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Hutch slowed his car to a crawl as he approached the wedding chapel. On his left he could see several cars parked half on the pavement and half on the shoulder of the winding mountain road. On his right he could see Captain Dobey's sedan and Huggy's Cadillac parked on the road at opposite ends of the chapel grounds. And there, in place of honor, stood the Torino, polished and gleaming, picking up the rays of the late afternoon sun which highlighted the swirls from yesterday's wax job. He came to a complete stop next to the sedan and took in the sight of his partner's traditionally decorated car. Cans were strung from the back bumper and "just hitched" was neatly printed on the back windshield with what looked like shaving cream.

He smiled as he remembered last night's bachelor party and how Starsky had insisted that no one lay a finger on his precious baby.

"You wanna decorate a car, use Hutch's. It'd be an improvement," Starsky had said.

"No way, man," Huggy had come back. "You know it's gotta be the car the loving couple leaves in."

Hutch looked toward the small chapel nestled among the pines on the gently sloping hillside. It was constructed of stones indigenous to the area and fit in as though nature had placed it there. A dirt path led to the front entrance, which faced sideways rather than toward the road.

Realizing that he was blocking the road, he started moving again and turned just beyond the Cadillac, following the driveway to the back of the chapel where one other vehicle was parked. Most likely the minister's, he thought. The wedding was to be small and very private. Just two people deeply in love who wanted to share their commitment with those who meant the most to them.

Although the wedding wasn't due to start for another thirty minutes, Hutch realized that everyone was already there. He didn't reckon Starsky would ever let him live that down. Of all the times to be the last one to arrive, it had to be now. But, hell, who'd have thought that Starsky would get there so early?

He got out of his car and leaned against it, taking in the clean air and fragrance of pine. It was so peaceful he could hear a gentle rustling sound and he looked up in time to see a couple of squirrels chasing each other. He smiled and thought what an unlikely place this was for Starsky to choose. His partner was a city boy through and through and that one vacation at Dobey's cabin had not exactly been a rousing success. As Hutch knew only too well, Starsky felt much safer facing two-legged animals with guns than four-legged ones with claws.

The squirrels had settled down together on a branch and were now companionably chewing on a snack, sitting so close together you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. Hutch smiled, remembering the many times he and Starsky had sat just that close together—sometimes because one or both needed the comfort and sometimes just for the sheer joy of being close.

They were best friends and partners. Hutch had thought everything was perfect until about six months ago when Starsky started acting a little restless. He'd asked Starsky about it, but Starsky insisted he shouldn't worry; it was nothing he couldn't handle. But as time went by, Hutch realized the discontent wasn't passing and he had pressed Starsky on the issue. Finally Starsky admitted that he wanted marriage. "The whole enchilada," Starsky had said.

The very thought had scared Hutch. He remembered what a disaster marriage had been for him and Vanessa. And although he was sure that this marriage would be nothing like it, he wasn't as confident that the partnership would be the same afterwards. Marriage changed things. But he'd loved Starsky too long and too deeply to deny him anything, so he'd smiled and promised himself he'd do everything in his power to give Starsky the approval and support he deserved.

He supposed he shouldn't have been surprised. Starsky would have married Terry if she'd lived. And then there was Rosey. Hutch remembered how frightened he'd been that Starsky would go with her when she left the country. But he hadn't and, after surviving the Kira fiasco, Hutch had come to believe that they had everything and nothing could ever come between them again.

But he hadn't counted on marriage.

With a deep breath and final glance at the squirrels Hutch pushed away from his car and headed to the back entrance. Going in, he found himself in the chapel's small office. Realizing that his legs were shaking, as were his hands, he sat down at the desk, trying to pull himself together. He'd never be able to handle the wedding ring in his pocket without dropping it if he couldn't hold his hand steadier.

Hutch looked up as the door leading from the office to the sanctuary opened. Huggy slipped through, shutting it quietly behind him.

"Hey, man, you look rough. Nervous?" Huggy asked.

"Terrified would be more accurate," Hutch replied.

Huggy moved across the room and perched on the corner of the desk.

"It'll be fine, you know," he said.

"Will it? I don't know. It scares me. I can't imagine a bigger change in our lives than this wedding. Starsky's been my partner for ten years. Being his partner is who I am. What if the partnership changes?" Hutch said.

"Hey, this is Starsky you're talking about. Just trust him, like always. Like he trusts you," Huggy said.

Hutch sighed as he thought about Starsky and trust. Of the two of them, Starsky never, ever doubted. Even in their darkest times Starsky always believed "me and thee" would last forever. Hutch believed it himself but could still manage occasionally to let his insecurity override that belief—like now. About to speak, he hesitated as he heard the door open again.

"Hutch, you ready? Everyone's here. The minister's ready whenever you are," Captain Dobey said.

"I-I, uh, I . . ." Hutch stuttered.

Captain Dobey smiled, then turned to Huggy. "Jittery, huh?"

"To say the least. I think he's on his way to a first class Hutch-attack." Huggy also smiled.

"H-how's Starsky?" Hutch asked.

"He's chomping at the bit. If the floor were carpeted, he'd have worn a hole in it. As it is, I think the stone floor may be in danger of erosion. You really ought to just get this show on the road," Dobey said.

"How do I look?" Hutch asked as he straightened his tie.

"Scared. Do you think you could manage a smile?" Captain Dobey asked.

Hutch tried to comply, which resulted in laughter from his two companions.

"An open mouth with quivering lips does not a smile make," Huggy announced.

"Best I can do," Hutch mumbled.

"How about I send Starsky in? He wants you to walk in together," Captain Dobey said.

"Yeah, okay. I guess I'm as ready as I'm going to get."

"Hang in there, man," Huggy threw back over his shoulder as he left the office. Dobey just smiled as he followed Huggy out to the sanctuary.

Moments later the door opened and Hutch caught his breath as he watched Starsky come toward him. He was dressed in a new suit of dark blue, just the right shade to deepen the blue in his eyes. They smiled at each other, then Starsky reached out and took Hutch's hand in his.

"Ready, partner?" Starsky asked.

Hutch nodded, not at all sure his voice would work. Starsky released his hand, gave his shoulder a comforting squeeze and said, "Let's go then. She's waiting."

Together they walked out to the sanctuary and stopped in front of the pulpit to face the attractive woman waiting for them. With a smile on her lips and in her eyes, she whispered to them both, "Let us begin.

"Friends, we have been invited here today to share in this important moment. It is neither I, nor society, who truly join these two today. Only they can do what they have chosen, joining themselves to each other. They proclaim that union today and pledge its future. We, by participation in this ceremony, recognize and honor their union."

"Do you, David Michael Starsky, take Kenneth Richard Hutchinson as your life-mate, to love, honor, and cherish till death do you part?"

"I do," Starsky said.

"And do you, Kenneth Richard Hutchinson, take David Michael Starsky as your life-mate, to love, honor, and cherish till death do you part?"

"I do," Hutch replied in a voice strong with no trace of his earlier fears.

"David and Ken have chosen to exchange vows they've written themselves and seal their commitment with the exchange of wedding rings."

Starsky reached into his pocket and, placing the gold band on Hutch's ring finger, said, "Hutch, you've had my heart and soul from the beginning. I offer the only thing I have left to give—my public commitment to give you all the love you will ever need, unconditionally and forever."

With trembling hand, Hutch brought the matching gold band from his pocket and placed it on Starsky's finger. "By this ceremony and with this ring I publicly pledge my undying faith, love, and trust. Everything I am and have is yours. I love you, Starsk."

The minister smiled at them, then, joining their hands, she placed hers on top of theirs and said, "We have heard your promises to each other. It is not a minister standing before you that makes your union real, but the honesty and sincerity of what you have said and done here before your friends. Enter now the days of your life together. And may your days be good and long upon this earth."