This story was originally published in The Lucky and the Strong, put out by The Idiot Triplets Press in 1993. This zine is still in print and available from LCabrillo@aol.com. Thanks go to Morag for typing and SHaron for proof-reading. Comments on this story can be sent to: flamingoslim@erols.com who will forward them to the author.

THE RIGHT TO TOUCH

by

MLM

[This story opens later in the day of the tag shown in Partners]

Starsky could barely contain his exuberance as he nearly danced up to the door of the hospital room, peering in to make sure his roommate was awake before he spoke. Though he knew Hutch had not been having an especially good day, Starsky was sure his news would cheer his friend up. He was delighted when the dispirited blue eyes finally flickered open.

"Hey, Hutch! Boy, have I got good news!" Starsky bubbled. "Dr. Greene just told Dobey you won't be able to work for at least another couple weeks and that I needed more time too. You shoulda seen his face when Cap realized he couldn't put us on traffic control tomorrow after all."

"Probably spoiled his whole day," Hutch said, wincing as he managed a wan smile. "I don't suppose anybody said when they'll let us go?"

"Yep, that's the other good news," Starsky nodded. "I get to go home now and the doc said you can prob'ly leave tomorrow. He said you couldn't be alone for a few days though, so I told him you'd be staying with me. I didn't think you'd mind."

"That's stupid," Hutch protested, grimacing as he tried to push himself up on the bed. "I can lay around home just as well as here or at your place. Besides, why would you want me around after that amnesia stunt I pulled?"

"So I can pay ya back for it, why else?" Starsky's grin belied his words as he arranged the pillows behind Hutch. "I can't inflict enough damage here, but just wait till I get you home. I'll pay you back with interest then." At the meaningful wiggle of eyebrows, Hutch closed his eyes and laid his head back with a groan.

Hutch was sleeping by the time Starsky's official release was ready, so Starsky left a note promising to return later that evening. Thanks to Huggy, he had a replacement car waiting, one of Merle's loaners. As he approached the metallic gold Road Runner, Starsky realized his hand was trembling, forcing him to fumble as he unlocked the door.

Until then he hadn't admitted just how deeply the accident had affected his nerves but he found himself super-cognizant of his driving all the way home. Hutch's accusing words echoed in his ears along with the last sickening crunch of metal he'd heard. Starsky couldn't deny the validity of his partner's accusations. He had "double clutched" Hutch into his present condition and come uncomfortably close countless times before. Though the gold loaner had nearly as much power as his Striped Tomato, Starsky drove at or below the speed limit for the entire drive.

It's my fault he's still in that hospital. Why should I have been the lucky one? Starsky couldn't get Hutch off his mind the rest of the day, prompting him to call anonymously and check on his partner twice. It isn't fair I did that to him. I should've slowed down like he told me to. The doc said it might be a long time before he's really healed, and it's all my fault.

Though seeing Hutch in pain always disturbed him, this time was worse than usual since Starsky knew he was the cause. On his way back to the hospital for his evening visit, he resolved to do all he could to make up to Hutch for all his suffering.

His brief evening visit did nothing to console him as he found his partner in as much or more pain than when he'd left. Unable to muster his customary cheerful nature, Starsky felt their time together was much too brief and tense. It was all he could do to force himself to go home and leave Hutch to spend the night alone.

Thoroughly rested by the following morning, Starsky arrived ready and eager to take Hutch home, relieved to verify that his release had indeed been approved. Though Hutch seemed to be happy to be leaving the hospital, the absence of his typical banter left Starsky disturbed. He'd expected comments about the flashy paint on the car for certain, yet Hutch never gave it a second glance. That alone Starsky considered cause for concern.

Nor did he say a word about Starsky's driving, though Starsky was doubly cautious with him in the car. After an initial curse of pain when he got in, Hutch sat with his bandaged head rigid in the cervical collar, his eyes closed the entire time. He held his plaster-encased arm tight against his body, wincing at every bounce and turn. Yet not a word or sound of complaint passed his lips.

By the time they arrived at the apartment Starsky knew Hutch was definitely in pain, especially when he admitted being unable to walk the short distance from car to door without help. Despite leaning heavily on his partner, the blond was trembling as he collapsed on Starsky's couch, his worried companion close by his side. More than ever before Starsky yearned to make Hutch's pain his own.

"I didn't think I could have so many places hurt this much all at one time." Hutch cast an apologetic glance at Starsky when he opened his eyes. "Guess Dr. Greene really meant it when he said I've got a ways to go before I'd feel anywhere near human again."

"Guess so," Starsky said tersely, his eyes locked on Hutch's face. "Maybe you'd feel better if you laid down. I've got the bed all ready for ya."

"Thanks, but I'd rather stay up," Hutch decided, wriggling. "If I'm this worn out from doing that little, I obviously need to start rebuilding some strength."

"Yeah, maybe, but don't push it." Starsky tucked a pillow behind Hutch's back, attempting to help. "How's your head feel today? Still hurt a lot?"

"Enough. They gave me some pain medication to take when it gets really bad, and gave me a shot just before I left. I guess the concussion was pretty bad, but Dr. Greene said the pain should start levelling off in another few days."

"I hope so," Starsky said fervently. "It's been plenty long enough now."

Unable to do anything more to help his partner settle in, Starsky went to the kitchen to prepare the soup and sandwich lunch he served on trays. His usual frivolity replaced by fear, he snuck furtive looks at Hutch every chance he could, his concern over his friend's condition only deepening over the course of the seemingly endless day.

"Starsk, what do I have to do to convince you I really am okay?" Hutch asked that evening with a frustrated sigh. "You've been hovering over me like a mother hen all day. You act like I'm a piece of glass that's about to break."

"No, that's the trouble -- you're already broken," Starsky answered, rising from the couch. "I'm sorry, Hutch. I just can't help it. I can't think about anything else. I know it's my fault you're feelin' so lousy and it's my fault you have to be here. If it wasn't for me 'n my lousy drivin' you'd be home or out someplace havin' fun."

"Did it ever occur to you I might like it here?" Hutch countered gently. "You know I enjoy your company, Starsk. I can't say I'm crazy about the way I feel, but it's all part of the job. I could have been driving that day just as well as you."

"Yeah, but you weren't the one drivin', I was. And it's my fault you got hurt." Wrapping his arms tightly around his chest, Starsky turned his back and began to pace. "If it wasn't for me you'd be working right now; you wouldn't have a broken arm and a concussion plus a sprained neck and back. The neck part was bad enough, but when they said it got your back too -- damn it, Hutch what I did to ya just isn't fair!"

At the lack of response from Hutch, Starsky stood lost in remorse until he felt a gentle hand come to rest on his shoulder. At that his shoulders sagged even more. "I'm sorry," he murmured, covering the larger hand with his. "I know you wanted me to think about what happened, but this probably isn't what you had in mind. I just can't stop thinking how wrong it was that I hurt you, and how much worse it could've been. When I think about what could have happened when you hit that windshield..." Starsky shuddered.

"Starsk, turn around a minute, will you?" Hutch requested, his hand sliding down along Starsky's arm. "Please?"

Eyes still downcast, Starsky silently obeyed, finally looking up when Hutch squeezed his forearm a second time -- the tenderness he found in the soft blue gaze made him swallow hard. "It's okay," Hutch told him gently. "You didn't mean to hurt me, I know that. Stop torturing yourself so much, will you? I just wanted to make you think about what happened not drive yourself nuts."

"Yeah, I know, but..." Lowering his eyes, Starsky shook his head. "I've been thinking about a lot of things since all this happened. It's really opened my eyes. Made me realize a lot of things I never thought much about before."

"Really? Like what?" Hutch grimaced and shifted his grip on Starsky's arm. "Let's sit back down then you can tell me about it."

Quickly moving to his partner's side, Starsky slid an arm around Hutch's waist, not surprised when the taller man leaned against him for support. Though the couch was just a few feet away, Hutch's gait was unsteady, and as they sank down together Hutch couldn't stifle a soft groan. His arm still firmly affixed around Hutch's waist, Starsky gently drew his friend close in his arms. Starsky echoed the sigh Hutch emitted as their foreheads touched.

"You mean a lot to me, Hutch. You gotta know that." Starsky forced himself to voice the rarely uttered words, feeling it was important Hutch knew how he felt. "If anything ever happened and I really lost you, I don't know what I'd do. I told you the other day I almost didn't make it without Terry -- I wouldn't make it without you. You're my pal Hutch. And a whole lot more."

Nodding almost imperceptibly, Hutch sighed again before he spoke. "Guess the feelings are mutual, buddy. I'd be lost without you too. The worst time I've ever had was when you were poisoned last year. At least when Gillian died, I knew I'd always still have you."

Sensing Hutch still felt comfortable in the embrace as he too did, Starsky made no attempt to move, gently rubbing Hutch's back instead. He smiled as the blond arched toward him and tentatively straightened, his actions relaying his pleasure in lieu of words. At least I can do one thing right for him, Starsky thought. Or am I doing it for myself instead? It sure does feel nice being able to touch him again after so long.

That had been the worst part of Hutch's feigned amnesia, Starsky realized as the massage continued, the fear his friend might never remember what they'd so recently shared. How just two nights before the fateful accident they'd fallen asleep in each other's arms, waking to again share their love by the light of day...

Though he could count the times they'd been together on his fingers, Starsky knew he would have been content to hold and touch Hutch forever, absorbing all of their love he could... He also knew his willingness to make Hutch feel good had nothing whatsoever to do with his guilt.

"You're good at that, Starsk," Hutch complimented some time later. "I'd let you keep it up all night if I could. Unfortunately my neck is starting to tell me I need to change positions. I've gotta sit up straight again."

Reluctantly releasing his grasp and helping Hutch straighten, Starsky remained beside his friend, discreetly watching the handsome face as best he could. He blushed and quickly looked down at his lap when Hutch unexpectedly caught him.

"Look, there'll be plenty of time for talking and stuff tomorrow," Starsky announced brusquely. "Right now it's time we both hit the sack. If you think it might help you sleep better, I'll give you a real back rub first, though. What do you say?"

"I say if you really don't mind, I'd love it. But I don't want to put you out." Hutch grinned as Starsky feigned a playful swing toward his still partially bandaged head. "Okay, okay. I surrender. Have your way with me -- I'm yours."

"Promises, promises," Starsky grumbled good-naturedly as he stood up. "You need some help getting ready for bed tonight?"

"Yeah, I guess you'd better." With obvious effort, Hutch struggled to stand. "The way I feel at the moment I wouldn't get too far on my own."

Without waiting to hear any more, Starsky slipped his arm around Hutch's waist, supporting much of his weight as they made the slow trip to the bedroom. Holding the tall form upright with one arm, Starsky adeptly helped Hutch undress, trying hard to conceal his sensual response. In some ways he felt like he was seeing the handsome blond for the very first time, or through eyes other than his own. When Hutch sagged heavily against him, Starsky returned quickly to reality.

"You okay?" he asked lightly, brushing a lock of hair from Hutch's face. "Hutch? Still with me? We're almost through."

"Good," Hutch replied faintly. "Then maybe, if we're lucky, I won't pass out first."

Aware the blond wasn't joking, Starsky chose to disregard the waiting pajamas as he whipped off the bedspread and eased Hutch down. Able to tell from the shallow breathing that Hutch was barely conscious, Starsky tucked a blanket around the limp form before heading for the bathroom and a cool, damp cloth.

As he'd hoped, the moisture roused his partner, who soon pushed Starsky's hand away as he struggled to sit up. Noticing a grimace when Hutch moved his back, Starsky gently but firmly held him down flat. "Just stay where you are and rest," he ordered. "I'll help you turn over in a minute or two. You're just trying to be too independent too fast, that's what happened."

"This is independence?" Hutch grumbled, reluctantly heeding Starsky's advice. "I'd hate to see what dependence would be like, then."

Smiling at the typical grousing, Starsky put the washcloth aside in preparation for the promised massage. When he glanced back, he found Hutch's blue gaze following his face, eyes filled with an emotion Starsky couldn't identify. He touched the cool cheek with a light hand as he smiled down. "What's the matter, all this help getting to you?" he teased gently. "You look like you're worried or somethin'. What's going on?"

"I was just thinking how lucky I am, that's all." Hutch reached up to cover Starsky's hand with his. "You had to undress me and put me to bed tonight, for Christ's sake. And who knows what could go wrong next? I can't think of any other partner who'd put up with doing shit like that, especially not after what I did to you with that amnesia trick."

Biting back rekindled discomfort at the reminder, Starsky managed a casual shrug in reply. "Well, maybe that's 'cause we're more than just partners," he said lightly. "We've been friends for a long time too. And friends do things like that for each other, all the time."

"Yeah, I guess." Though he didn't sound at all convinced, Hutch let the matter drop, conversation ceasing as they maneuvered Hutch onto his side then stomach so Starsky could begin a proper massage. Starsky sensed how his friend was suffering, the clenched white fists further proof. Only when Starsky sat down by his side and stroked the golden hair gently did Hutch finally give in to the pain by emitting a quiet sob.

"Aw, babe. Don't." Starsky bent over his friend, half covering the broad back as he held the trembling shoulders. "It's okay, Hutch. I'm here. You're gonna be fine."

Feeling the almost imperceptible nod of the blond head against his cheek, Starsky rubbed his face against the silken strands, savoring the sensation of Hutch's skin everywhere it met his own. He couldn't force himself to pull away, continuing to hold and stroke his friend, maintaining the supportive contact until Hutch's tremors eased. When he reluctantly sat up to begin the promised massage Starsky felt an acute sense of loss at the broken contact.

Between the fatigue and pain, Hutch was soon dozing beneath Starsky's hands, the relaxation strangely satisfying to Starsky as well. Continuing to knead the tight muscles long after he knew Hutch was sleeping, Starsky couldn't eradicate his all-encompassing sense of blame... he tenderly tucked Hutch in for the night, wondering if their relationship could ever be the same as it was before. It chilled him to think that part of their mutual trust might be gone for good. At that point he wanted nothing more than to climb into bed beside his partner and spend the night cuddled close yet knew he didn't dare -- the wrong he had done his friend had deprived him of the right to even do that.

************

Though it was late when he finally curled up on the sofa, Starsky only managed a restless doze, jerking awake at the slightest sound, fearing it might be Hutch. Concerned over his partner's restricted mobility, Starsky wanted to make himself available if the blond needed to get up during the night. Shortly after 2:00 AM Starsky gave up trying to sleep and silently crept in to check on his friend.

He looks like a little boy, Starsky thought fondly, gazing at the tousled blond head. So alone and hurt and vulnerable -- there's nothing left of that tough fašade of his.

Stepping closer, Starsky bent over to pull up the blanket Hutch's flailing arms had tossed aside, carefully tucking it in. He allowed his hand to linger for several moments against the bare chest, relishing the feeling of the warm, smooth skin. He pulled his hand back and frowned as the blond head moved on the pillow, followed by a muted moan.

Wonder what he's dreaming about that hurts him, Starsky mused, frowning. The accident probably. Starsky cursed himself again. God, if only I would've listened to him instead of driving like some maniac I wouldn't have had to put him through this -- or myself. Angrily clenching his jaw, Starsky closed his eyes.

But behind the closed lids Starsky saw another vision, a different but equally vulnerable Hutch from not many months before, too weak then to even talk. I came so close to losing him that time, Starsky thought morosely, vividly recalling Hutch's bout with the plague. I swore if we got through that I'd find a way to keep him out of danger forever -- that was the first time I realized how much he meant to me. Now I've gone and done this to him... I don't even deserve to get him back this time.

"Starsk? Starsky, where are you?"

Though spoken softly, Hutch's words were clear. Snapping out of his reverie, Starsky dropped down on the bed and caught the upraised hand. "Right here, babe," he whispered. "It's okay. What do you need?"

"My head," Hutch murmured, his grip tightening on Starsky's hand. "Damn, it hurts."

"It'll be okay, buddy. I'll go get your pain pill and be right back." Starsky began to pry Hutch's fingers from his. "Soon as you get that, you'll be okay."

"No! Starsky, don't leave me!" His tone, desperate, Hutch clung tighter to his partner's hand. "I can't -- I don't want you to leave."

Frowning at the peculiar behavior, Starsky scanned the panic-filled eyes. "What were you dreaming that has you so scared?" he asked gently, brushing a lock of flaxen hair from the pale forehead. "I thought it was probably just the accident."

"That's exactly what it was," Hutch murmured. "Only in my dream you were -- you never woke up. No matter what I did I couldn't wake you, and God, I tried so hard!" A shiver coursed though Hutch's body as his blue eyes closed. "You'd thrown yourself over on my side of the car to protect me and because of me you -- you died. When I knew you were gone, I didn't want to live either, not without you."

"Oh babe, don't say that," Starsky murmured, holding Hutch's hand tightly in his. "I don't deserve it. 'Specially not since all this. It was just a dream anyway. You can see I'm right here and I'm fine. It's just the pain that has you so screwed up."

"I know. I'm sorry." Though obviously still uneasy, Hutch released Starsky's hand. "Go ahead and do what you have to. I'm -- It's okay."

Though Starsky hated to leave his friend in such distress, he knew Hutch's pain was largely to blame for the anxiety. Quickly retrieving the pill and water, he found Hutch's face averted when he returned ... he wasn't at all surprised when the sound of a stifled sob met his ears. "Hutch? Come on, babe, turn over." Starsky stroked a tear-stained cheek tenderly. "Look at me," he urged softly. "Come on and open up those baby blues."

Through the faint light from the bedroom window Starsky watched Hutch turn slowly, the damp eyes barely opening enough to see. "That's good," Starsky encouraged. "Now you know I'm right here with you, don't you? And that I'm okay?"

At the sight of Hutch's dubious nod, Starsky stroked the cornsilk hair. "Okay, now will you also get it through your head I'm not going anywhere?" he said patiently. "I'm gonna help you sit up so you can take your pill and then I'll stay right here till you fall asleep. And when you wake up, you'll know everything's fine. Now come on, you big lug, help me sit you up."

After doing his best to assist his partner, Hutch paused to lay a hand on Starsky's arm. "I just realized -- What about you?" he asked, his voice little more than a whisper. "If I still hurt this much, you must have some pain too. I never even thought to ask how you are."

"Lord, leave it to you!" Starsky groaned, grinning at the same time. "You pick the damnedest times to worry about the other guy. Just sit here and take your pill, will you? We can talk about me tomorrow or some other time. Trust me -- I'm okay."

Slipping an arm around Hutch's back to support him, Starsky watched his partner gulp the medication, eager for relief. When he sagged back Starsky was waiting, wrapping both arms around the broad shoulders from behind. Resting his chin on the soft golden hair, Starsky rubbed Hutch's arms gently and sighed.

"What am I gonna do with you, Blondie?" he asked fondly. "I can't even leave you alone to sleep. Next thing I know you're gonna want me sleeping with you too."

"At least then I'd know you'd be here." Starsky frowned at Hutch's soft words. "Besides, it's your bed; I'm the one who should be sleeping on the couch."

"Naw, you know that couch is too short for you. You'd screw your neck up even worse than it already is. I guess I could sleep here with you if you really want, though. There's plenty of room."

"It's asking a lot, I know," Hutch replied slowly, "but I would like to have you close by. I know it's just the pain that has me so crazy, but I'd feel a lot better knowing you were here."

"No problem," Starsky replied easily, easing Hutch down on the pillow then getting up. "I wasn't sleeping worth a damn out there worrying about you anyway. Give me a couple minutes and I'll be right back."

When he returned from the bathroom, Starsky settled himself carefully on the opposite edge of the bed from his partner. He heard Hutch catch his breath at every slight movement, the stifled sounds revealing the depth of his pain, though soon the blond grew quiet and eventually Starsky heard his breathing ease. Once reassured that his friend was finally resting, Starsky too drifted off into restless sleep.

Over the next few hours Starsky woke up often, each time making sure Hutch was still asleep before again dozing off. And though it wasn't intentional, Starsky found himself nestled closer to his partner each time ... By the time he awoke shortly before 7:00 AM, Starsky had his arm draped over Hutch's chest as he cuddled spoon style behind the long, lean form.

If only we could wake up like this and really be together. Starsky sighed softly at the wistful thought. Wonder how long it'll take before we can be together again, or even if you'll want to. It'll serve me right if you don't. Flooded with renewed guilt at the memory of Hutch's agony, Starsky forced himself to leave the cozy embrace as his punishment. He gazed lovingly at the serene face from beside the bed for several long moments before forcing himself to move away.

By the time Hutch awoke later that morning, he seemed in better spirits and slightly less pain, both of which Starsky found an immense relief. No mention was made of Hutch's nightmare nor did Hutch ask Starsky how he felt. Though he passed it off as forgetfulness caused by the medication, Starsky couldn't help feeling just a little hurt.

Forced to choose between watching TV and reading, Hutch spent most of the day on the couch, occasionally testing his strength by aimlessly wandering through the apartment. Though Starsky sympathized with his partner's boredom, he was determined to keep Hutch from exerting himself -- by early evening the atmosphere between them was clearly strained.

"Damn it, Starsk, I don't want to read anymore," Hutch exploded shortly after dinner when Starsky offered him yet another book. "All I've done all day is read or watch stupid TV shows -- I'm going nuts!"

"Would you rather be back in the hospital?" Starsky shot back hotly. "'Cause that's where you'll be if you check out of here. Dr. Greene was real specific in his discharge instructions -- until you go back and get checked out next Friday you're not to be left alone at any time."

"Yeah? Well, he didn't appoint you my personal watchdog, so give me some space, okay?" Anger apparent in every slow, pain-ridden step, Hutch brushed past Starsky on his way to the kitchen and privacy.

Watching the frustrated egress, Starsky forced himself to remain where he was, knowing Hutch needed the time alone to calm himself down. When an undue length of time passed without his return, however, Starsky couldn't stand the suspense and snuck over to the kitchen doorway. The sight of Hutch's hunched shoulders, bowed head, and unmoving stance beside the sink immediately told Starsky something was wrong.

"Hutch?" he asked warily. "What're you doing?" He tried to keep his tone light as he approached the motionless form. "I thought you were cooking up a ten course meal in here."

"Didn't get that far," Hutch murmured, his voice barely audible. "I just -- I was standing here and I got so dizzy I was afraid to move."

"You should've called me," Starsky chided gently, sliding an arm around the slender waist. "Why don't we sit you down over here? You probably just moved too fast, that's all. Your head couldn't catch up with those long legs."

Easing the taller man down by the table, Starsky pulled another chair up close and laid a hand on Hutch's arm, his heart aching at the forlorn pose. He scanned the wan face for several moments, completely at a loss for words. "I wish I could make this all go away for you," he finally said softly, lightly rubbing Hutch's arm. "I'd give anything if I could go back and make it so that accident never happened."

"I know," Hutch nodded. "It's okay." He took a long, deep, steadying breath. "I'd like to take back all that time I made you feel so rotten in the hospital too, but unfortunately I can't."

"Hey, don't tell me now you're going off on a guilt trip." Starsky saw the answer in Hutch's abruptly lowered blue eyes. "Hey, come on -- if it hadn't been for my driving we never would've been in the hospital at all. No way is any of this your fault."

"Yeah. Right." Raising his free arm to run a hand across his eyes, Hutch sounded anything but convinced. "Look, I'm pretty tired. If you'd give me a hand, I think I'd like to turn in."

Much as he hated leaving the matter of Hutch's unwarranted guilt trip unsettled Starsky nodded, watching the blond grimace as he rose. Hutch made no attempt to walk without Starsky's help this time, leaning heavily on his partner all the way to the bedroom where Starsky eased him down on the bed.

"I'll go lock up and get your pill while you're changing," Starsky told him, placing Hutch's pajamas at his side. "If you get tired, just wait for me. I'll be right back."

Returning to the bedroom with the medication and water, Starsky was pleased to see that Hutch had managed to change clothes, though the discarded items were carelessly strewn about on the floor. Clad in only pajama bottoms, Hutch sat waiting on the edge of the bed; Starsky couldn't help but grin at the sigh of relief the blond emitted as Starsky approached with the pill.

"Here you go," Starsky said lightly, relinquishing the much-needed items. "Hopefully tonight all you'll have are sweet dreams, not that other stuff."

"God, I hope so," Hutch said fervently, quickly gulping down the drug. "Another night like that and I may not let you out of my sight until I go home. I've never had anything get to me like this before."

"Well, I don't mind sticking close, but you need some undisturbed rest." Starsky watched Hutch slowly lie back, turn on his side, then carefully roll over on his stomach. "The memory of the accident is just too fresh, that's all. It is for me too."

Starsky forced himself to begin massaging the long, lean back instead of caressing it as he longed to do. "You'll never know how awful I feel about putting you through this," he said softly. "If I could, I'd make it happen all over again so it was me who got hurt the worst."

"You wouldn't like it," Hutch replied, grunting when Starsky hit a tender spot. "Everything hurts too damn much. Believe me, nobody would want a back and neck sprain -- I sure as hell don't."

"You think I want you to have it?" Starsky shot back, his frayed emotions finally giving way. "Damn it, I'd give anything if it was me instead of you laying there right now no matter how much it hurts. But there's nothing I can do to change the way things happened; I don't know how to turn back time. All I can do now is try to make things a little better for you... God knows how much I want to try."

Seeing Hutch manage to turn his head then, just enough to look back and sideways at him, Starsky turned his head away. He felt hot moisture sting the back of his eyes, and he locked his jaw against any further emotional display. Though he felt Hutch's gaze hold steady for some time Starsky ignored it, returning his attention instead to Hutch's massage.

Much to Starsky's relief Hutch chose to remain silent, the taut back muscles gradually relaxing beneath his hands. Loving every moment of contact with the warm body, Starsky savored and prolonged his work as long as he dared. Only after Hutch's breathing changed to the deep, regular pattern of sleep did Starsky finally move his hands away. Even then he sat lovingly gazing down on the sleeping man.

If only I knew how to really tell you I'm sorry, he thought morosely. Some way to show you how much you mean to me. Feeling sure Hutch wouldn't awaken, Starsky reached down to stroke the silky golden hair. We were just getting started when all this happened. I was just learning what you liked. At the memory of certain things Hutch favored, Starsky's lips curled with a fond smile. Now I don't even know if you want that. You sure haven't mentioned it if you do. You're probably still too miserable to even think of it... I just wish there was some way I could be sure.

But there was no way for the time being, and he gazed down at Hutch's expression of peaceful slumber with a sigh. He debated where to spend the night this time, knowing he wanted nothing more than to curl up beside his partner again. After much deliberation Starsky chose to do exactly that, knowing he had to have at least one more night of closeness in case he found Hutch wanted nothing else. Only this time when he snuggled close to his sleeping partner, Starsky felt Hutch settle back against him with a soft sigh. His eyes closing, Starsky knew he'd only felt so contented once or twice before in all his life.

Despite his guilt and apprehension, he quickly fell into a deep sleep, his idyllic dream of lounging in a grassy field making love abruptly shattered by a sharp cry near his ear. Starsky's eyes flew open as he quickly turned to the rigidly supine figure lying by his side.

"Hutch? What's wrong?" The dampness he encountered when he touched Hutch's cheek all but confirmed Starsky's suspicion that the cry had been one of pain. He bent closer at the sound of stifled tears.

"Aw babe, no. Don't." His heart feeling tortured and aching, Starsky draped himself over the trembling form, rubbing his cheek against Hutch's face. "It's okay," he whispered. "If you can tell me what hurts, maybe I can help." He ran a light hand over the trembling chest in what he hoped was a soothing gesture.

"I -- I'm sorry." The words emerged haltingly from Hutch's lips. "I just -- my back hurt so much when I moved I just couldn't help it."

"I know. It's okay." Starsky continued rubbing the warm, bare skin as he sat up again. "Does it still hurt that much now?"

"No. It only lasted a couple seconds." Starsky caught his breath when Hutch's good hand reached up to timidly touch his face, and instinctively turned his head into the gentle gesture. "I didn't mean to wake you, but I'm glad you're here."

"Me too." Starsky struggled to keep his breathing under control. "I just didn't want to be away from you tonight."

"I'm glad." By the dim light filtering around the window Starsky watched Hutch's eyes scan his face, surprised by the look of yearning in the soft sea of blue. "Even if I don't deserve it anymore, I still like being close to you."

"What do you mean, don't deserve it? I'm the one who should be out in the cold." Starsky smiled as Hutch reached up with his plaster-bound arm to let his fingertips stroke Starsky's cheek. "But if you want to forgive me, I certainly won't argue right now."

"Sounds like we need to forgive each other," Hutch answered, tracing the outline of Starsky's lips with one fingertip. "At least for tonight what do you say we both put our guilt trips on hold and just make each other feel good?"

"Sounds like a terrific idea," Starsky agreed readily. "There's just one thing -- are you sure you're up to this so soon? I don't want to hurt you any worse than I already have."

"For God's sake, Starsky, stop it!" Hutch shouted, shoving Starsky away with all his strength. "I'm sick of hearing about what you've done to me, how afraid you are of making me worse. I don't know how long you think you can hide behind excuses like that, but I've had enough. If you don't want us to be together again, that's fine, I can understand that, but stop making excuses and just tell the truth. Stop blaming everything on yourself and that damned accident. I'm sick of hearing that crap -- and I'm getting damned tired of you."

Stunned into silence by Hutch's outburst, Starsky watched numbly as his partner painfully managed to sit up then get out of bed on his own. He made no attempt to follow as Hutch retreated to the bathroom where he loudly slammed the door... Unable to bear the suddenly frigid atmosphere of the bedroom, Starsky pulled on a robe and went to sit in the darkened living room. He made no attempt to return when he heard the bathroom door open or when the bedsprings groaned under Hutch's weight.

He was still sitting motionless in the dark silence when the soft call came -- "Starsk? I need you," was enough to melt his defenses and send him back to his partner's side.

"I was afraid you wouldn't come." Hutch's soft words tugged at Starsky's heart and prompted a bittersweet smile as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "I didn't mean what I said about being tired of you. I don't want us to fight anymore." Sighing, Hutch extended his good arm toward Starsky's face in a gesture of apology.

"Me either." Catching Hutch's hand, Starsky tenderly kissed the palm. "I don't mean to keep nagging about it. I'm just worried about you, that's all."

"I know, and I love you for it, but give it a rest, okay?" Hutch asked. "Right now, I think we both have other needs that are more important. I know I certainly do."

Starsky smiled as he bent over the supine form. "Guess we'll just have to see what we can do about taking care of those needs then, won't we?" he whispered. "Starting right about now." His first mode of treatment was to place a tender kiss on Hutch's waiting lips, an act soon rewarded by the blond's low moan. It had been so long...

Moving back just enough to reach between their close-pressed bodies, Starsky let his hand drift over Hutch's already-trembling chest where he initiated a light caress. He was delighted when his partner's breathing grew errant, tremulous sighs replacing normal breaths -- Starsky too gasped when Hutch pressed him close, their lower bodies melding into one. He felt Hutch's thick cock swell and grow hard against him as his own body responded in kind... Pulling him tighter, Starsky moved against him slowly as Hutch's burgeoning organ pressed against his own blossoming shaft.

"Starsk? Oh, babe!" Hutch's breathy words spoke volumes. "Please -- don't let go."

"Never." Ever wary of Hutch's injuries, Starsky took care to keep his partner flat on his back. "I love you, Hutch."

He felt a shiver course through the long, lean body at the tender words, telling Starsky things were going right. Encouraged, he lowered his lips to once again capture Hutch's while sliding his hand down the sweat-slick chest, pausing to toy with the sensitized nubs. Hutch drew his mouth back, gasping, as Starsky stroked the flat abdomen. The eyes which met Starsky's were no longer their cool blue in color but of blue topaz now, ablaze with need. Just that one look was enough to intensify the ache in Starsky's already-tortured groin, and he bit back a groan.

Then Hutch drew his head back slightly, just enough to search Starsky's eyes and in the brief moments of contact, Starsky saw the intensity of Hutch's desire and the depth of his need. His softly whispered "Starsk, please?" left Starsky no doubt what the blond was asking for.

Starsky nodded, his eyes caressing Hutch's face as lovingly as his hands stroked the long, sleek form. He deliberately held Hutch's gaze as his hands carefully removed the blond's clothing, careful not to jar the fragile frame as he slid the pajama pants down and off Hutch's slender legs. When his companion purposefully tugged at Starsky's garments, he quickly dispensed with those as well.

With no encumbrances left between them, Starsky glanced down at Hutch's long, proud shaft now piercing the air between their bodies. He caught his breath at the unexpected beauty of it, then tenderly took it in his hand... "You're beautiful, babe" was all he could manage to say.

"Lord, I don't deserve you," Hutch murmured, extending his good arm toward Starsky's face. "How can you say that and be so loving after I've been such a shit to you?"

"Cut that out," Starsky chided firmly. "This isn't the time. I love you and I want to love you -- right now that's all that counts."

Without giving Hutch time to answer, Starsky dropped his head for another kiss, this time progressing downward from the soft, lush lips. He felt himself getting high on the love he felt for his partner, thrilled to be allowed free rein again. As he sucked and licked and nipped at Hutch's sides and stomach he chuckled softly, delighted to feel the hard body twitch. And the soft gasp Hutch emitted when Starsky's tongue dipped lower made Starsky's own body weep with need.

His curious tongue had scarcely begun exploring the hot, wet tip of Hutch's cock when the blond first moaned. Starsky continued, his long lazy laps around the soft, swollen rim soon making Hutch quiver and clutch Starsky's head.

"Oh God, Starsk. Oh, yeah!" Like an aphrodisiac, Hutch's groans set Starsky's already taut nerve endings even more on edge. "There... More!"

Hutch was clearly beside himself, each new area Starsky's tongue and lips touched seeming to prompt a new moan. Afraid his partner might hurt himself with so much movement, Starsky tried to tone down his explorations a bit, but he quickly learned that sliding the blazing rod inside his mouth was not the way to cool either it, Hutch, or his own raging fire.

Lord, you even taste sweet, lover! Quickly learning the hard way that he couldn't take the stiff organ all the way down his throat without choking, Starsky felt a sense of acute disappointment in himself. I want to take you all the way like this. This is what making love is all about, especially between us.

Continuing to strive for increasingly more depth, Starsky licked up and down the sides and around the oozing tip of the heavy cock, letting his mouth adjust to its width and length...before long he felt the plush tip sliding down the back of his throat. Hutch's hoarse cry warned him the end was drawing near.

Starsky slid his hand down to Hutch's distended balls then, caressing the heavy velvet sac, carefully examining each in turn, loving every vein and crevice he encountered. Gentle as it was, his first squeeze prompted his companion's cry.

"Please, Starsk!" Hutch gasped, clutching at Starsky with his good hand and tearing at the sheet with the fingers extending past his cast. "Now!"

Starsky knew his lover was going over the edge, the ever-swelling cock giving one final surge -- for a moment he feared he might choke again. Then Hutch began delivering his ultimate, sweet creamy present and Starsky knew everything would be fine. He had never felt more totally bonded with anyone than he did at that moment to Hutch.

His lips sealed at the base of the quaking organ, Starsky clung to his partner, holding the writhing body as still as he could while savoring every precious drop Hutch bestowed. Only when the blond collapsed on the bed limp and panting did Starsky reluctantly release his grip. The tiny whimper Hutch subsequently emitted sent Starsky scooting up to drape himself over the still-heaving chest.

"You're beautiful, babe," Starsky murmured, swallowing hard as he pressed his cheek to his lover's breast. "God, I love you so much!"

"And I love you," Hutch whispered, managing to enfold Starsky awkwardly in both his arms. "I thought the last time was wonderful, but this was even better somehow. I don't know how much I can do for you this time, but I guess we'll soon find out."

Realizing what Hutch meant as the blond struggled to raise himself up on his good elbow, Starsky quickly pressed him back down flat, keeping a firm hand on the bare shoulder. "Hey, no way," he protested. "You're in no shape for this. All you'd do is screw your back up worse than it already is."

"But I want to love you." As Hutch reached down, Starsky felt gentle fingertips graze the moist tip of his aching cock. "Please, Starsk? Don't say no?"

Unable to refuse the plaintive plea in the sky blue eyes, Starsky's resolve withered, though he still kept his friend pressed down flat. He didn't hesitate when the blond beckoned him closer then pulled his head down for a lingering kiss. Lost in the delicious sensations, he sighed.

Feeling Hutch run a hand down the length of his exposed torso, Starsky unexpectedly caught his breath, every nerve ending responding to the gentle touch. Then all at once Hutch was touching him everywhere, his fingers running rampant over all of Starsky's body he could reach. He even maneuvered the cumbersome cast into action, using those fingertips to full advantage on Starsky's bare chest... By the time Starsky finally caught Hutch's good hand and held it, his body felt like the blond had lit every inch on fire. Even the cool fingers and cast pressed against his breast felt heavenly.

But out of concern for Hutch's condition, Starsky forced himself to make the blond stop there, barely able to meet the disappointed blue gaze. "It's too much, babe," Starsky said softly. "I love it, but it's just too soon. You'll get hurt again."

"Then damn it, let me get hurt if I have to," Hutch lashed out. "It's my body, not yours. I can do this and it's important to me that I do."

As usual Starsky couldn't deny him, and so reluctantly nodded his head, at the same time moving closer yet. Crouched on his knees near Hutch's shoulders, Starsky caught his breath when Hutch's hand came to rest on his chest, pausing there to toy with a hard, electrified nipple. Caught off guard by the intense sensations Starsky reached out to card his fingers through Hutch's spun gold hair... He had to be careful not to pull it as Hutch stirred the responsive bud into a fiery rock. Despite his best efforts to remain silent, Starsky moaned softly.

"Does that feel good?" Hutch asked, his breath warm against Starsky's chest. "I want to make you feel good, Starsk, and I want to love you every way I can."

I can't say no to you anymore, babe. "Then take me," he whispered. "Just tell me what you want me to do."

Starsky had never been so overwhelmed by emotion. The sound of Hutch's rapid breathing as he tugged Starsky down beside him and snuggled closer made Starsky lose touch with everything but the moment and Hutch's sweet love. He only hoped the other man's irregular breathing was being caused by passion rather than pain.

Despite the encumbrances of his cast and neck brace, Hutch managed to maneuver remarkably well, using his good arm to full advantage. By laying partially on his side beside Starsky, Hutch managed to place his mouth and lips at strategic points along the sensitized torso... It took all Starsky's effort to keep his companion's fragile condition in mind and not let his responding passions carry him away.

Oh yeah, babe, that's good. Touch me! Starsky gave a low moan in lieu of words as Hutch's inquisitive tongue curiously probed his navel. Then the gentle nips and kisses progressed still lower, and Starsky caught his breath.

God, Hutch, the way you love me! It was heaven and hell all rolled in one as Hutch took time to memorize every inch of Starsky's blazing skin he touched. Running his hands down the smooth skin of Hutch's side and over his hip, Starsky released another soft groan of heavenly agony. Feeling deserted when Hutch's soft caresses ceased a few moments later, Starsky reluctantly opened his eyes -- the tenderness he found in Hutch's gaze as the blue eyes watched him took Starsky by surprise.

"I love you, Starsk," Hutch murmured, lightly running his hand over Starsky's belly and smiling as Starsky arched his back. "I just want to be sure you know that -- no matter what."

"I think I have a good idea." Starsky couldn't hold back a grin. "God, Hutch, the way you make me feel by -- just when you touch me -- it's all so good!"

"I hope so. That's what I wanted." Hutch paused as he slid his hands around the back and up the outside of Starsky's heavily muscled thighs, urging him to rise to his knees. "I want to love you every way I can."

Starsky moved up closer, carefully wedging two extra pillows behind Hutch's head and shoulders. Though he was still essentially reclining, the extra support gave Hutch better access for reciprocation as his hand crept down to the heart of Starsky's need and Starsky rose to straddle the blond's chest. As the light touch skimmed the tip of his aching penis, Starsky reflexively arched his hips toward Hutch's hand and mouth... He could never have described the exquisite sensations he experienced when the tender fingers closed around him a few moments later.

"Hutch," he breathed. "Oh, God babe!" Starsky found himself struggling for air. "Oh yeah. More," he whispered. "Touch me. Hold me tighter -- like that. Yeah! God, do it some more." After just a few minutes of the love-filled fondling Starsky was about to go over the edge.

God babe, you've gotta do it, he thought frantically, unable now to hold still. I wanna make it last, but I can't take much more. Before he could form another conscious thought Starsky's wish was answered -- Hutch engulfed the weeping organ between his hot, moist lips, forcing Starsky to instinctively thrust hard into the soft, wet well.

"Hutch!" he gasped. "Oh yeah, babe. That's it!"

Suddenly desperate to touch his partner, Starsky bent down to clutch the shaggy gold strands of hair, unintentionally enhancing his own sensations in doing so. Feeling his straining cock propelled deeper inside Hutch's mouth, Starsky gasped and arched his hips.

"Oh God," he moaned. "Hutch."

This time there was no holding back. His breathing coming in halting gasps, Starsky tried hard to hold his movements in check as the hot flood of liquid cream began... He could only hope he wouldn't hurt his lover as the spiraling sensations pushed him over the brink.

"Hutch!"

Starsky heard the cry from somewhere outside his own body, somewhere far away. As the fiery streams of semen burst from the tip of his cock Hutch was there, accepting it all. Unable to think as his body spasmed, Starsky braced himself against the wall as his body was drained of his long-pent love. Only when reality began to return did his knees begin to uncontrollably tremble, forcing him to collapse in a limp heap on the bed.

Several moments later he felt Hutch fidget and he moved away enough to let the blond stretch out. As he lay beside his lanky lover, Starsky was pleased to find himself being pulled close, sighing contentedly when Hutch's fingers laced through his hair.

"You okay?" Starsky asked softly. "I didn't hurt you, did I? Hutch?"

"No, you didn't hurt me." Hutch released a soft sigh. "I just...being with you like this is so wonderful I almost can't believe it's real."

"Believe it," Starsky answered firmly. "Otherwise I'll just have to keep showing you for the next hundred years."

"Sounds good to me." Hutch couldn't stifle a yawn. "With you I don't think a thousand years would be enough."

Nodding his silent agreement, Starsky dropped his head to Hutch's shoulder, closing his eyes in fond memory of what they'd shared. Though he hadn't even realized he was tired, Starsky soon found himself drifting off to sleep, safe in the shelter of Hutch's loving arms. He knew he could never want for anything more while he had Hutch and their newly awakening love at his side.

end