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Another bad one woke him, curled tight around the cold that was clenching his gut. The dread was a monster that came at him when he was sleeping and defenseless, and no amount of reassuring himself that the poison had been vanquished, that Starsky was okay, could quiet its dark whisper of maybe this time, but what about the next?

It had been too close a thing.

Hutch knew from experience that sleep would be impossible, so he got up and spent some time with his plants. It wasn't yet late enough to go for a run.

By start of shift he was feeling all right again. Dobey had him partnered up with Ross this week. The quiet, no-nonsense detective was on loan from Bunco, and his take on the streets was patient and world-weary. It should have been a relief—the absence of Starsky's sometimes over-exuberant chatter—but Hutch missed him, and found excuses to stop by a phone to check up on him. Ross let him get away with it.

But after work, when Hutch was free to visit Starsky in the hospital, more often than not he would call to make excuses, feeling like a selfish prick for letting his friend down, but unable to muster the courage needed to witness Starsky still looking so damned pale and weak.

He knew Starsky didn't get it—was even a little hurt at the neglect, at the pulling away. On Friday, a week after the whole horrible thing had started, Hutch finally got the balls up to visit again. Starsky's delight at seeing him made him feel like all kinds of a jerk.

"Hey, pal. I was beginning to think you were a figment of my imagination," Starsky said.

"Sorry, partner." Hutch stood awkwardly in the doorway, his hands full of guilt offerings. Three paperbacks of the type of crime novel Starsky loved to read, and a pound of Sees chocolate—none of the fruit-filled ones because Starsky didn't believe in mixing his chocolate with anything but nuts.

"For me?" Starsky said, his grin broad. He waved him in impatiently. Hutch dumped the gifts on the bed and pulled up a chair.

"How're you-how're...how's it going?" Hutch stammered out.

Starsky cocked his head and gave him a look.

"Doin' all right. Doc Franklin says I'm out of here tomorrow." Starsky eagerly reached for the chocolate, making Hutch smile a little. "Get me a cup of water?"

Hutch rose and filled the plastic cup sitting by the sink, bringing it back. Starsky reached up to take it. His hand trembled slightly as he brought the cup to his lips, and Hutch winced.

"It's getting better," Starsky said quietly, giving him a keen look, the smile gone.

Getting better. Meaning the nerve damage caused by the vicious poison was finally healing. Meaning the systems in Starsky's body that had been shutting down from the damage were finally repairing themselves, slowly.

"That's terrific," Hutch said, trying to hide how the sight of Starsky trembling was giving him shakes of his own.

"Better believe it." Starsky tore the paper off the box and opened it. He started to reach in for a piece of candy and then nudged the box toward Hutch instead. "Wanna piece?"

Hutch shook his head. Starsky made a pleased grunt and pulled the box toward himself, digging in happily. He lay back against his pillow and looked up, his eyes a deep, vibrant blue in the still-pale face. And Hutch was lost, spun back in time to a week earlier.

Fear was an animal, rabid, snarling, caged beneath his ribs, tearing at his insides as Hutch stared into the unnaturally still, white mask of Starsky's face. He was peripherally aware of the tall, stick-thin doctor by his side, of the nurses fiddling with equipment around him, but Starsky's face was the center. It pulled him closer and closer until it filled his vision entirely.

Words, soapy and useless, caught on his tongue, unuttered. The frantic voice that had been chanting a panicked song for more time, more time, suddenly fell silent as Hutch strained to hear what Starsky's eyes were telling him. He listened to the flick of a lash and the mere whisper of a grin, and he nodded.


Okay.

It wasn't, really, but it would have to be, because there was almost no time left at all, and what little remained wasn't his to spend here, in his selfish need to be close, soaking up some last moments in the presence of Starsky, alive. Instead, he had to trade them for the sliver of a possible future. As impossible as it seemed, he had to give these last minutes up.

Hutch had gone, taking the hardest gamble of his life. And the jackpot was sitting in front of him stuffing his face with chocolate. He felt a sudden, inexplicable flash of irritation.

"You're gonna give yourself a stomachache, or maybe even a heart attack from all that sugar. Take it easy, will ya?"

Starsky just tilted back his head and tossed a piece in the air, catching it in his mouth and then chewing deliberately before giving Hutch an unrepentant grin.

"Well, if you're planning on eating that whole box, I think I'll take off before I have to watch you puke it back up." Hutch felt an itching beneath his skin, as bad as the weeks after Monk had been finished with him. He got up quickly and gave Starsky a quick pat on the leg.

"You're leaving already?"

"Yeah, I've got...things." Hutch hurried on at the disappointed frown, "I'm sorry I haven't been around as much. But I'll come pick you up tomorrow. What time are they cutting you loose?"

"Noon, they said, right before the nursing shift changes."

Hutch grunted his understanding and turned toward the door.

"Oh, and Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"Try not to forget my pants this time."

ooOoo

That night Hutch's dreams were filled with the endless, heart-sinking chase. In Bellamy's room, he tore through endless piles of paper, all of them seeming to reproduce themselves until the room was a flurry of white. He caught some pages, desperate for clues, but when he tried to read them the sheets were covered in gibberish, like some foreign language. He threw them aside and landed on his knees in front of Bellamy's widow, clutching her shoulders so tightly he could feel the bones starting to give.

"Who? Who?" he yelled, but she just screamed in agony and collapsed. When he tried to shake her, she dissolved into more paper, scattered by the whirlwind of his rage and grief.

Hutch woke up with a start, his throat locked on a shout.

Starsky!

ooOoo

Starsky got better quickly once he was home. Hutch grew a little more comfortable visiting, although he found himself easily irritated by Starsky's antics as he tried to wheedle delivery of his favorite foods, or assistance with his household chores.

And then came Starsky's first day back at the desk, and his little scam for getting two weeks in the Virgin Islands. "Yeah, it'll be filled with all the kinda girls Starsky says he wants...."

Anger, fierce and unexpected, caught Hutch in the throat as he listened to Huggy's innocent rundown. Hutch yielded to temptation and poured the water he was holding onto his unsuspecting partner's head. Better that than throttling him.

The embarrassed chagrin on Starsky's face at getting caught out did little to appease Hutch's anger. He carried it like a stone throughout the day, feeling it settle his features into harsh lines.

The anger somehow helped, because that night Hutch didn't dream at all.

ooOoo

"So how did Ross work out?" Starsky said.

There was something funny in his voice, and Hutch turned his head to view Starsky as he drove.

"He's a good guy," Hutch said. "We closed a couple of small ones. Not bad to work with."

"Oh, yeah? Well, don't be gettin' any ideas, Blondie." Starsky flashed him a grin before turning back to the road.

"Ideas?" Hutch was distracted by the smile, which made him feel oddly uneasy. Just weird being back on the streets with him, I guess. He looks good, though, real good.

"Yeah, don't get any ideas," Starsky said, pulling his attention back. "Your ass is mine, Hutchinson."

Startled, Hutch swung his head back to Starsky, but he was already staring at something ahead.

"Wouldya get a load of that? I do believe that's Three-Legged Sam over there," Starsky said as he pulled the Torino into the right-hand lane and slowed to a crawl.

What the hell did that crack mean? Hutch shook his head, then shaded his eyes and picked up the subject walking south.

Starsky said idly, "You think maybe the reason they call him Three-Legged Sam is because he's got a really big—"

Hutch interrupted sarcastically, "Gee, I don't know, Starsk. How about you get him to drop his pants for us so we can confirm?"

Starsky gave him a hurt look.

"Every time," Hutch said, responding to the look, "every time we see Three-Legged Sam you start speculating on the size...on the abundance of his...privates."

"Yeah, and usually you think it's pretty funny," Starsky muttered, his voice almost too low to hear.

It was true, and Hutch felt like a complete heel. Behavior that had always amused him about his partner had been annoying him all day, and he had no idea why. He kept swinging wildly between feeling an urge to stuff Starsky in the trunk, and an overwhelming, choking gratitude that Starsky was still around to irritate him.

Sam, the no-good louse, was up to his usual tricks. They waited until he had committed and moved in on his pigeon before they charged down the alleyway to rescue the poor man, who by then had been stripped of his wallet and his outerwear, but was unharmed. It wasn't Sam's M.O. to hurt them, just clean them like a plucked chicken.

Sam was philosophical about being sent back to the can. He cracked wise in the car about getting his old bunk back. While he and Starsky joked back and forth like old pals, Hutch leaned back against the door and listened, keeping Starsky's animated profile in his sights.

Bellamy, you bastard, I hope you are seeing this. I hope wherever you are rotting, you can see that he's just fine and dandy. Hutch felt a fierce pride, and an even deeper pang of sadness.

The latter hounded him through the rest of their shift, and when Starsky asked him if he wanted to hit the Pits afterward, Hutch shook his head and left him standing in the squad room.

It felt strangely like running.

ooOoo

The cottage was hemming him in, so Hutch went for a walk along the canals. He could hear the distant, staccato beat of a police chopper hanging over Oakwood, but here by the water it was quiet, all the families tucked in their homes eating dinner.

The sadness was still there, like an undigested lump. Or maybe that was the corndog Starsky had made him eat for lunch. Starsky had grinned at him around a mouthful, egging him on, a sly twinkle in his eye.

Hutch shook his head and started the walk back, chewing over the lump. He knew it was related to the poisoning, but he didn't know how. He couldn't shake the sinking dread he'd felt sitting next to Starsky in the ambulance, or the even worse feeling of terror and despair when Dr. Franklin had given him the lowdown. Twenty-four hours. How was Hutch supposed to swallow that, ever? The minutes had sped by, slipping through his fingers like sand.

And Starsky had wanted to pretend...not that it wasn't happening, but that it wasn't shattering them into pieces. And Hutch had to go along, because it was either that or not be able to function. So Starsky had been right, in a way.

But at the same time, nothing Hutch had felt had any place to go. Maybe that's why the dreams....

Last night's had been a doozy. He'd been on his way to the professor's house and gotten lost in the twisted roads up above Westwood. That part was real: in his panic, Hutch had lost at least five minutes trying to find the cul de sac the professor's house was on. And the entire way back to the hospital he'd had the terrifying certainty that he would arrive with the syringe just five minutes too late.

But in his dream, he'd been lost eternally, driving round and round, and his grief had increased by the second, because somehow he could hear Starsky's heartbeat growing slower and slower. Hutch had awoken before dawn in a cold sweat.

This is stupid. I need to get a handle on this or Starsky's gonna get on my case tomorrow. I can't be distracted by this shit. It's over, dammit. He's fine, I'm fine, and if I don't pull my head out of my ass, something worse could happen.

Hutch nodded to himself and turned the corner to his cottage. The light was on inside. So, apparently Starsky had already given up on letting him work it out on his own.

Hutch gritted his teeth and went up the walk.

ooOoo

"I ordered us a pizza," Starsky said as Hutch entered. Hutch took the time to remove his leather coat and hang up his gun and holster before responding.

"What a treat," he said wryly.

Starsky lifted his head from the paper he was reading. He was sprawled out on the sofa with his shoes off. "I also brought a six-pack," he said, and dropped his head again.

"Now that I can get behind," Hutch said, going to the kitchen to get himself a beer. He brought one back for Starsky as well, and set it on the coffee table beside him.

Hutch took the armchair opposite and fiddled with his bottle cap.

"Where were you?" Starsky said to his newspaper.

"Went for a walk."

Starsky made a hmmph noise and then folded up his paper with a deliberate motion.

"So, you gonna tell me what's going on with you?"

Hutch looked away. The cold beer was making a damp spot on his thigh, and he draped his wrist over the armrest, dangling the bottle.

"Nothing's going on. Just getting back into the swing."

"Yeah, huh?" Starsky's voice was, unsurprisingly, disbelieving.

Hutch heard a car outside and rose at the convenient excuse to retrieve his wallet and count out some money for the delivery. He opened the door and accepted the pizza, handing over the cash with thanks.

"If you're paying for pizza, things must be more serious than I thought," Starsky said after Hutch closed the door.

Hutch shook his head and left the box on the coffee table, then went into the kitchen for some napkins. By the time he returned, Starsky was already munching contentedly on a slice, oil from the melted cheese slicking his fingers. Hutch dropped a napkin on him and took a slice himself, sitting back down in the armchair. It was good pie, from Giovanni's, their favorite place, but it tasted like rubber tonight, and the first few bites were already settling like lead in his stomach.

He abandoned his piece and sat watching Starsky.

He'd always enjoyed watching his partner. Always been proud of Starsky's dark-haired good looks, and the way all the energy in the room seemed to collect in the burly form. But tonight it just deepened his confused, lost feeling. Hutch looked away again.

"Sooner or later, you know," Starsky mumbled around dough and cheese, "you're gonna have to come clean."

Hutch looked back and sighed.

Starsky finished his slice and wiped his fingers off to take a sip of his beer. "Swear to God, Hutch, you're a pain in the ass sometimes. Lately, seems like half the time you act like someone pissed in your granola. And the other half you keep sighing at me."

Hutch reached over to hook his beer from the side table.

"When you gonna talk to me, huh?" Starsky said.

"Now you want me to talk," Hutch muttered.

"When didn't I?" Starsky said incredulously.

"You...you—" Hutch didn't finish, not wanting to open the can of worms from the time at the hospital, when Starsky hadn't wanted to hear it. How badly they'd both been hurting. Hutch rubbed at the tightness in his forehead.

Starsky sounded bewildered. "What'd I do? I didn't think this was about me, but I guess it is. It's about what happened with Bellamy, isn't it?"

Hutch nodded reluctantly and took another pull from his beer.

"So? Talk, already."

Hutch shifted restlessly to his feet, feeling the itching under his skin again and a desire to get it out, as if the poison were still there, only it was in him now, somehow it was in his veins, and the only antidote this time was to cut himself wide open.

"Ever since...ever since it happened, I can't sleep, Starsk. I can't stop thinking about it, and it's like I look at you and I get so fucking...angry. Like it was your fault, only I know it wasn't. But part of it was. The part where you didn't seem to want...."

"Want what?" Starsky said, sounding breathless. His voice was far away, and Hutch realized he had moved without thinking to the kitchen counter. He turned around and looked back at Starsky.

With only one lamp on, Starsky was the one lit object in the room. It seemed to Hutch that that was perfect, really. Starsky was the only light. And he almost got taken away. How could Hutch not have known, before, how dark the world would be without him?

But then why was it whenever he looked at Starsky now, he felt that sadness, or sometimes just pissed, like Starsky was denying him something, playing with him?

"I look at you," Hutch said, hardly aware he was speaking, "and it's like I need something from you to make it right. I need...I need...." His heart pounded with confusion.

"What?" Starsky was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, palms up. The light was behind him now, and his eyes were dark, mysterious. But his voice was so soft. "What do you need, Hutch?"

You. Hutch's head jerked up as the truth smacked him in the face. Oh, God. It's you. I need you. I need you.

If an earthquake had hit in that moment Hutch would have been no less shocked. Or terrified. In fact, the earth was shifting out from under his feet, and he reached back to clutch the counter hard, letting it hold him upright while he reeled.

And then panic had him bolting toward the door.

"Don't go," Starsky said quietly. It shouldn't have made any difference, except that something in his voice, something so steady and knowing, froze Hutch in his tracks.

"Starsk." Hutch's voice cracked uncertainly as he swayed with indecision. Don't look. Don't look. He knew if he turned toward his partner, Starsky would read in a heartbeat the helpless want on his face, the need Hutch felt to touch him, to be close, so much closer than friends or partners. Closer than the six inches that had separated them when Hutch had leaned over Starsky on that hospital gurney and stared down into the face of loss. Unable to speak. Unable to say the words that had logjammed in his throat. I love you. Don't leave me. Don't ever leave.

"Don't go," Starsky said again, and by some miracle Hutch heard it in his voice, the same, painful need. "Don't go, Hutch."

"Oh, God," Hutch murmured, and he turned his head, still not daring to look at Starsky dead on, but capturing the lit form at the corner of his vision, seeing the hands that seemed to be reaching out toward him.

There are different kinds of need, Hutch reminded himself. Maybe he just wants what we had before the dreams started, before I started pushing him away. And he had, he realized now; he'd been pushing Starsky away with both hands, avoiding him and the discomfort and confusion and anger and...love that he felt every time he saw him.

Hutch couldn't face him, couldn't face the risk. The gamble that Starsky would read him, and be dismayed, or even repulsed by what he saw.

Not to mention it was even more terrifying to think Starsky might feel the same way.

"You know," Starsky said, almost casually, "I really got to missing you when I was in the hospital. Seemed like you weren't there that much, or never there long enough for us to really talk about stuff. We never talked about what happened."

Hutch held his position, listening.

"Later, it started to feel like you kept giving me the slip. I started to wonder about it. I thought maybe you were mad at me or something for almost dying on you."

Hutch nodded, relieved at what appeared to be an out.

"But that wasn't it, was it? At least, that's not the only thing that was going on."

Grudgingly, Hutch shook his head. He turned away, making a one-eighty to head over to the side table where his beer still waited. He took a sip. It was warm, cloying, but it eased the dryness in his throat.

But turning his back on Starsky proved to be a tactical error, because suddenly the soft voice was behind him.

"Why, Hutch? Why'd you run out on me?"

Hutch couldn't help but answer the honest pain he heard in his partner's voice.

"Something...happened to me. That last time, in the hospital, before I went after the professor."

"What? What happened?" The low voice was even closer now. Hutch could feel it lifting the hair on the back of his neck.

"I...I—" Hutch set the beer down. "I needed to tell you, but I couldn't."

Starsky touched him then, two hands gripping his shoulders firmly.

"Tell me now." The hands tugged him inexorably, turning him, and Hutch's resistance leaked away at the sight of Starsky's face.

It seemed like it had been forever since Hutch had looked into those eyes, which were so soft, like warm beacons, pulling, drawing him in, until something finally cut loose, and Hutch's arms rose to wrap tightly around Starsky. Hutch's head dropped, his mouth found an ear, and he whispered, helplessly—

"I love you. Don't leave me."

He felt Starsky sigh, and then Hutch's breath was squeezed out of him as Starsky hugged him hard.

"Not going anywhere. Not ever."

"Oh, God." Hutch was shaking suddenly, hard enough to tear him apart, and it felt like Starsky was trembling too, but his arms didn't let go.

What did I do? What have I done? But it felt so right, being this close, hanging on the edge of being closer still, so that, in spite of the fear, Hutch raised one hand to capture the side of Starsky's face, the rough stubble catching at his palm, and he stroked the warm, soft skin under one eye with his thumb.

It felt like climbing a mountain, just turning his head by degrees until his lips almost overlapped Starsky's. He could feel the quickness of Starsky's breath against his cheek. He could hear the soft sigh of Starsky's hand moving over the cloth of his shirt, over his back, up to his neck.

Kiss him. I'm going to kiss Starsky. If there were any ambiguity left to his actions, that would surely shatter it. But Starsky's fingers were tangling in the hair at the base of his neck, and Hutch suddenly knew he wouldn't be left the option of inaction.

Then it was happening. Starsky's cheek scraped against his, and his lips slid onto Hutch's.

Oh. Powerful, terrifying, electric. Pure Starsky. Starsky. Starsky. Hutch took one breath and then time stopped while he explored Starsky's mouth with his lips, took his tongue into his own mouth and tasted it there, then pressed harder, until teeth threatened lips and Hutch's sanity threatened to desert him. He felt his cock harden.

It was too much, and he yanked himself away, the shock like a plant being torn up by the roots. Hutch retreated to the kitchen to stand with his hands braced on the countertop.

"Hutch?" Starsky said uncertainly.

"I didn't know. I didn't know," Hutch said. Idiot. What did you think closer meant? Closer and closer still, until we're skin on skin. Until....

And he wanted it. Oh, he wanted it.

Starsky's hand was at his elbow, and Hutch let himself be guided back to the sofa, where Starsky pushed him down until he sat, hands clenched tightly together to prevent them from going to his cock, which was painfully hard, a knot of heat burning in his pants.

Starsky knelt in front of him and placed his hands on Hutch's knees. Too close, but not close enough. Hutch raised his head.

"I got your attention, Blintz?" Starsky asked, tilting his head, a half-smile on the reddened lips.

I did that. I made them that way. Hutch shuddered.

"Starsk..." Hutch tried to ask, 'Are you sure? Can we really do this thing?' but the words were like blocks of ice freezing his tongue.

Starsky leaned forward and kissed him lightly, as if trying to melt it. Even the light contact made Hutch's cock throb hard, and he made a sound as Starsky pulled away.

He saw Starsky's eyes drop directly to his crotch, and Hutch almost moaned his dismay.

"You're hard, huh?" Starsky said roughly, excited. "Me, too."

Hutch's head snapped up and he stared into the deep blue.

"Show me?" Starsky begged. "I won't...I promise, just...show me?"

Hutch felt lightning shiver up his neck and down into his groin. He panted in indecision, feeling like he was twelve again, and Mary Maloney—they called her Mary Baloney until she grew boobs—asked him to show her his thing and he thought he would come right then just from having her look at it.

"Take it out, Hutch," Starsky whispered, his hands tightening on Hutch's knees. "Show me."

Hutch cleared his throat. "You won't...?" A garbled plea.

Starsky nodded and rested back on his heels, his hands drifting to Hutch's kneecaps. Hutch reached down with shaky hands and unsnapped his cords. The vibration of his zipper was almost painful, the sound loud in the still room. Hutch cupped his palm over the bulge in his briefs, hiding the embarrassing wet spot.

Ridiculous. Crazy. Jesus, I'm going to show Starsky my cock. If his heart weren't already redlining, it would have sped faster when he flicked a glance upward and saw Starsky's avid stare. He really does want this.

Hutch reached under the band of his underwear, his own touch making his cock jump, and he pulled it out, pushing the briefs down until he was exposed. He heard Starsky gasp as he took away his hand. He felt Starsky's stare like a beam of heat, and his cock dropped a tear of fluid.

"Now you," Hutch whispered anxiously.

Starsky scrambled to his feet and shucked down his pants and briefs in one quick move, his cock bouncing as it was released. He raised his shirt and stood before Hutch with his head bowed, letting him look his fill.

Hutch's eyes traveled up the muscled thighs to Starsky's hard-on. His cock was flushed deep red, the purple vein twisting up the side like dark licorice. The head was wet.

I made him hard. I made him so hard. The sight snapped away Hutch's restraint, and he raised his hands, beckoning Starsky close, then closer still, pulling him down until he straddled Hutch's lap and Hutch's arms could embrace him.

"Oh, yes," Hutch said. "Like this."

"Like this," Starsky said in agreement, and he bent his head to kiss Hutch again.

This time, Hutch was more prepared for the agony of the rightness of it, of the taste of Starsky's lips, and he kissed him avidly, feeling a momentary embarrassment for the sounds of need that escaped his throat.

"Oh, babe," Starsky said as he pulled away. And then he looked into Hutch's eyes, as if asking permission, and Hutch nodded, dropping his eyes to watch as Starsky put his hands on them both, joining their cocks together within his fist.

The sensation was indescribably good, and Hutch moaned, hearing Starsky echo it as he began to pump them together, hot, tender skin touching skin. Starsky's fingers rode the back of his cock, turning, squeezing, until Hutch hips bucked involuntarily, trying uselessly to pump under Starsky's weight.

He felt the pinch of his zipper against his balls through his briefs as Starsky leaned forward and rested his forehead against Hutch's, panting in time with the stroke. Too soon, Hutch's breath caught, and he threw back his head with a moan as he started to ejaculate, his orgasm tightening his nipples and his face flushing with heat as the pleasure swept through him.

He felt Starsky release him abruptly, and Hutch lifted his head again to see Starsky looking into his face.

"Beautiful," Starsky whispered.

Hutch pulled him closer for another kiss, but only briefly. Then he steeled himself and released Starsky's shoulders so he could touch Starsky's cock for the first time.

Starsky gasped and jerked on his lap. The cock within Hutch's hand felt familiar, and yet utterly different for, touching it, he could feel no answering pleasure in his own, only the reflection of Starsky's, which almost stopped his heart with delight.

He learned some things. Stroking Starsky slow and long made him moan softly, and moving his thumb over the head made Starsky groan loud. Rubbing against the rough scar just below the crown made him whimper.

Hutch smiled, and then began to pump in earnest. He felt Starsky's hand join his, adjusting his rhythm, and Hutch picked up the change and went with it, jerking him fast, fingers tight below the head, until finally Starsky let out a shout, his thighs clenching hard around Hutch's hips as he came, a milky fountain of semen sprinkling from the rosy head.

Hutch lifted his eyes and saw Starsky's beautiful face contorting in a grimace of pure pleasure, and felt his own nuts throb again, as if in agreement.

"Ah, Hutch," Starsky sighed, and Hutch realized his hand had stopped moving, but still cradled the now-soft flesh. He didn't want to let go. He didn't ever want to let go, now that they had found this closeness.

But Starsky slid off his lap and went to the bathroom. The separation was enough to shock Hutch out of his pleasure-induced haze, and he found himself asking all the damning questions that he had pushed aside in his fever.

Who am I, Starsk? How did this happen? He felt strangely serene—even knowing that somehow he had become someone he hadn't planned on, and wanted something he'd never thought he could—if only because Starsky had shared it with him.

He trusted Starsky. If Starsky wanted it, then Hutch could want it too.

But what does it mean? For us? That was the question that still filled him with terrible unease, and he waited anxiously for Starsky to return so he could get a look at his face.

Starsky came out of the bathroom, his shirttails hanging over his groin, hiding what Hutch had seen. He was carrying a wad of tissues, which he thrust into Hutch's hand.

With some embarrassment, Hutch realized he was still exposed, and spattered with the evidence of their little exercise. He mopped up hastily and, lifting his hips from the couch, awkwardly tried to get himself tucked away again. His dick was still half-hard, and he could feel Starsky's eyes on him. Hutch zipped up quickly and dropped back down.

When he raised his eyes to Starsky's face, he saw nothing there to fear. In fact, the expression on Starsky's face was startlingly familiar, a mixture of indulgence and affection.

It's okay. It's really okay, Hutch thought, going limp with relief.

"Next time, maybe we should try it with our clothes off," Starsky said, waving at the damp spots on his shirt in explanation.

Next time? Hutch swallowed. He saw Starsky give him an expectant look.

What the hell. "Next time?" Hutch asked, hearing the hopefulness in his voice.

"Yeah, next time, Blondie," Starsky said, plopping down beside him.

"Next time." Hutch smiled, feeling it take his whole face, and he sensed Starsky relaxing next to him. Soon, the cushions shifted as Starsky reached for his paper to yank out the funnies. He started reading them to Hutch, who stretched his arm, circling Starsky's shoulders.

Pulling him close.

Fin.

April 23, 2006
San Francisco, CA