Title:  Along for the Ride - posted January 2005
Author:  Lacey McBain
Rating:  PG
Warning:  Mild Slash.  Starsky/Hutch.
Notes:  Written for the Slash Advent Calendar 2004.

Along for the Ride

"Starsky! You see him?" Hutch called out from his position behind a dumpster. A bullet struck the metal near his head. Hutch ducked and yelled again. "Starsk?"

"Doorway, halfway down. Other one's still open," Starsky shouted, firing down the alley. "Cover me."

"No! Starsk, just wait a--" Hutch looked across the alley, but Starsky was already on the move. Hutch popped up and laid down covering fire. He heard a sharp cry from the end of the alley. Bullseye. He moved up to where Starsky was taking careful aim at the guy in the doorway.

"You're not taking me in, pigs," the man shouted. Hutch rolled his eyes. If he had a nickel for every time someone said that, he and Starsky could buy a beachfront property and retire. It was a nice thought.

Starsky was lined up and moving into the open. "You raped and murdered two women, Frye. It's over. We're taking you in. Up to you whether it's walkin' or lyin' down." Starsky's voice was cold and steady. Hutch reloaded his Magnum with a speed-loader, and moved up the alleyway. He couldn't see Frye from where he stood, but all he had to do was watch Starsky's movements to know what Frye was doing. Every shift in Starsky's stance, every movement of his eyes, Hutch followed them.

"It's not over, Starsky," Frye murmured. "It'll never be over til one of us is dead."

Out of the corner of his eye, Hutch saw movement at the end of the alley. The other shooter, despite a bleeding shoulder, was taking aim at Starsky.

"Down!" Hutch yelled, raising his gun and firing. The man at the end of the alley stumbled, his shot going wild. Hutch saw it all happening as if in slow motion: Starsky dropping flat on his belly, hand gun still trained on Frye. Frye stepping out of the doorway, taking a bead on his partner, then Starsky was rolling to the side, firing awkwardly. Hutch raised his gun.


"Paperwork done yet, Blondie?" Starsky asked, pushing through the squadroom door and perching on the back of a chair. Hutch glared at him across the desktop. "Hey, our flight leaves in a few hours. We don't want to be late for the world-famous Starsky family Thanksgiving, buddy."

"Well, maybe if you'd do your share of the paperwork, buddy ..."

"Aw, Hutch, you know how Dobey complains when I do the reports," Starsky said, shuffling the file folders around on his desk.

"That's 'cause you make them sound like those dime-store novels you're always buying. 'The tomato-red Torino raced through the crowded streets of Bay City.'"

"It's candy-apple red, Hutch. How many times do I have to tell ya?"

Hutch pulled the last sheet of paper from the typewriter and signed it. He pushed it across the desk for Starsky's signature. Starsky started burrowing in the desk for a pen, and Hutch gave up.

"Here," he said, tossing his pen to his partner, who caught it neatly. Starsky signed with a flourish and handed the papers back to Hutch. The pen had already disappeared somewhere on Starsky's desktop.

"Don't you even read the reports?" Hutch asked.

"Why should I? I know what's in 'em. I was there."

"But, Starsk, I could write anything."

"I trust you." Starsky's smile lit up the room. "Now, can we get outta here? I can practically smell that turkey already."

Hutch filed the reports and grabbed his jacket. He followed Starsky out into the hallway as they began a much-needed four day vacation.


Mrs. Starsky put down her dishtowel and looked at her son affectionately.


"Yeah, Ma?" Starsky finished putting the last of the good china back in the cabinet.

"I wanted to talk to you about something."

"Sure," Starsky said, looking at her expectantly. Thanksgiving dinner had been wonderful, as usual, and as soon as Hutch got back with the cream, there'd be coffee and pie to finish off the evening. Starsky leaned back against the counter.

"You've always been an affectionate boy ..."

Starsky looked at his mother with amazement. He had no idea where this conversation was leading.

" ...but sometimes people might ... misunderstand that affection."

Starsky rolled his eyes. "Ma, don't worry. People been saying stuff about Hutch'n'me for years. Never bothered us before, ain't gonna start now. We know where things are at."

"Do you?"  His mother's tone was serious, her blue eyes searching.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Ken loves you."

Starsky smiled. "And I love him back. He's my partner."

"That's not what I mean, Davey." She took a deep breath. "I think it's more than that--at least for Ken."

Starsky laughed. "Ma!" He stopped and looked at her. She was absolutely serious. Starsky tried to get his laughter under control. "Ma, are you trying to say you think Hutch has a thing for me? For me?"


Starsky tried to contain his shock. "No, that's ... that's ... no, Ma, he's had plenty of girls. Pretty girls. It's not like that with us." Starsky's mother looked sceptical.

"He's from Minnesota," Starsky added, as if that answered everything.

"And what does being from Minnesota have to do with it?" She was standing with her hands on her hips, looking every bit as formidable as she had when he was eight and had snitched the plateful of the cookies she'd been saving for the community bake sale.

"They don't ... I mean ... "

"I'm quite sure they have gay men in Minnesota."

"Ma!" Starsky shushed her and glanced toward the door as if Hutch would walk through it at any moment and ask what they'd been talking about. "Hutch is not gay."

"How do you know? Have you asked him?"

"No, I haven't asked him, and I'm not gonna. Jeez, what kinda question is that?"

"I know you and I know Ken. I've watched the two of you for years. He lights up when you walk in the room. He touches you ..."

"... and I touch him--it's just the way we are."

"No, Davey, it's the way you are--the way you are with everyone--but you're the only one that Hutch is like that with. Oh, he's gotten better over the years, less uptight, but he doesn't touch anyone the way he touches you."

Starsky thought about that for a moment. Yeah, she had a point. Hutch had never been as touchy as he was--at least not in the beginning. It had taken a long time for Hutch to get comfortable with Starsky's affectionate personality.

"Well, we have a really physical job, we spend a lot of time together, and sometimes it gets rough. You get used to touchin' the other person, making sure he's still there, still alive, you know?" Starsky said. "He's my best friend, my partner."

"I know he is. And you're lucky to have him," Starsky's mother said. She looked at her son with a kind of sad understanding in her eyes. Starsky couldn't hold her gaze, and looked away. "Just think about it. You might be making things harder for him without meaning to."

"Jeez, Ma, we're just comfortable together. I'm a touchy person. Some of that's worn off on Hutch. That's all it is."

"I don't think so." She held up a hand to hush his protests. "I'm a mother. Mothers know these things." She put her arms around him and gave him a warm hug. Starsky felt a hand affectionately dragged through his curly hair.

"Ma, don't ya think he would've told me?" Starsky's voice came out softer than he'd intended. Now she'd started him thinking about this, he didn't know if he could stop--even though it was ridiculous. There was no way that Hutch felt like that about him. No way. He would've bet his life on it.

"I don't think he'd tell you unless he was sure how you felt, and he's not. He's just not."

She kissed him on the cheek, and let him go as they heard the door open. "That'll be Ken with the cream."

"You think I should talk to him?" Starsky's voice was low.

"I think you should think about what I said. That's all."

Hutch pushed through the door to the kitchen carrying a small brown bag from the grocer down the street. "One carton of cream for the coffee, as requested, ma'am," Hutch said. He gave his partner a warm smile.

Starsky's mom took the bag from Hutch's hands. "You're a dear, Ken, to rescue a silly old woman who forgot to buy cream. You two boys go on and sit down. I'll have some pie and coffee on before you know it." Starsky looked at his mother. He was pretty sure that if he checked, he'd find a carton of cream already in the fridge.

With a firm hand, she pushed them towards the living room.


Starsky tried to get comfortable on the narrow twin bed. It had been a long time since he'd slept in his childhood bed, and he'd forgotten how small it was.



"You asleep?"

There was an exasperated sigh from across the room. "Yes."

"Oh. Okay." Starsky rolled over, wrestling with the blankets that kept getting tangled around his legs.

"What's up, Starsk?"

"That was a great pumpkin pie, wasn't it?"

"The best," Hutch replied. Starsky could hear him shifting on Nicky's twin bed. Starsky caught a glimmer of blond hair reflecting in the moonlight that filtered through the room's single window.

"I was just thinking 'bout something Ma said after dinner. When you went to the store for the cream."

"You mean when your mother sent me to the store so she could talk to you alone."

Starsky glanced over at his partner--not that he could see his face, but even in the dark, he knew exactly how Hutch moved. He could imagine him lying there, one arm tucked beneath his head, face turned sideways to stare at him across the darkness. "You figured she did that on purpose?"

"Gee, Starsk, you oughta be a detective." Hutch snickered.

"Very funny, Einstein."

"So, she want to know why you haven't found the right girl yet?"  Hutch's voice was warm and affectionate. Starsky could feel him smiling at him. They'd spent a lot of nights on stake-out talking about girls and cars and life in general. Hutch knew him better than he knew himself. But Hutch couldn't know what he was about to bring up--Starsky wasn't sure if this was a good idea or not, but it was too late to turn back now.

"Not exactly."

"Then what?"

Starsky took a deep breath. He was just doing this to prove his mother wrong. That was all. There was absolutely nothing to worry about. Hutch was going to laugh when he told him what Ma thought. They would both laugh, and life would go back to being exactly as it had always been. Comfortable. Starsky said a silent prayer, then plunged ahead.

"You ever think about the fact that we haven't found the right girl yet?"

"Girls, Starsk. I assume you want one of your own."


"Never mind. I figure the right one'll come along when it's time."

"And how'll you know?" Starsky was curious. Hutch sounded so matter-of-fact about the whole thing, as if he'd given it a lot of thought. Maybe he had.

"I don't know. It'll just feel right. Comfortable. Like it's always been that way. Like I can't imagine myself without that person."

"Kinda like being partners," Starsky said without thinking, then instantly regretted it. He could feel his face flush, and was glad for the cover of darkness. He'd just compared their partnership to getting married--no wonder people thought they were queer. Odd, Starsky corrected in his head. Odd.

There was a moment of silence from Hutch. "I guess."  Hutch didn't sound so certain anymore.

"Hutch, you'd tell me if there was something you thought I oughta know, right?"

"Starsk?"  There was tension in Hutch's voice.  He had to tread carefully now or Hutch would roll over and go to sleep--or worse, shut down, walk out. Leave. Starsky felt the first glimmer of panic kick him in the gut.

"I mean, you know you can talk to me about anything, right? We're pals."

"What exactly did your mother want to talk to you about?" No more playing around. Hutch went straight for the jugular. Hutch always knew when to ask the hard questions, when to push. Starsky admired him for it, respected it, and because of that he could be nothing less than honest. Hutch was everything to him ... everything. Starsky felt his heart flutter with something between fear and excitement.

"Well, she had this idea, and it's pretty funny really. She thinks that ... well, that I'm too affectionate and that maybe people are gettin' the wrong idea about us."

Starsky could hear Hutch let out a sigh of relief. "People've been getting the wrong idea for years. Never bothered us before."

"That's exactly what I told her."

"So, what's the problem?" Nicky's bed creaked as Hutch shifted.

"Well, she thinks there's more to it than that. She thinks ... she thinks that ... that you've got a thing for me." Starsky paused. "Stupid, huh?"


"Hutch?" Starsky listened to Hutch's breathing. He hadn't spent countless nights on stake-outs with him not to know when Hutch was fighting to keep his adrenaline from going through the roof, fighting to keep his breathing in check. He could practically hear Hutch's heart pounding in his chest.

"Hutch? Oh, shit, Hutch, you're not ... she didn't ... oh shit." Starsky was out of bed and across the room in a flash. Hutch was faster. He was reaching for the door. Starsky grabbed his arm and spun him around.

"Don't leave," Starsky said in a hoarse whisper. "Just don't." He ran his hands up and down Hutch's arms, something he always did when Hutch was feeling shaky. It seemed to make them both feel better. Starsky wasn't going to stop touching him just because things were a little different. Or a lot different. He didn't know if he'd be able to. Touching Hutch was as natural as thinking or breathing.

"Hutch," Starsky said, hands still gently rubbing Hutch's bare arms. Hutch wouldn't meet his gaze. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Tell you what?" Hutch's voice was low and careful.

"Don't play games, Hutch."

"I'm not playing."

"Then talk to me." Starsky leaned closer, touched his forehead to Hutch's. He could feel blond hair brush again his skin. Hutch needed a hair cut. Starsky almost smiled at the thought. God, he loved Hutch with every part of his being--well, almost every part. He slid his left hand up to rest on the back of Hutch's neck. The skin was cool and damp.

Hutch let out a sigh. "What do you want from me, Starsk? Yeah, it's clear to your mother and the Captain and half the boys in the precinct , but--"

"Wait a minute, Dobey knows?" Starsky did a double-take.

"He asked me about it once."

"What'd you tell him?"

"Same thing I'm telling you. It's nothing that'll interfere with the job."

"Hutch." Starsky could hear Hutch trying to keep his emotions in control. The fact that he was struggling was enough to send Starsky into over-protective mode. Hutch shouldn't have to feel like he had to hide anything--not from him. He gripped him a little tighter.

"Just let it alone, Starsk," Hutch said, twisting away and moving towards the bed. Starsky stood helplessly in front of the doorway as if Hutch might bolt at any moment. "I've lived with it for this long. I don't expect things to change, and really, I'm okay with that. I wouldn't want another partner."

"How long have you felt this way?"

"Long enough."

"How long?" Starsky pushed. Hutch being evasive was never a good sign. He leaned back against the door and waited for an answer.

"Does it matter?"

"Yeah, it does." Starsky was beginning to get angry now. Not that Hutch was gay or bisexual or whatever they were calling it these days--no, he was angry that Hutch didn't trust him enough to tell him, to talk to him about his feelings. Did he think Starsky was one of those narrow-minded rednecks who was gonna give him a hard time? Didn't he get how much he was cared about? Loved?

"How long, Hutch?"

Hutch ran a hand through his hair. "Since you got poisoned."

"Which time?" Starsky chuckled, but there was no answering laugh from Hutch. It was an old joke--they'd both been shot, stabbed, blown up, poisoned, kidnapped, and beat up more times than they could count. Well, that wasn't entirely true--they both remembered every time they'd sat in hospitals and waited for news, every time they'd bandaged each other in the squad room, or the car, or their apartments. Every time.


Starsky nodded. Yeah, that had put a lot of things into perspective. He'd come so close to losing everything. His life. "Why then?"

Hutch's voice was stripped down and bare, like a tree with all its bark peeled off, as honest as Starsky had ever heard. "You were dying, Starsk. I suddenly realized how big a deal that was. It wasn't just losing a partner, a friend. It was ... a lot more than that."

Starsky felt a pull in his gut. Yeah, he knew that feeling. Maybe what he felt really wasn't any different from what Hutch felt, and that was ... disconcerting. What did it say about him? He tried to push down that thought.

"But we've never ..."

"You don't have to have done something to know how you feel about someone." Hutch sounded defensive. Starsky needed to pull this back to somewhere comfortable, somewhere they could talk like they always did. Starsky didn't like Hutch being all the way across the room, but he was afraid to push too hard and maybe push Hutch away.

"So, tell me how you feel."


"I'm interested." Starsky tried to sound casual. He moved across the room and stood beside Nicky's bed.

"It's not a game, Starsk." Hutch looked up at him, blond hair shining in the moonlight. Starsky resisted the urge to run a hand through that hair.

"I'm not playing."

"You don't know what you're asking."

"Then tell me, Hutch," Starsky pleaded softly. He sat down on the bed beside his partner, and reached a hand across to touch Hutch's knee. He was pleased that Hutch didn't try to move away. For the first time it occurred to him that they were having this conversation in their boxers. "I thought we could talk about anything."

"We can, but this is ..."


"More personal."

"Hutch, you know I love you. I've known you since the Academy. I know what you eat for breakfast, I know you talk in your sleep, I know every scar on your body and who put them there. You're my partner. I'm not going anywhere. I just want to understand what's happening, that's all." He squeezed Hutch's knee gently, trying to convey everything he felt.

Hutch laughed, but it wasn't a pleasant sound. It was strangled and a bit hysterical. Starsky didn't know what to do, so he did what he always did when he got flustered. He kept talking. "Hutch, please, just tell me. Nothing's gonna change. Nothing could ever change us. You're my best friend in the whole world."

Starsky jumped when he felt a hand clapped across his mouth. He shut up and waited. Hutch wasn't like him--Hutch needed time to think about things, time to figure things out before he talked. Hutch was the thinker. He didn't like surprises, and he sure as hell didn't like Starsky talking a mile a minute when he was trying to figure things out. Starsky had won more than one chess game using that technique.

"Just hush a minute and let me think, will ya?" Hutch said, taking his hand away from his partner's mouth. Starsky nodded.

"You want me to go back to my own bed?"

"No, I want you to shut up, okay?" Starsky took a breath and leaned back against the wall. Well, that was a good sign. At least Hutch wasn't telling him to go to hell. And seriously, wasn't it supposed to be him that was running for the hills? He was the one that was just finding out his partner was gay and maybe in love with him so why was he comforting Hutch? He should be the one putting distance between them instead of practically climbing into bed with him--in his boxers, no less. So, why wasn't he? Starsky didn't know--all he knew was that there was nowhere else he wanted to be. Ever.

Starsky looked at the muscled back beside him, the blond head bent in careful consideration. He could see a faint white scar on Hutch's shoulder--an exit wound from a bullet hole. There were other scars, Starsky knew--and there were just as many that weren't visible at all. The emotional scars--the ones left by Vanessa and Abby and Gillian--and every other woman who'd broken Hutch's heart. Starsky wondered if there were many men to add to that list.

Starsky heard Hutch take a breath before leaning back against the wall beside him. Hutch pulled his legs up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them.

"You know, Starsk, I thought I'd dealt with this--thought I'd never have to tell you." Starsky started to say something, but thought better of it. He'd let Hutch say whatever he needed to say. For once, he'd keep his mouth shut. Or at least he'd try. "I didn't plan to feel this way, and then it was too late. I never fit with anyone the way I do with you, and then after a while, I realized that I wasn't as interested in finding somebody else. You're not a tall blonde, but apparently that didn't matter." Hutch glanced over at Starsky and smiled. "What can I say, partner? You know I love you--it's just that somewhere along the way, it turned into something else--something deeper."

"And you couldn't tell me?" Starsky couldn't keep quiet anymore. He could see his partner smile at his lack of patience. Hutch knew him too well.

"I didn't want to lose you. It was better to have you as a partner than not at all."

"You really thought I'd want a different partner?" Starsky was incredulous--partly that Hutch could believe he'd walk out on him, but mostly because he couldn't figure out at what point it had become a certainty that he'd never leave Hutch--for any reason. And when he thought about it, Hutch wanting him, loving him, wasn't any reason to leave. There was no question in his mind that Hutch could do anything short of committing murder, and Starsky would be there for him. Starsky wasn't even sure that there was a line he wouldn't cross for Hutch.

"I thought you'd ... change," Hutch said simply. "You'd stop being you--stop talking to me about girls, stop sharing things with me." Hutch hesitated before going on: "I thought you'd stop touching me--you've always been so affectionate--and I couldn't bear to see that change. It would've killed me to know I'd done that, Starsk."

"Hey," Starsky said fondly. "I wouldn't change--even for you, Blintz." Starsky reached out a hand and patted Hutch's arm affectionately. "I couldn't stop touching you if I tried."

Starsky's breath caught as he realized how that sounded, realized what his mother meant about making things more difficult for Hutch without meaning to. Hutch shook his head.

"See? You're already over-thinking. You're wondering if I'm going to misinterpret you touching my arm."

Starsky started to protest and gave up. Hutch knew he was a terrible liar unless he was undercover. Hutch could always see right through him.

"Starsk, it's late, and we're both tired. I don't think we're going to solve anything by hashing this out tonight. Especially at your mother's. Can we talk about this when we get back to Bay City?"

Starsky swallowed his disagreement. "Sure, partner." He pushed himself towards the edge of the bed, and headed back to his side of the room. He felt a warm hand on his shoulder.

"Don't change, buddy," Hutch whispered. Starsky turned around and pulled Hutch into a firm hug. He didn't care that they were half-naked or that his partner had as much as told him he was in love with him. The only thing that mattered was the partner he'd always known, the man he trusted his life to every minute of the day. He felt Hutch stiffen and then relax against him, felt his arms tighten around him and just hang on. They stood like that, not talking, for a moment longer than Starsky could measure. It felt right.

When they finally broke apart, Starsky slipped silently into his bed and pulled the covers up around him.

"'Night, Hutch," he said.

"'Night, Starsk."


It was still dark outside when Hutch reached for his t-shirt and sweats. He looked across the room to see Starsky tangled in his sheets, and sleeping peacefully. He smiled at the sleeping form. He'd manage to keep his feelings from Starsky for years, but one long weekend with his mother ... Hutch shook his head. He'd never met a more formidable woman in his life. He was surprised she hadn't said something sooner--and more than a little surprised that she hadn't confronted him about his feelings for her son. Hutch wished she'd talked to him instead--it wouldn't have been any easier than talking to Starsky, but maybe he'd have been able to protect their partnership.

Now he wasn't sure. Starsky seemed fine. The way he'd touched him, held him--it was exactly as he always had. No hesitation, no awkwardness. Being touched by Starsky was like falling into water--it was that effortless. He hadn't known he was drowning til it was already too late. That was the only way Hutch could think about it. He'd fallen a long time before he realized it, and he'd realized it long before he understood how deep the affection went. He'd thought it was harmless at first--like a crush--brought on by the kind of work they did, the constant strain of being together, thrown into situations where their lives were on the line every day.

Except it had never been a strain to be together. Hutch had worked a beat, had been partnered with more experienced cops when he'd started out, when he was still learning the ropes. They all had. It was how the department trained them before assigning them to long-term partners.

Hutch pulled his t-shirt over his head, then stretched out his triceps. The department took the job of assigning permanent partners seriously, knew that men had to be able to trust each other implicitly. Hutch had always figured he and Starsky would end up together. It was almost a given. They'd been thrown together at the Academy, and even then, everything clicked.

Hutch smiled to himself as he did a few stretches to warm up his legs. People had laughed at them at the Academy, wondered what a tall aloof blond from Minnesota and a rough-and-ready dark-haired New Yorker had in common. Well, they might not have had much in common, but for whatever reason it worked. Other people had always found Hutch stand-offish, even distant. Starsky didn't seem to notice and just barrelled past all of his usual defences, oblivious to the fact that other people just didn't get that close to Ken Hutchinson. Starsky was the exception to all the rules--he always had been.

He remembered their first ride-along. They'd still been in uniform then, just out of the Academy, and they'd stopped for a bite to eat with the guys they were riding with. Benton and Hodges. Hutch shook his head as he realized they'd both retired from the force this past year. They'd pulled up to the hotdog stand still arguing about the Yankees chances in the World Series, when suddenly there'd been a screech of tires and a burst of gun fire from the bank across the street. Before Hutch knew what'd hit him, he was face down on the ground behind the car, Starsky's hand a solid weight in his back. Then Starsky was up and running, not waiting for orders, not waiting for anything and Hutch followed him--because that was what partners did, and there was no way in Hell he was letting Starsky take-off after armed gunmen alone.

They'd pinned the guys down in an alley after their getaway driver had panicked and bolted. Hutch remembered his hand shaking when he'd pulled his gun that first time. He'd looked across the alley and saw Starsky nodding back at him, his mouth curled in an understanding smile. He raised his gun a little, as if to say, "hey, I'm shaking too," and Hutch had known that he could do this job, he could do it if there was someone to back him up. He'd known what it meant to have someone he could trust with his life.

Starsky'd been doing all the talkin' then--he was always quicker with his mouth than Hutch--and he'd almost gotten the guys to lay down their guns when the other two cops stormed into the alley, guns drawn, and everything had gone to hell.

Hutch felt the knot in his shoulder start to loosen as he raised and lowered his arms. Nicky's bed had seen better days. Hutch suspected that two extraordinarily exuberant boys bouncing on it hadn't done the springs a whole lot of good, and the few that were left had simply given up the fight.

Benton had fired first, clipping one of the bank robbers in the shoulder. Hutch could still remember the dull thunk of the bullet hitting flesh, the surprised look on the man's face as he clutched at his bleeding shoulder. Starsky had dived right in, tight on Hodges' heels as he disarmed the second man. Hutch had helped Benton put the first guy in cuffs, helped to staunch the bleeding til the ambulance arrived. Hutch had made the call to HQ, aware that his voice was shaking as he reeled off codes to the dispatcher. Starsky had sauntered out of the alley, red-faced and breathless, excited and terrified and wearing all his emotions on his face. He'd put his arm around Hutch's shoulder while he'd made the call, rubbing a hand up and down his arm the way Hutch would've soothed a fidgety horse. When Hutch threw the radio back in the car, Starsky still didn't move. Just stood there, arm around him, and waited til he could breath again, til his voice wasn't cracking like an old water heater.

Starsky had turned to him and smiled, squeezed his shoulder tight, and said, "We're gonna make a difference, partner. Me and thee. We're gonna have a lifetime of doing the best job in the world." And Hutch had smiled back and believed absolutely that the two of them could change the world.

Hutch sighed and tugged on a light jacket over his shirt. Starsky mumbled something in his sleep and turned over. They'd changed the world all right--or at least Starsky had changed his world--with every touch, every laugh, every straight-from-the-heart smile. Hutch quietly closed the door behind him, and slipped down the hallway to the living room. He crossed to the front door and started to turn the knob.

"You running?" Hutch turned, startled, right hand going automatically to the side where his holster usually hung.

There was quiet laughter from the easy chair in the living room. Starsky's mother smiled at him across a lap full of knitting. "You and Davey, both so quick to reach for those guns. I swear, you boys would never be able to have a cat. Poor thing'd be shot-dead within a week."

"I didn't mean to wake you," Hutch said, leaning against the door frame.

"You didn't wake me. Old women don't require nearly as much sleep as you young folks think."

Hutch suppressed a smile. "You're hardly an old woman."

"Oh, hush. You're a charmer, Ken Hutchinson. I won't be listening to any words spilling from your honey-lips, no sir. No wonder Davey thinks you walk on water."

Hutch started to protest, but gave up. "I really wish you'd talked to me first."

She looked him up and down carefully. "So, he asked you about it?" Her voice was even, but Hutch could hear the thread of emotion she was trying hard to contain. Starsky was her little boy--would always be her little boy--and she was afraid for his heart.

"You knew that he would."

She nodded in the pale light. "And?"

Hutch shrugged. "It doesn't change anything."

"Doesn't it?"

"No, it doesn't," Hutch said more vehemently than he'd meant to. "He's gonna keep on being the same affectionate guy we both love, and I'm gonna keep watchin' his back like I've been doing since we joined the force."

"Ken." Starsky's mother put down her needles and looked at him carefully. "Now that he knows, he's gonna start thinkin' about it. It's going to change things."

"It doesn't have to," Hutch maintained stubbornly.

"Don't misunderstand me, dear. I love you almost as much as I love Davey. I want you both to be happy."

Hutch stared at her stupidly as she shifted her knitting and came over to him. She touched a hand to his cheek.

"Ken, trust me. Things will change, but change doesn't have to be bad. Trust Davey. Sometimes it takes him a while to see what's right in front of him, but when he does ... he doesn't let it go."

In spite of himself, Hutch found himself nodding, although he wasn't certain what he was agreeing to.

"Go for your run." She patted his cheek lightly. "Just make sure you find your way back home."

She turned and headed for the kitchen, as Hutch slipped into the hallway, still puzzling over her comments.

*** "Ma?"

"In the kitchen."

Starsky bounced into the kitchen and hoisted himself up on the counter, still drying his hair with a towel. "Hutch went for a run, I guess."

"He's been gone about an hour." Starsky's mother pulled a fresh coffeecake from the oven. Starsky sniffed the air appreciatively.

"Did you see him?" She nodded. "You didn't say nothin' to him, did you? 'bout last night?"

"I didn't have to, Davey. He brought it up." She pulled off her oven mitts and set them on the counter, reaching to turn on the coffee maker.

"What'd he say?" Starsky was curious. His mother smiled and cupped his face between her hands. She kissed him on the forehead.

"That, my dear, is between Ken and me."


It was late in the evening when their flight from New York touched down in Los Angeles. Starsky and Hutch grabbed their bags, loaded down with carefully packed containers of leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. They grabbed the first cab they saw, and Hutch rattled off his address.

"You want to stay?" Hutch asked when the cab pulled up in front of his apartment building. Starsky nodded as he peeled off a handful of bills and handed them to the cabbie with a friendly clap on the shoulder.

"May as well. Gotta work in," Starsky looked at his watch, "six hours anyway. We can take your car." He followed Hutch up to the apartment, and dropped his bags beside the couch. Starsky groaned and stretched out. "Jeez, I hate that flight."

Hutch snickered. "You say that every time we visit your mom, Starsk." Hutch set about pulling out Tupperware containers from their luggage and tossing them into the fridge. "You want a beer? Coffee?"

"Nah, I'm beat. I'll just crash here." Starsky was already mumbling into the throw pillow.

Hutch moved over to the couch, and tugged at Starsky's leather jacket. "Come on, Starsk. Take your jacket off, you'll sleep better." Starsky shifted and let Hutch pull the heavy leather jacket from his shoulder. Hutch undid the blue Adidas runners and carefully pulled them off Starsky's feet. His partner had more energy than anyone he'd ever known, but when he crashed he was like a little kid--completely out of it and 100% deadweight. Hutch grabbed a blanket from the closet and draped it loosely over his partner's frame. He brushed a hand once over the dark curls.

"Goodnight, partner," Hutch said, then turned out the light and headed for bed.


"Captain Dobey, that ain't fair," Starsky protested.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you that life ain't fair, Detective?" Dobey wasn't going to be swayed. He'd made up his mind and there was nothing the two of them were going to be able to do about it.

"Leave my mother out of this," Starsky snapped back. Hutch watched his partner pace restlessly around the room.

"It's part of your duty," Dobey said. "And considering that you wrecked a police car during your last bust, I think you owe the department one."

Starsky turned and pointed a finger at the Captain. "That wasn't our fault. And we got Frye, fair and square. What the hell's the DA thinkin' making a deal with that turkey?"

"Starsk," Hutch tried to intervene.

"The District Attorney does his job and you do yours. It's not up to you to decide whether he's doing it right! And that's not even what we're talking about, Starsky--we're talking about you and Hutch doing your duty as senior officers and setting an example in this department!" Dobey was yelling now.

"It's a stupid idea, and I don't like it!"

Hutch winced as the door slammed behind Starsky. Dobey stared at the door, then at him. "What the hell's the matter with him, Hutchinson?"

Hutch shrugged. "Jet lag?"

"You've been back for three days."

"Captain, he's just--"

"I don't want to hear it. He's your partner. Work it out."

"Yes, Captain." Hutch stood up to leave.

"And Hutch, one way or another, the two of you are expected to report at 8:00 tomorrow for this assignment. Understood?"



Hutch found Starsky kicking the candy machine in the corridor.

"Want a quarter?" Hutch said, holding up a coin.

"No." Starsky gave the machine another kick.

"You know, destruction of city property is a misdemeanour."

"No kiddin'," Starsky said, but didn't stop what he was doing. Hutch caught his shoulder. Starsky looked up at him. "You want to arrest me?"

"Hey, what's buggin' you? Is it Frye?"

"Don't get me started on that," Starsky said. "We bust our cans to get 'em off the street, and they turn around and let 'em out again."

Hutch nodded. He understood the frustration; he felt it too, but there wasn't anything they could do about it. It wasn't like Starsky to get this upset about something like that.

Hutch tried again. "This assignment's nothin' we haven't done before. It's just taking two kids along and showing them the ropes. Dobey thinks you've lost your mind."

"Maybe I have," Starsky muttered under his breath. He leaned back against the machine, and hung his head.

"What's going on, partner? Talk to me," Hutch said, leaning in close. He let his hands glide gently up Starsky's arms, rubbing the muscles beneath his thin shirt. He could feel the tension start to bleed off. Hutch didn't stop to think about what they looked like, standing in the corridor like that. Everyone pretty much ignored them now anyways. They'd been together for too long and they did their job too well. It bought them a certain amount of breathing room, for which Hutch was infinitely grateful.

"I just--I just got to thinkin' about things ..."

Hutch held his breath. Starsky's mother had called it exactly right. Once Starsky started thinking about things, he didn't let them go. It's what made him such a damn good cop--tenacious as a pit bull, and stubborn as a mule. Temper like a red-haired woman, Hutch thought to himself, and had to keep from smiling.

"What things?"

"Our first ride-along." Oh. Hutch could see why Starsky was feeling gun-shy. The first time they'd taken two rookies out, they'd damn near all gotten killed. Of course, it wasn't Starsky's fault that the bad guys had cut the brake lines in the Torino, or that they'd gotten pinned down in an alley with virtually no cover. It seemed like there was always an alley somewhere that they were getting stuck in, and trash containers and cardboard boxes didn't make for the best cover. They'd made the collar, and the rookies had a great story for their grand-kids. It wasn't that much different from the first time the two of them had gone out with Benton and Hodges, to tell the truth.

"Hey, Marconi and Aislan learned a lot with us."

"Not them. I meant our first ride-along." Oh. Hutch searched his partner's eyes. It should've been surprising that Starsky had brought it up, when Hutch had been thinking about it just a few days ago, but nothing really surprised him. The two of them were so in-synch most of the time that it wasn't unusual for one of them to bring up something the other had been thinking about.

"Why don't we get out of here?" Hutch asked. Starsky nodded. They headed for the parking garage.


Starsky stretched out on Hutch's couch and drank his beer slowly. He was angry and on edge, and he didn't know why. Hutch was strumming softly on his guitar.

"How about a little music to soothe the savage beast," Hutch said glibly, letting his fingers pluck lightly at the strings. He turned the pegs and kept tuning.


"Never mind." Hutch adjusted the tuning a little more, and began to pluck out a tune. "You want to talk about it?"

"What?" It seemed like one word answers were about all he was up to tonight.

"You know, Starsk, you're not the easiest person to have a conversation with."

"You're always sayin' I talk too much, and now I'm not talkin' enough?" Starsky glared at him and took another mouthful of beer. "Just play something."

Hutch smiled and started to play.


Hutch woke with a start, and sat up reaching for his gun in the dark.

"Hey." Hutch felt a hand on his arm. His brain registered that he was safe before his conscious mind told him it was just Starsky--sitting on his bed in the middle of the night.

"What's up?" Hutch said, rubbing his hands over his face and trying to wake up. "Can't sleep?"

"Hutch, I'm scared." Starsky was fully-dressed and perched on the edge of Hutch's bed.


"Ever since New York, I been thinkin' about stuff. 'Bout us."

"Starsk, it's only been a few days." Hutch settled his head in his hands and glanced at the clock. Why did Starsky always decide they needed these heart-to-heart conversations at two in the morning?

"Just hear me out," Starsky said. "You're my partner. Every time we go out on the street, there's a chance of us gettin' hurt. Maybe even killed."

"That's cheerful."

"It's true, and you know it."

Hutch sighed. "So? It's also old news. What's on your mind, Starsk?"

"These feelings--you've had 'em a long time."

"Yes." Hutch had hoped they could talk about this after a bit more time had passed. He should've known better. Starsky was going to pick at it like a scab until everything in his heart was laid bare. Hutch didn't know if he had the strength to do that.

Starsky kept going. "And you think you'd be happy with something more? With me?"

Hutch looked up in surprise. He'd expected Starsky to push for specifics about his feelings, try to figure him out like a puzzle to be solved or a problem to be fixed. He hadn't anticipated this careful consideration--and what the hell was Starsky considering anyway? He was as straight as a road on the prairies.

"What are you doing? You're not interested in guys."

"Are you?" Starsky's voice was calm and thoughtful. Hutch wondered if he was still dreaming. He rubbed at his eyes. Nope, still awake. Starsky was still sitting beside him on the bed and looking at him with those blue, blue eyes.

"What's that supposed to mean? I told you how I felt," Hutch said.

"Yeah, you told me how you felt about me. You didn't tell me that you were in to other guys. There's a difference."

"You're in denial," Hutch said with frustration, flopping back against the mattress.

"So you've been with other men?" Starsky was persistent.

"That's none of your damn business." Hutch felt his face flame red. This was about as far as he could get from how he'd imagined this conversation going.

"I think it is--if you're still interested in a relationship with me."

Hutch sat up and stared at his partner. He could see Starsky's blue eyes staring back at him. Suddenly he felt a sharp pinch.

"Ow! What'd you do that for?" Hutch rubbed at the red spot on his arm.

Starsky shrugged. "You looked like you thought you might be dreamin'."

Hutch opened his mouth to reply, but couldn't think of anything. He could smack Starsky up-side the head, but he didn't see that it would do much good at this point. Besides, he might hurt himself. Starsky had a thick skull.

Hutch turned towards his partner. "Starsk, I've known you for years. You're not gay. I'd bet money that you've never even thought about being with a guy, and suddenly you think you're some kind of authority on my life? Yes, I have feelings for you. Yes, I have for years. But whatever else I've done or who I've done it with is none of your business. You're my partner, you're my friend, but you're never going to be anything more, and believe it or not, I don't owe you anything. Now shut the hell up and get out of my bed."

Hutch was trembling with contained anger by the time he finished. He didn't need this. God, there were days when he didn't honestly know what he saw in Starsky. The man was the most frustrating person he'd ever known in his entire life, and Hutch had known a lot of frustrating people.

"Why don't you tell me how you really feel?" Starsky said sarcastically, but he didn't move away from Hutch. "You said what you needed to say, Hutch. That's fair. But this conversation ain't over. You and me got a whole lot more to say, whether you think we do or not. And just for the record, don't assume you know everything about me. I might surprise you."

Starsky leaned in sharply. Hutch felt a hand grasp his jaw firmly, then there were lips on his, sharp and hard and insistent. Hutch's body responded instantly, as if he'd been waiting for exactly this moment to come alive. He closed his eyes and felt a moan escape his lips before he realized this wasn't the way it was supposed to happen. He shoved a hand against Starsky's chest, pushing him away.

Starsky rolled off the bed, and his frame was silhouetted against the doorway for a long moment.

"Starsky," Hutch said. He hated it when they fought. It always felt like someone had kicked him in the gut. It's just that Starsky made him so damn mad sometimes, especially when he started pressing buttons that had nothing to do with him. Starsky didn't have any idea what he was doing.

"See you in the morning, partner," Starsky said mildly. Hutch heard the door to the apartment close a moment later.

Hutch lay back against the sheets and put a hand to his mouth. His lips felt bruised. There'd been so much power behind that kiss, so much strength that Hutch felt overwhelmed. He'd never been kissed like that, and it didn't matter that Starsky was mad at him or doing it to make a point. He couldn't pretend the hair on his arms wasn't still standing on end, or that other parts of him hadn't sat up and taken notice.

"Christ, we're in trouble," Hutch said to the darkness, knowing sleep was practically out of the question.


Hutch bounded down the steps of his building and stared at the empty street. The empty street where his car had been parked the night before. Someone had stolen his car. He stared up and down the block and tried to make sense of it. Shit! Why did these things have to happen to him? He'd been up most of the night trying to make sense of the fact that his partner had kissed him like he meant it.

He heard the chugging sound of an old engine and looked to see his car pulling to a stop in front of him.

"Thought somebody stole it?" Starsky said amiably, pushing open the passenger door for Hutch to get in.

Hutch shook his head, knowing that his thoughts were written on his face, and Starsky grinned at him. Busted.

"You think I'd walk home? In this neighbourhood?"

Hutch got in and stared at his partner, as they pulled out into traffic. Of course he hadn't thought Starsky'd walked home. He hadn't really thought about it--he'd had more important things on his mind when Starsky had kissed him and left in the middle of the night.

"Have some coffee," Starsky said, passing him a Styrofoam cup. Hutch took a sip. Heavy on the cream, heavy on the sugar. A Starsky special. Hutch had always drunk his coffee black before meeting Starsky, and then one day he'd realized he liked the taste of the sweet, creamy concoction that Starsky was always mixing up. Since the two of them often ended up sharing a drink anyway, it had just been easier to get used to drinking it Starsky's way. Hutch smiled. What was it Starsky's mom had said? Sometimes change wasn't a bad thing.

"Well, you're smilin', so I guess you're not too pissed off at me," Starsky said, making the turn towards headquarters.

"I'm smilin' at the coffee. Haven't decided what I'm doing about you yet," Hutch said honestly. He saw Starsky grin out of the corner of his eye, and Hutch felt a smile breaking over his own face. He couldn't stay mad at Starsky. He just couldn't. "Besides, we've got work to do."

Starsky nodded, and parked the car. "Guess we'd better go find our rookies before Dobey has us out walking a beat."

Hutch followed him into the precinct.


Starsky looked across at Hutch, and his blue eyes said everything. This was not going to work. Hutch was beginning to agree with him.

"It's a real honour to get to ride with you two, Detective Starsky, Detective Hutchinson." Starsky shook his head.

"Drop the 'detective' bit, Adams. It's just Starsky and Hutch."

"Yes, sir, Detective Starsky," Adams responded.

Hutch intervened. "Adams, Dawson, the quickest way to get killed on the street is to call somebody 'detective.' Just don't do it."

"Yes, sir." Two voices responded in perfect unison.

"And ditch the 'sir', too," Starsky muttered. "And the suits."

He looked at the two rookies, dressed in suits and ties, hair slicked back and shoes shined as if it was their first day at school. Starsky couldn't ever remember being that young. Or that well-dressed.

"The suits?" Dawson questioned. "What's wrong with our suits?" Starsky didn't know where to begin to answer that question as he took in the navy pinstripes, the pressed lapels, the patterned ties and shiny dress shoes.

"We're hittin' the streets, not goin' to the prom," Starsky said. "You gotta blend in. Like a chameleon."

"Is that why you dress like that?"

Starsky looked at Adams with barely contained anger. Hutch raised a hand in his direction. "What my partner's saying is that it helps to dress down. People'll be more likely to talk to you if you don't look like a cop."

"But we are cops." The two rookies were clearly puzzling over this concept. Starsky stood up.

"That's it. Hutch, let's go. You two, watch and learn." Starsky whirled out of the briefing room, the door swinging shut behind him. Adams and Dawson looked at Hutch for direction. Hutch smiled. Starsky had an infinite amount of patience with people on the street, those down on their luck, but he had none for people that he figured should know their jobs.

"You heard him. Let's go," Hutch said and followed his partner.


"Why are we stopping here?" Adams asked from the backseat of Hutch's car. The rookies had been none too pleased about having to move a bunch of newspapers and an assortment of shoes and clothes--disguises, Hutch had explained; junk, Starsky had corrected--so that they could get in.

The car pulled up in front of Starsky's condo. "Well, Adams, you're about my size, Dawson's closer to Hutch, so we're going to find you something that won't get you shot on sight. Then we're going to get a real car," Starsky said with a smile in Hutch's direction. Hutch made a face and slid out from behind the wheel.

The rookies followed them up and into the house. Starsky disappeared into his bedroom and Hutch could hear him sorting through the closet.

"Detective Hutchinson--Hutch?" Adams said.


"You guys have been doing this a long time, huh?" There was such sincerity in the voice that Hutch had to smile. He took a good long look at the two young men. They couldn't have been more than twenty-five. Adams was dark-haired with pale skin and dark eyes. He was short and stocky, broad-shouldered and fidgeting with his tie. He seemed to be the more outspoken of the two, but that wasn't saying much. They were both too timid for Hutch to get a real sense of who they were or how well they might work together on the street. Still, the department must have some feeling about the two of them, or they wouldn't have been assigned to ride with them to get a feel for life on the street.

Dawson was an inch or two taller than Hutch with dark blond hair cropped short. He had a faint touch of an accent that Hutch couldn't quite place. Southern, maybe. It was only obvious on a few words. Dawson was studiously examining Starsky's book and record collection.

"Jazz fan?" Hutch ventured, seeing that he was holding up one of Starsky's records.

"A bit," Dawson said, slipping the record back onto the shelf.

"Me too," Hutch said. "I gave that to him. I don't think he's ever listened to it." Hutch smiled brightly. "He's a little bit rock'n'roll."

"And Hutch is a little bit country," Starsky said coming out of the bedroom with an armload of clothes. He tossed one pile to Adams, the other to Dawson. "Knock yourself out."

Starsky rolled his eyes as he saw their hesitation. "You can change in the bedroom. And the bathroom's down the hall," Starsky said, heading for the kitchen.

When he came back, he tossed a soda at Hutch, who caught it neatly mid-air. "I told you this was a bad idea."

"Give them a chance," Hutch said, opening his soda. "They're nervous, and you're not helping."

"And you know as well as I do that if we took them out like that, we'd be laughed off the street. Nobody's gonna respect them dressed like that."

"That's why they're spending time with us. So they learn these things."

"I still don't like it."

"Starsk. Lighten up. You can't expect them to know everything their first day on the street."

"I can expect them not to get killed--or get us killed," Starsky finished off his soda and crumpled the can.

"Nobody's gonna get killed," Hutch said, moving closer and laying a hand on his partner's shoulder. It was the first time they'd touched since the night before, and Hutch felt a slight shiver of fear, waiting for rejection that didn't come. He squeezed lightly. "We've still got a lot of arguing to do."

Starsky looked at him and smiled. He nodded and patted Hutch's hand. "I'll try to play nicer."

Adams popped out of the bedroom, looking only slightly more comfortable in faded jeans and a light blue t-shirt. Dawson emerged seconds later from the bathroom wearing black cords and a black turtleneck. He was re-securing his holster as he stepped into the hallway looking pleased.

"You don't have an extra leather jacket around, do you?" Dawson said, cracking his first genuine smile of the morning. Hutch shook his head.

"Well, now that you two look a bit more respectable," Starsky said looking the two rookies up and down, "let's get to work."

Starsky headed for the door, the others trailing behind him. They were half-way down the stairs when he heard Dawson ask, "You figure we're going to have clothes at each other's places?"

Starsky pretended he didn't hear Adams's quiet snicker.

"This, gentlemen, is the heart of our team." Starsky proudly pointed to his Ford Gran Torino.

"It's red," Adams said bluntly. "With a white racing stripe."

"You guys go undercover with this thing?" Dawson said with undisguised awe. "Jeez, you must be good."

Starsky decided he was going to have to do a lot of pretending not to hear things today.

"We call it the tomato," Hutch said cheerfully, pulling open the passenger door and lightly pushing Adams towards the backseat.

"We do not," Starsky said, slamming his door behind him. It was bad enough he had to deal with two rookies, but Hutch was going to be impossible. Hutch had a soft spot for rookies and stray dogs and children. Starsky sighed and put the car in gear. It was going to be a long, long day.


"Well, if it isn't Starsky and Hutch," Huggy said as he approached their table. "I see you've brought along a set of clones." Huggy appraised the two young men, who squirmed awkwardly under Huggy's gaze. "Uh-huh, the first step is to dress them like you, next they'll be terrorizing the streets in a souped-up tomato."

"Huggy," Starsky said. "Just bring us some food, okay?"

Huggy turned to Hutch. "My man Starsky's usual sunny disposition seems to be notably absent today. What'd you do? Keep him up all night?"

Dawson snickered, and Adams appeared to have kicked him under the table. Starsky shot a glare at Huggy. It was one thing for Huggy to tease--he'd known them for almost as long as they'd known each other--but it was something else to have their lives picked apart by two fresh-faced rookies.

"Food, Huggy," Starsky said more vehemently.

"And people call me The Bear," Huggy said trying to sound offended. He looked at Hutch with concern. Hutch gave a small nod to say that everything was fine, and Huggy left to bring their order.

"So, what is this place, anyway?" Adams asked, sipping his drink.

"Well, it's somewhere to meet informants, get information, check in with what's happening in the neighbourhood."

"Get a meal once in a while," Starsky added. "Hey, I'm gonna call Dobey and see if there's any word on Frye's case."

Starsky slid out of the booth and headed for the bar. Adams watched him go. "You guys busted Daniel Frye, right?" Hutch nodded. "I heard he threatened to kill anyone who testified against him."

"We probably won't get to testify. The DA's office made a deal. "

"But you guys nailed him cold in an alley, didn't you? I heard you took him and his men down, and blew up a squad car." Dawson leaned forward with interest.

Hutch shook his head. "It was Frye and one guy in the alley--the other ones were smart enough to split--and the squad car blowing up wasn't our fault. The gas tank got hit in the crossfire."

Hutch looked at the excitement on Dawson and Adams' faces and remembered what it was like to be young and invulnerable. He just hoped they had the brains to be scared too, or it would be a short partnership.

"But you guys were there. You were taking him down," Adams said.

"Yeah, and we both could've gotten killed. It's not a game, guys. Those are real bullets in the guns, and the crooks are playing for keeps. They don't care about shooting a cop or an innocent bystander. Half the time you're running scared, and the other half ..."

"You're just runnin'." Starsky slid back into his seat just as Huggy brought their food. "What'd I miss?"

"We were talking about Frye. What'd Dobey know?"

Starsky scowled around his burger. "Not much. The feds are keepin' him under some kind of federal watch til he can give state's evidence. Then he'll be back on the street selling dope and rapin' women, no doubt. Hey, you got pickles on yours?"

Hutch peeled his bun apart and held it out for Starsky to snag the pickles. He ignored the rookies' pale faces. "And there's nothing we can do about it."

"Not a damn thing," Starsky said, biting into his burger.


As afternoons went, it was pretty normal. They did a couple of follow-ups on some information about a burglary ring in the area, introduced Adams and Dawson to a couple of their snitches, and generally just tried to talk them through the basics of life on the streets without either scaring them or making them think danger and excitement were waiting around every corner.

"Have you ever been shot?" Adams asked when they'd stopped for a drink in the late afternoon. Starsky stopped halfway to taking a bite of his hotdog and looked at Hutch as if to say, "I told you so."

"Yes," they both said. Hutch took the hotdog out of Starsky's hand and had a bite before handing it back. He plucked a napkin out of Starsky's pocket and wiped his mouth with it.

"And it hurts like hell," Hutch added, tossing the napkin in the garbage. "It's not like on T.V."

"So, if you take a bullet, doesn't that mean that your partner wasn't doing his job?" Dawson ventured carefully. Starsky's eyes narrowed.

"Absolutely not," Hutch said defensively. He hadn't realized he'd stepped in front of Starsky until he felt a gentle pat on his back. "Sometimes things just happen. You get separated, you get suckered. You do the best you can, and some days that's not enough."

"But," Starsky cut in, "if you trust your partner, really trust him, with your life, then the chances of getting hurt are a lot less because you're both willing to take that bullet for the other person--"

"--and 'cause you're both willing, you do your damnedest to keep the other person from getting hurt."

The rookies seemed to be looking at them with new respect.

"What if it's not like that?" Adams asked. "I mean, you guys have known each other for years. We just met a few months ago. How do we keep from getting killed in the meantime?"

Hutch smiled and looked at Starsky. "You put your partner first. You talk about everything--even the stuff you don't want to talk about. Stakeouts are great for getting to know your partner."

"Hutch snores."

"Starsky drools."

"You sleep on stake-outs?" Adams wanted to know. Starsky and Hutch both rolled their eyes. "Isn't that against--"

"Department regulations? Yes, it is," Starsky said. "But when you've been pulling double-duty shifts for a few days and neither of you has slept, you don't want to be racing into a dark alley with a gun. So you catch a little sleep when you can. You take turns. You keep each other awake when you have to. You learn each other's biggest secrets, greatest fears, most embarrassing stories. You learn where you grew up, went to school, what you do when you're not being a cop."

"And then you keep that all to yourself," Hutch added. "Being a man's partner is sacred. It's like ..." Hutch stumbled to find the right words.

"Being married?" Dawson offered. Hutch quirked his lips and nodded.

"Yeah, actually, it's a lot like that," Hutch said. He caught Starsky's blue eyes staring into his own. "And sometimes it's a lot harder because you spend so much time together. Sometimes you know each other too well."

Starsky blinked an acknowledgement. Hutch wished they could just go somewhere and talk. The events of last night had been sitting there between them all day, untouched, unexamined, and Hutch was anxious to deal with what had happened. In the meantime, their rhythm was slightly off, and Hutch didn't think it had as much to do with Adams and Dawson as it did with what had happened in the night.

"Zebra Three, come in, Zebra Three."

Starsky slid off the hood of the car and grabbed for the radio. "Zebra Three, go ahead."

"Patch through from Captain Dobey. Go ahead."


"Yes, Captain?"

"Where are you?"

"We're still out with Adams and Dawson, corner of 131st and Wilson. What've you got for us?"

"It's Frye, Starsky." Hutch's head jerked up as he heard what Dobey said. Starsky tossed the rest of his hotdog in the nearby garbage can.


"He slipped his protection. He's running, going underground, we think. The deal's a bust. He never planned to testify."

"Where?" Starsky was waving at the others to get in the car. He settled behind the wheel and revved the engine.

"He was last seen heading for the warehouse district where you busted him. We've got units heading to that area--"

"We're rolling, Captain. Out." Starsky tossed the radio onto the dash, and backed out with a squeal of tires.


"Yeah." Hutch was already riffling through the glove compartment for extra clips and speed loaders. Starsky lifted his right arm and Hutch slipped his Beretta out of its holster. Hutch checked the clip and replaced it.

"He's not going to be taken in."

"I know."

"What are you saying?" Dawson piped up from the back. Starsky glanced over his shoulder and ignored the question.

"What are we going to do with them?" Starsky asked, jerking his head towards the backseat.

"Hey," Adams said angrily, "we're not two kids on a field trip here, we're cops--same as you." In your dreams, Hutch thought, but didn't say. He knew Starsky was having the exact same thought.

"Yeah, and Daniel Frye is a rapist and a cold-blooded killer," Starsky said evenly. The Torino fish-tailed around the corner, siren blaring loudly.

"You'll need back-up," Dawson said hotly.

"We have back-up," Starsky countered. "Each other. I watch his back, he watches mine. So far, we've done okay."

"Yeah, well, we're not going to just sit in the car while you two heroes go make the bust of the century," Adams put in. Starsky took another corner at a particularly dramatic speed. Hutch clung to the doorway to keep from being thrown into his partner's lap.

"You don't get it, do you, kid?" Starsky said. "It's not about who makes the bust or who catches the bad guy. It's about not getting killed on any given day. You're asking us to take you into the middle of a fire fight when we've got no idea what you're going to do. Hell, you've got no idea what you're going to do."

"Well, we're not going to learn sitting in the car," Adams said. They had entered the warehouse district, and Hutch automatically pulled the siren off the car.

"No need to broadcast our arrival," Hutch explained for the rookies' benefit. He and Starsky had long since given up needing to explain the automatic things to one another. They just functioned as a team. They always had. In his gut, Hutch knew that Adams and Dawson were never going to have the same kind of chemistry that he and Starsky had. They might be okay they might manage to work out something so that they spent reasonably pleasant days together before heading home to their wives and children, but it would never be the same as what the two of them shared. Hutch seriously doubted that either of the two rookies would willingly take a bullet for the other. Maybe someday, but not right now. It was too soon. He and Starsky had never had a day when they wouldn't have willingly put it all on the line for each other. Hutch sobered at the thought.

"You thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?" Starsky asked. Hutch just nodded. There was a disgruntled moan from the backseat.

"For those of us who don't share your telepathic bond, perhaps you could let us in on the plan." Hutch decided that Adams was really beginning to piss him off. Starsky was looking across at him with an unbelieving look.

"I'm gonna cuff you to the car, if you don't shut up," Starsky said tightly, slowing the car down and popping his sidearm from its holster. He scanned the buildings and alleyways carefully.

"If Frye's running," Hutch said for the benefit of the rookies, "he's coming back to collect whatever resources he had stashed. It makes sense that he had them close to where he got busted--that's where he was running his operations from."

"And he's got nothing left to lose." Starsky slowed the Torino to a crawl. "Brick building, dead ahead."

"Got it."

"What?" Dawson asked, leaning forward to see better.

"Gun!" Starsky yelled and swerved hard enough that Adams and Dawson toppled over on the backseat. Hutch ducked as the Torino's windshield shattered. Starsky manoeuvred the car closer to the building where it was harder for the gunman to find a target.

"Starsk?" Hutch was saying, one hand reaching for his partner's arm. Their laps were full of broken glass.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Okay back there?" Starsky asked, shaking the glass out of his hair. There were answers to the affirmative. "We need to get out of the car and move toward the building. Safeties off."

They slipped out of the car carefully. "No sign of the black-and-whites," Hutch murmured as Starsky slid into place beside him behind the car.

"He's careful. He knows the way we work. The patrol cars are probably starting an outside perimeter sweep, and we're in the heart of things. It's going to take them awhile to circle in."

There were two more shots from a high-powered rifle. Starsky heard the familiar ping of metal and cringed. "There goes the ariel," he muttered. "No additional backup. Looks like it's 'who do we trust' time."

"Me and thee, partner." The two exchanged a brief look, then glanced at the rookies. They were breathing quickly and clutching their guns in sweaty hands.

"I'll take Dawson," Starsky said, hunching beside the Torino. He snagged Dawson by the collar and pulled the blond down beside him.

"Looks like it's you and me, Adams," Hutch said. "When they start to lay cover fire, follow me." Hutch heard the familiar retort of Starsky's gun and ran low towards the entrance. Adams was right behind him.


Starsky watched as Hutch and Adams slipped inside the building. He tried to catch a glimpse of the upstairs window where he'd seen the muzzle of the gun, but he couldn't see it anymore. Chances were Frye had gone inside and was now looking for a way out of the building. He would either have to get past them or make for the roof. Starsky was never clear on why perps always ran for the roof when there was no way off. It didn't make any sense, but then again, not a lot that happened on the streets made sense some days.

"It'll be okay. Stick with me, kid," Starsky said. The rookie gave him a weak smile and followed him into the building.

Adams and Hutch had already disappeared. Starsky could hear their footsteps on the metal staircase as he searched for alternate exits. The freight elevator appeared to be out of order. "Fire escape," he murmured, and tugged at Dawson's arm. They slipped into the alley behind the building, noting that Frye's car was parked haphazardly, as if he hadn't expected to be long. Starsky gave the car a quick once over. Suitcase in the backseat, rifle on the floor. He popped it open and threw the bullets away. If for some reason Frye made it back down to the car, better that he didn't have a loaded weapon at his disposal. Starsky had no doubt that there were other weapons in the trunk, but they just didn't have time. He followed Dawson cautiously up the fire escape.


Hutch tried to convey the plan to Adams with a tilt of his head. Dark eyes stared at him with confusion. Hutch suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. With Starsky, he wouldn't have had to do anything--he would've just known.

Hutch shook his head. This was ridiculous. Adams wasn't Starsky, and there was no point wishing he were. Starsky was probably halfway up the fire escape by now with Dawson in tow, and he'd be counting on them to have Frye's position pinned down. Frye would either have to get through them or head for the roof. It was standing operating procedure for fleeing criminals, although now that Hutch thought about it, he didn't know why. It was the worst possible means of escape unless you could fly or weren't planning on surviving the confrontation anyway.

Hutch swallowed. Frye wouldn't go willingly--he'd told them as much last time. Hutch knew with certainty that somebody would be going home in a bodybag. He just prayed that Frye was the only one.

"Low and slow," Hutch whispered to Adams, who nodded and crouched as they moved around the corner.


Starsky and Dawson pushed onwards. The fire escape was rusty and shook with every breath of wind.

"Do we have a plan?" Dawson asked, gun out, eyes electric with anticipation.

"Don't get shot." Starsky moved past the kid, towards the final landing. With any luck, Hutch and Adams were in position, and Frye was somewhere on this floor, trapped between them. Or if not that, they'd be headed for the roof. Starsky tried not to think about that possibility too much. He really didn't like heights.


Daniel Frye stood in the middle of the loft space and stared around him. All he'd needed was a little more time. A few hours--not even hours. Minutes, maybe. The money was in a bag, the passport and fake ID too. His contact had dropped off the airline arrangements less than an hour ago. Everything had been perfect. Flawless.

Except that every freakin' time he had a perfect, flawless plan, Starsky and Hutch showed up. When he'd seen that thing Starsky called a car pulling up in front of the warehouse, he couldn't believe it. How much worse could his luck possibly be? If it had been anybody else, he knew his bullet would've found its mark, shattered the windshield and the face of the driver along with it. But no, Starsky and Hutch seemed to walk with the angels. They had the kind of luck that gamblers only dreamed about.

Well, thought Frye, today their luck runs out. If it's the last thing I ever do.


Hutch risked a quick glance around the corner. The plaster beside his head shattered.

"I think we found him," Hutch murmured, seeing Adams' eyes grow wide with terror. He touched the rookie's arm in sympathy. He remembered what it was like to be that afraid. Not that he wasn't still scared, but it was different. He knew how he reacted to it, knew what a surge of adrenaline felt like, the warm trickle of sweat down the back of his collar. It was comforting somehow.

"Give it up, Frye," Hutch called out. "You'll never make it out of here."

"Neither will you." Frye's voice was calm and certain. It washed over Hutch's skin leaving a cold sheen of sweat.

"The D.A.'s office was willing to deal, Frye." Hutch motioned at Adams to stay close, stay down. Hutch tried to gage the distance to the other side of the doorway. The room Frye was in was large, open. Nowhere to hide--for any of them. "It didn't have to be like this."

"Yes, it did. You and Starsky made sure of that."

"We were doing our jobs, Frye. You know that." Hutch slid down the wall, wondering if he could risk another glance, determine where exactly Frye was standing, how far he'd have to step out to take a shot.

"Keep him talking. There's another door," Adams whispered hoarsely in Hutch's ear, gesturing to the end of the hall. Hutch nodded absently. Maybe they could use that. He'd have to think about it, try to predict when and where Starsky and Dawson were going to pop up.

Before Hutch could protest, Adams was gliding down the hall towards the other entrance. Hutch frantically tried to catch his attention. This was a bad idea. Hutch couldn't even begin to articulate how many ways this was a very bad idea. Adams was already easing the other door open, refusing to turn around and acknowledge Hutch's mute protest.

" ... the two of you just couldn't keep your noses out of it, could you?" Frye was saying. "Well, I told you what would happen if you interfered again. And speaking of Starsky, where is he? I do so miss the bourgeois sound of his voice."

"Right here, dirtball." Starsky's voice floated through an open window. Hutch could just make out the tip of Starsky's gun from this angle.

"And I see you've brought along a friend, Starsky. I thought you and Hutch were exclusive," Frye said snidely, "although you're certainly predictable in your tastes, detective."

"Can't go wrong with a tall blond," Starsky said mildly. "Why don't you put the gun down, Frye?"

Derisive laughter drifted through the air. "Why don't you introduce me to your friend, first? He seems a bit pale."

"Lower the weapon," Starsky said coldly. Hutch could see that he had stepped through the window and into the room. Totally open. Dawson appeared to be kneeling on the fire escape behind him, gun held in both hands and braced on the windowsill. Hutch knew it was to counteract the shaking.

"Your friend seems scared, Starsky." There was the sound of dress shoes on the concrete floor. Frye was moving around, angling for a better position, maybe looking for cover. Hutch made a snap decision and rolled across the entranceway, taking in the scene as he slid across the doorway. Frye was leaning against a pillar, half-hidden from Starsky, but still more than capable of taking a shot at any of them. It wasn't an ideal situation, and Hutch had no idea where that door of Adams had led him to, but he was almost certain that Adams would come into play at the worst possible moment.

"See what you wanted to see, Hutch?" Frye asked. The man laughed again. Hutch pulled himself into a crouch and breathed. The man could've been a cop. He knew the way they operated, knew what they were likely to do. It was unnerving, and it accounted for why he'd avoided getting caught for so long.

Hutch shouted through the doorway: "You know there's no way out, Frye. I can see it, Starsk can see it. Even the rookie can see it. You'd be better off to just give it up."

"Rookie, huh? Ain't that sweet." Frye's tone was triumphant. Hutch's face fell as he realized what he'd said, what he'd done. Jeez, he was an idiot. He was always giving Starsky hell for running off at the mouth, and now he'd clearly put Dawson in danger. Frye would know they'd do anything to keep a rookie from getting hurt.

"You'd better just give it up now, Frye," Dawson said. Hutch had to give the kid credit. The shake in his voice was less noticeable than the shake in his hand. He wasn't sure he would've had the guts to open his mouth in the kid's position.

"Ah, the rookie has teeth," Frye said. "But you should be careful, boys. Wouldn't want him to get hurt." Hutch could see Starsky moving a step closer to Dawson, positioning himself in front of the rookie. He wondered if the kid knew that's what Starsky was doing or if he was too scared to notice.

"Leave him out of it," Starsky said. "You know this isn't about him."

"Don't rookies travel in pairs?" Frye asked. "You so rarely see them alone, I think there must be another one around here somewhere."

"Got that right." Hutch rolled his eyes as Adams' voice came from inside the room. The door had apparently led into the main area. Hutch could see Adams standing with his gun drawn, a clear bead on Frye. At least the kid had a decent position for a shot if he decided to take it; of course, he was completely exposed, but there was little help for that at this point.

"Isn't that cute?" Frye said, clearly amused. "A matched-set. One blond, one dark. Same bad taste in clothes, same reckless stupidity. Next thing you know, these two'll be driving around in a tomato with wheels and trading sultry glances."

Frye laughed again, but there was something different in his tone. Something bitter and dark, like day old coffee burned to the bottom of the pot. Hutch could see Starsky was moving, and then there wasn't even time to think. The air was full of bullets and blood and the echo of humourless laughter.


Everything seemed to happen at once. Hutch was rolling through the doorway as he saw Frye calmly turn towards Adams and squeeze the trigger.

"Get down," Hutch shouted, but it was too late. Adams was dropping to one knee, hand clutching weakly at his shoulder where blood was blossoming. Frye's gun hand was already swinging back towards Starsky and Dawson, his body ducking neatly behind the pillar and away from Hutch's line of sight. The plaster column shattered as Starsky pumped a clip into it, but Frye had clearly anticipated that. He aimed low, shooting past Starsky and shattering the window. Hutch could see Dawson bringing his hands up to protect his head, even as his finger stayed on the trigger. He crashed backwards into the railing, and went down hard. Starsky dove away from the window, rolling towards the centre of the room. Completely open. He heard his partner give a muttered "fuck" under his breath, voice laced with pain.

Hutch reached for him instinctively, watching for the shift of Frye's hand around the pillar. He slipped a hand into Starsky's belt loops and tugged. Starsky eased onto his knees and shifted backwards, Hutch covering them with a round of gunfire. Side by side, they retreated to the doorway.

"You hurt?" Glass fell out of Starsky's hair as he shook his head. Hutch reloaded his revolver, listening to the faint sound of Adams moaning. At least the kid wasn't dead. "Starsk?"

"No more ride-alongs," Starsky muttered, sliding a new clip into his Beretta. He rolled his shoulder once as if it was bothering him. Hutch started to reach for him, but his partner was already on the move.

"Deal," Hutch said, following Starsky through the door.


Frye had disappeared, but the trail of blood from Adams' shoulder was obvious. They were headed for the roof via the fire escape. Starsky ducked through the window and laid a hand on Dawson's neck.

"Must've hit his head when the window shattered," Starsky said. He holstered his weapon when Hutch stepped out behind him, watching the rooftop above. Strong fingers slapped lightly at Dawson's face.

"Come on, kid, wake up. A bump on the head won't kill ya," Starsky said. Hutch glanced down at his partner, noticing a tear in his jacket for the first time. He reached out a finger and pressed it into the hole. Starsky hissed and jerked away; the tip of Hutch's finger came up bloody.

"What the--? Are you hit, Starsk?" Hutch said. Dawson was starting to wake up.

"It's nothing. In and out," Starsky said through clenched teeth. "Leave it be. He's comin' around."

Glancing towards the roof, Hutch knelt beside his partner, pulling Starsky's jacket open. There was no sign of blood on his chest. "Shit! It's not in and out, Starsk. It's just in. You took one in the back, you jackass." Hutch started to wrestle Starsky's jacket off.

"Leave it be, Hutch. We don't have time." He shrugged the jacket back into place, and extended a hand to Dawson, who was rubbing his head where he'd struck it on the fire escape. There were tiny cuts on his face and arms from the broken glass.

"When were you planning on telling me, Starsk? When you were bleedin' out? Huh?" Hutch was pissed off. When this was all over, if Starsky didn't die, he was going to kill him. Slowly. Possibly with kisses. God, what had he done to deserve this?

"What's going on? Where's Frye?" Dawson said, struggling to his feet in the small space.

"Roof," Starsky said. "They always go for the freakin' roof. Don't try to make sense of it."

"Where's Adams?" Dawson sounded shaky, leaning on the railing.

"With Frye," Hutch replied shortly, still looking at Starsky unbelievingly. "He's got a bullet in him, and--"

"And we've got work to do," Starsky said, his eyes begging Hutch to leave it alone. Hutch swallowed and nodded. This wasn't over. He let Starsky lead, and fell into step behind Dawson. Starsky was hurt and bleeding, and why in God's name wouldn't he say something about it? It wasn't like him to worry about how it might look to someone else. Even a rookie.

Hutch felt his muscles tighten. This was too much like that night in the Italian restaurant when Starsky'd been shot. Hutch hadn't been sure that either of them was going to make it out of that one alive. He'd sat on the floor and held Starsky in his arms, trying to keep him alive while he watched the red-and-white checkered tablecloth get redder and redder. He'd taken one in the back then, too.

Hutch almost bumped into Dawson. In the back. Starsky hadn't turned his back to Frye at all. Not once. Suddenly everything was clear.

Instinctively, he put a hand on Dawson's shaking shoulder and squeezed. "It'll be okay. Just stay close." The rookie nodded and shot a grateful look at Hutch.

Dawson had just seen Adams shot, been caught in an explosion of glass and bullets, and the combination of those things had thrown off his aim enough that he'd managed to hit Starsky, who'd been in front of him at the time. God, Starsk, Hutch thought. No wonder he'd wanted him to keep quiet. Dawson didn't need anything else on his mind right now. A distracted cop was a useless cop.

The sound of a gunshot ricocheting off brick caught his attention. Starsky was bent low against the edge of the roof.

"I feel like a duck in one of those shooting galleries," he said with a half-smile. As if to demonstrate, he popped up and down quickly. Another bullet slammed into the brick just above him. "This is going to get old real fast."

"What are we going to do?" Dawson asked, looking from Starsky to Hutch and back again. He was clearly out of his league here. Hutch reached out and brushed a trickle of blood off his face, and tried not to think about the bullet lodged in his partner's back.

Frye's voice cut through the air. "Unless you want your friend to bleed to death, I suggest the three of you get up here."

Frye was all about the grand gesture, the dramatic moment. Hutch hated dealing with guys like this. Why couldn't he just give himself up nicely without making them jump through flaming hoops before the inevitable bloody end? There was no way this could end anything but badly, and they all knew it.

The three of them stood up slowly and stepped onto the rooftop together. "There's nowhere to go, and there's no need for anyone to die. Let the kid go," Starsky suggested calmly.

"Why should I?"

Hutch could see that Adams was still standing, although it looked like sheer will was keeping him on his feet. Frye had one arm around the cop, the other held a gun to the dark-haired man's head. They were pressed against the edge of the roof with nowhere to go but down.

"Because it's the right thing to do," Starsky said boldly. Hutch turned to stare at his partner. Starsky's black-and-white sense of right and wrong chose to rear its head at the strangest moments. The amazing thing was that sometimes it worked. Hutch had seen more than one perp give in to that soothing voice, those steady blue eyes that promised redemption. Hell, he'd been helpless to resist any time Starsky turned those eyes on him, and he knew every game Starsky knew how to play. He was just beginning to realize that maybe those eyes held a few more secrets than Hutch had ever believed possible.

Starsky took a step forward, hands held up in a position of surrender. Frye looked at him suspiciously, and cocked the hammer.

"Not another step, Starsky. I mean it."

Starsky kept walking. Slowly. Kept talking. "You don't want to kill a cop. A rookie. He's just a kid, Frye. Whole life ahead of him. And for what? A few years on a beach in Mexico before the guys you double-crossed catch up with you? Before the money runs out? It's not worth it." The gravel crunched under Starsky's feet. Hutch followed every move he made with the barrel of his gun. If he could just get a clear shot at Frye. If he could get Adams out of the way.

"I'll kill him, Starsky. I have nothing to lose," Frye said.

"Except your life," Starsky said, and Hutch could see he was pale and hurting. He needed to be in a hospital flirting with pretty nurses, not up on a rooftop negotiating with a madman. Hutch held his breath as Starsky took another step. "You don't want to die, Frye. Not like this. Not here. It's not worth it."

Hutch could see Adams' eyes flicker closed, his shoulders sagging noticeably as Frye struggled to keep the man upright. Starsky kept pushing in that low steady voice he used when he wanted something badly.

"There are worse places than prison, Frye. You could be totally alone in the world. Nobody behind you when things go to hell. Nobody who cares. There are worse things than giving up. Sometimes you don't see what's staring you in the face, even when it's been there the whole time. Sometimes it takes death grabbing you by the shoulders to make you face up to what you're feeling."

Hutch drew a shaky breath. He could've sworn that Starsky was talking to him. It could've been just the two of them on this rooftop, the wind licking at their hair, the blood starting to drain from Starsky's face. There was a tremor in his voice, and Hutch knew he was hurting, and not just from the bullet.

"Sometimes you just need someone to tell you it's not too late to take a chance. It's not too late, is it?" Starsky's voice had dropped to a mesmerizing whisper. Hutch had to lean forward to catch the words.

"It's too late," Frye said, never missing a beat. He let Adams slip from his arms, bringing his gun to bear on Starsky, but the bullet from Starsky's gun was already pushing through muscle and bone, tearing through a heart that pulsed once and stopped as it was ripped in two. Frye stumbled backwards, his mouth a gaping silence, and disappeared without a sound.


Hutch held Starsky's hand in the ambulance. Dawson and Adams were in the other ambulance. Frye's body was being brought in a third ambulance. Maybe this would teach Dobey not to assign them to any more ride-alongs. They always ended badly.

Starsky's blue eyes fluttered open once. A hand crept out of the blanket and tugged the oxygen mask aside. "Hutch," Starsky murmured.

"I'm right here." Hutch leaned closer. "Don't go anywhere."

Starsky smiled and nodded hazily. "It's not too late, is it?" he asked, his eyes fixing on Hutch's with deliberate care.

Hutch smiled. "No, Starsk. It's not too late."

Starsky's eyes closed quietly, and Hutch pressed a kiss against his partner's forehead. Hutch wasn't one to refuse a second chance.


"You're sure you don't need anything?" Hutch asked again, as he flopped onto the couch beside his partner. Starsky just stared up at him.

"I got shot, but apparently you've gone deaf. I told ya, I'm fine."

Hutch grinned. It was good to have his partner back in action. The bullet had been shallow, and the doctor didn't even think it would leave a scar. Adams hadn't been quite as lucky--he was still in the hospital, and looking at some serious physical therapy time, but at least he was alive. And when he was ready for duty again, he had a partner ready and waiting for him. Dawson was doing some light undercover work in the meantime--when he wasn't at the hospital. Hutch thought it was sweet how a life-or-death situation seemed to work wonders on relationships.

"So, just how fine are you?" Hutch said, sliding closer. His partner raised an eyebrow at him.

"Depends what you have in mind." Starsky's voice was a little bit low and a little bit sexy. Hutch felt a tremor of excitement.

"When you were talking to Frye on the roof ... it sounded like you were ... well, it sounded like you were talking about something else." Hutch licked his lips nervously. They still hadn't talked about the kiss--God, when was it? Three days ago now? Hutch could hardly believe how much had happened in such a short time.

"Somethin' else--like what?" Starsky's eyes were playful. He reached across and put a hand on Hutch's knee.

"Like us," Hutch said. "Like the fact that you kissed me the other night. Kissed me like it meant something."

Starsky shook his head. "Every kiss means somethin', Hutch. Just depends on your definition."

"And? What's your definition of this particular something?" Hutch could feel Starsky's hand burning a spot through his jeans as he absently rubbed his knee.

"I dunno, Hutch. Could be friendship. Could be somethin' else."

Hutch shook his head, exasperated. Maybe he deserved this for keeping secrets from Starsky in the first place. Maybe he should've just been honest with him all along. He felt fingers twist sharply in the flesh on his arm.

"Ouch!" Hutch said. This was getting to be a familiar pattern. "Let me guess, I looked like I thought I was dreaming."

"Wrong. You looked like you were thinkin' too much," Starsky said, and then there were lips hard against Hutch's, a hand strong on the back of his neck, and he knew the sensation of falling into something warm and sweet and wonderful. It was as if he'd always known what this would feel like--Starsky's lips on his, gentle as a hand on his shoulder, as familiar as a glance across a room. At this moment there was no longer Starsky and Hutch, but something else entirely, something more and better and absolutely perfect

Hutch smiled as he pulled his partner into his arms, let his hands tangle in dark curls. There were hands at his back, tugging recklessly at his shirt, fingers trailing across ribs and flesh, nudging him backwards until there was a sofa beneath his back and a warm hard body pressed along his.

"Still thinkin' this is a bad idea?" Starsky whispered, as Hutch's eyes flickered open to find a pair of familiar baby blues staring into his. He answered Starsky with another kiss, a joyful moan of surprise caught between their mouths as Hutch pushed against soft lips with his tongue.

He'd always suspected that Starsky knew exactly what he was doing in the kissing department, but even so, he hadn't imagined that the mere feel of Starsky's lips against his, the gentle sweep of his tongue would excite him like this. Starsky seemed to know exactly how to move through his mouth to hit every nerve ending. Hutch could feel his cock stiffening in response, and he let out a guttural moan.

"You like that?" Starsky licked his way down Hutch's neck, tugging his shirt aside to expose the soft skin at the hollow of his throat. Starsky's teeth fastened on him in a long, slow suck, blood welling to the surface in a bright bruise. Hutch bucked up against him, fighting to get closer.

Starsky laughed and tugged at Hutch's t-shirt. It disappeared over the back of the couch along with Starsky's sweater. Hutch kissed Starsky's neck, tracing its slope with knowing fingertips as he pushed Starsky onto his back, careful to slip a pillow under his wounded shoulder. Starsky smelled like sweat and rain, and a little like oregano. Hutch ran a lazy tongue along his skin, stopping when he found a nipple beneath his teeth, almost by accident. Not one to turn a blind eye to fate, he seized on it, sucking it to rosy hardness while Starsky moaned and swore at him under his breath.

"God, Hutch, that's ... fuck ..."

"I never thought we'd make it this far," Hutch said, releasing the nipple, his mouth pressing words into Starsky's skin. He glanced up to see blue eyes watching him.

"I did," Starsky said confidently. Hutch eased back and looked at him incredulously.

"You did not, you ass. You didn't even think about this until your mother ..."

"Maybe I did, Hutch," Starsky said stubbornly, his fingers tracing patterns on Hutch's chest. He struggled to concentrate on what Starsky was saying. "Maybe I just didn't call it what it was, but it was always there. Always. Maybe I just needed a reason to give it a name."

"And that name is ..."

Further conversation was halted by the jangling of the phone. Hutch rolled his eyes and reached for it.

"Hutchinson," he said. He listened for a moment and smiled. "We were just talking about you, Mrs. Starsky."

Starsky sat up, looking like he'd been caught doing something he shouldn't be doing--and yeah, Hutch thought, that was pretty much the case. He felt his own face redden with embarrassment. Somehow it didn't seem to matter that they were grown men; he found himself wondering where his shirt had gone.

"Yeah, Ma? Why you callin' Hutch's place?" Starsky said. "Everything okay?"

Hutch started to slide off the couch to go in search of his shirt, but stopped when he felt a hand on his arm. Starsky shook his head, and pulled him back down beside him. Hutch didn't resist. He'd been resisting for years, and now that he had an open invitation, he wasn't going to give it up. He laid his head on Starsky's shoulder.

"I know it's Friday, Ma, what's that got to ... oh, oh shit, I'm sorry, Ma! I forgot."

Hutch grinned. He so rarely saw Starsky this flustered. Swearing in front of his mother was absolutely unheard of. Nor was it usual for him to forget about his Friday phone call to her. They'd gotten ... distracted.

"No, everything's fine," Starsky was saying, rolling his eyes heavenward. He was sensing that now would not be the best time to mention the bullet the Bay City Emergency Ward had dug outof her son's back just yesterday. "Hutch is fine, too."

Hutch looked at him sharply. Starsky's words had come out sounding a little more lewd than he'd probably intended. The blush confirmed that. "No, Ma, you're not interrupting anything ... why would you ask ..."

Starsky's cheeks flared red. "Ma! ... Okay, okay, yes, you're interrupting ... are you happy now?" Hutch couldn't help but laugh. Starsky punched him in the shoulder, but Hutch didn't care.

"Yeah, okay, Ma ... yeah, I'll tell him ... I love you too." Starsky sighed as he hung up the phone. Hutch tried to get his laughter under control, and meet his partner's eyes.

Starsky quirked his lips and took a deep breath. "She said to tell you you're invited for Christmas."

Hutch nodded as Starsky leaned in and kissed him. "She also wanted me to tell you she got rid of the twin beds." There was a pause. "She bought a double."

"She knows, huh?" Hutch said, laughing warmly. He'd always liked Starsky's mother.

"Oh yeah, she's a smart woman. She knew all along."

"And Dobey and the rookies, and half the guys on the force ..."

"Yeah, well, I'm a little bit slow, but I play a mean game of catch-up," Starsky said between kisses.

"That you do, partner," Hutch said, moving into Starsky's embrace. "That you do."


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