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Crab Sandwiches Book one

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Crab Sandwiches
By Dawnwind

 

The Santa Ana winds swept across the Los Angeles basin in their yearly scourge. Sending the accumulated smog out to sea, they brought in hot, scorching gusts that had the reputation for mayhem and violence. The Santa Anas had actually figured into a long ago trial as the catalyst for murder.

As the searing temperatures frayed nerves and heightened tempers, police watched the weather reports with hope of an end to the siege of nature. Starsky and Hutch just worked their tails off attempting to keep down crime within their little segment of Bay City. But even they were not immune to the unrest in the air. They'd snapped at each other all day, but it wasn't the heat that made both surly.

"Did you make an appointment finally?" Hutch asked casually without looking over as Starsky slid back into the car.

Steering his newest in a long line of unpretentious beaters back into traffic, Hutch pretended to be engrossed in his job of scanning his side of the sidewalk for one Vinnie Schroeder, a low life drug dealer suspected of hacking his girlfriend to death when she tried to kick her habit. As it stood, Vinnie was the last thing on Earth Hutch was currently interested in. He was far more worried about Starsky, or more to the point, the swelling on the back of Starsky's calf. As usual, Starsky had dismissed it as the souvenir from an unfortunate encounter with a steel-toed boot worn by a drunken dockworker they'd arrested during a smuggling ring case. However, that had been over a month ago and the leg was still swollen--and hard. Hutch could feel the lump when he pushed his cold toes up against Starsky's leg every night when they got in bed together. It scared him every night.

"Yes, mom, I made an appointment," Starsky snapped grumpily. He pushed the longish curls off his neck, wiping away the sweat. "The doc was backed up, so it's scheduled for next Tuesday."

"Good, I'm coming along." Hutch stepped on the brake at a red light, glancing over at Starsky. The interior of the un-air-conditioned car was so hot heat ripples were rising off the dashboard. Starsky had his left leg crossed over the right, left ankle resting on his opposite knee, but the swelling wasn't noticeable under his jeans. "You'll act like there's nothing there and refuse to cooperate."

"I cooperate!" Starsky protested.

"Yeah, the way you manage to 'forget' your physical every year until Dobey practically has to put you on suspension to make you go get one," Hutch said snidely. He hadn't really meant to sound harsh, but Starsky's abject refusal to take his own health seriously was getting on Hutch's last nerve. For a man who'd spit death in the face and lived to tell the tale, Starsky acted like he was immortal. And Hutch knew differently. "Starsky, I just--just need to know you're going to be around for a while longer," he added quietly.

"What, you take out a life insurance policy on me or somethin'?" Starsky grinned suddenly, transformed into the mischievous imp, all bright blue eyes and elfin charm.

"Or something. There's that interdepartmental basketball game coming up at the end of the month."

"Wouldn't miss it for the world. I can wait t'smear Sutter Precinct's nose in the court." Starsky stifled a grimace when he shifted his legs, but Hutch noticed.

The bitter taste of fear hovered in the back of his throat and Hutch swallowed tightly. Maybe Starsky was right? It was only a deep bruise that was taking too long to heal. Or maybe he needed to eat less salt. That could make your legs swell up. And Starsky could definitely cut down on his salt intake. He could just improve his diet all the way around. For a man pushing forty he had terrible eating habits.

Hutch smiled slightly to himself in spite of his worry. Starsky had maintained the same food patterns in all the years they'd been together. Ten years as partners on the police force, and then four and a half more as partners in life as well as on the force. The last thing in the world Starsky would ever give up was his pizza, burritos and beer. Even the small changes Hutch had been able to instigate over the years, such as vegetarian night and bran muffins for breakfast, were always grumbled about when Starsky wanted to get Hutch's hackles up.

"That new guy, Nugyen, he's starting to paint his face blue and howl at the moon." Starsky said with a straight face.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Hutch exploded, managing to keep both hands on the wheel despite the urge to wring Starsky's neck.

"You've worrying again and those little lines between your eyebrows turn into caverns worthy of the Grand Canyon," Starsky accused. "Stop glowering, Hutch. I made the appointment, I'll go. End of story." He reached over in a rare public sign of affection and smoothed the lines away from Hutch's forehead. "I worry about you too, you big lug."

The temperatures topped in the low nineties just after twelve but, like mad dogs and Englishmen, Starsky and Hutch were out in the noon day sun. After a day of running down leads and questioning a few of their snitches known to buy from Schroeder, they grabbed some dinner at Hutch's new favorite restaurant 'The Good Earth'.

Starsky pretended to complain about his bean and avocado whole-wheat burrito but in fact he enjoyed every healthy mouthful. It was important to keep the status quo and not let Hutch know he was winning on the food front. Starsky could feel the years creeping up on him. Forty was just around the corner bringing with it the joys of middle age. Starsky cherished his supreme good fortune to have reached this ripe old age, having nearly shaken off this mortal coil when he was 34, so he was bound and determined to start dealing with the trials of advancing age. Eating right was the easiest to do, since Hutch was there to supervise nearly every meal he ate.

Taking a sip of his iced tea Starsky made a face. "They make the worst tea here."

"It's herbal, Starsk, get used to it," Hutch said, taking another bite of salad. "How's your burrito?"

"Edible," Starsky grunted.

Hutch nodded, their eyes connecting for a moment. The gentle expression on his face told Starsky he was aware they were using routine as comfort. Hutch was scared of what the doctor might say.

Starsky refused to let stuff like that bother him. Deep down he knew it wasn't normal to have a lump below his knee for over a month but dwelling on the worst wouldn't help matters. He'd heard of lots of people going in for consults only to have their fears evaporate when the doctor proclaim the bump to be nothing more than water on the knee or an infected bug bite. Nothing to stress about. Except the damned thing did ache, especially at night when he was trying to go to sleep. That was the hardest time to convince himself that it was nothing.

Bellies filled, Starsky and Hutch were just opening the doors of the car when an announcement came over the police band that Schroeder had been spotted only a few blocks away. With any luck they'd be first on the scene. Both had known Schroeder's 'ole lady' Emerald, a once stunningly beautiful Asian girl who had let poverty, drugs and life grind her into the ground long before Schroeder took a knife to her. Hutch had been known to slip Emerald an extra twenty over and above the money they paid her for info. They had both seen her mutilated body and vowed to bring the drug dealer down.

As Hutch turned onto Del Prado, Starsky saw a familiar figure glance over his shoulder at their car and abruptly disappear between two buildings. Twilight's eerie light made identification dicey but the fleeing man sure looked like Vinnie Schroeder.

"He's down the alley!" Starsky had the car door open and was pelting across the sidewalk even before Hutch brought the Ford to a complete stop. Starsky was already a brown and blue blur by the time Hutch joined the pursuit. He took a parallel course to the unnamed alley hoping to bracket Schroeder between Starsky and himself.

Dodging a jumble of discarded lumber next to a dumpster, Starsky chased Schroeder, swearing between hitched breaths when his prey went left onto the next street. It was markedly darker in the alley than it had been on the street and Starsky found it difficult to keep his speed in the littered passageway. Some long abandoned construction project had scattered wood, sacks of powdered cement and rolls of rotting linoleum in untidy heaps like a mock-up of the obstacle course at the police academy. Starsky barked his right knee on an unseen hurdle and nearly pitched forward but righted himself before he fell. Luckily, he managed to keep a grip on his gun. Where had Schroeder gone?

His feet pounding on the bone jarring concrete Starsky tried to ignore the deep ache in his left calf that was threatening to slow him even further. Using the corner of a condemned apartment as a counterweight, he propelled himself around the end of the alley and burst onto 39th Ave.

Between one footfall and the next blinding, excruciating pain disabled Starsky, driving him into the wall as his left leg suddenly refused to support his weight.

Frantically trying to remain standing, he managed to duck Schroeder's second swing with a section of two by two by sheer luck. Starsky's calf was a concert of agony in every key and even touching his foot to the pavement was unbearable. He forced up his gun hand, holding the gun toward Schroeder, identifying himself.

"Thought you had me, cop?" Schroeder took a menacing practice swing, holding the rough length of wood like a professional batter.

Starsky balanced against the wall and sucked in his belly when the wood passed fractions of an inch away from him but it knocked his pistol to the ground. Clutching at a split shingle on the wall behind him Starsky knew his strength was failing fast, draining down his useless leg. He didn't even want to think about what kind of damage that log had caused, but the pain in his knee and calf was indescribable, utterly immobilizing, and he began to fear Schroeder's next time up at bat. If that plank connected with his head, he would be dead and without a weapon, he was defenseless.

"Where's your partner now, huh, Starsky?" Schroeder laughed low and deep in his throat. He didn't sample his own wares so he had none of the stringy hunger of a junkie. His black eyes glowed with maniacal glee, a career criminal suddenly presented with favorite fantasy--taking out a cop. "Think he can save you? Where's Hutch?"

"Right here." The deafening roar from his long barreled Python punctuated Hutch's words. Schroeder dropped the wood when a bullet tore through his arm. He screamed, clutching the wound.

No longer needing to remain upright, Starsky slid down the wall, the shingles abrading the skin on his back where his shirt pulled out from his jeans, leaving a line of splinters. A rush of relief washed over him. Hutch would take care of things; he'd mop up the arrest giving Starsky time to rest. If he could just endure pressure on his injured leg maybe he could get home without Hutch insisting on a visit to the ER.

Fat chance.

"Starsk?" Hutch's voice was pitched higher than usual with alarm and Starsky wanted to tell him not to worry, that everything was all right now, but for some reason he wasn't quite up to making intelligent conversation yet. "Hey, buddy?" Hutch crooned softly. "Let me take a look at that leg."

"N-no!" Starsky screamed when Hutch barely brushed a hand on his jeans covered knee. "It's...don't touch, Hutch…"

"You're a poet," Hutch teased gently, taking his hand away. "How bad does it hurt?'

Things were beginning to reorient themselves and Starsky realized it was nearly full dark now; Hutch's face was a pale moon above him, indistinct and almost featureless in the gloom. He must have passed out for a short time because two uniforms were now hauling Schroeder away and a whooping siren was approaching at all speed from the way the sound increased in decibels. Abruptly the noise ceased when a squat red truck stopped only a short distance away, discouraging paramedics.

"You called them?" Starsky asked in disgust, his righteous anger diminishing the all-encompassing pain.

"You need to be checked out," Hutch said with that irritating patience that he got when he thought he was right. "You can't stand. I think your leg is broken."

"Is not!" Starsky retorted defiantly, struggling to get off his butt. "Would you help me up? Some ice'll take care of this in no time."

Holding his hands up like a hostage in a bank robbery Hutch backed away. "Sorry, Starsky, not until the pros take a look."

"Traitor," Starsky groused avoiding Hutch's gaze with the truculence of a three year old. He focused instead on the two paramedics carting out equipment. If he could take charge of the situation, he'd avoid a hospital stay. At all costs, Starsky wanted to avoid the hospital. He'd prefer not even enter the double doors of the ER but the determination on the faces of both paramedics brooked no argument on that front.

"Don't cut my jeans," Starsky ordered when the small black woman bent down to examine his rapidly expanding knee joint. "I just got 'em broken in."

"Can't get them off any other way." She shrugged; brandishing a pair of oddly bent scissors and began to snip the hem of his latest favorite jeans down near Starsky's foot. Just the touch of her hand on his skin sent a jolt of agony up his leg.

"Oh, shit!" Starsky screamed. Rearing up, he tried to jerk away from her grasp.
Hutch pulled Starsky into a protective embrace, murmuring comforting words but he barely heard them. The pain was a live beast gnawing on the bone, and as much as Starsky wanted to deny it, this was no ordinary broken leg. When he was ten, he'd broken his leg, the same one, as a matter of fact, but it hadn't felt anything like this. The resiliency of youth didn't explain why this one hurt so incredibly much more.

He tried concentrating on the feel of Hutch's arms holding him tight and the sound of Hutch's voice in his ear but the words were as unintelligible as buzzing bees. The pain was taking hold, staking its claim, sending spikes down deep into his bones and planning to stay awhile. Attempting to stifle the anguished pleas coming from his throat, Starsky couldn't keep from crying out when he was transferred to the portable gurney and trundled into the ambulance.

Going through every curse word he had ever learned, in every language he could remember, kept the rabid beast at bay but it also blotted out what was happening around him. Starsky was only dimly aware of Hutch holding his hand when a needle bit into his hip sending cooling, peaceful streams of morphine through his body.

Welcoming the release Starsky still fought the loss of control he was only barely maintaining. It was too easy to drift off with the poppy juice. The seductive haze was so familiar, a long time friend from his days recovering from gunshot wounds, but he needed to keep his wits about him if he was going to fight the inevitable hospital admission.

Hate was the only weapon left in his arsenal but it was a powerful one. With every fiber of his being, Starsky hated the ride in the ambulance. He hated the doctors swarming around when he arrived in the ER and most of all he hated the treachery of his leg for capitulating so completely to the swing of Schroeder's improvised bat.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Your tibia is shattered." Tow headed Dr. Katherine Meadows snapped an X-ray film into the viewbox and flipped on the light. "And your fibula is snapped in two."

Ignoring the rising panic in his chest that threatened to close off his windpipe, Starsky tried to make sense of the picture. He remembered his high school anatomy well enough to know that where there should have been two slender bones just under the kneecap there was now a jumbled puzzle of white fragments. Abstract sculpture created from his own living bone.

Looking over at the stunned expression on Hutch's face nearly did Starsky in. Hutch was terrified. That wouldn't do. Starsky had to be strong for the both of them, after all, it was his leg.

"How long will I be in a cast?" he asked. That sounded good, no indecisiveness, no fear, just ask straight questions and get solid, dependable answers right from the get go. "One a' my friends had a pin put in his hip--that's what you gotta do? Put a pin in to hold it all together?"

Dr. Meadows let out a noisy breath, fogging up the X-ray screen for a moment. She tapped the film with a blunt trimmed fingernail as if not sure how to state her opinion.

Starsky judged her to be in her mid 20's, probably a second year resident. He'd met her predecessors when he'd been Memorial Hospital's miracle patient--the survivor of automatic gunfire--a living teaching opportunity for all the senior residents and attending physicians. They'd all trouped through his room, each stating his or her opinions on the chances of his survival and recovery, but second years could sometimes be the worst. They'd been around just enough to get over that first year of fear but had not quite learned enough to be comfortable in their lofty position. Second years had done their tours in nearly every department in the hospital, were starting to perfect their skills and deciding what their specialties would be. But delivering the bad news was still a work in progress.

Meadows didn't have the poker face to pull it off. She looked uncomfortable and sympathetic; both of which Starsky refused to acknowledge.

"What'll it take before I'm back on the force?" he demanded. A second dose of morphine during the hellish visit to radiology had dulled the pain to almost tolerable levels. On a scale of 1-10, maybe a 6 or 7, but much better compared to the 12 earlier in the alley. It still shredded his composure, forcing him to sweat for every ounce of concentration needed to comprehend what the doctor had to tell him.

Starsky," Hutch entreated but Starsky ignored him. Hutch was too scared of the consequences to think rationally, that was obvious. There would be no accepting defeat here.

"Well, I've asked for a consult with an orthopedic surgeon," Meadows said finally. "He'll have more answers, I'm sure."

++++++++++++++++++++

Dr. Bernardi had the doleful face of a Basset Hound, his watery brown eyes somber and unreadable. "Mr. Starsky, while your fracture is a serious one, it is within the realm of medical science to get you back on your feet."

"Good," Starsky agreed, liking the man's attitude.

"However, I am somewhat more concerned with this area here." He poked his finger at a large white smudge on the x-ray. "Were you aware you had a mass on the bone?"

"Yes," Hutch spoke up. Starsky wanted to refute the bald statement but he deferred to Hutch's superior knowledge of medicine. "He'd already made an appointment with a doctor to have it checked out. Did that contribute to the break?"

"Probably not. Getting hit with blunt force at a high velocity could cause damage of this extent. But I'll need to biopsy the mass before I can give a definitive answer. I need to know more before I decide whether there is sufficient cause to justify the risk of the complicated surgery necessary to repair your leg."

"What the hell are you sayin'?" Starsky demanded when he could breathe around the basketball he'd swallowed.

"If that is malignant, amputation would be a more prudent course. Even if it isn't, your leg may never heal correctly. There is a great deal of shattered matter there, it may never knit into healthy bone."

"Back up and slow way down. No way am I lettin' you near me with a scalpel," Starsky shouted but his inadvertent outburst jostled his leg. The resulting pain swamped him in one giant wave, leaving him trembling and weak. Damn.

"Starsky?" Hutch asked anxiously. "Call the nurse. Can he get s'more pain meds here? Something that works?"

"H-hutch. No amputation," Starsky whispered with his eyes closed against the vice gripping his lower leg. Serrated teeth were ripping into his flesh, separating every tendon and ligament, igniting each nerve ending separately so that each called out its own individual pain, inciting a war on the cellular level. The numerical counter on the pain scale slid up towards nine with breathtaking speed.

More needles came, some bringing pain relief, some taking away more of his blood, but Starsky slept for a while, storing up strength for the next battle. He awakened dry mouthed and cold, still lying flat on the gurney in the examination room in the ER.

"Hey," Hutch whispered. "How're you doing?"

"Cold."

"I'll get you a blanket."

Starsky listened to the inner workings of his body, testing for the fearful pain from his leg but it was muted, nearly gone. That frightened him. What if Dr. Butcher had taken a hack saw and whacked off his leg right in the ER? "Hutch?" he squeaked.

"Here we go," Hutch jollied with false cheer, bundling a lusciously warmed blanket around Starsky's shoulders. "Feel better?"

"S'good," Starsky had to admit. The blanket felt like it had been kept in a low oven until just the right time. Despite the enervating heat of earlier in the day, he was freezing, even with the blanket pulled up under his chin. "Hutch, my leg? I can barely feel it." Now that he said that, he realized he could barely feel either leg.

"Doctor came and gave you an epidural while you were out, Starsk," Hutch explained carefully. "Put some Morphine straight into your spine so you can't feel the break so badly."

"He didn't cut it off?"

"No, love, it's still there. They're waiting on some blood tests right now."

"Hutch, don't let 'em cut off my leg. I can't work on the force if they cut off my leg," Starsky insisted. He opened his eyes to look up at Hutch but the expression on Hutch's face was pinched, the pain raw and open despite a transparent attempt to hide it.

"Starsk, you know they're checking for cancer, don't you?"

"I don't have cancer." Starsky said firmly.

"You don't know that!" Hutch exploded. "Dammit, Starsky, I asked you! I begged you repeatedly to go to the doctor and now…"

"Don't," Starsky protested inanely, wanting to start the whole conversation--no, the whole day over again. When had everything gone so wrong? Was there a point when he could have said stop and none of this would have happened? "Hutch, don't cry…" It pierced him through the heart to see tears in those sky blue eyes, especially when he couldn't see very well because of the film in his own eyes.

"God, Starsk, I won't let anything happen to you, but you've got to give me a little help here," Hutch sat heavily on the silver stool next to the gurney and lowered his head onto Starsky's arm.

Reaching up, Starsky was amazed to notice that he had not one IV but two coming out of his right arm--when had that happened? But he still carefully reached over to stroke Hutch's thinning blond hair. The feel of the silky strands was soothing like nothing else in the world. It spoke to him of their love, being together in bed on a Sunday morning eating donuts and bran muffins, drinking real coffee, not that decaf stuff Hutch kept trying out, reading the huge L.A Times and cuddling when they should have been weeding their vegetable garden.

"Don't cry for me, Hutch," Starsky whispered. "I screwed up. I shoulda listened to you."

"After all these years?" Hutch's voice was muffled from his position. He raised his head slowly, wiping his eyes. "Starsk…how're you doing, huh? D'you need anything?"

Starsky recognized this avoidance ploy for what it was, Hutch trying to exert some control over the situation. But anarchy was at the helm now and no matter how hard either of them tried, there would be no chance of controlling anything for a long time to come.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"My name is John Davies." The long legged doctor with a monogrammed lab coat pulled up the remaining chair in room 217 and sat down.

Hutch was perched in his usual place on the chair next to the bed where Starsky lay enthroned with his left leg suspended in a complicated system of ropes and pulleys to keep the broken bones in some kind of alignment, and prevent atrophy from damaged muscles.

"I'm an oncologist," Dr. Davies continued, "and from what we can deduce from the tests we've done so far, Detective Starsky, you probably have osteosarcoma."

The dread hanging over him finally had a name after almost two days in the hospital. There had been so many tests Starsky had lost track of which were for what, and so many trips to radiology he was beginning to fear for his sperm count. Not that he had plans to father any children in the near future; it was just the principle of the thing.

"What makes that fairly unusual is that you're both too old and too young to have this type of cancer."

"Come again?" Starsky asked, dry mouthed. He'd been expecting the news. He knew they were testing him for cancer but the reality was jaw dropping. Osteo-what? The doctors had stabbed a wickedly long needle into his leg bone for a biopsy, mercifully while he was heavily sedated, to uncover the true nature of his disease. At this particular moment, he kind of wished he were still anesthetized.

"75% of all people with osteosarcoma are kids, most of them teenaged boys," the doctor explained. "And most of the rest are elderly men. You're a rarity."

"That's Starsky, always the nonconformist," Hutch joked, even though there was a palpable edge in his voice. Starsky was just glad Hutch was even making an attempt at levity. In his opinion, Hutch had been falling apart in the last two days. He didn't sleep, barely ate and hadn't left the hospital since Starsky was admitted.

"So what happens now?" Starsky inquired with steely resolve. "What gets me back on the force in the least amount of time?"

"Dr. Bernardi, whom you have talked to, will operate on your leg to reassemble the pieces and during the surgery the tumor will be excised. The lab will immediately examine a minute portion under a microscope and get back to me so I'll have answers even before you wake up from anesthesia. If it's malignant then I'll begin a course of chemotherapy right away."

"No amputation." Starsky stated with finality.

"Not at this time," Davies shook his head. "However, I have to warn you, that still is a possibility. If chemo doesn't halt the spread of the cancer, it would be necessary to remove your leg to save your life."

"No amputation." Starsky began but Hutch rode over him with a sharp bark of his name.

"Starsky, if it comes to a question of your life or your leg, I take your life."

"Hutch, I can't be a cop without my leg," Starsky growled. This was not a debatable point. That was his final answer. "When's surgery? I want to get this ball rolling."

Outlining his plans took a few minutes, and then Davies sent a nurse off to get a printed surgical consent for Starsky to sign. Starsky barely listened to the litany of what could go wrong until chemotherapy was mentioned again. He sure as hell didn't want to have to go through months of drugs unless the outcome meant a complete recovery and return to working the streets. "This chemo stuff, how long will that take?"

"It all depends on the extent of your disease." Davies hedged.

"Give me a ball park figure," Starsky demanded.

Hutch made a small sound in his throat; partially distracting Starsky but he refused to be deterred. Starring down the bed at the toes of his left foot peeking out from the temporary splint held aloft by the traction centered him again. He had a goal. He had to get back on his feet and reclaim his life.

Cancer was curable these days, all the newspapers and magazines said so. It wasn't the death sentence that it had been in his childhood when he could remember his grandmother wasting away from 'Cancer'. His mother always whispered the word, giving it a capital 'C' and making little warding off signs with her fingers as if just saying 'cancer' aloud could cause it to spread. It was probably all for the best that Rachel Starsky had died last year so she wouldn't learn that her oldest son had the dreaded scourge.

"Very hard to say a this point, and I'm not trying to be deliberately obtuse, there's just no way of knowing," Davies massaged the small of his back as if he had a kink there he couldn't quite reach. "If chemo succeeds you may go into remission, at which point there are no detectable tumor markers in your blood."

"And I'm cured." Starsky perked up at that.

"In five years, you are considered cured," Davies corrected. "I will see you tomorrow before surgery to go over any last minute details and Dr. Bernardi will be in sooner or later to talk with you about his contribution to the team effort."

"Thank you, doctor," Hutch stood formally, smiling genially until the man was out the door. "He seems like a competent doctor."

"You should go home now, Hutch," Starsky remarked as if he were talking about changing the channel on the TV. "Get some rest, somethin' to eat."

"I'm not leaving the night before you have major surgery!"

"Hutch, I know hospital procedure. I've been through all of this before." Starsky waved aside his protestations. Hutch needed to be protected right now, he was in a fragile state and Starsky didn't want to be hampered by his partner's fears for his safety. Starsky needed to concentrate on recovery and moving forward. If that meant distancing himself from Hutch until the crisis was past, so be it. In time, Hutch would see that it was all for the best and his concerns had all been for naught. Starsky had to keep the belief that there was no malignancy and no need for chemo drugs and sympathetic looks from friends, or he'd lose all hope completely. "You don't sleep very well here. And frankly pal, you need to take a shower."

"How the hell do you expect me to sleep? I can't leave, Starsky." Hutch gripped the back of the chair, then practically flung it away from him. "I can't leave. The last time I left when you were shot…"

"Hutch, no," Starsky didn't have to hear the rest, he knew what Hutch was alluding to. "I'm not gonna die. It's one night--I'm fine, I'm…reasonably whole. You can't die from a broken leg."

"You have cancer."

"I have a broken leg right now, maybe it's cancer, Davies said probably it's oseo-whatever. Probably's practically the same thing as possibly, maybe they're wrong," Starsky couldn't bear the heartbreak in his lover's voice. It made it that much harder to sever the bond but he had to, for now at least. Hutch would understand, in time.

"Were you even listening? They wouldn't be doing all these tests if it were just a broken leg!" Hutch flared. "God, how in the hell can you be so pig headed? This is serious, Starsky. You have a life threatening illness and you're lying there, with your leg in a sling, acting like it's some elective surgery!"

"You don't have to yell at me. I am being realistic and doctors have been known to be wrong. They sure as hell didn't give you any great odds after I was shot, you told me, and look how that turned out," Starsky answered patiently, although his heart was snapping in two. The last thing he wanted right now was an argument. He just needed to be alone to gather the strength to remain committed to his goal. Hutch couldn't help; his panic ran too deep.

"Hey," he dredged up a smile from somewhere but it was a pallid cousin to his usual sparklers. "What about the cat, huh? Did Pansy get fed? She must be waking up the neighbors by now." From the glacial expression on Hutch's face Starsky's attempt at pacification had not worked.

"You want me to leave?" Hutch spit out. "Fine, I'll get out of your hair and feed the damn cat."

The room seemed devoid of air when Hutch stormed out and Starsky sat rigidly still for a long while just waiting, for what he wasn't quite sure. He stared fixedly up at his traitorous leg hanging there so benignly from the traction frame. Without Hutch in the room, it was easier to kindle the hate he had so carefully nurtured in the last 48 hours. Hate simmered, keeping him warm, and hate would keep him strong and fighting, which was the only way to win. But Starsky was not a person who could keep those fires burning without sacrifice, and he threw his love on the pyre with a desperate heart.

It was becoming evident that he was due for another dose of morphine soon but Starsky didn't call the nurse. Rather, he welcomed the increasing pain because it fanned the flames charring his soul. It burned his tears away, denuding him of any trace of weakness or fragility, leaving behind just an empty void where his emotions used to reside. There would be no soft places for the cancer to dig into and take hold. He had to be hard and mean to fight such a foe. Cancer had a reputation as a down and dirty fighter, full of underhanded tricks but this scourge wouldn't best David Starsky. It would be a fight to the death, but the cancer would be the one left on the mat this time. Starsky only had to hang on long enough.

+++++++++++++++

Pausing outside the entrance to the hospital, Hutch was momentarily disoriented. The argument with Starsky had left him shell-shocked, but not entirely clueless. Hutch recognized the line Starsky had drawn in the sand and it scared him. Starsky obviously wanted distance between them, which Hutch wasn't about to tolerate. There was no way he would allow his best friend, partner and lover to face cancer alone. But he'd seen the damn-the-torpedoes-full-speed-ahead expression in those dark blue eyes and known without a doubt that Starsky wasn't going to believe the oncologist until it was far too late. That determination and inner fiber had served him well after his shooting. It got him out of the hospital and back in his favorite candy apple red Gran Torino with the white stripe down the side in record time, dumbfounding the doctors in charge of his case, but Hutch was afraid that the cancer with the tongue-twisting name might be too much for Starsky. Stubbornness and resiliency didn't stop malignant cells from growing inside the bone. This diagnosis had shaken Hutch to the core. He'd almost lost his partner once before, it wasn't going to happen this time--even if it meant Starsky lost a leg to remain on this earth for a few years longer.

After staring out at the parking lot for much longer than necessary, Hutch dredged up the location of his car from where he'd slotted it away in his brain due to overload from the medical staff. One of the uniforms who had helped with the arrest of Schroeder had driven the battered Ford back here after Hutch accompanied Starsky in the ambulance. He remembered the achingly young patrol officer handing him a slip of paper with the car's whereabouts written out carefully and dug around in his pocket for the crumbled foolscap.

Lot D, left hand corner.

It took only a short time to find the car, climb in and lean his head back against the headrest. Without warning, tears erupted, swamping him completely. Hutch cried openly for some time, scrubbing his palms into his eye sockets to staunch the flow to no avail. He simply had to let the deluge pass in time, but afterwards he was dishrag limp and barely able to drive. As much as he hated to admit it, Starsky had been right, he needed some down time, food, a shower and some sleep. Not to mention feeding the damned cat, who didn't deserve to go days without food.

Thinking of the shrill voiced seal point Siamese, Hutch succeeded in steering the car out of the lot and headed towards home. He was lightheaded with fatigue and beyond hungry. Funny how the days he fasted to purify himself never gave him the shakes but get hit in the gut with horrific news and forget to eat for two days, and he was wobbly as a newborn colt.

Feeling like the world's biggest hypocrite, Hutch pulled into the drive-thru lane to a popular burger joint and ordered a cheeseburger, fries and ice tea to go. Starsky would have teased him up one side of the street and down the other for that lapse in dogma, which gave Hutch a slight smile at the thought. Even so, the greasy hamburger sat heavily in his belly and he couldn't finish the fries. He kept wanting to offer one to Starsky and then remembering that Starsky was attached to his bedframe by several pounds of counterweights and probably unable to eat his evening meal since he had surgery in the morning.

The cat's cries welcomed Hutch home to the small white bungalow he shared with Starsky. They'd only combined their households a few years ago, maintaining separate places long after they'd become a couple. Both had feared reprisals from Departmental Internal Affairs and also the jeers of fellow officers, but finally they'd gone in together on the little house, pretending to simply be roommates. Each had his own room, but they generally slept in the one designated as Starsky's. Hutch wasn't quite sure how that had ultimately come about but he suspected it had something to do with Starsky's somewhat tidier habits. His own room was often strewn with clothes, sports equipment and guitar strings while Starsky always managed to tuck his jeans and t-shirts out of sight in the drawers and was often the one who cleaned up the bathroom after they showered.

Hutch dished out kibble for Pansy, who yowled her disapproval at the wait before tucking in to her belated feast. Then, dropping his clothes where they landed, Hutch headed for the shower with single-minded purpose, He only barely managed to dry off before dropping down onto his side of the bed, completely exhausted.

+++++++++++++++++++

Waking out of a sound sleep with a jolt, Hutch lay panting, unsure why he'd been so forcibly ejected from a dream. Letting his still sleep shrouded brain pull up fragments of the nightmare from his dreamscape, Hutch shuddered, remembering seeing Starsky's body lying on a small white bed while doctors worked frantically over him with defibrillator paddles. He knew that dream; it spouted like Old Faithful whenever he was under a lot of stress. That it had really occurred made it all the more frightening even if he hadn't actually been witness to the resuscitation. But, if he twisted it around and examined the dream from another angle, it was a testimony to survival. Starsky not only recovered from his resuscitation he'd bounced back with resilience. Would that happen again? How many chances could a person get? Starsky wasn't a cat with nine lives to squander, and he'd already used that proverbial second chance.

Although it was barely past dawn, Hutch telephoned the hospital to learn that Starsky had slept most of the night undisturbed and was already awaiting a visit from the anesthesiologist for last minute instructions.

Hurrying to jam his legs and arms into pants and shirt, Hutch made it out of the house ten minutes later. He wanted to be there for that scary possible complications lecture. If he was going to catch Starsky when he eventually came to terms with the inevitable Hutch needed to have all the facts at his disposal. He reviewed his list of questions as he drove.

Starsky was half-dopey from pre-surgical drugs and morphine but instead of welcoming Hutch's support, he almost seemed to resent Hutch's very presence in the room. He was surly, uncommunicative and distant. Attributing Starsky's attitude to jitters, Hutch posed his questions to the doctor, got answers he didn't really like and helped prepare his friend for what was possibly the most important day of his life. What would the next few hours bring? All too soon Starsky was behind the OR double doors leaving Hutch alone with his dire thoughts in the waiting room.

Huggy Bear, his eyes at half-mast from the early wake up, arrived mid morning. He brought coffee and bagels, which Hutch nibbled on without hunger. How long would this take? The tumor removal was supposed to be one of the first procedures, so that lab technicians could examine the tissue and determine Starsky's fate even before the wound was stitched closed in the surgical suite.
Waiting was interminable, a supreme test of endurance. Hutch kept looking up at the doors, watching for a doctor to come through with the only statement that would give him any comfort. That Starsky was out of surgery and everything was perfect. They'd been mistaken about the tumor. It was just an anomalous growth, one of those things. A fluke, interesting enough to be written up for an article in a medical journal, but not cancer.

There are moments when words are superfluous, when a lengthy medical explanation was unnecessary. Just the look on Dr. Davies face said it all. Starsky wasn't even in recovery yet and Hutch felt the full force of the dreadful news on his own. He staggered, just slightly, getting to his feet. Behind him, Huggy put a steadying hand on his arm, but Hutch barely felt it.

"It's malignant?" Hutch pronounced each syllable with precision as if choosing the wrong word would set off an explosion. He couldn't break down now in front of the doctor. That was for private.

"Yes, and more advanced than I first realized," Davies confirmed. "Bernardi is finishing up the reconstruction right now but we will need to start Starsky on chemotherapy as soon as possible."

"When would that be?" Hutch asked hollowly, his skull pressing down on his brain like a band had tightened around his head.

"In a few days. The sooner the drugs are in his system, the more quickly we can start to fight the cancer."

"This osteo-sarcoma," Huggy said, the word sounding alien coming out of his mouth, "That Kennedy kid, Edward, I think--he got remission. I saw a picture of him skiing down a hill in 'People', man. This one's curable, right?"

"With the proper treatment, remission is an attainable goal," Dr. Davies agreed, but Hutch didn't hear conviction in his tone. "And a positive attitude is always important. I'm glad to see Starsky's friends rallying around him. He'll need your help to pull through this."

"Nothin's easier, good doctor-man," Huggy grinned affably. "Since you're Starsky's main doc, you need anything, you call Huggy Bear. I can line you up with whatever you need."

"I take it you're not referring to anything illegal?" Davies asked with a frown but there was a glint of humor in his blue eyes.

"I am sorely offended, doc!" Huggy declared. "Hutch, tell this man my place is a bastion of respectability."

"I wouldn't go that far," Hutch said, forcing himself to join the conversation. "But Huggy does serve a great burger and beer."

"Thanks for the offer then, Huggy," Davies held out his hand, shaking Huggy's firmly. "I can always use a good meal."

"Some fine women, too," Huggy added as the man strode down the hall to the patient rooms. "Hutch, you okay? You're going kinda pale, and on you that's about the color of skim milk."

"It's a lot to take in right now," Hutch admitted, sinking down to the naugahide couch. "Huggy, what about that Kennedy? He's still alive?"

"Yeah, you know that family. Unless somebody like Oswald takes a pot shot at one of 'em, they're a hardy bunch."

"And he had osteosarcoma?" Hutch persisted, hope flushing through him. Starsky stood a chance. Other people had survived this disease; the doctors just had to find the right treatment, as Davies had said.

"Yeah, I remember, cause it's the only other time I ever heard the name." Huggy bent and picked up an ancient copy of the popular magazine from the scatter on the end table. "I just read the article while we were waiting and it just popped right out at me. Osteosarcoma. I mean, how many times do you see that written down?" He flipped pages to locate the correct article before handing it over to Hutch. "See?"

All that Hutch could see was the image of a healthy young man, bearing a striking resemblance to the late president and attorney general, skiing down a snow covered mountain--on one leg. The other had been amputated.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Starsky's first chemo was scheduled so soon after his surgery he was still on heavy doses of morphine for pain. Thus, he slept through the whole thing, waking up just in time to throw up on the bed. But other than that, the course went far more smoothly than he'd anticipated; giving a brief hope that chemo might not be as bad as advertised. Not that he mentioned that to Hutch. Or to anyone.

Nurturing his hate to battle the illness, Starsky turned inward, refusing to acknowledge his present weakness or discuss his treatment with the medical staff. Forced to accept the chemotherapy when he was too groggy to protest Starsky couldn't quite bring himself to stop the drug therapy after the fact but he would not listen to subversive talk about lengthy hospital stays or complications. He wanted out as soon as possible, even if it meant having to rely on Hutch for his day to day care. Just having Hutch nearby hurt nearly as much as the newly repaired leg so Starsky spent much of the time attempting to alienate his friend.

Hutch wanted him to talk about his feelings, about what the future might bring. Starsky just wanted simple, direct answers. When would they know if the chemo was working? How soon would his cast come off for good and when could he start with a physical therapist to begin weight-bearing exercise again? Every week he was away from the police force was another week of criminals encroaching on his beat.

He couldn't let that happen. He had to be so careful to guard against vandals who damaged and destroyed. The cancer would not destroy him, not if he were vigilant enough. But it was hard. Sleep in the night was elusive after spending long days dreaming of being outside of the hospital. Midnight often came and went with Starsky waiting for his next shot of painkillers, fighting the dread that threatened after Hutch went home. The awful dichotomy of it--wanting to keep Hutch, and his fears for Starsky's life, out of the war he was waging for just that life, and needing Hutch near enough to keep the bogey man from taking over. Because the bogeyman had already started feasting on his leg and Starsky was terrified he'd bite it right off.

Two days after the first round of chemo and eight days after his surgery, Starsky gained his freedom. It was temporary at best--he'd have to return every two weeks for a weekend of chemotherapy and there were doctor appointments, lab draws and home nursing visits in between. Still, that meant there were whole days to be spent at home without the constant background noise of nurses' voices, ringing phones, monitor alarms and interrupted sleep.

Armed with instructions for caring for a patient with the double whammy of a major surgical wound and bone cancer, Hutch shoe-horned Starsky into the back of his car to leave the hospital.

Neither said much to the other. Starsky had finally managed to piss Hutch off, and in a coup of major proportions, had earned a tongue lashing that morning. After a week of solicitous behavior, Hutch let loose, lambasting him up one side and down the other over his attitude, accusing him of wanting to be sick. Nothing was further from the truth but Starsky simply hadn't the strength to refute the accusation. His battle was internal and if he ended up losing a friend in order hold onto life, right now he couldn't muster up enough energy to defend himself. Hutch didn't understand what was going on, constantly bringing in articles about maintaining positive vibes and holistic remedies to promote health. Those wouldn't help. Starsky didn't really even have a great deal of faith in the unpronounceable cocktail of drugs that made up his chemo. The only way to win against this foe in his mind was simply to stand his ground and refuse to knuckle under. And never, ever let it see his fear. Because Starsky was very, very afraid.

Getting from the car to the house proved to be an arduous task of Herculean proportions. The cast on Starsky's leg was so heavy his balance was affected and having spent ten days in bed on medication had weakened his muscles. Every time he crutched forward, his left leg swung wide. The first time it glanced off the side of the crutch, he nearly cried out from the pain. After the second or third time, Starsky was about to toss the offensive sticks into the garbage can and spend the rest of the day alfresco. Hutch's assistance just complicated matters further by doubling the number of places the cast could smack into. Starsky was trembling, sweaty and weeping with fatigue by the time he gained the sofa.

Hutch bustled about plumping pillows and arranging a blanket over him but Starsky kept his face tucked against the black and red afghan draped over the back of the couch, waiting for the pain and nausea to subside. God, this was too much. The hate bubbled up inside of him like lava inside a cinder cone. It just got worse and worse. How would he be able to go back to the hospital in three days for the first cast change if he couldn't even manage the path from the driveway to the front door? Thank God they'd moved out of their old bachelor apartments with the mountains of stairs.

"You want something to eat or drink?" Hutch asked cautiously.

Squeezing his eyes shut tightly Starsky experienced a stab of guilt at the loss of the easiness between he and Hutch. Hutch had every reason to be wary with the way Starsky was acting these days. He just couldn't quite bring himself to give a damn about much of anything. Some best friend he'd turned out to be, giving a cold shoulder to Hutch's love and support at the worst time. Wasn't there an expression about a fair weather friend? He certainly qualified. Hutch had done everything but lasso the moon to cajole Starsky into a better frame of mind, something Starsky was very aware of, so the fact that their relationship was in tatters was his own fault. But holding onto the hate--and the powerful anger aimed at the gruesome alien in his body took every ounce of strength, sapping his emotions dry. There was nothing left to give out to anyone else--even someone as deserving as Hutch. Starsky wouldn't be surprised if his partner left him over this. Who in their right mind would stick around, tied to a grouchy invalid soon destined to lose his hair?

"Starsk?"

"Soda," Starsky managed, the pain from his leg like cymbals jangling every nerve in his system.

"I'll dig out the painkillers, too." Hutch said with forced cheerfulness. Starsky could hear the strain this was taking out on him and he knew he should care more. "Make you feel better."

Seriously doubting the validity of that statement, Starsky inched his body into a somewhat less twisted position, hissing with every single jostle to his leg. He could feel all eight screws and both metal plates holding the bone in place as if their location was sketched onto the top of his cast. Bricked up behind a wall of his own design, he was imprisoned by the pain without an escape route. It sucked.

"Take the pills," Hutch said in a voice that brooked no argument. He set the glass of clear bubbly soda next to the small pills that were supposed to relieve the pain. They didn't work. They hardly even put a chink in the wall. Starsky almost gave a lame complaint that he'd wanted root beer but it took too much effort.

"You should just leave me," Starsky muttered after swallowing the dose. Bubbles irritated the back of his throat, tickling his nose and he sneezed. Pain shot up like a rocket from his toes to his solar plexus, snatching away his breath. The earth could have gone out of orbit for all Starsky noticed in the next little while. Muted colors arced across his retina, obliterating the room from view. All was pain, pain was life and death and breath.

"Hey, hey," Hutch singsonged, holding him close. "I got you."

"Damn," Starsky said fiercely when he'd relearned how to breathe. Thinking and speaking took a bit longer. "Fuckdamnshit, damnfuck…" He continued swearing until the impetus ran out along with his energy, his face pressed against Hutch's chest. The soft cotton plaid shirt was wet all down the front but Hutch didn't seem to care.

"Let it out, Starsk," Hutch said, making gentle circles on his back that Starsky found highly distracting. Weirdly not only was it taking some of the focus away from the agony in his leg but it was leeching some of the rock hard tension out of his body. "You can't keep it bottled up forever," Hutch murmured.

"Don't be nice to me." Starsky wanted to shout, to pull away, to do something violent but now he was the one who was afraid. The slightest movement released the beast dwelling in his tibia. It was safer to remain still and tolerate Hutch's kindness. "I don't deserve it."

"If you don't, who does?" He eased him gently backward until Starsky was reclined on a pillow resting on Hutch's lap.

"Not me." Starsky allowed himself an infinitesimal degree of relaxation without looking into the face of his former lover. Hutch could so easily distract him into letting down his guard and that would be his down fall. If Starsky let in any emotion except the all-encompassing hatred he'd start to feel Hutch's loss and that pain was 100 times worse than the one in his leg. "Only you."

"Me?" Hutch kept up the restful massage. "Why me?"

"You keep taking it." Starsky stared at the blank TV screen seeing the past week like a disjointed, badly edited film playing just for him. He'd rebuffed Hutch's friendship, yelled at nurses, thrown up on Hutch, said hateful things, ignored Hutch's fears and concerns and generally acted like a total bastard. "Nobody deserves the shit I been throwin' at you. You should just up and leave."

"What if I don't want to?" Hutch asked in such a reasonable tone Starsky finally looked straight at him.

"What makes you want to stay?"

"You," Hutch answered softly, his hand now cupping Starsky's cheek with such gentle adoration Starsky couldn't bear it. He pulled away, turning his head so Hutch wouldn't see how hard it was to maintain control. "I love you so much, Starsk. This whole week has been like a roller coaster ride to hell and back. I was scared down deep and the only thing that kept me sane was to be near you."

"That must have been real fulfilling, I didn't have my company manners on," Starsky said crudely.

"You were scared out of your mind, and you have every right to be. But you have to relax, or this thing will eat you alive."

"NO." Starsky sat up abruptly, distancing himself from Hutch as much as possible on the narrow couch. "I have to fight. I can't let my guard down for a minute. It's a war, Hutch, don't you understand? How can I relax, huh? Could you?"

"Starsky, there are ways to defeat this thing without cutting out your heart." Hutch's hand was again on Starsky's back, making the hypnotizing circles. Starsky buried his head in his hands, desperately wanting Hutch's touch but afraid to acknowledge his own neediness.

"I didn't have to, the cancer did it for me," Starsky said distantly after a very long time.

Hutch's hand stilled, then withdrew, leaving Starsky bereft but almost glad at the same time. It was so much easier to hate if he was alone and in pain. Hutch was comfort and solace, two needs he couldn't indulge in anymore.

Behind him, Starsky felt the couch cushions rebound when Hutch stood and walked away. He listened to the sounds of domestic puttering in the kitchen, wrapping himself in a blanket of loathing. He had finally pushed Hutch far enough away that he would leave soon, taking all things good with him. It would just be so much easier that way. Starsky planned to sleep on the sofa for the night, since getting up by himself was an impossibility at this point and in the morning, when the visiting nurse came by to check on him, he'd inquire about in home nursing care.

Luckily, the hospital had included a urinal in his discharge bag, along with all the antibiotics, painkillers, and the plethora of other pills he was supposed to take to suppress nausea, promote sleep and ward off anxiety. Starsky had adamantly refused to talk to the psychiatrist who'd come in on the last morning to probe his feelings about his diagnosis. She'd just calmly noted his rejection on her clipboard and left a script for tranquilizers instead. He hadn't understood why, but when he rooted through the belongings bag, there they were. Hutch must have filled the prescription without telling him.

"What are these for?" Starsky demanded, lining all his bottles up on the coffee table beside him for easy access.

"Depression." Hutch was suddenly there with a bowl of soup. It smelled chickeny, bringing forth memories of childhood lunches accompanied by a peanut butter sandwich and a large glass of milk. Miraculously, on the tray Hutch held, next to the soup was exactly that meal.

"I'm not depressed, I'm angry," Starsky stated flatly.

"You'll get no argument from me on that front, buddy," Hutch said sardonically setting the tray in front of his patient. There were little legs under the tray to hold it above his lap so Starsky could rest against the cushions without anything touching his cast. "Have you ever heard of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross?"

"The name sounds familiar." Starsky made himself focus on the soup, stirring the spoon aimlessly around, watching the noodles and bits of chicken surf and bounce in the waves. "She write some book or something?" The name was setting off alarm bells in his brain but he couldn't quite discern why just yet. "Self help drivel?" He vaguely remembered seeing her on a talk show, maybe with Dick Cavett or somebody cerebral like that. Certainly not on the Carson show, which he planned to watch later if Hutch would just leave.

"Something like that." Hutch picked up half the peanut butter sandwich, taking a sharp bite. "She wrote about the five stages of death."

"You think I'm going to die?" Starsky shouted, nearly toppling the tray full of food.

"I don't know what to think at this point, Starsk. I'm hanging on by a thread here and you're…gone. I don't even know where." Hutch looked over at him with tears brimming in those celestial eyes and Starsky was nearly undone. "You're either brimming over with such deep anger I hardly recognize you or you're curled up in a depressed ball like a ostrich hiding his head in the sand."

"You don't know what it's like!" Starsky accused.

"No, I don't," Hutch agreed with heartbreaking simplicity. "And if you don't talk to me, I never will."

"Everything's black and nasty. You wanna stick with me? You wanna be knee deep in puke? You want to watch while my hair falls out and they hafta keep sticking me ninety times cause my veins are shit?" Starsky ranted. "This is so much worse than after Gunther it doesn't even compare and it's only the first week! I hate it. I hate it."

"Say it again, loudly."

"I hate it. I hate this," Starsky vowed. "I hate me."

"No you don't, you hate the cancer, and that's the way it's supposed to be. But don't push your life out the window…you're depressed, Starsk."

"Where'd you get your diploma, doc?"

"You want to play it that way?" Hutch challenged, taking a seat on the coffee table to be on Starsky's level. "Diagnose yourself then. Describe your feelings."

Starsky faltered but he had never been one to back down from a dare, even when his toes were hanging off the side of a cliff. He stalled, tasting the soup before speaking.
"I never felt this…bad before. Not even when my damned lung wouldn't heal and they hadda go back into surgery and close up the wound again." Starsky attacked the sandwich on the plate, ripping it into ever increasingly tiny pieces. "I was never so…angry, and afraid, all mixed up before."

"Starsky, you are one of the most optimistic people I know, but anybody would be depressed in this situation."

"I've had it up to here with optimistic views of life," Starsky said with a trace of humor. Hutch smiled tiredly, remembering another time his partner had said the same thing. "I'm so tired, Hutch and this hasn't even gotten bad yet. Chemo's s'pposed t'be bad. How am I supposed to fight when I'm so damned tired? I can't let this win."

"You fight more efficiently by utilizing your back up," Hutch rationalized. "Just like the first lesson in the Academy. "

"You talking about that big blond guy who doesn't have the sense to leave when he had the chance?" Starsky reached out to brush a strand of hair off Hutch's forehead. "Hutch, I can't just turn these feelin' off, y'know? It hurts way down deep, like I'm stuck in a well, and I'm not gonna be very good company."

"I'm not asking to be entertained, Starsk." Hutch captured his hand, kissing the palm, then the back.

Starsky's hands and arms were covered with bruises and needle marks from the countless blood draws and IV's he'd endured during his hospital stay. Unless medical science came up with a radical new way to extract bodily fluids and insert drugs into the veins without sharp instruments in the next week, Starsky was likely to remain pocked and scarred for the immediate future.

"I just want you here." Hutch placed Starsky's hand over his heart. "Because this hurts me, too."

"I was tryin' to keep you out of it." Starsky bit down on his lip to dam the tears threatening to spill but there were too many chinks in the wall to keep Hutch out any longer. And letting Hutch in let in all the other sentiments he'd been baring entry--desire, longing, trust and bright, shining hope.

Just like Pandora when she opened the box, he cherished the hope most of all and dreaded it, too. Hope meant future and life. How could he cope with the difficult days ahead if the intensely burning flame he'd nurtured so carefully was outshone by hope? "So you could get away before it got you, too."

"Too late, you're stuck with me for good." Hutch closed his hand tightly around Starsky's, holding on with all his strength. "We've always worked better as a team. Us against them, huh?"

"Hutch, make me feel good," Starsky begged wearily, tugging his hand towards the waistband of his sweat pants.

"Starsky," Hutch faltered. "I might hurt you."

"I don’t care." Starsky was so close to crying his voice kept cracking, incapable of staying in a single register for the length of one word. "I'm so fulla drugs it won't come up anyway, but I need to feel something good, you…"

"Sweet boy," Hutch murmured removing the wooden tray with the uneaten lunch. He knelt snug up next to the couch, easing Starsky's pants down his hips. "Baby, I missed you."

Using both hands, Starsky pushed himself up off the couch cushions just enough for Hutch to slip the fabric past his bottom. Any movement set off alarm bells in his casted leg, but he just grimaced, craving the touch of his lover.

Just that small exertion exhausted him, though, and he lay back on the pillow with one arm covering his eyes, concentrating on the whisper soft passage of Hutch's hands down his groin to his flaccid penis. Warmth closed around his cock, fondling the soft skin, the purity of Hutch's touch soothing the pain of the catheters nurses pushed up inside, easing the indignities of the hospital and quieting tears so close to the surface. Never once did he jostle the nearby injured leg.

Starsky almost laughed when he achieved an erection, but it was a wimpy thing without any action or staying power. Still, it was better than nothing and the vibrating rage roiling through him was caged for the time being, leaving him more relaxed than he had been since the diagnosis. "Let me do you now." Starsky offered, looking up at Hutch. "If you stood next to the couch, maybe?"

"As tempting as that is, I think I'll take a raincheck until you've had a nap," Hutch deferred gently. "Let that nice after sex glow pull you under, the painkillers'll work like gangbusters now."

"Drugs never made me feel like this," Starsky sighed, trying to shift in minute increments to find a more comfortable position. There wasn't one, so he finally settled with having his upper body slightly twisted so he could look at Hutch without craning his neck. "They just dull the pain, you give me something better."

"Glad to oblige, pard'ner," Hutch said with a sad smile. "You hungry anymore?"

"Not right now." Starsky gave himself to sleep, dreaming he was chasing Schroeder down the alley and pouncing on him with two good legs. Only in his dream there was no two by four bearing down on him and Hutch was right beside him every step of the way. It was the best dream he'd had in a long time.

+++++++++++++++++

Life fell into a skewed but predictable routine. Every other day, the home health nurse came by to check Starsky's vital signs. The woman who came most often was a short grandmothery sort who plied the patient with homemade cookies and jams. Starsky was starting to feel better since he got much more normal sleep at home and enjoyed her visits immensely.

Hutch suspected it was because Sophie resembled his late mother in both manner and attitude, but whatever the reason, he was able to leave the house with a clear conscience, knowing Starsky was in good hands. Starsky still spent much of his time asleep or barely moving, showering Sophie with the boyish charm and roguish humor that Hutch loved to see. Unfortunately, because of that he was sometimes even more disgruntled and churlish after she'd left, leaving Hutch to deal with the grump in the cast.

Hutch used the days Sophie came by to get back into police work, which he'd largely abandoned since Starsky broke his leg. He couldn't just do what his heart demanded and quit the force all together to stay home with his partner because they needed his income. Starsky had disability, but it barely covered his bills much less the household expense.

Being out on the street without Starsky held no interest for Hutch at all, anymore. He'd worked with temporary partners for periods of time before, most notably when Starsky was recovering from his nearly fatal gunshot wounds, but this time seemed completely different. Despite Starsky's conviction that as long as the cancer went away, he could get back on his feet and fight crime again, Hutch wasn't so sure. The doctors hadn't even given Starsky assurances that he would ever walk normally on the reconstructed limb. The cancer just laid another layer of concern on top of that one. With his mind constantly on what was going on with Starsky, Hutch couldn't concentrate well enough continue with his former duties, that much was obvious, and he accepted a desk job without complaint. He no longer had the patience for protracted investigations because he couldn't afford to stay away from Starsky for any length of time. Besides the mindlessness of typing out reports and shuffling through witness interviews for clues kept his mind off what was going on at home.

"Hutchinson?" Dobey called. "In my office?"

Noticing that the Captain had phrased it more as a question than an outright command, Hutch took the time to grab a cup of coffee. He bypassed the pink bakery box filled with donuts. He'd never liked that much sugar and fat in the morning, but more to the point, the sight of those plump iced pastries reminded him of Starsky's gleeful daily ritual of selecting the most tempting, caloric treat just to annoy his partner.

"You wanted to talk to me, Captain?"

"Sit down, it's not an interrogation," Dobey said kindly, wadding up the napkin he'd used to wipe the last of the powdered sugar from his donut off his round face. "How's Starsky doing?"

"A little better. He's in a lot of pain, although he denies it most of the time." Hutch took a sip of the scalding, bitter brew. "And the second dose of chemo starts this weekend."

"It's a terrible thing." Dobey shook his head. "Rosie was really upset that she couldn't visit in the hospital, but between the flu that went around her high school and the gymnastic trials every weekend, she's got Edith running around like a chicken with her head cut off."

"Yeah, we watched the meet on the TV in the hospital when Rosie won the gold medal in Sacramento." Hutch related. "Starsky was yelling so loud the nurse had to come in and remind him there were sick people sleeping." It had been one of the few good days Starsky had during that awful time.

"Won the state finals." Dobey was puffed up with pride.

"I don't know how Edith does it and she manages to get baking done, too." Hutch smiled. "Starsky loved the apple pie she sent over." He'd eaten most of it, to Hutch's delight, since Starsky's appetite was improving but still no where near his previous level.

"The woman could win blue ribbons with her pie," Dobey boasted, patting his ample belly. "Well, what I called you in for, d'you remember Ben Logan?"

"He went to the Academy with us." Hutch recalled a tall angular man with buzz cut dark blond hair and a serious face. He'd finished in the middle of their class, a good student but lacking the flair for police work Starsky and Hutch had displayed.

"He died last night."

"How?" Hutch choked out. He hadn't seen the man more than a handful of times in over fifteen years but, due to his present circumstances, the thought of a fellow officer dying was shocking. His belly twisted back into the knot that had held it fast for the entire length of Starsky's hospital stay.

"Car accident, drunk driver." Dobey sighed, obviously affected as well. "Doesn't look like it had anything to do with his being on the force. Just bad luck."

"Anyone taking up a collection for his wife?" Hutch asked, still stunned. "When's the funeral?"

"Collection's already in the works and the family still hasn't worked out the details for the service, but there is one thing you can do to help."

"Sure."

"He'd been teaching at the Academy for the last six years."

"No wonder I never ran into him."

"You can teach his class."

"What?"

"He's got law and procedures." Dobey smiled ruefully. "Despite your partner's tendencies to flaunt departmental protocol, I'm aware you studied some criminology and with your years on the force, you qualify as an instructor."

"But, Captain…"

"It also gives you a more flexible schedule and shorter hours. The pay isn't as good as street pay, but you'll still get benefits." Dobey sat back, he'd obviously thought it all out and was prepared for any argument Hutch might give. "And don't think I'll let you off the hook, just sitting around the academy grading exams. I'll still expect you here some days, filling in, getting those damned rookies to solve a few crimes."

"I thought that was your job," Hutch put in, enormously grateful for all Dobey had done.

"Got to groom a successor before I retire," Dobey grumped with good humor.

Hutch was even more surprised with this revelation. "Captain…you've got my whole future already mapped out. I don't know what to say."

 

"I know times are hard right now, son, and you'll get through this. Think about the teaching job for a day or two, but I'll need an answer by the beginning of next week, they're pretty short handed out there and Bob Scarlotti will have to keep filling in."

"That man must be 90!" Hutch exclaimed. Scarlotti had been the man who'd taught him the basics of handling a gun. Starsky, already a marksman in the Army, had been way ahead of his partner at the shooting range, but under Scarlotti's tutelage, Hutch had caught up quickly.

"You see the problems they're facing." Dobey said without a hint of a smirk. "Now get out of here and get something done. Oh, and tell Starsky Edith is baking cookies this morning. Rosie plans to deliver them later."

"Will do, Captain," Hutch left the office still stunned.

The academy job was perfect for his current situation, since the class on law and procedures only met three times a week. Like Scarlotti, he'd probably be asked to substitute in other classes on occasion and Dobey had intimated that he expected Hutch still work with Metro when the need arose, but all in all it gave him much more flexibility, freeing him up to go with Starsky to appointments and treatments. The possibility of taking over Dobey's job was too overwhelming to think about. He'd have to take a lieutenant's exam and then the Captain's…

It wasn't until Hutch was back at work on the mountain of files that covered his desk that he realized Dobey had never once added Starsky into the future equations. Dobey didn't expect Starsky to have a future, and that chilled Hutch to the bone.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

"What's that I smell?" Starsky sniffed the air like a puppy at mealtime when Hutch came through the door bearing a wide white box and a sack of groceries.

"Daytime TV has already turned your brain to mush if you don't recognize this box," Hutch teased.

"A bribe pizza," Starsky said to Sophie who was gathering her purse and nursing supplies to go. "Never gets a pizza unless there's bad news attached to it."

"There's no bad news." Hutch retorted, opening the box which released even more sausage and tomato aroma into the living room.

Sophie just laughed. "Pizza is good for you, bread, vegetables and meat all on in an easy to eat form."

"Now I know why he likes you," Hutch mimed consternation. "You think just like him!"

"I'll see you next week, David," Sophie called, letting herself out.

"Bye!" Starsky called from the couch. He attacked the slice of pizza Hutch gave him with gusto, picking off the gaily-colored bits of pepper off the top.

"You're in a good mood." Hutch sat down with his own slice and a beer. "How'd it go today?"

"Comme ci, comme ca," Starsky waggled his hand back and forth, still stuffing his mouth.

"French?"

"Sophie says since I have so much free time I should learn another language," Starsky carefully removed the offending peppers off a second slice.

"Wouldn't Spanish be of more use here in Southern California?"

"You already speak that." Starsky shrugged. "And French is Sophie's first language. She's going to find me a book." He discarded a few more bits of pepper onto his plate, glad of the neutral subject matter. He didn't want to admit to Hutch how bored he was already; unable to move without fearsome pain and feeling his whole body succumb to generalized weakness.

He was jealous when Hutch left for work in the morning and lonely when he was gone, then unaccountably irritated when he returned. With chemo looming just one day away, things would only get worse, not better. Since his memory of the first course was fuzzy at best, this might be the second dose, but it felt like the first to him, and down deep he was afraid of the nausea, vomiting and reports of hair loss.

"Keep you occupied." Hutch nodded.

Starsky gingerly moved his casted leg so he could reach the soda on the coffee table and froze, wincing. Even that small amount of movement sent agonizing flashes of lightning pain up and down his limb. He so wanted this to be over. It was already weeks after the surgery and the pain was still strong enough to keep him immobile most of the time and leery of the smallest amount of weight bearing. Taking a slow, steady breath, he waited a minute before picking up the can.

Pansy, the cat, jumped lightly onto the back of the sofa nosing against Starsky's ear as if in sympathy before investigating the mess he'd made of the pizza on the plate.

"Need a painkiller?" Hutch asked blandly, sipping his beer.

"No, I don't want a painkiller. Makes me nauseated if I haven't eaten and then they knock me out," Starsky replied irritably, pushing the cat aside with a curse.

Pansy expressed her disapproval by digging her claws into his arm before leaping to the safety of Hutch's chair with a screeching miow.

"What do you want then, Starsky?"

"I want to walk. How's that for simple, huh?" Starsky clenched his fists, the anger and hate he managed to suppress most of the time welling up in one unstoppable wave.
"Sophie gets me up today and I just about passed out. Y'know how that makes me feel? I can't walk! I can barely make it off this couch. It's like…hell." His fury dwindled out with the last of his breath but he hunched over, hiding the glint of tears in his eyes. He was not going to cry over this. Not now, not in front of Hutch. Hutch already caught the brunt of his labile emotions. It wasn't fair to dump it all in his lap when he'd only been home for half an hour and brought pizza to boot. "I'm frustrated and hard to live with, huh?"

"You know I'd give you a couple of new bones if I could." Hutch reached out, folding his hand around Starsky's.

"I know." Starsky looked up, reading the love and concern in Hutch's eyes. He bounced their hands up and down, soaking in the love but needing to get rid of that concern. It deepened those creases between Hutch's eyes and aged his intelligent face. Changing subjects, Starsky selected a fresh slice of pizza, ignoring the one he'd mangled and bit into the cheesy goodness. "So, what's the occasion? If this isn't a bribe pizza, I'll drink some of your disgusting vitamin shakes."

"Be good for you. I'll have to ask your oncologist which vitamins would do the most good."

"Remember, I still own a gun." Starsky remarked wickedly, chewing his pizza with enjoyment. The first slice had gone down so quickly he barely noticed the flavor. He'd been starving since neglecting to eat lunch after his midday morphine left him queasy and tired. Not that Hutch had to know. Remarkably hungry now, in between doses, he mentally weighed the pros and cons of a third slice. Probably better to err on the side of caution. Still, he wouldn't feel much like eating after Friday evening when they started the chemo.

"Talked to Dobey this morning," Hutch started.

"Oh, yeah!" Starsky gave up on the pizza debate because there were cookies! "Rosie and Edith dropped by with chocolate chip cookies. They're in a blue tin."

"Is that your so subtle hint that you want me to go get some?" Hutch teased standing up. Pansy complained at this disruption, transferring her loyalty back to Starsky.

"I'd get up if I could…." Starsky let the cat curl up on his lap, sinking his fingers into her silky fur. She was a warm, comforting lump as long as she stayed far enough away from his cast. "But the cat needs a place to sleep. What did Dobey have to say?"

Hutch located the cookie tin on the kitchen counter next to the coffee maker and opened the lid, taking two for himself. "He offered me a job."

"Unless you forgot to tell me something, don't you already have one?"

"Teaching at the Academy."

"Wow--I coulda gotten away with murder back then with you as the teacher."

"You did get away with murder, and how could I have taught your classes? We attended at the same time." Hutch groaned, once again sucked into Starsky's illogic.

"So, Professor, what class you teaching?"

"What makes you so sure I took the job?" Hutch retorted.

"Would ya give me a cookie?"

"Oh, here." Hutch finally sat down, handing over the round tin.

Pansy stalked off when her lap was usurped by a cookie tin and curled up on the afghan Starsky had used earlier in the day for a nap.

"It's a chance to do something different--get off the streets, which I know you've been wanting to do," Starsky answered. He didn't mention the deep down relief he felt knowing Hutch wouldn't be out there alone, without a partner at his back. He selfishly wanted Hutch to take the secure job, out of way from homicidal maniacs brandishing 2 by 4's and other criminals.

"It's only temporary," Hutch reminded. "But it will be an interesting change. A new challenge, I think. And the hours are better. The pay's a little less."

"We'll get by. Congratulations are in order." Starsky held up his cookie and tapped it against Hutch's. "To the best looking sub at Bay City Academy."

"Best looking?" Hutch blushed, looking flustered.

"I tell ya, if you were my teacher I woulda flunked your class just to take it twice."

"But I always grade on a curve, nobody flunks, least of all you." Hutch took a bite out of Starsky's cookie instead of his own, then had the temerity to look innocent about it.

"Eat your own cookie," Starsky barked, gobbling up what was left over.

"Yours looked better."

"Yours is rounder now."

"Then take a bite out of mine and even things up."

"That's not quite what I really want a bite of." Starsky wasn't exactly sure how the conversation had taken such a sexual turn, but for the first time in days he was aroused and very horny. Licking cookie crumbs off his lip, he leaned forward just enough to use his tongue to flick the remains of chocolate chip off Hutch's mouth. "You taste like dessert."

"Starsk…" Hutch returned the sweet kiss, but held his lover at arm's length. "Not that I don't want to do this, but are you sure?"

"Hutch, I want to eat you up." Starsky reached down, loosening the zipper of Hutch's fly. "C'mon…" Starsky wheedled, then pouted when Hutch stood up out of range. "Hutch, don't be a party pooper."

Slumped back on the pillows, he grimaced at his casted foot. That was the cause of all the problems. He was dopey on pain meds half the time, even when both of them were in the mood, and now, when he wanted to jump that big, beautiful blond's bones, he couldn't move more than a few inches without help. Really ruined a spontaneous moment.

"The logistics of such a thing are staggering," Hutch mused, rubbing his chest thoughtfully.

While Starsky didn't really mind watching Hutch running his hand down the front of his off-white button down shirt, there were much more exiting things to do than just watch. "Help me up and let's get naked in the bedroom," he said but Hutch left the living room without a word.

Returning almost instantly, Hutch pushed the wheelchair in front of him. Starsky really hated the thing and tended to pretend it wasn't in the house, but after that dreadful hike from the car to the front door on the first day Hutch had insisted they rent one.

"I wasn't running away, I was getting your ride."

"That ain't my ride," Starsky griped. "With the Torino on blocks, I don't mind settling for the Mustang, but that ain't my ride."

"You want what I got, buster, you'll climb aboard." Hutch leveled a stiff finger at him and Starsky grinned, snapping his teeth within millimeters of the digit.

"To the bedroom, James."

As usual, there was quite a production to get Starsky off the couch, settled in the wheelchair and transported the short distance into the bedroom. Even after he was ensconced on the king-sized mattress the question still remained how he could maneuver enough to perform the feat of gymnastics necessary to go down on his favorite sausage meal. And all the jostling and repositioning had awakened the monster in his leg. Starsky knew he had a very short while before the pain was bad enough that he had to take a pill, and it was downhill from there. He had to get the show on the road as quickly as possible. Suddenly, a song popped into his head causing him to grin broadly. "Hutch, remember Monty Python?"

"You want to watch British comedy right now? I thought…" Hutch had started to undress, but stood half naked, looking bewildered.

Starsky began to sing at the top of his lungs the raunchy song from side one of Monty Python's Instant Record collection Vol. II. "Sit on my face and tell me that you love me. Sit on my face…I forget the words," he hummed the next bar and concluded with, "Life can be fine when we're both sixty nine, if you'll sit on my face…."

"You're weird, you know that, don't you?" Hutch roared with laughter.

"Takes one to know one," Starsky beckoned urgently, ignoring the lurking menace that was his lower leg. "Take off your clothes and come on up before I have to call out reinforcements."

"Don't rush me, this is complicated." Hutch finished shedding his outerwear before climbing onto the bed as slowly as possible to avoid bumping into the rigid cast. He awkwardly straddled Starsky's chest so that his half interested cock was now within poking distance of a certain very interested mouth.

"We got some problems here," Starsky observed, taking a handful of Hutch and tickling the sensitive underside while palming the loose balls with his other hand. He pumped that cock enthusiastically, feeling his own dick starting join the party. It didn't take much to make Hutch's begin to grow and swell like rice in boiling water. Very soon Hutch was moaning softly, gently rocking his hips in time to the rhythm Starsky had begun.

"That's what I like to see," Starsky encouraged, then mouthed the very end of that needy cock, pushing the tip of his tongue under the foreskin. From there, it was easy keeping Hutch's attention, sucking and blowing until Hutch was gasping for breath, crying out in a strangled voice. His excited movements kept sliding his ass up against the first really good erection Starsky had managed in weeks, which felt so incredible Starsky kept suckling on his flesh Twinkie long after the cream filling had disappeared. At long last, he bucked against Hutch's pelvis feeling a sudden wet spot spread across the front of the cut off sweat pants he wore. The delicious after glow was only partially diminished by the fearsome pain radiating up from his calf. That had been worth it, even if he'd have to take a double dose to get some sleep. "Man, Hutch…"

"How're you doing?" Hutch dismounted, hovering worriedly on the edge of the bed. "You're looking a little shocky there."

"It's love, Hutch," Starsky said weakly with his eyes still shut. "And really good sex. One to remember when Little Davey won't stand at attention any more."

"The doctor said that would only be temporary." Hutch smoothed Starsky's hair off his sweaty forehead. "A common side-effect."

"That an' the hair loss."

"It's just hair."

"Easy for you to say." Starsky laughed tiredly, turning to meet the hand that cradled his springy locks. "Cause yours falls out if you comb too rough, but I've always had hair, y'know? Born with it."

"Hey, I was born with it, too, but it fell out when I was two months old and never came back until I was two years."

"See, you're used to it." Starsky sighed. "I never been bald--what if I look stupid?"

"You already do, won't be much of a change."

"Some comfort you are."

"Starsk?" Hutch stroked his cheek almost lulling Starsky to sleep and he hadn't even had the pain pills yet. "How are you doing with all of this? You're still keeping a lot inside."

"Don't worry, I'm not going off the deep end or anything." Starsky snuggled into Hutch's arms as much as he could, kissing the wrist that was resting on his cheek. "But this whole thing sucks, y'know?"

"It definitely does," Hutch agreed.

They stayed there, Hutch with his arms around Starsky's head and upper body for a long while, soaking up love and security from one another to gird them for the hard days ahead. It wasn't until Starsky stifled a groan when Hutch moved causing the mattress to dip that either remembered they had gone long past time for Starsky's nightly medication. Real life intervened then and all the preparations for bedtime and other usual routines. No more quiet intervals for somber reflection. The Earth continued to revolve on her axis, time moving forward whether they liked it or not and Starsky was due to be admitted to the hospital in just 24 hours for his second round of chemo.

++++++++++++++++++

Being an identified cancer patient really streamlined the admitting process and Starsky was dressed in a hospital gown and in bed with pre-chemo blood levels already drawn in less time than it usually took for Hutch to sign paperwork on any of the past ER visits they'd ever had for injuries on the job.

The Rose Tree Unit was a specially constructed Oncology ward to give the patients a feeling of being--if not at home--at least in a pleasant setting. Since many had to stay for long periods of time, all the rooms were private with an extra bed for a family member. Every effort had been made to provide upholstered chairs, nice art and to hide some of the more intrusive medical equipment behind panels when not in use. Families were encouraged to bring brightly colored coverlets, photographs or belongings to remind the patients of home and give them a certain sense of autonomy in the restrictive environment. There was even a small kitchenette where families could warm up favorite foods to entice finicky appetites and the waiting room was one of the nicest Hutch had even seen in a hospital, with a real coffee machine and a refrigerator stocked full of juice. Still, it was a hospital, and Starsky was there for a very serious reason, no matter how pleasant the décor.

Starsky pretended to ignore the nurse tightening a rubber tourniquet around his bicep and probing for veins. She'd already drawn about a quart of his red stuff and started an IV in his right arm for maintenance fluids but this one would be specifically for the chemo infusion. "Hutch, you don't have to stay the night, it's gonna be boring. You'll get more sleep at home."

"What else do I have to do?" Hutch smiled. "It's raining, can't work in the yard tomorrow, can't go hiking. I'd rather spend the day with my buddy."

Grimacing when Mika inserted the needle into his skin, Starsky still managed to give Hutch a look of disbelief. Like the next day would be any kind of exciting--more like long stretches of dull monotony interspersed with bouts of vomiting. Yeah, that sounded like good times. "What books did you bring there?"

"Some for you, some for me." Hutch stacked the books on the over the bed table separating them into two piles. Starsky's pile had two Dick Francis mysteries and a nonfiction work by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Starsky had to laugh at this blatant attempt on Hutch's part to get him to read the book and checked out what was in the other pile. For himself, Hutch had chosen the Police Department's manual of regulations and the required text for the class on Law and Procedures.

 

"Those'll put you right t'sleep." Starsky teased when Hutch cracked the spine on the text to read the table of contents.

"How does that feel, Dave?" Mika asked when she had finished taping the IV in place.

"Just about like every other one I've ever had." Starsky shrugged, watching as she attached plastic tubing to the catheter and thumbed the roller clamp open to start the flow from the bag hanging on a metal hook overhead. "That the chemo?"

"The first of three drugs." She inspected the label on the bag carefully. "Cisplatin."

"Don't look like much." Starsky craned his neck to examine the innocuous looking plastic bag full of clear fluid. So that was the stuff that would knock the cancer cells to their knees--or more correctly, out of his knee. Hard to believe that a bag of ordinary looking fluid would produce such huge results, along with a whole host of nasty symptoms unrelated to the Osteosarcoma.

"No, but it packs quite a punch. Tell me if you have any side effects, especially problems breathing or fever." Patting Starsky's arm, Mika looked sympathetic. "Unfortunately nausea and fatigue are expected."

"Already acquainted with those, schweetheart." Starsky waggled his eyebrows flirtatiously. That never failed to charm the nurses even when he wasn't feeling very good. But just making the effort to stay cheerful usually resulted in improving his own mood. It was just hard to deal with the rigors of chemo when his leg still hurt with absolute relentlessness. Starsky caught Hutch looking over at him with naked fear and plastered on a grin to face his lover. "Hutch knows the ropes. There must be other really sick people around here you can needle."

"You're a live one, I can tell." Mika winked a brown eye, shaking her finger in mock seriousness. "I'm going to go hang Mrs. Miniver's chemo next but I'll be back to check on you soon."

Clearing his throat nosily in the silence after Mika left; Hutch turned a page of his book with studied care. "They've changed this course since you and I took the class," he remarked, pointing to the syllabus.

"Hutch, that was nearly 17 years ago!" Starsky admonished, picking up the Dick Francis entitled 'Odds Against'. "They probably rewrote half the laws since then without telling us."

"Starsky, that's what all those memos we get every month are for--to keep you updated on the most current policies, not to make paper airplanes with."

"I always wondered about that," Starsky commented dryly but Hutch was pouring over the textbook with characteristic intensity.

Smiling fondly at the blond head bent over the book, Starsky reminded himself to have Hutch get some reading glasses at the drugstore. He was squinting trying to read the tiny print. Hell of a thing to be 39, the body started to wear out, needing reading glasses, adding more aches and pains to the old souvenirs. And look what happened to him, perversely he'd contracted a kid's cancer. Scary and just plain weird when he thought about it.

Flipping to page one of his mystery, Starsky was jolted by the first sentence, 'I was never particularly keen on my job before the day I got shot and nearly lost it, along with my life.' Well, that was a hell of a way to begin a book, and he was engrossed immediately, feeling a strange kinship to the hero Sid Halley.

At first, Starsky dismissed the odd prickling in his lips and face, rubbing the back of his hand over his mouth to alleviate the annoying sensation of pins and needles. His lips felt puffy and warm, very sensitive to touch. It was as if his face were starting to come out of Novocaine or something except he hadn't been given that particular drug. There was a tightness in his throat like he was coming down with a virulent sore throat, and he hitched a breath, wincing at the sudden pain in his chest. Focusing on the book to ignore the disconnected feeling in his head, Starsky blinked to clear the black spots flickering across the page making it increasingly difficult to read.

"Hutch," Starsky said, surprised at how hard it was to breathe. His chest ached abysmally and abruptly it was nearly impossible to draw in a satisfying lungful of air. "H-hutch?"

"What's wrong?" Hutch touched his cheek trying to calm him.

"I c-can't…" Starsky heaved a tight breath but he was being strangled by an invisible cord, his throat as narrow as a straw. Dimly, he could hear Hutch calling frantically for Mika, but all his efforts had to go into pulling oxygen into his starving lungs so he wasn't paying much attention to the swarm of activity around his bed.

Noise assaulted Starsky's ears as voices rose in a confused babble, all crying out instructions, requests for meds and equipment. Needles were pushed repeatedly into the rubber port on the IV tubing sending medicines rushing into his veins to stop whatever reaction had robbed him of his breath. Very slowly, Starsky could feel the vice-like grip around his chest loosening, allowing sweet oxygen into his respiratory passages. He just lay, listening to the now much quieter voices discussing his care, enjoying the simple pleasure of being able to breathe unencumbered. But after a while he began to notice the annoying presence of a plastic nasal cannula poking him in the nostrils and the fact that his heart was beating about a thousand times faster than usual. Previous interments in the hospital had given him a healthy dislike for the useful but uncomfortable nasal cannula, and his racing heart rate was all too reminiscent of the aftermath of some of the more powerful asthma type medications he'd been on after lung surgery five years ago. He'd hated the effect then and still hated the way he felt revved up and exhausted at the same time, although, blessedly able to breathe.

"Hey, you coming around?" Hutch asked with such tenderness it made Starsky absurdly tearful.

Now what was that all about?

"What happened?" Starsky coughed, his throat dry as dust.

"You unfortunately had an anaphylactic reaction to the Cisplatin," John Davies said soberly. "Luckily, we caught it quickly, or it could have been even more serious."

"Doesn't that cause his throat to close up?" Hutch asked, holding Starsky's hand so tightly to it was beginning to hurt.

"Exactly."

"But why didn't that happen the first time?" Starsky asked, trying to follow the conversation even though every cell in his body begged for sleep.

"It's the same as an allergic reaction," Davies explained, rubbing the small of his back absently. "When the body is exposed to something the immune system sees as a threat, it jumps into defense mode, so the second time you encounter the allergen, your body fights back. In your case, that was the drug, and it's something you very much need right now."

"Is this going to happen every time?" Starsky asked wearily, his heart still banging maddeningly in his chest.

Hutch finally let go of his hand, but only long enough to get him a glass of water that he could sip from a straw. That helped his throat, but already he could sense the nascent queasiness building in his belly.

"Not if I can help it," the doctor said, studying Starsky's chart. He tapped his pen on the edge of the binder, before making a few notes. "We'll premedicate with drugs that will help alleviate the worst of the symptoms and keep you on 100 percent oxygen during the infusion. I can also make some adjustments to your dosage to lower the chances of such an extreme reaction."

"But he still could have another reaction?" Hutch interjected angrily. "You'll sacrifice his health for that damned drug?"

"Right now, this is the top line chemotherapy agent for Osteosarcoma, and combined with two other drugs in the cocktail regimen, are his best shots for remission," Davies said. His tone was careful, but there was a glint of anger in the words. He didn't like being argued with. "So, no, I don't plan on sacrificing his health for the sake of medical science."

"Instead you'll make an already sick man put up with life threatening side effects?" Hutch raged.

"Hutch!" Starsky admonished, his voice still brittle from the residual swelling in his throat and lips. "Don't antagonize the people I need."

That single phrase pulled Hutch up short. He swung around, staring at Starsky with undisguised anguish. Starsky mustered up a quirky grin, curling his fingers in a 'come over here' gesture since both arms were immobilized with IV's. Hutch ducked his head, breathing hard; them complied with the unspoken request.

"That got your attention, huh?" Starsky rasped, knowing he'd just played Russian roulette with Hutch's emotions in harking back to a time when both of them were afraid Starsky was dying from an unidentified poison.

"Starsk," Hutch pleaded, dropping down on the side of the bed.

"Doc, what's the bottom line?" Starsky asked once again taking the helm to let Hutch battle his inner demons.

"Unfortunately, this is the reality of chemo. Sometimes the cure is as bad as the disease, at first." Davis toyed with the cap of his Bic pen before tucking into the monogrammed breast pocket of his immaculate lab coat. "After six courses of this treatment we'll draw more blood tests to determine if the cancer load in your body is depleted. Then you should start to feel better."

"Six courses?" Starsky fought to stay awake, trying to remember if he'd previously known how many there would be. He'd probably been informed before the first one but with everything that happened had simply forgotten. "That would put the last one at the end of November?"

"Yes," Davies agreed.

"Then we'll be done?" Starsky persisted. "I'll be out of a cast before then, right?"

"As long as the bone is well healed, yes," the doctor hedged. "And as I said, blood tests will determine what course we'll need to take after this run of chemo is concluded."

"There could be more?" Hutch asked dully.

"There could be. But don't focus on the 'what if's' right now," Davies advised. "Focus on staying healthy during treatments. Try to keep your strength up, eat regularly even if you don't feel like it, continue with the physical therapy but get a lot of rest. Your body is fighting right now and needs all the support you can give it."

"You been watching old John Wayne movies to get your material, doc?" Starsky teased, but he was more than tired. The drugs were pulling him under, forcing their will on his.

"I'm a big Wayne fan, but I prefer Gary Cooper," Davies smiled. "Get some rest now, Starsky. I'll check with the nurse later to see how you're doing."

"Thanks." Starsky sketched a wave, but didn't have any energy to raise his hand off the bed. "Hutch, you okay?"

"You're the one who nearly had to be revived, again!" Hutch railed, smacking the bedside table hard enough to startle both of them. Starsky flinched at the noise. "Aw, damn, Starsk, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."

"Hey," Starsky tugged at Hutch's sleeve until they were close enough to embrace, mindless of who might see them. "It's okay, Hutch, things'll turn around pretty soon, I can tell." They were placating words, meant to sooth, and Starsky was truly trying to believe them. It was hard, especially with Hutch crying on his shoulder. Hutch hadn't cried in front of him very often during the whole ordeal, and the sight and sound of his big strong partner breaking down was frightening.

If Hutch was still that scared what right had Starsky to hold onto any hope? But it was the only thing he could hold on to. Hope that the nagging pains in his leg would go away completely as the shattered bones knit neatly into whole, strong bone as the tumors faded away from the chemo. The hate he'd harbored early on had been supplanted, but he could feel the menace of it curled in the back of his brain. Hate or hope, both took so much energy to hold on to.

He fell asleep dreaming of patrolling the streets once more, Hutch at his side with his face reflecting the scarlet of the Mars light as they cruised slowly along a road, looking for a fleeing suspect. It was a pleasant dream.

++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Once Starsky was soundly asleep, Hutch bolted form the room, taking the stairs so he didn't have to wait for the elevator and endure the sympathetic glances from the other family members on the unit. Anyone coming out of the Rose Tree Unit knew that if you were on this floor, someone in your family had cancer.

He thought about getting something to eat in the cafeteria but everything on the menu reminded him of Starsky. The hot meal of the day was burritos, which sent Hutch right out onto the deserted patio beyond the dining room. With the end of September only a day away, it was already nearly dark at 7pm. The rain had stopped and the secluded spot was quiet and calm. He took in great lungfuls of damp air, forcing the fear back into a place where he could shut it away. Starsky wasn't going to die. He'd pulled through, again.

Oh, God, Hutch trembled, he couldn't do this. Not again. He'd sat vigil over Starsky five years earlier after the Gunther assassination attempt. He'd watched Starsky struggle to breathe, to recover and thrive. It wasn't fair. It wasn't right. Why did Starsky have to suffer like this? How could he sit next to Starsky's bed again, watching him waste away? The damn chemo was almost as deadly as the cancer. There had to be another way; different drugs or treatments to cure what Starsky had termed 'the scourge'.

Hutch kept remembering the photo of a very healthy looking Kennedy kid skiing on one leg down the snow-covered mountain. More and more he was becoming convinced amputation might save Starsky's life, even though he was fully aware that Starsky would never agree to it. Hutch didn't have the heart to argue the point with Starsky, who'd already had enough pain in the last month and still insisted he was going to go back to police work 'when this was all over'. Starsky had such confidence that he would beat this, but Hutch no longer thought of working their beat with anything but loathing. He wanted out, even if Starsky did not.

To be totally honest with himself, Hutch had wanted out for a long time. Just before the shooting five years ago, he'd thrown his badge into the sea, ready to give up life as a cop forever. Starsky's steady presence beside him, supporting his decision, and then going back to the force with him when he'd reversed that decision, had been the only reason Hutch had stayed on the force. Then, the idea of being a working detective again had kept Starsky afloat on the long hard days of his recovery and Hutch had celebrated every minute once Starsky was back at his side.

Now they were nearing forty--well, he had just had his 39th birthday, but that was still eleven months closer to forty than he'd been in July, and the daily grind of criminals, stake outs and dead bodies was becoming even more depressing. He knew he was burned out and might have rejoiced at this new career as an instructor if it hadn't been achieved under such horrible circumstances. If Starsky did manage to pull through and return to the detective squadroom, Hutch wasn't going with him, and if he had his wish, Starsky would never work the streets again, either. A good, safe, desk job. That's what Starsky needed.

Conquering his nerves, and discovering the beginnings of hunger, Hutch pushed through the swinging door back into the dining room. At a table not too far from the windows over looking the patio, a woman sat close to her ailing husband. He clearly was in the midst of chemotherapy, with his bald head and a mask over his nose and mouth to protect against germs. His wife leaned into him, talking softly as they shared a bowl of ice cream, love streaming out of her. But the other, prevailing emotion Hutch could feel even from ten feet away was fear. She feared she was losing her love, and it was all Hutch could do to walk past the table without stopping to ask her how she'd gotten this far.

He knew that fear. He had seen the terror in Starsky's eyes and he knew Starsky could see it in his, but they both pretended to ignore it, like having an elephant standing in the living room and walking around it rather than having to acknowledge the elephant's existence. That was the essence of living with cancer, knowing it was there and still pretending to lead a normal life in spite of everything.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Friday night slid into Saturday morning and Starsky got the second of the three chemo infusions. This one didn't cause any life threatening side effects, so both partners spent the morning reading their respective books, making the occasional comments, but mostly comfortable just to be close and together.

"Hutch, did you know what this book was about when you got it at the library?" Starsky asked curiously.

"Which one?" Hutch asked distractedly, making notes for his class on ruled paper. He'd never be able to teach this class. Half of the police procedures he didn't even recognize and the rest he'd at least bent in pursuit of a criminal.

Starsky held up his paperback enough for Hutch to see the title and the cover illustration of a jockey on a brown horse jumping over a bushy green hurdle with a leering skull hidden in the leaves.

"'Odd's Against'," Hutch read. "I knew you'd read a couple of Dick Francis and asked the librarian which one had a sequel since you like series. Any good?"

"Yeah, I like it a lot. They're private detectives--Sid and his partner Chico," Starsky said so strangely, Hutch really looked more closely at him. Starsky appeared remarkably well for someone on chemo, and hadn't vomited yet, which the dayshift nurse had been happy about. He was needing fewer pain meds for his leg in the last few days and the crisis of the night before had definitely passed. "Sid's going to get his hand amputated." Starsky took a deep breath before continuing. "Did you…?"

"Starsky! No! I honestly didn't know the plot of the book." Hutch felt punched in the stomach by his partner's half veiled accusation. Starsky didn't really believe he'd push for amputation in such an underhanded way, did he? "Starsky, I wouldn't…"

"I didn't think so." Starsky smiled sweetly at him leaning back against the pillows of his hospital bed. "That part just hit kinda hard, y'know?"

"Hey, you getting second thoughts about this?"

"Nothing but. This is the pits, an' I don't mean Huggy's." Starsky scratched around the tape holding the IV in his right arm. "It's gonna be all right, right, Hutch? We're gonna be out there on some perp's tail by Christmas. This'll all be behind us."

"Sure, Starsk," Hutch agreed, pasting on a smile he hoped passed inspection. Starsky mustn't know about his capitulation. "Hey, you want me to go get you a different book? No more Dick Francis."

"Nah, I'm nearly finished with this one, and there's a second one for part three of the chemo tomorrow."

"Your call, buddy," Hutch reached out and patted Starsky's good leg, suddenly craving his warmth, his aliveness.

"Wish we were home," Starsky whispered with an impish wink. "I could love that look right off your face."

"You just did." Hutch kissed him quickly; glad they had a private room.

Lunch was served soon after the chemo had finished but it was patently obvious Starsky wanted nothing to do with food. He still hadn't thrown up but was decidedly green around the gills.

When the tiny Asian nurse with the winsome smile gave him a drug to settle his stomach, Starsky fell asleep quickly. Looking over the contents of the tray before stowing it in what the nurses called the 'dirty' room, Hutch had to admit the fare left something to be desired. Maybe if he found something Starsky liked a lot better, he'd eat. Luckily, so far, Starsky hadn't been bothered by much nausea in between treatments, so he'd kept his weight up during the week, but from what Dr. Davies was saying, things would get worse before they got better. Hutch decided it was his job to keep Starsky eating. There was so little else he could do to help.

Unfortunately, most of Starsky's favorite foods were out of the question. His tastes ran to the spicier the better, just the sort which caused stomach upset on the best of days. But Huggy 's cook could probably whip up a half-sized burger, which might entice. Therefore, The Pits was the first stop, especially since Hutch was pretty hungry himself.

"Hutch, how's our curly headed patient?" Huggy greeted the moment Hutch entered the dim establishment. He was never quite sure if Huggy just kept the lighting low for atmosphere or whether he saved money buying 60-watt bulbs.

"Already tired of lying in bed." Hutch sat at the bar. "And we've got a long way to go. The doctor told us yesterday that the minimum would be six courses of chemo and I've got this bad feeling that there'll be more than that."

"Damn," Huggy swore softly, a mournful expression on his face. "I didn't know."

"I did, I just forgot with everything else going on. But after the first six they'll do lots of blood tests and with any luck he'll be in remission."

"That's more like it!" Huggy said heartily, drawing Hutch a draught beer. "But you're worried."

"Yeah, I guess that's my job right now. Huggy, yesterday his throat swelled up because of a reaction from the drugs and I couldn't do anything but stand there and watch while the nurses and doctors saved his life--again." Hutch stared down into the foamy head in his mug. "I felt so damned helpless, like he doesn't need me right now."

"Blondie, you're the one he needs the most and you know it, you're just down in the dumps right now." Huggy signaled the cook through the pass-thru. "What you need is some food. My Great Aunt Beulah used to say bad news always sits better on a full stomach. Howie, make our friendly cop a special!"

"No, Howie, make it the soup of the day for me," Hutch corrected. "And I'll be by in about a couple of hours for a kid sized special for Starsky."

"Will do!" Howie saluted cheerfully, going back to his stove.

"We don't have no kid menu here, this is a strictly over 21 establishment," Huggy lectured.

"Not even for Starsky?" Hutch grinned as Huggy placed a bowl of Minestrone in front of him with a large hunk of bread on the side.

"Mrs. Peducci, who lives down the street, gonna start up her own bakery. I'm selling some of her stuff until she gets a shop." Huggy broke off a piece from the main loaf and ate it. "This bread's been the hit of the lunch crowd."

"She make cannoli?" Hutch tasted the soup and the bread, both were excellent.

"Far's I can tell, the woman can bake anything. She's magic in the kitchen."

"Maybe I could special order some from her for later in the week?" Hutch wheedled.

"For Starsky again?" Huggy winked. "I b'lieve I could convince the woman to make him a whole Italian feast, spaghetti, the works, with a little sweet talkin'. We could come over and deliver it personally. I bin tellin' her about the two of you."

"Huggy, is this a potential lady friend?" Hutch asked in delight. He needed to hear some good news.

"How can the woman resist my charm and good looks?" Huggy boasted, adjusting the bright melon scarf tied around his neck. The color was a surprisingly good match to the pink and yellow shirt he wore. "Her no 'count husband's doin' 10 to 20 in Soledad so she divorced the bum, and being Catholic was kinda depressed, so I offered to help her get back on her feet, so to speak. Just neighborly…"

"Of course," Hutch murmured, finishing his soup. "She pretty?"

"A veritable Diana, Helen of Troy's twin, the model for Botticelli's Venus," Huggy rapturized.

"I get the picture," Hutch said dryly, impressed at the scope of Huggy's knowledge of the arts. The man certainly kept his book learning under his flamboyant hat most of the time, but his street smarts were second to none.

Hutch made a few stops for supplies, ending at a health food store to pick up several kinds of teas. The hamburger was ready for him when he arrived back at The Pits and he loaded that into the car, pleased at what he'd accomplished.

++++++++++++++++++++

 

Starsky was curled into the fetal position under a pile of blankets, only the top of his curly head sticking out. The room had the sour smell of old vomit and Hutch sighed with discouragement. Starsky probably hadn't gotten much sleep if he'd been puking up his guts.

"Hey," Hutch called, noticing the mop of curls turn towards him when he set down his purchases. "You hiding?"

"Yeah." Starsky pushed the blankets down level with his nose, blue eyes red rimmed and bleary. Hutch cupped his cheek, savoring the feel of his skin, but also assessing for fever. One of the side effects of the chemo was a mild elevation in temperature, but Starsky's cheek held only the usual warmth of someone who'd been buried under mounds of bedclothes.

"I see you commandeered every blanket in the place," Hutch kept it light, aware Starsky wouldn't want to go into how he'd spent his afternoon. He wished he could just climb under the covers and cuddle up next to Starsky like they might have done any other Saturday afternoon, but this was no ordinary weekend.

"I was cold," Starsky said flatly. "Get your errands done?"

"Yeah, stopped by Huggy's--Howie made you a special."

"I'm not very hungry right now," Starsky said evasively, pressing his lips together.

"I figured that so we can just put it in the microwave later," Hutch brought out two boxes of tea from the health food store sack. "You can try the tea instead."

"Tea?"

"Peppermint tea is good for stomach upset," Hutch explained, pointing to the caption on the label. "And ginger tea is proven to help reduce nausea. Pregnant women use it all the time."

"I'm not pregnant, in case you hadn't noticed." Starsky said, his wary expression conveying how dubious he was of the restorative powers of a tea bag.

"If you were pregnant, I'd have noticed, believe me. You'd be on the cover of the National Inquirer," Hutch teased. He could tell Starsky felt like shit, but as usual his partner was stoic about it, bottling up his hurt inside him rather than burden anyone else with his pain. So totally Starsky. Hutch wondered how long it would be before Starsky had to admit how bad off he really was. "I'll go swipe a cup of hot water from the nurses and fix you right up."

Mika, back for her second night nursing Starsky, was happy to oblige and produced a cup of steaming water in very short order. She stayed in the room while Hutch dunked the ginger tea bag into the cup to let it steep.

"My mother swears by ginger tea," Mika nodded. "Dave, let me take your temperature and scribble down a few vital signs before you have your afternoon tea. You'll have to invite Mrs. Miniver and Gemma, one of the other nurses, the next time. They're both British and love what Mrs. M calls a 'good cuppa'."

"There's no guarantee I'm gonna drink it," Starsky said darkly. "But it does smell good." He submitted to Mika's ministrations without complaint, watching the tea preparations.

"Grump." Hutch squeezed the soaking tea bag against a spoon, then dropped it into the trash. "Try it, Starsk. I know you don't feel great right now, but give this a chance."

Starsky eased up into a sitting position, moving like every part of his body hurt but he accepted the cup, blowing to cool off the liquid. Mika immediately reached behind him, snatching up the topmost pillow and stripping off the case. It wasn't until she was dropping it in the blue bagged linen hamper that Hutch noticed a proliferation of dark brown curls over the entire surface of the fabric. Starsky's hair. His belly clenching, Hutch mourned the sight. Starsky was already starting to lose his hair and there was nothing they could do about it until the chemo ended. Mika expertly slipped another pillowcase on and plumped the pillow behind Starsky without his noticing the exchange.

"Tastes hot!" Starsky proclaimed in surprise. "And I don't mean the temperature. This is like spicy."

"That's the ginger." Mika quickly jotted down a few notes in the chart.

"Not like your grandmother's tea, huh?" Hutch asked affectionately, making up a cup for himself. The ginger had quite a bite, filling his mouth with hot, sweet flavor.

"I can feel it in the back of my throat," Starsky took another speculative sip. "But it's staying down for the moment."

"Drink the whole thing and you win a prize," Mika pointed her forefinger at him. "I want to see the bottom of that cup when I come back, mister."

"What's the prize?" Starsky called after her. "She's got a finger like yours, Hutch." He took a few more sips before setting the cup down. "What else did you do this afternoon?"

"Went to the library again. Got some more study material for the class." Hutch hauled out a book called 'Keeping your Students Interested' by Marvin Jackson and 'Bay City Municipal Police Department Handbook'. "I don't know if I can pull this one off, Starsk. This is a lot of hard work."

"Don't sell yourself short, you'll be great. Who's Marvin Jackson?" Starsky questioned, picking up the first book. "He one of the Jackson Five?"

"That was Marlon."

"How'd you know?"

Blushing, Hutch briskly opened a third book, flipping the pages to find the correct chapter. "I just do, okay?"

"You gotta tell me, I'm sick and need entertaining."

"Oh really?" Hutch marked the page with his finger. "A couple of years after we joined the force, the first girl I dated, after the divorce… "

"Missy," Starsky guessed. "No, Misty."

"Yeah, like the Clint Eastwood movie."

"Play Misty for me," Starsky said in a spooky voice.

"Do you want to hear this?"

"Yes." Starsky lay back against the pillow, mischief in his eyes.

"Misty liked the Jacksons and we went to their concerts."

"Like more than once?" Starsky asked in surprise.

"Yes--more than once." Hutch avoided Starsky's mischievous look, bending over the book once again to locate the correct section. As much fun as it was to spar with his partner like they were whiling away a boring stake out in the old Torino, every moment like this one hurt deeply inside. Would there be more times like this one? Would Starsky get too sick to enjoy the simple pleasures of teasing his friend?

"Well, I don't think you need ol' Marvin's book, then." Starsky shoved the offending object away. "When you got stories like that one to keep the cadets interested. Just mix in a lesson on crowd control at a Jackson Five concert and how to frisk a pretty girl, and you've got 'em in the palm of your hand."

"You can teach that lesson, Lothario," Hutch said.

"I just might," Starsky agreed, sounding sleepy.

Hutch worried his bottom lip, reading over the medical text he'd obtained. While he hadn't deliberately hidden the title from Starsky, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted Starsky to know what he was reading, either. But he hated feeling so helpless when confronted with the overwhelming mountain of information presented to them by Starsky's doctors. The title 'Knowing your own Cancer' had jumped out at him at the library and he'd grabbed the book like a life ring. Maybe if he studied up on the treatments and options for osteosarcoma, he'd be able to ask more informed questions.
The chapter on Starsky's particular cancer was surprisingly short and was mostly facts Davies had already told them. Most osteosarcoma patients were teenaged boys and most had amputations. Not the best of news. But a high percentage of patients did survive five years after their diagnosis, and most went on to live normal lives. That was much better news.

Gulping down the rest of his tea, Hutch started to read more on which chemo drugs worked best, and was surprised to hear Starsky's voice.

"Hutch! I need…" Starsky gulped air convulsively, his lips tightly pursed like he was holding something in.

Reflexively Hutch shoved a curved basin from the bedside table under Starsky's chin just as he emptied out the meager contents of his stomach. Blessedly, that didn't take long but Starsky was drained and weak afterwards.

"I did like the tea, Hutch, honest."

"I know you did, Starsk. Better luck next time."

"Yeah." Starsky leaned into the curve of Hutch's arms, dozing off again. Keeping his arms wrapped protectively around his lover, Hutch could still see where he'd left off on the open page of the book, 'nausea and vomiting occur in 76-100 % of patients and is dose related.'

+++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Sunday morning was a virtual repeat of Saturday, but by Sunday night, Starsky was okay to be discharged if he felt up to it. Despite feeling like he'd been flattened by a cement roller, Starsky insisted on going home to sleep in his own bed. He wanted Hutch by his side, in fact, was already beginning to dread the long days ahead when Hutch would be busy with Academy work and anything else Dobey threw his way.

Even counting his near fatal shooting, Starsky could not remember a time when he had been so cooped up and unable to function. It rankled, and he was determined to do something about it. When Sophie came over Monday morning, Starsky began discussing his options with her, and by evening, he had a few ideas of how to constructively use all this free time he had forced upon him, and consequently had also completely recovered from the flu-like post chemo illness.

"Welcome home!" Starsky crowed from the couch, blowing on an old birthday party horn, when Hutch walked through the front door.

"What's going on?" Hutch looked around in astonishment. Not only was the room decked out with a banner that said 'Teacher of the Month' but Huggy and a beautiful brunette were accompanying Starsky's horn with kazoos while Sophie just clapped her hands in rhythm.

"Bravo, Hutch," she crooned in her lilting French accent. "I'll be going, but enjoy yourselves. Your friends have planned a little fete."

"Won't you stay?" Hutch asked politely. "I don't know what this is for, but it looks like there'll be a lot of fun."

"No, no, au revoir, David!" She waved, letting herself out.

"Hutch, ma'man, we weren't about to let the first day of professor-hood slip by unnoticed," Huggy announced. "This is to celebrate getting through your first day at the Academy."

"All over again," Starsky added, giving a final blast on his horn. "Huggy called this afternoon about a day for the spaghetti dinner you ordered and this was the perfect opportunity. Say hello to Daisy." He waved at the woman still hanging back behind Huggy, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. Daisy had a pretty, almost exotic face, most probably a mixture of two or three different gene pools blending together into a dark creamy caramel completion, light brown eyes with the slight tilt of Asian heritage and masses of brown curls.

"Daisy?" Hutch held out a hand. "You must be the Mrs. Peducci Hug was going on and on about."

"He'd be hawking my bread on the street corners if I let him," she giggled, shaking Hutch's hand. "You're Hutch if he's Starsky."

"See, I like her already," Starsky approved. "Most people get us mixed up."

"I can't imagine why, he's…" Daisy glanced from one man to the other.

Starsky waggled his eyebrows at her.

"All white people look alike," Huggy muttered with a smirk. "Let's get this par-tay happening, brothers and sister! Hutch, take a load off while I and my favorite chef marvel you with delights from the kitchen."

"You planned this?" Hutch looked still bewildered but amused when he perched on the arm of the couch next to Starsky's casted leg.

"It just kinda fell together." Starsky shrugged. "Meant to be."

"How are you doing?"

"Good, don't I look good?"

"You look good to me, and I'd prove it to you if we didn't have guests," Hutch said in a sultry voice.

"Damned inconvenient."

"But are you feeling alright?" Hutch asked more pointedly.

"Haven't hurled all day."

"Have you eaten anything?"

"Look what we got here!" Starsky proclaimed. Huggy emerged from the kitchen wearing Starsky's 'Kiss the Cook' apron holding a plate of freshly baked bread and several types of cheese aloft. "You could bottle up the smell of that bread and perfume the world, Daisy. Just like my grandma used to make."

"Thank you." She curtseyed quaintly. "Eat up."

Starsky selected a slice, spreading it with creamy Havarti cheese, nibbling on one side. It was true he hadn't vomited all day, and the chemo nausea had completely gone away. The bone doctor had reduced his pain meds while he was in the hospital, so even the usual upset stomach caused by the morphine was lessened and he truly felt like eating. But, somehow, his appetite had shrunk in the last month after going for days on only small portions of food. His eyes wanted the food, but once he started eating he got full quickly. Better to save lots of room for the main meal and dessert than fill up on the hors d'oeuvres.

"So, spill, man, how's the new crop of baby cops?" Huggy leaned forward with interest.

"They already know more about this subject than I do," Hutch sighed melodramatically. "They had an excellent teacher in Ben Logan."

"And they got an excellent teacher in Ken Hutchinson," Starsky said staunchly. "You studied all weekend and you been on the streets for all these years."

"Starsky's right," Huggy agreed, munching on Brie and bread. "How the hell they gonna learn just outta books? You got the real thing, experience."

"I hope so, but this first week's gonna be a killer," Hutch bit down on the bread, his expression changing to one of surprise. "Daisy, this bread is even better than the kind I had at The Pits. You got to get your own bakery. Huggy's place isn't good enough for you."

"Well, I did look at two locations this morning," she admitted shyly. "But I don't know if I can swing the rent and do all the work myself--a bakery would mean three, maybe four times the amount I'm baking now."

"Sophie," Starsky proclaimed.

"She left, or didn't you notice?" Huggy reminded. "This is Daisy."

"No, man, Sophie has a daughter--Marie. They both cook almost as good as Daisy does," Starsky said, winking at the woman. "It's a perfect partnership. Marie needs a job and Daisy needs help."

"Give me her number and I'll call her up," Daisy agreed.

"Un six trois sept six sept huit," Starsky said slowly.

Daisy laughed, nodding. "How did you know I spoke French?"

"He didn't, he was showing off," Hutch elbowed Starsky in the ribs. "You've been practicing."

"Moi, je parle Francais," Starsky declared with a grin. "Sophie's been teaching me."

"So what did he say?" Huggy asked.

"He gave me the phone number, 163-7678," Daisy explained. "And I'd better get the spaghetti, I can hear the water bubbling from here."

"Looks like everybody's got new interests but me," Huggy said.

"Hug, you've got The Pits, " Hutch said, reaching for more cheese. "That place is always interesting."

"And Daisy," Starsky leered.

"To success," Huggy declared raising his glass.

"To success," Starsky echoed, clinking his glass to Hutch's. Success--the only success he wanted was beating the cancer and getting back out on the streets. It was his mantra, his goal and his finish line. He was determined to beat the odds and come out a winner. "To success."

Spending the evening with good companions lightened spirits but Starsky was exhausted by the time good-byes were said and the empty spaghetti pot carted away. He hadn't socialized so much in weeks which only illustrated how cut off he'd become from the world around. He was either prostrate on the couch or hooked to an IV in the hospital. It was time for a change and the plans he'd made with Sophie that afternoon fit right in.

"Sophie and I are going to fix up that vegetable garden you started on the side of the house," Starsky said, watching Hutch get undressed for bed. Even at first, when his leg hurt no matter how many pain pills he'd thrown at it, he'd always welcomed Hutch into his bed. He felt safe with his partner by his side, protected from whatever might befall them. Together they were unbeatable; apart was a different story. He should have realized that when he was pushing Hutch away. Now, he felt panicky when Hutch left for work in the morning, not that he'd admitted it, so far.

"That pile of weeds?" Hutch pulled on a t-shirt. "Most of those beans and tomatoes must be dead on the vine."

"We're going to go out there tomorrow and start in," Starsky declared. "I can't stand bein' cooped up inside anymore. The walls are starting to close in on me."

"Good luck, maybe the potatoes are still alive--and the carrots." Hutch slide into the bed, careful not to jostle Starsky too much. "I've got a job for you, too. Grading tests."

"How can I do that if I haven't even taken the class?"

"There's a key, Starsky. You just line the papers up against the key and mark the ones that are wrong. I don't have time to do that and keep ahead of the class. I'm going to be reading the chapters the night before as it is."

"Hey, with that and the garden and learning French, there's no time for doctor appointments and chemo…"

"You wish," Hutch kissed him lightly on the shoulder, resting his head against Starsky's cheek.

"Sophie told me there are classes on PBS where all you have to do is register with the local college and watch TV." Starsky ran his fingers through Hutch's fine blond hair. It had thinned over the years, although Hutch disguised the fact with judicious blow drying, but after a long day like this one, the pale hair was flat against his skull.

Starsky hated the thought of being bald. He wasn't exactly sure why, except that as far back as he could remember people had commented on his hair. It had always had a mind of its own, never laying flat when his mother slicked it back with water for the Sabbath, growing long, tangled, curly, wavy and shaggy in Viet Nam, just like the song from 'Hair'. He'd had to sheer off the magnificence to get into the police Academy but since then had often let it grow past acceptable lengths before submitting to another hair cut. But he'd never been bald. He'd seen his hair coming out on the comb the last couple of mornings, and steeled himself for the denouement, complete hairlessness. Not only on top of his head, but his beard, chest hair and even arm pits, too.

Along with the helplessness forced upon him by the shattered bone and the chemo, now he'd be as smooth as a baby as well. Sensing the black hate welling up again inside, Starsky forced it back into its vault, throwing his feelings for Vinnie Schroeder, who had started this whole mess. It didn't matter that the cancer had already been gnawing on his bone long before Schroeder took his first swing, Starsky needed someone to blame and that vile excuse for a human being was it.

"Baby, are you asleep?" Hutch asked softly.

"Huh?" Starsky arranged his mouth into a smile. It wasn't that hard since just looking at Hutch made him smile, but the memories of Schroeder still lurked too close for comfort. "Just thinking. Tonight was fun, huh?"

"It was fun."

+++++++++++++++++++++

Leaving Starsky at the hospital for a round of x-rays, cast revision and the start of his physical therapy, Hutch set off with a long list of errands. Between the Academy classes, checking in at the detective squadroom, and squiring Starsky to appointments, his week was busy. There didn't seem to be enough hours in a day to get everything done. Luckily, numerous friends helped with the mundane chores like grocery shopping and laundry but Hutch liked being responsible for getting Starsky to and from, as often as he could. Today, he also had something special in mind once he finished his list.

After returning books to the library, collecting his dry cleaning, refilling some of Starsky's prescriptions and picking out some gardening supplies for the intrepid vegetable growing duo, Hutch ended up at the barber. He explained how he wanted his hair cut and settled back into the padded chair with a sigh of relaxation.

Closing his eyes, Hutch listened to the snip of scissors at the back of his head. The creamy lather of shaving cream on his skin was the height of luxury and he reveled in the pampering. Hutch was aware that Starsky had stopped shaving in the last week, defiantly growing what little facial hair he had left into a scraggly beard but it was a losing proposition. It had almost seemed mean spirited to shave in front of him recently, so this trip to the hair salon was not only a treat, it was a necessity.

"Tip your chin up," the barber murmured, scraping away the frothy cream.

++++++++++++++++++++++

Starsky tipped back his head, gulping the last of his Gatorade. The hour of physical therapy had wiped him out. Although he'd been up-graded to a waking cast by the orthopedist, he wasn't able to do much weight bearing yet, so the therapist had concentrated on helping him build up arm strength to use the crutches more efficiently. Starsky was coached through repetitions of weight lifting and modified pull-ups that left him panting and wringing wet. All he wanted to do now was go home, pop a beer and sleep. Not that he got beers these days. The closest he got to an alcoholic substance was the occasional stolen sip of Hutch's. He was beginning to feel like a prisoner, not only of his own body, but of the master warden, Ken Hutchinson. Eyeing the trashcan about six feet away, Starsky lobbed his plastic bottle in, cheering loudly for himself.

"Two points," Hutch called out from the door of the therapy room. "You gonna try out for the Laker's next season?"

Turning the wheelchair around with a flick of his wrist Starsky stared at his partner, his jaw hanging open in surprise. "Hutch, what the hell did you do?"

"Felt in need of a change," Hutch ran his palm over the smoothly shaved curve of his skull.

"Oh, my God, you look different," Starsky said in awe. "You got less hair than I do." His own skull wasn't quite showing through completely yet, but each day more and more hair was left on the floor of the bathroom, the bedroom and anywhere else he had been. Hutch had accused him of shedding more than their cat. "At least for now. What did you want to go and do that for?"

"You," Hutch said simply. He leaned his hands on the armrest of the wheelchair, bending down to be more on Starsky's level. "It's the one thing I can really share with you, Starsk."

"Grow it back," Starsky whispered with tears in his eyes. He copied Hutch's move, running the palms of both hands over the smooth scalp. "So soft, but I don't want you to be like me, Hutch. It's too…scary." Seeing Hutch bald didn't so much reinforce his own impending alopecia as much as drove home how really different he would be without hair. It was one of the signs people recognized--weight loss, naked scalp, vomiting-- these all pointed to a sick person undergoing chemo. It made Starsky want to curl up and hide. "Thank you for doing that, but grow it back. One of us oughta have hair for the fall season."

"Don't like my new style?"

"The old one suited you much better." Starsky thumbed a tear away, ashamed at his emotional weakness. "Except, no mustache. Looked like a big hairy caterpillar. I was never so glad as when you shaved that off right in front of me in the hospital that time."

"You got shot, the least I could do is shave off the cookie duster," Hutch said affectionately.

"I wouldn' a have kissed you if you'd kept it," Starsky whispered. Hutch was so close Starsky just leaned forward and planted one on that naked upper lip. "You got a barbershop shave, too. I can smell that bay rum a mile away." Winning the fight against his tears, he gave Hutch a tiny smile. "Hey, Kojak, didja bring me a lollypop?"

"Rots your teeth," Hutch took over the handlebars of the chair, pushing Starsky down the hospital corridor towards the parking lot.

"Spoilsport," Starsky grumped as they neared his midnight black Mustang. Even though he couldn't drive it, he insisted on being chauffeured to the hospital in the snazzy car. He didn't want his favorite nurses and therapists seeing him arrive in the latest version of Hutch's beater cars.

"Hey, didja see? I got a walker cast. I can walk now." Starsky held his leg up briefly to show off the rubber base on the bottom of his cast. Just that little bit of movement sent red flares of pain over his knee and down the ankle, but he'd grown used to the momentary reminders of the unhealed bone. He tucked his chin down, riding out the hurt without comment, breathing rapidly. Hutch didn't say a word, although Starsky knew he recognized the signs of his pain all too well.

"You need any help?" Hutch asked casually, unlocking the car door.

"Nah, I'm good." Starsky lowered his good leg to the ground, grasped the edge of the car door and lifted himself smoothly into the seat without having to ever completely put weight on his left foot at all. Strange to become adept at something like this in so short a time. It was the last thing he wanted to be good at, too. He wanted to run, chase criminals, take the stairs two at a time, not hobble like an old man. "When this cast comes off, it's gonna take a lotta work to get the muscle back. I'm gonna start jogging with you."

"Yeah?" Hutch folded the wheelchair into the trunk, then climbed into the driver's seat. "I'll believe that when I see it."

"Doubt, baldy?"

"Starsk, I've been encouraging you to come jogging with me for the last--probably ten or more years." He started up the engine. "It hasn't happened so far."

"I don't wanna look like some gimpy hairless Mexican dog."

"Chihuahua."

"Geshuntheit." Starsky bounced slightly in the seat. "Hey, guess who goes to the same P.T as me?"

"I haven't a guess."

"C'mon, try!"

"Uh--Joe Montana?"

"No, but close--Samantha Goldwyn."

"Who's Samantha Goldwyn?"

"C'mon, Hutch, you remember her. Ona Rosie Dobey's best friends. We met her at the Captain's pool party last summer." Starsky mimed swimming. "They're on the gymnastics team together. She won the silver medal in Sacramento when Rosie won the gold. We saw it on TV, remember?"

"Tiny thing, long brown hair?"

"Yeah, that's her. She had knee surgery last year and has to come in for the weekly torture, like me." Starsky explained. "Anyways, we got to talking and their whole squad is performing in Disneyland this weekend, Hutch! In front of Mickey Mouse and everybody, I think it's gonna be on the TV, too."

"Sounds exciting," Hutch agreed. "She must be thrilled. We should call Rosie to congratulate her."

"I wanna go see them." Starsky dropped the bombshell and glanced warily at Hutch, waiting for the explosion.

"What do you mean?" Hutch asked slowly, as if truly confused. "You can, you just said it will be on TV."

"No, I wanna go to Disneyland."

"No."

"What no?" Starsky snarked angrily. He'd meant to remain calm, knowing Hutch would refute all his arguments, but a simple no without any explanation at all was down right insulting.

"Starsky, that place is huge. You can't walk."

"Walker cast, remember?" Starsky pointed to his foot. "I'll even submit to the damned wheelchair, so that ain't no argument, Hutch."

"That place is full of people--germy people," Hutch insisted, gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were bleached white.

Starsky laughed abruptly, startling Hutch, but his anger had vanished. "And a hospital isn't? Y'know more'n a fourth of the patients get an infection after they're already there for something else?"

"Where did you hear that?" Hutch asked suspiciously.

"In that book you were tryin' so hard to hide from me," Starsky said blandly. "The bottom of the laundry hamper isn't a very good hiding place." He waved a hand dismissively. "But back to Disneyland."

"Starsky, you've got cancer," Hutch said in a tiny voice, full of hurt, as if his heart was torn in two.

"Hutch," Starsky melted under all that pent up emotion spilling out at such an unexpected time. "Don't be afraid of this. I'm a cop, Disneyland is not the most dangerous place we'll ever go."

"No. You've already been there, twice."

"You mean stand in as a target on the rifle range and then bone tumor land?" Starsky chided lightly. "Frankly, Frontierland and Adventureland sound a lot more fun."

"Starsk!"

"I know, don't joke about stuff like that," Starsky angled his body towards Hutch as the other pulled the car into their driveway and turned off the motor. "But it's the only way to get through it and stay sane."

"The Hawkeye Pierce guide to life?"

"As good a role model as any." Starsky ran his hand gently up Hutch's flannel sleeve, briefly kneading the rock hard muscles on his shoulder. "I love you, Hutch, but you can't box me up for the rest of the chemo treatments or this feels even more like a prison sentence than it already does."

"Damn," Hutch swore softly, but he turned his face towards Starsky like a flower seeking the warmth of the sun. He kissed his lover and then repeated the endearment with more heat. "I just want to keep you safe. Is that so strange? But nothing I do has ever worked, you just keep getting hurt and sick…"

"You're doing a bang up job," Starsky murmured against his lips. "I'm the one with health issues."

"I love you, did I say that recently?"

"Can't remember, but maybe if you hum a few bars?" Starsky giggled, kissing Hutch's baby smooth cheek, his ear and then the top of his bare skull. "This is kinda weird, you without any hair. Like you're someone new. I think I need to meet this new Hutch, on a more intimate level, you know what I mean?"

"Don't you think we'd better take this in the house?" Hutch hummed the Partridge Family hit 'I think I love You' to Starsky's delight. He had the car unloaded and the wheelchair unfolded in a minimum of time. They were barely inside the house when Starsky curved a finger into a belt loop on Hutch's pants and pulled him close. With Starsky still seated in the wheelchair, that put a certain blond's groin area right where he wanted it.

"You've got too many clothes on, Kenny-boy wants to come out an play," Starsky rubbed his hand over the bulge between his lover's legs, increasing the friction and heat until Hutch moaned with delight.

"You don't know what you're starting there, Starsky."

"I've been around the block a few times," Starsky industriously began to unbuckle Hutch's belt and then unbuttoned his button and lowered the zipper. "I think I got a pretty good idea…" He slipped his hand inside the pants to locate the straining cock.

"You up for this?" Hutch asked weakly, his eyes glazing over with Starsky's finger play.

"Oh, I know I got you good when you resort to puns," Starsky chortled, applying a bit of tongue to the thick red flesh swelling alarmingly in his hand.

"Was that a pun?" Hutch gasped, balancing himself on Starsky's shoulders with both hands before he fell over.

"Sounded like it from where I'm sitting." After getting the object of his affection just wet enough with saliva, Starsky began to pump slowly with his left hand, alternating with a bit of ball rolling with his right, just to keep things lively.

"Oh, baby…" Hutch panted, rocking in time to the primitive rhythm.

Laughing, Starsky sped up his movements, feeling his own neglected penis strain against his sweatpants. That's what he was hoping for. Little Davey was Johnny-come-lately but he wasn't out of the ball game all together, yet. Rubbing with a certain amount of force, Starsky could sense the build up of Hutch's orgasm almost at the same time as his partner did. Hutch stiffened, his body long, lean, and reeking of sex when he roared out his approval and climaxed, cum spurting out all over the front of Starsky's shirt.

"You got to ride the roller coaster, so now can we go to Disneyland?" Starsky asked coyly.

"You're devious," Hutch retorted, dropping his undone pants to the floor. "And a mess, I think you need to get cleaned up." He gestured for Starsky to put his hands in the air and slipped the soiled t-shirt over Starsky's head. "Bedroom or couch?"

"Bedroom," Starsky pushed off from the wheelchair handlebars and stood awkwardly. He hadn't had much practice with the new cast and the lumpy rubber base on the bottom made his legs uneven, so he wobbled when he stood. It felt good to be upright, though, even if his leg throbbed with pain after a few seconds. This would take some getting used to.

"Careful," Hutch cautioned, but his blue eyes shone with approval at this new sign of improvement. "Need a hand?"

"Only once I get into bed," Starsky waggled an imaginary Groucho Marx cigar and hobbled slowly down the hall. It was only a matter of time before the pain in his leg would cancel out his erection, but so far he was having too much fun to let that get him down. Peeling down his sweatpants he levered himself onto the bed.

Hutch stood in the doorway, looking down at his nude lover lying on the bed. "You inspire me."

"Huh?" Starsky beckoned, arching up to show off his needy organ. "I just want 'Eine Klein nachtmusic'."

"A little night music." Hutch translated, interpreting the words by drumming his fingers lightly on the pretty flute standing ready. He didn't need sheet music, just the songs only the two of them could hear, which he could play from memory. Using fingers callused by years of strumming a guitar he played out his love and adoration in one sensual sonata.

"Yeah, maestro," Starsky sighed happily. "You got the best fingers in the biz, ma Coeur."

"Starsky, all these languages are really turning me on," Hutch murmured.

"I'm soakin' up the culture. There's music appreciation on right after the French show on PBS." Starsky lay back, blissing out on the music of the spheres. Unfortunately, he didn't come, but it was a close thing, his whole body vibrating like a plucked violin string. Just to have Hutch so near and to be able to enjoy each other was good enough for now. They would have years and years to come together, once all this cancer business was out of the way.

Hutch spread out on the bed, his length a secure base for Starsky to lean into. "Just as long as I don't have to go on Space Mountain," he murmured into his ear.

"Would I make you do that?" Starsky chuckled.

"You have, last year at the annual Police and Emergency personnel get in for half price day," Hutch reminded, stroking Starsky's cheek.

"Only so's we could hide in the dark and hold hands." Starsky nodded, butting his head against Hutch's hand. They'd sat close together, holding hands as the metal car chugged up the incline and he could still remember Hutch's involuntary clutch of fear when they'd hurtled down the other side of the track, screaming with laughter in the darkened ride. He wouldn't be able to get on that one this year. There were signs all over Disneyland warning people with heart problems, back problems and pregnancy not to chance injury on this roller coaster or that high velocity ride. That probably went for casts, too. Still, there were lots of things he could do. "Can we stay all day and watch the fireworks? I'll hold your hand in the dark."

"Sweet talker," Hutch teased.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

The weekend heralded the kind of weather tourist agencies sing praises about when advancing the myth that Southern California is sunny and warm every day. As is common in October, the thermometer topped off at 85 degrees. But it was, in the parlance of the area, a 'dry heat', without cloying humidity or the constant irritation of scorching winds. All in all, a perfect day to go to Disneyland.

Hutch convoyed with the Dobeys, and several other parents of the gymnastic squad, so that all the cars arrived in the 'Dopey' area of the vast Disneyland parking area at the same time and parked in a line.

"Dopey, Dobey--that shouldn't be hard to remember," Starsky teased his superior. "Just change one letter…" He balanced against the hood of the car, standing on both feet, one sneakered and the other casted.

"You'd better watch yourself, Starsky," Dobey rebuffed. "I'm known in our family as the fastest arm in the west at the revolving wheel on the teacup ride. Makes lesser men lose their lunches." Edith dug her elbow in his ribs with a shocked hush at his last comment, but Starsky only laughed.

"I can lose my lunch any day of the week, lately, and not have half so much fun." He winked at Rosie who looked like she didn't know whether to laugh or not. "I'm riding with your dad, on the tea cups, Rosie-o-day, you can go with scaredy cat Hutchinson."

"I prefer to think of myself as cautious." Hutch unfolded the wheelchair and stared Starsky down until he folded himself up into it. As much as he wanted to just relax and enjoy the day, a small part of him was scared, despite Starsky's insistence that the happiest place on earth could not possibly be dangerous. Starsky was doing very well, keeping up his platelet count, not succumbing to any secondary infections and managing to maintain his weight, mostly. He'd lost some in the first rough weeks of his illness and never gained it back, but for the most part he remained surprisingly healthy when he wasn't hooked up to chemo. Luckily with the freedom the walker cast had given him and reduction of the pain meds, his disposition had improved recently, as well, much to Hutch's pleasure, since he was the one who had to take the brunt of Starsky's frequently inclement mood swings.

"That's okay, I never liked the teacup ride in the first place," Rosie groaned dramatically. "Makes me all wonky inside."

"Me, too. But I want to see Mickey Mouse and then go three times each on the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and the 'Haunted Mansion'." Samantha Goldwyn came up with her younger sister Cait, also gymnast, and their parents.

"First rate plan," Starsky enthused. "I’m sticking with a woman who knows her mind. You wanna date?"

"My parents say I can't go out with guys til I'm 16," she shot back gleefully, much to her mother's amusement.

"You're a younger woman?" Starsky replied in mock surprise. "I would have taken you for 22 maybe even 26, if you're a day."

"You're funny, David." Samantha laughed, linking arms with Rosie. They began chattering with excitement when the other members of their squad crowded around and were soon far ahead of the parents, keeping their distance to appear as if they were going to Disneyland on their own.

"Guess your date deserted you," Hutch said dryly.

"Guess so." Starsky glanced at the group of parents following their offspring before leaning his head back against Hutch's hand holding the wheelchair handlebars. He stroked his fuzzy cheek along Hutch's wrist. "Stuck with you, again."

"You'll just have to make do," Hutch smirked, drinking in the way Starsky's dark blue eyes sparkled with liveliness. He'd lost more than 75 percent of his hair, the rest cut short to minimize the scarcity, and he still hadn't shaved, sporting a scruffy mustache that gave him a passing resemblance to some seedy 19th century Mexican bandito.

"Don't forget to wear sunscreen, baldy." Starsky smiled. "You're head's getting pink already."

Digging the bottle of lotion out of the backpack he'd slung over the back of the wheelchair, Hutch poured a liberal dollop on his hand and smeared a goodly portion onto Starsky's nose. "Speak for yourself."

"I still look like I got more hair than you." Starsky rubbed the cream over his face still looking up and backwards at Hutch. "You wanna kiss me in the 'Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse'?" he seduced with hooded eyes.

"I wanna kiss you anywhere but right here with cars trying to park," Hutch gently cuffed the back of his head and pushed the wheelchair forward just as Edith called back to them to come on.

The girls scattered to all the lands in the park, their parents chasing after them to keep up. After arranging with the Dobeys to meet at the Bayou Restaurant for a 12:30 lunch, Starsky and Hutch set off to discover the wonders of Disneyland. As Starsky had suspected, the cast members operating the attractions looked askance at his injured leg when he wanted to get on, and Hutch vetoed any of the more action packed roller coaster type amusements, so they had to stick to what Starsky termed 'baby rides'. Those still held their own pleasures and the morning passed in a haze of fun.

"C'mon, Hutch, we got about half an hour before we hafta meet the Captain and Edith," Starsky encouraged, pulling Hutch away from a display of dark green, red and black African beaded bracelets.

"I kinda like this one," Hutch pointed to the last one in the glass case.

"It's not bad, but if you don't get a move on it, we'll never make it." Starsky tugged on Hutch's shirt, using his left hand to propel the wheelchair backwards.

"What are you is such a hurry for?" Hutch groused. "I was gonna buy that."

"The treehouse!" Starsky pointed. "Half the visitors in the park are out on Main Street ‘cause the noon parade's about to start so we got the place more or less to ourselves." He cocked his head towards the majestic man made tree festooned with furnished rooms for those fictional Swiss castaways.

"Oh, yes." Hutch started to smile, but it died away when he took in the enormity of the leafy bower. "Starsk, the wheelchair will never make it up there. It's all stairs."

"I can walk," Starsky announced huffily, parking the wheelchair in the designated area and standing proudly. "I'll go by myself if you don't come."

"Did I say I wasn't coming?" Hutch hurriedly followed his partner through the turnstile and up the first flight of stairs. The Disney artisans had erected ingeniously clever devices to make the Robinson family more comfortable including a Rube Goldbergian series of gears and ropes to haul provisions, and a system of bamboo poles providing the rooms nestled in the branches with running water, but Hutch barely noticed them. He only had eyes for Starsky walking ahead of him.

Starsky had obviously been practicing on his walker cast since he'd gotten it and the effort had paid off. He took the stairs slowly and deliberately, but his old mischievous smile was back whenever he'd glance down at Hutch from an upper landing. With a lump inside the size of the Hope Diamond Hutch scrambled after him, wondering why the sight of Starsky walking again had affected him so strongly. Was it because deep inside he'd begun to believe it would never happen again? Once again, Starsky's drive and determination had won out and he was walking. Remission from the cancer couldn't be far behind.

"Hey, slowpoke, whatcha lookin' at?" Starsky teased when they were nearly at the top.

"Their bedroom is nice." Hutch cleared his throat, hoping Starsky didn't notice. The depicted room, like the rest of the house, was a blend of items culled from the wrecked ship and tropical flora used as accent pieces.

"I wouldn't mind a nap on that big bed."

"You getting tired?"

"Nah, I made it up here, I can get back down on my own." Starsky leaned against Hutch's chest taking a conspiratorial look around in every direction. "The coast is clear, I want my prize." They kissed, savoring the brazen naughtiness of doing it in Disneyland, and broke apart giggling when they heard the creak on the stairs leading up to the bedroom announcing another visitor.

"Gotta go," Hutch whispered, urging him forward.

"Our bedroom would look good with mosquito netting, doncha think?" Starsky hung back, staring over his shoulder at the Victorian style bedroom. "Maybe a couple of coconuts?"

"Wouldn't exactly match the décor." Hutch kept a sharp watch on his partner as they made their way downward. He could tell Starsky was tiring, even if he wouldn't admit it. This was more exercise than Starsky had had in over a month.

"We have a décor? I thought it was just early bachelor with a dash of Mom's remnant lamps and side tables thrown in for good measure." Starsky triumphantly took the last flight of stairs with a flourish before dropping down into the wheelchair.

"Leg hurt?" Hutch asked blandly. He could see the tightness in Starsky's shoulders and jaw like he was holding something in. Every little twinge and pang worried him. Was the cancer worse? Was Starsky failing? Hutch constantly felt like he was inching his way along a ledge, holding Starsky back from the edge for fear he'd fall over the side without possibility of rescue. The kiss had been wonderful but it wasn't worth Starsky suffering for the rest of the day.

"It's getting hot." Starsky used his hand as a fan, hanging his tongue out like a panting dog. "That restaurant has the best air conditioning in the park."

"And the best Jambalaya," Hutch agreed, propelling the chair through the crowd beginning to return from the parade. He could hear a rinky-tink version of the Mickey Mouse theme coming from the direction of Main Street. Starsky sang along, laughing when he mangled the words. The trip to the elegant New Orleans style mansion that housed the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ride was a short one so they were inside waiting to be seated even before the Dobeys and several other members of the group spilled into the restaurant.

Lunch was a raucous affair, with lots of laughter and jokes. Hutch constantly had the odd feeling he should be recording every moment on film for posterity. Each time Starsky teased one of the gymnasts or made some outrageous comment that caused everyone to groan Hutch ached with a pang deep inside. He recognized it for what it was, fear, preventing him from just having a good time like everyone else. Fear that this would be the last time. Fear that Starsky would die and leave him alone. Fear that he couldn't bear that loneliness.

He was able to enjoy himself by burying the fear deeply enough, but it never left entirely, just crouched in the dark recesses of his mind, waiting to overwhelm him when he least expected it.

Since the girls were to perform in Tomorrow Land at 2pm, most of the group departed to gather their team leotards from the locker where they'd been stashed and warm up, leaving Starsky and Hutch alone in the permanent twilight of the restaurant. Across the fake lagoon, they watched the mechanized boats carry groups through the darkened 'swamp waters' teaming with fireflies and katydids up river to the start of the ride. The whole illusion was so uncanny it was almost possible to believe they really were relaxing in New Orleans after a long day exploring Bourbon Street. Unless, of course, you looked too closely and saw the outline of metal tracks under the shallow water and glimpsed the wires holding the fireflies in place.

"C'mon." Hutch counted out the change the others had left for a tip, adding another dollar of his own. He wanted to sit quietly with his lover in the dark for hours, but the wait staff was already clearing the plates and silverware off their table. "Let's go check out the Tiki-tiki-tiki room."

"Where the birds all sing and the flowers bloom?" Starsky trilled. He rolled the wheels of his chair around in a tight arc, propelling himself out of the restaurant. There was another thing that Hutch wasn't sure he liked seeing. Starsky was getting quite adept at maneuvering the wheelchair. Of course, it wasn't the first time he'd ever spent considerable time in one. After the shooting he'd also had to rely on wheeled conveyance before he'd gotten his stamina back, so it made sense that he could pilot one with ease. It just didn't seem natural somehow.

The automatromic birds chirped their hearts out with a clacking of plastic beaks and the dancing flowers joined in with the corny jokes in their plastic tropical paradise. The goofy attraction whiled away the time until Starsky and Hutch had to make their way across the vast park to Tomorrow land to see the girls perform.

Billed as the Western Division All-American Youth Gymnastics Showcase, the show had drawn quite a crowd by the time they arrived, but Edith Dobey had saved them a coveted spot up front. Having the wheelchair helped, too, since technically Starsky qualified for the handicapped zone. When another parent brought up this fact Starsky acted horrified at the thought and shook his head.

"Rosie has been so excited about this," Edith pointed out the television cameras setting up on the edge of the stage. "Marie Osmond is the hostess today."

"You ever go to an Osmond Brothers' concert, Hutch?" Starsky asked with studied innocence, his face alight with mischief. "Or didja just stick to the Jackson Five?"

"I'll stick it to you if you don't give up on that subject," Hutch warned, using his long forefinger for emphasis.

"Is that a promise?" Starsky teased with twinkling eyes. Luckily, no one but Hutch could hear him since Mickey Mouse and Marie Osmond walked out onto the stage at that moment and began to banter about the upcoming performance. Within minutes, a troop of pre-teen boys were tumbling and rolling over the blue regulation mats spread on the elevated platform.

Hutch tried to keep his attention on the show, but he was distracted by Starsky and Edith whispering together. Edith had a conspiratorial smile on her pretty dark face and she nodded as Starsky described something to her with small hand gestures. Unfortunately, the music was too loud for him to hear what they were saying without leaning in close and interrupting their conference.

The boys tramped off the stage to thunderous applause and were replaced by an adorable team of five and six year old girls who sang a pretty little song while somersaulting backwards and forwards under the direction of a Slavic coach. The woman had flaxen hair and the stance of a ballet dancer, and for a moment Hutch was reminded of his brief affair with Russian prima ballerina Anna Anatovna. But the resemblance was only superficial. When he turned his attention back to his partner Starsky was clapping in time to the 'Itsy Bitsy Spider' song and Edith was no longer beside him.

"Where's Edith?" Hutch asked when the little girls were taking their bows.

"One of the girls got stage fright," Starsky said in a loud whisper. "The Capt'n was riding herd on them back stage, but I guess he couldn't take it when Rainbow puked on Mickey Mouse's big shoes. Big clean up goin' on." He ran a hand across his forehead, wiping away sweat.

Hutch groaned, trying not to laugh at the mental image, but he still couldn't suppress his worry that Starsky was overdoing it. Even though this had been a relatively good week, just last Saturday Starsky had been doing quite a bit of puking himself. There wasn't time to discuss anything further because Marie Osmond bounced out on stage again, flashing her legendary toothy smile at the barrage of cameras catching her every move.

"Give a big Disney welcome to the gold medal winning girl's gymnastics team from Bay City!" she cried enthusiastically.

Rosie and her friends ran out waving sticks adorned with colored ribbons. Prancing and racing around the stage they performed an intricate pattern, never getting the ribbons, or their own legs, tangled up. Rainbow appeared to have recovered from her brief attack of nerves, waving her purple ribbon with prowess. Samantha stumbled once but showed consummate professionalism and finished the dance without a hitch. Laying their ribbons aside, the team launched into a complicated routine packed with forward rolls, flips, handstands, one handed cartwheels and splits. Then each of the six girls got her own moment of glory to perform her specialty. Rosie's floor routine was effortless; her feet seeming to barely touch the mat as she danced like a sprite on the wind in a pink leotard. Even a few of her teammates seemed to be watching with open-mouthed awe.

Hutch could see Dobey and Edith standing on the sidelines, holding hands, their pride in their daughter shining out of their faces. For a moment, he wondered what it would be like to produce such a child, see her begin to grow and change from babyhood into maturity, gaining knowledge and love with every day of her life.

He'd never really thought much about parenthood. When he'd married Van, she had quickly made it clear that she wasn't about to lose her figure and then her livelihood as a model to raise some mewling, messy brat. So, any hope of biological children had dwindled, unattained. Hutch had been a big brother to Kiko, which helped those odd yearnings but they had never completely gone away. He knew Starsky would have loved to have children, but that was out of the question now. Even if they tried to adopt once his health problems were resolved, Hutch was fairly certain that cancer was a strike against their possible parenthood. Adoption agencies, like insurance companies, often disliked taking a risk on anyone with a 'pre-existing medical condition'. So, for now, he watched other people's children, enjoying unclehood. Of course, he did have a full time charge to look after in Starsky, who could very much be like that child who never grew up-- the Peter Pan of BCPD. Even the fact that he'd gotten a kid's cancer bore that out.

The girls bounded off the stage chattering excitedly, red faced and sweating. The heat was becoming oppressive with so many people around and many of the crowd improvised fans from the Xeroxed list of the gymnasts handed out before the show.

With the girls surrounding her, Kristianne's very organized mom hauled out her blue and white cooler, handing out popsicles all around to the deserving performers.

"I always want the green one," Rosie announced. "Starsky, which one do you want?"

'I get a choice?" he laughed. "I figured they were only for the team. Rosie, you were great!"

"Thanks," she grinned proudly; shoving a cherry flavored frozen treat into his hand. "There's tons here. You want one, Hutch?"

 

"Uh-why not," he agreed. He'd never been a Popsicle fan, but it was hot and the already melting ice looked cool and refreshing.

"Look, I got a rainbow colored one!" Rainbow giggled. She had pin-sized dimples in both cheeks and blond curls like the '80's version of Shirley Temple.

"Samantha, how'd your knee hold up?" Starsky asked, licking his Popsicle.

"I flubbed up there at the beginning cause I stepped wrong," she sighed. "Good thing this wasn't a competition or I'd of lost points."

"I was right behind you and it barely showed," Kristianne said staunchly.

"Every one of you deserves a gold medal for this show," Edith looked so proud she could have burst. "We're having a celebration dinner at the Crystal Pavilion at five thirty this evening. So when the show is over change back into your street clothes for another two hours on the rides before dinner."

"I'm not sure I'll last this day out," Dobey turned to speak directly to Starsky and Hutch. "Those girls are wearing me out."

"Have another Popsicle, Cap," Starsky waved his hand at the rapidly dwindling stash. Another gymnastics team had claimed the stage and were strutting their stuff so the noise level was rising again.

"Think I will," Dobey said in a louder voice to be heard above the scratchy cassette recording of Bolero the children were performing with. "How are holding up, Starsky?"

"Never better, Cap," Starsky sucked the last of the cherry juice off his wooden stick. Hutch glanced over at him, but if Starsky was lying, he was doing a damned good job of it despite looking like he was melting in the heat.

"Rosie's really talented, Captain," Hutch said sincerely. "Does she have any thoughts of the Olympics or anything like that?"

"Only every other day and twice on Sundays," he helped himself to a very wet purple Popsicle. "That's a lot of work and a lot of money."

"She'll go far," Starsky winced as a boy on the stage took a tumble wrong and landed on his head. "Especially with competition like that."

"Daddy, we want to go on the Matterhorn," Rosie announced. "Me, and Kristianne and Samantha. Rainbow, Aria and Cait are going on Space Mountain, with Rainbow's dad, but that one's too dark for me."

"And you want me to go with you?" Dobey asked in dismay. "Those are all too fast for me."

"The big bad captain of the metro police department afraid of some little ol' Disneyland ride?" Starsky crowed, again wiping sweat from his damp forehead. "I'll go!"

"No you won't." Hutch negated. "What about 'It's a Small World', girls?"

"Baby ride," several chorused with much giggling.

"See, Hutch, I told you," Starsky sing-songed.

"'Haunted Mansion'?" Hutch compromised. That attraction had thrills and chills with a minimum of speed or sharp corners.

"I love scary houses," Samantha agreed. "Maybe we could all meet later and go together."

"She's always the one with a plan." Starsky nodded. "About four thirty, since we have to add in line time and get back to the restaurant by five thirty."

"Great!" Rosie grabbed her father's arm, pulling him away. "I just gotta change and then we're going, c'mon, Daddy!"

"You're getting to be a party pooper here, Hutch," Starsky said, his eyes following the last of the gymnasts off the stage. Mickey and Marie were giving their final words as most of the crowd began to drift away towards more excitement.

"You look exhausted, and don't deny it," Hutch accused.

"Maybe a little," Starsky fiddled with his Popsicle stick before tossing it end over end into a nearby trash receptacle. "I just hate like hell that this thing…" He smacked a flat hand on his cast, spitting out the next words. "Cancer, tumors, chemo, all of it, interferes with my life. I'm so ready for this to be gone, Hutch. So damned ready."

"Me, too, Starsk," Hutch said softly, rubbing a gentle hand across Starsky's neck. "How'd you like some shade and a quiet hour?"

"Here?" Starsky grit his teeth as if fighting demons but nodded. "Where you gonna find that in Disneyland?"

"I have my ways," he smiled. "Want me to push?"

Hutch steered the wheelchair across the swarming streets, heading past Frontier Land into the quieter back route to Bear Country Jamboree. For whatever reason, there was always a vacant bench and far fewer people out that way, even with the entrances to 'Splash Mountain' and 'Thunder Mountain' close by. Having let down his guard, Starsky was drooping with tiredness by the time they found a relatively peaceful spot under a leafy tree. The shade was heavenly, cooling the air by several degrees. Starsky stood, stretching the kinks out of his spine while Hutch bustled about getting bottles of water and a small pillow out of the sack dangling from the back of the wheelchair.

"I'm beginning to think you're Mary Poppins with her magic carpet bag," Starsky observed wryly when Hutch produced a bottle of painkillers and a baggie containing a wet washrag.

"I'm not your nanny. Take the pills and wipe off your face."

"No, you must be nurse Rached," Starsky retorted doing as instructed. He took a long drag from the bottle of water. "I dunno why I got so hot there."

"Because it's 85 degrees?" Hutch damped down his unreasonable irritation and wiped his own face with the cooling rag. Sharing the bottle with Starsky, he drank down half of it. "And I think the chemo makes you more sensitive to heat. Sure raises your temperature when you're on the IV infusion."

"That's just terrific," Starsky snorted. "Nothing's my own any more."

"Get some rest," Hutch stroked Starsky's curls, listening to the happy screams coming from the nearby roller coasters. "I need a break from all this relentless cheerfulness."

"You just parked us here to torment me with the sounds from 'Thunder Mountain'." Starsky grinned to soften the accusation, stretching out on the blanket and pillow Hutch had spread over the bench. He was asleep in minutes.

Using the wheelchair as a temporary seat, Hutch meant to read the lesson plans he'd brought for Monday's class but sitting there watching Starsky sleep in their own little island of sanity he finally felt at peace. Across the way, he could still hear excited shrieks as the simulated mine cars hurdled around on their continuous loops. Roller coasters were as good a metaphor for life as anything. There were the ups and the downs. They'd been on the down slope for too long and now, it really seemed like they were headed for a long, torturous hill upwards. Times would be hard with the stress of four more rounds of chemo, but soon, very soon they would see the light at the end of the tunnel and pull into the station. The chemo ended in November. That was an attainable goal, only about two months to go.

Starsky snored slightly, his casted leg pillowed on the healthy one, and Hutch put out a tentative hand to touch the hard fiberglass shell protecting the injured bone. Starsky would bounce back from this. He had to. Once again they would patrol the streets, side by side in a flashy car with the endlessly flashing mars light splashing red shadows on the pavement like a beacon from hell. The papers almost sliding off his lap Hutch fell asleep, too.

They had to scramble to make it into line at the 'Haunted Mansion' on time but all had a great time pretending to be scared by the eerie ghosts and goblins inhabiting the graceful old white house.

"I've got a great idea," Rosie announced breathlessly, multiple black braids bobbing around her head like mini exclamation points. "Let's all get our names embroidered on Mickey Mouse ears and get a team picture wearing them."

Although there were a few good natured grumbles from the parents about the cost of hats the girls might never wear again, everyone agreed on the idea and packed into a Millinery Shoppe on Main Street to purchase the quintessential Disneyland apparel. Some of the girls decided on the more feminine Minnie Mouse ears, which featured a big bow on the top, but all soon sported two black plastic ovals on their heads like a new troop of Mouskateers. Never one to be left out, Starsky bought one, too.

"Mouskateers roll call, line up now!" Starsky chanted, sporting his new chapeau with the name David spelled out in yellow thread on the brim. "David!"

"Rosie!"

"Rainbow!"

"Cait!"

"Samantha!"

"Aria!"

"Kristianne!"

"Mickey Mouse Club, Mickey Mouse Club…" they sang, dancing down the street behind their Pied Piper, heading towards the beautiful Victorian style restaurant. Starsky thumped his cast on the ground in time to the music, and the strolling street band took up the tune with their brass and drums. "M-I-C, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E."

"Do you think they'll calm down by the time the fireworks are over and we drive home?" Samantha's mother asked plaintively.

"Starsky'll be asleep by the time we get out of the parking lot," Hutch assured pushing the empty wheelchair down the street. He'd been surprised how much Starsky had relied on the chair during the long day, but apparently even he recognized the limits of his ailing body. But a broken leg couldn't keep David Starsky from having a little fun where there were six pretty girls to 'dance' with.

"So will Harold," Edith teased her husband. He tried to keep a gruff exterior but didn't succeed, particularly when Edith kissed him on the cheek.

Fried chicken was the most popular meal on the menu, followed by the chocolate cake for dessert. After Minnie and Mickey came to pose with the mouse eared wearing group, all decided to plan a return visit at the end of the school year for another day in the Happiest Place on Earth.

Fairy lights adorned the trees when they left the restaurant, transforming Main Street into an enchanted wonderland. Sleeping Beauty's castle seemed to light up the darkening sky, the fairytale palace where dreams were born. The girls oohed and aahed as if it were no longer the same park they'd spent all day roaming around in. Each attraction suddenly became even more inviting and they spread out to explore Disneyland after dark, this time dragging their parents along by the hand, all of them still young enough to be slightly scared of the night.

"You know what'd be fun?" Starsky asked casually.

"What?"

"Workin' on the police force here."

"They look like the Keystone Cops in those uniforms," Hutch observed one of his Disneyland colleagues walking his beat with an old fashioned tall helmet and a billy club.

"I bet there are plain clothes guys," Starsky waved away that objection. "I mean, how much crime could there be around here? It's like the cleanest place I ever saw. And you probably get to go on the rides all day long."

"You want to join up, you go right ahead," Hutch offered, light hearted and full of good humor.

They took one last twirl on the 'Dumbo' ride and sat with their knees pressed close together on the very last voyage of the day of the 'Jungle Cruise' before staking their place out on the sidewalk for the fireworks show. A few other families with drooping children and sleepy eyed babies were settling on the sidewalk curb to either side of Starsky and Hutch but for the moment they were alone on their little expanse of street near the ice cream emporium.

"Hutch." Starsky was holding out a small box when Hutch turned around from listening to the wandering barbershop quartet. "You never got a souvenir today, so I picked up--well, Edith picked up something, but I told her what to buy." He stood up, leaning in to the curve of Hutch's arm and dropped the box into his open hand. "Open it!"

"What did you do?" Hutch asked, embarrassed and glad of the dark to hide his blush. He slit the tape holding the lid closed with his thumbnail and opened the little white box decorated with a picture of Mickey Mouse wearing a bush hat. Pulling out the African bracelet he'd admired earlier in the day, Hutch nodded his thanks, surprised beyond words. The way Starsky had pulled him away, he wasn't even sure Starsky had seen the beaded jewelry. "It's beautiful."

"I could tell you liked it, the way your eyes looked…" Starsky trailed off when Hutch's eyes settled on him. He grinned broadly. "Like that. The way you look at me."

"I'd never look at an inanimate object the way I look at you," Hutch touched his lips to Starsky's so quickly the contact could have been measured in microseconds. "I like it a lot. Now get off your feet before your ankle swells up from all the walking you've been doing."

"Put it on," Starsky typically ignored Hutch's nagging. "I want to see it."

Sliding the beaded loops over his hand, Hutch modeled the bracelet just as the Dobeys arrived.

"I see you gave it to him." Edith smiled.

"That's pretty." Rosie touched the red and green beads with her forefinger. "The colors of Africa. Can I borrow it when I do my oral report on Nigeria for class?”

"Rosie!" her parents chorused indignantly.

"Sure you can, Rosie," Hutch assured.

"Can't wear it on the job, anyway." Starsky winked at the girl. "S'not regulation, right, Cap?"

"I'm surprised you remembered there were regulations, Detective Sergeant Starsky," Dobey grumbled. "That thing on your leg doesn't square with departmental regs either."

"It's coming off soon if I have anything to do with it," Starsky vowed.

Above them the sky lit up with a brilliant explosion of blue and red fireworks, each blossoming into smaller cascades of sparkling light accompanied by distant booms from the cannons and a prerecorded soundtrack of Disney hit tunes. Green and gold punched the sky, followed by fiery red flowers mushrooming in violent bursts above the heads of the admiring crowd.

Hutch slipped his hand into Starsky's, unnoticed by those around him, but a special moment for him. Holding hands with his lover watching fireworks. The perfect ending to a perfect day. Starsky turned to share the secret moment, his shining eyes reflecting the multicolored display as a purple mandalla detonated in the heavens. Concentric waves of twinkling purple sparks showered down to earth, disappearing before they ever hit the ground. Starsky ducked his head, kissing their joined hands.

"Now, sit down in that chair!" Hutch ordered with mock severity.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Starsk? You getting up?" Hutch shaved loudly, zipped his pants too forcefully, jangled his keys discordantly and generally clumped about like an elephant getting ready for the circus parade.

Starsky pulled the blankets up over his nose, curling his pillow around his ears in an effort to muffle the noise his inconsiderate partner was making.

"Starsky?" Hutch called again.

"No!" Starsky shouted. Not in this lifetime anyway. He felt like crap and the sooner Hutch left for his all mighty teaching job the sooner Starsky would get some peace and quiet.

"Do you want me to make you some breakfast before I leave?"

"No!" Starsky said into his pillow. "Just go."

"Hey," Hutch said more gently, his hand pressed to Starsky's forehead. "You feeling all right? Got a fever?"

"Hutch, I'm just tired," Starsky groaned, wishing there were some position that was even remotely comfortable. "I'm wanna get some more sleep, I'll be fine."

"You call me later, huh?" Hutch stroked his cheek with a delicate hand, running his thumb along Starsky's bottom lip. "If you're feeling bad, I'm coming right home."

"It's your second week of teaching, get outta here." Starsky hated seeing the concern in those clear blue eyes. It was always his fault those little worry lines between Hutch's eyebrows were deeper than the Grand Canyon. "I'll call, I'll eat some breakfast, I'll be good, Mom. I'm just tired."

"You wore yourself out." Hutch kissed him sweetly on the lips and then left, the bang of the front door punctuating his departure.

Reaching out from his mound of blankets Starsky snagged the bottle of painkillers on the bedside table and swallowed his prescribed dose with a sigh. Yep, the bitter truth he was suffering from a hangover, courtesy of Disneyland. He'd walked too much, for too long, exacerbating the fierce deep down pain in his broken bones. Every muscle in his body seemed determined to remind him that walking around that huge park, with a gimpy leg, hadn't exactly been the smartest thing he'd ever done. And he'd tried so hard to be good and sit in the damned wheelchair, but that was so limiting. Mostly, he'd managed to ignore the pain when he had attractions, fun and excitement to boost his adrenaline. Now, there was just dismal pain and innervating exhaustion. He'd had to rely on the pain meds just to get to sleep once they got home, even though he'd slept soundly in the car. After backing off the crutch of his morphine tablets recently, now he needed the relief enough to tolerate the nausea that went along with them.

It wasn't as if he had anything better to do than sleep the morning away. Without Hutch around the day stretched out blank and boring. There were no scheduled appointments, no planned visits by any of his friends and no jobs that required his immediate attention.

Since he was feeling so much better at the end of last week, he'd even cancelled the nursing visits for the time being now that he could get around on his own. So, no visits from Sophie, with her sweet accent and get-up-and-get-to-it attitude or even the other nurse, Mick, who was short, strong and sarcastically intelligent. Depression blanketed him as heavily as the sheets, quilts and coverlet did. Right now, he was just a burden, without purpose or usefulness, a drain on Hutch's resources. His disability check didn't bring in nearly as much as street pay did and cancer treatments ate up insurance money faster than Pac Man gobbled up his enemies. Hunkering down into his nest, Starsky wallowed in a rare spat of self-pity. What good was having fun if you felt this lousy the next day?

With a contented mrow, the cat bounded up into the soft hills of the bed covers, burrowing in beside her master. Starsky refused to be comforted by the warm purring body curved against his hip, but he unearthed one hand to sink his fingers into Pansy's thick coat.

Sleeping for the better part of the morning, Starsky finally emerged from his cocoon at nearly noon, stiff and achy like he was recovering from some rogue flu bug. Turning on the shower so the water would get good and hot, he wrapped his cast in garbage bags, and climbed into the stall. Standing under the hot shower, letting the water pummel his weary body, Starsky began to loosen up just enough to feel human again. Short dark curls of hair clogged the drain when he turned off the spray, but he didn’t take the time to clean it up. Toweling himself dry and dressing in his uniform of late--t-shirt and sweat pants, which were the only thing that went over his cast, he wandered into the living room with Pansy trailing behind.

Food would be a good idea, but the drugs had left his stomach too unsettled and a quick perusal of the refrigerator and larder just proved they needed to go grocery shopping. Starsky poked listlessly through what he referred to as Hutch's healthy stuff, mostly for lack of anything else to do and spied the colorful boxes of tea Hutch had bought for him at the hospital. Pink stripes decorated the peppermint one and the ginger tea had exotic Chinese women brewing plump pots of tea on small braziers. Which one was supposed to be good for the stomach? Unable to recall Hutch's sales pitch, Starsky picked the peppermint at random, boiling his water the modern way, in the microwave.

Dunking the tea bag in the hot water, Starsky carried it back to his usual haven on the couch and switched on the TV. Since they hadn't watched anything over the busy weekend, the channel selector was still set on PBS, from when he'd last watched the afternoon combo of French lessons with Madame Marie and Music through the Ages.

About to change the channel to something mindless, Starsky was surprised to hear a bouncy voice speaking in French. When he looked up from his teacup, a puppet Pineapple was chatting amicably with two small children. The dialogue was silly, and Starsky recognized just enough of the language to understand what they were talking about. After a few minutes, he was sipping his sweet tea and grinning with delight at the antics of the talking fruit taking a balloon ride over the countryside. This program was three times better than the dull Madame Marie's dry verb conjugation.

Miraculously, the tea lived up to its hype, calming his queasy stomach and actually awakening the beginnings of an appetite. He considered getting off the couch to find some food. The Ananas qui parle, or Talking Pineapple, had segued into an episode of Sesame Street, anyway. He liked Ernie and Bert, because Bert reminded him of Hutch, but today's lesson seemed to be featuring the shrill voiced Elmo, who Starsky could live without.

Just as he was about to switch off the television, the phone rang. "H'llo?"

"Starsk? You okay?" Hutch sounded worried which put a sad smile on Starsky's lips.

"I'm on the couch with a cup of the tea you bought, watchin' educational TV," Starsky reported dutifully.

"You eat anything yet?"

"Yeah," Starsky lied. It was only a white lie since he meant to eat the minute the phone call ended, so the word yet was subjective, wasn't it? "How's your day?"

"Just had a great class, really interesting discussion started about the right to search and seizure," Hutch answered enthusiastically. "Went on into the lunch hour. Many of the cadets didn't want to leave; we were into it so deeply. I think these guys will be a real asset to the force."

"Great," Starsky said, his blossoming good mood dipping back into the toilet. Hutch was having fun without him, in a stimulating atmosphere where he was intellectually challenged. And here he sat watching Kermit teach a small child to say the alphabet. "When're you coming home? There's nothing for dinner, so don't expect me to cook."

There was a long pause like Hutch was formulating his answer. "About five--I'll see you then."

"Bye," Starsky dropped the phone back down, staring at the TV. Susan and Gordon were singing about love while Linda signed the words. He flicked off the picture, the last la-la-la dying into the silence of the room. What was he about to do before he was so rudely interrupted? Oh, yeah--food. With supreme effort and the aid of his oft-neglected crutch, he managed to toast and butter some bread and cut off a few slices of Cheddar cheese. Another cup of peppermint tea rounded off the meal, but Starsky's appetite petered out about half way through the sandwich.

Sleep sounded good. Curling up on the couch, Starsky cuddled into the comforting cat lump snugged up against him and drifted off.

"Starsk?" Hutch called. "Time to get up."

Blinking, Starsky roused, his mouth dry and cottony, his memory fuzzy. Didn't they already play this scene? "Wha' time is it?"

"Five ten," Hutch informed him, unmercifully yanking the afghan back and piling it on a chair. "Where are your shoes and socks? We're going out."

"Shoe," Starsky corrected, sitting all the way up. "I only need one shoe. And one sock. They're probably in the closet like clothes should be. Why're we going out?"

"You said there wasn't anything for dinner, so we're headed for Huggy's." Hutch disappeared into the bedroom long enough to find one blue striped Adidas and one red sock. "After that the grocery store."

"Can't you go by yourself?"

"Nope, not tonight." Hutch tossed him the sock, waiting expectantly until he pulled it on his bare foot.

"What about ordering in?" Starsky asked dispiritedly, tying the laces on his shoe.

"Starsky," Hutch said softly, dropping down on the sofa beside him. "You have to make the effort or this will just keep getting harder when you're feeling worse."

Shutting his eyes against that direct blue gaze Starsky nodded tiredly. Hutch wanted to be with him, that was all that mattered. And going out would be fun, if only because he had his partner by his side. "What's so special about Huggy's?"

"Besides the 'special'?" Hutch quipped. "I thought that was your favorite."

"I'm allowed to be fickle," Starsky tried a little smile. It came out lop-sided but it was his best so far that day.

The Pits was fairly lively for a Monday night. A boisterous group crowded around the TV mounted over the bar cheering on a baseball game between Chicago and New York. Huggy waved at them but he was busy fielding drinks for the bar. The new waitress Ella, wearing a tiny tight tee stretched over her amble breasts, swooped in immediately after they'd arrived to take orders.

"Beer," Starsky said defiantly. He was grumpy and achy enough to want the tiny buzz that would come from fermented hops and barley. It had been hours since his last pain pill.

"Make that two," Hutch agreed, surprising Starsky because he'd expected a lecture on the dangers of mixing drugs and alcohol. "I got you a few more novels at the library this afternoon."

"You takin' up residence there? You didn't used to go so often, in fact I remember a couple spectacular overdue fines with your name on them," Starsky teased, feeling his whole mood lifting in the brightness and noise of the club.

"I have to keep up with this class, Starsk. It's not like in the old days. Most of these guys took criminology, pre-law…"

"Like you. You took some of those college courses before you hit the Academy," he reminded. Ella placed the beers on the table, running off to seat a large group just coming in the front door. "Those guys are wearing cadet uniforms." Starsky noticed as several of the group started towards their table. "Hutch?" He swiveled around to glare at his partner.

Hutch had a slightly guilty but enthusiastic expression on his face but he waved the fresh-faced men and women over pointing out a couple of tables near theirs. "Starsky, I was telling some of the new recruits where real cops hang out and they started pestering me with questions about old cases."

The cadets pushed two tables together, clustering around them with a lot of good-natured joking and shoving before all six had chairs and drinks ordered.

"Pestering?" a tall black man teased. "When asked directly, the Sarge reluctantly admitted he'd pretty much taken down James Gunther single handedly."

"The Sarge?" Starsky echoed, a smile sneaking out. These greenhorns called his Hutch 'Sarge'.
"And brought in a serial killer who dressed up in disguises before he murdered his victim!" a tiny Asian guy put in.

Starsky wondered if the he had to wear lifts in his shoes to meet the department height requirement.

"Wait a minute, guys," the lone woman in the group spoke up. She had the tough, tomboyish stance of a girl who'd grown up with boys and knew how to hold her own in a rough game of football or knocking back a couple of beers. She wore her black hair in what Starsky's mother had once termed a pixie cut, short and sleek but hardly manly. "Are you the Sarge's partner?"

"Dave Starsky." Starsky leaned forward to shake her small hand and suddenly everyone was introducing themselves and asking nonstop questions.

"Kelley Leary."

"Billy Saeteurn."

"Joshua Bolden."

The names came so fast Starsky quickly lost track, but it didn't take much coaxing before he was regaling them with stories of their old cases. They were enthusiastic listeners, and as Hutch had said, intelligent and knowledgeable about the law. The hamburgers and fries all dug into were second to the lively chatter and several hours passed before Starsky even remembered that he'd been tired and depressed all day. Hutch had pulled a fast one on him and it had worked, getting him back on his feet and feeling more like a cop than he had in weeks.

"We had to follow this yo-yo up the electrical tower, all the way up and he was wearing aluminum foil around his body to stop the radio waves from space," Starsky finished his story.

"Did you arrest him?" Bolden asked with interest.

"He fell to his death," Hutch answered with a sigh. "A real waste."

"Doesn't this sometimes feel like you're never going to make a difference?" Saeteurn questioned.

"Every time you get some drug dealin' slime or a rapist off the street it makes a difference." Starsky looked over at Hutch, sensing the love and respect pouring out. Hutch was still proud of him, no matter how messed up he was with chemo and a gimpy leg. "Maybe there's another one right behind him and another one after that, and Hutch and me can't go after every one of 'em, so that's where you guys come in. You pick up the slack after we get old."

"Don't look like you're getting old from where I'm sitting," Kelley teased. "I gotta get home or I won't be in any shape to run that obstacle course at 7:30 in the morning. Sean?"

A lanky red head who hadn't talked much stood, revealing a considerable height difference between he and Kelley, nodded his good-byes and ambled out after her. There were a few more grumbled complaints, but the other four cadets soon departed as well, using the same dreaded obstacle course as their excuse.

"Kelley and the tall guy?" Starsky finished the last of the beer he'd been nursing all night.

"Husband and wife, if you can believe it." Hutch grinned, sliding his hand along the outside of Starsky's leg, the action hidden from view by the table.

"They're letting couples on the force now?" Starsky edged a bit closer to the questing hand creeping across his thigh.

"Only if they join different precincts."

"So we still have to be circumspect?" Starsky did a good imitation of the purr Pansy taught him.

"Apparently. And Huggy's may not be the best place for what I have in mind," Hutch's hand had reached a certain junction making Starsky squirm with delight.
Unfortunately, the hand stopped and retreated. "Damn, the groceries," Hutch swore.

"Hey, we don't have to go tonight."

"I saw what you didn't eat today." Hutch stood, counting out a few bills for the meal. "We need bread, eggs, something you'll be more interested in…"

Perry's Market, only a mile from their house, closed at nine p.m., but they were on friendly terms with the older grocer. He let them in with only ten minutes to spare, on their promise that they'd get what they needed quickly.

Starsky hit the left side of the store, carrying a small hand basket on his lap, rolling the wheelchair quickly up and down the aisles. Hutch had the right side of the store and they planned to meet in the middle in the frozen foods section for a decision on which ice cream flavor to pick. Starsky was all set to argue for Oreo cookie mint chip.

Stopping to check out a pyramid stack of a new chocolate frosted breakfast cereal, Starsky heard the front door slide open and another customer enter. The cash lanes were out of view from his low vantage point behind the display piled up on a counter, but he had seen Mr. Perry counting out the day's receipts when he'd rounded the row a minute earlier. The old man was sitting at the first lane closing out; leaving one register left open for when Starsky and Hutch finished shopping. He could still hear Perry counting softly as he stacked the bills. What he didn't expect to hear was the snick of a gun being cocked and a low urgent demand for 'all the money you got in the drawers'.

Shit, Perry was being robbed.

Taking a slow breath, Starsky could feel his detective mode slide into place. There were no other customers in the store. He and Hutch were cops, they were Perry's only hope; and here he sat without a gun or a badge. Sliding one box of cereal slightly to the left, Starsky peered through the gap. At first he saw nothing, then, shifting his gaze to the left he caught sight of gray haired Milton Perry placing his hard earned money into a bank deposit bag. A man wearing a black balaclava over his face held a gun on the grocer urging him to go faster.

Stepping out of the wheelchair, Starsky left his basket on the seat and walked as carefully as possible down the aisle towards the back of the store. The bulky cast hampered his speed and it was difficult to walk silently but he quickly spied Hutch at the meat counter selecting some frozen chicken out of the freezer.

"Hutch!" Starsky whispered almost soundlessly, for once glad of the upbeat music playing over the store's sound system.

As if alerted by some secret signal, Hutch immediately abandoned his half filled grocery cart, his face intense and focused. "What's wrong?" he asked, matching his friend's whispered tone.

"Are you carrying?" Starsky patted under his partner's left arm.

"Not when I'm teaching!"

"Perry's being robbed." Starsky scanned the area around them, looking for weapons. The colorful birthday display on the nearest endcap festooned with party supplies and gift suggestions caught his eye and he grinned triumphantly at Hutch, grabbing up a pair of silver painted toy pistols. Although too small for an adult man's hand they would have to do in a pinch. There were two half-sized Smith and Wesson look-a-likes in the package along with a tiny set of handcuffs and an 'official police badge'.

He ripped open the plastic, tossing one gun at Hutch who was already poised to sneak down aisle 3 to the front. Hutch held up five fingers indicating that they should wait five seconds before going into action, and then pointed both ways with a question in his eyes.

Reading his partner's unspoken query, Starsky pointed to the left. Next, he made a number one at his own chest and held up two fingers indicating Hutch. Hutch shook his head violently, not willing to go in second but Starsky ignored him. Stalking back down the aisle he'd come from, Starsky stayed hidden behind the mountain of cereal, watching the gunman and Perry.

The illegal transaction was almost completed. Balaclava had a bulging sack of money and Perry was kneeling on the floor, his hands held up above his head.

Thinking fast, Starsky gave the wheelchair full of groceries a mighty shove, sending it careening out towards the cash lanes. Cans of cat food and soup rolled onto the floor with an ear shattering clatter. When that had sufficiently distracted Balaclava's attention, Starsky leapt out from behind the display, screaming at the top of his lungs and brandishing his toy weapon. It had the desired effect on the robber, even though Starsky was instantly aware he was going to regret slamming his cast down so hard on the linoleum floor. Pain shot up his leg, throwing off his balance.

Balaclava dropped the money in surprise, squeezing off a shot that toppled half
the stack of cereal down onto Starsky. Falling to the floor under the onslaught, Starsky brought his arms up to avoid being knocked in the face by falling cartons, but he was soon covered in brightly colored pasteboard boxes emblazoned with the picture of a grinning orange tiger. Punctured boxes spewed chocolate flakes into the air like dirty snowflakes.

Perry dove under a register with a growl of anger, lobbing a price gun at the thief. Just as Balaclava took another wild shot that ricocheted off a light fixture in the ceiling Hutch came barreling out of lane 3 through the drifts of crunchy precipitation. The fluorescent bulb exploded in a shower of sparks that rivaled commercial fireworks.

Tackling his prey in perfect pro quarterback style, Hutch brought Balaclava down without firing one cap in his toy gun. He expertly jerked the robber's hands behind his back, reciting the Miranda at top speed. "Starsky!" Hutch yelled, still struggling with his captive.

"I'm okay," Starsky assured, pushing aside boxes and sitting up with some difficulty.

Although the toy handcuffs wouldn't work on the prisoner, Perry was able to provide some heavy duty plastic bundle ties that were quite sufficient for securing Balaclava's wrists. Hutch yanked the black knitted facemask off the swearing criminal, uncovering a pimple-faced boy barely out of his teens.

He spat at his captor but and yelled for his father, claiming "he's a lawyer, he'll get me off!"

Hutch just laughed.

Leaving the underage thief in Perry's charge for a few minutes until a police car arrived, Hutch knelt down beside his partner who was still half buried under cereal packages. "You finally decide you were hungry?" he asked, scooping up a handful of the sweet flakes to sample.

"This stuff is pretty good, we should buy some." Starsky crunched another handful of the breakfast food, grinning. He ached all over but the high of being in on a bust was better than any analgesic. This was where he was meant to be. He'd always been an adrenaline junkie and this fix had been far too long in coming. "You handled yourself like a cop out there, Professor Hutchinson."

"Didn't look too bad yourself, Festus," Hutch tossed a frosted flake at him.

Sitting in the squadroom waiting to give his statement and type up his half of the arrest report Starsky had a ball. Every officer he'd ever worked with came up to say hi and ask when he was coming back. Except for Dobey, most only knew he'd broken his leg, not about the cancer so he didn't mention the chemo treatments.

There were pats on the back, hearty greetings and lots of comments about the state of his raggedy cast. Between Disneyland and chasing down a grocery robber, the cast was dirty, scuffed and cracked. Starsky wrapped some masking tape around the middle of his thigh to keep the two halves of the cast from splitting any further but he knew he'd have to go in for an unplanned visit with his ortho doctor in the morning. Also, because of all the hullabaloo with arresting the boy and taking Perry's statement, Hutch had never remembered to pick up and pay for the groceries. So they still didn't have much to eat at the house.

"You finished socializing?" Hutch asked.

"Yeah, what time is it? Close to midnight? You're just lucky you don't have to run that obstacle course like the cadets in the morning," Starsky said. "This felt good, Hutch. It felt right. I know things are gonna turn around real soon."

"Maybe you could add another job to your list of projects…"

"You mean find time between grading your classes' tests, taking French and weeding vegetables?"

"How about coming in to the Academy once in a while and giving pointers on real investigations. Next Tuesday and Wednesday the class is going onto the Main Street lot to do ticket writing and arrest run throughs."

"Sounds like fun."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

With shuffling Starsky to and from the hospital for more x-rays and a cast revision and the various other sundry jobs that came up, there was still little food in the house two days later. Starsky ate the previous night's leftover pizza for lunch and called Perry's Market to deliver what groceries they would have bought Monday night. With the promise of a delivery in the next few hours, he went out into the back yard for a little recreational vegetable picking. Tomatoes were hanging off the plants and several stalks of corn were just begging to be harvested. A pumpkin the size of a basketball shone golden in the middle of the plot and he had big plans to carve it for Halloween.

The afternoon sun warmed Starsky's soul, and even though he had to wear a baseball cap to protect his nearly bald skull, he relished the feel of the heat on his head and shoulders.

Despite the temperature rising properties of chemo, Starsky often felt chilled after vomiting. That kind of cold was one that seeped into the bones and stayed, and even after his body temperature went back up, he still imagined he could feel the aching iciness deep inside. With a third chemo only days away, he was beginning to dread the whole process and he wasn't even halfway through yet. But those thoughts were to be banished on a day like today, and he dug his fingers into the dark, rich soil with enthusiasm. His basket soon overflowed with home grown produce, like a Dutch still life come to life. The reds, yellows and greens were almost decadent, totally unlike the same vegetables bought at a store.

Limping into the house with his load, he arrived just in time to answer the doorbell. Perry's son, Milt Jr. carried three brown bags into the kitchen, expressing his father's sincere thanks for Starsky and Hutch's help with the thief the entire time.

"It's my job, like this is yours." Starsky laughed, investigating the contents of the bags. Perry had included everything he'd ordered, even a pint of Ben and Jerry's Oreo cookie Mint Chip. Perfect!

"After what you guys did for my dad, I want to join the force," Milt said.

"Hey, Hutch is working at the Academy now, I'll put a good word in for you if you're serious," Starsky agreed. "Oh, and if your dad wants to carry some really great bread, tell him I have the number of a new bakery that's out of this world.”

"Will do, sir!" Milt loped out on his long gangly legs.

Starsky allowed himself a moment of indulgent self pity seeing that youthful energy and zest before firmly reminding himself to buck up and take it like a man. This cast wouldn't be on much longer and then he'd have to start running laps around the track and lifting weights to get back in shape. Sometimes being able to sit around watching TV all day had its good points. However, he had other plans in mind for the upcoming evening. A nice dinner, some good music to romance his lover, and God, he wanted sex. Raunchy sex, just for the fun of it sex, rubbing nude sweaty bodies against each other; long, lingering kisses while being pressed back into the mattress. Sexy sex.

So often lately he was too sick to do anything and when they did manage to get together things degenerated into pity parties, one of them comforting the other with loving kisses and tender strokes. That wasn't at all what was going to happen to night if he had anything to do with it.

Mindful of his limited energy, Starsky started early, setting the table, cueing up the audio cassette player for the exact song he wanted, and then sauteing onions and mushrooms to garnish the marinating steaks. Lastly, he washed the freshly picked vegetables, setting aside some tomatoes and corn. He felt good; this was going to be a night to remember.

Enticed by the smells of meat and other good foods, Pansy came prowling into the kitchen, winding sensuously around Starsky's feet. As unbalanced as he already was, he tried shooing the cat away but she was persistent, as usual, talking non-stop in her Siamese kitty way.

"C'mon, Pansy," Starsky groaned good-naturedly when she had nearly tripped him up for the third time. "Hutch'll be home any minute and I need to finish the prep work." He slivered off a tiny morsel of steak and tossed it into the corner to appease her.

Pansy stared at him with her crossed blue eyes for a moment as if considering whether she was being fooled, then galloped off to gobble up the treat.

Placing the tomato on a wooden cutting board, Starsky proceeded to slice it just like Julia Child had demonstrated on the repeats of her French Chef program. He brought down the knife to slice off another thin section of the plump red fruit just as Pansy jumped up on the counter to investigate, butting into his arm. The knife's down stroke carved a big wedge out of the ball of Starsky's right forefinger. Yelping in surprise, he dropped the knife with a clatter. Pansy fled the kitchen, her tail rigid and all the hair on her spine sticking straight up in the air.

Well, damn.

Staring stupidly at the open wound, Starsky realized he was seeing bone just before blood gushed out, warm and tomato red. Sharp pain came second and he cursed his lack of prowess in the kitchen while groping for the dishrag that was slung through the handle of the refrigerator door. Winding the towel around his bloody hand, he kept hearing Dr. Davies' reminder that it was important to keep his platelets up. Well, this certainly wasn't going to help a whole hell of a lot.

Red splatters of blood decorated the linoleum and counter, mingling with the juice of the tomato. Shit, he needed to get a bandage on his finger and the kitchen cleaned up before Hutch came home or he'd just get hauled off to the hospital again. His finger was throbbing; pain making it difficult to even bend the joint, but Starsky just tightened the dishrag more firmly around his digit. Maybe he should clean the kitchen up first so Hutch wouldn't see the evidence?

"What the hell happened?" Hutch demanded.

Starsky had been so preoccupied with trying to stop the bleeding he hadn't heard the door open.

"Nothing major, I cut my finger a little," Starsky lied, edging out of the kitchen in the direction of the bathroom. "Gotta get a Band-Aid. I'll clean up the mess, Hutch. Just sit down and relax, I got dinner nearly ready."

"Looks like more than a little cut to me." Hutch stopped Starsky's forward momentum, his face pinched with concern. "Let me see."

"Aw, Hutch, c'mon."

"Did you ever take any pre-med courses?" Hutch began to unwind the blood soaked towel. Just one look at the mangled finger and he grabbed another towel out of a drawer in the kitchen, applying pressure to the wound. "We're going to the emergency room, now."

"Hutch, it'll stop bleeding soon. Doesn't even hurt," Starsky made the expected effort but he'd already capitulated. He'd learned not to argue with his determined partner when Hutch wore that particular look on his face. "I had plans, this'll wreck everything."

"Yeah, and you bleeding to death right in our kitchen would wreck things all the way around," Hutch snapped, guiding Starsky to the front door. He paused long enough to help him into a jacket. "Starsky, dammit, you've got cancer! You act like there's nothing wrong, what if this causes a set back or…." Pushing past him, Hutch brusquely opened the passenger door to his Ford, gulping. "Worse."

"Hutch," Starsky whispered, ignoring the irritating pain from his finger. He hated when Hutch broke down; it always made the situation seem that much more dire. "I'm not gonna die from cutting my finger. If Gunther didn't succeed in snuffin' me out, this ain't gonna do it."

"You promise?" Hutch asked sarcastically, but his eyes were pleading.

"Pinkie swear." Starsky quirked a smile, letting go of his right hand to hold up a bent left pinkie. Hutch relented, fitting his pinkie into the curve of Starsky's with a mollified grin.

Luckily, Wednesday night was a slow night in the ER and when Hutch uttered the magic words "He's one of Dr. Davies' patients," Starsky was immediately shown into an exam room.

However, after a grumpy nurse took vitals with a distracted air they were left alone for nearly half an hour, which only fueled Hutch's already simmering anger.

Starsky, feeling the effects of the blood loss, didn't try to sweet talk him out of the temper but sat on the gurney holding his throbbing finger up above his heart. The sterile drape the nurse had wrapped around his hand was soaked through, which seemed like an awful lot of blood for one finger.

"I'm going out to see what's taking so long," Hutch declared, pushing aside the curtain separating him from the main part of the ER. Just as he was about to storm out, he heard a somewhat familiar voice ask the nurse which patient was next.

"One of Davies' cancers in curtain two with a finger lac. Needs stitches."

Glancing back at Starsky, Hutch grimaced at the depersonalized description. Starsky felt heat flush his cheeks and wondered vaguely why he was embarrassed instead of angered the way Hutch was. The problem was, while the nurse probably could have described him in a more compassionate way, there was no denying her statement was true.

"Well, I really never expected to see you two here again." Tow headed Katherine Meadows, who had been the first doctor to examine Starsky when he broke his leg, smiled her welcome, reading over the chart. "Wendy's already gone to get a suture kit so I don't think this should take too long. She also called Dr. Davies, who was in hospital, and said he'd come down soon."

"It's just a cut," Starsky protested.

"A deep one," Dr. Meadows examined it with a frown. "Dr. Davies also wants a CBC and platelets levels drawn."

"Why all this worry about my platelets?"

"They clot your blood," Hutch explained shortly.

"Exactly." The doctor injected Lidocaine around the edge of the wound to numb the area requiring stitches.

Starsky panted, the tiny needle sticks almost more painful than the original injury.

"And the reason you're still bleeding is your platelets were probably low to begin with. It's a common problem with someone on chemo."

 

"It all leads back to that, huh?" Starsky grunted. He'd had stitches before and this time around didn't endear him to the experience any more so.

Dr. Davies made them wait around until the results of the complete blood count, or CBC, came back. Starsky's platelets were in the basement, as the doctor put it, which he insisted was an accepted medical term. Since he already wanted Starsky to come in earlier than usual on Friday to have a special kind of IV port called a subclavian line inserted into his chest to facilitate the administration of the chemo drugs, it was the perfect time to schedule a blood transfusion as well.

Starsky was less than thrilled by these news. Especially after the doctor ordered him to stay in the house, away from crowds and off his feet for the next day and a half to avoid stress and exposure to germs.

++++++++++++++++++++++

 

"What was it you were planning for dinner?" Hutch asked quietly once they were back in their little white house with the cat watching tensely from one corner of the living room.

"Steak," Starsky ground out, brooding on the couch with his jacket still on. The bandaged finger stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, thick with gauze and tape. "S'too late now."

"It's only nine o'clock," Hutch said brightly, heading into the kitchen. It didn't take long to put a pot of water on to boil the corn. He located a bottle of red wine in the fridge and poured two glasses of the garnet colored liquid, sniffing appreciatively at the heady bouquet. Some time during the stitching of Starsky's finger, his unfocused anger had abated, relief that Starsky was only wounded but unbowed taking its place.

Taking a long swallow of wine, Hutch thanked whatever gods there be who watched over David Starsky that the only thing he needed was an extra pint of blood. Every moment he spent with his lover seemed so precious these days, as if he had to keep track of the good times to remember when things got too hard. The exasperation hadn't really been directed at Starsky anyway, just the unfortunate circumstances set in motion by the unexpected leap of the cat.

He cleaned up the blood-spattered floor with a quick wash of bleach and dealt with the rest of the meal in under ten minutes, feeling his love grow fonder every time he discovered something else Starsky had prepared for their special night. By the time he was back in the living room Starsky had shed his outerwear and curled up with an afghan. "Drink?" Hutch held out the second glass.

 

"No mother hen comments about alcohol and pain killers?" Starsky snarked, taking a sip.

Hutch placed a tray of cheese and English crackers on the coffee table, pushing aside magazines and pill bottles with the name David Starsky on the label. "I was with you the whole time, unless you slipped something while the doctor was writing up the bill, you're clean." He crunched a cracker, watching Starsky closely. Had the cat killed their needed romantic interlude or was their still hope?

"God, the bill," Starsky said morosely. "The chemo treatments cost an arm and a leg--no pun intended, but ER visits are like a couple of hundred per second!"

"The corn is boiling, steaks under the broiler, tomato's a goner so I tossed it. Anything else on the menu, Chef David?" Hutch pronounced the name with a French flair bringing a little smile back to Starsky's face.

"Garlic bread?"

"But then I can't kiss you properly."

"Start now and maybe you won't notice if we both eat some." Starsky looked up, pain and tiredness evident in his blueberry dark eyes but definitely interested in what Hutch was offering.

"Might work," Hutch agreed, following the plan. It was an imminently sensible one with benefits for both involved parties. The only hiatus in the execution was when he had to get up to smear garlicky butter on a short sourdough loaf and stick it under the oven. But business was resumed after the break without a hitch.

The ding of the oven timer brought Starsky up short, his lips reddened and swollen from the prolonged kissing. "What timing."

"I could eat, how about you?" Hutch teased, poking Starsky in the ribs. He could feel bone too easily under the layer of skin which concerned him but he made no mention of it.

Without further ado, he went into the kitchen, serving up the meal on white plates edged in gold. They had been a wedding present to Hutch's sister Karen several years earlier, but when that marriage fell through she'd announced she was going to get rid of everything from the unpleasant union. Hutch jumped at the chance to get the pretty china at a discount and was floored when Karen gifted them to him outright. She was the only one in his family who knew about his relationship with Starsky for what it was, and she'd sussed it out without even being told. Hutch always considered them a 'wedding present' from Karen, in spite of their tumultuous origins.

"Karen's china, you must be in the mood." Starsky sat down at the dining room table as Hutch lit gold and white candles that matched the plates. "Before we eat, can you hit the play button on the tape player?"

"Something special?" Hutch smiled. Starsky's taste in music was eclectic and the selections never ceased to surprise him. One day it could be classic rock and didgeridoos from Australia, the next it was Gilbert and Sullivan with an Elvis chaser. He punched the play button expectantly.

"We've been together since way back when, and there are days I never want to see you again, but I want you to know, after all these years, you're still the one I want whispering in my ear."

"You're still the one," Starsky warbled with the groups Orleans, holding up his bandaged forefinger like a flag.

"We're still having fun and you're still the one."

Hutch couldn't help laughing, a warm happiness blossoming in his chest. He didn't know when he'd felt more loved or genuinely touched, although Starsky's gift of the bracelet he was wearing on his wrist came close. "You wanna talk to me in bed?"

"Yeah, and you can scratch my itch, too," Starsky quoted the song, waggling his eyebrows comically. "You're still the one…" He sang along, spreading a huge pat of butter over his entire ear of corn.

"Consider that done right after we eat." Hutch held up his wineglass, clinking it with his best friend in the whole world. "I've never needed an excuse to get my hands on you."

"Yeah, and I'm beginning to worry about this kinky thing you have about scars," Starsky zinged back with a twinkle in his eye.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Tuning out the class discussion on the proper way to frisk a suspect, Hutch stared moodily at the phone in the corner of the room. Should he call Starsky before Huggy took him to the hospital or would that be construed as hovering? After all, by all rights, they weren't going to leave for almost another hour. Then Starsky would have to get blood tests and settle in before the subclavian line procedure. Then there was the transfusion, which gave Hutch a distinctly uneasy feeling with all the talk of AIDS in the newspapers lately.

Starsky had a full afternoon ahead of him. Davies probably wouldn't start the chemo until evening, since that was the more usual schedule. With any luck, Hutch could make it to the hospital by that time, but he had to appear in court right after class to testify in the trial of a child molester he and Starsky had arrested over a year ago. By rights, Starsky should have been there to testify as well, but the lawyers had agreed to tape his statement next week.

"You wanna try it?" Kelley Leary challenged. "Go ahead, frisk me, Bolden!"

Hutch looked up in time to see the expression of alarm on Sean's face as his wife stood up with her arms straight out. Joshua Bolden warily approached his 'suspect' but Hutch interceded. "Okay, we can probably save that for the Main Street lot!"

Kelley's tight expression softened and she gave Sean a sweet smile before sitting down. "Just gettin' involved, Sarge."

"Which is a good thing, but as we were discussing, it's important not to put the cart before the horse. Frisking someone is within your rights, since concealed weapons are always a concern but just frisking the average citizen could land you with a lawsuit if you ruffle the wrong feathers."

"What about…?" Saeteurn called out.

"Why don't you all read chapters seven and eight and write a comparison on the citizen's rights versus the police in that circumstance?" Hutch assigned hastily, more than ready to get them out of his classroom.

The cadets filed out quickly, running for their lockers to change for a class in hand to hand combat and restraining the fleeing suspect. Hutch gathered up his paperwork hastily, fleeing in the opposite direction to get to the courthouse on time.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hey," Starsky greeted when Hutch walked into his room on the Rose Tree Unit. Starsky was sitting up in bed wearing his Mickey Mouse ears while watching TV. He switched off the remote control, grinning lecherously. "Wanna peep show?" Raising up his blue and white checked hospital gown, he revealed a small rubber port sutured into his chest just above one brown nipple, bisecting an old surgical scar. The attached IV tubing connected him directly to a bag of clear fluid hanging from a pole next to the bed.

"Did that hurt?" Hutch asked curiously but he'd already decided he didn't like it. It branded Starsky all that much more as a cancer patient, as if his bald head didn't already give him away. It was smaller than he'd expected, and Davies had explained that it would minimize the number of times Starsky would have to get stuck for blood or peripheral IV's but it was still a blot on his lover's body.

"Nah, got drugs--same stuff they put in to sew up my finger," Starsky peered at the bag Hutch still held. "Whatcha got?"

"Milkshake for you, more books for me," Hutch handed over the icy paper cup before settling into a comfortable if utilitarian recliner.

"Chocolate?"

"What else?" Hutch grinned. Starsky eagerly sipped from the gaily-striped red and white straw. His face had a healthier glow than the day before, no doubt due to the extra blood circulating in his veins, but it was nice to see. "Chemo started yet?"

"Had some trouble acouple of rooms over so everything's a little late," Starsky muttered, concentrating on his shake.

"Trouble?"

"Died," he answered shortly. "Somebody died. I didn't know him."

"Aw, Starsk…"

"It happens, right?" Starsky licked chocolate off his lip, but his eyes were pooled with tears. "It's all part o'the cycle a'life. Life and death, can't escape…"

"But it's still scary," Hutch said, surprised his voice trembled.

"I don't…" Starsky gulped, tucking all the emotion and tears away like a magician. "What you reading now? Cause I'm beginnin' to worry about you, hanging around in the library all the time. S' not healthy."

"You've said that before," Hutch rolled his eyes. "I'm reading up on alternative cancer treatments."

"Like what?" Starsky took a noisy pull on the milk shake. "Laetrile?"

"That one's been disproven." Hutch opened the latest book he'd checked out of the library. Now that he was immersed in the Academy class, the work wasn't as hard as he'd expected. In fact, grading papers was downright tedious, but his research into cancer and medical procedures was fascinating. He'd always had an interest in medicine, but after the aborted pre-med courses of his early college days, hadn't expected to ever find much need for it.

"Wasn't it made outta peaches?"

"Apricot pits, I think."

"So what's the latest cures?"

"Microbiotic diets have been shown to have positive effects on many cancers," Hutch read.

"Ick. Eatin' a mess of seeds and rice like a parakeet? No thanks."

"Surprisingly, or maybe not, a good mental attitude and prayer is highly beneficial," Hutch said softly, watching Starsky's face go from open and happy to guarded and slightly tense in a matter of seconds as the nurse entered the room.

"David," Mika carried the bag of Cisplatin and a tray of meds to ward off another allergic reaction. "I hear you were making time with the ER nurses and didn't even come up for a visit the other day. What kind of friend is that?"

"Schweetheart, I gotta spread the love around," Starsky flirted outrageously, holding up his wrapped finger.

Hutch realized Starsky had just stuffed all his fears about the chemo in the same place he'd tucked the sadness over an anonymous death.

"See what it got me?"

"A girl gets jealous when she hears stuff like that, is all I'm saying," Mika teased. She pushed drugs into the IV port, cautioning that they might make him sleepy. Sure enough, Starsky was drowsy by the time she had finished checking his blood pressure and temp. He curled up with his back to her, as if trying to ignore what she was doing.

Hutch pretended to read but watched the pretty nurse hook up the chemo infusion and chart vitals before she left, leaving the clear fluid to drip slowly into Starsky's brand new IV port. So began another round.

Starsky woke several hours later vomiting and didn't stop for most of the night. The addition of the second chemo drug in the arsenal just added that much more poison to his system, and he was weak as a kitten and shaking with fatigue by Saturday afternoon. Retching miserably, he reached out for the little kidney shaped bowl the nurses called an emesis basin. He could think of a lot less charitable names for it even though it had been his closest companion for nearly 24 hours now.

As usual, Hutch was right there at his elbow, holding the bowl under his chin. There was nothing left in his stomach to come up but he still had the sensation that his insides were forcing their way out his mouth at high speed. This was worse than the awfulest flu bug he'd ever had.

"I hate vomiting." Starsky grimaced. His tongue was furry and tasted nasty, the smell in the room enough to start another round.

Hutch smiled gently, offering a cup of water. "Babe, if you took a poll of the unit, I don't think it'd be on anybody's favorites list."

Struck by the absurdity of that statement, Starsky giggled almost hysterically, his throat so raw even laughter hurt. "What's the number one most popular side effect of chemo?" he rasped in an accent vaguely reminiscent of British game show host Richard Dawson. In his own voice he replied, "I haven't got a clue, Richard!"

"Poll says!" Hutch joined in the ridiculousness.

"There is none!" Starsky chortled weakly, leaning against his friend's strong chest for support. "Aw, Hutch, I've had enough, I wanna go home now."

"I know, champ, but the game's not over yet." Hutch pulled him into an embrace, curving his arms around Starsky's body so that they sat back to chest like children on a bobsled. "Still got a few more innings."

"Y'think we could call it 'cause a' rain or pukin' or something," Starsky asked wistfully. Sitting this way, he could feel Hutch's heartbeat against his backbone. It was such a steady, comforting presence he didn't want to move for the next few years or at least the next few minutes.

His body had other plans, and the sickly sensation welled up inside his throat once again. "Oh, God…" he moaned grabbing for the basin. His belly spasmed tightly, almost squeezing the breath out of him but only thin strands of watery secretions ended up in the blue bowl. Afterwards, Starsky was even more exhausted, his strength leached out by the drugs flowing through his veins.

"Try sucking on some ice," Hutch encouraged. Today's nurse, a tall angular woman with a no-nonsense attitude and a gentle smile, had instructed him to get any kind of fluids possible into the patient. So far Starsky hadn't eaten or drunk anything since the milkshake the night before and Hutch was growing concerned.

Making a face Starsky still accepted a small sliver into his mouth, sucking briefly before spitting it out into a an empty cup. "Y'know the chemo drugs spell out ICE?"

"Huh?"

"I-C-E," Starsky explained, clearing his throat. "I can't remember the whole names now but there's three of them, right?"

"Yes," Hutch used a towel to wipe off the sweat beaded on Starsky's upper lip.

"I-something, Cisplat, and…"

"Cisplatin."

"Yeah." Starsky curled up against his protector, clutching at Hutch's shirt, his belly clenching violently. "Oh, shit, Hutch…"

"You're gonna get through this." Hutch made loving circles on his back, bared by the open hospital gown. "The last one must start with 'E' then."

"Yeah, 'E'." Starsky repeated. "Ol' Starsky had a tumor, E-I-E-I-O."

"That tumor's gone."

"Yeah, I forgot," he agreed weakly. "Sure doesn't feel like it. This is only the third time, it's getting worse."

"You're half way through, before long this will all be behind us." Hutch rested his head on the top of Starsky's smooth scalp and held on tightly to his love.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Starsk," Hutch said softly. "Time to go."

The man sleeping in the bed startled with a moan, his blue eyes opening slowly, confusion and sickness still very apparent. Hutch wasn't at all certain letting him go home so soon after such a rough weekend was a good idea but Starsky had been insistent that there was no way he was staying in the hospital until Monday.

"S'good, d'wanna stay here anymore."

"I know, so you've got to get dressed first. Think you can handle that?"

"Been doin' it by myself for years now, maybe even decades…" Starsky giggled hoarsely, then moaned again as Hutch helped him lever himself into a sitting position. "Where're my clothes?"

"Starsky, if you're not up to this…"

"'M goin' home, Hutch." Starsky sat holding his t-shirt in trembling hands, unable to pull it over his head.

Without saying anything else, Hutch dressed him, upset that his stubborn friend couldn't see reason. Sure, the hospital bed was much less comfortable than the one at home, and the nurses came in at all hours of the night, but Starsky hadn't eaten anything except applesauce since Friday night and he'd only stopped vomiting about two hours ago. That was no guarantee there wouldn't be a repeat performance later on in the evening.

"Bring the kidney bowl with you in the car," Hutch pointed to the discarded item on the bed when everything was packed into patient bags and Starsky was seated in the wheelchair.

"I'm not gonna hurl on the Mustang's upholstery!" Starsky protested.

"Just humor me, okay?" Hutch growled. He'd felt out of sorts most of the day, probably from getting little or no sleep for the entire weekend.

His anger over Starsky's present predicament only made him feel worthless. There was nothing either of them could do about it, and the sense that his life was spiraling completely out of control was paramount. Each round of chemo was taking ever more out of Starsky, leaving him weaker and achingly vulnerable. He was susceptible to the mildest cold or flu bug that came down the pike and in danger of becoming dehydrated at home if he continued to upchuck for much longer.

Sophie was already scheduled to come in the morning, which made Hutch to feel like a traitor for leaving Starsky at his worst. Not that he'd be all that much better if he didn't get at least a few hours of sleep before class in the morning.

"You've got something on your mind," Starsky observed, leaning against the car door, one hand pressing on his belly and the other clutching the puke collector.

"You ever considered Marijuana?" Hutch steered through darkened Sunday night streets, anxious to get home. There wasn’t much traffic, which was a good thing considering his lack of sleep.

"In what context?" Starsky asked evasively.

"For nausea," Hutch specified, suddenly curious at Starsky's wary expression. "Have you used it before?"

"It's illegal."

"Really?" Hutch mocked. "You use it in 'Nam?" It was a minefield to even mention that undiscussed period of Starsky's life but he needed an honest evaluation of his partner's views on casual usage.

"It was easier to get than candy," Starsky said simply. "But I'm not takin' it for nausea cause it makes me throw up."

"That's nonsense. In that book on alternative treatments it said that Marijuana is a potent anti-emetic."

"It makes me puke, which is the last thing I want right now," Starsky sighed, rubbing his abdomen in slow concentric circles. "Don't ask me why, it just does."

"I've never heard of that--you're weird, you know that?"

"So I've been told."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Starsky lay on the couch, a sheet pushed down over his feet. He couldn't get comfortable because of the lingering fever left over from the chemo. He was hot; he was cold and every degree in between. Half the time he wanted the afghan pulled up around his neck and the other half he was tossing it away because the wooly yarn scratched his suddenly overly sensitive skin. Even television held no interest, although the talking pineapple show had been mildly amusing for a minute and a half before the unwelcome thought of eating pineapple had made the bile rise in his throat and threaten to choke him.

Right now, he contemplated the hideous green liquid in the tall glass Sophie had placed on the low coffee table in front of him.

The coffee table he'd bought the first summer he and Hutch went to Catalina Island as a couple. He'd seen the inlaid mosaic design and wanted it, enjoying running his fingers over the smooth blue tiles of the frisky dolphins and the sharper gray stone of the rocks jutting out from waves made of dark indigo, lapis and turquoise. Everyone who came into their house commented on the expressions on the frolicking dolphins and how harmoniously the colors went with the furniture they'd already had on hand. Dark blue couch, with bluey-green throw pillows and the abstract but lovely patterns on the Indian blue and gray rug. The design had become even more special when he and Hutch had watched a program on marine mammals one day and discovered to their delight that dolphins often bonded with same sex partners and stayed together for life. So the table had a special place in Starsky's heart. But by no stretch of the imagination did the obtrusive green liquid in the tall glass belong there, separating the two dolphins from each other.

Red, he'd asked for red Gatorade. That was the kind he preferred, not some green concoction that looked like it came out of Dr. Frankenstein's lab. But Sophie had 'tsk tsked' in her French accent and given him green Gatorade just in case he still needed to bring anything else up.

"If you faites vomirthe red could be mistaken for blood and then off we would have to go to the hospital," she'd explained before bustling off to clean up the bathroom from his earlier mess.

No siree, wouldn't want anyone to think that now would we? Starsky snorted, reaching for the glass and closing his eyes. He was kind of thirsty. If he didn't have to look at it maybe it would go down easier. The first gulp wasn't so bad and he drank about half the contents before putting the tumbler down on the edge of the inlaid picture in the coffee table so that the two dolphins were no longer isolated from one another.

A rapid knock on the front door made him cringe. Every noise was too loud today and anything but sunlight streaming through the muting white chiffon curtains was too bright. Thus there were no lights on and until now, the room had been almost silent. Who could that be?

"I'll get it!" Sophie called out gaily, swinging out of the bathroom still toting a bucket filled with used towels. "Rest yourself, David." She peeked through the peephole in the door with a nod. "It is the woman from the hospital, Miss Borunda, to talk to you."

Oh, her. Starsky had successfully evaded the woman for weeks now, but apparently she'd tracked his address down through his medical records. That was really low, coming after a guy when he was laid up on the couch in his own home. Well, he'd just have to dig in his heels and resist her feeble attempts to talk. He was a police detective, after all, and she was nothing but a therapist with a penchant for talking to cancer patients. The last thing Starsky wanted to do was discuss his feelings about the tumor and his illness with some woman he'd never met.

Saiisa Borunda was a surprise. She was so tall the jaunty bow on top of her turban brushed the frame of the door and her skin was the darkest shade of coffee brown Starsky had ever seen. She would have made Huggy Bear look pale by comparison. When she spoke, her mellifluous voice had the lilting music of Africa, which coordinated perfectly with the ethnic style of her clothing. The orange and red turban was made from the same bright print as her floor length, loose fitting dress. Taken all together, she looked like the colors of autumn come to vibrant life.

"Mr. Starsky, you've a hard man to connect with." Saiisa smiled slightly, sitting down in the chair opposite the couch. Sophie traipsed into the kitchen to get her some tea. "I was hoping we could talk, so I arranged with Mrs. Saint Clare to come over."

"You didn't have to bother, I don't have anything to talk about," Starsky shrugged darkly, pulling the afghan back over his shoulders. He was perspiring but still felt chilly.

"Nothing?" Saiisa tilted her head, her broad cheekbones catching the slanted rays of the sun and warming her whole demeanor.

In spite of himself, Starsky was drawn to her. She had such an easy open manner he felt comfortable quite quickly, which was unusual for him after years of dealing with drug dealers and criminals. Starsky had always prided himself on his good judge of character. She was a kind soul, but that still didn't mean he had to spill his guts to her. Of course, lately his guts pretty much did what they wanted, and ended up all over the floor most of the time.

"I'm fine. The chemo's goin' fine, there's nothing to talk about," Starsky bluffed.

Sophie delivered cups of steaming tea to both of them, peppermint by the smell, and retreated to the kitchen again. Glad of the distraction, Starsky sipped his tea. The sweet sharp flavor warmed his throat and soothed his belly.

"That's good then." Saiisa smiled benignly, drinking her tea with calm serenity.

She didn't rush Starsky to lay bare his soul or push him to rattle on about what might be bothering him like other shrinks he'd had, especially after the Gunther shooting, for which he was grateful. In fact, she just sat there, drinking her tea like some big brown cat who'd wandered in off the street and made herself at home. Even Pansy seemed both fascinated with the new arrival and a bit disconcerted at the same time. The little Siamese sat at Saiisa's feet staring cross-eyed at her.

"You do this all day long? Hunt down people from the Rose Tree Unit and drink tea with them?"

"Sometimes." Saiisa nodded. "Sometimes they hunt me down."

"Why?"
"Some people need a way to express their emotions away from their loved ones. It is often difficult when our family and friends don't always understand what is going on--they are overwhelmed with the fear of losing their loved one to a horrible disease and it puts them in a different space than you might be. As if they are looking into a mirror and you are looking out, both seeing the other but neither able to understand because they can't exist in your stead, under the grip of the disease."

Starsky hid his confusion with a big swallow of tea. She'd described his relationship with Hutch lately to a 't'. "How'd you know all this?"

"I had cancer in my youth." She set her cup on the edge of the coffee table, in no way impinging on the dolphin's play.

"In Africa?" Starsky asked curiously.

"In Nigeria, yes, but my father was able to send me to London for my treatment." She sighed, touching her breast. "My mother had to remain at home with my brothers and sister so I was often alone and very lonely. My father got work in London, so he was terribly busy. I was so sick, so alone and very frightened until one day a woman came to visit me. She taught me a trick to help me cope with my disease and help me fight back. Before long she and I became close friends, and I vowed that when I became well I would teach others what she had taught me."

"How old were you?"

"Sixteen. I was in England for a year."

"What did she teach you?"

"A form of self hypnosis, in a way. Or daydreaming." She settled back into her chair, crossing her ankles, totally at ease. "A popular term for it is creative visualization."

"Oh, yeah, one of the nurses mentioned something about that." Starsky tucked his chin into the warmth of the afghan, not ready to be seduced by a simple mind trick. How the hell would that help him?

"I can just give you the tools to work with, what you do with them is your own business." Saiisa shrugged. "How about it?"

"I can't stop you."

"Then close your eyes and relax your body as much as possible. If there are pains or bodily discomfort, try to isolate them with your mind and put them aside." She paused, waiting until Starsky had done what she'd said. "If you've ever taken yoga you might recognize the technique of concentrating on your breathing, letting it flow in and out, exhale and inhale, bringing in good, life giving oxygen and letting out the CO2. Just breathe."

Starsky felt a little silly, but whether it was the peppermint tea or Saiisa's soothing cadence, he did feel better, maybe even stronger. His whole body was so relaxed his fingers and toes tingled like the blood hadn't been there in a long time and was reacquainting itself with the tinier capillaries. The deep ache from his mending bones eased up which was a rare event and one to be very much appreciated. Even his capricious stomach was quiet and peaceful for the first time in days.

"Once you are relaxed, think about your cancer. Isolate the tumor from the rest of your body. The cancer is not you, it has invaded you. Your doctors are using modern medicine to destroy it but you can do your part by picturing yourself and the cancer in a very private battle. Picture yourself winning."

Starsky laughed, picturing some crazed druggie high on PCP coming at him with a knife--no make that a 2 by 4. But he hadn't won the last time against a dangerous foe. Would his hate for the cancer work in this case? Lately, he'd felt the dark stirrings of the hate seeping out into his brain again, taking over his rational mind the way the cancer had taken over the rest of his body. Maybe that wasn't the best way to fight back. Maybe Saiisa's suggestions did have some merit.

She smiled at his laughter, nodding when he opened his eyes to look over at her. "I can't tell which way works best, every person has to find the key for themselves."

"Sounds like hocus-pocus in some fantasy movie," Starsky said derisively, still unwilling to divulge his inner most thoughts to her.

"Like what is the wing velocity of an African Sparrow?"

"'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'?" Starsky recognized the quote.

"My favorite movie," Saiisa confirmed. "It is a bit like the obscure questions asked by gatekeepers in self discovery fables. The cancer can be anything--a dragon, Moby Dick, whatever imagery has meaning to you. If nothing comes to you right away, just work on the idea for a few days." She drained her teacup, gathering up her purse. "I don't want to stay too long, as you look like you need to rest and I know how annoying it is to have some stranger barge in on you when you don't feel at your best."

"Well…" Starsky eyed her, wondering if he was being conned by one of the best or just teased. "I'll think about what you said."

"That's all I ask. Here's my number, if you'd like to talk about anything." She set a small business card next to the empty teacup. "Would it be all right if I stopped by again next week around the same time?"

Surprised to hear himself say the words, Starsky said a simple yes, waiting until she had let herself out before falling asleep with the afghan pulled up over his head. He dreamed he and Hutch were roaring through Bay City at midnight, the moon like a silver dollar on a black velvet carpet. Menacing shapes loomed at the car but none came near him because he and Hutch were together, driving out towards the sea. The headlights of the Torino illuminated hundreds of crabs crawling up the beach, their claws snapping at the air.

Weirdly enough, Starsky realized he was hungry, but in the dream there was nothing to eat. He awoke abruptly when Hutch came in the front door after class bearing soup and bread from Daisy Peducci's brand new bakery.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Life proceeded forward, although altered. It was as if each round of chemo took them one more step away from their old life as detective partners and one step further into cancerland. Starsky slept a lot more, needing to conserve his energy, but he still kept up with the French lessons, some gardening and helping Hutch at home with his class work. Hutch found himself busier than ever since Dobey needed him on a few short-term assignments so that between teaching, one particularly tedious stakeout, and finishing up his court appearances in the child assault case, he was rarely home.

Luckily there were friends willing and eager to help out and Starsky and Hutch were never without food, support or the occasional ride to a doctor's appointment.

This was very much on Hutch's mind as he went over the witness reports in a rape case for Dobey. The captain was taking a well-deserved vacation cum gymnastics road trip with his family to see Rosie and her team perform in the regional championships which were in Reno, Nevada. Even Cal had taken a hiatus from his master's thesis in electrical engineering at UCLA to see his little sister's routine. Dobey had basically conscripted Hutch into assuming the role as commander of the detective squad for the few days he was gone. There was an awe-inspiring responsibility to lead up all the on-going investigations but it also kept Hutch away from home much more than he'd have preferred. And he'd had to renig on a promise to accompany Starsky to his ortho appointment at the last minute. Sophie had driven Starsky over and Huggy was going to deliver him back home but the delegation of what he considered his job still rankled Hutch.

The phone had rung incessantly for over an hour, breaking his concentration so often Hutch finally asked the switchboard to only put through the most important calls until he could make headway in the pile of paperwork on Dobey's desk. He was just gnawing on a late lunch tomato and cheese sandwich when his intercom buzzed insistently.

"Hutch? There's a personal call for you," Marcel's disembodied voice hissed through the poor quality speaker. "Starsky on line four."

"Starsk?" Hutch snatched up the receiver, his heartrate doubling in under a second. Why was he calling? Was something else wrong? Shouldn't he be at his appointment right now?

"Hey, " Starsky greeted. Hutch could hear the anguish in his voice even from across town. "I just saw Dr. Bernardi."

"Yeah, how did it go?"

"My leg's not healin' very well."

"Aw, babe." Hutch could feel tears welling up, but he swallowed hard to banish them. Truthfully, he wasn't all that surprised at the news. It didn't take a bone surgeon to know that two months was a long time to still be wearing a cast.

"There's three places were nothing's changed in all this time," Starsky said bleakly. "It doesn't look real good. And I'm not supposed to walk on it so much."

"I could come right over and get you."

"Huggy's just driving up, I'll be okay, Hutch, I just--just wanted you to know."

"Starsky," Hutch whispered, feeling lower than a common garden snail.

"You gonna be late?" Starsky asked without much interest.

"No, I'm leaving early," Hutch decided impulsively. "We're going out to dinner. Some place nice, so dress up."

"Hutch!" Starsky finally sounded alive. "I can't…I'm tired."

"Too tired for…" Hutch though frantically for some place that was both romantic and palatable for Starsky's finicky stomach. "Zodiac?"

"That place is expensive," he protested, then replied to the faint greeting Hutch could hear from his chauffeur. "Hey, Huggy, I'll be just a minute." Coming back on the phone, there was a hint of joy in his words for the first time in days. "You really want to go out in public with me in the middle of the week? I got chemo in three days."

"What better day to go," Hutch was suddenly choking on tears, but they weren't entirely ones of sadness. "I love you, I want to show you off to the world."

"Love you, too," Starsky mumbled, probably because of Huggy's close proximity. "But you've always been kinda weird."

"So I've been told."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Zodiac was an oddly eccentric restaurant that appealed to both Starsky and Hutch's opposite tastes. Since they arrived early on a Tuesday, they were seated right away near a stone hearth with a mantle made of gray and silver streaked marble. A crackling fire welcomed the diner chilled from the cool autumnal evening. Buff colored walls were decorated with the pictograms for all twelve signs of the Zodiac, with detailed paintings of the heavens and constellations on the ceiling.

A blue shirted waiter with a nametag proclaiming him a Libra seated them under the sign of Aquarius, at a table with blue table cloth and blue water glasses. The table across the way, under the sign for Taurus, had a red cloth and orange glassware. Other star signs were portrayed in bright colors denoting their spiritual aura, giving the whole room a rainbow effect. Depression was checked at the door in this place. The menu featured a large assortment of vegetarian recipes with fresh, organic ingredients but also served meat dishes gleaned from various countries around the world. Chinese noodles might share the plate with Italian sauces, or French goat cheese topped Arabian pita bread and olives.

Starsky particularly loved the personal sized pizza dripping with creamy mozzarella cheese and wickedly spicy Thai chicken. Alas, that wasn't in the stars for him tonight the way his belly had been acting lately so he perused the menu without any real interest. He'd rather look at Hutch who looked fantastic in a black turtleneck and shiny leather jacket. The outfit accented his Nordic blond good looks to perfection. By comparison, Starsky thought he looked like a withered up old shoe. He'd changed from the grubby sweats he'd been wearing all day into a dark red sweater and slacks which hid the cast, for the most part, but nothing disguised his wan complexion and naked scalp.

"You want anything?" Hutch asked.

"Dunno," Starsky shrugged doubtfully. He was considerably cheered just being out with Hutch but that didn't completely eradicate his gloomy disposition. With the distressing news about his leg still fresh on his mind, he was having a hard time getting up any enthusiasm about whatever bland food he could eat tonight. Sometimes it was just easier not eating at all than having to pass up the good stuff for a sick room diet.

"There's a nice endive and spinach salad with poppy seed dressing. You could have the bran and carrot muffins on the side," Hutch said.

Staring moodily at the sign for Cancer across the restaurant, it took Starsky a moment to reconnect with his partner and realize Hutch was grinning at him. That horrendous sounding meal had been a joke to pull him out of his reverie and it worked.
"I'd rather eat greasy grimy gopher guts and French Fried eye balls," Starsky retorted, humming the childhood rhyme that described grubby little boys being made of such fare.

"Luckily, they don't serve that on the menu."

"What are you gonna eat?"

"I was thinking about the salad Nicoise." Hutch pointed to the description.

"Doesn't that have anchovies? You don't like anchovies."

"Not this one, they substituted salmon instead." Hutch raised his blond eyebrows coaxingly. "We could share."

"I don't want salad," Starsky looked back at the big red crab on the wall, its huge claws filling half the space between the front door and the large plate glass window. "Why is Cancer the crab?"

"That's the symbol." Hutch shrugged. "I don't recall the exact mythology for each sign. I'm Virgo and you're Aries."

"The virgin and the ram," Starsky said with a wolfish grin. "Kinda sexy, huh?"

"The ram is the male symbol for fertility but I'm no…"

"Crab," Starsky announced suddenly. "I want to eat crab."

Libra, the waiter, returned just as he decided and nodded gravely. "We have both crab cakes and crab salad. We only feature fresh Pacific crab claws on the weekends."

"Crab cakes--with some French bread and mayo," Starsky ordered. "And some iced tea--got peppermint?"

"Of course," Libra wrote everything down on a little pad, his pale green eyes peering at them over the tops of wire rimmed glasses. "And for you, sir?"

Hutch gave his order with a distracted air, glancing over at Starsky in expectation. When Libra left, he shook out the folded napkin from the table with casual grace and placed it carefully over his lap. "You've never eaten crab in all the time I've known you--what's with the change?"

"You remember I told you that African girl came by? Saiisa, to talk to me?"

"Last week when you weren't feeling very well."

"And again this week, too. She was talking all this mumbo-jumbo about creative visualization and crap like that." Starsky waited while Libra set two glasses of peppermint iced tea in front of them and then offered sugar and lemon. Both declined.

Taking a long swig of the naturally sweet, refreshing tea, Starsky decided not to tell Hutch he was really beginning to like peppermint tea and not just because it settled his stomach. "She said everybody had to find a way to fight the cancer in their own way."

"Cancer's the crab," Hutch surmised with a smile.

"I'll bite down real hard, crunch it up with my teeth and get rid of that damned thing," Starsky declared fiercely, feeling a sort of power rising up in his chest. This was right for him; this would make his stronger. He sniffed the appetizing aromas from the kitchen with renewed interest, still craving a fat, spicy pizza, but no longer disappointed that he couldn't have one. "This'll work, Hutch, I can feel it."

"I can feel it, too." Hutch blinked suspiciously bright eyes and ducked his head to take a drink of tea.

Libra brought the food over in a remarkably short time and both dug in eagerly.

Strangely, with every bite he took of the crispy fried crab cake sandwiched between two thinly sliced pieces of sourdough, Starsky sensed the hate that blackened his mind losing its hold. He felt rejuvenated, almost exhilarated at this unique and easy solution. This was how he could defeat the cancer, not with hate and anger, but with positive, grinding tooth power, using his own body functions to fight back. Besides, the crab was succulent, tasty and almost sweet on his tongue. He'd never tried the hard-shelled seafood before and now couldn't remember why not.

What had started out as a sort of desperate attempt to cheer Starsky up ended up with a festive atmosphere. They lingered over their meal, just enjoying each other's company and tuning out the world. There was even a bit of discrete hand holding under the table. After leaving Zodiac, Starsky encouraged Hutch to buy ice cream at the parlor next door, so they headed back to the car licking their cones.

"There's something I'd like to lick even more than chocolate fudge ripple," Starsky waggled his eyebrows, standing up so Hutch could fold up the wheelchair. He watched his partner with a raunchy smile before climbing into the car.

"And what would that be?" Hutch asked as if he didn't know, slamming the car door after he climbed in. "Hold my cone while I back out of this parking space. Don't eat any."

"I'm savin' room for Hutchsicle." Starsky said but boldly took a lick from Hutch's Vanilla Caramel.

"Hey! You're awfully frisky tonight!" Hutch grabbed at the cone but Starsky held it out of his reach, laughing gleefully. He finally surrendered the frozen treat when the sticky ice cream began melting down his hand, handing over the messy cone when Hutch stopped for a red light. "Feeling better?"

"I couldn't feel any better if I tried," Starsky showed his teeth with a growl low in his throat. "Drive us home fast."

Not even waiting for the wheelchair to be unfurled, Starsky dashed up the front walk of their home with all the speed he could muster on crutches. Dr. Bernardi had pretty much banned the use of the walker cast because of the stress it placed on the still broken bones, strained muscles and tendons. In fact, with all probability, the rubber walker base would be removed for a more conventional cast once Starsky was back in hospital on Friday for his fourth round of chemo.

Swinging through the front door, Starsky left it open for Hutch to follow and headed straight for the bedroom. He paused only long enough to pull back the burgundy and gold spread before sprawling back on the pillows in a sensual pose.

"Starsk?" Hutch called, closing the front door. "Where'd you go?"

"You have to ask?" Starsky called back, giggling with mischief. He wanted that big blond Viking all over him, right now. Sex had found a chink in between all the drugs that kept him flaccid and uninterested and there was no time to waste. He actually had stirrings of arousal in his limp cock. This was a stellar opportunity.

"Ah, there you are," Hutch lounged against the doorframe, his long, muscled body backlit from the hall light. Blond hair haloed around his head, arraying him like a god. Just beautiful from Starsky's point of view. "Lying here in the dark all alone?"

"Not for long," Starsky flicked a match and lit several of the lumpy, well used candles on the bedside table.

Hutch took another long handled match and ignited the candles nestled into odd niches around the room.

Now the flames guttered and flickered, dappling Hutch with shadows and brightness, sculpting the very air around him. "Get undressed, I want to see you naked," Starsky purred in a voice that was impossible to refuse.

"Only if you do," Hutch stalled.

"Nah, I look like a bag of bones, you're a god."

"Starsky." A flicker of sadness crossed Hutch's face, but he nodded, bending to untie his shoelaces. Shoes dropped away followed by socks and then the zipper of the black jeans he wore went southward.

Starsky grinned when Hutch wiggled his hips like a $10 a dance stripper performing for a customer and then slid the jeans down his long pale thighs until they pooled around his ankles. He was wearing tight black briefs that did nothing to hide the rising flagpole between his legs and he thrust forward suggestively.

Starsky groaned, rubbing his own still clothed erection with pleasure. It had been weeks since he'd felt this good. Hutch tugged on the sleeves of his turtleneck sweater suddenly flipping the whole thing over his head and onto the floor in one fluid gesture that left him wearing nothing but underwear. The candlelight bronzed his pale skin, illuminating him around the edges as if he'd been dipped in gold leaf.

"What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason. How infinite in faculty, how like a god…" Starsky sang never taking his eyes off his Hutch. The subject of all his private fantasies and dreams.

"David Starsky quoting Shakespeare?" Hutch teased, gliding onto the bed to help Starsky with his personal massage.

"Hutch, it's from 'Hair'."

"Before that it was from 'Hamlet'," he corrected fondly.

 

Starsky let his hands drop away as Hutch continued caressing his cock. He reached up to disengage the zipper and free the prisoner confined inside. "Oh! See, I know a couple of things."

"More than a couple," Hutch agreed slipping his hand inside the slit in Starsky's boxers and closing his fist around what he found inside. "You're hard!" he crowed in surprise.

"Nobody's happier about it than me." Starsky chuckled. "Hutch, come inside me, now, before I lose it."

"Starsk!" Hutch protested. "You--bleed so easily, you've got…"

"You don't think I remember that every minute!" he retorted too loudly. Rage roared in where it wasn't wanted, obliterating everything in a single instant. "Not here, not now. Don't let that get in between us in bed. It's taken over every other part of my life, not here!"

"I'm just scared," Hutch whispered. "I could hurt you so easily."

"No you won't." Starsky was so close to crying it was hard to breathe and unfortunately the unexpected anger had deflated his cock. It felt light and weightless in Hutch's hand, hardly there at all. Only Hutch's skin still touching his had any meaning anymore and if he lost that, all the crab sandwiches and positive creative visualization wouldn't amount to anything because he couldn't live if he didn't have Hutch with him. He'd tried so hard to push his lover away there in those first few days and it hadn't worked but now his stupid body was effortlessly succeeding where common sense had failed. "Please, Hutch. It's all I have left to give you."

"You don't have to give me anything, fish breath," Hutch tucked his head down, kissing Starsky with a love than washed over them in a tidal wave.

"Crab, not fish," Starsky mumbled, light headed from the rush.

"Turn on your side," Hutch said gently, aiding in his instructions with a push on Starsky's back and a minor adjustment of the pillows to use as support. He tucked one of the throw pillows from the bottom of the bed under Starsky's upper leg to cushion it from the casted one, carefully divesting him of his pants at the same time.

Starsky couldn't stop the few tears that filled his eyes but he sighed with happiness as Hutch's fingers skimmed over his now naked bottom seeking the anal opening.

"Just tell me if it hurts." Hutch took the well-used tube of KY jelly from the bedside drawer, smearing a liberal amount around the puckered space. He dipped two fingers inside.

Starsky gasped, arousal leaping across his skin as if Hutch's touch set off a static charge.

"I can just see tryin' to explain this to Dr. Davies…" Hutch chattered nervously, his fingers still inserted up Starsky's ass. "You see, Doctor, Starsky made me do this…he's insatiable. If you need another transfusion, don't complain to me."

"Hutch, shut up," Starsky said simply. "Just do it. 'S'not like you haven't done it before. 'S'not hard, but I am, again." He grinned, holding onto that wonderful thickness, feeling life pulsing against his palm just as a blunt force pushed into him from behind.

For a second he was just a conduit, the beating of two hearts vibrating through his bones in concert. He whimpered when Hutch entered him fully, not from pain but from the achingly beautiful perfection of the act. This was life, this was unity. The cancer hadn't completely robbed him of everything he held dear. His job was uncertain, and the future was murky but the present was love.

Hutch kissed the hairless back pressed close up to him, taking his time with the penetration, not allowing the least bit of force. Starsky almost mourned the loss of the wild abandon usually associated with their physical acts of love but he let himself float in Hutch's embrace, comforted by the connection between them.

Chemo was in three days but he no longer cared. Reaching behind him he guided Hutch's right hand to his waiting penis. There was no need for words, Hutch immediately began stroking in harmony with the gentle rocking motion he started to push himself more deeply inside Starsky's core.

Starsky panted as he came, the orgasm weak but satisfying all the same. He understood all too well why Hutch never climaxed--he was too frightened of damaging the sick man to lose all control even for a single moment. Starsky was saddened by that but he pulled Hutch into a clinch, protecting him from all the worry and fear that surrounded them in an inescapable wall.

"You never told me what Dr. Bernardi said," Hutch spoke after a long time, stroking his palm on Starsky's bare, baby soft chest. He skittered his fingers around the subclavian catheter sutured into the skin and kissed the area just above as if in apology for what the doctors had done to him.

"He doesn't want me walkin' on it, I told you," Starsky answered, not really wanting to discuss his traitorous bones any longer.

"Does he have any new strategies? And treatments?"

Rolling away from the soothing rubdown, Starsky nodded. "He wants--" He paused, summoning up courage for the harsh reality. "He wants t'do more surgery. Maybe--um--something about titanium alloys and a couple more pins or something. But not until after the chemo is over, so not until December. Wants me to be healthy for the surgery." He couldn't voice the other ominous things Bernardi had said.

"I'm sorry, Starsky."

"Always something else to look forward to, huh?" Starsky asked, knowing he sounded bitter, but not caring. How did he manage to hit so many emotions in one single evening? How did Hutch even keep up? "At least I won't have to deal with the chemo by then. That's a good thing. Three more to go…"

"The glass is half empty," Hutch agreed.

Starsky stiffened, his rebellious stomach suddenly rumbling uncomfortably. Damn, he hadn't puked in two days, although there was no telling what could set him off. "Aw, shit…" He pursed his lips, but the crab sandwich had other ideas.

"Basin?" Hutch asked unnecessarily, having witnessed far too many of these episodes to be unprepared. He had the battered blue bowl in front of his best friend in less time than it took to say the words.

Starsky emptied the contents of his belly in one tremendous heave, supporting himself against the bed with trembling arms. Luckily, that was it for now, there was no second act. Hutch covered him up with a blanket and disappeared into the bathroom to clean up the useful little bowl.

Starsky giggled abruptly, a weird idea popping into his foggy brain.

"You feeling better?" Hutch gently sponged him off with a wet rag and then dried his face before crawling under the covers to warm Starsky's chilled body with shared body heat.

"It worked."

"What did, crab breath? You need to brush your teeth." Hutch wrinkled his nose but didn't make a move to go get toothbrush or paste.

"The crab sandwiches. Tasted good the first time, not so good on the repeat but I know--down deep--that it took some of the sarcoma with it." Starsky curled lazily into his favorite place, facing Hutch with one hand draped over the other man's hip.

"Faith," Hutch said after a time.

"Huh?"

"Faith, the belief of things unseen. It can move mountains."

"And cure cancer."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Hutch couldn't seem to wipe off the smile on his face every time the doorbell rang and Starsky dropped candy into the outstretched bags of tiny Draculas, Jedi Knights and Fairy Princesses. The smile burst out of him each and every time as if making up for the last five days when he hadn't smiled much at all.

The last weekend of chemo had been brutal. Starsky was so weakened by the ordeal he'd willingly stayed in the Rose Tree Unit an extra day as long as Hutch promised he could hand out candy on Halloween. As much as having his increasingly frail partner that near several dozen little germ carriers scared him more than all the miniature goblins did, Hutch didn't have the heart to deny Starsky such a small pleasure.

By the looks of things, the holiday spirit had inhabited David Starsky right and proper. He lurked by the front door, leaning on a crutch but in costume, ready for the almost constant parade of trick or treaters. Every time he hauled open the door, he gave a ghoulish howl sending the children into gales of laughter.

As if to highlight his plummeting weight due to the ever present nausea and vomiting caused by the chemo, Starsky wore a T-shirt and sweat pants imprinted with a skeleton. Hutch had been reluctant when Starsky dragged him out to the mall just prior to being admitted to the hospital for a last minute shopping spree to find the “right costume for Halloween'” When his bright eyed imp of a partner held up the skeleton shirt, Hutch wanted to be appalled by choice but recognized Starsky's need for such a darkly humorous selection.

"Hey, Hug!" Starsky greeted holding open the door. "Want a little Almond Joy?"

"Don't feel like a nut t'day, Starsky. Got anything else?"

"Take the last Snickers." Starsky handed over the miniature sized candy, eyeing Huggy speculatively. "You look familiar."

"Can't you guess?" Huggy trooped into the room wearing a long swirling blue cape and tight pants. He'd penciled in a narrow mustache over his upper lip and carried a toy pistol in one hand.

"Lando Calrissian," Hutch identified.

"And you said you didn't even like 'Empire Strikes Back'," Starsky teased.

He hadn't even closed the door when a half-pint Darth Vader and an even smaller Chewbacca chorused out, "Tricker treat!"

Darth Vader grabbed the chocolate Starsky held out and used it as a pointer. "Lookit, there's Lando!" Chewbacca barked and hooted, his fur matted with lollipop.

"May the Force be with you!" Huggy called out cheerfully when they trooped down the front walk to their mom waiting with a flashlight.

"Happy Halloween!" Starsky waved with a grin, but Hutch could see he was tiring. He'd already been doling out sweets for an hour now and it was time to close up shop.

"Starsk, turn out the porch light and come sit down. Huggy's here. You don't want to be completely worn out before 'Fright Night' starts…"

"I still got some candy," Starsky protested.

"Won't go to waste." Huggy laughed, relieving him of the bowl. "Siddown before you fall down. You're all skin and bones."

"I'm a skeleton, I'm supposed t'be!" He crutched over to the couch, sprawling out with a sigh.

"Hey, blondie, what are you supposed to be?" Huggy carried the bag he'd brought into the kitchen.

"An undercover cop." Hutch followed in after him and opened a bag of chips to go with the guacamole he'd prepared earlier.

"Never would have guessed it," Huggy said dryly, popping the tops on a couple of beer bottles. He inserted one into Hutch's empty hand, leaning back on the counter. "How's it going, man? Starsky looks…"

"Bad." Hutch gulped, both from the beer and the overwhelming emotions that would swamp him at the weirdest of times. "What the hell is this stuff?"

"Pumpkin Ale." Huggy took another drink, turning the bottle around so the leering orange gourd on the label was visible. "'Specially for the holiday."

"Well, I'd prefer the old stand by, thanks just the same." Hutch grimaced, rooting around in Huggy's provisions for some Heineken. "Hug, I don't know what to do anymore. Starsky doesn't eat, he throws up all the time, he sleeps for hours--all day almost. This is the longest he's been up and alert for days and doctors say by now the chemo's just about wiped out his immune system so a cold could put him in the hospital and…

"What?"

"This might not even work. All this suffering and he might not go into remission at the end." Hutch pressed the bottle against his forehead to stave off the headache that started almost every evening, glancing across the hall into the living room, hoping Starsky didn’t hear them talking about him. The last thing he wanted Starsky to know is that he'd begun to lose hope. He already felt like a mutinous crew on a voyage into hell, but the last round of chemo had worn Hutch down. He rarely felt like eating or sleeping when Starsky was so sick, and between having to care for his partner and getting up to teach, Hutch was exhausted.

"Th'both of you need some food and sleep," Huggy advised. "Daisy'll be here soon with the grub and I expect you t'eat every bit, hero, or you'll hurt her feelings. She said Starsky wanted crab?"

"He's craving things he doesn't normally eat," Hutch explained, since it wasn't his place to explain about Starsky's private coping mechanisms. "Problem is he can't keep anything down. If he keeps this up they'll have to put him on IV fluids for dehydration and he hates being tied down."

"Have you tried marijuana?" Huggy held up his hands like a traffic cop stopping a line of cars. "An' don't give me the jive that it's a misdemeanor. It worked great for my cousin Hakeem who had the big 'C'."

"Starsky said marijuana makes him throw up, so I asked Davies," Hutch smiled; the explanation as to why had been so quintessentially Starsky. "He said it's rare, but some people have idiosyncratic reactions--the exact opposite of what the drug's supposed to do."

"Typical." Huggy nodded ruefully.

The doorbell rang as Hutch was hoisting the bowl of dip and chips onto a tray and Huggy was laden with the drinks.

"I'll get it!" Starsky called sleepily, struggling to get up off the couch.

"No, you won't." Hutch placed the tray on the coffee table. "Some little hooligan dressed up like the Hulk can wait two seconds for me to open the door."

"Remember to howl!" Starsky added, watching Hutch to make sure he greeted the candy seeker with the proper decorum.

"OO-waaah," Hutch obliged, feeling foolish. He felt even more foolish when a grinning Daisy Peducci, wearing a pointed purple witch hat and blinking jack o'lantern earrings, stood on the front step. There wasn't a pint sized Frankenstein's monster to be seen in either direction, although a lanky boy dressed as a bum lurked on the sidewalk for a moment before disappearing down the street.

"Trick or treat," Daisy said brightly. "Your howl could use some work, Ken."

"Blame Starsky, that was his job," Hutch stepped aside to let her in, blushing furiously. Just his luck to look stupid in front of a beautiful woman.

"What did you bring, O lovely Witch of the West?" Huggy greeted giving her a friendly peck on the mouth.

"Cream of pumpkin soup, pumpernickel bread and for dessert…"

"Let me guess, pumpkin pie?" Hutch asked in dismay.

"No, silly, sugar cookies shaped like bats," Daisy laughed. "They've been a real hit, can hardly keep them in the shop."

"How's the bakery going?" Starsky asked. "I been meaning to come down, but…"

"It's amazing, I never dreamed owning my own business could be so much fun!" Daisy proclaimed, setting out the food on the coffee table. Hutch went back in the kitchen for bowls, spoons and napkins. "Marie Saint Claire is a godsend. Not only can she cook but she's good with the books. I can't thank you all enough for the help."

"Just keep bringing the food by." Starsky grinned waving a hand at the fare. "Hutch, siddown, the movie's about to start."

"'Plan Nine from Outer Space' is considered one, if not the, worst movie ever made." Hutch scooped up some guacamole on a tortilla chip, settling into the space Starsky made for him on the couch. It hadn't escaped his notice that while Starsky was regaling Daisy with praise for her culinary selections, he hadn't sampled any of it. "Tell me again why we're watching this?"

"It's a classique," Starsky said with a fakey French accent. "And besides, it's a hoot when the Fright Night guy adds commentary--didja know that Bela Legosi died during the filming and it's some other guy at the end with his black cape over his face?"

"No," Hutch pretended surprise at that revelation.

"I just hate when the Mom takes the baby's temperature up the back," Daisy giggled, snuggling into the overstuffed chair with Huggy. Huggy didn't appear the least crowded by 120 pounds of woman on his lap. In fact, he looked downright happy about it.

Hutch barely watched the movie, instead, watching Starsky out of the corner of his eye. They'd scootched together into a comfortable tangle, Starsky 's feet, one bare and the other casted, resting on a pillow on Hutch's lap, Hutch's arm curled over Starsky's belly. But with his hand in that position, Hutch could feel the sharp jut of Starsky's ribs under the painted rib bones on his t-shirt. And while the rest of them feasted on the Halloween meal, Starsky only nibbled on some crab and bread, hardly making a dent in either. Before the credits were rolling, Starsky had fallen asleep, both hands wrapped around Hutch's.

"Hey, we'll clean up and get outta your hair," Huggy promised softly. "You need any help with him?"

"It's okay," Hutch assured as Daisy packed what she had brought.

Huggy and Daisy talked softly as they worked before leaving, with the intimacy only two lovers could bring to an ordinary conversation. Hutch was truly happy for his old friend and his new one, too. With any luck, maybe there would be a wedding in Huggy's future, with all the happiness and craziness that went along with that.

Hutch had never stopped to think about marriage since he and Starsky become a couple. His first one had been such a disaster that he rarely contemplated making another relationship official. But, now, with all that was going on, he suddenly wished there were some way to legalize their union. Even when he accompanied Starsky to the hospital, there was no designation for what he was. Not spouse, not family member, just friend. Just friend--like a co-worker or neighbor kind enough to drive a sick man to his appointment, but nothing special. It really brought home how tenuous his position was.

There was no official status for male lover. Luckily, they had appointed each other their next of kin in an emergency. There were times when Hutch could feel some of the doctors and nurses, certainly not Starsky's regular ones, but employees of the hospital, looking at him with suspicion in their eyes. He could hear their jeers; the accusation that he was doing something nasty and sinful with that poor guy who had cancer. Just one more stresser to pile on top of the mound he already had to carry around.

Looking down at his partner pillowed down on the edge of the sofa, nearly in danger of dropping right off the side, Hutch decided none of that mattered. This was all that was important, right here, the two of them on the couch together. He loved David Starsky so deeply that the strong and constant presence of their love wiped clean all the other stuff completely. Even if things got worse, and he was fairly certain they would, that alone would be the cement to hold them together until happier times.

Worried that Starsky might take a header, Hutch slid one hand under him, pulling him more securely onto the couch and repositioned himself so that he was cradling Starsky in his lap. Starsky muttered and stirred but never woke. The mass of the warm body on his legs was heavy, even with recent weight losses, but Hutch was loath to disturb his slumbering friend any further. Besides, it wasn't often that he could indulge in such shameless cuddling without Starsky complaining about being mother henned or treated like an invalid. Hutch watched the clock over the TV inch forward towards midnight holding his precious burden close to his heart.

Pansy leapt up on the backrest, rubbing her silky fur against his neck. His hair was all grown in but still far shorter than he'd worn it in years and the rumble of Pansy's purr on the base of his skull was like a professional massage. The cat sniffed the air, jumping from couch to coffee table in one fluid movement to investigate what remained on the discarded plates. Starsky's unfinished crab lured the sleek cat and she chowed down to Hutch's amusement. When she had eaten up every succulent morsel and nosed the bowl of leftover miniature candy bars without interest, she sat defiantly on the mosaic of frolicking dolphins, grooming her forelegs delicately. Hutch stuck out a bare foot to nudge her off the coffee table, then propped both feet up, falling asleep just before the witching hour.

He woke with a groan, his neck stiff and back protesting the awkward arrangement of arms and legs. He had somehow slouched down in his sleep, head resting on the back of the couch, Starsky sprawled lengthwise across his lap. Starsky was moaning even louder than he was.

"Starsk?" Hutch shook his shoulder gently, trying to align Starsky to see his face better but his own right arm was all pins and needles from being squashed under a 148-pound body.

"WHA…?" Starsky jerked awake with a cry, struggling to sit up but he was too tangled up with Hutch and the momentary confinement only exacerbated his fear.

"Hey, hey." Hutch pulled Starsky into a hug, succeeding in separating their legs and righting his partner all at the same time. "It's me, you just fell asleep on the couch, remember?"

"Those goofy aliens were attacking…" Starsky shuddered a breath, breaking away from Hutch's hold, his body tense with pain. He rested his forehead on a trembling hand. "Wha's that movie about anyway?"

"You picked it out." Aware that Starsky was just rambling to give himself time to readjust, Hutch stretched, getting up. "I'll get your pills," he said to give credence to his actions. He had to use the john, too. It was three forty five in the morning according to the clock, and for whatever reason, Hutch felt fully awake. "You hungry?"

"No." Starsky winced, settling his cast up on the couch again. Hutch hurried to find the painkillers because if Starsky was hurting enough to wince, his leg had to be aching badly.

"You need to eat something, buddy."

"It's the middle of the night," Starsky protested.

Collecting the pills from the bathroom where he'd stashed them before their little Halloween soiree, Hutch shook out the required dosages. "You don't eat in the daytime, what's the difference?"

"Cause I don't want to eat!" Starsky shouted.

"The pills won't stay down unless you take something with them," Hutch tried to be reasonable. Starsky was sick; he couldn't be, so Hutch had to be the navigator of every conversational sea. Already this one threatened to beach them both in the rocks unless he maintained a steady hand on the tiller. And the problem was he often felt like a nagging parent instead of a concerned lover. Nothing about this whole situation ever got any easier. Every day seemed rougher than the day before, small issues mushrooming into giant ones because the base of their whole lives was so screwed up.

"Nothing stays down," Starsky retorted violently and threw a pillow for good measure, knocking the Halloween candy bowl over. Individually wrapped Mounds and Almond Joys tumbled over the carpet as if he'd taken the killing blow to a piñata.

True enough, but Hutch was still determined to find the magic solution--the perfect food that would somehow provide all Starsky's nutritional needs and sooth his oh-so-touchy stomach. Ice cream often worked where nothing else did, and as luck would have it he'd found a limited edition Peppermint flavor at the grocery. If anything would appease Starsky, pink ice cream loaded with heart shaped red hots would do the trick. A couple of banana slices on top added some necessary vitamins to the treat.

"Try this."

"It's pink." Starsky declared flatly as if Hutch had personally colored the ice cream just to piss him off.

"Maybe they ran out of blue dye," Hutch snapped. "Take the damn pills and eat the ice cream before it melts."

Starsky dipped the spoon into the creamy concoction, tasting it warily. He took several more bites, including some of the banana before abandoning the dish and swallowing the pills. His shoulders were drawn up practically to his ears; his mouth set in a line that boded no good.

Hutch could feel empathetic stress along his own spine and longed to rub his lover down with relaxing eucalyptus oils. What had happened to the joyous Starsky handing out candy, dressed like a skeleton?

Not ready to become ensnared in some argument he didn't even understand, Hutch cleared away the melting ice cream and the now empty plate that Pansy had licked clean, dumping them in the sink. Daisy had tidied up the kitchen enough that he didn't feel pressed to do any dishes, but sitting next to Starsky right now didn't have the appeal it held a few hours ago. Casting about for things to do, he started shoveling the candy back into the pumpkin bowl, unwrapping one without really noticing he was doing so.

"I want an Almond Joy."

Hutch was so startled by the request he stared dumbly at his friend for several seconds before looking down at the chocolate he held. It was the correct type so he handed it over without a word. Starsky ate it glumly displaying no outward evidence that he enjoyed the candy whatsoever.

"D'you have to go into the station today?"

"Yes, Dobey's back but neither of us has had time for a debriefing of when I was in charge, so we're finally getting together to go over recent cases."

"Can you get out of it? Stay home?"

"I don't think so…"

"How long'll you be gone?"

"Starsky…" Hutch consciously put his irritation aside. Something was going on here, Starsky was rarely so needy or clingy. He, of all people, knew a cop's schedule was unpredictable. "I'll try to make it as short as possible."

"Do you still go out on calls?"

"Not very often."

"Then, I want to come down to the squadroom. I can go over reports--do typing."

Oh, God, how did he counter that? "Thanks for the offer, Starsk, but didn't you tell me you learned not to volunteer in the army?"

"So I'm not wanted?" Starsky stared Hutch down, daring him to refute the simple question.

"Starsky, you haven't had a decent platelet level since the transfusion two and a half weeks ago. Davies says any infection could put you in the hospital again. D'you want to risk that?" Using Davies' name was the trump card, taking Hutch's own fears out of the equation. Starsky couldn't argue with medical advice.

"So I just stay home, a useless cripple?" Starsky asked savagely. "No more me and thee, huh, partner?"

The latter was delivered with cutting accuracy, meant to wound and scar. Hutch could feel it slicing open his heart. "Starsky…"

"Go to hell. Leave me alone!" Starsky lurched to his feet, but the crutch wasn't within easy reach so he propelled himself forward with clumsy hops, hanging on to the furniture for balance. He made it into the back hall and their bedroom far quicker than Hutch had realized he could move.

What had just happened? No right answer would have fixed what was just ripped asunder. Hutch realized Starsky was scared, hell, he was every single minute of the day, but never before had Starsky so viciously attacked with so little provocation.

He looked down at the candy bars still clenched in his hand. Some were twisted into chocolate pretzels, and he hurriedly dumped them into the bowl. Weariness weighed down on him like the globe Atlas carried and he approached the bedroom door with trepidation. No way Starsky would welcome him into their bed now, it was the spare room for him tonight. Except he was too worried about Starsky's health--and his state of mind right now to turn away. Sighing, he drug the wingback chair into the hall, shoving it against the wall just outside the bedroom door and hunkered down to keep vigil.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Pushing the covers off his face, Starsky shivered when the cooler air hit. Damn, he felt like shit. It was the Disneyland hangover all over again but this time he'd only been up and active for about an hour--two, tops. How did other people do this? Other people with cancer, that is. How did they tolerate the awfulness of the disease and go on living? Before the chemo his calf had ached, particularly at night, but otherwise he'd been in fine shape, able to run, eat, live, like any other normal guy. Now he was sick all the time, or asleep. What kind of life was that?

And the argument with Hutch. Over nothing, and everything. He didn't even know where that anger had come from, could hardly even recall feeling that strongly about anything to cause such stomping and shouting. Why? There was no explanation, anyway, nothing made sense anymore. His head hurt so much he couldn't think past the pain and he was too tired to figure out what course to take to rectify things. What if he'd irreparably ruined everything?

Too demoralized to even wipe away the tears dripping off his nose, Starsky huddled down in the covers. Across the hall, he could hear the shower splashing in the second bathroom. Hutch must be getting ready to go into Metro, leaving Starsky alone for the better part of the day. The idea of being separated from his best friend and partner gripped his heart and Starsky cried harder, suddenly sure that some horrible fate awaited Hutch if he left the house. God knows they'd had their share of trauma through the years, who could blame him for worrying about Hutch?

There was a hesitant knock on the bedroom door before a damp blond head poked in, an uncertain smile on his face. "Starsk? I need to get some clean clothes."

Pulling the coverlet closer, Starsky gave a muffled affirmative, peeking at Hutch over the edge as he rummaged through a dresser drawer. He wore nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, and in the early light his back was golden and unblemished above the terry cloth. Despite keeping up the illusion of separate bedrooms, their clothes invariably ended up tossed into the same drawers and shoved into one all-encompassing closet. It had gotten to the point--right before Starsky's illness--where he wasn't even always sure which shirts and briefs had started out his and which were Hutch's. The pants and shoes, being different sizes, were easier to sort out. Now everything was too big for Starsky to the point that he really needed to go out and find sweat pants in a smaller size.

Hutch dressed with a fluidity of motion, putting on a blue plaid flannel shirt and darker blue pants quickly. Starsky watched, not with any sexual desire, but more a longing to have that ease of movement and freedom from pain. He must have made some small, unconscious noise because suddenly Hutch was sitting on the edge of the bed, one hand hovering as if he wanted to stroke a cheek or massage out a tight muscle.

"Hey, why're you crying?" Hutch asked gently, and then Starsky was scooped up, coverlet and all, and pulled into his arms.

It was the most wonderful hug Starsky could remember, all softness and whispers of love, even though his head pounded louder and his belly heaved from the abrupt movement.

"Hey, hey." Hutch soothed. "It's okay, you big lug, nothing's wrong."

"Don't go," Starsky managed past wrenching sobs. "Stay home."

"Starsk," Hutch gathered up the unresisting Starsky, settling him more securely his lap. It was a clumsy cuddle; he was all hard angles and sharp edges anymore with much less muscle or fat to pad his bones. Starsky leaned into Hutch's strength, spent and exhausted. "I gotta make an appearance or Dobey will have my head and you don't want that, do you?"

Starsky shook his head mutely, vainly trying to get his tears under control but his breath still came in painful hitches.

"I'll be back as soon as I can--maybe by lunch time. You can hold out until then, huh?" Hutch's soft words held a hint of teasing, but there was fear in between the lines. He was as worried about Starsky as Starsky was for him.

Starsky closed his eyes, weary beyond belief. "I can't do this anymore, Hutch."

"Starsk, you're just tired. You'll feel more like fighting again when you're stronger. You haven't eaten anything. Give it a few days."

"I can't," Starsky whispered. "I don't want to anymore."

Bracing his forehead against Starsky's sharp shoulder, Hutch just held on tighter, He was making a wet spot on the back of the skeleton shirt, but neither made any mention of the fact. "Things'll get better, Starsk," he finally said lamely.

"No," Starsky answered with conviction. "They won't."

Clearing his throat, Hutch knuckled tears out of his eyes. "Starsk, Mick is coming this morning, it's Sophie's day off. Get some sleep; you'll hardly know I'm gone. I don't want to leave you, buddy, like this but..." The doorbell came on the end of his sentence, sending a shiver through Starsky's body. Hutch patted Starsky's arms assuringly, calling out, "I'll be right there!"

"Hutch." Starsky winced at the loud noise.

"I know, I sound like Dobey." Hutch began tucking him back into bed with clucking noises while smoothing wrinkles in the pillow case and straightening sheets.

Starsky let himself be coddled like a small child, drained of any left over fight.

Hutch kissed him on the crown of his head, wiping away Starsky's tears with a damp Kleenex. "You're depressed right now, which is okay. Anybody in their right mind would be. Want me to call Saiisa Borunda?"

"Don't go," Starsky wept, turning away when Hutch went to let Mick in the door.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Having every intention of leaving early, Hutch was inundated with projects from the moment he hit the detective squadroom. He tried to push Starsky's strange behavior out of his mind, but the desperate pleas and tears had been so unusual, so un-Starsky like. Was this something more than just acute depression? The look on Starsky's face when he'd said 'I don't want to anymore' haunted him, filling him with fearful speculation. Was the cancer worse? Could Starsky be preparing for the end? It wasn't possible, not Starsky, not ever. Hutch was so inattentive during the debriefing with Dobey the older man finally pushed the reports away with a look of pity.

"Hutchinson, what's going on here? Is Starsky worse?"

"I wish I knew," Hutch sighed. The headache that had started the night before was worse than ever despite constant influxes of aspirin and coffee. He'd been dragging the whole morning from a combination of worry and not enough sleep. "He was great on Halloween--dressed up like a skeleton."

"Macabre." Dobey shook his head with a smile. "That's Starsky in a nutshell. Rosie, Samantha and Cait were all dressed up like that singer Madonna. I almost didn't let them out of the house. Rosie had on a ripped t-shirt, a cross and fishnet stockings! She started to cry when I put my foot down."

"I'd be on your side." Hutch chuckled sympathetically, glad to have something else to think about besides his partner's troubles.

"Well, Edith wasn't. She'd even helped the girls pick out their costumes! Samantha was a strange sort of bride and Cait was wearing plaid pants and a purple top. Her hair was blue and pink, stuck out in all directions."

"I think that's Cyndi Lauper," Hutch said helpfully.

"Who?"

"Another popular singer on MTV. Starsky listens to her."

"I don't know where Rosie gets this stuff, she doesn't watch that channel at our house!" Dobey harrumphed. "Went over to the Curtises for a party, came home at 11 on a school night!"

Hutch couldn't help recalling his high school freshman years, going out with friends, standing back to watch the older ones toilet paper a house and stow smashed eggs in the mailbox on Halloween night because he was a too straight-laced to join in. Starsky would have, he was certain of it. He hadn't had any problems soaping the windows of his granddad's outhouse, but that was different. The old man never got mad at his grandson, not once, and besides, nobody used the outhouse after they'd installed indoor plumbing on the antique farmhouse ten years before.

"Starsky loved seeing all the kids dressed up," Hutch related sadly. "But in the middle of the night something happened, I don't know. He's having such a hard time, and I can't fix it right now."

"You both are having a hard time," Dobey chided gently. "Go home, Hutchinson, find out what's wrong and get some sleep. He's not the only one going through chemo."

About to negate that statement Hutch was startled when the intercom bleeped loudly and Marcel called in. "Hutch, there's a call for you on line three. From a guy named Mick."

Snatching up the phone almost before Dobey could hit the button to connect line three, Hutch panted, "Mick?"

"Hutch, I called an ambulance and they're taking Dave to the hospital. His temperature started going up after you left. It's 103."

"I'll meet you there," was all Hutch said, the lump in his throat making it almost too hard to speak.

++++++++++++++++++++

 

"He's got a UTI," John Davies explained. "Urinary tract infection."

"How did he get that?" Hutch demanded, the unwelcome thought that sex could have caused the infection--not that they'd had intercourse very often, certainly not in the last few days.

"He's on chemo, it's common, if very unwelcome. Most patients get that or pneumonia…" Davies explained, concern drawing down his mouth. "I've started him on antibiotics, but don't be surprised if the specific drug changes in acouple of days after we get the bacterial cultures back. We often start with a broad spectrum drug and then customize with a more specific antibiotic when we know which bug we're actually dealing with."

"How long?"

"Seven days, most likely. IV meds work best, but we can try him on oral in a few days and if he keeps them down, he can go home for the remainder of the course."

"He doesn't eat."

"That's the other problem, because he's developing mouth sores, another side effect of the chemo. So he's on something to deal with that, now. Hopefully he'll start feeling better soon and we can work on getting his weight back up."

"Thank you, John." Hutch returned the man's firm handshake, watching him walk only a few feet down the hall to the next patient's room.

How did he do that, day after day--deal with death and cancer with such calm assurance? He made the patients comfortable and still gave them all the necessary information germane to their disease process without dumbing down the explanations. Hutch valued the man's honesty, even when he didn't want to hear it. The more he became involved in the whole experience of having a loved one in the hospital with a devastating disease, especially for the second time, the more Hutch had come to admire the medical staff. These were the people he wanted to have been like had he continued on his path towards a medical degree. But that was behind him now, he was a cop, and that wasn't much help to a partner with a virulent bacterial sepsis.

The tall gray haired nurse with the British accent--what was her name, Gemma?--smiled at Hutch when she emerged from Starsky's room and he managed to give her a passable greeting in return.

"He's sleeping comfortably and his temp's already down to 101.5," she reported in that accent that reminded him of old Sherlock Holmes movies.

"Can I go in now?"

'Of course, you're his partner," she assured and from the way she said it, there was no confusion as to what sort of partner Gemma was referring to.

She knew, what's more, she understood. There was no censure or judgment. Hutch liked the fact that Rose Tree Unit patients always got to come back into the bosom of their hospital family, even when the readmission was for something other than chemo treatments. Probably, had Starsky been contagious, they might not have allowed him entrance because of the glassed in isolation rooms across the hall. These double walled white rooms sometimes housed gaunt men and women awaiting transplants, their immune system stripped clean by powerful chemo drugs, but luckily a UTI was only dangerous to the sufferer, not to others.

With all his heart, Hutch wanted to go in and see his lover, but he was rooted to the linoleum just outside the door. He'd left Starsky, sick and crying, to go in to work. He'd recognized how out of the ordinary Starsky was behaving and chose to ignore it--abandoning the man he loved more than life itself to pain and anguish without a thought. He didn't deserve to be admitted into the sick room, and the ache encompassing his chest expanded with remembered guilt.

"Ken Hutchinson?" A beautiful coffee skinned woman touched his arm with compassion.

"Yes?" Hutch found himself looking straight into nearly black eyes set in a lively face surrounded by long flowing braids that trailed past shoulders clad in bright green and vibrant blue. "You're Saiisa."

"Yes, I guess David's discussed me behind my back." Her onyx eyes twinkled with amusement, but she sobered quickly. "How is he doing? Some sort of infection, Gemma said?"

"He's on antibiotics now, Davies said it's not uncom…" Hutch caught the almost-sob before it escaped but he found, suddenly, that he couldn't speak.

"Would you like some coffee?" Saiisa asked tenderly. "The family room is empty just now."

Hutch allowed himself to be led into the pleasant waiting room and plied with caffeine and sugar. He was halfway through a large chocolate chip muffin before he even realized he was eating it but it helped fill the emptiness in his belly. After the confrontation with Starsky just before he left he hadn't been able to stomach any breakfast.

"Feeling a little bit more on solid ground now?" Saiisa sat patiently, her hands folded in her lap, as if she had all the time in the world. "Chemotherapy's hard on everyone in the family."

"Starsky's the one sick, not me." Hutch sipped the coffee, as usual surprised at how good hospital brew could be.

"But you have to be there every minute of the day, holding his hand, listening to his distress, ministering to his illness--it takes it's toll just as certainly as the disease."

"I left him alone when he needed me."

"There was a nurse there, wasn't there?"

"Yes."

"Then how was he alone?"

"Because I…" Hutch swallowed hard. "He begged me not to go. But…"

"It's no shame to need some time away." Saiisa didn't touch him but somehow Hutch felt her calming spirit trickling into his pores like a life giving balm. "A respite," she added.

"He's probably angry, and he has every right. I feel like I owe him something…"

"For letting him down?" Saiisa smiled sweetly, cocking her head to one side. "I doubt that the David Starsky I've met could hold a grudge against anyone, especially someone he loved as much as he loves you."

"He told you?" Hutch asked in surprise, wondering what they had talked about besides creative visualization.

"I have ways…" she teased, her lyrical accent fighting with the outrageous fake German one she'd affected. "But I believe he's already forgiven you even if you aren't able to forgive yourself. Go see him, Ken. It will do you as much good as it will him."

Thanking her quickly Hutch suddenly needed to be with his best friend immediately. He slipped into the darkened room, drinking in the sight of Starsky sleeping. He lay curled on one side with his back to the door.

"Hey," Starsky murmured without moving. "I been waiting for you."

"How'd you know it was me?" Hutch grinned with pleasure.

"Golden boy, after all these years I could recognize you in a bear suit…" Starsky turned carefully, the strain showing in his face for just a second before he schooled his features.

"Starsk, I didn't know you had such kinky fantasies," Hutch joked. He sat on the side of the bed, absurdly happy to be talking such utter nonsense. Starsky's whole disposition had changed for the good. If antibiotics were the cause, the stay in the hospital was worth more than gold.

"Sorry about this morning," Starsky sighed, biting his bottom lip.

"Hey, baby." Hutch kissed that maligned lip, then worried that the exchange of spit could send even more germs into Starsky's beleaguered system and drew back.

"More?" Starsky pouted reaching out for him.

"I'm the one who should be sorry…" Hutch caught his hand and kissed the palm. Starsky closed his fingers around the tiny spot.

"Then it's mutual." He quirked a grin and said something that soundly oddly like shut the door, only with a French accent.

"Starsky, are you sure you're all there?" Hutch tapped his knuckles lightly on the bald scalp. "The door is shut."

"Nooo." Starsky laughed hoarsely, obviously already tired out from the brief conversation. "Je t'adore." Speaking slowly, he said it out phonetically, "Jhew tah door. I love you."

"Same to you, in any language," Hutch nodded, stroking the smooth skin of Starsky's head until he fell asleep.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Sometimes every day things can be a miracle under the right circumstances. The antibiotics worked like a charm, vanquishing the UTI, which allowed Starsky to leave the hospital by Wednesday of the following week. That only gave him one full day at home before having to return for his fifth course of chemo, but Starsky didn't seem to care. He was just pleased as punch to be in his own place, with a cat in his lap.

Hutch loaded his patient up with lactobacillus and chocolate yogurt to combat the ravages antibiotics did on the digestive tract and somehow, after everything that had happened, Starsky was thriving. But Hutch was aware of a subtle change in both their outlooks. The last hospitalization had really had a profound impact. It was as if they had come to accept cancer in their lives and acknowledged that it wasn't going away anytime soon. That this was only the first inning in what might be a very long game.

In fact, Hutch no longer found himself planning anything long term. When asked if he could attend a Thanksgiving celebration with the Dobeys, he hesitated, unwilling to commit to something barely four weeks in advance for fear that Starsky might be too sick to be left even in the care of competent nurses and doctors. Christmas seemed like a fond vision of the future without any reality and 1985 was not just another year, it was centuries from the beginning of November.

"I brought home Pasta Alfredo," Hutch announced, hanging up his jacket in the front hall closet.

Southern California was advertised as the tropical paradise of the West Coast but Bay City and the surrounding cities were in the grips of a record breaking polar cold snap. Wind howled around the house, rattling the windows and whipping trees that scraped the roof. Rain had been predicted for the weekend, with the threat of snow in higher elevations.

In the past, Hutch would have taken a day off to drive up to Big Bear Mountain, maybe ski or just walk in the frozen white stuff, but this year all he could think about was the necessity of keeping Starsky indoors, warm and dry, away from crowds and cold. "Bread from Pani Peducci, some dark green leafy vegetables, and we're all set."

"I'm starved," Starsky said absently.

To Hutch's ears, that phrase was more beautiful than a Shakespearean sonnet. He unloaded the food in the kitchen, putting the pasta dish in the oven to warm up and took a seat next to Starsky on the couch.

"Whatcha doing?" Hutch asked.

"Makin' a list." Starsky bit the end of his pencil in thought then added the name Patricia O'Neal to a list that included Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the former police chief's wife who was in remission from breast cancer.

"Starsk, who are all these people?"

"Survivors," Starsky said softly. "You didn't tell me one'a the Kennedys had the same kinda cancer I do."

"Yeah," Hutch sighed. "What about Patricia O'Neal, she didn't have cancer. Wasn't she the mom on 'The Waltons'?"

"Only in the movie--a Christmas movie," Starsky folded his paper in half. "The mom in the show was Michael Learned. But Patricia O'Neal had a massive stroke when she was pregnant and still came back totally fine to be in more movies and stuff. She survived amazing odds. All these people survived."

"What about you? Came back on the force after being shot…"

"To get cancer," Starsky added. He didn't sound depressed about it, only resigned.

"So, is your name on the list?"

"I'm not sure yet." He shrugged. "The jury's still out."

"Starsky!"

But the subject had been dropped as surely as a fumble at the 25-yard line in the Superbowl and was not to be discussed. Starsky looked up expectantly. "When's dinner?"

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Leaning against the door to the bathroom, Hutch fought to regain his composure, holding fresh-out-of-the-dryer towels against his body to keep in their heat. Tears streamed down his face unchecked as he listened to the terrible noises coming from inside the little room. This was too hard; he couldn't do it anymore. He was so weak, so cowardly--Starsky was literally fighting for his life, puking until there wasn't an ounce of strength in his body while Hutch cowered outside, unable to bear the sound, the smell, the reality of cancer one minute longer. He wiped at his eyes, disgusted with himself.

The most recent chemo had been the worst ever, boding ill for the sixth and hopefully final round. Starsky was still barfing days later, so much so that Hutch had taken the day off to care for him. Except now he yearned for the ability to leave the house, get away from the disease and dive into the mundanity of normal life. How did Starsky do it? He'd been amazing all through this, wearily accepting what had come to be his norm without much protest. This, most of all, scared Hutch who wanted the feisty, stubborn, healthy Starsky back.

Summoning up his courage, he opened the bathroom door, wrinkling his nose at the stench. Starsky was prostrate on the tile, his face so pale white didn't even begin to describe it accurately. Hutch knelt; pulling the sick man up to settle the warm towels under his head and pile them around his shivering shoulders. Starsky was cold despite his current temperature of 99.8. He'd maintained that number for so long Hutch had taken to betting on whether it would rise or fall at any specific time. He'd even plotted out a graph, earning a precious Starsky grin for his efforts, but so far Hutch had lost for two straight days in a row. 99.8 remained steady every time the thermometer was checked. If Hutch won, Starsky had to eat something--anything. If Starsky won, Hutch didn't bug him about eating. The point was moot thus far. Nothing, even water, stayed down long and Hutch was beginning to calculate the odds of how long it would be before they had to return to the hospital.

It felt distinctly weird to be so complacent about things that used to scare the bejesus out of him. Chemotherapy and blood transfusions were old hat by now. He had learned how to flush the subclavian catheter sewn into Starsky's chest with heparin to prevent it from clotting off, and could now judge pretty accurately when Starsky needed intravenous fluids to combat dehydration--which would probably be fairly soon, at this rate.

"Hey, buddy, I'm just going to get some tea, huh? Think you can drink something?" Hutch soothed, elated when Starsky opened those midnight blue eyes at the sound of his voice.

"Peppermint," Starsky whispered.

"That'll fix you right up, huh?" Hutch asked with forced cheeriness.

Starsky made what could pass for a nod, his eyes closing. At least the vomiting had stopped for now. With any luck Hutch could lure Starsky into bed and take a shower while the other was napping.

"Be right back," Hutch promised, grimacing at the pain in his back and knees when he stood. He ached all over, hadn't had enough sleep in days and walked around in a haze watching the world go on normally while his own spun increasingly out of control. When was the last time he and Starsky had cruised their beat, joked together…?

Two months had passed--almost, and their lives as detectives were gone, smashed irreparably into dust. He knew without a doubt he'd never go back to that and was beginning to seriously think about another career all together. The teaching job was only a stopgap; it wasn't what he wanted to devote the rest of his life to.

"Hutch?"

Hearing Starsky's plaintive voice stopped Hutch in his tracks. Starsky had barely said anything all day. He stretched out a frail hand without opening his eyes, latching onto Hutch's bare foot, just leaving his hand there as if he needed the physical contact.

"Starsk? I'm right here. I was going for the tea."

"Do you still love me?"

"I will love you…" The phrase 'until the day you die' welled up but Hutch swallowed reflexively, guilt washing over him in waves. "Forever, my darling."

Those deep blue eyes opened again, searching Hutch's with genuine adoration.
"Even when I puked on your shoes?" Starsky chuffed a short laugh, wheezing. He pointed lazily at the sneakers Hutch had discarded earlier in the day when they'd been royally christened.

"Any time at all," Hutch promised with his whole heart. They were old shoes, anyway.

"Love you, too. Je t'adore."

The phone began ringing in the front of the house but Hutch was almost reluctant to leave. In a few seconds, his melancholia had disappeared with the sweet words from his partner. But his cop's brain didn't like to ignore the phone, always on the alert for emergency. "Stay there, I'll help you up in a minute…" he called out, running across the house to the telephone. "Hello?" he gasped into the receiver.

"Hutchinson?" Dobey's voice was gravelly over the phone line. "I know Starsky's been doing pretty badly, but I have some information you need to be aware of. How soon can you come in?"

"Captain…" For one moment Hutch was ready to drop everything, leave all the pain and the smell of vomit behind and dash on into the police department. But common sense kicked in swiftly. "Now? I can't…what time is it, anyway?"

"Two thirty."

"Uh--give me two hours?" Hutch bargained. "I can call one of the home nurses to come in for a while. Say about five o'clock? What's this all about?"

"I'll wait until you get here, five o'clock," Dobey confirmed, hanging up.

Consumed with curiosity Hutch hurried to the kitchen, ignoring the pile of medical texts he'd been searching though to find a solution to the persistent nausea and vomiting that kept Starsky so sick. He'd already tried the most common solutions and even some uncommon ones. Ginger root was only one of the variety of herbs and homeopathic preparations he'd found at the health food store. None worked very well to quell the problem. Starsky disliked the side effects of the anti-nausea medicine they gave him at the hospital, refusing to take it much when at home. Marijuana was often mentioned in the books as a boon to chemo sufferers but there weren't many other things that combated barfing. Still, delving into the books was by far the most interesting part of his day and he was learning a hell of a lot about cancer.

After rescuing the teapot he'd left to boil some time ago, Hutch filled two cups and added a tea bag to steep in each. Hoping Starsky might be persuaded to eat, he toasted some bread and placed everything on a tray. Getting Starsky off the floor was the toughest part since Starsky didn't have enough energy to help much. Once he was on his feet, he seemed to catch a second, or perhaps third, wind and limped carefully into the bedroom leaning on Hutch's arm.

After giving him a quick sponge down, Hutch popped a fresh t-shirt over Starsky's head and shoveled him into bed. Surprisingly, Starsky was quite interested in the little meal and the mysterious news Dobey had hinted at.

"You think you got a promotion?" Starsky asked after Hutch had called the nursing agency and Perry's Market for a delivery of food.

Laying out a clean pair of jeans and a Henley shirt, Hutch was mentally trying to recall all the errands he needed to do if he got away from the department quickly. Clothes needed washing, there were meds to pick up, and unless he fed Pansy Bumblebee Brand tuna, there wasn't any cat food left in the house. "What?"

"A promotion?" Starsky took a tiny sip of tea. He'd actually eaten two thirds of the piece of toast and looked remarkably less like death warmed over.

"That would be a surprise, but I'm not expecting it," Hutch frowned, sniffing himself. He really needed a shower, and soon. "Dobey sounded kind of tense--worried."

"An assignment?"

"Starsky, I'm not going out in the field anymore, I told you," Hutch retorted irritably. He cringed inwardly at the stricken look on his partner's narrow face. "Sorry--let me get a quick shower, then I'll take your temperature before I leave. Don't drink any more tea for a few minutes--I'm positive that number's going to change this time."

"Wanna bet on it?" Starsky lay back on the pillow, closing his eyes looking all the world to Hutch like the male version of Sleeping Beauty. Starsky would probably laugh derisively at the appellation, with his current boniness, pallor and bald head.
Nevertheless, Hutch still saw his lover, all impish charm and sexy swagger underneath.

"99.9." Hutch read the thermometer in astonishment after his shower.

"I don't feel any warmer," Starsky said sleepily, having woken up when the doorbell chimed announcing Sophie.

"One degree," the nurse gave a Gallic shrug. "It is not much, but you need more fluids. I'll get a glass of water, un verre d'eau, which you will drink right up."

"Yes, ma'am," Starsky murmured, burrowing deeper into the covers.

"You never obey me like that," Hutch said in wonderment, pulling on his jacket.

"An' give you even more of a swelled head?" Starsky said into the pillow.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hutchinson, in my office," Dobey called as soon as Hutch walked in the squad room.

Thinking how wrong that phrase sounded without the addition of 'Starsky' at the beginning, Hutch waved to a few of his fellow officers, grabbed a cup of coffee from the communal pot and followed his boss through the door.

"How's your partner?" Dobey asked as a greeting.

"Throwing up all the time," Hutch admitted tiredly. Now that he was away from the mess, knowing that Sophie would clean up the bathroom, throw the towels into the wash and probably fix him something delicious for dinner he felt both freed and incredibly guilty for leaving. "It's rough, Captain, really hard. But there's only one more round of chemo left and then…"

"A cure?"

"The most we can hope for is remission at this point," Hutch swallowed some coffee, letting the caffeine revitalize him. "What'd you want to see me about?"

"Vinnie Schroeder has been in with his lawyers and the D.A for the past couple of days giving testimony on cases and guys we've had on the books for years, in exchange for a reduced sentence in the murder of Emerald Hsieh. If all goes to plan they'll be letting him out on bail in the morning--when court opens."

"What?" Hutch came half out of his chair in surprise, sloshing the coffee over his shoes. Two pair of shoes ruined in one day --a record. "We had him on murder one and assault with a deadly weapon for what he did to Starsky."

"Unfortunately, his lawyers have already argued that there's absolutely no way the D.A. can prove that Starsky's leg wasn't already damaged because of the cancer."

"Bullshit."

Dobey leveled a stern expression towards Hutch but nodded. "About what I would have said. However, the D.A. has agreed to an aggravated assault charge and manslaughter for Hsieh in return for the testimony and Schroeder's singing like the Mormon Tabernacle choir. This is important stuff--hard evidence, verifiable evidence that could put away several others--Carmen De la Rosa, Mike Hennessey and Jamal Mohammed, to name just a few. All were previously indicted but acquitted and have never gone to trial because we could never get the goods on them. This is it."

"Schroeder almost bashed in Starsky's head, not to mention his leg, and they 've got the balls to sit there and let him off with an Ag. Assault?" Hutch raged, ignoring the rest of Dobey's speech. He slammed a fist into the arm of the chair, wondering how he was going to tell Starsky.

"That's more your partner's response to this kind of news," Dobey said wryly. "The D.A. does plan to argue that Schroeder's a flight risk, since it took so long to find him after the murder…"

"This is just great. A terrific way to end the day, as Starsky would have said." Hutch rubbed the palm of his hand where it had come in contact with the wooden chair.
"Have we got anything else outstanding on the guy? Can't we pull him in on some other charge?"

"What would you suggest, Hutchinson?" Dobey asked dubiously. "This isn't a Chinese menu."

"He's a dealer, for god's sake, just because he didn't have a grain of smack on him in September…I'll find something to stick on him."

"May I remind you that your partner is lying sick at home?" Harold Dobey said harshly, a growl deep in his throat. "No grandstanding and no private parties."

"No," Hutch agreed reluctantly. "I already promised Starsky I wasn't going out on the street alone."

"Good, remember that promise," Dobey's face softened. He rubbed his head, scratching his fingers through bristly hair as if he had a headache he wanted to erase. "I'll keep you informed of developments but I don’t want you going near Schroeder, do you hear me?"

"Loud and clear, Captain, loud and clear."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Starsky put a tiny morsel of crab into his mouth, chewing thirty times just like his ma had always said. The crab was pulverized in a matter of seconds, and he swallowed carefully, the sores in his mouth and throat better but not fully healed. After waiting a few moments to determine whether the seafood was staying down, Starsky pulled another miniscule portion off the cake sitting on a bed of lettuce on top of a Kaiser roll. He masticated slowly.

In the hours since Hutch had brought the succulent sandwich home, Starsky had eaten almost a fourth, and hadn't heaved once. That, in itself, was a miracle of major proportions, which Starsky celebrated by biting off a slightly larger piece of crab, this time with bread attached. He liked imagining the crab cakes as giant cancer cells that he could demolish, pulling them savagely apart with his hands before sending the sarcoma molecules down his throat and into his stomach where they were washed with caustic belly acids and melted down into inconsequential nothingness. The fact that he hadn't eaten in almost a week was a bit discouraging to this philosophy--the David Starsky Cancer Annihilation Technique or DSCAT for short--but that he was able to partake of the important meal tonight, when there was little else to be happy for, was strangely satisfying.

Hutch had given him the bad news after Sophie left for the evening. Starsky wasn't even sure how to react to Schroeder getting out on bail. He wanted to be angrier. He wanted the drug dealer to rot in jail for the murder of his life as a cop, but sickness had drained away all his passion, the rage he'd once felt. He found he wasn't half as disturbed by the news as Hutch was, which was unusual.

Hutch had stomped around the house, scaring Pansy until Starsky ordered him out into the yard to quiet down. All that racket had just exacerbated the headache he'd been plagued with since the last chemo. It increased and decreased throughout the day entirely unrelated to whether he'd taken a painkiller or not. Right now, it was quiescent although when he bit down firmly, he could feel the pain all the way to the back of his eyeballs. He'd grown so accustomed to the persistent ache from his left calf that it no longer registered on his hurt meter.

"Hey," Hutch said, leaning against the doorframe in a manner that used to send jolts of electricity straight to Starsky's cock.

Just now, nothing happened down south, which was one more thing he could heap at the feet of Vinnie Schroeder but he still didn't feel any angrier.

"Hey, yourself," Starsky replied affably, picking off another bit of crab and putting it in his mouth.

"That food's cold by now, Starsk."

"It's a sandwich." Starsky shrugged. "You finished with the next chapter in Ken Hutchinson railing against the system?"

"You mock. You're my mentor there."

"I dunno, you take it to all new levels." Starsky patted the bed. "C'mon, take a load off, get in with me. Wasn't it cold out there?"

"Yes." Hutch stripped quickly to t-shirt and shorts and slid under the covers. "Aren't you tired? It's nearly midnight. Twelve hours ago you were lying on the bathroom floor, barely alive."

"I been sick or sleeping for a week, my internal clock's all fucked up." He bit down on the sandwich again, wincing at the sharp pain in his head and decided he'd had enough food for the day. His belly was beginning to feel distended, but since this was the first good-sized meal he'd had in ages, that was probably to be expected. "So, what's the plan revolving in that brain of yours? How you going to bring Schroeder in again?"

"I've been thinking about this since Dobey's office." Hutch absently picked up the tomato off Starsky's plate and ate it with his fingers. "He's a dealer! There has to be some drug-related charge we can pin on him. But he wasn’t carrying when he...."

"Used my leg for batting practice?" Starsky finished the sentence. Hutch's face had that half stricken look of someone who'd inadvertently put his foot in his mouth. Waving away Hutch's misplaced guilt, Starsky chased down the thought that had just occurred to him. "That alley off'a Del Prado."

"What about it?"

"What if he was goin' there for a reason?"

"The drugs?" Hutch guessed, catching Starsky's line of reasoning. "You think he had the drugs hidden somewhere around there?"

"Could be, or I could be hallucinating--hard to be sure these days."

"It's worth a look. It's not an hallucination, it's good solid detective work that someone else overlooked two months ago."

"There was a bunch of wood and building crap around like somebody was going to fix that abandoned building on the left," Starsky pointed out. "Maybe there's a way in to the basement or something behind them? A drug cache."

"I'll get a team together in the morning to check it out," Hutch decided.

"Not now?"

"Shroeder's been incarcerated since September, if it's been there that long, what's one more night?"

"I guess," Starsky sighed, shifting his aching casted leg. "I want to go with you."

"Oh, come on, Starsky!"

"I won't get out of the car, but it was my hunch. I wanna see if it pans out." Starsky sat up straighter, determined to get his way. A surge of adrenaline helped fortify his resolve and he nodded. "You promised you wouldn't go out alone anymore."

"There'll be a team of lab guys there!" Hutch declared darkly. "You--you get sick at the drop of a…"

"No more of the top ten reasons why Starsky-on-chemo can't go anywhere. I'll stay in the car, I won't talk to anyone--even you, but I'm involved here, whether you like it or not," he said emphatically. He couldn't put into words why this was so important except that being part of the investigation suddenly seemed vital. He had so little energy for anything these days, but helping put Schroeder away would go a long way to making him feel whole again.

"No donuts, no weapon, only one hour, then we're home for the rest of the weekend, right?" Hutch gave in so abruptly Starsky was disappointed not to use the rest of his ammunition.

"No weapon?"

"Those are the terms, take 'em or leave 'em." He leveled his pointer in Starsky's direction with a steely gaze.

"Take 'em," Starsky grinned happily, ignoring all of the aches and pains in anticipation of getting back into the swing of things, even for just an hour. He leaned against the pillows, reaching out for the other man's hand and twining his fingers in between Hutch's. Feeling far less nauseated than he had been in days, he didn't want to lose any easy time with Hutch with such mundane tasks as sleeping or arguing. Weariness was just another one of those constant companions he had to put up with. "Hutch, did you like police work?"

"Starsky, what kind of a loaded question is that?"

"See, I did. I liked helpin' people, being' on the streets, the unpredictability of--everything. Being ready for anything that came at ya." Starsky focused on their two hands braided together, Hutch's slightly longer fingers curved over the top of his own. They were a pair, never better than when one was with the other. But that was changing irrevocably. Could they still hang on to each other when everything else was different? "And I really liked detective work--figuring out clues, digging around for the little details…" He thought a moment, remembering the fun times--those marvelous 'I've got it' moments when he and Hutch solved the unsolvable working in tandem because their two minds complemented each other perfectly. Each time they found that one clue that uncovered the whole convoluted plot, he'd look up and see Hutch gazing back at him triumphantly.

But there were the other times; the hard, depressing, soul-dirty nights when the only way he could take another step was because he and Hutch were side by side. He even missed those times. He wanted it all back again, the good and the bad. He craved it the way a pregnant woman craved ice cream and avocados, but was very close to acknowledging that he might not ever get it back. That being a street cop was a thing of the past. His old life was too hard anymore, and besides, he knew, with his whole heart, that Hutch didn't want to go back to cruising a beat and roughing up pimps. He had set his sights on something else.

"I liked it all the more because you were my partner, but I think I woulda liked it anyway. Which is strange because I only became a cop as a last resort 'cause I already knew how to shoot a gun." Starsky squeezed Hutch's hand, feeling the love that knit their skin into one seamless fabric and held them together. "But I don't think you liked it all that much."

"I wanted to," Hutch admitted reluctantly. "And I did at first. Righting wrongs, bringing control out of chaos…"

"Sounds like Maxwell Smart," Starsky teased.

"God, I loved being out there with you, driving around in that striped tomato," he declared reverently. "You made it more than a job. You made it fun. And I liked detective work more than being a beat cop."

"Amen to that, brother."

"I think I was a good detective, but all the ugliness, the rage, the pervasive inhumanity that plagues the underbelly of society--I had to start distancing myself from the nastiness before it sucked me under and I started going dead inside." Hutch shook his head, lost in the memories. "I don't know when exactly that started--but you knew what was going on. You sensed it."

Starsky made a small noise in agreement, reaching up to stroke the shining blond hair.

Hutch leaned into the caress, continuing to speak. "I was floundering…Then you got shot and it was like a wakeup call from--I dunno--God." Starsky laughed at this, bringing Hutch out of his reverie. "No, I read the writing on the wall and it said 'shape up, Hutchinson, he's fighting and you've got to, too'."

"I got basically the same message."

"You bounced back so quickly…"

"Huh," Starsky grunted derisively, the pain all too easy to remember with what was going on now.

"And suddenly you were back on the force, raring to go. My own private miracle walking beside me. You carried me over the rough spots for a couple of years.
I was so thankful you were back I could take at all the filth and degradation without shriveling up inside."

"You're the White Knight and you couldn't fix the whole world," Starsky said softly, his heart going out to his partner.

"I've never liked that term and not just because Simon Marcus was the one who first used it," Hutch retorted huskily. "If I'm the White Knight, who are you?"

"The Black Knight?" Starsky grinned, adopting a squeaky Monty Python accent. "It's just a flesh wound!"

"Starsky!" Hutch admonished laughing. "That's just what you'd say."

"Your leg's cut off!" Starsky kept up the goofy dialogue from the Holy Grail movie. "No, it's not!"

"You're insane." Hutch caught him around the neck, gently knuckling his hairless head Three Stooges style.

"Probably," Starsky agreed cheerfully. "But you've been saying that for years. Tell me something, though? If you stop bein' a cop, what'd you really wanna do?"

"Who said anything about me not being a cop any more?" Hutch froze, staring down at Starsky with an expression of fear mixed with relief.

Starsky could see he'd guessed right. Hutch was scared of leaving the familiar--maybe even just of leaving behind what Starsky still wanted. "What about medical school?"

"What?"

"What about medical school?" Starsky repeated calmly.

"Now I know you're insane. Medical school? Do you know how much that would cost? I'm 39 years old. I'd be nearing 50 by the time I finished residency--if a man in his late 40's even could."

"So you've thought about it." Starsky asked, but this time it was he who felt mixed up inside. Hutch did want to move on, and Starsky was very afraid he wouldn't be coming along for the ride.

"Yeah, okay, it's entered my mind." Hutch retreated off the bed, pacing restlessly around the room. "Why wouldn't it? We're surrounded by doctors all the time. I needed to be able to understand what they were saying, keep up…so I started reading up on it. And yeah, the urge came back."

"How far along did you go in pre-med, back before the Academy?"

"Not far. A couple of anatomy courses, paramedic stuff…but I can't, Starsky!" Hutch wailed, turning to face him from the end of the bed. He picked up one of the red and gold throw pillows tumbled in a heap there, looking like he wasn't sure whether to bury his face in it or rip it apart. "And it isn't just the reasons I just gave, it's everything-- I'm teaching now, Dobey's grooming me to be Captain, he wants me to take the lieutenant's job, you…" he paused, panting, one hand out beseechingly like a beggar asking for help. "If I'm a lieuy, you can work with me, cold cases…departmental stuff… as long as we're off the streets…Starsky?"

"Don't use me as the reason you stay on the force," Starsky whispered but his voice was sharp as glass.

"I wasn't."

"You were. You haven't got the guts to look me in the eye and tell me what's in your heart?" What had started out an accusation ended up a plea. Starsky pressed his palm against his splitting head, wishing with all his might that it hadn't interfered at a time like this. Damn. Shards of glass jabbed along his jaw up to the temple and back to the neck. He was caught in a vice crushing his bones to dust. "D-damn."

"Starsky?"

"Just tell me," Starsky ground out, his whole skull throbbing. "Admit you want off the force."

"I w-want off the force," Hutch whispered, white faced, kneeling down by the side of the bed. "What's wrong? D'you need…"

"I'm not the issue here," Starsky snapped. "Was that so hard to say out loud?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"Because it changes everything," Hutch cried.

"It only changes where you work, dummy." Starsky would have leaned over to touch his forehead to Hutch's but the pain had risen to almost blinding levels. "It doesn't change us unless you let it."

"Don't let it."

"Never," Starsky agreed.

"Want those pain pills now?" Hutch put his hand unerringly on the pain's center, just below Starsky's temple, his touch feather light.

"Might be a good idea." Starsky closed his eyes, tired beyond measure. But then, it was after midnight and he had to be out supervising a crime scene investigation in the morning. Between that lovely thought and the magic analgesics, Starsky slept very well indeed.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

"Dammit, Starsky, how do I let you talk me into these things?" Hutch hunched his shoulders, shivering despite thermal underwear, a thick turtleneck and his heaviest jacket.

The cold that had gripped Bay City and the surrounding areas had only intensified, bringing with it the threat of actual snow at sea level, an rare occurrence that only came along once every other decade or so. So far, there hadn't been any actual white stuff except in the mountains, but tropical plants were withering everywhere; Banana plants and tall palms not used to such cold. Ice slicked puddles in the street making driving treacherous and walking hazardous. The alley off Del Prado looked darker and less inviting than ever under leaden skies.

"Coldest day of the year! Do not leave this car and keep the heater running."

"Carbon monoxide poisoning," Starsky pointed out, curving his fingers around a cup of hot tea fresh from the thermos at his feet.

"What?"

"Leaving the heater running--and the motor in an enclosed space could cause a build up of CO2."

"No more science programs for you, Mr. Wizard," Hutch grumped, stomping his feet to keep circulation going. "There's Marty and the lab guys--you going to be all right?"

"I'm not ten years old, Hutch!" Starsky retorted. Before rolling up the window, he pointed to the building on the left. "Try on that side, there's lots of wood and linoleum piled up there. Maybe there's a door or something hidden behind it all."

"First on my list," Hutch promised, hurrying over to coordinate with the men climbing out of the BDPD van. He was worried about Starsky, even safe in the confines of the Mustang. Despite the fact that his recalcitrant partner had eaten toast and yogurt for breakfast and slept six hours without interruption, the headache that had necessitated morphine scared Hutch. Starsky was incredibly sick--and without fat or reserves to insulate him from the cold, what if he became sicker because of a cockamamie outing to hunt for what was essentially buried treasure. Not that Hutch didn't believe that Starsky's hunch had been right on the money, he just wanted the sick man back at home with Sophie or Mick while he ferreted out the stash.

After explaining the theory of a basement or hidden room behind the trash, Hutch joined the group carefully sifting through the debris. Every so often he glanced back at the pale face watching them from the car window. Starsky gave him an encouraging smile, raising his red mittened thumb in approval.

"Hutchinson!" Vonce Jefferson, the patrol officer assigned to help out, bellowed. His dark face was barely visible in the gloom because he was directing his high-powered flashlight beam in front of him.

"Find something?" Hutch asked, his breath puffing out in a white cloud.

"Sure 'nough. There's a metal door locked with a standard padlock--which looks much newer than the door itself," Jefferson explained, blowing on his ungloved hands. "Starsky was right, it was hidden by all that wood and stuff."

"Put on some rubber gloves," Hutch ordered peevishly, peering at what was revealed in the white light of the flashlight. It was a small door, hardly tall enough to permit a full sized adult but the hinges weren't rusted and the chain securing the padlock to the door handle was still shiny. "I don't want any chance of fouling this crime scene. If we can get fingerprints off that lock and whatever's behind the door, that solidifies our case."

"I'll get a bolt cutter." Jefferson nodded.

Hutch quelled his impatience by arcing the flashlight beam around the alley picking out a roll of linoleum, a trashcan overflowing with empty Jack Daniels bottles and the startled green eyes of a black kitten who hissed and spit at him before streaking off. Was this really where Schroeder kept his drug cache or were they on a snipe hunt?
The wily drug dealer had never been picked up with enough product to be charged with dealing, only possession, which had a much shorter prison sentence. If Hutch could add the dealing charge onto the other ones, and make it stick, Schroeder would be spending the rest of his natural born days behind bars. That thought warmed him up more than a cup of Starsky's tea would have.

Once the door was open, Hutchinson walked in first, using the flashlight as a pointer and his Magnum as protection. A quick circuit of the dark, dank room revealed there was no one there except fleeing rats. He waved the lab crew inside while poking around further. It was obviously a small anteroom for the basement of an old apartment building, but the place had been uninhabited for years. Another door opened onto a laundry room and beyond that were the water heaters and furnaces that heated the upstairs apartments. But in the main room was a long table made from an old door propped up on saw horses with several large metal lock boxes sitting in a row on top. Although mold and dirt covered the walls, the table and boxes were only coated with a thin layer of grime. They hadn't been there for more than a few months.

"Dust for prints first--and take establishing pictures of everything," Marty spoke swiftly, examining the strong boxes with his eyes only until the crew set up their equipment. "Then we can open them."

Although fingerprints were discovered everywhere, they would have to be compared to Schroeder's back at headquarters. Still, Hutch was elated when the first box contained heroin and the next two, large quantities of crack, that highly addictive version of cocaine that had was so popular on the streets right now. Other pushers dealt in the drug that looked like sweet rock candy and gave an immediate, short acting high, but it felt good to get any amount off the market.

"You called it, Starsk." Hutch pulled open the car door with a triumphant grin. "Horse and crack all over the place--we found Shroeder's stash."

"Terrific!" Starsky crowed, his eyes twinkling. "Now, let's bring him in!"

"You're going home. I'll go after him…" Hutch groaned, his class at the Academy completely forgotten in the excitement of the morning. "We don't have probable cause yet--it could be some other turkey's drugs."

"Hutch!" Starsky protested.

"It'll take time to process the fingerprints."

"Yeah, and who else's stuff could that be?" Starsky argued. He ticked off on his fingers, "Schroeder was here, we saw him, and the drugs are here."

"It's not that simple and you know it. I have to get to the Academy, like now--how 'bout if Jefferson drives you home?" Hutch longed to give that determined face a kiss, but Marty and his gang were carrying the boxes out to their van, and all had cameras. Hutch could just imagine seeing a picture of he and Starsky kissing up on the detective squadroom bulletin board. "You can play with the siren and turn on the flashing lights if you're a good boy."

"Spoilsport," Starsky pouted, but he hopped out of the car, leaning on the doorframe to keep his cast off the ground.

"Mick should be there by the time you get to the house, I'm coming home after class--well, after my office hours. I have to give out evals to three…" Hutch rambled off, his whole day slamming back into the forefront of his brain. "No, four cadets today. Damn, I wanted to leave early. Study your French and I'll bring home something from Daisy's bakery."

"Cannoli?" Starsky asked hopefully.

"Didn't she ever bring those over?" Hutch asked distractedly, realizing the extent of what he had to do far exceeded the hours in the day. He probably needed to at least call in a report of the crime scene to Dobey, if not write one up himself. There went any chance of getting home early. "I meant to bring you some cannoli months ago. Get some rest, Starsk, eat lunch, I'll call you…" He switched on the ignition, driving off with a plume of exhaust in the frigid air.

"Be careful with my car!" Starsky called out, glancing over at Jefferson. "Any chance you'd let me drive?"

"Sarge'd have my head on a platter for Thanksgiving!" The officer laughed heartily slapping Starsky on the shoulder. "But you can run the siren when we drive past the fire station. Love to mess with them fire eaters."

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Using the morning's work to illustrate how to re-examine old cases to deduce new conclusions and find new evidence, Hutch more than made up for his tardiness. The class was enthralled to hear about an on going case and asked many questions, extending their lesson time far after the bell rang.

Hutch was already beginning to see the strengths and weaknesses each cadet would have when they were out working in the real world. Kelley Leary was brash, quick thinking and seemingly without fear--but her tendency to leap before she looked put her at a disadvantage and could put others in danger if she didn't learn to tone it down. Her husband Sean was the complete opposite. Quiet, meticulous and slow to react, he'd be perfect in an investigative role but those same qualities could bring him grief in the midst of a fast moving crime scene. Billy Saeteurn was by far the star student of the class--intelligent, well coordinated, a great shot and excellent driver but being Asian and short could be his Achilles heel. There were still people in the LA area who remembered the Viet Nam war and hated anyone who came from that part of the world.

The last evaluation Hutch had to do was the problem student of the current graduating class--Joshua Bolden viewed life with a chip on his shoulder and a condescending attitude. He was smart, fast on the obstacle course, and knew the laws of the city and county down cold. However, he lauded his abilities in front of the others, got into fights and snubbed the female officers completely. Hutch had already given him a warning, and so had other instructors. Any more, and Bolden could be out of the Academy without a badge.

Thus, the session with Bolden was difficult and tense, leaving Hutch with a headache and the sincere wish he were at home watching goofy French children's shows with Starsky. When he phoned at noon just to listen to Starsky talk he could hear tinkly music in the background and a piping girl's voice crying "An ananas qui parle! Alos!"

As he'd expected, Dobey wanted a complete statement on exactly why Hutch had brought together an entire lab team to investigate an abandoned cellar room. Just the fact that they'd uncovered a wealth of illegal substances wasn't enough for Internal Affairs. Starsky would need to give a report, as well, which set off worry alarms in Hutch's brain. No way was he letting his immuno-suppressed partner anywhere near the germ infested squadroom. A stenographer would just have to come to him.

Hutch finally made it back to the house on Dahlia at just before seven. He was exhausted, having been awake talking with Starsky until nearly one and up again at six to coordinate the Del Prado alley investigation. He'd swung by Pani Peducci mid afternoon, taking a few moments to chat with Daisy before buying the cannoli, but now the box was dented and grease stained where the cream was leaking out of the pastry. Starsky would probably eat it anyway, but the presentation was less than perfect.

"He's asleep," Mick reported in his gravely voice.

Hutch liked the compact body builder. Although shorter than Starsky, he was probably bench pressing 200 pounds or more from the definition of muscles in his upper body. Mick could easily pick skinny Starsky off the floor if he fell.

"Lessee, busy day--that Borunda lady came by, a cute little girl named Rosie and her mom sold us gymnastics team candy." He held up a box of chocolate mints as proof. "Dave slept for the rest of the afternoon--after telling me about the morning raid about twelve times. And your cat hacked up a hair ball. I always know I'm gonna be cleanin' up something off the carpet here!"

"Thanks, man," Hutch said sincerely. "Sorry I was late."

"Hey, it's overtime, no sweat." Mick shrugged affably. "G'night."

"Goodnight," Hutch sighed, placing the squashed box in the kitchen.

He idled in the doorway of their communal bedroom, watching Starsky's chest rise and fall in a regular, unlabored rhythm. The dim light coming from the hall only highlighted his pale skin instead of accentuating it the way true sunlight did. From here Starsky looked good, relaxed and healthy, if too thin, sleeping peacefully. With all his heart Hutch wished all that were true. Relaxed, peaceful and healthy.

Not even taking the time for a shower, Hutch stripped off his clothes and climbed under the covers with his love.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hey." Starsky pinched the end of Hutch's elegant nose, peering closely at his victim to watch the sapphire blue eyes snap open. "Awake now?" Starsky inquired wickedly.

"I guess so," Hutch grumbled. "What the hell time is it?"

"I dunno, I couldn't sleep."

"Starsky! I was!" Hutch ran a hand through his bed-rumbled hair, rubbing grit out of his eyes. " And you were sleeping a few hours ago. What woke you up?"

"Too much sleep?" Starsky asked evasively. "It's early, I think."

Peering at the bedside clock, Hutch groaned again. "Starsky, it's four fifteen."

"You never told me about the fingerprints yesterday." Starsky deliberately ignored Hutch's inquires by substituting a few of his own. The last thing he wanted to explain was how pain could wake him up from a sound sleep and that the utter exhaustion which sent him to sleep in the afternoon also kept him awake in the wee hours. "Didja bring Schroeder back in?"

Sitting up, Hutch regarded him with such consternation and yet love, Starsky was almost distracted from his inquiries. "By the time the lab confirmed that most of the prints on the lock boxes were Schroeder's he'd already made bail. Dobey sent a team out to his house, but the place was locked up and deserted. Landlord said he hadn't been there since before September."

"Damn." Starsky collapsed back on his pillows with a noisy exhalation, trying to hide the grimace that movement caused.

"You okay?"

"No--wanna make something of it?" he asked to sharply, regretting the response the minute it was out of his mouth. So much for minimizing his pain and insomnia. He glanced guiltily at Hutch's stunned face, remorse blanking out the nausea swimming in his belly. "Sorry, ignore that. What's next on the agenda?"

"Getting some more sleep?" Hutch asked hopefully.

Starsky shook his head, then pressed the flat of his hand against lips, bile rising up in his esophagus unheeded. There'd been no warning this time, just overwhelming sickness when he'd done nothing to cause it.

"You about to be sick?" Hutch grabbed the basin they kept at the ready by the bed.

Taking slow, careful breaths, Starsky managed to sit out the need to toss his cookies, feeling the queasiness abate to manageable levels before he spoke. "No,'m okay, now. Just can't sleep."

"Lean back," Hutch whispered, pulling him into his arms. "What is it Saiisa tells you? Think calming thoughts."

"That's the problem." Starsky rolled his eyes, holding his aching belly. Added to the headache he couldn't get rid of and the always present reminder that he had a broken leg, he was constantly on edge. Never able to relax because whatever position helped his leg made his head pound, and lying on his back to relieve the headache made his innards heave. "I don't wanna be calm. When was I ever calm? I want action, Hutch. I wanna be on the street huntin' down that slimeball Schroeder myself."

"He's gone to ground--like a weasel in the dirt," Hutch said sensibly. "We have to wait him out, he'll surface. It just takes patience."

"Don't got any," Starsky grumped. The closeness to Hutch helped his composure, though, a tranquil place to rest in, except he couldn't sleep. Had been this way for the last few days, a week or more, perhaps. In the darkest hours, when the unusual polar winds pounded against the house, he woke, staring into the black room for hours. Conversely, with the sun streaming in the living room windows he could drop off in an instant. It was a maddening routine that had gotten annoying very quickly. The sleep depravation was costing him precious energy that he could hardly spare.

Only one more week. Starsky had begun counting the days until the sixth round of chemo. Seven days. If he'd had any brain cells left he could figure out how many hours that was--more than 100, less than 200. After the puking was over, what then? Freedom? Remission?

He would cling to this last bit of hope in the night when Hutch slumbered next to him, snoring softly. Tonight, however, the fear had come on so powerfully he'd had to wake up his partner. He couldn't face the cancer in the night anymore, and even though he'd treated the wake up like a silly prank, he'd needed Hutch's bravery and courageous company. The fear carried so many other things in on its coat tails--memories of scary times, his shooting, Hutch's battle with the plague, his mother's death last year. He could only push away those things for so long until they pressed against his breastbone, weighting him down.

"What's wrong, Starsk?" Hutch asked when Starsky had wiggled and squirmed, changing positions constantly in the vain attempt to find something remotely comfortable. "You're jumpier than Pansy. What's on your mind?"

He'd admitted fear to Hutch in the past but this time the words stubbornly refused to come out. "I just wanted talk," he bristled. "You were gone all day."

"So you had to wake me up before the rooster crows?" Hutch smiled against the back of his head.

Starsky could feel the wet heat of his lips curving on his bare scalp. It sent shivers down his spine, good ones, reminiscent of desire and arousal. "Do that again," Starsky gulped, grabbing onto something good to banish the heebie-jeebies of the dark.

"Like this?" Hutch licked just at the base of his skull sending ripples of need through his body.

Yeah." Finally, something wonderful had come from losing his hair. He'd never imagined the place where the neck met the skull could be such an erogenous zone. Not that it had any effect whatsoever on certain lower portions of his anatomy which just lay there like a day old fish, but the sweet appeal of Hutch's breath and mouth on Starsky's skin was bliss in and of itself.

"You are the moon, the stars, the sun," Hutch sang, the vibrations from his throat climbing through Starsky's ribcage and capturing his breastbone until it rumbled in harmony. "You're every beat of my heart. But if it all turns out to be only a beautiful dream, let's keep on dreaming…"

Starsky smiled, the words of the song melting him like butter, banishing all the terrors he'd conjured up.

"Millions or trillions can't equal your worth, your love is a blessing to me," Hutch warbled in his ear, arms closed firmly around him. "Do I adore you? You know that I do, but defin'ally."

"Mmmm," Starsky murmured, limp and languid. "Where'd you learn that one?"

"You'll never guess." Hutch circled the heel of his hand in slow revolutions around Starsky's belly button, not sexually but placidly, easing out the last of Starsky's demons.

"Sounds like I've heard it b'fore."

"Yeah, Shirley Temple sings it."

"Yeah?" Starsky grinned sleepily, snuggling against his big, broad pillow. "I like your version better."

"You don't feel as hot as yesterday," Hutch nuzzled his neck, placing the back of his hand on Starsky's forehead. He felt around on the bedside table for the thermometer, tucking it unerringly in his patient's mouth.

"I'm not, my toes are freezing," Starsky announced around the glass tube in his mouth. And they tingled as if they were asleep all the time, which he neglected to mention because that would just give Hutch one more thing to stress about.

"Keep your mouth closed for three minutes." Hutch climbed out of bed despite Starsky's protestations, rooting around for his bathrobe and slippers.

Seeing her blond master up, Pansy yowled her need for an early breakfast in strident Siamese.

"I'll feed you, dumpling," Hutch cooed to the cat, scratching her behind the ears. "But first, the number of the hour is…" He held out his hand for the thermometer, which Starsky popped out of his mouth into the waiting palm. "99.6"

"And the crowd goes wild!" Starsky teased, hooting and hollering like a frenzied audience. "Hutchinson finally won."

"That means you eat," Hutch grinned.

"I've been eating."

"What'd you have for dinner?"

Starsky fiddled with the bed covers, pulling them up to his shoulders with a shiver. "Food--I don't remember. Mick writes that stuff down, doesn't he?"

"I can go find the his notes or I can ask you." Hutch shook some white pills from a prescription bottle, adding them to the assortment of medications and vitamins Starsky had to take in the morning.

"You sound a lot like some'a the nurses back at Rose Tree," Starsky grumped. He didn't feel like eating. The nausea was low level but persistent and he'd rather not puke up something first thing in the morning. "I'm beginning to rethink the whole medical school idea for nurse's training. You'd be a natural."

"Can we shelve the whole medical school discussion?" Hutch bristled, shaking down the thermometer. "You can eat something you halfway enjoy or I'll go find that nasty milkshake drink Davies wants you to swallow."

"That stuff gives milkshakes a bad name." Starsky grimaced with a shudder. The nutritionist at the hospital had sent home a whole case of the high calorie supplement but one sip and Starsky headed straight to the emesis basin. It was thick, chalky and only increased his queasiness. "How 'bout some tea?"

"Tea has zero calories, Starsk."

Glancing up at his partner's concerned face, Starsky knew he was being difficult. Hutch was only doing what the doctors wanted but food held absolutely no appeal lately. Where once he'd reveled in grabbing a burger, indulging in a hot fudge sundae or blissing out on burritos with extra jalapenos, now he tried to avoid the mention of food altogether. "It does if you put sugar in it."

"Touché, but how about some nutrition to go with those empty calories?" Hutch suggested. "Tomato soup?"

"Nahhh, " Starsky made a face, determined to make an effort. "Edith brought over some mac and cheese yesterday when Rosie sold us the chocolates."

"Have you tried it?"

"Now's as good a time as any, I guess." Starsky sighed. He couldn't pin down his emotional state with any certainty. It was as if every second, he cycled through a whole list of feelings without really settling on any one of them.

As much as he'd enjoyed being out and integral to the Schroeder case again, it was sobering how debilitated he'd been after only one hour of activity. The news that they'd discovered Schroeder's drug stash only to have the suspect disappear was disappointing but he couldn't get all that excited about it. He felt marginally--hell--a lot better than when he'd been spewing his internal organs into the toilet but not enough to be happy about it. Even having his temperature finally head towards normalcy wasn't a big deal. Everything seemed blanketed by a big muffling gray cloud of disinterest.

"Macaroni and cheese for breakfast coming up!" Hutch announced with forced cheeriness, heading out to the kitchen. Pansy, obviously hoping for her meal, followed behind, dark brown tail help up like a flag at the end of a parade.

Moving very slowly, Starsky got up and hobbled to the bathroom, the unsettling pins and needles sensation in his feet even stronger when standing up. He leaned on a crutch, looking out the mullioned bedroom window that showed the dark expanse of frost-slicked backyard. The sounds of birds calling out in the pre-dawn morning broke the silence but otherwise, all was motionless. Dark and still as death.

Shivering, he had to make a concentrated effort not to fall into that beckoning pit of depression. The sun would rise today, full of brightness and glory and repel the blackness of night. He just had to wait long enough--be patient. The way he had to wait for the rainbow he wanted so badly at the end of the last chemo. All this puking, pain and sickness had to have a fantastic payoff--remission. He didn't want to have to face anything like this ever again.

By the time Starsky had finished in the bathroom Hutch was setting up the small lap table with the little legs on the bed. Amazingly enough, the creamy cheese dish had an appetizing smell and he took a tentative bite just to make sure.

"You want some?" Starsky offered generously. Hutch had heaped enough in his bowl for two, at least with his present appetite.

"I'm leaning more towards granola at five thirty in the a.m." Hutch shook his head, watching Starsky eat. "What's going on in that head of yours, huh, Starsk? You're--hard to pin down tonight…" He chuckled at his mistake. "This morning."

"I don't want this," Starsky said fiercely and gave his cast a shake.

"Mac and cheese is what you asked for."

"Not the food. I don't want…" he growled, unable to express the tangle that was his life. "I wish…the Torino worked, but just like me it's up on blocks. I wish I could hunt down Schroeder and snap his leg with a 2 by 4, so he'd know just what he did to me. I wanna be normal." Starsky took a bite of food, but what had tasted good for three forkfuls was no longer tempting.

He blinked back tears, looking anywhere in the room except at Hutch's agonized face. At the plethora of pill bottles all bearing his name, at the pile of clothes Hutch had left in one corner. At the wall of framed photos that included groupings of both his family and Hutch's centered around a large portrait of the two of them with their arms around each other. At the worn teddy bear named Ollie wearing a jaunty pair of Mickey Mouse ears embroidered with the name David in yellow thread. "I wanna go to Disneyland."

Hutch gulped and Starsky could almost hear the wheels turning in his brain. How to give credence to his wishes without actually giving in to any of them. Before he could speak, Starsky said more slowly, "I know I can't really go--not right now, it'd be no fun anyhow, but I wish I could go--just go anywhere without worrying that I’ll get sick and having to bring crutches and wheelchair and the damned puke bowl."

"It's not much longer, buddy." Hutch rubbed his back with a loving touch, finding all those kinks and knots that made it hard to lie flat. "I'm always here to listen, you know that, don't you?"

"You got so much on your plate right now."

"You are always my number one priority," Hutch assured, nailing the worst of the muscle spasms in the middle of his back and pushing down on it with point of a sharp knuckle.

Starsky had always loved the weird whoosh of pain/relief that shot through him when the cramp relaxed. He could sense the increased blood flow rushing to the area and up the back of his loosened neck to his brain

"But I gotta say one thing, you were never normal to start with, dummy."

Letting his head hang down while Hutch continued to work his magic, Starsky closed his eyes, almost afraid to face the fear that had kept him up half the night. "Hutch?"

"Hmmm?"

"Give it to me straight--no bullshitting, do you think I can go back on the force?"

Hutch's fingers froze, then dropped away, his silence telling Starsky the truth more surely than inadequate words could ever do. "Starsky…" Hutch whispered, placing his palms against Starsky's scapula like the folded down wings of a guardian angel.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Starsky agreed in monotone. "I'm gettin' tired, now."

The massage finally did what all the tranquilizers and pain pills had not, put Starsky back to sleep. Hutch lay down next to him, one hand touching his back, and fell asleep with his slippers still on. When Pansy finished her kibble she settled down in the tiny gap between the two men, purring contentedly.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Starsky slept the morning away, never even moving when Hutch got up for the second time around nine thirty. He ate the neglected granola while reading the newspaper, the weird night going over and over in his mind. Starsky was depressed; it was easy enough to diagnose that, but what to do about it? Hutch had no ability to turn back the hands of the clock to before all of Starsky's problems had begun but he could, in some small way, grant at least one of the requests. As the old saying went, if Mohammed couldn't go to the mountain then the mountain had to come to Mohammed. Well, at least it went something like that.

With the beginnings of a plan in mind Hutch was on the phone for an hour before he took a shower and got dressed.

When Starsky finally did wake up mid-afternoon, he was withdrawn and non-communicative. Nothing Hutch did had any affect on the stony face and hooded eyes of his partner. Starsky rejected games of chess and Scrabble, a bubble bath, and even peppermint ice cream.

Out of ideas for the moment, Hutch was glad there would be entertainment in the evening. The question was, would it cheer up Starsky or just leave him even more morose? With nothing left to do, Hutch just worked around the lump under the covers, vacuuming and tidying up in the bedroom so he could be near if Starsky wanted anything. It was nearly time for the guests to arrive when Starsky agreed half-heartedly to a quick shower so that Hutch could change the sheets on the bed.

Without a word, he handed Starsky a sweatshirt with the logo of 'Policeman's day at Disneyland-1983' printed below Mickey's grinning mug. Starsky pulled it on without so much as a comment on the selection, but did protest some when Hutch urged him out into the living room as a change of pace.

"I wanna go back to bed," Starsky said tiredly as if the mere act of speaking was too much work.

"You're supposed to get some exercise every day. Moving into the next room won't kill you."

"Fuck off, Hutch."

"See there. Actual, honest anger--keep it up, Starsk." Hutch encouraged, not the least offended by the epithet. "Tell me how you feel right now."

"Black," Starsky shot back, looking almost surprised that he'd replied.

"Then paint over it," Hutch challenged. "The David Starsky I know doesn't let this stuff drag him down. He fights back. He gets angry and he wins."

"I got angry right at the beginning and where did it get me?" Starsky shouted, ejected out of the wheelchair by righteous indignation. "Here! A gimpy, bald skeleton, and don't even try to tell me that ain't the truth. I have eyes, Hutch. I look like shit and you just sit there watching me puke all day, every day. You should have left when you had the chance."

"I never had the chance, Starsky. There was no where else for me to go." Hutch enveloped him in a bear hug, elated when he could feel Starsky's heart banging against his own chest as if they shared the same internal organs. "I told you I'm in for the long haul. Things'll get better."

"But we won't be cops," Starsky whispered into his shoulder.

"No, and I could care less," Hutch murmured into his ear.

When the doorbell rang, he was almost as surprised as Starsky was, both jumping apart like teenagers necking behind the woodshed who'd been caught by an outraged parent.

"Who's that?" Starsky asked suspiciously.

"Daisy said she'd bring over some food," Hutch said evasively, running out to answer the door. Starsky grabbed a crutch, natural curiosity overcoming his melancholy.

It wasn't Daisy at the door; it was Rosie Dobey surrounded by her fellow gymnasts all sporting Mickey Mouse ears. When they trooped noisily into the house Hutch realized several of the girls were dressed like princesses--Rainbow wore the distinctive yellow and blue dress of the Disney Snow White and delicate Cait was a perfect blond Cinderella in a blue ball dress. Behind them, Edith came bearing a covered dish and the captain himself carried in a large satchel full of mysterious items. There wasn't even time to close the door before Daisy Peducci and Huggy Bear hurried up, each carting more surprises. In short order, the room was full of happy voices and activity as the girls flitted around putting up fairy lights and balloon decorations.

"Would you look at this?" Starsky said in wonderment. "Hutch, what did you do?"

"Made a few phone calls, buddy," Hutch confessed, astonished at the extent of what he'd started. He was pulled away to direct people setting out the food and selecting music, leaving Starsky in the whirlwind of party making.

"Rosie, where'd you get all this stuff?" he asked, watching as she push-pinned a picture of the seven dwarfs up on the wall next to a crooked picture of Mickey and Donald. A sprightly rendition of Supercalifragilisticexpialladocious was playing on the record player and several of the girls began to sing along until Starsky had to laugh at the silliness of it all.

"Old birthday decorations," Rosie explained, eyeing the decorations with a frown. "It still needs something. Samantha, where's the twisty crepe paper?"

"I'm twisting it, but it's all tangled up!" she groaned holding up two colors of crepe streamers now hopelessly knotted around each other.

"I'll straighten this out," Dobey announced with a straight face. "Detective, be of some use, take one end." He handed the astonished Starsky the blue and pink streamers and began expertly twisting them into a beautiful unit.

Starsky just kept the proper tension on the crepe as Dobey backed up when the streamer lengthened. Then, using the multi-colored push pins, the police captain tacked the decoration up along the upper edge of the wall.

"Cap, I didn't know you were so handy," Starsky remarked.

"Two children--one in college, that's a lot of birthday parties." Dobey looked a bit out of breath after climbing down off the ladder back chair he'd used as a step stool, but he surveyed the results of his efforts with a satisfied nod.

"It's perfect, Daddy," Rosie gushed, throwing her arms around her father. He grinned, kissing the top of her head.

Watching the little tableau, Hutch was more aware of Starsky than the father and daughter duo. Starsky was smiling! Face shining, he looked energized. He was chatting easily with Samantha about something outrageous from the eye rolling she was doing, and appeared pain-free and content. A far cry from the forlorn man only a short time ago. If nothing else, this party had accomplished more than Hutch had ever wished for.

"My friends and fellow Mouskateers." Huggy waved his long slender arms over his head to get the attention of everyone in the room. In keeping with the theme, he wore a tie with Mickey and Minnie kissing repeatedly all the length of the silk. "May another meeting come to order--Madam Chairwoman, do you have a few words to say?"

"Oh, goodness." Edith waved him away with a long suffering smile. "No big speeches--but Daisy and I have put together a spread some of you might find familiar…"

"First time I've every made a mouse eared shaped chocolate cake." Daisy grinned, giving Huggy's tie a tug.

"Fried chicken and salad are over there," Edith continued. She had on a red dress with white polka dots quite reminiscent of Mickey Mouse's favorite girl and a gigantic red bow atop her black curls. "And the girls are performing over there." The girls had gathered with their backs to the front door, all posing prettily on one knee with their fingers poised under their chins. Each held a small ball in the other hand and at the first note of 'Whistle while you work' from the record player, the gymnasts started tossing their balls in intricate patterns in time to the music.

Hearty applause concluded the show as the girls abandoned their balls and ran straight for the food. Dobey was next in line, taking a heaping helping of potato salad and chicken. There was much good-natured pushing and shoving in line and peals of laughter when Huggy just ignored the rules and reached over the heads of the smaller ones.

"Hey," Starsky said softly, but Hutch could always hear that one particular voice in a crowd. "Thanks."

"It may not be a ride on 'Space Mountain' but there's maybe a little piece of Disneyland in our house right now." Hutch grinned, unbelievably happy at the smile on his true love's face. "But you're underdressed."

"I got my Disney shirt--you don't," Starsky pointed out.

"Hey, I'm Walt himself." Hutch winked and drew on a fake pencil thin brown mustache over his upper lip with an eyeliner pencil. "Daisy brought this. But you still need your hat." He plopped the Mouse ears Ollie had been wearing on top of Starsky's head. "Good look for you."

"You'd grab at any excuse to grow a 'stache, but wash it off before you kiss me goodnight," Starsky teased.

"You want me to bring over a plate of food?" Hutch offered.

"Uhhh." Starsky started to shake his head but stopped at Hutch's expression. As much as Hutch suspected his partner would try to refuse the delicious meal, he also knew Starsky would never want to hurt Edith or Daisy's feelings. "A chicken leg? A small one?" Starsky agreed.

"Coming right up," Hutch laughed. Good old fashioned guilt--worked every time. With everyone else in the room eating, Starsky would stand out like a sore thumb if he didn't have a plate on his knee.

The capper of the party was a videotape of some old Mickey Mouse cartoons that Huggy swore weren't hot in any way, shape or form. The girls sprawled every which way on the floor as long as they were able to see the TV and wolfed down huge pieces of cake. Everyone else pulled up chairs to form an impromptu theater.

Hutch arranged Starsky on the couch with a plate of chocolate cake between them. Starsky only tasted the cake, just enough to leave a swipe of dark frosting on his lower lip . Hutch longed to kiss the sweetness off but had to content himself with wiping the mess off with the ball of his thumb. Just at that moment, Starsky extended his tongue enough to lick the frosting and licked a certain thumb instead.

While Mickey and Goofy plotted a silly plan to help Minnie, Starsky and Hutch gazed into each other's eyes, almost oblivious to everyone around them. Even years later, Hutch would remember that instant whenever he heard the rinky-tink music from a Mickey Mouse cartoon. As are all things unplanned but in perfect synchronicity, it was a sublime moment.

"I consider the Mouse a brothah," Huggy proclaimed loudly. "He's dark like my people."

"And me!" Rosie giggled. "I never thought about that before."

"That makes Donald Duck more kin to Blondie over there--being so pale faced," Huggy winked at the little girl.

Hutch dropped his mouth open in pretended offense and Starsky roared with laughter, holding his belly.

"Hmm, well, I don't know about that," Daisy waggled her head. "Are you a man or a mouse, Mr. Bear?"

"Daisy!" he pleaded.

"Which reminds me, I share the same name as a Donald's pretty lady," Daisy got up from where she sat cross-legged between Huggy's knees and circled the couch to Hutch's end. "I guess that pairs me with him."

"Minnie's not even here to fight for her man," Starsky mused. "Minnie Kaplan, that is."

"That woman's got nothin' on the goddess that is my Daisy." Huggy held out one hand, all lovesick suitor. "Will you marry me, Mrs. Peducci?"

"I think I might, Mr. Bear," She batted her eyes with a twinkle, running over to his arms. They hugged and kissed with sweet passion.

The girls oohed almost in unison but Edith looked skeptical. "I have a feeling we've been set up, Harold."

"Edith?" Dobey blinked, looking up from the cartoon.

"You two have a bit of explaining to do," Edith challenged.

"You don't want to get on her bad side, Daisy, she's tough," Starsky warned.

"They found us out," Huggy inclined his head at the woman by his side and she pulled a ring out of the pocket of her black pants, sliding it onto her ring finger.

"He gave this to me last night." Daisy held out her hand with the sparkling gem. "It's official, but we haven't set a date. It's a little too soon yet."

"Congratulations!" Starsky clapped eagerly. "Hutch, doncha have any champagne or anything?"

"I was saving that."

"Get it out for the happy couple," Starsky ordered. "He's such a party pooper."

Hutch obligingly climbed over the gaggle of girls at his feet, going into the now cluttered kitchen to fetch the bottle of bubbly he'd been saving for the finish of chemo. Of course, it didn't matter; he could always buy another when Davies gave Starsky the green light: that he was in remission.

Gathering up champagne flutes and a tray to carry them on Hutch listened to the chatter from the living room with a glad heart. He didn't care that Starsky brought out his charm mostly for visitors, and that the last few days had been difficult beyond reason to endure. He had Starsky at his center and that is where he needed him to stay. Whether Starsky was in a good mood or bad, he was alive and that was all that mattered.

When the toasts had died down and the last cartoon ended the party-ers departed, leaving behind Mouse ear shaped balloons and a crush of Winnie-the-Pooh napkins and paper plates all over the floor. Starsky lay curled on the sofa, asleep with a smile on his face. Hutch wasn't quite sure whether to leave him there or wake him up and trundle him back to bed.

His decision was made when Starsky opened one dark blue eye, his impossibly long dark lashes fanning out on pale skin. "I can' believe you did all this for me."

"It was either that or strangle you and I didn't want to be tried for murder so near the holidays."

"Pleading self defense would win you the case." Starsky started a grin but it ended in a grimace and he pressed both palms over his eyes with a moan.

"Head hurting?" Hutch asked, finding the pain pills in a flash.

"Something's always hurting." Starsky swallowed the pills with a big gulp of the iced tea he'd had all evening. "Sometimes all at once. But this is just temporary, right?"

"Yeah, Starsk." Hutch winced at the pain deep in his gut that what he was agreeing to might be a lie.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hutch, I'm a big boy, I can be by myself for an hour," Starsky insisted. "I'll fall asleep the minute you leave the house, anyway. It's all I do anymore."

"Starsky, it's too risky. I should call someone over." Hutch argued. They'd been going at it for nearly half an hour since Hutch discovered that there was no milk, no bread and, of most concern to a small tan feline, no cat food. He waffled between wanting to get out in the air for just a short while and imagining a wealth of terrible fates that could befall his unprotected partner. After knowing Starsky for such a long time, Hutch's imagination was fairly inventive.

"It's Sunday afternoon, it's raining, who would come?" Starsky reasoned. "Go! I promise on my…Joe Dimaggio autographed baseball card that I won't move one inch off this couch for the entire time you're gone."

"That's a solemn oath." Hutch frowned. "Don't move from that spot, right?" Starsky gave a somber faced nod but there was a twinkle in his eye. "Have you got water? A basin, just in case? Something to read? The phone is right at the end of the coffee table…"

"Hutch! The day will be over before you get out of here." Starsky made shooing motions with his hands. "Bring me a crab sandwich and I've love you forever."

"Hey, and I thought our love was unconditional." Hutch leaned down, planting a kiss on Starsky's parted lips, feeling the smile that broadened when he did so. Starsky had been in such a good mood since the party, this almost felt like old times.

"Humor me."

"I always have," Hutch said as he opened the door on a downpour and ducked his head to run out into the rain.

Starsky tugged at the afghan around his middle, not quite cold but enjoying the warmth supplied by both blanket and sleeping cat. He took a deep breath, letting it out in a noisy whoosh. He was alone! That happened so rarely these days that he wanted to savor the solitude. No hovering Hutch, no mothering from Sophie or sarcastic chiding from Mick.

Alone.

Grinning, Starsky snuggled down next to Pansy, shifting his cast minutely to stretch out on the couch. Both his feet were tingling again, which was annoying in the extreme. Wiggling the toes of his right foot didn't really change the situation and he was loath to try that solution with the left. The unhealed bones still ached all the time, and he wasn't looking forward to the planned surgery in early December after the chemo was done. How many more months in a cast would that tack on? He hated being an invalid, hated being subjected to countless sticks for blood tests, hated how the chemo made him feel so sick.

Even now, content, and what passed for comfortable with his ravaged body, he had so little energy a change of position was an occurrence of major proportions. But not for much longer--chemo for the weekend starting on Friday. Then a couple of days to recover from that, Thanksgiving holiday. After that, he was free until the surgery was scheduled. Starsky was looking forward to that little vacation from nausea, vomiting and illness.

He fell asleep with a smile on his face.

The ringing phone brought him to consciousness. Why didn't Hutch answer that? Oh, yeah, Hutch had gone out.

Lurching up Starsky reached blindly for the phone at the end of the coffee table, shifting his right foot enough to put weight on it. He'd forgotten about the weird prickling sensations, pins and needles shooting up his good ankle like an electric shock. His foot didn't seem to hold him and he toppled, striking his left knee against the wooden frame of the inlaid table.

Howling from the white-hot pain, Starsky jerked forward with the momentum, and blood spurted out of his nose. In a few seconds, he'd gone from peaceful sleep to pain wracked and gore spattered shock. The phone broke off ringing just as Starsky dropped heavily onto the sofa, trying to pinch his nose and stem the blood gushing out. He'd had a nose bleed once before, in the hospital. Davies had explained that the combination of low hemoglobin and low platelets caused chemo patients to bleed easily, and nosebleeds were one of the most common problems.

Starsky's problem right now was that there was no way he could get up off the couch with one foot nearly numb and the other leg zinging in agony. Already covered in gore, he tipped his head back, fingers pressed to the bridge of his nose, gagging from the blood trickling down his throat. Not only was this not working to stem the flow but the position made it distinctly hard to breathe. He opened his mouth, trying to take quick breaths without inhaling any blood.

The sound of a key in the front door was salvation in the form of a tall blond cop.

"I got your crab…" Hutch called out cheerfully but broke off at the undoubtedly disturbing sight. "God, Starsk, what happened?" He grabbed a dishtowel from the kitchen before coming to his partner's aid.

"Tr'd t'answer fone," Starsky choked out, shoving the towel under his nose to mop up the red stuff.

"Didn't I tell you not to move a muscle?" Hutch scolded tightly, his voice quavering with strain. "I'll get a bag of ice."

Unfortunately all the usual home remedies didn't work and after an hour, Starsky was light-headed and woozy from fluid loss. Being able to breathe unencumbered might be nice, too. Not being able to talk intelligibly, Starsky hadn't mentioned that his left knee ached abysmally under his sweatpants. The less Hutch had to stress about, the better. Probably just a bruise, anyway.

"Hospital," Hutch said succinctly.

Starsky wasn’t about to argue, not at this point. His only stipulation was a muttered, "M'stang, no' am'blance."

"Into the wheelchair and I'll hold the umbrella over your head," Hutch grumbled, gathering up all the supplies they'd need to bring with them.

Starsky had already vomited blood once after swallowing what was draining down the back of his throat and he was fairly sure that wouldn't be the last time. He'd actually been almost queasy-free until the phone call, but now was on the verge of retching every few minutes. Thus, the ride to the hospital was very unpleasant.

"I want to admit you overnight, Starsky, get some packed cells and platelets into you," John Davies declared after the admitting ER doc had cauterized the inside of Starsky's nostrils and pushed wads of cotton up inside.

"Can' I hab the trans'f'sions down herah?" Starsky argued, holding out his hands for Hutch to wash off the red stains. "Jis' stay a coup'la hours?"

"You never quit bargaining, do you?" Davies laughed. "Can't just take what the doctor says as gospel like the rest of my patients? They worship the ground I walk on."

"That's Starsky in a nut shell," Hutch said with a tight smile, scrubbing Starsky's face clean. "Won't knuckle under to anyone. Has trouble with authority figures."

"Princ'ple," Starsky said thickly, enduring the washing up because he understood Hutch's need to care for him. He was grumpy and out of sorts, though. The nice morning was spoiled by a spilt second misstep and it was all he could do not to snap at the other two men.

"Still, I went to medical school for all that time so I could be the boss," Davies tapped his patient's knee with his pen. Starsky grit his teeth, pretending that didn't set off red rockets of pain. "So, a compromise--it was about ten when you came in, if your blood levels are acceptable, you can go home in twelve hours."

"No obernigh'?" Starsky asked suspiciously already tired of the clogging cotton in his nasal passages.

"Starsk, I think you'd better accept the offer before he takes it off the table," Hutch advised.

"I fold." Starsky said miserably and was sent up to the Rose Tree Unit for a series of transfusions.

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

"Where you been all afternoon?" Starsky asked sleepily when Hutch nearly tripped over a dirty linen bin in the dimly lit room.

"Went home to get your sandwich and some clean clothes." Hutch held up a white sack. "It's dark in here, where's the switch?"

"Turn on the one above the bed, and watch out for that…" Starsky winced in sympathy when Hutch banged into the IV pole. However, he found the lights because brightness flared, illuminating the familiar room. "I like the room on the end of the unit better," Starsky grumped. "More windows."

"It's night, what's to look at?" Hutch rubbed his shin, unsettled and jumpy. The sight of Starsky practically doused in blood had scared him badly. He'd immediately assumed the worst--that some maniac had broken in while Starsky was unprotected and defenseless, and shot him. Hours later, secure in the knowledge that it had only been a commonplace nosebleed, he was still flashing back to the day assassins had nearly extinguished his partner's life in a hail of automatic weapon fire. He'd held himself in check all day but now with Starsky looking healthier than he had in weeks due to the abundance of red blood cells circulating through his veins, the fear suddenly came crashing in on him. He dropped heavily into a chair, dumping the bag onto the bed.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked cautiously. "You okay? Cause take it from somebody who knows, you look terrible."

"You scared the shit out of me," Hutch hunched over, arms close to his body, rocking slightly. "How many times is this going to have to happen, Starsk? I don't know how to feel anymore. I'm scared all the time."

"Hey." Starsky gulped, fumbling with the sheets to climb out of bed. "Nothin' to fear but fear itself."

"Oh, so now you're Winston Churchill?" Hutch pressed a shaky hand the corner of his eye, willing the tears to dry up.

"Bully," Starsky grinned impishly, holding up the 'V' for victory sign.

"I'm so thankful you're with me," Hutch grabbed him around the waist basically pulling Starsky into his lap, the IV pole tipping treacherously.

Inching the pole nearer, Starsky settled into his lumpy seat, cradling Hutch's face in the palm of his hand. "I'm just as thankful you're with me. Sometimes I think we wasted all those years on meter maids and stewardi…"

"Stewardi?"

"Plural of Stewardess, don't you know anything?" Starsky flicked him on the temple, which stung but made Hutch laugh all the same. "But then I think that it wasn't wasted time at all--Terry was love, Gillian was love, but they all just made me realize that you're my heart, Hutch."

"Heart, soul and skin…" Hutch kissed Starsky's belly through the flimsy hospital gown he wore. "Every fiber of my being. I'm so thankful you're alive."

"Gonna stay that way," Starsky vowed sincerely. "It's almost over, it's almost over…"

"You look good, rosy." Hutch roamed the contours of a body he knew as well as his own, feeling the sharp angles of Starsky's bones through thin, delicate skin and the steady beat of arteries delivering needed oxygen to every cell. "And you don't talk funny any more."

"Never did talk funny."

"When I first met you--outside the gym at the Academy, the first thing I noticed was that funny accent."

"Mine?" Starsky huffed with pretended indignation. "You had the funny accent, Minnesota-boy. Where's my sandwich?"

Grunting when Starsky shifted his weight to reach for the bag Hutch just endured the slight discomfort for the distinct pleasure of having Starsky in his lap. The bulky cast bumped heavily against his lower leg, reminding him of how much his partner had endured. "Want me to call the nurse to have her warm it up?"

"Nah--" Starsky separated the crab patty from the two buns and tore off a tiny strip. "Hot hurts my mouth."

"I thought that had gotten better." Hutch leaned his forehead against Starsky's naked back, the sharp knobs of his spine poking him in the nose. Hutch felt his cock becoming interested in the intimacy, something that was both a shock considering how upset he'd been, and the fact that they were in the hospital.

"Mostly." Starsky swallowed, then tore off another morsel. "Somethin's pokin' me down there." He spread his legs to take a look at the swelling bulge. "Is that a gun in your pocket or you just happy to see me, Officer?"

"I always carry concealed--you want the nurses to notice?" Hutch joked wishing he weren't quite so stiff right then. The doctor could walk in at any moment. At least Starsky was wearing boxer shorts under the scanty hospital johnny.

"Flattering considering what I look like."

"You look great." Hutch kissed the sweet dip between neck and scapula, savoring the clean smell of Starsky.

"Compared to what?" Starsky closed his knees, suddenly distant. "Not now, okay? Maybe when my hair grows back and I got some muscle. At New Year's?"

"Askin' me out on a date, sailor?" Hutch's cock had deflated rapidly with Starsky's change of mood. His emotions swung so rapidly it was like living with a manic-depressive. Hutch wrapped his arms around the man in his lap, offering silent love and support.

"D'you think we could get some fresh crab for New Year's Eve?" Starsky asked wistfully, leaning into Hutch's hug.

"Sounds like a good plan to me, ring in the new year with an old fashioned tradition." Hutch grinned, imagining how wonderful to have a fresh new year without the specter of cancer hanging over their heads. "But we aren't even at Thanksgiving yet. A little too soon to place our order in at Perry's. Which reminds me, Edith wants us for turkey dinner a week from Thursday but I told her we'd play it by ear."

"Yeah," Starsky said soberly, poking at his meal. "I'm usually okay four days later."

Hutch knew he was specifically referring to the chemo because Starsky hadn't been okay for a long time. "Keep eating."

"I am." Starsky popped another bite into his mouth and, twisting at the waist to face his friend, did the same for Hutch so that they chewed in unison. "Can we go home yet?"

"It's not even 7:30, Starsk, got a couple of hours to go, but I could go borrow the Monopoly game out of the games closet if you want a rematch?" Hutch proposed even though he was loath to let Starsky off his lap. If he'd never gone to the store this morning, if Starsky hadn't gotten up to answer the phone, could the nosebleed have been prevented? The answer, unfortunately, was no. He'd never been able to protect Starsky from the horrors of life even though he'd wanted to desperately, just as Starsky had wanted to do the same for him. They could only hold onto each other and be grateful for the time spent in love.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Crutching carefully, Starsky made it from the bedroom to the couch under his own steam. This feat, which a few months ago would have been nothing to brag about, was both ego boosting and depressing at the same time. Proud that he hadn't had to rely on Sophie for help getting around, the fact that he was exhausted after the short trip only brought home how weak he was after the prolonged illness. But the transfusion had given him a burst of energy that hadn't dissipated in three days.

Determined to keep an optimistic frame of mind with the end in sight, as it were, he pulled the red and black afghan around his knees, grinned when Pansy immediately took that as an invitation to settle onto his lap, and flipped on the television.

"In an exclusive channel 11 report." A pretty brunette wearing too much eye shadow for Starsky's taste looked seriously at the camera, her voice low and earnest. "A group calling themselves The Friends of Emerald Hsieh are criticizing the way the Bay City Police Department is handling the investigation into her murder. Hsieh's boyfriend, suspected drug dealer Vincent Schroeder, was being held on charges of first degree murder and assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer, but these were reduced to lessor charges after he agreed to testify against several former associates in the mob and drug world. On November 16th he was released on bail and has not been seen since." Pictures of Schroeder and Emerald appeared on the screen but Starsky was glad his own picture hadn’t been included.

"He's a terrible man," Sophie harrumphed, placing the little tray over Starsky's knees and adding a bowl of clam chowder and a peanut butter sandwich.

"Can't argue with you there," he agreed, picking up a quarter of the sandwich.

Sophie sat down on the sofa to watch the program, idly picking up another quarter for herself.

"Shortly after the bail hearing police uncovered a secret drug stash allegedly belonging to Schroeder and are now looking in earnest for the suspect. The Friends of Emerald Hsieh, who include her elder brother Cam Yin Hsieh and his wife, Bay City supervisor Adrianna Michaelson-Hsieh, gave a statement on the steps of Bay City courthouse," the newswoman said.

The image on the screen changed to a handsome Chinese man and a raven-haired Caucasian woman surrounded by a bevy of what could only be politely described as call girls. Starsky even recognized one or two of the faces as prostitutes he'd rousted in the past. Politics made strange bedfellows if a city supervisor was rubbing shoulders with street walkers.

"My sister Emerald was only 25 years old when Vinnie Schroeder repeatedly stabbed her to death," Hsieh said carefully, his accent barely noticeable. "She bled to death in a shabby apartment without friends or family beside her. Her beautiful child, Diamond Anne, who is in my care, will never know her mother. Yet, even after the police had Emerald's murderer in custody, they let the vile man free just because he named names in other ongoing investigations. Police cared more about their own arrest quotas than for the murder of a fallen woman. The fact that my sister was a drug addict who sold her body for money was a hard thing for our family to acknowledge but we still love her dearly and insist that the police department rectify their error in judgement by bringing Schroeder to justice today!"

"To this end," Supervisor Michaelson-Hsieh took up the impassioned speech. "We are prepared to offer a $10,000 reward for any information that leads to the arrest of Emerald's murderer. This man, who is also wanted for a variety of crimes including assault of the detective trying to arrest him and drug dealing, should not be wandering the streets. These women behind me, all who have had previous dealings with Schroeder, all fear for their lives unless he is caught."

"They didn't mention your name," Sophie pointed out when Starsky switched off the TV with a savage twist.

"I'd prefer not to be a cause celebre." Starsky picked the crust off the square of bread and peanut butter he held before taking a bite. "But if this brings results, more power to them."

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"Hey, Survivor, you ready to go yet?" Hutch called.

"Just give me a minute." Starsky grinned triumphantly, then took a deep breath, going back to work on his ensemble. Dressed more like his old self for the first time in ages, Starsky wore faded blue jeans--the left leg slit up the side and held together punk rocker style with safety pins at the seam--and a red t-shirt covered with a jaunty vest decorated with cornucopias and turkeys.

Returning the smile, Hutch packed up the green bean casserole he'd made with a glad heart. He still had some reservations about taking Starsky to the Dobey's for Thanksgiving, not to mention having him home after he'd vomited for five days straight but the patient had been unequivocal--he was not spending a holiday in the hospital.

Although the last bag of chemo had dripped into Starsky's body Sunday afternoon, he'd been ravaged by the depleting side effects of the chemical cocktail and spent the first few days of the week curled over an emesis basin barely able to sit unsupported. Still, they'd left the safety of the Rose Tree Unit Wednesday afternoon for home. There hadn't been much change between being in the hospital and being out. Starsky had last vomited just after midnight, so he was tottery and weak but possessing of a brilliant fire that dazzled anyone who saw it. He'd withstood the miserable prison sentence of osteosarcoma and made it through to the other side. All that was needed to set him completely free was the blood work due to be drawn next week. The blood work that would, hopefully, proclaim him tumor free.

"How'd I look?"

"You look really good," Hutch answered assuredly. Good for someone who weighed 25 pounds less than his usual fighting weight, had no hair and was paler than an albino fish. "Let's get on the road before the freeway is mired with people like us crazy enough to leave their houses for a turkey dinner."

The weather was flawless, skies azure blue with just the remnants of clouds left from rains earlier in the week. Temperatures were a balmy 70 degrees so Hutch didn't fret about exposing Starsky to the elements. The ride was joyous, Starsky was in a good mood and ready for a party which put Hutch in an equally happy place.

The trek from the Mustang to the Dobey house reminded Hutch of a mountain climbing expedition and he was the Sherpa guide. He schlepped Starsky's crutches, meds, and the casserole in before rolling the special guest up to the front door. Then went back for the extra chairs he'd brought over.

Starsky presented Edith and Rosie with matching bouquets of golden mums and autumnal leaves. He charmed the pants off of Edith's elder sister Ethyl Mae by kissing her on the cheek, insisting she resembled Eartha Kitt.

"First day we were in town, I turned on the news and saw this controversy about a murderer you all set free." Jonas Broadman, Ethyl Mae's husband, handed Hutch a beer and a dish of fresh veggies.

"We didn't have much say in it," Hutch crunched down hard on a carrot stick.

"And if we'd had our say, he'd…" Starsky began indignantly but was cut off by the appearance of his Captain.

"Starsky, Hutchinson--and Broadman," Dobey roared in his best 'I'm-in-charge-around-here' voice. "This is a no shop talk zone--and the game is about to start."

"Dad-dee!" Rosie protested, pointing at the TV showing a giant balloon of Snoopy floating over the frosty streets of New York. "Santa hasn't come yet in the parade!"

"Harold!" Edith called. "You're needed for some carving skills."

"Don't carve off one of your fingers in the process," Starsky teased, waving his scarred digit while watching the parade. "I've done that, it's not a pretty sight."

"You watch it, Starsky, or there'll be no turkey for you at all," Dobey warned with a grin before going off to do his wife's bidding.

Hutch opened up a folding chair next to his partner in the wheelchair, since Cal had taken the spot beside his uncle on the couch. Both were arguing over which team to root for in the game, chomping pretzels. Rosie was on the floor cutting out turkey shaped place cards for the table and commenting nonstop about every aspect of the colorful parade. Ethyl Mae had gone in to supervise the putting of the pies in the oven.

Starsky filched a pretzel from Cal that resulted in a sudden flurry of tossed snack foods, much to Rosie's dismay when several fell on her head. There was a general sense of coziness and warmth in the room that filled Hutch with contentment. This was a lot like the Thanksgivings of his childhood--a house full of family and friends, the rich aroma of turkey perfuming the air and the annual argument about watching the Macy's parade or whichever college game started before the meal.

Looking over at Starsky teasing Rosie about the pretzel stuck on the top of her braids, Hutch realized he was relaxed and happy for the first time in a long time. This is what Thanksgiving was for--a reminder of what was most precious in life. He had his lover back--maybe not entirely whole yet, but on his way to healthy--and supportive friends who had helped him through the ordeal. When the group gathered around the festive looking table, complete with turkey shaped place cards, Hutch raised his glass of wine with a toast.

"I give thanks for this whole year. Now maybe some people would think I was crazy…"

"Always have been," Starsky said in a loud voice.

Taking his hand in front of their friends, Hutch continued. "After sitting next to Starsky through six rounds of chemo, I know I am, but weirdly, I'm not sure I would have changed a thing. Those hard days and nights made me so truly grateful that this day has come. Starsky's done with chemo drugs, and with a meal like this one to fatten him up, well on his way back. It's been a terrible journey." He glanced around the table, clinking glasses with each Dobey and Broadman, before turning last to touch his glass to Starsky's. With the crystal chime still in the air he mouthed a silent, 'I love you,' and faced the assembled group once again. "But we couldn't have done it without each one of you here. Thank you, thank you."

"And we give thanks to God that David and Ken were able to join us today," Edith raised her wine and then took a drink. "Thanksgiving for all at this table on this day."

"Amen," chorused the group.

"Can I have a turkey leg?" Rosie asked.

"I wanted it!" Cal countered.

"I'm the father around here, I think I should get it." Dobey gruffed.

"I was saving it for Starsky, put a little meat on his bones," Edith filled his plate and passed it along to the surprised detective.

"I'll share with my girlfriend," Starsky winked at Rosie, both at the far end of the table where their southpaw eating styles didn't bump elbows with righties. "There's enough to go around."

"I knew I liked you!" Rosie grinned.

Hutch laughed, watching to make sure Starsky took a bite of everything on his plate. It wasn't until he felt Edith's hand on his arm that he realized how much he was hovering. A gentle smile from his hostess and a little extra warm gravy on his mashed potatoes nudged him into eating his own meal. Digging in, he enjoyed every mouthful, looking forward to the future with renewed vigor.

End of Book One.