Part Two



M. Decker and C. Davis

Part Three

    Wednesday was beach day. Although neither of them had packed bathing suits, it turned out just as well. The water was warm, but full of slimy kelp. The seaweed that had been left behind by the ebbing tide lay dying and perfuming the area at the water's edge.

    Hutch had surprised his partner by actually wearing the garish Hawaiian shirt Starsky had bought for him during their Chinatown junket. He had it on, open, over his t-shirt and shorts. It was a size or two too large and when he stood the breeze caught it and ballooned it out in back, snapping and fluttering it like a spinnaker. He was standing now, surveying their joint project.

    His half of the sand castle was medieval, smooth sided with crenelated battlements. Starsky seemed to be trying for a ruined gothic cathedral effect, dripping wet sand into tall needle-tipped spires which inevitably toppled over. It seemed to reflect the rather pensive mood Starsky had been drifting in and out of for the past couple of days. Hutch walked around the boundary of the moat and hunkered down. He placed a hand on Starsky's shoulder.

    "We should have talked this out before we started."

    The dribble of sand and water from between Starsky's fingers stopped for a moment, then continued. "Yeah? So talk." He didn't look up.

    "You've got to have a plan. You can't start something like this without a plan."

    "We've gone into things without one before, Hutch." Starsky looked up and with a jolt of surprise Hutch read a trace of challenge there.

    Hutch stammered a bit, then gestured to the castle. "Well, this time it's a mess. Look at it. It doesn't work at all."

    Starsky surveyed the structure. He sighed, stood, and gently prodded his half of their domain with his foot till it crumbled and collapsed. "If it bothers your aesthetics, just remember in a while the tide will come back and wash it away. No one will see it, no harm done. Just us having fun." He ambled back to the bath towels they had liberated from the Bayberry to sit on, and watched the waves.

    The conversation left a bad taste in Hutch's mouth, or maybe it was just the smell of rotting seaweed. He had been rather proud of his half of the construction, but now it looked as if it had been attacked by Cromwell. He thought of a counter-attack on Starsky, but the man didn't seem to be in the mood. He went over and plopped down on his own towel. After a few minutes of silence Hutch muttered, "I can hear the gears turning."

    "Oh, just thinking about building on sand." He let a handful of grains sift through his fingers.

    "People do that at the beach," Hutch replied, quietly.

    "That and go swimming." Starsky looked pointedly at Hutch.

    "Just a minute. I didn't order the seaweed."

    Starsky laughed, then shook his finger at Hutch. "You've been known to. Speaking of which, I'm hungry. Ready for some lunch?"

    "Sushi?" Hutch looked incredulous, but hopeful.

    "Blech. No, I was thinking more of a hot dog and a beer." Starsky picked up his towel and shoes and led the way back to the Torino.


    There had been a strange bittersweet enjoyment to the day's activities. Everything had been tinged with the knowledge that they would be heading back to LA in the morning. Come Monday, they would be back on the streets, and this vacation would soon seem like an insubstantial dream. Hutch glanced over at his silent companion who was staring pensively out the window of the restaurant, down into the night shrouded waters of the bay. Reflected in the dark glass he could see a sad smile curving Starsky's expressive mouth.

    "Penny for your thoughts," Hutch said softly. Cobalt eyes, as dark as the night, turned to regard him.

    "Not worth it."

    "Sorry to be going?"

    Starsky shrugged noncommittally, concentrating on stirring his coffee. "Part of me is. It's been... real good here. But it'll be good to get home, too." He smiled fondly at Hutch. "Admit it, I bet you miss that overgrown jungle of yours."

    "Huggy's been watering them. They'll be okay." He lifted his own cup and sipped at the steaming coffee, then carefully laid it down again in the saucer. "Don't know.... I feel I'm on a cliff somewhere and I'm about to fall off."

    Starsky reached across the intervening space and lightly brushed his partner's large hand with his fingers. "Don't worry, babe, if you do, I'll catch you."

    He cleared his throat and forced himself to laugh lightly. "Talk about a flat partner...."

    The almond shaped eyes widened in puzzlement, then suddenly memory connected, remembering their first night together. He laughed. "Come on, tall, blond, and brooding, let's go." Starsky drained the last of his coffee and grabbed the check as he left the table.

    Emerging into the brisk, salt laden air, Hutch zipped up his jacket against the evening chill.

    Starsky breathed deeply and very noisily, extending and retracting his arms in exaggerated motions. "Expand those alveoli, Hutch. B..r..e..a..t..h..e!"

    "I am breathing, Starsky," Hutch said with practiced patience. "It's a little hard to live without doing it."

    "I'm only quoting...."

    Whatever the dark haired man was about to say was cut off when Hutch grabbed him firmly by one elbow and dragged him towards the car. He released his grinning captive only when they had reached it.

    Hutch leaned against the hood of the Torino, arms folded. "So, where do you want to go now, Starsk? Last night. Your choice."

    "My choice...?" Starsky fingered the car keys absently. "Would you mind if we just went back to the Bayberry? Huh?"

    "I think that sounds like a very good choice. Last nights should be memorable...." A shiver that had nothing to do with the cold ran down Hutch's spine. Damn! Why does that make me feel so...sad? No, not sad. Scared.

    Starsky simply grinned at him and bounded over to the driver's side. "Let's see just how fast this baby can get us home."


    Hutch closed the door to their room silently behind him and watched as Starsky disappeared into the bathroom. With the most extreme care, he studied his surroundings, consigning to memory each piece of furniture, every decoration, even the pattern of the wallpaper. The last week and a half here had been the best in his life, and he wanted to remember even the smallest portion of it.

    He heard the john flushing and knew Starsky would be out in another minute. He walked over to the bed and sat down to wait. Last night. End of vacation. And in all this time we never talked about what's going to happen afterwards. The bathroom door opened and his partner emerged, a sensuous, promise-him-anything smile on his beguiling face. Starsky slowly began unbuttoning his shirt, eyes never breaking contact with Hutch. The seated man could feel his breathing quicken as each succeeding button gave way, exposing ever more of the tempting body. He wanted to leap up and tear the shirt away, letting his hands roam where they willed. Yet he found himself unable to move, mesmerized by the slow, tantalizing movements. The shirt slowly slid off the smooth shoulders, landing in a forgotten heap around the man's feet. Hutch, suddenly freed to move, opened his arms in invitation and the warm body flowed eagerly into his embrace.

    For a long time they sat together on the bed, simply holding one another. Hutch rubbed his cheek slowly against soft curls. Then he felt Starsky's warm lips begin a careful mapping down the side of his neck, a strange, erratic combination of kisses, suckings, and delicate bites. Forcing himself to pull away, the blond held his passionate armful at a small distance. "Let's make it last a long time tonight."

    Starsky nodded in agreement, eyes already heavy-lidded with passion. "A promise. You'll be beggin' me for it."

    "Don't be so sure of yourself, lover. I know how to make you do a little begging yourself."

    Hutch watched, fascinated, as Starsky began unbuttoning his shirt, a mirror image of the earlier performance. After each fastening was released in turn, the dark crowned head would lower and Hutch could feel a hot, familiar invader sensuously lave the newly exposed skin. He shivered uncontrollably as the skilled tongue finally circled his navel and then plunged inside the sensitive area.

    "God..." he breathed, tangling his fingers into the thick black strands. He lifted the head up and claimed the teasing mouth for his own. They parted only after a thorough investigation, both breathing heavily.

    Gently placing his hands against the lightly furred chest, Hutch pushed Starsky on to his back. He deftly unfastened the belt and unzipped the pants. His hand rested lightly on the flat belly, marking its surface with small circles.

    "Hutch..." Starsky breathed heavily.

    "You want something?" Hutch asked innocently. "Something more like this?" He slid his fingers through the open fly and slowly traced the straining shape outlined by the white cotton.

    Starsky clenched his teeth, as if locking the plea behind them.

    "Or more like...this?" Deliberately, slowly, Hutch slipped his hand past the waistband and inside the briefs, covering the hot cock with his palm. He smiled as he heard a noisy exhalation of breath whistling past gritted teeth. "Yeah, you like that, don't you?"

    "Damn you," Starsky hissed.

    Their eyes, mirroring desire, locked and held.

    Starsky was the first to move. Digging his fingers roughly into the smooth skin of Hutch's arms, he reversed their positions, rolling the blond on to his back and pinning him with the weight of his body. The gesture was a blatant challenge. Hutch, only momentarily startled, felt a strange, hot excitement rush through his veins. He found it suddenly difficult to breathe. A small warning bell sounded somewhere in the rational portion of his mind, but older and stronger instincts had already taken over. The challenging gleam in the heavy-lidded eyes above him sparked a response in Hutch. A strange feral smile pulled back his lips: challenge accepted.

    Starsky lowered his head. Their teeth collided roughly, tongues seeking in a not so subtle play for dominance. Starsky's fingers, made ungentle with excitement, fumbled at the waistband of his pants, unzipping them, pulling the clinging fabric down over his hips. Launching his own counterattack on Starsky's clothing proved just as successful, leaving both men naked and tightly wrapped in each other's arms. They rolled about on the bed, each jostling for ascendancy. Their hands stroked and gripped urgently, while their passionate kisses landed in unplanned disarray on bare flesh. Hutch, fired by the feel of the naked body pressing tightly against him, tested the limits of his partner's strength. At first it seemed as if he, then Starsky, were winning this age-old game, but the scales kept tipping with quicksilver regularity. Finally, Hutch managed to straddle the heaving body of his lover, pinning the other man's hands over his head. There was a last straining of muscles and then quiescence. A short, breathless laugh of victory broke from Hutch's lips as he stared down into the flushed, beautiful face and recognized the flicker of acknowledgment in Starsky's eyes.

    "Okay," Starsky breathed so softly, that if Hutch had not been watching the panting mouth he would not have understood. The large hands eased their grip around the slender wrists, then slid caressingly down the upraised arms. They ended their slow downward journey by cupping the sweat-sheened face.

    Hutch, leaning forward, stole the breath from Starsky's slightly parted lips. The familiar taste of his lover made him want more. A moan of need echoed between them, caught in their joined mouths. Tonight's my night, Hutch realized dizzily. And to the victor.... The prize was freely offering himself in a gesture of trust.

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    It suddenly scared him to death. Then he felt Starsky's freed arms steal softly around his neck, while his thighs gripped him tightly around the hips. A swift flood of lust coursed along his nerve endings and he knew he had to speak soon before rational thought was beyond him.

    "Starsk...?" Whatever Hutch had been planning to say suddenly fled his mind as he saw Starsky transformed with a teasing, come-hither smile. He could no more resist that invitation than the earth could break free from its orbit around the sun. His mouth came down hungrily on that smile, his tongue seeking the subtle, arousing taste and texture. His hips automatically ground against Starsky and he was met by an immediate surging response. Both men's cocks were almost painfully hard and the sensation of their swollen flesh sliding hotly against each other loosened Hutch's last remaining restraints.

    His large hand sought between their tight-pressed bellies and, finding their overheated flesh, held the two cocks together in a tight grip. Hutch suddenly felt the need to merge them into a single whole, so inseparable that nothing or no one could ever part them. It is not enough, Hutch realized dizzingly, as he pressed and squeezed them rhythmically. Never enough.

    He released them, earning a small whimper of protest from Starsky. Rolling off his partner, he ignored the hands clutching at him. He knelt at Starsky's side, taking the other man's swollen cock in his hand, feeling it swell even more within his grip. The sight moved him. Starsky--my partner, best friend...lover. It's only been a little over a week, yet I feel as if I've always known you this way, the naturalness of you in my hand. Is it the same for you?

    Slowly, he bent over the shadowed groin and his tongue lightly caressed the dark head of Starsky's cock, delicately outlining its shape. A moan of unalloyed pleasure was his reward, sending a shiver of excitement down his spine, coming to rest in his belly.

    "Oh, god, Hutch." Slender fingers wove into spun gold, tightening spasmodically when Hutch swallowed him whole. Using one hand to assist the rhythm his mouth was setting, the other went to work caressing the soft, vulnerable sacs just below. Your skin feels like velvet, Hutch thought distantly. Warm, living velvet. Instinctively, his hand slid lower, gently seeking forbidden darkness and heat. His middle finger hesitantly probed against the puckered, tight ring of flesh, then entered.

    His partner sobbed his name aloud and pressed down against the invader as if trying to drive him deeper. A fiery coil of lust curled around Hutch's entrails, fueled by the knowledge that Starsky was enjoying what he was doing to him. Continuing to milk his partner's aroused flesh with his mouth and left hand, his other hand began a new rhythm, his middle finger sliding in and out of the tight opening, pushing in deeper with each repetition, until his palm lay flush against the rounded ass.

    Starsky's legs spread apart even more, hips arcing between the two points of intimate contact. An image, unbelievably erotic, flared suddenly in Hutch's mind: he and Starsky, locked together, joined flesh to flesh, moving, thrusting.... His eyes, which had somehow closed, flew open with that image still before him.

    Hutch found himself staring down at his hand which was still grasping the base of the dark rose cock. His gaze dropped lower. The cessation of movement earned a whimper of complaint from his partner. "Don't stop...."

    "Starsky? I want...." Then words failed him.

    Slender fingers reached out and pushed sweat-dampened tendrils of hair off his forehead. "Anything, babe. Anything," Starsky panted brokenly.

    Hutch shook his head, knowing Starsky meant it. Nothing held back, nothing denied. He just wasn't sure if it was something for which he should ask. He slid his finger out of the hot channel, eyes asking a silent question.

    Starsky gulped as understanding hit, but did not break eye contact. His hands cupped Hutch's face and guided him up so he could kiss him on the lips. "I'm not real sure how we go 'bout it, but I'm game."

    "Are you sure?" Hutch studied the loved features, trying to find an answer there. His own body was quivering with a strange mixture of trepidation and volcanic excitement.

    Starsky took a deep breath. "Sure as I'll ever be."

    "Okay." The simple word of agreement that slipped past his lips so easily could change everything, Hutch realized shakily. "I'd better get something...." His mind was suddenly blank. Starsky must've realized as much from his expression because he was the one to finish the sentence.

    "That stuff you bought for your chapped lips?" Starsky offered matter-of-factly, but Hutch could hear the underlying strain in his voice.

    "The Vaseline. Right." He got to his feet, but before he left he placed a soft kiss on the other man's mouth. He was rewarded by a smile. "Be right back."

    "Not going anywhere," Starsky chuckled and half shoved him in the direction of the bathroom.

    Hutch returned in a moment clutching the small jar in one hand. Settling back into the bed he covered Starsky's half-erect column with a large hand. "We seem to be going backward."

    "So what are you going to do about it, big boy?" Starsky smirked, doing an abysmally bad imitation of Mae West.

    "Show, not tell." Hutch leaned down and took Starsky back into his mouth, gently sucking on the hot flesh. He smiled around the thick column when he heard the soft moan of pleasure. You don't have to be scared, Starsk. I'll make it good for you. I promise. Never hurt you. Never. He was going to make this the best ever for his lover, something that he could never forget.


    Hutch lay sprawled in bed, sheet pulled up to his waist, staring bleakly up at the shadow haunted ceiling. He squeezed his eyes shut and threw up one arm to shield them. A breeze from the partially opened window moved over his bared chest. He shivered with a spreading cold that had nothing to do with the chill air. "Starsk..." he whispered, voice raw with pain, "...sorry...." Pulling his arm down, he turned his gaze to the tightly closed bathroom door. Starsky had disappeared into this sanctuary ten minutes earlier and not a sound had issued from it since. Hutch had almost reached the end of his resolve to allow his partner some privacy when a flushing sound broke the stillness.

    The door opened and Starsky quietly padded back to bed. He slid under the covers, turning on his side with his back to his companion. "Nite, Hutch." The voice was unnaturally subdued.

    "Are you all right?" the blond whispered. He wanted to reach out and comfort with the touch of his hand, but he was afraid. The space between them was left un-breached.

    "I'm fine."

    "I hurt you...."

    "Hutch, you didn't hurt me. I told you, I'm fine." The words sounded brittle, as if the smallest response would shatter them.

    Hutch could not leave it alone. "Then why won't you even look at me?" To his shame his voice cracked on the last word.

    The obvious distress caught the dark haired man's attention and he slowly turned to stare at his partner, "Hey, I'm okay I told you, It's just late and we have to get an early start tomorrow for LA."

    "Starsky, I just fucked you and all you can talk about is our schedule?" He could see the slight flinch his harsh words caused. He softened his voice. "I.... Look, I know it hurt you at first, but you enjoyed it, too. Can't you tell me what's wrong?"

    A brief flash of pain flickered over Starsky's face, but then was covered by a stubborn resolution that frightened Hutch. "What can I say?" he whispered into the darkness. "I liked it, sure. But what we did tonight made me realize something. You think this is real."

    "You didn't think what we've been doing to each other for the last week was real?" Hutch stuttered, the first spark of anger stirring to life.

    Starsky reached out with one hand, but halted the gesture before it could bridge the gap between them. "No. It was real, but this vacation wasn't. Not like when we get back home. It's hitting me, what this might mean, and I've gotta have some time to think. Huh?" There was a long pause before he continued. "Please?"

    "Time to think? After a week and a half?" Hutch echoed disbelievingly. "I asked you about that after our first time together. You said you felt the same way I did, that we could have it all. It'd just be another way of showing what we feel." He could sense the tension radiating from Starsky, as if one more word would send him fleeing the bed and the room and him. Everything else was suddenly submerged by an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. "Okay, Starsky, if that's what you need. See you in the morning." He turned on to his side, facing away from the anguished blue-eyed stare. 

    Neither man slept much that night.


    They rose with the first pale light of dawn, doing their morning ablutions separately and finishing up last-minute packing in strained silence. Neither man felt like having breakfast so they said a hasty goodbye to their hosts and were on the road by eight. The Saturday morning traffic was still light so they made good time getting out of the city and onto Interstate 101. The rest of the long trip seemed like a bad dream to Hutch, interminable miles of flat sameness interspersed with an occasional sentence or two of non-communication. 

    When they finally pulled up in front of Venice Place around midnight, Hutch felt emotionally and physically drained, wanting nothing more than to escape into his apartment. Away from Starsky. Away from himself, if he could have managed it. But he felt he needed to make one last effort to salvage some normality from the situation.

    "Hey, Starsk," he said casually, as he reached into the trunk for a couple pieces of his luggage. Then he realized that his partner, having already grabbed the rest of his stuff, was climbing the stairs to the second floor. 

    Muffling a curse, he hurried after the retreating form. A dark, silent shadow waited for him at the top of the darkened stairs. A chill shivered down his spine. It was a stranger standing there. He clutched desperately to his resolution. Fumbling for the key over the door, he managed to get the lock open without dropping the elusive bit of metal and making a complete fool of himself. "Want to come in for a beer?"

    "No, thanks. I just wanna get home and get a lotta z's."

    "Yeah, it was a long haul for one day," Hutch heard himself say, like some stranger mouthing meaningless phrases. Oh, god, babe, what are we doing to ourselves? seemed to repeat like a broken record in his brain. He was glad he had not turned on the light. The last thing he wanted was for Starsky to see his face.

    "'Night, Hutch," he heard the shadow mutter as it turned to leave.

    The words were out of his mouth before he could reconsider. "Want to come over tomorrow? I'll make dinner." We can talk. Please, Starsk.

    "Sounds great, but I've got a million things to do tomorrow before we go back to work Monday morning. Gotta wash my car...."

    "Sure." Hutch couldn't stand any more. "I'll see you Monday then." He turned his back quickly, bending to pick up his luggage. He could hear a muttered, "Yeah, see you Monday," and then the sound of footsteps fading into the night. Leaving the luggage where it lay, he straightened. "Ah, Starsk," he whispered painfully, leaning his forehead against the cold wood of the doorjamb. ''What the hell are we gonna do?"


    Starsky sat at his desk ignoring the short stack of manila folders placed there, he was sure, by someone who thought he just might be interested in getting to work. He wasn't. He was faintly annoyed by Dobey's reaction to the pudgy plaster figurine he had presented--the captain had actually thanked him, called it by its real name, and said one could never have enough luck in their line of work. To make matters worse, Hutch was late. He hadn't even called to ask for a ride to the station, and Starsky was beginning to wonder whether he was going to show up at all.

    Just as he decided his reputation wouldn't be ruined if he perused some of the folders, the door swung open and an unusually scruffy looking Hawaiian-shirted Hutchinson made for the coffee machine. Starsky sighed. Another of his gifts gone bad. He had the horrible thought that either Hutch liked the shirt, or that the man was trying to tell him something by wearing it. Better not to think about it.

    Hutch finally seated himself and reached across his desk for a few of the folders. "Well, what have we got?"

    Starsky cleared his throat. "Not much."

    Hutch's head jerked up from the file he was reading.

    "Looks like either nothing's happened for two weeks, or Dobey decided not to wait and had the other guys clean up the city without us." Starsky gestured to the folders. "Parolees. Bad guys who've paid their debts to society and are now on their way to leading wholesome and productive lives. Let's go out and see how many of them are holding smoking guns." He stood, scraping his chair back, and bowed towards the door. "Shall we?"

    Hutch seemed to ponder this for a moment, then stood and led the way out.

    They managed to maintain an uneasy silence all the way down to the car, and continue it through the first half hour of their patrol. At the end of that time, Starsky felt as if someone were very gently caressing his nerves with a nail file. As the Torino pulled up to a red light he realized that his partner had won whatever game they had been playing. Starsky tapped on the steering wheel impatiently, while waiting for the light to change. He looked over at his partner. Keep it light, whatever you do. "You're awfully quiet for a guy wearing such a loud shirt." How're you playing this, Hutch? I don't understand.

    Hutch made a noncommittal sound.

    Starsky sighed and accelerated with the flow of traffic. "Lose your razor as well as your voice?" he asked conversationally.

    Hutch shook his head. "Nope. Just my will to shave."

    C'mon, Hutch. Loosen up. "Sounds serious. Well, I'm just going to go on being a cop. You can be the fuzz if you want to." With the sound of Hutch's chuckle, the muscles in his neck and shoulders began to unclench. Starsky reached up and covered a yawn, wishing he had been able to get a little more sleep the last couple nights.


    "We've got to talk." His own words reverberated in his head as he steered the Torino on its way to the Pits to meet up with Hutch. It had been a typical Monday after a vacation. Too long. The two of them had gradually reshuffled themselves into their version of teamwork by noon, and nothing had happened all day to put it to any kind of a test. As a matter of fact it would have been totally boring if he hadn't spent the whole eight hours waiting, dreading the time he would have to proclaim the obvious. He had put it off all weekend, but it was something he could no longer postpone. It was only as they were out the station doors at the end of the day when he had gotten up enough courage to say, "We've got to talk."

    He counted himself lucky to be able to snatch the last unoccupied parking space in the alley backing the Bear's establishment. Although Huggy maintained that 'not just anybody' could park there, it always seemed to be full. As he ambled over to the back door he noticed Hutch's car already parked, radiating its questionable virtues by the dumpster. A place for everything, and everything in its place.

    The atmosphere inside was noisy, smoky, crowded, and utterly familiar. Neutral territory. He noticed that Hutch had been able to grab a booth even though there were a number of people standing and waiting for tables. Feeding time at the Pits was usually busy, but today it was exceptionally so for a Monday. He made his way to the booth and slid in across from his partner.

    Hutch looked at him intently. "We have a problem."

    Starsky's eyes grew large. Not wasting any time, are you?

    Hutch waved his hand in a dismissive gesture, then elaborated. "Huggy's celebrating the anniversary of the opening of the Pits, and we didn't bring him anything."

    Starsky thought about that for a second. "We could always pay our bill. That ought to surprise him."

    Hutch laughed. "Or we could settle up our back tab...."

    Starsky interrupted, tapping on the table in front of him. "Let's not go overboard. We don't get paid again till Friday."

    Hutch conceded the point as a slightly frantic Huggy rushed by, dropping two menus on the table as he passed. "I see we're getting the treatment reserved for regular customers."

    Starsky studied the laminated xeroxes. "I will not, I repeat-- will not, order a Huggyburger," he declared.

    Hutch was reading intently. "He's got a new menu."

    "I think it's the same old stuff with different names." He finally succeeded in catching the attention of the harassed entrepreneur.

    Huggy finally made it to their table and spared them the time for a blinding smile. "Welcome to the House of the Missing Waitress. With which of my delicious specialties can I tempt your discerning palates?"

    "Steak, baked, and a beer," Starsky ordered succinctly.

    Hutch nodded. "I'll have the same."

    "After all the time it took to come up with these mouthwatering delicacies you just want the same old things?" Huggy grumbled.

    "The menu's cute, Hug. Just remember, we know the cook."

    "Point taken. So, how'd you find it, up north?"

    "Just followed Route 1." Starsky shrugged.

    Huggy and Hutch exchanged glances and the blond shook his head. "Don't ask."

    Huggy's attention was caught by a wildly waving diner, and he excused himself, threatening violence upon the person of his waitress if she ever arrived.

    Starsky directed his gaze from the retreating back of their host to his partner. He tried not to fidget. He had tried all day to come up with the right opening line. Starsky was starting to feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. He felt like he always did when he was about to lower the boom on one of his girlfriends. Except he'd already done that to Hutch. Now he was in the even stickier situation of having to explain why, to say 'we can still be friends,' and hope to God they could. Here was something to fight for. He let the silence stretch a little further, then played his high card. The truth. "I need you like breathing."

    Hutch was obviously taken aback. He started to stammer something.

    "What I mean, Hutch, is that it's natural. You're my partner, my best friend. I don't want to lose that."

    Hutch seemed to regain his composure. "Neither do I."

    "It's just that what we had, the last couple weeks, was like smoking dope in back of the high school. It was fun, hell, even a little naughty, but I don't want to do it for the rest of my life. You of all people know what it is I want."

    "Wife, kids, and that house with the picket fence," Hutch recited tonelessly.

    "Yeah. I don't want to always be a cop twenty-four hours a day. I want to come home to somebody who has dinner ready to make up for a bill from the dress shop. I wanna find out why my kid has been sent to the principal's office. I want to go out and repaint that picket fence. Is that so wrong?"

    "No," Hutch sighed, "it's not wrong. Just remember life isn't made up of castles in the air. You've got to come down to earth sometime."

    There was a look in Hutch's pale blue eyes that made Starsky want to turn away. Like something inside was slowly dying. He knew he was the cause and it made him defensive. His next words came out harsher than he intended. "That's not the castle in the air, Hutch. That was San Francisco."

    Hutch reached out suddenly, hand tightly gripping Starsky's across the width of the table. "That was no dream. It was real." There was taut anger in Hutch's voice. "You were the one who started all this. And now you just want to call it quits?"

    Something clutched at Starsky's throat, forcing words out of his mouth. "That's right. I started it, and I'm finishing it."

    Hutch let go of his hand deliberately. "Fine."

    Starsky let out a long breath. This was turning out nothing like he had hoped. When he felt he had gotten himself under control he tried to defuse the situation. "Now you're pissed off. I'm sorry."

    "Pissed off? Why should I be pissed off? Look, the next time you want to play games," the blond hissed, "be sure to let me in on the rules."

    Starsky was genuinely confused. "I never made any rules," he said quietly. Hutch's look of injured disbelief startled him, and he felt himself on the defensive again. "Okay. You want a rule, I'll make one. San Francisco never happened. We went camping for two weeks and you had a wonderful time. Now we're back, and everything is the same as before. How's that?"

    "You're crazy." There was no smile to soften the words. Hutch leaned back against the bench, staring with half lowered lids. He folded his hand on the table. "All right. I'll play. For a while."

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Starsky demanded.

    "Nothing. I just don't think I'm as good an actor as you are." Hutch slid out from behind the table. "See you at work, buddy."

    Starsky gaped as he watched Hutch head for the bar and start up a conversation with an unescorted young woman. He realized he would be left with two dinners, and the check. He began to wonder if the lonesome looking blonde, seated by the door, might like a steak.


    "Intimidation. Controlling People for Love and Money," Hutch read disbelievingly. Try it on me, and you'll be eating this book for lunch. He heard his partner's voice in the hall, and he quickly slid the book back to its original position on its owner's desk. Starsky was just outside the squad room door, talking to someone, trying out his intense unblinking gaze on some other poor soul. The door pushed open and the dark, curly head was drooping.

    "It's a conspiracy," Starsky growled, glaring at his partner under lowering brows. He grabbed the book and flipped to a marked place. "It says right here...."

    "Starsky, I keep telling you...."

    "I don't want to hear it. I already bought some mints."

    "Good thinking," Hutch mumbled.

    The dark blue stare observed him ominously. Starsky leaned on the desk top, inclining towards him. "If I thought for one minute that you were behind this...."

    "Now, is that the way a 'master of every possible situation' would think?"

    "Forget it. Just forget it." Starsky plunked down into his chair, hiding his face behind the open book. It was obvious Hutch was going to be ignored.

    Hit a nerve, didn't I? Hutch turned his attention to the file on the deceased girl, Gloria Parkins. Young, Beautiful. And very, very dead. Obviously she had not read Starsky's book. Maybe the killer had. He tried to concentrate on the print, but he couldn't focus his attention. He glanced up, studying the reader across from him. A small spark of anger flared briefly, but was almost immediately replaced by a dull bitterness. You can start trying to control everything that happens to you, partner, but that just ain't the way life is. If it was, I'd.... He cut off the thought before it had a chance to begin. That way lay danger. Something he no longer had permission to think about. Screw you, Starsk. His mouth quirked slightly as he buried himself in the facts and figures of their latest case.


    The music blasted with an incessant, nerve-deadening beat. The couples on the dance floor, writhing and twisting in the multicolored strobe lights, created an almost Dantesque scene. Fever was aptly named, Hutch decided as he gazed around at the frantically moving people. The memory of another disco teased at his mind, refusing to be banished. It figured that their only real lead in Gloria Parkin's murder, their first major case after San Francisco, had to be here. Obviously somebody up there hated one Kenneth Hutchinson.

    He glanced at his partner, and with a sense of deja vu noted the sensuous body movements and glittering eyes. Not five minutes here and already Starsky was panting over the scantily clad ladies and eager to get out on the dance floor. Don't bother to ask me, Starsk. Not here. Hutch was beginning to get at least a minimal amount of amusement from his acerbic flights of fancy. They were starting to become second nature, but at the last moment he could not resist getting in a verbal dig. "Starsky, if you're going to jerk around like that, why don't you go do it in a dark corner."

    "It's all body language, pally," the swaying man responded. "If you take a look at that lady over there, you'd see the effect it has."

    Hutch knew the effect it was having on him. He glanced at the beautiful blonde Starsky was zeroing in on and felt a wave of jealousy wash over him. "She's probably got some weird kind of fetish for left handed people," he shot back cattily.

    "I think I'm gonna dance with her," Starsky responded smugly, not taking his eyes off the smiling woman.

    "Starsky, this is not a pleasure cruise. We're here to nail a killer."

    When Starsky used the weak excuse that the lady in question might have had some contact with the killer, Hutch realized he had a way of spoiling his partner's plans. A small voice whispered he was acting vindictively, but he didn't care. "Hey, that's good thinking," he complimented warmly, then slipped quietly away, leaving a disgruntled Starsky to pay for the drinks.

    The woman was beautiful, danced like a dream, and was a cop. A married, Sergeant third class cop. It was perfect. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing the expression on his partner's face when he introduced her as Sgt. Liz Thorpe. His satisfaction was short lived when Starsky immediately latched on to a brunette in red hot pants and started doing what could only loosely be called dancing. He had to keep reminding himself that they were on a case and that they had to mingle, and what the hell did it matter, anyway?

    Standing there, in the midst of a crowd of noisy, pleasure-loving people, Hutch had never felt more alone. It was a moment before he noticed the hopeful face looking up at him. He turned away briefly, not really wanting to talk, before his basic good manners stepped in. This woman, who introduced herself as Judith, although not the type he would normally have approached, still might prove to know something of value about the case. He bought her a drink, then they stood leaning up against the dance floor railing, observing the people.

    Hutch's eyes rarely left the figure of a certain dark haired man as he talked to the woman at his side. The moves his partner was executing soon made it imperative that he keep the railing safely in front of him. He tore his gaze away and concentrated on Judith. "Why do you come here?" he asked, suddenly wanting to know a thing about the person with him.

    She shrugged expressively, about to go into another set speech, then changed mind. Her smile slipped a bit. "You mean why do I keep coming here when I obviously don't get much out of it?"

    "Well...," Hutch stammered, trying to find words that would not wound. He'd asked a surface question, but Judith seemed driven to get at its heart.

    "Hey, it's okay." Her pale eyes stared into him. "I'm not that fragile. And to answer your question, it's at least a place where I have a chance of meeting someone. Let me tell you, I work at a library and the men there are either gay, married, or someone I wouldn't be caught dead with. Anyway," she added defensively, "I love to dance. That answer your question?"

    Feeling unaccountably embarrassed, Hutch nodded slowly. And the only people I seem to meet at work are crooks, their victims, and other cops. His eyes unwillingly sought a familiar figure on the dance floor. And an asshole.

    Hutch managed to swing the talk around to safer, less intimate topics and was surprised at the amount of personal information she had picked up about the people who regularly frequented Fever. Then he noticed Starsky tangoing off center stage with his curvaceous brunette. Extricating himself gracefully from Judith, he worked his way over towards his partner. Readying himself to pry the two of them apart, he was taken slightly aback when he discovered his dark haired gypsy ensconced at a table. Alone.

    Starsky waved him to a seat at his side, grinning broadly. "Man, we were really cookin'."

    "I see you didn't win," Hutch commented snidely. He couldn't help looking around, trying to see where Starsky's dancing cohort had gone.

    "Nope. The DJ was just jealous of my moves, that's all,"

    "Just be grateful that you weren't arrested for those moves. We've pulled people in for less than that." He finally couldn't stand the suspense any longer. "So, where's your...?" Hutch choked on using the word 'partner'. He and Starsky were partners. Nobody else. For better or for worse.

    A mournful expression settled over Starsky's features. "She got waylaid by a boyfriend." He shot the blond a decidedly dirty look when a chuckle escaped Hutch's lips.

    "Come on, Romeo," Hutch reminded him, "time to talk case." He felt remarkably good again. ''I've just been talking to someone who knows quite a bit."

    During the next few minutes they compared notes and tried to get a better handle on likely suspects. Without personal matters intruding, Hutch felt the old rapport click into place.

    "Uh, Starsky...," Hutch interrupted a comment of his partner's. He smiled at Judith who had just sidled up to him. "I'd like you to meet...."

    "Hi, Dave," Judith beamed.

    "Oh, I see you two have already met." Hutch could not keep an amused smile off his face.

    "Yeah," Starsky confirmed, turning on the charm, "I've already had the pleasure."

    "We talked about art," the small woman responded, smiling tightly.

    Hutch could swear that his friend blushed. Wondering what that was all about, he started up a polite patter of conversation. They both had a few more questions about the patrons of Fever and tried to get the information out of Judith without being too obvious. When Starsky finally asked who one of the two men sitting next to Liz was, Hutch almost choked over the answer. The words "If you're so interested in guys, you're in the wrong club," echoed in his head. Was she psychic? He turned disbelieving eyes to Starsky and his own reactions were forgotten as he heroically restrained an overwhelming urge to laugh at his companion's expression.

    Judith mercifully decided it was time to fade into the crowd, leaving both men staring at each other, momentarily speechless. "Think she's a mind reader?" Hutch whispered conspiratorially. The smile which teased at his mouth slowly faded when he realized that Starsky, a deep flush staining his cheeks, was staring at the table top with downcast eyes. Refusing to look at him. Damn you, Starsky, can't you even take a joke? He turned away and stared at the dancers. You've called the shots. You've made the rules. And I've agreed to play by them. You're probably right; it was a temporary thing. But don't be ashamed of what we had. When you told me you'd pretend it never happened.... "Starsky..." he began hesitantly. Dark blue eyes stared up at him. Shutters had slammed down, shielding what was behind them from view.

    Opening his mouth, Hutch closed it again. He realized they were treading on thin ice, but could not see any alternative. Then, something across the expanse of dance floor caught his attention and what was between them was momentarily put on hold. "Starsky I think Liz is taking an unauthorized walk with someone." He was already on his feet, moving towards the disappearing couple. His dark shadow was pacing him. At least they still had this, Hutch thought fleetingly.


    Starsky lounged back on his sofa and tried to concentrate on not feeling lonely. While waiting in the hall for news of Hutch's surgery, while waiting for the coin to come up heads one more time, he had met someone there. Someone who reminded him very much of his grandmother. "Pat me on the hand, tell me it's gonna be all right, and I'm yours forever," he muttered darkly. He had wanted her to take him home, fix him some nice soup, and make him believe his partner was going to be just fine. But she wasn't going home.

    Anyway that was Hutch's job. And Hutch hadn't been there. He had been inconveniently having a bullet removed at the time. Sonovabitch. Hutch was a good cop, and a good shot. Why the hell had he let some little punk get the drop on him? How dare he put his life on the line they did every day.

    Life without Hutch? Unthinkable. Preposterous. Hutch was as much a part of him as his cock, and sometimes just as irritating. Heat flamed in his face. Not cock, no...feet. Hutch was as much a part of him as....

    He was just tired. The short nap he had taken at the hospital hadn't been enough, he needed some sleep. After levering himself up from the couch, he meandered into the bedroom on automatic. Hutch was going to be all right. They had told him so. Only a hole an inch or two from the heart. He wondered if he would ever tell Hutch how close it was to his own.


    "I ain't after it, honey." She had said that to him earlier. Said she wasn't after his body, and he hadn't particularly been after hers. So why had they ended up in bed? Meredith came waltzing in and demanded his TV. Step one, get the lady into the bedroom. Step two, don't mention the set Huggy had gotten for them resting safely in the trunk of the Torino. Step three, drop the bathrobe. No, that would have been crude. And truthfully, he hadn't had to go to step three. She had been way ahead of him.

    He shifted and lay diagonally across the bed. No one to squash. Pleasure anywhere you can get it, and sleep at home. Not a bad motto, but personally he would have enjoyed a little cuddle time.

    Well, anyway, he'd done it. Fucked his partner. Hopefully she just enjoyed herself and would never know how true that statement was. In his mind huge brown eyes had shifted to blue, and hair grew longer and paler. The overlay had been less than perfect, there were some things that didn't change. His hand had strayed more than once to her lower belly, but she seemed to have liked that. He had only had the odd sensation that something was missing.

    She had liked it, made all the appropriate noises at all the right times, writhed in ecstasy when she was supposed to, kissed him on the nose when it was over, dressed, and then vacated the premises. He should be elated. Instead, all he could think of was a double bed in San Francisco.

    Being inside Meredith had been easy. Entry was easy, movement was easy...acceptance was easy. Man and woman, wasn't that the way it was supposed to be? Yet, something was indeed missing. Something he had felt with Hutch in that little upstairs room several months ago. He hadn't felt it before, and was beginning to wonder if he would ever feel such completeness again.

    Except there had been that last time. The time when Hutch had fucked his partner. Starsky rolled over and buried his face in his pillow. All he would have to do was to raise his hips just a little, slip his hand underneath himself and let the memory of that night get him off like he had done several times before. He should have told Hutch how he had felt that last night. How towards the end he had felt like flying, and singing, and screaming, and taking Hutch with him to that faraway place. But it was wrong. He had known as soon as he felt it that it was wrong, yet at night he couldn't stop.... How do you like your blue-eyed boy now, Mrs. Starsky?


    The Pits was crowded, the usual evening crowd filling the various tables and booths, the air thick with smoke and talk and laughter. That is, everywhere except one corner booth where a solitary man kept the world at bay. Hutch stared intently into the whiskey, watching it catch the light as he turned the shot glass round and round in his hand. A twisted smile pulled at his mouth, as he held the glass up in salute. "Here's to heroes." He tossed the whiskey down his throat; the glass was carefully and methodically placed back in its original position. He stared dully at the half full bottle before carefully reaching out for it. The glass felt cool against his overheated flesh. Carefully, as only the drunk are careful, he poured himself another shot.

    He heard his name being called and he looked up from his close inspection of the full glass. A concerned dark face looked down at him.

    "Huggy, ol' frien'. Whaddya doin' here?"

    "Like you happened to have forgotten, I am the proprietor of this thriving establishment." The black man shook his head and slid into the seat across from Hutch. "Do you want to talk about it?"

    "Nothin' to talk over." His large hands tightened their grip around the whiskey, knuckles whitening. He refused to meet Huggy's eyes.

    "Hutch, you never touch this stuff. For you 101 proof is an anesthetic. So why are you hurtin'?"

    A bitter twist of the lips was his only answer.

    "I heard your case didn't go down too well...."

    "You musta heard wrong. We made the bust. Got the bad guy. Fitch'll take a hard fall when Marianne testifies. Hero, that's what I am." The whiskey felt good, singing in his blood, as Hutch took another healthy swallow. "So what if her brother turns up dead. Or that I use a woman that needs help. Yeah, real heroic."

    Huggy shook his head. "Man, from what I've heard about Fitch you probably saved the lady's life. He would've taken care of her sooner or later. He wasn't exactly fond of people who knew too much."

    "Still used her. She was hurtin'...."

    "Couldn't be hurting any more than you are right now." The black man let out a large sigh. "But you haven't heard one word I've said." He changed the subject abruptly. "You have a way of getting home?"

    "Same way as I got here. By myself."

    "Where's that partner of yours?"


    The word came out so mournfully, Huggy stared at him. "Starsky would never forgive me if I let you outta here without making sure you got home okay," the Bear finally said softly.

    Hutch pushed the obvious sympathy away and shook his head in a negative. "Told Marianne a lotta things. Made me do some thinking. Serious thinking. And you know what?" He took the brief silence as an affirmative. "I've really screwed things up. My life. You do that when you lie to yourself."

    The proprietor of the Pits sat quietly across from him, as if hoping his presence would help. Hutch's next glass was quickly disposed of and glum silence replaced the vocal outpouring.

    "Hutch, I know this is none of my business," Huggy finally offered, "but does this have anything to do with what's been going down between you and Starsky lately?"

    Hutch did not even lift his head. "Fuck off."

    Huggy shook his head, obviously not taking any offense. He looked up and saw his bartender motioning him over to arbitrate a dispute between two aggressive customers. "Listen, I gotta go. Don't go nowhere, you hear?" There was no answer.

    Hutch did not even notice when Huggy left. The same set of thoughts kept dancing around in his head like possessed Mephistophelian marionettes. What has been going on between us lately, Starsky? I know damn well what I've been doing. Just wouldn't admit it. Well, Marianne, you sure made me admit a few things. Just friends. Just partners. Hah. He tossed back the last of his drink and poured another.

    Existence slipped by and he felt as if he had been sitting there since the beginning of time. After all, nothing could change in limbo. Then a white shape settled into the space in front of him. He blinked and the figure coalesced into familiar lines.

    "Hutch, come on, it's time to go home." Starsky's voice was very gentle. Hutch shook his head carefully. Somehow he wasn't even surprised that his partner was here. "Can't. Bottle's not finished."

    "Yeah, but you are."

    The pale blue eyes filled with unshed tears. "Have been for some time. You just never noticed." He stared at the man sitting across from him like someone dying of thirst would look at a glass of life-giving water. Thick, dark curls crowning a beautiful, slender face. A white, oversized sweatshirt gave Starsky the look of a lost child, yet the eyes belied that impression. Like his own, they had seen too much. His heart felt like bursting. Starsky got up and moved over to his side of the booth.

    "Don't do this to yourself, Hutch. Sometimes a case ends badly. It wasn't your fault."

    He could feel a bitter laugh building near his heart, travel upward and escape like a bad dream from his lips. "Ah, there are none so blind as they who cannot see. Or something to that effect." His trembling hand was caught and restrained as it tried reaching for some more liquid solace. "Not the damn case. It's us. It's always been us. Ever since San Francisco." The hand covering his was snatched away like it had touched a live coal.

    There was a long pause before the distancing words were spoken. "Come on, partner. Time to go home."

    He tried to put up an argument, but realized that in his present condition Starsky was going to win. Like always. Why should tonight be different? A feeling of loss filled his empty soul to the brim. Strong arms pulled him up and circled him as he lost his balance. He let himself be led and more than half supported out of the place. The cool outside air hitting his face made things a bit clearer. He watched, fascinated, as his partner leaned over to get the passenger side of the Torino open. He reached out but Starsky turned too quickly. He fell into a supporting embrace. "Love you," he whispered into a warm neck. He felt the arms about him momentarily tighten and dreamed a ghost kiss whisper against his cheek. Then his failing body was lowered into the car seat, while his unattached legs were manhandled into position. The Torino's engine purred into life and the even vibration of the moving car soon lulled him into sleep.

    "Come on, ya big lug," pulled Hutch back to awareness. "You're too big for me to get you up those stairs. You've got to help me a little." He cracked open one eye and peered blearily into Starsky's face.

    "Hummumph," was the only thing that managed to escape his numb lips, but he was able to get his body moving enough so that his escort could get him on his feet. He heard strained pantings and groanings, and realized they were not coming from him. The last thing he really remembered was his body hitting a soft surface and warmth settling over his spread-eagled body. He wasn't sure, but he also thought he remembered something cool and soothing stroking lightly over his forehead and hair. That last comforting sensation followed him down into the darkness.


    As consciousness slowly returned, Hutch was only aware of a great fragility. His skull was made of eggshells, very thin eggshells, while his bones were woven from spun sugar and his flesh was tautly stretched parchment. It was also a certainty that whatever was trying to pound its way from behind his eyes would soon break free from its fragile prison. A whisper of protest escaped from his lips when he cracked open one eye. His palm slid protectively between the hurtful light and his eyes. It didn't dampen the impact. He would gratefully have slipped back into merciful sleep but a certain call of nature was making itself felt rather insistently. Waiting as long as possible, he finally struggled up to a sitting position. He wished instantly that he hadn't. The room swam into focus. It was obviously his bedroom, so he knew that somehow he had made it home. There was movement in the direction of the living room.

    "I see you're alive," Starsky said conversationally, folding in half the newspaper he had been reading.

    "Don't breathe so loudly," Hutch pleaded, cradling his pounding head in his hands.

    "Good thing you woke up when you did. I gotta leave soon."

    "Ohmagod," Hutch moaned. "What time is it? I'm due in...."

    "Relax," the dark haired man said softly. "I called you in sick. I didn't think you'd be in any condition this morning to fight for truth, justice, and the American way."

    "I think I must've been drinking kryptonite." Hutch carefully eased his legs off the edge of the bed and tried a tentative balance on his feet. He wobbled for a moment before his knees gave way and he tipped back onto the mattress. He clutched desperately at his head, trying to keep it attached.

    "Nope, just some of Huggy's jungle juice."

    Suddenly, the room did some very interesting maneuvers and Hutch realized that if he did not make it to the bathroom very quickly he was going to have one very disgusting mess to clean up. Or what would be worse, Starsky would. He made it to the john just in time. After a brief time of trying to see if he could live without his stomach, the nausea subsided and he found he felt marginally better. He stared at the closed door and some of the night before started filtering back into his conscious mind. He took his time doing what needed to be done in the privacy of the bathroom, trying to keep his head together. Trying to figure what he was going to say to Starsky. He finished rinsing his mouth from the toothpaste, staring at the haggard face that peered out at him from the mirror.

    Now or never, he thought glumly. Although most of him would have chosen never, he opened the bathroom door. "Starsky...."

    "Wondered if you were ever comin' out." The dark haired man grinned at him, and zipped up his jacket. "I made some coffee. When you're feeling up to it, it's on the a stove."

    "You're leaving?" Hutch asked softly.

    "Yeah, I told you. I gotta get to work or Dobey'll skin me." He started for the door.

    "Starsky...." The blond took a step towards the retreating figure.

    Starsky paused in the open doorway, eyebrows raised questioningly.

    "Why did you stay over?"

    A shadow flickered in the hooded eyes, but was quickly submerged. "Just thought in case you needed me...." He cleared his throat. "Take care of that head, partner. I'll call later to see how you're doing."

    The front door closed with an abnormally loud snick. Hutch stood as if rooted in place, staring blankly at the football poster that covered its length. He tried to arrange his thoughts in some coherent manner through the incessant pounding, but found it impossible. He made it over to the couch and sank gratefully onto it. Starsky, you slept here last night. His hand automatically smoothed over the rough fabric. Why did you stay when all you wanted to do this morning was get the hell out? Leaning his head against the back of the sofa, he closed his eyes. A lot of what he said and thought the night before was coming back to him, giving him the unwanted answers to both his questions. His partner could never leave him when he was hurt, but what he brought up last night made it necessary for Starsky to run, not walk, to the nearest exit as soon as he was awake. After all, awake he might have wanted to talk about forbidden things.

    Standing, he walked carefully into the kitchen and poured himself some of Starsky's coffee. As usual, it was strong enough to melt the enamel off the pot, but it was just what the doctor ordered. He popped four aspirin down his throat and waited for the coffee and the pain killers to resurrect the dead. It was probably too much to hope for that it would also take care of the dull throb in his heart.

    Finishing off the coffee, he lay back down on the couch, hoping to escape into sleep. He closed his eyes, trying to blank his mind. Almost immediately the sounds and images and feelings of the last few days started bubbling to the surface of his mind, clamoring for attention. Marianne, Starsky, Fitch, Harry, Stanton, himself. The supporting cast and characters, a part of his mind quipped sarcastically, with Marianne in the starring role. He remembered all the ways he had seen her: singing her beautiful blues in the club, smiling at him over a drink, passion-flushed after making love, staring at him challengingly in the alley.... His mind suddenly shied away from that memory and for a moment he was going to let it. But somewhere deep inside him he knew why. Damn it, for once don't be a coward. Started it in the bar last night, so finish it now. Marianne was looking at him and he could hear his voice say the words again. Yet even as he spoke, he knew he was a fine one to spout them. The blind leading the blind. You're worth it. For once in your life you gotta own that. Pretty words, true words, but had he ever really believed it about himself? This is what I want and I've gotta take it. Painfully, he held the thought. Probed it. Hutch finally admitted that all these months he had been lying to himself, convincing himself that he could live with, and even agree with, Starsky's decision. That it was right for the two of them. Last night's drunken confession to Starsky had exploded that myth. He forced himself to examine the path his life had taken since he had gone along with his partner's choice. To be honest, he didn't much like where it was going, or who he was becoming. You gotta make that choice. It always came down to choices in the end. It was time to make one now.