A Time to Hurt, A Time to Heal
by Lucy


SHSVS, Episode 502, Part 2

Back to Part 1

Arturo beat them in the next morning, thanks to a shower taking a little longer than they originally expected. Other than the slight smudges under his eyes to show the results of the recent strain, the young man looked rested.

The three pored over the interrogation reports of the neighbors in the Highland Heights region to see if Major Lotsoff was indeed the best candidate. All three agreed he was. With a concrete plan in place, they knocked on Dobey's door to present it to him.

The captain listened with pleased attention. He agreed to call the major and approach him with the idea to help set up a cover for someone to plant using his home address.

"Okay, who's going under and what will the cover story be?"

"I am," Starsky and Arturo answered at the same time.

Hutch choked on the sip of hot coffee he'd been taking and was coughing loudly as his eyes teared. Arturo reached out and patted Hutch's back as he stared open-mouthed at Starsky.

"These guys are smart, Captain. Physical therapy is their business. I'm sure Arturo could fake something and maybe pull it off, but all they'd have to do is take one look at me and they'd never question a thing. I know I can get Dr. Fielding to go along with the necessary paperwork on her end. It would be above any suspicion. They'd never suspect it wasn't real. We'd be foolish not to take advantage of the...advantage," Starsky reasoned.

Looking at Hutch who was still wheezing and clearing his throat, Starsky added, "Might as well make this work to the benefit of the department, they've paid out enough money in hospital bills and disability payments." His look was begging Hutch to understand.

"No way, no way in hell are you going under alone," Hutch sputtered. together

"What am I, chopped liver?" Arturo asked. "Get Lotsoff to set the cover that Starsky's a son or nephew, and I can be his caretaker on site, or the butler, gardener, whatever hired help you want. It'd fit perfectly. And it would be a lot more believable than anyone falling for the idea of me being related to him. The hired help, they'd accept."

Hutch gave Flores a hard look and he had the good grace to cringe just a little under the force of it.

Dobey looked at the three men in slow succession. "Starsky, you go and talk to your doctor. If she thinks you can handle it and is willing to do the paperwork, I'll speak with Major Lotsoff."

"Captain!" Hutch exploded, having fully gotten his voice back.

Dobey waved him silent. "That's a big if, and if it's a go, we'll take it from there. Get on the phone, Starsky, see if you can reach her." Dobey sat back, tight-lipped until Starsky left the office.

As soon as the door was shut, Hutch exploded again, turning on Flores, "What the hell is the matter with you, are you crazy? Where do you get off agreeing with a hair-brained stunt like this?"

"Hutchinson, calm down," Dobey ordered.

"Captain, you don't know what you're asking, either of you. Starsky won't even take a shower in the locker room if anyone else is in there. You don't know the comments he's made about feeling like he's a Frankenstein with all the scars. Starsky's having a hard enough time coming to grips with what his body looks like after being almost cut in half, and you're going to have him flaunt it in front of strangers?"

"Hutchinson—"

Hutch leaned forward in his chair. "His first physical therapy stint was a disaster. It demoralized him to the point he was ready to give up and not try to come back at all, I just don't want to see that happen again. Captain, please?"

"Maybe this will be just what he needs to find closure in it," Flores offered softly.

"What?"

"Hutch, if he can turn it into something he considers a positive, maybe that will help him accept it being a permanent part of him now. It has a place in his life as a cop. I think, psychologically, it couldn't have come at a better time." Flores met Hutch's angry stare solidly before turning to Dobey. "What do you think, Captain?"

"I see your point, and, Hutch, when you cool off a little, I think you will, too. But until we know how Starsky's doctor is going to feel, this discussion may be a moot one."

Hutch ran both hands through his hair and over his face, "I don't fucking believe this," he muttered almost under his breath. "The board cleared him for light duty, I don't think undercover work meets that criteria. I mean, Starsky's back two days and—" any further comment was aborted when Starsky bounced back into the room. With his grin a mile wide, it left little doubt as to what Dr. Fielding had said. Hutch felt sick, his stomach churning wildly.

"Get me Major Lotsoff's number and we'll see what we can get going. The sooner the better." Dobey reached for the file that Flores handed over with the contacts' names, addresses, and phone numbers. He found the desired one and began to dial.

The bile Hutch had tried so hard to swallow, rose and wouldn't be ignored. With a hand against his stomach and a muttered, "Excuse me," he dashed from the office.

Hutch stood against the bathroom stall breathing slowly to try and quiet his churning stomach. He heard the soft knock on the stall door and glanced down, knowing he'd see blue Adidas peeking under the door. Resignedly, he turned the knob that allowed the door to swing open and Starsky stepped inside.

"You're not doing much to bolster my self-confidence, babe, if the thought of me working as a cop again drives you to this," Starsky motioned with a jut of his chin to the remains of Hutch's coffee and doughnut splattered in the toilet bowl. Hutch spat and reached over to flush the evidence away.

"Starsky...if Hanson is in any way behind any of this, taking him out won't be simple. Hell, he's built like a fucking truck. I don't think I could take him easily. I just don't like the idea that you'll be on the inside with little or no back-up."

"Hey, I'll have Flores, if he's been good enough to watch your back all these weeks and I've had to trust him to do that, can't you trust him to watch mine?" Starsky asked. "You've been telling me all this time how good he is, right?" Starsky reached out to rub across Hutch's shoulders.

Hutch wanted to relax into the touch, but couldn't quite manage it. He stood for a second with his eyes closed and swallowed several times, unsure if he was going to throw up again. He felt Starsky's hand on his face turn him. "If I didn't think I could handle it, I wouldn't have made the suggestion. Dr. Fielding thought it was a great idea, but Hutch, your opinion is the one that matters to me most. I need to know you still believe in me."

Hutch took in a deep breath and let it out, mustering up the courage to open his eyes and look at his lover. "It isn't about not believing in you, it's about loving you so much I can't get past the fear."

"I know. After you got that plague, every time anyone sneezed around you my heart would start the anvil chorus. What did you tell me?"

Hutch smiled at the memory. "Not to treat me like the boy in the bubble. Okay, I get the message. I'll try, that's all I can promise."

"That's all I can ask." Starsky smiled back. "Come on, let's go see what the major has to say about our plan."

They walked back into Dobey's office just as the large man was hanging up the phone. "Major Lotsoff was all for the idea. He said he'd clear his calendar today and tomorrow for us to come by and create our cover story, then we'll get the information to Dr. Fielding's office so the secretary there can call for the PT appointment. Let Starsky go and get established at the rehab center, then see if he gets approached to use some of the in-home services once they see the address. Talk up your uncle's money, art collection, whatever it is. If we can create a convincing trail of temptations to substantiate and get Flores established in the house as well, we'll see what bites our fish take at the bait. Let's get to work, gentlemen." Dobey sat back and the three men slowly filed out the door.

"Hutchinson, I need to see you for another minute, please," Dobey intoned without looking up.

Starsky and Hutch met glances, then Hutch turned around as Starsky pulled the door shut after himself.

"Yes sir?" Hutch asked.

"Sit down, son."

Hutch sat, the churning in his stomach starting again with a vengeance.

"I know you and Starsky have been partners a long time. You've had some rough times, both of you. This last go round was the toughest. But as your commander I sometimes have some tough decisions to make also."

"You're not thinking of splitting us up are you, Captain? I'm sorry about that outburst, I...just was nervous about Starsky getting in over is head too soon, but obviously it's okay or Dr. Fielding wouldn't have given the go ahead. I mean, she's been...."

"Hutch...I'm not planning on splitting you up unless I see there is more of a problem like I did this morning, after Starsky gets completely cleared. I think we both have a good feeling that he will be, and it won't be much longer. I know he'll have to pass a full physical and psychological review, and once that's done, he's cleared, as far as I'm concerned. I'm just asking if you're okay with it? I'd like to assign Flores to ride along with you for, say, another week or so to help indoctrinate him to the department, then I'd like your recommendation about who to pair him with permanently. The two openings are with Tickle and Thorpe, just be thinking which one would be the best match. And, Hutch...give your partners, both of them, some credit. They're professionals, the same as you. Each of you has different strengths and weaknesses, but you're equals in this department. Flores and Starsky were on the same page this morning, their logic was rock solid. You let your emotions knock you off kilter. We both know there isn't any place for that out on the streets, don't we?"

"Yes, sir," Hutch answered seriously.

"I've buried a partner," Dobey continued softly. "I thought it would kill me. I loved Elmo as much as you love Starsky. Our families took vacations together; our wives were as close as sisters. When he died, I spent the better part of an hour holding his dead body. I wouldn't let anyone touch him. "I sat there in that meat plant, in a pool of blood—Elmo's blood—and for the life of me I couldn't imagine why my heart was still beating if his wasn't. It seemed impossible, but that's what went down. I lived and he didn't. There isn't any kind of hurt that comes close to that, unless it's maybe burying a child. You were lucky and got a second chance... I'm glad. I saw myself every time I looked in your eyes at the hospital. I'd have done anything in my power to spare you the pain I felt in losing Elmo. Starsky's healing. It shows. He's getting stronger every day. I'm suggesting that you take some time and look to see where your wounds are, Hutch. You've got some healing yet to do, too. It's time, that's all I'm gonna say. Give yourself the time. Talk to somebody if you need to, whatever it takes." Dobey looked at Hutch and let his face break into a lopsided smile. "Now get out there and let's catch this son-of-a-bitch who thinks he's gonna get away with it one more time."

"Yes, sir. We'll get him." Hutch stood and took a step away before turning back. "I promised Mr. Zychowicz we'd get the ones responsible for killing his best friend. I meant it."

Hutch closed the door behind him as he walked out of Dobey's office and approached his desk where Starsky and Flores were brainstorming. All conversation stopped when he arrived and he cleared his throat, feeling self-conscious.

"Everything okay?" Flores asked, while Starsky searched Hutch's face, seeking his own answer that way, words unnecessary.

"Yeah, he...ah, just needed to remind me about a few details I needed to take care of personally." Hutch's gaze left Flores to settle on Starsky. Dobey's words—"I buried a partner"—a cold echo in his heart. Hutch let his eyes caress Starsky as he wished his hands were free to do and let that contact warm him.

"Okay, we're going to go to Lotsoff's place and set the cover, meet the house staff and get all their IDs run once more just in case. We don't want any surprises," Flores started.

"Then we'll swing by Dr. Fielding's office to pick up the referral slip and have the office set up the initial appointment. Hopefully they can get me in before the end of the week," Starsky's face was flushed with excitement.

"What are you going to do?" Flores asked Hutch.

"I've got a couple of errands to run, then I'll return the ledger stuff we took from the cleaners and, by that time, I'll head home." Hutch patted Flores on the back as he slid past the back of his chair. "Give Starsky a lift to my place and he can pick up his car and let me know what went down with the major, and we'll co-ordinate the PT stuff." Hutch looked up with eyebrows raised in question, "Okay?"

"Yeah, sure. Cook something, I'm broke," Starsky answered with a smile that didn't quite meet his eyes, as he looked back at Hutch with concern before tossing him the Torino's keys.

"What's new?" Hutch fired off with a wave of his hand as he left the squadroom.

Hutch drove directly to the cleaners and left the ledger and personnel files with the employee at the desk who reluctantly signed to receive them. Then, he got back in the car and drove down to the pier near his home. He sat on the hood of the car and watched the water. Small sailboats and a few shrimp trawlers winked at him amidst the sparkles of the late afternoon sun. He closed his eyes and soaked in the smells and sounds, shutting out the freeway traffic in the distance, and concentrated on the warmth of the sun on his face. He let his mind replay Dobey's words to him and realized he had created a door in his mind where he had locked all his fear and anger of the past months since Starsky's near fatal shooting. "You're a fucking time-bomb, Hutchinson, and Dobey knows it. Get your shit together. You're going to have to open that door sooner or later," he admonished himself. "If it comes open by itself...shit, what a mess." He leaned back to stretch out, his head and shoulders resting on the windshield, letting his mind actually picture the door at the end of a long corridor that had haunted his dreams. Feeling his heartbeat speed up he pictured his hand reaching to turn the knob. pier

"I thought I'd find you here."

The sound startled him and he jumped, actually reaching to draw his gun.

"Whoa, don't shoot," Starsky teased as he stilled Hutch's right hand.

"Damn, make some noise, will ya? You scared the hell out of me."

"Sorry. Where were you?"

"I went to Century Cleaners—"

"No, I mean in your head. When Arturo dropped me off and I walked up you never heard me," Starsky interrupted, and he hoisted himself to sit on the hood next to Hutch.

"Just thinking...." Hutch hedged, unsure if he had his feelings sorted out enough to share them.

"About something Dobey said?"

"Sort of," Hutch answered

"Want to talk about it?"

Silence stretched out for much longer than usual before Hutch finally spoke, "Not here, and not right now. I'll tell you when, okay?"

"Okay, if you're gonna be all right until you can spill it. Don't wait too long, babe. I can see it wearing on you. I suspect Dobey did, too, am I right?" Starsky pressed.

"Aren't you always," Hutch replied irritably, then sighed and shook his head. "I'm sorry. I had no reason to snap. Let's go, I'll throw something together for dinner."

Starsky pulled the Torino in behind Hutch's car in front of Venice Place and both men walked up the stairs. Divesting jackets and guns just inside the door, Starsky's arm stopped Hutch's move toward the kitchen and Hutch felt arms slide around him to pull their bodies close for a hug. He wrapped his arms around Starsky and held him tightly, relaxing into the warm hard body. Hutch took in a deep breath and let it out, feeling a modicum of peace accompany it.

"Think we could just stay like this for a month or so until I can get my head on straight?" Hutch asked, his voice sounding tired even to his own ears.

"I'll stay like this as long as you need me to, babe." Starsky leaned tighter into the embrace and turned his face to kiss Hutch's neck. "How can I help you with your head? Am I pushing too hard, trying to take this too fast between us? You having second thoughts?"

"Hell, no, that's not it at all. Where did that come from?" Hutch asked, surprised. "I love you, I love us being together. There isn't any doubt for me on that count at all. I...I think I just need to take a little time to stop and process some stuff, you know? I didn't deal with a lot of what was going down when you got shot at the time it happened. There hasn't been any time since...I just stuffed it. I guess that's where I'm at now. There isn't any more room left to stuff anything else. That's what Dobey was talking to me about, telling me he—" Hutch pulled back and shoved both hands in his pockets and moved to look out into the greenhouse.

Starsky walked slowly up behind him wrapping his arms around him again. "Telling you what?" Starsky pressed.

"Telling me about his partner, Elmo. I guess he was trying to let me know he understood how I was feeling at the time, since he'd lost a partner." Hutch turned to face Starsky. "But I don't care how he felt...I don't care about it now, I didn't care about it then. I was going to get who did it, no matter what. It was the only thing I could do. Do you understand?" Hutch had a crushing grip on Starsky's biceps. "I didn't stop it, I couldn't help you heal, couldn't take your pain away. But I sure could put the hurt on the ones who caused it." Hutch could feel himself start to shake, and saw the fear rising in his lover's blue eyes. He took notice of the bruising grip he held Starsky in and released him, rubbing over the flesh where his hands had gripped so tightly. "I'm sorry, I'm—" Hutch mumbled and tried to turn away again, but Starsky stopped him.

"It's okay, everything's okay now, you can let it go. So you got a little crazy. So did I when I was looking for Callendar, and again when you were trapped in that canyon under your car. I understand. But it's over now. We beat it, just like all the other times. You can let it go." Starsky's arms pulled him close and steered Hutch's head down onto his shoulder, rubbing soothing circles over Hutch's back. "It was tough on both of us, but what we've got now, not only makes it worth it, but it makes it disappear. All the bad, floating away like the smog when the Santa Ana's are blowing. It's all gone, out into the desert where it doesn't matter." Starsky kissed his neck again and nipped playfully at him. "You hearing me? You better be paying attention, ‘cause I'm serious here."

Hutch leaned back with a short laugh. "Starsky, you don't have a serious bone in your body." Hutch gazed down into Starsky's face and fell in love all over again. He cupped Starsky's face with his hands and kissed him, softly, reverently, letting all the tender love he felt for this man to be communicated in the kiss. The gentle passion was recognized for what it was—thanksgiving—and Starsky returned it in kind.

The sound of Starsky's stomach growling loudly broke the kiss and caused both men to laugh again. "I hear you, I'll start dinner." Hutch kissed Starsky again quickly and headed to the kitchen. His rummaging in the refrigerator was cut short when the phone rang.

"Hutchinson...." Hutch turned to mouth "Flores" at Starsky's questioning look. With a nod of understanding Starsky took over the hunt for something edible in the fridge, while Hutch went to a yellow legal pad resting on the kitchen counter. He wrote as Flores talked.

Starsky brought two plates holding sandwiches to the table and made a second trip with a hastily thrown together salad in a large bowl balanced precariously between two bottles of beer.

"Okay, thanks, I've got it. Good job. We'll see you tomorrow. Bye." Hutch pushed the pad aside and rescued one of the beer bottles. "Let's eat and we'll talk about the case after, okay?" Hutch asked.

"Sure. Sorry, there's no tomatoes for the sandwiches, I used them all in the salad. I figured we could use ketchup with the bread better than over the lettuce."

"No contest," Hutch answered with a shudder as both men began to eat.

Once the food was eagerly consumed, Hutch pushed the dishes out of the way, got each of them another beer, and grabbed his yellow pad with the notes from his phone conversation.

"Okay, here's the cover...you are Lotsoff's nephew. Born and raised in New York, your family is still back there, so that part's easy. The only son of his only sister and a career military man, as well. You have just come back stateside after being wounded in Southeast Asia. You, being part of the lingering forces still in Cambodia. You're here for recuperation and debriefing, that will allow for the comings and goings of other people at the household. So Flores will be there as your driver to and from the PT, and largely the visible contact during the day all the time you're there. I'll be there whenever I can, dressed in an army uniform, as well as Lizzie, when Flores needs a break. She'll be under as military also. I don't think we could get in another member of the household staff without raising red flags. I'll try to work it that I'm the one who comes after dinner and spends the night." Hutch looked up at the sound of Starsky's snicker.

"That sounds like an easy thing to carry on a general conversation about. The New York stuff won't be any sweat at all, and unless somebody came from the Ho Chi Mihn Trail really recently, I can fake that from my tour just before the Tet Offensive," Starsky reasoned with a nod.

"Did you get the referral from Dr. Fielding?"

"Yeah, the office set me up for a preliminary assessment appointment this Wednesday. So I can get there maybe twice this week."

"Do you know who you'll be seeing when you go?" Hutch asked warily.

Starsky fished a piece of folded up paper out of his jeans. "Derek Hanson, he's the main physical therapist. I guess he has to do the initial assessments to set up the program."

"Probably. Watch yourself. He's the goon I met when I went by. I don't like him," Hutch replied tersely.

"You don't have to. If he's not involved, he's got nothing to worry about, and if he is, he'll take the fall for it." Starsky leaned back in the chair, balancing it slightly on the back legs as he looked at Hutch and let a slow sly smile curve his lips.

"What?" Hutch asked, looking up and doing a double take at Starsky's expression.

"Just trying to imagine how great you're gonna look in uniform."

The hubbub of activity in the squadroom centered around the too-small desk as the participants each got their schedule for the next three days. Lizzie was wearing the military uniform that had been delivered earlier that morning. She'd insisted on trying it on to be sure it fit properly. Hutch had given his a cursory glance and nodded in satisfaction that the size was fine. He seemed to be working hardest at keeping the flush off his face every time he saw Starsky steal a glance at the uniform hanging on the file cabinet and innocently run his tongue across his bottom lip.

Dobey leaned back from the conferring officers and rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "Okay, let's get going. Starsky, you start looking more like an invalid; Flores, you go pretend to be a home boy; and, Hutchinson, go get a haircut, then introduce Lizzie to the major. Let's get this thing started."

Hutch made a supreme effort not to look at his lover as he reached for the uniform. When he did look up it was to whisper, "Be careful," in Starsky's direction, and, "Stay close," to Arturo.

Starsky patted Hutch on the back as they left. "No sweat, I'll see you at the major's when we're done."

Starsky and Flores went to the police garage and checked out the Lincoln Towncar that was part of their cover, and drove to the San Marcos Rehab Center.

Arturo parked the car, and with a slightly irritated set to his jaw, got out of the driver's side and went around to open the back door of the large car for Starsky. Starsky held out his hand and allowed himself to be stiffly helped from the car, moving slowly and appearing to be in pain. Arturo looked intently for only a second before hiding his smile. "You're good," he mumbled as he shut the door.

"The memory's not so far removed," Starsky answered grimly.

Starsky walked slowly to the receptionist, straightening with a wince when he got to the desk. He rested his file of medical records on the ledge and announced, "Captain David Nussbaum, I'm here for an initial evaluation appointment with Mr. Hanson."

"Yes, sir. If you'll fill out this first-visit questionnaire someone will be right with you." The receptionist offered the clipboard with a smile.

Starsky took the proffered item and went to sit next to Flores while he filled out the pages. Scrawling, "See medical records–Department of the Army" on much of the questionnaire. Starsky signed the forms and started to rise when unobtrusive pressure against his elbow caught his attention, and he passed the clipboard to Arturo for him to return it to the receptionist.

Starsky watched her under the guise of flipping through a magazine and smiled to himself when he noted that she didn't get past the cover page with his address on it before getting up to deliver the clipboard into the office marked, "Administration". Before Arturo had time to get comfortable in the chair, the door to the main office opened and a largely muscled man in casual clothes and a white lab coat stepped out and approached Starsky.

"Captain?" Hanson looked from Starsky to Arturo and back.

Starsky put down his magazine and, staying seated, extended his hand. "Yes."

"I'm Derek Hanson, the manager and lead physical therapist here. I'll be doing your initial evaluation and get you set up with a program to get you back on your feet. If you'd come with me, please?" Hanson turned and walked toward the double doors that led inside the clinic.

With obvious effort, Starsky stood slowly. Arturo reached for his arm to help steady him and Starsky leaned heavily on it. Hanson turned at the doors and watched as they approached, his gaze taking in Starsky's gait and Arturo's level of support.

"I've gotten your medical records and paperwork from Dr. Fielding. She also had your operative report transcribed, but the top of the paper was cut off in the copy machine. What hospital did you have your initial surgery in?"

"A military field hospital in Cambodia, then I was airlifted to Guam. When I was released there, I was flown to my home in New York."

"Yes, I see that's your home address. It's very close to Columbia, a very prestigious hospital. Why are you in Southern California?" Hanson asked, as he indicated Starsky should sit on the table in the cubicle they just entered.

"My uncle lives here and my next duty assignment will be as an instructor with the War College at Fort Ord," Starsky answered as he accepted Arturo's help up on the table, not using his right arm to help himself at all.

Hanson looked through the pages without further comment, then looked up again as if he were still waiting for an answer to his original question.

"I haven't lived at home since I joined the army. Ever try to convalesce around a Jewish mother?" Starsky asked ruefully. "I was only too happy to take advantage of my uncle's offer to come here."

Hanson nodded, as if that was an answer after all, and placed the chart on the shiny chrome counter. "Well, let's see what we can do for you. Remove your shirt, please." Hanson went to the sink and washed his hands as Starsky began unbuttoning his shirt. He could feel his face heating up in embarrassment and hated that he couldn't ‘act' it away. Arturo stepped forward and eased the shirt all the way off his arms and Starsky refused to meet his eyes, not wanting to know what he'd see reflected there.

"Well, I guess the army doesn't issue bullet-proof vests," Hanson remarked, as he looked at Starsky's torso then leaned past him to look at his back.

"When the enemy is using armor-piercing projectiles, what's the point?" Starsky answered sharply.

"How much mobility do you have in your left arm?" Hanson asked as he slowly raised Starsky's left arm in an arc over his head.

"Almost normal, that's not the one that bothers me," Starsky said.

"And the right?" Hanson asked as he moved that arm in the same manner.

"Not much," Starsky hissed and resisted the movement about halfway up. When Hanson released his arm gently, Starsky folded it against his body and held it protectively there with his left hand.

"Are you right handed?"

"No."

"Good...and bad," Hanson replied. "Good that you've had less inconvenience up to this point, bad, because if you were, you would have been forced to use it more and you might have developed more mobility by now than you have." Hanson leaned over to look at Starsky's back again. "Lots of adhesions here at the exit points. The muscles that were torn in the bullets' path out are stuck to each other. That's probably one of the biggest issues. We'll work on it. How's your movement in general? Can you walk, oh, say...up a flight of stairs without getting winded or being in pain?"

"No, walking from one end of my uncle's house to the other makes me break out in a sweat." Starsky gave a short laugh and looked at Flores for the first time since removing his shirt. "Of course, that's a pretty fair distance. If the dog died in there it'd be two weeks before anyone found him."

"Not with how often Maria vacuums," Arturo answered, his uncharacteristic accent very thick. "He'd still be warm."

"Well, let me tell you what I think we can do for you here. I'd like to set up a program where you come in three times a week. We'll do some baseline measurements today, test the muscle strength in both arms and both legs, see what you can lift without pain, and I'll feel what limits in range of motion you have due to the scar tissue. We'll need to try and break some of that up over the next few days, and that's going to make you pretty sore. But no pain, no gain. You're a military man, I'm sure you can appreciate that philosophy. Bring a bathing suit with you for the next visit so you can get in the whirlpool, and invest in a half dozen gel packs that you can keep in the freezer. You'll need to bring them with you in an ice chest so you can put them on when we're done here and keep the swelling down immediately, not wait to ice down until you get back home. It will help keep the soreness down to a minimum." Hanson stepped back and clapped his hands together loudly. "Ready to get started?" Hanson asked.

"I can hardly wait," Starsky replied, the trepidation in his voice completely real.

"Okay, let me go get one of my therapy assistants and they'll get the baseline for me and I'll come back after that and give your muscles a once over." Hanson turned to Arturo, "You can wait out in the lobby if you want...."

"That's okay, I'll stay. The major told me—"

"Fine, just stay out of the way," Hanson said with irritation.

Starsky fought the urge to put his shirt back on and cover himself, and was immensely grateful when Arturo opened one of the cabinets under the sink and pulled out a hospital gown and held it open for Starsky to slip in his arms. "Thanks," he said softly

"I'm cold and I'm dressed, you must be freezing," Flores answered easily

"Yeah, plus no sense in scaring anybody," Starsky replied dryly.

Arturo looked up and met his gaze squarely. "You're not scary looking."

"Yeah, right. I've looked in the mirror."

"It's only scary to you because you remember the horror of what it felt like happening. If I didn't know they were there, I'd probably not notice them at all, as hairy as you are." Arturo spoke softly, his accent gone.

"Take a look at my back, amigo. If I grew enough hair to cover that up, I'd be an ape, and keep the accent in case anyone's close enough to listen and we don't know it."

Arturo walked to the side of the table and lifted away the patient gown for a few seconds then let it drop. He rested a warm hand on Starsky's shoulder. "No wonder your partner is so glad you're alive," he whispered. "He was with you at the time, right?"

"Yeah, he was on the other side of the car. When they came around and opened fire I had nowhere to hide. He warned me, saw it coming before I did, but I didn't even have time to draw my gun."

"Have you and he talked about it?" Arturo asked.

"What do you mean? About the shooting? Yeah, why...did Hutch tell you a different version?"

"No, he never mentioned it at all. There's just some baggage there, that's all. Little things," Arturo offered still speaking softly and with no accent.

"Like what?"

"Like he won't park the car in the garage, no matter how hot as hell it'll be when we get into it in the middle of the day. Looks at every uniform that doesn't smile and speak to him by name, like he's an imposter that's going to pull a knife or something. He's pretty wired most of the time. It's a lot better than it was when we first got together. I've heard from some of the others at the department that it was even worse than that before I came. I nagged him into going to the gym once in a while to wrestle, thinking he needed some kind of stress outlet or he was going to implode. It's been better since you guys came back from vacation, wherever it was you went."

"The beach, a friend loaned us a place. Hutch loves the water."

"Yeah, well, maybe when this case is done, if we don't jump into something else right away, you can get him to go off again for a few days. It did him a world of good, but I think there's still some stuff he'd benefit by talking over. If not with you, then with somebody, maybe a counselor or something. He's not as together as he looks, is my impression. I'd hate to see him decompress at the wrong time." Arturo gave a short laugh. "That's my two dollars and a degree in psychology's opinion, for what it's worth."

Starsky smiled, finally understanding why Hutch liked the man standing in front of him, and he was able to put to rest his earlier feelings of jealousy and resentment. "It's worth a lot and I appreciate it. I'm glad Hutch has had you to watch his back while I couldn't."

"Yeah, well, his back's okay, but I think his head bears a little watching for a while yet."

Any further conversation was aborted when an Amazonian woman walked in and Arturo went to sit, slouched in the nearby chair. She had dark honey blonde hair, pulled back in a braid that hung almost to her shoulder blades. She had to be over six feet tall, solidly built, no fat at all, just big.

"Good morning, my name is Andrea Corbett, I'm one of the PT technicians here. I'll be taking the baseline measurements for Mr. Hanson." She proceeded to set down a small carrying case and pulled out several pieces of equipment, spreading them out on the padded table next to Starsky. She fiddled with the settings on one, then pointed the handgrip end to Starsky's right hand. "Grip this as tightly as you can and hold it."

She reset the machine and repeated the process two more times before switching to the left. After each attempt she made a notation of the numbers in his chart. She went efficiently through the assessment, measuring carefully the angles at which Starsky could move each arm at the elbow and shoulder. Then she handed him a wooden dowel with weights on each end and asked that he hold it away from his body. She gradually added weight to the bar. "Tell me when it becomes too heavy to hold without pain."

Starsky answered legitimately with his left arm, somewhat disgruntled that his chest muscles began to pull painfully at thirty-five pounds. He begged off at twelve pounds on his right side feeling he could have gone higher, maybe not up to the thirty-five of his better arm, but higher, and vowed he'd try it sometime, when no one was looking, to satisfy himself.

"Okay, if you'll follow me, I want you to try a few minutes on the treadmill and see what we get your heart rate up to." She walked out of the cubicle and stood beside the nearest treadmill, adjusting the setting and zeroing the counter.

Starsky looked at the machine like it was covered with snakes. It brought back all the agonizing hours of therapy at the other center where he had felt so discouraged, before Hutch had taken over his rehab and gotten him to Dr. Fielding.

"Step on and I'll start the belt. We'll start off slowly, I'll adjust the incline if you can tolerate it. I'd like to see your heart rate at about 140. You tell me if you get tired or uncomfortable before we get there."

Starsky stepped slowly on the machine, his mind working frantically about how best to fake this part. He all too vividly remembered how miserable his accounting had been the last time he was on one of these, but he and Hutch had come so far. He knew he could fake the pain, but not the sweating and shakes that had once accompanied his attempts. He glanced over at Arturo and saw the man nod fractionally and Starsky relaxed a little.

"Stop before you feel a big cramp like the last time. Yes?" Arturo suggested.

Are you sure your degree isn't in mind reading instead of psychology? Starsky thought, grateful for the out he needed.

He walked for almost six minutes and his heart rate had only gotten above 80. He was getting bored, and Annie Atlas was looking at him quizzically as she increased the incline a second time. Starsky intentionally increased his respiratory rate and coughed at intervals, wiping a hand across his forehead as if it were sweaty, then stumbled gripping his side. Arturo came out of his chair like a shot and actually reached Starsky to break his fall before the therapist two feet away could drop her chart and reach for her patient.

"Let's get him back into the room where he started and he can lie down for a few minutes and rest," Andrea said, as she helped support Starsky on one side while Arturo half carried him on the other.

"Would you like a drink of water, Captain?" Andrea asked once Starsky was seated.

"Yes, please," Starsky answered shakily.

Drinking the offered water he handed back the cup, still guarding his side. "I think I need to lie down." Starsky looked toward Arturo who was already stepping forward to raise his legs and support his neck as he eased down on the table.

"I'll go over your chart with Mr. Hanson, and you rest. He'll be in to talk with you again in a few minutes. Please press the button on the wall if you need anything," she instructed as she left, closing the door softly.

Arturo walked to the head of the table and whispered almost silently. "You really are okay, right?"

"Yeah, thanks for the idea of the cramp, I was wondering how the hell I was going to fake a heart rate of 140," Starsky replied sotto voce .

"It was my own sense of self-preservation. I didn't want Hutch to kill me when I took you back to the major's looking like a limp dishrag." Arturo patted his shoulder and went to sit in the chair he had occupied earlier.

A few moments later there was a soft knock on the door and Mr. Hanson entered. "How are you doing?" he asked. "Had a little problem on the treadmill, I understand. Any shortness of breath in addition to the cramp?"

"Yeah, that kicks in pretty early. There was a lot of damage to the right lung they tell me, plus I had a wound infection and pneumonia as a complication after surgery."

"Not to mention a cardiac arrest, I believe I read in Dr. Fielding's notes," Hanson replied.

Arturo's head snapped up at hearing that. I guess Hutch never did talk about it, Starsky mused.

"Okay, here's what I'm going to do now. I am going to check range of motion like we did earlier with Andrea and her calipers, only I'm going to be palpating along the muscle and connective tissues that allow for each particular movement. I want to feel where the tightness is, then we can target exercises and therapies that will loosen what's tight and tighten up what's loose. Our body moves very logically in a system of pulleys," Hanson explained. "If one is too tight things don't move well, if another affecting that same joint is weak and loose, then that compromises movement even more. I'll find out just what we need to fix. I can promise you the best ultimate outcome that way...but I can't promise that you'll enjoy it." Hanson said, a smirk on his face as he turned from where he had washed his hands at the sink. "Try to relax as much as you can."

Fuck, why do they all say that just before it hurts like hell? Starsky took in a deep breath and let it out slowly as Hanson's hands began manipulating his legs. After a minute or two Hanson rested Starsky's leg down on the bed. "There's a little loss of muscle tone, probably from all the weeks you spent in bed, but that will come back nicely. It is already, I'm sure you've noticed that. Your abdomen is soft, no sign of any incisional hernias to cause problems later. I'll start with your better arm first," Hanson said as he began putting stress on each joint in Starsky's left arm.

With each pull and stretch, Hanson's fingers traced along lines of muscle and tendon, pushing and testing strength and flexibility. Starsky's chest muscles were beginning to protest and he didn't have to fake the winces at all. By the time Hanson was finished, had made the notes in the chart and began to repeat the process on Starsky's right arm, he was sweating for real. The fingers probing in Starsky's shoulder and chest were inciting sharp, hot pains that took his breath away. The last pull with Starsky's arm stretched tightly over his head and Hanson's fingers digging painfully in his armpit had produced a groan and swallowed curse. Arturo stood and moved closer to the bed, his stance every bit that of a Latino street fighter.

Hanson looked up briefly and backed off. "Turn over on your stomach, please, Captain, we're almost finished."

Starsky took a couple of breaths and then shakily pushed up to his elbow on the right side to turn. His muscles were trembling and the effort it took to turn was totally natural. Arturo helped release the binding of the patient gown and sent him a look that said clearly he'd put an end to this right now if Starsky gave the nod. With an almost undecipherable shake of his head, Starsky settled on his stomach and Arturo moved back to the chair.

Mr. Hanson opened Starsky's gown and ran his hands along the ridges of the muscles that had been torn by the large exit holes. Starsky clamped his jaw together tightly hating the feel of the man's hands on him. Hanson took his large hands and, placing both thumbs along the edge of Starsky spine, pressed deeply into the damaged muscles and stretched them laterally toward his ribs. Starsky could feel a sickening crackle of tiny, scarred fibers giving way with the pressure. The searing pain increased with each pass of his strong hands. Starsky held a white-knuckle grip on the side of the table and bit his lip until he could take no more and he groaned, "Stop... damn it."

"Almost done, just a few more and—"

"I said, stop!" Starsky tried turning out of the grip of those powerful hands but was ineffective in doing so. Another pass of those massive hands stabbed him with white-hot pain. He groaned again, and then the hands were gone. Starsky took a relieved breath before he turned his head to see that Hanson was pushing himself up off the floor by the wall where Arturo stood menacingly, blocking his path back to where Starsky lay on the exam table.

"There's a lot of scar tissue that needs to be broken up, this is the only way to do it. I told you it wouldn't be comfortable. I'm trying to help you, Captain. It hurts, that can't be helped. But you need to keep your boy in check. I'm not going to fight you and him, too, is that clear?"

"Let's not try and do it all at one time then, okay?" Starsky grunted as he pushed himself to sit on the edge of the table. "Arturo, I'm okay, thank you, but I'm fine." Starsky looked at the still red-faced therapist. "I think this has been enough for today." Starsky terminated the session, letting the patient gown fall off his shoulders. Arturo was immediately preparing to help him into his own shirt.

"That's fine, you should make an appointment for day after tomorrow, give your muscles a day in between to rest. We'll see you Friday. Ice down everything that's sore today and use heat tomorrow. Any questions?"

Starsky gave a short laugh, "Where the hell will I get that much ice?" He motioned to Arturo and the two men left the cubicle and walked out to the reception area. After securing an appointment for Friday morning at ten o'clock, they walked to the car. Arturo opened the rear passenger door and helped Starsky ease to the seat. The pretence of the help out of the car earlier, evaporated into a real need for the help now. Starsky was in real pain and he knew it showed.

As they drove away, Starsky leaned heavily against the back door and the corner of the plush seat as he drew a shaking hand across his sweaty upper lip. "Pull in a drive-thru. I need to get something."

"You're hungry?" Arturo asked incredulously.

"Hell, no! I need something to take a pill with. That bastard almost killed me and if I go back to the major's like this Hutch will kill both of us, then come after Hanson." Starsky smiled at the weak joke and looking at Arturo's concerned expression suspected the younger man thought he was serious. "Root beer, light on the ice," Starsky said when they pulled to the window.

Arturo paid for the soda, waving Starsky's money away as he handed him the large cup. Starsky drank thirstily as he fumbled a small aspirin tin from his pocket and took out two pills. Tossing them in his mouth he swallowed more soda.

"I hope that was something stronger than aspirin," Arturo offered, turning a dubious look at Starsky when the traffic allowed.

"Yeah, it was. I probably shouldn't have taken two. If I'm falling asleep during conversation, Hutch will pick up on that and it'll be just as bad. I may need you to run block for me."

"How?"

"Keep him busy and let me go lay down for an hour. If I can get still and ice everything down like he said, I'll be okay. He really did seem to know what he was doing, as much as I hate to admit it. He didn't tell me anything the other therapists that I went to before didn't. He's just a little heavier handed."

"Maybe that's the point?" Arturo offered.

"Huh?" Starsky asked, wondering if the pills were hitting sooner than usual and he was a little fuzzy.

"If you're hurting, what would you or your family do? Call back to the place and complain?"

"Yeah, so?" Starsky asked, still not sure he followed.

"So what might Hanson offer? Something to make you feel better? A masseuse to come to the house maybe?"

"Hmmm, could be. Let me sleep on it for a while. You and Blondie talk, and we'll put in a call just before they close this afternoon and see what they offer. Good idea." Starsky closed his eyes and secured the large drink cup between his legs, the weight of holding even that causing his arm to shake. Shit, I hurt! God, please don't let Hutch suspect, he's got enough going on.

Starsky was very relieved when they got to the major's house that Hutch wasn't there. Lizzie was waiting, engaged in an animated conversation with the major in his study when Arturo and Starsky let themselves in the kitchen door coming from the garage entrance and following the voices.

"How did it go?" Lizzie started, then flashing a concerned look from Starsky to Arturo and back she added, "I'm afraid to ask, you look like hell, Starsky."

"Then don't...I'm going to go sack out for a little while. Wake me when Hutch gets here will ya? Flores can fill you in. What room am I using, Major?"

"Guest suite just past the library. You sure you're okay? Do you need to call someone to check you out?" Lotsoff asked, his expression echoing Lizzie's.

"I'll be fine once I can lay down for a few minutes. Do you have any ice I can put in a plastic bag?" Starsky asked.

"Go lie down, I'll bring it," Arturo steered Starsky toward the hallway.

The hall looked ten miles long as Starsky plodded down it, looking for the room past the library. The glance in the first room he came to took his breath away. A huge room with a wall of windows that faced the ocean and a flagstone fireplace in the corner brought back instant memories of the weekend at the beach when Hutch had found him. The weekend that had changed everything between them. The next room was cool and quiet. A large cherry four-poster bed called invitingly and he rolled into it, hesitating only long enough to toe-off his shoes.

The feel of a hand on his chest awakened him and he blinked up to see Arturo with several towel wrapped bags of ice. "I'll go and get some of those gel things like Hanson said you needed. I guess he wasn't kidding."

"No, my friend, he was definitely not kidding." Starsky readjusted the ice to where his screaming muscles protested the most. "Hutch isn't back yet, is he?"

"No, I'm just briefing Lizzie and the major," Arturo answered.

"Good...wake me...." Starsky slurred, his eyelids drooping again.

"I will." Arturo left, closing the door softly and that's the last thing Starsky heard.

Hutch softly opened the guestroom door and looked in. Starsky lay sprawled across the bed at an angle with the corner of the bedspread pulled up over his shoulder. He looked for all the world to Hutch, at that moment, like a gypsy prince. Dark curls surrounded by dark maroon and gold brocade. He closed the door quietly behind him and approached the bed. Hutch gently laced his fingers into Starsky's lax ones, frowning as the coolness of them registered.

"Starsk," Hutch called softly to no response. His concern escalated. Starsky was a hard sleeper, but not in the middle of the day in a strange bed, and not while he was undercover.

"Starsky," Hutch called a bit louder, and two sleepy blue eyes opened and looked at him blankly. A soft smile slightly curved Starsky's lips as his eyes drifted closed again only to snap open almost immediately

"Hutch, you're here," Starsky slurred, blinking hard and giving his head a slight shake to wake up. "How long have you been here? What time is it?" Starsky turned over slightly and winced, then coughed slightly to hide it.

Hutch pounced on the gesture with both feet. "I've been here almost an hour. Lizzie and Arturo insisted on a bullshit gabfest, now I see why. What did you take, and why?"

"What? I don't know what you're talking about. Lizzie and Arturo were talking to the major. Hell, how many times can you listen to his war stories? I came in here to take a nap."

"Your pupils are pinpoints, you took something for pain. Did that gorilla hurt you? He did, didn't he?" Hutch went on without giving Starsky a chance to answer. "That sadistic son-of-a-bitch, I'll kill him. And where the hell was Flores, he was supposed to—"

"Hutch, stop it! Flores was right there with me, the whole time. He ran block just fine. Hanson got rough and I couldn't take it anymore, Flores knocked him on his ass when he wouldn't stop after I told him to. He did just what you would have done if you'd been there. And stayed in character doing it." Starsky grimaced again as he fought to unwrap himself from the heavy bedspread and sit up. "What the hell is the matter with you?" Starsky asked raising his voice. "Hanson may be who we're after, we don't know that yet, but regardless, he's no different than any of the other therapists. He didn't tell me anything that they didn't. Gave me a hell of a more thorough going over than any of the others did. Said there was scar tissue in my back muscles that needed to be broken up. We knew that. He said it would hurt doing it, I've been told that before, too. So where are you coming from?"

Hutch stood, fists balled and breathing heavily unable to make his voice work to answer. Starsky eased off the bed to put his arms around Hutch and draw him close. "Talk to me, please? I'll be a little sore, that's all. It probably did me a lot of good. When the soreness goes away, you'll see." Starsky pulled back to look at Hutch's face. "You can't wrap me in cotton, babe. I'm not made that way...and you wouldn't want me if I was." Starsky smiled and kissed him quickly. "You hungry? What's the plan?"

Hutch tightened his arms around Starsky and just held on for a moment, eyes closed, fighting wave after wave of the familiar ache in his chest. The one that had been there since that midmorning in the garage. Reminded of Starsky's question, Hutch answered, "The major's grilling steaks by the pool. He said there were bathing suits and pool towels in one of the drawers in here, to help ourselves. The pool's 72 degrees. Anything warmer than that is bath water and not fit to swim in. The jacuzzi is 112, if it doesn't fry your balls it can't help ya," Hutch did a fair imitation of the salty military man. "Feel like a swim would help?" Hutch asked, searching Starsky's face for signs of pain.

"Yeah, it might work a little soreness out," Starsky admitted, accepting the skimpy suit Hutch handed him as he went back to choose one for himself.

"How come I get the Speedo and you get the long surf's-up one?" Starsky asked as he shinnied into the small suit.

"'Cause you've got the better ass, and I get to ogle it," Hutch replied, drawing the string tight around his waist, then tossing a towel over his shoulder and another to Starsky.

"Is Flores still here?" Starsky asked wrapping the towel around his shoulders and reaching for a clean t-shirt out of his overnight case and slipping it on with a groan.

"No, he went home. Lizzie's here, though. I think she's enjoying all the attention she's getting from Lotsoff."

"He's old enough to be her father, isn't he?" Starsky asked.

"Probably, but they're getting along just fine." Hutch smiled, knowing he hadn't quite successfully thrown off the mood of earlier, but trying.

"Let's go, we may need to protect her virtue," Starsky joked.

"I think she can take care of that on her own."

Starsky laughed, his hand halting Hutch just inside the door for a quick kiss. "I love you, did I say that today?"

"Yeah, this morning in the shower, but it's good to hear right now." And I need to hear it, Hutch thought.

The barking sound of the major's voice carried from the kitchen as they came out of the guest room. Starsky and Hutch exchanged glances before rounding the turn out of the hallway. Lizzie sat at the table nodding her encouragement at the tirade. Hutch turned questioningly to Starsky when he let out a groan, then tuned back in to the conversation.

"I'm spending good money to have him get the best of the best. That's how you came recommended. What the hell did you do to him today? He hasn't been out of bed since he got home. You're supposed to help him, not put him back flat on his back and taking drugs again, damn it."

Hutch stiffened at hearing the conversation and felt the earlier bubbling rage threaten.

Starsky reached for his arm and leaned closer to whisper, "Flores had the idea to complain and see if they offered any in-home treatment to help. I didn't get a chance to tell you that was the plan. I take it no one made it a part of the gabfest while I was sleeping?" Starsky looked hard at Lizzie who had the grace to blush as she shook her head and mouthed, "Sorry."

"Well, I think that's the least you can do. I want somebody over here first thing in the morning. I've got some business to attend to and I'd like to come home and find my nephew not worse off for the treatment I encouraged him to get than he was before he had it. Are you crystal clear on that, Mister?" Lotsoff shouted, and looked to Lizzie who was silently applauding his performance. "Good." Lotsoff hung up the phone sharply and Lizzie jumped out of her chair with a whoop.

"That was perfect!" she squealed. "Wasn't he great?" she turned enthusiastically to Starsky and Hutch.

"Yeah, that was great, you'd have gotten my attention," Hutch answered.

"What did they offer?" Starsky asked, fervently hoping it wasn't more therapy by Mr. Hanson.

"They're going to send a massage therapist over to do a gentle massage to help with the soreness caused by the overly vigorous treatment today. I didn't lay it on too heavy, did I?" Lotsoff looked to Starsky with the question. "Detective Flores said the guy was pretty brutal."

Lizzie ducked off the chair and busied herself with putting ice in glasses on a brightly colored tray. Starsky glanced far enough toward Hutch that Hutch was sure he'd caught his tight-lipped expression. "No, you did great, that was just what we wanted them to think. It was perfect." Starsky smiled and looked out toward the pool. "Man, those steaks smell great. This is really nice; we certainly appreciate your wonderful hospitality. Usually when we go undercover it's in a place where we need to take bug spray. Right, Hutch?" Starsky asked, obviously changing the subject.

"Glad to do it. Anything I can do to help catch the persons responsible for the crimes in this area. It's a quiet community, kinda boring actually, but everyone here got here the hard way, worked for it, and they don't deserve to have anybody steal it out from under them and murder their family in the process. Stan is a good man. He's lost without his wife, and it breaks my heart. Catching these guys won't bring her back, but there is a certain modicum of peace that justice brings."

Hutch raised the glass of iced tea Lizzie had handed him in salute, "Amen to that, Major," he intoned solemnly.

"I hope you don't mind eating a little early. I have tickets to the hockey game tonight. It's a box. We can all fit if you'd like to go?" Lotsoff looked expectantly at the three officers as he reached into the fridge to get out the large bowl of salad.

"I think in case anyone's watching the house, Captain Nussbaum and his attaché should stay here, but by all means you go ahead. Liz, you like hockey if I remember," Hutch enthused, and he saw Lizzie's eyes light up.

"I do, I love hockey, but if you have other plans to take...?"

"Liz, I'd much rather take you with me than the stuffy naval commander I usually go with. Let's eat, and I'll drive you to your place on the way to the Forum so you can change." Lotsoff opened the sliding screen door to the pool area as Lizzie floated past him. With a glance back to Hutch and Starsky, he winked, "You guys make yourself at home, and don't wait up."

Hutch smiled and Starsky chuckled outright as they moved with their glasses out to the deck to wait for the steaks to finish cooking.

Dinner was delicious and filled with pleasant conversation. Considering Starsky's military background, and the major's stint in the military police, there was enough common ground to make everyone comfortable. Hutch helped Lizzie clear away the dishes and encouraged Starsky to get in the jacuzzi. After Lizzie and Major Lotsoff left, Hutch went back out to the deck; Starsky was lying on one of the lounge chairs watching the stars wink out as it got darker

"I love this time of day," Starsky spoke as Hutch got closer, bringing a couple of beers.

"Why? It looks just like dawn and you hate that," Hutch teased.

"That's because it's morning and I have to get out of bed. Right now the day's getting ready to go to bed, everything is finished and quiet and peaceful. With dawn everything is just getting started...it's going to get busier, not more peaceful. Why do I think you can't see the distinction?"

"The glass is half full, or half empty, wasn't that the analogy you used once?" Hutch asked as he straddled the lawn chair to sit behind Starsky, easing him back snugly against his chest.

"Yeah, and you held me then, too," Starsky remembered aloud, tucking Hutch's arms around him and lacing their fingers together.

"We need to plan for tomorrow. I want Lizzie or Flores close to you when whoever it is comes out here for therapy, but not so close they feel they're too carefully watched to nose around if that's what they would normally do. I can't be here at all, they would recognize me from when I went by there to question Hanson."

"We'll take care of it. It'll be fine. Let's not think shop right now. It's too beautiful here, and we've got the place all to ourselves for hours."

"Yeah, Lotsoff said not to wait up, maybe we should go to bed real early," Hutch whispered as he nuzzled against Starsky's curls. "There's a TV and a VCR in the guest room... want to sit on that big bed and watch a movie? I noticed a lot of tapes in the library. I don't know what they are, but surely we'll find something."

"I'll go pick out a movie, you lock up. Give me a boost up, my shoulders are killing me." Starsky's voice sounded like he hated to ask for the help. Hutch obligingly helped support his lover upright and balanced him as he stepped over the end of the lounge chair.

Hutch locked up and gave the alarm box for the grounds and front gate one more check before going into the house to see what the feature choice for tonight was.

Hutch looked at the plain box with the letters, "Baby Blue," written neatly on the side, then raised his eyebrows at Starsky. "What's it about?"

"I don't know, but it reminded me of you. I've got, "Blazing Saddles," too, if this one's a bust." Starsky handed Hutch the tape and peeled off the dry but skimpy bathing suit, turning the covers back on the big bed and rolling in with a groan.

Hutch's back stiffened at the sound of the groan, but he made no comment. He pushed the tape in and hit play, fast-forwarding past the advertisements to get to the feature's start. As some blurred images of the ads flashed past, Hutch got glimpses of more skin than one usually saw, and all the bodies seemed muscular. Stopping the fast-forward, he stood slack jawed at seeing two men together on the screen. He turned to Starsky seeing much the same surprised expression mirrored there. The ad passed and the feature began, an obvious male hooker in a dark alley waiting for a John was the opening footage.

"Fast-forward a little and get to the good part," Starsky suggested sitting forward.

"You want to watch this? We can see this any evening down on Venice Beach." Hutch started to press stop.

"No wait, let's watch just a little." Starsky asked.

"Why?"

"Research," Starsky replied shyly.

"What?" Hutch turned fully around.

"You ever do it in the back door with Van?" Starsky demanded hotly.

"Me? You've got to be kidding. I had to bribe her with jewelry to get a blow job when she was on the rag," Hutch answered.

"Okay, I haven't done it either. I was just thinking it might give us an idea, that's all."

"Did you watch porno flicks before you made love to a girl?" Hutch asked, not sure why he found the prospect so irritating.

"Yeah, didn't you?" Starsky replied with a sly grin.

"I grew up in Minnesota, they'd self-destruct automatically coming across the state line," Hutch said.

"Is that why you always wanted to meet Huggy at that—" Starsky's comment was cut off by the throw pillow from the side chair hitting him squarely in the face.

The two men laughed and Hutch reluctantly crawled in bed leaving the VCR running, sound almost non-existent. They kissed and touched, not paying much attention to the movie at all until something caught Starsky's eye and he turned his attention back to the screen. The young male hooker was naked and in bed with a John who was treating him gently and with consideration, giving him uncharacteristic pleasure rather than just taking his own since he'd paid for it. The John was lubing his fingers and gently probing the young man's anus to loosen it in preparation for penetration. The young man, obviously liking the sensation was pushing back eagerly on the older man's hand. At the younger man's insistence that he was ready, the John poised behind the hooker and slowly entered him. The camera giving a bird's eye view as the young, tight ass swallowed up the impressive-sized cock with ease.

"Why do I think it would take a lot of practice for it to really be that easy?" Starsky asked, as he stared transfixed at the screen, the bedclothes tented up over his raging hard-on.

Hutch was equally affected by the sight and reached to wrap his hand around Starsky's hot length, stroking him smoothly with the exact timing of the two on the screen. Starsky watched and went with what he was seeing and feeling as he arched up into Hutch's hand. "So good, God, I love the way you do that," Starsky breathed, turning his face to take Hutch's mouth in a hungry passionate kiss. Hutch kissed back and pressed his own hardness rhythmically against Starsky's hip. Starsky threw the sheet back out of the way and grabbed at Hutch's shoulders as he moved faster in Hutch's grip shouting out his climax before he fiercely sucked Hutch's tongue. Starsky fell, relaxed into the big bed with a groan, his skin bathed in a light sheen of sweat and the faint post-coital blush that Hutch loved to see.

Hutch kissed over his chest and neck, still nudging at Starsky's hip with his hardness. Starsky reached to grab Hutch and stroke him, catching a glimpse on the screen of the younger man rimming the older one and he fumbled with the rhythm. Looking again he raised up on his elbow and slid off the end of the high bed.

"Where are you going?" Hutch asked, panting a little frantically.

"Slide down here a little," Starsky encouraged as he stood at the foot of the bed between Hutch's long legs. "My arms are too sore to lean on."

"Starsky, if you're hurting, you don't have to—" Hutch began.

"Shut up and scoot."

Hutch shimmied down as directed, and Starsky wrapped his long fingers around Hutch's length and guided him into the hot wetness of his mouth. Hutch groaned out his pleasure as he felt his toes literally curl. He raised his head to watch Starsky's mouth on him, also catching a view of the two men on screen. Starsky eased his mouth almost off Hutch's shaft to twirl his tongue around the head. Taking Hutch's groans as encouragement Starsky eased all the way off leaving with a kiss. Locking his eyes with Hutch's, Starsky took his index finger and put it deeply in his mouth to wet it, then drew a wet bead with the finger down the underside of Hutch's bobbing cock and beyond. Hutch felt himself swallowed back in the wet sucking heat of Starsky's mouth, yet the finger continued down. It was lightly tracing the skin separating his balls to rest under them, and went on to draw feather light touches around his anus, each circular pass pressing inward ever so slightly. It was driving Hutch crazy. He raised both his legs up, holding his thighs behind the knee to give Starsky more access. He wanted more, more of himself in Starsky's hot mouth, more of those inflaming touches at his center. He pressed downward with each pass of Starsky's finger until it slipped inside the tight ring. Hutch thrashed his head back and forth as he bit his lip, wanting not to come yet, wanting all these incredible feelings to last.

"Oh, God, babe, that's so good. More, push in more. I want to feel you deeper. Oh, my God." Hutch growled in pleasure as Starsky complied.

Without any warning Starsky's finger passed over something inside Hutch that sent an exploding shock straight to his dick. Hutch shouted and Starsky jumped back sliding off a little until Hutch pressed down and reinserted the finger in deeply where it had caused such mind-blowing sensations. "I'm not sure what you did but please don't stop. Oh, my God, I'm gonna...no, no, not yet, oh, man...push in me, God, Starsky, push now!" Hutch screamed and bucked down hard on Starsky's hand and drove his cock up into the waiting mouth, and was taken by the most powerful orgasm he could ever remember. It left him shaking all over, and when he finally risked opening his eyes he saw his lover still resting between his limp legs looking incredibly pleased with himself

"Someone told you I listed you as the beneficiary of my life insurance and you're trying to kill me," Hutch panted.

"You're a liar. I've been your beneficiary for years, that ain't nothing new." Starsky laughed and with a groan at his sore muscles he crawled back into the bed to cuddle close to Hutch. "How was it?" Starsky asked.

"Unbelievable. There aren't words to describe it. I've never felt anything like that, ever." Hutch tightened his arms around his lover and kissed the top of his curls. "I love you...more than anything."

"I love you, too, Blintz. Think you can sleep better tonight than you've been sleeping?" Starsky asked.

"You aren't planning to sleep in the other guest room are you?" Hutch asked, his voice already lowering.

"Hadn't planned on it. I shut that door when I came in here. I doubt the major will peek in any doors to tuck us in."

"Then I should sleep just fine," Hutch mumbled, almost asleep, only half noticing Starsky was still watching the TV.

On to Part 3

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