Editor's Note: This is a work-in-progress that Rosemary began on VenicePlace as a prod to me. She promises she'll finish it. And she lives with me, so she really hasn't got much choice. Comments on this story can be sent to:

Hutch sat by the hospital bed, his red eyes focused on the gray, familiar face almost totally buried behind the sheets, tubes and apparatus that were keeping his partner alive. Out of the million things that he wished they'd been able to do together, there was only one that he truly regretted. But those three little words would have changed everything, and he'd never had the guts to risk it all on a single throw of the dice. Now he was never going to have the chance to find out for himself how his macho partner would have responded to the discovery that his best buddy was warm for his form. Gunther's hitmen had done their job way too well. Starsky hadn't died in that garage, but the doctors said it would only be a matter of time now. Minutes, hours . . .

"Years, decades, even centuries. The choice be yours," an unfamiliar deep voice said from the far corner of the night-dark hospital room.

Hutch's Magnum was in his hand before he even thought about it. It was 2 a.m.. He'd been alone in this room for over an hour. Nobody had gotten past him. He was sure of it. Thinking Gunther's assassins had come back to complete the job they'd botched, the strung-out detective scanned the room. There was nothing in the corner but shadows.

Thinking that he was really losing it, the tired cop re-holstered his weapon and rubbed a hand across his face. There'd been too many hospitals, too many all night vigils like this. He just didn't have it in him to go through this again.

"You'll not be getting the chance to go through this again." That same voice answered Hutch's mental ramblings.

Hutch froze, a shiver passing down his spine. From where he sat, he could see the window. The darkness behind it made it reflective as a polished mirror. And in that mirror-perfect surface, Hutch found the proof that he had lost his mind.

According to the glass, a short, stout figure was standing in that far corner. With a numbed sense of unreality, Hutch studied the figure reflected back at him. It was a little man with a pointy chin, upturned nose, craggy face and bright blue eyes. Curls as dark as the blackness beyond the window peeked out from under a bright red pointy cap—which had a familiar white racing stripe running up the side, the blond noted with a vague sense of encroaching hysteria. That was the last familiar thing about the guy. The clothes the stranger was wearing looked more like a costume. The blue tunic and black hose looked like something lifted from Robin Hood or a Shakespeare production. There was no way the man could have gotten past the cop outside the door dressed like that. The only plausible explanation, Hutch realized, was that he had finally lost his mind, been driven over the edge by one too many death-bed vigils.

"Crazy, you might be, but here I still be," his mental apparition insisted. His craggy face looked affronted by Hutch's mental disbelief in his reality.

"Who—who are you?" Hutch questioned, his hand inching for the security of his gun.

"I know who I am. When the brooks first sang to the rocks, there I be and there be me. Always, I be knowing who and what I am, but say you the same, can you?"

"What?" His voice sounded scared and raspy to his own ears.

"Look at you. White knight no more. The quest be lost and the prince lies dying for your failure." There was no escaping the accusative tone of the delivery.

Hutch wondered if this were a projection of his guilt-ridden conscience. The gnome was right. He'd failed. He hadn't protected Starsky from the shooters. If he'd done his job . . .

"It's no gnome I'm being, you knave. Gnomes be small, misshapen creatures, given to the earth and night. The gift is mine of daylight wealth, no gnome be I, I be an elf."

If Starsk hadn't been lying on the brink of death a mere foot away, Hutch would have laughed at the outraged visage. As it was, he could only stare and doubt his sanity. "What—what are you doing here?"

"I come for my king's sake and lady fair. Their son be dying here."

"You—you mean Starsky?" Hutch stammered.

The little man gave a grave nod.

Gathering his wits about him, Hutch chewed at the ridiculous tale. "What do you mean 'king's son'? I thought you claimed to be an elf."

"So I said, and so I be, and you will find that so is he."

"So is he what?" Hutch tried to untangle the sense of the weird rhymes.


"Yeah, right." Stifling a smile, Hutch looked away. His partner with the burrito breath and Jewish mother was an elf. Even for someone teetering on the brink of insanity and suffering the throes of an obvious nervous breakdown, that was asking him to stretch belief a bit too far.

"Move his curls, beneath them peer, and thou shalt find his pointed ear."

"I don't have to check beneath his damn curls. I've seen his ears a thousand times. They're rounder than mine. Do me a favor and just go away; would ya?"

"'Twas a glamour that you saw. His round ears, they be no more. Check thou now, if thou doth dare, what doth lie beneath his hair."

"Will you promise to go away if I do?"

"If that is what you wish me to."

Satisfied that there would be an end to this mania, Hutch reached his hand in between the dangling IV tubes and carefully brushed his partner's longish curls up from Starsky's left ear. He couldn't believe he was even doing this, humoring a figment of his imagination. But he always felt better when he touched Starsk, and, what could it hurt, after all?

The instant his eyes focused on the delicate points his friend's formally round ears now came to, Hutch had his answer. The damn things were pointier than that green blooded alien's on that awful sci fi show Starsky loved to watch. For a second, Hutch just sat there frozen in disbelief, then he slowly reached out to verify what his eyes were telling him. They were real. Warm flesh, hard cartilage. A normal feeling ear, that came to a dagger sharp tip.

No longer totally convinced that this was a figment of his over-tired imagination, Hutch felt a cold, icy fear squeeze through his innards. If this were real . . .

"What—what are you doing here?"

"Angry were we when he left to follow on this hopeless quest. A total break, we thought it best. Let him have his dozen years, though they be crowned with mortal tears. He'd never stay the twelve-year through; we thought it true; we thought we knew. Long ere the twelfth year it would pass, we'd see him wed an elvan lass. His mettle not, we counted on, and soon our prince will soon be gone. The rest would see him perish here, but I cannot. I love him dear."

"I don't understand what you're talking about," Hutch whispered; the only part that he did fully comprehend was the part about Starsky dying.

"Once within an open field, he found a manchild lying there, whose beauty was beyond compare, with flaming locks of golden hair. This mortal bound our prince's heart, like a love-sick fool was he besot. Forsaking all that he held dear, he followed after the yellow hair. A bargain made he ere he left, to win his love or die bereft, chained within a mortal form, to die disgraced, alone, forlorn. If not within twelve years he won this golden treasure of the sun. The curse it windeth to its end, the golden hair is but his friend. One night hath he to win his way, or he shall perish with the day."

Beginning to understand the rhythms of the odd form of speech, Hutch slowly questioned, "Are you saying that I'm the golden one? And that Starsky had twelve years to . . . to win me . . . or die?"

"That be the quest that brought me here, though many say it be not fair."

Desperately, the homicide detective sought to deny the possibility, but . . . they'd met in the academy. If Hutch's memory served him right, it would be twelve years tomorrow . . . which

meant . . . . Which meant that Starsky was in love with him or had been infatuated enough to give up a whole different reality for him, if this being were real and not a figment of his guilt-ridden imagination. Hutch tried to figure out how he felt about that shocking possibility, but right now all he could think about was the fact that his partner was in a coma, dying.

"So, what are you saying here? That he'll live if he wins me?"

Those blue eyes, so very close to Starsky's unusual sapphire color, pinned him as the gnome—no, the elf, Hutch corrected himself—nodded.

"All right. He's won me. I'm his, any way he wants me, any way he needs me, just . . . just save his life, please?" Hutch practically begged the strange little man.

"Words are not the thing we need. To save his life, will take the deed."

Hutch just stared at the creature before him. Starsky was lying here in a coma and an . . . elf was telling him that to save his partner's life he was going to have to have sex with the comatose man? What was left of his rational mind questioned his surprise. He was sitting here talking to a poetry spouting elf who was trying to convince him that his partner was the king of the fairies.

"He be prince of the elfborn. The fairies have a king their own." The elf with the Torino-striped cap corrected.

"Would you please stop reading my thoughts!"

"Then stop shouting them at me. So what be thy answer, mortal? Morning draws nigh."

"How—how can I . . . do what you say? He's unconscious. The doctors said he might never wake up again." Hutch looked down at the man in the hospital bed. He could barely see Starsky beneath all the intravenous drips, life support apparatus and monitoring equipment. Even if his partner were awake, there was no way they could . . . accomplish what was required, even if Starsky were physically up to the task.

"There be a world between this one and mine. I'll send you there, if will be thine. My prince bides there upon that plane, awaiting thee or death's dark pain. Be thee warned. If thou doest go, thou canst return but one alone. So be certain of thy heart. If thee stay here, only my prince will depart. But if thou venture there and fail, both of thee will forfeit, perish there."

Hutch swallowed hard. There was, of course, no choice. He didn't have a life without Starsky. No, that wasn't right. He didn't want a life without Starsky in it. "What—what do I have to do to get there?"

For the first time since he'd appeared in the dark corner, the little man smiled. Just like Starsky's, the lop-sided grin seemed to light up the entire room. "Close thy eyes. I will send thee on thy path. Luck be thine and love be fine. May thou find thy heart's desire waiting there . . ."

Hutch closed his eyes. For a moment, nothing happened. No surprise, the cynic in him chided. But, then, just as he was about to reopen them, a swirling sense of vertigo came over him as the room seemed to shift around him. Feeling like a blood sample on a centrifuge, he swirled round and round, down and down until at last, all motion ceased.

Slowly, Hutch opened his eyes. The hospital bed was gone. In its place he found . . .

To Be Continued

(This story is now finished and published in Flamingo's AU S/H zine, Timeless, under the title BEFOGGED. That zine will be posted on the archive as soon as I can get to it. -- Flamingo)