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The Torino fishtailed to a halt. Even as Hutch jumped from the passenger side he felt a stab of frustration. Their suspect, Herman Nevelle, was sprinting toward an alley in the darkness. They had chased him in his Capri for miles, and seconds before Nevelle had abandoned the vehicle and resorted to running. This was an industrial section of town, where it was dark and quiet, especially with midnight nearing.

"Dammit!" Starsky muttered, starting to sprint after his partner.

"I'll go around back!" Hutch assured, knowing voicing it was probably unnecessary. It looked as if there was only one building Nevelle could have headed for; and he and Starsky would close in, separately, but work together as the most unified of teams.

The quiet surrounded them as Hutch ran in the direction opposite his partner, his weapon drawn. He couldn't see anything moving, but sensed they were on the right track.

He had traveled perhaps a couple of hundred yards when he heard his partner yelling, "He's headed your way!"

So, Nevelle had changed tactics and was now heading toward another building closer to Hutch. The blond tightened his grip on his weapon.

A shot rang out. In the distance. Slightly muffled. It sounded like it was coming from the wrong direction from where Nevelle should be.

A cry of pain was heard.

Hutch wasn't sure, but it could have been his partner.

His heart rate increased. "STARSKY?" Hairs pricked on the back of his neck. All was quiet and he no longer knew where the danger was.

Heart beating faster at the lack of response, he trotted toward the building where Starsky had originally headed. His eyes darted about the other structures and shadows in the area.

He was just about to call Starsky's name again when he heard an explosion. Hutch dived to the ground, covering his head, feeling the earth vibrate beneath him.

He was far enough away that only a sprinkling of debris fell about him. It wasn't as loud as explosions he'd been near in the past, but powerful and potentially deadly nevertheless.

Hutch raised his head.

Two buildings down, the structure where Starsky had been headed had buckled at one corner. The entrance looked blocked.

Trap. Nevelle had lured Starsky in. Dear God.

Hutch ran toward it.

Dust was still settling as he reached the rubble. "STARSKY!" He tore at the chunks of wood and concrete. "Starsky!" He holstered his gun, hoping Nevelle and anyone who had assisted would be long gone by now.

He used both hands, clawing at the debris. Only one corner of the building had been affected. That meant hope. "STARSKY!"

Quick footsteps behind him. Hutch swung around.

A man was running toward him, his hand on the gun holstered to his hip. He was wearing a hat. Stripes on his pants. Security guard.

"I'm with LAPD. Give me a hand," Hutch beckoned, turning back to the rubble.

"What the hell happened?" the guard asked breathlessly, kneeling to assist.

"I think my partner's in there. We were chasing a suspect."

"Plainclothes?" The man, who had black skin, glanced at him.

"Yeah. Pardon me if I don't show you my badge." Together, they pulled away a large chunk of cement. "STARSKY!!"


The blond's heart jump-started. The voice sounded near. "Starsky? I'm right here, buddy. We're getting you out. You okay?"

The voice was casual. "Yeah. Nothing fell on me. Just can't see a way out; there's stuff all over."

Relief flooded the blond's system. "Just hang on. There can't be much else to move." He should call for help. But he didn't want neither him nor the guard to slow their progress. Plus, Starsky's voice sounded so near.

Then Hutch remembered the gunshot. "Starsk?"


"You... okay?"

The other seemed to know what Hutch was getting at. "I got shot." His voice was calm. Overly so.

Chills went up the back of Hutch's neck. He dug more frantically. The security guard did as well.

Hutch wanted to know how bad it was. But he was afraid to ask. "Almost there," he called in assurance and hoped it was true.

It was. The debris was clearing away, revealing that only the entrance had been blocked, leaving a large pocket of that corner of the building untouched by the explosion.

When there was a big enough opening, Hutch stuck his arm through it. "Starsk, can you see me?"

"Yeah." There was a hint of relief in the voice that sounded to Hutch's left.

The two men intensified their efforts to free Starsky. As the last necessary chunk of concrete was pulled away, leaving a tunnel large enough to slip through, the guard scrambled to his feet. "I'll get help."

"Thanks." Hutch dove through the opening that was a couple of feet wide. He felt his side scrape against wood. His head emerged into a room, the far side of which was undamaged enough that a nightlight still operated on the opposite wall.

There was his partner, sitting beneath the light. He was resting with his back against the concrete wall, his left hand pressed against his lower right side, near his flank. He watched without reaction as Hutch dragged the rest of his body through the opening.

"Hang on," Hutch panted, getting to his feet.

It wasn't until Hutch straightened that he saw his partner's eyes. There was pain there. Worse, there was also fear.

Starsky was perhaps twenty feet away. And with each giant stride, Hutch saw the rugged features soften, the eyes grow more bright. When the blond was close enough to touch, Starsky let his first gasp of pain emerge.

"Ah, partner, let's take a look," Hutch said as he knelt next to his friend, who was now taking sharp breaths.

Starsky's hand covered the wound, but Hutch could see blood dripping beneath it. He didn't dare disturb the pressure that Starsky was already applying.

A soft cry escaped from Starsky's lips, and Hutch glanced up to see his partner squeeze his eyes shut. The blond's nerves turned to liquid while his stomach experienced the sharp pain of despair.

"Hang on," he soothed. "Help's on the way." He could only guess from the way his partner was holding his hand that the bullet had hit Starsky in the intestine. It was always difficult to determine how much damage was done with such an injury, but he knew it could be bad. Very bad.

He felt Starsky's free hand grab his thigh, squeeze it. Hutch straightened enough to remove his jacket. "Hang on, partner, hang on." He unsnapped his holster and flung it aside. Then he quickly unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off.

"Take it easy, partner. Take it easy." His heart beat faster as he listened to Starsky's harsh breathing. He rolled his shirt to simulate a bandage. "Buddy, I want you to keep your hand right where it is, and I'll put this over it." He wanted to say something positive. "You've got good pressure on that. It looks like the bleeding is under control."

A sharp gasp was the only response.

He bent and carefully put the shirt behind Starsky, then brought the ends together around his middle, wrapping it around Starsky's hand in the process. Hutch hesitated, then pulled the shirt snug.

Starsky whimpered and his other hand tightened on Hutch's leg

"Easy, easy," Hutch pleaded. He concentrated on the task before him and tied the ends of the shirt.

When he straightened, he made a point of not frowning at the tormented look in Starsky's eyes… the brightness of pain and fear.

"Here, partner," he whispered, taking the hand on his thigh, "hang onto me." He took Starsky's hand and inserted his partner's fingers into his jeans, letting the palm grip the edge of the denim. "Just hold on right there. Help's coming."

Just as he spoke, there was a noise from outside. "Officer?" He recognized the voice of the security guard.

"Yeah?" Hutch called.

"The ambulance is on the way. You need me to come in there?"

"No," Hutch called back. "Help them clear away the rubble."


"Hear that, pal?" Hutch said softly as he settled next his partner. He could feel heat radiating off the other. "Help's coming. Just hang on a little longer."

There was a tight, indrawn breath. "Really hurts," Starsky gasped in a trembling voice.

"Ah, partner." Hutch placed a hand on Starsky's shoulder and gently rubbed with his fingers. What his partner needed was distraction. "Nevelle set us up, huh? Lured you into coming in here so he could set off the bomb?"

"Hutch?" The word was choked, fearful.

"Yeah, pal. I'm right here." He instinctively inched closer.

Starsky turned to look at him. Face pinched, he managed, "What if this is it?"

"What?" Hutch returned with the hint of a laugh. He felt like a tunnel was expanding out in front of him, separating himself from reality. "You're gonna be fine."

"Hurts so much."

The fear was so prominent in the other's eyes. Hutch swallowed, but before he could speak, Starsky gasped, "Maybe this is it."

"No, it's not it," the blond said firmly. He had always believed that people knew when they were dying. He'd witnessed death too many times. And whenever any of the dying were conscious, they always knew the end was near.

So why didn't he believe Starsky? he wondered. Because Starsky was afraid that he was dying, but he didn't know that he was. A lifetime of difference.

"Starsk," he squeezed the tense shoulder, just now noticing the beads of sweat on the other's forehead, "you're gonna be fine. The ambulance is almost here." He wondered if, this time, things wouldn't go as they had in the past. Maybe he was mistaken. Maybe he should be thinking of his last words to Starsky. The image popped into mind of Starsky taking his last breath while he stubbornly refused to believe it, and missed the opportunity to say all that needed to be said.

But speaking words of finality would be acknowledging that death was at hand.


"If I don't make it," Starsky began haltingly, panting with effort, his eyelids barely open, "just know th--"

"Starsky, you'll make it," Hutch insisted, detecting the fear in his own voice. "It's not time yet, partner." Then, more gently, "Not time yet." His fingers squeezed the shoulder. With his other hand, he brushed at the dampness along Starsky's forehead. "We go out together, or we don't go out at all."

There was the barest hint of a grin. Then Starsky closed his eyes and spent a moment gathering strength. When they opened, he said, "I love you, Hutch."

"I love you, too, pal, but that doesn't give you permission to die on me."

"Hutch." The voice was weak, but insistent.

Obediently, Hutch shut up.

"Sometimes...." Starsky closed his eyes, drew a ragged breath. Then, "Sometimes, I love you so much I think I'm gonna burst inside."

Hutch knew that, at some later date, he would be able to appreciate what Starsky was saying. But all he knew now was fear. "You can't die, Starsk. If you love me that much," he felt his own voice choke, "you won't die on me."

"Don't want to," Starsky admitted in a whimper.

"Then don't." Sirens were screaming in the distance. "They're here, they're here. You're gonna make it."

"Hurts so much," Starsky said in a barely audible whisper.

"They're here. They're here." There was the noise of doors slamming, walkie-talkies, shouts, the shifting of rubble.

Starsky swallowed. With eyes closed, he said, "Now I gotta be strong in front of everybody."

"No, you don't," Hutch said, pressing next to his partner's arm. "I'm right here, right here." He touched the side of Starsky's face with his hand, waited until it turned to look at him. "Just focus on me. Focus on me. Let me see how much it hurts, how scared you are."

Starsky obeyed, his eyes watering almost to the point of brimming over.

"Love you so much," Hutch heard himself say. "You can't die on me. I'll die, too."

Starsky's eyes were barely open. "Just like Romeo and Juliet," he whispered.

Hutch laughed briefly, feeling some of the tension slipped away. He pressed his forehead against the other's. "You're gonna make it, pal. You gotta make it."


Thirty-six hours later, Hutch squeezed Starsky's hand. His partner had just been moved from Intensive Care into a private room, and was still weak from surgery and groggy from painkillers. Hutch sat in a chair beside his bed, grateful that the repair work had been relatively simple and the prognosis excellent. Starsky had an IV in his arm and a drainage tube in his gut, but that was standard post-surgical procedure. He was going to be fine.

"How long you been here?" Starsky whispered. He was sitting up, but his eyes were only partially open and his voice was weak.

"Maybe an hour or so," Hutch replied, exaggerating a little. He'd been there as soon as visiting hours had opened at six, and it was now past nine. "I had to wait for them to bring you from ICU." He squeezed the hand he held. "You're doing fine."

A mouth corner hinted at a bashful smile. "Thought it was the end."

"I know." Hutch lowered his eyes. He'd wondered if Starsky would remember what he'd said and be willing to talk about it, or if he'd be too embarrassed to. And he wondered if he himself might want to tease his partner about it some day. Except... they'd come so close so many times there really wasn't anything funny about being so sentimental. Hutch shifted, then decided on a more productive line of thinking. "Did your doctor explain to you about the pain you were in?" He knew the doctor had, but wondered if Starsky had been alert enough to understand any of it.

"Think so. Don't really 'member."

"The bullet ripped through your appendix and ruptured it. That's what hurt so much."

Hutch could see the thick brows furrow as Starsky absorbed the information. "Oh," was all he whispered after a moment.

The blond scooted his chair a little closer. "The good news is that they didn't have to try to repair your appendix; they just removed it. It's a pretty simple procedure. You don't need it for anything, anyway."

There was a long pause, then a casual, "My cousin had her appendix removed when she was eight."

"Right. Doctors do it all the time. You're gonna be fine, buddy. 100% in a few weeks with no after-affects."


When Hutch entered Starsky's room two days later, he found Captain Dobey standing beside his partner's bed. The black man was reading the card from one of many plants that adorned the room.

"Signed the Vehicle Maintenance Department," Dobey read, and put the card back with the greenery it accompanied. He glanced toward the door. "Hutchinson."

"Hi, Captain," the blond greeted. He smiled at the figure lying on the bed. "Hey, partner." Starsky was looking much chipper, but his surgery limited movement enough that he obviously felt too sore to delve through all the floral arrangements presented to him.

"Hm," Dobey grunted with admiration, pulling a card from an elaborate plant. "This is from Records. 'We hope you're feeling better soon.'"

Hutch approached the bed on the opposite side of Dobey. He handed Starsky a couple of magazines as he sat down. "Here's your Sports Illustrated and Hot Rod. I paid your phone bill."

"Thanks." Starsky looked at the covers.

"How you feeling today?"

"Better than yesterday." Starsky grimaced. "Still hurts if I move around at all. They made me sit up last night. Hurt like crazy."

"Hey," Hutch said, noting the lack of strapped plastic bags attached to the bed, "looks like they took the tube out of your gut."

"That hurt like crazy, too."

Dobey chuckled, holding up yet another card. "'As obnoxious as you are, we miss your bod. Get well soon.' Signed 'the ladies in the cafeteria'."

"Uh," Hutch glanced from one man to the other, "you think it's a good idea for our captain to be reading those?" In fact, now that he thought about it, he had a feeling of dread as Dobey stepped near a bouquet of roses.

"I'm just reading him his get-well wishes," Dobey said, obviously enjoying himself. Then, with relish, "Can't imagine there would be anything too personal in here, considering the way Starsky has complained his love life has been going."

"Cap'n's right," Starsky said, watching his superior. "I like hearing how much everyone loves me now that I'm not there."

"Do you blame them for loving you most when you're not around?" Hutch teased.

"Ha. Ha."

"Hm," Dobey noted, taking the card from the bouquet. "Roses."

"So," Hutch said quickly, "did the Chicago PD come up with anything more on Nevelle?"

The black man looked up, sighing. "Nothing more than what they've already told us."

Hutch tried to think of something else as a distraction, but Dobey had already pulled the card from the bouquet. Reading it silently first, he burst out laughing.

"What?" Starsky asked.

"Maybe your love life has gotten better," Dobey grinned. '"To: Romeo. From: Juliet.'"

Starsky moved as though to straighten, and ended up only stretching his neck. "What'?"

"That's what it says," Dobey insisted. "I think Hutch is right; I shouldn't be reading these." He put the card back and moved away from the flowers.

Hutch saw Starsky start to turn toward him, and he quickly looked away and studied the painting that adorned the wall next to him.

"Well, I better get going, anyway," Dobey said, picking up his coat. "Edith will have dinner on the table. See you two tomorrow."

"Thanks for coming, Cap'n," Starsky said.

"Captain," Hutch said in parting as Dobey left the room. He stood. "Think I have to use the little boy's room."

Firmly, Starsky pointed, "It's right THERE."

Hutch sank back into his chair, not meeting his partner's eye.

Levelly, Starsky said, "To Romeo, from Juliet, huh?"

Hutch shrugged, then presented a sheepish grin. "Thought it might cheer you up."

"Big softie," the other said with affection. "Well, as long as I get to be Romeo."

"Figured you wouldn't appreciate it any other way."

After a moment's silence, Starsky said, "Guess I got kinda mushy that night, huh?"

Hutch found the courage to meet his partner's eye. "Possible mortal injury can have that effect."

"Man," Starsky said, "I thought my guts were ripped open, the way it was hurting like crazy."

"Thankfully, just your appendix was."

They fell silent, then Starsky glanced over at the flowers. "Don't know if you'll ever live this one down, Hutchinson."

"What's that?"

"Calling yourself Juliet. Imagine the blackmail I could get away with, if I told anyone."

"You won't tell anyone. After all, you're the one who brought up Romeo and Juliet in the first place."

"Star-crossed lovers," Starsky mused. A soft snort. "Guess I was feelin' real fond of ya when I thought it was the end."

"Well, since it turned out that it wasn't the end, I guess that means you can stop being fond of me."

That seemed to catch his partner by surprise. But Starsky shook his head and said, "Romeo loved Juliet until the very end."

Feeling restless, Hutch stood. "And vice versa."

"Yeah, well, at least we're still alive. They didn't even live long enough to... you know, have a life after consummating their love. Of course," Starsky grinned, "they at least had the consummation."

But we haven't, Hutch thought, then shook himself when he realized that he almost spoke the words.

Starsky was still studying the floral arrangements, seemingly unaware of the moment of awkwardness. He nodded toward the flowers. "Dobey didn't read that one -- the tall ones with the blue ribbon."

Grateful for a distraction, Hutch went over to it. He pulled the little card from its envelope and held it up. '"To David with love. Please get well soon. Maureen.'" He frowned. "Who's Maureen?" He tried to remember, but couldn't.

His partner was looking at the ceiling. "Give me a minute."

Scoldingly, Hutch remarked, "Well, she remembers you even if you don't remember her."

"Lots of ladies remember me," Starsky said with a grin.

"Don't you wish," the blond scoffed. While trying to put the card back in its envelope, he noticed writing on the back. "She left her phone number."

"Hm," Starsky mused with pleasure. "She wants to see me again."

"And you still don't know who she is."

The curly-haired man sighed with fatigue. "When I feel better, I'll remember."

Hutch put the envelope back on its hook and wondered if Starsky would remember to look at the card. He sat down beside the bed and noticed that his partner had taken on a pallor of weakness in just the past minute or so. He patted his arm. "Hey, why don't I let you sleep, huh?"

"Yeah, real tired," the other said, closing his eyes.

Hutch touched his shoulder. "See you tomorrow... Romeo." He saw the hint of a grin as he left the room.


While driving home, Hutch contemplated his partner. The ease at which Starsky had pointed out that Romeo and Juliet had, at least, consummated the relationship, while using those fictional characters as an analogy for their own relationship.

Does Starsky think about it, too, sometimes?

Obviously, the other wasn't appalled at the thought; or perhaps the thought had never crossed his mind. Except... that didn't seem likely. If it had crossed Hutch's mind, even in a fleeting moment, then wouldn't it follow that it crossed had Starsky's, too?

Hutch shifted in his seat, trying to get more comfortable. The funny thing was that the lack of a consummation didn't seem like a lack at all. And it wasn't because they were both male. It had more to do, Hutch mused, with the fact that they had gone through a consummation of sorts, even if not in the traditional sense. They were, for certain, bound by more than loyalty to a partner or duty. By more than surviving regular elements of danger. Their partnership was as strong, as unconditional, as that of any pair which celebrated their union via the sexual.

And probably more so.

Hutch wasn't certain, however, what the element was that made them unique. That made his friendship with Starsky so much more warm and affectionate than any other he'd ever known. That made his commitment to his friend more powerful than the vows that he and Vanessa had exchanged. That made their partnership for survival on the streets so much more formidable than anything that their foes could present.

He wondered if Starsky had really been dying, and he himself had believed it, what words would have been his last to his partner. The Romeo and Juliet line was so typically Starsky. So innocent and pure in its intent. But what would Hutch's line have been in return, if it were truly the last?

Would I have simply said I love you? Hutch wondered. That seemed too simple. Too obvious. Something that Starsky already knew, so it didn't need to be said.

What could he have told Starsky that would have meant something, something unique and poignantly true, to send him off to a different plane of being?

Don't leave without me, was his heart's plea at the mere thought. But that would be selfish when Starsky needed him to be strong and brave; needed him to be a wall of solidity while his life slipped away.

I'll be all right without you. That would mean something to Starsky. Reassure him in his final moments.

What would he have wanted Starsky to say to him if their positions had been reversed?

That train of thought was more interesting to Hutch. If he truly thought he was taking his last breaths, what would he want Starsky to say to him?

He would want Starsky to hold him, first and foremost. He would want Starsky to hold him even if it caused his wounds pain. He would want Starsky to be okay about the fact that he was dying, even if realistically that was impossible. He would want Starsky to accept it and love him as his life was drained away. Hold him and pet him and be happy for him that he was being released from all his earthly burdens....

Starsky really wouldn't need to say anything. But Hutch would want eye contact. as long as Starsky wasn't afraid. As long as Starsky could let him go without suffering pain of his own.

Hutch sighed. Such was fantasy.

The reality was that if one died, the other would be torn apart. Possibly to the point where it would be very, very difficult to find enough meaning in life to go on. Like it had been for Romeo and Juliet.

Life was so precious. Especially the life of that one he'd left behind in the hospital. Hutch sighed.


"Did you get more ice cream?"

Hutch frowned as he set the grocery bag on the kitchen counter. His partner was sitting curled up on the sofa, watching TV, a blanket covering him. He'd been released from the hospital two days prior and, of course, Hutch was spending all his spare time at Starsky's apartment. And doing all his errands, including grocery shopping.

"Yes, I got more ice cream," Hutch said impatiently, taking it from the sack and opening the freezer, "but I don't know why you want so much."

"You're supposed to have ice cream when you get out of the hospital," Starsky declared.

Hutch snorted through his nose. Voice condescending, he said, "Starsky, that's only when you get your tonsils taken out. Ice cream soothes your sore throat. You didn't get shot in the throat."

"Well, my gut's still sore and ice cream is very soothing in general." The firm tone gave way to sheepishness. "So, can I have a bowl, please?"

Hutch sighed heavily. A few minutes later he handed Starsky a bowl of ice cream.

"Thanks," Starsky said pointedly. He wasted no time in taking a spoonful.

Hutch sat next to his partner and produced a spoon of his own. He reached and shaved off a sliver from the mound.

"Hey!" Starsky protested, trying to move the bowl away, "get your own."

"For chrissakes, there's plenty more. What difference does it make whether we eat out of one bowl or two? There's less dishes this way."

Starsky relented and Hutch took a bigger spoonful. The blond asked, "What are you watching?"

"Some stupid game show. Will you turn the channel, please?"

Hutch made a noise like he was going to say something about being ordered around, but he obeyed with a sigh and moved to the television. "What channel?"

"Five. There should be a movie on."

Hutch turned the dial. When it settled on five he found himself watching a big dragon with fire coming out of its mouth.

"Get out of the way! That's Godzilla."

Hutch switched the channel again.


"Relax. Just seeing what else is on." There were commercials on other channels until he hit Channel thirteen. A young woman dressed in Elizabethan clothing was gazing into the eyes of a young man similarly dressed.

Hutch flinched when he realized what he was watching.

"Hutch, turn it back," Starsky demanded.

The blond was amazed at the irony. "Don't you realize what this is?" he glanced back at his partner. "Romeo and Juliet."

"It is?" the other asked, intrigued. "I haven't seen that movie in a million years."

And he probably wouldn't want to see it in another million years, Hutch knew, except that now it held new meaning.

The music rose to a crescendo and then there was a commercial break. Hutch backed to the couch and sat on the floor, leaning against the sofa next to his partner.

Starsky focused on his ice cream until the movie returned. There was only another fifteen minutes left. Both men watched silently as the two lovers met their final end. Then the credits rolled.

"Man," Starsky said, "that's still a really powerful story." He handed his empty dish to Hutch. "Wanna lick the bowl?"

Hutch took it and set it on the coffee table, ignoring the question. "Too bad their love was so short-lived"

"Yeah, but that's what makes it so sad."

Hutch let his head drop back to rest against the edge of the sofa. "Yeah." He wanted to say something else, but was afraid it would sound awkward. Yet, there was no reason to be afraid.... He chuckled softly and tilted his head to look at his partner. "You know, I was thinking the other day about stuff like that. Consummation. What it means to a relationship. I'm not sure it really means anything at all if the relationship is truly pure. Like Romeo and Juliet." A pause. "Like us."

"By pure, you mean the feelings are the same with or without sex?"


"But don't you think that if the feelings are the same, the desire is gonna be there? And consummation is gonna be a natural instinct?"

"Of course, it is," Hutch relented. "At least between, you know, men and women." Silence followed, and Hutch knew an unspoken question was hanging in the air. He turned to look at his partner, and just as he did so a hand settled on his hair. He closed his eyes at its tender feel.

"Sometimes," he heard Starsky say, "I wonder if those instincts are just between men and women. I mean, sometimes, situations in life make it so that not everything follows the grand plan. Like, if someone is born with four fingers instead of five, it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with them. Just not quite the same as everyone else."

Hutch kept his eyes closed, finding comfort in the near darkness. Such unfamiliar territory Starsky was breaching; except, the other wouldn't have attempted it without Hutch's encouragement. The blond knew he had responsibility in this, too. He opened his eyes and sat up, turning his head all the way to face his partner. As he did so, Starsky leaned down to him and the next thing he knew the other's lips, cold from the ice cream, settled on his own.

His first sensation was that of melting… tissues in his body turning to mush. The experience was so exquisite that Hutch wanted more. He shifted, pressing upward against the other mouth, and then he felt a flinch and the lips were removed.

Starsky was holding his side. His expression was pained, definitely from something physical and perhaps from something else. "Damn," he gasped.

The blond rose. "Ah, Starsk, take it easy." He pushed on the other's shoulders. "Lie back." He settled the blanket around him.

"Pulled at the stitches," the darker man muttered softly.

"That'll be a lesson to you," Hutch said, voice lacking firmness. "You can't move around." He checked his watch. "It's almost time for your pills, anyway."

Starsky looked at the ceiling while Hutch went into the kitchen. While filling a glass of water, the blond couldn't decide if he was grateful or annoyed at the interruption. When he returned, his partner was still looking away, as though filled with nervousness.

Hutch took pity and knelt on the floor beside him. "I liked it," he offered gently.

The other's gaze now shifted to the sofa cushion. "You think," he began in a small voice, "... you think it could be... you know… a natural thing for us?"

Natural versus "wrong"? Hutch wondered. "Here," he handed the glass over, then turned to the pill bottle on the coffee table. He extracted two tablets and also handed them over.

Starsky obediently swallowed, then gave the glass back, looking at Hutch unflinchingly.

The blond placed the glass on the coffee table, eyes on his partner. "It felt natural," he offered with a smile.

"So natural it's scary."

Hutch's fingers inched forward until they encountered Starsky's hand. He clasped it.

"Maybe it's only scary because of what we've been led to believe. By our parents, by society, by all that's influenced us and made us believe that ultimate loves have to be between men and women." He swallowed, preparing to take a giant leap forward. "Maybe we can be brave enough to let our own feelings guide us... and break the mold."

The other's expression became pained. "Hutch, I-I-I can't do anything."

The blond felt himself go all soft inside. He reached for Starsky's shoulders. "I know that, pal. If it's just a matter of waiting...." He smiled broadly. "I'm sure it'll be worth it."

The hands were applying enough pressure on his shoulders that Starsky lay back against the arm of the sofa. He relaxed, eyes on his partner.

Hutch couldn't look away, either. He rested his chin on his forearm, watching the other, wanting to absorb every little nuance of expression.

Starsky's hand reached out, as it had before, and settled on Hutch's hair. But it didn't stay long. The fingers skittered down to his forehead, fluttered past the pale eyelashes, outlined his nose. They brushed along the hair above the upper lip.

As they danced across Hutch's lips, the blond moved his head just enough to capture them in his mouth. He sucked leisurely on the digits, until they pulled back with an air of desperation.

Starsky had broken the eye contact and he sighed heavily, hands resting on his stomach. "I wish I could hurry up and get well."

"The anticipation will make it that much more rewarding when you are," Hutch reasoned. His chin was again resting on his forearm.

"I think it's only in the next week or so that I'm gonna learn the true meaning of the word frustration."

"You won't be alone," Hutch chuckled softly.

He felt that he should move away, distance himself so as not to torment them both. But he found that he could not move, that what he really wanted more than anything was to be with Starsky.

They had both been silent for over a minute when Hutch ventured, "Want me to put you to bed?"

Starsky's head turned. "Now that's a loaded question."

Hutch stood so that he was looking down at his partner. "Maybe so, but the gun's not going to go off. Not until you're ready." That established, he felt confidant and more in control of the situation.

That confidence had not surprisingly, transmitted itself to the other. Starsky prepared to rise. "Okay. I'm sick of this couch, anyway."

Hutch helped the other get to his feet, the blanket abandoned in the process, leaving Starsky in his briefs. Hutch put his arm around him and, with slow, cautious steps, they made their way to the bedroom. The blond halted their progress when Starsky turned toward the near side of the bed.

"What's wrong?" Starsky asked when Hutch stopped.

"Get into bed on this side." He beckoned Starsky to the opposite side.

"Why?" the other asked as he followed the blond's instruction.

"So you leave enough room for me." With his sore right side, Starsky would need to sleep on his left side. And if they were to face each other, as he was sure his partner would prefer, then Starsky would need to be on the left side of the bed.

Hutch felt his insides go tender as Starsky didn't even hesitate at what he'd said. He pulled the covers back, then helped support the other's weight as his partner carefully lowered to the mattress. After covering him up, Hutch moved around the bed to the other side. He pulled off his outer garments and got into bed with an equal amount of caution, not wanting to rock the mattress.

When he was settled, they were facing each other.

Starsky said, "You left the lights on, genius."

"So?" Hutch countered. The bedroom light was off, but the ones in the living room and kitchen were on. "Maybe I just want to look at you all night."

"You've been lookin' at me for seven years."

"That doesn't mean I'm tired of what I see."

That seemed to settle the issue. After a long moment, Starsky whispered, "Hutch?"

The hesitant tone pulled at the blond's heartstrings. "Hm?"

"We don't…I mean, when I'm better... Well, I think, well, you know…I don't think you should have to necessarily be Juliet."

Hutch thought he might melt into the mattress. "Goofball. We aren't talking about Romeo and Juliet anymore. We're talking about Starsky and Hutch. And we've both got the necessary parts to play either role."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed, his voice content. Then, "It's kind of sad, isn't it?"


"That Romeo and Juliet were so... tragic. They didn't have a chance."

"You mean they didn't give themselves a chance," Hutch corrected. "We are." He wanted to make that point clear.

That brought more silence, and Hutch watched his partner's eyes close. He felt himself grow sleepy, as well.

He was roused by his Starsky's quiet voice. "I really love you, Hutch."

Hutch reached out, touched the other's blanketed chest. "Good. Because I love you, too. And I can't wait to show you in a whole new way."

"Can't wait either," Starsky whispered. Then, "Things are sure gonna be different. I mean, with us sleepin' together all the time and makin' it together and wanting to be together even more than we already are. It's kind of a... heavy thought. You know?"

Hutch raised his head. "Starsk?"

The other's eyes were closed. "Hmm?"

"Go to sleep. Okay?"


Hutch watched for a few more moments, making sure that Starsky wasn't going to say anything else. Finally, he let himself relax again.

A heavy thought. Indeed, it was. And yet, not really. Their love would not be a tragedy. But instead a victory. Love will conquer all.

Hutch silently vowed to make it so.

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