Charlotte Frost


Part 1

As he rose toward consciousness, Starsky knew that he'd been out for a long time. The body he inhabited seemed to be listless, and his nose could detect the faintest hint of hospital disinfectant. He opened his eyes and a man with a haggard face looked at him from a chair a couple of feet away, staring so intently that he wondered if those weary blue eyes even saw him.

The man spoke, but his voice came out as a croak. "Starsk?"

He knew he should answer, because it would reassure and bring a peace to that forlorn face, which now appeared afraid to be hopeful. But he wasn't sure he remembered how to swallow, let alone form words.

Now that familiar form slid from the chair to the floor beside the bed. Hutch reached out with a trembling hand, hovering over Starsky, as though afraid to touch.

"You look like hell." Starsky found that he had a voice, after all.

Hutch stared at him in disbelief. He made a choking noise that sounded as though it wanted to be a chuckle. And then a tired smile broke beneath the frazzled mustache, and a hand settled in Starsky's hair.

Starsky closed his eyes, letting the hand touch, knowing it was necessary. He assumed he must have been shot again, but he couldn't detect the location of the wound. The numbness was too thorough. And what rotten luck to have been shot again so soon after recovering from Gunther's hit.

When his eyes opened again, Hutch's chin was resting on his forearm, which was on the bed. The blond continued to worship with his eyes, his fingers now furrowing through strands of Starsky's hair.

Starsky decided to use his vocal chords again. "How ya doin'?"

It was a simple question, but it brought moisture to those pale blue eyes. "How am I doin'?" Hutch asked unsteadily.

Starsky took a deep breath and furrowed his brows, wondering what was wrong with Hutch, why he looked so awful. "Looks like you can use some shuteye," he noted amiably.

A small, stubborn head shake. Then, weakly, "Just wanna be here. With you."

Starsky knew then that he was the cause of all those bad things that had worn into his partner's face. His voice was drier this time. "S'okay to go," he said, trying to sound reassuring. "'M gonna be okay."

Hutch made a small nod, but his position didn't change.

Then there were other people and noises, machinery.

"Mr. Hutchinson," a firm voice said. "Please step out of the way."

Hutch did... sort of. Starsky watched him slide to the far. He sat there, his back against the wall, watching Starsky.

"Can you give me your full name?"

Starsky's eyes darted to the white-haired, craggy-faced man in a hospital coat looking down at him. "David Michael Starsky."

"What year were you born?"


"How many fingers am I holding up?"


"Who's the President of the United States?"

"Ronald Reagan."

The craggy face smiled. "You're doing very good."

A stethoscope was placed against his chest. He was aware of other instruments being fussed with and demands made of his person. But his eyes kept drifting back to the wall, where Hutch sat, looking so wary while watching him.

Starsky tried to smile.

Hutch tried to smile back, but he had to close his eyes. And then he looked sharply away, and swallowed.

Whatever pain the blond was feeling, Starsky knew that, once again, he was the cause of it. He wondered how he would ever make it up to him.

* * *

Ma was supposed to take care of Hutch. Starsky tried to feel some comfort from that thought. He'd made her promise - as well as making Hutch promise to take care of her - in case anything happened to him.

A weight pressed upon his chest. Ma died three months ago.

Was it still three months? Or had he been in the hospital so long that it was much longer? Starsky frowned, perturbed that he didn't know.

"Hi ya," came a gentle voice from the doorway.

Starsky looked in that direction and Hutch stood there, a beaming smile on his heavily lined face. The blond approached and Starsky smiled too, grateful that he was able to remember what he wanted to ask. "How long ago did Ma die?"

Hutch looked worried as he took a seat beside the bed. "Five months ago."

That was disturbing. "I thought it was three."

A soft blink, followed by a gentle voice. "You've been sick a long time, buddy."

The tone was sympathetic, but Starsky couldn't help but hear an underlying accusation in the words - a feeling he knew that Hutch did not create, but one he himself did. For it was suddenly obvious now why the lines were so heavy on the other man's face. "You thought I was gonna die?"

Eyes closed. Throat swallowed. Head bowed. Trembling voice. "Th-They told me you weren't gonna make it."

Hutch should have known better. Starsky waited until watery eyes opened again, then he scolded, "I don't go down so easy."

"No," Hutch whispered with a quick head shake. He laid a hand on the top of Starsky's forearm. "You were sick for so long. The doctors all thought the result was going to be the same, no matter what they tried. But each morning, every hour, you were still here."

Starsky had been on the other side of the fence enough to know how... awful - no, that wasn't even the word - the worrying could be. At least, when Hutch had been sick with the plague, Starsky had been able to invest his time in trying to save his life by looking for Callendar. But this hadn't been that type of situation. Starsky furrowed his brow. He'd been on various medications for a long time, and conversations with doctors and nurses since he'd woken up were merely fragments of explanations. "What was wrong with me? I think I'm awake enough to pay attention."

Hutch took his hand and gently said, "You had a virus. Remember when you were bitten by that monkey?"

Starsky almost grinned. He and Hutch and been at the circus a few months back. It was yet another activity intended to help Starsky recover from Gunther's shooting. Actually, by that time, Starsky had been officially recovered and returned to duty, but Hutch still tended to drag him out to new and fun places. While wandering around the premises before the show started, they'd come upon some cages with monkeys in them. Starsky had stuck his finger between the bars of the cage - completely ignoring the "don't pet or feed the animals sign" - intending to stroke the fur of a sad-looking monkey leaning against the front of the cage. He was stunned when the monkey whirled around and bit him. It wasn't a bad bite - barely broke the skin - and Hutch had laughed at Starsky's outraged expression. Hutch's laughter, so rare in recent times, was a precious memory. "Yeah, I remember."

"Well, from what the doctors were finally able to determine from your spinal fluid - and from me remembering you'd been bitten by the monkey a few weeks before you'd suddenly collapsed - they were able to make a diagnosis." Hutch squeezed Starsky's hand. "See, the monkey had to have had an outbreak of a Herpes B virus. And - "

Starsky eyes widened. Oh, no. "HERPES?"

Soft chuckle. "Not that herpes. It's a different strain. Some monkeys can carry the Herpes B virus. It causes canker sores in their mouths and that sort of thing, but it's not fatal to them. However," Hutch swallowed thickly, "it is almost always fatal to humans." He quieted abruptly.

Ah, Hutch. "But... how can they let a monkey like that be at a circus? Surely, I'm not the only person in the world who's ever been bitten."

"The odds against that monkey having an outbreak - the virus is in remission most of the time - right at the time you got bit is supposedly pretty high. Plus, people who run those traveling circuses don't exactly have a veterinarian on the premises who is going to look for that sort of thing. Nobody would have known that monkey had the canker sores."

"But I didn't feel a thing," Starsky recalled, "other than when he first bit me. I mean, I was fine for -"

Quietly, Hutch said, "It was in remission in your system. Just like it is in the monkey's most of the time. And then it up and struck, and you developed severe myelitis, which basically means the virus attacked your central nervous system."

Starsky released a heavy breath. "Man." Who would have thought a trip to the circus could have such serious consequences? He studied his partner's face for a long time. "I'm gonna be okay, Hutch." It seemed he'd said it so much lately. "You can stop worrying now. Rest. Take care of yourself."

"Trying to get rid of me?" It was a half-hearted joke with an equally botched grin.

"Tryin' to save you." More forceful that he'd intended. Then he decided to get on with it. "Kinda hard to relax and get better when I see you lookin' like hell day in and day out."

The half-smile sobered. The eyes were weary and intense, and showed a glaze of recognition that Starsky spoke truth. The shoulders slumped and the blond head hung. Then Hutch picked up Starsky's hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it with a dry touch. He gently held it, stroking it between gentle fingers. Finally, those tired eyes looked up at him. "I knew you're going to be okay." Soft, struggling to be convincing.

"Don't sound like you believe it," Starsky pointed out, growing weary. He couldn't stay alert for more than thirty minutes at a time. Thorough physical exhaustion, the hospital staff had told him.

Hutch squeezed his hand lovingly, then stood. Looking down at Starsky with piercing eyes, he leaned closer. He cupped Starsky's cheek in one hand. Hutch's dry lips brushed at his face. His warm cheek pressed against Starsky's own.

Then Hutch was gone.

* * *

Hutch was obedient and didn't return for two days. Starsky spent most of his waking time questioning the hospital staff. He'd been rushed to the hospital by Hutch after collapsing while scarfing down lunch. One by one, his bodily functions began to fail. Since antibiotics were useless against the virus, and all the medical staff could do was offer supportive therapy; his prognosis had been extremely poor. But he'd hung on, and the doctors couldn't explain why. They were content to call him a medical miracle. But his loss of strength meant that he'd be in the hospital a while longer.

* * *

The door to his room swung open and a dark form entered, carrying flowers. "Starsky," Captain Dobey greeted, clearing his throat.

"Cap'n," Starsky said cheerfully, strong enough to sit up. He was now well enough to feel bored a good part of the time.

"Brought you these," Dobey indicated the flowers. Starsky nodded toward the windowsill where prior flowers had accrued, and Dobey placed the new pot there. "How you feeling, son?" he asked as he turned.

"Well enough to just wanna get out of here."

Dobey smiled affectionately. "Shouldn't be too long now."

"Maybe another three days, if I'm lucky."

Dobey grunted good-naturedly, but his eyes kept darting to the lone painting on the wall, as though he were hesitant to meet Starsky's eye.

Now that Hutch finally looked healthier, Starsky wasn't sure he could handle bad news. But he decided to be bold. "What is it, Cap'n?"

Dobey looked sharply from the painting, hands behind his back. "Hmm?"

"You seem to have something on your mind."

"Not at all," the large man muttered, studying the row of floral arrangements along the windowsill.

Starsky knew it was a lie. He decided on a conversational tone. "Hutch hasn't talked much about what's going on at the station. You try to partner him with anybody while I'm laid up?" He could imagine how well that would have gone over.

A grunt greeted him as Dobey's eyes finally fell on him. "I guess he didn't tell you," he said with forced casualness.

Starsky felt his heart beat fast for the first time since he'd woken up. "Tell me what?"

Dobey still carried an aura of good cheer. "He hasn't been at the station. He's been on extended leave ever since you fell sick."

Of course, Starsky thought. But then he remembered he'd been hospitalized for some two months. Suspiciously, he asked, "How did you arrange that with Personnel?"

"My approval was all that was needed to authorize it." Dobey sidled over to the flowers again and studied one particular petal. "It's without pay, of course," he said in a low voice that still struggled to be casual.

Starsky forced himself to relax back against the pillows. Two months. Without pay. He was struggling to remember what he knew about Hutch's various investment accounts when a heavy sigh came from across the room.

Dobey turned toward the bed, the forced casualness having slipped away. "You know, Starsky," he scratched at the back of his head, "I don't know about you two sometimes."

"What do you mean?" He suspected this was what was really on Dobey's mind.

Dobey made an awkward gesture with his hands. "There just seems, sometimes, something almost... Hmm, it's hard to put into words. Unhealthy, I guess. About the way you two are together."

Instinctively, he knew what Dobey meant. But he felt obligated to protest in an easy-going voice. "Come on, Cap'n, you know how it is. Gettin' shot at everyday... it makes you tight, protectin' each other all the time."

"Don't act like I'm some two-bit rookie who doesn't know what it means to have a partner watchin' your tail day in and day out," Dobey scolded. "I've been tight with my partners before. Real tight. But that doesn't replace family, Starsky. I know people of your generation like to think things are different now, but I speak from experience: you need people around you who can support you. Who are always there. This whole time you've been in the hospital, I've never seen Hutchinson come or go with another person. Not ever. If he had a wife or something, at least he could have had someone to go home to who gave a damn. If you only allow yourself to love one other person your whole life, what becomes of your life if that person isn't around anymore?" He took another breath and paced a few feet away. "I'm not sayin' Edith and my marriage is perfect. Far from it. We've seen the best and the worst of marriage. But the important thing is we know we'll always be there for each other. And if anything ever happened to one of us, the one left would still have the kids. And a whole slew of relatives from both sides of the family."

Starsky was listening to what he said and believing it, but feeling no urge to go out and change his life.

"I don't worry so much about you," Dobey went on. "I know you'd be devastated if anything happened to Hutchinson. But you have family in these parts, to say nothing of your brother back east. At least you wouldn't be totally alone." He looked up pointedly. "But who does Hutch have? If his family wasn't around him for something like this, chances are they aren't going to be around him if you really had died."

Starsky knew the main reason Hutch's family wasn't around was because Hutch hadn't summoned them. They would have come if Hutch had asked them to. But, he supposed, that was Dobey's whole point. Hutch wouldn't ask because he didn't have that kind of connection with them, the kind of connection where one could say, "I'm hurting and I need you," and someone would come and offer comfort without wanting anything, especially the right to judge, in return.

Dobey stared out the window. After a very long silence, he muttered, "These past weeks, I thought I was losing both of you." He turned and seemed to shake himself. "Enough of the lecturing. I just wish the two of you would realize that marriage isn't the trap a lot of single folks like to make it out to be. There's something wonderful and precious about counting on having a family to stand by you, no matter what. And families don't end with just one member. They grow and expand. You know you'll always have someone to take care of you." A deep, deep sigh. "Well, now that I've talked your ear off, guess I better get going." He headed for the door.

Starsky grinned. "Thanks for stopping by, Cap'n."

The captain waved and left.

Starsky released a sigh and focused on the plants. He'd heard this lecture before, most notably from his mother. She's gone now. He had to keep reminding himself of that.

He didn't disagree with anything Dobey had said. It's just that talking about a way of life and living it were two different things. He and Hutch could hardly say, "Gee, good point" and then go off and magically find two women who would want them and be happy with them, and start families.

Almost unnatural. That was the only thing Dobey had said that was disturbing, even though Starsky knew it was easy to view them that way. Heck, in a lot of ways it was downright true. He and Dobey both had used the word "tight", but Starsky didn't know any other police pair as tight as Hutch and him. Just last week, when he'd ordered Hutch home, the blond had given him that kinda, sorta kiss, running his lips along Starsky's cheek. Not exactly your everyday thing, even between tight partners. Of course, his recovering from an illness that had stopped just short of taking his life wasn't exactly an everyday thing, either.

Starsky tried to put the subject out of his mind, and was successful because there was something else that was disturbing him, something Dobey had mentioned when he'd first walked in: Hutch was no longer on the payroll. And hadn't been since Starsky had first fallen ill.

Been livin' on lettuce, pal? Hutch had certainly looked like it, but Starsky knew he hadn't stopped eating because of money. Hutch could get his hands on money if he wanted to badly enough. It was just a matter of how much pride he was willing to swallow.

Speaking of the devil....

The door opened and Hutch entered. He looked a lot better groomed than in recent days. He gestured to the door as it closed behind him. "Saw Dobey in the hall. Guess he was just by."

"Yeah." Starsky had been so bored lately that he decided a good confrontation might be just what he needed to boost his spirits. "He told me something interestin'."

Hutch took a chair from near the wall, placed it next to the bed, and sat down. "Yeah, like what?"

"Like you haven't been gettin' a paycheck the whole time I've been sick."

Hutch shrugged. "They said you were dying, buddy. What did you expect me - "

"I know," he cut him off. "But I'm okay now. Gonna be one hundred percent soon. So..."

Hutch shrugged again, evasive now, using humor. "Just because you're getting better doesn't mean I'm anxious to get back to work. Sitting in that sweltering office where the air conditioner breaks down every other week, working on cases of people who are already dead, isn't exactly a requirement for survival."

"So what have you been doin' with yourself when you aren't here?" Starsky asked.

"Relaxing," Hutch said, preening as he ran his hand back through his full head of hair. "Don't I look more relaxed?"

Starsky grinned. It was true. "Yeah." But he refused to be sidetracked. "But it's kinda hard to relax when you have money goin' out but none comin' in."

"I have my sources." Then, more seriously, "I'm not in any kind of financial trouble, buddy, so don't worry about it."

"I'm not worried about it. Just wondered how you were keepin' yourself afloat."

Hutch folded his hands on top of the bed, as though it were a tabletop. "Cashed in my trust fund."

Starsky blinked. Hutch had said it very casually - and not falsely so. Hesitantly, he said, "I thought you rejected your trust fund when you were eighteen. Told your parents to give it to charity because you'd never accept money you hadn't earned."

"They never did anything with the money. Just kept it in an account, in case I changed my mind." He grinned. "So, I changed my mind. Since I waited all this time to take the money, the account was worth a heck of a lot more than if I'd taken it when I was eighteen."

Starsky blinked again. Sometimes Hutch got a little angry when he spoke about his parents and his family's money. Now he seemed disturbingly casual about the whole subject. Amazingly so. And the sudden turnabout was a bit much to absorb. "So...," Starsky actually felt bashful talking about it, "is that why you're not anxious to return to work? Because you're... like.... rich?" He couldn't figure out if he hoped the answer was yes or no.

"What's rich?" Hutch countered.

Now, that was the Hutch he knew. Starsky guessed, "A million dollars?"

"Yeah, I'd call that rich, all right."

Starsky's heart beat faster.

"But I don't have anywhere near that much."

The beat steadied. "Oh. Well... I guess I'd consider anything over... say, a hundred thousand, to be in the `very well off' category."

"Try four hundred and fifty."

Starsky's eyes widened. Again, he couldn't figure out if he wanted it to be true or not. Everyone wanted lots of money. But, somehow, money seemed to ruin a lot of lives, as though it were an instrument of the devil himself. "Are you serious?" he finally asked on a high note.

A warm grin. "Yeah. Actually, before deducting for taxes, it was quite a bit more than that. So, you see, pal, I don't particularly care whether I ever return to work or not."

No, money definitely wasn't everything. "But...," Starsky sputtered, "you're a cop. It's what you are. I know it's frustrating as hell a good part of the time, but it means something to you. Surely, you aren't plannin' on retiring and spending your whole life golfing, or - or hanging out on yachts, or some bullshit nonsense like that."

Hutch looked at him a long time, those eyes such a crystal blue. And appearing so much happier now than they'd been even just a week ago. The blond's tone was very gentle when he replied, his hand slowly wrapping around Starsky's. "I haven't planned on anything, buddy. Couldn't see planning without you being a part of it. And I was hoping to wait until you were out of the hospital before the subject ever came up." Then, as though sensing his partner's thoughts, Hutch squeezed the hand his fingers held. "I'm still the same person, partner."

That was a relief.

Hutch squeezed his hand again. "I'm still Hutch. And I can't be Hutch without Starsky."

Ah, man. Hutch could be so mushy sometimes. Starsky found himself looking away, not up to handling too much emotion.

His arm was patted, and the chair slid as Hutch stood. Starsky looked back at him as his big blond leaned down to squeeze his arm. "It's gonna be okay, partner. Nothing has to change at all. Or we can change as many things as we want. But we don't have to decide today or tomorrow or next week or next year. Get well first. And we can talk whenever you're ready."

It felt so good, Hutch taking charge. Reassuring him that everything was going to be okay. That nothing had to be different. But if Starsky wanted it to be, it would. Just because Starsky wanted it. And anything Starsky didn't want would be disregarded. A non-issue.

He knew his mouth was hanging open as he gazed at the person he'd been tighter than tight with for eight years. The future suddenly seemed exciting beyond his wildest imaginations. And all because Hutch was placing his needs and wants first.

What do you want to do? Starsky suddenly found himself wondering.

Hutch waved with a hand and a large smile as he made his exit.

Starsky the door swing gently shut. Then he closed his eyes and focused on stilling his thundering heart. It seemed ironic, after Dobey's lecture, that Starsky felt more attached to Hutch than he'd ever felt to another person in his life. He knew that if he found a girl and fell in love, Hutch would buy him and his bride a beautiful car or boat or even a house, and throw them the wedding of all weddings. Simply because it was Starsky.

He bit his lower lip. Your days of sacrifice are over, Hutch. You've paid your dues, completed your quest, whatever. Anything that happens from now on, whether it's because of your money or not, is going to be because you want it.

That's all I want. Starsky waited a few more minutes, testing the truth of that last thought. And he wondered why Dobey didn't understand.

Hutch was all that mattered.

* * *

"Doctor Williamson can see you now, if you'd like."

Starsky had just finished buckling his belt, a handmade, expensive bit of clothing that Hutch had purchased, since it was necessary to hold up his jeans on his slim frame. "Huh?" he asked the nurse. "I thought his schedule was full for a while."

"He had a cancellation," she said. "He thought you might like to see him now, so you don't have to come back."

"What's this about?" Hutch asked with concern. He was holding a small suitcase that contained Starsky's belongings from his nine-week stay. Finally, he was going home this morning.

Starsky shrugged. "The doctor had said he wanted to talk to me. We made an appointment for next week."

Hutch's eyes flared. "When were you going to tell me?"

Starsky felt his mouth drop open. Then he realized how it must seem to Hutch. He softly said, "I didn't think to tell you, since it was a week away. Sorry." He knew he should have been more sensitive to Hutch's need to be overly protective.

That seemed to be all that the blond needed. More gently he asked, "What does he want to see you about?"

Starsky shrugged. "Don't know. Just said he wanted to talk to me." He really hadn't given it much thought, but he could imagine, after everything Hutch had been through the past year, how that must sound. He smiled soothingly. "If it was anything serious, he wouldn't be letting me leave," he pointed out.

Hutch relaxed visibly. But the lines on his face were still etched with concern.

Starsky turned to the nurse. "Yeah, sure, I'll see him now."

She brought a wheelchair in from the hall and patted it. "I have to take you to his office in this."

Starsky had been in enough hospitals to know there wasn't any point in arguing.

"I'm coming with you," Hutch said.

Starsky nodded as he moved to the chair. He hadn't considered otherwise.

* * *

Dr. Williamson's office was on the second floor. It seemed like a long journey down, for the elevator kept stopping. Finally, the nurse wheeled Starsky into the office, and then left the room as Hutch sat down in a chair next to him.

The doctor smiled warmly at Starsky. "You're glad to be leaving us, I take it."

Starsky grinned, knowing it was small talk. "That's for sure. Nothing personal, Doc, but..."

"I'm used to patients feeling that way."

"What's this meeting about?" Hutch cut in.

Starsky shifted restlessly, wishing his partner didn't feel it was his task to fight off all the demons in the world, whether real or imaginary.

The doctor drew a deep breath and folded his hands on his desktop. "I know you've had a lot of facts thrown at you the past few weeks, and sometimes the facts aren't always absorbed well by patients who are under the influence of various medications. Therefore, I want to summarize your situation and make sure you are clear on where you stand from a medical standpoint."

Before Hutch could jump in with another impatient comment, Starsky said, "I can tell you that Hutch here pretty much told me everything - that this was a type of Herpes virus from a monkey and all of that."

Dr. Williamson sighed. "What's most important for you to understand is that the virus is still in your system. It's in remission now. Whether or not it stays in remission is impossible to predict. But I want you to understand that you aren't `cured', in the normal sense of the word. Antibodies to the virus still show up in your blood tests, and will continue to show up throughout your life."

Starsky realized he had already been told bits and pieces of those facts; he'd been too focused on getting well to think about them in terms of the long run. But he couldn't recall one important question ever being addressed, or even asked. "Am I contagious?" Can I somehow give this to Hutch? Or any other innocent person?

"No. At least, not in the usual sense of the word, and definitely not while the virus is in remission. In order to infect another person, you would have to be experiencing an outbreak, which means you'd most likely be hospitalized, anyway; and you would have to, essentially, exchange a blood product somehow. The chances of that are pretty remote."

Starsky released a heavy breath. Okay.

Hutch said, so quietly, "The only threat the virus poses is to him."

"Yes," Dr. Williamson replied. "There's no way to guarantee that another outbreak won't occur. But, at the same time, I can't say that's it's likely another outbreak will occur." His attention returned to Starsky. "The best advice I can give is to live as stress-free a life as possible. You might want to give serious consideration to finding another form of occupation."

Starsky wondered why he didn't feel a need to rebel against the notion of quitting. After Gunther, he'd been more determined than ever to return to the streets. But now, somehow, it didn't seem as important.

He glanced at Hutch, who seemed to be avoiding his gaze. If I try to return to the streets again, what will it cost him, if something else happens to me? If I have another outbreak of this Herpes thing? If I get shot again?

He's already swallowed his pride and cashed out his trust fund and spoken of us - both of us - using the money to do something else. He's doing everything he can to make it possible to choose another way of life. But he won't force me into it.

Starsky felt heavy-hearted. Hutch had obviously already talked to the doctor about the future implications of the incurable Herpes virus. Otherwise, he'd be upset at what the doctor had just spelled out for Starsky's future. A future that was full of unknowns. He's trying to make the best of it.

Okay, buddy, I will, too. Starsky looked back at Dr. Williamson. "I hear you, Doc. That's probably a good idea." He glanced at his partner, seeing the expression of surprise, certain he could actually see a weight fall from Hutch's shoulders.

"Do you have any other questions?" Williamson asked.

They both shook their heads.

The physician stood and held out his hand. "If you need anything, you have my card."

Starsky shook his hand. "Thanks, Doc, for everything." He'd barely let go before the motion of the chair at the back of his legs prompted him to plop back into it. And then Hutch was wheeling him out the door, leaving a murmured, "Thanks," behind him.

They were silent as they made their way down the hall to the elevator, then out the main entrance. Hutch left Starsky on the patio while he went to get the LTD and drive it around.

Starsky had to shake his head at the fact that Hutch still owned such a pathetic car despite his many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Hutch was staring out the front windshield as he brought the car to a halt. Starsky didn't waste any time getting into the passenger side, so Hutch didn't have to get out.

As soon as the door was closed, Starsky said, "I just want to say one thing."

Hutch looked over at him.

Starsky shook his head. "I'm not gonna live my life being afraid of this thing. I can't live like that, Hutch. I just can't. So, as far as we're concerned, it's over and done with. There's a reason why the virus went into remission. Maybe it found out that I'm stronger than it is. Maybe it'll try again someday. But I don't want to talk about the future as a bunch of if, if, if's. I don't want our lives being defined by whether or not this thing attacks me again or not. I can give up being a cop. But I can't live like I might not have a future. I am going to have a future, and that's the way it's gonna be for us from here on out. We're going forward, Hutch. That's all there is to it."

Hutch stared out the windshield for a long time. Finally, his expression relaxed. "Okay." He started the car forward.

Starsky studied him, then was convinced that Hutch was being as truthful as he possibly could be. Thank you, babe. Now, let's find out what life has in store for us.

* * *

"You really, really have that much in your checking account?" Starsky was sitting back against the sofa, feet on the coffee table. They had arrived home a little while before. He was studying his own measly balance. Hutch had, of course, taken meticulous care in seeing that Starsky's bills were paid while he was in the hospital. As he stared at his own check register now, Starsky tried to imagine a comma and a bunch of zeros.

Hutch snorted bashfully. "No, of course not." He brought a bottle of wine and two glasses to the coffee table. "I had my financial advisor divide the money up into different types of investments. You know, diversify. There's just a few thousand in my checking account."

Starsky let out a whistle.

Hutch set the wine down and eyed his partner. Levelly, he said, "The money makes you uncomfortable, doesn't it?"

Starsky had a sense of being "found out" but, following the pattern they'd forged since the beginning of their partnership, he fell back on honesty. "It's just kinda hard getting' used to the idea," he said with a shrug. "I've never been too close to anyone before with that kind of money."

"It is only money," Hutch reminded. "We can't take it with us."

"I know," Starsky said, eyes on the wine while Hutch poured it. "It's just... I guess it's just been such a surprise that you, you know, accepted it. After all this time. I mean," he looked from the wine to his partner's blue eyes, "it isn't like I wouldn't have gotten better if you hadn't done that."

Hutch handed him a glass and kept one for himself. "It wasn't a big deal for me, partner. It just, all of a sudden, seemed like the right thing to do. Almost as though me passing that money up when I was a college kid, and my parents essentially forgetting about it... it's almost like that all happened so it would be here for us now, all this time later."

Starsky felt a grin light one side of his face. Hutch was speaking of the money as being for "us". Ever since he'd first mentioned it, Hutch had acted as though it was Starsky's, too. Cap'n, how can Hutch and me be any less "family" to each other than you and Edith and the kids? I know our family may be small, but we're all we've got. And we gotta go with that. We can't sit around worryin' about what would happen if only one of us was left.

Hutch held out his glass. "So, a toast, to the future. Whatever it may be."

Starsky bent forward to clink his glass against that of his partner. After they both sipped, Hutch said, "And that's all you're having until you're back to being a hundred percent."

"Bitch, bitch, bitch," Starsky muttered good-naturedly. It felt good, being back the same way together, and Hutch just being Hutch. He grinned outwardly.

"What?" the blond man asked suspiciously.

Starsky sipped again. Then, feeling bold, he challenged, "Just what would you like our future to be like, blondie?"

Hutch shrugged. "Hadn't really thought about it much. Was waiting for you to get better, so we could talk about it, if you wanted to."

"I'm better and I want to talk about it and I'm ready to talk about it."

After the hint of a smile full of tenderness, Hutch asked, "What would you like to do?"

"Hadn't thought about it, either," Starsky admitted, wishing that Hutch had, so at least he would have something to go on. What he knew with absolute certainty was that he didn't want to stare at these same walls for the six weeks or so before he'd be well enough to work at a regular job.

Such a strange thought, not ever returning to the LAPD. He didn't intend to tell Dobey until he was absolutely certain. In the meantime, he'd be on disability.

He straightened and took a deep breath. "I think we should go away somewhere nice and private and fun, and then we can toss around some ideas."

"Like where?" Already, Hutch's face had brightened, as though he too wasn't interested in spending a lot of time pent-up with a restless partner.

"I dunno," Starsky admitted. "Just somewhere."

Hutch lowered his eyes. "You know, buddy," he began, and then looked up, "like I told you before, nothing has to change... just because it can."

Of course, Hutch felt obligated to say that again. Starsky said, "Right. So, whether anything changes at all will be part of what we talk about." He stood and brushed at his legs to help restore the circulation. "So let's go to a gas station or bookstore and buy ourselves an atlas or something, and go eeny-meeny-miney-mo."

Hutch seemed surprised at his enthusiasm. Then he said, "Okay."

Part 2

They ended up in North Carolina. Kitty Hawk, to be exact. After spending the morning learning all about the Wright brothers at the various tourist attractions, they made an afternoon of strolling along the beach. Swimming was kept to a minimum, as Starsky wasn't up to fighting the waves for any length of time.

Starsky was about to suggest they head for an early dinner when he spotted something red, glinting from the beach. He reached down to pick it up, a shell with an unusually deep color. "Look at this," he said, holding it up.

Hutch, obviously sensing Starsky had reached the limit of his stamina for the day, was buttoning a light shirt over his tanning skin. He brushed next to Starsky and took the shell from him. "Hmm. What an odd color."

"Yeah, that's what I was thinking." Starsky ran his fingertips along it. "Really a neat shell, huh?"

Hutch was examining it closer. "Yeah. Never seen one like that before. You going to keep it?"

Starsky took it a moment longer. It would be neat to have it at his apartment, but he found himself strangely sentimental. He heard giggling, and from the corner of his eye he could see two slender women lying on the beach, apparently talking about him and Hutch. He felt uncomfortable. "Not for me to take," he noted, dropping it to the sand.

Now the blond was scolding. "Everybody else does."

Starsky shrugged. "Then let somebody else enjoy it."

Hutch seemed distracted. Then he whispered, "I think we're being observed at four o'clock."

Such an old game. And played purely out of habit. Even Hutch's voice wasn't alive with enthusiasm, but sounded as though he was resigned to the status quo.

Starsky nudged him again, wanting to stop any further interest. Once they started talking to the girls it would be almost impossible to not let the old habits play themselves out. "Hutch," he said in a low, shy voice that carried the touch of a plea, "I'm... you know... not quite up to par." It wasn't a lie. But it also may not have been entirely the truth. He'd thought so little about sex since awakening, he wasn't exactly sure of what he was capable of.

Affection welled up within Starsky as he and Hutch started walking again, taking them away from the girls. But then he was overtaken by guilt as he realized Hutch had no physical limitations. The blond hadn't even had a date since Starsky had first taken ill. "Hey, uh, if you want to talk to them," he gestured awkwardly, "you know, I can find something to do for a few hours. There's lots of things to see around here."

Hutch looked at him, his tiny smile so sincere. "We came here for us, buddy. Other things can wait."

Starsky grinned. "Yeah." They hadn't really talked about anything yet, since there was no sense of urgency. Between Starsky's convalescence and Hutch's being on indefinite leave without pay, they could return home whenever they felt like it. And now, seeing how seriously Hutch was taking this time together, Starsky felt all the more determined that they were going to use this private time constructively, and make the right decisions for both of them.

* * *

They had flown into Raleigh the previous evening. The motel they'd selected was small and a little rundown, but it was near the beach and had a comfortable feel. After eating a seafood dinner in town, they retired to their room, Hutch leafing through the newspapers he'd purchased. Starsky tried some TV, but nothing was interesting, so he picked up the deck of cards he'd brought and laid out a game of solitaire on his bed.

After spending a couple of minutes placing cards on top of each other, he glanced at his partner. At that moment, the blond had also looked up from his reading, as though to see what his partner was doing.

Starsky shrugged his shoulders, trying to rid himself of a painful itch along his back, inside his shirt. "So, is there anything earth-shattering that's happened in the news?"

Hutch grunted. "Nancy Reagan's china set is causing a big uproar."

Starsky reached back and scratched along the material of his shirt. "Sounds serious."

Hutch chuckled softly, then folded the paper in half with an air of finality. "You get sunburned?"

"I dunno," Starsky replied truthfully, scratching harder. He was wearing a nylon shirt, and the material felt slightly coarse.

"Scratching isn't going to help," Hutch said, getting to his feet. The tall frame bent to a suitcase beside the bed, and a moment later he produced a tube of ointment.

Starsky put his cards down and removed his shirt. Ointment of any kind sounded very soothing. He focused on the game again while the mattress dipped with his partner's weight. He flinched at the persistent itch but was determined not to scratch again.

Fingertips brushed against his skin. "Yeah, all along here," Hutch said, tracing a line from his shoulder, down along his back, over to his other side. "It's really bad right here." He tapped a few inches below Starsky's neck, in the center of his back.

Starsky flinched while still placing cards. "Ouch."

Cool moistness touched the area, feeling ticklish for a moment. Then fingers were there, rubbing firmly, spreading the coolness. The motion was so strong that it caused a slight rocking of the bed, which in turn caused the cards to slip from where they'd been overlapped. "You're messin' up my game."

"Yeah, like you want me to stop," Hutch said with knowing affection.

Starsky giggled, because Hutch's point was so true. He gave up on the game and started scooping up the cards. Hutch was now spreading the cream along his right shoulder, which wasn't burned as badly as his back. "You get burned anywhere?" he asked, thinking he'd return the favor.

"Don't think so. I used plenty of sunscreen, goofball."

Starsky chose to let the superior tone pass. "Thought I did, too." The hands were feeling good, so he let his upper body plop forward onto the mattress. "Mm."

Hutch chuckled softly. After a moment, he said, "You've got some on the back of your legs, too."

Starsky fell silent while the hands ventured from his shoulders down to his legs. They were rubbing and squeezing, massaging more than doctoring. He became aware of a stir between his legs, and realized he must be healthier than he'd first thought. Being against a mattress, someone working with his legs, evoked old instincts....

He knew better than to fight it. Hutch didn't need to know about it, and even if he did, he would understand. They'd seen each other in every state imaginable in all their years together. And it wasn't just the number of years, but the intensity of their closeness during that time. A closeness Dobey had called "unnatural".

"You're being awfully quiet."

Starsky made a noise of agreement, but didn't want to share his thoughts. He turned his head so he was facing away, hoping Hutch wouldn't think the gesture a rejection.

The hands slowed, and Hutch teased, "Feeling too good?"

Starsky considered not responding, for he really did want to stay in the circle of his own thoughts, but he knew that was impossible with Hutch so near. Half-heartedly, he said, "Guess we coulda talked to the girls."

Hutch slapped him gently on the back of a thigh. "You say that with all the enthusiasm of a man going to the gallows."

Starsky turned his head back the other way. Hutch was putting the cap on the bottle of ointment. He and Hutch had come all this way to talk about their future. That meant holding nothing back. "Dobey said something to me those last few days I was in the hospital."

Hutch looked at him worriedly, for Starsky's tone was so serious.

"He said that we were `unnatural' together." It felt good to have it in the open, to see his partner's reaction, to talk about it.

Pale brows came together in puzzlement. "Dobey said that?"

"Yeah." Then Starsky assured, "He didn't mean it in a bad way. I mean, not in, like, a dirty way. It was more like he was concerned."

Hutch's tone hardened. "About what?"

Starsky hadn't expected the sudden defensiveness. He kept his tone calm and soothing while getting up on an elbow. "Concerned that we're so wrapped up in each other. That we don't have anybody else. You know, he was talking about families and all that. Always having people there for you."

More harshness. "He doesn't think we're family to each other?"

"'Course, he does." Starsky was all the more determined to keep a cheerful tone. "But we're really all the family each other has — you know, when it comes to having to lean on others. I think he meant it more that, since death is a part of life, if you have more family members in your life than just one other person, then you have more people around you when one of those important people die."

Hutch blinked and drew a deep breath. Then, still hard, "Well, sometimes life doesn't work out in such nice, neat little packages."

"I know that," Starsky soothed. "I'm sure he knows it, too. Like I said, he was just concerned. You know, wondering why we're still bachelors and all that. Gee, Hutch, it's not like I'm trying to say we should go out and get married and start families."

The blond head turned to look at him. The tone was softer, but still full of puzzlement. "Then why did you bring it up?"

Starsky realized it was a very good question, and he knew the answer, because he'd never been very good at pulling veils over his own eyes. He swallowed thickly and pulled himself up into a sitting position, while leaning one shoulder against the headboard. He had nothing to be embarrassed about now; for the conversation, and the need to soothe his partner, had his full attention and the other problem had vanished. "Well, I guess because since we're going to be talking about the future and stuff — this just falls right into that, doesn't it?"

Hutch snorted and his reply carried reluctant sarcasm. "Buddy, I thought we were going to talk about what we were going to do with our lives. Not plan our relationships — as if that's something we can map out in advance." He got up and went over to his own bed, bending to put the lotion back in the suitcase.

"Well...," Starsky reasoned, "a serious relationship would have a big effect on anything we decided. I mean, we'd be looking at things differently."

The shortness was present again in the other man's reply. "But neither of us is in a serious relationship, are we?" He had straightened and was looking at Starsky squarely.

Starsky bowed his head. He hadn't meant to upset Hutch. In fact, he didn't understand why his partner was so irritated. Nor why he himself felt so apologetic as he pointed out what seemed to him to be obvious. "Yeah." He looked up hesitantly. "You're right, and that's why I think it's important to talk about it. I mean, depending on what we decide for ourselves, it could... you know, make it difficult to form any relationships in the future." He shrugged, realizing that wasn't very clear. "You know, like say we live in some big house or something. It would be kind of odd for you to marry someone and then have me living there. And vice versa. I mean, it's not like you're gonna kick me out just because you found someone, right?"

Hutch sat looking at him, expression softening to one of vulnerability, as though he didn't know how to voice what was on his mind.

"I mean," Starsky went on, deciding to keep clarifying until he was interrupted, "we're talking about what we're gonna do as a one-package deal. You've been actin' like you're gonna share the money with me all the way down the line. So, it's not like you're gonna stop sharin' it with me if you happen to want to get married." His voice lowered timidly. "Could make for an awkward situation, tryin' to explain it to your lady friend why your things and her things don't belong to the both of you." He drew a deep breath. "And think of it the other way. What if I find someone and get married? How am I going to explain that everything I own is half yours?"

He saw enlightenment settle on the other's face. Softly, Hutch said, "I guess it's like we're already married. To each other."

Starsky drew another quick breath, for the statement caught him by surprise — surprise at its very truth. Yes, that's what he had really been trying to say when he'd started this conversation. Confident now, he grabbed a pillow, stretched out across the bed and rested his chin upon it. "Yeah, and we're gonna become even more so by planning our future together."

"So, what are you saying?" Hutch demanded in a quiet tone, eyelashes fluttering. "That we should find women now before we get so stuck together that we can't become unglued?"

Starsky grinned, for the mental image was funny. But he also knew his partner needed reassurance, and he made his tone gentle when he spoke. "No. What I'm saying is that we need to be aware of just exactly what it is we're doing. And consider the consequences, if you want to call it that." It occurred to him that maybe he needed to say something outright. "I wanna keep sharing my life with you, Hutch." The last emerged more bashfully than he'd intended.

Something in the other's face looked hopeful. "And I want to share mine with you, like we have all along." He made an ironic snort. "It's like we've already been married. In a lot of ways."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded, feeling they were finally getting somewhere.

Hutch was now staring at the floor thoughtfully. Those brows worked again, then he said, distantly, "We give each other everything we need. Except... sex." He looked up, as though amazed he'd said the word out loud. Or afraid that he'd said it.

Starsky swallowed. He felt his heart beat heavier in his chest, and in the back of his mind he wondered if it was good for him, considering his relatively fragile state. He wasn't sure whether to steer left or steer right; in fact, in seemed there were too many directions to choose from. He struggled to keep his voice calm as he admitted, "Seems like that's all we need women for, anymore. At least, that's how it's seemed the last few years."

Hutch blinked, his chest rising and falling, though he looked much calmer than Starsky felt. And was bolder. "Too bad you aren't better looking."

Starsky shrugged with feigned resignation. "Can't win `em all." He knew Hutch had only meant the knock as a gender statement, and not that he truly thought his partner was bad looking.

A hesitant grin, and Hutch carried the thought through. "Too bad I'm not better looking to you, huh?"

Making a joke, though he was aware it had deeper meaning, Starsky said, "I guess if we could just get past our looks, then we could have a really good thing going."

Hutch chuckled awkwardly.

Starsky was suddenly aware that he was, indeed, fully recovered from his bout with disease. And that it had been a terribly long time since he'd participated in any sexual activity, including self-indulgence. He pushed off the bed and made it to the door in two giant strides. "Goin' for a walk."

* * *

The early summer air was inviting, the scent of the Atlantic in the breeze. Starsky walked around the long block that encompassed the motel, hands in his pockets.

They'd been joking, but it was one of those things where you couldn't deny that what was being said in jest might have a touch of truth. Or more than a touch.

He didn't really consider Hutch bad-looking. In fact, not bad-looking at all. Handsome in a sophisticated way, not in a plastic, made-up way. But Hutch was missing soft breasts, smooth skin (though his was smoother than most guys'), a delicate frame, curves that Starsky could fit his hands around. And missing a particular place at his crotch that Starsky otherwise might like to breach. Of course, there's other places. When you're horny enough, any opening will do.

Or when you're in love enough.

Starsky winced, feeling a chill come over him as the breeze from the ocean blew more harshly across the shore. Hutch was right. They met each other's every need. Except the need to make love. And, with women anymore, that wasn't really the need that was being satisfied, but more the need of simple desire.

It had been a long, long time, Starsky realized, since he had made love to someone he was in love with.

And it seemed to have been a long time since the conquest held any real meaning. Once again, the truth was there: he and Hutch met each other's needs. Fitting together so perfectly, despite many differences. Knowing how to overcome the bad times. A long history of making their partnership work. They were as married as any two people who had marched down a church aisle. And now, with all the talk about a future together, even more so.

Starsky stopped and leaned against a street lamp. He realized that he could rationalize it a dozen different ways. That he could find all sorts of reasons why he and Hutch should cross that one remaining barrier to compete intimacy.

But reason had nothing to do with passion. Or desire.

If I were to run my hands down his bare sides..., he imagined himself doing so, would he feel ticklish? Would his skin quiver? Would he back away?

No, Hutch would never do that. Hutch might not be crazy about the idea, but he wouldn't reject anything Starsky wanted to try.

Starsky pushed away from the lamppost and moved to a bus bench a few yards away. He sat with his head in his hands.

Poor Hutch. Between Gunther's bullets and the Herpes virus, Hutch had played the part of doomed watcher way too long. Had had to bear it when doctors told him there was no hope. Had had to sit and wait, bearing his pain alone, while waiting for the end to come.

Almost wonder if he wished I woulda died either of those times; so it would have been over.

No. That was foolish. The waiting may have been over, but the most intense pain would have just begun. Maybe pain wasn't even the right word. But utter, utter loss. Complete emotional devastation. And desolation. Missing his partner every single moment of every single day. Starsky could feel it in his gut now — a phantom pain — for he had had samplings of it in times when he thought Hutch might be lost to him.

They were so much to each other. Unnatural. Maybe so. But all the more precious and unique, for being so unusual. What was between them was something to be protected and cherished and nurtured.

They had been nurturing each other for forever, it seemed.

Starsky had heard it once said that friendship is a single soul in two bodies. He and Hutch had paid their dues in taking care of the two bodies. Now, perhaps it was time to nurture that third element between them. The single soul they had created together. It was time to turn their attention to that, to actively grow it, rather than just passively care for it.

Nothing about them was ordinary or natural. No, wait. Dobey had been wrong. He had confused what was natural with what was ordinary, basic, status quo. For what was between him and Hutch wasnatural. There was nothing more natural than two people loving each other and wanting to create something together with that love.

They were gifted in their receipt of each other. In their determination to survive. In their ability to love.

Those qualities belonged to them. It was time to stop expending them on others.

Starsky got up and headed back to the hotel. Drawing a deep breath, he was more conscious than ever before of himself and of the world around him. And now he was going to officially forfeit his individuality and give himself to another and in the process become part of something greater.

That thought was so exciting that he could hardly wait to tell Hutch about it.

* * *

The air conditioning had been turned on and Hutch was watching television while sitting up in bed, but Starsky doubted the blond was paying much attention to the program.

"Was it something I said?" Hutch asked as Starsky closed the door behind him. But the blond's tone wasn't one of feeling guilty or upset. Or even very puzzled.

"You're damn right it's something you said." Starsky switched off the television.

Hutch looked at him curiously, those blue eyes so bright.

Starsky reached and turned off the light, leaving them in darkness, save for the street lamp outside the window. They needed darkness to focus on what was being said. To focus on the soul they had created. Not to be distracted by exteriors. He was standing a few feet from Hutch's bed. Softly, which now seemed appropriate for the darkness, he said, "It's been a long, long time since I've made love to somebody."

Forced humor followed a snort. "Oh, great, guess that means I get to be a substitute." Apparently, Hutch was already accepting what was going happen. It seemed his thoughts had run similar to Starsky's while they were apart.

"No, Hutch. You've got it backwards." Starsky loved saying the words, revealing the truth between the two of them. "I think — for a long, long time — everyone else I've been in bed with has been the substitute." He realized, a moment later, how that might sound. Like he'd been lusting after Hutch for years and turning to others for an "acceptable" outlet. He took a step toward the bed, pulling off his shirt. "Like you said, the only thing married people do that we haven't done is have sex." No, that wasn't right, either. It sounded like fulfilling a quota. There was a more forceful point to be made. "I don't want to share you with anybody else."

So far, Hutch had feigned nonchalance. Or maybe it wasn't feigned. But now a release of a heavy breath was heard in the darkness, indicating that Starsky had said something that Hutch couldn't shrug off casually.

He couldn't be casual about the subject of being loved. That was his Hutch. Starsky stepped closer to the bed, his knees touching the edge of the mattress.

Now the evasive humor was back. "Does this mean we're on a honeymoon and a consummation is going to take place?"

"Right on, baby blue." Starsky reached out, felt an arm. There was the sound and feel of Hutch shifting away. Starsky slipped off his shorts and shoes and got beneath the covers, settling into the space provided. It did, indeed, seem natural when he rested his head against the bare chest exposed by the unbuttoned shirt, and felt perfect when an arm came around him.

Hutch finally said something deliberately serious. "I love you, buddy."

With that, it seemed safe to let his subconscious insecurities rise to the surface. "Guess that's why you aren't freakin' out that your partner's in bed with you with a hard-on."

A thoughtful "Mmm", and then Hutch said, "You're right, that's why I'm not freaking out. And also because I'm so horny I can hardly stand it."

Starsky could relate, but did not yet feel an urgency to move from his comfortable position. "Horny for me, or just horny in general?"

"What's this?" Hutch wondered. "Prove To Me You Love Me games before the honeymoon is even over?"

Starsky punched him in the ribs — with extreme gentleness. "Hey, I'm a guy, you know. I know how it is. Sex can be something totally separate from feelings. Especially when you've been without a long time — like you and I both have been."

"So, maybe in the morning," Hutch suggested, "we won't feel like we want to be married anymore."

Starsky felt himself grin. Broadly. "Not a chance." It seemed so natural, then, to shift just enough to tilt his face up.

Thankfully, the light from the street lamp was enough for Hutch to see what he was doing. Hutch looked down.

It was the most perfect of sensations when soft lips settled upon his.

"Mmmmmmm," they murmured in unison, the vibration between them all the more stimulating.

"Got a proposition," Starsky said with a heavy breath. He slipped back against the comfort of Hutch's shoulder. He didn't want anything to be rushed. This was too perfect.

"What's that?" Hutch whispered, the air from his lips brushing across Starsky's nose.

"I'll feel yours, if you feel mine."

Hutch took his hand within fingers as quivering as his own. Grasped by the wrist, Hutch pushed Starsky's hand down to the mound outlining Hutch's shorts.

Starsky felt movement beneath the cloth, an enlarging firmness. He closed his fingers around it.

Hutch closed his eyes and groaned, "Oh, God." He swallowed thickly, then said breathlessly, "I don't have any pride left, buddy."

"Pride has no place between us," Starsky pointed out. He felt along the mattress until he found Hutch's hand. Picking it up, he placed it against the front of his own briefs. His erection leapt against the pressure, and he pressed it harder against himself, not shy about voicing a deep groan of his own. "Feel inside," he demanded.

Delicious fumbling, an aching pause, then digits inside the slit, finally curling around him in a firm grip.

"Oh, Jesus, God." Starsky had risen to his knees. A part of him wanted very badly to bend down and suck on Hutch, pleasure him in a delicious way. But he'd never be able to stay focused. Not with his own groin throbbing so powerfully.

Hutch seemed to be ahead of him. "How about," with his free hand, Hutch was trying to push down his own shorts, "getting on top of me and rubbing against me?"

"Okay," Starsky said quickly. They let go of each other to remove the rest of their clothing. When Starsky was naked, he bent to the flesh being freed from confinement. Hutch's groin smelled of sweat and musk and salt from the sea. He licked at the jutting spear briefly — an interesting, tangy flavor — just to show that he was willing to do that. Then he maneuvered himself on top of Hutch, his excitement increasing.

Hutch had him in hand, stroking. Oh, God. The blond panted, "I'll hold us together, you push."

Starsky now felt himself against something equally hard, perhaps just a little wider, a touch longer. A tight hand enclosed both organs.

Dear God...

Starsky arched his rear up, then thrust forward. Hutch's hand was too tight, stilling the movement, but the grip eased before Starsky thrust a second time. This time he felt his flesh move along that beneath him. Such a teasing sensation....

He groaned, thrusting again, desperate to reach the peak. "Play with my nuts," he pleaded. To heck with going slow.

An awkward stretch of the body beneath his own, then digits were brushing against his scrotum. Now dancing, straining to get a grip. Starsky thrust again, and a finger found its way to the outer edge of his anus. He realized it was intentionally trying to remain there, and the fact that Hutch was willing to play with his asshole was too much to bear....

He ejaculated fiercely, yelling toward the ceiling. Distantly, he heard Hutch groaning in frustration.

Starsky collapsed beside his partner, the most wonderful feeling of lassitude settling in. But he was aware of Hutch jerking himself fiercely, and Starsky managed to lift a hand over Hutch's leg. He found his plump testicles and fondled them.

Hutch made a noise of agreement, and Starsky pressed more firmly, flattening them, fascinated by the feel of the light fur, the soft skin. He wanted to try tasting them with his tongue, but nor did he want to disrupt the rhythm to ecstasy.

Hutch reached the pinnacle a moment later. In the glow from the street lamp, Starsky watched as his partner's buttocks clenched, and he arched up slightly, and then fluid burst forth, and Hutch made a guttural sound of relief.

Starsky drew his hand back and relaxed against the mattress while listening to the sounds of his partner's recovery. He liked the thought that now both their emissions were resting on top of Hutch's smooth belly. Nevertheless, Starsky thought it would be polite to rouse himself and get a towel. He moved from the mattress ungracefully, feeling that wonderful wobbliness in his legs, and reached inside the bathroom to turn on the light. He took a towel from the rack, brushed it against his groin, then tossed it to the bed.

"Thanks," Hutch said lazily. He picked up the towel and wiped it along his belly, spreading his legs in the process.

With Hutch taking up most of the mattress, Starsky wasn't sure if he should return to his own bed. But he didn't want to. He decided to rest a hip on the edge of the bed near Hutch's head. The blond then shifted, and Starsky was able to relax against the back of the headboard.

With the bathroom light, Hutch's grin was easy to see as he looked up, tossing the towel aside. "That felt good."

"Mmm," Starsky agreed, and he had to lean down to that happy face. A moment later their lips connected, and Starsky decided that it felt just as good as when he was horny. When they drifted apart, he drew the covers up over his legs, and let his heart speak. "Can't wait until I know how to please you, Hutch. You know, make you feel really good by finding secret little places you don't even know about yet that'll drive you crazy."

Hutch was looking at him as though bowled over by the sentiment, then let out a heavy breath. "I'll get horny again with talk like that." He reached over the other side of the bed for his underwear.

"What a stud," Starsky remarked with amusement. "I think this is going to hold me for a good two weeks."

Hutch snorted, pulling the elastic band around his waist. "Ha, right."

"I'm serious," Starsky insisted, even though he wasn't. "My balls got drained good. Might take a while for them to recharge."

"Hope that doesn't mean I'm just a one night stand."

Starsky decided he was tired of the word games and curled closer to Hutch, resting his arm across his partner's lean stomach. He brushed his lips against Hutch's salty forehead and said, "No more one night stands. For either of us. This is where we ended up... to start a new beginning." He decided he liked that, as he said it. "And that's what we're gonna do."

Tender blue eyes looked at him, and Hutch's arm came around his waist, pulling him close. "Well, if you're going to put it that way...." The teasing voice began.

"That's how it is. Me and you and whatever life we create together."

"Mmm," Hutch said simply, then rested his forehead against the fur of Starsky's chest.

Starsky put his arms around him, enclosing him, feeling himself go soft all over. And realizing how very, very long it had been since he'd embraced Hutch. It seemed so ironic, for Hutch had suffered so much because of his love for his partner.

Partner. Now the word seemed to mean so much more than ever before.

Warm breath brushed across his sternum. "You know what I'd like to do?" Hutch whispered.


"Stay at a nice hotel tomorrow. One with all the amenities where we can lie in bed all the next day and not worry about being disturbed. And just... be together."

It was out of Starsky's mouth before he even thought about it. "You want to fuck, don't you?"

The blond head tilted up to look at him. "You love being romantic, don't you?"

Starsky squeezed him. "I just know what my buddy needs."

"W—" Hutch's mouth opened, then closed. After another moment, he said tenderly, "It's not like you have to be the one on the bottom."

Starsky grinned, squeezing Hutch closer. "S'okay. I'd even let you do it tonight, but...," he hesitated, wondering if it were true, "we don't have — you know — anything for grease."

Hutch took a deep breath and disentangled himself, sitting up. "I wish you wouldn't have started talking about this."

"Gettin' hard again?"

"What do you think?"

Starsky chuckled softly. Man, this is gonna be great. "Know any nice hotels in the area?"

Hutch was thoughtful now. "We pretty much covered all this area has to offer." He brightened. "Why don't we drive up to Virginia tomorrow. We can visit some Civil War battlefields and then stay in Richmond. I've always wanted to visit Virginia. There's so much history there."

Starsky didn't care what they did, as long as they did it together. He felt a warm glow as Hutch turned on the bedside lamp and reached to the floor for the atlas. He was muttering about interstates as he began studying it.

Starsky nodded and made appropriate noises to show his interest. But what was most on his mind was how exciting it was that tomorrow would be the first day of the rest of their lives.

* * *

He had to admit the battlefields were interesting, even though the afternoon ended up being interrupted by a sudden downpour. Hutch had called ahead and made reservations for a nice hotel in Richmond, and they were currently in rush hour traffic while making their way through water-logged streets. Starsky kept wondering if they should stop at a drug store, but he felt funny about bringing it up.

He also felt funny about not feeling funny about the whole idea. He wondered when he had gone from being appalled by the thought of two guys corn-holing each other, to eagerly anticipating having his asshole ripped open. And then he decided it wasn't what was going to happen to him that was exciting — in fact, it was a bit scary when it got down to it — but what he couldn't wait to do was give Hutch something that his partner needed very badly. Lots and lots of love and guiltless pleasure. That wasn't too much to ask for after all his months of worrying over and caring for his partner — first after Gunther, and then after the illness. He wanted Hutch to have the fuck of his life. Two or three times over, if they were up to it.

"Sure you know where we're goin'?" Starsky asked conversationally.

Hutch was hunched over the steering wheel. "Of course, I know where we're going," he replied testily. "We just need to get to Norwood Street, which is the second light past Blair Avenue. Blair should be the next street or two up. If this traffic would just get going...."

"Relax," Starsky soothed. "There's no hurry, ya know. " He reached over and rubbed a pair of fingers along the back of the tense neck. He suddenly felt odd doing it — like maybe it was too lovey-dovey. Carefully, he pulled his hand away.

Hutch looked at him, then managed a half-hearted grin. "Never have liked sitting in traffic."

"Then think about what we're going to be doin' tonight." It was the first time they'd talked about it, beyond calling the hotel for reservations.

Hutch looked at him again, the grin full-fledged this time. But his shook his head. "Uh-uh. That's hardly going to improve my mood, you know."

Starsky wiggled his eyebrows, enjoying the game. "I could take care of you here in the car."

Gritted teeth surrounded the reply. "Starsky, I swear, you have — "

"What?" he interrupted. "A way of gettin' to ya? I think I like that."

Hutch was suddenly turning. "Here we go. Blair Avenue. Finally. We're looking for Norwood."

Except, suddenly Hutch was turning into the parking lot of a shopette, and was out of the car in a flash. Starsky's instinct was to follow, but he decided not to upon reading the store sign: Richmond Drug Store. He'd feel too funny. Best to just let Hutch take care of the details.

Wonder how much he knows about ass-fucking, anyway. Not that he'd admit it if he doesn't know anything.

Starsky put his feet upon the dashboard, once again trying to get accustomed to the knowledge that this was going to be a regular part of their lives.

Fucking with Hutch. Fucking Hutch. Haven't really thought about that much....

And, beyond that, not yet knowing what they were going to be doing with their lives. So many roads to explore. Starsky had always been content in the past to keep the status quo and maintain the routine he'd established for his life. Now, it seemed they were on the most glorious and noble of adventures. Learning how to love each other even more, and deciding what the background is going to be for all that love.

Keep each other healthy and happy and content and excited. He had no doubt that he and Hutch were forever. May as well have walked down a church aisle....

* * *

It seemed like forever before they got rid of the bellhop, who had to know what they were to each other, because they had asked for a room with one bed. It was easy not to be self-conscious, so far from home. They were on the eighteenth floor of an expensive hotel and Hutch was fishing out change for a tip.

Starsky stood back, watching his partner. Hutch's mustache was a little droopy where it had gotten rained on. His bangs were plastered to his forehead. His shirttail was hanging partway out of his jeans.

Always loved him, Starsky affirmed to himself. Always thought he was good-looking. Always thought I'd rather be around him than anyone else. Even when he's bein' a prick. And now he looks like...

Having finally closed the door behind the bellhop, Hutch turned. an angel from heaven. Starsky grinned, his chest getting heavy. "Hey, there."

Hutch sighed heavily and then tugged at his clothing. "We're here," he noted with a straight face. "Time to relax and watch some TV." He headed for the king-sized bed.

Starsky took two long steps and grabbed his partner around the waist, preventing further movement. "Not a chance," he said in as threatening a tone as he could muster.

Hutch blinked his eyes innocently. "Huh?"

Starsky giggled as he brushed himself against the long, damp form. "Big phony." He tilted his head up and puckered his lips, realizing he'd been wanting to do this all day.

His eyes were closed, and it was pure sensation when soft moistness pressed down upon his lips. Though the pressure was kind, Starsky felt weak in the knees and was afraid he might collapse, so he took a tighter grip on that tall, lanky body. But it didn't matter. He was sinking... sinking... felt his knees touch the carpet. He whimpered when gravity forced them to part.

"There," Hutch said breathlessly, voice heavy with passion. "You're right where I want you." He reached for his fly.

Starsky was about to scold him for being so insistent upon one-liners, but then decided that it didn't matter. He didn't know what it would be like to put his mouth on it; just knew that he wanted to make it so good for Hutch. He waited obediently while Hutch, after pausing as though he had only been kidding, now pushed his jeans and briefs down to just past his hips.

It sprang free, firm peach-colored flesh. Starsky put his mouth around it.

"God." It was a low, poignant cry of disbelief, accompanied by thick movement. Starsky swallowed while trying to keep his teeth clear of it, then undulated his tongue along the underside, feeling as though his mouth were stuffed. A hand came to the back of his head, pressing him closer while trying not to grip too hard.

It was tickling the roof of his mouth, filling the back so there was little air. He didn't think he was doing much good, and pulled back, looking up at Hutch for guidance.

Those intense blue eyes were looking down at him in wonder, as though Hutch were just now realizing that this was how it was going to be. And then he reached down and tugged insistently on Starsky's shirtfront. Starsky unsteadily rose to his feet. And then Hutch's hands gripped him and those so-soft lips crashed against his, teeth threatening to rake against his, arms coming around him, pulling tight, the stout erection poking at his cotton-clad pubic region.

He could feel Hutch trembling all over, and Starsky still had the weak-in-the-knees feeling. He wished Hutch would throw him to the bed and take what he wanted, what he so badly needed. Starsky finally got his wits about him enough to reach around and grab a bare buttock, squeezing firmly. He managed to gasp, "Do anything you want."

Hutch swung them both around — not an easy task with his pants bunched at his thighs — and pushed Starsky toward the bed. Starsky fell back on the mattress and watched as Hutch quickly divested himself of the rest of his clothing. And then the pale form was before him, its most needy member jutting forth. "Finish it," came the gentle command.

Starsky knew Hutch wouldn't be so blunt and demanding if he thought his partner had any doubts. But since there weren't any doubts, Starsky got on his elbows and strained toward it. But before his lips could touch it, he looked up and made a demand of his own, though his voice was softer. "Tell me how to make it good for you." He scooted a little farther forward on the mattress, then took the thick cylinder into his mouth once again.

Hutch took Starsky's hand, making him shift his weight onto his side. Hutch pushed on Starsky's hand. "Grip it."

Starsky held it tightly, pulling his mouth back, so only a few inches past the head was enclosed. It gave him more freedom to work, and he went at it enthusiastically, bobbing his head while continuing to run his tongue along the underside, bringing up his other hand now to increase his grip.

"Ah, that's beautiful," Hutch finally gasped. He thrust gently.

"Mmmm," Starsky groaned, wanting Hutch to know that he enjoyed pleasing him like this, that Hutch could demand anything of him.

Hutch released a tight, in-drawn breath, then said softly, "Allll-most there."

Starsky was amazed that he was that good — or that Hutch was that horny for him. He kept up the motion of his tongue, the suction of his mouth, the grip of his hands. All the muscles in use started to complain, but Hutch was groaning now — deep and incoherent. So close....

It was fascinating to hear the cry that started deep within his lover's throat then. The throb of the thick barrel in his mouth. Then the release of ecstasy. The emission soaked his taste buds, and he waited until the shrinking flesh pulled back before he finally swallowed. Then he looked up.

Hutch's eyes were hooded, his face flushed, but there was a grateful smile as he gazed down at Starsky.

Starsky grinned and moved aside, and Hutch collapsed next to him.

Starsky was on the blond immediately, kissing his neck, tasting his sweat then kissing downward until settling upon the expanse of the smooth chest. He smacked his lips across it, then tongued at a nipple.

Hutch grunted and rolled, tipping them both over.

Such a different feeling, being covered by someone as strong as he. Masculine strength that matched his own. Now a wide, sweeping tongue moved across his own nipple through the open buttons of his shirt, tickling the surrounding hair.

Starsky thrust up. He didn't want to be impatient, but having Hutch on top of him, his beloved weight pressing against him, was stimulating in the extreme. "Ah, man, " he finally groaned.

Full lips released the nipple with a smacking noise. "Ah man what?" Hutch asked casually, clear blue eyes dancing with amusement.

Starsky couldn't figure out if he wanted to play around, get sucked, or get fucked. He finally decided to follow Hutch's lead. "Ah, man, I think we're gonna have a great time tonight."

He circled his arms around Hutch's back, loving the feel of that strong body. He wasn't certain exactly what pleasures awaited, but knew they were going to be new and special, because it would be between Hutch and him.

Those amused eyes were still dancing. "Just tonight?" Hutch teased further.

They were close enough that Starsky felt Hutch's warm breath across his face. He resisted the urge to thrust again. He wanted tonight to last forever. He supposed it qualified as a honeymoon of sorts. "Maybe," he suggested, "we should call room service, and shower up, and eat dinner, and then....," he shrugged.

Soft laughter, the kind that made Starsky want to keep Hutch happy forever. The blond grinned at him. "What do you mean, room service?" His voice was soft, enticing. "I'm having you for dinner."

Starsky rolled his eyes back and collapsed against the mattress. He was putty, pure putty, for Hutch to mold as he wished.

Another soft chuckle. Then Hutch's wide tongue lapped against his nipple again. "Mmm," he said, "you taste awfully good." He settled himself more fully on Starsky, wriggling to get comfortable.

When Starsky had the nerve to meet those loving eyes again, Hutch said, "Gonna get you boiling. Then I'm going to simmer you for a while." His lips moved closer, so that only a half inch separated them. "And then I'm going to swallow you down."

A little cry escaped Starsky's lips. "Oh." And then Hutch kissed him. It was so nice, Hutch's weight growing heavier as he melted against him, their lips blending into a single bit of flesh.

It was a few seconds after Hutch pulled back that Starsky was able to gather his wits enough to speak. "What about dessert?" he wanted to know.

A finger was placed against his lips in a scolding gesture. "Uh-uh. Dessert is for later. We don't talk about that now."

Starsky thought his heart might burst. He wanted Hutch to fuck him for dessert. He wanted Hutch to have that so much. And he knew Hutch didn't want to talk about it, because the mere thought was heavily arousing to the blond, and any discussion would cause everything to happen too quickly. Starsky released a heavy breath, making a deliberate effort to relax. But he announced, "I'm boiling right now." It was all he could do to not thrust up against Hutch again. He wanted tonight to last forever.

Brusque mustache hairs skimmed along Starsky's chin. Then Hutch planted a kiss there. "Then we'll have to cool you down to a simmer." Hutch kissed his nose as he moved aside.

Starsky missed that wonderful weight immediately. He watched as Hutch's nude body moved to the wall. He turned off the lights. It was dusk outside, and with the glow from the city the outline of furniture was easily seen. So was Hutch's pale form as it returned to the bed.

The blond pulled the covers back and fussed with the pillows, then reached for Starsky's arm. "Up here," he beckoned.

Starsky scooted back along the bedspread. Hutch reached for his sneakers and started to work them off.

Starsky put his hands on his shirt to unbutton it, but they were gently slapped away.

"Uh-uh," Hutch muttered.

Starsky understood then that Hutch wanted to do the undressing. Something seemed so heart warming about that. When his feet were bare, Hutch pushed back the covers and, still clothed, Starsky put his legs beneath them. Pillows were behind his back and head, supporting him.

"I love you," he whispered in the direction of that fair hair.

"Shhh." Hutch scolded gently as the mattress dipped to Starsky's right with his partner's weight.

Hutch couldn't even handle being told I love you? Or was it simply... "You sayin' you want me to shut up?" Starsky's tone was merely a request for information.

Hutch kissed him. So gentle. Warm breath blew across his upper lip. "Yes. Shut up." Stated so sweetly. Then, equally sweet, "I just want to... taste you for a while."

Starsky sank back into the pillows, fully aware of the blood pooling at his groin, the confinement of his tight jeans.....

Hutch's fingers were at his buttons, carefully pulling them apart, the patient motion making Starsky feel worshipped. Then Hutch pushed the flaps back, exposing Starsky's hairy chest. Hutch ducked his head....

Starsky closed his eyes, felt soft wetness move between his pectoral muscles, mixing with the hair there as a pointed tongue investigating downward. Then he placed a soft kiss just above his belly button. Hutch's warm breath then moved upward. His eager lips sucked at the skin of Starsky's throat.

Starsky shivered, groaning at the sensation of being possessed by some one so eager to have him.

Hutch made murmurs of love as his lips left him, then pressed butterfly-soft kisses against Starsky's eyelids. That sweet touch moved between his eyes... down to his nose... as his shirt was worked off his shoulders.

His upper body was left naked as Hutch shifted his arms so his clothing could be tossed aside. A moment later loving touches were covering him once again, Hutch's soft cheek nuzzling against his own stubby one. Starsky groaned, and when Hutch's lips started down his neck once more, he reached up and captured his partner's cheeks, then brought them to his lips.

It was a form of death, the incredible softness against his lips, the brusque mustache hairs below his nose. Then Hutch's soppy tongue wrestled against his own as they sucked each other....

Starsky couldn't wait any more. He felt for Hutch's hand, gripped the wrist and pressed it against the taut mound of his jeans. The contact sent shock waves through his veins, and he groaned loudly against the mouth his possessed, while arching up against the hand.

Hutch also groaned, but it was more a noise of disbelief at how good it was. When he finally managed to drag his lips away from Hutch's kiss, Starsky muttered, "You better get to the main course before it burns." As he said the words, he felt his hot breath bounce off his friend's face and drift back to him.

Hutch's gentle lips touched him high on his cheek as though in apology. Or perhaps reassurance. For now fingertips moved to the waistband of Starsky's jeans, tickling the sensitive flesh of his belly. His breath came faster as Hutch fumbled with his snap, and then it came undone. Starsky shifted on the mattress, begging for them to come off.

Sure hands gripped his clothing, dragged the jeans down, Starsky arching up to assist, gasping with relief as his desire was freed. It seemed a long wait until his pants and underwear were dragged down his legs and finally pulled free. He pushed the covers back and away, so that when his legs were bare, he was able to spread them wide.

Time seemed to stand still as the outline of his partner, smoky gray in the light of dusk outside the window, settled on his stomach on the mattress, between Starsky's legs.

Smoky gray... except for that pale cap of hair. A cap which now ducked down to Starsky's crotch.

Starsky felt himself flare in anticipation, his baby-soft skin pulled taut. And then a soft, wet touch at the base of his erection. Gentle noise of moisture against flesh. Tongue darting out... tasting.

"Oh," Starsky pleaded, wanting more. So much more.

Gentle rocking of the mattress. Blond cap higher now as Hutch got up on his elbows. And then dipping to swallow him....

"Oh, babe!" Starsky cried as suction enclosed him. He put both hands on the sides of that delicate cap of hair, holding it in place.

It was the greatest torment he'd ever known. Hutch sucking him... unbelievable. His big beautiful, powerful, intelligent, top cop partner tending to him like this. Running his tongue over his length, sucking Starsky back into his mouth. But all of it experimental... testing... constantly moving and not concentrating where he needed it most.

"Suck me, Hutch," he pleaded hopefully, fingers gently curling in Hutch's delicate strands, trying to get his mouth to hold still and give him persistent suction. In moments he felt the back of Hutch's eager tongue, and it was all he could to not press Hutch down and love into Hutch's throat.

He did thrust up a little, encouraging, and Hutch's tongue began working the underside of his barrel with a greater sense of purpose. "That's good, baby," he gasped. "That's feelin' extra specially nice, right there." He wanted to give even more praise and petted tenderly back through his partner's hair.

The sensation was lost a moment later. Hutch's generous mouth still held him, but Hutch was shifting his arms, bracing against the mattress. And suddenly Starsky's buttocks were gripped in Hutch's big hands.

"Oh, dear God," Starsky cried out, unprepared for how good it felt. Hutch's fingers massaged deeply into his generous flesh, taking possession of his backside, wanting him....

Hutch's tongue worked him seriously again, his mouth muscles sucking, fingers gripping....

"Oh, God, I'm gonna come!" The building climax felt extra special because it was taking place between him and this most special of men, this living definition of love. "HutchIloveyousomuch." He managed to voice the mouthful of words just as sensation tripped him over the edge. "Aaaaaaahhhhhhh," he cried out, feeling the wonderful spurting shooting against the inside of his partner's cheek, his buttocks and leg muscles tightening within those hands that now relaxed their grip.

Starsky let himself sink as the spurts trailed off into a dribble. Carefully, Hutch released him. His hand still rested in his partner's soft hair as he listened to the sound of swallowing. Not exactly the greatest tasting stuff, but we'll get used to it, huh, pal?

Hutch gently kissed his belly. The mattress shifted, Hutch's legs brushed against his own, which Starsky pulled closer together. Hutch lay alongside him, and Starsky turned to face him, his hand reaching out to half-heartedly pet the broad forehead as he drifted.

Fingertips trailed down his face, then a voice whispered, "I like loving you."

Starsky grunted, grinning. "Lucky me."

Hutch's answer was the softest of chuckles.

After a while, Starsky felt his lassitude beginning to dissipate. Their mutual blow jobs had only been foreplay, to take the edge off so they could focus on more important things. "Now it's time for you to get lucky," he noted.

"Like loving you all these years hasn't make me lucky," Hutch whispered with affection.

Ah, Hutch. "Of course, it has," Starsky agreed. "But now your good luck is gonna become even better luck. Time for dessert." Genuinely curious, he asked, "Did you get hard again, doin' it to me?"

It was now completely dark outside and very little of the room could be seen. Hutch picked his hand up, then placed it against a warm, soft-skinned erection. "Of course, I did."

Starsky gripped it and it swelled even more. It just now dawned on him the sheer physicality of what he'd agreed to do. What he wanted to do. "Feels big." He heard the hesitation in his own voice.

Hutch shifted, causing Starsky to lose his grip, and rose to his knees. A moment later he dropped one long thigh over Starsky's legs, effectively straddling him.

Starsky's breath quickened. He was in bed with a sexually aroused male who had a strength which, at the very least, matched his own. His male instincts dropped into place, telling him he must fight any bodily violation.

Hutch's broad forehead rested against his own. Hutch's voice was soft in the darkness. "You aren't committed to anything, you know."

"I know." But he wanted to give this to Hutch, wanted Hutch to abandon all concerns of propriety and yield to pleasure.

The next words Hutch spoke were even softer. "A little bit scary, huh?"

Starsky swallowed. "Yeah," he said breathlessly. "Maybe even more than a little." Was it just yesterday that he'd offered himself to Hutch in Kitty Hawk, only the lack of lubricant preventing it from happening? Why had he felt so calm about it then? But other feelings he'd experienced then were just as strong now. "Want you to enjoy yourself with me, Hutch. Want you to enjoy it so much." Make up a little bit for having to be so scared for so long because of me. "And, you know," he swallowed again, "it's gonna happen eventually, anyway. Gonna probably take a while to get used to the idea."

Hutch kissed his forehead. Then, he said with gentle amusement, "I like the idea of it taking a while to get used to."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed, feeling bashful for reasons he didn't understand. He decided to abandon his masculine pride. "You, uh, know what to do?"

Hutch's warm touch pulled back as he straightened. Again, Starsky heard a hint of amusement in his voice. "I know which part to put where." Then, more seriously, "We'll go real easy, buddy. Take our time."

It was difficult for Starsky to decide what he wanted more — for Hutch to be tender and sweet, or to pound him mercilessly and take his pleasure. "So, you, uh, got some stuff at the drugstore?"

Hutch's limbs shifted around him, making the mattress creak. "I got a variety of `stuff'." Hutch was now on the feet, and he murmured, "Gonna get the light."

A moment later, weak illumination came from the entryway. Hutch looked tall and pale and blond and almost fully aroused. He stepped into the bathroom and came out with a handful of towels. He then moved to a small table next to the bed and turned the sack upside down. He leafed through the various plastic jars and tubes, then selected one of the latter.

"Man," Starsky said, wanting to talk to keep things from getting too tense, "looks like you bought out the whole pharmacy."

Hutch shrugged. "Didn't want to be missing anything once things got started." He was now moving to get on the bed.

Starsky grinned at him, reaching up with widespread arms. "You efficient blondie, you. Think I'll keep ya."

With a gentle snort, Hutch got on the mattress and wrapped his arms around Starsky, having dropped the tube on the bed.

Starsky pulled tight, patting his partner's back. "Mmm." His head rested nicely against Hutch's shoulder. He felt turgid flesh near his rib cage. After a long moment, he muttered, "Don't want to keep you waiting."

Hutch answered him tenderly, "I love you, buddy."

Ah, man, Hutch. "Good," he said as Hutch finally pulled back. "And I like knowin' you still think of me as your buddy."

Hutch was now kneeling in front of Starsky and looked at him with a puzzled expression. And then he seemed pleased.

His next statement was very serious. "I don't want to hurt you."

Starsky shrugged, thinking, not for the first time, that his partner had the most soulful of blue eyes... even in darkness. "Not a whole lot we can do about it, is there?"

Hutch drew a deep breath and swallowed. "It'll help the more relaxed you are."

"Well," Starsky noted reasonably, "since I'm kinda nervous about how big you are, I don't see that I'm gonna be able to be particularly `relaxed'." He reached out and squeezed the nearest arm. More gently, he said, "Let's just do it, okay?"

The expression on Hutch's hopeful countenance was now resigned. "I want you to keep talking to me, tell me what you're feeling. I don't want to have to guess at anything."

"First shut up, and now talk," Starsky complained, but he didn't mean it.

Hutch chuckled softly. His hand was resting in Starsky's hair, which felt very good. He looking around the bed, as though expecting to find an answer there. "Not sure what position will be most comfortable," he admitted.

"Well, this is what I think," Starsky decided. "The one doing the fucking ought to be the one who gets to decide how it's done. So... how do you want me?"

Hutch kissed him for that. Full, soft lips pressed against Starsky's own, brief mustache hairs against his own five o'clock shadow. Need to shave next time....

Big, strong hands massaged his shoulders... feeling so nice. Starsky groaned and turned just enough to lose the support of the headboard against his back, and instead allowed himself to slowly sink back to the mattress and pillows. His legs spread even as he felt the threat of Hutch's strength as his partner used gravity to his advantage and pressed more firmly with his lips, the blond's elbows now sinking into the bed.

Starsky made a noise, needing to get his breath, and Hutch pulled back a few inches, his lips making a reluctant smacking noise. "Man," Starsky said, drawing a deep breath, "you kiss really nice."

A soft exhalation blew across Starsky's face as the other murmured, "That's because you're so nice to kiss."

"Mmm," Starsky said as that loving face moved closer. He closed his eyes and drew his arms around Hutch's neck as those lips settled upon his once again. Hutch's arms closed against his back and their bare chests were against each other, the smoothness against his hair feeling so special.

"You know what?" Hutch whispered as he pulled back.

"What?" Starsky's eyes were held by those above him.

"I think you're feeling pretty relaxed right now." So pleased.

That was a pleasant thought. Starsky let his arms slip away and he bounced back against the mattress. He spread his legs wider, proving to himself the truth of Hutch's words. His partner's hot erection rested against his genitals as Hutch lowered himself on top of him, his elbows taking his weight. Then the heavy genitals moved away as Hutch bent.

Starsky watched as a wide tongue lapped across his right nipple. "Mmm," he approved, feeling himself tingle there — and in his groin — as the tongue continued to love that one little spot. When he realized this was going to take a while, he closed his eyes and let his hand rest against the back of the blond head, fingers fanned out possessively.

Hutch finished finally. Starsky felt a kiss in the center of his chest, and then his left nipple was being lovingly nuzzled. "Mmm," he encouraged again, not opening his eyes, but just feeling the love coming from the attention of that moist flesh. His fingers stroked through soft hair. So incredible, knowing that it could always be like this....

He heard a heavy sucking noise and almost felt pain. Starsky opened his eyes, flinched as skin from his chest was sucked hard into Hutch's mouth, pulled briefly... then released.

Hutch was gazing at him, eyes slit with passion, but he didn't apologize. Instead, his head ducked and Starsky felt himself pressed back against the mattress as his lips were captured once again. The kiss had a different texture now... possessive... demanding... soppy... stealing his breath. His hands grabbed at Hutch's, and he felt the trembling of arousal. Hutch's erection was back, poking at his vulnerable crotch as Hutch's lips continued to devour him.

Starsky was trying to match Hutch's passion, then realized that, for the first time in his life, he wasn't going to be the sexual instigator. He decided to let this happen, to let Hutch use him. He went limp, groaning as Hutch's large, thick tongue stabbed into his mouth. He was gasping for breath when Hutch finally released him, the blond gasping, too.

"I want you so much," Hutch whispered tightly.

That felt good. "Then now's the time, " Starsky panted. "Let's make you all nice and happy."

Insistent lips moved against his throat, ballooned by smacking kisses, hungry noises moving against his flesh. Starsky's prick hardened as a quiver raced up his spine.

Finally, Hutch straightened, leaving Starsky's throat wet. He looked around, picked up the tube he'd brought from the table, opened it and tossed away the cap. He squeezed a dollop of something onto his forefinger then laid the tube aside. His eyes met Starsky's in the near darkness as he bent and let his arm take his weight.

Starsky was determined to stay relaxed as he felt the moist finger poke at his butt. It felt around below his ass, then was moved in the wrong direction, toward his spine.

Starsky reached between his legs while getting up on an elbow. He touched Hutch's palm, then felt farther, finding the base of the finger. He brought the digit back closer to his balls, stopping when it found the recess in his body. He let go and lay back against the bed, seeing the gratitude in Hutch's eyes.

"Talk to me," Hutch said as his finger poked at Starsky's opening.

It felt blunt and invasive as it pushed in. Uncomfortable. Big and threatening. Tight. Starsky swallowed. "Use a lot more stuff." Everything would be okay just as long as anything inserted in there could move freely. He could deal with the discomfort as long as he knew Hutch could enjoy himself.

Hutch had a pair of fingers together and he squeezed a huge lump of grease all around them. Some of it dripped lazily onto Starsky's skin before the fingers disappeared back between his legs.

Another moment of searching, then one of those fingers went in easily. Not tight like before, but still full-feeling. "Hey, that's easy," he noted encouragingly.

It moved back and forth, pushed upward then downward. Involuntarily, Starsky captured it, felt amusement at Hutch's expression of surprise. He likes that. Deliberately, he relaxed, and felt he actually might be able to participate a bit. Man, Hutch, if I could manipulate your prick....

"Talk to me," Hutch reminded again. His finger pushed in all the way.

Starsky drew a deep breath, feeling the depth of Hutch's finger, his nerves objecting to the movement from the "wrong" direction. He deliberately relaxed once again, exhaling. "Ready for the other one," he said.

Hutch shifted, looked down at his hand as Starsky felt something else poking at him. He grunted as he was stretched further and a second finger slid all the way in to join the first. "Oh man," he gasped. It was definitely uncomfortable.

Blue eyes watched him carefully. The fingers rocked together, pushing upward — causing a tingling sensation — then downward, stretching him further.

Starsky raised his hand, his fingers extended. "Push up," he pleaded, demonstrating.

As though encouraged that he could do something Starsky actually wanted, Hutch rocked his fingers upward. It caused the tingling again. And then they moved back and forth, while still pushing upward.

"Oh!" Starsky exclaimed, unprepared for the feeling that produced. "Oh, that's nice." Please do it again.

Hutch did. Fingers massaged right over that spot where everything felt special. "Oh, man," Starsky gasped, closing his eyes and relaxing completely. "Man, that's nice." They continued and all he could do was groan... loud and long. Then, "God, that feels good."

"That's my beautiful love," Hutch whispered tenderly.

Starsky let his eyes drift open. Hutch looked so... pleased. So soft. He didn't want to lose the feeling, but they could repeat this anytime. "Your turn, babe." He squeezed the digits appreciatively, meaning it as a gesture of farewell.

Hutch grunted, as though approving.

Yeah, Hutch, that's right. Your prick is gonna feel real nice when it's in there getting squeezed, nice and snug.

Slowly, the fingers snaked back. They were resting just inside the opening when Hutch asked, "Want to try three?"

Starsky shook his head. "Uh-uh. Want that big thing of yours."

He was prepared for it this time when hot breath descended against his mouth, a trembling body moved on top of him, a tongue devoured his lips, then pushed inside, one hand gripping his arm possessively. Hutch's undulated against him, hot erection against his softer flesh....

"You're horny," he accused, when Hutch's mouth finally drifted away. The humor felt good.

"Ten times that of a ram in rut," Hutch agreed breathlessly.

Starsky arched up his hips, his own warming erection meeting the hot spear above it. "Fuck me, Hutch. Fuck me good." He was deliberately trying to arouse Hutch more. He wanted Hutch to take what he wanted.

Hutch groaned from deep within his chest and straightened. He was pushing the covers back while pulling at Starsky, encouraging him to get more in the center of the bed.

Starsky obliged, for his right leg had been against the headboard. Now, more in the center of the bed, he was able to spread his legs more freely. Hutch was gathering the pillows, his erection bobbing in the air. It was long and thick and pale.

Starsky swallowed as he arched his ass up to let Hutch thrust a pillow beneath him. That big thing was going to be sharing space inside his body. His own prick hardened, even as he realized getting Hutch's erection past the opening was going to be unpleasant. He arched his ass up even higher, for Hutch, after a moment's hesitation, had decided on a second pillow. When it was in place, Starsky felt vulnerable and exposed. Once Hutch was on top of him, inside him, there would be nothing he could do to dislodge that spear, since gravity would be in Hutch's favor.

He wouldn't want to dislodge it. But being so thoroughly submissive was a completely new experience. He wanted to meet it bravely, which in itself seemed a contradiction.

Hutch was back between Starsky's legs. He turned his head and kissed the inside of an upraised knee, and Starsky felt himself go soft all over. "I want it, Hutch," he whispered. "Want you so bad."

Hutch lips kissed his knee again... softly, longingly, as though in worship.

"Ah, Hutch," Starsky said out loud. "Love me all you want later. It's time to fuck."

Hutch closed his eyes a moment, then straightened abruptly. He looked around and found the plastic tube. He squeezed a huge lump out into his palm. Then he dropped it to the bed and wrapped his hands around his length, stroking it... spreading the gel.....

As that massive flesh was tended to, Hutch's eyes roamed up Starsky's body. When they met Starsky's own orbs, Hutch said longingly, "I want to love all of you. Every inch of you."

Starsky grinned, feeling a warm flush. "We've got the whole rest of our lives, buddy boy."

Hutch swallowed, closed his eyes, his face still soft, even as his hand stroked more purposely along his length.

"I think you're trying to prolong my virginity," Starsky teased.

Hutch quickly shook his head, his hand slowing to a very deliberate motion as his pulled up and off his glistening erection. When his eyes drifted open, he said in a tight voice, "Want it to be good for you."

Starsky knew what to say to that. "Hutch?" He waited until those glowing eyes met his. Then whispered, "What will make it good for me is you having the fuck of your life."

Hutch closed his eyes again and made a sharp, "mmph" noise. His hand closed tighter on his erection, soothing it.

"It's gonna hurt me a little, Hutch," Starsky went on tenderly. "Can't help it. So... you just gotta enjoy yourself to make it up to me." He spread his legs wider.

"I love you," Hutch declared raggedly.

Starsky grinned. "I know. That's why somethin' nice is gonna happen while we're joined together." He sobered. "Join us, Hutch." It seemed he'd been trying to get Hutch to do that for quite a long time.

Hutch sat back and looked down. Starsky watched as he felt thumbs expose him. One hand stayed where it was while the other took the thick erection and guided it, Starsky felt blunt, moist power move against his asshole. Hutch looked up then, eyes bright, almost apologetic as he leaned over Starsky, arm taking his weight.

The hardness pushed at him. Then he was forced apart.

Starsky gasped, "Oh, God," because it felt even bigger than he'd ever expected... or feared. He squeezed his eyes shut, then made a deliberate attempt to open them, wanting to see Hutch's expression.

The blond was concerned... anxious... breathing heavily... but holding very still, eyes large and liquid.

Starsky took a deep breath, swallowed thickly, so relieved that it wasn't pushing in any more. "Jesus God."

Hutch's expression eased as he continued to gaze at Starsky, and Starsky realized he was now relaxing significantly, even though it felt like his asshole was stretched much further than nature ever intended. Hutch was watching him so intently... waiting.

Starsky grinned at him.

More hints of apology softened the blond's features as the thick mass pressed once again into Starsky's rectum. It didn't hurt any more than it did already had... just felt deeper. He grunted from the pressure, but stayed relaxed, watching Hutch watch him, waiting for the signal that Hutch was starting to enjoy himself.

The blond finally made a noise himself, almost of disbelief, as he pressed in a final inch. And then closed his eyes slowly.... A loud groan emerged that lasted a long time.

Starsky thought that was beautiful. This whole moment was beautiful. Hutch's face was beautiful. Hutch was beautiful. His asshole hurt, but what they were doing was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened on Earth.

Hutch pulled back... just a little. He drew in a sharp, deep breath, eyes slitting open.

Starsky just wanted to watch the show. In a whisper, he taunted, "That felt good, didn't it?" He felt it push back in... just a touch deeper than it had been before. Not quite so horrendously tight now. There was room to move. "Mmm," he encouraged.

"Ohhhhhh," Hutch groaned softly, continuing to move... so slowly. Eyes closing again... briefly... before opening.

"Ah, yeah, Hutch." Starsky `s hands found the blond's arms where they were braced against the mattress. He clasped them. "Nice, tight, and snug in there. Just for you."

Hutch gasped sharply at the words. His hips moved a touch faster. "Ohhh," he said, more high-pitched, as he continued to undulate. His face so soft with pleasure. "Ohhhhhhh."

Starsky felt himself grin again, watching Hutch. Tender, soothing, he said, "That's the expression I wanted to see. That's my Hutch. Enjoyin' himself."

The undulations came faster, the rhythm more powerful.

His ass was going to be sore for days. That big prick had spread the lubricant too thin inside him, and now he felt raw with each forward and backward stroke. A part of him hoped it would be finished soon. "Fuck me, Hutch."

Hutch's eyes opened wide, staring at him. Hips moved faster. Slammed him. The bed rocked. Heavy weight fell against his butt with each thrust. "That's my Hutch," he encouraged.

A different rhythm now. "Oh... oh....," Hutch announced, slamming Starsky's ass, "oh... OH..." Then growling in a way that Starsky had never heard before.

Screaming now... accompanied by quick, shallow thrusts.

"Ah, Hutch," Starsky called out, encouraging him. "Fuck me, Hutch."

A rumble went through Hutch's body as his hips gradually slowed and his face seemed to sag, eyes closing reverently.

"That's my Hutch," Starsky cooed. The motion had stopped completely, and Hutch seemed to be in some netherworld of his own. "That felt good, didn't it?"

Finally, the eyes cracked open as Hutch's whole body seemed to relax. He muttered, "That's the understatement of the century." And then he collapsed on top of Starsky, withdrawing in the process.

That sated weight on top of him felt wonderful. Starsky reached up and furrowed through pale strands of hair. His heart swelled when Hutch groaned deeply.

They lay like that for a while. Then Hutch got up on his elbows and tilted his head, touching his lips to Starsky's in the gentlest of kisses. When he pulled back, his eyes were soft and bright. "I love you so, so much."

Ah, Hutch. But Starsky grinned in reply. "You're just sayin' that because you got to fuck me."

Hutch regarded him lovingly for a long time... so long that he'd obviously given up trying to come up with a clever retort. But, eventually, his face sobered and, sweetly, he asked, "You want to do it to me?"

Starsky felt himself throb at the suggestion. But he had more immediate needs. "We need to eat first. And then...," he paused enticingly, "we can see what happens." He pushed the blond's heavy frame. "I gotta get to the john. And then we'll order room service."

Hutch moved aside. Starsky got up and became aware of aches and pains in various areas of his body. Having a firm someone who weighed 170 pounds of top of you — to say nothing of being inside you — was a whole different sexual experience than being on top of a soft someone weighing 120 pounds.


He turned.

Hutch was cleaning himself with a towel, and he nodded toward the supplies on the table top. "There's some ointments there. Antibiotics and such."

Starsky sighed and looked at the table. He supposed his ass was bleeding, though he couldn't tell. Just knew it felt like something huge had been forced inside him. He picked up a tube of medicated cream and turned back toward the bathroom.

* * *

When he came out, he bypassed the thought of a robe, for Hutch, who was beneath the blankets, was holding the covers open for him. He'd turned on the lamps on both sides of the bed.

Starsky paused to take the menu out of a beside drawer, then slipped beneath the covers. He was on his side, facing the telephone, and felt a wave of tenderness wash through him as Hutch's warm body snuggled up behind him. He felt the blond's chin take residence upon his shoulder.

Starsky's eyes roamed the menu. "Man, all this stuff is really expensive."

"Doesn't matter," Hutch reminded softly.

Starsky swallowed. He wasn't sure he would ever get used to the idea of having lots of money. Especially when it was really Hutch's money. He tilted his head back. "What do you feel like?"

The chin on his shoulder moved. "Think I'll take the chicken cordon bleu."

"Mmm. Think maybe I'll take the New York strip steak." He turned the menu to the back page. "Want some wine?"

A hand stroked his rib cage. "Sure. Pick out one of the blushes."

Starsky's eyes had gone to the prices again. He decided on the one that was least expensive — but which still was highway robbery. "Okay." He wriggled a little to get out of Hutch's possessive grip and reached for the phone. His stomach was growling, and after he called in their order, he asked how long it was going to be. He sighed as he hung up. "They say forty-five minutes to an hour."

Hutch relaxed behind him and sat back against the pillows. Starsky followed suit, snuggling up against him. At least the long wait meant his didn't have to move for awhile.

Hutch's arm was around him. "As soon as we get back, I want to move all the money into accounts with both our names on them."

Starsky looked up at him, not sure he wanted to have this particular discussion right now. "Why?" he asked as levelly as he could manage.

"Because it makes you uncomfortable," Hutch replied tenderly. The arm squeezed him. "And I guess I can understand. If you were the one paying for everything on this trip, I guess I'd be uncomfortable about it, too."

Starsky felt himself bristle. "It's just that... I haven't earned any of that money. It's hard to feel like any of it is mine."

Another squeeze. "I know that, buddy. Remember, that's why I rejected it in the first place. I hadn't done anything to earn it. But now I see it differently. It's an opportunity. An opportunity to change our lives — if we want. Maybe it'll help if you try thinking of it that way, in the sense that it's foolish to throw away opportunity."

Starsky settled back, sighing. "I guess it comes down to what we end up doing with it." But he wasn't sure that was true, either.

"I'm ready to talk about that, if you'd like."

Starsky squirmed. "Well... just how much money is it, anyway? Relatively speaking. I mean, is it like, if we wanted, we would never have to work again for the rest of our lives?"

"I doubt it," came the reply. "If we lived very conservatively, and invested it wisely, we might be able to live out our lives on it. But that wasn't what I had in mind."

Starsky looked up at him, more interested now. "So, what do you have in mind?"

The other shrugged. "Thought, maybe, if you wanted to get out of police work, we could use it to start some other type of business."

"Like what?" Starsky pressed, intrigued.

"Whatever you'd like," Hutch replied tenderly. "It really wouldn't matter much to me. But if you'd like to create anything of your own — say, a toy shop for kids, or an auto repair shop that specializes in custom cars — we could use the money to get us started. Of course, it would eventually run out if we never made a profit, so we'd have to be serious about being successful at whatever we decided to do."

"Wow," Starsky muttered. His own shop, working on souped-up cars. Dealing with expensive clientele. Or, how about a toyshop for little kids? Working with kids on a daily basis would keep him feeling young. But businesses like that meant employees to keep them going. Which meant managing employees. He shifted uncomfortably. "But if we really did something like that, we'd be spending all our time running the thing and not really doing the work. I can't see myself doin' that — you know, not being hands on. I'm not the kind of guy that can spend all day telling other people what to do, while I get an ulcer."

Hutch was thoughtful a moment. "I could handle the bookkeeping and the management if you wanted to, say, work on cars. But you're right, in order to be successful, it's not like it could just be the two of us for something like that."

Starsky was pensive as he wondered about Hutch's agreeing to anything he wanted to do. He remembered, in the hospital, vowing to himself that he'd spend the rest of their lives together doing whatever Hutch wanted. "What about you? Isn't there anything in particular that you've wanted to do, if you ever got the `opportunity'?"

Hutch shrugged. "I've always wanted to live pretty simply." He seemed to think really hard for the next few moments. Then, "I like... helping people. I like the idea of doing something service-oriented, if we start up something on our own." He hesitated, then, "You know, buddy," his arm came back around Starsky and beckoned him closer, "this all hinges on getting out of police work in the first place. But we don't have to do that. We can keep doing what we're doing, and — other than maybe getting a better place to live — we can just invest all the money and focus on, say, retiring sooner than we otherwise would."

Hutch always came back to the fact the nothing had to change. Starsky was silent, trying to search within himself for the truth. It remained elusive. "You know," his cheek was against Hutch's smooth chest, "I just haven't felt the same about police work since I've been sick. And I don't know why since our jobs didn't have anything to do with my getting sick." He thought about it some more. "But I seem... ready, I guess. I mean, if we're gonna ever change our lives, I guess it makes sense to do it now." He sifted through what had already been said. "But I like what you said, about helping people. I'd like to do that. Except... it would be a nice change to help living people, instead of finding out who murdered people who are already dead."

Hutch's hand trickled up and down Starsky's arm, fingertips gently massaging. "Well... we can start with common occupations for ex-cops. What are they? Security guards. Body guards. Neither of those are appealing to me."

Starsky took up the train of thought. "We could do something else with guns, maybe. Like teach ordinary people how to use them. Maybe put on classes."

Hutch grunted. "I'm not sure I like contributing to the idea of the average person owning a hand gun. We would have been a lot less busy if there were less guns available."

Starsky wasn't sure he agreed. He pointed out, "That's why safety is all the more important." Still, he couldn't see himself staying interested for very.

"If we're going to talk about teaching," Hutch said, "the police academy is the obvious place to start."

Starsky hesitated. "I don't know, Hutch. That's putting us right back in with all the bureaucracy of the LAPD. I'd like to be independent of the red tape that's frustrated us all our careers."

"Good point."

"Maybe we could be private detectives." The thought had just occurred to him.

Hutch grunted. "That would keep us from having to learn a new occupation. And it would allow us to be independent."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed, liking it more than the other ideas, by far. "And we could pick and choose who we wanted to work for. And we wouldn't just deal with dead bodies — maybe no bodies at all. We could find missing persons, spy on cheating spouses, stuff like that. Investigate the background of employees who are about to be hired by large firms. There's all kinds of stuff we could do. It wouldn't necessarily be the same thing over and over."

Hutch was silent for a long time. Then he said, "The only problem is that I think it would take a long time to build up a client base. It would be really difficult to advertise ourselves, get our name out."

"But we could afford to lose money for a few years, right?" Starsky suddenly saw the value of having an excessive amount of money. "It's not like we'd be under a lot of pressure to show a profit right away. You know, we'd still have plenty to eat and a roof over our heads, even if we had hardly any business at first."

"Hmm," Hutch said, as though deep in thought.

Starsky deflated, for he'd found himself getting excited about the idea. But... "It's just... well, I guess there's always the risk that the money could run out at some point. And then we'd be back to square one."

He was hugged closer, and he decided that he really liked the feeling. "I don't mind losing the money, if we lost it trying to do something we believed in, " Hutch said. "If that happened, we'd just have to go back to regular jobs. And, besides, if we're lucky with our investments, it would take a long, long time to run out. We'd either have to be pretty stupid — or pretty unlucky — to ever reach that point. But if it happens, it happens. At least we could say we tried."

Starsky was glad Hutch had that attitude about it. He draped an arm across Hutch's middle. "Gee, this is exciting." How good it felt to be thinking of something other than simply getting well. To have something to move toward. To have a purpose other than getting to work every day.

"Yeah," Hutch said. "Let's toss it around for a while. See if we come up with any other ideas in the meantime that we like even better."

Starsky almost wished they were heading back home, so they could get started with their plans. A thought struck him then. "Hutch, have you wanted to travel? I mean, would you like maybe want to travel for a while first... to places you've never been before? Before we pursue something else, I mean."

He felt a shrug. "There's places I've always thought I'd like to go, like Australia, Russia, but it's not important right now." His head tilted down, tender blue eyes brushing along Starsky's face. "I'm much more interested in making a life with you." He kissed him gently.

That brief touch felt so good. But Starsky had missed having reasons to tease, so he reminded, "We've been making a life together for years."

Hutch gazed at him fondly. Then a twinkle developed in the blue eyes. "Then I'm much more interested in perfecting this new element of our lives together."

"Mmm," Starsky agreed, liking the word. "Perfecting."

They kissed again.

* * *

Eventually, they showered and made themselves presentable for room service. They toasted their tentative plan and dived into their meal hungrily. Afterwards, they turned out the lights and watched television in bed for awhile. Inevitably, hands wandered and fingers caressed. Lips insisted. The television was muted and its glow made an ambient nightlight.

Starsky had beckoned Hutch into a crouch on the bed. As he'd suggested earlier, the one doing the fucking got to say how it happened, and he was hoping that if Hutch was at an angle more natural for penetration, it wouldn't be quite as uncomfortable as it had been for himself. He now had the tube of gel in hand and was applying it to his fingers. He took a moment to plant a sloppy kiss on an upraised buttock, savoring the tender flesh, and wanting to make up for the fact that he'd asked Hutch to get into a rather humiliating position, though his partner had done so willingly.

Since he had a full view of the area he wanted to pleasure, he didn't have to fumble around. He put his gel-coated fingers up against the wrinkled recess, and inserted his index finger. The sphincter muscle was strong and tight, but he pushed past it. Hutch parted his legs a little more, as though to steady himself. Starsky knew the forced entry hadn't felt very good. But now that his finger was inside, he moved along the lower tract. He remembered how stimulating Hutch's fingers had been. "Tell me when it starts to feel good," he requested. His finger moved back and forth, twisted, and he felt the tight muscle begin to relax. He focused on the lower part of the tract again, and slowly pushed the finger back, before pushing it in again... just as slowly.

Hutch groaned. "Oh, God."

Encouraged, Starsky kept the finger in a smaller area, feeling it. Hutch spread his legs a little further, this time eagerly. Starsky could feel a raised area beneath his finger, and he pressed on it, using a downward spiraling motion.

"Oh," Hutch cried softly.

Starsky's prick throbbed. He shifted on his knees, anxious to keep pleasing Hutch. Lovingly, he said, "I'm gonna put in another one. So, it's gonna feel twice as good."

Hutch gasped in anticipation.

The opening still seemed incredibly tight. Starsky brought up his other hand and tried to pull back the skin to one side of the orifice. Hutch sucked in a breath and Starsky wished he'd been gentler. But now the second finger was pushing at the opening, trying to gain entry.

"Relax, Hutch," he coaxed softly.

Hutch obeyed, and Starsky pushed the second finger in. The whole tract tightened in protest, and he waited, barely rocking the digits, trying to stretch the opening. The change was so subtle that it wasn't until his fingers seemed to move on their own that he realized he'd been successful, and Hutch had relaxed significantly.

He could manipulate his fingers inside Hutch. He moved them back and forth, massaging the little lump.

Hutch quivered. "Oh, my God," he groaned, throwing his head back. He began to rock his body back and forth.

Pre-cum fluid drip from Starsky's prick. There was nothing more perfect on Earth than Hutch using him for his own pleasure. In addition to the slow rocking motion, Hutch was rotating his hips, as though finding the ultimate sensation that Starsky's fingers could achieve. He groaned even louder.

Starsky kissed the buttock again. Then he ducked his head and lapped widely at the hanging scrotal sac, enjoying how it danced back and forth with the force of his tongue.

Anal muscles tightened around his fingers, and Hutch made a more poignant noise.

Starsky couldn't remember ever getting quite this hard before. Reluctantly, he pulled his fingers back. He spread them apart as they withdrew, trying to stretch the opening even more. With his other hand, he lightly patted a pale buttock. "Gonna put my cock in there, Hutch. And I'm gonna try to make it rub on that spot just like my fingers did." That had been another reason he wanted Hutch in this position. He thought it might be easier to manipulate the motion of his prick, especially if he didn't shove it in very far.

Hutch groaned with anticipation, his legs bracing against the mattress.

Starsky straightened while still on his knees. Too high. He pushed on Hutch's spine. "Lower a little, if you can." He applied a thick coating of gel to his phallus.

Hutch stretched his arms out in front of him, which made it easier to lower his hips by spreading his legs even more.

Still gonna be hard on him, Starsky realized. He hoped he could make it worth it.

He squeezed both buttocks, remembering how that had felt when Hutch had done it to him earlier. The flesh felt pliant in his hands, and Hutch groaned appreciatively.

Oh, man, Hutch, you're so beautiful for wanting this from me. He positioned his phallus against the moist opening. He grabbed Hutch by the pelvis now. And thrust.

Hutch drew a desperate gasp as Starsky felt himself disappear into that tight warmth. He barely had the head in, and he waited, feeling Hutch fight the instinct to bring his legs together and close himself off from the foreign intruder. Hutch then seemed to stretch his arms out further in front of his body, as though forcing himself to remain submissive.

Good boy. Starsky rocked forward. Firm, but shallow thrusts. A half inch at a time. He felt the tight sphincter working around his girth, but Hutch otherwise remained still. He was breathing heavily, however, as was Starsky.

Starsky stopped when he was halfway inserted. He shifted a little to make sure he wasn't in danger of slipping out. Then he pressed his right foot against the bed for leverage. Carefully, he thrust downward against Hutch's rectum, trying to direct the crown over that special spot. Loving the tightness....

Hutch grunted, as though with discomfort.

"Help me find it," Starsky pleaded. He kept the motion of his hips slight, barely moving back and forth.

Hutch shifted forward an inch and Starsky slipped out.

He growled at having lost his beloved sheath. Placing a steadying had on Hutch's rear, he inserted it again, feeling considerably less resistance this time around. Firm and snug and warm in there....

"Not so deep," Hutch gasped, trying to be helpful.

Starsky knew what Hutch needed then, why he'd pushed forward. Not much space between Blondie's nuts and his asshole. Starsky pulled back until just the head of his member was within Hutch. Then he pushed downward again, but only about another inch or so. He barely pulled back before pushing just a little ways again.

"Yeeeeeeess," Hutch groaned. Deeply.

A quiver went up Starsky's spine. He could actually please Hutch. He continued to undulate with a cautious motion, massaging Hutch's precious prostate gland. He introduced a circular motion, moving more around and around than back and forth, and Hutch became even more vocal.

My prick's gonna explode. It was harder than he could ever remember it being. Starsky decided he'd earned the right to be selfish, and he thrust deep inside Hutch, marveling at how easily the relaxed rectal walls accepted him. But something was missing.

Puzzled, Starsky pulled back toward the opening, where it was tighter around the head of his prick. Hutch groaned again. Starsky's balls were full and tight. The length of his prick was stimulated. But as he pushed in deep again, he felt alarmed that, while the sensations were right, they weren't coming together like they usually did for orgasm. Climaxing was going to be impossible.

Shit. He settled across Hutch's back, feeling himself throb with frustration. He considered thrusting quickly and then making noises like he'd come. But he disregarded the idea almost immediately. Deceit was not a good way to begin a marriage. He kissed Hutch's shoulder blade.

Hutch raised his head, as though he wanted to say something. But he seemed reluctant to disrupt the mood.

Starsky realized he was going to have to. He laid his cheek against Hutch's back and muttered, "Not gonna get there." Remembering how sore his own asshole had been, he carefully dismounted from Hutch, and listened to his turgid member drop from its sheath with a dissatisfied wet sound.

Starsky threw himself into a sitting position against the headboard. He reached for a towel and used it while watching Hutch carefully straighten, and then move to also get beneath the covers.

"Not your fault, you know," Starsky said while running the terry cloth along his length. "Guess I'm still a while away from bein' a hundred percent. Can't come twice in one night."

Hutch was getting settled beside him. He turned and took Starsky by the chin. Sweetly, he said, "Guess that means the foreplay will be all that more important." He kissed him.

Starsky grinned and tossed the towel aside. He was grateful that Hutch knew it wasn't anything he'd done wrong. He curled up next to that strong body.

A kiss was planted on his forehead. "Loved what you were doing to me," Hutch said with great passion.

Starsky grunted. "Guess I can turn you into my sex slave then, by promisin' to play with your secret part."

Hutch also grunted, as though equally amused. Then he kissed Starsky. Deeply. Seriously. Ran his tongue along his lips. Pulling back, he whispered, "I love being loved by you. And made love to by you."

Starsky groaned and mock-complained, "I'll end up being your sex slave if you keep talkin' like that."

A sloppy kiss trailed down his cheek. "Mmm. I like that idea."

Starsky punched him on the arm, gently. Then he draped his upper body across Hutch's lap and wriggled to get more comfortable. He closed his eyes and muttered, "Turn off the TV." But he made no move to let Hutch up.

He drifted into sleep with the nightlight still on.

* * *

They lay in bed all the next day and fooled around and drifted in and out of sleep. Finally, they left their room in the evening to catch a movie, and ended up hanging out at a bar for a few hours. A couple of young women came on to them, and they chatted politely for a while, but neither felt guilty about sticking to the "other plans" they'd told the ladies they'd had.

They spent all the next day touring the colonial town of Williamsburg. It was one of the most fascinating tourist stops that Starsky had ever been to. But all the walking around for hours told on him, and he was exhausted by dinnertime.

"I feel like I could drive a while," Hutch told him after slurping the last of a cola. They were at a restaurant outside the park and Starsky had felt better after putting away a full meal. "I thought maybe we could go to the other side of the state and spend tomorrow messing around in the Appalachians."

"Sounds good to me," Starsky shrugged. While a part of him was hoping to get back home and get going with their new lives, another part was enjoying that each new day seemed like an adventure. He was seeing parts of the country that he'd never seen before. More importantly, Hutch seemed to be enjoying himself a great deal. Starsky didn't want to go back until Hutch was ready.

Hutch had the map out. "We'll take the interstate back through Richmond, then go on to Charlottesville. We should get there by about eight o'clock or eight thirty." He looked up and grinned warmly. "We can go to bed early, and then maybe get up early."

Starsky merely nodded, feeling too full and lazy and tired to answer.

* * *

A few miles west of Richmond they stopped for gas. They were beyond the city limits, and finding a gas station had forced them to travel another mile after exiting from the highway. The road twisted and turned before they found the gas station that had been promised by a road sign.

Starsky purchased a soda and a candy bar to wake himself up. He concentrated on eating and drinking a while, then realized that they still weren't back on the interstate. "Where are we?" he asked. Darkness had fallen, and they were the only car on the two-lane highway. Trees and pastureland surrounded them.

"I don't know," Hutch admitted after a moment. "I must have taken a wrong turn. Guess we'll just see where this takes us. We should be able to find a way back to the highway at the next intersection."

Starsky was getting impatient as they continued their lonely trek. Finally, they came to an intersection with road signs.

Hutch put on the parking brake, turned on the overhead light, and pulled out the atlas. "Mm," he finally said, after glancing back and forth between the map and the road signs. "I guess we can't get back on the highway from here. But it's just as well." He put the map down and turned off the light. "If we take 33 west, it'll still take us to a town outside of Charlottesville. It'll be a more interesting drive anyway."

Starsky swallowed as Hutch turned west. The forest became thicker and Starsky was starting to feel claustrophobic. It was such a dark night that all they could see was what their headlights revealed. And what those lights often revealed were frequent curves of the road, to say nothing of little dips and bumps. And that made Hutch drive much more slowly. "How long is it gonna take us?" Starsky asked.

"Maybe a half hour or so more than if we'd stayed on the interstate. We should still be there by, say, nine o'clock." Hutch's voice was cheerful. He rolled down his window part way. "Smell that country air," he marveled. Then, "Just think — three hundred years ago, our forefathers were traveling these roads. That's what makes the east coast so much more interesting than where we live. There's so much history here."

Starsky couldn't quite relate to his partner's passion. But he did point out, "Well, where we live also has a history going back three hundred years and then some. It's just by Indians instead of the white man."

Hutch chuckled softly. "Good point."

Starsky decided to try to relax and enjoy the road. As trees continued to loom over them, broken only occasionally by patches of grassland, he found himself thinking about what Hutch had said. "Hutch?"


Starsky shifted uncomfortably, but tried to voice his question as levelly as possible. "Have you ever wanted to live anywhere else? I mean, if we're gonna make a major change in our lives, it would make sense to move now, if we wanted to."

The other shrugged. "There's lots of places I'd like to live. I don't have a preference." He paused, then, "You mean, like out here?"

"Yeah. Or anywhere. I've never had a reason to move before, but I'm a pretty adaptable person when I need to be. I just thought that if you'd really like to move to some place else...."

"Nah," Hutch said after a moment, looking over at him. "Besides, if we do end up opening our own private detective business, we already live in the best place to do it. Southern California is where the most people live who have money to spend on something like that. Who knows, we might even be able to get some Beverly Hills clients."

"Yeah," Starsky said after a moment, having never considered that. Feeling better, he dropped his empty soft drink can to the floor and gazed out the window. Still, the feeling of claustrophobia was somewhat present, and he rolled down his window and stuck his head out to look up at the starless sky.

The air did feel fresh, clean, with the distant scent of hay fields. Hutch wouldn't be able to last here, anyway, because his allergies would kick in. It's too humid. Now convinced more than ever that they would never have to live in a place like this, he continued to gaze at the tops of the trees... the sky....

"Wow," he said, spotting lights in the lower part of the sky, "that plane looks really low." He pulled his head back in the window.

"Must be an airport nearby," Hutch said.

Starsky sought the lights again. They looked even lower, but more behind them, than when he'd first seen them. Larger. Closer.

Suddenly, the car engine sputtered and choked.

"Damn," Hutch muttered, hunched over the dashboard.

"What is it?" Starsky asked, heart pounding. Stranded way out here in the middle of nowhere....

Hutch threw up his hands in disbelief as the car rolled along the pavement, gently slowing. "The whole thing just died."

"Oh, shit," Starsky said. The dashboard and headlights were completely dark.

* * *

When are we gonna get there? It was all Starsky could think about. Thankfully, they'd gotten the car going again. Just get out of this Godforsaken forest.... He felt he wanted to sleep. It was all he could do to keep his eyes open. He had the feeling that Hutch felt the same way, for his partner had been dead silent for what seemed like a long time now.

* * *

It had been the longest night of Starsky's life, but finally they were safely in a motel room in the little city of Gordonsville, about fifteen miles north of Charlottesville. Hutch had already stripped down and was getting beneath the covers. Starsky took off his glow-in-the-dark watch and laid in on the nightstand. No wonder we're beat, he muttered to himself, it's friggin one-fifteen in the mornin'.

He fell asleep instantly.


Part 3

They slept late, then tackled the Appalachians, driving around and stopping at all the tourist spots. They ended up at a fancy resort hotel late in the afternoon, catnapped, then had a nice dinner. Hutch eagerly talked of traveling on to Tennessee and perhaps Indiana and Ohio. Starsky had never seen his partner so content, so he readily agreed to the short-term plan to continue to tour the eastern half of the country for a least a few days more.

They walked around the hotel grounds in the cool evening air after dinner. Then they returned to their room.

* * *

They left some of the lights on this time. Starsky played the aggressor, taking tremendous satisfaction in swallowing Hutch's ejaculation. It proved how good he was at sucking Hutch, how good he could make him feel.

Starsky gave him a while to enjoy the afterglow, then he nudged him with his elbow. His hands were full of towels and ointment. "Turn your beautiful self over."

Hutch groaned with anticipation, rolling over onto his stomach in the center of the large bed.

Starsky gazed at that white butt. He wanted to try it this way. Let Hutch just relax against the mattress, rather than asking for the gymnastics he'd wanted the first time. He should still be able to make Hutch feel real good with his fingers first. Hopefully, he still would with his cock, though this was a totally different angle. Most of all, he expected to enjoy some satisfaction himself... especially with his flanks slapping against those mounds of smooth flesh. They hadn't had sex for over two days, since they'd exhausted themselves with sight-seeing, so Starsky knew he wasn't going to have the problem with not being able to ejaculate that he'd had the last time.

He laid the supplies aside and was pleased when the long legs spread for him. Starsky bent and kissed the highest point of the left buttock. Then he tongued it, enjoying the smooth texture, and made sure he deposited a good helping of spit on it. Then he attached his lips to the same area and sucked.

Hutch gasped and shuddered.

Starsky grunted with satisfaction. He moved to the right cheek. Loved it slowly with his tongue. Then sucked it back in.

Hutch quivered. "Oh, God."

Starsky giggled. "How'd you like a couple of hickeys across your backside?"

"Starsky..." Hutch warned. But he didn't sound the least bit threatening.

"Mmm," Starsky teased as he spotted the scrotal pouch against the mattress, "or what about right... here...." He started laving it with his tongue, loving the feel of the hairs against his moist flesh, the unique texture of the skin there.

Hutch spread his legs wider. "Oh, my God."

"Oh, my God," Starsky mimicked as he straightened. "Didn't know you were so religious, Hutchinson."

"Shut up and fuck me."

Starsky laughed again. He grabbed an ass cheek in each hand, remembering how delicious that had felt to him that first night in Richmond. Hutch's anus was already peeking out between his spread legs, but Starsky decided to take a closer, perhaps plant a kiss there. He kneaded the fleshy ass, then he pulled it apart.

His erection wilted.

His heart started to pound as he stared at the sight before him. Do I look like that? he wondered, his mouth dropping open. The wrinkled area looked almost... purple... with bruising. The hole itself didn't seem quite as tight as it should be. Man, I caused this? He swallowed thickly.

The room had been silent too long. "What's wrong?" Hutch asked impatiently.

"Hutch?" Starsky said in a small voice, still staring at the exposed area. "Do you... hurt... back here?"

"What?" Hutch twisted his head around. "No. Why?"

Starsky shrugged, slowly releasing his grip on the buttocks. "Looks... bruised." He took a deep breath. "I guess we need to be really careful. Not do it very often." He had an overwhelming urge to find out if he looked the same way himself. But he hadn't penetrated Hutch very deeply or very roughly. Certainly not to the degree that Hutch had done to him. He probably looked even worse, and he didn't want to subject Hutch to checking him out. Besides, he hadn't felt any soreness, either, beyond the first day.

Hutch shifted onto his side. Puzzled, he asked, "Does it look that bad?"

Starsky shrugged, tried to feel casual about it. "Just... bruised. Didn't realize I'd made you look like that."

"What about you?" Hutch asked. "Are you sore?"

"Uh-uh." Starsky shook his head. "I mean, I was the day after. But not at all now."

"Do you look like I do?" Hutch wondered out loud.

Starsky shrugged with exaggeration. He didn't want Hutch to look. But yet... he did.

Hutch just stared at him.

"All right," Starsky decided abruptly. He launched himself facedown along the edge of the bed, so that his rear was positioned beneath the brightest lamp. "Go ahead."

Hutch came toward him. Then a very gentle hand rested on his ass. A moment later his butt cheeks were parted. He knew right away that he looked the same, if not worse, because of the silence in the room.

"And it doesn't hurt?" Hutch clarified when he finally spoke.

"No. Not at all."

A finger touched him, pulled gently at the opening. Puzzled, Hutch muttered, "Almost seems like it's lost some elasticity."

"That's how you look, too."

He felt the hands release him as Hutch muttered, "Guess it takes a while to get used to it." Then a hand patted his rear protectively.

Starsky was sorry that things had gotten so serious. He shifted into a partial sitting position. "Gee, wonder if this means we're gonna have to check each other out each time before we fuck."

Hutch soothed, "Our bodies will adapt."

Starsky furrowed a brow. "Just don't ever remember a lady saying, `No, you can't ass fuck me because somebody did it to me a few days ago'. Or look at, like, porno stars. I've heard they make three or four movies a week. I've never heard of there being a limit on ass fucking." He felt more puzzled the more he talked about it. He looked at Hutch. "I mean, it's not like we were careless."

Hutch moved to Starsky, got on top of him, covering him with his protective weight. He ran his finger along Starsky's lips, then enticingly whispered, "There's plenty of other ways we can please each other."

Starsky grinned. The blood was flowing back to his cock. He kissed Hutch in gratitude. Then, without another word, they turned and lay head to waist. Starsky took Hutch's prick into his mouth for the second time within the hour. As he felt his own flesh eagerly devoured, he couldn't help but envy his partner's virility.

The room grew silent, except for the sound of their contented pleasuring.

* * *

The cry was ear-splitting. Sad. Desperate. Starsky knew exactly why. And there was nothing he could do to stop it, stop the cry. Nor the reason behind it.

He cringed, feeling an immense sadness of his own because he could be of no help at all.


Ah, Hutch. It was all Starsky could do to hold back his own sobs, as he heard sobs coming from the other person in the bed with him.

Sobs. More sobs. Such sad sobs.

Starsky blinked. It was dark. He could barely make out the furniture of their hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee. They'd left the curtain open a few inches and, from where he was lying on his side, he could see a street light on the corner in the distance. Behind him, Hutch was crying.


Abruptly, Starsky turned over in the bed. "Hutch?" he muttered, then reached frantically for the wall, feeling for the elusive light switch. "Hutch?"

The noise in the bed was the dry sobs of dreams.

Finally, his finger felt the little knob. Starsky turned it, and the bed was illuminated with a wall lamp above the headboard.

Hutch was lying flat on his back in bed, the outline of his arms and legs visible through the covers.

Almost like he's on a stretcher....

Starsky shook him. "Hutch."

Hutch moved his head, then shuddered. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open, wide and afraid.

Starsky released a breath. "Hutch?" he beckoned gently. "It's okay. You were dreamin', babe." He leaned forward and patted his cheek. "You okay? Huh?"

The eyes lost their wild look. He looked at Starsky and blinked. "Starsk?"

"It's okay, Hutch." Starsky now rubbed and squeezed at his shoulder. "It's okay. You must've been havin' a helluva dream. But it's okay, Hutch."

Hutch ran his hand over his face, then looked at it.

Starsky knew he was looking for evidence of tears. There were none. "Just a dream, babe. That's all."

Abruptly, Hutch straightened and swung his feet over the side of the bed. He was wearing only briefs and he sat hunched over, as though cold.

Starsky got beside him and rubbed vigorously up and down his tense back. "It's okay, Hutch. Just must've been one heck of a dream."

Hutch snorted with a touch of amusement, rubbed at his eyes. "I'll say." He suddenly shook his head. "Wow. Never had one like that before."

"Like what?" Starsky wondered.

Hutch looked at him. Then he suddenly shook his head and laughed softly. "Never mind. It's way too out there." He stood.

Starsky watched him take a step toward the bathroom. "Might help to talk about it."

Hutch turned and shook his head. His tone still contained the bashful amusement. "Never had a dream like that before. Can't imagine that I ever will again." He moved on to the bathroom and closed the door partway.

Starsky rubbed at his face. He remembered, so vividly, Hutch screaming and crying out. Afraid for him. Ah, Hutch. He wondered if he'd asked way too much of his partner by demanding Hutch not talk about the possibility of Starsky ever getting sick again.

Starsky grimaced. Wasn't very fair of me, was it? He stood and arched his back, trying to escape the next thought that came to mind. Damn selfish of me, actually. Expectin' the person who cares about me most in the world to not worry about me when I have a better chance than most of not seein' old age.

There was a knock on the door, sounding loud in the stillness of the night.

"I'll get it," Starsky called to Hutch. He went to the door and looked out the peephole. He saw a representative of the hotel standing outside. Starsky found his robe, pulled it on, and opened the door. "Yes?"

"Uh," the man looked uncomfortable, "sorry to disturb you, sir. But we had a couple of reports from lodgers that there was screaming coming from this room. We're required to address such complaints."

"Oh, sorry," Starsky said. "I'm afraid my friend had a really bad nightmare." The man was looking at him with a straight face, and Starsky realized that he needed to make sure that there wasn't something horrible going on in the room. He stepped back, opening the door, and glanced toward the bathroom.

Hutch emerged in his underwear, rubbing at his face with a towel. "What's wrong?"

"Uh...," Starsky hesitated, not wanting his partner to feel bad.

"There were complaints of screaming," the employee said. "We're required to check out such things."

Hutch blushed. Then he said bashfully, "Oh. I'm sorry. I had a really bad nightmare." Embarrassed chuckle. "I'm really sorry it disturbed anybody."

"These things happen," the man said, but his voice wasn't soothing. He glanced at the lone bed, looked at the two of them disapprovingly, then turned and left the room.

Starsky locked the door behind him. "Sorry to let him in, but he needed to see that nobody was being murdered."

Hutch snorted. "Feel pretty stupid. I must have been screaming really loud."

Crying, you mean, Starsky mentally corrected. He watched Hutch move back to the bed. "Sure you don't want to talk about it?"

Hutch shook his head, making that bashful laughing sound again. "No. It's too bizarre. Just want to forget it and go back to sleep."

Starsky also got back into bed. He turned off the lamp and snuggled close to Hutch. The other still had chilly skin. Starsky put his arms around him and rubbed until they both drifted back to sleep.

* * *

Starsky groaned. There was nothing better on earth than what he was experiencing right at this moment.

He and Hutch had spent the day visiting Graceland in Memphis. Afterwards, they had found a hotel for the night, had dinner, and taken a shower together. Starsky had told his big blond to turn around and lean against the wall of the shower stall. That he did so willingly told Starsky that his partner had a pretty good idea what was coming. He'd knelt and lovingly parted those so-pale butt cheeks. "You're all ready for fucking," he'd announced happily. The bruising had disappeared, and the orifice was clenched tight like it should be. Before straightening, he'd kissed Hutch there.

Feeling like a groom on his honeymoon, he'd taken Hutch to bed, played with him, stuck his fingers up his ass, and massaged his prostate. While doing so he'd nuzzled at various sensitive areas with his lips and tongue, and finally managed to suck Hutch off while still stimulating him with his fingers. That had driven Hutch crazy. He'd come mightily, shaking and trembling and groaning and crying out in ecstasy, delivering his seed to the back of Starsky's tongue. Starsky had felt on top of the world, having made Hutch feel like that.

And now he was on top of the universe. And on top of Hutch. Fucking Hutch. Buried deep inside him, moving back and forth. Snug walls making his prick feel so terrific. The penetration had been achieved almost painlessly, for Hutch had been so relaxed after such an intense orgasm. Now, Starsky felt the sensations building. He would have no problem coming tonight, but he did want to prolong it as much as possible.

He was trying to share with Hutch everything he felt.... Grunting and groaning and swearing... vocalizing every wave of sensation that traveled along his cock and up to the synapses in his brain. Hutch had shared so much with him, after all, that first time. Starsky even managed a coherent sentence. "This is the best fuck of my life," he announced tightly, feeling the sweat gather on his forehead.

Hutch was in a low crouch again, arms stretched out in front of him, yielding completely to Starsky's will. They'd settled on that way because Starsky had decided it was the most natural angle. And now his big, powerful prick rammed that ass steadily, his flanks slapping against smooth buttocks, making a satisfying noise.

The wave was upon him. Starsky slammed harder, feeling the quiver in his lower region. So grateful that, finally, the proof of his pleasure was going to be delivered up Hutch's ass. Those snug walls were milking it from him... even now....

"Aaaaarrrgghhhhhh," he began as his seed was released and racing down his barrel. He cried out as the most intense part of the sensation hit, his balls freed of their pressure, his prick slowing its motion. He'd gripped Hutch's shoulders, and now he made a point of letting go.

He collapsed upon his lover's back, pressing his hips against that masculine rear, not wanting to leave that haven just yet. He lay panting, letting the residual tremors race through his nerves, announcing to his brain how wonderful it had been.

He found the energy to reach forward with his arms and wrap them loosely around Hutch's neck. He saw Hutch's head move awkwardly, and then felt a kiss planted along one arm.

"God, I love fucking you," Starsky gasped. Finally, he started to slide back, for his prick had shriveled up and slipped out on its own. He pushed away from Hutch and collapsed to the side of the bed. A moment later his head was grabbed and lips crashed against his own, Hutch's mustache tickling beneath his nose. Those lips were hungry... devouring him. He was desperate for breath when he was finally released.

Blue eyes were feral in the partial darkness. "I loved feeling you inside me." They continued to gaze at him, studying him. "You're the best lover I've ever had. I want you for forever."

Starsky growled and grabbed Hutch by the back of the head. He pressed their lips together again, and now he was the predator. He pushed Hutch back against the mattress, and then realized there was stickiness between them. Reluctantly, he let go and straightened to find where the towels had ended up. He grabbed one from the middle of the bed and coaxed it along his length. While he was distracted, Hutch took the opportunity to head for the bathroom.

When they were settled a while later, Starsky had his arm around Hutch and was enjoying the way that blond head rested against the dark fur of his chest. "What do you want to do tomorrow?" he asked.

Hutch was silent a moment, then replied, "I think maybe we should slowly head back toward Raleigh, since that's where our rental car needs to be returned. Maybe we can take another route back. Go up north. Through the bottom of Indiana and Ohio and some of those places. Then come back down through Virginia into North Carolina."

"That's fine with me," Starsky said. "I'd just as soon get goin' on our private investigation firm." He paused, then realized he should make one thing clear. "I'm real excited about it."

As he'd hoped, that brought a pleasant sound from his partner. "Good, buddy. I'm glad."

"Yeah." Starsky wanted to point out another truth. "I think it'll be neat, building something together. Special for us."

That earned him a squeeze around his waist. "It'll be two or three days before we're back in Raleigh, if we do it the way I said. We could travel straight back to Richmond, if you'd like to do it faster." Hutch's tone indicated that, for himself, the first idea was preferable.

Starsky hugged him closer. "Nah, I like what you said about seein' some of those other areas. I'm enjoyin' this. Never seen country like this before."

Hutch shifted upward and kissed him on the cheek.

That made Starsky smile and he kissed back... on the lips.

When they were again snuggled together, Hutch said, "It won't be easy breaking the news to Dobey."

Starsky shrugged. "Can't imagine he'd be all that surprised, considerin' everything that's happened the past year or so."

"Maybe not. But I can't help but think that he's hoping that this little vacation has shown us how badly we want to get back to our old lives."

Starsky supposed that might be true.

"You know," Hutch said thoughtfully, "Dobey might be a good source for clients. When he gets frustrated with red tape, he might be able to slip us a few jobs under the table. He'd have to find a way to pay us cash and that kind of thing."

"Hmph," Starsky considered, "hadn't thought of that."

Hutch grinned up at him. "That's why I'm the brains of this duo."

Starsky grinned back, so glad to see Hutch smiling. "Then what am I?"

The grin widened. "The recreation."

Lips covered Starsky's before he could manage a retort.

* * *

The next day it was near check-out time before Hutch emerged from the shower and headed for his suitcase. Starsky, already dressed, moved up behind the naked form.

"Hey," he said, laying a hand on the slim waist, "spread your legs a sec."

Hutch sighed, but he turned to the wall and leaned against it, spreading his legs.

Starsky knelt and pulled the lower butt cheeks aside with his thumbs. There was redness around the rim of the orifice, but that was all that looked abnormal. "Hurt at all?"

"Just barely." Worried, Hutch asked, "Does it look all bruised again?"

"Uh-uh." But Starsky was more puzzled than ever as to why their bodies had looked so... maimed... after their first times. Cheerfully, he said, "Looks all nice and happy and pink."

Grumbled words retorted, "Then can we stop it with all this inspection stuff every time?"

Starsky couldn't blame Hutch for feeling that way. He pressed his face between that clean cleavage and kissed the delicate skin that protected the tight opening. Apologizing. And also wanting to worship that region that had granted him so much pleasure last night.

"Mmm," Hutch reacted.

Starsky grinned as he released the buttocks and stood. "No more inspections," he agreed. He started gathering up their supplies from the nightstand.

Hutch turned to face him while he dressed. "My ass loves getting fucked by your prick," he said firmly. "End of story."

Starsky's grin widened as he tossed accessories into his suitcase. He was so focused on making sure they weren't forgetting anything, that he drew a breath of surprise when Hutch grabbed his shoulders and pressed him back against the wall.

Hutch's long arms were also against the wall, on either side of Starsky, trapping him. The blond leaned close, so that his breath blew across Starsky's face. His expression was deadly serious. "When we get where we're going tonight," he threatened, "I'm going to fuck your ass, and you're going to love it. I'm going to borrow a few pages from your book, and you're going to love what I've been loving whenever you've put parts of yourself into me. So be prepared." He turned away and went back to his suitcase.

Starsky slowly released his breath. Shit. He wondered how long it would take them to get to where they were going. Because whenever they got there, Hutch would throw him down on the bed....

He gritted his teeth. Damn it, Hutch. How am I supposed to get rid of this hard-on you've given me?

What an adventure it would be. A very aggressive Hutch with one fixated purpose: pleasuring Starsky.

Starsky went back to his suitcase. And quivered.

* * *

The cry was ear-splitting. Sad. Desperate. Starsky knew exactly why. And there was nothing he could do to stop it, stop the cry. Nor the reason behind it.

He cringed, feeling an immense sadness of his own because he could be of no help at all.


Ah, Hutch. It was all Starsky could do to hold back his own sobs, as he heard sobs coming from the other person in the bed with him.

Sobs. More sobs. Such sad sobs.

Starsky swallowed down his own sadness and opened his eyes. The shadowy outline of the ceiling lamp slowly came into view.

Beside him, Hutch was crying.

Starsky jolted upright. What the -

All was silent in the stillness of the night, except for Hutch's sobs of despair. There would be no complaints of noise this time from other lodgers, for they were spending the night in a small cabin in Hoosier National Forest.

Starsky rolled over to Hutch and grabbed his arm. Shook him roughly. "Hutch? Hutch? Wake up. Wake up, buddy boy." Hutch was flat on his back, like before.

The blond shifted restlessly, groaned.

Starsky shook harder. "Come on, snap out of it." He slapped gently at Hutch's cheek. "Wake up, Hutch. Wake up."

Hutch shuddered and his eyes snapped open. "Huh?" He was up on an elbow.

Starsky released a heavy breath. "You were dreaming. That real bad dream again." Is this all because I won't let him talk about the virus I'm carrying inside me?

"Oh, damn." Hutch rubbed raggedly at his face as he got into a sitting position.

Starsky squeezed his shoulder. "What's goin' on with you? Huh?"

"Just a dream," Hutch said as he slowly forced his legs to the side of the bed. They landed with a thud on the thin carpet. He continued to rub at his face. "Damn. What a horrible dream."

"What's it about?" Starsky wondered, fingers gently kneading at the tense neck.

Hutch was thoughtful a moment, then he snorted dismissively. "Not sure I can even put it into words. It's so odd."

Cautiously, Starsky ventured, "Does it have to do with... me?"

Hutch looked at him. "Sort of. I don't really understand it," he admitted with a distant expression. "I'm just so... worried about you. About what's going to be...," his voice softened as he finished, "done to you."

Starsky felt as though he should understand that part, for some reason. But... "Done by whom?"

Hutch slowly shook his head. Then snorted again. "I don't know. It's just a dream, buddy. Sorry I woke you up."

Starsky felt something tighten in the pit of his stomach. "Hutch, it's the exact same dream you had earlier in the week."

Hutch looked at him, face suspicious in the darkness. "How do you know?"

Starsky opened his mouth, then realized he didn't have the answer immediately. He had to think about it a moment, then he said, "You were screaming tonight - crying, really - the exact same way you were crying that other time. The exact way. Almost like....," Starsky trailed off, not liking what he was about to say.

"Almost what?" Hutch prompted.

He released a heavy breath. "Almost like you were reliving something. Both times." Starsky thought harder, and his voice was full of puzzlement. "And I almost feel like... like I know why you're so upset."

"Why?" Hutch asked in a hushed whisper.

Starsky opened his hands, then let them flop to his sides. "I don't know. I mean, I don't remember. But I feel like some part of me knows what you're going through, why you're crying. Why you're so worried about me. Almost like I'm there in the dream with you, but... I don't remember any of it."

They both sat silent for a moment, looking at each other.

Hutch got to his feet. "Of course you do. If I start talking out loud while you're still asleep, then your subconscious or whatever is picking up on it. Sorry," he muttered, heading for the bathroom.

Starsky got back beneath the covers. He looked at his watch. It was almost two-thirty in the morning. We sure have been up late these days. All the sex they'd been having lately certainly kept them up. Plus our car breaking down that time in the middle of nowhere....

Starsky furrowed his brow, uneasy. He stared at his glow-in-the-dark watch.

He remembered being puzzled when looking at it a week ago. So tired, climbing into bed, after being hours on that road in Virginia in the middle of nowhere. It had been after one in the morning when they finally climbed into bed. No wonder we were so tired. We were supposed to be in a nice comfy hotel by nine o'clock.

Still holding the watch, Starsky brought his knee up and rested his chin upon it. How could it be that we ended up arriving outside of Charlottesville four hours later than we'd intended?

He thought harder. Of course, their car had broken down. But it hadn't taken four hours to fix, had it? No, it started back up almost right away. At least, I think it did....

Starsky's stomach tightened further with the realization that he didn't know for sure. He couldn't remember.

The bathroom door opened and Starsky looked up at Hutch. He demanded, "What do you remember about that night our car broke down in Virginia?"

"What?" Hutch asked, throwing a towel to one side.

"Just answer the question. What do you remember about that night?"

Hutch shrugged, getting back into bed. "The car just up and died. For no reason. But then it started up again. Why?"

Starsky was still sitting up, facing Hutch, who had reclined back against the headboard. Desperately, he asked, "Hutch, do you remember us talking in the car when we started out on that back road? Remember talking about how it was going to take us about thirty minutes longer to get to Charlottesville? That we should get there about nine o'clock?"

Hutch sighed. After a moment, he replied, "Yes, I remember something like that. I didn't mind because I wanted to see the country."

Starsky's hand tightened on his watch. "Hutch. Do you remember what time we arrived in that town outside of Charlottesville?"

The other shrugged with exaggeration. "I don't know. But it must have been about nine." Another shrug. "I don't remember noticing. I just remember being really tired."

Starsky nodded quickly, glad to have his partner's agreement. "Right. I was tired as hell, too. And I took off my watch when we got into bed. I looked at it, Hutch. You know what time it was?" He paused to take a breath. "It was one-fifteen in the fucking morning."

The other's face paled in the darkness. "What?" Then, disgusted, "That's not right. You're mistaken."

Starsky shook the watch, feeling his voice tremble as he delved further into the unknown. "No, I'm not mistaken. I looked at my watch that night, Hutch. My watch has been on the correct time before and since, so I know there wasn't anything wrong with my watch. I kept thinking how tired I felt, and I looked at my watch after taking it off, and I thought `No wonder we're so tired. It's one-fifteen in the morning.'"

Hutch was silent.

Starsky drew a heavy breath, voice quieting even as his tone grew more intense. "And you know what's even weirder? You and I never gave it a thought. We woke up late the next day and never questioned why it had taken us so long to drive that friggin' road. And you know what's even weirder than that?"

Silence answered him.

Starsky didn't try to stop his voice from trembling. "We never gave a single thought to what was going on with the fucking car. We never said one word to each other about it. Never took it in to have it checked. Never had the slightest worry that it might die on us again."

Hutch's voice was high-pitched, as though he were grasping at straws. "But that's because it started up right away after it died."

"Are you sure?" Starsky challenged. "Do you remember it happening like that?"

"What are you getting at?" The blond's voice now carried apprehension.

Starsky moved closer to him, sitting on his knees in front of Hutch. "I'm getting at that I don't remember. I remember us talking about getting to Charlottesville about nine. I remember us talking about moving and deciding that Los Angeles was the best place to start our private investigation firm. And I remember the car just suddenly up and dying out in the middle of nowhere. But after that... all I remember is that we were driving on that road, and I felt incredibly tired and I couldn't wait until we got out of that fucking forest so we could find a motel and sleep." He drew a deep, deep breath. Then demanded, "What happened to those other four hours, Hutch? Do you remember?"

Hutch's mouth had dropped open and he gazed at nothing.

"Do you remember getting out of the car at all?" Starsky prompted. "Do you remember doing anything that would have made the car start again? Do you even remember turning the key to make it start up again? Do you remember being glad or relieved that the car started up again so easily?"

Hutch slowly shook his head, then scratched at his hair. "N-no," he replied unsteadily. "I guess not. I remember... us talking. Then the car just suddenly up and died. The entire car. Lights and everything. And after that....," he was thoughtful a long time, "I guess it was like you said. I just remember feeling incredibly tired and wishing we would hurry up and get to Charlottesville. I just wanted to go to sleep."

"And that next morning," Starsky prompted further, "do you remember having a single thought about the car? About how unreliable it might be? About how maybe we ought to have it checked into?"

Slowly, the blond head shook. "No," he replied in a puzzled whisper.

Starsky swallowed thickly, fearing the answer to what he wanted to ask next. "Hutch, have you ever had these dreams before this vacation?"

An incredulous snort. "No."

Starsky took a deep, steadying breath.

Still incredulous, Hutch asked, "Do you think one has to do with the other?"

"I don't know," Starsky replied with frustration. "But is it just coincidence that there's four hours of our lives that neither of us can account for, and you've been having very intense, horrible dreams? And I have this weird sort of feeling that I know what your dreams are about, even if I don't specifically remember?" He struggled for a sense of calm, and his voice was quieter. "Hutch, just exactly what areyour dreams about? I don't care how crazy they seem. Tell me."

Finally, Hutch wasn't going to argue with the importance of telling. "I-I'm on some sort of table. Naked. I don't think you're there, but I know you're... somewhere... nearby. And it's like... samples or something are being taken from my body. And I know that whatever they're doing to me is going to be done to you. And I-I-I'm so afraid. Th-th-that whatever they do to you, it'll bring your disease out of remission."

That all jibed with the way Hutch had talked - cried - in his sleep. Curiously, Starsky asked, "Who is it that's doing it to you? That's taking the samples from your body?"

Hutch shook his head. "I-I don't know. I can't remember... seeing... anybody around me." His lip suddenly twisted. "I do remember them sticking some - some - some thing up my ass."

Starsky's eyes widened. No.... No.... No....

Hutch swallowed, studying him. "What? What is it?" he asked fearfully.

"H-h-h-hutch..." Starsky could barely get the word out. "Don't you see?" he implored, feeling his heart pound. "The bruising. The bruising we both had. My prick didn't do that to you."

"No," Hutch insisted, voice exceedingly soft. Then, firmly, "That's quite a stretch to say that my dream has anything to do with the bruises."

"Then how do you explain it?" Starsky demanded, hoping desperately that Hutch would be able to. "I pounded your ass the other night. Deep and hard. And yet... you hardly showed it the next day. But when I looked at you a couple of nights after that night...." He trailed off, not wanting to draw his conclusions out loud.

Hutch snorted. Harshly. "So what are you saying? That some - some perverts raped us along the side of the road, gave us concussions or something, or maybe drugged us, so that we would forget, and then sent us on our way?"

"Hutch," Starsky had to take a deep, deep breath in order to continue, "perverts along the side of the road would not have been able to make our car go dead like that. And why would perverts along the side of the road want to take body samples from us?"

Hutch stared at him. A long time. Then he looked away. "It's just a dream, buddy."

Starsky wanted to believe that with all his heart. "All right," he said more calmly. "It's just a dream. But that still doesn't explain the missing four hours."

Hutch swallowed. Loudly. Then he said, "How do we know the four hours is all that's missing?"

* * *

They turned on the lights and got out the maps. They spent the rest of the night recalling everywhere they'd been since flying into Raleigh. By daybreak they were satisfied that there were no other chunks of time that they couldn't account for. But that still didn't explain the four hours.

"Maybe," Hutch suggested tiredly, "I'll keep having the dream. Maybe it'll become more vivid with time and eventually we'll be able to figure out how it connects to reality. Maybe you shouldn't wake me up."

Starsky only looked at him. He remained silent, because he wasn't sure he could agree to that. The extreme desperation and sadness that Hutch expressed in his dreams was unbearable to listen to. How could, whoever it was that did this to us - if it was somebody who did it to us -- not listen to him? Starsky knew within his bones that whatever had happened to Hutch had also happened to him. After all, he'd had the same bruising. Raped and violated and we don't even remember it, he thought grimly. Unless there's some other explanation....

"I'm ready to go home," Hutch said as he started to pack.

"Yeah," Starsky agreed, throwing his own clothes into his suitcase. "No kidding."

"We can head up to Indianapolis. Catch a flight there."

Starsky wasn't going to argue. But he noted, "The rental car company is going to fine the hell out of us for not returning the car to Raleigh."

"Doesn't matter. We can afford it."

Oh, yeah. As Starsky continued to pack, he wondered how returning home was supposed to make them feel better about the fact that something awful had happened to them that they couldn't even remember.

* * *

As they approached Indianapolis, Hutch stopped for gas in a suburb. He also took the time to call the airport. When he hung up, he told Starsky, "It won't be until seven o'clock tonight that a non-stop flight leaves for Los Angeles that might have some seats. Even then, we'll be on standby."

Starsky nodded. If worse came to worse, they could just stay the night and take the first flight out the next morning. He nudged Hutch and gestured across the street to a small shopette. There was a book store with a big banner that said "Going Out of Business Sale". Tables of books were in the parking lot. "Maybe there's something to read on the plane." As it was, books in airports were ridiculously expensive and the selection limited.

Hutch shrugged and they moved across the street. They joined the crowds around the tables, browsing through literally thousands of titles that were spread about. Eventually, they got separated, for Starsky was focusing on suspense novels. He imagined Hutch was looking at the non-fiction stuff that was more educational. Or, perhaps if he got bored enough, he would go sit on a bench in the park next to the shopette.

Starsky finally decided on a couple of paperbacks. He desperately hoped that they would be able to keep him distracted. As it was, the drive to Indianapolis had been very tense, neither of them speaking other than when it was necessary, and then usually in sharp, frustrated tones.

Maybe we're making way too much of it, Starsky thought hopefully. What's four hours out of a person's life? And maybe that bruising really was because of having fucked each other for the first time. And maybe those dreams are just a reflection of Hutch's fears that I might get sick again.

There was a line at the cash register, which was set up at the end of one of the tables. Starsky took the time to scan the area and found that his partner had, indeed, opted for the park. Hutch's tall lean body was looking off into the distance. He had one foot resting on a picnic table bench. He was holding a hardback book at his side.

Good, he found something to read, too.

Starsky paid and headed for the park, holding the sack with his two paperbacks. He noticed, as he approached, that Hutch hadn't opted for a sack, as though he'd intended to start reading right away. In fact, that was definitely the case. As Starsky drew even closer to the tall frame, he saw that Hutch had a finger stuck in the pages of the book, as though marking a place where he'd already started to read.

"Hey, what'd you get?" Starsky asked as he came up behind Hutch. He halted, expecting Hutch to turn around.

Hutch didn't move. Starsky realized the blond was trembling. And breathing heavily.

Startled, Starsky moved in front of Hutch. And looked up into his face. He stifled a gasp.

Hutch's face was the most literal visualization of having "gone pale" that Starsky had ever seen. His complexion was white. A soft white. And his wide eyes, rather than looking off into the distance, stared straight ahead at nothing. They were filled with fear. Obviously the same fear that caused the shaking visible in his body.

Those fearful eyes had not acknowledged him. Starsky's own heart was pounding, but he very gently prompted, "Babe? What is it?"

Hutch didn't react.

Starsky gulped and looked down at Hutch's hand. The one that held the book. He slipped his own finger in between the pages where Hutch's was, then gently took the book from him. He looked at the cover.

It was black with an illustration painted on it. The painting was of a greyish-white bald figure with big, insect-like eyes. A small slit mouth. Starsky had seen paintings and drawings like it before - whenever he'd read about UFO close encounters or abductions. In fact, the title of the book was Alien Visitations.

His chest tightened as he let the book fall open to the place his fingers was.

It was the beginning of a chapter titled "Missing Time". That wasn't a new phrase to him, either, Starsky realized. He knew that people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens, the stories of which were usually brought out via hypnosis, often first suspected something strange had "happened" to them when they realized there was "missing time" from their lives that they couldn't account for.

Starsky stared at the book. No, he denied instantly.

"Th-th-they-y-y- looked... like that," Hutch said in a small voice.

Starsky looked up. Hutch hadn't moved. Not even his eyes. But he had spoken.

Calm, Starsky decided. He's on the verge of mental collapse. Keep him calm. Be rational. Careful to keep the accusation out of his voice, Starsky said in a firm, distinct voice, "Hutch, you told me that you didn't know who it was that was doing things to you in the dreams. So how do you know this is what they looked like?"

"I... lied." Hutch swallowed thickly. Then, with slightly less of a strain in his voice, "I... knew they looked like that, but it was so ridiculous that I - I didn't bring it up. It was so... impossible... that I thought it couldn't have anything to do with what had happened to us."

Starsky let out a breath. Hutch was the kind of man who didn't allow himself to get taken with flights of fancy. In fact, he had always scoffed at Starsky's notion of UFOs, ESP, and related phenomenon. So, it was highly unlikely that he'd seen the cover of the book and convinced himself that the picture there explained their four hours of missing time.

No, Hutch wasn't kidding.

Starsky forced down a thick lump in his throat. His whole chest felt like someone was walking on it... with heavily cleated boots.

He'd been holding something back as well. Like Hutch, he had truly thought it didn't matter. But now it did. Very much. "Hutch?" he forced out his dry lips. The other had managed to blink a few times, but he was still rooted in the same spot and hadn't even moved his head. "Do you remember, when we were on that road, that when we were talking, I rolled down my window? And I said something about an airplane flying really low?"

"Yes," came the hushed reply.

Starsky had to swallow again. "I just assumed it was an airplane. I couldn't tell how it looked. I just saw the lights. And then I said something to you. And when I looked over at the airplane, it wasn't beside us anymore. It was behind us. Even lower than before." He paused, amazed that he was going to speak the words. "And then the car died."

Hutch looked at him sharply. "It didn't happen!" he said angrily. He pointed to the book cover, animated now. "That's what they looked like in my dream. But it didn't happen to us. It didn't! That's the biggest bunch of hogwash I've ever heard in my life. It was a dream. That's all."

He can't deal with it, Starsky realized with alarm. He can't face it.

Hutch suddenly dropped to his knees. His arms came up, clenched fists pressing against his forehead. With despair, he said, "I'm losing my mind."

Starsky knelt and gripped his arm. "No, Hutch," he quickly soothed. "No, you aren't, babe. It's gonna be okay. Whatever is goin' on with us happened to me, too. And we'll figure it out. Together." He gripped the arm harder and shook it. "You gotta believe that, Hutch. Whatever else you believe, you gotta believe that."

Hutch was still in the same position, but a relaxing breath went through his body.

Starsky took his own deep breath, wondering what to do next. He looked out at the park. It was a beautiful park.

But will I ever see the world the same way again?

Damn, he realized suddenly. I can't deal with this, either. Gotta just focus on Hutch....

Not knowing what else to do, he put a hand on Hutch's back and rubbed in a small circle. With his other hand he released the page in the book. The breeze ruffled the pages and Starsky caught glimpses of drawings of faces similar to the one on the cover. Then he saw a crude drawing of someone lying naked on an examination table. He grabbed for the book and found that page again.

The chapter was titled, "The Examination". There was a drawing of a nude woman on a table, beings with large eyes around her. Various things in the room were labeled. Some sort of instrument pointed at her navel was labeled "Pregnancy Test". There was a microphone-like thing hanging by an elastic-looking cord from the wall where the woman's lower body was. It was labeled, "Rectal Probe".

Oh, my God.... Starsky gulped. Again and again. He released the book and let the wind close it.

Hutch had brought his arms down. His eyes were closed and he was still trying to take deep, cleansing breaths.

What do we do now? Starsky wondered helplessly, still petting along Hutch's back. It's not like we're just gonna forget about it just because we'll be back in Los Angeles.

He looked around, lost. No answers anywhere. People all around. Strangers. Who knew nothing of what had happened to them.

Anyone would laugh at us if we tried to tell them. No one will believe us. Hutch refuses to believe it. I can't even -

Starsky found himself looking at the back cover of the book. A heavyset man with a beard was pictured there, with the caption "Sydney Von Glick". The paragraphs below it mentioned other books he had written. And the fact that he taught astronomy at the University of Indiana.

Hope flared. "Hutch." He tugged on the blond's sleeve. When he looked up, Hutch wearily opened his eyes. A least some of the color had returned to his face. "Hutch, we can talk to this man," he frantically tapped the book with his finger. "We gotta get to a phone and see if he still teaches at the University." Hutch at least appeared to be listening, though his upper body swayed as though he was having a hard time keeping himself upright. With forced cheerfulness, Starsky said, "Surely he's heard lots of stories like ours, that aren't real UFO experiences. He can explain it to us." Yeah, he'll explain everything. He'll be annoyed with us for wasting his time, because ours isn't a story he can write about. Then we'll understand what happened and it'll all make sense and we'll feel so foolish for having ever been concerned about it.

He wanted so, so much to feel foolish.

Starsky jumped to his feet, still holding the book, and pulling on Hutch's arm. "Come on, Hutch, we gotta find a phone. See if we can get a hold of this guy." Hutch stood and Starsky grabbed the sack with his own purchases. The gas station across the street probably had a phone, but between the park and the bookstore was a little restaurant that had a phone booth outside. He clasped Hutch's hand. "Come on."

A grimy, dark-eyed, long-haired man stepped in front of them. "Faggots," he hissed.

Starsky stared at the man as he maneuvered Hutch in an arc away from him. He was puzzled as to why the man thought that important. In a world where people from spaceships kidnapped people and examined them against their will, how could anyone be bothered by the simple fact that somebody was a faggot?

Thankfully, Hutch didn't appear to be any more interested in confronting the man than Starsky was. They continued to the restaurant. Starsky was fishing change out of his pocket as they came to the phone booth. He inserted coins and dialed information, then held the phone to his ear as he prepared to write.

"What city, please?" the operator asked.


"Go ahead."

"The University of Indiana."

"That's in Bloomington, sir. One moment, please."

Where the hell is Bloomington? He had assumed that a big state university would be in a big city like Indianapolis.

The operator came back on and read him the number. Starsky scribbled it down. He put in more change and dialed. Please still teach there, Mr. Von Glick. Please still teach there.

The main switchboard answered and Starsky had to be transferred a couple of times before he reached someone who told him that, yes, Professor Sydney Von Glick was still on the staff roster. She said she couldn't transfer him, but gave him the direct number to Dr. Von Glick's department.

Starsky was grateful that he found more change. He risked a glance at Hutch and saw that the blond was standing idly by. He looked much better.

Starsky's fingers trembled as he dialed the number. Please be there. Please don't be on vacation. Please don't have left yet for the afternoon. Starsky looked up at the sky. He guessed that it was close to five o'clock. Please don't have another commitment tonight.

"Astronomy Department," a female voice answered pleasantly.

"Uh, yes, can I speak with a Dr. Sydney Von Glick please?"

A pause, then, "May I tell him who's inquiring?"

Oh, thank God, thank God. "Uh... he doesn't know me, but my friend and I... well, we saw his book and... we really need to talk to him."

"Which book is that, sir?"

Starsky couldn't remember the title. "The one about alien visitations. " I can't believe I'm saying this. "Yeah, I think that's maybe what it was called. My friend and I have... had something happen to us. We'd really, really like to speak with him, please."

"One moment. I'll see if he's in."

"This is Dr. Von Glick," said a firm, comforting voice a moment later. "Who am I speaking with, please?"

Starsky realized that he was breathing hard. "My name is David Starsky and I'm a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. My partner and I have been vacationing out this way, and... and... something happened to us. We'd...," Starsky wondered why the words were so difficult, "we'd... we really need to talk to somebody." He cringed at the shaky voice emerging from his throat. He shouldn't have stated it that way. He'll think we need a shrink and he'll send men in white coats, and we'll be locked up. Forever. He was puzzled by the sense of comfort that thought brought. If we're locked up we won't have to deal with this....

"Are you saying that you and your friend are victims of an alien abduction?" The question was asked very calmly.

"We - we don't know. But...," he drew a ragged breath. "We really need to talk to somebody about what happened. We don't know of anybody else..." Starsky cringed again. Why am I being like this to a complete stranger?

A sigh on the other end. "How far are you from the campus?"

"I - I don't know. We're in Indianapolis."

Pause. "If you can get here by seven, I should have enough time to see you. You should be able to get here by seven. Do you need directions?"

Starsky held up the pad he had. His pencil was shaking.

Suddenly, the writing utensils were grabbed from him. Hutch forced him aside with his lanky body and took the receiver from his hand. "Hello? This is Ken Hutchinson, Dave Starsky's partner. I'll be driving so I thought I'd better take the directions."

Starsky blinked. Hutch looked fine now. In control.

He rested his head against the side of the phone booth. Thank God he's okay. Because I'm losing my mind..... He drew another deep, deep breath.

Hutch was writing. Talking pleasantly. "Okay, we should be there within an hour. Thanks very much." He hung up.

Starsky wasn't sure he could straighten from where he rested against the phone booth.

The deepest, clearest blue eyes looked into his own. "You going to be okay?" Hutch asked in the most tender of voices.

Starsky blinked again. There wasn't any reason why he shouldn't be okay. "Thanks for handlin' that. I don't know what I was thinking." He was embarrassed at the memory of the plea in his voice when he talked to the professor.

"You needed help," Hutch explained gently. "And I was a little slow in being there for you."

Starsky straightened and met his eye then. Maybe that was the simple truth of it. They were always so dependent upon the balance in the partnership. If they both fell apart at the same time... they were doomed.

Hutch sure snapped out of it fast, he realized... with admiration.

Hutch was holding out an arm to him, and Starsky quickly stepped next to him and put his own arms around Hutch, glad to feel the strength that came around his own body. He leaned against Hutch as they made their way back across the street, not caring what others thought. They were at the car when Starsky realized they were in for another road trip, and his throat felt very dry and his chest was still heavy. He nodded toward the gas station. "Need to get some stuff."

He moved under his own power as they raided the small conveniences at the station. A couple of bottles of water apiece. Candy bars for energy. Crackers for starch. Potato chips for salt. Starsky felt more himself as he settled in the passenger seat, glad that Hutch was driving.

He started in on the food as the sun set and they weeded their way through rush hour traffic. He passed things back and forth to Hutch at the blond's request. Then he settled back in his seat, wondering if things would ever seem "normal" again. As the traffic thinned out in the darkness, Starsky looked over at his partner, who seemed alert and reasonably content. He decided it was time for a reality check. "Where are we?" he asked casually.

Hutch drummed the steering wheel with his fingers. He didn't even question why Starsky was asking. "We're headed south toward Bloomington, Indiana," he replied cheerfully, "to the University of Indiana where we're gonna to see a Professor Sydney Von Hagen - "

"Von Glick," Starsky corrected.

"Von Glick. Who is going to listen to our serious story about missing time and rectal probes. And who is going to laugh at us for thinking we may have been abducted by aliens. And who is going to shoot holes in our story and offer alternative explanations."

Starsky felt himself hunch down in the seat. He looked out the window at the star-filled sky. He's not dealing with this at all. He won't even admit to the possibility that it may have really happened.

Starsky envied him.

* * *

It was a relief when they finally pulled up to a building that said "Astronomy" on the front in big letters. Once they'd gotten to the campus area, figuring out where they were and where they needed to go turned out to be difficult.

"What time is it?" Hutch asked, turning off the motor.

Starsky looked at his watch. "Quarter `til seven."

Hutch nodded with satisfaction. "Good."

They went up the steps to the entrance, and once inside, climbed more steps until they reached the third floor. Hutch found a door that had the room number he'd written down, and turned the handle. It was locked and he knocked.

A moment later the door opened, and an older-looking man and a little more heavier version than the picture on the book stood before them. "I take it you're the gentlemen who called from Indianapolis."

They nodded.

"I'm Dr. Von Glick. This way please." He turned to lead the way down a short hall. Then they were shown to a small room with a large table that had a tape recorder and microphone set up.

"Have a seat, please," he said, indicating the chairs. "Would you like refreshments? There's a soda machine."

They both shook their heads.

"I would like to ask your permission to tape record the session," Von Glick said as he seated his bulky frame. "I won't record the preliminaries, but I would like to when you get to the actual events. Your real names will never be on record as being associated with the recording."

Starsky glanced at Hutch, and they shrugged at each other. Starsky wouldn't mind seeing their story in a book some day. "Sure."

"If you can indulge me, I'd first like to collect a little background information on you both, so I have a better picture of what your lives are like outside your alleged encounter."

They talked about their educational backgrounds, their partnership together as cops, Starsky's recent clashes with severe injury and severe illness, and the reason they were here.

"Either of you married?" Von Glick asked as he took notes.

They both shook their heads, but Hutch muttered, "Divorced six years ago."

Starsky wondered how long they were going to be able to keep the truth about their relationship in the closet. He stared at the man, this supposed alien "expert", and wondered what he would think if they told him.

The tape recorder was turned on. "All right. If you can now start to tell me what happened the day of your encounter." Von Glick relaxed back in his chair and listened.

Starsky did most of the talking. He focused on what they each remembered from that night, what he and Hutch had already discussed. How they had lost four hours of time and couldn't remember anything specific after the car had mysteriously died. He went on to talk about what had happened a few days later - Hutch's dreams. How he'd had a sense that he knew what Hutch was dreaming about, even though he couldn't remember any specific details himself.

Hutch then picked up the story. He was different now than on the drive over. He'd spent most of Starsky's recollection staring at the desktop, as though Starsky's re-telling was bringing it all back. He still was staring at the desk when it was his turn to speak. He told all he remembered from the dreams, his voice sounding tight and annoyed, as though bordering on anger. What was most surprising to Starsky was that, as he spoke with such care, Hutch was remembering more from the dreams than what he'd relayed to Starsky. He mentioned knowing that he didn't feel pain from any of the medical procedures, because he knew the "beings" had telepathically convinced him that the pain did not exist. Nevertheless, he remembered feeling a strong sense of violation when the probe was inserted up his ass. He also thought they had coaxed sperm from his penis. Starsky found that shocking but didn't comment.

"Do you have any remaining evidence of any of the procedures?" Von Glick asked. "Marks on your arms or legs?"

They both shook their heads. They'd seen each other nude in the shower a number of times since that night.

"Nothing at all?" the professor clarified.

Starsky carefully cleared his throat. Then he decided there was no point in being embarrassed. "We both had evidence of the rectal probe, but it went away."

"What evidence?"

Starsky swallowed. "Bruising. Bruising without pain."

The doctor seemed surprised. "You had a medical examination afterwards?"

"No..." Starsky hedged, wondering how to say this. Wondering how Hutch would feel about it. "We... noticed it on each other."

The doctor looked from one to the other, as though not understanding.

Sounding irritated, Hutch said, "We're in a homosexual relationship. We participate in acts of anal intercourse. So, it's not bizarre that we would notice that about each other." It was the first time he'd looked up since they'd sat down at the table.

Starsky released a breath. Guess that took care of it in a hurry. While it was a relief to have it said, he almost felt himself bristle at Hutch calling them both "homosexuals". Never thought of myself like that....

"And..." Von Glick pursued delicately, "the bruising - sorry to ask this - but... it wouldn't have come from your normal activities?"

"No," they both answered in unison. Starsky added, "At least, we don't see how. We don't see how we could have done something like that to each other."

"But it's gone away now?"


"And there's nothing else? No other physical evidence of what you, " he glanced at Hutch, "dreamed?"

"No," Starsky answered.

Von Glick was thoughtful a moment, then said, "Explain to me how you went from being puzzled by what had happened to you, to believing it may have been an alien encounter."

Starsky glanced at his partner, wondering which one of them should answer.

Hutch started talking while staring at the tabletop. "We were looking at books at a book sale. When I saw your book - the cover - I-I think I freaked. I couldn't believe it. It was the - the people from my dreams. I bought the book and - Starsky was still looking at other books - and I flipped it open and... saw the chapter about missing time. And it just hit me all at once. Like a ton of bricks." Suddenly, his head snapped up and he frowned defiantly. "I don't believe in any of this stuff."

"Lots of people don't," Von Glick soothed. "In fact, there are very good reasons for not believing, but let's continue on with your story. So, it never crossed either of your minds" - he included Starsky in his glance - "that you might have had a UFO experience. Not until you saw my book this afternoon."

"That's right," Starsky said. "I mean, it seems so far-fetched. I didn't believe it, either, even though I've always pretty much believed in stuff like that in general. I mean, I don't remember anything about that night. I haven't had any dreams. But, like I told you, I have a strong sense that I understand what Hutch dreams about. I feel some part of me knows what he knows. Like I was there, too. And when I was glancing through your book, it seemed to have some of the same stuff that Hutch had talked about in his dreams. So...."

Von Glick looked back at Hutch. "And you've only had the dream twice?"

Hutch nodded, staring at the tabletop again.

Starsky shrugged. "But it's only been a week or so since it happened." He muttered, "Seems like forever."

The professor looked from one to the other. "Is there anything else that either of you might like to add about your alleged encounter?"

They both shook their heads. Starsky said, "We've told you everything."

Von Glick turned off the recorder. "Thank you, gentlemen." His tone was one of finality.

Starsky shifted in his chair, disappointed that the professor was trying to draw their meeting to a close. "Well... so, what do you think?"

"Are you asking my professional opinion or my personal one?"

"Whichever one will help up understand what happened that night."

"Unfortunately," Von Glick dabbed at his forehead with a handkerchief, "I don't think I'm going to be able to give you gentlemen what you're looking for. You seem to want peace of mind."

Starsky nodded.

"I'm afraid it's not that simple. Perhaps the best thing I can leave you with is that literally thousands of people throughout time have had experiences similar to yours."

"And?" Starsky prompted when the professor said nothing more. "Do you think they're real alien encounters or something else?"

Beefy hands folded on the table top. "As a professional researcher, my stand is that you have no proof of anything that happened to you. If you'd both be willing to be hypnotized by an associate of mine, and you tell the same story under hypnosis, I would consider that a much stronger indication that something truly took place."

Hutch quickly shook his head. "I don't believe in hypnosis. You can plant a false story in someone's mind as easy as anything."

Starsky knew some part of him had always known Hutch felt that way about the subject. "What else, professor, would be considered proof?"

"As I mentioned, there are marks on the skin that are sometimes left by the examination. Marks that never go away. But please understand, even that in and of itself is not convincing proof. It merely adds credibility to the story."

Starsky let out a deep sigh, realizing that he and Hutch, indeed, weren't going to get the peace of mind they'd come here for. "What's your personal opinion about what happened to us?"

Large shoulders shrugged. "I think it's very likely you were abducted by aliens. Examined. Samples taken. Released with no conscious memory of what had happened. I hear such stories all the time. And I believe most of them."

Starsky wondered if he was sorry that he'd asked. At least now, he realized, he felt calmer about the whole thing. It was almost as though they were discussing the weather. "So... as far as credibility, how does our story rank with other people's?"

The professor thought a long moment. Then he said, "If my next book was to publish twenty of the most credible encounter stories I'd heard since my last book, yours wouldn't be included." He leaned forward, as though anticipating Starsky's next question. "As I said, the most convincing stories are those where all the details have been revealed by hypnosis. And some of those people have strange marks on their skin. Some even have conscious memory of having actually seen a spacecraft hovering over their car, even landing. Sometimes, there are groups of people who have these encounters together, and all their stories collaborate under hypnosis. In your case," he sat back again, "there's a number of points I'd have to question in terms of validity. You say you know what your partner is dreaming, as though you've `been there'. Déjà vu, as the French say.

"But I'm afraid that, from an objective scientific standpoint, that can be easily explained by waking up to your partner's dreams. Your subconscious heard him cry out, made his talking in his sleep a reality, and so, upon waking, you believed his cries to be a memory of something real. Another point is Mr. Hutchinson's having not acknowledged the presence of the aliens in his dream. That only became real to him when he saw the cover of my book. There's a theory that the brain can take a picture - a snapshot - of something before the mind registers it. If one subscribes to that theory, then it's easily explained that Mr. Hutchinson saw my book, and his subconscious made the aliens `real' to him before the conscious part of his brain registered the picture on the cover. That theory becomes even more plausible when one considers your admitted distress over having not been able to account for the missing four hours.

"Your subconscious," he looked at Hutch's bowed head, "was searching for a reason to explain it, so it found one in order to put your mind at ease." He paused. "As for the bruising from the rectal probe, again - from an objective scientific standpoint - that is easily explained by your choice of sexual activity, even though you both deny that it could reasonably be caused by that. And as for the light you saw in the sky," Von Glick turned his attention back to Starsky, "there's no reason why it couldn't have been an airplane, even if it seemed to be hovering unusually low, and went from flying along the side of the car, to flying along the back of the car." The professor looked at his watch.

Quickly, Starsky said, "Okay, okay. Let's say, for just a moment, that we know we weren't abducted by aliens. What are the possible explanations for the four hours?"

Von Glick shrugged. "You'd have the answer to that better than I. There's such a thing as a blackout, but it's unlikely that it would happen to both of you at the same time. You both mentioned how extremely tired you were that night. Memory is a funny thing, and I promise you, it gets funnier as you get older. It could be that you both simply don't remember having taken a long time to fix your car so it would start again. Stranger things have happened."

Starsky sighed. "And I don't suppose you'd know any better than us why Hutch might have suddenly started having weird dreams."

Von Glick launched into what sounded like a tired lecture. "Dreams are even stranger than memory. There are all sorts of theories on various aspects of dreams, but the vast majority of them are unproven and not agreed upon. What I can tell you is that, right here at this university, there are experiments being conducted where, for example, a certain synapse in the brain can be stimulated and a person can smell oranges, even though they're just sitting in a chair and there isn't anything in the room any different from when they weren't smelling oranges just a few seconds before. So, extrapolating on that theory, it's believed that certain... energies, if you will, can stimulate parts of the brain. Some from that school of thought even feel it will someday explain literally thousands of UFO abductions throughout history. Certain parts of the brain are somehow stimulated, and a person thinks they've been lying on an examination table with short, grayish beings probing at them with instruments. The lab doing the "orange smell" experiments are convinced that they might be able to one day recreate an alien encounter in a test subject's mind, simply by stimulating various areas of the brain." Von Glick wet his lips. "Of course, if, say, the bruising you experienced was real and not caused by your activities, then those experiments are meaningless, because stimulating the brain can't create a physical result. It can only create an illusion. In other words, the bruising might be the best proof to you that you really did have an encounter with aliens." He stood and gathered up his equipment. "I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I'm expected elsewhere at eighty-thirty. I'm afraid I'm already late. I need to lock up this office."

Starsky stood, realizing they were going to get no further help from this man. He held out his hand and Von Glick shook it. "Thanks, professor, for seeing us and talking with us. It's helped." He was sincere about that. He didn't feel so panicked now.

Hutch stood more slowly and didn't bother holding out his hand. He was quiet, his head still bowed, as the trio made their way to the hall. Starsky and Hutch didn't wait while Von Glick locked the door. They continued to the stairs and down to their car.

Starsky drove. "Let's get a hotel," he muttered. "Then up early and drive back to Indianapolis and take the first flight out."

Beside him, Hutch's head was still bowed. But he nodded.

* * *

They were in a room within thirty minutes. They were silent as they showered together, put on underwear, and got into bed. A lamp was on beside the bed, but neither moved to turn it off. There was an unspoken disagreement about who should hold whom as they tried to curl up together. Finally, Starsky ended up with his head on Hutch's shoulder, the blond sitting against the headboard. Both of Starsky's arms were around the other man's waist.

A lamp was on near the bed. They sat quietly for many minutes. Then Hutch laid his cheek against Starsky's head and murmured, "No."

Starsky released a sigh. He's still in denial. He kissed Hutch's shoulder. "We may never know what happened that night, Hutch. But what I do know is that we have to go on." He looked up hopefully. "Put this behind us. As soon as we're back home, we need to officially resign and get working on starting our own investigation business."

Hutch shook his head. "No," he said simply.

Starsky studied Hutch's sad face. "What?" He felt anger building at the other's stubbornness.

"The first thing we're going to do," Hutch said firmly, "is send you back to your doctor. As soon as we land," he emphasized, swallowing thickly, "you're going in for... tests."

"What do - "

"We don't know what was done to you," he interrupted with frustrated sadness. "If my dreams have anything to do with what really happened, then something might have...," his breath became short with worry, "... triggered your virus again, and caused it to come out of remission. We have to know. I have to know."

Starsky closed his eyes. Here we go again. Hutch performing his bedside vigil and wondering if I'm gonna make it or not. So much for me making sure the rest of his life is healthy and happy.He didn't want to argue about it, because he knew it wouldn't do any good. He said soothingly, "I feel fine, Hutch. Really."

Hutch bent his head to look him in the eye. Grimly, he said, "You also felt fine before you first collapsed in the restaurant."

Starsky supposed that was true. He tried to think back and remember if he'd felt the least bit under the weather before he'd first collapsed and was taken to the hospital. Unfortunately, he couldn't remember that being the case. He'd just been sitting at the dining table with Hutch, eating, and the next thing he knew he felt lousy. And then he "woke up" over nearly two months later in the hospital, an awful-looking partner at his side.

His arms squeezed the waist they held. "I know I'm fine, Hutch," he said simply, believing it. "But, sure, I'll go see the doctor, first thing, and put your beautiful little blond heart at ease." Anxious to change the subject, he said, "And then can we get started on our detective agency?"

Finally, there was a softening in the other man's features. He ran a finger down Starsky's nose. "Sure."

Starsky felt better after that. But neither of them tried to sleep. They dozed off and on through the night, still holding each other. They got up at six and drove back to Indianapolis. They were back in Los Angeles by noon, Pacific time.

* * *

Starsky didn't tell Dr. Williamson the truth about why he wanted an examination. He just said that, after having been on a vacation, he thought it wouldn't hurt to be checked out, even though he felt fine. While Hutch sat in the waiting room, Starsky was poked and prodded at. The doctor was satisfied with those basic tests, and now Starsky watched while a nurse drew blood from his arm. He wondered if, in fact, the news would be that the virus his body carried had started to attack his system again - in such a slow way that he hadn't noticed any of the effects yet.

Then what would he do? There was no cure. And, more importantly, what would Hutch do?

And whose fault would it be? Those bug-eyed whitish-gray little short creeps? When Hutch had curled up in his seat and tried to sleep on the plane, Starsky had taken out Dr. Von Glick's book and read some from it. Many of the abductees had spoken of their cars up and dying on the road. And mysteriously restarting later. Some reported having tested their cars for radiation and finding it. That's something he and Hutch would never know, since their rental car had been turned in at the airport.

Starsky realized that in the back of his mind he was beginning to accept it as fact that he and Hutch had been in alien hands. Had been raped by their instruments.

Starsky watched as the nurse withdrew the needle from his arm, the barrel of the syringe filled with a good helping of his blood.

If the virus was attacking him again, did that mean the aliens did something to cause it to happen?

He felt angry at that thought. But how could he ever get justice for such a crime from somebody who resided in outer space?

Starsky swallowed. "How long will it take for the results to come back?" he asked the nurse.

It was ironic that he'd always thought that it would be fun and exciting to be abducted by aliens.

But there was nothing fun or exciting about what he and Hutch had gone through. It was awful. Horrible. Little grayish-white beings shouldn't be allowed to get away with doing what they did to innocent people.

"Three days usually," the nurse replied. "We'll call you if there's anything abnormal."

She'd placed a bandage over the insertion point, and Starsky rolled down his sleeve. "You only call if it's abnormal?"
"Yes. We don't have the personnel to call patients for all the tests that come out negative. But if you'd like to call us after three days just to reassure yourself, you're certainly welcome to." She labeled the vial, then smiled at him. "You're all done here."

Starsky buttoned his sleeve. "Thanks."

When he emerged to the reception area, he saw Hutch sitting in a chair, staring at the floor with a big, sad frown.

Will I ever, ever see him smile again? he wondered forlornly.

* * *

The waiting was awful. Not because of the waiting itself, but because Hutch was so impossible. They had no jobs to go back to, because both were still officially on leave and had no intention of going back. There was no point in trying to focus on a project such as how they were going to start their agency, because Hutch refused to think of the future without knowing the status of the present. Hutch had no interest in making love. In fact, Hutch had no interest in anything. All he wanted to do was... worry. And, worse, there was nothing else to do.

On the afternoon of the second day after seeing Dr. Williamson, Starsky was out walking by himself, because he had to get out of his apartment, where Hutch was so insistent upon moping around. He'd found his partner's presence downright suffocating. He'd been firm that he didn't want Hutch to accompany him, and he didn't care if he'd hurt Hutch's feelings. He wanted to live. Not mope around.

After a half hour of blissful solitude in the warm, afternoon sunshine, Starsky realized he might be able to get Hutch to agree to something that would make him leave the apartment for a few hours. With their future - or lack of one - looming over their heads, Starsky had forgotten about how... rich... they were. That was something he thought he could remind Hutch about, and specifically about something the blond had wanted to do because of it.

Starsky stayed away another hour, then stopped at a small restaurant and ate a sandwich in peace. Finally, he decided he was ready to go back.

Hutch was lying on the sofa, staring at the ceiling, when Starsky entered. His expression was neutral, and Starsky waited a moment to see if there was going to be an attempt at apology, not that he necessarily needed to hear one.

Hutch remained silent.

Starsky sat in the chair with the wide-fanned back. He hunched forward. "Listen, Hutch. Remember when we were back east and you said you wanted to put the money in accounts with both our names?" The blond showed no reaction. "Well, I want to do that. I want to do it right now. Because... you're right... it'll help me to feel like it's ours instead of yours. Then I won't feel like you're paying for everything for me."

Hutch also drew a deep breath. He slowly sat up. "Yeah. Okay."

Starsky turned back toward the door, not wanting Hutch to see his grin of victory.

* * *

They took care of the bank accounts that day. They made an appointment for the following morning to see Hutch's financial advisor, Mr. Emerson. They were in Emerson's office a long time, filling out forms to transfer the accounts, making themselves each other's beneficiary - something Starsky was aware they were both feeling very self-conscious about. Hutch probably thinks he's going to get my portion of the money back within a matter of months. Stupid blond.

It was past noon when they were finally on their way home. Both were silent, and Starsky knew it was because they were so conscious of the fact that it was the third day after blood had been drawn. He intended to call the doctor's office as soon as they were home.

The phone was ringing when they opened the door. Starsky trotted over to it. "Hello?"

A pleasant female voice said, "May I speak with Mr. David Starsky, please."


"Mr. Starsky, this is Dr. Williamson's office."

Starsky gulped. They wouldn't be calling unless it's something abnormal. He couldn't look at Hutch. The blond had already moved closer after seeing his expression.

"We're very sorry to have to call you about this, but we need you to come back in."

"Come back in for what?" Starsky asked slowly.

"I'm very sorry, sir, but I'm afraid we need to draw blood again. Your first sample was misplaced."

Starsky released a heavy breath, relief making its way through his system. "Oh... uh, sure." Dammit, it's going to take another three days before we know. "When would you like me to come back in?"

Hutch's eyes had widened with worry, as he obviously knew Starsky was talking to the doctor's office.

Starsky put his hand over the receiver and whispered, "It's okay."

Hutch continued to frown, unconvinced.

"If you can come back this afternoon, we'll be able to squeeze you in. It's just to draw blood. Won't take more than ten minutes."

"Yeah. Sure." His stomach tightened, wondering if all this was truly on the level. "I'll be there, say, one-thirty?"

"That'll be fine. We're busy this afternoon, but we'll make time for you. I'm very sorry the first sample got misplaced."

Starsky swallowed. "I'll be there." He hung up.

"WHAT?" Hutch demanded, nostrils flaring. His whole body was tense.

"It's okay," Starsky soothed, moving away from the intense aura of his partner. "They just need me to come back in for another blood sample because they misplaced the first one."


Cautiously, Starsky turned and looked up at Hutch.

The blond's complexion had gone pale, his expression still alarmed. "Oh, no," he said raggedly.

"Hutch, come on," Starsky said irritably. "Somebody screwed up, that's all."

Hutch shook his head defiantly. "No. My God, Starsky," his voice was shaking, "don't you realize what this means?"

"Somebody fucked up," Starsky insisted, scowling.

"No." Hutch was still shaking his head. "It means... it means... they need another sample. To confirm the first. To make sure there's no mistake." His eyes were watering.

Starsky made a deliberate attempt to stay calm. "Hutch, they don't do it like that. If the first sample was bad news, they'd call me in, tell me the bad news, and say they wanted to draw a second sample just to be sure. Jesus, Hutch, doctors and nurses just don't up and lie like that."

Hutch collapsed in a heap on the sofa, as though desperately wanting to believe, but not able to.

Starsky thought of something. He knelt before his partner, took his arm, shook it. "Hutch, listen to me. Listen." He waited until so-weary eyes raised to his own. "They weighed me at the doctor's office, and I weighed myself this morning. And you know what? I weigh a hundred and seventy-eight pounds. I've never weighed that much in my life. I'm puttin' on weight, babe. Getting' downright flabby. If that germ was havin' a field day inside me, I wouldn't be gaining weight." That's true, isn't it? Sick people don't gain weight?

Hutch blinked, a spark of hope showing on his features.

This has gotta end, Starsky decided. I can't take it, seein' him like this. "Hutch, listen. This being rich stuff sucks. We have nothing to do. So, listen to me, Hutch. I'm goin' back down to the clinic so they can draw blood again. And then I'm going down to Vinnie's gym for a long, long workout. Meet me there. Please, babe?" Hutch's expression didn't clam up, and Starsky felt hope. "Hutch, we're both goin' stir crazy, not havin' anything to do. So, let's both work out and work off some of the tension. Meet me there. Okay?"

Hutch released a deep, deep breath. "Okay."

Starsky reached up and put his arms around him. "Thanks, sweetheart." He hugged him, grateful for the warmth. "I know this has all been so hard on you. The past year. Doin' nothin' but waiting for me to get better. And then bein' fucking abducted by aliens. That's - "

"That didn't happen!" Hutch announced angrily, pulling back.

Starsky blinked, sitting back on his haunches and looking up at Hutch. Okay, okay, sorry. I know you can't deal with this. "Right. Sorry." Starsky fumbled for an explanation as to why he'd said that. "Just makes me a little crazy, not knowing what happened that night."

"Whatever happened," Hutch said, still harsh, "it had nothing to do with aliens from outer space! Listen to yourself. That's the most ridiculous thing that's ever come out of your mouth the entire time I've known you."

Starsky's jaw dropped. Is he mad at me? No, that couldn't be right. Hutch was a mess. Nothing made sense in their lives right. All because of four lousy hours....

More calmly, Hutch said, "I don't even have the dreams any more, so let's just forget about that whole ridiculous idea."

Starsky blinked again. Hutch, in order to have dreams you first hafta fall asleep, babe. If you don't sleep, you don't have dreams. Wonder if they'll come back after this is all over and you'll actually be able to sleep soundly again....

Starsky squeezed his hand. "Okay." He stood. "I better get going. You'll meet me at the gym, right?"

Hutch nodded. But he was frowning.

* * *

It was enormously rewarding to be exhausted for physical reasons rather than emotional ones. After working out, Starsky felt healthier than he had in a long, long time. Even Hutch seemed to carry a spark in his eye, though his mouth still remained fixed in a frown.

Since they were close to Hutch's apartment, they stopped by there so the plants could be tended to and the mail picked up. Starsky wanted to start a conversation about moving in together, but he knew it was pointless with such a huge Unknown hanging over their heads. He hoped they would have lighter hearts and be eager to talk about their future in a few days.

Afterwards, they had a quiet meal at Starsky's. As they were cleaning up, Starsky said, "I keep thinking we need to call Dobey and make arrangements to officially resign." When Hutch showed no reaction, he reminded, "Because, no matter what happens, we know we aren't going to go back."

Hutch merely nodded.

* * *

Starsky called Dobey and tried to keep small talk to a minimum. He just made sure they had an appointment to see the captain the following afternoon. He didn't say why, but he was certain Dobey had to suspect what they had in mind. Afterwards, he went to the gym. He was stiff and sore from his workout the previous day, so he kept it light, but still managed to keep himself occupied for an hour. He then headed home, feeling somewhat prepared to face his partner's the grim depression.

* * *

Starsky opened the door to his apartment. "I'm home," he announced cheerfully. But then felt a brick crash through his stomach.

Hutch was sitting hunched over on the sofa, his head in his hands.

Starsky cautiously moved toward the couch. "What's wrong, babe?"

A hand moved just enough so that the blond could speak. His voice was shaky. "Dr. Williamson's office called."

Oh, no. That means it wasn't normal.

Hutch's body seemed to be trembling. "He wants to see you at ten o'clock tomorrow morning."

Oh, Jesus God. His heart was pounding, his stomach twisting, his chest tightening. Reality Check. Big time.

"Hutch," Starsky said gently, moving to kneel at the edge of the sofa, "what exactly did they say, babe?"

Hutch lowered his hands. His eyes were so sad. "Just that they had the lab results back and Dr. Williamson wanted to see you at ten o'clock tomorrow."

Starsky considered that, anxious to focus on mundane details. "Hmm. I'm surprised they even talked to you."

"They thought I was you. I let them believe I was."


"I even asked them," Hutch went on, gazing at the floor, "what the results were. The lady said she didn't know; she'd just been told to call and schedule an appointment."

Okay, okay. Let's keep a level head.. Here we go. He squeezed Hutch's hand. "Babe?" He waited until sad, weary eyes looked up again. His voice was carefully tender and soothing. "Let's keep this in perspective. I mean, I feel great right now. So... even if the doctor gives us really bad news tomorrow, it's not like I'm gonna keel over. I mean, they'd have the ambulance over here if I was in any immediate danger. I beat this thing before, Hutch. And this time around, we'll have caught it early. The doctors can start treating me right away. Even if they can't cure it, at least it can be... managed. I mean, people live with incurable illnesses all the time. Every day. They do what they can to adapt."

Hutch simply gazed at him, as though appreciating that Starsky was making an effort to be positive.

Starsky shifted, straightening on his knees. "And, Hutch, I need you to help me through this, babe." I'm so scared. He squeezed his hand... hard. "I need you to be with me every step of the way. And, in return, I'll fight this thing like crazy."

Hutch's face softened. He reached out and slowly ran a finger down Starsky's cheek. "I haven't been a very good friend to you lately, have I?"

Starsky sagged, grateful that Hutch was talking without getting angry or full of despair. "Jesus, Hutch. I haven't exactly given you reasons to be a good friend. Seems like, the past year, all your love for me has cost you nothing but a shitload of worry and endless bedside vigils."

Fingers gently grasped his jaw. "It's been worth it," Hutch whispered. "So worth it."

Ah, Hutch. Starsky swallowed to clear the lump in his throat. "Listen, babe. No matter what they tell us tomorrow - no matter how bad it is - I-I-I need for us to go on. I can't handle all this sitting around thinking about how crappy everything is. We've got lots of things to be thankful for, Hutch. And we've got the money to do anything we want. So," he pleaded, grasping both of the blond's hands, "can you promise to at least try to move on? I really, really want us to start our own detective agency. I want, so much, for us to build something together. I really need to do that, babe." And hope like hell I don't leave you behind to run it yourself. Alone.

Hands grasped the sides of his face. "I'll try," Hutch whispered. "I promise." His face came forward and a tender kiss settled on Starsky's lips.

Oh, man, Starsky marveled, letting his hands drop to his sides. They'd never even kissed since getting back to Los Angeles. Maybe we can fuck all night tonight. But no. It was unlikely that either of them would be capable of erections, considering all their mental anguish. Gonna be a hell of a long night. Neither of us is gonna be able to sleep. What are we going to do with ourselves until ten o'clock tomorrow morning?

Starsky gulped as Hutch slowly released him. So ironic. My days are counted, and I don't know what to do with my spare time.

He looked up into those sad eyes that were trying so hard to be hopeful. Love him. That's how he needed to spend his time. Just love him. Any way I can. Love him, love him, love him.

* * *

They spent a long time gently nuzzling each other. As Starsky suspected, neither of them were capable of doing anything more than that. Eventually, they went to bed and nuzzled some more. They took turns holding each other, petting and loving. Then one of them would drift off a little, but always wake up and need be soothed and reassured all over again.

At dawn, Starsky convinced Hutch they needed to eat, so they went out for breakfast. Afterwards, Starsky insisted on going to the gym, needing to work off his restlessness. Hutch's exercise was much less enthusiastic, but he tried.

Clearer of mind, they finally headed to the clinic.

* * *

Starsky kept his eyes on the clock. It was now ten minutes past ten. He and Hutch hadn't said a word to each other since leaving the gym. They sat side by side in the uncomfortable waiting room chairs, both with their heads bowed. Waiting.

"David Starsky?"

Butterflies danced in Starsky's stomach as they both straightened.

A nurse held an armful of files. "Right this way, please."

Starsky followed her, aware of the foreboding presence of his partner behind him.

The nurse stepped to one side of an open door and gestured to the interior.

Starsky entered the room where Dr. Williamson sat behind a large desk. The doctor gestured to a chair. "Mr. Starsky. Nice to see you again. Please. Sit." He seemed genuinely pleased to see him. The doctor indicated a chair closer to the door. "Yes, please have a seat," he said to Hutch.

Through the corner of his eye, Starsky watched as Hutch sat heavily. As soon as the door was closed behind them, he prompted, "You wanted to see me, Doctor?"

The man took off his glasses. "Yes. The results of your blood tests are... shocking."

Starsky's heart quickened. "Tests? As in more than one?"

"Yes," the doctor replied. "I know you were told that the first test was lost. I'm afraid that was not the case. We'd thought there had to be a mistake with the first sample, because the result was so unbelievable. That's why we had you come in for a second test. But the second test came up the same as the first. I even went to the lab and ran the second test through another time myself, to be sure."

The doctor's manner seemed pleasant. Starsky dared to hope. "So... how did it come up? What's so unbelievable about it?"

The doctor folded his hands on the desktop. "Mr. Starsky, there is no evidence whatsoever that you were ever infected with the Herpes-B virus. Your tests were all negative."

Starsky's mouth fell open. W-w-w-hat?

"That's why the result is so unbelievable. Even if you'd merely been `cured' of the disease, your blood would have antibodies. But that is not the case. It's as if you never had the disease at all."

Starsky heard a soft gasp and he glanced at Hutch. His partner was still staring at the floor, more hunched than previously, and a tear fell from his eyelid and slid down his cheek.

Ah, Hutch....

"Needless to say," the doctor again put on his glasses, "I'm extremely curious as to what's happened to you in the past few weeks since you left this hospital. A situation such as this is almost unheard of."

Happened to us? Oh, my God.... Oh, my God....

Starsky gulped. "Uh, Doc, I'm afraid I can't tell you anything that would be helpful."

The doctor's expression showed confusion.

Starsky looked at Hutch again. More tears were streaming down his staring face. Some splashed onto the floor. He can't accept the fact that I'm all right until he first accepts that fact that we were abducted by aliens. How's he supposed to deal with all this at once?

"Doc," Starsky said, desperate to finish. "I-I... Look, there's really nothing I can tell you." Nothing you would believe. "Please understand. I'm as shocked as you, but... now that everything's okay," his breath was coming faster. I'm gonna be fine! I'm fine! "I just... just want to live my life."

The doctor smiled. "Of course, I understand."

Hutch was shuddering now, even though he hadn't moved from the chair nor made any further sound. He's gonna fall apart. He needs to fall apart. And that's fine, because I'm okay now. I can pick up the pieces.

Starsky looked at the doctor again. "Look, Doc, I promise that I'll always make sure you'll know where to reach me in case you need information from me, or samples of my blood, or whatever. But I've been in hospitals for a good portion of the past year, and I'm done with it." He drew a deep breath, then more gently, "Please. Can you leave us alone for a few minutes?"

The doctor glanced at Hutch. "Certainly." He got up and walked out, closing the door behind him.

Starsky moved the few feet between the chairs and dropped to his knees. He looked up into that wet, red face, and puffy eyes still staring at the floor. He held out his arms. "Hutch."

Hutch collapsed to his knees, into Starsky's arms. He grabbed at the back of Starsky's shirt and clung to it, crying loudly now, his chin resting on Starsky's shoulder, sobs racking his body.

Starsky stroked the back of the blond head. "It's okay, Hutch," he cooed gently. "In fact, it's wonderful." He grinned, and realized his own emotions were close to the surface. "It's gonna be truly, truly fine for the first time in a long, long time. And it's gonna last the whole rest of our lives." He squeezed him.

The lanky body shook. Starsky had no desire to "shush" him. Tension had been building up in his partner ever since Starsky had taken Gunther's bullets. There had been small moments of euphoria, but Hutch had never had any genuine release from all the worries that had poisoned his soul since that time. Fall apart, partner, he encouraged as he slowly rubbed Hutch's shuddering back. Cleanse yourself so we can start all over. "I know, Hutch," he whispered tenderly as he continued to pet, "I know. But it's gonna be all, all right now. It's gonna be great."

Hutch's sounds eased, but Starsky still held him close. He swallowed thickly, wondering how Hutch was handling the fact that it was the aliens who had cured him. Or was Hutch conveniently ignoring that part and merely expressing his extreme relief that it was all going to be all right now?

Doesn't matter, Starsky decided. However he wants to play it, we'll deal with it.

Hutch started sobbing again, but it was in small, periodic spurts. Starsky went back to stroking his hair.

A knock sounded at the door.

Starsky pressed Hutch closer and called out, "A few more minutes, please." He listened, grateful when footsteps moved away.

He went back to stroking fragile strands. Hutch was quiet now, other than gasping for breath, his chin still resting on Starsky's shoulder. "A lot to take in, huh?" Starsky said tenderly. "Comin' in here expectin' the worst and finding out it's all gonna be better than we coulda ever hoped. Man. Sometimes life deals you a full set of aces, huh?"

Finally, Hutch moved. He pulled back.

His face was blistered red and his eyes were still full of moisture. Mucus was in his mustache. But he looked so... loving... as he gazed at Starsky.

"Ah, Hutch," Starsky whispered, just as loving. Gotta get you cleaned up. A little bit, anyway. He looked around, then squeezed Hutch's shoulder. "Just a sec." He pulled a tissue box from the desk. He pushed it into his partner's hands. "Here. Use some of this, if you can."

Lethargically, Hutch pulled a tissue from the box. As though moving in slow motion, he brought it up to his cheek and dragged it across his lower eyelid.

Jesus Christ, he's a mess. Starsky looked at his partner. He is the single most exhausted man on this Earth, he decided. Gotta get him home and take care of him. His heart swelled. Ah, man, Hutch, are you ever gonna get it. I'm gonna love you to death. Starting right now. I'm going to love you so much you're going to forget all about what burden it was to carry all this bad stuff around for so long. He shifted close again and put his arms around Hutch. "Listen, buddy boy, we need to go home now. Think you can manage to sit back in your chair? Huh?" He shifted, grabbed Hutch by the shirt and the waist. "Come on, you big beautiful lug. Come on." He pulled and Hutch managed to climb back into the chair, the tissue box falling to the floor.

Oh, man. Starsky picked it up and put it back on the desk. He took the single tissue from between Hutch's fingers. Too weak to even handle a Kleenex. He tossed it into the trash. Then he squeezed Hutch's shoulder. "Hang on. Just a sec." He went to the door and stuck his head out.

Dr. Williamson was approaching from the hall, and he quickened his stride.

"We're ready to go," Starsky said when Williamson was close enough. "Like I said, I'll make sure your office always knows how to get in touch with me, in case I can be of any help to someone else later on. But, for now, we just want to get home."

"I understand," Williamson replied. He hesitated, "Is your friend... all right?"

"Yeah. Just exhausted. I think I can get him out of here under his own power, but... is there a wheelchair nearby?"

The doctor looked surprised at the idea that Hutch might be in that bad of a condition. "Yes. Perhaps we should look him over."

Starsky shook his head and said firmly, "He just needs... sleep. Wait out here and I'll see if I can get him out under his own power." He went back into the office before Williamson could reply. He put his arm around Hutch's shoulders and bent close. "Hey, buddy," he whispered, "think maybe you can walk outta here?" He waited, listening to yet another shuddering breath. "S'okay if you can't. I can wheel you out in a wheelchair, if that would be better." He massaged the nearest shoulder, amazed at the lethargy of the muscles beneath his fingers. Now I know what it really means when someone is `dead on their feet'. Except... he's not really even on his feet, he corrected as a wave of affection washed through him. "Whaddya think?" he prompted. "Think you can maybe walk out of here?"

There was a bare nod of the drooping head, as though Hutch was incapable of holding it up.

"Okay, buddy boy," Starsky said, not at all surprised that Hutch didn't want to be wheeled out like an invalid. He reached down and grabbed the top of Hutch's jeans with his left hand. With his right, he gripped him about the waist. "Stand up, okay? Here we go." He tugged.

Leaning heavily on the arm of the chair, Hutch staggered to his feet.

"That's my pal," Starsky gushed. "Okay, one foot at a time...."

They made it to the door, Starsky still holding onto Hutch with both hands. As they crossed over the threshold, Dr. Williamson was there, and a nurse stood a little farther behind him with a wheelchair.

"We'll be okay," Starsky said to the physician, not allowing Hutch to pause in his deliberate stride. "And, thanks, Doc."

Williamson nodded, still watching them.

Hutch seemed to develop the confidence to move a little faster as they passed the waiting room. They made it down the hall and into an elevator, where they rode alone. Hutch was still drawing weary, shuddering breaths, as though he couldn't take in the necessary amount of air.

Still need to blow your nose, dummy, Starsky silently scolded. Standing at one side, he was able to duck his head a little and see up into his companion's face. You look like utter hell, he decided, taking in the bright red, flushed cheeks and swollen eyes that still carried a hint of moisture. And you're the most beautiful thing on this Earth. In this universe, he mentally corrected, not imagining any of those grayish-white creatures being anywhere near as attractive - in any category -- as Hutch. Man, am I gonna have the greatest life ever lived, loving you.

Thankfully, they had been able to park close to the entrance. Starsky only had to keep his arm around Hutch's waist to support him now. It wasn't any problem at all to unlock the door to the passenger side of the Torino with his free hand. He ushered Hutch into the seat, then unlocked his own door and gratefully sat down. He inserted the key into the ignition, anticipating getting home and taking care of his partner.

He heard a particularly long, shuddering breath to his right, and looked over.

Hutch sat staring at the floorboard. Without raising his head, his ragged voice asked, "Do you love them or hate them for what they did?"

Starsky blinked. Them. The aliens? You understand then, he thought with a mixture of relief and awe, that it could only have been "them" who cured me? After a moment, he realized Hutch was still waiting for an answer, and he was forced to look inside himself. After thinking, he replied, "I can't love them, Hutch. They had no right to do what they did to us." He drew a deep breath. "And I can't hate them, either." He turned the ignition, put the car in gear, and started out of the lot.

He kept glancing to his right, but Hutch showed no reaction to his answer. Just kept staring at the floorboard.

I can't ever hate them, Starsky thought. They cured me, so of course I can't hate them. He furrowed a brow. But... why did they do it? We told that Von Glick guy about my illness, and he never mentioned anything about anyone claiming to having had their illnesses cured after being abducted. I read his whole book and there was no mention of anything like that.

His mind worked the problem more intently as he maneuvered the Torino through traffic. What made my situation special?


Starsky's eyes stung. He gulped, and blinked frantically, willing the moisture to go away. A few moments ago, he'd received some of the greatest news an ill person could ever be given. And he was on top of the world.

Now, in the span of a heartbeat, he became the most humble of human beings.

* * *

It was a slow climb up the staircase to his apartment. A couple of times, Hutch almost completely lost his balance. He seemed unconcerned about it - as though incapable of reacting to save himself - and it was only because Starsky held on tight that he prevented a disaster from happening. Is it not just fatigue, Starsky wondered, but shock from finally admitting the truth about what happened? He remembered how pale Hutch's face had been when he'd first held Von Glick's book. And, just like that, he insisted it didn't happen to us. Like... that's the only way he could have any hope of going on. Denying it, because it's so unbelievable.

And now he has no choice but to deal with it, since my being cured is the proof that it actually happened; and he's got to try to deal with it at a time when he's so emotionally exhausted that the only thing he has the energy for is crying.

"Just a few more steps," Starsky directed, more with relief than encouragement, once they were inside his apartment.

Hutch was a genuine burden now, and Starsky almost had to push him from behind while also supporting him by the waist, to get him into the bedroom. Finally, he released his blond charge to the bed. Hutch collapsed upon it like a rag doll, dropping to the mattress in a sitting position with his arms dangling at his sides.

Starsky stepped to a hall closet and pulled out a clean handkerchief. He pushed it into Hutch's hands. "Blow your nose, Hutch." He brought Hutch's hands, which included the cloth, up to his face. "Come on, Hutch, blow your nose so you can breathe again." He turned to the bathroom, grateful to hear weary noises of effort behind him.

Starsky opened up the cabinet of the vanity and reached way into the back. He found a box of bubble bath that a previous evening companion - he couldn't even remember who anymore - had left there. He took the box to the bath and started the water. He poured a fourth of the box's contents into the tub and turned the hot faucet on full. Then turned on the cold handle not quite as high.

Starsky quickly divested himself of his outer shirt so that only his t-shirt remained. He went back into the bedroom where Hutch was wiping at his nose, the blond using the same slow motion that had characterized his actions at the doctor's office. Starsky knelt in front of him and started unbuttoning his shirt. Glancing up as he worked with the clothing, he saw that Hutch still seemed to be staring at nothing with swollen eyes, but they did look a little dryer. He imagined all the redness in Hutch's face had to sting uncomfortably.

After his shirt was open, Starsky unsnapped his jeans and pulled the fly apart. Then he bent to coax off Hutch's shoes and pull off his socks. He straightened, then picked up Hutch's arm and had to manipulate the heavy limb to get it out of the shirt. Pulling it off the other arm was a lot easier. Starsky then had to work with the undershirt, pulling if off Hutch's arms while also coaxing it over the blond's head. It seemed a major victory when that was done.

He leaned down to Hutch, wrapping an arm around his body, and said, "Stand up a sec so we can get your pants off. Come on." He lifted the lanky body and pushed at his clothing. Hutch seemed to try to stand, but wasn't very successful, and collapsing back onto the mattress. But it was enough for Starsky to get his clothing halfway down his hips. Starsky then squatted and pulled at Hutch's pants legs. It took a lot of yanking, but finally the denim was free. The cotton briefs had ended up halfway down Hutch's thighs, and Starsky moved to roll them down the long legs, then slip them off.

Both arms went around Hutch's nude form. "Okay, Hutch, just a few steps into the bathroom. Got a nice hot bubble bath that's gonna put you right to sleep." He lifted and Hutch made a deliberate effort, moving forward on unsteady legs. It was awkward going, but finally Starsky was encouraging him into the tub, where the bubbles were piled high. Hurriedly, he turned off the water. The tub was almost completely filled.

Water splashed over the sides as Hutch, having crawled over the edge, finally plopped down. He made a little noise, as though the water was uncomfortable.

"Oops," Starsky whispered, "a little bit hot for you, huh?" He watched for a moment, wondering if he should try to add more cold, but Hutch was sitting hunched over with his knees drawn up to his chest, and he realized after a moment that his partner's pale skin was already adjusting to the heat.

He grabbed a washcloth and submerged it. When it was soaking wet he brought it up to Hutch's neck and ran it slowly, but firmly, across the skin of his partner's back.

Hutch turned his face away and rested his cheek on his knees.

Starsky hoped the bath would relax Hutch a little, and bring him down from the emotional turmoil of the last few hours. Then Hutch would hopefully get the sleep that he so badly needed.

Starsky continued to scrub, using soap, then the washcloth, liberally. He realized the bathing was also fulfilling his own deep need to take care of Hutch. Once the back of the blond's silent body was tended to, Starsky lifted Hutch's arm and scrubbed at the area beneath it. He rinsed the cloth, then washed beneath the other arm. Hutch remained silent and unmoving throughout his partner's handling.

He'd done all he could with Hutch in this position. Starsky placed his hand protectively on the back of the blond's head. Gently, he beckoned, "Lie back. Just lie back and relax." Hutch let himself recline so that his head rested against the back of the basin, bubbles up to his neck, his eyes still staring away.

However, Starsky could see his face now. He was amazed at how red Hutch's skin was, how puffy his eyes were. But his eyes were dry and he did seem a bit more alert. "Hang on a sec," Starsky soothed, then moved to the sink. He found a clean washcloth and ran it under cold water. He knelt back beside the tub and held it near Hutch's face. "Here, this is cold water." He dabbed at Hutch's cheek, watching for a reaction, and when there was none, he spread the cloth out and let it lie across most of his face. He brought Hutch's hand up and put it on top of the cloth. "Here, pal, wash your face with that."

Starsky put his hand in the water and retrieved the other washcloth. He started working on Hutch's knees, which jutted up from the bubbles. As he massaged them, he was pleased to see that Hutch's hand was actually moving, that he was gently pressing the cool cloth along his face. When he pressed it across his eyes, Starsky took the opportunity to scrub Hutch's mustache, to clean the dried mucus out of it.

By the time he was finished, Hutch had actually pulled the washcloth away from his face under his own power. The blond's eyes were less puffy, and he was looking in Starsky's direction. In fact, his face had softened and, in its own tired way, radiated love.

Starsky took the cloth from him and stretched to lay it on the corner of the sink. Then he settled next to the tub again, facing Hutch, and lovingly ran his hand up and down his partner's knee.

Hutch swallowed and his lips moved as though he wanted to speak.

Starsky laid his head against the knee and waited.

It took a couple of deep breaths to gather strength, but then a small, weary voice said, "You've always been... so much... stronger... than me." Another deep breath, then another. His expression seemed apologetic. "You can... handle this." He blinked, and his eyes looked like they were filling again.

Starsky straightened and moved a few inches closer. His heart was full, and he wondered how much he could say that would sink into that blond's brain in its current state. He decided to try. "Hutch, don't talk to me about strength," he pleaded. He leaned forward, wanting to drive his point home. "Do you understand," he took a deep breath, for his chest was tightening, "why they saved me?" Hutch only gazed at him. Starsky became more animated. "They've never done that before, Hutch. That professor never mentioned anything about it; his book never mentioned anything about it. I've never read of a UFO case ever where anyone claimed they were cured of any sort of illness." Starsky swallowed down a lump, as his voice thickened with awe. "Those damn beings - or whatever they were - don't fly around curing people, Hutch. It may have been their technology which cured me, but it wasn't them who did it." He paused significantly. He felt Hutch was listening, even if the blond didn't have the strength to react. Starsky's voice softened further. "They only did it because of you, Hutch. You cried for me, begged for my safety, for my life. Somehow - " he swallowed thickly again, "that got through to them." He settled more fully onto the floor. Speaking distinctly in the hope that Hutch would understand, he asked, "What can I ever say to you; what can I ever do for you, that will ever, ever make up for whatyou've done for me?" He stopped, his own eyes starting to fill.

Hutch's mouth had drifted open as he teared up again. None of the moisture made it over his eyelids, but then he turned his head and looked toward the wall of the bath.

Starsky reached into the water and found Hutch's hand. He brought it up so he could kiss it.... Once, twice... three times. Then he held it, in both hands, to his chest. "You saved me, Hutch," he whispered. "You cured me." He smiled. "And now you're stuck with me. For a long, long time. And I'm gonna take care of you for that whole long, long time, Hutch. That's what I'm gonna do with the life you gave back to me."

He wasn't sure that Hutch comprehended it all. For that matter, he wasn't sure if Hutch comprehended any of it. The blond continued to stare at the tile.

Starsky gently placed the hand back in the water and searched for the washcloth.

"I'm so tired."

Starsky looked up. The one sentence had been whispered so clearly, so honestly. So wearily. Hutch's gaze remained on the tile.

Starsky had the washcloth and put it aside. Tenderly, he said, "I know. And what we're going to do is get you outta this tub, dry you off, and then we're going to put you to bed. I want you to sleep for a long time. And when you wake up, I want you to go back to sleep. And if you wake up and I'm not in the room, don't worry about it, because I'll still be here. And if you wake up and you're hungry, I'll bring you something to eat. If you're thirsty, I'll bring you something to drink. If you need to use the john, you can get up and do that, but then I want you to come right back to bed." He paused, then more firmly, "I want you to stay in bed, Hutch. I want you to sleep. I want the next few days to be the laziest days you've ever had in your life." Still, Hutch showed no reaction. Starsky asked, "Understand?"

Staring at the wall, Hutch gave the barest hint of a nod.

"All right," Starsky said with satisfaction as he released the drain. The water made a satisfying noise as the tub began to empty. Now, to get his partner out of the tub. Standing up and stepping out was far too dangerous, especially considering the slippery nature of the bubbles. Instead, he put his arm around Hutch. "Okay, buddy, gotta make just a tiny bit of effort. Gotta get you over onto the rug here so I can dry you off." He tugged on Hutch. "Come on, Bronco, hang onto me and crawl over the edge."

It turned out to be more complicated than he'd anticipated. He pulled on Hutch's body, and Hutch tried to get his long, uncooperative legs, one at a time, over the edge. Finally, the second leg was over, and he landed in a kneeling position in front of Starsky. Starsky reached behind him for a couple of towels on the rack. Just as he began the task of drying, he caught Hutch's eye.

Hutch had that look again. That weary, totally drained look, his face still flushed and sagging. But his eyes were so soft with tenderness and love, and tears.

Starsky melted and threw his arms around his love as Hutch collapsed against him. He held tight while Hutch's cheek took residence on his shoulder. And then, as Hutch's body began to shudder with sobs, Starsky used the towels on his wet skin.

"Can't stop," Hutch managed to gasp.

Starsky's arms tightened around their captive once again. "S'okay," he assured. Then, more firmly, "Don't try to stop, Hutch. It's okay to fall apart. Because I'm just fine because of you, and I'll hold all your pieces together, so you don't have to." He went back to his tender drying, wondering if it had really even sunk into his own brain that he was truly okay. He felt himself say the words - I'm fine - but the only way he cared to celebrate was by taking care of Hutch.

He wasn't surprised that Hutch had more pressure to release. Starsky was well familiar with carrying the responsibility for the life of a loved one. Terry had been one life that he could not save. Hutch's was one he had been determined to save when he was searching for Callendar. But while focusing on Hutch kept him going, the back of his mind had been aware that the whole health of the city rested upon his ability to find one man. After he'd been successful, he'd ended up collapsing from exhaustion at the hospital. That had been the physical release of all the pressure he'd been under. It wasn't until later, within minutes of taking a weak but healthy Hutch home, that the emotional stress had caught up to him, and he'd clung to Hutch and cried uncontrollably for what had seemed like a long time. Hutch had simply... let him... and he'd been enormously grateful for that.

The incident with the plague had lasted only a few days. Hutch had been carrying around his worry for Starsky for a full year now. Added to that was the stress of having something completely unbelievable happen to them just a few short weeks ago. And then the intense worry from assuming the appointment with Dr. Wiliamson meant bad news. And now, the best possible news, but Hutch couldn't enjoy it until he first cleansed his system of all the prior poisons, the most potent of which was simple exhaustion.

Perhaps the end was finally near. Hutch's body hiccuped a couple of times, and then his head remained still against Starsky's shoulder. Starsky was very thorough in his drying, reaching every possible inch of Hutch that he could without disturbing their embrace. When he was finished, he put the towels aside and whispered, "Okay, Hutch. We've got one small little task left, and then you can sleep. But we've got to take about five steps to the bed. Think you can stand up?" He gathered his burden by the waist. "Huh?"

Hutch's arms weakly came up against Starsky's back.

"That's it," Starsky encouraged. "Hang on to me, and let's get you on your feet for just a minute." He braced himself, then stood while carrying most of Hutch's weight, though the blond was making an effort. "Come on, one foot in front of the other. Just a few steps."

Hutch was trying to walk quickly, as though eager to reach the bed. Finally, they were there. Starsky braced one arm around Hutch's slim waist, then threw the covers back. "In you go, Bronco." He let Hutch flop onto the bed in a half-sitting position. Now free of his burden, Starsky bent and petted as much of Hutch as could he while he worked at maneuvering his partner's long legs beneath the blankets and pushing Hutch more toward the center of the bed. When he had him where he wanted him, he noted Hutch's newly wet eyes, though they didn't look nearly as bad as they had a little while ago. "Just a sec," he whispered, then returned to the bathroom. He took the wet cloth from the edge of the sink and ran it under cold water, squeezed it out, then returned to the bed. He gently patted the cool material along Hutch's cheeks. "There, big fella." Hutch lay there passively, gazing at nothing.

Finished, Starsky tossed the washcloth aside, then knelt carefully on the bed and maneuvered Hutch's frame until he was curled up on his side. He brought the covers up to Hutch's neck and tucked them in. "There," he whispered soothingly. "Everything's fine now, Hutch. Everything's wonderful. You just go to sleep for a long, long time." He paused, then added, "You can't get out of bed, anyway, until I say so; you may as well just sleep. Sleep. Sleep." He patted Hutch's head while carefully dislodging himself from the mattress. He stood back and regarded his charge.

Hutch was lying there with his eyes barely squinted open. His body looked completely relaxed. "Sleep, Hutch," Starsky insisted. "Close your eyes."

Hutch blinked, swallowed, then closed his eyes.

Starsky watched a moment, then went into the living room. He picked up the fan-back wicker chair and brought it into the bedroom. Placing it a few feet from the corner of the bed, he sat in it with his legs drawn up. It occurred to him then how utterly exhausted he was himself, and he made a deliberate attempt to relax into the contours of the chair.

All was silent. Hutch's eyes fluttered as they gazed at nothing.

Too tired to sleep, Starsky realized. He wasn't sure if Hutch could see him through the corner of his eye. He was tempted to find something in the medicine cabinet that might put Hutch out. But, after the heroin incident, Hutch was wary of drugs, and particularly of downers. Even though he would be too lethargic now to realize what Starsky was giving him, let alone have any strength to protest, Starsky didn't have the heart to try to get him to take anything. He hoped time - and not much of it - was all that was needed. As it was, he had no desire to get into bed with Hutch and disturb him with his movement.

Hutch's eyes closed again.

Atta boy, Hutch. Let yourself rest - really rest - for the first time in a long, long time.

Starsky knew that he needed rest, too. I received the most wonderful news possible this morning, and I can't even feel jubilant about it. Just... happy.

As he sat there, watching Hutch, he began to realize that any celebrations that took place were going to be intimately personal.

You just wait, Hutch. After you're all re-energized and ready to get out of bed, you're going to have to stay in bed for yet a few more days, because that's how long it's gonna take for me to love you like I really need to love you. Starsky's hand drifted down and felt along his crotch. It was soft there, for he was too exhausted to even respond to his hand. Doesn't change how I feel, Starsky decided. I'm insane for you. And after we're both rested, there's going to be a lot of fucking going on between us. I'm gonna pump a gallon of cum down your throat. And ten gallons up your ass. And the next time some damn aliens stick a probe up inside you, it's gonna come out with nothing but my sperm on it. Then they'll know you're mine. In fact, they won't even get that far. You'll have my love bites all over you. Hickeys. And they won't want you, Hutch. You'll be a reject. They'll throw you back. They'll see that you're mine and not want anything to do with you. They won't even bother with that damn probe.

Starsky took a deep, steadying breath. While he'd been raped in the same way, it felt like an event outside of himself, since he had absolutely no recollection of it. But Hutch had dreams. He'd had to relive it in the peace of sleep. No right to do that to you, Starsky thought angrily.

He continued to watch Hutch's still form.

Wish I coulda protected you from that, he thought helplessly. Or even if he couldn't have, at least made it all better. Kiss you back there and try to make it better. He'd kissed Hutch there a couple of times. You're sweet back there, Hutch. There's lots of other things my mouth can do to you back there, you know. Wait until you're all rested. Man, are you gonna get it. He drew a deep breath as realization dawned. Everything we've done up to now has just been child's play. Kid stuff. You don't know nothin' about how capable I am at loving. How passionate I can be. How possessive....

Images filled his defenseless brain. Man, I'm gonna fuck you. Ten times a day. And ravage you before, during, and after. You're gonna know nothin' but pleasure for the next few months. Then, heart beating with love, he thought, How's that for a nice change of pace from all your months of worrying?

It all couldn't be one-sided though. He'd have to let Hutch fuck him. Ram his big, long pale prick down his throat, then up his ass. Any way you want it, babe. His heart swelled at the memory of how he'd most intensely pleased Hutch. Dance my fingers all along the inside of you. Stroke your magic place. After I've first got you all wet and hot with my tongue. Make you insane for my prick. Then stop and suck your toes a while. Then crawl up your beautiful self and kiss your delicious mouth. Taste your breath with my tongue. Then stick my prick in there while I turn around and suck your cock while also shoving my fingers up your ass. Make you come like a friggin' volcano. Then pull my cock out of your groaning mouth and turn around and fuck you. Fuck you hard. Fuck you like mad. Send my sperm all the way up to your stomach, up farther until it tickles the back of your throat....

Aliens won't know what to do with you if they ever abduct you again. My mark will be all over you....

A heavy breath emerged from the bed.

Starsky roused himself from his thoughts and looked at Hutch. Hutch's eyes were closed, his face relaxed. He was breathing even and deep.

I love you, Hutch. God, I love you. Not sure you really even have any idea....

But he'd show him. When Hutch was ready.

* * *

Starsky went out to the sofa and slept for a few hours. He then took stock of the kitchen and realized that they were low on groceries. After all, they hadn't been able to think further ahead than the test results. Starsky didn't want to leave Hutch alone. He ended up calling Huggy and asked him friend to go to the supermarket and pick up a lot of groceries. He told Huggy to knock softly when he arrived, and promised him that he and Hutch both would sit down and catch him up with what was going on with them when they were ready.

He did not anticipate telling Huggy about their abduction. He couldn't imagine ever telling anyone about that.


Part 4

Starsky checked on Hutch periodically, and the blond never moved. He got a good night's sleep himself on the sofa. When he checked Hutch in the morning, his partner had shifted positions and was turned away from the door, sleeping soundly on his side.

Starsky got out the yellow pages and started calling private detective agencies. Some weren't willing to talk to him, but others were friendly and answered his questions about what was involved in getting started, how and where they advertised, and how long it had taken before they began showing a profit. He talked to some who had an office staff, and others who worked strictly alone. One of the latter told him that he was so busy that he was turning away smaller jobs.

Starsky spent the rest of the day cleaning house and thinking with the television on low. A couple of times when he checked on Hutch, the blond's eyes had drifted open. But his face still looked very tired, and Starsky would firmly tell him, "Go back to sleep, Hutch." And Hutch would.

Hutch got up at night to use the john. He returned to bed immediately, but since the most intense part of catching up on his sleep was past, Starsky joined him for a peaceful night of slumber.

Starsky was awake first the next morning. He got up while trying to disturb Hutch as little as possible. But the blond was fully alert within an hour.

"Want some breakfast?" Starsky asked when Hutch had returned to bed after using the bathroom.

That sleep-laden face looked suspicious. "What sort of breakfast?"

That sounded like his partner. Starsky shrugged and tried to sound genuinely enticing. "Scrambled eggs. Wheat toast. Milk and orange juice?"

Hutch rubbed at his scruffy face. "Yeah. Sure."

Starsky turned away, but when the bed rocked he looked back to see Hutch sitting up and pushing the covers back. "Where you goin'?" he asked with disapproval.

Hutch shrugged. "Ready for a shower." He stretched mightily as he proceeded back to the bathroom.

Starsky wondered if a shower and a meal meant Hutch wanted to get up for real. He hoped not, for he thought his partner could still use another day or two of utter laziness.

As Starsky worked in the kitchen, he became aware that all of his actions were ones of love. He wanted to cook for Hutch. To take care of him. And the only reason he knew how to scramble up eggs - especially the way Hutch liked them - was because Hutch had shown him how. That education had taken place on one of many evenings they'd spent in years past as bachelors without a date and perfectly content in each other's company.

Technically, he supposed, they would always be considered bachelors. But now there wouldn't be any more dates. Funny, he'd never really considered that before - the fact that he was permanently mated with Hutch. Not that he'd ever thought otherwise, he just hadn't thought of it in those terms before, in terms of never sleeping with anybody else. Ever.

What he did remember thinking was how he and Hutch were now blending together to create a third soul. Actually, the third entity representing the two of them had already existed to a degree - in the guise of their friendship. He wondered if the detective agency they formed together would be the tangible reality of that third entity.

Starsky found a serving tray tucked away in a closet - one that Hutch had purchased to pamper him with during the first of what would prove to be many times of convalescence. How many times, in all their years together, had Hutch sacked out at Starsky's apartment in order to take care of him?

Of course, it worked the other way, too. The first time had been the most intense - Starsky staying glued to Hutch until he was absolutely certain Hutch was completely recovered from what Ben Forrest and his thugs had done to him. Certainly, that had taken their trust to a new level.

Starsky entered the bedroom with the tray. Hutch was sitting up, freshly showered and shaved, wearing a robe. Starsky grinned as he approached. "Aren't you a sight this morning."

Hutch let it go by. Instead, his nose wriggled. "Smells good."

"There's plenty more," Starsky assured him as he placed the tray on the bed. "You oughta be famished."

Hutch shrugged in a manner that said he didn't disagree. "What day is it, anyway?" he asked, placing his napkin in his lap

Starsky lay along beside him, his chin propped up in his hand. "What day do you think it is?"

Hutch had just sliced into his eggs. He paused, thinking, then said, "Thursday or Friday."

"Thursday." Starsky waited until Hutch had chewed and swallowed. "What's the last day you remember?"

Hutch took a sip of juice. Then he said in a low voice, "Tuesday."

Starsky nodded, pleased that Hutch's memory was fully intact. He let Hutch eat a while longer.

"Why aren't you eating with me?" Hutch asked after a few generous bites.

"Been munching constantly the last few days." Starsky patted his stomach. "I gotta start working out on a regular basis. I'm really starting to feel the extra weight I'm lugging around. Don't want it to get away from me." He paused, then teased, "Or you might start looking at pretty young 110-pound curvy things."

Hutch shook his head. "No, I won't," he said seriously. Then, he relented, "Well, I'm not saying I won't look...," He sipped his milk. "And I don't believe for a minute that you won't, either."

Starsky chuckled softly. He found it a pleasant thought that they both could enjoy looking. And a heart-warming thought that Hutch was so firm that he wouldn't be interested in anybody else.

He waited until Hutch was down to a few remaining bites. Then he asked, "What do you remember about Tuesday?"

The other finished off his milk. "What's with all the questions?"

"Wanna be sure that we're both on the same page."

Hutch swallowed the last bite from his plate. He carefully dabbed at his mouth and mustache with his napkin, then laid it on the tray. He looked at Starsky fully. "I fell apart," he said simply, then picked up his glass of juice.

Starsky nodded, pleased with the admission. Gently, he asked, "Why did you fall apart, Hutch?"

Hutch put his empty glass down, staring straight ahead. His jaw worked a moment, then he looked at Starsky and said, "I snapped. The doctor said you were going to be all right." He exhaled a deep, deep breath. "After... after all that worrying, I couldn't take it. I fell apart." He paused, thoughtful. Then a soft snort. "It should have been the happiest moment of my life. But I... fell apart."

Very gently, Starsky reminded, "Like I did after bringing you home from the hospital when you'd had the plague."

Hutch looked at him. Then his face softened, as though grateful that Starsky understood. "Yeah, " he agreed softly.

Starsky pointed out, "And when I fell apart, it was because all the pressure and worrying had built up so much... but only for a few days, Hutch. For you, how long had the pressure been building?"

A puzzled expression was his first answer. Then the reluctant admission: "I guess ever since we came home." Pause. "Actually, I guess when we first realized that something must have happened, that we were missing those four hours."

Starsky stared at him, daring him to search for the greater truth.

Hutch gazed back. For a long time. Then, looking away, "Hell, I don't think I've ever stopped worrying about you since Gunther."

Starsky nodded. Slowly. "That was about fourteen months ago, Hutch. Fourteen months of a whole lot of worry." He swallowed. "It's a good thing you fell apart on Tuesday. Otherwise," he noted seriously, "you'd be in the funny farm."

Hutch shrugged, obviously not eager to admit it.

Starsky waited a moment, hoping his next question wasn't going to interrupt the easy communication between them. Quietly, he asked, "How come I'm all right now?"

Hutch gazed at him again, as though calculating how to answer. Then, easily, "Because you're no longer carrying the Herpes-B virus." He hesitated then said, "It disappeared from your system."

Slowly, Starsky nodded. "Why did it disappear, Hutch?"

Another prolonged gaze. Deep breath, then, "Because the aliens from outer space cured you." Hutch didn't break the eye contact, as though trying to prove to Starsky that he was willing to admit it now.

Okay, pal. Now it's time for the next Most Important Point. "Why did they cure me, Hutch?"

Pale eyelashes blinked. Hutch swallowed. Another deep breath. Then, shakily, "Because something about my love for you - my worry for you - got through to them."

Starsky nodded, pleased that Hutch remembered everything that was said between Williamson's office and his slumber. But, still, Starsky couldn't help but be curious about the aliens' motivation. He shifted a little, then said gently, "Hutch, don't you wonder about the rest of it? I mean, what really happened?"

Hutch looked away, took another deep breath. "I-I don't know. There's really no way we'll ever know, right? So, what's the point in wondering?"

Starsky shrugged. "Well, there is hypnosis."

Hutch quickly shook his head. "No. I won't do that. I can't trust it."

Starsky felt he should be annoyed with his partner's stubbornness; yet, instead he felt a wave of affection. Hutch didn't trust easily. Being the one he did trust was a tremendous honor - and responsibility. And perhaps an asset in this....? He shifted again. "What about if I were there in the hypnotist's office with you? To make sure he or she didn't say anything to mess with your mind?"

Hutch firmly shook his head. "Wouldn't matter. The bottom line is, I wouldn't trust the hypnotist. It's not an exact science anyway, Starsky. I once had a friend in college who studied that kind of stuff. The whole thing is pointless if the person being hypnotized doesn't trust the person doing the hypnosis. I would be a hostile patient, even if I tried not to be." He relaxed back against the pillows and regarded Starsky. Then he said, "If you're that anxious to know what happened, you can be hypnotized." But he clearly wasn't happy about it.

Starsky grinned. He picked up the tray and put it on the floor. Then he snuggled back beside Hutch. "Actually, I'd just as soon put the whole thing behind us."

Hutch looked all soft now. His arm had come around Starsky and he emitted an agreeable "Mmm" as his face lowered.

The kiss was so nice... sweet... hungry.

Starsky was rock hard by the time Hutch pulled back. He licked his lips, where Hutch had devoured them, and noted, "You taste like eggs and toast."

Hutch eyed him breathlessly. Then he moved the covers away.

"Where you goin'?" Starsky asked in disappointment.

Hutch was on his feet. "To brush my teeth. Rinse with mouthwash." He paused deliberately.

Starsky's eyes raked over him. Hutch had a stout erection of his own. Breathlessly, he said, "You'd better be serious before you bother coming back to bed. Because it means we're gonna stay here all day. At least. We've got a lot of catching up to do."

Hutch grinned - the first time in long, long time. And then he walked to the bathroom, whistling.

* * *

Starsky groaned as his seed made its third journey inside of Hutch. It was now dark, and they had been in bed the entire day. Both their instincts had been to be the aggressor, and while Starsky would have been willing to yield for Hutch's sake, he instead challenged himself to be such a magnificent lover that Hutch would want to be on the bottom. He had succeeded. In fact, he'd loved being inside of Hutch so much, that after the first time he hadn't withdrawn, but had let himself get hard again, while showering Hutch with sloppy kisses, and petting and fondling - yet again - all his sensitive regions.

Now Starsky rested his cheek against the smooth-skinned back, thinking that he was definitely a hundred percent if he could have three ejaculations in a day. All that virility - power and masculinity - aimed at loving Hutch. Yes, their upcoming years together were going to be the happiest of his life.

Having regained his breath, Starsky very carefully moved away from Hutch. He knew his partner had to be sore from all the pounding he'd taken, and he withdrew as slowly as he could, watching as his shriveled-up penis, coated with gel, emerged from the sheath that had given it such pleasure. He reached for a towel, felt stickiness, and leaned over the side of the bed, hoping there was still a clean one there somewhere. One was. He picked it up and gingerly applied it to his ultra-sensitive organ, rolling onto his back.

Hutch had also rolled onto his back, and was breathing gently in the darkness.

Still using the towel with one hand, Starsky reached with the other and took Hutch's length in his grip. It was still nice and smooth and clean, because it had only been treated to sucking and manual stimulation throughout the day. Starsky stroked it, pleased when a satisfied groan emerged from his partner. It was already partially erect. Despite having also had numerous orgasms, Hutch obviously still wanted to fuck. Starsky was ready to let him. In fact, he felt around the bed for the tube of gel. Finding it, he squeezed some along his hand, and then gripped Hutch again.

"Mmmm," Hutch responded.

"That's right, blondie," Starsky encouraged. "Your cock's been nice and patient. And now it's in for a one hundred percent selfish fuck." He released a heavy sigh. "Because I'm thoroughly sated, thanks to the pleasures of your gorgeous self."

He saw a small grin as Hutch shifted to allow his legs to spread more, obviously enjoying the feel of Starsky's hand.

Starsky was glad they had the security in their relationship to be selfish with each other. It had become routine between them that the one who did the fucking had the responsibility to please the other person as much as possible. And once that other person was pleasured to a marked degree, then the one on top got to plunge deep and worry about nothing except enjoying himself.

It had helped, too, that the lines of communication had been particularly open today. Starsky's ravishing had started with experimenting with what his tongue could do to Hutch's asshole. He had driven Hutch wild. He'd stopped and asked his groaning mate if he wanted more of the same, or if he wanted Starsky to move on to using his fingers, or even to get fucked. Hutch had gasped, "Doesn't matter. I love all of it." Though Starsky understood the desire to simply let oneself be loved by their lover, he thought there was something more important that needed to be said so early in their mutual sexual discovery.

"We've got fifty more years to love each other," he'd noted gruffly. "So, I think we may as well start out with a thorough understanding of what makes each other feel extra speciallygood." Hutch had continued to gasp silently for a few moments, then he'd demanded, "Tongue me some more."

Pleased with the honesty, Starsky had eagerly obeyed.

That same honesty had prevailed as day turned to night. They'd both moved around a lot, trying to teach each other what motion of a hand or finger or tongue or lips or prick felt the best on any particular spot. Now, Starsky was incapable of feeling any more physical ecstasy than he already had, so he was content to let Hutch fuck him without regard for his own pleasure.

Blondie's erection was now nice and firm and slick. "How do you want me?" Starsky asked.

Hutch growled deep in his throat as he rolled toward him. Starsky knew Hutch loved being asked that, and he wasn't surprised when hot, succulent lips, tender from so much action, settled on his. Hutch's tongue went to work, tasting inside his mouth, and Starsky automatically met it, wanting to taste Hutch just as badly, even though he also very much wanted to roll over and rest, if not downright sleep.

Hutch released him, then pushed on his hip. Starsky obeyed, turning onto his side.

"That'll do nicely." Hutch's warm breath drifted across Starsky's cheek. Then, with a hint of amusement he said, "You can lie there and not do anything, except," he pushed at Starsky's thigh until he drew it up toward his chest, "make sure I have access."

Starsky felt satisfaction as his partner stretched out behind him, his stiffness poking against his backside. Hutch's hand drifted across the fur of his chest, and Starsky closed his eyes at its gentle exploration.

A cheek settled against his throat, and Hutch asked tenderly, "Sure you want just a straight fuck?"

Starsky wondered what else Hutch had in mind, and then a moment later a tongue darted out along his throat, giving him his answer.

"How about a preview?" Hutch suggested, voice enticingly thick, "of what's coming soon to a bedroom near you?"

Starsky only giggled, not wanting Hutch to have to work very hard at anything, but also not wanting to deny himself any special favors, especially favors Hutch seemed intent on delivering.

The bed shifted, and then kisses moved down his back, an extra long kiss settling at his tailbone. Then the bed shifted more and he felt his ass parted.

Hutch had never done anything like this, but obviously he wanted to return some of the pleasure he'd received today. Moist bluntness moved across his exposed opening, and he couldn't help but feel a tingle of delight... even if he couldn't respond to it.

The strip of moisture stayed there... little short strokes... like a cat.

Starsky relaxed even more. "Mmmmm."

The sensation left. A kiss was planted on his upturned buttock. The bed rocked, then he sensed Hutch fumbling with a tube. Hot breath was back near his face. "Whenever you want that for the main event... just let me know."

Starsky felt a phantom throb at his crotch. Hutch's voice was serious and level, but he couldn't help but wonder if his partner was getting back at him for insisting upon such open communication. Almost as though Hutch were thinking, You made me ask for what I wanted; you're going to have to ask for it, too.

Starsky's thoughts were interrupted a moment later when large hands grabbed his ass cheeks, massaging intently. "God, I love that," he gasped.

"I love it, too," Hutch noted roughly as his hands continued to knead. "Love having my hands full of you."

Starsky relaxed even more, then groaned involuntarily. Those hands made him feel so loved, so protected, so... wanted.

The hands left. A moment later, his thigh was pushed upward again, and a lubricated finger felt around his asshole. After stroking the recess, it pushed in. It didn't feel as invasive as it usually did, and Starsky realized his body truly had no fight left. It was thoroughly sated. He smiled at the thought.

"Mmm," Hutch said against his neck, as his finger continued to work, "easy meat."

Starsky chuckled lazily. Everything they felt for each other, and were capable of doing to each other, made him rich enough in his love for Hutch. But their humor added an extra delicious flavor. A second finger teased the opening, then entered him. He felt the stretching, but his body was too drained to feel any pain. Both fingers worked at pulling his tight ring outward, trying to open it. Hutch's breath became shorter against his neck.

The mattress creaked, and he was stretched some more. Hutch had managed to get three fingers in him. Neither of them had done that before.

"I think you like messing around in there," Starsky accused drowsily. Everything felt pleasurable, now that he was accustomed to it.

Hutch chuckled in the darkness, then planted a kiss against his cheek.

Starsky turned his head and grunted, "Mmm."

Hutch's full, eager lips pressed against his, devouring more than kissing.

Starsky could barely keep up.

"Mmm," Hutch said before pulling back. "Playtime's over." Slowly, the trio of fingers withdrew from Starsky's body and were replaced by flesh slick with moisture.

Hutch grunted with effort, and then that thick, demanding flesh filled him....

Hutch's head pressed against his shoulder and neck, his thickness moving with steady strokes, in and out, in and out.

The sensation was pleasant against Starsky's insides and he murmured, "'At's nice. So nice."

Hutch's cheek buried closer against his neck. The force of his strokes became more demanding. "I love you so much," he declared.

Starsky grinned, eyes still closed. "You're just sayin' that because I'm letting you fuck me."

Hutch's arm wrapped around Starsky's chest possessively, as though the blond was defying Starsky's humor. His arm tightened as their bodies rocked with the force of lean hips.

"Oh, dear God," Hutch swore thickly. Then, deeper, "Oh, God. Oh, dear God."

Hutch grabbed Starsky's chest as he braced his leg against the bed. He pumped faster, desperately. He buried his mouth against Starsky's neck as he exhaled with a rush. Hutch made a deep guttural noise as he reached orgasm, and then the motion of his hips slowed to a stop.

Starsky grinned, his eyes still closed, as he felt, muscle by muscle, his partner relax behind him. It was many minutes before Hutch shifted to withdraw. The bed rocked and he leaned over Starsky.

"That felt good," he purred in a small, satisfied voice.

"Good," Starsky said. "Oughtta put you right back to sleep." He raised his head up as loving lips rewarded him. In fact, they were so persistent that Starsky slowly rolled over onto his back, their lips still connected. Finally, he was released. "You're dynamite," he sighed, reaching up and stroking the golden head.

"I love you," Hutch said.

Starsky's heart swelled and he grinned warmly. "Good. Because you're stuck with me one way or the other. So you may as well enjoy me."

"You nut." The full lips kissed him once again.

Starsky sighed heavily. "I'm goin' to sleep. You better, too. Then maybe we can wake up in the middle of the night and go crazy all over each other again." It pleased him to make the bold declaration, even though he wasn't sure he'd be up to it.

"I love you," Hutch said again, whisper soft this time.

Starsky merely grunted as he drifted into sleep.

* * *

Starsky put the platter of leftover roast beef on the table where Hutch was sitting. Both men were in robes, but it was almost noon, so they'd decided lunch was in order. Hutch finally looked as if he'd had enough sleep. They'd awaked early and nuzzled each other awhile. Then, they'd showered and gone back to bed to pleasure each other some more. Afterwards, they'd dozed for an hour or so. Upon waking this time, Hutch declared he had to get up for good, or risk getting bedsores.

Now, Starsky puttered around the kitchen, finding all the ingredients necessary to make any kind of sandwich either of them might prefer. Ad he did so, he said, "We need to get going on our detective agency. I've already talked to some places, and the state and federal governments are supposed to be sending some forms for us to fill out."

He was pleased when the blond looked up in surprise. "You've already done all that?" He was putting a cheese and roast beef sandwich together.

"Yeah," Starsky said, sitting down and spreading mayonnaise on a bread slice. "I had to do somethin' while you were sleepin'. Thought I may as well find out what's involved in getting a business started. Actually, it sounded a lot simpler than I thought. The big thing is gonna be advertising. We need to put an ad in the yellow pages - both the big book and some of the smaller local books. It's expensive, but a lot of the agencies I talked to said it was the main way they got business."

Hutch appeared to be listening, but when he spoke it was on a completely different subject. "We need to buy a house."

Starsky blinked while he reached for other condiments to put on his sandwich. Buying a house sounded so... big. So extravagant. "Right now?" he asked in disbelief. "I mean, yeah, I know we may as well since we can afford it; but it certainly wouldn't bother me to keep living in an apartment for a while. Besides....," he trailed off, not wanting to bring up his next thought. He looked at his partner helplessly, feeling as though all their money was going to be drained away before they knew it.

"Besides what?" Hutch asked levelly, then took a healthy bite of his lunch.

Starsky felt sheepish, as though he'd done something naughty, that he was having to ask permission for a favor. "Well...," he ducked his head, "I was kinda hopin'... you know, since we had so much money..."

"Yeah?" Hutch prompted, impatiently.

Starsky decided to be bold. He leaned forward on the table. "I've been thinking it would be nice to get a new car. You know... a nice car. An expensive car."

Blue eyes gazed at him for a long moment. Then Hutch's face softened. He shrugged. "Sure, we'll both need new cars. I won't want something as expensive as you, but if we want to cater to a Beverly Hills clientele, we'll need to drive around in something appropriate."

That was too easy. Starsky hadn't expected Hutch to be so agreeable. And getting two cars. "So... we can afford two nice cars and a house and still have money left over to invest in our business?"

"Yes, if we finance some of it. We'll talk to Emerson about the best approach. We need to think in terms of tax deductions from here on out."

Starsky sighed, deciding he didn't want to finish his sandwich. Hutch trusted the financial advisor without question. Starsky supposed he should, too. He just wasn't sure if he would ever get used to having money.

"You're not eating," Hutch noted, a hint of worry in his voice.

"Maybe I oughtta take some sort of personal finance classes. It feels weird havin' lots of money and counting on someone else to handle it all."

Hutch looked pleased. "Sure, buddy, that'd be great. Maybe I'll take them with you."

Feeling much better, Starsky said, "Guess we're gonna be busy the next few days then. In addition to making an appointment with Emerson and looking into classes, we have to talk to Dobey. I called him on Tuesday to cancel our earlier appointment, but we need to see him as soon as possible. And we need to see Huggy, too. He brought over some groceries for us and I didn't want to say much to him then, but we need to catch him up."

Hutch's eyes darted away, and his face took on a distant expression.

Starsky watched for a moment, waiting until he was certain of what Hutch was thinking. Softly, he said, "I don't see how we can tell anybody what happened, Hutch. I mean, nobody's gonna believe us - that it really happened - so... what's the point?"

Hutch looked back at him. "Yeah." His expression softened, then he gently asked, "What about the rest?"

"What do you mean?"

Hutch smiled warmly. "About us. What do we want to tell people about us?"

Starsky shrugged. He hadn't even thought about "us" being something that needed to be dealt with. After all, there had always been an "us", hadn't there? He was thoughtful awhile, appreciating tremendous satisfaction at his inner peace. "I can't see hiding it from anybody who matters. I mean," he felt such freedom, saying it, "it's not like we're gonna have to worry about getting fired from our jobs. Really Hutch, what can people do to us? And If we really do end up dealing with the ritzy crowd, well... they're more open-minded about that kind of thing, anyway... aren't they?"

Hutch shrugged. "That's the impression I get." Then he smiled, too. A huge, glowing smile as he leaned across the table and met his partner's eye. "I'm the happiest man on Earth."

Starsky's throat tightened. Finally, he had a broadly smiling Hutch. An enormously happy Hutch. He quickly shook his head. "Uh-uh. I'm the happiest."

* * *

They knocked on the open door simultaneously.

Dobey looked up from his work and broke into a smile. "Starsky. Hutchinson. Come in."

They did.

"It's good to see you. Especially looking so well." He gestured to the chairs in front of his desk as he eyed Starsky.

They sat. Starsky said, "I'm a hundred percent, Captain, and then some."

"That's good to hear."

"We'll get right to it, Captain," Hutch said in that mild voice that sounded so calming. "Starsky and I are turning in our resignations." He'd brought in a satchel, and he pulled out a couple of papers and handed them to Dobey. "There's your copy. We'll stop by Personnel and give them copies and fill out whatever paperwork is necessary."

The large man sighed heavily as he studied the brief letters. "I can't say this is a complete surprise. " He looked up. "But I admit I'm disappointed."

"We aren't," Starsky said. "It was just... time, Captain. Time to move on. But we're both real proud of what we've accomplished here."

"I'm glad to hear that," Dobey said congenially. Then he folded his hands on top of his desk. "If you don't mind my asking, what you are moving on to?"

"Starting our own private detective agency," Hutch said.

Dobey grunted. "Hmm. Same field of work."

"But not near as dangerous," Starsky noted happily. "And hopefully it won't be as frustrating. There ought to be a lot less red tape. In fact...," he looked at Hutch hopefully.

The blond shifted in his seat. "We were wondering if you might even toss a few crumbs our way. Maybe we can help out on some things that the Department doesn't have the personnel to handle, or that's it's too tied up in red tape to handle properly."

Dobey grunted. "You never know. You boys have business cards yet?"

"No," Starsky said, "but we'll send you a bunch when we get some made."

"That sounds good."

"When we get settled and everything," Starsky continued, "we'll have you and Edith over for dinner."

A large smile broke out on Dobey's chubby features. "Why, thank you. By settled, do you mean that you're moving?"

Hutch shrugged. "We've come into some money. We're going to be buying a house soon."

Now a grunt of amusement. "You moving in together?"

Both men nodded.

"I hope that works out."

Starsky looked at his partner, and they reached across the short space between them, clasping hands. "We don't see any reason to hide this from you, Cap'n. And though it doesn't have anything to do with the reason we're resigning, I guess, for the Department's sake, it's just as well."

Dobey looked from one to the other, then at their joined hands. The smile left. "What are you saying, exactly?"

They glanced at each other again. Then Starsky smiled widely. "We're as good as hitched. Gonna have a long, happy life together."

Dobey sighed again. "I'm not sure how to handle this. I know you two have always been extraordinarily close, but I admit this is going to take some getting used to. And, don't take this the wrong way, but I can't help but be worried about you both."

Starsky shifted. "I know it's not an everyday thing, Cap'n, but Hutch and me, we were as good as hitched quite a while ago. It just took... certain things happening to really point out to us that we don't have room for anyone else in our lives, anyway, since we're so wrapped up in each other, so...," he shrugged, amazed at how simple it all sounded out loud.

Dobey grunted again, but he wasn't quite as grave now. "Whatever works. I wish you two the best. And I hope you won't be strangers."

They stood, Hutch saying, "We're serious about having you and Edith over. The kids, too, if you're comfortable with them being in our house, considering our situation." He held out his hand. "Thanks, Captain. For everything. It's been a pleasure serving under you."

"Thank you, Hutchinson." The black man's voice now sounded choked. He held out his hand to Starsky as Hutch moved on to the door. "Starsky." He pumped Starsky's hand vigorously. "I'm so glad to see you healthy, son."

Starsky returned the shake with both hands. "Take care, Captain. We'll be in touch."

* * *

The cry was ear-splitting. Sad. Desperate. Starsky knew exactly why. And there was nothing he could do to stop it. Stop the cry. Nor the reason behind it.

He cringed, feeling an immense sadness of his own because he could be of no help at all.


Ah, Hutch. It was all Starsky could do to hold back his own sobs.

Here we go again. He swallowed thickly, willing himself awake. Groggily, he rose up in bed and turned over.

Hutch was sleeping soundly.

Huh? That didn't make sense. He stared at his partner a long time. But there was no mistaking it: Hutch was in a deep, peaceful sleep.

Careful not to disturb his partner's slumber, Starsky slowly lowered himself back to the mattress. Then what was I hearin'? He wondered. If it wasn't Hutch crying, then who...?

His heart pounding at the next thought. Maybe I was dreamin' it this time? He thought hard. It had seemed exactly like the dream Hutch had had twice before when they were back east. Except... this time it was my memory instead of Hutch's? His brow furrowed. Or was I simply dreaming about Hutch having the dream?

Still frowning, Starsky slipped out of bed. He tiptoed to the living room of his apartment, then pulled back the curtain of the nearest window and looked up at a star-filled sky.

So many stars. He wanted to feel mad at those stars, for the unwanted mystery they'd brought into his and Hutch's lives. But they're so beautiful, he realized.

Which one of you stars is where those little gray aliens live? Little gray aliens who saved me....

Starsky was surprised at the wave of emotion that washed through him. They had no right to do what they did, he protested to himself. Yet he couldn't deny... Such a beautiful thing you did for me. You did for Hutch. Jesus, I think I'm startin' to feel downright fond of ya.

As he continued to study the night sky, he wondered about them. What they were like. Why they came to Earth. Why they did this to people. What it was about Hutch that had persuaded them to cure him.

Sadness weighed upon him now. I met you guys out there, but I don't even remember it. Just a fragment of a dream....

It would be asking too much of the fates, he decided, to want more than he had. I'm so blessed. Living with the love of my life. Making the most incredible love to the love of my life. Paperwork all filled out so we can get our `third entity' - he grinned at the thought - on its way. Gonna look at some more houses tomorrow. He still couldn't believe how nice the houses were that the real estate agent had shown them so far. Hutch seemed nonchalant about it; just kept saying it was the price range Emerson said they should be looking at. And then we'll buy some nice new cars. He felt a slight pang. He still hadn't figured out what to do with the Torino. He found it hard to think about selling it, because he was so attached to it. But he was also starting to view it as a symbol of the past. A past which was the path to the here and now. He wasn't certain that, as time went by, he'd still feel that same attachment. And then, once we're settled, my love and I will get on with helping others. It gave him extreme satisfaction to know that they would be doing that. Not being selfish with their good fortune, but using their abilities to help others in any way they could.


He turned. Hutch was standing in the bedroom doorway in his briefs, squinting sleepily.

"I'm okay, Hutch."

The blond approached. "What are you doing?"

Starsky turned his attention back to the window. "Looking at the stars."

Hutch's hand settled on his shoulder. He began a gentle massage as he asked softly, "How come?"

"Just thinking about... them." He sighed deeply. "And feeling incredibly grateful for all they've done for us." He paused. "Wonder if they even realize it."

Hutch's arms came around his body and Starsky felt Hutch's cheek pressed against his shoulder, as his partner introduced a slight swaying motion.

"I had the dream, Hutch."

The motion stopped and Hutch's arms stiffened.

"I woke up thinking you were having the dream again, but you were sound asleep. And then I realized I'd had the dream. But just... you know, the part where you were crying for me."

"Oh, buddy," Hutch said sorrowfully. "I'd hoped that was behind us."

Starsky turned. Leaning back on the window sill, he looked up into eyes lit with starlight. "I wanna know what happened, Hutch. I want to see a therapist. A hypnotist."

Hutch swallowed. Loudly.

"I don't have the fears about it that you do," Starsky rushed to explain. "And you can be there in the room with me and the hypnotist so you can be sure nothing hokey goes on. Surely, that Von Glick fellow can recommend someone out here."

Puzzled, Hutch said, "You sound so sure about this."

"Yes, I am sure." He hesitated, wondering how best to explain it. "Hutch, you and I had an incredible experience. Something happened to us that happens to very, very few people. I want to know what really happened. If my subconscious or whatever it is has any recollection of those four hours, I want to know about it." He turned back to look at the sky. More calmly, he said, "I have a right to know."

Hutch's arms came around him once again, and pulled snug.

* * *

"You're in the car talking with Hutch," the female voice reminded him, "and you see an airplane."


"Tell me everything you remember from that point on."

The lights are bright. Like landing lights. Low. It looks odd. I say, "Man, that plane is really low." Hutch says, "Must be an airport nearby." I put my head back out the window, and suddenly the plane is even lower, and it's behind us. Weird, that it moved so fast like that. And then the car dies. Oh, no - we're out in the middle of nowhere. I don't like this. Hutch has thrown up his hands in disbelief. The whole car has died. The lights and dashboard all gone dark. "What the hell's the matter with the car?" I yell at Hutch. Oh, man, I'm scared. Weird, the car dyin' like that. And - I'm scared to look behind us - but I look. And - oh, no - that plane is right over us. Oh, no. It's big. The lights so bright. "What the hell?" Hutch says. He's outta the car. He's scared, too, I can tell.

Oh, no. What is this? What is this? Blue light coming from it. Oh, shit, that's not a plane. Oh, shit. What the hell is it?

We're floating up. Jesus Christ. We're floating. Floating up to it. I can't move. I can't see Hutch but I know he's right behind me, floating, too. Oh, God, I'm scared. I wanna wake up real bad.

"David, you're safe here, in the therapist's office. It's only a memory. Do you understand?"


"Nothing that you remember can harm you now. Do you understand that?"


"Can you continue then?"

He swallowed thickly. Oh, God, it's opening up. Something in the bottom is opening, and we're going up into it. Oh, man, I'm scared. I can't talk, can't move. I wanna be anywhere but here.

I think we're inside. It's dark. We're floating. Down some... corridor. It's dark. Drab. Weird writing on the walls. I'm going inside a room - OH, GOD -

"David, try to stay calm. It can't harm you now. It's only a memory."

Oh, Jesus, what is this? Who are they? Big eyes. Gray. Short. Hardly any mouth. Four of them. Oh, God, what are they gonna do to me. Where's Hutch?

I'm undressing. They're all watching. I don't want to undress, but they're making me somehow. I know it's what they want, even though they don't speak. They don't want me to be afraid. I - I feel myself start to calm down. I know they're making me be calm. I don't like it that they're making me feel that way, but I'm also relieved. I don't want to be afraid.

I'm naked and I'm floating up and then I'm lying on a table in the room and they're all looking down at me. I'm not restrained with anything, but I can't move. Instruments are hovering over me, coming out of the walls. Oh, no, I don't like this....

But they're telling me it won't hurt. I know it won't hurt only because they're tricking my mind into believing it, but I'm relieved that they're going to make it painless. I know they're going to let me go after it's all over. I'm calmer now. They'll do what they have to do and then they'll let us go.

"Where's Hutch?" I ask the one closest to me. I don't think I can move my mouth, but I know he - it -- can "hear" me. He's telling me not to worry. Not to worry about Hutch.

Oh, God, I see things from my body being taken by the machines. My blood. Semen from my prick, even though I didn't feel an orgasm. Oh, God, what - OUCH!!! Jesus Christ!!

They're trying to tell me again that it doesn't hurt.

Fucking bastards!! I yell at them. Some thing got rammed up my ass. There wasn't any pain, but dammit I felt it. I'm glaring at them. They don't seem to understand about personal dignity, violation. But, thank God, that damn thing is gone.

I tell myself to relax and maybe it'll hurry up and be over with. I tell myself to not be afraid. That I should think this is cool... that I'm in a spaceship. That this is actually happening to me.

Oh, God, I hear Hutch. He's crying. Real loud. God, I can't see him, but he sounds so sad. Desperate. And there's nothing I can do to help. To stop him from crying. Or stop what's happening to him. I feel so sad, and then I hear him cry so desperately, PLEASE. PLEASE. HE'S BEEN SICK. HE'S BEEN SICK. PLEASE DON'T HURT HIM. PLEASE.

Ah, Hutch. He's worried about me, begging for me. And there's nothing I can do. I can't yell back, because it's like I'm paralyzed. I look at the one closest to me. I plead with him to assure Hutch that I'm okay.

And then I realize there's no further sound from Hutch. But I know it's because the aliens made him shut up. Paralyzed him so he can't scream anymore. Cry anymore.

I look at the one closest to me again. "Please tell him I'm okay," I say to him -- telepathically, I guess, since my mouth can't move.

I can't tell what he's thinking, what he's feeling. And then other aliens come into the room. They're all "speaking" together. I can't make out what they're saying, but I know they're talking about Hutch. I get the impression that they're frustrated with him. Something about him being "stubborn". He's not behaving like the others. As the aliens discuss him, I feel this intense sadness come over me, and I realize it's coming from the aliens. They aren't used to feeling sadness, and they're feeling it because of Hutch. It's like they don't know how to control the sad feelings, so the sadness is, like, all over the room, bouncing off the walls. Then suddenly they all look at me, and I feel my heart pounding. I get the sense they have a plan, but I don't understand what it is. Some of them leave the room - sorta float out - and the rest come to stand over me. I realize all the machines have been put away and I'm just lying there.

"Can I go home now?" I ask the one nearest me. I think he's the same one I was speaking with before, even though I can't tell them apart. He tells me I will when they're finished with me.

"Is Hutch all right?" I ask him. And then I get a strong feeling of disapproval. He doesn't like Hutch. I don't think any of them do.

"But you'll send him back, too, right?" I ask, because I'm starting to feel real worried.

"Of course," he tells me, and I sort of get the feeling that they're sorry they ever brought him up in the first place. And then he's sending me something like a mental image, and I see Hutch sitting in the car behind the wheel. I'm so relieved, and I realize the car will start when they're finished with us. Thank God, Hutch is out of their hands and okay.

"What about me?" I ask him, because I don't understand why I'm just lyin' here anymore.

"Soon," he says, and I realize that I don't really understand what "soon" means to him.

Two others come into the room. One starts messing with one of the machines, and the other is holding some sort of container. A clear container. It has red stuff in it. Like blood. And then they're bringing the machine closer and loading the container. Oh, God, h, God, they're going to put that stuff - whatever it is - into me. Oh, God, I don't like this. I don't like this. What it is they're going to do to me? Oh, please let me wake up.

"David, it's only a memory. It can't harm you now. The fact that you're here now, in my office, proves that you got out of it just fine. Do you understand that your memories can't hurt you?"


"Then please proceed, if you can."

Deep breath. I'm really, really, really scared. They don't have any needles, but I know they're going to put that red stuff into me. I look at the one I've talked to all along. "What is it?" I ask him, begging. "What's inside that stuff?"

He seems puzzled that I'm afraid. "Your blood is being returned to you. We've fixed it."

I don't understand what he means. But I try to be calmer, since I know there' s nothing I can do about it. I believe him when he says it's my blood, because it looks like blood. "What do you mean, fixed it?" I ask him.

He projects another image into my mind. I see blood cells - the fixed ones - going through my bloodstream and fixing all the other cells. And the solution they used to do the "fixing" up and disappears when its task is through. I get the feeling it's only going to take a few hours to make it through my bloodstream. I'm looking at the one standing closest to me in a new way. "Why?" I ask him. I'm not sure I really even understand the "fixing" part. What the end result is going to be.

But he projects another image. Shows me a memory of Hutch lying naked on one of their tables, screaming and begging for my safety. Radiating sadness. And I guess he means that they had to get rid of Hutch's sadness. They couldn't handle it. They couldn't even telepathically take away his sadness, because it was so strong. And I start feeling real proud of Hutch. That he's so special that these aliens don't even know what to do with him.

They move the machine away, and I realize they're done putting the "fixed" blood back into me. I'm floating up and then I'm standing next to the table. They tell me to dress and I do. And while I'm dressing, I'm real curious and I ask how come it was necessary to "fix" me if they already put Hutch back in the car. I mean, they'd gotten rid of their problem, so why did they still feel it necessary to "fix" me?

He glides a little closer to me. And he looks up at me in... sort of a different way. Almost... compassionate, I guess. And his thought comes through loud and clear: So Hutch won't be sad anymore.

I find myself thinking that I won't forget this. I realize how silly it seems - me thinking I'm gonna repay these aliens a favor some day, because of what they've done for Hutch. The next thing I know I'm floating down the corridor again, and then I'm out of the space ship and floating down to the car. I would have liked a more formal goodbye, but I'm relieved this is almost over. When I'm on the ground, the light disappears, and I get into the car beside Hutch. He looks really tired, and I feel really tired. He turns the key and the ignition starts right up.

And we start driving. And all I can think about is when are we going to hurry up and get to Charlottesville. Man, am I tired.

"We know the rest," Hutch's voice said. It was very close.

"David, I'm going to slowly count to five. When I get to five, you'll wake up and have full recollection of everything you've told me. Do you understand?"


"One... two... three... four... five."

Starsky opened his eyes, feeling he was coming out of a light sleep, having dreamed the most incredible dream.

Hutch was kneeling beside the sofa, looking at him with a big, sympathetic smile and bleary eyes.

"It really happened," Starsky whispered in awe, realizing that the "dream" was a genuine memory.

Hutch nodded, eyes getting blearier. "Yes." He leaned forward and threw his arms around Starsky.

Starsky hugged him back, squeezing tight.

"You were so brave through it all," Hutch said.

Starsky released his hold, and had to wait until Hutch did, as well. When they were able to look at each other, Starsky said firmly, "Don't talk to me about bravery. You were scared shitless, too, and all you could think about was me. That's courage, Hutch."

Hutch's eyes simply softened, as though he had no wish to argue.

A pantsuit crossed Starsky's line of vision behind Hutch, and he realized they weren't alone. He settled back. The therapist was taking a cassette out of the cassette player. She said, "You may want to keep this, in case you forget anything that was said."

Since Hutch was closer, he turned and accepted the tape from her. "Thank you." He reached into his wallet. "How much do we owe you?"

"A hundred and twenty dollars."

Starsky sat up while Hutch counted out twenty dollar bills, then handed them over. He felt more at peace with what had happened. And that, now, it could truly be put behind them for good.

* * *

The therapist that Von Glick had referred them to had been two hours up the coast, near Santa Barbara On their way back, Starsky asked Hutch to pull over at a sparsely populated beach. They started down the grassy embankment, then paused to pull off their shoes and socks. Starsky wished they were wearing cutoffs, but since they weren't, he marched off toward the water in his Levi's, aware of his partner following behind.

He got just close enough for the last of the waves' cycle to lap at his feet. He watched them crash down, one after the other, the power and beauty of nature particularly awe-aspiring at that moment.

Hutch's arm slipped around his waist and hugged him close. "You okay?"

Starsky took a deep breath, wondering if Hutch would understand. "You remember when we were at that park in Indianapolis?"

Hutch's strong arm squeezed him tighter, and the blond muttered, "Uh-huh."

"I remember looking at the park and at the sky, and thinking how beautiful they were, but that I'd never see them in the same way again. Because I felt so... insecure, I guess. Scared. That the world would never be the same to me, knowing that flying saucers can come down from the sky and do things to us against our will."

Hutch's hold eased as he looked at him, concerned. Starsky watched a particularly large wave crash down. "But now I'm lookin' out at this ocean." His gaze strayed upward for a moment. "And up at the sky. And I'm thinking this planet Earth of ours is incredibly beautiful. And I like bein' here."

That earned him a squeeze, and he turned to Hutch, looking up into those crystal blue eyes. "I want to live a long time, Hutch. Always before, it seemed such a given that we were gonna get blown away on the streets some day by some two-bit punks. But we've survived all that, and I want to be around a long, long time to enjoy everything that we have right now. And everything that we can do for others."

Those blue eyes softened, as did Hutch's entire face. Big gentle hands came up and clasped Starsky's cheeks. "I love you so much," his life partner whispered. "And I'm going to be with you that whole long, long time."

Starsky closed his eyes, feeling his emotions well up, and leaned forward for a kiss. Their contact was light, affectionate, but went on for quite a long time. They clasped hands as they started back toward their car.

As they sat and put their footwear back on, they suddenly heard a chorus of shouts. "Faggots! Fucking fairies!! Corn holers!"

Starsky looked to the right and saw some young teens hiding behind a bush. He simply grinned and continued to tie his shoelaces. Beside him, Hutch bristled, but the blond didn't seem to feel a confrontation necessary, either. The verbal assault continued, but with less confidence, since the two "victims" weren't showing any kind of reaction. It had all but faded away as they stood and began to climb the rest of the way up to the car.

Starsky wondered why his pride could so easily let such a personal attack go. Then he realized that it wasn't simply because the instigators were kids. Having been through what he and Hutch had been through on a lonely Virginia road tended to go a long way toward putting life into perspective - emphasizing what was truly important.

And what wasn't.


Starsky waited while Hutch inserted the key and turned the lock. They both grinned at the satisfying noise of the lock pulling back. Hutch turned the handle and they entered.

They'd come straight over after the closing, for which they'd dressed formally. The house was now theirs. Starsky still felt a bit overwhelmed at owing some $250,000 plus interest over the next thirty years, but he had to admit that he loved the house. They both did. It was in the high end of a middle class neighborhood. A sprawling 2200 square foot ranch layout with four bedrooms. The roomy kitchen had a dishwasher and a microwave oven built right in. There was a separate laundry room. The master bedroom had a large walk-in closet and its own connecting bath. They didn't even know what they were going to use the other bedrooms for.

Added to that was a fireplace in the living room, and small pool out back and covered patio. From the front, the house didn't look all that big. But once inside, it was larger than any place Starsky could have ever imagined buying in his life.

Hutch's arm came around him as they stood in the living room, looking out at all the empty space. At least the carpet was fairly new. They were going to spend a lot of money furnishing the house, but at least they had agreed that they would only worry about the bare essentials initially. Though Starsky still hadn't figured out what he wanted to do with the Torino, purchasing new cars was next on the agenda. He could hardly wait.

They needed a new wardrobe. Hutch had emphasized the importance of dressing well for the clientele they hoped to attract. They had named their firm Starsky and Hutchinson, Incorporated. They would have liked to have simply called themselves Starsky and Hutch, but since it was necessary to put the "Inc.", at the end, it sounded better with Hutch's full name. Emerson had stressed the necessity of incorporating, as there were tax advantages, and their personal assets would be protected in case of a lawsuit. They'd flipped a coin, and Starsky was amused that he now carried the title of "President". He'd never in his life expected to be president of anything. Hutch was Vice President and Treasurer. They'd made Emerson the Secretary, but it was only for paperwork purposes. Emerson would have no say in their company, except when specifically asked for advice.

That advice was becoming more and more comprehensible to Starsky. He and Hutch had enrolled in a personal finance class at UCLA. Starsky had discovered that his desire to learn wasn't restricted to things financial. He wasn't sure if it was his brushes with death in past years, the abduction, the fact that simple survival was no longer a daily issue; or merely finding how much enjoyment he got out of his current class. But now all subjects fascinated him. He felt an intense desire to know all about everything from world history and different customs of various cultures, to how mechanical things worked, to understanding the process of hypnosis and related sciences. Whenever he looked at the UCLA catalog, he wanted to sample nearly every class available.

"Now the real work starts," Hutch noted.

Yes. It would be two months before the new yellow pages directory was printed with their ad. In the meantime, they intended to contact the human resources divisions of large companies and offer their services for doing background checks. They also intended to contact law firms and hoped to be hired for gathering evidence. Of course, they also hoped Dobey could push a few things their way.

"Yeah," Starsky said, hugging Hutch back. "We'll make it, partner. We'll make everything work." Then, mischievously, "But before the real work begins...," he started toward the master bedroom, his arm still wrapped around his partner's waist.

They'd already picked out a king-sized water bed, which was scheduled to be delivered tomorrow. But now the room was completely bare, except for the blush-red carpet that ran throughout the house. They were in the center of the bedroom, and Starsky turned to his partner and kissed him. Enticingly, he muttered, "We need to make this house officially ours. Right now." He kissed harder.

Hutch's arms were around him and he was kissing back, eagerly. "We don't have anything," he gasped.

Starsky hugged him closer, brushing their erections together, working on his pale-skinned throat. "Guess we'll just have to use spit." In fact, he liked that idea, though he'd have to make sure he was extra careful when he entered Hutch. He'd already decided that's how it was going to happen, and he kissed more aggressively, wanting to leave no doubt as to who was going to be on top. He was President after all, he silently snickered to himself.

Hutch got the message and dropped to his knees. He unzipped the fly of Starsky dress pants. He obviously intended to make him extra hard, since they could only count on spit to assist with penetration.

Starsky spread his legs as Hutch took his length from his fly. He looked down at that blond head working him, and felt the same sense of wonder that always came over him whenever he watched Hutch pleasure him. It was so amazing that someone like Hutch would be so in love with someone like him. Not that he wasn't worthy of it; but just that, with his all-American good looks, Hutch could have just about anyone he wanted.

And he wanted Starsky.

Starsky dropped to his knees, gently pushing Hutch away, then he kissing him. "Wanna fool around a while first," he mumbled through a mouthful of chin, his hands starting on the buttons of Hutch's shirt.

They lay down on the carpet together, hands feeling, mouths searching.

Starsky was facing the east window which, like the other windows, didn't have curtains. While kissing his beloved, he looked up at the bright blue sky broken by an occasional cloud. Out there, somewhere, were other beings. Other living creatures. Because of his contact with them, Starsky now felt that he, truly, knew no fear. He and Hutch had faced a terrifying experience, and they'd come through it alive and even healthier than before the abduction.

The only thing that could hurt him now, he acknowledged as he closed his eyes to give the pleasuring of Hutch his full attention, was if any harm ever came to this most special of human beings.

He would never let that happen. Starsky wondered if, some day, he'd ever have a chance to return the courageous way Hutch had saved his life. Some part of him hoped he never had a chance to find out; yet, if such a chance occurred, he would face it without fear. And save Hutch.

"Hey," Hutch whispered, having pulled back. "What are you thinking about so hard?"

Starsky blinked. He was hovering over Hutch, his hand rubbing at the pleasant smoothness of his lover's chest, exposed by a few open buttons. He looked into those deep blue eyes. "About how much I love you. How very, very much I love you."

Hutch tugged impatiently at his shirt. "Then stop thinking about it and show me instead."

Starsky grinned widely, then lowered himself on top of Hutch. And obliged.




This story originally appeared in the fanzine HEART AND SOUL 6, published by Charlotte Frost in 1999.

Early comments on this story are posted TBA.

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