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




Life continued, day after day, as Starsky had known it would. He didn't entirely believe that he would die soon. And what did soon mean anyway? Sooner or later? Not today. All of the above. He decided it wasn't worth thinking constantly about and took each day as it came, another gift to be savored. He was surprisingly happy, banishing dour thoughts to those dark hours of the night when sleep didn't come, and he worried about Hutch's future.

With Hutch working less often, they had more time to spend together, and the yoga class turned out to be just the thing. Starsky hadn't expected that he'd enjoy sitting on a mat with what he assumed would be bald headed, chemo-wasted people waiting to die. He was therefore surprised to find that nearly all the participants were like much like himself. A casual acquaintance might not even notice the small signs that nearly half the class had cancer, but another survivor would notice the IV scars on the hands, the lop-sidedness of two women's breasts when they wore thin comfortable clothes for class, and the well made wig on another woman. Most of the class was made up of women, but there were a few men that came, too.

Sitting next to Hutch, with his short leg crossed over the full length one, in a modified lotus position, Starsky let calmness take hold as he breathed in and out. It was amazingly peaceful, yet working through what yoga poses he could manage also strengthened his muscles, and he found that he had much more stamina than he'd had in a long time. The change in Hutch was obvious, too. Hutch had always enjoyed the more meditative arts, and Starsky realized that he hadn't seen his partner sit amongst the potted plants in simple reflection in eons. This was exactly what Hutch needed, and he often emerged from class clear-eyed and happy, which made Starsky very happy.

On a sunny Wednesday, Starsky scrunched down on the sofa, idly watching Pansy and L'Chaim scuffle on the floor. He'd listened faithfully to the radio every weekday now for ten days. The month was half over and he hadn't won yet. There hadn't been a winning caller in two days, and the prize money had increased to $1500. Just what he could use to bankroll the party for Hutch, and have some left over.

In truth, he'd felt like crap warmed over all day, his back achy and chest tight. He was hoping he would feel better by the time Hutch got home, but it was doubtful. He hadn't felt this awful in a long time, and wondered if he was coming down with something. Still, John Davies had said there would be good days and bad days, this being one of the bad ones. He grimaced when Pansy jumped up onto his belly just as the song, Mama told me there'd be Days like This, started playing.

"You're the mama around here." He reached out to scratch behind her ears, and she butted against his hand, purring loudly. "You miss the other kids? Good thing Hutch kept Chaimie around, huh?" He was just biding his time, waiting for the song of the day contest to be announced, and trying to goad himself into working in the vegetable garden. So far it hadn't worked, and the good smells coming from the kitchen weren't helping.

Sophie was making quiche for dinner, crab meat and asparagus, which once upon a time Starsky would have thought sounded vile, but he'd changed his mind the first time she served the cheesy pie.

Hutch was off at the academy supervising exams for the soon to be graduating cadets. Starsky laughed to himself, remembering that heady time--he'd been sure Hutch would ace the written portion of the test, and that he would pass the shooting range and obstacle course, but not the written. That both of them excelled in all areas had been exhilarating, and they'd gone out together and gotten bombed afterwards. Hutch's wife had had a fit.

Focused on his memories, Starsky almost missed his opportunity to call, but heard Rocking Robin's excited announcement just in time to grab the phone. Listening to the ringing on the other end was gut-wrenching but finally someone picked up. "KMBC, you're the twelfth caller." He recognized Robin's voice right away. "Do you know the song of the day?"

"California Girls," Starsky answered.

"That is correct!" Robin gushed. "You win $1500. What's your name?"

"Dave Starsky." He laughed, thrilled. "That's terrific! I've been calling every day."

"From work or home?"

"Home." Starsky supplied, not interested in going into why he no longer had a job. "I really wanted to win that money."

"You're fifteen hundred dollars richer, Dave Starsky! And who has the best oldies and gives you the most cash?" Robin chortled merrily.

"KMBC." Starsky knew the score, the caller always had to give the call letters, and probably most of this little bit of on-air banter would be played for the next few days to promote the contest. He gave her his home address and phone number, and was just about to hang up when a thought occurred to him. "Can I make a request?"

"Sure, Dave, since you're the winner of the day."

Starsky could hear that they were off the air now, because California Girls was playing in the background. "You're the one, by Orleans. For Hutch."

"It'll be on in the next half hour," Robin assured.

"Could you play it sometime after two instead?" Starsky mentally calculated when Hutch might leave work and how long his drive time might be.

"Sure thing, it's entered on the log. Congratulations again."

"Thanks!" Very proud of himself, Starsky dialed the number of Hutch's office at the academy. "Hey."

"Hey, yourself. How are you feeling? I can be home by about two thirty."

"What station do you listen to lately?" Starsky asked, trying to sound innocent.

"NPR--talk radio."

"Tune into Bay City 101.5, KMBC after two, for a change," Starsky said mysteriously.


"Starsk! You won!" Hutch could barely get the front door open fast enough. He'd dropped the keys trying to unlock the door and his sweaty hand slipped on the knob, but he finally made it inside without injuring himself. Starsky popped up from where he was lying on the couch, disturbing both cats that had been sleeping on the backrest. "Baby, you're a rich man," Hutch sang, playing air guitar.

"Yep. How does it feel to know a real thousandaire, Mr. Hutchinson?" Starsky asked like an on-the-street reporter, using his fist as a mock microphone to shove under Hutch's chin.

"I'm humbled." Hutch kissed Starsky's lips. "And proud. And thanks for the song. One of my favorites."

"Me, too." Starsky gathered up the afghan to give Hutch a place to sit. "So, finals done? All bubbles on the answer sheets blacked in with a number two pencil."

"Yes." Hutch felt Starsky's forehead then let his hand trail down his cheek to curve around his jaw. He kissed him again. "You doing okay? Looks like you spent all day on the couch."

"Just, y'know . . ." Starsky shrugged off his frailties. "You got plans? Cause I can lay you odds you could sleep with a certain thousandaire tonight, if you played your cards right."

Hutch laughed, light-hearted and happy. Things had been so good lately, he could almost dismiss the whole terminal illness thing as a scary story the doctors were telling them to keep Starsky in line. He knew it was real, but ignoring the future was getting easier and easier to do. "What cards are we talking about? Poker, blackjack, or gin? Because I'm pretty good at…"

The phone interrupted their banter, but Hutch could hear Sophie picking up in the kitchen, so he didn't get up.

"M'sieur Ken, it's for you." Sophie came out with her bag, inclining her head to the phone. "David, before I go, I must take your vital signs one more time for La Directrice of the home health agency, as she says I must. Rules, rules."

"Humph," Starsky grumped when she poked a thermometer in his mouth and then prepared a syringe for flushing his IV port with heparin.

"Ken Hutchinson," Hutch said into the phone, still paying more attention to Starsky. He was glad to let Sophie do the IV care, something he never enjoyed. Funny for someone who dreamed of becoming a doctor, but procedures like that one, and even giving Starsky pain meds, made him nervous. Good thing there were nurses.

"Ken, it's Katrinka Hicks. We have some new details in the Vinnie Schroeder case, and there's going to be another hearing very soon."

That jolted him out of his sunny mood. Katrinka was the assistant D. A. assigned to Schroeder's case. "I thought Starsky gave all the statements you needed for the hostage situation at the hospital."

"Yes, but this is about the other charges. Schroeder has always been able to play the system. He knows this stuff like a jailhouse lawyer. We'd already agreed to reduce the murder one on Emerald Hsieh to assault and manslaughter last year because he gave up several of his co-horts but even after skipping out on his bail, he still wants to play plea bargain. There are a slew of new charges stemming from the arrest and the hostage situation, too. As it is, he'll have more than one trial to deal with all these charges, but he's definitely going to avoid the death penalty by being co-operative."

"Fuck," Hutch said so vehemently that Starsky looked straight at him, their eyes locking. That brought some of the tumultuous rage in Hutch's belly down to a manageable level, and he took a stabilizing breath. "Trying to kill Starsky more than once isn't good enough for them? Fuck."

"Hutch," Starsky said calmly.

"You already knew the original assault on Dave wasn't considered a strong case against Schroeder," Katrinka said reproachfully. "You've been incredibly helpful on this, especially bringing the drug trafficking to light, and bringing him in. The public doesn't like the husband of a popular supervisor getting gunned down in a seedy hotel."

"What about his charges?" Hutch asked, remembering the ugly scene with Cam Yin sprawled out in the hall bleeding.

"The D.A. is taking extenuating circumstances into account there, but he's still going to have to do some jail time for the shooting."

"Damn shame."

"I can't condone what he did, but I'm sure glad he's not part of my case load. Schroeder's already got enough paperwork to fill a warehouse." She blew out a noisy breath that made an explosive sound over the phone. "How is Dave doing? Is he up for this? We can record some of his testimony, like we did before, but he'll need to be present at the hearing, at least for a short time."

"I don't think I'm up for this," Hutch growled, trying to ground himself for what he considered another onslaught. He watched Sophie pack up her things before leaving, and Starsky picked up L'Chaim to settle him in his lap. The kitten squirmed and attacked a fold in the afghan. "When do you want to meet with us?"

"Is Thursday the 16th good? At ten thirty? I can have everything ready for us to go over all the paperwork. The hearing is tentatively set for the 21st."

"We'll be there," Hutch agreed.

"Good. I want to center on the arrest at the hotel, the drugs you found, and go over the hospital statements--everything that happened after he jumped bail. Unfortunately, I'm not sure we can renig on reducing murder one to manslaughter after the fact, but if we can get him on enough other things, he'll still be in prison for a good long while."

"I want life, with no chance of parole for good behavior," Hutch snarled, hanging up. He'd been in such a good mood previously, but now he felt as crotchety as an old bear in mid-winter.

"What?" Starsky asked.

"You don't want to know."

"Could be right, but I know I'm still considered the star witness in just about everything Schroeder's got going, so fill me in."

Hutch did, after getting beers for the both of them.

"S'probably a good thing they're trying to get this thing to trial sooner rather than later," Starsky said soberly.

"I don't want you to have to be dealing with this in . . ." Hutch choked off, his throat spasming. He took a long drink of beer. "What could be the last months," he whispered.

"Yeah, me, too." Starsky scratched at the label on the bottle, pulling up a goodly portion with his thumbnail. "But it's kinda out of our hands." He ripped off the top half of the label and rolled it in a ball. "But on the bright side, with you outta work and me just sitting around, it gives us something to do between yoga classes."

Hutch laughed. He really didn't want to, but it struck him as absurdly funny. "How do you do that?"

"What?" Starsky played dumb but Hutch could see a gleam in his eye that he'd caught his partner.

"Find the silver lining to everything?"

"It's a gift." Starsky grinned recklessly. "Remember the end of 'Life of Brian'?" He stuck his arms out as if he were nailed to a cross beam, singing in a horrible British accent. "Always look on the bright side of life, de dum, de dum…"

"Don't know the words?"

"That's the way it's written!"

"You don't know the words, admit it."

"I do!"

"Do not." Hutch knew he wasn't getting the last word on this one, but he enjoyed the argument.


"Hutch, are you ready yet?" Starsky called impatiently. He'd been waiting for ten minutes already and Hutch only had to change the shirt that had been splattered with orange juice after breakfast. "We're going to be late for the hearing, and Katrinka's gonna be pissed!"

"I'm coming." Hutch finally emerged from the bedroom, resplendent in a blue suit and white Oxford shirt.

"Now I am," Starsky said faintly, rubbing on the surprising erection that had blossomed at the sight of his lover. Too bad there wasn't time for that sort of thing. He slipped both Canadian crutches over his forearms and stood. He'd had to go back to two crutches lately, because of increasing weakness that left him breathless and exhausted at the most inopportune times. Just safer to bring crutches and wheelchair everywhere they went. "I'm going out the door now!" he announced, just in case Hutch found some other reason to delay them, and twisted the doorknob.

Nick Starsky was standing on the mat, his hand poised over the bell. He seemed startled that the door opened before he'd even had time to ring, and stared at his older brother in amazement.

"Hell, Davey, what happened to you?"

"Nicky!" Starsky pulled him into a fierce hug, stunned to see him. "You didn't tell us you were coming!" He tried frantically to recall if he'd even known the date of Nicky's parole. "Hutch, look, Nicky's here!"

He pulled his brother by the arm, dragging him into the house. Hutch didn't say a word, he just grabbed the suitcase off the front step and carried it over to the couch.

"I heard you were doing better--from Aunt Rose." Nicky patted Starsky awkwardly on the back as if he weren't sure what was the right thing to do. "But you look terrible. I thought you were off all those drugs and shit."

"Uh," Starsky shot a look at Hutch, well aware of his partner's opinion of Nick. And it didn't sound like Nick had been keeping up with the latest news even if he had spoken to Rose. "I am, sort of. Listen, we're late for a court appointment."

"Oh, man!" Nick all but pouted. "I'm only here for a couple of days, can't you put it off?"

"If you'd called ahead of time, we might have arranged something," Hutch said, sounding strained. "As it is, this takes precedence. It's a case we've been working on for a long time."

"I thought you weren't working anymore, Davey," Nicky said.

"Hey," Starsky soothed, looking back and forth between his partner and his brother. The tension that had fouled the air the moment Hutch saw Nick was thick enough to see. It made him edgy and out of sorts. Of all days for Nick to show up! Starsky was still glad to see his younger brother. It had been years, and he truly did want to touch bases with those closest to him. "Hey, we'll be out by mid-afternoon at the latest." He twisted his house key off the keyring and handed it over to Nick. "Stay. Make yourself at home, put your stuff in the unused room on the right." He didn't want to even guess at what Hutch might say about inviting Nick to stay in their house alone, but rambled on. "There's food in the fridge--my friend Rosie and I made chocolate chip cookies the other day. Watch baseball on TV. We'll bring home pizza or something for dinner. How's that sound?"

"Sure, okay. " Nick shrugged. He ruffled his short curls. "I'm beat after the flight. I wanna talk to you later, huh?"

"Sure, sure!" Starsky said brightly.

Hutch was already waiting at the front door, looking impatient, with a slight frown on his face. "We've got two cats, a Siamese and a littler black one. Try not to let them out," was all he said before they left.

"You're mad," Starsky stated once they were driving on the freeway.

"Not at you." Hutch pulled the visor down against the sun glaring into his eyes.

"I know you think Nicky only comes when he needs something, but come on, Hutch . . . " Starsky didn't have to finish the sentence. 

Hutch deflated like an old balloon. "Starsky, he's called, what, twice in the last six months?"

"Three--I think."

"Once while you were in surgery! I'd told him the time, he could have called before or after."

"There's a time difference, maybe he forgot. And in prison, they don't always get the phone when they want it," Starsky said in defense, although he wasn't quite sure why. Nick wasn't the most attentive brother in the world, but then, he never had been. Various other relatives, most especially Rose, who lived quite near, and a few cousins, had been calling regularly to ask about his health. Rose was doing very poorly, so she hadn't ever been able to come to visit. She was suffering from congestive heart failure and was confined to a bed, but her frequent gossipy phone calls brightened up any day. Her husband Al had died nearly five years earlier from a massive heart attack, and Starsky still missed going over to their house for the occasional Sunday afternoon supper. They'd been his mainstay as a teen, and he regarded them as second parents.

Getting old sucked. He no longer had a mother or a favorite uncle, and was racing his favorite aunt for who died first. Left with a ne'er-do-well brother who hadn't even bothered to give them the exact date of his release from prison. "I'm not completely stupid. I know Nick can be a schmuck."

"You said it, I didn't," Hutch said dryly. "Good thing our guns are locked up."

"He can't carry a gun, and you know it," Starsky said, feeling peevish. "Part of his parole. He just came for a visit, and I want to see him."

"I know, Starsk. I just . . . worry that he could hurt you again."

"Nah, I'm tough."

"You're a sucker for your brother's line, every time." Hutch took his hand, as if apologizing for saying anything mean. "You have your testimony ready?"

"Gonna put Schroeder away for the rest of his natural born days," Starsky promised.

The day was long, hot, and boring, punctuated with short bursts of such intensity Starsky began to wonder if his heart was up for this anymore. He couldn't help the cold sweat that dripped down his spine when he was up on the witness stand, describing the stand off in the Rose Tree Unit. Vinnie Schroeder sat at the defense's table the entire time staring straight at him with a look of such evil menace Starsky finally turned just enough that he could keep Hutch in his view instead of the felon. It wasn't so much that he was scared of Schroeder, more that he was unnerved. He no longer had the physical stamina needed to take Schroeder on in a fair fight, even with a crutch in hand, should Schroeder break out and come after them. Starsky had always relied on his ability to fight hard and dirty to defend himself and his loved ones. He'd die if Schroeder went after Hutch in retaliation. The man had to be put away for life--there was no other recourse.

Arguments between the lawyers took up large chunks of time, but Starsky's only enjoyment during the entire process was watching Hutch take the stand and describe his own involvement in Schroeder's arrest. He liked seeing Hutch up there, strong, forthright and brave, unaffected by Schroeder's malevolent presence.

The hearing was adjourned at three thirty with the proviso that both Starsky and Hutch might be called back for more testimony at another date. Starsky was disappointed that the whole thing hadn't been wrapped up in one day, and moped about it most of the way home.

"Hey, we need to stop and get a pizza." He remembered just as the huge sign for Romano's Pizza came into sight. He always got a big laugh out of the round plastic smiling pizza face revolving high over the turquoise roofed restaurant.

"I like Round Table better, they have that nice vegetarian one," Hutch said.

"Vegetarian pizza is an insult to thousands of years of Italians laboring over hot brick ovens with thick slabs of dough covered in mounds of tomato sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni."

"You're going to give yourself a coronary, you know that." Hutch turned the car into the parking lot of Romano's with a sigh.

"Just you wait, Hutch. Some day they'll discover that pizza really is a health food. It's got all the food groups--bread, tomatoes, meat, and dairy." The crutches clanked together as Starsky struggled to get out of the car, but Hutch made no move to help him. Starsky appreciated that. After his disheartening realization that he could no longer fight someone like Schroeder, it was comforting to know that Hutch didn't regard him as completely disabled. He straightened his jacket once he was on his feet, his chest so tight he could feel a cough coming on, and had to brace himself against the car when it hit.

"The four food groups, and enough grease to slick down Elvis's hair," Hutch said dryly.

Starsky cleared his throat, breathing raggedly after the cough. He could feel Hutch's eyes on him. He was worried, but Starsky ignored that. "Okay, we'll do it your way. No pepperoni, are you satisfied?"

"Moderately." Hutch nodded, holding open the door to the pizzeria. "What other toppings do you propose, Pizza King?"

Flashing him a smile that took the worry right off Hutch's face, Starsky pointed to the menu posted above the cashier. "Mushrooms, black olives, and grilled chicken. Does that reduce the whole grease load?"

"Very nicely." Hutch grinned back at him and Starsky had a strong urge to kiss him right there in front of the pimply-faced cashier who took their order. Ah, well, something to do once they got home. They shared a couple of beers while waiting for the pizza to cook, and Starsky beat Hutch at a game of Donkey Kong.

Pansy was waiting in the driveway, chirping anxiously when Hutch swung out of the car. "I told Nick not to let the cats out, " he groused. "Pansy was pregnant the last time that happened."

"Call the vet to get her fixed," Starsky said reasonably, scooping her up. "Where's your baby, Pansy?" He nuzzled against her tawny fur, feeling the rumble of her purr in his jaw. He had to let her down to walk, though. She slid in and out between his leg and the crutches like a silky snake.

"L'Chaim's too small to be out on his own." Hutch maneuvered the large pizza box around so he could lock the car doors and stomped up the front walk, calling out for his cat. Starsky thought this was going to be a long couple of days if Hutch stayed like this the entire length of Nick's visit. Just as he opened the front door, a small black blur streaked past him and bounded into the house.

"That cat knows when there's good food around." Starsky tossed his crutches on the couch, looking around. Nicky's presence was visible. There were beer cans on the dolphin coffee table, an untidy pile of newspapers on the floor, and a trail of potato chips crushed into the carpet from the couch to the living room. Or vice versa, it was hard to tell on an initial inspection. "Nick!" Starsky bellowed, watching Hutch go into the kitchen with the pizza.

"Hey!" Nick came out of the bathroom with his shirt unbuttoned and his hair still wet from a shower. He pulled small portable radio earphones out of his ears, and it was obvious he'd just been shaving. "Didn't hear you guys come in. I called up a couple of old buddies, was just about to leave to go meet up with them. You wanna come with?" He stared pointedly at his brother's single leg before raising his eyes to meet Starsky's.

"No, I'm beat. We got a pizza, though." Starsky pulled off his tie and jacket. "I thought you wanted to talk about something important?"

"Yeah, listen." Nick buttoned up his shirt, tucking it into his slacks. "I've been having a hard time finding a job since getting out of the joint. Aunt Rose told me you won some money, so I was wondering . . ."

"NO," Hutch roared from the kitchen.

"It's my money!" Starsky retorted, feeling a rush of adrenaline burn off his fatigue. He'd always planned to give the bulk of the winnings to Hutch for medical school but he resented having Hutch dictate what he should say to his own brother. He wasn't a complete moron; he'd suspected Nicky had a motive like this from the very first. Nicky always did.

"That's right, it's yours." Hutch gestured with the pizza cutter he was still held. Starsky wanted to tell him to put it down, that it gave the whole situation a strangely Monty Pythonesque quality, but he didn't. "And Nick has no right to think you won't need it simply because you're going to die soon."

There are some things that stop a discussion cold. That was one of them. Nick gaped at Hutch for several long seconds until Hutch turned around and walked back into the kitchen. Starsky had to force himself to take in a breath, his peripheral vision darkening for just a second.

"Aunt Rose didn't say you were dying," Nick said quietly.

"You don't read my letters?" Starsky asked rhetorically, since it was quite obvious he didn't. "A couple weeks ago the doctors said the cancer had spread, it's all over . . . "

"You look bad, kinda skinny with your leg. . . but you don't look bald and stuff like people in those sad movies," Nick protested weakly, looking absurdly like he was going to cry. He covered that quickly, rubbing his nose.

"Chemo makes your hair fall out, not cancer." Starsky sat on the couch, once again surprised at how many people confused that fact. He'd heard it numerous times since his diagnosis. "I was bald, last winter."

"As a cue ball," Hutch joked, coming out with plates of pizza. He gave one to Starsky and sat down next to him on the couch, much closer than Nick who had perched on the armrest as if he were about to take flight.

"So, you can't loan me any money?" Nick said flatly, looking like he'd been hit between the eyes. Starsky had to admire his tenacity. Get the shock of your life, but still stick to the point.

"I can give you . . ." Starsky felt Hutch's elbow in his ribs. It might have just been because Hutch chose that moment to pick up his slice of pizza, but he suspected otherwise. He did a couple of mental calculations. "Two hundred. I have expenses, too, since I'm out of work."

"Two hundred? That won't cover . . . "

"Where'd you get the ticket to come out here, Nick?" Hutch asked in a remarkably pleasant voice. "Who did you con to get it? You could have stayed in New York and used the equivalent of the plane fare to pay rent on some room at the Y for a couple of months. Or was there a reason you had to leave New York in a hurry, without telling us you were coming? Not that it's not great to see you."

"Fuck off, Hutchinson," Nick sneered. "Davey's always loaned me cash whenever I needed it, huh, bro?"

"You want the two hundred, you answer his questions, bro." Starsky put down his plate, his belly too churned up to eat. "Because I'm kind of curious. Does your parole officer know you left the state?"

"I got the name of somebody to report to," Nick said petulantly. He spread his hands, looking at Starsky and Hutch as if he'd been sent to the principal. "Okay, so I got into a game of craps. I mean, no big deal, huh? I swear the dice were rigged, because I lost big time. I'd done the ass-wipe job the parole officer set me up with, construction, and had a legit paycheck, but . . . after the game I didn't have enough to pay the rent on my place. It was just a rat hole, anyway. I figured family would help me out." He stuffed his hands into his pants pockets, his eyes flat and cold when he looked at Hutch. "But I guess some people put a bug into my brother's ear, and turned him against me. I can't even rely on family anymore. And just so's you know, cousin Angela gave me the ticket. She's a whadda ya call it, stewardess. She gets free rides. So, no money from that corner, Hutch."

"You shouldn’t have been gambling in the first place," Starsky said. He'd never enjoyed being the sensible one, especially where Nick was concerned. He wanted to be the loving older brother, but the long distance separation during their teen years had robbed him of any close relationship with Nick, no matter how much he wanted one. Nick would never be the brother Hutch had been to him, before sex came into it. And Nick's unrepentant punk attitude would never mature. He seemed determined to remain a shiftless teenager for the rest of his life, living in the shadow of violent crime, skating along in the gray area of cons, gambling, and money laundering. "I can give you two hundred. Take it or leave it."

"I gotta meet some people," Nick grabbed up his sports coat, stuffing his arms into the sleeves. "I'll be back before . . . midnight."

"Don't let the cats out this time." Hutch swallowed some beer, and dropped a piece of chicken on the floor for L'Chaim.

"That little black one is vicious; attacked my ankle and left marks." Nick pulled up his sock to show three parallel red scratches. L'Chaim munched his chicken, looking unconcerned.

"He does that." Hutch didn't look particularly concerned either.

"Should have a vicious cat like that put down."

"Nick," Starsky warned. "L'Chaim's a kitten."

"Just giving my opinion. Oh, and some chick named Karen called, for Hutch." He gave a dirty chuckle. "And I thought you two didn't like girls anymore. She said she was coming out, next week, I think." He vanished out the door without so much as a backward wave.

"Starsky . . ."

"I know." Starsky sighed, totally exhausted now. He'd give his brother the money, no matter how little Nick deserved it, but he also planned to put in a few well-placed calls to police connections in New York City, to find out if there were any outstanding charges against Nicholas Marvin Starsky. "What about Karen? Did you know she was coming?"

"God, when it rains, it pours!" Hutch threw up his hands. "She mentioned something about looking into plane fares for a vacation once school let out, but I forgot."

"Nick will probably be gone by then. I don't think he plans to stay very long." Starsky lay back against the cushions, letting Pansy walk up his thighs to his belly. Her paws dug into his abdomen, making his tummy growl.

"Starsk, you should eat." Hutch pinched the bridge of his nose. "What's the time difference between here and Duluth?"

"You lived there, don't you remember?"

"Not with this headache. Two hours?"

"Maybe." Starsky shrugged, rubbing Pansy's ears.

"Eat." Hutch held a slice of cooling pizza to Starsky's mouth, waiting until he took a bite. "See how easy that is?"

"I don't want you and Nick at each other's throats, but I'm not tellin' him to leave, either, Hutch."

"I know. He's got some gall, asking for your money like that. No sensitivity."

"It's all for you anyway." Starsky pushed Pansy far enough off his lap so that he could sit up and take a few more bites of pizza.


"I just want to finish paying for. . . the funeral stuff. The rest was for you, for medical school."

"Starsky! I can't take your money!" Hutch actually gasped as if the very thought hurt.

"I gave everything to you in the will."

"I-I know, but I figured you wouldn't have very much left. I know what your disability pay is."

"One thousand ain't much, Hutch. Probably less now, if I give Nick two hundred."

"You shouldn't."

"Yeah." Starsky grinned ruefully. "But I will. Like he said, he's family."

"He wouldn't give you the shirt off his back."

"Aw, you just don't like him. Nick's deeper than you think, Hutch." Starsky shoved the last of the pizza into his mouth, talking as he chewed. "Not much deeper, but still. You'd help out Karen."

"Karen does not repeatedly shoot herself in the foot." Hutch gathered up their plates, walking back into the kitchen. "I'll give her a call. It'll be fun to see her."

"Let's take her to Disneyland!"

Hutch started to speak, but stopped, drawing into himself in a way that always made Starsky sad. He could see Hutch's anguish so easily at times like this. Hutch still had so much fear--that every day might be Starsky's last. Would a day at the happiest place on Earth be fun, or a collection of memories of the worst that could happen. Starsky couldn't predict these things any better than Hutch could, but he refused to stop to consider them.

"C'mon, Hutch, it'll be fun. You can wear my mouse ears, and I'll stay in the wheelchair the whole time. Gets me to the front of the line faster, anyway."

"Yeah. It'd be fun." Hutch said with a ghost of a smile, which slid into devilishness. "Nick can come, too. Think he'll stick around for that?"

"Only if Ol' Walt opens Las Vegas Land right next to Fantasyland." Starsky tossed a sofa pillow at him.

"Las Vegas is Fantasyland, Starsk."

"Yeah." Starsky remembered fedoras, two-toned shoes, double-breasted suits, and a winning streak that wouldn't end. "We had fun, huh?"

"We had fun." Hutch came back, and sat down next to him, enclosing Starsky in a hug. It felt warm, safe, and so wonderful Starsky didn't want it to end, ever. "You're going to wait up for Nick until he gets home, aren't you?"

"You can read my mind now?"

"I always could." Hutch rapped his knuckles gently against Starsky's forehead. "Wrap up in the afghan, take a pain killer for your back, and try to nap until he comes in. You're not as young as you used to be . . ."

"And you worry," Starsky finished. He nodded, and kissed Hutch's collarbone before being released. Times like this were so bittersweet, it made him uncomfortable, and yet he yearned for them until the next time. He flicked on the TV remote, burrowing into the couch to catch the end of Jeopardy before the evening news. Pansy nestled right up against his hip, the left one that was hurting more and more, especially after hours sitting in the hard courtroom chairs.

Starsky listened with half an ear to Hutch's conversation with his sister. It sounded like her new boyfriend Rolf had become a steady, and she was excited about moving up a grade with her class to teach fifth graders instead of fourth in the new school year. Karen definitely was going more places than Nick.

"Good news, Karen's not coming for two weeks, the day after elementary school lets out." Hutch said, hanging up. "She's in love, and Rolf has some family out here, too."

"She's talked about Rolf before, hasn't she? He has a boat." Starsky ignored a news report on unrest in the Middle East, more interested in family gossip.

"She's mentioned him. I think it's a rowboat, for fishing. He teaches the sixth grade."

"Oh, ho, a wedding in their future, you think?" Starsky chortled. "Coming out to meet the family. He must have met your dad already, since they live in the same city."

"Apparently Dad wasn't too thrilled with the idea of two teachers together, since even combined, their income is so low, but he likes Rolf."

"Rolf what?"

"Von Buchau."

"Oh, fantastic, he sounds like a . . ."

"Starsky, it's a perfectly fine German name." Hutch shook a long finger at him, but his eyes were laughing. "I've got some work to do. Do you want anything before I'm mired in bills and paperwork?"

"Ice cream?" Starsky tried to sound plaintive and weak, but his laughter ruined it. Hutch brought him a bowl of mint chip with a swirl of chocolate sauce and dollop of whipped cream on the top anyway. That was love for you.

Starsky drifted in and out of the Tuesday night line-up, watching half of A-Team, and sleeping completely through whatever came after that, finally awake just as the jazzy theme for Remington Steele began. He liked the light-hearted mystery series, especially when Pierce Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist bantered like a couple from an old thirties movie.

Hutch worked on medical school applications, grumbling under his breath when he came out for his own bowl of ice cream. Starsky didn't dare offer any suggestions on what schools to apply to; the subject was still too raw for Hutch. He had to fumble through this one on his own.

Nick finally arrived just after Carson had finished his monologue and was introducing the blond lady from the San Diego zoo. She'd brought along a lemur and two small monkeys who were climbing on Johnny's head. Starsky laughed when one peed on the notes on Johnny's desk, and heard the front door lock snick open.

"Hey, you have a fight with Hutch? He make you sleep on the couch?" Nick slurred. He sounded drunk.

"No, if we fight I usually make him sleep on the couch." Starsky eased himself up, but his back was aching badly now, and a cough rasped in his throat. He should have taken those painkillers as Hutch said.

"You okay?" Nick asked in alarm.

"This is normal, Nicky," Starsky assured him. "Could you get that bottle of pills on the drainboard? Beside the sink?"

Nick came back with the bottle and a glass of water, watching Starsky take two. "It's always this bad?"

"I should have gotten up and moved around. I got too stiff." Starsky closed his eyes against the ache as he sat up, propping his back with pillows. Damned inconvenient time to look weak, when he wanted a serious talk with his brother.

"Davey, I--I really didn't know things had gotten this bad." Nick again perched on the couch armrest, gesturing at Starsky's afghan covered leg. "I thought they could cure cancer these days."

"Sometimes they can, and sometimes they can't." Starsky played with the fringe on the afghan. It brought up so many half buried emotions to have to talk about this again to someone who hadn't been on the entire roller coaster ride of treatments. "I stopped the whole chemo thing on the second course. I couldn't take being sick every damn minute of my life, so here we are. Doctors aren't fortunetellers, they can't predict when I might go any better than I can."

"But you're dying."

"That I am." Starsky made a face at his brother, raising his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth in the Stan Laurel way that used to make Nick giggle when they were very small. L'Chaim jumped up into his lap, batting at the fringe Starsky was holding in his hand. Tiny needle sharp claws raked his palm and he yelped, giving the kitten a bop on the head just as Pansy would have.

"You really like cats, man? They're such a chick thing. Guys like dogs, but I guess now that. . . "

"Nick!" Starsky groaned before he uttered such a stereotypical comment about two men who lived together. "Dogs are cool, but cats are fighters. You ever see a kitten go into attack mode, even on somebody three times their size?"

"Yeah, this morning." Nick pulled up his pants leg again.

Starsky laughed, clearing his throat when a tiny pain in his chest seemed to linger too long afterwards. "See what I mean? Cats are tough, street smart. I like a fighter." He ruffled the fringe and L'Chaim pounced again.

"Then why did you give up?"

"Is that how you see it?"

"Can't see it any other way, man. You said you stopped the chemo stuff, which could have made you well."

"Could have." Starsky nodded, nonetheless stung that his brother would see him as a quitter. "Basically, it would have only prolonged the inevitable, and I'd have been sick as a dog the whole time. Sometimes you have to pick your battles. I surrendered in the war I was never going to win in favor of fighting for enough time to spend with my friends and family while I was feeling good."

"You don't look like you're feeling good."

"Good days and bad days. This was a so-so one. The stuff in court sucked, and we'll probably have to go back, but hey, I got to see you." He looked up into the very familiar, if somewhat older, face of his closest living blood relative. "For whatever reasons you came, Nicky, I'm glad you did."

"I really do need the money," Nick said defensively.

"I'm sure you do. I'm sure you think that no one has ever had it as rough as you 'cause you were in prison, and you have to work at a crummy construction job. Which apparently you've lost since you came out here without telling them."

"Hey! I was railroaded and . . ."

"Nicky, look around you. There ain't no free rides except the one around the sun every 24 hours. I can give you two hundred, that's it. I got problems, too."

"Yeah, you only got one leg. How come you don't have one of those plastic jobs with bionics and shit to walk around on?"

"One and a half," Starsky repeated his lame joke. "The prosthetic was a pain in the ass, literally. I can get around just fine without it. Not like I'm going to be walking a beat any longer."

"You miss that?" Nick asked, and this time his interest sounded genuine. He slid down the armrest onto the cushions, lounging against the backrest with his legs spread. "I couldn't hack being a cop. All those regulations."

"The rules and regulations could get in the way, but they had their purpose," Starsky said, amazed that he of all people would say that. He'd never met a regulation he didn't try to at least bend like a willow branch. "And yeah, I miss riding in the car with Hutch, cruising our beat, getting to know the people on the street."

"Rousting the drunks and drug dealers--and leaving those guys just trying to make a living alone?" Nick flashed a grin.

"One of those guys being you?" Starsky asked. He'd never tried to pry into Nick's motives for doing what he did, but it still irked him that they could be on such opposite sides of the law. "You broke the law, Nick. You did your time. Get on with things. It's going to happen over and over again if you don't."

"You're beginning to sound like Ma." He stared at Starsky, speculation in his eyes.

"You break the law again, you're back in the slammer, it's as simple as that. You gotta change."

"So I heard."

"So who'd you go out with tonight? What friends do you have in Bay City? Guys you met through Stryker?"

"No! These were friends of some friends in New York. You know, connections. They knew about this job."

"Connected friends? Oh, that's just great, Nick!" Starsky shoved the afghan off, wishing he could pace around like he used to, get rid of some of this rage that talking to Nick brought out. He kicked the coffee table leg instead, earning a stubbed toe for his troubles. "What the hell are you getting mixed up in something like that again? What is it this time? Drugs, or just some innocent money laundering?"

"You think every damn thing I'm involved in is bogus? This was legit. It's one of those corporations where you lecture people on how to double their profits, earn money fast."

"Oh, like that's not illegal!"

"This is strictly on the up and up, I swear, Davey. I have to go to a bunch of training sessions, but then I'd be traveling all the time, lecturing in every state. It sounds fantastic. . ."

"What's going on out here?" Hutch came out, rubbing his eyes against the bright lights of the living room.

"Hey." Starsky waved his hand in apology. "Sorry we woke you. Just talking."

Hutch looked blearily between the Starsky brothers before catching his lover's eye. "You coming to bed soon?"

"Soon," Starsky agreed. "Get some sleep, Hutch. I'm coming."

"He's got you on a chain," Nick snorted after Hutch had stumbled back into the bedroom. Starsky heard the toilet flush and the box springs creak when Hutch crawled back into bed.

"Go to hell," Starsky said irritably.

"Davey, did he . . . force you into this stuff? I mean, like in the joint, there are butches and their little fishes . . ."

Starsky drew in a shocked breath, never really having thought about what might have happened to Nick behind bars. Nick was shorter and more fine-boned than he was. Even with weight training, Nick would never have been able to fight off some big, determined inmate with a boner. He had the Starsky gift of gab, but that could only get a person so far in the prison shower. "What happened, Nick?"

"Nothing that didn't happen to half a hundred other guys in stir," Nick said evasively. "But I'd never do that willingly. Getting off some of the pressure, I understand that. A guy has to, or he'll explode. But, living that way permanently. It's gotta warp you."

"Hutch wouldn't--couldn't--have forced me the way you're insinuating," Starsky hissed, more angry than he had been about Nick's business prospects. He kept his voice pitched low, knowing Hutch was probably still awake in the bedroom and able to hear a great deal of the conversation. "We lived in each other's pocket long before we ever thought about love, or sex. We were brothers in a way you'll never understand. Then after I got shot, stuff changed. It had been for a long time, but the shooting was a big wake up call."

Nick had such a look of disbelief that Starsky realized he'd never convince him that what he and Hutch had was consummate love and not jailhouse rape. But he had to state his case, or as Nick so aptly put it, explode.

"You ever been in love?"

"You call that love? With him?"

"I asked you." Starsky turned away from his brother's disdain, focusing on a cluster of framed photographs jammed together on the top of a bookcase. He and Hutch standing on the roof of the Torino, arms linked around each other, laughing. He and Hutch smiling, holding their badges just after they'd been reinstated onto the force only weeks before his shooting. So many moments of their lives captured forever on film. So that nothing would ever be forgotten. The newest picture had been taken at the wedding. Huggy and Daisy, and he and Hutch, standing near the melting dolphin ice sculpture. "Have you ever really been in love?"

"No, I don't think so," Nicky admitted. He'd gotten up off the couch, sitting in the opposite chair, closing himself off from Starsky.

"Then I'm sorry for you. Because love is the most fantastic things in the entire universe."

Nick hunched his shoulders, remote as the Arctic Sea. "I thought--for a while--maybe Jennifer Connolly. You remember the Connolly brothers? We went to school with them?"

Starsky vaguely recalled five red haired boys, their ages ranging between he and Nick's. He couldn't picture a girl.

"She and me." Nick shrugged, examining his fingernails. "For a couple of years, but then I knocked her up. Thought we could get married, but . . ." He paused, looking stricken. "She didn't want it."

"That's awful."

"Who wants a kid, anyway? I ended up in the slammer, who'da taken care of him?" But his face was so sorrowful; Starsky knew that had been Nick's one glimpse at love.

"That's how it feels, bro. The highs and the lows. When everything you do is tied up in that other person, and you want it that way. When you think about them when they're not around, and even though you saw that person the day before, you got so much to talk about." He pressed his hand against his side, hoping to stifle a cough that hovered deep in his chest. "That's how it was with me and Hutch, even before. Then after I got shot, I couldn't bear it anymore. I almost died, and we weren't bein' honest with each other."


"We'd loved each other for years, but because of some dumb ideas that guys can't feel like that, we never went any further." Starsky stopped, not sure how he could explain it. That primal sense of completion the first time Hutch had held him and kissed him. That what they were doing was absolutely right, and to hell with society conventions. "There was never any force, Nick."

An uncomfortable silence spread out between them, and after an interminable length of time Starsky finally folded up the afghan, draping it over the back of the couch. He was more than sleepy, and after this revealing discussion with his brother, just wanted to curl up next to Hutch and dream.

"I guess I'll get going in the morning," Nick said in a husky voice when Starsky was halfway across the living room. "Can you give me cash? Cause I don't have a bank out here."

"Sure." Starsky tightened his hands around the struts of the crutches, more sorry than he could imagine. "Go visit Aunt Rose, will you? She doesn't get out much."

"Planned on it. Got the address in my jacket."

Starsky wanted to look back, wanted to say something that would change things, but he knew there was nothing that could change. He and Nick had never been close, for all that he'd wished it so. They'd separated far too early and headed down different paths right from the get-go. Somehow, the friendship of John Blaine and Uncle Al, who'd steered him through his teenage years, and the awful influence of Viet Nam had given Starsky a powerful sense of right and wrong which had served him well on the police force. That, and Hutch's steady presence had made him the man he was today.

For Nick, things had been totally different, and there were many aspects of his life that Starsky knew nothing about. He'd been raised by a mother who was, for all intents and purposes, a secretary for the mob. Oh, it wasn't said out loud. She'd gotten the job shortly before Starsky was shipped west. She'd been proud of her abilities, answering phones and typing out letters for D&D trucking. A legit company jointly owned by Joe Durniak and Tony D'Onofrio. Just two guys making an honest living moving freight. Starsky hadn't ever asked if his mother knew the what was going on in the back room, he hadn't wanted to, it scared him that much. She was loyal to her bosses, refusing to get another job because they'd been good to her. So, it wasn't all that unusual that Rachel's son Nicholas would take a gopher job at D&D while he was in high school. Running errands, doing odd jobs for the boss. It had skewed his ideals, given him a different view on the world.

Starsky remembered being in 'Nam the first time he heard that Nick was arrested. For numbers running. After that, it had been a long slippery slope into prison. Every time Nick Starsky got in trouble, he was bailed out by a family member, and he'd promise to mend his ways. Every time, over and over, like a broken record, until Starsky had had to lie to himself. Convince himself that the brother of a cop wasn't a petty criminal.

Nick had been nurtured by the mob, there was no other way to put it. And within that sort of a circle, homosexuality was looked down upon as an aberration. Men could be buddies, even blood brothers, but never lovers. It wasn't done. Not ever.

He had to face the truth that he and Nick would never see eye to eye. But at least, he had seen his brother before he died, and that was the important thing.

"Nick." Starsky paused in the archway to the back hall, aware that Nick was still sitting in the armchair. Pansy brushed by, butting her head against his leg, marking him with her scent. "You're my brother, and I love you."

"Love you, too," Nick said gruffly.


Starsky let himself mope around after Nick left. The whole visit had left a bad taste in him mouth that couldn't be washed away with a strong gargle. He felt like he'd let Nick down in some indefinable way, long ago. If he'd never left the East Coast back in 1958, would things be different? Of course they would have--everything would have changed. That was the problem with 'what ifs'. Like the old saying that the flap of a butterfly's wings in South America could affect the weather in the Arctic, one little change made everything different.

If Rachel Starsky hadn't sent her son to summer with her sister Rose, he'd have never met his uncle Al, and learned how to adjust a carburetor. He'd have never decided to stay and attend the local high school because the girl down the street, Angela Darlene of the 38 D cup in the ninth grade, was going there.

Starsky would have gone back to New York, hung around with his thuggish gang of friends and turned into . . .Nick. So, close and yet so far. Because of Angela Darlene he'd met the Blaine kids, John Jr. and Michael. John Senior was a cop, and had the respect of all the kids in the neighborhood. When Starsky wasn't at his aunt's house, he was at the Blaines', absorbing the wonderful closeness of an intact family, and thriving. His mother visited almost every summer, because her bosses gave her an extensive vacation, with pay. Starsky had never thought much about it then. He hadn't understood the many ways the mob held on to it's own, with perks and generous bonuses. He'd just been happy to see his mother and brother. He hadn't really probed into just what his father might have done to have Joe Durniak pay for his funeral after the shooting. Just exactly why Joseph Starsky had been killed.

Those revelations had come slowly, along with his disillusions over the Viet Nam War. He'd enlisted to help his country, and found an unfathomable war fraught with chaos and contempt. He was spit upon when he arrived back on US soil by protesters. He'd driven taxis and worked as a mechanic for Al before deciding to use what the government had taught him and become a cop. After all, he already knew how to shoot a gun and subdue a prisoner. Piece of cake. On the first day of the academy, he met Ken Hutchinson. His future.

So, if he'd never come west.

If Hutch had never come west.

Didn't bear thinking about any longer. He couldn't go back and change what he and Nicky were to each other, there was too much history there. He had Hutch, for good and forever. Was it an even exchange? No. Love always weighed the balance in its favor.

Starsky wiped a dirty hand across his sweaty forehead, wondering where he'd left his hat. This was happening a lot lately. He'd go out into his little vegetable plot, begin weeding, and lose time. Not a great length of time, but enough to know he'd been sitting in the sun too long and should go in with only a few weeds pulled to show for his efforts.

He'd slide into memories, both good and bad, and forget that he only had half a leg, or to be technical, more like one third. He could forget the pains in his back and his chest, and recall the glory days when he and Hutch were the ones to watch. The other detectives in the squadroom knew that if Starsky and Hutch were on the case, it got solved.

He and Hutch, together in the Torino, the mars light flashing weirdly off Hutch's fair hair as the car roared through the streets in pursuit of some felon. Good times.

They'd even brought down the last felon of Starsky's police career, Vinnie Schroeder. A second day of testimonies had finished off their participation, and it was four more days before the Grand Jury brought back a decision that Schroeder should be tried on all charges, up to and including murder one for Emerald Hsieh.

Starsky and Hutch had celebrated by sending boxes of candy to the Rose Tree Unit, and hosting a little get together in the hospital cafeteria. Farley had flirted with Julia, The Colonel brought a lady friend, Megan tap danced, and Calliope introduced her new boyfriend Lurch, who played in a punk rock band. The party had been perfect, closure for those who admitted the crisis still woke them up at nights. Vinnie Schroeder might not have been convicted yet--his multiple trials wouldn't begin for some time, but the outcome looked rosy.

Starsky smiled to himself, digging his hands into rich dirt, finding underground vegetables by touch.

"You forget your hat again?" Hutch shaded his eyes, leaning against the sliding glass door. "All the literature says that too much sun damages the skin. You probably didn't even use the sunscreen I bought you."

"I get lectures enough from my doctor." Starsky held up a handful of potatoes. "We'd be in like Flynn if we lived in Ireland a hundred years ago. The potatoes are growing like weeds."

"Been reading historical novels?" Hutch bent down to sift the dirt through his fingers, pulling out a couple of dandelions in the process. "The brave O'Reilly battling the bank for his little plot of County Cork, and the love of Bridget O'Donahue."

"You make it sound like I'm reading Sophie's Harlequins behind her back," Starsky started to laugh, hating that his chest hurt all the worse because of something that felt so good. "Just because I like a little romance with my history."

"Hey, far be it from me to mock your reading habits." Hutch tossed a clod of dirt at him. "All I do is read medical journals."

"My husband, the doctor," Starsky gave a melodramatic sigh like a heroine in an old time movie. He got to his knee before a wave of dizziness made him grab for the little wire fence he and Mick had installed to keep the raccoons out. His vision swam and telescoped, the expanse of lawn rippling like the bay on a windy day. The wire bit into his fingers, but if he let go he would have nose-dived right into the rosemary.

"Starsk?" Hutch repeated for what Starsky realized must be the third or fourth time.

"'M okay," Starsky exhaled slowly, willing the grass to obey the laws of physics and stay flat. His head felt too light, like a balloon floating on top of his shoulders and he didn't trust his balance one bit.

"I'll get the wheelchair, just stay there." Hutch disappeared into the house, coming out promptly with the damned stroller. Starsky didn't feel up to complaining about being wheeled around like a two year old, and let himself be guided into the seat and propelled back into the house.

"How bad is it?" Hutch asked, laying his palm on Starsky's forehead. "You're really flushed and hot."

"I was out in the sun, Hutch," Starsky swiped his hand away with irritation. "I'll take a nap, get some rest. What time is it, anyway?"

"Just after one. Did you get some lunch?"

"Mick made sandwiches, but he had to leave early today, remember?"

"Did you eat one?"

"Yes." Starsky leaned on the arm of the chair, covering his eyes with splayed fingers, hoping Hutch didn't notice that he couldn't stand to watch the room jigging up and down. He'd never been quite so dizzy for quite so long. Usually this kind of thing went away almost immediately.

"What kind?" Hutch held out a glass of water.

"Uh--tuna fish, on whole wheat." Starsky drank some of the water. As long as Hutch didn't poke in the trash, he was safe. He really had eaten some of the sandwich, just not all of it. "I'm gonna lie down." He set the glass on an endtable and placed his hands on the wheelchair wheels. The archway to the hall seemed to waver as if a high wind were blowing through the house. It made him queasy and the last thing he wanted to do was throw up. That brought up too many nasty memories of chemo. But admitting to Hutch how bad he was right then was not exactly optimal either. Hutch would just cart him off to the hospital.

"I can turn down the bed." Hutch hovered just behind him, ready to help but aware that Starsky didn't want to be coddled.

"It's hot enough, I don't need covers. Just give me an hour, huh? Maybe we can go out later for ice cream? I'll drive."

"Sure." Hutch sighed, but didn't crowd. For that Starsky was grateful, because he wasn't sure how much longer he could hide how badly he was feeling. The fact that this innervating weakness was happening more often didn't make it any easier to accept, for either of them. The dizziness was a new and unwelcome addition.

Pushing off very carefully, Starsky was pleased that he made it through the moving target without crashing into the doorjamb, and into his bedroom. Mission accomplished.

Even lying on the bed wasn't as peaceful as Starsky would have wanted. He closed his eyes but the swirling sensation persisted until he was afraid to move so much as his eyeballs. Every single muscle twitch increased the vertigo, and sleep didn't come despite his fatigue. Clutching at the coverlet to quell the feeling that he was about to pitch right off a completely flat surface, Starsky tried the breathing techniques they were learning in yoga class. Inhale slowly, filling the body with air, then exhale, ridding the body of strain. In and out.

In and out. Slowly and carefully relaxing all the muscles and organs in his body, the tension leaving until only his stomach was clenched and tight. He wasn't going to throw up, not today.

"All I need is black been soup and you to make it for me. "

Hutch's melodic voice drifted in from the living room, accompanied by the guitar, and singing one of his old favorites. Starsky exhaled, the knots in his belly loosening.

"Be my love and love will stay, and wear your ribbons for me."

Starsky finally dropped off into sleep with the sound of his lover singing to him.


Hutch scanned the crowd of passengers getting off the plane from Duluth, looking for a blond couple. It seemed like the entire population of Minnesota had been on the plane, and he let his rampant anxiety get to him. Maybe Karen and Rolf had missed their flight? No, they certainly would have called if they had. He worried about everything lately, it had become a constant in his out of control life. If there wasn't anything real to worry about, he invented things, such as the imaginary problem of missing a flight. If they had, they'd easily find a later one. No big deal, really.

Exhaling deeply, Hutch pressed his palm into his tired eyes. He'd gotten up early this morning to get Starsky to his appointment, and then drive through heavy traffic to get to the airport on time. It had been a hard couple of days, and he was hoping that this visit would bring some fun back into his life. He needed the distraction.

"Ken!" Karen waved, running toward him, towing a good-looking guy with wire-framed glasses behind her. Hutch couldn't believe he hadn't seem her first, and laughed aloud when she threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. "I'm so happy to see you!"

"Let me get a look at you." Hutch held her at arm's length for a moment before giving her another hug. Karen was three years younger than he was. In fact, their birthdays were only days apart, his in August and hers in September, but she looked years younger than 36. Her straight, pale blond hair was held back with a blue band that matched the Hutchinson eyes, and tiny diamonds sparkled in her ears, two on each side.

She had a trim figure, and while shorter than Hutch, was tall for a woman, especially in the high-heeled sandals she wore. "You're still the prettiest one in the family."

"Sweet-talker." Karen grinned at the compliment, beckoning a slightly plump man forward. "Ken, this is Rolf." The way she said her fiancé's name spoke volumes about their love and Hutch wondered if he ever said Starsky's name in such a heartfelt tone. "Rolf Von Buchau, my brother Ken Hutchinson."

Hutch shook the firm hand, liking Rolf immediately. The man had an open, friendly smile, and didn't shirk from his girlfriend's brother's scrutiny.

"Nice to meet you, Ken. I've heard all the childhood stories I'll bet you wished were hidden under the rug."

"Karen!" Hutch gave his sister's long hair a tug. "You didn't tell him about the time you and I made dinner for the parents!"

"And sugared the steak, and served baked potatoes that had been in the oven for about ten minutes." Karen elbowed him in the ribs, her blue eyes merry. "Dad told him that one! I did let slip about you and Jack going skinny-dipping in the pool when you were supposed to be babysitting me and Janie Elkins, and we doused ourselves with Mom's perfume and lipstick."

"We weren't skinny-dipping, we were practicing our life saving techniques," Hutch said loftily.

"In the nude, so Christine Mathieson and Sally Abrams, who were sunbathing next door, could see you," Karen teased.

Hutch laughed aloud. He hadn't thought about his carefree teenaged years in forever. It felt good to reminisce about things that had nothing to do with murder, shootings, or pain.

With a luck Hutch never managed when he was waiting for his own luggage, Karen and Rolf's bags were the first ones out on the conveyor belt and they made it back to the parking lot in good time.

"This is my first time in Los Angeles." Rolf looked around with keen interest when they were driving down the freeway. "I haven't seen a movie star yet."

"I haven't seen one in years," Hutch said. "But I do know Steve Hanson."

"That cowboy?"

"Starsky and Hutch had small parts in his movie McCoy's Last Stand, but Hutch's big scene got cut. You can sort of see him in one of the fight scenes." Karen leaned over from the back seat to poke her brother. "Say your line."

"Karen." Hutch rolled his eyes, looking ahead for the correct off-ramp.

"C'mon, Hutch, say it. If you don't, I'll get Starsky to." Karen laughed. "He does a wicked imitation. Where is he, anyway?"

"Starsky had to go into the hospital this morning," Hutch said, the weird floating anxiety back with such abruptness he had to swallow the urge to blurt out how worried he'd been.

"Is he worse?" Karen asked softly with a catch in her voice.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Rolf added.

"No, not really, anyway." Hutch looked right so that he could merge into the lane taking them to the off-ramp. "His body doesn't make enough red blood cells anymore, so every once in a while he has to go in for what he calls a tune-up. They adjust his pain meds and give him a transfusion. He always feels a lot better afterwards . . ."

"Why do I hear a but there?" Karen rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.

"The transfusions don't last very long anymore. He's up one day and down the next. He really wanted to come meet you at the airport." Hutch drove into the hospital driveway and parked the car. "But I reminded him that he'd need the extra energy if he wanted to last out the day in Disneyland."

"I definitely want to go to Disneyland." Karen climbed out, brushing the wrinkles out of her blue slacks.

"Heck, my parents promised me they'd take me in 1960, but we never made it." Rolf donned sunglasses against the bright afternoon sun. "I've waited 25 years to ride the Matterhorn."

"Starsky will be glad to join you. I stay on terra firma," Hutch said. He looked up at the windows of the third floor, the Rose Tree Unit. In those horrible months when Starsky was up there, vomiting up his guts from the chemo, and sweating out fever after fever, Hutch had forced himself to sublimate the terror that gripped him every time he walked into the lobby. Now, when visits to St. Joseph's were few and far between, he broke out in a sweat just pressing the button for the elevator. This place had such fearful memories. Each time he wondered if this was the last visit, forever. Would he go upstairs and find John Davies pulling a sheet up over Starsky's still body?

"Listen, Karen, Starsky's improved a lot since he was really sick, but . . ."

"Ken, my friend Laura had breast cancer." Karen nodded, but her hand was clenched in Rolf's. "I know, honey. It's all right." She looked up at Hutch, tears brimming in blue eyes that were so like his, just for a moment. She blinked and the tears vanished. "How are you holding up?"

"Me? I'm just glad he's alive. And that you're here, and his brother left." Hutch barked a sharp laugh, not bothering to explain any more. There would be plenty of time later to fill Karen in on how Nick had tried to fleece his elderly aunt out of her social security check. "Here we are."

"Hi, Hutch!" Calliope waved a rainbow, all ten fingernails painted a different color. Her chiffon dress had wide arcs of rainbows from collar to hem but amazingly, her hair was a normal, natural-looking shade of brown.

Hutch introduced Karen and Rolf all around, and it took them quite a while to make it down the hall to Starsky's room. Both Gemma and Mika had the day off, so Starsky's nurse du jour was Ester Hawkins. She had her hands full with bags of chemo for some other cancer survivor. "Hutch, you just go on and collect David. He's been waiting for you, and seems a mite impatient to see your sister and her handsome beau." She grinned at Rolf, before walking off to her patient.

"Everyone here is so friendly," Karen remarked. "And it doesn't look like your average hospital wing."

"It's not. This place is becomes your home away from home. Most of the people with cancer stay for weeks, or even months like Starsky did. The nurses and doctors are like family," Hutch said, glancing at the pleasant waiting room where he had spent so many hours waiting to hear word about Starsky's treatments or warming up something to eat while Starsky slept. In truth, he hated it here, now more than ever. "Starsky's favorite nurse, Mika, isn't here, but she's been with him from the very first day he had chemo."

"Hey, I don't want to intrude on a family thing." Rolf stopped pushing his glasses up his nose in what Hutch had already noticed must be a nervous habit.

"Hey," Karen said softly, turning her face into his shoulder as if drawing strength from him.

"Don't even thing about getting out of this one, pal." Hutch shook a finger. "Starsky doesn't have a younger sister, he's been wanting to do the 'grill the boyfriend' bit for a week now. Just prepare your answers in essay form."

Rolf laughed and the tension was broken. Starsky's yell did the rest. "I've been waiting for hours, Hutch!" He hopped off the reclining chair, grabbing Karen in a hug before she had a chance to say hello. "Welcome to California."

"Starsky, I'm so happy to see you!" Karen returned the hug, albeit more gently.

"Hutch really needs to have his sister around," Starsky whispered in her ear. He kept one hand around her shoulder and extended a hand to her fiancé. "And you must be Rolf."

Hutch hung back, letting the others get acquainted, just happy to feast on the sight of his lover. As always after a transfusion, Starsky looked hale, pink cheeked, and happy. He was wearing a shirt with the logo "Play rugby, give blood" in red across the front and only a keen observer would notice the little bump on the upper right where the subclavian port hid under the fabric. Hutch felt incredibly blessed just then, especially when Starsky's bright blue eyes sought him out from across the room. This was his family, and he was loved.

They toured Rolf around for several hours, showing him the local sights and historical attractions. The Dodger Stadium right next to the police academy made the biggest impression, and Hutch promised to take Rolf to the next game playing there.

"I used to wish we'd had classes during baseball season," Starsky said, putting on his seatbelt for the last leg of the tour. "So I could watch 'em play, but we went there in the fall."

"He looked so handsome in his cadet uniform," Karen gushed.

"Me?" Hutch asked, starting up the car. He was beginning to feel like a chauffeur, but he enjoyed showing off some of his favorite places in the area. St. Joseph's just hadn't been one of them.

"No, Starsky! You sent Mom and Dad a picture of the two of you." She was blushing. "I kept it under my pillow."

"I never knew you had a crush on me." Starsky laughed.

"Should I consider him the competition?" Rolf asked with a gleam in his eyes.

"I was twenty, between boyfriends. I seriously thought about coming west to go to college, but my parents would have had a fit after Ken did it."

"And got a divorce. I don't know which they considered worse. They always liked Vanessa." Hutch glanced into the back seat while the car idled at a stoplight.

"Dad did, Mom didn't," Karen said.


"Really. Mom thought she was trashy for one of Duluth's oldest families."

"Learn something new every day," Hutch said in wonderment.

"Hey," Starsky said to change the subject. "Our friends have a new restaurant. It just opened up this week. Want to try it?"

Mama Bear's was a delight. Karen loved the décor, and got along great with Daisy while the men argued over who would pick up the check. Even Huggy got into the act, although he never refused to take their money, he just kept adding his unnecessary two cents into the fray. In the end, Karen took charge, and slapped her credit card into Huggy's waiting hand. He gave them the friend's discount, and drinks on the house.

It was late evening by the time they got back to the house and all were tired. Hutch had prepared the guest bedroom ahead of time, so no one stayed up for any longer than it took to get ready for bed and say good night.

Starsky was already asleep when Hutch crawled into bed. He curled up against the slender body, feeling the jut of Starsky's pelvis and vertebrae against his chest. Still far too skinny.

Starsky had been on all afternoon through the carousel ride on the Santa Monica pier, the walk through the funky Venice shops, and drive up Mulholland to show off the view of the city below. He'd never once complained about pain or fatigue, but Hutch knew a pint of blood didn't cure things. Starsky's healthy appearance was a disguise and he could only maintain it for so long. Tomorrow he'd pay for the activity by staying in bed. As long as it kept him alive, that was all Hutch cared about.

As long as it kept him alive.


"Hey, Tiger, you awake?"

"Hmmm." Starsky cleared his throat, trying to rise completely out of sleep. It was harder than he expected, and he blinked several times before Hutch's face came completely into focus. "Now I am."

"We're all leaving. Sophie just arrived, and she brought you some croissants."

"Tell Karen I'm sorry I couldn't make it . . ." Starsky lay back on the pillow, conscious only of the warm weight of Hutch's hand on his cheek and the smooth cotton of the pillowcase against his ear. He wanted to get up, he really did, but the energy just wasn't there yet. Not at this un-Godly hour. "What time is it, anyway?"

"Nine-forty five," Hutch brushed a kiss across Starsky's upper lip and started to draw away but Starsky grabbed hold of his arm and pulled him back. The next kiss carried a certain heat that could have easily been stoked into a fire given half a chance.

"Hold that thought," Hutch said with approval, tapping Starsky's mouth with his forefinger. "And we can carry on in that vein this evening."

"What about Karen and Rolf? Cause I don't wanna make 'em feel left out." Starsky finally roused himself enough to sit up, his back reminding him that any fast movements were potentially hazardous and should be avoided at all costs. As if deciding to join the party, a cramp rolled up his leg fast and sharp, only to ease off just when Starsky was about to scream. Hutch was pulling on a lightweight jacket and didn't seem to notice.

"They've got plans of their own. A buddy of Rolf's from college works for some movie studio, and I think he's giving them a backstage tour."

"Hey, didn't you tell me he had relatives out here?"

"His parents are dead, but his younger brother Gunner owns a vineyard up in the Napa Valley."

"Nice." Starsky looked Hutch up and down, taking in the pressed cream-colored slacks and the Izod shirt with narrow blue and navy stripes. "You're really going golfing?"

"Rolf enjoys the sport--and I used to be a good player, once upon a time. Daisy and Karen are going shopping at that big new mall with the Nordstrom's, and we'll all meet for lunch."

"Last time you golfed, we were on that voodoo island." Starsky cleared his throat again, but the morning cough that plagued him pushed its way out with a vengeance. "Beware of any alligator-filled water traps."

"Cover your mouth when you say that, Papa Theodore." Hutch lingered, looking over at Starsky with such longing, Starsky felt a resulting stirring in his groin.

"Get out of here!" Starsky insisted before he was lost in those eyes.

As Hutch left, Starsky could hear him giving Sophie last minute instructions, and joking with his sister. He followed the sound of that beloved voice across the living room, almost mourning the loss when then the front door closed behind Karen, Rolf and Hutch.

God! What that man did to him. Starsky slid a hand into his boxers, grasping onto his penis with a sigh of amazement. He was totally hard, just from Hutch's look and the sound of his voice. As long as Sophie stayed in the kitchen for a short time longer, he might get some use out of this present Hutch had left him.

It felt decadent, almost sinful, to be masturbating like this. He stroked himself slowly at first, but with a delicious friction that increased his respiratory rate until he was panting. If he coughed again, Sophie would come running, and he didn't want that. Clamping his lips tightly, Starsky pushed back against the pillows, a vision of Hutch plastered on his closed eyelids. Hutch, standing in a shaft of sunlight, his hair a halo blaze around his head, shoulders broad and firm, abdomen tanned and strong, and his cock, perfection.

Forgetting all his petty aches, Starsky gave in to his passion and came, tiny shivers of joy skittering over his body. He lay back, gasping, which turned into coughing, which hurt, but he didn't care, because he hadn't had a solitary moment like that in . . . There hadn't been a time. Not that he could remember, anyway. Weird just how Hutch could arouse him so easily. The only problem was if Starsky couldn't get it up a second time when Hutch returned. Was that possible? His staying power was erratic, but he'd noticed that every time he got blood, he got horny. Did the transfusion really have some wonderful erotic power? He'd have to test out his theory tonight, which meant that he really did need to get plenty of rest before then.

Sophie poked her head in shortly afterwards, concerned about his breathing rate and coughing, but Starsky convinced her that a couple of puffs on his inhaler and a steamy hot shower would fix him right up.

Yes, he was just fine, great in fact.

Yes, he'd like croissants with boysenberry jam for breakfast. With a side of painkillers and peppermint tea.


"I love looking at all these pictures. They tell so much about people." Karen picked up the silver framed photo of Starsky and Hutch wearing matching tuxedos next to Huggy and Daisy. Starsky was of the opinion that he looked like a geek because of the bow tie, but Hutch had told him he looked like a stud, and the matter was closed. Karen inhaled with a tiny smile of happiness. "You got married, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Starsky shrugged, embarrassed that they hadn't told her, or even invited her.

"Then congratulations are in order. We should have champagne." She reverently placed the picture back amongst the others.

"Thank you. I thought Hutch told you."

"He told me you were in a wedding, not that it was yours."

"Not ours, exactly. It was kind of a surprise. A secret, I guess. Huggy and Daisy wanted us to share their day with them, even though Hutch and me got rings back at Christmas time."

"That I knew about." She picked up a few more pictures, including one of the few Starsky had allowed taken of him while he was in the hospital. Hutch was perched on the bed with his arm around Starsky so that the fingers of their left hands were interlocked, the gold rings touching. Mika had taken it just after Chanukah, when Starsky's hair had started to grow back and he wasn't on chemo yet. "Ken asked me about settings and stuff. About what to say to our dad."

"You didn't tell him, did you?" Starsky asked in alarm. Richard Hutchinson had always been polite, if stiff and formal around him, but neither he nor Hutch had any illusions about what the man would think about their union. "I don't want to start any tensions this late in the game."

"No, he doesn't know. At least I don't think so."

"What about you?" Starsky asked curiously. He'd always enjoyed Karen's company. She was intelligent, good-hearted and funny, very much like her older brother, but with that occasional sternness that was apparently a genetic trait in the Hutchinson family.

"Starsky, I sent you the dishes from my first non-marriage, remember? Nobody ever had to tell me about you two." She sat down on the couch beside him, to his left, and patted his truncated thigh. For once, Starsky didn't feel at all self-conscious about it or concerned about reactions to his amputation. Karen accepted him totally, just like Hutch did. "I think you and Hutch were made for each other, and that doesn't happen very often in life."


"And you're incredibly brave to be able to recognize it in each other. Not everyone could."

Starsky covered her hand with his own, curious about what she had said. "You and Rolf seem really happy."

"We are." Karen grinned, pointing out the sliding glass door to where Hutch and Rolf were grilling steaks on a barbecue. "He fits me, I think. But it wasn't love at first sight, or anything. I had to make myself see something in him, on the first date. He's sensible, and safe. I always wanted the bad boys, wild boys with dark hair and leather jackets who drove fast cars."


"I did keep your picture under my pillow."

"Y'know, I mighta gone out with you in those days, if you hadn't been Hutch's sister."

"And I would have said yes. You went to my wedding to Eddie. He was all bad boy."

"I thought your mother would bust a gut sitting up there at the main table when he told that story about meeting you in a bar and drinking tequila shots to score a date with you."

"Those were the good old, bad old days," Karen agreed, rolling her eyes. "Mom hated him. Dad only tolerated him because he had loads of inherited money."

"Sounds like you and Hutch both picked spouses to piss your parents off."

"There could be some truth in that." She held two fingers up with barely an inch between them. "A little. But Ken picked the girl my parents should have liked, and I picked the boy I knew they'd hate."

"Now it's the other way around," Starsky said softly, watching the chefs fuss over the meat. The hearty smell of cooked beef was wafting in from the yard, and he was getting very hungry.

"No, not ever. If my dad is too blind to see how good you are for Ken, it's his loss. Not ever yours."

"I'm just . . .worried," Starsky confessed. "I can feel it inside myself, Karen. There's not a whole lot of time left. I'm worried what will happen to Hutch when he's . . . alone."

"Starsky, he won't have you in the flesh, but he'll never be alone." Karen gave him a sisterly kiss on the cheek and Starsky wished he'd shaved. His cheek was whiskery. "Your spirit will reside in his heart for all time, of that I'm sure. And I won't let him get lost in the grief."

"Thank you," Starsky said sincerely. He didn't know what he had done right to find the Hutchinsons, but they were a special breed, and he was proud to be a part of the clan.

"You need a shave." Karen used her thumb to wipe the lipstick off his cheek, her blue eyes twinkling. "Daisy convinced me to buy a new shade of lipstick and it really leaves a mark."

"Kissing other men, are you?" Rolf carried the platter of perfectly grilled steaks in and placed it on the dolphin table. He pointed to his own cheek. "Plant one right here, woman."

"Maybe I will, and maybe I won't," Karen said coyly. "What do I get in return?"

"The love of a hard working man, who made sure your steak was medium well done even though the rest of us wanted rare."

"How could I resist?" Karen fluttered her hand in the air, and bussed her man on the mouth instead of the cheek. She laughed when he ended up with a perfect pink lip print on his larger lips. "Why do I get the urge to watch Rocky Horror Picture Show now?"

"Let's do the Time Warp again!" Starsky stood up, waggling his hips when Karen sang the refrain.

"Put your hands on your hips and your knees in tight! Do the pelvic thrust, it really drives 'em in-sane!" She grabbed Rolf and danced him around in a circle until they were both giggling.

Hutch made his entrance with the grilled corn on the cob, and Starsky sang, "Take a jump to the left . . ."

"And a jump to the right . . ." Hutch finished shaking a foil wrapped cob like a maraca, and they all chorused "Let's do the Time Warp again!"

The mood was merry as they completed the preparations for the meal. Starsky grabbed up his crutches to find plates and cutlery. It seemed weirdly fitting to use the white china with the gold trim that Karen had gifted them, and he laboriously transferred the plates out of the china cabinet and onto the table. By the time he had finished with the place settings, Hutch had brought the food over, and Karen tossed a green salad. The aroma of garlic bread permeated the room and Starsky rescued it just in time before it turned into garlic bread briquettes. They were having an early dinner before Rolf and Karen met with the assistant director for a new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, to watch a night shooting.

"You have a great sister," Starsky said once their houseguests were gone.

"I do." Hutch collapsed onto the couch, drawing the afghan over them. "I haven't golfed in way too long. I'm worn out."

"And sunburned." Starsky pressed Hutch's overly pink nose. "What were you telling me just the other day about sun screen?"

"Hey, it's all part of the package. Shirts with little alligators or polo ponies, golf clubs, and a pink nose."

Starsky kissed him gently on the burn, with many more kisses for all the other parts of his face. Hutch returned the favor, kissing Starsky first on the lips and then on each eyelid. Their romancing was languid and easy, something so familiar and yet special that it didn't need to be rushed. They savored every touch, every remembered body part as the kisses continued. Starsky had melted into Hutch because it was becoming too hard to kiss and breathe simultaneously, letting Hutch continue kissing down his torso, lovingly caressing each inch of skin.

The feel of those soft lips pressed against his flesh was so sweet, it sent him back to their first night when they had admitted their love and then found themselves not quite sure how to go about having sex with another man. Hutch had untied the terry cloth robe Starsky was wearing, and knelt, bestowing a kiss on the ugliest of the recently healed scars on Starsky's chest. It had been as if that kiss knit something deep inside that Starsky hadn't realized needed to be restored. He'd thought he loved Hutch truly, but with that kiss his love had multiplied one hundred fold, and they'd spent the rest of the night curled together, learning what it was to love each other. Sex hadn't ever entered into it that first night. Starsky had been fragile and Hutch more careful than any man could ever be. It wasn't until Starsky had put his foot down a few days later that Hutch even consented to frottage and hand jobs. He'd been cautious about hurting Starsky then, and he was obviously still being cautious.

"Hey," Starsky slipped his fingers through Hutch's pale hair, giving the strands the tiniest of tugs. "What gives?"

"You don't like my technique?" Hutch had his head in Starsky's lap, licking at his belly button. It tickled.

"I love your technique, just wondered if we were going to do anything else?"

"You up for it?"

"You have to ask? It must be stuck half way up your ear."

Hutch grinned, coming up on his elbows to peer at the erection in Starsky's jeans. "I wondered what was pressing on my eardrum."

"That's ear wax." Starsky wiggled so that his cock would regain the attention it so richly deserved. He wouldn't even admit it aloud, but he was tired--and he'd done very little all day. But after his solo performance in the morning, he wanted sex with Hutch in the worst way. A joining, a manifestation of their love to keep him going.

"Hmm, I think this merits some investigation." Hutch looped the waistband button out of Starsky's jeans and pulled down the zipper. "Little Davey looks happy to see me."

"Y'know he gets lonely." Starsky tugged at Hutch's upper arms, urging him back up on the couch. "C'mon, let your friend come out and play."

"Like this?" Hutch divested himself of his pants, and then sprawled back on the sofa with one long leg stretched the full length so that his toes rapped on Starsky's groin, and the other foot hung down to graze the carpet. He looked more than ready to play, his penis jutting up, thick and hard.

Untangling himself from the foot in his lap, Starsky crawled on his hands and knee toward Hutch, until their bodies were aligned, cocks rubbing deliciously together. The sensation of those two strong shafts brushing back and forth sent shivers up Starsky's spine, his whole body starting to tremble in anticipation. Below him, Hutch was breathing heavily, his big hands holding onto Starsky's arms as if he could never let go. Starsky latched onto Hutch's mouth, feeling his partner's breath fill him as their sweat slicked bodies moved faster and faster. Starsky felt Hutch's orgasm as if it were his own, the shuddering vibrations like the champagne bubbles after the cork has been popped. Hutch's exuberant shout of completion brought on Starsky's climax, and he sank onto his lover's body, thoroughly spent.

"That's much better than crab," Starsky said when he could speak again.

"Huh?" Hutch interlaced his fingers behind Starsky's neck, keeping him there.

"Remember I thought maybe if I visualized it hard enough, crab would make everything better?" Starsky kissed the chest so close to his cheek.


"I was wrong. Shoulda put my money on sex all along."


Hutch decided on the long drive from Dahlia Lane to Anaheim that the only way he was going to survive a day in Disneyland with Starsky was to forget the past, ignore the future, and live absolutely for the present. The fact that Starsky was in a wheelchair could be explained in so many ways, it had nothing to do with a diagnosis of cancer. In fact, they saw a teenager in a wheelchair, missing both feet, just as they walked up to the ticket booth. The tinkly sound of Mickey music was already starting to weave its magical spell and the boy, wearing a "Rock the Night Away with Mickey Mouse" t-shirt waved at his fellow wheelchair compatriot as his parents and older brother guided him away. Starsky waved back with a grin. Hutch found, with surprise, that he didn't have the least interest in why the boy might be missing his feet. It was just a fact of life.

Karen and Rolf wanted to do and try everything in the park. They posed with Mickey Mouse in front of the Hall of Presidents, and immediately went into the first millinery shop on the street to purchase bride and groom mouse ears. The slight wind made the little veil on the crown of Karen's chapeau billow out like a sail on the open sea.

From then on, there was no stopping the four of them. They explored each of the lands, starting with Adventureland and going counterclockwise. Starsky shook his head minutely at the Swiss Family Treehouse, the location of their first kiss in Disneyland last October, and Hutch understood intuitively. He didn't want to alter the perfection of last time.

Starsky's eyes lit with anticipation at entrance to the Pirates of the Caribbean and he sang along to the music as they waited for their turn in one of the low-slung boats. As Starsky had predicted, the wheelchair got them in front of the line in no time, and they ran into Caleb, boy they'd seen at the ticket counter. He joined his family in the boat ahead of the Starsky/Hutchinson/Von Buchau craft.

As their boat traveled along on its mechanized track past the huge ships belching cannon fire at one another, Hutch felt a warm hand slide into his. "Exciting, isn't it?"

"With you." Hutch nodded, drinking in the joy in those eyes. In the gloom of the ride, he couldn't see how astonishingly blue Starsky's eyes were, but the simulated fire and explosions were reflected there, giving him a weirdly crazed look. Hutch shuddered, and Starsky brought up one hand as if he were going to whisper something in Hutch's ear, and kissed him on the hard curve of his jaw.

"Yo ho, yo ho. A pirate's life for me!" chorused the soundtrack, and no one gasped or pointed out two men kissing in front of the pirates ransacking the island village. Hutch thought he'd associate the boisterous pirate song with Starsky's kisses for the rest of his life.

They feasted on French dip sandwiches for lunch, took in the Golden Horseshoe Review with its can-can dancing saloon girls and corny jokes, and rode on the monorail high up over the park. Whenever it was his turn to choose a ride, Hutch found himself steering towards the sedate, and slow, to give himself time to relish each moment with Starsky.

Starsky, of course, went for the exact opposite, as if flaunting his good time in the face of his illness, one last hurrah before the final round-up. He and Rolf paired up on the Matterhorn, leaving the Hutchinson siblings on solid ground for five minutes.

"You watch him every second," Karen observed, adjusting her Bridal ears for the umpteenth time. "Like you're afraid you won't see him again." She leaned her head against her brother's shoulder and he slipped an arm around her. "He's not going to last the summer, is he?"

"Is it that obvious?" The minute she'd asked, his throat had tightened up so that he wasn't even sure he could speak without breaking down. The last thing he wanted to do was bawl in front of the Matterhorn with half the world passing by.

"That you love him? Yes." She shaded her eyes, looking up at the white, artificial mountain and pointed out Starsky and Rolf whizzing by in their little sled. "That he's so sick? Not really. He's so happy today, when the two of you look at each other you light up. I'm not sure I even look at Rolf that way."

"You do," Hutch assured her. "Starsky's throwing me a birthday party." He gulped, afraid to even voice his anguish. It was difficult to get any words out, standing there in the bright sunlight, with children laughing, and a lively polka from Snow White playing on the sound system. He'd vowed that he wouldn't think about any of this, but Karen would go and bring it up. "In August. He'll still be alive in August."

"Good," Karen said, and then the ride was over and Rolf was helping Starsky climb back into his wheelchair.

Hutch watched them, feeling like he was on the wrong side of a telescope. Starsky looked tiny sitting there, describing the ride to Karen with animated gestures that illustrated the swooping rush of the sled down roller coaster track.

"Hey, Hutch!" Starsky called, and Hutch forcibly brought himself back to the present. This was June, August was months away, and very far in the future. "Karen and Rolf want to go on Small World, but I've had my fill of big-eyed singing dolls. Want to get some ice cream?" Starsky licked his lips. "With chocolate sprinkles."

"Sure." And everything was right again. Starsky was smiling at him but his eyes saw right through Hutch. Starsky understood the internal battles he was waging, because Starsky was in the heat of the fray himself. Just like soldiers in the field, they pretended that the enemy wasn't standing in their midst and continued on, laughing and joking because that was the only way to survive.

Hutch liked the Carnation ice cream parlor with it's white metal chairs and red striped wallpaper. It represented a simpler time when dating was sharing two straws in one soda, and holding hands under a gibbous moon. There had been a place back in Duluth like this, and he was suddenly sad that it had closed when he was in high school before he could take Starsky there for a sundae. What would it have been like to have known Starsky in high school? Maybe go dutch on a soda, and talk about midterms. They wouldn't have been lovers, that was for certain. He'd never even heard of two guys doing it back then. Or if he had, it was discussed with derision and revulsion, a distortion of the pure love that only a man and woman could share.

So, no, he didn't want to revisit that past. Here in the now he had love, and happiness, and ice cream. That was all that he needed.

"You want a napkin?" Starsky wiped something sticky off Hutch's upper lip. "You're such a slob."

"Speak for yourself." Hutch pointed to a round drop of chocolate right in the center of Mickey Mouse's forehead on the front of Starsky's shirt.

"Are you okay, Hutch?"

"We're in Disneyland. Of course I'm okay."

"I think you'd prefer to be on some deserted island, with a rum drink, and palm trees swaying in the breeze."

"That sounds great. When do we leave?" He could see the white sand, hear the soft roar of the waves coming into shore, and feel the heat of the tropical sun. It was the visualization Starsky used to use just after the Gunther shooting, when he was trying to leave all pain aside and relax. That was their personal code to each other, to loosen up and take it easy. "You'd better be there, too."

"I'll never leave you, Hutch."

"Yes, you will."

"Nah." Starsky ate a spoonful of melting ice cream. "I'm going to haunt you all the rest of your life, just like those ghosts that sit with you in the Haunted Mansion cars. I'll be right next to you all the time."

"Karen said just about the same thing about you, except without the Haunted Mansion embellishments."

"That you can't get rid of me so easily?" Starsky grinned, and winked.

"Don't die," Hutch said in a tiny voice, sure that he would never make it alone without this incredible man by his side.

"Don't you die," Starsky said fiercely, grabbing his hand, and the noisy restaurant faded into insignificance. They could have been alone on that island for all notice Hutch took of his surroundings. There was nothing to see, to feel, to love, but Starsky. "Don't let this break you down, Hutch. I know how bad it's gonna be, I got a little of that when you were so sick with the plague. It tears you up inside. But you got to live, understand me? You got to live for both of us, and get that doctor degree. You promise me?" When Hutch didn't answer, because the tears in his throat were choking him, Starsky tightened his grip on their clasped hands. "You promise me?"

"I promise."


The lovebirds flew North two days later to visit the vineyards of Napa, and it wasn't a moment too soon for Starsky. He'd enjoyed their visit immensely, Karen and Rolf made a great couple, and they were fun to pal around with, but Starsky was beyond exhausted. It was sobering to realize that even after being topped up with rich, red blood cells he didn't have the stamina of an asthmatic sixty year old. He could feel Hutch watching him, feel Hutch looking for signs of his failing health, and wanted to hide them at all costs. That was exhausting, too, and there was no reason to do it except pride. Starsky just didn't want to appear weak in front of his friends. As it was, Hutch was most often the sole witness to his illness, and Starsky hated putting his best friend and lover in the position of caretaker. They had both had their share of nursing the other back to health during their heyday as cops, but this was different. This was permanent.

The fact of the matter was, Starsky was tired of everything; tired of being the invalid, tired of having to consider his health every time he wanted to enjoy himself. Disneyland had been great fun, but he'd ignored every sign that his body had thrown at him and, just like the last time, paid for it dearly. It wasn't fair that fun came with such a price, and as a result, he was surly to those around him. If Hutch was kind, Starsky wanted to throw something at him. If Hutch was in a foul mood, Starsky's was fouler. They circled one another like combatants who hadn't taken the first swing yet.

"Let Sophie do that," Starsky said when Hutch brought out the supplies to flush his IV port with heparin. This had to be done every eight hours to keep the IV patent, but he didn't like it. He didn't like the two Morphine tablets sitting on the table beside his neglected breakfast. He didn't like giving in that easily.

"You want it to clot off?" Hutch irritably pushed his hand away, flipped up Starsky's shirt, and cleaned off the little rubber port sutured into his chest with an alcohol wipe. "Take the damned pills. You've been hurting for over an hour, anyone can see it, Starsky."

"Get away, Hutch!" Starsky pushed back with all his strength, which wasn't very much at that point, since he had been in considerable pain for most of the morning. Actually, far longer than the hour Hutch had mentioned. "You don't even have the decency to ask first, before pulling off my clothes?"

"Do you want this, or not?" Hutch snatched up the morphine with a savage grunt. "Because, you know what? I've just about had it this morning. You shuffle out, won't eat, won't take care of yourself . . .God, I wish I had somewhere to go right now because I'd like to get away from here."

"You're the one who quit his job," Starsky ground out through teeth gritted against the pain in his back. If he could have gotten up and walked right then, he would have. Right out the front door. Good thing Karen and Rolf had decided not to swing back through Southern California before flying back to Duluth, because Starsky wasn't sure they'd survive the mine fields that had suddenly cropped up all through the house on Dahlia Lane. Their houseguests had been gone less than a week and all scale war had broken out in their absence. It was as if without relatives around to deflect their frustrations with each other, and the specter of illness, Starsky and Hutch could no longer talk. Hutch had begun to resent his increased burden, and Starsky equally resented being that burden. Each little procedure that Hutch had to do to keep Starsky going through the day, each household chore that fell more and more on Hutch's shoulders rankled. The tender scene at the ice cream parlor seemed like a half-dreamed fairy tale rather than a reaffirming of their bond.

Hutch put the Morphine back into the bottle, tidied up the medical supplies, and tucked them back into the shoebox marked Starsky's stuff with the short, jerky movements of a robot completing a programmed routine.

Starsky sat, pretending his back didn't feel like there was a knife sticking out midway between his lungs and his tailbone. It hurt to breathe, but a great deal of that pain was of his own making. He knew he was pushing Hutch away, just as he had in the very beginning last September, but there were whole chunks of time where he didn't know how to do anything else. He wanted to curl up and shut out the world one moment, and just as abruptly, wanted Hutch wrapped around his body the next. If it was making him crazy, what was it doing to Hutch? The Hutch who slipped junkies an extra twenty for food, knowing full well it would be shot straight into a vein. The Hutch who had wanted to fill a former girlfriend's room with red balloons to give turn fantasy into reality. That Hutch was bleeding from the heart he wore on the outside of his skin.

After pouring himself two fingers of Kentucky sipping whiskey from the bottle they kept in their china cabinet for guests, Hutch sat down heavily in the armchair. It was eleven o'clock in the morning, and Hutch was drinking the hard stuff. Usually, the only thing either of them indulged in was beer unless there was a party going on. This was definitely out of the realm of any party Starsky ever wanted to attend. The pungent smell of whiskey permeated the room and he wrinkled his nose, slightly nauseated. He really should have eaten the toast Hutch made for him.

Was it possible that just the fumes could cause drunkenness by osmosis? Starsky was beginning to feel slightly irrational without a single drop in his system. The thought that Hutch was drinking and the sun wasn't even past the yardarm was very distracting.

Just exactly what was a yardarm, anyway? And why wait until the sun was that high to imbibe? He didn't begrudge Hutch the liquid painkiller in the slightest, just watched in fascination as the liquor disappeared into that tight-lipped mouth, the Adam's apple in the long throat moving up and down as Hutch swallowed. The room was otherwise silent except for the sound of the glass tumbler hitting the dolphin table with a hard clank. Even the two cats had made themselves scarce.

"Sometimes, I lay in bed at night and think that if I had dragged you to the doctor that first time I felt the lump behind your knee-- a year ago, for Christ's sake, Starsky! A year ago, because it was before my birthday, I think." Hutch took a breath, his guilt palpable. "If I had insisted . . .would that have changed things?" He touched the empty glass, dabbing at a stray trickle of whiskey on the side. "I have long ago resigned myself that I cannot save the world--or even David Starsky from the fates, but would one month have mattered?' His mouth was twisted into an ugly line, and he ground the flat of his hand into his forehead in a manner that indicated that Hutch had one doozy of a headache. "So, I convince myself that if . . .If the surgeons had taken your leg then. Chemoed the cancer cells out of your body right away, you'd be in remission right now. Clean slate, on the way to the five year cure statistic."

"Hutch," Starsky started, not sure what he wanted to say, but just to stop this distorted version of his life from continuing.

"And you would hate me." Brittle pain lanced his words with honesty. Starsky couldn't deny a thing.

"You'd have left me because I forced you into something you didn't want--denied you that little nugget of hope you held onto last fall that maybe, just maybe if they didn't take your leg, you could get back on the force."

Starsky ardently wished there was still enough whiskey in that bottle to wash away the sorrow in his heart. His back didn't hurt as much his soul did.

Hutch poured himself another splash, downed it, and then upended the bottle one last time. As if able to read Starsky's thoughts, Hutch handed the sticky glass over, his hand shaking just enough to make tiny wavelets in the whiskey.

"You don't want morphine, take this."

"I would never hate you." Starsky accepted the glass, but just held it, staring into the empathetic depths, wondering if he could discern the future there. Nothing else made any sense. He couldn't drink the stuff, it would have simply come back up a half hour later and he'd feel even more shitty in the aftermath. Peppermint tea, or fennel, those might stay down, but he wasn't even sure about that. He wasn't sure about anything.

"This disease is inside me, Hutch, but it's eating us both alive, and I don't know how to fix things. You think I don't wanna change things? I've laid awake, too. God's probably had just about all he can take from one puny ex-cop in Los Angeles. I bargain, and I beg, and I . . .visualize those fucking cancer cells out of me, picking out each one like they was lice and I'm the exterminator." He set the glass on the table, but his hand was shaking more than Hutch's had and the heavy tumbler slipped, smashing on the floor so that the heavy scent of whiskey fumigated the whole house. Starsky gagged, not sure he could get his rebellious stomach under control. "Nothing worked, did it?"

"No." Hutch got up to go into the kitchen, but stood unmoving, his hands limp at his sides. "I wanted to save you, Starsk. That's why I do this stuff--giving you the drugs and learning everything the nurses do, so that I can save you."

"I never expected you to save me, Hutch. That's not your job."

"Then what is it? Can you tell me that, huh? Because I'm confused here."

"You can be the doctor to somebody else. Save them." Starsky stood on a none-too-steady leg, holding tightly to the back of the couch for support, and Hutch was surrounding him, hugging him, part of him. "Just love me."

Sophie knocked, calling out gaily in her French accent, and opened the door with her own key, coming upon the two of them with a slight gasp. "David, Monsieur Ken, are you all right?" she asked in concern.

"Yeah, I think so," Starsky said softly, wiping away the tears that wet his face. Hutch was heavy against him, but they were both still standing. How much longer, Starsky wasn't sure, because he was barely propping Hutch up now. His back felt like it was made of balsa wood and beginning to splinter right down the middle. "Could you make some tea? A pot and something sweet, maybe? And then I need some morphine."

"D'accord." She nodded, all nurse. Without asking, she helped ease an unresisting Hutch onto the couch. Starsky dropped instantly, tired beyond anything he'd experienced before. Sophie whisked the afghan around them both, and had her list of tasks completed in minutes.

Starsky closed his eyes when the morphine spread through him, like a sweet gift of relief from the hurt. He often wondered if this was how Hutch had felt when he'd been on the heroin, but hadn't had the courage to ask. All the reading he'd done just after Hutch's forced addiction reported that medical needs, and what the books called recreational uses, were not only fundamentally different, but psychologically different. He knew he was most probably hooked on morphine. He was needing it daily now, and had been using it sporadically since his diagnosis. But he didn't crave it when the dose wore off, he just hurt worse. At every appointment, John Davies told him that relief of pain was of the utmost importance for Starsky to continue daily living, but the niggling fact that he was now chained to the drug-cousin of the horse that had once kept Hutch enslaved was galling.

"Hutch?" Starsky whispered after Sophie had delivered the tea and an entire box of Oreos. Hutch had lain curled on his side against the sofa cushions for the last five minutes without any indication that he was amongst the living. "You in there?"

"I'm sorry." Hutch said, grimacing before he opened his eyes, hunching his shoulders and rotating his neck to get out the kinks. He looked over at Starsky with such sadness and embarrassment, the exhaustion turning his normally crystal blue eyes a pale, murky gray.

"For what?" Starsky found that if he moved very slowly, he could pour tea and stir in sugar without a twinge.

"Flaking out on you. I shouldn't have done it."

"You need to get away." Starsky raised the cup to his lips, the savory scent of fennel bracing. It was too hot to drink, so he just let the steam waft around his head.

Hutch very nearly poured tea over his hand, hissing when a few hot drops touched his skin. "Get away? That's impossible."

"You have a car. How is it impossible?"

"Because . . ." Hutch stared at him as if he were insane, and slurped up some tea. He struggled for a moment with his thoughts, as if throwing out the first emotional reasons for much more rational ones. "You need me. I can't possibly leave, not right now."

Because he was afraid that death was imminent, Starsky understood that, even if it wasn't voiced. "Well then, I'm gonna call either Nick or Karen to come back, 'cause things have gotten really tense since everybody left."

"Not Nick," Hutch said, the left corner of his mouth rising in what almost looked like a smile. Starsky had missed that smile.

"I could put my foot down and insist."

The other side of Hutch's mouth raised, just a tiny bit. He blew over the top of his tea and took a sip. "Would that be the right foot or the invisible left one?"

"What good would stomping an invisible foot do?" Starsky was so happy to have them teasing one another he could have kept it up all day. "Which brings up the philosophical question, if you stomp your foot in the woods and there's nobody around, does it make a sound?"

"You'd hear it."

"Huh?" Starsky ate two Oreos in a row, not even bothering to unscrew the cookies to get to the creamy center first. The tea had soothed his belly and he was hungry now. Frequently, morphine left him even more nauseated, but today there was just wonderful relief.

"If you stomped your foot in the woods, you'd be there, so you would hear it."


"Starsk, I can't leave you in a lurch, there's too much to do."

"Sophie and Mick would come every day. You could get away for a while, to some deserted island."

"And what would I do off in NeverNeverland?"

"Relax. I dunno, read a book." Starsky touched him, feeling the rock hard muscles in his shoulders. He wasn't sure how much longer either of them were going to hold out. The cancer was taking too much away.

"Time for that later," Hutch said, his eyes shuttered and pensive. He took a cookie, removed the top layer, and held out the creamy center to Starsky. "I never liked the lard."

"The best part." Starsky scraped his teeth across the crisp chocolate cookie, the nearness of Hutch's hand holding the cookie to his mouth a soothing balm for his soul. The sugary sweet almost-oily taste of the cream coated his mouth, and he had to take a drink of tea to wash it down. "Please, Hutch, think about it? Three days alone, when have you had that lately?"

"When you were in the hospital for three months. I was alone then," Hutch said, and the matter was closed.


Gripping the pillowcase, Starsky bit down hard on his bottom lip, trying not to wake Hutch, but it was no use. A fierce, monstrous pain ripped into his spine, almost severing him in half. He couldn't move from the weight of it holding him against the mattress. Screams piled up under his tongue, invisible but thick enough to fill his mouth, begging for release. He couldn't help crying out, ashamed that he was so weak, and embarrassed that he had to wake Hutch because he couldn't lift his arms up high enough to get the bottle of pills lying so close by on the nightstand.

Hutch woke instantly. Starsky wasn't surprised, just saddened that he'd interrupted another night's sleep. He barely acknowledged his partner turning on the light, and rubbing his back because every time the mattress jostled him, every tiny press of Hutch's hand on his skin, brought more agony.

Two capsules, sips of water, and then waiting the dragging, endless minutes for them to take effect.

Aware that Hutch must be wanting some sign that things were progressing, getting better, Starsky made an attempt at sitting up. Claws sank into his backbone, slitting the flesh off his back and plucking out each vertebrae separately before placing them in backwards, upside down, and any way but the way they should fit.

It hurt so bad Starsky could barely feel the press of Hutch's hand on his hip, holding him close. When he could focus, Starsky looked up, just able to locate Hutch's face through the red/gray haze, and he shook his head desperately, not wanting what was coming next. He could sense the panic in Hutch, could smell the stink of it in the hot, dry air but couldn't change the outcome. This was the worst it had been, and required the big guns.

"Ssh," Hutch crooned, lying Starsky onto his right side. In the little parts of him that didn't hurt, Starsky anticipated what usually came when he was in this position. The slippery glide of a finger down the swell of his buttocks and then the sharp, almost pain of penetration, the joyful swell as his body accepted Hutch in. But no, what came instead was all the more terrible and sweeter than even that could be.

Hutch depressed the plunger of the syringe, injecting the morphine straight into the subclavian port, releasing the languid sleep of poppies. Starsky succumbed, even though he didn't want to. He wanted to apologize for scaring Hutch, for ending up like this. The drug unmoored him, sending him drifting away to another shore where no one waited for him, and he wept with sadness.

Someone was crying.

Starsky listened, trying to identify the person weeping, but he didn't recognize the voice. Instead he moved, very cautiously and slowly, waiting for the monster to finish dismantling his spine. Every movement seemed laboriously slow, like swimming through a pool of molasses, and it took Starsky some time to understand that he hadn't really moved at all, just thought about it. But nothing hurt that way.

The crying had ended, replaced by an overly loud commercial for the Pillsbury Doughboy's latest breakfast rolls.

Starsky rubbed his eyes, opening them to see a woman proclaiming her whites to be the whitest whites.

Huggy Bear was sitting on the end of the bed eating potato chips, his burgundy slacks so close a color to the crumpled bedspread that Starsky couldn't quite distinguish one from the other. The bag of chips crinkled and cracked like static in the air.

"What're you watching?" Starsky asked. His voice worked. He felt like he was stuffed with cotton, dopey and half drunk from all the drugs he'd taken earlier. Right at this glorious moment, his back didn't hurt one iota, and that was such a wondrous thing that he laughed. The sound echoed against the windowpanes and bounced back at him.

"So you woke up." Huggy turned around, jostling the bed a little. Starsky tensed, his back muscles clenching up, but the resulting cramp was so minor he relaxed, freed from the morning's attacker.

"Had to eventually." Starsky didn't want to catalogue his aches and pains, so he looked back at the TV. The colors were off, everyone looking remarkably too red and smeary. "What movie is this?"

"Brian's Song."

"Kind of ironic under the circumstances, don't you think?"

The actor playing Gale Sayers jogged around a weirdly sloped football field looking like he might pitch forward at any moment from the angle, while a bridge of poignant, anguished music swelled before the next scene.

"Not really. You ain't no Italian football player, and Blondie sure as heck ain't a legendary running back for the Chicago Bears," Huggy snorted. "On the other hand, you do have curly hair and like pizza."

"And I got cancer," Starsky said bluntly. He hadn't had pizza in a long time. If he weren't nauseated as hell from the morphine, pizza would have sounded good. Just like old times.

"That, too." Huggy sat watching the movie, apparently not up to his usual give and take. Time walked across the bed, dappled in afternoon sun.

Starsky found the screen too bright. Coming in on the middle, the story was too hard to follow, even though he'd seen it before. He closed his eyes, trying to decide if he could chance a glass of water on his dicey stomach. "Where's Hutch?"

"Star-sky." Putting an accent on the downbeat, Huggy transformed the name into a jazz piece, sharp and terse. "Remember, he had errands today. I'm your Huggy of all work until Mrs. Saint Claire can make it in. She called to say she was running late."

"I slept through the phone ringing?" Starsky peered blearily at the clock. He couldn't remember when the pain had grabbed hold, but all of the morning had passed. It was nearly one.

"You slept through me comin', Hutch going, your unholy terror of a misnamed cat knockin' a glass on to the kitchen floor, and the garbage truck rumbling through here like this was a remake of Apocalypse Now, and Martin Sheen just got picked up by platoon of Hueys."

"Wrong movie," Starsky groused.

"You want any of the fine cuisine my wife sent over? She made you crab cream soup, special."

"Oh, no." Starsky felt the spasm in his throat, but thwarted his body's urge to hurl. Hardly a trade off when he was too sick to enjoy the absence of pain. "You gonna to watch the whole movie?"

"It's almost over."

"You know how it ends."

"Yeah, but it's the journey that's important, Starsky." Huggy's voice meandered in and out of Starsky's consciousness like ribbons of sound. Sometimes he could almost see the words printed up on the ceiling, spelling out truths. "Two guys, friends to the end. It's a classic."

Starsky didn't want to see Brian Piccolo die again. He dreamed the movie ended differently after countless reruns. At long last, the two actors just refused to play out the death scene one more time. They pushed back the pizza boxes, donned their football helmets and went out to play ball.


Hutch let Huggy out, saying good-by in a voice that he hoped sounded normal. All day he'd had to wear a façade, pretending that nothing was out of the ordinary as he went about his errands. Starsky was not dying. Hutch hadn't run out on his lover because he was too scared to be there when he passed on.

What a coward. He should have stayed. To hell with filing teaching plans for next semester and delivering papers to the lawyers. All this could have waited another day when Starsky didn't need him so much.

What a day for Sophie to have come down with a case of bad luck herself. She'd called twice, first when she managed to get off the freeway after a big rig jack knifed and stopped traffic cold for two hours, and then after the car accident she got into trying to take surface streets to get to Dahlia. So, Huggy had stayed the afternoon.

Hutch sat down on the edge of the bed watching Starsky sleep. He remembered after the Gunther shooting when he'd do this for hours, afraid to look away in case Starsky stopped cold in between one inhalation and the next. How much longer? Had this morning been an omen of things to come?

Starsky gave a soft sigh, his mobile face flickering to life as he surfaced out of sleep, and opened his eyes. Hutch looked at him gravely, then reached out to push stray curls off Starsky's sweaty forehead. "You look hot."

"No fever, doc. Just too many covers." Starsky pushed at the bedclothes, but didn't have much success in moving them away until Hutch stood and flipped the coverlet to the end of the bed. "Thirsty." Starsky looked around for some water.

"I'm not surprised. You've been asleep all day." Hutch provided a cup of water from the bathroom sink. "How's your back?

"Average." Starsky drained the cup and held it up for seconds.

Wavering on a thin line between being delighted that Starsky was so alert, and being totally aware that Starsky would lie through his teeth to keep him from worrying, Hutch got the water. What exactly did average mean? He knew that Starsky lived with a certain level of pain every day, but the morning had been on a whole different plane. Average probably meant it hurt, but he could move, so no more discussion unless it becomes a problem.

"I'm sorry I wasn't here when you woke up the first time."

Starsky emptied the cup and set it on the nightstand. "I don't remember waking up."

"Huggy was watching a movie, said you talked to him."

"Brian's Song," Starsky said in an odd voice. "I thought I dreamed that."

"I ran out on you."

"Hutch." Starsky caught his arm, and Hutch almost wanted to pull away, avoid his lover's touch. He didn't deserve kindness, the way he'd acted. "I don't expect you to wait on me hand and foot."

"Starsky, I gave you enough drugs to drop an elephant, and I bolted!" Hutch did try to pull away, but Starsky hung on, using both hands for strength. "The IV stuff on top of the pills, I could have killed you." His voice was harsh, ragged. "And I couldn't even bear to watch what might happen. I…just left."

"Huggy was here," Starsky said placidly.

"I got to the academy and sat there in the car, feeling you." He turned their hands around and opened his fist, Starsky's hands below his, supporting him. Hutch reversed the positions, scooping his palm under one of Starsky's, to fit their two hands together. "I could feel you like this, and I remembered my grandmother."

"Hutchinson or Livingston?"

"Livingston," Hutch answered, swallowing the tears that threatened. The morning's hell had passed, everything was all right now. So why did he still feel like he could crack into a thousand pieces?

"What did Grandma Livingston have to say?" Starsky quirked a smile, both of their hands separating just enough to be near but not touching.

"Grandmother, we always had to use the formal address." Hutch ran a finger down Starsky's palm, eliciting the reflex to curl the fingers in. "Whenever she'd leave after a visit she'd do that, and quote Isaiah."

"Oh, good, one of the prophets my people recognize."

"I will not forget you…I have carved you on the palm of my hand."

Starsky nodded. No words were required.


"You need a vacation," Starsky said. He buttered his breakfast toast carefully, covering all surface area of the bread. With the capricious nature of his unhealthy body, he felt fine. The month was drawing to a close but June was busting out all over, as the song said. He wanted to go outside, breathe the air, and feel sun on the top of his head. However, the situation with Hutch had reached critical mass, and something needed to be done. Today.

"We've gone over this a thousand times, Starsky. I can't leave." Hutch rustled the newspaper, holding it up between them like a barrier.

"What if I told you to go somewhere else for three days? That I need a vacation?"

Hutch seemed to deflate, all opposition sucked out of him. "What if . . .?"

"I'm not going to die, Hutch."

"How do you know?" he asked with such anguish Starsky wrapped his arms around him.

"Because, I promise." Starsky smoothed Hutch's pale hair, finger combing it into place. "Call me six times a day, but Hutch, you gotta go before you self destruct. Mick will be here in an hour. It won't take you that long to pack two pair of boxers, a clean shirt, and a novel."

"That might be what you'd pack, but I like more variety in my clothing." Hutch swallowed, rubbing his forehead. Starsky was fairly sure he'd had that same headache for days, if not weeks. "How about tomorrow? Or the first day in July? That's a Monday--good way to start the week. I could plan things better."

"And this is a Tuesday in late June and you need to go today," Starsky insisted. "No thinking about it, no plans, just get in the car and drive. Leave all this shit behind." He ate some of his toast, watching Hutch's fear of the unknown skitter across his face. Hutch drank some coffee and folded the paper, looking thoughtful. He frowned, then sighed, his eyebrows arching in toward his nose like Mr. Spock's.

"You think too much already, you big lug," Starsky commented.

"Just drive?"

"You can even take the Mustang, as long as you put the high octane gas in the tank and not that cheap stuff from the independent gas stations."

"I'll drive my car," Hutch said, his eyes going up to the clock. "It's nine."

"And in one hour I want you gone. Out of the house, young man, or your mother and I will have to disown you, and then where would you be?"

"John Kerouac."

"Huh?" Starsky thought briefly of pouring himself a cup of the fragrant coffee, but knew his belly would never approve. Just one more thing he missed of his old life. Coming into the squadroom in the morning, having a cup of that horrible brewed all night long coffee before he and Hutch went out on a call.

"On the Road? Traveling across America. It's a classic of the '50s, Starsk."

"Was that a movie with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson?"

"You heathen." Hutch affectionately cuffed the back of his head. Very gently. Starsky wanted the old ways when they could scuffle, hit one another upside the head like the Three Stooges, and nothing ever hurt, because it was all in fun. Now even fun had to be tempered with caution.

He just put up one hand, showing Hutch his upraised middle finger. Of course he had read Kerouac's classic novel, a long time ago, and strangely, he could suddenly picture himself sitting in the shade of a tent, hunched over the book with a cigarette in his hand.

Viet Nam. The Red Cross had come through with a bad rock band, and a couple of vapid dancing girls in really short shorts with fringe on their bras. The guys had hooted and hollered in appreciation of the girls shaking their fringe in time to the music. No one could hear the songs, the girls' soprano voices almost drowned out by a combination of the drummer's heavy downbeat and the sound of distant mortar fire, but the dancing was fine. It had been hot, the humid sunlight beating down on their bare heads, but no one minded because there were girls to look at. Afterwards, the donut dollies had handed out candy bars and books for the troops. He'd gotten one he'd read before, and traded it to a buddy for On The Road. Had read it all in one slow Sunday afternoon, smoking and drinking nasty Vietnamese beer.

Why had he remembered that? It was like bits and pieces of his life kept surfacing lately, bringing up the past when it was all he could do to deal with the present.

"What are you thinking about?" Hutch asked, clearing away the breakfast dishes.

"That book. It's over in one of those bookcases, by the window. I've had it forever."

Hutch found it quickly, tucked between the Guinness Book of World Records for 1983 and The Godfather by Mario Puzo. "Can I take it? The cover is really tattered."

"Doesn't matter," Starsky shrugged, and remembered the feel of that book when it was stuffed into the back pocket of his fatigue pants as he'd walked to the mess tent to get a burger for dinner. He shook his head hard. No sense getting lost in those memories. "That way, if you forget it at some hotel room, there's no big loss."

Hutch took a deep breath, his eyes suspiciously bright. He was looking over at Starsky with such infinite sadness, and then he too gave a tiny shake of his head as if to banish the grief they could both feel. "I'll take Godfather too, just in case."

"Just in case."

Starsky watched a rerun of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, listening to sounds of Hutch banging around in their bedroom. Hutch needed the time off, that was a given. That neither of them wanted him to leave was another thing entirely. The stress was pressing in on them so hard Starsky was surprised they didn't sport matching imprints from the giant waffle iron that squeezed down with every single breath. Something had to change, or they wouldn't survive the fall out. Hutch taking a vacation was the easiest solution. Going off to a desert island in the Grand Caymans sounded good, too, but Starsky recognized that flying a few thousand miles away might not be in his best interest, and besides it was so hard to walk on the sand with crutches. This was the only solution.

Just after Mick arrived, Hutch came out with a backpack. Starsky was astonished after all the bumping and dropping of things he'd heard, that Hutch had packed everything in a backpack. Either he had lied about wanting variety in his wardrobe for the next few days, or he was going to be wearing lots of wrinkled shirts and slacks.

"Mick, I'm going away for a couple of days," Hutch said in a voice that Starsky could swear was some other person's. Oh, it sounded just like Hutch in every way, and Mick didn't seem to notice any difference. But Starsky could hear the telltale waver, the slight break in his tone when he said away. "Up the coast, I'll call later with a number."

"Sure, man, sounds like a great way to relax." Mick shook Hutch's hand, holding the door open so he could juggle his backpack and a small sack of food outside.

"That's what I need, to relax," Starsky could hear Hutch saying but he didn't look up, just waved good-bye pretending he was engrossed in the silly antics of a New England ghost.

"See you on Friday, Starsk!"

Then Hutch was gone and Mick was calling the nursing registry to make sure there was a night coverage nurse who could come on short notice. Starsky knew that if there wasn't, he had any number of friends who could come instead. Or maybe he'd stay alone.

Now there was a strange thought. Staying alone, like an adult instead of some invalid incapable of taking a leak by himself. He resolved that even if Mick found a nurse, he would send the person home. He took a breath, feeling the air fill his lungs and coughed, thinking about being alone.

Would it take he or Hutch longer to get used to the idea?


The first fifty miles were the hardest. Not just because he hit traffic and it was bumper to bumper from the Bay City on-ramp all the way past the city of Torrance, but because each and every turn-off that Hutch passed represented another opportunity to turn around and head back home. Each time he drove resolutely past another off-ramp, Hutch tensed, feeling guilty for his freedom. There was no reason for it; Starsky had told him to go. Basically ordered him out of the house. He should be happy, even carefree, without plans or restrictions, no schedule of meds and daily procedures to follow. Taking a breath to clear his exhaust-filled lungs, he willed himself to loosen up.

He was alone.

Amazingly, somewhere along between Thousand Oaks and Ventura Beach, his shoulders came down just a little bit, and he could sense a tiny change. When he took another breath, pulling in big gulps of sea scented air, it was with a lighter heart.

He cut over from the 405 to the 1, hugging the coastline, the ocean on one side and distant hills on the other. By Santa Barbara, he had turned on the radio and was singing along with the Eagles. He hit Solvang, and stopped, wandering around between picturesque houses built in the Danish style mandated by the city council to maintain the Scandinavian feel. He wound up under a tree in a pretty park eating a pastry filled with almond paste. He'd barely thought on the whole drive, and now the enormity of leaving Starsky filled him with remorse. But weirdly, he wasn't sorry. For the first time in days, maybe weeks, he felt like he could breathe without a constricting band around his chest.

He sat quietly for a long time, just observing the tourists meandering through the quaint shops, and smelling the delectable scents coming from the nearby bakery. He let his mind go blank again, just existing in his own body. Oddly, he had the strongest sense of Starsky sitting by his side, his head pillowed on Hutch's shoulder, curly hair tickling Hutch's ear.

Is this what Starsky had meant when he'd said he would haunt Hutch forever, sitting beside him like the runaway ghosts at Disneyland. That he would feel his presence strongly, even when they were separated? It was amazingly comforting--even though he knew full well that Starsky was alive back in the city, probably sitting on the couch with the afghan wrapped around him, watching a Pineapple speaking French on educational TV. With Pansy in his lap.

Hutch jumped up, walking resolutely over to a phone booth on the edge of the park's green lawn. He put his hand on the telephone, his palm molding around the cold plastic receiver. Starsky had said he could call whenever he wanted to, but was it a good idea? He'd been gone five hours, maybe six. Should he let more time go by? Force himself to enjoy the solitude, or go crazy thinking about what Starsky was doing? Had Mick made sure he'd eaten lunch? Had he taken the pain meds, or hidden them under the couch cushions, as he often did?

Dialing the familiar number, Hutch could feel his heartrate double. Why was he so nervous? Nothing was wrong, and yet his fear response was on overdrive. All the terrors of the past year reminding him that something was indeed very wrong. He inhaled through his teeth, counting one, two, three rings. The answering machine would kick on after the fourth. Where was Starsky? Had something happened?


Starsky's breathless voice sent a shiver through Hutch and he leaned against the glass of the phone booth in relief. He'd worked himself up over nothing at all. "Hello, yourself."

"Hutch!" Starsky sounded happy to hear from him, very alive, very vibrant. Hutch could almost convince himself that there was no cancer or terminal diagnosis, Starsky sounded so healthy.

"I'm in Solvang, just checking in. How is everything going?"

"I was out in the yard. Aphids on the rose bush, but Mick went to the garden shop to buy some ladybugs. We can release 'em at sunset, and they'll eat all the aphids."

"Mick left you alone?"

"Hutch." Starsky just said his name, but it was enough. He was being too overprotective, and smothering. "Anyway, he just came back. Wanna talk to him?" There was a dollop of sarcasm on the end there, just enough to know Starsky was on to him, but it was all right.

Hutch could hear the gruff, deep rumble of Mick's voice telling Starsky something about the ladybugs, he couldn't quite make out the entire thing. "Dummy," he said affectionately, genuinely happy just to be talking to his best friend. "I can't decide whether to get a hotel room here for the night or go on up the coast."

"Solvang is great!" Starsky said. "Y'know they have that antique book store there, and those great bakeries. Can you get me a Napoleon Hat cookie?"

"Already ate one, Starsk. Besides, it would be stale if I bought it today."

"You have no consideration for my feelings," Starsky pouted audibly, laughing. "Buy it before you leave! You must fit right in with all those blonds there."

"Mostly tourists here, Starsky, but it does look like the pictures my grandmother used to show me of her home town."

"Livingston or Hutchinson?"

Hutch laughed aloud. Ever the detective, Starsky always wanted to know the specifics. "Hutchinson--or actually Johansen. She was originally from Denmark, but moved to Minnesota as a teenager and met my grandfather. Married at seventeen."

"Like my Grandma Polasky," Starsky agreed. Hutch fed more coins into the slot on the front of the payphone. "Same thing, came here from Poland and met my grandpa who just got here, too."

"You ever wish you could go back to your roots?" Hutch looked out over the town, his eyes blurring the obvious signs of American tourism, and focusing on the details that made the pretty city uniquely Scandinavian. The gingerbread decoration on the peaked roofs, the blue and white dishes sold in almost every shop, and the profusion of bright flowers growing in flower boxes. There was even a statue of the Little Mermaid.

"Yeah," Starsky said softly, with just a hint of regret. "You ever think about past lives?"

"Starsky, that's a bunch of bull. Those hypnotists deprive gullible people of their money because they're convinced they were once Napoleon or Hannibal. Have you ever noticed that no one is just a simple farmer tilling the land?"

"How do you know it's not true? You ever been hypnotized?"

"Only by you," Hutch said, and almost regretted the unabashedly romantic sentiment the moment it came out of his mouth, but Starsky chuckled deep and low, and it went straight to Hutch's cock.

"You're getting sleepy . . . sleepy . . ." Starsky intoned in a mystical voice, but switched back to his usual one. "I mean, what if you'd been--what'd you say, tilling the land in Sweden and I was there in Poland herding cows. Do you think we would have gotten together?"

"I can't see you herding cows."

"Okay, milking goats!"

"Can't picture that either." Hutch stretched the phone cord out and sat at the base of the booth, content to be having the silly, loving and incredibly revitalizing conversation with Starsky. They hadn't talked like this in weeks, and once he'd used up all the loose change in his pocket, he was stunned to discover that they chatted for more than an hour. Hanging up finally, he checked into a hotel, feeling the shape of Starsky's hand in his the entire time.


Starsky knew he'd get three kinds of hell from Hutch, and probably from Sophie too, for having spent the previous night alone, but he'd wanted the solitude. He'd felt fine the entire day, and the phone call from Hutch had been a fun distraction.

He and Mick had released the ladybugs at a quarter to eight, slitting the top of the little net bags. At first the bugs were lethargic, just crawling around on the mesh, flexing their tiny wings. Several walked up his arm, but they were so tiny he could barely feel their miniature feet against his skin. He coaxed one onto his thumbnail, singing the childhood verse under his breath because he didn't want Mick to hear him. "Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home, your house is on fire and your children will burn."

Mick must have heard anyway, because he glanced over at Starsky with a smile before going into the house when the front doorbell rang.

Tentatively, the beetles had launched into the setting sun, whirling around the yard in a swarm, amazing creatures wrought so tiny they seemed like pieces of pretty jewelry. He'd sat watching the tiny red and black insects flit from plant to plant until they merged with the twilight, and he couldn't distinguish them any longer in the gloom.

As the sun disappeared completely, the air cooled only slightly, enveloping him in a lovely blanket of softness scented with freshly cut grass and rose petals. He'd let the new nurse, a stern faced Phillipino woman with a distinctly unpleasant curl to her lips, take his vitals and fix some chicken soup for dinner, and then dismissed her. She'd protested, of course, but he was the client and what the client said, goes. She'd left and he'd sat until quite late in the backyard with Pansy and L'Chaim winding around his leg, asking to be fed. Unlike the barely there tickle of ladybug feet, Starsky could sense Hutch next to him so strongly that he was sure that if he turned his head quickly enough, the big blond would be transported back from Solvang as if he's borrowed the Transporter beam off the Starship Enterprise.

This morning was another matter. There was none of the flesh tearing pain he'd woken up to the week before, but he felt achy and tired, despite having slept well. His chest was as tight as the surface of a snare drum and he sucked in his Albuteral inhaler greedily, hoping to relieve some of the pressure. There were times he was certain he could point to the exact places where the tumors were lodged inside his lungs, and this was one of them. Oh, well, nothing to be done about it. The drug helped a little and the steam from a cup of peppermint tea helped, too. The rest was a waiting game.

When the phone rang, Starsky almost hoped it was Sophie saying she was delayed. He kind of liked the comfortable silence of the house to himself. It was Huggy, telling him not to eat any breakfast, he was coming over with fresh croissants, and he had something important to tell him.

Starsky didn't want any breakfast, so waiting for Huggy's arrival wasn't difficult. He had a shower and a shave, staring at his too slender face for far longer than he might have if Hutch was around needing to use the bathroom, too. He never seemed to put any weight on, and skipping meals wasn't helping any, but his appetite waxed and waned in no discernable pattern. He certainly wasn't the right sex to blame it on the phases of the moon or the time of the month. It was simply his body slowing down, and that was sobering.

Huggy burst in, all bright colors and fast talk. It took Starsky a moment or two to catch up, he'd been so used to the quiet.

"Man, where is everybody? Where's you own personal sun god?" Huggy laid out a smorgasbord out on the dining room table, a polyglot of international foods.

"Hutch went on a vacation," Starsky said, helping himself to a croissant mostly because he knew it was expected of him. There was also a poppy seed roll like his Aunt Chava used to make, an apple strudel, and amazingly, a plate of Danish Napoleon hat cookies arrayed on the table. "I thought you were just bringing croissants."

"I thought there'd be more people here." Huggy tucked the pink bakery box under the table. "Where's the comely Mrs. Saint Claire?"

"Not here yet." Starsky switched his interest to the tricorn shaped cookie, biting off the tasty corners of the hat before indulging in the almond paste filled center. This is what his stomach had been holding out for.

"Let me get this straight, Kemosabe. You spent the night alone, after what happened last week?" Huggy's voice rose in incredulous indignation.

"It's okay, Hug." Starsky took a swig of his tea and grimaced. Unfortunately, the peppermint didn't mesh well with almond paste, and he wanted another cookie. "Could you make up some coffee?"

"Way ahead of you, my man." Huggy brought out a thermos from his Mary Poppins-like carryall, and poured two cups of the steaming brew. "Daisy is expanding into whole new realms--international cuisine, and specially brewed ambrosia of the gods."

"It's coffee and a donut, only fancier." Starsky ate another Napoleon Hat with renewed appetite. The coffee was great, too, with a subtle flavor of vanilla, but he had to be careful with the stuff. His belly was known to rebel with no warning whatsoever.

"Au contraire, mon ami." Huggy grinned rakishly. "How'd you like that? It's French, goes with the ambiance, doncha think?"

"I speak French," Starsky agreed. How little, he didn't have to admit. "But you'd have to be talking Danish to go with what I'm eating."

"Ugh--just don't like them things." Huggy spread a generous dollop of ginger preserves on his croissant and took a bite. "Now, let the old Bear get this straight. Hutch went on a vacation, and left you on your lonesome?"

"Hey, Sophie's here!" Starsky said brightly when the front door swung open. He didn't want to have to defend his own reasons for wanting some alone time, and getting Sophie settled with some pastries, having his vitals checked, and IV port flushed with heparin took up enough time for Huggy forget his original line of questioning.

"Huggy, didn't you have something important to tell me?" Starsky asked when the breakfast foods had been wrapped up in cellophane and Sophie was loading the dishwasher.

"Oh, yeah, man, where has my head been lately?"' Huggy smacked himself on the side of his head, causing the tiny gold hoop in his ear to gyrate wildly. "We got to change the date of Hutch's birthday soiree, there are extenuating circumstances."

"Like what?"

"A restaurateur's convention. Since we've opened the new place, I want to be in on the latest and the greatest, which means mingling with the bigwigs of the biz, don't you dig? So no can do on the weekend of August 24th. The missus and I will be in Las Vegas."

Starsky regarded his friend for a long moment. It was very possible that Huggy was trying to rearrange things because he didn't think Starsky would be up to a party two months from now. There were days when Starsky wasn't sure he'd have the stamina to party at that late date. "Huggy, are you jiving me?"

"Would I do a thing like that to you, one of my oldest compadres?" Huggy pressed a dramatic hand against his chest, all wounded sincerity.

"You have, on more than one occasion."

"No, this is on the up and up--look, read the fine print for yourself." Huggy produced a glossy brochure advertising the West Coast Restaurateur's 35th annual convention. It was on the same weekend slated for Hutch's party, even though his actual birthday was a few days later. Starsky flipped through the bright pictures of past attendees sampling the finest in beef, salads, and especially dessert confections. It looked like a lot of fun.

"Okay, so when can we do the spread for Hutch?"

"I was thinking . . .unless you have major objections," Huggy paused, waiting to be cut off but Starsky waved away any imaginary objections. "July 27."

"A month from now? It's not even the right month!"

"Booked up, my man. A wedding reception the first week in August, a retirement dinner the second--we're a happening place."

"I guess." Starsky said reluctantly, but secretly he had to admit he was relieved. He hadn't wanted to turn up at Hutch's 40th barely able to stand on his own two feet. July probably was better for all concerned, even though he had the distinct impression Huggy had only signed up for the convention to have a legitimate reason for changing the dates.

"Hey, I just had a thought." He grinned, stifling an errant cough that came out of nowhere. His chest had loosened up, but he still felt wheezy and slightly short of breath. More annoying than anything else, nothing he couldn't live with. "Hutch still thinks the party's at the end of August--so don't tell him we changed it. This will be terrific, he'll be really surprised."

"Then don't let Daisy get near him, bro. The woman can't keep a secret to save her life."

"She can when it's important," Starsky said, recalling the day she'd brought him cookies, and told him about her dead twin brother. "Where is your talented wife, anyway? Those Napoleon Hats were something else. The ones Hutch is bringing back from Solvang won't even compare."

"She's kinda off color today," Huggy replied evasively.

"What color is she?"

"Kinda green."

"What's wrong?" Starsky's disease meter went off the scale. Her brother had had cancer, maybe she'd also succumbed?

"Listen, this is for your ears only, you get me? She finds out I told you, I'm in the dog house for sure, right next to ol'Snoopy." Huggy rolled his eyes, but grinned proudly. "She's got a bun in the oven."

"She's pregnant?" Starsky laughed, relieved that there was a joyous reason for Daisy's apparent nausea. "When's the baby due?"

"January 27. Exactly ten months after our wedding. Am I the man, or am I the man?"

"You're the man," Starsky bonked elbows, fists and then high-fived the ebullient man. "That's fantastic, Huggy. I can't wait to . . ." Starsky stopped, all the air in his lungs whooshing out in a great rush. He probably would never see little baby Brown, unless something akin to a miracle occurred. The stricken look on Huggy's face made him feel even worse. He'd ruined a wonderful moment. "Hey, it's still fantastic, man. I'm really happy for you."

"Yeah." Huggy blinked hurriedly, slapping Starsky on the back hard enough to make him gasp. "It's something else. I don't even know myself yet." He donned a pair of sunglasses, in the house, hiding behind their darkened lenses. "I wish you could see the kid, man," he said very soberly, preparing to leave. "Shit."

The sentiment was totally appropriate, and Starsky wanted to add a few more choice epithets of his own. Mostly, he didn't want Huggy to leave on that note. "Wait--I need to pay you for the food for the party. I won some money." He stood carefully, hopping the short distance to the cluttered desk he shared with Hutch.

"Blondie told me, but the whole thing is on the house. I'd throw Hutch a bash on his fortieth, anyway."

"Then think of it as finally paying off my bar tab after all these years." Starsky quickly wrote out a check for five hundred dollars, the last of the radio contest money. Two hundred to Nick, eight hundred for Hutch, and it was all used up. Sort of like his life.

Huggy was shaking his head when Starsky thrust the check at him. "Listen, I lost a bunch of receipts in a sudden grease fire just before tax time. Think your's went up in smoke."

"Take it, Horatio." Starsky used the dreaded first name to make a point. "You're a father now, gotta keep the kid in shoes."

"No, it's the little woman who likes the shoes. If the kid is anything like his old man, he'll be at the track betting before he's a year."

"What if it's a girl?"

"A girl?" Huggy paused, struck dumb by the notion. "Nah, not going to happen."

"Fifty-fifty odds."

"See, I told you this kid was a betting man. You on for a little wager?" Huggy held out a long brown hand, low and flat.

"Sure." Starsky slid his paler hand down Huggy's, slick and smooth. "How do you find out?"

"Those ultrasound things, and the amnios, there are lots'a ways," Huggy boasted as if he knew the first thing about the subject, which Starsky suspected he did not. "What kinda money we talking here?"

"Five hundred." Starsky stuffed the check into the pocket of Huggy's purple velour sweat suit. "It's a girl, I'm telling you."

"You're on. But my first kid is a boy."


Hutch brought home a backpack full of dirty clothes, bags of cookies, a case of wine from a small winery just past Solvang, and a cold. He wasn't quite sure where he'd picked it up, and didn't consider it a bargain at any price. Especially one day later when Starsky landed in the emergency room attached to a plastic nasal cannula delivering 100 percent oxygen. Even with the assist, he was breathing like the calliope at a traveling circus, all wheezes and squeaks.

"How long have you been having trouble breathing, Starsky?" John Davies asked, writing out a sheet of orders for the hovering nurse. She checked the little oxygen saturation light on the end of Starsky's finger one more time before hurrying out to deliver the order to the pharmacy. "Your oxygen sats are dismal."

Hutch looked up at the saturation monitor screen for the dozenth time since they'd arrived in the cramped, hot examination cubicle. Normal healthy adults had saturations of 99 to 100. Starsky's were wavering between 92 and 93. Not horrible, but not normal either. His own nose was so raw he didn't want to have to sneeze one more time since that would force him to have to wipe the sore end, and all the cold medicine he'd been taking left his head feeling like it was stuffed with cotton.

"Just a couple of days, John," Starsky answered in a breathy, high-pitched voice that in no way resembled his usual deep, melodious tones. If he could have, Hutch would have reversed time back four days and never gone on the damned vacation. Sure, reading a novel under a tree had been totally restorative, but he'd exchange being stressed out and sleep deprived for rested but responsible for the cold that landed Starsky back in the hospital, any day of the week.

"Define a couple," John said. Hutch was glad he was here. In fact, he'd demanded the oncologist's presence after a wet behind the ears first year resident had proclaimed that Starsky had a cold, and should take chicken soup, as if terminal metastasized cancer had no bearing on the subject whatsoever.

"A couple." Starsky shrugged. "More than one, less than several."

"So that would be . . ." John asked skeptically.

"Three." Starsky coughed tightly, as if his throat were squeezed shut and only emitting small particles of air in and out at a time. "Maybe four. Since about the day Hutch left."

"Why didn't you tell me!" Hutch roared.

"You want to keep it down?" John admonished.

"'Cause." Starsky took a cautiously deep breath, his face finally beginning to pink up from the oxygen flow. "You would have come back early."

"Yes, I would have," Hutch agreed, so steamed he couldn't see straight. It was entirely too hot in the tiny room. "Damn it, Starsky."

"I was okay," Starsky said lamely.

"And I gave you my cold." Hutch wanted to smack something, preferably himself, but he sat on the too small metal stool because storming around was making his head ache. Just as well he sat down because the nurse returned with a large manila envelope and a plastic baggie full of inhalers and pills, again filling the space with too many people.

"It's not just the virus." John slipped two x-ray films out of the envelope and slapped them up onto the viewing screen. "The tumors in the left lung are really beginning to impinge on the alveoli." Hutch peered over the doctor's shoulder, interested in all that he could learn before medical school. Reading x-rays was a valuable skill, even though he hated understanding the true severity of Starsky's disease. "Did you ever have the home health agency send out some tanks of oxygen? Because I think you're going to be needing them when you're released from the hospital."

"Not staying," Starsky said bluntly.

"Starsky!" Hutch objected. Of all the pig-headed ideas.

"Starsky, your O2 sats are marginal. According to the CBC, your platelets are once again dipping into critical numbers, and your hemoglobin is low."

"I just had a transfusion," Starsky argued petulantly, his breathing still far too labored in Hutch's opinion. And frankly, for someone who hadn't even registered for anatomy 101 yet, he thought he had a pretty good grasp of normal breathing patterns.

"You had a transfusion over three weeks ago, and you need a fill up," John reminded. "Frankly, with your health, it would be against my medical advice for you to check out now. You do need to be on oxygen, and that's not a debatable point."

"Anyone ever tell you that you sound like a broken record?" Starsky sneezed several times in a row and the numbers on the monitor dropped briefly into the 80s before he took a ragged breath.

Not liking the look on Starsky's face whatsoever, Hutch felt like he'd been pushed up against a brick wall. He knew Starsky's opinion--no more hospital stays at all. On the other hand, he understood what John was saying. "What about staying the afternoon for a transfusion, like last time, with some extra breathing treatments while I call the agency to deliver a big green tank?" he proposed.

"I'll concede to that." John put a stethoscope to Starsky's heaving chest and frowned slightly.

Starsky frowned back, but there was a weary acceptance in his eyes. Hutch didn't know whether to be happy about winning the round, or sad that he'd had to force the issue. A cold, a damned garden-variety cold, was pushing Starsky one foot closer to the grave.


"Hutch, it's not your fault," Starsky said when he'd been stowed into the car with a bag full of aerosol medications and a portable oxygen tank.

"I infected you, how is it not my fault?" Hutch's face was set and angry. He negotiated the LTD out of the hospital parking lot like the hounds of hell were after him.

Starsky braced one hand on the dash, amused in spite of himself at Hutch's show of temper. Usually Hutch was so aware of his 'precious' cargo in the car that he drove like an old geezer about to lose his license. If Starsky hadn't felt so crappy, he'd have laughed. As usual, the transfusion had alleviated the physical exhaustion and muddle-headedness he coped with most days. However, that wasn't much of an improvement when what John had termed rhinovirus caused him to sneeze, wheeze, and snort like an untuned engine.

"You heard John. Got tumors the size of moon rocks in my chest." He looked over at Hutch in time to see him furtively wipe tears out of his eye, and felt like he'd been kicked in the guts. "Hutch, if I gotta die, I want to do it at home."

"I know."

"Huggy, Sophie, Mick, any of them could have just as easily brought a cold along."

"But none of them did."

"So you're Typhoid Ken, and nothing's any good any more?"

"Starsk," Hutch sighed, pulling up to a stop sign. "You hungry?"

Starsky really wished he were. He wanted to be hungry much more often than he was. He wanted to be normal, but that wasn't ever going to happen. He wanted the enjoyment of food, as he used to have, instead of this constant feeling that he should be eating, even when he wasn't all that interested anymore. "Sure," he said instead.

"There's a new Japanese place up ahead. I saw the grand opening sign the other day . . . maybe some sushi?" Except Hutch sounded anything but enthused by the prospect of sushi. He was so dispirited Starsky wanted to send him off on another vacation, but he knew how well that would go over.

"Hutch, you like sushi. I don't."

"You eat it." Hutch went through the intersection, watching the curb for a vacant parking space. Starsky saw one on the other side of a dented Volvo and Hutch slid the car in like a hand fitting into a glove.

"Not the fishy ones."

"Tempura?" Hutch suggested.

"Now you're talking." Starsky grinned because talking about food was actually improving his appetite. "I'll even eat vegetables if they're fried."

"Teriyaki chicken, those little cups of wasabe . . ."

"That will help clear up your sinuses." Starsky opened the door, and there it was. Ichi Ban, fine Japanese food. Hutch had scored a parking space right in front of the place, just like Starsky used to do. "Can we use the chopsticks like light sabers? I can be Darth Vader and wheeze all over the place, and you can be Luke Skywalker." That made Hutch grin when he unfolded the wheelchair out of the trunk.

"I'm not your son, Darth."

"Just remember that wise Jedi saying when you're in a place like this." Starsky sat down, tucking his portable oxygen tank down next to him, and craned his head back to see Hutch looking down at him, his blue eyes tender.

"What's that, Yoda?"

"Use your fork, Luke," Starsky intoned in a deep voice, and sneezed. Hutch roared with laughter.


July was hot, for endless days. His life slowed to a crawl, Starsky wished he could hibernate, but the heat made it hard to sleep. He'd doze on the couch with the sound on the TV turned down low because Hutch was boning up on all his newly purchased medical books. He'd bought a Taber's medical dictionary, Gray's Anatomy, a medical spelling book, and stacks of books on every sort of disease process. His determination gave Starsky a sense of pride when everything else seemed to be going down the drain.

The days he hurt were the hardest, when the morphine was the only thing that helped. Weirdly, his body had become so used to the increasingly larger doses prescribed for someone in his condition that he was no longer sleepy or nauseated after an injection. Morphine was now his crutch, a replacement for the aluminum ones that leaned unused in one corner of the bedroom. He didn't have enough strength to walk most days. He hardly had the strength to do anything except stare listlessly at the TV.

He and Hutch did watch the Live Aid on Pay-Per-View, rocking out to Madonna and Bob Geldorf, although Ron Wood and Keith Richards were more their generation. That seemed like the only fun activity of the month. Hutch got them both Live Aid T-shirts, and provided barbecued chicken, popcorn, and beer for the concert. He sang loudly to all the songs he recognized. Starsky just lay against Hutch the entire evening, losing himself in the music. For one night, he could remember that there were people starving in Africa, people who had it far worse than he, and feel fortunate. He had a home, medical care, and most of all, Hutch. Above all, Hutch.

On the days when all he wanted to do was curl up and die because his back hurt so badly, Hutch was there. On the days that Starsky felt like sitting in the shade of the eucalyptus tree in their back yard and watch the cats cavort on the lawn, Hutch was there beside him, coaxing him to eat, and kissing him. He was so thankful that Hutch never lost any desire for him. Starsky craved the physical in those long, hot hours. He couldn’t provide much, but he craved sex.

"Hutch, I wanna make love." Starsky reached out in the gloom, touching the pale shape of Hutch's face. By late evening the heat had abated some, so that they could lie on their bed together, with the lights turned off and the windows open, without sweating profusely.

"Starsk," Hutch said softly, sadly.

"Here." Starsky gently placed one hand on Hutch's smooth, muscled chest, trailing his finger down from the pectorals to the belly button. "It won't be much, I just want to give you something."

"You give me everything."

"Not enough," Starsky whispered, feeling the arousal in his soul. He hadn't had an erection in a long time, but that didn't diminish his need. Hutch was part of him, just as he was part of Hutch. Sex wasn't the most important element of their relationship, but it had always been a big part, since that first night in '79 when Hutch had climbed into Starsky's hospital bed, and they'd both known the truth. They hadn't acted on it just then, but the arousal had awakened, and never gone away since.

Hutch was responding under Starsky's light touch. His nipples had hardened into little pebbles, and his cock was growing, curling up to meet the hand that teased the hair surrounding its base. "Starsky . . ." Hutch breathed, his hips moving in time to Starsky's slow massage. "This isn't a good idea."

"It's the best idea, Blintz." Starsky took a deep breath, and kissed him, ignoring the tiny flares of pain up and down his spine when he turned, his shorter leg almost straddling Hutch's longer ones. "Just let me give you this."

"Yeah," Hutch acquiesced, taking Starsky into his arms. There was no sadness here, no cancer, no pain except the one of longing and desire. Starsky thought that if his days ended just then, he would have been satisfied. The sublime carried them through, and all Starsky had to do was reach down to grasp Hutch's organ, rubbing his palm against the surface to make Hutch come. Semen coated both their bellies, and Starsky could pretend he'd orgasmed, too, because in his dreams, he had.

He slept well that night. First time in weeks.


"You can't be serious!" Hutch's angry voice roused Starsky out of sleep, and he peered blearily at the TV to figure out what time it was. Bright sun was pouring through the windows, and on the screen, the Irish Ryan family was discussing whatever problems had cropped up in their soap opera world. After 11 am, then.

Starsky had been awake most of the night with the chronic pain in his back, and only slipped off to sleep because he'd come out on the couch to watch the 6am farm reports. Roosters, the going price of corn, and comparisons of one brand of tractor over another always put him right to sleep. He probably could have gotten in another hour or two, except for the loud conversation Hutch was having. The noise was coming from the bedroom, so he'd apparently tried to stay out of Starsky's earshot, but the decibel level kept rising and with it, Hutch's wrath.

"Hutch? What's going on?" Starsky got himself into a more or less vertical position and was trying to decide if he could stand without crashing into the coffee table when Hutch slammed down the phone and stomped out of the bedroom, storm clouds gathering above his head like Wyle E. Coyote on a tear.

"Gunther," Hutch said with such vehemence that Starsky sat back down, winded. "They're going to have a parole hearing next week."

"Why? He's in for 30 years to life." Starsky's anger blossomed just as quickly as Hutch's. James Marshall Gunther was not a man either of them could discuss with any modicum of rationality. The shooting had left such a scar on their lives than he still generated hatred six years later.

"He has pancreatic cancer, they're only giving him a few weeks to live, and the compassionate thing would be to allow him out." Hutch smacked at the back of the couch, causing L'Chaim to arch his back in alarm and snarl.

"Since he wouldn't recognize the word compassion if he looked it up in the dictionary, then, no," Starsky said. "Are we going?"

"We sure the hell are." Hutch made a few other choice comments under his breath, in both English and Spanish, which on any other day would have amused Starsky greatly. Today, the news was too stark, too emotional to brush aside with a joke. "At least I am, you . . ."

"Hutch, this isn't debatable. You go, I go. He doesn't get out on parole." Starsky stabbed at the off button on the remote, cutting off the Ryans in mid sentence. "Sure it'll tire me out, but you can't protect me any more."

"You never let me, even when I want to." Hutch had softened, his shoulders slumped, burdened by Gunther's re-emergence into their lives. "This isn't how I envisioned our time together, having to battle the courts about Schroeder and Gunther, all this crap . . . "

"So, what did you come up with in that fertile imagination of yours?" Starsky was glad of something else to talk about. Gunther should have been a non-subject in their household, but his specter still haunted them. The trial had been horrendous, coming two years after the shooting. After countless delays and even a venue change, Gunther's lawyers had managed what most had deemed impossible, gotten most of the lesser chargers dismissed and plea bargained many of the weightier cases down. There was no conspiracy to commit murder anywhere on the list of charges, a fact which had made Hutch crazy. Starsky had testified about their investigation into Gunther's global enterprises for days. Hutch had moved the jury to tears with his rendition of the day of Starsky's shooting, but in the end, the prosecution didn't consider the outcome a total win. Yes, Gunther had gotten prison time, thirty years to life for his list of heinous deeds, but he'd covered himself too well to be directly linked to Starsky's near assassination. No one could find records of him hiring the two gunmen. For that matter, the two gunmen were never found, period.

"If you had your druthers, what would we be doing today?"

"Druthers?" Hutch asked bemused, but Starsky could still see the fears that Hutch carried around with him from that long ago day in May. Starsky remembered nothing of the shooting, for which he was glad, and very little of the morning beforehand, which grieved him, but Hutch remembered every second. Each detail--all sights, sounds, and even smells had been seared indelibly into his memory. For long nights after Starsky was out of the hospital, he didn't know which one of them suffered more, he from his healing wounds, or Hutch from the nightmares of the dreadful event. Starsky had heard the shooting described so often he could recite the facts with ease, but he never felt the fear except when Hutch woke from a dream, crying, and calling "Starsky, get down!" in that terrorized voice.

"I'd be cruising down PCH, in the Torino, to that little burrito stand in Laguna Beach. Remember it? We took two stewardesses one day and one of 'em got sick?

Starsky laughed to himself, feeling more than seeing Hutch's hand slip around his shoulders. Hutch laid his head on the back of the couch, so close that his breath warmed Starsky's cheek. "So the other one--Kathy?"

"Kathleen. That time it was Jennifer and Kathleen."

"Kathleen, took her back to their hotel in a cab and we just stayed there, on the beach, eating burritos when the sun went down." Starsky turned just enough to see himself reflected in Hutch's light eyes. "If' I'd been brave, I woulda kissed you right then."

"Yeah." Hutch nodded, closing his eyes wearily. "All those years, Starsky. I used to think we'd wasted them, dating girls when we could have been together."

"Not wasted when I was with the best friend I ever had."

"No question. I think we had to go through what we did . . .with Gunther, but even the Plague and all that other shit, to lead us to each other. Maybe getting together any earlier would have been too soon, before our brains caught up with our hearts."

"You romantic." Starsky elbowed him gently in the ribs and lay back, feeling Hutch's quiet even breathing against his chest. For now, that was the most important thing of all.


The parole hearing was scheduled for July 25, which gave Starsky some moments of quiet panic, since he'd hoped for a sedate week to rest up before Hutch's surprise party. It was already difficult to squeeze in phone calls to the Browns to discuss details without Hutch overhearing. But everything was in readiness for the big day, and Starsky was determined to be able to enjoy himself, despite having to go to court two days beforehand. Maybe they'd have something extra to celebrate.

Seeing Gunther in the flesh was a shock. The once virile man with pristine white hair and expensive Italian suits was stooped and drawn, leaning on a cane. Starsky straightened in the wheelchair, wishing he still could get around reliably with crutches. The tension in the air crackled like sparks from a downed power line. Hutch could have carved been out of granite when the lawyer escorting Gunther walked in. Starsky was very aware of his own breathing, maintaining an outward calm that didn't match his inner turmoil. He couldn't shake the feeling that the unadorned meeting room used for the parole hearing was the OK Corral. He and Gunther faced off, in a battle of the cancers.

Gunther's lawyer gave a good show--his client was a model prisoner, helped in the prison library even with his fatal diagnosis, and even cleaned the toilets when it was his turn. Gunther sat like a shriveled up toad, the malevolence that permeated his very core still shockingly evident in the way his blue eyes glowered at his accusers. Starsky laid a hand on Hutch's leg, under cover of the table, when Hutch stood to speak.

"You use your client's health as a bartering point to win a get out of jail free card as if we were playing a real-life version of Monopoly. No mention is made of the countless lives he forfeited when he wielded power like a demi-God from Mt. Olympus. There's no post-script about the drugs he sold, the people who suffered, and most importantly, the man he ordered killed--my partner." Hutch's never wavered, his voice strong and proud. Only Starsky knew how much it cost him to keep his anger in check, and not leap across the table to throttle the old man. Hutch had relived ever moment of the shooting the night before until the both of them just lay awake in their bed, holding hands.

Hutch stood, pointing a stiff finger not just at Gunther, but at his lawyer, too. "You want to use the health card? James Marshall Gunther has only a few months to live. Well, you know what? I can match your bet, and raise you--Starsky died for a few minutes after the shooting that James Marshall Gunther ordered, but he survived, only now he has cancer. And yes, he only has a short time to live, but he doesn't wave it over his head like a flag. You want sympathy, get a greeting card. Because murdering, manipulative, filthy scum like James Marshall Gunther deserve to rot in prison."

"Sergeant Hutchinson!" Nancy Carole, the head of the parole board, spoke sharply, looking over her half glasses at him. Starsky wanted to applaud his champion, but he kept silent, following the dictates of the hearing. "This is not the place for name calling and derisive language. You've had your say. Mr. Gunther, do you have anything to say in your own behalf?"

Looking up directly into the eyes of the man who nearly killed him, Starsky felt a chill run straight down his spine. Gunther's eyes were like those of a reptile, something cold and unfeeling, for all his failing health. He was the most evil man Starsky had ever faced, and he'd known many a vicious killer, but none that dispatched lives with such complete lack of remorse.

"I am an old man and only want to spend my remaining days free to feel the sun on my shoulders in the afternoon," Gunther said with an almost convincing tremor.

Starsky started to jump up, shout out the names of those who had died because of Gunther. Lionel Rigger, and Bates, the man Hutch had told him about, sitting dead in Gunther's office with tea spilled down his pants leg, but he stopped himself. The expressions on Mrs. Carole and the other committee members' faces were enough. They weren't swayed by crocodile tears and a pitiful manner, they had his criminal files in front of them.

There was more discussion, primarily about whether to admit Gunther to St. Joseph's prison ward for more extensive tests, but the end was strangely anti-climactic. Parole was denied.

Starsky had expected to be overjoyed at the news. Hutch was. He pumped his arm like a quarterback after the winning touchdown and hugged Starsky. The lawyers nodded with satisfaction, murmuring that with any luck the old goat would kick the bucket before they had to go through this again.

Sitting in the wheelchair, a few feet away from where Hutch talked with the lawyers, very conscious of the oxygen tank at his side, Starsky had the odd sensation that he was slowly disappearing from the room. He'd had this feeling once or twice recently, that he was watching life from behind a big window. He'd been so angry about the parole hearing last week, but now, watching Gunther limp away with his guards on either side, Starsky was weirdly detached as if none of this mattered anymore. Gunther still scared him, but he didn't want to have to waste energy thinking about him. He was so tired. Starsky wanted to be surrounded by his friends and loved ones, enveloped in their goodness. He was pulling away from life, and he realized with a jolt that he would die soon. Not in the next few days, but very soon, and the thought, while frightening, had a certain welcome relief.

Very aware again of the air moving in and out of his lungs, Starsky looked up to see Hutch smiling at him and saying something about going home. Yes, that was exactly where he wanted to be. Lying curled up on the bed all afternoon with Hutch at his side. How long would that perfection last? Would he be able to finish out the month of July? Make it all the way through August? He seriously doubted he had that many days left in him. Holding that secret deep in his heart, Starsky nodded at whatever Hutch was saying.

What would Hutch do when he was all alone?


Hutch leaned his head back, enjoying the feeling of wind whipping his blond hair around as the convertible sped down the highway. Starsky had ordered him to take the afternoon off. Ever since the little vacation that had brought a cold virus into their house, Hutch had been even more reluctant to leave Starsky. It was obvious, even to the untrained eye, that Starsky was failing, far faster than Hutch had ever dreamed. Comparing the Starsky from the end of June to the Starsky at the end of July was like seeing two different people. Not just his physical appearance, but little things like a quietude, a sense of calmness that Starsky hadn't had in his impetuous youth. Hutch was scared of letting go, but he'd allowed Huggy to coax him out of the house. Starsky kept insisting, and it was only for a few hours, just a bit of fun. Starsky had Sophie and Daisy with him, leaving Hutch in the company of the effervescent Huggy Bear.

"I thought you might enjoy a round of golf, my good man," Huggy said in the affected accent of an Oxford educated Englishman. "Got the clubs, the shoes with the tassels, the whole nine yards."

"Why do I get the impression that you and Starsky have something cooked up?" Hutch asked, turning his face to the sun.

"Au contraire, Blondie. This is just two amigos getting out for some well deserved rest." Huggy steered the sleek pale blue ragtop into the parking lot of a well known golf course. "The perks of restaurant ownership. Got a guest pass here from a satisfied customer."

"Very nice." Hutch had always wanted to go to the prestigious place, but the green fees were too expensive for a cop's pay. "I still think Starsky's got something up his sleeve. He was too anxious to get me out of the house."

"Eighteen holes of golf will get that notion right out of your head," Huggy assured.

Knocking tiny white balls into small holes in the company of a friend, out in the fresh air, was exactly what Hutch needed. He laughed, played golf rather badly, losing to Huggy's surprisingly good game, and only thought about Starsky every single time he teed off. Starsky had a strange fondness for golf. His swing absolutely stunk, but he adored driving the little cart over rolling hills, making silly comments about the duffer's clothes, and thrashing about in the sand traps looking for balls. Maybe he could bring Starsky back, push him over the course, and hit a couple, just for the heck of it.

"Starsky would have liked that 16th hole." Huggy sucked lazily on a straw, the last of his coke disappearing with a loud slurp. Their guest privileges included a drink at the bar, traditionally called the Nineteenth hole. The place was filled with sunburned golfers discussing their games over drinks. "The way the green curved all the way down and to the left, with the pond in the middle."

"He can't hit worth a damn," Hutch laughed. "He would have ended up dredging the water for his ball, more than likely."

"Wearing those plaid shorts. The ones he wore in Jamaica, remember?"

Hutch nodded, staring out at the perfectly kept greens interspersed with jaunty flags indicating where the holes were. It was peaceful here, serene, and he wanted to bottle up that feeling and preserve it for the next few months. "Thanks, Huggy, for all this."

"The day is still young. Let's pick up some grub from Mama Bear's and bring it back to your house. Daisy's still not quite herself yet, and cooking makes her queasy."

"I never knew morning sickness could last all day long."

"All night, all day--turned my princess into a bear for sure. Doctor says it should abate soon as she gets past the first trimester." Huggy glanced at his watch with a comically pained expression. "Which should be in an hour or two."

"That's right!" Hutch grinned; he hadn't given much thought to the date. "It's your three month anniversary. Get some champagne, too."

"Hey, I no longer celebrate anything without champagne. The woman insists." Huggy stood, his lanky frame clad in a dazzling array of colors. Pink Izod shirt, pale green slacks with a snazzy dark green belt, tan shoes with the requisite tassels, and a tam of purple, green, and black plaid atop his curly dark hair.

Hutch had seen Huggy in far more outlandish outfits in the past, and next to a few of the other club members, he looked downright sedate. There was an older gentleman a few tables away who appeared to be auditioning for the part of an eggplant in the club talent show. Hutch put down a tip just as a busboy came over to whisk their glasses away, eyeing a woman in an abbreviated blue skirt and pink and blue striped shirt walk down the slope to the first hole. Once upon a time, he would have taken the opportunity to follow her, maybe make a date. Now, all he could think about was Starsky in those plaid shorts he wore in Jamaica.

"Hutch, you coming?" Huggy asked.

"On my way!"

The drive back was quieter, both men tired from their exercise, and Hutch didn't think much past deciding what to select from the fare at Mama Bear's. Huggy suggested the newest entrée, babyback ribs, but Hutch had seafood in mind. Maybe some salmon for him and some crab to entice Starsky? Starsky didn't eat much lately, much like back when he'd been on chemo, but he always ate a little crab when offered. Soft shell or the local stuff, that was the question. On the other hand, it was July-- what was that rule about only eating crab in a month with an R in it?

Still thinking more of what to have for dinner than anything else, Hutch followed Huggy up to the front door. The bright pink neon sign that could usually be seen for several blocks in every direction was turned off. "Hug, the place looks dark. You think there was a power failure?"

"Nah, Daisy been experimenting with ambi-ance," Huggy said, stressing the third syllable. "Dimmers, little candles. Next she'll be wanting one of those revolving lights like they have in discos."

"Disco is dead, or haven't you heard . . ." Hutch walked through the door and stopped short. The place was completely empty.

In the next second, there was light, sound, and movement as the whole place erupted with people shouting "Surprise!" Streamers were flying, balloons popping up from behind the chairs they were tied to, and Starsky was standing right in the midst of all their friends, holding out his hands.

Hutch barely noticed anything else. Starsky was standing, something he hadn't done in days, maybe weeks. He didn't remember taking the few steps to gather his lover into his arms and kiss him. A roar of approval over the public display rose up around them, but neither Starsky nor Hutch were paying all that much attention.

"Hey, babe, what’s all this?" Hutch murmured into Starsky's ear.

"You're forty. One month early!" Starsky laughed. "And you'd better lower me down into the chair, or I'm gonna fall over. Didn't want to eat until you got here."

"Idiot," Hutch said with affection, helping Starsky sit down and making sure the oxygen tubing was securely in place. "But I thought the party was in August."

"Surprised you, huh?" Starsky glowed with happiness, his narrow face nearly split in two from the grin. "Tell you later, just go over there and get me something t'eat. I'm starving. I think there are some of those melon wrapped in bacon things you like."

Despite all his good intentions, it took Hutch nearly twenty minutes to make it to the buffet table. Every one of his friends came up to wish him happy birthday and press a gift or a drink into his hands. The Dobeys were there, along with the entire award winning Bay City girl's gymnastics team, half the police force, and many of the cadets-turned-officers Hutch had taught at the academy. Daisy signaled that she was bringing a plate over to Starsky when Hutch was caught up in a conversation with Minnie. When he finally loaded up a plate for himself and brought it back to the table where Starsky was stationed, he found Starsky chatting with Mika and Gemma from St. Joseph's.

"Happy Birthday, Ken!" Mika greeted, munching on a chicken wing. "He finally surprised you! David used to tell me that he could never give you a party, because you hated being surprised."

"I do, but this is something else. And since he switched the dates, I never expected a thing." Hutch glanced over at his partner's plate. For all that Starsky had said he was starving, there was little evidence that he'd done more than nibble on the treats. As expected, the crab on toast points was nearly gone, but the mini pizzas were congealing and the Dolmas were untouched. Hutch ate his own in two bites, having worked up an appetite chatting with people.

It was one of those nights to remember--the atmosphere of happiness from everyone in the room, the mischievous glimmer in Starsky's eyes that Hutch had almost thought gone, the pride on Captain Dobey's face when his daughter performed her floor routine between the pushed back chairs and tables, and the laughter when Hutch opened up the gifts and found a chocolate pistol, an ant farm (from Starsky of course) and a child's doctor kit. To practice his future skills.

There was cake, and champagne--which Daisy's doctor had apparently allowed her half a glass-- and dancing. Hutch, never all that light on his feet in the first place, sat it out, one arm around Starsky. Starsky had two bright spots of pink on his cheeks, and had indulged in half a glass of champagne himself. Since Hutch was reasonably sure Starsky had also used morphine for the back pain that never completely went away, he worried about respiratory depression and all the other scary side-effects detailed in his medical books. Starsky laughed off his concern, pointing out the two nurses in attendance, dancing to the rocking beat of Turkey and the Giblets. At one point, he even convinced Hutch that the birthday boy was required to take one tour around the dance floor. Feeling giddy with the combination of bubbly French wine and laughter, Hutch twirled Starsky's chair around to the steady clapping of their audience.

Like Cinderella's ball, the party began to wind down as the clock struck midnight. The gymnasts, who had flipped and twirled their way around the room countless times, were drooping on their parents' arms. Many of Hutch's former students bowed out early, citing either late night shifts or early morning ones. Fellow detectives from Metro made the same excuses, saying their goodbyes, and reaching over Starsky slumbering on the table to shake Hutch's hand.

"Happy Birthday, dear," Edith Dobey said, giving Hutch a kiss on the cheek. "We'll have a small party next month, to celebrate the actual day."

"Sounds good, Edith," Hutch agreed. His heart skipped a beat from a sudden fear, but he didn't let it show on his face. The thought he'd been keeping at bay all night finally slipped through the happy times. Would Starsky be alive on August 28th?

"He looks so thin. How is he doing?" Edith getting patted Starsky's shoulder.

"He's tired all the time, and sleeps a lot." Hutch hedged on how much to say. Edith visited Starsky often enough to know that things were winding down, but he was just superstitious enough not to want to say so out loud. "We're getting by."

"I know you are. Tell him I said goodbye."

"He's awake," Starsky said with a giant yawn. "G'night, Edith. Thanks for all your help."

"You ready to go, Rip Van Winkle?" Hutch stuffed the last of his gifts into a large garbage bag Daisy had given him. There was quite a load, for which he was surprised. For some reason he hadn't expected to get presents for his 40th. His father would have said the beginning of middle age was a time for taking stock and acting more maturely, not beginning medical school with a red plastic thermometer and toy stethoscope. So much for his father's recommendations. He'd take Starsky's advice to follow his heart any day of the week.

"I didn't sleep that long," Starsky protested.

"No, then your beard must have turned white in the last hour," Hutch teased, the light heartedness of the party still with him. He could push away the scariness of Starsky's situation when they were out with friends much more easily than when they were alone, at home.

Starsky actually touched his chin to check, and Hutch laughed aloud.

"Hey, you party animals," Daisy came in from the kitchen, rubbing her still flat belly. "It's past the witching hour and all the vampires are out, shouldn't you get on home?"

"Just leaving." Hutch hugged her, kissing the top of her ornate braids. "This was fantastic. Thank you."

"I didn't do a thing. I've been off my feet half the time, but your friend there could have a career organizing things. He managed everything despite the date change."

"Just took a couple of phone calls. Turkey needed the rent money," Starsky said, but Hutch could see through the modest pride to the exhaustion Starsky was only barely hiding.

"C'mon, you look dead on your feet," Hutch said without thinking, and Daisy gave a tiny gasp, but covered it quickly. He felt heat rise up his cheeks and grimaced. Starsky was gazing at him with a sweet, sad little grin and nodded at him, their eyes locked. No further words needed to be said. Starsky had done all this for love, even if it was the last thing he might ever do, and Hutch was humbled. He leaned down to kiss Starsky on the lips before wheeling him out into the night.

Looking back, Hutch always considered that night the beginning of the end. Each day after the party, he would stop whatever he was doing to reflect if this moment was the last time Starsky ever looked at a sunset, or sat with the cat in his lap, or kissed Hutch on the mouth.


"Did he leave yet?" Starsky eased himself up in bed, moving slowly to accommodate for the lancing pain that shoved against his spine whenever he twisted or turned too quickly. Hutch had gone out to do errands--just the bank, the pet food store, and a few other odds and ends. Things their friends usually divvied up to help out, but Starsky knew Hutch needed time alone. There were days when the house was oppressive, like a claustrophobic box they both wanted to escape. Those days Hutch would announce, with obvious guilt, that he needed to go shopping. Starsky often felt as much relief as Hutch did in getting away, knowing that his partner would have some free time where he wasn't confronted with death looming in every corner.

"I 'eard the car driving out only a moment ago," Sophie agreed. She made quick work of her nursing duties, settling Starsky back on a fresh pillowcase.

"Can you get me the folder out of my drawer?" Starsky directed her to bring over a bulging binder and some fresh sheets of lined paper. His on-going project was nearly complete. There were just a few additions to be made before he was finished. He tired so quickly that it had taken longer than expected to gather all the pieces, but he was more than satisfied. Taking a few moments to collect his thoughts, addled as they were by the pain meds, he wrote twelve words and nodded.


Adding a dollop of chocolate sauce to the cookie dough ice cream, Hutch absently licked the ice cream scoop. When he was a child, ice cream was the special treat only allowed at birthday parties and tonsillectomies. In fact, his health conscious mother had pretty much banned sweets all together from their home, so that he'd never really acquired much of a sweet tooth. Since meeting his partner, Starsky's great delight in all things gustatory had opened Hutch's eyes to the world of junk food, and a sneaking enjoyment of snacking. He still preferred to eat a much healthier diet, but ice cream was awfully tasty on a hot day. Hopefully, Starsky would think so, too. Ice cream had turned into a staple at their house. It was easy to eat, packed with calcium and calories, and Starsky could usually be persuaded to eat some.

Starsky's interest in food had pretty much ceased to be. He went all day on a few bites of cheese or chocolate milk, his current favorite beverage. At first, Hutch had vied Sophie for kitchen space, trying to whip up something his partner would consume, but his zeal had waned as the days passed.

"It's not uncommon for terminal patients to lose any feeling of hunger as their bodies begin to slow down," John Davies said quietly. "It's a natural process." Making that rarity for a modern doctor, the house call, John had appeared at the front door, with a book on medical trivia for Starsky. He examined his patient quickly, wrote a few new orders for the nurses, and sat down to chat, accepting a bowl of ice cream with a grin.

"This is terrific!" Starsky enthused about the book, taking a bite of his already melting sundae. "Hutch, didja know that in the 1870s doctors didn't have to study any science courses at all t'get into medical school?" He paused to catch his breath, almost panting from the long sentence. "And didn't have to see patients or do autopsies."

"I think I'd had better luck getting into one of those universities than the ones I'm applying to now," Hutch grumbled good-naturedly, but his eyes were only on Starsky. He could have blown away in a stiff wind, and his long jawline, always angular, was like the sharp edged blade of a sword. But as always, there was a sense of wonder shining from his eyes, and he flipped the pages of the book with rapt interest, pausing now and then to read some interesting tidbit. All too soon, his energy was spent and he fell asleep, the book open to a picture of a six-legged calf.

"Don't sell yourself short, Ken," John said, also looking over at Starsky. "The knowledge you bring from your career as a cop, as well as the last year dealing with the medical community, is invaluable. That'll put you way ahead of some twenty one year old used to being the smart fish in his little pond."

"John, I'm beginning to think I'm insane to believe I can do this," Hutch confessed. "I'm forty years old. Four years of medical school--if I get in, three years of residency . . .with 36 hour shifts . . .I'll be an old man competing with teenagers."

"Don't forget the two years of fellowship if you want to specialize--unless of course, you want to be a surgeon. Then it's a whole different ballpark." John smirked. "Tell me, as a cop, have you delivered a baby? Held a dying man? Used checked table cloths as bandages to stop the bleeding from a gunshot wound?"

"Starsky told you, huh?" Hutch raised his eyebrows. He'd accomplished more, and seen more, than he'd ever realized. It was amazingly gratifying.

"How many of those teenagers have that kind of experience? You've flushed IV ports, given meds, coaxed a finicky patient to eat . . .Ken, I'm sure you were a good cop, but you'll make one hell of a doctor."

"The voice of experience?" Hutch had that overwhelming feeling that he didn't deserve such praise when John raised his glass of iced tea in a silent toast. He gulped back the tears that threatened at the oddest times, and toasted his friend in return.

"The voice of someone who's had to muddle through with lunk-head interns who didn't know one orifice of the body from another." John gave a long-suffering sigh. He stood, packing his stethoscope and prescription pad back into a black backpack. "I'm due back at the office for a new patient this afternoon. These are always the hardest."

"Yeah, I hear you," Hutch agreed, seeing him out. He shivered, remembering the dark, terrifying days when Starsky had been laid up in the hospital with a broken leg waiting for the results of the biopsy on the tumor just below his knee. Hutch had thought nothing would scare him more than finding out Starsky had cancer. Now he knew differently.

He heard a yawn coming from the recesses of the couch and leaned over to kiss Starsky gently on the nose.

"Ah, man, did I fall asleep on John?" Starsky rubbed at the place Hutch had kissed, breathing hard for someone lying down. "That tickles. I fell asleep when Rosie and Samantha came over yesterday, and haven't seen the end of a TV show in weeks."

"I guess we're just not stimulating enough for you." Hutch hitched one leg over the couch and slid down next to Starsky so that they ended up scrunched together, tangled in the afghan. He pulled Starsky against him, feeling Starsky's bony elbows and hip jut hard against his slightly more padded body. With all the stress, he didn't eat enough himself, but at least he had muscle. Starsky was stripped down like a prisoner in a concentration camp surviving on nothing but determination and grit. Blue veins shone through his nearly transparent skin like freeways on a map. Hutch compared his own lightly tanned arm to Starsky's. Light and darker reversed, for the first time in their lives. "You need another transfusion."

"That's what John said when you were in the kitchen." Starsky shrugged, his shoulder digging into Hutch's side. "I told him don't bother."


"What's the point, Hutch? It's a waste of time of time." He picked up the trivia book, flipping the pages until the print blurred together. "I'm beginning to think I'm a vampire, pale as the moon, and in need of fresh blood."

"If you bite me while I'm sleeping, I may have to stake you through the heart." Hutch laughed when Starsky turned his head just enough to scrape his teeth along Hutch's neck.

"You already did, the day we met." Starsky murmured, kissing him on the side of the jaw. Hutch moved into the kiss, catching Starsky's mouth with his own. But they both knew it wouldn't go any further than that. Starsky simply no longer had the stamina for anything active. Their lives had closed down to a very small area. Cuddling on the couch, or cuddling in their big bed. Two rooms with just enough space for the both of them.

Starsky's chest was heaving with the effort to breath after the short exchange, and Hutch reached over to turn up the flow on the ever present oxygen tank, checking to see that the cannula was securely in Starsky's nose. He thought he spied a few stray tears decorating the impossibly long curly dark lashes before Starsky passed a weary hand over his face. "Hutch, I made something for you."

"Yeah?" He tucked Starsky against his chest, resting his chin on the still abundant curls.

"Sophie put it in the top drawer of the desk, but don't read it right now," Starsky cautioned. "Wait until . . .you know."

"Aw, Starsk . . ." Hutch breathed out, wondering how a stake had lanced his heart without him noticing. He was the one blinking away tears this time and was glad Starsky was faced away from him so he wouldn't see.

"You promise?"

"I promise," Hutch agreed.

"Read me something funny." Starsky held up the trivia book.

"Let's see," Hutch skimmed through a few items, finding them much more engrossing than he'd expected.


"Oh, sorry, just reading up on the Spanish Flu of 1918. Killed more people worldwide than any war, ever."

"That's not too funny."

Death, it was on both of their minds too much of the time. Hutch shook his head, turning to a different section. "Here we go. The medical word for that sound in your belly that used to wake me up on long stakeouts is borborygmus."

"Bor-bor?" Starsky waggled his tongue. "Ties my tongue up in knots. Y'know I'm on heavy duty meds, you gotta be nice to me."

"Say it with me," Hutch sang the word up the scale, starting with C. "Bor-bo-ryg-mus."

"Sing something I know," Starsky said, the rasp of his breathing a constant background noise underscoring everything they did anymore.

"I can't think of anything," Hutch said truthfully. His brain was full of white noise to cover up the fear. Nothing came to mind except maybe Laredo, and he didn't want to sing about beautiful dead cowboys.

"Who knows . . ." Starsky took in a deep breath with a wince, and continued to sing. " How long I've loved you . . .You know . . ." He coughed, his voice giving out but Hutch caught up the plaintive tune.

"You know I love you still," Hutch sang. "Will I wait a lonely lifetime? If you want me to . . . "

"I will." Starsky whispered, and tucked his head against Hutch's shoulder, his heart hammering against Hutch's chest like a wild bird caught in a cage.


Singing was all that kept him going some nights. Hutch reached back into his memory banks, pulling out golden oldies that he hadn't sung since high school and college. He'd strum his guitar, the words once sung by John Denver, Buddy Holly, Joan Baez, and, of course, The Beatles weaving their magic in the darkened bedroom. Night after night, Starsky asked to be sung to sleep, only to wake up with the moon streaming in their room to cling to Hutch.

Hutch got a clock radio for those times when he was too sleepy to sing, and they'd lie awake listening to Mozart, Gershwin, and Jim Croce until Starsky fell asleep again. Sometimes, Hutch just held him, waiting for the sun to rise. Each time he opened his eyes, surprised he'd fallen asleep, he gave thanks that Starsky was still alive. He'd get up, push himself through the day, and sing Starsky to sleep again another night. There was not much else he could do. Starsky was too weak to sit up, just breathing using up every ounce of energy. He'd sleep on and off most of the day, but often had a short period in the early evening when he was almost his old self, teasing Hutch with a wicked glint in his eye.

The nurses were now in their home around the clock, taking care of Starsky's medical needs so that Hutch could deal with the emotional ones. They both pretended to be brave, pretended that these days weren't precious gifts that Hutch would remember for ever. They played games of denial and evasion, with Starsky wrapped in Hutch's arms for safekeeping.

Starsky was always cold. Mid-August, with the temperatures reaching 90, Hutch would be sweating with the duvet and afghan piled over them, but Starsky was cold. That, more than anything else, signaled to him that Starsky was moving away from this life, and he wept in the bathroom, then put on a brave face when he came out.

"What'er you in the mood for tonight?" Hutch climbed up on the bed, his neck still wet where he'd splashed water on his face.

"Monopoly," Starsky said with his breathy, barely there voice.

"You're the race car and I'll be the top hat." Hutch arranged the pieces on the board, wondering if they'd even make it around the circuit once before Starsky fell asleep again. He had to think harder than usual to come up with the banter required for their game, probably because of sleep deprivation. "I'll race you to Park Place."

"Just throw . . ." Starsky pushed the dice over with the tip of his index finger. "I been studying…" He inhaled deeply. "One thousand ways to win Monopoly lately."

"Starsky, you've had that book since . . . " Hutch didn't want to say since Terri died, so he amended his words at the last second. "Since the mid seventies. You've never won yet." He tossed a six and moved his top hat that number of spaces.

"Have, too." Starsky dropped the dice and got a four. Hutch moved the race car along for him.

"Playing with Rosie, sure." The game continued for a few more moves in silence before Starsky got enough breath to speak again. Hutch reflected, in the half of his brain not concentrating on the game, how much he hated the hulking green oxygen tank. It was easier to focus his hate on something that concrete rather than railing against the fates.

"You just don't . . ." Starsky picked up a Chance card. "Get out of jail free." He hitched another breath and waited through a spasm of pain that screwed up his face. "You don't understand my strategies."

"Face it, Starsk," Hutch plunked a hotel on his property. "No one does."

Mick, who had taken to staying the night, knocked before coming in with bowls of ice cream. He checked Starsky's IV morphine drip with quiet assurance, watching their game. "I like the old fashioned boot the best, always reminds me of the shoes my grandfather used to wear. Be careful of landing on that space, Starsky, the rent will kill you."

"I'm on a roll," Starsky chuckled, moving his race car two spaces with careful precision. Hutch pretended not to notice how much that little activity took out of him. "But you can get in line . . " He closed his eyes, summoning strength. "For the next game."

"A Monopoly marathon, all right," Mick agreed, meeting Hutch's eyes over the top of the patient's head. Hutch didn't want to acknowledge the nurse's sadness, but he nodded silently.

The whole game took on a surreal quality. Playing in the bed with the comforter and duvet heaped around them, the half-eaten ice cream melting in the blue bowls, multicolored Monopoly money scattered around like oddly shaped confetti. Starsky won, reaching Park Place with enough cash to buy a hotel. Hutch was sure his loss was because he was so completely distracted that he made some stupid mistakes. He certainly hadn't let Starsky win, not intentionally, anyway.

Starsky was elated, lying back on his pillow with a smug expression of triumph. Hutch couldn't help himself, he leaned over and kissed his partner, stroking his dry, delicate cheek affectionately. "The studying must have paid off, huh?"

"Nah, I've been talkin' to Terri lately."

Hutch literally felt his heart skip a beat and then struggle to regain a steady rhythm. "Terri?"

"Yeah, she's been really close." Starsky heaved a breath like a swimmer who'd taken in too much water, gesturing vaguely at the window. "Y'know, I think dying people have an advantage at games."

As usual, a bit confused by one of Starsky's classic non-sequitors, Hutch could only weakly ask why.

"Did I tell you about my Grandma?"

"The one who lived over an Italian restaurant?" Hutch had to force himself not to scream at this bizarre conversation. Instead, he began to tidy up the Monopoly pieces, piling the bills into neat stacks.

"Yeah." Starsky smiled dreamily, almost as if he could see her, too. Maybe he could. If he had been talking to a woman dead for nearly ten years, maybe he could see a woman who had gone through the pearly gates in the early fifties, as well. "Was really sick. She kept slipping in and out of a coma." He paused, poking at the nasal cannula which had come out of his nose. "She was a Scrabble champ, even though she only finished the eighth grade."

"And English was her second language," Hutch added, since he knew that detail. Magda Polasky Starsky had been born in Poland, in the 1880s.

"Yeah," Starsky whispered, obviously determined to finish his story. "Nobody could beat her. So when she came out of a coma this one time, Uncle …uh…" he faltered, his lips bluish from talking so long.

"Starsk?" Hutch gripped his hand, Starsky's cold fingers wrapping around his.

"Uncle Schlomo thought he could win this time."

"Yeah?" Hutch blinked at the tears that blurred his vision, not even sure why he was crying.

"But she got him--an X on a triple letter square. Ax." Starsky laughed soundlessly, then his eyes widened in a sudden epiphany. "Hutch, I'm gonna die."

Laughing because it was either that or bawl even harder, Hutch let the race car and the top hat slide into the sheets, pulling Starsky into his arms. "Because you beat me in Monopoly? Not tonight, sweetheart."

"Sing something happy."

It was the same request Starsky had made every night that week, and usually Hutch obliged with Jailhouse Rock or The Ballad of the Red Baron. Tonight he didn't even have to think about his choice. "You're still the one that can make me smile. We're still having fun, and you're still the one. . ."

When Mick came in next to check on his patient, Hutch was humming a classic lullaby, Starsky's noisy breathing the harmony to Hutch's melody.


Hutch came awake slowly, a crick in his neck from lying in an awkward position the entire night. He'd hadn't slept so soundly in days. Reaching over to shift Starsky off his arm, Hutch froze, his heart suddenly pounding with fear. There was no sound of raspy breathing. The room was almost unnaturally quiet.

"No, baby, no!" Hutch pushed Starsky onto his back, all the CPR training the police department drummed into them yearly surfacing exactly when needed. He'd done this once before to Starsky--on the roof of that scum Bellamy's apartment, when Starsky nearly succumbed to that terrible poison. He could do it again. "Mick!" he bellowed, giving a quick breath into Starsky's mouth.

Two breaths, then five compressions, and another two breaths.

"Mick left, Monsieur Ken, it's . . ." Sophie ran into the room, grabbing his arm. "Stop!"

"He's not breathing. We have to get him to the hospital!" Hutch insisted between compressions. He couldn't look at Starsky's pale face, couldn't think beyond the comforting sequence of breaths and chest compressions.

"You know David did not want this!" Sophie cried. "You know he didn't want to go dans l'hospital!"

"But . . " Hutch's frantic actions slowed and then stopped. He left his hands on his lover's chest, desperate to feel some inhalation or tiny indication of life. "What am I supposed to do now?"

Sophie stroked Starsky's pale brow, her eyes brimming with tears. "He's at peace."

"When?" Hutch demanded, jumping up to grab the nurse's notes off the nightstand. "When? How long? How could I sleep next to him . . .? He's still warm!"

"Not long, I think, cherie," Sophie smoothed the duvet, spilling the leftover Monopoly money onto the floor. "Mick departed at seven aujourd'hui--this morning. David was still with us then. You see the notation?"

Hutch gulped a sob, but refused to give it freedom, trying to read Mick's neat handwriting. He needed to be calm, level headed, Starsky would have wanted that. There is was, written in black; 0700, heartrate 45, respirations 8. "What time is it, now?"

"Just half past seven." Sophie gave him a hug, and he could feel her grief. He didn't want anyone else's, and he didn't want his own. This wasn't right. He couldn't have played Monopoly the night before with Starsky and then find him gone in the morning. They had so much left to say.

"Ken?" Sophie asked softly, and the use of his first name without the formal French title in front caught his attention. "I'm going to call a few people on David's list--to prepare, d'accord? Will you be all right?"

All right? There wasn't a word in the English language for what he was feeling right now, but Hutch nodded mutely, sitting down on the side of the bed. He took Starsky's limp hand, gazing into his beloved's face. Starsky looked serene, as Sophie had said, at peace. No more cancer, no more pain. It should have been enough to ease Hutch's anguish. He should have been prepared for this, but there was a raw ache inside him as if his heart had been ripped out.

"Why, Starsky?" Hutch whispered. "You said you'd be there for my birthday--you promised me." He didn't cry, didn't mourn, he just waited for an answer. None came, and Hutch could barely stand the quiet. Starsky always talked--even these last days when it was hard for him to breathe and speak at the same time. He'd filled Hutch's life with trivia, with tall tales of dubious veracity, with love. That couldn't be over, not yet. "You didn't say good-bye."

Hutch kissed Starsky's face, touched his hair, his eyelashes, and his lips. All the same, and yet so very different. Starsky had left the building. He tucked Starsky in very carefully, making sure he would stay warm under the duvet, because Starsky was so very cold lately. Guilt caught at his throat and he laid his hand on Starsky's cheek, still sure he could feel some warmth there. "I'm not blaming you, baby. I know you tried so hard--harder than anyone ever could. Just wait for me, huh? Wait for me, because someday we'll be riding in the Torino again. I promise."

"M'sieur Ken?" Sophie wiped tears off her cheeks with a lacy handkerchief. "Huggy Bear will be coming soon. He can help you."

"I . . . " Hutch looked over at Starsky, not knowing what to do next. Starsky had made all the plans, arranged for the coffin, funeral home, and all those sordid details Hutch hadn't wanted to hear. "I don't know what to do."

Sophie nodded. "Just a moment." She left and came back with a blue binder, holding it out like an offering. "David left something for you."

Hutch stared at the binder, the memory of Starsky's voice so strong he was sure his lover had spoken. "Hutch, I made something for you . . . but don't read it right now. Wait until . . .you know."

"I don't know if I can," Hutch admitted, suddenly terrified to see what was in the innocuous book.

"Take it, and listen to your heart," Sophie said quietly. "Listen to David. He is with the angels now."

Hutch almost smiled at that, imagining Starsky cavorting with angels up in the clouds. Pansy butted her head against his ankle, swiveling around his legs as L'Chaim leapt effortlessly from the carpet into his lap. Buffeted by their comforting presence, Hutch held the book, looking at Starsky. How was he going to survive without his guiding star? All those times when his own tendency to get depressed about the worst aspects of their job, Starsky had been there to buoy him up. He was adrift without an anchor.

Starsky would want him to stay strong, to keep on moving forward, but to what? His future seemed opaque--was he destined to remain teaching at the academy? Go into some lieutenant level job at Metro, or go to medical school? He couldn't make these decisions without Starsky.

Pansy meowed mournfully, jumping up on the bed to look at her master with confusion. "Don't worry," Hutch said aloud, not quite sure who exactly he was talking to. "Starsky, I won't leave you alone. I can't remember what it's called--sitting by the . . . " He couldn't bring himself to call Starsky a body, or even dead, but magically, as if Starsky had told him, the word popped into his head. "Sitting Shiva, that's it. I'll stay with you, sit Shiva for as long as it takes." That felt right, and he nodded, feeling like he was held together with duct tape and bailing wire and if he moved too quickly, he'd fall to bits.

So he sat, very still, L'Chaim curled in his lap. After a while, he took Starsky's hand and sang to him. He never thought about the songs, just sang what felt right, and then he could breathe again.

"Hutch?" Huggy asked hesitantly.

Hutch had a weird deja-vu of Huggy arriving at the hospital the day after Starsky was shot in'79, in a bright orange jump suit. Strange what one remembered. Huggy had been out of state, and hadn't gotten in until after surgery was over, when Hutch was so far gone he was sure he would have died if Starsky had. That some umbilical cord of sorts had yoked them together into two people who operated as one. A little of that feeling persisted. He was afraid to leave Starsky's side. Afraid to live when his lover, best friend, and brother was dead.

Huggy had helped him hold onto hope once upon a time. What could he do now that there was no more hope left?

"Aw, man, I'm sorry," Huggy said in a strangled voice, his long fingers gripping Hutch's shoulder just a little too tightly.

Pansy meowed urgently again, as if nobody was taking her seriously. She knew. She understood Starsky was gone.

"When?" Huggy moved toward the bed, but didn't touch Starsky, just stood with his head bowed and long fingers moving restlessly as if he couldn't quite keep still.

"Only a little while ago," Hutch said, and was surprised at how normal he sounded. "Just before I woke up, I think."

"S'probably what made you wake up," Huggy declared. "What can I do? I'm there for you, man, all the way."

"This." Hutch held up the binder. He couldn't open it. He was a coward.

Huggy hefted the book, flipping through the contents. "I never knew my boy to be so organized. It's all here--funeral arrangements, a will . . ."

"He did it for me," Hutch said tonelessly. "So I wouldn’t have to."

"Then I think you should read this," Huggy unclipped the binder rings and removed a single sheet of paper.

For a second the words swarm on the page, but Hutch blinked and they came into focus. He only had to read them once, after that they were tattooed on his heart forever. "Hutch, you know my heart. There's nothing else to say. I love you."


Water erupted from the ground level sprinkler heads with a groaning whoosh that proved just how long it had been since Hutch had watered the lawn. L'Chaim, who had been sniffing around the edge of the overgrown grass, jumped back in horror, his back arched. Hutch almost smiled at that. He sat down against the front door, watching the sun make rainbows in the water droplets. Now L'Chaim was trying to catch the flashes of violetindigoblue and scarletorange decorating each blade of grass, leaping and twirling to escape the water and still pat at the colors. Hutch did finally smile at that, soaking the late September sun into his bones, feeling like a bear that had come out of hibernation.

He'd basically sleepwalked through the end of August and most of September, doing what he was told to do, going through the motions, just a shell with a gaping black hole in his center. He had almost no memory of the funeral, except for someone singing "In My Life" while standing next to the coffin. He didn't even know who sang the song, but the words hit him so hard he'd put his head down on his knees to keep from passing out. Harold Dobey and Karen kept patting him and telling him to let it out, he didn't have to be brave. But he hadn't cried. Not one tear. Hadn't cried at all, not ever. There'd been too much crying in the last year, Hutch felt drained dry.

He still expected to see Starsky every moment, would turn his head to respond to something his lover said that was unheard by anyone else. When watching TV or reading the newspaper, he kept wanting to point out a beautiful actress or an interesting article to Starsky, and would be surprised not to find him sitting at the table eating a slice of disreputable day-old pizza. At night, he was afraid to move in the bed because then the true realization that Starsky wasn't there would sink in. He half wanted to sell the house to get away from the ghosts, and yet was afraid he'd forget some aspect of their lives if he did.

Starsky's death still took his breath away, and he ached with loss. His very cells mourned. But slowly, the blackness was lifting off his soul. Yesterday he'd laughed at a goofy card Karen sent in the mail, and today--well, today something seemed to have shifted. He wasn't sure why, but he could sense a tiny fragment of joy returning.

L'Chaim got totally soaked going after a butterfly in the petunias and yowled with indignation. Pansy made an odd chirping sound that Hutch would have sworn sounded like she was laughing at her son. When he turned to look straight at her, she was nonchalantly licking a front paw as if nothing had happened.

Sitting here was peaceful, and he needed the respite. He should be grading papers, or going over the syllabus to pick out questions for the test coming up but he just sat, thinking. He'd gone back to teaching at the academy even though every one of his friends said take more time. Take time for what? Sitting around the house just fueled his depression. He needed structure, and focus even more so without Starsky. Something to fill his days and tire him out so he didn't dream so much. The good dreams were wonderful, he and Starsky cruising their beat in the Torino. Starsky looking young--even younger than when they'd first partnered, with two sound legs. That was the good dream. The bad ones featured any number of times Starsky had been shot--the bullets exploding in his body, taking him away from Hutch over and over. Those dreams came more often and left him shivering in the night. But he never cried.

He'd had a good dream the night before. Just Starsky walking along. He wasn't sure where Starsky was coming from, or going to, but Starsky had smiled at him, waving at him with a quizzical expression. He'd held out a envelope and disappeared. Hutch had wakened murmuring his lover's name, and for once, he hadn't quite felt so alone.

The pleasant feeling had persisted all morning. He'd eaten a hearty breakfast, an omelet, sausage, and toast. He'd forgotten how good such a meal could be, and couldn't even remember when was the last time he'd eaten that much. Starsky would have loved it and asked for seconds--maybe even poured maple syrup on the sausage. But that was a long time ago. Until recently, he'd eaten only when Starsky wanted to eat--and that wasn't often. He hadn't even noticed how much weight he'd lost until Huggy helped him dress for the funeral and his pants wouldn't even stay up.

That was in the past. He had to keep moving forward or he'd never move at all.

"You know my heart, there's nothing else to say. I love you."

That sentence resonated in his brain at least once an hour, every day. It was his lodestone when there was nothing else left. It kept him moving forward. Starsky would not have wanted him to stagnate.

Speaking of which, having watered the grass, he realized he should have cut the danged stuff first. It was nearly over his ankles and sprinkled with jaunty yellow dandelion heads. Good thing there wasn't a neighborhood group who passed judgment on those sorts of things, like on the Dobey's street, or he would have gotten some sort of fine. The roses had gone to rose hips and the Calla lilies were definitely not in bloom any more. What would Starsky think about this mess? When they'd first met, he'd laughed about Hutch's interest in all things green, but Starsky had come around, even naming his plants, and learning to enjoy digging in the dirt. Hutch thought about the bedraggled vegetable garden in the back yard, and pushed back grading papers for another few hours. He wanted to dig in the dirt.

"G'morning, Ken!" Eleanor, the mail lady walked up the sidewalk, a big wad of mail in her hand. "You haven't been emptying the box, there's no space left here. Can you take this lot?"

"Sorry." Hutch ducked through the sprinklers, only getting a little wet, and scooped out the accumulation of mail. Days worth. Probably bills and such that he should have paid weeks ago. He had to get his life on back on the track. The trouble was, half the bills still came in Starsky's name. He hadn't closed Starsky's bank account or his credit cards, so just seeing his love's name could jolt him into a depression for hours, if not days. Not anymore. Moving forward, that was his mantra.

"You know my heart, there's nothing else to say. I love you."

"And today's." Eleanor added several more envelopes to the load in Hutch's arms, tapping one on top. "From UCLA, looks important."

"Thanks." Juggling the mound to make it to the house, Hutch couldn't quite fathom why he'd be getting mail from the university. It wasn't until he'd dumped the load onto the dining room table that he remembered sending off the medical school forms. So long ago, just before things went all to hell. Probably a reject letter, anyway. He was far too old to be considering such a career move. What the hell had he been thinking?

Still, what would it hurt to open the letter?

He inhaled slowly, running a finger under the flap of the envelope, unaccountably nervous. In his dream, Starsky had handed him a buff colored envelope. Just like this one.

Hutch unfolded the letter, scanning the typed note. "Your application for UCLA school of medicine has been received by this department. Your MCAT scores were in the acceptable range for admission. Please come for a pre-screening interview on October 14th, 1985 at 2pm."

The letter was signed Evelyn A. Starsky, Dean of Medical School admissions.

Then Hutch cried.

Yeah, there's a long road before us
And it's a hard road, indeed.
But darlin', I vow
We'll get through somehow
Wherever the trail may lead.
Can't tell you when we'll be there,
It may take all our lives
We're headin' for that great unknown.
We'll soon be walkin' free there,
But 'til that day arrives,
At least we won't be travellin' alone . . .
             --song by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater


Always remember, and never forget, that Starsky and Hutch live on in our hearts. This is just one story of their lives, there are many others. Keep reading.

Thank you.


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