They were on the last leg of their drive toward Squaw Valley in Northern California, as the sun was getting ready to set. The view from the mountain road was spectacular. Starsky had been quiet for the past half hour, staring out the window at the serene valley and snow-covered mountains. Hutch smiled at the enthralled look on his face, relieved that this idea had been a good one. Starsky needed this.

Of course, trying to convince him of that had not been so easy. He had hounded Hutch like a spoiled child for the remainder of the day yesterday, trying to get him to divulge where they were going. He even threatened not to come if Hutch didn't spill the secret. While he enjoyed the familiar bantering with his stubborn partner, Hutch detected that underneath it all lay a very real anxiety about making any kind of trip. This was the first time Starsky had gone anywhere since New York and his emotional state was still precarious. Starsky's inclination right now was toward locking himself behind the doors of his apartment and keeping the world at bay. In the end, it was only Hutch's heartfelt entreaty to come that encouraged Starsky past his reluctance.

"You know when you said cold, I didn't think you meant this. I didn't pack for snow."

"It's OK," Hutch smiled. "I packed a few extra things for you when you weren't looking...you know, boots, long johns, mittens, ski pants."

"Ski pants? I don't have any ski pants."

"So I brought extra."

"Aren't you the boy scout."

"You gotta be prepared."

"Well I hope you're prepared for the fact that I don't ski. Besides, I'm injured remember?" He held up the bandaged hand.

"Which is the only thing saving you from ski lessons, believe me. The pants are to keep you warm in the snow. Unless, of course, you'd like to try some one-handed skiing...you know, only one pole."

"Pass."

Hutch laughed softly as he saw the small smile touch Starsky's lips. Then his partner went back to his study of the sights. Hutch looked down at the hand that lay across his thigh. They had gone to have the stitches removed yesterday so that they would be free to leave for the trip this morning. Hutch was relieved to hear that things were healing well. Starsky might need a little physical therapy, but other than that, full function was expected to return to the hand.

It was mind-boggling to think that that nightmarish scene had played out only a week ago. So much had happened since then, good and bad. The best, of course, was the unexpected turn his relationship with Starsky had taken. That was pretty mind-boggling in itself.

Acknowledging his love for Starsky had probably been the easiest thing Hutch had ever done. The cynical side of himself kept telling him that it couldn't be that easy...that there must be something here that he was missing. How could he go so easily from friendship to love in one night?

Probably because the love was always there all along. It was just never recognized as such.

Looking back now, Hutch could see hundreds of signs over the years that should have told him he was in love with his partner. But for some reason that would probably take years of therapy to figure out, Hutch had a proclivity towards doomed relationships. It was almost as though he sought out ways to make himself unhappy...like he didn't feel he deserved happiness.

Now there's some psychiatric mumbo jumbo, huh? Maybe Starsky's right. Maybe I do read too many 'fancy' books.

Whatever the reason, Hutch had been through his share of hardship and heartbreak. And through it all, the one constant had always been Starsky. His partner's love was the only pure love he had ever known in his life with the possible exception of his Grandmother. He recognized a long time ago that without Starsky, he wasn't whole. That's what made these past few months so difficult. Hutch had been losing the only thing in his life that mattered and he was helpless to stop it...and clueless as to why it was happening.

This trip had been a long one, nearing the eight-hour mark now. But it had been time well spent. They had talked a lot during the drive...talked more than they had in a long time. Starsky revealed some of what it had been like...how he had hidden his feelings from Hutch and lived in fear of losing him. Hutch was astonished at the way his partner had silently coped with this burden for so long. Hutch couldn't think of a time when he was going through something monumental, that his first instinct wasn't to share it with Starsky.

I wish you would have told me sooner, babe.

Maybe if he had known Starsky's feelings years ago, he would have recognized his own sooner...and perhaps that would have saved them both a lot of pain.

No sense thinking about that though. The important thing was that their feelings were all out in the open now. As he glanced in the review mirror, Hutch felt as though he were seeing himself for the first time. He thought about the way Starsky had looked at him Saturday night. Impossible as it was to believe, he was the person who made those eyes shine like that. No one had ever looked at him in that way before...not even Starsky. Somehow, he had managed to mask that look of pure, unadulterated love until that glorious Saturday...and then it came bursting through like a nova, nearly obliterating Hutch with its intensity.

Hutch glanced over at his partner, hoping that somehow he could be the person he saw shining back at him in Starsky's eyes. In the last forty-eight hours he had discovered the love of his life in the face that had always been right there in front of him. He fully intended to do everything he could to hold on to it and to be worthy of it.

"I wish I brought my camera," Starsky was saying as his eyes combed the surroundings.

"You did." Starsky turned to him with a surprised smile. Hutch felt himself blush. "Hey, what can I tell you? It's the Boy Scout thing again."

"Thanks, Hutch."

Starsky slipped his hand into Hutch's and squeezed. Hutch squeezed back. As he made the turn onto the last stretch of road before their destination, he prayed that Starsky would like it here. It had been over ten years since he'd been here, but it was still the most beautiful, peaceful place Hutch could think of. After all he had been through, Starsky needed a place like this where he could unwind and relax for a change.

"Holy shit," Starsky exclaimed as they pulled up in front of the chalet. "Where are we? What is this place?"

"It's a family vacation home."

"Whose family, the Queen of England?"

Hutch smiled, forgetting how impressive this place looked when you had never seen it before. Even when you had seen it, it was still impressive. Hutch brought the car to a stop before shifting uncomfortably in his seat. He had no idea how Starsky was going to take this next piece of news.

"Actually, the Hutchinson family."

"What?" Starsky was looking at him as though he had grown another head.

"It belongs to my family," Hutch said awkwardly. He waited then, as his partner stared at the property in wide-eyed fascination. The chalet was situated on a raised foundation, overlooking the lake on one side and the mountains on the other. The land around it was expansive and lush. The house itself was made of fine wood, with large glass windows and a terrace overhanging the view. It spoke of elegance and class, two things the Hutchinson family demanded in any property they bought.

Hutch began to squirm uncomfortably, wondering now if this had been a good idea. He didn't want Starsky to think he was trying to impress him or show off. And he certainly didn't want to be lumped in the same category as the pretentious family that owned this house and several others like it.

A shrill whistle broke the silence. Starsky was nodding as he whistled. Then he glanced at Hutch, giving him the once over as though he were a stranger. But there was a playfulness in his eyes that began to put Hutch at ease.

"Well, it's like my Aunt Vivian always used to tell my cousin Myrna...'It's just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as it is with a poor man.' I guess she was right." He smiled broadly at Hutch, totally amused. "Jeez, Hutch, if I'd had any idea you were this loaded, I would have propositioned you years ago." Starsky was laughing then, a hearty laugh that was music to Hutch's soul.

"Yeah, but then I would've known you were only after me for my money instead of my body."

"Now I got both," Starsky said as he raised his eyebrows up and down in a leering gesture.

"Well, I hate to disappoint you, but you're going to have to settle for the body. I don't make it a practice to dip into the family funds...or use the real estate for that matter."

"So why now?" Starsky asked, voice sobering.

Hutch shrugged. "I just thought you'd like it here...thought it would be good for you."

"But not so easy for you, I'll bet." Starsky eyes seemed to be peering straight inside him.

Though technically part of this house belonged to him and he had the right to use it whenever he wanted, he never did. The last time he was here had been a family celebration and he had only come because his grandmother had been here. He made it a practice to disassociate himself from the family holdings as much as possible. Having to call his father this morning to tell him he would be using the house was uncomfortable, but he decided the reward would make putting up with the excruciating conversation tolerable. What was the use of having things if you couldn't share them with the people you loved?

"It's no big deal," he told his partner, though Starsky's eyes told him he understood just how very big a deal it was. "I just hope you like it here."

"I already do," Starsky said quietly. "You're here."

A car pulled up beside them then and out stepped a gray-haired man of about 50 years of age.

"Who's that?" Starsky asked.

"That's Mr. Jenkins, the caretaker. He looks after the place when nobody's using it. I called him yesterday to tell him we were coming so he could set things up. He's probably dropping by the keys."

Hutch stepped out of the car and walked toward Mr. Jenkins, extending his hand.

"Hello, Mr. Jenkins, how are you?"

"Fine, Mr. Hutchinson. Good to see you. Haven't seen you up in these parts for years."

"Well, I've been busy." Hutch motioned to Starsky who had just gotten out of the car. "Mr. Jenkins, I'd like you to meet my partner, Dave Starsky."

"Good to meet you," Starsky said, shaking his hand.

"Nice to meet you, too. First time up this way?"

"Sure is."

"Well I'm sure you're going to enjoy your stay. It's beautiful country up here."

"I can see that," Starsky agreed.

They went up to the house then. When they entered, Starsky got the same slack-jawed expression he had when they pulled up. As Jenkins filled Hutch in on provisions and other information, Starsky wandered around gaping. Every few minutes he would return to the living room to inform Hutch of something else.

"Did you know there's a fireplace in every room?"

"Did you know there's a Jacuzzi in the bathroom?"

"Have you seen that view?"

"That refrigerator's stocked with food."

"That television is enormous."

Hutch merely smiled, enjoying his partner's enthusiasm. He stood with Jenkins now in the large living room area.

"The place looks wonderful, Mr. Jenkins. Thank you for getting it ready on such short notice."

"My pleasure. Good to have you here. The chalet doesn't get used nearly enough. Although from the looks of your friend there, maybe you'll be coming around more often now."

Hutch laughed as he looked at Starsky inspecting the stone fireplace.

"You never know."

"I've stocked the wood for all the fireplaces. I think I'll go take a look around the grounds now and make sure everything is in order. Then I'll bring your bags on up for you."

"Thank you," Hutch said as he handed him the car keys. "I appreciate that."

"Happy to be of service. I'll be back in a little bit. I want to check the door springs on that shed while I'm out there."

"Take your time," Hutch said as Jenkins went out the door. When it had closed, Starsky let out another of his long whistles.

"Whoa, Hutch, very impressive. And here I thought you only went for broken down shacks in the woods. I'm glad we took my car though. It would look pretty seedy to have your hunk of junk parked outside bringing down the property values. What would the neighbors say?"

"The nearest neighbors are over a mile away, smart guy." Hutch looked at Starsky then, grateful for the first time in his life for what his family ties had given him. Hell, to see that look on Starsky's face, he would be willing to move back in with his father.

"I really appreciate this, Hutch," Starsky said sincerely, his eyes shining at Hutch with love.

"I'm glad you like it." Hutch moved towards the hearth then. "I think I should see about getting this fire going." He stood in front of the fireplace now, looking down at the supply of logs stacked beside it. He felt Starsky come up behind him, pressing into his back while arms snaked around to his chest.

"I bet I know how to light your fire," the hoarse voice whispered in his ear.

"I'll bet you do." Their close proximity had already sent a spark through him. Starsky's hand moved down from his chest and began to rub across his groin.

"Starsk!"

"Hmmm?" The rubbing became more intent as his neck was kissed and nibbled.

"Babe, Jenkins is going to be back here in a few minutes," Hutch protested, even as his traitorous cock began to stir.

"Well then," Starsky murmured between bites, "I'll just have to light your fire real fast, huh?"

Starsky slid his hand into the waist band of Hutch's pants and down to the turgid flesh growing in there. Without the barrier between them, he began to coax a more immediate response.

"Starsky I..." Starsky used his left forearm to turn Hutch's face to his so he could silence him with a kiss. Hutch wasn't sure which was more persuasive, the mouth that was devouring him or the hand that was wreaking havoc inside his pants. All he did know for sure was that his body was reacting rapidly.

When his cock had hardened to full tumescence under his partner's touch, Starsky pulled his hand out of the pants and spun Hutch around to face him. He kissed him again then as his hand worked the fly open.

He's getting awfully good at maneuvering with one hand, Hutch thought, apprehensive about how dangerous his partner was going to be with two fully working appendages. One handed, he had already drawn Hutch's pants down his legs and had appropriated his cock in a relentless grip.

Despite his reservations, Hutch found himself pumping into that grip. How his partner had managed to get him so horny so fast was beyond him. All he knew now was that his penis was thick and aching with need and his body was shivering from something other than cold.

Starsky's mouth left his then and traveled downward. Before Hutch realized what was happening, a heated tongue was lapping at his balls. Hutch rocked forward at the sensation, as he gripped the mantle of the fireplace behind him for balance. He felt his legs being pushed apart as his partner's curls brushed against his thighs. He looked down bleary-eyed to see his partner kneeling on the floor in front of him, eyeing him intently.

"Wait...Starsk...no, don't...ohhhhhhhhh!"

Liquid heat enveloped his shaft as Hutch's head flew back to gasp for air. Teasing fingers manipulated his heavy sacs as Starsky began to suck in earnest. Moist suction surrounded him, pulling him deeper into the torturous mouth.

Licking...stroking...fondling...squeezing...it was maddening. Hutch could hear the pounding of his heart echo throughout the room.

That's not your heart, that's the door!

"Mr. Hutchinson, it's me, Jenkins."

Shit!

"Starsky...stop...the door...."

Starsky's rhythm didn't even falter.

"Mr. Hutchinson, you in there?"

"J'...ust..." Hutch cleared his throat and tried to call out again. "Just a second."

Hutch tried to pull back, but Starsky snagged his hip and pulled him closer instead.

"Starsk..." Hutch protested even as his cock grew harder under the deluge.

"I ain't finished," Starsky mumbled around his shaft.

"Oh, Jesus..."

"Mr. Hutchinson, you want me to use the key?"

"No!"

Hutch heard the distinct sound of a snicker coming from between his legs. He fought to steady his voice despite the increasing pressure in his balls.

"I'll be right there, Mr. Jenkins. Just hold on a minnnn...ohhhh...minute."

Hutch reached a shaky hand towards Starsky's face, trying to urge it up. Only the eyes responded, peering up at Hutch wickedly. He then swallowed Hutch's cock back deep in his throat while his hand returned to tantalize his balls.

Hutch moaned loud as white light burst in front of his eyes. From someplace distant he heard a voice calling to him to ask if he was all right, but that voice existed in a different world from where he was right now. At that moment he didn't care if the entire state was outside the door. All that mattered was the man in front of him and the ecstasy he was caught up in.

Hutch felt the orgasm build from its inception in his scrotum to its culmination in his thrusting cock, which blasted jet after jet of molten liquid down his partner's gulping throat. It was a fiery journey that left him wasted.

As he stood on wobbly legs, Starsky cleaned off his cock with his tongue and then pulled his pants back up, fastening them securely. He wrapped his arms around Hutch, who sagged into them, sighing. Soft kisses played over the sides of his ear and cheek. Then Starsky pulled back, propping Hutch back upright.

"Hutch."

"Hmmm?"

"Answer the door."

"Huh?...What...oh shit...."

Hutch straightened himself and moved quickly to the door, his face so heated he must have looked as if he'd gotten a sunburn. As he opened it, he tried to steady his hands.

"I uh...I'm sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Jenkins."

"Is everything all right in here?"

"Uh...yeah...I uhhh...we uhhh...."

"I had to change the dressing on my hand," Starsky offered coolly. "Hutch was helping me."

"Oh, I see. I was just a little concerned because I thought I heard some kind of moaning sounds...like someone was in pain."

Hutch didn't think it was possible to blush any harder, but he was wrong.

Oh, no, Mr. Jenkins. No one was in pain. I was just coming hard into his mouth.

"The tape got caught in my wound. I guess the sound you heard was me. I'm a bit of a baby when it comes to pain."

How was it that Starsky could stand there acting so nonchalant? He certainly didn't look like a man who just had a cock buried down his throat. Hutch, on the other hand, was certain his face was giving away everything.

"Well, I hope your hand is feeling better now."

"Oh, much better. I feel terrific. How about you, Hutch? How're you feeling?"

Hutch shot him an angry glare. "Fine," he muttered through clenched teeth. "Just fine."

"I brought your luggage up. Where would you like me to put it?"

"It...ummm...over there...over by the sofa there will be fine."

As Jenkins carried the bags across the room, Starsky gestured to Hutch, pointing down at his crotch and making a brushing motion with his hand. Mortified, Hutch looked down at himself, certain there was some tell-tale stain on his clothing. When he saw nothing, he looked up at Starsky who was grinning from ear to ear in a 'made you look' manner. Hutch made a gesture of his own then, which only caused Starsky to laugh out loud. When Jenkins looked up at him to see what was so funny, Starsky shrugged.

"I was just thinking of a funny story I heard yesterday. It was about this guy who went on vacation with his friend to this ski resort and...."

"I'm sure Mr. Jenkins wants to get home to his family, Starsk. Maybe another time."

"Sure, no problem. It was pretty funny though."

"Your sense of humor is not exactly universal."

Jenkins looked at both of them in puzzlement as he walked back towards the door.

"Do you gentlemen need anything else this evening?"

"No, thank you, we're fine."

"There's a full supply of food in the kitchen if you're hungry."

"I'm pretty full myself," Starsky grinned. Hutch seethed. But he held himself together enough to finish speaking to Jenkins.

"I appreciate all your help, Mr. Jenkins. Thank you again."

"Anytime. Just call me if you need something."

"I will. Have a good evening."

The door had barely closed behind Jenkins when Hutch took off after Starsky.

"I'm going to drown you in that damn Jacuzzi when I get my hands on you!"

~~~~~~~

As they entered the chalet, Starsky shook the flakes from his hair. A light snow had begun to fall, making the view from the bay window look like a postcard of a winter wonderland.

"It's so beautiful out there," Starsky said as his eyes were drawn to the sights beyond the window. "Let's go back out. I want to get a few more shots." He hauled the camera strap up on his shoulder and started for the door. Hutch's hand fell across his arm in a gesture of restraint.

"I think it's better if we stay inside for a while. At least until you stop shivering."

The cold had seeped through to his bones and, for the better part of the last hour, he hadn't been able to control the shivers that infused him.

"I'm OK," he said automatically, willing to continue to ignore the discomfort.

"Babe, your lips are purple, and your cheeks and nose are bright red. Why don't we just stay inside for a while, at least until you get a chance to warm up?"

It was this same concern that had brought them indoors in the first place. Starsky felt guilty, knowing that Hutch had been having a great time on the ski slope. His partner seemed to be in his element here and Starsky enjoyed watching him.

"Come on, Hutch. There's still time for a couple more passes down that suicide mountain before sunset."

"First of all, it's not a suicide mountain."

"Looked like it from where I was standing. And those skiers in the lodge were talking about it like it was the most treacherous trail they'd ever seen." Hutch was a hell of a skier. Granted Starsky couldn't see all of the slopes from his vantage point, but what he did view, along with what he heard, impressed him a great deal.

"It'll be there tomorrow. Now take off your coat and your boots while I go get a fire started."

Hutch moved towards the fireplace, signifying the discussion was finished. Teeth beginning to chatter, Starsky let the issue drop. Even here, inside the warm room, he couldn't seem to steady the chills that gripped him.

He sat down on the chair near the door, pulling off the big mittens. He hadn't worn mittens since he was a kid, but with the bandages on his hand making gloves impossible, he had no choice. He took a moment to blow on his fingers, which had been red and cold below the wool. Then he pulled off the boots and the rest of his outer wear as he watched Hutch build the fire.

Even after four days, Starsky couldn't get over this place. It wasn't so much that he was surprised to find the Hutchinson's had the kind of money that could buy a place like this...several places like this actually. He knew they were a very wealthy family, but he also knew how much his partner worked to distance himself from that wealth. Hutch never had much interest in money or things he didn't get for himself, and he was particularly averse to anything attained by the family he had such little respect for. There were all kinds of legal mumbo jumbo that said Hutch was entitled to a good deal of his family's assets, but his partner never took advantage of it. Starsky imagined there were countless savings accounts and trust funds sitting somewhere untouched even during the months when Hutch was scraping around to come up with rent money.

All of this made the fact that Hutch had brought him here very significant. Hutch was intent on giving Starsky this idyllic respite even if it meant associating himself with the Hutchinson holdings. Starsky had been so moved by the gesture that he couldn't even find words to express it. He was determined not to do anything to mess it up. He wanted this to be the most wonderful vacation Hutch had ever had. Starsky just needed to keep focusing on that.

Not that Starsky wasn't enjoying it here. It was the most beautiful place he had ever seen. The days had been filled with long scenic walks, animated picture-taking sessions, sight-seeing drives, much needed naps and a few trips to the ski slopes to watch Hutch in action. At night there were intimate dinners, stargazing from the terrace and two visits to a local club that played wonderful music. And, of course, there was the love making, unbelievable passionate sessions which lasted deep into the night.

With all that to fill his time, it seemed impossible for anything adverse to slip in. Yet somehow it did.

With his outer clothing now removed, Starsky's shivers increased. He moved over onto the couch to get closer to the fire that Hutch had just kindled.

"There we go," Hutch said as he stood up. "I think I'm going to need to get a fireplace for my apartment. I'm going to miss doing that when we get home." He turned to Starsky as he unzipped his jacket. The expression on his face went from relaxed to concerned. "Starsk, you're freezing!"

Hutch picked up the giant comforter that lay upon the cedar chest and brought it to the couch. He wrapped it around his partner's back and shoulders then drew it closed in front. Starsky latched onto the blanket, pulling it closer to himself.

"I knew I should've made you come in sooner," Hutch admonished himself. "As soon as I saw you shuddering like that."

"Hutch, relax. It's just the chills. I'm usually a warm climate dweller, remember? It'll pass."

Hutch placed his hand upon Starsky's forehead. "Maybe you're getting sick."

"Hutch...."

"No fever. Still, that doesn't mean you're not coming down with something."

"Hutch, will ya stop hovering. I'm fine. We're on a snowy mountain and I'm cold. That's not a real big deal."

Hutch looked at him closely for a minute, then finally sighed and stepped back. "You're right. I'm hovering. I'm sorry. I'll back off."

Starsky knew how much that took and he was grateful.

"Thanks."

"Hey, I know. Why don't I go make us some hot chocolate? That should take the chill out." He started towards the kitchen then stopped and turned back uncertainly. "Or is that hovering too?"

Starsky smiled, so much in love with this man. "Nah. Hot chocolate sounds great."

"OK. Be right back."

As Starsky watched Hutch go into the kitchen, he pulled his legs up onto the couch and snuggled into the cushions, pulling the blanket tighter in an effort to get warm. He stared into the flames of the fireplace, watching the way they danced and glowed. The feeling came over him then...the one that snuck up without warning. His stomach twisted, his throat constricted, his pulse raced. Tears began to well in his eyes. Something black and cold was there just below the surface of his consciousness. He could feel it lurking in the shadows of his mind, but he pushed it down as quickly as it came, refusing to look too deeply.

He took a few deep breaths as he fought the feeling off. It had been coming more and more lately and usually struck during the quiet times...the times when his mind was not occupied or engaged in anything. It came during the late-night hours after Hutch had gone to sleep. It came during a shower. It came in the car when he was driving. It came in the morning when he first woke up.

It was hard to describe exactly what it was because it didn't have solid form to put words to. It was more like an image...a sensation. It was as though everything inside him was rushing at him at once and he couldn't stop it. And he couldn't look at it either...couldn't stop to view it or interpret it because it felt too powerful and it would surely decimate him if he got in its path. He didn't want to look. If just the briefest awareness brought this kind of reaction, what would happen if it were allowed to fully unfold?

Starsky had become good at pushing it down. It was a reflex that kicked in the moment the danger loomed. But he was worried about the increase in frequency. He was even more worried that it was no longer confining itself to just the quiet times. He found this sense of despair lurking beneath everything he did; beneath his lighthearted conversations...beneath his laughter...beneath his passion. His outer veneer belied his inner turmoil. He felt as though he were two different people at times, able to truly enjoy a moment while simultaneously feeling the oppressive weight pulling him down.

"Here you go," Hutch said, entering the room with two mugs in his hands. "Heavy on the chocolate...heavy on the marshmallows. Just the way you like it." Hutch set the cups down on the coffee table and then sat down beside him on the couch.

Starsky shifted, burrowing into Hutch in a curled ball. Hutch's arms immediately came around him.

"Hey, you OK?"

"Yeah," Starsky mumbled as he squeezed his eyes tightly closed. "Just cold."

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