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Part 1

Chapter 1

Detective David Starsky came charging down the alleyway and slid on his knees to his partner's side. There was blood spreading quickly from a wound in Hutch's chest. Not good. A pretty bad location for a chest wound, actually. His face felt stiff as he looked down at Hutch, who looked back at him, grimacing wryly.

"Looks like I screwed up, partner." Hutch gasped out, and dark blood trickled from his mouth as he grunted in pain.

"What the hell you talkin' about, Hutch? You were clear behind this dumpster. How the hell did you get hit?" Starsky was angered at the unfairness of it. And it looked bad, really bad. The wound was bleeding fast, and he knew he had to get pressure on it, quick. A uniformed cop came around the corner of the dumpster, and gulped when he saw Hutch and the pooling blood.

"Call it in, man, officer down!" The uni went running to comply, and Starsky didn't spare him a further glance. His eyes were riveted on Hutch's face as Starsky awkwardly tried to dig his handkerchief out of his pocket for a bandage.

What's that sound? Like an awful whispering? Starsky looked down and realized that it was coming from Hutch's wound. Lung shot he thought distantly, and reached down in slow motion to press the folded handkerchief against the entry wound. Hutch groaned and Starsky looked up to meet his eye.

"He got me good, buddy," Hutch rasped, and then his eyes seemed to grow deeper, looking inside himself. A resigned look settled on his face. "Sorry, Starsk," he said softly.

And suddenly, the odd sense of detachment Starsky was feeling snapped away like a rag in the wind, blown by abrupt, awful fear. "No," he whispered, "no way, Hutch," said Starsky, and turned his head to yell in the direction the uni had disappeared, "Did you call that fucking ambulance?!" When he looked back at Hutch, the pale face seemed set in stone, the gasps coming short through barely parted lips. Starsky used his free hand to raise Hutch's head and ground out through the dread choking his voice, "No, you are not doing this." His voice took on the timbre of his tough cop voice, speaking deep in his chest, his heart thundering his denial. "Yer staying right here."

But Hutch raised a trembling hand and tangled it in Starsky's curls, the effort exhausting him as he tugged Starsky's head down. Their foreheads met in their private gesture of comfort. "I'm sorry," said Hutch again. They were eye to eye, the deeper blue wild with fear and denial, the pale blue dazed and sorrowful.

Starsky closed his eyes tight, then, squeezing them shut and willing the moment away like a bad dream. "Starsk." Hutch whispered. There was so much contained within that word; that one word that only Hutch could say in that way. It meant everything, a thousand things, and that sound was perhaps the only thing that could pull his unwilling lids open to stare eye to eye once again. Then Hutch nodded, their foreheads moving together and forcing Starsky into unwanted agreement.

The next moment would be indelibly ingrained in Starsky's memory for the rest of his life. Tilting his chin up, Hutch's lips met Starsky's. It was a kiss. A benediction. Their lips met, pressed together, and Starsky thought, brokenly, Kissing me... kissing Hutch and he knew his heart would just quit right then, the impossible beat couldn't be sustained. "Love you," Hutch whispered against his lips, and then his head dropped back into Starsky's hand, the pale eyes slitted and gleaming, and a tear slipped from one corner and rolled down his temple.

Starsky kneeled in stunned silence, the air strangely quiet, and at first Starsky thought it was his heart that had stopped its wild thunder, but then he realized that the painful gasping had ceased. Hutch wasn't breathing.

For a frozen moment the screaming in Starsky's mind overwhelmed him; and then a shout tore from his throat, "You can't, you sonofabitch!" and time stuttered back into motion. He felt for a pulse, detecting the faintest beat, and scuttled to position Hutch for CPR. Keeping his hand pressed to the chest wound, he breathed into Hutch's mouth, all the while chanting in his head oh no you don't, oh no you don't.

An eternity later Starsky was shocked to feel Hutch drawing away; but, no, he was pulling away, being dragged by the EMTs suddenly at his side.

"We'll take it now, Sir," said an older, graying technician.

Starsky found himself on his knees at the periphery of the action, watching them work on his partner. He was gasping for air, he'd given it all to Hutch, trying to force life into him, and he tasted blood on his lips, and Hutch. Hutch was on his lips. "Please save him," he whispered raggedly, unheard.

As they lifted Hutch onto the gurney, Starsky creaked stiffly to his feet, watching the slack arm hanging at Hutch's side, that large hand looking helpless with the palm raised, as if beseeching him. But Starsky couldn't think what it was asking him for. There was no room in his mind, just one endless thought repeating, Don't go Hutch, don't go don't go. He followed behind the gurney to the ambulance, shuffling like an old man, eyes locked on the blond head. He found himself halted by a large hand on his shoulder and a deep voice in his ear. Dobey. How did he get here so fast? How long has it been since Hutch went down? He knew it was important to know how long Hutch had been without real medical help, but he couldn't seem to gather himself to ask.

Dobey spoke quietly, "Come with me, son. "We'll follow behind in your car."

Starsky resisted for a moment, not wanting to lose sight of Hutch's pale face, thinking this might be the last time he saw his friend alive, wanting the moment somehow to last forever, for the future was too painful to contemplate. Starsky sighed as the ambulance doors closed off his view of his partner. His mouth still tasting of blood and Hutch, he lowered his head and followed his captain to the car.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 2

Waiting rooms. You'd think by now they would know to offer a nice comfy couch in these things, and maybe a punching bag in the corner. Starsky leaned forward in the hard plastic chair, his elbows braced on his knees and his fingers running repeatedly up his temples and into his hair. Sometime after they had wheeled Hutch into the ER, Dobey had dragged him in here, or he'd still be standing staring at the door through which Hutch had been taken. God, Hutch, why are we always here? But Starsky knew why. They were both too devoted to The Job; they both cared just a little too damned much.

But thinking about caring made him think about that kiss, and he would lose his mind if he thought about that, what it had made him feel, and what it could have possibly meant to Hutch, who was busy dying in another room. He could feel Hutch dying and leaving him alone with this impossible thought, that maybe Hutch could love him, except of course Hutch did love him, and he loved Hutch, even though Starsky never said it. God I didn't say it, I didn't say 'I love you, too.' Why didn't I ever say it? But Hutch must know Starsky loved him, they never needed actually to say that mushy stuff. Except Hutch had said it, and that kiss, that kiss. Maybe Hutch more than loved him. Or maybe it was a goodbye, a way of saying all that "I love you" couldn't cover: all that they meant to each other, so much that it couldn't be expressed in words. And maybe Hutch would fucking die and Starsky would never know for sure just what that kiss meant. How could that be? What kind of unbearable world was this?

Starsky groaned and rubbed his temples again, then jumped up and started pacing. He could feel Dobey looking up from his magazine and giving him that patented concerned frown. Nothing you can do, Cap'n; we made this Hell and now we're burning in it. Starsky focused on imagining Hutch's face, his too-seldom husky laugh when he made one of his stupid jokes. Hutch can't die, he's too real.

His pacing steps brought him to the coffee machine, and suddenly he was bone tired, weary of thinking. He felt as if all his emotions were buzzing just beneath the surface of his skin, ready to burst out and splatter the room in an explosion he wouldn't be able to contain. He dug some change out of his pocket and dropped it into the machine. As he made his selection his brow quirked at seeing the machine had an "extra sugar" button, and with a wince of pain he thought of how much Hutch would disapprove of it. He pushed the button with defiance. Bastard just had better make it so he can give me grief.

Hours later, Starsky had grown so accustomed to waiting he was actually surprised to see a surgeon in green scrubs walking down the hallway toward him. He found himself detailing the doctor's appearance, trying to pick up important clues so he could prepare himself. Only, how could he prepare himself? If the news were bad, nothing would save him. He looked away. The doctor drew close, and Starsky finally rose to meet him, his breathing shallow as his heart once again started to pound.

"Detective Starsky?" the doctor asked, "You are Detective Hutchinson's next-of-kin?" Starsky nodded, his stomach dropping, his throat too dry at the moment to speak. Finally, he croaked, "Yeah, that's me." He looked down at the doctor's nametag and belatedly said, "Dr. Freeman. What's the news?" Starsky rocked back and forth a bit on his feet, the dread in his stomach making him feel a little nauseated.

"Detective Hutchinson responded well to the surgery." Starsky heard Dobey's explosive sigh of relief. "We were successful in repairing the damage to his lung, the muscles and vessels; however, as you know, he lost a lot of blood at the scene and before he was transported here..." Dr. Freeman eyes traveled over the blood stains on Starsky's sleeves, and he paused and rubbed his eyes. "I'm sorry to say this, but we'll just have to wait and see. The next 48 hours are obviously critical."

Starsky could only mumble out a, "Thanks, Doc," while his mind reeled. There was something he wanted to ask but couldn't seem to get his mouth coordinated.

"Can Detective Starsky see him, Doctor?" asked Dobey, and Starsky glanced at him gratefully, then turned his eyes hopefully toward the doctor.

"Well, he's in recovery right now, but as soon as he is moved to the ICU you can visit him for short periods." Dr. Freeman turned to leave, and Starsky reached out to touch his elbow.

"Thank you for helping Hutch," he whispered, and the doctor looked at him, surprised into a small smile.

"You're welcome," he answered, and walked away.

"Thank God, Dave." said Dobey, placing a large palm on his shoulder, and Starsky gave a small gasp and nodded as he felt his heart soar. Alive. Hutch was alive. Suddenly his legs felt awfully wobbly, and he walked carefully over to the hard plastic chairs to wait. Wait to see Hutch, to see those eyes open and to know, for sure, that Hutch was going to be okay. He knew it already, anyway; there was no way that Hutch would leave him, alone, without his place in the world by Hutch's side. No way.

~ ~ ~

Thirty-four hours later, he found he was still waiting. He had spent every minute allowed sitting in a chair or standing by Hutch's bedside, but the blond had yet to open his eyes, and Starsky was back in the worry zone. Hutch was now off the respirator that had creeped Starsky out to no end, but there had been no sign of life beyond the steady slow breaths. Starsky wasn't likely to ignore his blessings, though, and as the long hours passed he found himself talking aloud to Hutch, at first hesitantly and then with more confidence. He talked about the shooting, "A ricochet, can you beat that, Hutch? That stupid piece of metal must've bounced at least twice to be in the condition it was in when they yanked it out of you. Maybe you should start playing the lotto, sonny boy."

Sometimes his thoughts would turn toward the moment Hutch had stopped breathing, and he would have to touch Hutch's wrist to feel the comforting pulse, the heart rate monitor insufficient to calm his sudden panic. "You're gonna have to open those eyes soon, Blondie, or I'm gonna hafta find me a new partner." An empty threat; Dobey had put Starsky on leave, knowing he'd be useless in the squad room when his head was here. His heart was here, too; hell, so were his guts and his soul. Starsky grinned a little to think of how sappy Hutch would find his current thoughts.

Drowsing a bit in his chair, Starsky's mind kept returning to the kiss. I'm a broken record; can't stop thinking about it. What the hell was that, huh, Hutch? Partners don't kiss. At the same time, he felt kinda good thinking about it, and knowing, no matter what, the kiss proved how much Hutch cared about him. Maybe that's why he did it, after all. He looked up, wanting to see those lips that had done that extraordinary thing, and jumped in his chair when he saw blue eyes staring at him foggily. He leaped up and leaned over the side of the bed.

"Hutch! Buddy, am I glad to see those baby blues!" he exclaimed. He reached down and squeezed the nearest shoulder gently. Starsky looked down into Hutch's pale face, at the mussed, sweaty hair and the dark circles under Hutch's eyes, and thought he had never seen anything more perfect.

"You're gonna be okay, partner," said Starsky, smiling warmly at his friend. Hutch didn't respond, but looked up at him. Starsky couldn't tell if his partner recognized him.

"Hutch? You in there, babe?" Starsky joked, a little uncertainly. Hutch just stared at him, not seeming to understand. A crease appeared between his eyebrows, and Starsky saw his cheek twitch. "Hutch...?" he queried, starting to get a little concerned. He was unable to keep the worry out of his voice, "Hutch, can you say something, buddy? Say my name?"

The crease between Hutch's brows grew even more pronounced, his jaw moved a little but his mouth did not open, and to Starsky's horror the heart rate monitor started picking up tempo rapidly. He's panicking, can't let him panic. Starsky gentled his voice, "S'ok Hutch, no hurry, just relax." He smiled at Hutch, gently clasped his wrist. "So glad you're okay, buddy. You know, we gotta stop meeting like this. This hospital thing is getting really tired, you know what I mean?"

Starsky was relieved to hear the beeping start to slow down. Hutch's eyes crinkled a little at the corners, and Starsky smiled more warmly in reaction, even before he consciously realized that Hutch had just done his best to smile at him. Then Hutch sighed and his eyes slipped closed.

Starsky waited until Hutch's breathing was slow and smooth, and then he headed out to track down Hutch's doctor.

~ ~ ~

Starsky found Dr. Freeman talking in the nurses' lounge, which he was disgruntled to discover contained not one, but two comfortable-looking couches. While Starsky waited for his chance to talk to the doctor, he distracted himself in constructing a plot to hijack the furniture and haul it to the waiting room. He had gotten as far as mentally locating and commandeering a hand-truck and was taking an eyeball measurement of the doorway when the doctor finally concluded his conversation and Starsky approached him.

Starsky described Hutch's brief stint of consciousness, and told the doctor about his confused state. "I think he recognized me, but he didn't say anything, Doc. Do you think something's wrong?"

Dr. Freeman's eyes were almost kind as he replied, "I will look in on him, of course, but I don't think it's cause to be concerned. It's really not unusual for a patient who has suffered that kind of trauma to be a little altered when he first comes around. In addition to the wound, the surgery and the blood loss, he is also heavily medicated, and patients in the ICU often have their sleep disrupted as well. Let's give him a little more time before we start to worry."

Starsky didn't bother telling the doctor he was already way beyond worried.

"Thanks doc. If I know Hutch, he'll be talking a mean streak soon enough. Can't shut 'im up, most times." Starsky's voice was a little shaky, and he swallowed heavily.

"I'm sure," Dr. Freeman smiled. "In the meantime, if you don't mind my saying so, it looks like you could use a little rest yourself, Detective."

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Thanks, Doc. I think those little plastic chairs are killing my beauty sleep, you know?" Starsky smiled a little wanly as he trudged back to rejoin his friend.

~ ~ ~

When Starsky quietly re-entered Hutch's room, the blond's eyes were closed, but he didn't look asleep. "Hey, buddy, you awake?" The pale blue eyes opened slowly and Hutch looked at him groggily. Starsky rubbed a hand soothingly down Hutch's arm. "Hey, how 'bout some terrible hospital food; do you think you're up for that?" Hutch didn't respond, those eyes in that pale face still focused on Starsky with that slight crinkle in his forehead. "Well, maybe not; I'm not sure if you're allowed to torture your stomach at this point. Let's start with some good ol' H2O."

Starsky poured a cup from the pitcher on the bedside tray, and plopped a straw in it, putting it up to Hutch's lips. Hutch took the straw and drank thirstily. "Thatta boy," Starsky said, relieved to have some response from him, if only this. Starsky watched as Hutch settled his head back down on the pillow, then he said, trying to keep his tone lightly insulting, "You know, Hutch, it's kinda nice getting a word in edge-wise for once..." he halted when he saw Hutch raise an eyebrow. "Hey, you understood that?" He asked excitedly, but Hutch only gazed at him with that same puzzled look. Maybe he just knew I was insulting him from my tone of voice. Everyone always says we don't need words to communicate. He continued with the excited thought, maybe we can talk that way, the way we always do when we're in a fire-zone and can't say stuff out loud. He gave it a try, nodding toward the cup of water in his hand and then tilting his head a little. Hutch gave a slight nod and Starsky quickly moved to refill the cup and offer him the straw. Now if that don't beat all. He had never consciously tried to communicate that way with Hutch, it was just something that seemed to come naturally to them, ever since their Academy days. At least this means he's not a dope. He just doesn't seem to understand words very well. Gotta tell the doc about this.

Starsky put down the cup, pulled the chair closer to the bed and reached to grasp Hutch's hand. He smiled, thrust his chin forward a bit, and then squeezed Hutch's hand. Again, Hutch crinkled the corners of his eyes, and Starsky felt Hutch squeeze his hand slightly. That was, 'are you okay?' 'yeah, I'm alright,' or I am a monkey's uncle. He really is in there, just not talkin'. Maybe we can be the first Mime Cops on the Force. He smiled a bit inwardly at the thought. While it was true Hutch could talk a mean streak when he was on one of his rants, all the really important stuff was communicated with few words, if at all. When Hutch was feeling blue about something, it pretty much took a hammer and a chisel to knock it out of him. Usually Starsky was both the hammer and the chisel.

Starsky felt another squeeze on his hand and looked up from his ruminations to see Hutch tilt his head and scrunch his eyes at him. "Oh, just thinking about how tough it's going to be doing good cop/bad cop if you you're not talking, Hutch," he joked lightly. "I guess you'll have to be the strong, silent meanie." Starsky smiled and got the crinkle in return, and this time Hutch's nose wrinkled a little, too, as if he knew he was the butt end of some gentle teasing.

Hutch shifted uncomfortably, his cheeks twitching a little as his head settled deeper into the pillow. "Guess you're pretty tired, huh, buddy? Why don't you sleep if you can? I have a feeling I'm about to get booted by the nurses, anyway." Starsky reached over and rested his palm on Hutch's forehead, then gently brushed his hand over the tender eyelids, closing them. The fair head nodded, and Hutched sighed and slipped into sleep. Starsky rose quietly and moved toward the door, looking back over his shoulder, unwilling to lose sight of Hutch, alive, still with him. Knew you wouldn't leave me, partner. Now we just gotta get you all the way back. No matter what it took, Starsky would be there, a small repayment, he hoped, for all the care Hutch had given him after Gunther's attempted hit.

~ ~ ~

When Starsky arrived back at the waiting area he was pleased to discover Huggy Bear, a paper bag tucked under one skinny arm, busy schmoozing one of the cuter nurses. Huggy broke off the conversation as he saw Starsky approaching.

"What it is, my man, and what it is, is called 'breakfast.'" Huggy handed Starsky the bag with a little flourish.

"Thanks, Hug." He looked in the bag, unsurprised to find a "Huggy Special" contained within. "Hey, it's my favorite two a.m. snack," Starsky noted wryly. "You're a good pal, Huggy. Don't know what Hutch 'n' me would do without ya." He smiled at his friend in gratitude.

Huggy cleared his throat, "Don't go thinking I made that for you special, I just happened to notice it lying on the counter as I was closing up the Pits tonight. Now, I've been talking to the lovely Nurse Wanda, and she says you've been hanging out and getting in their hair for way too long, bro. Why don't you eat up and go home to catch some Zs?"

Starsky suddenly felt the stress of the past two days slam down on him. "Maybe I will, Huggy. Hutch finally woke up a couple of minutes ago. He was only awake for a little while, but I think maybe he's gonna be alright." Somehow, Starsky didn't want to tell Huggy that Hutch still wasn't quite himself.

"Of course he's gonna be fine; our boy is tougher than a junkyard hound, if not as pretty," Huggy replied with ill-concealed relief. "Now you go get some rest, ya dig? You're looking a bit ragged about the edges," he said, adding, "And don't forget you're responsible for that jungle of his while our faded-out brother is laid up."

"Aww, man, do I gotta?" Starsky asked with unfeigned disgust. His track record with Hutch's indoor garden wasn't the best.

"Yes, you do. Now get outta here so I can make time with Nurse Wanda. I know she can cure my ills," smirked Huggy as he sauntered away with his loose-limbed strut.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 3

On the sidewalk outside of the hospital Starsky suddenly felt strangely light and free. He took a deep breath, feeling his lungs expand. In spite of the fact Hutch wasn't talking yet, the relief of seeing Hutch wake up had loosened a little the bands that had constricted his chest for so long. He climbed into the Torino and drove to Hutch's apartment on autopilot, sliding through the early morning streets like a ghost.

Letting himself into Hutch's place, Starsky could barely keep his eyes open, and stood a moment staring around him. The jungle, right. Gotta water the jungle or when Hutch starts talkin' again I'll never hear the end of it. He went to the kitchen and filled the old pitcher Hutch always used, his thumb rubbing over the rough crack in the handle. Been meaning to surprise him with a new one, this thing could give him a cut if he's not careful.

"All right, plants, listen up. Hutch ain't here right now, so I'm gonna do my best not to kill you outright. Be nice and don't die on me, or you'll get me in real hot water." He quickly finished the watering, then gratefully stripped off his stinky clothes and crawled into Hutch's bed. His last thought before he dropped off the cliff into sleep was to wonder what Hutch was dreaming.

~ ~ ~

Hutch was dreaming of the shooting. Just a mile or so out from Metro, they had responded to the 211 simply because they were close to the location, even though they had a snitch to meet at Pepe's Casa de Burritos. Hutch had been hoping Starsky wouldn't try to cajole him into eating lunch there in the bargain. The 211 was at a liquor store/head shop just a few blocks away, so he put up the Mars light and hung on as Starsky put the Torino through its paces. They pulled up behind the store and both careened out of the car before it had even finished rocking. The storeowner had come running out the back door, shouting frantically and pointing down the alleyway and, seeing the suspects fleeing through a backyard, Hutch and Starsky took up quick pursuit.

Now the dream shifted, and he was hunkered down behind the dumpster. He could hear Starsky's Beretta firing somewhere farther down the alley, but was pinned down by a second perp, with multiple gunshots hitting the dumpster and the brick wall it stood against. He heard mad laughter coming from the suspect, who must've been hopped up on something, and Hutch started to get the bad feeling that it would be tough to bring the gunman down safely. But he knew he had to get out from behind the dumpster soon or Starsky would do something rash to protect him. He quickly flicked his head around the corner to get a snapshot of the gunman's position and then pulled back fast. The gunman was out in the open. He moved to the far side to come from a different angle, and prepared to shoot.

The roaring of the Magnum coincided with the perp's automatic, and suddenly there were bullets everywhere, pinging madly about. Hutch ducked down and to the side and then felt one of them hit. It was like being kicked in the chest by a horse, or maybe by a cannon. There was no pain, just a drifting sensation, an endless falling. He was on the ground, and between the dumpster and the wall there was just enough of a crack for him to see the perp was down, as well; the Magnum had done its work, if a little too late. He knew that Starsky would be coming soon, and he felt sick knowing he would be causing worry, again. Suddenly the floating feeling got worse, and he tasted blood as his eyes rolled. The sky between the buildings was blue-blue, the earlier silvery overcast at last burned away by the noon sun, and there were flecks dancing in the blue, or maybe they were behind his eyes.

~ ~ ~

Blue, blue....Hutch awoke and was surprised not to see blue anymore. He took in his surroundings, smelling disinfectant and bleached linen. He was in the hospital. He shifted, and red pain washed over him. He closed his eyes and took stock. The stiffness in his chest and shoulder reminded him of the dream, and he recalled the alleyway and the dumpster.

Hutch heard footsteps and opened his eyes to a familiar face. His friend. Starsky said something, but Hutch was having trouble understanding; the words seemed to be coming from deep underwater. He drifted some more until he felt a hand touch his wrist. He smiled up into his friend's eyes. Blue! The eyes were blue, and sad. Hutch wanted to do something to ease that sadness, but it was hard to think around the confusion in his head. He gathered himself, trying to focus on the one thing that was clear before the chaos....

~ ~ ~

Starsky now knew all the tricks for sneaking into the ICU without getting hassled. Move like you know where you're going, and avoid eye contact with any personnel you passed. He loped quickly down the corridor to Hutch's room, anxious to see him again. Starsky had slept like the dead for eight hours and awoken feeling refreshed, but also vaguely guilty. A sudden, irrational fear had hit him that Hutch's condition had worsened while he was gone. Forcing down the cold, congealed Huggy Special, he had rushed back to the hospital.

When Starsky arrived at the familiar room, he panicked momentarily to discover an empty bed. Hutch wasn't there. Telling himself to calm down, he checked in at the nurse's station and, sure enough, learned Hutch was doing well enough to be moved to a private room at last. Starsky found him there, Hutch's eyes opening as he approached.

"How's it goin', partner?" he asked with false cheer, then remembered what he had learned the previous night and smiled at Hutch, nodding his head confidently. Hutch seemed more alert today, Starsky was relieved to note. When Starsky reached out to hold his wrist, Hutch smiled with his mouth as well as his eyes. "Well, I guess that's progress, buddy. Looks like you got the lower half of your face under control." Starsky swallowed and his voice got a bit husky, "You know, Hutch, I'm really wishing I could talk to you. I mean I wish you would talk to me, babe." Starsky was abashed to discover his eyes were welling up, the emotional roller coaster of the past few days having exhausted his self-control. He stood in silence for a moment, struggling to get a hold of himself.

Suddenly, Hutch made a small sound, and Starsky looked up, startled, to see Hutch's eyes focused determinedly on him. Hutch took a breath, and then opened his mouth...

"Blue."

Starsky's eyes widened at the sound, and he found himself momentarily speechless. 'Blue,' what the hell does that mean?

But Hutch wasn't finished. He took another breath and croaked, "...dreamed of blue, then it was your eyes."

Starsky gave a snort of surprised laughter at the surreal statement. He said, gently, "You're talking crazy, you know that, ya big blintz?"

Hutch sighed irritably and closed his eyes again, mumbling before he slipped back into sleep, "...you're the crazy one, Starsk."

Starsky stared at his friend while relief flooded through him. Such a simple thing, really, to hear his name spoken once again by that familiar voice, but the sound of it stole all the strength from his legs, and he had to sit down abruptly. He sat there for a timeless moment, soaking in the sight of his partner and letting his gratitude and his joy overwhelm him. He could finally let himself believe. Hutch really is gonna be okay. We made it.

"s'good to have you back, Blondie," Starsky whispered, emotion choking his voice, and he reached out to brush a hand across the pale head.

Hutch slept on, dreaming of blue.

~ ~ ~

Part 2

Chapter 1

Starsky finished packing up the last of Hutch's belongings, then plopped down onto the hospital bed to wait for his partner to return from his physical therapy session. It had been three weeks since the shooting, and Hutch was well on his way to recovering from his wound. Starsky was hugely relieved to have his partner back and talking, even though Hutch lately had been in full kibbitzing mode. In the past week Hutch had grown increasingly impatient with the slowness of his progress since he still had a lot of pain in his chest and shoulder from the surgery. Still, he was remarkably healed and soon would be returning to desk duty.

Starsky would just be glad to see Hutch safely ensconced in his own apartment, surrounded by his jungle, which Starsky had been only moderately successful in preventing from dying altogether. Damned ungrateful green monsters have it in for me, that's for sure, thought Starsky resentfully.

Although they had filled each other in on their experiences of the events leading up to the fateful shot, they hadn't spoken at all about what had occurred after Starsky had found Hutch bleeding on the pavement behind the dumpster. Starsky wasn't sure how to broach the subject, let alone bring up his burning questions about Hutch's "goodbye kiss."

It would help if I knew what he meant by that kiss. He hasn't mentioned anything about it, so maybe it really was just a 'goodbye.' Maybe he would be completely freaked out if he knew what it meant to me. Only I'm not even sure I know. Hell, I'm not even sure I want to know. Starsky sighed, exasperated with himself, and was still frowning when Hutch came back in.

"So, partner, you ready to blow this clambake? I sure am," Hutch grinned, relieved at the prospect of being free of hospital food and smells, and the requisite pokings and proddings. When Starsky was slow to respond, Hutch noticed his frown and commented, "You know sooner or later you're going to have to tell me what's eating you."

Starsky started and made a dismissive noise, "S'nothing Hutch, trying to figure out if we're forgetting anything."

"Yeah, huh? Well, that'll do for now," Hutch said cryptically and, pulling some clothes from his bag, started to change. Starsky shifted to sit on the edge of the bed and to watch Hutch try to navigate a t-shirt over his decidedly inflexible arm and chest. Starsky resisted offering to help. Hutch was in that period of recovery, well-known to both of them, when it seemed denying how serious it was would somehow make the injury less severe, or even heal faster. It was stupid, but they were both were guilty of it.

Hutch made a grimace of pain as he bent to stuff the excess clothing in his bag, and Starsky made an aborted move to assist, backing off at Hutch's grunt of irritation.

"Let's say we get out of here, before they try to wheel me out. I've already signed the release papers," Hutch smiled apologetically, and Starsky roused himself, grinning when he managed to grab the bag before Hutch could protest, and led the way out the door.

~ ~ ~

In the Torino, Starsky was lost in his thoughts as he drove them toward Hutch's apartment. Hutch rolled down his window and leaned out a bit, breathing in the fresh air. It was a beautiful Bay City day, and Starsky took them first to the beach on their way to Venice Place. Some optimistic surfers were sitting on their boards, bobbing gently in the too-smooth ocean. Starsky glanced over at Hutch occasionally, reveling in the sight of his partner beside him where he belonged. All was right with the world, except for the nagging question still itching in his mind. But he said nothing, content for now just to have Hutch alive and well.

Back at the apartment, Hutch headed straight for the fridge. He grabbed a couple of beers and popped the tops, then handed one to Starsky before landing on the sofa and uttering a sigh of contentment. He took a sip of his beer and eyed Starsky, who was still standing awkwardly after depositing Hutch's bag on the floor.

"You auditioning to be a coat rack, Starsk? Why don't you have a seat?" He asked, frowning slightly when Starsky mechanically took the chair opposite the coffee table. "So what've you been chewing over? Don't you think it's time you told me?" Hutch asked gently. Starsky rarely got moody on him, but when he did, it always proved to be interesting.

Starsky took a sip of his beer, trying to think of the best angle for starting the conversation. "Hutch, we never talked about what happened, after you got hit."

"Sure we did, I told you what happened. Must've been a ricochet," Hutch replied, a little surprised.

"No, not how you got hit. I mean afterward. How come we never talk about it?" Starsky asked a little anxiously.

"Well, I guess I didn't want to think about it, much," Hutch replied, and was amazed to see Starsky look....hurt? Why does he look like I kicked him the gut or something? Hutch wondered. He went on, "You know, I don't like to think about how, well, I pretty much died." With a wry look, "You didn't seem to want to talk about it, either, but I know it must've been hard on you." Hutch wished that Starsky were sitting closer so he could offer him a comforting pat.

"It ain't that, Hutch; I mean, it was bad, yeah—thought I was going to go crazy. But you made it, partner." Starsky glanced at his friend gratefully. "What I meant was, what do you remember from before, you know..." Starsky looked uncomfortable, "...from the time you got hit, to when the ambulance came."

Hutch looked puzzled, and paused to consider the question. "I...remember when it hit, and then it was like floating in blue..." Hutch looked embarrassed, "Guess that's about it. Next thing I knew I was in the hospital, and you were there, telling me I was going to be okay."

Starsky stared at Hutch, disbelieving. "You mean you don't remember anything else?"

"Not a thing, partner. But Dobey filled me in a bit, told me you had to do CPR until the EMTs showed up." Hutch grinned ruefully. "Guess that was above and beyond, buddy. Thanks." He ducked his head bashfully.

Starsky stared at Hutch for a moment, deflated, then rubbed his forehead before taking a long swig of his beer. He looked down at the coffee table and said, haltingly, "Hutch. When you were, well, you thought you were dying, you did...you said something. You told me you were sorry, I guess for leaving me behind, and then you told me you loved me." Hutch looked up, surprised, his neck turning red. "And I felt bad, really bad after they took you in the ambulance, because I never, well, I didn't then, because I was in shock I guess, but I don't usually, even though I do..." Starsky grimaced at his stumbling words, but took a breath and barreled on, "I just wished I had told you how important you are to me, before it was too late, I mean. I love you, is what I'm saying." Starsky swallowed and added, "You're the best friend a guy could have."

There was a moment of silence. Hutch cleared his throat, "Guess I got pretty soapy on you, thinking I was dying and all. But I do, you know. Too." Hutch winced a little as he got up from the couch, then came around the coffee table and paused to press his hand on Starsky's shoulder before heading to the kitchen to dump his empty.

Leaning back in his chair, Starsky tossed off the last of his beer and pondered what had just happened.  Doesn't remember...I can't believe it. Now I guess I'll never really know what he meant. Not without asking him outright, and that just ain't gonna happen.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 2

Starsky wasn't sure what was going on. On one hand, we wanted to be around Hutch, and missed him when he wasn't there; but when they were together, Starsky felt anxious and on edge.

They were just doing their regular stuff, working cases; some of them really ugly, like this one with the little five year-old girl who had turned up dead. She had been kidnapped from a suburban home outside of their beat, and had been molested, then strangled. The killer had left the poor body in the cellar of an abandoned building, and it had only been discovered when a worker had showed up to turn off the utilities.

They put in long hours on the case, crabbing at each other and even sometimes at their Captain; hounding the forensics team to analyze every tiny clue. In the end, they finally tracked down the killer by figuratively following in his shoe prints. Apparently, he wore special orthopedic shoes that were custom-made by a shop on the edge of their beat. When they got the info on the suspect's address, they jumped in the Torino, both eager to put the case to rest. But the bust didn't go down smoothly, and they ended up having to chase the killer down. At one point, running in hot pursuit up an alleyway, Hutch hit a slippery patch of refuse and went ass over teakettle in the muck. He was in a foul mood while they drove back to the station to book the suspect, one Harolde Ames. Starsky wasn't in any better a mood, hating the stench rising off his partner in waves, and wondering how he was going to get the smell out of his precious upholstery.

Back at the station, Hutch went down to the showers while Starsky finished up the report. At loose ends, he wandered down to fill in Hutch on Dobey's reaction. He found Hutch in the locker room, shirt off and staring into a mirror trying to assess the scratches on his shoulder and back.

"Starsk, this look clean enough to you? I don't want it to get infected."

Starsky came around for a look. The smooth, light skin was marred with streaks of red. The scratches ran along the back of Hutch's shoulder, ending near the blade. Starsky put a hand on Hutch's arm to angle him better in the light. The abrasion looked clean. He found himself appreciating the well-defined the muscles in Hutch's back; he always knew his partner was strong, but when Hutch was dressed it was easy to forget the deceptively slim form was solid with powerful muscle. Starsky flushed suddenly, confused and dismayed by his train of thought.

Just then, a sardonic voice behind them called out, "Getting your daily feel-up in the locker room? I swear you two are a little light on your feet. Why don't you take it somewhere private?" It was Emerson, a newer uniform in the squad.

Starsky dropped his hand awkwardly and said, gruffly, "Looks fine, Hutch." Hutch turned, surprised, as Starsky said shortly, "Meet you at the car," and left the locker room.

Shrugging into a clean t-shirt, Hutch turned to face Emerson, "You know, Emerson, that mouth of yours could get you into trouble. Lucky for you I've already tangled with enough garbage for one day." Hutch smirked and left to meet Starsky. As he loped with his easy stride to the parking lot, he puzzled over Starsky's uncharacteristic response to the ribbing.

~ ~ ~

In the Torino, Hutch shifted uncomfortably in the seat, his road rash burning a little. Starsky, deep in thought, failed to notice his partner's discomfort. He was focused on what had just happened in the locker room, anxious and desperate for answers. Can't believe I almost threw a woody from looking at Hutch. I've seen him naked about a million times, what the hell just happened?

"So what new culinary delights await us for lunch, Starsk?" Starsky failed to respond, and Hutch looked over impatiently. Starsky was glowering at the road, unhearing.

"I take it from your silence that today is my day to select our lunch spot. And since I know you adore fine, healthy dining, I'm gonna suggest the Golden Garden restaurant," Hutch grinned maliciously. "Just turn right here, Starsk." A little more firmly, "Starsky. Turn right."

Sure enough, Starsky obeyed on autopilot, and continued to take direction from Hutch, making lefts and rights until Hutch finally commanded, "Stop here."

Starsky looked up. "Where are we?"

"At the Golden Garden, my friend. We are about to enjoy lunch nirvana," Hutch smiled beatifically.

"Oh, that's dirty pool, Hutch. You know I can barely find anything worth eating at this place."

"You snooze, you lose, buddy," Hutch laughed, popping out of the door and sauntering toward the entrance, leaving Starsky to grouse to the air.

"Can't give that guy an inch, I swear."

~ ~ ~

Starsky was distracted for the rest of the day. Hutch threw him a couple of glances, wondering if he should say something about the scene in the locker room, but deciding not to push it. Right around time to log out, a call came over the radio for a 211, by coincidence a handful of blocks from their location. Hutch didn't respond to the call; this, at last, seemed to shake Starsky from his trance.

"Aren't you gonna pick that up? That's just past Third Street. We could be there in two minutes."

Hutch sighed, "Buddy, I don't think your head is in this, why don't we let someone else handle this one."

Starsky growled, "You let me worry about my head, Hutchinson. Take the call."

Hutch looked at him, then decided to let his misgivings slide. He picked up the radio, "Zebra Three, we are responding. ETA three minutes."

Starsky grunted and peeled the Torino in a tight U-turn heading toward the location, a porn shop called Ricky's that was familiar to both of them.

"This is the third time they've had a hold-up there; I think Ricky should consider relocating," Hutch commented.

The Torino shuddered to a stop in front of the store and Hutch and Starsky bolted out, sharing a glance before Hutch headed around to the back entrance. He quietly pulled the door open and stepped to the side behind a curtained area, trying to hear what was going on the shop. It sounded like a single perp. Ricky sounded very nervous, indicating that the gunman meant business. Hutch waited until he heard the door open and Starsky's voice at the front of the store as he posed as a customer. Counting on the distraction, Hutch maneuvered past various displays until he had good cover and still a clear angle on the perp. Without needing a cue, Starsky, whose hands were still empty, then pulled to the side, drawing the perp's attention fully away from Ricky, who lost no time sneaking back through the door to his office.

"Drop your gun, this is the police," Hutch declared, and the perp swung wildly around, giving Starsky the opportunity to draw his weapon and take cover behind a bookshelf.

Starsky hollered, "He means it, pal. Drop your weapon, yer surrounded."

At this point, caught dead to rights, your average perp would just drop the gun, but this one responded by taking a pot shot at Starsky. Hutch fired immediately, hitting the man in the hip. He went down hard, dropping the gun.

"Starsk, tell me you're okay, partner," Hutch called. His heart was beating fast. He hadn't liked the sound of that shot hitting the flimsy cover of the bookshelf. He ran over to the fallen perp and kicked the gun farther from his hand.

"Buddy? Starsk?"

"I'm fine, Hutch, just caught a little chunk of wood with my head." Starsky came out from behind the shelf, rubbing his scalp.

Hutch felt his pulse begin to slow. He cuffed the fallen man, waving in the unis just outside the window and giving them the all-clear. He walked over to his friend and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Let me see it, buddy, how bad is it?" Starsky nervously ducked away from Hutch's touch.

"S'fine, Hutch, leave me be."

Hutch's hand fell awkwardly to his side as he stared at his friend. He reached up, again, this time trying to pull Starsky's hand from his head. "Is it bad?" It was the only explanation he could think of for Starsky's odd behavior.

"I told you, it's nothing, Hutch!" Starsky pulled away and walked out of the store, leaving Hutch to stare after him, dumbfounded.

~ ~ ~

Back at the station, Starsky worked on his report like a man possessed. He just wanted the damned day over, already. Gotta get away from Hutch and get my head clear, figure out what the hell is going on, he thought. But Hutch had other plans.

"Starsky, if you're done punishing that poor typewriter, let's turn these things in and get out of here. Maybe we can head over to the Pits, have a beer."

"Sorry, Hutch, but I've got plans for tonight."

"Oh, yeah? Who with?" Hutch asked suspiciously.

Starsky thought fast, "Oh, you don't know her. And if I'm smart, you won't have a chance to," Starsky joked, giving his best mischievous smile. It must have worked, because Hutch merely grunted and got up to turn in his report.

Starsky finished signing his and, on approaching Dobey's office, gave Hutch wide berth as they passed each other. Hutch's eyes followed him curiously as he dropped his report in Dobey's in-box. Hutch waited for Starsky to shrug on his jacket, and then they both walked back to the Torino.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 3

After a quiet 'good night,' Starsky dropped Hutch at his apartment and drove off to his own place, determined to put in some deep thought on his problem. In the porn shop, when Hutch had come over to clasp his shoulder, he had felt the same disturbing warmth that he had in the locker room, but to a lesser degree. He could still almost feel that warm hand on his shoulder and smell Hutch's scent as he leaned in to check on him.

This is all Hutch's damned fault, he thought bitterly, One stupid kiss and I'm all confused.

Back at home, he threw his keys on the coffee table and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Turning on the TV, he decided to relax a bit with a creature feature before trying to figure out his little 'problem.'

Starsky was deep into "The Black Lagoon" when he heard a familiar knock on the door. Hutch, he thought with an inward sigh, and considered not responding. But knowing his partner, that wasn't an option. He lurched to his feet to open the door.

"Date end early?" Hutch looked at him knowingly.

Starsky had to think hard before remembering his lie of earlier. "Naw, she canceled on me."

Hutch made no comment, just tilted an eyebrow asking for entry. Starsky led the way back to the couch and slouched down, putting his feet up on the coffee table. Hutch paused by the television to turn down the volume, then took the seat opposite. He crossed his legs and looked expectantly at his friend.

"What?" Starsky asked, crossly.

"What, what? Aren't you going to tell me what's up with you? You've been acting weird all day. Something's under your skin, partner, and I want to know what." Hutch crossed his arms and looked determined.

I sure wish the hell I knew, thought Starsky, and he grimaced. "I just got some things going on right now. Don't wanna talk about it, Hutch."

"I think I know what's going on, pal, and this isn't going to just go away."

Starsky sat for a moment, panic jump-starting his heart, but then he realized Hutch couldn't possibly know his problem when he didn't even have a clue, himself. "You think you know so much, you tell me, Hutch," he said resentfully.

"It's about that scene with Emerson in the locker room. That crap he spouted really bugged you, didn't it?"

It made for a good out, and Starsky took it. "Yeah, well, didn't it bug you?"

"Not really. People are always saying stuff like that about us, buddy. What does it matter? We know who we are."

Starsky wasn't really sure, anymore. But suddenly he realized Emerson's comments might come in handy. He chose his words carefully. "Hutch, it's not that I mind what he thinks, but don't you think we should worry a little? I mean these are the guys that back us up on the street. What if they decided not to, someday, just because they think we're, uh, you know. What he said. 'Light on our feet.'"

Hutch frowned, and said sarcastically, "The word is 'gay,' Starsky. So what are you trying to say? You think we should change how we act, maybe pretend we don't give a damn about each other just to make some jerk happy?"

"M'not saying we shouldn't give a damn, all I mean is, maybe we shouldn't hang onto each other so much." And maybe I can have a little breathing room for a while, 'til I can get this thing under control.

"'Hang onto each other,'" Hutch looked perturbed.

"You know, touch each other in public so much," Starsky said, uncomfortably.

Hutch's frown deepened, but he appeared to bite back whatever was on his mind. "That what you want?"

Starsky swallowed around the uncomfortable tightness in his throat. "Yeah." He tried to sound firm.

Hutch studied him for a moment, then clipped out, "Fine. We'll play it that way, for now. But it's not what I want, Starsk. Just remember that." Hutch got up with a smooth motion and headed for the door.

"Hutch?"

"See you tomorrow," Hutch said without turning, and left quietly.

As he watched the door close, Starsky couldn't shake the feeling he had just made a terrible mistake.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 4

The next weeks were sheer hell. Starsky had thought once they toned down the physical contact he would feel less confused. But the opposite was true. It only made him realize how much he relied on that contact, daily. Every time he would find himself reaching out he would halt the motion, the unnaturalness of stopping himself making him more aware of his want. And he missed Hutch touching him, the occasional pat on the shoulder or stomach a reassurance of the caring he desperately had to have from his partner.

It didn't help that Hutch seemed distant, himself, as if the only way he could obey Starsky's request was by removing himself, emotionally. His aborted gestures of affection died off quickly, but he continued to glance at Starsky with growing bewilderment and something else that Starsky couldn't read. Hutch's movements around Starsky grew stilted and stiff. Starsky started to feel like they were two puppets with their strings getting yanked. Only he, himself, was the puppet master, as this had been his own stupid idea in the first place.

And his little problem was getting worse. Unavoidable contact had proven that to him on one of the first days out, when reaching across the seat to hunt in the glove compartment had brought him close enough to smell Hutch's aftershave and feel the warmth of his partner sitting beside him. Five seconds later he had acquired his worst hard-on, yet. He retreated in confusion without finding the papers he had been searching for; avoiding Hutch's puzzled glance, he managed to throw out a mumbled "Gonna grab some coffee," before making his escape from the suddenly too-small confines of the Torino.

In the coffee shop across the street he finally admitted the cold truth. This ain't some phase or something, this is the real deal. Straight Jewish boy from Brooklyn has the hots for his big manly partner. News at 11. Starsky thought darkly. And I've got about three minutes to tame this woody I've got or he's gonna know it, too. A few seconds later he discovered that burning his mouth on some too-hot coffee was a marvelously successful cure for unwanted sexual arousal. Wish I'd known that trick back in High School, he thought wryly as he stomped back to the car.

For Starsky, the game from then on became hiding the truth from his partner, for there was no doubt in his mind that Hutch couldn't possibly feel the same way; the kiss that had originally started Starsky down this path now seemed remote and unreal. He had all but convinced himself that it had just been Hutch's way of saying 'goodbye'; a kiss of friendship, nothing more.

~ ~ ~

Three weeks after Starsky learned the unexpected benefits of hot coffee, Dobey sent them to an evidence-gathering workshop downtown. Two full days of sitting in a stuffy auditorium listening to a know-it-all drone on and on had done nothing to improve their mood, and both partners were bored enough to start passing notes during the lectures. One such note, in which Starsky detailed the failed evidence-gathering expedition for signs of the lecturer's brain, had forced Hutch to cover his mouth to smother his frantic chortling. Starsky looked at his friend fondly as he tried not to laugh, himself, enjoying the brief return to normalcy between them.

Out in the corridor at the end of the second day, they learned that they had been observed by unkind eyes.

"Saw you two passing love notes in class. Planning to meet in the locker room after gym? Maybe Hutchinson will let you get to second base this time, huh, Starsky?" Emerson leered at them from beside the water fountain.

Starsky instantly flushed red with rage, and he almost growled as he attempted to lunge at Emerson. Hutch pulled him back just in time.

"Easy, buddy, he's just not worth it." Hutch's voice oozed calm, but his arm around Starsky's chest wasn't helping matters, any.

Starsky shrugged him off and muttered, "Yeah, not worth it. Not worth much at all." He turned stiffly and headed to the nearest bathroom, his heart pounding with a confusing mixture of rage and arousal.

Once inside, he hastened to splash some cold water on his face, and then stared at himself in the mirror. His eyes were wild and seemed darker than usual, the pupils widened by the strange mix of emotions. Gotta get a grip, Hutch'll be in here any second. But all he could think of was that strong arm around him, their first close contact after the drought of the past weeks. Been wanting that, needing that so much. Don't know how much longer I can hang on like this. He sighed with despair, and then turned as the door opened and his partner entered, looking concerned.

"You okay, buddy? Why the hell do you let that guy get to you? He's just a flatfoot with a chip on his shoulder."

Hutch looked around to make sure they were in private, and then approached his partner. He hesitated, and then put his hands on Starsky's shoulders. Hutch shook him a little and said, "Jesus, Starsk, you're wound up like a rubber band. What's going on with you?" Hutch looked down at his friend with caring eyes and massaged his shoulders.

It was too much. Suddenly Starsky couldn't stand it anymore, the edgy nervousness in his stomach, and the constant pressure of having to hide his new-found feelings. He shuddered under Hutch's hands, and something seemed to break inside him.

"Starsk...?"

"Get your damned hands off! I told you to stop touching me!" Starsky choked out angrily, and jerked himself away roughly.

Hutch looked shocked and backed off automatically with his palms raised. Starsky's words seemed to reverberate in the small room as Hutch stood for a long moment staring at him. For a second Starsky was relieved, then guilt crashed down on him as he watched Hutch's eyes to turn to steel, an icy mask chilling his Nordic features.

Starsky waited breathlessly for the explosion that must shortly follow. But the mask didn't crack. With frigid politeness, Hutch said, coolly, "I beg your pardon." It was as if Hutch was apologizing for bumping into a total stranger. He turned and walked out, leaving Starsky standing with dread growing in his stomach.

Christ, I've done it this time," Starsky thought. Anyone else might have been fooled by Hutch's frozen face, but Starsky knew him, knew how Hutch retreated into his overly-polite Hutchinson persona in extremity. And he suddenly realized he had seen glimpses of that face repeatedly these past weeks. I thought I was saving us, but I'm just screwing things up worse. Starsky now remembered, all too late, how Hutch had been when they first met at the Academy, so stiff and unwilling to engage in physical contact. Like he had been raised by porcupines, thought Starsky, and I forced him right back into that box. Starsky now knew his affectionate, compassionate partner had been hurting this whole time, but Starsky had just been too lost in his own dilemma to see it.

I've gotta make it right. Dunno how, but I gotta.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 5

Starsky charged up the stairs at Venice Place balancing a box of pizza and trying to keep the cold beer properly segregated. A transparent peace offering, but he was determined to set things straight, somehow, and he was all out of other ideas. Hurtin' him, and I never wanted to. But it would be worse if I told him what's going on with me. How could we ever get over that?

Starsky knocked and, getting no answer, used his key to get in, expecting to find Hutch buried in his jungle, his favorite hideout when things got bad. He found the apartment in near-darkness, and stumbled over to the coffee table to deposit the food before reaching for a lamp. The pale light revealed a blinking Hutch sitting on the floor against the sofa.

"Hutch, you nappin' or something?" Starsky asked apologetically. Hutch just blinked owlishly at him. Starsky nodded toward the pizza box, "Sorry, buddy, but I brought dinner, and it's getting cold."

"Don't want any," Hutch mumbled resentfully, and rubbed his face irritably. Starsky's eye fell on a couple of empty beer bottles and, to his surprise, an open bottle of whiskey on the floor beside Hutch. He sank to sit on the chair opposite Hutch.

"Jeez, Blondie, looks like you started without me. Is that any way to treat your best buddy?" Starsky's voice echoed hollowly, as Hutch pushed himself off the floor to slouch on the sofa.

"But we aren't any more, are we," Hutch said, his voice raw with sadness, "Lost my best friend, and I don't even know what I did wrong. What'd I do, Starsk?" he asked pleadingly, haunted eyes raised to look beseechingly at Starsky.

Starsky couldn't speak for a moment for the lump in his throat; he wasn't ready for this, he still didn't know what he was going to say. He tried to dissemble, "Dunno what you mean, Hutch. You're the best friend I got in the whole world," wincing a little to hear the false tone of his words.

Hutch stared at him a moment more in disbelief, then said, hoarsely, "That's it, then, is it?" In growing anger, he bit out, "Well, you can take your bullshit and your crappy pizza, friend, and get the fuck out."

Rarely did his refined partner use language like that, and Starsky knew he had to say something, now, or there wouldn't be anything left of them to save. He fell back on honesty, saying quietly, "I know I deserve that, Hutch, but you gotta understand—"

"How can I understand when you won't talk to me, Starsky?" Hutch interrupted, agitated.

"I'm trying to, Hutch, gimme a minute, wouldya?" Starsky rose from his chair and paced a bit, trying to think of a way to explain his behavior without revealing too much. But I can't let him go on thinking this is his fault. "It's not something you did, Hutch, I swear, or not something bad you did..." Starsky started hesitantly, then sighed. "Lately, well, since...you remember when you got shot?" he asked, stupidly, and almost smiled to hear Hutch's bitter chuckle.

"Which time would that be, buddy?"

"The time behind the dumpster, you big dummy. This last time, when you, you know...stopped breathing." Starsky had to take a deep breath, himself, remembering the awfulness of that moment, the stark fear and dread that had never really left him.

Hutch watched him, and his voice gentled a little, "I remember. I don't remember when I stopped breathing, of course, I told you I lost that part..."

Starsky sighed and finally stopped his pacing and plopped on the couch next to Hutch, turning to face him with one knee bent. Hutch raised a hand to touch Starsky's shoulder, then ceased mid-movement, sudden pain in his eyes. He dropped his hand and turned his face away.

Jesus, I gotta tell him; I can't take this anymore, him thinking I don't care, hurting him because I'm such a coward.

"Hutch. Something happened that day. I kept hoping you'd remember, but you never did. You thought you were...dying, and you said you were sorry," Starsky paused, and swallowed thickly before continuing, "and, like I told you before, you told me you loved me."

"Yeah, huh? Well, I do, even if you are a total jerk sometimes." Hutch didn't sound like he was kidding.

Starsky smiled sadly. "And then, well, you, uh, you kissed me."

Hutch snapped his head to stare at Starsky in disbelief. "I what?"

"You kissed me," Starsky said, firmly, and then clarified, "On the lips."

There was a beat of silence, and then Hutch whispered, "Kissed you?" He looked dismayed, which made Starsky feel, if it were possible, even worse. I knew it, it was just friendship, that's all, nothing more, and now I'm in too deep.

"It's okay, Hutch, I mean, I know you were just saying goodbye, but ever since then..." Starsky didn't get to finish, because suddenly Hutch was up, pacing and running his hands almost violently through his blond hair. He walked about the small room, seemingly lost in an internal dialog, and then suddenly froze and looked up. He groaned and put his face in his hands, and Starsky heard him mumble,

"Oh God, I remember. I remember, now. It hit me so suddenly, and then it was too late..." Hutch seemed lost in misery, and Starsky tried to regain his attention.

"Hutch. C'mere and sit down," he commanded. Hutch looked up, bewildered, and then stepped back over to the couch and sank down. He rested his elbows on his knees and once again put his face in his hands.

"Hutch, tell me what you remember. I need to know," Starsky said, firmly.

Some moments passed, Starsky waiting patiently, until finally Hutch sighed and dropped his hands. Staring before him he took a deep breath and replied, "I was lying on the ground, and looking up at the sky. It was so blue. I guess I knew the hit was pretty bad, because I felt like I was floating right up into it. And then you were there, Starsky, and I thought, 'His eyes are bluer,' and suddenly I couldn't stand it, that I was dying right then, because I had only just realized..." Hutch's voice faded off, and his face flushed.

Starsky held his breath, his pulse beating a tattoo in his temples, and he choked out, "What did you realize, Hutch?"

Hutch sighed and then looked directly at Starsky, who was surprised to see a hard glint in Hutch's eye.

"I realized I... wanted you. Wanted to...be...with you." Hutch paused, then said, roughly, "I knew it was rotten to lay that on you, just as I was dying, but I did it anyway. Kissed you. And now," Hutch looked away, devastated, "now I've lost you as a friend."

Starsky knew he had to speak, to reassure Hutch, but it was hard to talk with the emotion that was pressing at the back of his throat. He forced out, "Hutch, I swear you haven't lost me, in fact," he paused to swallow thickly around the dryness, "the reason I've been, well, avoiding you, is because that kiss did something to me. I felt something, too."

Hutch looked up, surprised, and then disbelieving. "But you didn't want me touching you. You were completely freaked out."

"I was freaked out, but about me. About what I was feeling." Starsky continued, "When it happened, and while I was waiting for you to get better, I kept wondering what you meant by that kiss. It was just for a second, but it hit me pretty hard, Hutch. Made me think maybe you wanted to, well, to be more than just partners. And somehow I didn't exactly...hate that idea." Starsky looked quickly to see how Hutch was taking it, and saw Hutch's eyes were wide with wonder. He ducked his head and continued.

"So, I wasn't sure what you meant by it, but after a while I kinda hoped you meant...that. But then you told me you didn't remember any of what happened. By then, though, it was too late. I started getting, uh, physical reactions when I was around you. Got so all you had to do was touch me and...well." Starsky got it all out in a rush, surprised at how easy it was to almost say it. Can't exactly say I kept throwing a rod around you, but I think you get the idea, Hutch.

Starsky looked up again to see belief growing on Hutch's face. Belief, and something else; something dark and smoky and possessive that made his groin tighten alarmingly. They both sat, frozen, staring at each other, the tension palpable.

"Beer." said Starsky.

"Huh?" Hutch looked dazed, as if waking up from a dream.

"The beer is getting warm, and the pizza is getting cold," Starsky jumped up nervously, and grabbed a couple out of the six-pack, forcing one on Hutch before walking over to the refrigerator. He put the remaining bottles in the fridge, pausing a moment to let the cool air wash over his heated skin. He turned to see Hutch staring at the bottle in his hand as if he didn't know what to do with it. Starsky turned away and focused on breathing.

All this time, thinking about it, or trying not to think about it, and now what the hell do I do? he wondered. The situation was so unreal. Was he supposed to pour some wine and put on The White Album? He snorted, amused, and turned in time to see Hutch put down his beer purposefully and stand up. Hutch's eyes were slitted, the pale blue glowing in the half-light, and Starsky's stomach dropped as Hutch started walking toward him determinedly. That look in Hutch's eyes...

Good thing I'm not made of wood, or I'd be toast by now, Starsky thought nonsensically, and started to panic a little. He swallowed nervously, "Hutch. You know, I've had plenty of time to think about all this, maybe you need some time to adjust to the idea; I mean, if you do..." he babbled.

Hutch smiled slightly, "Shhhh." He stopped before Starsky and looped his large hand around the back of Starsky's neck.

"Oh God, Hutch, what if...this could be an awful mistake," Starsky gasped a little as that strong hand started rubbing him soothingly.

"It's gonna be okay, Starsk."

"But how do you know?"

"Because it's us." Hutch said simply, and he leaned in, gently tugging Starsky forward until their foreheads rested together. They were looking into each other's eyes from inches apart, and Starsky felt his chest swell with the most incredible feeling.

Hutch whispered, "Blue, so blue, and everything true in them. More love than I've ever deserved."

Starsky's heart thudded painfully. "Christ, Hutch, you're killing me."

Hutch laughed softly, and nodded, their foreheads moving together, and said, "Then we'll go out together, buddy." And he tilted his head, and their lips met.

~ ~ ~

Hutch was kissing him. Starsky couldn't wrap his head around it; it was so strange, and yet so exciting. He could feel the blood rushing in his veins like a high keening, matching the heat in his belly and the flush on his cheeks. Hutch's tongue touched his lips and, with a silent gasp, he opened his mouth and took it in, his own tongue curling around Hutch's. He tasted whiskey, and Hutch. It tasted fantastic.

Starsky felt Hutch's arms move to circle him, and he reveled in their familiar strength as they wrapped around his waist. Finally, they broke off kissing long enough to pant, neither one looking at the other. Starsky put his own arms around Hutch's shoulders and tilted his head so his chin rested against the smoothness of Hutch's neck.

This, at least, he was used to, the sensation of being held by Hutch, and holding him; how many times had one been injured or in pain and reached out for this comfort? But never while sporting a boner, thought Starsky with hysterical amusement. And he had a good one, tenting his jeans and making him want to rub against Hutch's warm body.

This is ridiculous, I've gotta say something or I'll go nuts, Starsky thought, and opened his eyes, pulling back from Hutch's embrace.

"This is weird, Hutch." Okay, not a good opener....

"Yeah, weird," Hutch said, but he was smiling softly, and there was a look on his face that Starsky had only ever seen once before, when Hutch had been dating Gillian, before it all turned to dust. And Starsky remembered how angry he had felt on Hutch's behalf, and helpless to prevent the pain he knew Hutch would feel when Starsky told him the truth. This time, there ain't no ugly truth, because I love him, and I'll be damned if I ever hurt him.

Hutch was still looking down at Starsky, seemingly mesmerized. He had placed his palm against Starsky's cheek and was stroking the eyebrow above with his thumb, hypnotically.

Starsky's heart caught in his throat and lodged there. Unable to speak, he tilted his head up for another kiss, this time pressing his body aggressively against Hutch's, letting his partner feel his hard-on. He tugged at the buttons on Hutch's shirt, wanting to feel that smooth chest and the sweet lines that had first aroused him in the locker room all those weeks ago. He got the shirt open enough to stroke his palms against Hutch's chest, and he felt a tremor go through the big frame. Starsky delighted in this sign that Hutch was as profoundly undone as he was by what was happening.

Then Hutch's hands moved in a counter-attack, and Starsky lost what was left of his breath when he felt those large palms cupping his ass, squeezing him possessively. Starsky groaned and broke off the kiss to trail his lips across Hutch's cheek, finally coming to a rest to nuzzle against the smooth neck, and Hutch actually shuddered.

"Bastard!" Hutch gasped, and Starsky chuckled.

A moment later, though, he wasn't laughing. Hutch impatiently pulled Starsky forward and ground their hips together, their matching hardnesses pressing together and causing the most amazing sensations to shoot up from Starsky's groin.

"Bed," Hutch growled, and Starsky suddenly felt a pang of uncertainty.

"Hutch, I don't know what..."

"Doesn't matter, we'll figure something out. Or die trying," Hutch rumbled, and Starsky could only nod and stumble his way to the bedroom with Hutch trailing close.

~ ~ ~

Chapter 6

In Hutch's bedroom, Starsky carefully made his way to the nightstand and flipped on the lamp. He turned to see Hutch watching from the doorway, one hand raised to his chest, his fingers rubbing the smooth skin there. Starsky had seen Hutch perform the absent-minded gesture a hundred times, but this was the first time he really recognized the sensual nature of the movement. He suddenly wondered what Hutch would be like in bed. Not that I haven't heard stories from the girls we've dated, but then I was always thinking of it like a competition. Now all that sensual energy would be focused on him, and he shivered with anticipation, and a little fear. I remember Linda saying Hutch could go all night, and Starsky flashed on a picture of Hutch "going" at him. The image was too powerful, and he felt his groin throb.

"What are you thinking about?" Hutch asked him huskily.

"Can't tell you. Just...c'mere." Starsky ached to feel Hutch against him again.

Hutch smiled as if he'd read Starsky's thoughts, which he probably had. As he moved forward Hutch finished unbuttoning his shirt, tugging the tails out of his pants, and Starsky lost no time sliding his hands under the material to let them rove across Hutch's back. He felt Hutch shiver.

"Touching me...nice to have you touching me again. So good..." Hutch said; then, "Take off your clothes."

Starsky grinned slightly at the commanding tone and proceeded to obey somewhat frantically, discovering he had apparently forgotten how to work the fly on his jeans. Eventually he managed, and looked up to see Hutch had also stripped down to his boxers, then stopped. Does either of us have a clue how to do this? Guess I don't even care.

Then Hutch pulled him close for another kiss, and Starsky stopped thinking entirely. All he could do was feel; feel Hutch's hands on him, his lips, their skin sliding together. Then he was falling, being supported by those hands as they both tumbled to the bed to press harder, erections rubbing against each other through the thin cloth of their underwear. Starsky gasped as Hutch reached down and palmed him through his shorts, then reached inside and grasped his cock, and Starsky squeezed his eyes tight, sparks shooting behind his eyelids. Suddenly he was close, too close, and he pushed up against that hand until he shouted and came hard.

"God, Hutch!" Starsky opened his eyes slowly to see Hutch up on one elbow, looking down at him, his eyes still devouring him. Starsky reached up and traced the scar on Hutch's chest, as if tracing the journey they had taken from that fateful shot to this moment. He pushed on Hutch's shoulder until Hutch rolled onto his back, and then Starsky put his mouth on the scar, dragging his lips down until he hit a flat, round nipple. He tongued and sucked it until he heard Hutch groaning. Starsky looked up to see Hutch looking down at him disbelievingly, as if he couldn't comprehend it was his partner doing this to him.

You ain't seen nothing yet, baby blue, Starsky thought, and proceeded to kiss his way down the smooth torso. He dipped his tongue in Hutch's belly button and smiled when Hutch lurched, gasping. Now he had reached the top of the underwear, and he thought, This is it, and braced himself before he peeled back the top of Hutch's shorts to reveal his hard cock. For some reason he thought he might find it strange, or even repulsive. But it was just Hutch, part of Hutch. And, as it turned out, a big part of Hutch. The shaft was long and thick; from casual peeks in the showers, he'd always known Hutch was hung, more so than himself, though not by too much. But he had never seen Hutch erect. It was a monster.

"Starsk?" came Hutch's uncertain voice, and Starsky realized he'd been staring, unmoving, for a while. Starsky shook off his hesitation.

"Wanna make you feel good, babe. Tell me what you like." Then he took hold of Hutch's cock with this left hand and without pause, sucked the head into his mouth.

"GOD!" Hutch groaned, and reached down to touch Starsky's lips where they met his flesh.

Starsky lifted his mouth, "You taste good, Hutch. Real good." Then set his tongue to swirling around the crown before sucking Hutch deeper into his mouth. Hutch's hands jumped to his head, tangling in his hair and following the movement. Starsky kept his left hand wrapped around the bottom of the shaft, moving up and down with a steady rhythm, while he tried a couple of things with his tongue that he, himself, had always enjoyed. Apparently, from Hutch's almost continuous moans, they had similar likes. Once he had his rhythm down, Starsky used his right hand to gently squeeze Hutch's balls, rolling them in his fingers. Hutch bucked his hips once, then restrained himself. He started pleading.

"Please, Starsk, you gotta stop, I'm gonna come...."

Starsky just intensified his sucking, rubbing his tongue firmly and then softly at the sensitive spot just below the head. Then he flattened his tongue and applied a steady, stroking pressure. Hutch growled low and tensed. Starsky felt Hutch's balls tighten and the shaft start pulsing. He kept stroking with his tongue gently, and let the fluid collect in his mouth, not certain if he could coordinate swallowing.

Finally, the pulsing stopped, and Starsky raised his head to see Hutch's sated face, his eyes still glazed with passion. Starsky swallowed deliberately, and then grinned, feeling inordinately proud of his accomplishment and of the look on Hutch's face. I did that to him...

"Jesus, Starsk. Think I forgot to breathe there for a second."

"S'ok, Hutch. Mouth-to-mouth has taken on a whole new meaning for me," Starsky deadpanned.

Hutch snorted then said, gruffly, "C'mere, you," tugging on Starsky's shoulder to get him up closer, then pulling him in until they were snuggly wrapped together, legs tangled and heads facing each other on the pillow. Hutch shifted until their lips were close, almost touching, and he said quietly, "And here I thought you didn't want to be my friend anymore. Pretty stupid, huh?"

"S'my fault, Hutch. I messed things up pretty bad."

"Yeah, well, I think you just made it up to me." Hutch rolled onto his back and grimaced. "Anyway, you might as well say it was my fault for forgetting I kissed you."

"You were pretty busy bleeding at the time, it's understandable." They both laughed darkly.

Starsky was beginning to drift, exhausted from the events of the day and the past weeks. But there was still something important to say.

"Hutch?"

"Yeah?" the reply came sleepily.

Starsky waited until the blond head rolled back toward his on the pillow.

"I really, really, hate the Golden Garden."

Hutch smiled, and blue eyes met blue.

 

The End

 

July 2004
San Francisco, CA