Two nights later, the restless blond tossed in his sleep. Something was nagging at him, following him deep into his unconscious state and gnawing away, layer upon layer, until he completed the steady climb back to awareness. Even before he opened his eyes he felt that something was missing. He reached a hand out searchingly as his eyes came open to gaze across the empty bed.

As he sat up, he reached to turn on the light. The room was empty as well. No sign of Starsky. Hutch sighed as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He knew Starsky still wasn't sleeping well, but in past nights this week, he could be found sitting up awake in the bed beside Hutch or across the room in a chair, reading.

The clock beside the bed informed him it was 2:14 a.m. Silence hung like a curtain around the chalet, a stark contrast to the accustomed sounds a city dweller awakes to even in the deepest of night. It was a silence that offered no refuge, no distraction, from the thoughts that might otherwise remain half formed.

On the surface, things had been wonderful. They had fallen into the role of lovers as easily as they had that of friends and partners. At each level of their relationship, a synergy existed from inception: friends whose souls already knew each other upon introduction, partners who could wordlessly anticipate each other's thoughts and moves, and now lovers whose bodies responded so instinctively it was as if they had been created for each other.

It had only been a week and already the role of lovers felt as natural as breathing. Hutch couldn't imagine how he had survived without this in his life for so long. It was incomprehensible to think of ever surviving without it again.

But below the surface bliss, Hutch knew something was awry. He didn't doubt that Starsky loved him or that on one level he had never been happier or more content. But on another level, something coexisted with that happiness. Something dark and debilitating. He knew Starsky was trying to hide that from him, but there had been countless clues over the last seven days. The most recent had been earlier this evening. Starsky had made love to him in a driven frenzy, as though desperately trying to lose himself in the sensations...as though frantically needing to feel alive.

Hutch got up out of the bed and located a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt. He got into the pants and threw the shirt on without buttoning it, then proceeded toward the center of the house.

He became alarmed when he hadn't located Starsky in any of the other rooms. The remainder of the house had been dark except for the fire still burning in the living room. As Hutch stood in there now, he caught a glimpse of a shadow from the terrace. He moved toward it, trying to distinguish the shadow from the darkness of the night air, but it was only when he got beside the door that he could make out the huddled form of his partner. Starsky was sitting on a chair, wrapped in a heavy blanket, staring out into the darkness. As Hutch opened the door the frigid chill assaulted him, sending, shivers across his exposed chest. He couldn't believe that Starsky was sitting out here in what looked like no more than the blanket.

"It's a little cold to be sitting outside, don't you think?" Hutch didn't want to overwhelm his partner with his concern, so he tried to go easy.

Starsky turned and looked silently at him. He seemed to be trying to focus, as though he had been asleep with his eyes open. When recognition registered on his face, he spoke softly.

"Yeah, I guess so."

"Come inside, please." Hutch extended his arm outward. Starsky looked at it, then at Hutch. Slowly, he rose from the chair, his stilted movements indicating he had been sitting for a long time. Hutch draped his arm around the blanketed shoulder and led him back inside, drawing him towards the fireplace. Hutch threw some of the big pillows from the couch down on the floor in front of it, and they sat down before the fire. Only then did Starsky begin to shiver, as the contrast in temperatures affected his body. Hutch rubbed up and down Starsky's covered arms and back, noting that he had been correct about there being nothing underneath the blanket.

"Do you want me to get you something hot? Some soup or some tea, maybe?"

"No, I'm OK."

Hutch looked straight into his eyes and spoke frankly. "No, you're not."

Starsky sighed heavily, then cast his eyes downward as his shoulders slumped forward. "I'm sorry, Hutch. I'm trying."

"I know you are," Hutch reassured. "I just don't understand why you're still trying to hide stuff from me."

Starsky's head bounced up as he spoke vehemently. "Not to hurt you, Hutch. I swear. And not because I don't trust you, so don't think that, please."

Hutch caressed his back in a soothing manner. "I don't think that. I promise. I'm not trying to accuse you of anything or be critical. I just want to talk to you."

Some of the tension eased beneath his hand as Starsky sighed. "Hutch...these past days...this time here...this time with you...it's been the most incredible thing in my life. I'm so grateful to you. And I've been so happy with you; I really have. It's just...."

He stopped, seeming unable to complete the thought. But Hutch understood.

"It's just that it doesn't take everything else away."

Starsky nodded. He looked in Hutch's eyes again. "And I didn't want you to get the wrong idea. I didn't want you to think something was wrong because of you...like you had failed me or something...that all this wasn't good enough...like it was your fault somehow."

"I wouldn't have felt like that." Starsky's eyes questioned the validity of that, forcing Hutch to reconsider. "Well, I would have tried not to...yeah, maybe I would have a little."

Starsky smiled at the admission. Hutch found himself smiling too.

"We're quite a pair, huh?"

Hutch thought about a lot of things then...about his behavior and reactions these past months...about the conversations with Huggy and Dobey...even about the heated confrontation with Starsky over the book.

"You know, I think I've been so busy trying to help you 'get over it' that I haven't bothered to stop and just support you through it. A lot of that is my own shit. I've spent so much of my life feeling like I didn't measure up...like something was always lacking. And then you come along and for the first time I have someone in my life who places this unconditional trust in me...as though there's something in me that's worthy of that. I thought I was losing that these past months and I felt lost, like I didn't know who I was anymore."

Hutch paused, trying to get all these thoughts into focus so he could express them clearly. Starsky reached out and took his hand, squeezing it encouragingly. Hutch had never felt more accepted.

"A while back," he continued, "Huggy asked me who I was when I was simply Hutch...just a man who couldn't make everything right. I realize now, I didn't know who that man was because I was terrified of finding out. I think I still am in a lot of ways. I'm not sure what I'd be if you didn't need me."

Starsky gripped his hand tighter, speaking with conviction. "I've never not needed you. I don't think I ever could. You're so much a part of me. I love you. But I don't love you because you fix everything for me. I love you because you're there." A small smirk formed on his mouth then. "And being the amazing person that you are, more often than not, you do fix it. I've always envied that about you. That ability to jump right into a situation and instinctively know how to take care of it. When something happens to me, I know you'll be there to take care of me. I've never had that in my whole life. I've always taken care of myself. But I was always afraid of how dependent I was on it. I was afraid, because in the back of my mind, I knew I was going to lose it one day...."

His voice choked then. Hutch suppressed his instinct to jump in and reassure. Instead, he tried to give Starsky some encouragement and space to let things out.

"Is that why you've been pulling away from me these past months?"

"That's part of it," he continued in a vulnerable tone. "I think now that there was more, though. Hutch, you know me so well, there's such a connection there. You're like a mirror to my soul. If you see something, I have to see it because you reflect it back to me. And lately there's been a lot of stuff there that I just didn't want to see. By keeping it from you, I was able to hide from it better."

"And now?"

"And now I'm learning that I can't hide forever because it keeps finding ways to creep up on me. It's harder now to keep it out. Before, I was so afraid that my feelings for you would slip out, that I just closed everything down so tight, only traces could seep through. But now that what I feel for you has been set free, it's like all this other stuff is coming tumbling out with it. I can't keep things down. But I don't think I can handle all of it...it's like this rush of waves pounding down on me one after the other and I can't get my breath."

"Maybe instead of trying to hold all the waves back, we need to ride them out, one wave at a time." Hutch reached out to run his fingers gently through Starsky's hair. "Babe, you've been through so much. You almost died not so long ago. It took you months to recover from that. Then you had to go through Nicky's trial and his death. Then it was your mother's illness and her death. Death, especially of family members, has a way of dredging up all this unresolved stuff from your past...your childhood, your relationship with your family, your dad. Separately those are overwhelming things, but when you combine them...well there's bound to be a lot of feelings wrapped up in there. Even this thing with us...as wonderful as it is...it's still another change in your life, another transition. Starsky, the fact that you've been able to hold on at all through all of this is a testament to what a courageous, strong person you are."

"I don't feel very strong," Starsky replied in a heavy voice as he leaned his body back against the front of the couch. "I feel...I feel so out of control. I feel like I don't know me anymore. Sometimes I think I'm going crazy. Sometimes it's like...." He sighed in frustration, clenching his fist in a ball. "There's not always words...I can't get a handle on it. It's hard to talk about it because it doesn't always have words. There's just these images and feelings and impressions and panic...and all this fear. It's this dark, mysterious thing...it won't go away and I'm terrified to look at it. I know I'm not making any sense...."

"You're making perfect sense. Just say whatever you want to say. I'm right here. And even when I don't understand, I'll still be right here."

A choked sob caught in Starsky's throat. "I don't want to lose you, Hutch. I don't want you to think I'm crazy or get tired of me or get sick of having to put up with me. Jesus, Hutch, we've just found each other in this way and it should be wonderful and magical and I'm ruining it...I'm screwing it all up."

Hutch felt the tears well in his own eyes. He took Starsky's face in his hands and spoke with all the love in his heart. "It is wonderful and magical...and it's the greatest thing I've ever known in my life. There's nothing you could possibly do to screw it up. And I'd never get tired of you or get sick of you. Starsky, I love you. That was true before we ever kissed each other and it's only more true now. You are my soul and no matter what is going on with you, I'll love you anyway. Haven't these last few months at least proven that to you?"

"You never left me," Starsky said in a tear-filled, child-like voice. "No matter what...no matter how many times I pushed you away...hurt you...."

"I will never leave you, Starsk. And I'm not going to try to 'fix' you either because that would imply that there's something wrong with you and there's not. I want you to feel free to be whoever you are...to feel whatever you feel at any given moment and know that it's OK because it is. You don't have to be some ideal for me. Just be you...just do what you need to do and feel what you need to feel...and know that I'm right there beside you, loving you just the way you are."

Starsky came into Hutch's arms then, falling forward with a trust that believed he was going to be caught...and he was. Hutch pulled him onto his lap and held him securely as they both gave license to their tears.

When the first light of dawn shone in through the windows, they were still huddled together on the floor before the flickering fire. They were both exhausted from a night of talking, sharing and crying, but there was a sense of renewal as well. There was a renewal of hope and spirit. There was a confirmation of the healing power of love.

Starsky lay now, head cradled in Hutch's lap, looking up at him through red, swollen eyes. Hutch stroked his face tenderly, wanting never to move from this place and this moment.

"Do you need anything?" he asked, concerned for his partner's comfort.

"Just for you to stay right there like that. I just want to keep looking at you...keep looking at your face to make sure you're not going to disappear."

"I'll be right here," Hutch promised, and then he watched in contentment as Starsky drifted off to sleep.

~~~~~~~

A week later, Starsky stood out on the terrace, taking in one last look at the breathtaking view. He was going to miss this place. He would miss it for its peacefulness and its beauty. But he would miss it most of all, for the things it represented in his life.

As he walked back indoors, he reflected on his time here, particularly the past week. He knew he would be leaving here a different person from when he had come. So much had happened here.

After that night in front of the fire, Starsky knew that the only way to survive was going to be, as Hutch had said, to ride each wave one at a time. The steps he had begun to take were small ones, but they at least propelled him in a forward direction, which was a path he had not traveled for a long time.

There had been a lot of talking this week...and a lot of tears. There continued to be long, companionable walks with Hutch, but Starsky was also able to venture forth on his own at times. During these walks, as well as the time he spent quietly on the terrace, he was able to allow himself to recognize some of the things he had been pushing down inside himself. He could take one or two of them out for inspection without being overcome by the panic. Granted, it was only for short periods of time, but it was a start.

The things that had begun to surface had been painful and difficult. He knew as time went on, it would only get worse. But as hard as it was, things seemed much less intimidating and overwhelming when brought into the light than they had been when festering in the dark.

As he heard the front door opening, Starsky went to retrieve a small package from the oak table. Hutch came in, glancing down at the suitcases by the door.

"What's this? I told you I would help you pack when I got back."

"I figured, why wait? I wasn't doing anything else." When Hutch came over and kissed him lightly, he smiled. "Your nose is cold."

"So is yours. You've been out on that terrace again, haven't you? You're getting awfully comfortable out there. Jeez, now I'm going to have to build a fireplace and a terrace in my apartment when we get back."

Starsky laughed. "No, I don't think you'll have to do anything that drastic." He looked towards the terrace, a sense of melancholy coming over him. "I just wanted one last look. I'm going to miss it."

"Well then, we'll have to come back some time," Hutch said softly. Starsky's face brightened, understanding the ramifications of that.

"But what about your family?"

"You're my family," Hutch reassured, "and you like it here. This place is special to us. If that means having to deal with 'them' occasionally, then it's a small price to pay."

Starsky threw his arms around Hutch and hugged him tightly.

"Thanks, Hutch, that means so much to me."

After a few moments, Hutch motioned towards the package in Starsky's hand that was digging into his back.

"What is that?"

"What, this?" Starsky asked innocently, as he withdrew from Hutch and held up the package that was sloppily wrapped in note paper.

"Yes, that. What is it?"

"It's a present," Starsky said as he handed it to him. "It's for you. A little memento."

Hutch carefully unwrapped the gift in that annoying way he had of not tearing any of the paper except at the tape line.

"Oh, will you come on," Starsky said, impatiently. "It's note paper from the desk, not some fancy gift wrap. Just tear it."

"What, and ruin the suspense?" Hutch said, eyes showing how much he enjoyed driving Starsky crazy.

The look in his eyes changed when the paper had been carefully unfolded to reveal the contents. Starsky had taken some pine cones, twigs, stones and other souvenirs from around the grounds and constructed a rustic picture frame. In it was a photo he had taken of the chalet with the majestic view in the background. The picture depicted the way Starsky had first seen the place and the way he would always remember it in his mind.

Hutch just stared at the gift in silence, running his hands carefully upon it. Starsky began to chatter nervously. "I got some of my film developed yesterday when we went into town. I saw that picture and I thought...well I just thought it captured so much of the essence of the place. I wanted us to have a reminder...you know, something to take with us. I know the frame is kind of corny, but I guess I was just feeling a little creative, so I stuck some things together. We can get a real frame for the picture when we get home, if you want."

"Real frame," Hutch stuttered, struggling for words. His voice seemed to be caught in his throat. "Starsk, you made this...for me. It's beautiful. It's the most beautiful present I ever got."

Starsky was surprised to find Hutch's eyes were damp. He felt his own eyes grow damp at the sight.

"I guess you like it then?"

"I love it. I love you. Thank you." Hutch slid his hand along Starsky's neck and pulled him close for a kiss. It was a tender kiss filled with affection and devotion. When it ended, Starsky felt warm all over. He sighed, then looked around the room that he had come to feel so comfortable in.

"Well, I guess it's time to get going." Something inside him shuddered at the thought. Hutch caught the reaction and grasped his hand.

"Not just yet. Come here and sit down with me for a second." They moved towards the couch and sat down. Hutch gingerly re-wrapped the frame and laid it down on the coffee table. He turned to Starsky then and spoke softly. "I know this is hard for you...leaving I mean."

Starsky shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. Kinda dumb, huh?"

Hutch placed his hand under Starsky chin and lifted his face up. "No, it's not dumb. Just feel what you feel, remember?"

Starsky nodded, knowing Hutch was right. He took a deep breath and tried to assess what he was feeling...put some words to it.

"I guess it's just scary. To go back. To be in the world again and trying to cope. I mean the problems are with me here too, but at least it's peaceful and I have the space to take my time. Back in the real world everything gets so...overwhelming I guess."

"I know it's going to be hard," Hutch said with quiet understanding. "But I want you to remember something. When you walk out of here, you don't do it alone. I'm going to be right there beside you. And I know things are going to be far from perfect and that there are a lot of tough times ahead. But whatever happens, we'll face it together. Me and Thee, right?"

"Right," Starsky agreed as he squeezed Hutch's hand.

"Which reminds me," Hutch said as he reached into his pocket with his other hand. "I have a present for you, too."

Starsky felt a grin spreading out across his face. "Ah, the mysterious errand. So that's where you were."

"That's where I was," Hutch agreed as he handed Starsky a small box that was elegantly wrapped.

"Well, you sure outdid me in the wrapping paper department," Starsky laughed as he tore the fancy paper to shreds.

"Don't hold back now," Hutch teased. "Just jump right in."

Starsky looked at the tattered remains of the paper that he had sent flying everywhere. "Oh, did you want that paper? Sorry." But they both knew he was not. Excitedly, he opened the small black box and looked inside.

Starsky felt his heartbeat still as he realized what he was holding. For a moment, he couldn't move, couldn't bring his hand forth to touch it. He just sat staring at it, certain that any second it was going to disappear and this would all be a dream. Finally, he was able to bring his trembling right hand forward and pick up the shimmering, handsome gold band. His breathing seemed to stop along with his heartbeat as he read the inscription in the ring: Me and Thee...Always.

Starsky struggled for words. "Hutch...I...it's beautiful...I...I don't...it's a ring...."

He thought of something then and raised his left hand, indicating the two thin bands that glimmered on his pinkie right above the curve of the bandage. "But I already have...do you want these back?..."

"No!" Hutch stated forcefully as he took the hand in his. "Those belong right where they are. They are a symbol of our past...of the bond. That connection was never broken no matter what happened. This..." he pointed towards the ring that Starsky was holding in his now trembling right hand, "is a symbol of the future. It's a commitment to face that future together. And that bond will never be broken either."

Starsky's head was reeling. When his breathing and heart beat returned, they did so in a rush that nearly bowled him over. Emotions were flooding everywhere, and he couldn't get them under control. He tried to think of something to say...some way to express what this moment meant to him. Finally, he just threw his arms around Hutch and hugged him fiercely as the moisture from his eyes dampened Hutch's jacket. "Oh God, Hutch...."

Hutch held him quietly, stroking his face and hair as he cried. The ring was clenched inside his right fist. Eventually, he was able to unfold his fingers and look at it again. It was simple and elegant and classy...just like Hutch...and, next to him, it was the most perfect thing in the world. Hutch was saying something then and he had to focus to listen.

"I mean you don't have to wear it or anything. You could just keep it with you and know it's there. Or wear it in the house...you know, whatever you feel comfortable with."

Through his delirious fog, Starsky realized what his partner was saying. He sat up then, taking Hutch's hand in his and placing the ring in it. Then he held up his own hand and pointed his left ring finger towards the band.

"I know where I want to wear it. Right there. Will you put it on for me?"

It was Hutch's turn to be choked by emotion. He sat looking at Starsky, visibly moved, as the hand with the ring began to tremble.

"Are you sure? There's going to be a lot of complications we'll have to face with that."

The importance of what he had to say helped Starsky recover enough to speak lucidly. "Hutch, if there's one thing I've learned throughout this whole ordeal, it's how unpredictable life is. Nothing is safe. It can all be gone tomorrow and there's not a damn thing you can do about it." Starsky paused to take in a deep breath, trying to keep the emotion from choking him. "What we have, Hutch...it's a gift. And I'm not going to waste a single second of it being worried about what anyone else says or thinks. There's not enough time in this life to waste it like that. I've waited an eternity to love you, Hutch. Now that I can, no one and nothing will ever make me back down from it again. And whatever 'complications' stem from that...well, so be it. Hell, I've faced worse."

Starsky reached up to wipe the tears from Hutch's cheek.

"I feel exactly the same way," Hutch said in hoarse voice. "I wanted...I was going to buy matching rings, but I wasn't sure how you would feel about it."

"Oh, no. I get to pick yours out. And you get to take an hour unfolding all the fancy paper." They laughed through their tears.

"OK, deal."

Hutch looked down then and slid the gold band onto Starsky's finger. His finger was a little swollen, but the ring was able to fit. Starsky didn't have much sensation there but he decided that was for the best. Any more sensations flooding him right now and he surely would pass out.

"I love you, Hutch."

"I love you too, babe." They sat silently then, both gazing down at their joined hands to the gold band on Starsky's finger. They had survived the past and were committed to the future...but for this brief respite they wanted only to concentrate on the present, on this extraordinary moment that they would never forget.

By the time they heard Jenkins' knock on the door, they felt ready to go. Hutch kissed Starsky fully before getting up to open the door.

"How are you, Mr. Jenkins?"

"I'm fine. I hope you both enjoyed your stay."

"Couldn't have been better."

"Glad to hear it. I hope that means we'll be seeing more of you around here."

"You can count on it," Hutch said as he smiled at Starsky.

"Why don't I take these bags down for you and then I'll come back and lock the place up."

"That would be great. Thanks a lot."

When Jenkins had left with the luggage, Hutch moved back to collect his picture frame from the table. Then he reached out to Starsky and clasped his hand in his.

"Ready?" he asked, eyes full of love and support.

"For anything," Starsky replied, heart full.

"Anything, huh?" Hutch mused as they walked towards the door. "Well then, what do you say we go hit the racquetball court tomorrow?"

"Oh, no. No way. I'm injured, remember." Starsky held up his bandaged hand with the shiny gold band.

"Well, I was thinking about that. I think you should learn how to play right-handed. I mean you can't do any worse than you did lefty. Besides, like I've told you before, the world was designed for right-handed people. Maybe you should take this opportunity to develop the muscles in your right hand. It might open up a whole new world for you."

"No thanks," Starsky laughed as they headed out the door. "I'm happy with the world I got."

~~~~~~~

I will remember you;
Will you remember me;
Don't let your life pass you by;
Weep not for the memories.

I'm so tired but I can't sleep;
Standing on the edge of something much too deep;
It's funny how we feel so much but cannot say a word;
We are screaming in sorrow but we can't be heard.

So afraid to love you;
More afraid to lose;
Clinging to a past that doesn't let me choose;
Once there was a darkness;
A deep and endless night;
You gave me everything you had;
Oh you gave me light.

"I Will Remember You"
lyrics by Sarah McLachlan

Chapter End Notes:

Author's Note: Dedicated to Kelly and Rosemary. Without your unending support, patience, encouragement, and love, I would have never gotten through this. Thank you.

 

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