, furious at their supposed indifference.

 

            Cradling Hutch’s shaking and sweating body, Starsky allowed his eyes to close for just a moment.  Feeling a tremor run through Hutch’s body, Starsky’s opened them.  He ran his hand through Hutch’s sweat-soaked hair and looked up at the window.  Dawn was beginning to show itself and he gave thanks.  It still wasn’t over by a long shot, but the light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to appear.

 

            He looked down at Hutch, who was moving his body closer to him.  Hutch’s eyes were closed and Starsky wondered if he was dreaming.  A hand crept up his thigh and settled deeply inside. 

 

            “St-Starsk,” Hutch whispered.

 

            Starsky leaned in.  “I’m here, buddy.  Ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

 

            “C-can do something for you, buddy.  More’n you’d ever d-dreamed of.”

 

            Starsky rubbed Hutch’s arm.  “Rest, Hutch, you’ve still got a ways to go, pal.”

 

            Hutch ran his hand further up Starsky’s thigh and settled just above the button on Starsky’s jeans.  “Know how to m‑make it good for you, babe.  Real good.”

 

            Starsky’s heart pounded in his chest and his breath picked up pace at the dreaded realization of what Hutch was proposing.  “Go to sleep, Hutch.  You’re talkin’ out of your head.”

 

            Hutch snuggled in closer to Starsky and moved his hand in small circles.  “'M real good.  Know how to m‑make you w-want it and know how to m-make you come so hard, you’d be wantin’ again and again.”

 

            “No,” Starsky said firmly.  “You don’t want that, Hutch.  It’s the stuff talkin’.”

 

            A low chuckle rumbled from Hutch’s chest and his hand snaked downward towards Starsky’s groin.  He reached for the searching limb, and froze when Hutch’s hand found its target and settled on it snuggly.  “Yeah, b-babe.  Can make it last all n-night long.  Give it to you s-so good.  After, you’d be wantin’ m-more.  J-just n-need a small hit, Starsk.  Thas all… little one…n-nobody’d know ‘cept you and me.”

 

            Starsky pulled away from Hutch and stumbled from the bed.  He got to his feet, scarcely able to believe what the best friend of his life was proposing.  “Huggy!” Starsky hollered. 

 

            Huggy appeared in the doorway.  Starsky started for the door.  “I need a minute.  I’ll be right back.”

 

            “Starsky, you’ve been up all night.  Take some shuteye and I’ll wake you in a few hours.”

 

            Starsky shook his head.  “Can’t do that, Hug.  Worst ain’t hit yet and I’ve gotta be here for him.

 

            After closing the door, Starsky headed straight to the fireplace and lowered his head on the mantle.  He wasn’t sexually aroused.  Far from it.  Starsky always thought if he wanted a man, it’d be his partner.  Only this Hutch was someone beyond his recognition.  This was a man willing to prostitute his body for heroin.  He swallowed the bile caught in his throat.  Starsky kept his head low and shook it back and forth.  At his worst, during the withdrawal process after Forest had taken from Hutch what he wanted, the very idea of it never occurred to his partner.  Hutch had bargained in many ways, but his own body was not one of them.  A single tear fell down Starsky’s cheek at the desperation his partner was feeling.

 

            He took the brief moment of reprieve to wash his face at the kitchen sink and drank some coffee.  Starsky took the time to get his thoughts together and rest his eyes.  Hutch needed him and his own squeamish behavior had to be set aside.  He finished the cup and was setting it in the sink when an agonizing cry came from the bedroom.  I’m coming, Hutch.  He was ready to face anything as he went to his partner.

 

            Starsky traded places with Huggy on the bed and Hutch put his trembling hands around his waist.  The waves of raw misery hit him through his entire body, only now, Hutch didn’t hold back his agony.  The loud moans echoed in Starsky’s heart and he pulled his partner close.  He soothed him with rubs from his hands and words of encouragement.  As Hutch writhed in Starsky’s arms, his ministrations seemed to have little effect.

 

            A wracking convulsion ran like tremors through the Hutch and a painful cry exploded from him.  “Jesus!” he sobbed.  “God, it hurts, oh, God, it fucking hurts!”

 

            Wrapping his arms around Hutch as tight as he could, Starsky lowered his head.  “I got ya, Hutch.  Hold on.  You’re gonna make it,” he soothed.

 

            “I just wanna die it fucking hurts so bad!” Hutch cried out.  “Lemme die!  Oh, God, I wanna die!” 

 

            The heart-wrenching pleas from Hutch were almost too much for Starsky.  He moved closer and stretched on the bed.  He cradled his partner in his arms and held him close like a mate offering his body in comfort.  Starsky put his mouth next to Hutch’s ear. 

 

            “You ever hear of that poem, Hutch?  The one where if you love something, you hafta set it free?”  Starsky ran his hands through Hutch’s wet hair and down to his back.  He prayed he could soothe the battered soul and body he held.  “First time I heard it, I thought about it and I realized it ain’t us.  ‘Cause you know why, Hutch?  We’d never let each other go."

 

            A tremor shook Hutch’s body and Starsky fit himself as close to Hutch as physically possible.

 

            “When I was dyin’, even though you thought I was gonna die, you never let go of me…not for one second."  A tear slowly rolled down Starsky’s face and he looked into Hutch’s pain-filled eyes.  “Just like now, Hutch…no matter how bad you think you wanna die, I won’t let go.  Don’t matter what you say or do, I’m not lettin’ go of you."  Starsky pulled Hutch closer and rested his chin on his partner’s shoulder.  “I love you so damn much, Hutch.  The thought of lettin’ you go hurts so bad and I know if something happened, you’d take the better half of me with you.”

 

            They held onto each other, tightly wrapped up in each other’s pain.  “Know something else, Hutch?  I know sometimes you feel all used up and you don’t have nothin’ left to give.  No love inside of you to give to anybody else and I can tell it hurts.  Just take it from me, babe.  I got plenty and you’ll never use it up.  No way you could ever use up the love I got for you."

 

             Starsky exhaled slowly and ran his hand through Hutch’s hair.  “I got so much for you, Hutch, 'cause you always give it back.  You take what I give and every time you give it straight back to me.  There’s no danger of either of us runnin’ out that way." 

 

            As the pain began to subside, Hutch finally fell in a troubled slumber.  Starsky gave his partner a comforting kiss on his temple.  He looked up at the door where Huggy stood.  Seeing the smile through the tears on Huggy’s face, Starsky knew the worst of it was over.  He looked down at Hutch and knew he could move without disturbing him.  Starsky whispered to Hutch he’d be back and disengaged himself from the hurting body. 

 

            When Starsky stood up, the tiredness in his body flowed through him.  He moved to Huggy and put a comforting hand on his friend’s shoulder.  “Huggy, I….”

 

            Huggy smiled and touched his arm.  “Get some rest, Curly.  I’ll wake you when he starts coming around.”

 

            Starsky watched Huggy go to the bed with a towel in hand.  He went to the living room and lowered himself onto the couch, then leaned forward, resting his head in his hands.  He had bared his soul to Hutch and fleetingly wondered if his best friend would even remember.  Starsky grabbed a pillow and by the time he'd stretched out on the couch, he was already asleep. 

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Movement from the bedroom woke Starsky.  He sat up and turned his head.  A ragged Hutch walked into the kitchen and began searching the cabinets.  Starsky glanced at his watch and saw it’d only been a few hours since he had lain down.  He pushed up from the couch and went to the kitchen.  Glancing at Huggy, Starsky gave his friend a nod. 

 

            Huggy left them while Hutch grabbed a coffee cup.  Starsky found his and set it near Hutch’s.  He folded his arms watched the resentful movements has his partner poured them each a cup.  Not a word passed as the men sipped on their coffee. 

 

            His stomach was growling and, after retrieving the eggs from the fridge, Starsky started cooking.  A few minutes later, Starsky set eggs, toast and coffee on the table.  He glanced at his partner, who hadn’t moved from his place at the end of the counter.  “Don’t know about you, buddy, but I could eat a live bull ‘bout now.”

 

            No words were coming from Hutch.  He sipped on the coffee and stared at Starsky.  As his friend ate, his stomach growled in protest.  He waited for a look or a comment from Starsky.  When none came, Hutch moved to the table.  He sat across from Starsky and kept his eyes averted as he picked up a fork.  Hutch stabbed at the food and managed to eat, even with his shaking hands.

 

            God, the urge was so strong.  Hutch’s eyes shifted to the door, then back to his plate.  He was more desperate to get out than ever before.  Hutch glanced at Huggy in the living room sorting through the various magazines on the table.  He took another nervous bite of food.  Hutch set his fork down and pushed the plate away.

 

            Starsky’s piercing eyes never left Hutch.  He watched his partner getting to his feet.  Hutch paced for only a moment and then shot towards the only way out of the cabin.  Huggy flew his body in front of the door and Starsky scrambled after Hutch.  He grabbed him by the arms and struggled to hold on.  Hutch’s determination overrode the exhaustion Starsky expected from him.  He reached around Hutch’s arms and both men fell to the floor. 

 

            “Lemme go, dammit!” Hutch bit out as he tried to wriggle out of Starsky’s firm grasp.

 

            Starsky threw his body on top of Hutch’s and pinned his shoulders to the floor.  “Where ya goin’, babe?”

 

            Looking into Starsky’s eyes, Hutch knew his friend had every right to be pissed.  Instead he saw firm determination and his body relaxed.  Exhausted from the brief tussle, he laid his head on the floor.  “Get off me, Starsky.”

 

            “Might as well get it through that blond head of yours.  You ain’t goin’ nowhere.”  He was resolute and when he was confident Hutch wouldn’t fight him, he moved off and sat up. 

 

            Hutch rose to a sitting position and looked at Starsky.  No, he thought, I’m not goin’ anywhere, am I?  A firm negative was in Starsky’s eyes. 

 

            When Hutch’s stomach rebelled, he struggled to his feet and hurried to the bathroom.  What little he had eaten came up and when it was over, Hutch leaned back against the tile and closed his eyes.  After a moment, he opened them and rather than seeing Starsky, Huggy looked down and held a washcloth out.  Hutch gratefully took it and washed his face. 

 

            “Better?” Huggy asked.

 

            “Putting me out of my misery would be,” Hutch told him.

 

            Huggy helped him to his feet.  “Not in this lifetime, bro.”

 

            Starsky watched Hutch reappear and he knew the worst was over.  There was no doubt about it.  He poured another cup of coffee while Hutch anxiously paced the living room.  Starsky motioned for Huggy.  “Mind sitting out on the porch for a little while?”

 

            Huggy took the cup.  “Think he’s ready to talk?”

 

            Starsky stole a look at Hutch in the living room.  “Hope so.”

 

            After Huggy was outside, Starsky went into the living room and folded his arms.  “We gotta talk.”

 

            “Forget it!” Hutch snapped.

 

            Starsky sat down and watched Hutch pace the length of the living room.  “How’d it start?”

 

            The last thing Hutch was willing to do was tell his partner all the gory details.  “You think I’m going to spill my guts just like that?”

 

            “Wait as long as you want, Hutch.  I ain’t goin’ nowhere and neither are you.”

 

            Hutch turned away from Starsky and planted his hand on the mantle.  He lowered his head and weighed the options.  It’d serve Starsky right to know the truth.  No, can’t hurt him.  Already have.  Hutch sighed and steadied himself.  He was still jittery as hell and he hurt for it to end.  “Went to a bar and got drunk."  The simple statement seemed easy enough.

 

            Starsky studied Hutch’s back.  “What bar was it?”

 

            It took a moment for Hutch to answer.  “Some place called Lenny’s.”

 

            Starsky knew of it.  He’d never been there, but a couple of girlfriends from long ago had mentioned it for its seclusion.  “You were drunk?”  There was a slow nod from Hutch.  That’s odd, Starsky thought.  Even in their wildest days, Hutch always managed a semblance of control, most especially when they were out.  “How much?”

 

            Hutch looked towards the door and he knew Huggy was on the other side.  His body was tired and sore.  He didn’t think he could fight his way past a kitten at this point.  “Don’t remember.”

 

            Straightening in the chair, Starsky leaned forward.  “Six drinks?  Seven?  Eight?” he pressed.

 

            Whirling around, Hutch held his hands out.  “I don’t remember!” he hollered.  Seeing the calm look in Starsky’s eyes, he closed his own eyes and he suddenly saw himself sitting at the table with Ricky.  He shook his head.  “Three or four.”

 

            Starsky’s studied Hutch.  Only three or four?  It’d take almost twice that much for Hutch to get drunk beyond knowing what he was doing.  “Was it three or four?”

 

            “Goddamn it, Starsky!  I don’t remember!”  Hutch could barely remember the last two weeks and so much of that night was a haze.  “I ordered a second round and he got the third.  Things got a little foggy.  Beyond that, I just don’t know.”

 

            It was much clearer now.  Hutch had been drugged that night.  Had to be, Starsky thought.  Envisioning the idea, a dark, venomous anger rumbled through Starsky’s chest.  Hutch being so defenseless would have made the perfect target.  He made a mental note to beat the living shit out of this Ricky.  “What do you remember after that, Hutch?”

 

            After a stubborn crossing his arms, Hutch shook his head.  “I’m not doing this, Starsk.  Just stop right now!”

 

            “When’d you wake up?”

 

            Turning away from Starsky’s honest gaze, Hutch stared down into the empty fireplace.  “Early the next morning,” he said in a low voice.  “Saw what I did…felt it coming…couldn’t… couldn’t."  Hutch covered his eyes.

 

            Starsky moved to Hutch and put his arms around him.  “It's okay, Hutch.  Wasn’t your fault.”

 

            Shrugging Starsky away, Hutch moved to the far side of the couch.  “Shut up.  There sure as hell wasn’t anyone forcing me the second time around.”

 

            Gripping the mantle until his knuckles went white, Starsky kept his silence.  He knew Hutch’s need had to have been great to keep going.  He didn’t want to imagine how desperate Hutch must’ve been and he didn’t want to think of the shame his partner felt.  He took a deep breath.  “How much?”

 

            “What?” Hutch asked evenly.

 

            “How much were you spendin’?”

 

            “Nothing.”

 

            Starsky’s eyes shot to Hutch.  “You mean he was supplying it for free?”

 

            “Yeah,” Hutch admitted.  He averted his eyes.  “I...I   offered and he said no.”

 

            “Where was he getting the money to support two habits, Hutch?”  Seeing his partner’s doubtful look, Starsky went to him.  “It had to have been comin’ from somewhere.”

 

            “I don’t know!” Hutch yelled. 

 

            “Easy, Hutch.  Let’s just see our way through this."  He watched with wariness, prepared for his partner to bolt like a skittish mustang.  “Where was he getting the stuff?”  Starsky swallowed hard, hoping it didn’t upset him for asking.

 

            Hutch moved away towards the far wall and turned his back on Starsky.  His first thought was to the door.  He closed his eyes, knowing he’d never get away.  “I don’t know,” he said keeping his voice low.  “Went with him once and I didn’t recognize the guy."  The hellish laugh now haunted him.  “Maybe he knew me, I don’t know.”

 

            Pieces were starting to fall into place.  Someone was spending a lot of money.  Remembering Huggy’s description of the hustler and combining that with what Hutch admitted, it was clear that someone set out with a plan to hurt and discredit his partner.  There were still holes that needed to be filled and Starsky knew Hutch wouldn’t know the answers.

 

            Noise from the kitchen brought Starsky back to the here and now.  Hutch was getting a fresh cup of coffee and Starsky’s observing eyes couldn’t miss the trembling of his partner's hands.  Hutch looked so vulnerable and the urge to run to him and wrap his arms around him, to protect him from the cruel world, was the strongest Starsky had ever known.

 

            “Who knows?”

 

            The simple question forced Starsky’s eyes to Hutch.  He licked his dry lips before answering.  “Everyone,” Starsky answered in a low voice.  “Official reports have already gotten to IA and they’ve got a full investigation goin’.”

 

            A bitter smile covered Hutch’s face, but his eyes remained sad.  “Guess my career is really washed up.”

 

            Starsky rose and went to the kitchen.  “You were set up, Hutch.  Look at it all.  Only a few drinks and you’re with some two-bit hustler who had money to blow for the both of you and some dealer nobody’s ever heard of?”

 

            Hutch slammed the cup down on the counter.  “Even if it’s true, it’s not going to make a damn either way, Starsky!”

 

            “Once we prove it all, the charges will be dropped, Hutch.  You’ll still be a cop.”

 

            “What kind of cop?” Hutch yelled.  “A junkie cop?”

 

            “No!” Starsky denied.  “This was not your fault and they’ll know it!”

 

            Hutch’s gaze never wavered from Starsky’s.  “Can’t cover it up like last time, Starsk.  In a few days they’ll know about Forest, and as far as they’re concerned, they’ll see me as a junkie with a history.  There’s no getting around it.”

 

            “Think I’m gonna let them toss you off the force over things you never had any control over?”  Starsky shook his head.  “You can forget it.  You’re stayin’ a cop if I’ve got anything to do with it.”

 

            Hutch planted his hands on the counter and leaned forward.  “You don’t have a damn thing to do with it!  How many cops are going to trust me out on the street again?”

 

            Starsky shook his head in denial even with the memory of the doubtful eyes of fellow police officers glaring back at him.  “I’ll back you up all the way, Hutch.  You know I will.”

 

            “And it could cost you your life in the process,” Hutch said.  “You think you can trust me now, but if you get your way and I’m back out on that street, you’ll find out differently.”

 

            “Is that your way of tellin’ me you’ll go out and score, Hutch?  Gonna go huntin’ for a fix?  No!” Starsky folded his arms and stood firm.  “Told you at the precinct when I took you out of there, we were gonna be like twins.  Joined.”

 

            “Not forever, Starsky.  The one time you trust me, is the one time I could give it up and go get high.”

 

            Starsky’s eyes challenged Hutch’s statement.  “Try me, buddy.”

 

            Hutch’s angry hand swiped at the cup and sent it flying across the room.  “Goddamn, you won’t see the truth, will you?” he roared.  “I was hurting for it, Starsk!  You know it!  But I still made a choice!”  Hutch pounded his hand into his own chest.  “I could’ve called you and I didn’t!”  He slowed and his eyes bored into Starsky’s.  “I could have answered your calls, and I didn’t.  Hell, I could’ve gotten on a plane and ran to New York as fast I could—and I didn’t."  Hutch moved around the counter and stood close to Starsky.  “I can’t be the cop I was, Starsky.  You want it to be like it was and it never will be.  As far as every cop out there is concerned, and as far as we are concerned, I’m damaged goods.  There’s no changing it.”

 

            No words came to Starsky.  Nothing he could say or do came to mind.  The truth was forced into him and everything inside of him rebelled against it.  He couldn’t even stop Hutch his partner head into the bedroom and close the door behind him.  He weakly sat on the chair and lowered his head until it rested on the table.  Starsky squeezed his eyes shut, willing the tears to stay in place.

 

            He raised his head when he heard the shower running.  Starsky was thankful clarity was coming to Hutch, but he was scared.  He went into the kitchen and after searching the cabinets, he found the phone.  Starsky plugged it in and called   Dobey.  “It’s me.”

 

            “How is he?”

 

            Starsky rubbed his tired eyes.  “Okay, I think.”

 

            “I’m going to have Babcock and Simmons pick up Ricky Travis.  They caught him meeting with some suit and it looks like some cash passed between them.”

 

            “When?”

 

            “In a couple of hours,” Dobey said.  “I want you and Hutch in here when they question him.”

 

            “I don’t know if Hutch is up to it, Cap’n.  It’s been a long couple of days.”

 

            “Make him up to it, Starsky.  I’ve put off the D.A. and the commissioner as long as I can.  Get him in here ASAP.”

 

            Starsky gripped the phone, wishing he could change it.  “Yeah, I’ll get him in there." 

 

            After finishing the call, he hung up the phone and glanced at the bedroom.  An unsettling doom hovered over him and Starsky wouldn’t allow the words Hutch had yelled earlier to stay with him.  He forced himself to move to get Huggy.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            The drive back to the city was a quiet one.  Starsky dropped Huggy at Venice Place to get the apartment cleaned up for Hutch’s arrival.  As he drove on, Starsky glanced at Hutch, who was looking out the window.  The silence hung between them and an insurmountable wall rose, only allowing for short, essential conversation.

 

            Starsky’s first instinct was to bring Hutch inside the precinct through the back, but his partner went through the front door, much to his dismay.  Cops they’d known for years avoided making direct eye-to-eye contact.  He resented their behavior, but looking at Hutch, he knew his partner expected it.  They met Dobey halfway and followed him toward the interrogation room.  Stepping into the observation room next to it, the three men watched Simmons and Babcock interrogating Ricky through the two-way mirror.

 

            Hutch studied Ricky, noting the hustler's shaking hands, and knew what kind of hell the young man would be facing.  He barely heard the words Simmons was saying to Ricky, seeing only the tremors that shook Ricky as he reached for a cigarette. 

 

            “Don’t know nothin’,” Ricky stated as he lit the cigarette. 

 

            “Don’t bullshit me, kid,” Babcock said with anger.  “Somebody’s frontin’ you money to rip into Hutchinson.  We saw it!”

 

            Simmons stepped in front of his frustrated partner and pulled him aside.  Hutch’s eyes locked on Simmons’ hand that had found itself on the inside of Babcock’s jacket.  He watched as the calming touch of Simmons’ hand relaxed Babcock.  The intimate gesture between them hit Hutch like lightening.  They’re lovers, he realized.  They’d been partners only half the time of his partnership with Starsky.  Their closeness was obvious and the snide remarks made in the locker room had little impact on them. 

 

            Hutch swallowed the lump in his throat and turned his gaze to Starsky.  Everything appeared in Hutch’s mind with such crystal clarity that he knew what he had to do.  For the first time in as many weeks as Hutch remembered, he saw the path laid out before him.  There was no denying the steps he needed to make.  The future remained unclear, but knowing what he knew now, made it much simpler. 

 

            “I need a minute with him,” Hutch told Dobey, gesturing toward Ricky.  Dobey looked at him for a long moment, then gave a quick nod.

 

            Starsky started to follow Hutch, but Dobey stopped him.  “He has to do this alone, Starsky.”

 

The door closed and Starsky turned back to the two-way mirror.  Hutch spoke to Simmons and Babcock in a low voice.  When they left Hutch alone, Starsky watched him sit down close to Ricky. 

 

 

~*~

 

 

Hutch noted every sign of withdrawal that was etched on the hustler's face.  “Talk to me, Ricky.”

 

            Ricky toyed with his cigarette and brought it to his lips.  “Ain’t gonna snitch you out, Ken.  Oughta know that ‘bout me by now.”

 

            “This isn’t about snitching.  This is about you and me.  Someone went to a lot of trouble and we have to find out who.”  Hutch wanted to comfort Ricky, but he knew it’d be a mistake if he did so at this moment.  “Whoever is responsible isn’t going to help you now.  You know that.  We can help each other.”

 

            Fighting back tears, Ricky clenched his eyes shut.  “Jesus, man!”  The sob tore from his throat.  “You loved me so good and right!  Nobody ever did that for me in my life!  I love you, Ken!  God, I do, so fuckin’ much!”

 

            Hutch’s heart tore in sympathy at the young man crying before him.  He leaned in close.  “Ricky, we have to deal with the truth of it now."  He took a steady breath.  “When we….  It wasn’t you, Ricky.  Those times, it wasn’t you I was with.  You know it.”  Watching Ricky cry was worse than Hutch had thought it would be.  He gripped Ricky’s arm.  “Ricky, listen to me.”  When younger man quieted, Hutch said, “You have to tell me who was giving you the money.”

 

            Ricky took a long drag on his cigarette.  Exhaling slowly, he brought his rocky emotions under control.  “They’ll kill me, man.  Maybe you, too.”

 

            “I can protect you.  I’ll make sure you go to a good detox where they’ll take care of you.  Make it easier for you to kick this monster.  No one will hurt you.  I swear it.”

 

            “Why would you do that for me?” Ricky begged to know.  “After what I…”  He turned away in shame.

 

            “Because I know you’re a good person deep inside,” Hutch insisted.  “You may not know it, but I do.  I’ve got enough belief in you to know that once you kick this, you’ll be strong enough never to let it at you again.  You’re a good man, Ricky.  You just gotta find it within yourself.  Like I have to.”

 

            Ricky finished the smoke and clasped his fingers together.  “Couple months ago, this guy comes up to me.  Smart-lookin’ suit.  Said I could make some easy bread by nailin’ a cop."  His eyes met Hutch’s.  “Gave me the pills to knock you under when I had the chance and he told me what to do.  Kept tellin’ me to be patient and he’d tell me when to make a move.  Made sure I had enough dough and stuff to do like he said.  When you started hittin’ that bar, I did, too.  He’d come in sometimes, too.  To watch you.  One day, he tells me it’s time.”

 

            “How long ago was that?” Hutch asked.

 

            “Think it was a couple of weeks ago.  After that, I started likin’ you a lot.  Told the guy I wanted to quit and he wouldn’t let me.  Said he’d kill me if I quit and I was so fuckin’ scared.”

 

            Hutch leaned in closer.  “Ricky, was this the dealer we met with?”

 

            Ricky nodded.  “Yeah.  He seemed to be enjoyin’ it all and he wouldn’t let me alone.”

 

            Hutch could sense the fear rolling off of Ricky.  “Name, Ricky.  What’s his name?”

 

            After a convulsive swallow, Ricky answered, “Norman Allison.”

 

            Hutch gave Ricky’s arm a thankful squeeze.  “Sit tight.  We’ll get you moved in a few hours."  He rose and went to the door.

 

            “Ken?  Will I see you again?”

 

            The hopeful look and the dependence in Ricky’s eyes felt so familiar to Hutch.  He knew that hope so well and the reliance seemed to be a part of him.  “Not for a while, Ricky.  We’ve both got a lot of work to do before we can see each other again.”  Hutch knew it wasn’t enough for Ricky, but he couldn’t lie.

 

            When Hutch stepped out of the interrogation room, Starsky and Dobey were waiting.  He put his hands on his hips and looked at Dobey.  “I made some promises to him, Cap’n.”

 

            “It’ll be taken care of, Hutch,” Dobey assured him.  He motioned an officer towards the room.

 

            The three men headed to Dobey’s office and Hutch stood in the middle of the room.  He looked over at Starsky, who was leaning against the door with his arms folded.  It didn’t take much to imagine the turmoil raging inside of his partner. 

 

            Dobey stood behind his desk.  “I’ll make sure this information gets to the D.A. and the commissioner.  The charges against you will be dropped, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch nodded.  “You might want to make sure Allison gets arrested straight away, Cap’n.  He’s a private eye that’s known to do some work for Gunther.”

 

            “You sure?”

 

            “Yeah, I remember the name.  He did some footwork for Gunther’s attorneys before the trial.”

 

            Dobey sat down.  “It’ll be taken care of."  He looked at Hutch, then moved his eyes over to Starsky.  Something was wrong between the two men.

 

            “Cap’n,” Hutch said.  He shot a glance at Starsky, then back to Dobey.  “I think its best that I get off the street.”

 

            “Tell him 'until after a vacation,' Cap’n,” Starsky argued.

 

            “Permanently,” Hutch reiterated.  “I can’t go back out there.”

 

            Starsky straightened and took two steps to his partner.  “Hutch, you’ve barely slept and you’ve had almost three days of hell.  You’re not thinking clearly.”

 

            “I’m thinking clearly for the first time in a long while, Starsky.  I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but we’ve got to be realistic about this.”

 

            Fists clenched, Starsky exploded  “I saw reality, Hutch!  You pukin’ up your guts and fightin’ me every step of the way!  Makin’ deals for a hit!  You were in the middle of goin’ cold turkey, and now you’re over it!”

 

            “Physically, yes,” Hutch agreed.  “But I’m not going to trust myself for a hell of a long time—maybe never.  Going back out on the street is not an option.”

 

            “You’re talkin’ about our partnership!  You want to walk away from it and let them win!  Goddamn it, Hutch!  I won’t let them beat us!”

 

            “They already beat us!” Hutch fired back.  “That first hit I took ended it, Starsky!  I’m not going through that ever again and the best chance of it is by me working a desk!”

 

            Starsky whirled on Dobey, who had remained quiet through the angry exchange.  “Cap’n, tell him,” Starsky begged.  “Hutch got back on the street before and he can do it again.”

 

            Dobey took a ragged breath.  “Even he will tell you it’s not the same, Starsky.  He knows it, I know it and so does every man in this department.”

 

            “You’re going along with this?” Starsky questioned.  The shock hung on him.

 

            Looking into Starsky’s eyes, Dobey could see the hurt surprise.  “Hutch came in here almost every day you were gone on vacation, Starsky.  Never said a word.  He knows as well as I do, he doesn’t have a future on the street."  Dobey cleared his throat and looked at Hutch.  “There’s a place upstairs in administration.  I can pull a few strings.”

 

            “Thank you, Captain.”

 

            Starsky straightened and looked from Dobey to Hutch.  He shook his head and clenched his fist, then turned on his heel and flung the door open.  No one spoke as Starsky stormed out of the office. 

 

            Hutch rubbed the tears from his eyes and looked at   Dobey.  “You’ll make sure he….”

 

            “Yeah,” Dobey said gruffly.  “I’ll take care of him and call Huggy.  What about you?”

 

            “Would appreciate a week off, Cap’n.  I’ve got some things I have to do.”

 

            Dobey nodded.  “Done.  When you get back, report to Captain Hanks.  He’s a good man.  I think you’ll like him.”

 

            “Thank you, Captain Dobey."  Hutch stepped forward and held out his hand.  “For everything.”

 

            Dobey rose and shook his hand.  “It’s been a real honor working with you, Ken.  Just because you won’t be in this department doesn’t mean to make a stranger of yourself.”

 

            Hutch was surprised to be smiling.  “I won’t.  I’ll see you when I get back.”  His hand fell to his side.  “Just take care of Starsky.  He’s not going to understand for a while.  Maybe someday I can make him see it.”

 

            “You will.”  Watching Hutch leave his office, Dobey’s eyes immediately moistened.  He rubbed them and swung his chair around to face the window. 

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Taking the stairs down towards the locker room, Hutch didn’t mind the looks coming from the officers.  He had more important things to worry about and their thoughts weren’t one of them.  He started down the hallway, and barely noticed the veteran cop passing him.

 

            “Hey, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch stopped in surprise at the acknowledgement.  “Lyons?  How are you?”

 

            The veteran cop adjusted his crooked tie and gave Hutch a weak smile.  “Good.  You okay?  Heard you had it rough there for a while.”

 

            “I will be."  Hutch’s own smile felt weak.  “I hope.”

 

            Lyons glanced up and down the hallway.  “There’s something I’d like to talk to you about.  Got a minute?”

 

            “I was headed to clean out my locker.”

 

            “This’ll only take a minute,” Lyons assured him.

 

            They moved near an open door leading out to an alley.

 

            “First off, I want you to know, not everyone’s looking at you out of the corner of their eye.  Hell, my partner thought the same thing with me.”

 

            Hutch’s eyes widened in surprise.  “You?”

 

            Lyons’ nod was a grim one.  “Not proud of it.  It was pills for almost three years.  Cost me my wife and kids.  When I got shot in the shoulder, the pain was killin’ me.  It was easier to keep taking them than to deal with the shit we see out on the street.”

 

            Hutch shook his head in surprise.  “I remember you getting shot, Lyons, but…”

 

            “Yeah, I know.” Lyons’ laugh was a nervous one.  “Nobody knew.  Took me a hell of a long time to own up to it.  Hit bottom when Carol took the kids and left.  You hit bottom?”

 

            Hutch’s heart caught in his throat as he remembered praying to die in Starsky’s arms.  He slowly nodded.  “When there’s nothing left in the world worth living for…not even who you love most.”

 

            “Almost ate my gun,” Lyons admitted.  He searched his pocket and pulled out a card.  “Reason why I wanted to talk to you was because you and me aren’t the only ones.  There’s more of us.”

 

            “Cops?”

 

            “Cops, doctors, nurses, fire and rescue.  A lot of us can’t afford to be fingered for drunks and junkies, so we hook up a few times a week and keep each other sober.”

 

            “You think I should, too.”

 

            “I don’t know, Hutch.  I ain’t you.  I know for me it’s what’s kept me sane and sober.  You know how it is with us seeing the worst the world’s got to offer.  We’ve got the highest divorce rate, suicide rate, drugs and alcohol…nobody’d understand what we’ve gone through and what put us on the road we took.”

 

            It took Hutch a moment to find his voice.  “Anyone we know?”

 

            Lyons laughed a little.  “You’d be surprised.  We can’t go to regular meetings—never know if we’re gonna run across some perp we busted—so we fixed up our own.  Other precincts have them.  It’s all kind of a network with us.  I can promise you this, Hutch.  Whatever’s said or whomever you see stays there.  It’s all anonymous, and even though you might run across a few guys and gals from the meetings…just understand that nobody wants to put their career on the line and they won’t do that with anybody else.  It’s a blind trust, I guess, but it’s worked for a long time now.”

 

            Hutch sensed camaraderie with Lyons and, somehow, feeling it made him realize maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea.  He took the card from Lyons.  “I’ll think about it.  I really will, Lyons.”

 

            “My number’s on the back.  You ever want to talk, night or day, let me know.”

 

            “Thanks.”

 

            After giving Hutch’s arm a squeeze, Lyons left. 

 

            Hutch stood at the doorway and fingered the card.  He saw sudden movement and when he turned his head, Starsky stood not far away.  “You heard that?”

 

            Starsky nodded.  “What are you doing, Hutch?  That’s not you.  You’re not like them.”

 

            “Starsk, I don’t know.  I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

 

            Starsky approached his partner.  “Me and you, Hutch.  We can do it together.  It don’t hafta be like this.”

 

            Stuffing the card inside of his jacket, Hutch brought his eyes up to Starsky’s desperate ones.  “I wish it could be any other way, Starsk.  I have to start being honest with myself and you, too."  Hutch straightened and took a deep breath.  “I’ve got a week off and I’m heading home…to Minnesota.”

 

            “Why?”

 

            Hutch rubbed his eyes, hating the tears that were going to come whether he liked it or not.  “I need to get my head together.  Need to see my family for a little while.  Talk to them.”

 

            A stray tear rolled down Starsky’s cheek.  “What about us?”

 

            Hutch blinked quickly, trying to control the onslaught of tears he knew was coming.  “We have to be apart a while, Starsk.  Gotta straighten myself out before I can even think about that.”

 

            Starsky leaned back against the wall, thankful it was holding him up.  “Just gonna walk away from it all…from us… everything we’ve been to each other?”

 

            “If I don’t….”  Hutch paused to wipe the tears from his face.  “Starsky, I have to.  God, for our sakes…I have to." 

 

            “And when you come back from Minnesota…?”

 

            “I don’t know."  Hutch shook his head.  “Just need the space and the time.  Please, Starsky.  Understand.”

 

            “I can’t!”  Starsky took a deep breath, not wanting to get pissed at his friend.  “Expect me to just let you go?” he muttered in disbelief.  He turned away and shook his head.  “Don’t ask for something that ain’t in me, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch grabbed Starsky by the jacket and forced his partner to face him.  His tears fell unhindered.  “Remember at the cabin, Starsky?  Remember when you said you have to let what you love go, and you swore that it wasn’t us.”

 

            Starsky tried to pull away, but Hutch wouldn’t let him.  “I remember!  God fucking help me, I do!  I ain’t letting you go, Hutch.”

 

            “It is us!  It’s who we all are.  If you love me, you will let me go, Starsky.  You’ve got to.  If you don’t, we’ll hate each other and I couldn’t take it.”

 

            A painful sob tore from Starsky’s throat.  “Can’t….  Won’t come back if I do.”

 

            For the first time Hutch could remember, he couldn’t give Starsky the reassurance he needed.  He pulled his partner close and put his arms around him.  Running his fingers into the soft curls, Hutch whispered, “Just know I love you, Starsky.  Never forget it.”

 

            “God, Hutch."  Starsky breathed in Hutch’s jacket.  He inhaled Hutch’s scent and held fiercely…too scared to let go.  “Can’t do this without you.”

 

            “You were always stronger than me." 

 

            Starsky stayed folded in Hutch’s arms, wanting to cocoon inside the warmth.  A tender kiss on his temple brought a sob to his throat. 

 

            Hutch pulled away from Starsky and hurried away, afraid he’d lose the strength to do what he had to.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Starsky leaned against the brick wall for another hour after Hutch left.  His world was splintered apart and didn’t feel real to him.  Without Hutch, there is no me.

 

            Rolling through the memories of the last few days, Starsky’s heartbreak began a slow churn turn towards anger.  Anger at himself, anger at Dobey, anger at Hutch….  No, not Hutch, Starsky swore, never at Hutch.  He didn’t do this.  It’s not his fault.  Starsky clenched his fists, knowing who was to blame for the entire tragedy.

 

            He turned in through the door and took the stairs two at a time, determined to make the people responsible pay for what they had done.

 

            Dobey told Starsky that Simmons and Babcock had located Norman Allison and were on their way to pick him up.  Starsky flew off the handle, furious that Dobey hadn’t let him be the one to make the collar.  Dobey pointedly reminded him that his reaction was the exact the reason why.  Taking a deep breath, Starsky slumped in his chair, then picked up his phone and ordered the desk sergeant to notify him once Babcock and Simmons returned.  His fury continued to build until it reached its boiling point.

 

 

~*~

 

 

After getting the call, Starsky made a beeline to the interrogation room where Norman Allison sat.  He had just walked through the door when Babcock and Simmons grabbed Starsky by the arms.  Venting his fury at the startled suspect Starsky launched into a verbal tirade of obscene oaths and violent threats. 

 

            The detectives dragged Starsky out of the interrogation room and pulled him into another.  Starsky smashed his fist into the wall, not caring about his bleeding knuckles or the large dent.  He leaned his head against the flat surface just above the hole he'd created, and breathed.  As his rage subsided, it was replaced by intense sadness.  He had no idea how long he’d been there, when a soft touch to his shoulder brought his head up.  Starsky turned to find Huggy standing there with gentle eyes.  Crushed that it wasn’t Hutch, Starsky lowed his head and let Huggy hold him.

 

            He found out later that Norman Allison was so undone by the sight of the rampaging cop he buckled almost immediately under interrogation.  More names were brought up, and when Starsky learned the identity of one, he nearly went to Huggy to get the kind of favor that only criminals would ask for.  He was ready to have a man killed, and the thought brought Starsky up short.  What would Hutch say?

 

 

~*~

 

 

The following day, Starsky was at California State Prison in L.A., sitting in a room with three chairs.  He made sure two chairs were on one side of the table, and propped himself up on the other.  Crossing his ankles on the table, he leaned back.  Not moving when the two prisoners were brought in, still shackled, Starsky gave them a cold smile. 

 

            “Hi, boys.  My, my, my, don’t you two look cute together.”

 

            James Marshall Gunther showed no reaction as he sat down in the chair, but his steely eyes stayed on Starsky. 

 

            Starsky glanced at the other prisoner.  “Don’t be shy.  Sit down."  He kept his emotionless gaze on Ben Forest, who moved to the second chair.  Starsky pulled a stick of gum from his pocket and removed the wrapping.  After popping the gum in his mouth, he played with the foil wrapper.  “Guess the two of you are wonderin’ what I’m doin’ here.”

 

            A low gravelly laugh came from Forest.  “Hear your partner’s in a world of hurt, Starsky.  You getting his fixes for him now?”

 

            “Never had the pleasure of meeting you in court personally, Detective Starsky.”  Gunther’s smile was icy.  He glanced to Forest.  “Maybe we’ll get better acquainted.  My attorneys assure me I will be getting a new trial.”

 

            Starsky blew a bubble and popped it.  He dropped his feet and rested both arms on the table.  “Yeah, you’ll be getting a new trial, Gunther.  Not a rerun of the old one, but a brand spankin’ new one with all the bells and whistles.  Know what?”  Starsky didn’t wait for a response.  “Your buddy here will be getting one, too,” he motioned towards Forest.

 

            With a cold laugh, Gunther leaned forward “Oh, I believe you’re wrong, Detective.  With your partner a drug addict, his testimony will be meaningless.  My new friend here has already spoken with the correct authorities on his personal dealings with Detective Hutchinson.”

 

            Starsky’s easy chuckle forced both men to steal glances at one another.  “Well, you’re wrong about that.  You see, Jimmy...can I call you Jimmy?”  Starsky didn’t skip a beat.  “You see, Jimmy, Hutch is already clean.  But you're right.  Whatever he testifies to won’t mean shit, given what people know right now."  The gum popped in Starsky’s mouth.  “Yep, I’ve gotta admit it.  Hutch used, and I can’t deny it.  It was pretty much a given you had the money to pull it off, Jimmy.  Used poor Ricky to do it with.  What I couldn’t figure out is what gave you the idea.  Didn’t even occur to me until,” Starsky’s head turned to Forest, “your name came into play.”

 

            Forest’s laugh grated on Starsky like nails on a chalkboard.  “You got two junkies.  Big fuckin’ deal.”

 

            “Well,” Starsky smiled casually, “yeah, true, I got that.  We got our hands on Ricky and the poor sap sang like Aretha on a good day.  Couldn’t shut him up.  That took us to Norman Allison, and once I laid eyes on him, he was singin’ louder than Ricky ever could.  Got a ton of other names, and when we got those, we also got ourselves a pretty little paper trail to those accounts of yours, Jimmy.”  Starsky reveled in the quiet nervousness of both men.  “Now, we’ve got a group'a folks that's more than willin’ to sing louder than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in front of a judge.  Hutch don’t even hafta say a word.”

 

            Starsky leaned back in his chair and his eyes danced in glee at the anger in both men’s eyes.  “I wanted to be the first to tell you, that the both of you are getting brand new charges, brand new judges and brand new trials!”  The last part ended with excitment.

 

            Starsky snapped to his feet and started to leave, then after a second thought, he turned back towards Gunther and Forest.  Planting both hands on the table, he leaned in.  “After the two of you cooked up this little conspiracy for my partner and put it into action, I damn near went to a friend of mine.  A friend who’d like nothing more than for me to give him the word for the two of you to have a very bad accident.  Happens a lot in places like this.  But I like the idea too much of you both squirming in here for the next fifty years.”  Starsky’s voice dripped with lethal softness in the next sentence.  “Either of you, both of you, I don’t care which, ever come near my partner again and you’ll be bent over a fuckin’ table, singin’ like the Bee-Gees.  That I’ll make happen.”

 

            Leaving both men rattled, Starsky turned on his heel and left the room.  Once at his car, he hunched over and threw up his lunch.  Being in the same room with those animals had almost been too much and he had no idea how he got through the short meeting without strangling them both with his bare hands.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            The following week crawled at a snail’s pace.  Starsky kept busy with work and stayed as far away from his apartment as possible.  He stopped by Venice Place to water Hutch’s plants and ran into Huggy.  Starsky’s spirits sunk upon learning his now former partner had asked Huggy to keep an eye on the place.

 

            Listening to Dobey grumble about the low morale of one of his favorite detectives, Starsky took off early and shut himself in his apartment.  He spent the entire night on the couch, and the following morning, went to work barely talking to anyone.  He was on his way out when he spied Hutch getting a cup of coffee.  Starsky hurried over.  “Hey.”

 

            “Hey, yourself,” Hutch replied.

 

            Starsky was perturbed Hutch hadn’t bothered calling to let him know he was back, but the words of 'space and time' thundered in his ears.  “How was your vacation?”

 

            “Good.  You okay?”

 

            No, I’m miserable without you.  “Yeah, staying busy.”

 

            “Good.”  Hutch sipped his coffee.

 

            “Hutchinson,” a voice down the hall hollered.  “We’ll be late for that meeting.”

 

            Hutch motioned towards the officer standing at the elevator, then turned to Starsky.  “I’d better go.”

 

            Starsky’s eyes fell to the floor.  “Yeah, you don’t wanna be late."  When he looked up, Hutch was nearing the elevator. 

 

            Feeling depression settling in, Starsky headed to his car.  Hutch does look better, he admitted.  Looks like he put on a few pounds.  New clothes, he noted.  Jacket and tie.  He shook his head and sighed.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            The next few weeks turned into a dull routine that was driving Starsky crazy.  He snapped at most everyone and the latest person he’d ripped into tore right back into him, letting him know they didn’t appreciate his attitude.  Getting it from Minnie like that somehow sobered him up and gave him a good dose of reality. 

 

            Starsky made more of an effort to get along with everyone and put more energy into his work.  He breathed a heavy sigh of relief when Dobey announced that he wasn’t fit to be partnered with anyone.  Starsky almost fell out of his chair when his captain told him he’d be taking on the role of lead detective for their larger investigations.  He even looked around the room to make sure it was him Dobey was talking to.  On his way out, his captain gruffly suggested it was about time Starsky consider taking the lieutenant’s exam.  Starsky almost tripped and he knew if Hutch had seen him, he would have been rolling on the floor laughing at his clumsiness.

 

            Starsky went to Huggy’s almost nightly, hoping and expecting Hutch to walk in through the door.  He’d seen his former partner around the precinct, but Hutch was usually busy and the few times Starsky had managed to corner him in the hallway, they'd had a brief, polite exchange.  Hutch would glance down at his watch, mumble under his breath and hurry away. 

 

            Even waiting at Hutch’s apartment was pointless.  The Torino would be easily spotted, and hiding it seemed almost childish.  Starsky suspected Hutch had some     secret spy following his every move and informing his ex-partner of his activities.

 

            Starsky spent more evenings at Huggy’s, playing paper football with the napkins.  Huggy had long ago announced that until Starsky pulled himself out of his depression, three beers was his limit.  Starsky considered drowning his sorrows at his own apartment, but that was too tragic and playing that role had no appeal for him whatsoever.  He snickered at the idea that he’d be going to those meetings with Hutch, if he turned into a full-blown alcoholic.  He played with the idea, but upon deciding Hutch would see right through any act he put on, Starsky tossed it, along with the million others that came to him.

 

            Watching Hutch around the precinct did bring Starsky pleasure.  Hutch’s hair was neatly combed, he looked great in the suit and tie he now wore, and Starsky would smile when he saw the sparkle in his ocean blue eyes.  He prided himself on his detective work and it took a lot to be able to zero in on that sparkle.  Starsky would look through the open blinds of the plate glass window from the squad room and spot Hutch in the hallway.  The extra lift in Hutch's steps and the peace on his face made Starsky feel good.  The beautiful blond hair shone like the sun and Starsky felt like he was in the sun just watching him.  He couldn’t even chastise himself when the urge to run his fingers through the golden strands hit him.  Starsky loved this little secret, even if he couldn’t share it with Hutch. 

 

            After his latest realization, Starsky started watching Hutch more often, when he could get away with it.  He’d watch how Hutch’s body moved and how he’d lean against the wall when talking to someone.  Seeing the happy smile on his face brightened Starsky’s day, which never seemed complete unless he got a small glimpse of Hutch, even if it was in passing in the hallways.

 

 

~*~

 

 

            Three months went by, surprising Starsky at how quickly time seemed to move now.  He still hated the forced separation from Hutch, and had barely come to terms with it.  It still hurt, but seeing Hutch as he was now, made up for it in more ways than he’d ever imagined.

 

            Starsky grabbed his jacket and headed out the back door of the precinct, ready to head home after a trying day.  He eyed his car in the parking lot and started for it, when he spotted Hutch waving at a female officer he knew from Records.  Starsky froze in his tracks and he was suddenly overcome with jealousy.  Questions about the girl and why Hutch was waving at her ran like a runaway locomotive through his mind.  Starsky considered storming over and giving his ex-partner a piece of his mind.  He paused and mentally argued with himself about the sense of it.

 

            “Starsk.”

 

            “Huh?”  Starsky looked up and realized Hutch was giving him a quizzical look.

 

            “You okay?”

 

            Starsky shifted his feet, wondering if Hutch had somehow figured out his secret.  “Yeah, fine.  Just…well, you know…rough day and all.”

 

            Hutch nodded.  “I understand.”

 

            Starsky waited for Hutch to rush off, but was surprised when he didn’t move.  “How’ve you been doin’?”

 

            “Good, really good,” Hutch answered.  “You?”

 

            Giving him a flashing smile, Starsky nodded.  “I’m great.”  Liar!

 

            They both pointed to each other and simultaneously said, “I hear you’re getting promoted.”  Both men heartily laughed.

 

            “You first,” Hutch said.

 

            “One of the pencil pushers from your department told me you’ve been studying for the lieutenant’s exam.”

 

            Hutch nodded.  “Yeah, I take it in a few weeks.  You?”

 

            “Guess Dobey decided I’d be a smarter pain in the ass as a lieutenant.”

 

            Playing with his tie, Hutch chuckled.  “I believe that."  He smoothed it with his hand. 

 

            Starsky licked his dry lips.  What have I got to lose?  “You doin’ anything?”

 

            Hutch’s eyes widened in expectation.  “No.  You?”

 

            His heart jumping in anticipation, Starsky stuck his hands in his jacket.  “I’ve got a couple of London broils at home.  Could put ‘em on the grill.”

 

            “Sounds good.”

 

            Starsky almost leapt into Hutch’s arms.  “You sure?”

 

            “Yeah,” Hutch answered with a wide smile.  “Seven?”

 

            The ability to speak left Starsky and he forced his head up and down in acknowledgment.  He turned, and as he headed to his car, he suddenly broke into a sprint.  Little did he know Hutch was watching with a large smile.

 

 

~*~

 

 

 

 

 

            Starsky rushed through the door of his apartment, carrying two overflowing sacks of groceries.  He kicked the door closed with his foot, then set a sack down on the counter.  It tipped and he only just caught the food before it hit the floor.  He fumbled with the items and managed to put them away, then hurried to ready the steaks. 

 

            After setting the meat in the fridge, Starsky whizzed through the apartment, picking up all the stray clothes lying haphazardly on the floor and on furniture.  Walking around for a place to stash it, he wound up stuffing the dirty clothes into the closet.  If Hutch knew how little he paid attention to his place these days, he’d never let Starsky hear the end of it.

 

            Starsky did another run-through of the place, grabbing up the scattered dishes as he headed to the kitchen.  He was about to set them in the sink when he halted.  Not there.  Too messy.  Starsky started for a cabinet and shook his head.  He looked down and knelt on the floor.  Hutch would never look under the sink.

 

            When he finished, Starsky stripped his clothes off and jumped into the shower.  He thoroughly washed himself, making sure he was as clean as possible.  Rubbing a towel through his hair, Starsky picked up his razor and worked on shaving.  He cursed after catching the blade on his chin.  Dabbing a piece of tissue over the nick, Starsky hoped it would stop bleeding before Hutch arrived.

 

            Making quick work of drying the curls, Starsky then carefully groomed his hair, making sure not a strand was out of place.  He checked his hair twice, then made sure his sideburns were even.  He brushed his teeth and spent just as much time flossing.  It never occurred to him Hutch wouldn’t be checking his teeth.  After spending almost ten minutes picking cologne, he headed for the bedroom.

 

            He went to his closet and searched for something to wear.  Starsky mentally berated himself for all the blue jeans he owned.  Hutch would expect something a little different.  He found a pair of black pants he hadn’t worn in a while.  Come to think of it, Starsky mused, I don’t think I’ve worn these since before I was shot. 

 

            He yanked them down and started pulling them on when he realized he didn’t have his underwear on.  He shook the pants off again and grabbed a clean pair from the drawer.  When they were on, Starsky once more put the pants on, confident of how much Hutch would appreciate these over his usual jeans.  He easily drew the black cloth up and was about to button them, when he looked down.  There was a good two inches of air between the pants and his stomach.  Frustrated, Starsky pulled them off, realizing he'd had a little more girth around the waist the last time.  He remembered Hutch teasing him about it.

 

            Starsky growled as he opened his closet and searched for something else to wear.  The slacks he saw were too nice and were for court appearances.  Starsky finally settled on the newest pair of jeans he owned.  He slid the rich blue denim on and then set about finding a shirt.  No t-shirts, he swore.  He settled on a light blue dress shirt and after putting it on, Starsky put on his black blazer and stood in front of a floor length mirror, checking himself over to make sure nothing was out of place. 

 

            Starsky put on his socks and started to reach for his dress shoes, then hesitated.  Hutch would notice I’ve gone to a lot of trouble if I wear those, Starsky thought.  He grabbed the Adidas instead. 

 

            Back in the kitchen, he started on the rest of the dinner.  He gave the asparagus a funny look and lined them up on the wooden spears.  After setting them on the plate, Starsky went to the deck and started the grill.  He burned his finger when he lit the fire and sucked on it as he went back to the kitchen. 

 

            Starsky pulled the steaks out and set them on the counter.  He pulled down dishes from the cabinets, and when he saw he was short a saucer, he grabbed one from under the sink and washed it.

 

            After setting the table, Starsky started the food.  While that was cooking, he hunted the cabinets for his best candleholders.  Well, my only ones, Starsky remembered.  He added the new candles he'd recently bought as decoration to the table. 

 

            Starsky checked the steaks and calculated when he’d need to start the asparagus, then made quick work of the salad and set the large bowl in the fridge.  He suddenly recalled he needed to get the asparagus on the grill.

 

            Glancing at the clock, Starsky knew how punctual Hutch was.  He pulled the matches out of his pocket and lit the candles.  Remembering his mother's words about candlelit dinners, Starsky smiled. 

 

            A knock at the door made his heart jump.  Hutch.  Starsky adjusted his blazer and took a deep breath as he approached the door.  Taking a deep breath, he opened it.  Seeing Hutch standing there, as beautiful as he was, took Starsky’s breath away. 

 

            “You made it," he blurted out.

 

            “Any reason why I wouldn’t?” Hutch asked with a smile.

 

            “Oh, no.”

 

            Hutch leaned towards Starsky with a curious look.  His eyes zeroed in on Starsky’s face and he reached for him.  Starsky froze, wondering what Hutch was about to do.  He felt a small tug on his chin and Hutch held the tissue up for him to see.  Shit!  He nervously laughed.  He took the bit of tissue from Hutch.  “Thanks.”

 

            Hutch laughed as well.  “Think nothing of it.”  He held out a bottle of wine.  “Thought this would go well with those steaks you were telling me about.”

 

            Starsky took the bottle.  “Great!”  Realizing Hutch was still outside, Starsky quickly back.  “Sorry, come in.”

 

            Once Hutch had entered, Starsky closed the door as he read the bottle.  “This looks good,” he commented.  He stopped and stared into Hutch’s bright eyes.

 

            “I need to check on dinner."  Starsky set the wine on the table and headed to the deck.  When he lifted the grill, he smiled in satisfaction.  Everything was coming along perfectly. 

 

            Much to Starsky’s surprise, Hutch moved close and looked over his shoulder.  “Looks good.”

 

            “I think it’s ready.”

 

            “I’ll grab the plates."  Hutch left, and came back seconds later with both plates.  Starsky set the steaks on the dishes and Hutch took them to the table. 

 

            Starsky was studying the asparagus, poked at it to make sure it was done, when Hutch hollered, “Starsk, where’s the rest of your plates?”

 

            Starsky froze.  Shit, again!  He rushed inside and found Hutch at the sink, washing a plate.  The cabinet door below the sink was wide open.

 

            “Next time, let me know you moved everything around.”

 

            Starsky looked up at Hutch, who had a sly smile on his lips, and received a wink.  “Yeah."  He touched his cheeks in surprise when a surge of warmth filled them.

 

            A few minutes later, they sat down to their dinner.  They chatted throughout the meal, staying towards safer subjects such as work, co-workers and Huggy’s latest entrepreneurial projects. 

 

            When both plates had been emptied, Hutch gave Starsky a sated smile and reached for his glass of wine.  “That was great, Starsk.  You really outdid yourself this time.”

 

            Starsky raised his wine in appreciation and took a sip.  “Never did say how the visit with your folks went.”

 

            Hutch ran his finger along the top of his wineglass.  “Better than I expected.  It was good.”

 

            “Something happen?”

 

            A wry smile crossed Hutch’s features.  “Started bad almost immediately and turned out to be one of the best visits home I’d ever had.  There was some yelling, crying and, before it was all said and done, laughter.”

 

            “I don’t know whether to be mad, sad or glad for you,” Starsky replied.

 

            Hutch chuckled.  “Glad works.  Most of it was Dad and me.  He was angrier over our lack of communication than anything else.  Hurt, I should say,” Hutch said after a thought.  “The funny thing is, Starsk, he and I are more alike than any of us ever realized.  Took a hell of a lot of honesty and coming to terms with our relationship to get us to the point of being able to be in the same room.”

 

            “I know things haven’t always been easy for you with your dad, Hutch.  He never liked you staying out here or becoming a cop.”

 

            “No, he didn’t.  He wanted me home with the rest of the family, and I think he was scared as hell that I’d get killed before either of us could ever really talk to each other.”

 

            Starsky shifted in his chair.  “Does he know?”

 

            Hutch’s eyes met Starsky’s.  “Everything.  I had to come clean with him.  Broke Mom’s coffee table during the fight.  I damn near walked out of the house, swearing never to see either of them again.”  Hutch remembered his mother’s face.  “Mom raced after me as if her life depended on it.  Guess she’s got enough love for everyone to see the stupidity of our ways.”

 

            “I’m glad it all worked out okay.”

 

            “Oh, it’s not over, by a long shot.  We’ve still got a ways to go, but it’s a hell of a lot better than it’s ever been with us.”

 

            Looking down at the empty plates, Starsky retrieved them and stood.  Hutch immediately rose and picked up a couple of dishes, but Starsky waved him back.  “Sit down, Hutch.  I’ll do ‘em later.”

 

            “You will?”

 

            Seeing the joking smile on the his face, Starsky took the plate from him.  “Yes, I will,” he said firmly.  “Besides, you’re a guest.”

 

            Hutch released the plate with a serious look at his ex-partner.  “Never been a guest here before.”

 

            Starsky averted his eyes, wishing he could swallow the words, and took the dishes to the counter.  “You want another glass of wine?”

 

            Hutch picked up his glass.  “One more.  That’s my limit.”

 

            Starsky brought the bottle to Hutch and filled his glass, then filled his own and set the bottle down on the table.  He followed Hutch into the living room, where they sat on the couch and sipped wine, quietly sharing the heavy silence for a few moments. 

 

            Finally, Starsky shifted under Hutch's unwavering gaze.  “Guess we’re not gonna get around this, are we?”

 

            “No,” Hutch answered.  “We have to do it, Starsky.  It’ll always be between us if we don’t.”

 

            “I don’t have any idea even where to start."  Starsky avoided Hutch’s gaze by looking down at the shimmering liquid in his glass. 

 

            “Let’s start by getting your anger out of the way,” Hutch offered. 

 

            “I’m not mad, Hutch.  Fact is I’ve had a really good time tonight.”

 

            “You’re going to sit there and tell me that you aren’t the least little bit pissed at me,” Hutch stated in non-believing tone.

 

            Starsky shrugged his shoulders.  “Don’t have a reason to be pissed at you.”

 

            Hutch leaned forward.  “I don’t believe you.”

 

            “Don’t know what to tell you, buddy.”

 

            “I broke off our partnership, and I’ve kept you at arms' length for the better part of three months, and you aren’t the least little bit pissed?”

 

            Starsky shook his head.  “I know why you did what you felt you had to do, Hutch.  It sure as hell wasn’t your fault.”

 

            Hutch pushed to his feet and looked at Starsky.  “You still believe that?”

 

            “Yeah.  Ricky drugged you.  That’s where it all started.”

 

            Hutch looked at his wine glass and took a drink.  “Guess I’d better call it quits with this last one.”  He set the wine aside.  “Starsky, it started long before that.  Gunther and Forest were just the catalyst of what was meant to come, no matter what.”

 

            “Not making sense, Hutch.”

 

            “They just speeded up the process.  I probably would’ve poured myself in a bottle if it hadn’t been the heroin.”

 

            Starsky raised the glass to his lips.  “Is that what they tell you at those meetings?”

 

            “No doubt in my mind.  By the time you headed to New York, I was well on my way.”

 

            “That reminds me.”  Starsky got to his feet.  “You never did tell me why you never called or returned the calls I made.”

 

            “Simple.  Guilt, shame, fear…take your pick.”

 

            Starsky turned towards the kitchen and glanced over his shoulder at Hutch.  “Is there a D?”

 

            Hutch watched Starsky pull a beer from the fridge.  “Yeah, all of the above.”

 

            Starsky returned with the can and took a drink.  “Unlike you, Hutch, I need a little liquid courage about now.”  He got comfortable on the couch again.  “So, you think this started before you were set up.”

 

            “Sure, it’s easy to see it now.”

 

            “Explain it to me, then, ‘cause I have no idea what you’re talkin’ about.”

 

            With a thoughtful look, Hutch crossed the room and eased onto the couch next to Starsky.  “I think it was when you stopped needing me, before you were shot.”

 

            “Stopped needing you?  Hutch, I’ve always needed you.”

 

            “I couldn’t point to an exact moment, Starsky.  It was slow…over a period of time, and before I knew it, we were partners on the same side of the fence, miles from each other.  I saw what was happening, but I didn’t know what to do about it —and I know I sure as hell changed an awful lot." 

 

            Starsky suddenly had no urge to drink the beer in his hand.  “You were changin’ so damn fast, I couldn’t keep up.  Probably a lot of things, Hutch.  You got put through the wringer over that last year.”

 

            “Remember that night on the stairwell during the Fitch case?”

 

            “Yeah,” Starsky replied grimly.  “You were reachin’ out for me and all I could do was do to you what you did to me when Rosey found out who I was."  He sighed and leaned his head back.  “After you left, I knew I screwed up, Hutch.  Comparing the two was apples and oranges.”

 

            “I wasn’t nearly the same person as I was back then."  Hutch shook his head at a memory.  “I went to see Marianne that night.  I wanted her to see that she was better than she saw herself.  How in the hell could I do that when I hated myself so damn bad?  I couldn’t give her what she wanted and it cost her brother’s life.”

 

            Starsky straightened.  “Hutch, that wasn’t your fault.”

 

            Hutch moved his eyes downward.  “I was already giving everything to you and I’d swear she saw it in my eyes.  She saw through me so well, and you have no idea how miserable it feels when someone forces you to take that kind of look at yourself.”

 

            Seeing the sadness in Hutch’s eyes, Starsky nudged him with his foot.  “Come on, Hutch.  That case was a no-winner.  Nobody was going to come out of it clean, no matter what we did.”

 

            Hutch pushed from the couch.  “I think that’s when I started really seeing a little bit of what was happening to me.  Jesus, Starsk.  Even though it wasn’t totally clear to me at the time, I was scared at what I’d become.”

 

            “What?” Starsky asked tensely.  “Hutch, the only crime you ever committed was caring too goddamn much, and I didn’t care enough.  Didn’t care enough to even want to see what you were going through.  All I saw was that my visions of lawn mowing, a second mortgage and stepping on toys were getting farther away with each passing day.”  Starsky looked away.  “I raced after it like nothing else mattered, leaving you in the dust.”

 

            Knowing what was next, Hutch moved to the chair and sat down.  “You know where this is taking us?”

 

            “Yeah,” Starsky admitted.  A bubble of laughter escaped.

 

            Hutch stared incredulously.  “What?”

 

            Grinning, Starsky gazed at Hutch.  “It wasn’t you.”

 

            “You think it was my evil twin that took Kira to bed?”

 

            “World peace."  Starsky howled with laughter while Hutch sat in shock.

 

            “This isn’t a damn bit funny, Starsky.”

 

            “You ever watch those beauty pageants and the emcee asks the girls what the world needs?”

 

            Hutch rolled his eyes.  “On your TV fogged up from your heavy breathing?  Yeah, I’ve watched ‘em.”

 

            “Every one of those girls would always say they wanted world peace.  I could probably recite it by heart.”

 

            Hutch rubbed his temple.  “Even I’m having a hell of a time grasping your logic.  What does that have to do with Kira and what I did?”

 

            “Kira wanted world peace.  He’s got the whole world in his hands and kumbaya.  Spread a little love and then some,” Starsky finished with a wink.

 

            With a grin, Hutch relaxed in the chair.  “I went over there to see where she stood.  I had no idea where I stood with you, and Kira fired off all the right flares to my much-neglected libido.  She had me so twisted inside out from her logic, like a dumbass I stood there and agreed with her.  Told her I loved her and carried her off to bed.”  Hutch sighed with regret.  “You showed up, and in the middle of our little free-for-all, I remember her crying that we couldn’t fight over her without asking what she thought.  Less than a minute before our tussle, I was trying to tell you that I came over to see exactly what she thought and felt.”  Hutch paused for a moment, then leaned towards his partner.  “Starsky, rather than leaving like we did, what do you think she would’ve done if we turned to her at that very moment and asked what she wanted?”

 

            “She would’ve either dragged us both into that bedroom or she would’ve had a lot more fun keeping one of us waiting in the wings.  ‘Fore you know it, she would’ve gotten bored with the both of us and moved onto whatever else caught her fancy."  Starsky set his empty beer can on the coffee table.  “Took that fight for me to realize that the problems with you and me had really nothing to do with her.  She just happened be there, is all.  Rather than spout my undying love and devotion to her that day you came over, I should’ve just shut my damn mouth and listened to you.  Would’ve saved us both a hell of a lot of heartache.”

 

            “God, Starsk,” Hutch breathed.  “You have no idea how sorry I am for what I did.  There was no excuse for it.”

 

            “Hey,” Starsky softly spoke, “I never loved her.  I thought she had all the makings for a Mrs. Starsky.  Got over it a long time ago.”

 

            Licking his dry lips, Hutch raised his head.  “That day in the squad room, I wanted to know why you stayed with me after everything that’s happened with us.  You never answered.”

 

            “Easy, Hutch.  I love ya.  It was really hard sayin’ it at the time.”

 

            “Guess I needed to be sure.  I wouldn’t have blamed you for dumping me.”

 

            Starsky’s mouth tightened in grim determination.  “Thought about it, and I knew that I couldn’t.  We’ve got a history.  A damn good one, for the most part, and I couldn’t walk away.”

 

            “Like I did.”

 

            At hearing Hutch’s statement, Starsky got up from the couch and walked to the window.  “That was different.  Has nothing to do with now.”

 

            “I hurt you, Starsky.  It wasn’t the first time.  You’re looking at all the good times without even considering the times I intentionally set out—”

 

            “Shut up, Hutch,” Starsky replied in a low voice.  “I pushed you away and I hurt you in more ways than you’ll even admit.  You fought back every way you knew how, and after the hurt you’d been through, that was all you knew at that point.”

 

            “A lot of that changed after you were shot,” Hutch reminded him.

 

            “Hell of a way to remind us of what’s important.”

 

            “As much as I hated what happened to you, when you got out of the hospital I was jumping for joy inside.  I should’ve felt guilty.”

 

            “Why?” Starsky asked, turning around.

 

            Hutch swallowed the hard lump in his throat.  “You needed me again."  He closed his eyes, remembering the feeling inside.  “Knowing you needed me, and how much you did, made me feel so damn good."  His eyes flew open.  “More than that.  Gave me a sense of purpose.  A reason to live.  When I thought you were going to die, I came up with ways to follow you, Starsk.  Didn’t know if I was going use my gun, suicide-by-perp or just work and drink myself into an early grave, but several ideas crossed my twisted little mind.  I was so fucking happy that you lived, not just because it meant I was going to live, too, but also because you needed me.  You needing me was more important than anything else.”

 

            Hearing the stark reality of Hutch’s statements rattled Starsky to his core.  “You make it sound like it was your reason for living.”

 

            Hutch rose and went to Starsky.  “It was.  I don’t know when or how, maybe it was when Gillian died or Van, but before I knew it, my whole existence depended your need and my meeting it.  I loved you so hard, Starsky, that I put my entire reason for living into the palm of your hand.  After the hell we’d been through, my hurting you the way I did, I waited for you to just toss me aside.”

 

            “I’d never do that, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch’s eyes turned soft.  “I know.  You became so much more to me because of that.  Taking care of you after you got out of the hospital, became everything to me.  I gave every part of myself to taking care of you that I lost where I began and you ended.  Don’t you see, Starsk?  I needed you to need me to justify my own existence.  That’s how I wound up where you found me in that jail.”

 

            “So getting away from me was the answer,” Starsky said, his heart sinking low.

 

            “I had to, Starsky.  If I hadn’t, I would’ve really hurt us both.”

 

            Starsky jerked back from Hutch and swung away from him.  He paced back and forth and whirled on Hutch with blazing eyes.  “You broke up a partnership that’s pulled us out of the worst times of our lives!  That hurt, Hutch!”  Pointing an angry finger at Hutch, Starsky yelled, “You walked out and never looked back!  You quit on us, not me!  I wasn’t the one who—!”  Starsky clamped his mouth shut and turned away from Hutch, hating what he'd been about to say.

 

            Taking a precious chance, Hutch moved closer to Starsky.  He was relieved to finally see the anger coming to surface.  “You’re right,” he replied softly.  “I did.  I had to, for both our sakes.  I love you, Starsky, but my needing you the way I did wasn’t good for either of us.  I lost so much of myself in you that….”  Hutch closed his eyes as the pain fell on him like soft rain.

 

            “The minute I turned my back, you'd fall apart,” Starsky finished.

 

            “I was nothing without you.  Whenever I was with you, your strength and love drew me in.  I felt so goddamn powerless and weak that I let it pull me inside.”  Hutch took a deep breath.  “Losing myself inside of you felt so damn good, Starsk.  When you pulled away from me and when you left for New York, my identity went with you.  I was alone and empty.  What happened after you left gave me the chance to pretend that you never left at all.  A haze of drugs will do that to you.  Fool you into thinking that the fantasy you built for yourself is the reality.”  Hutch crossed over to the couch and sat down.  “I thought that as long as I didn’t talk to you on the phone, that I could hold onto that world I always wanted.”

 

            “What would you have done if you hadn’t been arrested and I came home like I originally planned?”

 

            “To be honest, Starsky, I never thought that far ahead.  Never looked farther than my next fix,” Hutch confessed.

 

            Shaking his head, Starsky started for the kitchen, needing another beer, then stopped.  He looked at Hutch still on the couch.  “Maybe I’ll never understand why you broke us up, Hutch.  All I know is, that day in the alley, you hurt me, and no matter how good your intentions were for the both of us, you can’t make that right.”

 

            Hutch stared at Starsky’s retreating back and quickly stood, following him into the kitchen.  “I’m not trying to make it right.  I’m not going to say that the pain we both were feeling was worth it, Starsk.  I won’t know 'til we finish this.  All I knew at that point was that I had no idea of who I was and what I was about.”

 

            Starsky slammed the fridge shut and forgot about the beer.  “I know, Hutch!” he yelled.  “I’ve had it up to here,” he motioned with a finger slice across his neck, “with your need to 'find yourself' and all the bullshit that went with it!  You left me alone in that fucking alley thinking that this whole fucking thing was my fault!  That you had to get away from me!”  Starsky pointed to his chest for emphasis.  “You have any idea how that made me feel?”

 

            Wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, Hutch nodded.  “Toughest thing I ever had to do,” he confessed.  “You wanted us to do it together, and I knew I couldn’t screw my head on straight when I’ve been so lost in you.  I’m so desperate for you to understand why I did it and I’m not sure how."  Hutch leaned against the counter and the small distance between him and Starsky seemed so far.  “All I know is that I wanted to be able to stand by your side, be with you, and love you on my own two feet, Starsky.  First, I had to learn how to stand by myself, then I had to find out who I was and love myself before I could do what I wanted to do where you were concerned.”

 

            “Did you?” Starsky asked.  “I mean, these last months; did you get what you wanted when you were away from me?”

 

            “Yeah,” Hutch whispered.  “Mostly.  I’d be lying if I said the days and nights away from you had been easy."  He convulsively swallowed as a tear fell on his cheek.  “God, I wanted to grab the phone and run over here so bad, Starsky.  I knew I could, night or day.  It wouldn’t have mattered to you.  I would have just let you take me in, and left the pain at the door rather than deal with it.  It was so easy, but I knew I’d be making a mistake if I did it before I was ready.”

 

            “That’s why you agreed to have dinner with me.”

 

            Hutch wiped the tear from his face and smiled a little.  “You’re the most persistent man I’ve ever known.  Avoiding you became a fine art, Starsky.  I knew I’d just fall into you happily, and I had to wait.  Wait until I was strong enough, knew what I was about, before I could face you and deal with the way I hurt you that day.  I was on my way to see you today."  Hutch inhaled a cleansing breath and slowly let it escape.  “Tell me what you’re feeling?”

 

            Starsky steadied himself with his hands on the counter behind him.  “I want you well and whole.  Just didn’t think it’d take you getting away from me for you to do that.”  His gaze went to Hutch’s eyes.  “I’m glad for you, Hutch.  Happy that you’re finding the peace you need.  Scared, too.”

 

            “Why would you be scared?” Hutch gently asked.

 

            “Scared that you won’t need me anymore like I need you.  That you’ll walk out that door deciding that you’re okay and go on like you’ve been doing these last months.  If I need you too much, you could decide that you can't handle it and take off.  Couldn’t take that, Hutch.”  Starsky’s hand went up to his face, but the tears from his eyes fell before he could catch them.  “Maybe my lovin’ you and needin’ you is too much for the both of us.  Jesus, I’m so fucking scared I’ll do it too much and lose you again.”

 

            “No,” Hutch whispered.  “Not for us."  He moved across the kitchen and stood so close to Starsky that the aroma of the familiar scent made him feel alive and real.  “I can stand right here with no fear of losing myself in you."  He searched Starsky’s eyes and found what he knew was there.  “I can love you and be with you."  Hutch closed his eyes and leaned in, taking Starsky’s lips with his own.  His heart swelled as he moved his mouth across Starsky’s, relishing the sweet taste.  He lifted his lips and stared into Starsky’s eyes.  “I can show you how much I love you without getting lost.”  Hutch’s mouth captured Starsky’s again.  He leaned into Starsky’s body as he continued savoring the sweet exploration.  After working his mouth along Starsky’s jaw line to his ear, Hutch whispered, “The want and need for you, Starsky, is beautiful and powerful, but not so overwhelming that we lose who we are in loving each other."

 

            Hutch’s eyes closed when Starsky’s arms wrapped tightly around him.  He feasted on Starsky’s neck and was surprised when he was pushed to the opposite counter.

 

            Starsky pulled Hutch’s head down and his lips took Hutch’s in a fiercely passionate kiss.  He broke away and his eyes locked with Hutch’s.  “Let me tell you something, Blondie,” he breathed.  “Past three months you’ve been drivin’ me crazy runnin’ around the station with me wantin’ you." 

 

            Their lips met again and Starsky slipped his tongue inside, tasting Hutch.  Hearing the soft moan coming from his partner, Starsky released the delectable mouth and his eyes locked with Hutch’s.  “Too much thinkin’, Hutch.  I don’t mind you thinkin’ so much ‘cause I know you need it, but there’s times when I don’t want you to think.”  He ran his tongue across Hutch’s lips, moved to his cheek, then to his ear.  After wetting it, he whispered, “Just feel, Hutch.  Feel me lovin’ you.  I love you ‘cause I know who you are and what’s inside of you."

 

            Starsky’s teeth grazed Hutch’s ear and he smiled at the shudder coming from his new lover’s body.  “Guess you had to figure out what you were all about on your own.” Starsky raised his eyes and looked squarely at Hutch.  “It’s time for a new us.”

 

 

~*~

 

 

Dawn was breaking and the sunlight streamed through the window to the bed where new lovers laid together in tangled sheets.  Hutch was propped on a pillow as he lazily ran his fingers through the thick curly hair of the head resting on his stomach. 

 

            “Thank you for giving me all my defining moments,” Hutch softly whispered.

 

            In reply, Starsky mumbled in his sleep and rolled into Hutch.  As his partner wrapped himself around his body, Hutch sighed in complete satisfaction and pulled his warm lover closer.

 

 

 

THE END

 

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