How long can he keep this up? Rosey wondered, as she ran a hand over his hair.

"David," she said softly, "David, it's time to get up." He stirred only slightly, burrowing deeper into the pillows, hunching the covers up over his head.

He's exhausted, she thought. These last two weeks have been so hard on him. I'd love to just let him sleep . . . .

But that wouldn't be fair . . . to Hutch. And if she yielded to temptation and let him sleep, when he did wake up it would only upset him and make him feel even guiltier than he already did.

She rubbed her face, not wanting to think about that, but unable to escape it. She'd hoped so hard that there might be a chance, any chance, that he would still have feelings for her. The fact that he did was almost too good to be true. She'd promised herself, the night he'd told her of his relationship with Hutch, that she would accept any small measure of caring he could spare. And really, he was giving her far more than she ever expected. Far more than he should.

Let him go. This is tearing him apart. When he's with you, he's racked with guilt because he's hurting Hutch. When he's with Hutch, he agonizes because he's not with you. All your love for him has ever done is hurt him. End it now. Kiss him goodbye.

She stroked his hair again and he sighed wearily, then rolled over. Blinking sleepily, he appeared confused for a moment, then focused on her face. Then he smiled and reached for her and her resolution to leave him fled.

"Rosey," he breathed, pulling her into his arms, finding her mouth with his. "Rosey . . . ."

"You told me to get you up before ten," she reminded him. At this instant there was only the two of them, him embracing her, his body warm with sleep in her bed. When he was looking at her like this, he was the only thing in her world. She had to be honest with herself. She'd never be able to walk away from him again.

He made a sound of regret deep in his throat and hugged her tighter. "You're wearing me out, Rosey," he teased.

Not me, she thought, but clamped it tight behind her teeth. You're wearing yourself out trying to make us both happy, when that's impossible as long as we have to share you.

"I made you coffee, and brought you some pastry," she said instead as he nestled against her neck, kissing her gently along the column of her throat. She felt goose bumps flush down her spine, and felt that deep surge of gratitude she had whenever he took her in his arms. She was so lucky to get this second chance with him. She wasn't about to quibble about the details.

He turned and glanced at the clock. With a reluctant sigh, he pulled away from her and sat up, swinging his bare legs over the edge of the bed. He drank the coffee and took a healthy bite of the pastry. "Mmmm. Just what a guy needs to get going. Some sugar from his honey." He leaned over and planted a wet, sticky kiss on her cheek. "What'll you be doing today?"

After spending the night without you?

She pulled her mind away from that. The bed would still be warm where he lay, and his scent was on the sheets, the pillow. She'd curl up in his spot, soak up his warmth and fragrance, and sleep soundly, if alone.

"I'm still doing the rounds of galleries with the new pottery. I'm getting some decent offers, but nothing sounds quite right yet. I'm optimistic. I figure if the art dealers don't make me happy, I can always open another shop."

He nodded. It amazed her how attentive he was to her when she knew he was so distracted. When they were together, he worked hard at pleasing her, making her his focus, giving her all he could. She knew he had to be the same when he was with Hutch. She couldn't imagine the toll it was taking on him and it worried her. That and . . . 

"What's the matter?" he said suddenly, lifting her chin.

She tensed, sorry that she'd let her mind wander, that he'd seen her concerns on her face. She smiled. "Nothing . . . just trying to remember what appointments . . . ."

"Rosey," he said warningly. "I promised you I'd be honest about everything, and I have. That goes both ways. What's the matter?"

She looked away from him, feeling guilty. "I'm sorry. I'm . . . just worried about you. You're being pulled in too many directions. And I'm to blame. I'm worried about the affect it might have on you . . . on the job. And I'm worried about Hutch, too. You depend on him at work, you need him to be there for you. If you're both distracted . . . . If anything happened to either of you because of me . . . ."

"Rosey, don't," he said, pulling her into his arms. "Don't do this to yourself. If anyone's to blame, it's me. I'm sorry I'm putting you through this. But right now . . . it's the only way I can handle it. It won't be like this forever. I promise."

She shuddered, hearing the tension in his voice that he couldn't mask. She knew he hated it when she brought up her concerns about his safety, about Hutch's state of mind. But she couldn't help but wonder, when it stopped being like this where would she be? Gone out of his life? Hutch had been close to him for over a decade. How could she compete with that? Especially when she felt she had no right to.

"Don't worry, honey. Hutch and I work like a well-oiled machine, and nothing can change that. We've been doing it for too long." He pushed the hair back from her face and made her look at him. "Hey . . . that question I asked you over dinner. You never answered me. Can you answer me now?"

Her chest tightened with emotion. "David . . . it's a little early to worry about these things, isn't it?"

"C'mon Rosey, quit hedging. Just tell me. I . . . I need to know. One way or the other."

She sighed, unable to deny him anything. "My feelings haven't changed over the last two years. Sure, I'd love to have children some day. My family life was so strong with my parents . . . I'd love to give that to a child of my own."

Is this the question that helps you decide? she wondered. A lot of men never wanted children, didn't want the responsibility, and shied away from women who did. She tried not to think about the fact that his relationship with Hutch would more than likely preclude children. Was that a relief to him?

He grinned at her, and the sun came out in his eyes. "That's my girl. Beautiful . . . inside and out." He glanced at the clock and his smile faded a bit. "Will you call me today?"

She nodded. Same time every day. When Hutch left to get their lunch. Fifteen minutes before he returned.

"I think this stakeout's gonna last the rest of my career," he groused as he pulled away from her and gathered up his discarded clothes. "We might be on nights next week. Dobey keeps threatening us with it, then changes his mind. I think he's holding us out in case our target shows. He's not a night owl, so putting us on graveyard would really be a waste. If we go on nights, I'll let you know. But for now, everything's the same. Call me at lunch. And I'll see you at 6:00."

She nodded. They had dinner together every night. Lunch with Hutch. Dinner with her. Everything fair and square. She watched him take his clothes into the bathroom with him and listened as he turned the water on. They never showered together. Once he left the bed and stepped into the bathroom, he started pulling away from her, getting ready to go back to Hutch. And she had to let him go. It was only fair.

Take every day, every moment as it comes. It's a gift, any chance to be with him. For however long it lasts. Take it, and be grateful.

She hugged herself and listened to the shower running. When they had first met he used to sing in the shower, unless she was in there with him. But he didn't sing in the shower anymore.

When he was done washing, he'd dress in there, come out, put on his holster, and then kiss her on the cheek. He'd leave without a backward glance as if it were hard for him to do so. Yet, there was an urgency about him, once he left the shower. As if he were already on borrowed time, trying to catch up.

How long did he think he could keep this up? She didn't know, but however long it was, she'd just have to wait it out.

"How long do you think you can keep this up?" Hutch asked softly. He was sitting in the chair beside the window where he could face Starsky as his partner peered through the scope at the target apartment. The apartment wasn't directly across the way, since the feds deemed that too dangerous with Barstow. It was actually down one flight and over to the right, which required that they observe it at an odd angle, which was even more tiring than usual. The feds had wired several of the other apartments where Barstow was expected to squat. They had tiny cameras, microphones, the works, set up in their stakeout locations. But the two apartments Dobey's men were staking out were long shots, so they didn't have approval yet for more sophisticated equipment.

"Keep what up?" Starsky asked neutrally, one eye fastened to the eyepiece. He moved his hand to the camera, hesitated, then moved it away. "False alarm."

No kidding, thought Hutch. The last confirmed sighting had placed Barstow somewhere in southern California. Latest word was that he wasn't due back for at least another week. Starsky was just avoiding eye contact with him.

Hutch paused before saying anything else. He was careful these days, about what he said, what he did, how he reacted. "How long do you think you can keep trying to please both of us?"

Starsky sighed, a soft, muted sound. "You tell me. You're not happy?"

Hutch didn't answer. He didn't need to.

Starsky pulled away from the scope. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." They were both being so careful.

"I've been thinking," Hutch said.

"Dum-da-dum-dum," Starsky intoned in a funereal tone.

Hutch ignored the jibe. "The two of you only had a few days together that first time." He was impressed with how blithely he was discussing this, and hoped Starsky was impressed, too. It was costing enough. "You barely got to know each other. Everything you have between you is based on those few days."

Starsky shifted uncomfortably, but he couldn't leave the scope, couldn't storm around the room, couldn't knock things over the way Hutch knew he wanted to. Starsky hated it when Hutch brought Rosey into the conversation. If Starsky had his way, she would never be mentioned. Hutch suspected he was the same when he was with her.

What Starsky wanted, for the times when they were together, was just that, for them to be together, for them to pretend Rosey didn't exist. He wanted Hutch to pretend that when he went away for hours every evening that he was just out, somewhere, doing something. He wanted Hutch not to notice that he came home freshly showered every time, his clothes subtly rearranged. He wanted Hutch not to question why he was so wired, so distraught as he climbed into Hutch's bed and made love to him. But each night had the distinct aura of farewell about it, and lately, the scent of roses clung to the air—yellow ones.

Hutch was about at his limit, but he wasn't willing to say that. Wasn't willing to complain. Or protest. He suspected that whoever griped the most would lose and he was determined that wouldn't be him.

Maybe he wouldn't complain, but his body sure could. Last night, for the first time since Vanessa had left him, Hutch had trouble getting it up. It threw Starsky into a panic.

He wondered, not for the first time, if Starsky insisted Rosey maintain the same fantasy when he was with her. Did he make her pretend Hutch didn't exist? Did he expect her to bank her resentment at sleeping alone every night? Hutch wondered if she was as uncooperative as he was.

"You trying to make a point?" Starsky asked, focused on the scope, but Hutch could hear his tension.

"Yeah," Hutch said, sitting back in the chair, forcing his body to relax in the hopes that his mind would follow. "We've had years to build our relationship. You're giving her moments. It's not really fair. You need to get to know her better. You need to spend more time with her."

Starsky pushed the scope aside and glared at Hutch. "You're throwing me out? Is that it? You're making my decisions for me—?" The tendons stood out on his neck.

Hutch lowered his tone. "Of course not. Relax, will ya? I'm just trying to be fair."

"So am I," he protested, sounding miserable. "You think it's easy?"

"I know it's not," Hutch murmured, reaching over, grasping the back of Starsky's neck. "It's toughest on you. I know that. And you're trying so hard. But you can't keep going like this, trying to love us both. None of us are happy, least of all you."

Starsky's color drained as he sagged against the pressure of Hutch's comforting hand. "I don't know. I just don't—"

"Look, I'm being selfish," Hutch insisted with a false smile. "I figure, she's good for a week with you at best. After she has to pick up after you for the fortieth time, or re-cap the toothpaste tube twice a day, or listen to hours of your off-key singing—"

Starsky looked affronted. "Who's off-key?"

Hutch had to grin. "I figure, she'll throw in the towel and send you back to me with bows on." The grin faded. He just couldn't keep it in place. "You owe it to both of us to find out how deep your feelings run. You can't do that by visiting. And you owe it to me to find the answers, so we can move forward. In whatever direction we're going to go."

Starsky refused to cooperate. "What are you saying? Don't come home? Sleep . . . . Sleep somewhere else? Is that what you want?"

Hutch held onto his fraying temper with bloody fingertips. What I want is for her to look at you and realize she doesn't really love you. What I want is for you to roll over some evening and realize she bores you. What I want is never gonna happen.

"This is unreal," Starsky muttered to himself, while fiddling with the scope. "I got her on one hand worryin' about you—"

Hutch snapped out of his agonizing long enough to focus on Starsky's ramblings.

"—and you on the other hand wanting to be fair to her—"

"Back up," Hutch ordered. "What do you mean, she's worried about me?"

"She's worried about our partnership," Starsky said impatiently. "She's worried you'll be too distracted by-by all this. She's worried something will happen to you, to me, while we're working, 'cause she disrupted things between us. She keeps bringing it up. And every time she does, I just get pissed, cause I'm worried about you, too, and—"

Isn't that nice? Everyone's worried about Hutch.

"We promised each other after Kira we'd never let this kind of stuff interfere with the job again, didn't we?" Hutch reminded him.

Starsky nodded, not looking at him, pretending to focus the scope.

"I think we're doing pretty good, considering," Hutch said evenly. "We're on time mostly. Our reports are clear and clean. We're doing the job. I'm comfortable with our performance—"

"Will you knock it off!" Starsky said too loudly, then clapped a hand over his mouth as if that were the only way he could control it. He got a grip on his temper, then lowered his hand and his voice. "Just stop it, Hutch. I don't know how much more of this 'reasonable and understanding' bit I can take."

That's good. 'Cause I don't know how much I've got left in me. He didn't say anything. He couldn't.

After a few minutes of silence, Starsky reached out his hand. Without hesitation, Hutch took it and they gripped each other, making that connection, holding on to it.

Their eyes met, saying everything.

Finally, they released their hold at the same time. The silence stretched as Starsky went back to the scope.

Hutch broke it first. He wanted this resolved, needed it resolved. Even though the resolution itself might kill him. "I think you should start staying with her. You know, either at your place or hers."

Starsky didn't answer for a long time, then finally he said, "All right. If that's what you want." His voice was ragged.

Hutch had to look away. That's hardly what I want, but I know it's what you need.

Quietly, as if he expected to be refused, Starsky asked, "Can I still pick you up for work in the morning?"

Hutch's heart twisted. "I'm countin' on it, partner."


And as simply as that, Hutch started sleeping alone.

Hutch leaned against the interrogation room door and tried to focus on the problem at hand. But it was hard to with Starsky strutting back and forth in front of the suspect, his body coiled with tension, his ass and thighs looking sculpted in his tight, frayed jeans. This was Starsky's element, the interrogation room, and he was deep into his "bad cop" persona. To Hutch's eyes, his performance only added to his desirability. They'd been trying to pull some information out of this weasel for half an hour. The room was hot. Hutch was tired. He wasn't sleeping well.

Starsky strolled across the room again. He looked cool, collected, contained—and entirely too well rested. Hutch pulled his gaze away from his partner and stared silently at the suspect.

"Just 'cause I was in the same cell as Barstow 10 years ago," the suspect whined, "doesn't mean I have any idea where he's at now!"

Starsky prowled up to man and leaned forward on the table, invading his space. "You know something, Jake. You know something about Barstow's plans or you wouldn't be sweating like you are."

"I know Barstow's crazy, I know that," Jake agreed. "And I know if he even hears about me sittin' in this room with you I'm a dead man. There ain't any kinda deal you can offer me, man. That guy's crazy. He'd kill me just for the fun of it."

Without giving it a single conscious thought, Hutch exploded. He pushed off the wall, covered the room in two strides, and had Jake by the collar before Starsky could even react. He hauled the small man up bodily and shoved him against the wall, aware that Jake's feet weren't touching the ground. An unquenchable rage boiled up inside him; releasing it felt incredibly good.

Hutch got nose to nose with the terrified suspect, pinning him to the wall with his larger, more powerful, body. "You seem to think you're not in just as much danger here. Think again, buddy. Barstow's killing anyone who crosses his path: women, children, innocent law-abiding citizens. Do you really think anyone cares about the life of a two-bit thief who was stupid enough to maintain ties with the FBI's Number One Most Wanted. Thanks to Barstow, we don't have the man-power to process the accident reports we'd have to fill out if you suddenly fell and broke your neck." He shook the man hard to make his point.

Dimly he was aware of Starsky's shocked expression. This wasn't part of any scenario they'd ever worked out.

Finally, Starsky responded, grabbing hold of Hutch's arm and trying to haul him off. "Hutch, don't! Come on, ease up!"

Jake was having trouble breathing, his face bright red. He kicked at the air feebly. "Wait! Wait!" he squealed, obviously terrified. It was clear by the look in his eyes that he saw the end of his life mirrored in Hutch's unblinking stare. "Okay, I'll tell you. I'll tell you whatever I know. But you gotta protect me. You gotta keep me safe from him."

Hutch dropped the snitch abruptly and he collapsed on the floor gasping. Starsky leaned over, helped the man up and put him in a chair.

"I know where he holds up when he goes north. It's a small shack near a little town—"

"Sit tight," Starsky said comfortingly to the man. "We'll need a stenographer. You want something to drink? You hungry?"

Jake nodded, glancing nervously at Hutch the whole time.

Starsky went to the door, and pulled the uniform outside it into the room. "Baby-sit him while we get some refreshments," he said to the cop, then grabbed Hutch by the sleeve and towed him out into the hall.

The spontaneous rage left Hutch as rapidly as it had appeared. He deflated. He pushed hair out of his eyes as Starsky hauled him around and got ready to read him the riot act. This wasn't the way they worked together and Hutch knew damned well he'd hear about it.

But before Starsky could start on him Epstein and another fed left the observation room next door and joined them in the hall.

"That was some performance, Hutchinson," Epstein said, and Hutch could hear the admiration in his voice. "You even had me convinced you were gonna off the little creep. He looked about ready to wet himself."

Starsky's eyes were moving back and forth between Hutch and Epstein, and Hutch realized Epstein's assumption that that had all been part of their act would pretty much take the sting out of Starsky's reproach.

"This could be the first good break we've had in weeks," Epstein said. "You guys have done your part. I'll have lunch brought in, and get the steno." He patted Hutch on the arm. "Good work. Dobey was right about you two. You're unconventional, but you get results."

Hutch almost flinched. The adrenalin surge left him drained. His hands were shaking. He nodded a thank you at Epstein and moved off to the squadroom, Starsky following a beat later.

Once at his desk, a gulp of bitter coffee helped him focus. He sat down, incredibly weary. A phone ringing incessantly behind him worked on his nerves like a nail file. He had an impulse to turn around, rip it from its moorings and haul it across the room. Overturning a few desks suddenly seemed like a real mood-elevator.

Then Starsky entered and just looked at him. Hutch glanced at his expression and saw something there he didn't think he could tolerate. Sympathy. Sorrow. Guilt.

Not now. Don't feel sorry for me right now. I can't handle it.

Starsky stood by the double doors, clearly trying to find the right thing to say.

"Hutchinson!" the Captain's bellow was unexpected, and made Hutch's stomach knot. He covered his face with a hand and had a nearly uncontrollably urge to hide under his desk.

Starsky, looking as startled as Hutch felt, walked toward the Captain, as if ready to intercede for his stressed-out partner.

Dobey, standing in the doorway to his office, pointed a finger in Starsky's direction. "Is your name Hutchinson?"

"Sometimes," Starsky insisted.

"Outta here," Dobey growled, jerking his thumb in the direction Starsky had been coming from.

Hutch glanced at his partner and shrugged. A worried look lingered on his face, but finally Starsky backed off.

"You," Dobey barked, pointing at Hutch. "With me. Now!"

Hutch pushed himself out of the chair and headed for his superior's office. He wondered if Epstein had called him about the interrogation, but then dismissed that. Epstein had clearly admired Hutch's results. He was busy with the snitch now. He wouldn't have bothered calling Dobey. If not that . . . .

What does he want? Homework's done. Filed on time. It's not our fault that hit man is a no-show. We're sitting on our asses all day on the taxpayer's dime, trying not to talk about what's really on our mind.

He entered Dobey's office, only to see the big man heading out the opposite door into the hallway.

Dobey crooked a finger at him. "Not here. Follow me."

What now? Hutch wondered, trailing after his boss. "How about a clue, Cap?"

"You'll find out soon enough," Dobey insisted, as they entered an elevator.

Hutch shut his mouth and waited. He'd become pretty good at both lately.

They walked through Parker Center's lobby and out into the garage. Dobey approached his big sedan and climbed in. Clearly, Hutch was supposed to get into the passenger side. He hesitated.

I haven't been in this car since the shooting, he realized, a cold stone lodging in his gut. He wasn't sure he could do it, but then Dobey hit the horn one short blast, making him jump. He reached for the handle and opened the door.

It's just a car, he insisted, as he slid into the passenger seat and fumbled with the seat belt, just to hide his distress. A car . . . . The car I used that night. The car I rammed into the assassin's car just to vent my rage. The car I used to find Jenny Brown. The car that sped me to the hospital when Starsky's heart stopped—

"There's a couple of things we've got to talk about, Hutch," Dobey said gruffly as he pulled smoothly out of the lot, "but I didn't feel comfortable discussing them at Parker."

Hutch really didn't hear him. Instead, he found himself staring at the door he was leaning against, clinging to the seat belt strap he'd fastened, as though he might fall out. I leaned against this window when Dobey drove me to the hospital. I think I was crying. Telling Dobey I knew Starsky was gonna die. That he was gonna die before I told him how I loved him. He spotted a small, brownish stain that had impregnated the vinyl of the car's door, and picked at it. Starsky's blood was on me. On my hands. My mouth—

The car came to a halt and Hutch looked up, confused. They were at some park. There were trees, grass, a bit of beach. Hutch didn't recognize it, but it was lovely, peaceful.

"Hutch," Dobey said quietly. His tone had changed completely. It was no longer gruff, but gentle. Full of caring.

Hutch froze, every self-protective instinct on hyper alert. This was dangerous. Way too dangerous. "What's up, Cap?"

"That's what I want to know," Dobey said evenly. "Something's going on between you and your partner and I want to know what it is."

Hutch stiffened in the seat. "Like what? Our work's been good. We've been doing the job. It's boring as hell, but me and Starsk—"

"Don't run that ol' okey-doke on me, Hutch," Dobey insisted. "Save it for the folks who don't know you. Since Starsky's recovered, you two have been better than ever, working like men 10 years younger. You've been quick, smart, fast—and happy. That's the part that's missing now. Oh, you're still together, still synchronized, but—"

Dobey paused, and Hutch felt a wave of near panic threaten to capsize him.

"Son," he said in that same quiet tone, "I remember last year all too well. I thought I was gonna lose you. You were a burned-out cop, and believe me, I've seen my share. When Starsky was shot I thought I'd lost you both, because I knew, in the condition you were in, you couldn't survive his death. No one was more surprised than I was when both of you came out shining. But the shine's dimming, Hutch. Something's going on. I didn't interfere that year you were fading away because I just didn't know what to do, couldn't figure out the cause. I can't let that happen again. I know too much now. I know you. Talk to me."

Hutch wet his mouth and realized his hands were shaking. Talk to you? The temptation was nearly overwhelming. He'd carefully avoided Huggy's place exactly for this reason. He suspected Starsky might be confiding in Huggy; in fact, he'd hoped he was. He wanted Starsky to have someone to say the things to he couldn't say to Hutch or to Rosey. Everyone needed someone to talk to.

The words were out before he realized it. "Rosey Malone's back in town." He sounded so calm it surprised him. Like it was no big deal.

Dobey sat back in the driver's seat. "I see."

Do you? Hutch remembered Starsky's confidence that Dobey knew all, that he didn't care.

Dobey's large, dark eyes scanned his face. "Is he—?"

"Seeing her? Yes. In fact, he's staying with her." They were just words, after all. With a little effort, you could get them out without any inflection at all.

Dobey looked upset. "He's staying with her? I thought—"

"He started staying with her about a week ago. We both thought it would be best. He-he needs to—" How much to say? How much to admit? "—decide how he feels—about her—" That's enough. Be careful.

"What about the way he feels about you? And the way you feel about him?"

Hutch suddenly felt trapped, as if the strap he'd fastened around his body just to have something to do with his hands had grown so tight he couldn't escape if he wanted to. He felt a headache bloom behind his right eye. He stared at Dobey. "Should we really be having this conversation, Captain?"

Dobey laid a heavy hand on Hutch's shoulder. "There was a time, long ago, when you two were just another pair of detectives—and difficult ones—working under me. But over the years, you know damn well you both have come to mean much more. It's not my place to judge the way you live and the way you love, Hutch. That's God's job. My place is simply to be your friend—not just your Captain. I want you to know I'm here for you. Not to judge. Just to listen. Offer what advice I can. I think you need that, Hutch."

Hutch was so used to dealing with this alone, he didn't know how to react. He looked away and finally blurted, "We're—trying to work it out. The partnership, the friendship, that's the most critical thing. I think we can hang onto that, get through this and come out the other side."

"So, you've given up already?"

Hutch's swiveled around, his temper right up front. "Given up? Given up what? A dream? A fantasy? Of a life lived in the shadows? Look, Cap, let's be realistic. Whatever happened between me and Starsky, whatever we shared for as long as we shared it—a lot of it was a result of the shooting. That's over now. He's recovered. And if I did anything to contribute to that recovery, then I'm grateful. But now—now it's time to go back to the real world, to real life. And in real life, men fall in love with women. They get married . . . . They have children . . . ."

He forced himself to calm down, to lower his voice. This man was his friend, had become part of his and Starsky's odd little family. He didn't deserve to be shouted at in his own car because he cared. Hutch rubbed a hand over his face, sagging in the seat.

When he spoke again, even he could hear the weariness in his own voice. "I can't even put the name to what Starsky and I shared. I can't even say the words. With Rosey, he can have a real life. Marriage. A wife. A family. All the things he's always wanted. All the words anyone can say. Those are things I can't give him, could never give him. Not in a life lived in the shadows. Rosey can give him something real. She loves him. How can I deny him that?"

"Are you so sure it's what he wants?" Dobey pressed.

Hutch closed his eyes. "He's pursued it and talked about it ever since I've met him. After Vanessa, and Jeannie, and Gillian, and Abbey—I gave up on it, threw in the towel. I knew it was someone else's dream. But he never did, not really. Just kind of put it on the shelf—put it there in deference to me. Now, it's in reach again for him. I love him, Cap. His happiness is the only thing I want."

Dobey didn't say anything for a few moments, giving Hutch time to regroup. Finally, he said, "You talk a good line, Hutch. But, I don't know. Will you be able to dance at his wedding? Be his best man? Be the favorite uncle to his children?"

Hutch shut his eyes. He had never asked himself those questions. Worked hard never to even think about them. After awhile he whispered, "I have to. I'm his best friend. His best friend in the whole world."

They sat in silence together, watching the water lap at the beach, watching the trees dance in the breeze.

"There'll be another lieutenant's test coming up in a few months," Dobey told him.

Hutch looked over at him. "So?"

"Think about it, Hutch. Things are changing for you. Maybe it's time to move on—"

"And leave Starsky on the streets, alone?" Hutch said angrily. "No way!"

"He wouldn't be alone. I'd find him another partner. With his experience and background, he should be training rookies, anyway. Be sensible, Hutch. Starsky's a street cop. It's what he is, what he loves. You loved it once, too, but those days are gone. You only came back to the streets because Starsky did. You don't love the job, you love him."

"That hasn't changed, Cap," Hutch said brazenly. "I still love him. Whether he's living with me or Rosey Malone, I still love him. He's my partner; that makes him mine to protect, to back-up, to look out for. And, if he stays with her, marries her, then-then," he paused, realizing he was about to fall into a stuttering fit. He swallowed, slowed down. "Well, then, all I'll have left is the partnership. If it's all right with you, I'd like to hang onto that."

"You feel that way now," Dobey said, still in that same quiet tone, "but how will you feel as the years go by? Picking him up at home. Watching her kiss him good-bye. Watching as her body changes with pregnancy."

"Why are you doing this to me?" Hutch snapped, furious. He could feel his face turning beet red.

"Because the future you want for Starsky is all well and good. But where are your dreams for your own? You talk about a shadow life. Is that what you're going to settle for—being the second-most important person in his life? You deserve a life, too, Hutch. A life where you have your own ambitions, your own accomplishments—and sooner or later, someone to love. It wouldn't stop you from being friends with him, from being able to support him when he needs you. But it wouldn't destroy you either. What you're planning—being a reliable piece of furniture in Starsky's background—that's no life for a man like you. Not with your brains, your abilities. If you're convinced you have to give him up for his own good—and that's a greater sacrifice than I could have ever made for Edith—then, fine. Do it. But find something for yourself. Or the shadow life you're planning on will destroy you. And if you think that won't hurt Starsky more than giving up your partnership, then you don't know him nearly as well as I thought you did."

Hutch and Dobey stared at each other for a long time, then finally, without saying anything else, Dobey turned the key in the ignition and drove them back to Parker Center.

They returned to the squad room in silence, both of them entering one behind the other. Starsky sat at their shared desk and watched the two men file in, not speaking. Dobey never even glanced at him as he went into his office and shut the door.

Finally, as Hutch sat and picked up the file he'd been working on when Dobey summoned him and pretended to study it, Starsky leaned across the desk and murmured, "What the hell was all that about? Where'd you two go, anyway?"

Hutch lowered the file and stared at the man he loved but couldn't have. The expression he wore caused Starsky to move back in surprise. "It was private," he said firmly, in a tone he knew Starsky would recognize. "Don't ask me about it again."

Then he went back to the file and proceeded to stare at it for the next two hours until their shift ended.

Eleven thirty in the morning, Starsky thought, as he walked into The Pits alone, and I'm thinking about having a drink. Not good, Davey-boy. He sat at the darkest end of the bar, snagged a basket full of peanuts, and waited for Huggy to get off the phone.

"I don't wanna hear no more never mind," Huggy was telling the person on the other end of the line. "I need that delivery by 3:00. Not 4:00, and certainly not 5:00. By 3:00. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. That's right! Solid." He banged the phone down in annoyance and spun on Starsky, who was currently his only customer. "And I don't wanna hear no more never mind from you, either," he said, jabbing a finger in his direction.

Starsky stopped in mid-chew. "Excuse me?"

"I tol' you the last time you was in here, I haven't heard nothin' 'bout that maniac hit man, I don't know nothin' bout the man, and I ain't gonna hear nothin' 'bout him now or ever, ever. So you can just tool your narrow butt elsewheres for information on that crazy motha—"

"How 'bout slowin' down there, buddy," Starsky said quietly. "Ever think I might'a just dropped in for some food? Or a drink? Or maybe just the pleasure of your company?"

Huggy moved closer. "Oh, right. Sure. Food, maybe. Drink—it's a little early for you, isn't it? The pleasure of my company—" Huggy paused and looked embarrassed.

"So, where's the rest of it?" Starsky asked, with wry smile.

Huggy sobered and shook his head. "It was too cutting. You ain't up for it these days."

Starsky narrowed his eyes. Huggy was the one person he knew who he could level with. He wasn't ready to have that relationship change also. "I ain't up for it? Spill it, Bear."

Huggy shook his head and looked sheepish. "I was about to say, you've got all the pleasurable company you can stand right about now without me—"

Starsky sagged in the seat. "Oh, now you're gonna do the saints and martyr rag on me, too, huh? I'm bein' killed with kindness on every front!"

Huggy's warm eyes softened. "How you holdin' up there, old man?"

"Physically, just fine, since Hutch threw me out about a week ago."

Huggy looked at him suspiciously. "He threw you out—?"

Starsky shook his head. "No, of course not. He suggested it out of fairness to Rosey. I mean, I think he was right, but—" Starsky shook his head. "Huggy, do you remember Gillian?"

It was a wonder anyone could remember any details of the disastrous chain of Hutch's love affairs, but Huggy nodded.

"She said to me once, the day she died in fact, that Hutch was so lucky, to have two people love him so much—meanin' her and me." Starsky shook his head, remembering that day. "Now, I don't know . . . . But isn't this supposed to be every man's fantasy, to have two lovers?"

Huggy patted Starsky's arm. "That's why they call it a fantasy, Starsky. Reality's a whole 'nother thing."

Starsky looked at his friend, knowing the emotional stress was clear on his face. "How about that drink, Huggy?"

"One root beer comin' right up," Huggy agreed cheerily.

"That wasn't the beer I had in mind," Starsky protested as Huggy ignored him.

"Ain't'chu on duty?" Huggy asked, as he filled a mug with the sweet soda.

"Not 'til tonight," Starsky insisted. "Dobey finally switched us to nights, for this week at least."

Huggy put the root beer down in front of him. "It's eleven-thirty in the morning. I've never known you to start drinkin' so early. I'll make you some lunch. It goes well with root beer."

Starsky nodded and sipped at the soda. "Sure. Everyone else knows what's best for me, why should you be any different?"

Huggy leaned over the bar. "If you're hurtin' that bad over Hutch, why don't you just go back?"

"'Cause he's right," Starsky murmured. "When I first fell for Rosey we didn't have any time to get to know each other, find out what we were about. How can I decide . . .  what I gotta decide . . . when I hardly know her?"

Huggy nodded. "Has it helped any, stayin' with her and not bein' with Hutch?"

"Only in that I'm gettin' more sleep," Starsky complained. "When I'm with Rosey I can barely think about anything but Hutch. But when I'm working besides Hutch, then she's constantly on my mind. I feel like I'm goin' nuts. I miss sleeping with Hutch. But when I was still leaving her alone to go back to his place—"

Huggy patted his arm again. "I know. I know. Believe me, Starsky, I don't envy you."

"At least I got you to talk to, Hug. I don't think Hutch is talking to anyone. I think he's keeping it all inside. He's not sayin' anything to you, is he?"

Huggy shook his head. "I haven't even seen him much, tell you the truth."

"He said he was here for dinner the other night. I was kinda nagging him about getting out, doin' stuff, not just playing with his plants all the time, alone— He was here, wasn't he? He said he met some girl—?"

"Yeah, he was here," Huggy said noncommittally.

Starsky stared at his friend. "He take her home with him? The girl?"

Huggy drew back. "What do you wanna hear? 'Yeah, he took her outta here,' so you can assuage some of your guilt about not sleepin' with him, or you wanna hear 'no, he didn't,' so you can be glad he hasn't found anyone else yet?"

Starsky's temper flared; he had to stop himself from raising his voice. "I-I just care about him, Hug. You think this is easy on me? Thinkin' about him being alone? Knowing it's my fault? I don't want him to be alone all the time."

Huggy just watched Starsky, his expression skeptical. "Oh, yeah? Well, how 'bout if I tol' you Hutch walked outta here that night with a little brunette dude on his arm. Just how would you feel about that?"

To his surprise, Starsky felt a hot flush of jealousy surge through him. "A guy? Hutch . . . did that . . . ?"

"I didn't say he did," Huggy reminded Starsky. "I asked how'd you feel if he did."

Starsky blinked, his heart rate pounding. "I, well, uh—if that's what Hutch really wants—"

"Don't force yourself," Huggy warned. "Your hypocrisy just might rise up and choke you. Hutch left outta here alone the other night. Yeah, he chatted up this cute little girl, but only because she wouldn't leave him be. Not that it's any of your business. Hutch ain't ready to start seein' anyone, Starsky. Not yet anyhow. He's still waitin' on you."

Starsky ran a hand through his hair. "It always comes down to that, don't it? Waitin' on me. Waiting for something I can't do. I can't help the way I feel, Huggy. I can't help the fact that I love them both. I have dreams where we make our own little three person commune, and all live together somewhere, and everyone's happy . . . ."

"And you die of old age in six months," Huggy interjected. "Smiling, but dead, and shriveled up to boot."

Starsky laughed bitterly. "When Hutch told me to go stay with Rosey, I thought, maybe he's right, maybe in a week or so I'll feel trapped, like I have in a lotta relationships. Maybe I'll miss Hutch so much, it'll all become clear to me. But, being with her—it's just what I thought it would be. She's fine and good, and loving—and she puts up with all my craziness, the wild hours, the strange shifts—"

"—Your other lover callin' you 'bout the job," Huggy reminded him, "and showin' up at the door to take you to work—"

Starsky flinched. "Yeah, the phone calls have happened, but so far, I've made sure Hutch never had to come get me. I figure enough's enough, they don't need to have breakfast together. But whenever they have had to talk on the phone, they're both so nice to each other I can barely stand it. Some days I wish someone would just shoot me and put me outta my misery."

"Starsky," Huggy said quietly, "you gonna marry this girl?"

Starsky felt the familiar choking sensation he got every time he even thought about that. "Truth is, I wanna, Hug. She deserves that, doesn't she? That's what you're supposed to do when you love a woman. Marry her. Make a family with her. But every time I think about it, I think, who's gonna be my best man? Hutch? How can I ask him to do that? How can I ask him to stand by me while I make vows with Rosey? I already made vows with Hutch. To serve and protect. Vows sealed in blood. His blood. My blood." He wound down and sighed heavily. "Talkin' to your bartender's supposed to help, Hug."

Huggy looked toward the front door and Starsky turned also as it swung open. Rosey walked in hesitantly, then seeing him, smiled. He felt his heart lift, just like it always did when he saw her.

"Hey, honey," he said softly, and held out his arm. She came to him, let him embrace her, and kissed him.

"If it isn't the lovely Miss Malone," Huggy said by way of greeting. "You grace my humble establishment. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

She laughed lightly, grinning at the bartender. "Nice to see you, too, Huggy. I had business this morning, so David and I planned to meet here for lunch."

"And you thought I just wanted to take advantage of you," Starsky admonished his friend.

"Will wonders never cease," Huggy said sarcastically. "You actually came here for a meal. Well, before the lunch mob arrives, let me attend to that for you."

"Two specials, Hug," Starsky ordered. He nodded and went back to the kitchen. "Business meeting done so soon, Rosey?"

"Yes, and it went better than I could have hoped," she said excitedly as she slid onto the stool beside his. "David, the art dealer I met with this morning wants to agent all the Indian art I can supply. He'll agent it to some of the most exclusive Native art galleries in the city. That means I won't have to run a store myself, yet I'll be able to command much higher prices for each piece. Without the overhead of an individual shop, there'll be a better profit ratio to return to the village. Isn't that great?" She was grinning hugely, totally thrilled.

Her enthusiasm lit up his heart; it was impossible to be upset when she was like this. "That's terrific, honey. I'm proud of you. You must've struck a tough deal. Either that, or the guy took one look at you and fell in love."

"I don't think so," she assured him. "He's all agent. He never stopped fondling the pieces I brought him. I might as well have been invisible. Anyway, we made the deal. Now, all I have to do is supply him!"

Huggy returned with their meals, and for once it wasn't burgers. Starsky stared at the artfully made club sandwiches. "Well, aren't we expanding our repertoire?"

"Hey, I taught you that word," Huggy protested. "Don't go throwin' it back in my face!" He turned to Rosey. "I couldn't help overhearin' your conversation, lovely lady. Congratulations. Sounds like you made yourself a serious deal."

She nodded, still smiling. "It'll make a big difference in the small villages where I collect the art. Of course, with the volume he says he can move, I'll have to make a lot more trips back."

Starsky looked up from his plate. "So, like, what's a lot?"

She shrugged, thinking about it. "Maybe every other month, or at least every three months."

"For how long?" he asked.

"Two to three weeks should do it," she said matter-of-factly, taking a bite out of her sandwich.

Starsky thought about that. Two to three weeks out of every other month? She'll be gone, and I'll be spending eight to 12 hours alone with Hutch. I'll last two days without her before I'll be back in his bed. This won't work.

She must've put that together, too, because all of a sudden she stopped chewing and just looked at him. She put the sandwich down. "David, this is my work—"

He nodded too quickly. "I know. I know. It's just—a lot of traveling. But, I understand!"

It was becoming more frequent, times when they would hit this kind of impasse, where no one was willing to say what was hanging in the air between them. Rosey was determined not to act jealous or possessive in any way. Yet, Starsky knew it had to be hard on her as he went off with Hutch every day, sometimes for 12 hours or more. And because she wouldn't admit to her concerns, they couldn't talk about it, get it on the table. She'd reiterated over and over that he didn't have to promise her monogamy, not at this stage of their relationship. Yet he knew, because he knew her, that it worked on her. Knowing how much time he spent with Hutch. Alone. Intimate time. Secluded time.

Starsky blinked, trying to imagine Hutch as the "other" man and couldn't. It was too ridiculous. He could see Hutch drawing himself up with all his dignity if he even suspected . . . .

The trouble was, he could also see how uncomfortable he and Hutch would be together as the days of Starsky's solitude stretched on and on.

"Maybe you could come with me," Rosey suggestion, toying with her sandwich, "you know, once in a while. Like a vacation."

Take a vacation, he suddenly thought, without Hutch? Of course, without Hutch, he told himself sharply. "Sure. We could do that. At least, once a year . . . ."

They lapsed into an awkward silence, until Starsky took her chin and made her look at him. "It's your job, Rosey, what you do. I respect that. We'll make it work."

She nodded, then murmured, "I just didn't think, David, what it might mean to us . . . . I'm so used to traveling, and—"

"It's okay," he reassured her, even though he didn't feel that confidence himself. He kissed her cheek. "We'll figure it out. Day by day."

She went back to her sandwich, picking at it. Starsky sighed. She needed a commitment from him. But that felt too much like rejecting Hutch and he just wasn't ready to do that, yet.

As he mulled his options over for the fortieth time that day, the door swung open with a bang and Hutch's voice called, "Starsky? Starsky, listen Dobey's on the warpath, he's gotten this lead about—"

Starsky spun on the barstool to face Hutch who was half in and half out of the door. Hutch had just come face to face with the fact that his partner was not alone.

Rosey had actually jumped when Hutch barged in, and now her face was suffused with color. She blinked rapidly, then, to her credit, recovered. "Hello, Hutch," she said softly, and made herself smile.

Hutch's reaction was nearly identical, which would have been amusing under any other circumstances. He released his grip on the door, forced himself to slow down, and approached her. "Hello Rosey," he said kindly. He smiled and kissed her on the cheek.

"How are you?" Rosey said softly, as if she couldn't stop herself from asking, for caring.

Hutch's smile was warm, if tinged with sadness. "I'm fine, Rosey. Really. I hope you are, too. It's nice to see you again."

That's right, Starsky realized. This was the first time they'd actually had to see each other since the meeting in the restaurant. That felt like years ago, but wasn't more than three weeks.

Seeing the two of them here together had a nearly overwhelming emotional affect on Starsky. He seesawed wildly between wanting to embrace them both and wanting to flee. He looked at Huggy, who had turned stone-faced, and for once had nothing to say. But Starsky's expression must've galvanized Huggy, because he leaned over and addressed Hutch.

"Are you here for lunch, sir, or just passing through? I'm having a run on my special of the day."

"Speaking of runs," Hutch said, all business now, "that's why I'm here." He looked at Starsky, guilt edging his eyes. "I've been calling around, trying to find you. When I saw the Torino out front— Dobey's called us in. He's got this lead he wants us to chase down—on Barstow—"

"Right," Starsky said before Hutch had to scramble up any more explanations. He always sounded as if he thought no one would believe him. "I'm with you." He slid off the stool, and moved to leave with Hutch, but his partner just looked at him quizzically, then glanced at Rosey. Starsky flushed violently when he realized he hadn't even said good-bye to her, he was so eager to escape the awkward situation. He turned, took her by the shoulders and pressed a passionless kiss against her cheek. "I'll call you, Rosey. Don't know when I'll get free." He could barely make himself look at her, and felt color coursing through his face.

Ask Hutch to be my best man? When I can barely kiss the woman I love good-bye in front of him? Terrific.

He followed Hutch to the aging hulk he was currently using as transport and slid into the passenger's seat, dreading what was about to occur.

"Starsky, I'm sorry," Hutch said, even before he got the door closed. Hutch pulled away from the curb, and started driving, ostensibly, Starsky knew, so he wouldn't have to look at him. "I couldn't find you, and Dobey was screaming, and I saw the car—"

"Hutch, it's okay! Stop apologizing. I'm sorry you had to run around after me like that. She . . . had this business meeting . . . and I figured she could meet me for lunch. But really, the Pits has always been our hangout. I should've considered . . . ." He trailed off, finally out of words.

"It's not a problem, Starsk," Hutch said evenly. "I mean, we're partners. Rosey and I are going to have to get comfortable with each other sooner or later."

"Thanks for being so nice to her," Starsky said quietly, even as he wished, perversely that Hutch had acted like a total shit, so he could work up some resentment.

Hutch shrugged. "It's easy to be nice to her. She's a nice person. I hope I didn't make her too uncomfortable."

"No, no, I'm sure you didn't." The inane banter died down as they drove on. Finally, Starsky blurted, "She made some deal downtown with the moneyed art crowd. But it means a lot of travel. She'll be gone maybe every other month. For a coupla weeks at a time."

Hutch didn't say anything for an uncomfortably long moment, then finally he muttered, "Well, that's gonna be difficult, won't it?"

Not 'difficult on you,' Starsky noted. Just 'difficult.' Like on both of us? He stole a glance at his partner, knowing his worry was clear on his face and unable to do a thing about it. "You know as well as I do what's gonna happen while she's gone."

For one brief moment, Hutch tensed all over, and, without looking at Starsky, said in a low voice, "What's gonna happen, buddy, is you're gonna get reacquainted with your left hand."

His words, some of the first that showed any temperament, were like a slap, and took Starsky by surprise.

Apparently, they startled Hutch, too, because he sagged, blinking, as if trying to recover. Finally, he looked over, his eyes softening. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. Look. We'll find a way to get through it. Somehow. I promise. I won't let you down."

So now it's your job to protect my virtue? Starsky thought incredulously. He was suddenly swamped with the urge to weep and turned to stare out the window to keep from doing that. How could anyone surrounded by so much love be so unhappy?


"Starsky, get down, get down!"

He found his partner on the ground, his head nestled gently, incongruously, in the heavy wheel of the Torino.

Bullet holes stitched across Starsky's shirt.

Hutch heard sirens, people running all around. He heard Dobey bellowing for ambulances, medical assistance. Someone put a blanket over Starsky.

"Don't leave me," Hutch begged, leaning over his partner. "I'll do anything if you just don't leave me."

Tell him before you lose him. There's no time to waste. Hutch leaned down, his voice loud, clear. "I love you, Starsky. You can't leave me."

Starsky struggled to blink. He fixed his eyes on Hutch's. Did he hear? Did he understand?

Someone grabbed Hutch by the shoulders, someone with big, meaty hands. He heard Dobey's voice, and realized his captain was talking to him. "Easy, son. Let the paramedics get to your partner."

"Dammit, let go!" With sheer force, Hutch wrenched away from Dobey's grip, lunged at Starsky on the ground, pushing the obstructing bodies away.

Hutch pressed his mouth to Starsky's. Starsky gasped and drew the breath out of his body. That breath filled Starsky, inflated his lungs and gave him needed oxygen, needed strength. Without questioning this, Hutch's tongue slid between Starsky's parted lips, and he felt an electric shock of pleasure so sweet it was blinding. Starsky sighed, drawing air, drawing strength.

Then he was being torn away again as his brother cops obeyed their captain. Hutch fought but couldn't match the combined strength of all those men.

"Easy, Hutch, easy!" Dobey said, trying to pull his attention away from the frantically working paramedics. "You've gotta let them at him, Hutch!"

"You've got to let me go!" Starsky would die without his touch.

"Hutch, don't do this to yourself!" Dobey begged, pulling him farther away. "Everything's changed."

Hutch's blood ran cold. "What?"

"Somebody better call this guy's wife," one of the paramedics yelled. "We're losing him."

"NO!" Hutch shouted and nearly launched himself out of the imprisoning grip of the other cops. But they held him back. All he could see of Starsky were his legs where they rested unmoving against the ground.

"David!" a woman's voice rang out. A slender woman broke through the crowd, raced toward the paramedics. He couldn't see her clearly, but knew who she was. Could Rosey save him? If she could, Hutch would have to let her have him.

The paramedics stepped aside as she knelt beside Starsky. Hutch heard her begging him to open his eyes. She swore her love, and the pain in her voice sounded like Hutch's. Rosey, you've gotta save him. If you can . . . I'll let him go. I swear it. Just save him. For both of us.

One of the paramedics sat back on his heels. "I'm sorry, ma'am. We've lost him."

Rosey screamed and flung herself across his body.

Hutch exploded in rage and jerked free. "NO!" he shouted. "He can't die!" He bolted toward his partner.

Shoving the paramedics aside, he pushed past Rosey to grip Starsky's limp body. Ripping the covering blanket away, he pulled Starsky into his arms only to realize the body he was holding was nothing but a fleshless skeleton. He stared in horror at the death's head grinning up at him sightlessly. As he clutched Starsky's bony remains, the entire skeleton crumbled to dust in his arms and the wind carried the dust away.

Rosey wept. He still couldn't see her face.

Dobey's hand rested on his shoulder. "There's nothing left for you, Hutch. Face the truth. Take the lieutenant's test. It's the best thing for you to do."

Hutch opened his eyes with a gasp. His body was supine, star-fished across his bed, his arms and legs flailing like someone falling from a great height. The room was still dark, but Hutch's mind was traveling at 90-miles an hour. He sat up to catch his breath.

Starsky had never died in the dream before.

Hutch felt like someone who'd frequently dreamed of falling and finally impacted on the ground. He ached all over and was covered in sweat. His hands were trembling. It was as bad as experiencing it first hand.

Starsky! His need to connect with him was overwhelming; he lurched for the phone then stopped to think. Wait. What time is it? Part of him didn't care, but the rational side of him was finally waking up. It's 4:00 a.m. You can't call him now. Not over a dream. You're a big boy. Get up and have some milk. Shake it off.

The ringing of the phone startled him so much he almost yelled. He grabbed the receiver. "Starsk?"

It was a woman, sounding frantic. "Hutch? It's Rosey."

He was overwhelmed with irrational fear. "Where's Starsky? Is he all right? Is he?"

"I don't know what's happening to him, Hutch. I thought he was dreaming, but I can't wake him. He's gasping, like he's having a seizure. I'm scared—"

"Put the phone to his ear! Do it now!"

He heard the sounds of the handset being manipulated against something. He tried to control the tremor in his voice as he spoke into the mouthpiece. Could he reach Starsky's subconscious through the telephone lines? "Starsky, don't die! Please, don't die." He knew he was really praying, and hoped that wouldn't scare Starsky. "Don't leave me, Starsky. Not after everything we've been through. I'll do anything if you just don't leave me."

He could hear Starsky gasp then take a deep, shuddering breath. Then another.

"Don't leave me! Stay with me, buddy. I'm here. I'll always be here for you."

Hutch put his mouth against the receiver. He was almost shouting, but knew that Starsky would have trouble hearing him as deep as he was into the nightmare. Distantly, he thought that Rosey would be able to hear him, too, but he couldn't care about that right now. "I love you, Starsky. You can't leave me. Come on, buddy. Come on back."

He heard Starsky moan softly, and wondered if he had opened his eyes yet. He could hear him panting and knew that his breathing was evening out at least. "I love you, Starsky. Never loved anyone else the way I love you. You believe me, don't you?"

If only I were there, Hutch thought painfully. He needed to kiss him, share his breath, bring him slowly back to the now. "You're still with me, Starsky. Don't give up. Hear my voice. You're alive. You're healthy. It's just a dream, babe. Come back to me. I love you, Starsky. I need you, babe. Don't leave me. Not now."

Starsky's voice was soft. "Hutch?"

He's still not awake. But he can hear me. Gotta convince him he's safe.

"You're all right, love. I've got you." Hutch murmured, wanting to comfort and reassure. "I've got you, babe. I love you. Come back to me."

For a moment there wasn't any sound at all, and Hutch wondered if Rosey had pulled the phone away. Then he heard Starsky say clearly, "Hutch? That you? What . . .  what's going on?"

He's awake. And completely confused.

He heard Rosey say, "David, are you awake?"

There was a rattling sound, and Hutch realized Starsky had either dropped the phone or Rosey was trying to help him hold onto it as he dropped it.

"Hutch, you okay? What happened? Why are you on the phone? Why aren't you here with me?"

Hutch shut his eyes. He's still not totally awake. He tried to imagine Rosey's reaction to what Starsky was saying. Hutch suspected Starsky wasn't even aware she was in the room with him yet. "Starsky, wake up. You've had the nightmare again. Open your eyes. Look around the room. Get your bearings."

But Starsky wasn't quite with it. "Hutch, my chest hurts! Why aren't you home with me? I need you, babe."

He knew Starsky was going to be upset and disoriented when he realized what he was saying and who he was really with.

"Starsk . . . I am home. And so are you. You're home with Rosey. She's frightened and confused. Wake up now. You need to tell her what's going on."

"What?" Starsky sounded completely baffled.

"David?" Hutch could hear Rosey in the background. "David, please wake up."

Hutch rubbed a hand over his face. Amazing. You've finally managed to get both of us in your bed at the same time.

Suddenly, Starsky said the most lucid thing he had since this had started. "Oh, shit, it's 4:00 a.m. Damn." Hutch heard him lower the phone and half-cover it. "Honey, I'm okay. I'm awake now. It's just a bad dream—"

"Just a bad dream!" she cried. Hutch could hear her in spite of Starsky's muffling hand. "I thought you were having a heart attack or a seizure. Why are you rubbing your chest? Let me call an ambulance!"

"Starsky! STARSKY!" Hutch shouted in an attempt to be heard.

There was another fumbling of the receiver and Starsky said, "Yeah. Hutch, look, I'm sorry—"

"That's not important," Hutch said firmly. He used his best "partner" voice, the one Starsky usually listened to without question. "Let me talk to Rosey. You're not making any sense right now."

"Hutch wants you," Starsky mumbled, and handed off the phone.

"Rosey, are you there?" Hutch asked, hoping Starsky hadn't just dropped the receiver and wandered off to the bathroom in his dazed state.

"Uh . . . yes . . . I'm still here, but I'm worried—"

"He's not having a heart attack," Hutch said clearly. "Listen to me. He has a reoccurring nightmare about the shooting that nearly killed him. It's extremely realistic. He feels the bullets, has trouble breathing, and struggles for air. It's always hard to wake him up. Since I was there with him when it happened . . . it helps to anchor him in reality when he hears me. But he's still feeling the aftermath of it. His scars are aching now, inside and out. Rub his chest with something soothing like warm oil. Talk to him, try to anchor him in the here and now. If he'll let you . . . you should . . . " his voice dammed up behind his teeth. He swallowed hard and made himself say it. "If he'll let you . . .  love him. He needs that now. And it'll help him go back to sleep without anymore dreams."

There was a pause as if she were digesting everything he said. "You were totally awake when I called you. You were expecting to hear his voice. You sounded frantic, panicky. You knew exactly what to do . . . . You were having the same dream, weren't you?"

There was nothing for him to say to that.

"Are you all right?" she asked, sounding genuinely concerned. "Going through that alone . . . ."

"I am now," he said, wanting to forestall more of her sympathy. He wasn't together enough to deal with that. "It's harder for him. He was the one who was shot. What's he doing now?"

"Sitting on the edge of the bed," she said.

"Do what I told you. Help him go back to sleep. He'll be okay after that."

She hesitated, then said hesitantly, "And what about you?"

He closed his eyes. I don't know. I never had to go back to sleep alone after the dream. "I'll be fine. If I know you're taking care of him, then I'll be able to sleep. Rosey . . . ?"


"Thanks for calling me." That had to cost you.

"He needed you," she said simply. "I couldn't help him." Her voice sounded a little choked.

"He . . . he doesn't have them much any more. Maybe he won't anymore." It sounded lame, even in his own ears.

He heard the phone fumbled, then heard Starsky's sleep-fogged voice. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Yeah, sure."

"You don't sound okay. You sound rough."

"It's 4:00 a.m." And I'm alone.

"Hutch," Starsky said, his voice tight, "I love you."

He squeezed his eyes shut until he saw streaks. It was what each of them said to signal to the other that the dream was over. Swallowing, he said it back softly. "I love you, too."

"Get some sleep. We got work to do tomorrow."

He nodded, then remembered Starsky couldn't see him. "Yeah. 'Night." There was a soft click on the other end of the phone.

He set the receiver on the cradle, and lay back down on the mattress. But it was useless. He'd never go back to sleep now. He rose to shower away the cold sweat still clinging to him, and wondered if Rosey would be able to help Starsky go back to sleep by loving him. Perversely, he wanted her to. He wanted Starsky to get over the shooting, get over the dreams, and if burying himself in Rosey's body was the way to do it, so be it.

As he stepped into his tub and adjusted the taps, he finally realized he was sporting a rock-hard erection himself. He shut his eyes and surrounded it with soap lather, but couldn't focus on anything but Starsky. The intimacy between them came so easily to his mind: Starsky's touch, the sure grip of his hand, the sweet wet heat of his mouth, the fiery tightness of his body.

He opened his eyes, forcing his mind away from a fantasy he could no longer afford. He forced himself to think of something else, anything else, as he stroked himself under the soothing water. He found himself suddenly thinking of Sweet Alice. He hadn't seen her in over a year; word was she'd gone down to San Diego to start over, to go straight, to give up The Life. He wondered how she was doing. He was glad she wasn't in town. If she was, he was afraid he'd be tempted to take her up on her long-standing offer of some uncomplicated comfort. He wouldn't have to talk a lot with Sweet Alice, wouldn't have to explain anything. He'd just have to show up. He thought about her gentle voice, her sweet manner, her lovely body. Thought about her touching him, stroking him . . . going down on him.

His erection deflated like a punctured balloon. His chest felt tight and for a minute, he had trouble drawing a breath. Then it all passed, and he just felt weary. As he used his soapy hand to simply clean himself instead, he wondered how much comfort he would find if he couldn't get it up for her, or any other lover again?

As long as part of his soul was missing, he suspected his body was simply not going to help him distract his heart. If he were being honest, he would admit that it was a relief.

Starsky emerged from the shower feeling only marginally better. The shadows of the dream still haunted him in a way they never had before. It's all this stress, he told himself. Being torn between two people you love. It'd make anyone crazy.

Hearing Hutch over the phone had helped, but it had come far too late. Starsky had died in the dream there on the tarmac while the paramedics worked on him. Dimly, he'd been aware of Hutch holding him, kissing him, then being torn away. He couldn't breathe, and Hutch's breath and his touch hadn't been there to restore him. Rosey had tried to help him, but he'd died anyway. Experiencing his own death had been terrifying.

Rosey had been frightened, thinking he was having a heart attack. His attitude on waking hadn't helped. She'd wanted to massage his chest. He nearly bolted from the bed, unable to tolerate any tactile contact. He knew without asking that Hutch had told her what to do—first the massage, then the passion—because that was Hutch, wanting to give him what he needed even if he couldn't do it himself. But experiencing his own death had left him so edgy, so wired, he couldn't stand to be touched—at least not by Rosey. Her feminine hand suddenly seemed alien, all wrong. He ached to bury himself in Hutch's arms, feel the power of his hands and body, make love to him fiercely the way they always did after the dream. Knowing that Hutch had to be feeling the same things tortured him. There wasn't a day that went by that he didn't want Hutch, long to be with him, in his arms, in his bed, but he'd convinced himself he'd stop feeling that after a time. But this was different. This was a need so all-consuming, he couldn't get away from it. This wasn't something he could get over. This was something his psyche needed to heal, and if it didn't get it—he didn't know how he'd handle it.

As he toweled his hair dry, he tried to tell himself he'd stop having the dreams eventually. Even the therapist said so.

If you could talk to the therapist about this problem with Rosey and Hutch, he might be able to help you.

But that was impossible. It was too dangerous to share something that volatile with anyone connected with the department. Besides, within a week of Rosey showing up, he and Hutch had talked the therapist into putting their monthly sessions on hold due to the time pressures of the Barstow case. They were both feeling way too edgy to dance around their situation in front of the shrink they already suspected knew entirely too much about them. Starsky couldn't imagine trying to summarize their problems with the therapist now.

Yeah, first you fall in love with your male partner—that's normal!—and now you can't decide whether to stay with him in a clandestine affair you can never be upfront about without jeopardizing your career, or settle down with the woman you've been in love with for the past two years. Now, what kind of advice do you think he'd give you, Davey, and what kind of a report would he send your captain?

He leaned over the sink, feeling battered and confused.

Why does this have to be so hard? I love them both so much.

"David," Rosey said tentatively through the bathroom door, "why don't I make us some breakfast? If you're not going to go back to sleep—"

"Great idea, honey," he agreed. "I'll be right out." It was nearly 6:00 now. How long had he stayed under water? He might as well get ready for their shift. The thought of spending eight hours alone with Hutch after last night was like sandpaper against a raw wound.

He knotted the towel around his waist, and went out to the kitchen.

Breakfast helped. The world always seemed brighter on a full stomach, and Rosey had made his favorite—blueberry pancakes with all the trimmings. As she refilled his coffee cup, he grabbed her wrist, made her put down the pot and pulled her onto his lap. She still had that haunted look of worry around her eyes. "That was just what the doctor ordered, sweetheart. Thanks."

"You look exhausted," she said, peering at him. "Maybe you should call in sick? I'm worried about you on the job with so little rest."

He hugged her, loving her for her caring. "I'll be all right. It's not like we're working that hard right now—"

They were both startled by the phone. But it was nearly 7:00, around the time he was normally up anyway. He wondered if it were Hutch checking up on him, making sure he was okay.

He lifted the phone hesitantly. "Hello?"

"Hope I didn't wake you, Starsky," Captain Dobey said.

"I'm up, Captain. What's going on?" He hoped desperately that there'd been a break on this Barstow case and they could get back to doing real police work instead of wasting their time baby-sitting a dead apartment.

"I'm calling you to tell you to go back to bed. DeMoyne and Harris were supposed to finish out the week on the overnight shift, but they managed to get a very serious case of food poisoning from that all-night carryout place you've all been using. They're in pretty bad shape and will probably be out the rest of the week. I was thinking of shifting the roster anyway, but now I have no choice. I had to pull Johnson and Selby in to finish out DeMoyne and Harris's shift. They'd just had two days off and were willing to cover. I asked them to cover twelve, and I'm asking you and Hutch to spend the day catching up on your beauty rest so you can take 12 hours tonight."

Starsky stared into the phone. Twelve hours. Alone. At night. With Hutch. With almost nothing to do. After having the dream?

"Wait a minute, Cap! This is crazy. We've been cooling our heels in that place for weeks for no reason at all. Last we were told, Barstow's not even in the state!"

"I talked to Epstein before I called you. Right now, Barstow's off the radar. They're not sure where he is. One of Barstow's regular sidekicks has taken up residency in one of the apartments Epstein's got targeted. They think it's a signal that Barstow's getting ready to show. Unfortunately, the sidekick spotted the surveillance, so that setup's down the tubes. They're worried that once Barstow hears about it, he'll be less inclined to move into his better known haunts."

"This guy's a day man, Captain," Starsky continued. "He never works at night, never has. Putting me and Hutch there overnight is a total waste! You could put two rookies in there for all the action they'll see!"

"Barstow took down a popular all-night gas station last night. Killed the two attendants and cleaned out the till. Epstein thinks he's ready to change his manner of operation since he knows the FBI's after him."

"C'mon, Cap, even if he does get into town, you know the chances of him picking our place are slim to none! If Epstein thought it was a possible target, he'd have moved his own guys into it."

"Epstein's upgraded the equipment in the last 12 hours because he wants to make sure everything's covered. I want you and Hutch to cover the next three nights there. It's an easy assignment, Starsky. After that you'll be back on days and with some luck we'll get a hit from this guy, and all go back to our regular duties. But in the meantime, this is the way it is!"

"But Cap—"

"That's an order, Starsky!" Dobey roared. Clearly he was at his limit. "What the hell is it with you two, anyway? Hutch gave me the same run-around. Now, I don't want to hear a word out of either of you. Be there at 7:00 tonight for 12 hours. End of discussion!" The phone slammed down hard in Starsky's ear.

At 6:30 p.m., he picked up Hutch at Venice Place so they could ride over to the stakeout in Hutch's invisible car. He beeped the Torino's horn, letting Hutch know he was there. He wasn't up to walking up the stairs and entering the familiar apartment. He was still recovering from his disorientation after waking when he finally figured out he wasn't in Hutch's bed. For a moment, he had no idea who the woman next to him was. He hadn't even recognized his own apartment.

He'd never died before in the dream, and it was such a rattling experience, he still hadn't shaken it.

He hit the horn again, just as Hutch emerged from the doorway onto the street.

"Okay, okay!" he called, heading for his car.

As Starsky left the Torino and slid into the passenger side of the junk-mobile, Hutch groused, "Are you really in that much of a hurry to do nothing all night?"

Starsky yanked the rusting door shut, making sure the lock engaged. "I tried to get us out of it," he said. "I don't know why they don't put a couple of rookies up there. At least till Barstow's shows up in the state. But no, the feds want Dobey's finest to sleep on the city's time. Man, I hate the overnight shift."

Hutch didn't say anything as he pulled into traffic and headed across town. After a long moment of stillness, Hutch said, "You okay. After last night?"

Starsky sighed and really looked at Hutch. He saw the dark circles under his eyes, the worry and fatigue etched there. It tore at his heart, knowing he was the cause. "More or less. Never really got back to sleep. Couldn't shake the scene, y'know?"

Hutch glanced at him quickly, frowning, then went back to watching the traffic. "Weren't you able to nap at all today, when we didn't have to go in?"

He'd avoided that bed all day. Rosey had done everything she could to get him to relax, but after experiencing his own death, he couldn't bear to shut his eyes. For some reason, he didn't want to be touched, didn't want to be held, after the dream. Not by her. It had never affected him like that before, but then again, Hutch had always been there to ease him out of it, loving him before he even knew he was awake, making the transition easy, comforting. "No. I was too wired. Too upset, I guess." He looked at Hutch again. "I never thanked you, did I? For talking me through it last night. That . . . that couldn't have been easy."

Hutch didn't say anything at first, just glanced over and gave a shrug. Finally, he murmured, "That's what partners are for."

Oh, yeah. Sure. Partners. "Rosey said you'd had the dream, too. That's why you were so awake when she called. Is that true?"

Hutch hesitated then finally nodded.

We've never had the dream at the same time before. He thought about all the things Hutch went through when he was having the dream. The way he thrashed, the way he cried out, the expressions of anguish and fear on his face. He thought about him going through that alone, with no one to hold him, console him. "I wasn't there for you," he said quietly.

"Little hard for you to be there for me when you're going through the same thing yourself," Hutch said, letting him off the hook.

"You managed to be there for me," he answered, "and I wasn't alone."

"Okay, fine," Hutch said patiently, clearly not wanting to dwell on it. "You owe me. I'll get my payback the next time it's your turn to buy lunch. Sushi Sam's!"

If Hutch wanted to play it by hiding behind the old banter, Starsky would have to go along with it. He owed him that much. So, on cue, he groaned. "Not Sushi Sam's! Hutch, you know I can't stand all that organic Japanese seaweed! I need my nourishment."

"Be grateful Sushi Sam's not open in the middle of the night," Hutch reminded him. "And we won't be able to eat from the Hot Dog Haven, either, unless we want to join DeMoyne and Harris in worshipping the great god of porcelain. That leaves the all-night fruit stand that's three blocks away. They've got great produce . . . ."

"Terrific. Rabbit food for the next three nights. At least I'll be regular."

He was cheered to hear Hutch chuckle as they pulled up behind the stakeout building and left the car. "Maybe if you're especially good," Hutch said, "we can call Huggy for an emergency delivery."

The banter died on Starsky's lips. Hutch realized his faux pas as soon as it was out of his mouth, and blushed red. What had once been part of their mutual sexual teasing, now was just a cold reminder of before.

Now, Hutch just looked mortified. "Starsky . . . I didn't mean to . . . ."

Exasperated, Starsky just grabbed his elbow and hustled him in through the back door of the building. "It's okay, Hutch. It's fine. Forget it." We can't even joke together anymore. Everything always comes back to what we aren't doing.

They didn't say anything else to each other until they entered the stakeout apartment.

Starsky took two steps inside, then stopped dead in his tracks so abruptly, Hutch ran into him, and had to clutch his shoulders to keep from knocking him over. "What the hell—?" Starsky muttered as Hutch peered around him.

"Man, am I glad to see you," Ray Johnson sighed. The tall, ungainly black man pulled himself out of the small folding chair that sat behind the desk where now sat the camera and scope. The desk was about three feet away from the window. To the right of the desk, against a wall, perched a pre-fab shelving system that had a small black and white television on it. The television, attached to cables connected to the camera and scope, was a new addition to the surveillance. But that wasn't what had startled Starsky.

Feeling as though everything in his life was conspiring against him just for the fun of it, Starsky jerked a thumb in the direction of Johnson's redheaded partner, Mike Selby. "Where the fuck did that come from?"

Hutch laid a gentle hand on his shoulder and murmured warningly, "Starsk . . . ." but he didn't care.

"Hey, give the guy a break," Johnson said, defending his partner. "He had a rough weekend with his wife and the new baby. So, I helped him bring it up here. He can't hack that sagging old couch; his back's a problem."

Starsky stared incredulously as Mike Selby snored softly, open-mouthed, cradled in the cushiony depths of a dark blue leather recliner. "Dobey know about this?"

"Not just Dobey," Johnson said with a grin, "but Epstein gave his blessing as well. I think he's embarrassed that it's taken so long, that they haven't been able to nail this guy with all the money they've spent. With the new remote," he nodded at the TV, "you can do the surveillance just fine from the recliner . . . if you don't nod off. You just gotta get up to take the pictures, but since there hasn't been a picture to take in days, that's hardly a priority. Epstein all but told us we're just holding down the fort to satisfy his superiors. He thinks things might break in a few days, but right now it's sit tight and relax. Thanks to Mike's recliner, at least we really can."

"He's leavin' it here?" Starsky's voice was nearly a squeak.

"Not exactly portable, is it?" Johnson said sarcastically. "'Sides, he's got a new one being delivered at home later today. See what you've got to look forward to? Too bad you can't change the channels on the tube. Get some of those late night naughty shows. Epstein basically needs a documented report about every two hours. So, relax and just remember to log in your report on time and life can be good, or at least moderately comfortable. Which one of you wants to check out the technical aspect of this new equipment?"

Starsky was still staring at the sleeping Selby, so Hutch moved around him, indicating he'd handle that task. As he and Johnson ran down the equipment's simple maintenance needs, Starsky's memories haunted him.

Shortly after he'd left the hospital for Hutch's place, sleeping flat on his back became difficult. It was too great a strain on his healing muscles to rise from a supine position. So, Hutch borrowed the Dobey's recliner and Starsky found himself sleeping easily in it. Hutch could ease it upright when he had to get out of it to do his exercises, or eat a meal. Hutch slept on the couch to be near Starsky. As his recovery progressed, Starsky coaxed Hutch into the recliner with him occasionally. After all, it was wide enough for Dobey, so . . . . Those had been wonderful days, watching old movies curled up with Hutch in the recliner as he rejoiced in his new lease on life and love. Eventually he was well enough for them to enjoy gentle sex in it, and by the time they'd run out of excuses to keep it, they'd gotten damned inventive in it. They were both reluctant to see it go. Dobey wasn't sure why they insisted on getting it professionally cleaned before he took it home, but he thought that was mighty nice of them.

The last thing in this world Starsky wanted to see in the next 12 hours was some goddamned fucking recliner.

"Hey, Selby," Johnson said softly, tapping his partner's cheek, "c'mon, man. Nap time's over. Sally's waiting for you to take over daddy duties. Hey, can you hear me? C'mon, partner, you're drooling on yourself. You're making us look bad!"

Selby came awake with a snort, glancing around the room. "Oh, shit! Man, sure glad you guys are here." He stretched, pushed the recliner into its sitting position and eased out of it with a hearty groan. Stretching, he warned them, "Try not to die of boredom, will ya? This is the worst gig . . . ! And hey, Starsky?"

He pulled his gaze away from the lounger and looked at Selby in confusion.

"Don't get any on it!"

"Any . . . ?" Starsky said, his face flushing with blood.

"Any! No burrito drippings, no peanut butter, no sardine oil, no anything. And most especially," Selby grinned at him, "no precious bodily fluids. Kapeesh?"

Starsky found himself speechless.

"Don't worry about him, Mike," Hutch said, saving the moment. "He doesn't know what to do with a recliner if he can't watch football in it."

The other two detectives laughed, grabbed their gear, and left the apartment, leaving behind a silence so uncomfortable, Starsky had no idea what to do with it.

Hutch was looking at him, steely-eyed. "Snap out of it, will you? It's furniture, for crying out loud." Hutch settled into the folding chair, glancing over the terse, one-line reports from the previous shift. "You didn't get much sleep last night, and you didn't nap all day. Why don't you kill a few hours now catching up on your beauty rest. No point in both of us staring at nothing."

When Starsky didn't respond, Hutch finally turned and looked at him. There was a tension around Hutch's eyes Starsky couldn't pretend not to see. "If you insist on acting like a jerk, you can catch some zee's on the couch, but if you can get past your martyr mode, you might take advantage of a little comfort." He paused, then said more gently, "A lot of this would fall into perspective if you just got some rest, Starsk."

Starsky made himself move around the space, just to put some distance between himself and the recliner. "You know how it is, Hutch. Especially after last night . . . I'm always afraid to sleep right after the dream."

Hutch nodded knowingly, then looked up at him, guilelessly. His blue eyes were enormous in the apartment's dim light. Starsky knew if he kept looking into them, he'd fall inside them and drown. "Don't worry, Starsk. I always know when you're having it. I'll wake you up."

Starsky's cock nodded eagerly, and he had to turn away. That's exactly what I'm afraid of.

In the weeks since he'd been living with Rosey, never had his voluntary separation from Hutch seem so difficult to bear. There wasn't a single day when he didn't feel the ache of it, like an amputated limb, not a day when he didn't miss Hutch fiercely. But it was bearable, endurable, largely because of all the time they spent together on the job. But suddenly, with the mocking reminder of some of their most wonderful moments of discovery and passion taking up half their work area, Starsky felt as if the wounds weren't just fresh but sliced open and bleeding freely.

He wanted Hutch. It was a terrible, hollow hunger gnawing at his heart, a feeling he couldn't escape anymore than he could escape the expression in those sorrowful blue eyes. How the hell was he supposed to get through this night? He couldn't let himself think about the next one or the one after.

"Starsky," Hutch said softly.

Starsky knew by Hutch's very tone that he was totally aware of Starsky's state of mind. He'd always been able to read him like a book and six months of being lovers had completely broken down any remaining barriers that might've ever been there.

"Starsky . . . go lay down. Take a nap. It'll be okay."

Without letting himself think, he walked to the couch like a robot.

"Starsky," Hutch sounded incredibly weary. "Use the recliner. If you're comfortable, you might actually get some real sleep."

He swallowed, nodded once, then turned and did as he was told. He settled in the comfortable chair, stared at the ceiling and forced his eyes to close. His body was as stiff as a board, the tension nearly unbearable. In spite of that, Starsky found himself in a deep slumber within five minutes.

Hutch's eyes stayed fixed on the small black and white TV screen as he waited for something, anything to appear on it. The camera was focused on the uncurtained window of the apartment their suspect might someday possible perhaps inhabit. The camera set-up meant that they didn't have to spend all their time bent over the scope, which was good. But because there was nothing to see, that meant there was nothing for Hutch to do but remember, think, and regret. The conversation with Dobey ran over and over in his mind. Even though he knew Dobey was right about his future, Hutch still couldn't imagine his life without Starsky as the primary player. The bitterness of the dream lingered, and the sense of loss was something he couldn't shake. Hutch had had low points in his life before, but he couldn't remember any as bleak as this. The sense of Starsky crumbling into dust was an image he couldn't shake.

Dobey's voice echoed in his mind.

Everything's changed. He's not yours anymore. There's nothing left for you. Face the truth. Take the lieutenant's test . . . . It's the best thing for you to do . . . .

Behind him, Starsky slept peacefully, almost unnaturally so. Normally, Starsky rustled a lot in his sleep, shifting, turning, squirming, mumbling. His level of activity asleep reflected the incredible energy he radiated while awake. But for the last four hours, he'd lain completely still, breathing regularly. His stillness indicated how incredibly exhausted he had to be.

Hutch could relate. He hoped, when it was his turn, he'd sleep just as soundly.

"Hutch," Starsky said suddenly, clearly. It startled him so much he almost jumped.

"I thought you were asleep," he said, not looking at him. Looking at Starsky lying down wasn't something he needed to do.

"I was. Slept pretty well."

"Good. I hope you're feeling better."

There was no response for a long moment, and then Starsky said quietly, "Hutch . . . did I die in the dream you had?"

Hutch shut his eyes, hating to think about it. Starsky's asking brought the vision of his crumbling body to the forefront of his mind. With an effort he whispered, "Yes."

"Me, too," Starsky said simply. His voice was ragged, and the pain in it tore at Hutch.

Hutch turned to say something only to be startled by the fact that Starsky wasn't in the recliner but standing directly behind him. Hutch looked up into his eyes. They were shadowed by the dim light of the apartment, making them seem almost black. Starsky rubbed absently at the scars on his chest. It had been a long time since Hutch had seen him do that, and it bothered him to know they had to be hurting again.

"You kept trying to get to me," Starsky said.

"But they wouldn't let me," Hutch finished. That's the way it's always been. Everyone in the world keeps conspiring to keep us apart. But this is the first time they actually succeeded.

"It was so real . . . " Starsky whispered. "When I . . .  died . . . ."

"Don't . . . !" Hutch ordered, his fear and grief bordering on anger. He grabbed hold of the anger like a lifeline to rein in his confused emotions, just as he had that day in the interrogation room. "Don't talk about it! You'll just . . . it'll just . . . I don't think I could . . . " Live through it again, he thought, his voice choked. He couldn't say another word.

Starsky's face echoed the same fear. He stood there looking bereft, lost.

A breeze wafted through the slightly opened window and the air current carried Starsky's familiar, clean, sandalwood scent to Hutch. It reminded him of the taste of Starsky's skin, the unique flavor of his sweat, his tears, his come. The sense of taste was so vivid, his mouth watered. That scent had come to mean so many things to Hutch during their affair—life and intimacy, joy and passion . . .  hopefulness. He recalled using his mouth hungrily on Starsky after Rosey had entered the picture, so that he could memorize his scent and taste for when he couldn't have it anymore. He had memorized it too well; it came back to haunt him now. It was as cruel as placing an aromatic meal just out of reach of a starving man.

Just past Starsky, Hutch could see the recliner where it sat, taunting him with memories and images of newfound love and their first sexual adventures. Hutch had first taken Starsky in Dobey's recliner. Starsky had sat in his lap, so he could control just how much he could handle and for how long. Hutch could see it, the memory was so sharp: him rubbing Starsky's thighs as Starsky lowered himself, so carefully that first time, onto Hutch's aching cock. It was good between them right from the start, it didn't matter who was doing whom. They were like kids, so hot, so eager to try everything, to have it all.

He shut his eyes for a moment, trying to get a grip on his emotions. But all there was to think about were those last few nights with Starsky, when he'd started spending the evenings with Rosey. No matter how much Starsky wanted it, Hutch had refused to fuck him. It had become some weird point of honor with him, to compete with her on some kind of even playing field. It was really just a game he was playing with himself, letting go of Starsky a little at time, trying to get used to the idea of an empty bed . . . an empty life. And finally, that's what it had come down to. A prolonged case of stress-induced impotence, and lost moments of passion he would never regain.

The recliner sat there, reminding him of all that he lost, all that he gave up, all that he would never have again.

It suddenly became too much to endure.

Before Hutch could say another thing or even realize what he was doing, he was out of the folding chair and grappling Starsky in his arms. Starsky flowed into his embrace as though he'd just been waiting for Hutch to make the move. Hutch had no chance to absorb what was happening before their mouths were meshed together, kissing frantically, like two famished men descending on a feast. The only sound was the rustle of clothing pressed together, the wet sound of lips and tongues embracing, the rushed sound of heavy breathing, and the quiet cadence of hands gripping, holding—searching for something that had been lost.

Distantly, very, very distantly, Hutch's mind registered an obligation to duty, a concern for his abandoned responsibility. Registered it and pushed it aside as he lifted Starsky bodily and carried him to the recliner. His every cell was screaming, every nerve ending reaching for the one thing it needed and had been denied.

Starsky said nothing, just wrapped his arms and legs around Hutch as tightly as he could, as if he feared being released.

Hutch had no concern about that. Only a sane person would realize the foolishness of what they were doing and return to their senses and obligations. Hutch's sanity had been chipped away by weeks of self-imposed civility that corroded the very essence of his primal soul. The soul that could no longer be denied.

Starsky landed on his back in the recliner with a grunt, but it was the only sound he made. As Hutch tore at his belt and Starsky grabbed at his own shirt buttons, then at Hutch's, they said nothing, as though they both feared God would overhear them and strike them dead for what they were about to do.

Gone were all Hutch's bargains with himself about fairness, about competing on equal grounds. Any veneer of civilization he might've had was suddenly ripped away, leaving behind a man focused on the only thing he could recognize—his soul's passion.

Yet, even in their desperate, frantic hasted, they were still partners. With coordinated hands they quickly removed just enough clothing to accomplish their ends—Starsky's shoes and pants, completely off, Hutch's pants dropped to the floor around his ankles. Shirts dangled open just enough for skin contact while heavy shoulder holsters remained, slapping against theirs sides as if to remind them of their forgotten job.

Without sharing a word or a sigh or a groan, Starsky offered up the single thing Hutch needed most, and without a second's hesitation Hutch accepted that offer. As Starsky sprawled on his back in the upright recliner and gripped its arms, Hutch pulled Starsky's bare legs around his waist. Leaning over Starsky's body, Hutch impaled him hard in one swift, deep stroke, using nothing but his own pre-come to ease the way. Starsky arched violently as his eyes rolled up and his mouth opened in a silent scream from the sudden entry. Hutch's passion escalated higher as he gripped Starsky's shoulders and slammed in deeper. Starsky locked his legs at the ankles around Hutch's waist and pulled him in, as if wanting to ensure Hutch wouldn't change his mind and withdraw.

Sweat bloomed over Hutch's face, dripping down his forehead into his eyes, then down his nose. He drew back just enough to plow his way in again as Starsky's legs clamped tightly around him, begging for more, again, harder. Starsky clawed at Hutch's arms and he obliged, moving faster, deeper, fucking him roughly, quickly, something they had never done. But it had been too long. He'd been too starved. And the meat had been dangled before him every single day.

Hutch grabbed Starsky's hair in his fist, leaned over and latched onto Starsky's mouth, his hips driving his cock relentlessly into Starsky's demanding body. He wanted to growl, "Mine! Mine!" but knew that a single sound would shatter the moment, so to keep his mouth from breaking the spell, he went after his lover's kiss. It could barely be called a kiss, with teeth and lips and tongue all fighting for sensation.

It was coming on him fast, the only way it could, and it would be fierce. He became aware of every heartbeat, every breath, every nerve-ending that connected him to Starsky, and he grabbed onto them for the precious memories he would need to sustain him later. He felt Starsky's legs tighten down harder, felt Starsky's ass clench around him, his arms stiffen, and knew he was seconds away as well.

Hutch shoved his tongue deep into Starsky's mouth, to swallow the shout that he feared would be there. But when Starsky's body jerked and his semen heated Hutch's belly, there was no accompanying cry, just a powerful tension and a prolonged shudder. Hutch's own orgasm was shattering in its intensity, but he, too, remained silent, as if locking it all away inside where he could keep it to himself, and bask in its power.

He trembled all over as Starsky's legs finally released him. Drawing back far more carefully than he'd entered, he stepped away. In another place, in another time, he'd have tended Starsky gently, cleaned him and comforted him in gratitude and respect and love. But not here, not now. His shoulder holster had slipped and the heavy gun rested awkwardly against his chest, reminding him of who he was, where he was, why he was there. He glanced over his shoulder at the abandoned surveillance set-up and shivered. Never in his career, in either of their careers, had they abandoned a post for their own needs. He should have felt ashamed, but he didn't. He could only feel the telling thrum of orgasm still rippling through him.

He looked back at Starsky, still sprawled bonelessly in the recliner, his legs spread wantonly as he gasped for air, recovering. He shifted in the chair, and adjusted his own holster, nudging uncomfortably, no doubt, into his side. Splotches of semen spattered the fur on Starsky's belly, glistening in the subdued light. Hutch knew if he didn't turn away, he'd fall to his knees and clean every drop with his tongue, then go down on Starsky until he forced a second orgasm from him. He knew this man. He knew how to keep him going all night if he wanted.

They'd already gotten away with too much. How could they have done something so reckless? He shook his head as if coming to after being unconscious, or insane.

Starsky didn't move, just watched him with hooded eyes still smoky with passion. Starsky knew how to keep him going just as easily. But Hutch had made the first move, so Starsky was giving him the choice of making another one, or walking away.

Quickly, with shaking hands, he yanked up his pants, pulled his shirt together, and hastily refastened his holster. Grabbing his jacket, he nearly ran to the door. They needed coffee. They needed food. They needed to get away from each other right now!

With one hand on the knob, he turned back, wanting to say something, anything.

Starsky rose stiffly from the chair, climbed into his pants, then pulled his handkerchief out to clean himself. Buckling and zipping up, Starsky moved to the folding chair, checking the surveillance equipment. He must've sensed Hutch's presence still in the room, because he turned. Starsky's face looked as troubled as Hutch knew his own did.

Speak to him! Hutch ordered himself, but nothing could come out. As if Starsky understood, he gave a brief nod, releasing Hutch from the spot he seemed rooted in. Hutch nodded back just as briefly, then left Starsky to monitor the equipment as he went to find them something to eat and drink. It would be something plain, something to fill the body and keep it quiet. He didn't dare consider getting anything that might seem like a treat, like a gift that might tell Starsky that Hutch had found him most especially good.

Starsky stared unseeing at the television screen that looked onto an empty, featureless apartment. His body was still reeling from Hutch's assault—reeling and tingling and trembling. His hands shook and his legs felt like rubber. His holstered gun had tried to dig a hole in his ribs that was now tender and sore. And his ass— He tried not to think about that as he shifted in the chair.

But the real truth was he felt great. He'd never had Hutch that way before, all instinct and passion, with all his gentleness and romance stripped down to raw need. He'd never had anyone who'd been that hungry for him before. It was as scary as it was thrilling.

It had all happened so fast, had been so furious, like a smoldering brush fire suddenly blazing up out of control, he hadn't had a second to even think of Rosey.

In spite of his euphoric afterglow, he was wracked with guilt.

What was happening to him? To them? Is this what he was reducing them to? Men who disregarded their duty, who couldn't be trusted to be alone together like two over-sexed teenagers? He couldn't remember ever doing anything like this—tuning out the job, tuning out the woman he loved . . . .

He did love her. He knew that was true. But for those few minutes that he gave himself—willingly, wantonly, be honest!—to Hutch, it was as if she didn't exist. Well, he might not have been thinking about her then but he damned sure was thinking about her now. He tried to imagine what he could say when the shift ended and he had to face her again. Or would his own personal code of honor fall so far that he wouldn't say anything, that he'd try to keep it a secret? Keep Hutch a secret . . . . Like they'd had to do all this time, from the rest of the world. Hutch deserved more, so much more.

He squeezed his eyes shut. He respected Rosey too much to lie to her. His feelings for Hutch, his partner, the man who'd willingly give his life for Starsky's, was as deep and complex as his love for the woman he'd unconsciously waited for, for two years. He hadn't lied to Hutch about Rosey. He couldn't lie to Rosey about Hutch. He couldn't make himself do that.

Was that what he wanted? A confrontation over fidelity in the hopes that one of them would leave him and take the decision out of his hands? He felt a headache start up behind his eyes. Was it really possible to love two people this much, need them both this much?

Yes, he admitted to himself, it most definitely was. But it wasn't right to keep them both dancing at the end of his string. The power of Hutch's passion was overwhelming, and what it said about Hutch's unfulfilled needs broke Starsky's heart. Knowing that he was responsible for causing that reaction from Hutch both humbled him and made him intensely sad. Hutch deserved a life out of the shadows.

Starsky had to make up his mind. If he was really in love with Rosey he needed to decide to make it permanent, or end it for all their sakes. His indecision was making them all crazy and making him and Hutch foolishly reckless. He thought of what might've happened if some other cop had dropped in on their station to touch base with them, or called on the phone at the height of their rutting.

No. Things couldn't just go on like this. He had to decide.

Rosey had been up for a few hours when she heard the Torino pull up outside. She'd slept poorly while he was gone, her nerves still affected by the disturbing scene the night before when she had been unable to pull David from his terrible nightmare. When she'd had to call Hutch—

Standing at the dining room table, she glanced over to the living room wall, at a collection of photos David had mounted there. Photos of Hutch—Hutch looking into the camera, laughing over something David must've said to him, Hutch with one of his girlfriends from long ago, eyes focusing on the man behind the camera more intently than at the woman in his arms, Hutch with David, arms around each other, standing on top of the Torino. She'd tried hard, while staying in David's home, to ignore the presence of Hutch in photos and newspaper clippings and public commendations all over David's place. Hutch's clothes were in David's closet, his after-shave in the bathroom, intimate reminders of the man who was far more than just David's partner and lover. He was the only one who had been able to help David last night.

Rosey had sensed David pulling back from her that morning, and it tore at her. She'd felt she'd failed him some how, that she'd been unable to provide something he'd needed, something she couldn't know he would need, something she'd never understand. Every woman who'd ever loved a man wanted to be everything that man ever needed; that was normal. Her mother had warned her once, when she'd complained about her father's long absences from home, his lengthy secret meetings behind closed doors that excluded her and her mother both, that the work men did often separated them from their families. The family's job was to support their men, to be there when they needed them, to help ease the burden of their working lives. Her mom had kept a spotless home and was a great cook, and when her father was home, his love for her mother and herself was unquestionable. His devotion to Rosey's mom when she grew ill from cancer and died spoke of an undying passion and deep companionable love.

But her father had had "partners" at work, too. Men he was very involved with, men he depended on, probably, she realized now, with his life, as David did Hutch. It was a different world, that world, where life and death skirted forever around the edges, and a single person could be the key to your safety and well-being. She couldn't imagine having a relationship like that that wasn't also the most intimate relationship of your life.

She pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. She was thinking too hard. She needed to just take things one day at a time, one moment—

The door opened and he entered the apartment. She put a smile on her face and turned to put the plate of fresh fruit she'd cut up as part of his morning meal on the kitchen table.

He was standing at the door as if this wasn't the right apartment, as if he wasn't sure he belonged here . . . or was welcome . . . .

She put the plate down by his place setting as he approached her, almost cautiously. She tried to figure out what had changed, what was wrong. Had he been hurt? Did something bad happen during the stakeout?

"Rosey," he said softly, as he moved closer to the table. "We need to talk."

Then suddenly, she knew. She blinked, feeling both naive and wise at the same time. She knew enough. She didn't want or need details. Putting her fingers over his mouth, she shook her head. "Don't. Don't say anything."

He took hold her hand gently, kissed her fingers. "Rosey, I'm sorry, I—"

"Don't apologize," she said, her throat constricting painfully. "You're an adult. A free man. I won't be your jailer. We've made no promises to each other."

He flinched as if those words cut him. "Not in words. But when I moved in with you—"

"I didn't ask you for fidelity. I still haven't. I know . . .  that is . . . Hutch said . . . after the dream . . . but . . . you wouldn't let me . . . ." She wasn't really sure what she was trying to say. She felt as though something were slipping away from her, something she was so close to holding on to, if only she knew how. Is this how Hutch felt that night when she and David had first made love, and he went home to talk to Hutch? She couldn't wish feelings like this on anyone.

He pulled her into his arms and held her tight. She felt him tremble as he clutched her. Was it so hard to say good-bye?

"Rosey . . . I love you!" He sounded choked, nearly strangled. She remembered him sounding the same way when she had to walk away from him for her father's sake.

Did he say that to Hutch just today? Did he hold Hutch like this and swear his love?

He gripped her arms suddenly and held her away from him. She took a deep breath and tried to rein in her fragile emotions. She wouldn't use tears to hold him. She'd have to be strong, like Hutch. It was only fair.

"Rosey . . . if . . . if I asked you to marry me . . . would you?"

She blinked dazedly. What was he talking about?

"I mean . . . do you think . . . could we make it work? Would you want to?"

She wouldn't be cruel, but she had to be honest. "You mean . . . you, me . . . and Hutch?"

He exhaled in a rush, then dropped his hands and turned away, walking back to the table. Without looking at her he said, "I want you to be my wife, Rosey. I want to have a family with you. I mean that. I've wanted it the longest time. I wanted it all the time you were gone. My feelings about that never changed. That's the truth.

"Hutch and me . . . we've been partners so long . . . . They call it a marriage, the cops do. All of us say that. A cop's partner is closer than a wife, closer than a brother. Hutch and me put flesh to that marriage, and no one was more surprised than me when it happened. Today . . . well, it took us by surprise again. I'm not going to lie to you, anymore than I'd lie to Hutch. I can't explain all my feelings, Rosey, I don't know if anyone could. But I know what love is, I know what it feels like. And I love you. I want you to be my wife. I want you to have my children. I want to live with you, and come home to you, and . . . ."

"Forsaking all others. David, you have to promise that to get married."

His shoulders slumped and he turned away. "Hutch is my partner, Rosey. He's saved my life a hundred times on the street. We work better than any two cops in the whole city. We've been that way for years. I'm not ready to give that up. I don't know if I ever could."

Could she ask him to do that? "Hutch keeps you safe, David. I don't want that to change. But . . . I don't know how long I can share you with him . . . if . . . we have to share your passion."

He nodded.

She moved to the table and handed him his coffee. "You're exhausted. Eat some breakfast. Get some sleep. You'll need your rest for your shift tonight."

His face darkened in a blush she pretended not to see.

She wondered how much rest she would get later after sending him off to spend the long night with Hutch.



Sleep eluded Hutch that morning, so at 10:00 a.m. he found himself repotting some plants and killing half a six pack. It helped blunt the barrage of memories plaguing him, and by 11:00 he managed to fall into a fitful sleep that was hardly restful. It was almost a relief when Dobey called at 5:00 p.m.

"What's up, Captain?" Hutch asked groggily, one arm over his eyes.

"That's what I'd like to know," Dobey said gruffly. "Have you both forgotten that I need a daily report? I expected it at 7:00 this morning when you logged out. I know the job is tedious, but that doesn't mean we can just skip the details."

Hutch groaned silently. Neither of them had been thinking clearly after last night. They'd hadn't even said anything to each other after Hutch returned with food, and spent the evening trying not to look at one another for fear they'd be tempted to fall into the recliner again. They'd totally blanked on the report, wanting to just get out of the place as soon as they could. "I'm sorry, Captain. It's hard to remember how critical it is to report on nothing."

"I know it's just a nuisance to you two, but we've got to document everything if we hope to get any financial compensation from the FBI for all these man hours. I want that report before you go on duty tonight. Messenger it over as soon as it's ready."

"Yes, sir," Hutch said dutifully.

Dobey paused.

Hutch seriously considered slamming the phone down before Dobey said something else he didn't want to hear.

"Listen," Dobey said quietly, in that same caring tone that made Hutch want to run for his life. "They've set the dates for the lieutenant's exam and the review classes. I've put a copy of the schedule in your mailbox. At least, think about it."

Hutch closed his eyes, feeling as if his body suddenly weighed a thousand pounds, as if he were lying on a bed on Jupiter. Or maybe it was just his heart that felt that way.

"Hutch?" Dobey asked when he didn't say anything. "You can't just . . . keep waiting."

Forcing the words through a throat suddenly tight and dry, Hutch murmured, "Sure. I'll think about it."

"Good," Dobey said. "Get that report in, will you?"

"Yeah, sure, Captain." It occurred to him that he should at least pretend to be involved with the case. "Any new word on Barstow? Any hope things might go back to normal any time soon?" He nearly choked on the world "normal." But at least if he and Starsky were on the streets they'd have something else to focus on besides each other.

"Nothing new. He's laying low. But he won't be able to stay that way for long. It's not his way. Epstein promised he'd call me later with an update. Just do the hours, and the reports, and practice your gin rummy game."

Right, Hutch thought grimly. Gin rummy.

Starsky was already late getting him when the phone rang. "Yeah?" Hutch said abruptly, irritated with life in general.

"It's me," Starsky said. "Look, uh . . . can you pick me up? I think the Torino's alternator's shot. It won't start, and I just spent half an hour trying to turn it over."

And Rosey still doesn't have a car, Hutch remembered. The Torino hadn't been the same since Gunther's assassins had riddled it with bullets. He wondered how long it would take Starsky to realize the car was past its prime and start looking for another one. Starsky's loyalty to that car never ceased to dismay Hutch. It was just a car.

For a beat Hutch considered telling Starsky to call a cab, but then thought, Yeah, the Torino's just a car, and you're just his partner. With sudden insight Hutch realized that Starsky's inability to let go of the car was related, if only distantly, to his inability to let go of Hutch.

"Hutch?" Starsky said when he took too long to answer. "Can you get me?" His voice sounded doubtful, as if he expected Hutch to turn him down.

Hutch finally said, "Uh, sure. Listen, call Dobey and tell him we're running late. I'll be right there, okay?"

"Yeah, okay. And . . . thanks."

While he was on his way over to Starsky's, he remembered Dobey asking him how he'd feel as the years went by, picking Starsky up at home, watching him kiss Rosey goodbye . . . watching her body change with pregnancy. For a moment Hutch felt like he couldn't breathe, but then he forced his body to relax, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. He was Starsky's partner, his best friend. If he really meant that, he'd have to find a way. Might as well start now.

By the time he drove up to Starsky's door, he'd pulled himself together so well he was determined to go up to the front door like a normal person and knock. But as he started to leave the car, Starsky emerged from his apartment, closed the door behind him without looking back, then jogged down the stairs and over to the car.

Well, we are late, Hutch rationalized, as he got behind the wheel again. Now, we can sit here and try to act like two normal cops, instead of the crazed cock hounds we were last night. "We forgot our morning reports," Hutch said quietly, as he pulled away from the curb.

Starsky's eyes grew wide in surprise, and Hutch surmised his partner had never thought of the reports at all. "Oh, shit! Dobey must've—"

"Been right unhappy. I heard about it in Technicolor."

"I'm sorry, Hutch, I never even thought about them."

Hutch shrugged. "Neither did I. I wrote them up and sent them over by messenger. We'd better not forget them tomorrow morning." He hadn't meant to say that last. It sounded too much like acknowledging what had happened last night. Which could very well happen again, if they weren't careful.

"Did Dobey have anything to say about the stakeout from Hell?" Starsky grumbled. "Like how much longer?"

"No idea." He glanced over at Starsky. "He told me to relax and practice my gin rummy game."

Starsky blushed harder than Hutch had ever seen him. Perversely, it pleased him.

They said nothing for the rest of the trip.

Selby and Johnson bitched considerably about their timing, since Selby was needed at home to help his wife deal with their fussy baby. But it wasn't very long before the two of them were once again trapped in a room with only a television showing the most boring show on Earth, an x-rated recliner, and each other. Hutch spent 10 minutes sitting at the equipment table that faced the window, fiddling with the remote camera's controls, just to see what it would do. It gave him an opportunity to not watch Starsky.

Starsky prowled the room like a prisoner, restless, edgy, his nerves so highly strung Hutch could sense them resonating. It reminded him of the first night Starsky had gone to "talk" to Rosey and had come home full of guilt and need. After an hour, Hutch thought he'd scream if Starsky didn't settle down. The silence and Starsky's pent-up energy were excruciating, but even so, Hutch couldn't find any banal small talk to pass the time. One thing was for sure—he'd never last 12 hours like this. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his eyes.

As if that snapped Starsky out of his own private hell, he came over to Hutch and pulled one of the folding chairs around to sit on it backwards. He'd moved the chair to the side of the equipment table, facing Hutch, with his back to the wall and the window. He was close, close enough to touch, and Hutch's senses became as keen as a hound on scent. He tensed up, unsure of what Starsky was about to do, about to say.

Finally, Starsky said quietly, "Hutch . . . we gotta talk . . . ."

His stomach dropped. No one started a good conversation that way.

Starsky ran a hand through his thick curls distractedly. "I mean . . . I need to talk to you . . . ."

About last night, Hutch supplied.

"When Rosey first came back," Starsky said in a rush, as though he needed to get it all out quickly, "you said a lot of things to me about my wanting a wife, a family, and how you didn't want to stand in the way of my having a normal life."

"I remember," Hutch said warily. He remembered, too, Starsky assuring him that was a dream he'd given up on long ago. But that was then.

"I need you to tell me the truth. The real truth. If . . . if I was gonna . . . if Rosey and I got married . . . how . . . how would you feel about that? About me."

Could I be your best man? Dance at your wedding? Be the best uncle to your children?

He felt cold suddenly and wished he'd worn something warmer. He stalled for time before saying something he couldn't take back. Finally, he asked honestly, "Are you asking me . . . if I'd still be your lover . . . ?" He thought of sitting in Venice Place, waiting until Starsky could find time for him, spending nights alone . . . .

Starsky's face fell. "Hutch . . . I could never ask you to do anything like that! Is . . . is that what you thought I was asking?" He seemed stricken.

"I . . . uh, I don't understand what you're asking. My feelings for you aren't going to change if you get married, become a Hare Krishna, go bald, or decide to suddenly drive a conservative car. I love you. I can't just turn that off." He hesitated, then took a deep breath and got brave. "Did you ask her today . . . when you went home? Did you propose?" Is that what my unbridled passion pushed you into doing?

Starsky shook his head. "How can I do something like that when I can't keep my hands off you? When all you have to do is touch me, and I fold like a cheap card table? I love you, too, Hutch. But I can't keep the two of you strung along like this. It's wrong. One way or another I've gotta . . . make a choice. You're my best friend in the whole world, and my partner. I can't imagine my life without you in it. But if I'm really in love with Rosey, the only right thing to do is to marry her, make her my wife. Have a family with her."

And that's certainly something you can't do with me. Hutch turned back to the camera set up. He couldn't bear to look at the intensity in Starsky's eyes right now. "That's what you've always wanted," he reminded Starsky.

"Yeah." Starsky sounded morose. "That's what I've always wanted. But what I want isn't the point right now. I need to know how you'd handle it, how you'd feel about it. I've been thinking about it ever since . . . last night. And then today, when I had to ask you to come get me. I know that had to be really hard for you. It was hard for me to ask. Is that how it's always gonna be between us from now on? And how's that gonna affect our partnership? Our work together? The rest of our lives? You're my best friend. How could I ever get married without having you stand beside me? Could you do that? Stand up for me?"

Hutch forced himself to really think about it. Dobey had asked him and he couldn't answer then. Now Starsky was demanding to know. "I don't know, Starsk. In all honesty, I don't know if I could. I've been trying as hard as I can not to think about it. Maybe . . . maybe I just need time to get used to it. To . . . get over what we've been to each other the last six months." He shrugged, but didn't look at Starsky, keeping his attention on the surveillance screen. "Time heals, right? Maybe . . . in a year or so . . . " I'd start getting over you, went unsaid.

Starsky seemed upset, but didn't say anything.

Something inside Hutch started to rebel. "Okay, let me ask you something." He turned to face Starsky squarely. "After what happened last night, do you think you're really ready for a 'normal' life? You need to ask yourself some tough questions, Starsk. I love you, I'm in love with you. Can you sit there and tell me you don't feel the same passion for me? Or are you going to try to deny how you felt last night?"

Starsky met his gaze steadily. "I'd never deny my feelings for you, Hutch. I couldn't tell that big a lie. I still love you, you gotta know that. But . . . I love Rosey, too. I love you both differently, but the feelings are so strong, I can't back off them. It's tearing both of you apart, and me, too. I know I gotta do something, make a decision, hurt one of you more than I ever thought I could hurt anyone I loved. That's why I gotta know—if it's Rosey, how would you deal with it? Deal with me?" He swallowed hard and then asked the question he'd been working himself up to the whole time. "Would you leave me?"

That's what Rosey would do, Hutch realized suddenly. And he knows it. She's left him before. If he chose me, she'd leave the city. She couldn't bear to remain here where she might have to see him, be reminded of her loss. And he can't face watching her walk away again. It hurt him too much the last time; so much, that he never really got over it.

Hutch wasn't sure Starsky had ever fully recovered from Terry's death, and, it seemed to him, since Gunther had nearly killed him, Starsky's tenacious grasp on life, in spite of the odds of his recovery, was just part of a personality that could no longer bear to lose whatever was precious to him, whether it was that silly car, the partner he loved, or the woman who'd miraculously returned to him once more.

As if his Captain were standing over his shoulder, Hutch heard Dobey's admonition about the lieutenant's exam.

Suddenly, the choices were clear. Spend the years until his retirement sitting beside Starsky, watching his back and bringing him home safe every night to his wife, all the while aching for his touch. Or take the lieutenant's exam and stop being Starsky's partner. Maybe then, without the torturing presence of his body in the car 12 hours a day, being Starsky's best man, his children's uncle, might be something bearable. If they were separated at work, if their powerful working intimacy were disrupted, there was a possibility that Hutch could some day recover, maybe even take joy in life again, possibly even think about some kind of future relationship of his own. But he'd never be able to do that with the specter of Starsky haunting his home, his bed, night after night. And if he had to ride with him every day, that was the only future he could see.

He looked at Starsky's anguished face and tried to think of how to tell him.

Anita sidled up to Huggy where he stood behind the bar. The place was crowded, noisy. They were making money, so Huggy was happy. He watched Anita approach, then nodded at her as she drew near and nudged him in the side.

His eyes asked what the problem was and, without speaking, Anita glanced over at a far corner of the dimly lit bar.

Huggy followed her gaze, then his eyes widened in surprise. "How long?" he asked.

"'Bout an hour," Anita said. "Drinking soft. Not eating. Not saying anything, either. Just sitting."

Huggy nodded and checked his watch. Night shift hours. Was that why? He sighed.

"You're never gonna find out standing there," Anita chided. He gave her a look she promptly ignored as she shoved a pitcher of soda at him. "Take a refill with you." Then she walked down the bar to check on the patrons Huggy would be leaving if he followed her recommendation.

Recommendation, ha! You mean her marching orders.

Anita was talking up the local patrons, making them laugh, encouraging them to stick around, have another. The bar was in good hands.

Huggy took the pitcher of cola and approached the table. As he refilled the nearly empty glass, he said, "This must be my lucky night. A beautiful damsel, all alone, with her blue knight no where to be seen. Far be it from me to miss a golden opportunity." He slid into the seat facing her.

Rosey managed a wan smile. "Hi, Huggy."

"Starsky meeting you here?" he asked, even though he knew it was no where near time for his mid-shift break, if he even got one on this weird stakeout gig.

She shook her head. "I . . . just needed to get out of the house. Go somewhere."

"Well, you came to the right place. How's business?"

She managed a better smile. "It's very promising. This has always been a good city for the pottery I agent. I think we'll have a great year."

"That'll be a big help to those folks you're selling that stuff for."

"Yes, it'll make a big difference for them. Even a small amount of profit can help make important changes in their community."

Tired of beating around the bush, he reached over and enfolded her small hand in his larger one. "Rosey. You look like you could use a friend. Will I do?"

She seemed startled as if she never expected him to ask that. "I . . . I don't know if that would be really fair. You're David's friend. And Hutch's."

At least she didn't try to act like he didn't know anything. That was promising. "That's very true. But I don't see how being your friend conflicts with that. I certainly would never reveal any confidence either of them ever gave me. And I would never do that with you, either. Keeping information is my stock in trade, after all."

She stayed silent for awhile, but he knew the look of someone who desperately needed a soul to talk to. Finally, she blurted, "If . . . if I'd had any idea what was going on with him . . . I'd have never come back here. I would've never interfered with his life. I feel like I've . . . intruded into something so strong . . . and now I can't get out."

"Do you want to get out?" She wouldn't be the first woman he delivered a Dear John letter for.

She sagged in the chair. "I don't have the strength to leave him again. I was only able to do it once because of my father. Part of me says I should, but the part of me that loves him just can't let go."

"And he's not letting go, either," Huggy acknowledged.

"It's hurting him so much," she said quietly. "Me and him. Him and Hutch. I never knew loving someone, really loving them, could cause so much pain to others."

"It's hurting you, too," Huggy said.

"Yes, that's true. But . . . if I'd never left him the first time . . . ."

"Rosey, you can 'if' about anything in the world, and probably be right. But you can't live on what-if's, you've gotta deal with what's real. And what's real is your love for Starsky."

She nodded, managing to smile a little.

"And his love for you is just as real," Huggy added. "It's a rough road ahead for the three of you. There's no way around that. But your walking away from him the last time didn't make him stop loving you. It won't this time, either. So, even if you did, him and Hutch would still have that to deal with, and without it being really resolved in Starsky's head."

"So . . . you're telling me to just tough it out?"

Huggy shrugged. "It's not my way to 'tell' folks what to do. I find most of the time, if you talk to them, or sometimes just listen . . . they usually figure that out on their own."

Hutch got up and paced around the room. He walked away from the desk and the surveillance equipment, went around the side of it and wandered the few feet over to the window. Glancing out of it, he saw the same low-rent tenement neighborhood he and Starsky had spent more time in over the years than he could remember. A few buildings to the left stood the place where they'd gone after Ralph Bellamy. Across and to the right was the building that housed the suspect's apartment, the dark, empty apartment that caused them to be trapped in this dismal place hour after hour. Featureless tenements filled with tenants just as trapped as they were right now. He rubbed the back of his neck, aware of Starsky's eyes watching his every move. When he didn't return to the seat, Starsky moved over to Hutch's seat in front of the surveillance equipment and gave it a quick check-over.

He was grateful Starsky was giving him time to answer. He had a feeling that whatever he might say next would change everything between them, one way or the other.

He tried to imagine himself in Starsky's shoes and couldn't. He couldn't imagine himself loving anyone else with the same intensity with which he loved Starsky. He paused. Maybe Gillian. He thought back, reluctant to resurrect that painful memory. He'd loved Gillian so much. If Gillian could come back, would he be torn between her and Starsky? Possibly. Probably. He couldn't say he loved them the same way, but that wasn't what Starsky was saying either. Would it be so easy for him to choose if he were the one in the middle?

A strange calm settled over him as he watched the darkened street and the few people walking around it. Not many were willing to risk wandering this neighborhood in the dark. The one thing he could do for Starsky would be to help him. Make the decision easier. Take up some of that burden. That's what friends—partners—were for. To help carry the weight. If there were any hope that time could heal this wound, then he may as well get started now.

Hutch moved back around the side of the desk and sat down in the same backwards-facing chair Starsky had been sitting in, where he could face Starsky. Having satisfied himself that all the surveillance equipment was doing its job and that nothing in the camera's field had changed, Starsky quickly gave up any pretense of paying attention to it, and turned to look at Hutch.

Hutch couldn't help but notice the new lines of worry that were etched around Starsky's eyes. Impulsively, he leaned forward across the end of the desk and brushed his knuckles against Starsky's temple. Starsky leaned into it, much like a cat would a caress, and it touched Hutch's heart that Starsky still desired that kind of contact with him.

"I could never leave you," Hutch murmured, "at least . . . not like you mean. No matter what happens, Starsky, you and me, our friendship—my love for you—that's forever. You've got to believe that. What we're going through now, that'll pass sooner or later and we'll come out the other side stronger than ever. But . . . " Hutch had to pause for a minute to swallow. The words lodged in his throat, as if they didn't want to pass through and bring about the events he dreaded even though he could see no other outcome. "But that doesn't mean things won't change between us. They'll have to change. We don't have to make that be an end. Just a difference."

Starsky looked anxious. "What do you mean? What . . .  kind of change? What difference?"

"Well, the most obvious one is . . . we can't be lovers anymore. We were lucky we got away with it for as long as we did. It was a pretty risky situation any way you look at it. But we can't continue like that. What happened last night was dangerous for us both personally and professionally. You've already said you wouldn't want to continue that if you married Rosey, and I'm glad you feel that way. I hope our relationship meant more to you than that. So that's the most obvious change. Then . . . you're thinking of getting married."

Starsky looked like he was about to protest, but Hutch raised his hand to forestall whatever he might say. "I know you're just thinking right now, that you haven't made a final decision. But it makes sense for you to get married, settle down, have the children you've been waiting to have. You can't do that with me. And you've always wanted a family. But when you get married, Starsk, things will change between us. Not just because we won't be lovers anymore, but because the relationship between friends who are single and friends who are married is different.

"You'll be married. I won't. It's just natural that your focus and your energy will have to be devoted to your family. We'll spend less time together. You'll spend less time at work. We've seen it happen to other partners when one of them got married." He shrugged and tried to seem cavalier about it. "It's just the way of nature. Some things even we can't fight."

The expression on Starsky's face was so intense, Hutch wasn't sure how to read it. He realized some of these issues hadn't crossed Starsky's mind. But all Starsky said was, "You've been thinking about this a lot."

Hutch glanced away. "Yeah. Guess I have." He paused, then finally charged ahead. "I've been thinking about a lot of things. There . . . uh . . . there's going to be a lieutenant's exam coming up pretty soon. Dobey told me about it. He thinks I should go out for it. I've been thinking . . . he's probably right."

Starsky looked as stunned as if Hutch had thrown water in his face. " . . . Lieutenant's exam? But . . . but Hutch, if you got promoted we couldn't be—" The dawning realization must've hit him all at once, because he sat back hard in the chair, looking around as if searching for answers to something he thought he'd always known. "You . . . don't want to be partners anymore?"

The words cut Hutch deeper than anything Starsky had ever said to him, even though they were the truth. To defray his own pain, he said softly, "I don't want to be partners with anyone else. But, Starsk . . . I just . . . If you decide to marry Rosey, if you really want me to be your best friend, to dance at your wedding, and play with your kids . . . The only way I'll be able to do that is if I can pull away a little. You can't really expect me to spend all day with you and . . . and send you home to her every day? If we're not in each other's pocket all day, I can get some distance from all this, from my . . . feelings for you. Put it in perspective. Get over it. And we can stay friends, stay part of each other's lives . . . while I build a life for myself. I . . .  I can't live some kind of shadow existence, and if I'm with you all day . . . that's all I'll ever have. Because I won't be able to stop waiting . . . hoping . . . that you might come back to me. That won't be good for either of us, not for our friendship, or our working relationship. Can't you understand that?"

Having managed to say the hardest thing he'd ever said to anyone, Hutch completely ran out of steam. Starsky sat there looking shell-shocked, and not saying anything while Hutch tried to fathom what was going on behind those tortured blue eyes.

Starsky shook his head in dismay, but the only thing he could say was, "You don't want to be partners anymore . . . ."

The hurt in those words nearly destroyed Hutch. It was everything he could do to keep from gathering Starsky in his arms to console him, even while his own heart was breaking.

The words kept echoing through Starsky's mind over and over. Hutch doesn't want to be partners anymore. Out of all the things Hutch had said, it was the only thing he could grab hold of, the only reality he could recognize.

Out of all the different scenarios and possibilities he'd come up with, that one had never occurred to him. It made him feel dense to be taken by surprise by such a logical idea. He tried to envision himself with other detectives in the car, but it was impossible. The only one who could be there was Hutch. There couldn't be anyone else. He tried to imagine going to work every day and only seeing Hutch occasionally as he worked in another department, on another floor. It was too bleak a concept for him to accept.

Snap out of it! he ordered himself. Be reasonable. You wanted Hutch to accept the possibility of you marrying Rosey. He's doing that. You wanted him to stay your friend, your best friend. He's telling you that if he does this, he can still do that.

But all that rational discussion wasn't getting him anywhere. The only thing he kept seeing was that empty car seat in the Torino, working day in and day out without the one thing that had kept him going through the years.

He suddenly realized that all this time he been trying to come up with a way to keep them both—Rosey at home and Hutch in the car—and this was the first time someone had finally said no. He'd loved Hutch all the years that they'd worked together, and it was that love, that profound friendship, that made the work something more than a day to get through. What would the years be like without Hutch beside him—to no longer be able to look at problems from Hutch's different viewpoint, or laugh at his jokes, or humor his weird dietary choices, or cheer him up when he was hurt? And most important, what would the years be like without Hutch loving him as fiercely as Hutch had always loved him? Starsky had a sudden shocking memory of the night before, of Hutch taking him by storm. That was Hutch, his passion, his caring, his depth of feeling, all right there, laid out plain to see, to feel. Was he really ready to never share that again? Was he ready to sit in that car without Hutch?

Desperately, he struggled to find the words that would change Hutch's mind. "You . . . you can't be serious about . . . about the lieutenant's exam, Hutch. You hate all that paperwork and budget stuff, and all the politics, and that's all that job is, all the time!"

Hutch looked at him with that Zen expression he always got once he made up his mind about something. "I'm in love with you, Starsky," he said quietly. "I can't spend the rest of my life with you in arm's reach and never touch you. You can't ask me to do that."

"Well, no . . . but . . . ." Hutch doesn't want to be partners anymore! It was like a neon light strobing in his brain, and he couldn't think past it, around it. "Hutch . . . I . . . I love you, too!"

Hutch nodded. "Then you have to let me go. It's the only way we can save our friendship, and that's the most important thing to both of us."

Starsky was hovering on the edge of an emotional melt-down. He struggled to get a grip on his feelings. He never could win Hutch over that way. He'd have to think his way through this. But the strobe light in his brain wasn't letting many clear thoughts get through. "No, Hutch, no. There's got to be another way. I can't imagine you not . . . not being there with me . . . working . . . . Hutch, I . . . ."

"I know it won't be easy, Starsk, but in time I think you'll realize it's the best thing for both of us. You deserve to live a normal life, have a normal family. And I . . . I'll need time to find myself again. Who I am. What I want. A new position will give me a different view of a lot of things. You're upset about this now, but after awhile you'll see I'm right. It's the only thing that makes sense."

Starsky squeezed his eyes shut before he started to weep. He wanted to run out of the room, race down the stairs, and run as far and as fast as he could to escape the terrible pain in his heart. Like the way he'd run that day Rosey left him . . . .

He remembered that moment with perfect clarity and how much that hurt, how much pain he'd been in. Hutch had been there for him, consoling him, comforting him, joking with him, taking him out, trying to distract him from his sorrow. And it had helped so much. Who was going to help him through this loss? Rosey couldn't even if she tried. Because she was the origin of it. Just like the last time. No, not quite like the last time.

He felt so confused and anguished he couldn't think straight.

He had a sudden mental image almost as clear as the persistent nightmare that plagued him. He was in the same park where Rosey had left him for her father. Only this time, both Hutch and Rosey were walking away from him at opposite angles. If he moved, he could stop one of them, but not both. If he didn't move, he'd lose everything. He bolted forward, frantic, racing as fast as he could, even though they kept drawing farther and farther away.

And suddenly he realized the one he was chasing was Hutch.

Rosey's image dissolved as Hutch turned and held out his arms. Oh, God, Hutch, don't leave me! Don't ever leave me!

Starsky sucked in a harsh breath, and opened his eyes. Hutch was watching him with a sorrowful expression. The pain etched on his face was suddenly so clear, Starsky couldn't understand why he hadn't seen it before. Pain you put there. Pain you can take away.

He leaned forward across the table, reaching towards Hutch's face, wanting to touch him, tell him he loved him too much to let him go. He loved him enough to let Rosey go instead. He could only have one of them, and he knew now who he had to release. The dreams of marriage, family, a "normal" life, were just not as important as the crushing emptiness he felt at the thought of losing Hutch.

He swallowed hard, struggling to find the words. His throat was so choked with emotion, he knew his voice would crack.

Hutch, seeing Starsky's hand reaching for him, drew back, as if reluctant to permit the touch. As Hutch moved out of the chair and walked away from the desk, Starsky realized Hutch was pulling away from him already, resigned to the decisions he'd made for both their good. Would he be able to convince Hutch to stay with him, now that Hutch had made his own difficult choice?

"Hutch, wait . . . " he started to say.

Out of the corner of his eye, Starsky saw something move on the surveillance monitor, the screen that had been steadfastly unchanging for days, the screen they'd ignored while working out their complex emotional problems. He turned, saw a flash of red hair and a figure lifting something, pointing it out the window—

"Hutch, get down!" Starsky shouted as he threw himself onto the floor. He grabbed for his gun as the surveillance monitor exploded in a spray of sparks as bullets destroyed it. The chattering sound of rapid gun fire raked the room. Bullets smashed the window to glass slivers that showered over the desk, the chairs, and Starsky's prostate body, then slammed destructively into walls, doors, furniture.

The bulk of the desk was between him and Hutch, blocking his view, but Starsky saw Hutch hit the floor as the desk splintered around them. Then the recliner took multiple hits, stuffing and leather flying everywhere. A line of bullets stitched across the sofa and the back wall.

Flattening tighter to the floor, Starsky spied their high-powered rifle perched at the side of the destroyed window. Close. Close enough? If he could get to the rifle— The firing stopped suddenly.


Barstow's shouts echoed down the canyon of the street and around the room, but only for the briefest moment before the gunfire erupted again.

Realizing he hadn't heard anything from Hutch, Starsky turned to find him. "Hutch? Hutch!" He crawled around the side of the desk to get a clear view of his partner.

Hutch was struggling to his knees in spite of the bullets flying randomly around the room. He clutched at his throat.

"Hutch, get down!" Starsky shouted, as he started crawling on his belly over to him. "Get down!"

As Hutch collapsed suddenly, Starsky realized there was blood pouring through Hutch's fingers, blood running down the front of his shirt.

Seeing a radio that had fallen near Hutch's shoulder, Starsky grabbed it, thumbed it on. "Mayday! Mayday! Officer down! This is Zebra Three. We're pinned down here. Barstow's firing on us with automatic weapons. Where the hell is everybody?" He stopped suddenly, realizing he hadn't taken his finger off the switch, that no one could answer him until he released it.

"We copy Zebra Three," the familiar dispatcher said calmly. "Shots fired reported at your location. Backup is enroute."

"We need an ambulance, now! Hutch is down . . . I need a doctor in here!"

A bullet hit the old mirror hanging on the wall and the sound of the shattering glass ended any chance of him hearing the response.

"Doctor, hell, I need a fucking SWAT team!"

He dropped the radio and scooted closer to Hutch's side, but his partner was once again trying to rise. "Stay down, dammit, Hutch! Take it easy. Help's on the way." Starsky's voice was shaking. He grabbed Hutch's shoulder, making him jerk away as if in pain. When Starsky looked at his hand, it was covered in blood. "How many times did you get hit? Oh, god, Hutch!"

Hutch was moving his mouth, but nothing was coming out but blood. Starsky pulled at Hutch's hand where it gripped his throat, trying to see the severity of the wound. There were too many big veins and arteries in there, the carotid, if it was even nicked—

Hutch didn't have the strength to resist him and released his throat. Starsky couldn't believe the gaping wound that stared back at him from the middle of Hutch's neck, just below his Adam's apple. He realized it had to be the exit wound from the bullet he'd taken in the back. Something about the weird trajectory, or the way Hutch was moving when it hit caused it to travel through his body, up and out the front of his throat. Air whistled sickly out of the wound as Hutch struggled to breathe. Blood streamed out of his mouth and nose.

Ohmigod, Hutch is dying!

He felt momentarily paralyzed as that terrifying thought seized him. Then Hutch coughed convulsively, spraying red droplets from his mouth and the wound, covering Starsky with his blood.

Another burst of gunfire ripped through the room and Starsky forced Hutch down to the ground, making him moan in pain. "Easy, boy, easy. Help's coming." Pieces of the ceiling fell over them in a drift of plaster and dust.

Hutch rolled onto his back and started choking, blood bubbling from his mouth and throat, and Starsky realized he could be drowning in his own blood. Quickly, he rolled him onto his side while scrabbling in his pocket for his handkerchief.

"Cough it up, Hutch. Come on, you gotta cough it up. You gotta keep breathing."

Roughly, with shaking hands, he shoved the handkerchief into Hutch's mouth, trying to swab out the blood. Hutch must've realized that's what he was doing because he cooperated even as he gasped for air. Hutch's hands were shaking and sticky with blood as he clutched weakly at Starsky's arms. His color had gone pasty white, and the skin around his eyes had a sickly bluish tinge. The horrible whistling sound that squealed through the open wound tore at Starsky. It sounded like a death rattle.

"Don't die on me, Hutch, you hear me? You can't die on me, you can't!" His words were drowned in a battery of random bullet fire.

Starsky fumbled for the radio. "Where the fuck are you people?" he yelled into it.

A stray shot ricochet off a radiator, narrowly missing them.

Starsky grabbed Hutch's arm roughly. "Keep breathing, damn you! Don't you dare stop!"

Hutch looked glassy-eyed, but he met Starsky's gaze and clutched weakly at his arm, as if in agreement.

Starsky couldn't wait anymore. Barstow was going to kill them through sheer persistence if he didn't do something. Belly-crawling to the rifle, Starsky sat up, pressing into the corner of the room beside the window frame. The walls would be reinforced here because it was also the corner of the building. If he could pick his moment, he might have a chance to spot that red-headed bastard . . . . He peeked around the edge of the window and nearly lost his eye as Barstow fired and the window frame splintered.

That guy must have vision like a cat.

There was another short burst of fire and then sudden silence. Starsky waited a beat. Barstow had been firing hard, round after round. Did his weapon overheat? Was it jammed? If he waited much longer, Hutch would die. There's no way any medical help could get up here while Barstow was shooting up the whole neighborhood. It would take SWAT too long to set up . . . .

He counted to five, raised the rifle and moved it into position, then quickly glanced around the window frame just enough to aim. At first he couldn't see anything, but then he saw a shadow shift in the window of Barstow's apartment. He wasn't sure what it was— Then realized it was Barstow re-loading.

He spied Barstow's bright red hair as the gunman lifted his reloaded weapon and yelled, "If you ain't dead yet, pigs, you're gonna be!"

"Oh, no, we're not," Starsky murmured as Barstow took aim right at him. Starsky squeezed off a round, milliseconds before Barstow's finger pulled the trigger.

Barstow fell back into the apartment and everything went still. Starsky waited two beats for him to move, to indicate some life, but there was nothing coming from Barstow's place.

"Hope that parted your hair, you fucker," Starsky muttered. Hitting the floor, he scrambled back to Hutch, staying low just in case Barstow still had any fight left in him. He wasn't about to be suckered now.

The silence was eerie without the deafening rattle of gunfire. It made the sound of air whistling obscenely through Hutch's open wound even more haunting. But at least he's alive. He's still breathing, so he's gotta be alive.

His hands hovered for a moment over Hutch, unsure of where he could touch and not cause more pain. Hutch's color looked terrible, his face pasty white against the blood spattered all over him. He seemed only semi-conscious. Then he started to cough, rolling onto his back again. Suddenly, his stomach heaved and he rolled back over before Starsky could help him and vomited blood all over the floor. The effort nearly caused Hutch to collapse right into it.

"No, no, no," Starsky said, grabbing his shoulders and pulling him back towards him. "Come on, sit up. Try and sit up. Maybe that'll help you breathe better." He hauled Hutch up onto his lap, leaning against the base of the recliner, clutching Hutch to him like a child. Hutch suddenly coughed and a gobbet of coagulated blood flew from his mouth to spatter on Starsky's shirt. Then Hutch sucked in air hard.

"That's better, much better," Starsky encouraged him, holding him tight. "Come on, Hutch. The cavalry's comin'. You gotta hang in there."

The terrible whistling sound grew keener. Starsky realized all the damaged tissue in Hutch's throat had to be swelling closed. Hutch's eyes were glazed, and Starsky wasn't sure he was even conscious anymore.

"Wait, Hutch, wait. Come on, now. You can't leave me. Please, Hutch, don't leave me, not now, huh? Hutch, I love you, you know that, love you more than anyone in this whole world. You gotta believe that."

Hutch was fighting for breath, each inhalation harder than the last. Starsky realized Hutch was beyond hearing him. He looked up and talked to the only one left who could. "Oh, please, God, don't punish me for hurting these two people by doin' this to Hutch."

The radio beside them squawked their call name and he grabbed it, frantically. "Zebra Three here. I need a doctor now!"

"We've got one right here, Starsky," Dobey said. "What's the situation with Barstow? There's been no gunfire for two minutes. SWAT's trying to get to Barstow's apartment."

Starsky rolled his eyes. "I shot him, Captain. Don't know if he's dead, but I don't think he's playin' possum. I need that doctor!"

"This is Dr. Levy, Detective," said a new voice over the radio. "We're on our way, trying to get in safely through the rear of the building. I'm with a team of paramedics and SWAT officers. I'm a trauma specialist from Memorial."

"My partner's shot in the throat and in the back. He's breathing, but air's coming out of his throat wound and . . .  and there's a lot of blood." In his arms, Hutch shuddered, trying to cough again.

"Can you get him to sit up?" the doctor asked. Starsky could hear other sounds in the background like people running, voices, he could hear Dobey barking orders like crazy off in the distance.

"I've got him sitting up," Starsky said, absurdly grateful that he'd done something right.

"We're in the building and climbing the stairs. We're almost there. Is his mouth full of blood? Can you tell if his mouth and throat are obstructed?"

Starsky looked for his handkerchief but couldn't find it, then dug into Hutch's back pocket for his. He managed to get Hutch's mouth open and swabbed it with the clean cloth. He was alarmed at how much blood had accumulated since he'd done this just a few minutes before. He wiped at the blood coming from Hutch's nose. His moustache was caked with it. "I . . . I think his mouth is clear. There's so much blood. His color's real bad and he's coughing—"

The front door suddenly swung open. Instinctively, Starsky dropped the radio, drew his Baretta and aimed, shielding Hutch with his body.

"Detective Starsky!" A man in hospital scrubs with a radio in one hand stood perfectly still as a crowd of people gathered behind him. "I'm Dr. Levy. Lower your weapon. I'm here to help your partner."

Starsky felt like someone let the air of him. His left hand suddenly weighed a hundred pounds as it dropped to the floor, the gun hitting with a clatter. He managed to thumb the safety back on, as the room quickly filled with Dr. Levy, paramedics, SWAT team members, and other cops. Dobey was with them.

"Detective Starsky," Dr. Levy said firmly, "you've done a good job. You've saved your partner. Now, let the me and the paramedics have him so we can help him even more."

Starsky clung to Hutch's limp form. They wanted to take Hutch away?

"Come on, Detective Starsky," Levy said. "You've got to let me at him."

"Starsky!" Dobey barked at him, clamping a big hand on his shoulder. "Are you shot?"

Me? What are they worried about me for? Hutch is the one— Dimly, he realized he was covered with Hutch's blood. There was no way for the them to tell that they both weren't wounded.

The paramedics were like a swarm of white-coated ants, gathering around Hutch with the doctor at their center, even while Hutch lay heavily against Starsky's chest. He felt Hutch's weight lifting, and suddenly his arms were empty. They carried him in that sitting position, and put him on the gurney with its back raised up. He could only see Hutch's legs as the medics surrounded him, and being unable to see Hutch's face nearly caused him to panic. He lunged for Hutch, but there were a hundred hands on him, holding him back. He fought them, but there were too many.

Suddenly, Dobey was directly in front of him, blocking his vision. "Starsky! Starsky! Answer me. Have you been shot? Are you hurt?"

He realized it was other cops and SWAT members restraining him, a whole army it felt like. What did Dobey want? "Me? No, nothing's wrong with me. But Hutch . . .  Cap, Hutch is dyin'!"

Dobey grabbed his shoulders as if to anchor him to the ground. "Starsky, the doctor has him. They emergency room is waiting for him. We're taking him there now. He's going to be all—"

Starsky lunged again. "I gotta go with him! Let me go with him to the hospital." The men just held him back.

"You can't, Starsky. They need to work on him in the ambulance, there's no room for you. I'll take you there. But you've gotta calm down."

Calm down? What's he talking about? Hutch is dying and . . . I never told him . . . he doesn't know . . . . "Captain, I never got to tell him before Barstow started shooting! He doesn't know I changed my mind. I need to let him know—"

"Starsky!" Dobey shouted, and the sound was so intense and the order in it so clear that habit overrode panic. Starsky stopped struggling.

He swallowed, trying to get a grip on his unreasoning panic. He felt close to tears, but realized he was still on duty, that he still had responsibilities. He drew a shuddering breath and nodded. "Okay, Captain. Okay. I'm all right now."

Dobey looked him sharply in the eye and then, apparently satisfied, he nodded at the men surrounding Starsky and they released him.

"Take it easy, Dave," Dobey said gently. "Hutch's in good hands. The best. Dr. Levy was on his way to his shift at Memorial when he heard the news report. He was nearby so called the station and volunteered his services, then drove over here instead. Now, go in the bathroom and wash up."

He glanced at his hands that were spattered with droplets of blood from Hutch's coughing, and realized his face had to look the same since they they'd been in such close contact. The tiny, grungy bathroom mirror was still intact, and confirmed that he was coated in bright red blood—his hands, face, hair, jacket. For a second, as he washed his hands, watching the fresh blood run down the sink almost made him lose it all over again, but he knew he couldn't. He had to get to the hospital. He had to be with Hutch. He scrubbed his hands and face, and with the water running and his hands covering his eyes he yielded and allowed himself a quick emotional release, sobbing once hard, then slapping himself with cold water to rein himself back in before he lost it completely.

No time for that! Gotta get to Hutch! Wait for me, Hutch. Please, God, let Hutch wait for me!

"Huggy," Rosey said, "it's really late. I need to go home and get some sleep, and you need to start closing up."

He smiled and nodded. "You gonna be okay?" He already knew the answer was only for the moment, but he'd settle for that. This woman's problem was way too big for a simple bartender to solve.

"Sure." She patted his hand. "It always helps to share things with a friend. Thank you."

He shook his head. "When the day comes when I can't find time to talk with a pretty lady, that'll be the day they start playin' that really sad music over my box."

"Huggy!" Anita called from the bar.

He looked up sharply. She sounded worried. Was one of the regulars getting too rowdy, too much for her to handle? "Excuse me, Rosey, I'll be right back," he said, and left the booth.

As he got to the bar, he saw Anita pointing to the TV set that had a news station on. "Huggy! Look! Listen to what they're saying."

A reporter was standing on a dark street, but behind him stood a huge array of cop cars and emergency vehicles. Something big was going down. Anita turned the sound up on the set.

" . . . And we understand one of the undercover police officers who was on surveillance at the scene of the sniper attack has been shot. We don't know what his condition is. We do know the sniper, tentatively identified as Randy Barstow, who's been on a weeks-long killing spree, was using a high-velocity weapon and firing wildly. Initial reports are that one of the officers at the scene managed to shoot and kill Barstow, ending his deadly rampage, but not, perhaps, in time to save his own partner."

"Huggy," said Anita worriedly, "isn't that the neighborhood where Starsky and—" she glanced to the side, and Huggy followed her gaze.

Rosey was standing beside him, her face white. "That's the neighborhood David and Hutch are working in! Which one of them—?"

She stopped before he could say anything. Over the reporter's shoulder, they could see a group of paramedics wheeling a gurney to a waiting ambulance. There were so many paramedics, it was impossible to figure out who might be on the cart.

"Every day that he's been out there," Rosey said, her voice strained, "I've worried about him. He's been distracted. I was afraid all our problems would—" she couldn't continue as they loaded the injured person into the ambulance and shut the doors.

Anita reached over the bar and grabbed Huggy's sleeve. "I'll close up; don't worry about the bar. You'd better get her to the hospital before she needs a doctor herself."

Glancing at Rosey's pasty complexion, Huggy agreed. "Come on, Rosey. Let's go to Memorial." He'd have them there in record time. It was a trip Huggy was all too familiar with.

Starsky paced nervously in the waiting room. He'd lost all track of time. He couldn't believe he was trapped in this do-nothing, see-nothing, know-nothing place while Hutch fought for his life somewhere else without him, maybe dying. No, he thought desperately. He can't be dying. Hutch would never leave me— Then he stopped. Hutch had planned to leave him, to leave the partnership. For Starsky's own good. That was the last thought in Hutch's head before he'd been shot. Starsky hadn't even had a chance to tell him that he couldn't live with that, that just the threat of it was enough to make everything in his life suddenly clearer. But Hutch didn't know that. Hutch thought that leaving Starsky was the best gift Hutch could give him. Thoughts like that could make a person give up, just fade away when their life was in the balance. If he could only get to Hutch and tell him—

A large obstacle was suddenly in his path, forcing him to look up.

"Here, son," Dobey said gravely, "drink this."

It was a cup of hospital-brewed coffee. It might as well have been an art object from an alien culture for all it meant to Starsky right then. He took the cup just to please Dobey and tried to start pacing again.

"Wait a minute, Starsky," Dobey said, putting a hand on his chest. "You and I need to talk. Now, I've held Epstein and his people off for a while, citing the unknown condition of your partner and your mental state right now, but I can't hold them off forever. Sooner or later you're going to have give a statement, and my guess is it'll be sooner."

Starsky tried to force himself to care about the things Dobey was saying to him.

"So, you'd better tell me first," Dobey continued. "What happened in there, Starsky? How the hell did Barstow get the drop on you? Why didn't you see him before he started firing?"

Reality came crushing in on Starsky, and the weight of it forced him to collapse into a nearby chair. He took a big swallow of the tepid brew, then put it on a table. Leaning his elbows on his knees, he held his head. Yeah. He'd better talk to Dobey before the feds got a hold of him.

"We weren't paying attention to the monitor," Starsky said honestly.

Dobey frowned. "Come on, Starsky. You've been a cop too long. You and Hutch can pay attention to a monitor, play pinochle, and argue about the latest Dodgers game all at the same time. What do you mean you weren't paying attention to the monitor? There wasn't anything else to do in that place."

"Hutch and I . . . " he paused trying to figure out what to say, how to say it. "We . . . we got into an argument about . . . some personal stuff." He knew that wouldn't be enough for Dobey, never mind the feds. Suddenly, he remembered something, and a wave of anger passed over him.

He looked up at Dobey, seeing the surprise register over the abrupt change in his attitude. "It was your idea for Hutch to take the lieutenant's exam! He told me that. He told me . . . he wanted to end the partnership . . . . We were arguing . . . ."

Without missing a beat, Dobey said, "What made him bring that up? It wasn't just my mentioning it to him, because whenever I did, he just tuned me out. So something had to have changed that made him make a decision he wasn't willing to just a few hours before. What happened?"

You think Dobey knows? Hutch had asked him just a few weeks before.

I think he knows, Starsky admitted, but as long as we don't do it on his desk, I don't think he cares. Starsky had a feeling that Dobey cared a whole lot right now.

"I was talking to him about Rosey," Starsky admitted. "I was talking about what would happen . . . if I married her."

Dobey nodded, as though that sentence said so much more than that.

"Then Hutch told me you wanted him to take the lieutenant's exam. But that . . . that would mean the end of our partnership."

"That had never occurred to you?" Dobey asked bluntly. "You thought you could keep them both right where you wanted them? Rosey at home, Hutch at work? Is that really the kind of life you wanted for Hutch?"

Starsky dropped his head into his hands again, feeling like the top of it was about to come off. "I couldn't see past my own hurt, Captain. I just knew I didn't want anything to change. I wanted Hutch with me, my partner, the only partner I've ever cared about."

Dobey moved closer to him and spoke in a lower tone, even though they were the only two people in the waiting room. "I've known a lot of partners in my time, Starsky. Had a few good ones myself. And I've known a lot of married couples as well. And I'll tell you now, that I've never seen another human being love anyone the way that man loves you."

Starsky closed his eyes, feeling a mantle of grief surround him. "You think I don't love him the same? You think, because Rosey came back and my feelings for her were still there, that I don't love Hutch?" Dobey didn't answer that, and that was answer enough. Starsky decided to be completely honest. "When Hutch said he'd decided to take the lieutenant's exam, I nearly panicked. I just hadn't thought that he'd end the partnership. I couldn't deal with it. The thought of losing that . . . the partnership . . . it was more than I could handle. I always knew I was going to have to make a decision, a real decision between the two of them sooner or later . . . . And when Hutch sounded so sure, like he'd made up his mind for good . . . I knew I couldn't lose him like that."

Dobey looked puzzled. "Did you tell him?"

Starsky lurched out of the seat and started pacing again. "I never got the chance! Just before I could say anything, I saw Barstow's image in the monitor, and the next thing we knew it was Pearl Harbor day."

"So, this discussion pulled your attention away so much," Dobey continued, "that by the time you saw Barstow—"

"It was too late. He had the drop on us. He must've caught Hutch with the first round. I hit the ground and yelled at Hutch, but I think he'd already been shot. Once it started, it happened so fast—"

He stopped moving, reliving everything in painful detail. "What do you want me to tell Epstein?" He was prepared to tell the entire truth. What was the point of hiding anything now?

Dobey sighed. "Everything in the apartment's been destroyed by gunfire. They're not going to get anything useable out of the VCR or anything else up there. From the way things looked in Barstow's apartment, it seemed like he'd only been in there a couple of minutes before he spotted the camera and went on the attack. Epstein himself told you guys to relax and take it easy, since the possibility of Barstow getting into the city without being spotted seemed so slim . . . ." Dobey shrugged. "Tell Epstein the truth—you and Hutch got involved in shop talk about Hutch taking the lieutenant's exam and Barstow got the drop on you. He doesn't need all the other details. How much can he say? You stopped Barstow with one bullet right between the eyes and no civilian casualties."

Starsky looked at Dobey, dismayed. "If I'd been paying attention, Hutch wouldn't be in emergency surgery now!"

Dobey's gaze was steely. "You're damned right about that. Whatever happens to Hutch in there, ultimately, will be because you let your emotional life override your professional one. You'll have to carry that one forever, Starsky."

Starsky hung his head, aching inside.

Dobey wasn't finished with him. "And if—when Hutch recovers, I still want him to take the lieutenant's exam. Now, more than ever!"


"I blame myself. I should've never let your partnership continue after I realized . . . what you'd come to mean to each other. I knew it wasn't safe. But you both worked so hard for you to recover after Gunther's hit, I didn't feel like I could do that. But, now, I'm telling you, Hutch should take the lieutenant's exam—and you should take whatever leave you need to get enough college credits so you can take it, too. It's time for you both to move on. Your experience and expertise can be used better elsewhere. There are other ways to be partners, than on the streets."

Starsky shook his head. "I can't think about any of that right now, Cap. Not with Hutch lying in there— Fightin' to live . . . . His throat—"

Dobey put a hand on his shoulder, comfortingly. But before he could say anything, the waiting room doors opened. Huggy entered, and with him was Rosey.

"Rosey?" Starsky said, confused. "What are you doing here? How did you—?"

"It was on the news," Huggy explained. "All except . . .  which one of you got hurt. They told us in admittance. Is Hutch—?"

Rosey looked pale and seemed almost afraid to approach him. He realized his clothes were full of blood, that there still had to be traces of it all over him. "David, are you alright?" She couldn't seem to make the correlation between his apparently healthy condition and his outward appearance.

He took her hands in his and kissed them. "I'm fine. I don't have a scratch. But Hutch . . . Hutch got shot really bad, because of me. I don't know if he's gonna make it."

"I can't believe this," Huggy moaned, sitting heavily in a chair. "How bad is bad?"

"We really don't know," Captain Dobey said. "We know he was shot in the back—"

Rosey gasped, her eyes wide.

"And there's another wound in his throat," Starsky told them. "They haven't told us a thing since they got him here. We've just been waiting."

"Oh, David!" Rosey whispered. "I'm so sorry!" Her eyes filled with tears, and in spite of the blood covering him, she embraced him.

Starsky surrounded her with his arms, gripping her tight. Her comfort was nearly enough to unravel him completely. He buried his face in her hair. "I don't know what I'm gonna do if I lose him," he said.

He heard Captain Dobey say quietly, "Come on, Huggy. Let me buy you some coffee." And the two men left Starsky and Rosey in private.

"Huggy, are you all right?" Dobey asked as they left the waiting room for a bank of vending machines nearby. "You look a little rocky."

"I think I've just hit my death-bed-vigil limit," Huggy said, looking morose. "Those two have burned up more lives than a passel of cats and I feel like I've been right on hand to watch each one of 'em pass on. I just can't believe we're back here in the same damned hospital in the same situation that we were less than a year ago. I think those two need some serious career counseling, Captain. They can't keep going on like this."

Dobey almost smiled. They were lucky to have a friend like Huggy. "Right now, they've got more to sort out than just their careers," Dobey said.

Huggy looked at him suspiciously as Dobey handed him the small cup of vending-machine coffee. "What do you mean?"

"Come on, Huggy. I was here with you last year, remember? I'm the one who took Hutch to the hospital . . .  just like I took Starsky tonight. I'm not blind or deaf, and I live in the same world you do. And John Blaine was one of my best friends. Don't make me spell it out."

Huggy nodded. "I dig. That lady in there's got a lot on her plate, too. They're all really good people. It don't seem right they've had to handle so much pain. I'm worried as hell about Hutch. But I'm worried, too, about what's gonna happen to Starsky if Hutch don't make it. I remember how crazy Hutch got last year."

"Starsky's blaming himself for this, too," Dobey told him. "And he's not wrong."

Huggy frowned. "I guess they're gonna need their friends now more than ever."

"I'll drink to that," Captain Dobey said, touching his paper cup to Huggy's.

"Come on, David," Rosey said softly, urging him to move. "It's late. You've been up all night." She guided him over to a nearby couch and pulled him down onto it. "It could be hours before we know anything. You should try to get some rest."

How could he rest while Hutch was somewhere in this hospital struggling to survive? He shook his head. "Listen to me, honey. We've gotta talk."

She sat close to him as he held her hands tight. It was a comfort having her here. But as much as he loved her, he knew he had to be honest. "What happened to Hutch tonight was my fault. We . . . we were talking . . . about what would happen . . . if you and I got married."

Rosey looked near to tears. "You talked about that with him tonight? Was he upset?"

"No. He was . . . resigned, I guess. I think he'd already figured that was going to happen. He'd . . . made all these plans. He said he was gonna take the lieutenant's exam." He could tell by her expression that she didn't understand the significance of that.

"If Hutch became a lieutenant," he explained, "then we couldn't be partners. It'd mean we wouldn't work together anymore. We'd still be friends, still see each other at Parker Center, but we'd be working with different people in different departments. And I . . . I couldn't handle that idea. In my head . . . I guess I thought . . . "

"Somewhere inside, you thought you wouldn't have to give him up?" Rosey suggested. She didn't seem upset, but somber.

He held her gaze. "Rosey . . . I love you, I swear I do. I waited for you to come back to me, and held you in my heart all that time. You mean more to me than anyone on the planet . . . except . . . except Hutch. Tonight, when Hutch told me he was gonna take that test, go for a different job . . . when he told me he was leaving me to preserve our friendship . . . . The thought of not having Hutch with me every day was more than I could face. And I felt really stupid that that's what it took for me to really figure it out."

She never let go of his hands, but she took a deep shuddering breath and nodded. "What did Hutch say when you told him that?"

Starsky shook his head, barely able to get the words out. "I never got to tell him. Barstow started firing on us before I said anything."

"Oh, David!" She hugged him and started crying and finally, he let himself cry, too. But who he was crying for—himself, Rosey, or Hutch—he honestly couldn't say.

Finally, she pulled away and composed herself. "I'm sorry, David, that I came back and complicated your life like this."

"Don't, Rosey," he said. "Don't say you're sorry. The time we've had together . . . I'll remember it forever. You'll always have a place in my heart."

She nodded. "I have to tell you something."

He looked at her, waiting.

"Tonight, I went to the Pits while you were working. I just couldn't stay alone in your place another night." She smiled ruefully. "I don't think you have any idea how many pictures of Hutch you have. I started to feel like everywhere I turned, he was staring at me, asking me why I'd come back here to ruin his life. That first night I saw you in the restaurant . . . just before Hutch spotted me—he looked so happy, so . . . radiant. I didn't put it together 'til later, but he looked like a man in love. He hasn't looked like that since. The few times I've seen him, he's looked shadowed. Haunted."

She paused, as if trying to collect her thoughts. "I couldn't stop thinking about it tonight, when you talked about getting married. Especially . . . when he had to come to the house to get you. I couldn't figure out how Hutch could handle that . . . working with you every day . . .  bringing you back to me. Yet, I wanted him to, because I knew there was no one in the world who could keep you safer. I knew Hutch would die for you. But, how could I ask anyone to do that, protect the person I loved so I could be with them when they couldn't? And how could Hutch bear to do it? I couldn't stop thinking about it." She ran a hand over her face, and sighed heavily.

"And then, tonight, when I saw that news report and had no idea who had been hurt, you or Hutch . . . . The reporters said the police officer shot might have been killed; no one knew. I was so afraid, so sick inside. I didn't know how I could bear losing you. But losing Hutch was too terrible to think about. Who would protect you the way Hutch would? No one. Not like him. So, if Hutch died, or was disabled . . . and you went back to work without him—every day I'd be waiting for that phone call. Every day I'd be watching the door, terrified, that what had happened to Hutch tonight might happen to you."

She looked intently into his eyes, her expression anguished. "Before I even arrived here, David, I realized I'd never survive as the wife of a cop. I couldn't face that terrible possibility day in and day out. I'm ashamed to tell you that. But I can't lie to you. I love you, David, more than I've ever loved any man except my father. But I came to understand tonight that I can't possibly love you as much as Hutch does."

Starsky took Rosey into his arms, hugging her tight, wishing with all his heart their lives could've ended up differently. "Oh, sweetheart . . . ."

She hugged him back hard, then pushed gently away. Wiping her eyes with the back of her hand, she struggled to find a smile for him. "You always did love Casablanca. You finally got to play Bogie."

He swallowed hard and kissed her, knowing it was goodbye.

He heard a throat-clearing cough and realized Dobey and Huggy were reentering the waiting room. But before Dobey could say anything to them, the trauma surgeon Dr. Levy came in. He was holding an x-ray folder.

Starsky was on his feet before he realized it. "Dr. Levy? How's Hutch? Is he okay?"

Levy looked grim. His clothes were bloody and Starsky realized that Hutch's blood covered both of them. "Your partner's in a lot of trouble, Sergeant Starsky." He walked over to an opaque white plate on the wall and switched it on. Removing one of the x-rays from the folder, he clipped it to the plate so they could see it. "Amazingly, Sergeant Hutchinson was only shot once by a high-velocity weapon. Be grateful it wasn't a hollow point. That would've killed him instantly." He pointed to the murky shadows on the picture. "The bullet entered his back by the shoulder and ricocheted off his shoulder blade, causing a hairline fracture. The ricocheted bullet, after bouncing off the bone, traveled up through his body. This slowed it down some as it traveled through the muscles of his neck. It managed to miss the vital organs and major blood vessels, and exited through the front of his throat."

Starsky stared at the gray and white x-ray, trying to make sense out of what the doctor was telling him. It just looked like a mess of smoke and shadows to him, like a jumble of ghosts wrestling on a black mat.

"As soon as your partner was shot," Levy continued, "he began inhaling and swallowing his own blood. All the tissues around the wound began swelling, and that, along with the inhaled blood, severely hampered his breathing."

"He vomited up a lot of blood while we were still being fired on," Starsky remembered.

Levy nodded. "He vomited more while we were treating him. We've sedated him pretty heavily so we could intubate him, put him on a ventilator, and provide a clear airway for him. We've had to insert chest tubes to re-inflate his lungs. I won't lie to you. His lungs are full of blood, he's in shock, and he's had a severe trauma. He's going to have to combat the severity of the bullet wounds, continual difficulty breathing, pneumonia, and shock. It's a complicated injury. It could be a complicated recovery."

"Can I see him?" Starsky asked.

The doctor shook his head. "He'll be in ICU in about an hour. But I don't think it would be a good idea for you see him. He'll be on a respiratory, he'll be sedated . . . he won't be able to communicate—"

"But I can communicate with him," Starsky said. "Look, Doc, less than a year ago I was in this same hospital, close to death. In fact, I had a cardiac arrest. And they'd just about given up on me when Hutch rushed into the hospital—and my heart started up again. It's not scientific, but I know I could feel Hutch's presence when he was near me, hear what he was saying, even in my coma. The first time I came out of my coma it was because Hutch was in the room, talking to me. If I don't go see Hutch, if I don't talk to him—he'll be alone. He could give up. I'm the closest person in the world to him! You gotta let me see him, talk to him—!"

Dobey was suddenly holding onto Starsky's arm, pulling him back, and Starsky realized he was sounding frantic. "Easy, Starsky," Dobey murmured to him, then addressed the doctor. "Dr. Levy, Starsky has Hutch's Power of Attorney, as Hutch holds his. They've been partners for a long time. They're closer than brothers. I was here when Starsky was shot last year. I believe it's in Hutch's best interest to let Starsky see him if at all possible."

The doctor nodded. "All right. I believe in the therapy of human contact. But, Sergeant Starsky, you need to be prepared for Sergeant Hutchinson's condition. His color is bad, he's hooked up to a lot of equipment, and he'll only be semi-conscious, if that. He's got to stay sedated so he doesn't fight the ventilator tube. He's coughing a lot and respiratory technicians will be trying to aspirate his lungs. It's not pretty."

Starsky nodded. "It wasn't pretty when I was shot. Hutch was there for me. I won't get in the way."

Levy nodded. "I'll let the staff know." He glanced over where Rosey stood apart from Dobey and Starsky. Huggy was standing beside her, his arm around her for emotional support. "Is this Sergeant Hutchinson's wife?"

Before Starsky could say anything, Rosey gave a wan smile. "No, Doctor. I'm just a . . . friend."

When the doctor left, Starsky turned and took her in his arms, holding her tight. She returned the hug hard, then stepped back. Her eyes were glistening. "Rosey . . . ." he said through a tight throat.

She put her fingers over his lips, and shook her head. "Go see Hutch. Tell him I'm praying for him. Tell him to live a long time. Tell him . . . that I wish you happiness. I . . . I'm going home, now."

To pack, he understood. She'd be leaving. Whatever happened, she wouldn't be able to stay. It felt like an ice pick in his heart. But he knew he had to let her go. He kissed her forehead. "I'll always love you, Rosey," he whispered. "Believe that."

She nodded, a tear sliding down her face. "I do. I love you, too." Giving him a quick kiss on his cheek, she turned and left the waiting room.

Starsky could barely believe that once again he was watching this woman walk away from him. For a moment he thought he wouldn't be able to breathe, the pain was so overwhelming. But then a technician entered as Rosey left.

"Are you Detective Starsky?" the technician asked. Starsky nodded, as the doors closed behind Rosey, blocking her retreating form. "Dr. Levy says you can come see Mr. Hutchinson now."