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"I don't need tucking in, Starsk." The Torino roared down the highway into the late afternoon sun. Hutch, shading his eyes looked over at his partner behind the wheel.

"So humor me. You've only been out of the hospital two days. Judith said not to push it for at least a week."

"Who's pushing it? All I've done is sleep, ride around with you and eat."

"You've been to the airport, helped Judith with her bags, walked the length of the airport - twice. Time for a nap."

Hutch rolled his eyes at his over-cautious partner. "I'm not a child. I know if I need a nap or not."

Starsky looked at his too-thin partner. He grinned at Hutch, just happy to have him close. "You're right. You need something to eat first."

"Starsk, please. I can't handle your idea of food right now. Let's just go home."

"Okay, home it is."

The sun was low on the horizon as Starsky pulled up to Hutch's apartment. Hutch climbed out of the Torino and started for the stairwell, Starsky at his heels. Hutch took the key from the hidden spot on the door frame and unlocked his home. He really was tired and a nap sounded like a good idea - if he could get rid of the mother hen first. Starsky had been his shadow since he'd been released from the hospital. As much as he loved his partner, the close watch was wearing thin.

"Tell you what, Hutch, why don't I go down to the deli and get you a salad and some yogurt?" He opened the 'frige, took out two beers, tossed one to Hutch. "You can stretch out 'til I get back."

Hutch flopped down on the couch. "I think I'd rather watch the ballgame." Hutch flipped on the television, opened his beer. "I appreciate the offer for dinner, Starsky, but that's okay. Why don't you go home and I'll see you tomorrow."

Starsky came around the couch and looked at his partner. "Hutch --"

"Starsk, I'm okay. Really. I appreciate your concern, but I can take care of myself. Go. Home."

Starsky looked at Hutch long and hard. He kept seeing the stick figure under the oxygen tent, soaked with sweat and in terrible pain. Whenever the image reoccurred, Starsky's heart jumped and he could barely contain his panic. Which made it impossible to leave. He still wasn't sure that the vision of a healthy, grinning Hutch wasn't a dream. That any second Dobey or Huggy would wake him from an exhausted cat nap at the hospital. And the nightmare would start all over again.

"Hutch, I can't leave. Not yet."

"And why not?" Hutch put his feet up on the coffee table, sipped his beer, tried to look comfortable.

"Because this might be a dream. I might wake up and you'll still be sick. And I still won't have Calandar. And time will be running out." He sat down on the arm of the couch, trying to put into words what he was feeling. "As long as I'm here, and you're here, then it's okay. I'm still asleep." His voice cracked, and he looked away, eyes suddenly full.

"And if this is real?"

"Then it's okay. We beat the odds, again. I don't have to be afraid anymore." Starsky's voice dropped to a whisper.

Hutch scooted across to him. "Give me your hand." Hutch held out his hand and after a second, Starsky placed his left one in its warmth. Hutch squeezed it tightly, interlaced his fingers with his partner's and settled the joined hands over his heart. Their eyes met and held. "You feel that?" He smiled at Starsky, softly, reassuringly.

Starsky nodded, acknowledging the heartbeat.

"You know what I remember from the hospital, after I started getting sick?"

Starsky shook his head - no.

"I woke up one time and you were there - not in person, but your name on the glass. In red lipstick." Hutch shook his head. "You have no idea how important that message was. The next time I remember, you were there in a mask, trying to help. Holding my hands and telling me I was gonna be Captain Marvel. I was afraid, really afraid. But you were there, holding on, trying to help, keeping the pain away." Hutch's gaze turned inward. "You were still fighting. And if you were fighting, then I had to, too. You weren't gonna let me go easily." He looked at Starsky's blue eyes, seeing the memories reflected there. "The next thing I remember, Judith was telling me that you'd found Calandar, gotten the serum. It's real fuzzy, but I remember seeing you -- on the other side of the glass -- and I knew that I was gonna make it."

Hutch tightened his grip. "So you see, without you, I wouldn't be here. So if you're a dream, buddy, then it's a good one and I don't want to wake up either. Because waking and living without you aren't an option."

Tears rolled down Starsky's face. He slid off the couch arm and into Hutch's. And cried. Hutch held him close, interlaced fingers feeling both racing hearts.

"Hutch, I was so scared," his voice was a whisper. "If you hadn't made it -"

"Sssh. I made it. I'm not a dream. It's okay to wake up now." He stroked the dark curls, nestled his chin on his partner's head and rocked him.

"Promise?" A little boy voice muffled against Hutch's chest.

"Promise." Hutch let him go as Starsky pulled away. "Okay?" He touched a tear, wiped it away.

Starsky nodded, trying to wipe his face. He grinned, a little self-conscious. "Don't know where all that came from."

"Yes you do. And it's okay." Hutch wiped his own tears away. "Hey." He nudged his partner with an elbow. "Look, I'm really beat. Why don't you stay over on the couch?"

"You don't mind? You don't feel like I'm mother-henning you or over cautious or - paranoid?"

"Yes to all of those. But I'd rather have you here, on the couch, then at home, lying awake, worrying."

Starsky grinned, eyes lighting up as a brilliant crooked smile broke out. "Thanks."

"What are partners for?" Hutch smiled, ruffled the dark curls.

"To keep the nightmares away." was Starsky's quiet reply.

The End