This story is part of the zine, Commitment, which was published in 1988. It is still available through Agent with Style.  Her web page is:, or you can email her at: The zine originally was produced on a high quality cream-colored paper. It is reproduced to look as much like its original appearance as is possible. Enjoy! Comments on this story can be sent to Flamingo who will forward them to the author.



Cheryl M

Starsky looked at the mountain of paperwork facing him and groaned. He'd be late getting home, again. Damn! In the six months since he and Hutch had moved in together, one or the other of them had been late sixty percent of the time. Bitterly, he acknowledged that if he hadn't continued his college courses towards a degree and the lieutenant's exam, they would've had more time together. He didn't want to take the lieutenant's exam. He didn't want to stay in the District Attorney's office, he wanted to transfer back to his old job and Hutch. But there just weren't any openings, even with Dobey willing to bend the rules a little. Hutch had talked him into continuing the classes and had been there to help and encourage. Shit!

Rummaging in his desk for a couple of aspirin tablets, then starting for the cooler, he collided with Jason, the office mail-boy and sent mail flying.

"Jason! What the hell?" Picking the kid up off the floor, he helped to retrieve the scattered envelopes, "You're early."

"You had so much, I thought you'd want to get started on it right away. Besides, I wanted to tell you, I did it! I got accepted at the academy!"

Starsky looked at the eager, young face and almost tried to talk him out of police work, but couldn't, "That's great! Look, put the mail on my desk, I'll get to it in a minute. After work, I'll take you out for a drink to celebrate." He looked at the youngster closely, well, maybe a milkshake, nah, he's got to be old enough to drink it he's going into the Police Academy this year.

"I'll sort it for you." Clutching the mail, Jason entered Starsky's cubicle.

Starsky once again turned toward the door. A rustle of papers behind, followed immediately by a vaguely familiar whoosh-click, warned him milliseconds before his head burst into lights and stars. Muffled voices, distracted, distant...someone shaking him....calling his name. A loud roaring sound nearby, and it took him a minute to realize it was in his head.

"Starsky! Wake up, dammit. I don't want to call Hutch from the hospital."

He finally forced leaded eyelids open, and blurrily focused on the person rattling his brains. Short dark hair over brown eyes and black jacket registered before he named his tormentor...Babcock. "Stop....stop shaking me.. .my head'll fall off."

"Thank God, I didn't think you'd ever wake up."

Starsky slowly pulled himself to a sitting position, using the other detective's arms for leverage, "What happened?" Uneasy, he looked around him at the wreckage of his office. Charred wood and paper, now soggy from the fire extinguisher someone had used to put out the fire, and a blanket-covered form, surrounded him, "Jason!" He lunged for the body, but was stopped by Babcock.

"Nothing you can do for him. Sit still, paramedics are on the way."

"Don't need any paramedics. Where's Hutch? How did you and Simmons beat the Fire Department, anyhow?"

"The Fire Department was out on another call and Hutch is in Barstow, talking with someone about those hooker murders he's been working on. He and Johnson left early this morning."

"Does he know?"

"Not yet. I wanted to make sure you were all right, before calling him."


"Don't what?" The confusion on the man's face almost made Starsky laugh.

"Don't call Hutch. I'll tell him when he gets home."

"What happened, Starsky?" Babcock was all business, now, but Starsky felt the concern behind the words.

"I don't know. Jason brought in the mail. Insisted on sorting it, so I started to the water cooler.. .next thing I remember, is you."

"You're sure there's nothing else?"

Starsky shook his head, saw stars and put his head in his hands, "Oh...shit sounds like World War I in my head."

"Forensics and the Arson Squad are coming. No one else seems to know anything. I'll wait here, you take him to the hospital, get his statement." Simmons joined them and stood hovering over his partner, crouched next to Starsky.

He looked from Babcock, at his side, to the taller, blond Simmons. He felt a strange sort of kinship with the two. Babcock, smaller and with darker coloration, and Simmons, tall and blond. There was something to be said for the combination, he approved. Gathering his rambling thoughts, he looked at Babcock, "Huh?"

"I said, can you stand?" Babcock reached to help, face creased in worry lines. "We'd better get you to the hospital, you were out for at least twenty minutes." He brushed plaster and soot from Starsky's jacket.

"Don't need no hospital."

"Well, you're going. It's only been six months since Preston clipped you with a bullet."

"The paramedics can..."

"Unh-unh, you'll con them. Let's go or I'll call Hutch right now."

He's afraid he's going to hafta tell Hutch. Still groggy, and not fully able to navigate on his own, Starsky allowed himself to be led to the Torino, "My car, I'll drive." God, who's beating on my head?"

"Starsky, you idiot! You can't even stand on your own," Babcock let go of him and the world swam sickeningly in circles, like ripples in a pond.

Meekly he handed over the keys, admitting defeat, "I'll get you for this. You're as bad as Hutch." Hutch. How was he going to tell Hutch what had happened without scaring the shit outta him? Aw, babe, I'm doin' it again.

Forty-five minutes later, he sat on a stretcher in a curtain-enclosed cubicle. He had been examined, poked at, and stuck. Now he sat, waiting for the next torturer to appear.

"Sergeant Starsky?"

He looked up as a man in a short white coat, holding a clipboard, and pushing a wheelchair entered

Shit, another blond. What is it, today? I'm surrounded by every blond in the world except the one I want to see. "I already saw a doctor," he growled.

"I'm not a doctor. Come with me, please." The voice was low, with an unusual way of clipping the words.

Starsky looked closely at the guy s name-tag, Rick, the rest of the name was obscured by one of those yellow happy faces, "What for?" Starsky didn't budge. More than anything, he wanted to see Hutch's blond head peeking around the corner.


Starsky stared, then shrugged, getting into the wheelchair, he allowed Rick to push him from the Emergency Room to X-ray. The technician was silent until they were closed inside the dimly lit, lead-lined room that housed the x- ray machine. "Sergeant David Starsky, RA18341736?"

He nearly dropped his teeth as the numbers registered in his brain. He looked hard at the man facing him, "Who the hell are you? Who sent you? What the hell do you want?"

"Lieutenant Travis, G3. We need your help on a highly sensitive project." The lieutenant looked uncomfortable, but there was a determined set to his square jaw.

Army Intelligence. "Get someone else." Starsky shut his eyes, trying to shut out the past. As if he could...nobody got away...

"We want you."

"Wanting me got a kid killed today."

"That's got nothing to do with me. No one knows about this contact except the head of G3. No one."

Had it been that long since he believed? "You mean I won't have a shining new office, more secure than the one that blew up?" Starsky could hear the sarcasm in his own voice.

"Since the opportunity presented itself, of course your new office will be more to our liking, but we did nothing to engineer this."

"Of course not. What do you want from me?" Already. It was already happening...he was trapped and going under.

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Travis motioned him onto the x-ray table and helped him to lay down onto his back. The cold, hard surface of the table wasn't as cold or as hard as the stone his whole body had become.

"Some apparently innocent letters..." Travis lowered the big machine until it almost rested on Starsky's forehead, "...have turned up in a secret file..." Travis' voice faded as he stepped behind a glass partition that Starsky could barely see out of the corner of his left eye. Starsky could hear several clicks and beeps. "Hold East Germany. Turn your head to the left, please. That's it." And Travis was back at his side, changing the films under the table under Starsky's head, and gently pushing his chin to the right angle. "We've suspected for some time..." Again the voice faded, again the clicks and beeps, "Now turn to the right side...good...that we have a mole in our San Francisco office." Travis stood in front of him, "Turn over, onto your stomach," He rested Starsky's hands under his chin, the sound of metal on metal as the film was changed again, "We haven't been able to...hold still...identify him, but since these can sit up, now," Travis was back at Starsky's side, helping him to sit, "...originated in San Francisco, we're hoping they'll lead us to him..." he paused, "....or her."

There's gotta be some way outta this. What do I tell Hutch? How do I explain? Oh, shit! "Whatta ya' want me ta' do?"

"Break the code. Let us know what the messages are and, if possible, who wrote them."

"I haven't worked with codes since 'Nam. I don't even do cryptograms anymore." Starsky knew how feeble a joke it was. Travis just stared at him. "Why me? There're dozens of other guys that do this for a living. They have more training and experience than I do."

"All I can tell you is, that, in the intelligence community, you're less visible than they are. Anything more you want to know, will get answered only if we feel you have the need to know."

The need to know...that damn theory that kept operatives in the dark as to their real mission, for the sake of security, has gotten more people killed than I want to remember. "And, if this goes sour, will Hutch be left to think I ran out, or wouldn't that be something he would need to know?"

Travis ignored him, "The documents will arrive sometime Tuesday or Wednesday. I'll deliver them with the rest of your mail. Do you have some place in your office to secure them?"

"I don't even have an office." Starsky snapped, he resented this intrusion into his life.

"You will have on Tuesday. Talk to no one about this assignment. No one. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir! What if I refuse?"

"You know the answer to that, you can help us willingly, or we can lock you in a security cell until you've completed the assignment."

"My partner... ?"

"Doesn't have the need to know." Travis stared hard at him, then thawed a little, waved his hand in a 'what-the-hell' gesture, "Tell him who you're working for, if you want, but not why. Keep your activities as normal as possible. Memorize this number," He handed Starsky a slip of paper, "You can contact me there day or night."

Starsky studied the number: (213) 298-7777, then tore the paper into tiny pieces and handed them back to the other man.

Carefully pocketing them, Travis said, "After I deliver the documents, there's to be no contact between us while you're decoding the letters, unless there's an emergency." For the first time he allowed himself to relax, "Do you have any questions?"

Whole slew of 'em, but since you won't answer them, why ask? "No." What're you bastards trying so hard to hide? But he kept his thoughts to himself. There were other ways to find out what he wanted to know, and he'd use everyone of them, if he had to. He wasn't going into this blind.

"If you're sure you have no questions, get into the wheelchair, I'll take you back to emergency."

Once back in his cubicle, he cooled his heels for another hour. Pacing was out of the question because he could hardly put one foot in front of the other, and his head hurt so bad, that just sitting kept him occupied and his thoughts disorganized. He wanted to be home...with Hutch close by...wanted to wake up in his lover's arms and find this all a bad dream, but knew it wasn't. The doctor that had examined him earlier, he couldn't remember his name, returned.

"Your x-rays are negative, but I'd like to keep you overnight for observation."

"I told you before, I'm all right." No way is anyone else gonna tell Hutch about this and nowhere else but our house, where he can come as unglued as he wants.

"Is there someone at home who can watch you? Wake you up during the night?"

Starsky fought back a smile. You betcha there is and he loves wakin' me up. "Yes, I've been hit harder than this before. I'm tellin' you I'm okay."

"Who're you trying to convince? All right, all right, but come back if you have any dizziness, blurred vision or vomiting," the doctor tore a sheet of paper off his clipboard, and handed it to Starsky, who was already shrugging into his shirt and jacket. Not satisfied, he followed Starsky into the waiting room and approached Babcock. "Are you with Sergeant Starsky?" At Babcock's nod, he said, "Be sure he follows the instructions on the piece of paper I gave him. He seems fine now, but there's always the possibility of concussion, it was a nasty blow."

"Yes, sir, thank you," Babcock handed Starsky his automatic, then followed him to the Torino, "Shit, you walk like a drunk! Are you sure you're okay?"

"Do you mind driving? My head's ready to explode." All he could think about was home and Hutch...and what he had to do instead.

"Sure...," he held out his hand for the keys, "I'll take you home and Simmons can..."

"Not home, Metro. The D.A.'s office is closed on Monday for Labor Day. We're off the whole weekend. and I don't want to spoil any of it. Someone can take my statement, tonight."

"Are you two always so lucky?"

"Whatta ye' mean?" He shot a sharp glance at his companion.

"Dobey gave Hutch and Johnson the weekend, too." Babcock opened the car door and slid into the seat, reaching over to unlock Starsky's door.

"He did? Great! They must've busted the hooker case." Starsky sat down, head back, eyes closed.

"Yeah, just wish Simmons and I could get some time off."

The trip to Metro took only a few minutes, but it was several hours before all the work was done. The statements of other witnesses and the preliminary reports from the Arson Squad and forensics had been gathered while Starsky and Babcock were at Memorial, but there remained the reports that only the on-scene officers could file. By the time Babcock drove Starsky home, with Simmons following, it was almost midnight.

"Want me to come up with you?" Babcock handed the keys back to Starsky.

"Huh-uh. No sense you gettin' chewed out for not making me stay in the hospital." God, Hutch was gonna be pissed. Someone shoulda called him.

"He worries, huh?"


"I would, too, if Simmons took the risks you do. You take too many chances.

"I didn't take any chances tonight and look what happened."

"True, but when you were on the streets, I remember.. ." Babcock let his voice trail away and shook his head slowly.

"It gets the job done." But he knew what a poor excuse that was. He was suddenly exhausted, "G'night and thanks for stickin' around."

Babcock waved, then got into the other car.

Starsky padded slowly up the stairs. Near the top, he squinted at his watch. Shit, after midnight. Hutch's probably chewin' nails. Shoulda called him. He opened the door cautiously, hoping his lover was already in bed. He knew Hutch was home because his car was in its parking space downstairs. A single light burned by the sofa and the apartment was still. So far, so good. Slipping off his jacket and holster, he dropped them on a chair, then crossed to the kitchen where he filled a glass with water. He was reaching for the aspirin bottle when the light clicked on.

"Where the hell have you been?" There was more concern than anger in Hutch's tone.

Swallowing the white tablets quickly, he turned. Oh, oh, too fast. He clutched the sink behind him for support, then closed his eyes against the spinning room. He thought for a moment that he was going to be sick, but controlled it and forced his answer through clenched teeth, "Working."

Arms went around his shoulders and he accepted the support gratefully.

"What happened? There's blood on your shirt."

Taking a deep breath and keeping his eyes closed against the pain he knew the answer would cause, Starsky said, "My office exploded."

"What!" Hutch's arms tightened convulsively and Starsky fought to breathe, unable to utter a single word. Seconds passed and the silence settled on them like a shroud. Hutch shoved his partner back, maintaining a bruising grip on Starsky's upper arms, "Explain..."

Starsky gulped air for several moments, expecting Hutch to start shaking him before he was able to speak, "Jason brought the mail as usual and he had started opening it, while I went to the water cooler. The next thing I know, Babcock's picking me up off the floor, Jason's dead and I don't have an office anymore." He opened eyes slowly, Hutch stood there, face white, blue eyes wide with fear.

"Are you okay? Did you see a doctor?" The grip loosened and he was subjected to a not-so-gentle examination every bit as thorough as the doctor's.

"Yes, mother, and he let me come home. Just have a little headache." He tried to smile, but knew he wasn't fooling his lover.

"Just a headache, huh? And the room isn't spinning, either, right?" Hutch stared at him.

He grinned deliberately, then, and kissed the worried mouth, "Not anymore."

Keeping an arm around Starsky's waist, Hutch propelled him towards the bedroom, "Let's get you to bed."

"I've been thinking about that all day," Starsky confided, patting Hutch's arm.

"To sleep, Starsk, to sleep." Hutch chided, easing him down onto the bed before pulling at the soiled shirt.

Starsky cast his eyes downward toward hands clasped between his knees, mouth puckered in a pout, "I've got three days off. You gonna make me spend it in bed, resting?"

"Yeah, if you don't do what the doctor told you. You need some sleep and so do I."

"I guess you're right. Okay, anything you say." Who was he kidding? He couldn't raise a finger, let alone anything else.

"Starsk, are you sure you're all right?" Long fingers lifted, tilted his chin.

Uh, oh, agreed too fast, now he's suspicious. "Told you I was okay."

"Yeah? How does your head feel? Did the doctor give you any instructions?"

"I know it's there, but I'll survive, and yes, he did." He pulled out of Hutch's grasp.

Suddenly Hutch was angry. Starsky could see the white around the lips, the ice in the eyes and the pounding of the pulse in his neck. He understood where it came from and knew there was nothing he could say to diffuse it. He'd have to wait for it to blow, then comfort Hutch as much as he was allowed.

"I. thought they said you'd be safe. Where the hell was security? How much do you really know about Jason? Maybe he..."

"Jason's an innocent kid who's dead because some crazy had a grudge against the establishment. He had nothing to do with anything."

"Dammit, Starsky, I'll be glad when you're back in homicide where I can keep an eye on you." What was unsaid was far more important than the words.

Starsky couldn't tell Hutch that they thought it had been a letter bomb...didn't dare tell him, because, when he told him about Travis, Hutch would try to put two and two together and he'd end up dead. "Well, I don't like trusting you to a rookie for a partner, either."

"Ray's okay, at least I'm not working alone."

"I'm not alone, babe. I've got the whole task force in my corner."

"Lot of good they did you, today."

"Just a freak incident. I'm not going to let it worry me for at least three days."

"You really have the weekend?" Blue eyes widened, their corners crinkling with pleasure.

"I've been saying that ever since I got home, but you were too busy playing mother hen."

"That's great! Dobey gave Ray and me the weekend off, too."

"I know. Why's he so generous all of a sudden?" Starsky lay down, closing his eyes. He rolled onto his side, patting the bed.

"Said he owed us for so many long hours last week." Hutch, yawning, sat down, reaching to stroke Starsky's curls.

"I'll say, this is the first time I've seen you awake since last Saturday. Hey, did you crack the hooker case?"

"No," Hutch sighed deeply, "...found Bruce in Barstow's morgue."

"At least the case is closed."

"More like dead-ended, whoever killed Bruce, ordered those girls killed. When's it all going to end?"

Starsky pulled Hutch down beside him, "When we've put an end to all of Gunther 's organization."

"Get on it, then." Hutch ordered.

Starsky smiled at the irritation in Hutch's voice, "Sure, on Tuesday. I want my weekend, first." He opened his eyes and looked up at Hutch, "Whatta we gonna do, tomorrow?"

"Clean house. This place is a disaster area." Hutch twisted and sprawled across the bed, reaching for the clock, "How often did the doctor say to wake you up, this time?"

"Aw, Hutch, I'm fine, honest."

"How often?"

"Every two hours."

Hutch sighed, "I was hoping they'd decided that was too often."

Starsky was tired out and his head hurt. Stomach's a little queasy, too. But he didn't tell Hutch. Three days together and he wasn't about to spend any part of it in the hospital. All he needed was a few hours sleep and he'd feel good as new.

"Starsk, are you asleep?"

Yes, I'm asleep. "No, not yet."

"Why didn't Babcock call me?"

"Because I told him not to. I didn't want you taking any chances getting back from Barstow. I didn't expect to be so late."

Silence. Maybe that's all. Maybe...

"What if we put someone in the mail room to check all the mail?"

Shit, that's all I need. Might as well tell whoever wrote those letters where they are. "Hutch! Thousands of pieces of mail go through there everyday. Just because Jason was a mail-boy doesn't mean the bomb was placed by someone in the mail-room."

"It does if it was a letter bomb."

Why did Hutch always have to be so damn smart? "What do you know about letter bombs?"

"I am a cop, Starsky, besides, it's a favorite with fiction writers. Question is, why didn't you think about that possibility?"

Because then you would assume it was meant for me and I'm not so sure it wasn't. "I didn't want to worry you. They do think it was probably a letter bomb, but they don't know who it was meant for. .Jason had a lot of mail with him, not just mine."

"Oh...maybe if we..."

"I knew I shouldn't have told you." Starsky muttered, resigned to spending the remainder of the night talking.

"Why did you?"

Hutch sounded hurt and confused, and Starsky hadn't meant for that to happen. Forcing himself to stay awake and concentrate on the conversation, he steeled himself for a fight that he had no desire or energy for. "Why did I what?"

"Tell me."

"Because I knew you'd hear on Tuesday and then the shit would hit the fan. I wanted to get it over with."

Hutch rolled away, but didn't leave. All Starsky could do was fight to stay awake and wait. Sooner it felt, the arms were in their accustomed place and his skin tingled where his lover's breath touched, "I guess we were trying to do the same thing. I want you with me, to protect you, and you don't call, to protect me. We gotta stop this and trust each other, if this is going to work."

"I wanted you there, Hutch. I just knew how I'd drive if someone called to tell me you were hurt. I just...I..." He could no longer keep his thoughts straight or eyes open. " tired, you, really..."

Cool hand brushing through his breath on his neck...comforting warmth at his back..."Sleep,'ll feel better in the morning."

The next morning dawned bright and clear, as clear as Starsky. He felt great. Unable to sleep past nine, they were up and attacking the ever-present mundane chores that accumulated during the week. Starsky pulled the sheets off his bed, knowing Hutch was doing the same in the next room. But knowing Hutch was near didn't help. His mind kept replaying the conversation from the night before. Ever since he'd been told he had to wait on his transfer back to Robbery/Homicide, he'd had a recurring dream; one where Hutch was missing and no one knew where he was. All he could see was a big black void. He felt like a small child hanging on tightly to some treasure and feeling it slip from his fingers, anyway.

"Give me your laundry, Starsk. I'm off to the laundromat. If you can get the dusting and vacuuming done by the time I get back, we can have some time to just be together."

His daydream popped and he frantically shook off the vision of gloom.

"Come on, Starsk, your laundry." Hutch stood in the doorway, hand extended.

Deliberately cheerful, he turned to hand over the bulging bag, "I'll start lunch, too. I'm getting hungry."

"You're always hungry," Hutch retorted, taking the bag and heading for the door.

"You know it, babe," Starsky leered, relishing the bright pink that stained his lover's neck and ears.

Hutch made no comment, silently leaving the apartment.

Chuckling happily, Starsky quickly did the requested tasks. He didn't mind. Dusting and vacuuming were much better than the laundromat...he hated the laundromat. Lunch, he decided, should be chili, something that could be turned off and reheated. He was tasting the aromatic mixture, trying to determine if it needed more green chilies, when Hutch returned.

"Ummm...smells good." He took the spoon, lifted it to his mouth, "Perfect, let's eat."

But the phone interrupted lunch plans. Both looked at it in dismay.

"Dobey promised..."

"Davis doesn't know the meaning of the word, I'll get it," crossing the room, Starsky picked up the offensive instrument, "Starsky..."

"Sergeant David Starsky?"

The voice was hauntingly familiar causing a faint stirring of unease, "Who is this?"

"You don't remember me, sergeant? Too bad, but you will. What did Lieutenant Travis want with you?"

Travis? Uh-oh. "I don't know a Lieutenant Travis. You must have the wrong number."

"Bobby wouldn't think so, would he? I'll talk to you again, after you've had time to think."

A dial tone replaced the man's voice. Starsky lowered the receiver, the unease in his stomach growing. Picking up the receiver, again, he punched out the recently memorized number and listened to it ring and ring. "You can contact me there day or night." Once more he lowered the phone. Raising his eyes, he looked at Hutch, alarms going off everywhere.

"What's wrong?"

"I'm not sure. There's something I've got to tell you."

"I'm listening.

Starsky wiped his hands over his face, then motioned for Hutch to follow him back to the dining room table where their lunch sat.

I've been called back on duty with Army Intelligence. My assignment will be delivered with my mail on Tuesday."

"What's the assignment?" Hutch's features were neutral, but the look in his eyes was guarded.

"Can't tell you. It's something with codes. That's what I worked with in the army."

"Who'd you try to call?"

"My contact. G3 was hoping no one would tie me to them, but I don't think it worked."

"No one answered?"

"Huh-uh, maybe he was out."

"Sure and I have green hair, I'll call Dobey, ask about vacation..."

"No!...No, don't. The phone call might be coincidence. Gotta keep our activities as normal as possible. Don't want to blow my cover, if it's not already blown."

"Okay, but I want to talk to you at least once a day."

"Good idea. Let's eat, chili's getting cold."

Starsky tried to eat, but he had no appetite. He hadn't told Hutch that the caller had known Travis' name, and that was disturbing. Hadn't told him what had happened to Bobby in 'Nam, so long ago, either.

Hands rubbed his shoulders, caressing, massaging, soothing. He took the hands and, pulling Hutch down, crossed them over his chest, "Love me, Hutch, please?"

They moved toward the bedroom where Hutch tried to respond to the whispered plea, but was overpowered by Starsky's sky-rocketing need. Almost frantic to be close to his lover, Starsky built and climaxed with dizzying speed, falling into a deep slumber, when his breathing and pulse rate slowed.

Awakening hours later, he reached for Hutch but found empty space. Startled, he opened his eyes to see a blue and gold wrapped package on the pillow where he expected blond silk. The smell of onions cooking registered and he knew his partner was in the kitchen.

Pulling himself to a sitting position, he picked up the present. His name was written in a familiar hand, "Hey, Hutch, what's this?"

"Why don't you open it and find out?" Starsky looked up to see Hutch watching him from the doorway.

"I mean, what's it for?"

"It's so you'll never doubt that living here and loving you, is what I want. Open it, okay?"

Quickly divesting the parcel of its paper, Starsky hesitated slightly before opening the box lid. "Hutch." He breathed the word in awe as he gazed at the heavy, gold, two-headed unicorn nestled in blue velvet.

"Do you like it? I wasn't sure...

"Like it? Oh, God, Hutch, it's beautiful. Me & Thee engraved on the back. It''s...I...put it on, please?"

Starsky watched as Hutch lifted the unicorn out, then opened the clasp of the braided gold chain it was attached to, before turning to let his lover put it around his neck. The gold felt warm, snuggled in the hair on his chest, and, fingering it, he turned to face Hutch.

Leaning forward, Hutch kissed him gently, and for the first time since the night after Preston tried to kill him, Starsky felt like they were real. Without breaking the companionable mood, Hutch sat back, reaching up to place a hand softly against the side of Starsky's face, "I thought about a ring, but didn't know how we'd explain it to I.A."

Starsky grinned, "I don't think we'll hafta worry about I.A. Simonetti's daughter was one of the girls listed with L&M Escort. We kept her name outta the reports. Simmons and Babcock took her home. When they got back, Simmons said he doubted that any of us would ever have trouble with the head hunters, again.

"Why was Simmons worried about I.A.?" Hutch looked curious.

"He and Babcock have had a thing going for years." Starsky shook his head, grinning at the expression on Hutch's face.

"You're kidding."

"Nope. They haven't had the courage to move in together, but now, they're looking for a place." He met the piercing gaze.

"You're beautiful, you know that?" Hutch asked softly.

Starsky felt the heat rise in his face, it wasn't often that Hutch could make him blush, "What's for dinner? I smell onions."

"The Paul Muni special. Thought we should celebrate a weekend off together. I'll dish it up."

Hutch left the room. Starsky pulled on a pair of jeans and joined him at the table, where they tackled the perfectly done meal in silence. Later, after the food was eaten and dishes washed, Starsky lounged back against the counter patting his stomach, "That was terrific, what do you want to do, now?"

"I don't care, do you have something in mind?"

"There's a W.C. Fields film festival that I've been wanting to see." He puffed out his cheeks.

Hutch laughed, "Okay, but only on the condition that you promise not to start imitating Fields," he warned, pushing Starsky out of the kitchen.

Bubbling inside, Starsky relaxed. This is gonna be a great weekend, after all. "We could see that show at the planetarium you mentioned."

"It's not until Monday, but we could go then, if you still want."

The film festival had just started when they arrived. Quickly settling into good seats as the house lights dimmed, Starsky prepared to enjoy himself. As was routinely done in the theaters during the height of Fields career, the first film was a newsreel depicting allied advances during World War II. Ignoring it, Starsky concentrated on the pleasure of Hutch's presence, reluctantly focusing on his surroundings when the credits of the first feature film rolled onto the screen. But his mind began playing tricks on him. One minute he was laughing at the ridiculous idea that a building could collapse without hurting anyone, and the next, he was gripping the armrest with one hand and Hutch with the other. On the stark, colorless screen, buildings were burning as people ran through the streets screaming... running from men in black pajamas, carrying rifles. Old men, women, and children ran as two armies fought for possession of the tiny hamlet; regardless of the civilians caught in the middle. Starsky blinked his eyes hard and the comedy was once again on the screen. Damn, it's been a long time since that's happened.

Stubbornly concentrating on the screen, he relished the remainder of the presentation. It was nice to sit and hold Hutch's hand without fear of exposure and he pulled free sadly when the last reel stopped.

Minutes later, they pulled into the near-empty Pits. Starsky was certain Hutch had noticed his reaction during the first film, but nothing had been said on the ride to Huggy's.

"What's up, Hug? Someone moving in on your territory?"

No way. This here is the hot spot of hot spots, but tonight is the night the founding fathers of this fair state voted us into the U.S. of A. Everyone's at the water-front watching the fireworks."

"Hey, that's right. Want to go, Starsk?" Hutch looked expectantly at his lover.

"Nah, fireworks lost their appeal after 'Nam. I'd rather stay here, if it's all right with you."

"Sure, two beers, Huggy." Hutch looked around and Starsky followed his gaze. Nets of every color, size and description hung from the walls and ceiling. There were lobster nets and fish nets, even an olive drab camouflage net hung on one wall, "New decor since last week? What's with all the nets?" Hutch asked.

"That's to celebrate the addition of shrimp to my menu. Care to indulge?"

"No, thanks, I'm still full from dinner. How about you, Starsk?"

"Beer's fine."

Pre-occupied with the netting, the voices of his friends faded. The surroundings changed and he looked down onto a cot encircled by mosquito netting. Two men, obviously lovers, lay entwined. One was dark, the other fair. The room beyond was aglow with lanterns.

"Get the queers."

"Look at the fuckin' fairies. We don't need your kind here."

"The army's for men, not fags."

Starsky noticed that each speaker held a club upraised. The first blow landed, then the second. Soon, they came so fast he lost count. The green netting turned red, but he was paralyzed by the horror of the scene and couldn't cry out.

"Starsky. . .what's wrong? Starsk!"

He felt strong hands grip his arms and shake until the room was, once again, Huggy's. Remembered fears washed over him, and the desire to hold onto Hutch engulfed him. Gulping his beer, he stood, "Let's go home, Hutch."

"Sure, whatever you say." Hutch pulled out a ten and handed it to Huggy, "Thanks, man, adios."

"De nada," Worry clouded Huggy's features.

Just inside the apartment, hutch turned, hands on hips, "Okay, Starsk, what's going on? You still feeling dizzy from that clip on the head?"

"Flashbacks, from 'Nam. I..." Before he could finish, the phone rang and he answered, "Starsky..."

"Have a nice time at the film festival, sergeant? Such a touching scene, the two of you holding hands." The mocking voice was only too familiar.

"Who are you?" He demanded, avoiding Hutch's eyes.

"I'll bet you liked holding hands with Bobby."

"Jimerson!" He breathed. Fear rocked him and he swallowed hard.

"Bingo. I want to know what Lieutenant Travis and you discussed."

Starsky found his voice with difficulty, "I don't know what you're talking about." Hutch was frowning now, very aware that something was wrong.

Silence followed and it was seconds before Starsky realized the caller had hung up. Hands shaking, he replaced the receiver.

"Flashbacks? You haven't had any of those since I met you, why now?"

Too many things reminding me of 'Nam, I guess. "I don't know what triggers them, but they don't last long. Maybe that hit on the head did it."

Who is Jimerson?"

You don't want to know. Jimerson---tall and, like the lifers used to say.. .lean, mean, fighting machine. With his shaved head and muscle bound body, he looked like eery bad guy tinsel town had ever produced. Starsky shut his mind to memories of the things he knew Jimerson had done, and looked miserably at Hutch, "What?"

"The name you said on the phone, Jimerson. Who is he?"

"My old C.O. from 'Nam." Forget about him, Hutch, please, just forget you ever heard the name. "We don't like each other too much."

"Why does he scare you?"

Because he's going to kill you and I'm not sure I can stop him. "Because he liked his job too much."

"That was in Vietnam. He's probably different here, in the States."

Play it cool, Dave y-boy, very cool or Hutch'll start investigating the guy. "Maybe you're right. I haven't seen him since I was discharged." "Forget a career, sergeant. Take your discharge or I'll make sure everyone knows you're queer."

"Right. Why's he back, now? Is he connected with your assignment?"

Probably is my assignment. "Uh, yeah, but I can't tell you anymore than that. You're not even supposed to know his name. Boy, I could get in deep shit if they found out..." He let his voice trail off, shamelessly playing on Hutch's protective impulses, knowing it would keep him out of trouble better than anything Starsky could do or say.

"Why don't you like him?"

For the same reason I don't think I'd like your father if we ever met. "Jimerson had a son, Jess. He was just a kid---eighteen, nineteen..."

"And you were old and grey, right?"

Starsky grinned, fleetingly, "Well, I felt a whole lot older. It was my second tour. Jess enlisted and got himself sent to 'Nam instead of entering West Point. He didn't want a military career. He wanted to study music and art. God, Hutch, he could draw the greatest pictures. He even made the jungle look beautiful."

"Jungles can be beautiful." Hutch murmured, putting his arms around Starsky and guiding him to sit on the couch.

"'Nam wasn't beautiful. It was wet and hot and stunk so bad the smell almost smothered you."

"Jess was beautiful and he was there."

Starsky laughed, "Jess wasn't beautiful, his pictures were. Jess was all arms and legs, with bright red hair and freckles. He was just a kid trying to make his father proud of him, but.. .well, he was killed on patrol two days before his father hit country."

"I'll bet his father wished he'd have let the kid go to school like he wanted." Hutch brushed at Starsky's hair.

Starsky remembered the cold fury that Jimerson had responded to the news with. The first thing the man ever said to Starsky was, "I want to know how you got my son killed." "He blamed me."


"Yeah, Jess used to write home a lot and I guess he talked about me a lot in his letters. When Jimerson got to camp, he walked in on me and..." You know you're not the first. Just the most important. "...lover and figured I'd replaced Jess already. No one could ever convince the man that his son wasn't gay. We tried but, he just wouldn't believe us."

"What else could you have done to protect him?"

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The jungle was a solid wall of green that took hours to penetrate. It was hot, wet and smelled like death. Rain from the night before trickled down from leaf to leaf until it reached the rotten carpet of decay. Everything was wet and soldiers on patrol were no exception. Even with the sun up, you could barely see beyond the length of your arm but it didn't stop the heat. The sniper was in a tree. Starsky caught his scent at the same moment that he fired, setting off a series of explosions that wiped out half the patrol, including Jess Jimerson.

He picked up the can of beer that Hutch sat in front of him and swallowed half of it, relishing the coolness as it ran down his throat, "No, there was nothing I could have done. A week in country and Jimerson took me on a two-man deep probe into the jungle. One minute he was there, the next he was gone and the jungle was quiet. I knew I was alone." A shudder washed through him at the memory and he finished the beer. "We both have reason to hate." He didn't tell Hutch that a similar recon mission had left his lover missing in action two days later. All the memories left a sour taste in his mouth and he felt dirty, "M'gonna take a shower."

Hutch looked startled, "Uh, sure, it's late, I'll lock up."

Starsky turned the water on and waited while it heated. Steam built as he shaved until the mirror was beaded with condensation. Pulling the curtain aside, he stepped in and let the water cascade over him, sending tension and worry down the drain for a little while. He added shampoo and was vigorously scrubbing at his scalp, when cool outside air hit his back, followed by Hutch's warm presence and musk wood smell. Hands pushed his away and he stood there allowing his lover to gently rinse his head and soap his body. Strong arms surrounded him and pulled him close. Hutch rubbed and massaged his chest, causing electric jolts to run from nipple to groin.

"I'm going to love away all the bad memories, Starsk. Going to make you fly."

Soft words, whispered against his ear, causing his knees to weaken and he sagged against his tormentor. Regaining a small measure of control over his traitorous legs, he pushed back, trapping Hutch's erection between them. The desire to feel Hutch inside him swept through Starsky and he butted back again. Hutch understood. One hand moved from Starsky's hip and insinuated itself between their bodies, moving lower until one finger could just touch the puckered opening. Once more, Starsky pushed back, fires climbing, moving, leaving incandescent trails in their wake. Somewhere near eternity, Starsky felt his partner's hot rigid shaft enter. Leaning forward against the shower wall, he spread his legs further apart. Hutch's hands slid up, then down his sides, stopping just above his hip bones, where they steadied him as Hutch thrust deep. Starsky's moan of pleasure started at his toes and erupted from his mouth at the same time that he came, sending his seed over Hutch's hand to join with the rapidly cooling spray. Now he was being held...a willing prisoner...while his captor pumped faster and faster until, gripping Starsky's hip bones, he thrust once more, all the way to the center of Starsky's soul, liquid flames searing him from inside out. Spent, Hutch collapsed across Starsky's back.

Unable to support his lover's weight for long, Starsky slowly lowered them to the shower floor.

Recovering first, Starsky turned off the now cold water, then pulled the still languid Hutch, up. Gentle nudging from Starsky encouraged Hutch to step out of the shower. He toweled them both dry, getting lost for several minutes in the bright sun of Hutch's hair, before moving them in the direction of the bed. Starsky laid down on the bed, pulling his lover down beside him, and gathered the bigger man into his arms. Here was peace and quiet...a time for the two of them. Away from the outside world. He enjoyed the silent communion, but knew it wouldn't last. Soon Hutch turned in his arms and pulled Starsky's head to rest, nestled on his shoulder.

"Why do you always do that?" Starsky mumbled into the skin under his cheek.

"I like to hold you."

"Oh." He settled nearer and listened to the ever deepening breaths of his world, breaths that told him that Hutch was fast drifting into sleep.