Rare Portraits

By Cynatnite

 

 

 

Swallowing the hard lump in his throat, Hutch clasped his hands together in front of him, attempting to produce a relaxed, happy face.  His partner of so many years, his life's blood, was now kissing his wife.  Hutch should’ve been happy.  Hell, he wished he could jump up and down for joy.  But he couldn’t.

 

            Starsky had not only managed to miraculously survive his near fatal shooting, but had rebounded with a new lease on life.  Hutch was more than pleased his partner had come back to the job and they were once again back on the streets as before.  He even liked the attractive resident Starsky was now married to. 

 

            After a humorous meeting in the hospital during Starsky’s recovery, the young physician had gotten his partner’s interest.  Less than six months later, after a whirlwind romance, Starsky was now firmly committed to Miranda Grey.  Miranda Starsky, Hutch mentally corrected.

 

            Hutch’s heart swelled with jealousy as he watched the newlyweds tightly hold each other.  He knew he’d fallen in love with Starsky.  When it had happened, he had no idea, but seeing Starsky wake up in the hospital, Hutch was awakened by the feelings which had been within him all along.  It had been his intention to let the man he loved in on the glorious secret, but after seeing the romance blossom between his partner and Miranda, Hutch shoved his swelling emotions deep inside.

 

            He managed to balance his love for Starsky with the knowledge that maybe his partner had finally gotten his hands on the all-American dream.  No one deserved happiness more than Starsky.  Hutch was going to make sure that his partner got everything he deserved.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Glancing up from the piles of paperwork on his desk, Hutch watched Starsky raise his arms and stretch.  A yawn filled his face and Hutch grimaced.  Must’ve been some night.  It was a morose thought and one Hutch put out of his mind.  He loathed his jealousy.  “Think you can stay awake long enough to finish your report?”

 

            “Huh?”  Starsky blinked his eyes.  “Sorry.  Just had a late night.”

 

            “Just finish up, Starsk.  I’m tired and want to go home.”

 

            Seeing the foul look on Hutch’s face, Starsky leaned forward.  “What’s got you so bitchy?”

 

            Hutch kept his focus on the report in front of him and grabbed a pen.  “Nothing.  Long day."  Starsky snorted and Hutch’s head snapped up.  “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

 

            “It means that if you’d start getting out more, maybe your disposition would be better, Blondie.”

 

            Rubbing his temple, Hutch said, “Don’t even think about it.”

 

            “Hutch, Miranda’s friend is free and available.  We’ll double date.  We used to do it before.”

 

            “Starsky, I’m just not interested."  Hutch stood up and went to the filing cabinet.  “Why do married people have the sudden urge to set up all their single friends?”

 

            “Just want to see my best buddy happy,” Starsky responded with glee.

 

            It was Hutch’s turn to snort.  “You think since you’ve taken the plunge I should follow suit.”

 

            “Do not,” Starsky argued.

 

            Hutch pulled a file out of the cabinet and walked to his desk.  He dropped it down and planted his hands on his hips.  “You’ve got visions of us living next door to each other, with 2.5 kids each, and you borrowing my lawn mower without permission.”

 

            Starsky stretched his hands upward and interlocked them behind his head.  “It’s not a bad thing, Hutch.”

 

            After sitting down, Hutch opened up the file.  “It is when you’re taking the lawnmower without asking.”

 

            “You think I’d do something like that?”

 

            “Of course I do,” Hutch answered.  “Just like the last time you set me up with that x-ray technician without asking.”

            “If I don’t, who will?”

 

            Hutch’s eyes locked with his partner’s.  “Starsk, I would appreciate it if you would leave my social life alone.”

 

            “The most social you’ve been since I got married was when I made you go with me and Miranda to buy a couch.”

 

            Hutch rolled his eyes.  “A trip I will not repeat, by the way.”

            Rather than get into the couch discussion again, Starsky glanced at his watch.  “Time to go.”

 

            Both stood up and grabbed their jackets.  As Hutch slipped his on, he asked, “Wanna go to Huggy’s?”

 

            “Can’t.  I told Miranda I would come home right after work today.  Why not come over for dinner tonight?”

 

            “Another time.  I’ll work on my social life tonight at Huggy’s.”

 

            “'Kay,” Starsky said.

 

            Hutch trailed after Starsky out to the parking lot.  He gave his partner a final wave before getting into his car.  Hutch sighed and rubbed his eyes.  The last thing he wanted to do was to witness wedded bliss between Starsky and his wife.  Some days were harder than others.

 

            Sometimes just seeing the wedding band attached to Starsky’s finger was enough to put him in a legalized depression for an entire day.  The day it was slipped onto his partner’s finger was the day Hutch lost him.  Rather than just make a pathetic attempt at going on with his life, Hutch took what little he could get from Starsky.  Some days it was enough and still more than he ever hoped for.  Others, it was almost physically painful to watch.

 

            It was intentional on his part to keep his distance from them.  Hutch could feel the jealousy churning like a wild storm whenever he watched Starsky with Miranda.  Seeing how freely his partner was with his touches and kisses to his wife made Hutch feel like he was witnessing his own heart split in two.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            When Starsky walked into the small two-bedroom house he shared with his wife, he could hear her movements in the kitchen.  Slipping off his jacket, he walked into the kitchen, where he approached Miranda.  After an affectionate kiss and hug, he headed to the fridge and retrieved a beer.  He glanced over at his wife, admiring her small form.  She stood over the stove, pushing her thick, dark blond curls away from her face.

 

            Miranda glanced at Starsky.  “I have to head back to the hospital later.”

 

            “I thought you had tonight off?”

 

            She covered the pot with a lid and turned around.  “Alec came down with chicken pox, so I have to cover his shift.”

 

            “Chicken pox?  Isn’t that a prerequisite to being a kid?”

 

            Miranda shrugged her shoulders.  “Alec was never a kid.”

 

            “He’s the one that says an only child has more advantages than one with siblings,” Starsky observed.

 

            “Yep.”

 

            Starsky took a drink of his beer and sighed.  “I was hoping for a night to ourselves.”

 

            Miranda gave him a small smile and turned back to the stove.  “What’s wrong?”

 

            “Nothing.”

            She gave him a side-look.  “You certainly try to hide it, Dave, but you’re doing a lousy job of it.”

 

            “It’s Hutch.”

 

            “What about him?”

 

            He followed Miranda to the table and sat down.  “He just seems…I don’t know…like he’s not completely happy.”

 

            Miranda set a casserole in the middle of the table and slid into the chair next to Starsky's.  “Is anyone?”

 

            “I’m serious.  Hutch is being distant and I don’t like it.”

 

            “Dave, before we got married, you made sure I was aware of how important Hutch is to you.  I knew it before that, but I accepted it and I still do.  You also have to realize when we married, it meant Hutch would have to accept the changes.”

 

            “I know, Mir."  Starsky reached over and put a healthy portion of casserole on his plate.  “Hutch has, I think.”

 

            “Does it bother you that he’s not around like he used to be?”

 

            “It’s part of it.  I miss him sometimes,” Starsky admitted.

 

            “We’ve been married less than four months.  He’s probably giving us some time as newlyweds.”

 

            “Makes sense,” Starsky muttered.  He played with his fork and looked at Miranda.  “Did you tell me that Gwen wasn’t seeing anyone?”

 

            “Dave,” Miranda groaned.  “I don’t think Hutch wants you setting him up.”

 

            “Hutch doesn’t know what he wants,” Starsky matter-of-factly stated.  “I think you should talk to her.”

 

            “You won’t let this go, will you?”

 

            “Nope,” Starsky said with a grin.

 

            “Fine, but I’m not doing it any time soon.  I want to make sure he forgets about the x-ray tech.”

 

            “Well, in that case, let’s go out this weekend and take him with us.”

 

            “Sure,” Miranda replied.  “That new club you’ve been telling me about?”

 

            Starsky gave a wide smile before diving into dinner.

 

*                 *                 *

           

            Later that night, Hutch walked into his apartment and headed straight for the fridge.  He pulled out a beer and made his way to the greenhouse.  The first thing to catch his eye was the far corner, where there were the small makings of an art studio. 

 

            Many lonely nights Hutch found comfort in his music and art.  Seeing the half-finished painting on the stand, Hutch moved closer.  Normally, his work was impressionistic in style, but lately, realism offered much in the way of solace.  It was because of Starsky.

 

            In order to find a little release, he painted his lovable partner.  Putting Starsky’s expressive face on canvas was almost satisfying.  With a sad smile he picked up the painting.  Starsky was looking out of the corner of his eye and a half-grin jumped out at him.  There has to be a thousand different Starsky looks, Hutch thought.  Someday, he might paint them all.

 

 

                        *                         *                         *

 

            Hutch walked through the disco to the table where Miranda sat.  He put a drink in front of her and eased into the chair next to her.

 

            “Thanks.”

 

            “Sure."  Hutch sipped his beer and his eyes went out to the dance floor where Starsky was dancing with another girl.  It always amazed him how comfortable Starsky moved with the music.  It was something he wished he could do as well.  He glanced at Miranda.  “Why doesn’t it bother you?”

 

            “What?” Miranda asked over the music.

 

            He motioned towards the dance floor.  “Starsky dancing with another woman.”

 

            “Oh,” she responded.  “Dave loves to dance.  I like it sometimes, but I prefer watching him enjoy himself.”

 

            “He does,” Hutch said with an admiring smile.

 

            “The slow ones are mine,” Miranda said with an added wink.

 

            Hutch chuckled a little and focused back on the dance floor to his partner.  He shifted in his seat as Starsky undulated on the dance floor.  “He talked to you about me.”

 

            Miranda looked at Hutch, then down at her drink.  “He’s worried.”

 

            “Like a mother hen,” Hutch sighed.

 

            “I don’t think he’s convinced you’ve adjusted to our marriage.”

 

            Hutch shrugged his shoulders.  “I have to admit it’s been a big change.”

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            “Well."  Hutch took a large drink of his beer.  “We only had each other for a long time.”

 

            Looking down at his beer, Hutch didn’t see the confused look in Miranda’s face and before either could speak, Starsky came over during a lull in the music.  “This slow one’s yours, beautiful,” he said with a grin.

 

            Miranda laughed and took Starsky’s hand.  Hutch’s grip on the bottle tightened as he watched Starsky lead Miranda out on the dance floor.  He prayed for the evening to end.  If it had been possible to get out of this tonight, Hutch would have.  Starsky damn near made it impossible to say no.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Two weeks later, Hutch sat in the Torino, shaking his head.  “No.  Just forget it, Starsk.”

 

            “Come on, Hutch.  It's one dinner.  You can do one dinner.”

 

            Hutch’s eyes moved to Starsky, who was driving this time around.  “And I said I won’t have you setting me up.”

 

            “I’m not.”

 

            “What do you call it?  Miranda is inviting a friend who just so happens to be a single woman and you’re going to have me, a single man, there.”

 

            Starsky stole a nervous glance at Hutch.  “It’s a get-acquainted dinner.  If you don’t like her, you don’t have to ask her out.”

 

            “Starsky, it’s a classic set-up.  I don’t need it and I don’t want it.”

 

            The firm tone would have dissuaded most people, but Starsky refused to give in.  “Awe, come on, Hutch.  This is a friend of Miranda’s and I think she’d feel a little uncomfortable showing up as a third wheel.”

 

            “Don’t do that,” Hutch warned with a point of his finger.  “Don’t manipulate me, buddy.”

 

            “Then say you’ll do it, and I won’t have to.”

 

            Frustrated, Hutch ran his hand through his hair.  “You’re not going to let this go, are you?”

 

            Starsky smiled smugly.  “Not in this lifetime, baby blue.”

 

            A tingle went through Hutch’s insides.  Starsky’s teasing voice calling him the affectionate nickname always brought a smile to his heart.  He wanted nothing more than to ruffle his partner's thick dark curls at that moment.  Hutch put on his most stern look.  “Fine, I’ll do it, but don’t ever ask me again.”

 

            The rest of the day, Starsky grinned like kid who knew what he was getting for Christmas and Hutch found himself enjoying it more than he thought he would.  He loved it when his partner brought out the best in him.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            That weekend, Hutch showed up at Starsky’s with a bottle of wine.  He gave his partner a ‘you better not mess this up’ look, and Starsky reassured him with a gentle pat on the shoulder as he guided him into the living room.  “Hutch, this is Gwen Carmichael.”

 

            Hutch gave a nervous smile and held his hand out.  “Stars…Dave’s told me a lot about you.”

 

            The woman stood and Hutch was a little surprised that she was almost as tall as he.  From her short dark hair to the conservative outfit she wore, he could tell at a glance this was a woman he normally wouldn’t approach.  He reminded himself that appearances could be deceiving as he shook her hand.  He might actually like her.

 

            “Miranda speaks very highly of you,” Gwen said.

 

            Starsky stepped forward and took the bottle from Hutch.  “Why don’t you two get acquainted and I’ll open the wine?”

 

            Before Hutch could offer to help, Starsky was out of the living room and in the kitchen with Miranda.  He motioned toward the couch where he and Gwen sat and exchanged small talk.  Starsky soon returned with two glasses of wine, much to Hutch’s relief.

 

            After more conversation, the two couples sat down at the table for dinner.  Hutch almost rolled his eyes at Starsky, who insisted on the boy/girl seating arrangement.  As they ate, Starsky took the opportunity to try to bring Hutch and Gwen onto some common ground. 

 

            “Gwen, Miranda said that you’re looking at specializing in pediatrics.  Hutch is a Big Brother to two kids.  Molly and Kiko.”

 

            “Admirable,” Gwen replied with cool eyes.  “It’s rare that adults take an interest in children.”

 

            “My partner may deny it, but he does like kids.”

 

            “Starsk,” Hutch scolded, “I’ve never said I didn’t like kids.”

 

            “Children need a positive role model,” Gwen interjected.  “There’s so few these days.”

 

            “Molly and Kiko haven’t had a father in their lives and I like to think I’m helping a little on that end."  Hutch took a drink of wine.  “Why did you decide on pediatrics?”

 

            “It’s a field where I can do the most good.  I also plan to be board certified in obstetrics,” Gwen answered.

 

            Starsky lifted his glass and smiled.  “That’s great, Gwen.  Isn’t it, Hutch?”

 

            “Yeah,” Hutch said with a weak smile.  He turned to Gwen.  “Don’t you have to pick one to specialize in?”

 

            “Not necessarily, Hutch,” Miranda offered.  “Many doctors choose to be board certified in more than one field.”

 

            “Have you decided how you will focus your attentions once your residency is complete?” Hutch asked Gwen.

 

            “Yes."  Gwen lifted her chin and with a satisfied look, said, “The Moral Majority is sponsoring a clinic I plan on practicing in.”

 

            “Really?”  Hutch shot a look at his partner, who only shrugged his shoulders.

 

            Gwen let out a small laugh.  “I can see the disdain in your eyes.”

 

            “It’s not that you see,” Hutch answered.

 

            “You don’t care for the Moral Majority.”

 

            “I think everyone has a right to worship how they see fit and I also think people have a right to live their lives as they choose as long as it doesn’t harm others.”

 

            “True,” Gwen conceded.  “But the lives that some live do have a negative impact, no matter how much they feel it doesn’t affect others.”

 

            “What aspect are you referring to?”  Hutch asked.

 

            Starsky grabbed the bottle and held it up.  “More wine?”

 

            Ignoring the question, Gwen picked up her napkin and wiped her mouth.  “Disco.”

 

            A bark of laughter escaped Hutch and he shook his head.  “Are you serious?”

 

            “Very serious,” Gwen answered with confidence.  “The lewd and lascivious dancing leads not only to unprotected sex outside of marriage, but also to drugs and alcohol abuse.  It’s a vicious cycle, as I’m sure you’re well aware, given your profession.”

 

            Hutch couldn’t believe his ears.  “Starsky’s a disco maniac, yet he’s not a drug addict and has stayed very faithful to his wife.”

 

            “David is the exception to the rule.”

 

            “So, you and your people want to stop disco now?”

 

            “Of course not.”  Gwen’s laugh was filled with condescension.  “Censorship is unrealistic for this country, no matter how vile the message is.  Our country has forgotten its moral center and because of that, it's on a steady decline.  Bringing back prayer in schools and sticking to those traditional values which made our country great in the first place is how we can begin to get back on track.”

 

            “Whose track is that?”  Hutch leaned forward.  “Other people making decisions about someone’s personal life and how they lead it, doesn’t sound very American to me.”

 

            “I decided on pediatrics and obstetrics because it’s the children who are our future.  It’s in the early years, where we can make the most impact and future generations can make this country right.”

 

            Hutch thought for a moment before saying anything.  “Let me ask you this.  How do you and your group intend to do this?”

 

            “I plan on working in one of the clinics that offers medical care to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it.  I will also be offering Christian-oriented classes and seminars.  Then I plan on starting an abstinence program for teenagers and teaching unwed mothers the value of marriage.”

 

            With a quick look at Starsky, Hutch saw the dread in his partner’s eyes.  He moved his eyes back to Gwen.  “Abstinence and the value of marriage.  A conservative approach to problems you haven’t the first clue about.”

 

            “It’s much better than the alternatives.”

 

            “Kids are having sex at a record pace for a variety of reasons.  Slapping abstinence on them isn’t going to slow down teenagers who want to do what they want to do.  Educating them about birth control and condoms in addition to abstinence offers alternatives they might not get at home.  It’s not the fifties where good kids wait 'til marriage.”

 

            “Birth control just gives them permission,” Gwen said with a roll of their eyes.

 

            “Lady,” Hutch said, trying to get a handle on his temper, “they don’t need our permission.  If you haven’t noticed, they’re already having sex, and rolling back the clock to the good ol' days ain’t gonna change that.”

 

            “Honey, pass the potatoes,” Starsky meekly said.

 

            “The reality is that abstinence works,” Gwen stated.  “Name one person who was harmed by it.”

 

            “Anita Bryant!”

 

            Starsky covered his eyes.

 

            “Even with the liberal use of birth control and condoms, unwanted pregnancies are rampant and murderers are perpetuating it!”

 

            Hutch was flabbergasted at what he was hearing.  “Murderers?  Where in the hell did that come from?” 

 

            “So-called doctors who perform abortions!  They are killing babies and you, a police officer, just sit and let it happen!”

 

            “When the laws change, we’ll arrest them.  Otherwise, you’ll just have to hold up your signs outside of an abortion clinic.  Until you walk a mile in their shoes, you don’t have any room to talk.”

 

            “I’m talking about saving lives here and you’re going to use that pathetic liberal excuse that it’s okay to kill innocent babies?”

 

            “Abortion is something neither of us will ever agree on,” Hutch pressed.  “But when a man rapes a woman or the mother is at risk, that’s when it is necessary.”

 

            “God’s will,” Gwen stated.

 

            “What?” Hutch was floored.

 

            “When a child is created, it is by God’s will.  No one outside of that has any right to determine who lives and who dies except God.”

 

            “Even at the risk of someone’s life?” Starsky asked.

 

            “Sadly, yes.”

 

            “I don’t believe this,” Hutch muttered.  He stood up and looked down at Gwen.  “Tell Barbara Pennington that it was God’s will that a man raped her 11-year-old daughter before murdering her.  God had nothing to do with it, lady.”

 

            Hutch headed for the door and Starsky caught him before he left.  “Hutch....”

 

            “Never again, Starsk." 

 

            Starsky watched Hutch leave and slowly turned around to look at the woman who had driven his partner away.  When he moved his gaze to Miranda, he could see the sympathy in her eyes.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky jerked off his shirt and tossed it onto a nearby chair.  He barely glanced at Miranda, who was slipping a large t-shirt on.  “Why didn’t you tell me she was like that?” he asked.

 

            “I had no idea she was so conservative, Dave."  Miranda bent over the bed and pulled down the covers.  “If I had, I certainly wouldn’t have brought her here.”

 

            “I should’ve met her before setting Hutch up with her.”

 

            “It’s not your fault,” Miranda offered.

 

            Starsky slipped his jeans off and walked over to the bed.  “How can that woman be a doctor and proclaim God’s will all in the same breath?”

 

            “Gwen believes that she was given a gift and she’ll use it how she sees best.  Whether you agree with her views or not, she is an excellent doctor.”

 

            “You defending her?”

 

            “You asked and I answered!”

 

            Starsky sighed and sat down on the bed.  “Sorry, I just feel bad about how this dinner turned out.”

 

            “I know, honey.  Let’s go to bed.”

 

            Looking over at Miranda, who was under the covers, Starsky said, “It’ll be Christmas before I get Hutch over here again.  It took a hell of a lot to convince him to go along with this, let alone come here.”

 

            “Just let it go for tonight, Dave.  The damage has been done.  Tomorrow you can make it right with Hutch.”

 

            “Yeah,” Starsky agreed.  He got under the covers and, after a thought, grabbed the phone.

 

            Miranda sat up on an elbow.  “What are you doing?”

            “Calling Hutch.”

 

            “Dave, it’s late.”

 

            “He’s up,” Starsky said confidently as he dialed the number. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Hutch was applying a stroke of paint to the canvas when the phone rang.  He set the brush down and after wiping his hands on a towel, Hutch went to the phone and answered it.  “Hello.”

 

            “Hey, it’s me.”

 

            “Yeah."  Hutch sat down in a nearby chair.  “You’re calling a little late.”

 

            “I know I didn’t wake you.”

 

            “Nope, you didn’t." 

 

            “I’m sorry, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch played with the towel in his hand.  “It’s not your fault, Starsk.  I know you didn’t have a clue about her.”

 

            “I should’ve.”

 

            “It’s done, buddy.  Don’t kick yourself over it.”

 

            “I just don’t want you thinking that all I’ll do is try to set you up again.”

 

            “I don’t,” Hutch assured him. 

 

            “Let’s bargain.”

 

            Hutch laughed and tossed the towel away.  “Is this your way of using the experience to your advantage?”

 

            “You know me.  Use whatever resources I’ve got.  If I don’t set you up anymore, will you come around more often?”

 

            “Starsk, you just got married.”

 

            “Over four months ago,” Starsky reminded him.  “The newlywed excuse is starting to wear thin."  At Hutch’s silence, Starsky continued.  “Need you around more than just work, Hutch.”

 

            So do I, Hutch agreed silently.  “You need time with your wife, buddy.  I don’t want to get in the way.”

 

            “You never would.”

 

            Give me an excuse, Hutch thought.  Tell me she cheats on you.  Tell me she treats you like shit.  “Yeah, okay.”

 

            “Really?”

 

            Hutch smiled at hearing the excited voice.  “The first time I think I’m being a pain in the ass, I get to leave with no argument from you.”

 

            “Deal.  Hutch?”

 

            “Yeah, buddy.”

 

            “You know you’re important to me, don’t you?”

 

            “I know,” Hutch whispered.

 

            “See you in the morning.”

 

            “Night, Starsk." 

 

            Hutch hung up the phone and pushed up from the chair.  He went to the greenhouse and gazed at the painting.  The love in his heart poured out in the way of colors and brushstrokes creating the image of Starsky.  It was the only outlet he had at this point for the strong emotions running through him.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky relaxed in bed and gave a satisfied sigh. 

“Everything’s good.”

 

            “Of course it is,” Miranda murmured.  She moved in close to Starsky and put her hand on his chest.  “I know it could’ve waited 'til morning, but I also know you wouldn’t sleep until you talked to him.”

 

            “Are you jealous?”

 

            Miranda chuckled.  “No, I’m not.”

 

            Starsky sat up and looked down at her.  “Is something wrong?”

 

            With a grim look on her face, Miranda pushed up.  “Dave, I just think you worry too much about Hutch.”

 

            “Since when?”

 

            “Since always."  She touched Starsky’s face.  “I don’t mind, and I love you for it, but Hutch is perfectly able to see to his own life without you worrying at every turn.”

 

            “I don’t do that,” Starsky denied.

 

            “Remember when the three of us went out to that disco?”  At Starsky’s nod, she continued.  “Hutch said something and I didn’t quite understand it at the time.  But now, I think I do.”

 

            “What’d he say?”

 

            “He said the two of you only had each other for a long time.  It confused me because I’ve heard the stories about the womanizing you both did over the years, but now I think it’s because you both can’t stand to see the other in pain or even just not happy.  Maybe you feel guilty that Hutch doesn’t have what we have.”

 

            Starsky’s eyebrows furrowed together in thought.  “Yeah, maybe that’s it,” he said in a low voice.  “But maybe—”

 

            The blaring of the telephone cut Starsky off and he answered it.  After a second, he handed it off to Miranda.  It was brief and when Miranda finished, she handed the phone back to Starsky.  “I have to go.”

 

            Starsky was flabbergasted by the timing.  “What?  You’re supposed to be off.”

 

            As Miranda quickly dressed, she said, “I have to go when they call, Dave.  It’s no different with your job.”  Speechless, Starsky watched her finish dressing and she gave him a quick kiss on the lips.  “Don’t wait up for me.”

 

            After she was gone, Starsky sighed and collapsed back on the bed. 

 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            A few months later, a knock on the door took Hutch away from the painting of his partner.  Even after so much time, it still wasn’t finished.  He had no idea when it would be.  Hutch covered up the unfinished portrait and headed to the door.  He was surprised to see Starsky standing there, holding a pizza. 

 

            “Hey, what brings you here?”  Hutch stepped aside to let Starsky in.

 

            “Miranda’s working late.  I thought beer and pizza was in order.”

 

            “Sounds great."  Hutch headed to the kitchen for the beers and when he turned around, Starsky was moving toward the greenhouse.  He hurried to his partner, who was opening the pizza box on the small table inside the leafy area.

 

            “I really like what you did with the greenhouse, Hutch.  Feels like more room, and still kinda cozy.”

 

            Hutch handed off a beer and motioned to a chair.  “Have a seat, Starsk.  Relax." 

 

            Starsky slowly sat down and took a piece of pepperoni off the pizza. 

 

            “What’s wrong?”

 

            “Nothing.”

 

            After tossing Starsky a napkin, Hutch leaned back.  “Tell me another one.”

 

            “I never see her, Hutch.”

 

            “You knew she was a doctor when you married her, partner, and from what you said, her career is important to her.”

 

            “Yeah, it’s just that I thought at some point, we’d settle into a routine of some kind.”

 

            “Like an old married couple?”

 

            Starsky shrugged his shoulders.  “I guess.  I knew there would be times when we wouldn’t get to see much of each other because of our jobs, but for over a month, the only time we see one another is when we bump into each other in the hallway at home.  It shouldn’t be like this.”

 

            Hutch leaned forward and looked into Starsky’s eyes.  “Starsk, have you told Miranda that you aren’t happy with how things are going?”

 

            “Can’t do that when one of us isn’t there,” he muttered.

 

            “Say you talk to her about it.  How would you both compromise?”

 

            “I don’t know if we can, Hutch.  Being a doctor is important to Miranda and I don’t think I can give up my job.”

 

            Hutch sighed and gave Starsky’s arm a squeeze.  “It’s not turning out like you expected, is it?”

 

            “Well, I know a lot of marriages have their tough times and I guess this is one of them.”

 

            “Starsky, I know you.  You had visions in that head of yours of how marriage was supposed to be.  It’s a matter of adjusting it until it fits for you and Miranda.”

 

            Starsky smiled and leaned back.  “Yeah, you’re right.  I guess I just miss her.”

 

            Rather than answer with something he knew he wouldn’t mean, Hutch took a long drink from his beer. 

 

            Starsky’s eyes moved around the greenhouse and he grinned.  “Been a while since we’ve had one our talks in here.”

 

            “Yeah, it has.”

 

            “Seems like we spent hours in here playing chess or just talking about nothing,” Starsky remembered.  “We need to do this more.”

 

            Hutch nodded and watched Starsky get up and start moving around.  He stood when he saw his partner wander over to the painting in the corner.

 

            “What’s this?”

 

            “Nothing.”  The fear in his heart jumped a notch as Starsky moved closer to the easel.  “Just something I’ve been doing for a couple of hours a night.”

 

            “Can I look?”

 

            “It’s not important.  Come on back over here, Starsk.”

 

            “Show it to me.”

 

            Hutch shifted his feet and gripped the bottle.  “You don’t want to see that.”

 

            Starsky closely studied Hutch, then turned back to the painting.  “Don’t you want me to see it?”

 

            “It’s not that….”  Hutch searched for the right words to say without lying, but none came.

 

            “Please, Hutch.  I’d really love to see what you’re working on.”

 

            The excuses escaped Hutch and as he slowly moved towards the painting, he wondered if subconsciously he really wanted Starsky to see it.  His heart pounded in his chest and Hutch was starting to feel hot.  He almost changed his mind as he reached over and lifted the delicate cloth.

 

            When Starsky saw the painting his eyes widened.  He was amazed at the beauty and the life which sprang from the portrait.  “Jesus, Hutch,” he whispered.

 

            A bubble of panic boiled in Hutch’s chest and he was positive Starsky recognized his feelings on the canvas.  He started to bring the cloth back down, but Starsky’s hand on his wrist stopped him.

 

            “Don’t cover it up,” Starsky ordered.  “Never cover it up again.”

 

            “Starsk….”

 

            “It’s beautiful, Hutch.  I mean, I know it’s me and I don’t mean to sound full of ego, but the way you….  It’s like you got all of me on there, but you’ve got all of you there, too."  Starsky turned to Hutch.  “Does that make sense?”

 

            More than you know.  “It was just something I wanted to try.”

 

            “Is it done?”

 

            “No."  Hutch stepped away from the canvas and went back to the chair.  “I don’t know when it’ll be done.”

 

            “Are you going to show this to anyone?”

 

            Hutch shook his head and swallowed the emotion caught in his throat.  He cleared his throat before speaking.  “Just don’t tell anyone.”

 

            Seeing the turmoil in Hutch’s eyes, Starsky quickly went to him.  “I won’t, Hutch.  I know you’ve always taken stuff like your music and painting really serious.  It’s a private thing with you and I’d never violate that.”

 

            “Thanks.”

 

            “Let’s dive into this cold pizza.  I plan on whooping your ass at chess tonight.”

 

            Hutch laughed in relief that his partner wasn’t pushing the issue of the painting.  He didn’t know if he could give Starsky a convincing lie.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Over the next several weeks, Hutch started slowly going to Starsky’s more.  He was convinced he was doing it for his partner’s sake, but secretly, Hutch basked in Starsky’s presence.  Even though Miranda continued with her busy schedule at the hospital, he knew his partner still wasn’t happy with it.  Hutch wondered how much their marriage was suffering, but all he could do was play the part of the supportive best friend.

 

            One night both men sat on Starsky’s couch arguing over a movie they had just watched together.  Even as much as they disagreed, Hutch was inwardly grinning at the sense of normalcy the evening brought. 

 

            The door opened and Miranda walked in with a large smile on her face.  Starsky quickly rose and greeted her with a kiss.  “What’s the smile for?”

 

            “It took some doing, but I don’t have to work until Monday morning."  Miranda hugged Starsky.  “That means a trip for us to Monterey.”

 

            “That’s great,” Starsky said.  He glanced over at Hutch, then back to Miranda.  “I wish you’d said something.  Me and Hutch made some plans since you were supposed to be working.”

 

            “I wanted to surprise you, Dave.  I know how much you’ve wanted us to spend some quality time together.”

 

            “Yeah."  Starsky smiled and he stole another look at Hutch, who was getting to his feet.  “We’ll work around it.”

 

            Hutch grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.  “You two have a good weekend.  We’ll do it another time.”

 

            “Wait,” Starsky said.  “We can all go.”

 

            Standing at the door, Hutch said, “Starsk, you and Miranda need this.  Take the weekend and enjoy yourselves.”

 

            Starsky watched Hutch leave and he gave Miranda a quick look before darting out the door after his partner.  “Hutch, wait up.”

 

            Hutch stopped at his car and pulled his keys out.  “The weekend can wait another time, Starsky.”

 

            “We made plans, Hutch.  I don’t want to leave you in the lurch.”

 

            “You’re not,” Hutch assured him.  “Besides, your marriage takes priority.”

 

            It was on Starsky’s lips to argue with Hutch, but he knew his partner was right.  “Soon as we get back, you and me.  Promise?”

 

            Hutch smiled.  “Promise.”

 

            Starsky waited to go back inside until Hutch had driven off.  He closed the front door and glanced over at Miranda, who didn’t look very happy.  “Sorry, I just wanted to talk to Hutch.”

 

            “Dave, even Hutch understands that we need to spend some time alone together.”

 

            “I made plans with him, Miranda.  I wish you said you were going to do this in the first place.”

 

            Miranda nodded and pushed her hair away from her face.  “I should have, but I didn’t know that you'd made plans, either.”

 

            “Guess we should talk to each other first,” Starsky admitted.

 

            “Why did you want him to come with us?”

 

            “We both wanted to spend some time together and I thought….”  Starsky sighed and leaned against the wall.  “I was really looking forward to spending some off-time with Hutch this weekend.”

 

            “Do you still want to?”

 

            “Are you saying that you’d rather us not do the weekend so Hutch and I can go ahead with our plans?”

 

            “I asked if you still wanted to, Dave.”

 

            Starsky knew he wouldn’t get out of the question and he moved towards Miranda.  “You and I need this, Mir.  We both know it.  Besides,” Starsky said as he toyed with a strand of her hair, “I doubt Hutch would forgive me if I ditched my beautiful wife to go to a race and a car show.”

 

            “I probably wouldn’t, either, if I was him,” Miranda grinned.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Huggy filled a glass with beer and carried it across the bar to Hutch, who sat in a corner booth.  “Looks like you could use another.”

 

            “Thanks, Hug."  Hutch took the full glass and pushed his empty one aside.

 

            “Thought you and your better half had plans,” Huggy commented.

 

            “His better half had a better offer.”

 

            “Not like you to be so morose, my friend.”

 

            Hutch shrugged his shoulders and sipped the beer.

 

            “What’s eatin’ you, Hutch?”

 

            Aching to answer the question, Hutch reached for a cold French fry on the plate.  He kept his silence by eating it.

 

            “Been tough since Starsky married.  I’m still not used to seeing a Hutch without a Starsky.”

 

            “What’s a Hutch without a Starsky?” Hutch bitterly responded.

 

            “Have you told Curly how you felt?”

 

            Hutch sharply brought his eyes to Huggy, who gave him a knowing look in return.  “Hug—”

 

            “Hey, man.  It’s obvious that you miss him.”

 

            “His marriage is important to him.  He needs—”

 

            “And what do you need, Blondie?”

 

            Hutch averted his eyes and leaned back. 

 

            “Hutch, man, I normally don’t pry, but I gotta ask—”

 

            “Then don’t!” Hutch retorted.  He relaxed and put a hand on Huggy’s arm.  “Sorry, Hug.”

 

            “It’s okay, bro.”

 

            “I need to tell someone, Huggy.  If I don’t, I’ll blow up.”

 

            “Sure, man.”

 

            Hutch took a deep breath and looked into the golden liquid in his glass.  “I’m in love with him.”

 

            Huggy froze at the confession, then let out a slow breath.  “How long?”

 

            “I’m not sure.  Maybe a year now…could be longer.”

 

            “You gonna tell him?”  Seeing the slow shake of Hutch’s head, Huggy leaned forward.  “You gotta, Hutch.  You can’t keep this in.”

 

            “Yes, I can.”  There was no doubt in his mind.

 

            “Wait a sec.  You said maybe a year.  You knew before he married Miranda."  At Hutch’s nod, Huggy continued.  “Why didn’t you tell him before?”

 

            “Never again,” Hutch swore.  “I am not going to hurt him like I did before with Kira.”

 

            “Hutch, you’re talkin’ apples and oranges.  Ain’t nothing like that Kira mess.”

 

            “No!”  Hutch took a deep breath.  “It damn near tore us apart and I won’t risk losing him again.”

 

            “The man ain’t goin’ nowhere as far as you’re concerned.”

 

            “I won’t chance it, Hug.  I almost lost him when I screwed Kira, and when he was shot.”

 

            “Hutch—”

 

            “Huggy,” Hutch interrupted, “I know what you’re trying to do, but telling Starsky is out of the question.  He’s married to Miranda now.”

 

            “Do you think he really loves her?”

 

            “Yeah, he does.”

 

            “I mean really loves her, Hutch.  The kind of love you’ve got for him."  At his silence, Huggy rubbed his eyes.  “Jesus.”

 

            “I know."  Hutch took a drink of his beer.  “All that matters is Starsky being happy, and this is what he wants.  I swore I would never stand in the way again.  I’ll be here until he says otherwise.”

 

            “Do me a favor, bro.”

 

            “What?”

 

            “Don’t wait too long to tell him how you feel.  It ain’t fair to him and it sure as hell ain’t fair to you.”  Huggy gave Hutch’s arm before leaving and slid out of the booth. 

 

            After he was gone, Hutch sipped at his beer.  Worth it if Starsky’s happy.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            A few months later, Starsky walked into his house, stripping off his jacket, which he laid on back of the couch.  Miranda came into the living room and headed towards the kitchen. 

 

            “How is he?”

 

            “Okay,” Starsky sighed.  “Doc said it wasn’t a concussion this time.”

 

            “Good.”

 

            “I’ll call in a couple of hours to check on him."  Starsky sat down at the table and began sorting through the mail.

 

            Miranda poured herself a glass of juice and glanced at Starsky.  “If he’s fine with no concussion, why call him?”

 

            Not looking up, Starsky said, “Because if Hutch has any problems, he won’t call me.  He’ll just push it all inside and not say a word.”

 

            “Did you tell the ER physician that Hutch has had concussions before?”

 

            Starsky tossed the mail aside and looked at her.  “Yeah, he knows.  He said Hutch could take a couple of aspirin if he gets to hurtin’.”

 

            “How was he when you left?”

 

            “Fine.”

 

            Miranda nodded and sipped her juice.  “We were supposed to meet up with Carl and Liz for dinner tonight.”

 

            Starsky looked at Miranda with pleading eyes.  “Do we have to do it tonight, Mir?  I’m bushed and I want to be here in case Hutch calls.”

 

            Looking down at her glass, Miranda said, “I cancelled after you called and told me what happened.”

 

            Miranda finished off her juice, put the glass in the sink and started to head out of the kitchen.  Starsky stepped in front of her and put his hands on her shoulders. 

 

            “I know how important this dinner was.  We’ll do it another night.  Make it real soon, Mir.”

 

            She pulled back and brushed passed Starsky.  “Sure, Dave.”

 

            Starsky followed her to the living room.  “What’s wrong?”

 

            Miranda stopped and slowly turned around.  “I knew what I was getting when I married you, Dave.”

 

            “Cop’s life isn’t always safe.”

 

            “That’s not what I’m talking about.”

 

            “So what is it?”

 

            Miranda took a step closer.  “You don’t know, do you?”

 

            “If there’s something wrong, spit it out.  I’m not good at guessing.”

 

            Pushing a frustrated hand through her hair, Miranda said, “I’ll be the bad guy no matter how I say this, Dave.”

 

            “Just say it.”

 

            “Hutch is important to you….”

 

            “This is about Hutch?” Starsky asked in disbelief.

 

            “Dave, tonight was just one more example of how much he is involved in our lives.”

 

            “He got hurt today, Mir!  Hutch could’ve been killed!”

 

            “I know that and I’m not saying that you should’ve pushed him aside to make this dinner tonight.”

 

            “What the hell are you saying?”

 

            “Every single day, he’s here, Dave.  Even when Hutch isn’t here, he’s here.”

 

            Starsky took a deep cleansing breath in order to hold his temper.  “I told you that Hutch is more of a brother to me than my own, Mir.  You’ve known how it was since the beginning.”

 

            “Of course I knew and I accepted it, Dave.  I just can’t accept Hutch being this big a part of our lives.  There’s only room for two in this marriage.”

 

            “Be nice if there were two in this marriage,” Starsky muttered under his breath.

 

            “What?” Miranda said, raising her voice.

 

            “You spend so much goddamn time at the hospital I’m beginning to wonder who you’re really married to!”

 

            “Being a doctor is important to me.  I’ve spent years working my ass off!” Miranda said raising her voice another notch.

 

            “And every time there’s a problem, you’re up and running to the hospital!”

 

            “That’s not very damn fair, Dave!  I’ve worked hard to get where I am and you knew that I’d have to pull some long hours until I got enough seniority to cut back on my time at the hospital!”

 

            “It’s not just about seniority, Miranda!  That dinner tonight with Carl and Liz was about getting into that high dollar practice!”

 

            “At some point I do have to think about the future.  Getting into group practice means more normal working hours and a better income.  I’m doing this for us and our future.”

 

            “Don’t feed me that bullshit!  You’re more interested in the prestige and money than you are in being a doctor!”

 

            “I can’t believe you just said that!  I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was a little girl!”

 

            “The last few months all you’ve talked about what you can get out of being a part of that Beverly Hills clinic.”

 

            “What is wrong with wanting more than what we’ve got right now?”

 

            “What’s wrong with what we have right now, Miranda?  You said the hospital is looking for a good ER doc.  Taking that job would give you normal working hours we could work around.”

 

            “I’m not settling for some ER job when I know I can do more elsewhere!”  Miranda put her hands on her hips.  “What about you, Dave?  How long are you going to run the streets like a 25-year-old before you realize that there’s more to being a cop than running down a couple of thugs?”

 

            “This isn’t about me!”

 

            “It’s about us and this marriage!  You stand there and talk about my career and what I should and shouldn’t do!  Take a good look at your own!  How long are you going to put off getting a promotion?”  Seeing his silence, Miranda stepped forward.  “You haven’t done it because of Hutch.”

 

            “That’s dumb,” Starsky denied.

 

            “Oh, it’s true.  Just like he’s kept his career on hold for you.  You know what, Dave?  I think the idea of getting promoted scares the hell out of you.  Not because of the change, but because you can’t imagine life without having Hutch for your partner.”

 

            “Still about Hutch, ain’t it?”

 

            “You have to make some choices, Dave.  Both of us do.”

 

            Suddenly, Starsky didn’t think he could breathe.  It took a moment to get his bearings and he squarely faced Miranda.  “You’re saying I’ve got to choose between you and Hutch.”

 

            “We made vows to each other.  Our marriage has to come first, Dave.  If it’s going to work, we both have to put what’s important at the top of the list.”

 

            “And you think changing our whole lives is going to do that?”

 

            “What else do you suggest?” Miranda yelled back.  “I want our marriage to work and it’s not going to if we keep going the way we have!”

 

            “If you think I’m cutting Hutch out of my life, you can forget it!”

 

            “I don’t expect you to!”

 

            “I sure as hell wish I knew what you wanted from me, Miranda!”  Starsky grabbed his jacket.  “I’m leaving before we start saying things we can’t take back.”

 

            Miranda stayed silent as Starsky headed out the door.  With a small sigh, she walked to the couch and sat down.  There was no doubt where her husband was going.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            When Hutch opened his door, Starsky stood leaning against the frame.  He sighed, seeing the hurtful look in his partner’s face.  He pulled Starsky inside and led him to the couch.  “You need to quit knockin’, Starsk.”

 

            Hutch sat him down and headed to the kitchen.  He came back and set a glass on the coffee table.  After pouring Starsky a scotch, Hutch joined him on the couch.  “How bad was it?”

 

            Starsky took a large drink, then looked at the glass in his hand.  “Enough where I had to leave for a little while.”

 

            Hutch was just about to ask another question when the phone rang.  He left to answer it and after a moment returned with the phone.  “She needs to talk to you.”

 

            Starsky took the phone.  “Yeah.”

 

            “I was called to the hospital."  Miranda’s voice sounded a little shaky.  “I thought you should know in case….”

 

            “I know.  Glad you told me.”

 

            “I’ll see you later."

 

            Starsky handed the receiver to Hutch and leaned back.  “She got called in.”

 

            Hutch moved back to the couch with Starsky.  “Want to talk about it?”

 

            Moving his eyes away, Starsky gripped his glass more tightly.  “No.  I should, but—”  Rather than finish, Starsky pushed up from the couch and went to the window.  He stared out into the dark sky.  “Hutch, how come we haven’t worked at getting promoted?”

 

            “Our partnership’s carried us through the worst times of our lives.  Neither of us wants it to end.”

 

            “You think we’re scared?”

 

            Hutch gave Starsky a thoughtful look.  “Partly, maybe.  It’d mean a major change for us that maybe we’re not ready for." 

 

            Starsky moved back to the couch and slumped down.  He leaned his head back and looked up.  “Hutch, I blew it.  I think I really screwed this thing up.”

 

            “Why not start at the beginning, partner.  I’m only getting bits and pieces here, which aren’t making a hell of a lot of sense.”

 

            “It wasn’t about you.”

 

            “I take that to mean my name did come up,” Hutch surmised.

 

            “I feel torn up, Hutch.  You’ve got one part and Miranda’s got the other.”

 

            Hutch grabbed the glass from his partner and finished off the remainder of the scotch.  “Is she wanting you to choose?”

 

            “She feels like our marriage has too many people in it and I feel like there aren’t enough.”

 

            “Went from me to her job to your job, which means it went right back to me.”

 

            Seeing the guilt in Hutch’s eyes, Starsky shifted his body towards him.  “How’d you know that?”

 

            “Starsky, you’ve complained enough about how much time Miranda works, and my getting hurt a little today didn’t help matters.”

 

            “Leave it to you to minimize."  He reached up and touched the graze on Hutch’s forehead.  “You could’ve been killed today, Hutch.”

 

            He relished the delicate touch and yearned for more, but remained unmoving.  “Maybe reorganizing our priorities isn’t such a bad idea.”

 

            Starsky dropped his hand and sighed.  “I guess."  He thought for a moment and looked at Hutch.  “She was right.”

 

            “What about?”

 

            “It scares the hell out of me.”

 

            “Us not being partners?”

 

            “Yeah.  You’re the only partner I’ve ever wanted or needed.”

 

            Rather than say what was in his heart, Hutch said, “I’ll always be here for you, Starsk.  No matter what.”

 

            Starsky offered Hutch a sad smile and moved in closer.  Hutch couldn’t resist putting his arms around him.  He pulled Starsky close and ran his fingers through the soft curls.

 

            “You smell good.”

 

            The muffled reply brought a smile to Hutch’s face.  Everything inside told him it was time to release his hold on his partner, but he couldn’t do it.  His own need for as much of Starsky as he could get was overwhelming.  The love in his heart pounded painfully in his chest and Hutch moved his head nearer to Starsky’s.  The distinctive aroma was overpowering and Hutch inhaled deeply until it filled his chest.

 

            Starsky’s arms tightened around him and Hutch’s body reacted by moving in closer.  “Don’t let me go, Hutch.  God, don’t.”

 

            “I won’t,” Hutch whispered.  “Never.”

 

            How it happened, Hutch would never know.  But it did.  One minute he was holding Starsky like a dying man holding onto life and the next, their lips met.  Hutch leaned into Starsky, moving his mouth over those perfect lips.  Wanting more of the musky taste, Hutch’s tongue slipped inside his mouth.  The new exploration made his body hum, and as it continued, he needed more.

 

            Hutch moved on top of Starsky until both were lying on the couch with their limbs intertwined.  Suddenly, Hutch just couldn’t get enough and he couldn’t hold back any longer.  His hands went to Starsky’s shirt and made quick work of the buttons.

 

            When his hand touched Starsky’s chest, Hutch heard a hiss of pleasure from his partner.  Thirsting for more, Hutch moved against him.  His want was urgent and strong.  Starsky arched in response and there was no mistaking his desire. 

 

            Continuing the breathless kiss, Hutch moved his hand over Starsky’s large bulge.  Starsky moaned into Hutch’s mouth, which brought him to the edge of forever.  Hutch undid Starsky’s jeans and put his hand inside.  Once he had a hold of the needy flesh, Starsky’s hips lurched up, almost throwing him off the couch. 

 

            Hutch took the message and moved to the floor on his knees.  He pulled the jeans down further while Starsky kicked his shoes off.  Feeling desperation take hold, Hutch pulled off the restrictive pants and tossed them aside.  Before he could move towards Starsky, his partner grabbed his leg and pulled him close.

 

            “Starsk,” Hutch breathed.

 

            Starsky frantically pulled down the sweats and his mouth went straight to Hutch’s center. 

 

            “Oh, shit!” Hutch exclaimed. 

 

            The hot mouth fed his desire and Hutch’s hands went to Starsky’s head, to guide but not push.  Afraid of his own driving need, Hutch pulled away and went to his knees.  Not giving Starsky a chance to take a breath, Hutch urgently sucked at his partner's willing member.  Starsky’s hips rocked and Hutch loved Starsky’s hands on his head, showing him what he liked. 

 

            They settled into a rhythm and the taste of Starsky’s flesh in his mouth drove Hutch on.  He wanted it all and would not be denied.  Suddenly, the organ grew larger and Hutch almost choked on the seed filling his mouth.  He frantically swallowed it down, then sat back on his knees, content with the warmth filling his stomach.

 

            Starsky moved off the couch and shoved the coffee table aside.  His hands were already on Hutch, quickly divesting him of his clothes.  “Need you, babe.  Now.”

 

            Hutch opened his mouth to respond, but Starsky cut him off with lips on his.  He was freefalling as Starsky pulled him to the floor.  Their limbs wrapped around each other and nothing else mattered as they immersed their beings into one.

 

            “Please, Hutch,” Starsky breathed.  “Got to have you inside of me.”

 

            “Starsky,” Hutch whispered.  “Can’t.  God, I can’t.”

 

            “Please be inside of me, babe.”

 

            Hutch looked into Starsky’s eyes and ran his thumb over the succulent lips.  “Don’t want to hurt you.”

 

            “Not you.  Never.”

 

            He couldn’t say no.  Hutch wanted it as badly as Starsky.  He gave a short nod and slowly rose.  “I’ll be right back.”

 

            “Hurry.”

 

            Seeing the desperation in his partner’s eyes, Hutch went to the bathroom unmindful of his own nakedness.  He looked at the mirror and, for a brief eternity, Hutch wondered if Starsky would change his mind.  This was the breather they needed.  Starsky would write it off as a crazy night between best friends.  He’d blame it on his state of mind.  Hutch could live with it.

 

            He opened the medicine cabinet and grabbed the Vaseline.  Even as he headed to the living room, Hutch wondered if Starsky had gotten a hold of himself and dressed.  He didn’t know if he was praying for his partner to leave or to be there waiting for him as he approached the living room.

 

            Lying on the floor was his partner—his lover—so beautiful and nude, on his stomach, waiting for him.  It was Hutch’s undoing.  The body he craved for was open and willing.  The man he loved with every fiber of his being waited with anticipation and trust.  Hutch moved to his knees and opened up the Vaseline.  His body hummed in tune with Starsky’s. 

 

            Hutch coated his fingers and moved closer to the tiny opening.  Starsky could change his mind once I touch him, he thought.  Please don’t.  He carefully inserted one finger and Starsky reacted by pushing against it in need.  He took his time readying his lover as he pushed in a second finger. 

 

            A groan of want erupted from Starsky as he opened more for Hutch.  “Please,” Starsky whispered.

 

            When Hutch was satisfied Starsky was ready for him, he moved in behind his partner.  “Easy, hon,” Hutch whispered.  He caressed his new lover’s backside with calming strokes.  “Don’t want to hurt you.”

 

            The head disappeared inside the tight opening and Starsky grunted.  There was no mistake, it was pain.  Hutch stopped and Starsky reached around and grabbed Hutch’s thigh.  “Please, Hutch.  I need you.”

 

            The sweat rolled off of Hutch’s forehead and dripped onto Starsky’s smooth flesh.  He was fascinated by the droplet as it glided down the perfect skin.  Hutch continued on, and in moments, he was completely inside of Starsky.

 

            “Oh, God, Starsk,” Hutch moaned in pleasure.  “I love you so much.  God, I love you.”

 

            Hutch began moving inside of his new lover and Starsky moaned in pleasure.  Their slow movement began to accelerate as their desire overtook them.  The beating drum of fevered love pounded in Hutch’s ears and he grasped Starsky’s hips as pleasure overwhelmed all other sensations. 

 

            Starsky’s wanton cries drove Hutch on and with a shout, he erupted inside of his lover.  Hutch’s final thrusts were the need to release all of himself inside of Starsky.  The love for his partner bloomed tenfold, and as Hutch came down off his orgasmic high, he laid on top of Starsky.  His body released Starsky’s, and Hutch gently kissed his shoulder.  “I love you, Starsky.  More than my own life, I love you.”

 

            Their eyes locked and Starsky’s suddenly widened.  “Jesus,” he whispered.  He hurried out from underneath Hutch and scrambled after his clothes. 

 

            Hutch sat up and lowered his head as he listened to Starsky’s rushed movements.  “Starsky—” he began.

 

            “Goddamn it!” Starsky swore.

 

            Hutch looked up at Starsky, who was slipping his jeans on.  “I’m sorry.”

 

            “Hutch, it’s my fault.  I shouldn’t have—”

 

            Getting to his feet, Hutch moved to Starsky.  “No, it’s not.”

 

            Starsky searched for his shoes and, after finding them, sat on the couch.  “God, I’m married.  How can I do what I just did?”

 

            Seeing the guilt written on Starsky’s face, Hutch wrapped the throw from the back of couch around his waist and eased into a chair.  He covered his eyes and hated himself for putting the one person he valued above all others in this position.

 

            “It was a mistake, Hutch.  We shouldn’t have….  I mean I should’ve….”

 

            “Stop it,” Hutch demanded in a low voice.  “Don’t say anymore." 

 

            Starsky finished dressing and reached for his jacket.  He headed to the door and stopped at seeing a devastated Hutch.  “I’m the one that’s sorry, Hutch.  Love ya too much sometimes and I think that’s what happened here.”

 

            Hutch wiped a tear from his cheek and when he looked up, Starsky was already out the door.  He couldn’t even go to the window to watch Starsky’s departure.  The roar of the Torino was enough to cut into him.

 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky walked into the house and found Miranda on the couch.  She rose as he relieved himself of his jacket.  “I thought you’d still be at work.”

 

            “You and I are more important."  Miranda nervously pushed her hand through her hair.  “There’s something I have to tell you, Dave.”

 

            “Me, too,” Starsky admitted in a low voice.

 

            “May I go first?”  At Starsky’s nod, Miranda took a deep breath and steadied herself.  “I know when we got married we made a lot of plans.  Sometimes things happen and don’t work out like we hoped.”

 

            Starsky was frozen in place and his mind suddenly whirled back to the intense encounter with Hutch.  “Miranda, please….”

 

            “Just let me get this out, Dave.  I know my timing stinks and I never planned on this at all.”

 

            “What?”

 

            “I’m pregnant.”

 

            If anything was enough to knock Starsky over, those two words were it.  He grabbed onto the couch.  “You sure?”

 

            “Normally, I’m a day or two late, especially if I’m under a great deal of stress.  I know we’ve always tried to be careful, so I guess it must’ve happened in Monterey.  I took the test at the hospital, Dave.  There’s no doubt.”

 

            Miranda carefully watched Starsky as she tried to gage his reaction. 

 

            “I’m going to be a father,” Starsky whispered.

 

            “I know we wanted to wait a while.  With things as they are with us.”

 

            Starsky looked into Miranda’s eyes and he could see she didn’t like his reaction to the news.  He moved to her and pulled her into his arms.  “Having a baby is nothing to be sad about, Mir.  It’s a beautiful thing.”

 

            Miranda smiled and she returned the hug.  “I love you, Dave.  You were right about everything.”

 

            “Hey, wait."  Starsky pulled back a little and kissed her cheek.  “I shouldn’t come down on you because you want more for us.”

 

            “I’ve spoken with the department head in the ER.  After I take my boards, I can have the job.  He’ll give me an easy schedule since I’m pregnant.  I’ll be home more, Dave, just like you wanted.”

 

            “Don’t do this because of me, Mir.”

 

            “I’m not."  Miranda smiled.  “It’s for our family and I want what’s best for us.  This is it.”

 

            They held each other and Starsky wondered what Hutch was doing at that very moment.

 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            When Hutch emerged from the shower, he found the bottle of scotch and poured a large drink.  He sipped it as he wandered out to the greenhouse.  He headed straight to the painting which sat in the corner.  Starsky’s grin stood out and Hutch could almost feel his presence. 

 

            “Love you, Starsk.”

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky followed Miranda to the bedroom and as they undressed, they continued their conversation.  They spent the evening making plans for the baby and their future. 

 

            “Are you going to ask Hutch to be the baby’s godfather?”

 

            The question stopped Starsky in his tracks and he eased down on the bed.

 

            “Dave?”

 

            “I have to,” Starsky murmured. 

 

            “I doubt Hutch would expect you to feel obligated,” Miranda replied with a grin.

 

            “No, I mean I have to tell you the truth, Mir.  I couldn’t live with a lie between us.”

 

            Miranda stopped what she was doing and walked over to him.  “Tell me what?”

 

            Starsky buried his head in his hands and the guilt weighed like a ton.  “It shouldn’t have happened…God, you’ll never know how sorry I am.”

 

            “Dave, you’re scaring me.  Will you tell me what’s going on?”

 

            Raising his head, Starsky looked up at Miranda.  He stood and moved to the window on the far side of the room.  “When I left earlier, I went to Hutch’s.”

 

            “I know.”

 

            Starsky kept his eyes turned towards the window.  The shame was too great to face his wife.  “While I was there, me and Hutch….”  A heavy pause hung in the air and Starsky took a deep breath to get his bearings.  He turned back to Miranda.  “I didn’t mean for it to happen, Mir.  I swear it.”

 

            Miranda’s eyes widened when she realized what Starsky was telling her.  “Oh, God,” she whispered.  Tears fell on her cheeks and she didn’t move to wipe them away.  “You and Hutch?”

 

            Hanging his head, Starsky nodded.

 

            The weight of the confession forced Miranda to sit down on the bed and it took a minute for her to speak.  “Are you gay?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “You and Hutch…all this time.”

 

            Starsky moved to the bed and got on his knees in front of Miranda.  “I swear it never happened before this, Miranda.  Me and Hutch have never done anything like this since we’ve known each other.”

 

            “I don’t understand,” Miranda cried.  “How could you and he….”

 

            Seeing she couldn’t finish the sentence, Starsky took her hands in his.  “It was crazy.  I was feelin’ sorry for myself and Hutch was just trying to…”

 

            “Stop it!” Miranda yelled.  She abruptly stood and walked to the living room with Starsky trailing behind her.

 

            “It was my fault!  I’ll spend the rest of my life making it up to you!”

 

            Miranda whirled around with clenched fists.  “Do you love him, David?  I need to know right now who you are committed to!”

 

            “I’m here, aren’t I?”

 

            “Answer me!” Miranda demanded.  “You owe me the entire truth!”

 

            “I do love, Hutch.  That ain’t no lie.  But the kind of love you and I have isn’t anything like me and Hutch.  We’ve been best friends for years.”

 

            “Friends have been known to become lovers,” Miranda stated.  “I need to know where you stand right now.”

 

            “Here,” Starsky swore.  “I’m committed to you and the baby.”

 

            “God, I’m trying so hard to believe you,” she whispered as she cried.

 

            Starsky licked his dry lips and moved closer to her.  “I don’t expect you to forgive me for a while and to get your trust back will take a hell of a long time, Miranda, but when it comes to our marriage and this baby, I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            Miranda wiped the tears from her face and moved to the couch.  “It all makes so much sense now.  Everything.”

 

            “What are you talking about?”

 

            Miranda looked up at Starsky and held her hand over her mouth.  She squeezed her eyes shut and said, “He’s in love with you, Dave.”

 

            Starsky immediately shook his head.  “No, Hutch was just….”

 

            “I’ve seen it in his eyes every time he looks at you.  When he talks about you, his whole face lights up.  Hutch is as much in love with you as I am.”

 

            Hutch’s declarations of love from their interlude came back to Starsky.  The painting shone brightly in Starsky’s mind.  It was true.  Starsky slowly sat and looked down at his hands.

 

            “Do you want to go to him, Dave?  Is that who you want to be with?”

 

            “We’re married, Mir,” Starsky said.  “We’re gonna have a baby.”

 

            “Please tell me.  I have to know before we go any further.”

 

            Starsky realized that leaving Hutch the way he did must’ve killed his partner.  He swore to make it right tomorrow.  Right now, Miranda and his baby needed him.  “I’m not going anywhere.  My home’s with you and the baby.”

 

            Miranda finally broke down and cried.  Starsky immediately moved to take her in his arms.  “It’s okay,” he soothed.  “I’m here.  I’ll always be here, sweetheart.”

 

*                 *                 *

 

            The following day Starsky and Hutch went about their duties as best as they could.  Both men exchanged brief glances and spoke only when needed.  Neither wanted to mention their encounter, but both knew the time would come.  At the end of the day, Starsky pulled the car to the curb in front of Venice Place.  One glance at Hutch told him it was time.

 

            He got out of the car and followed his partner up the stairs.  Once inside, Starsky stood near the door while Hutch headed to the kitchen for a beer.  He leaned against the counter. 

“You had every opportunity to change your mind.”

 

            Starsky nodded.  “I know.”

 

            “It was both of us making love, Starsk.  Don’t turn it into something it’s not.”

 

            “Miranda’s pregnant.”

 

            The announcement hit Hutch like a blow to the gut and it took effort not to show it.  “What are you going to do?”

 

            “What I have to do.”

 

            “What the hell does that mean, Starsky?” Hutch asked raising his voice.  “You’ll come over here when you need a good fuck?!”

 

            “Stop it!” Starsky snapped.  “You know me better than that!”

 

            Hutch took a long drink of his beer and set it down.  He walked towards Starsky, stopping a few feet short of him.  “You’re staying with her.”

 

            “I have to.”

 

            “There are plenty of divorced parents in the world, Starsky.”

 

            “You telling me I should walk away?” Starsky asked in disbelief.

 

            “You can still fulfill your responsibilities without having to stay in a marriage that should have never happened in the first place!”

 

            “You sure as hell weren’t making any grand announcements before I got married!” Starsky fired back.

 

            “What was I supposed to?” Hutch yelled.  “Step in the middle between you two and have you hating my guts?  I took what I could, Starsk!”

 

            “I do love her, Hutch.”

 

            “Not the way you love me,” Hutch fired back.  “If you deny it, I’ll know you’re lying.”

 

            The anger escaped Starsky.  It was the truth and both of them knew it.  “Hutch, Miranda’s still my wife and she’s having my baby.  I made a commitment to her, and with the baby, it’s even more important now.”

 

            “Don’t you see?  You don’t have to do this.”

 

            Seeing the pleading in Hutch’s eyes, Starsky rubbed his own eyes.  He hated the pain he was causing him.  Lowering his hand, he said, “I grew up without a father, but this baby won’t.”

 

            “Your father died, Starsk.  It’s not the same.”

 

            “I know, but this child deserves a fulltime father and a family.  I owe Miranda and myself a chance at making this marriage work.”

 

            Hutch shoved his hands in his pockets and moved away.  “I’ll stand by like I’ve been doing, only this time you know the truth.  Just know this, Starsky....”

 

            “What?”

 

            “I love you in every way a person can love another.  That will never change."  Hutch looked down, then moved his eyes to Starsky.  “I’ll be here whenever you need me.”

 

            “I know,” Starsky replied.  He moved to the door.  “I’d better go.  I told—”

 

            Hutch cut him off, not wanting to hear her name right now.  “Yeah, you better.”

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Two days later, Hutch came back from his run to find Miranda standing outside, waiting.  He took a moment to catch his breath before walking over to her.  “Didn’t expect to see you so early in the morning.”

 

            “I was on my way to the hospital and I wanted to talk to you.  Do you mind?”

 

            It was on the tip of Hutch’s tongue to say yes.  Instead he said, “Come on up.”

 

            He led the way upstairs and held the door open for Miranda.  He headed to the kitchen and poured himself a large glass of juice.  “Would you like some?”

 

            “No, I can only stay a minute.”

 

            Hutch walked into the living room and stood near the window.  “What’s this about?”

 

            “I think you know why I’m here.”

 

            Realizing Miranda knew what had happened between him and Starsky, Hutch chuckled a little.  “I feel like I’m in one of those stupid soap operas where the wife pays the mistress a visit.”

 

            “I didn’t come here to make you uncomfortable, Hutch.”

 

            “Whatever your intentions were, you already did that.”

            “I love him.”

 

            Seeing it in her eyes, Hutch had no doubt about Miranda’s feelings for Starsky.  “I know.”

 

            “You love him, too.”

 

            “I doubt it’s any consolation, but I never intended for him to know the truth.”

 

            “I believe you,” Miranda replied in a small voice.  “I know you never set out to hurt either of us.”

 

            “So what’s with the meeting of the hearts, Miranda?  Do you want me to relieve my conscience and apologize?  I’m not sorry it happened.  I’m only sorry I hurt you in the process.”

 

            “Dave and I want our marriage to work.  We both are trying to salvage what’s left and move on with our lives.”

 

            “I don’t see what this has to do with me.”

 

            Miranda licked her dry lips and tightly gripped her purse.  “I can’t fight for my marriage and fight you, too.”

 

            “I’m not going to get in the way."  Hutch folded his arms and leaned against the window.  As relaxed as he looked, he was fighting the urge to tell Miranda he was going after Starsky and nothing would stop him.

 

            “It’s more than that."  Miranda paced the living room and stopped to look at Hutch.  “You see him every day, Hutch.  At some point the strong feelings you have will surface.”

 

            “And you think there'll be a repeat of what happened the other night.”

 

            “Dave swore it wouldn’t and I believe him, but you know what it’ll do to him seeing you hurting because…”

 

            “I can’t have him,” Hutch finished.  He rubbed his temple and took a deep breath.  “You want me to break off my friendship with him."  When she didn’t say anything, Hutch headed back to the kitchen.  He looked over his shoulder at Miranda.  “Does Starsky know you’re here?”

 

            Miranda followed.  “I can’t make you, Hutch.  It’s something you’ll have to decide.  I can only ask that you understand and make the best decision for Dave.”

 

            “You mean the best for you?” Hutch fired back.

 

            “For my marriage!”  Pushing her hair away from her face, Miranda moved to the kitchen.  “We’re going to have a baby and we want to keep our marriage alive!  Dave wants this as much as I do!”

 

            “Right now he sees an obligation, Miranda!”

 

            “My marriage means the world to me, Hutch!  If Dave has told you he feels differently, I need to know!”

 

            Hutch gripped the glass tightly in his hand.  The cry in his chest threatened to burst loose.  “He chose you.  Isn’t that enough?”

 

            “I know how much you love him and how far you are willing to go to see to Dave’s happiness.  All I’m asking is a chance for us.”

 

            Hutch looked down at the floor, wishing for some words of wisdom, but none came.  When he looked up, Miranda was walking out the door.  After she was gone, he flung his glass as hard as he could at the far wall.  He covered his eyes, trying to hold back the tears.

 

*          *          *

 

            The following day, Starsky shoved a file aside and looked at Hutch’s empty chair, then turned towards Dobey’s office.  His partner and captain had been behind closed doors for the better part of an hour.  A million scenarios ran through Starsky’s mind as to the long meeting, but turned his attention back to the work on his desk.

 

            When the door finally opened, Starsky turned toward it, seeing Dobey in the entryway.  “Dave.  Need you in my office, son.”

 

            Noting the somber look on his captain’s face, Starsky’s heartbeat jumped.  He stood and entered the office where Hutch was waiting, and the door closed behind him.  Starsky was surprised Dobey hadn’t followed him in.  “What’s going on, Hutch?”

 

            “I think it’s time we worked on getting promoted and off the street.”

 

            “That’s what this whole meeting was about?  Why wasn’t I a part of it?”

 

            Hutch didn’t answer the questions.  “Will you take the exam?”

 

            “Are you?”

 

            “I plan to.”

 

            “Guess we really will be the brass before long, then.  So what’s with the big meeting with Dobey?”

 

            Hutch steadied himself with a hand on the wall and took a deep breath.  “I requested a transfer out of Metro.  I’m going to the downtown precinct to work in IA.  They’re a man short.  Dobey’s expediting the paperwork.”

 

            “No,” Starsky breathed.  He grabbed onto the back of a chair, then looked at Hutch.  “Why?”

 

            “It’s for the best.”

 

            Starsky straightened and clenched his fists.  “For the best?  You’d do this without saying a word to me?”

 

            “I knew you’d try and talk me out of it, Starsky.  With the way I’ve been feeling, it wouldn’t take much.”

 

            “Because it’s wrong, Hutch!  We’ve been partners and best friends for years!”

 

            “And we’re one step away from becoming lovers,” Hutch argued.  “How in the hell can you maintain your marriage, knowing how I feel about you?  What happens if there’s another argument, Starsk?  Whose doorstep will you wind up on when you need someone to talk to?”

 

            “I’ll go where I always go, Hutch.”

 

            “And you could wind up in my bed.”

 

            “So you’re leaving?  You think that’s the answer?”

 

            Hutch moved to Starsky and put his hands on his partner's shoulders.  “Miranda and the baby need you.  If you really want to save your marriage, half-measures won’t do it.”

 

            “I need you, Hutch."  Starsky grabbed onto Hutch’s arm.  “I need you the most now.”

 

            “Maybe it will work if you need her more than me."  Hutch could see the arguments in Starsky’s eyes.  “You know I’m right about this.”

 

            Starsky adamantly shook his head.  “No.  I won’t accept this.”

 

            “If you were to walk out on Miranda right now, you’d always wonder, because you'd know you didn’t give it your all.  You couldn’t live with yourself unless you gave this marriage every chance to work.”

 

            “You think it won’t.”

 

            “I don’t know,” Hutch answered honestly.  “I just know that if I’m around, chances are it won’t.”

 

            Starsky swallowed the growing lump in his throat.  “I want me and Miranda to make it.  I want us to be a family with the baby, but…”

 

            “This is one time where choices have to be made.”

            “Taking the lieutenant’s exam was your idea.”

 

            “You’ll have more normal working hours and it’ll give you the chance to mind all the rookies so they won’t get their heads blown off.”

 

            Starsky was still reeling from the news and he couldn’t wrap the idea of not seeing Hutch around his brain. 

            “Starsk,” Hutch whispered.

 

            Raising his eyes and looking into Hutch’s, Starsky gazed into his partner’s loving face.

 

            “Don’t let me down.”

 

            Words left Starsky and all he could do was nod.  He looked up at Hutch, who moved in close.

 

            “I love you, Starsk.  I’ll always be here when you need me.”

 

            It was on the tip of Starsky’s tongue to say he needed Hutch now.  He closed his eyes as Hutch gave him a gentle, loving kiss on the lips.  When he opened them, his partner was leaving. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Over the next several months, Starsky concentrated on his marriage and the baby which was soon to enter the world.  He was thrilled with his impending fatherhood, but as Starsky and Miranda readied the baby’s room, more often than not, he came within a hair’s breath of picking up the phone.  Hutch was who he wanted to share this precious time with.

 

            Starsky couldn’t count the times he wanted to drive straight to Hutch’s, just to see his face.  He knew Hutch was hurting to see him and talk to him, too, but one look at Miranda and her protruding stomach told Starsky how important it was for his marriage to work.

 

            Six months after Hutch’s transfer, Starsky had a tussle with a perp which resulted in three broken ribs.  He saw the call going out over the radio and knew Hutch would go ballistic once he heard, so as soon as he got to the hospital, he ordered Huggy to call Hutch in hopes of breaking the news first. 

 

            After the incident, Starsky made sure there was some line of communication open at all times.  He hated the idea of Hutch learning he was injured or worse over the radio.  Whether it was through Huggy or someone else, Starsky didn’t want any mistakes made where Hutch was concerned.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Almost nine months to the day of Miranda’s conception, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.  Both parents were thrilled and, given the 18-hour labor, Miranda was understandably exhausted.  She laughingly said the girl was as stubborn as her father.  Starsky could only smile.

 

            The following day, Starsky left Miranda’s room and headed to the nursery.  When he turned the corner, he thought he saw a blur quickly moving away.  Starsky shook his head and stopped at the window.  Kathleen Lynn Starsky lay sleeping in her bassinette.  He leaned his head against the window and sadly smiled.  How he wished Hutch was here to share this moment.

 

            “Mr. Starsky?”

 

            Starsky turned to see a nurse walking towards him.  “Yes?”

 

            “Someone was here a few minutes ago.  I guess you just missed him.”

 

            “For what?”

 

            “To see your daughter,” the nurse explained.  “He left something, but I’ll have to go look for it.”

 

            “Here it is,” another piped up.

 

            Starsky eyes widened at the toy bear being passed from one to the other.  It was placed in his hands.

 

            “He said it was for your daughter, and it looks old, so I thought I’d keep it put up until I saw you or your wife.”

 

            “Thanks,” Starsky whispered. 

 

            He could barely believe it.  Hutch had given Ollie to Katy.  Starsky leaned against the window and looked from his daughter to the bear.  He could still remember Terry’s letter.  She had entrusted Ollie’s and Starsky's care to Hutch.  He knew what it meant.  Hutch was taking on Katy as a part of the package.  Ollie was that promise.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            A long year passed too fast.  Starsky was amazed at how the time could move and how fast the changes came.  New faces floated into the squad room where he and Hutch had spent so much time.  Their old desks were now occupied by younger officers who seemed even more eager for excitement than he and Hutch had been in their prime.

 

            Working as a lieutenant, Starsky enjoyed his new role.  He loved helping the young cops who were so eager to make a difference.  Even as much as he missed Hutch, he didn’t miss the streets.

 

            Katy was growing by leaps and bounds, much to Starsky’s pleasure.  Her tiny hand would grasp his finger as she struggled with her first steps.  The joy his daughter brought him was something Starsky had known he would get, but he never expected so much.  Even with the teething, fevers and a thousand other issues that involved parenting, Starsky treasured every moment.

 

            Miranda was as good a wife as any man could want.  Starsky knew she still wanted private practice.  He could see it in her eyes, and when a position opened up at the office she had initially wanted, Starsky didn’t say no.  There was no reason to.  She had normal working hours and most nights, the couple was together at home with their daughter.

 

            Once Katy was asleep, Starsky either read the paper or worked from his briefcase.  Miranda usually watched a little TV or concentrated on her own work.  Little conversation passed between the two unless it involved their daughter.

 

            Starsky still missed Hutch as much as he had in the beginning.  The desire to call or see him was as strong as always, but Starsky wound up playing with the phone cord during his thoughts. 

 

            He had seen Hutch twice after the transfer.  Both times were during a large gathering of fellow cops.  Starsky saw Hutch from a distance and it took everything he had not to run to him.  On both occasions, Starsky had turned away, but upon looking back for Hutch, he could no longer see his ex-partner and knew Hutch had disappeared so as not to cause problems.  The second time, Starsky was almost livid.  He was growing weary and angry at the forced separation.  He had glanced at Miranda, but if she'd noticed the distraction, she never let on.

 

            They had just celebrated Katy’s second birthday when Starsky and Miranda decided on dinner out.  Walking into a restaurant with an intimate atmosphere, Starsky wondered if the night out would bring a little something more to their relationship.  Given Miranda’s quick agreement to the meal, he knew she could feel the changes moving through their marriage as well.

 

            They were being led to their table when a golden blond head caught his attention.  Starsky halted as Hutch crossed the room, engrossed in conversation with his companion, heading in Starsky's direction.  What startled Starsky was that a man was accompanying his former partner.

 

            Hutch stopped a few feet short of Starsky.  Their eyes locked.  Hutch broke contact by shifting his gaze to Miranda.  The hard look in her eyes was noticeable.

 

            “Hutch,” Starsky said. 

 

            “Starsk.  It’s been a while.”

 

            “Yeah.”  He glanced at Hutch’s friend and slid his hands in his pockets.

 

            Seeing Starsky’s look, Hutch motioned towards the man next to him.  “Starsk, this is Kyle Gregory.  Kyle, my ex-partner, Dave Starsky and his wife, Miranda.”

 

            Kyle smiled and held his hand out.  “It’s good to meet you.”

 

            He would have preferred a root canal than to shake his hand, but Starsky did.  “You’re that hot-shot assistant D.A. I’ve heard so much about.”

 

            Kyle chuckled and stood close to Hutch, much to Starsky’s displeasure.  “I hope that’s a good thing.”

 

            Hutch cleared his throat and resisted the urge to move away from Kyle.  He didn’t like the possessive stance the man was taking where he was concerned.  “I heard your practice is going well, Miranda.”

 

            “It is, Hutch.  Dave and I couldn’t be happier.”

 

            Stiffening, Hutch forced his eyes away towards the door.  “I’m sure you are.  If you’ll excuse us, we have to get going.”

 

            Starsky watched Hutch leave, then started to follow Miranda through the restaurant.  He turned his head and was surprised to see Hutch looking back at him.  Starsky was on the verge of going to him, but his heart sank when Hutch looked forward again and walked out the door.

 

            “He looked well,” Miranda offered as they crossed the restaurant.

 

            When Starsky and Miranda were seated at the table, he leaned forward.  “You didn’t have to rub it in his face.”

 

            Miranda unfolded her napkin and set in her lap.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

            “Of course you do.  ‘Dave and I couldn’t be happier,’” Starsky mimicked.  “If that isn’t twisting the knife, I don’t know what is.”

 

            “He’s with someone, Dave.  Granted, it’s another man, but it seems obvious to me that Hutch has gone on with his life.”

 

            The waiter came over and Starsky ordered their drinks.  After he left, Starsky said, “Hutch may have gone on with his life, but it don’t mean that his feelings have changed.  Saying what you did was hurtful." 

 

            The waiter returned with their drinks and Starsky took a quick swallow.  “Almost a lie,” he bit out.

 

            “What’s that supposed to mean?” Miranda angrily whispered.

 

            “How long has it been since we’ve been happy, Mir?  Seems to me we’re apart more than together.”

 

            “I thought tonight was to change all that, Dave.”

 

            Starsky sighed and played with his drink.  “I wanted more than a night out.  Taking a trip to Hawaii is still a good idea.”

 

            “I can’t take an extended leave from the practice right now and you know it.  Besides, I’d rather not leave Katy for that long.”

 

            “We can bring her with us.  She’d have as much fun as we would.”

 

            “Dave—”

 

            “All right,” Starsky said, raising his hand.  “I’ll leave it alone for now.  Let’s just make the best of tonight.”

 

            “I couldn’t agree more.”

 

            They ordered their meal and while they were eating, Miranda stole a glance at Starsky, who was pushing the food around on his plate with a fork.  “You’re still distracted.”

 

            “Yeah,” Starsky admitted.  “I guess seeing Hutch with that guy just threw me.”

 

            “I know it wasn’t what you expected, Dave, but Hutch needed to move forward, for all of our sakes.”

 

            “He just seemed—”

 

            “Dave,” Miranda cut him off.  “I know you want him to be happy, but I’d rather not spend our evening discussing him.”

 

            “You used to like Hutch.”

 

            “That was before he slept with my husband.”

            “I told you it wasn’t his fault.”

 

            “Dave, let’s not spoil the evening by discussing this,” Miranda insisted.

 

            Starsky almost let it slip that she brought it up first, but clamped his mouth shut.

 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Hutch opened the door to his apartment and walked in, followed by Kyle.  He tossed his keys on a nearby table and slipped off his jacket, then went to the kitchen and pulled two beers from the fridge.  When he turned, Kyle stood near him and slipped his arms around Hutch’s waist.  Rather than allow the kiss which was to come, Hutch lowered his head. 

 

            Kyle took the message and stepped away.  “At least now I know why you’ve never let us get past first base.”

 

            “Kyle,” Hutch began.

 

            “You never told me it was your ex-partner you were in love with.”

 

            Hutch set the bottles aside and followed Kyle into the living room.  “It’s not what you think.”

 

            “Ken, I thought if I gave us enough time, you’d start opening up to me.  Seeing him at the restaurant and your reaction to told the entire story.  Hell, a neon sign might as well have been hanging over your head."  Kyle moved to the window.  “His, too,” he added.

 

            “He’s married.”

 

            “Marriage has never been much of a barrier to two people who are in love."  Kyle looked sadly out the window and folded his arms.  “I wish you would look at me like that.”

 

            Hutch had nothing to offer him as he stood in the middle of the room.  Kyle shook his head and turned to look at Hutch.  “You never will.”

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            Kyle’s smile was a sad one and he moved to Hutch.  He gave his arm a gentle squeeze.  “It's okay.  I’ll get over it."  He headed to the door and glanced back at Hutch.  “You know something, Ken?”

 

            “What?”

 

            “You’re too nice and too goddamn polite.  If I were you, I’d fight for him.  I doubt it’d take much for him to leave that wife of his for you.”

 

            After Kyle left, Hutch started for the kitchen and changed his mind.  He went to the greenhouse and started looking through the various paintings leaning against the wall.  After finding the one he wanted, Hutch picked it up with great care and put it on the empty stand.  He had purposely hidden it away.  He sat on the stool and stared.  What-might-have-beens kept him up for most of the night.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky moved through the dark living room, deep in thought.  Seeing Hutch tonight at the restaurant was foremost on his mind.  He looked good, Starsky remembered.  His hair is a little shorter and he still has that peach fuzz on his lip.  Starsky almost smiled.  He touched his lips as the kiss from Hutch came to mind.  All the love and passion in his partner had been in that kiss.  It was everything Hutch was, Starsky thought.

 

            Needing to see him again, Starsky glanced over at the bookshelf.  The picture of them together was gone.  It was replaced with a family picture taken at a studio.  Starsky went over to the bookshelf and ran his finger along the edge.  Hutch used to be here so much.  Even when he wasn’t here, I could still feel his presence.

 

            All the mementos and pictures from their years together were sitting in a box on the floor of the closet.  Feeling melancholy, Starsky considered pulling it out in order to relive those great years.

 

            “Dave.”

 

            He turned to see Miranda in the living room, wearing her robe.  “Yeah?”

 

            “I was waiting for you to come to bed.”

 

            Starsky slid a hand in a pocket and turned to face her.  “I’ll be there soon.”

 

            Rather than leaving, Miranda slowly sat on the couch and buried her face in her hands.  “I’ve been such a fool."  She pushed her hair back and looked up at Starsky.  “I honestly believed we could move past this, but it’s always stayed with us.”

 

            “Miranda, it’s not what you think.”

 

            She rose and moved to Starsky.  “You’re in love with him, Dave.  It was obvious to everyone.”

 

            “I told you where my commitments lay, Mir."  Starsky moved to the window and folded his arms.

 

            “If you can’t admit it to me, at least admit it to yourself!”

            “What the hell do you want from me?” Starsky said with a raised voice.  “I’ve given you and Katy my life!”

 

            “Everything except what really matters, Dave.”

 

            “And what is that?  I love you and Katy!”

 

            Miranda wiped a stray tear away, then folded her arms.  “A small part of you loves me and the parts of your heart that Katy doesn’t have, are reserved for Hutch.”

 

            Starsky had nothing to say to that and he watched Miranda cover her eyes.

 

            “God, I honestly believed his leaving would make a difference with us.”

 

            Leaning his head against the window, Starsky sighed.  The statement took a few minutes to sink in and he raised his head.  “What do you mean?”

 

            “Dave, I—”

 

            “Hutch would have never interfered with us,” Starsky told her.  He straightened as he moved closer.  “He would have just as soon cut off his arm than to hurt either of us or what we had.”

 

            Miranda licked her dry lips and squarely faced Starsky.  “I went to see him a few days after we found out I was pregnant.”

 

            “What?  What on earth for?”

 

            Seeing the disbelief in Starsky’s face, Miranda steeled herself to face his wrath.  “I…I…wanted to…”

 

            “What, Miranda?” Starsky said, raising his voice.  “To gloat about what he couldn’t give me?”

 

            “No!  Damn it, Dave!  I was trying to save our marriage!  What the hell did you expect me to do?” she yelled back.

 

            “I expect you to let me make the decisions when it comes to who I choose to be my friend!”

 

            “Your lover!  Hutch was your lover and I wasn’t taking any chances where we were concerned!”

 

            “And you went over there to force him out of my life!” Starsky fired back.  “Who in the hell do you think you are?”

 

            “Your wife, David!  I am your wife and I was not about to fight Hutch for you when our marriage was on the line!”

 

            “I told you—!” Starsky yelled.

 

            “Admit how much it would’ve pained you to see him hurting, Dave!  And seeing how much Hutch loved you when he couldn’t have you would’ve torn him apart!  Give me that much!”

 

            Starsky pointed a furious finger at his wife.  “Don’t you fucking tell me that you did it for his own good, goddamn it!”

 

            “I did it for all of us!” Miranda yelled.  She turned around and covered her face, then turned back.  “All we would have done is continued as we were, Dave, and I wanted us to have every chance in the world to make our marriage work.  It wasn’t going to happen as long as Hutch was around!”

 

            “It sure as hell ain’t workin’ now!” 

 

            Starsky grabbed his jacket and, as he headed out the door, he left the imprint of his fist in the wall.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky moved through the busy crowd in the bar and found Huggy at the far end.  He grabbed him by the arm and pulled him to a corner.  “Hug, I’ve got to find Hutch.  I went to his place and he wasn’t there.”

 

            Seeing the urgency in Starsky’s eyes, Huggy put a hand on Starsky’s arm.  “I haven’t seen him for a few days, Starsky.  What’s going on?”

 

            “What about that snotty assistant D.A.?  Gregory.  Would Hutch be at his place?”

 

            “Seeing as the man left here half an hour ago alone, I doubt it.  Starsky, did something happen to Miranda or Katy?”

 

            Starsky shook his head and rubbed his eyes.  “It’s a mess, Hug.  Everything.  I’ve got to see Hutch.  Have to make it right with him.”

 

            Huggy pulled Starsky to a nearby table and sat him down.  He sat across from Starsky and leaned forward.  “Talk to me, Curly.”

 

            In a matter of minutes, the entire story poured out of Starsky.  He didn’t leave out a single detail of everything that had transpired since his marriage to Miranda.

 

            “I have to find him, Hug.  Hutch has to know everything.”

 

            “Starsky, you can’t go see him like this.”

 

            “Why the hell not?” Starsky’s anger was growing by leaps and it was taking everything he had to hold his raging emotions together.

 

            “For one thing, you're an emotional wreck right now.  It’s a wonder you didn’t wrap that pretty face around a telephone poll considering how you drive.  And don’t forget, my friend, you still have a wife and baby at home.  You go to Hutch right now, things will get a hell of a lot more complicated.”

 

            Starsky took a deep breath and nodded.  “Yeah, you’re right.  How’d you know, Hug?  You didn’t seem too surprised by any of it.”

 

            “In a confession of Hutch style, he laid it all out one night while the two of you were off on some trip.”

 

            “I don’t want to blame Hutch, but, Jesus, I wish he’d said something a long time ago.”

 

            “You know Hutch.  He wasn’t about to stand in the way of your right to be happy.  Especially since he believed he'd done that the first time around.”

 

            “Kira?”  At Huggy’s nod, Starsky leaned back in the chair.  “We worked through all that.  He knew I never loved her.”

 

            “Hutch almost lost you over that one, Starsky.  Almost lost you a second time after the shooting.  He did what he thought he had to do.”

 

            Feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders, Starsky sighed.  “Makes a hell of a lot of sense.”

 

            “You want my words of wisdom, Starsky?  Take care of business first before you deal with Hutch.  It’ll make the problem-solving that much easier.”

 

            “Do me a favor, Hug.”

 

            “Anything.”

 

            “This conversation’s between you and me.  I don’t want Hutch thinking this is all his fault.”

 

            “Ain’t yours, either,” Huggy replied.

 

            Starsky nodded, even though he didn’t really believe him.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            It was over an hour later when Starsky returned to the house.  Careful not to make a sound, he moved into the living room and slipped off his jacket.

 

Sitting in the dark living room, Miranda sipped from her glass of bourbon.  “I didn’t expect you back.”  She watched him take a seat on the couch across from her.  “It took a hell of a long time for reality to come crashing down on me,” she admitted.

 

            “I’m sorry.”

 

            Miranda’s laugh was filled with bitterness.  She finished her drink.  “Dave, you and I both have a lot to be sorry for, but we are way past that.”

 

            “What do you mean?”

 

            She leaned forward and set the glass on the table.  “It’s over.  If we don’t accept it right now, we’ll keep on hurting each other and Katy, too.”

 

            Starsky looked down at his hands.  “You know what you’re saying?”

            “Happens to half of all couples in the U.S.  Why should we be any different?”

 

            Running his hands through his hair, Starsky struggled to get a grip on his emotions.  “Do you want me to leave?”

 

            “No,” Miranda answered in a low voice.  “I’ll take tomorrow off and go look for a house closer to the practice.  Katy and I will leave later this week.”

 

            “Miranda, don’t take her from me,” Starsky pleaded.

            “I’m not, Dave.”

 

            “If you move…”

 

            “She’s still a baby, Dave.  There’s going to be enough hardship ahead without making it more difficult on her.  We’ll work it out.”

 

            Starsky nodded.  The lump in his throat prevented him from speaking.

 

            “Just promise me something.”

 

            He moved his eyes to his wife and Starsky wished he could turn back the clock.  The pain in her eyes was as obvious as his own.  “Anything.”

 

            “I don’t want us fighting over Katy like she’s some piece of furniture.  I know how much you love her, but remember…so do I.”

 

            Starsky looked down at the floor.  A few minutes later, a pillow and blanket were placed next to him.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            A month later, Hutch still thought about the brief encounter with Starsky.  He tried to stay busy with work, but seeing him looking as good as he did, pulled at Hutch.  He looked tired.

 

            Hutch shook his head and tried to focus on the paperwork which littered his desk.  He could usually distract himself with work, but for some reason, his thoughts continued back to his former partner.

 

            The door opened and when Hutch looked up, he froze.  Starsky moved inside the room and closed the door behind him.  Hutch opened his mouth to say something, but words never came. 

 

            “I thought you’d have a bigger office,” Starsky nervously stated.

 

            “I have to get promoted again,” Hutch lamely replied.

            Starsky took notice of the photo hanging on the wall and studied it. 

 

            “I can’t believe you’re here,” Hutch whispered.

 

            Keeping his eyes on the photo, Starsky said, “We’re getting a divorce.”

 

            “I’m sorry, Starsky.”

 

            Starsky turned to look at Hutch and he could see the sincerity in the his former partner’s eyes.  He crossed the room and slumped into a chair.  Blinking back tears, he ran his hand over his face.  “I just thought….”

 

            Hutch got out of his chair, sat in the one nearer to Starsky put a comforting hand on his arm.  “I know,” he soothed.  “I know how badly you wanted it to work, Starsk.”

 

            Starsky lowered his head, afraid to meet Hutch’s eyes.  “I screwed everything up, Hutch.  You can tell me 'I told you so'.”

 

            Hutch scooted his chair closer and gave Starsky a soft smile.  “I’d never say that.  You had to know if you could make it work.  Don’t regret it.”

 

            “I do.  If I’d only—”

 

            “Shhh,” Hutch whispered.  “You gave it your all and you still have a beautiful daughter who loves you and whom you love.”

 

 

            Starsky wiped his moist eyes and looked at Hutch.  “Why aren’t you kicking my ass out of your office, Hutch?  You should be pissed as hell at me.”

 

            “I’d never be angry at you for doing what you believed in.”

 

            Starsky grasped Hutch’s hand and couldn’t let go.  “I love you, Hutch.  I really do.”

 

            Hutch smiled and helped Starsky to his feet.  “I know.”

 

            Pulling Hutch into his arms, Starsky whispered.  “I missed you so much, Blondie.  You have no idea.”

 

            “Yeah, I do."  Hutch stepped back and looked at his ex-partner.  “Starsk, you’ve still got a long road ahead of you.  Coming out of a marriage like this means you have some healing to do.”

 

            “I need you, Hutch,” Starsky pleaded.  “God, I need you so much.”

 

            Hutch ran his thumb along Starsky’s cheek.  “I’m here, like I always told you.”

 

            “It hurts so goddamn much.”

 

            Wiping a stray tear from Starsky’s face, Hutch smiled.  “And you have to give yourself time to work through the pain, babe.”

 

            Starsky nodded and started for the door.  He stopped and turned to look at Hutch.  “It’s okay now, isn’t it?”

 

            “Always.”

 

            Seeing Hutch’s reassuring smile, Starsky gave him a hopeful one in return before leaving.

 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Two weeks later, Hutch stood over his sink, cleaning his brushes.  Since Starsky’s visit to his office, he'd found renewed determination to finish the painting of his ex-partner.  He didn’t know why he was doing it.  There are no guarantees about anything, Hutch thought.

 

            The phone began to ring as he wiped his hands on a towel, so he reached over to pick up the receiver.  “Hello?”

 

            “Hutch!”

 

            Hearing a baby crying in the background, Hutch straightened up.  “Starsky, is something wrong?”

 

            “I need you over here right now!”

 

            “What’s the matter?”  Hutch’s worry doubled in a fraction of a second.

 

            “Just get here, damn it!  And bring your guitar!”

 

            Hutch heard the click of disconnection, and then a dial tone.  He pulled phone away to stare at it in confusion.  “My guitar?”

 

            He hung up the phone, picked up the instrument, his jacket and keys, and hurried out the door. 

 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            As soon as Starsky heard Hutch’s car, he switched Katy from one arm to the other.  The two-and-a-half-year-old child cried loudly while he tried to soothe her.  He rushed to the door and opened it just before Hutch had a chance to knock.

 

            Looking at the screaming child, Hutch asked, “What’s wrong with her?”

 

            “Miranda had some conference and I’ve got Katy for the weekend.  Usually Mir can get her right to sleep.”

 

            Holding the guitar, Hutch motioned for the couch.  “Let’s give this a try.”

 

            They moved to the couch and Starsky propped the crying child on his lap.  Hutch lightly strummed his guitar and made a few adjustments before beginning.  Katy continued to cry, but as Hutch sang to her, her noises began to slowly diminish.  In a matter of minutes, she lay content on Starsky’s lap, her large, dark blue eyes never leaving Hutch.

 

            Starsky smiled in admiration of Hutch’s talent.  He rocked back and forth and found himself caught up in the soothing music.  It seemed much too soon for Hutch to stop, and he opened his mouth to protest, but Hutch pointed down to Katy.  When Starsky looked down, he found her fast asleep.  With care, he eased off the sofa and carried her to her room.  He smiled as he laid her down in the crib and hoped she would sleep through the night.

 

            When he returned to the living room, Hutch was setting the guitar in the corner.  Starsky headed to the kitchen and returned with two beers.

 

            “Thanks,” Hutch said as he took the bottle.

 

            “I ought to be thanking you, Hutch.  I don’t know what I would’ve done.  She was screaming like that for almost three hours.”

 

            “First night away from Miranda?”

 

            “Yeah."  Starsky took a drink of beer and sat down in a chair.  “I’ve been taking her during the day on weekends, but Miranda had to go to this conference.”

 

            Seeing the disappointed look in Starsky’s face, Hutch sat on the couch.  “Starsk, it’s understandable she’d have a tough time the first night.  It’s not your fault.”

 

            “I should at the least be able to get her to sleep, Hutch.  I’ve done it before.”

 

            “These things take time.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.”

            Starsky leaned back in the chair and looked down at his bottle.  “How’s everything?”

 

            “Okay."  Hutch took a drink.  “Busy.”

 

            “I don’t have a right to ask.”

 

            Hutch looked at him.  “No, I’m not.  Kyle was more of a friend than anything else.”

 

            “Did you and he…?”

 

            “Come on, Starsk.”

 

            “Sorry,” Starsky mumbled.  “Just threw me when I saw you two.”

 

            “It didn’t get any farther than what you saw at the restaurant."  Hutch glanced over at Starsky and saw the relief in his eyes.  He took another drink of the beer and rubbed his finger over the opening.  “You’ve got to give yourself some time.”

 

            Starsky pushed up from the chair and moved to the window.  “I wanted to have it all, Hutch.  My need for that cost me everything that was important.”

 

            Hutch went to Starsky and turned him around.  “No, it hasn’t.  What you want is still there, but you’ve got to give it a while.  A lot’s happened since that night you and I were together and trying to get it back right now would be the biggest mistake either of us has ever made.”

 

            “What are you saying?”

 

            After giving Starsky an affectionate touch on the shoulder, Hutch said, “It’s time for me to go.”

 

            “But….”

 

            Hutch smiled and moved his fingers across Starsky’s cheek before walking out the door.  Starsky’s eyes moved to the corner of the room and widened at the instrument still sitting in the corner.  He rushed over and picked it up.  Starsky started for the door, then stopped.  With a smile on his face, he sat down again.  Clutching the guitar, Starsky knew Hutch would be back. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            The next few months passed moved at a record pace it seemed.  Hutch relished getting to know Katy and renewing his precious friendship with Starsky.  They began spending more evenings together and the times Katy was with Starsky, Hutch wound up playing and singing to the little girl who was taking root in his heart right along with her father.

 

            Starsky and Hutch’s time together was casual and filled with smiles and laughter.  Starsky realized Hutch didn’t want them to rush back into an intimate relationship and he didn’t mind.  Just getting to know Hutch all over again was as enjoyable as their first meeting.

 

            Looking in the mirror, Starsky adjusted his dark blue shirt, then reached for a black blazer.  He slipped it on and confidently faced his reflection, standing at an angle to check himself over.  The dinner invitation to Hutch’s was normal these days, but something had told him to dress a little more formally this time.  As he adjusted his collar, Starsky took a nervous breath and hoped he wouldn’t make a fool of himself.

 

            Half an hour later, Starsky nervously stood in front of Hutch’s door with a wine bottle in hand.  He took a deep breath before knocking.  When Hutch opened it, Starsky’s breath caught in his throat.  You’re beautiful, he quietly admired.

 

            Wearing a thin, cream-colored muslin shirt, Hutch looked very much the bohemian.  The light blond hair hung below his collar and his shirt opened up to expose a gold moon-and-star chain around his neck. 

 

            Seeing his smile, Starsky’s heart beat a little faster.  “I brought some wine." 

 

            Hutch took the bottle, glancing at the label.  “This will go great with dinner, Starsk.”

 

            Starsky shoved his jittery hands in his pockets and followed Hutch to the kitchen.  “Smells good.”

 

            “I thought we’d do grilled salmon tonight.”

            “Sounds great.”

 

            Hutch glanced out of the corner of his eye at Starsky as he poured the wine.  He handed a glass off and held his up in salute.  “Here’s to better days ahead.”

 

            “I’ll drink to that,” Starsky muttered.  He took a large gulp of the wine.

 

            A slight grin tugged at the corner of Hutch’s mouth and he moved to the stove to check on dinner.  “How’s work?”

 

            “Good, I think we’ll have that extortion case wrapped up by the end of the week.”

 

            “I heard you went to bat for the detectives working that case, and the D.A. gave you enough time to pull the evidence together.”

 

            “Yeah."  Starsky swirled the wine around in his glass before taking a sip.  He suddenly looked up at Hutch.  “Did that snot-nosed kid Gregory tell you that?  He’s the one I went toe-to-toe with.”

 

            Hutch grinned as he set the salmon on the table.  “He mentioned how vehement you were when you came to his office.”

 

            Starsky stood awkwardly, holding his glass.  “Didn’t know you were still seeing the guy.”

 

            “Well, since I’m in IA, our paths do cross once in a while.”

 

            Seeing the side-look Hutch was giving him, Starsky sighed.  “Yeah, that makes sense.”

 

            Hutch pulled out a chair and motioned for Starsky to sit.  “Dinner’s ready, buddy.  Hungry?”

 

            Hurrying to the table, Starsky said, “Starved.”

 

            Hutch chuckled and sat next to him.

 

            For the next hour, they talked work, Katy, and spoke of life in general.  About halfway through dinner, Hutch got up and turned on the stereo.  The mellow music soothed them as they spoke and when dinner was finished, Hutch gathered their plates and set them in the sink.

 

            Starsky stretched in his seat and smiled when a soft tune came over the radio.  “I haven’t heard that song in a while.”

 

            Hutch gave Starsky a wide smile and approached him.  He held his hand out.  “Come on.”

 

            Starsky looked up in confusion.  “What?”

 

            “Dance with me, Starsk.”

 

            Hutch’s bright blue eyes were filled with love and Starsky was speechless.  He looked at Hutch’s outstretched hand and tentatively put his own into it.  When Starsky stood, Hutch guided him to the middle of the living room.  When Hutch’s hands went to his waist, it was natural to just lean into those strong arms.

 

            As they swayed to the music, Starsky’s hands moved to Hutch’s upper back and it wasn’t long before his cheek rested on Hutch’s shoulder.  Moving with Hutch easily, Starsky allowed his eyes to close and savored the closeness.  A tantalizing aroma of sandalwood tickled his nose and instinctively he moved in closer.  Starsky’s hands casually ran over Hutch’s back and he felt every line through the thin, soft material.

 

            He buried his face in Hutch’s neck and a contented sigh escaped.  He could feel Hutch’s breath on his own neck and Starsky pressed his body closer to his dance partner.  When a soft kiss pressed against his skin, Starsky moved his face closer to Hutch’s. 

 

            Their lips met and a new feeling emerged.  Hutch’s gentle exploration of Starsky's mouth was loving and beautiful at the same time.  It awakened a torrent of emotions in Starsky and he brought his hand to Hutch’s cheek.  His heart ran like a wild colt discovering newfound freedom.

 

            When Hutch stepped back and Starsky looked into his eyes, he knew.  There was the man he loved with every fiber of his being.  Starsky was looking at Hutch through new eyes and a new heart. 

 

            Starsky grinned at the slight blush creeping into Hutch’s face and he wondered if he was blushing as well.  Seeing the happiness in Hutch’s face gave Starsky a joy he hadn’t felt in so long.

 

            “Would you like another glass of wine?” Hutch asked.

 

            Chuckling, Starsky nodded.  He watched Hutch go into the kitchen and his eyes never left him.  “Guess I was wrong about your dancing.”

 

            Hutch returned with two glasses of wine.  After giving one to Starsky, he sat down on the couch.  “I’ve never been a fan of disco.  I thought that was obvious.”

 

            “I’ll take the slow dancing any day.”

 

            Starsky’s tender smile spoke volumes to Hutch and he raised his glass.  “Here’s to me being wrong as well, partner.”

 

            “About what?”

 

            “You should’ve showed me years ago how good a kisser you are.”

 

            Starsky stepped forward and tapped his glass to Hutch’s.  They drank and enjoyed a quiet, romantic evening.  Starsky knew he wouldn’t be staying, but he didn’t mind.  While he wished the night would never end, he also knew there would be more nights to come.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            The passing days were filled with a new understanding and many new beginnings for both Starsky and Hutch.  Their friendship was taking a slow turn towards a satisfying connection that was still growing.  Starsky was eager for the next step in their relationship and many nights he wondered if Hutch was having doubts.

 

            His eager passion for Hutch still ran through him as strong as it had their one and only time together.  It was getting to the point that Starsky thought about it on a regular basis, and when they were together, it was foremost in his mind.  His body certainly hadn’t forgotten, and it was usually during the most inopportune moments when it reminded him.

 

            On a late and warm summer evening almost a month after their initial kiss, both were sitting in the greenhouse, drinking cold beer and trying to catch the drift of a cool breeze.  Starsky had his back leaning against Hutch’s shoulder and both men sat quietly, enjoying the comfortable silence as well as the closeness.

 

            When Hutch’s hand went up into Starsky’s curls, Starsky closed his eyes, savoring the gentle massage.  The hand slowly moved to his neck and Starsky leaned his head back.  His eyes slowly opened when Hutch shifted position.  They stared into each other’s eyes and both knew what was to come.

 

            “Starsk,” Hutch whispered before kissing him.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            In the early morning sun streaming through the windows, Starsky opened his eyes and sighed with pleasure as memories of passion and love came back to him.  He languidly stretched out on the bed like a big cat waking up, and felt for Hutch.  Starsky glanced over at the empty space next to him, but upon hearing footsteps, his eyes darted over to the doorway and smiled at Hutch, who entered carrying a large breakfast tray.  “Hey, you should’ve woke me up.”

 

            “I wanted to surprise you."  Hutch set the tray down on the bed and scooted in next Starsky.

 

            Starsky’s hungry eyes took in the breakfast.  “I sure worked up an appetite.”

 

            Hutch gave him a sexy grin and nodded.  “Hope you’ll be ready to work it up again before too long.”

 

            After taking a huge bite of a pancake, Starsky said with a mouthful of food, “You think I’m superman or somethin’?”

 

            “Or something,” Hutch said with a wink.  He leaned over and gave Starsky a kiss on the cheek, then picked up a cup of coffee from the tray.  He watched his partner eat for a few minutes, then asked, “Tell me how you really feel?”

 

            Starsky swallowed the food in his mouth and washed it down with a glass of milk.  “I feel like I could run down every bad guy in the city and not break a sweat.  I feel like going to the roof and screaming at the top of my voice that I’ve never had it better than I’ve got it right now."  His look turned more serious and Starsky brushed his lover's blond strands with his fingertips.  “I feel like if I breathe wrong, I’ll lose it all in a heartbeat.”

 

            “Not in this lifetime,” Hutch promised.  “I don’t want any regrets between us, Starsky.  It cost us dearly before.”

 

            “I know and I’m sorry for that.  Sorry for hurting you like I did.”

 

            Hutch saw the heavy guilt in Starsky’s eyes and captured his hand.  “It’s in the past.  We can’t change what’s happened.  All we can do is go forward and do our best by each other.”

 

            “We will,” Starsky told him.  “I wouldn’t trade what we’ve got right now for anything.  It’s too important.  You’re too important and there’ll be no regrets by me, Hutch.  You’ve got my word on that.”

 

            After giving Starsky’s hand a tender kiss, Hutch said, “I love you, Starsky.  No matter what, you can always count on that.”

 

            “It’s always been there, Blondie.  I just wish I hadn’t been so blind as not to see it.  You can trust your love with me, Hutch.  I love you too goddamn much to take it for granted like I did before.”

 

            They met in a kiss which signaled their promises to each other.  The remainder of the day was spent in bed with laughter and love.  By the afternoon, Hutch was propped up on a pillow and Starsky’s head was on his stomach, their hands intertwined and their bodies tangled in the sheets; their commitment renewed and invigorated by the intimate closeness they shared. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky drummed his fingers on the cloth-covered table as he waited in the restaurant for his ex-wife.  He mentally practiced his speech while his eyes remained glued to the door.  Upon seeing Miranda approach, Starsky stood.  When she arrived, he leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.  “You look great.”

 

            Nervously smiling, Miranda said, “You, too.”

 

            Starsky pulled a chair out and when she was seated, he moved to the opposite side of the table and sat.  The waiter came over, and Starsky glanced at Miranda.  “I went ahead and ordered for you.  Is that okay?”

 

            “Sure, it’s fine."  She looked at the waiter.  “Club soda, please.”

 

            After his departure, Starsky sipped his drink.  “Katy at your mother’s?”

 

            “Yes, I wasn’t sure how long this would take, so she might spend the night.”

 

            Nodding, Starsky played with the drink.  “She always likes going over there.”

 

            “Dave, surely this isn’t a get-together to see how we’re doing.”

 

            “No, it’s not.”

 

            “You said it was important.”

 

            Starsky took a deep breath and rested his forearms on the table.  “Yeah, it is.  I just want to make sure we keep the lines of communication open all the time and I think it’s important we’re aware of changes going on in each other’s life.”

 

            “I agree."  The waiter brought Miranda’s drink over and she brought the glass to her lips.  “Is there something I should know?”

 

            “For the last couple of months, Hutch and I’ve been seeing each other.”

 

            The simple announcement stunned Miranda and it took a moment to get her bearings.  “I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised.”

 

            “I thought it was about time you knew.”

 

            “How serious is it?”

 

            “Serious enough."  Starsky shrugged his shoulders.  “It’s still too early to say what’ll happen, but you deserved to know.”

 

            Miranda glanced down at the drink.  “Why, Dave?”

            “Why what?”

 

            “Why did I deserve to know?”

 

            “I know you haven’t liked Hutch very much—”

 

            Miranda stiffened in her seat and leaned forward.  “He’s the reason we’re divorced, Dave!” she said in an angry whisper.  “Don’t expect me to forget the past just because we’ve managed to move on with our lives!”

 

            “The problems we had were about us, Mir,” Starsky struggled to keep calm.  “Hutch had nothing to do with it.”

 

            “I find that hard to believe."  Miranda rolled her eyes.  “He sleeps with my husband and gets to sidestep the role he played in our messy little triangle.”

 

            “Mir,” Starsky pleaded, “it’s over now.”

 

            “Just tell me why you think it’s so important I know, Dave.”

 

            Starsky looked into her eyes.  “If Hutch and I continue to see each other, will it affect my visitation privileges with Katy?”

 

            “If I say yes, will you stop seeing him?”

 

            “Why would you say yes?”

 

            Miranda toyed with her napkin for a moment before replying, “Dave, even you should recognize the possible negative impact this could have on Katy.  I don’t want her confused.”

 

            “Confused?  How do you think that’ll happen?”

 

            “Two men together?  You think it won’t confuse her?  It’s not exactly considered normal by most people.”

 

            “I don’t give a damn about most people,” Starsky said, feeling his ire starting to rise.  “I love Katy and I don’t want to lose her.  You know I’d never do anything to jeopardize my relationship with her.”

 

            “Giving up Hutch may be what you’re faced with in order to keep it intact.”

 

            “Damn it, Miranda!  Don’t put me in a position to choose!  It didn’t get you far last time!”

 

            “I’m only thinking of Katy’s best interests, Dave,” she firmly explained.

 

            “No, you’re using her as leverage to get me to do what you want!”

 

            Miranda grabbed her purse and jacket before shooting up out of the chair.  Before she took two steps away from the table, Starsky rose and hurried to block her way.  “I’m sorry, Mir.  I shouldn’t have said that."  Seeing her eye the door, Starsky rested his hands on her shoulders.  “Please, don’t leave.  Let’s work this out and do what’s right for Katy.”

 

            Shaking her head, Miranda said in a low voice, “I don’t want us to be like this, Dave.”

 

            “Neither do I, sweetheart.”

 

            Miranda saw the earnestness in Starsky’s eyes and nodded.  She sat back down in her chair after he pulled it out for her.  Starsky returned to his own seat and leaned forward.  “Tell me why you’re fighting this so hard, Mir.”

 

            A tear escaped before Miranda could stop it.  Staring down at the table, she whispered, “You’re a hard act to follow, Dave.  While you’ve managed to bounce back after our divorce, I still haven’t gotten to my feet.”

 

            Starsky took Miranda’s hand in his.  “It was hell for both of us, but you and I both knew it had to be done.”

 

            “God, Dave."  Miranda’s moist eyes met Starsky’s and she clasped onto his hand.  “I love you so much, and seeing someone else get you is harder than I ever imagined."  At Starsky’s silence, Miranda tried to smile.  “I knew it wouldn’t be easy getting over you, but I never imagined it would hurt so damn much.”

 

            “I want to say something….”  Starsky couldn’t find any words to bring Miranda comfort.

 

            “It’ll take time,” Miranda reassured him.  “I know that.  Just understand that forgiving Hutch right now isn’t easy for me and don’t expect it for a while.”

 

            “I know,” Starsky admitted.  “I want to do what’s right for Katy, but it shouldn’t be a contest between her and Hutch.”

 

            “All I ask is that if Hutch stays the night, Katy not be there.  The same goes if you’re at his place.  Is this something you can live with?”

 

            “Yeah,” Starsky agreed.  “Hutch and me won’t do anything to undermine what’s best for Katy.  She’s too young to understand any of this right now.”

 

            “I agree.”

 

            Starsky gave an optimistic smile and breathed a sigh of relief.  “We’ll do right by Katy, Mir.  We love her too much to do otherwise.”

 

            Miranda nodded and returned Starsky’s smile.  The waiter was timely as he approached with their dinner, and Starsky was pleased at how well the rest of the evening went.

 

The next three months passed quickly and signaled a change in the seasons.  Fall approached and with it came a peaceful happiness.  Starsky and Hutch’s relationship continued on its journey.  Full of discovery and love, each became more dedicated to the other and much to their amazement, the passion and tenderness they shared grew even more.

 

            Little Katy brought so much to their lives together as a couple and both were careful to abide by Miranda’s wishes.  All were comfortable with the arrangements and life continued.

 

            Getting an unexpected call from Hutch one day, Starsky drove to an address per his partner’s instructions.  He looked curiously at the large two-storey house as he stepped from his car.  After reaching the porch, Starsky raised his hand to knock and the door opened.

 

            “How many traffic laws did you break to make it here?” Hutch asked, grinning.

 

            “Enough.  What was so important that it couldn’t wait?”

 

            Hutch took Starsky’s arm and pulled him into the house.  “Take a look around.”

 

            Starsky shot Hutch a questioning look, then ran his gaze around the area, taking in the large fireplace in the far corner of the living room.  He wandered to the kitchen, then turned back to Hutch.  “What’s this about, babe?”

 

            “You have to see upstairs."  Hutch moved to the stairs.  “Come on, Starsk.”

 

            Following, Starsky kept his mouth closed against the questions on the tip of his tongue.  He trailed behind Hutch and stepped inside one of the bedrooms.  A large bay window showed off the large backyard with a towering oak tree. 

 

            Hutch walked to the center of the room and smiled.  “The last thing I ever wanted after I got divorced from Van was to make another long-term commitment to anyone.  But the longer we stayed together, the more I knew you were the one I wanted to be with.  The only person I’ve ever wanted to grow old with was you, Starsk.”

 

            Starsky’s mouth fell open in shock.  After recovering from Hutch’s declaration, he licked his lips.  “You… You’re saying…?”

 

            “Starsky, I love you and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.  This is my way of asking you to marry me.”

 

            Instinct took over and Starsky crossed the room to take Hutch into his arms.  After a breathless kiss, he ran his hand through his lover’s hair.  “That answer your question, Blondie?”

 

            Hutch smiled in relief and took Starsky’s hand in his.  “I thought this room would be perfect for Katy.  She’ll have a great view of the tree house we’ll build for her.”

 

            “Tree house."  Starsky chuckled.  “I never had one as a kid.  She’d….” 

 

            Hutch saw the smile falter on Starsky’s face.  “What is it?”

 

            “Jesus, Hutch,” he whispered.  “I have to talk to Miranda about this.”

 

            “Starsky, she’ll be fine with it."  Hutch rubbed his arm in assurance.

 

            Starsky wasn’t so sure and attempted a smile.  “Yeah, you’re right.”

 

            Pulling him close, Hutch held his lover.  “This is right for us.  We’ll have the family we’ve always wanted…    together.”

 

            Starsky closed his eyes and hoped Hutch was right. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Two days later, standing in the park under a warm sun, Starsky was still having reservations.  Miranda’s feelings had changed little since their talk about his relationship with Hutch.  He had to admit how amiable she had been when it came to Katy and Hutch.

 

            He worried more about her reaction to this new change and he resented having to even discuss the issue with his ex-wife, but he knew if he didn’t tread carefully, it could cost him Katy.  The more he thought about the delicate situation, the more he clenched and unclenched his hand in anticipation of the meeting.

 

            Watching Miranda cross the park almost reminded Starsky of the early days of their marriage.  They had planned their future here and now it seemed so ironic.

 

He still cared about her, but it couldn’t compare to what he felt for Hutch.  Starsky was a little surprised at how important his relationship with Miranda continued to be, not just as the mother of his daughter, but as a friend.

 

            Miranda smiled and folded her arms.  “Seems so strange to be meeting here.”

 

            “You always liked coming here."  Starsky put on his best face.  “I thought it would be a comfortable place for us to talk.”

 

            “Yeah,” she agreed, and looked at Starsky expectantly.

 

            Starsky cleared his throat and stuck his hands in his pockets.  “Now that I think about it, maybe this wasn’t such a great place.”

 

            “Why?”

 

            “What I have to talk to you about won’t be easy for you to hear,” Starsky answered.

 

            Her eyes lowered to the ground and Miranda pushed her hair away from her face.  “You and Hutch, I take it.”

 

            “Miranda."  His eyes met hers.  “We want to buy a home together.”

 

            The simple statement stunned her.  She moved to lean against a large tree.  “I see,” she replied.

 

            Starsky took a step closer.  “We found a house.  It’s in a real nice neighborhood and it has a huge yard.  Big enough for a swing and—”

 

            Miranda brought her hand up.  “Wait, Dave.  You and Hutch live together as a couple?”

 

            “It’s what we want, Mir.  What I want.”

 

            “You agreed that you and he wouldn’t—”

 

            “We haven’t,” Starsky promised.  “We’ve gone along with your wishes, but things are changing now.  Katy’s getting older.  She cares a lot about Hutch and I think she’d adjust to it.”

 

            “She’s not even three years old yet, Dave,” Miranda said.  She shook her head.  “I just don’t know about this.  It’s a huge step.”

 

            “Maybe if you spent an evening with us.  You can see how Hutch and Katy—”

 

            “No!”  Miranda moved to a nearby bench and sat down.  “I have no desire to be anywhere near Hutch, and I sure as hell don’t want him living with my daughter!”

 

            “Why the hell not?” Starsky’s resentment was coming to surface and he was ready to lash out at Miranda.  “Hutch would never hurt her and you know it!”

 

            “Come on, Dave!  You know why!  My feelings haven’t changed where he’s concerned.  He didn’t give a damn what it did to us or me when he slept with you while we were married.”

 

            “Ancient history now, Mir.”

 

            “Not for me, Dave!  He wasn’t sorry it happened!  He told me as much the day I went to see him!”

 

            “Don’t forget I went along with it,” Starsky reminded her.  “It wasn’t all Hutch.”

 

            “I know,” Miranda admitted.  “But having no remorse about sleeping with his best friend, who was married, did change what I thought of him."  Her eyes locked with Starsky’s.  “I don’t trust him and I never will.”

 

            Starsky leaned forward.  “Then trust me, Mir.  After a while you’ll realize that Hutch and I only have Katy’s best interests at heart.  He’s not going to interfere with us being parents to our daughter.  But he and I want a life together.  Can you understand that?”

 

            “What about your job?  If the department finds out….”

 

            “We’re not partners on the street and Hutch still works in IA at the downtown precinct.  Our relationship won’t matter to anyone on the force.”

 

            She stood and took a few thoughtful steps before turning around to face Starsky.  “The visitations will stay as they are, but they will have to change as she gets older and starts school.”

 

            “Agreed.”

 

            “There’s one more thing.  And this point is non-negotiable, Dave.”

 

            “What is it?”

 

            There was a slight hesitation, then Miranda said it before she lost her courage.  “I don’t want him alone with Katy.”

 

            “What?” Starsky asked in shock as he moved to his feet.

 

            “You heard me,” she said with more confidence.  “As long as Katy’s with you, Hutch is not to be alone with her.”

 

            “Now wait a damn minute, Miranda.  I told you that Hutch would never—”

 

            “I know what you said, Dave,” she interrupted.  “I also told you that I don’t trust him.  This is Katy we’re talking about and as far as she’s concerned, I won’t take any chances, even if you trust Hutch with your life.”

 

            Standing in front of her, Starsky saw the determination in her eyes.  If he pushed any farther, the conversation would then turn to lawyers, court and a judge.  She knew as well as he did how little leverage he had.  A judge wouldn’t hesitate to rip his rights as a father out of his hands just on the fact he was in a same-sex relationship.

 

            It was then Starsky realized how precarious a situation both he and Hutch were in.  Hutch still remained a Big Brother to Molly and Kiko, and while the children’s mother accepted his and Starsky's relationship, there were many others who would not hesitate to tear into their lives based on the fact that they loved each other. 

 

            Starsky’s decision was made.  “Okay, Miranda.”

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Glancing at Starsky across the table as the other man pushed the food around his plate with his fork, Hutch could see something weighing on Starsky's mind.  “Lasagna’s one of your favorites.  Any reason why you’re trying to make a mountain out of the sauce?”

 

            Starsky wanly smiled and set the fork down.  “It was a long day.  I guess I’m not as hungry as I thought I was.”

 

            “Finish your wine, Starsk.  We’ll make an early night of it.”

 

            Starsky picked up his glass while Hutch gathered the dishes.  “I spoke to Miranda today.”

 

            “You told her about the house?”

 

            “Yeah.”

 

            “And?”  Hutch leaned against the counter.

 

            After swallowing the remaining wine, Starsky stood up and set the glass in the sink.  “Everything’s fine.  She thought it was a great idea.”

 

            “Really?”  Hutch was surprised.  While he didn’t see any reason for Miranda to cause problems, he hadn’t expected her blessing.

 

            Starsky quickly shoved his hand into his front pocket.  “She thinks a tree house would be great for Katy.”

 

            “I have to admit, I didn’t expect her to be supportive, Starsk.”

 

            Reaching for Hutch’s hand, Starsky pulled his partner close.  “It’s time for us to have that life together, Blondie.”

 

            Hutch pushed his hand into the dark curls and lightly kissed Starsky’s lips.  “Always.”

 

*                 *                 *

 

            In six months' time, they were settled in their new home.  Never having imagined creating such a life together, Hutch cherished each and every moment of it.  Remembering their painful time apart, he was determined not to take for granted all that had been given to him.

 

            The quiet neighborhood was as middle-class as any other, but not so much that two men living together weren’t  accepted by most.  Hutch was pleased when Starsky befriended the accountant next door, who had bought the rusted shell of a ’59 Mustang to restore. 

 

            The weekends that Katy was with her mother, Starsky spent helping his new friend refurbish the worn-out vehicle.  The time came when the accountant asked for help during one of Katy’s visits.  Hutch saw his partner’s reluctance, and after some encouragement, Starsky relented and spent the next few hours assisting in fixing up the car.

 

            It soon became a habit and one Hutch didn’t mind so much.  It was a special time for him and Katy.  He would take her into the spare room at the back of the house where he had the makings of a small art studio.  Supplying the small child with canvas and brush, he looked on with great pleasure at her excitement of applying strokes with rich, vibrant colors.

 

            Hutch was amazed and blessed.  While Kiko and Molly were teens with their own lives, young Katy would look at him with expectant eyes, eager to learn from him.  Their precious time shared together brought about joy and happiness.

 

            One Saturday afternoon, Hutch was finishing up a painting and glanced at Katy, who had quickly discovered how much she enjoyed using her fingers in creating her masterpieces.  He set his brush aside and knelt next to her.  “Try this,” he smiled.

 

            He picked up her brush and dipped the bristles into her favorite color, then gently took her hand and covered it with the bright red paint.  He placed her hand on the canvas, then lifted it. 

 

            “Look at your hand!”

 

            Katy’s eyes widened in amazement, then went to Hutch.  She didn’t hesitate to place her painted hand on his cheek.  When he laughed, she loudly giggled. 

 

            Hutch swept her up in his arms.  “We better get cleaned up before Daddy gets back.”

 

            Hutch carried the squirming little girl into the kitchen and set her on the counter.  He grabbed a towel and wet it, then set about cleaning the paint from Katy's hands.  When he finished, he wet it again and started to remove her handprint from his face.

 

            He glanced at Katy, who was angling to get off the counter.  Hutch helped her down and as she walked to the table, he turned to finish.  He was almost done when he shot a look at the child.  Katy was on a chair, with one knee on the table, trying to reach for one of her toys.

 

            Hutch had just set the towel down when the chair slipped, and before he could reach her, she tumbled, with her head hitting the sharp edge of the table before she landed on the floor.

 

            A loud scream tore from Katy and Hutch rushed to pick her up.  Seeing the large gash at her hairline, he paled.  “Jesus!”

 

            Almost panicking, Hutch grabbed a nearby towel to hold back the flow of bright red crimson.  “God,” he bit out. 

 

            Katy’s cry was like a knife to his heart and he tried to soothe her while attempting to examine the wound.    She would need stitches.  Still cradling her, he got to his feet and started for the door when it came open.

 

            Starsky hurried to them, his eyes taking in the bloody scene.  “Hutch, what happened?”

 

            “She fell off the table.  I think she needs stitches.”

 

            “Come on."  Starsky grabbed his keys, but before he could walk out the door, Hutch called his name.

 

            “You carry her and I’ll drive."  Hutch handed Katy over and took the keys from Starsky.  He knew the longer she cried, the more it would scare his overreacting partner. 

 

            They made it to the hospital in record time.  While Hutch paced the hallway, Starsky and Katy were taken into an examining room.  Twenty agonizing minutes later, Starsky emerged and Hutch halted his worried stride.  “How is she?”

 

            “Five stitches,” Starsky grimly told him.  “After the doctor numbed it, she finally quit crying and fell asleep."  He tried to smile.  “Can you believe that?”

 

            Hutch squeezed Starsky’s arm in comfort.  “Kids are resilient, buddy.  She won’t even remember it.”

 

            Starsky nodded his eyes darted from one end of the corridor to the other.

 

            “What’s wrong?”

 

            Before he could open his mouth, hurried footsteps caught his attention.  Miranda didn’t give either man a glance as she brushed past them into the examining room.  Hutch gazed at Starsky, who quickly averted his eyes.  Something was wrong and it was more than just Katy being hurt.

 

            A few minutes later, Miranda emerged with a drowsing Katy in her arms.  Her eyes bored into Starsky.  “What happened?”

 

            When his partner didn’t speak up, Hutch stepped forward.  “She climbed onto the table to get one of her toys and fell, Miranda.  It was an accident.”

 

            Miranda glimpsed at Hutch while he spoke, then looked to Starsky.  “With the two of you there….”

 

            “Starsky was next door,” Hutch blurted out.

 

            Miranda's sudden stillness and the growing fury in her eyes confused Hutch.  He turned to Starsky, whose face was ripped with guilt.

 

            “You promised!” Miranda accused Starsky. 

 

            “It was an accident, like Hutch said,” Starsky tried to explain.

 

            “One that may not have happened if you’d been there!  I trusted you, David!”

 

            “Miranda, please!”

 

            Hutch looked on in utter confusion at the two of them. 

 

            “My lawyer will be in touch!” 

 

            Watching Miranda turn on her heel and walk away carrying Katy, Hutch was flabbergasted.  He looked at Starsky, who was slowly leaving.  He caught up to him and turned him around.  “What the hell just happened here?”

 

            Starsky shook his head.  “Let’s go home, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch followed, intent on getting to the bottom of whatever was going on, but willing to wait until behind closed doors for the discussion. 

 

            When they got home, Starsky went straight to the fridge and pulled out two beers.  He handed one off to his partner.

 

            “This was more than just Katy being hurt, wasn’t it?” Hutch asked.

 

            “I should’ve told you.”

 

            Hutch searched his partner's eyes and saw nothing but untold pain.  “Told me what?”

 

            After taking a long drink for courage, Starsky took a deep breath.  “One of the conditions for us living together and having Katy over was you not being alone with her.”

 

            The statement hurt Hutch in ways he couldn’t describe.  The pain was overwhelming, with no relenting.  “This was Miranda’s idea.”

 

            “Of course it was!”  Starsky sighed, set his beer aside and ran his hands over his face.  “Sorry, Hutch.  Miranda’s got it in her head that—”

 

            “Since she can’t trust me with you, she can’t trust me with your daughter."  Hutch moved into the living room and sat on the couch.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

            Starsky followed and sat next to him.  “I just couldn’t, Hutch.  You’d never do anything—”

 

            Shooting up off the couch, Hutch turned on Starsky.  “Of course I wouldn’t!” he yelled.  “But your ex-wife thinks otherwise!”  He walked away and stood in the center of the room.  “Will she follow through with her threat?”

 

            Starsky got up as well.  “I’ll talk to her.  She’ll change her mind if—”

 

            “If what?” Hutch interrupted.  “If you promise I won’t be alone with Katy again?  What other hoops are you going to have to jump through for Miranda?”

 

            “Hutch….”

 

            “We both went along when she asked for me to stay away.  We agreed to her stipulation when we started seeing each other, and now….”  Hutch ran his fingers through his hair.  “There’ll be other restrictions and you’ll agree, so long as we

can be together and still have Katy.”

 

            “You know what will happen if we don’t, Hutch.”

 

            “I know.  I just don’t know if either of us could live with it.”

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Less than a week had passed since Katy’s accident.  Tension was thick in the air of foreboding anticipation of what was to come.  At her office, Miranda was searching through the piles of patient records on her desk when the phone rang.  “Yes?”

 

            “Doctor, Ken Hutchinson is here to see you.”

 

            Miranda's heart began moving a little faster and her mouth went dry.  “Show him to my office.”

 

            A moment later, Hutch appeared in the doorway.

 

            Miranda picked up several files.  “I only have a few minutes between patients.”

 

            “Starsky’s lawyer left a message today needing to see him.  I thought you and I should talk before I let him know.”

 

            “Even during his lapse in judgment with you while we were married, I could always trust him.  Now....”

 

            “If it’s worth anything, I had no idea.  If I had….”

 

            Miranda folded her arms.  “Don’t tell me you would have gone a long with it, Hutch.”

 

            “I doubt it would have made little difference to you.  You would have found another way to keep Starsky and me apart,” he challenged.

 

            The files dropped onto the desk loudly and Miranda moved in front of Hutch.  “Do you honestly believe this is all about you?  You and Dave had your own little world apart from the rest of us.  I had to fight tooth and nail to even get a foot in the door.”

 

            “What Starsky and I have has been there long before you came into our lives, Miranda.  The only good thing that came out of your marriage to him was Katy.”

 

            “I want you out of our lives!” Miranda yelled with tears in her eyes.  “I had to accept you as part of a package and all I ever wanted was Dave!  Never you, Hutch!”

 

            “Starsky’s made it clear how he feels about me.  If you try to force me out—”

 

            “If?”

 

            The meaning was clear in her eyes.  Hutch took a steadying breath.  “—you will make him choose.”

 

            “You won’t win this one, Hutch.”

            “No one will." 

 

            Miranda was silent as the he left.  With a ragged sigh, she moved behind her desk and sank down into the chair. 

 

*                 *                 *

 

            Starsky slipped off his jacket and laid it across the couch, then headed up the stairs towards the bathroom at the end of the hall.  “Hutch!” he called out.

 

            “In here,” he heard Hutch answer from the bedroom.

 

            Stopping in the bathroom, Starsky ran cold water over his face.  “I called your office earlier and you weren’t there."  He pulled the towel down and dried off. 

 

            Upon entering the bedroom, he froze at the open suitcase on the bed.  His eyes went to Hutch, who was holding several shirts in his hand.  “What the hell are you doing?”

 

            Hutch walked to the suitcase and placed his shirts inside.  “Your lawyer called today.  He wants you in his office tomorrow morning at nine.  I told him you would be there.”

 

            With a wave of his arm, Starsky said, “It doesn’t explain this.”

 

            “It should."  Hutch went back to the dresser and retrieved several more items.  “You know what’s going to happen.”

 

            “We’ll fight it,” Starsky said, stepping in front of him. 

 

            “We’ll lose and you know it,” Hutch firmly replied.  He moved around Starsky and continued to the bed. 

 

            Starsky watched him drop the things inside the suitcase.  He marched over and closed it shut.  “It doesn’t mean you have to leave, Hutch!  We’ll get it worked out.  Miranda will see reason.”

 

            “Starsky, she still loves you.”

 

            Shaking his head in denial, Starsky said, “She knows how I feel about you and it’s not going to change!”

 

            “She also knows when it comes to Katy, who you'll choose.”

 

            “No!” Starsky yelled.  “I’m sick and goddamn tired of everyone else having a say about who I love and how I live my life!  Not this time!”

 

            “This is your daughter we’re talking about, Starsky!” Hutch fired back.  “Are you so willing to pick me over her?  It’s not the same as before!”

 

            Starsky collapsed on the bed and lowered his head.  “I know it’s not, Hutch.”

 

            Hutch moved around the mattress and went down on his knees in front of Starsky.  He took hold of his partner's hands and looked up into his eyes.  “You know what you have to do, Starsk.  If you don’t, you’ll lose Katy, and you would grow to resent me.  I couldn’t take that and neither could you.”

 

            “Another noble sacrifice on your part, Hutch?” Starsky asked with a painful smile.

 

            “For you, babe, it’s worth it.”

 

            Starsky closed his eyes in an attempt to hold back threatening tears and leaned into Hutch.  Feeling the strong secure arms around him, he surrendered to the only true love he had ever known in his life.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            With some trepidation, Starsky stood in the doorway of Miranda’s home that night.  She held the door open for him as he stepped through it.  He gripped the doll as he walked into the living room.  “You said Katy’s been asking for this.”

 

            “Yes,” she answered.  Miranda took the doll and set it in a nearby chair.

 

            Starsky slipped his hands in his pockets.  “Hutch moved out.  You got what you wanted, Miranda.”

 

            Miranda didn’t speak as she moved to the small bar in the corner of the room.  She poured brandy into the small snifter.  “I’m sorry, Dave,” she finally said.

 

            “Are you really?”

 

            “For you, I am."  She sipped the liquor and headed to the couch.  “I never wanted to cause you any pain.”

 

            “I don’t know what you thought would happen,” Starsky bit out.  “You knew Katy was the only person in this world I’d pick over Hutch.”

 

            “I made it clear how I felt.  I trusted you to abide by what I asked.  Is that so hard for you to understand?”

 

            “Not when it comes to who I love!”  Starsky was starting to grow angry and he took a deep breath to regain control over his raging emotions.  He came to the couch and sat down.  “Just tell me why, Miranda.  I’m trying to figure this thing out and—”

 

            “God, Dave!”  She pushed up from the sofa and went to the window.  “How can you ask me that?”

 

            Starsky got to his feet.  “Because I don’t know!”

 

            “Even Hutch knows,” Miranda sighed.  She turned to him and tears began forming in her eyes.  “I love you, damn it!  No matter what I do, I still love you as much as the day we were married!”

 

            Starsky was stunned.  “I had no idea.  I thought you were over it.”

 

            “Of course not!” she retorted.  “You’re too busy having the kind of life I only dreamed about for us.”  Miranda set her glass down on the table before covering her eyes.  “I keep thinking there’s a chance for us!” she cried.  “Without Hutch in the picture, I keep hoping and praying that you will see how much I love you!  That you'll think you were a fool for leaving me!”

 

            Watching the sobs tear from her, Starsky dumbly stood in place.  He forced his feet to move and went to Miranda.  He took her in his arms and pulled her close as she cried her heart out.  “Easy, sweetheart,” he whispered.  “It’s okay.”

 

            “God, I love you, Dave!  I don’t know how to let go of you!”

 

            Starsky kept his arms around her.  “I know, I know,” he soothed.  He put a hand to her chin and raised her face to his.  “It’s time we have a long heart to heart, Mir.  Do you understand?”

 

            She nodded shakily and Starsky guided her back to the couch.  Sitting together, they both expressed what was in their hearts.  Miranda went into detail about the difficulties in trying to rebuild her life without him, and Starsky, without regret, talked about what Hutch truly meant to him. 

 

            Many hours later, in the wee hours of the night, both came to an understanding.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            The following morning, Starsky was happy to see Hutch unpacking and putting his things back where they belonged.  He watched Katy crawl onto their bed and into the open suitcase.  She rifled through the remaining clothes and he laughed when Hutch started tickling her.  All three wound up on the bed tickling and playfully wrestling with each other.

 

*                 *                 *

 

            In the late afternoon, Hutch sat on the couch with Katy.  With his guitar between them, he took great patience in showing her how to strum a few chords.  He mentally promised an instrument of her size for her next birthday.

 

            “Mommy!”

 

            Hutch looked up to see Miranda standing in the doorway.  He stood as Katy scrambled to her mother's side, and awkwardly watched as they hugged. 

 

            Starsky came in behind his ex-wife.  “Miranda’s taking Katy to the circus,” he told Hutch.

 

            “Dave,” Miranda said, “could you get her ready?  I’d like to talk to Hutch.”

 

            Starsky’s eyes went from his lover to Miranda and back to Hutch.  He gave a short nod and took Katy up the stairs to her room.

 

            When they were alone, Hutch set the guitar down.  “Would you like something to drink?”

 

            “No.”

 

            “I don’t think I could take another meeting of the hearts, Miranda."  Hutch brushed past her and she followed him down the hallway into the spare room.

 

            Seeing the small art studio, Miranda watched Hutch as he picked up the brushes and paints.  Her eyes went to the much smaller canvas next to Hutch’s larger one.  “This is Katy’s?”

 

            “Yeah, she comes in here with me sometimes."  He couldn’t even look at her.  “She did before….”

 

            “Dave and I came to an understanding.”

 

            Hutch opened up a small drawer and set the brushes inside.  “He told me."  He turned around.  “Are you sure about this?”

 

            “I was never able to forgive you for what you did when Dave and I were married."  Miranda studied the innocent painting Katy had done.  “I didn’t want to let go and I fought back the only way I knew.”

 

            “And now?”

 

            Miranda faced him.  “I’m working to put the past to rest once and for all.  What I was doing wasn’t just hurting you, but all of us.  I was too blind to see it.”

 

            “Too in love with Starsky.”

 

            “It was the letting go I couldn’t do,” she confessed.  “I couldn’t see my life without Dave.”

 

            “You’ll always be a part of our lives, Miranda,” Hutch told her.  “You and Starsky are Katy’s parents.”

 

            “I know."  She wandered around the room and stopped when she saw a painting in the corner, partially hidden away.  She leaned over and moved the empty canvas in front of it away.  Her breath caught in her throat.

 

            She lifted up the treasure and failed to hide the emotional impact the portrait had on her.  Starsky’s smile and love-filled eyes were completely focused on Katy, whose grin was only for her father.  Hutch had captured the rare love only a father could have for his daughter.  

 

            “Oh, my God,” Miranda whispered.  She looked at Hutch, who was shifting back and forth.  “You did this?”

 

            “I had planned on saving it for a special occasion.”

            “For Dave.”

 

            Hutch shook his head.  “Katy.”

 

            “So she can see how much he loves her."  Miranda set the painting down and wiped a stray tear from her cheek.  “You love her, too.”

 

            “She’s very easy to love.  You and Starsky are wonderful parents.”

 

            “Thank you, Hutch.  Not just for this, but for…every-thing."  Miranda walked over to him and touched his arm.  “He chose well.”

 

            Hutch stood in the center of the room as Miranda left.  He picked up the portrait she had been so moved by and smiled.  He carefully hid the canvas once more.   When he walked into the living room, Starsky was coming through the front door after seeing Miranda and Katy off. 

 

            “You two have a good talk?  Hey!”  Starsky’s eyes widened in surprise as Hutch pulled him close and gave him a thorough kiss.  “What was that for?”

 

            “I love you.”

 

            With a sly smile, Starsky returned the gesture, then pulled back.  “I guess that’s a yes.”

 

            Running his hand along Starsky’s cheek, Hutch said, “It’s good to know we've all made peace, Starsk.”

 

            “But…” Starsky coaxed.

 

            “There may be still rough roads ahead.  Might even be times when you and Miranda may not see eye to eye where Katy’s concerned.  That’s not to mention—”

 

            “Hey,” Starsky said with a gentle smile, “are you borrowing trouble?”

 

            “No matter what, I’m not going anywhere.”

 

            “Hope not.  The house needs a paint job.”

 

            Chuckling, Hutch pulled Starsky close.  “Later."  His lips hovered close to Starsky’s and his eyes fell shut.  “My idea is better." 

 

            “Yeah,” Starsky whispered passionately, the last word he could say for quite a while.

 

 

 

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