Chapter 1

The alarm buzzed with more than its usual irritation, and as Ken Hutchinson opened one eye the sun stabbed into it, making him regret it. The groan from the other side of the bed made him realize his partner wasn't in any better shape. Fumbling the noise off was at least a step in the right direction and one he could do with his eyes shut. He succumbed to a jaw cracking yawn and felt the morning air swoop past his tongue; as he closed his mouth again he registered that it tasted like the bottom of a bird cage.

"That was one hell of a party," came a muffled voice at the level of his armpit.

"Yeah, from most everything I can remember. You're going to look like hell for your pictures when you assume command if you don't get up and get some blood circulating to your brain. You don't want a flash camera to go off in your eyes . . . you'd bleed to death." Hutch offered his advice, as he slowly rolled to the edge of the mattress and gingerly lowered his legs toward the floor.

"Maybe they'll think my tie's too tight, ya' think?"

"God, does that mean I have to wear one?" Hutch asked.

"Not until you take that position in Forensics. Then I'm going to be sure you can have just as big a promotion party so you have just as bad a hangover. Payback's a bitch, my love," Starsky said, laying a loud and wet kiss on Hutch's retreating bare ass.

Just as Hutch got the water to the right temperature, he felt the movement of the shower curtain as his lover joined him

"Misery loves company; move over," Starsky ordered.

Hutch gladly complied, rubbing his hands into a lather and gently washing his lover. His eyes catalogued each inch of flesh as if memorizing the feel of it all over again. He also cataloged the scars, each one a door to an icy memory locked away. No more. Finally, we made it. No more scars, babe. I've finally gotten you safe. It's worth it. I'd pay the price all over again.

He leaned forward to rain kisses over Starsky's shoulder and neck, his dick hardening with every moan his lover made in response. Soapy hands slid around the front to soap and rub Starsky's hairy chest, pinching tight nipples and making Starsky's cock jump in appreciation.

Starsky took some soapsuds off his chest and reached around to lather Hutch's erection where it poked near his ass. "Put that where it'll do the most good, babe. If the top of my head doesn't blow off when I come, there's hope for the day."

"No exploding heads; this is my week to clean the bathroom." Hutch guided himself into the relaxed opening, and Starsky slowly eased himself back, accepting him. The loving was a familiar slow and gentle joining of bodies, while Hutch's hands worked their magic in tandem strokes to Starsky's cock.

The double stimulation brought Starsky to the finish line first, and the strong spasms of his ass around Hutch's dick carried him along seconds later. Hutch pulled Starsky's arm down from the shower wall where it supported him and turned his lover to hold him closely.

"Congratulations, Captain. You're going to make a hell of a department commander. I'm really proud of you."

Starsky smiled and kissed Hutch's face. "You aren't going to mind calling me 'Sir' in public?" Starsky asked, a shadow of doubt making the question almost serious.

"I didn't have any trouble offering that respect to Dobey all these years, and I don't love him. Well, not like I love you, anyway. No, I won't have any trouble at all. There's not another cop breathing that I respect more than you." Hutch kissed Starsky's mouth softly, then playfully swatted his wet rump. "Just don't think I'm going to carry it over to home."

"Okay, but don't expect special treatment either, just because you're sleeping with the boss."

"Let's go; the water's getting cold." Hutch splashed off the remainder of the soap and come before shutting off the faucets. Both men hurried to get ready for the day.

The flash bulbs did flash and Starsky's eyes watered, but considering how hard Hutch knew his lover's hangover headache had to be pounding, because his own still was, Starsky was holding up very well. The mayor and a few of the more militant city council members were at the official ceremony that announced Harold Dobey's retirement from the Bay City Police Department and the passing of that baton to newly commissioned Captain David Starsky.

The recently expanded and newly redecorated boardroom held coffee pots and punch bowls and a large table laden with food. Cards were circulated for signatures both for good-byes and congratulations.

Hutch looked around at the people in the room, old friends and some new ones, too. For both his friends' sake he was glad to see the turnout had been so good. He looked at the familiar back facing him from across the room. Starsky stood talking to Dobey, both hands stuffed in his pockets, pulling his suit pants tight across his ass. His jacket had been discarded as soon as the photographer left, followed shortly by the tie, which now hung, still in place, but about two inches lower than usual for breathing room. Hutch couldn't hear the conversation, but judging from the earnest expression, Starsky was asking for advice on how to get started. They had talked about that briefly on the way to work that morning. They both felt Dobey had done a good job as the Ninth Precinct's Captain and it was extremely important to Starsky on a personal level that he continue that legacy. Starsky desperately wanted his first few steps to be solid ones, aimed in the right direction. You'll do fine. But I'm glad you're hearing it from him, babe. I've been telling you for months, but I'm just your lover, what the hell do I know? Hutch thought with a soft smile.

"You look like a proud papa; better watch it," Minnie said with a poke in Hutch's ribs that jarred him from his reverie.

"I am proud, Minnie. He's worked hard to get here. He deserves it." And I'm more relieved than I can tell you.

"And what about you, what do you deserve?" the small woman looked up at him over the top of her glasses.

"To have my boss take it easy on me so I can get this last semester under my belt, graduate, and transfer to Forensics." Hutch slid an arm around her slender shoulders and gave a short squeeze. "Put in a good word for me with the new captain, will ya'?"

"Yeah, as if you need one." She laughed good-naturedly and went back to mingling with the crowd.

Hutch freshened his coffee and mingled for a while, then went back to what he liked to do best: Starsky-watch. An older man approached and Hutch turned to smile a welcome. "How's it going, Bernie?"

"Not bad. I've got some boring legwork to do today, nothing earth shaking, so this is a nice break. How 'bout you?"

"Same here. The change couldn't come at a better time. At least it isn't summer and there're no riots or a serial killer making things ugly." Hutch laughed.

"It's spring . . . don't speak too soon," Bernie answered, before moving away with a small salute.

Bernie was older than most of the detectives in the division, having come to the PD after a career with the MP's. He was a good man, quiet, but very competent. Hutch remembered back to when he'd been promoted several years ago; his stomach still churned a little with the memory. Bernie had been the beat patrolman who had spotted Hutch stumbling along the street after he'd escaped from Forrest's men. It was his quick recognition and radio dispatch that alerted Starsky and allowed his partner to find him. Bernie had crouched next to Starsky in that alley and had seen the condition Hutch was in. His years of experience had registered the same assumption that Starsky's had and Hutch had been extremely uncomfortable at knowing Bernie had seen the needle marks on his arms. Starsky had ordered Bernie to keep quiet about it and he had. Even after all these years, he'd only mentioned it once and that was in response to Hutch's own actions.

When Bernie had first transferred in, it was late summer and the squadroom wasn't all that hot in the morning, yet Hutch made a point of taking his jacket off every chance he got in order to show his arms in his short sleeved shirt. One such morning Bernie and he arrived at the coffee pot at the same time and there was no one else around.

Bernie leaned over and whispered as he took his cup. "It's okay, Hutchinson, I know clean when I see it. If you take your jacket off every time you see me, it's going to be a hell of a long winter. It never happened."

Hutch had smiled his gratitude, and the subject had never been broached since.

Hutch's attention returned to the party when he noticed Starsky was summoned to take a phone call. Hutch gravitated to where Dobey was, proudly showing off his plaque to some of the well-wishers. They drifted away soon after Hutch approached, leaving the two old friends to talk.

"I used to wonder if I'd live long enough to see this day," Dobey said softly, as he looked at the plaque's inscription.

"I guess that's something in the back of every cop's mind," Hutch intoned solemnly.

"I wasn't sure you or Starsky'd live to see it, either," Dobey said. "There's been some pretty close calls. I hope you're done with those, son."

"I'm counting on it."

"He's had more than his share, that's for sure," Dobey went on and Hutch could feel his jaw tighten as he fought the flood of memories. "After Gunther I thought he'd used up his nine lives; nobody could expect a man to be that lucky again."

Hutch felt the familiar coldness spread inside him that thoughts of Gunther always brought. It was a smoldering hate that time couldn't dissipate, no matter how hard he tried to let it go. The mere mention of the name took him back instantly outside the window in ICU, straddling the chair with his face almost pressed against the glass. He could still feel the painful lump in his throat as he remembered trying to talk around it, his voice sounding choked and strained.  . . . sustained massive damage, the body can only withstand so much . . . 

"Yep, coming back after Gunther was a miracle, never expected to see us get another. When the dispatcher called that you two were once again at the hospital a couple years after the Gunther hit—what was that . . . '84?" Dobey asked.

"No, '83, two years and three months," Hutch answered tensely.

"Has it been that long? Time really does go faster as you age. Yep, when they called me that last time, I was sure it was all over. I dreaded getting down there. I couldn't imagine how you could handle it again. Wasn't sure if I could be any help holding you together—the way things were with you two." Dobey's voice had lowered to a whisper.

Hutch could only nod mutely as he was transported back to that evening two years and three months ago. The event that had brought them to here and now.

The warehouse hallway had been dark except for the yellow emergency lights that were required by law. Hutch inched slowly forward, listening hard. He could feel the trickle of sweat as it ran down the back of his neck and down his sides from his armpits. Starsky was coming from the rear entrance, their plan to sandwich the perpetrators between them until back up could arrive. Where the fuck are they?

He heard muffled voices and a short burst of laughter coming from the main warehouse area. He could smell the pungent odor that was the by-product of the methamphetamine lab they were busting. Reaching the doorway at the end of the hall, his hand slowly turned the handle and he prayed the door would open silently. He eased inside, his luck holding until the door bumped a stool and the box on top of it fell to the floor with a loud and resounding crack. The three people inside the warehouse came alive and he found himself frantically scrambling for a place to hide from the hail of bullets aimed at him.

Starsky, stay outside, stay outside, he prayed, knowing that it wouldn't happen. Then he heard the bark of returned weapon fire and knew who'd fired the gun. He heard the running footsteps behind him and saw the uniformed back-up kick open the door and roll in to enter. But the gunfire had stopped and in its wake was nothing but a terrifying silence.

He stood slowly, noting the three drug dealers were down and unmoving. He also saw a dark, jacketed form not far away. With a scream at the uniformed officers to get an ambulance, he ran to the still form, seeing the spreading red stain on the cement even before he was close enough to touch. God, please, no, not again.

He turned Starsky's body gently toward him. The front of his shirt beneath the jacket was a wet red that stuck the material to him. Hutch felt with shaking fingers in the warmth of that beloved neck to find a pulse. There it was, fast and thready beneath sweaty and rapidly cooling skin. His mind registered the faintest trace of a love bite where the pulse should be. It had been strong and bounding when his lips had put the mark there that morning. He gently pulled Starsky up so his head would be pillowed by Hutch's outstretched leg. The position also allowed him to use both hands to press against his lover's abdomen and try to stem the fast flow of blood as it dripped off the edges of his jacket to add to the pool on the dusty floor.

"I'm here, babe. It's okay, you got 'em. You're gonna be okay. Help's on the way. You hear me, babe? Open your eyes for me, huh? I've got ya'." Please don't die, pleasedon'tdie, please, pleasepleaseplease.

Starsky's eyes moved under closed lids, then fluttered open. He frowned as if it were an effort to focus before he tried to grasp weakly at Hutch's arm. With a groan his eyes closed again and he tried to push away the pressure Hutch was exerting on his belly. "Hurts . . . "

"I know; I've got to try and stop the bleeding though. Hang in there."

"I . . . " Starsky raised his head a fraction to look down where Hutch held both hands against his blood soaked shirt. "Oh, fuck . . . " Starsky let his head fall back to rest on Hutch's leg. "I can't do this again," he whispered, his fingers taking a white-knuckle grip on Hutch's wrist. "I can't . . . can't do it again, Hutch . . . shit, it hurts . . . ."

"I know babe. The ambulance is coming; they'll give you something for pain. You're gonna be okay." Hutch could feel the sting of tears. "Don't give up, you hear me? I've got you and I'm not going to let you go. I'm right here. We can handle anything, me and thee, remember? You stay with me . . . "

Within minutes the paramedics arrived, and Hutch moved only as far out of the way as was necessary for them to work. They started an IV and applied a large pressure dressing over Starsky's abdomen. They cut him free of the jacket and turned him over to check for an exit wound, and Hutch tried desperately to take some small solace from the fact that there wasn't one . . . this time.

"Okay, buddy, they're going to load your partner now. Let me take care of you."

Hutch looked at the paramedic in confusion. "Me? What . . . no, I have to go with him . . . "

"You can, but let me at least get a dressing on your arm, so you don't bleed all over everything." The young man reached for Hutch's left arm and he looked down, following the EMT's fingers with his eyes. It wasn't until then that he felt the stinging burn and realized he'd been shot, too.

Accepting the dressing the man tied in place, Hutch was already walking to the ambulance behind the stretcher, making him tie it on the run. "I'm okay. I didn't even notice it until now; take care of it later. I've got to be with my partner," Hutch barked as he brushed the man's hands away and stepped into the back of the ambulance, totally ignoring the protests of the crew.

He stubbornly refused to leave Starsky's side when they reached the Emergency Room. Standing at the side of the stretcher as they cut off the rest of Starsky's clothes to assess the damage, Hutch watched, numb, as the bloody clothes were pulled away, revealing a path of torn flesh across Starsky's abdomen above his navel. The trauma surgeon probed at it with his gloved finger, eliciting a moan from Starsky accompanied by weak movements of his hands to push the pain away. Hutch stepped forward to capture one while the nurse restrained the other.

"It's superficial. I'll be damned. Goes right down to the muscle, a few tears in places, but not bad. We'll have to go to the OR to fix it. Too big an area to put that much local in and do it here. Get me a CBC stat, to see where we stand. He looks like he's lost a lot of blood." The doctor poured some dark brown antiseptic across the long gash and nodded for the nurse to put on a clean pressure dressing until the OR could get ready. "Type and cross him for four units just in case. Get me old records if we have any; I want to know what these other scars represent. Tetanus, and Ancef now. What's the latest BP?"

"Ninety-two over sixty, heart rate is 112," The nurse answered.

"Get another IV started. Tell the lab I want the blood as soon as it's ready. If it drops below 80 hang a unit of O neg and I'll do the paperwork on it later." The doctor washed his hands and took Starsky's chart with him as he left the room.

Hutch moved closer and pulled over a stool to sit down. He felt his legs starting to shake and he no longer trusted them. "Did you hear the man, babe? You're going to be fine. They'll take you to surgery and fix you up. Nothing internal was hit. You're going to be sore, but it'll be okay."

Hutch looked at the pale face of his lover, his heart and mind holding fiercely to the beginnings of a plan. "I'll take care of everything. You won't ever have to do this again. I promise you, you hear me? I give you my word, this isn't going to ever happen again. I'll see to it. I swear, it may take a little time, but I'll get you off the streets, love . . . you won't ever have to be afraid or in pain again." Hutch rubbed his trembling fingers over Starsky's face. He was in exactly the same position a few minutes later when the transport team from the OR came to take Starsky away.

He let himself be led over to a stretcher where a nurse instructed him to take off his shirt and lie down so they could treat him. Not entirely sure how much later, he opened his eyes to see Captain Dobey's face bent over him.

"Captain." He let his eyes close again; it felt so good just to drift with the pain medication they had given him. "How's Starsky?" Hutch slurred.

"He's fine; how are you?" Dobey asked.

"I'm fine. I need to just lay here a little while longer, then I'll get up . . . "

"Like hell you will. Starsky is out of surgery and he'll be going to a room shortly. They need to give him some blood the doctor said, but he'll be fine. You have a trip to the Operating Room next, to get the slug out of your arm. I told them to make things easy on everybody and put you two in the same room. I could have saved my breath; they remembered from last time."

Dobey ran a hand across his sweaty face and sighed. "You scared the hell out of me. I got the call patched through from the scene by one of the guys in the black and white. The way he described it, I thought Starsky was dead or dying . . . Shit . . . I've got high blood pressure. You guys gotta knock this off. I'm getting too old to run down here in the middle of the night. I've got less than 26 months until I can retire. Do you think you two can stay alive that long, please?"

"Yeah, we will. I've got a plan . . . " Hutch's voice faded out in spite of his desire to explain.

A movement jarred him and his left shoulder ached like there was an elephant standing on it. He tried pushing it off with his good arm but a small cool hand took his and moved it away.

"There's a dressing here, leave it alone, okay? Your surgery is over; we're just putting you in your bed. Everything went fine. The doctor will talk to you in the morning when you're more awake and able to remember. Here's your call light. Press this if you need something. Don't get out of bed without calling for help," a disembodied female voice told him.

He wasn't sure if he nodded his understanding or not. He tried to, but everything was still that sickeningly-fuzzy-spinning feeling in his head. When he exhaled he could taste the anesthetic gases and it was making him sick. "Starsky?" his voice was a hardly more than a croak.

"Yeah, babe. I'm here. You okay? Want me to call the nurse for you? You're looking a little green," Starsky said, concern in his voice.

"You all right?" Hutch asked as he struggled to open his eyes and make them focus.

"Yeah, I'm all put back together. It wasn't so bad after all. The bullets just cut a big swath across my belly and bled a lot. I'm sore, but nothing inside was damaged. Scared the hell out of me. I thought it was going to be like before . . . " Starsky sighed heavily. "Just another ugly scar to go with the rest. Two more and we can play tic-tac-toe."

"Don't, don't . . . joke about it." Hutch swallowed convulsively around the sudden flow of hot saliva in his mouth. "I'm gonna be sick . . . " Hutch groaned and tried to fumble for the kidney shaped pan he could barely make out on his bedside table. Then a hand was helping him turn over on his side, holding a larger washbasin by his face. He heaved, clear liquid and bile the only result. When it seemed to pass, he rested his head back on the pillow. After a deep breath or two he opened his eyes to see Starsky still standing next to his bed, the IV stretched like a tightrope across Starsky's empty bed.

"You need to lie down, rest," Hutch admonished.

"I'm not the one throwing up, buddy. You gonna be okay? Want me to ring for the nurse?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah, please. Let her empty this and get you back in bed," Hutch breathed, his free hand grasping his bandaged shoulder. "This hurts worse now than when it happened. I didn't feel a thing before, didn't even know I'd been shot, until after they took you away."

The nurse entered in response to the call-light and by her expression she took a dim view of one of her patients taking care of the other, rather than ringing for help. Putting Starsky back to bed and getting the pan of vomit cleaned away and replaced 'just in case' for Hutch, she left with the promise to return with medication for Hutch's pain and nausea.

She gave Hutch his medication and checked each man's dressings before settling them, with encouragement to try to sleep what few hours were left before morning. The door closed softly and Hutch felt a cool cloth touch his face and looked up to see Starsky sitting on the edge of his bed.

"I seem to remember her telling you to stay in bed, or was I dreaming?" Hutch said.

"Yeah, well she doesn't know who she's dealing with here. I'm fine, and you're not. So until that stuff kicks in and you don't have that look on your face anymore, I'm gonna be right here." Starsky wiped Hutch's face and neck with the cool damp cloth. The pain began to subside and that's the last thing he remembered.

Chapter 2

Two days later found both men recuperating at the house they had shared for just over a year. Moving in together after Starsky had been so badly injured after the Gunther hit seemed the logical thing to do. After Starsky had healed and their relationship took a distinctly different turn, they got rid of both of their individual places to have one that was theirs from the beginning.

Hutch was just coming out of the bathroom where he had taken a quick shower, keeping the bandage on his shoulder almost dry, only to run into Starsky wearing his storm-cloud face.

"What?" Hutch asked, taking a step back.

"I was putting some stuff in the trash and guess what I found in there?" Starsky demanded, waving a page in Hutch's face.


"Your discharge instructions, smart-ass. You're supposed to be wearing a sling . . . "

"Starsky, I wore a sling the last time I got shot in the shoulder, and it took twice as long for physical therapy to get the mobility back in the arm. It's doing a lot better this way. Don't worry about it, it's doing fine." Hutch leaned over and gave Starsky a quick kiss on his frowning forehead and squeezed past him in the hall.

"What else aren't you telling me?" Starsky turned to follow, unappeased. "I'll bet you aren't supposed to be driving yet either, are you?"

"Starsky, I'm feeling fine. If you don't want me to drive, fine, I won't drive. You drive, okay? Happy?"

"Yeah, if we need to go anywhere, I'll drive," Starsky reaffirmed.

"Good. Do you want to go somewhere?"

"No, but if you do, I'm driving!" Starsky snapped, as he plopped down on the couch.

Hutch looked at his lover and burst out laughing.

"What's so funny?" Starsky asked, trying not to give in to a smile.

"We don't have anywhere to go until Thursday when we get our stitches out. We've had enough frozen casseroles, brought over by well-meaning friends, to feed half the Ninth Precinct. So what's really the matter?"

Starsky huffed a short laugh, then turned and rested his feet on the arm of the couch. "I'm antsy, I guess. Sorry. I didn't sleep too well last night; somebody kept talking in their sleep."

"You should have poked me to turn over or something. I'm sorry; I didn't know I kept you awake. I can sleep in the other bedroom tonight . . . "

"Like hell you will. I just . . . " Starsky closed his eyes and rose somewhat stiffly to walk to where Hutch stood and folded his arms around him. "I think it's just after effects of what happened. I go to sleep, then have these weird dreams. You didn't keep me awake. I was afraid to go back to sleep," Starsky confessed.

"What are you dreaming about?"

"Getting shot." Starsky's admission was shyly offered. "It's like when we were at the warehouse and I was so scared. All I knew was my gut was on fire and there was a hell of a lot of blood pouring outta me." Starsky looked up and met Hutch's eyes, the haunted fear in them so apparent. "It's like it was Gunther all over again. Even though in my dream I know it isn't, it is . . . and I'm so scared."

Hutch held Starsky tightly to him. "It's okay to be scared. Hell, I was scared, too. I still am, babe." He cupped Starsky's face between his hands. "I don't ever want to see you down again. Lying in a pool of blood! Starsky . . . I can't do that again, either. It's time to make some changes. We've got to. How many more close calls is it going to take?"

"You mean stop being cops?" Starsky asked. "We tried that once, remember?"

"I mean stop being cops on the street. Go back to school, get your degree, we'll both take the Lieutenants exam, and supervise. We'll still be working together, not as closely, but maybe since we're living together . . . that's a good thing. Might make IA not look so closely. We'd still be involved in cases, we just wouldn't be the first responders. When's the last time you heard of a lieutenant getting shot?" Hutch kissed Starsky's mouth before he could answer. "I've been thinking about it a lot. Dobey's going to retire in a couple of years. If you have your degree, and take the exam, you're a shoe-in. You know he'd recommend you . . . "

"And what about you?" Starsky interrupted. "What are you gonna be doin'?"

"I'll go back to school, too. I can change my major and use all those pre-med classes toward a degree in Forensics." Hutch ran his hand up and down Starsky's arm. "We would still be working together in the same department. But it would be safe. Safe for both of us. More normal hours; we'd get to actually come home and be together here, like normal people." Hutch leaned in for another gentle kiss. "What do you say? Will you at least think about it?"

"Yeah, I'll think about it," Starsky offered, then raised his head for another kiss. "But right now, I'd like to think about something else."

Hutch remembered the love making that afternoon with a soft smile. He was so consumed with gratitude that Starsky hadn't been seriously hurt. The loving had been such a slow and gentle celebration of their life and love, that it had brought tears to his eyes as they cuddled together in the afterglow on the couch.

Dobey's elbow to his ribs brought Hutch back to the present. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"I said you better fasten your seat belt and get ready for a fast ride. That partner of yours has some pretty heady plans for making his mark on this department. And if the arrest record that you guys have had the past two years is any indication, he'll be leaving his mark on the whole damn city." Dobey's voice sounded proud and pleased at the prospect, then the large man sobered. "Just remind him to watch his back. He's made enemies in high places of late."

"What cop hasn't?" Hutch countered.

"Yeah, well he's got it in his mind to go after another big fish, and it's going to muddy up the water. Just remember your roots and keep your old snitches listening. I'd like to be invited to his retirement party in ten or fifteen years," Dobey said.

"We still watch each other's back; none of the promotions will ever change that. What fish are you talking about?" Hutch held his breath, intuition telling him he wasn't going to like the answer.

"Matt Coyle's organization. We've been dancing around him and what he's set up since he got out of prison for the last couple of years. The DA wants him badly. Be a good bee in his bonnet for the election year. Gotten close, real close. Taken out a lot of his cronies, but he's like quicksilver . . . " Dobey gave a snort of laughter. "That'd be a good name for him, instead of the silver fox, don't you think?" Dobey ran his beefy hand over his own thinning hair. "Not fair anyone his age should look that good. It certainly isn't because he lives right."

"Genetics," Hutch responded with an empty smile as he took another drink of his coffee, desperately wishing it were something stronger. "Well, I'd love to stand here and bullshit, but I've got some work to get done so I can leave on time and go to class. I'm glad you had such a good turnout today; you deserved it. Captain . . . "

"Harold, now," Dobey interrupted with a grin.

"Got a nice ring to it, hasn't it?" Mrs. Dobey injected her comment into the conversation as she stepped close to slip her arm inside her husband's.

"Yes, Edith, I have to admit it does. I'll miss him, but I wish you both the best. Enjoy your retirement. I don't know of any two more deserving. It's been an honor to serve under you, sir. That's the truth. I can't say it was always a pleasure, but that wasn't because of anything you had any control over. I know Starsky will carry on in the same vein and make you proud. You set us a good example. Firm but fair, and we both appreciated it." Hutch extended his hand and Dobey took it, shaking it, then using it to pull Hutch into a bear-sized hug.

"Take care of each other." Dobey's comment was a whisper meant privately.

"Always," Hutch answered. No matter what it takes.

Hutch left the Dobeys to mingle while taking their final farewells and he made his way over to his partner. "Congratulations, Captain. I think I'll get back to work now so I can get away on time; I've got a class at six." Hutch smiled, sending his love to his lover as he extended his hand. Starsky rolled his eyes and pulled Hutch in for a brief hug. When Hutch pulled away he gave Starsky a quick wink.

"There's a senior staff meeting at 3:30. Don't forget it. See you there." Starsky smiled and winked back.

Hutch's mouth dropped open in surprise at the tone for a moment, then replied with a grin. "Yes sir, I'll be there." With a jaunty salute Hutch left the boardroom.

His smile dissolved immediately as he headed for his office. Once there, he picked up the small notebook he kept in the locked part of his lower desk drawer and went to the holding cell area to use the pay phone. He put in the dime and dialed the now familiar number. When he heard the prompt of the answering service, he answered quickly, "I need to see you this afternoon. The usual place, about 5:15. Be there, it's important."

Hutch hung up quickly and, with a fast look around, he went back to his office. He spent the better part of the next hour doing the schedule for the detectives on his shift watch, rearranging schedules and assignments according to who had court time over the next week. He glanced over the copy of the deposition that rested on his desk, and, satisfied the contents were accurate, signed it and placed it in the interoffice mail. Frequent glances at his watch kept him on track until lunchtime when he grabbed his briefcase with his books and went to the cafeteria to grab a sandwich and study.

After only a few minutes, he closed his book in frustration, and rubbed the heels of his hands over his tired eyes. Who am I kidding; I can't concentrate on any of this. Shit, why does he have to make Matt Coyle his private agenda right off the bat? Damn. How am I going to distract him this time?

"There's still plenty of food up in the boardroom. I thought you'd grab lunch up there. What's up?" Starsky's voice startled him.

"I . . . I just had a lot of paper work to do, then I need to study at least a little bit before class tonight. I . . . I've got this new boss, see, and he's a real stickler for things being done right."

Starsky slid like liquid into the chair across from Hutch. "I don't suppose there's any chance you'd be willing to cut class tonight, huh?" Starsky's voice purred the question and he watched Hutch under half lowered lids.

"I . . . damn, I wish I could, but there's only this one review before finals. I've missed a couple this semester already with that McBurney thing. I'll be home before ten; wait up." Hutch readily entered the game, running his tongue suggestively over his bottom lip before catching the entrance of several detectives. A cough brought his hand up to hide the gesture, and Starsky, taking the cue, sat back in his chair, assuming an uninterested sprawl.

"I'll see if I can do that for you, Hutchinson. Catch you later." Starsky gave a smile full of the promise of later.

Hutch watched as his lover left the lunchroom, nodding and accepting the continued offers of congratulations.

Hutch opened his book again, and in the stance that served him well in college, he put both fingers in his ears and forced his concentration to the printed page.

Hutch watched with a feeling of pride as Starsky held his first senior management meeting. He was confident and enthusiastic, calling most of the participants by name and making great eye contact. When the hell did you get so smooth? Where was I? Hutch thought, with a mixture of pride and amazement.

"The packets in front of you contain the budget for the next fiscal year, with a copy of last year's for you to refer to. Anything in brackets were capital expense carry-overs from last year; anything in red represents expenditures that were over budgeted but deemed necessary in the light of the circumstances at the time. For example, the new micron microscope for the lab wasn't supposed to be in the budget until this year, but the old one didn't get that memo." The room chuckled appropriately. "Take the next few days and go over everything there, and I'll be calling each of you to schedule a meeting to discuss what will give us the biggest bang for our buck. I'd like to see if we can work some shared governance in between some of the smaller units and spread the wealth. We'll work on it." Starsky rose smoothly after closing his notebook.

"I know each of you had the opportunity to say goodbye to Captain Dobey as he retired. I want to say, I personally appreciate you taking the time to come and do that. Some of you had the day off and believe me that didn't go unnoticed. I want to assure you that I will continue his basic philosophy and I intend to maintain the same open door policy. Come to me, even if you think you don't need to. I'd much prefer discussing something that becomes a non-issue, than get blindsided by an explosive one without warning. We've got some exciting things to look forward to and plan for and I know the rumors are already flying. A lot of what we'll be doing from here on out will be to shore up for the Olympic Games. We've got a task force gathering for that and I'd like as many as want to be involved in that to feel free to give input. There will be memos posted about the meetings. If you have any questions before we meet individually to discuss the budget, give me a call. If there are no questions for now . . . " He let the sentence hang for a few seconds before replying. "Dismissed."

The group of men and women stood gathering their papers. With a low hum of multiple conversations, the room began to empty.

"Lt. Hutchinson, if you'd stay for a moment, please," Starsky said.

"Yes, sir," Hutch replied with a much smaller smile than he felt.

When all the others were gone, Hutch closed the door and turned to face his commanding officer.

"This feels a lot weirder than I thought it would," Starsky said, as he cocked one hip up to sit on the conference table.

"Yeah, tell me about it. But you're doing great."


"The meeting went well. I've known you forever and even I was impressed. You're going to do a helluva job. Relax, will ya'? You've got everyone's support." Hutch sat in the chair in front of his lover and let his palm rest on the thigh near him.

"It just feels weird, like I'm suddenly out of the loop I've been in my whole life, and there are all these compartments, for your eyes only, security level three. I'm privy to a lot of information that's way more than I ever wanted to know." Starsky looked down to pick at the crease in his pants. "Some of it I can't even tell you about."

"Well, you know you can tell me anything you feel you need to talk over, just keep the names to yourself. I'm sure Dobey used Edith for a sounding board; she was a together lady. Plus, I won't be in this department much longer. Once I transfer to Forensics, it'll be easier, don't you think?" Hutch asked.

"I don't know. I kinda think of you as a safety net now. I'm a little nervous to imagine you gone and I'm really all alone here."

"You'll never be alone, babe. No matter what department I'm in." Hutch gazed into the eyes of his lover with a wink. "You're not going to turn down my request for a transfer, are you?"

"Don't tempt me," Starsky said with a short laugh. "I'm glad I've got a couple of weeks before I have to sign it. If I'm lucky, maybe you'll flunk something and I can put it off even longer."

"Not a chance . . . 3.72 this semester. Speaking of which, I need to get my schedule for next week's court coverage posted and get to the library before class. I'll see you tonight. If there are any enchiladas left, snag some to bring home for me, huh?" Hutch gave Starsky's tie a snug up closer to where it belonged and let his hand linger a moment on the warmth of his lover's neck. "Love you," he whispered softly.

"Hurry home," Starsky answered.

Hutch finished everything he needed to do in his office, checked his mailbox one more time for any messages, then headed for his car. He drove an indirect route to his destination out of habit. When he finally arrived at the warehouse near the docks, he parked and walked to the far side of the building and in through the door marked 'office'.

The young, pretty woman sitting at the desk looked up from filing her nails long enough to push the intercom button and say, "He's here, Mr. Coyle."

Hutch didn't wait for the tinny 'send him in,' but pushed through the door into the plush office.

"Well now, what's the emergency? We don't usually meet except on the first of the month." The silver haired man leaned back in his chair with a predatory smile.

"I came to make sure you understand what I said at the last meeting," Hutch said, ignoring the hand gesture from Coyle that he take the seat across from the desk.

"You said you had accomplished your goal," Coyle said, "and our partnership of the past two years was, alas, coming to an end. I've been pining about it ever since you spoke those harsh words. Changed your mind, have ya'?"

"No, not at all, and I won't be. I have done what I needed to do and you and I have no partnership anymore. I just want to be sure you are crystal clear on that. I also want to make a suggestion that you lay really low for the next few months. In fact, it's my very strong suggestion to you that if you ever entertained the idea of a lengthy cruise, now would be a good time."

"And why is that, Lieutenant?" Coyle asked.

"Because the new police administration is looking closely in your direction."

"Ah, yes. Your partner's promotion. I've read about it in the newspapers. Saw pictures on the mid-day news, as a matter of fact. Too bad Iron Mike met his maker early; he might have had the position. Would have done a good job, too . . . "

"Starsky has it now, and he'll do a good job. There won't be any deals with him, Coyle. Our deal's off and I can't protect you anymore. Do you hear what I'm saying to you?" Hutch moved a step closer and leaned on his hands, palms flat on the rich hardwood of the desk. "He's looking at your organization with a microscope. You can't take the heat, so I'm asking you to get out of the kitchen. I won't help you anymore, even if I could. It's all out of my hands now."

"So you came to warn me, is that it?" Coyle stood and crossed to a bar to pour two drinks. He held out one to Hutch. "I'm touched by your concern. Actually, after our last meeting, I really didn't expect to ever see you again."

"Let's just say I'm paying off the last of the debt. You helped me accomplish something I considered really important. I owe you for that, more than just the blind eye that you've gotten for the past two years. But we're even now, even by Ferguson's Law, so if you stay in town and go about business as usual . . . you're on your own. Whatever the consequences of that . . .  they're yours." Hutch took the drink Coyle held in his hand and went to the trashcan at the side of the desk. He lifted the glass to chest level and poured the contents into the can.

"Terrible waste of good brandy," Coyle muttered with a shake of his head.

Hutch reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a small black book and dropped it in the trash. Picking up a book of matches from the desk he struck one and let it drop in the can. The alcohol soaked contents flamed up quickly. The two men watched the flames as they consumed the contents of the trashcan in silence.

"I wish I could say it was a pleasure doing business with you, but it wasn't," Hutch said. "I hated every minute."

"And hated yourself in the process, I expect . . . " Coyle added. "Why did you do it? I can see what the ultimate outcome was . . . your buddy got promoted to top cop. I just don't understand why. What's in it for you?"

"You wouldn't understand," Hutch replied, as he glanced into the trashcan to satisfy himself that the contents had burned completely.

"There are only a few supreme motivators. Revenge—that isn't it. Money . . . that's not it either. If it were monetary rewards you were after, you'd have taken advantage of the multitude of opportunities our relationship offered, but you never did. Just like Iron Mike; not one ill-gotten penny. That leaves . . . love."

Coyle slipped a small cigar out of an expensive looking gold case and slowly lit it. He pulled on the cigar, the tip glowing in the dim light of the office. When he lifted his chin to exhale the sweet smelling smoke, his eyes never leaving Hutch, he smiled that same secretively predatory way. "Yes, of course. Foolish of me not to have seen it before now. There was something about the two of you even way back then."

"The why is none of your business. The what is. We are finished, and I just wanted to be sure we were on the same page with that. I've warned you; that's all I can do." Hutch looked up from the trashcan and took a few tentative steps toward the door.

He turned and gave one last look at the man who was the embodiment of everything Hutch had spent his adult life fighting. I used you. The end justified the means. Am I really any better than you are? Hutch turned and left the office without another word, that very question still burning in his mind as it had for the past two years and three months.

Hutch pulled up in front of his house and killed the engine. He took a deep breath and let it out, willing his stress to blow away as easily as the air. He felt as if his mind were a jumble of thoughts, and a cacophony of feelings and fears. The pressure of this last semester of school, upcoming interviews with the head of the Police Forensics Department, while fearing that the other shoe—the Matt Coyle shoe—would drop and all his plans come crashing down on top of his head, were taking an unignorable toll tonight. I wish I could crawl in a hole and pull it in after me for a week or two. God, I need some peace.

"Maybe by not being in Matt Coyle's pocket anymore, I can put it behind me and find some." Hutch spoke aloud his desire, his heart in no way willing to buy it.

He felt dirty. Even after more than two years, that never changed. Any contact with Matt Coyle left him feeling soiled. He grew to dread their monthly meetings. Starsky had begun to notice early on, teasing Hutch he was as bad as a wife with PMS; every few weeks he'd have his blue funk. Hutch had been terrified Starsky'd one day discover what he'd done . . . what he continued to do.

"You'll come to me," Matt Coyle had said in that alley when they had arrested him. "When you're older and more tired . . . when the streets have worn you down. Just like Iron Mike did." Coyle's words haunted him again tonight . . . like they had every night for two years and three months.

I did what I had to do . . . there wasn't any other way. Hutch groaned under the weight of his guilt. Just then he saw Starsky through the kitchen window coming to stir something on the stove. "If I had to dance with the devil to keep you safe . . . so be it. I'd do it again," he whispered, as he turned the knob of their back door.

"Hi honey, I'm home . . . " Hutch called out as he entered the door, reenacting their longstanding joke about domesticity, never more desperate than tonight for that normalcy.

"Good, I've got dinner warming up for you." He walked toward Hutch, his smile faltering. "You okay? Class must have been a bitch."

"I'm tired, that's all. Lots of loose ends this time in the cycle. I'll feel better after mid-terms are out of the way."

"Come here, you sexy thing, and I'll take your mind off everything. The only loose end will be mine." Starsky took the books out of Hutch's arms, laid them on the counter, then wrapped Hutch in a strong hug.

"Give me five minutes to take a quick shower and eat and I'll be almost human." Hutch moved out of his lover's arms.

"We could do the wild thing now, and take a shower together. I'll sit with you while you eat . . . the enchiladas," Starsky finished suggestively.

Hutch halted his progress toward the back of the house and opened his arms, knowing Starsky was ready to fill them. "Come here, beautiful man. Make love with me . . . make the world go away for a little while. I'll try to do the same for you."

"You do, babe. Every time . . . just like the first time. God, I love you." Starsky took his mouth in a tender kiss that stole his breath, then took Hutch's hand to lead him to their bedroom.

Chapter 3

Hutch looked up at the short knock on his office door, smiling at the man who entered. "What's up, Captain, slumming?" Hutch teased as he sat back in his chair.

"I need you to pull a rabbit out of your hat," Starsky asked, hiking one hip on the edge of the desk facing Hutch. "I need a solid lead to Matt Coyle. What have your boys got?"

Hutch felt his stomach hit his knees. "I . . . I don't know . . . I . . . " Hutch looked away, unable to meet the blue eyes watching him. "I'll check with a couple of guys and see if there's anything new. At the briefing tomorrow I can . . . see w-w-what anyone has."

"I want him. I want him bad. We've danced all around his organization for over two years. It's like he slipped into this vacuum that nothing can get into. I want that vacuum to squash him flat, and we're going to be the ones pulling the plug, partner." Starsky grinned and stood with a stretch. "That's what I want for my birthday; don't let me down. You worked really hard to see that I left my division on a win; I want that for you, too. I want Matt Coyle to be your E-ticket into Forensics. I want you to go out on a win. You deserve it." Starsky looked down at him, his love so obvious. Hutch tried to find the warmth in it, so visible on Starsky's face, but he was overwhelmed by such an icy blanket of fear he had to clench his jaws to keep his teeth from chattering.

"I'll do my best, Captain," Hutch said, shuffling papers briefly before standing, too. "Your birthday, huh? Coyle's been slick as owl shit all this time and you want him before the end of March. Not to mention my last semester's winding down, finals and graduation, last round interviews . . . No pressure," Hutch replied rolling his eyes.

"Not with the interviews anyway. You've got it nailed and you know it. I saw Dr. Humphries with your personnel file yesterday. He was coming out of records."

"Did he say anything?" Hutch asked nervously.

"Not much; just gave me a wink and tapped the top of the folder. Asked how I was going to manage things without my magic man." Starsky pushed out his belly to imitate the portly doctor in charge of Forensics. "'Quite an impressive record over the years. Quite impressive.'"

Hutch smiled at the imitation and Starsky let his breath out and his stomach in with a whoosh of held air. "I started to tell him that wasn't the only thing you had to be impressed about, but I didn't think he needed to know all our secrets," Starsky said, his smile broadening as Hutch felt his face heat up.

"I've got work to do; don't you have a meeting or something?" Hutch asked with a laugh.

"No, no meeting, but I do have 163 more personnel files to go through. I'll be home late because I've promised myself they'll be done today. Expect me and the Seeing-Eye dog about nine."

"We should be home about the same time then. I've got cadaver lab tonight."

"Oh shit, that means you'll smell like formaldehyde all night. I don't know who will be gladder when you graduate and get out of school . . . you or me." Starsky turned from his retreat toward the door. "Hey, we should try to take a few days and get away after you graduate . . . you know, before you transfer. You'll be low man on the totem pole, then. Let's get away while you've got the seniority to get whatever days you want. We could take a short cruise to Mexico, or drive up the coast to Carmel. We'll get away, just the two of us. Someplace where nobody knows us. Maybe go to San Francisco, and walk down Castro Street holding hands. What d'ya say?"

"Getting away sounds great; put in a good word for me with the boss will you?"

"Consider the vacation request signed as we speak." Starsky gave him a wink as he closed the office door behind him.

Hutch went back to his desk and sat heavily in the chair. He didn't bother making any pretense that he could finish the stack of yearly evaluation forms he had been working on. Matt Coyle . . . why does Starsky have to want him? Hutch sighed as his mind turned several plans over in his head. I've warned him, that's all I can do.

Hutch felt like his legs were lead as he slowly plodded from the car to the house. His lover looked up from the book he was reading. Hutch smiled in spite of his fatigue at Starsky's boneless sprawl, shirt open, jeans unbuttoned, and barefoot. His heart stopped, touched as he always was by the beauty of his lover. In the soft light of the table lamp, his thought, You look ten years younger. Sleepy eyes looked back at him and a smile curved Starsky's relaxed lips, while the hooded eyes smoked in a sultry promise. Maybe I'm not as tired as I thought.

Hutch dropped his books on the table by the door and eased out of his jacket. He let it slide slowly off his shoulders and tossed it on the table, too. Feeling the heat of his love as encouragement, he continued the slow and sensual show. He snapped off his holster, letting the weapon join the jacket, as he slowly began unbuttoning his shirt and tugging it out of his pants. Next he addressed the belt, loosening it and the top button to his pants, easing the zipper down a few teeth at a time. Starsky continued staring, eyes a dark blue fire in the dim light. Starsky's tongue snaked out to drift across his bottom lip, then retreat, while his slender fingers traced a line up his chest to part his open shirt even further for Hutch's view.

"Sexy man," Starsky's voice was a harsh whisper. "Get your ass over here."

Hutch stepped up next to the back of the couch and leaned over, taking Starsky's mouth in a deep kiss. He felt strong arms wrap around him and pull him down on top of Starsky's body.

Hutch gave as good as he got, tongues dueling and hands rubbing, pressing, familiar lovers loving. Resting his weight briefly on his elbows he pulled back from Starsky's mouth and ran both hands over Starsky's flushed and beard-stubbled cheeks into his curly hair.

"I know there's a certain image to maintain as Captain, but I can't say I like it this short. I'll be glad when you get too busy to get a haircut."

"It'll grow out some; just did it for the pictures. PR, you know," Starsky responded a little breathless.

"Want it here, right now, or do we take it in the bedroom for more room?" Hutch felt his dick harden even more at the look his words initiated in his lover.

"Right here, right now . . . maybe in the bedroom later," Starsky growled, drawing Hutch's head back to crush their lips together.

Hutch laughed in Starsky's mouth. Boy, I don't know who you've got the unrealistic expectation for, yourself or me.

Hutch pressed his pelvis down against the raging hardness Starsky was pumping up at him. Starsky pulled at Hutch's open shirt and pants while Hutch quickly did the same to strip Starsky. He toed off his own shoes and they hit the floor with a soft thump. Starsky's lips were hungry and aggressive and they enflamed Hutch with every touch. He tried to ease down Starsky's chest to kiss and nip there and slow things down a bit, but his lover would have none of that. Starsky pressed both hands against the globes of Hutch's ass, grinding them together in sweet torture.

"In me . . . I want you, in me, now!" Starsky demanded against his lips.

"Let me go get . . . "

"You don't need it. I'm ready, been ready, laying here waiting for you."

Hutch rose up to look at Starsky's face. "You stayed dressed to keep the lube off the couch?" Hutch asked, smiling.

"Yeah, and so I wouldn't look like a complete putz if you came home uninterested," Starsky finished with a slight blush.

"Since when have I been uninterested when you were naked?" Hutch asked indignantly.

"You've been tired. I know this last semester has been hard on you . . . "

"I've never been that tired." Hutch laughed. "That would constitute dead," Hutch said as he knelt between Starsky's legs and lifted one of his lover's legs to rest on the back of the couch, the other against his own shoulder. He placed himself at Starsky's wet entrance and eased slowly home. The hot wet velvet channel quivered as it accepted him. He felt like he was being sucked into Starsky's soul.

Hutch fought the impulse to close his eyes in the pleasure of it, instead wanting to see Starsky's face as his eyes slowly closed and his head stretched back with a soft moan of passion.

"Oh yeah, Hutch, God, I've been thinking about this all evening. Missin' you, wantin' you. Remembering what you feel like when you take me, while I was getting ready for you. You make me want to come with a thought. I can't believe what you do to me. Damn, you feel so good. Move, harder . . . "

Hutch anchored himself to stroke solidly into Starsky's body, changing his angle slightly to hit the spot that would effectively stop all coherent words from his lover.

"Oh, God, yeah, just like . . . . Hutch . . .  Hhhhuuuuttttcccchhhhhh." Starsky grabbed at Hutch's arm and thigh with a vise-like grips as he climaxed. His strong spurts wet both their bellies, the hot slick friction singing sweetly to Hutch while the intense spasms of Starsky's rectum ripped his own orgasm from him and squeezed him dry.

The last of the trembles wrung a grunt from Hutch as he collapsed against Starsky's body, both men breathing hard and sweating profusely.

After a few minutes passed and their gasping had quieted, Hutch eased his chest off to the side at Starsky's prompting. "Sorry," Hutch muttered, breathing better with the movement himself. "That was incredible. You're not usually that hot, hard, and quick unless we're coming down off a bust. If being captain is going to affect you like this and you're in the office all day, I'm not going to survive long."

"I . . . " Starsky laughed, his body bouncing Hutch as it did so. "I've got a sting going; I guess that's as good as a street bust. I don't expect to start one everyday, so you've got a chance. Otherwise, baby, just hang on, wait 'til it comes down, and the bust really happens. I'll be nailing you through the mattress."

"What's going down?" Hutch asked. An icy coiling snake had just taken up residence in his gut.

"Coyle . . . " Starsky brought up a wobbling wrist into his line of vision. "Just about now . . . " Starsky said smugly. "Phase one . . . "

Hutch shivered, the motion bringing him a scrutinizing look from Starsky as well as two hands that moved up and down his arms and back. "You're freezing! How the hell did you cool off so quick?"

"I'm on top," Hutch answered, glad to use whatever excuse he could to avoid explaining why he had indeed turned to ice. He levered himself up, wiping off with a shirt picked up from the floor and passing it to Starsky to do the same.

"Go get in bed under the blanket; I'll lock up." Starsky gave him a soft push in the direction of the bedroom and Hutch went willingly.

I warned him, that's all I can do. We're done. He's on his own, Hutch's mind screamed at him for the millionth time that day. He startled when the bed dipped and Starsky crawled in, but leaned into the warm arms that reached for him without comment. It was only a few minutes before Starsky's soft snore washed over him. He lay still and listened to it for hours.

The grinding metal screamed inside his head and the gunshots echoed. At some level he knew it was a dream, the one he had frequently, the one he hated. He fought to turn it off, to end it, to wake up; anything to stop the fragmented, gruesome pictures in his mind's eye. But he was helpless. The pictures continued in vivid and terrifying Technicolor. All the timelines melted into one . . . he was holding Starsky in the back room of the Italian restaurant, propping him up against the old couch, but the wounds were all wrong, and Starsky wasn't conscious. The front of his jacket was covered in blood, as were Hutch's hands, there were rivers of it flowing everywhere he looked. Starsky's face was pale as death. There was the ICU room, but the doctors and nurses were just standing there shaking their heads and doing nothing. He ran to each, grabbing at them, leaving his bloody fingerprints on their white-on-white clothes. He screamed for someone to help him. "Do something! Can't you see he's dying?" He looked into sympathetic, blank faces. He ran back to Starsky's body, pressing against his lover's chest to stem the flow that seemed never-ending.

He looked up into the face of Matt Coyle. "You promised . . . " Hutch screamed at him. "You promised me I could keep him safe. Y-y-you told m-me that we h-h-had a deal."

"We did," Coyle answered. "But you didn't make sure that he was willing to keep your bargain."

"I couldn't tell him; he'd have never gone along with it. I told him I'd keep him safe, you promised to help me. You promised . . . ."

"You agreed to dance with the devil, Hutchinson. You should have let your partner know the tune. He arrested me; the deals off."


Hutch was dimly aware that the bedroom light was on and someone was talking to him, touching him, but he couldn't stop screaming.

"Hutch, Hutch, it's over, just a dream, come on, babe, wake up for me," Starsky's voice pleaded.

Hutch blinked, then reached out a trembling hand to test reality and touch Starsky's face. Feeling the warmth there, he risked letting it touch further, tracing a trail down Starsky's chest and abdomen. The relief he felt at finding no blood there made him dizzy.

"Sss . . . sorry, I didn't mean to wake you." Hutch closed his eyes and willed the gory image to dissipate completely. He took a shaky deep breath and lay back against the pillows, wiping at the sweat on his face with a corner of the sheet.

"Yeah, well, apologize to the neighbors. You probably woke up this whole end of the street. What the hell was that all about? Something we need to talk about, babe?"

"No! Go back to sleep."

"Just like that?" Starsky asked, sounding irritated.

"It's four in the morning, go to sleep. It was a nightmare, okay? I'm overtired and didn't eat right all day, then had cadaver lab and the stress of midterms. What do you want me to say? There's nothing to talk about. Forget it; let me forget it. Go to sleep, please."

"You kept screaming 'you promised'; was there something I did . . . ?"

"Starsky, no . . . " Hutch sighed again. The act of pulling air in and pushing it out of his tight chest was painful. "It was a crazy dream, one that didn't make any sense. Just a lot of images, pieces of a lot of different times all melted in together. I'm tired, that's all."

"We're okay, then?" Starsky asked, still doubtful.

"For god's sake, of course we are. Where the hell did that come from? You just gave me the best sex of my life before we went to bed tonight, and you're asking if we're okay? You've got to be kidding?"

"We just don't seem to have much time for each other anymore. With my promotion and your department change coming up, I can't help but think that's going to get worse." Starsky snuggled against him when Hutch held out one arm. "I liked it better when we were detectives together on the street. We had less money, but more time . . . "

"No!" Hutch snapped, his voice sounding much harsher than he meant and he felt Starsky tense up in his arms. "We'll have more time, you'll see. When I'm done with school it'll be better, I swear. You'll see. It'll all be worth it, I promise you."

Starsky settled down against him without comment. Hutch held him tightly and rubbed his chin against the curls on top of Starsky's head. "Go back to sleep, babe. Everything's all right."

Morning came too early after the late night and late night interruption. Starsky hummed to himself in the shower while Hutch shaved.

"What do you have going today?" Starsky asked as he turned off the water and reached for a towel.

"I've got a few yearly eval's to finish, then I have a second round interview after lunch. Why?"

"No class tonight?"

"Study group, but I can skip it. I'm okay. You want to do something?"

"Yeah, let's go to the Pits and play pool."

"Sure, sounds great. Hug's been wanting an excuse to celebrate. Give him a call. You want to ask . . . ?"

"No, I don't want to ask anyone else to join us. If somebody stops by, that's fine, but I want to go out with just you." Starsky stepped closer in the steamy bathroom. He ran a towel-covered hand down the middle of Hutch's back. "You never get dry here . . . it makes me want to lick it off you, but then we'd both be late for work and what kind of example would that set?"

"You riding in with me?" Hutch asked. "Aren't they having your car ready at the motor pool today?"

"Yeah, " Starsky said with thinly veiled disgust. "Why did it have to be a Monte Carlo? Why couldn't it at least have been a Ford?"

"Hey, at least it's red, sort of," Hutch teased, remembering the brochure with the picture of the maroon Monte Carlo, that was the department's car for captain level.

The ride in was comfortable with familiar jabs about driving and breakfast; the clock could easily have slid back five years. Once at headquarters, the present rushed back in full force as they walked in the building and went to separate floors.

Several hours later, Hutch leaned back in his desk chair with a glance at the clock. A soft smile crossed his lips and he reached for the phone.

"Starsky," came the answer from the other end.

"Hey, you gonna knock off for lunch soon?"

"Yeah, but I'm afraid it's a working lunch with the chief and city council." His voice did nothing to hide his regret.

"Oh, well, I'll see you tonight then. Meet you at home or the Pits?"

"The Pits. If we meet at home we may never get there." His voice dropped significantly in volume.

"And that would be a bad thing?"

"Yeah. I want to kick your ass at pool before I deal with it in other ways."

"In your dreams . . . about the pool part," Hutch hastily amended. "I'll meet you around 6:00. Okay?"

"Six is great. Hey, good luck later. Flash them a little of that Hutchinson charm. They won't stand a chance," Starsky said.

"I hope. With my luck there will be some African-American-Indian-handicapped female and affirmative action will take me right out of the running."

"Well, in that case, tell them you're a homosexual from Minnesota and that should make you a shoe-in. Can't get much more of a minority than that," Starsky joked, before the line went dead.




Chapter 4

Starsky knocked out his review of three more HR files, then stretched, feeling the pleasant reminder of his and Hutch's lovemaking the night before. With a satisfied smile he went to warm up his coffee. The phone on his desk rang and he juggled the hot coffee to quickly answer it.


"This is Anderson down in holding. Sir, we have Mr. Coyle in lock up, and the preliminary booking is finished. He's asking for Lt. Hutchinson, but I've been told he's unavailable. Do you want to . . . "

"You bet I do. I'll be right there." Starsky took a quick sip of his coffee before throwing on his jacket and dashing out the door. Gotcha, you silk tongued, silver-haired son of a bitch!

Starsky walked to the hallway of the holding area, his fingers idly fondling the keys. He stood and looked at the back of the well-built man in an expensive suit standing alone in the cell. That man slowly turned to face Starsky. Matt Coyle, Starsky felt his pulse quicken and he returned the smile that broke across the older man's still handsome face.

"Well, well . . . Captain Starsky. Congratulations, my boy. I saw your promotion admirably covered on the TV news and in the paper." Coyle stepped nonchalantly closer to the bars. "Too bad Iron Mike isn't here to see it. He'd be proud, he would. Maybe wherever he is, he's looking down . . . "

"Can it!" Starsky interrupted sharply. "You've been read your rights and booked. You've got the right to one phone call. I'd suggest you make it to your lawyer . . . "

"Yes, yes I will, of course. But I thought my interest would be best served by making it to your partner, first. Oh, but he isn't your partner anymore, is he? Not since the promotion. I forgot." Coyle smiled like the shark he was.

"Why do you want to speak with Lt. Hutchinson?" Starsky asked, genuinely confused.

"Why, to clear up this terrible misunderstanding, why else?" Coyle continued wearing his smug expression and Starsky's hair began to rise on the back of his neck.

"What are you talking about?"

"Lt. Hutchinson and I have . . . an arrangement . . . like I had with Iron Mike . . . " Coyle's smile dropped away like the pop of a bubble. "He needs to get me out of here . . . NOW!" the older man said, all traces of his brogue gone.

"What the hell are you trying to pull? Hutch doesn't have any deal with you."

"No? How do you think you boys scored all those juicy arrests these past years? Professionals, to the last man . . . you think they were suddenly struck so stupid that they just fell in your laps?" Coyle turned away to pace a few steps.

Starsky pressed his body against the bars, his breath coming in gasps that felt like they were ripping his chest apart. No, you're lying, you bastard. Hutch would never make any kind of deal with you.

Coyle turned to face him once more. "Oh, come now. You didn't get to be captain by being that naïve, did you? I handed you boys every one of those pearls . . . on a fucking silver platter, too." Coyle's smile returned, as did his accent. "And I didn't ask for much in return, not much at all." Coyle moved close enough to touch the bars and Starsky could feel Coyle's breath cool against the sweat on his own face.

"But this is really no place for a gentleman such as me'self. Surely you can see that. So pull whatever blarney you need to to get these doors to swing open, and let me go about my business."

Starsky forced in a breath and backed away from the bars. "You aren't going anywhere but to a Federal Penitentiary for a long, long time, scum," Starsky hissed.

"I don't think I'd do that if I were you, my boy. You and your partner have too much to lose . . . "

Chapter 5

Hutch bounced up the front steps of the headquarters building, stopped at the mailroom and headed to his office. He smiled as he realized he'd been softly whistling. He stopped and took in a deep breath, letting it out slowly and feeling the tension of what had seemed like forever roll off him. He couldn't, however, keep his lips from turning up in a smile. Life was good. He was finally free of Matt Coyle, Starsky was in a job he'd be great at, and safe while doing it, and his first step into the Forensics department couldn't have gone better. He'd been made to feel the interview was not much more than a formality.

One of the secretaries in the squad room smiled when he entered. "Captain Starsky asked that you come to his office as soon as you get in, Lieutenant."

Hutch nodded his thanks as he went in and sat at his desk, pausing to check a few of the messages left there. The secretary knocked softly and stuck her head in. "He sounded like it was really important . . . "

"Right. I'll be right there." Probably wants to know how the interview went, Hutch thought. "Jeez, don't scare my secretary to death with your summons, Starsk," he muttered to himself. Before he could get up from the desk the phone rang. "Lt. Hutchinson."

"Did you get my message, Lieutenant?" Starsky's voice was strung tight.

"Yes, I . . . I just walked in from my interview and was on my way up there." Hutch waited a second expecting Starsky to ask how it went, but there was only a confusing, stony silence on the other end. "Where's the fire?"

"In my office, now," Starsky growled and hung up.

He can't have heard they picked me already. They have three other people to interview, Hutch pondered as he took the stairs down to Starsky's office.

The door was unaccustomedly shut as he approached it and he knocked hesitantly before opening it.

Starsky stood with his back to him, looking out the window. The tension in the air could have ignited flash paper.

"What's up?"

"Shut the door." Starsky's voice cracked like a whip.

Hutch complied, then walked closer to the tense figure. When Starsky whirled around to face him, the hostility on his face made Hutch hesitate.

"Where the fuck do you get off thinking you can cut a deal with someone like Matt Coyle and get away with it?" Starsky's voice was low-volume flint.

Hutch felt his stomach drop and saw black and silver sparkles at the edge of his vision.

Starsky pushed a thick file roughly toward Hutch's side of the desk. "They picked him up this afternoon while you were at your interview. He wouldn't talk to anyone but you, he said. When they told him you weren't available, he asked for me." Starsky rounded the desk, coming closer to where Hutch stood frozen.

"I was only too glad to go down and speak with Mr. Coyle. Imagine my surprise when he asked to speak alone, no lawyer, no stenographer. Imagine my further surprise at what he said. Can you?" Starsky moved closer still so they stood nose to nose. "Can you imagine it?" Starsky hissed. "Did you let what passed for your brain ever imagine that little scenario? When were you going to let me in on this one, partner? At my retirement party?"

"Starsky . . . I . . . "

"Shut up. I don't want to hear anything you have to say. I've already heard it in excruciating detail from Coyle." Starsky slammed his fist down on his desk. "Two years. Damn you to hell, Hutchinson. Two fucking years you've been in his pocket, and I was too dumb to see it." Starsky let out a short laugh and it was an ugly sound. He walked a few steps away to face the window again. "Man, how did you keep a straight face? Here everyone thought we had turned into super-cops, me included, and you knew all along it was a lie." Starsky turned slowly, the anger replaced apparently by deep hurt.

"I never argued that you were the brains in the partnership; did you have to prove it and make me look like a fool this way?" Starsky's voice was barely a whisper.

"Starsky, no, I never tried to make you look like a fool. I did it for you. To get us off the streets and keep you safe."

The anger came back like a door slamming. "No, don't you tell me that. I don't want to know that . . . to hear that you did it for me. You're a liar . . . hell, I'm a liar. You even made Dobey a liar. I don't deserve this position. It's all based on a lie." Starsky ran both hands through his hair. "I'll have to resign. Shit, I don't know if I'll even have a job when they get a load of this, and neither will you. How could you do this? Did you flip out and I never noticed?"

"You can't say anything," Hutch reasoned.

"What, are you nuts? I will not become a dirty cop . . . "

"You aren't, and neither am I. Neither was Mike Ferguson. We put a lot of scum away, got them off the streets. You want to blow the whistle and let all those bad guys walk away, free? You want to have IA look at every case we've had in over two years and let them walk? They'd prosecute us. We'd go to jail, and probably Dobey, too. They'd never believe he wasn't in on it. They would pull his pension. Is that what you want? I did it for you, because I love you. You may not want to hear that, but that's the truth. I sat in that warehouse holding you in my arms while you bled all over the floor. I thought that was it; that I'd really lost you completely. There wasn't going to be another miracle, and you thought so too, remember? Remember how badly you hurt, how scared you were? What did you say to me? Huh, what?" Hutch's voice shook as rose.

Starsky pulled him by the coat sleeve further away from the door. "Keep your voice down."

"I'll tell you what you said . . . " Hutch pointed his finger in Starsky's face. "You said you couldn't go through it again; you couldn't do it." Hutch's voice hitched in his chest. "I agreed with you, because I couldn't either. That's when I made the promise to you that you wouldn't have to. Matt Coyle was a means to that end. I'm not proud of it, but I'll take full responsibility for it. You want to blow the whistle on me, go ahead."

"You know if I do, it won't just take you down," Starsky fired back.

"I guess that's the dilemma you face then, isn't it? I gave Matt Coyle a little leeway and in return took a lot of filth, guys worse than him, off the streets, some of them for good. It didn't hurt anyone else in the process. If you turn a blind eye, too, who's the wiser . . . who does it hurt? In exchange for letting this go, he leaves town, sets up shop somewhere else, and it never happened. He's out of the city, off the streets. That's what you wanted. All our cases stay tight. Who's the loser here?"

Starsky stood with his hands in his pockets. Hutch could see the outline of his fists. "Who loses, Hutch?" Starsky sighed and his shoulders slumped in defeat. "I can't believe I have to tell you."

Starsky turned away, speaking softly, sadly, and Hutch had to strain to hear. "He's made bail already. Go find him; I'm sure you know where. Make him understand he's got 48 hours to leave this city and never come back. That's all the break I'll give him. If he doesn't take it, I'll take him down even if a lot of good people go down with him."

"I'll tell him. He'll take it; he's not stupid."

"No, I am," Starsky replied.

"Babe . . . " Hutch moved closer and was taken by surprise at Starsky's fast dodge away.

"Don't!" Starsky's command as forceful as a gunshot. "You asked who would be the loser? We are. Get out."

"Starsky . . . "

"You have your orders, Lieutenant. Dismissed." Starsky kept his back to Hutch and it left no room for debate.

Hutch stood for a second longer, then with a sigh, did as he was told and left.

Chapter 6

Hutch didn't wait to be announced by the secretary when he got to Coyle's warehouse office. Coyle startled visibly as Hutch burst into the room, reaching for his top drawer, then halting the motion to sit back in the chair.

"I warned you!" Hutch all but screamed at him. "Why couldn't you have listened to me?"

"I did listen, my boy. Just underestimated the timeline is all. Pushed the envelope a bit. Pity."

Hutch took a steadying breath. "You've got 48-hours to close up shop and get out."

"Or what?" Coyle asked, leaning back in his big leather chair.

"Or Starsky will squash you like a bug."

"That wouldn't be very smart on his part . . . "

"You've got a lot of nerve talking about smart. Do you think Starsky drew your name out of a hat? The DA's been looking at you since you got back. He wants your head on a plate and expects Starsky to give it to him."

"If he does that, there will be a bit more delivered than he bargained for."

"That's just it, you asshole. Starsky didn't bargain for anything! The deal was between you and me. I told you that at the onset. You and me," Hutch hissed, fairly shaking in his fury.

Coyle raised his eyes to look closely at Hutch, genuine surprise on his face. He slowly rose and went to his wet bar to pour a drink, not bothering to offer one to Hutch this time. "That would explain the look on his face," he said with a chuckle. "Starsky really didn't know. I'll be damned."

"I told you it was our deal, that there was no one else involved."

"Yes, yes, but you were partners, half of a whole, Ying and Yang. I thought Starsky just didn't want to get his hands dirty so he let you take care of the practical aspects of everything . . . you being the less pragmatic . . . "

Hutch jumped from where he stood in front of the desk. Grabbing two fists full of expensive silk suit, he slammed the silver-haired head against the wall. "You arrogant sonofabitch, do you have any idea what you've done?"

Coyle didn't flinch but stared steely-eyed at Hutch. "Yes, I do. I guess the most important question now is . . . what you are going to do about it, Lieutenant?"

"What I'm going to do is give you the only chance you're going to get. I already told you, you have two days to clear out and disappear. Go buy yourself a new name and set up somewhere else. Anywhere but here."

"That wouldn't be very cost-effective, now would it?" Coyle freed himself from Hutch's grasp and smoothed his suit fabric.

"Oh, I don't know, I think it's probably the best deal you'll get. Cut your losses. There won't be any other offer. It beats going back to the joint. Think about it, Matt old boy. You're a repeat offender this go 'round. No slap on the wrist like you got for a first offense. You've violated your parole; you'll have that added on, every last day of it. And there won't be any minimum-security country club to do the time in. No, sir, not this time. It'll be a federal penitentiary this time. No tennis courts and conjugal visits. You'll be in with the big boys. Maybe at the same place as some of the guys you gave up to us. That would be an easy thing to leak to the right people; think about that one." Hutch leaned closer to leer. "Does that make starting over seem like a bargain?"

The eyes that met his flickered with fear at the last words Hutch had thrown at the older man.

"Yes, I thought it might," Hutch answered. "Forty-eight hours. You forfeit bail and vanish." Hutch moved to the door to leave.

"What? No desire for a forwarding address? Don't you want a way to let me know how it all turns out?" Coyle asked, his dripping sarcasm back in place.

"I don't care where you are as long as it isn't here. You can burn in hell . . . " Hutch crossed the threshold out of the office. " . . . That's where you've sent me," Hutch finished grimly.

Hutch left Coyle's office and drove to class, leaving at the break and not going back.

He stopped at a convenience store not far from the campus and bought a six-pack of beer, then headed for the beach. He took the beer and got out of the car, walking slowly out past the pilings of the pier to sit on a rocky outcropping in the sand. He closed his eyes and drew in the salty air, listening to the crashing of the waves as he chugged one can down quickly and opened another. In the distance he could hear the cars passing on Pacific Coast Highway, some music coming from one of the restaurant clubs nearby, and laughter from a group of young people standing on the pier. Sounds of life were all around him, but all he felt was dead.

He had a momentary pang of guilt for not returning to class for the second half of the review for finals. "Mechanism of injury," he muttered to himself. "You know all about that, don't you, Hutchinson? High powered automatic weapons, smaller caliber handguns, knives, and poison. Yep, you've seen them all. Up close and personal . . . " He drank deeply of his second beer, crushing the can when he drained it. "So you don't ace the final, who gives a shit."

His mind kept replaying the scene in Starsky's office. He'd heard Starsky's voice that cold before, but never directed at him. Not even during the mess with Kira. He'd never seen that look on Starsky's face, the hurt caused by what Starsky viewed as Hutch's betrayal.

He popped another beer and tipped it back, feeling the beginning of a buzz. "I did it for you, but that's never going to be a reason you'll accept, is it?" Hutch belched and drank some more. "Not in your black and white world. Well, partner, I love you more than anything else in my shades of grey one. I guess I never stopped to ask myself what I'd do if you found out and left me. Do I love you enough to have made the same choice if I had?" Hutch drained the can and crushed it, too. "Yeah, I do." He laughed a short and totally humorless sound that more closely resembled a sob. "I'd rather have you hate me and be alive to do it, than dead. I guess as long as you're breathing, I'd still have something to hope for . . . Otherwise, dead is dead, pal, and there ain't no getting around that."

Hutch sat there, drinking the beer slower now, for how long, he wasn't sure. A wave splashing close enough to wet his legs broke into his reverie, and he rose somewhat unsteadily to his feet and trudged through the sand back to his car. The empty beer cans rattled annoyingly in their plastic bag before he threw it in one of the trashcans by the curb. He drove carefully home.

All the lights were out when he got there, save a lamp in the guest room. He let himself in quietly, still unsure of the time and caring even less. The mail lay unopened on the kitchen table. Starsky's gun and holster hung in their customary spot from the coat tree in the hall. He slung his own next to it, letting his fingers slide down the leather of his partner's holster. It was cool enough to indicate Starsky had been home for a while. The door to the guest room was closed, but a sliver of light from the bedside lamp shone under the door. He stopped, hesitantly lifting his hand to knock when the light went out. He stared at the dark floor where the line of light had been and let his arm drop. Turning away from the door, he plodded to his room, undressed and fell into bed. When a glance toward the bedside table told him the clock radio normally there was gone, he rolled out of bed with a groan and walked into the bathroom to get the small travel alarm out of his shaving case. Climbing back in bed he set the clock and wound it to wake him in the morning. He let his hand drift slowly to the empty side of the bed, running his fingers over the cool sheets. Cold and empty, yeah, that about sums it up. Staring in silence at the ceiling, he waited for sleep in a bed that hadn't been empty beside him in over four years.

Morning came with some confusion as the tiny sound from the travel alarm took longer than normal to register. He rolled over with a frown to silence the sound. The very presence of the thing was a bludgeoning reminder of the current circumstance. He flopped back in bed for a few seconds, listening to the sounds in the house. There were none, although there was the lingering smell of coffee having been made.

He rolled out of bed and headed toward the kitchen. As he passed the guest room, he glanced in. The bed had been pristinely made and, except for the alarm and a few toiletries on the dresser, it looked normal. He stepped inside and drew in a breath, the air smelling of Starsky's cologne. To smell it from a distance instead of the warm neck it had been dabbed on made it all the more painful.

Hutch rubbed his face in frustration and returned to his original quest for the coffee. He poured a cup and downed two aspirin to try and get ahead of the headache that was starting, wishing now he'd left one or two more beer cans unopened last night. With a sigh he moved sluggishly towards the shower to start a day he had no interest in.

When he arrived at the station and went to his office, there were a number of messages awaiting him. Glancing over the flimsy scraps of paper from the secretary's pad, he separated them into deal-with-now, deal-with-later, and the-hell-with-it. One of his deal-with-now's was an arrest report of one of the detectives in his squad for driving under the influence. O'Malley was going through an ugly divorce and this was the second time he'd been picked up. The first one was handled with a warning and a quiet phone call to Hutch as his watch commander. This second one was official and he couldn't ignore it.

As he reached for the phone to call for O'Malley, he felt the weight of hypocrisy hit him hard. If he'd been pulled over driving home last night he doubted his results on a Breathalyzer would have been acceptable. He asked his secretary to let him know if O'Malley called in. The man was in court today, but was supposed to check in if they took a recess. Otherwise, O'Malley was to be notified to appear in Hutch's office at 8:00 the next morning. Next he looked up the number for the department's Employee Assistance Office to give to the cop when he spoke with him. O'Malley was a good cop and worth helping.

As Hutch sat and pondered what words of wisdom he could possibly offer, he wondered at his own upcoming job change. This time yesterday he would never have considered taking an assignment that moved him out of the city. Now, morosely, he wondered if he had anything to stay for if Starsky never forgave him.

Hutch finished off the rest of his paperwork and sat back, rubbing eyes that burned, his head throbbing. His mind fell into the whirlwind of depressed thoughts as it always did given a few seconds of time when his thoughts went unguarded.

I would have felt better about things if you'd yelled your head off and slugged me one. Then I'd know you'd gotten it out and we could move on.

That quiet, closed off disconnection had felt so final. It made his stomach churn and burn to remember the look in the eyes of the man who meant everything to him, the lover who had looked at Hutch as if he were a stranger. Looking at the clock he decided against taking lunch in the cafeteria in favor of going home. He had to study, really study, and he couldn't do it knowing Starsky was in the same building. For all the good it did him, his lover might as well be on the moon. He logged out with central dispatch and drove home.

Hutch sat at his kitchen table, a pencil between his teeth and books scattered all around the typewriter in front of him. He was almost finished putting the last touches on his final paper, due by the end of the week. When he had sat down a few hours ago after trudging in from work, he hadn't been sure he'd be able to string together a single coherent sentence. But once into it, things had mercifully flowed. He was overwhelmingly grateful. To blow it this close to graduation would have been the topper to the mess his life was already in.

Hutch heard the door open and close softly, not at all surprised that Starsky stayed out of his way, a quiet and foreboding presence in stark contrast to the normal warm and loving essence Hutch took such comfort in. His typing faltered slightly with that thought, followed by a short and silent prayer that he hadn't lost that from Starsky forever.

Hutch glanced up as he saw Starsky walk past going toward the front door with an armload of clothes and a gym-bag. Without a word or glance, Starsky went out the door and closed it behind him.

Hutch sat stunned, his mind fumbling as it tried to wrap around the thought that his lover, his partner and his best friend, was making preparations to leave him.

Hutch finished his final draft and pulled the last page out of the typewriter and placed it in the folder. Moving like a robot, he gathered the remaining notebooks and texts, throwing away the crumpled pages of his rejected works. He was just shoving down the last of the papers in the trashcan when he heard the front door open again.

Starsky entered, walking straight to the fridge as if Hutch weren't practically in his path. Starsky took out a beer and moved toward the hallway. All in the same icy and stony silence of the past few days.

"Starsky . . . " Hutch began, hoping to halt Starsky's retreat. "I said I was sorry. How long are you going to stay mad?"

Starsky did stop then, mid-stride, but it was several long seconds before the man turned.

"Mad?" Starsky hissed. "That's rich! Mad is what I'd be if you wore my favorite sweater and ripped it. Mad is for forgetting to deposit our paychecks so the checks to pay the bills bounce. That's stuff to be mad about." Starsky stood facing him, wearing a face Hutch barely recognized.

"I'm not mad, Hutch," Starsky said, his voice and body language screaming venomous sarcasm. "What I'm feeling is so far beyond that, there aren't words for it."

"I think if we could just t-t-try to talk it out, " Hutch began tentatively. "If we could each just listen and hear what the other is feeling . . . ?"

"You want to know what I feel? No . . . no, Hutch. I really don't think you do."

"Yes, yes, I d-d-do," Hutch stammered.

"I feel like my best friend, the person I trusted beyond any other living soul, just fucked my lover and rubbed my nose in it. That's as close as I can come to explaining how betrayed I feel."

"Starsky . . . " Hutch wanted to step closer and reach out, but was afraid to risk it.

"You've made me a liar, Hutch. Everything I do, everything I am, every minute of everyday, is a lie."

"No, that isn't true. You're a good cop. You deserved the promotion. You'd have made captain one day anyway. I just accelerated the timeline a little, that's all," Hutch argued.

"Is that what you tell yourself? Is that how you live with it?" Starsky spat at him, his face livid. "You made it all a lie. And I have to go along with it. I'm trapped. Every second at work, that's all I can think of. You've even made it carry over to here," Starsky said, yelling now, his face red.

"What? How?" Hutch asked, confused.

"Before, I could come home and know there was always truth here. No matter how fucked up the rest of life was. I had that here. Now it's gone, too. I'm as trapped here as I am at work. I look at you and that lie is all I see."

Starsky ran his fingers through his hair. "I've got no self-respect anymore. I don't know who I hate the most over this, you or me? There is no place for me to go to get away from it. Not even here. I've got no place . . . " Starsky looked at Hutch and the lost look in his eyes supplanted the anger for a few heartbeats and it broke Hutch's heart. "Where do I go to find that again, huh?" Starsky shook his head, like trying to make Hutch understand was suddenly fruitless. He waved a hand at Hutch dismissingly and sat his beer down on the side table and turned to hurry out the door.

"Where are you going?" Hutch asked as he watched his lover turn.

"Looking," Starsky said tightly as he closed the door with a slam.

"For what?" Hutch asked the empty room in a hushed whisper, before he turned out the lights and went to bed.

The guestroom door was closed tightly when Hutch awakened the next morning, and there was no coffee smell to indicate that Starsky had been up early and had already gone. Hutch made a pot and took his shower, hoping that Starsky would be stirring by the time Hutch was dressed, but the door stayed closed and the room behind it was silent. Feeling a cold numbness fill him, Hutch left for work, wondering if Starsky had come home at all, but not having the courage to open the door and venture a guess.

Arriving at work, Hutch went through the motions, messages, and mail. Checking his appointment book, he saw one of the Olympic task force meetings for senior officers with the Olympic security advisors was scheduled for 10:00 o'clock in the auditorium of city hall.

"I'll need to sit at the back so I can sneak out if it goes too long," he muttered to himself, noting the cadaver lab time he was scheduled for at 11:15. His plan had been to turn his notebook in early and get it out of the way. One more thing not to have to think about as he prepared for graduation. Now he was even gladder he was that far ahead, knowing his concentration at present wouldn't be 100 percent.

He pulled out the last of his evaluations and knocked them out quickly. He needed to be finished and caught up before he passed the office off to Blakey, who would man it temporarily until a new lieutenant could be permanently assigned, once his transfer was official.

He leaned back to stretch out the tension in his back when the phone rang. He looked at the instrument as it rang again, dreading to answer it, then snatched it from the cradle. "Hutchinson," he said.

"Yes, sir, this is Barker. I got the message for O'Malley yesterday afternoon. Court went late and he's still testifying this morning. Can I help you?" Barker asked.

"I just want him to stop in and touch base with me before he heads out this afternoon. It's important and I don't want him to blow it off, but tell him not to stress over it, it'll be okay."

"You got his DUI, huh?"

"Yeah," Hutch replied, irritation tainting his tone. "I would have liked it better if he'd given me a heads up about it before the sheet hit my desk. But I'm not going to throw the baby out with the bath water. We'll work on it."

"Thanks, Lieutenant. He's a good guy, you know. I hate seeing him go through this; I just don't know how to help," Barker said.

"Wait for him while he's talking with me and encourage him to take advantage of what I offer, then be there to listen. That's all you can do. He's a lucky man; you're a good partner. With any luck, we'll all make it out of this one." Hutch put as much optimism as he could into his voice and wondered for a moment if he were referring only to O'Malley.

"Thanks, Lieutenant. I'll pass it on." Barker hung up and Hutch sat a few seconds, still holding the receiver to a dead line. The buzz of his intercom jolted him and he pressed the button for the new incoming call.


"Come by my office this morning before the Olympic briefing, please," Starsky's voice said, and hung up before Hutch had any chance to answer.

"Yes, sir," he replied in irritation to the dead phone as he hung it up. With a glance at his watch and a heavy sigh he headed to the men's room and then to Starsky's office. "Might as well get it over with."

He knocked sharply on the door and pushed it open after hearing the call to enter. "You wanted to see me, sir?" Hutch all but stood at parade rest in front of the desk, guarded and wary.

Without looking up, Starsky pushed an interoffice envelope toward the edge of his desk in front of Hutch. Hutch's name was scrawled on it in Starsky's own hand. Hutch picked it up and untied the string holding it closed and pulled out the papers that represented his official transfer out of the Detective division and into the Forensics department. The date of the transfer was two weeks from today's date, which would make it the Monday after graduation. You aren't wasting any time.

Hutch looked up, but Starsky was still writing on a yellow pad in front of him. Without looking up, Starsky said, "I think everything you need is there. Any questions?"

"No, sir," Hutch replied, his teeth grinding to keep from saying anything else.

"That will be all, Lieutenant." Starsky hesitated and looked up for the briefest of seconds, his face a stony mask. "Congratulations," Starsky said quietly and went back to writing.

"Yes, sir." Hutch's voice was flat. "Thank you," he said as he turned and left, closing the door softly behind him.

Chapter 7

The auditorium was filled with officers from every precinct in the city; a few members of the city council had shown up and several of the local press. Hutch sat in a chair on the aisle near the back; opening the heavy three-ring-binder he had been given upon entering and showing his ID. He glanced toward the front and saw the familiar curly head of his lover. He sat and watched as Starsky stood talking to several of the other district captains and others who wandered over. Hutch was too far away to hear what caused Starsky's head to snap up, but he watched as Starsky recognized whoever had called to him and he responded with a smile and a raise of his chin in greeting. Starsky then let his eyes scan the room, homing in like radar on Hutch. The open smile he had been wearing closed with a dark and resounding snap. With a frown, Starsky turned away and sat down.

"Timing is everything," Hutch muttered. Here I was worried about us having the time to talk with everything going on. Might be a moot point. With graduation and the transfer, I won't have the time, but it doesn't look like you'd be interested even if I did. At least not right now. Hutch sighed as a heavy weight of sadness swept over him. Nobody does mad like Starsky, he thought with an inward groan.

That was one of the most powerful weapons Starsky had to use against him, and he had right from the beginning of their relationship, long before it was close or physical. Starsky did the icy silence. He could go days without speaking to someone who pissed him off.

Hutch had seen it when they were in the academy together. Starsky's roommate was a cheat, and Starsky knew it. Starsky despised him for it, and resented the money the young man seemed to have in abundance to spend on buying the answers to the tests. Starsky was even more insulted when the kid offered to share his information and had acted surprised that Starsky had been insulted and so vehement in his refusal. Starsky had continued rooming with him without speaking one word for almost three weeks before the kid got caught and washed out. Starsky had been alone in the dorm room for the remainder of the time, with Hutch spending most of his time there as they studied together or just talked.

Starsky had gone more than a week not speaking to Hutch after the debacle with Kira, and they had continued working and riding together that whole time. It wasn't until Starsky apparently noticed that Hutch was hardly eating anything but Rolaids and drinking milk that he had relented and eased up to a few words of cool, but polite, conversation. But it had at least broken the ice enough to allow Hutch to suggest a monopoly game that lasted all night. That night Hutch was determined to hash it out, however long it took.

Our first time, Hutch thought with a remembered laugh. Both of us drunk on our asses, not sure whether to kiss or kill each other.

They had gotten each other off in a clumsy frantic fashion, then fallen asleep right where they were on the floor, clothes askew and monopoly money stuck to their asses. Hutch had awakened first, his stomach rolling and burning like a wildfire in the canyons in July. His retching in the bathroom had awakened Starsky, who had come in to offer comfort. Starsky was more than mildly disturbed to see Hutch's vomit was blood tinged, then even more livid when Hutch had admitted it had been that way for a few days. He had been determined to take Hutch to the hospital right then in the wee hours of the morning, but Hutch had assured him he had already consulted a doctor and had medication for it. He'd just been stupid to go against instructions and drink alcohol. Starsky had heartily agreed and bundled Hutch off to bed, getting him his medicine and a cool cloth for his head and generally cuddling and fussing over him the rest of the day.

I wonder how long the iceman's going to last this time? Hutch thought, with a sad shake of his head. He refused to allow his mind to consider the possibility that this would be a glacier that would never thaw, yet recognized the beginning of the familiar burn that told him his subconscious saw it as a real threat and his stomach was going to again pay the price.

I fucked Kira to show Starsky how unworthy of him she was and he hated me for it. Starsky had later admitted it was better to have known that than be hurt worse as the relationship progressed . . . but this time . . . this time I fucked with his soul. Hutch popped a couple of Rolaids and swallowed down the nausea that had become a constant.

He turned his attention to the speaker who had taken the podium, who, after adjusting the microphone against the squeal of feedback, began droning on about the thick book in front of him and what to expect and prepare for in terms of security for the summer games of '84. Hutch made notes on the pages provided as clearly as he could, with the intent to pass the notebook on to his replacement. He made a mental note to see if there were any more such meetings before he transferred and to be sure Blakley came with him. Hutch kept a close eye on his watch and when he could put it off no longer, eased quietly out of his seat and headed to the college.

Chapter 8

Starsky listened intently to the man at the podium, taking notes and highlighting things to cross-reference later. What he had been looking forward to as a challenge was now filling him with dread. The '84 Olympics were going to either be a glowing part of LA's history if everything for the summer games went smoothly, or a black mark like Munich if things literally blew up in their faces. Right now, he felt his confidence shaken like it had never been before. He'd spent an almost sleepless night chewing on it, and had to admit to himself he had never felt so completely alone. Rudderless, he'd lost his anchor and didn't know where to look for help.

I've never needed anyone else but Hutch before, he thought bitterly. Huggy'd listen as a friend and certainly keep his ears open, but he isn't in a position to hear anything on a terrorist level. He wouldn't be able to offer any advice. John Blaine would have been a good sounding board, but John's dead, so's Mike Ferguson. He would have been a good resource, too. And doesn't that just put me right back where I fucking started? Starsky finished his thought with a resurgence of his anger. He turned his attention back to the speaker and when the conference was finished he slipped away, avoiding the small talk, and went to a payphone to call the only person he could think of for help.

"Hello," a woman's voice answered pleasantly.

"Hi, Edith, how's it going? I hate to interrupt your retirement so soon, but is your old man handy?" Starsky asked.

"Sure, just a minute, I'll get him."

Starsky heard the phone clank as it was laid on the table, then listened as the screen door shut. He heard a mumble of voices before the one he needed came to answer the phone, somewhat breathlessly.

"Yeah, what's the matter? Feeling the pinch of my shoes already?" Dobey said with a laugh in his voice.

"They pinched right from the very beginning," Starsky went along with the joke. "Hey, I'd like to come and pick your brains if you can give me some time. I can come by there, or meet you somewhere, whatever's easy."

"Why don't you come by here? Edith was going to go out to get her hair done and do some shopping. Now I'll have an excuse not to go, and she'll be thrilled at not having to hurry home."

"Thanks. I'll swing by the office and make sure there aren't any fires that need putting out right now, and I'll be over." Starsky let out a grateful breath as he hung up the phone and fumbled in his slacks for the car keys.

Edith met him at the door with her purse in her hand, obviously just leaving. With a quick hug and a peck on the cheek she was gone. He walked into the Dobey's home following the smell of fresh coffee. He found his ex-captain in the kitchen pouring two cups.

Dobey turned when he saw Starsky and motioned him to the kitchen table. "I can't seem to get out of the habit of having the coffee pot on all day, but Edith makes me use decaf. This is one of those flavored ones, not half bad." He set the steaming cup in front of where Starsky stood and passed him the sugar bowl, while Dobey went to get a cream pitcher out of the fridge. "So, what's on your mind?" Dobey asked as he sat stirring his coffee.

The biggest event in this city's history is coming up. The whole world will be watching and I'm doubting myself like I've never doubted before. I don't deserve your job. I got it handed to me through a lie. I'm scared to death and don't have anyone to talk to about it. He opened his mouth but not a sound came out. Totally unable to synthesize a single thought from his jumbled emotions, he let his breath ease out in a whoosh and ran a hand through his hair.

"Feeling a little overwhelmed?" Dobey asked gently.

Starsky nodded. He stood and paced a short distance away from the table. "It isn't at all what I expected it to be. I mean, there's a whole other realm of things I had no idea about." Starsky turned back to Dobey, noting the small smile on his face. "I mean, I thought I knew, but . . . shit, I was clueless."

"Sit down, son." Dobey leaned forward and pulled the chair out a little. "I remember feeling that way myself when I first stepped into that position. Sort of adds a whole new dimension to that old adage 'it's lonely at the top'. Doesn't it?"

"I'll say," Starsky answered as he sat down. "I've followed the process, gone through the personnel files and read the memos—there's just a whole layer I hadn't anticipated. Confidential files, need to know only. Then there's the pressure of the upcoming summer games. We had a big meeting on that today. I'm not ashamed to admit it really rattled me. I don't want LA to become another Munich, or worse. You should see some of the stuff they say we have to look out for."

"I know, I can imagine. Some of that stuff started trickling down before I left. It scared me. That's nothing to be ashamed of. As for the other stuff, you do the best you can. You make a difference the best way you can. There are compromises you'll have to make that will piss the hell out of you. I know; I chewed nails about a lot of them. Ones that you and Hutch never even knew about, and plenty more that you did."

"Are you saying the end justifies the means?" Starsky asked, a little hotter than he meant to, and he saw Dobey bristle.

"No, I'm not saying that at all. I'm saying you can't save the world. You can't stop it all in your lifetime. You have to choose your battles. Some you'll fight, no matter what the cost, because the fight is righteous. Others, you let slide because in the long term whether you win or lose won't matter much. That's what I'm saying." Dobey stopped to take a drink of coffee.

"Starsky, you're going to have to deal with things differently as a captain than you did as a detective. There isn't the same playing field. It's not as black and white. You've got men under you that you have to lead and support. They're trying to do the best they can, too. And you have to believe that. Sometimes they'll fuck up. You'll take the heat right along with them. You have to learn when they've done it with malice, from inexperience, or ignorance, or poor judgment."

"How do I know?" Starsky asked.

"You're a good judge of character. Trust your instincts. Bounce it off that partner of yours. He has a good heart."

Starsky's own heart did a flip-flop at that statement. He's the problem. "How do you deal with a dirty cop?"

"That depends on what makes them dirty," Dobey answered softly.

Starsky's head snapped up in disbelief. "What? Dirt's dirt . . . "

"Hear me out. You get a detective who is skimming drugs off the top of a bust or taking protection money . . . you take him down! That's a given. You know how I feel about that. Any officer who thinks his badge gives him the right to be judge and jury, that's something that you can't ignore. Not even the first time. But, you take a little more nebulous situation like Iron Mike . . . "

"I never understood your stand on that," Starsky answered, his mouth suddenly dry. He looked sharply at Dobey, fearing his old friend could surely hear his heart beating wildly.

"I know you didn't; knew it at the time. Listen, while you're going through records, pull some of Iron Mike's again. Look at the busts he made and what those men were convicted of. Look how long they got put away. Multiple offenders, every one. Then pull Matt Coyle's and see what he was doing. I'm not saying he's an upstanding citizen that didn't deserve to do time. He did. Especially when he got a little brazen, got into bigger stuff there at the end. Ferguson was going to be faced with a tough choice. Unfortunately, he died before he made it. But I believe in my heart he'd have either turned Coyle back to the business the way it used to be, or he'd have taken him down like you did. The straw that would have broken Iron Mike's back was the cocaine deal. But prior to that, Coyle was small potatoes. A little pot, some illegal booze, mostly numbers, and some protection stuff. Compared to what he gave Mike that led to putting away the bigger fish . . . We're talking rapists and hard-line drug suppliers, armed robbers, and murderers. What was it Mike used to say? Ferguson's Law, give a little . . . and that's what he did, Starsky. Looking the other way for Matt Coyle was a damn little compromise to make for the get a lot that he got. Do you see the difference?"

"I don't know; I'm trying to. I . . . I'll think about it, look up that stuff like you said." Starsky sipped at the coffee in his cup, not liking the way it went down at all, anymore than their conversation.

"How's Hutch?" Dobey asked, getting up to refill his own cup and offering more to Starsky who declined.

"He's fine." Liar! "Busy with finals coming up and graduation. I . . . ah, got the paperwork across my desk this morning for his acceptance to the Forensics department. I signed it, so he'll be transferring there before long."

"Good for him. Glad to see him off the streets; glad for both of you. I think he'll do well there if he can just keep up some sort of emotional detachment and not take every case home. But then that's what you guys have each other for. I don't know how I could have coped all these years without Edith. I wish every cop had someone to go home to who can make the world go away."

Starsky felt the pang of that statement and fully acknowledged how tough it had been for the past few days without exactly that. "I hear ya," Starsky answered with a forced smile and finished his coffee. "Let me get back to work. Thanks for giving me the time; I needed it."

"You know where to find me, anytime." Dobey stood and walked Starsky to the door.

All the way back to the station house, Starsky mulled over what Dobey had said. "I know there's a big wall between us . . . I don't know if I'm willing to tear it down to see what's on the other side," Starsky muttered bitterly to himself, as he pulled into his parking space and wearily got out of the car. "You never steered me wrong, Captain. I have to believe you aren't this time, either. It may not make anything better, but as fucked up as things are right now, I don't guess it can make it any worse." With a resigned sigh, Starsky pocketed his keys and went to burn some midnight oil in the Record Room.

Several hours later Starsky returned the last of his files and stood with a yawn and a bone cracking stretch. So where did the last seven hours get me? he asked himself as he plodded to his car. The statistics flew around in his head but hadn't provided the clear insight he'd hoped for. He pulled into the double driveway of his home and saw Hutch's car in its customary spot. As he walked toward the kitchen entrance, he let his hand run along the top of Hutch's hood. Barely warm; you've been home for a while. Maybe you're asleep already, he thought with mixed feelings.

"If you're already asleep there won't be anything to talk about, 'cause I'll be damned if I know what to say." Starsky sighed. "If you're awake, maybe we'll talk and find a way to fix this." Even as he whispered the words to himself, he couldn't find a way to believe them.

The house was dark when he entered, the only light coming from the low lamp in the front hall. He gave a cursory glance at a stack of mail on the kitchen counter but dismissed it with a wave of his hand. Tomorrow, he thought. Walking to the guestroom he was sleeping in, he went past Hutch's door. It stood open a crack as if in invitation. The painful contrast to his own tightly closed door of the past nights struck him forcefully. Stepping quickly into the guestroom and shutting the door, he jerked off his clothes and flopped into bed.

Why, Hutch? Motherfucking sonofabitch, why did you do this to me, to us? The question screamed inside his head for the hundredth time.

Because he loves me, came the little voice.

Starsky shook his head in frustration. "That's not good enough," he said.

He knew Hutch loved him; that fact was as solid as the air he breathed. He knew he loved Hutch; that hadn't changed. And yet it felt like it had changed everything. His mind kept going back to that day in his office when he had sent for Hutch after talking with Matt Coyle. Even now, remembering, his anger made his pulse race. "I did it for you," Hutch had said, as if that explained everything. Hutch had looked at Starsky with such confusion on his face when that answer hadn't dissolved all of Starsky's anger.

Starsky replayed that conversation over and over like a stuck record, believing he had to be missing something, but having no clue as to what. Hutch had mumbled something as he left the office. Starsky had ignored it at the time, but since then, when the image resurfaced as it ultimately did many times a day, that mumbled sentence kept getting clearer. Starsky was almost sure what Hutch had said was, "Why'd you do it? It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Starsky softly whispered the words with trembling lips and the sound catapulted him back even further than the previous week, to a rooftop in the dark. He had just killed the only person likely to know the antidote for the poison consuming him. That person would have killed his partner, and Starsky knew without a doubt that Hutch wouldn't have taken the chance on killing Vic Bellamy on that rooftop by shooting to defend himself. So Starsky made the choice for him.

"In your head it's the same thing, isn't it, Hutch?" Starsky sat up in bed as a new realization hit him. "I'd step in front of a bullet for you anytime," Starsky said. "And I know you'd do the same for me. But this wasn't physical . . . is that why I'm so pissed? I could understand you giving your life for me, taking my pain, bleeding for me, but I can't get my head around you compromising every value you ever had to protect me."

Starsky ran his fingers through his hair. "Am I afraid you'll wake up one day and regret what it cost you? Or am I afraid you finally found a way to one-up me? Would I not be willing to do the same for you?" Starsky's whisper was barely a sound in the still, dark room.

"Oh, Hutch. We gotta talk. A lock-the-doors-and-don't-answer-the-phone talk, babe." Starsky glanced at the clock and the closed door to his room, then sighed and lay back on the bed. "It's too late tonight, but this weekend . . . if it's the last thing we do . . . "

He jumped when he heard the phone. He rose to head for the phone in the kitchen when he heard it stop mid-ring and Hutch's wide-awake voice answer.

Standing in the hallway, he heard Hutch's voice reply, "I'll be right there. Yes, less than twenty." Starsky heard the bedsprings creak as Hutch was obviously getting up.

With a soft push to the open door, Starsky asked, "What's up?"

"Burglary at a chemical plant off the 110 Freeway. Two dead. I've got to go in," Hutch replied, as he hastily pulled on corduroy slacks and a sweater.

"Why? You're not on call," Starsky answered.

"Yes, I am. I took it for Rogers. His wife's due any day and he didn't want to miss the birth of this one like he did the last two." Hutch pulled on his boots and edged past Starsky and out into the hall.

"There are other lieutenants in the department that could help him out. You don't have to do it all." Starsky followed, wishing his voice hadn't sounded so harsh.

"Yeah, there are and they are . . . but tonight's my turn." Hutch ran his hands through his hair and grabbed his holster and jacket. He turned for a second and looked at Starsky where he was standing in the kitchen. "Is there a problem, beyond the obvious?" Hutch asked sarcastically.

Yeah, you look like shit. Starsky was struck by how big the sweater and jacket looked as Hutch stood before him, knowing they fit just fine a couple of weeks ago. He briefly met the haunted and dark-circled eyes of his lover before lowering his gaze and mumbling, "No, never mind." Starsky turned to walk back to his room, then hesitated and looked again. "Be careful."

Hutch ducked out the back door adjusting his gun with a muttered, "Yeah, thanks," and was gone.

The phone awakened Starsky some time later and he rolled over to answer it. His hand fumbled across the surface of the bedside table, but connected only with the alarm clock. Sitting up, he heard the ring again and, with a groan, stumbled into the master bedroom to answer it. "Starsky."

"Sorry to wake you, sir, but all district commanders are being called in. We have an internal disaster alert. You need to report to the Harbor Station House as soon as possible."

"Harbor? Who is this?"

"Inspector Wallace, FBI. I'm helping the commissioner's staff make the calls."

"Why Harbor? Why not my own division?"

"That's where the command center is being set up. All the central downtown precincts are quarantined. Chemical warehouse off the 110 Freeway was found to be a storage place for a major cache of chemical and biological agents, including nerve gas. If you have a gas-mask in your stuff at home bring it; if not, you'll be issued one when you report."

"What's happening with the officers on the scene at the warehouse? My partner took that call a few hours ago," Starsky asked.

"They were exposed to the nerve gas on site. All are presumed dead.

"Whhh . . . what?" Starsky's stomach did a flip and his legs refused to hold him.

"You'll get a full briefing when you report, Captain. I've got a lot of other calls to make."

Starsky didn't know if he answered or not; he just became aware a few seconds later that he was on his knees beside the bed, holding a dead line. He replaced the receiver as if it were priceless crystal, then made a mad dash for the bathroom, skidding to a stop on his knees to vomit in the toilet.

No . . . not Hutch . . . he didn't go in there. Starsky spit the strong bile taste out of his mouth and slowly stood. Please God, don't let him be dead. Don't let him have died with the way things were between us. Don't let him be dead thinking I didn't love him anymore.

Chapter 9

The drive to the Harbor Precinct passed in a blur. Starsky threw the car in park and jumped out almost before it had stopped moving. He ran up the steps and into the building. Flashing his badge earned him a vest with silver reflecting tape on it. Bright letters spelling out "DISASTER COMMANDER" were emblazoned across the back. On autopilot he shrugged into it, freeing his gun in the holster at his side. He stumbled when he looked at the gas mask that had also been pressed into his hands. With a shudder he attached it to his belt.

He recognized several captains from adjoining precincts and headed to where they stood gathered around a table covered with blueprints. He squirmed his way past a throng of people rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Everywhere was a low hum of voices and a barely-held-in-check sense of urgency.

"Starsky, glad you're here. This is in your neck of the woods; we can use your insight."

The Chief of Police looked up and stepped sideways at the table to give Starsky space to lean in closer.

"The original warehouse alarm was set off shortly before 11:00 p.m. last night. Night watchman called it in on his routine rounds. He found a door unlocked, called it in as unsecured and went in to investigate," Chief Gates said.

"The nerve gas was already expelled from its containment source at that time. The guard's body was found down, inside the building's central bay. That must have been where the largest concentration of the gas was kept when it was breached. He didn't take more than 20 steps once he went through the doors." Starsky looked at the man who had begun speaking, taking in a salt and pepper grey head of sleep-tousled hair, casual clothes, and an FBI name tag that spelled out: Wallace, R.L. Inspector.

"What about the back up units and the other personnel who responded?" Starsky asked around his dry throat.

"The security company sent another man who was close by when they couldn't raise their first officer. Meanwhile, a black-and-white was in route. The second security system man had the presence of mind to look in the windows before running in. He saw the first man was down and not moving; he called for major backup. That side trip hopefully saved his life. The two men in the patrol unit weren't so lucky. They rushed in and didn't get much further than the first guard did before they succumbed to the gas. It's odorless and colorless, gentlemen. You don't know it's hit you until you can't see clearly where you're going. By the time you take a couple of deep breaths to try and clear your head, your legs won't work enough to hold you upright. You're hit with intense stomach cramps and nausea, vomiting, incontinence, seizures and death. All in the space of a few minutes," Wallace recited grimly.

"What about subsequent officers who responded? How many, and what are their conditions?" Starsky asked.

"The two patrol officers are both dead. One at the scene, the other managed to back his way outside before he collapsed. EMT's took him to the hospital, but he was pronounced dead when he got there."

"One of the lieutenants who responded sealed off the building and kept anyone else from going in. He called for the Fire Department specialists. They arrived and quarantined the building, but by then the gas was leaching out the various open and cracked windows, and even people outside the building were starting to get sick. The firemen extended the perimeter and we're at 23 city blocks right now and civilian evacuations are still in progress," Chief Gates said, as he drew the quarantine and evacuation lines on the map.

"Eleven other city personnel were taken to the hospital; three of those have died as of 30 minutes ago. That's the latest word we have," Wallace answered Starsky's original question.

"Lieutenant Hutchinson, one of my men . . . was the officer on call tonight. Do we have a list of the names of . . . "

"Hutchinson wasn't listed as one of those deceased. I don't have a complete list of those taken for treatment. That keeps growing by the minute," Gates said.

"So far we've isolated three canisters that appear to have spontaneously breached their seals and ruptured, releasing the gas. Gentlemen, there are 64 others in that warehouse." Wallace looked silently at each of the men at the table.

"What are your estimates if they all go at once?" one of the fire captains asked.

"This is the most concentrated lethal gas on the planet. If all the gas that we believe is contained in those canisters goes at one time, gentlemen . . . there isn't enough morgue space in this county to contain the body count. Everything breathing in a 300-mile radius will be dead." Wallace's voice left no room for doubt

"I think I need to have the mayor make that call to Sacramento now." The Chief pushed back from the table and patted the two-way radio on his belt. "Keep me informed and maintain the media blackout. Mr. Wallace, I hesitated getting the military involved, but I think we'd better mobilize March and Travis Air Force Bases, in case we need their medical resources. They'd be necessary for a widespread evacuation, too. Let's prepare for that and hope to God we don't have to do it."

"Right." Wallace turned and walked over to a table spread with communication equipment and began a quiet phone conversation with someone.

Starsky stared at the blueprints to the warehouse as well as aerial photos of that area of the city and several surrounding blocks. Where are you, Hutch?

Starsky looked up from the papers to ask, "What hospital were the casualties taken to?"

"The first ones to Queen of Angels, it was the closest. Others since then have been diverted to Hoague," one of his associate captains answered.

Starsky nodded shortly and went to the dispatchers' office. Flashing his ID he asked, "Can you get me the emergency room at Queen of Angels? Let me know when you get someone in charge who can give me an accurate list of the people brought in from the warehouse."

"Yes, sir. Here, sir. Take this hand-held radio. I'll squawk at you when I get the connection. Things are getting crazier and crazier." The dispatcher jotted down the radio's call number. "Captain Starsky, Ninth Division, right?" The dispatcher looked up, then back down at Starsky's affirming nod. "CPF1602. Got ya covered. I'll get back to you as soon as I get someone with the information you need."

"Thanks. Also, if any of my people from the Ninth need me, patch them through, okay?"

"You bet."

Starsky turned away from the busy dispatch center and walked back to the command central table where Wallace was addressing several of the other division captains.

"March Air Force Base is firing up their mobile medical facilities and they can be set up at the armory in three hours. I told them it's a go. If we don't need it, it'll be the best money Uncle Sam ever spent for a training exercise. Plus, it will be a good news cover; the eye in the sky is wondering why we have so many freeways blocked. We're going to have to give some sort of answer before long. Luckily, it's Saturday morning or the commuters would have forced our hand before now. The mayor is briefing the governor and he'll consider the National Guard involvement as well. No one wants to impose marshal law, but if that's what it takes to quickly and effectively evacuate this city, that's what we'll do."

The radio on Starsky's belt squawked, startling him as well as a few of the other tense men around the table. He moved off to take the call.

"This is Starsky, go ahead."

"Yes, sir. I've spoken to Queen of Angels ER. They say they can't give you a list, but if you'll give me a name of who you're looking for they'll tell me if they are currently a patient. Will that work for you, Captain?"

"Yeah, I'm looking for Lt. Ken Hutchinson, Ninth Precinct. Over."

"Hold one sec."

Starsky listened to the static and held his breath. Please God, I'll do anything you want . . . 


"I'm here, what ya got for me?"

"Nobody by that name was taken to that hospital. Do you want me to check Hoague for you?"

"Yeah, would you mind? It's important."

"I'll get right back to you."

Starsky wiped a shaking hand across his sweaty upper lip, hating the waiting, hating the limbo of the unknown.

With a nod of thanks he took one of the offered cups of coffee a young secretary pushed past on a small cart. Before it was even cool enough to drink, the radio squawked again.

"Starsky," he snapped

"Sir, I have a request for a patch to you from on off shore vessel. The caller won't identify himself, but asked for you personally."

"Give it to me," Starsky answered warily.

"Top o'the mornin' to you, Captain." Matt Coyle's voice had a tinny ring to the phony lilt.

"Coyle," Starsky hissed. "What the hell do you want?"

"Well now, it just occurred to me that the last time we talked things were so tense between us, that I didn't have a chance to properly congratulate you on your promotion. I thought . . . "

"Knock off the bullshit; I don't have the time. What do you want?"

"I just wanted to give you a little congratulatory gift, or a going away present, however your rigid sense of propriety can best accept it. You see, maybe the news media hasn't hopped on what's going down yet, but it's all over the short wave. That's how I heard it. The police band is such an easy one to break into."

"What do you know about this?"

"Me, personally? Not a blessed thing. Nerve gas and all that sort of espionage are not the games I like to play. So I don't know anything about the why or the what, just the who and the where. I radioed that information to your partner, or ex-partner now, I guess; too bad. When he came to see me he seemed really shaken up. It was a sad thing to see, that. After all these years, I've grown rather fond of Kenneth; it hurt my soul to see him so . . . "

"You radioed him when? How long ago did you say? Where was he? Did you get an answer?"

"Whoa! I see that got your attention. Let's see if I can answer all that and in order. I radioed him the same way I did you. It isn't rocket science, you know. It was about an hour and fifty minutes ago, give or take; he was talking then." All pretense of accent was gone as Coyle continued. "I told him where to find the empty containers that they hadn't had time to fill yet. It will give you a way to transfer the gas into a container that can hold it until people who know what they are doing can cart it off. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that's what the fools had who stole the gas in the first place. Too little knowledge and it led to this dangerous situation. They put the gas in canisters meant to carry another chemical. The nerve gas is eating through the seals like they weren't even there. I told Kenneth where to find the right ones. That's where he was going. I expect he's picked them up by now and is on his way back to the original warehouse. I'm letting you know so you can mobilize the help he needs to make the transfer without him trying to do it himself and getting killed."


"Because I liked him, just the way I liked Iron Mike. Mike died stupidly. I didn't want to see Ken do the same."

Coyle took a deep breath, and when he resumed his accent was back thicker than ever. "I told him so, yes, I did, and he gave me a very strange answer. Said living or dying, it all looked pretty much the same right now. I felt a little uneasy with that, I did. That's why I'm giving you the call. That and the fact that I don't want to be owing anybody. So now, Captain Starsky, we are even. Good luck, and goodbye."

Starsky thumbed off the radio and ran over to where Wallace was talking on a phone. "I need to talk to you," Starsky said, as he grabbed for an arm and pulled Wallace out of the cluster of men and radios.

"What the hell . . . "

"The gas was stolen. I don't know from where or by who, but they aren't used to handling this stuff and they loaded it into the wrong containers. That's why the cans are leaking; the nerve gas is eating through the seals. They'll all go sooner or later. My partner got a tip about it and the informant told him where the proper storage canisters were located. He's on his way to get them now. He's probably already there and is heading back to the original warehouse site. You've got to get your people who know how to handle that stuff over there to make the transfer so it can be done safely and there won't be any more contamination." Starsky had been pulling Wallace along as he spoke; he was dragged to a halt when the man planted his feet and grabbed Starsky by both shoulders.

"Are you sure your source can be trusted?"

"Yes," Starsky said with conviction. I hate his guts, but his tips have always been right on.

Wallace reached for his radio and began barking orders, requesting several units be dispatched through the barricade to the original warehouse. "What's your partner's name and what is he driving so they'll let him through when he gets there?"

"Lt. Hutchinson. I don't know what he'd be driving. A truck or van, I would guess, that can carry a large load of vacuum canisters."

Starsky listened as Wallace relayed the information and the two men hurried to the garage to Wallace's car.

"Let's go. Here, use this." Wallace handed Starsky a gas mask off the front seat of his car.

"I have one." Starsky patted the one he'd been given on his arrival at the Harbor station.

"If you're exposed to a high concentration of Sarin nerve gas, that won't protect you. Leave it here, and use this one. There's another under the seat; get it. If we find your partner alive, he'll need it."

Starsky stared at Wallace's profile as the FBI agent drove, feeling his own anger rise like high tide. "You knew the masks we had were useless and you didn't say anything? You knew it was all anybody had and that it wouldn't be enough, but you let us all think we'd be safe?" This is why I got out of the Army. "What kind of a man are you?"

"One who follows orders. One of my orders was not to let events escalate into a full-scale panic. We're a chicken's lip away from that already, without me letting anyone know that we're working with inadequate equipment. I don't have enough masks and haven't got the time or resources to get enough here to make a difference. Can you understand that? We go in with what we've got. My people will be the closest and we'll limit exposure of other personnel whenever possible. They may get a little sick, but it's my plan not to have anyone else die, okay? Is that what you need to know, Captain?"

"Why were we caught with our pants down with the lethal aspects of this gas?" Starsky asked, his voice cold and deadly. Wallace's eyes flicked to him briefly, then back to the road as he drove. Nothing ever changes, you self-righteous sonofabitch! "It's ours isn't it? That's where it was stolen from. Our government made it, new and improved . . . " Starsky shook his head in disgust.

"Where it came from really isn't the issue here, is it? Let's just do what we need to do to contain it. Best let people higher up than we are figure out the rest of it, Captain. Ignorance really is bliss, I've found."

The car slowed and Wallace handed out his FBI pass and the car lurched forward again toward the warehouse. "We're within mask distance, put it on," Wallace ordered, donning his own.

They reached the fire trucks and a few ambulances stationed at the far end of the parking lot next to the warehouse. Wallace reached in the glove box of the car and came out with several rubber gloves. "Here, put these on. It isn't just airborne. Your skin can absorb it if you come into contact with something the mist has landed on."

Three men at the communication van all but came to attention as Wallace approached. With a nod, he relaxed them. "Anyone come in bearing gifts?" he asked.

"Not unless he got through and we didn't see him, but that isn't likely," the tallest one answered.

Starsky snorted. "Let me go take a look. This used to be our beat. Hutch is very familiar with this area. He'd get in without raising any dust, believe me. He won't walk up and ask anyone for help; he'll try to do this on his own so no one else gets hurt."

"He may think he knows what he's got here, but believe me he doesn't have a clue. I'll give you 20 minutes. Then you come out. You'll need to change the filter on your mask. That's all it will hold for. Keep the walkie-talkie on. If he shows up here, I'll radio you and you get the hell out of there. Agreed? Once those canisters get here, it's my show."

"You can have it," Starsky answered. "Just as soon as I get my partner," he finished, as he walked slowly into the warehouse.

The interior was dimly lit. What natural light would have normally come in from the lights in the parking lot via the skylights was blocked by the heavy tarps the firemen had placed over all the windows. All the exhaust fans were silent, having been likewise covered. The air in the old building was unmoving and hot.

The walkie-talkie at his hip sounded and Starsky reached for it, keying open the channel. "Starsky."

"Come on out. Your partner just drove up at the rear dock; we're sending a team around." Wallace's voice sounded over the static.

"I'll meet him there," Starsky answered.

"Okay, just hurry up about it; you're coming up on 14 minutes. Get your extra mask on him. My men say he doesn't look too good. He may have already been exposed."

Starsky picked up his pace to a run and burst though the rear dock doors. The FBI team already there turned quickly, and he found himself looking down the business end of three automatic weapons. He raised his hands and flashed his own badge as he continued moving to Hutch, who had collapsed on the ground right beside the driver's door.

He put the gas mask over the pale and sweaty face. One of Wallace's men slipped an oxygen tube into the face portion of the mask and turned the flow-meter on high, while another turned on a hose and began soaking Hutch from head to toe. Out of Starsky's peripheral vision he could see and hear the scurrying of men unloading canisters from the panel truck Hutch had driven and passing them into the warehouse in an assembly line. When the last canister was off loaded, all the men followed it in, each carrying an extra gas mask.

The man who had been holding the hose soaking Hutch's body and clothes turned off the water. "That should take care of the surface contamination. Let's get him around front to the ambulance and start dosing him with atropine."

Starsky picked up Hutch's head when the other two men made a move to raise his limp body, and the three carried Hutch rapidly to the front of the building. If everyone had the right equipment, the ambulance could have come to us a lot quicker, Starsky thought, becoming angry all over again.

They placed Hutch on the ambulance stretcher and the two men went to another water-tank truck and hosed down, pulling Starsky with them. "Replace the filter on your mask," the taller man said, holding out a new round filter, which Starsky took. Taking in a deep breath, he held it while he traded the round cylinder filters on the bottom of the mask. He handed the old one back and saw the FBI agent place it along with others in a drawstring plastic bag.

"I'm going to ride with my partner to the hospital," Starsky said.

"Fine. Keep your mask on until you get past the checkpoint."

"I will."

Starsky jogged over to the ambulance just in time to see Hutch's wet clothing being cut off. One EMT was trying but unable to start an IV while the other was taking vital signs and relaying them to whatever hospital base he was in radio contact with.

Hutch moaned and weakly attempted to draw his legs up, his hands attempting to wrap around his stomach. Starsky watched as the EMTs looked at each other with worried glances.

"Help me hold one arm steady so we can get a line open. He's going to need it."

Starsky grabbed the arm nearest him and drew it down and away from Hutch's waist, holding it tightly against the stretcher mat while the EMT stuck repeatedly, trying to find a good vein.

"What's his BP? I can't feel anything here."

"It's only 80 by palpation. Stick his neck if you have to, but get a line going before he starts seizing, or we're gonna lose him."

Starsky listened in horror to the conversation between the two EMTs, and steeling himself, he helped hold Hutch's hands as the EMT closest to the head of the gurney stuck a large bore IV needle into Hutch's neck. With a sigh at his success, the EMT connected the needle to the IV line as the other began rapidly pushing drugs into it. The tape was barely in place before Hutch groaned again, his face contorting in pain. He was pale and sweating profusely. Starsky could see above the fold of the sheet, fine tremors run across the muscles of his chest and abdomen.

The driver in front called back the all clear and the crew jerked free of the gas masks. Starsky gently removed Hutch's as well, wiping over his face with the corner of the sheet. He bowed his head close to Hutch's ear and whispered a litany of soothing words.

"It's over, babe. You're going to be okay. Everything's going to be okay. Hutch can you hear me? Come on, open up those baby blues, let me know you're in there, huh?"

Hutch turned his head slightly and his eyelids flickered open for the briefest of seconds, then closed tightly as Hutch tossed his head. His long-fingered hand snaked out from under the sheet to grasp Starsky's wrist like a vise. "Oh God, it hurts. I'm gonna be sick."

Hutch tried to roll over but there was little room on the narrow gurney. Starsky held a towel for Hutch to puke in, but nothing came up but a small amount of dark yellow bile, after several bouts of heavy retching. Hutch lay back, breathing hard and still sweating profusely. He gripped Starsky's hand hard at intervals when the cramps appeared to catch him and take his breath. Shortly before reaching the hospital, in spite of the medication he'd been given, Hutch started seizing. Starsky was moved out of the way as the EMT's worked to protect Hutch as he violently shook and banged around on the stretcher. During a small and short respite when they could pry his mouth open, they rammed in a plastic tube to preserve his airway before the next round of violent shaking began.

Starsky stayed as close as he could, reaching out to hold a cold clammy hand. He bit back his own groan at feeling it tense and jerk over and over as he held it. The violence and length of the seizures were ugly and horrifying to watch. Each time Hutch seemed weaker when they ended, until he finally did not rouse again at all.

Hutch was whisked out of the ambulance the moment it stopped and Starsky stood watching in dread as his lover was wheeled away.

Chapter 10

Starsky sat in front of the ICU window. The irony of the room assignment had not been lost on him. This was the room very he had been in over four years ago, after the Gunther hit. This is the room I died in. He sat straddling a chair with his forehead pressed against the glass. He briefly remembered Huggy describing Hutch in much the same position.

"You stayed that way for hours, he told me. Huggy said you really creeped him out sitting there so still, with your mouth pressed into your folded hands like you were praying, with tears running down your face," Starsky whispered.

"Well, I'm the one here now, and I don't like it one bit!" His voice rose slightly louder than a whisper, but he ignored any glances staff might have given as they passed him. "You hear me, Hutchinson? I don't like it." Starsky grimaced as he watched yet another seizure gripped his lover. The violent shaking literally moved the heavy ICU bed, and in spite of everything the medical staff was doing, they still kept coming . . . over and over again.

Starsky watched, helpless and terrified, hating the fact that he was completely without resources to stop Hutch's suffering. Oh Please, God . . . I'll do anything . . .  I'll do . . . Starsky froze in his prayer as the utter honesty and sincerity of it struck him. He would do anything . . . and wasn't that the same feeling that Hutch had expressed in Starsky's own office? Wasn't that what forged Hutch's dance with the devil manifested in Matt Coyle for Starsky's sake. Well, strike up the band . . . I'll dance too . . . just make it stop.

When the latest seizure ended, he watched as Hutch's body seemed to deflate. "God, babe, you must be exhausted. There are so few minutes before it starts up all over again. When's it gonna stop?" Starsky looked up as a nurse came out of Hutch's room.

"Nothing's changed. I'm sorry," she replied, and was walking away when Starsky stopped her.

"I want to go in there and be with him," Starsky said.

"He won't even know you're there."

"That doesn't matter." He'll know . . . I did when it was me.

The nurse gave a shrug and held the door open for Starsky to go in. He moved to the side of Hutch's bed as the latest seizure continued to ebb away. He curled his fingers over the cool lax hand and leaned in to whisper close to his lover's ear.

"I know you can hear me, so listen up. You've got to fight this stuff. You paying attention? I need you to stop all the rockin' and rollin' and get well. I need to see you open up those baby blues and look at me. We need to talk, babe. I need you to hear what I've got to say. I need . . . I need you." Starsky's voice cracked a little and he cleared his throat.

"I am still mad as hell at what you did, but I understand why you did it. I think I'm more upset that you felt we couldn't talk about it, that you did it and hid it from me. We can hash all that out later. I know all the yelling I did about feeling as trapped at home as I was at work hurt you. I'm ashamed to admit I said those things because I knew it would hurt you. I was hurt and I hurt back. I'm not proud of that, but I did it. I knew moving into the other room was the same as moving across town to you, and I knew that hurt you, too. I am sorry that I didn't fix that part of it. It wouldn't have been that big a deal to let you know I needed some time and space, but I didn't tell you that.

"My anger and pride wouldn't let me. I let you think I was done. I knew you'd think I was going to really leave eventually and that I didn't love you . . . but that's not true. I ain't going anywhere, blondie, so you can just wake up and face the music. We're going to go home when you get better and yell and scream at each other until it's all out in the open and then I'm going to love you like you've never been loved before. Because that's the bottom line, babe. I do love you, like nobody ever has . . . and nobody ever will."

Starsky pulled back a bit away from Hutch's ear, noticing the wet spot on Hutch's pillow where his own tears had dripped off his nose while he'd been speaking. Hutch's eyes moved rapidly under the closed lids and his brow furrowed like he was in pain. Starsky rubbed up and down Hutch's arm and dragged over a straight-backed chair with his foot to sit down.

"Maybe the drugs are starting to work; he's usually seizing again by now," the respiratory technician who was managing Hutch on the ventilator observed as he re-entered.

Hutch slowly curled his fingers around where Starsky's held his hand, gripping it weakly. The grip changed to a spastic grab as another seizure hit. Starsky stood, rubbing Hutch's hair back from his face and bringing his mouth down to Hutch's ear to whisper a steady stream of comforting words. As the seizure passed, Starsky eased back in the chair.

"That's okay, you're doing it; that didn't last as long or come as quickly behind the last one. I know you're trying. You've got to be beat; rest while you can. I'm right here."

The respiratory technician suctioned Hutch's mouth and checked the connections on the tubing and stood, as he had before, waiting. Minutes passed. Hutch moaned at intervals but otherwise was still.

After a half hour with no new seizures the technician went to the sink and washed his hands. "Maybe we're over the worst of it. I'm going to go do the chart; I'll be right outside if he needs anything."

Starsky nodded his thanks, grateful that he was leaving. "Everybody's gone. It's just you and me, babe. I'd be a liar if I said I didn't want you to wake up and look at me, but you don't have to. Just rest, you're safe. It's all over now. Everything's going to be okay."

Starsky brought Hutch's hand up to his lips and kissed it, then let it rest gently on the bed. He angled the chair so he could stretch his legs out a little and rested his head on the bed next to their joined hands.

"You hear that beeping and the whooshing sound, Hutch?" Starsky asked softly. "It's kind of musical, huh? There's a rhythm to it. It's almost like it's familiar to me, like maybe I remember all those days I just lay there listening to it. Makes me sleepy." Starsky's jaw cracked in a wide yawn as he allowed his eyes to close. "I'll rest my eyes for just a little while. I'm not asleep though, babe. I'm right here," Starsky whispered as he fell asleep.

He felt a gentle tugging of fingers through his hair and in spite of the cramped feeling in his back and the fact that both lower legs were asleep, he resisted the pull to waken. The sound of the beeping heart monitor registered first and he jerked upright. Hutch was awake. He was lying still and pale against the white sheets, but his eyes were open and they were focused on Starsky.

"Hutch?" Starsky cleared the sleep out of his throat. "You're awake. Oh, man . . . how're you feeling, buddy?" Starsky stood, bending over the bed and running his hand over Hutch's face as if he needed to reassure himself Hutch was real. "Do you need anything? Want me to call the nurse for you? Are you hurting?"

Hutch slowly closed his eyes, almost leaning his face into Starsky's touch. Then he shook his head no to all the questions. Hutch tried to talk around the tube in his throat, but only succeeded in making himself cough.

"Easy, babe. You can't talk right now; they had to put that tube down your throat when we first got here. You were real sick." Starsky gave a small shudder with the memory. "But you're gonna be fine, everything's gonna be fine." Starsky felt his face stuck in a goofy smile, but didn't give a rat's ass. He didn't think anything he'd ever seen was more beautiful than the blue eyes that looked at him with recognition.

Hutch mouthed, "How long?"

"How long? How long have you been here?" Starsky looked at his watch. "Since around noon yesterday. It's a little after seven p.m. now."

"You've been here?" Hutch mouthed again, which set him coughing again. The alarm on the ventilator blared loudly.

"Have I been here, too?" Starsky went on at Hutch's nod. "Yeah, for all but a few hours when I got summoned downtown for the debriefing and they wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Go home, eat, sleep," Hutch mouthed again.

"Hey, I ate . . . "

"What?" Hutch challenged.

"A can of green beans and a Twinkie," Starsky replied with a grin. "I'll go home when I know you're settled for the night. I don't think anyone in the office wants to see me in these clothes another day."

Hutch tried mouthing something else that Starsky didn't quite catch, but Hutch started coughing again. The alarm this time brought in a nurse.

"Good, you're awake. You've got a tube in your throat, Mr. Hutchinson. As long as that's there you won't be able to talk. I'll get you some paper and a pencil to write with, okay? Are you in pain? Do you need me to get you something to help you rest?" she asked.

Hutch's eyes opened wide and he vigorously shook his head 'no'; the movement started him coughing again.

"Easy, okay. Let me call respiratory and they can fit you to a T-piece and see if we can get you off this machine. That will make you feel better, won't it?"

Hutch rolled his eyes as the nurse left the room. Starsky grasped his hand and squeezed it. "Don't fight the machine, babe. It'll just make you feel worse." Starsky leaned in a little closer. "And don't fight the medication, either. If you hurt, let them give you something for it. We've had this talk more than once, buddy."

Starsky met Hutch's icy glare without blinking. "Don't look daggers at me, blondie. You know it's true. You need to rest to get your strength back. Don't lay there and be stubborn and in pain. You hear me? If I have to go home and shower and come right back here to see to it, I will." Starsky ran his hand up and down Hutch's arm a few times, reveling in the feel of the warm skin under his fingers. "I know you don't want to be the one responsible for the foul mood I'll be in all day at the office, do you?" Starsky looked up from Hutch's arm, smile back in place.

Hutch sighed and shook his head slightly, mouthing, "No."

"I didn't think so."

Starsky moved out of the way when a respiratory technician entered and began the process of setting the ventilator up to gradually wean Hutch off of it. "Just relax, don't try too hard. Your body's been though a lot with all the hours of seizures you had. Having the machine breathe for you is the best way to rest," the tech offered.

Starsky didn't meet Hutch's eyes for a few seconds after the technician left. When he did, the hard stare from Hutch communicated, "Why didn't you tell me?" quite clearly.

"Hey, you can ask for any details that you don't remember when you're feeling better. Right now, do like the man said and relax. Go on, close those baby blues. I'll be right here." Starsky resumed his place close to the bed, his hand resting inside Hutch's and his head resting on the bed.

A quick squeeze of his hand roused him and brought his head up. He glanced around, finding the respiratory technician from earlier had come in so quietly Starsky hadn't noticed. The man was bending over Hutch's other arm, sticking a needle in the inside of his wrist, drawing some blood. Starsky let Hutch hold on, returning the squeeze with a hard grip of his own.

"Okay, that's it. I'll run these blood gases, but you're looking good. I think we'll be able to stay on the T-piece for another hour or so, then come off the vent all together." The tech straightened up, capping the blood gas tube and jamming it down into a paper cup of ice. He stood by the bed, pressing his fingers down on Hutch's wrist where he'd drawn the blood.

Starsky remembered them doing that to him, and how that particular test hurt a lot worse than IV starts or regular shots. He stood and walked to the opposite side of the bed. "Here, I'll hold that for you, then you can go run it. Ten minutes by the clock, right?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?"

"Been on his side a couple of times; I remember."

Starsky placed his fingers where the tech's had been over the small piece of gauze. He pressed firmly down on Hutch's wrist and sat in the chair next to the bed. "I remember you used to do this for me. It always seemed to hurt less when it was you holding the pressure afterwards. Maybe it was just my imagination." Starsky shrugged, then leaned down to place a quick kiss on Hutch's arm above where he held.

When he straightened he saw a look of confusion on Hutch's face. "We'll talk, babe, just not now, and not here. When you're feeling better." The look of confusion faded and was replaced by something that Starsky couldn't identify for sure before Hutch just closed his eyes. He stayed pretty much that way until the respiratory tech came back and extubated Hutch.

"That's got to feel better, huh?" Starsky asked softly. "Just that little nasal thing instead of that big tube down your throat?" He felt uneasy at Hutch's silence, but didn't want to tax his friend.

Hutch opened his eyes briefly to nod; he swallowed roughly and whispered, "I'm okay. Go home. Get some rest yourself."

"I will. You sure you're gonna be okay? You need anything before I go?" Starsky asked, feeling a lingering unease.

"I'm fine, just tired." Hutch's voice was raspy and sounded weak.

"Sure, babe, you rest. I'll be back early in the morning. They have the number if you need anything, just tell them to call."

Hutch nodded and closed his eyes, then slowly turned his face away. Starsky rubbed gently over the hand he held a second longer, then gave it a squeeze and left.

Chapter 11

The door to Hutch's hospital room opened with a bang and he jumped, reaching automatically for the area at his side where his Magnum usually hung. Starsky entered a little breathlessly and when their eyes met, both smiled a little sheepishly and relaxed.

"Man, you scared the hell out of me," Starsky said. "I went to your room in ICU, and saw the empty bed. Almost swallowed my tongue calling for a nurse or somebody to tell me what happened. Why didn't you call and tell me they moved you?"

"They moved me about midnight. I guess after the Saturday night meeting of the knife and gun club in East LA, they needed the bed," Hutch replied, rubbing his eyes. "I didn't want to wake you."

"You're okay, right? I mean, you don't think you're still sick enough to be there. I'll . . . "

"I'm fine. The doctor saw me this morning and said he would have moved me today anyway. If the latest lab tests come back okay, he said he'd write the discharge order for late this afternoon."

"Hey, that's great. I can go get some stuff done at work and swing by the grocery store, get a few things, and be back to pick you up. Deal?"

"You don't have to. I can give Huggy a call. Or I can just have them call me a cab. It's no big deal," Hutch answered, determined not to look at Starsky's face.

"I'll call you a cab, if it makes you happy. You're a cab! But there is no way I'm not going to be the one to drive you out of here. Got that?" Starsky moved closer to the bed and ducked down to put his face in Hutch's low line of vision.

"Okay. I'll be waiting when you get here," Hutch replied flatly. What the fuck difference does it make; it hasn't been home since all this started.

"You don't sound very happy to be getting sprung. Usually you can't wait to get out of here. What's up? Do you still feel bad? If you think you need to stay . . . "

Hutch shook his head and stopped Starsky mid-sentence. "When you take me home, where are you going?"

"What?" Starsky stared at Hutch with genuine confusion that gradually dissolved as if a light had gone on in a dark room. "Oh shit . . . you've got to be kidding. How stupid am I? You don't know. Of course you don't know. There's no way you would remember what I said to you, you were too out of it."

"What you said to me?" Hutch felt his stomach drop and his heart began to pound so hard it hurt where he could feel it in his chest and temples.

You told me you were leaving while I was so sick I don't even remember? I was having one seizure after another and on life support and you son of a bitch, you were telling me goodbye?

"Look, Hutch, I said we'd talk, but I don't want to do it in this place. I'll take you home, and we'll talk. I don't want to be looking over my shoulder, afraid the door is going to open any minute. I want you to be feeling a little better . . . " Starsky stopped, looking puzzled again. "Don't you want me to take you home, babe?" Starsky asked softly, cupping the side of Hutch's face.

Hutch jerked away from the touch like it burned him. "When you take me home, where are you going to be?" Hutch asked again.

"Ooohhhh," Starsky let out a breath. "Well, I guess I was a little presumptuous; I suppose I should have talked to you first."

No, I can't believe it . . . nonononononononoooo.

"I already moved all my stuff back into our bedroom. I can move it all out again, if you don't want me there," Starsky finished and waited silently.

Hutch turned to look at the man sitting on the bed, unmoving and quiet. "What did you say?"

"I said I can move everything back out . . . "

"You moved it all in?" Hutch knew he was staring open-mouthed but didn't care.

"Yeah, I . . . moved . . . it . . . all . . . back . . . in. What . . . you thought I had moved all the way out of our place? Where the hell would I go? No, wait . . .  that's not how I mean it," Starsky amended quickly, taking both of Hutch's hands in his own. "Listen to me. I was mad as hell at what you did, more at how than what. But I've had a lot of time to think. Believe me, all those hours sitting outside of ICU, I had nothing else to do but think. But before you go believing that it was just that I was scared to death you were dying that brought about the change in my thinking, forget about it. I had already gotten my head out of my ass. The next time we had a couple of minutes free, we'd have had whatever knock-down drag-out we needed to have to hash this thing out and get past it. It just so happened the nerve gas thing put the screws to that plan."

"You forgive me?" Hutch still felt shell-shocked and leery.

"Yes, I forgive you, ya big lummox. I even forgive Coyle . . . "

"I must have brain damage, or I'm still unconscious," Hutch mumbled, really confused now.

"Didn't you wonder how I found you? I'm a good detective, but not that good," Starsky said with a small smile.

"No, I hadn't thought about it until you mentioned it just now. How did you find me?"

"Matt Coyle called me, evidently right after he called you. Told me where he'd sent you and what you were going to try to do. Dumb stunt all alone by the way, but we'll discuss that later, too, Lieutenant." Starsky softened the words by raising one of Hutch's hands to his lips for a quick kiss. "He said he was getting out of town as agreed, but he didn't want to go feeling he owed a debt. So the ship-to-shore call to me was payment in full."

Starsky shook his head with a slight furrow to his brow. "I don't think I even stopped long enough to thank him, I just took off after you." Starsky raked his fingers through Hutch's fine hair. "You're still looking like you're waiting for the other shoe to fall. There's no game being played here, babe. I was mad, madder than I've ever been at you. You know, before we're dead and buried, I'll probably be mad at you a couple of more times. Or you at me. I hope not like this, and I'll work at trying to fight a little more fair. But we'll get past it. I can't imagine any long-term relationship that doesn't have those moments, but for God's sake, Hutch. It was never about not loving you. I know you thought so and I'm not proud of the way I let that ride. But I swear, it was never . . . "

"I . . . I'm sorry . . . I . . . " Hutch stammered and Starsky placed a finger over his lips.

"You said that in my office. That was all the apology I need. I just needed some time to process it, and I have." Starsky's face spread in a slow sweet smile. "What I said to you when you were so sick was . . . I'll take you home and we'll yell and scream at each other until we get everything out in the open and then I'm gonna love you like you've never been loved before." Starsky leaned a little closer. "You still feeling reluctant about going home, blondie?"

"I love you, too. Get to the office so you can hurry back." Hutch drank in the smile on Starsky's face, letting his heart fill with hope. They would get past this and he sighed in gratitude that they'd have the time . . . another miracle.

"Count on it. I'll call you at lunch." Starsky closed the short distance between them and took Hutch's mouth in a tender kiss.

"I want to go home. " Hutch whispered against Starsky's lips.

"I want you there," Starsky said earnestly. "I want to be there with you. I'm sorry I put up the wall."

"Help me tear it down?" Hutch asked, still feeling a little unsure.

"I promise. Now rest and get better, so I can show you how glad I am to be there." Starsky winked as he walked toward the door.

"I'm sorry I hurt you . . . " Hutch offered, hoping to make Starsky understand. "But I'm not sorry I did it. I'd do it again.. I love you that much. I'd do anything."

"I know . . . so would I," Starsky answered, then quietly closed the door.