The Unforgotten
by Sarah Problem


SHSVS - Episode 503, Part 2

Back to Part 1

Hutch lay stretched out on Starsky's bed, hands folded behind his head. He wouldn't have minded some company, but Starsky was busy digging through his closet.

Starsky had called Tina Kidman and gotten the particulars from her before they had called it a day at the station. Asher's was a bar just down the block from the rehab center. It was one of the few buildings in the area that was flat, had low curbing and wide doors that made it easier for the handicapped to get to on their own. It got a bit of its traffic from those who had been to, or were still going to, the rehab center and had become the meeting place for the "Bay City Heroes." They were an informal group of guys who'd worked in law enforcement, the rescue services, or Vietnam. All had been injured in the line of duty and had found their way to the center. They weren't a large group; about fifteen in all, but all were disabled enough that most had been unable to return to any sort of active duty. Most were retired and on pensions.

Starsky had been invited to go, several times, but had never accepted the invitations.

You barely even got to know them, yet you feel guilty for not being there for them when they died, Hutch mused while watching his lover try to find the right clothing for the evening. I wish I knew what to do to make you feel better, buddy, but you know as well as I do that you had your own burdens, and secrets to carry. You left that place at a bad time, and it's not your fault you lost touch. Guess I'm not the only one around here with a touch of "survivor's guilt."

But it doesn't seem like we can get away from it, can we? You haven't even been back on duty that long, and this is the second time you've had to revisit the struggle you had to make it back, the second time you've had to use the shooting and the scars to work a case.

And it still tears me up inside to see you dragged back there, when all I want is for both of us to forget it ever happened.

Hutch sighed quietly, glad that Starsky wasn't paying any attention to him.

Starsky had gone through the hanging clothes in his closet and was now pulling folded items from the shelves at the top. He was looking for the largest shirt he had, but Hutch was fairly certain that most of his "oversized" clothing wasn't so oversized now that Starsky was almost at his proper weight. The closet side of the bed was covered in rejects, and Hutch could only be happy he didn't have to pick up after his partner anymore. The room was looking like a thrift shop had exploded with no survivors.

"Ah, ha!" Starsky threw down a blue, button-down shirt that had come from somewhere in the back. "I knew I had that put away somewhere!"

Hutch sat up and grabbed the shirt that had been thrown over his feet. "Where did you get this?" He knew even before he held it up that it must be a size and a half too big for his partner, especially considering the fact that Starsky liked his clothing skin-tight to begin with. "I can see why I've never seen you in this one."

Starsky grabbed it away from him and started to strip. "My Aunt Lenore sent it to me for my birthday one year when I was back visiting Ma. She never could get any of her nieces and nephews' sizes right."

It certainly makes him look...thin. Too thin.

That had been the plan, to find clothing that would camouflage the healthier weight and build that Starsky had worked hard for. After the shooting he had lost a lot of weight and muscle mass, and even his skin-tight favorites had hung off him like clothes on a line. With the clothing, and the disguise kit Hutch had stopped off at his place to get, they would make Starsky look as if he hadn't made much, if any progress since anyone at the rehab had last seen him.

Starsky turned around and modeled the outfit for him. The jeans were about half a size too large and with the shirt tucked in, it made him look much thinner than he really was.

"I hate it," Hutch said sharply, meaning it.

Starsky gave him an understanding smile. "Like a little meat on your lover's bones, do you?"

"Yeah, all those bony edges on you would have cut me to pieces. Guy needs a little something to grab on to when things get interesting." At Starsky's snort Hutch sat up and waved him to the bathroom. "Come over here and let's get this part over with." The disguise kit was still on the counter where he had left it. "Sit down on the john and I'll see if it's possible to make you any uglier."

"Hey!" Starsky said with mock indignation as he sat, holding his face upwards. "I'll have you know that I turned more heads than you ever did, even on my worst days."

"Well, I guess I can't argue that some people do have the unfortunate tendency to stare at those who were born with a natural tendency for ugly," Hutch said as he mixed a couple of colors of grease paint together in the palm of his hand. "Some parents just need to teach their kids better manners."

"Oh, you mean like the kind of stares you get? Yeah, I can see where a mug like yours would scare a few years' growth off a kid. Wouldn't want that."

"Real funny. You're just killing me here. Now, will you shut up and hold still, already? I don't want to get any of this in your eyes."

Hutch very carefully dabbed the mixture on the area just below Starsky's closed eyes. By the time he got through with him Starsky would look gaunt, tired and a little frail.

And what was scaring him was that he still had such a vivid image in his head to work by.

As long as it's pretend, Starsk. As long as it's only pretend and I get to wash it all away before morning.

Later, when they were safe at one apartment or the other for the night, he would just have to remind both of them just how frail Starsky wasn't.

It was still fairly early in the evening when Starsky walked into Asher's, alone. If he were to try to convince anyone he was having a hard time getting back on duty and fitting in, it wouldn't work if his partner were sitting on a bar stool next to him. This evening was for Starsky alone, no matter how much Hutch disliked the idea.

He wouldn't dislike it so much if he didn't think there was some danger, Starsky mused as he entered the place. At least he believes me when I say something feels wrong about all this.

From the first glance around the dim room he didn't get the feeling there was any real menace in this place. It was clearly a bar that lagged behind modern times and yet seemed comfortable with the fact. The air was filled with smoke and the walls with black and white pictures. Some were of celebrities, some seemed to be class or group pictures. The bar itself had a scratched but fairly clean wooden floor, wood paneling and a bar to match. The area behind the bar was covered in bottle after bottle of all kinds of liquor that gave off the air of rarely being touched while several prominent beer spouts looked as if they were kept busy. There were several booths along one wall, tables and chairs in the center of the room along with the regulation bar stools, and as far as Starsky could see, nothing electronic, such as pinball machines, television or even a radio that would distract from your drink or conversation.

The bar was fairly full for this time of night. About the same as The Pits would be, but the crowd was a bit older and definitely less hip than Huggy's place. This was more a place where the blue-collar guy came straight from work to down his beer and talk, before he had to put in an appearance with the wife and kids.

Starsky stood for a moment in the entrance to the main room, looking around uncertainly. Tina had told him that all she knew was the place and time the Bay City Heroes met, so Starsky was looking for someone he recognized.

It wasn't until the crowd cleared a little that he saw the wheelchair at a table to his far left, and he felt a smile cross his face when he recognized the back of the occupant. Taking a better look, he found he recognized five of the guys sitting around the crowded tables.

Taking a deep breath he walked closer, hoping that someone would look his way. He made sure to move carefully, as if he were afraid to be bumped, holding an arm vaguely up and across his middle.

"Well, lookit who's here!" Came the loud, booming voice of Taylor Puckett, and was the trigger for the whole corner of the bar to turn and look at him. The elderly man with the false leg made up in volume what he lacked in speed. "Dave Starsky! Well, and here we'd thought you'd forgotten about the rest of us gimps."

Starsky smiled and waved at all the verbal welcomes and the smiling faces. He walked up to the table and nodded at the people who were crowded in together. A few of them he didn't know.

"Thought I'd drop by and touch base," he said, smiling warmly at them all. "Been a while, huh?"

"Well, sit down, young man," Taylor ordered, getting up and scooting his chair to one side, signaling for everyone at the table to do the same. "You sit on down, Dave, and let us know what's been goin' on with you. You sort of disappeared on us there."

Starsky sat down across from Taylor and gave his beer order to the waitress who was waiting impatiently for him to settle. "Nice to see you guys again."

"Well, it's nice to see you, Dave. If you pardon the expression." This time the speaker was an older black man who sat on Starsky's left. Oliver Delaverson was an ex-marine who had lost his eyesight in an explosion overseas, just when Vietnam was getting to be a hot spot.

"Nice to see you, too, Oliver."

"Don't lie to him, son," John Iverson admonished. "He's damn ugly and he knows it. Never nice to see his ugly mug."

The rest of the table laughed as blind Oliver unerringly gave John the finger, a smile on his face. "Look who's talkin', man!"

Starsky smiled at John Iverson. John was an ex-cop who had been badly cut when he'd been thrown through a glass panel in a fight with a suspect. There were three other men Starsky didn't recognize, but he knew Donald O'Neill from a few short conversations, and Fred Stokke who was on Starsky's right. It had been Fred's wheelchair that had caught Starsky's eye. He nodded in their direction but noticed that Fred seemed bored with the whole exchange, and Donald seemed as if he weren't paying attention to anything but his beer.

"Hey, Dave, how ya doin'?" John asked. "Where'd you disappear to? You still workin' to get back on the force?"

Starsky shrugged and reached for the bowl of broken pretzels in the center of the table. "Therapy wasn't goin' so hot, you know? So my doctor decided to pull me out and I got thrown on to desk duty. Guess they thought they'd get some use outta me rather than put me on disability." Starsky gave them a slight smile, but the thought itself was enough to fuel the sadness behind it.

Those at the table stayed quiet for a moment, and Starsky felt the heaviness of it like a curtain surrounding them from the rest of the bar customers.

How many here would have given their eyeteeth to go back? And how many of them went back only to find that things really could never be the same? And here I am, play-acting what they've had to deal with for real.

It could have been my reality. It came so close....

"Sounds like it's been a big adjustment, huh, kid?" Taylor Puckett asked, empathy in his eyes. "Must be a hell of a change, from guarding the streets and taking down human garbage to...."

"R & I, pulling files," Starsky answered, smiling at the waitress as she placed a beer in front of him. He smiled at her but she didn't meet his eyes, only jerked away from him as if he were contaminated somehow, moving off as quickly as possible. He tried to turn his attention away from the snub and back to the men at the table. "From promising detective to glorified filing clerk in less than a year. How's that for progress?" Starsky heard despair in the words even as he said them.

It came so close....

"You gotta remember that you're lucky to be alive, son," Oliver said softy, a large, dark hand finding his arm and giving it a squeeze. "Be thankful for that and what health you do have."

"That's right!" John announced, holding up his own half-empty beer. "At least you're still on the force, doin' some good. You gotta remember that."

"I'll try," Starsky said, then took a sip of his beer. "I guess there's gotta be some blessings somewhere."

And I wish he was here with me, he thought, a bit relieved when one of the others started a different topic of conversation. This is going to be a long evening.

Hutch lay on Starsky's couch, much too awake at the late hour to be able to drift off, but too tired to be able to keep his mind on a book or the late night/early morning movie rerun that flickered across the TV screen. Hutch found himself watching the flicker of television light reflect off of all the angles and sharp corners of the room, while his mind continuously wondered what Starsky was doing.

I should have gone with him. Should have found a way to go. I hate waiting like this.

He knew Starsky was right. It wouldn't do much good if he were to pretend he was lonely and depressed if he had his partner there with him, babysitting. While Hutch hadn't really met any of them, there was too much of a chance that he'd be recognized as Starsky's partner if he tried to go in undercover.

Depressed and lonely, huh, Starsk? Why choose to go in that way? Your whole argument has been that the suicide victims were coping well, so why insist on that cover for yourself?

Hutch had to admit he didn't understand Starsky's certainty when it came to the deaths of those men. Not that there was anything for Hutch to understand, from his perspective. When Starsky was going to therapy Hutch had thought it best to wait for him in the parking lot, only going in once or twice to meet him. He'd known that Starsky had some friends inside, had exercised with some of them, shared conversations in the locker room and pool areas. He had hoped at the time that Starsky was finding a way to share some of his feelings with others who were in a position to understand his pain and fears on a firsthand basis. He had thought at the time that a healthy, whole partner hanging around Starsky's therapy sessions would have put too much pressure on Starsky's recovery.

Next time you'd better leave your psychiatric shingle in the trash where it belongs, Hutchinson, he admonished himself. I should have trusted my first instincts and convinced him to leave sooner. When he needed me there, I wasn't with him to urge him on, and he was too proud to come to me with the truth.

They both had learned a hard lesson, and Hutch consoled himself with the memory of how things had turned around when Starsky had been taken out of the rehab center and the two of them had worked out together.

If I hadn't realized what was going on, he'd probably still be at that place, instead of with me.

Hutch shifted a bit on the couch, reaching down to take one of the discarded cushions and hugging it to his chest. Intertwined with all those bad memories were those of their getting together, of their becoming more than just friends and partners. And their first time as lovers....

It was those memories that relaxed him, made him wish that the pillow in his arms was his lively, healthy, dearly beloved friend that was there with him now. Hutch buried his nose into the cushion, hoping to find some of Starsky's scent.

He smiled at his own indulgence. He could easily go to Starsky's bed, which was more their bed than not anymore, and indulge his imagination there. Unfortunately there was no telling when his lover would return home, and he wasn't interested in getting himself started only to have to finish on his lonesome.

He'd done that too many times in the past to feel anything but empty afterwards.

The sudden sound of an engine outside caught his ear, and Hutch smiled to himself. Getting up, he checked the clock as he walked to the door. It was not yet 1:00 a.m.

There was the rattle of keys at the door so Hutch pulled it open to find a tired, haggard and frail looking Starsky on the other side.

"Welcome home, lover. Come in and get warm."

Starsky closed the door before stepping into his arms, pulling Hutch close to him.

Hutch held him tight for a moment, smelling the scent of bar, beer and theater makeup, then pulled away just enough to look into Starsky's face.

"Tough night, huh? Find out anything?"

Starsky smiled, then moved away and headed toward the kitchen. "Right now I want coffee, but don't dare. Not if we're going to get any sleep tonight.

Hutch followed him to the kitchen, where Starsky pulled out a soda and some cheese, making a quickie sandwich. "I learned a lot about what's been going on with most of those guys. It was hard to play ‘the cripple', Hutch. I've got a damn lot to be thankful for, ‘cause I could've been a lot worse off. Makes me feel a bit ashamed that I was only threatened with the loss of a career when they've lost so much more."

Hutch felt his mood grow serious. "Starsk, I—"

"No," Starsky interrupted around a bite of sandwich. "It's okay. The problem is that I still have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that something's wrong. Those guys didn't commit suicide, Hutch. I feel that even stronger now. So..." Starsky looked up at Hutch, his eyes serious. "I've decided to follow this for awhile."

"You know Dobey won't—"

"I know he won't. There's no evidence. Nothing to get him to reopen those files. But I can't back off now. Not with my gut screamin' at me like this. So there're some things I gotta do."

Starsky, chewing on the last of his sandwich and sipping his soda, headed toward the bathroom.

"Do? What do you mean?" Hutch watched his lover's retreating form suspiciously, following him into the bathroom.

"I'm going to go for broke on this, Hutch." He took out a wash rag and the cream to remove the makeup, studying himself in the mirror as he prepared to wash it all off. "I'm going to talk to Ashley in R & I and have her cover for me if anyone calls asking about me working there. I'm going to talk to Crazy Rex and get him to rent me one of those dumpy, rat infested apartments he's got downtown and move into it."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Hutch felt as if he had been totally forgotten somewhere in the conversation. "What went on tonight?"

Starsky stopped scrubbing to look at him with a bit of apology in his eyes. "I've got to go under for awhile, Hutch. I have this feeling that I need to live like I've lost almost everything, that I'm broke with hospital bills, in debt and not really doing well enough to ever get back on the streets. And I don't think they'll get the right impression if they come over to visit me here, at this address. I've let them think that I'm on my last legs and hitting bottom."

"All on your own and ripe for...what? What do you think is going on?"

Starsky looked at himself in the mirror, and Hutch wondered what it was he saw. "I'm not sure. It's just a feeling, as if.... I...I don't know." Starsky sighed, then continued scrubbing. "But I've got to go with my gut on this, Hutch. I'll understand if you don't want to be a part of this."

"Shut up, will you?" Hutch snapped. "I may not like it, but I can see you've got your mind made up and it's too late to argue. You know we'll still have to keep up on our regular cases, no matter where you're living?"

"Yeah, but I'll survive. It's gonna be a financial drain to keep up two apartments, but Crazy Rex owes us enough favors that he'll just have to cut me a cheap rate. I can get some used furniture if he doesn't have anything furnished."

Hutch just shook his head. I should have known he'd want to go all the way with this one. The only thing is to let him do what he feels he needs to. I hope we can find the answers he feels are out there.

Starsky finished washing the makeup off his face and started to strip.

"So, wanna borrow my car?"

Starsky laughed, sharp and sudden at the suggestion, and Hutch loved the look of amused disgust on his face. "Hell, no. If nothing else I've got enough pride to try to make my car payments. By the time I get down to driving your kind of cars they can take me away for real."

Starsky turned the shower on, one hand under it as he stood there naked, obviously waiting for the hot water to come up.

"Starsky," Hutch asked quietly, eyes taking in Starsky's beauty, feeling left out. "Do I have a part in this?"

Starsky turned toward him, a slight smile on his face. "Why don't you come in and join me? I'll tell you while we're gettin' ready for bed."

Hutch had showered earlier, but quickly disrobed and stepped in behind his lover. Taking the shampoo bottle from Starsky's hand Hutch started to wash Starsky's hair, knowing how much they both enjoyed the project when shared.

"Tell me," Hutch said softly, just over the sound of the water spray as he played with Starsky's soapy curls. "What are you looking for? What did you learn? How do we handle this and what do we do about ‘us' in the meantime?"

Starsky was soaping up the rest of his body, head up and eyes closed, obviously enjoying the attention. "I'm looking for a killer, and I'm not sure of the motive. The guys who died were part of that group and met pretty regularly. Most of the others there seemed to be in a bit of shock at the fact that they missed out on warning signs from the deceased members. There were a couple of guys there that didn't seem to believe it was suicide any more than I did, but they're not saying it straight out."

Finished with the sudsing, Hutch gently pushed Starsky toward the spray and waited while Starsky rinsed his hair out. Hutch stepped up behind him, pressing their wet bodies together as he spooned up behind Starsky, hands reaching around to wash the thick, silky hair on his chest and stomach.

"I don't know what else the three had in common, but I have the feeling that if I can get into their good graces I'll pin down what's bothering me. And as for you...."

Starsky turned around, skin like warm, slick silk in Hutch's arms. Deep blue eyes looked up into Hutch's, and he could tell Starsky knew he was unhappy. Hutch was hugged firmly and he relaxed into the embrace.

"You are my ex-partner, getting on with your life since it's become pretty clear I can't keep up with you anymore. But you're my friend, who comes by a lot, tries to pull me out of my downward spiral. So you spend time over at my place, helping me pay my bills, which only makes me feel worse. You can come and look me up while I'm at the bar with the others, and try to keep me from drinking so much. You could see if you can find a helping hand among them, asking them what you should do, what advice they have. You want to help, and I'm letting you to a certain extent, but not without cost to my pride."

"So, I get to visit this sewer of an apartment you live in?"

"Stay the night on occasion," Starsky smiled, leaning over just enough to place lips on Hutch's chin. He nibbled at skin for a fraction of a second. "We'll tell Dobey it's a girlfriend's place so he can try that number when I'm not here at home. In case of emergency. We'll have to find excuses to run by Venice or here for quick lunches and bouts of bed wrestling."

"But why the poverty, babe?"

Starsky sighed. "If I'm looking for a killer, they're not going to buddy-up to a cop who's at the top of his game. If I seem down and out, off my feed so to speak, then maybe I'll become a target if they think I'm an easy kill. If not...." Starsky looked at him with a hint of a crooked smile, moving his hips slightly so that their growing erections rubbed and pressed across each other. Hutch could feel the heat build up between them as he pushed back and knew his whole body was starting to flush. "Then maybe the others will feel better about talking to me if they think I'm worse off, emotionally and financially, than they are. It won't seem so strange if I'm trying to come to terms with the suicides if the others think I may be thinking the same thing."

Hutch nodded, seeing the logic in what Starsky was saying. He ran his hands up Starsky's wet back, running his fingers carefully over the scars. "Okay. I give. But I don't have to like it."

Starsky gave him a blinding smile, then leaned up and kissed him quickly on the lips. "C'mon, cowboy. Lets go in and cheer each other up, then pretend that we're getting some sleep before we hav'ta get up."

Hutch slapped a firm, round ass cheek as Starsky stepped out of the shower, turning toward the still-warm spray.

Now's no time to mother-hen him, Hutchinson, Hutch thought in self-reproach. He's the best cop there is, and if he's got that feeling, then the best thing you can do is remember he's an adult and makes his own choices. You never would have grown to respect him otherwise.

Starsky padded barefoot, still slightly damp, into the front room to switch off the television. He quickly made his way back to the bed and slid in on "his" side, listening to Hutch as he finished drying in the bathroom.

I'm glad he isn't fighting me on this, Starsky decided as he settled himself in what he hoped was a seductive pose, sheet up to his middle with it just starting to tent over his interest. He rubbed himself through the sheet, wanting it to be as obvious as possible.

I don't know if he knows how much it means to me that he'll trust me to go with my instincts on this. It's going to be a strain to do our regular jobs and then have to stay in character on our off-time, let alone the fact that we won't have as much private time for each other as we used to.

He knew Hutch wouldn't be happy with the arrangement, but he also knew that it was important to them both that they trust each other's decisions. Especially the ones made when they were apart. And right now Starsky needed not only his partner's trust, but his loving as well.

The light under the bathroom door disappeared even before the door opened. Starsky looked for Hutch's outline as he came into the bedroom and stood beside his side of the bed. Starsky knew Hutch could see his outline in the dim light from the digital clock.

"Looks like you've gotten started without me," Hutch said, his voice deep and taunting. "Guess you don't really need me after all."

"Like hell I don't! Get over here, you big idiot, and I'll show you just how much I need you!"

Hutch chuckled deeply in the dark, the warm, happy sound filling up the room and wrapping around Starsky's heart. How he treasured that sound.

"Always with the sweet words, right, lover? Such a romantic."

The dim light from outside and the small amount of light left in the room always seemed to find and caress Hutch, so that even in the dark he was never totally invisible. Starsky felt his cock pulse as the large, golden glinted shape came toward him. He could see Hutch a bit better as he put one knee on the bed and swung his other over Starsky's thighs. Starsky reached up to touch Hutch's smooth chest when his hand was intercepted and placed back at his side.

"Not yet, lover."

Starsky relaxed, taking a deep breath and letting it out, keeping his arms at his sides. Whatever Hutch wanted to do would be wonderful, Starsky knew. When Hutch gave he gave, enjoying the giving as well as the taking.

Hutch settled his weight carefully across Starsky's thighs, supporting himself so that Starsky didn't feel uncomfortable. Starsky could see by his outline that he was looking down at the tent that did nothing to shelter or hide Starsky's interest in him, but only emphasized the fact. He felt strong hands at his hips, on top of the sheet. One hand moved and Starsky jumped at the sudden sensation of pressure at the tip of his cock. Hutch was rubbing him softly through the fabric.

Starsky hummed his pleasure, sighing as Hutch moved to maneuver his cock through the sheet to lie flat on his stomach. Careful hands molded the fabric around his cock and balls, then fondled him softly as if creating a sculpture. Starsky closed his eyes and relaxed, enjoying the indulgence of the personal attention and the sensual feel. The firm rubbing turned into a massage, long fingers splaying over his erection and up over his stomach, gentle fingertips touching, then disappearing, over the edge of the sheet.

Starsky's stomach trembled at the fleeting feel of skin on skin. The hands then moved away from his covered cock, moving sideways to rub and knead at his hips and around to the side of his buttocks. Hutch shifted and Starsky opened his eyes just in time to see Hutch's silhouette move and the details of his face became clear for a second, before there was only the glow of blond hair and the soft touch of lips on Starsky's largest scar.

"Hutch...." Starsky whispered softly around the thick emotion that filled him whenever Hutch paid special attention to the reminders of his death and return to life. There was a part of him that didn't like the scars touched, that wished fiercely that they didn't exist. That part nagged a little softer, mourned a little less when Hutch made them seem to be good things, happy omens of a life that was longer than it might have been.

Velvet lips traced careful kisses up his middle and then to each individual bullet scar, making Starsky's body feel like he was melting and wired all at the same time. By the time Hutch got up to his neck, Starsky was gripping the bed sheets as if he were going to rip holes in the mattress itself.

"Hutch," Starsky breathed into the silky curls that caressed his chin and neck where the lips had yet to touch. "I gotta touch you!"

Letting go of his death grip Starsky wrapped his arms around Hutch, throwing all his strength into rolling them sideways into the center of the mattress. He loved it when he could use his full strength and not be sure he would come out on top.

Heart pounding in his chest, Starsky's mouth found Hutch's, and he could almost taste the excitement that was echoed in the hard erection bobbing wildly against his through the sheet trapped between them. He invaded the willing mouth in his need to return the delicate pleasure that Hutch had given him as Hutch's hand roamed his back and ass, pinching, pulling and stroking. Pressed firmly together, their hips flexed back and forth in the minute space between them, grinding their cocks across each other through the fabric.

From erotic pleasure the sheet grew to be an obstacle, so Starsky reached down and pulled it from between them. The feel of skin on skin was almost like a shock.

He could feel the leaking of pre-cum and could not tell, nor did he care, whose it was. He could only grind harder against Hutch as the space between them grew slick.

Hutch tasted intoxicatingly of warm lips and sweet tongue as Starsky explored the hot mouth, savoring the taste and slick texture of him. Hutch sucked his tongue in and tried to swallow, then they fought a new battle in which Hutch was the winner and his tongue explored Starsky's mouth. They took turns at the battle until Starsky pulled back slightly, enjoying the feel of their harsh breaths as they mixed in the small space between them. They were both panting now, both breathless and hot.

Starsky sucked a bit of curved lip into his mouth and nibbled at the seam between lip and skin, moving down to chin and then up to the curve of a well-shaped jaw.

"S-Starsk!" Hutch moaned the name deeply, as if the sound came all the way from his toes. Hutch's hands were frantic at Starsky's ass now, pulling, kneading and gripping them in large hands that still could surprise Starsky with their size and gentleness. "B-both of us. Both!"

Starsky knew what Hutch wanted. Pulling away he sat up to switch positions so his face was at Hutch's crotch. Hutch moved down so that Starsky would have room to stretch out.

The musky smell of Hutch at full arousal mixed with his own scent, making Starsky gasp at the heady combination that hit him. Hutch's tongue licked the underside of his cock from tip to balls.

Fighting the urge to give in to pure sensation he put his own tongue to Hutch's cock, in the same manner, and heard/felt Hutch's groan in response. Starsky tasted pre-cum, still damp skin and that part of Hutch's scent that translated into his unique flavor. He welcomed the mixture as erotic, sensual and a totally natural answer to some primal need within him.

Remembering how Hutch had responded the last time, Starsky sucked hard on a finger, wetting it with saliva, and rubbed it along Hutch's wet cock. He traced back behind Hutch's balls then, circling the puckered opening even as he took the head of the straining, still-leaking cock into his mouth. He ran his tongue over the slick, hot glans as he tried to ignore the pulling and sucking of his own cock into Hutch's mouth.

He kept his finger moving in tender circles, feeling a slight tinge of fear behind the excitement as Hutch echoed his ministrations. The warm, slick digit that traced behind his own balls and circled his own center was a shocking feeling. He'd had women play with him there before, but this was different. This was more than foreplay between them, and Starsky shivered at the feeling of excitement touched with a small amount of fear at this barely explored area of lovemaking between them. To penetrate, and be penetrated, was something they both seemed to be approaching cautiously.

Starsky kept up his caress of Hutch with mouth and finger, finding it harder and harder to concentrate with Hutch's actions at his own backside. Carefully, he pushed into Hutch's center up to his first knuckle and tried to relax as Hutch mirrored the action.

He wasn't sure how to react to a strange intruder, never having had anyone enter him like this. The sensation of pulling and pressure were strange, but behind it his nerves were singing at the attention.

Close! Oh....man...so close....

Half of his mind was already gone at the double massage of cock and ass, and he fought to keep up so that Hutch received as well as he gave. Neither went very deep inside the other, too many other parts called for attention. Starsky felt himself relax at the unusual sensations, trusting that Hutch would be careful. Could he go further? Could either of them give themselves that way to the other?

The raging fire that ran through his groin and up to his chest tingled and pulled at the building pressure that was screaming for release. Starsky couldn't give in to its primal urgings, needing to make sure that Hutch was with him when it happened.

He worked harder now, sucked deeper, laved the spots he knew drove Hutch crazy. Noises of passion and desire wove around him and Starsky was past being able to separate one voice from the other. His own body was pulling him down into that deep, bottomless well of completion, screaming at him to thrust into that hot mouth that loved him so that they could join permanently.

He had enough of his mind left to feel the change in hip movements and pulse of the cock that filled his busy, moving hands. Hutch was growing tense to the point of snapping, muscles hard and tendons straining in what Starsky knew was his lover's impending release.

Now! It's gonna be....

Hutch bucked hard, filling Starsky's mouth with straining flesh, and froze as Starsky felt his cock suddenly swell a fraction more....

Noooooooooowwwwwwww!!!!

Starsky, barely aware of the pulsing stream at the back of his throat, lost his fight on reality as his own electrified nerves pulled him into the whirlpool of completion. His body sang its joy in the fulfillment of passion and with the pulling and straining of sexual release. His body tingled deeply, humming with life that spread from his groin and pelvis to his chest and arms, as he emptied himself into Hutch. He was barely aware of Hutch's pulling out of his mouth, leaving the taste of cum at the back of his throat and on his tongue.

Starsky relaxed his mouth, letting the softening organ slip from his lips, savoring the fact for just a few seconds more that Hutch still held on to him. His body was humming warmly, sweetly relaxed and sated. He knew that until he moved, Hutch would hold him forever if he wanted to. But it was enough, for now, so Starsky pulled back slightly and Hutch relaxed and let Starsky slip away as well.

Breathing deeply, Starsky let every muscle in his body relax, enjoying the bone-deep feeling of satisfaction and the tingle of afterglow that was pure pleasure in itself. He moved only slightly, bending his knees as he lay, still facing Hutch, so that the top of his thighs touched the top of Hutch's head. He could feel the soft blond mass against the hair and skin of his legs. Hutch did the same and Starsky smiled at the vision of their sixty-nine ending in a weird sort of shape that was not really a circle but felt like one all the same.

Starsky dozed for a few minutes, keeping sleep at bay. He didn't want to fall asleep this way, wanted them to both be under the covers after wiping off with the towels in the nightstand. He needed to check the alarm so they wouldn't be late for work and wanted to be face to face with Hutch when he woke the next day. The best mornings were when he could wake and see Hutch's face, and he didn't want to waste that opportunity.

Just a few more minutes, he graciously granted himself, an ear to his lover who was already snoring, but who was also at least facing the right direction.

When he finally could move, to complete his tasks and fall into the dark cavern of sleep, he gave Hutch one last kiss on his full lips before snuggling close and letting himself go.

Hutch sighed to himself as he paced the dingy, drab room. Starsky's "new" place hadn't been new since the turn of the century and it showed. The apartment actually wasn't the worst Hutch had ever seen, but it wasn't someplace where he would want to spend long periods of time. Yet using up time was all Starsky had seemed to accomplish since moving in several weeks ago.

He sat down on the old, used sofa after finally deciding to turn on the TV. He and Starsky had gotten off work several hours ago and had agreed to meet here. His partner had had to do some shopping in the area so may have gotten caught up in a conversation with someone he knew.

Hutch had not enjoyed the past few weeks at all and had been fighting an urge to call a halt to the project. Not that it was something unusual or unexpected in their jobs for them to be away from home for long periods. Nor was it as if they'd been living together before this case.

But they had no back-up on this and it was beginning to wear them both down to a dangerous level.

He missed being able to really be off duty after work and missed spending private, quiet time with his lover. Sex had become frantic trips to either one's apartment during lunch or a quickie at Starsky's real home when he needed to pick up something, and a quick "christening" of this undercover place. When the newness had worn off the location and the circumstances, Hutch found he missed the long evenings together, both before and after sex. He bitterly missed waking up with Starsky in his arms. And the room itself was starting to unnerve him.

It's kind of scary, Hutch thought as he looked around the small living room/kitchen area. To think that a guy can get blown out of the water and end up in much worse places than this.

He grimaced a bit at the thought, remembering his and Van's first apartment. They had married during the summer break between their junior and senior years at college, and they had been hard pressed to find a place to live out of the dorms. Their first apartment hadn't been more than this place was, yet to him it had seemed wonderful. A pretty wife, a part-time job on the side to pay the rent and feed them while their parents continued to pay for their schooling, and Hutch had finally felt as if he'd reached adulthood.

Even when she knew it wasn't a permanent home she hated that place. It wasn't what she was used to or what she wanted. I couldn't understand why she was so ashamed of it. Now I can see why she felt it was such a step down. When you've had better, it's hard to go back and adjust.

He remembered those days, how angry and upset she had been. It had taken him too damn long to realize it was all about money and social position with Van, to understand why she thought he was such a failure. They both had been too blinded by their own expectations to see each other clearly.

Guess we were both fools then. Too damn young to know what love really was.

When he pictured Starsky in his mind, all those old wounds Van had left felt well-healed. Starsky didn't give a rat's ass how much money he made or who his friends were. He wasn't sure what it was that Starsky saw in him, why he loved him or what it was about the two of them together that always seemed to have the sparks flying. All he knew was that he thanked heaven for it.

A knock at the door startled him, he had been so deep into his thoughts. Getting up to answer it Hutch saw an older man, gray hair and beard, with well-kept but obviously out-of-date clothing. He carried a brown sack in one hand that had the unmistakable shape of a bottle. He seemed startled at Hutch's appearance.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I'm Taylor Puckett. I was looking for Dave Starsky."

"He's not here right now. I'm waiting for him myself." Hutch gave the man an obvious once-over and kept his face severe. "If you want, I can let you wait for him. He should be here any second."

And so much for being together for awhile tonight, Hutch thought sadly as he stepped back and waved the older man in. But Starsk needs to either find something or get this out of his system, and if this guy can get this show on the road then it'll be finished that much sooner.

Mr. Puckett looked uncertain for a second, then nodded and hobbled his way into the room.

Hutch knew about him and his missing leg. He also knew that Mr. Puckett acted like a stepfather to all those in the Bay City Heroes group. Starsky had been talking to him a great deal about the suicides.

"I don't want to bother you." Puckett patted the package. "I'll just put this on the counter."

"You won't bother me," Hutch said shortly. "I'm just here for a word with my ex-partner, then I'll be off."

"Oh, so you're Hutch?"

Hutch stuck out his hand, realizing he'd forgotten to introduce himself. "Yes, that's me. Guess you've heard about me from Starsky?"

"A bit. Now and then." Mr. Puckett sat down heavily on the sofa. He gave Hutch a big smile. "Dave and I have gotten to be pretty good friends lately."

Hutch nodded. "Good to hear that. I'm afraid I don't get to see him as much as I used to. Working the streets keeps me pretty busy."

He heard keys jangling just outside the door and hoped it was Starsky. He didn't want to mess it up by talking to Puckett too much. He didn't want to inadvertently blow Starsky's cover by a careless word.

Starsky grabbed at the keys as they slipped out of his fingers, barely catching them as his armful of groceries shifted and threatened to fall. It had been a long trip to the store and back, and moving as if he were tired and frail had made it even longer. He was glad to finally be back so he could relax and have some quiet time with Hutch.

Before he could even straighten up Hutch opened the door.

"There you are. Hope you don't mind me coming by, but I needed to talk to you about something."

The formal tone of Hutch's voice told him that they were going to be overheard. Starsky saw Taylor on the couch as soon as Hutch turned to let him by.

"I let your friend in."

"Hey, Taylor! Be with you in a minute!" Starsky put on his best smile for his visitor while feeling a little frustrated that it looked like his and Hutch's evening was off.

This is what I wanted, to get to know these guys better. I just hope Hutch understands.

As he looked toward Hutch, who was shutting the door behind him, Hutch winked at him out of the corner of his eye.

"What brings you both by?" Starsky asked, setting the bag down carefully on the counter and making a show of straightening up slowly.

"I just need a quick word," Hutch replied swiftly. "In private, if you don't mind. Then I've got to be going."

"Okay, uh...in the bedroom, okay?" Starsky flashed Puckett a smile. "Just be a second. Make yourself at home."

He followed Hutch into the bedroom, where the door was hardly shut before Starsky found warm, demanding lips on his own. He accepted the kiss with relish, pulling Hutch to him in a fierce hug. Both broke it off quickly. Starsky could see in Hutch's eyes the regret that must have matched his own.

"Figured I ought to let you two have the evening," Hutch whispered. "I knew you said you really wanted to talk to him."

"Yeah, I do. Sorry about dinner, though."

"It wasn't dinner I was looking forward to." Hutch's eyes twinkled, a slight smile on his lips. "But I guess I'll have to call it an early night."

"Maybe I'll be lucky and Puckett will have the clue I need." Starsky reached a hand up to cup Hutch's face. His thumb stroked his cheekbone gently. "Guess it pays to have someone who understands just how frustrating this job can be."

He saw Hutch's eyes grow soft, then back to teasing.

"Yeah, just wish it paid better at times," Hutch said poking Starsky in the ribs.

They both laughed a bit awkwardly.

"I'd better get going, or he'll start to wonder why we're in here so long."

"I'll just tell him that you're concerned with the fact that I'm not doing well at work and that I still owe you some money."

"You always were lousy with a checkbook." Hutch gave him a wink and headed for the door, and Starsky watched as Hutch's demeanor changed from resigned but happy to frustrated and stiff before he left the room. It was only half a second before he was slamming the front door behind him.

Now for the floor show.

Starsky walked in to the small living area and nodded at Puckett. "Want to share dinner? I make a mean plate of spaghetti."

"Sure, if you don't mind." Puckett shifted and Starsky could tell his leg was giving him trouble. "I could always use another meal."

They both laughed at that, and Starsky started to put the hamburger on to fry. "What brings you around?"

"Just dropping by to visit, Dave. Thought we'd get to know each other better."

"Sure nice of you. Gets a little lonely being by myself all the time."

The television filled in the silence for a few minutes. Starsky started the water to boil and put the rest of the groceries away. It wasn't until then that he really noticed the brown bag on the counter. He picked it up and peeked inside.

"You bring the wine?" Starsky knew it must have been Puckett's

"Oh, yeah. Thought you might want to kick back a few tonight."

"Thanks." Starsky set it on the tiny table over in the corner. It had only two chairs, but that had been all he had needed so far. "We can save it for dessert."

A couple of days passed and it became harder and harder for Hutch to hold his tongue. Starsky was clinging stubbornly to the case, as if admitting there was nothing to his instincts was something he couldn't face.

But it was wearing them both down to a frazzle. They were both tired and as each day passed with nothing new, Starsky looked more and more worn and fragile. Hutch knew he wasn't far behind, unable to sleep until Starsky called him each evening. The longing for his presence made each call almost more torture than it was worth. Yet each time Hutch tried to bring up the subject of putting the case behind him, Starsky would shift the conversation to something else. Pretty soon something was going to have to break. Tonight felt like the night.

Hutch walked into Asher's for the first time, not sure what to expect. Starsky hadn't told him much about the place other than the "Heroes" hung around and talked a lot. Standing in the entryway he took a minute to look around and get the lay of the place. On first impression it didn't look like anything special. Nothing special at all.

Don't know what I expected, Hutch mused. As much time as he's spent here the last month you would have thought I'd have had some kind of idea of what the place is like.

Looking through the smoke and the moving, boisterous crowd, he saw the top of a pair of crutches that were leaning against the far wall. Winding his way through the crowd, he finally spotted Starsky sitting with a beer at a table with four other men. He was moving toward them when Starsky looked up and spotted him.

The look on his face was like a punch in the gut.

Starsky was not happy to see him.

Putting on his best blank face, Hutch walked up to the table and tried not to see how easily Starsky seemed to ignore his approach.

"'Bout time I found you," Hutch announced loudly. "Gotta talk to you."

Two pairs of eyes sized him up, and Hutch wondered if either of them recognized him. Taylor Puckett, who was sitting next to Starsky, glared at him. Starsky just nodded, eyes on his glass.

"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet my ex-partner. Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson."

The look on the unfamiliar pair told Hutch that this seemed to mean something to the two, something that didn't speak well of Hutch's reputation. Puckett nodded at him politely, but his demeanor didn't change.

"Nice to meet you. Starsky, we've got to talk."

Starsky nodded. "Sure. Why not?" He got up from the table slowly, as if his very bones ached. The small traces of makeup that Starsky had learned to apply in a way to give him a slight pallor was undetectable, even when Hutch knew it was still there.

It hurt to see him. Hutch had to force himself not to move toward him and help him through the maze of chairs.

Old habits die hard. If they ever die at all.

What was scary was that Starsky had been pushing himself too hard, staying up too late, drinking too much, not eating enough good food. Even during the day, and in those few minutes of private time they'd managed to share, it seemed to Hutch as if Starsky's recovery had taken a reverse. Some of the exhaustion and weariness Starsky now carried with him wasn't being faked, and it angered Hutch more than he was free to admit.

Without a word Hutch followed Starsky outside. He didn't turn toward Hutch until they had walked to a corner of the building, away from the foot traffic of the doorway. Hutch could tell Starsky wasn't happy.

"You're gonna blow my cover in there!"

"What cover?" Hutch snapped angrily. "You've just gone in as yourself, for heavens sake! And by the way, if you'd been following the script you had written for this whole scenario I would've been here to take you home and dry you out once in awhile, remember? Looks like you've forgotten to tell me that I'm the bad guy in this situation."

Hutch could tell his words hit home. Starsky relaxed a little, but still didn't look very pleased.

"Okay, point taken. But I was getting so close—"

"Yeah, I'm sure. Just like all those other nights you come home, this close." Hutch held his thumb and forefinger a scant inch apart. "You've been that close to cracking this case for weeks now, Starsky."

Starsky's face blanked, and Hutch recognized that stubborn look from years of experience with it.

"Why are you here, anyway?"

"Narco has a big bust coming up tonight, in about five hours. Some big shipment is coming in at the docks a couple days early and they're scrambling for back up. Dobey's been calling all over for us to come in on this."

Starsky nodded, looking resigned. "Okay then, I'll go and make some excuse to the guys and meet you there."

Hutch nodded shortly, turning toward his car when Starsky grabbed at his arm, stopping him.

"What did you mean, that Dobey was calling all over for us? Where have you been all evening?"

Hutch turned to look Starsky in the eye, letting his anger show. "Aren't you the one who's been telling me for weeks not to come by your ‘apartment' in case one of your friends is there? Didn't you tell me that I shouldn't ‘wait up' for you anymore? Well, guess what? I haven't been."

Jerking away from Starsky, Hutch strode to his car before he was tempted to say anything else. He knew he shouldn't when he felt so angry.

What am I doing? Aren't I supposed to be supportive? Why is this bothering me so much?

He wasn't sure if the problem was more than missing his lover, pining for his friend, or feeling like his partner was starting to shut him out.

I don't like the way this is playing out. We need to talk, babe, before we start losing track of each other. This can't go on forever.

The drug bust had gone without a hitch, and from Hutch's perspective it hadn't even been very interesting. He and Starsky had been placed at the far end of the action, ready to snag anyone trying to escape down a back alley. Listening to the radio exchanges, he and Starsky had been ready when it went down. There had been a few shots fired but no one moved toward them. By the time they'd been called in from the fringes there wasn't much left to show for a high-dollar drug bust, just a lot of happy cops and a few flashing lights.

Which was the way it should look when things go well.

Between the two of them there hadn't been an extra word said. There had been little time between arriving, getting updated and being put into place to say much. Then, in the alleyway, it was too dangerous to think about anything else but the job.

But just before it all broke loose, Hutch had looked at Starsky and found him looking back across the darkness that separated them. Starsky had given him the thumbs-up sign, Hutch had blown him a kiss and they both laughed, easing some of the tension Hutch had felt between them. They had quickly agreed to meet at Venice Place as soon as the bust was over.

Now, as both of them walked up the stairs to Hutch's apartment they were still quiet, but at least Hutch didn't feel as if a volcano were ready to explode between them. Just a mildly upsetting earthquake.

He waited until the door was closed behind them, Starsky standing in the middle of the room but not looking at him, before speaking.

"I think it's time you pulled the plug, Starsk."

"Well, I don't."

Hutch sighed and walked to the kitchen to get a pot of coffee started. If he didn't do something he was afraid he was going to get loud. If he was going to convince Starsky of anything, he knew that arguing wasn't going to help him any.

"Look, it's been weeks now," Hutch said, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, but hearing it none the less. "I know you haven't found anything because you've been shutting me out. If you'd had anything I'd have known about it by now."

He slammed the lid on the pot almost savagely and plugged it in. Turning, he saw that Starsky had gone to look out the window.

"Are you trying to prove you're Superman now, Starsk? It's not enough that you survived when you should have died? Not enough that you've beaten the odds, over and over, to get your life back?"

"I don't know what you're talkin' about."

The statement had been harsh. Starsky hadn't turned to look at him, his shoulders set back stubbornly.

The stance, the attitude, rubbed something raw inside Hutch. Striding over, he grabbed Starsky's arm and tried to turn him around. Starsky barely budged, but the eyes that met Hutch's looked as angry as Hutch felt.

"Don't you give me that, damn it! Contrary to what those people in that ‘club' think, I'm still your partner! I know you, Starsky! I can see how much this means to you but I can also see that we're asking for trouble! Ever since you've started this case you've been doing double duty, spending all your off-time trying to dig up some scrap of a clue on this case, burning the candle at both ends."

He let go of Starsky's arm at the same time Starsky tried to jerk it out of his grip. Starsky's eyes were flashing.

"I'm doing my job, Hutch! Isn't this what I worked my ass off to do? To follow my instincts?!"

"Yeah. Yeah it is," Hutch responded quietly, turning both hands palm-up as a call for truce. "But you know as well as I do that we can't work miracles! There comes a time when we have to cut those feelings off, put them on a shelf and try to forget about them before we wear ourselves out. And I'm telling you right now, Starsky, that this case is going nowhere at this point, and beating your head against the wall isn't going to do either of us any good!"

"It's my neck, Hutch." Starsky looked at him then, as if he were looking at a stranger. "Would you have said this last year? Would you be saying this now if we weren't lovers? Is that it, that somehow I've got to be cushioned and coddled? You have to protect me from the big, bad world out there ‘cause I'm never going to be quite up to your standards?"

"Damn it, Starsky! You know that's not true! I wouldn't still be your partner if you weren't able to cut it!"

A strange look of sadness crossed Starsky's face. "If you believe that, you're deluding yourself, lover boy."

Anger hit Hutch like a tidal wave and he stabbed his finger in Starsky's direction. "Now you listen a moment! You've got nothing to prove to me, whether you believe that or not. And you can spend the rest of your life butting your head up against that wall of your own free will, but don't expect me to be standing behind you, giving you shoves to make the impact hurt even worse. I'm telling you the truth here, whether you believe it or not." Hutch lowered his voice, almost whispering in his anger. "If you couldn't have made it on the street I would've been a desk jockey along with you. Or we would've been out altogether. But if you think I would've stood by and let you go back on the street if I didn't think you were able to keep out of the way of another bullet then you'd better think again!"

Starsky turned to look back out the window, and Hutch could tell he was still angry and didn't want to hear what Hutch was trying to say.

"I've trusted your instincts so far, buddy. Can't you find it in you somewhere to trust mine when I say you're pushing the limits?"

Starsky looked at him with what looked like consternation behind the anger and stubbornness.

"I can't give up now, Hutch! Don't ask me to!"

Starsky strode to the door and Hutch stood his ground. He wasn't going to yell anymore.

As Starsky opened it he turned just enough to look at Hutch as he paused.

"You never did say where you were tonight so that Dobey couldn't find you right off."

Hutch sighed, not understanding why Starsky was asking the question. He shrugged angrily. "Arturo called and wanted to hang out for awhile. So I met him and we visited over a couple of beers and some take-out. Why?"

Starsky slammed the door behind him.

His head was pounding and his stomach was upset, but during this last week Starsky had almost gotten used to it. Neither of those were enough to distract him from his driving, especially now that he was being careful not to do what he really wanted to do, and that was to make tracks and move. Twice he had to force himself to turn around after finding the Torino moving toward his real home, without him even realizing he had steered the car that way. He wasn't ready to give up and go back there yet.

He was angry, at what he really didn't know, other than it must be a combination of tiredness and frustration that he couldn't seem to make any headway on the case. What Hutch said had upset him. He didn't like to be pushed, but the last few weeks had been hard and he knew there was some truth to Hutch's argument. They'd worked nonstop some of those days and had hardly had time to breathe, let alone find any private time.

Maybe Hutch is right. Am I pushing myself too hard? Am I trying to prove something to myself?

He didn't know what to think anymore. By the time he got to the undercover apartment he was almost too tired to walk up the stairs to his rooms. As he opened the door, the sight of the threadbare living quarters just added to his feeling of depression.

Maybe he is right. His gut instincts have always been as good as mine. If this had happened last year maybe I would've believed him easier.

He made his way to the bedroom, undoing his holster and placing his gun on the nightstand. He was tired, no doubt about that.

One night to sleep on it isn't going to do any harm. I do feel like I've been on my feet for ages. Tomorrow we can talk about it when I'm not so beat.

He turned to head toward the bathroom, wincing when he heard a forceful knock at his front door.

Just what I need, company to cheer me up.

Starsky opened the door just enough to see over the chain, putting his gun back as he recognized Taylor Puckett in the dim hallway. He sighed to himself as he undid the chain and opened the door enough to be polite. The man was standing out in the dirty hallway with a huge smile on his face.

"Hey, Taylor, what are you doing here?"

"Sorry to bother you, Dave, but...." Taylor held up a paper sack, "I got flooded out of my apartment by the toilet above mine. The landlord is going to be working on it all night. Mind if me and my meager belongings borrow your couch for the night?"

Starsky paused for a second, not really wanting to let Taylor stay. But he was giving Starsky that boyish smile of his, shaking the bag as if it were a present. Starsky forced a smile and stepped back to let Taylor in. He didn't have the heart to turn the older man down at this late hour.

"C'mon in. Couch is yours so help yourself."

Taylor almost seemed to dance into the room despite his game leg, going over to the couch and throwing the sack on it. "Thanks, Dave! I sure appreciate this! I'd hate to see what kind of hotel rooms are left open this time of night. Besides, it'll give us a chance to talk some more."

With his head swimming and his stomach complaining, that scenario wasn't something Starsky wanted to hear. He went into the bedroom and pulled out some sheets and an extra blanket and pillow, giving himself some time to think up a good excuse to skip the invitation to visit.

What the hell. The truth ought to do it.

"Sorry, but I've had a really bad week, ya' know?"

Taylor took the sheets and started to spread them out on the couch, looking at Starsky with concern as he did so. "You still having a hard time at the station?"

Starsky nodded and rubbed at his middle. "Well, that, too. You know how it is when you're stuck in an office and everyone else is gettin' the big busts on their records while the best you can come up with is a paper cut. Kinda gets a guy down. And now I think I'm coming down with something. You're probably going to regret stayin' with me if you go home with a flu bug or somethin'."

Taylor laughed good-naturedly. "C'mon, Dave! Let's have one to settle us down for the night. I've got some stuff here," he pulled out a bottle with a twist top from the depths of the brown sack, "that'll kill any bug in your system, and threaten a few internal organs you might actually have wanted to keep as well."

Before Starsky could refuse, Taylor was hobbling over to the small kitchenette and pulling a couple of glasses out of the cabinets.

Starsky tried not to wince at the thought of what it might do to his stomach.

Just one glass. Then I'm in bed, even if I have to be rude to get there.

Taylor twisted the cap and poured the wine as Starsky settled himself at the small table. A glass of red, pulpy looking wine was placed in front of him.

"You know, I've been putting out feelers for you, Dave. There may be a security guard job—"

"That's nice of you, but I'm not sure I'm up to doing that anymore." Starsky took a sip of the wine and tried not to wince at how off it had already gone. Not even good enough for vinegar!

Taylor nodded. "I know what you mean. When I lost my leg I felt less than useless. Being a deputy was my life, it's all I ever wanted to be." Starsky saw the older man's face grow sad, and his eyes stared into his untouched glass as if seeing another world in there. "They tried to give me a desk job, but it wasn't the same. I felt like the life was being drained out of me, one day at a time. And then...."

Starsky took a last, polite sip, hoping that in a minute he could excuse himself. The wine was awful, he was bone-tired and his head was threatening to explode if he didn't lie down soon.

Taylor suddenly seemed to realize that Starsky wasn't feeling well. He glanced up and searched Starsky's face, smiling sadly. "Guess this isn't the right time for me to go on and on, huh? Well, it is getting late. Time to hit the sack."

It took a few minutes to say their goodnights and to make sure the apartment was locked up, but to Starsky it seemed like an eternity. He closed the bedroom door and sighed deeply as he turned off the lamp, the glow from the street signs outside was more than enough to get around the room safely. The digital clock glowed a painful 1:00 a.m.

He slipped out of his shirt, socks and jeans, not caring that he left them on the floor. The cool sheets felt like heaven as he slid between them, laying his head gingerly on the pillow.

Hutch was right. This is getting to be too much. We can't be on duty round the clock, and on the edge all the time. Maybe I am trying to over-compensate, prove something to myself. If I keep this up too long I really will be a mess.

His stomach grumbled and a wave of nausea flowed over him, making his head feel as if the dim room was moving in a slow circle around his bed. Rubbing at his face he tried to relax and let sleep come, but his hands felt funny.

Just a few more minutes and I should be better. It's just the day getting to me.

The tingling in his hands continued as the room started to spin a bit faster and his stomach tried to crawl back up into his throat.

Ah, shit!

He tried to roll over, to make it out of the bed before he threw up, but nothing seemed to work. The effort started the room spinning a bit faster, but he couldn't seem to make his limbs obey his commands. The urge to throw up faded slightly, but he kept struggling to sit up and finally managed it.

Starsky tried to focus on his hands, feeling as if his whole body were trembling. The hand he held up to his face had too many fingers on it. The room twisted then and he felt himself falling, a sudden thump at the back of his head matching the thump that seemed to echo in the room. He saw what he could only guess was the ceiling and wondered how hard he'd hit the headboard.

Gotta call Hutch! Something's really wrong with me!

He turned his head slowly, toward the other side of the bed. The phone was on the nightstand and it suddenly seemed a thousand miles away.

Light exploded through the room, and he heard himself groan as his eyes were blasted painfully. There were footsteps in the room and it took Starsky a moment to realize what that meant.

"Dave?"

The sound echoed eerily. Starsky blinked and tried to focus on the shape that came up next to him.

"T-Taylor?" Starsky hadn't realized how thick and dry his tongue had become until then. He could barely understand himself. "S-s-si-ck. C-all..."

He gasped, out of breath with that little effort.

Help me, Taylor! Something's wrong...

His instincts were screaming at him now, urging him to think beyond what was happening. His illness, Taylor coming toward him instead of going for help.

A set-up? It was Taylor?

Panting with the effort of trying to move limbs that refused to budge, he watched as Taylor came closer. Starsky tried hard to focus on the man's features and saw sadness and determination. Taylor looked at the nightstand nearest them both.

My gun!

"Don't worry, Dave. It'll all be over soon. I promise you'll be all better."

Oh, shit, HUTCH! I'm in trouble!

Starsky tried frantically to move his limbs, the swimming in his head growing worse. The only progress he could discern was some loud thrashing sounds.

There was movement outside of his vision and he thought Taylor had left the room. He struggled harder, had almost been able to roll to his right side only to roll back again.

There were more footsteps and clinking sounds, as if empty bottles were being moved around the living room.

Taylor was in the room again only seconds later, making Starsky wonder if he had passed out.

He felt something cold and hard pressed into his right hand. His mind raced as he realized it was his gun and tried to jerk away from it, but nothing seemed to move. Other fingers shaped his to an unaccustomed position around the weapon. A fist held them there.

"W-w-w-hyyy?"

"Because you're a hero." Taylor's voice echoed in Starsky's head and he could hear the sadness in it. Starsky could only blink frantically as Taylor's image started to double on him. "You don't deserve to live like this, son. You're a good man. A real hero, Dave. I can't stand by and let you suffer."

"D-don't...under...s-stand...."

Taylor moved closer and Starsky felt a warm hand pat his cheek, even as the grip around his fingers and the gun tightened. He tried to fight back but the cold muzzle was pushed against his head, just above his ear.

"I'm so sorry, kid! But it's society that's failed us! All of us!" Taylor's voice caught and Starsky could hear grief and desperation in the words. "We put our lives on the line for them! We give up our free time, our personal lives, our families are sacrificed for the common good. And what do we get after all this sacrifice? What have we earned when we're hurt or...or...maimed?"

Taylor was sobbing now, but his grip on Starsky's face and hand tightened.

"We get NOTHING! We get shoved aside and forgotten! They throw us into dead-end positions, lose us in the endless paperwork, refuse to pay our medical bills and expect us to live on a pittance!"

Starsky tried to focus on Taylor's face. Balling his left fist as tightly as he was able, he hoped to get in one good shot at the man's head. Got to keep him talking! I think the room's starting to slow down! If he could only get control of his muscles....

"No...! I don't...want...to..."

"You're just beginning to understand, Dave, how awful it is to live beyond your usefulness." Taylor sobbed, his voice harsh and broken. "To be taken out in your prime and cast aside, like useless garbage. I can't see any of you go through that! So many years left to live with broken dreams. You deserve better. You're a hero! Better to die young, when you haven't yet lost your soul...like I have."

The pressure on Starsky's hand increased as Taylor pulled back. Starsky's finger was arranged on the trigger. His grip was tightened.

"I'm sorry, Dave. I can't leave you to suffer—"

Starsky swung and hit some part of Taylor, the force of his movement rolling him over to his side. He heard Taylor squawk in surprise and aimed for the sound, not sure if his fist was still clenched or not. He pulled his right hand down, trying to roll their arms and the gun under him.

He yelled loudly, hoping to catch someone's attention as he and Taylor grappled. He could feel his strength draining swiftly, the nausea and dizziness almost blotting out the world completely.

Taylor jerked at the gun that Starsky could feel was now under his head. Any second now Starsky was going to lose control. There was only one thing he could think of to do.

Hutch is going to be pissed if I'm wrong....

Lifting his head as much as he could, he pulled the trigger.

The explosion jolted him, reverberating in his head and colliding with what coherent thoughts he had left, throwing him into a blackness where he fell endlessly.

On to Part 3

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