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Charlotte Frost

    Both detectives walked quickly in the late night, August air, trying to beat the rush of the crowd to the parking lot. As they wove through the rows of cars, Hutch detected the sound of his partner sniffling, and he wondered when Starsky had started to come down with something.

    Though it was dark, the street lamps centered on the lot helped Hutch spot the dented front of his beloved LTD in a distant row. He moved more quickly, for now cars were starting to hurry out, anxious to be among the first to make the journey home.

    Usually, he and Starsky liked to discuss what they'd seen as soon as they emerged from the theater, but tonight Hutch was grateful that his partner seemed to be concerned only about finding their car and getting out of here in one piece. They'd have plenty of time for talk later.

    But, the blond realized with a sigh, they weren't going to be able to emerge from the lot any time soon. Already rows of cars were backed up from the street all along the various rows of the lot. Once he and Starsky reached the LTD, they were going to be doing a lot of sitting and waiting.

    Hutch trotted across the last lane, for an approaching car didn't seem interested in braking for him, and was grateful that Starsky had followed his lead and also skirted quickly out of the way. That move seemed to have come on instinct alone -- that of following his partner -- for Starsky's head was down, and there was no way the smaller man could have realized how close, and how determined, the moving car was. Hutch frowned with concern.

    Finally, they were at the LTD, and the taller detective already had the keys out and quickly unlocked the door. He reached over and the button popped up on the passenger side. As Starsky opened the door, Hutch looked around and saw no use in starting the motor. It was going to be a few minutes before the jam in the lot cleared enough for them to move.

    The blond relaxed back in the seat, his frown returning as his partner took his place beside him, head still bowed, sniffling repeatedly.

    "Hey, partner," Hutch said gently, reaching for the other's forehead.

    Starsky's whole body hunched over, then shook, his eyes squeezing shut.

    It was then that Hutch noticed a tear making its way down the curve of the left cheek.

    Immediately, the blond's hand shifted from the forehead -- which was reasonably cool -- to the shoulder. "Hey, buddy," he said with tender surprise, "that really got to you, didn't it?" The movie's ending had been sad, but the he had never seen his partner react like this. If anything, between the two of them, Hutch was the one more prone to shed a tear or two.

    And, during the movie, he had, but once the credits rolled, that was the end of it.

    Starsky was nodding, sniffling loudly, still hunched over. "Yeah. It was sad -- sadder than I though it'd be." Fists scrubbed at his face.

    Hutch squeezed the shoulder, almost grateful now that the traffic prevented him from feeling they should be moving. "Yeah," he agreed softly, not removing his hand. "I thought at the beginning, when they had that make-believe battle, and it looked like everyone was dead, I thought maybe that's what all the rumors had been about."

    Starsky nodded profusely. "I thought so, too." He sniffed again. "I started to relax and enjoy it."

    "Yeah," Hutch chuckled softly. "It was a good movie, too. Lots better than the first one."

    Starsky was nodding again... and still sniffling. But at least he'd straightened a little, watery eyes reflecting the light of the street lamps.

    "It's too bad, though," Hutch continued thoughtfully, watching the line of cars move at a snail's pace, "that they really did kill him off. I'll miss him, even if he is only make-believe."

    Starsky was nodding agreement again, but then he hunched back over, stiff shoulders unsuccessful at holding back a sob.

    "Ah, buddy," Hutch squeezed again. "Hey." He'd never seen his partner put on a display such as this, especially over something so trivial as a movie. Granted, he knew Starsky was rather fond of all those characters, though Spock had always been his favorite, yet Hutch never would have imagined a reaction like this.

    His hand squeezed yet again as he leaned closer. "Hey, Starsk? Are you sure this is all from the movie? Or is there something else going on that you haven't told your buddy about? Huh?"

    Starsky quickly shook his head. "No. It's just -- just," the shoulders shook again, "so sad, Hutch. What's Kirk gonna do without Spock?" Then, forced through a sob, "He couldn't even touch him."

    It was on the tip of Hutch's tongue to point out that they were only make-believe, but he knew it wouldn't help. He tried to think what might. Impulsively, he reached for the glove compartment, which fell open after he pressed the button. Gratefully, he removed the box of Kleenex that he'd kept there after his last bad cold. "Here, buddy."

    Finally, Starsky straightened fully. He took a wad of Kleenex in hand and blew against it. Then he grabbed more and wiped at his eyes.

    Hutch watched the traffic. It was starting to thin. They'd gone to the 9:00 show -- the last of the evening -- so there were no incoming cars to contend with. He ran his fingers along his mustache. "Where do you want to go, huh?" he asked. They hadn't eaten in the theater, as the lines were too long and they'd agreed to get something afterwards.

    "Tell you the truth," Starsky continued wiping at his face, "I'd rather not be seen like this."

    "Then maybe we can find a burger joint with a drive thru."

    "Don't know if there are any open this late, especially being a weeknight an' all." Starsky placed the Kleenex box back in the glove compartment.

    It was close to midnight. Hutch considered a moment, then, "Maybe we can pick up something interesting at Seven-Eleven. I'll go in."


    Hutch started the car. The traffic had pretty much cleared out, and in less than a minute they were on the Boulevard. He glanced over at his partner, who sat staring out the side window. Occasionally, the other sniffed.

    The blond wanted to get conversation going, and there was an obvious topic available, but he hoped it wasn't going to bring forth another waterfall. "So really, Starsk, other than what happened to poor Spock-o, what did you think?"

    "Kirk's son was a brat," came the subdued reply. Starsky was still looking out the window.

    "Yeah, but I think I can understand that. I mean, he never knew his Dad. That probably made him a royal candidate for a shrink's couch."

    "His mother was okay."

    "Yeah, I liked her. And that Vulcan broad, too."

    "She was kind of stuck-up."

    "She's a Vulcan," Hutch reminded.

    "So's Spock, but he ain't stuck-up." An awkward silence, then a quiet, "Was never."

    "Ah, come on, Starsk. There could be a sequel."

    "How? If Leonard Nimoy wanted to be out of it this much to get killed off, why would he come back for another movie? And how could they... you know, bring him back to life logically?"

    "Hollywood can do anything if there's a buck to be made. Besides, as far as Mr. Nimoy goes, you can't believe everything you read. From what you've told me, it sounds like he has a lot of mixed feelings about playing the character."

    Starsky was silent for a long moment, his gaze still on the window. Finally, he said, "I heard two chicks talkin' as we were walking out, and one of them was saying that, in the book, that Vulcan broad is half-Romulan."

    "Really? Nice of them to tell us that in the movie." Hutch watched Starsky shrug. "Well, you'll have to go home and read the book now, won't you?" Starsky had had it sitting on his coffee table for over a month, refusing to read it until they saw the movie first, just as he refused to read any reviews or get involved in any conversations with people who had seen it. He was determined not to have the plot spoiled for him. Hutch had admired his partner for his fortitude, but had refused to see the movie until the crowds died down. So, finally, they'd chosen a weeknight a month after its release, and there was still a considerable crowd.

    Starsky took a deep breath and finally glanced out the windshield. He looked much better.

    "Hey," Hutch ventured, "sure you don't want to go to an all-night restaurant somewhere?"

    "Nah. Seven-Eleven's okay."

    "But expensive for what you get."

    Starsky shrugged. "I've got money."

    Hutch pulled into the nearest convenience store a moment later. "You want something in particular, or are you gonna trust me to pick something out?"

    Another shrug. "Whatever. Get whatever you want."

    Hutch got out of the car, thinking Starsky was really bugged if he wasn't that interested in the food. Of course, they'd had dinner much earlier, but being deprived of theater food was an excuse for a full-fledged snack. He entered the store and quickly moved between the brief aisles, finding a bag of chips, bean dip, and puffed popcorn. Before going to the counter, he grabbed a couple of ice cream bars. When he pulled out his billfold at the counter, he knew that Starsky would never pay him back, and he would never ask. Neither ever did.

    It all fit in one grocery bag, and as he carried it to the car, he heard his partner sniff yet again through his rolled-down window.

    Hutch's mouth fell open when he got in the car, handing the bag over to his partner. Those deep blue eyes were misty again. "Hey, buddy?" he questioned sympathetically, unsure of what else to say.

    Starsky managed a crooked smile and waved a hand. "It's nothin'. Let's just go home, okay?"

    Hutch obeyed, starting the short journey to Starsky's apartment. It was closest, after all. His concern that something was going on with his partner -- beyond seeing a sad movie -- increased.

    After a moment, Starsky casually asked, "So, what'dya get?"

    Of course, all the other had to do was look in the bag. But Hutch answered, anyway. "You'll see when we get home."

    It took only four minutes on the deserted streets. Starsky kept the bag when he got out and Hutch, still feeling a twinge of concern, wrapped his arm around his partner. Starsky leaned into him as they made their way up the steps.

    It felt good, being so close. For they generally didn't hang all over each other as much as they used to, back in the old days, when they had been so young and full of fire and determination to demonstrate their love. Now, things were more mellow. They didn't take their jobs quite so seriously, or the state of the universe... or themselves. But, occasionally, Hutch found himself missing that need to cling, and he was glad that Starsky was able to now. Was glad that, when it was needed, he was still able to hold the other close without any urge to explain it to himself.

    Starsky unlocked the door, flipped the light switch, and the two entered. The smaller detective placed the bag on the counter, then moved back into the living room. Hutch pulled out the ice cream bars and placed them in the freezer, glad they could still be a surprise since the other hadn't seen him do it. "Want a brew?"

    "Yeah, I guess," came the solemn reply. Starsky was pulling off his outer shirt.

    Hutch got them both beers and brought the grocery bag to the coffee table. "I really didn't get much. Chips and popcorn."

    Starsky shrugged, maneuvering out of his shoulder harness. "Whatever."

    Hutch opened both beers and left them on the table. He stripped as far as Starsky did, sighing with relief, as always at the end of the day, to be rid of the Magnum's weight. He leaned back against the arm of the couch, studying the quiet form standing in the center of the room. "Starsk," he said gently, "I really didn't think the movie was going to get to you like that. You knew Spock might die. You seemed to accept the possibility."

    Another shrug as Starsky sat heavily in the center of the couch, his arms loose at his sides, legs slightly spread, staring at the coffee table. "Yeah, I know," came the soft reply.

    The blond thought he saw a lip corner tremble. He straightened. "Hey, come on. Level with me. What's hurting so much?"

    "I just," Starsky took a deep breath, "didn't expect them to do it like that."

    "Like what? He died saving everyone else. It was courageous."

    "I know," Starsky stated emphatically, then shakily, "but there was that glass between them." He gestured with an arm. "Kirk couldn't touch him. Couldn't...," the voice trailed off to become sobs, the face burying itself in open hands. Then suddenly he straightened to choke out, "It just brought it all back, 'at's all."

    Hutch leaned toward the other, arms reaching to grip both shoulders. "Brought what back?"

    "When you were sick," Starsky sniffled, glancing at his partner.

    The other blinked. Sick? He'd been sick many times. Of course, there had only been one time when he'd been really sick....

    "And --," a choked sob, then the words rushed out, "and I was so afraid I wasn't going to find Callendar in time and you were going to die and I wasn't going to be there and even if I was there I wouldn't be able to be with you hold you because of that damn wall and you were going to die and I wasn't -- wasn't," anguished sobs now, "going to be allowed to touch you and --"

    "Ah, Starsk," Hutch cut in quickly, wrapping his arms around the smaller man, pulling him close, not sure that he could bear to hear anymore. "Come on," he held him tightly, "get it out, partner." He rested his cheek upon the dark curls. "Get it all out."

    "I was... so... afraid," Starsky managed, and then he cried freely against Hutch's partially open shirt.

    As he held tight, Hutch guiltily wondered if his partner had been keeping this all in the entire four years since the plague had threatened Los Angeles. But he knew the answer a moment later, for the last time he remembered Starsky crying this much had been shortly after Hutch had been released from the hospital. They'd dropped Callendar off at his plane, dropped Drs. Meredith and Kaufman off at their planes, then Starsky had driven Hutch home. Though Hutch was completely rid of the virus, his body was still very weak from fighting it, and he'd needed to sleep a lot to regain his strength. After arriving at the apartment, Hutch had gratefully collapsed on the bed, and Starsky had collapsed beside him, pulled him into a desperate hug, and proceeded to bawl his eyes out. Hutch had understood -- the fear, the exhaustion, the anguish, facing all of it alone -- and they'd never talked about it because there had never been a need.

    And then it was behind them. Or so Hutch had thought.

    But whatever questions he had now were going to have to wait, until the weight of the burden dissipated enough for Starsky to speak.

    In the meantime, Hutch couldn't deny how good it felt to be useful again, even if he were the cause of the need. So many years....

    They'd been so cocky at first. So sure of themselves. Believed they could change the world, or at least the LA crime rate. They'd made an impact, became outright famous in local crime and justice circles, but there was no telling effect in the long run. People went right on being murdered, raped, used and abused. And then the personal costs started escalating. The divorce. The involuntary heroin addiction. Starsky shot in the Italian restaurant. Vic Bellamy's poison. Simon's kidnapping followers. Ralph Slater running the LTD off a lonely mountain road. The plague. Trapped in a barn scheduled for a bonfire. Vanessa murdered by his own gun in his own living room. Lionel's death. Kira.

    And then Starsky almost bought it in Metro's parking lot.

    At first it had seemed that everything changed after that. Then, after months of careful evaluation, Hutch realized that it had already been changing the past few years. They'd both been so cocky and self-confident early in their partnership. Then Hutch gradually began to take an upper hand, become the leader between them. And as a result -- or perhaps it was the simultaneous cause -- Starsky began to relax a little and demonstrate the inner childishness that was so much a part of him. The childishness that Hutch loved and nurtured and scolded and protected. Except when Hutch was the one in need. Then the child took a hike and the strongest of men emerged. That's what Hutch knew he could always count on. And the balance was happily maintained.

    And then, somewhere along the line, Starsky started growing up. Hutch was never able to lay his finger on just when the change began to occur. He only knew that, over time, Starsky began to give as good as he got. He was no longer content to be the butt of whatever joke Hutch wanted to play on him. He began to not automatically agree to whatever Hutch wanted. He took initiatives, seemed to develop a certain independence that hadn't been there previously. It seemed, again in retrospect, that they talked to each other more in those times, but touched each other less.

    And then there was Kira. What stronger message could there have been than that fiasco to point out how wrong things were between them?

    But they had managed, and after Starsky had almost died, they both had reached a point where life was simply more important than beating the bad guys. If it were true they didn't have as many important arrests as they once did, it was also true that they were even more respected now for their more mature, disciplined manner. They no longer felt compelled to automatically argue with any given authority figure, or to prove they could still beat the system whenever they went against the rules. They believed in what they were doing enough to keep at their jobs, but now there was something to be said for their shift coming to an end and both still being in one piece.

    Now, after eleven years of partnership, their personal comfort level was at its highest. Perhaps they didn't demonstrate their love as intensely as they once did, need each other on a day-to-day basis as badly as they used to, but nor did they have as many petty little arguments, or grump at each other as much merely as an excuse to have something to say.

    But there were things he missed about their arrogant past, Hutch could see now, as he continued to hold his partner tight, letting the tears do their healing. It still felt good, being the parent to Starsky's child. Being needed. Being able to nurture.

    He'd realized, years ago, that he understood completely what women meant when they spoke of "maternal instinct". For a while, that realization had confused him, for he did not know where he had learned how to behave that way toward his partner. For his own mother hadn't been a worthy role model. Oh, she'd been terrific at "responsible" tasks -- such as making sure he ate the right food, had the right clothes for school, managed his money correctly -- but when it came to the simple things, the important things, she had failed badly.

    Learning the truth about his mother was Hutch's earliest memory. He was four years old, and his cousin James, visiting from Maine with his parents, had fallen and scraped his knee. Hutch had watched with fascination as his Aunt Marie carefully washed James' cut, disinfected it, put a Band-Aid on it, then kissed it. She had muttered soothing words throughout the process, and simply watching it all had made Hutch feel warm and pleasant inside. So, the day after his relatives left, he went out and purposely fell on the sidewalk, working hard at making sure his knee got scraped. Then he'd run in, tried to make it looked liked he'd cried, but was also brave and wasn't crying too much, and showed the injury to his mother. Elizabeth Hutchinson promptly scolded him for messing up his clothes, then roughly took his hand and led him to the bathroom where the medicine cabinet was. Silently, she had properly washed, disinfected, and bandaged the scrape. She did not kiss it. And Hutch was disappointed that none of the so-carefully-sought warmth was forthcoming. And he never showed his mother any of his hurts again.

    Hutch smiled as Starsky began to quiet. It was his Aunt Marie who was his role model. For, whenever Starsky needed mothering -- and he'd insisted, in his own way, on a lot of it in the early days -- Hutch just imagined what his Aunt Marie would do and followed suit. Eventually, it became second nature. And if to outsiders it sometimes seemed that he talked down to his partner back in those days, they both knew the truth. It was just love.

    Starsky, still pressed against him, was no longer sobbing, just sniffing. He finally wiped his nose against his sleeve. After a swallow, his gruff voice distantly said, "I know exactly how Kirk felt, on the other side of that glass, watching Spock die, not being able to do a damn thing about it. Not able to be with him -- really with him -- at the end."

    Hutch leaned back against the arm of the sofa, bringing his partner with him, not wanting to lose the contact. "Ah, buddy, I didn't even make the connection. I didn't like that damn glass at the hospital any more than you did. But in the theater, I was so engrossed in the movie... I had no idea it was be hitting you so hard."

    "I heard other people crying," Starsky noted quietly, relaxing against his partner, "because Spock was dying."

    "Hell, yes," Hutch agreed, looking down at the dark head that tilted back so their gazes could meet. "My eyes were watering, too, you know."

    Starsky grinned then. "Really?"

    "Yeah. When he was dying. Then, later, when Kirk was making his speech at the service. He was so choked up.... William Shatner's a good actor."

    The grin faded. "I can't imagine Kirk being without Spock."

    "Well, if they have any more movies, I'm sure he'll survive. He's a fighter."

    "Yeah, but... who's he gonna lean on?"


    A frown of disapproval. "Yeah, but McCoy isn't... you know, he's a different sort of person. Kirk needs a Spock in his life."

    "Yeah, well, maybe the Hollywood powers-that-be will figure that out before the next movie and decide on a way to bring Spock back. Besides," the thought just now occurred to Hutch, "they did leave his body on that Genesis planet. And they were saying something in the beginning about it being 'life from death', or something like that."

    Starsky seemed to consider that for a long time. Then, "I don't think they would have gone to so much trouble to kill him off if they were gonna bring him back. I don't think Leonard Nimoy wants to come back."

    Hutch shrugged, not having an answer.

    After a moment, Starsky said, "Do you think they mind melded a lot?"

    "What? Who?"

    "Kirk and Spock."

    It seemed a silly conversation, but Hutch was curious as to what his partner was thinking. "Well, we've seen them do it on the reruns. So, we know they did a few times."

    "But I mean off camera."

    Hutch blinked. "Starsky, it's a show. Make-believe. They aren't Kirk and Spock off camera."

    Starsky shifted his feet impatiently. "I know. But, I mean, pretending that Kirk and Spock really exist... and, say, they're out there in space and they've been friends all these years. Don't you think they'd, you know, mind meld every now and then, as friends?"

    The other seemed so sincere about it. Hutch tried to follow along. "Starsky, I thought mind melds were for gaining information from people who didn't want to give it, or couldn't for some reason. That kind of thing."

    "Yeah, but that can't be the reason Vulcans invented mild melds. I mean, in the one where Spock was supposed to get married, they mention that the male and his bride-to-be 'touch thoughts' when they're engaged as children. I figure it's like it can be a special thing... an intimacy thing."

    "Then why would Kirk and Spock do it?"

    "Well, you know, because Spock's a Vulcan, and he doesn't go around touching people.... And because Kirk's the captain and has to keep a certain distance from his crew.... It just seems to me that maybe they'd have this special 'place' where their friendship is. They couldn't... well, you know, be friends the way you and I are. Kirk can't go around patting Spock on the back or whatever. So, maybe, when they're alone together or somethin', they kind of mind-meld, and that's how they enjoy being 'together'. That's how they... well, love each other, I guess."

    Hutch thought it all sounded very twisted and complicated. But it seemed important to Starsky that those fictional characters have that special place. "I think that's a nice thought. Sure, it could be true, if they really existed."

    Starsky relaxed more against his partner. "Did you like the movie, Hutch?"

    "Sure," the other replied with enthusiasm. "There was lots of action, and good characters, and poignant moments. And humor. Ricardo Montalban was really good."

    "Yeah. I don't know how he ever got stuck on a dumb show like Fantasy Island."

    "Hey, he's an actor and it's steady work. Besides, I kinda like that show. It's good to let your imagination go every once in awhile. Really, it's no dumber than Star Trek."

    Starsky tilted his head back again so Hutch could see him roll his eyes. He shifted, the elbow of his right arm bearing down on the blond's crotch.

    "Starsky, move your elbow," Hutch said firmly, pushing it. "It's on my groin."

    "Huh? Oh." Starsky shifted again, rolling so that part of his back and left side was resting against Hutch's body.

    Relieved, the blond let his left hand furrow in Starsky's hair. Damn, it did feel good to be so close like this, so relaxed.... His right arm stretched to reach for his beer on the coffee table. He touched it with his fingertips, and was able to encourage it closer along the table until he was able to pick it up. He noticed that Starsky's beer and the food remained untouched.


    The blond took his first sip. "Hm?"

    "What are we gonna do?"

    "Do? Do about what?"

    He felt a feeble shrug. "About us. About the future."

    Pale lashes blinked as Hutch leaned closer to the dark head. "What?"

    "Well, you know, we've both been so sure for so many years that we'd never live to see our pensions. We're thirty-five now. And we're both still alive." Another shrug. "I'm startin' to think that maybe we could live to see retirement."

    Hutch had to smile. "I guess I am, too. But I still don't understand what you're asking."

    "Well... shouldn't we start planning?" The dark head tilted to look back at him again. "I mean, for starters, do you want to live in an apartment the rest of your life? I don't."

    Intrigued, the blond quietly asked, "Where do you want to live instead?"

    "A house, maybe. Or at least a condo. Somewhere that's ours. I'm sick of paying rent to a landlord. Makes me feel like I've never gotten ahead in my life."

    Hutch had barely heard the last two sentences. "Ours?"

    "Well...," Starsky trailed off, as though he'd lost the courage to say what was on his mind. Then he sighed heavily, now with determination. "Hutch, haven't you ever thought that it's a bit ridiculous for us to be living in two separate apartments?"

    "Not really," the blond replied honestly. "Why is it ridiculous?"

    There was the impatience again, for a foot burrowed restlessly against the sofa. "Because we spend most of our time at your place or mine, together. What do we need two separate places for? It's twice the rent, twice the utilities...."

    "But it does give us each privacy when we need it."

    "Yeah, and whenever one of us feels like being alone, we usually end up calling each other and ending up together, anyway. Shit, Hutch, I bet you've slept on my couch almost as many times as you've slept in your own bed. And vice versa."

    Hutch cocked his head to one side, thinking about it. If it wasn't the truth, it was probably close. His fingers, still entwined in the hair, gently massaged the scalp.

    "I mean," Starsky went on, "it just seems like it'd be... natural. And we wouldn't waste so much time driving to each other's place."

    With his other arm, which was still around his partner, Hutch pulled the smaller man tighter against him. "Just like that?" he asked doubtfully.

    "Well, we'd have to find a place first, where we're going to live. I think we should buy something."

    "Starsky, that takes money."

    "We've got money," the other stated firmly. "And we could have a lot more, you know, if we were careful. Lots of people do okay on less money than we make. And if we pool our money together...."

    Hutch was both impressed and amused by the plans. "When you say be more careful, are you talking about making less trips to Seven-Eleven for junk food?"

    The other refused to be teased. His head tilted back again. "Well, yeah, for starters. If we made an effort to eat at home more often... bought groceries, planned things ahead of time, we'd probably do okay. And if we only had one house payment, paid utilities for one house or condo... well, that alone would save us lots of money."

    Hutch couldn't argue with the logic, though he did feel a twinge of regret at the idea of leaving his own apartment. He'd grown attached to it, even if it was getting old and falling apart. But he felt it was his responsibility to remain practical. "I still think it would cost more than you think. Especially buying one in the first place. There's all the start up and loan costs."

    "Then the sooner we start saving for those things, the sooner we'll have the money to do it."

    "Ah, Starsk," Hutch breathed regretfully, "what are you going to do when you get married and have a family? Throw me out?"

    There was a pause. Then the other said, "I don't think I'm going to be getting married or having a family."

    Hutch's mouth dropped open. Then, "Starsky, you've always wanted to get married and have a family."

    "I used to." A lame shrug. Then a hesitant, "It just doesn't seem that important anymore, Hutch."

    Curiously, the blond asked, "Why not?"

    The reply was quiet. "It's just not important." Starsky seemed to realize Hutch needed him to elaborate. "It's like -- it's like it would be a lie."

    Hutch had to remember to breathe. "How so?"

    "How could I marry someone who wasn't the most important person in my life?" Before Hutch had a chance to respond, Starsky tilted his head back. "You're the most important, Hutch. That's all there is to it."

    The blond looked away, fingers releasing the hair. "Starsky, I don't want you giving up your dreams for me."

    "I'm not giving up my dreams," the other replied. "My dreams have changed, that's all." Then, gently, "We're good together, Hutch. We always have been. Sure, we've been through ups and downs, but we get along. Really love each other deep down, where it counts. I don't want to give that up for a pretty face and curves." He paused. "A pretty face and curves that masks all the hollowness inside."

    Hutch was silent, not knowing what to say. He felt he should be flattered, but was too afraid of taking his partner's well meaning words too much to heart. After a long moment, he said, "Maybe you're giving up too soon, pal. Just because you haven't found the right woman yet doesn't mean she isn't out there. Some people don't find the right person until they're in the forties, even their fifties. Remember Matt Harrison? You'd thought he was over the hill, then he fell in love and got married and it's -- "

    "That's not the point, Hutch." The words were quiet, foreboding.

    The blond closed his mouth.

    Starsky shifted, grunting softly as he rolled over onto his stomach, his elbows resting on either side of the blond, scooting back so his head was level with the other's chest. But he didn't lay it there. Instead, he looked up at his partner. "You've never been a substitute, or a stand-in, until something better comes along. You've been the best that's ever come along."

    Hutch had to look away again. The yearning to believe was so strong, but the fear of believing was even stronger.

    "You promise not to laugh if I tell you something really strange?"

    The words were so vulnerable that Hutch's head whipped back to face the man who ducked his eyes shyly. Now Starsky did rest his head against the blond's partially bare chest.

    Hutch couldn't imagine what Starsky was going to say. But the old desire to protect was there, and he placed both hands behind the dark head, fingers intertwining with the curls. "I promise."

    A hesitant swallow. "I haven't done it in eight months."

    The blond's brows came together in puzzlement. It was a moment before he was even sure what "it" was. Then he was battered with surprise. "You haven't?"

    Starsky chuckled self-consciously. "Hard to believe, huh?"

    "Yeah." Now concern was competing with surprise. Hutch tilted his head down. "Starsk, why?"

    An elaborate shrug. "It just... I don't know, seemed kind of pointless all of a sudden. I started feeling guilty the morning after, because I knew nothing would ever come of it. And I felt bad for using whomever I was sleeping with." A pause, then, "It's not that I decided not to do it, or anything; it's just I realized one day that over a month had gone by. Then two months. Then three." Now his voice was colored by puzzlement. "And I didn't even miss it all that much."

    Surely, Starsky hadn't really used those women. Hutch had always known his partner to be gentle and honest. He wouldn't lead a lady on with pretenses. But Hutch himself wasn't interested in discussing that aspect of the revelation. Instead, he asked, "So you want us to buy a house together and live like monks?"

    Hesitantly, the other replied, "Not necessarily."

    Hutch blinked, looking down at the compact body resting against him. So trusting. So deprived. Now, seemingly so intent on reaching for... something that was still being defined. Though he felt his own heart beat with fear -- or anticipation? -- the blond prompted, "Meaning what?"

    There was a long silence. Then Starsky shifted his head so he could look down at the carpet, over the edge of the sofa. Then a plaintive, "I'd do anything for you, Hutch. Anything you ever asked of me, I'd do it."

    The words had such an aura of importance about them. Hutch tried to bring them to a more manageable level. Carefully, he said, "All I'm asking now is for you to explain what you're talking about."

    Abruptly Starsky sat up, putting distance between them as he took a place in the center of the sofa, Hutch's feet having automatically dropped to the floor. The blond straightened as well, though still leaning back on the sofa's arm, and regarded the smaller man with concern. And it was hard not to notice the chill hitting his own upper body, where such warmth had lain for so long a time.

    Starsky's hands created a tight fist that rested in his lap. His head was bowed, as his eyes stared at the fist.

    Hutch waited, not daring to think.

    After a time, there was a difficult swallow from the middle of the couch. "All those women over the years... I never needed them for anything but the sex."

    Back to that. Firmly, Hutch reminded, "That's all they needed you for, too, buddy. It's a two-way street. I know you didn't lead any of them on." He couldn't help but gently add, "And I know you truly loved some of them."

    "A few of them," Starsky corrected. "But, even them...," he trailed off, swallowing thickly. After a moment, he continued, "They didn't give anything you couldn't give, except the sex."

    Hutch lowered his eyes. He knew Starsky had really loved Terry, and had thought he'd loved Rosie Malone. Had genuinely cared for a handful of others. "It doesn't need to be a contest, Starsk." He sipped from his warm beer.

    "It's not," the other replied bluntly. Then he finally looked at Hutch. "I'm just trying to make the point that all I need women for is sex. So, it's kind of dumb to be thinking about marriage and stuff like that when I only need them for that one thing." His eyes gazed determinedly at his partner's. "You meet all the other needs."

    Hutch gazed back, not certain where Starsky was headed. But his next words were automatic, as was their softness. "There's nothing I wouldn't do for you." It wasn't until after he'd spoken that he realized he was repeating a promise that Starsky had already vowed.

    The other man shrugged in a See? manner. Then he shifted once more, dropped his eyes a moment, and very quietly said, "So, that's why I'm thinking that maybe... when the need was there... we could maybe each do the other a favor every now and then. Maybe."

    Hutch closed his eyes, making himself acknowledge the significance of the moment, though he had no idea what lay beyond it. He wanted to hold Starsky again, be close while they talked about this, but was too afraid of how being close might affect what they said to each other.

    "You could still see women, Hutch. I don't want to take that away from you."

    Now the closed eyes squeezed shut. After all these years, Hutch still hadn't reached the limits of his partner's generosity. That well of kindness, sweetness, and innocence seemed never-ending. "What about you?" he forced out, telling himself he wasn't really as choked up as his voice sounded.

    "I don't think I want to see any more women," came the quiet reply. "What would be the point?"

    Hutch opened his eyes, gazing at his partner through narrow lids. He'd never been everything to anyone before. Oh, he and Vanessa had made all the vows and promises, but their marriage had quickly proved to be a farce. In retrospect, it was amazing that they'd both suffered two years trying to keep it patched together.

    He knew there was no farce in Starsky's words. They'd had eleven years of trust. The trust had been dented, with incidents like what happened with Kira, but the armor still held... was eventually repaired, the scar tissue making it all the stronger.

    And, yet, even as he knew that, Hutch realized with panic that his most dominant instinct was to run. Run away as far as he could. For no one was worthy of what Starsk offered.

    But he also wanted to believe it with a desperation that in itself was alarming.

    Hutch wrapped his arms around himself, tightly, squeezed his eyes shut, and tried to chase the panic away.

    "Hey." That soft, gentle, worried voice. He felt the strong, masculine hands reach for him, settle on his upper arms. "Hey, I'm not tryin' to force ya into anything, buddy."

    "I know," he managed to squeak out. Had he really been the parent in their relationship all those years?

    A gentle squeeze. "Hey, tell me what you're thinkin'. Don't hide from me, pal."

    He'd never been able to deny what the other wanted, despite all the years when his stubborn ego had insisted on saying "No" when his actions said "Yes". It was amazing that the other had been able to tolerate him for so long.

    They had always counted on truth. In fact, Hutch realized with a mixture of relief and alarm, he didn't know how else to answer. Almost gasping, he managed, "I want it, Starsk. I want it. But I'm so afraid."

    "Of me?" Disbelief.

    He hated himself all the more for causing his friend to ask. "Of your love."


    Hutch blinked, and finally opened his eyes. He found himself looking into that open, concerned, puzzled expression. His arms began to relax a little around his middle, and Hutch thought he could breathe a little easier. He blinked again, having no answer.

    A thumb reached up and stroked across his chin. "I've loved you all these years. What's there to be afraid of?"

    Such an honest question. And some part of Hutch responded before his mind had a chance to formulate a reply. "Losing it," he whispered.

    Warm hands were placed on his cheeks. A deep, tender voice reasoned, "You've never lost it before."

    "Uh-uh," he admitted.

    "Then why would you lose it now?" Starsky shifted a little, but maintained his hold. Gently, he said, "Hutch, what possible thing could you say or do that would make me not love you?"

    Hutch looked toward the far wall, trying to think of an answer. He realized he couldn't find a direct one, so settled on a broader definition. He reached out and stroked back through Starsky's hair. "You give so much of yourself. I'm afraid that, some day, you're going to give me everything, and then there's not going to be anything left of you anymore." He blinked away the moisture in his eyes and shook his head once. "Nothing's worth that."

    Starsky almost seemed amused. "You think you're going to swallow me up and devour me?"

    Hutch could only manage a nod. "Something like that."

    The piercing gaze pinned him now, refusing to waver. "You must want me pretty bad, to be thinking like that."

    Hutch could only stare back at him, breathing heavily, wanting the other to see him for what he was.

    Starsky's gaze softened, and his voice was more casual. "It's kind of hard to object to being loved that much... so much that someone wants to devour you."

    It sounded funny the way Starsky said it, and Hutch had to glance away; still, a mouth corner twitched. "I'm serious."

    "So'm I."

    Hutch looked back. "I destroy the people I love, pal."

    The other sighed with a heavy breath. "Hutch, I've been under the impression that you've loved me more than anyone the past eleven years. And I'm still alive and well, mostly thanks to you."

    Hutch lowered his eyes, realizing now there were no words to describe his fear.

    Starsky's brows drew together thoughtfully. "Hutch, if it's the sex thing scarin' you, just say so. I don't want to do it if you don't."

    "It doesn't bother me," Hutch answered quickly, shaking his head. He was taking another quick sip of beer when he paused, realizing what he'd just said. The answer had come without thought. And then some part of him began to relax, realizing how true it was.

    "Then start making' sense or I'm gonna get very annoyed with you."

    "Maybe there's no sense to it," the blond whispered thoughtfully. "It's just fear, that's all. Really, how can something as good as what we've got be made even better? It doesn't seem possible."

    Starsky thought about. Then, "I'm not saying it would make it better. I'm just saying that we could turn to each other for...," a bashful shrug, "those needs, rather than going outside our friendship."

    Hutch shook his head firmly now, realizing what was wrong with his partner's thinking. "There's got to be a better reason than that. I'm not going to fuck you by default." He smiled a little, trying to take the sting out of the bluntness of the words.

    Those sapphire blue eyes turned on him with full force of the person that was portrayed within. Quietly, Starsky said, "Then make love to me because you love me."

    Hutch couldn't answer, though he knew that he'd probably never loved this man more than at that particular moment.

    "I know I can make love to you," the other reasoned. "I know I can. I love you that much. I mean," a shrug, "that's what makin' love is for, right? To show the person you love how much you love them."

    The intimacy and confidence of the other's voice was disconcerting to one who was accustomed to usually having all the answers. Hutch quickly grasped at a straw that would provide distance. "What happened to the man who was shocked by the discovery of the kind of man John Blaine was?"

    Starsky's mouth parted, eyes darting about as though trying to interpret just exactly what his partner was asking.

    The blond assisted, shifting to lean forward, eager to make his point. "It'll make us just like him, Starsk," he warned. "People will get suspicious, talk behind our backs, call us names. We could lose our jobs if anyone found out the truth."

    "No one's going to find out," Starsky replied firmly. "And even if they do, so what? You think I can just turn it off -- not love you -- because it's going to bother somebody? No way. Uh-uh. If rotten things happen to us, we'll just have to stick it out. It can't be all that difficult, if we're together." The harsh edge disappeared. "We've beaten everything else, Hutch. And... well, I don't exactly look at the world with rose-colored glasses anymore. I know there's a lot of ugliness out there. But I also know what I want, what's important, what makes life -- at least my life -- worth living. It's never been a secret, Hutch, that we'd die for each other. If we're willin' ta do that, then how can we not... you know, love each other the way we want, because we're afraid of what people might think? We're stronger than that, Hutch."

    It was a brave speech, but the blond was still more interested in the more personal aspect of the problem. With disbelief -- and curiosity -- he asked, "You think you can just turn gay without a backwards glance? Without driving yourself crazy inside wondering how you ever got that way?"

    "Who says either of us is turning gay?" The tone carried a hint of impatience. "I don't care what kind of label you want to put on it. Dammit, Hutch, I love you. Period. I've loved you for years. It's not like I wasn't gay years ago, and suddenly today, because I'm ready to sleep with you, I'm all of a sudden gay." He stopped abruptly and his eyes narrowed. Timidly, he asked, "Do you think just sleeping with one person of your own sex makes you gay?"

    It was such a serious question that Hutch might have laughed in different circumstances. But he gave the subject some thought, because he was hardly an expert, but he wanted to help Starsky think it through... and help himself as well. Finally, he shrugged. "I don't think most people see it as a quantity thing. I mean, if you only do it with one person, why would that make you not-gay?"

    Starsky considered the answer a bare second, then quickly shook his head. "This is a stupid conversation."

    And he was the one who had started it, Hutch realized guiltily. Gently, he clarified, "Starsky, I just want to be sure that you understand all the ramifications. We do live in this society, regardless of how badly we may want to reject some of its bigotry. Loving each other isn't going to make us immune to any persecution. I just want to make sure you -- we -- can handle it."

    The response quick and firm. "I can handle it, Hutch. Can you?"

    The blond heard the words behind the question: Am I worth it to you?

    And it was such a ridiculous question. He'd only wanted to sidetrack them, to get his fear of having this man who was everything become even more, under control. And his heart started beating more quickly, and he realized that it wasn't from fear. And the rest of his internal organs seemed to be melting into mush.

    A thought occurred, and for a moment Hutch wanted to keep it all to himself. But honesty had always served them well. Besides, he wanted to share it. "You know what?" he asked as he ran a finger around the opening of his beer. It was almost too warm to drink, but he took a sip anyway.

    "What?" The question was a touch wary.

    "Every once in a while, in all these years we've been together, the thought's been there," Hutch gestured to his temple, "in the back of my mind. But every time it appeared, I pushed it right back. I never allowed myself, even privately, to cross that line. Never."

    "Why not?"

    Hutch shrugged, spreading his hands. "Fear. Not so much from how you would react," he added softly, just now realizing it, "but that once we crossed it, there would probably be no going back. And everything we had together -- all that friendship and warmth and caring and trusting and playfulness and love -- was too much to risk." He looked up, taking another sip. "It wasn't worth the risk."

    This time the question was definitely wary. "And you think it's still not?"

    The taller man tilted his head thoughtfully, feeling all soft inside. "There isn't any risk anymore. Our friendship is way beyond," he gestured with an arm, "that stage. Not that it couldn't ever be destroyed," he put in, thinking out loud, "if, you know, we both just quit caring. But," his voice regained its softness, "I can't see that ever happening. And I know if... if we sleep together and it turns out to be a big mistake... I know it'll be all right. It won't destroy what we've already built."

    Starsky's eyes narrowed, a brightness in them. "Does that mean you're not afraid anymore?"

    Hutch shrugged, snorting bashfully. "I guess I talked myself out of the fear." Now he definitely did feel bashful, and he ducked his head. "Sorry I had to take the long way around to say 'yes'."

    But Starsky was smiling at him, the expression full of warmth. And now a firm headshake. "Don't apologize for being you."

    The blond had known something like that was coming. "Right." But he still felt shy, and finished off the final sip of beer, before setting it on the coffee table. As he did so, he realized his hand was trembling.

    Only one solution for that. He reached out. "Come 'ere."

    The lop-sided grin widened, and Starsky raised off the couch just enough to move nearer to his partner. As he let the outstretched arms take him in hand, he settled against the longer body, sighing softly when the legs stretched out on the couch beneath him.

    "Oh, yeah, right there," Hutch approved in a whisper, as the curly head settled against his chest. "Ah, yeah, this is perfect. Just perfect." He had one arm settled across the back of the shoulders. With his other hand, he rubbed slowly at the clothed, lower back.

    Starsky's arms wrapped around the other's middle, and he made noises of contentment.

    For half a minute, neither spoke.



    "I'm serious about getting a place together."

    "I know," came the soft reply. "Maybe if things aren't too hectic tomorrow, we can stop and talk to a bank about what it's going to take to get into something. We can start looking around for a place, too."

    Starsky nodded against him. Then, "Hutch?"


    "We have work tomorrow, you know."


    "It's past midnight."

    "I know," Hutch replied drowsily reply. "We'll sleep right here. 'M not moving and neither are you."

    A gentle snort. "'Kay."

    This time the silence lasted for nearly a minute. Then, "Starsky?"

    The curly head raised slightly, for the question had been spoken in a more alert voice. "What?"

    "You aren't planning on waiting until we move in together before... you know... are you?"

    The reply was amused. "I've gone eight months without it. What's a few more?"

    His voice was definitely awake now. "Well, I've gone some three months without it, and I'm definitely not waiting a few more."

    Starsky snorted. "Really?"


    A thoughtful grunt. "Hm."

    Hutch brushed a finger along Starsky's lips. So many years together... and now this. He searched within himself, trying to find the fear again, but couldn't. There was only the love. The love that had been there all this time, growing stronger and stronger.

    He tilted the chin up. Though the eyes remained closed, Starsky wasn't trying to pull away. In fact, he almost seemed to be smiling.

    Heart fluttering, Hutch bent his head. Slowly, he leaned down. He didn't close his eyes until he felt the faint contact of soft flesh on soft flesh. He paused, savoring it, then brushed the fragile layers of flesh against each other. Finally, he pressed a little more firmly. His heart accelerated to a measurable degree, and he thought he might start to float.

    But he wanted to see the other's reaction, and he pulled back.

    The dark eyelashes fluttered. Then sky blue eyes were staring into his. Softly, almost sleepily, his partner said, "Feels kinda natural, doesn't it?"

    So much it almost hurts, pal. But in answer, Hutch lowered his head again. He still kept the touch gentle, testing the waters, and his partner gave no sign indicating a wish for anything firmer. In fact, Starsky lay completely still, except for having placed a hand on Hutch's arm.

    Hutch waited until he needed to breathe. Then he pulled back.

    "Hutch?" Serious now.

    The blond's eyes were partially closed. "Hm?"

    "We really should get some sleep tonight. But... tomorrow...."

    "Yeah?" Hutch didn't know if he were pleased or disappointed to be putting it off. Starsky was right, of course. If they did anything tonight, they'd be up all night.

    Now the other's voice was a touch shy. "I think tomorrow, right after work, we should come here -- or go to your place, it doesn't matter -- and... and...."

    Hutch smiled with tender amusement. "And spend all evening in bed?"


    The blond sighed. "It'll be hard getting through the day."

    The other's grin was downright wicked. "Yeah."

    Hutch smirked. "Okay." He suspected it was only in the next eighteen or so hours that he was going to learn the true meaning of the word "anticipation". It would make tomorrow evening that much more special.

    "Want me to get the lights?"

    "Yeah, but I don't want you to move."

    Abruptly, Starsky was on his feet. "Come on," he pulled on an arm, "we'll be much more comfortable in bed. Sleep much better, too."

    His partner was right, of course. Hutch sat up and pulled off his shoes while Starsky trotted about the apartment, shutting down the few lights. The grocery sack sat untouched on the coffee table, as did Starsky's beer. They'd keep. The blond smiled, thinking they could still have the ice cream bars tomorrow. Starsky would appreciate that little surprise, especially as a break from....

    Hutch shook his head as he unbuttoned his shirt. He really had no idea exactly what they were going to do tomorrow. He wondered if Starsky did. In a way, he'd like to think they'd take it slow and easy, just sort of fool around the first few times. But he also knew there was no reason to restrain themselves. The love was there, fear almost non-existent.

    Hutch stepped out of his jeans, recognizing that a peace had been developing within him throughout most of the evening, ever since they'd come here. Even when the fear had been most poignant, the peace had been there, waiting in the wings.

    He only had to let it free.

    "Hey, you comin'?"

    Hutch started, realizing he'd been standing next to the couch, holding his jeans, staring into darkness.

    A hand reached up, gently brushed at his eyes, as though knowing it would find moisture there. He was grateful the voice wasn't overly concerned when it whispered, "Whatsamatter?"

    Hutch bowed his head. "Nothing." And realized it was the greatest truth he'd ever spoken.

    There was silence, and he knew Starsky was waiting for more.

    Let it free, he told himself. Let it free.

    Hutch reached to the silhouette inches away. He wrapped his arms around it, squeezing tight, then lifted it a few inches off the floor.

    "Hey," Starsky chuckled.

    His back wasn't as strong as it used to be, and Hutch had to set his partner's feet back on the floor moments later. But he continued to hold him, squeezing, both arms crossed at the other's back, both hands kneading into the thick hair.

    Hutch pressed his face against the strong neck. "I love you," he whispered. "I love you so much." He allowed himself a breath. "Seven, eight years ago, I loved you so much that I wouldn't have believed anyone who might have told me I could love you even more. But I do. I do." The arms squeezed harder.

    The body twisted slightly, and Hutch finally relaxed his hold. Starsky leaned back on a supporting arm, looking up at him.

    A hand came up and stroked along the mustache. Soothingly, the smaller man whispered, "S'okay. It's okay." The hand moved up Hutch's face, to the forehead. Gently, it stroked along there, fingers eventually drifted back to the hair. There, they stroked some more.

    Hutch let out a heavy breath, loving the feel of the stroking hands, wondering if going to bed together could really add anything to this.

    We've been making love to each other for years... in every way except sexually. It really is no big deal. Such a natural step....

    He kissed the arm draped across his face. Then, casually, "Ready for some sleep?"

    Starsky seemed to understand that whatever Hutch may have been feeling, it was all right now. He took his partner's hand, leading him to the bedroom.

    Once there, Starsky started to strip. Hutch, only in his briefs, got between the covers. He really was tired, and the bed felt good.

    Starsky was in briefs and a t-shirt when he joined his partner. Immediately, he rolled onto his side, away from Hutch, which the blond knew was the smaller man's favorite sleeping position.

    Hutch scooted behind the curled form, spooning himself around it. He placed a hand on the back of Starsky's head, wrapped his other arm around the broad chest. After a moment, he realized his groin was against the firmness of the other's buttocks. But it was happy there, behaving itself. And it was not like he'd never slept curled around Starsky like this. There had been many times of such closeness, purely for the purpose of healing. His groin had always behaved then, too.

    A child-like voice penetrated the darkness. "Hutch?"


    "Do you think Kirk and Spock ever made love to each other?"

    Hutch blinked slowly. Was it really tonight that they had seen The Wrath of Khan? All those tears from his partner. It seemed like a million years ago.

    "Do you?" the voice persisted.

    It was on the tip of the blond's tongue to explain, once again, that they were only fictional characters. But that would be a waste of time. Gently, he replied, "Apparently, you think so."

    "I'd like to think so," Starsky emphasized.

    "So, what's stopping you from thinking that?"

    "Nothin'. I just wanted to know if you think it's possible."

    "They loved each other a lot," Hutch noted. He shrugged. "And I'd tend to think, since it's centuries from now, that those sorts of prejudices don't exist. So, they probably wouldn't have to hide it as much."

    "I think Kirk could teach Spock a lot about love."

    Hutch felt his chest swell, loving the gentleness that was so much a part of his partner. Tenderly, he said, "I think that he probably taught Spock a lot about love, anyway, regardless of whether or not they slept together."

    "Yeah," Starsky drawled thoughtfully. "You know, with mind melding an' all, I bet if they did it, that it could be really... you know, different. Special."

    Hutch had to take a moment to sort it out. "You mean, like, they'd mind meld while they... made love?"

    "Yeah. Then they'd be joined in mind as well as body."

    Hutch only grunted, not sure being mentally connected with another human being would be such a nirvana. After all, human beings had to keep some parts of themselves just for themselves. But he didn't want to argue, especially not tonight.

    "I hate that fucking glass, Hutch."

    The blond had to take a breath. There was no grief now, only anger. "The one that separated them?"

    "Yeah. Spock died all alone. They didn't hafta do it like that."

    Hutch wasn't sure what comfort he was supposed to offer. It was a moment before he replied, saying the only thing that had any chance of making it all better... at least for the night. "I didn't die, Starsk. And I was never alone. Not in the hospital, not when I got out. Not now. The most alone I've ever been was before I met you."

    Now the other's voice almost contained amusement. "Yeah. Same here."



    "Go to sleep. Okay?"

    The hand that was around Starsky was firmly squeezed, then patted. Hutch waited, and after a minute of silence, finally started to relax. He closed his eyes.

    And the only dream he had was of crumbling glass.

The End

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