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Soul Stealer


Morgan Branca

Long, jagged bolts of lightening streaked across the blackened sky while Thor crashed his mighty hammer upon the heavens, each strike rumbling and echoing through the night, shaking the earth with his fury. The wind howled through the trees, bending them to its will, breaking branches and scattering limbs. And the rain poured, dousing the streets until they gleamed underneath the artificial light and drumming the car in a steady, deafening beat.

One side of the Bay City Cemetery sign wrenched loose from its mooring and swung back and forth in the wind, clanging against an old ivy covered wrought iron fence, its ancient hinges creaking under the strain.

Once upon a nightmare, Ken Hutchinson thought. The only thing missing is a wolf's howl. He ran both hands through his wet blond hair and sighed. Then he looked over at his companion.

In the harsh glare of the streetlamp above, Starsky looked pale and exhausted. His shivering, too thin body sat slumped in the corner between the seat and passenger door, his head lay against the neck rest, his face turned toward Hutch, his blue eyes black shadowed, wide and unblinking, his gaze locked on something only he could see. His hands lay folded in his lap, fingers clenched together. His entire posture spoke of the depressed state of mind that had been ever present since his release from the hospital three months ago.

"Where are you, Starsky?" he asked, softly. When he received no response, he reached over and slid his hand over a jacketed arm. "Starsk?" Still there was no response. He stared at his partner a moment longer, worry crinkling his forehead, then slumped back against the seat, shaking his head and exhaling heavily.

Damn you to hell, Gunther.

It had started five months ago when Starsky had been gunned down by Gunther's hired killers while in the police parking garage. Hutch swallowed hard and closed his eyes against the unbidden images that sprang into his mind. The hit had been daring, brutal, and devastatingly thorough. The bullets had torn through Starsky's lower chest and exited out his back, leaving behind a trail of mangled flesh and muscle, broken bones, and damaged organs. He had been in a coma for three days, and, at one point, had gone into full cardiac arrest.

Hutch shuddered hard. After the shooting, he had been well aware that Starsky could—and probably would—die, and had tried to prepare himself. But it had not been until the moment when he was racing through the hospital corridor in a desperate attempt to reach his partner's side had the true realization that he might have to face life without this man hit. And it had hit hard; his heart had plunged into his stomach, and his stomach, resenting the foreign presence, had churned violently, threatening to send its contents gushing into plain view. Razor sharp shards of anguish had imbedded deep in his soul, making it scream in silent agony. And for a few short minutes that seemed more like an eternity, the very core of his being had free fallen into a vast, dark abyss of loss and loneliness.

Starsky had been resuscitated; however, the doctor had clearly warned that this small miracle may have only delayed the inevitable.

But, it had not. Starsky had awakened the next day. And, slowly, painfully, they had both begun to heal. Captain Dobey had told them that there were no answers as to why any of this had happened, that perhaps it had been a mere trial to test their faith and courage. Whatever the reasons, though, the angels of second chances had surely hovered close at hand.

Starsky had been released two months later. Before leaving that day, he, Hutch, and the primary care doctor had had a final conference, and Starsky had asked the question that they had all danced around ever since his awakening.

Would he be a cop again?

An uneasy silence had filled the room. Then the doctor had reached into a drawer and pulled out a thick file that had Starsky's name scrawled across the top. He withdrew several charts, and had then put on his best poker face and launched into mortality rate ratios and typical progress statistics.

However, Starsky had had no interest in any of that. He had wanted a straight out, no holds barred, yes or no answer.

And that answer had been a firm, decisive no.

Hutch felt the hot sting of tears. He recalled the utter shock that had sprung into those eyes and then, far worse, was the way the light had faded from the blue orbs. That one word had torn away a part of Starsky's soul. The doctor had tried to get through to him, had tried to explain that he was lucky to be alive and that he should be grateful for that fact; however, Starsky had shut down, stating bluntly that he had heard enough.

In the following months, Starsky had refused to even discuss physical therapy. He had found no cause for optimism in the guarded prognosis that, with daily intense workouts, he should regain seventy, maybe eighty, percent of his strength. He did not eat or sleep well. His weight slowly dropped, and his moods swung from surly and argumentative to withdrawn and despondent.

He had chosen to travel down a path of self-destruction and there was not a damned thing anyone could do about it.

And Hutch had often wondered why the angels had deserted them.

However, yielding to that depression had not been an option. And he had resigned himself to the fact that he would try just about anything that would bring a spark to those dull eyes. He had raged and cursed, had laid every guilt trip imaginable upon Starsky, had pleaded and cajoled until he was hoarse, had sought counseling and professional intervention.

And late this afternoon his persistence had paid off with a small measure of success when he had convinced Starsky to accompany him on the great pumpkin hunt for tonight's Halloween celebration. They had driven several miles out of the city and into the rural farming communities, visiting several fruit and vegetable markets along way. Finally, Starsky had picked out the pumpkin he wanted. And although Hutch had had no delusions that this was merely for his benefit rather than an anxious desire to participate, it had still felt like a major victory.

On the way home, Starsky had wanted to stop at the cemetery to visit Terri, quietly reminding Hutch that Halloween was her birthday and explaining that he needed to talk to her, needed to be close to her.

By the time they arrived at the small cemetery and parked just inside the gated entrance, the sun had left its zenith and had traveled across the sky, surrendering to dark thunderheads brewing in the distant horizon. A brisk wind had rustled through the trees and whistled around the corners of the gray stone buildings. A strong hint of fall had scented the air. Scattered wreaths and wire stands had littered the pathway leading to Terri's grave.

Starsky's soft voice had broken the silence, his words branding themselves in Hutch's heart.

Can't go on like this; I don't want to. My life is over, Terri. Everything I've worked and lived for is gone. It's all gone, Terri. You know what I seek; you've seen it in my dreams. I'm so tired and alone. Dear God, why am I so alone?

And once again, Hutch had felt himself tumble head first into that damning abyss.

Had he truly failed his friend so badly?

The storm had come up suddenly, matching the darkness raging in his head; the wind had howled and the rain had poured, drenching them in seconds. Starsky had seemed oblivious to the storm or to his surroundings, and had made no move to leave. So, Hutch had simply picked him up and carried him back down the now muddy path, his own sense of failure washing over him like the rain, threatening to drown him.

By the time they reached the car, they had been cold and miserable, and Hutch had been determined to leave this place without so much a passing glance. However, when he had tried starting the car the engine failed to turn over. Several more attempts had failed as well, as did the radio and police scanner.

And Hutch had cursed the Fates.

A low moan brought him out of his reverie. He looked over at his partner.

"Hey, Starsk, you back with me?" he asked, reaching over and running the backs of his fingers over a waxen cheek.


"Yeah, buddy, it's me. You okay?"

Starsky nodded then sighed. "I'm tired—cold."

"I know, buddy. So am I." He tried the engine again. It did not start. He cursed softly under his breath then sighed. "Car's cold, too." He looked around, noting that the rain had slackened considerably. Then he grinned when he saw, reflecting in the rearview mirror, the glow of a light from a house across the street. He reached over and rubbed Starsky's cheek again then flipped back this thumb, pointing over his shoulder. "Babe, we need to get you warm and dry. Someone's up in that house. Think you can make it over there?"

The gaunt face with its sunken cheeks and hollowed eyes that faced him did nothing to reassure him. God, he was so pale, and seemed to be getting paler. Hutch felt his throat constrict and his heart ache. Dark hair lay heavily on that face, but it was the utter lifelessness in the dull eyes that chilled him to the bone. Over the years, he had been privy to all of Starsky's expressions and moods, but this look—this new, terrifying look—frightened him. Starsky had the look of a man ready to die. A brief smile ghosted across the waxen features.

"I can make it."

Hutch climbed out of the car and quickly moved around to the passenger's side. Then he opened the door and helped Starsky out, steadying the wobbly man by putting an arm around his waist and drawing him closer to his own body.

"Let me carry you, Starsk."

"I can walk."

Hutch nodded. Slowly, they made their way across the rain-slick street. Hutch gasped as a cold gust of wind threatened to topple them. He pulled Starsky closer. They passed through a sagging barbed-wire gate and trudged up the graveled driveway.

The house was little more than a weather beaten two-storied shell that was stripped of all paint, and had the eerie feeling of a mausoleum. A collapsed shed stood to its left. As they stepped onto the rickety wooden porch, Hutch idly wondered about the house's caretaker, and for some inexplicable reason, a cold dread washed over him. When they moved closer to the door, he spied a huge yellow cat curled up on a splintered window sill. The cat eyed them suspiciously, its luminescent gaze frozen, as though they were mice trapped within its sights. It raised a paw and flicked at a mangy ear, its claws scratching against the soot covered window pane.

Suddenly, the cat bowed up, and they both jumped. Green eyes grew wide as its nose twitched. It bent its head and sniffed at a crack between pane and sill, its eyes growing wider still. Then it crooked its head and flattened its ears, brindled fur rising, and hissed loudly. Then it hopped off the sill and disappeared into the night.

Hutch shivered, wondering what the cat had sniffed. Fear, perhaps? Or was it blood or possibly death of prey?

Jesus, Hutchinson, will you get a grip? Still, though . . . .

"Maybe this isn't such a good idea," he said.

Starsky shook his head. "I'm tired, Hutch—cold. Need to sit down."

The rain began to pour again and low thunder rumbled in the distance, announcing the fast approach of another storm.

"Okay, buddy," Hutch said, sighing. "Here we go."

The door creaked open in response to their knock, revealing a frail, hunched over old man. A shock of gray hair graced his head and a beard of the same color covered his wrinkled, sun-creased face. His watery gaze swept over them, lingering for a long moment on Starsky, reminding Hutch of that damned cat. He drew his partner closer and tightened his hold. The old man smiled and moved to one side, opening the door wider.

"Come in, my sons."

As they stepped inside, Hutch froze as every cop's instinct he possessed kicked in. He did not know what it was—an old memory perhaps?—could not for the life of him put his finger on it, but he felt it . . .

Something was definitely wrong.

He wanted nothing more than to grab Starsky up and haul them as fast as he could back to the safety of his car. However, Starsky obviously felt no such compulsion, for he pulled away from Hutch and moved past him, trailing the old man into the living room. Running a hand over his mustache and mouth, Hutch looked around. Then he frowned and took a deep breath, and followed his partner.

Inside, the room was shadowy and warm. Hutch noticed the light he had seen from the outside emanated from a single bulb fixture in the ceiling. Scarlet flickers from the wood and ashes in the fireplace cast ghosts upon stained walls.

"It is a beastly night out there, isn't it?" the old man said, as he stoked life into the fire. "What brings you boys out in it?"

"Car broke down," Hutch replied. "We were wondering if we could use your phone."

The old man straightened then looked at Hutch. "Don't have a phone. Don't cotton to modern conveniences, you know." He smiled. "But you boys are welcome to stay the night if need be. The caretaker of the graveyard over yonder arrives bright and early." He nodded. "He'll surely have a phone for you to use. Now, sit yourselves right down and warm your hides. I'll fetch something to warm your innards. Then we'll get to know each other."

"Thank you," Starsky said, softly, as he peeled off his wet jacket and let it fall in a heap on the rock hearth. Then he sank down in a dust covered chair beside the fireplace. Hutch followed suit then perched on the other side of the hearth, sitting opposite Starsky. Each accepted a full glass of whiskey that the old man offered.

Hutch sipped slowly at the amber-colored liquid, sighing in appreciation as it burned its way down his throat and spread warmth into his belly. He licked his lips. It occurred to him to mention to Starsky that he should not be drinking alcohol, but the reproach died when he saw the relaxed, heavy-lidded expression on his partner's normally pinched face. He smiled softly. Surely a small amount of the drink would do him no harm. His gaze surveyed the room about him, seeing cobwebs drifting from the corners and water and grease stains on the walls and ceiling. There were cracks in the floor. A thick odor of dust and soot seemed to permeate from the woodwork.

He drank deeply from the next glass of whiskey, soon draining his glass. He set it aside then arched his back and rolled his shoulders, feeling an aching tiredness in every muscle, and then looked over at his partner. Starsky had sunk deeper into the chair, appearing small and frail—wasted away—and he was breathing deeply, his eyes flickering underneath long, heavy blinks.

That's it, buddy—rest.

He gazed deep into the fire, the yellow-orange flames mesmerizing him. Fatigue scored every inch of his body. A soft moan escaped him as the worry he had endured for the man he cherished above all others fell fully upon his shoulders, making him feel as though he carried the weight of the world. He had to reach Starsky somehow, someway.

And he wondered if sharing the one thing—the only thing—he had held back from Starsky would make a difference.

Or would it add burden to a lost soul that could simply take no more?

He looked over at Starsky once more, and saw that he, too, was staring deep into fire, although his gaze had taken on a faraway look. His body no longer shivered and was relaxed and still, the fingers of one hand absently stroking the chair's arm, the fingers of the other curled around the glass.

Hutch blinked hard then yawned. He looked up and frowned as the room began to spin. The old man stood before him and stared into his eyes then his lips turned upward in a thin knowing smile. He had the disconcerting feeling that the man had just invaded his heart and stripped him of his every secret.

"Are you warm now, son?"

He saw the thin lips move but could not make out the words. God, he was so tired. He swayed and caught himself, then swallowed hard and shook his head to clear the haze. He scrunched his eyes closed then opened them and gazed at the man, and felt a thick stab of fear.

Why was he afraid?

What was he seeing, but not seeing?

Damn, I can't think straight.

He lifted a trembling hand and rubbed it across his eyes, freezing in midstream. That was it—the eyes. Those eyes were making his blood run cold. Why though? What was he seeing in them?


The thought came swiftly and powerfully, slamming into every corner of his mind. His whole body cried out in silent fear. His breathing grew shallow, and his heart tore loose from his chest, alternating between leaping into his throat and plummeting into his stomach.

He saw death in those eyes.

His head cleared in a rush. He tried to move but could not force his body to cooperate. His limbs felt heavy. Why were they so heavy? He tried to call out, but his voice was mute. Only his eyes moved. He watched the old man cross the hearth and kneel beside Starsky, a silent scream dying in his throat as the man placed wrinkled, arthritic hands upon his partner's knees.

The old man spoke in a low, soothing, warm tone.

"Are you ready now, my son? You are tired and heartbroken. There is nothing in which for you to live. All that you love has been taken . . . stolen. Oh, my son, you have been deserted by those who claimed they love you. You are so alone. Aren't you alone, David?"

No, Hutch cried out silently. Starsky, I'm right here. Look at me. I swear to God you'll never be alone. Fight him, Starsky.


"Look at me, David."

Hutch stared helplessly as Starsky slowly lifted his head and was horror struck at the tears streaming down that pale face. He pulled futilely at his invisible bonds as the old man raised a gnarled hand and lovingly brushed away those tears.

Stop touching him, you bastard. He can't fight you, but I can. I'll fight you to the pits of Hell. Face me, you spineless coward. Face me!

"What do you see in my eyes, David?"

"Release," Starsky whispered.

"That is right, my son. There is only one escape for you; only one release. Let me show you the way. Let me release you from the chains that bind you to this life—the life you do not wish to live." The old man smiled, showing a mouth full of black, broken teeth. "There is no one here that loves you, David. You are all alone. And there is no chance for love." He stroked a hand firmly down Starsky's chest, chuckling as the man gasped and flinched from the pressure on his tender scars. "Would anyone ever again take you as a lover? Would anyone want to make love to you?"


Yes. Hutch whimpered softly, unable to make a louder sound. His whole soul screamed with a shattering need to tell Starsky that he was indeed cared for and loved. He was loved heart, soul, and body by the man that had for years kept his feelings deeply buried in a dark recess of his heart for fear that those feelings would destroy the relationship he cherished most on this earth.

Why had he not told Starsky? He trusted this man with his very life, with his very being. Why had he not trusted him with his heart?

And now it was too late.

"Come with me now, David. Soon you will be free. There will be no pain, no loneliness, no sorrow or grief. Come."

No, Starsky. Don't go. I love you. Stay with me, Starsk. Choose life; choose us. God, I love you.

He mouthed the words as Starsky turned toward him. His eyes were hollowed out blue pools, drugged by words and drink, lost within dark shadows. Helplessness and sorrow swam in them. His face told of his complete and utter resignation to his fate. Then Starsky turned away and stared deeply into the old man's fathomless ancient, evil eyes, barely flinching as this demon from hell held out his hand.

No, Starsky, no; don't do this, Hutch screamed silently as his partner reached for that gnarled hand, crying out wordlessly again as the man led Starsky from the room and down a shadowy hallway.

Hutch cried out anew, summoning every last ounce of energy, willing his traitorous body to move, and he sobbed aloud as he rose shakily to his feet. He trailed ever so slowly behind the pair, as though he was moving in slow motion, but he never lost sight of his partner's too thin form and thick wealth of dark hair. He watched as they stopped at a closed door. Starsky looked back at him for mere seconds then pushed open the door, making the ancient hinges creak under the strain. A sad smile faintly upturned his lips. Then he stepped inside, the door slamming shut behind him, the sound echoing throughout the barren house.

After what seemed an eternity, Hutch reached the door and tried the knob, finding it locked. Hurry, his mind urged, hurry. He knew in his heart that if he did not find a way past this barrier he would lose Starsky forever. With sheer determination and a strength borne of love, he rushed the door, throwing his body against it again and again until finally it gave way and crashed inward.

Hutch tumbled with it, falling hard to his knees. Then he crawled inch by agonizing inch, his body aching, his breath constricting, his hands and knees becoming bloody messes from the rough, uneven floor. But, still, he crawled. He could see Starsky huddled underneath a cracked window, his head raised, his eyes wide and unblinking, a gun held tightly within his white-knuckled grip. His lips were moving. Hutch squinted to make out the words and sobbed when he realized it was his own name being whispered over and over.

Those tears blurring his vision, he reached out to Starsky, his fingers opening and closing, seeking any part of his partner's body to touch . . .

I'm here, babe. Look at me. I'm here.

A flat report resounded throughout the room.

And the old man laughed aloud at the orgasmic joy of the moment. His twisted, evil face reflected the euphoria as he savored the terror and loss of both his victims, the spilled blood feeding and quenching his intense, ravenous hunger.

And Hutch screamed.


A harsh groan woke him.

"Jesus, Hutch. Take it easy, will you?"

He snapped open his eyes and stared wildly about the darkened room. Muted shades of red and purple faintly tinged an early morning sky through the deck's glass door; a fully strung model ship sat atop a small table sitting to the left of that door. He shifted his eyes to the right. A colorful afghan draped across the top of the couch on which he laid. A ticking clock and his harsh breathing broke the silence. He looked down at his hands and saw that his knuckles were white from his grip on the covers. He released the grip then sat up and swung his legs over the front of the couch. From his perch on the floor, Starsky rubbed a hand over his eyes then yawned and looked at him tiredly. Hutch buried his face in his hands.

"Bad dream?"

Hutch rocked slightly back and forth then, after a moment, removed his hands and nodded. "Yeah; it was a bad one," he replied, quietly.

"Want to talk about it?"

Hutch swallowed hard and shook his head. "Nah, it's over. It's okay." He arched a blond brow and frowned. "What are you doing down there?"

Starsky chuckled. "Heard you yelling and got the bright idea I'd wake you up. Your elbow didn't appreciate it."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine." Starsky slowly rose to his feet then looked at Hutch for a long moment. "Are you sure you're okay?"

Hutch nodded.

"Okay. I'll go back to bed then." He reached out and patted Hutch's shoulder and smiled. "Try to keep it down next time, huh, buddy? I need my beauty rest."


"But you love me anyway."

Hutch watched his partner walk back to the bedroom, and as Starsky stepped inside the room and the door started to shut, the dream came flooding back. He jumped to his feet and surged toward the room, halting at the threshold and pushing back on the door.

"Starsk, I . . . I have to tell you something."

His breath caught. Starsky stood in the shadows, and for the first time, Hutch noticed that he was clad only in a pair of sweatpants. His lean body still showed the evidence of the severity of his injuries, the scars on his chest and stomach stood out white and criss-crossed on his lightly tanned skin. And his face and eyes held the pain he had endured these past few months.

But he was healing a little more with each passing day. And in Hutch's eyes, he was beyond beautiful.

"I love you," Hutch whispered.

Starsky arched a brow and scowled darkly. "You think I don't know that?"

Hutch shook his head then raised a hand to rub the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger. Then he shook his head and sighed. "No. You don't understand. I—"

"I know exactly what you mean," Starsky replied, gently, noting the widening of Hutch's eyes. "I love you, too." His voice lowered and took on an almost faraway tone. "I think I've loved you forever." He released the door knob then smiled softly and turned away. "I'm going back to bed. If that couch is too hard, you're . . . you're . . . my bed is big enough for two. Clothing's optional."

Slowly, Hutch entered the room and watched in stunned silence as Starsky lay back down and pulled the covers up to his chest. It all came back in a rush. They had been searching for a pumpkin for Halloween. Starsky had nearly driven him up the wall in his quest for the pumpkin—damned thing had to be perfect before his curly haired imp would allow it to grace his doorstep. On the way home they had stopped at the cemetery to visit Terri's grave. A storm had come up out of nowhere, drenching them to the bone. And they had just barely made it back to Starsky's before another storm had rocked the heavens. Maybe it was seeing Starsky so cold and chilled, or the fact that he had been hurting from the rush back to the car that had caused this horrible nightmare. Whatever it was, though, it still held Hutch captive within its web. He tentatively sat down on the edge of the bed.



"I know things haven't been easy since the shooting. You've been through Hell, buddy. But . . . but, you do know that you're on your way back, don't you? It'll be a while, but you'll be back on the street—the doctor said it's going to happen." He exhaled heavily and closed his eyes against the dream images springing unbidden into his mind. "You're not alone or unloved, Starsky. You never will be as long as I'm around."

"That's what I told Terri yesterday."

Hutch blinked. "What?"

"I told her I loved you and that I thought you felt the same. I told her I was going to tell you." Starsky lowered his eyes and licked his lips. "Just wasn't sure when." He looked back up at his partner. "I think Terri would approve, don't you?"

Hutch reached out and stroked a hand through the thick, dark hair. "Yeah, buddy, I do."



"Take off your clothes and come to bed. Make love to me." Starsky threw back the covers in invitation then, his gaze locked on Hutch's, wriggled out of his sweatpants.

Hutch's 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. His gaze roamed hungrily over the naked body.

And, God, he was the most beautiful thing Hutch could ever recall seeing.

He stood and slowly undressed, letting his clothes fall from his body to the floor in a heap, his blue eyes riveted to Starsky.

Starsky stared at his partner and ran his tongue over his lips, his heart swelling in his chest as he saw the love and raw hunger in those eyes.

"Come to bed, Hutch."

Hutch climbed into the bed from the foot, gently nudging Starsky's legs apart and kneeling between them, capturing the hands that reached for him, tenderly kissing each palm, then up-righting and positioning Starsky so that he sat atop his thighs. He smiled softly as he felt arms and legs wrap tightly about him, and a warm breath caressed his neck as Starsky's head rested between the juncture of neck and shoulder. Lightening sliced between them as they held tightly to each other, their bodies melding as perfectly as though they had come from the same mold, their hearts matching in slow, steady beats.

Starsky groaned as a soft mouth touched his neck in a feather-light kiss, and heated desire coursed through him, fueling flames of passion and settling between his legs as he felt the breath from that mouth wafting over the pulse throbbing just under his skin, and he shuddered hard as a raspy, insistent tongue followed that breath.


"Easy, partner. I'm here." He raised shaking hands and reached out, his fingers dancing over Starsky's face, tracing the planes and ridges he knew by heart, smiling as Starsky's breath hitched. Then he plunged his hands deep into that thick wealth of dark hair and pulled his new lover ever closer, claiming that tender mouth with desperate intensity, flames rocking and consuming him as he plundered with shameless abandon, harshly nipping and sucking at the wet, swollen lips, scraping his tongue against teeth and twining it over and around its impatient mate, delving deeper and harder until his air starved lungs forced him to pull away.

Starsky's breath came in deep, ragged pants. "Please, Hutch. Please."

Hutch pressed a hand gently over that tempting mouth. He knew he should make certain that Starsky was up to this, but could not find the words. Instead, he whispered huskily, "I'll do the driving." Then he lowered Starsky to the bed, covering him with his own body, carefully keeping his weight off the scarred chest. For long moments, he did not move or speak, he merely gazed at the man whom he loved more than life itself, drinking in the dark features, the teasing mouth, and endless blue eyes. He wanted to lose himself in those eyes.

"I love you so very much," he whispered.

Starsky reached up and captured Hutch's face between his hands and stroked his thumbs over his mouth and cheeks. "I love you. Always. And I want you." He pulled the blond head close to his and buried their mouths together, blending as day does into night and light does into dark. As desire reigned free, they reached a pinnacle where neither the past nor future existed. There was only the two of them locked together in this time and place.

Hutch roamed his hands freely over Starsky's heated skin, his fingers lovingly tracing and memorizing. No other lover had excited him this much—no other lover had ever existed. He smoothed over the whisker-roughened face, feathered the gentlest of touches and kisses over the tender planes of marred chest and stomach, digging his fingers a little deeper into ticklish ribs. Slowly, his hand moved lower, brushing over the thick patch of wiry dark hair at the center of his lover's body, and massaged the crease between groin and thigh, dipping ever lower into the nether regions to play and rim the tight opening, then moved upward, sliding over the hardened shaft that curved against the flat belly.

Starsky moaned deeply, his hands finding purchase on Hutch's sweat glistened back. He needed this man, needed his calming influence and reassurances, and needed his power. Above anything else, though, he needed the man—all of him, good and bad, heart, body, and soul. He buried his face in Hutch's throat, licking and sucking, tasting sweat and salt, then shifted lower and kissed and nipped the smooth, perfect chest, sucking each pink nipple hard along the way. He heard the strong heartbeat and let it lull him, reassuring him, promising him. He cried out as Hutch's hand wrapped around his aching shaft, sliding over it in strong, determined strokes, bringing fountains of pure joy and pleasure. His breath tore from his lungs and came in short, harsh gusts. And he arched his body hard against Hutch's, squirming, seeking relief.

Pulling away reluctantly, Hutch reached for a bottle of lotion sitting on top of the bedside table and opened it. He quickly prepared himself then spent long minutes teasing and playing with his lover using tender finger-touches and long, loving strokes. He gazed into Starsky's passion-heavy eyes. He loved this man; had always loved him and would gladly spend the rest of his life reaffirming that love. Through the years, they had thought, fought, lived, worked, and oft times, spoken as one . . . now they would join as one, and remain as such now and forever. After indulging in another heart stopping kiss, he positioned his body then grasped Starsky's hips in his hands and gently slipped inside the tight, wet opening, gradually burying himself to the hilt. Soon, he started to move, each thrust long and hard, his hips pushing forward, each stroke going deeper. White heat swept over him again and again as Starsky's body surrounded him, claiming him, yielding to him, capturing him in its grasp.

Starsky cried out, moving in perfect harmony with the body manipulating him so powerfully, matching each stroke and each thrust, clenching his inner muscles, relaxing, and clenching again, his head arching back, his hands sliding over Hutch's broad back, nails digging into fair skin. He sobbed aloud, arching his back as Hutch slid a hand between their bodies and grasped his needy shaft, stroking in time with his thrusts.

Neither could tell who was doing what to whom as their bodies joined as surely as their hearts and souls had so many years ago. Starsky felt Hutch harden ever more, felt the increased tension, and heard his own name whispered as sweetly as one would offer up a prayer as his lover climaxed deep within him. Again he reached up and captured Hutch's face between his hands and drew their mouths together as his body throbbed to the point of no return and flew skyward, exploding violently, his seed spilling over his stomach and Hutch's hand.

Gently, Hutch withdrew his body from Starsky's and rolled to the side, pulling his drowsing lover into his arms. He smiled, the last remnants of his nightmare fading away in the face of Starsky's steady, deep breathing. He lowered his head and tenderly kissed the glistening forehead.

"I love you."

And then he joined the man in his dreams to sleep.