(c) December 2013 by Charlotte Frost



Hutch felt a sense of doom, as he kept his eye on his target, a block ahead, beneath the street lamps.

Their suspect, Wayne Snow, was running as fast as he could.  He darted into the street, as though he really thought he could avoid the oncoming traffic.

God, no. 

Brakes squealed.  A sharp thud.  Snow's body moved through the air like a projectile.  And then he lay facedown in the street, deathly still.

No. no, no.  Hutch's heart sank as he ran toward the body.  He was vaguely aware of Dobey following, at his own lumbering pace.

Hutch knelt beside Snow's body, staring at it.  As Dobey came to a panting halt beside him, then also knelt, Hutch whispered, "He was the only one that knew."

In the back of his mind, Hutch recalled saying something similar a few years ago.  To a poisoned and dying Starsky.  Starsky had killed Vic Bellamy, in order to save Hutch, when they had both believed at the time that Bellamy was the only person who knew what Starsky had been poisoned with.  Starsky's killing Bellamy had sealed his own fate.

At least, that's how it had seemed at the time.

Someone else has to know, Hutch wanted to believe now, as he watched Dobey turn the body over.

Dobey went through the motions of feeling for a pulse.  Then he said with regret, "He's dead."

Hutch abruptly turned away.  No.

"Damn," Dobey muttered softly.

Hutch hadn't run fast enough to catch up to Snow, after he had emerged from the bar down the street. 

A black and white had up.  Dobey yelled over to the officer that began to emerge from the vehicle, "Call a coroner's wagon."  Then he muttered, "How the hell are we supposed to find Starsky now?"  He pulled a wallet from Snow's pocket.  He looked through it, using the light from the nearby street lamp.

Hutch watched, his heart pounding with hope that some kind of helpful information might be revealed within.

Dobey pulled out a few dollars bills, leafed through the plastic enclosures for a driver's license and a couple of credit cards.  He said, "We can get in contact with the credit card companies and see where he's been charging things."

"That'll take days," Hutch said gruffly, his head hanging.

From Snow's pants pocket, he saw something glint off the light.  He reached for it.

It was a key, attached to a thick, green plastic tag.

"What's that?" Dobey asked.

"Motel key," Hutch muttered, holding it up to the lamp light.  "Caulfield Motel."

"Caulfield?  That's a good two hours away from here."

Hutch's fist curled around the only lifeline that Starsky had.  "I'm going to check it out."  He turned away.

"Keep me informed," Dobey called after him.


"I'm going to find you, buddy," Hutch vowed.  He rubbed at his mustache, while steering the LTD around a turn.  His mind shied away from defining if he meant dead or alive.

He'd never been to Caulfield, but he knew it was small, rural town.  It was already going on eight o' clock, and he'd only been on the road for twenty minutes.

He found it hard to believe that Starsky may have been kept in a motel these past four days.  There would have been too much risk of exposure for a kidnapped cop.

Starsky had been taken from the front of his apartment.  There had been signs of a struggle.  Wayne Snow had then called the Police Department, to let them know he had Starsky, but he'd kept the call brief to prevent a trace, and hadn't revealed his intentions, or made any demands.  During their original investigation, Starsky had had a personal aversion to Snow, and it appeared to be mutual.  When Hutch had questioned him on it, Starsky had simply said that he couldn't fathom a man murdering a defenseless woman, and he was all the more angry that the trial had only resulted in a manslaughter charge. 

Though Starsky and Hutch both had been certain that Snow murdered his wife, in a premeditated act, Hutch couldn't fathom that Snow was the type of man with the nerve to kill a cop.  He had seemed a bit off balance, a bit eccentric.  It was through re-interviewing acquaintances and relatives from that original investigation, that they'd found out that Snow frequently attended a bar in Bay City, and that's where they had spotted him tonight.

All of which didn't make sense that he would be keeping Starsky somewhere in Caulfield, two hours away.

But it was the only lead that Hutch had.

Hang on, buddy.  I'm coming for you.


Welcome to Caulfield, the sign said.

Hutch slowed his speed, and was relieved to see the motel's sign halfway up the road of the small, desolate town.  As he approached, he picked up the room key and saw that it was number 24.

Was Starsky in unit 24?

Hutch didn't feel any sense of that.  He decided to try the management office first, rather than walk in on some unsuspecting tenant.

As he left his car, he heard crickets chirping.  It was now going on ten o'clock, and he opened the door to the motel office.  No one was there, so he hit the bell on the counter.

A door opened, revealing a television in a living area, and a middle-aged, pot-bellied man approached.  "Can I help you?"

Hutch took out his badge.  "I'm Detective Hutchinson with the Bay City Police.  I'm investigating a missing officer.  Do you know Wayne Snow?"

"Yes, probably everyone knows Wayne.  This is a small town."

Feeling hope, Hutch placed the key on the counter.  "Is he renting this room?"

The man's face brightened.  "That's our missing key!  We weren't sure who might have taken the extra one.  I had a new gal handling things in the day, and she got mixed up about who the last tenant was in the room, so we didn't know who to charge for it.  Thanks for returning it."

Hutch clarified, "Wayne Snow isn't currently renting Room 24?"

"No.  I put a young couple, from out of town, in there earlier today.  Wayne used the room for about a week, after he first got out of prison a couple of months ago, until he found his own place.   I had no idea that he'd held onto the key."

His hope increasing, Hutch asked, "Where does he reside?"

The man appeared uncomfortable.  "Does he know you're looking for him?"

"Wayne Snow is dead."

The man gasped.  "What?"

"He was hit by a car, while trying to flee from police, in Bay City.  He's kidnapped a cop, and," Hutch's voice firmed, "anyone who has aided him in that kidnapping is going to face some serious charges."

"Kidnapped a cop?  Wayne wouldn't do anything like that."

"Yes, he would.  And he has.  That's a fact.  So, tell me where he lives."

The man sputtered, "I don't know of an actual address.  I just know he said he found a place, toward End Creek.  I think it's where the Johnson place burned down, years ago.  There's just a big barn there now."

"The Johnsons still live there?"

"No, they left town after the house burned down.  Technically, they still own the property.  It's been up for sale for years.  I think Wayne was just hanging out there, until he got a job and figured out another living arrangement."

Hutch felt hope.  "Where' s End Creek?"

"It's about fifteen miles down the road, going east.  But I've never been to the Johnson's place, so I can't tell you exactly where it is."  The man quickly shook his head.  "There has to be some mistake.  Wayne would never kill a cop, or run from the police."

Hutch straightened.  "Then you didn't know Wayne Snow as well as you thought."  He made his exit.


Hutch kept his eye on the LTD's mileage indicator.  He'd been traveling 15 miles east, from the motel.  It was dark out here in the countryside, and difficult to see anything.  He slowed the LTD to a crawl.

Where are you, buddy?

He'd passed a few farm houses, set back from the road, and all appeared to be inhabited, with trucks parked in front.  Supposedly, the property Snow had hung out didn't have a house on it, but only a barn.

Starsk, buddy....

Hutch slammed on his brakes when he saw movement to his right.  He just caught the white rear end of deer that disappeared into the brush.

He released a heavy breath, and then eased forward.

This is impossible.

Maybe Starsky was somewhere closer to Bay City.  If Snow had come there regularly to visit the bar, maybe he hadn't been in Caulfield much since renting the motel room two months ago.

Hutch rubbed at his tired eyes.

His headlights caught an inlet off to the right. 

Curious, he turned toward it, and then stopped.  The inlet was actually a road, mostly grown over.  But the grass had been flattened somewhat, as though a vehicle had driven through the past few days.  Hutch slowly moved forward, deciding that if he caught the attention of some irate farmer, at least he'd have someone to ask about the Johnson property.

Within a quarter mile, the road opened to a clearing.  In the distance was a large barn, from which a light emanated from within.  There wasn't an accompanying farm house, that Hutch could see.

As Hutch approached, his heart pounding, he realized that the barn appeared to be more a dwelling for vehicles and large equipment, than something that would house livestock.

Hutch parked his car next to the barn and got out.  He reached inside his jacket and felt the reassurance of his gun.  Though the motel clerk hadn't mentioned anything about others accompanying Snow, it was highly likely that Snow had had help in kidnapping Starsky.

Hutch moved toward the end from where the light shone from a draped window.  There was a large garage-type door.  Hutch was hesitant to try to open it, without knowing if someone might be within.

Instead, he moved around to the side of the barn, thinking there had to be a door somewhere. 

He didn't find one.  When he came around to the other end of the barn, there was a regular door on the near side, rather than a large garage-style door.

Hutch reached to the handle.  It turned.

He pulled his gun from its holster as pushed the door open.

It was dark, except for the light that appeared at the other end of the building.  This end of the interior seemed to be divided into smaller rooms that might have been offices, but there was very little furniture.

Hutch moved slowly, stealthily along the concrete floor, listening.

From the other end of the building, near the light, Hutch thought he heard a faint gasp or groan.

As he approached, the sound kept repeating.  It sounded more like anxiety, than effort or pain.

Hutch realized he needed to take a chance.  Cocking his weapon, he called out, "Hello?"  He halted, waiting.

The anxious gasps remained steady.

Hutch tried again.  "Anybody here?"

No answer.  But someone was at the other end of the building, he was certain.

If it was -- please, God -- Starsky, could he be gagged?  If so, he still surely would have heard Hutch, and his moans would have changed tenor.

Hutch left the office area, and was now in the empty, bay area of the building, which was dark.  At the other end, near the light, appeared to be another office room, larger than the ones he'd left.

Feeling more confident that he wasn't in danger, Hutch moved more quickly across the open area.  As he reached the back wall of the office, he called, "Starsky?"

He thought he heard some kind of change in the respiratory noises.

Hutch gripped his gun, and moved around the corner until he saw the entrance to the room, where the light was coming from.  He jumped into the doorway, gun extended.

Starsky lay on a table, his right hand attached with a foot long chain to a ring in the wall next to the table.

Hutch lowered his gun.  "Starsk!" he called happily, moving to him.

He was assaulted by the smell of urine, as he reached Starsky's side.  "Buddy?"

Starsky wasn't gagged or blindfolded.  But he didn't seem to notice that Hutch was there.  His eyes were large and unseeing.

With trepidation, Hutch placed his hand on Starsky's chest, where the stop few buttons of his shirt was open.  "Hey, buddy.  I'm here.  You ready to go home?  Huh?"

Starsky's breath quickened, and he seemed to be seeing past Hutch.

Hutch reached to the manacle around Starsky's wrist.  It was a simple key lock.  He turned away to the wall behind him, where there was a little bench.  He saw a key and reached to grab it.

He spotted a jar full of dried mushrooms.  His gaze followed along the bench, noting a spoon and a coffee mug, as well as an automated coffee pot that had clear water, as though for tea.

Was Starsky tripping on mushrooms?

Hutch gentled his voice, as he turned back to his partner.  "I've got the key, buddy.  Going to get you out of here.  You don't have to worry about Wayne Snow anymore."

Starsky didn't react as Hutch unlocked the manacle.  His freed hand fell against his chest.  He made no effort to rub the circulation back into it.

The wrist was raw, and some of the skin broken, as though Starsky had tried to fight his confinement at some point.

Hutch squeezed Starsky's fingers and leaned close to him, smelling the strong body order  "Buddy?  It's me."  He laid his other hand along Starsky's cheek.  "Can you look at me?  Huh?  It's all right."

Starsky's breath quickened.

Hutch lightened his voice, even has it became softer.  "You ready to get out of here?  Huh?"

Starsky's eyes widened, as though in fear.

His pupils were dilated.   Hutch tried again.  "It's Hutch, buddy.  Rescuing you.  I won't let anything happen to you."

Starsky's eyes darted back and forth, as he gasped, "Hutch?"

Hutch felt his heart flip over.  "Yeah, it's me.  I'm not go--"

He abruptly quieted as Starsky's hand reached up and grabbed the front of he shirt.  "Hutch?  Hutch?" He gasped.

Hutch clasped Starsky's hand, behind the wrist.  "It's okay," he soothed in a whisper. 

Anxiously, Starsky said, "Don'tletthebugsgetyou."

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "What?"

Starsky chest heaved, and beads of perspiration were on his forehead.  "Don't let them, Hutch.  They're all over."

"What are?"

"The bugs!  They're inside the walls, and crawling all over the floor."

Ah, buddy.  Hutch wondered how he could reason with someone who was literally delusional.  Gently, he asked, "Is that why you don't want to leave?"  Why you're willing to lie here? 

Starsky's other hand grabbed Hutch's arm, even as he still kept the desperate grip on the front of Hutch's shirt.  "Don't let them get you, Hutch."

Hutch leaned closer, and gently stroked Starsky's rough cheek.  "Hey, buddy," he said softly.  "I got in here, to rescue you, without any of the bugs getting on me."  He decided, "They're afraid of me, Starsky.  As long as you hang onto me, they won't get you, either.  Okay?"

Starsky's eyes darted back and forth.  Since Starsky could obviously hear him, Hutch wondered if his eyes could see him. 

He made his voice enticing.  "Hang onto me.  And let's get you up and out of here.  Would you like to go home, huh?  Get a hot shower, get something to eat, and crawl into a nice, warm bed?  Huh?"

Starsky swallowed, as though uncertain.

Hutch leaned closer, and started to gather Starsky up.  "As long as you hang onto me, the bugs won't get you.  They're too afraid.  Okay?"

As Hutch lifted Starsky's upper body, Starsky's hand moved from Hutch's arm to grip the shoulder of his jacket, through the leather.  His other hand kept its grip on Hutch's shirt.

"That's it.  I'm going to set you on your feet, okay?"

Starsky seemed less certain, but Hutch got a hand beneath his rear, and then moved him off the table, so that he landed on his feet.  "I've got you.  Just hang onto me, and we'll get out of here.  Can you walk?"

Starsky's gaze was on the floor, as he kept his desperate grip.

Hutch wasn't sure how long it might have been since Starsky had last been on his feet.  He certainly hoped he wouldn't have to carry him the entire length of the large barn.  "Let's try walking.  Keep hanging onto me."

They took slow steps, and Starsky remained upright, though Hutch was taking much of his weight.

"You're doing great, buddy.  We just got a little ways to go."

Hutch was so focused on putting one foot in front of the other, now that they were in the dark, bay area of the barn, that he was startled when Starsky spoke.

"They're coming after us," Starsky said fearfully.

"They won't touch you, as long as you hang onto me.  Just stay focused on me, buddy.  You'll be safe as soon as we're outside."

Starsky leaned more heavenly against Hutch.  In a high pitched voice, he said, "They're all over the walls, watching us."

"But they can't get us, because we're together.  They can't hurt you, buddy, because you're with me."

Starsky's steps were getting stronger, and Hutch increased their pace.  They were now at the office area.  "We just need to get to the door, and then you won't have to worry about them anymore."

Starsky's breath was heavy, as he stayed glued to Hutch.

"Here, let me get the door."  With the arm that was around Starsky, Hutch reached for the door knob and turned it.

It was probably no more than fifty degrees outside.  Starsky was in one layer of clothing.  His skin had been cool to the touch.  Hutch had a blanket in the trunk of his car, and a gym bag with sweats in the backseat.  .

They moved into the night air, where crickets chirped.

"No more bugs," Hutch said decisively.  "Let's get you to the car."  He felt Starsky shiver in his grasp.  "I'll get you warmed up here real soon, partner.  Hang on."  They stopped beside the passenger door of the LTD.  Hutch reached into his pocket for his keys, and then opened the door.  "Here you go, buddy.  I'll get you a blanket in a minute."  He prompted Starsky to sit down into the seat.  Hutch bent to make sure his partner's legs were free of the door.  "Hang on.  I'm going to recline the seat, so you can rest."

Hutch knelt and flipped the lever.  A wave of fatigue washed over his legs, and it occurred to him how nice it would be to not have to stand up again, for a long time.

Adrenaline crash, he realized.  Four days he'd been looking for Starsky, catching only brief moments of sleep.  He staggered to his feet, so he could guide the headrest of the seat with one hand, while pulling the lever with the other.  He was satisfied when it was at a forty-five degree angle.  He squeezed Starsky's shoulder.  "Hang on, partner.  I'm getting you a blanket."  He had to untangle Starsky's hands from their grip on his clothing.

Hutch opened the trunk and retrieved the blanket there.  When he returned to the open passenger door, Starsky grabbed at his arms.  "You hear them, Hutch?  The bugs are out there."

"Just crickets," Hutch said gently, tucking the blanket around Starsky.  "They won't hurt you."  He emphasized, "I'll make sure that they don't."  He took off his jacket, and draped it over Starsky, above the blanket.  "Let me get the door, and we'll be on our way."

He patted Starsky's shoulder, and then shut the door.

Hutch went over to the driver's side, and got in.  Once seated, he felt sharp fatigue settle into his body.  He started the car, and then turned on the heat.  He squeezed Starsky's shoulder.  "Try to rest, buddy.  There aren't any bugs in the car.  You're safe now."

As Hutch turned down the primitive road that went through the woods, he realized that he was in no shape to drive the two hours back to Bay City.  He also didn't know how far away the nearest hospital was.  With Starsky relatively calm beside him, he wondered if a hospital was even necessary.  If he took Starsky to the emergency room, they'd most likely reach the same conclusion that Hutch had -- Starsky was under the influence of an hallucinogenic, most likely mushrooms.  They probably couldn't do much, except let the trip run its course, while perhaps keeping Starsky restrained for his own safety.

Not gonna do that.  Hutch hadn't seen any injuries on Starsky, other than his lacerated wrist.  He could surely use some water and something to eat -- to say nothing of a good bath -- but Hutch was skeptical that going to a hospital, if he could even find one within a reasonable time frame, would be all that beneficial.

Hutch shied away from the knowledge that sometimes hallucinogenics could cause later spouts of delusion, even when used just once.  He wasn't sure it was in the best interest of Starsky's career to have it on record that he'd been subjected to an hallucinogen, albeit against his will.

Hutch also wondered how much, or how persistently, Starsky had been given the drug.  Perhaps it had been to keep him relatively docile during his captivity.

He glanced to his right.  Starsky was still, his head turned slightly away, and did appear to be resting, other than some elevated breathing.  Hopefully, he would be been able to sleep off what remained of whatever trip he was on.

Hutch's eyes watered tiredly as he steered the LTD through an intersection.  He was going to need to stop.  Caulfield had the motel.  Also a convenience store, but that was surely closed.  He passed a sign that said Caulfield was twelve miles away.

He just needed to last twelve more miles.


They had made it.

Hutch had needed to wake the manager, to rent a room for the night. 

Starsky seemed more confused than afraid when Hutch got him out of the car, and beckoned him into the room.  Once the door was closed behind them, the first thing Hutch did was go into the bathroom, and start a hot bath.  If he flopped down on the bed, he knew he wouldn't get up for who knew how many hours.  Starsky needed to get out of those filthy clothes, and wash his surely chapped skin.

Starsky was sitting on the bed, eyes wide and confused.   Hutch gave him a glass of water, and partially held onto it, as Starsky drained it.  He then refilled it, and Starsky finished that off, as well.

Hutch kept his voice gentle.  "How about a hot bath, huh, buddy?"  He reached for the top button of Starsky's shirt.  "Let's get you undressed.  And then I'll have some nice, warm sweats for you when you're done."

Starsky's hands reached to his shirt, as though to help, but his fingers couldn't get a grip on the buttons.

"Here, I'll do it," Hutch said, noting that Starsky's eyes were warily darting about the walls.  As he worked with the shirt, he soothed, "There's nothing here that can harm you.  We're just going to give you a quick bath, and then you're going to get under the warm covers and fall asleep.  Does that sound good?  Huh?"

"They're crawling around in the walls, Hutch."

Damn.  Hutch gently moved Starsky's arms out of the shirt.  "They won't come near you, as long as you're with me."  Please, God, let a good night's sleep get him back to normal.

Hutch pulled off Starsky's untied shoes and smelly socks.  "Stand up, so we can get your pants off."

The baggy jeans came down rather easily.  Hutch tried to hold his breath at the strong urine smell that emerged.  As he worked with the wet underwear, he noted that Starsky's skin, while a deep red, didn't look like it had broken.  Hopefully, that meant that Starsky had been allowed to relieve himself early in his captivity, and perhaps his skin had been irritated for no more than a day, or whenever it was that Snow had last left Caulfield.   Plus, Starsky being able to do nothing more than lie on the table in the barn probably contributed to the relative lack of chafing.

Hutch pushed the soiled clothing to the area beneath the coat rack.  Starsky had sat back on the bed, and Hutch now took his hand.  "How does a nice, warm bath sound, huh?  You'll feel better and be able to fall right to sleep."  And forget about the bugs.

Starsky held onto Hutch's arm as he allowed himself to be led into the bathroom.

The tub was halfway full, and Hutch said, "Come on, get in.  I'll wash you up."

Hutch helped Starsky step over the side, and then carefully sit down in the water.  He reached for a wash cloth and unwrapped a bar of soap.  As he knelt beside the tub, the strong fatigue hit him once again.  Please be able to sleep tonight, buddy.  He rolled up his sleeves.

He squeezed Starsky's shoulder.  "Just relax, pal, and let me do everything."  He looked into Starsky's face and, while it appeared as exhausted as his own, thought that his partner's gaze wasn't quite as vacant as before.

Or maybe it was just his hopeful imagination.

Hutch dipped the cloth into the water, until it was soaked, and then rubbed soap on it.  He started at Starsky's back, and scrubbed, and then rinsed.  He continued on to armpits, limbs and chest, grateful that his charge seemed docile through the attention.  When Hutch straightened, he managed a smile.  "That feeling better?  Huh?"

Starsky nodded with a lowered gaze.

Hutch squeezed his shoulder.  "Hang on."  Hutch staggered to his feet, and then had to grab the wall for support.  He reached around the corner and took a pitcher from the little tray of four glasses.  "Let me just wash your hair real fast," he said as he knelt back down.  He scooped the pitcher into the bathwater.  "Keep your head bent, while I wash your hair.  Okay?"

Starsky obeyed, and Hutch poured water over his head.  He repeated the motion, and then looked behind him, where a tiny container of shampoo was.  He grabbed it, and then poured the contents of the small bottle over Starsky's head.  He used all ten fingers to massage Starsky's scalp.

Starsky made a noise of contentment.

Hutch felt a smile break out on his face.  "Sorry, but this is all I've got the energy for.  Time for a rinse."  He used the pitcher again, rinsing twice.

Once putting the pitcher down, he ventured, "You look like you're feeling better."  Before Starsky could respond, Hutch grabbed a clean washcloth, and used it on Starsky's face.  He was encouraged when Starsky reached up to take over with his own hands.

Hutch squeezed his shoulder again.  "I'm going to go out to the car and get my gym bag, with clothes.  That'll give you a chance to wash your privates."  He didn't wait for a response, but turned away, eager to keep moving while he could.  He just wanted to lie down on the bed and turn himself over to the bliss of slumber.

Upon returning, he dropped the gym bag to the floor beside the bed, and then moved into the bathroom.  He grabbed a body towel.  "How you doing, buddy?"

Starsky didn't reply, but managed to look up with tired expression.

Hutch managed another smile.  "Let me dry your hair before you get out.  I don't see a blow dryer around here."  He placed the towel on Starsky's head and summoned as much energy as he could, to rub briskly.  Once the towel was thoroughly damp, and couldn't absorb further moisture, he put it aside, and then reached for Starsky's arm.  "Come on, out you go."

Starsky carefully staggered to his feet.  Once safely out of the tub, Hutch shoved the towel at him, and then unfolded another.  "Dry off good."  He worked on Starsky's upper body, while Starsky did his own lower body, being careful around his red crotch area.

Hutch wished they had some kind of lotion for the irritated skin, but that would have to wait for morning.  As would a shave, and food.

Hutch dropped his towel, and took Starsky's arm again.  "I've got sweats by the bed."  He switched off the bathroom light, and guided Starsky to the bed, where he sat down.

Hutch knelt next to the gym bag, and unzipped it.  He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up.

Starsky gazed at him a long moment.  Then, with gratitude, he gruffly said, "You're keeping the bugs away."

Hutch felt his emotions rise to the surface.  He swallowed thickly.  "Yes, I am."

Starsky eyes watered, and Hutch quickly turned his attention back to the gym bag.  He pulled out the sweat pants.  "Let's get these on you, buddy."

Starsky loosely held onto Hutch, while Hutch did most of the work with the sweats.  After Starsky was fully clothed, Hutch reached to pull back the bed covers.  "Come on, into bed."

Starsky eagerly obeyed.  Hutch pulled the covers over him, as Starsky turned on his side.  "There, doesn't that feel good?"  Hutch stepped away, and reached to his own shirt, to unbutton it.

Starsky watched him.  Worriedly, he asked, "Where are you going?"

"I'm staying right here," Hutch replied, as he continued to undress.  "I'll be in bed, in a minute."  He softened his voice.  "Sleep, buddy."

Starsky's head relaxed against his pillow, but his eyes remained on Hutch.

Hutch stripped down to his undershirt and briefs.  He moved to the dresser where the light switch was, and flipped it, which left the room in darkness.  Then he moved to the other side of the bed and got under the covers.  He felt like he was already falling asleep, as he scooted near Starsky.  "Buddy, if you need to hang onto me, that's okay."

Starsky rolled over, so that he was facing Hutch.  There was shifting of arms and legs, until Hutch was on his side, one arm loosely around Starsky, whose forehead was pressed against Hutch's arm.

That's how they fell asleep.


At some point in the darkness, Hutch's subconscious registered Starsky rolling over, and curling up on his side  He felt comforted that Starsky felt secure enough to turn his back to Hutch.


Hutch slowly regained consciousness.  He was partially on his side, facing Starsky's back, and his eyes sought the ceiling in the grayness of the room.

Motel.  We're safe.  He had no way of knowing what time it was, with the thick curtains over the window.  He let his eyes drift closed, knowing that he could easily fall back to sleep.

He didn't know how much time had passed, when he became aware of Starsky's head moving on the pillow so close his own.

"Hutch?"  It was a hesitant inquiry.

Hutch opened his eyes.  Starsky's back was still to him.  "Yeah, buddy?"  He placed his hand on Starsky's arm, beneath the covers.  "How you doing?"

Starsky gathered himself, and then rolled over.  His expression showed surprise at how close they were to each other.

Hutch realized that, in other circumstances, it would be funny.  But he couldn't summon the energy for teasing.  Instead, he simply said, "We're in a motel in Caulfield.  You're safe, pal.  Wayne Snow is dead."

Starsky blinked.  He seemed to be trying to think through Hutch's words, which Hutch found encouraging.  Still, Hutch noted, mostly for his own sake, "It's fine if you want to sleep a while longer."

Starsky gazed at him a long moment and then, as though coming to a decision, he closed his eyes and a drew a deep breath.

Hutch gratefully drifted back to sleep.


It was the shifting of the mattress that next woke Hutch. 

He was lying on his back, and blinked away the sleep from his brain.

He looked to his left, and Starsky had a pillow pressed against his face and chest, facing Hutch.  He moved his head, as though trying to get more comfortable.

"Starsk?" Hutch watched as Starsky's eyes drifted open.  "How are you feeling?"

Starsky managed a shrug.  "Okay, I guess," he muttered.  "Have a bad headache."

Hutch turned to the opposite side, and got out of bed.  He stretched mightily, and then pulled the curtain back part way, letting the sunlight stream in.  Judging from the sun's location in the sky, he guessed that it was going on noon.

He came around the bed to Starsky's side, and knelt on the mattress.  "How about I get us something to eat?  There's a convenience store a half mile away.  If they have toothpaste and a razor, I'll get those, too."  He reached to pat Starsky's arm.  "You can take your time waking up.  Don't leave the room, okay?  I have the only key."

Starsky nodded, closing his eyes.

Hutch gave a farewell pat to Starsky's head.  He quickly dressed, and then left the room.

Despite the complaint of a headache, Hutch felt confident that Starsky was past experiencing delusions.  He hadn't said anything this morning about bugs, and his eyes seemed clear.

With a sense of relief, Hutch got in his car and drove to the edge of the small town.


A half hour later, he called, "It's me" while unlocking their motel room door. 

Starsky pushed into a sitting position on the mattress.

Hutch carried a couple of sacks to the small table in the room.  "They didn't have a lot to choose from, as far as nutritious food, so we'll stop on the way back."

Starsky pushed the covers aside, and got out of bed.  "Anything sounds good right now."

Hutch was glad to hear it.  He looked in a sack and found the bottle of aspirin.  "I got you aspirin for your headache, but you should probably wait until you've eaten something."  He watched Starsky plop into a chair, with his "bed hair" sticking out in all directions.  "Does your head still hurt?"

Starsky gave him a pointed look.  "Now that you mention it."

Hutch shoved a bagel his way.  "There wasn't anything hot, except for the coffee."

Hutch took out two quart-sized cartons of orange juice, and then crackers, chips, and beef jerky. He started on the latter.  After watching Starsky quickly down most of a bagel, he gently asked, "Do you remember where we are?"

Starsky drew a breath.  "Apparently, far from home."

"Yeah, a couple of hours.  We're in a small town called Caulfield.  You remember anything about it?"

Starsky shook his head.  "I was in the back of a van, with the windows closed off."

"How did he get you?"

"When I arrived home Tuesday night, there was a guy with car trouble on my block.  I went over to help, and I think they jumped me.  Might have used chloroform."

"How many were there?"

"There were two, in addition to Snow.  Once they had me in the barn, I only saw Snow." 

"What did he want?"

Starsky grimaced.  "Revenge, I guess."  Then he shrugged and muttered, "I'm not sure he'd figured out himself, what to do with me.  I think it just made him feel powerful, to know that he had me captive."

"He called the station once, but didn't make any demands.  He didn't stay on too long, so we couldn't trace it."

Starsky rubbed his hand over his face.  "I'm sure glad to be out of there.  Bugs all over the place."

Hutch's stomach tightened.  He watched Starsky open the carton of orange juice.  His partner seemed fully alert.  Hutch carefully said, "Starsky, there weren't any bugs in the barn."

Starsky looked up.  "What?  Yeah, they were.  On the floor and everything.  Big ones."

Hutch shook his head.  "I never saw any.  Buddy, I think he was giving you mushrooms.  I spotted a jar of them in that room where you were.  You were hallucinating."

Starsky had started to drink the orange juice, and now lowered the carton.  "Hutch, I saw them."

"You were hearing them, too," Hutch said patiently.  "Even after we got here, you said last night you could hear them crawling in the walls.  Buddy, I'm telling you, you were having some kind of really bad trip.  It had to be because of the mushrooms." 

Starsky seemed to search within himself, and was slowly shaking his head, as though not believing it.

Hutch pressed, "It looked like, from what I saw in that room, that he was making tea with the mushrooms.  Did he give you tea?"

Starsky abruptly met Hutch's eye.  "Yeah.  It tasted weird, but I was so thirsty....."

"He had you four days.  How much do you remember?"

"I remember the first day, for sure.  I was trying to get away, and talking to him, telling him that there was no way he was going to get away with whatever he wanted to do to me.  He was getting agitated, and I kept pressing.  And then he brought me something to drink.  I thought it was coffee.  It tasted really weird."  Starsky tilted his head.  "I remember it crossing my mind that it was probably drugged.  And then... I don't know.  I started seeing the bugs crawling on the floor." 

Gently, Hutch clarified, "That was the first day?"

"Yeah, the next evening after they had jumped me."  Starsky appeared to be thinking hard.  "Everything seems muddled after that.  I know he let me up a time or two, to piss.  But I was so afraid of the bugs crawling all over.  They couldn't get me, when I was lying on the table."

Hutch slowly nodded.  "He must have been giving you more of the tea, when you were too out of it to resist.  He was in Bay City, when we were able to track him down.  I was chasing him, and he ran in front of a car.  Killed him instantly."

Starsky's eyes darted to Hutch.  "When was that?"

"Early yesterday evening.  I found a motel key in his pocket, for this motel.  So, I thought I'd drive out here, though it didn't seem likely that he'd have you stashed two hours away, unless he had help."

Starsky shook his head.  "Never saw anybody else."  Then he bowed his head, and ran his hands through his hair.  "My head's still not right.  I feel weird."

Hutch was eager to soothe.  "It sounds like he might have been giving you continuous doses of the mushrooms, until he left yesterday to come to Bay City."  He reached to give Starsky's arm a reassuring squeeze.  "You'll probably be fine after a few days.  We just need to give you some time."  He realized that he needed that reassurance as much for himself.

Starsky swallowed thickly.  "We've seen people who've only been dosed just once with a hallucinogenic.  Sometimes, they're never the same again."

"You're already better," Hutch said with a gentle smile.  "It'll be okay, buddy."

Starsky took a long swallow of orange juice.  Then he tore open a package of beef jerky.

Hutch said, "We can stop by the hospital, so they can check you out."

Starsky snorted.  "They can't do anything for mushrooms."  He blinked.  "Except put it on the record."  He looked at Hutch worriedly.  "I don't think that would be a good idea."

"Yeah.  Let's see how you do, after you've rested a few days.  I'll call Dobey in a bit.  He doesn't know I've found you.  I'll just tell him that you're not much worse for the wear, and just need some days off."

Starsky sighed, his expression one of gratitude.


While Starsky was in the bathroom, freshening up, Hutch called Dobey. 

Dobey said that he was contacting the local law enforcement, and giving them the location of where Starsky had been held, based on Hutch's vague description.  Hutch was firm that he didn't want to wait around to talk to the locals, because he and Starsky were both bushed and needed to rest up for a few days, which Dobey gave them.  The locals could read their reports later.  Since Wayne Snow was deceased, the only prosecuting that could done was if the two goons who helped him kidnap Starsky could be found.


In early afternoon, they were on their way back to Bay City.  Hutch filled Starsky in on the efforts that had been made to track down Wayne Snow.  They also stopped for a hearty steak dinner along the way.

Once in town, they dropped by Hutch's place, so he could water his plants, pick up his mail, and pack his gym bag with fresh clothes, since he intended to stay with Starsky the next few days.

When they arrived at Starsky's place in late afternoon, Starsky eagerly sought the bed, while Hutch claimed the sofa to catch up on further sleep.


Hutch was awakened by the sound of distressed breathing.

Once orienting himself, he moved to Starsky's bedroom in the darkness.  "Starsk?" he inquired, noting that the bedside clock indicated it was close to 1:00 AM.

"Hutch?" Starsky questioned hopefully.

Hutch could now see that Starsky was sitting up in bed, clad similarly to Hutch, in t-shirt and briefs.

Starsky said, "Watch out for the bugs!"

Oh, no.  Calmly, Hutch said, "I'm going to get the light."  Please let that help.  He felt around for the lamp, and then turned the knob.

Starsky's wide, frantic eyes turned toward him, as he pressed back against the headboard.  "Don't let them get on the bed!"

Hutch searched for something soothing to say, as he knelt on the mattress.  "They won't.  They afraid of me.  I kept them from you."  He reached for Starsky's tense shoulders.  "Hang onto me.  They can't harm you, as long as you're with me."

Starsky quickly moved into Hutch's arms, circling his own around Hutch's shoulders.  Breathlessly, he said, "They're all over."

Hutch swallowed.  He took Starsky's chin in hand.  With quiet firmness, he said, "Starsk, look at me.  Look at me, buddy."

Starsky's eyes snapped to his.

"Starsky, it's an hallucination.  There aren't any bugs here."

"I see them!"  Starsky's eyes drifted to the edge of the bed.

Slowly, distinctly, Hutch said, "You're in your own bed, safe.  I'm with you.  There aren't any bugs here.  You're having an hallucination."  He reminded, "From all those mushrooms that Wayne Snow gave you."

Starsky was listening, obviously trying to comprehend Hutch's words.

More gently, Hutch said, "I know you see them, buddy.  But they aren't really here.  You can trust me.  You're perfectly safe."

Starsky pressed his face into Hutch's chest, muttering, "I don't know how to stop seeing them."

"I know."  Hutch rubbed Starsky's back.  "It just takes time.  Relax.  I'm not going anywhere."

Starsky tilted his head back, and he was looking at Hutch with pleading eyes.  "I wish I was okay."

Hutch brushed a thumb across Starsky chin.  "You'll be okay, buddy.  You understand now that it's an illusion, right?"

Starsky wide eyes darted to the floor.  "They look so real."

Then he looked up at Hutch again, his expression as vulnerable as Hutch had ever seen.

Hutch wanted to respond to that desperate need.  Holding and petting Starsky wasn't enough.  There was something quite real that could soothe the troubled man in his arms.  Deliberating avoiding further thought, he lowered his head and touched his lips to Starsky's.

"Huh?" Starsky grunted.  Then he murmured agreeably, "Hutch."  He kissed back.

Hutch tightened his arms, and his mouth pressed harder.  He shifted, pushing Starsky down to the mattress, and covered him with the reassuring strength of his body.

Taking advantage when he's defenseless, his mind protested.

And yet, Starsky was rubbing at Hutch just as eagerly, and now placed his hand behind Hutch's head, to keep their lips locked together.

Feels so good....

So good, that it couldn't be right.

Just as his erection became the most prominent part of his body, Hutch suddenly flung himself to one side and rolled onto his back.

Starsky followed, placing himself on top of his Hutch, and reclaiming his lips.

He wants it.  Hutch allowed himself a moment of puzzlement.

Starsky was trembling as his firmness rocked against Hutch's stomach.  He finally dragged his lips away, and reached down to his briefs. 

Hutch felt Starsky flesh against his own cotton undershirt.  He pulled the clothing up, exposing his stomach, and Starsky grunted heavily as he thrust against the naked skin.

Hutch grabbed Starsky clothed buttocks with both hands, trying to help, as Starsky began to undulate frantically, and Hutch felt hot breath against his neck.  His own center strained with neglect.

Suddenly, Starsky bucked emphatically, his mouth covering Hutch's, and he released a muffled yell.

Hutch had to tear his mouth away to catch his own breath.  He felt emotional relief, as his belly was sprayed with moisture.

He was resigned to painful physical frustration.

Starsky moved to one side, gasping for breath.  After a moment, he placed a hand over Hutch's groin.

Hutch quickly and reluctantly pushed it away.  "No," he muttered, refusing to take further part in something that he had instigated, but that shouldn't have happened.

He wondered what would happen to them now.  But more important, at the moment....  

He turned his head to look at Starsky, who was relaxed against the pillow.  "You don't see the bugs anymore?"

Starsky was still catching his breath.  "I sort of hear them.  I know they're not real."  His eyes met Hutch's in the glow from the lamp.  "You're what's real."

While Hutch tried to fathom what to say, and what it might mean for them, Starsky shifted to lay his head on Hutch's shoulder.  Then he snuggled closer against him.

As he listened to Starsky drifting peacefully into sleep, Hutch allowed himself to follow.


Hutch's next conscious thought was that he was having a wet dream.

His cock felt incredibly good, and he was building toward orgasm.

It was only with the rude intrusion of consciousness that he heard soft, wet noises, and realized that he was getting a blow job.  Cracking his eyes opened revealed a curly head bent over his crotch.

Hutch turned his head away and closed his eyes.  He didn't have the strength to stop this.

Instead, Hutch gave himself over to the pleasure of a firm tongue undulating against the underside of his cock, just behind the head.

Half-heartedly, he wondered how Starsky knew how to do this.  Then consoled himself that, as a man, his partner would know how to suck cock with a skill that was better than most women.

He reached down and gently brushed his fingers against Starsky's hair, showing that he was awake.

Starsky grunted and renewed his grip on Hutch shaft.

"Dear God," Hutch gasped, as the peak was reached.

Some part of him was aware of Starsky swallowing the emission, and then shivering from the strong taste.

Hutch breathed heavily, and then let lassitude drift through him.

Starsky shifted to lay alongside him.

The room was grey.  It was dawn.

After Hutch recovered his breath, he said, without looking at Starsky, "You didn't need to do that."

He felt a shrug beside him.  "It was your turn."

"You didn't need to even things up," Hutch said more firmly.

"You complaining?"

Hutch snorted at the rationale.  "Not hardly."  Then he felt compelled to say, "This isn't us."

Starsky got up on his side, his head propped in his hand.  "I was feeling scared, and you loved me.  Hasn't that always been us?"

Hutch disregarded the argument that came to mind, and finally looked at Starsky.  More gently, he asked, "How do you feel?"

"I'm not hallucinating."  A shrug.  "At least, not right now."

"You'll get better, buddy.  You'll see.  Without how much it sounds like Snow was giving you, over a prolonged time, it wouldn't be surprising to think your brain might need longer than most to recover from a bad trip."

He abruptly sat up and turned to place his feet on the floor.

Starsky sighed, as though disappointed.

Hutch wasn't sure how to deal with that.  What he did know was that he needed to distance himself from Starsky.  It was difficult to consider a strategy, with wanting to remain with his partner, in case he had more hallucinations.

Finally, Hutch asked, "How about we go for a walk, or a jog?  Get some exercise?"


They did just that, going to a park, and after an easy jog, threw a Frisbee back and forth.

Every time Starsky appeared contemplative, Hutch spoke first and made sure it was a mundane topic.

Finally, for his own sanity, he decided to leave Starsky alone and return to his own apartment.  But he called every couple of hours, throughout the remainder of the day, to make sure Starsky had hadn't any further hallucinations.  The next day, he called every four hours.


Hutch picked up Starsky on Monday morning, relieved that things had apparently returned to normal.

To validate that assessment, he waited until he'd driven a few blocks, and then said, "You're looking back to your old self."

Starsky drew a breath.  "Actually, I did have some sort of vision or something yesterday afternoon.  More like sounds, I guess.  Heard scurrying around.  Just sat on the sofa and tried to separate out what was real and what wasn't.  Turned on the TV and got interested in the game.  It went away after that."

Hutch was relieved that Starsky had that degree of independence.

Quietly, Starsky said, "We can't tell anybody about this."

"I know.  In our report, I'm just putting that you were drugged when I rescued you, and then you were fine after a good night's sleep."

Starsky muttered, "As long as I don't lose my head when we're involved in a shootout, or something like that."

Firmly, Hutch said, "You're a whole lot better Starsky.  Nothing like you were, when I rescued you the other night.  It just needs to work out of your system."  Then, more gently, he noted, "I've got your back."

Starsky placed a hand on Hutch's leg, behind his knee.  "In more ways than one."

Hutch wasn't sure what that meant, and shied away from defining it.  "I wonder how badly our case log has backed up, with us being out these few days."


They stayed plenty busy throughout the morning. 

They stopped at an outdoor deli for lunch, and sat at a little table to scarf down their food.

As Hutch swallowed the last of his burger, he felt a tension developing around them.

Starsky's attention was focused a group of construction workers at the tables nearest them.  After they left, he turned his attention to Hutch.  Softly, he asked, "Did you like it?"

Hutch's stomach tightened, as he fought to delay the inevitable conversation.  "I feel like I took advantage of you."

Starsky seemed to consider that for a long moment.  Then, "Not anymore than I was taking advantage of you -- of your nearness."

With frustration, Hutch said, "It happened.  I want to be okay about it.  Put it behind us."

Starsky frowned.  "You make it sound like it was something horrible."

"It shouldn't have happened," Hutch insisted, his stomach tightening further.  He saw how disappointed Starsky was, and quickly assured, "I-I-I was just trying to soothe you, you know  Reassure you."

Starsky smiled.  "You did.  In the most wonderful way."

"Great," Hutch said, hearing the puzzlement in his own voice.  "So, let's just leave it at that.  Why do we have to analyze it?"

"We don't.  I'm just wondering why you're so jittery about it."

"I feel bad.  Okay?  I don't like that-that something like that happened, in that situation, because I let -- "  He felt alarmed at what he was about to say.

After a long moment of gazing at him, Starsky asked, "Because you let what?  Your love for me express itself in a way that was natural?"

"Natural?" Hutch emphasized.

Starsky wadded up a napkin, and threw it into the paper bag that had held their lunch.  "Fine.  Never mind."  He rose with their trash.  When Hutch also stood, Starsky reached to pat his back.  "We're okay, Hutch."

Hutch felt relieved. 

Sort of.


After work, they were headed back to Starsky's place, so Hutch could drop him off.

As dusk settled in, Starsky asked, "You're going to come up for dinner, right?"

Hutch looked over at him in surprise.  "I wasn't planning on it."

"Look, I went out yesterday and sort of got carried away at that new deli section they opened up at the grocery store.  Got all these fried chicken pieces, and all the fixings.  I can't eat it all myself, and if some of it is still left over for tomorrow, it won't taste as good."  He whined, "So, come up and help me eat it."

Hutch shook his head, smiling softly.  "The sacrifices I make for you."

Smugly, Starsky declared, "That's because I'm worth it."

Hutch chuckled.


"I'm full," Hutch declared. 

Starsky peeked into a container of stuffing.  "Don't think there's enough left to make it worth keeping."

He began piling Hutch's chicken bones onto his own plate.  "Wanna stay and watch our favorite shows?"

"Your favorite shows," Hutch corrected.

"You like them, too," Starsky insisted.  "You like the sitcoms, at least.  WKRP in Cincinnati is on tonight.  Plus, M*A*S*H."

Hutch muttered, "I'll stay for those, but that's it."

Starsky was looking at his hands, and muttered, "Gonna wash my hands."  He took off across the living room, moving toward the bathroom.

Hutch got up with a sigh, deciding that dinner had indeed been good, if a bit over-filling.  He took the plate of their combined chicken bones, and dumped them into the trash.  He continued to pick up around the kitchen, when he heard a hesitant, "Hutch?"

Hutch turned around, but couldn't see Starsky.  He called, "Yeah?"

"Hutch, there's bugs!  All over!"

Oh, no.  Heart sinking, Hutch rushed to Starsky's bedroom, where the only light was from the bathroom. 

Starsky's eyes were wide, staring at the floor, as he turned in a circle.  "They're all over."

Hutch moved next to Starsky, circling his arms around him.  "It's okay, it's okay.  They aren't really here."  He took Starsky's chin and made him look up.  "Starsky, trust me, buddy.  It's just your imagination.  You know they're not real."

Breathlessly, Starsky said, "They're in the walls, Hutch, moving around.  I can hear them -- thousands of them."

"Okay, okay," Hutch soothed, pulling Starsky against him.  He rubbed his back.  "Just hang onto me.  You know they won't hurt you, as long as you're with me, right?"

Starsky looked up again, his eyes pleading.  "Make them go away, Hutch.  Make them go away."

He knew what Starsky was asking.  It worked before.  Or, at the very least, had been a distraction.

He kissed those upturned lips.  Let himself melt into the flavor of chicken and stuffing, corn, and bread.

When he let up just enough to feel Starsky's hot breath on his face, he grabbed Starsky's buttocks, and felt himself ignited.

Then he was being pushed back on the bed.  Starsky was on top of him, claiming his mouth as his hand worked with the snap of Hutch's jeans.

Hutch let it happen.


It felt wonderful, in a strange way, that his jeans and briefs were pulled to just below his hips, his limpness moist against his thigh. 

Hutch wanted to languish in the feeling as long as possible, before the inevitable complications and consequences had to be confronted.  He kept his face turned away from the bathroom and its revealing light.

Starsky on top of him, their cocks thrusting against each other....

Beside him, Starsky was regaining his breath.

Hutch wanted to ask if Starsky was still seeing or hearing the bugs, but he thought it would be ridiculous to make fear of bugs the reason for what they had just done... again.

He furrowed his brow.  What if Starsky kept having these hallucinations?  What if they occurred at a critical time, such as at their jobs, when other cops were around?

Were they supposed to find a way to fall into bed together, every time?  And if so, what would happen if that got to be a habit, and then the delusions went away?

Starsky sighed airily.  Then he made an "Mm" noise.

Hutch closed his eyes.  Mm, indeed.

After another moment, Starsky drew a deep breath.

Hear it comes, Hutch thought with dread.  The analysis.

"Hutch?" Starsky's voice sounded hesitant and vulnerable.  Such a contrast to his assertive actions, a short time ago.

"Yeah?" Hutch asked neutrally.

"Will you look at me?"

Hutch turned his head, trying not to squint from the intrusion of the bathroom light.  Starsky was on his side, and now reached to place his hand on Hutch's chest.  "I have to tell you something.  I swear, Hutch, I'll never do it again."

"Do what?"  Never have sex again?  His heart pounded at that thought, though it didn't make sense that Starsky would be thinking that.

Starsky moved closer, hovering over Hutch.  "I lied.  I wasn't seeing or hearing any bugs.  I swear, I'll never lie to you like that again."

Whatever anger Hutch thought he should feel, was tempered by the desperation in Starsky's tone.  He simply demanded, "Why?"

Starsky rubbed his hand along Hutch's chest, which felt soothing.  "I wanted us to do this again.  Without it having anything to do with you taking care of me.  I know that's what you thought was happening, but it wasn't, Hutch."  Quickly, he said, "If that bothers you, know that I'm the one that caused it to happen.  It's all on me.  What happened here isn't your responsibility.  At all."

Hutch couldn't comprehend all that.  "Why?" he asked again.

The hand on his chest slowed its motion.  "We're good together, Hutch.  Even here.  In bed.  I realized that when it happened the first time, because it meant a whole lot more to me than you just -- you know -- reassuring me or whatever.  But you've been so reluctant to consider it further, that I felt I had to get you mellowed out and experience it again.  Hopefully, you can see it, too...?"

Hutch closed his eyes and swallowed.  He had to force himself to open them to ask his next question.  "Why do you want to go down this path?  When it's going to complicate everything?"  Hutch's heart beat faster at how enormous that last word sounded.

Starsky gazed at him.  Then, softly, he said, "Because we're worth it.  The love we have between us is worth every possible expression we can give it."

Hutch blinked, and felt his eyes grow moist.

Still soft, Starsky demanded, "Do you really want us to never experience this again?"  Pause.  "If you can get past the fear, is that still really what you want?"

"No," Hutch whispered, amazed at how simple the truth was.

Starsky smiled.  "Good."  Then, with gentle amusement, "But...?"

Hutch furrowed his brow.  "But nothing."  He was trying to figure out just exactly where they were at, with all that had been said that past few minutes.  "So, you haven't had any hallucinations, since yesterday afternoon?"

"Right.  I can feel that I'm better, Hutch.  It's a hard thing to describe.  But my head feels better.  I think if I do still have some kind of delusions, that I'll be able to recognize them for what they are."

Hutch breathed a sigh of relief.

Starsky lowered his face, so his lips were inches from Hutch.  "So, we can love each other with it just being about loving each other.  No need to worry about bugs or anything else."

He loved Starsky so much for his optimism.  And yet, Hutch had to correct, "Just everything else.  Our jobs.  Girlfriends.  Family."

Starsky's smile grew warm.  "How 'bout we climb one mountain at a time?"  He lowered his head and kissed Hutch... gently, tenderly, lovingly.....

Hutch closed his eyes blissfully, and then watched Starsky pull back.

Starsky's expression was as warm as Hutch had ever seen it.  "I think he likes that."

Hutch looked away, but agreed with a smile, "He likes it."  Starsky seemed to make everything so easy.

Starsky's eyes glowed with love.  "I love the idea of giving the person I love more of what he likes.  How about all night long?"

He lowered his head once again.




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