The Mirror Crack'd
by Hutchrules3

SHSVS, Episode 703, Part 3

Back to Part 2

All units, report.
Unit One, ready.
Unit Two, ready.
Unit Three, ready.
Unit Four?
Unit Four?
He knows when you've been bad or good, so BE GOOD FOR GOODNESS SAKE

The next morning, Starsky and Hutch were startled awake by a knock on the bedroom door. Both froze. Miranda knowing about their relationship was one thing. Having her see them in bed together was something else again. But the door remained discreetly closed; there was only another tap and then Hutch's mother's voice:

"Ken?"

Hutch cleared his throat. "Yes, Mom?"

"Jason Brady's on the phone for you," she called. "He says the neighbors have spotted Janine Perkins at the house."

Hutch threw back the covers and grabbed the phone from the nightstand. "Yeah, Jason?"

"She's at the house," Brady's nasal voice announced. "I'm headed over there with my deputies--"

"Hold on a minute," Hutch interrupted urgently. "Based on what Dr. Reed said, there's a very good chance she's added new reinforcements. You go charging in there with guns blazing, and a lot of people are going to end up hurt, including her."

There was a short pause on the other end, then Brady snapped, "You got another suggestion?"

"Let Starsky and me go out to Sutherland, pick up Dr. Reed," Hutch said rapidly. "We'll meet you a block east of Janine's house in..." He glanced at his watch. "...forty-five minutes."

Brady was silent again, then: "All right, Ken," he said sullenly. "But this better not turn into some coddle-fest for that girl. One way or another, I want her off the streets before this day is over."

"Our way doesn't work, we'll listen to whatever you have to say," Hutch told him, mentally crossing his fingers. It would be a cold day in Hell before he'd let the likes of Jason Brady lay hands on that woman's fragile psyche. Richard would never forgive him if--

Shaking the thought impatiently from his head, he cradled the phone and turned, dropping the robe and grabbing his clothes from a chair beside the nightstand. "Starsk--"

But Starsky was already out of bed, jeans on, pulling a shirt over his head. "C'mon," he said, moving toward the door and snagging his shoes on the way. "I'll drive."

They arrived at the appointed place in precisely forty-two minutes. Anxious to help, Miranda had agreed to contact Marty while they were on their way to Sutherland, and the psychologist was waiting at the gate when they arrived. Hutch was again navigating while Starsky handled the wheel, and he leapt out to open the door for her. She slipped in, Hutch slammed the door behind her, and almost before he could close his own door, Starsky had swung the car around and peeled back onto the street.

"Brady said the neighbors had seen her?" Marty said breathlessly. Sparing a quick glance into the rearview mirror, Hutch saw her bracing herself against the door and the back of the seat. "Did they say how she looked?"

Hutch shook his head. "Only that she was in and out of the house for most of the morning," he replied. "They had the sense that she'd been there last night, bringing things in, but every time they approached, she'd disappear again."

"Now's the time we need that positive figure from her past, Doc," Starsky said grimly. "Any more information about her brother?""

"As a matter of fact, yes, but it's not good news," Marty said dispiritedly as she dug through the voluminous purse she'd dragged into the car. "He moved out of the area last year. I tried to call him as soon as you left yesterday, but he's actually in transit on a business trip." She sighed. "It's a shame. He's one of the few supportive figures in her life. After their parents died, he visited her regularly, and he's the one who helped set her up in the house. If he were here to help, and I know he'd come, it would make getting her out of that house much easier."

"Damn." Hutch punched a fist lightly against the dashboard. "So close and yet so far."

"Well, we may have gotten a small break in this matter, if we're desperate enough to try a little deception...ah, here it is." She emerged from the purse at last with a fat manila envelope. "These are some things I pulled out of Janine's file...some information about her brother, and...here."

Eyes focused on the road, Starsky caught her hand in his peripheral vision.

"Look like anybody you know?" Marty asked.

There was a grunt from his partner. Consumed with curiosity, Starsky looked over to see the picture, but the angle was wrong and he was driving too fast to take his eyes off the road for long. "What?"

"Well, it seems Janine's brother bears a striking resemblance to you," Marty said triumphantly. "So if you're up for it, I can give you a little coaching and you might be able to gain some of her trust, perhaps get her to drop her guard for a moment, or even talk her into coming out and with me."

Examining the photograph, Hutch agreed there were similarities between Michael Perkins and his partner, but he had misgivings about this on a number of levels. On one hand, Starsky's charm and undercover acting skills had worked a lot of strange magic; he'd convinced people he was everything from a fey hairdresser to an Argentinean dance instructor. On the other hand, Janine was sharp, well-armed--and floridly psychotic. He'd be hesitant even in familiar territory, and now their back-up was an unknown at best and potentially hostile at worst. "Let's talk about it when we get to the house."

"We got about fifteen minutes," Starsky announced from the front seat. "Just in case, why don't you give me the 'Reader's Digest' condensed version of this guy?"

Thirteen minutes later, Starsky pulled the rental car up behind Brady's patrol car and threw it into park. He, Hutch, and Marty tumbled out and hurried to where Brady and four other men had gathered around a large sheet of paper. Brady looked up as they approached.

"Blueprint of the house," he responded to Hutch's inquiring look. "I got it from the city after we stumbled across her arsenal the first time around."

Hutch nodded in grudging admiration. It was a relief to know Brady wasn't a total idiot. "So what's the plan?"

Brady pointed. "The back yard is fenced in, but the neighbors said there used to be a missing board back in the corner, behind one of those forsythia bushes. It's been there since before Janine moved in, so it's possible she never knew about it and never got it fixed. If we can send some of our team back there--just in a holding pattern while the doc has her say--" he added quickly to forestall Hutch's protest, "then we might be able to prevent her from running back into the woods like she did the first time."

He pointed again. "Jamison, I want you, Huff, and Raye on the sides, two each. Take a corner, keep close, and for God's sake, watch the damned windows. First sign of trouble, you radio and we'll bring in the reinforcements." He turned to Marty and the two detectives. "Okay, let's hear what you got in mind."

Marty explained rapidly about the brother. "What we'd like to do--what we're suggesting--" she amended as Brady began to scowl. "--is for Detective Starsky to approach the house from the front door. Just knock, and if she doesn't answer--which I doubt she will--he can perhaps try to communicate with her a little through the door."

"Not too much," Starsky interjected, seeing the dubious look on Brady's face. "I figure the more talking she does, the less chance she'll figure out who I am."

"Now wait a minute," Hutch protested. "I thought we were going to talk about this before we decided for sure."

"Detective Hutchinson, I know you're particularly worried about the danger, given what happened to your father--" Marty began.

"Damn right I am," Hutch agreed hotly. He didn't think it was necessary to spell out the multiple concerns he had for his partner's safety. Starsky already knew, Marty probably suspected, and he wasn't about to give Brady more fuel for his contemptuous fire.

"Hutch, it's probably our only shot at getting her outta there without force," Starsky urged. "I know you don't like it, but I think we have to take the chance."

Hutch sighed; he knew he was beaten. "All right, all right," he relented, then leveled a finger at his partner. "But you be careful."

"What the hell good is all this play-acting gonna do?" Brady said, incredulous. "You think she's just gonna open the door and waltz out?"

Marty shook her head. "No, I doubt that'll happen," she admitted. "But it might soften her up a little, make her less afraid, get her reoriented to the present. Then maybe she'll let me talk to her and persuade her to come out."

"If nothing else," Starsky chimed in. "It'll distract her, give us some time to close off the other escape routes."

Brady eyed them all, then set his jaw stubbornly. "All right," he relented. "But I want him up there with back-up."

"No way," Starsky and Hutch both said simultaneously, for different reasons. Brady interrupted.

"No buts," he declared. "Either he goes with a team behind him, or we do it my way from jump start."

"C'mon, man," Starsky said with exaggerated patience. "You don't really think her brother's gonna go up there with a SWAT team behind her, do you?"

"For God's sake, Brady, even you should see the problem with that," Hutch said in exasperation. "Believe me, I'd prefer to have the National Guard up there, too, but this girl is paranoid, remember? Cops at the door just makes it easier for her to sense the trick." He jerked a thumb at his partner. "And he'll be right in the line of fire."

"I have to go up alone, at least the first time," Starsky added.

"I've just about had it with you two California hotheads thinking you can call all the shots," Brady spat. "Now, dammit, this is my town and my case, and those are my men out there, too. Now we either do it my way, or you boys can turn around and go right back home."

He glared at the two detectives. Hutch opened his mouth, but Marty interrupted.

"All right, that's enough," she commanded. "I couldn't care less about this macho power game you three are playing. What I do care about is getting Janine out of that house and back to the help she needs, without anybody else getting hurt. Now let's quit wasting time, or I may just decide to handle this on my own."

There was a moment of startled silence from the three police officers. Hutch glanced over at his partner, and found Starsky stifling a grin. Biting his lip to restrain his own smile, Hutch turned back to the psychologist.

"You're right, Marty. I'm sorry," he apologized sincerely. "Come on, Jason, let's deal with this like cops, huh? Surely there's some kind of compromise we can reach here."

Brady's lips thinned, but he nodded curtly.

They finally agreed that Jason's men would accompany Starsky to the front door, but only after a change of clothing. They kept on their flak vests, concealed under gray t-shirts, but shed the blue uniform shirts with their telltale patches and badges. In the t-shirts and blue slacks, guns tucked out of sight in the back of their belts, they could be mistaken for neighbors, or simply passersby. Starsky would approach the door first, while the officers stayed below the porch, out of sight but able to see inside the house.

Hutch, meanwhile, took a place with Brady and Marty at the end of the walk. There was a small bush there; it barely camouflaged them, but at least it was something. Holding his breath, he watched while Starsky nodded at the two deputies and mounted the steps to the front porch. His head tilted back, and Hutch knew he was scanning the walls and the porch roof for any sign that new weapons had been added out there. He apparently found nothing, for he stepped to one side of the door and tapped on it sharply.

"Janine?" he called.

There was a collective holding of breath. Starsky tapped again.                                                        "Janine? It's Michael, can you come on out or let me in?"

You better watch out, you better not--
Michael?
What's he doing here?

Something caught the edge of Hutch's eye--sharply, he saw a curtain flutter back into place. Silently, he nudged Brady and flicked his eyes toward the attic. Brady followed his gaze and nodded once.

"Janine?"

There was another, almost unbearable pause, then an upstairs window opened, not more than a couple of inches. A beat, then a small, weary voice spoke.

"Michael?"

Despite himself, despite the pessimism from years of similar situations, Hutch couldn't restrain the hope that it would be just this easy, that she'd believe Starsky was her brother and would surrender herself to him.

Starsky backed away a few steps from the door. "Yeah, sweetie, it's me," he called, his voice full of genuine warmth and concern and worry. "Dr. Reed called me, Janine. She's real worried about you and how you're doin'."

There was a long silence and Hutch began to scan the other windows of the house, willing Starsky to do the same so he wouldn't be ambushed by one of Janine's inventions. Then the small voice spoke again.

"Not so good, Michael," Janine said sadly. "I think...I think I hurt somebody. I think...I know he was from the Project, Michael, he had to be, and I didn't want to hurt him, but the voices...they said I had to or he'd take me back there, and you know what they're like, Michael, you know what they did." They heard a sob escape from the open window. "I'm scared, Michael, I'm scared. I can't be hurt like that again. And no matter what I do, they just won't leave me alone."

"I know, baby, I know," Starsky said soothingly. "But you know the voices don't always tell you the truth, remember? They're that part of you that's still scared from what happened before, but what they want you to do is only going to make matters worse."

Amazing, Hutch thought, impressed yet again by his partner's skill. I almost believe him myself.

There was a long silence. Above the porch, the window suddenly flew wide open and the curtains were yanked back. A slender girl leaned out.

Hutch's heartbeat accelerated. As he watched, her dark eyes darted across the lawn, skipped over him, Brady, and Marty. She peered to the sides of the house, but the angle of the roof, and the positions of the officers prevented her from spotting the deputies crouched there. Hutch saw the emotions ripple across her face: hope and a tentative delight at the return of her beloved brother. Then, her head tipped. Her eyes seemed to flicker backward, and her expression changed to fear and suspicion.

"What? No, that's Michael, he can't be--. No. He'd never do that, he'd never be part of them--"

She paused, listening, and Hutch couldn't restrain a pang of sympathy at the tortured look that washed over her.

"I can't," she wailed. "What if it is...what if it's really him and I hurt him?"

Hutch tensed, but restrained himself from charging across the lawn. On the porch, he saw Starsky shift, readying himself for whatever might come next. The two deputies had reached behind their backs, hands poised on their guns.

Janine began to sob again. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry…they say you're not Michael, you're just a Project experiment cloned to look like him, and you've brought the police to kill us because we know." She pressed a hand to her mouth; even from a distance, Hutch could see tears pouring down her face. "I'm sorry, Michael. I'm sorry."

The window slammed down, and a moment later, a half-dozen small doors flipped open on the house's face.

"Get down!" Hutch yelled as he hit the dirt and dragged Marty with him. "Get down, get down!"

Whatever it was that began raining down on the lawn wasn't bullets, but the whistle one made as it zipped past Hutch's head sounded plenty dangerous. He shoved Marty toward the car. "Get in or behind the car, and don't come out until one of us comes to get you," he ordered. "Go!"

Without hesitating, she disappeared behind the rental car, whose paint was beginning to chip from the onslaught.

Hutch turned back toward the house, just in time to see the porch drop under Starsky's feet.

Shit, he swore to himself, as he ran his eyes over the lawn for a safe path to the door. Oldest trick in the book, not even that clever, and we fell for it, dammit, we fell for it.

The two deputies dropped to their bellies and began to hitch around the corner of the house. They hadn't gone ten feet when one yelped as the turf beneath him collapsed and his hands plunged into foul-smelling liquid. His companion suffered the same fate, and in seconds, both had to scramble back to the sidewalk where Hutch still waited, watching for a break in the assault.

"What is it?" one of them moaned as he scrubbed frantically at the substance on his hands. "Jesus, it stinks and it's starting to itch!"

"Go back there," Hutch told him briskly, pushing him toward the car. "Have the doc go back to the squad car, call an ambulance."

The sing of the initial missiles had abated at last. Crouched low, Hutch took a few cautious steps onto the lawn. Now he could see that the tiny projectiles were each made of two blades, formed together into a cross and filed so each edge was razor-sharp. His heart racing harder, he picked his way across the glittering little sea and jumped up onto the porch, where he barely stopped himself from following Starsky into the gaping hole.

Dropping to his knees, ignoring the bite of a stray blade in his knee, he peered cautiously into the opening. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he saw that the hole was actually the top of a simple slide, no doubt leading into the basement. Taking a deep breath, he lowered himself onto it, bracing himself against the sides, and began a controlled descent.

Just as he reached the basement, he heard steps on the porch. They paused, then he heard Brady's voice. "Easy, boys, easy."

Hutch started to ease himself from the end of the slide to the basement floor, but lost control as his palms encountered a slick coat of grease on the device's sides. He tumbled to the concrete, flinching once as his ankle twisted beneath him, and again as he fell forward and a half-dozen more razor blades bit into his hands. "Easy," he heard beside him, "It's all right, Janine, it's just a friend. Nothing to be afraid of."

Hutch groped to one side, found the bulk of a cinderblock wall, and pulled himself slowly and fully to his feet. Almost immediately, he found his left ankle wouldn't hold his weight; cursing silently, he propped himself against the wall in the most casual stance he could muster.

Starsky stood completely still beside him. Though his eyes flicked over to Hutch, he never stopped speaking, in a crooning, soothing tone to the dark-haired girl who was now pressed against the opposite wall, eyes huge with fright, hands clutched behind her back. "Who are you?" she whispered to Starsky, and Hutch could hear the terror in her voice. "They sent you, I know they did, so why do you sound like you care?"

"Because I do," Starsky said matter-of-factly. He slowly gestured toward his partner. "I do, and my friend Hutch does, and so does Dr. Marty."

"Dr. Marty told us the voices came back," Hutch said, his own voice quiet and gentle. Mindful of Marty's instructions, he and Starsky used the psychologist's name at every opportunity, in an effort to draw Janine back into reality. "And we know they've been asking you to do things you don't want to do."

She nodded vigorously. "They have," she said sadly. "But I did--" She glanced around timidly, then stepped closer to Starsky and spoke confidentially. "I managed to fool them, a little."

"Yeah?" Starsky gave her his best big-brother smile. "How's that?"

"Well--" She looked around again and went on. "I made the bombs small, and I lied when I told them they exploded."

Hutch assumed she meant the tiny missiles that coated the lawn and the basement floor.

"Hey," Starsky said admiringly. "That's pretty good; don't you think so, Hutch?"

"You bet," Hutch agreed. "I bet Dr. Marty would think so, too."

"What else did you do to fool them?" Starsky asked. He was shifting his weight bit by bit, and Hutch knew he was changing his posture to a more casual one so the interaction became more a conversation than a standoff.

Janine giggled, and Hutch was startled by the change in her appearance. For a moment, delight and mischief replaced the fear in her eyes.

"The pits in the yard?" she said. Both men nodded. "The voices mixed up acid to put in them, but I found it before they could pour it in."

"Yeah?" Starsky smiled again and leaned against the wall beside Hutch. "So what did you put in instead?"

She giggled again, darting quick glances around the room as if to be sure she wouldn't be overheard. "Itching powder," she revealed. "I developed a special base so it would dissolve but still retain the important properties."

Hutch heard the sound of footsteps in the living room and whistled, trying to keep her talking to cover the noise. "Clever," he said admiringly. "Anything else?"

As if on cue, there was a banging overhead, accompanied by the loud curses of Brady and his deputies.

"They found the web," Janine said softly, pressing herself against the wall, her face fearful once more. She tilted her head to one side, and Hutch saw her eyes flicker. "I know," she whispered. "But you don't understand…I can't really hurt them."

"That web's pretty clever." Hutch said, trying to recapture her attention. "I expect you feel pretty safe with it up there."

She turned her eyes to him. Her pupils were so huge from fear, her irises were barely visible. His heart constricted for her.

"They did it to me," she whispered. "All the time. Razor blades. Cutting me."

She extended one arm, and Hutch's gut clenched as he saw hundreds of tiny cuts crisscrossing the pale white flesh. Again she tipped her head.

"Why can't I show them? They seem nice…they know Dr. Marty." Her shoulders hunched. "Stop saying that! I am not!"

"Listen to me, Janine," Hutch said urgently, raising his own voice a notch so she could hear him over the cacophony in her own head. "No one has a right to do that kind of thing to you--or anyone." He extended his hand.

"Just come with us, okay?" Starsky coaxed. "Dr. Marty's outside, waiting to help you--to make sure nobody hurts you like that ever again."

"The voices say it was my own fault," she whimpered, shaking her head as if to clear the hallucinations away. "They said I never protect myself enough, that I'm too stupid, that the weapons I make are too feeble to keep them away."

"But remember what Dr. Marty said about the voices?" Starsky said gently. "I know they think they're trying to help, to defend you, but what they're really doing is making things worse, making you do things you don't want to do."

A half-sob escaped from her lips. "Like with Dr. Richard," she gasped. "I know I hurt him, I know I did, but that time…I just couldn't stop them. They said, they said it was--"

She pressed herself farther into the wall, hands trembling. Her eyes changed somehow, became more distant, less focused. As she slid down to a crouching position, she began to sing in a high child's voice:

"You better watch out…you better not cry…you better not pout, I'm tellin' you why…"

Hutch sidled a cautious glance at his partner. Starsky's eyes flicked upward, then to the stairs. Hutch nodded. They would keep her talking, try to keep her calm and confined to a small, controlled area, until Brady and his men untangled themselves and followed them to the basement.

"I didn't want to, I swear." Janine's increasingly despairing voice replaced the childish singing. "It's like I wasn't even there, really. I just woke up and there was blood everywhere, and then they told me...they told me they'd killed him." She wrapped her arms over her head and began to sob again, gut-wrenching sounds that wracked her slender body and made Hutch's throat ache in sympathy.

"No," Starsky said firmly, taking a subtle step closer. "You didn't kill Dr. Richard, Janine. He's going to be fine."

Her head shot up, and her eyes devoured his face, searching for any sign of trickery. "No," she whispered. "You can't know that…how can you know?" Her gaze darted over to Hutch, and he saw her eyes narrow as her head tipped again. "No…it's not him, I'm telling you, he's different, he doesn't have a beard…" She began to rock back and forth, moaning. "Nooo…no, please, don't…I can't do it, you understand? I don't want to kill them, just LEAVE ME ALONE!" Her voice had risen into a near-scream. Her hands, the muscles so tight they looked like claws, shot up to her ears and she began to keen.

Hutch couldn't bear her anguish another minute. He knew she'd come terrifyingly close to killing his father. He knew they'd only begun to discover the arsenal of weaponry that defended the house, and he knew it was possible that she'd booby-trapped herself in a final effort to escape. But watching her, her hands clamped over her ears, tendons jutting from her neck as she howled her grief and terror, her suffering was so intense that the impulse to comfort her overcame the one to capture her. He stepped forward, ignoring the pain in his ankle, and gathered her into his arms.

Sobbing, she buried her face in his chest.

703-6.jpg "It's all right, sweetheart, it's all right," Hutch murmured, stroking the tangled dark hair that was full of cobwebs.

He felt Starsky press close against him, partially to contain Janine, but also to provide some support to Hutch, who was precariously balanced on one good foot and his twisted ankle. Slowly, Starsky moved them toward the wall; Hutch sensed his hand working its way around Janine's back and down to the waistband of her skirt.

She jerked, but they both held her tight. Starsky was still for a moment, then slowly he extracted a knife--short-bladed but clearly honed to a razor's edge--from the clever sheath tied under her blouse.

"You don't want this anymore, anyway, huh?" he murmured as she made a feeble grab for it. "Without it, the voices'll have to work harder to get what they want. Let's get rid of it, whatdya say?"

Her hands trembled in the air as if to reach for the knife again, then fell to her sides. She nodded.

"'Atta girl," Starsky said approvingly.

Brady's men appeared at the top of the stairs, preceded by the blinding light of a flashlight. Janine winced and shrank closer to the two detectives.

"Ken? Dave?" Brady called, the light swinging past them as it swept the area at the bottom of the stairs. "What've we got?"

"Everything's under control," Starsky called. He took a few steps toward the stairs so he wasn't shouting in Janine's ear, but kept his hand on the girl to detect any sudden moves. "Why don't you come on down--"

"Wait!" Above Janine's head, Hutch laid a hand on his partner's shoulder; he'd been watching the light and the area it was illuminating. "Look...there."

"Shine the light at the stairs and leave it there, okay?" Starsky requested.

Brady did, and now he, his deputies, and Starsky could see what Hutch had spotted. The bottom half of the staircase wasn't stairs at all, but a cleverly designed and fashioned cloth façade. As was the case in the other defenses, a tumble down the stairs wouldn't kill, but would certainly injure pursuers enough to delay capture. Hutch shook his head.

Marty pushed her way between Brady and his men. "Janine?"

The girl lifted her head from Hutch's chest.

For the first time, Hutch saw recognition of the present flash into her eyes and stay there. "Oh, Dr. Marty," she whispered. "They're so bad, the voices have been so bad. I know I hurt Dr. Richard, I know I did bad things…gonna find out who's naughty or nice…"

"It's all right, Janine," Marty told her, her voice maternal even from a distance. "Dr. Richard is recovering, and nobody else got seriously hurt. It looks like you outwitted the voices this time."

"I tried, Dr. Marty," Janine said. Suddenly, she smothered an enormous yawn. "I really tried…I'm so tired, though."

"We're going to take you back to Sutherland, back to your old room, and give you something to make the voices pipe down. Remember, how we do that? You'll go to sleep for a little while, and when you wake up, you'll be in charge again, not them."

"Promise?"

"You bet," Marty said confidently. "Now come on upstairs and let's get out of here. The voices have had you busy for the last few weeks, and the police need to clear out all the weapons."

"I didn't want to make them, but they insisted," Janine confessed. "So I tried to make them small, so they wouldn't hurt anyone too badly."

"I know," Marty told her. "You did good. Now, are you ready to come upstairs?"

"Yes, I guess so." She began to move, but she was still restrained by the two detectives. She looked up at them questioningly.

"You mind if we come with you?" Starsky asked.

"No, I guess not," she said with a shrug. "There's another set of stairs on the other end of the basement. We should go soon, though; I think your friend might be hurt."

Starsky raised his eyebrows as they crossed the dim dampness to the second staircase; Hutch trying unsuccessfully--and unnecessarily--to disguise his limp. "You're one smart cookie," he praised her. "Managed to keep those a secret from the voices, didn't you?" She nodded, one small hand covering another yawn. He smiled at her, then directed his next words to Hutch. "You gonna make it?"

"Yeah," Hutch said staunchly, but the ankle had begun to throb and he was glad when they reached the top of the stairs, which opened into the side yard. Marty, Brady, and the deputies were waiting there. Brady and his men showed some sensitivity for once by declining to cuff the now drowsy girl and letting Marty gently guide her into one of the patrol cars. She spoke with Janine for several minutes, leaving the door open, then eventually climbed in herself and pulled the door shut. The car, Brady at the wheel, pulled away. The deputies followed.

Hutch was profoundly grateful that any further confrontation with the sheriff had been avoided. He and Starsky sidestepped the pits of itching powder, Hutch leaning on Starsky's shoulder, both chuckling despite themselves at Janine's ingenuity. It seemed to take forever, but finally they arrived at the car. Starsky helped Hutch into the passenger seat, then rounded the sedan to slide behind the wheel.

They looked at each other and, in unison, their shoulders slumped.

"C'mon, partner," Starsky said, laying a hand on Hutch's. "Let's go get you taken care of."

It was nearly three hours later before Hutch finally emerged from St. John's emergency room, hands bandaged, ankle wrapped and crutches dispensed, and a little lightheaded from fatigue and the painkiller they'd given him. An x-ray had confirmed the ankle wasn't broken, and the cuts on his hands were all superficial. Nevertheless, the process of cleaning, disinfecting, and bandaging, punctuated by long stretches of boredom as he waited for doctors and technicians, had taken their toll. He was ready to do nothing more than return home--preferably to Bay City--and put this whole thing behind him. As he entered the waiting room, however, he was greeted not only by Starsky, but by his mother and sister, whose expressions were oddly subdued.

"What?" he said wearily, as he maneuvered his way to them. Without asking, Starsky took his jacket and the small bag of aftercare supplies from his hands.

Miranda and Cathy said nothing. Miranda took a step forward and laid one hand on her son's arm, but didn't speak. Cathy gnawed at her lower lip.

"What?" Hutch repeated irritably, in no mood for games.

"Ken," Miranda began, then uncharacteristically faltered.

Once again, it was up to Starsky, who was experiencing most of this secondhand and was thus less directly affected by it. "Your dad's back to his old self," he told Hutch bluntly. "Your mom and Cathy think you should see him."

"Now?" Hutch blurted. "Aw, Mom, I know this is important, but I'm beat. Can't this wait until tomorrow?"

Miranda took a deep breath and seemed to find her voice. "I don't think that's a good idea," she said definitely. "If you wait, it'll just get more difficult…and I know you, dear. By tomorrow, you'll find some reason for you and Dave to leave early, before you have a chance to see him."

Hutch looked over at Cathy, who was no help at all. She simply gazed back at him, then said quietly, "I think she's right, Ken."

Before Hutch could even consult him, Starsky agreed. "Might as well get it over with, Blintz."

Hutch sighed and ran one hand down his face. "All right, all right," he muttered. "I don't have the energy to fight all of you at once." He adjusted the crutches under his arms and looked down the hall. "Where is he?"

"I'll show you. No, better yet, I'll take you."

Starsky hurried over to the admittance desk and, after a brief conversation with the nurse, disappeared into the area from which Hutch had just emerged. Uncomprehending, Hutch blinked after him, then scowled as his partner returned, pushing a wheelchair in front of him.

"Uh, no," he refused. "No way."

Expertly, Starsky steered the chair behind him and nudged it against his knees. Given a choice between sitting or falling, Hutch reluctantly lowered himself into the conveyance and propped the crutches onto the footrest.

"All right, Jeeves," he said, trying to make the best of a less than ideal situation. "Forward ho."

They had moved Richard to a private room on the third floor. As Starsky wheeled him off the elevator and started down the hall, Hutch felt his palms grow damp and he wished Starsky would slow down. A couple of nurses passed by, smiling in recognition, but he didn't hear their greetings past the pulsing of blood in his ears.

Then he shook himself. Get a grip, he told himself firmly. The worst he can do is what he's already done. You survived that once, and you can do it again. Even as the thought faded, however, he knew the problem wasn't just facing Richard's disapproval. It was, in fact, precisely the opposite.

In the year since his father had effectively disinherited him, Hutch had thought of him less and less frequently. He'd come to terms with the idea that Richard would probably never accept him and Starsky, that he'd never be the kind of father Hutch had always wanted him to be, and would never give him what the adolescent Hutch had always yearned for. Last summer, he'd come face to face with that, and though it had hurt like hell for a month or so, the pain had gradually faded. He'd increasingly believed what others had been telling him all along: that his father's opinion mattered less than how his lifestyle felt to him and to the people who did accept him for who he was. Recently, he'd realized how grateful he was, now that he was no longer required to spend time or energy trying to get Richard to come around or simply holding up under his criticism, that instead he could turn his full attention to people he actually enjoyed being with.

He'd thought he'd moved on, but this trip home had shown him differently--that there was still the tiniest flicker of hope still alive inside him. Despite his efforts to keep it under control, Richard's greeting the day before had, absurdly, fed the flame.

In short, he wasn't afraid of receiving the criticism—or even the condemnation. He was afraid of losing the hope.

They had arrived at Richard's room. Taking a deep breath, he positioned the crutches and hoisted himself to his feet.

"Hey," came Starsky's quiet voice, close to his ear. "It'll be okay."

Starsky's hand squeezed his shoulder, caressed it briefly, then left. The voice came back to his ear.

"I'll be right outside when you come out."

Hutch nodded. He laid one hand on the door, noting the damp palm print he left, and pushed it open. Starsky's hand was there again, holding the door while he entered the room. He looked over his shoulder. Starsky winked and retreated, and the door hushed closed.

Richard again sat propped up by two fluffy white pillows, but otherwise he bore no resemblance to the man Hutch had seen yesterday. His reading glasses were perched at the tip of his nose, he had a number of charts and articles strewn on the bed in front of him, and he was talking on the phone. When Hutch entered, he looked up.

Hutch had braced himself, so the distinct chill in Richard's eyes only passed by him like a cool puff of wind. Richard regarded him for a moment, then inclined his head toward a chair by the bed and continued his conversation.

"I'm sorry, Marty, please continue," he said. Hutch mentally raised an eyebrow at the mention of Dr. Reed's name. "And so how is she? Yes…all right, that sounds like a good combination at this point, given that she's been off her medication for a few weeks now. Was she hurt? No, well, that's good. I beg your pardon?"

He listened for several moments, while Hutch heard snatches of Marty's voice over the receiver.

"Really," Richard said at last. "Was he now?" His eyes flicked to Hutch briefly. "Well, to be honest, Marty, I'd really expect nothing less, given the circumstances, though he certainly could have been more careful. Yes, all right--" He stopped abruptly as the voice grew louder and more insistent; his eyes returned to his son.

Hutch wondered if the very slight thaw he saw there was nothing more than his imagination.

"I see," Richard said at last. "No, I…I suspect you have a very valid point, Marty. Yes, well, I'll…take that into consideration. Please tell Janine I'll be in to see her as soon as I can, and she's to take good care of herself and not worry. We'll talk about all of this then."

He hung up the phone and removed his reading glasses. Having made his way to the chair and leaning the crutches against the wall, Hutch sat, absently moving his hands up and down his thighs, trying to divest his palms of some of the perspiration. The glasses pointed toward him.

"Please stop that, if you don't mind," Richard requested. "There's no need for you to fidget."

"Yes, sir," Hutch said automatically.

There was a moment of silence, then Richard took in a breath. "Well," he began. "It seems you had a very interesting afternoon."

"You could say that, yes."

"Janine is a very ill young woman," Richard went on. "This isn't the first time she's barricaded herself, and in the past, the clumsy efforts of law enforcement officials have done little more than make matters worse and feed her paranoia."

Hutch's heart sank as he steeled himself for a lecture on the inadequacy of his procedures.

"However," Richard said, looking down at the glasses he was folding and unfolding in his hands. Smothering a nervous smile, Hutch realized his father was fidgeting.

"However," Richard repeated, resolutely clamping both hands on the glasses and placing them in his lap. "It appears you and…your partner handled the situation with a great deal of sensitivity. According to Marty."

"We didn't want to hurt her, Dad," Hutch said. "We understood how sick she is, and we wanted to get her the help she needed, with the least amount of damage to everyone."

"Yes, well," Richard said, "a lot of people don't understand that."

There was another awkward silence, then Richard cleared his throat. "Marty had nothing but positive things to say about you and…Mr. Starsky," he said, somewhat stiffly. "The only thing I felt you could have handled differently was…well, it sounds like you put taking care of her ahead of your own safety."

Sound familiar? flicked through Hutch's mind.

"Marty, however, refused to…criticize you on that point."

Unbelievably, His lips twitched, and Hutch realized his father was on the verge of a smile.

"She reminded me, in no uncertain terms I might add, that I had done precisely the same thing when I chose to go to Janine's house alone." He cleared his throat again, though this time it almost resembled a chuckle. "Marty seems to feel this kind of…how did she put it? Oh, yes--chivalry--runs in the family."

Hutch felt his own lips twitch momentarily.

"There are many things I don't understand about you, Ken, and I won't pretend that I do," his father went on. "I have absolutely no comprehension of why you would choose a sexual lifestyle that will bring nothing but censure raining down on you and…David--"

"That's not true," Hutch interrupted, though he noted his father's use of Starsky's first name. "There are plenty of people around us who not only accept it, but are glad that we've…that are happy that we're happy."

"Yes, well, that may be," Richard harrumphed. "But I don't approve of it, and again, I won't pretend that I do. Despite what you may think, I still believe homosexuality is a psychiatric disorder, and I won't stop hoping that you'll find a way to…get past it."

"I'm afraid you're wasting your breath," Hutch told him, but his tone was gentle. For the first time, he thought he and his father were beginning--just beginning--to make the attempt to listen, to really hear what they each were saying, rather than trying to come up with words to defend their own positions.

"Yes, I suspect I am," Richard agreed. "But that won't stop me from hoping." His fingers began to fiddle with the glasses again and, with an impatient noise, he tossed them onto the bed, where they landed at the edge of the sea of paperwork. "What Marty has told me--again, in no uncertain terms--is, I realize what your mother has been trying to tell me for years, that you and I are much more alike than I have thought. It's somewhat chagrining that I've missed that, but, well, there it is."

"Dad--" Hutch began, but his father raised a hand.

"I don't believe for a minute that this recent incident, however life-threatening, has somehow made me 'see the light'," he informed Hutch. "I suspect, rather, that the years of hearing your mother say it have gradually wedged the concept into my hard head, and Marty's assertions finally drove the message home."

"It really doesn't matter how it happened, sir," Hutch said quietly to his own clasped hands. "Only that it did."

They were both silent for a moment, Hutch not quite able to meet his father's eyes and suspecting Richard felt the same way. At length, Richard leaned over his papers, retrieved his glasses, and planted them firmly on his nose.

"I--" he began, then halted and started again. "I sincerely doubt you and I will ever be the best of friends, the 'Leave it to Beaver' family. It's simply too late for that, and I'm…we're both too stubborn."

Hutch couldn't suppress a smile.

"I can't even promise you there'll come a day when I'll feel comfortable having both you and David back in the house."

"I won't come without him," Hutch said instantly, the smile fading.

"Very well," Richard said. "That's your choice, and I can understand why you would make it. I'm simply trying, for once, to tell you what's going on in my head…" His lips twisted upward once more, in a smile Hutch knew well from the dozens of times he'd seen it on his own face. "...rather than what's going on in yours."

"I...appreciate that," Hutch said hesitantly, then more strongly, "I don't expect--. We are what we are, Dad, and I don't expect either of us is going to change overnight."

Richard snorted. "No, indeed," he agreed.

"But maybe, now, we might understand each other a little bit better."

Richard said nothing for several seconds. He opened his mouth, then closed it and pressed his lips firmly together. Briskly, he picked up one of the charts that lay scattered on the bed. "I think that's about all I want to say about this right now, Ken," he said brusquely. "Have a safe trip home. Call your mother when you get there so you don't worry her."

"I will, Dad."

703-7.jpg Hutch rose to his feet, then paused. He considered for a moment, and before he could lose his nerve, he reached one hand out and laid it briefly on his father's, then removed it swiftly.

Gathering up the crutches, he started toward the door.

Behind him came the unmistakable sound of Richard clearing his throat.

"By the way," he said, his voice deliberately matter-of-fact. "I am, you know."

Hutch paused, one hand on the door handle. Frowning, he turned to look back at his father, whose attention was still focused on the chart in his hand.

"Proud of you," Richard added, eyes never leaving the chart.

Hutch opened his mouth, but realized he had no idea what to say to that. He simply nodded and left the room.

EPILOGUE

It was evening when they arrived back in Bay City. By the time the plane had landed and they made it out to the parking lot, Hutch was starting to look like something from "Night of the Living Dead." When they reached Hutch's car, Starsky took one look at his partner's wan, weary face and ordered him into the back seat.

"Starsk…my ankle's fine, I think I can stay upright until we get home."

703-8.jpg "I know you can," Starsky told him, but he tempered his firmness with affection, rubbing one hand across Hutch's back. "I just don't think you should have to."

"I could make it--" Hutch began to insist, but his words were interrupted by an enormous yawn. Starsky chuckled.

"Isn't this where we came in?" He nudged Hutch. "C'mon. Stop arguin' and get in the car. That cardboard they served on the plane is way down on my list of desirable dinners."

Hutch hesitated briefly, then Starsky saw both resignation and relief drop over his eyes. He nodded once as he pulled open the sedan door. Starsky helped him climb in and pull the crutches after him, then closed the door gently, patting it once as if for luck.

"Why don't you get some sleep, babe?" he suggested, as he slipped behind the wheel.

"Yeah," Hutch mumbled, trying to make himself comfortable among the clutter in his back seat, shoving newspapers and magazines onto the floor. "Might just…for a little bit…"

His eyes closed. Smiling and shaking his head, Starsky turned the key in the ignition.

Starsky eased carefully to the curb in front of the station, popped on the hazard lights, and tried to open his door as quietly as possible. He had a quick errand to run here, and he hoped Hutch would sleep through the stop. But just as one foot hit the ground, Hutch stirred in the seat behind him. As Starsky watched, his partner pushed himself to a sitting position and blinked around at their surroundings.

"Where are--?" He frowned as he recognized the station entrance and raised a quizzical eyebrow at Starsky. "What're we doing here?"

"Just gotta run in, pick something up," Starsky said breezily. "You sit tight, I'll be right back."

Hutch scrubbed his hands down his face and emitted another yawn. "I could..." yawn "...come up with you."

"Yeah, right," Starsky scoffed. "With that bum ankle, we'd still be here tomorrow morning. You stay here and guard the car. It's a piece of junk, but it's the only way we got to get home tonight."

He heard a sleepy snort as Hutch nodded. "Okay, okay," he relented. "But don't let Dobey catch you. I have no intention of sleeping in my car tonight."

Starsky grinned, wishing he could lean over and give his partner the kiss that was hovering at his lips. "No chance of that," he said. "Like I said, sit tight and I'll be right back."

It took him less than five minutes to sprint to the building and up the stairs to the squadroom. Luckily, the room was quiet and the only detectives were a man and woman he didn't know very well. He bobbed his head at them politely, then strode briskly to his desk, grabbed the envelope from his blotter, and headed back out the door.

When he got back in the car, he couldn't help grinning again.

The car's watchdog was sound asleep, blond hair glinting softly in the streetlights, full lips moving as he muttered something in a dream, then stilled once more. With difficulty, Starsky resisted another temptation to deliver a kiss; instead, he put the car into gear and silently ordered the dilapidated vehicle to get them home, and fast.

An hour later, Starsky emerged from the bathroom at Venice Place, feeling infinitely better than when they'd walked in the door. Hutch had spent several minutes stumbling over his feet and sending crutches in directions that made Starsky increasingly anxious, but managed to take an awkward but clearly appreciated shower. When he'd finished, he waved Starsky into the bathroom, insisting he could lie down and elevate his own ankle. Shaking drops of water from his ear, Starsky tied the bathrobe belt around his waist and ambled across the living room to Hutch's bedroom, where his partner sat beside an open suitcase, a shoe in each hand, gazing at the wall with a thoughtful frown.

Starsky paused in the entrance. "Forget where they go?" he teased gently. "Or thinking about building a shoe tree on the wall?"

Hutch blinked, turning to Starsky as if waking up slowly from a dream or a sound and soothing sleep. He glanced down at the shoes and placed them carefully on the floor. "No," he said slowly. "Just...thinking."

"About your dad," Starsky assumed, coming over to move the suitcase and drop onto the bed beside him. Hutch nodded.

"I...you know what? I don't even know how to...how to put any of this into words," he admitted, the frown deepening. "I-I just have this feeling, this weird feeling, and I can't even name it."

"Is it good or bad?" Starsky asked, scooting behind him and beginning a gentle massage of Hutch's neck and shoulders.

Hutch half-laughed deep in his throat. "I'm not even sure about that," he confessed. "It's just...different. Like something's out of whack, out of focus."

"Well, something is," Starsky pointed out, working his fingers into a particularly stubborn knot at the base of Hutch's shoulder blade. Hutch groaned and leaned back into the pressure. "I mean, think about it, Hutch. For practically your whole life, you've had to live with your dad disapproving of you. You've gotten used to it. Now it looks like he might be comin' around--"

"Maybe," Hutch qualified, wincing as Starsky pressed harder into the knot.

"Maybe," Starsky agreed amiably, easing his fingers deeper as the knot began to dissolve under his touch. "Anyway, it's prob'ly gonna take time for you to adjust to that."

"Yeah, I know you're right." Hutch was silent for a moment, letting Starsky's hands work their magic on his tight, stiff muscles, then he picked up the envelope Starsky had tossed onto the bed. "So what was so important that you had to stop at the station on the way home?"

Starsky smiled, finally allowing himself the tender kisses he had repressed in front of the station, pressing his lips gently across Hutch's shoulder and into the sensitive areas at the base of his skull. Hutch shivered. "Open it," Starsky told him, repeating the caresses.

Chuckling huskily, Hutch opened the envelope and pulled out a series of photographs.

As he thumbed through them, Starsky could see the smile spread across his face.

"Elizabeth's pictures," Hutch murmured at last. "How--? How'd you get these? Aren't they supposed to be evidence?"

Starsky shrugged. "The originals still are," he explained. "But I called Dobey when you went on your great bagel search at the airport, and he agreed to let Minnie make a copy of 'em for us." He grinned. "I called her while you were talking to your dad, and I didn't think you'd mind me swingin' by the station to pick 'em up."

Hutch thumbed through them again, and Starsky saw the smile change to something almost sadly sweet and regretful. He dropped his hands from his partner's back and neck, and shifted to Hutch's side, placing an arm around his waist.

"So different," he heard Hutch whisper.

"From what, babe?" Starsky kissed him under his ear. Hutch shivered again, but didn't move his gaze from the photos.

"From the last set someone took of us without our knowing," Hutch replied. "Remember, the ones Graham and his juvenile delinquents took by the lake?"

Starsky raised an eyebrow. "The pictures aren't so different," he said, taking them from Hutch and spreading them like a hand of cards. "See? Just you and me, lovin' each other."

"Yeah, but this time--" Hutch paused again, then shook his head in frustration. "Dammit. I can't believe I'm this tongue-tied tonight."

"Been through a lot in a few short days, Hutch," Starsky reminded him. "Two-day stake-out and then what happened with your dad…too much work and not enough sleep would make anyone a little fuzzy."

"Yeah, maybe." Hutch took the pictures back, and as he went through them again, he continued, his voice slow and thoughtful. "But it's not just the pictures, Starsk; it's…everything." He dropped the photographs again and looked up, frowning at the wall as if it contained some puzzle he couldn't figure out. "The last time I looked at pictures like this, all I could think of was how Dad would react if he saw them…if he knew. And when he did find out--" He shook his head. "In some ways, it was worse than I'd imagined."

"I know what you mean," Starsky told him. "Somehow, bein' in the middle of it, we forget how other people see our relationship, like that hatred you were talking about with Foster shooting Elizabeth."

"At least my dad didn't shoot us," Hutch said.

"He was thinkin' of his reputation, no doubt," Starsky joked, trying to ease the tension. "He wanted to avoid those tabloid headlines."

"PROMINENT PSYCHIATRIST MURDERS GAY SON IN TOWN'S ONE AND ONLY CRIME OF PASSION." A smile finally broke through the sober look on Hutch's face. Starsky felt an answer curve his own lips.

"Followed almost immediately, no doubt, by PROMINENT PSYCHIATRIST FRICASSEED ON SAILBOAT BY WIFE AND DAUGHTER," he said. This time Hutch laughed, and Starsky's heart lightened even more at the sound, as he realized how long it had been since he'd heard Hutch laugh like that. He couldn't resist pressing yet another tender kiss on his partner's lips. It was several moments before they broke apart. Hutch pressed his forehead briefly against Starsky's and followed it with a gentle kiss of his own.

"You know, I used to think that having Dad kick me out was the worst thing that could happen, but it didn't take me quite as long to adjust to that as I thought it would." He shook his head again. "Weirdly enough, I think this is going to take me longer."

Starsky shrugged philosophically. "It's not such a mystery when you think about it," he said. "Your dad disinheriting you was something you kind of expected for a long time. But though part of you was hopin' he'd come around, another part was sure he never would."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded. "Yeah, that's exactly it. Even while I was looking for the cracks in his wall, somewhere inside I was afraid they didn't exist."

"So…" Starsky adjusted both his tone and his position on the bed; the stake-out and the days in Minnesota had left him with a craving that had been growing slowly but inexorably since he'd come down the station steps and seen his blond vision asleep in the car. He pulled at his robe, untying the belt and pulling his arms from the sleeves. Then he repeated the action with Hutch's robe, pressing his body against Hutch's back and reaching around to tug slowly, seductively, at the terrycloth knot. Hutch shivered against him as he loosened the belt and parted the robe, then lowered it gently past the broad shoulders. He dropped it only halfway, imprisoning Hutch's arms, and began to plant small, dry kisses on his partner's back.

703-9.jpg Hutch shuddered again, and Starsky felt him stir and respond under his hands, which had come to rest in Hutch's lap.

"Good," he whispered against Hutch's back as he skimmed up toward his neck. "Glad to see everything still works."

"Oh, it still works," Hutch assured him, his voice husky. "'Course, it might work a little more quickly than either of us likes."

Starsky chuckled and felt goosepimples rise on Hutch's flesh under his lips. "That's all right," he breathed, pressing his bare chest and growing erection closer against Hutch's back and beginning to nibble at the skin just beneath his hairline. "We got all kinds of time."

"Starsk, it's late and we both need sleep," Hutch protested, but his voice was feeble and the words were distant, as rote as if they'd come from some part of Hutch's brain that wasn't fully engaged at the moment. "We have to...go to work tomorrow."

"No, we don't." Starsky nipped Hutch's earlobe and began to rub his hands up and down his partner's thighs. "Had a note on my desk from Dobey…we got two days off."

"Our weekend?"

"That's right, babe. Two whole days for a stake-out of our own."

Suddenly, Hutch's stomach interrupted with a decidedly disgruntled growl, followed quickly by a similar grumble from Starsky's insides.

"Speaking of steak--" Hutch said ruefully.

Starsky snorted. "It wasn't exactly what I had in mind," he admitted.

"So…we've got a choice to make," Hutch informed him, half-turning so he could envelop Starsky's lips in a deep, heartfelt kiss. "...about what kind of sustenance we want to pursue first."

Starsky took Hutch's head in his hands, burying his fingers in the soft, damp blond strands, and returned the kiss. When both their chests were heaving, their hearts thumping in tandem, he gently untangled his partner's arms from the robe and tossed it to the floor. Their arms around each other, they lay back together on the bed. Starsky pulled Hutch's head close again, careful not to jostle his injured ankle, and devoured his lips in small nibbles. He rolled to his side, leaving Hutch on his back, and propped himself up on one elbow. The other hand began to trickle across Hutch's chest, down to his abdomen, then lower to his groin.

Hutch groaned. His hips arched upward and he reached for Starsky, but Starsky gently removed his hand.

"You're the invalid," he told his partner, lowering his head to Hutch's and letting his breath tease Hutch's ear and neck. Hutch shuddered. "You get served first."

He moved his hand back up to Hutch's face, trailing his fingers over the closed eyes, the parted lips, and the fine stubble just rising on his chin. With one finger, he traced a line from Hutch's chin down his neck, pausing at the hollow at the base of his throat. His tongue flicked out, licked the skin there briefly, then drew back in.

Hutch hissed with pleasure.

"Appetizer," Starsky whispered. His lips continued downward, then shifted their direction to attend to Hutch's nipples. First the left, then the right, baptized with his tongue and mouthed tenderly with gentle teeth. Then his tongue trailed down the center of Hutch's stomach and paused. He raised his head.

"Soup and salad," he said softly. "Followed by your main course."

He lowered his head again.

As Starsky took him in his mouth, Hutch clutched the sheets in both hands and let his mind slip away. He was nothing but sensation, Starsky's lips encircling him, the rich, musky scent drifting from Starsky's body, the sound of their mingled moans filling the air of the bedroom. Hungry for more, he let go of the sheets and reached down, burying his fingers in Starsky's soft curls. All too soon, he felt the searing heat rising within him.

As he lay back, panting from the force of the climax, he felt Starsky's lips work their way back up, along his abdomen and chest, stopping to nip his chin, and coming to rest once again on his mouth. He reached up and buried his hands once again in Starsky's hair, letting the kiss wax and wane while his scrambled senses recollected themselves.

When their lips finally parted, Starsky gave him a quick peck and grinned. "What was that?" he asked Hutch. Hutch felt him drop onto his back beside him, their fingers lacing together.

"Just something to cleanse the palate," he teased, his voice husky. He rolled onto his side and trailed his fingers down Starsky's chest. "So…are you ready for dessert?"

"Mmmm," Starsky murmured agreeably. "How about some apple pie a la mode?"

Hutch tugged on a strand of chest hair. Starsky winced, and they both laughed softly.

"How about some fellatio a la Hutch instead?" Hutch suggested, letting his lips follow his fingers as they moved from Starsky's chest to his groin.

It was Starsky's turn to groan as Hutch's lips closed over him. Hutch felt his partner's hands running through his hair, stroking him tenderly, as he let his mouth work the same magic Starsky had performed on him. He increased his pace, then slowed, again and again, until the fingers tightened in his hair, and Starsky bucked beneath him, and they both sighed with pleasure.

Later, as they lay on their backs under the sheet, arms pressed together, fingers entwined, Hutch blinked up at the ceiling and yawned. Starsky squeezed his hand.

"'Night, Blintz," he murmured. "Sleep well…you're gonna need it."

"Is that so?" Hutch chuckled. "How come?"

Starsky gave a rich, throaty laugh. "Wait'll you see what I'm plannin' for breakfast."

Hutch chuckled again and loosened his fingers so he could nudge his arm under Starsky's shoulders and pull him close. As Starsky's head rested on his shoulder, he felt his eyes drooping. He breathed in again, savoring the scent of his partner and their lovemaking, and ran a hand down the warm texture of Starsky's arm. He let his eyes close, and as he was consumed by another enormous yawn, he again heard his father's words in his mind:

Proud of you, son. Damned proud of you.
And on its heels, Starsky's husky voice.
Love you, babe. Like nobody ever before.

The two refrains parted and alternated in his head, then merged into one, a melody he'd never heard before and thought he never would.

He smiled and, drawing Starsky closer, drifted off to sleep.

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Coming September 23, 2003 on Starsky & Hutch:

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