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"You love him, too."

Gillian's words echoed in Starsky's ears as he returned to his car. He'd gone to see her, the women his partner loved, to offer her a bribe to leave town. He'd been shocked when he saw Gillian in the back room at Grossman's, coming to the inescapable conclusion that his partner's new girlfriend was a prostitute. Huggy had confirmed his suspicion.

A lump had settled in Starsky's gut then, and it was still there, heavier and more of a burden than before. This was going to kill Hutch, Starsky concluded, remembering his partner's incandescent smiles in the mornings recently, how he'd even told Starsky that Gillian "smelled so good." Hutch had such a good heart, a pure heart, now that Starsky thought about it, that he couldn't conceive of someone he loved being less than good and pure, too. He'd never recognize any signs that there was something not quite right in Gillian's life. Hutch, who could spot a lie from miles away in a suspect, wouldn't see what was right in front of him where Gillian was concerned.

Like the apartment she lived in, Starsky noted, or the sketchy details about her past or her occupation. He thought she was a writer, a reporter or something. And yeah, she'd been pecking away at her typewriter when Starsky showed up, but that comment about writers liking to be disturbed? Sure, he'd believed that, Starsky thought sarcastically.

Still, the girl seemed nice enough and she didn't look like a lot of hookers. She didn't seem to show the mileage a lot of them, like say, Sweet Alice, did.

And she'd understood what Starsky meant pretty quickly too, as soon as he'd dropped "Cleveland" into the conversation. He'd not actually had to give her the money he'd withdrawn from his account either. Gillian had agreed to tell Hutch the truth.

But that comment she'd made as soon as she picked up on Starsky's point, now that had stunned him. "You love him, too."

He was still shaking when he got back to the Tornio. She hadn't said, "You're a good friend of Hutch's." Or even, "You like him, too." No, she'd used the word "love." Starsky dropped into the driver's seat and ran a hand through his hair, adjusting the rear view mirror. He looked up into it and stared at his reflection for a few moments. So what's wrong with the word love anyway? he asked himself. It ain't wrong to say I love Hutch.

No, it wasn't wrong. It was the truth. Starsky knew it like he knew his own name, like he knew the specs of the Torino's engine. He loved Hutch. Loved him like a partner, like a brother, like a friend, his best friend in the whole world . . .

And maybe more than even that?

Starsky leaned back into the headrest, looking up at the Torino's headliner, seeing only his partner's face. And over the image of Hutch's face, came Gillian's words, the ones she'd said as Starsky was leaving her apartment after delivering his ultimatum.

"Wouldn't it be nice to be Hutch? In one lifetime, to have two people love you so much?"

Her words had been heartfelt and a part of Starsky had responded to them. He could feel the love Gillian had for Hutch, like it was another person right there in the room with them. But she was wrong. Hutch had had the love of a lot of people during his life. A lot of people who loved him "so much." Yet that wasn't the only way she was wrong.

She didn't love Hutch the same way he did. She couldn't love him nearly as much as the man who had worked at his side for eight years, the man who trusted Hutch with his life and who loved him more than words could ever describe.

Starsky hadn't said a word after that last statement of Gillian's, he'd just left, keeping his face stern and his warning ringing in Gillian's ears: If you don 't tell him tonight, I'll tell him in the morning. No second chances, he wanted to tell her. You tell him or I'll do it for you. And then we'll see if you loving him makes any difference.

Starsky nearly groaned at that thought, realizing that it short-changed his partner. Hutch wasn't the kind of man to take his anger out on a woman, no matter what her shortcomings might be. But Starsky knew that the relationship, once Hutch knew, would never be the same.

Damn, I want him for myself.

The shocking realization swept through Starsky, making him shudder like he'd just been in a gunfight.

I want him. I want Hutch. I want Hutch.

The thought was so overwhelming, it was all he knew for long moments as he continued to sit there in the Torino. Armed felons could have attacked the car and he wouldn't have noticed. An earthquake could have swallowed the entire neighborhood and Starsky wouldn't have batted an eye. He'd had a thought that was so real, so concrete, he knew it was going to change his life and nothing else that had gone before mattered.

He loved Hutch.

It was true. And Gillian had seen it immediately. Before even Starsky had.

He loved Hutch, but he didn't know what to do about it. It was going to take time to figure that out. First things first, however. They still had Grossman to deal with. And Hutch would talk to Gillian and by morning, he would know what she was.

And then he would turn to Starsky.

The detective drew in a deep breath and looked around, trying to recognize the world around him. Nothing had changed, he realized, but himself. Part of him felt callous for being glad that Gillian would be out of the picture. The other part of him ached for what Hutch was about to go through.

Starsky hung up the phone and glanced back down at Gillian's body on the floor, trying to catch his breath. He heard a familiar step cross the threshold. He turned and took in Hutch's confused face.

"What's goin' on?"

Hutch peered around the end of the couch and saw Gillian lying there. He slowly crossed the room to stare down at her still form.

"She's dead, Hutch."

As Hutch knelt down, Starsky dropped into a sitting position on the back of the couch, his strength suddenly deserting him. He couldn't look but still followed Hutch's movements at the periphery of his vision. He heard a choked sob.

"Grossman did it," he managed, not looking up.

Hutch was moving in slow motion, like a man dreaming, or perhaps having a nightmare. Slowly, his hand stroked Gillian's arm, as his brain seemed to slowly process Starsky's words.

"Grossman? What are you talking about?" The sentences came out haltingly. "Why would he want to kill her? What are you, crazy?"

Gasping as though he finally grasped that she was dead, he sobbed aloud, bending to rest his cheek against her bosom.

Starsky moved lower too, dropping into a crouch in the same measured kind of movement Hutch had been making. He still couldn't really look at Hutch with Gillian.

"Listen to me, buddy," he began, but the rest of the words stalled in his throat.

Hutch, half-sobbing, lifted his head, still looking at Gillian's body. Finally, words started to come to the stunned man.

"Listen to what? What is this? Wh-what are you doing here? What-what is this? Why did Huggy call me?" And finally, one more time, "What is this?" It was obviously still too much for him to take in.

Still without turning his head to look at Hutch, Starsky spoke again. "She was gonna tell you."

Hutch gasped, sobbing aloud, then tried to draw a breath while seconds passed. Then, as though just comprehending what Starsky had said, he asked, "Tell me what?"

"She worked for Grossman."

At those quiet words from Starsky, all other sounds in the room ceased, like a vacuum had suddenly been created, as though their utterance had sucked all remaining life from the room and all breath from the two men on the floor.

Then it seemed that Hutch's mind snapped back into focus. He turned from Gillian's body, leaning back up and glaring toward Starsky.

"What did you say?"

Starsky didn't answer.

Hutch was moving toward him, his whole demeanor changing as his agile mind started filling in pieces from Starsky's brief statement.

"The only girls who work for Grossman are hookers." He said the last word with a small measure of disdain.

"Are you trying to tell me that . . . Gillian is a hooker?"

His next words came fast, harsher, louder, as he rose up to his knees and rounded on Starsky. "Is that what you're trying to tell me, buddy, friend—that my girl is a hooker, a prostitute?"

He was shaking with rage and hurt.

Starsky, unmoving, kept his voice soft. "Look around you. What do you think bought this place?" He knew what effect those words would have on Hutch. He could only see them as an affront, an insult to Gillian's name.

The explosion came. Without further words, Hutch swung on Starsky, his fist slamming into Starsky's jaw. Not raising a hand to defend himself, Starsky tumbled onto the carpet. Hutch followed, intent on finishing what he'd just started.

Hutch was ranting, his voice raw with tears and anger. "You liar! You . . . you never did like her! You never did understand her!" he accused, getting hold of Starsky by his jacket so he could pull him up.

Starsky managed to get his own hands on the front of Hutch's jacket. "That's not true and you know it! The last time we went to Grossman's, I went the back room, and I saw her in the massage parlor," he choked out, struggling to keep his balance as Hutch's whole body threatened more violence.

Hutch's glance turned from Starsky's face at those words, to look back at Gillian's body. Then, he turned back, still half-shrieking at Starsky, slapping and smacking at his body and hands. He didn't raise a fist to him again, however, as though in some corner of his mind he retained that this was Starsky, his partner, and not some street thug he wouldn't think twice about beating to a pulp.

"So what?" he spat, getting to his feet and turning his gaze back at Gillian again as though he expected she would sit up and explain things to him.

Starsky stayed where Hutch had shoved him. He hated seeing Hutch like this, hated being the one to have to explain it all to him. When he'd given Gillian his ultimatum, he'd never imagined things turning out this way. Trying to catch his breath, he waited for Hutch's next outburst.

It wasn't long in coming. Just as Starsky began to reach for the back of the couch to pull himself up, Hutch returned to him, grabbing him by his jacket again and pulling him up to his knees, then to his feet.

"Sh-she coulda been there," he barked out, so upset he was stammering. "She coulda been there to do an interview, she coulda been—talking to some people—she coulda been—to do a story!"

Hanging limp in his partner's grasp, Starsky, looked up at him. "Come on. What are you gonna do? You want to hit me again, huh? Is that what you want?" Hutch was trembling; Starsky could feel it in the hands still gripping the sides of his jacket.

"She was a prostitute."

Hutch winced and closed his eyes against the words.

"And there's nothin' you can do or say that's gonna change that fact. Or the fact that she loved you and she was about to give all this up just for you." He took a breath, hoping what he said would help ease just a little of Hutch's pain.

"That's probably why Grossman killed her." The rage that had fueled Hutch seemed to be dissipating. He let go of Starsky's jacket, once more glancing back at Gillian's body.

Starsky finally put a hand out toward his partner. "Hey. How many years we've known each other, huh? You're the best friend I got in the whole world." He was hurting bad inside, as much as his partner, for his partner. Hutch's hands rose to touch Starsky, then dropped to his sides as though he somehow felt he had no right to reach out to him now. "You think I like sayin' these things to you?" Starsky finished.

Hutch broke then, sobbing raggedly, reaching out for Starsky, falling into his arms, leaning on him with his whole weight. Starsky was there for him, ready and willing to take Hutch's burden. He wrapped both his arms around the shuddering body, fingers splayed hard against his back, gripping and pulling Hutch tighter against him as though to shelter and shield him from the blows he had just been dealt.

"It's okay now. It's gonna be okay, I know," he whispered, bracing himself against his partner's near collapse, the sound of Hutch's sobs mingling with the creaking sounds of their jackets straining together. His heart was so full, he pressed his lips against Hutch's collar.

His love, only recognized that afternoon, surged up inside him, fighting to express itself, to safeguard and nurture Hutch's heart and soul. Yet this was not to be a lover's embrace, Starsky reminded himself, clapping his hand against Hutch's back. His feelings did not lessen though, and Starsky didn't care how he was holding Hutch at this moment; and he knew Hutch didn't either. They'd never stopped to worry about how they looked to others.

Hutch trustingly let his emotions have free reign, as though knowing Starsky understood him, his anger, his shock and his pain . . . as though he felt Starsky's love.

He drew a shaky breath. "Get it out, boy," he directed, squeezing and patting Hutch's trembling back, as the sounds of police and ambulance sirens penetrated past the noise of rasping breaths and colliding leather. Starsky blinked back his own tears, leaning his cheek against Hutch's damp one, knowing he still had to tell him about Grossman's call and the appointment they had made to finish this. "Cause we've got some work to do," he said, again pressing a kiss into Hutch's shoulder.

Hutch sobbed freely, following Starsky's orders. He didn't ask what Starsky meant by "work"—he already knew. They were cops. Someone had been murdered. They had work to do. And Grossman had made it personal.

But for a few more moments, they remained locked in their own world of grief and partnership, Hutch doing his best to let out his emotions so that he could face the fast-approaching crime team. Starsky continued to hold him, so tight he could have crawled into Hutch's skin. He wanted to; the love he now accepted was demanding expression, release. But now was not the time.

He stole one more kiss, his lips this time falling at last on bare flesh as they pressed to Hutch's throat just above his jacket collar. He knew his partner felt it. Hutch sighed, trying to catch his breath, and when Starsky's lips touched his neck, he leaned harder against him.

Starsky closed his eyes, seeing Gillian's face before him.

Yeah, Gillian. I love him too.

The End