Disclaimer: Starsky and Hutch don't belong to me. This is just for fun and nobody is making any money.

Comments on this story can be sent to: jat_sapphire@yahoo.com

Another Day, Another Miracle


jat sapphire

He looked beneath his shirt today
There was a wound in his flesh so deep and wide
From the wound a lovely flower grew
From somewhere deep inside.
            --Sting, "The Lazarus Heart"

Starsky couldn't sleep.

He shifted in the hot sheets and breathed in, as deeply as he could, until the hitch he'd never get used to caught him. Fucking scars. Anyway, breathing deeply didn't help--the air was still so hot that he felt like there wasn't really enough oxygen in it, or something. He rubbed the cloth of his t-shirt above the ache, and that didn't help at all either.

The whole week long had been hotter than hell, and the last four days hit 100 or even over it. In April. One for the record books, April 1989--ought to be the middle of the rainy season, and instead, the flesh was scorching right off his bones. Damn it, he used to be able to cope with the heat just fine, but something about this...something about him...something, anyway, was making him long for an air conditioner now. But there wasn't one for sale in the whole city by this time. Even if it hadn't been the middle of the night.

He heard a deep breath that wasn't his own. Hutch, on the couch. Starsky listened, wondering if his friend was awake, but Hutch didn't make another sound.

It was good to have the blond crashing at his place again. Felt like they'd gone back to ten years ago. When they were still partners.

Starsky moved again, found a strip of sheet at the edge of the bed that felt cooler and balanced there. It wasn't comfortable, but if he could stay there for a few minutes, maybe the rest of the bed would feel better and he could drop off. If he didn't get some sleep, he'd be grouchy the next morning, and Hutch would probably be in a mood too--a bad combination. They didn't have enough time together these days to spoil it by being snappish.

Hutch had had the kind of week a cop always seemed to have when it was really hot, as if people just found their guns and lost their respect for the law when the mercury got into triple digits. He hadn't said much about it, but hell, Starsky knew the way things went down, and even the details were bound to be pretty much the same. Domestics. Robberies. Road rage. Oh yeah. Starsky remembered Hutch jumping out of the Torino, sweaty and red-faced, throwing his arms around, threatening to break up their partnership because the car had stalled. An empty threat then.

What anger had never been able to do, what all the other risks and scares of the job had never come close to doing, Starsky's injuries had finally done, when he realized he was never, not ever again, going to be able to back up Hutch the way he used to. Gunther's hit hadn't killed him, but it had killed the cop he'd been. He could have had a desk job, could even have gone back on the streets, but he knew Hutch's reflexes were set to match the partner who could still run up flight after flight of stairs or jump the hood of the car. They'd always operated on the edge, physically. In the heat of the moment, Hutch might not remember they couldn't anymore, and how terrifying was that? In a standoff on a roof Starsky couldn't get up to or an alley he couldn't run down or over a wall he couldn't climb--it would only take a second for some lowlife to blow that golden head right off.

But Hutch had been...crazy...when Starsky had told him. His face had gone an awful pale-gray color, his eyes like pebbles, his voice all hoarse and hollow sounding. As if Starsky'd died instead of deciding to resign.

Even after all this time, Hutch didn't seem to get it. He obviously remembered too well that he'd come back fast himself from the bullet he'd taken, bare inches from his heart--hell, he'd climbed out of bed and gotten out of the hospital and backed Starsky up. Forget physical therapy. Forget healing. All you needed, in Hutch's mind, was to really want to be back up to speed.

Not that he'd ever said so, but Starsky could see the bafflement when Hutch visited him, watched his therapy, helped him pack to go home, followed his slow way up the driveway to his Aunt Rose's, because he couldn't possibly climb the stairs to his apartment.

Hutch was bright enough, for all the blond jokes Starsky made from time to time. He knew damn well with his brain that Starsky was lucky he could move anything, lift so much as a piece of paper, write his name. After flatlining like that, not being a vegetable was a miracle. But still, it showed too clearly that in the back of his head, Hutch just thought the miracle should go a little farther and give them back that pre-Gunther time, as if there had never been a shooting at all.

Well, Starsky thought impatiently, that's not going to happen. He wished he could somehow tell Hutch that, make him believe it, get it through the blond's skull for good, because if Hutch didn't start seeing the real and present Starsky instead of the version who was now just a figment of the Hutchinson imagination, then, well, what was left for them?

Starsky sat up at the thought, feet on the floor and all, as if he were going to go pound reality into Hutch's head right that minute. Then he stopped, and rubbed his own hot forehead with one hot palm. He felt feverish. So, really, getting out of bed wasn't such a bad idea. Not like he was going to sleep, or take any comfort from lying there not sleeping.

At the bedroom window, he touched the cool glass of the upper pane, level with his chin, and looked out for a while even though he couldn't see much of anything. He could barely feel the movement of air through the screen, though it pressed his t-shirt yet closer to his stomach. There was a big evergreen bush under the outside sill, which was trying to grow up past the lower part of the window...the scraggly branches needed cutting back, but not now, when everything was starving for water. Beyond was a strip of yard and then his neighbor's magnolia, good and fried now, poor thing. Even the last petals lying on the ground were brown and dry as fall leaves.

This bungalow reminded him of Hutch's old one, on that Venice canal. It had a similar floorplan, basically one big living area shaped into nooks and alcoves, with the kitchen and bathroom the only places really walled off. Easy to get into and out of, easy to move around in. The big drawback had been that there was nowhere to use as a darkroom, but he'd hired some connections of Huggy's to build a sort of luxury shed out in the yard. He hadn't been able to work in there since the weather had been so hot, but usually it wasn't too stuffy, and it was certainly dark enough.

It still surprised him, a bit, that he'd ended up taking pictures for a living...or not for a living, exactly. He was surviving on his disability payments from the LAPD, and frankly he didn't know how full-time photographers paid their bills, because there just never was much money in it.

Still, once it had been only a hobby, one he'd hardly had time for, and now it was the main thing he did to get out of the house. Homecoming and prom photos, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations and weddings, babies and families and even a couple of actresses getting their portfolios a little cheaper than usual--there was plenty to do even without the art photos that he did like to take when he had the time and the film.

Sold some of 'em, too, which had obviously surprised Hutch no end. After all those years of dropping napkins in his partner's lap, opening the champagne bottle, and explaining the ballet, now he'd had to get used to Starsky having friends on the arty side of town, people who owned galleries, juried art shows and all that jazz. And when they went to parties and openings together, Hutch was the one who got the partner-out-of-the-loop treatment.

That gave Starsky a nudge in the wistful, ironic sense of humor that he thought was new since the shooting. Couldn't remember feeling quite like that before, anyway.

Grant's was probably the second or third gallery they'd gone to, together. Nothing of Starsky's was there at the time, but he'd gone anyway for the free wine and because one of the artists in the show was Rosa Juarez, who'd been a big help the couple of times he tried the art-fair thing before he'd decided it was too much of a nuisance.

Hutch had been on edge the whole time, starting when he had really seen the front of the gallery--"Eye Me Up, Tie Me Down," the sign said, and Hutch looked like walking under it hurt him. Starsky introduced him to Grant and Rosa and a few other people; then they got separated while Starsky was looking at Rosa's pieces. Rosa asked him what he thought of the biggest one. It was a collage of black and white photos: faces and figures, raised against the backgrounds which were sometimes wildly mismatched. The whole thing was about 6 feet tall and was hung a good two and a half feet off the floor, so when he was talking about the top images, he had to stand back a bit and point high. Rosa was laughing at something he'd said, and he had that feeling that somebody was staring at him--he looked over his shoulder, and there was Hutch with Grant. Grant looked from Starsky to Hutch and back; then he lifted his wine glass, smiling. That made Starsky frown a little, trying to warn Grant to shut up--always a difficult feat--but Hutch reacted as if Starsky had frowned at him, stepping back and looking away, his own eyebrows down and shoulders a little hunched.

Such little things kept them apart. So little that explaining them seemed stupid.

By the time he'd caught up with Hutch again, Starsky was ready to go, and Hutch looked like any time in the past hour would have been just fine. "C'mon, you ready?" Starsky asked unnecessarily. He wanted to touch the arms that Hutch was holding so stiffly, or put one hand on the small of his back, but he didn't know what Grant had been saying, and it seemed risky in a way touching Hutch never had when they'd been surrounded by homophobic cops.

Back in the evening-blue street, walking toward the Torino, which looked almost new as it gleamed under a streetlight, Hutch said suddenly, "They...they were so nice to me about you."

"Whatd'ya mean?" Starsky wondered if this was a way to begin to talk about any of the subjects they'd been trying to ignore.

"They told me all about how talented you were, how much they liked your pictures, how you'd moved right into the 'art community,' all this stuff, like I was, oh, I don't know, your mother."

Or his lover, of course, and that was what was bothering Hutch. Knowing it was cowardly, Starsky just said, "And are you proud, Ma?"

But it did seem to be the right thing to say to relax Hutch, because he glanced sideways, grinned, and said in an outrageous accent, "But vhy verent you a dok-tor, my son?"

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Never do that undercover," he said.

So they didn't talk about it. Never had talked in all those years. Not about the times in the Academy one of them jerked off in the dorm room when the other one could hear it easily, and of course he didn't know that Hutch ever fantasized about the other guys, but...well, Starsky had, sometimes. And sometimes it was Hutch he thought of, sucking him off with that wide pink mouth, or jerking him in the showers with that broad hand.

Never talked about any of their...intimacies. In the years when Hutch worked out at Vinnie's every morning, what other reason was there for Starsky to meet him there? Only to get a look at him--sweating down his shirt, his ass muscles flexing with his arms and back as he hit the big bag--and to talk to him while he stood in the shower. In all those years of stakeouts, had Starsky ever opened the car door and slipped from the front to the back or vice versa like a normal person instead of squirming over the seat while Hutch did the same, so that their legs and asses were in each other's faces? They were so far into each other's space, inside each other's pockets, that there had been absolutely nothing at all odd to them or to Huggy or to Dobey when Hutch had crawled into Starsky's hospital bed.

They'd touched, hugged, stroked, manhandled each other, until there wasn't an inch of Hutch's body Starsky didn't know. They were so intimate without sex that, really, Starsky had hardly missed it, had kept the idea as a special stroke-fantasy but had never thought much about telling Hutch.

Of course, he'd been having plenty of sex then, with every woman he could pick up.

And then the shooting happened.

So here he stood in weather so hot that his skin stuck to itself and the sheets and even the window-pane, wearing a t-shirt and boxers to bed. He felt like an old man. He felt dishonest, too, because he'd just finished matting and framing that series of black and white photos that Grant was going to show, titled "Another Day" and about nothing at all but the landscape of his scars. He thought he'd found a kind of moon-like, cratered beauty in them, thought that when the pictures were on display he would be ready to take his shirt off and face the world, pound reality into his own head the way he'd just wanted to do with Hutch. And yet he had this stupid t-shirt on, as if Hutch of all people would be even a little surprised by how he looked.

Older. Scarred. Out of shape, compared to how he'd been, because being a photographer just didn't need the kind of physical condition he'd kept before even on pizza and hot-dogs and burritos. Grant might give him the eye--and frequently did--but Starsky knew that he didn't look the way he used to. It wasn't only his scarred lungs that kept him from dancing all night long these days. He wouldn't have been up to it. Not much of a pickup, all around.

And he didn't really want to bring anybody home.

He laughed a little: the faint hissing seemed loud as it bounced against the window and blew back into his own face. He could bring Grant home, as easily as he could Rosa, or anybody else who was game--there was no IA to worry about now, not for him. He was free, had been for a decade, and all he'd done with that freedom was to take pictures of himself. Well, and have infrequent one-night stands, as anonymous as possible, in the dark or partly clothed.

A rustling sound came from the couch, a sigh, another rustle, and then a thud as Hutch's feet hit the floor. So he was awake. Starsky heard him cross to the bathroom, shut the door.

Well, that was unusual: Hutch using the john, when Starsky hadn't needed to. It felt like winning something, even though the game was long over, really--the last trial when he'd needed a pit-stop before the verdict was Gunther's. He both did want to rub it in and didn't want to face how irritated Hutch was likely to be that Starsky had been listening to him whiz.

Not that he was. That had never been a turn-on for him. The splashing he heard now was Hutch washing up, maybe throwing some cold water on his face to get a little relief.

Then the door opened. Starsky would have liked to see Hutch: the pale expanse of his chest, the gray of whatever patterned boxers he had on tonight. Perhaps he was rubbing the last of the water across his hairless skin.

Another thing he had never told Hutch was how very sexy that chest-rubbing was. Hell, Hutch squeezing the back of his own neck or the bridge of his nose was just fine too, but when he reached into the open placket of his shirt or pushed into the t-shirt collar, when he hauled up the hem to scratch--with a slowness that, by his expression, was sheer bliss--when he did any of those unconscious things, Starsky felt his temperature rise. And given how high his temperature already was, right now, maybe fantasizing it would be preferable to looking, lusting, and probably getting caught.

Hutch was moving restlessly around the living area now, window to table to couch--but he didn't even sit down--back into the kitchen, where he snapped on the little light above the sink. A cupboard door opened and shut, and the water ran. Concentrating, Starsky could just hear a gulp or two as Hutch drank and the click of the glass into the sink. Hutch wandered some more...Starsky couldn't quite tell where he was in the room...but then he heard a sound that sent an irrational chill all through him: the clank and slide as Hutch picked up one of the framed photographs leaning against the wall. Starsky took a step forward, then paused, trying to remember which of the "Another Day" photos had been the last he put into its frame. The final one of the series was innocuous--Starsky, wearing only jeans, stood with his back to the camera and looked out over the ocean; the shadows of the tree above him laid new stripes across the skin of his back, and the scars were not very noticeable.

But he knew he hadn't framed them in show order, but by size. Which of the largest ones was the last to be framed?

"Oh, god, Starsk," said Hutch softly.

Starsky's breath caught, but in the silence that followed it became obvious that he wasn't being spoken to. Edging forward, he looked around the edge of the bookcase. Of course Hutch had the framed photo on the table, angled a little to catch the light from the kitchen.

Still, something about Hutch's expression, or some shred of memory from the morning's work, made Starsky certain which piece this was.

Early on in his project to photograph himself, he'd tried close-ups of just his chest. Then, dissatisfied, he'd taken off his pants as well and done a few more tripod shots focused on the stretch from neck to hips. The first ones hadn't worked well, but when he took them again as three-quarter nudes, cropped and enlarged them, he made an image he liked so much he made it the opener for the series.

His right shoulder lay in the upper left-hand corner, and the arch of his collarbone angled to the right like a crooked line of writing, leading the eye into the center of the image. His back was a little arched, his hip raised. It looked like a candid shot as he sunbathed or slept, taken as he rolled to his side...but behind him was nothing but space, and the blurred backdrop he'd used for the first couple of shoots. Light fell pitilessly on the knots and lines of raised tissue; even the spots where the stitches in his incision had been were small dark dents that anyone could pick out. He'd been chilly enough to feel his skin contracting, and the nipples stood out hard and high like more knobby scars. The cropped photo was long and narrow, and at the bottom, pubic curls bushed out and the base of his cock was just visible.

It was this picture that had convinced Grant to hang the whole series. The gallery owner had gone so ape over it that Starsky had made a second print just for him.

Maybe he should make a third print. Hutch, skin and hair catching the dim glow and magnifying it, moved as slowly as if mesmerized: lifting his fingertips from the glass, touching his own chest. Starsky thought at first it was the old random, almost unconscious stroking, but then he realized that Hutch was drawing the lines of the pictured scars on his own skin.

Starsky stepped forward, then again, reaching out before Hutch could hear him, before he turned with a face startled into guilty stillness. "Hutch--" and the syllable was hoarse, so Starsky swallowed and tried again, not consciously repeating: "My god, Hutch."

The pale hand had dropped, but Starsky touched the same places, traced the same lines. Then he brushed across Hutch's nipple, and the feel of it made his mouth water. The whole chest rose, suddenly, on Hutch's gasping breath, and Starsky bent his head to take the perfect tip between his lips, kiss it, suck and rub the flat of his tongue against it. He smelled Hutch's sweat, his own, the bush through the window. For the first time in days, the hot air moving in and out of his lungs was welcome--was pure pleasure. The taste of Hutch's skin was plain and salt and good as matzo. He needed it. He needed more. He kissed the base of Hutch's neck.

"Sta--" the rest of the name was spoken into Starsky's mouth.

Hutch, Hutch, Hutch.... The litany in Starsky's mind overlay the stirrings of thoughts about how crazy this was. Hutch's hands settled on his shoulders, and some part of Starsky waited to be pushed away, but meanwhile he was going to get all of this he could. All of Hutch, the damp skin under his hands, the scent in his nose, the sour sleep-taste in his mouth, the mass of Hutch's body against his own as they pressed closer.

Starsky tipped his head back and let Hutch's mouth go--and the man was already talking: "-k'd'off. Take it off." Fingers scrabbled at Starsky's sides, plucked at the cloth, tugged. The t-shirt, he realized, and pulled it over his head.

Hutch's hands were all over him then: little patting circles on his stomach, slower rubbing over his shoulders and biceps--and long pressing strokes on his chest, fingering, cupping, palming, as if ten years of frustrated desire were here, in Hutch's touch.

Maybe it was true. Starsky's eyes shut, almost in prayer. Maybe it was really happening. Not a dream. Not some freak of the heat and the photographs. "Hutch," he was chanting it aloud now: "Hutch. Hutch...Hutch, Hutch." And then, surprised, "Hutch!" at the kisses on his collarbone, the center of his chest, his stomach. Strands of bright hair clung to his skin, tangled in his own hair--now he was staring, couldn't stop, as Hutch pulled down those old-man boxers and kissed the top inch of cock that was in the photograph. The big, hot hands were on his thighs, the soft hot mouth on his sex, and Starsky could hardly believe himself when he heard his own voice: "No, Hutch, no."

Hutch looked more gorgeous than Starsky had ever seen him, sitting back on his heels and looking up with blazing eyes, his hair tousled and his lips wet, full, and red. "No?" he said, so far gone that he sounded more irritated at the interruption than anything else.

"I gotta touch you," and that sounded desperate enough to convince anybody. But just in case Hutch didn't get it, Starsky put both hands into the fine blond strands that were almost sticky, felt hot wet scalp through them. Hutch's mouth curved, and he rose to his feet, then pulled his boxers down and stepped out of them, simple as that.

"Come on, come on," said Starsky, and pulled him into the bedroom.

It was just a miracle to have Hutch lying on his bed, sprawled in the untidy, damp sheets. Starsky wanted pictures. He wanted lights and reflectors, all his lenses--he wanted to blow up the prints until they'd cover his walls. He turned on the light even though he could feel the bulb's heat almost immediately, and Hutch turned his head and squinched up his eyes, because all that creamy skin, all those long legs and arms, all that reddish-gold hair at crotch and armpits, had to be visible.

Starsky had to look, and run his hands over what he was looking at. He had to let his calluses catch on the sweaty silk of Hutch, pull his limbs where they looked best and where Starsky could reach under the knees, between the spread thighs, hold the testicles, each place he touched hotter and hotter as if Hutch were a furnace and Starsky were stoking it. The cock that had been dusky and heavy, half-hard, now lifted, red, the foreskin raveling back and the head wet. Starsky's hand closed around it, felt the skin moving with his hands, like a wrapper on some old-fashioned candy. He pulled up toward the head, and Hutch writhed and said, "Yes! Oh. Starsky. Yes," a word on every stroke.

Gold and ivory and garnet. Hutch's whole throat was flushed, his cheeks bright, his upper chest blotchy. Bending over him, Starsky kissed where the skin was marked, sucked in, and chewed gently, leaving his own signs. Hutch thrust up and fell back, with little grunts that sounded so fiercely helpless that they rang through Starsky like chimes. He kissed the red, swollen crown of Hutch's cock as he pulled up, and those rhythmic grunts grew louder--a short white rope flew up, just touched Starsky's face and then fell over his hand. Then another one spattered over the pale-skinned belly as well. On his lower lip and on the softening cock, Starsky tasted the seawater cream, not quite like his own.

"Now let me," Hutch said breathlessly, rolling to his side and pulling Starsky down.

The sheets were even warmer than before, spotted with semen as well as sweat, and crumpled crazily under him, but Starsky didn't care any more. Now Hutch was staring at him, lingering over the scars with a hungry gaze that made Starsky wriggle with lust. Hutch bent over him, braced his elbows, and simply sucked him in.

Inside that mouth! Even as a horny Academy student he hadn't been able to imagine anything as good as this. His back arched, and his heels dug down, trying to get up farther, in deeper. But his hip was pushed down into the mattress, while Hutch's other hand held right where he'd kissed before--his lips pursed forward on the shaft, sliding like hot water, and his tongue swiped velvet back and forth, around, flicking, licking. Collapsed into the bed, Starsky reached for the wet lip where he vanished into such a haven, pressed back on Hutch's cheek and could feel himself there, drawn in and pulled out, sucked strongly and let go, the air Hutch was breathing a draft on wet skin, making Starsky shiver with even more heat than before.

Hutch twisted his hand a little, thumbed the big vein at the root, and Starsky's balls tightened as if pulled. He was riding the wave, feeling it boil up, burn in his spine, catch in his breath, ache in his throat. So close. Hutch used more of his hand, slipped away until lips and tongue were tickling the very slit. Just how did he know to do that? Right now? Tossing his head, Starsky let it happen, let Hutch have everything, pulsing like a struck gong. The bed was swinging too. The whole room was. Behind Starsky's eyelids was a rush of gold.

An arm fell across Starsky's belly and a heavy limb across his legs. He panted, throbbing with so much heat that it came in disorienting waves, like nausea, and he couldn't speak a word. But then Hutch's bulk withdrew, and their skins pulled apart with a sticky noise.

In a moment, Starsky would put some words together. He really would.

But when he got his eyes open, the room was awash in daylight, and the bulb overhead looked dim and foolish. Either it was very early or the heat wave had broken. Though the bed was baking with both of them in it, the air had lost the steam-bath quality it had had for days.

Hutch was asleep, faint bluish smears under his eyes. One arm was curved over his head, bent around the corner of the pillow. A breeze from the window tickled across Starsky but seemed unable to lift the wet blond strands he was gazing at. Hutch's mouth was just barely open and looked dry.

That fair skin showed everything. Starsky thought if he looked closely enough, he'd be able to see every disappointment, every bad case, every lonely night. Light caught in the pale lashes and shadows in the lines beside Hutch's eyes. Leaning on one elbow, Starsky hovered for a moment, easing closer. The little crease at the corner of Hutch's mouth made him look sad. There must be a wrinkle in the pillowcase that had made that line on his neck. And yes, he did get whiskery every morning, like other people, though the little dark dots were harder to see than Starsky's heavy stubble.

Very gently, Starsky kissed the soft cushions of those pink lips. The slack eyelids wrinkled, then flipped up like tiny window-shades. Starsky smiled.

Hutch blushed.

After all those years of the closest friendship, years of finding Hutch sexy, admiring his mind and his education, backing him up, fearing more for Hutch than for himself, and lately of longing for and missing Hutch so much--right now Starsky watched the rising color and felt something bloom along with it, that same soaring emotion that had ambushed him with Rosey and been cut so cruelly short with Terry. He touched his rough cheek to Hutch's hot one and laughed with new joy.

"What?" asked Hutch, sounding embarrassed and cross.

"I love you," Starsky said into his ear, then kissed it. "Love you," little smacks up to Hutch's mouth, "love you," and one on the end of his nose, "love you."

Hands cupped his head, held him still while Hutch's mouth opened under his. They kissed for a long time. Starsky was still dropping little kisses while Hutch said, "Yes. That's it."

"Mm?" Both Hutch's eyes needed kisses, and his eyebrows, and that dent between them....

"I, I--couldn't do it. I couldn't have another day of it."

Hutch sounded miserable, so Starsky kissed him deeply before trying to find out what the hell he was blathering about.

"Now what was that?"

"Being apart, Starsk, being apart sucked. It went on and on and didn't get any better. I was in a box, in a maze--"

"In a closet?"

"Shut up," but Hutch looked a lot less agonized. Starsky squirmed a little against him and watched the mouth part for air instead of words, the eyes darken and widen. There was another image Starsky wanted to keep forever.

"This isn't new, that's what I meant," he said. "This morning is the first time in ten years I've felt all right again, like I could really breathe." He bent his head, sniffed in Hutch's neck and kissed there too.

Hutch snuffled a little, not quite chuckling, and his eyelids fell almost shut. "Yes. You're all right." Then, much softer, he added, "And I think I am too, now. Getting there."

Starsky stroked the fine, soft hair, let it run through his fingers and drop to the pillow, and watched how the damp strands clung while the dry ones strayed to find and hold the light, almost glittering, almost prisms.

As if it were a confession, Hutch said, "I don't know if I'll make twenty-five years. I, I want to leave the force. Been wanting to."

"Long's you don't leave the way I did." Starsky ruffled one blond eyebrow with his thumb and smoothed it again. Then he looked into Hutch's eyes. "What, you think I'm worried about your benefits?"

"I think...." but Hutch didn't go on for almost a minute. His eyes drooped shut again. "You're not a quitter," he said at last.

It was good to know Hutch thought that. Starsky had never been able to explain his reasons for not trying to requalify, and he had wondered what was in that blond head...but it didn't matter any more what Hutch had thought ten years ago. It mattered what he thought now, and he had to know what Starsky believed: "Neither are you."

Hutch didn't react, so Starsky bounced his shoulder up and down against the mattress a couple of times to get his attention. "Hey. I'm talkin' here. I know you. You wan'a take early retirement, you take it. You're the cop who brought Gunther down. They owe you."

Hutch looked to the side. Starsky kissed along his jawbone, licked and blew on it, until the tense expression relaxed. Then that ear needed nuzzling. "Wanna mat my photos?" he murmured, and Hutch laughed.

"Second career: artist's assistant."

"Artist's inspiration."

And that was nothing but the truth, though they both knew Hutch wouldn't be content to be the junior partner in anything. But now Hutch's smile had possibility in it, hope, and all the signs of age and the dishevelment of sleep couldn't keep him from glowing like the morning window. And when he said, "I love you," he was more beautiful than the daylight.

Whatever Hutch did for a living, Starsky thought, they'd have to make time for pictures. He had to take Hutch in the early morning, like this, and in the night with a little light around him, and maybe on the beach, in full sunlight.... The next series would have to be pictures of Hutch. Grant wouldn't mind a bit, Starsky was sure. And he knew just what he wanted to call it.

Because having another day was amazing enough, but this--having Hutch here, loving each other now--that was the real miracle.

Every day another miracle
Only death will keep us apart
To sacrifice a life for you
I'd be the blood of a Lazarus heart
The blood of a Lazarus heart.
            --Sting, "The Lazarus Heart"