by Sarah Problem

SHSVS, Episode 601, Part 1

It could have been a simple misplaced step that snapped the twig, but the sound echoed loudly throughout the darkening forest. Whatever its source, the noise almost put Aaron Masterson at the wrong end of Hutch's gun.

Asshole! Hutch thought bitterly, fatigue and wariness prodding his emotions toward anger. Doesn't he know better? He's going to get blown away that way, and it's not like we can afford to lose any more men.

Hutch moved from under his leafy cover just enough to let Masterson see him. He wasn't willing to make himself more of a target than that.

"Hey," Masterson said with slight amusement, raising his arms in surrender. "I'm one of the good guys, remember?"

"Even good guys get shot when they're not careful," Hutch said testily, already looking behind and around him, eyes alert for any movement. With Masterson's bumbling and stumbling, there was little chance that his quarry hadn't heard the commotion. "What are you doing out here? You were supposed to cover--"

"They're calling us in, Hutch. It'll be dark in an hour, and the captain wants to regroup."

"But I've almost--"

"Almost what? Tracked Starsky down?" Masterson shook his head, a flash of annoyance crossing his face. "Your personal grudge isn't the point here. It's getting dark and you're going to lose the trail once the sun sets. We need to regroup. Your vendetta against your partner--"

"Ex-partner," Hutch grated out, gripping his gun tighter. He liked the heavy weight of it in his hands. "He's my target, and if you think anyone but me can bring him in, you're crazy. You don't know him like I do. He's ruthless."

Masterson sighed. "Maybe you're right. He's taken out too many of us already. I didn't realize how good a shot he was."

"He's not good, he's the best," Hutch corrected. "You can't say I didn't warn you. You're not going to be able to--"

"Catch him? No, probably not." Masterson shook his head. "Look, Hutch, Captain Johnson wants us all in. You want to continue this suicide mission, you can do it on your own for all I care. Starsky may be top priority on your list, but the rest of us--"

"Tell Johnson I'm not coming in without Starsky. Dead or alive."

Masterson stayed silent for a moment, and Hutch watched as the man surveyed him from head to toe, his eyes serious and measuring. "It's your funeral, but I'll tell him. Just do me a favor."


"When you find Starsky, you make him suffer before you bring him in. Those guys he shot didn't deserve to be taken out so easily." Masterson turned and started tromping through the woods, heading back in the direction of the base camp. He paused to remark over his shoulder, "But if you change your mind and decide to come back in tonight, you'd better yell out who you are, or you'll get hit by friendly fire. Some of those guys are a bit jumpy."

"Not a chance," Hutch whispered to himself, as he turned back to focus on the trail Starsky had left behind. "There's no turning back from this. Not now."

David Starsky quickly checked the empty animal stall before throwing himself down onto the damp, spongy floor. He didn't know what kind of animal had been housed there, and frankly couldn't have cared less, as long as it didn't stink. He sighed and drew a deep breath, stretching out on his stomach to relax and plan his next move.

Maybe I should eat. Haven't had more than a bite all day.

It felt as if a hundred years had passed since the morning, when he had been more worried about having enough ammunition than food. He had filled his pockets with all the ammo he could carry, some jerky, and trail mix. He'd made good use of his ammunition, trying not to waste any, since he had no way to get more. He only had two rounds left, so would have to be very careful and make them count.

Rolling over on his side, he pulled the wadded up plastic bag of food out of a pocket. He tried to listen to the late afternoon sounds of the forest, wishing for the hundredth time that he had learned more on his past outings with Hutch. He wasn't sure he could tell a stalker from normal animal noises.

The thought of his partner made him smile evilly.

I know you're out there, Hutch. I know you're coming for me. I'd be certain of that even if I hadn't seen your face as I picked off Robinson, only a hair's breath away from you. Could've been you, couldn't it?

Wind blew through the barn, gusting through the small stall. Only half of the double barn door was left, and what was there was half off of its hinge. There was no hope of shutting out the coming night.

It'll be getting dark pretty soon, and I haven't heard any shots for a while. They all must've given up for the day. Everyone except Hutch, that is. He chewed on the jerky, wishing he hadn't dropped his canteen somewhere along the way. He can't be too far behind, but I probably should stay here. He's got more experience in the woods than I do, so I might as well stay put and be halfway comfortable. I'll be damned if I'm going to spend the night under a tree with bugs crawling up my ass.

Starsky lay back and eyed the inside of the old building. It must have been abandoned to the elements a long time ago. The old wood planks were dried and bug-eaten, leaving holes here and there that Starsky could see through. It reminded him a lot of that barn he and Hutch had been trapped in with Joey, years ago. But this barn was on the edge of a fenced-off, abandoned- looking area that looked like it must have held cows, or horses, or something large. The shrubs and small trees in the old enclosure spoke of more than a few years of disuse.

I wonder if there's an overgrown trail somewhere near here. Probably should avoid that. Walking a trail would make it too easy for me to be spotted. He sighed, tired. Maybe I should move on, before it gets too dark. They catch me in here, and--

A zing and thud interrupted his thoughts. Rolling quickly onto his stomach, he inched forward just enough to peek around the corner of the stall to check out the back of the barn.

The shot had hit the back wall, shot dead center through the front of the wide-open barn.

SHIT! I should have known Hutch would be right behind me! I should have moved --

A second shot followed the first. Starsky loaded his gun with the last of his ammunition, keeping his head low as he checked to see where the second shot had landed. It was close to the first one, just as plain as day.

Warning shots. Hutch must have rounds to spare if he's being that cocky.

"Come out with your hands up, Starsky!"

Hutch's voice sounded fairly near, but Starsky couldn't see much but thick greenery past the doors. He couldn't afford to move out of the stall for a better look.

Maybe if I wait quietly he'll come to the door to check it out. He can't know for sure that I'm in here.

Starsky bit his lip, trying to still his breathing as he listened for any movement from beyond the opening. One minute passed, then two.

"You might as well give up!" Hutch's voice shattered the evening quiet. "I can see your boot prints in the mud, Starsky, so I know you're in there. Might as well make it easier for both of us."

Okay, so much for that idea!

"Forget it, Hutchinson! No one is taking me in! Not you, and not any army you think you've got out there!"

There was a bit of movement then, seen through the holes in the barn wall. It was moving toward the doorway. Finger on the trigger, Starsky shifted a bit to aim at what would be chest high if Hutch came in low. Eyes alert for any glint of golden hair, Starsky prepared to make the kill shot.

The dark form beyond the door moved suddenly toward the opening. Even as Starsky squeezed off a shot, he realized he'd been tricked. He'd hit the target, but it fell flat to the ground, like empty clothing.

A decoy!

It was only by a fraction of a second that he missed having the gun in his hands hit by Hutch's fire. Starsky heard the crack of the gun and saw the kick of dirt where the shot had landed.

As he was pulling back behind his cover and rolling to sit up, Hutch made his move. In less than a second Hutch dove into the barn, tucking and rolling to the opposite side, bringing his gun up to target Starsky's chest even as Starsky aimed at his.

They both froze, each measuring and weighing the other with hard eyes.

Starsky, his back up against the back wall of the stall, tried to calm his breathing. He was feeling the adrenaline trying to jump-start his nerves into action. He grinned savagely at his opponent. This wasn't the time to make a careless move. He knew Hutch was thinking the same thing he was. The blond's gun never wavered, and the blue eyes looking back at Starsky were cold and serious.

"Looks like we've got a little problem," Starsky said quietly, letting the breeze carry his words across the space between them.

"Looks like you'd better drop that," Hutch said casually. "Might as well make this painless and let me take you in."

"You really don't want to do that, do ya? Nah, I know you don't."

"You never did like doing things the easy way, did you?"

Starsky chuckled, careful to keep his aim true. One wrong move and Hutch would use that second's lapse to his advantage. Starsky might be the better marksman, but at this range they were dead even.

"No," he replied with amusement. "Wouldn't've been any fun if I did. So, what do we do now? You won't let me go, and I can't let you take me in alive. Mexican standoff."

The corners of Hutch's mouth turned slightly, the smile of someone surrendering to fate. "Not this time, I'm afraid."

Starsky knew Hutch was going to pull the trigger even before he spoke.

The two guns went off in the same second, and both men grunted as the ammunition found its mark.

Gun falling to his side, Starsky looked down at his chest and the splatter of impact, the smile on his face growing wider.

Dead center, just like I knew it would be. That's my partner!

Hutch sighed tiredly as he let his gun drop, sticking a finger in the sticky mess of yellow paint in the center of his chest, grimacing with distaste. "Great, it's a draw. You happy now?"

"Sure," Starsky said smugly, wiping at the blue paint on his torso. "You're the one that lost, since you couldn't bring me in."

"I lost? You didn't exactly get away, did you? I don't see why you seem to think that getting killed while on the run is a good thing," Hutch snapped sourly. "Damn it, Starsky, you're the one who talked me into coming out for a weekend of playing war games and shooting at each other with paint balls. I thought we were supposed to be working with our teams to capture the enemy flag, not tracking each other over hill and dale because you've got the urge to massacre half of my team. You're supposed to be after the flags, not every player you can bring down!"

Starsky, his back up against the barn wall, crossed his arms and gave Hutch a wicked grin. "Sure I am. Some of us are flag getters, and some of us are snipers. Fact is, it's a lot easier for my team to capture your team flag if a lot of your guys are dead, right? Besides, it was too much fun to pass up. Being a sniper is more exciting than I thought it would be."

"Great. Fine. Glad you're enjoying your vacation," Hutch said sourly. Crossing his arms and leaning his head back against the barn wall he noticed the sun was close to setting. After chasing Starsky around all day, he didn't think he was up to scrounging around the forest after dark.

Great, trapped in here all night.

"You're just upset because you didn't get picked for my team."

Hutch opened an eye and gave Starsky a cold glare. "I am not."

"Sure you are. You were practically pouting when I told Paige not to pick you 'cause you were a lousy shot." Starsky's grin grew even wider.

Hutch closed his eyes again, crossing his arms across the splatter on his chest, and tried to relax. Starsky was right; he was a little upset at him for making sure they got split up.

He heard Starsky move. Before long he could feel Starsky settle next to him, leaning against him, smelling like warm forest and evening.

"C'mon, Hutch! We've got a couple more days to play these games. I had a blast! Capturing an enemy flag is a challenge and all, but didn't you have a great time today? Didn't it really get your adrenaline going?"

Hutch grunted at the nudge in his ribs. "Yeah," he admitted reluctantly, feeling a small smile escape his control. "Guess it was worth the look on their faces when they realized you were serious about picking them off. I thought Robinson was going to blow a gasket when you took him out of the game so early."

Hutch chuckled at the memory. "He had all these fantastic plans about how to distract the enemy and capture the flag. He was already in a crabby mood because the captain vetoed them all and laid out a new plan. Then to top it all off, you go and blow him and two other guys away as we were standing there waiting to get started. He could gladly have wrung your neck, that's for sure."

Looking at Starsky, Hutch saw a grin that must have matched his own.

"Yeah, that was the best part," Starsky admitted, his eyes sparkling. "Hey, you call a war, you gotta expect that the other side isn't just going to wait until you get your act together. I made sure it was after start time before I even started after you guys."

"Well, expect to be the first on my team's hit list tomorrow. You'll be lucky if you don't get back to base camp covered in paint before the first half hour is up. I know four guys that are going to want a piece of you."

Starsky shrugged. "Day after that they'll have forgotten, and I'll be back in the game. If I get taken out tomorrow, I'll just spend my time back at base camp swappin' war stories, drinking beer, and waiting 'til your carcass comes walking in. Which reminds me...."

Starsky leaned forward, looking outside the doorway. Pretty soon it would be dark enough that they wouldn't be able to see each other. "I'm starved. Shouldn't we head on back?"

"Oh, sure, we'll trek back miles and miles in the darkness by the light of half a book of matches that I've got in my pocket," Hutch said sarcastically. "Do you know how hard it is to find your way around in a forest at night? We'll fall and break a leg or something."

"Oh, right." Starsky's face fell. "Forgot. I didn't bring a flashlight or anything, either. You got your canteen with you? I'm thirsty."

Hutch reached around and unhooked the small container from his belt and handed it to Starsky. "What were you going to do if I hadn't found you?"

Starsky took a conservative sip, then leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. "I was gonna spend the night here. Guess we don't have much of a choice now. But a beer and a hamburger sure would hit the spot right about now."

"I could start a fire, but it would have to be outside the barn," Hutch offered. "We've got enough time to gather some firewood. It's not supposed to drop below seventy degrees tonight, so we won't really need it--"

"Then let's not. I've got some of that trail mix left that we could share. There's some straw in the back that we could sleep on. Maybe even some other stuff we could use in all that junk piled up in the back." Hutch saw the look of mischief in his partner's eyes. "Sounds kinda romantic, doesn't it? You, me, and the rat makes three."

Hutch laughed, unable to resist Starsky's teasing. "Okay, Casanova, let's get our bed made for the night and see what develops. But I'm warning you, I'm not really attracted to the desperado-on-the-run type of guys. You may find this night is going to be a lot colder than you thought."

"Sounds like a challenge to me. I like it when you play hard to get." Starsky got up suddenly and headed toward the back of the barn.

Hard to get? Hutch shook his head as he got up to join his partner. Sounds like more of a challenge not to let you have your wicked way. I don't think I've got any defenses left!

They were lucky to find part of an old tarp to throw over the small amount of straw that was left in the back of the barn. It wasn't a sleeping bag, but it would keep them off the ground. By using their jackets as blankets, and sharing body heat, they wouldn't have to worry about being too cold, even stripped down to t-shirts, jeans, and socks.

Hutch stretched out on the makeshift mattress, listening to Starsky as he made his way outside into the darkness to empty his bladder for the night. There would be a full moon out tonight, and even now a bit of its light shone through the small holes in the roof, keeping the barn from being pitch dark.

This is kind of romantic, he thought. No one out here to bother us, and it's a warm, pretty night. Heck, we wouldn't have gotten near each other on this vacation otherwise, even if we had been on the same team. No privacy when a bunch of guys are sleeping outdoors, around campfires, with visions of gun battles dancing in their heads.

And I guess I'd have to admit it was a lot of fun chasing Starsky around. Nice to see that he enjoys being out in the woods now. I don't have to feel bad about dragging him along with me on outings when I know he gets something out of it as well. But the next time he talks me into playing "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" he'd better make sure Butch doesn't skip out on Sundance!

To Hutch, the suggestion of a trip to Arizona to play war games with a bunch of enthusiasts hadn't sounded like it would be worth the vacation time. Starsky had learned about the new sport at one of the public shooting ranges, where he liked to go on occasion and keep up with some of the marksmen contests. The games were held on a forty-acre ranch located next to a National Forest, and the weather in Arizona would be even warmer than in Bay City. Hutch had been talked into it, after some shameless promotion and salesmanship on Starsky's part.

Yesterday, they had shared a chartered flight with four other men and had been met by one of the organizers at the small local airport. After arriving at the ranch, they'd met a lot of the other players--about sixty in all--and had been given the rules for the next four days. A map showed them that the whole forty-acre ranch had been divided in half, and at the two farthest ends were the team camps, where each team would eat, sleep and guard their flag while trying to capture the other team's flag. Once someone was hit on the torso by a flying paint ball, they would officially be "dead" for the day and were to make their way back to the base camp. There they could spend the rest of the day lounging around, eating, and swapping stories with the other walking dead. When night rolled around, they would be herded back to their team's camp to grab a sleeping bag, where the next morning the game would begin again.

Having brought only knapsacks with their clothing and personal items, their police IDs and a sleeping bag, they'd had to rent paint rifles and ammo. After a huge barbecue lunch, the whole group had been divided into teams and sent to their team camps for the night. The ranch owner, an elderly man who seemed to enjoy the company, didn't play himself, but his partners, Albert Johnson and Gabe Jennings, organized and ran the games, acting as captain for each team.

Hutch had actually started to look forward to playing the games until he realized that Starsky had been maneuvering, behind his back, to get them assigned to opposite sides. Hutch had spent his first night of vacation bunked out on the ground with a lot of strangers. He'd spent a lot of the night contemplating all sorts of revenge on his lover. All of those plans had fallen by the wayside after Starsky turned sniper.

Yeah, I guess that was fun. Sure got my blood racing. But if I admit that now, I won't have a reason to play hard to get. Hutch smiled to himself. And being hard to get can have its own rewards.

Behind the sound of chirping crickets and other night noises, he could hear Starsky approach the barn, so turned away from him to lie on his side under his jacket. Starsky settled next to him, spooning up behind. Starsky's arm draped itself over Hutch's ribs, and his warm hand started to rub at Hutch's chest through the t-shirt. Hutch took Starsky's wrist gently, moving the arm and dropping it back behind him.

Hutch tried to put some surprise, confusion and more than a touch of innocence in his tone. "Really, Mister, I'm sure you can't be that cold."

For a second Starsky froze, then moved back a little, putting just a bit of space between them.

"Just because both our cars broke down on one of these messy, deserted back roads, and nightfall caught us two strangers walking back to town for help...."

As he trailed off, he waited for a sign from Starsky that he understood. Hutch smiled to himself when he heard the tiny snort of amusement from Starsky.

"Yeah, it's too bad both of our cars had such trouble." Starsky stayed close behind Hutch, but made no move to touch him. "We must be miles from town. Miles from anywhere. Sorry I didn't get your name...?"

"Ken. It's Ken." Hutch rolled onto his back, his eyes searching out Starsky's silhouette in the dim light. Starsky was on his side, head propped up on his hand. "And yours is?"

"I'm Dave," Starsky said, his voice deep and silky. "And I'm very...very pleased to meet you, Ken. What's a nice guy like you doing way out here, alone, in the wilderness?"

The sound of his voice rolled over Hutch like soft fingers, making him feel like he was flushing all over. The strong, muscular body lying so close to him, but not touching, made Hutch swallow thickly.

"I...uh...I'm an accountant," Hutch said. "I'm just out here doing some sight-seeing. Must have gotten lost. I'm not good with maps."

"Oh, an accountant? Actually, I would have figured you for someone with a more..." Starsky's fingers found Hutch's arm under the covering of the jacket, lightly drawing a trail from his elbow to his shoulder. "…active job. Like a cop, or a fireman."

Hutch felt goosebumps break out along the trail Starsky had laid down on his skin. "Me? Oh, no, I'm not one for dangerous jobs like that! I'm...I don't...well, I prefer the quieter types of activities."

"Really?" Starsky leaned down closer to Hutch, who could see Starsky's face outlined and the heavy-lidded look of seductive interest. "A bit of a wallflower, are you? Used to the finer things in life. Bet you draw all the ladies, handsome guy like you."

Starsky's fingers touched his shoulder, then moved down to skim across his collarbone, down to the hollow of Hutch's neck. The touch was like fire through the thin cloth, and it was all Hutch could do to keep from sighing in pleasure. Instead, he squirmed a little, then moved away as if afraid of the touch, ignoring the interest in his stirring cock. "N-no, I'm afraid I don't have a girlfriend. At the moment, I mean. W-what is it you do, Dave?"

Starsky placed his hand flat on Hutch's chest, pressing down, as if keeping him from moving away. He leaned closer, until Hutch could see Starsky's face clearly in the darkness. Curls framing his face in soft shadows, eyes penetrating and sultry, Starsky looked like a wild thing. Hutch held his breath as Starsky lowered his head. Hutch soon felt soft lips at his ear.

"I'm dangerous, Ken." Hutch's heart thumped in his chest, his cock growing heavier at the warm brush of words. "Too dangerous to tell you what I've done with my life. I am...a wanted man."

He could feel Starsky's weight all along his side, feel the heat pouring off of him, smell the earthy, woody scent of Starsky's day in the woods. Hutch gasped dramatically, then made as if to push away from him, but suddenly Starsky's hands were at his shoulders. He was being held down in place, as Starsky half-rolled on top of him. He could feel Starsky's hard-on against his thigh, his own starting to complain about its confinement.

"You're an outlaw?!" Hutch asked breathlessly, wiggling just a bit, making sure to rub against Starsky's groin as he did so. "A criminal?!"

"Of the worst kind," Starsky replied menacingly. "But you shouldn't be afraid of me, Ken. I wouldn't hurt you."

"You wouldn't?" Hutch asked timidly.

Starsky's hand was at his chest again, moving in a firm circle, teasing Hutch's nipples through his shirt.

"I like you, Ken," Starsky murmured. His lips touched Hutch's earlobe as he spoke, sending shivers though him. "There's just something about you that makes me want to know you better." His hand now circled farther down Hutch's abdomen. "Much better. Would you like that, Ken? For us to get to know each other better?"

Hutch moaned in spite of himself, his cock growing hard in his jeans. Starsky was massaging his chest and stomach in wide circles.

"I don't know," Hutch said uncertainly, his heart pounding and his skin on fire. "I don't know...what you want."

Starsky chuckled throatily, the sound vibrating through the side of Hutch's neck, as Starsky started to nuzzle the tender skin under his ear. Stifling a gasp, Hutch kept a tight grip on the tarp underneath him, not wanting to spoil the game by grabbing his lover and bringing them together too soon.

Hutch's surprised grunt turned into a deep moan, as Starsky unexpectedly gripped his cock through his jeans, at the same time licking along Hutch's jaw, then nipping a bit of skin. "I want you, Ken. I want to show you how hot you get me. Do you want that, too? Do you want me to show you?"

Hutch couldn't speak for a minute, his mind wanting to curl around the feel of Starsky's hand rubbing him through his jeans, indulge in the weight against his body, the springy curls that now tangled with his own finer stands, as Starsky started to lay soft kisses under and behind his ear.

"Show me!" Hutch moaned, giving up the game as his arms surrounded Starsky, pulling him on top. Finding Starsky's face, he cupped a cheek in his palm and found Starsky's soft, moist lips.

It was fierce and powerful, the kissing and writhing against each other. Hutch reveled in the taste of Starsky's mouth, his tongue invading and exploring frantically before his own mouth was conquered.

Their hands found hot skin under clothing, zippers that were pulled down and hard cocks that were released to a duet of chest deep sighs.

Hutch found his concentration jumping from the firm handling of his cock to the feel of Starsky's thick and silky-slick cock in his own hand. Then there was a hand in his hair, pulling the fine strands, while hot, moist lips worried at one of his nipples. So many sensations mingling, from lava-like kisses to the cool touch of air on portions of his skin slick with saliva. He fought to return the favor, hands moving, pulling, and caressing, his mouth tasting and exploring. It could have lasted hours--or days. It was so encompassing that time didn't exist, but it never lasted long enough, and too soon Hutch realized he was close to coming.

As if reading his mind, Starsky stopped, pushing up off of Hutch. Hutch fell back with a sigh, feeling his lips swollen, his cock hard and drooling, and the taste of Starsky still in his mouth.

"Now I want to show you how hot you make me!"

With that, Starsky bent down and took the head of Hutch's cock into his mouth.

"Ahhh! Yes!" Hutch gasped, fighting the urge to thrust into that molten-hot space. He grabbed at Starsky's head, twisting his fingers in the thick curls.

One of Starsky's hands squeezed and rolled Hutch's balls, the other gripped the base of his cock firmly, moving up and down slightly. Starsky's mouth moved forcefully on the head of his cock, his tongue a soft caress in some spots, rough and raspy in others. Hutch knew he was making all kinds of noises at the caresses, feeling the vibration in his chest and throat. His head thrown back, his eyes closed, he stopped thinking and let his body react to the passionate handling. Gasping, electric fire ran through him, making stars appear in front of his closed eyes. Muscles tense, nerves humming, he felt the flash of climax roll across him like a tornado, ripping away every bit of strength he had, as waves of pleasure rolled in and through him.

It felt like it lasted forever, his seed rushing through him as if pulled by a force he couldn't fight. Hutch found himself swimming through a head full of fog, as he felt his spent cock released from its warm haven. Every muscle in his body felt as if it were rendered to happy mush.

But Starsky was moving up Hutch's body, stopping to kneel at his head. His pants down around his thighs, Starsky had one hand around the base of his own cock. Hutch could see it in the dim light, recognized how close Starsky was by the way it throbbed. "Now show me?" Starsky asked gently, the tremor of need obvious in his voice.

Hutch pushed himself up, with no little effort, and brought his head forward to lick at the tip of the quivering organ. Starsky hummed deeply.

Moving to get into a better position, Hutch reached up to push Starsky's hand off his shaft so Hutch could take it himself. He gripped it tightly, feeling the rapid beat of Starsky's heart under his fingers. With his other hand, he took Starsky's balls and started to knead them up and down, feeling the wiry curls tangle around his hand as he did so.

Bringing Starsky's cock up to his mouth, he sucked it in, wrapping his lips so tightly around the head as it pressed in, that Starsky gasped and jerked when his glans was finally inside. Hutch used the tip of his tongue to tease at the small, sensitive bit of skin on the underside. He kept a firm grip around the base of Starsky's cock, keeping his lover from pushing farther in than Hutch wanted him to go.

Starsky was gripping handfuls of Hutch's hair now, pulling gently in time to the undulations of his lower body. Hutch worked the hot cock, felt the flair of the head in his mouth and the hardening and straining of the muscles of Starsky's thighs, as he grew closer to completion.

"Oh...oh...oh...ooooh...." Starsky breathed, his tone low and rumbling. He started to urge Hutch to move faster, the hands in Hutch's hair now placed flat on his head trying to move it back and forth. But Hutch kept his pace slow, drawing out the pleasure for his partner, delighting in hearing Starsky's deep breathing turn to desperate panting.

"Please...suckitsuckit...oh...oh... Oh!

Hutch listened closely to the song of Starsky's climax, knowing what kind of pressure and touch he needed to come. As soon as the head of the cock flared once more in Hutch's mouth, he started the touches and pressure that would bring Starsky home.

"Yeah! Like that.... Uh...Uh... HUH ! Uh...uh...uh...oooh...oooh...oh...."

He kept that position until Starsky drew a deep breath and sighed, his grip on Hutch's head lessening. Then he swallowed carefully, keeping the suction on the softening cock in his mouth strong and consistent. It wasn't until Starsky's fingertips were gently touching his temple, then his cheeks, that he let go of the spent organ.

Starsky almost fell against him, and Hutch moved so they could hold each other close in the twisted nest of a bed they had made. They held each other in the darkness, Hutch knowing that Starsky must feel as complete and satisfied as he felt.

After a few moments, just before either of them could fall asleep, they moved apart, tucking themselves back in, zipping up, then huddling together on top of the straightened tarp, lying close beneath the covering of their jackets.

"Just what is it that you're wanted for, Dave?" Hutch asked softly, close to drifting off. "I'd like to know what kind of criminal I've just fallen in love with."

"The IRS wants me," Starsky murmured sleepily into Hutch's neck. "For some reason, they're not happy with me writing off my car and its care as a business expense. Now they're after my assets."

"Yeah? Well, I'm an accountant, remember?" Hutch replied with a laugh. "We ought to talk. I feel a happy ending coming on."

"Imagine that! We must have been meant for each other." Starsky planted a small kiss on Hutch's neck.

Smiling with amusement, Hutch drifted off, with Starsky all around him.

Starsky was almost afraid to open his eyes and officially start the day. He could tell by the bird sounds that dawn was close, even though it was still dark in their corner of the barn. His back and ribs were feeling sore and stiff, and he was afraid to even try to catalog the pulled muscles, minor scrapes and small bruises he'd collected during the previous day's game. He'd had a great time, but dodging bullets in the woods held different dangers than running down alleys, and at the moment he felt liked he'd run into a lot of things he shouldn't have. At least he was warm, with his left arm thrown around his lover's body, as they lay snuggled under the jackets.

Even as he was trying to decide if he could nod off for another hour or so, he felt Hutch's breath catch and his muscles start to twitch in their dance toward wakefulness.

Starsky decided to try to salvage a few more minutes' peace, moving closer to Hutch, pillowing his head on the broad shoulder.

Several minutes later, Hutch sighed and moved to embrace Starsky, pulling him even closer. Starsky lifted his head to give Hutch's morning stubble a quick kiss.

"'Morning," Hutch mumbled around a large yawn. "Did you get any sleep?"

"Some," Starsky admitted. "But not enough to want a repeat of yesterday. I think we should take the day off and hang out at the base camp, take it easy. We can play again tomorrow."

"Sounds good." Hutch's hand rubbed at Starsky's back and moved on up into his hair, carding through the curls. "By the time we found our way back we'd be too late to join in, anyway. I don't know about you, but I'm dying for a shower."

Starsky pushed up, leaning on one elbow to look at Hutch. "Yeah, me, too. And some breakfast. I have some of that trail mix left from yesterday. We can split that while we're walking."

Hutch, looking sleepy, warm, and tousled, smiled as he shook his head. "No thanks. You can finish it. I'll wait. Wouldn't want you to die of starvation on the way back." Hutch looked at his watch, angling it to catch the few rays of light that had found their way in. "Actually, we could start back any time now. Sun should be up in a few minutes, so we can find our way home easy enough."

"You're not still mad at me about yesterday, are you?"

Hutch looked at him and smiled slightly. "Well, can't say I was real thrilled when we ended up on opposite sides, but I wasn't really mad. You've been talking my ear off about playing Butch and Sundance so much during the last few weeks I was taken by surprise. But I have to admit, I enjoyed chasing your ass all over the hills. Gave me a chance to plan all sorts of revenge. Someone's got to make you pay for all that havoc you wrought."

Starsky felt his smile grow. "I was pretty good, huh? Taking out those guys was like shootin' fish in a barrel."

Hutch laughed, mussing up Starsky's hair with his hand as he pushed him back enough to sit up. "You had them running scared, partner. Once they saw that you weren't aiming for me, I swear I gained a couple of shadows. That is, until I announced I was going after you. Then they disappeared. I was actually sort of proud of you, in a weird sort of way."

"I could've taken you out a few times there, ya know," Starsky said teasingly.

"I know," Hutch admitted, a twinkle in his eyes. "But you wouldn't have had much fun if I'd been off the field all day, would you? I figured you wanted me to be the one to chase you to hell and back. So as soon as I got the okay from my captain, I was after you like you were on the FBI's top ten list."

Hutch reached out to lightly touch the part of Starsky's jacket that was plastered in paint, his face growing serious. "I figured that you wouldn't be coming back alive. Not much point to it in this game."

"Got me dead center, though," Starsky said happily.

Hutch looked up suddenly, a question in his eyes. "You sound like that's important."

Starsky shrugged, looking down at the spot on his jacket that Hutch was touching. "Guess it's nothing, really. It's just...I don't know. When you shot me, I just remembered what it was like when I first went out on the streets after Gunther's men shot me."

"Why would it remind you of that? Did I do something--?"

"In a way." Starsky tapped at the center of the stain. "This is a kill shot, Hutch. Right over the heart." Starsky then tapped at his chest, zeroing in on the highest of the bullet scars. "Not that far from where the first bullet hit."

Hutch's face went a half shade whiter at that moment, sudden concern filling his eyes. "I-I didn't even think of that."

"I know." Starsky grinned happily. "Don't you see? This is just a game, just like it should be. You didn't get all distracted by any of those old memories, Hutch, and neither did I. You used a kill shot because I was a threat. Dangerous. You weren't worrying about hitting a weak spot, and I wasn't worried about tearin' something loose."

Hutch searched his face, as if trying to understand what Starsky was feeling. "Is that why you tried so hard to get me to come after you? To find out if I would pull my punches?"

"No, that wasn't what I had in mind," Starsky said quickly. "Like I said, it was just a lot more fun to pull your chain than anything else. But after push came to shove, it just hit me how far we've come since then." Starsky tapped his forehead. "It's not hanging around up here, not like it used to. Not for either of us."

Hutch gazed at him softly, and Starsky knew his lover was trying to understand how he felt. Maybe he never really could, but Starsky knew he'd never stop trying.

"You are one dangerous son-of-a-bitch, David Starsky," Hutch said solemnly, the corners of his mouth hinting at a smile. "As crazy as they come."

"Yeah, I am," Starsky said with a laugh. "And I'm lovin' every minute of it!"

Both men took a few moments to stretch before moving too far. The morning air was cool, so they donned and zipped up their jackets. Hutch walked to the front of the barn, looking over the small field as Starsky came up behind him, chewing on the last of the trail mix.

Grass shoots carpeted the ground near the barn, and the leaves on the trees were still the bright green of youth. Later in the year, the growth would have made passing through the trees more difficult, but now the cover was just thick enough to make it hard to see too far into the forest around them.

They took a few moments to get their bearings, compare notes, and collect their guns. They knew they hadn't gone past the limit of the ranch, since neither man had seen any warning signs. Picking the spot they had come into the pasture from, they headed back in the direction they guessed the main camp to be. Neither man was very concerned about their location, or lack thereof. They figured that before long they'd hear the commotion of the next game, or run into a marker or a road.

Hutch led the way for a while, better able to remember all the landmarks and pick out the signs of their passing than Starsky was. They made good time, but it was clear that they'd missed out on the opening of the day's game by the sound of guns going off in the distance. It was Starsky who noticed the odd bit of blue off to the side, after they had been hiking for over an hour.

"Hutch, hold up." Starsky pointed to a mass of green leaves off in the distance, where the small glimpse of blue could be seen peeking from underneath. "Does that look like a normal bush to you?"

Hutch shook his head as he looked in the direction Starsky indicated. "No, it doesn't. Someone's stripped a tree."

Looking at each other with concern, they left the trail Hutch had picked out and made their way over to the site. Several new branches had been stripped from the surrounding trees and piled in a heap. Standing on separate sides, they both leaned down, Starsky reaching out to move a branch. There was a body underneath the foliage.

Hutch moved enough branches out of his way to find the corpse's head, grimacing as it came into view. "Don't think he lived very long," he said, reaching in to touch the neck, checking for a pulse only a formality at this point.

Starsky leaned closer for a better look. The head was shattered and the skull open in the back, making the small hole in the front seem almost inconsequential.

"I know him," Hutch said after a moment's study. "His name is Aaron Masterson, and he was on my team. I saw him yesterday, just before I ran into you."

"This the last place you saw him?"

Hutch sat back on his haunches, looking around the area. "No. It was farther back the way we just came. He was on his way back to camp, last I saw him."

Starsky gingerly pushed more branches away from the body. Masterson had been laid out flat on his back, his arms folded across his chest, as if laid out for burial. There were blue splotches of paint on his chest and shoulders.

"Was he out of the game when you saw him last?" Starsky asked, pointing to the large blue splotch that had hit the dead man just above the abdomen.

"No, he hadn't been hit when I saw him. And no one from my team would shoot him, unless it was by accident."

"That head shot was no accident," Starsky said grimly.

Both men were quiet, as a rapid volley of gunfire echoed in the distance, followed by unintelligible yells and whistles. Then all was silent.

Starsky sighed, looking very unhappy. "Well, we can't leave him alone. We'd either lose him or someone else would find him, and there's no telling what kind of evidence they'd disturb. You'd better head back and call for the Mounties."

"I can stay," Hutch offered. "You can find the way back by the sounds of the game."

Starsky considered it for a moment. "Nah, we'd better not call any attention to ourselves until we can get to a phone. No use alerting all the paying customers until we have to, they'd all come runnin' up here for a look-see. You go. You'll be faster."

Hutch stood, backing up carefully over his boot prints as Starsky did the same. When they reached the point where they'd seen the body, Hutch turned to Starsky again.

"Don't know how long it'll take me."

"Figured. Just do me a favor, will ya?"

"Sure. What?"

"Give me the last of your paint pellets, if you've got any left. And bring me back a sandwich, so I won't be left nibbling at these leaves all day."

"Gotcha." Hutch dug out the four blue pellets he had left over from the day before and handed them to Starsky. "These aren't going to do you any good, you know. Wish we'd brought the real thing with us." Hutch's voice held a touch of concern.

"I'm going to just sit over there and keep my eyes and ears open." Starsky gestured to a rock and bush a bit farther up the broken trail. "The bad guys will have to know I'm here to see me. At least I'll have some ammo in case a squirrel goes kamikaze on me or something."

"Yeah, I can tell you're terrified." Hutch gave Starsky a small smile and a pat on the arm as he turned to trot in the direction of the base camp. "Stay cool, buddy. I'll be back before you know it," he called softly over his shoulder.

Starsky watched him disappear into the forest before going to make himself a spot on the ground between the large rock and the bush.

"This place wasn't nearly this spooky when I was the most dangerous thing in it," Starsky muttered tiredly, settling into position to watch and wait.

Hutch stood back and watched the group that surrounded the body. Starsky was sitting on the rock beside him, eating a soggy bacon-and-egg sandwich that Hutch had salvaged from the breakfast remains.

The landowner, an elderly widower, had been curious as to why Hutch had needed the phone and the number of the sheriff's office, but had provided the information without Hutch having to tell him about the body. Hutch barely had time to grab Starsky a sandwich and soda, and himself an apple, before their arrival. When the men arrived, Hutch had his ID ready so they would take him seriously. Hutch had led them to the location without running into any of the game players, keeping the body's existence a secret for a while longer.

Hutch leaned against the rock Starsky was sitting on, watching as the sheriff's men called back to the car and started their crime scene investigation. As he watched their faces, he noticed that he and Starsky were given hard looks, even after Starsky's ID had been checked. The men had barely glanced at the deceased when their looks changed from one of concern to that of anger and shock.

"Is it just me, Starsk, or are they acting a little unusual?" Hutch whispered.

Starsky, eyes on the actions of the other men, chewed for a moment, then took a drink of the soda. "Yeah, that's 'cause they know who he is."

Hutch tried to hide his surprise. "How do you know that?"

"Same way I know that they've not only got a forensic team comin', but they've got someone runnin' a make on our IDs. I've been readin' their lips as they talked on their radios."

"I didn't know you could do that. You any good?"

Starsky shrugged slightly. "I'm learnin'. That sergeant there?" Starsky nodded toward a tall black man who was the ranking officer at the scene.

"That's Sergeant Withers."

"I could make out him sayin' 'Hutchinson' and 'report.' That guy over there..." Starsky nodded toward a deputy who was standing away from the other two, turned away from the body. Hutch could see the tenseness in the man's shoulders. "When he looked at the guy's face, it hit him hard. Must not be a relative, or the other guys would make him leave. But he knows the dead guy for sure."

Starsky popped the last of the sandwich into his mouth and finished it. "I'm thinking he must've been undercover or something. It just has that feel to it."

"So there must be more here than meets the eye," Hutch said. He agreed with Starsky's gut feeling. "It makes sense. These guys look like they're taking it personally."

The third deputy had been keeping an eye on both detectives, although he'd tried not to be too obvious about it. Hutch could see by the look on his face that he noticed the conversation between the two, and wasn't happy about it. Hutch wasn't surprised to see the man make a remark to the sergeant and then head their way, carefully walking a wide circle around the corpse.

The man was thick and broad-shouldered, blond and not quite as tall as Hutch. He also didn't look very friendly, considering they were all law enforcement personnel.

"I'm Deputy Minton, Mr. Hutchinson," he said coldly. "Would you mind coming with me and giving me a few details?"

"It's Detective Hutchinson, sir, and I'd be happy to help." Giving Starsky a "What can you do?" look, and getting a raised eyebrow in return, Hutch followed the deputy who led him quite a distance away from the scene and Starsky.

Minton asked Hutch all the usual questions about his being on the scene, what his business in the area was, and how well he knew the deceased. The man wrote quickly. Hutch, getting a look at his notes upside down, saw only lines and squiggles, making Hutch a tad jealous. He himself had always thought knowing shorthand would have speeded up statement taking. He'd just never gotten around to bother to learn it. On the second round of questioning, where the deputy asked the same questions but in different ways, Minton was almost glaring at him.

"As I already told you, Deputy, I was out here tracking my partner. Masterson came up behind me, letting me know that Captain Johnson had called all of the team in for the evening. We talked for a minute or so, then he started back to camp. But we were a little farther up the hill over there."

"So you last saw him at...?"

"Like I said, I can only guess at it. Must have been about five-fifteen or so. Took me about forty-five minutes to catch up to my partner, and then it got dark pretty quickly. I think they told us sunset was about six-fifteen around here this time of year."

"You and your partner were to meet up at the barn?"

"No," Hutch said, a bit of impatience coloring his voice. He knew the ropes of questioning and re-questioning, but he didn't like going through it himself. "This was a game. I was tracking him down to either bring him back to my camp as a prisoner, or to kill him and keep him out of play."

Minton watched him closely. "Seems like a lot of effort to go to when the game was pretty much over for the day. From what I understand, everything would just start over the next morning. Why get so far away from all three camps?"

"It was a personal thing, okay?!" Hutch said with some embarrassment. He could feel his face start to flush and wished for the hundredth time his coloring wasn't so fair. "My partner had ticked me off, and I didn't feel like letting him get away with it. Captain Johnson knew that if someone was chasing Starsky, he couldn't keep hitting our guys and pulling them out of the game. So he gave me the go-ahead to take him out or keep him running. I'd been tracking him around here all day, while avoiding the other team, and I didn't want to give up just because it was getting dark."

Minton's green-gray eyes looked him over coldly, as if he obviously didn't believe Hutch's story. "You said you don't have your firearm with you, Detective? Don't you usually carry it when traveling?"

"Sometimes I don't," Hutch admitted angrily. "It didn't seem necessary to lug it around in a forest, while I was chasing other guys with paint pellets in a pop gun. I'm on vacation."

"What type of firearm do you usually carry?"

"A Colt .357 and a .38 revolver. I only dig out the revolver on those occasions when I need my ankle holster."

Hutch watched as Minton carefully wrote the information down.

"At first glance, it doesn't look like the deceased's wound was caused by a Colt." The smile Minton gave him held no humor, and made Hutch's hackles rise. "But it's easy enough for a peace officer to come by all types of guns when he works the streets."

"Are you accusing me of something, Deputy?" Hutch asked through clenched teeth.

"I'm just taking statements, sir. I'm sure you can understand the necessity of the procedure." With that, Minton smiled tightly at him, then turned and walked away.

This guy's just pulling my chain, Hutch admonished himself. I've done it to people a million times, just to see if anything shakes loose. It doesn't mean anything.

It was then that he noticed the other deputy was questioning Starsky.

Better get my temper under control. It's going to be a long day.

Starsky stood at the window in Undersheriff Quinton Reed's office, looking out at the beautiful day and wishing that the paperwork would all mysteriously disappear, so he and Hutch could salvage some of their vacation. They had only tomorrow left, then would have to head back the day after. Spending time in the sheriff's office wasn't his idea of fun. From the sounds of Hutch shifting in the other chair and muttering to himself, it was clear that Hutch was in a worse mood than he was.

Can't blame him. Not when everyone here has made it clear that they not only believe that we had something to do with that guy's death, but that Hutch looks like the one that killed him. Out of the forty-seven guys out there playing games, they've spent all their time trying to find something on us.

There was something strange going on under all this. He and Hutch had both felt it at the scene. When the forensic team had arrived, he and Hutch had been taken to the owner's house to be kept apart from the rest of the game players, who had been rounded up for questioning. The area had been covered with sheriff's cars, and men had been called from off duty to come and help take statements. He and Hutch had been treated civilly, but just barely. It was as if their mere presence had ruined some plans, or had blown an operation.

After agreeing to come to the sheriff's station, without really having any choice in the matter, they'd been left alone in the undersheriff's office a couple of hours ago. No one came to check up on them, or even offer them coffee. It felt strange to both men, and without having to say anything to each other, he and Hutch had agreed not to discuss the case. The feeling that they were being watched, or listened to, was so strong that Starsky had wandered the room, looking for anything that would indicate that the room had been bugged.

Hutch's mutterings had died down, and he was sitting in a padded chair, arms crossed and an angry look on his face. Neither of them had been allowed to clean up, so both had made do with a quick wash-up in the restroom and a combing. Neither of which did anything to hide the fact that they'd spent the night outside.

Starsky tried to smother a fond smile at the way his partner looked like a disheveled little boy, caught picking apples out of a neighbor's garden, or with a handful of "borrowed" roses, picked for his mother. Hutch's stubble, not nearly the thickness of Starsky's, was so blond and sparse it was almost non-existent.

We'll have to be careful, or they'll find out just how naughty we were last night, Starsky thought, sobering up at the idea. All it would take would be a few words between us, caught on tape, for them to figure out that Hutch and I were doing more than sleeping in that barn. That may not be what they're looking for, but even the accusation would be one hell of a black mark against us. Not to mention the fact that we're too far from home to be caught with our pants down, either figuratively or literally.

Starsky smothered the fond thoughts and once again tried to think of anything about the game that could have a bearing on the case.

Just as he was about to make another round of the office, the door burst open and a smallish, round, balding man strode into the office.

"Sorry to keep you boys waiting. I'm Undersheriff Quinton Reed. Please have a seat." Once behind his desk the undersheriff nodded at them both as Starsky took his seat. "The sheriff is out of town on business. As you can imagine, I've been a little busy with this case."

"Could you tell us why we're still here?" Hutch asked casually, although Starsky could hear the frustration behind it. "You know where we work, we've given you our statements, and yet it seems your men don't want us to leave."

Reed looked at them both solemnly. "I appreciate your patience, gentlemen. But you must certainly know that sometimes paperwork will take its own sweet time to get processed. I've spoken to your Captain Dobey, who happens to think very highly of you. Although I have to admit, he didn't sound very surprised to receive my call."

I'll bet, Starsky thought. He's probably way past being surprised at anything that happens to us.

"You're certainly free to go now, but you need to stay in the area."

"That a request, or an order?" Hutch asked.

Reed scowled at him. "Actually, you could call it an order, since your captain has agreed to let you stay until this is all cleared up. I'm afraid we've shut down the game ranch. We'll still be taking a lot of statements this afternoon, but most of the guests will be allowed to leave as soon as they've finished talking to us. And since most seem to be in the middle of their vacation and will have to arrange for other ways home, they'll be looking for alternate lodgings for tonight. I'd advise you to find a nice hotel before they fill up, and call to let us know where we can contact you."

"Can we go back and get our supplies?" Starsky asked.

"You're bags have already been picked up. They're waiting in the front. I'll have one of the deputies give you a ride into town. Enjoy the rest of your day, gentlemen."

Reed picked up the phone and started dialing, making it clear that he had no more time for the detectives. Starsky and Hutch got up and left, shutting the door behind them and surveying the unfamiliar hallway.

"Which way is up?" Starsky asked, not sure where they should go to find their belongings.

"Can I help you guys?"

Turning around, Starsky saw the tall black officer he'd last seen at the crime scene. The deputy held out his hand and smiled.

"My name is Withers, and the boss says I should give you a ride to a motel somewhere."

"Any place that's got a shower is fine," Hutch said, shaking his hand.

"And a restaurant," Starsky chimed in, taking his turn. "I think I missed my lunch."

"No problem, I'm due for a bite myself. I know a great place that's off the main highway, so there won't be tourists coming in and out at all hours, and the food is even better than Mom's."

"Must be great stuff if it's better than home cooking," Starsky said, his mood suddenly brightening.

Withers laughed as he turned, motioning them back along the hallway. "Didn't say that. But compared to my mom's cooking, a cold can of spaghetti would be an improvement. C'mon, let's get you two settled."

Starsky raised his eyebrows as he glanced at Hutch, who looked a bit happier than he had a few minutes before.

Nice guy. Maybe we can find out what's going on around here, if he'll do a little talking.

On to Part 2

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