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A Jug of Wine, a Little Veal and Thou

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A Jug of wine, a little veal, and Thou


Downing his second beer, Hutch surveyed the untidy heaps of meat and vegetables scattered across his kitchen counter with a loopy grin. Everything was in readiness for the most stupendous stuffed veal ever prepared. Sure, it was the first stuffed veal he'd ever prepared, but it would certainly be the best because of the love that had inspired Hutch's burst of culinary daring.

Slicing the veal, Hutch couldn't keep from smiling, the afternoon's conversation never far from his thoughts. He was happy; happier than he'd been in the two months since that nightmare morning in May. Starsky was recovering, and had requested something special--something Italian, and by God, that's what he was going to get.

Hutch had nearly danced out of the hospital to the closest grocery, not quite sure what was on the menu but determined to make the night the best ever. After this afternoon, nothing would ever be the same again.

Veal had been on sale, with a little recipe card propped up on the butcher counter like a special offering. Since the succulent meat was one of his favorites, Hutch studied the ingredients with interest, salivating with hunger. Veal, prosciutto, mozzarella, olive oil and sherry--perfection. Anchovies were last on the list, but he decided to leave those off, for the sake of his own stomach, much less Starsky's, which, lately, could be dicey on the best of days.

Selecting each item off the grocery shelves gave him a sense of accomplishment, as if he could cure Starsky's aches with some good old fashioned Italian soul food. This would remind Starsky of the good times; slap-dashed meals of over cooked spaghetti and runny marinara sauce after double shifts, the late nights spent together downing beers over a game of a game of Monopoly, and especially, it would remind him of his grandma's flat over the Italian restaurant back in New York.

Now, his fingers coated with oil olive and flecks of cheese, Hutch had a brightness in his soul that lit the darkest corners where fear had hidden for so long. He couldn't hold the happiness in on his own, and called Huggy, then Dobey, proposing a midnight feast to celebrate the news. Not yet completely devoid of his senses, he didn't admit why he was so giddy. He simply let his friends assume it was due to Starsky's continued recovery. Hanging up with promises that each would contribute something tasty to the party, Hutch went back to his masterpiece.

Humming snatches of songs where, totally coincidentally, the word love kept popping up, Hutch couldn't help but replay snatches of the afternoon's dialogue, remembering laughter, openness and unexpected honesty. Like fate, or some misplaced puzzle piece that completed the picture, he felt whole for the first time in what seemed like forever.

He popped the top on another can of Heineken, assembling thin slices of prosciutto and cheese, and tucking them inside the veal to allow the juices to intensify the flavor as it cooked. This would be delicious. Starsky would go out of his mind after only one bite. Of course, he'd had some pretty bland meals so far at the hospital, so just about anything would be an improvement. Stuffed Veal with Sherry as the first course, and then for the second…Hutch just grinned again, half in the bag already.

Everything took much longer to prepare than Hutch had expected. Leaving the kitchen in utter disarray, he hauled out an old-fashioned silver serving dish from the very back of the cupboard. It was the first time he'd ever used the outsized thing, one of only a few leftovers from his failed marriage. Vanessa had taken the good china, and all the silver flatware, but had left the ugly salver that her elderly aunt had given them. An oversight, no doubt. It was way after midnight when Hutch layered the meat into the enormous tureen and then arm wrestled the roll of aluminum foil for a sheet long enough to protect his concoction.

Hefting the very heavy dish, Hutch was still grinning like a doofus. He couldn't wait to get back to the hospital to see Starsky, and drink in those blueberry blue eyes, that Puckish grin, and enthusiastic greeting. Even when he was sicker than a dog, Starsky would always brighten when Hutch came in the room. It made the bad days better for both of them.

Hurrying down the stairs to his car, Hutch was jittery with excitement. He didn't want to waste any more time before returning to Starsky, back to the place he felt the safest and happiest. It wasn't as if they'd been separated for all that long--he'd left Memorial after seven p.m., and spoken to Starsky on the phone since then. There was just so much to say, so much to be said, and he didn't want to miss a moment of their mutual discoveries.

Life sure took some odd, scary, and wonderful turns, that was for sure. Who could have imagined that such horror--such an unimaginably devastating threat to Starsky's life could result in such a joyful conclusion? Not a conclusion, exactly, but a beginning.

The streets were deserted at just past two in the morning, and for the first time in years, Hutch didn't have lingering fears clinging to him as he navigated the dark roads. Fears left over from his race across town after Starsky's poisoning by injection, and more recently when Dobey had said "I think you'd better get down here right away". Such a simple phrase, so fraught with hidden meanings. Hutch had harbored such terror that night--but that was all past them now. Starsky's bullet wounds were healing into scars, his lungs were beginning to do their work without extra oxygen from a cannula, and he was emerging from the drugged stupor that had left him groggy and barely able to focus. Someone up above was finally smiling down on Starsky and Hutch. No more terror, no more stress-filled days where just one more piece of bad news would have set Hutch off like a rocket. From now on in, the news would all be good, positive and reassuring. Starsky would leave the hospital and…Hutch giggled as he turned into the dark hospital parking lot. What then?

He was too drunk to think much beyond this starry night, so he let the minor worry slip away without a struggle. After all, he and Starsky had always figured out their own paths, why should now be any different?

Stuffing a bottle of wine and a couple of long stemmed glasses into the front of his letterman jacket, Hutch wished belatedly that he hadn't invited Dobey and Huggy. They'd all four have a great time, no doubt about that, but the idea of him and Starsky sipping wine together in a darkened room suddenly had great appeal.

He tottered up to the front of the hospital lugging the silver dish laden with veal like an offering to some ancient god. Bacchus, maybe? Or, who was the god of love? In his current inebriation Hutch couldn't remember, but he was pretty sure it wasn't Hercules. Apollo, maybe? Still considering the possibilities, he bumped into the glass door seconds before the automatic switch kicked on to admit him.

The lobby guard cast a baleful eye in Hutch's direction, far too accustomed to his late night visits to put up any protest. There had been too many times when Hutch had left for the night only to be called back when Starsky worsened in the wee hours. Not tonight, though, not tonight.

Selecting a slice of meat from the serving dish, Hutch slid it onto a paper plate containing the remains of the portly guard's ham and cheese sandwich supper. "A little something extra to make the night go easier."

"Thanks! The smells great, got parmesan in it?"

"Mozzarella," Hutch corrected.

"What else you got there?" the guard asked, poking his finger at Hutch's lumpy jacket with a smirk.

"Medicinal aids," Hutch informed him loftily, a giggle erupting like bubbles in carbonated soda. He started toward the elevator, then turned, almost overbalancing with his load. "My friends, the captain of detectives and a local restaurateur, will be coming through soon. Let 'em in?"

"S'long as they share the spoils." The guard shrugged good naturedly, already biting into his snack.

Planning his strategy for getting safely to Starsky's room as well as he could after four beers and numerous swigs of the cooking sherry, Hutch peered cautiously out as the elevator slid open.

Not a nurse in sight.

There was, however a weasely little orderly pushing a cart full of supplies past the nurses' station. Hutch was caught standing in the open elevator, a deer in the headlights. The orderly advanced on him, glaring, and shaking a finger. "You're not supposed to come after hours. Against policy."

"I just wanted to bring my buddy a little good cheer." Hutch fished the bottle of burgundy out from the front of his jacket, holding it loosely in one hand. His equilibrium was a trifle off, but he managed to keep hold of the huge dish of meat by balancing it on his hip like an infant "But, I can see that you've got me dead to rights." He held the bottle out like a carrot in front of a donkey, coaxing the little mustachioed Napoleon of Memorial Hospital. As expected, the orderly's hand darted out, clasping the neck of the wine.

"Alcoholic spirits aren't allowed," he said imperiously. "I'll have to confiscate that."

With a long suffering sigh Hutch relinquished the bottle, fairly certain that Dobey or Huggy would bring more. At least, he'd asked them to. "I'll just go give Starsky the bad news." Hutch shrugged, pretending regret. "I won't stay long."

"See that you don't!" Napoleon added the wine bottle to his cart load and trundled off, in quite a hurry.

Finally, the coast was clear. Wanting to avoid another encounter, Hutch jogged down the hall, juggling the dish that seemed to grow increasingly heavy with every step. He elbowed the door to 421 open, backing into Starsky's room.

"Look what the cat dragged in," Starsky exclaimed and Hutch was nearly undone right then and there. Starsky's voice was husky and deep, just a tiny bit breathless, and that welcome shone from his eyes. He chuckled, arms resting above his head as if he were sunbathing on a tropical beach instead of confined to bed in an inner city hospital.

Hutch knew, in whatever part of his brain that was still functioning, that for Starsky to have his arms up that high, he must be feeling pretty good. Hutch laughed for sheer joy, deliriously happy to see his best friend, partner and--what? soul's brother? sitting there looking so amazingly healthy in a pair of dark blue pajamas that deepened the color of his eyes to a mesmerizing shade of indigo.

Because the room was so dark, Hutch tripped, barely averting dumping the entire platter of veal into Starsky's lap. Clutching the handles more firmly, he managed to set it precariously on the bed. "Will ya lookit this!" Starsky crowed. "My goodness. Where the hell have y'been?"

"Why?" Hutch peered drunkenly at the bedside clock. "It's 8:45."

"By who's clock?"

"Well, is there something wrong with you?"

"No." Starsky giggled, which just set off Hutch again. "Four painkillers, feel no pain."

"Well, we're even." Hutch looked his friend up and down. Starsky looked cozy, and suddenly Hutch wanted to be tucked up in bed right beside him. He scurried around the other side, practically tumbling under the covers. It was nice here, close up against Starsky's warm shoulder. He grinned happily, donning the lid to the serving dish like an elegant chapeau. They chattered back and forth, silly banter that he wouldn't remember in the morning. But he resolved never to forget the peace that came from sitting with his love. There it was, he'd used the word--well, not aloud, but in regards to Starsky. For now, that would have to do.

Starsky investigated the meal, selecting a piece of veal for his first taste. Just the expression on his face proved to Hutch that he'd made a wise choice. Starsky chewed with a look of pure bliss. Hutch was just so happy to see Starsky alive and eating that he couldn't stop laughing, joy buoying him up like a helium balloon. And it felt so incredibly satisfying to be there, laughing and loving his heart's twin. Nothing else mattered, these were the good times.

"That's beautiful, huh?" Hutch asked, not sure whether he meant the veal, or the radiance that surrounded Starsky. Either, and both.

"This is beautiful," Starsky agreed, chewing. He repeated himself twice for emphasis, swallowing a large mouthful. "It warms my heart."

"I couldn't have my buddy eatin' hospital food for another week, I'll tell you that."

Starsky was framing a mostly coherent reply when the door swung open. Hutch dove under the covers, listening while Starsky chatted pleasantly with an inquisitive nurse. Giggles piled up inside, tickling his insides, but Hutch managed to stay silent until the woman went away. After that all bets were off. He dissolved into gales of helpless laughter, Starsky joining in with an occasional groan of pain between chuckles.

"Didn't you bring anything to drink?" Starsky gasped, when he'd caught his breath.

Delving into the depths of his jacket Hutch produced one wine glass, handing it over. He seemed to have lost the second one, but for the life of him, he couldn't figure out where.

"There's nothing in there," Starsky observed.

Trying to come up with a reason for the oversight, Hutch had to make another dive undercover when the doorknob turned. All these sudden ups and downs were making his head swim. This time, however, it was the captain of detectives who ducked in, and not another nurse.

"Capt'n!" Starsky said with a groan. "Nearly gave a guy a heart attack!"

"I thought you might like something to eat." Dobey placed a huge, restaurant sized tray next to the serving dish full of veal, panting from exertion.

Starsky was ebullient with his praise of the food, his exuberance filling Hutch up until he was distinctly dizzy. Hutch had to giggle just to relieve the pressure, like a warm bottle of champagne. It felt good to let it out, but it just left space for more laughter. He sampled some of Dobey's fare, asking, "Where's Huggy?"

"I lost him downstairs," Dobey explained, popping a few olives in his mouth. "Got in an argument with a very large nurse, and a drunken orderly."

Imagining an inebriated Napoleon taking on a black Ichabod Crane, Hutch laughed so hard he was out of breath. Giggling, too, Starsky clapped a hand over Hutch's mouth, trying to shove him downward as light spilled into the room when Huggy burst in.

"Cheese it, fellas," Huggy announced. "There's a huge nurse on my tail."

Starsky just grinned at his partner, chuckling in that infectious way that had Hutch in stitches yet again. No matter how much the others shushed him, he couldn't stop. He was vaguely aware he might be perilously close to hysterical, but the night was so magical, the relief so great, and the company so appealing, Hutch had to celebrate.

This was life, right here in this room. Love, hope and success, all in one beautiful, curly haired package.

"Huggy, did you bring some wine?" Starsky asked, holding out his still empty glass.

"Is the pope a Pole?" Huggy produced a bottle and several more glasses, handing the bottle over to Starsky. "Chateau Martin, 1977."

"Somebody turn the lights on,' Dobey said, still munching on antipasto. "I've got to have light to eat."

He didn't seem to be having any trouble snagging finger food from the round tray, even in the dark, Hutch thought, but Huggy lit the wick of a camping lantern he'd brought. Suddenly there was a warm, soothing glow that softened the corners of the drab room where Starsky had spent so much time. Hutch liked it much better this way, the horrible memories tucked back into the shadows where they belonged.

Starsky splashed white wine into Hutch's glass, then poured some for the other two. Somehow he ended up without a glass, but again Hutch was far too blitzed to have logically followed the last few seconds, so he wasn't quite certain how that had happened.

Nearly putting his foot in the food, Huggy climbed up on the bed to hang the lantern from a small protrusion in the ceiling. It seemed a very convenient spot, allowing the revelers to see each other as they raised their glasses.

"Starsky, you're uncouth," Dobey said as the patient waved the wine bottle around. Hutch was mellowing but he found that statement outrageously funny, and giggled into his wine.

"Gen'lmen, I wanna propose a toast." Starsky tripped slightly over his words, but there was such a wealth of emotion in his voice that they caught at Hutch's heart, sealing his love for this man forever. "To four very heavy dudes."

For one sublime moment, they were connected, not just by the clink of crystal against glass, but by shared experience and brotherhood. Four very heavy dudes who had emerged from the chaos stronger, imbued with a friendship and strength that would help them survive the common strife of everyday life. It had been brutal, but the light was shining at the end of a very long tunnel, and it had a brilliance that thrilled the soul. Not the infamous white light of the afterlife, but a luminescence that exposed the
wonderment of tomorrow, and every day after that.

Soaking in Starsky's words, Hutch stared up at the light shining just above him. Not quite as bright as the future, but still oddly compelling. "Huggy?" he asked, sitting up so abruptly Starsky was overbalanced and had to hang onto the mattress. "Uh--" Hutch searched his booze-fogged brain for the correct way to phrase the question. Something niggled at him, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. "What was that you hung the lantern from up there?"

"I dunno," Starsky began, straining his head to look up.

"Looks like…" Dobey said.

"One of them…" Huggy put in hesitantly, realization coloring his words with dread.

"Fire sensitive sprinklers," Hutch finished as the lantern's flame tripped the sprinkler head's internal sensor and released a cold, stinging spray of water designed to put out the hottest fire. Seconds later, a hospital-wide fire alarm blared to life, a claxon so brayingly loud that Starsky covered his ears with a grimace.

"Dammit!" Hutch swore, nearly falling out of the bed. As if the cold shower of myth really did sober up a drunk, he was instantly clear headed, although soaked through. This would not be good for Starsky, not at all. He'd barely recovered from a prolonged bout of pneumonia and couldn't afford to get that sick again. "Get rid of this food!" Hutch commanded. He wanted Starsky out of bed, and into the hopefully drier hall as fast as possible. Removing the silver serving dish of meat, he slid it under the bed to give Starsky freedom to move.

"Going now!" Huggy grabbed one side of the antipasto while Dobey caught up the other side. They would have made it out the door if a contingency of nurses and orderlies hadn't barged in. Napoleon had a fire extinguisher hose at the ready. Dobey and Huggy ran smack into the orderly, dumping the tray of Italian delicacies down the front of his white uniform in a smeary mess.

"You two!" a burly nurse growled.

Starsky had long ago dubbed her Half-Nelson Nadja. Hutch wasn't sure whether that was her real name, or just one of Starsky's bad jokes, but the sobriquet suited her perfectly. Hutch would have laughed again at the miserable sight of them all huddled wet, cold, and in Napoleon's case, covered in olives and salami, if it hadn't been for Starsky shivering in the sopping bed.

"He needs to get dry," Hutch stated the obvious, which cut through the cacophony of accusations and diatribe between Huggy, Dobey, and the hospital employees, stopping them abruptly.

"It's past visiting hours!" Nadja shouted over the continued noise of the alarms. Several patients were poking their heads in to see what was going on, and she shooed them out with a bark. "Everybody out, especially you two." She would have taken Huggy by the ear and hauled him down the hall, but he ducked away from her, bumping into Dobey, who shoved his way out the door in the interim.

Nadja and Napoleon escorted them to the elevator, citing chapter and verse every hospital policy that had been violated, and by a captain of police, no less. Dobey's authoritarian voice could be heard loudly protesting this treatment until the elevator doors snicked shut. About that time the earsplitting fire alarm finally ceased, along with the rainstorm in room 421.

Hutch pushed dripping hair out of his eyes, putting out a hand to Starsky who looked pale and wet, but still exuberant. There was a teasing gleam in his eyes that skewered Hutch to the core. Starsky loved him, it was as simple as that. He could read it in every curve of that smile.

"Somehow I always leave a party leaning on your arm," Starsky said through chattering teeth, climbing slowly out of bed.

Hutch smiled at the memory of countless parties where they'd staggered home, four sheets to the wind, and as close as a pair of twins.

"When something works, why change it?" Hutch joked, cradling Starsky close. They were both safe, there was no need to worry, but Hutch couldn't stop the fears that crept back in. Bad things happened to Starsky, and he had to be protected against assault from all sides. It was nothing more than any man would do for his love.

"Going my way?" A pretty, middle aged nurse with the kindest brown eyes Hutch had ever seen barred their way with a wheelchair.

"Maggie!" Starsky identified her. "You got another room? Mine seems to have a sprung a leak."

"Down on the right, with a scenic view of the parking lot," she quipped. "Just take a seat, and you'll be here in no time."

For a moment Hutch felt Starsky stiffen as if he wanted to refuse, but the excitement of the night had to be taking a toll on him and he finally relented, folding up into the wheelchair with a groan. "C'mon, Hutch," Starsky said tiredly, not relinquishing his grasp on Hutch's arm.

"He has to go home, Dave," Maggie said gently.

"No!" Starsky shook his head violently, his wet hair spraying water everywhere the way a puppy's would after a bath. 'I need…please, Maggie?"

"Dave, it's very late. Everyone's been disrupted, and it's against the rules."

Starsky tilted his head back, looking up at Hutch, still clutching his arm. His skin was cold to the touch, but Hutch wouldn't have broken the connection for anything on earth. "Do you do that to married couples?" Starsky asked the nurse.

Clamping his mouth shut Hutch tried not to let his amazement show. Starsky had just compared them to a husband and wife?

"No, but you two are not mar…" Pushing the chair forward, Maggie stepped aside to let Hutch proceed her into the new room, her expression changing so quickly she gave an involuntary gasp. "You and Ken?" Her brown eyes were less warm now, staring at Hutch with something like accusation.

"Yes, Starsky and I," Hutch confirmed, surprised at how composed he sounded when all he wanted to do was shout with happiness. Not exactly how he'd planned on 'outting' himself, but then, until this afternoon, he hadn't really given the whole concept of loving Starsky more than a fleeting thought. It had always been there, a base to their friendship, but nothing more than an amorphous dream that he'd been reluctant to hold up in the light of day. So much would be different from now on. So much would be altered between them, and yet nothing at all had changed.

Starsky's responding grin gave Hutch bravery, and he placed his hand over his partner's--no make that, his spouse's, with pride.

Maggie pursed her lips, then jerked her head behind her at a large cart covered with a blue drape standing in the hall. "Can you grab a bunch of towels and some scrubs off there, Ken?" she asked, helping Starsky out of the wheelchair.

By the time Hutch returned with his load of linen Starsky was undressed, lurid scars standing out in stark relief against his pale, shaved chest. And despite noticeable weight loss, Starsky looked damned good to Hutch. He'd never admired another man before, although he'd seen Starsky nude often enough, so the sudden jolt of arousal that made him lower the towels to cover the evidence was a revelation. The nebulous emotion he'd finally identified as real love that afternoon certainly wasn't just platonic. He was forced to deal with overwhelming desire standing there in front of the waiting nurse. Embarrassing, but wonderful. none the less.

"Give those to me." Maggie wrapped the shivering Starsky in a warm towel, depriving Hutch of his lovely view. Covering Starsky's hair with a second one, she rubbed briskly. "Then go find a second set of scrubs for yourself. You've got goosebumps."

Her eyes were too good, Hutch mused. She'd probably seen his erection, too.

"You gonna let Hutch stay?" he could hear Starsky asking, although his voice was muffled. Maggie must have pulled the green scrub top over his head. "He made some fantastic veal, you should try some. There's more than enough."

Emboldened by their modest successes so far, Hutch bypassed the linen cart in favor of retrieving his serving dish from room 421. Two housekeepers were just arriving with mops to clean up, and Hutch shared a portion of the succulent meat with them. He spied the forgotten bottle of wine half covered by the wet bed sheet, and tucked it under his arm before grabbing his change of clothes.

"One hour," Maggie warned, coming out of 418. "His vitals are normal, for now. He's due for painkillers at 4 a.m., and Chardonnay is not on his approved med list."

"Didn't want it to get thrown out," Hutch said lightly. He would have hugged her in gratitude, maybe even offered a chaste kiss, but his arms were full of a number of things, and he was sorely afraid the veal was about to spill out onto the floor. "Thank you." It was inadequate, but nothing else seemed appropriate.

"I'm not sure…what to think about the two of you," Maggie confessed. "I never guessed, but in retrospect, I probably should have."

"Don't worry," Hutch laughed, and his drunkenness was back as quickly as it had fled only a short time before. Lightheaded, he nearly swayed, but propped himself against the door jam. "We haven't had that much time to get used to it, ourselves."

"Hutch?" Starsky called. "You comin'?"

"Right here," Hutch dumped the food and wine on the bedside table with a sigh of relief that he hadn't littered the hospital with slices of meat. Gathering up the cotton scrubs, he started for the bathroom to get dressed.

"Stay here," Starsky commanded.

"Huh?" Hutch asked blearily, very aware that he'd had way too much to drink. All he wanted to do was get back into bed with his love and give that goofy face a kiss.

"You got to see me naked." Starsky gestured at Hutch's wet jeans. "Take 'em off."

"This will only lead to depravity and drunken lewdness." Hutch giggled, kicking the door shut. He shucked his pants quickly. Since he'd kept his letterman jacket on the entire time, his red shirt wasn't at all that wet, but his hair was dripping down under the collar, and his mustache felt like a drowned rat on his upper lip.

"I wish it would," Starsky sighed, but Hutch could see how tired he was now. The activity had been too much. He was wincing and breathing a little faster, leaning back against the pillows wearing a lecherous grin. Leave it to Starsky to bring sex into the sick room. "Even if I can't raise the flag, I can still watch the performance."

"Haven't had much practice at stripping." Hutch tossed his jacket in the same direction the jeans had gone, and then removed his shirt.

"You're perfection," Starsky said softly. Hutch basked in the glow of that smile, wondering if he was so uninhibited because of all the alcohol or because it was so right, so natural, with Starsky. "And you're big."

"This old thing?"

"Is it…did I do that?" Starsky asked in wonderment.

"When I saw you, just before Maggie wrapped you in the towel," Hutch found himself blushing, which conversely made him all the harder. He ached with arousal, and there was nothing to be done about it.

"Wow," Starsky whispered. "Can I touch it?"

"Let me get in with you," Hutch donned the green scrub top in a second, then scrambled into bed next to his amour. Nothing was better than the moment Starsky laid a tentative hand on Hutch's cock, sending waves of tingling tremors up and down his body. God, he'd never expected it to be so good, so fast. Starsky barely touched him, and he nearly climaxed.

"So warm," Starsky said, wrapping his fingers around more firmly. Hutch almost swooned.

"Are you still cold, slugger?"

"Not right now," Starsky laughed, looking straight at him with those delighted eyes, and suddenly they were kissing. The first real kiss of their lives. The barely-there buss of the afternoon had been a pallid thing compared to the power that kept their lips locked together for long breathless moments. "That's terrific, you know that? You're terrific."

"I wish we'd figured this out a long time ago." Hutch kissed a pointy chin, then a nose and two eyebrows, giggling at the butterfly kisses he got in return when Starsky fluttered his eyelashes. He'd never noticed what amazing eyelashes Starsky had, like black silk fringe framing those midnight blue eyes. Every inch of him deserved a kiss.

Starsky moaned with need, his mouth open and receptive, his hand sliding along the length of Hutch's penis. While he was in mid-kiss Hutch orgasmed, christening Starsky's legs with semen. That, combined with the drunkenness, just about short-circuited Hutch's brain, and he fell onto the pillow, drained. He heard Starsky moan again, felt a sticky hand caress his chest, and would have slept if not for that tiny alarm bell that went off in his stupefied brain. Starsky's latest moan had sounded more like a groan, almost of pain, and with rising fear, Hutch's eyes snapped open.

"Starsk? You ok?" Hutch asked worriedly. Starsky was pale, and he was breathing like a thoroughbred after a race, sweat glistening on his forehead. "You look like you're having a heart attack."

"My heart'll never be the same, that's for sure," Starsky agreed, panting. "The flesh was weak, but completely willin'. Can we do that again, soon?"

'When your physical therapist says you can participate in more strenuous contact sports," Hutch promised, giving him a quick kiss. He located one of the towels Maggie had left behind, using it to wipe off the evidence of their lovemaking.

"That's the kind of therapy I could get used to." Starsky laughed. He let Hutch redress him in a clean pair of scrub pants, but Hutch could feel the tremors of pain coursing Starsky's torso whenever he had to turn or rotate. That, in itself, was sobering. Starsky had come a long way, but there was still a ways to go before he was ready to return to the force.

Which was a whole other frightening subject, especially in light of their new relationship. Could they go back to their old ways, side by side patrolling the streets? How could he deal with having Starsky back in the line of fire again? Shelving that in his mental filing cabinet under 'w' for worry, Hutch wadded up the dirty clothes and towels, depositing them in a linen hamper. He pulled on a pair of too short scrub pants, tying the drawstring tightly.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked lazily.


"How did you know, this afternoon? When did things change? Cause one minute we were playing chess, and I reached over to checkmate you, and we touched…" Starsky stopped, confusion on his face as if he were trying to sequence the events properly so that he could recount that momentous occasion for future generations. "And I knew. Like the whole world just went some whole other direction." He reached out shyly, the same hand, Hutch noticed dazedly, that had serviced him so awesomely just moments ago. "Was it like that for you?"

"Just about," Hutch agreed, remembering the brush of Starsky's skin as he'd snatched up the king. They'd gone from joking about Starsky's law to staring into each other's eyes, nearly bowled over with emotion.

Starsky had said "I love you." Just like that. He'd said it many times before over the course of their partnership, but this afternoon, it had meant something so completely different. Hutch hadn't been quite able to return the sentiment, not then, but it hadn't mattered, because he'd been so insanely happy. They'd linked fingers, jabbering nothing and everything to one another, love struck after all these years.

"I love you," Hutch said aloud, at three thirty five in the morning.

"Yeah, I know," Starsky said, his eyes heavy lidded. "But why d'you think it happened, like that? Today of all days, out of all the days we've sat next to each other and touched and…"

"Seen each other in the buff?" Hutch shrugged. "I was thinking about that, when I was making the veal." He selected a slice and bit into it, tasting the wonderful mixture of saltiness and creaminess from the prosciutto and cheese with the veal for the first time. He hadn't sampled when he was cooking. "I think it's because of the date."

"The date?"

"It's my birthday," Hutch chuckled. "August 28th."

"Aw, Hutch, I forgot?" Starsky's voice squeaked in indignation. "How could I forget that?"

"Starsky, you've had some pretty serious things to think about lately. Just getting over pneumonia again, and all the discharge planning…"

"Yeah, but, I didn't get you anything."

"You gave me a whole new life, loverboy." Hutch kissed him right on the lips, realizing belatedly that Maggie or worse, Nadja, could come walking in at any moment, and that they should be curtailing their romantic endeavors until after Starsky was discharged.

"Mmm, you taste great. Give me some." Starsky licked his lips.

Hutch took another bite, then leaned over to feed it to Starsky. This made them both laugh, and bits of veal dribbled down their chins.

"Happy Birthday, Hutch," Starsky wiped off the mess, then sucked on his fingers. "I'm tired." He yawned.

"And you need a couple pain pills, unless I miss my guess," Hutch said, taking a swig of wine straight from the bottle to wash down his snack.

"What are you, psychic?" Starsky shifted, and grimaced from the movement.

"I, the great Hutchino, have all sorts of magical powers." Hutch fluttered his hands over Starsky's head, then kissed him very lightly on the forehead. "I made you fall in love, didn't I?"

"If this is illusion, who needs reality," Starsky sighed with contentment, then patted the bed. "Sleep with me, Hutchino."

"Maggie gave me an hour, so I'll take a rain check before she throws me out." Hutch toasted Starsky with the wine bottle before taking another drink. "I've got to go furniture shopping, anyway."

"What you going to buy?"

Hutch winked saucily. "A king-sized bed."


The End. Or is it just the beginning?