Actions

Work Header

To Hell and Back

Work Text:

"Starsky's gonna die, Hug."

Hutch said the words aloud, and the pain in his heart swamped him. He leaned against the elevator wall, barely breathing.

No, not Starsky. He and Starsky had been through so much together. Starsky couldn't die.

Not now. Not yet.

Hutch knew, deep in his soul, that there wasn't a thing he could do to keep Starsky here with him. The thought burned through to his soul. He couldn't survive without Starsky. He wouldn't. Oh, he wasn't going to eat a bullet. Starsky wouldn't like that. His ghost would haunt Hutch if he did something that stupid.

But Hutch knew he wouldn't really live. Not without Starsky, his other half. His life...

Hours ticked by. Time laughed in Hutch's face when he returned to his post at the hospital to continue his vigil.

As tired as he was, his brain was in overdrive. He sat on a hard chair outside the observation window and stared through the glass at his partner. Starsky lay so still, with tubes and electrodes running out from under the sheets to the apparatus that was keeping him alive. He looked so small, so helpless. Starsky had never seemed like that in all the years Hutch had known his partner, not even when he lay dying from Professor Jennings' poison.

With a weary sigh, Hutch closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands. Resting his elbows on his knees, he wondered if Starsky's shooting was a punishment from God. Punishment that Hutch deserved. Was God telling him he would suffer while on Earth then burn in hell?

After all, he was doing something he knew he shouldn't do. Feeling something he knew he shouldn't feel. Wanting something he knew he shouldn't want. But didn't he deserve some happiness even if the entire world thought his desires dirty and obscene? Were they? He argued with himself, his thoughts running in a meaningless circle.

Did it matter? Even if he could reconcile his feelings with his own upbringing and ingrained sense of morality, what would happen if people found out? What about his family? His friends? How could he ever explain how much he'd come to love his partner? How much he wanted Starsky in every way, morning, noon, and night.

Especially the nights.

How Hutch dreamed about long nights with Starsky beside him, naked and desirable, begging Hutch to love him. Hutch rolled his eyes at his ridiculous notions.

Okay, let's think about this. Admit you're in love with Starsky. You want to touch him and kiss him and...and...fuck him. Make love to him.

Hutch groaned softly, scrubbing at his eyes viciously until they burned. Was he a pervert like the priest at his childhood church preached? Was he an abomination? Isn't that what religious people called homosexuals? Didn't they say that God hated queers? The Bible said it, didn't it? It was what he had believed once. That the Bible was God's word. So if God said it, it must be true.

Wasn't that why he'd done what he'd done last year? Because he couldn't tell anybody about how he felt, especially not Starsky. Even though Starsky, of all people, would have understood. Still, fear had ruled his heart. Fear made him betray his best friend, made him taunt and even ridicule him.

Fear made Hutch determined to prove to Starsky that he, Ken Hutchinson, was a real man.

Yeah, right. What a load of shit.

All of this introspection made his head ache, but he had to think about it. What was right? What was wrong? Things were gray, black, white, even fucking red and bright gay pink for all he knew.

Still, he refused to believe that God would think his love for Starsky was dirty and perverted. His love was true and pure and lasting. It wasn't any different than his mother's love for his father. It wasn't any different than the love he'd once had for Vanessa or Gillian. Wait... Vanessa, Gillian. Hutch realized that wasn't entirely true. The loved he had for Starsky was more. He couldn't explain it even to himself, but it somehow felt bigger, fuller, deeper. It encompassed his entire being and when he thought about it, he felt good. How could that be wrong?

Starsky... Oh, shit. Starsky. He had to tell Starsky. Finally admit it out loud. Give voice to every single thing. He'd admit his stupidity, his betrayal, his love. Every single damned thing he'd done wrong, and what he wanted to do to fix it.

Jesus, get a grip, he ordered himself. Are you insane, Hutchinson?

A cold wash of fear once again raced through him. There was no way he could ever tell Starsky how he really felt. And even if he could muster the courage to tell Starsky, there was certainly no way he could ever ask Starsky to go to bed with him. Not in a zillion years. He was scared, but was he a coward as well?

Hutch leaned back and blinked, his eyes dry and gritty. He might be a coward in public, but in private, he could admit to himself that he loved Starsky more than he'd ever loved anybody in his life. They had a bond that went beyond any of his other relationships. Sure, he would die for Starsky, but more importantly, if push came to shove, he could admit to the world he loved Starsky, that he loved another man. In spite of everything, of censure, of discrimination, of outright hatred that would be directed at him, he could do it.

Peace infused his soul. He could do it. He could love Starsky in spite of priests, parents, coworkers and anybody else who would condemn his love. Consequences be damned.

It took you long enough to admit it, didn't it? You can be a moron at times...

But what if all of this introspection didn't mean a thing? What if Starsky didn't love him? Even worse, what if he told Starsky how he felt and Starsky was so furious he refused to ever speak to him again, told him to get lost? How could he live with that?

Why risk everything to tell him anyway? He had a life with Starsky now. They were best friends. They shared everything two people could share outside of marriage. After this past awful year, they were tighter than ever. Even Kira couldn't come between them.

Starsky acted as if he'd forgiven Hutch for his past transgressions. But doubts intruded as he remembered the sorrow he thought he saw in Starsky's eyes. Oh, they played pool and drank beer and worked the streets together, but there was something Hutch couldn't put his finger on this last year. Now Hutch could finally name it -- Starsky seemed resigned.

Shit.

With a long, drawn out sigh, Hutch reconsidered his options. Tell Starsky or not.

But not today; today was too fragile. Later on, after Starsky was on the road to recovery, he'd examine his options.

Somebody walked behind Hutch's chair, his heels tapping on the linoleum, breaking Hutch's train of thought. That brought Starsky's condition into stark relief. Hutch's mental debate was moot because on the other side of a glass window was the man he loved.

And that man was dying.

"Ah, fuck," Hutch whispered, his gaze once again riveted on Starsky. He looked so vulnerable. Hutch wanted to stand guard over him. To protect him. To give his own life in exchange for Starsky's. He'd do anything to ensure that Starsky lived. Anything...

"Starsk, please. Don't leave me. Please, God. Please let Starsky live. I'll do anything. I swear it. Anything. Please, God. Please." He stifled his tears. Tonight, alone, maybe he'd let them out, but not here in this bleak hallway. Not with Starsky dying fifteen feet from where Hutch sat.

"He can be saved."

Hutch jerked sharply and turned toward the unfamiliar voice.

A man stood beside him. He looked unremarkable. A manila file folder rested in his right hand, an orange label on the tab. The man's left hand was in his pants' pocket. Though plain, he seemed vaguely threatening.

Goosebumps prickled across Hutch's skin. He ignored them and with a cop's instincts, he reviewed the guy's vitals. Small build, maybe 130 pounds. Brown hair, brown eyes. Receding hairline. White short-sleeved shirt, brown slacks, brown belt, brown shoes. His socks were likely brown as well. He had no visible weapon and not many places to hide one. His employee name tag said Ed Brown. A small, fuzzy photograph of Brown graced the bottom left hand corner of the tag.

Still, something about him made Hutch want to punch his lights out. Idiot The guy's not a threat. He's barely here.

And yet, there was something... Something that made Hutch's throat close, his hands balled into fists.

"What did you say?" Hutch demanded. "Who are you?" He wasn't in the mood to be polite. Not with Starsky dying...

The man's smile was placid. "I heard you. Heard your prayer. Do you expect an answer? Honestly, do you?"

Hutch rose slowly. He stood six inches taller than the man and crowded his personal space. Shoulders taut, he growled, "It's none of your business." Sweat slipped down his back, melting into the waistband of his jeans. His knees trembled; his eyes burned.

"I was only being cordial." The corner's of the man's mouth drooped. "I know how painful it can be to lose a loved one."

"Nobody said I was losing anybody. He'll be all right." Hutch tore his eyes away from Ed Brown to glance at his partner. He could see the blinking lights and the blips on the screens of the machines that kept track of Starsky's thin hold on life.

"He's going to survive," Hutch said firmly.

"Oh, I do believe you. He will survive." The man gave Hutch another uninteresting smile as he looked into Starsky's room.

How could anybody be so -- vapid? And why did that dullness make Ed Brown seem menacing? Hutch shifted uncomfortably. The quiet, unassuming man made his skin crawl. He wanted to shove him away, tell him to leave, shout at him not to even dare look at Starsky. He wanted to put a fist into his bland face, to see his blood run.

Appalled at his violent desire, Hutch forced himself to take a step back.

"Hutchinson!"

Hutch automatically turned at the sound of his name to see Dobey hurrying down the hallway toward him. Turning his attention back to Ed Brown, Hutch realized Brown was gone.

"Did you see him? Where'd he go?" Hutch forced his fists to relax and rubbed his sweaty palms on his denim-covered thighs.

"Who? Nobody's here. How's Starsky?" Dobey put a hand on Hutch's shoulder. "Any news?"

"No change," Hutch muttered. "No damned change."

"You've got to be strong, Hutch. For Starsky. He needs you."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Hutch looked for Ed Brown again, waving a dismissive hand. "Strong my ass," he muttered darkly.

-----------------------------

Two hours later Hutch entered the empty elevator and punched the button for the parking garage. When the doors had closed, he leaned his forehead tiredly against one of the door panels and closed his eyes.

"I don't ask for much," said a male voice.

Hutch started in surprise, smacking his forehead against the metal door. His eyes flew open and he spun on his heels to stare in shock at the man who now stood before him. It was Ed Brown, the same colorless man that he'd encountered outside Starsky's room. Even his teeth were dull. Dull... dull... dull...

Even as Hutch glared at Brown, he wondered briefly how in hell Brown had gotten onto the elevator. The car had been empty when he'd stepped in. Brown moved a half a step forward and Hutch's thoughts were immediately interrupted. There was no way he was letting this guy touch him!

"Get away from me," he snapped, side-stepping the outstretched hand. He moved back until he was pressed into the corner.

"What's wrong?" Brown asked quietly, reaching out a hand. "I only want to help."

"Get lost!" Hutch shouted, his words reverberating in the small space.

"Now, now. You prayed for Starsky to live. Don't you want that any longer?" He wore another insipid smile.

Fury coursed through Hutch, overriding his fear. "Fuck you!"

"My, my, such rage. And all I did was offer you Starsky's life."

"How can you possibly offer me anything?" Hutch smacked his fist into the palm of his hand and again felt the need for a physical response. One more word out of Brown, and Hutch would pound him into a pulp and enjoy every moment.

"Really, Officer. You are too quick to anger. You must learn to temper your actions with calm and caution."

Hutch tried to shrink into the wall as Brown moved even closer. His wrath was immediately replaced with abject fear. "Don't touch me," Hutch whispered.

"What have I done to you?" Brown's eyes blinked slowly. "Tsk-tsk. All right. I'm going. But you only have another twelve hours before you are partner-less. Think about that."

The elevator ground to a halt and Brown disembarked. He didn't look back, but Hutch never took his eyes from Brown's retreating form. Still pressed against the corner of the elevator, Hutch waited a few more seconds to gather his wits before he finally stepped into the garage. Even though every instinct warned him not to, he searched but Brown was nowhere to be seen.

-------------------------

"You'd better get down here."

Hutch drove recklessly as Dobey's words echoed in his head. After he'd run a red light and nearly caused an accident, he'd slapped the Mars light on the roof and floored the accelerator.

"You'll kill yourself before you can say goodbye," said a voice directly behind him.

Hutch jumped, hitting his head on the roof of the LTD. A quick glance in the rear view mirror revealed the source of the voice. Bland Ed Brown was in his back seat! "What the hell?"

"Ah, now we're getting somewhere."

Hutch's gaze found the other man's as his own breath came in raspy gulps. "Who are you? Why are you doing this?" Even as Hutch asked, he couldn't deny what he already knew. His rational mind rebelled, but his heart, his soul, knew.

"Since we're going to be friends," Brown said with a grin, "you may call me whatever you like. Know that I will answer to whatever you call me, whenever you call."

"I'm not calling you anything, you asshole. For God's sake, get out!"

"For who's sake, Officer? Perhaps your partner's? Do you want him to live?"

"Are you crazy? Of course I want him to live!" Hutch all but screamed the words. "Who are you really?"

He gave Hutch a smile with no humor, no warmth, no life. "I just told you, Kenny. Don't be obtuse. I don't think it suits you."

Hutch somehow maneuvered another intersection successfully. Five blocks to go. Five blocks to Starsky.

"Hold on, hold on." Hutch clamped his teeth together when he realized he was speaking aloud. He couldn't let this abomination hear him pleading for Starsky's life. Even though Brown sat in the back of his car, he couldn't accept that this was happening. He had to be dreaming. Please, God, let it be a dream.

"Believe or not, I'm here. I'm real. I'm everything you believe and nothing you know."

"Go away."

"You have four blocks to decide. Starsky lives. Starsky dies. Your choice."

"What do you want me to say?" Hutch's hands gripped the steering wheel. His knuckles turned white and his knees shook.

"Free choice, my friend. He gives you free choice, and so do I."

"I don't understand."

"Ah, but you do." Brown's chuckle was devoid of life. "Three blocks. Make a decision. Think of it as a sacrifice. Most of you good ones love sacrifice."

"You bastard."

"I've been called much worse. Two blocks, my friend."

"I'm not your friend."

"But you will be. We'll be best of friends, once you say the words you need to say. Once I agree. Once we seal our deal."

Looking at the creature in the rear view mirror, Hutch clamped his teeth together so forcefully that his jaw ached. One more block... What would he find at the hospital? A dead partner? A dead friend? A dead man he loved more than anything in his own sometimes colorless existence?

Hutch cranked the wheel and shot across the hospital parking lot. He slammed into the space closest to the door. Turning, he glared. "I want him to live, but I have terms."

"Of course. We all have terms. And you have three minutes."

"I-I-- He lives. He recovers fully, is able to go back on the force. He's whole, no physical problems. Nothing b-bad like this ever happens to him again, and he lives to a ripe old age. You got it? Starsky lives."

Hutch saw the satisfaction in the grin that flashed across Brown's face--the devil's face. Evil incarnate. Satan. The cause of all the misery and suffering in the world. Holding his breath, Hutch glanced into that coldly smiling face

"Wait." Hutch held up a hand. "He's not damaged mentally, either. You got it? Physically and mentally, he's in good health. He's successful, and lives a good life."

"And what do I get in exchange for this wellness and longevity?"

"What do you want?"

"Oh, Detective, I think you know. I want you. Body and soul. And you have thirty seconds before the physician calls it. Before he stops CPR, and your partner is dead as a doornail." The devil threw out his arms and laughed.

Hutch shut his eyes and said softly, "I get a week. For one week, you don't collect. You leave me alone for one week so I can be sure he's okay. I want to see him on the road to recovery. If you agree, then so do I."

"I heartily agree, Hutch. Now go to your partner. The doctor has positive news for you. Oh, and now that we're friends and will be spending time together, please address me as Lucifer. It's a name I'm particularly fond of."

When Hutch opened his eyes, Ed Brown was gone, leaving behind the smell of too many lilies and one damned soul. Swallowing, Hutch jumped from the car and raced to Starsky's side.

----------------------------

Hutch slowly pried open his tacky eyes. He felt like death warmed over. His head pounded and his stomach roiled. He blinked slowly, glancing around his bedroom. He was not only ill but out of sorts. Something wasn't right, and it raised the hackles on the back of his neck. A careful perusal of the room revealed nothing out of place. His own bedroom, with the sun shining through the curtains, seemed so normal, yet if he had to describe his feelings, he'd say his world was a few seconds out of sync.

He should feel good. Last night, he'd crept into Starsky's room with a tray of stuffed veal. He had been some place he'd only dreamed of—in bed with Starsky. Oh, sure, not the way he really wanted, not naked, sweaty, hard... But still, they'd been close and laughing and happy.

Dobey had arrived with a huge antipasto platter, and even Huggy had managed to get past the Doberman of a night nurse and produced a bottle of champagne. Good thing Hutch had brought the glasses.

In spite of the amount of alcohol he'd drunk, Hutch clearly remembered the events of the night before, down to every detail. After the water sprinklers had been turned off, he hadn't had time to speak to Starsky alone. The head nurse had tossed them all out, including the captain who went as meekly as a lamb. But Hutch had caught Starsky's gaze as he exited the room. Starsky's dark blue eyes held his for a moment, and they said so much—thank you, love you, need you, miss you. Hutch had left with a joyful heart and a light step.

Now as he lay in his own bed, he felt horrible. Wondering if he was becoming ill, Hutch rolled out of bed. He parted the curtains and looked outside. Another bright California morning. His car sat at the curb, the sun a dull glint off the roof of the unwaxed LTD. He rolled his shoulders, trying to force the weird sickly feeling away. After a trip across the room to gather clean clothes, he stood in the shower, letting the hot spray pound against his body.

Hutch washed his body thoroughly and shampooed his hair. As he toweled dry, he wondered why he still felt dirty. Not physically, but in his head, and if he was being transcendental, in his soul. He would have been amused at his own feelings if he didn't feel so muddy and slimy and—

"Screw it," Hutch said aloud, bypassing his fogged-up mirror to pull on briefs, jeans, socks and a blue t-shirt. He tossed a long-sleeve cotton shirt over the t-shirt and rolled up the sleeves. It was probably going to be hot, but he had to wear enough clothing to cover his piece. It wouldn't do to walk around Bay City with his weapon in full view. Might scare the masses. He chuckled dryly.

After putting sneakers on, he prepared coffee and toast. Two cups of coffee and four slices of bread later, he was feeling more like himself--until he swung the door of the living room closet open to retrieve his weapon.

Hutch stood unmoving, eyes glued on the peeling wood.

The hook on the back of the door was empty.

"Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Where the hell is it?" Hutch searched his apartment, but the Magnum was nowhere to be found. Grabbing his car keys from the coffee table, he raced outside. His weapon had to be in the car. The second search produced nothing.

"It's been stolen. When? How?" He ran a hand through his hair. He hadn't misplaced his weapon. It hadn't been stolen. Hutch's head pounded. With any luck, he'd left it in his desk at the station. As much as he didn't believe it, he desperately tried to convince himself that he'd find the weapon in his desk at Metro. Hutch started the car and headed to the precinct.

As Hutch made his way to the squad room, he found it odd no one greeted him. He nodded to several fellow officers, but most just looked at him. One of the women officers he considered a friend actually turned and went the other way. He had no doubt she did it to avoid him, but he had no idea why.

He pushed open the swinging door and made his way to his and Starsky's desk. Smiling, he saw that everything in the squad room had returned to their usual places. The walls were freshly painted and the desks were back in their usual spots.

Even the unfinished report on a penny-ante shoplifting arrest that he'd started last week was still in his typewriter. Relieved by the familiarity, he sat in Starsky's chair just because it made him feel closer to his recovering partner.

Hutch started searching through the desk drawers when, from behind him, he heard Dobey's door open. He turned in his seat and looked up.

When Dobey met his gaze, he didn't say a word but instead stared like he'd never seen Hutch before.

Suddenly uncomfortable under such intense scrutiny, Hutch sat and waited for the captain to speak.

Dobey pointed a finger at Hutch and stomped forward to loom over him, his face a storm cloud. "What's going on here?" Dobey demanded.

For a second, Hutch wasn't sure Dobey was speaking to him. He quickly looked around but the other officers were intent on ignoring him and Dobey as they went about their duties. Unsure what he'd done to bring Dobey's anger down on his head, Hutch swallowed before he spoke. "Captain?"

"You don't have permission to be in the Squad Room. Get your ass out of my detective's chair, and report to your duty officer." Dobey's eyes narrowed as he inspected Hutch. "Why aren't you in uniform?"

Hutch's mouth fell open. Why would the captain think he should be in uniform? And why was he looking at Hutch like they were complete strangers?

Fear pierced Hutch, and his stomach tightened. "C-captain, it's me... Hutch. Hutchinson. You know me."

Dobey's entire attitude changed from irritated to angry. "What kind of idiocy is this? You're no more Hutchinson than I am Diana Ross!" Dobey stepped closer to Hutch and with his arms crossed, glared down at him. "But I do recognize you. You're one of the new file clerks." Dobey shook his finger in Hutch's face. "I've had a rough week, and I'm not in the mood for shenanigans. You have no business here. Now get out. I have three murders, two armed robberies, and a kidnapped six-year-old to worry about. Plus, I have a fine officer in the hospital, and two others in the ER who were injured in a traffic mishap. I don't have time to deal with someone who can't follow orders! Out!" Dobey pointed to the door, chest out and eyes blazing.

Hutch's face burned from the dressing down. However, it had been a rough week for everybody, so he forced his irritation down. "Please, Captain."

Dobey leaned down into Hutch's personal space and glared. "You have thirty seconds to get out of my squad room before I have your commanding officer put you on report!" He took a step back, clearly expecting instant obedience.

Hutch rose slowly. What the hell was going on? Why didn't his own captain recognize him? He stood still for a moment before slowly walking out of the squad room and down the hall. He stumbled into the men's room and lurched over to the closest sink. He turned on the taps, splashing cold water on his face. Patting the coolness onto his cheeks, he glanced in the mirror.

The mirror's surface wavered, like a puddle in the wind. He blinked and rubbed his eyes. "Oh, God," he whispered, "now what?"

"God again?" said a voice Hutch had hoped never to hear again. "Don't you people ever get tired of invoking him when he never answers?"

Hutch jerked fully upright, peering in the mirror to locate the owner of the voice. Speechless, Hutch spun around.

He was looking at a perfect duplicate of himself.

"What's going on?" Hutch demanded. "What do you think you're doing? You said I'd have a week! You agreed!"

"Kenny, my son, you've had your week. You've done everything you wanted and now it's my turn."

"I don't... No. It's not time. It's too soon!"

"Officer, you know what will happen to Starsky if you don't follow through. Now he's being sent to rehab tomorrow. You got what you wanted. Gunther's locked behind bars. And thanks to you, since our Mr. Gunther's now rotting in jail, he's also interested in a making deal with me. He won't be nearly as hard to convince as you. You've turned out to be a better deal than I'd first imagined." At Hutch's horrified look, Lucifer laughed loudly. "Now, onto other things. Mr. Gunther will wait, but," Lucifer said with a grin and a shrug, "why don't you turn around and look in the mirror, my dearest Hutch. Really look."

When Hutch reluctantly turned back to the mirror, he saw two figures. Behind him was his double, standing with hands on his hips and a grin on his face. As for his own reflection, Hutch could only stare into the mirror in pure horror as he took in the horrendous sight. He moved his hand, then pressed his palm against the mirror. The reflection mimicked his moves. He rubbed his nose and the image did likewise. He stared. He didn't see himself; he was looking at the plain, unassuming man he'd seen last week. The one with whom he'd made his desperate deal. No, it couldn't be. He couldn't be boring and bland Ed Brown!

Could he?

"No, no, no, no! That's not me! You stupid bastard!" Hutch turned and latched onto his doppleganger's shirt. The devil chortled with delight and Hutch's hands were suddenly holding thin air.

"Remember our deal," Lucifer said from Hutch's left, grinning as he spoke through Hutch's mouth. He stood tall, carding his fingers through his now silky blond hair. "You're quite the handsome fellow." Glancing in the mirror, he turned his head from side-to-side, admiring his new look. "I think I'll enjoy this. You, however, will have to get used to being quite ordinary. Dull even."

Hutch shook his head, his throat tight. Lucifer chuckled as they both stared into the mirror at their new images. Why did he still feel like his old self when he wasn't really "Hutch" anymore?

Wait... Did he feel like his old self? The strange out-of-sync feeling was still there. Only now he sensed that something wasn't quite right with the world. Hutch gazed at his new visage—short, brown, and plain—while Lucifer preened, clearly pleased with his new appearance. The devil showed off his teeth, rubbed his nose, and again ran his fingers through his hair.

No! It wasn't Lucifer's hair or teeth or nose! That was his face. Those were his fingers. This wasn't happening.

Yet even as Hutch denied what he was seeing, this was happening, and there wasn't anything he could do about it.

After all, he'd voluntarily agreed to the deal.

"Body and soul," Hutch whispered. "No, no. Oh, God, no."

"Nice. Oh, and Detective Hutchinson... or should I address you by your new name? Yes, I do believe you should become used to it. Ed Brown. Neat, simple, clean. I like it. And you've just been hired as a file clerk! Gainful employment is such a joy." The devil threw back his head and laughed with Hutch's own laugh.

Hutch felt as if a huge weight was forcing the air out of his lungs. Only by holding onto the sink did Hutch manage to remain standing under the onslaught of despair that assailed him.

"You'd better report for duty, Mr. Brown, before you lose your job," the devil warned. "If you expect to ever see your friend Starsky again, you might want to keep your employer happy. After all, you don't expect Starsky to associate with the likes of you on any sort of personal level, now, do you?" Lucifer beamed. "The best you can hope for is a 'hello' when he walks by in the hallway or in the men's room or the cafeteria. If you're extra nice, he might even sit at your table while he eats his lunch.

"You know what you'll really enjoy? Seeing him every day. Every time he needs records or files, you'll have the pleasure of Starsky's company. Of course, he'll barely acknowledge your existence. Not out of any sort of malice, but he's busy, you know. He has a life, a job, and who knows? Maybe eventually he'll find a good woman. And you, dear Ed, will ache for him. Your body will beg for his touch. Your soul will cry out for his friendship, his companionship, and you'll have nothing. No, wait. That's not true. You'll have me!"

The devil spread his arms and laughed deeply. "I love this! Oh, look at the time. I have appointments." He patted his jacket and reached into a pocket. "Ed? Did I mention that I'm ready to assume the role of a lifetime? Look at this." Pulling a leather folder from his pocket, he flipped it open. "Lookie here!"

"Hey! That's mine!" Hutch yelled, trying to snatch back his own detective's shield and police ID. "Give it to me!" Hutch lunged but the devil sidestepped him easily. Stumbling, Hutch fell, sprawling across the linoleum. He struggled to his feet and stood, body tense and chest heaving.

The devil merely laughed in his face. "You have a nice day, Ed. I'll see you real soon." Lucifer patted Hutch's cheek, making him recoil in disgust. "Tonight I intend to take advantage of this body and see what sort of fun I can rustle up." He cupped his own groin and smiled. "Nice equipment! I picked a good 'un this time." He chortled with delight and left the men's room.

"Leave me--my body the fuck alone," Hutch finally blurted. But by the time he spoke, he was by himself.

Terrified at what he would see, Hutch couldn't help but look into the mirror once more. He slowly raised his eyes. When he looked at his altered reflection, he started to heave. This time, only Ed Brown's reflection was there to stare back at him. The mirror's surface didn't waver and Brown's image didn't disappear.

He was Ed Brown.

Vomiting into the sink, Hutch groaned softly. Finally, when there was nothing left to expel, he moved to another sink and turned on the cold tap. He put his head under the water and let its coldness envelope him. He finally raised his head and drank from his hand before he caught his reflection yet again. He hated what he saw staring back at him.

"What have I done?" Miserable, Hutch hung his head. "But I had to. I had to! Starsky would understand. He's alive. I gotta remember that. Starsky would be dead if I hadn't agreed. He'll be okay, happy and healthy and--"

Hutch buried his face in his hands, the reality inundating him for a few moments before he brought his head up with a jerk.

Starsky! His partner of eight-years-plus. His friend, the man he loved--cared about more than any person on this planet. Starsky would know him, no matter how he looked. The deal he'd made with the devil didn't prohibit him from telling Starsky what had happened. Lucifer didn't say that he couldn't be friends with Starsky. Burning in hell was one thing, but this... This was intolerable.

Hutch yanked paper towels from their holder and wiped his face and hair. He finger-combed the thin locks and straightened his shirt before leaving the restroom.

In the hallway, he passed Dobey who was speaking intently to a man. Blinking through dry, burning eyes, Hutch realized that man was him! Devil-Hutch stood in front of Dobey, acting as if he was listening to every word his captain said. Dobey's hand rested on the devil's shoulder, and Hutch could hear Dobey's words.

"You and Starsky are not only my best team, you're both friends. The kids ask about you both all the time. When Starsky's well, Edith wants you over for a big barbecue. We're inviting the entire squad."

The devil grinned with Hutch's face, but over Dobey's shoulder, he caught the real Hutch's eye. He winked before turning his attention back to Dobey. "Thank you, Captain. Starsky and I'd love to come to your place for a cookout. You know Starsk. He never met a rib he didn't like." The devil patted Dobey's arm.

Hutch trembled with rage. He couldn't help himself. He forced his way between Dobey and the devil masquerading as him. "This man is a fraud! He's not Hutchinson. I am. He's a goddamned impostor!"

The devil merely blinked as if in shock, looking at his captain as if completely confused.

"Save it, Hutch. This guy is a crack-pot," Dobey said angrily. He poked a finger into Hutch's new thin, narrow chest. "You are on report as of this second! Report to your duty officer and have him call me immediately. This is going on your record. Get out of my face this minute. If I don't hear from Sergeant Morrison in five minutes, I'm placing you under arrest for harassing a police officer!"

Stunned, the real Hutch staggered backwards. Suddenly, he was intimidated, even scared. Feelings that didn't belong to him, but to the body he now inhabited, took over. His own courage, strength, and righteousness crumbled. Staggering backwards, he fell on his backside. Tears welled in his eyes; to keep them from spilling over, he bit his lower lip harshly. Hutch hated himself for his weakness. He dug his nails into the palms of his hands and remained silent under Dobey's perusal. After a final disgusted glance, Dobey turned away, taking the devil's arm and directing him away from where Ed sat on the floor. The devil glanced over his shoulder, tossing back a knowing smile.

Hutch fumed as he climbed to his feet.
---------------------------

Two days later, Hutch woke to another beautiful California day.

He was fucking sick of bright sunny days. He wanted thunder and lightning to fit his mood. Resigned that the weather would do what it liked, he began to work on his plan to regain a place in Starsky's life. He had to live with the deal he'd made with Satan, but he was determined to figure out the boundaries of the deal. Hutch planned on pushing those boundaries to their limits. Whether he survived or not, he really didn't care.

After showering and eating a meager breakfast, Hutch looked over his new work schedule again to double check that he wasn't supposed to report in until the afternoon shift. He needed to keep his job in case that turned out to be his only lifeline to Starsky. Otherwise, he'd have dumped file clerk duty so fast that he'd have left nothing behind but a trail littered with bits of paper and bent paper clips.

He drove to County Memorial and parked in the lot legally. No sense getting into trouble with the local fuzz. Locking the doors of his 1968 Rambler (where the hell did that car come from?), he made his way through the hospital.

On the trip to Starsky's room, he realized that since there'd been more than one attempt on Starsky's life, he had to be careful. Word in the station was that Dobey hadn't taken the protective detail off Starsky yet. The devil had told Hutch Starsky would be moved to rehab. Worried that by tomorrow Starsky could be further from Hutch's reach, he was determined to begin his campaign to ingratiate himself into Starsky's life today. But first, he had to avoid the uniformed officer camped outside Starsky's door.

Hutch walked casually. He'd stayed up most of the night thinking and planning on how to best approach Starsky. Starsky wouldn't recognize him, and he couldn't afford to make a spectacle of himself while testing the parameters of the deal he'd made with Lucifer. Sure, he'd readily agreed to the terms, and it included his body and his soul. His body was gone. But what about his soul?

Hutch snickered as he stepped into an empty elevator. Too late, moron. Your soul is gone, too. You agreed. His fingers dug into his eyes. "You traded yourself for Starsky's health and well-being," he said aloud.

Was it worth it? Hutch froze, holding his breath. Memories of Starsky lying on the ground, bleeding on the tarmac then sitting beside Starsky's bed while he was hooked up to life support flooded his mind. Yeah, it was worth every damned second.

"You took the coward's way out," said a voice he recognized immediately.

The familiar voice made Hutch cringe. He didn't bother turning around. The same scent of lilies assaulted him. He'd always hated lilies. Rather than give Lucifer the satisfaction of his surprise, Hutch ignored his double.

"Oh, please, Kenny-penny. You're being so dramatic." The devil's deep, theatrical sigh was followed by a derisive chuckle. "But go on. Do your worst. I must go and primp. Not that I need to do much with this fabulous countenance you've given me."

Hutch refused to turn around to look at his own body.

"I must go for a shampoo and a trim," said the devil. "And a manicure! Yes, definitely a manicure. Did I mention I have a fabulous date tonight? He-- Oops, mustn't spill the beans. My date has requested total anonymity since he's a powerful figure in the local political scene. I must look my best." The devil's laughter echoed his own familiar sound. Hutch's stomach lurched. "Do I need condoms in this form? Time will tell. Ta-ta, sweetheart."

The elevator doors opened and Hutch stepped forward into the busy hospital corridor. Don't look back. Don't look back... He walked down the hall, skirting an orderly pushing a bucket and mop, and a volunteer carrying a basket of flowers. Two nurses walked passed him. He met one of the women's eyes and she hurriedly looked away. When Hutch looked back over his shoulder, he saw the women put their heads together, giggling as they flicked their eyes over him.

Hutch felt himself blush when he realized that the women were laughing at him. Snapping his gaze away, he stumbled when he plowed into a doctor who'd entered the corridor from a patient's room. The man caught Hutch's arm. Hutch mumbled an apology and walked around him, continuing on his quest. He turned down the next corridor and his steps slowed when he saw a uniformed police officer leaning against the nurses' station counter, flirting with the woman sitting there. He searched for Starsky's room number. Just his luck. It was directly across from the nurses' station. Crap.

Hutch recognized the officer as Raul Martinez. He also knew that there was no way the man would know who the hell he was now. Sucking in a steadying breath, Hutch huffed it out and tried to appear casual as he cautiously walked towards the entry to Starsky's room. Maybe, just maybe, if the nurse kept Martinez distracted enough, he'd achieve his goal.

Closer and closer, and finally, close enough to touch the door handle. Hutch's fingers wrapped around the lever just as a hand clamped onto his shoulder.

"Excuse me, sir," Martinez said firmly, turning Hutch by the force of his grip.

"Yes?" Hutch plastered a pleasant smile on his face.

"That room has restricted access. I'm going to have to ask you to leave." The police officer pointed down the corridor.

"I want to see my part-- Detective Starsky. I'm a friend."

"Name and address?" Martinez's free hand latched onto Hutch's elbow and he found himself being towed back toward the elevators.

"Ken-- Ed Brown. Ahh, 316 Catalina, LA. I work at Metro." Hutch tested the hold by pulling on his arms. Martinez's hands tightened.

As if things couldn't get worse, from the direction Hutch had just come from, he heard a familiar voice calling out. Just his luck. Dobey was here! He groaned softly.

"Officer Martinez!"

Martinez jerked to a halt, yanking Hutch to a standstill. "Sir?"

Dobey huffed his way to them, his dark eyes snapping. "I'll take it from here, Officer. Thank you."

"Yes, Captain. I think he was trying to sneak into Sergeant Starsky's room." He gave Hutch a push to show his displeasure. "He's all yours. Oh, me and the boys are happy Detective Starsky's doing good. We heard he'll make it back to duty. We've got a pool going on the date when he's back in the squad room."

"Yeah, he'll be back with us soon." Dobey smiled. Hutch knew it was with real pleasure, which made Hutch smile as well. "Thanks," the captain continued. "I'll pass on your good wishes to Starsky. And I'll take a date in that pool, too. I'll put in a twenty, and pick the fourth of July."

"Yes, sir." The officer nodded crisply and returned to his station besides Starsky's door.

Dobey cocked his head towards Hutch and they walked down the corridor together. When they were out of earshot of the officer and the nurses' station, Dobey snapped out, "You are under report. You have no business being here. If I see you within a mile of Starsky, I'll have you arrested."

Hutch's heart sank. He had to see Starsky! It had been so long and he needed to be near his friend. He was willing to beg if necessary for just ten minutes with Starsky. "Please, Captain--"

"Not one more word. I checked your record after what happened yesterday. I saw nothing to indicate that you're a troublemaker. Do you want me to change that information to reflect your latest insubordination?"

"No, sir." Utterly defeated, Hutch barely managed to acknowledge Dobey's words. Those same feelings of worthlessness, of despair, of cowardice that Hutch knew belonged to Ed Brown overwhelmed him. They were becoming more a part of him as each minute ticked by. The bit of the old Hutch still left in him knew that he should try to explain to Dobey how important it was that he see Starsky, but the new Ed only knew fear and self-loathing. Brown held his tongue, hung his head, and stared at his ugly brown shoes.

"Good bye." Dobey glared.

"Sir." Hutch slowly turned away and headed for the elevators.

But because of his love for Starsky, something still sparked in Hutch. As small as it was, there was l a tiny piece of his former self left deep inside that yearned for his friend. He had to talk to Starsky. He had to see where he fit in Starsky's life now. If he fit anywhere at all.

Now that he wasn't Hutch any longer.

-------------------------

Hutch hated the file room. It was boring and tedious and smelled of moldy paper. His hands were covered with paper cuts and ink stains. And he was sure the copy machine was inhabited by one of Lucifer's minions. Still, he showed up for work every day, did his job, then went home. Every day for the past week, he did what was expected of him. But while he was in the precinct, he lurked. He hid around corners, behind other people, inside bathroom stalls. He listened carefully, thankful that most of the time people looked right through him. All of his efforts finally paid off when he overheard where Starsky had been sent for rehab.

Hutch hated not being there to help his partner. He belonged beside Starsky. But he had to be careful. He kept his thoughts to himself as he tested the boundaries of his deal. While Lucifer was amazingly in tune to his whims and desires, Hutch had discovered that the bastard wasn't as much of a mind reader as he'd previously thought.

Oh, there were still visits at the most inopportune times. It was horrible when Lucifer appeared in the middle of the night and sat on his bed, regaling Hutch with his exploits of the women and the men he'd fucked using Hutch's body. He nearly had an accident when the devil popped up in his car, sitting next to him eating a double beef and jalapeño burrito on the 101, burping noxious odors and laughing in Hutch's face.

When Satan materialized in Ralph's grocery store while Hutch picked out peaches, it startled Hutch so much, he knocked over an entire display of canned tuna, and nearly got arrested for shoplifting.

Every day was pure hell. But Hutch refused to let Lucifer's treatment beat him down. From a reserve Hutch didn't know he had, he drew strength. Instead of fading away, he was stronger than ever before. His former thoughts of suicide vanished, replaced by determination. He realized, with a dry chuckle, that even though it might be the last thing he did, he would find a way to be with Starsky.

-----------------------------

Hutch walked into the rehabilitation center carrying a huge bouquet of flowers. He glanced down to be sure his name tag was still clipped to his uniform pocket. He usually hated the plain brown shirt and pants that he was forced to wear day after day, but today, it was his ticket into Starsky's life. Today he looked good. Well, as good as Ed could look. His uniform was clean and pressed. His hair was combed and he was cleanly shaved. Satisfied that he had identification declaring his civilian employment with Bay City's finest, he strode to the reception desk.

"Good morning!" Hutch said cheerfully. "Delivery for David Starsky." He peeked out from behind the blooms. "From the fellows at the office," he added with a grin. "We took up a huge collection. Everybody loves the detective. He's a hero, you know." Hutch made himself look as harmless as possible. It wasn't hard. Ed Brown was totally inoffensive.

The thin woman in a pink and green flowered dress sat behind the desk, looking harried. Her greyish-brown hair was pinned up but tendrils fell from the tight knot. Her glasses were on the end of her nose and she had an ink mark on one cheek. The phone kept ringing and the pencil behind her ear fell out and hit the floor with a dull clink.

Hutch heard it roll across the floor and under a cabinet. "Let me get that for you," he offered.

Hutch glanced at her name badge. Sally Cross' tired brown eyes met his. She blew out a breath while tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. "That's okay. Sorry. Two people called in sick today."

"Why don't you tell me where Detective Starsky is and I'll make the delivery, ma'am." Hutch smiled.

Blinking, she paused. "Thank you. Your friend is in the East wing, room 402."

"Thanks." He gently extracted a rose. "Here. For you."

She smiled. "Thank you. You're sweet."

Hutch sauntered across the reception area and headed for the East wing. He was relieved when he made it to Room 402. Standing outside Starsky's closed door, he took in a deep breath before slowly releasing it. He had to calm down.

Hutch hadn't seen his partner since the night they'd had their impromptu picnic with Huggy and Dobey. He missed Starsky. His life was empty without the annoying, engaging, energetic man he'd come to love more than he'd ever thought possible.

Hutch was no longer afraid to admit to himself that he loved Starsky. He'd given his soul for Starsky. Starsky would have died if he hadn't made his pact, so he had no regrets.

Now, standing outside Starsky's door, Hutch had a bad case of the nerves. Seeing Starsky again made him giddy with joy, but he didn't know how he could keep himself from blurting out his true feelings. He had to remember that Starsky wouldn't see Hutch; he'd only see Ed Brown.

Get a grip, Hutchinson, he ordered himself. You'll be able to see that he's on the road to the full recovery Satan guaranteed. But you can't tell him the truth. He may never see past this sad, sorry body and remember the friendship you shared. You've got to play it cool, or you'll lose him forever.

His head drooped, and he had to dig deep for his courage. He had to put Starsky's feelings, his life, first. Even if he had to say goodbye to his love, if it meant Starsky would thrive, he could do it. He'd given his soul for this man. He would live with the consequences of that action.

Hutch steeled his resolve. After huffing out a shaky breath, he knocked on the door and was rewarded with the sweetest sound he'd heard in a long time. Starsky's voice.

"Come in!"

Hutch's heart rate accelerated and his palms began to sweat. It took two tries to turn the door knob but finally it gave way and swung open. Hutch walked into the sunny room and immediately his gaze found its target. Pure delight flashed through him. He couldn't stop himself from calling out, "Starsk!"

The figure in the chair looked up from his book. Starsky looked thin and tired, but to Hutch, he was beautiful. His hair was long, dark curls tumbling around his ears. His eyes looked huge in his thinner face, but he still appeared better than Hutch had imagined. When Starsky rose to greet him, Hutch saw he wore a loose white t-shirt and jogging pants, white socks, and his usual blue Adidas trainers. Joyfully, Hutch cataloged everything about Starsky's appearance.

"Huh?" Starsky said, obviously confused by Hutch's greeting.

That slapped Hutch back to reality. Ed Brown would have never called this man "Starsk." Hutch managed to swallow the lump in his throat. He took a tentative step forward. "Detective Starsky, these are for you."

Their gazes met. Starsky stared at Hutch like he'd grown a second nose.

Standing stock still, Hutch waited, fumbling with the large bouquet of flowers.

Starsky slowly shook his head, as if he was trying to clear away the cobwebs from his brain. "Oh, right. Thanks. For a sec, I had one of those déjà vu things. Never mind." Starsky waved a dismissive hand as he cautiously walked to the bureau.

Hutch was relieved that his friend didn't seem to be in pain as he cleared a space for the vase. With a warm smile, Starsky said, "Put them over here. Man, that's some bunch a' flowers."

"From your friends at Metro. Everybody sends their b-best."

"Thanks." Starsky gave Hutch another grin. "I miss those jokers. How's everybody?"

Hutch wanted to throw his arms around Starsky after setting the flowers down, but restrained himself. He didn't want his partner to freak out by being grappled by some strange, dorky guy, nor did he want to hurt Starsky. And right now, he realized that if he embraced his partner, he'd never let go.

"Everybody's good. The captain gives daily updates on your condition. We're all happy you're doing so well."

"How come Hutch didn't deliver the flowers?" Starsky asked, sniffing a blossom.

"Oh, I volunteered. He's working... on a case. I'm sure he's told you." Hutch stammered then clamped his lips together.

"He's the best partner a guy can have," Starsky said, his voice full of affection.

Hutch wanted to scream, I'm your partner. Every cell in his body ached to do it. He wanted to be close to Starsky, touch his arm, sit beside him, share a beer. Those things were gone now.

Starsky gave him a funny look. "You okay, buddy?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. It's just that I'm so happy your p-partner got that bastard, Gunther." Hutch choked on his words.

"My partner deserves a medal for what he did," Starsky said. "The mayor should give him the key to the city."

Hutch nodded and managed to smile. "Everybody's proud of him. He's a hero."

"Damn straight. Best friend a guy could have." Starsky chuckled. "Why am I tellin' you about my partner?" Starsky hesitated and an odd look crossed his face. "Funny... Seems like I should know you-- Nah, never mind. Thanks for the posies. What'd you say your name was? I don't remember seein' you around."

"Ed Brown. I work in the tombs."

"Ah, the files. No wonder you're so pale. No windows. No sunshine. Tough gig, but somebody's gotta do it, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess." Hutch shuffled his feet.

"So... Thanks for comin' by." Starsky started towards the door, politely asking him to leave.

He panicked and blurted, "Starsk, please. I have to talk to you!"

Starsky's dark blue eyes caught his. "Only my closest friends call me Starsk."

"Don't you know who I am?" he cried. "For God's sake, Starsk. I'm your partner, Hutch. Jesus, St-Starsky, I miss you so damned much."

Starsky took a step back. He held up a hand, his anger flaring. "What are you talking about? My partner? I gotta partner down at the station, and it sure ain't you!"

"I know things about you, things only your partner could know. Your birthday is March 25! I know your mother lives in a three-room walk-up on Decatur Street in Brooklyn and makes the best cheese and cabbage pirogies in the world. Your brother Nicky visited us six months ago and has been on the straight and narrow ever since." Hutch saw that Starsky was watching him, listening intently, so he forged on. "I know that the Torino is at Merle's right this minute and that you're having it painted and getting a new overpriced cassette player put in so you can play that awful Pink Floyd music that you love. I know that you keep your extra weapon in a blue shoe box under your kitchen sink and that your favorite underwear is a pair of black silk briefs!"

Starsky stood staring at Hutch for a few seconds, his face a mask of confusion. "Who the hell are you? How... How could you know these things?"

Hutch longed to touch his friend, to reassure him, to explain about their many years together, but he had a good inkling that Starsky wasn't ready to hear all of that. Not yet, not until he was back on his feet again, strong and healthy. "I'm so sorry," was all Hutch could manage to blurt out.

Disappointment flashed through Starsky's eyes before he turned away. He kept his back to Hutch for a long minute before he walked over to the window. "I don't understand why you'd do this to me. What have I ever done to you? Did you spy on me? Hire a PI or something?"

Hutch couldn't stand the confusion, the sadness in Starsky's voice. "No, I'd never hurt you. Never! I just-- Honest, Starsky, I want--"

When Starsky looked over his shoulder at Hutch, Hutch melted at the unhappiness in those beloved blue eyes. "Oh, hey. It's nothing, really. I've heard the guys talk about you. What a great guy you are. I wanted to meet you. Maybe, you know... be friends." Hutch hated his whiny voice but what could be do? Starsky was still recovering and he didn't need anything standing in his way to full health. Hutch was suddenly unsure of himself. Once again, Ed Brown's courage failed.

"I'm sorry," Hutch said softly. "I'm so in awe of you. Of all police officers. I always wanted to be a cop, but I couldn't pass the physical." Hutch swallowed loudly and dropped his gaze, taking another step on the journey to becoming Ed Brown, major wimp. "You're my hero. I just want to be able to say you and me are pals. That's all."

Starsky walked over to Hutch. "That's all?"

"Yeah. Honest."

"I don't like anybody poking into my life. You got that?"

"Yes, of course. I'm sorry."

"You'd better head out." Starsky rubbed at his eyes.

Hutch knew that if he didn't find a way to ingratiate himself to Starsky, that this would be his last chance to establish any sort of friendship with him. Panicking, Hutch's gaze darted around the room and he suddenly spied something and latched onto it like a lifeline. "Hey! Look! A Monopoly game." He crossed to the small table and lifted the box. "I love Monopoly. Let's play a game." Not waiting for a response, he carried the box over to the small table and set it down. He opened the box as if Starsky had already agreed and began spreading the game board and property cards on the table. Hutch did what he did best now that he was Ed Brown—he made himself look harmless. "It will help pass the time."

Starsky cautiously looked at Hutch for a full minute. He studied Hutch from head to toe before he finally nodded. "Okay. It is kinda boring around here." He stood behind the chair, leaning on its back to watch Hutch rifle through the game box.

A huge wave of relief rush through Hutch as started to separate the Monopoly money into appropriate piles. "You getting sprung soon?"

"Day after tomorrow. Can't be soon enough for me."

"Which do you want?" Hutch held out his hand in which he'd gathered up the eight playing figures.

"I'll take the race car."

Hutch smiled. "Good choice." He settled on using the battleship since he figured he was in a war for Starsky's friendship. "You go first."

Starsky had another moment of hesitation, then finally sat in the chair. "Thanks." Starsky tossed the dice and the game began.

--------------------------

"Sergeant Starsky!" Hutch approached his friend in the hallway of the precinct building, a grin on his face.

He hadn't seen Starsky for more than a week. That is, he hadn't seen Starsky to speak to him. He did drive by Starsky's house whenever he wasn't working. He'd follow him when Starsky went to physical therapy sessions and his psychiatric appointments. He trailed Starsky when he'd gone shopping. He tailed him when Starsky took Officer Meredith to dinner one evening. He was relieved when they didn't spend the night together. Every moment of Hutch's time off was spent watching his partner.

He didn't, however, tail Starsky when Starsky was with the other Hutch. He couldn't take the chance that Lucifer would see him. He didn't want the devil to be able to use the fact that Hutch was desperate enough to follow Starsky as fodder for more torment.

But Hutch couldn't help himself. He had to see Starsky. He had to be near Starsky, even if Starsky didn't know he was around.

Even if Starsky didn't know he was alive.

"Ed." Starsky shook his hand. Hutch must have held onto it a moment too long, because Starsky raised an eyebrow.

Hutch reluctantly released Starsky's hand. "Are you back to work already? Wow, that's really amazing. Modern medicine is something, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it sure is. The docs all said I wouldn't make it, but here I am, coming back to work instead a' being planted in the ground." Starsky grinned. "They said nobody's ever come back from bein' shot in the chest three times so damned fast. Just under two months." He looked exceedingly proud of himself when he added, "Doc Martin said he's writin' me up for a journal article. 'The Miracle of Bay City,' he's calling it."

"That's amazing, Star- Detective. Wonderful news. Say, would you like to celebrate? Let me buy you a b-beer, maybe? We could go to the Pits."

"The Pits, huh? That'd be great. Maybe Hutch would like to join us."

Hutch's heart dropped. He'd come across like an idiot but he couldn't imagine sitting with Lucifer and Starsky and pretending everything was just peachy.

"When are you thinking of going?" Starsky asked.

"Tonight?" Hutch offered tentatively. "Eight-ish?"

"Yeah, sounds good. No, wait," Starsky said. "I clean forgot. Hutch has some big hot date tonight. But that don't mean you 'n me can't go. Right?"

"Right," Hutch said enthusiastically. No Lucifer! He breathed a sigh of relief. "Great. I'm sure Hug will be happy to see you."

"You a friend of his?"

"Ah, well...I've been to the Pits before. Huggy's mentioned you since he knows I work here with you."

Starsky looked surprised. "Funny. You don't look like the type that usually hangs out at the Pits."

"I hang out in a lot of places, man." Hutch tried to sound cool.

Starsky laughed and punched his arm.

Hutch was surprised how much the light tap hurt and he started to fall over.

Starsky caught him. "Whoa there. You okay?"

"Fine." Hutch ignored the throbbing in his arm. "How about I pick you up at your place?"

"Yeah, sure," Starsky said. "Now that I'm off all meds, it will be good tossing back a cool one. 10423 Ohio Place, number 5. You know where that is?"

"Okay, Detective." Hutch wisely didn't reveal that he was aware of Starsky's address.

"Call me Dave."

"Huh?" Hutch felt like an idiot with a thick tongue. "D-Dave?"

"Yeah, Dave. It's my name, ya know."

"D-Dave." Hutch rolled Starsky's given name around on his tongue. He tried to remember if he'd ever actually called Starsky 'Dave' in all the years he'd known him. It sounded downright weird coming out of his mouth. "Great. Thanks, ah, Dave."

Hutch shifted from one foot to the other, feeling like a dork standing there, looking at Starsky as if he were a piece of prime steak and he was a starving man. He tore his gaze away and made himself leave. "See you tonight." He waved over his shoulder and congratulated himself on the willpower he used and didn't look back.

Tonight. Wait until tonight, he promised himself. Tonight he'd convince Starsky that he was Ken Hutchinson, partner of almost nine years to David Starsky. Partner and best friend. And more. The only person he'd sell his soul for.

--------------------------

"Hey, Ed. Come on in."

"Thank you, Det-- Dave."

Hutch nodded his thanks, his throat dry. He stepped over the threshold and tried not to stare as Starsky turned away and crossed the room. He failed. There was no way he could tear his eyes away from that inviting-looking ass. Those firm thighs. The strong legs. He had to close his eyes and remember to breathe.

Damn it, Starsky looked great. His hair had obviously just been shampooed. It was dark and shiny, the curls beckoning for Hutch's fingers. Yeah, right. Touch that hair and he'd lose a finger. Probably the whole hand. He gave a half-hearted laughed. Sensing hysteria building now that he was finally alone with Starsky, he bit his lip hard, but continued his inspection.

Starsky was dressed casually. Dark red button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, well-worn denim that hugged every curve. A tooled leather belt that accentuated his slim waist. Brown leather boots. Leather. Hutch loved those boots.

Hutch wished Starsky and he had been more to each other during their years together. More than friends. Lovers. But he couldn't change the past. Now it was too late.

But even the thought of that sort of relationship in his old life had been impossible. Not for Ken Hutchinson, all American man. No, he was too macho, too busy keeping up appearances to let Starsky get that close. So instead of growing closer as the years passed, they grew apart. He'd treated Starsky abysmally the past year. Lying, meanness, betrayal. Cruel things, Hutch acknowledged and regretted.

Thankfully, they'd spent the last few hours Hutch had been himself together, good friends again. He held onto the memory of that night in the hospital, lying beside Starsky, Dobey and Huggy in attendance. They'd laughed until they'd cried, once again secure in their friendship.

Until Hutch woke up the next day a damned soul.

"Damn," Hutch muttered. Once again, his tentative control over himself was overtaken by a feeling of dread, a terrible foreboding over what, he didn't know.

"Huh?" Starsky held out a can of beer.

"What?" Hutch took the can. "Oh, sorry. I remembered that I f-forgot to... turn off the oven. Yeah. Clean forgot. I'd better-- g-go. Really. Thanks. Here." He thrust the can back at Starsky, who took it slowly.

With narrowed eyes, Starsky asked, "What's wrong? You're acting like a perp who's ready to spill his guts. What'd you do?" He stepped forward, eyes blazing.

Hutch staggered back a step. "What? Nothing! I didn't do anything!"

Starsky grabbed Hutch's shirt front. "You're lying. You're up to something. I been a cop long enough to recognize the signs, buddy-boy." He tugged on the cloth and two buttons popped off. "'Fess up."

Quaking, Hutch batted at the hand that held him. "No. Let go. I didn't do anything. I'm just a file clerk. I'm nothing. Nobody!" He was shocked when his eyes filled with tears. He willed them not to fall.

"What's wrong with you?" Starsky demanded. "What is it about you? Why do I feel like I should know you. Like there's something about you I should remember? Huh? What's goin' on?"

"Please!" Hutch pleaded. He plucked at one of Starsky's hands. "Please, Starsk."

Starsky clamped onto his upper arms. "What are you doing to me? Have I known you longer than these past few weeks? I feel like I should, but I know I don't. Why does my head hurt when I'm around you? Ah, screw this. This is all too crazy!" He held on tightly. "Cough it up, Mr. Ed, or this is gonna be a long night."

"Stop! You're hurting me!" Hutch felt panicky. He squirmed in Starsky's hold, his chest heaving. He was crying? Blinking through tears, he looked into his friend's face.

Starsky was angry, but he also looked puzzled, as if he were struggling to figure out what the hell was going on.

Hutch suddenly wondered himself. What was he doing anyway? He'd wanted to talk to Starsky, and now he was running away when he finally had the perfect opportunity? He realized he was losing his nerve. He was changing more and more every day. Hutch froze in Starsky's strong grasp as the truth hit home.

It was bad enough he looked like Ed Brown, couldn't control his emotions, and outwardly was a pathetic whiner. But inside, where he still felt and thought like "Hutch," he was changing. It took an enormous strength of will for him to summon any amount of courage. He realized as each day passed he was less like Kenneth Hutchinson and more like small, timid, cowardly Ed Brown.

He was losing himself. His thoughts, his feelings, his own sense of worth, were disappearing. Jesus. Soon, he'd be Ed Brown. For the rest of his miserable life, he'd be colorless, invisible, dull...

To make it worse, he'd remember what he had been, and all he'd lost. He'd remember his friendships, his former life with Starsky, the Dobeys, Kiko, Molly, even Vanessa, Gillian, and Kira. But nobody else would realize that Ed Brown was the real Hutch and the devil had taken his place.

Oh, no...

"I'll tell you," Hutch finally muttered. He hated the sound of his own voice. No, not his voice. Ed's voice. "Let me go and I'll tell you everything."

"Swear it," Starsky demanded angrily.

"I swear."

Starsky made a disgusted sound and finally released him. "Make it fast."

"Don't!" Hutch heard the word clearly.

Hutch frowned. "Don't what?"

Starsky glared at him. "I didn't say anything. You said 'don't what.'"

"Don't do it, Ed," said a familiar voice. Hutch realized the sound was in his head. "You'll be sorry."

Hutch grimaced, holding a hand against his forehead. "I-I-- Where's the bathroom?"

Starsky jerked his head sideways.

Hutch barely managed a nod and to wobble away, quickly locking the bathroom door behind him.

Hutch looked in the mirror, and over his shoulder, he saw the other Hutch standing there, tall, blond, and fit. The man he once was.

"Get away from me." Hutch spat out the words. Thankfully, whenever he was in Lucifer's presence, his hatred gave him the courage he couldn't muster otherwise. He wondered when that bravado would be destroyed as well.

"You tell Starsky the truth," the devil said, "and he's a dead man."

Hutch slowly shook his head. "I can't do this."

"You have to. You agreed to the deal."

"I'm telling him." Hutch stood taller, squaring his shoulders. "This is wrong. I was wrong. I'm telling him, and I'm willing to take my chances."

Lucifer moved closer to Hutch in the mirror. "You'll be sorry. He'll shrivel up and die in the living room in agony. And trust me when I say it won't be quick. You know the funny thing?" When Hutch didn't respond, Lucifer laughed. "You'll still be good old Ed! You won't change a thing, except Starsky will be dead." The other Hutch chortled, arms flung wide. "Dead! Dead! Skin burned away. Eyeballs popping out. Blood everywhere!"

Hutch felt his courage waver. He hung his head. "Go away," he whispered. "Please..."

"You blew your chance, big boy. He'll never love you. You're not good enough. You're a cheat and a liar. Remember the amnesia? What about that pretty little ballerina and how many other women? You rubbed his face in it, didn't you? You had to show him you were all man, and he wasn't worthy of you. You always did think you were better than Starsky, especially after what he told you last year. Good old Hutch. You'd show him. You'd be the one in charge because you were the macho one. Right, sweetheart? Go on, tell me I'm wrong. I'm listening, big man."

The pain in Hutch's head mounted. "Stop. Please stop." The devil knew where to stab with his facts, where to most effectively hurt Hutch, to cause the most anguish. "Don't."

"And what about Kira? He told you he was in love with her, but if he found somebody to love, to marry, you'd be the big loser. So you fucked her silly the first chance you got. She might have been all wrong for him, but it wasn't up to you, was it?" Lucifer laughed deeply.

He's right. He's so right. Over and over, Hutch heard the mantra in his head. He groaned softly, wrapping an arm across his stomach. "I'm an awful friend. I don't deserve Starsky in my life." Hutch's head pounded harder and he moaned again.

"I bet you would have screwed Rosie and Terry if you'd had a chance. You're not a good friend, blondie."

Not a good friend...

The other Hutch preened in the mirror, rubbing a finger across his mustache in an achingly familiar gesture to Hutch. "You don't deserve Starsky for a friend, let alone a lover." Lucifer laughed aloud, tossing back his head. "You and Starsky as lovers." The mocking laughter echoed through the small confines of the bathroom. "Imagine that, blintz."

Hutch felt a sudden spike of bravado. He glared at Lucifer. "Don't call me that! Nobody but Starsky calls me that!"

"Blintz. Blondie. Partner," Satan taunted Hutch. "Best friend. Lover. Lover! In your dreams. Why would he want you, shorty? Even your dick is small." Lucifer put a hand on Hutch's shoulder.

He was shocked he could feel the creature's touch when there was no one behind him. Hutch shivered. "Leave me alone. Please, God..."

"Praying again?"

Hutch hugged his arms around his own body, shivering. The devil's touch leached any warmth from his body, and he started to shrivel into himself. Maybe he was worthless? He'd done all those terrible things and more to his best friend. To somebody he loved. To somebody who had been brave enough to ask for love, and what did Hutch do? Hutch mocked him. He wasn't a good friend.

"Yes," the devil whispered. "You are worthless. Definitely. Let's take a vote. I cast one vote for 'Hutch is a bad friend.' What about you?"

"Maybe I am," Hutch said despondently. "I'm not good enough."

"I know," the other Hutch said sympathetically, fingers squeezing his shoulder, surprisingly gentle in his touch. "It's sad, but it's for the best. Starsky will live a full and happy life. You and I will be best friends instead. You're doing the right thing."

Starsky pounding on the door startled Hutch. "Hey! You okay in there?"

"Yeah," Hutch called out. "I'm okay. Be right out." He flushed the commode and ran water in the sink, splashing his face. After wiping his skin harshly with a towel, Hutch made himself look in the mirror again. Dull brown eyes stared back at him. At this moment, he didn't even feel like Hutch any longer.

Hutch unlocked the door and went back to the living room where Starsky waited by the front door. Dejected, he felt worthless. Now that he'd finally admitted his treachery, it would only be a short time before his total transformation into Ed Brown would be complete. Soon, he wouldn't feel like Hutch at all, but he'd always have the memories of what he'd lost.

Hutch sensed the devil's unwelcome presence beside him, invisibly pushing him toward Starsky. He could still hear him inside his head.

"Say it. Tell him you can't go with him to Huggy's. You know you're not up to his standards, that everybody will laugh at you when you walk in with him. You don't want that, do you? They'll know he's with you because he feels sorry for you. You're a loser, Ed. You always will be."

"Starsk-- Dave, I'm not feeling well. I'm going to go home." Ed smiled blandly. "Thanks for the beer."

"Hey, wait!" Starsky latched onto his arm, his gaze studying Ed's face intently. "What's up with you? You promised to tell me what the hell is going on! I don't get you at all. Are you some sort of psycho? One minute you're practically beggin' me to hang out with you, and now you're running off like you've seen a ghost. What's going on?" Starsky looked confused. "Are you using? You got track marks? Lift your sleeve."

"No! No, please... I-I'm not a good friend..." Ed gulped noisily as he pulled away. "I'm not worth your trouble." He walked backwards to the door. When he bumped into it, he groped with his hand until he found the knob. Turning the handle, he opened the door just wide enough to slip through. Without meeting Starsky's eyes, he whispered, "I'm sorry."

Hutch ran.
---------------------------

At first, Hutch drove to the Venice Place apartment out of pure nostalgia. He missed his things--his guitar, his plants, Terry's bear. Both Starsky and that other Hutch were still on duty, so he wasn't worried about being discovered. After sitting outside and staring at the place, he gave in to the urge to go inside. The key was still over the door on the lintel, so getting in was easy. He simply unlocked the door and walked in--

--Into another world. The apartment was picture perfect. There wasn't a speck of dust, a dish in the sink, or a dirty towel on the bathroom floor.

But as Hutch walked around, his blood ran cold. While his furnishings were fine, every single plant was a blackened mess. All of them looked as if they'd been set on fire, but instead of piles of ashes, each one was a burned out shell. They were charred, hideous skeletons. Hutch believed each plant suffered as it died. He shook with rage.

In his bedroom, he discovered Ollie, the bear Terry gave him for safekeeping, was missing, gone from his usual place on Hutch's bedroom bureau. He searched carefully through the apartment looking for the toy. Cold fury raced through his body. Nobody was allowed to touch Ollie. Only he and Starsk. It was special to Hutch and to Starsky. It was their gift, not Lucifer's. If that devil had touched one single piece of Ollie's hair, Hutch would kill him. Somehow, some way, he'd destroy that bastard, bit by bit, and enjoy every single moment while he did it.

Running out of places to look, something made him check under the kitchen sink, finally pulling out the nearly empty trash can. He didn't know what anger was until he found Ollie there. His coat was ripped to shreds, his stuffing was pulled out, one of his eyes was missing and the other hung on by only a thread.

Lucifer murdered Ollie.

Hutch swore he would find a way to murder Lucifer.

Hutch stuffed the bear under his jacket. He couldn't leave Ollie here with that creature. He'd take the little fellow home and he'd fix him. As he turned towards the door, an idea struck him. Walking back to the sink, he extracted Ollie from under his jacket and gently placed the little bear back into the trash. Lovingly, he nestled the critter into a couple of sheets of crumpled newspaper. Hutch's hand hovered over Ollie and after he ran a finger across the destroyed treasure's head as he whispered an apology, he replaced the trash can under the sink. With a renewed sense of righteous indignation, he stumbled out of the apartment, tears falling even though he wasn't aware of it. He sat in his car for a long while with his head resting on the steering wheel, composing himself. Then he drove away.

He had a new plan to execute, and this time he was going to be successful.

--------------------------------

Hutch prowled the corridors of Metro. It was past time when Starsky and the other Hutch were due to clock in, and he was anxious. Since Starsky had been reinstated to active duty, Hutch kept careful tabs on his partner's activities. He was terrified that Lucifer wouldn't keep up his end of the bargain and that Starsky would be injured or killed in the line of duty. After all, Lucifer wouldn't mind. He'd just laugh in Hutch's face and move onto another damned soul.

Unable to follow Starsky on his beat, Hutch haunted the station house, spending hours waiting for Starsky and the other Hutch to report in. He was less anxious when they were in the squad room typing reports or interviewing witnesses. But when Starsky was out of sight, Hutch was frantic.

Tonight Starsky and the other Hutch were late. Hutch worried there'd been an accident, or an armed robbery, or that Starsky had been caught in crossfire. Get a grip, he ordered himself, and headed to the locker room. Maybe he'd missed Starsky's return and he was taking a shower.

Hutch walked in and paused, looking around. The room seemed empty.

Then a sound came from one of the bathroom stalls. Cautiously, he walked over and peeked under the stall doors. Under the farthest one he saw two sets of shoes. Starsky's blue Adidas and the other Hutch's brown suede loafers. The loafers were straddling the Adidas, and a sound like a head banging against the inside wall rang through the room.

He heard the other Hutch whisper harshly, "Come on, Starsk. I know you want it."

Hutch peered through the crack between the door and the wall.

The other Hutch had Starsky pressed against the side wall of the stall, his hand buried inside the waistband of Starsky's tracksuit bottoms. His other hand was wrapped around Starsky's throat and his knee pushed up against Starsky's groin. As Hutch watched, the other Hutch lifted Starsky with the strength in his hand until only the toes of Starsky's sneakers touched the floor. Starsky was pinned, unable to move.

Hutch was too stunned to move. With wide eyes, all he could do was watch. His heart pounded and sweat poured down his face as the scene unfolded before him.

Starsky struggled and managed to growl, "I never said I wanted this. Get off'a me!"

"I wanna fuck you, Starsk," the other Hutch said. "Hard and fast. I'll even use a condom if you're squeamish."

The other Hutch's hand was out of sight down the front of Starsky's pants. He must have squeezed Starsky's dick, because Starsky's eyes suddenly went wide and he gasped in pain. "Stop! This ain't like you, Hutch. You're being stupid."

The other Hutch forced his lips against Starsky's in response.

The real Hutch wondered why Starsky didn't punch his assailant's lights out when he heard the jangling sound of handcuffs and realized Starsky's hands had to be cuffed behind him. Outraged, Hutch tried to move but he found himself immobilized. He couldn't even look away.

All Hutch could do was watch.

Starsky struggled violently while the other Hutch assaulted his mouth, the cuffs scraping against the wall of the cubicle.

When the other Hutch released Starsky's lips, the real Hutch could see blood running from a cut he must have made on Starsky's tender skin. It made the other Hutch smile.

Hutch gasped. Was this real? This couldn't be happening, not to Starsky. Starsky needed help now! Try as he might, Hutch felt as if his feet were nailed to the floor, that a hand was wrapped around his throat, stifling his voice. As much as he wanted to intercede, he was powerless to do so. Then he understood why.

Lucifer was aware of Hutch's presence and this was all for his benefit. The devil made sure Hutch was watching but unable to help.

Hutch was a lousy friend.

Starsky pushed against the other Hutch with his shoulder, desperately trying to block him. "Stop it! Hutch, stop. What are you doing? Hutch... Stop now!"

"God, Starsky, I love when you beg," the devil taunted.

"I ain't begging!" Starsky shouted.

The devil pulled his hand from Starsky's pants, making him gasp again with pain, and clamped his hand over Starsky's mouth.

Starsky jerked in Lucifer's grasp.

The devil moved his hand so that his palm covered Starsky's mouth and his thumb and forefinger pinched his nostrils shut.

Starsky's eyes widened as he struggled to breathe. His legs jerked and he tried thrashing his head to dislodge the hand, but the other Hutch held him easily.

Hutch somehow made a sound, a moan, and Lucifer smiled. He looked directly at Hutch and nodded. Hutch felt tears course down his face. Lucifer chuckled and directed his attention back to Starsky.

When Starsky's eyes fluttered shut and he slumped in the devil's arms, the other Hutch laughed aloud. With one hand pinning Starsky to the wall by his throat, the devil yanked Starsky's pants down.

The vise holding Hutch immobilized disappeared. Hutch stumbled backwards from the sudden release and he hit the edge of the porcelain sink with his hip. He practically bounced off the sink, screaming, "No!" He banged on the door and pulled on the handle, rattling the lock loudly. "You motherfucker! Don't touch him!"

Instantly, the devil was beside Hutch outside the stall. "How nice of you to join us."

The stall door swung open and Hutch glanced inside. Starsky lay in a heap on the floor. Before Hutch could rush to his side, the devil grabbed Hutch's arm and twisted it. Hutch cried out.

The devil quickly wrapped his hands around Hutch's throat and held on tightly. "You want to take his place?"

Hutch swayed in the grip of those strong hands. Black spots danced before his eyes. His mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.

The devil eased up slightly on his grip. "I said, do you want to take his place?"

"You promised," Hutch wheezed, his arms flailing, smacking the devil uselessly. "I can't breathe!" His knees gave way.

"I kept our deal. You never said I couldn't have a piece of that ass. Starsky's got the greatest ass I've seen in a long time. And I've seen a lot of them. Yours, however, is thin and bony."

"Why?" Hutch gasped.

"Why do I want his ass? Why am I going to have yours?"

The real Hutch nodded.

That made the devil smile and admit, "Because I can."

"Leave Starsky alone," Hutch managed to hiss.

"For tonight. Maybe." The devil cocked his head. "So your answer is yes?" He smiled. "Beg me."

"P-please... Don't touch Starsky... Please, I'm begging. U-use me instead."

The devil kissed Hutch's mouth. "I love it when a deal goes my way." He laughed, but when he pressed his body against Hutch's, Hutch fainted.

---------------------------------

Hutch blinked and peered around dazedly. He was back at his post in the file room. The room itself was the same: row upon row of gray shelving, box after box of evidence, files, and other accouterments of investigations stacked everywhere. He was like that river flowing in the bottom on the Grand Canyon, dwarfed by the high canyon walls surrounding it. Only his walls weren't colorful or interesting.

A glance at his watch told him that several hours had passed since he'd had his run-in with Lucifer. He shifted on his chair and pain lanced through his body. Grimacing, he rose gingerly and shuffled to the men's room.

The mirror confirmed that he looked as bad as he felt. His eyes were red and swollen, his lips were puffy from things he didn't want to remember, and his entire body ached. Places he didn't know could throb now did and his ass was tender and inflamed. He splashed cold water on his face. Looking down at the water running in the basin, he was repulsed by his memories--Lucifer laughing, touching him, pushing his face into the wall and taking what he wanted.

Hutch felt like crying, but before he could dissolve into another crying jag, he stood and viciously dug his fingers into his eyes until the white spots danced wildly. He didn't much care about himself. This body would survive, unfortunately. His previous run-ins with Lucifer proved that no matter what punishment the devil meted out, when the next day dawned, good old Ed Brown was ready for another round.

How wonderful.. The gift that keeps on giving.

Starsky. He had to find Starsky to be sure he was okay.

Trotting out of the men's room, he plowed full force directly into him.

"Hey!" Starsky said, grabbing Ed's arms to keep him from falling. "Where's the fire?"

"Huh?" Hutch blinked at Detective Dave Starsky's happy face. What was going on? Just a few hours ago, Starsky had been assaulted by Lucifer in the men's locker room. Hutch clearly remembered seeing red marks around Starsky's neck where Satan choked him. Starsky must have a hell of a headache from having his head bashed against the wall of the bathroom stall, yet here he was, in the pink of health.

"Huh, what?" Starsky grinned, playfully smacking Hutch's arm. "You never do say much, do ya? When you do, it don't make much sense."

"Are you okay?" Hutch managed to whisper, his gaze never leaving Starsky's face.

"Okay? Yeah. Fine. Thanks for asking." Starsky gave him a puzzled look mixed with impatience. "Listen. Hutch 'n me got plans so get outta my way. I got to take a whiz before I meet my buddy in the parking lot. But before that, I need this report filed. Can you handle that?"

"You're going out with him?" Hutch asked, astonished.

"Yeah, of course. What's up with you? Too much sun or what? You're sure acting crazy."

"Why do you let him do that do you?" Hutch blurted. At Starsky's confused look, Hutch clamped his hand over his mouth. Too late, Hutch knew he'd made a mistake.

"Why do I let who do what to who?" Starsky asked suspiciously.

"Him. K-ken H-h... Your partner." Starsky stood silently, so against his better judgment, Hutch forged on. "He's hurting you. It's n-not right. Partners are s-supposed to b-back each other up."

"Hutch? My partner would never hurt me!" Starsky took a step forward. "I got you figured out, buddy-boy."

"No, wait. Down in the locker room... You don't remember? I saw it! He's not who he says he is." Hutch grabbed Starsky's shirt. "I wouldn't lie to you, Starsk. He's an impostor!"

Starsky shoved Hutch against the wall. He looked up and down the hallway to see if they were observed. Hutch looked as well. He couldn't afford to get in dutch with Dobey again, and Starsky could make enough of a fuss that that would get him fired. He couldn't let that happen. He had to watch over Starsky to keep him safe.

"You say one more word about Hutch and you'll regret it. I don't know why you keep stirring things up, but I ain't puttin' up with it anymore. Got it?" Starsky pushed Hutch hard for emphasis.

"It's true. I swear it. He's going to hurt you. Might even kill--"

"All right. That's it. Get outta my face before I rearrange your teeth. Now!"

Hutch somehow managed to stand his ground. "No matter what happens, I'll protect you."

His words made Starsky fall silent with a puzzled expression.

Hutch pressed his point. "Does he do all the things he used to with you? Hang out with you at Huggy's? Play pinball, pool... How about Monopoly? You want proof, ask him-- Ask him about Ollie. Yeah, go ahead. How would I know about Ollie if I wasn't telling the truth?" Hutch found a small reserve of guts. "Go on. Ask him about Ollie."

Starsky stared at Hutch, his eyes narrowing. "Don't you dare talk about Ollie. How the hell do you know about him, anyway?"

"Ask Hu-- him... Your partner. Ask him, Starsk. Ask him to show you Ollie. Then you come and find me and I'll tell you everything. But you have to start remembering, start trusting me, or nobody's coming out of this ali--"

"Starsky!" The other Hutch emerged from the elevator and sauntered over to Starsky and the real Hutch.

Hutch tried to leave as Lucifer approached, but the devil had other plans. Hooking an arm around the real Hutch's neck, he smiled, his expression full of treachery and promises of pain.

"Hey, partner. This dork bugging you?" The other Hutch slapped "Ed" hard on the side of the face, his smile never dimming.

The real Hutch's face burned from the blow. He shrugged, trying to escape Lucifer's grasp. "You're hurting me."

"Come on, Hutch," Starsky said, looking upset, "let him go. He's harmless."

The other Hutch slapped "Ed" again, laughing when he gasped. "I don't like him. He's nasty-looking and stinks, too."

"Hutch, it ain't like you to be mean like this," Starsky said. "You got thirty pounds and half a foot on him. What's up with you today?"

"Me? Nothing, partner. Nothing at all. You're right, though, this prick isn't worth my time. How about a beer at Hug's?" The devil released "Ed" and straightened his shirt (Hutch's favorite!) and rearranged his hair. (Hutch really missed his hair!). "I'll meet you in the parking lot." Lucifer sauntered off, a picture of cool maleness.

Starsky shuffled his feet before he finally said, "Sorry, Ed. Hutch isn't himself today."

"He's not himself at all," Hutch snapped out.

"It's the pressure of the job. He ain't been laid in months. Not since Gunther tried to kill me."

"Yeah, sure. But remember what I said." Hutch glanced around, making sure Lucifer had indeed left. "Ask him to show you Ollie."

"Yeah, yeah," Starsky said dismissively. "See ya around."

Hutch watched Starsky walk away. "I'll protect you," he added softly. "I swear."

-----------------------------------

Starsky disappeared down the corridor and around the corner, leaving Hutch so angry he wanted to hit something. Still, he wasn't surprised. Of course, Lucifer had done something to Starsky's mind so Starsky didn't remember. Lucifer had also erased the marks he'd made when he'd manhandled Starsky. Hutch was used to Lucifer doing those things to him, but for him to do that to Starsky made Hutch furious.

Hutch slowly walked out back to the file room, mind whirling. Wait, wait, wait. If Lucifer could do that to Starsky, then he could hurt him as well.

The deal Hutch had made supposedly guaranteed Starsky's longevity and health, but this was the devil! Satan lied. He was the father of lies.

Hutch had to save Starsky, and the only way he could do that was to make Starsky believe that Ed Brown was his real partner, Ken Hutchinson. Then what? Hutch didn't know, but he had to figure it out. He had to find a way to keep Starsky safe and get Lucifer out of their lives.

Would Starsky ask about the bear Terry had given Hutch, had entrusted to him along with Starsky's life and love? And if he asked Lucifer, what would the devil say?

He'd planted a seed of doubt and could only pray that Starsky's innate sense would bring him to Hutch to get the answers to the most important question.

Please, God, let him wonder. I don't have the right to ask, but I'm asking. Please, for Starsky. He's special, he deserves the best. I'm praying to you for this one thing. Let me save Starsky.

Why should God help him now? Hutch wouldn't let those doubts take hold, forcing them away. Starsky would do the right thing. Hutch staked his life on that.

-----------------------------

Hutch woke to another warm, beautiful California day. The smog had already burned off and the sun shown down on his crummy apartment. He glanced around his dismal bedroom. But today, he believed he had more options. This morning he was a man with a mission.

Hutch rose and scrubbed. He shaved his patchy beard and brushed his gray teeth. He took a leak, handling his small, unresponsive cock. It pleased him since it enraged Lucifer. No matter what the demon did to this body, he couldn't arouse Hutch's pitiful, shrunken dick.

Dressing in his pressed work uniform, he still took pride in his appearance, even if what peered at him from the cracked, flaking mirror made him ill.

Instant coffee and milk-less cornflakes settled in his stomach like lead, but he forged on. A turn of the key and the van he'd bought two days ago to replace his worthless car started up. Glancing into the back of the dark interior, he drove sedately a few miles to his destination. Hutch made one reconnaissance drive-by. After spying his quarry's vehicle, he grinned to himself as he drove past. Parking a block away, he climbed into the back of the van to fiddle with the myriad electronic gadgets he'd worked on for two nights in a row.

Everything was ready. Hutch couldn't keep the cold smile from his face as he cranked on the electronic surveillance equipment. After a few adjustments, voices came through loud and clear. The tape deck whirred as it captured the sounds coming from the apartment's interior. Finally! After keeping constant surveillance with the equipment the past few days and not getting any results, last evening's skulk at the station house had paid off. He'd managed to overhear Starsky and other Hutch talking in the locker room about the next day being their day off. The other Hutch offered to pick up Starsky at nine for breakfast. As they made more plans for their day off, Hutch scampered off to get ready for the next morning.

Now Hutch was able to really congratulate himself on his successful planting of the listening devices he'd hidden in Starsky's place last week. With a grin, he put on the headphones to listen in.

Hutch's heart dropped when he heard Starsky's tense voice come through.

"I ain't sleeping with you, Hutch. No matter how much you beg."

"I've never begged for a bed partner in my life. I'm offering you something you've always wanted."

"I should'a never told you about how I felt. I meant it when I said I loved you, but I didn't think you'd misunderstand me. Love ain't fucking, Hutch."

Hutch groaned softly. "No, no, don't say it to him. Not him... I should have told you how I felt--" The other Hutch's voice cut into his musings.

"Sure it is."

"You've never said it back to me, either."

Oh, God. Starsky sounded so sad! Why hadn't he said it back? Why?

"What? I love you, Starsky?" Hutch heard the devil's cold laugh. "I want to fuck you. Love doesn't have a thing to do with it. You've got a great ass and I want my cock in it."

"That's cold, Hutch."

Starsky needed him! Not that thing in there. He needed Hutch, who treasured him.

"I'll warm you right up."

"I ain't interested."

"Come on, sweetheart. Let your daddy in."

Hutch jumped when he heard the sounds of breaking glass. He had no idea who was throwing what. He wished again he'd had the money for a video camera as well, but was grateful he'd gotten the bug into Starsky's apartment without getting caught. He continued to listen intently.

"Get out, Hutch. I'll drive myself in." Starsky's voice was cold enough to freeze the sun.

"Ah, baby, don't be like that. You've never had it like I can give it. My cock aches for you. I want to fuck you so hard you won't walk for a week. Make you scream when you come. You'll love it, I promise. You got such a fine ass, made for fucking."

"I never thought I'd say this, but I'm askin' Dobey for a new partner. I can't work with you any longer. You're not-- my Hutch, you've changed. I used'ta love you. Now I just feel sorry for you."

Yes! Hutch felt a ray of hope now. Starsky was beginning to see the other Hutch for what he really was. A conniving bastard with a heart of stone.

The devil laughed and Hutch heard a door opening. "See you at the station, lover. We'll talk about this again."

"No we won't! Don't ever ask me again. Now get lost."

Hutch ached when he heard Starsky muttering darkly before he again heard something heavy thud against a hard surface.

Hutch sat back on the rickety chair he was using as the tape rewound. He listened to it again. When the voices finally faded away, he reached out and hit the stop button. Chewing on his lower lip, Hutch wondered if the devil would know about the tape. A cold sweat broke out onto his forehead. What if the bastard erased it! No, he couldn't let that happen. But what could he do? He sat quietly, mulling over his options for a good half an hour before he came to a decision.

Climbing back into the driver's seat, Hutch started the engine and headed to Metro. Careful to stay under the speed limit and observe all traffic laws, Hutch made sure nothing interfered with his journey.

----------------------------

Parking his van next to one of the few empty spots, Hutch waited. It wasn't long before the Torino careened into the parking lot in a cloud of dust with squealing tires as Starsky took the corner at top speed. He slammed the car into the vacant parking space next to Hutch's van.

Hutch exited his vehicle as Starsky emerged. Smiling, Hutch moved into Starsky's view. "Hey, Dave!"

Starsky looked at him cautiously, but he still gave him a small smile. "Oh, hi Ed. What's shakin'?"

"Would you be willing to listen to something?"

"Why?" Starsky raised an eyebrow. "What's it about?"

"Your p-partner."

"Are we back to that?" Starsky said, his smile rapidly replaced by a hard look. "I've about had it with you."

"What about what just happened?" Hutch couldn't help but feel exasperated.

"What just happened when?" Starsky seemed confused.

"Just now at your... " Oh crap, he'd forgotten. That devil had once again played with Starsky's head. Starsky didn't remember what had happened not more than fifteen minutes ago.

"At my what? You're starting to annoy me, Ed. You got something to say, spit it out. I'm gonna be late for work so make it quick."

Hutch's brain hopped from one excuse to another. He'd painted himself into a corner and he had to figure out a way to get Starsky to agree to listen to the tape. Now, before the devil could destroy the evidence. Starsky shifted from one foot to the other and Hutch knew he was getting pissed at Hutch's failure to explain himself. But today, Hutch wasn't deterred by Starsky's quick temper. Today he had new determination.

"Did you ask about Ollie?"

Starsky's face blanched. "It-- it ain't nothin'."

"Tell me, please, Starsk. What did he say?" Hutch studied Starsky sharply. He saw a flash of anger in his friend's eyes and it wasn't directed at him. "Oh, wait. You're too smart for that. You didn't ask. You went to his place instead. You found Ollie. You saw what he did. I never thought about it before, but he always comes to your place." Hutch tapped a finger to his chin before he asked, "You haven't been to Venice Place since you got out of rehab, have you?" When Starsky looked aggravated, Hutch pressed even harder. "Go on, tell me to take a hike. Tell me I'm wrong about him. Tell me you didn't see the apartment. The plants... You know something's wrong. He's bad, Starsk. Trust me on this." Hutch screwed up his courage and touched Starsky's arm. "I wouldn't lie to you. I-I care--"

"What the hell are you trying to do to me?" Starsky shrugged off Hutch's touch. "Hutch and me have been friends for years. Whatever shit your shoveling is what's wrong!" Starsky turned away from Hutch. "What's been happening these past weeks is not who he is! He's not like that."

The pain in Starsky's eyes gutted him, but Hutch pressed on. "What about Ollie? Terry gave him to Hutch, entrusting him and you to Hutch. Tell me about Ollie."

"How do you know about Ollie anyway?" Starsky pressed his palm against his forehead.

"That isn't important. I'll tell you, but I need you to answer me first."

"You need me to? Who are you to need or demand or insist on anything?" Starsky snorted with derision. "I don't know you from Adam. You been nothing but trouble for weeks now."

Hutch crossed his arms and somehow found the courage to stand his ground. His gaze held Starsky's and he waited silently until Starsky finally gave in.

"All right. God damn it... I saw him... Ollie. At first, I asked Hutch to let me see him, you know, keep him at my place for a few days. He looked at me like I had grown another head." Starsky paced a few steps away before he turned back, glaring at Hutch as if this was all his fault. "He acted like he didn't have a clue who Ollie was. He said something smart-assed like he didn't like me hanging with other guys, then clammed up.

"So, the other night when he was out paintin' the town, I went over to his place." Starsky rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache. Hutch waited until Starsky admitted, "The place looked like nobody had ever lived there, except for the plants... They were these surreal crispy things. Kinda like somebody had cooked them until they burned. Hutch loved those plants and they were all dead. It was creepy.

"So I looked for Ollie and I found him... under the sink.... He was in the trash, all ripped up." Starsky ran a hand through his hair, clearly upset. "Like somebody did it with their bare hands or their teeth. It was ugly." Starsky looked like he wanted to cry.

It broke Hutch's heart. "Starsk, I'm sorry."

"Hutch and me have had our problems, but I thought we worked through that. I thought..."

Hutch waited, but Starsky struggled to blink back tears and didn't say anything else. So Hutch asked quietly, "Thought what?"

"I thought we had something--more going...between us. Ah, screw this." Starsky turned away and took off across the parking lot before Hutch had a chance to stop him.

He considered giving chase but wondered if Starsky took off because he was finally beginning to believe that the man he considered his partner wasn't all he said he was.

-----------------------

Pain wracked Hutch's body. Lucifer snickered, throwing him face first onto the floor. Blood spurted from his nose and his front teeth cut into his lip. Hutch moaned, his vision graying in and out. His pants were torn away as he coughed on the blood, scrabbling against the floor to escape. Hutch barely managed to drag himself a few inches before he was pulled backwards by his ankles.

"No," Hutch begged, "please, no..."

Strong hands turned him over as Lucifer straddled his body. Grasping Hutch's limp penis, he twisted it. He palmed Hutch's balls and pulled.

Hutch screamed.

"We haven't had fun together in what? Three whole days! I would have visited with my buddy, Starsky, but you offered yourself. So here I am!" Lucifer twisted his testicles again.

Hutch didn't have a chance to catch his breath between his screams. A hard slap had him gasping for breath before Lucifer smashed a piece of cloth into his mouth. As he tried to spit it out, Lucifer smacked him again. He panicked when he was unable to take a clear breath.

"No, you don't," Lucifer ordered, tying a necktie around Hutch's neck and knotting it tightly. "Breathing is highly overrated."

Hutch flailed as he fought to breathe, hitting his assailant. Blinking, he saw Lucifer calmly watching as he suffocated. The last thing Hutch saw was Lucifer smiling with Hutch's own mouth and telling him he was such a good boy.

----------------------

Slowly, Hutch became aware of his surroundings. He was standing, tied upright, his body splayed across the back of the brass headboard from his bed in Venice Place, his face mashed between the brass bars. Looking around, he could see he was still in his dumpy apartment and realized that Lucifer had miraculously transported the headboard here just to abuse him on it. The headboard stood independently in the middle of the living room without its bed, solid and immovable, the perfect bondage device. Hutch's arms were secured at the wrists, his waist anchored tightly against the bars, and his legs were widely spaced, ankles lashed down. He was naked.

Oh, God. Not again. No, no, no.

That hated voice behind him whispered, "God's not here. Only me, sweetheart."

Hutch couldn't help himself; he urinated on the floor.

"Your fear is like sweet wine to me," the devil said.

Lucifer's mocking laughter hurt his ears as his hand caressed Hutch lightly, leaving a trail of fire. He started to cry.

The first sting of the whip took his breath away. The second made him bit his lip. The third had him screaming. He floated on a sea of utter despair and unrelenting pain until everything once again grayed out into nothing.

Each time he woke, Lucifer was there, making him cry and scream, making him pray for death.But his prayers were not answered.

The next time he came to, Lucifer suddenly stood before him, grinning, his hands on his hips, openly admiring his handiwork.

With his face pressed against the headboard's bars, Hutch couldn't look away from the light that now flooded the room, burning his eyes. Lucifer appeared like the angel he had once been, bathed in pure white light, an ethereal being.

"I am beautiful, aren't I?" Lucifer asked, stretching his arms high over his head. He was naked, fully erect. A perfect specimen of masculinity. Tall, trim, fit, endowed. He stroked himself. "I'm here for you, my love." His cock grew immensely, impossibly huge.

Hutch's eyes widened. "No, please."

"Would you rather I fuck Starsky? I'm sure he'd love it, even if he wouldn't remember it afterwards. Unless I want him to, of course. Do you? Tell me, sweet Kenneth. Should I go to Starsky with this, or are you willing to take his place?"

"Yes, 'm willing, you motherfucker," Hutch mumbled through swollen lips. His pain wasn't over yet.

----------------------------

Hutch slowly surfaced from unconsciousness to the touch of a damp cloth against his burning face. More coolness, wet and delicious, slipped across his battered mouth and slid down his throat. He struggled to swallow the wonderful water. Blinking slowly, the outline of a face appeared through his fuzzy vision, topped with a halo of dark hair, and he heard the creak of leather as he was gently shifted into a more comfortable position in the arms that cradled him.

"Easy. Easy, Ed," said a worried male voice.

Hutch drank greedily for a few moments.

"Wha--?" Hutch tried to speak, but his mouth refused to cooperate.

"Take it easy," said the man holding him.

Hutch knew that voice—if he could only think clearly.

"Ed, what happened? I'm calling an ambulance and getting the forensics guys down here. You're in a bad way, buddy. We need to get you help and find the jerks who did this to ya."

Starsky? Starsky's here? No, no, no. He couldn't be here, ministering to Hutch. Lucifer would hate that. All of Hutch's sacrifice would be for nothing if Lucifer found Starsky here. He'd kill Starsky out of pure hatred, and make Hutch watch. Hutch struggled to warn him. "N-n-no."

"Huh? Ed, you're face is a meatloaf. You can barely open your eyes and the rest a' ya is mangled up pretty bad. You need to be in intensive care. You've lost a lot of blood and you've been... Ah, shit. Who did this, Ed? You gotta tell me. What monster did this to you?"

"Noooooo," Hutch sobbed. "Go... 'way. Le-le-leave."

"No way! Ed, man, this ain't somethin' I'm walking away from! I can't leave you here to die!"

Hutch summoned as much strength as he could. He tried to lick his lips and speak, but his throat was so dry. "Wa-ter."

"Here ya go. Drink slowly."

Hutch let the cool water wash down his throat. Some of it dribbled out the side of his mouth. "Can't go... to the hospital. Trus' me. I'll heal by morn-morning."

"You can't possibly heal by morning, noon, or night! You're going to die, Ed. Right here, tonight."

"No... He won' let me die."

"Who are you talking about? You know who did this to you? You gotta tell me, Ed."

"Won' believe me. Call me a li- ar."

"Ed, I swear, I'll believe you. Tell me. Come on."

Hutch couldn't say the name. "Your p-p-partner—"

"You're saying Hutch... No, no way! Hutch would not do this! Whoever did this is an animal. A sadistic devil! No human being could do this to another!"

"Told you... Knew you wouldn't... believe. Nobody be... lieves. But 'm not lying. Swear it."

"Why? Why would he do this? He's a good man, a good friend."

Hutch saw the pain in Starsky's face and he wished with all his heart he could take every bit of unhappiness onto himself.

"S'true. Your partner did this... to me. Sorr-" Hutch's head grew heavy, his consciousness sinking. But he had to make Starsky believe him. Taking in jittery breath, he slowly released it. He was dizzy and holding his head up was too much work. Hutch closed his eyes.

"Ed!"

The fear in Starsky's voice made Hutch open his eyes. "Promise...me! Please... leave... go... It's...test..." He gripped Starsky's shirt with all the strength he had left, pulling him close.

"Test? It's a test? I don't get this, Ed. You're saying that Hutch did this to you, as some sort of a test? How can you be better by morning? This makes no sense. This is nuts! Like some sort of Twilight Zone garbage."

As he started to slip away, Hutch managed to say, "Have faith, partn--"

--------------------------

Hutch woke in a dark room. He sat up quickly, touching his face. He blinked, then the room took shape in the moonlight. Hutch rubbed his eyes. He was in his own tattered bedroom, on his single mattress on the floor.

And he was in one piece.

He was again healthy in a creepy Ed Brown sort of way. It wasn't miraculous or amazing or wonderful. It was horrible and expected. Great, just great.

Rising, he stumbled into the bathroom, peed, and took a shower. Ablutions complete, he dressed before going into the rundown kitchen to drink a glass of water. From the dirty window, he saw the sun coming up over the horizon, bright and cheery. After eating a strawberry yogurt, he decided to head to Metro. He had a bunch of files waiting for him, and the captain of vice had asked for some research on several hooker rape cases from ten years ago.

He purposefully ignored yesterday's events. No sense dwelling on it. After all, it wasn't the first time he'd been used and abused, waking up the next morning whole and as fit as Ed Brown could be. Ready for the next go-round.

The other reason to appear at the station was to keep an eye on Starsky in case Starsky finally decided to ask about his fraud of a partner. Even as Hutch thought about that, he had to admit how unlikely it was.

As he walked to his van, he spotted a familiar car across the street. He gawked. The Torino was parked against the far curb. Slumped behind the wheel, asleep, was Starsky.

Then he remembered waking up after the fun time he'd spent with Lucifer, Starsky had been there! Starsky had seen him broken and bleeding. Starsky had given him water and had spoken to him. Starsky had listened to him and left even though it must have killed Starsky to do as he'd asked. Starsky had faith. In Ed Brown.

Will wonders never cease?

The sun suddenly seemed brighter. Hutch's heart and soul filled with love and a touch of optimism. Starsky believed him!

Hutch crossed the street and peered at his friend. Starsky was so beautiful. Asleep, he took on the appearance of an angel. His hair was a curly mess, his face peaceful. Hope swelling in his heart, he tapped lightly on the window.

---------------------------

"I'm not sure I wanna hear this," Starsky muttered, sitting on the edge of Hutch's threadbare sofa. "But I want to know what's goin' on, so you'd better start talking."

Hutch gave Starsky a tentative smile before turning to the tape player. He threaded the filament onto the spindles. " Listen... I'm sorry you've had to deal with this. I'm sorry you've been hurt by this mess, but most of all, I'm sorry I didn't have more faith."

Starsky rubbed his forehead as if it ached. "Ed, last night you were laying right here, bleeding to death. You were barely alive. You'd been whipped and beaten and – assaulted. And now you're standing here, looking like nothin's happened, and talkin' trash. Before you play whatever's on that tape, you better tell me how you healed up so fast after what you went through." Starsky looked at him suspiciously. "Did you do it with that fake stuff they use in movies?"

"Do you believe that?" Hutch looked intently into Starsky's eyes. "Answer me, Detective. Was it real or wasn't it?"

Starsky stared at Hutch for a long moment, then admitted, "It wasn't Hollywood horror movie crap. It was real. You were minutes from death when I found you. So how can you be standin' here now, looking like nothing happened?"

"Do you believe in heaven and hell?"

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I guess. Never give it much thought, but in my line a' work, I've seen a lot of horrible things. Sometimes it helps to imagine some dark, evil force is making people do awful things to other people. I mean... If a guy kidnaps a little kid and rapes him, chops him up and buries him in the desert, how can you not believe there's evil in the world?"

Hutch nodded. "Yeah, well, I know firsthand there is evil and Satan is as real as you and me."

Starsky didn't say a thing for a full minute before asking, "And how do you know this for sure?"

"Because that's who brutalized me last night."

Starsky seemed surprised for a moment before he started to laugh. "Oh, yeah, right. You expect me to believe that the devil came calling, beat you half to death, fucked you senseless, and then what? Went for coffee? Geez, Brown, I should'a known this was a bunch of garbage." Starsky rose. "I'm outta here--"

Hutch hit the play button on the tape deck. Suddenly, the sound of familiar voices cut through the stifling air in the room, making Starsky pause.

"I ain't sleeping with you, Hutch. No matter how much you beg."

"I've never begged for a bed partner in my life. I'm offering you something you've always wanted."

"I should'a never told you about how I felt. I meant it when I said I loved you, but I didn't think you'd misunderstand me. Love ain't fucking, Hutch."

"Sure it is."

"You've never said it back to me, either."

"What? I love you, Starsky? I want to fuck you. Love doesn't have a thing to do with it. You've got a great ass and I want my cock in it."

"That's cold, Hutch."

"I'll warm you right up."

Starsky marched over to the tape deck and slammed the off button. "What kind of screwed up game are you playing? Are you trying to say that's me 'n Hutch? If it is, why don't I remember it happening?"

"What do you think?" Hutch asked, shrinking back from the menacing man standing over him. "S-sounds like you and him."

"When did you record that? How did you get it?" Starsky reached out and yanked Hutch up by his shirt. "What the hell is going on? Talk!" Starsky shook Hutch roughly.

"I sneaked into my--his-- Venice Place. That's when I saw Ollie. I got scared he'd hurt you. And I was right!

"I b-bugged your apartment af-after I found Ollie all ripped up! I-I had to convince you about the truth of what I'm s-saying! He's not who you think he is! He's evil! He's been doing this to you for weeks. Backing you into a corner; trying to get into your pants. You pitch a fit and he only laughs at you. Sometimes he even hurts you. Then you forget it all because he can mess with your mind."

"I don't believe you. You had somebody, a voice impersonator, make that tape. It ain't me, and it sure ain't Hutch!"

"It is. You can shake me all you want. You can punch me out. You can put a bullet in my head, and it still won't change the truth. The man you think is your partner is--evil. He's beyond anything you can imagine. Please, Starsk, you're hurting me."

"Why? Say for one minute I believed any of this. Tell me why. Why something would possess my partner and make him act like a madman. And why wouldn't I remember? Huh? Tell me that! Have I been drugged or somethin'? Or has Hutch's got some sort'a demon in him? Even if I believed you, why is it happening?"

As Starsky shook him roughly again, Hutch started to cry softly. "I-I did it. Your partner's not possessed, Starsky. You don't understand!" He batted at the strong hands holding him. "I'm your real partner. That thing you're drinking beer with and riding a beat with isn't possessed. He's Lucifer himself! He took my body and my life."

Starsky released Hutch and stared at him, incredulous.

Hutch sobbed uncontrollably and sagged back onto the couch. "I'm so s-sorry. It's all my f-fault. I sold—After you were shot, they said you were dying. I was racing to the hospital. Dobey told me...to hurry...to say goodbye. I sold my soul for your life."

Starsky's astonished gaze met Hutch's.

With tears streaking his face, Hutch whispered, "I sold my soul for you, Starsky, because I couldn't watch you die. I couldn't! I love you so much." Hutch sucked in a shaky breath and let it out before adding, "And after everything's that's happened since I made that deal with the devil, I realize it's the stupidest thing I've ever done in my entire life."

Starsky gave a derisive laugh. "Now why would you think that?"

They paused for a moment so Hutch could get his rampaging emotions under control.

"Play the tape again," Starsky ordered. He sat on the edge of the sofa, his elbows planted on his knees, his chin in his hands. His face was a mask of concentration as the tape played through. "Again."

Hutch complied with each request.

Starsky listened to the tape four times before he sat back.

"Pretend I believe all of this, okay? Give me the rundown. All if it. Every little detail." Starsky crossed his arms and waited.

Hutch cleared his throat. Starsky pointed to the coffee table, which was nothing more than two wooden planks set on cinder blocks. Hutch sat and wrapped his arms around his body, rocking slightly.

"Go on, I need to hear it all."

"Okay. You have a right," Hutch muttered. "Every single thing I'm going to say is the God's honest truth. I'd swear it on a stack of bibles."

"I'm still waitin'."

"S-sorry. I'm trying to gather my thoughts."

"Don't gather a thing. Just start at the top and I'll be the judge of whether or not you're telling the truth."

Hutch looked at the man he loved. "I trust you. I believe in you. I love--"

"Yeah, yeah. Get to it," Starsky groused. "I'm not getting any younger."

"You were shot! Geez, Starsk, do you have any idea how painful it was for me to sit in that hospital day after day, watching you die? You were hooked up to everything the doctors could think of, and it wasn't working. You were dying. I couldn't let that happen."

"You couldn't let it happen? How could you stop it?"

"Dobey called. Said the doctors told him this was it. You didn't have much time left. I-I was driving the squash like a mad man." Hutch paused. "He showed up, right in the back seat."

"He who? Wait, showed up as in--poof? Like in the movies?"

"Yes. He magically appeared like in the movies. I swear it. I hadn't been drinking and I wasn't taking drugs. But I'd actually seen him before... I'd seen him in this body, in the hallway of the hospital the day before. He'd spoken to me there, then followed me to the parking garage, telling me that God had abandoned me. Said that he could help. I blew him off, of course."

"Oh, sure. You blew off this--ghost." Starsky rolled his eyes.

"He wasn't a ghost, Starsk. The next day Dobey called and said to hurry up. They were losing you. While I was driving, like I said, he appeared. It sounds ridiculous even to me." Starsky waved a hand again, so Hutch continued. "Anyway, he was in the back seat. He told me you were dying, had minutes to live."

"And you believed him?"

"I knew, Starsky. I knew in my heart what he was. I knew it! I-I wanted you to live so much! I love you and I couldn't live without you! He understood it, too. So he offered me a deal."

"A deal with the devil?" Starsky said, looking dubious. "That's not possible."

"You believe in evil. We've seen it on the streets every day of our working lives, and you believe. I know you do. He offered me a trade--my soul for your life. I took it. I was at my lowest point. I was desperate. I forgot that evil finds you when you're vulnerable, how you have to fight it and be strong. I forgot all of that. When he offered me your life for my soul, I took it, because I'm weak. I-I'm s-so stupid."

"You're a putz, you know that?" Starsky said, laughing.

"Do you believe me?" Hutch asked.

Starsky's brow furrowed. "Do I believe that you're really Hutch trapped in some other guy's body while Satan traipses around in yours? Now that's the million dollar question."

"And the answer?" Hutch asked tentatively.

Starsky paused. "I haven't made up my mind yet. Tell me what happened next."

"He s-started following me, showing up everywhere. That wasn't a big surprise. I expected him to torment me. But then he started after you. He made sure I knew about it. Like on the tape. Every time he assaulted you, I would be there to step in to--" Hutch took in a shaky breath, slowly exhaling.

"Every time? You mean, this tape isn't the first? I'm supposed to swallow the idea that this devil guy has been bugging me for weeks tryin' to get into my pants, and you what? Take my place? Is that what had happened when I found you? That's what he wanted to do ta me and you stepped in?"

Hutch shrugged. "I guess. I know he wants to hurt you, and I wouldn't let him!"

—and I'm saying 'if'--this is Satan, how could you have stopped him? You have some sorta power over him?"

"Listen to me. He thrives on pain and suffering. As long as somebody's being hurt, he's happy. I just know I had to protect you. I did what I had to!" Hutch wiped his tear-streaked face with the back of his hand.

"I gotta say one thing. I find it hard to believe this whole story you're dishing out because I know Hutch. I know him!" Starsky peered at "Ed," his expression troubled. "Hutch would never do something like this. He's too good a person. He believes in honesty and faith and doin' what's right. He'd never do something this despicable! He'd never do something he knows I'd bust his head for."

Hutch stared directly into Starsky's eyes. "After this past year, do you really know me that well? Do you? Think, Starsk. What happened after that night...?" Hutch swallowed around his dry throat. "I need a glass of water."

Starsky latched onto Hutch's arm. "Don't. There's no way you could know about that night. No way! Did Hutch tell you about me? Did he?" Starsky's hand tightened. "That was between me and him. Hutch swore never to tell a soul. He swore it, and Hutch wouldn't break a promise. No matter what's happened between us, he'd never betray me."

"I never have betrayed you," Hutch swore. "Never. I know about it because you told me. That night, we were at my place. You were drunk and I wasn't much better. You told me your darkest secret and I swore I'd never hold it against you."

Starsky sat back, stunned. "But you did, didn't you? For this whole past year. I finally see what's been goin' on. You've been punishing me for how I feel." Starsky looked away, talking to himself. "Why didn't I see it? It's like a damned movie playin' in my head now. I should'a seen it and I didn't. What a mess." Starsky pushed away from the sofa and got to his feet. "I'm gonna split. You do what you want, but you leave me the hell alone."

"No!" Hutch stood quickly, grabbing both of Starsky's arms. "No, please. He'll win if we don't stick together. He'll win, Starsky, and I'm afraid. I did this to keep you safe and all I did was paint a bull's eye on your back. I'm worse than Gunther because he was a thug, doing what assholes like him do. I'm worse because I did this thinking it was for love."

Starsky looked at him with contempt. "You're right about one thing. You didn't do this because you love me. You did this because you were scared shitless. Now it looks like I'm gonna pay for the consequences of your actions because, you," Starsky poked a finger into Hutch's thin chest, "whoever the hell you are, you are a fucking coward." Shrugging off Hutch's grip easily, Starsky started to leave.

"Starsky, wait!" Hutch chased him to the door, grabbing the back of his jacket. Hutch was shocked to realize Starsky was wearing the jacket with the bullet holes. Leave it to Starsky to wear the coat he'd been gunned down in as a badge of defiance. "Starsky, please. Don't go. It's not safe for you."

Starsky paused, shoulders tense. He didn't bother looking at Hutch when he said softly, "What if I don't believe a word you're saying?"

Hutch's hand fell away. "Then you should g-go." He waited, silently praying that Starsky would walk back to the living room, back into Hutch's life. They could work this out, but Starsky had to want to. Hutch couldn't do this alone. Not any more.

Minutes passed before Starsky's shoulders drooped. "I'm gonna regret this in the morning," he groused, turning back towards Hutch. "I need you to explain this entire last year between us. You gotta be honest, one hundred percent, no matter how much it hurts me or you. Can you do that?"

Hutch studied Starsky's tense features. He nodded slowly. "Yes. I swear I'll be one hundred percent honest even if it hurts me or you."

"Okay. I'll ask the questions. You answer them. If I get one little inkling you're lyin'," Starsky waved a finger in Hutch's face, much like Hutch used to do to Starsky, "then I'm outta here. Deal?" Starsky stuck out his hand.

Hutch wondered what it was about him and deals lately, but he took Starsky's hand. "Yes. Deal."

"Got any beer?"

"In the fridge." Hutch walked back into the run-down living room and sat stiffly on the sofa.

"This is the grossest fridge I've ever seen. If these bottles weren't sealed, I wouldn't touch a thing in there."

"Sorry."

"No more apologizing. It bugs the shit outta me when somebody says 'sorry' for every damned thing."

"S-sor-- Okay." Hutch accepted the bottle Starsky handed him. "I'm ready when you are."

Starsky sat on the sofa, one leg tucked up under him, the other on the floor. "After I told you how I felt about you, after I put my entire heart on the line last year and admitted I was hiding a big secret, why did you treat me like a leper afterwards, after you swore it wouldn't change our friendship, our partnership?"

Hutch swallowed a sip of beer to lubricate his dry throat. "Because I was hiding myself. You were brave enough to admit that you'd had relations with both men and women when you were younger. Then when you told me the guy you were madly in love with was killed in an anti-war riot while you were serving in the Army, I felt-- I don't know, betrayed somehow. Even though you said that he was the last man you loved, it didn't matter. I didn't want you to have any other man for a lover. Ever. I wanted to be your first and only. I got mad at you for something you did before we ever met."

"That's rough, buddy boy. But doesn't explain why you never said you wanted me anyway. How could you feel betrayed when you didn't have the guts to admit you were as queer as me? That ain't right."

"No, no it isn't. I never claimed to be smart or brave. You're the brave one in this partnership. You told me your biggest secret and I got scared. Shit scared. I couldn't tell anybody that I-- sometimes wanted a man. Never. I never said a word to you or anyone. I never did a thing about it. I kept it buried deep inside. I promised myself when I was eight-years-old that nobody would ever know, because I heard my dad talk about "those dirty homos". How it was a sin against God. How they'd burn in hell." Hutch laughed derisively. "Guess I shouldn't have worried about that now that I'm the devil's fuck buddy."

"Don't!" Starsky grabbed Hutch's sleeve. "Do not talk like that! We'll figure something out. Nobody's gonna be any devil's fuck buddy any longer. Got it?"

"Yeah. Thanks, Starsky." Hutch felt like crying, but tamped down the tears. He was tired of crying over everything.

"That's why you treated me like crap," Starsky said. "That scene in the hospital with the fake amnesia. The way you made fun of me when we picked up girls. The way you snaked me with Kira when I told you I loved her."

"But I knew you didn't!"

"That doesn't matter! What mattered is that I thought I did! I wanted to be normal so bad I was willing to take a chance with her. You were supposed to be my best friend!" Starsky froze, staring at Hutch as if suddenly seeing through Ed Brown. "Holy shit. You are--! How can you be? How?"

"Sor--" Hutch bit his tongue to spot his apology. "It's true, Starsk. I'm your partner. I'm Hutch."

"You gotta be. You know too much about me for this to be a put on." Starsky's wide-eyed gaze met Hutch's.

Hutch could think of nothing to say.

"How could you do something so stupid!" Starsky threw his beer bottle against the wall where it put a long, narrow hole in the peeling drywall. "This is the dumbest thing you've ever done. Why, Hutch?"

"I thought I was doing it out of love. But now I know I did it because I was scared, Starsk. Scared to death of being without you. I thought I couldn't live without you, but I know it wasn't what you'd have wanted me to do."

"Oh, great," Starsky said, rolling his eyes. "Now he figures it out. Now he understands that instead of honoring me, our friendship, and our devotion to this city we've watched over for years, you treat it like it's nothing. You pushed a pile of manure on my life and planted daisies on top. Thanks a bunch, Hutchinson. You did it for yourself, not for me."

"Yes. You're right." Hutch closed his eyes, a tear escaping and sliding down his cheek. He viciously brushed it away. "I made a mockery out of your life and our lives together as partners and best friends. I really messed up."

"You sure did." Starsky rose and after stretching out the leg he'd been sitting on, went to the fridge for two fresh beers. "Not very cold, is it?"

"Thanks," Hutch said, taking the proffered bottle.

"Sorry about the redecorating," he said, waving his bottle at the hole in the wall.

"Not like it hurts the resale value," Hutch muttered.

They looked at each other before laughing wryly for a few moments. Starsky finally asked, "When you look at me, do you see a body to screw, Hutch? Is that what I am to you?"

"No! Never. In spite of my bad choices, and trust me, there've been plenty, and in spite of my hurting you so much this past year, I never wanted just to sleep with you." At Starsky's raised eyebrow, Hutch blushed. "Well, I wanted to, sure, but I wanted to love you, first. Wanted to so much, you can't imagine. But now, I need time to straighten things out in my head. I've made a mess of everything, and in case you haven't noticed, I'm not the same guy you used to know. Look at me, Starsky. I'm disgusting. I'm pathetic. I'm--"

"Stop with the poor pitiful me routine! It's not that bad. Could be worse."

"How could this," Hutch waved a hand at his weak, plain, bland body, "be any worse?"

Starsky gave him the eye before he said, "Well, you could be shorter."

Hutch stared until he had to laugh. "Any shorter and I'd disappear into the floor."

Starsky snickered. "I'm sure there are ladies who'd like a guy like you."

"I don't care about ladies. I only care about one man, in here, right next to me. And now I've admitted I'm stuck in this--person. I liked how I looked before. I thought I was pretty okay. Now it's just...weird. I still feel like me most of the time, but even that seems to be fading away."

Starsky sat forward and asked intently, "What do you mean, fading away?"

"I'm forgetting, Starsk. Little by little, I'm forgetting what it feels like to be Ken Hutchinson. I'm beginning to feel more like him, like Ed Brown. Small, insignificant, worthless. In here." Hutch put his hand over his heart. "I'm losing myself." Hutch began to tear up. "And I hate crying constantly!"

"You did this for yourself," Starsky said evenly. "'Cause if you and I were that close, then you'd have known I would have wanted you to go on. To live for the both of us. Not do some half-assed thing like...sell your soul. You always were a mushbrain."

Hutch looked at Starsky hopefully. "You believe me?"

"I don't know." Starsky lifted his hands in a give-up gesture. "Yeah, I suppose. Hutch would do something this stupid, like some big sacrifice. But it really pisses me off. You'd never have done this if you were thinking straight. White knight that you are, even you aren't usually that nuts. Geez, Hutch, what are we gonna do?"

Hutch shook his head. "I wish I knew."

"Great. Just great. You're getting screwed by Satan and I'm left with him for a partner. Thanks, buddy." Starsky raised his beer glass in salute. "To you, my friend."

"Sarcasm won't help."

"Yeah?" Starsky snapped. "And what will? Huh? You got any ideas because I sure don't. You're the bible thumper. Besides, in the movies, once somebody sells their soul, there ain't no goin' back."

"This isn't a movie, Starsky. This is our lives. And in life, you have to have faith."

"I have plenty of faith." Starsky took a pull from his beer. "I used ta have faith. In you, Hutch. I believed in you so much, then it all went to hell."

"Not all of it, Starsk. After Kira, we worked it out, didn't we? We stopped playing games. We stopped hurting each other. I thought we'd found our footing."

"We did, sorta. But something still wasn't right between us. Not since the night I told you about me, after we saved Hannah and Laura. I was so keyed up that night."

"You kissed me," Hutch said softly. "You told me you had loved me for years, and after that terrible day, when we realized we'd made it through another life-or-death situation, you were man enough to tell me the truth. You kissed me and I pushed you away. I said I didn't share your feelings."

"You told me you weren't disgusted by my feelings, but you were lying. Something else was buggin' you. For an entire year I thought you hated me for being queer, for wanting you like that." Starsky paused as he gathered his thoughts. "Instead, you were hiding so deep in the closet you couldn't let me in even a faction. You never gave me any hope. Why do you think I latched onto Kira so hard?" Starsky laughed coldly. "I figured if I couldn't have you, I needed somebody. I didn't want to spend my life alone."

"I really ruined that relationship too, didn't I?" Hutch toyed with the label on his beer bottle. "I ruined it for you and Kira out of pure jealousy. Some friend I turned out to be. Starsky, I'm sorry for all of it. I accept responsibility for it. I treated you badly and deserve to suffer." Starsky started to protest, but Hutch held up a hand. "I swear I'll never again dishonor our friendship or your trust in me. I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am about everything. I hope you believe that."

Hutch finally stopped speaking and waited, sitting on the edge of the sofa. Starsky deserved to make his own decision.

Starsky sat still, not drinking from the sweating bottle in his hand. Finally, he put the bottle down. "Hutch, I accept your apology."

"Thank you, Starsky." Hutch struggled not to cry again, but he couldn't help himself he was so happy. "Thank you."

"Enough already. I got one thing to say. Whatever we do about this devil thing. we do together. Got it?"

"Yeah, I got it. Partner." Hutch wanted to throw his arms around Starsky, but didn't know how Starsky would feel about being hugged by wimpy Ed Brown. Instead, he touched Starsky's hand with a single finger. "I love you, Starsk, and I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to tell you when I was someone you could have loved back."

Starsky looked at their hands before his gaze met Hutch's. "It wasn't what I saw outside that I loved the most, Hutch. It's what was inside. I loved you for your strength and courage. For your sense of right and wrong. Because of the way you defended the weak and the people most of society thinks are trash." Starsky faced Hutch. "I admit I'm having trouble with this body you've got now, but I have enough faith in you to look past that."

"You can't mean that. No, you can't," Hutch said as he tried to shrink away. "I'm repulsive."

"You're beautiful to me. Always have been."

"You can't love me like this. You can't!"

"After all a' this, you still have no faith in my judgment? I thought this was all about faith." Starsky smiled and cupped his hand on Hutch's cheek.

Hutch shivered as Starsky's warm hand caressed him. "Faith. I have so much faith in you. You're so strong and have such a good heart. You're dedicated and smart and... Starsky, I love you."

"Me too, blintz. I love you. So much." Starsky moved closer, his gaze flickered to Hutch's lips before moving back to his eyes. Smiling, he brushed a finger across Hutch's mouth. "Faith."

"Faith," Hutch said softly, licking his lips. His tongue touched Starsky's finger. "I have enough for both of us."

"Don't be greedy. I want my share."

"Really?" Hutch asked, breathless as Starsky moved closer.

"Oh, yeah." Starsky licked his own lips. "Share 'n share alike in this partnership."

Both men started as the door suddenly slammed open, flying off its hinges. Standing, they stared as Lucifer, in Hutch's body, walked into the center of the room.

"My, my, isn't this cozy?" he drawled in Hutch's voice.

Hutch was wracked with fear as Lucifer stood, hands on hips, as if he owned the world.

Lucifer was resplendent in tight white jeans, white t-shirt. and white leather jacket with gleaming silver buttons. Beaming at Hutch, he asked, "How do I look?" He turned, showing off his stolen body. "I just had a nice trim. Aren't I beautiful?"

Hutch stepped backwards.

Lucifer smiled and held out a hand. "Starsky, come here."

Starsky appeared to consider Lucifer intently. Woodenly, he moved forward as if being pulled.

"No, please. God no," Hutch whispered as fear spiked through him.

The other Hutch glanced at him. "You're always praying, aren't you, Ed? Have any of your prayers been answered? By anyone other than me?"

Hutch watched helplessly as Starsky approached the other Hutch.

Lucifer smiled encouragingly at Starsky. "Partner, take my hand. You and I have many things to do together. This little weasel has no place in our lives."

Starsky stumbled, then halted. Frowning, he looked as if he was struggling to clear his mind.

Hutch, in Ed Brown's body, watched Starsky's hand reach for the other Hutch. He ached to yell out not to touch Lucifer's hand, to run away, to save himself. But Hutch's lips seemed glued together.

The other Hutch nodded at Starsky. "Take my hand. I'll take care of you, Starsk. Me and thee, that's how it is. Don't let this scumbag come between us. Don't believe his lies. He's not worth the dirt under your feet."

Starsky winced, and moaned low. When he was close enough to the other Hutch to touch him, Starsky lurched forward, slamming both hands into the other Hutch's chest, shoving him backwards.

Taken by surprise, Lucifer stumbled and fell, a sprawl of white clothing and stunned eyes.

"The real Hutch would never talk about somebody like that. Not somebody who'd never done a thing to hurt him or me. This Hutch," Starsky waved a hand at Ed Brown, "he's my partner. You're a piece of worthless trash." Starsky stood over the other Hutch oozing anger before turning away.

The real Hutch shouted, "Starsky, no! He'll hurt you!"

"Nah. He's a worthless coward." Starsky met the real Hutch and their hands touched, fingers entwining. "Are you okay?"

Chest heaving, Hutch stared at his partner and tried to hide his panic. "Starsky, run before he--"

"Nobody's running anywhere. We're gonna end this now. Are you with me?" Starsky asked, holding Hutch's gaze intently.

Hutch looked into his beloved's bright eyes and saw his caring, love, and strength. "Y-yes. Me and thee, Starsky. Always."

"Good." Starsky squeezed both of Hutch's hands before he released them to turn back towards the other Hutch, who was now rising with a look of pure hatred.

Hutch's heart pounded. He couldn't let Lucifer touch Starsky, but how could he stop the devil himself? Doubt raced through him.

Then Starsky looked over his shoulder at Hutch. The confidence in Starsky's eyes for mousy Ed Brown made Hutch's breath catch. Starsky defiantly turned his back on the other Hutch as he again reached out a hand to his real partner.

Their fingers touched. Warmth spread through Hutch's body. He smiled at Starsky who smiled back.

Behind Starsky, Lucifer found his feet. As he advanced on them, Hutch saw him grimace in distaste before schooling Hutch's own face into a mask of sweetness.

Hutch had to look away from that face, at how handsome he'd once been. That didn't matter now. Starsky believed in him and Starsky's faith gave him courage. Nothing would come between them again.

"Come on, baby," the other Hutch crooned as he cast a warm smile at Ed Brown. "Let's forget all this unpleasantness and be friends. Starsky--"

"You can't hurt us, not anymore," the real Hutch said firmly. Latching onto Starsky's gaze, he asked, "Do you trust me?"

"Yes, Hutch." Starsky smiled.

Hutch held out his other hand, which Starsky took.

The other Hutch suddenly leaned down to say menacingly, "Don't do it." His pleasant visage crumbled and his true ugliness surfaced. Hutch questioned how he could ever have thought his former body was beautiful. Lucifer made him hideous, full of loathing and menace. "He'll fry right here, and so will you. His bones will melt and his skin will fall from his body."

Hutch ignored Lucifer, keeping his attention on Starsky. "Starsky, I love you." He pulled Starsky to him until their chests touched.

"I love you, Hutch." Starsky smiled. "It feels good to say it."

"Don't do this or there'll be hell to pay," Lucifer warned.

"So, do something about it, asshole." Hutch never looked away from Starsky. He wondered why Lucifer didn't rip them away from each other and do whatever he liked to them. Something was allowing Satan to stay close, but unable to touch them.

Hutch glanced down at their entwined hands. He smiled. Childhood memories surfaced, and those old catechism lessons gave him his answer. If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to your mountain, "Move!" and it will move... and nothing will be impossible for you!

Hutch had faith, and so did Starsky, in him. He stood on tiptoe and touched his lips to Starsky's. Starsky leaned into the kiss, and Hutch opened himself up to Starsky's love. Groaning, Starsky released his hands to wrap his arms around Hutch, their mouths melting together in love and passion.

Lucifer screamed in rage. "No! I will not have it! I will not! This wayward faith will be the death of you both. I will win. I always win."

Even as Lucifer ranted on, Hutch and Starsky kissed, the love between them flaring bright white. Hutch gasped with pleasure. He stopped hearing Lucifer's taunts. His entire being was focused on Starsky, who was doing the same. Their arms tightened as their mouths made love to each other.

Hutch finally pulled away only to give them both a chance to breathe before they returned to their passionate kissing. That was when Hutch knew he and Starsky were alone. Relief suffused him. Lucifer had gone. Hutch prayed fervently that his faith in Starsky and Starsky's faith in him had been enough to defeat the devil. Satan hated devotion, commitment, and honesty, and Hutch would live the rest of his life devoted to Starsky, committed to him fully. He swore aloud, "I will always love you until the day I die."

Starsky's smile was full of love. "Me and thee, blintz."

Hutch returned Starsky's smile and put every ounce of love he could into his words. "I love--"

Suddenly, the entire building shook on its foundation. Clutching each other as the floor under their feet twisted, they lurched right then left. Plaster rained down and glass shattered, sending shards flying through the air. They fell, holding onto each other while their world jerked and swayed.

"Earthquake!" Starsky shouted.

Hutch grabbed Starsky's hand and crawled to his rickety dining table, pulling Starsky with him. Once they'd made it to meager shelter, they sat, arms around each other.

Seconds after they'd made it to the table, the world again started to shake and rock. A large beam fell inches from their shelter and crashed through the floor, leaving a huge hole barely a foot away.

"Hang on to me!" Starsky shouted, tightening his grip on Hutch.

"Don't let go!"

"Never!"

Overhead, Hutch heard a snapping, crackling sound, and screwed his eyes tightly closed. He smelled smoke and felt the heat of flames.

"Fire!" Hutch yelled.

"We gotta get out!" Starsky said.

Before they could move, the building quaked violently, the floor tilting upwards, sending them both sliding down the forty-five degree angle towards the gaping hole in the floor.

"Hutch!"

"Starsky!"

Somehow they managed to hold onto each others' hands as they slid towards the cavern. The ceiling burst into flames, dripping hot fingers of fire onto them as they continued their unstoppable fall. Arms and legs flailing now, they both tumbled into the black hole.

Hutch screamed. Starsky's hand was ripped away from his. "Starsky!"

From far away, Hutch heard Starsky shout, "Hutch!"

They fell as if in slow motion. Hutch could see Starsky falling with him, and as they fell deeper into the blackness, Starsky's body grew smaller and smaller before it disappeared entirely. His eyes frantically darting in the darkness, Hutch searched for his lover. He screamed Starsky's name again and again.

Starsky never answered.

Blackness enveloped him as he descended, and around Hutch, heat flared, burning his skin. His last thought was how grateful he was that Starsky had as much faith in him as he had in his partner, the man he loved.

---------------------------

Hutch dropped the ping-pong ball on the table, watching it bounce. Each tap against the desk sounded like the click of the machines keeping Starsky alive. With the phone pressed to his ear, he waited for Dobey to speak. Finally, his captain's husky voice said what Hutch never wanted to hear.

"You'd better get down here."

Hutch drove like a man possessed. His heart raced even as his blood froze in his veins as Dobey's words echoed in his head. After he'd run a red light and barely missed causing an accident, he slapped the Mars light on the roof and floored the accelerator.

"You'll kill yourself before you can say goodbye."

Hutch started, banging his head on the roof of the LTD. Glancing in the rear view mirror, he was shocked to see a man sitting there. Brown hair, brown eyes, quite unassuming. Quickly assessing the man, Hutch sensed that he wasn't dangerous--in the normal way. He didn't have a gun or a knife. But Hutch didn't doubt that this man's threat was much more deadly.

Hutch had a faint tingling of recognition as he glanced at the stranger, but had other things on his mind. Starsky's life was more important than some geek in his back seat, even if hadn't noticed the man earlier. No matter what risk he presented, Hutch didn't care. His own safety and even his life didn't matter to him. His only concern was Starsky.

"In five blocks, you'll be at the hospital where your partner will be declared dead," the man in the back seat said. "You'd better consider my offer quickly. You for Starsky. He lives; you turn yourself over to me."

Hutch gripped the steering wheel, knuckles white. Sweat poured down his face. His mouth was dry. For a second he actually considered the offer, but then thought of his partner. Starsky would be disappointed in him if he did something so stupid, even if such a proposal was possible.

"Oh, it's more than possible, Ken. It's one hundred percent guaranteed. You have three blocks."

Why did this seem so familiar? He realized he recognized this man, but couldn't place how or from where. Settle down, Hutchinson. You need to get to Starsky. Nothing else matters. You have to be there when he-- No! No, no, damn it!

Hutch drove faster. Still, realizing he'd met this man somewhere niggled at him. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it hit him. He'd made this drive before.

Wait a minute. That was crazy! He couldn't have done this before. Could he? Why was he so sure this had happened before? A déjà vu feeling swamped him, and he stared at the man in the rear view mirror.

Bland brown eyes looked back at him. The man smiled, making Hutch tremble as recognition slammed into him.

He knew this guy. He knew him!

He remembered everything. Had he really sold his soul for Starsky's life? He had! How insane had he been? Memories flooded back, making him come far too close to a parked car. He wrenched the wheel, never slowing down.

He remembered the pain and the torture. He remembered the suffering and the ridicule. It had been living hell. Hutch laughed derisively at that. Yeah, it was hell all right. Being near Starsky. Having Starsky not know him. Being somebody else. Being "not Hutch."

Hutch snorted. It wasn't crazy. It was horrible.

"Two blocks, Kenny-boy. Two blocks and you'll have one dead partner on your hands. We make this deal here and now, or you lose your chance. Just like you'll lose your partner. No second chances, Detective. One block."

Hutch drove across the parking lot like a man possessed. He stomped on the brake pedal, making the tires smoke. Bringing the lumbering vehicle to a skid that didn't stop until the car hit the curb, his head mere inches from the windshield from the force of the impact. Righting himself, he was out of the car and running toward the emergency room entrance when his passenger abruptly appeared in front of him.

Go away!

"One minute and the doctor calls it, Hutch, old boy. One minute and you're partner-less and friendless."

Hutch knew he shouldn't engage this devil. He didn't know how or why, but he understood that if he acknowledged the demon following him, it would mean his doom. His and Starsky's. Right now all that mattered was getting to Starsky. Saying good-bye... He had to be there to say good-bye to his best friend, the man he loved. He could do it now. He could say good-bye, even though the pain would be unbearable.

He had no other choice. He could never ever take the deal Lucifer offered, even though he blocked his way into the hospital, impeding him from reaching his friend. Starsky would be so pissed at him if he found out that Hutch had made a deal with the devil for his life. Starsky would feel like it was a betrayal of his life as a cop, as a friend, and as a good man with morals and values.

Oh, yeah, Starsky wouldn't like it one bit. And Hutch cared about what Starsky thought. He wanted Starsky to be proud of him, to love him. "Don't be a putz," Starsky would say if Hutch considered taking such a stupid deal.

With his brain in high gear and his thoughts tumbling over each other, Hutch ran forward. He ran right through the devil, but as he got closer, the man disappeared in a puff of smoke. Nose stinging from the overpowering scent of lilies, Hutch ran faster. The automatic doors whooshed open. He never paused until he hit the elevator button. The doors slid open and once they'd closed behind him, he slumped against the wall.

"You're too late," said the devil, once again in front of him. "You've messed up but good. If I were you, I'd pull out my piece and plug myself for being so dumb."

Hutch closed his eyes, pressed himself against the wall of the elevator, and splayed his hands on the cool metal. Go away. Go away. Go away. Please, God, help me.

"Praying again? Don't you ever learn? Your prayers went unanswered before, and they will again. Well, except by me, of course. Don't you remember? I answered your prayers, didn't I? I kept my part of the bargain. I let Starsky live. I gave you what you wanted. What you begged for."

The elevator pinged. Hutch burst through the doors before they'd completely opened and ran full tilt down the hall. When he made it to Starsky's room, he slid on the slick floor, but managed to right himself just as the doctor emerged.

Unable to speak, Hutch stared at the man.

The doctor shook his head slowly.

Hutch's heart dropped. Starsky was dead. He was too late. He hadn't even been allowed to say good-bye. Still tongue-tied, Hutch stood like a mannequin for a few seconds.

The doctor looked right at him and with awe said, "He's alive. Still not out of it, but I'll be damned if he isn't alive."

"What?" Hutch whispered, his voice frozen in anguish.

Hutch's knees shook so badly he had to put a hand on the wall to keep from falling. Dobey clasped his shoulder. Huggy stood silently, something that didn't happen often. They were so damned relieved nobody could speak.

Dobey finally nodded to the physician. "Thank you."

Hutch tried to mutter his thanks, as did Huggy. After the doctor left, they stood in a loose circle, enjoying the good news.

"Come on, my man," Huggy said to Hutch. "Let's get you down to the cafeteria where I will be happy to purchase you a cup of that awful refreshment they insist is a beverage the rest of the civilized world calls coffee."

Hutch allowed himself to be led away while he accepted the truth of the doctor's words. Starsky was alive. Hutch finally believed Starsky would live. And without him selling his soul to Satan. Hutch couldn't keep the happiness from swelling inside him, making his step lighter than it had been in days, weeks--in months.

Convinced Starsky would be all right, it was time to ask for what he wanted. What he needed. He would tell Starsky he loved him, and acknowledge Starsky's bravery and trust. He would beg Starsky to forgive him for his cowardice and lack of faith, in Starsky, in himself, and in them.

All Hutch could do after that was appeal to Starsky's innate sense of righteousness. Maybe, just maybe, Starsky would forgive him. Hutch didn't know if he was entitled to hope for Starsky's love, but in his heart, he prayed for that love, that forgiveness.

---------------------------

Hutch dozed in the front seat of the LTD. He had woken in starts off and on for the past few hours after parking in a dark corner of the hospital's lot. Thankfully, he hadn't been seen by the security guard who patrolled the lot at night. The guy wasn't that good at his job. Better for Hutch, because he wasn't leaving until he had a chance to talk to Starsky alone.

Tonight. This morning. Now.

Hutch grinned when he remembered their midnight supper. He, Dobey, and Huggy had enjoyed being with Starsky, now that his partner was on the road to recovery. Hutch knew he could wait to speak with his partner, but even another hour was much too long a wait for Hutch. He had to know this minute.

A glance at his watch told him it was 4:46 am. Three hours ago, they'd been chucked out of the hospital by one incensed head nurse. He'd waved goodbye to Dobey and Huggy, still giggling as he sauntered across the parking lot. Then he'd gotten into his car and had driven away, only to return and park in this deserted corner and wait.

With a light step and a happy heart, Hutch emerged from his car and walked across the grass towards the hospital entrance. He was halfway to the door when the sprinklers kicked on, drenching him. He was wet again for the second time tonight. Instead of becoming angry, Hutch grinned and walked through the entrance in squishy shoes. He wasn't questioned as he headed toward the bank of elevators and exited on Starsky's floor. All he had to do was look for the officer assigned to guard duty to discover Starsky's new digs.

Officer Raul Martinez was sitting on a chair halfway down the corridor. Hutch smiled as he passed by Starsky's old room. He'd always have fond memories of that room and the silly time they'd had on their impromptu picnic.

Hutch smiled at the police officer. "Hey, Raul."

"Oh, hi, Detective Hutchinson."

"Is this Starsky's new room?"

Raul grinned. "Yeah. You guys flooded the last one but good. And be quiet! My balls will be in a sling if Dobey gets another call about any other members of the Bay City boys in blue causing trouble."

Hutch grinned, bouncing on the balls of his feet. "But Dobey was in on the last one!" They chuckled together before Hutch nodded his thanks. "You're a good friend, Raul."

"Go easy, Officer. Watch your back and your partner's, too."

Hutch waved a hand as he walked away. "Got it covered. Once Starsk's back on the streets, I'll be just fine."

Pushing open the door to room 407, Hutch let his eyes adjust for a moment. The single night-light over the bed illuminated his sleeping partner. Walking quietly, Hutch stood looking down at his best friend. Starsky wouldn't like to see his hair dried into these tight, dark ringlets. His partner liked to blow dry his hair while it was wet to make it smoother, fluffier. He claimed it was more attractive without those tight curls. Starsky didn't think curls were manly, but Hutch loved them.

Slipping his fingers through the silky, coarse strands, he smiled. Starsky was alive, and that was wonderful. So wonderful Hutch choked up.

"Starsky," Hutch whispered. He hadn't intended to speak but couldn't help himself. He loved saying Starsky's name because Starsky was alive to hear it.

He was becoming a sloppy romantic, but Hutch wanted that romance. He wanted to be petted and loved. He wanted to have Starsky whisper words of sweet longing. He wanted to spend every waking minute with Starsky, and he wanted to spend every sleeping minute beside him. He wanted it all.

He was no longer shocked at his own needs, the ones he'd once buried deeply. Now they surfaced with a roar. Hutch fully accepted those needs, those wants, and grinned with happiness.

"I love you," Hutch said softly. "You might think this is ridiculous, but I love you so much it hurts." He chuckled. "I want to write you a song, Starsk. I want to sing it to you in the shower, when we're both naked, and... and I want everything with you."

Hutch reached out, placing a hand lightly in the center of Starsky's chest. The rise and fall of it made him close his eyes and savor the life flowing through that body.

A sudden hand on his wrist made him yelp and jump. "S-starsk?"

"Hutch, you big lug. Why didn't you tell me all a' this sooner? Sheesh, you're such an idiot. You know how much I love you. I want what you want. That ain't no secret." Starsky looked Hutch up and down as if assessing his sincerity. "When I told you how I felt a long time ago, you told me I was nuts. I felt bad for a long time, ya know."

"I-- ah, I wanted to tell you how I really felt, buddy, but I was too much of a coward. But I won't be a coward any longer. I'm not afraid of how I feel. You need to know the man you put up with this past year, that bigoted asshole, is gone. I swear it, Starsk."

"Ah, geez, Hutch, shut up and get in here." Starsky released his wrist and tossed back the covers for the second time in one night.

Hutch shook his head, looking down at the strong hand that had wrapped around his wrist. He wondered what it could be like to have that same hand grasping his cock. Blushing, he smiled. "I'm wet."

"That was hours ago. You should'a been dried out by now." Starsky waggled an eyebrow. "You fall into the john?"

Laughing, Hutch said, "Nah. But I tiptoed through the tulips while the sprinklers were on."

"You're such a dork. Come on, climb in. As if some wet clothes will bother me. Been dead, ya know. Damp isn't a big deal after dead. Puts things in perspective."

"Starsky..." Hutch couldn't say anything else as he yanked off his jacket and tossed it on the floor. Toeing off his shoes, he accepted Starsky's invitation. Avoiding Starsky's bandages carefully, he slipped a gentle arm around Starsky's chest and put his head on the pillow next to Starsky's. Then he lightly kissed the side of Starsky's face, which made him chuckle.

Starsky wrapped both hands around the arm that held him so carefully and gave a contented sound.

"I need to talk to you," Hutch said.

"So go on, talk. I ain't going nowhere."

"I made a big mistake."

"Hutch, we all made mistakes. It's 'fessing up to them that counts. Now tell Uncle Dave what's got you so shaky."

Hutch hadn't even realized he'd been trembling until Starsky mentioned it. He closed his eyes and swallowed around the lump in his throat. "I meant what I said just now, about us. I want you to know that I accept your love with all my heart, and hope you'll accept mine. I wouldn't blame you if you told me to go fly a kite after everything I've done to you this past year, but if you can find a way to forgive me, I'd--"

"Hutch, enough already. Don't you think I know why you were acting like that? I know, blintz. I stepped back and let you work it out. I gotta admit, you pissed me off a buncha times these past few months. You did some shitty things to me, but I'm willing to forgive. I might not forget right away, so you better be ready for some big time ass-kissing."

Hutch laughed softly. "Ahh, Starsk. I don't deserve you. You're a better friend than I could ever hope to be."

"Cut the crap. Oh, and in case I forget to tell you--I love you, mushbrain."

"I love you, Starsk. So much. But... there's more."

"Oh? You got something to say, spit it out. I'm getting hungry and breakfast isn't too far off."

"Hungry? After veal and champagne?"

"I'm a healing boy. I gotta keep fuel in the furnace."

Hutch smiled and snuggled in as close as Starsky's healing body would allow. Then he finally admitted, "I did something really stupid. It's so far out you probably won't believe me, but... I made a deal with the devil for your life. I sold my soul for you. Christ, that sounds ridiculous, but it's true."

"You're not making a lick of sense. You sold your soul? Is that possible? Why would you even think about doing somethin' so idiotic?"

Hutch hid his face between Starsky's neck and shoulder. "For you, lover. So you would live. I'd do anything for you..."

"Babe, we need to get this straight. Our lives are a mess. We've been screwing women like there's no tomorrow. We been backstabbing each other, hurting each other. Something's been broken and I know exactly what we need to fix it. You do, too. We're making a pact right this second. I don't want any more women. I sure as hell don't want another guy. It's you and me from here on out, come hell or high water."

"Hey, hey." Hutch cupped the side of Starsky's face. "Those words are like music, Starsk. I give you my solemn vow. No more women. No more anybody. Just me and you, buddy, making love any way you want. It'll be good any way we do it because we love each other. Deal?"

Starsky planted a soft kiss on Hutch's cheek. "Deal. I want you the same way you want me, in and out of bed. Friends, lovers, partners. I want you and nobody else." Hutch could feel Starsky's smile against his forehead as he placed a light kiss there. "With you, I can be myself. You can take it when I need to unleash. To really let it out."

"That's exactly what I love about you, too. You know exactly what I want. What I need." Hutch moved closer. "I love you, Starsk." Hutch's arm gently tightened around Starsky's waist. "Does this hurt?"

When Starsky didn't respond, Hutch raised his eyes. Starsky lay with his eyes tightly closed, a single drop of moisture leaking out. He wore a huge smile.

"Oh, babe," Hutch whispered. He propped himself up on an elbow. "I have to kiss you. Is that okay?"

Starsky nodded and took a quick swipe at his nose. "Ain't too romantic with my nose dripping."

"I'll take the risk."

Hutch lightly pressed his lips to Starsky's. It felt so good! Warm and soft and inviting. Starsky tasted like warm honey and mint.

Starsky responded, sliding a hand behind Hutch's neck.

They kissed for a long moment before Hutch pulled back.

"Love you, Starsk."

"Hey, you're too far away."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Hutch, I've been waitin' for you for years. Don't flake out on me now."

"Can you... I mean, what about...?"

Starsky took Hutch's hand and guided it to his crotch. Through the sheet, Hutch felt the semi-hardness there.

"Oh!" Hutch said, surprised. "So...!"

"So..." Starsky prompted, slipping his fingers inside of Hutch's shirt. "Kiss me again like you mean it."

Hutch complied, pressing his lips to Starsky's. Starsky opened his mouth. Hutch moaned, sliding his tongue inside. He tasted Starsky's essence before Starsky turned the tables to delve into Hutch's mouth. Gently, Hutch pushed aside the sheet and rested his hand against Starsky's stomach. Starsky pulled his pajama top aside.

"You've got nice hands, buddy," Starsky whispered against Hutch's mouth.

"Yeah?" Hutch grinned before he returned to his lovemaking. He placed more kisses on Starsky's face, nose and chin before returning to those full lips. When Starsky moaned softly, Hutch slipped his hand under the elastic waistband of Starsky's PJs and laughed.

"What?" Starsky snapped. "I'm in a hospital. Don't need underwear in a hospital."

Hutch rolled his eyes and tenderly took Starsky's cock in his hand. Starsky jerked in his arms. "Too much?"

"Nah, just... It's been a long time since... Oh! Hutch!"

"Love you, Starsk. So damned much." Hutch kissed Starsky again as he stroked him, somewhat surprised that even with the drugs in his system, Starsky grew harder under his ministrations. "Meds aren't keeping you down, huh?

"Thank God," Starsky said breathlessly. "Feels so good."

It didn't take long for Starsky's still healing body to reach climax. Starsky's fingers dug into Hutch's arm as he came. The warm semen coated Hutch's hand. He used it as lubricant to milk every drop from his lover. With a satisfied smile, Hutch released Starsky's sensitive cock and brought his hand to his lips. He tentatively licked, and the taste spiked right into his brain. He gasped softly, his own hard cock jerked.

"Oh, man. That was amazing." Starsky smiled. "Wanna touch you, Hutch."

"Starsk..."

Somehow, one handed, Starsky managed to unsnap Hutch's jeans and unzip them. He slipped his hand inside and barely touched Hutch's dick before Hutch was coming in his pants. Embarrassed, Hutch blushed.

"S-sorry..."

"Nothing to be sorry about. I love that all I had to do was touch you to make you go off like a rocket." Starsky looked extremely pleased with himself.

Looking into the blue eyes that he loved so much, Hutch's throat tightened. Starsky looked wonderful. His eyes were sparkling, his face was alight with joy. He was healing quickly and soon, they'd be back on the streets together, where they were supposed to be. Overcome with emotion, Hutch managed to say, "I love you."

"Me, too. I love you, blintz. But you gotta promise me, no more dumb stuff. If I go, then it's my time. I expect you to carry on for both of us. You got it? It works both ways. I'd never disrespect your life, your love, by doing something so idiotic as sellin' my soul! Even if I don't know if I believe it can happen. Just the thought makes me wanna barf." Starsky's fingers massaged the back of Hutch's head.

Hutch reveled in the strength returning to his lover's body. The hand was firm and demanding. "Yeah, I got it. Doing something out of desperation, claiming it's for love, isn't right. It felt wrong from the first moment, but I... I screwed up big time." Hutch kissed Starsky to seal the promise. "I promise. Whatever comes, we'll deal with it together."

"That's my Hutch. I'm glad you're back. I missed the guy I went through the Academy with. The guy who was beside me through thick and thin. The man I trusted more than anything. The man I love."

"I'm sorry."

"Stop apologizing. I know you're sorry. I just wanted you to know how much I missed you. Really missed you." Starsky smiled. "Even if you're a major pain in the ass mosta the time."

Hutch chuckled. "Look who's talking. Anyway, I'd better go before Nurse de Sade finds me." Carefully Hutch unwound himself from Starsky's side. He rose and grimaced. "I got the sheets damp."

"You got more than the sheets damp. My PJs are a mess. How about you get me some clean ones before I kick your butt outta here."

Hutch couldn't keep the smile from his face. He grinned, practically beaming. "Right." He found clean bottoms in the small dresser and after he'd brought a warm cloth from the bathroom so Starsky could clean up, he helped his lover into them.

"I'll be back in the morning."

Starsky grinned back and held out his hand. Hutch entwined his fingers with Starsky's. "It's already morning, Hutch. You go and have breakfast, then sleep for a while."

"But Starsk."

"No arguing!" Starsky squeezed his hand. "Doctor Starsky's orders. You need food and rest. And a shower and clean clothes. Now move it, Hutchinson. Get lost so I can catch a nap before I gotta eat then go to therapy. Damned therapist musta took lessons from your Nurse de Sade. It's some sort of evil conspiracy. I'm sure of it. Oh, and bring me a double green chile burrito from Moe's, would ya? The food here is awful."

They both laughed. Hutch kissed Starsky once again before he left to follow Starsky's orders. Funny, it was the first time in weeks he was actually hungry. Love can do that. Love and a calm soul.

As he walked to his car, Hutch realized that his heart was light. He passed a parked car and in the dawning light saw his reflection in a window. Hutch paused and looked. Yeah, it was him. Blond and tall, still not bad looking. He eyed himself critically. Nothing evil looked back at him. Nothing dark clouded his mind. No taunting voices marred his peace. His soul was free and clear. As he drove toward home, he gave thanks to whatever power that was a lot smarter than he that helped him find his way back again. Back to Starsky.

"Me and thee, Starsk," Hutch said softly, a smile on his lips. "The way it's supposed to be. For better or worse, my friend. On the force or off. I trust you with my soul."

Hutch drove home a happy man who knew he'd been given another chance. And he also knew that he would use it to his full advantage with Starsky at his side. Life was good. Faith counted for a lot.

And sometimes, love does conquer all.

End