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Charlotte Frost


Harold Dobey knew he wasn't completely asleep, but already dreams were starting to intrude. The distant bark of a dog... a soft, persistent thumping noise....

"Harold?" His whispered name was accompanied by a nudge on his arm.

He rolled away, snuggling farther beneath the covers.

"Harold, I hear something."

His eyes came open, blinking to focus on the digital bedside clock. It read 11:14 pm. In his line of work, one often suffered bouts of insomnia. Therefore, it was criminal to be awakened so soon after having fallen asleep so easily.

"Harold," Edith persisted, now pushing at his shoulder, "it sounds like somebody's at the door."

Dobey rose on an elbow to prove he was awake, then listened carefully. The thumping noise definitely sounded like a knock. "Who the hell could that be?" he grumbled while tossing the warm covers aside and rolling out of bed.

"I don't know," Edith whispered. "Why don't they use the doorbell?" She, too, was getting up.

Dobey only grunted as he pulled on his robe. He was glad whoever it was wasn't using the bell, so it didn't wake up the kids. "Let me handle it," he told his wife.

She was tying her robe. "I'm going with you."

Carefully, they crept down the hall and descended the staircase. When the knocking became more urgent, they moved faster.

Upon reaching the ground floor, Edith moved to the end of the front window farthest away from the door, and tried to peek through the edge of the curtain. Dobey stood before the door, on his toes, and looked out the peephole.

They both made noises of surprise, relief, and concern as the precinct's captain opened the door.

Dobey had seen the face of their visitor thousands of times before. But never in its current state. "Starsky," he greeted, puzzlement blocking his voice's normal firmness, "what are you doing here?"

The curly-haired detective stood on the porch, dressed in his usual assortment of blue -- faded blue jeans, dark blue windbreaker, and darker blue t-shirt. But what was unusual was the wet, wild look of his eyes, the desperate contortions of his open mouth. "Cap'n," the voice was unusually shaky, "I hafta see ya."

Abruptly, Dobey stood back, holding the door open. "Come in."

"I'm sorry to intrude," the visitor said upon seeing Edith appear behind her husband, "but, Cap'n, I just have to talk to ya."

"Yes, come on in," Dobey prompted the one-half representative of the famous duo he captained. He waited until Starsky entered, then softly closed the door. "The kids are asleep," he said pointedly.

"I'll try not to wake them," Starsky assured.

"Let's come in the kitchen," Edith led the way, "and I'll make coffee."

"Starsky," Dobey whispered, his curiosity and concern outweighing his annoyance at being disturbed, "what the hell is going on?" To be visited by anyone at this time of night was highly unusual; to be visited by Starsky without Hutch was unheard of.

"Cap'n," the smaller man planted himself in front of Dobey and gripped his superior by the arms, "I need your help with something." In a choked whisper, he added, "It's real import'nt."

It was then, with the other standing so close, that Harold Dobey realized his prize detective was at least a little bit inebriated, for he could smell the alcohol. For an instant, he wanted to launch into a lecture about the stupidity of driving while under the influence, but then stopped himself when he realized he hadn't seen the Torino out front. "Where's Hutch?" he asked, wondering where the other half of the team fit into this man's apparent trauma.

"I'm not sure." Starsky was now entering the kitchen where Edith had turned on the light, and twisted to speak to the man behind him. "That doesn't matter right now. But I have to talk to you, Cap'n. It's real, real important."

Edith pulled out a chair and patted it. "Sit right here, David, and I'll fix some coffee."

Starsky sat, his attention focused solely on Dobey.

The heavy black man took a chair across from his visitor and folded his hands on the table top. "Level with me," he demanded quietly. "What's this all about?" For Starsky to not know where Hutch was was highly unusual. Sure, they both had moments of privacy, even from each other, but Dobey was certain that whatever Starsky's problem was, it somehow concerned the blond half of the duo. Otherwise, Starsky would be sharing his problem with Hutch.

Their visitor sat with his shoulders hunched, eyes still watery... most likely from the over-indulgence of alcohol. In a soft, intense whisper, he replied, "I need a favor."

Habit kept telling Dobey he should speak firmly and loudly and gesture wildly with his hands. But there was something almost... pathetic... about the man seated across from him, and he found his voice emerging in a gentle, lulling tone. "What favor?"

The curly-haired man's eyes released Dobey, and now spent a moment darting about the room, as though not knowing where to settle. Then Starsky seemed to shudder, and he drew a deep breath. His eyes, a bit softer now, settled back on his superior. "I need you to make a promise to me."

Dobey glanced hesitantly at his wife bent over the stove. Perhaps this was something too private to even be shared with her. But Starsky didn't seem disturbed by her presence. The black man leaned forward and whispered, "What favor?"

The detective swallowed audibly. "I -- I," he tried gesturing in no particular pattern with trembling hands that accompanied a gruff, strained voice, "I need you to promise that if anything ever happens to me, you'll make sure he's taken care of."

Dobey frowned. "What's going to happen to you?"

The other blinked. "Nothing. God willing, nothing. I hope, for his sake, nothing ever happens to me. But, Cap'n, you never know when something will. And if I buy it from some two-bit hustler, or some freaked-out junkie, or even from throwing myself in front of some car trying to save his precious neck," the voice softened, "you have to promise me that... that...."

Dobey closed his eyes and nodded. "Of course," he said gently, "I'd do what I can if Hutchinson is ever left alone." He knew instinctively the words would never be enough. Starsky wouldn't be here, drunk on his doorstep, if he'd only wanted words.

"No," the curly head shook firmly, "you can't just 'do what you can'. Hutch... Hutch," he stuttered, as if he couldn't figure out what to say, then softly, "Hutch requires special handling." Starsky leaned forward on the table. "You hafta... hafta know just how to deal with him. It's real important. If I'm ever not around, and you give him another partner, that new partner will need special instructions. It's important, Cap'n. I mean, having Hutch for a partner requires a lot of instructions. He's very high-maintenance. You'll have to make a special tag -- with the instructions, I mean -- and put it around his neck. So everyone will know."

Dobey's eyes narrowed as a coffee cup was placed before him. He realized that in any other circumstance he would have burst out laughing at the mental image Starsky's words presented. But he knew there was nothing funny about what Starsky was trying to say. He just wished he knew exactly what it was the other was trying to say.

Starsky glanced sharply at the cup Edith set in front of him. He stared at it while she placed a teaspoon of cream, then sugar, in it, and stirred briskly.

The detective's brows furrowed. Slowly, he shook his head, whispering, "No, you can't be that open about it." The bright eyes darted to Dobey. "Hutch would never let you. So," Starsky thoughtfully ran a hand along the top of the table, "you hafta be real careful about it. You can't let him know what you're up to." His voice strengthened as he said, "But giving his new partner the proper instructions is the most important thing you can do... if anythin' ever happens to me."

Dobey finally sat back in his chair, sighing heavily, as he picked up his cup. He was rarely at a loss for words, but he had no idea what would put the younger man's heart at ease.

"Captain," Starsky said suddenly, "I have to write it down. All the instructions. Then you'll have them. And you can put them somewhere very, very safe. And they should never be removed from that safe place. But just in case.... anything ever happens...."

The older man knew assurance was needed, and nodded, "I understand." But he wondered if he did at all.

Starsky held his hands open, looking at the table top. "I need something to write on," he said decisively. "And something to write with. So I can give you all the instructions."

Edith moved to the counter that separated the kitchen from the living room. She took a spiral pad and ballpoint pen and placed it before their guest. Then she put a hand on her husband's shoulder, bending to whisper, "I'll leave you two alone."

He patted her hand gratefully, and she left.

Starsky had missed the interchange, for he tore the notebook open, patted down the first blank page, and pulled the cap off the pen with a flourish. Then he positioned himself, ready for writing. His eyes searched the wall over Dobey's head.

The captain was about to say something to distract the other from his impossible task, but Starsky suddenly nodded like one struck with a brilliant idea, and bent his head to write.

"The first thing," the detective said, creating a "1." on the paper and continuing to write as he spoke, "is that Hutch likes to act like he knows more than most people about just about everything."

Dobey cocked his head curiously. It wasn't the most complimentary statement about one's character, but Starsky hadn't said it in the tone of one complaining. Just accepting.

"And," the smaller man went on, directing his words at his superior while still writing, "you hafta let him have his way with most things. He likes to feel like he's the boss, like he's in charge." He finished and looked up. "So, you can't give him a partner who is going to challenge him, who's going to get pissed that Hutch is actin' like a know-it-all. See," Starsky's voice dropped slightly, "Hutch likes to be in control of things. And pretendin' he's an expert on things makes 'im feel secure that he's in control. An'," he shook the pen toward Dobey, "that might mean he talks down to ya every now and then. Or kinda makes fun of ya. But it's nothin' to get excited about. So, see, his new partner hasta understand that." He straightened and looked at his host expectantly.

Dobey nodded once. "I understand," he said gently.

Starsky wrote "2." in a large, lopsided scrawl. Dobey noticed that the first item hadn't been placed on the paper in very straight lines.

"The next thing, Cap'n, is that because Hutch likes to be the boss in most things, it means that... well," Starsky shrugged, "it sorta means that he might treat you like a little kid sometimes. And that can be kinda fun. But, sometimes, you can get so carried away actin' like a kid that you forget how much he's takin' care of things while he's being the boss. So, you gotta watch him." As though suddenly remembering his task, Starsky bent to the paper and wrote while whispering beneath his breath. Then he stretched out his fingers, as if he had writer's cramp, and reached for his coffee. After setting the cup back down, he told Dobey, "See, even though he tries to be strong all the time, you hafta watch out for those times when he's stumblin'... strugglin' a bit. Because that's when you hafta grow back up real fast and take care of 'im. I mean, sometimes he lets his temper get the best of 'im, and then you have to be real, real calm. It's very important to keep the balance in the partnership." He pointed the pen at Dobey. "So, any partner he has hasta understand that."

Dobey nodded, sipping from his own coffee cup. He noted that the second item wasn't written any more legibly than the first.

"Number three," Starsky announced, writing it. "He... likes... the... things... he... likes." The detective's voice was very calm now as he spoke to his superior. "See, Cap'n, he likes plants. I mean, really likes plants. Tells 'em stories and stuff. Chatters to 'em. And he likes that hunk o' metal he calls a car. And he likes that yogi stuff. So, you just gotta accept that. If he seems like he's into somethin' strange, you rib him about it a little then go on your way. That's all. You hafta let 'im enjoy the things he enjoys.

"Number four." Starsky looked at his superior after writing the numeral and a period. "You hafta make him laugh. But you can't be obvious that you're makin' 'im laugh. Hutch doesn't like to think that you're settin' 'im up. 'Member what I said about he likes ta be in control? See, I don't think Hutch came from a very happy family. In fact, I know it for a fact. So, it does a lotta good ta... you know, humor 'im. Adds years to his life. But you jus' can't tell 'im a joke. It has to be... subtle. He can't know that you're tryin' to make him laugh. Because when it sneaks up on him... well, when Hutch laughs," Starsky sat back and his eyes beamed, "well, Cap'n, it's the most beautiful sound in the whole world." He bent his head to the paper, but was still directing his words as his superior. "And his partner will catch onta that real fast. So, I don't hafta repeat it, 'cause the reward will make you want to make Hutch laugh over an' over. But you can't make him laugh over an' over because then it's too obvious that you're tryin' to make 'im and...." The detective paused, then started to write, whispering the words he was writing in a voice too low for Dobey to hear.

The captain sipped his coffee.

"Number... five." Starsky dotted it with a flourish, then paused. He swallowed and his voice was strained as he looked at Dobey with aching eyes. Gruffly, he whispered, "Cap'n, you gotta be real careful. You can't give 'im a partner that... that... well, that wouldn't like being touched. See," Starsky's voice became even lower and gruffer, "Hutch likes to touch a lot. He really needs it, Cap'n. So, you can't give 'im some guy who's gonna think it's silly or unmanly or somethin'. 'Cause Hutch will just come right out and say, 'I love you'. I mean, well, he'll sort of throw it in the middle when he's sayin' somethin' else. But he hasta say things like that, so you can't be afraid of it. You gotta let him say it." Starsky swallowed again as he jabbed the pen toward his listener. Voice shaking, he said, "Any mother's son who hears that from Hutch better be damn honored. 'Cause bein' loved by Hutch is no small thing." The gruffness left, but the whisper remained. "It's real, real special. Sacred, you know." The detective took a deep breath, sipped his coffee with determination, then wrote.

After putting the pen down, Starsky blinked slowly. Dobey shifted, wondering if the other was finally coming out of his inebriation.

But the deep blue eyes stayed upon him, and Starsky harshly whispered, "It works the other way, too. You know, Cap'n?"

Unsure of what the other meant, Dobey nodded.

"Sometimes... Sometimes, you just have to go up to 'im and put your arms around 'im. It's real important, Cap'n. You don't need no reason or nothin'. Just do it. He likes it. He likes it a lot. Just eats it up. And when you aren't puttin' your arms around 'im, well, you still gotta touch him a lot. He likes a lotta contact. Needs to keep reassurin' himself that you love him. So he touches and squeezes a lot. Better not give him any bastard for a partner who's gonna pull away from him. That'd kill Hutch."

The visitor went back to his paper. "Number... six. When Hutch," his voice caught briefly, "gets sad.... I mean," he looked up at his captain, "real, real sad... I mean, Hutch is real tough. But, sometimes, when the grief or sadness or whatever gets real bad, well, then he needs ta cry. You gotta let 'im cry it out. But, Cap'n," the pen dotted the air as the speaker shook his head, "you hafta hold 'im when he cries. 'Cause if you don't hold him, he'll try to get over it too fast and then the cryin's wasted. So, you hafta hold him real, real tight. The tighter ya hold him, the harder he'll cry. So you gotta hold him real tight 'til you're sure he's all done. That's the only way the healin' will start."

Dobey picked up his coffee cup and stared at the liquid that filled the bottom half. He heard the determined whisper, "You... have... to... hold... him... when... he... cries." Pause. "Hold... him... tight." The black liquid blurred as he felt his eyes fill.

Another thick swallow filled the room. The hoarse voice announced, "Number... seven." Another swallow, then another. "You... have...." Through the corner of his eye, Dobey watched the pen tremble. "... to... love.... him." Starsky's arms dropped, as though in exhaustion. Dobey looked up, met the speaker's eyes. The strained whisper said, "You have to, Cap'n. Any partner he has, they have to love him. A whole lot. 'Cause... 'Cause... Hutch takes a lot." The whisper faded until it could barely be heard. "You can't never run out. It's the most important thing of all, Cap'n." Starsky picked up the pen, hunched forward, and made a big, deliberate asterisk next to the last item. "See," he looked up again with sad eyes, "if there ever comes a time when I'm not around anymore, I'm just afraid," the voice caught on the last word, and Starsky closed his eyes as he gulped, "that he might not get enough. There can't be any limits. His partner can't have a certain amount set aside for Hutch. 'Cause whatever amount you set aside, it's not gonna be enough. You just can't ever run out, that's all. Because, if you have a limit, Hutch will use it all up. And then, when it's all gone, what's Hutch 'posed to do?" Starsky looked back down at the paper and whispered as he wrote, "Can't... never... run... out."

Captain Dobey blinked, not knowing what to say. Starsky was silent now, staring at the paper. The black man cleared his throat and gently asked, "Are you finished, David?"

"Huh?" Starsky looked up. "Oh. Yeah. That's it. I'm all done." He began to carefully tear the paper away from the spiral binding. "You gotta keep this in a safe place, Cap'n. It's real important."

"I know that, Detective. I'll keep it in a safe place." Dobey folded his hands on the table top, waiting until the paper was completely free of the notebook. The black ink zigzagged all over the page.

Starsky held it out, then stared at it. "Oh," he said suddenly, laying it down and picking up the pen, "I forgot ta title it." His mouth curved into a contemplative frown; then, slowly, he wrote across the top, "INSTRUCTIONS FOR BEING HUTCH'S PARTNER". The words didn't fit on one line, so the second half of the sentence curled over on top of the first. "There." He smiled a little, then got out of his chair, came around the table, and knelt before his superior. His eyes misted and he was whispering again. "Captain, promise me that... that, if anything happens to me, that --"

"I promise," Dobey replied gently, taking the paper. "If anything ever happens to you, I'll give these instructions to his new partner." Starsky nodded and seemed pleased. "But, David," Dobey said firmly, "nothing better ever happen to you."

"I don't intend for anything to," the smaller man replied with sober determination. He stood. "Thanks, Cap'n. Sorry for disturbin' you and the missus. Thanks for the coffee. I'll be going." He started out of the kitchen.

Dobey abruptly turned in his chair. "Where?"

The other swung around, blinked. With puzzlement, he replied, "Home."

"How are you going to get there?"

Starsky's mouth dropped open, as though the question caught him off guard. Then, "I'll take a cab."

Dobey didn't like the other's confusion. "How did you get here?" he asked in a sharp whisper.

"In a cab."

The older man stood. "I'm taking you home," he said firmly. "Wait right here while I throw on some clothes and tell Edith." Starsky looked like he was going to protest, and Dobey growled, "That's an order."

Starsky froze and Dobey marched briskly up the stairs. He tiptoed into the bedroom, but Edith raised her head and asked, "Is he gone?"

Dobey pulled open his closet. "I'm taking him home."

"Did he and Hutch have a fight?"

"I don't know. Something went on, that's for damn sure." As Dobey dressed, his mind went over it and over it. Today had been a typically busy Friday. He'd come out of his office once and remembered seeing the two speaking to each other, laughing with each other. Nothing had seemed amiss.

"Will David be all right?"

Dobey sighed. "I think so." Certainly, the young detective had gotten out of his system what he needed to get out. And now he was going to have to make a trip to the bank on Monday to put that piece of paper into their safety deposit box. Such a silly piece of paper.

If only Hutch knew. If only anyone knew... that they were loved so much.

"Edith, we aren't missing church again this Sunday."

She raised up a little. "What?"

His voice elevated. "I said we aren't missing church." He went to her and kissed her forehead. "I'll be back within half an hour." He quickly strode down the hall to the stairs. Those two needed some prayers... to fix whatever was wrong with them... and to make sure nothing ever happened to Starsky. So no one would ever have to see that piece of paper.

And the one who should see it would never see it.

Starsky was waiting obediently by the door, chin drooping, arms lax at his sides. He looked up and restrained a yawn as Dobey approached. Then he said, "This really isn't necessary, Cap'n."

Dobey's hand went to the knob. "Shut up and get out that door."

They didn't speak again until Dobey pulled into the parking lot of Starsky's apartment. The smaller detective got out, his step more sure than when he'd arrived on Dobey's porch. It made the older man wonder how much alcohol would have to wear off before Starsky felt foolish about what he'd done.

Though Dobey hoped he never would.

"Thanks, Cap'n." Starsky closed the passenger door. He waved briefly then started for the stairs.

Dobey drove away.

* * *

Starsky took a deep breath, letting the sharpness of the February air penetrate his lungs. It made him feel a little less woozy, but he still used the banister to steady himself on the stairs.

And stopped just as his foot settled on the first step.

"Hey, partner," came the soft greeting.

Hutch was sitting on the top step, arms resting on his knees, wearing jeans and a black jacket pulled over a blue shirt. His tiny smile beneath the mustache was wry; his hair, even at this late hour, in nearly perfect alignment. But his eyes were bright with feeling.

Starsky took another deep breath, then slowly marched up the stairs. As he reached the final steps, the blond said, "I've been a real bastard, haven't I?"

Starsky cast his glance to one side, too afraid that a simple answer to that question would give the wrong impression. Instead, as he reached for his key, he asked, "How long have you been here?" He was pleased that his voice sounded firm.

The leather shoulders shrugged.

Starsky turned the lock. "Why didn't you let yourself in?"

Hutch stood. "I wasn't sure of my welcome," he replied with a slight quaver.

Starsky glanced over his shoulder with a scowl. "Big dummy," he muttered, opening the door. He turned to meet those skittish blue eyes. "You don't ever need permission. Not ever." He couldn't say any more or his voice, too, would start to tremble.

Hutch nodded, as though properly reprimanded, but his eyes were narrowing at his partner. "Where have you been?" he asked with forced casualness.

Starsky shrugged.

"My place?" the blond asked, a hint of hopefulness in his voice as he closed the door behind them.

"No," the shorter man replied, shrugging out of his jacket. He didn't like disappointing Hutch... and he didn't like thinking about where he had been. Jesus, what was Dobey gonna think?

Hutch waited a moment, then lowered his face as he moved farther into the room, his stance showing his acceptance that Starsky wasn't going to answer.

The curly-haired man gestured to the couch. "Have a seat," he offered quietly. "Want a brew?"

Hutch -- somewhat reluctantly, Starsky thought -- plopped down on the sofa. "Yeah, I guess." A hand rubbed at his face.

Starsky opened the refrigerator, staring at the remains of the last six-pack. He forced his eyes to focus and decided the last thing he needed was more alcohol. Decisively, he took one can and closed the door. Then he carried it to the living room, thinking it odd that just some five or six hours ago Hutch had been over here, the same tension between them.

And it had changed everything forever.

Starsky knelt before his friend, handing the beer to him. "Here."

Hutch gazed at Starsky as he accepted it. "Thanks. You're not having one?"

Starsky shook his head.

The blond tilted his head to one side, nose wrinkling slightly as he continued to study his partner. Then, with concern, "You've been out drinking?"

Starsky had to look away. He shrugged.

"Aw, Starsk, that's not like you." Hutch popped the lid. "That's not like you at all." His tone, soft as it was, demanded an explanation.

And Starsky knew he'd better come up with one, or his partner's guilt complex would rise even higher than its current level.

"I'm sorry," Hutch said, before Starsky could speak.

The curly-haired man frowned at the face he knew so well. "Sorry for what?"

Hutch closed his eyes, took a deep breath. When they opened again, he replied, "Changing things."

Starsky turned and plopped down onto the carpet, his back resting against the couch, next to Hutch's legs. Evenly, he said, "Apology not accepted."

The blond paused in mid-swallow. Then, with mild harshness, "You want to see me grovel? That's not like you, either."

Starsky sighed deeply, then rested his cheek against the denim-clad leg. "No. I'm not accepting your apology because there's nothin' to apologize for. I don't want you to be sorry for bein' honest." He tilted his head back, battling the dizziness, so he could look up at Hutch. "Nothin's changed in how we work together, Hutch. Just because I disagree with you doesn't change how I feel about ya, you know." He let his cheek rest more heavily against the leg.

Hutch's head was bowed. "I know. But I was such a bastard about it, trying to push things."

Starsky felt so comfortable right here, his cheek pressed against the leg. His eyes were closed and if he didn't have to talk, he could have easily fallen asleep. But he did still have to talk, because Hutch needed him to. "It's not a crime to try to take what you think you want."

"You aren't going to budge on this, are you?" Hutch demanded. "You're absolutely totally convinced it's something I just 'think' I want -- not something I really do want... or need." Before Starsky could get his inebriated brain to begin to form a coherent answer, Hutch relented with a sigh, "Not that it would change anything. Your answer is 'no', regardless. Okay. I accept that."

They hadn't done a very good job of discussing it earlier in the evening, Starsky thought forlornly. Hutch was still trying to work it through... and misunderstanding the reasoning behind Starsky's rejection. Eyes still closed, the curly-haired man said, "Hutch, if I thought for one minute that us doin' it with each other would give you something you needed, I wouldn't hesitate an instant."

The blond snorted, "That's great -- you deciding what I need, like I don't know myself."

He knew Hutch hadn't meant for there to be further anger, but the hurt was so clear in the words. Levelly, Starsky said, "You're all mixed up inside -- one hurt after another." He started to tilt his head again to look at his partner, then decided it was too much effort. "In a way, I think, it's understandable that you'd go looking elsewhere for what you want."

There was a pause, then a quiet, "I don't consider you 'elsewhere'. You're right here. Always. That's one of the reasons it made so much sense to me."

Starsky's head leaned even more heavily against the leg. He was having a very difficult time convincing it to support its own weight. "And I'll keep being here," he noted. "Always."

A hand patted his hair, furrowing through the curls. He felt himself smile.

The gentle voice shattered his peace again. "Ah, Starsk, you're bushed." The leg moved, and Starsky's head slipped to the edge of the sofa. "Let me put you to bed."

Some prideful part of him wanted to protest, but he didn't have the energy. Powerful hands grabbed at his armpits, lifting him. He tried to help, using his feet, and then he was hoisted into the air and he instinctively grabbed onto his partner's neck. Somewhere along the line, he made grunting noises of disagreement. And they were met with gentle, whispered words. "It's okay, you silly goof. My intentions are purely honorable."

Starsky must have dozed off, for he was roused when his head hit the softness of a pillow. The mattress felt good, and Hutch was doing all the work, pulling the covers out of the way. He wriggled his toes when his shoes and socks were removed.

"Trust me to undress you?"

Of course I do, ya big lummox. But he didn't think the words reached his mouth. Still, Hutch must have known the answer, for Starsky felt his clothes manipulated and peeled away. He heard himself giggle when Hutch wrestled with the tight jeans, finally forcing them down his hips. His underwear had no choice but to move with the denim, and he didn't mind except for the cold air hitting his bare skin. But a moment later the covers were tucked around him.

Life was perfect.

The mattress gently rocked, and Starsky was aware of his partner settling alongside him, above the covers. A hand stroked through his hair.

It was a struggle, but Starsky was able to open his eyes. In the darkness he thought he saw his partner's bright orbs.

"Sorry," Hutch whispered, "for making you do this to yourself."

Sorry you're sorry. Starsky knew he had to do something to put the other more at ease. After thinking the mechanics through, he was able to encourage an arm from beneath the blankets. It slid over to Hutch, squeezed some part of an arm.

All was silent as both men relaxed.

As Starsky drifted into oblivion, he wondered why Hutch wanted that when they could always have this.