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




March roared in like a lion--not the weather, but the ebb and flow of life for Starsky and Hutch sped up. Starsky found adjusting to life at home much more difficult than he'd expected. Three months was a long time to be away. Everything seemed different and yet the same. Just walking through the living room he'd pause, wondering if that lamp had always been there. Had Hutch moved that old ship in a bottle Starsky had painstakingly constructed so many years ago? Was the early morning light through the side window always so captivatingly beautiful on a spring morning?

Starsky was no longer as incapacitated as he had been in the fall, so he no longer required a full time home care nurse. Strange that the loss of a limb gave him more freedom. Sophie started coming for a few hours every other day, just to keep tabs on his health and general well-being, but Starsky was alone more than he had been before. That was not to say he wasn't busy; there was physical therapy, occupational therapy, wellness support groups, and doctor visits, not to mention friends and neighbors dropping by at all hours, all excited to see Starsky 'back in the land of the living' as he put it.

Hutch was more than busy coordinating his classes at the academy, working at Metro, and polishing his studies for the MCAT. Starsky joked that Hutch had the prep book memorized, but Hutch wasn't taking any chances. Once he took this test, there was no going back in his mind--he was hell bent on a medical career now, there would be no second thoughts.

Because of the on-going case against Schroeder, Starsky more than satisfied his wish to go back to work for a few days. He spent several days huddled with the D.A.'s team, and later, giving his testimony in front of a grand jury regarding his part in Schroeder's arrest. This also gave Starsky time to schmooze with old colleagues, put his foot up on his desk, and revel in the atmosphere. But as he'd anticipated, secretly, things had changed too much. There was no going back. In the same way that Hutch was now looking forward, in a different direction, Starsky knew his own feelings had changed majorly. This wasn't home anymore. This was no longer his future, just his past, and surprisingly, he was becoming more content with that. However, it did cause him to feel disconnected from those around him once in a while, as if he were no longer quite in the here and now, but somehow already linked to something less tangible. That was scary, and he sometimes clung to Hutch in the night. In the light of day Starsky tried to maintain his equilibrium, his tough-guy image, but there were nights were he mourned his life in ways he couldn't quite voice. He couldn't quite shake a certain sadness, but there was also peace because he was no longer fighting quite so hard. That was not to say he was ready to give up by any stretch of the imagination. He was conflicted some days, but generally rejoiced in the serenity the decision about his life's course had brought. Hutch still had a ways to go, but he, too, was making headway.


Starsky collapsed onto the sofa, expelling a lungful of air. He'd had a busy day, starting with early morning appointments with Dr. Davies, the physical therapist, a pain specialist, and a rejuvenating session with Saiisa Borunda. Her quiet strength always worked wonders on Starsky's sometimes jangled emotions, especially on this most anticipated of days. Hutch was taking the MCAT.

Starsky had specifically scheduled all these appointments in one day to keep himself from obsessing on how Hutch might be doing--had he remembered to bring a number two pencil? Because Hutch always lost his pencils. Did he remember what a parallelogram was, and the name of the capital of Sierra Leone?

So, Starsky had managed to fill his day, lunch with Huggy and Daisy, who were in the midst of planning their wedding, and then over to Pane Peducci for his first ever visit to Daisy's prospering bakery. He'd selected a box of pastries to bring with him to watch the Bay City Girl's Gymnastic team practice their new routines. After applauding every girl's floor exercise until his hands ached, Starsky was exuberant but worn out. Edith Dobey had driven him home. Now, he just had a short time before Hutch would be home. Starsky hoped he'd be able to stay awake that long. There was a bucket of take out fried chicken keeping warm in the oven for dinner, just in case neither of them felt like cooking.

Upon hearing their master on the couch, all of the kittens bounded into the living room with Pansy following at a sedate distance. Now several weeks old, the five bundles of fluff were developing distinct personalities, and starting to play. Starsky laid his head back on the couch to watch the kittens pounce and roll over each other, brown fur mixing with white and then black until they were just a blur of softness. Their tiny mews and musical purrs reminded him of the Tribbles on the old Star Trek, and he chuckled, cuddled up one, and then another, whoever was nearest.

Eeney, Meeny, Miney and Moe began to weary of their tussle with a pompom and toppled over into a swirl of multicolored fur--one giant kitten with four sets of limbs, but L'Chaim kept romping. He made an awkward leap for the red ball, resulting in an over the head somersault that sent him crashing into his siblings. Starsky laughed heartily at the uproar. Caterwauling kittens were sprawled everywhere, and Pansy had to wade in the middle to separate them. She spent some time scolding L'Chaim, who looked completely unrepentant, and Starsky laughed harder. Finally, Pansy bopped several babies on the head with a maternal paw, and settled her brood down for some mother's milk.

His chest starting to ache from laughing so hard, Starsky caught his breath, still giggling. It wasn't until he put up one hand to wipe away the tears that he realized he was actually crying, and that broke the dam. Suddenly he was bawling, violent, wracking sobs hauled up from the darkest depths. He wasn't quite sure why he was crying, just that he couldn't stop. Every few minutes he thought he had a handle on the deluge, only to find himself sobbing harder, gasping for breath, anguished wails ripping out of him.

"Starsk?" Hutch asked worriedly, dropping a pile of mail and official looking papers onto the floor. "What's wrong, baby? What happened?" He pulled Starsky into his arms, murmuring quieting comforts.

"N-nothing," Starsky stammered, hiccupping between quieting sobs. "The kittens were playing."

"And that reduced you to tears?" Hutch's voice smiled, and Starsky closed his eyes, absorbing the love through his skin.

"I was laughing," Starsky said into Hutch's soft old blue shirt. He knew that if he reached up one hand he'd feel the soft threads of embroidery on the back--a guitar stitched artistically by one of Hutch's more talented ex-girlfriends. "It's stupid." The need to cry had almost gone, the tears evaporated, but every now and again he could feel a ripple of grief shiver over him, goosebumps rising on his upper arms.

"Hey, I'm the only one who can call you stupid, I though we agreed," Hutch teased gently.

"I was just laughing, and then I was crying."

"You've been coping with a stress level that would topple an elephant, Starsk. Sooner or later everybody's got to fall apart." Hutch kissed him on the earlobe.

"I thought I was handling everything."

"True, and doing it a lot better than I was." Hutch briskly rubbed Starsky's arms, dispelling the last of the goosebumps. " How're you doing, now?"

"I'm good," Starsky said wearily.

"What did John say?" Hutch got up, stretching his long body and working out the kinks in his spine.

"Nothing new." Starsky watched the performance with some interest, but not enough energy to initiate anything.

Hutch gave Starsky a patented 'I know you're not giving me the whole truth' stare before gathering up the mail, and sorting through the envelopes. "One for you," he tossed Starsky a postcard. "And one for me, and one for Pansy." Hutch tucked one under his arm, and fluttered a circular for a local pet store to the floor. Pansy spat with a hiss when the papers landed too near her nursing babies, and Hutch had to gingerly pat her head to mollify her. "Two more bills, and an ad for cable."

"We got cable."

"Yeah, but we could get Playboy channel," Hutch laughed. "Wink, wink, nudge-nudge, know what I mean?"

"You want to watch girls scampering around with their jugs bouncing?"

"Can be fun."

"Yeah," Starsky said wistfully, remembering when girls were all he looked at. That redhead who'd gone to Malibu with him, let him remove her bikini top. And ditsy, funny Nancy, as tall as he was, her breasts overflowing his hands. That had been fun, and joyful, but none of them compared to Hutch in any way. "You want Playboy?"

"We can get it for the trial and then cancel before we have to pay." Hutch read the fine print on the flyer. "Just for Susan Anton, you know."

"She's so seventies, Hutchinson. Think Brooke Shields, Barbie Benton." Starsky knew Hutch was waiting him out, using the conversation as a cover until Starsky 'fessed up. "There's Kentucky Fried in the oven, but I got you the kind without skin."

"You do the nicest things for me." Hutch headed into the kitchen to deposit the rest of the mail into the recycle bin, pulling the last envelope out from under his arm as he did so.

"John said in all likelihood the cancer will metastasize, probably to my lungs." Starsky said, eyes focused on the guitar on Hutch's shirt.

Hutch swallowed audibly, never turning around. "Does he know for sure?"

"Yeah, he's a doctor, he's got all those books…"

"No, I mean, has it already happened?"

"Oh." Starsky forced himself to ignore the absurd urge to weep. "No, the tumor markers are the same. I mean they haven't changed since I went off chemo. Not any higher, not any lower."

"That's good," Hutch said with finality. He flipped the last envelope onto the counter, and got out an oven mitt. "Do you want a breast or a drumstick?"

He wasn't really all that hungry, but Starsky nodded, the raw emotion weighing the air like pollen. He wanted to sneeze just to relieve the pressure. "Drumstick."

"Did you get any slaw?"

"In the fridge, on the top shelf," Starsky directed. "And beans. You can nuke them."

Hutch busied himself in the kitchen, dishing out the food onto two plates. He set the table with forks and spoons, then placed a bottle of beer on one place mat.

"Me, too," Starsky instructed.

"Are you going to get up and eat over here?" Hutch asked without getting a second Heineken.

Starsky set his jaw, unaccountably annoyed at Hutch for no particular reason. They were both just overly tired and snappy, like toddlers who hadn't had their naps. As a matter of fact, he should have taken an afternoon siesta, but five thirty in the evening was a little late for that. Maybe later, while Hutch watched Nova.

Standing up, Starsky picked up one crutch and loped the distance between the couch and table with a minimum of effort, chiding himself for letting Hutch get to him. He sat, looking across at Hutch through the half filter of his eyelashes. Hutch was tense, it showed in the set of his shoulders and the tight way he clutched the beer.

"I love you," Starsky said simply.

Hutch nodded, one side of his mouth lifting up. "I love you, too."

"I totally forgot to ask you about the test!" Starsky broke off some of the crispy fry on the side of the drumstick. "Didja pass?"

Hutch was chewing cole slaw and had to take a long pull on his beer before speaking. Starsky noticed he almost drained the bottle in one go. "Too early to tell," Hutch answered. "But the questions were easier than I thought." He leaned back just far enough to reach the refrigerator, extracting two beers, a second for himself, and one for Starsky.

"See," Starsky brightened, and forked some baked beans into his mouth. "Dr. Hutchinson has a real ring to it."

"You're putting the cart before the horse," Hutch sniped, but now there was a real smile on his face.

"What was that envelope you threw on the counter?" Starsky asked, finding his hunger. He went to work on the chicken leg.

"Medical school applications," Hutch mumbled, eating more cole slaw.

"Now who's up in the cart without tyin' on the horses?"

"Don't you mean bridling?"

"How should I know? The only horse I ever saw was under a fat, Irish New York cop in Central Park," Starsky countered, broadening his New York accent for effect. "I went to Rosie's rehearsal for the big competition in Washington D.C. this afternoon."

"Yeah?" Hutch gave a discrete belch, drinking more beer. "How'd they look?"

"All six of them were fantastic. They're definitely going to take the medal as a team. An' not one of 'em fell during their individual floor routines."

"That's going to be televised, right?"

"On ABC sports, the day after the competition, so it'll be old news by then." Starsky picked at the label on his bottle, then took a sip to bolster his courage. He was fully aware he might have a fight on his hands here. "I wanna fly to Washington with the team."

"What?" Hutch reared up from his plate, nearly dropping his laden fork, staring at Starsky as if he'd grown a second head. Starsky was momentarily amused by an entertaining vision of himself with twin heads, and one and a half legs.

"I wanna go, to support the team. Not like I got any other plans. You can come, too."

"Starsky…" Hutch sputtered, his mouth opening into an 'O'. He closed his lips, tightening them as if briefly waging an internal war before taking a deep breath.

"See?" Starsky grinned. "You finally learned it doesn't pay to argue with me."

"I thought we agreed you were going to take it easy around the house from now on," Hutch said just a trifle too primly. "After all the rigmarole with Schroeder."

"We didn't decide," Starsky stressed. "That's what you want. I can't just sit around."

"You did last fall."

"I had a broken leg last fall, I couldn't do anything." Starsky looked down, scrunching up his face, trying to express his innermost thoughts. "As much as it surprises me to say this, I'm freer now. Nothin's holding me back."

"This scares me," Hutch said honestly. He took a slow drink from his second beer.

"I know, Blintz." Starsky smiled and was rewarded when those Nordic blue eyes smiled back over the top of the bottle. "Hutch, sitting around twiddling my thumbs would be like I was just waitin' to die. I wanna live until I die--just like anybody else." He chuckled suddenly, remembering a long ago day at the amusement park. "I know Terry is just up there in heaven sayin' 'I told you so' to me. She drove me crazy that day, wanting to ride on the bumper cars with a bullet in her brain." A pain blossomed sharp and bright in his breastbone just for the space of a breath and then it was gone. "Now, I know. I know."

"Aw, Starsk." Hutch blinked, his face almost crumbling but he swallowed with an audible gulp. He reached over, wrapping his hand around Starsky's and squeezed tightly as if hanging on for dear life. "Be hard to g-get good prices on the tickets. Aren't they leaving in a few days?"

"On Wednesday," Starsky agreed, his belly so churned up he could barely tolerate the smell of the chicken on his plate. He pushed it aside, taking a swig of beer, but the flavor was off, tasting like cat piss in his mouth. "The meet is on Friday."

"The 29th," Hutch confirmed, then blanched. "Oh, my God, today is your birthday! Starsky, I totally forgot, with studying for the test, and getting the midterms ready at the Academy and . . ."

"Hutch, it's okay."

"Why didn't you say anything this morning? Last week?"

"Didn't want you t'be distracted." Starsky hiccuped with the effort to keep the tears at bay. Why was this so hard, and what could make it easier? Hutch had given in with barely any fight at all, so why did Starsky feel scared? "Uh--Edith tol' me the plane isn't full. That two of the parents had to bow out 'cause of their work, or something. She needs more chaparones. So, we could get the same rate the team paid for the tickets. Don't know about the hotel. I wasn't plannin' on staying in the same room with a bunch of 14 year old girls."

"There are laws against that, you dirty old man," Hutch teased, and Starsky knew things were going to be all right. "You want to go to Washington, Starsk? We'll celebrate your birthday, old man. I'll go where ever you do, whenever . . ."

"Yeah?" Starsky grinned.

"But no bumper cars." Hutch released Starsky's hand, waving the Hutchinson pointer at his nose. "I have my limits."

"Y'know the girls are going to Disneyland the Saturday after they get back--there's always Space Mountain."

"Keep pushing, Icarus, you'll never get that boulder over the mountain."

"Sisyphus pushed the boulder, college boy. Icarus flew too close to the sun," Starsky corrected.

"Smart ass," Hutch pulled apart his chicken breast, separating the meat from the wishbone. "You've been watching way too much educational TV."

"Mais oui, mon ami," Starsky said in French. "You gonna make a wish?"

"Huh?" Hutch munched distractedly on his chicken.

"The wishbone." Starsky snatched it off his plate, twirling the tiny 'V' around. "Make a wish with me, Hutch." He held out the bone, grasping one leg tightly, waiting for Hutch to follow suit. Why this suddenly seemed vitally important was beyond him, but his heart did a funny little jump when Hutch grabbed the opposite leg. Starsky closed his eyes, but there was no need to conjure up some special new desire. He had only one, the most important wish there was to live.

Each of them pulled until there was a sharp snap, the larger share of the bone breaking into Hutch's hand.

"You won!" Starsky announced, the tiny disappointment in his chest offset by the knowledge that Hutch had probably wished for exactly the same thing as he did.

"I wished you never got cancer," Hutch said quietly.

"You're not s'pposed to say it out loud."

"Happy birthday." Hutch leaned over and kissed him. "Eat your dinner, it's getting cold."

The sweet longing of the kiss still lingering on his lips, Starsky smiled sadly. "I'm having a hard time with the acceptance thing lately."

"I don't think I've gotten there yet," Hutch confessed.

"Sing me a song?" Starsky asked wistfully. "You hardly ever play the guitar anymore."

"What did you have in mind?"

"That Doris Day song. You sang it once with Abby, that time you guys did a duet at the police talent show."

"Que Sera, sera?" Hutch got up and retrieved the guitar from where it had lain forgotten for several months. "What made you think of that one, babe?"

"Th'other night, when I couldn't sleep, I watched the Hitchcock retrospective. All night--three movies. 'North by Northwest', 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' and 'Rear Window'."

"No wonder you were so worn out. You need your sleep," Hutch chided, running his hand over the smooth varnish of the guitar. "Wake me up the next time. At least so I can watch the chase through the cornfield scene."

"I like the fight on Mt. Rushmore better." Starsky settled back in his chair, focusing on his beloved. He loved watching the play of the overhead lights on shining hair as Hutch bent over the neck of the instrument. After spending a few minutes tuning the strings, strumming and plucking at random, Hutch looked up at Starsky as if questioning whether he should start. One lock of hair fell over his forehead like the studious boy he must have been, practicing his music in the quiet of his own bedroom. Starsky felt such a wrenching loss at not having known that serious, beautiful child, and knowing that someday he would unwillingly abandon the kind hearted, talented man that child had become.

"Que sera, sera, whatever will be will be," Hutch sang in a clear tenor. "The future's not ours to see."

"Que sera, sera," Starsky finished, and began to cry. He clung to the arms that folded around him, the guitar bumping him in the hip, and succumbed to the sorrow once more. Knowing death was inevitable, and accepting that fact as unblemished truth had turned out to be harder than he expected.


Hutch was surprised how easily the impromptu vacation fell into place, and how quickly. Several quick phone calls to the airline, hotel, and lastly to the Dobeys fixed everything. He'd expected Dobey to balk, since up until then, Hutch had been slated to fill in as acting captain during the boss's absence. However, Dobey didn't even blink an eye at the request, and granted the days off without protest. Hutch strongly suspected some manipulation from Edith's corner on that score. However the miracle had occurred, he didn't completely question it. Starsky had been so shaky emotionally since he'd announced his desire to go that Hutch would have gone to great lengths to cheer his partner up. If flying across the entire country to see a gymnastics show he could see for free in their own town was what it took to pull Starsky out of the doldrums, so be it.

The flight was long, stifling and boisterous with 6 teenaged girls, 9 parents, 3 younger siblings, plus Starsky and Hutch. The flight attendants hurried up and down the aisles bringing extra sodas, packs of playing cards, every People magazine they could muster, and an extra diaper for Aria's baby sister.

Starsky thrived on the chaotic excitement as if he were a battery that had needed a new charge. His eyes shone with blue fire, his skin was flushed, and he could barely sit still, grabbing every chance to tease, gossip and schmooze with the gang of people he'd taken as his extended family. Hutch sat back, content to let Starsky have his moment. They'd both needed this trip more than he'd realized. It was not just a distraction, it was truly a departure from all the stress and depression of the last seven months.

Seven months. Hutch closed his eyes at the realization that it had been seven months since he'd found himself in hell. Just over half a year since their lives had changed irreversibly. But here, on the other side of the US, where spring was still the hope of crocuses poking their buds through winter hardened ground, where a snow flurry delayed the plane by an hour because of ice on the landing strip, here they could be different people, just for a few days. For Starsky's 40th birthday.

Sure, they both had to acknowledge that Starsky still had terminal cancer, and had carted along a bag full of prescription medications. They tended be circumspect with their relationship in front of their friends from Bay City, but mostly out of respect for the sensibility of the young girls, not to hide in any way. There was a weird sense of freedom, almost relief, at leaving St. Joseph's, Dr. Davies, and some painful memories behind.

The hotel where they were staying was not far from the most famous areas of the nation's capital, and Hutch had barely dropped the two suitcases on the floor of their room before Starsky was raring to go, ready to explore.

"Starsky, we just flew across the entire country, and had to get up at 4 am to do so. Aren't you tired?" Hutch groaned, still trying to ease the kinks out of his back and long legs from sitting for so long in the tightly packed jet.

"I had a nap," Starsky said dismissively. "Anyway, Hutch, look!" He yanked the sheers covering the large plate glass window aside, revealing a stunning view of Washington, DC. The white dome of the capital building shone in the late afternoon sun like a perfect example of classic architecture, gleaming and elegant. "It's history, all laid out in front of us!"

"And it's five thirty in the evening. I'm sure the tours are all closed," Hutch answered, wishing he didn't sound quite so grumpy, but he was too tired to go walking around looking at national monuments right then. He still couldn't fathom how Starsky had any energy left.

"Huuutch," Starsky whined, then brightened, hopping over to his carryon to dig out a guidebook, Washington DC on $40 a day. Hutch had to smile, at least Starsky was trying to stay frugal on their impulsive trip. Starsky perched on the edge of the bed as if afraid to get too comfortable, and flipped a couple of pages. "Aha. The hotel is here on the corner of D Street and New Jersey, there's a great restaurant called Vittorio's across the street--pizza, lasagna, linguini with clams…" he glanced up at Hutch with those blue eyes shining like a million blue lasers, and Hutch was undone. Starsky had most probably known he could get Hutch to do anything with those eyes, and the mention of linguini with clams.

Hutch didn't even like linguini, with or without clams. It always reminded him of a time he nearly lost his partner, long before they'd been lovers. What if Starsky had died so many years ago? "I want tortellini in pesto sauce," Hutch capitulated.

"See?" Starsky grinned triumphantly. "Then the capital's barely two blocks over, Hutch. An evening stroll, maybe hold hands."

"Romantic," Hutch scoffed, but the idea appealed to him more than he could say. "But we take the wheelchair. You tire out, and you can't watch the girl's perform on Friday."

Mutiny flitted across Starsky's features for half a second before he nodded. "Just one last thing before we go, I gotta use the john."

Hutch laughed until his sides hurt.


"See, I tol' you this was a good idea." Starsky tilted his head back against the handlebars of the wheelchair, his curls brushing the back of Hutch's hand in a way that made his groin ache.

"Sometimes you get them," Hutch agreed, too stuffed with Italian food to argue. Their party had expanded from just the two of them to a table full of giggling girls and several parents. Not the whole troop, but enough to put a kibosh on any sort of romantic dinner Starsky and he might have had by themselves. He resolved to dip into that guidebook himself, to find a nice, quiet, out-of-the-way spot to celebrate Starsky's birthday. Just the two of them, without a passel of teenyboppers. Now he understood the lengths some parents had to go to in order to have time to themselves, and he'd only been around the girls for 12 hours so far. Luckily, the girls were more interested in exploring the premium movie channel in their hotel rooms than taking a moonlit walk down Constitution to view the capital in all its glory.

"And sometimes I do." He glanced around, but the only people nearby were throwing pennies into the reflecting pool. With a quick flick of the wrist he'd turned the wheelchair around the Garfield monument and bent down to capture Starsky's soft lips with his own. The air around them might have been cold, but Hutch felt a rush of heat flash through him that started at his mouth and tingled down to his cock. Starsky moaned, a sweet longing sound, and shifted his weight, leaning into the kiss with devotion. Hutch savored the taste of Starsky, mingled flavors of red wine, tomato sauce, and garlic pricking his taste buds to spice the kiss perfectly. It was with great regret that he pulled back from his lover just far enough to see Starsky's pupils dilated with lust, his eyelids heavy.

"Time t'go back to the room," Starsky whispered.

"What about the Capital building?"

"What Capital building?"

Hutch ran a finger down the long line of Starsky's cheekbone to his jaw, knowing they were already pushing their luck. Anyone could walk along and see them there, a cop, one of the parents they were traveling with, or worst of all, someone cruel and homophobic, out for the kicks of bashing gays.

"Love you, baby." He ruffled Starsky's curls one last time and headed the chair back to the hotel, never having gotten more than a glimpse of the famed structure where the bills and policies that changed the nation were decided.

Their lovemaking was gentle, an ode to devotion and strength in the face of adversity. Hutch had never held Starsky so reverently, or felt so worshiped by his lover. They coupled holding hands, as if even their fingers were mated; palm to palm, wrists touching so that the beating of their arteries thudded as one. Hutch held his breath as he climaxed, shuddering with release, waiting for Starsky to follow him. His patience was rewarded, because Starsky came a few moments later, his seed spilling across Hutch's belly in a long spiral to match the one Hutch had made on Starsky's flat abdomen.

Lying there in the dark, listening to Starsky's breathing slow, Hutch was content. It was a transient mood, as so many were in these emotional times, but he concentrated on keeping the feeling alive inside him, trying to dissolve the essence of this contentedness into a compact form he could carry with him when the rougher days ahead hit. He almost chuckled at the thought of going to the store to buy a jar of contentedness in powder form, like instant coffee, and adding water. But nothing would replace the real Starsky by his side, smelling faintly of sweat, and the chocolate that had been on the pillows of their beds.

"Hutch?" Starsky said, and the sheets rustled as he turned toward him, nuzzling into Hutch's bare shoulder.

"Thought you were sleeping."

"Just thinking."

"Need a penny?" Hutch moved enough to be able to bury his fingers in the rich fullness of Starsky's hair. Not quite as long as Starsky used to wear it, but had still grown back vigorously curly.

Starsky exhaled, his breath warm on Hutch's skin, and he kissed Hutch's collarbone. "I wanta tell you why I was so…sad the other day, after you took the MCAT." His hand had been lying lax on Hutch's ribcage, but now he surfed up the curve of Hutch's chest to rest on his sternum. "I went to the hospital."

"I know, for therapy."

"Yeah, had PT, and worked with the pain specialist, went up to the unit…"

He trailed off for a long moment and Hutch realized that was where the melancholia had begun.

"Saw Saiisa."

"Mmm?" Hutch made tiny soothing circles on Starsky scalp, very aware of the warm hand spread across his chest, just over his beating heart.

"Farley's gone home, did I tell you that?"

The abrupt change in both subject and tone told Hutch they were getting nearer to the truth. He knew that Starsky kept up with his old friends at the Rose Tree Unit, although Starsky wasn't supposed to visit very often. Not only to protect his still somewhat fragile immune system, but mostly to protect those of the patients still on the floor. Although, Hutch hadn't let himself think about it until just then, flying across the country in a plane full of potential germ mongerers wasn't exactly the smartest thing to do. But, John Davies had actually encouraged them to go, so maybe Starsky was doing even better than Hutch hoped.

"Yes," he agreed. "I knew Farley was going home."

"The Colonel, too."

"Starsk, I think he went home two days after you did," Hutch reminded. "Did you see Mika and Gemma?"

"Mika was workin' the day shift, doing a double," Starsky said quietly. "There was a new little girl there with leukemia, everybody was busy, so I just went to Saiisa's office. She told me."

"Told you what?" Hutch asked, and his heart skipped a beat in anticipation. He felt the stuttering thud against the bones of Starsky's hand pressing on his chest.

"Jeremy died."

It was far too dark for Hutch to see Starsky's face, but he could feel the jerky movement of his Adam's apple against his shoulder as Starsky fought to keep his voice steady. "He got an infection--like I did that time, only the antibiotics didn't work."

"Aw, Starsk," Hutch whispered into his hair, kissing the top of his head. Starsky was trembling, but he wasn't crying the way he had a few days before. "That must have been really scary."

"We have the same kind of cancer, Hutch. In the same leg." Starsky gulped a breath like a swimmer coming up for air. "I just keep thinking that'll be me someday, but not quite yet. Just give me a little longer, huh?"

"You take as long as you want, Starsk."

"Yeah," Starsky said in a wistful tone. "So, I thought, I've got to do a couple things, go places, cram all that life in as fast as I can. Y'know I've never been to Washington, DC before?"

"You told me when you bought the guidebook, and when we booked the tickets, and when we got on the plane…" Hutch fought his tears, needing to be at least as successful as Starsky had, if not more so. He had to force himself to keep the conversation light.

"Asshole," Starsky said, and his voice was steadier now, the vulnerability covered over once again. "You're the one who was so excited about seein' the Hope Diamond, and all the Gemini rockets in the Smithsonian."

"That's right, and if we don't go to sleep, neither one of us will be in any shape to see anything. Say good night, George."

"G'night, Gracie," Starsky replied, curling so that his right leg butted up to Hutch's left one. His breathing evened out very quickly, light snores signaling that he'd finally dropped off.

Hutch stared up at the dark ceiling, almost afraid to let sleep come. Please, God, if you're listening up there, give him a lot longer, huh?


It was cold but brilliantly sunny when the troop and their chaperones arrived at the Lincoln memorial. Kristianne's mother Diane, whom Starsky had long ago nicknamed the Commander, organized the girls into smaller groups walk up the parkway to explore the Smithsonian. Starsky and Hutch waited a few minutes for the crowd to scatter, waving goodbye to Rosie and Rainbow, who promised to buy Starsky a belated birthday present, and agreeing to meet back with them in a few hours. Starsky checked the guidebook, trying to choose which museum he wanted to check out first. The Air and Space or maybe Natural History?

"What about the Viet Nam memorial?" Hutch pointed across the plaza to the long, low black wall where people lingered quietly, reading the names.

"Uh--no," Starsky looked in that direction for a moment, before turning his head. When he'd first heard of the memorial going up, he'd been proud that Americans were finally acknowledging the men who had died in that hell of a war. He'd really wanted to come to pay tribute to his comrades who had fallen in the rice paddies and muggy forests, to say a special prayer for their lives and deaths. Only now, with death hovering so closely beside him all the time, he couldn't. The thought of those young guys, yanked from their lives in the States and shoved roughly into a foreign land to fight a war they didn't fully understand, hurt more than he could say. It reopened wounds he hadn't even remembered having. There were so many recent deaths in his life right now, Jeremy, Marian, and even Daisy's twin, Flori, that he didn't want to dwell on older ones. "I…maybe later, huh?"

"Sure, Starsk." Hutch rubbed his back with a casual gesture. "Then I really do want to see the Hope Diamond."

"You're always going on about the capitalistic society, and people's preoccupation with conspicuous consumption, and the one thing you want to see is the biggest diamond in the world?" Starsky teased, glad Hutch had understood. He hated this wavery feeling inside him all the time, as if he could cry at the slightest provocation. That, and the sometimes sympathetic looks he saw on the faces of his friends before they schooled their expressions when they realized he saw them. Pity, and worry, and love wound around with fear.

Conversely, when people he encountered on the street would glance at his truncated leg and then blush, or look away in embarrassment, he felt angry that they couldn't handle something so real as amputation. It almost made him want to rise up and glare at them, show them he could stand and walk, and wasn't a cripple.

A veteran with long gray hair, wearing wrinkled fatigues and a cowboy hat, wheeled by towards the memorial, his lower leg prosthesis painted with like a red, white and blue flag. Starsky grinned and held up two fingers in the peace symbol. The grizzled fighter smiled back in solidarity, raising his fingers in a 'V', then changing it to the four fingered Vulcan 'Live long and Prosper'. Starsky practiced that all the way to the Smithsonian Institute, but couldn't quite coordinate his fingers.

"Face it, Starsky," Hutch laughed. "You'll never be a Vulcan."

"Bet I can put the nerve pinch on you." Starsky rolled his eyes. "C'mon, Rockefeller, find that diamond for me."

Several hours of touring the mind bogglingly eclectic collection housed in the nation's attic required a rest period to recuperate. Hutch had sore feet and Starsky's butt hurt from sitting for so long in what he called 'the damned baby stroller'. They met up with the gymnastic troop for lunch at a nearby McDonald's, where hamburgers and fries were the order of the day. Starsky found it amusing that only Hutch and Cait strayed from the herd by ordering the Chicken McNuggets.

"We're touring the White House before we have to practice our routines," Rosie declared, dragging French fries though catsup.

"Cap, you gonna shake hands with the president?" Starsky grinned at his boss, who looked surprisingly casual in a knit golf shirt and sports jacket.

"Well, Starsky, I thought I'd offer some advice on how to run the country, given the opportunity." Dobey smoothed a hand down his rounded belly as if he were wearing his customary tie.

"I'd give the man a piece of my mind, but he probably wouldn't listen to me," Edith said archly.

Hutch stared at the woman as if he'd never seen her before. "Something struck a nerve, Edith?"

"Not in front of the children." She looked embarrassed by her outburst, and sucked hard on the straw in her chocolate shake. "Mr. Reagan is a fine man."

"I hear a but in there," Starsky said to Hutch but loud enough for her to hear.

"I just have some concern with his treatment of welfare recipients, and letting those unfortunates out of some…unnamed institutions without any treatment," Edith admitted, as if not really wanting to get into such a complicated discussion.

"Mother!" Rosie groaned. "We don't have to study civics until we're seniors."

"See?" Edith laughed. "To them it's just fun, not an up close examination of the working of the government."

"I want to meet Mrs. Reagan," Aria said. "She wears the most gorgeous clothes."

"Spoken like a true yuppie," her mother sighed, handing the squirming baby in her lap an arrowroot biscuit.

"Edith has been taking some college classes towards getting a B.A.," Dobey explained. "She's suddenly become very political."

"No suddenly about it, Harold," Edith said mildly, but she sat up straighter. "I marched with Dr. King many years ago."

"There's a man I would have liked to meet." Hutch wiped honey-mustard off his lip before dipping another nugget in the sauce.

"You want to come, David?" Samantha asked, waving a French fry in the general direction of Pennsylvania Avenue. "It's not far, and we get to see the oval office!"

"Hey…" Starsky started, the idea appealing to him.

"I was thinking of going back to the hotel for a rest," Hutch put in with finality.

"I want to meet Ronald Reagan!" Starsky countered petulantly.

Hutch stole one of Starsky's fries, chewing it before speaking. "You didn't even vote for him," he said dryly.

"Yeah, but he starred in Hellcats of the Navy!"

"So watch it on TV." Hutch arched an eyebrow and Starsky's heart lurched. Maybe a nap would be a good idea after all. Hutch definitely seemed to have something up his sleeve.

"I saw Bedtime for Bonzo," Rainbow agreed. "He looks so old now."

"Nancy is his second wife, he used to be married to Jane Wyman," her mother spoke up, beginning to ball up some of the paper hamburger wrappers and French fry bags to throw in the trash. The other mothers followed suit, picking up forgotten napkins, wiping away spilled cokes, and generally doing what moms always had to do--keep the order. After the girls and their entourage had waved goodbye and trooped out, the small burger emporium seemed a whole lot quieter.

"You got plans for later, Blondie?" Starsky let Hutch finish his fries. He hadn't eaten fast food like this in a long time. He'd enjoyed every mouthful, but his stomach sometimes still had other ideas entirely. Half a burger and a handful of fries filled him up, although he managed to nurse the chocolate shake for quite a while. He wasn't about to let the frailties of his post-chemo body ruin this trip for him, and was determined to keep up with the group at all costs. If that meant curling up with Hutch on the hotel king sized bed for an hour or two, absolutely no hardships there. And, as Hutch as pointed out, it wasn't like he'd supported Ronald Reagan, anyway.

"Just you wait and see." Hutch grinned like the Cheshire cat all the way back to the hotel.


"Where are we going now?" Starsky watched the Maryland landscape go by, marveling at trees beginning to bud, and the occasional early daffodil. Back in California, spring had already hit, and many bulb flowers were already past their prime. The rain had slacked off to a trickle and there probably wouldn't be a significant downpour until October. Here, the ground was damp, brown turning to green, life returning after winter's hibernation. It was like regaining the spring he'd missed by being in the hospital; like he'd grabbed hold of just a bit of what he'd lost, just as he hit 40, officially middle aged. Not that 40 was his middle age, but hopefully it was Hutch's. He both liked and hated the thought of Hutch living to 80. Hutch, old and elegant, blond hair turned silvery, his long hands wrinkled and spare, but having lived 40 years without Starsky.

"A restaurant I read about." Hutch said casually, turning down a long winding road. "It's near Annapolis."

"Hutch?" Starsky began, then stopped, thinking he shouldn't continue.


"Will you find somebody? Later? In a few years? So you won't be so alone?"

"Starsky." Hutch's voice hitched, and Starsky stared out the window, letting Hutch collect himself. He knew he'd thrown one hell of an emotional curve ball. "I won't be alone," Hutch said haltingly. "I'll be in medical school, or working so damned hard as an intern I won't have a single moment for dating."

"You'll nail those anatomy classes," Starsky said loyally, sneaking a peek at Hutch now that the air had cleared. Letting his eye linger on the curve of Hutch's ear and the way his hair curled just behind, where it lay on his neck.

"There are more than anatomy classes," Hutch groaned. "Chemistry and microbiology, learning the symptoms of all the diseases, multi organ failures, which drugs cure what…it's intimidating, Starsky."

"You've been reading too many college schedules. Just decide on one and apply!"

"But when it comes right down to it, it's not my choice. The school picks the best candidates, judging all their MCAT scores, and the admissions essay. Really competitive to get into medical school."

"Don't worry, Blondie." Starsky winked at him. "I guarantee you'll get in."

"You looked in your crystal ball, Madam Yram?"

Starsky waved his hands over an imaginary crystal ball in his lap, peering at the transparent depths with an exaggerated frown. "Virgo ex-detectives get priority at UCLA medical school."

"Good to know," Hutch said dryly, parking the car. "Here we are, birthday boy."

"The Crab Shack?" Starsky read the neon sign with a grin. "Hmm, what could they possibly serve here? Doesn't look like much of a shack." The building was big and old, with a slight list to one side as if hit with too many Atlantic storms, but built with a strength that had endured for decades. The clapboard sides were painted pale gray, with accompanying black doors and shutters. Yellow light spilling from the mullioned windows was warm and inviting, and he suddenly felt very hungry.

"Maryland is famous for its crab cakes." Hutch held up the guidebook with a wink of his own. "It's your birthday week, order the most expensive thing on the menu."

"Steak and Lobster?" Starsky teased, but he already knew he was going to have a crab cake. The sweet succulence of crab still held a special place in his heart, even if it hadn't magically cured him of cancer. In the same way he always wanted to clap extra hard when Tinker Bell's light was dimming in Peter Pan, Starsky held a shred of hope alive deep inside that maybe he hadn't believed hard enough in crab. Or eaten enough.

"Welcome to the Crab Shack, gentlemen," a tall, heavyset woman with black curls tumbling around her shoulders, greeted. "You got yourselves reservations?"

"Hutchinson, party of two." Hutch pointed to the name in her book. "By the window, so we can see the ocean, if possible."

"For you two, anything's possible." She laughed heartily, leading the way through the crowded room.

Settled in their places, Starsky neglected the menu in lieu of admiring his partner. Hutch looked as beautiful as he'd been the first time they'd ever met. Starsky remembered wondering how that blond, magazine-model pretty boy was going to withstand the rigors of the Academy. On the first day of their training, Hutch had stood out like a sore thumb with his suit and tie, and stilted manners. Starsky was embarrassed to admit he'd ridiculed Hutch that day, all the while trying to prove to himself that he wasn't drawn inexplicably to the man. Eighteen years later, Hutch was still a light in the darkness, a beacon that Starsky clung to when things got rough. His hair might be sparser, but the blondness was still dazzling, at least the hostess certainly seemed to think so. And in a double-breasted blue suit with a red striped tie, Hutch looked like the preppy some people imagined him to be. Starsky loved knowing that Hutch was really nothing like a proper, perfect Ken doll. He'd seen Hutch radiate with anger in the heat of an arrest, come storming in to avenge a wrong, and still have the strength to pull Starsky into his arms and kiss away the pain of the world, all the while cleaning up after him when he'd puked all those long months. That was the man Ken Hutchinson was, all that and more, a multi-faceted human being who still enthralled Starsky to this day.

"Decided what you want to have?" Hutch's eyes met Starsky's over the edge of the enormous menu, and Starsky knew he was busted. Hutch knew he was being admired. "See anything you like?"

"Right in front of me," Starsky admitted. "But I was going for the crab cakes and garlic mashed potatoes before I got my dessert."

"Think you know what you're getting for dessert?" Hutch closed the menu with an amused smirk. The waiter glided over to take their orders, placing a basket of rosemary scented rolls and butter on the white table cloth.

"Tie goes good with that suit, babe." Starsky ignored the gibe. "You should wear that to Huggy and Daisy's wedding."

"When a guy goes out of his way to have the nurse buy his lover a tie for Christmas while he's lying in a hospital bed, I thought I should get some wear out of it. I like it."

"Mika has good taste." Starsky itched to slip a finger into the flawless Windsor knot just under Hutch's Adam's apple and slowly loosen that tie, then unbutton the tiny top button on his crisp white shirt and work down from there.

"You've got good taste," Hutch amended. He nodded when the waiter poured out glasses of spicy scented Chardonnay into long stemmed glasses. Raising one up, Hutch clinked the delicate crystal to the glass Starsky held. "To my love, happy birthday."

"You gonna get all gushy on me?" Starsky asked, thrilled by the adoration coming from Hutch.

"I wasn't sure we'd make it this far," Hutch said softly, taking Starsky's hand. "You scared me, Starsk, every minute you were in the hospital. There were days I had to force myself to walk into number 307, afraid you'd be dead."

He hadn't expected such a vulnerable confession, and yet he had. But either way, Starsky had a hard time breathing for a moment. He squeezed Hutch's hand in return, feeling the solid gold band on the fourth finger of his spouse's hand digging into his hand. It reminded of him of how much they'd conquered to get where they were. "I know." There was nothing else to say. "I ain't dead, yet."

"I know." Hutch blinked, sipping his wine with a shuddery sigh. "So, old man--forty. The big 4-0."

"Huh, like you don't have four decades lookin' you straight in th'eye," Starsky teased. "I wanna give you a party, Hutch. For your birthday." He caught the oh-so-brief sadness on Hutch's face, that fear that he wouldn't be around at the end of August. "A big blow out to end all blow outs."

"Starsky, you know I don't like those kind of parties," Hutch groaned.

"Be good for you, farm-boy." Starsky pulled Hutch's hand closer, kissing the gold ring that matched his own. "Get you to loosen up some."

"I'm loose." Hutch wiggled his fingers against Starsky's palm, but made a judge face, as if eyeing the prisoner before sentencing. "In fact, I'll dance with you right now."

"Yeah?" Starsky was exhilarated. Hutch never did something this brazen in Bay City. Travel really was broadening, and liberating. He ejected from his chair, wobbled, grabbed the edge of the table for support, and felt the blood completely drain from his head as the whole room spun and scrambled.

"Starsky?" Hutch's voice was pitched low and urgent, obviously trying to keep this from being noticed by the rest of the restaurant patrons.

"I'm…" Starsky heard himself saying from a long way off, "T'rrific." He took slow, deep breaths, and the dizziness abated, blood returning to his brain after a brief holiday elsewhere. He let Hutch settle him once again in the chair, and press a glass of water to his lips. Starsky swallowed automatically, but by then everything seemed back to normal.

"What happened?" Hutch asked quietly, still standing right next to him so that Starsky's head could rest on his belly.

"Just stood up too quick, Hutch, honest. It's nothing."

"Didn't look like nothing."

"Please, sit down," Starsky begged, not wanting this to ruin their romantic night. "I guess dancing wasn't such a hot idea, except that it was hot." He emphasized the last two words, relieved to see the tension disappear from Hutch's face. "I'd dance with you in a second, Prince Charming, but my jigging has seen better days."

"I dunno." Hutch took a fortifying drink of wine, following Starsky's example to keep the conversation light. "Peg leg pirate captains are usually good at jigs."

"Aye, me hearty lad." Starsky covered one eye with his hand for a makeshift patch and sneered his best Long John Silver sneer. "Swash me buckles and batten down the hatches, there's water on the poop deck."

"What exactly does that mean?" Hutch asked.

"You need to take a refresher course in pirate lingo. Gotta watch 'Treasure Island' again."

"A fate worse than death," Hutch joked as the waitress delivered the food to their table.

Starsky ate carefully, but as happened, there were days when his stomach still felt dicey, and he couldn't finish even a half of what he'd once been able to put away. The fear he sensed in Hutch was wrapped around him, too. He'd wanted to forget his frailties, be strong, whole, and healthy for a little while, but that wasn't to be. The cancer, however quiet it was at present, still followed him around everywhere.

He was cheered considerably when four waiters came out in silly sailor hats singing Happy Birthday and the buxom hostess brought over two slices of chocolate cake with about ten candles in each. Starsky almost loved the adorable look on Hutch's face as much as the uncharacteristically showy gesture. He pulled in a lungful of air and blew out the candles in one go, although his chest hurt afterwards. He didn't mention that, but went straight to work on the fudgy icing.

"You gonna have some?" Starsky asked, savoring the smooth, rich flavor.

"Not right now, I'm watching you," Hutch said smugly. "You've got chocolate on your bottom lip." He reached over, using his forefinger to wipe the smudge off, and then licked his finger very slowly with liberal tongue action.

"You're playing dirty," Starsky accused. Scooping up a generous fingerful right off the top of the cake, he deposited it into his mouth before leaning over to kiss Hutch. The mingling of chocolate and Hutch was delightful, and Starsky sucked every last drop of flavor out before sitting back satiated. "I could get used to this."

"You're old now, Father William," Hutch quoted Samuel Lewis with a toothy grin. "Ready to go to bed early?"

"Have to finish this cake, to keep up my strength." Starsky dug his fork in again, and managed two more bites before the expression on Hutch's face was too compelling to ignore.

The bill was paid, tip left behind in the mess of napkins and chocolatey plates, and Starsky followed Hutch out of the restaurant. He hadn't noticed the ocean just beyond the building when they'd first gone in. Now, the tangy scent of salt and seaweed called to him and he longed to walk on the beach with his lover. However, sand and crutches did not mix well.

Standing with their shoulders touching, Starsky and Hutch stared out at the dark Atlantic. A sickle of a moon was reflected perfectly in the inky waters, and a surprisingly goodly amount of stars were visible despite the light pollution from nearby cities. Starsky took in a long cleansing breath, enjoying the gorgeous view and the solitude. Beside him, he could feel Hutch's body expand and contract as he too pulled in a deep breath of fresh air. Small waves slapped against the shore in a syncopated, almost musical way that was soothing and enticing, entreating all comers to romantic walks in the damp sand. Starsky was reminded of the annoying meditation tapes Hutch had started collecting which featured chirping birds, babbling brooks, and shrieking whales. The sound of the ocean and the wind rustling the ivy covering one wall of the Crab Shack was real, and much nicer.

"Dance with me, now," Starsky whispered, not wanting to break the spell.

"To nature's music?" Hutch asked in an indulgent tone.

"To the music of us." Starsky pulled Hutch to him, letting the crutch fall away. Hutch would hold him up.

"You're an incurable romantic."

"Terminal," Starsky murmured, letting Hutch take the lead while he laid his cheek against Hutch's neck. "I'll never recover from this."

"Then it must be contagious."


Hutch watched the gymnastics performance while keeping one eye on Starsky. Starsky was a light bulb that Hutch was afraid was going to burn out too soon. He was incandescent in a bright blue t-shirt with the words 'Cheerleader for the Bay City Girls Gymnastics Team' written across the front. There was a pom-pom tied to the bar of his crutch which he shook it from time to time, whispering words of encouragement. Not that the girls needed any.

All six girls were in peak performance mode. They blew away the competition, there was no comparison. It was obvious even before the judges announced the results that Bay City had the best all around gymnastic team in the country. Scouts for major advertising contracts, and also the Olympics, crowded around but Dobey didn't want this kind of thing to get out of hand. Leaving Aria's dad, who was a corporate lawyer, to hear the particulars, he hustled the girls out of there and over to the hotel for their own private celebration.

"I feel like a star." Rosie bounced on her toes, multitudes of miniature braids flipping around her head. "Didja see the man from the Olympics? He was taking notes during my floor routine. I wish Daddy let us at least talk to him!"

"You are a star," Starsky assured her, poking a cookie into her still open mouth. "But you got to slow down before you fall down." Rosie did as instructed, standing still to eat the cookie.

"Seems like I've given you that advice," Hutch mused, laughing at the antics of Samantha and Cait who were trying to teach Rainbow's little brother how to cartwheel in the middle of the hotel's banquet room. Rainbow proved why she'd gotten a medal by flipping effortlessly around the perimeter, but her brother, Moon, wasn't quite up to her abilities. The rest of the group were all relaxing after the show with food, drinks, and good cheer. "And in the same way." He shoved a cookie into Starsky's mouth for emphasis.

"Hey!" Starsky sputtered, blowing out chocolate crumbs.

"I'll get you something to drink," Hutch said dryly, brushing the crumbs off his suit jacket. He really wanted to get Starsky up to bed, and not for some hanky-panky. Starsky might not be willing to admit it, but he was tired. That he was sitting now, instead of up schmoozing with the girls or trying a one-legged cartwheel himself, proved it. That he'd only eaten half of the shrimps he'd piled on his plate from the buffet. The way he leaned his head on one hand. A causal pose, but not the active, vital way he used to do in the squadroom when they were mulling over a case, his fingers curled against his cheek, the pinkie sometimes sneaking between his lips. This was altogether different. This was fatigue, but artfully hidden.

Selecting a Seven-Up and a sparkling water off the drinks table, Hutch looked back at Starsky who was still talking with Rosie, their heads close together.

"So how does it feel to be the father of the next Nadia Commaneche?" Hutch joked to his Captain.

"Oh, I'm worrying already," Dobey groaned good-naturedly. "What if she does want to go on?"

"I think she does."

"Money. Where will we get the money?" He shook his head. "But can you imagine? My little girl representing the USA in the '88 games in Seoul, and winning a medal? She's staggering, Hutchinson."

"That she is, Captain."

"You know, very soon I think we'll have to call each other by different names," Dobey said more soberly.

"Not planning on changing mine," Hutch said lightly, but a strange fear gripped his belly. As much as he'd already begun to think of himself as someone going to medical school, in fact none of that was certain. And the idea of stepping off into a new future was terrifying. He wanted both worlds, simultaneously.

"But you are planning on moving on. Before or after he…" Dobey stopped as if even he couldn't say the fearful words, but nodded toward Starsky across the room.

Letting out a deep exhalation, Hutch shrugged. "It's all up in the air, Captain. But I did take the MCAT the other day. An admissions test for medical school."

"Quite a first step, Hutch." Dobey sipped from his coke. "Made a decision on where to go?"

"I'd like UCLA, to stay near Bay City." Hutch couldn't believe he was saying this aloud, to any one but Starsky. It somehow made it all the more real. "I haven't even sent in the forms yet."

"Good school. Cal is doing well there." Dobey cleared his throat which Hutch recognized as a delaying tactic. "What have Starsky's doctors said?"

"No way to tell at this point. He tires easily, but he's doing better than any of them expected so far," Hutch answered, the cold of the Seven-Up can seeping into his hand. He wanted to put it down, maybe run from the room instead of talking about this particular subject. It was all he thought about these days.

"Keep us posted," Dobey said. "We're around to help, always."

"Thank you, Harold," Hutch tried the sound of the name on his tongue. It was strange to call that man by his given name, but when Hutch quit the force, he wouldn't have a captain anymore. And that would be just about the time he'd really need someone to guide him, too. He felt stronger knowing there were people such as the Dobeys in his corner.

Skirting around a gaggle of girls all giggling about who was cuter, Harrison Ford or Mel Gibson, Hutch headed back to his table. Just as he was close enough to hear conversation over the music playing in the background, he froze. Apparently the entire Dobey family had Starsky's health on their minds.

"You're going to die, aren't you, Uncle David?" Rosie asked in a plaintive voice.

Hutch pretended to watch Moon's improving efforts in cartwheeling, sipping from his bottle of water so that he wouldn't intrude on the discussion. Rosie only called Starsky 'Uncle' when she was really scared.

"Yes," Starsky replied.

"But I don't want you to," Rosie said sadly. "Why didn't the chemo cure you? My friend Marcie, at school, when she was like nine, she had leukemia, and had to have chemo, like you did. Her hair all fell out, too, same as yours, totally bald, but she's all better now. In remission."

"I don't know, Rosie, but some people apparently react differently to the drugs than others do."

Hutch wanted to hide instead of having to go on hearing this, but he stayed where he was, staring at Moon, who had now picked up Aria's baby sister Symphony and was dancing around with her.

"My doctor said I was kind of unique to get a kid's cancer in the first place," Starsky said frankly. "I guess only kids can survive it."

"When's it going to happen? When are you going to die?" Rosie asked. As Hutch turned to look at her, he could see the tears in her eyes.

"Maybe not for a while." Starsky smiled over at Hutch, beckoning him over. "I got stuff to do, still. But everybody dies, sweetie, it's just going to happen to me a little sooner than I expected."

"Cause God gave you a second chance?" Rosie wiped the tears away with a napkin that said, "You're the champions!" in big red letters. It smeared the mascara Edith had let her wear just for the special day.

"I got a big second chance when I was shot--something to be grateful for, that's for sure." Starsky grabbed the hand Hutch held out like a lifeline, squeezing tightly, and leaned down to give his favorite girl a kiss on the cheek. "Hey, when we get back home, you have to come over and see the kittens again. They've grown a lot. Pick out the one you want."

"Can I change his name?" Rosie asked with a sniff. "Cause I know which one I want. The little white one."

"You don't like the name Eeney?" Starsky reared back against Hutch's shoulder, playing wounded pride with comic skill.

"I don't like the name Eeney," Hutch said, giving him the soda.

"I want to name him Davey," Rosie said quietly.

"Oh, Rosie-o-day. That's a good name." Starsky gave her a tiny smile, his Adam's apple bobbing. Hutch watched the parade of emotions that marched swiftly across his face. Starsky wasn't about to show how much that touched him, not macho Starsky in front of a pretty little girl.

"Rosie!" Kristianne yelled over the din. "We're posing for a picture for the newspaper. C'mon!"

"Go on, Rosie, don't want to miss that opportunity." Hutch gave her a gentle push. When she had scampered off he hugged Starsky closely. "You're exhausted."

"I'm okay." Starsky hunched his shoulders, warding off the mother-henning.

"We have to be at the airport at six in the morning, which makes me exhausted." Hutch changed his tactics. "Come on, let's go upstairs before the herd of buffalo thunder down the hall."

"Is that any way to refer to the gold medal winning, nationally famous Bay City girl's gymnastics team?" Starsky countered, but poked around under the table for his crutch.

"You started it, yesterday morning when they all ran down for breakfast at the same time," Hutch reminded, pulling him to a stand. "Elevator or ten flights of stairs? Your choice."

"Then I choose the elevator," Starsky laughed, moving ahead of Hutch. He reached the elevator first and raised up the crutch to use the tip to poke at the call button. "Crutches, a million and one uses, Hutch, I keep telling you."


Jet lag hit Starsky hard, along with some nasty little virus that laid him low for the first few days after they returned to their white house on Dahlia Lane. When Starsky went straight to bed after they got home from the airport and could barely raise his head on Saturday morning, Hutch was frantic with worry. A trip to the hospital established that Starsky had a cold, which would make him feel awful, but probably do little else. Nonetheless, John Davies wanted daily reports of his vitals and close monitoring. That meant calling Sophie Saint Clare, who was only too happy to help out.

Hutch was not too happy to have to leave Starsky on Monday, but there were midterms coming up at the academy, and since he'd missed nearly a week of class prep, he felt woefully behind. Not to mention another meeting of the drug task force he was co-chairing at Parker Center.

"Hey, you'll be late if you don' leave soon." Starsky looked blearily at him, blowing his nose. His eyes were puffy, his nose red and drippy, and his top lip was chapped, but Hutch didn't care in the least. He leaned down to kiss the patient when Sophie went into the kitchen to heat some tea. "No, don' kish me now, I got a colt."

"I kissed you yesterday, and the day before, and you had a cold then. What's the difference?" Hutch finished what he started, but left a chaste kiss on Starsky's forehead.

"Because t'day you're going in to work and that'll just spread the germs all over the place."

"Flying on planes is what spreads the germs all over the place," Hutch clucked, tucking the blankets up under Starsky's chin. "These days, a virus from Asia can be here in a matter of hours. It's astounding."

"I think I jus' got an ordinary American one. John said as long as it didn' turn inta pneumon…" Starsky broke off to sneeze explosively.

Hutch handed him a tissue. "I heard him." He leveled his forefinger at Starsky. "Don't get out of bed, eat and drink what Sophie makes for you, and get some rest."

"Can't I go to the bathroom?" Starsky pouted. "I hate using that bottle thing."

"Starsky! Yes, you can go to the bathroom." Hutch could already feel his blood pressure rising, and at 7:30 in the morning that was not a good thing. Maybe he did need to take a break from Starsky.

Sophie returned bearing a tray with a steaming pot of tea. "Echinacea," she pronounced in her lilting accent, putting the tray down on a nightstand. "Tres bien for when you have la grippe. It will help you get better."

"Sophie, take his temperature…"

"Every hour, I know, Monsieur Ken, d'accord." She poured two cups of tea, the smile lines around her eyes crinkling upward. "David and I will get along just fine. Unless you would like some tea before you go?"

Hutch cocked his head to check the time on the watch Starsky was wearing on his left wrist. "I'm late already. Starsky…"

"Hurry, Hutch!" Starsky shooed him out with another sneeze. "You don't want to be late for morning target practice."

Searching his pockets for keys to the car, Hutch headed through the living room, nearly tripping over a kitten in his haste. He could hear Starsky questioning Sophie on the supposed health benefits of Echinacea, and then his pleased surprise at the pleasant taste. Wishing he could stay home to sit by the fire with a cup of tea in his hand, Hutch closed the door behind him.

He missed Starsky acutely all day long. Class seemed tedious, but that could have been because nearly all the cadets were grumbly. Spring break was in another week, and Spring fever was upon them. Hutch called twice in the morning, Sophie reported that he was sleeping peacefully and Starsky's low-grade temp hovered around 99 to 100 degrees, just as it always had when he'd been on chemo.

How long ago that seemed, and yet it had only been two months, really. Two months since the end of January when Starsky put down his foot and declared himself a Cisplatin-free zone. That even though he had never reached the nirvana of remission, he wasn't willing to keep punishing his body in a quest for health. Hutch was surprised to realize that at some point along the way, he'd come to accept the inevitable. He still wasn't comfortable with Starsky's decision, he wished that they could have fought a little while longer, but on the other hand, that would have meant Starsky would still be on chemo. Or just coming off his second course. He'd have been weak, hairless, and still very sick, judging from what happened on the first two rounds.

They couldn't have gone to Washington D.C, couldn't have celebrated Starsky's birthday with a dance by the ocean, and couldn't have sat together on the floor naming kittens.

Driving his car from the academy to Parker Center, Hutch found himself stuck in traffic choking back a bitter thickness that threatened to close off his windpipe and suffocate him. Tears blurred his vision of the other vehicles, until he was afraid he'd break down right there on the freeway. Taking the nearest off ramp, Hutch drove down a quiet road to a tree lined street and parked. What was he going to do? There was no way he could lead a discussion on gang related violence and drug wars in this condition. His heart was beating in a terrifying rhythm, out of normal phase and nearly slamming right out of his chest. Not sure how to handle this, Hutch gripped the steering wheel until he thought his fingers would break off, anger, fear, and anguish building up inside him like a volcano about to erupt.

With a roar he screamed, loud, long, and throat ripping, slamming his fist on the ceiling of the already battered car with enough force to rip the lining free. Gasping for breath, Hutch gave into the tears, riding out the deluge until he was exhausted. Leaning back, he was surprised no one had walked by to investigate this weird blond haired man screaming in his car. But the old street was nearly deserted, many of the dilapidated houses slated for demolition. Now that he paid more attention to street signs, Hutch realized he was just over the border of the area he and Starsky always patrolled. Strange that in his unhinged state he'd driven himself to a familiar place to fall apart in. A few blocks to the left was Huggy's bar and just streets past there was Daisy's bakery and catering shop.

Looking down at his hands Hutch realized he was shaking, and not just a little bit. He no longer cared what anyone at Parker Center thought about him. He needed a break. Starsky had so little time left, and Hutch wanted to spend as much of it with him as possible. The Academy classes would continue until May, just over a month, but if he resigned from his duties at headquarters he could be home by early afternoon on the days he taught and not have to work at all the rest of the time.

When he felt sufficiently in control of his emotions, he restarted the engine, tucking the ripped lining back along the edge of the window and turned the car to the left.

Pani Peducci was busy. Hutch parked at a meter just yards from the shop and sat watching several customers emerging clutching hot loaves of bread, or with pink pasty boxes in hand. His mouth watered, and he realized he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.

Just approaching the bakery was heaven, the scent of yeasty bread and chocolatey cookies wafting out, enticing passersby. Hutch pushed through the door, causing a bell to jingle merrily, and Daisy saw him immediately.

She was busily wrapping up a box of cookies for a harried looking woman, but waved him over. "Hutch! Happy Easter week! It's a madhouse here, but what can I get you?"

"When is Easter?" Hutch looked around, realizing he was totally out of the loop. The counter was decorated with festive baskets stuffed with that strange green plastic grass so popular at Easter, fluffy yellow chicks, pastel colored eggs, and multitudes of chocolate bunnies. Just the kind that Starsky liked.

"I know you were on the other side of the continent for a week, but we're still on the same calendar!" She laughed, rolling her eyes. "It's Sunday. Let me help these two customers, decide what you want."

"Sure," Hutch said distractedly. He hadn't even paid attention to the holiday coming up. Not that either he or Starsky were much on celebrating Easter. Starsky had never attended a Passover Seder in the entire time Hutch had known him, for that matter. But there was the matter of chocolate bunnies, which were a different thing all together. Totally necessary. And while he was on the subject, weren't jellybeans part of the candy requirements? And pips? Was that the right name? Peeps? Absolutely revolting little pink and yellow colored marshmallow chicks that Starsky could eat like popcorn? Hutch remembered a boxful melting on the seat of his car a few years back, much to his annoyance, and Starsky's horror. Not because it had ruined the already rank upholstery of his beater, but that Starsky was out the culinary delight.

First things first, he needed a late lunch. Deciding on tuna salad on whole wheat with an Italian soda, Hutch waited in line while Daisy and Marie Saint Claire doled out cookies shaped like crosses, coconut Lamb cakes, and braided Challah. Just as Marie was slapping Hutch's sandwich together, a small woman with the pale pink skin and totally white hair of a true albino rushed in, apologizing profusely.

"So sorry I'm late, Daisy! There's a big accident on 100th Street and the traffic is horrible."

"No problem, Katie. Just tie on an apron and let me take a break." Daisy waved away the five dollar bill Hutch pushed at her. "On the house, Hutch. Just don't tell Huggy. He claims you still owe him a bar tab."

"I probably do." He stepped to the end of the counter to allow a family of stairstep children to pick out their favorite confections while their mother conveyed the orders to Marie. "But Starsky's is bigger."

"Katie, this is Hutch, a really good friend. Hutch, Katie Trajero, we're training her to replace me so I can actually go on a honeymoon."

"There's no replacing you, Daisy," Katie said sweetly, holding out a tiny, almost transparent hand. "Hi, Hutch."

"Nice to meet you." He nodded, realizing she must have extremely poor vision. Her glasses were Coke bottle thick, but she had a cheerful smile and easy, outgoing manner. "Are you helping with the cookie baking?"

"I'm more of a cashier sort of a girl, but I love to eat cookies." Katie laughed, patting her belly.

"C'mon, Hutch, take your sandwich into my grand closet office so I can get off my feet for ten." Daisy grabbed a poppy seed bagel and a small cup of vegetable cream cheese, leading the way past two women who were kneading bread dough on a huge marble slab in the rear of the shop. A fine layer of flour dusted the entire surface of the worktable.

"Just as a personal observation, but you look exhausted for someone who just came back from a vacation," Daisy said, kicking off her sneakers and getting cozy in a ratty old sofa. Her office was small and had no desk, but there was a filing cabinet overflowing with paperwork and some framed photos on the wall. One had Huggy holding a ribbon across the door of the bakery while Daisy used a pair of scissors to cut it in half. "Is Starsky worse?"

"Not in the way you mean." Hutch sat on the sofa, and took a long swallow of the fizzy green soda. "He got a cold from being on the plane. Doctor says he should be fine in a day or so."

"But it's wearing on you." Daisy nodded, suddenly concentrating on spreading the cream cheese very evenly over both halves of her bagel.

"Yeah." Hutch ate his sandwich in the awkward silence. He'd never spent that much time alone with Daisy, usually Huggy was with them. He knew a little about Flori, from Starsky, and that Daisy certainly understood what he was going through, but he wasn't sure exactly what he needed today. Empathy? Or just support for the possibly disastrous change he wanted to make.

"Starsky told you about my brother, I guess," Daisy said quietly, taking a careful bite from her bagel. Hutch nodded. This had to be extra hard on her, reliving so much of a painful time when she should be concentrating on her own happiness. "I just want you to know that it's…there are no words to express any of it. Just be there, for both your sakes, as much as possible." She rubbed at her eye, possibly wiping away a stray tear, and finished one half of her lunch.

"That's pretty much the conclusion I came up with today, too. We had a great time in Washington," Hutch agreed. "I'm going to take a leave from the force."

Daisy looked up in surprise, then smiled. "That's good. And maybe you'll have more time for what I wanted to ask you about, anyway."

"There's more?" Hutch teased gently.

"Think I ask a guy into my plush office for a five dollar sandwich everyday?" Daisy batted her eyelashes in an exaggerated fashion. "It's about the wedding."

"Starsky told me you wanted him to help with the décor. Are you sure that's such a good idea? His taste runs to bright colors--red and white…"

"I love bright colors," Daisy assured. "He and I are quite simpatico."

"Should I be worried?"

"No, Huggy's smitten with me and I'd never break the man's heart."

"And he likes bright colors, too. Match made in heaven."

"I think so." Daisy pointed to a corkboard covered with sketches. "See, blue for my bridesmaid, my sister Marigold. She always did look good in blue. And Huggy may be in green. A theme of sort of blue and green, kind of underwatery, mermaid sort of thing…with shimmery aquamarine table clothes and my wedding dress is pale, pale violet, since I've been married before, with a tight mermaid tail silhouette."

"Very pretty," Hutch said, although it looked a bit Vegas style for his taste. Starsky would definitely like it, though.

"It's--well." Daisy got up, fingering some swatches of fabric pinned to the drawings. "Huggy and I want to ask you guys a favor, but we weren't sure how to go about it with Starsky…if Starsky was up to it."

"I think Starsky wants to do everything that he can get away with." Hutch was surprised at his own words. He'd accepted Starsky's wishes more than he'd even realized, because he wanted to see Starsky out having fun, too. The recent past had been horrendous and the future was nebulous. More than anyone else, Starsky needed to live for the present.

"That's good." She nodded, clapping her hands together. "Really good. Maybe you guys could come by the Pits in a few days? So we could all talk?"

"Sounds like a plan," Hutch agreed. He was fairly certain that what Huggy wanted to talk to them about was being the best man. Although Huggy had cousins coming out his ears, Starsky had known him since the mid sixties, and probably counted as one of his older friends. Starsky would enjoy the honor, as well.

Hutch spent another twenty minutes selecting cookies, chocolates, and other Easter themed delicacies for his partner, leaving with a hot cross bun to munch on in the car. What he really wanted to do was drive straight home and curl up in the bed with Starsky, but he felt that he owed Dobey an explanation, especially since he had basically skipped out on a taskforce meeting that he'd set up himself.

The metro squadroom was chaotic when he arrived. Three officers were dragging in a combative and dangerous couple who had apparently gone on a killing spree with various members of their family and nearly tried to take each other out, too. Half the detectives on the force had been pulled in to investigate the complicated case. Dobey was growling at poor Neiderhouser, the newest sergeant on the team.

"Give him a break, Captain," Hutch said softly. "He's been a full-fledged detective for what, ten days? And you were gone half of that. He hasn't had the time to fully assimilate all of your years of wisdom."

Neiderhouser gave Hutch a grateful look, but straightened his shoulders. "Captain Dobey, sir, the report will be on your desk ASAP, and not a moment sooner. And may I say, sir, that that tie goes well with your jacket?"

"You think so?" Dobey ran a hand down the length of his tie, fingering the small rocket depicted in launch sequence. "My wife got it for me at the Smithsonian."

"Same one Rosie bought for Starsky," Hutch added. "Captain, can I have a word?"

"You're late, Hutchinson!" Dobey groused as if he had just that minute noticed Hutch's tardiness. "In my office." Once they were seated, all pretense of anger left the Captain's face. "How's your partner?"

"Has a cold."

"So do about half of the girls."

"Captain," Hutch said, deciding just to blurt it out in one quick burst, like pulling a Band-Aid off. "I need…"

"You need to take some time off," Dobey interrupted him, handing over a form in triplicate. "I've already filled in your name and pay scale, just put in the dates."

"Captain…" Hutch stopped, then looked up at the kind man, almost afraid he would start bawling right in front of his boss. "Harold?"

"My mother died of breast cancer," he said quietly, picking up a pen to give to Hutch. "My father never forgave himself for going to work those last months. He wasn't there…in the end."

"H-how old were you?" Hutch asked, stunned by this unexpected intimate detail.

"I was in Korea. I wasn't there either." The dark eyes were rock steady, but Hutch could still hear the pain in his voice. "Don't let history repeat itself, this one time."

"No." Hutch signed the paper with a flourish, putting in the date April first as a starting point and leaving the termination date blank. Just seeing the word termination made his belly twist with dread, but he handed the emergency leave of absence form back to his friend with a strangely lightened heart. "Thank you."

"Keep us up to date," Dobey said.

"You won't be able to get rid of us. Starsky can't go for a week without some of Edith's cookies or pie."

"That's good, then." Dobey stood, and in another amazing move on a day of amazing surprises from the man, pulled Hutch into his arms and hugged him.


"Lucy, I'm home," Hutch called out when he walked into his house. Kittens were skittering all over the living room rug, almost too fast to identify one from the other. One attacked his ankle with the needle sharp claws of a baby cat, and he scooped it up to peer sternly at the bundle of fluff. "L'Chaim, is that any way to greet the man who buys your tuna?"

The black kitten chirped and batted at his pointing finger, blue-green eyes wide.

"Good evening, Monsieur Ken," Sophie said from the kitchen.

"How's he doing, Sophie?" Hutch tucked L'Chaim under his arm, the kitten's warm, vibrating purr like a relaxing massage, and placed his bakery box on the kitchen counter.

"Tres bien, no fever since he took some aspirin at noon, he's just sneezing all the time. But he ate a good lunch." She turned the heat down on a covered pot on the stove. "I made a nice lamb ragout for your dinner, and we had quiche for lunch. David grated all the cheese."

"He's quite useful for those tedious chores," Hutch smiled, full of unexpected happiness. "Thank you so much for coming, Sophie. I really appreciate it. I'm going to be home more from now on, but we'll still need to see you around here as often as possible."

"D'accord. Of course." She laid a wrinkled hand on Hutch's cheek, her sweet face serene. Her inner peace permeated his soul, making him smile. His decision had been the right one. This is where he needed to be. "You go to David. I can see in your eyes how much you need to," Sophie said. "I'll let myself out." She bopped L'Chaim on the nose. "This one is a rascal. The other chatons are sweet, but this one is shredding the curtains in the dining room."

"Yep, takes after Starsky, incorrigible." Hutch carried L'Chaim into the bedroom, dropping the kitten onto the lump under the coverlet.

Starsky flipped the comforter off his face, his eyes like blueberry stars. He'd been lying in wait. "You don' look a thin' like Desi. D'you even play the bongos?"

"With that cold, you sound like him, Mr. Ricardo," Hutch leaned in for a kiss. Starsky was warm from being bundled up, so kissing him was like tasting muffins fresh from the oven or just baked cookies. He was delicious. He seemed much improved since the morning.

"Babaloo," Starsky said faintly, between kisses. "You're in a good mood."

"Quit my job."

"Huh?" Starsky reared up so quickly the kitten squeaked and jumped in exaggerated horror, all four limbs extended and his tiny back arched in perfect Halloween cat pose. His cry brought mama Pansy in, who scurried onto the bed and shepherded him away. "You quit the force?"

"It's only temporary, Starsky."

"Because of me?" Starsky demanded, his face set and hard.

"It would have happened eventually, if I got into medical school. And I'm not quitting the Academy in the middle of the semester. I'll see this class of cadets until they graduate, but I couldn't do both, Starsk. It was getting too difficult."

"Because of me."

This wasn't at all how he'd expected his homecoming to be, and Hutch didn't feel like he had to explain his actions to Starsky. Besides, Starsky wasn't being at all sympathetic. He looked ready for a fight, his shoulders hunched and eyes glittering angrily. What the fuck did he expect from Hutch anyway? Nobody around here was competing for the job as Supercop.

"Fine. You want me to say everything is coming down on me like a ton of bricks?" Hutch shouted, no longer wanting to be anywhere near his lover. He threw up his hands, stalking away from the bed in agitation. Everything was suddenly too bright, too cheerful, and ordinary. He couldn't abide the usually comforting melange of his and Starsky's possessions. The tidal wave of emotions from earlier poured over the levy he'd erected and drowned him again. "You want to hear that I'm desperate when I'm away from you because I have to leave you when you're sick, and then when I do something that makes me feel like there's maybe some relief, just lightening the load a little bit, I come home and you blow up at me! I don't have to tell you that it's been hell, and right now I can't take it anymore. Okay?" Without even looking back at Starsky, Hutch walked out. He yanked open the front door and was halfway across the lawn before he gave one thought to the fact that he was leaving a one-legged man with terminal cancer and a cold alone.

For one second, Hutch faltered. To hell with that. Starsky wasn't a complete invalid, incapable of taking care of himself for one hour. He'd live. Meanwhile, Hutch needed a walk, and maybe a beer. He strode down the sidewalk so quickly the little girls from next door stared up at him with undisguised concern. It wasn't until he'd passed them by completely did he hear them resume their interrupted chanting "Eeney, meeny, miney, moe, catch a tiger by the toe…"

It reminded him of Starsky. The red bicycle with a white stripe left carelessly in the lawn of number 14 Dahlia Lane reminded him of Starsky. Even the advertisement on the side of a passing bus for Adidas sneakers reminded him of Starsky.

What was he going to do to make this right? Walking more slowly, Hutch headed for the mom and pop grocery that was exactly two blocks down and one block over from his house. He wouldn't be gone a half an hour. Was that long enough to give them both time to sort it out?


Used to Hutch overprotecting him and even downright coddling him, Starsky couldn't believe the abrupt exit. He sat numbly in the middle of the rumpled bed, trying to play back the whole conversation to just the exact point where it had gone wrong. Maybe he shouldn't have reacted so strongly? But the announcement had been one of major proportions. How could Hutch just do that so cavalierly without so much as discussing it with him? Starsky hated feeling like he was no longer even a consideration in what Hutch did, and yet, he knew that wasn't at all true. The whole reason Hutch had quit was because of him, and that's exactly what he resented; that he was no longer anything but a burden, something to be cared for, who got in the way of other people's lives.

Starsky plucked at the sheets, listening for the door to open up and Hutch to come back through, apologizing profusely. It didn't happen. The house was thunderously quiet, not even a miow from one of the kittens.

Pushing back the covers, Starsky swung his legs over and sat with his right foot touching the floor. The left leg just cleared the edge of the bed, the truncated end like some forgotten loaf of bread. And it ached, just like he'd done too many squats after half a dozen sprints, the way they'd had to in the police academy so long ago. He'd always gotten a cramp after that. Only now there was nothing there to cramp up, just thin air. So why did his foot hurt?

Starsky pushed down on both his thighs, flexing his right foot and pretending the left one followed suit. This hadn't happened in a long time, maybe several weeks. During the trip to Washington he'd been exhausted all the time from being constantly on the go, but never once had his leg ached like this. Now, after a day in bed, what switched on the absent nerve endings?

There was nothing to be done about that except endure the cramp until it went away. A back massage might do the trick, but Hutch wasn't here.

Hesitantly, because of residual dizziness from the virus, Starsky secured his crutch and went into the living room. He wasn't used to being so completely alone, without any indication as to when Hutch might return. Usually, especially in that last month since his release from the hospital, whenever he had a few free hours between the multitude of medical and therapy appointments that constructed his day, people dropped by or called, bridging the gap between when Hutch's departure and when he would come home again.

Now, he felt strangely adrift. It wasn't that he was afraid to be by himself, far from it. There were days when he'd have paid quite a lot of money for just one quiet moment without being poked, prodded, and examined. Right now, he realized with a jolt, he was far more worried about Hutch's well-being.

Had Hutch taken a jacket? His car? Had he just blasted off into the late afternoon without any plan at all? On impulse, Starsky walked outside. The waning day was gorgeous, blue sky still inviting all to come out and soak in the warmth of the sun. Hutch's car was in the driveway, so he was on foot, most likely.

Starsky stood indecisively, wondering how worried he should be. Was this a walk around the block kind of funk or a drink himself into a stupor rage?

Starsky knew he needed to be proactive. If Hutch wasn't back in half an hour, he'd go looking for the blond idiot. Starting with the Pits and working his way down from there. Where else would Hutch go? Starsky was stunned to realize that since his diagnosis, he and Hutch no longer went out together just to hang. For all he knew, Hutch might have some new bar he frequented with his cadet students, or maybe even a new, unmentioned friend. As much as he recognized that as blatant paranoia, Starsky couldn't help but wonder what he'd missed while being sick, especially during January when there were whole blocks of days that he only vaguely recalled. Three months in the hospital really wiped out a guy's social life.

Going back in the house, Starsky downed a few aspirins for his headache and, hopefully, the ache in his invisible limb. He also needed to change. It wouldn't look quite right to walk into Huggy's wearing ratty sweatpants and a stained t-shirt. Starsky had never spent a whole lot of time thinking about his clothing, and knew that some people--namely Hutch--didn't consider his usual sartorial splendor of old jeans and a knit shirt elegance, but there was a difference between what he wore to bed and what he wore on the street. He liked feeling comfortable, that was all. To be truthful, he still felt pretty lousy. Just a little shaky on his foot, and with a nasty sinus headache. At least he wasn't on chemo. There was always an optimistic approach to life to fall back on.

Perhaps, looking at this optimistically, they both needed a short time-out from one another. They'd been so close during the trip. Now, Hutch needed a breather. Starsky didn't blame him. God knows he'd love to get away from all this cancer shit, but that was his life for the unforeseeable future. So, he had to deal with it. Which meant deciding whether it was worth the complicated machinations of pining his empty pant leg up so that it didn't flap around when he walked, or letting it dangle. Hutch often helped there. Starsky left it alone, his head pounded too badly when he bent down to bother. All this crutching around was making him short of breath, too, but Starsky didn't feel up to rummaging around in the kitchen for the inhaler Davies had told him to use when he was wheezy. Finding Hutch was the first priority.

After locating keys for his car and locking the door, Starsky stood stolidly in front of the house watching Hutch walk down Dahlia from Merryvale. He had a bag under his arm and was moving quite slowly, contemplating the cracks in the sidewalk. Just at the edge of their lawn, Hutch looked up, eyebrows shooting up in surprise to see Starsky standing there waiting for him.

Starsky really didn't know what to say. Did he blurt out how much Hutch's leaving had scared him, or would that make him sound like a pathetic child? Should he berate Hutch for storming out without an explanation? "Did you get enough for both of us?" Starsky said at last, nodding at the open long necked bottle in Hutch's right hand.

Hutch simply paused long enough to extract a bottle from the bag and hand it to Starsky before going past him into the house.

Starsky held the icy bottle, then lifted it to his forehead, enjoying the smooth, cool glass against his hot skin. He wasn't really running much of a temperature, if any at all, but all the bluster and worry had warmed him up. The bottle wasn't much good for anything else but cooling him off until he got a church key, anyway.

"Do you want to eat out in the back?" Hutch asked neutrally, spooning stew from a crockpot into bowls as if he hadn't just gone out on a tear for the last half hour.

"Sure." Starsky snicked open his bottle with the opener, and knowing Hutch as he did, opened a second one for Hutch. "There any bread left?"

"Oh." Since he was already carrying two bowls and a beer bottle, Hutch used his elbow to point out the baked goods on the counter. "I bought some, baked this afternoon."

"Great!" Starsky said with forced enthusiasm, slotting the loaf and the butter dish into a basket. He'd found that if he used one crutch, he could carry a goodly amount of things in a basket or bag without compromising his own stability. The beer bottles went into the basket, along with napkins, and a last minute addition of a jar of pickles. The basket banged against his hip as he made his way outside, but Starsky was more concerned about sloshing the beer on the floor than whether he got a bruise.

Hutch had covered the wrought iron table with a jaunty red plastic cloth and placed the bowls across the table from one another, as far apart as physically possible, given the size of the table. Starsky doled out the contents of his basket, and sat down. He picked up the spoon, swirling it around in the rich broth, but didn't feel overly inclined to take a bite.

"You should eat," Hutch said after a very long, tedious silence. He hadn't touched very much of his own dinner, but had finished his first beer. "Can't afford to lose weight now."

"Are you going to leave, or just stick around because you feel obligated?"

"Damn you, Starsky," Hutch said almost too softly to hear.

"Didn't hear you, you wanna speak up?"

"I love you." Hutch sounded so mournful Starsky wanted to weep, but he held himself still, not sure whether he wanted to hear the answer to his question. "God, I love you so much it hurts inside all the time to know what's happening to you."

Starsky brought the beer to his lips to hide the trembling of his bottom lip. The beer tasted off somehow, and it burned his raw throat going down.

"I didn't even ask Dobey for the time off. He'd already filled out the paperwork."

"Why didn't you tell me ahead of time?" Starsky asked softly. He yearned to move closer to Hutch, but kept the distance for security. If he was losing his lover, he didn't want proximity to sway his resolve.

"I didn't know myself." Hutch ate a spoonful of stew, but there was no enjoyment on his face. He was just using the mechanics of feeding himself to stave off the conversation. "Were you planning on driving my car?"

Starsky looked up sharply from his slow buttering of an unwanted piece of bread, staring at Hutch. Oh, yeah, he was talking about Starsky's aborted search. Starsky gave a derisive snort. "I figured I'd tunnel out, go for help." He knew Hutch would recognize the old line.

Hutch smiled sadly, obviously remembering a long ago time when Starsky was shot.

"Besides, I was going to drive MY car, not yours."

"Mine was blocking yours in the driveway." Hutch moved his chair, the wrought iron giving a loud, raucous scrape on the stone of the patio when he pushed it around the table.

"I hadn't noticed." Starsky felt out of breath, confused. His head was stuffed up and it hurt, but only part of that was because of his cold. What was going on here? They were hardly answering each other's questions, not the essential ones anyway. But somehow, the tension in his chest was loosening. It was getting easier to breathe. When Hutch brushed the tops of his fingers across Starsky's hand resting on the table, in the guise of reaching for the bread, Starsky nearly jumped. "You getting fresh?" he asked noncommittally.

"Just wanted the bread." Hutch held it up, eyes deceptive, almost empty. "Starsky, do you want to drive your car?"

"Yeah, I guess I do."

"What about a trip up the coast?"

"What are we talking about here?"

"You and me. No…" Hutch turned his hand over, palm up. "No doctors, no cop talk, ignore the cancer as much as possible."

"We just took a vacation."

"With six teenaged girls, and nearly twice that many parents and little brothers and sisters. That wasn't time alone, it was a circus."

"It was kinda fun." Starsky snaked his hand across the table to Hutch, and smiled gratefully when it was taken and squeezed. "We go up the coast, and I can drive?"

"About sums it up."

"Who are you and what did you do with Hutch?"

"I think he quit his job and doesn't know what to do with himself."

"You scared me."

"I'm at loose ends here, Starsk. I'm not sure what…happens from now on. There's no rule book, no charted course."

"I always liked flying by the seat of my pants." Starsky bit his lip, rubbing his finger against Hutch's. "We just make it up as we go along."

"That's harder for me than it is for you."

"Just hold my hand and follow along. I ain't going all that fast," Starsky vowed, and melted into the kiss Hutch pressed against his lips.


Hutch wanted to watch Starsky's every move, admire the way he draped one arm out the open window of the Mustang, the other holding the steering wheel with a firm but casual grip, as if he'd been driving all his life. Well, he had, except not since September. And not ever with only one leg.

Luckily, the Mustang was an automatic, which didn't require the complicated two footed maneuvers a manual shift would, so the same foot for gas and braking was all that were necessary. Still, Hutch liked watching Starsky look so--for want of a better word--normal, healthy. The wind from the open window was blowing his curls around until they became animated beings, each one bouncing to a different beat. His whole head of hair going carnival in Rio. Starsky was rocking out, tapping a rhythm on the windowsill to the tune playing on the radio. Elvis Presley's Greatest Hits, Starsky's choice. Hutch had brought along an eclectic selection of cassettes for the tape player, and once the hound dog stopped being a fool in love and rocking around the jailhouse, Hutch planned on some poignant Country Western tunes by Sue Anne Granger.

He couldn't put his finger on it, but he and Starsky still felt out of kilter. They were hovering around each other, each afraid the other might go off in some indescribable way. They hadn't argued or had a blow up since his unplanned expedition to the grocery for beer, but he was still waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe it wouldn't and they'd eventually just revolve back into their old comfortableness. The in-between times made him itchy, though.

Huggy had come through, big time. Before dropping the bombshell that he wanted them both to be his best men, he'd scored them the cabin of one of his innumerable cousins for a few days before Easter. So, here they were, tooling up Highway 1, which hugged the coast of California, headed for Big Sur. Already the scenery was less deserty and more wild than in the Los Angeles basin, and they were barely two hours out from Bay City. Santa Barbara was the goal for lunch, and it looked like they'd have plenty of time to fit in a walk along the beach, at this rate.

Hutch took his eyes off the rolling ocean on the left side of the car, focusing back on his partner, imagining the slender body suited in a Tuxedo, complete with cummerbund. Huggy had said that the main reason he wanted his two best friends up next to him at the altar was because he figured it was the one and only time the two of them would get to stand up in a church, dressed to the nines, in front of all their friends. In other words, Huggy was willing to share his wedding with them, even if it was only a symbolic gesture.

Hutch had seen Starsky go pale, and covered the reaction by teasing Huggy that he didn't have the fortitude to stand up and get married without help. The evening had been one of celebration and merriment after that. Lots of toasting, and speechifying. Hutch had almost expected to have a hangover from the liberal pouring of champagne, but surprisingly he didn't.

Maybe it was the warmth of the April sunshine, or just sitting in the passenger seat beside Starsky, watching him drive; a miracle of no small proportions, even though Hutch would never mention that. Cancer and anything connected with it was on the forbidden topic list, if they could help tiptoeing around that particular elephant.

Starsky was in his element, in charge of the car, and singing loudly along with the King. Hutch joined in with Heartbreak Hotel, finding himself grinning like a madman. Starsky glanced over at him, eyes hidden behind Ray Bans, but grinning, too. Suddenly, there was nothing between them, and never had been. Hutch reached over, clamping a hand on Starsky's thigh.

"My dad used to call that 'a crow lighting on a log'," Starsky said, squirming just enough that his groin pressed against Hutch's wrist. "Only he'd do it a hell of a lot harder than you just did."

"He used to feel you up?"

"Nah. He just liked makin' us jump. Usta scare the crap out of me when I was little, then when I was older I'd be prepared when I got in the car next to him. He'd do it when I least expected it, and laugh like crazy. And he used to let me shift the gears."

"While he was driving?" Hutch asked, amazed. His father would never have been so informal in the car. There were always rules at their house. Rules for the dinner table, for meeting guests, and for how to act in public. It was fine to 'let your hair down' as his mother had called it, on a Saturday afternoon, maybe in the pool or on a hike. There had never been the easy spontaneity that Starsky's family apparently had. Hutch did remember his father getting frisky, almost silly, when riding horses or tossing a ball around in the backyard before Hutchinson family football games every summer in the huge backyard of his grandfather's farm; lots of Hutchinsons all waiting for grilled chicken and salmon, working up an appetite with a game. But the subsequent football hadn't been just for fun, there had been a real competitive edge that sometimes spoiled the joy of the day for young Ken.

"Sure, when he was driving," Starsky said. "He'd take my hand like this." He guided Hutch's broad hand to the automatic gear shift between the seats, his slightly smaller one spread over the top, palm to the back of Hutch's hand. "And when we'd hit forty, he'd press in the pedal and let me move the gear shift."

Hutch felt the warmth of Starsky's hand up his arm and into his heart. "Don't try that here or you'll send us over the edge of the freeway."

"Spoilsport," Starsky chided. He pointed to the green freeway sign coming up. "Santa Barbara in five miles, where do you want to eat? And no grass seedlings or carrot juice for me."

"Starsky, when have I made you eat sprouts?"

"In 1976?"

"That was nine years ago."

"It was so traumatic I still remember," Starsky said with a straight face.

They found a wonderful place with a view of the ocean, and a covered outdoor eating area. Both ordered Margaritas and stuffed themselves with homemade tortilla chips and salsa. Hutch ordered a taco salad and Starsky went straight for the biggest, fattest burrito on the menu. When it arrived at the table he just looked at it with such lust Hutch burst into laughter.

"You'll never finish that one, amigo," Hutch teased. He wouldn't mind seeing Starsky eat even a half of it. Starsky had finally passed 130 pounds, but didn't seem to be able to put on much more weight. That was 15 pounds under his goal weight, and his appetite was still quite an iffy thing on a bad day. Luckily, this wasn't one of them.

"Then I'll have something for breakfast tomorrow. You said the cabin was out of the way, so we'll need to stock up." Starsky dug in, making happy sounds around his mouthful of beans, rice and beef. He smeared guacamole all over the next bite and popped it into his mouth.

"I brought enough to satisfy both of us," Hutch promised, thinking about the basket of chocolate eggs he'd hidden in the trunk. Hopefully, nothing would melt on the way up. "Even the rest of that chicken noodle soup Edith made."

"Just like my grandma's."

"You've got avocado on your bottom lip." Hutch reached over to wipe it off, his thumb tingling when he touched his lover. What a time to get turned on, in the middle of a crowded restaurant, and over such a silly little thing. He felt hot and then cold, his groin suddenly pounding with blood, and from the look on Starsky's face, he was feeling the same thing.

"You got enough cash to pay the bill?" Starsky asked huskily, almost panting.

"Credit card." Hutch dazedly pulled out the little plastic rectangle to get his hands off Starsky. That was harder than it should be, and he had to physically move his chair back from the table so he couldn't respond so easily to the heat pouring off Starsky's body.

Starsky's eyes were darkest midnight blue, even in the bright of day, and Hutch knew he was lost unless they could find some place--NOW--where they could alleviate a few major aches below the belt.

The waitress bounced over, all perky with oblivious cheer, presented the bill, and took away Hutch's credit card. She brought back a Styrofoam box for Starsky's unfinished burrito, and two red and white striped peppermints with the credit card slip. Starsky popped a candy into his mouth while Hutch signed for their meal, trying to ignore the slurping sounds Starsky was making. Would that he could make those sounds around Hutch's cock, and soon.

They made it out of the restaurant under their own power, standing on the edge of the beach with only one thing in mind. Starsky poked his crutch into the sand as if testing how far he could get going that way and looked imploringly up at Hutch. "Whadda you want to do? Cause I'm not squirming around in the backseat of the Mustang."

"What backseat?" Hutch shaded his eyes, looking over Starsky's shoulder at the coastline. "A hotel room?"

"Kinda obvious, don't you think?"

"What do you have in mind?" Hutch asked peevishly, his need now diminishing, but not enough to endure another couple hours on the road before he got relief.

"Hey." Starsky patted Hutch's belly with a barely there touch, designed not to inflame any further. "I can't walk too far on that sand, and I ain't lyin' back like Deborah Kerr to get sand up my butt. We're not kids, we can wait, can't we?"

"Come here." Hutch led him a few feet down a cement walkway bordering the beach until they came to a small structure, a combination equipment shack and restroom facilities by the look of it. Hutch gently pulled Starsky around one side, shaded by the overhang of the roof and a five foot retainer wall separating them from beach side parking. There was no one in view. Leaning in, Hutch gave into his passion, kissing Starsky with such lust that it left them both gasping for breath.

"You do that pretty good, but it never hurts to practice," Starsky said, molding his hand over the bulge in Hutch's jeans.

The second kiss was just as powerful and Hutch would have come right then and there, from a kiss, but he held himself firm. As Starsky had pointed out, they were adults, with the ability to put off pleasure until the proper time instead of giving into every lustful impulse at the first opportunity.

"Okay," Hutch conceded. "Next stop, the cabin."

"Next stop, a gas station." Starsky grinned fecklessly, as if the front of his cutoffs didn't display his wares with eye-popping splendor. "I don't want to run out of gas on the side of that long winding road."

"Need help with that?" Hutch had gotten himself under marginal control and could afford a certain smugness.

"Nah, I'm good." Starsky grimaced, adjusting himself and swung off with his crutch as if sex were the furthest thing from his mind.


Starsky would have enjoyed every single thing Hutch was doing to him except for the nagging pain in his left foot. Not that it had deterred them thus far, but it took away from the overall perfection of the afternoon. He wanted to be able to concentrate totally on Hutch's marvelous technique, and not be constantly distracted by a phantom cramp in his invisible leg. Once again pushing thoughts of the annoying ache to the back of his brain, Starsky arched up into Hutch's hand, grabbing a handful of smooth Hutchinson ass to hang on with.

They'd made it to the cabin in wonderful time, and hadn't even bothered to unpack the car. Both had dashed for the door, Starsky already shucking his t-shirt in preparation while Hutch fumbled with the keys. When he dropped them on the ground, necessitating a lengthy search with Hutch's arm stuck halfway under the wooden stairs, Starsky thought he'd burst with anticipation. But finally, finally, they'd made it inside. Barely taking a moment to notice the décor, Starsky headed for the nearest bedroom--there were two--and dropped his cutoffs to the floor. The look on Hutch's face when he came in, after a quick stop in the bathroom to wash spider webs and who knows what off his hands, was worth the wait.

Starsky had sat down on the bed so he was just the right height to undo the zipper of Hutch's pants and help his with his belt. He'd feigned surprise and wonder at the size of his lover's penis, toying with the heavy balls until Hutch hissed and jerked with need. Then Starsky had slurped up that long length of a cock, bringing Hutch to completion with satisfying speed.

Which brought him to his present situation, lying back on a blue, yellow, and green wedding ring quilt, with Hutch wrapped around him, enveloping him in love and kisses. Hutch had already given him a hand job that should have won him some sort of award, the Nobel prize for sex, maybe. Starsky chuckled, enjoying the slow progress of kisses down his concave belly. Hutch's hand wandered seemingly aimlessly down between Starsky's legs, bypassing his cock, and around the back to his anus.

Ahhh. Just the spot. And maybe just a little higher, where there was a hint of a dull ache, not sexual, but in need of a soothing hand. But Hutch didn't know that, because Starsky didn't tell him. He just went with the flow, breathing in with his eyes closed when Hutch rimmed his opening with a wet tongue. It felt so good, and so nasty. Starsky harkened back to his formative explorations into sex, in ninth grade with enthusiastic but inexperienced little girls. Kissing was wonderful, then. Petting was the ultimate, and penetration was still a mystery. The thought of putting a finger, a cock, and most especially a tongue, in the back door was just plain nasty. Now, he reveled in that nastiness, and smiled a little to know that pristine-looking Hutch got such a kick out of doing it to him.

"You ready?" Hutch said, his breath warm on Starsky's butt cheeks.

"Oh, yeah, put it where the sun don't shine, sailor man."

Hutch smoothed something cool and slick into Starsky, and adjusted him so that he lay on his right side with the shorter left leg resting on top of his other thigh. That gave Hutch easy access, and he used it handily, sliding in carefully, giving Starsky all the time he needed to adjust to any discomfort.

Reaching back, Starsky grabbed Hutch's hand, gasping when the rod inside him hit a tight spot and seemed unable to go further. This was one of those moments he adored, when he felt suspended, the sublime just beyond his fingertips but tangible. Just one more inch and he could reach out and touch it. Rolling his pelvis forward, Starsky sighed with utter relief when Hutch was all the way in, his balls gently slapping Starsky in the butt.

It should have been perfect, but when Hutch thrust in again, pressing his weight against Starsky's hips and thighs, it hurt, pure and simple. And not in any nice way that could be explained away as some weird sort of pleasurepain. This was bone deep and sharp, radiating up his spine. Hutch must have felt Starsky go tense and still, because he stopped, still sheathed but unmoving.

"Babe?" Hutch sounded just a little short of breath, and Starsky felt a pang of guilt for ruining the moment. He took a shuddery breath himself, and the strange pain resided almost completely, but now his foot was too achy to ignore. "Starsky?" Hutch said. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, keep going," Starsky lied, wishing his body didn't betray him. His cock was lifeless, all signs of arousal gone.

"Tell me the truth." Hutch pulled out, gently rolling Starsky onto his back.

Starsky didn't want to look into that imploring gaze, because it hurt too much to see Hutch worried again. About him. Even here, barely hours after their escape from all the stress of their lives, the cancer and everything it brought with them, haunted him. "My foot hurts," he said. Not the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but enough to stop Hutch from obsessing over things.

"This one?" Hutch rubbed gently on the stump which sent odd little stuttering jolts of pins and needles up Starsky's thigh.

"Yeah, like usual. It's probably because of all that driving." He was glad of such a sensible and logical explanation to assuage Hutch's concern. "Not used to it anymore."

"How about a back rub?" Hutch asked tenderly, his hand going unerringly to the spot in just above Starsky's sacrum where he'd performed magic before. "Turn on your front."

"Always bossing me around," Starsky pretended to grumble, but a back rub sounded like a great idea. He exhaled, relaxing as totally as possible when Hutch put his big hands on the small of Starsky's back. Slow, rhythmic circles nearly lulled Starsky to sleep, but when Hutch hit that tiny place that always took away the phantom pain, Starsky felt terrific. Better than that, he was energized. "You give good rub, Hutchinson. Ever think of changing careers?"

"To masseuse? Now there's an idea." Hutch bestowed a kiss on his elbow. Starsky smiled at the silly indulgence. "You know they say that Scandinavians make the best massage therapists."

"Getting lofty aspirations, there?" Starsky raised up, his head propped on the arm Hutch has kissed to watch his partner. "You ain't no therapist, you're my personal love slave."

"What's the difference? I'm going to grab a shower before I unpack the car. Why don't you try to get some sleep?"

"Hutch, I'm not an invalid."

"You were so sick enough on Monday you could barely get out of bed."

"This is Thursday. I can help unpack the car. Besides, I'm hungry now."

"You would be, for cold burrito." Hutch shuddered, heading for the shower.

Starsky laughed, sitting on the edge of the bed to find his clothes. His shorts were just inside the door and his t-shirt was probably still out on the front steps where he'd left it when Hutch dropped the keys. Retrieving his cutoffs, Starsky hopped over to the front door. The keys were still in the lock. Typical Hutch, who never could understand how people continually broke into the Venice Place apartment even though he made it easy for every criminal in Bay City by leaving his keys over the lintel.

The Styrofoam container was on the front seat, so Starsky cleared out the interior of the car, piling the detritus on the steps before going inside to warm up his snack. They'd left Santa Barbara at one o'clock, arriving at the cabin just after four. It was five now, but the sun was still high in the afternoon sky, promising a lovely, lingering evening. Maybe they could have a walk at twilight, holding hands. Starsky hummed Paul McCartney's Silly Love Songs to himself, indulging in a bit of gushy romanticism.

"Smells like a Mexican restaurant in here." Hutch came out of the bathroom, rubbing his pale hair into a wild disarray with a green towel.

"You wanna taste?" Starsky held out a forkful of rice and beans. "To keep up your strength."

Hutch closed his lips over the fork, murmuring his appreciation as he chewed. "Pretty good."

"More?" Starsky offered, picking out bits of meat for himself.

"I'm good."

"But I'm better."

"You're happier than you were a while ago, you want to talk about it?" Hutch disappeared back into the bedroom to get dressed, but reappeared moments later in the green t-shirt and khakis he'd worn on the drive.

"Isn't that what this whole sudden vacation was about, to get away from what was bothering us?" Starsky shrugged, spearing some more burrito.

"Yes, and to fatten you up, but it doesn't look like that will be a problem from what you're eating." Hutch finger combed his hair into some semblance of order without even looking in the mirror. "And I'll be the first one to admit it was me falling apart there, Starsk, but if you need to…"

"No." Starsky blithely dismissed all the weird little pains that were plaguing him and put his plate in the sink. "But I need a shower and some cleaner clothes, if you could haul that humungus suitcase out of the trunk?"

"Oh, yeah, you don't have to come with me. I can do it myself." Hutch's eyes widened as if he'd forgotten something important, and he dashed outside.

"I'll come, carry the groceries." Starsky trailed after him, arriving just in time to see Hutch pull out a large pink bag. "What's this?"

"Something for later."

"Aw, come on, Hutch, let me see." Starsky grabbed playfully at the bag, grinning when he caught a glimpse of a chocolate bunny ear. "You bought me Easter candy!"

"This is for Easter. Last time I looked, today was Thursday. You don't get any yet."

"Not even a jelly bean?"

"No jelly beans."

"Didja get Peeps?"

"Those things will rot your teeth, Starsky." Hutch carried the pink bag and the suitcase up the stairs, leaving Starsky with a bag full of fresh fruit and vegetables.

"You did get Peeps." Starsky said with assurance, quite touched that Hutch had gone to such lengths for him while on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Starsky could see the aftermath in the days since the walkabout. Hutch was on edge, his voice just a shade too brittle at times and the muscles of his shoulders tense with strain. Yet, he'd gone out of his way to buy candy. Starsky wanted to give something back to Hutch, something that would ease his lover's burdens in the months to come.

"Do you want to talk?" Starsky took the three steps carefully, balancing the bag of groceries in his right hand so that he could crutch with his left.

"Didn't we just go through this about five minutes ago?" Hutch sounded surprisingly irritated, especially after the teasing tones of seconds before.

"So, we both don't want to talk about what's staring us in the face and scaring the both of us half to dea…"

"Don't say that!" Hutch leveled his pointer finger at Starsky, then stopped with a look of horror. He took a deep breath, rubbing his breastbone like it hurt. "Starsky, maybe we do need to talk. But not today, huh? Let today be silly and, I don't know, quiet. Do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah." Starsky could feel the same deep pain in his chest. Sorrow. Anguish. Dread. Mourning what they would lose when he died.

Not what they would lose, but what Hutch would lose, because Starsky would be gone. He'd grown used to knowing that he was going to--what was it Hamlet said--throw off this mortal coil first, before Hutch. But the knowledge still hurt. And death no longer really scared him. Probably hadn't since he'd taken a trip half way across the River Styx back in '79. What scared Starsky was leaving Hutch alone and unprepared. He wasn't sure yet how to resolve that.

"Take a shower, Starsk. I'm making meatloaf and mashed potatoes for dinner," Hutch said flatly.

"Can we take a walk before we eat?" Starsky had the odd notion that he and Hutch were two football fields apart instead of a few feet.

"I'd like that."


Hutch stretched out on the hammock swung in the back of the house, looking out over the rocky coast. Big Sur was breathtakingly beautiful, and for a boy raised in the Northwest, with its conical firs and densely forested woodlands, this almost austere, harsh landscape was strangely stirring. He marveled at the cypress trees twisted into bizarre shapes from the force of the winds. Trees that would normally grow straight up into perfect example of Christmas trees were gnarled and bent at 45 degree angles on the sharp rocky edge of the Pacific. The wind blew continuously, battering everything in its path. Sometimes at night the wind hammered mercilessly against the windowpanes as if trying to break into the house. Out over the restless ocean, seagulls floated on gusts of air, sometimes swooping down to snatch fish from the waves, their shrill cries the only things louder than the wind.

From his vantage point Hutch could see only water, tree, rocks, and sky. No humans. No hustle and bustle. The police cadets were on Easter break, so there was nothing to worry about from that arena. Dobey wouldn't be calling, and Starsky was inside taking a nap. Everything was tranquil. Hutch wished with all his might that he could completely relax. It had been a great couple of days. Friday, he and Starsky had explored Los Padres National Forest and even done some hiking within Starsky's abilities. They brought a picnic and had taken playful pictures of each other wolfing down pickles and bananas. Today they'd gone into Monterey, and wandered around the John Steinbeck's wharf area before eating a great lunch. Starsky had crab, of course.

They had left that big discussion undiscussed. Ignored the cancer. Hutch recognized that was exactly why he couldn't relax. Because now that they'd both acknowledged that the elephant was standing in the living room, they had to do something about him. Otherwise, this unbearable limbo of being was going to stretch them out until one of them truly broke, and Hutch was very afraid it was going to be him.

"Hey." Starsky said softly from the sliding glass door.

"Thought you were asleep."

"I was." Starsky knuckled at his eye, leaning against the glass. He didn't have a crutch with him. "Now I'm not. I'm hungry."

Hutch wanted to say you're always hungry, but it wasn't true anymore. That, like much of the stability of their old life, was gone, and he didn't know what would replace it. "I can make you a sandwich."

"I can make it. Still got some meatloaf in the fridge. And maybe I'll throw the leftover crabby patty on top."

"Ugh." Hutch sat up carefully in the hammock, taking care not to be tossed out on his butt.

"With a pickle, mustard, two slices of tomato, maybe some cheese," Starsky embellished.

"A Dagwood sandwich." Hutch wrinkled up his nose because he was supposed to. Starsky was doing this for his sake, to cause a reaction. He wanted to respond in the old way but it felt like stepping out onto thin ice. What would cause the fatal crack?

"And the piece dey resistance," Starsky said triumphantly, mispronouncing the French phrase deliberately. "A yellow Peep on the top."

"Be your death," Hutch joked and then caught himself, appalled at his slip. How could he have said that? His breath was so tight in his chest he grunted with the effort to breathe.

"Thank you." Starsky smiled at him, but it didn't help.

Hutch had never been overtly superstitious but the three words he'd uttered seemed like some sort of curse. A foretelling of the future, bald and unchangeable. "F-for what?" he gasped, letting out a pent up lungful of air.

"Easing up. Hutch, we both know I'm gonna die." Starsky held out a hand and grasped Hutch's, his fingers warm against Hutch's colder ones. "Saying it out loud ain't going to change anything."

"I wanted to preserve…" Hutch faltered, looking into those unfathomable eyes. Starsky's love rose up around him like a shield. "This. Us. Not talk about it. But we have to."

"Yeah. I been thinking." Starsky tugged his hand, pulling him inside by balancing one hand on the glass door. "C'mon. It's cold out there and I'll make you a boring sandwich. Tuna with mayo on whole wheat."

Hutch allowed himself to be led inside, cosseted and fed. A fire was made in the copper bellied stove and they curled up on the couch to feel the warmth. Starsky was pealing the glittery foil off small chocolate eggs and popping them in his mouth.

"I want to plan my funeral."

"Why?" Hutch asked, horrified. That was the last thing he'd expected Starsky to say.

"So you don't have to." Starsky dug his thumbnail into the chocolate to pry off a particularly stubborn bit of blue foil. "Saiisa came over on Wednesday when you went down to Metro to get your stuff."

Hutch nodded to indicate he was listening, his mouth too dry to speak. Saiisa was a sensible woman, he'd relied on her wisdom on any number of occasions.

"She told me to think about what I wanted. To gain some control over my life." Starsky laughed, short, sharp and ironic. "Only thing I can control."

"But…" Hutch stared dumbly at the fire, feeling completely out of control, himself. In his family, one didn't discuss these things, it was almost considered bad manners. When someone died, the lawyers and retainers dealt with all the arrangements. The most one might be expected to do was decide what suit the deceased should wear or whether to play Rock of Ages at the funeral. But discuss it ahead of time? "W-what did you have in mind?"

"Beatles songs," Starsky said. "So far, not much more than that. They got some surprisingly good songs for funerals, or at least memorials, did you ever notice?"


"Golden Slumbers--they used that one in that stinker movie the BeeGees were in, remember?"

Hutch was jolted by the odd memory. He'd been the one to think the movie was a stinker. Starsky had kind of liked the weird mix of Beatles tunes covered by other artists, Steve Martin antics, and psychedelic Alice Cooper visuals. "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band? Okay, Golden Slumbers did work well there, but for a proper funeral it's not very…religious."

"Where does it say that a funeral has to be religious?" Starsky rolled the foil up into a ball. "Too bad the kittens aren't here, this would be a good toy. If you don't like that song, how about The Long and Winding Road? Thought of that one on the way up."

"Leads me to your door…many times I've been alone, and many times I've cried…" Hutch half sang the words, marveling at Starsky's ability to find such love and pathos in the Lennon/McCartney songs. "In My Life," he said softly, the words slamming into him with a force that was tangible.

"Yeah. Sing it."

"Starsk, I can't sing at your funeral."

"I know." Starsky put his hand on Hutch's cheek, petting him gently, incredible love shining through his eyes. "Sing it now, for me."

Hutch closed his eyes, concentrating on the feel of Starsky's palm, warm and vital, against his skin. "There are places I remember, all my life, though some have changed. Some forever, not for better…" Starsky joined in, both their voices rough with emotion, but the bond was forged strongly once again, their need for each other caught in the words of the song. Hutch dropped out for a moment on the line "some are dead and some are living," but he caught up the tune once more for the second verse, and they were both together on the melody by the end. "I know I'll often think about them, but in my life I loved you more."

"In my life, I loved you more," Starsky echoed and finished with a kiss.

"I can't do this, Starsky," Hutch said mournfully, their faces so close together that their tears had intermingled.

"Yes you can." Starsky patted Hutch on the chest. "Cause I ain't leaving you here. I'll always be there. And Saiisa gave me some information on cemetery plots and stuff like that. Coffins. We pick all that stuff together, plan the food, then it won't be so hard, in the end. It'll be all done."

"You're acting like this is just planning a party. Music, hors d'oerves. Like Huggy and Daisy's wedding. It's not that simple! You'll be dead!" Hutch hiccupped, trying to get his breathing back to normal. "Where are you going to get the money, for one thing?"

"Cash in my retirement fund."

"That was for the future."

"This is my future," Starsky encircled Hutch with his arms, his short leg practically in Hutch's lap. "It's not easy, and I hate having to plan stuff in advance, you know that better'n anyone. But I decided a long time ago I wasn't gonna go through the rest of my life waiting to die. I want to live until then, and if this will make your life easier after I'm gone, then that's what I want."

"When did you grow up and start acting maturely?"

"I'm forty now, these things happen." Starsky shrugged philosophically. "You just wait until your birthday."

"Can you?"

"Gonna do my dammed-est." Starsky grinned suddenly at him, hopping up. "C'mon, sing some more Beatles songs." He hummed Octopus' Garden, waggling his hips, then changed to a more suggestive bump and grind, half singing "Why don't we do it in the road?"

"That one isn't appropriate." Hutch found the black humor in the whole situation. It was sad, scary, and depressing. You either had to laugh or cry. He'd already cried, and wanted to laugh a lot more.

"How about I Wanna Hold Your Hand?"

"PS, I Love You." Hutch stood, catching Starsky around the waist, and swaying to the tune they both heard.


Having rediscovered the joy of driving, Starsky found he wanted to do it all the time. He had a reckless, wild restlessness, almost destructive in its force, and he had to constantly rein himself in. Not just because he really didn't actually have the energy to be on the go all day long, but also because he could see he was making Hutch crazy. Even after they'd driven home, fueled on chocolate bunnies and a cassette of Beatles tunes, Starsky wanted to go, do, be.

Instead, he had to maintain a low profile, take naps in the afternoon, consult with Daisy on the wedding preparations, and pretend that he wasn't jumping out of his skin. He wasn't even sure where all this was coming from. He'd long ago accepted his untimely end, hadn't he? So why this sudden nearly pathological need for the ultimate adrenaline rush? He'd driven fast and hard around the curves on Highway 1. He snuck out of the house when Hutch was at the academy, just to have some time to himself, without the constant specter of Hutch's protectiveness pillowing him. It was just a hike around the block but it gave him an exhilarating feeling of liberation.

He felt cut off from real life. He'd missed a whole season while back in the hospital, and now wanted to dig his fingers into the dirt, feel growth and new life. He drove to the garden store by himself, despite having promised Hutch that he wouldn't drive alone, and had a giddy sense of freedom like a school kid ditching the headmaster. It was wrong to deceive Hutch so, but damn, he couldn't take much more of all these people around, all the time. He had so many appointments the appointments were overlapping themselves. And in between times there were visitors determined to entertain Starsky, so that he didn't dwell on the big IT. The weird thing was, Starsky didn't really think that much about dying. He'd strangely gotten used to the idea. Sure, everyone died. And the doctors didn't have all the answers. They probably didn't really know when he might go any more than he did. Starsky did feel strange little vibrations inside himself, fleeting impressions that something else might be going on, but he ignored them. Had to.

What use was it to mope about that pessimistic stuff, anyway? It didn't change anything. He bought plants with Hutch in mind. Red rose bushes, purple Echinacea seeds, pale green rosemary shoots, and mulch instead of breaking away to go parasailing, or maybe skiing like that Kennedy kid. Starsky knew Hutch had a picture of the one-legged Kennedy stuffed at the back of his drawer in their communal desk, like a talisman. And Starsky was considered the superstitious one.

He dug deeply into the earth, encountering wiggly pale worms and roly-poly bugs that rolled into tiny balls when he prodded them with his shovel. After planting his purchases, he chatted with Daisy on the upcoming nuptials, and then fell asleep in the shade of the porch with dirt still caked under his nails. That was oddly satisfying. Hutch kissed him awake later that afternoon, presenting him with bowls of wonton soup, spring rolls and a single orchid.

Starsky felt happy and wondered if he were completely sane anymore.


"I think it's a genetic thing," Starsky groused, looking at himself in the mirror. "Starsky men are not supposed to wear bow ties."

"This is a wedding, it's traditional!" Hutch called from the bathroom. Steam was billowing out of the door like a dry ice effect in a sci fi movie, and Starsky almost expected to see Hutch come out transformed into some creature with latex appliances on his forehead.

"Who'd have thought Huggy would go traditional." Starsky tugged at the stubbornly crooked blue silk tie before deciding he was done with it. So it was crooked, what did it matter in the long run? It wasn't even his wedding. Except it was, in a weird way. The whole day felt special, vibrant and sparkling.

"As traditional as he can be, I suppose." Hutch emerged from the steam, his blond hair still wet, but already half dressed. And his bow tie was perfection, like some gigantic butterfly perched directly between the two wings of his collar. He wasn't, however, wearing pants, a suit jacket, or shoes. Just a pristine white shirt and blue silk tie.

"I've always liked your legs, but doncha think it's kind of risqué to go to a wedding like that?"

"Forgot to bring them into the bathroom." Hutch grabbed the clothes out of the garment bag provided by the tuxedo rental company and suited up. "How much time do we have, anyway?"

"If we leave in the next ten minutes, there will be just over one hour until the wedding, Mon Capitaine." Starsky saluted smartly, assessing Hutch now that he was completely dressed. "We look like twins." The gray formal jackets were set off quite nicely by the blue ties, but he thought they looked better on Hutch. Just the right blue for his eyes.

"We would if your tie was straight." Hutch twitched one end of the offending thing and voila, it was perfection.

Starsky stared at himself in the mirror for a moment longer. He didn't look half bad, especially now that his hair was just about pre-chemo length. If only he had the stamina to go for a whole day without the wheelchair. He had insisted on going up the aisle with the crutch, but Hutch had held firm that the wheelchair was coming with them to the reception.

"How'd you do that?"


"Isn't that when you have to escort the girls who didn't make the cheerleading squad to dance class?"

"Pretty much. We had to wear tuxedos and learn which fork to use for the salad." Hutch laughed. "They had cotillion at your school? I thought it was another one of those society things my mother always wanted me to attend. I was one of the escorts at the debutante ball, too, for Christine Mathieson."

"They had it, I didn't go." Starsky shouldered his crutch and they were ready. "So, how was Christine Mathieson?"

"Starsky, you're vulgar, do you know that?"

"You mean to tell me that Ken-the-stud didn't get under her crinolines?"

"Ken wasn't that much of a stud in high school."

"With the track letter and all?"

"She did like the track letter."

"And?" Starsky paused while Hutch locked the front door, shading his eyes. "Mail lady is here. She likes Ken-the-stud, y'know."

Hutch gave him a rueful grin. "Eleanor is a nice, married lady. Christine had her Wednesday panties on Saturday night, and I crushed her corsage when we made out in the broom closet behind the ballroom."

"Oh-ho! Now the story comes out." Starsky raised his crutch and poked Hutch in the rear. "Dog."

"You put yourself in a compromising position when you do that." Hutch reached around and grabbed the crutch tip, so that Starsky had to remain balanced on his right foot or risk falling and pulling both of them down. It would not do to get grass stains on their rented tuxedos. "Eleanor, how are you this morning!" Hutch called, releasing the crutch gently enough to let Starsky get it steady before striding out to greet the letter carrier.

"G'morning, Ken," she said. "You both look like you're going to a wedding."

"Got it in one, Eleanor." Starsky joined them. "Got any checks from Publisher's Clearing House? I want to win a million bucks."

"No, I tol' you, I was gonna keep those." She dimpled at him and handed over a stack of envelopes, local grocery circulars, and a gun catalogue. "Have a nice time!" she swung her huge leather bag back over her shoulder and strode up the street to the next house.

Not interested in bills and sales for cucumbers, Starsky opened the garage, started up his Mustang, and pulled it into the driveway. It still gave him the occasional shiver to look over to the other side of the two car garage and see the Torino up on blocks. Although shot up badly in the firefight with Gunther's men, it had been well mended afterwards and Starsky had driven it for another year on the job, and a second year just as a personal car. But it always had strange little idiosyncrasies after the shooting, even with the loving care that Merle put into her. A lot like himself, Starsky had mused. And when the wheels kept losing alignment for no discernable reason, and the timing mechanism gave out more than once on the freeway, Hutch had told him that he had to decide whether he loved the car or Hutch more, because if Hutch had any say, the car was simply too dangerous and unreliable. Starsky didn't have to think about it for long, not really, and chose Hutch over the Torino. But he wouldn't sell the car, that was final. He'd already been using the Mustang on the job at the time, so the transition wasn't as hard as he'd expected.

"Hutch?" Starsky leaned out the window. Hutch hadn't moved from the edge of the lawn. He was still standing there with the mail under one arm, staring fixedly at a letter. "Did you get bad news?"

"I passed," Hutch said so softly Starsky could barely hear him.


"I passed." Hutch ran over, holding the letter up. "The MCAT. I aced it."

"Ya-hoo!" Starsky did a modified touchdown dance right in the driver's seat. "You did it, you did it. Medical school here you come!"

"Starsky!" Hutch wailed. "I never expected to do it on the first try."

"I did." Starsky patted the passenger seat. "C'mon, get in. Now we got more than one thing to celebrate today, Doctor Hutchinson."

"We live together, you don't have to use my full title," Hutch joked weakly, still looking a little shell-shocked. "Just Doc will do."


The Long Beach Museum of Art looked spectacular in the brilliant April noonday sun. The brick building accented the green grass and the darker blue of the ocean beyond like a topaz jewel. Already there were streams of people walking up to the building dressed in bright, festive clothes. Starsky waited in the car while Hutch went around to the trunk to get the wheelchair. After wrestling the folded up contraption of chrome and rubber to the ground, Hutch managed to set it up properly, despite Starsky's giggles. He still wasn't completely down to earth after getting the news about the MCAT. That meant he had to seriously pursue medical school. Was this the right time, with his lover facing terminal cancer?

Not wanting Starsky to expend all his energy walking from the parking lot to the site of the wedding, Hutch stood firm until Starsky seated himself in the wheelchair and stowed the crutch behind like a sword sheathed on the saddle of a warrior horse.

There was a pink stretch limo parked along side the building, and Starsky recognized the driver. "Hey, Henry!" he hailed when Hutch had pushed him up close to the car.

"I ain't done nothing, officers," Henry held up both hands like he'd been caught with the goods.

"Not saying you did. You got yourself a steady job?" Starsky peered inside the limo with an admiring whistle.

"Huggy set this up, 'bout two months ago. I been clean and sober for 'long time, brothers. I'm a chauffeur now, got a cap an' everything."

"Keep up the good work, Henry," Hutch said, giving a little shove to get the chair over a patch of broken pavement where a tree root was growing up between the cracks.

"How come we didn't rate a ride in the limo?" Starsky swiveled around to check out the car from a different angle.

"A pink limousine, Starsky?" Hutch groaned, looking down at the curly head fondly. He was in love with everything today. It truly felt like it was his own wedding day, although he'd always counted the day he presented Starsky with a ring as their real anniversary. December 20th. He and Starsky had been not-so-legally married for more than four months now. He moved his hand a little on the handlebar of the wheelchair so that the sun glinted off his gold band. From Here to Eternity, however long that was. His heart stuttered a beat in protest of the sadness to come, and Hutch willed himself not to think of things like that. Today, on April 27th, Huggy and Daisy would make it official, with all their friends around to celebrate. This was their day.

"I'm too low, I can't see over all these people," Starsky complained. "Park the chariot somewhere and let me walk."

"How about here?" Hutch trundled the chair over the grass to a grouping of tables set with a view of the ocean. The décor, as Daisy had said, was all blue and green, with centerpieces of green orchids tied with blue ribbons at every table. It was far more tasteful than Hutch had expected.

"Good enough. Is there anything to eat yet?"

"Starsky, are you a bottomless pit? The food is afterwards, at the reception." Hutch scanned the crowd of chatting people for Huggy, but he was nowhere to be seen. At one end of the wide lawn there was a small trellis set up with chairs on either side, obviously where the wedding would take place. Because of the museum's busy schedule, the rehearsal had been at the Pits, so it was exciting to see how the real thing looked.

"I'm going to find Huggy, you coming?"

Starsky had put on sunglasses against the intense sun and was still fiddling with his tie. He shrugged as if it made no difference, and shook his head. "No, I'll wait."

"You okay, Starsk?" That tight feeling of dread that he'd had the weekend Starsky was sick came on so fast Hutch was slightly dizzy. He hadn't expected this on such a bright and glorious day.

"Hutch." Starsky lowered the glasses, looking at Hutch over the top edge with those devastating, but exasperated blue eyes. "Just keeping cool. And there's soda over at the bar. You don't want me to get dehydrated before the main event, do ya?"

"This is not a boxing match," Hutch grumbled, but fetched a coke with a lightness of heart. Starsky was just being sensible. A rare occurrence, to be sure, but one Hutch had noticed more and more often. Maybe being 40 had mellowed him.

He glanced back at his partner before going into the darkness of the museum. Starsky was at his charming best, schmoozing with a redhead that Hutch vaguely recognized from the rehearsal dinner. Hutch never saw his lover as anything other than how Starsky had been a year ago. His hair was a mass of curls that framed his narrow face enough to hide the vestiges of cancer. The well-cut suit fit nicely, disguising the fact that Starsky was still about 15 pounds underweight, and from this angle, with the strong right leg in front of the left one, the amputation wasn't at all obvious. Hutch grinned foolishly, feeling silly for falling in love with his partner all over again in the space of an instant.

"Hey, Blondie," Huggy said, pounding Hutch heartily on the back. "You dress up good."

"Don't look too badly yourself." Hutch ran a finger down the deep blue satin lapel of Huggy's tuxedo. "Are you nervous?"

"Man," Huggy drew the word out until it had four syllables. "The butterflies in my belly are doing the jitterbug."

"She's a wonderful woman, and you found a prize."

"I did at that." Huggy beamed widely, all his teeth very white against his dark skin. "How's Starsky doing this morning? He was in rare form last night."

"He's practically bouncing," Hutch said. "Thanks, Huggy."

"For what?" Huggy inspected himself in a mirror, running a careful hand over his recently shorn head. Tiny curls lay flat against his scalp like a perfect cap.

"All of this, including us."

"Hutch, you think I'd do anything else?" Huggy took a deep breath, and Hutch really saw how deeply Huggy had been affected by Starsky's illness. After barely managing to contain his own grief for so long, Hutch was finally able to see past himself to Huggy's pain. "You both are my family, man," Huggy said, pulling Hutch into a bear hug which embarrassed and comforted them both.

Outside, the sound of a band tuning up with Stairway to Heaven had drowned out the ambient chatter of the wedding guests. "You have a rock band?" Hutch asked, as they reassumed their manly decorum.

"Turkey and the Giblets."

"As in your old PI friend Turkey? I didn't know he could play."

"His fingers rival Liberace on the keyboard. Smooth. His brother Ed and sister-in-law Suzanne make up the Giblets."

"They play a lot of gigs at Thanksgiving?" Hutch deadpanned.

"You got the rings?" Huggy was suddenly obviously rattled, his long fingers flapping as he searched his jacket pockets.

"You never gave them to me."

"Oh, damn…" Huggy looked frantically around the room. "What did I do…?"

"Could this be what you're looking for?" Hutch picked up a jewelry box from the table right in front of them, and opened the lid. Two rings were nestled inside, both Indian puzzle rings made of gold. The smaller woman's band featured a row of tiny diamonds on the top most link of the ring.

"I can do this," Huggy said firmly. "I've run a bar since I was sixteen years old, how much harder can this be?"

"You were sixteen and working in a bar?" Hutch asked incredulously.

"Will you get out there, the music is starting!"

Hutch stepped out into the sunshine to the notes of Here, There, and Everywhere by the Beatles. He was struck at the weird synchronicity. Suddenly, he heard Beatles songs all the time, years after they had broken up as a band. He spotted Starsky walking carefully over the lawn on the words "Each one believing that love never dies…" and almost choked, but Starsky was beckoning him over with a splendiferous smile, and Hutch went to his lover's arms.

"Huggy getting cold feet?" Starsky grinned his most mischievous.

"Never," Hutch scoffed, laughing, wrapped in the intoxicating love in Starsky's eyes. This was how it was meant to be. He and Starsky, together forever. This was the best he could, and would, ever remember.

One of Huggy's many relatives, dressed in the traditional garb of a minister, stepped into his place under the trellis, and encouraged the stragglers to find their seats as the band struck up the lovely notes of the Wedding March.

Huggy appeared beside Starsky and Hutch, almost as if he'd been summoned magically by the music, but he wasn't paying a bit of attention to his best men. Instead, all eyes in the entire assemblage were trained on the vision coming out of the museum. Marigold came first, wearing a lovely blue chiffon dress with accents of aquamarine. Behind her, Daisy walked on her father's arm, graceful as the mermaid she'd wanted to emulate, in a form fitting dress of the palest lavender. The skirt was sprinkled with delicate sequins that caught the sunlight, playing rainbow games every time Daisy took a step and shifted the fabric of her gown.

Huggy seemed drawn to her as if she had magnets sewn all along the edge of her gown, his long body angled toward her even before she took her place at his side. Both of them simply looked at each other for a moment, caught up in the kind of love Hutch recognized. He felt Starsky wiggle fingers against his palm, and turned to grin at his partner.

"My friends, we have come together for the joining of our two friends, Horatio Bernard Brown and Daisy Buttercup Bouquet Peducci, but this is also a renewal of the love we all feel for one another, either romantic or just as friends. A wedding is a reminder for those of us lucky enough to be in a relationship to hold each other dear and close, for that is the most blessed gift we will ever receive." Pastor John Brown paused to look around, his glance lingering longest on Starsky and Hutch.

Hutch squeezed Starsky's hand as the minister continued, and under cover of the bridal couple saying their vows, the best men whispered theirs to one another.


Starsky leaned back in his chair, sipping his third glass of champagne. He squinted, watching Hutch attempt to dance with Marigold. He loved Hutch in all things, except for this one. The man couldn't dance. He flailed his arms around like a frog on a hotplate, nearly smacking Denise, Huggy's main waitress, in the eye. She laughed it off, but moved her dance partner a little further to the left.

Humming along with the band, Starsky was surprised that JD Turquet, who had been a lousy private eye, and an even worse real estate agent, was a pretty fine musician. Some people found their calling on the fourth or fifth ring. Their version of the Australian group Men at Work's "Land Down Under" had most of the wedding guests singing along with gusto.

The cake had been cut, the garter and bouquet thrown, and about six million pictures had been posed for and taken, but Starsky was in no mood to leave. This was bliss. He'd gotten the wedding ceremony he'd never expected. Most of the guests hadn't even noticed the secret union going on right in front of their eyes, but a couple of people had quietly come up and congratulated Starsky and Hutch during the reception. He kind of wished he'd invited his brother, just to have family here. But as Huggy had said, more than once that day, Starsky had family here. His partner, and his best friends.

It had been so damn long since Starsky had enjoyed himself so much. Sure, he was tired, almost too exhausted to move, but it was a happy, contented fatigue. No aches today, no phantom pain. Early in the day, just after they'd arrived, he'd felt strangely short of breath, just for a while, especially when Daisy's father had smoked a cigar and the smoke had blown Starsky's way. But now, with all the smokers over in a conclave near the parking lot, and a great deal of food, cake, and wine under his belt, Starsky was feeling no pain whatsoever. He'd even gotten a turn around the dance floor with Daisy, who'd held him close for a moment and whispered a quiet prayer up to her brother. Starsky understood what an honor it was that she shared this moment with him, and had kissed her gravely on the cheek. She was dancing with her husband now, her dark eyes staring into his, and both of them laughing like fiends.

"It's love, Captain," Starsky whispered to himself.

"Hey." Hutch picked up Starsky's champagne, draining the glass and looking like Lancelot himself after a battle. His blond hair was sweaty and mussed across his forehead and his bow tie was untied, the ends curled around his open shirt collar. "The band is playing one last song, a slow one, before they fold up. Care for a dance?"

"With you?" Starsky tried to look coy, but judging from Hutch's giggles, it wasn't successful. "The Kermit the Frog impersonator?"

"You wound me, you really do." Hutch pulled Starsky to his foot and held him firmly when he swayed. "Had one too many?"

"Nah, it's the same effect you always have on me, Blintz." Starsky turned his face into Hutch's cheek, listening to the music. It was an old song, one Elvis had sung. "Wise men say…" Starsky sang into Hutch's ear. "Only fools rush in, but I can't help falling in love with you."

They leaned in to one another, locked in an embrace, their bodies barely moving but still dancing, nonetheless.

"Some things were meant to be…" Hutch sang back, never wanting the dance to end. As all things do, the music stopped, the band putting their instruments away. The catering staff was piling plates and carting away the last crumbs of wedding cake when two couples still lingered on the dance floor, swept up in their own internal melodies. Huggy and Daisy kissed, then turned and held out their hands to the other couple. Starsky and Hutch smiled, and linked arms, joining the newlyweds in celebration.


"How many can you take?" Starsky asked slyly, using all his car salesman wiles to entice. "Two kittens and we throw in a free litter pan and a month's worth of cat chow."

"We already have two cats." Rainbow's mother Dion rolled her eyes. "But they were mine before she was born, so they're old. She wants her own. Just one."

"This one," Rainbow proclaimed. "He's the sweetest ever." She held up an adorable white cat with a vaguely Siamese cast to the eyes and face. Pale brownish areas on the shoulders and ears had formed since his emergence as a white kitten two months ago, Pansy's heritage showing up in only one of the kittens.

"He's a she." Starsky stroked her head. "Meeny, although you're free to change the name. No extra charge."

"I like it. My Meeny." Rainbow nuzzled the squirming kitten while her mother kept Moon from chasing after the one remaining kitten, L'Chaim. Starsky had made it his job to get rid off all the kittens now that they were old enough. Rosie had carted off her favorite white one, now renamed Davey, earlier in the week, and the little girls from next door, Shawna and Shawnique, had taken Miney, although they called him Shawn, which Starsky privately thought would make for mass confusion around the house. Daisy had swooped up Moe, surprisingly a girl despite her name, the moment she'd returned from her honeymoon in the Bahamas. All the kittens were spoken for except one.

After the Ben Victors left, loaded up with all the necessary supplies for kitten ownership, Starsky lay down on the couch, covering himself with his favorite ratty afghan. He'd grown very good at faking energy, but visits like this one exhausted him. He had to nap for two hours after being up for only one. It was getting worse and worse as the first days in May slid by. He couldn't put off an appointment with the oncologist any longer. He'd canceled two with John Davies already, because of the impromptu trip to Big Sur and then wedding preparations. John had been lenient, but had called that morning saying he wanted to run some more tests. When Starsky questioned why, the answer had been that it might give them more solutions on keeping him comfortable in the coming weeks.

The coming weeks. Starsky couldn't shake the feeling that things were coming to a head. Oh, probably not in days, or even weeks, but time was growing shorter, and he wasn't sure how he felt about that. Not panic exactly, and certainly not fear, but the acceptance had waned just a little. He wanted longer. He wanted years, immeasurable time, not a date on a calendar that he could circle in red. This is the last day.

When he was up to it, he'd been on the phone a great deal, talking to all sorts of people. Not just coffin salesmen, who Starsky now classed as only one step above the sort of vulture sales people who coerced you into buying the top grade model appliances when you only wanted a refrigerator that kept food cold. He'd had to insist several times that he didn't want a copper coffin lined in exquisite brocade. Plain wood with white padding was just fine. He'd almost asked for a red coffin with a white stripe, but had gone with common sense on that one.

He settled as comfortably as possible into the cushions of the couch, feeling pointy kitty feet walk up the curve of his side and settle into his body. Pansy's purr was like a vibrator against his chest, very soothing. He drifted into a light doze, seeing Hutch walk in after a long day at medical school and he would pop up with streamers and confetti to shower over the newly graduated doctor.

"Wake up, sleepy head." Hutch nuzzled his ear.

"Hmm, is it morning?" Starsky pushed the afghan off, barely awake from his lovely dream.

"It's one in the afternoon. I brought you some falafel and hummus from the Moroccan place you like so much." Hutch plunked a bag on the coffee table, just to the right of the cavorting dolphins and began removing the contents. Delicious aromas wafted to Starsky's nose and he struggled to sit up without the jabbing back pain that had been plaguing him recently.

"Don't know how you did it, convincing me to try this stuff, but this is one vegetarian meal I can't get enough of." Starsky closed his eyes tightly once he'd gotten all the way into a sitting position, breathing through the sharp pain. It faded away as it always did.

"Baby?" Hutch asked gently, his eyes sad.

"Give me lots of tahini sauce on my falafel balls."

"You leading me astray, Starsk?" Hutch poured sauce on his pita bread sandwich and passed it over. "The lewd things I could do with that…"

"Afternoon delight, Hutch." Starsky lowered his eyelashes seductively and took a bite of one fried falafel ball. "Mmmm."

"I'll get you for that!" Hutch threatened in a strangled voice, adjusting the crotch of his jeans before sitting down. "Now I've got all these visions of doing it in a silk tent with mysterious sheiks from the East."

"Sultans," Starsky corrected and reached over to wipe a trace of hummus off Hutch's upper lip. "I only do it with royalty myself."

"Good enough for me." Hutch kissed Starsky's fingers, then leaned forward to kiss him on the lips. "How was your morning?"

"One kitten left. Think I should take it down to the grocery with a "Free to the first good home" sign, or…"

"L'Chaim's left?" Hutch asked in a strange voice.

Starsky spotted the black fuzzball chasing the pink pompom that Rosie had given him around the floor while Pansy watched with rapt attention. Every once in a while she'd pounce, wrestling her baby to the floor before L'Chaim wriggled free and batted the pompom away again.

"I want to keep him."

"You never said." Starsky stopped with the remainder of his pita bread halfway to his mouth.

"I…" Hutch shrugged, scooping the kitten up. "I thought if one of the girls wanted him, I'd know where he was, but…I want to keep him." He tried feeding L'Chaim a morsel of pita, but the kitten looked affronted and hopped over his arm to the floor. "He reminds me of you."

"Won't have blue eyes forever," Starsky said softly to cover up the wash of emotion that nearly drowned him. L'Chaim had always been his favorite, as well.

"That's okay, I'll remember." Hutch blinked twice, but Starsky caught sight of the tiny tear that glistened for just an instant before it was whisked away by blond lashes.

"Uh." Starsky had to get them off this subject or they'd both be puddles on the floor. "John called. I got an appointment for tomorrow morning. You don't have any classes on Friday morning, do you?"

"No." Hutch took a long swallow of iced tea, his Adam's apple bobbing more so than usual for just one drink. "I can drive you over."

"Could be a long morning," Starsky warned. "Tests and stuff."

"Starsk, I'm coming."

"I knew you would." Starsky winked, proud that he made Hutch smile.


Starsky awakened slowly, waiting for his body to catalogue each ache and pain so he could decipher which one to defer to and which could be neglected. His back was definitely the winner--it usually was, being the biggest. The pain started at his coccyx, radiating up his spine to waist level. Made sitting up a bitch. Usually Hutch could be depended upon to show up at just the right moment to help maneuver him into a sitting position. Today was no exception. As if on cue, Hutch appeared in the doorway like he'd had his ear cocked for the first sounds of movement.

"Back hurt today?"

"Back gets the gold, but my leg comes in close for the silver, and it's not even really there!" Starsky complained as Hutch carefully levered him up so he was perched on the side of the bed. "If I can't even see my foot, I don't think it should hurt like this!"

"Well, in that case, I think you're going to really like what's on the breakfast menu this morning," Hutch said with a smirk.

"What is it? I'm not all that hungry."

"Ghost toasties and milk."

Starsky gave a startled gasp at the unexpected answer and let lose a string of giggles, bracing his aching back with one hand. "Hutch! That's the worst joke you've ever told in your entire life."

"I learned from the master himself," Hutch cackled with glee at his success.

Starsky's giggles ended in a sharp barking cough that rattled his rib cage. Hutch rubbed his back, waiting for Starsky to get his wind back. This was happening more and more frequently, especially in the morning or when Starsky did even moderate exercise.

"Want a shower this morning?" Hutch asked.

"Give me a couple minutes and I'll pull myself together." Starsky reached for the bottle of painkillers that lived in his bedside drawer. He didn't like having to resort to them but today he couldn't linger in bed until things got easier. He was due at the hospital at 9:45, and it was already 8 o'clock. He'd need the extra stamina the pills gave him to endure the endless needle sticks and scans the day held in store.

Hutch put a glass of water and another of orange juice by Starsky's elbow and went over to rummage through the bureau drawers. "You want a t-shirt or a plaid button down?"

"Since you're in plaid, I'll go for a tee. The one about lemonade." Starsky swallowed the pills with a grimace.

Hutch looked perplexed as he pulled out the shirt, and stared down at the optimist phrase about turning lemons into lemonade. His expression made Starsky want to turn away, but he didn't, bracing himself for what Hutch might say. He certainly didn't have to answer it, but he wanted to hear what fears his lover was harboring.

"Starsk, do you already know something? About what John's going to say?"

"You buttoned your shirt up wrong." Starsky pointed with all innocence. When Hutch frowned, checking his reflection in the mirror, Starsky cracked up. "Made you look!"


"Don't forget, sonny-boy, I'm older than you." Starsky cackled in an old man's voice. He hooked an arm around his crutches, climbing to his foot. The bathroom was ten steps from the bed; he'd counted it on more than one occasion. With the combination of a warm shower and the drugs kicking in, he'd be hale and hearty in a short while. "I'll be out in ten minutes for those Ghost Toasties. Make sure they aren't soggy."

"I don't pour the milk until I see the whites of your eyes." Hutch kissed him before scooting the two cats out of the bathroom so Starsky could shower.


Hutch was scared. All the terrible, unspeakable fears that had built up since the original diagnosis were back. In actual fact, they'd never left, he'd just gotten much better at ignoring them. Now, he felt weighed down with the gnawing, enervating fear. How was he going to get through this day? He didn't want to know what John Davies was going to say, and yet he did. If they postponed this appointment until next week would it change anything? If he convinced Starsky to restart chemo this very day, would that change anything? Or was there truly a book up in heaven with Starsky's name in the death column, an appointment with the Grim Reaper all ready set up?

He thought surely he would go out of his mind. How could he possibly be thinking about the future, looking at medical schools? Once Starsky . . . moved on, would he himself be able to move at all?

And yet, life progressed, just like it always had. He'd woken Starsky up in the morning just like he had countless times during their detective partnership. Starsky had always been the snugabed, way back to their academy days. Hutch smiled, poised in the act of pulling down boxes of breakfast cereal, remembering the impossibly young Starsky running down the hall to class with his cadet uniform untucked and regulation black shoes untied. Hutch had won the appearance award, always keeping his uniform in tip top shape, and would have gotten the on time award, as well, if it hadn't been for his perpetually late roommate. Starsky had finally resorted to setting his alarm ten minutes ahead so that he'd have extra time. And then would fritter those precious minutes away by repeatedly hitting the snooze alarm.

That's what Hutch wanted now, a snooze alarm. When things got too heavy, when he couldn't face hearing more bad news about Starsky's cancer, and life was too complicated, just hit that snooze bar and cruise.

"What you smiling about, Hutch?" Starsky leaned against the door jam, lemon yellow t-shirt untucked.

"Academy days." Hutch sliced the rest of the strawberries and set the bowl on the table beside the cereal. "You know, I thought you were too young to qualify. Looked like a teenager."

"Yeah?" Starsky laughed. "Guess the whole Viet Nam thing didn't age me as much as I thought, huh? I thought you were some prissy farm boy with a rod up your butt."

"Do you have to resort to crass sex talk at the breakfast table?" Hutch groaned, amazed that they went on talking such trivial, normal stuff right before the visit to the oncologist. But they had to maintain regular habits, or he'd never be able to cope at all.

"You walked so ramrod straight."

"Don't any more." Hutch delighted in watching Starsky dig into his breakfast, but the burst of appetite didn't last long. He stopped eating long before the Starsky of a year ago would have. "You were a punk ass hoodlum kid."

"And proud of it." Starsky plunked his spoon into the milk at the bottom of his bowl hard enough to splash some out the sides onto the cuffs of Hutch's plaid shirt, and time moved forward inexorably.


"The films we took this morning paint a pretty grim picture," Davies said soberly. He laced his fingers behind his back for a moment, the early afternoon sun coming through the window of his office highlighting his white lab coat. The gleam almost made Starsky want to blink, but he couldn't turn his eyes away from the doctor. He wanted to read every nuance of the man's expression even before he heard the words. First impressions weren't encouraging. "There's no easy way to say this. The cancer has metastasized, Starsky. We found tumors at the base of your spine and in your lungs."

Hutch gasped, but Starsky nodded, his knuckles pressed to his lower lip. "John, I know you don't like to quote the odds, but what's your best guess, time wise?" Starsky wasn't really all that surprised. The last couple of weeks he'd been aware of a tightness in his chest, that odd feeling that a big breath didn't quite fit into his lungs. And he couldn't even pinpoint when the ache in his back had progressed from a once in a while, the bedsprings must have poked me in the night, to a constant nagging annoyance. Strange what a person could get used to.

He searched out Hutch's face, wanting to reassure, but his lover was hunched down, one hand covering his eyes, already in mourning. Starsky couldn't have that, not now. They'd known all along he might not finish out 1985. They just had to readjust their priorities, deal with the sobering truth as best as they could.

Hutch gave a shaky sigh, dropping his hand heavily into his lap and Starsky reached over, grasping it tightly. United they could withstand anything.

"Starsky, there are so many variables. One person with x-rays and blood tests like yours would already be dead, and another could be given a few months to live and celebrate his birthday the following year. There's so much about cancer we don't understand right now." Davies gave an elaborate, almost Gallic shrug. "There are no absolutes. I will say, from my standpoint, that it doesn't look good. You're welcome to a second opinion, of course."

"We've always trusted yours, John," Hutch said weakly.

"Yeah, thanks for laying it out for us." Starsky nodded. He liked knowing the truth, as nebulous as it was at the present time.

"We need to start talking about contingencies--what to do if things get worse. I can give you the name of a hospice . . ."

"I want to stay at home. No more hospital stays," Starsky insisted, and felt Hutch's grip tighten in his. "Sophie and Mick still come over, and they know the routines."

"That's good, then."

"And I already bought a casket."

"You have been thinking ahead."

"Don't want mushbrain here to have to do it all." Starsky finally caught Hutch's eye. Hutch was doing all he could to hold back tears, which gave him a stern, severe expression that might have scared off a lessor man. Not Starsky, who wanted to shout "I love you" right there in John's office, but he didn't because he could see in Hutch's bleak eyes that he knew.

"You may start having more difficulty breathing, so I can hook you up with a home health company that will supply a tank of oxygen." John walked around his desk, digging through some pamphlets and papers as if he were much more comfortable keeping this in the concrete of what to do and when to do it rather than discussing the abstract concepts of if and why. "I can also prescribe drugs for pain, but I would like you to consider a yoga class."

"Yoga?" Starsky nearly laughed, wondering how a one legged man could do some of those body contorting positions.

"Yoga," Hutch said as if he'd grabbed on to the last life preserver on the Marie Celeste.

"I was never into all that new age stuff like Hutch," Starsky said dismissively.

"Starsk, research has found that meditation and yoga greatly reduces pain, and gives an overall feeling of well being," Hutch put in excitedly.

"I see you're still keeping up with the current medical literature, Ken," Davies said dryly with a hint of a smile. "And this is a yoga class geared specifically for cancer survivors, Starsky. It's run by Saiisa Borunda, and family are encouraged to join in. So, Hutch could come, too."

"I'd like to." Hutch seemed revitalized, and Starsky wasn't exactly sure why. Surely he knew that this wasn't some magic bullet that would cure everything. "Starsk? Please? Just to see what it's like."

"Yeah, okay," Starsky said reluctantly. He imagined himself falling over while everyone else managed a tree pose flawlessly, and winced. How had this whole discussion turned so totally around? He was the one who'd come in--maybe not confident, but aware that his health was failing, and able to handle the information. Now he felt unbalanced, all because he couldn't control one little facet of his life. Well, more than one, but he'd planned on being the strong one, taking care of Hutch's grief without giving in to abject depression as he'd done in December and January. He glanced down at the slogan on his shirt and allowed himself to be cheered. Nothing to do but make sweet juice. "Maybe I can tone up, huh?" He joked. "Get back those washboard abs?"

"You never had washboard abs," Hutch retorted.

"You're memory's going, Hutchinson. Old age creeping up." Starsky took a deep, cleansing breath, sure that he could actually feel the tumors taking up residence in his lungs. "But not today, I'm beat." It had been a hellish morning. He was certain the phelbotomist in the lab had taken about a quart of blood from his veins. Luckily some had been drawn out of his subclavian port, but there had also been the dreaded arterial blood gas, which always felt like someone sticking a horse needle half way up his arm and then twisting it violently. Then there had been x-rays and examinations by every one of his specialists, including the newest one, Dr. Kelly, a lung doctor. All Starsky wanted to do was crawl into bed for the next two days and sleep.

"Which brings me to my next topic, your blood count is low. Platelets, red and white cells."

"Tell that to the vampires in the lab." Starsky rubbed at the bandage covering the bruise on his wrist.

"You need a transfusion." As if anticipating Starsky's reaction, John held up a hand to stop him from speaking. "It will make you feel a lot better. More energy and a boost to your immune system."

"When?" Hutch asked.

"I was thinking this afternoon, since you're already here."

"Spoil the day, why don't you," Starsky sneered.

"Do you have plans?"

Hoping Hutch would pipe up with something, Starsky shrugged. No, he didn't, but that wasn't the point. He simply didn't want to be a patient any longer. Not ever again. "No."

"They got a new VCR up in the Rose Tree Unit. You can pop in a movie, catch up with some of the nurses, and it will be over in an hour or so." John nodded, the decision final.

"What were you, activities director on a cruise in a former life?" Starsky got up, feeling the ache in his spine clear up to his shoulders. Maybe yoga wouldn't be a bad idea after all. He grimaced at Hutch, all but sticking his tongue out at him in a childish pique. "And you weren't much help, buddy."

"I was thinking of making reservations at Zodiac for dinner tonight." Hutch gave him a hug that nearly off balanced Starsky even further. "So we can have some quiet time together."

"I want the cancer table, I'm feeling crabby." Starsky couldn't maintain any sort of churlishness when enveloped in a hug.

"I did work as a camp counselor when I was 15, with my brother. We used to confuse the hell out of the campers because we looked so much alike," John said brightly, holding open his office door. "You want a wheelchair up to Rose Tree?"

"I can walk." Starsky reasserted his dignity and stalked off to the elevator.


"You comfortable?" Mika asked brightly, adjusting the level of a reclining chair next to an IV pole, obviously quite aware that Starsky was in a grumpy mood.

He shook his head, sulking.

"Ve haff vays off making you talk, Mr. Starsky," she faked a German SS guard accent so badly even Starsky couldn't keep a smile off his face. Leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest, Hutch was watching warily, but he smiled, too. "C'mon guys," Mika complained, getting out alcohol wipes. "This is my best material."

"Been watching too many old movies, Mika," Starsky grumbled.

"Which brings up the question, do you want a video on the pristine new VCR or the old reliable radio?"

"Sorry I took so long, lads." Gemma hurried into the room, an IV bag of deep red blood in her hand. "Blood bank was backed up with all the trauma surgeries going on."

"What happened?" Hutch asked.

"Multiple car pile up on the freeway." Gemma shook her head. "Four casualties and six came in through our ER. It was a mess."

"Damn," Starsky whispered. Just when he was about to wallow in his own misfortunes, he came smack up against someone who had it worse off than he did. As much as having cancer sucked, at least he had time to get used to his own mortality. And to give his friends time to grieve. Being alive and driving along one minute, and crunched against the side of some big rig two minutes later was a horrible way to go. "Hey, can't we get this show on the road? I got a date tonight." He waggled his eyebrows at Hutch, who blushed.

"You two never could keep it in your pants," Mika teased, double checking the information on the blood bag and the band on Starsky's wrist to prevent any errors. She quickly hooked the bag into the plastic tubing, fingering the roller clamp until the red stuff was flowing at the right volume. Starsky pushed up his yellow shirt to give her access to the port in his chest, and pretended to shiver when she wiped the rubber stopper with alcohol. The IV tubing was quickly attached to the subclavian site. Lastly, Mika took a set of vitals signs and noted the transfusion start time on her nurse's notes.

"Not much I can do hooked up to this contraption." Starsky tucked his shirt down, covering some of the tubing, which felt slightly cold against his skin. The blood had obviously just recently come out of the refrigerator. "Can you turn on the radio? To the oldies station."

"Don't you just adore all those songs from the fifties?" Gemma said to no one in particular, adjusting the radio dial until the pounding beat of a Phil Specter Wall of Sound tune came blaring out. "Well, this one isn't my favorite."

"Played that at my prom." Mika swayed her hips back and forth.

"Mika, you can't possibly be old enough to remember that one the first time around. I think they played it at my prom," Hutch protested.

"In my junior year we had 'go as your favorite early '60s group' dance. I was Ronnie Specter with my hair up in a beehive 'do."

Starsky guffawed. "You have to bring me that picture sometime."

"As long as you bring me in one with your hair all slicked back in a duck tail." She popped the thermometer back in his mouth, cutting off his reply. Vitals had to be taken multiple times during a transfusion to watch for any adverse reactions. Starsky knew that his favorite nurses were taking no chances with someone in such an advanced state of cancer, but it still made him feel more like a patient again. As much as he enjoyed joking around with Mika and Gemma, he wanted out as fast as possible. He spit the thermometer back into Mika's hand and she pretended to be disgusted by the wet end.

"Hutch, you don't have to hang around the whole time." Starsky focused on the opposite wall which featured a poster of a kitten hanging from a rope by a single paw. He hated having Hutch watch all this stuff, seeing him vulnerable and weak.

"What else am I supposed to do?"

"I dunno, grade papers? Don't the cadets have finals coming up?"

"Starsky, it will take nearly as long to drive over to the academy and get their essays, and then come back as it will to finish this all up."

"Then could you go get me a coke? Eat something yourself? You look like you had bad news this morning."

Hutch opened his mouth, and shut it abruptly, taking the coded message as Starsky had intended. They both needed a few minutes to regroup.

"Don't worry, love, Mika will keep an eye on him." Gemma put a motherly arm around Hutch's shoulders. "I'm due for a break, meself. Care to share a ride in the lift?"

"Always with you, dear lady." Hutch walked out with her, with only a brief look back at Starsky.

"Leave me with all the work, do you!" Mika called out, teasing. Gemma waggled her fingers over her shoulder as the door closed.

Starsky felt the tension whoosh out. Hutch's understandable fears were weighing them both down.

"You had a hard morning, Starsky." Mika wrote on her notes, not looking at him, her voice stating fact, not questioning it.

"Yeah." He tried concentrating on lyrics of the next song. Instead of listening to the thoughts whirling around in his brain. Metastasized. Tumors in his spine and lungs. "Don't know much trigonometry, but I do know one and one is two…" A cute song but it had never been his favorites. "Nothing gets any easier."

"Sometimes I don't know how couples like you get through this stuff."

"Huh? You have to deal with it every day."

"And we make a lot of friends who…die." Mika finally looked over at him, her brown eyes suspisiously wet. "But, if it were my lover, I don't know what I'd do."

"Just hang on," Starsky said truthfully pointing to the valiant kitten.

"Sometimes this is a very hard place to work." Mika held up the thermometer again with a wicked little smile. "The rest of the time, I love my job."

"I'll bet you do," Starsky muttered around the glass tube.

On the radio, the Sam Cook song ended and the adorably squeaky voice of the afternoon DJ filled the room. Starsky was a big fan of Rocking Robin, and had often tuned into her show when he was at his lowest ebb. Somehow her voice always managed to cheer him up, even if just by millimeters.

"Hey, all you fans of cash, the KMBC Big Bucks contest started this week. Just one easy phone call, and you too can be the proud winner of One Thousand bucks! Once a day, every day, all this month! Call 555-7272 right now, and be the twelfth caller! Just know the song of the day."

"Mika!" Starsky pulled out the thermometer. "You have a phone?"

"Starsky, this one doesn't call out. It only works internally. " She peered at the mercury. "And put that back, you weren't done yet. Do you even know the song of the day?"

Starsky tongued the thermometer again, planning to sit by the phone in the living room for the rest of the week with the radio on. He didn't know today's song, but he was going to find out tomorrow's. He was going to win that money.


A group of third graders were warbling tunes about springtime in the cafeteria to an appreciative audience of parents and hospital patients. Hutch had now attended enough of these afternoon performances to see that hospital patients would clap for anything. The ones who were healthy or mobile enough to make it to the cafeteria to attend the show were so happy to get out of their rooms that they'd have given standing ovation to dancing fleas. Still, the children were adorable, especially a gap toothed red haired girl in the front row who kept swaying side to side with the beat, but Hutch felt absolutely drained, and would have preferred a quiet place without another soul.

"D'you feel like talking a bit, or do you want to be alone?" Gemma asked, selecting a cup of tea from the automatic dispenser.

"I think I need the quiet. I'm going to go out on the patio." Hutch punched the button for Starsky's Coke, and then decided on a cup of tea from the other machine for himself.

"Ken, there's no shame in a few tears." Gemma put a gentle hand on his arm and moved away, sipping her steaming brew. The children were bowing proudly after their last number, and she went over to congratulate them.

Hutch pocketed the Coke, and stood back watching, wishing he had it in him to be happy for the delighted children who were now giving out handmade Get Well cards to the patients. He felt sick at heart, and Gemma's words had nearly undammed the backload of pain he'd banked all morning. There was no getting out of it. Starsky would leave him, forever, in a possibly painful and debilitating way.

His hand trembling so badly that he could barely hold the cup of tea, Hutch walked slowly around the chattering group to the sanctuary of the patio. No one was out there, and the wind that had bent trees and blown trash around in the morning had died down, leaving the sky brightly blue and serene. He brought the tea to his lips, but couldn't drink, his throat spasming with the grief he didn't want to acknowledge. Finally, there was nothing more to do but let go. With a growl, he savagely threw the Styrofoam cup against a planter, splattering the hot tea across the cement. Oddly, it made him feel a great deal better, and the tears backed off to wherever they kept themselves closeted most of the time. He wondered briefly if he should clean up the brown stain, but two pigeons had swooped down to investigate, and he kind of wished he'd bought a muffin or roll to feed them with.

He sat, simply existing as time passed. The overhead sun had moved just enough that the shadow of the building was now covering Hutch, and it was slightly too cool to sit comfortably out of doors. Starsky would probably be wondering where he was by now. With a lightened outlook on life, Hutch made his way back to the Rose Tree Unit.

Starsky was still sitting in the reclining chair, but the transfusion paraphernalia was all gone and he was chatting with a pretty girl in a head scarf, who had a patch over one eye. Hutch blanked momentarily on her first name, but remembered she'd been one of the gang who'd brought down Schroeder and company.

Starsky grinned at something the girl said as Hutch came in, his eyes vibrant. It was amazing what a pint of blood did for him. He was positively glowing, his skin pink and radiant, giving no sign of someone with malignant tumors. Hutch wanted to throw his arms around him, but couldn't with the girl in the room. When Starsky turned his full gaze at his partner, the power of his sexual desire hit Hutch right between the eyes. Starsky's red blood cells weren't the only thing that had gotten a boost. The boy was in heat.

"Hutch, you remember Julia?" Starsky said. "She got a new glass eye last week. Looks good, huh?"

Then he remembered that Julia had recently lost a second eye to cancer, and was permanently blind. She turned towards him to show off the blue orb with a tentative smile. "You're beautiful, Julia," Hutch said honestly.

"I'm getting used to it," she said shyly. "I gotta get going. My mother promised to bring by some homework from school. I've been learning Braille."

"That's terrific. I'm real glad I got to see you, sweetheart." Starsky touched her hand as she stood up, gripping a white cane. "You get to go home this weekend?"

"Yes. I think we're going over to the mall." She bounced the cane on the floor idly. "It will be my first time--like this."

"Just remember, the heart sees what the eyes can't." Starsky kissed the hand he held tenderly. "I saw that on a greeting card and just knew someday I'd find just the right lady to say it to."

"Then my heart must be nearsighted, cause I keep tripping over things," Julia sighed with a faint smile. She walked with cautious grace to the door, tapping the cane on floor and furniture to guide her.

"God, I'm glad I didn't go blind." Starsky scrubbed at his face.

"Would that be worse than this?" Hutch asked curiously. He'd never considered that one cancer might be better than another. While survival rates and treatments had vastly improved since his maternal grandmother had died horribly of 'that female cancer', all malignancies were vicious creatures that robbed otherwise healthy people of their lives. He hated cancer with a passion.

"Worse than osteosarcoma?" Starsky snorted. "Yeah, I think so. Anything that takes away a sense is the worst. Or the personality, or . . ." He stood languidly, bracing himself on the edge of the chair. There was a slight melancholia about him, but his heavy lidded eyes signaled that Starsky had something other than a discussion of tumors on his mind. His hand floated downward, coming in contact, almost by accident, with the fly of Hutch's pants. "If I didn't have eyes, I couldn't see you, Hutch. If I didn't have a tongue, I couldn't kiss you like this." Starsky demonstrated, glomming onto Hutch with an ardor that spoke of desperation. His tongue darted out, catching Hutch's in a passionate struggle for supremacy.

Hutch was momentarily taken back, they were in a very public place. While all the nurses here knew about their relationship, it wasn't wise to flaunt it so openly. Even so, he couldn't resist the force of Starsky's need, and held onto him, deepening the kiss.

"Hutch," Starsky whispered, pushing against the solidity of his body like he wanted to merge with his lover. "Let's get out of here."

"I couldn't have said it better myself. Do you need to sign anything?"

"No, I just need . . .I wish we could do it right here in the treatment room." Starsky ducked his head, soft hair tickling Hutch's cheek. "Please? Quick?"

Uncertain how to cope with this sex-crazed but strangely pensive Starsky, Hutch bestowed a kiss on the abundance of curls and settled the crutch under his arm. "Can you walk with that boner in the front?"

Starsky tugged his shirt out from his jeans, hiding the evidence, and letting go of Hutch with a mournful sound. "Guess all the blood went there."

"Looks like it." Hutch was glad of the hip length coat he wore, and buttoned the lowest buttons. The soda can, still in his pocket, bumped him on the hip. "You still thirsty?"

"Not for what comes out of an aluminum can," Starsky said, walking so close to Hutch that their bodies kept touching, first an arm, then a thigh, then an arm again. They'd almost made it to the elevator without detection when Mika came out of a patient's room. "Hutch showed up, Mika. I'm out of here."

"Hope there's not a next time," she said gaily. "But if there is, remember the James Dean era picture!"

There were two others in the elevator, a small Asian woman with her arm in a sling and a lab tech carrying some vials to be tested. Hutch was so acutely aware of Starsky's sexual fire, and his own for that matter, that he couldn't believe it wasn't setting the other passengers aflame. He imagined pushing Starsky up against the floor buttons, pressing stop, and kissing him into next week while the Asian woman and the lab guy started grappling on the floor. Starsky's arm, pressed smoothly against Hutch's back from armpit to waist was like a electric current running straight to his cock. Just like on the drive to Big Sur, they'd picked the exact wrong time to be aroused.

The doors slid open on the second floor and both people got off. Immediately, Starsky plunged his hand into Hutch's, gripping it with a strength he hadn't had in a while.

"It's half an hour to the house, can you wait?" Hutch asked.

"What if this is the last time?" Starsky bit his bottom lip, his face so exquisite just then that Hutch could barely breathe. When had Starsky turned into something so inhumanly beautiful? Once they were out in the sunshine, the glow was more pronounced, not less. Starsky had a translucent quality that wasn't just from the infusion of rich blood.

Hutch had always preferred Starsky's more exotic, gypsy looks over his own Nordic features. He'd grown up with a city full of classically blond, blue eyed people. Starsky had been one of the first really ethnic looking people he'd ever met, aside from the few Blacks and infrequent Indians around Duluth. Starsky intrigued him from the first, those slightly tilted blue eyes with lashes so thick he appeared to be wearing mascara. The too sharp nose, and crooked smile, which on another might look mismatched, but on Starsky gave an appearance of mischievous appeal. Except, here, today, there was something else. Something that separated him from other mortals, an ethereal majesty so powerful Hutch couldn't bear it. He seemed to be transforming right before Hutch's eyes.

"It's not the last time, baby. Not today, not ever," Hutch vowed, his hand molding to Starsky's heated neck almost of its own volition. They couldn't stop touching each other, which made walking difficult because Hutch kept whacking his shin on the crutch.

Hutch drove well within the speed limit, but he felt like they were racing toward a finish line neither wanted to cross. Starsky's hand was on his the whole way, whether he gripped the gear or the steering wheel.

The garage was too full of discarded junk to fit all their cars, so Hutch usually parked in the driveway, but he flipped the button on the electronic opener so they could go in that way. The tarpaulin-covered Torino was crowded next to Starsky's Mustang. A chair with an exposed spring, the couch that had once graced Hutch's Venice Place apartment, and boxes of Christmas decorations all barred the way to the interior door. Starsky pulled Hutch onto the couch, holding him tightly as if afraid to let go. In truth, Hutch liked the warmth and security of those arms around him, but Starsky's trembling was another matter.

Tenderly, Hutch kissed his way along Starsky's arm to the shoulder, feeling the tremors subside. He reached Starsky's mouth, savoring the sweetness when his lover responded instantly, their bodies pressed against each other from groin to chest so that penises met and grew. Starsky surged against him, rubbing his jeans covered cock with increasingly frenzied movements against Hutch.

"Starsk!" Hutch ground out, realizing that he was going to come in his pants like a teenager going to home base. "Slow down."

"Can't!" Starsky cried out, and Hutch was glad he'd had the good sense to lower the garage door after they'd come in. Starsky jerked, his eyelids fluttering, and came, clinging to Hutch so that the resulting spasms sent him into orgasm as well.

Hutch pulled Starsky onto his lap, cradling his head against his shoulder, humming softly. He wasn't even sure what he was humming, but he was loath to end the moment.

"Thank you," Starsky said, muffled by cotton knit, kissing Hutch through his shirt.

"I could never say no to you." Hutch smiled indulgently. The news today had been astronomically awful, but right now, things didn't seem so bad.

"That's a lie, and you know it." Starsky shook his head so that curls tickled Hutch's neck. "You've said no to me dozens of times."

"Name one."

"I can't, I'm too comfortable. I don't know why we didn't bring this old couch into the house. It's nice."

"When we moved in, we had two of everything. Something had to go. I couldn't say no to your choices."

Starsky chuffed a laugh. "Maybe we should have a garage sale. Not sell this, but there's lots of other things we don't need anymore." He waved a hand around at the boxes. "That way we could squeeze all three cars into the garage."

"Sounds like a good idea."

"In one month. We both have to pitch in and toss out some old stuff."

"Deal. Now, you want to go into the house and take a shower? We have dinner reservations at seven thirty at the Zodiac."

"Oh, yeah." Starsky lolled his head back, grinning at Hutch from his almost upside down position. "Strange how the day worked out, huh?"

"Strange," Hutch agreed.


As usual, the eclectic restaurant was bustling with people, waiters rushing around with trays held high, customers pointing out their zodiac signs on the wall and exclaiming over their horoscope of the day, and hostesses dodging the busboys as they seated people.

Starsky caught sight of Huggy even before he and Hutch had made it to the Cancer table. The newlyweds were eating shrimp at the Pisces table.

"Hey, look what came up from under a rock," Starsky proclaimed. "Haven't seen much of the two of you lately." He elbowed Hutch jovially. "Whatcha think they've been doing, huh?"

"Probably the same thing we have," Hutch responded with a smirk.

"No, really?" Starsky affected a goggle-eyed expression that had Daisy giggling helplessly.

"You two may want to flaunt your love life all around town, but me and the missus been busy in more lucrative ways," Huggy said, trying to sound pompous, but his big grin gave him away.

"So, what have you been doing besides what every other newlywed does?"

"We're checking out the competition, seein' what our future customers would like to eat." Huggy hooked his thumbs under suspenders decorated with rainbow colored dancing bears.

"We finally found the perfect location for the new restaurant, Mama Bear's," Daisy said excitedly. Her hair documented their honeymoon in the Bahamas, dozens of tiny braids decorated with beads accenting her now sleek head. "It's down near the water, and we got it at a great price because the last owner had a fire that gutted the place."

"Which we don't mind, 'cause that way we can decorate it in out own inimitable style!" Huggy speared another shrimp.

"That's what got you in trouble in the first place." Hutch raised an eyebrow. "When does the demolition begin?"

"It already has. We've got my cousins, her cousins--half of everyone we know on the payroll right now to pull down the rafters." Huggy drank some wine to chase down his shrimp. "After that, it's a bonified contractor. Don't want my baby's place put up with shoddy workmanship."

"Very pale melon walls with yellow accents, and bright fuchsia as a grace color," Daisy put in. "I was with the decorator this morning. It's been crazy. We were only back from St. Thomas one day before everything happened all at once."

"When can we see the place?" Starsky asked.

"We'll be down to the studs in the walls by next week." Huggy waved the waiter over for the check. "Come with us on Tuesday morning for the walk-through and get a feel for the place."

"We're free. No plans right now." Starsky nodded, glancing over at Hutch. He didn't like the way Hutch's eyes, so teasing and happy, went still and dark.

"Did you get some news?" Daisy asked intuitively, clasping Starsky's hand.

He shrugged, this wasn't the time or place to go into things. Daisy probably suspected what he was going to say, anyway. "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated," Starsky quoted Mark Twain. "Doesn't look promising, though."

"I'm sorry," Daisy whispered. Huggy bent over his wallet to pull out some cash, but Starsky could see the set expression on his face, the joy of his new establishment gone.

"On the other hand, I want to throw Mr. 39-for-only-three-more-months a blow out bash for his 40th." Starsky towed Hutch back into the group, feeling him relax slightly at his touch. "So your place better be ready by August."

"I don't want a big party," Hutch protested weakly.

"Too bad, I want to give you one." Starsky gave him a mock glare, daring Hutch to deny him this one thing. He could see it all, Hutch coming into the gaily lit room, his handsome face split with the grin he wore so seldom now days, happy with their friends. "I just decided. A celebration. Don't you think we'll need one by that time?"

"Yeah." Hutch swallowed hard, his face pale.

"We better sit down." Starsky pointed at their green and silver Cancer themed table. "You look like you could use a drink."

"We'll give you a call Monday about the walk-through," Daisy said. "Huggy?"

"We'll give you the best party anyone ever had," Huggy vowed. "Sky's the limit for Blondie here. I'll even spring for imported champagne."

"Aw, you know Hutch, he'll drink anything fermented in a barrel." Starsky winked at his partner, still trying to pull Hutch out of the doldrums. "Don't go for any of that French stuff, buy California grapes. Keep it local."

"I've been studying up on this, for my wine list. California vintages are winning international awards, and amazingly Australian wines are showing up in several categories," Daisy started in but Huggy covered her mouth with his long fingered hand.

"Enough, woman," Huggy chided. "They don't need to know all our secrets." Daisy giggled, biting down on his thumb to be released. Hutch held out her coat for her, giving her a friendly buss on the cheek.

Huggy turned to Starsky, and spoke softly enough so that Hutch and Daisy couldn't hear. "You never did know when to stop fighting. I ain't ever gonna host your wake, you got that?"

"I got it." Starsky bopped him on the arm.

A slender girl with a long blond braid came up as the Browns left. She wore a blue dress with mermaids swimming all around the bottom of the skirt, and Lucite teardrop earrings bobbing from her lobes. "I'm your waitress, Aquarius. Should I give you two a few minutes to get seated and look at the menu, or do you know what you want?"

"We want two bottles of Dos Eqqus, and two shots of rye," Starsky ordered. The girl smiled, trotting off to get the drinks.

"I don't." Hutch shook his head violently. "The beer yes, the…"

"You join the temperance movement, Carrie Nation? C'mon, siddown," Starsky snarled in his best New York gangster voice. "I'm in the mood for shooters, and it's been way over six hours since I had any painkillers."

"You need to kill some pain?" Hutch asked dully.

"I think you do." Starsky gently knuckled him under the chin, a familiar gesture but not one that would immediately get them fingered as gays. "I'm not advocating liquor for everything, but once in a while, it works pretty good."

"Yeah." Hutch tossed back the shot of whiskey the moment the waitress delivered it. He coughed, clearing his throat, and ordered a blackened catfish with grilled vegetables.

"I want a small pizza with shrimp, crab meat, mozzarella and onions." Starsky handed her the menus unopened. Both he and Hutch went here often enough to know the fare.

"That sounds revolting." Hutch swallowed some beer.

"It's not." Starsky drank down his whiskey in one swallow, savoring the hot, smoky burn in the back of his throat and down his esophagus. He didn't usually like whiskey, but it seemed appropriate for their mood, and besides, it was warming. He'd taken enough courses on the dangers of drinking and alcohol to know that hard liquor wasn't really warming, and it dulled the mind, but it made him feel warmer. He got cold so easily, even on a mild evening like this, and was glad of the fire in the restaurant's fireplace. The mild buzz the drink gave was welcomed, and he dipped into the breadbasket with a mellower state of being.

"I have to go over some paperwork for the academy," Hutch said as if he'd just remembered. "Exams coming up in two weeks, and then I don't have to work anymore."

"I was pissed as hell that you didn't talk to me ahead of time about that, but now I'm glad." Starsky handed the buttered bread over to Hutch. "Eat this."

"Starsky, I have a huge meal coming soon. I don't need to load up on carbohydrates."

"Did you eat any lunch?"

"Did you?" Hutch countered.

"Mika gave me a Popsicle and graham crackers, the snack of hospital patients."

Hutch gave him a sour look, but bit down on the bread. "This tastes good."

"See? We do for each other," Starsky said with satisfaction. He cupped his hand as if he were holding a round ball and tipped it slightly one way and then the other. "Oh, Magic Eight Ball, what will my future be?" He scrutinized his palm, scrunching up his face knowing that Hutch was watching him with a sad little smile. "Hmm, it says uncertain." He tipped his hand again, miming the actions to shake up the imaginary fortuneteller toy. "So, will I win a lot of money soon?" He grinned, holding his hand up to Hutch. "It says yes."

"And will you always have love in your life?" Hutch asked softly, pretending to take the ball. "It says yes."


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