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The Greatest Gift


Morgan Branca

The Colorado countryside was a picture-perfect landscape for the cabin resort that nestled between jagged snow-capped mountains and the forever line. The sun was setting slowly behind the mountains, hues of pink, orange, and red spilling over the darkening sky. A pristine blanket of white covered the ground, its purity marred only by low sweeping branches and tracks made by various animals. That same blanket clung to the boughs of the trees, whether the naked ones of maples and aspens, or the still full ones of cedars, spruce, and evergreens. Icicles hung from those branches, catching the sunset's hues and refracting them back in shimmers of light.

His hands stuffed in the pockets of his heavy woolen coat, David Starsky stood at the porch railing and leaned against the support post, deeply grateful for the solid feel of the thick wood at his shoulder. Exhausted in body, plagued still with pain inflicted by Gunther's bullets and doctors' surgical knives, he desperately needed to rest.

But how could he?

The wind blew gently, fresh and clean, singing the sounds of nature's music and ruffling his dark hair, then caressing like a lover's tender finger across his cheek. He raised his head slightly, lifted his face to the wind, and absorbed the sight about him, thinking how blessed he was to be alive and able to witness a part of God's creation that would have not interested him in the least a mere year ago, and giving heartfelt thanks for the second chance that he had been granted.

And he vowed to make the most out of every single minute.

So, how could he possibly think of rest? There was simply no time.

He laid his head against the post and closed his eyes, listening to the stillness. Not a vehicle could be heard, not a train, not a voice. It was far from silent, though. He could hear the songs of a host of birds, could hear the crackle in the frozen bushes of animals scurrying about in search of either food or warmth. Every sound rang crisp and clear in the razor-sharp air, reaching ears taught long ago to detect and comprehend the clamor of chaos, to be ever vigilant to the merest hint of trouble. For now, though, the only thing those ears heard, the only thing those blue eyes saw, was a simple, serene world that knew naught of sirens and gunfire and whirls of hospital machinery.

The wind picked up, cold and cutting, eliciting a hard shudder from him as it trailed icy fingers down his spine. As he pulled up the wool collar of his coat, his breath scoring the air in white puffs, a sudden stabbing pain flared in his chest, making him flinch. Within an instant he felt the weight of a burning stare on him through the glass door. Damn! Hutch saw. He did not know why that surprised him, though. Hutch saw everything, heard everything; he never missed a single beat, especially when it came to his still recovering partner.

Ah, babe, when you gonna stop this worrying?

The pain flared again, sharper this time, drawing his hand to his chest. He breathed through it, inhaling and exhaling slowly from his mouth, all the while silently cursing the higher elevation and thinner air, and feeling that stare bore upon him. When the pain subsided, he ran his hand over his face and back through his hair.

He'll stop when you quit giving him cause.

At least he didn't come running this time. That's something, right?

Right! Instead, he's sitting in there on pins and needles and cracking his knuckles. That's much better for him, isn't it?


A part of him wanted to defy the voice in his head and the eyes beckoning him inward, wanted to prove that he was all right and no longer in need of the constant worry and vigilant concern, but the calls for rest his body was sending refused to be ignored. So, with one last lingering look at the work of art that had held him enthralled, he slowly crossed the porch to the door and went inside, closing and locking it and the storm door behind him. He looked over at Hutch, who was sitting on the foot-high rock hearth that ran the length of the far wall, his gaze sweeping over the worry-etched face and settling on the anxious blue eyes.

"Take it easy, buddy. I'm okay."

A small smile touched the corners of Hutch's mouth. "That obvious am I?"

"Just a little," Starsky replied as he pulled off his coat and hung it on the rack by the door. "You might want to turn those eyes down a notch. Damn things are worse than lasers."

"You slay me, pal," Hutch said, scowling, his gaze following as Starsky crossed the room to the sofa, eased down upon it and sank back against the plush cushions and closed his eyes. "Hey," he called softly, "you sure you're okay?"

"Just need to catch my breath and warm up."

Although Starsky had regained some of the weight he had lost, he was still plagued with a lingering thinness that made him look drawn and tired. His face was strained and pinched. Lines that had not been present a few months ago now creased his mouth, and dark shadows ringing his eyes stood out blue-black against his pale skin. Hutch swallowed and his mouth went dry. It was those damned eyes that bothered him the most. He was a firm believer that the eyes are windows to the soul, and Starsky's showed all too clearly the hell his had been through. They held his pain, his fear, and his frustration.

But they also held his resolve. He reminded himself, as he often did when faced with Starsky's mortality, that his partner was a strong-minded man, an ancient soul housed in a young shell, with an unbreakable will of iron. And he was determined to get well.

And God help anyone or anything that stood in his way.

Hutch rose to his feet then grabbed the poker sitting by the fire and stoked the scarlet embers until they roared with yellow-orange life. Satisfied with the emanating warmth, he stepped over to the mini-bar and grabbed a couple of glasses, filling each with a generous splash of whiskey. Then he carried them to the sofa.

"Here, this'll warm you up," he said, handing a glass to Starsky then seating himself beside him. He grinned at him, suddenly dispelling the dark thoughts that hovered all to close. "Just remember it's your daily limit, so enjoy it."

"Ah, Hutch, it's Christmas. Can't we make an exception?"

"Today's Christmas Eve, tomorrow's Christmas. And no, we can't make an exception." He brought the glass up to his mouth and drank deeply, the liquid fire bringing a sting to his eyes as it burned down his throat and spread warmth into his belly. "Weather report calls for more snow later tonight. Think Santa will have to cancel his trip?"

Starsky narrowed his eyes and shook his head then shot over a mock glare that had its usual effect, which was none at all. "Reindeer can fly in the snow, Hutch," he grumbled. "But he might not let 'em stop here because of a certain mean blond."

"Anyone ever tell you you're a smart-ass?"

Starsky frowned thoughtfully. "I seem to remember you mentioning that a time or two." Then he laughed softly and reached over to pat a denim clad leg. "I can't imagine what makes you think that, though."

"Oh, you can't?"

Starsky simply smiled in reply, then got up and wandered around, touching things in the room. This place still amazed him. The resort owner, a retired Army buddy of Dobey's, had explained to them that collecting antiques was a passion of his, and that he liked to decorate each of his cabins with items from his collection so that his guests would have an at-home feel. If this cabin was any indication to the others, then he had done well. The spacious living room had two beige sofas sitting along the walls on either side of the hearth. Works of art—unusual and unique—graced the walls. Firelight flickered on the hardwood floor, bringing out its golden hue. Heavy furniture filled every corner. There were several teardrop lamps in the room, all lit and catching the firelight so that the room itself seemed to bask in a honeyed glow. And beyond the closed doors, the two bedrooms were every bit as impressive with their king-sized four-poster beds and piles of Aztec designed quilts in shades of coral, beige, and green. Finally, Starsky came to rest at the window near the door.

"I still can't believe you did this. It's too much."

Hutch drained his glass then sighed. "Buddy, it's not too much, especially after what you've been through. I wanted to give you this vacation, wanted you to have a perfect Christmas."

"Stop," Starsky replied firmly. He ran both hands through his hair, closed his eyes, and exhaled slowly, then opened them and turned around, shaking his head. "You always make it sound like I've been the only one hurting. You think I don't know what this has done to you, too? I'm not blind or deaf, Hutch. I see how uptight you are all the time. I hear you tossing and turning at night. Do you really think I don't realize what you've gone through or how much you've given up for me?" He swallowed hard and blinked, gratitude deeper than words could express shining in his eyes. "I just wish I could do something half as special for you. God knows you deserve it."

"Starsk, you don't have to—"

"That's just it, Hutch," he replied softly, turning back to the window. "I know I don't have to. That's how it is with us. But, damnit, I want to. Can't you understand that?"

Rising to his feet, Hutch replied, "Yeah, I do. I'd feel the same way."

Starsky nodded, cursing under his breath as pain flared once again, making him tremble. Strong hands gripped his shoulders, the long fingers gently digging into his muscles. Oh, those hands. He would know them anywhere. The same hands that had protected him by wielding weapons or curling into fists had tended to his every need; they had soothed away the pain, they had cradled away the fear. When he was in those hands he had no fear of falling, for he knew they would never allow it. He loved those hands, just as he loved the man to whom they belonged.

Loved him with all his heart and soul.

A soft moan escaped him. "I'm so tired, Hutch."

"I know, buddy," Hutch murmured into his ear, bringing one hand up and curling it around the nape of Starsky's neck, his fingers moving in a soothing massage. When he felt the tense muscles give and relax, he removed his hand then pulled the trembling body back against his own and wrapped his arms about it, ever careful of the ravaged torso, relishing the sweet, warm life that lived and breathed within it. "You've already given me the most special gift I could ask for," he whispered. "When Gunther shot you, he nearly killed me. But you survived. I don't know how you did it, but you did. And you're getting better each and every day." He swallowed hard, his arms tightening like steel bands, yet his hold was just as gentle and protective. And Starsky sighed and relaxed, feeling the powerful strength coursing through the lean form holding him and concentrating on the heart that beat against his back. "You didn't leave me, Starsk."

"I couldn't." He took a deep, shaky breath. "Couldn't . . ." His legs felt suddenly, horribly unsteady, the muscles trembling and untrustworthy. "Hutch, I . . . ."

"I'm here. I've got you," Hutch whispered. He turned his partner from the window and led him to the sofa then eased him down to lie upon it. "It's all right." He reached for an afghan, covered Starsky, and then seated himself beside him. He ran the backs of his fingers over a pale cheek. "You have to rest. You've been going non-stop since we got here."

"Don't want to miss anything."

"I know, but if you don't rest you won't feel up to enjoying Christmas."

Starsky let the warmth from the whiskey and cover lull him. He felt his eyes growing heavy. "Nice," he murmured, his breathing deep and steady. He swallowed and blinked. "You're enjoying Christmas now, aren't you, Hutch?"

"Yeah, I am."

"That's good . . . I want you to. I didn't like that jaded view you had about the holidays."

Hutch frowned in confusion, tilting his head slightly to one side. "Jaded view? Where'd you ever hear of something like that?"

Starsky shrugged. "I think it was on one of those talk shows. You can learn lots of stuff on them." He grinned. "And I learned that you had a jaded view about Christmas."

Hutch's eyes went wide, and then he blinked, blinked again, and drew a sharp breath. "Just because I had a couple of off years—"

"Relax, Blintz. You like it now. That's all that matters." Starsky smiled, his gaze taking on a faraway look. "My pop loved Christmas."

"He did?"

Starsky nodded. "I think that's where my love for it comes from. Every Christmas Eve night, Nick and I would sleep in the same bed. Well, we'd share the same bed. I don't think either of us ever slept. A few minutes before midnight, our folks would come into the room and sit with us. Pop would tell us the story of the Christ child. His voice was so deep, Hutch; deep and smooth like velvet. It made me feel so safe. I always knew that as long as my pop was there—" He closed his eyes. Then he opened them and drew a steadying breath, refusing to let the pain of remembered dark days overwhelm him. Instead, he concentrated on the warmth seeping into his body, and the hand that had found its way into his hair and was stroking through it slowly, a smile curving about his mouth. "Anyway, he always managed to finish the story right before midnight. Then Ma would start to sing just as the clock began chiming." He yawned. "I miss it." He looked up, his eyes flickering under long, heavy blinks, his body following the siren's call to sleep. "Do you know that story, Hutch?"

Hutch nodded. "I recited it at Christmas plays when I was a kid."

"You were the angel?"

"Yeah; how'd you know that?"

"All that blond hair—angel's hair," Starsky whispered. "Will you tell me the story?"

"Sshh, close your eyes," Hutch said in a low, soothing voice. ". . . And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn . . ." Starsky sighed deeply, the mesmerizing tone melding into his mind and body as powerfully as any drug. "And there were in that same country shepherds in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you . . . ." He quieted when he saw that his partner had surrendered to sleep, the normally pinched face relaxed and at peace, his breathing deep and easy. He stroked his fingers across the now warm, sleep-flushed cheek then back through the thick dark hair. "Rest well, buddy. I'll be here keeping watch."

Much later he rose quietly to his feet and went to the bar. He poured another whiskey then returned to the hearth and sat down upon it cross-legged. He sipped slowly at the drink, sighing in appreciation at its warmth, his gaze flickering around the room. It was warm and comfortable, the soft lights and the blaze from the fireplace giving it an earthly glow and casting dancing shadows upon the walls.

It was the perfect place to spend Christmas.

His gaze fell upon the decorated spruce tree that sat in the far corner of the room. Starsky had wanted to go home to New York for the holidays, but his doctor had nixed the idea of him traveling cross country, stating that long flights and longer layovers would be more taxing than his patient's body could handle. However, he had agreed that a trip to a shorter destination—less than three hours by flight and no layovers—would be acceptable and safe. Dobey had made the arrangements for them to come here, and had assured Hutch that his friend would give them the best accommodations available and would look after them.

And he had. A burly man, larger than life, with a mane of white hair, a full beard of the same color, and the manner of a backwoodsman, he was a literal cross between Santa Claus and Paul Bunyan. He had prepared his finest cabin for them. It was set well away from the others, ensuring their privacy, and had been stocked with plenty of wood for the fireplaces and a back-up generator in case of power failure. After their arrival yesterday afternoon, he had loaded them up in his truck and hauled them to the ridge where more than three dozen spruces had taken root last year and were now the perfect size for cutting. He had chopped it down, and then delivered it and them to their cabin in short order, leaving them with stern instructions that they were to call him immediately if the need for help arose.

Thank you, Dobey. It seems like you're always looking out for us.

Hutch's gaze drifted to his partner, a slight, soft smile upturning his lips. This morning, they had hit just about every store and shop in town in search of decorations and food for tomorrow's feast. By the time they had gotten back and finished with the tree, both were exhausted. But Starsky had refused to slow down, choosing instead to spend time outdoors or doing anything else that required him to stay on the move. Hutch sighed. At first he had not understood why Starsky was a bundle of nervous energy, but then he had realized what was going through his partner's mind.

This was the Christmas that, for him, almost wasn't.

He sighed again, his breathing catching in his lungs, his throat constricting almost to the point of almost closing off completely. During the days following the shooting, the thought of losing Starsky had left a sickening, yawning void within him, one that only his partner's life could fill. It had been the first time he had felt this void since the day he walked into the police academy's locker room and met this dark haired imp. The moment they had locked with his, Starsky's blue eyes had stripped him bare, they had seen him for what he was, welcomed it, and assured him that it was more than enough. They had embraced and cradled him, and they had unconditionally accepted him. In a mere instant in time, they had known him—inside and out—and he had been utterly shocked at the familiarity of it.

Because in that same mere instant, he had known Starsky—inside and out—and had known that their souls had always known each other. He had known that they had met many different times in the past and would meet over and over again in the future, because they were destined to be together. And for the first time in his life, he had found his heart to be whole and strong. His soul had been complete. And he had known that this man—this stranger who was not a stranger—had forever dwelled within him, and he within him. They were two halves of one, bound by spirit and by destiny.

He treasured his friendship with Starsky above anything else on earth, even above his own life. Over the years, his partner had given him a sense of home, of well being, of peace and had held out a physical and metaphorical hand to him when ill-fated love, heartache, and disillusionment over the job had left him floundering. He had eagerly grasped that hand more times than he dared to count, and together they had ridden out the deadliest of storms.

One of the deadliest had been Gunther.

It had taken that attack and the very real possibility that his partner might forever be lost to him to make him realize that his feelings for Starsky had changed, that they were much more and much deeper than friendship. As he waited for Starsky to awaken from the coma, he had discovered that the kind of love he had hoped to have with Vanessa, the kind of love he had found with Gillian, was there once again, in hiding, deep in his heart. And this time it was deeper and stronger than ever before. It had been safely hidden under the guise of friendship, refusing to admit that there could be so much more to the relationship they shared. Once discovered, though, his heart and mind had fully opened and that love had gushed forth like a raging waterfall, sweeping him into a surge of emotions; fear and love pulling him first one way and then the other.

And the fear had won. Hutch rose to his feet and walked over to the window then ran a hand over his face and bowed his head. It had not been the fear of intimacy with another man that had made the blood freeze in his veins, even as his senses seemed to burn with such intensity that he had thought that he would surely melt from the heat. It had been the man with whom he had wanted to share in that intimacy. There had been absolutely no doubt in his mind that Starsky would never share in that kind of love or want with another man.

Memories of John Blaine's murder investigation had reinforced that belief.

So, while Starsky still lay in his hospital bed, Hutch had vowed that the man would never learn the true nature of his feelings.

And since that day, he had constantly fought to reign in his unruly emotions.

He had to. After all, destiny was at stake.

But it still hurt.

"What's wrong, Hutch?"

The soft voice and warm breath on the nape of his neck caught him unaware, and as he turned from the window and locked gazes with Starsky, he saw the sleepy blue eyes awaken fully and widen in complete surprise, and realized in that instant that his emotions and feelings were much too close to the surface, and his partner was seeing exactly what was in his heart. His body clenched, his insides rolling and twisting. He turned away.

"Hutch, don't."

"Don't what?" he whispered, flinching as a hand curled about his arm.

"Don't hide from me." He slid his hand over that arm, feeling the taut muscles tremble beneath his fingers, then removed his hand and stepped back, giving Hutch space. He looked out the window. Dark had leeched the light. A silvery moon hung low in the ebony sky, and a multitude of stars glittered like diamonds. One star in particular twinkled brighter than the rest, a kaleidoscope of amazing beauty in its own right. "My pop told us that the evening star would lead you home. It's out tonight, Hutch, and shining extra bright. You think maybe it knows there's someone lost?"

"I don't know."

"Look at the star, Hutch," Starsky replied, his voice firm and strong.

There was no anger or reproach in that voice; the quiet, decisive tone tugged at Hutch's heart and brought the sharp sting of tears to his eyes, and he felt helpless to do anything other than obey. He stepped closer and gazed skyward. The star glittered and danced, mesmerizing him, drawing him closer, and enchanting him. He heard a voice from far away—a low voice, beautifully pitched, a blend of light and dark.

"Where does the star lead you?"

"To you," he whispered. "Always to you."

"Look at me."

Slowly, hesitantly, Hutch turned and met Starsky's eyes, this time finding no hint of surprise. Instead, he found love and longing and a solemn promise that it was for only him, and that it would always remain for only him. Starsky moved closer, not touching, yet he was so close that Hutch could feel his heat, could smell the masculine scent that was uniquely his, could feel the hypnotic pull in those blue orbs, could feel them enfolding him, surrounding him, swamping him. They called to him like nothing else could.

He was home.

He felt a warm hand curl around the nape of his neck and draw him inexorably closer then he bent his head to his partner, his mouth descending to greet the one tilting toward his, their lips meeting in a soft, tender kiss that held the merest trace of passion and a soul full of love.

"I love you," Starsky whispered, pulling away. "I've always loved you, always will."

"And I love you," Hutch replied, then shuddered hard as Starsky's mouth sought his, as those firm lips claimed his and moved hungrily against them. Drawn like moth to flame, he pulled Starsky to him and opened his mouth to the raging storm igniting him to the core. A swift agile tongue swept inside and his tongue rose at once to greet it, sliding and swirling, joining in a primal, intimate dance. He shuddered again and he gave a soft moan, but it was smothered in a heartbeat as the kiss deepened and grew hard and demanding, desire flaring as he lost sight of where one ended and the other began.

Again, Starsky pulled away then grinned, the laughter spilling over his eyes. He took Hutch's hands in his, turned them this way and that as though inspecting them carefully. He brought the palms to the warmth of his mouth then pressed a kiss to the exact center of each hand. Then he stepped away then turned and walked toward Hutch's bedroom, stopping at the closed door. He paused for a moment then swung open the door. He looked back at Hutch and held out his hand.

"Christmas is for memories. I'm afraid you'll have to lead, but if you're ready, I'd like to make the first of many."

Hutch closed his eyes for a long moment, then opened them and looked up at the star that twinkled so brightly.

It was truly the star of birth and hope, of love and life.

Thank you.

He looked across the room. His lover—he smiled at that—waited. He was waiting and watching. Hutch could still the feel the heat from the man's skin, could see the hungry, predatory gleam in his eyes. Slowly, he crossed the room and took Starsky's hand into his own. Then he bore him back against the doorframe, following him, and swiped his tongue over those wet, swollen lips, sucking on the lower one.

"I won't share you with anyone and I won't give you up. Will you deny me?"

Starsky smiled, his hands sliding up to cradle the blond head. "I'll never deny you anything. You're all I want, all I need." He brought their lips together in a tender kiss. "Love me, Hutch."

Hutch grinned. "I already love you. How about I make love to you? Would you settle for that?"

"Anyone ever tell you you're a smart-ass?"

"I seem to remember you mentioning that a time or two," Hutch said, laughing at Starsky's groan, then grabbing his hand and leading them into the room.

Even though the room was warm, Hutch went to the small fireplace and stoked new life into the scarlet embers. The yellow-orange light flickered and danced on the walls and cast a honeyed glow. Outside the window, the night whispered to them, enfolding them in its dark cloak. He stepped over to Starsky and drew him into his arms, then brought their mouths together once more, melding them together, a living flame, coming together as if time and space ceased to exist. Everything fell away until there was just the two of them locked in their own world, where violence and heartache could never touch them, would never touch them. His mouth moved to Starsky's neck, his teeth nipping, his tongue following, laying a path from shoulder juncture to collar bone, then onward to the Adam's apple, where he stopped and suckled gently. His hands reached between their bodies and sought the buttons of Starsky's shirt.

"Please . . . stop," Starsky panted breathlessly, pulling away, his hand coming up to grasp the front of his shirt. He glanced at Hutch then moved to the bed and sat down, his breathing still harsh and ragged, his face flushed.

"Hey, are you okay?" Hutch asked, kneeling on the floor in front of him. When Starsky did not answer, he reached up both hands and brushed them through the dark hair then twined his arms about him, tightening his hold as he felt tremors rock through the tense frame. "Come on, partner, tell me what's going on here. Talk to me."

Starsky shook his head. "I'm sorry," he whispered, closing his eyes. "I love you so damn much. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry. Just tell me."

Starsky opened his eyes then sat back and stared into Hutch's. "I didn't think about the scars." He shook his head again and frowned. "They're so ugly."

"Oh, I see," Hutch said, sliding his hands up and down Starsky's arms. "Let me tell you something, buddy. You don't have a scar I haven't seen or touched. You don't have a flaw I don't know about. Don't hide from me." He captured Starsky's gaze with his own and raised his eyebrows. "Sound familiar?"

Starsky stared at him a few moments longer, searching those eyes, and finding nothing but love and concern radiating from the blue depths. He felt the sharp sting of tears. "Jesus," he said shakily, sniffling. "You're gonna turn me into a mush-ball yet." He sniffled again, then swiped at his eyes and smiled. "You have to turn everything I say back on me? Can't you come up with lines of your own?"

"Nope," Hutch replied, leaning forward and capturing him in a tender kiss. "I like your lines better." He skimmed soft kisses over Starsky's eyelids, nose, and cheeks. "Can I undress you now?"

Starsky licked his lips then nodded. Then he closed his eyes.

Slowly, Hutch unbuttoned the flannel shirt then pushed it over Starsky's broad shoulders and down his arms then tossed it in the general direction of the chair. Then he raised trembling hands and reached out, his fingers dancing over his lover's face, tracing the features he knew as well as his own, smiling as Starsky's breath hitched. Then he thrust his hands deep into that thick wealth of hair and pulled him closer, claiming that love-swollen mouth with frantic need, a maelstrom of emotions overwhelming him as he plundered and searched, teasing and sucking tender lips, rubbing his tongue against teeth and twining it over and around its demanding mate, delving deeper and harder until the sheer need for air forced him to pull away.

Starsky's breath came in deep, ragged pants. "You're killing me, Hutch."

"No, I'm going to love you," he replied, rising to his feet and bearing Starsky to the bed then following him down. He knew he should make certain that Starsky was physically able for this, but could not find the words, choosing instead to let their bodies guide the way. For long moments he did not move or speak. He loved watching this man and gave thanks that he was now free to do so unabashed; he loved the way his dark blue eyes heated to molten midnight pools, the way his breath caught, the way passion emphasized his dark sensuality. He wanted to lose himself in the core of this man's very being.

"I love you," he whispered.

Starsky reached up and captured Hutch's face between his hands and stroked his thumbs over his eyes, cheeks, and mouth. "You saved my life, Hutch. The way you love me, so strong, so powerfully, that's the way I love you. You mean everything to me; you are everything to me. You complete me." He smiled. "Please love me now."

Hutch swallowed hard. This man was everywhere in him—in his mind, in his heart, in his very soul. And he was helpless to do anything other than provide. He let his hands roam freely over Starsky's heated skin, his fingers lovingly tracing and memorizing. No other lover had excited him this much, for no other lover had ever existed. He smoothed over the whisker-roughened jaw and feathered the gentlest of touches and kisses over the ravaged torso, his lips and tongue paying loving homage to every healing bullet wound and every healing incision. His hands skimmed back up the arms and over broad shoulders then down the chest and stomach, stopping to play in the soft chest hair and digging fingers a little deeper into ticklish ribs. Then, slowly, he moved his hand lower and brushed over the jean-clad groin, massaging inner thighs, then dipping lower to cup the taut rear then back up again, sliding over the hardened shaft that strained high and hard against the zipper. He slowly worked the brass button at the waistband through the hole then eased down the zipper. Then he urged Starsky to lift his hips and, with infinite care, dragged the jeans and underwear over the lean thighs and down the long legs. He traveled downward with the clothes until he was once again on his knees and freeing him of the clothing, shoes, and socks. And then he stood and quickly removed his own clothing, letting them fall to a heap upon the floor, all the while, his blue eyes riveted to Starsky's. His breath hitched and his body trembled. His desire for this man was unbearable, and was even made stronger by the knowledge that Starsky wanted him every bit as much.

Starsky moaned deeply, his eyes raking hotly over Hutch's long, lean body. The man was a work of art. The firmness of muscle covered by pale skin that shone honey-gold in the firelight's glow, the sheen and silk of white-blond hair, the smoldering blue eyes with depths deeper than any ocean, the muscular chest and stomach, and farther down, that impressive shaft, curved hard and tight against the flat belly, flushed with want and need. He was beyond beautiful—he was light to his dark, a creature of white sand and sunshine. Starsky wanted it all; wanted to consume his heart, body, and soul, and wanted to be consumed. Another moan loosed from his throat. He maneuvered himself further up on the bed then settled back, his head against the pillows. He reached out both arms to welcome Hutch into his embrace.

And Hutch went willingly, straddling him. Starsky reached up and curled his fingers in the mane of blond hair and drew them together, gasping for breath as that mouth covered his once again. Hutch's body was hard and aggressive, his hands firm and unyielding as they roamed freely and possessively over his skin. He trembled and thrust upward, his aching shaft searching for its mate, crying aloud as Hutch thrust downward in reply, rocking ever so slowly against his in a most sensual dance. He moved over the fire-kissed skin, his hands in constant motion, massaging and manipulating the muscle-rippled arms and strong back, dancing over and kneading the firm rear.

Hutch gave himself over to the moment. He wanted to take everything Starsky offered and give everything in return. The warmth of that healing body had seeped into his, and he felt incredibly safe. He needed that. He needed to feel this man underneath him, surrounding him, needed to feel his life's essence, needed to bask in the reassurance that this sweet love would always be a part of him. Continuously, he thrust downward, slow and lazily, not trying to complete, merely teasing and playing, building the flames of desire. He groaned as sharp teeth dug into his shoulder, followed by long swipes of a raspy tongue. Longing coursed through him, and he moaned hoarsely, wanting to shout his pleasure to the rooftops. His mouth moved aggressively over the planes of Starsky's face and trailed along the long column of throat, then moved farther down, caressing shoulders and chest, licking and sucking, gently biting the skin around lust-tightened nipples until, finally, he closed about one taut nub, pulling it hard between his lips, then drawing it into his mouth and sucking hungrily at it.


Starsky's body moved restlessly and freely, without further thought of inhibition. His mind called for and his body ached for this man of light and whites and gold. Surely, he was an angel fallen to earth. He was light and darkness, strong and weak, fire and ice. He was none of these. He was all of these.

He was everything.

He groaned as Hutch slowed his movements, then groaned again as that teasing mouth found his neck once more, and need rocked through him as he felt a warm breath over the pulse thumping just under his skin, shuddering hard as a tongue followed that breath, fueling the flames that had settled between his legs. His breath rent from his lungs, his body arching against Hutch's in search of relief.

"Easy," Hutch said, pulling away and looking down into the pleasure-soaked eyes. He ran a hand over the sweat dampened face. "Do you want me, Starsky?"

"You have to ask?" he rasped out, scowling.

Hutch smiled then lowered his head and kissed him tenderly. "Do you want me?" he whispered.

Starsky's eyes went wide and dark with understanding. He stared at Hutch and ran his tongue over his lips, his heart swelling in his chest as he saw the love and hunger in those eyes.

"I want you."

"It's truth time, partner. Are you sure you're okay? You're not hurting?" He sighed. "God knows you're the last person I'd hurt."

"There's only one part of me that's hurting right now, and it's waiting for you to take care of it," Starsky replied, reaching up to card his fingers through the blond hair. "I'm okay, babe. Don't stop now."

Hutch opened the bedside table's drawer then reached in and pulled out a tube of lotion and flipped up the cap. He quickly prepared himself then enjoyed pleasurable moments coating his lover's insides, teasing and playing, using gentle touches and long, loving strokes to open and stretch the tight muscles. He gazed into Starsky's passion-heavy eyes. He loved this man. He was the light of his life, the keeper of his flame—and was the flame itself. Like reels from a movie, memories played in his mind. The times they had shared had been both good and bad. Friends and lovers had come and gone; illnesses and injuries had been suffered and survived. But, all those joys and all those trials and tribulations had been shared together. And that alone had made the good times sheer marvels and the bad tolerable. After indulging in a tender kiss, he positioned his body then grasped Starsky's hips in his hands and gently slipped inside the tight opening, slowly burying himself to the hilt, and then stopped as he heard a sharp gasp. He felt the tremors running through the taut body.

"There is no one as beautiful as you, Starsky," he whispered softly. "Not in the entire world will there be another as beautiful as you." He dotted kisses over eyes, cheeks, nose, and jaw line. "Stay calm; trust me. Let yourself feel me in you as I reach for your heart and claim your soul." At Starsky's smile and nod, he started to move, each thrust long and hard, his hips pushing forward, stroking deeper and deeper. Desire swept over him again and again as that tight sheath entrapped him, surrounded him, claiming his body as its own, yielding to him, and capturing him over and over in its grasp.

Starsky cried out, moving in perfect harmony with the body manipulating him so perfectly, matching each stroke, clenching his inner muscles, relaxing and clenching again, his body arching, his head tilted back, his hands sliding over Hutch's sweat glistened back, nails digging into tender skin. He cried out again as Hutch slipped a hand between their bodies and grasped his aching shaft, stroking in time with his thrusts.

Time ceased to exist as their bodies joined as surely as their hearts and souls had so many times in so many different pasts, as surely as they would again in so many different futures. Starsky felt Hutch harden and thicken ever more, felt the increased tension, and heard his own name offered as sweet benediction as his lover climaxed deep within him. He reached up and captured Hutch's face between his hands and drew their mouths together as his own body exploded outward, upward, and convulsing with sheer erotic pleasure, his seed spilling over his stomach and Hutch's hand.

Breathing raggedly, Hutch gently withdrew his body from Starsky's and rolled to the side, pulling him into his embrace, unable to fathom the mind-shattering response this man brought out in him. Even now waves of desire coursed through him, and his muscles shuddered. A kiss was placed upon his chest right above his heart, and he smiled, lowering his head and tenderly kissing the glistening forehead.

"I love you."

Outside, the snow began to fall.


As the clock chimed twelve and another Christmas morn broke over the snowy land, Hutch's sleep-laden voice sang softly in the darkness:

Dawn is slowly breaking
Our friends have all gone home
You and I are waiting
For Santa Claus to come

There's a present by the tree
Stockings on the wall
Knowing you're in love with me
Is the greatest gift of all

The fire is slowly fading
Chill is in the air
All the gifts are waiting
For children ev'rywhere

Through the windows I can see
Snow begin to fall
Knowing you're in love with me
Is the greatest gift of all . . . .**


**Portion of "The Greatest Gift of All" by John Jarvis used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended. No profit will be made.