This story was originally published in the Starsky and Hutch Special Collection, published by Neon RainBow Press. Thanks go to Marlene for typing / first proofing and to SHaron for final proofing. Comments on this story can be sent to: who will forward them to the author.

From the Heart



"Hutch? Hey, whatcha doin'? You've been out here all night."

At the sound of the soft voice and slow footsteps, Hutch closed his journal notebook and stood. He crossed the deck in a few long strides, stopping at his partner's side, and sliding an arm around the too-thin waist before responding.

"What're you doing outside?" he chided gently. "That's a better question. I thought we agreed you'd stay in."

"We did, but I got lonely." Starsky leaned his head against Hutch with a sigh. "After all that time in the hospital, I need some fresh air too. Besides, I wanted to see what you were doin'."

"Nothing important," Hutch replied, lightly rubbing his partner's arm. "Sorry I left you alone so long. I just lost track of time."

"It's okay. I was gonna come out tonight anyhow. Wanted to see what the view is like from here at night."

Leaning heavily on Hutch, Starsky slowly raised his head to look beyond the expansive redwood deck to the endless ocean below. Hutch felt a physical stab of pain in his heart at his partner's weary but awed expression as he looked up and down the deserted beach.

"This place is really ours?" Starsky asked in wonder. "For however long we want?" He watched Hutch nod, then slowly shook his head. "I still can't believe ya did this for me. This is a dream come true. You knew I've always wanted a place like this at the ocean 'n you got it for me. It's almost like I really did die 'n then found out heaven was really back here on earth with you."

Unable to cope with the sudden flood of emotions, Hutch covered by coughing, then clearing his throat. "You really shouldn't be standing up so long, you know," he admonished sternly. "You only got out of the hospital yesterday. If you plan to stay out here, at least sit down."

Apparently choosing not to argue, Starsky let Hutch assist him to a nearby chair, inadvertently wincing as he eased down. Beside him, Hutch dropped to one knee, a hand protectively resting on his partner's arm.

The blond looked up in surprise, when he felt his friend's warm hand encircle his neck. Hutch felt the indigo eyes, nearly black in the moonlight search his face. Though he returned Starsky's gaze steadily, he couldn't stop his heart from pounding just a few beats faster. Hoping his apprehension didn't show, Hutch finally broke the spell with a gentle smile. "You must be feeling better. Last night you were asleep by now."

"From those damn pain pills," Starsky grumbled, turning his attention back to the moonlit sea. "I hate to take 'em, but I have to. More than I like right now. Tonight's been pretty good so far, though."

Gently squeezing Starsky's arm, Hutch silently empathized, well aware of his partner's suffering. Gunther's bullets had done more damage than either of them cared to remember, nearly ending Starsky's life. Hutch would never forget how close he'd come to losing his best friend and partner - and how much it had made him realize. He dropped his head, his forehead resting lightly on Starsky's arm, tears stinging his eyes.

In tune with Hutch's mood, Starsky dropped a gentle hand to the golden-blond hair. "It's okay," he murmured. "I'll be okay, too. It'll take time, but I'll be better than new when I'm all done. Hell, ya bought me a whole new house to start over in; how could I not recover?" he asked, then paused. "You can stop bein' scared now, Hutch. The worst really is over."

Savoring the gentleness of Starsky's touch, Hutch nodded, but didn't speak, squeezing a denim-clad thigh instead. When a silent tear silently slipped his eye, Starsky gently brushed it away.

"Don't, babe," he whispered. "Don't take it so hard. Everything'll be okay. I promise." He attempted to bend down sideways toward Hutch, but caught his breath in a sharp gasp, which immediately brought the blond to his feet.

Observing the hand Starsky pressed to his side, Hutch knew he' d aggravated either one of the many chest wounds or a broken rib. He knelt in front of the chair again, covered Starsky's hand with his and very gently pressed. "Easy, buddy. Easy." His free hand rose to steady the trembling shoulder. "It'll pass in just a minute. Just hang on."

"I'm tryin'," Starsky said weakly, "but it's kinda tough, ya know?"

Hutch braced himself, prepared when his partner slumped forward into his arms. From the heavy weight against his shoulder, Hutch knew Starsky was clinging to consciousness by a thread. Saying a quick prayer nothing more serious was happening, Hutch supported Starsky's weight, held his breath, and waited.

"Still with me, partner?" he asked at last. "Can ya hear me, Starsk?"

"Yeah," he murmured, "but I don't wanna move. 'S too comfortable here."

"We need to get you back inside, buddy," Hutch said gently. "It's getting cold, and the last thing you need is to get chilled. You can watch the beach another night. Okay?"

"'Kay," Starsky sighed, slowly pulling back from the embrace. "I keep forgettin' how parts of me are screwed up 'til I try 'n move."

Relieved to see Starsky's attempted independence ending, Hutch helped his partner stand, then supported much of his weight as they went inside. Aware of the tense fingers clutching the back of his shirt, Hutch guessed the pain was still intense. He didn't even pause as they made their way to Starsky's bedroom.

Stopping beside the bed, Hutch began to ease his partner down only to have Starsky wrap both arms around his waist in a desperate grasp. This time Hutch had no idea what might be wrong.

"Hutch? Hold me?" The words emerged haltingly. "I need... I just... Please?"

"Sure, buddy. Sure." Hutch was glad to oblige, pressing the thin, pain-racked body close. "Is there anything I can do? Can you tell me what's wrong?"

Though Starsky initially shook his head, Hutch heard a tiny sob escape moments later. "It hurts, Hutch," he whispered. "Like it'll never not hurt again. I just want it to stop. Can't you make it stop? Just for a little while?"

"Oh, Starsk," Hutch murmured, his heart breaking. "God, I wish I could make it stop. I wish I could make it so it never happened. I wish it'd been me instead!"

"No. Not you. I couldn't go through that again." Starsky's fingers dug deeper into Hutch's back for a few seconds, then eased. "Almost lost ya with that plague last year. That was enough. I'd rather have this."

Realizing what his partner meant caused Hutch's eyes to fill with tears again, knowing he felt the same about Starsky. As he rubbed the quivering back, he remembered another time when Starsky had been hurt, when Hutch had held him as he convulsed with pain from a lethal poison. The memory was another physical stab in his heart; Hutch pressed the frail body closer. "How ya doin', buddy?" he asked, reluctantly breaking the silence. "About ready to call it a night? You've had a pretty long day."

"I guess." Starsky more sighed than spoke. "You've got a pretty comfortable shoulder, though. Sure I can't stay here?"

"'Fraid not partner. Even I can't sleep standing up." Hutch missed the sensation of Starsky's arms around him before they were completely gone. "C'mon, Curly. Time to get you ready for bed."

Despite Starsky's protests that he could manage, Hutch stayed close as his friend undressed, fighting the instinctive urge to help countless times. The doctors had warned him the recovery process would be slow, that Starsky would remain weak and in pain for months. Still, it was torture to watch his partner literally sweat over the simple task of removing his shirt and socks. By the time those two items were off, Starsky was drenched and his breathing labored.

Though Hutch knew how important independence was to his partner, he decided it was time to intervene - draping a thick, dark blue towel around the glistening, sweat-soaked shoulders, he patted gently. "Think you could use a hand there?" he asked lightly. "There's nothin' wrong with accepting a little help, ya know."

"I know, but I feel useless." Starsky wiped his face with one edge of the towel. "Guess I'd better let ya help me, though, or we'll be here all night.

After placing Starsky's pajamas nearby, Hutch efficiently undid his belt and zipper. With most of Starsky's worst injuries in his chest and stomach, Hutch took extra care in removing the jeans, realizing for the first time how loose they were. It hurt to see how much weight Starsky had lost during his hospitalization, and how prominent the still-healing wounds were. He felt his own muscles contract with empathy.

Hutch set his mind on his pre-med days as he undressed his partner, performing the deed with clinical detachment and professional care. He was pleased when he successfully replaced Starsky's street clothes with pajamas without additional pain.

Nonetheless, Starsky collapsed against the pillow as soon as Hutch was through. "I never thought changin' clothes could be such a hassle," Starsky complained, casting a wan grin at Hutch. "Guess it's a good thing you're here after all."

"Well, I don't think you're quite ready to take care of yourself just yet," Hutch replied, perching on the edge of the bed. "In a few weeks, maybe, but not right now."

Silently he watched Starsky's long black eyelashes flutter, briefly veiling the cobalt blue eyes. Momentarily letting his guard down, Hutch gazed at his friend with unveiled affection and tenderness, sentiments he knew Starsky witnessed when he abruptly re-opened his eyes. Embarrassed and blushing, Hutch hoped changing the subject would forestall any comments from his partner. "Ready for your bedtime drug supply?" he asked lightly. "I'll even play delivery boy this time. I think you've done enough for today."

"Thanks, for the offer, but I gotta go to the john anyhow," Starsky sighed. "I think I could use some help gettin' up, though. Everything kinda caught up with me all at once."

"So I noticed. Okay, then just say the word when you're ready."

"Might as well do it now." Starsky slowly pushed himself up from the pillow, then stood, but made no attempt to move until Hutch's supportive arm slid around his shoulders. Even then, Hutch noticed, his steps were labored and slow.

Reluctantly leaving Starsky on his own in the bathroom, Hutch hovered outside the door, thinking it seemed like forever before it finally reopened. "You okay?" he asked, quickly scanning the ashen face. "Starsk?"

"In a minute," Starsky murmured, holding tight to the doorframe. "Hutch? I - I don't feel so good."

Unsurprised when Starsky slumped forward, Hutch adeptly caught him, then carried the limp form back to bed.

After arranging his partner beneath the covers, Hutch bathed the clammy face with a cool, damp washcloth. He watched closely as Starsky slowly began to wake and stir.

"Wh - what happened?" he muttered, frowning and blinking at Hutch. "How - how'd I get back here?"

"I carried you," Hutch answered easily. "And you're going to stay here until tomorrow morning, at least. Did you take your medicine when you were in there or did you get that far?"

"Not quite." Apparently ashamed, the blue eyes lowered. "I meant to, but I... I'm sorry, Hutch."

"Hey, don't be silly," the blond chided gently, ruffling Starsky's dark curls. "That's what I'm here for, remember? To take care of you. I'll get your pills and be right back."

Though Hutch missed Starsky's look of tenderness as he left he couldn't mistake the soft expression in the indigo eyes when he returned. He chose not to comment on his partner's expression as he carefully administered the required medication.

Sitting slightly behind him on the bed, Hutch supported Starsky's back and shoulders while he took the pills, using the time to eliminate the lump in his throat. It wasn't fair for Starsky to hurt like this, he thought bitterly. He should have seen what was coming, protected him. When he felt his partner lean back against him, Hutch clamped down on his thoughts. He knew it was far too late for self-recriminations now."

"All finished?" he asked, accepting the now-empty glass. "After all that, you should be asleep in no time flat."

"You gave me one of the pain pills too, didn't ya?" Starsky's words were more statement than question. "That little white one."

"You need the rest, Starsk," Hutch said softly. "And you can't get it when you hurt like this. I know you don't like 'em, but times like this is what they're for."

"I know." Starsky nodded, pausing for a heavy sigh. "I just don't wanna get dependent on 'em. I took enough of that crap in the hospital. I got enough problems now; I don't wanna be a dope head too."

Unable to restrain a soft laugh, Hutch gave his friend a gentle hug, spontaneously dropping a light kiss atop Starsky's curls. "You could never be a dope head, Starsk," he responded fondly. "You're too stubborn and strong. Unlike somebody else we know."

"Hey, that wasn't your fault and you know it," Starsky admonished. "Monk deliberately got ya strung out. Besides, you kicked the stuff cold turkey. What more do ya want?"

Whenever he recalled the agony of his heroin withdrawal, Hutch's first thought was of Starsky, how he'd stayed by his side, holding him through those agonizing forty-eight hours. With his eyes threatening to mist over, Hutch gave his friend another squeeze, then started to get up. Held in place by Starsky's grip on his arms, he sank back down.

Don't leave yet," Starsky said softly. "I wanna tell ya somthin' before I fall asleep. Somethin' you need to know." Pausing, he shook his head slightly as if to clear it. "I want cha to know how glad I am you're hangin' in there with me," he said, his words sounding thick as they began to slur. "I wouldn't've made it through otherwise."

"Sure, you would've made it," Hutch answered, not quite sure what they were talking about. "You'll just do better with me here, that's all."

"No, I mean it, Hutch," Starsky insisted, increasing his hold on Hutch's arm. "Without you, I - you were what I had to come back for when I died."

"When you died?" Hutch repeated carefully. "You remember that?" Hutch knew he would never forget it; he'd never been so frightened in all his life.

* * *

"How's he doin', Cap'n?" Hutch remembered feeling the tension over the telephone wire as endless silence ensued. "Cap'n?"

"I think you'd better get down here right away, Hutch." Dobey's soft words were permanently etched in Hutch's brain, along with the frantic drive, which had followed. He'd never driven so fast in all his life, never said so many desperate prayers.

He'd raced through the hospital corridors mindless of who or what he encountered; his only thought was the need to reach Starsky's side.

And when he finally had arrived, he'd confronted a doctor who looked more stunned than Hutch felt. "He's alive," the physician murmured. "He's still alive. I'll be damned if he isn't alive."

Hutch had felt like kissing the ground as he closed his eyes in a prayer of thanks.

* * *

"Course I 'member," Starsky mumbled. "I kept telling everybody I wasn't ready yet. That I had to stay with you. I knew you'd do somethin' crazy if I didn't - either kill yourself or get killed - and they finally listened 'n let me come back. It wasn't all their zaps and medical stuff that did it - it was you. Hutch, you were the one that brought me back. You weren't ready to let me go 'n I wasn't ready to leave ya."

Though Hutch longed to pursue the conversation, he saw that Starsky had lost his battle to stay awake, slipping off on his final words. Gently loosening the warm fingers from his arm, Hutch slid out from behind him without a word. As he laid the curly head on the pillow, Starsky's long black lashes flickered, and when he extended a weak hand toward the blond's face, Hutch caught it and held it.

"Go to sleep, buddy," he said softly. "We'll have time to talk later. Now you need some rest."

"Guess so," Starsky mumbled, managing to squeeze Hutch's hand. "Hutch? I wanna tell ya - ya gotta know - I love you."

"Love you too, babe," Hutch whispered, his voice breaking with pent up emotion on the last word. "Sleep tight, Starsk. Sweet dreams."

Though he was fairly sure Starsky was already sleeping, Hutch stayed a few minutes more before returning outside to retrieve his notebook. He sat down at the kitchen table to read through his words:

We've come so close so many times. So close, we've both tasted death. This time Starsky did die, but we got lucky and they brought him back.

But what if there's a next time? If he gets shot or poisoned again, or maybe kidnapped or drugged? Sooner or later, we'll stop being so lucky and our time will run out. I don't think I can stand to watch him suffer like this again.

It's still too soon to tell him it's over. That we'll never work the streets again like he thinks. The body can only withstand so much damage, and he took more than it could stand this time. In some ways, I think, it's just as well.

Because of what his doctors told me, I finally did what I've wanted to. My resignation becomes effective the first day of next month. Starsky doesn't know it yet, of course, or that my payoff was the down payment on this house. But he doesn't need to know - at least not yet.

All he needs to know for now is that I love him. That he's the best friend and partner I've ever had. Everything else will work itself out later on. It's Me and Thee time once more.

Hutch read his concluding paragraph with a smile, suspecting Starsky already knew that he was loved. But just in case he didn't, Hutch left the notebook on the kitchen table when he went to bed - he knew Starsky couldn't miss it the following morning when he retrieved his indispensable coffee mug.