W3CDTD HTML 4.0 TransitionalEN"> Mine to Lose, Part 2

Mine to Lose
by Keri T.

SHSVS, Episode 6, Part 2

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The interrogation room still smelled abominably, but Starsky didn't notice it anymore. The long hours of his forced confinement had accustomed his sense of smell to the foulness permeating the enclosed area. He stole a quick glance at his watch, and then brushed some of the sweat from his eyes with the back of a hand.

It's been ninety minutes since those guys told Sanchez they were working on it. That they were working with the governor's office. Yeah, sure they are. I'd give my left nut to know what they really are working on. At least Sanchez using me as his key hostage again let me see Hutch another time. Damn, babe, what's that old saying? So close and yet so far? You standin' not ten feet from me, and me with a gun at my head....

Starsky thought longingly of his partner, and of his strength. I bet you're driving all those suits bat shit, aren't ya? I bet they'd like to toss your ass right on out of here. A cross between a sob and a laugh nearly escaped Starsky's throat, but he stifled it and shut his eyes, bringing his partner's face to mind. And what's with that hard head of yours? You got yourself good and pounded, and not even a bandage on an open wound. I'm gonna give you hell for that, Blondie, soon as I get out of here. Yep, I'm gonna give you the tongue lashing you'd give me if I pulled a stunt like that. And I will get out of here. I have to. I have to for you, because I know you'll fold up inside if I don't and I won't let that happen to you, I won't.

The heavy pacing of three of the armed convicts broke Starsky's reverie. He sat down on the cement floor and drew his knees up high, wrapping his arms around them. He laid his head down and continued to wait.

Hutch gulped down his second cup of cold coffee in an hour, ignoring the burning feeling as it landed in the pit of his empty stomach. The frenzy of preparation had been going on for over ninety minutes now, and he'd had to step back to be by himself for a moment. He had to gather his thoughts and concentrate. He knew they were close, but the knowing was urging him on even harder to move, to act. It hadn't taken him long to realize that the plan devised by the FBI agents, the warden and the warden's chief officers was the only option available to them. But the risk....

There were so many things that could go wrong with the plan that Hutch tried to not analyze them one for one. He knew them all, and if one happened, just one, any of the hostages could be killed.

Starsky....

"Officer Hutchinson?" The young guard was someone new, and Hutch barely registered his voice. "They're ready."

"Thank you." Hutch turned to go back to the direction where the warden's team was circled. He took two steps and stopped, then rubbed a hand against his left side.

"Wait a minute," Hutch called to the guard. "Come back here." He dug in his pocket and pulled out a tag. "In the lockers behind the check-in post is my gun. I want it now. Can you get it for me?"

"Sir, I'll have to check with my superior officer."

"Please. Just get it. I'm going in with the back-up team whether they know it or not, and I'd rather have my own gun than one of those service pistols."

The young man scanned Hutch's face. "All right, I'll get it, but you'll explain it to the warden?"

"I will." Hutch tried to smile in gratitude, but it settled across his features as a grimace. He gave up and walked to the team.

"Hutchinson." The warden waved him closer. "We're just about ready. The sharpshooters are in position right over the air duct. The passageway was only big enough for two, though. They've just radioed in."

"Two?" Hutch cried in disbelief. "I thought you said that the ceiling pipe could possibly position three men? Damn it! We know at least five of the convicts are holding guns. They're gonna get shots off if you've only got two sharpshooters trying to take them out!"

"Sergeant, we've gone over every option, as you know. Now we're damn lucky that interrogation room thirteen has an air duct. Not all the rooms do. And we're damn lucky we were able to get those sharpshooters up in the ceiling, in an area not barred off, so that they could crawl their way to room thirteen. Basically, we're damn lucky, and you should remember that. It's our only choice. And it's the only chance the hostages have."

"Okay, okay. And the front? We're ready there?"

"We're ready, or we will be. Once we get the radio signal from our sharpshooters, the bars go up, and we go in."

"I'm going in with the back-up team, Warden." Not many would have recognized the grim determination on Hutch's face, but to the warden's credit, he did.

"Yes, Sergeant. I'm approving it."

"Thank you."

"Let's be clear on what I'm approving. SWAT goes in first. You stay back with the deputy sheriffs. You're approved to be in the area, Sergeant, but that's all."

Hutch chose not to argue. Getting in was enough for now; he'd make the rest happen on his own. "I understand."

The FBI agents and the warden's team were preparing to move back down the corridor when the guard with Hutch's Magnum reached them. He handed it to Hutch with a look at his superiors.

Hutch quickly strapped on his shoulder harness and housed the Magnum. There was a touch of defiance in his stance as he thanked the guard. "Let's go."

The warden gave him a chilling stare. "Remember my orders, Sergeant."

Hutch nodded briefly. "Let's go," he repeated.

The team of men left then, quickly. Everything now depended on timing and position.

Starsky felt a tap on his leg. He raised his head slowly and saw that Levy was the one who had bumped him. Starsky started to speak, but stopped at Levy's expression. The inmate was holding his face completely still, but his eyes were cast upwards. Starsky followed them and felt his pulse race faster at what he saw.

Okay. They did have something else up their sleeves.

The corner of the air duct grate was moving slowly upwards. Starsky got to his feet, casually, and slightly flexed a palm downwards at Levy and Carlson, trying to indicate for them both to remain in their positions on the floor. He tried to catch the eyes of the guards who were huddled together near their fallen co-worker, but none looked up.

Wish I knew what the hell I need to be ready for, Starsky thought anxiously, being careful not to glance at the ceiling again. He moved another step away from the corner.

"Where exactly are you walking to, Cop?" Sanchez asked testily. The wait was beginning to wear down his previous coolness. "Sit back down. Now!"

"Okay, no problem, I just wanted to stretch my legs." Starsky raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture. "Nothing to get all excited about."

Then he heard it. The grate crashed to the floor, initiating a startled roar from the convict standing closest to it. The man raised his gun upward, holding it tight with both hands. But before he could get a shot off, the sharpshooter still hidden in the ceiling, fired, hitting him in the chest. He fell backwards without issuing a sound.

"Son of a bitch!" Sanchez screamed, raising his own gun to the ceiling. He fired three times before falling on the ground in a defensive roll. "The ceiling!" He cried out to the other inmates. "They're up there, shoot them! Shoot them!"

Starsky dove for the floor, yelling at the other hostages as he went. "Get down! Get down, flat, now!" He covered the back of his head with his hands but kept his eyes open and looking upwards. Starsky saw the rest in slow motion, although in actuality it was happening at breakneck speed. Two more of the convicts holding guns were picked off by the rifles still hidden from view. An inmate grabbed one of the guards and a knife was instantly at his throat. Starsky squeezed his eyes closed against the sight that came. Blood spurted everywhere as the man's throat was sliced open from ear to ear.

From somewhere behind him, Carlson was screaming in terror.

More shots came from the ceiling and more inmates were dropped. Sanchez got up on one knee. Starsky watched helplessly as the inmate turned his gun directly on him. They were only three feet apart.

Behind the bars, the large group of armed personnel waited for the signal to advance. It would come as soon as the sharpshooters felt they had the best opening for the attack, and the men waited with crackling nerves.

Hutch had insinuated himself slowly and without drawing attention, as close to the team of SWAT officers as he could get. He listened with the others for the radios to come to life. It was another two minutes before the signal was given, but when it was, the warden instantly radioed for the bars to be raised.

To Hutch, it seemed to take forever for the creaking steel to climb upward. He desperately wanted to throw himself to the ground and roll under the metal to get inside that room. Instead, he unholstered his gun.

The captain in charge of the SWAT team nodded his head and went in first with his men right behind him. Hutch was right behind them. A heartbeat later, shots rang out shrilly and screaming could be heard from the interrogation room. The men rushed forward.

Starsky had nowhere to run from the gun pointed at his head. He didn't have time to think or speak. Needing to do anything, he rolled to one side, and as he did, a large flying blur rushed past him.

Then the gun was fired.

A moan from his right drew his attention briefly and, with something close to amazement, he saw that Levy had been the blur running in front of him, and that Levy had just taken the bullet meant for him. The large man was sitting up clutching his leg where he'd been hit.

More shots were ringing out. More than Starsky could count, and suddenly the room was filled with SWAT officers. He was still trapped on the floor, though, and once again Sanchez had raised his gun.

The shot that rang out next was a distinctive sound, and one with which he was very familiar. He watched in horrified fascination as Sanchez collapsed in a heap, part of his head blown away by the single shot. Starsky looked up desperately and saw....

Hutch....

His partner stood with his legs slightly apart for balance, and the heavy Magnum was clutched in both hands. His eyes were staring straight at Starsky.

"Hutch, hey, Hutch...."

Then it was over. The SWAT officers quickly subdued the remaining inmates and worked to get the hostages from the room. The nightmare had ended for them as they were led in shocked silence away from the carnage and on to the waiting medical teams.

Starsky ignored the hand of an officer trying to help him to his feet, and got up on his own. He moved toward his partner at the same time that Hutch finally lowered his gun and started for him.

"So, what took you so long, partner?" Starsky asked with a smile that turned into a choked sob. He collapsed against Hutch's chest.

"Missed me, huh?" Hutch managed to get out, gathering Starsky close to him. "Come on, Starsk. Let's get you out of here and into some fresh air."

Together they half walked, half stumbled through the chaos going on all around them until they reached the outside of the administration office. Gratefully, Starsky pushed the door open and led the way into the cleansing, cool air. Without saying a word, they each reached for the other and held on tight in a fierce, desperate hug.

"I got you back," Hutch whispered into Starsky's neck. "I got you back."

Amidst the frantic bedlam surrounding them, the two partners continued to cling tightly together. Neither spoke further, nor did they notice the loud voices rushing past, or the sirens that still roared, and had been roaring since the siege began.

Starsky felt a pull on his elbow and gently disengaged himself from Hutch's arms. He looked up to find a microphone heading fast for his face and a camera crew, circling close. A blonde-haired woman, wearing at least a half-pound of makeup, held the microphone.

"Detective Starsky, I'm Cindy Barron from KTVU. Can you tell our viewers about your horrifying ordeal?"

"Um, I think that better wait until I give my statement to the police, ma'am," Starsky answered politely. He felt Hutch's grip firm on his upper arm.

Other crews were approaching the pair. Starsky saw microphones bearing the call letters of KGO, KCBS, and KNBR. There were others, and he unconsciously pressed against his partner. "Hutch?"

"I see them. Come on, we're getting out of here." The blond tightened his grip on Starsky's arm. He began firmly guiding them away from the prison's entrance.

"Hutch! We can't just go, I have to talk to the cops and give 'em my statement. And so do you. They're gonna want us to tell them how everything went down while it's still fresh in our heads. You know that."

"We're going. You can give your statement in the morning, and so can I."

"We gotta tell 'em at least."

"Fine. Let's go in and tell them, then we're leaving." Hutch's expression was unreadable, even to Starsky.

"Detective Starsky, please. Just a few words for our viewers." The blonde reporter interrupted. She was first on the scene and, in the world of competitive broadcasting, had a tiny edge on this story that she didn't want to lose, especially with her competition closing in fast.

"No story, lady. My partner's been through hell," Hutch swallowed thickly before continuing. "There's not going to be any statement to the media today. Now, if you'll excuse us?"

Without another word Hutch maneuvered them both back inside the administration office. There, the chaos was still at fever pitch.

Starsky viewed it all and fought down the sense of claustrophobia the small area with too many people brought him. He could feel the tremor in his legs and arms and hoped that Hutch wouldn't notice. His partner was strung bowstring tight as it was. His words were being delivered in the clipped tone the blond always used when he was at the end of his endurance. All at once, Starsky wanted Hutch out of there as badly as he himself wanted to leave.

"Buddy, maybe this isn't a good idea. Who the hell are we supposed to tell? Maybe we should just wait outside until things calm down a little. Someone will come get us, we can give our statements and then we can go home."

"No. Not tonight. I'll get someone's attention in a minute." Hutch was staring so hard at him, Starsky wondered what he was seeing.

"Hey, partner? Do I look that bad? You're staring at me like I was something out of a horror movie."

Hutch softened his gaze. "No, no, of course not. You just look...tired. Real tired. It shows on your face, I guess. I can see it all...see what those bastards put you through." His large hands balled into fists. His eyes left Starsky's face and his expression hardened again.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked, concerned over the blank stare that covered Hutch's features. "What is it?"

Hutch shook his head, not hearing the question. He returned full focus to his friend. "Starsk, go sit down, babe. You look exhausted. I'll take care of this and get us the hell out of here. I'm going to take care of you. I promise."

"You're the one who looks like he's ready to fall over," Starsky replied, but his comment was addressed to Hutch's retreating back. Starsky shook his head a little at his partner's stubbornness. He looked around for a chair or anything to sit on while he waited. Finding nothing, he simply sank to the floor in the same spot he'd been standing. He rubbed at burning eyes, then watched as Hutch approached one cluster of people after another. Finally, he had someone pulled aside. Starsky noted the motion of Hutch's hands and the animation of his mouth. He couldn't hear the words, but he knew Hutch was making his points clear. A moment later, the tall man was striding back to Starsky.

"We're good to go. I told them that you're exhausted and that you can't go through a statement tonight."

"Aw, Christ, Hutch. I'm a cop, remember? Not some weak, helpless baby. Why'd you tell them that?"

"Because it's the truth. You've been through hell and I want you the fuck out of here! Okay?" Hutch's cheeks flamed pink and his frame looked shaky, unsteady to Starsky's eyes.

"Okay, babe, okay. You're right," he soothed. His tough guy image could take a small beating if it brought his partner a little security, a little peace. Hutch needed this, needed to be in control. Needed to take care of him. He'd let him for now. Allowing that was Starsky's way of taking care of Hutch. The outburst told him that Hutch was on the very edge. "How about a hand getting me off this floor?" Starsky smiled and offered up his palm. Hutch took it in a firm grasp and hauled him to his feet.

"Do you still have the car keys?" Hutch rasped out.

Starsky checked his jean pockets and retrieved the keys to the rental car.... It seemed weeks ago that he and Hutch had been laughing at the Hertz counter, wondering how small the economy car would be. "Here they are," he said gently.

"I'm going to drive," the blond stated. Starsky nodded in easy acceptance.

The two men started for the exit but turned back at the sound of Hutch's name being called loudly. "What now," Hutch muttered darkly.

"Maybe they changed their minds 'bout us giving our statements in the morning?" Starsky wondered.

Hutch didn't have a chance to answer as he saw the person who had shouted for him. It was the same young guard who had retrieved his gun from the locker earlier. As he made his way to the two detectives both men were able to see what he was carrying.

"Sergeant Hutchinson, I thought you'd both want to take this with you." The young man was carrying Starsky's gun. "I saw it in the locker when I got your gun for you before. When I heard you were leaving, I got this out for you." He handed it to Starsky, still sheathed in its holster.

Starsky smiled a thank you and put the holster on quickly, while Hutch mumbled a thank you to the clearly impressed young man.

Taking the lead again, Hutch pushed them both through the crush of people and out to the parking lot. He deftly ignored all the reporters who once again tried to swarm them, heading straight for the small rental car. Both men eased inside the cramped space gingerly, then Hutch started the engine and blared the horn to clear a path through which to pull out.

They left San Quentin as quickly as Hutch could safely drive. Once through the security post, Hutch increased his speed. Neither looked back.

"Do you need me to find the directions to the freeway?" Starsky asked, resisting the urge to close his eyes.

"No, I know where I am."

"Hutch, you okay to drive?" Starsky couldn't keep the note of concern from his voice. Even considering what they'd both just been through, Hutch was alternately silent and distant, then angry and emotional. He seemed to be hearing only about half of what was said to him. At once Starsky remembered the blow to his partner's head. "Hutch, is your head okay? Does it hurt still? Maybe you should pull over and let me drive."

Hutch laughed a little harshly, "Starsk...I'm fine. You're forgetting which one of us was just held hostage, threatened, roughed up...I'm fine. Why don't you close your eyes and get some sleep? I'll wake you when we get there."

"Where is there? Wanna tell me where we're going?" Starsky asked around a yawn.

"San Francisco. We're getting a room for the night. Go to sleep, Starsk. I'll wake you when we're there," he repeated.

"I'm okay, too. You know that, right, partner?"

"Of course I do. I can see that. You just need some rest...some sleep, and-and food. You're just fine."

"You'll wake me if ya wanna talk?"

"Sure."

"Okay." Starsky closed his eyes and let the steady motion of the car and the protection emanating from his friend lull his exhausted body to sleep.

Starsky opened one eye when the car stopped, but didn't rouse himself further until he saw Hutch outside the vehicle, handing the keys to a young man wearing dress pants and a white shirt. Hutch was also pressing some bills into his hand. Starsky got both eyes open and glanced out his own window. He saw a bank of flags on the lower roof ridge of what appeared to be a palace. Hutch had driven him to a palace.

"Hutch?" Starsky fumbled with the door handle, then nearly stumbled as he drew himself to his feet. "Hutch. Where the hell are we?"

"Oh, good, you're awake. We're here."

"Where is here?"

San Francisco, buddy. Nob Hill to be exact." Hutch moved around the car to join his partner on the curb. The valet bowed a bit from the waist, then jumped in the car and drove off.

Starsky craned his neck to see more of the magnificent building in front of him. "We're standing in front of a palace."

"We're standing in front of the Fairmont Hotel. Nice, huh?"

"Very nice, but, Hutch.... We're not on vacation, we just need a bed for the night, we're going home after we give our statements tomorrow."

"So? Any law that says we can't have a nice bed in a nice hotel for the night? Come on. Let's go in." Starsky followed his partner inside a foyer so grand that it almost hurt his eyes. Opulent. That was the only word for the luxuriously appointed lobby. Hutch strode to the registration desk, with Starsky trailing a few feet behind.

"Good evening, sir," the registration clerk greeted the detective from behind the mahogany desk. The man was dressed better than he'd ever dressed for any New Year's Eve or wedding, Starsky thought, finally joining Hutch at the desk. "May I help you with your reservation?"

"Good evening," Hutch replied in a silky voice. "Thank you, no. My friend and I don't have a reservation, but we'd like a deluxe room, with a king-size bed and a large bathtub for the night."

Starsky's mouth fell open.

"Certainly, sir. Let me see what I may have available to accommodate you. I'm afraid we're quite full at the moment, so it may be a tad difficult." The clerk began skimming through his motorized card file.

"We understand, but I'm sure you'll find us something," Hutch answered with a smile that that didn't part his lips.

"Ah, yes, I do have one small suite available."

Starsky found his voice. "A suite? In this place? Hutch...."

"A suite will be fine," Hutch spoke to the clerk, then turned to Starsky. "A suite will be fine, Starsk."

"Very good, sir. If you'll just sign here," the clerk pushed the register closer to Hutch, "and I'll just need your credit card to book the suite. It is quite lovely. I'm sure you'll both be very comfortable."

Starsky's mouth fell open again and his eyes widened.

"Thank you, I'm sure we will." Hutch reached into his wallet and pulled out his slightly worn Master Charge card.

"I'll have the porter bring your luggage up," the clerk said, as he reached for the bell. Hutch stopped him with a slight tap.

"We don't have any luggage. Can the hotel please provide us with two bathrobes? We'll also need a first aid kit and a shaving kit. If you can have the porter pick those items up at the gift store, you can add them to our bill. I assume your laundry services are still open? As well as room service?"

"Yes, sir. All our services are still open. I'll have the boy pick up the items you've requested and deliver two complimentary robes to your suite. You'll be staying in 1133."

"Thank you." Hutch took the key, and with a slight tug at Starsky's arm, started them both for the elevator.

Starsky punched the up button viciously. He waited until the door was open and he and Hutch had entered the empty car to speak. "Hutch. What was that all about? I've never seen you like that. You may as well have told the guy that you and your lover needed a room for the night. Why did you stop at friend?"

"I didn't feel like being coy. I wanted a room with a comfortable bed and bath. Is that okay with you?" Hutch stepped away from his partner, planting his back against the smooth elevator wall.

"Hutch, we're in the Fairmont Hotel."

"We're in San Francisco. The clerk might be going home to his own male lover." Hutch shut his eyes against the wave of dizziness that the swift elevator ride was causing. He took a sharp, deep breath as the car reached their floor. They both stepped out, but only Starsky started to walk. "I didn't mean to upset you, Starsk. That's the last thing I wanted to do."

The catch in Hutch's voice pulled at Starsky's heart. He turned back and captured Hutch's face with both hands. "Babe, I'm not upset. I just want to know what's going on in that head of yours. I know how hard today was on you, but--"

Hutch pulled his face away and captured Starsky's hands in his own. "Hard on me? I was safe. I-I was safe. You w-were...and I.... I was safe. You were the one who suffered."

Starsky peered into the light blue eyes, now gone dark and dilated. His worry escalated another notch. "Let's go to the room, buddy. It's time for both of us to rest and get comfortable. You did the right thing getting us a good room. Come on." Starsky led them both to the suite, and refrained from commenting when he opened the door and saw the splendor inside. We'll be eating at home for a year to pay this one off.

Both men checked out their surroundings, noting the plushness of the king-size bed and the mountain of fluffy pillows resting against the headboard. There was an armoire that looked to be an antique. A large, console TV with a stereo system resting on top of its shiny, solid wood top, was in the corner, and in the center of the room was a small grouping of chairs surrounding a velvet-covered love seat. The room was lit softly with small lamps from the nightstands and sconces scattered on the cr'me-colored walls.

They both took off their jackets and holsters, putting them in the closet closest to the door.

Starsky spoke first. "I'm gonna check out the bathroom. Why don't you sit down and get comfortable? I bet those deliveries you asked for will be here before I can even finish peein'. A place like this doesn't make the guests wait." Starsky waited for an answering smile but all he got was a nod. He continued in a gentle voice. "I'll be right out."

Five minutes later Starsky returned, with his sleeves rolled up and a few buttons undone at the top of his stained shirt. He'd taken a moment to wash his face, hands and neck, although a hot shower was what he really craved. He glanced around the large lavish room for his partner and then saw him standing at the window. Hutch's back was turned, his face partially hidden in the crook of one arm. Somehow the bent of the blond head and the weariness in the stance went right to Starsky's heart and he quickly crossed the room. We're okay, babe.

"Hey, you should see the swimming pool in the bathroom." One hand reached up to scratch underneath Hutch's right shoulder blade, then crossed to the left, scratching softly there, then up and down the stiff spine. Hutch sighed a little but said nothing. Starsky lowered his arms and reached around the trim waist, circling it protectively. He rested his head against Hutch's back. "I suppose some rich folks might think it's just a big bathtub, but it sure looks like a swimming pool to me. Wanna take a dip, later?"

"You need to eat," Hutch said abruptly. "You haven't eaten all day."

"Neither have you."

"I had coffee."

"Oh, yeah, that must have filled you right up."

"I'm fine, but I want to order you something."

"Let's order us both something, and maybe those bathrobes will get here while we wait for our dinner. I'd sure like to get out of these filthy clothes." He grabbed Hutch's hand. "There must be menus by the phone, let's pick out something good."

"Whatever you want, Starsk. You can order the whole menu, God knows you've earned it."

What I want is to see that look off your face, that blank expression. I want to see your real smile, Starsky thought, while leading them to the loveseat and the phone on the small table in front of it. A large, tasseled menu was next to the phone, and Starsky opened it up wide enough for both of them to look at the choices. The columns of food were a little overwhelming, but after a moment Starsky found his choice. "That's it," he pointed to a small description. "That's what I'm having. A half-pound cheeseburger on sliced San Francisco sour dough bread. Fried onions on the side, too, and it comes with dinner fries. Perfect."

Hutch frowned a little at his choice. "A cheeseburger? Why don't you get a steak, or maybe the baked chicken?"

"Because I want the cheeseburger. Now you. What are you havin'?"

"I don't know. I'm not really hungry. Maybe I'll just steal some of your fries."

"Nuh uh, no way, Blondo, I'm eatin' them all. Now pick something."

Hutch glanced at the menu again. "I'll have the soup, I guess."

Starsky decided not to push. He reached for the phone but Hutch grabbed it. "I'll call it in, why don't you stretch out on the bed? Get some rest."

"I'm fine right here, next to you. Go ahead, call it in."

After the order was placed, Hutch put the phone down and gathered Starsky close. He petted the dark curls silently while Starsky curled in to the warmth being offered. Starsky felt his body begin to completely relax, but his partner still sat rigidly, nothing moving except the large hand sweeping over his hair. We're okay, babe.

A sharp rap on the door interrupted them. Hutch gently pushed Starsky aside and got up, reaching for his wallet as he walked. Starsky watched as Hutch took the two terrycloth robes, hanging on padded hangers, and several bundles from the porter. He saw Hutch press several bills into the young man's hand and casually wondered if they had enough cash to tip all the people they were going to probably have to tip before they went home. The porter was saying something to Hutch about laundry bags, but Starsky wasn't really paying attention to him. He was keeping his eyes on Hutch.

Hutch thanked the man and closed the door after him. He hung up the robes in the bathroom and dropped the shaving and first aid kits on the tiled vanity counter. Starsky heard the noise of containers being opened and closed and items scattered. He looked up as Hutch rejoined him on the love seat.

"We have everything we need now." The blond said, patting Starsky's knee. The first aid kit is stuffed, and after you eat you can shower and then I'll tend to your cuts."

Starsky shook his head with a smile and reached gentle fingers up to Hutch's temple. He traced the gash that was heavy with dried blood. Bruised and swollen, it stood out like a beacon on the pale face. "I think I'll have a go at tending to this, before you put any bandages on my scratches."

There was another tap on the door, which effectively silenced what he knew would have been an inevitable argument. "Food's here. Great." Starsky started to his feet, but Hutch pushed him back and rose himself. "I'll get it, you stay comfortable."

A heavy sigh. "You're gonna run out of money eventually, Hutch."

Hutch ignored the comment and opened the door. A short time later he was back with the heavy tray. Starsky reached up to help with an end, but again he was ignored. Hutch held on to his burden and pulled the coffee table closer with a foot, before placing the tray on it. He carefully sorted out the different plates, and silverware, arranging Starsky's dinner carefully and putting the condiments in easy reach. Then he shook out a linen napkin and handed it to his partner.

"You planning on cuttin' my burger into easy bite-size pieces, too?" Starsky asked with a short laugh.

"Very funny. Come on, start while it's hot."

"I am starting," Starsky answered around a french fry he was chewing. "How about joining me?"

Hutch nodded and sat back down. He pulled his soup bowl closer, but didn't start eating the soup. Instead he began buttering a roll. Careful, deliberate strokes evenly spread the butter from end to end. Starsky said nothing; he just watched and ate his burger. Finally, the roll must have been buttered to Hutch's satisfaction because he put it down on the plate. He didn't taste it either.

"Hutch, try some of your soup," Starsky said patiently. "I want to know if it's good enough for me to share."

Hutch pushed the bowl in Starsky's direction. "Here, have all you want. It'll be better for you than that greasy burger, anyway."

Starsky pushed the bowl back. "You first. Why don't you just pick up the bowl? It'll be easier to eat it that way. This table is too low for you to bend over and spoon up soup."

"Okay, okay." Hutch grabbed the bowl and sat back against the cushions. He drew a helping to his mouth as Starsky watched, trying to determine if there was a tremor in his partner's hands. For a few moments the only sound was thoughtful chewing and the clink of a spoon against porcelain. Then a pain-filled yelp as Hutch dropped the bowl of soup on his chest. "Shit!" He shot up quickly, and the now empty bowl crashed to the floor. He was dripping hot soup all over his shirt-front and frantically pulling the soggy material away from his skin.

Starsky sprang to his side. "Easy, let me help." The thick soup was dripping everywhere as both men tried to work the shirt buttons at the same time and made little headway. "Hutch! Let me do it!" Starsky batted his hands away and quickly undid the rest of the buttons. He pulled the damp shirt off, then wiped at the soup clinging to Hutch's chest with flattened palms. "Aw, buddy, that's gotta hurt," he stated sympathetically. The skin was reddish in color where the soup had landed. "Let's go in the bathroom and hose you down. You're a mess."

"It's okay, I just don't know how I did that."

Starsky didn't feel the need to remind his partner that under emotional stress or when extremely tired, his often catlike grace was replaced with the clumsiness of a three-year-old. "Doesn't matter how, I just wanna get the rest of this hot mess off you. Come on."

The balled-up shirt was tossed in a corner before Starsky led the way into the spacious bathroom. He started the cold-water tap running and grabbed for a towel. Hutch was hovering in the doorway. "Get in here," Starsky ordered, reaching for an arm and pulling Hutch to the sink. He ran the cold towel over Hutch's chest and stomach slowly, capturing the remains of the clinging substance, then wrung out the towel, and rinsed it with cool water again. He pressed it firmly against the most prominent red spot. "Hurt much?"

"No, I told you, it's okay."

"Well, it doesn't look as bad as your head, that's for sure. Or your jeans. God, Hutch, you've got this stuff everywhere." He grabbed another washcloth and anchored Hutch's head with one hand. "I'm going to wash this gash out now, while I'm cleaning you up. Hold still." Hutch squirmed and sighed under the ministration but said nothing. Starsky got the wound clean and then soaked and soaped the cloth again. This time he rubbed at the blond strands that were flecked with dried blood. Half of Hutch's head was dripping wet before the wound and the hair were cleaned to Starsky's satisfaction. He tossed the cloth in the sink and looked around. The large tub caught his eye. A nice soak might calm him down and get him sleepy. "I think you should try out that tub and let me stuff those jeans in the laundry bag."

"Will you try it out with me?" Hutch asked simply.

Starsky smiled and nodded. The thought of a hot bath did sound wonderful. His body was exhausted by the events of the day, and every muscle he had was twitching at intervals. What he really craved, though, was the closeness with his partner. Maybe the intimacy of a shared bath would break down the brittle barrier Hutch was holding up like a shield. "That's the best offer I've had all day. Why don't you finish chucking your clothes and I'll start the water."

"No, let me do it. I'm the one who knows how to get the temperature just right for you, remember?" Hutch went to the tub and knelt in front of it. Soon the taps were running at full blast and Hutch was examining the assorted bottles of oils, soaps and shampoos, provided by the hotel in a wire basket. "This thing really is huge," Hutch commented in a bright cheerful voice.

"Uh huh." Starsky began unbuttoning his shirt the rest of the way, and gratefully pulled off the dirty garment. He tossed it in the corner as he watched his friend fuss with the small bottles. Hutch's bare, broad back was stretching as he reached and poured, fiddled with the taps and circled a large hand in the steamy filling water. Starsky wanted nothing more than to massage those tight tense muscles. I bet it's aching something fierce, but you'll never tell me if it is. I'm just going to have to take care of it my way.

He started on his belt, quickly undoing it and drawing it free. That too went in the corner, followed quickly by the worn blue sneakers and the smelly socks. Hutch was making larger circles with his hand, causing a small whirlpool in the giant tub as Starsky reached for his zipper.

Hutch glanced up at the sound of the metal teeth coming undone. Starsky watched his face as he pulled off the jeans, then the briefs. He waited to see the expression Hutch always wore when he undressed in front of him. That softening of the eyes and the slow smile that would cross the full lips, making Starsky feel like the most desirable man on the planet. That look that said he was loved beyond reason and wanted completely. There was something else in Hutch's expression, now. The sky blue eyes did scan his form thoroughly, but they were not soft. They were sharp, as if he were looking for evidence, and then turned away as Hutch started adding more oil to the bathwater.

Babe, we're okay. How do I convince you?

Starsky strode to the side of the tub, looking down at the fair head bent in its task. He swallowed thickly, and then reached a hand to Hutch's chin, guiding his eyes upwards.

I love you.

"Hey, don't you think you've put enough junk in there?

"It's not junk, Starsk. It's bath oil, and it'll make you feel really good when I work it into your skin." Hutch grabbed the hand under his chin and pulled it forward. "Water's perfect now. Jump on in and relax."

"Need I remind you that I'm not the one covered in soup?"

"Yeah, yeah, I know. You get in first while I get undressed and find the washcloths."

Starsky refrained from commenting further as the tense blond got to his feet in search of the missing linens. He stepped into the warm tub, the water at a perfect temperature as Hutch had promised. Slowly, he sat down in the silky heat and stretched his legs out. It felt wonderful, and he couldn't stop the tired sigh that he released.

"Is it too hot?" Hutch asked in a concerned voice from the counter.

"It's perfect, but there's one thing missing."

"What?"

"You. Now quit your fussing all over the place, and get your blond ass undressed and in here with me."

Hutch nodded and tossed several cloths in the direction of the tub. They landed softly in the water. He bent over to pull his boots off one by one, and then started on the socks. Soon, they were all clenched in his hands. Starsky watched his partner look around the room as if he had no idea where to put the items he held.

"Just drop them in the corner, next to my stuff."

"Okay." Hutch started on his jeans, and soon had denim and underwear bunched together in a pile on top of his boots and socks. He brushed some hair out of his eyes and looked around the room again.

"Hutch, we've got everything we need to take a damn bath. Get in here." Starsky leaned an arm outside the tub, stretching his hand toward his partner. "Come on, get in."

Starsky smiled and continued to wave his hand until he had his partner moving toward the tub. Hutch reached a leg over the side, and then pushed a little on Starsky's back with his left hand. "Scoot up some, Starsk. I need some room."

"There's plenty of room in front of me, dummy."

"I wanna sit behind you. Come on, just scoot up."

"Fine, okay, just get in here already." Starsky moved forward, bending his knees just before he reached the ornate faucet. He waited until he felt Hutch sit down behind him, and then pushed back with his feet. He bumped into Hutch's calves, which were crossed one over the other. "Stretch your legs out, buddy, there's plenty of room in here. Hell, I think we could fit five people in here if we wanted to."

"Luckily we don't." Hutch answered shortly. He arranged his legs on either side of Starsky's hips, and reached for his middle. Starsky felt himself being pulled backwards, the water lapping high on the sides of the porcelain. "I'm going to do your back first."

Wordlessly, Starsky handed back a washcloth and a small bar of soap. It was so tempting to capture the long fingers that brushed his as the items were transferred. So tempting to pull the large hand to his mouth and kiss the palm, suck on the fingertips...so tempting, but this was Hutch's show for now. Starsky would give him a little more time.

Starsky felt the soft cloth start at the back of his neck. It was slick with soap and the hand guiding it was firm but gentle. Tiny circles started at his hairline, widening as they traveled down the length of his spine. Up and down with frequent stops to dip the cloth back in the warm water and add more soap. Starsky leaned forward a little when the sweep widened to include his lower and middle back then up to his shoulders. Hutch lingered there. Using both the cloth and his hands to provide a brisk rubdown.

"Your muscles are really tight, buddy." Hutch murmured, adding some extra pressure with his thumb along the cord of Starsky's neck. "After you soak for a while, I'll give you a real massage when we go to bed. That way, you'll be able to get a good night's sleep without cramping up."

"And I'll return the favor." Starsky sighed a little as Hutch's strong hands found more and more sensitive spots along his neck and shoulders. Places he hadn't even known were aching responded to the kneading motion. First a quick flash of a deeper ache as the muscles were explored, then the release, as relaxation replaced the pain. "Aw, buddy, that feels so good. You could do this for a living if you wanted to, or if I lost my mind and decided to let you work on any naked body but mine."

"I don't have any plans to ever work on anyone but you."

"That's good, even though we could probably make a fortune renting you out," Starsky teased. "Hey, let me have a go at your neck and back now, you've got my back clean and the worst of the kinks out. It's your turn." Starsky started to get to his knees in order to reverse their positions but Hutch stopped him. He wrapped both arms around Starsky's middle and pulled him backwards. "Hutch? What the hell? I was trying to turn around so I could do your back."

"Starsk, just relax. Lay back against me while I do your chest."

"I think we need to talk, pal," Starsky said seriously. "You're beginning to worry me just a little."

"I don't know why, and I don't want to talk right now." Hutch buried his nose in his lover's thick curls and made a little noise. What it was Starsky couldn't identify, but he felt the long body beneath him shudder slightly. Then the cloth was back, stroking his chest and arms, over and over. Starsky felt the arm Hutch had draped around his upper shoulders tighten slightly, even as Hutch continued bathing him with the other hand. Starsky tried to relax against the pressure but he couldn't do it. Forcefully, he twisted around with Hutch's arm still circling him, until they were lying chest to chest and he could look Hutch in the eye.

"Talk to me. What's got you tied up in knots? Is it that you had to kill Sanchez? I know what it does to any of us when we gotta fire."

"No. No. I've got no regrets that he's dead. He would've killed you. He was choking you, earlier, and-and, your face...you made this gasp." Hutch tightened his arms. "I've got no regrets that he's dead."

"Then what? Hutch, you saved my life today." Starsky moved to brush some of the damp blond hair away from the wounded temple. Hutch stopped him by placing his hands over his wrists and forcing him to sit up. Then Hutch climbed out from under him and out of the tub. Starsky just stared as Hutch stood naked and dripping, breathing hard and somehow looking so fragile.

"Babe, what is it?" Starsky asked, beginning to climb out as well.

"You said I saved your life today."

"You did," Starsky answered, grabbing for a towel to drape over Hutch's shoulders.

"That's a lie."

"What are ya talkin' about? You were the one that took Sanchez out right before he was goin' to shoot me!"

"It was my fault you were there in the first place. I was the one who almost cost you your life."

"What the hell are you talking about? Dobey sent us there to question Levy. How was any of that your doing?"

"That's not what I mean." Hutch sank back against the vanity. Starsky moved to stand next to him and encircled his waist snuggly.

"Then tell me what you mean," Starsky continued, holding the lanky body securely.

"When it started to go down...."

"Yeah."

"The sirens, and that guard, remember? That guard told us to leave." Hutch stopped, and a new look of concern crossed his face. "Did he make it out?"

"I think so, but forget about him for now, and tell me the rest." Starsky was trying his best to make sense of what Hutch was trying to tell him. Hutch was trembling, now, from stress or the cold air on his wet body, Starsky didn't know, but he grabbed for the two robes, carefully draping one over Hutch and one over himself. Then he took Hutch by the hand. "Wait a minute. Let's go climb into bed, and get warm, huh? I want to hear it all, but I want to get us more comfortable first."

Hutch just nodded and let Starsky take control, following after his partner toward the bedroom. Once they reached the huge bed, Starsky pulled down the covers and fluffed a few of the front pillows before reaching for Hutch's robe and removing it. He reached a tender hand back to Hutch's temple.

"I never did bandage this."

"It's fine." Hutch sighed a little.

Starsky narrowed his eyes slightly but refrained from commenting further as he took Hutch by the elbow. "Come on, partner, hop on in. You're gonna feel better all stretched out."

Hutch acquiesced, lowering himself to the bed slowly as Starsky drew the covers further down to make room for his legs. He leaned back into the nest of pillows, and then laid an arm over his eyes. Starsky just looked for a moment. Taking in the tense features and the quick rise and fall of the smooth chest. "Ya gotta relax a little for me, okay?" A slight response came in the tilt of Hutch's chin.

One smooth motion had the sheet and blankets drawn to Hutch's waist, then Starsky went to the other side of the bed, shed his own robe, and hurried in himself. In an instant he had the blond on his side and cuddled close against him. Starsky took a moment to kiss behind the long damp neck and to stroke the arms his partner held so rigidly. Then he kissed an ear and whispered, "Now, finish telling me."

Hutch took a deep breath. "When we were at that door, you were in the front, then Carlson, then me. You saw the convicts first."

"Uh huh."

"You were at the front, Starsk," Hutch repeated, turning over and looking at Starsky directly. The dark-haired cop knew he was missing something important.

"Okay, I was at the front. I don't understand where you're going with this."

"The problem is," Hutch sat up angrily as he spoke, "that I changed your position. Once I saw the convicts heading toward us, I panicked and shoved you behind me."

"You were trying to protect me, like you always do." Starsky sat up, too.

"That fucked-up protection of mine nearly cost you your life." Starsky just listened, letting Hutch get it all out. "Don't you see? If I hadn't done that, if I hadn't pushed you behind me, then you would have been in the front and they would have pulled you out of that room, not me. You went through hell because of that. It should have been me that they held hostage all day. It should have been me they threatened and shot at.... It should have been me, don't you see?"

"Aw, babe. Aw, Hutch." Starsky got up on his knees and captured the stricken face between his two hands. "Is this what's been eating at you? You're somehow blaming yourself? Babe, that's just stupid. None of it was your fault, not one thing. And you did save my life today."

Hutch pulled back, refusing to be placated. "Of course, I'm blaming myself. God, Starsk, how many times have you been hurt when I've come away unscathed? How many? How many times when I should've been there to protect you?" He clutched desperately at Starsky's shoulders. "I'll tell you how many, Bellamy, Simon Marcus, Lockley and that punk Joey, Bagley, Gunther." A shiver passed through his frame. "Gunther. I still have fucking nightmares about that damn garage."

"Hutch, stop." Starsky grabbed his face again. "Just stop. None of those things were your fault and if you want to run down a catalog of times we've been hurt on the job, well, you've got an impressive list yourself."

"Today was different." Hutch tried to make his voice steadier. "Today, my bad decision, my need to try and protect you is what put you in danger. It was my fault. Oh, God, Starsk, I wanted you out of there so much I couldn't think straight and if I could have, I would have begged the cons to take me and let you go."

"You think I don't know that? You think I don't know what worrying about me all day was like for you? I've been on that side, Hutch, don't forget that. I know that if you could have traded yourself for me you would have, because that's what I'd want to do for you, but...I'm glad there was no way you coulda done that. Knowing you were safe was the only thing that gave me any peace and made it bearable at all." Starsky stroked a finger around Hutch's mouth. "There's one more thing. If our positions at that door had been reversed, I would have done the same thing. I'd have pushed you behind me. Don't you see? It's what we do, what we've always done. We protect each other the best way we can."

Starsky's words were having an impact, finally. The blond recognized the logic but still his fear and guilt lingered. "Starsk," he started softly. "Getting you back today was a miracle. How many more of those can we possibly get?"

"We can't think like that, Hutch, or we'll both go crazy. All we can do is love each other and appreciate those miracles." Starsky leaned in slowly and laid his lips against Hutch's, just touching them softly before pressing closer and turning his head to create the perfect fit to really kiss his troubled blond.

He sighed when Hutch parted his lips willingly and let his seeking tongue inside. The darting muscle filled Hutch's mouth and he shuddered against the perfection of it. Starsky wrapped his arms tightly around the velvet expanse of Hutch's damp back, feeling the shudder and trying to still it with a deeper plunge inside the sweet cavern, but the shudders didn't stop, and at once Hutch pulled away with a gasp.

"Hutch?" Starsky reached a gentle hand to his partner's face and found a new dampness there. "Hutch?"

Hutch couldn't speak. At once the trauma of the day washed over him like a tidal wave, and sought its release in a flood of hot tears. He shook his head briefly and tried to stop them, but couldn't.

Finally. Finally that pressure found a valve. Starsky thought gratefully, then looked more closely at his lover and felt his worry climb back up his throat.

The sight of Hutch crying wasn't what caused Starsky's heart to pound heavily, because he'd seen that enough times before. This time was different. This time there was no sound and almost no motion, just a stream of tears raining down a still, pale face. Starsky gathered him close and eased them both down again on their sides. He pressed tightly against Hutch's length and rubbed a hand over his face.

"Let it out, babe, let it all come out."

Long seconds stretched into minutes as Hutch sobbed without sound. Starsky petted his back and his ribcage, rubbed around the abdomen, whispering soothingly until the flood ebbed, and finally stopped. One last shudder and Hutch was still.

"There ya go," Starsky encouraged. "Got that out of the way and now I think you need a cloth or something."

"I need you," the blond said softly.

"That you got, for always."

"I need you now."

"I'm right here."

Hutch rolled over and blinked the last of the tears away from his gold-colored lashes. He touched Starsky's face. "I need you inside me."

"Hutch...."

"I do. I need you. I need to feel you inside me, I need to feel you wrapped around me like a blanket."

"But, Hutch...."

"Please, please."

Starsky looked again. Really looked. This was too important to him, to both of them, to do for the wrong reason. He had to be sure that it wasn't just what Hutch thought he needed but what he desired as well. He kissed him again.

Now there was hunger. The lips under his own were widely parted as Hutch tried to draw his tongue deeper and deeper inside the wet warmth. Then Starsky felt the sweetness of that wide mouth on his eyes and forehead. His cheekbone was lavished on one side and then the other before Hutch dropped his head lower to nibble under his chin and bathe his neck with a liquid stroke.

Starsky grabbed a handful of the blond hair and held on, anchoring Hutch's head at his neck. Then he released the hair to pet it, pressing Hutch's face against the beat in his throat. "Slow down, love. Slow down."

"I want to love you. I want to give you everything, all of me."

"You do, Hutch. Every day, and in every way."

"Then let me give you this."

For a moment, Starsky felt almost humbled by the depth of emotion behind the words and in the blue eyes that were no longer shrouded in pain. Now, they shone with trust and so much more.

So much love and he wants to give it all to me. He'll spend his life giving it to me, and I'll spend my life giving mine to him.

Starsky knew then that the time was now. This was what Hutch needed and Starsky was going to love him so hard that the day they'd spent chasing death away, again, would be a pale memory next to the night they'd share reaffirming life and love. He felt his own desire stir at the thought of what they were going to do. In a flash, he thought of their conversation just that morning, a lifetime ago now. His own words replayed in his head: I'll know when you're ready and I'll make it so good, then....

Now, to keep that promise....

Starsky reached a hand under the covers until he found his partner's sleek belly. He ran the flat of his palm in a circle, loving the feel of the tight warm flesh and the way Hutch responded by running the short of his nails slowly down his back, bringing on a series of delightful quivers.

"Oh, yeah, the way you do that. Feels so nice," Starsky slowly commented, then lowered his hand to Hutch's groin. He rubbed the awakening length firmly with the heel of a hand then used his thumb on the crown--short, tiny strokes that caused Hutch to gasp.

"Hey," Starsky murmured. "I have to go get something but I'll be right back. You just lay there and when I get back I'm gonna make you so hard."

"Don't leave now, what do you have to get?" Hutch asked, unwilling for that wonderful hand to leave him.

"Something we'll need. I'll be just one minute." With that, Starsky slid from the bed and went to the bathroom. The room was a mess from their shared bath, and water and clothes were scattered everywhere, but it didn't take Starsky long to find what he wanted. The first aid kit was well stocked. Starsky was grateful when he had the pouch opened. He knew he'd find it in here and he did. Nestled next to a stack of bandages was a small jar of Vaseline.

He hurried back to the bedroom, not unaware of the fact that there was a flock of nervous butterflies in his stomach. He swallowed them down and with a smile climbed back in the bed and into Hutch's waiting arms. He tucked the jar under a pillow and spent a few minutes being blissfully kissed and kissing the man he loved.

"Love you," Hutch whispered. "I love you so goddamned much." He captured Starsky's mouth in a deeper kiss, and then began to map his throat and shoulders with small nips and licks. The feel of the bath oil they'd both just soaked in added to his arousal, since Starsky's always-smooth skin now had a satin-like covering. "You feel so good, you're so beautiful," he spoke before fitting his length on top of Starsky and attaching his mouth to a small needy nipple.

Starsky had never understood how Hutch was able to draw so much pleasure out of those small nubs that he used to take for granted. He couldn't remember any lover before Hutch ever making him feel much of anything when his nipples were touched, but when Hutch put his mouth to them and suckled...all Starsky could do was toss his head and bite his lips as his cock surged and filled. His hands clutched at Hutch's back when he felt Hutch's teeth tug on his chest hair, just enough to increase the sensation electrifying his skin. Then the wide mouth fell on the nipple's mate and laved it in the same way while the one just left was pinched and pulled in Hutch's fingertips.

The feel of Hutch's cock rubbing against his own, was so delicious that it took real effort for Starsky to still the motion of the moving hips and roll them over until he was on top. "Too much of that and my rocket might go off way too soon. Can't let that happen." Starsky whispered into the shell of an ear then licked around the lobe. Starsky spread his legs until they were widely positioned outside of his partner's long limbs, then he raised himself to his knees. One hand raked through the tangled blond hair and he looked at Hutch's face, which was filled with expectancy and so beautiful in the dim light. "I want you to turn over for me, babe."

Hutch smiled and nodded. Starsky was grateful to see that there was no nervousness showing in the eager expression. That's good, he thought. I'm plenty nervous enough for both of us. He didn't let it show, though, as he helped guide Hutch onto his stomach. The blond settled against one pillow, turning his face until just his right cheek was resting against it. He began to draw his arms underneath him but Starsky stopped the gesture.

"Just leave those at your sides, okay?" he asked before starting to knead the muscles along Hutch's shoulders with strong hands. "I just want you to relax and let me do the work, now."

"Since when is making love to me, work?" Hutch teased, but he did relax further under the strong massage.

"Smartass," Starsky laughed, with a gentle slap to a lean flank. His hand lingered in a lazy circle, smoothing the curve of one buttock then skimming along the thigh that was feathered lightly in soft hair. "Oh, Hutch...love you...."

"Show me. I want you so much."

Starsky swallowed at the sound of the naked desire--as naked and needy as the body he now held his weight against. He used his hands and lips to blaze a moist trail down Hutch's spine, then his sides. Stroking everywhere and using his nails to gently tickle sensitive flesh. When he reached the base of his partner's spine, he used his legs to start encouraging Hutch's further apart, then scooted down in the huge bed until his face was resting atop the pale ass.

Tenderly, he nuzzled the taut globes, loving their warmth and scent. So pliant and spongy and yet rock hard with muscle. The short area between spine and separation was thoroughly kissed as Starsky simultaneously used his hands to briskly rub heat into the sides of both hips. The sound of Hutch's gentle groan told him he was setting his partner's body on fire. The knowledge made his heart swell and he reveled in the joy of his masculinity and what he was able to make his partner feel.

He settled himself more comfortably, fully intending to enjoy this and make it last. His tongue wet the top of one cheek then the other, making them glisten in the soft light, then he insinuated it at the top of the division and slowly ran it a few inches down, going as deep as he could.

"Starsk, Starsk!" Hutch cried out, and Starsky wanted to laugh at the surprise and passion in the sweet cries. He couldn't, though, not and continue what he was doing, so he anchored Hutch's hips more firmly and let his tongue continue its downward journey.

"Oh, God," Hutch moaned, at the same time that Starsky used his thumbs to gently part his ass. "Starsky...."

"I'm right here. Spread your legs a little more. Make them nice and wide." He waited while Hutch complied and once again he had to still one of the large hands that tried to creep under his lover's body. "Not yet. Not nearly yet. You just lay real still for me." Starsky spoke and then blew a stream of warm air in between the parted cheeks. He lowered his face again and lightly touched the tip of his tongue to the puckered opening that was now clearly visible.

He was prepared for the reaction that came, and held firm to the now wriggling ass. His confidence was growing with each lap of his tongue and each cry from his partner. Starsky made sure the orifice was thoroughly lavished with teasing strokes that enticed and inflamed. He was on fire himself. The act he was performing was stimulating his body in ways he didn't think possible, and he added his own low moans to the ones coming from Hutch.

"Starsk, babe...can't take much more...."

Starsky did laugh this time and continued his loving torture. He rimmed the opening again and again in between broad strokes over it all. When Hutch was quivering from head to toe he slowly stopped, but not before he planted a firm kiss over that tender hole. Reluctantly, he raised himself up and moved to the front of the bed. Hutch was panting against his pillow and Starsky stroked his hair with one hand while using his other to find the jar of Vaseline. He made his way back between Hutch's spread thighs on knees that felt like liquid. He opened the jar and dipped just the tip of his thumb into the goo, bringing out a small dollop. He looked at Hutch lying flat against the mattress and asked, "Can you raise up just a little for me? Just scoot your knees up some, I want your beautiful ass just a little higher."

With an effort, Hutch managed to get his rear raised slightly. "That's enough," Starsky purred, "that's real good right there." Then he firmly pressed his coated thumb against the opening and pushed it inside the tight heat. Using his long fingers he grasped Hutch's balls in a soft cradle and tickled the wrinkled sac, while his thumb continued to push in and out of the clenched ring of muscle.

"Is this good, Hutch? Tell me, babe, is this good? Do you like it?"

"Yes, oh, God, yes, keep going, don't stop."

"I'm not going to stop. I'm gonna get you all open for me, and then I'm going to bury my cock as far inside you as I can. Unless you tell me to stop. You can tell me to stop any time, Hutch, and I'll love you just the same."

"No. No, please, don't stop. I'm so hot now, want you so much." The blond was gasping out the words as his body tried to suck the creeping thumb further inside. "Give me more."

Starsky did, grabbing the jar again to add some grease to his index and middle fingers. He pulled his thumb out and replaced it with the two digits, pumping them hard to give Hutch a sample of what was to come. The opening began to further relax under the steady pressure and when the nub inside Hutch's body was stroked, he almost came off the bed.

"Now! Starsky, now," he gasped out. "I can't wait anymore, you're driving me insane. Give me your cock. Please, give it to me now. I want you to fuck me."

"Okay, easy, okay. No more waiting, I'm gonna fuck you and love you and make you come harder than you've ever come before." Starsky spoke at the same time he removed his hand and lay down next to Hutch on his side. He reached for his lover and positioned him on his side, back to Starsky's front. With a hand that shook, he helped Hutch raise his top leg until it formed an inverted V shape, then he pressed the blunt, wet head of his cock against Hutch's opening.

"Take a deep breath, Hutch," he spoke, and slowly, slowly inched his steel length inside until he was sheathed halfway. Hutch bit his lip against the sharp pain, not unexpected, but intense. He said nothing, but Starsky knew. "Keep breathing and give yourself a minute. I'm not going to move more until you tell me to." Starsky reached around until he found Hutch's member, surprised that it wasn't as firm as he thought it would be. His fingers were still slick with Vaseline, and he used that to help his hand create a fast smooth friction up and down the sleek flesh. Hutch's cock responded quickly, fully filling again and soon rock hard. At once, Starsky felt Hutch's ass open a little more, but he held himself rigidly still and continued to work Hutch's shaft.

"Now, Starsk. Move now, I want it all."

With a groan Starsky continued, still pushing slowly and carefully and still pumping Hutch's cock. "Oh, shit, Hutch...shit. You're so tight, so hot around me. Feels so good," he moaned. He tried a gentle undulation, hoping to find Hutch's tiny gland again. "This good? Is it still good?"

"There, oh, God, there, there. Again." Hutch was barely getting the words out as the inside of his body lit up with ecstasy and the hand working his cock brought him to the brink. "Fuck me hard, babe, do it hard, I'm gonna come."

The words excited Starsky unbearably and he increased the rhythm of his hand and hips, amazed at the intensity rushing through him, amazed that it could be this good, this hot. Amazed at the gift he was being given, one that he'd never forget. He tightened his hand, squeezing just under the head and that was all it took. Hutch came in a powerful flood, bathing Starsky's hand with creamy, warm fluid. Almost from a distance he heard his partner's soft pants and attempted words, but he was too close himself to really hear. He drove himself now like a piston into Hutch's sated body, and soon he roared his release.

Hutch was boneless against him, as he shuddered and tried to catch his breath. A large hand reached for one of his and he felt his fingers entwined with his lover's. It took a moment to hear the whispers that were forming words and to have them make any sense. Hutch was pressing back against him as his cock shrank while still inside his partner's body. Some of the words Hutch was whispering were starting to make sense, now.

"So beautiful. That was so beautiful. I've never felt like that, not ever. You made it so good. Thank you, babe, thank you." Hutch spoke with a trace of thickness, and Starsky could hear the emotion behind the words.

"I'm the one who's supposed to be thankin' you, Blondie," Starsky whispered against Hutch's neck. He buried his nose in the sweaty strands of blond hair and sighed deeply. "You were incredible, the way you took me in, gave me everything I'd ever dreamed it would be." His organ had stopped throbbing now and was completely soft. Starsky eased out slowly and carefully, but still Hutch uttered a short hiss.

"Babe? Did I hurt you? You okay?"

"Of course I am, it's just a little sore."

"Was I too rough?"

"Starsk, you are the most gentle and considerate lover.... No, you weren't too rough. It was perfect, but it was my first time, remember?"

"Oh, yeah. I don't think I'll ever forget. It's not every day that a man takes the virginity of the guy he's in love with you know."

"And it's not every day that a man gives his virginity to the guy he's in love with," Hutch replied.

They were both profoundly moved by the experience they'd just shared, but they were also exhausted. With the physical release from their bodies came a deep need for sleep.

"I probably should stick you back in the tub, or at least get off my dead ass and get a towel to clean you up with. Clean us both up with," Starsky said as he yawned hugely.

"That can wait until morning. Right now all I want to do is go to sleep with your arms around me. Okay?" Hutch asked softly.

"Okay." Starsky tightened his arms and soon both were deeply asleep.

The next morning, both men were pulled from slumber by the increasing level of sunlight drifting over the bed. Hutch was the first to completely give up on the idea of sleeping anymore, and he carefully extricated himself from the loose grip still encircling his chest. He sat up carefully, trying to quietly leave the bed when Starsky stirred a little more.

"Where ya goin'?" Starsky mumbled with one eye open.

"I'm going to the bathroom. Go back to sleep."

"You 'kay?"

"Yes, I'm fine but I have to pee, Starsk."

Starsky thought a moment and opened the other eye. He peered at his partner through a cloudy haze of messy curls. "Now that you mention it, so do I."

"Well, I thought of it first so you're going to have to wait your turn." Hutch laughed, finding his robe on the floor.

Starsky gratefully watched the easy movements Hutch was making, feeling a little bit of relief that everything was moving easily. "Hurry up, Blondie, I'll be right behind you." He sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes fiercely.

Hutch laughed all the way to the bathroom.

True to his word Starsky was right behind him, unceremoniously entering the bathroom just as Hutch was finishing relieving himself. He flushed and tried to frown at his partner but he couldn't do it. "Here, the john's all yours. I'm going to start a shower."

Starsky ambled to the bowl but not before catching sight of the pile of filthy clothes in the corner. "Damn, we never sent those things out to be cleaned last night."

"Tell you what, why don't you call for the laundry service while I shower? Tell them we'll pay extra if they'll rush them. We have a lot of phone calls to make, anyway, before we can go anywhere."

Starsky knew exactly what he was referring to. They still had to give their statements and clean up all the loose ends they'd left at the prison the day before. Starsky refused to let the thought interfere with his good mood and he started to nod in agreement with Hutch's plan when a new thought struck him."

"Oh, my God."

"What?" Hutch asked on his way into the shower.

"Hutch, we never called Dobey. We never told him anything. Shit, he's gonna roast our nuts over an open flame."

"Somehow, Starsk, I doubt it. After all, we may have forgotten to call him but we are coming home. Both of us. I think he'll be damned grateful."

"Maybe you're right, babe, maybe you're right."

It was late afternoon before the detectives were back in Bay City and seated in front of their captain's desk. The day had been filled with statements, paperwork and even a brief on-camera interview between Starsky and the eager female reporter who'd tried to interview him after the rescue. Starsky didn't have the heart to turn her down twice. To both men's relief, they were able to give their statements at the sheriff's office as opposed to the prison itself. Neither wanted to ever return to that dark place. They were both so drained that the five-minute tongue lashing Dobey was still in the middle of, was only partially registering.

"Now! Are we completely clear on this, you two?"

Starsky glanced at Hutch desperately. He hadn't heard the last part of Dobey's tirade and was unsure about what he was supposed to be clear on. Hutch gave him a brief nod and answered for both of them.

"Yes, sir, we're both clear. It'll never happen again. If we're ever on a field assignment and one of us is taken hostage, we'll be sure and call you as soon as it's over."

"That better not be sarcasm, Hutchinson!"

"No, Captain, of course not," Hutch assured him with a sly wink in Starsky's direction.

"Good, okay." Dobey straightened in his chair, very glad to have the mandatory reprimand out of the way. He cleared his throat and continued. "Now with that understood, let me just say that I'm damn glad to see you both back in one piece."

"Thanks, Cap," the partners answered in one voice.

"I've been on the phone for a good part of the day with the prison authorities and I've been told that you both handled yourselves admirably and that you're to be commended. "Good job, boys." Dobey's smile was uncharacteristically broad. "You'll also be happy to know that we heard from the hospital while you were in flight. That wounded guard, Andrews, he's going to make it."

"That's real good," Starsky said softly.

Dobey went on. "Also, your file of Levy's statement was recovered so that situation will proceed as scheduled."

"How is Levy? Did you hear?" Starsky asked.

"Yes, he's going to be fine, although he'll probably walk with a limp for a long time. They got the bullet out clean, so once he recovers he'll be able to testify."

"I keep wondering why he did what he did." Starsky glanced at Hutch as he spoke. "I mean, he was on the ground, and then he was flying between me and the bullet that Sanchez wanted to bury in my head. Did he try and willingly save my life, or did he just panic and try and get out of the room?"

Hutch swallowed before answering. "Maybe we'll get a chance to ask him that, but whatever his answer, I plan on thanking him. It's also good to know that the reason we went there in the first place was successful." Hutch shook his head a little as some of the events replayed themselves in his head. I could have lost everything, but I didn't. He's safe and he's mine.

"That's it, you two. Get out of here now and go get some sleep. I don't want to see you back here for two days."

"Thanks, Cap," they answered again at the same time, and rose to their feet.

The sun had completely sunk in the sky when they entered the parking lot and found the Torino.

"Well, partner," Starsky asked as he unlocked the door. "What do you want to do tonight?"

Hutch grinned hugely. "I thought that was all planned out, Starsk. Something about you cooking me a steak dinner when we got home, and, oh, wasn't there something about giving me anything my heart desired?"

"That there was, buddy-boy," Starsky answered with a grin of his own. "Hop on in, we're going home."

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