This story first appeared in the zine, That's What Friends Are For #6 (1997). This zine and other fine S&H gen zines can be obtained from the editor at: Comments on this story can be sent to: and will be forwarded to the author.

Tough Love
K Hanna Korossy

Hutch's mind was 500 miles away. He hadn't intended on leaving it behind when he'd gone on vacation, but that was an occupational hazard sometime. Or maybe just the cost of a close friendship. Close--that was an understatement. What else--who else--could've distracted him from a long-planned trip up the coast to visit his vacationing sister?

He sighed to himself as he slowly turned and left the patio to go in. Starsky had been so quiet, so serious the past week, it had been all Hutch could do to convince himself to leave on his long-weekend trip, anyway. He had tried to make his partner talk to him, tried to divine what was going on inside the curl-covered head, but the other had remained stubbornly silent, doing his job as soberly as Hutch was always pestering him to. Which, Hutch knew from past experience, was a very bad sign. When Starsky abjured greasy food and bad jokes, something was seriously wrong.

It hadn't even taken all that much to figure out what. The answer was obvious; it had been only a little over a week since Rosey Malone's departure. Hutch had known how serious his partner had gotten in that relationship, had even tried to warn him about it. But it had become painfully clear as time went on that Starsky, in the hopelessly selfless way he always gave himself to those he loved, had lost his heart to Malone's daughter...leaving the blond to try to help him find it again. It had always worked before, with the soul-wrenching loss of Terry, the sweet regret of Sharman, the painful could-have-beens of Helen. Starsky's resilience had always been one of the things Hutch most admired about his friend, and had done his best to emulate, himself.

Somehow, though, Rosey had been different. After Terry, Hutch had seen something die inside of Starsky--he'd still dated, sometimes going double with his partner, still enjoyed the company of women. But the sincere earnesty was gone, the openness that he offered to those he was willing to let inside his heart. None of the women had lasted for more than a few days.

Rosey had changed all that. Normally, Hutch would've been delighted at the transformation, relieved to see his friend allowing himself to get close again. And Rosey had healed a lot of wounds, visibly awakening something in Starsky that Hutch had feared was gone for good. Then she left, and this time the hurt seemed all the deeper. This time, Hutch wasn't sure his friend had enough left to heal himself with. How many times could a heart be broken and still function?

Hutch shook his head; worrying wasn't helping. Starsky had wanted Hutch to take this trip, saying he could use some quiet time by himself. There was just something still nagging at Hutch, a vague feeling... He forcibly stifled it as he turned away from the glass doors.

His eyes fell on his sister who had just come into the room, and he felt himself relax with a smile. Christine had always been a priority in his life, even when she was just a wrinkled, red little thing, just home from the hospital, and three-year-old Kenny had solemnly promised her that he'd take care of her. He always had, and still made time for regular visits to see her as his work permitted. Even if she was now a grown, beautiful woman and, herself, the mother of two.

Christine was frowning as she entered and Hutch found his anxiety returning. "Chris, what's wrong?"

"Ken, there's a Rachel Starsky on the phone. That's Dave's mom, isn't it?"

He suddenly felt cold. "Yeah," he said briefly, pausing only a half a moment to squeeze her arm as he passed by her and out of the room. "I'll be right back."

The phone was in the hallway outside the living room, a few steps away, but Hutch paused before picking it up. He was scared, not wanting to hear the bad news Starsky's mom surely had for him if she'd taken the trouble of tracking him down. But why hadn't Dobey called, then? Hutch gave a silent entreaty and picked up the phone.

"Rachel? This is Ken."

"Ken, thank God I've found you." Mrs. Starsky's voice always reminded Hutch of his grandmother, warm and deep with a trace of a European accent. He could listen forever to that voice. But right now, he only wanted to know one thing.

"Rachel, what's wrong?"

"I'm so sorry to bother you on your vacation, Ken, I just got so worried..."

Hutch's stomach threatened to tie itself in a knot. "Is it David?"

"I'm probably being silly, but Ken, he hasn't called in two days. I've been trying to reach him, I thought maybe he forgot, but there's never an answer. I was hoping you'd know where he was." Her voice was trembling even as it sounded hopeful.

Two days. This was Saturday afternoon, meaning Starsky had missed his usual Friday call. And nothing could make Starsky miss his weekly call to his mother; Rachel had made him promise when he entered the Academy. Hutch could recall several times he'd had to cover for his partner on a stake-out, or on an undercover assignment while Starsky went off to make that phone call. Or, when he was in the hospital or unable to for some reason, Hutch calling himself, reassuring Rachel that her son would be all right and would be in touch as soon as he was able. But, as Starsky explained to him once, if he didn't call, Rachel re-lived her husband's death all over again, sure that her son was taken from her just like her husband had been. There was very little Starsky wouldn't do to make sure he didn't put his ma through that kind of worry.

Which scared Hutch all the more.

"Rachel, have you talked to Captain Dobey?"

The woman hesitated. "Yes, he said he could send someone over to see if David was all right. And they did say that a policeman had driven by and his car was still there. I don't want to bother David, I'm sure he's just with a girl, you know how that is," she said with a weak laugh. Neither of them believed that for a moment. "I know, I'm just a silly old woman who worries too much..."

This time Hutch did smile. "And that's exactly what David loves about you," he said. "But I don't think you're being silly. Listen, it'll take me a little time to make the arrangements, but I'll go back this evening and check on him, okay?"

That seemed to bother Mrs. Starsky. "Oh, Ken, I don't want you to miss part of your vacation-"

Affection crept into Hutch's voice. "Rachel, it's okay. I've had some time here already, and I kinda miss that son of yours, anyway." Besides, I'm worried about him, too. But it was as unnecessary to tell that to her as it was her son.

She still hedged, unconvinced. "Are you sure, Ken? I'm sure he's fine, but..."

"I'm sure he's fine, too, but it wouldn't hurt to check in with him. Besides, I have to chew him out for forgetting his mother, don't I?"

Rachel laughed at that, sounding more reassured. "All right. You'll ask him to call then?"

"Of course. Tonight."

"Thank you, Ken." Her gratitude warmed him. "Have a safe trip."

"I will, Rachel. And you stop worrying."

She laughed again. "I'll try. Good-bye."

"Bye." He hung up the phone and stared at it for a moment. Being a cop had taught him to listen to his instincts, and his were a lot more disturbed than he let on to Rachel. He was tempted to call Dobey right then and there and have the captain send someone over to Starsky's at once, break the door down if necessary, but it somehow felt wrong. No, he wanted to do this himself. Hutch picked up the phone again and called information to ask for the airline number, already framing his explanation to his sister.


The cab pulled up next to the Torino in front of Starsky's place, and Hutch glanced curiously at the car as he got out and paid the cab driver. They were right; Starsky was here. At least, presumably. The city kid never walked somewhere he could drive, so he was home, unless... Hutch refused to think that way.

His fears were assuaged only a tiny bit by the sight of the door securely locked. Memories of arriving in the middle of the night after Starsky's whispered call, only to find the open door mute testimony to Bellamy's late night visit, still haunted Hutch. But they were irrelevant now. He dug into his pocket and found his spare key, but still opened the door quietly and cautiously, fully alert for any sign of trouble.

The smell was what hit him first. It reminded him of a brewery, thick with stale air and alcohol fumes. It was almost hard to breathe in.

The living room was dark, all the shades pulled down, but after a moment of adjustment, Hutch could see where the smell was coming from. Dozens of bottles littered the room: on their sides, half-empty and upright, spilled, broken. Not just beer bottles, which were definitely in the majority, but also whiskey, scotch, rum, even a drained bottle of vodka by the sofa. Several packs of beer, Hutch guessed, plus apparently the complete contents of his partner's liquor cabinet. The whole room was a mess, not only of discarded glassware, but dirty clothes, books, papers, haphazardly thrown around.

"Holy..." he whispered. Either it had been some party, or... Sickly, he turned toward the bedroom.

The sight that greeted him was little different; bottles littered the floor and sat on the usually tidy desk and dresser, one spilled over into an open drawer below it. And, in the midst of it all, lay Starsky, sprawled across the width of the bed, motionless, chalky and still.

Hutch immediately headed toward him, not caring what he knocked over in his haste. He quickly checked the pulse, unspeakably relieved to find a strong if slow beat against his fingers. Then he sank down on the bed.

"What the...?" His whisper was rhetorical; Starsky was completely out.

His partner had obviously not shaved for a few days, nor did it look like he'd eaten or slept much. The cheeks were gaunt, the eyes dark-rimmed. He was still in the same clothes as when he'd driven Hutch to the airport, but his shirt was gone. And he reeked of alcohol.

"Starsky?" Hutch tried, patting the too-thin cheeks hopefully. No response, but he'd not really expected one. In fact, he doubted his partner would be conscious for some time. Hutch sighed deeply. It could've been worse, much worse. On the way home, his mind had unwillingly conjured up many terrifying situations, and to find Starsky here, alive and whole, was a great relief. But it did little to dim his worry. Things were still far from all right.

First order of business. Hutch left the bedroom for a moment and found the telephone in the living room, under a sofa cushion. His call to Rachel was brief, telling her the truth, if not to its full extent. She was also relieved but concerned and made him promise to have Starsky call her when he was awake, then asked Hutch to look after her son. It was the easiest promise he'd ever made.

That done, he went back into the bedroom. Starsky was nearly hanging off the bed at both ends, and taking off his coat, Hutch worked for a minute to maneuver his dead-weight partner more comfortably length-wise on the bed. He retrieved the pillow from under the desk and tucked the sleeping figure in, wincing as he did. He'd never minded taking care of his partner when needed, as he knew Starsky didn't for him, but it didn't make it easier to accept. And to know that this time Starsky himself was responsible for his incapacitation bothered him even more. The physical care and help were the easy part. He didn't know what he'd say when Starsky woke up, though, and they would have to start dealing with the emotional. Not for the first time, he silently cursed Rosey Malone.

With Starsky as comfortable as possible, Hutch turned his attention to the house. It was simple, mindless work, and it gave him too much time to think as he worked his way around the house, collecting bottles into bags, picking up and sorting laundry, putting things away. The disorder already concerned him; for being such a slob about his personal appearance, not to mention at the office, Starsky was unwaveringly fastidious about his car and home. Hutch had always been amused at the apparent incongruity, until his partner had succinctly pointed out that Hutch's neat appearance and order at work rarely seemed to extend to his own home, and never to his car. Hutch had conceded the point, content that it was one more way the two of them balanced each other. And, like any balance, when one lacked something, the other filled in. Hutch was happy to lend a hand.

But the drinking really scared him. He couldn't remember Starsky ever drinking like this before. Not when Helen died--he'd gone numb, and Hutch had taken over for a few days, cared for him, talked to him, even sang to his ragged partner after the funeral. Nor even after Terry when Starsky had briefly given up, crawled into bed and stayed there. Hutch had bullied and pushed and coaxed him out of that one, until Starsky had found his own desire to keep going. Those had been times Hutch could understand, of being overwhelmed, of not having the strength to go on. It was the kind of nurturing that came easily to him, at least where Starsky was concerned, and that he gave happily and easily. But he'd never seen this kind of deliberate self-destruction, of absolute drowning, and it left him at a loss.

He threw himself back into the work, blanking out the troubling thoughts for the time being until the house was finally clean. By then it was getting late, nearly ten, he noted, and the strenuous work had worn him out. But he wasn't quite ready to turn in yet. Another check on Starsky not surprisingly found that his partner hadn't moved at all in the interim, still deeply under. Hutch opened the window in the bedroom to clear the air a little, then went back out to the living room to do the same. Next, he went into the kitchen. That room had been relatively untouched except for the cupboards that had held Starsky's liquor collection and now stood open and empty. Hutch checked the refrigerator, grimacing at the molding and rotten assortment but grateful for another task. Drawing up a quick list and checking once more to satisfy himself that Starsky would not wake while he was gone, he slipped out to an all-night grocery store to stock up.

It was past midnight before every chore he could conceivably think of was done. Hutch sat by the still figure in the bedroom for several long minutes, watching the slight rise and fall of the chest, wondering what was hiding behind the lax expression, then, almost hesitantly, reaching out to nestle a hand against the dark curls. Blushing at the caring gesture, he rose and, with a final glance, went out to sprawl on the sofa and fall into a troubled sleep.


Cops and mothers seemed to be able to sleep with half-an-ear open. Or at least that was Hutch's experience. Even now, the quiet moan was enough to wake him at once. He hurried into the other room. "Starsk?"

If possible, the other looked even worse than the night before, the pain blissfully banished by sleep now beginning to register. The only response Hutch got was another moan as Starsky squeezed his eyes shut tighter.

"Hold on," Hutch instructed, going out into the bathroom. He returned a moment later with hands full. "Here, take this," he instructed, sitting down by the bed and folding two pills into Starsky's limp hand.

Starsky was acting on instinct alone, raising the hand to his mouth with effort and nearly gagging on the dry pills he stuck in his mouth. Hutch helped him raise his head enough to drink, but even that little movement seemed agonizing. Starsky's face was white and damp by the time the maneuver was over, and he appeared to be concentrating on not getting sick.

Hutch busied himself for a moment with the rest of the things he'd fetched, then lay a cold compress on Starsky's forehead. A few of the lines in the drawn face relaxed at the delicious coolness. "Better?" he asked.

"Mmm." Starsky was drifting again.

Hutch softened his voice. "Why don'tcha sleep a little more. Give the aspirin time to work."

This time there was no response. But Starsky's face wasn't quite so pale and his breathing seemed deeper than before. Dummy. Coulda gotten alcohol poisoning, Hutch chided mentally. What am I gonna do with you? Unfortunately, he hadn't a clue. For the time being, he simply sat back to resoak the compress and watch and wait.


"I think I'm gonna die," Starsky panted, hanging onto the rim of the toilet for fear of falling flat on his face otherwise.

"You're not gonna die," Hutch said imperturbably, rubbing soothing, slow circles on Starsky's back, "you're just gonna feel like it for a while."

Starsky groaned. "I wanna die," he restated emphatically.

Hutch chuckled. "I'm not going to let you get off that easy. I want to find out first why you did something this stupid."

As had been the case for the last half hour since Starsky had woken up and immediately lurched to the bathroom, the conversation ended there. The brunet was too sick not to accept the help offered, but despite responding to Hutch's care, he was unwilling to discuss why he needed it. Hutch sighed and went back to back-rubbing, supporting Starsky's forehead as the other once more doubled over the commode. He knew he should be angry at the stonewalling, but at the moment it was too hard to be anything but concerned and sympathetic. No one deserved to feel this lousy.

Starsky finally drew back. "'Think 'm done," he muttered.

Hutch helped him up and pressed the glass of water into his hands, flushing the toilet behind them. He waited until Starsky rinsed his mouth out, then took him out into the living room and onto the sofa, pleased to see that already his partner seemed to have regained some of his balance. "You want anything? Some coffee?" he hovered solicitously.

Starsky frowned but nodded, then groaned at the movement and squeezed his eyes shut, holding his head in both hands. Hutch grinned in empathy and patted one knee before going out into the kitchen for a fresh mug. Returning with it, he waited until Starsky got a shaky grip on it and managed to get some of it down safely before he settled back into the chair opposite his friend.

"Wanna talk about it?" he finally asked, voice carefully neutral.

Starsky's face twisted into a weary grimace. "Just had a li'l too much."

Hutch snorted. "A little?!"

"Whatever." End of conversation.

Not quite. "Starsk, I've never seen you drink like this before. You had me worried there. After your mom called-"

Starsky's eyes opened. "Ma called you?"

Hutch wondered if he should have mentioned that. "Yeah-"

"At your sister's?" Starsky's expression was odd, something Hutch didn't recognize.

"Yeah. Dobey gave her the number."

"Why...? Oh geez. What day is it?"


Starsky straightened. "Sunday!"

"It's okay," Hutch soothed, leaning forward. "I talked to her. She just wants you to call her when you're ready."

Starsky sank back into the sofa, deflated. Hutch watched his face closely as remorse and guilt were followed by anger. He wasn't sure what was going on in the other's mind, only that he wasn't prepared for it. "Why are you here?" Starsky finally asked, looking at him intently.

"When your mom said she couldn't reach you, I-"

"You coulda asked Dobey to send someone by. You didn't havta leave your sister and come all the way home just to check on me." The voice was calm, but Hutch could hear the barely suppressed heat in it.

"I was worried about ya, Starsk," he said sincerely. "I knew that you were still upset about Rosey-"

Starsky's face could've been made of stone. "So ya came back t'babysit me, is that it? Whatsa matter, don't ya think I can take care a'myself?"

Hutch had expected belligerence, but the animosity in the tone confused him. Voice hardening, he shot back, "This is what you call taking care of yourself? Drinking yourself into oblivion? That's a fast way to get dead, Starsky, and you know it. Come on, you've gone through this before. Deal with it. You knew it would never work with Malone's daughter-"

Starsky's face was flushed as he forced himself to stand, weaving a little on his feet. "Yeah, look who's talking. Who made you perfect? At least she wasn't a prostitute."

They both froze. The silence smothered.

The trouble with the people you loved the most was that they also knew best how and where to hurt most deeply. Hutch knew clinically that lashing back was a textbook response, both of pain and alcohol, but it still didn't keep the words from cutting deeply into the still-vulnerable spot. He had to swallow before he could make his voice work, and it still came out only in a whisper. "Starsk..."

"I don't need you." The words were said with a cruel deliberateness. Then Starsky threw down the mug and turned to go lurch back into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Hutch sat motionless on the chair, alone. For a few, precious moments, he allowed himself to think about her, the soft features he'd banished to distant memory, the eyes that lit up when they saw him, her scent that made him forget any other woman he'd ever known. And the flood of grief he'd felt upon her death, washing away coherent thought, leading him to strike out at his partner in anger, the only time he'd ever done so. He'd not even had the excuse of alcohol then to explain his actions. But it had never come up or come between them since. Wasn't friendship about riding out the not-so-pleasant times together, too?

He rose and slowly made his way to the bedroom door, hesitating only a moment before he knocked.

"Go away."

He opened the door.

Starsky was sitting nearly inside his closet, tossing out contents haphazardly as he searched for something. His earlier hostility was gone as he looked up to see Hutch enter. "Where is it?"

Hutch was genuinely confused. "What?"

"The rye." He held up an empty bottle Hutch had somehow missed, then stood up and began to wander around the room aimlessly, lost. "I know I had some left..." His voice trailed off as he looked around uncertainly.

God, give me strength. Hutch pulled himself together. "I threw them all out. Everything."

This time, Starsky did look surprised, though it lasted only a moment. Then he rushed up to the blond, fury steadying him on his feet and choking his words. "You what?! Who gave you...? What d'ya think...?" He couldn't seem to find the words.

It would've been funny, Hutch reflected, if it wasn't so pathetic. And frightening. "Starsk, you don't even like rye. You've spent the last three days here just drinking and you can't keep going like that. I'm not gonna let you. And it won't help." He was pleading.

Starsky stared at him for a moment, then, face becoming livid, suddenly launched himself at his partner. Hutch's undulled reflexes were still faster, and he easily dodged the attack. Starsky crashed into the door, instead, the bottle breaking at the impact.

Hutch swore and took his friend's arm to turn him around, wincing at the sight of the blood welling up from the cut left hand. "C'mon," he commanded, pulling Starsky into the bathroom and seating him on the toilet lid. Starsky obeyed without resistance, eyes glassy now with shock. Hutch didn't like the look of that, but he was grateful for the momentary passivity as he checked for glass slivers, then applied pressure until the gashed palm stopped bleeding. He looked up to find Starsky staring at him, then winced as his partner's eyes filled with tears.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, Hutch, I'm-" he was repeating the words over and over again, not heeding Hutch's attempts to hush him. The blond finally concentrated on the first aid, cleaning and bandaging the hand carefully. Starsky finally tapered off and watched the process limply, without reaction. The cut attended to, Hutch herded him back out into the bedroom and pushed him down onto the bed, pulling the covers up around slumped shoulders. Starsky had begun mumbling quietly again.

"Sleep, partner," Hutch crooned.

The blank eyes obediently closed and the talking stopped. Hutch went back to slowly rubbing the other's back, shoulders, and neck until breathing slowed and deepened in sleep. Then, with a shuddering sigh, he squeezed his eyes shut and sat back to wait once more.


Starsky slept all the way through the night to the next morning, much to Hutch's relief. Up until then, the blond had been arguing with the alcohol and its effects. Now, the stuff would be mostly out of Starsky's system and Hutch would finally be able to deal with his friend directly, find out exactly what was going on. He hoped.

The other stirred, frowning, then dark eyes opened a little, fixing on him. "Hutch?"

He nodded. "I'm here."

The frown eased as the eyes closed again. "Thought I rem'mbered..." One arm was thrown over his eyes, then moved to rub his face. Starsky's eyes flew open as he felt the gauze bandage, and he stared at it.

"You cut your hand," Hutch quietly supplied.

Starsky turned his head to look at him, eyes wide and clear and darkening with regret even as Hutch watched. Though Hutch wasn't sure regret for what. He decided to take the initiative.

"Starsky, we need to talk."

The pain reflected in the sapphire eyes was nearly unbearable by the time they closed, denying him further admittance. "I need a drink."

Hutch's heart sank. His hopes for a resolution now that Starsky was sober faded a little. "You don't need a drink. You really want to do that to yourself again?" he said firmly, almost angrily.

"Leave me alone, Hutch." There was no anger in the words now, though, only resignation.

"Starsky, what's going on?!" Hutch leaned forward desperately. "You weren't that gone over Rosey. Why are you doing this?"

Starsky sat up, wincing a little as he did. He seemed to have exhausted his anger, his answers flat and weary. "Leave me alone."

"You know what I think," Hutch pressed on. "I don't think this is about Rosey at all. I think this is about you feeling sorry for yourself." He surprised himself with the words he'd not pieced together before. But saying it aloud made sense of it all and he also noticed Starsky raising his head to look at him. "I think you're just giving up. Everyone you love always ends up leaving one way or another, and you just don't want to fight it anymore. Is that it? That the reason for the drunk spell?" The words were brutal and made Starsky cringe, but Hutch wasn't letting up now, not when it felt as though he'd finally hit the truth. "Don't you lie down and give up-fight!"

"Leave me alone!" Starsky yelled back at him angrily, without thought.

Hutch slowly nodded. He'd said his piece, and while he wasn't about to give up, there were some things Starsky would have to do for himself. "Okay," he said quietly. "But it's me or that bottle, Starsk. I can help you, it can't. We can get through this together because we're stronger together, remember...partner?"

The dark head dropped and a tremor went through the sagging shoulders, but there was no response.

Hutch, aching and torn, got up and left the room.


The next half hour was comparable to any hospital vigil he'd had to endure before. Except this time it was his partner's soul at stake, not his life. Hutch cleaned up the few dishes and askew pillows then sat to try to read, but couldn't concentrate. Me or that bottle, Starsk. Was that ultimatum a foregone conclusion? Hutch had no idea what he'd do if Starsky wouldn't let him help. Brief memories of a similar drying out in Huggy's small apartment flashed through his mind, but that had been different--once rational thought returned, Hutch never wanted to look at the stuff again, clinging desperately to his partner instead for those few days. And Starsky knew he'd wanted help. Hutch had no such assurance now.

Another half-an-hour. Hutch got up to pace, nervous energy no longer able to be squelched. Funny, he was usually the calm one. How long would he wait before giving up, being convinced that Starsky wasn't going to let him help? Never. Not like he could stay there indefinitely in the hopes of doing some good. Oh, really? Starsky was a grown man, fully aware of what he was doing, responsible for his actions, and no one could stop him from destroying his own life if he wanted to. Both our lives. Hutch sighed. Who was he kidding?

There was no sound from the bedroom. Starsky had probably gone back to sleep, Hutch thought with a humorless grin. I'm out here wondering if we still have a partnership to put back together and he's probably out like a light...

The doorknob rattled, then turned. Hutch flopped onto the couch, deliberately not looking as he heard his partner walk out slowly, hesitantly. He could sense Starsky stop behind the couch for a minute, then walk with measured steps around it to slump down next to Hutch.

"Thought you'd left." The words were as hesitant as the manner.

Hutch shook his head wearily. "I won't leave until you tell me to and mean it. You want me to go?" He looked up at Starsky, then back down again.

Starsky had his eyes tightly shut. There was silence for a moment, Hutch's heart still, then,

"No." Whispered and strengthless.

Hutch had to strain to hear it, but felt a great weight lift at that short-spoken word. "No?" he asked carefully.

The deep blue eyes, bright with emotion, rose to meet his. "No."

Hutch reached out to trap a hand that plucked aimlessly at the couch cushion. "We'll get through this, Starsk, I promise."

The other's expression was unreservedly open and pained. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Hutch smiled, "I owed you one."

A flicker of a responding smile disappeared almost as quickly as the earlier gloom returned.

Hutch could tell now what, or rather who, the other was thinking about, and something he'd wanted to know all along came to mind again. "You know, you coulda gone with her," he said slowly.

Starsky seemed surprised by the remark, staring at Hutch curiously for a moment before shaking his head. "I thought about it. For a few seconds. But you couldn'ta come." The answer seemed obvious to Starsky, but it filled Hutch's heart. "She never works, does it, Hutch?"

Hutch almost asked what, then realized. After Van, he himself had wondered if he'd ever be able to love again, and it seemed harder each time. But then he'd been taught what unreserved, unconditional love was like, and it gave him the will to keep trying. "Yeah, it will, Starsk," he promised. "Trust me." With someone who had so much love to give, how could it not?

Starsky's hand turned to cup his. "Yeah," he smiled a little, faint color returning to his cheeks. "Okay." He understood, and the rest he took on faith.

That was enough for Hutch. "Okay," he agreed gently, allowing himself to pull Starsky into a brief, tight hug before drawing back and, after a long look, rising to his feet. "Time to call your mom, then I'm gonna fix you the best breakfast you ever had. No yogurt, I promise," he grinned, heading off into the kitchen after sharing one last glance with Starsky. Me and thee, partner, heaven or hell... The rest would come in time. He'd promised.

Written in 1997