This is a sequel to Crab Sandwiches, Book One. It helps to have read the first one. This is a story about life and the end of it. Comments on this story can be sent to the author:

Crab Sandwiches
Book Two




Staring out the car window David Starsky watched a giant Santa Claus whiz by on a gilded sleigh, loaded with presents for good girls and boys as they passed a mall. Seconds later he caught sight of another red coated Santa, this one inflatable and flapping in the morning breeze, with his huge feet planted on top of a car dealership. Two more Santas decorated the bakery and a bail bonds office. Massive silver snowflakes adorned every lamppost along the street and even the police headquarters had a cheery 'Happy Holidays' in neon on the roof. The Christmas season had descended while he was doing other things. While the weather in Southern California didn't jibe with traditional white Christmases, and very few people were bundled up in woolens, there was definitely a festive spirit in the air. Starsky wished he felt it. He wanted to. Despite a Jewish upbringing, he'd always gloried in the glow of the holiday. The happiness, the parties, the gift giving--it was all wonderful and he'd loved it, in the past. This year was a different situation all together.

He was on his way to have more blood drawn for tumor markers, those invisible but insidious indicators of cancer in his body. Osteosarcoma. In the three months since Starsky had been diagnosed, he'd learned to pronounce the tongue twisting name, and a lot of other unpronounceable words that he would have been just as happy not to know.

The last of six rounds of chemotherapy had ended one week ago and now came the denouement. Did his bones still harbor deadly cancer cells? Sliding his left leg over slightly, Starsky winced, dreading what the afternoon held. His leg, broken in a fight with a murderous drug dealer, revealed a malignant tumor when the surgeon went in to pin and screw his shattered tibia back together. It had been pain and vomiting ever since.

Glancing over at the man driving the car with single-minded purpose, Starsky knew he should have admitted to Hutch how much his leg was hurting recently. But he hated giving Hutch anything more to worry about. The man already did too much, dividing his time between teaching at the police academy, working as a detective and taking care of Starsky. He was the rock Starsky clung to when everything else was going to hell in a handbasket. Even when Starsky had tried pushing Hutch away to protect him from the realities of the disease, Hutch had stayed.

Studying his friend's profile, Starsky was swamped with love for him. With his beauty--blond hair, perfect aquiline features and fathomless summer blue eyes, he could have been an actor or a model. Instead, he'd broken away from his family's plans to send him to medical school, or as a second choice, law school, and became one of the best street cops Starsky had ever known. Starsky wanted to do something for his lover, to thank him for the support and faith he'd shown in the last months. After today things would get better, wouldn't they? They had to. This had to be a day to celebrate, right?

"Can we go to the mall after?" Starsky asked softly, willing Hutch to turn and look at him. Hutch had been so withdrawn all morning, bustling about the house, getting everything ready to go without a single word on how he was feeling.

"Yeah, sure, if that's where you want to go," Hutch agreed tonelessly.

"We need…Christmas shopping, to get stuff…" Starsky trailed off, the gulf between them so gaping he was afraid of falling in and never landing. "Hutch, please…"

"Starsky?" Something in Starsky's voice must have finally penetrated the protective shell Hutch had erected. He focused those intense blue eyes on his passenger just as he was turning the car into the parking lot of the medical building. "Are you in pain?"

"Yes--and so are you!" Starsky shouted, then stopped abruptly, stunned by his own reaction. "We both sit here scared out of our minds and act like this is, I dunno, a trip to the dentist."

"But it's not," Hutch said, not disagreeing with Starsky but rather reaffirming the obvious. He parked the car and then put out his hand, running long fingers over the tiny needle mark scars on the back of Starsky's hand. "Yeah. How're you doing?"

"I didn't want to get up this morning. I didn't want this day to start because if we never got to Davies' office we could just go on believing that the chemo was over, I'm in remission and everything was fine…"

"It could be."

"I want it to be. I want this over."

"But?" Hutch waited a moment before pulling on Starsky's hand to get a response. "Starsky, what aren't you telling me?"

"My leg hurts--a lot."

"That's why Dr. Bernardi wants to do more surgery."

"I'm just…scared, y'know? What if…?"

"None of the 'what ifs'," Hutch said firmly. "We're here, we'll know in just a few hours. We'll go to the mall, you can sit on Santa's lap, and then we'll go eat in the fanciest place we can find, have champagne…"

"Lobster and steak," Starsky said defiantly, even though those were some of the last words he'd ever spoken before being gunned down in a hail of automatic gunfire five years before. "And crab."

"All the shellfish your ancestors told you never to eat," Hutch laughed, tears filming his eyes. Starsky grinned with sardonic wit, turning to look up at their destination.

"Why did you park here?" he demanded suddenly, taking in the blue sign and painted curb.

"Because it's near Davies' office," Hutch said with long suffering patience, pointing to the door not five steps away.

"No, I mean in THIS space."

Not flinching from the incendiary anger Hutch answered succinctly, "You qualify."

"Fuck you, Hutch!" Starsky exploded, grabbing the handle to pry open the car door. As with most of Hutch's older vehicles, this one had a sticky latch and he struggled briefly with it before thrusting the door forward.

"Stay there until I can get the wheelchair." Hutch got out, pulling the lever to pop the trunk.

"Don't bother, I'll walk!" Starsky balanced enough on his good leg to snatch the crutches from the back seat. "It's not far."

"You are so damned stubborn."

Starsky lifted his chin to look Hutch square on, his rage draining away. "Yeah, wanna make something of it?"

"Just stating the obvious."

With a deep breath that was halfway to a laugh, Starsky crutched his way into the lobby, Hutch trailing behind. There weren't many people waiting for the elevator, but it was enough that the first car was too full, so they waited for the second one.

"You should have gone to class this morning." Starsky watched the floor indicator flash down the numbers in reverse order. "I'm not gonna get any results until this afternoon. This is just going to be a lot of waiting."

"So, we'll wait together." Hutch shrugged. "This is the last week at the academy before exams and then graduation. All the cadets want to know is what will be on the test."

"They all make it? Didja have to boot that kid Joshua? Y'know, he kinda looks like you."

"We're both blond, that's where the resemblance ends." Hutch groaned. "No, he shaped up, pulled up his grades. He'll be graduating." When the doors of the elevator opened he steadied Starsky's arm as they crossed the threshold. After the doors closed, Hutch tightened his grip and pulled Starsky into a bear hug. "I love you, you know that?"

"Picked a helluva time to get romantic," Starsky squeezed his eyes shut, crushed against Hutch's plaid lumberjack coat. Very glad that Davies' office was on the 24th floor, he burrowed into that hug, soaking in all of the love and strength it offered. "I love you, too, blintz. Don't forget it."


"So what's the scoop, John?" Starsky asked, trying to ignore the pounding of his own heart in his ears. He'd had all morning, hell, the last week or more, to adjust to bad news. He knew in his heart that it wasn't good, but there was always that tiny shred of hope that maybe he was wrong. Maybe the pain in his leg was just a misplaced screw or unhealed bone that could be fixed. But he really didn't believe it. He was incredibly aware of how tightly Hutch was grasping the arms of the chair. His partner looked as if he would fly out if he weren't holding on.

John Davies' handsome face was grave as he stood in front of his desk holding a manila folder containing all the current medical data. "Starsky, the tumor has grown back."

Even though he'd suspected, it was hard to hear. Beside him, Hutch gasped softly. "You've been taking x-rays all along," Starsky stated for clarification, his body suddenly so cold he wanted to shiver. "Why didn't you notice before this?"

"It's a smaller lesion and up higher, hidden by your knee cap. Dr. Bernardi and I suspected something for some time, especially when the tumor markers in your blood never dropped to the levels we wanted."

"Does this mean another round of chemo?" Hutch asked in the heavy silence.

"Yes." Davies nodded, tapping the file once on his desk before placing it flat on the blotter. Starsky could tell he was stalling, which wasn't the blunt doctor's usual style. "And I highly recommend amputation beforehand. It's your only option."

"No," Starsky spat vehemently.

"Starsky," Hutch said on an outward breath, the word barely more than sibilant hisses. "This is your life."

"That's right, it's my life!" Starsky shouted, struggling to stand. "No amputation."

"Starsky, sit down!"

"Hutch, being a cop was my life. Without a leg, I'm not a cop," Starsky pleaded, knowing in some hazy part of his brain that he was being irrational. They'd already talked about leaving the force; he couldn't work as a cop even with a bum leg that refused to heal. But to have no leg at all. That took away all his chances, all his dreams. The terror of it beat at him like frantic wings of a captured bird, battering away inside a cage he couldn't escape. "No, there has to be another way. Radiation? More chemo… "

"The first round of chemo didn't stop the tumor growth," Davies explained patiently. "If we don't remove all the cancer cells, and the diseased bone, you will die."

"Either way I die," Starsky stated blandly, getting the crutches under his arms. "Cause I can never be a cop again." He fled the room as quickly as the clumsy wooden crutches would go.

Hitching a breath caught between tears and panic, Hutch whispered, "John? He needs that surgery." Not entirely sure whether he was asking a question or stating a fact.

"Yes, but he has the right to say no, Ken." Davies eased down into his padded black leather chair, favoring his lower back with a sigh. "We can't force this down his throat. If it happens, it has to be his decision."

"The amp--surgery, and then more chemo?"


"Will that guarantee remission?"

"I can't guarantee that the coffee machine will still be working every morning," Davies looked over at Hutch with compassion in his eyes. "But, no, I can't say for sure that he'll go into remission after another course. He has a very aggressive form of the cancer and it grew even during treatment."

"God." Hutch bit down hard on his lower lip to keep the tears at bay, half of him wanting to go out after Starsky and the other half resigned to giving his partner some space to work things out. "But it would give us time?" He didn't even want to ask how long.

"Yes, and if I upped the dose of the chemo, pushed a little harder, perhaps we could win this thing."

Staring at the doctor for a moment Hutch couldn't even guess whether he was trying to placate or if he truly believed a miracle could happen. But miracles did happen--five years ago Starsky had come back from the dead, regained his health, and rejoined the force. If it was possible then, it was possible now.

"Let's do it," Hutch nodded. "I'll talk him into it."

As he was striding through the waiting room he saw a jumble of People magazines on the coffee table and remembered a picture of a handsome young Kennedy skiing down the side of a snowy mountain on one leg.

Life was possible; they only had to fight for it.

Hutch found Starsky sitting sideways in the passenger seat of the car, his legs still dangling over the edge of the doorframe. The cast on his left leg was, as usual, scuffed and dirty from ill use. Told not to walk on his injured leg Starsky did everything but actually bear weight on it. He'd dug in their garden, griming the plaster cast with earth, encouraged Rosie Dobey to scrawl pictures on the rough surface with magic markers, and had recently splashed through puddles, wetting the cast so thoroughly Hutch was sure he needed a replacement. But Dr. Bernardi was used to his recalcitrant patient by now, and had examined Starsky's leg without comment earlier, setting up the usual appointment for a recasting at the end of the week, instead.

Now Hutch wondered if there would be surgery, and no more need for a cast, by Friday. Dr. Bernardi had apparently left all the bad news to Davies, opting out of the difficult session all together.

"Ready to go?" Starsky asked, still staring at his feet.


"To the mall," Starsky emphasized each word separately as if explaining to a child.

Leaning against the car Hutch chose what he wanted to say carefully, aware that pushing Starsky when he was already up against a wall already was not the optimal course of action. "We have to talk about this. You can't just ignore what Davies said in there."

"No, not now," Starsky insisted, raising his tear-streaked face. Hutch saw his lover's vulnerability so naked for a moment that he nearly fell apart entirely. "I want to go do all those things we were talking about. Celebrate---life. Christmas, Chanukah, all the holidays rolled up together. Buy presents, drink eggnog and champagne. Kiss you under the mistletoe and eat food that's tref. Cause . . . I might be in the hospital later on in December."

"Oh, Love." Hutch gathered him close, not caring that they were standing in a very public place only blocks from the building where they both worked, and that at any moment a colleague could drive by. Starsky was his world, and while he hadn't said yes to the surgery, he wasn't saying no anymore.

"Aren't you s'pposed to buy gifts for the birthday of some little Jewish kid at the end of the month?" Starsky sighed against him, still talking as if he could cover up their fears with chatter.

"Your birthday isn't until March, but I'll buy you a present anyway," Hutch laughed.

"What I want is hard to wrap." He snaked his arms around Hutch and hugged him back.


"Let's always celebrate." Starsky held up his champagne flute, clinking it lightly against Hutch's. There was a desperate quality to his joy, but he refused to let that spoil the fun. "Even when there isn't any reason to. Arbor Day, Nurse's Day, Bastille Day…"

"You really want to celebrate a holiday in honor of getting out of a French prison?" Hutch asked amused, sipping his champagne, surrounded by the mounds of their purchases. Shopping bags from all the major department stores were represented; all decorated with festive holiday scenes in red and green.

"Especially that one," Starsky agreed with enthusiasm. "And if there isn't an obscure saint or some out of the way country having a bank holiday, we can still make one up."

"Like National Eat Lobster and Crab Day."

"I knew there was a reason I saw all those cards with claws at Hallmarks." Starsky downed his wine, giggling when the bubbles went up his nose.

"Starsky, that was Claus you saw--as in Santa."

"Oh my God, when Hutchinson starts punning, I know we're in trouble."

"That's it, no more champers," Hutch sighed, up-ending the bottle in the improvised trashcan turned ice bucket. "We gotta wrap all these gifts an'…" He shrugged, clearly in his cups. "I forget."

"Wrapping can wait until tomorrow." Starsky gave his partner an ineffectual shove to get him off the couch. "Somebody needs to go to bed."

"You come with me." Hutch held out his hands. "I need help getting up."

"Won't be getting any from this camp." Starsky pushed on his shoulder again. In the part of his brain not befogged with liquor the reminder that he wasn't the same man he'd been three months ago hurt just a little. Last summer he could have hauled Hutch off the couch easily, but now even if he could put both feet on the floor to brace himself, he simply didn't have the weight to counter Hutch's larger mass. Not that Hutch was overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but six courses of chemo had stripped Starsky of muscle mass and poundage that he hadn't put back on. And with another course of the toxic drugs in his future, he probably wasn't going to.

"Then, I'll have to help you." Hutch nodded at this decision, attained his feet with a minimum of wobbling and yanked Starsky upright in the process.

"Whoa, gave me a head rush!" Starsky held onto Hutch, barely keeping his balance.

"You okay?"

"I'm more than that, I'm sloshed," Starsky laughed, Hutch's arm tightening around him.

"You're too skinny and you ate all that seafood, too." Hutch's fingers roamed over Starsky's multi-hued sweater, dipping under the ribbed band and connecting with the t-shirt underneath. "Got too many clothes on."

"Not that I'm not interested, believe me," Starsky gasped when Hutch yanked the t-shirt out of his jeans to press the flat of one hand against his now naked abdomen. Hutch's palm was still cold from the icy champagne bottle, feeling like a freezing brand on Starsky's warm skin. "But neither of us can see straight."

"And whose fault is that?" Hutch murmured, coming in close for a kiss that wobbled Starsky's already unsteady knees. "Two beers--each, wine with dinner, port after, and champagne…"

"But who's counting?" Starsky giggled, kissing back whenever he had a chance. Hutch tasted of grapes, apples, and pears, a fruit salad of a kiss. He wasn't nearly as drunk as Hutch, having sipped most of that long list of alcoholic beverages, but he was far from sober. For the first time in a long while, his touchy belly hadn't protested a single morsel he'd stuffed into it.

"I just did," Hutch snorted with a touch of irritation. "Want me to carry you?"

"No, no, I'll hobble." Starsky hung on as Hutch towed him along to the bedroom, chuckling all the way. This was fun, spontaneous…like the old days. He'd hated waiting for the right day between chemo doses when he didn't feel nauseated and had half a chance of getting an erection. Planning sex was so--planned. But when Hutch backed him onto the bed and shoved his shirt up to his shoulders, Starsky was in heaven.

Hutch attacked one brown nipple, lapping gently with the rough part of his tongue while unbuttoning the silver buttons on Starsky's 501 jeans.

"I shoulda gotten you drunk more often, I like you this way." Starsky ran his fingers through Hutch's golden blond hair. It was finally growing back to pre-head shaved lengths and he liked the feel of the silky strands sliding over his skin. With any luck he'd just be starting to get a few brown curls just about the time Davies ordered the next round of chemo. Not wanting to go there, Starsky concentrated on the gorgeous man in front of him, kneading the strong muscles of his neck and massaging the long biceps and triceps that rippled as Hutch finally managed to pop the last button out of its hole and push the jeans aside.

"Nice shorts, Starsk," Hutch teased, threading his fingers under the elastic of the boxers printed with a large Rudolph. His red nose was poised right below the convenient slit in the fabric. "Too bad you're going to lose them."

"S'okay, I can live without 'em." Starsky lay back on the red and gold spread, passively letting Hutch divest him of his pants. He liked watching the way the overhead light backlit Hutch with a silver halo. Like an angel was making love to him. "But I wanna be inside you . . . "

"Yeah?" Hutch's delight was peppered with uncertainty. It was as easy to read on his face as if it were printed there in large letters. Starsky understood completely. It had been a long time since he'd had any staying power at all and although the spirit was willing tonight, there was no telling if the flesh could keep it up or not.

"Yeah . . . " Starsky breathed out on a sigh as Hutch slipped one hand around his phallus and began stroking with just the tips of his fingers, feather-light and highly erotic.

"Oh, yeah. Just get me ready and then get those clothes off fast because I'm primed . . . "

"I can do both at the same time." Hutch demonstrated a one handed technique while unzipping his trousers and toeing off his shoes.

"I always knew you had a talent, just took a bottle of champagne to bubble it to the surface," Starsky teased, even happier to watch Hutch's ferocious erection spring forward, bright red and ready for action. "Lean down here . . . " he encouraged. Hutch straddled Starsky's body, resting on his knees. "Closer . . . " Starsky wheedled until the lovely big rod was within reach. Then he opened his mouth and sucked it in hard and fast. Hutch gasped in ecstasy, bracing himself on his hands to keep his weight off Starsky's chest.

Breathing slowly Starsky hummed deep in his throat, sucking on his prize with pure delight. He could sense Hutch's mounting excitement and kept a steady pressure with his lips, allowing the vibration from his humming to rumble down the length of the cock until even the balls seemed to be reverberating from the sound. Starsky reached up, giving the scrotum just a glancing bounce but Hutch cried out, shoving forcefully into Starsky's mouth. He came in short order, pulling out fast so that some of the cum splattered down Starsky's chest, both of them panting and laughing with the sheer thrill of it all. That after so many years together just the simple act of oral sex could be so satisfying and so arousing was testament to their love of each other. Yet, this was no simple act of lovemaking. It was laughing instead of crying, spitting in the face of death, and providing a firm foundation to hold them up when things got much worse. It was survival.

"You liked that?" Starsky smiled up at his amour, their faces only inches apart. A drop of sweat dripped off the end of Hutch's nose, landing on Starsky's cheek.

"I liked that, yes," Hutch confirmed. "But we'll both need a shower after this."

"You don't like shared body fluids? I can always come back later…" Starsky rocked his hips forward, his thick cock jutting forward; a rocket ready for takeoff.

"Learned to share in kindergarten." Hutch rolled over on his side, curled up against his partner.

"Kindergarten? You musta had some progressive teachers in Duluth!"

"Have to keep warm in the winter somehow."

"You're drunk."

"I thought we already established that." Hutch laughed. "How do you want me?"

"So now you'll take orders from me? Roll the other way. I'd prefer looking into those baby blues, but this way is easier." Starsky sighed at his own shortcomings. He simply didn't have the stamina to stand or kneel in front of his love and push into that beckoning hole. But the view from the backside, while not quite as enticing as a pair of adoring eyes in a beloved face, wasn't bad. Hutch's pale skin, sometimes lightly tanned in mid summer, was peachy pale pink in the winter, his buttocks rounded like a baby's. Starsky reverently curved his hand over one cheek, feeling the solid, healthy muscle. It was too easy to get caught up in admiring the merchandise, with a little bit of jealousy for what he didn't have anymore--he could only see wasted flesh when he looked at himself in the mirror--but he wanted action, and soon. Without much ado he carefully prepared Hutch's entrance with a liberal dollop of lubricating jelly and slid in two fingers. It had been a long time since he'd been able to service his lover and the fit was a tight one. Hutch gasped, pushing against Starsky's hand urgently.

"You all right? You're almost virginal again," Starsky said anxiously.

"I'm not seventeen, and more importantly, I don't wanna be . . . do it!" Hutch insisted.

"You were seventeen your first time?" Starsky slicked his cock, need quickening his breath and tensing his balls. He used the chatter to slow himself down, pushing into the waiting anus on an exhalation, desire building up too quickly for him to be careful. "How old were you?" Hutch laughed, but there was a slight strain in his voice. He pulled one knee up towards his chest, panting.

"Eighteen . . . just," Starsky managed to get out. His whole body shaking, he shot his load in one hard burst. "Fuck--and it ended just about as quickly. " He ejected quickly from the perfect sheath with a sigh of regret, one hand lingering on Hutch's hip.

"Hey, nobody said this was a marathon…" Hutch turned, pulling Starsky's hand down so that he had to lie next to him, which put Starsky slightly below his lover. Hutch kissed him on the crown of his head, cradling him like a baby. "I kinda like you bald, y'know that? No hair to get in my teeth."

"The drink has affected your eyesight, Mr. Hutchinson," Starsky responded shakily, pressing his lips against perfect, unscarred skin.

"Love is blind, Starsk," Hutch said, tipping his chin up so they could look into each other's eyes.

"Romantic fool," Starsky muttered. Hutch managed to flip the covers over both of them and they fell asleep, entwined like the dark and light sides of yin and yang.


Hutch half woke when the mattress jittered for a moment. He smiled against Starsky's warm neck; that was just Pansy jumping up on the bed. But then the whole bed frame shook violently, rolling more than a foot away from the wall and then back again. A weird rumbling groan was rising out of the earth, the floor seeming to liquefy like so much wooden Jell-O.

"Starsky! Earthquake!" Hutch yelled, jerking him out of the bed with a burst of adrenaline that got them both across the room and under the doorframe. By that time the powerful quake had abated, leaving only the sway of the curtains and the disheveled heap of books out of the bookshelf to betray the earth's brief temper tantrum.

"S'over?" Starsky muttered, bracing himself against the wall. He was still more than half asleep.

"I think so. Need help there?" Hutch laughed self-consciously. He had never grown accustomed to the way the ground shook in California. Back in Minnesota, the ground was solid and dependable, not like here. His heartrate still hadn't settled into a normal rhythm when a second smaller aftershock rattled the house, the windowpanes clattering against the frames like maracas. Pansy howled from somewhere in the living room.

"Musta made the big guy mad, eatin' all that shellfish," Starsky announced loudly over the sudden barking of neighborhood dogs.

"Don't think your breaking a dietary law warranted an earthquake." Hutch pawed through the jumble of shoes in the closet for his slippers and a pair of sweats. He tossed a second set at Starsky. "Get back into bed, I'm going out to see if anything's happened in the street." He could hear the irritating whoops and screeches of car alarms all up and down the block. Made him proud he'd never bought one.

"You're not leaving me behind at a time like this," Starsky declared, dressing quickly. "Where're the crutches?"

"Then be careful, there could be glass . . . " Hutch cautioned, feeling his way along the wall to the living room. He located the wooden sticks by the couch, and backtracked to the hall to hand them to his partner. The living room was in good condition with only a few plants and knickknacks on the floor. One of Starsky's delicate ships in a bottle had taken a fatal plunge, but otherwise there was no major damage.

On the usually quiet suburban street most of the inhabitants were out in their yards at 3:45 in the morning. None of the nearby houses had sustained any obvious damage, and Hutch concluded that no one was hurt after conversing with the neighbors on both sides. They had been incredibly lucky, and while he probably should be checking in with the department to help out, Hutch realized he was still drunk enough to be more of a hindrance than a help. He turned back in time to see Starsky depositing most of his crab meal and all the subsequent alcohol he'd imbibed into the rose bushes.

"Hey, how're you doing?" Hutch caught him by the arm as Starsky wiped his mouth with a trembling hand. Helping him back into the house, Hutch realized the electricity was out, the room swathed in darkness. While he tried to remember where he'd last left candles and matches, Starsky dropped down onto the couch without speaking.

Hutch sighed. It had been so easy to think that the chemo was all over until they'd been hit with the bad news, and he'd almost forgotten that it had only been five and a half days since Starsky was curled around an emesis bowl, sicker than a dog. Starsky had done too much yesterday. They never should have gone shopping after the doctor's office. And neither one of them should have drunk so much. Hutch's head was pounding and his guts churned ominously, but the last thing he wanted to do right now was follow Starsky's lead. Finally locating the matches in the breakfront, he lit one of the dining table candles giving the room a shadowy illumination. Taking one last look at his partner curled up miserably on the couch with the afghan pulled tightly around him, Hutch headed for the kitchen. The sight of Starsky like that was too reminiscent of so many days in the last months. Memories of the awfulness of chemo overwhelmed him and he had the absurd urge to cry in frustration. Instead, he dumped out four aspirin and downed them with a swallow of milk straight from the carton.

"This was a sign."

"What?" Hutch stepped back into the living room. He couldn't see Starsky over the back of the couch.

"This has gotta happen, huh?"

Starsky's plaintive tone cut Hutch like a knife, leaving a wide swatch of pain behind. He didn't need any explanation for the almost nonsensical question. Starsky was referring to the surgery--and not just the surgery to insert a few more pins and screws but the grim reality of the amputation surgery. "Yeah, Starsk, I think it has to."

"It's like my life is on this balance, y'know? This lady holdin' up two little gold plates on chains. And I don't know which side is the right one--either way I lose."

"You don't lose, Starsky." Hutch was on the sofa and gathering him into his arms in a second. "You win. Life."

"But what kinda life is it?" Starsky was openly crying but he kept talking, the words tumbling out so quickly he was panting with exertion. "No more bein' a cop. I'm so…Goddammned it! S'good thing my ma ain't here…I won't be whole--why would you wanna stay now? I'll be a gimp, can't drive. No job. No job! Fuckfuckfuckfuck…I don't wanna go right now, Hutch."

Unable to give any kind of counseling, Hutch just hugged him tighter, infusing his arms with all the love he could muster. He ached all over for Starsky's grief, even though he'd always supported the idea of amputation. If losing a limb meant Starsky stayed alive, he was all for it.

"I don' wanna die, Hutch, but it's not living if I can't walk!"

"Sssh, I know the last thing you want to hear right now is rationalizations, so I'm not going to even try," Hutch murmured in Starsky's ear. "Just know I love you. I'm not leaving, no matter how many times you push. This is awful stuff, Starsk. Horrible, and I'd cut off my own foot if it would change things."


Starsky spoke so softly into the soft cotton of Hutch's 49'ers sweatshirt that Hutch wasn't sure he'd said anything at all. "I can't hear you," he said gently, rubbing light circles on his partner's back.

"No. Never say that. Like when you shaved off all your hair. I don't want to see any part of the cancer touching you." Starsky sucked in a lungful of air, his eyes still wild and wet, but he had a fearsome, determined look. "You have to stay whole, clean. I don't want this--shit--to touch you. If it was contagious, I'd leave in a minute, I swear, and hide. Hutch, you're the keeper of the flame. Y'know, when things get so hard I can just look at you and you're so solid, and strong, and there…don't change, please?"

"I'm here." Hutch clung to him, tears streaming down his own cheeks. Why did it have to come to this? What quirk of fate had dealt David Starsky such a shitty hand? As if surviving an assassination attempt wasn't enough, he had to slog through months of chemo only to crap out afterwards with this diagnosis.

They stayed wrapped around each other for so long Hutch thought Starsky had gone to sleep, but Starsky stirred, bringing one hand up slowly to wipe at his eyes. "My head hurts."

"I'm not surprised, you must have the king of all hangovers. Want some aspirin?" Hutch untangled himself, resuming the steady circles on Starsky's back.

"Yeah, but I'm not sure it'd stay down." Starsky leaned his head on Hutch's shoulder, but the turbulent emotions had passed. He was almost limp; lethargic.

"That bad?"

"Mmmm," he gave a half a chuckle, a sound Hutch hadn't expected to hear. "How come you're always pushing the health food and the alternative treatments, but get a headache and you're handing out aspirin like it's candy."

"Aspirin works. Good old Bayer," Hutch said in defense. His own headache was abating with every passing minute and he'd just about decided to get up and make some coffee, or at least do something constructive, when the phone rang loudly.

"It's the department," Starsky muttered.

Hutch answered with as much enthusiasm as he could muster. It was indeed Dobey, checking up on them. Begging off coming in immediately, Hutch promised to show up as soon as he could find someone to stay with Starsky.

"I can go in with you."

"Starsk, I don't want to go--you certainly don't have to." Hutch got up, running his fingers through his unruly hair. He still felt like the earth was moving even though there had only been the two shakers. And Starsky was so unbalanced right now, the last thing he wanted to do was leave him.

"What do you think they do with it?" Starsky asked when Hutch had dumped some frozen orange juice into a pitcher and was attempting to stir the icy mass into liquid.

"With what?" Hutch asked distractedly, wondering if it was worth going back to bed at this point. He was exhausted but hyper-alert at the same time. Bed still beckoned and he decided that was the best course of action.

"My leg. Where does it go?"

"Starsky!" he groaned. "Why are you thinking about that? I don't know, ask Bernardi."

"I won't make two footprints in the sand."

"Oh God, Starsk," Hutch choked, his heart breaking. With trembling hands, he gathered up the aspirin and a glass of juice, bringing them over to his friend. "Your footprints are indelibly stamped on my heart, my love. They'll be there for all eternity."


The next few days were a blur of activity with doctor appointments and lab visits. Luckily, Bay City had sustained very little damage from the earthquake. The epicenter was located way out in the desert beyond the Los Angeles area, but the original jolt and subsequent aftershocks had been enough to tumble a few walls, knock down one off-ramp on the 405, kill three people and a dog. All of this impinged very little on Starsky and Hutch, who were immersed in their own little upheaval. Even the most innocuous conversation seemed charged with emotion as the day of surgery approached. Starsky alternated between unfocused fear and almost violent rage. He threw a cup of cocoa at Hutch, and radiated such intensity that Pansy avoided him altogether.

Still, between the squalls on the home front and lending a hand in the squadroom, Hutch found some time to stop off at an upscale gardening boutique that featured DIY stepping stones. He bought two, and so armed, headed over to the hospital where Starsky had just been admitted.

"Hey," Starsky greeted him almost shyly.

"Hi, yourself. I asked Dr. Bernardi's assistant to meet us here for a little ceremony," Hutch explained, laying out his packages.

"What've you got there?"

"All will be explained soon enough," Hutch said mysteriously, ducking into the tiny bathroom to get a pitcher of water. A thickset man carrying a cast saw came in at just that moment, watching the activity with interest.

"Mohammed Masour," he introduced himself in a thick Middle Eastern accent. "You needed a cast split?"

"Hutch?" Starsky asked in surprise.

"I discussed it with Dr. Bernardi," Hutch said, addressing the tech to keep Starsky in suspense a while longer. "He said it would be all right to remove just the foot part of the cast tonight."

"Okay by me." Masour nodded, getting to work. Hutch smiled indulgently at Starsky's mystified expression. Did Starsky good to be curious, interested in something. He'd become so entrenched in anger he needed a little whimsy in his life.

In short order Masour had removed the bottom of the grimy cast and dumped it in the trash. "Anything else?" he asked, brushing the plaster dust off the bed.

"No, thanks," Starsky said finally, staring down at his foot, naked for the first time in months. "This is great." He wiggled his toes experimentally, wincing. "Hutch? If you're planning to get me up and running around tonight, I'll have you know my 50 yard dash needs some work."

"No track and field events, just this." Waiting until Masour carried his saw out, Hutch placed a round frame filled with wet cement beside the bed. "Stand up and be immortalized."

"Oh, my God," Starsky whispered, his dark blue eyes filling immediately with tears. He wiped them away impatiently. "Like in front of Grauman's, I mean Mann's Chinese Theatre?"

"Just like Marilyn Monroe."

"Me and Humphrey Bogart have the same size feet," Starsky chattered, shifting around so that he was positioned over the small target. "In high school, I went there with a Kathy Phillips, my girlfriend in 10th grade, and stood in his footprints."

"Better get to it, then, Sam Spade. The cement is quick drying." Hutch held out a hand to help him up. Starsky grinned, placing his stronger right foot in the smooshy goo. Gripping Hutch's proffered hand he gingerly lowered the weaker foot beside the first one, standing for the first time in months.

"This is like wading in mud in the vacant lots after it rained when I was a kid. The mud squooshes up between your toes," Starsky giggled. There was an edge to even his joy as if he had to work hard to maintain any level of happiness, but all the same Hutch was pleased beyond measure that he was making the effort. "You gotta make one, Hutch, so we'll both be immortalized."

"I bought two kits," Hutch agreed happily. Starsky had accepted his gesture of love at face value, using the paving stone to commemorate of the last night he'd had his foot. Hutch had thought about bringing a camera, as well, but Starsky was so self-conscious about his appearance post chemo, that he'd left the camera at home. There were only a handful of pictures of Starsky since he'd lost his hair, but that wasn't half as important as renewing his sense of self worth. "Sit back now and I'll wash off your feet."

"You thought of everything," Starsky crowed as Hutch produced one of the pink hospital basins filled with soapy water. He wiggled his dirty feet, splashing water over the sides of the basin.

"Just read the instructions on the package. Said not to let the cement harden on your feet." he shrugged. "D'you want your whole name on the stone or just Starsky?"

"Just Starsky. And the date."

Using a wooden Popsicle stick Hutch scratched the letters into the moist mortar above the footprints. The outline of those ten toes lined up next to one another twisted him inside, but he didn't want Starsky sensing pity. The whole situation was so tenuous, both of them knowing that the morning would bring a life altering surgery, and both of them afraid to confront the reality. Tonight they were living in the moment, the future cordoned off with the yellow tape police use to keep the public out.

"I wanna watch you do it," Starsky kicked water intentionally onto Hutch's slacks, laughing.

"Gotta mix up more cement." Hutch demonstrated, pouring water on top of the powdered cement in a second frame. Rolling up his now damp pants with a grimace at his amused partner he pulled off socks and shoes. When the solution of pulverized rock, clay, and water was just right he stuck his feet in. The wet mixture did squoosh up in between his toes in a weird sensation, and he grinned over at his partner, who laughed aloud.

His face alight, Starsky glowed with happiness. And that was the Starsky Hutch wanted to remember forever. On impulse Hutch leaned over, planting a kiss on his lover's face while the cement hardened.


"You can go in now, Mr. Hutchinson." A stout nurse Hutch didn't know beckoned from the recovery room, smiling gently, obviously aware of his nervousness. "He's beginning to wake up, but he's groggy and will sleep for hours, most probably."

Donning a surgical gown and little paper booties for his shoes, Hutch worked to slam the lid down on all the frightening images he'd conjured up while sitting bolt upright in the waiting room for the entire length of the surgery. Both Huggy and Daisy had sat with him, but their presence had somehow just intensified the idea that there was something to be worried about. If the operation had been for something benign, like an impacted wisdom tooth, Hutch wouldn't have needed an entourage of supporters. But when his best friend--his lover--was losing part of his anatomy, people showed up in droves. Either that, or they called. Even Starsky's brother Nick had called, from prison back East. For an event of such rarity Hutch had managed to be civil to the man. It would have been nicer if Nick had managed to call when Starsky was around to talk to him, but no, Nick had called after his brother had gone into the OR.

Flowers had crowded the room just before Starsky was taken away on the gurney. Bouquets from the guys in the detective squadroom, the Dobeys, and several other friends. Hutch started sneezing at a quarter to seven in the morning from the proliferation of flora and hadn't stopped since. At least the recovery room wasn't wall-to-wall posies.

Approaching the curtained area, Hutch felt the queasiness in his belly swell to almost overwhelming nausea. He avoided looking at the lower end of the bed, concentrating on his partner's pale face. And with that, the sickness abated, substituted by love. It was Starsky, after all. Just Starsky, his eyelids bluish on his pale cheeks, a plastic nasal cannula bringing supplemental oxygen to his body. Nothing had really changed.

Perching on the little round stool, Hutch picked up one limp hand, squeezing gently. "Hey, you big lug, you awake?"


Hutch grinned. He'd always liked the way Starsky slurred his name when sleepy, making it sound like a request for silence. "Sssh, yeah, it's me. Just sleep, Starsk."

"Is it…gone?" Starsky opened his eyes, staring up beseechingly.

Knowing that he had to look, but still not wanting to, Hutch glanced swiftly to his left, sighting the narrow mound of blanket covering only one leg. "Y-yes."

Starsky turned away, his whole body seeming to shrink just a bit, pulling away from Hutch's grasp.


Starsky's withdrawal included every aspect of life. He didn't eat, refused to do the exercises the nurses and therapists insisted on, and hardly spoke a word to anyone, even Hutch. He spent most days sleeping or staring blankly out the window of his room at the unceasing rain. TV weathermen were calling it one of the rainiest years in a decade. Whatever it was, Starsky's depression was contagious. Hutch found it harder and harder to get out of bed, go to work, and go about his daily duties. He even began to find excuses to get out of visiting Starsky at the hospital. This intensified the already overwhelming guilt swallowing him up. He was the one who'd pushed for the amputation and now, instead of keeping Starsky alive, it had deadened his spirit. And Hutch hadn't a clue how to fix things.

Sitting next to the bed when Starsky practically ignored him was a crushing blow. He knew he was the one who should be providing some kind of entertainment. After all he was the able-bodied person. Starsky was sick--he needed support and encouragement, but Hutch had none left. He was exhausted, mentally and physically. More than once he found himself cutting his hospital visit short to seek out someplace with noise, energy. and alcohol.

"Blondie, you been in here more often in the last week than in the last three months," Huggy observed, drying off a beer glass before placing it next to its brethren on a high shelf.

"Can't a guy get a quiet drink around here?" Hutch snapped irritably. Even though he'd craved a change from the deadly quiet of the hospital, the cacophony of the bar was adding to his perpetual headache.

"Mosta the time, 'cept I kinda figured you'd be spending time with that other guy…what's his name?" Huggy frowned as if trying to remember, then snapped his fingers. "Starsky, that's it! You remember him, he's in the hospital?"

Hutch jerked up from nursing his beer, hearing the accusatory tone in Huggy's voice. "Hug…I…"

"Down would be up for you, huh?" Huggy relented, leaning against the bar. "I saw Starsky this morning. He's in a bad way and it don't help with you moping around, too."

"Did he talk to you?" Hutch asked hopefully. He'd only stayed long enough to see Starsky staring sightlessly at a game show he normally hated, pale face slack and blue eyes dull. Starsky had barely greeted him before turning away again. Since the surgery Hutch had a tight knot of tears lodged in his chest that clogged his throat. He could barely swallow liquids and food was practically a thing of the past. He felt desperate, like some vital organ had been cut off along with Starsky's leg.

"No." Hug shrugged, pursing his lips. "Daisy's gone over there now."

"Daisy?" That surprised Hutch, as he'd never known her to visit Starsky on her own before.

"She had something she wanted to tell him, but she didn't tell me." Huggy busied himself behind the bar, filling a few drinks as waitresses came up with orders, letting Hutch finish his beer in silence. When the busy spate ended, Huggy called out an order for two burgers to his cook, then inclined his head towards his cramped little office. "C'mon, Hutch, may be a no bigger'n a closet, but it's the only place I'll ever be king."

Smiling wearily at that, Hutch followed, sitting down in a lumpy overstuffed chair probably found in the local Goodwill reject section.

"Your cadets graduating?" Huggy asked conversationally.

"Yeah, no more teaching until after the new year," Hutch answered, his heart constricting as he suddenly recalled Starsky's proposed date for New Year's Eve. Starsky had hoped for some hair, a little sex, and a big crab feed. Now, all of that was in limbo. Chemo would probably be started by then, with all the joys it brought. Hutch seriously wondered if he could stand another round of chemo, and doubted that Starsky could in his present condition.

"You got any cases going on?" Huggy asked as if he didn't have his ear on the street and usually knew the latest before the police did.

"Mostly shuffling paper for Dobey," Hutch said dispiritedly. "Co-ordinated the big drug bust earlier this week, and we may turn Schroeder's case over to the FBI--he's gotta be out of state by now. Any word on that scum?"

"He's always been a snake, low to the ground, and just about as slippery." Huggy cleared off his desk by shoving most of the ledgers and liquor invoices over onto the filing cabinet. "Even with Supervisor Michaelson-Hsieh keeping Emerald's murder alive on the news all the time, nobody's seen him in weeks. I'd'a told you, man,"

"Yeah, I know." Hutch rubbed the tightness in his chest, wishing he could just sleep for a million years.

"So, what do you need, Hutch?" Huggy waved in his latest favorite waitress, Demelza, who delivered two plates of Huggy Bear specials with a smile and a wink.

"Besides a good meal?"

"Me?" Hutch regarded the food with as much enthusiasm as he would a root canal.

"Eat it all, like the good little boy your mama raised you t'be and start talkin', Farm Boy." Huggy took a generous bite out of his own burger.

"Wasn't raised on a farm," Hutch retorted, resigned to eating the meat, if not the French fries. "Just summered there."

"Yeah, but you look like a farm boy, all them blond locks and Scandinavian brawn," Huggy teased. "C'mon, spill to old Hug, get it off your chest."

In fits and starts Hutch began to talk. Of his concern for Starsky, his self-hatred for encouraging a surgery he knew Starsky didn't want, and his over-identification with a recent case. Even though Hutch had never seen the body of a man found dead in his apartment, he'd read over the case files because of family claims that the police had misidentified the death as a suicide instead of a murder. They'd insisted that their beloved son and brother would never blow his brains out with a handgun, that he wasn't that kind of person. Yet, a note and the recent news that his brain tumor was terminal had all pointed to a desperate man unwilling to prolong his life any further. Hutch was certain, from all the facts presented, that the detectives investigating the case had done a thorough job. It had been suicide, and that scared Hutch more than anything in a long time.

"Starsky wouldn't, Hutch," Huggy said softly.

"You don't know that!" Hutch shouted, pain and anger infusing his body with more passion than he'd had since the night of the earthquake. "I don't know that! He's changed. He…he's fading away, Huggy!"

"Then find a way to bring him back."


"David?" Daisy stood resolutely in the doorway of the pleasant hospital room, girding up her courage. She'd had to force herself to even enter the hospital itself, memories of childhood swirling around her like ghosts. Luckily, the surroundings were quite different. In fact, the whole atmosphere of the Rose Tree Unit had surprised her with its pretty decoration and quiet air of competence; a welcome change from the places she'd once visited. There wasn't the specter of death clinging to the place, as she'd expected. A sweet-faced young nurse wearing a flowered top pointed out Starsky's room, smiling in a friendly way to allay her fears. Now, if Starsky would only talk to her. Huggy had come back from his morning's visit saddened and worried about the man. Daisy had spent the rest of the day baking Yule logs, resolving herself to the fact that the time had come. She had to fess up with the secret she'd kept from all her new friends--even her fiancé.

She'd actually meant to tell all the day of the surgery, but Hutch's visible pain and her own remembered terrors had kept her silent. Waiting in that stifling little room had been a true test of will. She'd spent the remainder of the day making hundreds of Christmas cookies alone in the steamy bakery, staying up the whole night rather than trying to sleep and dreaming of the one whom she missed most on earth. What quirk of fate had brought her to Huggy Bear at the same time his old buddy was diagnosed with osteosarcoma? It still sent shivers down her spine. Was this to be her atonement for past wrongs, or her gift to Starsky?

Bearing a basket of cookies and fudge, Daisy advanced into the room even though Starsky hadn't answered. Was he asleep? The TV was on, Hogan coercing blond braided Helga into letting him into Colonel Klink's office. Setting the basket on the bedside table, Daisy hesitated, wondering if she should forge right ahead or wait for Starsky to respond.

"I've brought you some treats," Daisy finally said lamely, surprised when Starsky turned dully towards her. "I know you're not eating a lot lately, but you could share it with the nurses. All kinds of cookies--shortbread, Mexican Wedding Cakes, frosted Santas…"

"Russian Tea Cakes," Starsky said.


"Those, my ma used to call 'em Russian Tea Cakes." He pointed to the small, round cookies covered with powdered sugar.

"Oh, those have lots of names, I've even heard them called Pecan Balls," Daisy babbled, wondering how they'd gotten off on such a tangent and should she bring up the subject that had brought her here, or let it lie for now. "D'jou want one? I like Stained Glass cookies the best--they're so pretty." She held up one of the delicate confections, angling it so that the overhead light shone through the strawberry jelly 'glass' in the center. She sometimes thought they were too pretty to eat.

"My ma made those, too." Starsky said softly, his voice husky.

"Where is she?"

"She died," he answered flatly.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm not, not any more." Starsky selected a Santa, touching the red frosting of his suit with his forefinger. "I don't want her to be here, see me like this. It's better she died."

"But you must miss her badly."

"She used to bake. We were Jewish, but she liked to bake all these cookies. Lots of 'em, for the whole neighborhood. The--the local Catholic school would have a party . . . " Starsky crushed the Santa into crumbs, his wan face hard. "I'd bring them down there and the nun, Sister Therese, would give me a blessing on my head to protect me cause it was usually snowing." He hitched a breath, close to crying but holding it in. "Useta feel special, like God smiled on me those days. Not any more."

"Starsky." Daisy wiped away the remainder of the Santa cookie, dusting off her hands over the metal trashcan. "I have something I want to tell you. I've wanted to tell you since the day we met, but there never seemed to be the right time."

"I'm really tired."

"I understand--more than you know." She put her hand down gently on the blanket right over what was left of his left thigh. "Does your foot hurt? Can you still feel your calf?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?" Starsky stared at her with evident surprise.

"I had a twin." Daisy looked down on the wealth of her talent, the basket of cookies. Somehow they helped center her, remind her of all she'd accomplished. "His name was Flori--Florian. In Italian it means flower. I used to wonder a little at my parents' sense of humor. Naming a boy flower. My elder sister's name was Marigold, though."

She refrained from looking at her audience, turning to face the window instead. Starsky's wavy reflection watched her, listening to her story. She briefly wondered whether he was actually paying attention, or just waiting for her to leave. "My maiden name is Bouquet. How's that for a moniker? Daisy and Florian Bouquet. Is it any wonder he was a tough kid who got into fights all the time?" She paused, seeing her twin coming home from school, a wild, reckless light in his brown-gold eyes, his caramel colored skin marred with scratches from some altercation. That was before. "I just hid out in the kitchen with my mother, the good girl, baking bread. Then one day Flori said his leg hurt, not bad, but persistent, y'know, just below his knee."

Starsky drew in a sharp breath in the quiet room, and Daisy knew her decision to speak out had been a good one.

"He was 14, just beginning to get his height, taller than me finally. My mother thought it was growing pains." She could feel the tears welling up inside, pricking the underside of her eyelids until she had to blink repeatedly. "When the doctor finally diagnosed osteosarcoma, it was almost too late…they took his leg the next day." One stray drop slid down her cheek but she scrubbed it away. "Flori--Flori was so incredibly brave, but this was 1968. The treatments were not as good then. He died while undergoing chemo."

"Your twin?"

"Yes," Daisy agreed miserably. "I just wanted you to know--to know that in a small way, I understand what's happening to you. It's more powerful that anything else, cancer. Strips you down to the soul. At least Flori and I could talk to each other." She finally looked up at Starsky who was listening with a rapt but unreadable expression.

"I know it's hard, but keep talking, keep communicating, even if it's only to me. I don't know you very well, and maybe that makes it easier." She trembled, the tears releasing what was too hard to keep inside any longer. What surprised her the most, though, was when Starsky pulled her into his arms. It felt amazingly cleansing to cry for Flori 16 years after his death. She'd been lost then, her grief submersed by her mother's pain over losing a child, and the myriad details involved in a funeral. After that, her mother had shut down, her father immersed himself in work, and her older sister left for college. No one paid any attention to good little Daisy, leaving her to bake bread late into the night. She'd baked so much bread she'd had to sell it, just to get it out of the house, earning surprisingly good money which she'd used to leave home with. But out on her own, she'd been lost again--until recently.

Wiping her eyes with the back of her sleeve, Daisy looked around for a box of Kleenex. Starsky lay back on his pillows as if embarrassed for participating in that display of emotion, but there was a strange change in him that Daisy couldn't quite put her finger on. Finding the tissue box, she cleaned herself up, crumpling the Kleenex into a soggy wad.

"Can I have one of those?" Starsky nodded at the cookie basket.

"Sure, I brought them for you. Which one?"

"Fudge," he decided, glancing over at the TV. Hogan was in a confab with the other prisoners, and LeBeau was making some French gourmet meal. "D'you know how to make stuffed veal?"

"I've got a recipe, why?"

"Hutch…Hutch likes it." Starsky tasted the fudge tentatively, then ate the piece in one bite. "Thanks for telling me about Flori. You got a picture?"

"Sure," Daisy pulled out the snapshot she always kept in her wallet. Taken only a few weeks before her brother's fatal diagnosis, it showed them standing side by side at some carnival. She had cotton candy, he had a corndog.

"Looks a lot like you," Starsky remarked. "Did he know he was going to die?"

"Yes." Daisy stared at the picture for a moment before tucking it back in her purse. "My parents didn't want him to know how bad it was, but he did. He did."

"I've thought a lot about death this week." Starsky reached over and snagged another piece of fudge. "But, I'm not ready, and I know Hutch isn't. He's so damned scared I can't bear to be around him lately. Seein' all that fear in his face really tears me up inside."

"Did you tell him?"

"Sometimes it's all I can do to breathe, talking takes so much more work."

"Life's a bitch, and then you die."

"Huggy teach you that one?" Starsky quirked a rare smile.

"It seemed apropos. I can get you a t-shirt printed up."

"Do that," Starsky nodded, taking a shuddery breath.

"A Chanukah present, maybe."

"When is that? What day is it?" he asked sounding startled.

"Next week? I've got an order for dreidel shaped cookies coming up for the Levenstein's party on the 20th. Today's the14th."

Starsky chewed his fudge thoughtfully, swallowed, and then coughed. Daisy poured him a glass of water, but the cough persisted even after he'd drunk his fill.

"You all right?"

"Yeah, that's been happening all day." He waved away any concern for himself, closing his eyes tiredly.

"I'll be going then," Daisy said awkwardly.

"Oh--thanks." Starsky opened his eyes again. "For the cookies, and Flori. You told me before you told Hug?"

"I knew you'd understand."

Starsky frowned, looking at her for the first time like he really saw her. "He will, too. He loves you. Come by again."

"I will." Daisy gave a little wave, turning towards the door. Filling the frame was a tall, good looking blond.

"Hutch?" Starsky said from behind her, and there was such need and love in his voice that Daisy had to duck her head not to weep in front of the detectives.

"Huggy told me she was here," Hutch said as Daisy passed by with a nodded greeting.

"Yeah, brought some cookies. Have a couple, they look good." Starsky sucked the last of the fudge off his lower lip

"Did you try one?"

Starsky shrugged, grappling with the misery that blackened his world, but oh-so-glad to see Hutch. He hadn't expected him to come back so soon after he'd basically ignored him earlier.

Hutch selected a spritz cookie shaped like a green wreath with a cheery red hot for a holly berry. "I missed you," he said at the exact moment as Starsky spoke the same words.

"Hutch," Starsky whispered, grabbing his lover's hand like a lifeline. "I'm so deep in shit I can't see the surface."

"Then just hang onto me, Starsk," Hutch hitched himself onto the edge of the mattress, pulling Starsky into his arms for the first time in a week. "Breathe in and out. Don't think, just be."

"This some gestalt crap you learned in a transcendental meditation book?" Starsky asked cynically, but he molded himself into the warmth and security that was Hutch.

"Nope, just how I've gotten through this week on my own," Hutch answered with heartbreaking simplicity.

Starsky coughed, but the pain in his chest had nothing to do with cancer or surgery. "You gonna eat that cookie?" he asked finally, not quite strong enough to accept Hutch's pain as well as his own yet. Still, just the closeness of their bodies lifted off burdens he hadn't realized he was carrying.

"You want this?" And Starsky could feel his friend's grin against his naked temple. Hutch kissed him feather soft, butterfly wings fluttering on his skin, and held the cookie up to Starsky's lower lip. Opening his mouth Starsky took a bite from the buttery confection, the sharp flavor of the red hot a surprising contrast to the crumbly texture of the cookie. "Want another?" Hutch asked.

"You, I'll feed you." Starsky coughed again because the crumbs irritated his throat but he craved the feel of Hutch's body against him. Tiny connections re-established, healing balms on his bruised psyche. "Pass the basket over. You want a tea cake?"

"That one," Hutch voiced into his ear, a long finger pointing to a five-pointed star iced in yellow and gold.

"You been eatin' enough?" Starsky asked as casually as possible but once again, every word seemed charged with so many conflicting emotions that he was afraid anything he said would push Hutch away again. Why did he keep doing this? Turning away from the only person who kept him sane, and then wallowing in despair when Hutch wasn't nearby?

"I could ask you the same thing." Hutch munched the cookie, sliding his hand gently around Starsky's prominent ribcage.

"TPN." Starsky pointed up at the bag of yellow IV fluid hanging next to the bed. The plastic tubing snaked up under the sleeveless sweatshirt he was wearing to the port in his upper chest. "Total parenteral nutrition. Don't need anything else. The food's lousy here anyway."

"That's a crock and you know it." Hutch wiped crumbs off his face. "You just need the right incentive."

"Like what?"

"A burrito?"

Starsky huffed a laugh, cupping his hand over Hutch's still resting on his sternum. Laughing hurt, a heaviness settling in his lungs like he was catching a cold, but he paid little attention to that. All of a sudden it was like the ominous black clouds that hovered one inch above his head lifted up several feet. He'd laughed, just for a moment, and it felt strange but satisfying. "Where you gonna find a burrito around here?"

"I wasn't thinking in the hospital. I'd go get one for you. Any place, any where?"

"Break me out of this joint and we can high-tail it south of the border in a couple of hours," Starsky said. He and Hutch, their hair blowing in a hot wind, streaking down the highway towards Mexico in the Torino. The Torino had wheels and he had two legs.

Tears pricked at him, but he refused them entrance. "Pepi's Burrito Supreme with sour cream."

"Beef or chicken?" Hutch asked, sounding choked up himself.

Starsky looked aghast at his partner, seeing the lines of fatigue that had altered his face in just a week. Hutch smiled at his expression, ducking his head when Starsky pushed a stray lock of fine blond hair off his forehead. "You have to ask?" Starsky played with Hutch's bangs for a moment before letting his hand drop down into his lap. He couldn't shake the leaden weariness. It innervated him, making every motion exhausting.

"Beef, with extra jalapenos and salsa."

"And Dos Equis."

"Now you're just being reckless." Hutch kissed Starsky's ear, then his lips.

"You always said that was my biggest problem."

"No, talking too much…" Hutch kissed him again, then pulled back in confusion because Starsky was sobbing. "What, baby?"

"Hutch, don't leave. I don' wanna burrito, just stay. Hold onto me, and tell me it'll all be all right." Starsky hiccuped, unable to stop crying.

"It'll all be all right." Hutch smiled, kissing a tear-streaked cheek.

"Liar." Starsky pressed hard on his ribs. The coughing must have pulled a muscle, because he hurt inside and crying didn't help, but the tears kept falling, even when he took big gulping breaths to stop them. "My calf hurts," he said instead.

"Want me to rub it?" Hutch asked sympathetically, pulling him closer.

"Can't," Starsky turned, burying his face in the soft wool of Hutch's green and gold plaid shirt.

"Why not?"

"The left one hurts," Starsky ground out, hiccupping again. "When I woke up, in the recovery room, I could feel it."

"But Starsky," Hutch drew in a breath as if he didn't really want to say anymore. "It's gone. There's no leg there to hurt."

"But it does--more than before." Starsky massaged his forehead with the heel of his hand, pushing down hard against the bone, wishing he could reach right in and pull out all the headache, the pain in his chest, and the sometimes agonizing cramps in his missing leg. "Back around Thanksgiving both legs used to tingle all the time--really annoying. That's why I fell that day and got a nosebleed, felt like pins and needles in my feet all the time. Davies said it was another side effect of the chemo, like I don't have enough of those." He paused, surprised at how much calmer he felt. Being able to talk--to communicate as Daisy had said, helped so incredibly. "But now it feels like it's knotted up, like I ran down some turkey in an alley and got a charley horse."

"That's weird."

"I'm beginning to think that if there's a rare side effect or unusual symptom, I'll get it." Starsky quirked a tired smile, leaning back on the pillow. He hadn't talked so much to anyone of late, and two visitors in an hour had completely worn him out.

"Remember that relaxation exercise we used to do to help the pain after the shooting?" Hutch scooted over to help him lie down, smoothing the sheets and tucking another pillow under his head.

"Going to a restful place where I just drift away on a painless cloud? Ain't such a place."

"You're always so hard to get along with. C'mon, humor me."

"Don't I always?"

"Close your eyes, Grumpy."

"I'm not one of the seven dwarfs."

"I dunno about that, I've seen you pretty dopey."

"Shithead," Starsky said without a drop of rancor, closing his eyes. He tucked his left hand into Hutch's for safekeeping.

"Asshole to you, too." Hutch smiled fondly, watching Starsky wiggle and squirm into a comfortable position. "Relax each part of your body separately, working from the feet up to your head." Remarkably, the exercise took almost no time at all because Starsky fell asleep before Hutch finished isolating the lower half of the body.


The Rose Tree Unit expected family to stay over with the patients. In fact it was encouraged, something Hutch still found surprising. They supplied a bed, narrow and short, but complete with a scratchy blanket and flat pillow. This was far superior to anything he'd ever slept on the entire time Starsky was at Memorial after the shooting. And they even kept the lights down low in the rooms whenever anyone came in to check on the patients. Hutch awakened, pleased that he'd slept the whole night far better than in his bed at home for the past week. Talking things out with Starsky had eased the tension considerably. He stretched carefully since the bed wasn't quite sufficient for his length, working out the kinks in his back before getting up. The nurse had just come in to take Starsky's early morning vitals, receiving a grumbled "Leave me 'lone," for her troubles.

After cleaning himself up as much as possible, Hutch leaned over to kiss Starsky good-bye before going.

"You leavin'?" Starsky asked sleepily, clearing his throat.

"Gotta check in at work."

"Aren't the cadets graduating soon?" Starsky rubbed his eyes, coming up on one elbow to be more on Hutch's level.

"Next Friday, actually, but I'm involved with some case reviews with Dobey."

"You coming back?"

"Of course, tonight. Bringing you a burrito, remember?" Hutch grinned. "Or has your short term memory gone on the fritz?"

"My short term memory is fine, dork, I just wanna get out of here, too. Nurses won't let me sleep." He stifled a cough, grimacing and rubbing his chest.

"Soon, Starsk." Hutch patted him on the back with concern. "You all right? That cough is still with you."

"'S'nothing," Starsky dismissed. "You remember to bring me some real food, huh? Maybe some root beer, too, 'cause I know your feelings on the good stuff."

"We aim to please," Hutch assured, still worried about Starsky's health. Davies had warned them that he was susceptible to anything since the chemo had lowered his immune system. Luckily, one of the first people Hutch encountered out in the corridor was Starsky's favorite nurse Mika Jones, a pert thing with pixie short hair, who barely reached up to Hutch's shoulder.

"You're getting up early, Hutch," Mika greeted, writing notes on her clipboard.

"So are you, don't you usually work evenings?"

"Doing a double." She dimpled. "Want to do some Christmas shopping."

"How's Starsky doing?"

"He was so depressed last week," Mika said honestly. "I was glad when the night nurse, Mary Ellen, told me you pulled him out of the doldrums last night."

"I don't think it was me, a friend was here with him--she must have said something that turned him around," Hutch replied, wondering just what Daisy and Starsky had talked about. Surely her upcoming wedding plans hadn't cheered him up that much. "But he's got a cough this morning, is there anything to worry about?"

"Temp's up just a smidge, 37.5, that's above 99 to you on Fahrenheit, but I'll keep my eye on him," Mika promised. "He's due to go home so soon, can't get sick now!" She patted Hutch on the arm, "Keep the faith, Hutch. He's coming along."

"Thanks." Hutch headed for the elevator, still vaguely unsettled. She hadn't said Starsky was doing well, but maybe that was just a nurse's natural conservative nature not to reassure the family overly much. Putting it from his mind as much as humanly possible, he headed over to Metro, wishing with all his might that he could just chuck the whole work thing. Maybe Starsky's medical school idea had some merit--certainly his first inclination was to burrow into the medical section at the library and read up on pain in a missing limb, and whether a minor temp elevation was expected or not. During the run of chemo, Starsky had maintained a temperature over 37.5 on more than one occasion. But it had been weeks since chemo. With that unsettling thought gnawing on his belly Hutch stopped for a strawberry-banana shake with extra protein powder at the 'Berry Good Smoothie Bar' on 21st Ave. The smooth, sweet shake filled his stomach but not the ache in his soul.

As usual, when Hutch desperately wanted to get out early there was more than enough work for two men, if not three. Dobey had a Captain's meeting at another station house, leaving Hutch in charge of an emerging murder investigation which necessitated him actually heading over to the crime site to get the whole picture. It was a grisly scene, body parts severed, and not all accounted for. He yearned for Starsky's intense presence at a time like this, helping him to center on the investigation instead of losing himself in sympathy for the victims. He could almost see Starsky lift the sheet covering the woman's body, glancing at the corpse quickly with a mixture of compassion and repugnance before flicking the sheet back over her face. Those dark blue eyes would have sought out his, pain transmitting silently between the two of them before Starsky went diligently back to work, his natural curiosity ferreting out clues other detectives often missed.

"Looks like our killer used something big--like a double-edged sword on some of the bigger pieces," Ginny, the coroner was saying. "Hutch? Did you hear me?"

"Yeah, sorry. A sword, you say?" Hutch grimaced, but the mere thought of Starsky helped him cope with the horrific crime. "Give this your top priority, Ginny. Some sick bastard's at work here. Three bodies, who knows if he's finished his spree or not?"

"Most of three bodies," she corrected, wrinkling her nose. "I've got my work cut out for me tonight."

"What time is it?" Hutch asked, reaching out to grab her wrist and turn the watch face towards him. Just in time he remembered she wasn't Starsky and stopped. Ginny gave his flailing arm a raised eyebrow, but checked her timepiece.

"Just after six," Ginny informed him.

"Damn." He'd last called the hospital at noon over a rushed turkey on wheat with tomato, but Starsky had been sleeping, his temperature then 37.8. Anything could have happened since then. "Have you got the bodies loaded up?"


"Good, then I'll leave the techs to do their magic." Hutch glanced around the blood spattered room one last time, thinking he really didn't want to have to return any time soon. He no longer had the drive to find out what happened. Out of mercy for the dead, he wanted to solve the crime, but it no longer was a passion. His only passion was in the form of one man, David Starsky.

The phone at the nurse's station rang for a long time before a breathless voice finally answered. "Rose Tree Unit, sorry to keep you waiting."

Hutch realized it must be really busy if the ward clerk was out of breath, and simply asked for Starsky's room. He got a nurse instead, not even Starsky's, ratcheting up his nervousness in a matter of seconds. "Gemma, is something wrong?"

"Oh, Ken, David's had a hard afternoon," the English accented nurse's voice was always lovely to listen to even when she was relating bad news. "We drew blood about two hours ago to check for an infection. The CBC came back showing a probability so he was started on antibiotics, but his temperature spiked since then. Mika's in with him now."

"How high?" Hutch asked tightly, berating himself for not calling sooner.

"39.5. Um--one hundred and three."

"Damn," Hutch swore. "Gemma, tell him I'll be there in 20."

"Lovely, we'll be expecting you then."

Not even sure how he managed to make any sense at all, Hutch reported what he knew in a brief, but competent manner to his replacement then broke a couple of local traffic laws rushing across Bay City to the hospital. Conversely, the Unit was quiet when he stepped off the elevator, since most of the patients tended to have visitors in their rooms in the evening, The doctors made their rounds early in the morning, and after main visiting hours were over, to cut down on disturbances to family time.

Taking a deep breath to slow his heart rate, and finger combing his fine hair so Starsky wouldn't comment on how rushed he looked, Hutch walked past the ward clerk, who sported a spiky Mohawk styled haircut dyed bright orange. He paused at the door, listening to Starsky's rapid, wheezy breathing with a chill of fear.

"How does that feel?" Mika was asking him.

"'S good," Starsky assured her, his voice airy and forced. Hutch could hear him taking gulping lungfuls of air as if he couldn't quite get enough.

"What's been going on, buddy?" Hutch asked with intentional lightness, entering the room. Appalled at the change in Starsky, he tried to hide it, but knew his partner read the truth in his eyes.

"Doc says I got pneumonia," Starsky said, pulling away a green plastic mask to speak. He looked apologetic, his skin tone almost gray, and papery brittle from the heat of the fever. Every breath was a struggle, his shoulders lifting as he tried to bring in more oxygen.

"Put that back on," Mika admonished. "His lungs are full of fluid so it's hard for him to breathe. A respiratory therapist is coming to give him a treatment soon." As if she'd announced him, a small Asian man came in with a bag full of plastic tubing and medications. Hutch watched while Starsky inhaled the aerosolized meds, battening down his own terror for what looked to be a long night.

Coughing raggedly, Starsky tried to wave away the rest of the regimen, but the tiny RT persisted until the little flow chamber was empty. "You need to use the spirometer every hour, get some of the phlegm up," the therapist advised. "I'll be back later with another treatment." He pushed the green mask back in place with a frown that cautioned any derivation from the way he'd placed it.

"Terrific," Starsky deadpanned, moving the mask to one side, then coughing again. He scratched at a red patch on his arm, moving restlessly even though it was obvious he was so tired he could hardly keep his eyes open. "Where's my burrito?"

"I was in a rush to get over here, didn't have time to stop."

"What kinda friend are you?" Starsky sniped lightly, then covered his mouth, coughing for so long Hutch was afraid he'd rip his throat raw. Finally the spasm ended, but Starsky looked close to collapse. He sipped gratefully from the cup of water Hutch held up for him. "Then w-what'd you been up to all day, Hutch?"

Mentally sorting what to tell Starsky, since a full description of the murder scene wasn't exactly the fodder for discussion in a sick room, Hutch said lamely, "Looks like a guy may have hacked up a few bodies."

Starsky's eyes brightened at the mention of a murder investigation. It wasn't that he got any jollies from mayhem, rather, Hutch suspected, he was just bored to death with staying in bed. "G-got any suspects? Where'd you find the bodies? Who called it in?" Starsky pestered. The long string of questions wasted his breath and he slumped back, his respiratory rate so quick it exhausted Hutch just to watch. Like a hummingbird hovering in midair, his movements too fast for the eye to see. And Starsky kept rubbing at several large red splotchy places on both forearms which seemed to be spreading.

"Starsk, stop it!" Hutch grabbed one of his hands where he'd left a long bloody scratch, inspecting the rash. "You've got hives."

"Huh?" Starsky held up his left arm, turning it over to examine the blotchy marks. "Wasn't there an hour ago."

"That's how hives work, they just appear." Hutch grabbed the nurse call button, remembering one summer when he'd gone away to camp only to come down with bronchitis. The camp doctor had prescribed an antibiotic and within a few hours he'd been covered with hives. He'd itched like crazy until they'd covered him in a pink ointment that dried to a crust, making him feel like a dweeb. Hopefully, modern medicine had something more effective than that now. "Try not to scratch."

"Easy f'you t'say. Keep telling me about…" Starsky gasped, his face so pale he almost matched the white pillowcase. He coughed, deep and rough, his chest heaving from the strain.

"As long as you stop talking!" Hutch cautioned, smiling to cushion the words. He repositioned the oxygen mask over Starsky's mouth. "Three bodies, not all of them complete."

Mika stuck her head in, assessing the situation with a brief glance at the glaring evidence. "You need some Benadryl, and the doc wants an arterial blood gas to see how you're doing. He's ordered some steroids to help with the inflammation in your lungs."

"Thanks, sweetie," Starsky flashed her a smile that melted Hutch's insides. Starsky was working so hard just to stay alive and he still charmed the socks off of the nurses.

"Let's get you up more." Hutch slid onto the bed next to his lover, needing to feel his warmth and realness. Pushing aside some of the pillows, Hutch raised Starsky's unresisting body until he could squeeze behind him and then let Starsky rest against his chest. Even through a layer of clothing, Hutch could feel the machine gun tattoo of Starsky's heart beat. And his skin gave off heat like a blast furnace. Putting both arms around his partner, Hutch sat listening to Starsky's labored breathing for a few seconds. "Three bodies, not all of them complete," he repeated. "One woman, two men…found by a neighbor in a suburban home--the Westminster district." He could feel Starsky's concentration hone in on his narrative, minutely soothing his pulse and breathing.

When Mika came in to administer the meds, she didn't say a word about the seating arrangements. She'd seen it all before, many times, when Hutch had crawled into Starsky's bed to lure him to sleep. "I'm going to do an arterial stick, which I know hurts like hell, but you can have a lollipop after, if you're good." Mika grinned at Starsky, probing the inside of his left wrist with her forefinger.

"Rather have a kiss," Starsky said in a hoarse voice. Behind him Hutch chuckled.

"And not from me, unfortunately," Mika teased, the needle poised in place. "One prick and it's over."

"That's what they all say," Starsky muttered, then went rigid with a hiss when the needle slid home. Hutch tightened his grip around Starsky, kissing the back of his neck with apology for the indignities he had to put up with. Starsky held his breath for the length of the stick, then resumed on a stuttered inhalation, his rib cage slamming against Hutch's.

"Sorry, but you got that kiss, I think." Mika smiled her regret, hurrying off with a syringe of bright red blood.

"And another one," Hutch whispered, kissing him on the ear. Starsky was lax against his torso, his too-fast breathing the only sign of life. "You gonna go to sleep?"

"K--keep talkin', the crime scene," Starsky wheezed impatiently. "S'no way I'm gonna sleep anytime soon. S'like I'm high or somethin'. All jittery inside."

The combination of drugs needed to combat his symptoms provided a bounty of contrasting side effects so that he was exhausted, but unable to relax. The antibiotics fought the bacteria, but caused hives. Benadryl helped the hives, but made him dry mouthed and sleepy, and the one-two punch of steroids and Theophylline left him wired and jittery. A couple of times, Hutch even had to restrain Starsky from trying to crawl out of the bed. Sometime around ten p.m. he started babbling, insisting that ants and spiders were crawling up legs, even after Hutch threw back the covers to convince him otherwise.

It was Hutch's first real view of the stump, wrapped neatly in a stretchy cotton bandage, and he had to gulp back tears. "No bugs, Starsk, see?" he pleaded, not sure what to do any longer. Starsky was so damned sick, and all the drugs seemed to be doing was making him worse.

"They're inside," Starsky said desperately, pushing aside the breathing mask for the umpteenth time. "'M so tired, Hutch. I know I sound crazy…"

"C'mere." Hutch hugged him closely, cursing the powers that be who'd conspired to bring Starsky to this place. "C'mere. You're not crazy, it’s the drugs talking, but you've got to calm down or that baby faced intern's gonna come in and tube you." He rocked them both, clutching Starsky to his chest, afraid. Mika had come in after the first arterial stick to report that Starsky's respiratory carbon dioxide levels were too high and if they were worse in a few hours he'd have to be put on a ventilator. Hutch had seen Starsky vented on more than one occasion, the worst being after the shooting, but he didn't want to see it again. Starsky could beat this pneumonia, with a weak immune system and all.

Twisting in Hutch's embrace, Starsky shoved at his restricting arms. "Too tight, I can't…What about those bodies, huh? You never finished," he panted. "You think it's a one time thing? Wha…what about Frank Du . . . uh? Dutchey?"

"Duchene," Hutch corrected in awe of Starsky's ability to interpret the evidence at a time like this. Frank Duchene had murdered his parents and siblings in an almost identical manner over ten years ago. That was the first time Starsky and Hutch had ever investigated a multiple homicide together, and they'd tracked down the killer squandering the family money on women, living the high life. Could Duchene be out of prison already? "I'll call it in to Dobey in the morning, good suggestion. Now, can you calm down?" Starsky twitched, but lay against Hutch's chest, huffing and puffing like he'd run around the track at the Academy one too many times.

"You remember when we found his family, Hutch?" Starsky rasped. "Blood all over? I thought I was gonna see that for the rest of my life. Got so drunk . . . "

"And we sat there at bar where Huggy used to work. The one old Jasper White owned?" Hutch bit his lip remembering his fear that he wouldn't be able to go back to the job the next morning. The incredible inhumanity of the murder had stunned him, surpassing anything he'd ever seen previously, especially in criminal justice textbooks. It wasn't until Starsky started crying, mourning the victims, that he'd gained some perspective. If a streetwise man who'd survived the atrocities of the Viet Nam War could cry for Duchene's family, then so could he. They'd ended the night, arms around each other, buying a bouquet of day-old roses from the cooler at a 24-hour Safeway, and scattering the petals in a park across from Duchene's home to memorialize the slain family. What had happened to that integrity? Today, although he'd hated seeing the butchered bodies, he hadn't felt the empathy. He'd only thought of having Starsky by his side to ease his own discomfort.

"What happened to those roses?" Starsky asked, still skirting the edge of delirium. "Yellow roses. Those bugs'll eat'em." He fidgeted, picking at the bandage Mika had put over the scratch on his arm.

"We scattered them in the moonlight, remember?"

"Oh, yeah." Starsky heaved a breath, clawing at his sweatshirt. "I'm too hot."

"Let's try that relaxation thing again. Relax, baby, c'mon, work with me here," Hutch comforted, dunking a washrag in the nearby water pitcher, and wiping it over Starsky's superheated skin. "That feel any better?"

"Can I sleep, huh? Gotta get rid of those damned b-bugs…"

"There now, close your eyes…focus on your feet--foot, relaxing all the muscles, letting everything flow away…."

"Bugs feelers are creepin' me out," Starsky said lazily after a few minutes, but at long last his breathing seemed to have slowed and his heart wasn't trying to escape his chest. "Tickles an' hurts at the same time."

"Bug spray," Hutch said, feeling slightly hysterical himself. He made a psst sound, waving his hand at the end of the bed. Starsky sighed, his whole body suddenly limp. "Loosen up your hips and back muscles, let the blood flow down to your fe--foot and circle back again. You can't move, every part of your whole body--arms and hands, totally relaxed."

"Y'think Duchene got outta prison?" Starsky asked softly, the muffling effect of the plastic breathing mask making him hard to understand.

"You're supposed to be asleep."

"You get a…an ID on the vics?"

"Ginny was going to start the autopsy when I left." Hutch stroked his hand down Starsky's body, soothing and calming him but still very aware of what the medical types termed tachycardia, an overly fast heart beat. "Sleep, Starsk."

"Kin hardly keep my eyes open," Starsky admitted, and then without warning he was asleep, completely knocked out. Hutch cradled him like an infant, holding that hot, sweaty body to his own and never wanting to let him go. His last recorded temperature had still been above 103, the antibiotics not doing anything to stem the infection.

It might have been a few minutes or 30 when a short heavyset woman with blond hair eased the door open and peeked inside. "Sorry to bother you. I'm Ginger, the night nurse. I have to get a set of vitals and draw some blood. An arterial gas."

"He just got to sleep." Hutch shook his head, unwilling to subject Starsky to more pain.

"Dr. Weaver needs a current CO2 level," she explained, going about her job swiftly. Starsky was so asleep that when she inserted the needle into his right wrist, just above the thumb, he never moved, but Hutch jerked, sure he could feel the bite of the sharp metal in his own flesh.

The news wasn't good; despite all the drugs and oxygen Starsky's lungs weren't breathing effectively enough to ensure that his body got the necessary oxygen to every cell. The decision was made to put him on a ventilator until his blood gases improved. Hutch felt like he'd been kicked in the stomach when he was escorted from the room to give them medical staff room to work. He almost put up resistance, because he really didn't want to see the hard plastic tube forced down Starsky's throat. In the end, he left on his own, afraid to look back on the bed at his ailing buddy.

Huddled in the family room, Hutch wanted to cry, to shout, maybe scream and rail against someone, anything that could change what was happening to his best friend. Gunfire hadn't stopped him, Cancer hadn't killed him, but now pneumonia was bringing him to the edge of the grave. What kind of sense did that make? Stupid pneumonia--a disease that anyone could get--a disease that the right antibiotic could stop cold.

What was he supposed to do now? The feeling of finality was too reminiscent of a time before, waiting in the hospital after Starsky collapsed on the roof of Vic Bellamy's crappy apartment building. Hutch hadn't given up then, and he wouldn't now. There had been a cure to the unknown poison, there would be a cure for some piddly case of pneumonia.

"C'mon, Starsk, work with me here," he whispered into the empty room.


Starsky slitted his eyes open, but the yellowish light was too bright, too overwhelming, and he squeezed them shut again. To say he felt like crap was an understatement of mammoth proportions. If this was heaven, somebody else could have it. He'd always heard rumors of a bright light, although during his brief sojourn into the afterlife six years previously he hadn't seen any white light or long dead relatives. Besides, weren't you supposed to feel all better after death? Therefore, logically he must not be dead--just still in the hospital. The brilliance that had awakened him wasn't the light normally found in a hospital, so what was it? Even moving his head an inch was innervating, his whole body feeling like it had been crushed in a car smasher and then only partially reconstructed, but Starsky slowly turned back to the light, opening his eyes again, squinting.

"Welcome back." Hutch smiled.

"Wha's that?" Starsky raised one finger, the most he could manage without help.

"A menorah." Hutch struck a pose like Vanna White on 'Wheel of Fortune', presenting a black rack of candles topped with flame shaped light bulbs. Two were lit. "A candelabra used in the Jewish faith to commemorate the miracle of the oil lamp that lasted eight nights longer than expected."

"I know the tradition," Starsky wheezed a laugh that ended in a barking cough. "But why is it here?"

"Cause it's the first night of Chanukah."

"Last thing I really remember it was December 15th."

"You were really sick." Hutch sat down by the bed, taking his hand tenderly. "You remember being vented for three days?"

"Not really." Starsky rubbed his neck, his throat certainly remembered. Felt like the time he'd had Strep throat, raw and painful. He had mercifully brief flashes of being held down and a giant tube in his throat, of being terrified and soothed by familiar touch and voices, but nothing more.

"That's good, then. They doped you up pretty much all the time."

"You musta been scared, all alone."

"Everybody came by, kept watch. Brought me food and made me sleep," Hutch said softly, gently caressing his hand. "Then yesterday I couldn't sit here any longer, so I went out, got that…" he chuckled, waving a hand at the clunky menorah. "And prayed. When I got back to the hospital they'd already pulled out the tube, and you were breathing on your own."

Starsky blinked back tears, not sure what to say. He'd lost nearly four days, but Hutch had suffered through every one of them. "Menorahs usually have candles," he said instead.

"Head nurse told me I couldn't have an open flame in the room because of the oxygen," Hutch tapped the nasal cannula on Starsky's face. "So I had to find an electric one."

"My ma always got me a present on the first night," Starsky teased wearily, wishing he could sit up and give Hutch a hug, but there wasn't enough energy to raise his arm much less sit. That would have to wait.

"I got one, but it wasn't ready to be picked up this morning," Hutch leaned over, kissing him gently. "Wait'll tomorrow, then we can celebrate, okay?"

"Okay, I love you, Hutch." Starsky agreed sleepily.

"Love you back, Tiger,"


Thursday presented with typical December weather, cold, blustery, and wet. Rain lashed the windows intermittently all day long, but nothing could suppress Starsky's mood. He was buoyant. Between having Hutch almost all to himself and eluding death once more, Starsky was on top of the world. If only he could get over this rotten pneumonia. The infection backed off, cut down by a change in antibiotics, but the cough and malaise persisted. Starsky wanted to go home, but the doctors insisted he stay. The nurses and RTs wanted him to deep breathe and get some exercise, and Hutch wanted him to take it easy. A compromise came in the form of sitting up in a chair for as long as Starsky could tolerate it. To his dismay, he couldn't tolerate being upright for very long but he persisted, wanting to be up for the candle lighting ceremony in the evening. Hutch had gone off to pick up the mysterious gift, giving Starsky some time to spiff up. Gemma gave him a bed bath and pulled on the t-shirt Daisy had brought by, except it didn't say the expected sentiment. Instead, the letters on the front spelled out, "When life gives you lemons make lemonade". He still wanted the 'Life's a bitch and then you die' shirt, too.

"You clean up well, Mr. Starsky," Gemma teased in a cockney drawl.

"Wish I could do any of this myself," Starsky sighed, already worn out. How could he be exhausted when the nurse had done all the work? "Gonna just lay here awhile until Hutch comes, okay?"

"You tell him if he gets you out of bed to treat you like rare porcelain, understand?" she scolded, gathering up the old bed linens and damp towels.

"Not a problem," Hutch said with a grin, coming in behind her.

"Judas!" Gemma exclaimed, dropping her bundle. Hutch juggled his purchases and scooped up the sheets, tossing them all into a blue bagged linen hamper. "You gave me such a fright!" Gemma rolled her eyes, slapping him lightly on the shoulder.

"He has that effect on all the women," Starsky said wickedly.

"Watch out, you, or you don't get anything," Hutch cautioned, then gave Gemma a gentle squeeze. "Thanks for taking such good care of him. I left three boxes of See's candy out at the nursing station. One for each shift."

"Ah, an' we all thought you were such a handsome devil before, but now you're surely on the nurses' good side." Gemma dimpled with a gleam in her eyes. "I think I need a sit down now with a few chockies."

"Get me any?" Starsky asked, spying a familiar bag from the candy shop.

"Down, Fido." Hutch arranged the bags on the floor beside the bed. "I've been shopping for hours in those crowds. Do you have any idea how vicious some of those people can be? You'd think Armageddon was approaching instead of Christmas the way some of those women fight over a damned sale item. I'm pooped."

"Try having Gemma give you a bath," Starsky muttered, holding out his hand. "Somebody lost the holiday spirit in a hurry. Not feeling any of that old euphoric sentimentalism?"

"Never going to let me live than one down are you?"

"It's got such a great ring to it," Starsky laughed, but it quickly changed into a full blown coughing spasm that left him sweaty and gasping.

Hutch helped him up to a better position for breathing, called for the RT, and waited through a treatment. Starsky was feeling a great deal peppier by the time all that was finished, and watched Hutch putting out a special meal, sniffing appreciatively.

"Look at this. Brisket?" Starsky identified the meat. "Like my mom used to make?"

"It may not be a Paul Muni special, but I thought you might like something homey after a week of not eating anything."

"I won't be able to do this justice," Starsky smacked his lips, savoring the plate of beef, potato latkes, and vegetables Hutch set in front of him. "You make all this?"

"Daisy did."

"Oh, yeah, she tol' me she was making cookies for some party, but I didn't know she was cooking all this." Starsky forked up some brisket, tasting it with the finesse of a connoisseur. "This is great."

"She's already branching out into the catering business, from what I gather." The end of Hutch's reply was muffled as he began eating his own portion.

"Huggy better watch out, he's got a live one." Starsky had managed two bites of meat and a few more of the crispy potato pancake, but even the slightest pressure from his stomach onto his lungs made breathing uncomfortable.

"What did you two talk about the night she came over?" Hutch asked casually, bending over to retrieve something out of one of his bags.

"I'll tell you another time." Starsky glanced over at the menorah, still unlit despite the fact that the sun had set, and they'd already eaten dinner. "We forgot to light the second candle!"

"Your turn." Hutch produced a flame shaped bulb.

"No, I want to be up, not lying like some cripple in bed."

"Starsky!" Hutch recoiled, appalled at his choice of words.

"It's true, isn't it?" Starsky said tightly, the bleak self-loathing suddenly back in full bore when he'd thought he'd buried it deeply. "Get me up, I need help."

"Then do it yourself, gimpy. Get up," Hutch replied, his jaw twitching. He stepped back as if distancing himself from his lover, his back as stiff as a Marine plebe on his last day at boot camp. Starsky felt the retreat like a slap in the face.

"Gimpy?" he shot back, stifling an errant cough. "I've been sick, remember? D'dja hear what Gemma said? Treat me like rare porcelain."

"You're not, Starsk," Hutch said softly. Starsky could almost hear the tears in his tone, but Hutch hardened his voice, speaking deliberately. "Yeah, you're broken, and seeing you like this hurts me like hell, probably almost as much as it hurts you. And this isn't at all how I planned this night to go, but the only person who can put back the pieces is you. So. Get. Up."

Memory was a damnable thing, because Starsky suddenly recalled with absolute clarity the weekend he'd watched Hutch going cold turkey off of heroin. He'd pushed and cajoled his partner, forcing him to dredge up the descriptions of the men who'd assaulted him. He'd held on to Hutch when the withdrawals were so severe he convulsed, and then remained firm when Hutch begged for 'just a little help here'.

He wanted to shout, rail against Hutch that this wasn't the same thing. He'd never stood alone before--hell, he'd never stood on his own volition. The week before he got pneumonia the physical therapists would come by, pull him up, and force him to stand between them with a walker for support. To prevent muscle atrophy, they'd said. To strengthen him for a prosthesis, they'd said. To keep him limber, they'd said. He'd just said stuff it, and fuck it, and a lot of other hateful, spiteful words that meant nothing.

"I can't, Hutch," he said finally. "I need help here."


"I can't!" Starsky repeated, anger burning away all that bleak hopelessness. "I don't want to!"

"Why not?" Hutch challenged, unbending, his blue eyes like polished stones. Starsky resented that even stance, both feet planted widely like he was ready for anything. He wanted the solicitous Hutch from the morning, heeding to his every beck and call, not this neo-Nazi.

"Because!" But that sounded stupid, the reasoning of a third grader on the playground. "Because it would validate this." He gestured to his left leg. "Make it real."

"This is real, Starsk," Hutch said gently. "As real as it's gonna get. You've got one leg, now get up on it."

"One and a half," Starsky said defiantly, looking at the ground to judge the distance to the floor. Even when he had lowered the height of the bed with a hard stab on the controls the linoleum seemed really far away.

"One and a half," Hutch repeated, and there was a hint of a smile there.

Pushing himself to sit on the edge of the mattress Starsky paused, waiting for the vague lightheaded sensation to abate. Sharp twists of pain sparked up and down his left thigh, and the missing foot ached like a sore tooth in need of a root canal. None of that was new, unfortunately, he'd already become accustomed to a certain level of pain. It was the background noise of his body. But he was so tired, even with the stimulating jolts from the adrenaline in his veins he was still weary, gravity threatening to pull him back on the pillows or, conversely, dump him in a heap on the cold floor.

With a breath that was nearly a sob, he lowered his right leg to the ground. The floor stayed solidly flat beneath his foot and he realized the earthquake had rattled his confidence more than he'd expected. For some reason, he'd expected some massive temblor to rumble up from the earth's core the moment he stood. But he was only leaning against the bed at present, butt still touching the mattress. The true test was pulling himself upright. Gripping the metal bedframe, he balanced with both hands on the bed. It was distinctly strange to feel his left leg just dangling in space and he looked up, searching for his champion. "Hutch?"

And then Hutch was there, pressed against him, keeping him strong. "Hey, did you think I'd let you fall?" Hutch asked fondly, both arms holding him so that Starsky didn't have to bear his own weight, just lean into that sturdy presence.

"I was scared to death," Starsky whispered.

"Don't know what there was to be scared of." Hutch gave him careful hug. "I'm proud of you for having the courage to try, but you know I'll always be right behind you."

"You can be a real jerk, sometimes, y'know that?" Starsky berated affectionately. "And if you start singin' 'He ain't heavy, he's my brother' I'll smack you."

Chuckling, Hutch hummed the first few notes, nuzzling Starsky's cheek. He straightened with an amazed expression, the sudden movement almost toppling Starsky off his unsteady perch. "You've got stubble!" Hutch exclaimed, stroking the soft bristles with a grin. "And hair." Tiny, baby fine curls dusted Starsky's scalp.

"Been so many other things going on you didn't notice, huh?" Starsky beamed, and the universe slipped back into proper alignment again. He still wasn't sure how to deal with the loss of a limb, and his lungs constantly itched and ached from the pneumonia but it was Chanukah, and there was a menorah to light. "Gemma wanted to give me a shave but I told her not to." He coughed, hacking long enough that Hutch lowered him back onto the bed, hovering with one hand poised over the nurse call button.

"I'm good," Starsky huffed, sitting up straighter with a ragged breath. "Where're those light bulbs?"

"L'chaim." Hutch passed the flame shaped bulbs over and flicked the switch after Starsky screwed them into the appropriate candlesticks.

Starsky held his hands above the candles, reciting the Hebrew prayer his mother had always said each night of Chanukah, finishing with a fervent "Amen."

"You okay, there, gimpy?" Hutch asked sweetly, his hand back on Starsky's cheek like he enjoyed the rasp of whiskers on his palm. Starsky certainly enjoyed it.

"Worn out."

"Then lie back and I'll tell you a strange tale of two men," Hutch encouraged. "Or more correctly, four men."

"Who?" Starsky got comfortable on the pillows, nibbling on the remainder of his potato latke.

"Frank Duchene, his penpal Dougie Mason, Ken Hutchinson and David Starsky."

"Three out of four I recognize, but who's Dougie Mason?"

"Strange you should ask that, Detective, since you're the one who provided the link to his capture."

"I did?" Starsky regarded his partner in bewilderment.

"You compared Frank Duchene's murders to the murder of the Mason family in Westminster last week."

"The night I got sick."

"Yeah. First thing I checked was Duchene's status in San Quentin. He's still there, thank God, but the oddest thing happened when we went through the Mason house. We found some letters in a locked box. Dougie Mason, the eldest son, had been writing Duchene for years." Hutch shook his head in disgust. "He copied Duchene's crimes exactly--including some earlier mutilations of pets and racist graffiti."

"That's sick!" Starsky pushed away the food, appalled by anyone who could admire a mass murderer.

"When interrogated, he freely admitted the murders, and asked if Duchene had heard about it, and could he be sent to Quentin and be Frank's cellmate."

"Always gotta have a goal in life." Starsky rolled his eyes.

"The thing is, Starsk, how did you remember that?" Hutch asked. "It never occurred to me, and I was there, at the crime scene."

"I saw them in my head--when you were describing the scene, it was like both of 'em were superimposed one on top of the other." Starsky yawned, his eyes drooping shut for a moment. "Where'd you find--uh--Dougie?"

"Turned himself in. The kid's not right in the head." Hutch grimaced. "I hope he gets psychiatric care, but living the rest of his life in prison will probably just fuel his fantasies, even if he doesn't get to bunk in with Duchene."

"What a waste of life," Starsky murmured, reaching out to grab Hutch's warm hand. "Never waste one minute of what you've got." He closed his eyes again and then was asleep.

"Not one second." Hutch laid his hand on Starsky's arm, content to sit on the side of the bed and listen to his wheezy breathing for as long as the nap lasted.

Starsky slept for an hour and a half, through the nurse's visit for vital signs, and Hutch turning on the TV to watch a ballet. When he finally woke again, the room was dim, lit mostly by the flickering light of the television. The delicate notes of the 'Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy' filled the room with tinkly magic. Starsky slowly eased himself up to look at the TV screen.

"It's Anna," Hutch said pointing to the blond ballerina pirouetting around the stage in a frothy pink tutu.

"Anna Akana…akanatov…"

"Akhanatova," Hutch rattled off with a superior tone, but a grin on his face. "Star-evsky."

"That's Starsky to you, bub." He wiped the sleep out of his eyes, biting his bottom lip with a slight wince. "Any brisket left? I'm kinda hungry."

"Whenever you're hungry. Want me to go warm it up in the microwave?"

"Yeah, give me a chance to…uh…"

"Take a leak?"

"I've said it before an' I'll say it again," Starsky groaned in mock disgust. "Crass is your middle name."

"Takes one to know one," Hutch chuckled amiably, carrying the plate over to the family room. He signaled to Gemma that Starsky needed some relief of the bladder, and more importantly, from the pain. He didn't have ask to know that Starsky was in pain just then, and required a few minutes of privacy. The little signs were all there; his slow movements, the tiny tightening of muscles in the jaw, and a guardedness in his eyes. Starsky kept his own council on a lot of the aspects of his disease, which Hutch understood and respected. As much as he was with Starsky nearly every day, there were still things he'd never totally understand unless he went through chemo and all the rest, too. That was just the way Starsky had always been. He'd grouse for hours over a stubbed toe or a paper cut, especially if it were received 'in the line of duty' filling out arrest reports, but get shot, or worse, and he plastered a smile on his face and rode out the hurt. He'd admit it privately to Hutch maybe, but to the public at large Starsky was frequently stoic, proud, and uncomplaining.

A few minutes later when Hutch returned with a steaming plate of beef, Starsky was watching the TV with a rapt expression. "Those corps de ballet sure are beautiful and Anna Ak-hana-tovna is pretty light on her feet." Except Starsky pronounced the 's' at the end of the word 'corps' and probably deliberately mangled Anna's name again, Hutch suspected, just to tease him.

"Cor' de ballet," Hutch emphasized the French accent. "For someone who's been learning the language now for what--three months, your pronunciation is lousy."

"Merci, monsieur 'Utchinson," Starsky retorted sarcastically, but the lines of tension were gone from his body, and he tucked into the late night snack with enthusiasm. "Do you think about her ever?"

"Who?" Hutch asked, watching the dancers on the screen leap and twirl.

"Anna." Starsky looked up at him and his deep blue eyes were guileless. He wasn't asking for some validation that Hutch loved him best and never gave a thought to past girlfriends, he obviously wanted to know. "You liked her."

And there they were, all those memories that had been tucked neatly away in the mental file cabinet under 'A' when Anna Akhanatova flew back to Moscow. Hutch could almost feel the drape of her shining flaxen hair against his shoulder, her muscular thighs gripping him and her sexy, throaty voice vibrating in his ear as they made love. He literally hadn't thought of her in years, not until he'd recognized her name in the cast list of the ballet. "Not until tonight--I really haven't," Hutch admitted. "If she'd lived close, maybe San Francisco, or something, where we could have gotten together for a long weekend--yeah, I think we might have had something. But she's from Russia, for God's sake, and…it wasn't meant to be." For some illogical reason he was suddenly restless, his thoughts traitorous because the memories of her long naked body seemed very real, but as he turned away from his present lover to look out at the dark rain he felt that jolt of truth. Anna had been gorgeous, and funny, and great in bed, but she wasn't Starsky. She wasn't his love, period. All those memories were just that, and nothing more. They didn't change how he felt one iota.

"I got you a present," he said. Tchaikovsky's vibrant music swelled just then as if underscoring his words like a scene from a sappy romantic movie.

"Yeah, you told me yesterday." Starsky coughed into his fist. "But I haven't seen so much as a bow yet."

"Had to have some adjustments made," Hutch answered, feeling in his pocket for the little box. Just the touch of the velvet lid did something to him inside, and suddenly he wanted Starsky to open it up immediately. He climbed back onto the bed, giving Starsky a shove to get him to move over. "I…" Whatever he was going to say died unborn when he looked into Starsky's face. That familiar mug, too pale right now, cheeks smudged with a hint of dark beard, was more dear to him than any single thing on earth, and he kissed Starsky quick, dropping the velvet box into his hand at the same time.

"You gotta way with deliveries. Even play spin the bottle?" Starsky spoke, their faces so close together Hutch could see himself in Starsky's eyes.

"Not since the ninth grade, at Sally Abrams' birthday party."

"Your mom let you go to a mixed party when you were a freshman?" Starsky babbled, opening the box. He took a look at the contents and hitched a little sigh, swallowing reflexively. "Damn, Hutch," he whispered, poking a thumb into the space where his eye met his nose to block the tears. "What'd you go an' do that for?"

"Read the inscription," Hutch detached one of the rings from the little velvet bed and tilted it into the light.

"Print's too small." Starsky wiped at his runny nose, blinking.

Hutch smiled, taking Starsky's hand and sliding the smaller of the two otherwise identical bands on his ring finger. "Says 'From Here to Eternity'."

"Does that make me Robert Mitchum or Debra Kerr?" Starsky chuckled, closing the other ring in his palm to warm the metal. He kissed the golden circlet before sliding it onto Hutch's fourth finger.

"I think the real question here is who wants sand in their butt when they've got a nice comfy hospital bed to cuddle up in?" Hutch asked huskily.

"Who said anything about comfortable?" Starsky remarked, placing his ringed hand over Hutch's. "Eternity, Hutch."

"That's forever, and then some." Hutch curled Starsky into him so that he was practically sitting on his lap.

"I read Webster's, I know what it means," Starsky snarked with a punk-ass grin, his breath warm on the collar of Hutch's shirt. "But I didn't get you anything…"

"Starsk, I got what I asked for." Hutch kissed him again holding onto his precious gift from God.


"Got any bedpans?" Starsky peered over the fan of his cards at his friend's poker face. Tired of the usual four suits in a deck they'd renamed them using familiar hospital paraphernalia. Spades were bedpans, clubs became blood pressure cuffs, diamonds turned into pills of various sorts, and hearts were nurses.

"Go fish," Hutch urged with a grin. It was Christmas Eve and Starsky looked as fit as he had in months. His appetite had really improved without chemo to deaden his taste buds and churn up his belly, so he'd been gorging himself on the rich assortment of holiday treats offered. There was color in his cheeks, and joy in his outlook. Hutch was already looking forward to their long planned 'date' on New Years Eve, with lots of wine, crab and hopefully, sex.

"Ah ha!" Starsky lay down two 'bed pans' with a flourish. "Told you I'd win."

"I have all the nurses, and I'm keeping them," Hutch informed him loftily.

"Then you'd better put them back before the charge nurse finds you're the reason for the staffing shortage." John Davies rapped his knuckles on the open door before entering, and flipped Starsky's chart open to take a look.

"Busted," Starsky chortled.

"Merry Christmas Eve," Davies greeted with a courtly bow once he'd finished scrawling his name below an order. He had a small sprig of holly pinned to his lab coat.

"It'd be a lot more merry if I could go home," Starsky stated bluntly.

"Starsky, I'd like that, too, but you're still on IV antibiotics until the 28th, and then we're restarting the chemo."

This announcement was met with deadly silence for a moment as Starsky and Hutch digested the information. "The same day?" Hutch asked finally, a heavy band tightening around his chest.

"I would have liked to start this whole thing sooner, but the pneumonia put us behind schedule," Davies explained.

"Damn," Starsky said softly rubbing his forehead. "Can't it wait until after the new year?"

"The sooner we start the better off you are. Your cancer has already proved to be a resilient son of a bitch, we have to strike even harder this time," Davies answered. "I'm readjusting the dosages higher."

"What about anaphylaxis?" Hutch absently collected up the cards from the game and shuffled them back into the deck to give his hands something to do. He'd become complacent, almost forgetting the main reason Starsky was in the hospital. Osteosarcoma. That tongue-twister of a cancer that had already taken far more than it had any right to. World War III was about to begin, and Starsky's body was the battlefield.

"Studies have shown after allergic reactions most patients react favorably when given lower doses of the drug and then titrating them back up to maximum levels," John said. "I can't stress how important it is to get this ball rolling again if we want to achieve favorable results."

"What other options do we have?" Hutch asked relentlessly. He noticed with some concern that Starsky hadn't contributed much to the conversation. "Radiation, radical treatments? Any new research or current studies of one chemo drug versus another?"

"Been reading up, Ken?" Davies grinned, fiddling with the cap on his pen before stowing it into a pocket. He liberated his stethoscope from around his neck in preparation for listening to the patient's breathing. "Unfortunately, we were already using what is considered top of the line drugs for his sort of sarcoma. But I can still pull a few tricks out of my hat. The cocktail will be a little different this time around, only two drugs instead of three, Cisplatin and Adriamycin."

"Why didn't you use Adriamycin before?"

"Different treatment options, as I mentioned," the doctor shrugged. "That one's somewhat more commonly used in the UK."

"What about radiation?"
"It's not effective for the kind of cancer he has." Davies gave Starsky a quick examination, which Starsky submitted to without a word. That, most of all, caught Hutch's attention. Normally his loquacious partner either bitched sourly until the 'doctoring' was over, or chatted unceasingly, teasing Davies about every aspect of his bedside manner.

"Starsky, you have anything questions? Comments?" the doctor asked finally replacing the stethoscope around his neck.

"Like I have a say in the matter?"

"Always, buddy," Hutch assured.

"What…what if we did nothing? What would happen?" Starsky asked quietly, not looking up at either of them.

"Starsky!" Hutch objected, horrified. What was he thinking?

"Is that what you want?" John Davies asked seriously.

Shaking his head Starsky plucked at the sheet over his legs. "How long before I'd die?"

"There's no way to tell." Davies sat down carefully in the bedside chair, favoring his back. "Chemotherapy does save lives, Starsky. There's no denying that it's a hard road, but most people come out alive on the other end."

"On their second go round?" Starsky shot back bitterly.

"I've had patients who had three or four courses."

"You never answered my question," Starsky interrupted.

Hutch felt his stomach plummet, he really didn't want to hear this conversation. There was no way Starsky could be considering this. It was virtual suicide not to continue with his current regimen. What had brought this on? Sure, Starsky had been depressed about the surgery, but that had all passed. It was Christmas, for God's sake, the Jewish elf's favorite time of year. He could not be discussing death with his oncologist.

"You would die within the year," Davies said grimly. "I think. Starsky, medicine is not an exact science, I can't predict your death anymore than I can predict the weather in a week."

"Then what good are you?" Starsky raged, his eyes dark with anger. "What good is all this? Fucking chemo, surgery? I've been dead once already, and you know what? It doesn't scare me. Some days there's nothing good anymore!"

"Starsk?" Hutch entreated, fear gripping him like a monster in a nightmare. "Please…do this? For me?" Because he was terrified of watching Starsky die. Didn't think he could ever handle that day, that week, that entire year. This one was drawing to a close with Starsky alive, if slightly different than when he'd begun 1984. Somehow Hutch had the notion that if Starsky greeted 1985, he'd be there in 12 months to toast December 31st with a glass of champagne.

"Hutch?" Starsky pleaded as if he'd only just woken up. "Oh, damn…"

Hutch wrapped his arms around his partner, enveloping him in a blanket of love, hanging on for dear life. When he looked up, John Davies was standing in the doorway, watching them with such compassion it made his heart hurt.

"Give me your decision on the 26th," Davies said unobtrusively and left.

"Starsky, you're scaring me here," Hutch whispered, feeling Starsky snuggle into his embrace. "What's going on?"


"Don't give me that," Hutch responded far more angrily than he'd expected to. "You're talking about not going through with all this!" He backed away suddenly, as angry as Starsky had been, a firestorm blasting through his entrails. "When were you going to tell me, huh? Last week you pledged to be with me for eternity! I guess your definition--out of Webster's--is a lot different than mine!"

Starsky just sat there, his face an unreadable mask, only the wet lines down pale cheeks betraying his composure. In a fury, Hutch jerked the plain gold band off his finger and threw it onto the bed where it lay in the 'v' between Starsky's thighs.

"You're a hypocrite!" Hutch accused. "You promise a lifetime, which is apparently one week. I guess there's no more me and thee, huh? Cause…"

"Merry Christmas."

"What?" Hutch erupted, still all adrenaline and spitfire. Starsky, by comparison, was calm, a Sphinx. "What the hell?"

"I don't want to fight about this," Starsky said placidly. "I'm tired, Hutch. I'm not sure what I want anymore. But it's Christmas in about six hours, and I can't…take this. Not right now. Can't we…" his face crumpled but he didn't cry. "You want me to do the chemo?"

"Yes." Hutch was exhausted, his emotional outburst depleting him of every ounce of energy he possessed.

"I want eternity," Starsky nodded, rolling the ring around on the blanket. "I'm just not sure I have it to give."

"You'll do the chemo?" Hutch repeated to make sure he'd heard right.

"Yeah," Starsky acquiesced without a fight. He held out the golden symbol of their love as a peace offering. "I got you a present, too. Not quite in the same class as this, but it's for the future. I guess we both had the same things in mind."

"Yeah," Hutch took the ring with shaky composure. He'd never had Starsky's ability to shift instantly from one subject and emotion at the drop of a hat. He needed time to adjust, to reacclimate. "Uh…you want to open presents now?"

"The one with a red bow and Snoopy wearin' a Santa hat," Starsky directed.

They'd erected a miniature artificial tree in one corner, festooned with colored lights and a handful of ornaments. Wrapped gifts clustered around, piled almost to the uppermost branches of the tiny evergreen. Hutch located the indicated gift, hitching an unsteady breath. The goofy antics of Snoopy and Woodstock, cavorting across the green paper with Santa hats and candy canes, brought a smile to his face. He sat down feeling like he could do this.

"Open it," Starsky urged.

Carefully picking off the abundant tape Starsky had used to secure the ends Hutch folded back the paper to reveal a large paperback book. The title stared back at him, daring him. Taking the MCAT, Negotiating the Confusing Roads to Medical School.

"I figured you could use some incentive," Starsky gave him a tentative smile. "But I was wrong. Just now you sounded just like every over eager first year resident who ever trooped through. You don't need any encouragement. You've already decided."

Hutch discarded the colorful paper, letting the book flop open. There were sections on mathematics, English, and science. A diagram of the heart with arrows and blanks to fill out looked easy enough. The atrium was there, the ventricle... With a mental shake, he confronted his own truth. Some time when he hadn't realized it, he had decided.

"When were you going to tell me?" Starsky asked kindly.

"You're the first one who knew, literally." Hutch sat down next to his best friend, close enough to feel Starsky's sigh of relief. "Reading my mind again?"

"It's a scary job, but somebody's gotta do it." Starsky leaned into him, his body melting into Hutch's. "The chemo scares me so much more this time, Hutch, cause I don't wanna go through all that again."

"I know, baby." Hutch slung his free arm around his shoulders, still holding the book, pulling Starsky closer. What could he say that hadn't been said all before? There was no consolation that wouldn't ring false because he hated the chemo almost as much as Starsky did. "But I gotta tell you, you're the best vomiter I've ever met. Olympic caliber…"

Starsky's astonished laughter rumbled against his ribs; such a comforting, real sensation that Hutch wanted it to continue all night. "Wheelchair racing, bed pan discus throwing. and the ever popular one-and-a-half-legged dash." Starsky giggled wearily.

"Howard Cosell could provide the color commentary."

"Whadda they call the Olympic swimmer with no arms and legs?"

His brain still half in shock, Hutch was momentarily stunned. Oh, this was a joke. "I dunno, what?" he replied weakly.

"Bob. You know why the blond nurse always carried a red crayon at work?" Starsky asked, his head on Hutch's shoulder so that Hutch had an eyeful of fluffy new grown brown hair.

"No, why?"

"In case she had to draw blood." Starsky's laughter turned wheezy, ending in a barky cough, from the lingering effects of the pneumonia.

"Where'd you hear those?" Hutch groaned good-naturedly.

"Nurses have the worst jokes. They're always telling me the really bad ones to make me laugh and deep breathe. Claim it's therapy…" Starsky linked their two left hands, the gold rings winking in the overhead light.

"What ever works, babe," Hutch said. "'Cause one round of pneumonia was bad enough."

"I guess this nixes our date for New Year's, huh?" Starsky tugged at the short hair on his scalp. "Unless we did it early?"

"I don't see why not," Hutch agreed, tucking his arm behind Starsky's bony back. "December 27th work for you?"

"I'll have to check my engagement calendar, but I think I can squeeze you in," Starsky quipped, but he was working at the lightheartedness. That alone was enough to send an ache through Hutch's soul. "I mess everything up these days."

"Starsk! How many times did we change plans before just because of a long stake out or overtime? I've learned to be flexible over the years, if nothing else. As long as we spend the time together."

"I love you. I'm not sure I always say it everyday."

"Whether you say it or not, I hear it." Hutch kissed his ear, the side of his cheek, until Starsky turned his head to receive the last one on the lips. "I hear it."

"I hear music--caroling," Starsky broke away, looking towards the door. "'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer'."

The festive holiday sound was growing louder with each verse. The word 'history' could barely be heard over loud applause. Mika poked her head in, a headband with two bobbing clusters of plastic mistletoe crowning her dark hair. "You've got some visitors," was all she managed to say before half a dozen gymnasts crowded in.

"Merry Christmas," Rosie, Samantha, Rainbow, and the others shouted. They were all pink cheeked from the cool weather, bringing exuberance and youthful energy into the room.

"We're caroling," Samantha announced. "I was in the hospital with my knee operation last Christmas, and the caroling just cheered me right up."

"Are you cheered up?" Cait asked.

"Most definitely." Starsky grinned. "Sing something else."

"We only practiced two," Rosie warned. "One-two-three…" The girls launched into 'Jingle Bells' with enthusiasm, a few pulling strings of bells out of their coat pockets to accompany the song.

Hutch was glad for the distraction. The whole evening had been too overwhelming. He'd never really entertained the idea that Starsky might not want to go through with a second course of chemo. It cast a pall over him that was hard to shake just because they'd been joking and kissing. This was major, it was earth shattering. He looked up over the heads of the singers, spotting Edith and Harold Dobey in the doorway listening. The two older people didn't look any more cheerful than he did, as if they too could read his thoughts. Was he really that transparent?

"That was great!" Starsky applauded with gusto. "I got you all presents, too. Look under the tree."

"Presents?" some girl, Hutch wasn't sure who, cried out in excitement before they all clustered around the colorful mound looking for the right tag with their name.

"Merry Christmas, Dave, Ken." Edith came in finally, giving each a kiss on the cheek. "Hope the girls weren't too distracting."

"They’ve been practicing for two weeks, kept the neighbors up," the Captain said. "Hit the old folks' home, and the local mall. Rosie made more money than she ever did babysitting."

"Look, Daddy!" Rosie held up a pair of dangly earrings and a matching bracelet. On the whirlwind shopping spree early in December, Starsky and Hutch had bought gifts for nearly all of their friends. Starsky had just grabbed up six sets of the pretty, inexpensive jewelry but his choice seemed to be spot on. All the girls were thrilled.

"Just like Cyndi Lauper wears in her video," Aria proclaimed.

"You tol' me they all went out and got pierced ears." Starsky grinned at the parents who were busily admiring the gifts. Hutch did his share of oohing and aahing, reflecting that Starsky always seemed to have the knack of picking out what the recipient would enjoy. Even some of the more outlandish presents Hutch had received from his partner over the years had grown on him. He'd gotten a definite kick out of the ant farm, for instance, watching the ants industriously digging through the sand below the plastic farm, and the do-it-yourself beer brewing kit a few years later had been a real hit, even though they'd never managed to produce any drinkable beer. It had provided hours of laughter, and just a little bit of frustration, but all in all, Starsky bought good gifts. More so than Hutch, who found it difficult to get just the right something.

"Well, this is for you." Rosie held out an envelope and a large square box. "My mom picked out the bigger one, but I thought up the other all on my own."

"I can't wait!" Starsky ripped open the envelope, spilling out a picture of Pansy and a gift certificate. "Free cat care?" He laughed. "You don't think Hutch is doin' a very good job?"

"I've been distracted lately," Hutch answered straight-faced. "So I keep calling Rosie up to feed the cat."

"I ride my bike over, Pansy's been lonely," Rosie said. "This way, you don't even have to pay me."

"Between the caroling and Hutch paying her for the cat food, she's made enough to pay for her college tuition." Dobey grinned at his daughter.

"Daddy! This is for the trip to the nationals…" Rosie protested indignantly.

"We're going to Washington DC to be in the national competition in the spring," Samantha explained, pushing her new earrings into the tiny holes in her lobes.

"Have to learn all new routines," Cait added.

"New leotards, that's why we're earning money," Kristianne, the shyest of the group, put in.

"Could you come, you think?" Rainbow asked hopefully, flipping her wrist so that the colored stones on the bracelet flashed like a reflection of her name. "We could always use chaperones…"

"Rainbow…" Edith said sharply, embarrassed. "You know Dave is…"

"He may be sick then, honey," Hutch said softly, even though the words hurt just to say. Several of the other girls looked stricken, their mouths dropping open.

"And maybe not," Starsky refuted. "Give me a rain check, Rainbow bright, and check back in a couple of months."

Hutch didn't know what to say after that. Only an hour ago, Starsky was trying to get out of a treatment to save his life and here he was making plans for the future. Luckily, the opening of the second present, a Trivial Pursuit game, filled the awkwardness. The girls chattered about their favorite questions, holding up various cards to ask Starsky, who impressed them all with his phenomenal knowledge of minutia. But it was obvious he was getting tired and very soon the Dobeys shepherded the gymnasts out with a last "Merry Christmas!"


With Christmas past and the new year on the way, Hutch was preoccupied at Metro. As usual, there were grumbles about having to work on holidays and the higher than normal number of requests for schedule changes made assigning enough manpower per shift a nightmare. He was glad that two of his recruits from the Academy had joined Metro. At least there'd be enough blue uniforms covering the biggest party and drinking night of the year.

More and more he was finding the two halves of his life as disparate as the moon from the earth. At Metro, or the Academy, he was looked up to as someone with experience and wisdom in the arena of policework. At the hospital, he felt like a rank amateur, nervous and frightened of each new day and what it might bring. It was beginning to give him headaches and sleep problems, and Starsky hadn't even restarted the chemo yet. Six more rounds. It made him nauseated just thinking about it--not exactly the frame of mind he'd wanted on their special night. New Year's was still five days away, but this was the last time they'd have to party freely.

The nurses were all quite excited by the prospect of the 'date' and had pitched in to ensure that he and Starsky had a good time. They were planning on decorating the pretty solarium at the end of the hall, usually used by visitors when a patient was feeling well enough to be up and out of his room. Tonight it would be for a private party only. In spite of himself, that made Hutch smile. The thought of Mika, Gemma and the rest of the hard working nurses going out of their way like that was pretty special.

If they could get into a party mood, so could he. Just as soon as he sorted out the schedule requests, read over the arrest reports from the last day and a half, and called the state prison about a transfer occurring that afternoon. A prisoner in for life had had a heart attack that morning and was being transported to hospital for treatment--the same hospital where Starsky resided. Hutch had never thought much about the prison ward on the fourth floor, one floor above the Rose Tree Unit, although he'd occasionally gone up there to interview a suspect injured during an arrest. Now, just the presence of those criminals one floor above Starsky gave him the heebie-jeebies. One more thing to stress about.

Punching the necessary ten digits into the phone number pad, Hutch asked for the prison warden.


Starsky jiggled the little car in his hand, running his thumb over the sleek lines, and then set it on the table that fit over the bed. With a flick of a finger he sent the miniature red and white Torino careening across the flat surface. It crashed into the Matchbox versions of a black and white and a paddy wagon he'd used to form a tiny roadblock, and all three vehicles went plunging over the edge onto the rumpled blankets. Hutch had given him the custom painted Torino for Christmas, admitting that he'd had to add the distinctive white stripe himself. Starsky had been inordinately touched, since Hutch had rarely had anything good to say about the 'Striped Tomato' in all the years they'd driven in it.

He was as restless and jittery as a teenager waiting for a prom date. This night had to be special--there wouldn't be anymore for some time to come, and he wanted everything perfect. Luckily Mika had pitched in with exuberance, and a knowing twinkle in her eye. She'd just been in to report that the solarium looked like 'a palace', and she'd give him the high sign the minute Hutch came off the elevator. Starsky wanted to make an entrance, but he had to conserve his energy. Wouldn't pay to get ready too far in advance. He already felt like he was poised on the edge of a knife blade, emotions labile, and far too volatile. Like a firecracker, he could either go up in a blaze of glory that lit the sky or flame out in a single instant. Admitting to Hutch that he really didn't want to go through the chemo wasn't optimal at this time. He'd already promised that he would undergo the arduous treatments again.

Trying to distract himself, Starsky flipped the channel selector up and down with a practiced thumb. A commercial for Dick Clark's Rock and Roll New Year's Eve, a countdown of some of the most popular videos on MTV for the last year, and evening news on almost all of the local channels. He paused on 7 long enough to hear about Ernie Mancuso, an inmate at the state prison being admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital for observation after a heart attack in his cell. Starsky glanced up at the ceiling, knowing full well that the prison ward was directly above his head on the fourth floor.

"Just got a call from security downstairs, Starsky." Mika grinned at him from the doorway. "He's on his way up."

"Geeze, does everyone know about this?" Starsky could feel a blush heating his cheeks. Like the gossip in high school--who was going with whom.

"Just Roger--he's my boyfriend." She winked. "Do you need help with anything?"

"Nah, I've been doin' this on my own for--a couple of days now. Piece a'cake," he assured, locating the Canadian style crutches from their station against the wall beside the bed. "Just stall him at the nurse's station for a coupla minutes." He'd been working hard with the physical therapist to build up his strength using the crutches and walking. Trying to keep it secret from Hutch, he'd been practicing when his partner was at work. So this would be a big surprise.

Levering himself up, Starsky slipped his hands into the supports and made his way out to the hallway. Hutch was chuckling at something the punk styled ward clerk was saying but his Starsky radar must have been on full bore because he looked up at precisely the moment Starsky came into view.

"Starsk?" Hutch said and there was such unabashed love in his voice that if anyone on the Rose Tree Unit staff were still in the dark about their relationship they wouldn't be now.

"Been waitin' for you," Starsky laughed and Hutch grabbed him up in a tight hug, one of the crutches falling to the floor with a loud clatter. Behind them the nurses and several of the more mobile patients on the unit broke into applause.

"Does everybody know about us?" Hutch whispered into Starsky's ear. It tickled, and he laughed harder.

"Apparently we're the equivalent of Chuck and Di around here."

"More like 'La Cage Aux Folles'," Hutch muttered. He retrieved the errant crutch, presenting it to his partner with a little flourish and then stood, watching Starsky walk down the corridor.

"Are you coming? Dinner's served in the solarium--just like we were royalty."

"I'm watching you," Hutch said, his eyes drinking in every movement. Starsky felt adored which gave him a warm glow inside, and he glanced over his shoulder at Hutch, not having quite enough maneuverability to turn on a dime.

Hutch looked divine. It had been some time since he'd been in a position to admire his partner in such an amorous way. It was an enjoyable occupation that he really wished he'd spent more time on. Ken Hutchinson might be half a year away from his 40th birthday but he still had the fair hair of a man half his age. Oh, it was just a bit thinner on top, and his figure wasn't the trim one Starsky remembered from their dual races across the Academy obstacle course, but he was still a head turner. Dressed in a green plaid long sleeved shirt and khaki trousers Hutch managed to look accessible and suave at the same time, a feat Starsky had never quite managed.

Mika's magic had turned the drab solarium into a magical place. There was a table set in the middle of the room arranged with sparkling china and silver. Bright confetti was sprinkled liberally over the tabletop, and a dozen balloons decorated the windows. At each place setting was a gold foil covered hat and a noise maker just perfect for New Year's Eve. What Starsky liked even more was the scruffy sofa at the other end of the room had been transformed with a multi-colored patchwork quilt as a cover, and a bucket holding a bottle of champagne sat on the low table next to it.

"Looks pretty good, huh?" Starsky asked when they'd closed the door behind them, and placed a sign purloined from some hotel on the knob. Do not disturb. After only one glance at the room, though, he stared up at Hutch, his heart fluttering in his throat. Starsky would have sworn to anyone on the planet that grand gestures such as single roses and sappy sentimental poetry were all the claptrap of cheap romance novels, but at that moment he just wanted to be swept off his feet again and kissed. Hutch must have read his mind because an instant later they were kissing like they'd never touched lips before. Each kiss was more satisfying than the last, and their ardor for one another grew exponentially.

"I love you," Hutch managed between kisses.

"I know," Starsky returned the favor with heat and then sighed, leaning against his strong man without a care. This was where he was meant to be, forever, and if it meant puking his guts out for two or three more months, he'd do it.


"For you." Starsky started kissing lower on his lover's chin, ear, and collar bone, tired of having to bend his neck backwards because of those extra inches Hutch came with. The usual two had been supplemented by the cowboy boot heels Hutch was wearing, while Starsky had on a scruffy bedroom slipper.

"For food." Hutch tenderly cupped his hand at the base of Starsky's skull, stroking his hair. "Got to keep your strength up."

"I'd eat a can a' spinach for you, Olive Oyl."

"Luckily for you, Popeye, that's not on the menu." Hutch snagged a chair, positioning it behind Starsky so all he had to do was sit down and be pushed in to the table. Still very self-conscious about his new body image Starsky appreciated the casual manner Hutch handled that. No sympathy or hovering, just a simple act of kindness from a very kind man.

"What is?" Starsky plucked a silver cover off the plate revealing pieces of succulent crab sitting on a bed of fresh green lettuce. Shimmering red cherry tomatoes were situated around the plate, and a bowl of dressing sat to one side, ready to be added.

A basket of crusty French bread completed the meal, with an interesting covered plate on a small side table for later. Probably dessert.

"You order, your highness?" Hutch bowed graciously, unfurling a napkin for Starsky and one for himself.

"Do you believe it's good luck to have crab for New Year's?"

"At my house we used to have rice pudding--with an almond in it." Hutch took a bite of the juicy white shellfish, nodding in appreciation. "Whoever got the almond had a good year."

"Got any almonds lyin' around?" Starsky caught his partner's wintry blue eyes and smiled to soften the bittersweet flavor of the question. Their love hung between them like a physical thing that he could have reached out and touched. An ache centered up under his breastbone, made swallowing almost painful, but he didn't mind. He was on a date with Hutch, and this night would have to sustain them for a long while.

"Whatever I have is yours, you know that, Starsk," Hutch promised. He poured wine and they touched glasses before drinking.

Starsky liked the dry, pear/apple tang of the wine but his throat was tight with emotion. Concentrating on his meal for a few moments, Starsky savored every morsel. Even though he didn't want to think about it, the memory that he'd be back on the horrible chemo kept rearing up to demoralize him at the most inopportune times. Tomorrow he'd be sick again, no longer able to eat lucious food like this. Tomorrow he'd crawl back into that detached place that helped him cope with the nastiness of the wretched drug that was supposed to cure him of the scourge. All too soon he was full, and he watched Hutch eat happily, teasing him about a smudge of dressing that dotted the other man's top lip.

"You didn't finish," Hutch pointed out.

"Had my fill of shellfish, and I'm ready to start on a rare Scandinavian delicacy," Starsky purred.

"No rice pudding in sight, babe."

"I can't believe anybody'd willingly eat rice pudding when there are so many other better things in the world." Starsky slipped his foot out of the slipper, running it up the slick fabric of Hutch's pants.

"What would you like better?"

"Chocolate?" Starsky suggested wiggling his toes into the narrow crevice created by Hutch's thigh and the burgeoning bulk of his penis. "Ice cream with cherries and peanuts sprinkled all over the top…maybe a pink, smooth sucker I can swallow whole."

"Afraid you're outta luck, sailor, nothing like that around here." Hutch wrapped his long, dexterous fingers around Starsky's ankle, delicately tickling the underside of his arch.

"That's 'cause it's hiding," Starsky giggled trying to pull his foot out of his lover's grasp.

"You're a detective, find it," Hutch said lazily, an enigmatic smile transforming his face into something rare and beautiful. Starsky knew he was the cause of that look, that sultry, hungry look, and he wasn't sure he deserved it any longer. He'd gained weight, sure, but he didn't fill out the jeans he wore like he once had. Hell, these were a size smaller than his old favorites, and they were still a little loose. A long sleeved dark blue flannel shirt over a red t-shirt covered him, hiding the ravages of bullet scars, needle sticks and IV ports, and suddenly Starsky was ashamed of his inadequacies in the face of Hutch's bold masculinity. He let his foot drop away, picking up his fork as if he were going to eat a little more but just poked at the remaining crab.

"Starsk?" Hutch asked sounding confused. "Don't bail on me now, baby."

"I…" Starsky shrugged, unwilling to admit why he was so embarrassed about his body. He wasn't whole and beautiful like Hutch. He'd so wanted sex today, been so ready, but now when the moment was upon him he was scared. It had been almost a month since they'd been intimate, and he knew full well Hutch wasn't repulsed by the results of all his medical treatments, so why did this feel so scary? What if he no longer had what it took to arouse his lover?

"C'mere," Hutch pulled him up, guiding him over to the patchwork covered couch. "It's been a long time since we were alone like this, I want to make every minute count."

"Yeah, seems like any minute Mika or some other nurse'll come in here and poke me with a needle, and then listen to my heart," Starsky said, surprised at how bitter he sounded. "Vital signs and drug schedules wait for no man."

"Now, I was promised three undisturbed hours, and I want them." Hutch pushed Starsky's flannel shirt off and loosened the t-shirt from his jeans.

"No," Starsky protested, melting under Hutch's adoring gaze. "Leave it on."

"You cold?"

"I just want to see you first."

"You always were a voyeur at heart," Hutch chuckled, unbuttoning his shirt with a slow seduction.

"All those nights spent on stake-out." Starsky couldn't help smiling. For whatever reason, stakeouts were one of the things he missed most. Hours spent alone with Hutch. They'd discuss everything under the sun sitting there in the Torino or the crummy LTD, and then lapse into comfortable silence. A lot of times there had been boredom and arguments, but Starsky wouldn't have given those times up for anything. The good times and the bad--that's what he'd had with Hutch. If only there could be a few more of the good times. He resolved to make this night one of those.

Hutch stood smiling in all his nakedness, his long cock butted almost straight up against his belly, ready for action.

"That all for me?" Starsky sighed, still uncertain about his own attributes.

"Now, you," Hutch knelt reaching for Starsky's fly.

"Hutch, I'm not…"

"Starsky." Those clear water blue eyes caught him like a fish in a net. Starsky couldn't look away, mesmerized by the devotion pouring out of the blond man. "You're always you, no matter what the doctors and nurses do. I've loved you for a long time, and none of this," he laid his hand on the truncated left thigh, "changes my mind." Starsky closed his eyes, concentrating on that goodness dispelling all the negative emotions he had about his leg. There was still some physical pain emanating from the surgical site but it was low level and easily ignored. What was more insidious was the elusive and aggravating phantom pain, but Hutch's presence even dispelled that. "I don't care, do you believe me?" Hutch kissed his thigh through the cotton of the pants.

Starsky nodded, afraid to speak. Hutch unzipped his jeans, kissing Starsky on the patch of abdomen revealed by the open fly, and then began to shuck the pants off him. Slipping off the boxers, Hutch patted Starsky's groin with tenderness.

"See, there, I knew I had an old friend here. He's ready," Hutch said sweetly, cupping his big palm around the swelling phallus. "Are you?"

"Yes," Starsky breathed. He was more than ready. "Inside me, please, Hutch?"

For a moment Hutch looked uncertain himself and Starsky expected an objection, one of the litany of reasons why he shouldn't be penetrated just because he had cancer. Instead Hutch nodded, bending down to take Starsky's cock into his mouth.

Like dipping into warm pudding. Starsky dropped his head back, basking in the sensations that swirled around him. He let Hutch service him, releasing all of the fear and hurt that had been his world for the last month, and would be for some time to come. Hutch's tongue displayed intricate moves like a synchronized swimmer performing just for one, slipping and sliding around the length of Starsky's pole. Starsky grunted as the need surged inside him and he clamped his mouth shut to stifle the urge to vocalize his exhilaration. He came hard, panting as millions of points of light tickled his soul.

"Don't pass out on me." Hutch rubbed his belly soothingly. "Or they'll never let us out alone again."

"Not--gonna--pass-- out," Starsky gasped, gulping in air. A cough welled up, but he swallowed and it went away. "'Sides, the respiratory therapist'll love you for making me do my deep breathing exercises."

"Sex, the ultimate therapy workout," Hutch laughed.

"You were always the best workout partner I ever had," Starsky said when he'd gotten his breathing more under control. "But you were like some sorta drill sergeant after the shooting, always after me to do one more rep on the weights or another lap around the track at Cal's high school, remember?"

"Paid off, didn't it? You have the stamina of a horse."

"Not anymore. Maybe a little pony."

"It's my turn in the saddle now, Trigger," Hutch sat on the couch facing Starsky and arranged their legs so that Starsky's were resting on his thighs.

"I'd rather be Silver."

"The Lone Ranger? What does that make me, Tonto?"

"My faithful sidekick."

"Did Tonto ever do this?" Hutch reached underneath, sensuously rimming Starsky's puckered opening.

"Not in any of the Saturday afternoon matinees I ever watched…" Starsky didn't protest in the least when Hutch pushed his right leg up over the back of the couch. "Course, maybe my ma just didn't let me go see those."

"If the Lone Ranger set that kinda example you probably would have done it way before the age of eighteen. And they used to say rock and roll was a bad influence," Hutch said massaging Starsky's buttocks and anus.

"All that hip movement."

"Gyrating pelvises," Hutch slicked up his fingers with surgical lube, the only lubrication available in the hospital, and pushed inside.

Starsky grunted with the pressure; it had been so long. He exhaled languidly, feeling his muscles grow slack and receptive to the intrusion.

Oh, yeah.

Hutch smiled down at him, wiggling his fingers inside the moist, hot passage. "You like that?"

"You can do it again," Starsky responded automatically, still entranced by the buzz vibrating through his body from the first time Hutch had stroked his prostate. The second time was even better, a warmth and joy cramming his cells to the overflowing.

"Please, Hutch," he begged. "Inside."

"Take it slow, baby," Hutch whispered, kissing the inside of his left thigh. Starsky closed his eyes as a thickness battered against his weakened defenses and then slid in. Hutch was big, and every time Starsky was snared in that web of pain/pleasure as his interior walls stretched to encompass the welcomed invader. Then Hutch thrust forward, gently but purposefully, and Starsky lost all semblance of coherency. He grabbed onto the arms that clasped his waist, holding on with all his strength. This was health, and goodness and life. It wasn't staying in the hospital, his vitality leaking out with every dose of chemo. If only he could convince Hutch of that. If only sex could cure cancer.

Hutch climaxed, his spasms rocking Starsky to the soul. More, more! He'd heard of people dying during sex and couldn't think of any better way to go. Opening his eyes, Starsky stared up at the adored man with his blond hair falling over his forehead who looked slaked and gorgeous in the aftermath.

"Thank you," Starsky sighed, even though he ached now in places that hadn't chimed out in months.

"No thanks needed, Starsky. Love is all we need."

"Love makes the world go round." Starsky added, since Hutch was quoting song titles. "I love you, a bushel and a peck."

"Love will keep us together," Hutch sang softly. He draped the patchwork quilt around them, cradling Starsky. "Think of me, babe, whenever some sweet talking girl comes along…"

"Like I ever stop thinkin' of you."

"Singing' a song."

"I kinda like your voice…sounds kinda familiar in a strange way," Starsky interrupted the song.

"Just stop, cause I really love you. Stop, I been thinking of you…"

"Don't mess around," Starsky joined in the chorus. "Love will keep us together."

Hutch laughed, his face all soft and lit up from inside, and Starsky had to kiss him. "Didn't recognize you without your yachting cap, Captain."

"Ditched Tenielle for a sexy brunet with curls." Hutch rearranged their positions until they were slouched together, arms intertwined, staring out at the dark sky through the floor to ceiling windows. Silky curtains veiled the heavens, but the moon was a sharp golden sickle even through the draperies.

"The moon is getting' higher," Starsky said quietly. "Time is passing, hours winding down…"

"Will be New Year in just a few days."

"1985--you think things'll be better?"

"I have to believe that," Hutch said confidently. "The new chemo drug will do the trick, Starsk, you'll go into remission. You believe that, don't you?"

Starsky looked at that noble profile for a long time, the long incline of a nose, high forehead and forthright eyes, and lied because he loved this man so much. "Yeah."


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