Story Notes:

Solace was first printed in the Starsky and Hutch slash zine, Crystal Blue Persuasion, in 1997, published by Asbestos Press.

Hutch fought to suppress a grin as he noted the expressions on the faces they were passing in the corridor of Metro. Rolled eyes met his and several pairs of lips twisted in knowing smirks as his partner's voice carried along the halls they were walking through. He forced his own face to remain neutral, however, not wanting to give Starsky anything else to gripe about. As it was, Starsky was in an animated tirade, voice raised in agitation as his arms gestured boisterously.

"I mean what was I thinking? I say, 'what do you want to do for lunch' figuring you'd suggest...I don't know...maybe a place to eat. But noooo! Not my partner. Why sit down for a nice casual, normal lunch when you can drive down to the gym for some racquetball."

The word was said as though it were some kind of obscenity. Hutch tried to cut in while his partner paused for a breath.

"Look, Starsk...." That was all he managed to get out before the diatribe began again.

"What kind of game is that anyway? You got this ball flyin' around, bouncin' off all four walls...you don't even know where it's comin' from. Just bing, bing, bing...whammm! The next thing you know, something that looks like a Super Ball but feels like a cannonball is smashing into the side of your head."

"I told you to duck," Hutch cut in reasonably. His remark was greeted with an icy glare. He swallowed, again trying to control his urge to laugh, as he muttered quietly, "Sorry."

"Sorry? I'm the one who's sorry. How do I let you talk me into these things?" Starsky's voice changed as he went into his best Hutch imitation. "‘Come on, Starsk. It'll be fun, Starsk. It's good for you, Starsk. Get that heart pumping. You've got to try new things.'"

This time, Hutch did laugh. "I don't sound like that."

"Don't laugh at me, Hutchinson. You've already ruined my damn lunch hour. And on top of that, I'm starving."

They stopped just outside the doors to the squad room as Hutch held up a brown bag. "I bought you lunch, remember?"

Starsky sneered at him in disdain. "Sure. What's in there anyway? Some healthy piece of rabbit food or some crap like that. No thanks."

He pushed open the door forcefully and allowed it to slam closed in Hutch's face. Undaunted, the blond pushed the door open and followed his partner to their desks.

"That's not true. The rabbit food's for me. I got you a nice greasy cheeseburger with fries."

The curly dark head peered up from the chair Starsky had thrown himself into, interest now piqued. "Oh yeah?"

"Yup." He reached into the bag and took out the foil wrapped burger, tossing it to Starsky. He removed the fries, then put his hand back in the bag, letting it linger there as he smiled teasingly. "I even got you dessert."

Huge blue eyes met his in an expression a puppy uses when begging for table scraps. "Dessert?"

"Yeah. I picked up a couple of donuts." He paused, enjoying the look of anticipation on Starsky's face before adding persuasively, "Jelly."

Starsky grabbed the bag, pulling out one of the gooey treats which he bit into ravenously. Hutch laughed as he watched the trickle of jelly slide down the side of his friend's mouth.

"Does this mean I'm forgiven?"

Starsky wiped the wayward jelly from his face with his finger, which he promptly sucked clean. He took another bite before answering Hutch with his mouth full.

"I'll think about it."

Hutch sat down shaking his head as he watched his partner devour the donut. "You know Starsk, you're supposed to eat the dessert last."

"Don't start with me Hutchinson. A man who enjoys spending the better part of an hour chasing a Super Ball back and forth in a room that would give most people claustrophobia shouldn't be givin' advice."

"Oh, come on. You've got to admit that it was fun. The rush of adrenaline...the non-stop action...   pushing your body to its limits while your heart pounds frantically in your chest...."

"The sound of your bones cracking as you hit the floor...the feel of muscles you didn't even know you had cramping...the twist of your neck as you keep snapping it back and forth trying to figure out where the damn ball is...oh yeah, sure. Loads of fun."

Hutch shook his head with a smile as he reached into the bag for his ‘rabbit food.' Despite the cynicism and the tantrums, Starsky had had fun and Hutch knew it. Complaining about it only added to Starsky's enjoyment and nothing he said could have dampened Hutch's mood anyway. It had taken a long time to get back the playful, teasing, relaxed, wise-cracking Starsky that he had missed so much. After all that had happened, it was a welcomed sight. Even the old appetite seemed to be returning, he noted, as he watched Starsky drain some of the ketchup packet onto his donut.

"Oh, Starsky, that's disgusting!"

"No, what you're eating is disgusting. They serve that stuff to the animals over at the petting zoo." As Starsky bit into his ketchup-jelly donut his eyes sparkled teasingly at Hutch. "You know, I think I liked you better when you were lettin yourself go. Maybe you should re­gain some of that weight and grow the old mustache back, eh?"

Hutch knew his friend was only joking. Nobody had been more worried than Starsky when Hutch went through that dark period, allowing his disillusionment with life and the stress of his job to overwhelm even his desire to take care of himself. And nobody had been more relieved than Starsky when the old blender came back out of moth balls and the heath concoctions, along with jogging and workouts at the gym, became part of his daily routine again.

Hutch wondered if his partner realized how much of that had been done for him. He had fought hard to get himself back in shape after Starsky's near fatal shooting over a year and a half ago. He had been determined to be there for Starsky and knew that he had to be in the best possible condition so that he wouldn't risk letting his partner down. With everything his friend had gone through then as well as all that came later, Starsky had needed all the strength Hutch had to give.

It was Starsky who was now recovering from his own dark period, slowly beginning to resemble his old self, and nothing could have pleased Hutch more.

"You don't mean that," Hutch countered smugly, enjoying the familiar banter. "In fact, I'm so sure you don't mean it that I booked the court at the gym for us again tomorrow."

"What! Hutch, you don't think...."

Hutch stuck a french fry into his friend's open mouth to end the outburst. "Don't talk with your mouth full." He stood up then, ducking out of the way of the paper clip holder that came flying at him. As he moved towards the coffee pot, Starsky called after him in a voice that only barely concealed his amusement.

"OK, fine. You want to play racquetball, we'll play racquetball. Just don't be surprised if I mistake that thick skull of yours for the Super Ball."

"That's what I like about you, Starsk. Always willing to try new things." Hutch returned to the desk with two cups of coffee, one of which he extended towards his partner. "You can have this if you promise not to throw it at me."

"I don't know. I might have to think about that deal for a minute."

Hutch started to pull back the coffee but Starsky grabbed his arm.

"All right, all right. I promise." They both smiled as Starsky took the coffee from Hutch's hand.

"You know, you might find you'd have more success at the game if you stopped using your head as the racquet."

"And you might find if you don't shut up, I just might go back on my promise." He stood up and moved menacingly towards Hutch with the cup in his hand.

"Hutchinson, in my office! I need to talk to you."

Dobey's gruff voice cut into their laughter. Starsky's smile was mischievous.

"Oh, saved in the nick of time. This must be your luck day, Hutchinson."

"What can I tell you. I lead a charmed life. Coming, Captain."

"You need me, Cap?"

"Uh, no, Starsky. You go ahead and finish your lunch."

Starsky chuckled as he sat back down to his feast, smirking at Hutch tauntingly.

"Now whose lucky day is it?" He picked up his cheeseburger for a hearty bite before waving to Hutch. "Have fun. I'll try to keep your rabbit food from wilting?

"Gee, thanks."

Hutch left his cheerful partner to his lunch as he followed Dobey into the office. His lighthearted mood immediately sobered as he noted the look in the Captain's eyes.

"Something wrong?"

"Yeah, Hutch, I'm afraid there is. Sit down."

Hutch took a seat as Dobey moved around his desk to sit down in his own chair. The room was silent then as the look on Dobey's face reflected a struggle to find words. The hair on the back of Hutch's neck pricked up as his instincts began to scream to him something was wrong, and everything inside of him was telling him it had nothing to do with police work. Hutch started to ask, then stopped himself, realizing that whatever it was would be out soon enough. So he waited as Dobey took a deep breath then covered his face with his hands before running them through his hair.

"There was a call when you were at lunch," the Captain began, his voice sounding nothing like the no-nonsense, business tone he usually used. It wasn't a tone totally unfamiliar to Hutch, however.

You can stop looking. We just located your third possible.

Wedell?

He's been dead four days...heart attack.

Hutch's fingers dug into the sides of the chair as though to brace himself. His mind immediately raced to Starsky as the gnawing sensation in his stomach began. It was a feeling that he experienced only when there was some kind of threat to his partner. Unfortunately, it was a feeling he had become far too familiar with, especially of late.

"Since you and Starsky were out," Dobey continued, "they transferred the call to me. It was Starsky's Aunt Rose."

Dobey stopped then, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. Hutch's eyes remained riveted to the dark, somber face as he tried to keep his mind from racing through the possibilities. It was impossible, however, to stifle the questions. Why would Starsky's Aunt Rose call the station? Why would a personal call for Starsky be transferred to Dobey? Why didn't Dobey call Starsky in here if this was about him?

Dobey again seemed to be struggling for words, but this time Hutch could no longer bear the suspense.

"Tell me," he whispered, voice tight, shoulders rigid.

Dobey's tense features softened as he spoke into the quiet room. "It's his mother, Hutch. She's dead."

Hutch sat, unblinking, unmoving. His mind couldn't seem to fix on any concrete thought. Only the words she's dead reverberated over and over in his head. Slowly the words were replaced by other words...similar words...words from the not too distant past...words also spoken by Dobey. I got a call from the prison. Nicky was killed today in a knife fight with one of the inmates.

Those words were spoken in this room too. Only Starsky had been here then. Starsky, who had suffered a near fatal assassination attempt. Starsky, who had endured endless months of painful, tedious recovery. Starsky who had fought his way back only to be crushed by the news that his wayward brother had been arrested for dealing drugs...tainted drugs that had resulted in the deaths of three teenagers. Starsky, who had sat through the long months before and during the trial blaming himself and feeling helpless and inadequate. Starsky, who had held and comforted his mother as his little brother was sentenced and led off to jail. Starsky, who three months later had to break the news to his mother that Nicky was dead...Starsky...Starsky...Starsky....

Hutch threw himself out of the chair in an effort to break away from the unrelenting thoughts. He realized then that Dobey had been speaking to him, but he hadn't heard a word of it. He looked toward the older man in confusion.

"What?"

"I said that his Aunt Rose didn't think it was the kind of news he should hear over the phone. She had called to speak to you. She was hoping that you could...well that it might be easier coming from you."

"Easier?" Hutch laughed sardonically. "Hey buddy, your mom's dead. But I'm sure it's not such a big deal for you hearing it from me." Hutch kicked the metal trash can, sending its contents flying all over the floor. He turned sharply then, punching his fist into the wall as he mumbled every expletive he could think of.

Dobey rose from his seat and quickly moved beside Hutch, placing a restraining hand on his arm.

"Easy, son. You've got to keep it together for his sake."

Hutch nursed his bruised fist to his mouth as he struggled to get control of himself. He heard Dobey's words...knew he was right. But how could he? How could he hold it together when he had to be the one to tell Starsky that his world had just exploded in his face yet again?

Now whose lucky day is it?

The cheerful eyes. The laughing grin. Had it only been a few minutes ago? How had it all fallen apart so quickly? Hutch turned to Dobey searchingly.

"How do I do this? How do I tell him this? I mean it was only eight months ago when Nick...."

Hutch heard his voice crack as he was unable to continue. The hand on his arm tightened as the older man tried to offer support.

"I know, Hutch. I know."

Hutch closed his eyes, fighting to get hold of himself. Dobey's right hand came up to grasp his other arm. The firm grip on both of his forearms may have been the only thing that kept him standing because his legs certainly felt like jelly. He looked up at the Captain needing to voice the thought that kept running through his head.

"It's not fair."

"No. It's not."

It wasn't fair. The past year and a half had been hell for Starsky and now this. But fair or not, it was true and it had to be faced. Somehow, he would have to find the strength to get them both through this. As Hutch struggled to compose himself, he heard Dobey's voice low and tentative.

"Do you want me to tell him?"

"No," Hutch responded immediately. As hard as this was going to be, he couldn't let Starsky hear it from anyone else. "No, I need to do it."

"Are you all right?"

"I'm going to have to be. Just give me a minute."

Dobey nodded understandingly then eased up his grip on Hutch's arms. When Hutch stood up more surely, Dobey released his hold altogether. They nodded quietly at each other, then Hutch walked over towards the desk and leaned forward, spreading his palms flat atop its surface as he hung his head down and fought to clear his mind. The only way to get through this was one moment at a time. He couldn't allow the anguish over the past and the anxiety for the future to immobilize him.

"OK," he called to Dobey when he felt himself as steady as he was going to be. But when the door behind him was opened and the Captain's voice called to Starsky to come in, Hutch found himself unable to turn around. Instead, he listened as his unaware partner began to babble blithely.

"Somehow, I knew that was too good to last. Luckily, I'm a fast eater so I got most of it down. I guess I figured you two would be needin' my expert input. So, what's up? What is it you can't handle without me partner?'

The door behind them closed softly and Starsky's voice held a note of confusion.

"Hey Cap....Where's Dobey going?"

Taking a deep breath, Hutch forced himself to turn around. Just as he feared it would, his face spoke volumes to his partner. Starsky's features immediately changed from relaxed confusion to guarded apprehension. The easy tone from only a moment ago was nowhere to be found in his voice now.

"What is it?"

"Buddy, I think you should sit down."

Starsky didn't move a muscle but a rigidness seemed to suffuse every inch of him. Guileless blue eyes became cold and hard in a protective reflex that had become all too essential in the past year and a half.

"What is it?" he repeated, more sharply this time.

Hutch would have gladly died himself in that moment rather that speak the words that were going to devastate this man. But there was no getting around what had to be said and prolonging it would only hurt him more. Pushing past the lump that had formed in his throat, threatening to choke him, Hutch uttered the terrible words as softly as he could.

"It's your mom, Starsk. She...she died."

Hutch waited then, not certain what the reaction would be but prepared for anything. At least he thought he was. But the eyes before him remained emotionless and the body stayed hauntingly still as a resigned voice uttered a simple "Oh" before falling silent again.

Despite his efforts to control it, Hutch's voice filled with enough emotion for both of them. "Babe, I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. I know how much this has to hurt."

He stepped towards Starsky wanting so desperately to reach out...to help somehow. But the man before him was so distant...so removed. He was afraid to push, so he stood still again, trying to give Starsky whatever time and space he might need.

Endless moments seemed to pass in silence, neither of them moving. It was Starsky who finally broke it, walking slowly towards the window behind the desk. Shoulder leaned against the wall, he poked one of the blinds up with his finger and stared out through the narrow opening. When he spoke, his voice seemed tired, but Hutch could detect no other emotion in it.

"I guess I should have expected it. She really hasn't been well. Not since Nicky. It was her heart wasn't it?"

"I...I don't know." Hutch felt foolish, realizing he hadn't even asked. "Dobey got the call. I'm sure he would...."

"Something died in her when Nicky went to jail." Starsky continued on as if he wasn't even aware Hutch was speaking. "She's been sick a lot off and on. I've tried to get out there as much as I could, you know. I wish she would have come out here like I wanted but she wouldn't. This wasn't her home. Her memories were there...and with Nicky gone I guess she felt that's all she had left."

Starsky grew quiet again, staring intently out the window with eyes that didn't seem to be seeing. Hutch thought about what he had been saying. He knew how troubled Starsky had been over his mother's health. There were numerous visits, phone calls, letters...endless pleas for her to come and stay here where he could be closer to her. At one point he had even considered moving back to New York but Ruth Starsky wouldn't hear of it. As relieved as Hutch was that the move didn't take place, he couldn't forget the bitter pain that Starsky endured when his mother told him that his coming there would change nothing and that there wasn't anything he could do for her.

Hutch had always liked Ruth Starsky. He found her to be a warm, open woman. But he could never understand the favoritism towards her younger son any more than he could understand Starsky's enduring allegiance to him. Nick Starsky was a selfish, greedy, arrogant, egotistical man who only looked out for Number One. He had shown no remorse for the part he played in the extinction of three young lives.

Though he understood that the death of a child was the most devastating experience a parent could go through, Hutch could never fathom how it could blind Ruth Starsky to the love and devotion her older son tried so hard to show her.

'Her memories were there and with Nicky gone I guess she felt that's all she had left.'

But she had you, buddy. How was it that she could always make you feel that that didn't count for anything?

Hutch wondered if Starsky were blaming himself again; blaming himself for not being able to provide his mother with a will to live, just like he blamed himself for not being able to protect his brother. It was hard to decide what Starsky was feeling. His face was so blank, so unreadable. It could almost be a stranger standing here. Hutch wasn't used to feeling so disconnected from his partner. Even during the worst of times, he always had some sense of what was going on behind those vivid blue eyes.

"Talk to me, babe. Tell me what you need. Tell me how to help."

Starsky turned to him then, and for a brief moment, the features reflected the man he knew better than himself.

"You're doing it. Just be here."

There was a small attempt at a smile, more for Hutch's sake than to express any inner feeling. And then the face went expressionless again as he turned back to the window to stare.

The door to the office opened slowly and Dobey stepped in. Concerned brown eyes roamed from Hutch to Starsky then back to Hutch again. Hutch answered the unvoiced question with a shrug. He had no idea how Starsky was. Dobey moved forth, coming to stand beside Starsky as he put a hand upon his back.

"I'm so sorry for your loss, Dave."

"Thanks, Cap," the flat voice replied, eyes remaining on the window.

Hutch exchanged another look with Dobey, certain they were thinking the same thing. Here in this office the day Nick was killed, Starsky ranted over the inadequacies of the system, cursed his brother for every stupid mistake, agonized over how he would tell his mother and then, finally, cried for the loss and pain. In fact, through all of it...his recovery, the trial, Nick's death, his mother's illness...there had always been a gamut of emotion: fear, anger, frustration, guilt, pain, love, grief, hope, despair. But now there was nothing. Maybe he's got nothing left.

"I guess...I guess I've got some calls to make...stuff I should be doing." The words sounded lifeless and the body made no move to follow through.

"That can wait. I think you should just sit down for a while. Take some time for yourself."

Starsky shrugged at Dobey's advice but he moved from the window nonetheless, taking a seat on the other side of the desk.

"Can I get you something? How about some water? Yeah, a glass of water would be good," Dobey decided and left the office to get it.

Hutch realized then that he himself had been almost as immobile as Starsky. It was as if his partner's shutting down turned a switch off inside of him as well. Cursing himself for his ineptitude, Hutch forced his body to move. He walked over to where his partner sat and crouched down beside the chair. Starsky's left hand lay flat across his thigh and Hutch covered it with his own hand. Instantly the fingers beneath his responded, wrapping themselves tightly around his and holding on forcefully as though that grip was all that kept him from falling. The remainder of his body and his face remained impassive but Starsky's grip on his partner's hand stayed fierce. Hutch tightened his own hold, relieved to feel the sense of connectedness again.

You're doing it Just be here.

"I'm here buddy. I'm right here," Hutch whispered, hoping the familiar words could bring comfort to them both.

~~~~~~~~

Starsky lay on his back in his bed staring up at the ceiling as he studied the way the light from the living room combined with the darkness of the bedroom to produce the silent shadows. An itemized catalog of the day's events ran through his mind with detached clarity. Woke up. Shower. Breakfast. Work. Racquetball. Lunch. Your mother's dead....The details got a little hazier after that. He wasn't sure how long he sat in Dobey's office, but it must have been a while. There had been a voice in his head telling him he should be doing something, yet he had sat motionless as Hutch and Dobey went over plans and made phone calls. People who had to be contacted. Details gathered. Airline reservations made. Hotel booked. Somehow it all got done despite his ineffectualness.

All he remembered about getting home was that Hutch had taken him. Other than that, the trip between Dobey's office and his apartment was a blank. After that, there had been some attempt by Hutch to get him to eat dinner...was it that late already?...but he couldn't remember what the food was or if he had tasted any of it. Blank again after that until he came in here to lay down. Now he laid, not because he was tired or because he had thought for one minute that he could fall asleep...no, he laid down because Hutch had asked him to, and he couldn't bear to cause any more worry in those already overly concerned blue eyes.

Your mother's dead. No matter how many times he repeated it to himself, it didn't feel real. She had been sick on and off, but lately things had been better. He had actually started to believe that maybe the worst was over. But instead his mother went to bed last night and never woke up. He wondered if he should feel relieved that she went...as people would say...peacefully. Was there some comfort in that?

Starsky could feel his own heart pounding in his chest, causing him to think about what kinds of things made a heart stop. Physical things like the trauma caused by his gunshot wounds. But probably emotional things as well. Did a heart just get tired of beating after it was broken beyond repair?

That thought threatened to stir too many others that Starsky was unable to cope with, so he turned over on his side and pushed it out of his mind. He again forced his head clear of emotions and concentrated instead on the sounds coming from his kitchen. Water and dishes and glasses.... Hutch was cleaning up from the dinner he had made them...the dinner Starsky now remembered he hadn't eaten. He pictured Hutch standing over the sink as he methodically soaped each pot and plate and glass and fork...systematically laying each down on the counter in a bubbly collection until all had been lathered. Only then would he begin to rinse them off in the warm running water, then carefully place them into the dish rack to dry. Starsky preferred to soap a dish then rinse it immediately so that when he laid it down, he was finished with it. He often teased Hutch that his method made twice as much work, though in reality they both probably took the same amount of time. Of course, he would never admit that to Hutch. It was much more fun to annoy the long-suffering blond with his absurd theories. And Hutch, of course, would never consider changing his method of dish washing just to shut Starsky up. He took just as much pleasure in being stubborn and contradictory as Starsky did. It was one of the things that Starsky loved about him...one of the million things.

The thoughts of his partner were relaxing some of the twisted tension that infused Starsky's body, so he allowed his mind to drift along that path. Not for the first time he tried to remember when exactly he had fallen in love with Hutch. As far as he could tell, it had always been there... he just used to fight harder to disguise it, especially from himself. The endless string of women he dated and had affairs with...most of whose names and faces he couldn't even remember anymore...were all part of the deception. It wasn't until Terry that he was forced to face the truth...a truth she saw more clearly than he ever had himself.

Beautiful, understanding, compassionate Terry...he loved her as much as he could love any woman...but that was never as much as he loved Hutch. It was Terry who made him realize how reversed the roles were...that it was she who fulfilled the role of best friend while Hutch held the lovers place in his heart. That was why she always referred to herself and him as best friends. For a while, Starsky had tried so hard to make it different...to try to feel for Terry what he knew she felt for him. But at that time, he was too unskilled at pretending to feel things he didn't, and she was too perceptive to fall for it.

Oddly enough, the truth only brought them closer. He was able to open up to Terry about thoughts and feelings he never believed he could share with anybody. Instead of condemning him, she supported him and helped him to accept himself. A cherished friendship was formed between two people who really understood each other. Terry was an incredible person and he loved her...loved her enough to be serious about wanting to marry her and take care of her in those last days. But Terry couldn't be selfish, even then. She turned down his proposal and spent many of their last conversations together urging him to be honest with Hutch. Life is too short, Dave. Live it to its fullest. Grab the brass ring while you can. That was one of the last things she said to him before she went to the hospital for the last time.

But his guilt and pain over her death immobilized him more than her words could set him free. Even her final attempt to draw him and his partner together through her death by leaving Hutch that note and Ollie, though no doubt intended to give Starsky an opening to come clean with his feelings, couldn't give him the courage to do so. He had lost Terry...one of the few people he had really loved in his life...so senselessly. Life was cruel and unpredictable. He wasn't about to risk alienating...perhaps even losing...Hutch by telling him the truth.

Instead, he went back to pretending, though it was much more difficult now. If he couldn't fall in love with a woman like Terry, he knew with certainty that no woman would ever have his heart. Yet he dated and went through the motions with woman after woman. At some point Rosie Malone came along...Rosie who he had pursued in the park that day more to keep Hutch from doing so than because of any real interest. He suspected the attraction there was his gut feeling that it was a relationship doomed from the start. She would never be free to really love him anymore than he could really love her. So they play acted together for a while, trying to fool everyone, including themselves. When she said it was over, he didn't fight hard to dissuade her. What was the point?

More time passed...more meaningless relationships. Somewhere along the line he had become a masterful impostor. When John Blaine died, he even managed to convince Hutch that he couldn't fathom the idea of two men together. Surely that performance was Oscar worthy.

But deception has its price, a bitter lesson he learned when Kira came into their lives. In some desperate, half thought out attempt to get his partners attention, he actively pursued the conniving woman who came on to them both, at one point even telling Hutch he was in love with her. He had participated before in these contests with his partner over the attentions of a woman he didn't even want. He had always done it more to keep Hutch and the interloper apart rather than to snare the female for himself. But something went terribly wrong in the situation with Kira. Starsky had wanted Hutch to feel threatened by his phony declaration of love for Kira, perhaps igniting some jealousy or re-evaluation of feelings. Instead, Hutch pursued Kira, unleashing a torrent of long built up emotion in Starsky that resulted in a painful, violent rage. He ended up taking his rage out on the one person he never wanted to hurt, and in the aftermath, he had almost blown the most important relationship in his life.

Starsky had to take a harsh self-inventory after that. His emotions were becoming far too unstable and dangerous and he needed to get them back in check. There were no more games after Kira...no more juvenile attempts to play with his partners head...and no more deluding himself.

He loved Hutch. All the meaningless relationships in the world were never going to change that. He was through dating women and pretending to be something he wasn't. It was just too much of a strain. He was equally adamant about ensuring that his love for Hutch would not cost him the friendship which was the only thing that gave his life meaning. Somehow, he would learn to accept and live with what he had...a wonderful, fulfilling friendship...a trusting, dedicated partnership...and the lonely, endless prison of unrequited love.

Not long after he came to his resolution, fate stepped in to install some new, steep drops in the roller coaster that was his life. And while health and family crisis provided never ending demands on his time and attention, his love for Hutch remained strong and constant. In fact, his increasing dependence on Hutch's strength and support over the past year and a half continually threatened to weaken his resolve to ask and expect nothing more than friendship from his partner. There were moments when he was certain that if he couldn't feel Hutch's moist lips upon him...feel that smooth, golden skin pressed against his in a lover's embrace that shut out all the pain and fear, that he would cease to exist....

Starsky loosened his grip on the sheet that he had been clutching tightly in his fisted hands and used an end of it to wipe some of the perspiration from his hot, flushed face. What on earth had made him believe that thoughts of Hutch would relax him? That was the last thing he needed to think about tonight.

"Are you all right? Can I get you anything?"

Because of his train of thought, the soft voice in the doorway startled him more than it should have. He visibly jumped, pulling the sheet to his neck like a protective armor.

"I'm fine," he answered gruffly, afraid to let his voice betray anything more.

"I didn't mean to startle you. I'm sorry." The voice was tender, apologetic.

"It's OK."

"Listen, if you want to talk...."

The voice was gentle and full of love. Hutch had been trying so hard all day to be supportive and Starsky loved him all the more for it. But the last thing he wanted to do was talk...or think...or feel...

"No. Not now. I really just need to be by myself if that's OK."

"Of course it's OK." The words did their best to hide the hurt and concern, though they didn't quite succeed. "I'll be on the couch if you need me. Just call."

"I will." But he knew he wouldn't. Just like he knew Hutch wouldn't go home even if he'd asked him to, so he didn't. Hutch would sit on the couch all night, ready to be there if Starsky called.

And me? I'm going to lay here and do my best to turn my mind into a black hole, devoid of all thought or feeling.

Starsky turned onto his other side, facing his back to the door. He felt Hutch linger in the doorway for several long, silent minutes before he finally headed back into the living room. For a brief moment, Starsky felt an incredible sense of guilt. But then he pushed that and all other sensations harshly from his mind until numbness infused him. Reaching over to his nightstand, he picked up a small Matchbox car that was sitting there. He contented himself with rolling it across the mattress, becoming absorbed by the turn of its wheels and the direction of its travel. For as long as he could manage it, this car was all that existed.

~~~~~~~

Hutch glanced down at his watch as he tried to stretch his long legs in the narrow confines of space between his seat and the one in front of him. It was 2:00 p.m. The plane should be landing in another hour or so. The thought reminded him that he ought to re-set his watch to New York time. He unsnapped the watch from his wrist and carefully re-set it to 5:00. Before returning it to his wrist, he paused and flipped it over, glancing at the inscription on the back.

Get with the times - S.  A small smile pulled at Hutch's lips as he stared fondly at the present his partner had given him on his last birthday. Starsky had forever teased him about his penchant for pocket watches, telling him they were for grandfathers and train conductors. The present had been his not so subtle way of pushing Hutch "into the modem era." Though not too modern, Hutch had been relieved to realize. The watch was a classically styled Seiko analog timepiece with a round black face and gold hands and hour markings. The band was black link with two lines of gold woven through. It really was a beautiful watch, possessing none of the gizmos or sci-fi type gadgets that adorned the wrist wear his partner bought for himself.

Hutch ran his thumb lightly over the treasured present as he turned to the man sitting beside him. Starsky was still staring silently out the window, though there was nothing really to see besides clouds and blue sky. Hutch was concerned at how subdued Starsky had been during the lengthy flight. His partner hated to fly and generally fidgeted like a caged animal for the duration of the trip. But they had been in the air for nearly five hours now without any pacing trips to the bathroom, bi-hourly time checks, or nervous rhythms being tapped out on the tray table. There was no long string of endless chatter either, not even during the usually dreaded take-off when a slight tensing of body muscles had been the only indication that he had even known what was going on.

Snapping his watch back onto his wrist, Hutch shifted around in his seat. He reached out to place a hand on Starsky's forearm.

"Hey, how're you holding up?"

"I'm doin' OK."

"It should only be another hour until we land."

"That's good. I hate planes."

"I know."

Starsky turned and faced him then, the blue eyes surrounded by a sea of red.

"Guess I haven't been much company for you. Sorry."

"You don't have anything to be sorry about."

Starsky sighed as he leaned his head back against the seat. Hutch knew he had to be exhausted.

"Why don't you close your eyes for a while. I'll wake you when we get there."

"Nah, I'm all right."

No, you're not, Hutch thought to himself, but he didn't say it. He tried to think of something else to say but Starsky had already turned his head back to the window, immersing himself back in his distant reverie.

It had been like that throughout the night. Hutch woke several times to check on him, each time finding him awake and staring silently either at the ceiling, the wall or out the window. Any attempt at conversation ended up as brief and inconsequential as the one they'd just had.

Hutch's hopes that he would at least get some rest on the plane never materialized. He hadn't slept or eaten. He had no interest in watching the movie or in the magazines Hutch had bought him. Hutch himself had passed most of the time sleeping or reading. He had even watched some of the inane movie, afraid that if he didn't keep himself distracted he would drive Starsky crazy with his anxious worry.

Sighing, Hutch checked his watch again, realizing he wasn't entirely sure how eager he was for the plane to land. On the one hand, it would be a relief for this seemingly endless flight to be over. On the other hand, what awaited Starsky in New York was sure to be an ordeal that would make the last 24 hours pale in comparison. Most of the arrangements were being held off until Starsky got there. While the relatives in New York felt it was respectful to leave the important decisions for Ruth's son to make, Hutch really didn't know how much of it his partner was going to be able to deal with. So far, the only decision he had shown any interest in making had been his insistence that they stay in a hotel in New York. He had no desire to stay at his mother's apartment and found the idea of bunking with relatives almost equally as unappealing. This was not a decision that went over big with the family. Relatives just didn't stay at hotels, especially during times of crisis. But it had been what Starsky wanted and Hutch made the reservations, silently hoping the family didn't give Starsky too much of a hard time about it when they got there. Hutch was glad that Captain Dobey and Huggy would be flying in tomorrow to be there for the funeral. Starsky was going to need all the support he could get.

The pilot's voice began to sound through the cabin as he smoothly announced that their flight would be landing at LaGuardia airport in New York on schedule in about forty minutes. As he began to relay the temperature in New York and remind the passengers of the time difference, Hutch felt a light touch on his thigh. He looked down to see Starsky's left hand shyly edging along his leg. He immediately covered the hand with his own and glanced over at Starsky. His pensive friend was still staring blankly out the window. Hutch stroked the back of his partners hand comfortingly with his thumb. As his finger brushed across the two rings that were such a familiar part of the left pinkie, he paused and looked down at them thoughtfully.

Memory flooded back. It seemed like a lifetime ago, a time when he was the one grieving and Starsky's support was the only thing holding him together. When his grandmother died, he felt he had lost the best part of himself. She was the only one in his whole screwed up family that mattered; the only one who ever made him feel like he mattered. As his relatives argued over her belongings and how to divide the estate, Hutch had only asked for two things: the slim gold wedding band that she wore proudly from the day his grandfather had slipped it on her finger, and the silver rope ring that had belonged to her mother, upon whose death the treasured ring had joined the gold one on her hand. Since neither had any huge financial worth, the family was more than willing to give them to Hutch with the agreement that he would forgo his claim to any other part of the estate.

Having rescued his grandmothers most prized possessions from the vultures, Hutch was at a loss as to what to do with them. Looking at them was extremely painful, as the memories of her overwhelmed him each time he did. But he was reluctant to put them away in a drawer somewhere, discarding them as if they had no meaning. Unable to decide what to do, he finally gave them to Starsky and asked him to hold them someplace safe. He watched in awe as his partner slipped the rings onto his pinkie stating simply "it's the safest place I know." The look in Starsky's eyes assured that he understood the value of the cherished mementos and that they would be well taken care of.

Hutch had been overwhelmed by the touching gesture. The difficulty he had had looking at them turned to comfort. The rings seemed to belong as naturally to his partner's hand as they had to his grandmother's. He realized then that the best part of him hadn't died as he'd feared. In fact, the two best sides of him were now connected in a symbolic bond. Only he and Starsky knew the significance behind the jewelry that had remained on his partners slender finger from that day forth. There had since been times when Starsky had questioned whether Hutch was ready to have the rings back, but he always declined. There was an underlying sense of comfort in knowing that those rings never left his partner's hand. It was as if no matter what happened to them or between them, their connection remained unbroken.

As he stared down at the familiar rings now, Hutch hoped that he could be the source of strength and comfort in the difficult days ahead that Starsky had always been for him.

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