(c) June 2012 by Charlotte Frost




Hutch gasped as he felt rock crumble beneath his boot.  Still, the ball of his foot had good purchase against the cliff ledge.  He shook his head to clear the sweat that was falling into his eyes, and reached up to grab at the rock, finding a sure enough grip to hoist himself up another couple of feet.

He could do this.

A few years ago, he and Starky had climbed a cliff on Playboy Island, bare-handed.  Twice.

He would give anything to have Starsky with him now.  Even a possessed Starsky.

A voice from below called out, "You aren't going to make it, dick face!"  Then a gruff chuckle.  "But I'm glad you're trying.  It's a lot more fun this way!"

Hutch tried to keep his focus on just putting one foot up in front of the other.  Anything to get away from the madman below.  A madman who had turned out to be the insanely jealous former boyfriend of Trisha, the girl Hutch had been seeing for a few months now.  And would never see again.

She was dead.

The madman had come upon their campsite, and grabbed Trisha from behind with a huge hunting knife to her throat.  Just as Hutch was returning with his arms full of wood for their campfire, the man said, "This is what happens to bad girls who go looking for a new boyfriend."  And cut her throat.

Hutch had been so horrified that Trisha was being murdered before his eyes, that it had taken a moment to react.  He'd thrown the wood aside and prepared to fight the madman, but the madman had taken a gun out of his belt, while still holding the knife.  "You're next," he'd said.

Hutch had left his gun in their tent, having no need of it to merely gather wood.  With no weapon and now the immediate threat of death -- and no way to help Trisha -- he'd taken off at a run.

His intent had been to circle back around to their camp and retrieve his gun.  The nearest ranger's station was nearly ten miles away, and he'd been thinking in terms of defense as the most immediate necessity, before going for help.

Until he realized he was being stalked.

Threatening bullets had driven him away from the campsite... and away from help.  He had moved farther into the vast park.  After darkness fell, he let himself rest whenever he thought he could find refuge in relative safety.  But inevitably, there would be indications that the madman had found him -- or perhaps never lost him, but had only stopped briefly to rest, too.

When dawn broke, Hutch had been thinking about how he needed to turn things around from being stalked into doing the stalking.  But then he had come to the cliff face.  From the brief time he'd seen the madman, he appeared to be somewhat overweight.  Hutch was in good shape.  If he could climb the cliff, it was unlikely that the madman would be able to follow.  But it was also true that Hutch would be vulnerable to shots from below, while climbing.

But he had decided it was his best chance.  Before the summer sun got too bright.  And too hot.



Starsky moved into Dobey's office, where his superior had just hung up the phone.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Have you heard of a woman named Trisha Wooten?"

Starsky blinked, feeling alarm.  "Yes.  That's Hutch's girlfriend that he's gone camping with at Hooper Park."

"She's dead."

"What?"  Starsky's heart kicked into high gear.

"She was found by some campers this morning, who alerted the rangers.  She had Hutch's information listed as an emergency contact, and they called here."

"Where's Hutch?" Starsky demanded.

"Nobody's seen him.  They're looking.  The girl was killed by her throat being cut."

"Oh, my God," Starsky said shakily. 

Dobey reached for his phone.  "I'm calling for a helicopter to take you up there.  See a Sheriff Proctor when you arrive."


Hutch was wheezing for breath.  Exhaustion was his enemy.  The unknown was, as well.

The madman had stopped taunting him a while ago.  He had never fired at Hutch, perhaps because the sound would have alerted others in the park. But he didn't think the madman's absence was good news.

Hutch had never been to this particular park before.  If the madman was familiar with it, perhaps he knew a faster way to the top.  Maybe he was waiting for Hutch.

Hutch wiped the side of his face against his shoulder, trying to clear away the sweat.

He was two-thirds the way up the cliff.  Retreating wasn't an option.  Nor was staying in one place, since there weren't any ledges on the cliff that were large enough to sustain him in a supine position, where he could lie down to rest.

He had to keep climbing.


"Is this your partner's gun?"

Starsky's mouth fell open as he took the Beretta, incased in plastic, from Sherriff Proctor.  "Yeah."

"It was found inside the tent.  We've closed the park and have removed current visitors.  The two vehicles left in the parking lot are your partner's, and one belonging to Todd Farmers.  Farmers is an ex-convict, in for domestic assault and battery, and Trisha's family has confirmed that he was a former boyfriend of hers."

"Oh, my God."

"We've got people searching on horseback, and we've just put helicopters into the air."

Starsky felt that a vise was gripped around his heart.  "Take me to the campsite.  I know my partner.  If I can see where he was, I'll be able to think like he thinks."

Proctor nodded.  "It'll be over an hour by horseback.."

Starsky firmed his voice.  "Then we'd better get moving as soon as possible."


Starsky and Proctor turned to look at a deputy who was holding a car radio.  The deputy said, "One of the choppers has spotted a man who they think is Proctor.  He's trying to elude them."

Starsky immediately changed his train of thought.  "Get me up in one of those choppers."


Hutch wasn't going to come this far, only to fail at the end of it. 

He now had to stop and rest after every few steps.  He no longer tried to look up and find the top, because he was afraid it would seem too far.  Discouragement would undo him.

He was vaguely aware of how cut and skinned his flesh was, especially his hands.  He couldn't afford to focus on that, either.  Or how sweltering the sun was.

He heard a helicopter and wondered if the madman was now searching for him by air.

If so, that didn't change the fact that his only option was to keep moving up.


Starsky had been envious that Hutch had wrangled a week off out of Dobey to spend time with Trisha.  All indications had been that this was going to be a definitive "get serious" vacation, where the two decided to not see other people, or else part company.  If they decided to get serious, Starsky knew he was going to be spending a lot of evenings alone.

It was bad enough being at work without Hutch.  They were accustomed to functioning a certain way together.  There should be a departmental policy that partners couldn't take time off separate from each other.

Now, none of that mattered.  Trisha was dead.  Starsky wondered how the situation had played out.  Wondered why Hutch's body hadn't been alongside hers or, if Hutch had bested Farmers, why he hadn't gone for help.

He wondered if Hutch was a hostage of Farmers.  But if so, he hadn't been spotted with the ex-convict. 


Starsky followed the copter pilot's pointing finger.  They were approaching a cliff face, and someone was climbing it. 

Culvers, the pilot, said, "This isn't the area where Farmers was spotted.  That's still a few miles away."

"That's Hutch!" Starsky exclaimed, the body language clear as Hutch took another step up the cliff face. 

Concerned, Culvers said, "He doesn't appear to even notice us."

Indeed, Hutch hadn't even turned his head.  Starsky's excitement turned to trepidation when he saw how far Hutch had climbed.  He muttered, just loud enough to be heard over the chopper's whirling blades, "He has to be exhausted."  The good news was that Hutch appeared to be only about twenty feet from the top of the cliff, which was a level plateau.

The pilot said, "We can't get too close or we'll knock him right off that cliff.  We'll have to land on top."

Starsky realized that Hutch had to be trying to escape Farmers, who obviously had a large knife, at least, while Hutch was without a weapon.

Come on, Hutch, Starsky silently pleaded, please see that you're getting rescued.  

The pilot angled the helicopter away, giving  Hutch a wide berth as they headed for the top of the cliff.


There wasn't just one helicopter that was close.  Hutch had heard at least one other in the distance.

They were all coming for him.  One human being, trying to fight off an army.

Damnit, he was going to make it to the top of this cliff, if it's the last thing he ever did in his life.


Starsky quickly unbuckled his belt as the chopper landed and the motor was cut.

Culvers picked up the radio.  "We've landed.  We'll report in as soon as we have him in safety."

Culvers had already called for an ambulance, which would take nearly an hour to get there, from a back road that led from the nearest highway to the plateau.  This helicopter was built for two people, and the only supplies was a first aid kit, and whatever the pilot brought along for his own comfort.

They both got out, Starsky wanting to run to the cliff edge to help Hutch make those final feet, but he hesitated, afraid that if Hutch was startled in any manner, it would cause him to lose him grip.

Culvers said, "I've got a rope, but there's nothing here to secure it to."

Starsky looked around.  No large boulders that they could tie the rope to, and then lower themselves down to help Hutch.

Culver said regretfully, "I think we're going to have to wait for him to him finish what he started."


Hutch had seen a movie a few years ago.  It was about three astronauts going to Mars, but before they were supposed to blast off, they were told they weren't actually leaving the Earth.  Instead, they were expected to pretend that the were making the trip, complete with appropriate film footage, so the government and the public would believe the trip had really happened.  The astronauts then figured out that after they were no longer needed, they were going to be killed, so the truth that they'd never actually gone to Mars would never get out.

In trying to escape, the three astronauts had split up.  One had ended up climbing a mountain.  When, exhausted, he'd finally reached the top, he'd found two sinister-looking helicopters waiting for him.  It was obvious that the orders of the men flying those helicopters were to kill him.  Since that particular character hadn't been the star of the movie, that had indeed been his fate.

All that effort... only to be killed when he finally reached the plateau.

Whatever fate held for him, Hutch considered as his reaching hand felt level ground, he had made the only choice there was, once starting up the mountain -- to reach the top.

Atta, boy.   It seemed as though the air had gently whispered to him.

Come on, Hutch, just a little more.

The air knew his name.

A hand gripped his wrist.

Hutch's heart skipped a beat.  He gasped.  Would the hand try to push him off?  Please, no, he silently begged, wanting to sob.  I've made it this far.

I've got you, buddy boy.  So reassuring.

A hand now on his other arm, then his shoulder.

Hands grabbing at his legs.

His clothing pressed painfully against his crotch as he felt himself hoisted up by his waistband.  He was dragged a short distance.

He was lying flat, on his stomach.

There was no longer anything to struggle against.

He was too exhausted to struggle against anything ever again.

"Hutch!  Hutch!"

He was being turned over.

A shadow blocked the relentless sun that shone on his face.

Hutch blinked, looking up into the shadow.  He couldn't make out details.  But there were whispered words.  "You made it, Hutch.  You made it."  Hands brushed along his face, gently patted his sunburned cheek.  "I'm right here.  Right here.  You're gonna be fine."

A loud voice intruded.  "We need to move him by the copter.  Get him some shade.  I've got a canteen, but only one."

"All right, buddy boy.  You just relax as best you can.  We're going to pick you up and move you just a little ways.  Get you some shade.  You'll like that, huh?"

Hutch thought he heard words of direction.  Then grunts of effort as he was gripped beneath his armpits, and at has ankles, and then he was being carried.

His head fell back, because for it to do otherwise would require strength that he no longer had.

After a while, his lower body was placed on the ground.  The strange voice said, "It might be cooler for him to be flat on the ground."

"Not an option," the gentler voice said.

There was relief here.  The sun wasn't as bright. 

An arm was around his shoulders.  There was movement at his upper back that prompted Hutch to let his head roll to one side.

He let his weight grow heavy against the familiar chest his cheek rested against.  There was hair between the feeling of cloth.  Hutch's nose could feel the cool plastic of a button.

The brusque voice said, "Here.  I'm going to call and see if they can have another chopper drop another canteen or two.  We need to cool him down while we're waiting for the ambulance.  I'll bring the first aid kit."

The gentle voice said, "Here, Hutch, I've got some water.  I want you to drink it real slow, swallow real careful.  'Kay?"

It sounded as though water was important. 

"Here we go."

Something metal was placed against Hutch's lips.  Then tilted.

"Real slow, Hutch."

The cool liquid was indeed welcome, and Hutch swallowed in worship, the metal easing off his lip, as he did so.  And then his mouth was being bathed again.

"Atta boy, Hutch.  Real slow."

He didn't want the water to ever end.

It ended, the metal material no longer against his lip.

He could hear himself panting at all the effort the drinking had taken.

"I'm going to pour just a little over your head.  Cool you down."

It felt almost as good, wetness on top of his head, trickling down the sides of his face.  Into his neck.

"That's it for now.  Just rest, Hutch. Rest."

A hand squeezed his shoulder, the fingers digging in.

The one responsible for all these good feelings had a name.  "Starsk."  Hutch heard a thick croak in his own voice.

His chin was tilted up.  Hutch struggled to focus, and saw shimmering blue eyes looking into his own.  "Right here, pal."

Hutch managed to fling his arm across Starsky as emotion welled up, tightening his chest and throat.

Arms enveloped him, putting pressure on his back, where he was too hot.  But Hutch felt relief as he pressed his face somewhere between Starsky's neck and shoulder, hiding his eyes as a dry sob emerged.

He wanted to keep sobbing, but it took too much energy -- something he no longer had.

Fingers burrowed into his hair.  "I know," Starsky's soothing voice said.  "You've had a bit of rough time."

The image was before his mind's eye.  The huge knife cutting deep into Trisha's throat.  Her body dropping to the ground.

It had happened so fast.  Hutch hadn't been able to do anything to save her.  He needed to let Starsky know that.  He tried to shift, so it was easier to talk,  but he was too weak.

"Easy, easy."  Whisper soft.  "You have to relax, Hutch.  I'm right here with you."  Squeezes at his shoulder.  "Atta boy.  Let me take care of you."

The intrusive voice was back.  "They're going to try to get a copter out this way.  Here's the first aid kit, but I don't know that there's much we can do for him, without more water.  At least, he doesn't seem to have any injuries requiring urgent care, other than needing to be cooled down."

Hutch didn't want to see who that voice belonged to.  He kept his face hidden against Starsky.

A reassuring hand rested on his back, between his shoulder blades.  "I'm going to try to get him somewhat undressed, at least.  Why don't you unlace his boots and see if you can get them off."

"You guys are close, huh?"  Casual.

"Yeah."  Hutch felt one of the arms around him squeeze his ribs possessively.

Then fingers were working at his shirt.  "Gonna get your shirt off here, Blintz.  Let me do everything."

"There's scissors in the first aid kit, if you want to cut it off."

"I don't think those are big enough."

His foot hurt.  Something was pulling at it.

"Easy, Hutch.  Just trying to make you more comfortable."

His shirt was being peeled away.  He had nothing on beneath the single layer, and a breeze hit his bare flesh.  It felt so good.

His foot hurt even more, and then abruptly, it felt free.

Something was touching it.

The louder voice said.  "He's got some really bad, oozing blisters.  I'm going to leave his socks on, so they don't get exposed.  I'll get the other boot."

"Easy does it," Starsky soothed. 

Hutch felt the waistband of his jeans worked with.  There was a lot of pulling at his other foot.  He thought he heard a helicopter in the distance.

"Hutch, relax.  Relax."  Such a gentle whisper, as fingers stroked gently along his cheek.  "You don't have to worry about anything.  We're taking good care of you.  Getting you more comfortable."

His other foot was free.  His fly was being opened.  "Can you grab his pants by the legs and pull them off?"


"Just bear with us, Hutch."

Hutch felt the pull of his jeans, as they loosened from his hips.  An arm was wrapped more securely around him.  He had some sense that his underwear was being held onto.

"You're doing good, Hutch.  Just relax."

He was losing his clothing.  The helicopter was getting louder.

"There you go.  We'll have more water for you soon, and we'll cool you right down.  Just try to relax.  You're doing fine."

Hutch saw Trisha's throat being cut.  He was too late to stop it.

"Easy, Hutch.  Take it easy.  Shhh."

The helicopter was so loud.

The was an intense thumping noise, as though something was dropped from a high distance.

"I'll get it," the loud voice said.

"Hutch?  Can you look up at me?  It's okay."

Hutch made a point of blinking his eyelids. 

"I'm right here.  Focus on me."

Hutch felt his eyes squint as he gazed up into the orbs above him.

"That's it.  Show me those baby blues.  You're going to be fine, Hutch."

Trisha dropped to the ground.  "Sta--"

"Shhh.  It's okay.  It's okay.  You're gonna to be fine."

Trisha would never be fine.  "Tri--"  The eyes above him became too blurry to see.  The noise of the helicopter was moving away.

"Ah, Hutch.  I know."  So soft.  "I know."

The loud voice intruded.  "They got us a blanket, too.  And some clean cloths." 


There was noise, the tearing of plastic.

"Looks like there's a note."  The sound of paper.  "They say the ambulance is about a half hour away.  And they've got Farmers cornered."

"Good," Starsky said quietly.  "Let's get the blanket beneath him."

They were moving him, shifting him, and Hutch tried to grab onto Starky, but he was too weak, and his hands stung terribly.

The gentle voice was back.  "I'm not goin' nowhere."

Softness was beneath him.  More softness was draped over his lower body.

The loud voice said, "Boy, he sure tore up his hands  I'll work on dressing those, if you want to cool him down some more."


Hutch felt the shifting of bone and muscle beneath his torso, as he let his weight rest against Starsky.

"All right, Hutch, gonna sponge you down."

His arm was stretched out, as unfamiliar hands gripped it.

Wetness bathed his face, as Starsky's soothing voice said, "Here you go, Hutch.  Just relax."

It felt so good.  Cool, soppy wetness applied with cloth, water trickling down his head.  Then his chest, brushing along him.  Then a surge of water droplets against his neck.

"There you go, buddy boy.  Let's let you drink a little more now."

Hutch felt he should try to help, but his hand was still held in an unfamiliar grip as bandaging was placed around it.

"Let me do it, Hutch.  Drink real slow, like before."

He opened eagerly for it, and drank as greedily as the rate of pour would allow. 

He needed to cough.  Hutch shook his head, trying to bring about the spasm that teased at the back of his throat.

Something pressed on him gently there, and Hutch started coughing.

The arm around him helped him set up straighter, so that he then hunched over and kept coughing.

His back was patted.  "There you go, Hutch.  I'll give you some more in a minute."

The intrusive voice said, "I need to get to his other hand."

Starsky replied, "And I need to get to his back.  Let me try to turn him."  His voice gentled.  "Hutch, buddy?  Do you think you can rest your head over my shoulder.  I'll cool down your back, babe."

Hutch wanted to cooperate.  He wanted to be cooled down even more.

He was being shifted, and he didn't resist.  He ended up almost completely facing Starsky, his cheek resting on the top of Starsky's shoulder.

"That'll do," the voice said, and Hutch felt his other wrist taken in the strange hands.

Soppy wetness slapped against the back of his shoulders, the water trickling down, and Hutch groaned with approval.

"You're doing fine, Hutch.  Just fine." 

Eventually, there was more soothing wetness at the back of his neck.  Hutch let his weight grow heavier.

The loud voice said, "That's the best I can do for now.  Shouldn't be too long now before the ambulance gets here.  Did you want to stretch him back out?"

"Yeah, let's turn him back around."

They were moving him again.  Hutch was turned over, on his back, and the large cloth was shifted, and then loosely wrapped around his lower body.  His upper body rested against Starsky, with Starsky's arm draped around his chest.

Hutch focused his eyes and saw that they in the shadow of a helicopter.  He guessed that Starsky was resting back against one of the skids.  The man with the loud voice had a beard and dark hair.  He was now moving back around to the other side of the chopper, because there was the noise of a radio.

Hutch wanted to raise his arms and clasp Starsky's, but he didn't know how to make them do that.  He felt himself trying to raise them, but they were limp, his hands bandaged.

He decided not to worry about that now.

One of his wrists was picked up and placed against his own chest, where it was stroked and massaged.  Then whispered words:  "You're doing just fine, Hutch."

He was going to be fine.

Trisha would never be fine.

The injustice of that.....

"Hutch, easy."  Whispered words at his ear.  "Easy does it.  I'm right here.  Let's get you some more water."

Water sounded good.

The other man appeared.  "They say they've got Farmers in custody."

"Terrific," Starsky muttered.

"How's he doing?"

Arms tightened around Hutch.  "He's doing fine."  Then, gentle, "Here, Hutch.  Here's some water."

Hutch opened his mouth.  It tasted good, but he didn't feel so desperate now.

He was recovering.  Starsky had taken good care of him.

But there wasn't anything anyone could do for Trisha.

He wanted to push the arms away from his chest, to express his dismay, but he didn't know how.  He gasped, "Trish..."

A cheek pressed against his forehead.  "I know, Hutch.  I know.  I'm sorry about Trisha, buddy boy.  So sorry."

"Were they together long?" the other man asked in a quieter voice.

"A while," Starsky replied brusquely.

A thumb was rubbing gently along Hutch's cheek. 

"I think I see the ambulance."  The man with dark hair was looking off into the distance.  "Are you going to ride with him?"


"I'll get ready to take off then."  The man started gathering supplies.

The thumb continued to stroke Hutch's cheek  "You'll be all taken care of real soon, Hutch."

Hutch felt he had already been taken care of it, as much as anyone could do for him.

No one could do anything for Trisha.

Not even Starsky.


"Utter exhaustion," Dr. Carmichael said.  "Think of it as a rubber band that's been stretched too far and can't snap back.  Even a reasonably fit person isn't in any kind of shape to climb that high of a cliff.  I've been to that park.  It had to be sheer force of will that he made it all the way up."

"How long will it take him to recover?" Starsky asked worriedly.

"Probably a couple of days before his muscles are rested enough that he can move them somewhat normally.  We've got him on some pretty heavy muscle relaxants, so he can get some rest.  After that, he can be released, but he'll probably be mighty sore for awhile.  Of course, he's got numerous abrasions and blisters that we've treated, but those should heal up without any problem."

Starsky nodded.  The physical wounds would heal most quickly.  It was the emotional ones he was less certain about.


Starsky stayed near the morning of the second day, while Hutch gave his report to Sheriff Proctor and a deputy.  Hutch recited events mechanically.  He could barely move.

Trisha's body had been turned over to her parents, who had sent flowers to Hutch's room and expressed gratitude that Hutch, at least, had survived.

Once Proctor and his deputy left, Hutch's eyes darted to Starsky.  In a dry voice, he said, "I didn't do anything to save her."

Starsky's heart ached as he approached the bed, and gently wrapped one of Hutch's bandaged hands in both of his.  "Dear God, Hutch," he said in a trembling voice, "what could you have possibly done?  You had no way of knowing Farmers was going to show up.  And he just up and slit her throat before you could even react."

Hutch slowly shook his head.  "It doesn't make sense that he attacked her instead of me.  If he was angry with her for breaking up with him, it seems like he would have killed me, and made her suffer by watching."

"Hutch, come on," Starsky pleaded, "he was so wacked, it's not like he was going to think logically.  You were the direct enemy, so you were the one he wanted to stalk and... toy with."

Hutch's expression grew distant.  Then, he said, "He wasn't expecting me to climb that mountain.  He didn't know what to do then."

Starsky felt hopeful.  He massaged Hutch's bandaged hand with a thumb, and then whispered, "No, he didn't.  You climbed that mountain because you wanted to survive, babe.  Right?"  Starsky swallowed thickly.  "Please don't cheapen that by torturing yourself over what he did to Trisha.  He did it, Hutch, not you."  Starsky then decided to let his emotion show, as he pleaded, "Please don't be sorry that you're still in my life.  That you're still here.  I couldn't stand that."

Hutch's eyes met his.  Then, levelly, he said, "I climbed that mountain."

"Yes, you did.  You climbed it all by yourself, even though all the odds were against you making it up."  Starsky's voice choked.  "And I'm so glad you did.  I'm so glad."

Hutch's gaze became distant again, but it wasn't as sad.  "I was thinking about that movie you and I saw a few years ago."

"Huh?  What movie?"

"I don't know.  O.J. Simpson was in it.  About going to Mars, but they really didn't."

"Oh," Starsky said, not revealing his puzzlement at why Hutch was talking about this.  "Capricorn One.  I think that's what it was called."

"Yeah," Hutch said softly, "that's what it was called."

"Why were you thinking about that?"

"One of the astronauts, when they split up, he climbed the mountain, finally made it to the top.  And then the helicopters were there, to shoot him, after he'd made it all that way."

Starsky hesitantly asked, "When were you thinking about that?"

Hutch swallowed thickly.  "As I was getting closer and closer to the top.  I didn't know what was waiting for me."

Ah, Hutch.  "But you kept climbing."

"Once I started up, it was the only choice there was.  I was going to make it, even if making it meant the end for me."

Starsky pressed Hutch's bandaged hand to his forehead.  "Ah, babe."  Then he explained, "Me and Culvers wanted to help you the rest of the way, at least give you hope that help was there, but you didn't seemed to notice us, and we were afraid that if we startled you, you'd fall."

Hutch was silent a long moment, staring at the wall.  Then he said, "I thought the helicopters were the enemy.  I wasn't thinking very clearly.  The only thought in my mind was that I had to make it to the top."

Starsky leaned over Hutch and brushed his fingers along his cheek.  He whispered, "I'm so damn glad for your determination."

He felt the hand he held flex slightly.

"I can hardly even make it move," Hutch said feebly.

Starsky's gaze intensified.  "You'll get better, Hutch.  In the meantime, I'll help you any way you need."

Hutch muttered, "Can hardly even wipe my own ass."

Starsky snorted.  "That'll come with time."  Then, more seriously, he reminded, "Whatever you need, babe."  He brushed his fingers against Hutch's face again.  "Me and thee, like always."

"When are they supposed to let me out of here?"

"I think they want to give it another day.  Maybe, by then, you can take care of your own behind."

Hutch sighed.  He seemed to drift off, but then his eyes fluttered and sought Starsky's.  Sadly, he said, "We had agreed to get serious.  We weren't going to see other people."

Starsky swallowed.  "I'm so sorry, Hutch.  She was a sweet gal and didn't deserve that.  I'm just glad that it sounded like she didn't have to suffer much."  Then he wanted to reiterate, "I'm so glad that you're still here."  He couldn't refrain from adding, "Because if you one day aren't here any more, what am I 'posed to do?"  He let his eyes water.

Hutch gazed at him for along moment.  Then his expression softened.  He whispered, "Yeah."


There he is.

Starsky parked the Torino at a curb beside the park.  He slammed the door shut behind him, shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket, and began walking toward the bench that was stationed in front of a narrow, man-made canal.  The sky had gotten overcast as the afternoon progressed, and now a wind had picked up, with occasional sharp gusts.

It had been five days since Hutch had been released from the hospital.  He was waiting for his hands to heal, before returning to work.  He had recovered most of his muscular strength and range of movement.

Hutch sat on the wrought iron bench, leaning back against the arm, one leg stretched across the seat, the other bent with his arm draped over the knee.  He was wearing a white shirt with the top few buttons undone, and jeans with tennis shoes.  He was looking thoughtfully into the distance, across the canal, and now rubbed his hand against his forehead.

For the sake of conversation, Starsky scolded as he approached, "It would be polite to leave a note when you know I'm coming over."

Hutch didn't look at him.  "You know I'm in no shape to go very far without my car."

Starsky began to sit, which forced Hutch to pull his legs back.  Now, both legs were bent at the knees.

When Hutch seemed determined to keep focusing off into the distance, Starsky stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned back, resting his head against the hard metal of the bench.  He closed his eyes, enjoying the gust that came through right then, taking away the worst of the summer heat.

He'd almost drifted into a doze, when Hutch asked casually, "You know what would make me kill you?"

Starsky popped an eye open and aimed it at Hutch.  He mused, "Death by one's partner.  You've got my attention."

Hutch's expression didn't change.  "If you ever give even the slightest hint that I should be interested in a woman.  Ever again."

Starsky blinked rapidly and straightened.  "Care to elaborate?"

Hutch's eyes darted away.  "Don't try to make me feel better," he warned.


"I'm poison, buddy.  I know that.  It's just a fact."  Hutch shook his head.  "Every woman I get serious about, or infatuated with, she gets hurt or killed when she hooks up with me."

Starsky literally clamped down on his lips to stop the protest that came to mind.

"What happened to Trisha, i-it wasn't even because I was a cop.  Or because of me at all.  If I'd been any man, her ex-boyfriend would have killed her.  But it's me she hooked up with.  We were in love.  We wanted to get serious.  Now she's dead."  Hutch snorted heavily, "Hell, even Vanessa couldn't escape my poison by divorcing me."  His voice lowered.  "She died, too.  Right in my own living room."  Hutch looked pleadingly at Starsky.  "It doesn't matter that I didn't pull the trigger.  That I didn't have anything directly to do with their deaths, or with the way Abby was injured.  When women associate with me for any length of time, their futures become bleak.  The only reason Anna Akhanatova was spared my poison was because we were together such a short time."

Starsky bent his head, staring at the ground.  Though Hutch's tone was carefully casual, he knew how much hurt was behind those words.

"I can't do it anymore, buddy.  I can't sit here and oogle some attractive lady, and think I want to be with her, and convince myself that it's going to be okay."  His voice hardened.  "Hell, I got good practice at beating off regularly when I was a teenager.  I can do it again."  His voice softened considerably.  "Whenever the desire comes back."  Then, harshly again, "Maybe it never will."

"It will," Starsky said simply.  He looked over at Hutch. 

Hutch seemed to ignore that.  His scabbed hand rubbed at his bare chest.  "I-I'm not saying that I'm a bad guy.  This isn't about self-pity.  Of self-flagellation.  It's about examining what my life has shown me.  I'm not supposed to be with a woman, Starsk.  I'm just not."

Starsky wet his lips.  "Look, you know that I know what it's like to feel responsible for the deaths of others."  His voice softened. "I hope it means something to you that I'm still here."  He shifted to rest his cheek on an upraised knee, and then rubbed a soothing hand along the side of Hutch's leg.

"Of course it means something," Hutch said, an edge to his voice, as though to defend against emotion.  Then, more softly, "It means everything."

A male jogger with broad shoulders came by.  He hissed, "Disgusting faggots," without pausing in his stride.

Starsky straightened and watched the jogger's back for a moment.  He couldn't muster the outrage to defend himself, and now the jogger was moving too far away.  Feeling practical, he looked over at Hutch.  "You're going have to get used to being called names like that, if you don't expect to ever date a woman again."

"No shit," Hutch replied flippantly.  "Hell, maybe I ought to try the other side of the fence.  It can't be any worse."

Though Starsky couldn't take the statement seriously, he said, "Well, if you do, I'm going to be watching over you like a hawk.  Chaperoning you, if you will.  If any guy you got involved with dared to hurt you...."  He wasn't even sure what he meant by the word "hurt".

Hutch tilted his head, a smile forming at his lips.  "You almost sound like you'd see him as a rival."

"I guess I would," Starsky said simply.  He quickly traced to where that feeling was coming from, and found it.  "I mean, if you were serious about trying something with a guy, I'd assume you'd try me first."

Hutch looked off into the distance.  Eventually, he said, "You mean far too much to me, to be toyed with like that."

Starsky thought about those words.  Then he ventured, "What if it wasn't toying?  What if we were serious?"

Hutch rubbed at his chest again, and closed his eyes briefly as the wind kicked up.  When he opened them, he said, "Don't tease me like this."

Starsky realized, "I didn't mean it as teasing."

Hutch snorted harshly.  "Buddy, if we were going to go down that road, we would have done it long before now.  There's a reason why we haven't."

Starsky nodded emphatically.  "Yes.  The word for that reason is females.  If you remove the females, then the reason is gone."

"There would be the possibility of losing our jobs...," Hutch began.

Starsky shrugged.  "Half the department thinks we're humping each other, anyway.  My guess is that the reason the higher-ups don't ever ask us about it is because they don't want to know.  It's not worth losing us over."

"Yeah," Hutch relented.  He abruptly shifted to sit up, so that his feet were on the ground.  Staring at the scabs decorating his hands, he said, "Just because I give women up doesn't mean you need to."

Starsky carefully considered those words.  Then he said, "No, I don't 'need' to.  Maybe I'd want to."

Hutch glanced at him for the briefest of moments.  "Maybe is a big word."

Starsky thought about that for a long moment.  Gently, he said, "When you were climbing that mountain, determined to survive, you thought that, maybe, the enemy was waiting for you at the top.  You kept going, anyway."  He lowered his gaze.  "You aren't afraid of maybe, Hutch."

Hutch waved a hand dismissively.  "I maybe won't ever be able to get it up again."

Starsky felt a warmth settle in his heart.  "I'm not afraid of maybe, either."  When he looked up, Hutch was gazing at him with the hint of a smile.

The wind blew harshly.

The smile stayed.




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