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If It Is You, Then This Is Forever

Type: Slash
Summary: An awful beginning ends with a happy ending.
Notes: I want to dedicate this story to Cindy R for her unknowing inspiration. Thank you, Cindy!

Starsky shut the door of his apartment behind him and collapsed against it, throwing his head back and resting it on the hard wood with a small sob.  He closed his eyes and let the tears roll down his face.  He had been holding them back brutally all the way home from Venice.  Now that he was safe within the confines of his lair, he could release the storm of emotions he had been riding for so long.

Today, at long last, his conflict had been resolved.  For the worse, but it had been resolved.  Now, he could face the rest of his life without feeling like he was existing on perpetual limbo, strung out from a love that could never be returned.  He had been living in an impasse since he had consciously acknowledged his deepening feelings for his partner, and in a permanent state of terror that had almost cost him his friendship with Hutch because of his instinctive withdrawal from their relationship.  Next, Gunther had happened and for the first time in months, he was capable of putting his obsession aside in the face of sheer survival.  He had clung to Hutch as his anchor, his savior, his only chance of surviving the only thing that scared him more than Hutch finding out: leaving his partner alone.

Painstaking months of recovery and rehabilitation had followed.  He survived the hardest time of his life thanks to Hutch.  Still, the spiritual scars had been the worst to overcome, for both of them.  But they had leaned on each other there too, as they had always done, and they conquered those fears.  They had supported each other, relied on each other and cried on the other's shoulder when one of them thought he couldn't go on anymore.  And they made it.  Together, as it only could be.

All the walls had tumbled down inside Starsky.  All but one.  Even in his weakest moments, both physical and emotional, Starsky had remained strong enough to hide his most sacred truth from Hutch's knowledge.

Until tonight.

Why?  What had made him give himself away tonight?  The full moon?  The tides?  The Friday, 13th syndrome?  Just too tired of holding back?

Everything was perfect today, as it had been for months.  They ended up at Hutch's apartment after busting a whole string of particularly nasty bank robbers, who had the annoying ability to disappear long before any cop even entered the district.  For two months they worked hard at nailing them, and today, they had gotten lucky.  After a pretty dangerous chase, the robbers were arrested, and not one cop had been wounded in the final wild shooting.

Dobey was so pleased with the turn of events that he gave all the officers involved in the operation the weekend off.  Never looking a gift-horse in the mouth, everybody left Dobey's office and the precinct in the wink of an eye, just in case.

They bought a couple pizzas and a pack of beers on their way to Hutch's place and they shared the funniest meal.  Both were giddy with joy and soon enough, a little tipsy as well.  They ended up on the floor of the living-room, giggling and shoving each other like two kids.  Soft music coming from the stereo gave the friendly atmosphere around them the perfect touch for a playful evening.  Hutch began feeding Starsky his slice of pizza and wiping his mouth with his own fingers.  He spluttered all over his friend when Starsky asked him for a bib. 

The sweetest tingle started in the pit of Starsky's stomach as the devastating contact increased.  Hutch's giggles were driving him crazy, and the lights reflecting off his hair and his eyes made him shine like an ethereal thing.  For the first time in months, years even, Hutch looked completely at peace with himself and everything around him.  Reaching out, Starsky ran his thumbpad all over his partner's upper lip.  He had loved to touch it when there was hair there, but the recent smoothness was just as alluring.  When Hutch threw his head back and laughed his heart out at Starsky's bib joke, the dark-haired man's breath caught in his throat at the unearthly beauty he was contemplating.  An overwhelming heartache brought tears to his eyes and suddenly detached from himself, Starsky saw his hand moving oh-so-slowly and holding the side of Hutch's face.  His thumb roamed the silky cheek and his fingers buried themselves in the velvety mane of shimmering blond hair, that almost reached Hutch's shoulders.  Starsky had no idea why his partner chose to keep it so long, but he thanked God now that he had.  After getting to a certain length, Hutch's hair turned wavy!  He had never seen anything so beautiful in his entire life.

Starsky was so taken with the heavenly sight that he forgot about the feelings he was revealing through his eyes and touch.  He felt all soft and mellow inside.  His long pent-up love was pouring out of every pore.  He caressed his beloved for a while, until Hutch finally noticed something strange in the way he was being caressed, and looked at his partner.  What he saw in Starsky's eyes made him give a start.

"Starsk?" he asked in total confusion, his eyes opened wide.

The remaining wall crumbled within Starsky's heart and mind.  Exploding with love and tenderness, Starsky brought the blond head closer.  "My baby blue angel.  My beautiful love," he whispered onto the warm mouth, his skin filling with goosebumps at the sound of his own voice.  It sounded foreign to his ears; thick and husky.  He had never spoken this way before.  He had never loved this way before.  His heart hammered in his ribcage, set free of its final inhibition.

One heartbeat later, Starsky's soul soared at the first brush of his lips across the fragrant velvet of Hutch's mouth.  Opening his lips, he pressed gently, enveloping the sensual mouth with his own.  Stars flashed behind his closed eyelids.  His blood sang in his veins.  He'd have cried out with joy if his lips hadn't been so blissfully busy.

For a second, it seemed as if Hutch had attempted to return his kiss and Starsky whimpered in ecstasy.  He was experiencing a tornado of emotions that were wreaking havoc inside him in the most sublime way.  He could die happy now, for he had known perfection.  He clamped his lips around Hutch's, never wanting to let go.  Every spark of life he had, was humming 'I love you, Hutch,' with the clean and innocent laughter of a baby.

He lost all track of time, until an unexpected shove threw him out of paradise and condemned him to the flames of living hell.

Starsky opened his eyes to the sight of a deathly pale Hutch, who, gasping and swallowing convulsively, moaned:

"No, no...   please, not you!  Please, don't!  Not you!  No...  Oh, God, no..."

The torment and anguish in the terrified voice felt as if Hutch's worst nightmare had come alive.  And Starsky died inside when it dawned on him he had realized Hutch's worst nightmare.  The horror and shock almost killed him on the spot.  He felt as if he had just stabbed Hutch through his heart.  The untold terror and betrayal in the swimming eyes couldn't be described in words.  And Starsky understood he had destroyed their relationship.  With that one careless action, he had killed the most perfect and beautiful friendship two people could ever share.

His every thought seemed to implode within his brain in horrified denial.  He felt like grabbing his head to silence the deafening sound of Hutch's endless moaning, and the merciless shock waves of his fading life.

Incredibly, his eyes remained fixed on Hutch's, that silently accused him of the worst crime of all, the loss of innocence and the violation of their sacred bond.  Unable to tear his gaze away, he rose to his feet, stepping back instinctively, walking away from the crime scene like the murderer he was.  "I'm sorry, Hutch.  Oh, God, I'm sorry!  I'm so very sorry," he found himself begging time and time again, feeling as if he was in a spiralling tunnel that stretched into infinity, drawing him away from the only light his life had ever known.

The farther away he walked the more Hutch's eyes bored into his soul, burning him with the responsibility for the irreparable damage he had caused. 

No words could help, but Starsky was beyond reasoning now.  "I'm sorry, babe.  God, I'm so sorry!  So very sorry!" he exclaimed non-stop, hugging himself helplessly.  He had never felt so cold.  It surged up from his very marrow, chilling him to the bone.  He whimpered like a wounded animal when he saw his partner trembling like a leaf, watching Starsky's leave with a look that he would never forget for as long as he lived.  A look he would have given his life a million times over to never see directed at him.

Not knowing how, one hand found the doorknob and Starsky fled from those eyes as fast as his legs could get him.  The drive home was mostly a blur, but the moment he heard the sound of his door closing behind him, all of it came back to him and he broke down, sliding down to the floor in a heap.  He shook uncontrollably, racked by the most powerful, inconsolable sobs, that no one would ever be able to soothe. 

He cried and cried for hours. 

Finally curling his body into a fetal position beside the door, he let exhaustion take him into welcome oblivion.  His last conscious thought was a desperate wish to never wake up again.  When you've killed the most precious thing in your life and destroyed what you love the most, what's the point of going on living?  Of even wanting to?

Birds chirping merrily in the trees outside slowly brought Starsky back to awareness.  His stiff muscles complained the strain of sleeping on the floor in such an awkward position for so many hours.  Pain was the first sensation his awakening brain registered, and it immediately reminded him of last night's events.  The searing emotional pain that followed those memories made him forget his body's soreness.  Instinctively, he covered his face with his hands, trying to hide from the shame of his crime.  Drowning in his misery, he wondered how would he ever be able to live with himself, and he bitterly resented still being alive at all.

Not even after Gunther had he felt such absolute Pain.  The pain of living when there was neither reason, nor will to live.

Choking on his sobs, his ribs hurting with the effort of trying to hold back his crying, he remained lying on the floor. 

The birds chirped incessantly in his little garden, as if mocking him and his withering soul. 

Sometime later, he hugged himself as a helpless tremor rocked his chilled frame.  His mind was slowly shutting itself down.  He never wanted to move again.  Staying right there and letting himself die seemed such a desirable perspective that he smiled at the idea of his own death.  Death was infinitely preferable to the recurrent image of Hutch's terrified eyes, that would haunt him for as long as he breathed.

Closing his eyes in abject resignation, he stayed where he was, lethargic, praying for a swift death, as a small pool formed on the floor under his cheekbone.

Sunlight started filtering through the windows and as time passed, the light moved until it fell squarely on his face, making him squint.  His left hip and leg had gone to sleep long ago and when he moved, they made themselves known in the worst way.  He moaned, as he dragged his sleeping leg from beneath the right.  Needles seemed to prick the left side of his body from his waist down and he let out another moan. 

He sniffled, feeling tiny and insignificant.  Cramped in his own threshold, the lack of space made Starsky feel as if the whole world was closing in on him.

Sitting up little by little, he leaned back against the door at last, his head thrown back again, in an unknowing imitation of last night's gesture, right after entering his apartment.  More tears filled his reddened and swollen eyes and streamed down his cheeks seconds later.

The sun seemed to follow him wherever he moved, he thought with a tired sigh when yet another sunbeam fell on his face.  Shaking his head with a sad and ironic sneer, he looked down, removing his eyes from the insistent star's annoying reach.

He jerked back in surprise when he saw an envelope on the floor right at his feet.  Blinking back the tears that prevented him from seeing it clearly, his throat closed up when he read the two words written on the front of the envelope in the most beautiful handwriting.

Dearest Starsk

His hand reached out of its own volition toward the thick letter and brought it to his eyes, drinking in both words, starved for their sudden, overwhelming healing power.

Dearest Starsk.

Dearest.

DEAREST!

The promise in that single word was almost frightening.  Obviously, Hutch had written this after Starsky left his apartment, after he had committed the worst crime against their friendship and everything they had meant to each other for over a decade.  If Hutch called him 'Dearest' even now...

With his heart beating wildly in his chest and completely breathless, Starsky's quivering fingers opened the envelope and took out several sheets of paper.  He unfolded them with some difficulty and instinctively straightened himself up, preparing himself mentally for the roller-coaster ride he knew that awaited him. 

Beloved Starsk,

I want to make crystal clear from the very beginning, before I try to explain last night to you:

You're loved, Starsky, and you never stopped being loved.  More than that, you're beloved.  My beloved; for I don't only love you, I'm also in love with you.  I'm desperately, insanely, frantically, forever in love with you; and I have been for years.

Years, Starsk.  That's how long I've been loving you, dreaming of you, crying for you.  And panicking because of you.

Please, remember this as you keep on reading, because I'm going to tell you all the things I never told you before.  I'm going to open my heart all the way once and for all in this letter.  You probably won't even recognize me, buddy, but I figure it's high time to say all the things I've been holding back not only the time we've known each other, but all my life.  They say it's better late than never, even if it's too late.  I'm pretty drunk and not feeling too sane right now; so, if I sound too weepy, confused, and my reasoning looks like a jumble, I apologize in advance.  I only pray I won't remember any of the things I'm going to write tomorrow, or I'll never live it down, not only in your eyes, but in mine.

I don't remember the day I woke up and realized my feelings for you had changed, but it was shortly after growing the mustache you initially gave me hell about.  One day I simply looked at your teasing mug and felt like kissing you.  I snorted at the outlandish thought and shrugged it off.  The next day, I wanted to run my hands through the mop of hair on your head and feel those curls wrapping themselves around my fingers.  I shrugged it off, too.  Later, I wanted to hold you and let my hands roam your body all over.  That's when I started worrying.  And the night right after, when I first dreamed about you and me in bed, naked, making love, I panicked.

After that, I couldn't look at you and not remember those dreams, those cravings, the need that was growing inside me, unstoppable.

The more those desires grew the more I freaked out and the more I withdrew from you, from me, from us.

I know how much I hurt you during those months, keeping my distance; my scathing words, my sarcasm, my whole attitude toward life and the job.  But it wasn't me, Starsk, not completely.  I was burn out at every level and I had no one to turn to.  I couldn't afford to lean on you.  You were temptation, you were desire.  You were Love.  You were the happily ever after we read as children in those big, worn-out fairytale books.  Your eyes, your smile, your touch were the promise of that heaven impossible to find in this world.

And I ran away from that promise, knowing it couldn't come true.  I became an embittered man, cruel and unfeeling, capable of going to bed with the woman you had told me you loved.  I started walking that self-destructive path willingly, looking for any release from this dead end I had trapped myself in.  For better or worse, whichever came first.

I know this must be difficult to understand, babe.  But please try.

Since I can remember, love was always an illusion.  Something people kept telling me that existed everywhere, but I couldn't see.  I couldn't see it at home, I couldn't see it in my parents and I couldn't find it in myself. 

I thought I was at fault.  I thought I was a monster for not feeling, for not seeing.

Only my grandparents opened my eyes to it.  They showed me what it was like to love.  You have no idea what that discovery meant to me.  It was like being deaf and blind and then being allowed to hear and see.  To bask in the sun and be warmed by its light.  I only felt safe and human when I was with them. 

And one day, they were gone forever.  And I was alone and empty inside.  I was lost and desperate to feel that warmth again, terrified of the sudden coldness in my heart. 

I understood then, Starsk.  Love was always in me, but I had no one to give it to.  Only my grandparents helped me recognize it and let it out.

And once you love, there's no turning back.  That feeling is everything.  You can't live without it, without sharing it.

I searched for years, until I met Vanessa.

And you know how it ended up.

Then, I met you.  God bless, Starsky.  I met you!

I was so wary of opening myself to another again.  My marriage's failure broke me completely.  I truly felt there was nothing left in me to give.  Van had sucked me dry.  She sucked my self-esteem, my dreams and hopes.  I thought I was empty, nothing but a dead carcass.

But you encouraged me to go on, to keep trying.  You helped me to find myself through helping others.  You never pushed me, you were just there, keeping an eye on me, making sure I was heading in the right direction.  You never gave up on me.  You simply waited for me to catch up.

It was then that I saw you, buddy.  I really, really saw you.  Damn it if I knew what you saw in me, but I embraced your presence in my life, your friendship and my feelings for you with everything I am.

I was re-born then, babe.  Ken Hutchinson was re-born the day I first called you "my friend" and I felt as if I had a billion suns shining in my heart.

I finally found myself and my place in the world.  I found a purpose for my existence, the meaning I had been looking for.

But sometimes, at night, when I was alone with myself, my old fears came back to haunt me.  Was I good enough to carry on?  I seemed to be, when you were by my side.  But that scared me too.  Was I nothing without you?  What did you see in me, anyway?  What was so special about me that you stood by me and put up with my weird moods, my eccentric ideas, my strange tastes in food, my...?  Well, you know.

I've looked at myself in a mirror dozens of times and wondered what the hell I was, who I was.  It was so scary sometimes!  I felt like a lost child, looking around, not knowing where I was, what I was supposed to do; afraid of tomorrow.  But then, you showed up and I wasn't scared anymore.  I didn't have to know, I only had to go on and trust.  Trust you.

And then, the only certainty in my life crumbled under my feet.  I suddenly found myself in love with you.  And I knew everything was over.

There was no way on earth you could return my love, and besides, the whole basis of our relationship had changed forever from my end.  We weren't on the same level anymore. 

But there was more than that.

I just don't believe in that kind of love, Starsk.  Not anymore.  My failed marriage had a lot to do with it, but not all.  We both know how most couples end up.  If not in separation, then in monotony, resignation, custom.  The passage of time is love's worst enemy. 

Friendships usually last forever, love usually has an expiration date.

All I could think of was that I had destroyed us with my new feelings for you.  I was never too sure about who I was or where I stood, and now I was completely at a loss. 

The fact is that I've never been comfortable in my own skin, Starsk.  I feel I've been playing a role all my life.  The perfect son, hiding my need for a little human touch.  The cool teenager and young man, sporty and flirty.  The perfect husband, self-assured, reaching for a career I couldn't care less about and trying to convince myself it was exactly what I wanted.  Even when I met you and we became friends, I still felt the need to be more than I actually was.  I had to be cool, interesting and to impress you.  I had to be keep the mystery so you wouldn't get tired of me.  Because I was certain that if you saw me, the plain real me, the poor devil I see in the mirror every night before going to bed, you'd dismiss me from your life.  All my apparent 'complexity', all the layers you see in me are just a front.  I'm only trying to hide how hollow and empty I am inside.

As time went by and we became closer than brothers, I couldn't afford to drop the fašade, because that cool and strong pose was the man you had come to know and love.

I've played so many different roles for so long that I feel Kenneth Hutchinson actually never existed. 

There's only one certainty in my heart and in my mind.  My love for you.  What I feel for you makes me real, makes me feel alive and sane.  And worthy.  Whenever I feel I'm losing myself and I can't stand living this lie anymore - loving you the way I do and pretending to be only your best friend – I only have to think of you, and the pain and fear go away.  Your mere image in my mind is such a balm, Starsk.

So you see, buddy; your partner, the man you (think) have known for over a decade, is a fake.

When I came to terms with my growing feelings for you and I accepted the fact that this feeling would never go away, and our days together were numbered - until you found out – I realized there was only one thing that scared me more.  That you returned my love.

Everyone I've ever loved, has ended up either dying or disappearing from my life.  My love life's always been a wreck.  Van, Jeanie, Abby, Gillian, Marianne.  They've either died or gotten hurt because of me.  I hurt all those I care about.  Even you got hurt after I fell in love with you.  I know it sounds insane, but I can't shake off the feeling that Gunther would have never happened, or at least, you wouldn't have gotten so critically wounded if I didn't love you that way.

I'm nuts, I know.  But I've been living with this Damocles' sword looming over me for two years now.  Scared of loving you and terrified at the prospect of you returning my love.  Praying for you to never see in me what I had come to see in you.  Torn apart from all ends.

And my worst nightmare came alive tonight, when you proved to me just how much and in what way you cared for me.

I don't want for us to end up like Van and me, Starsk.  But you'll have to admit that chances aren't exactly in our favor.  We're two men in love with each other; I'm a weirdo, you're impossible and I'm scared to death.

It's been five hours since you left, and I want to die in the accusatory silence of my apartment.  The way your eyes looked at me just before you left, will haunt me for as long as I live.  I hurt you, again, more than anyone has ever hurt you.  I rejected your love and there's no greater sin.

They say you can't love your neighbor unless you love yourself first, and I agree.  But that's not true in my case, Starsk.  All the love I have inside is yours.  Always was, even before I knew you, even before I was born; and always will be.  This man who never really existed, who can't live with himself, loves you so much that sometimes, alone, I cry from the beauty and intensity of it.  I've been empty all my life and you filled every corner of my being.  You're all the goodness in me, my every dream and hope come true. 

All this must sound so strange I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't make out most of the mess I just spilled out.  But you've always seen right through the things I didn't know how to explain, Curly.  Just try and understand in any way you can, I beg you.

I don't know what I'm going to do now.  I'll slip this letter under your door and then I'll...  I just don't know.  I'd consider suicide, but I'm too much of a coward and I love you too much to do that to you.  I've considered escaping.  But I have nowhere to go.  All I know is I can't face you.

Being near me isn't healthy, buddy.  Heed my advice and stay away from me for your own good.

And please, forgive me for rejecting you.  You have no idea how I felt when your lips touched mine and after the first shock, I realized one of my most cherished dreams was coming true out of the blue.  I even responded for a second.  How could I not, when something I had wanted for years was happening at last?  But if we went along with this, it'll be our undoing, and I won't take you down with me.

I'll remember forever the feelings I experienced when we kissed.  I'll take the memory with me to my grave.  All my past erotic exploits paled like a candle compared to the brightest nova.  I'll never feel so treasured, so protected, so loved.  I'll never know a love like yours.  It rocked me to my soul and I'm honored, because for a moment, I knew perfection.  Perfection as it can't possibly exist on this earth; in your arms, your lips, your heart.  Right where I belong.

But now, I only see your eyes looking at me one heartbeat before you left.  That memory will be my penitence for as long as I live.  I broke your heart.  I crushed your spirit's wings and my soul's bleeding just thinking about what you'll be feeling right now.  I can't bear to hurt you and yet, I keep on doing it no matter how hard I try.  I'm bad, Starsk.  That's why you must listen to me and don't come anywhere near me.

My mind's slipping.  It's 4:00 AM and I'm still drunk; I'm misty-eyed and I can hardly see the paper I'm writing on.  I'm tired.

I guess this is the inevitable end.  The moment I feared since the day I first thought of kissing you has finally arrived.  I just want to ask you to please remember me with a smile on your face.  Because despite the bad times, despite everything I put you through, I've loved you beyond any feeling I thought I was capable of.  Thank you for that, my beloved.  Let me call you that just this once, for never a word felt so sweet and right in my mind and on my lips.

I love you, Starsky.  Bless you for the meaning you gave to my life.  Thank you for the shared joy and laughter, the soothed sorrow and all the pain and tears we conquered together.

Yours until the end of time,

Hutch.

Slowly, painstakingly, Starsky looked up from the last sheet of paper.  He blinked a couple times, trying to clear his head, and the wetness falling down his face alerted him to his soaked cheeks and chin.

He was stunned, paralyzed, unable to think coherently, trying to grasp all the raving, babbling, confused, distraught and inconsolable feelings running amok in his Hutch's breast.  Trying to make some sense out of all the disjointed gibberish Hutch had poured out on that raw testament to Madness, Pain and Suffering.

One thing was crystal clear, though, even in the midst of such insanity.  Hutch's Love.  Hutch's Love for him.  It beat out of those pages in shockwaves that washed over him and crushed him.

If he started mulling over and trying to make some sense out of all the things he had just read, he'd sit there until Judgement Day.  He had to find Hutch and sort him out.  Now.

He'd think about the right words to say, later.  They'd come out on their own and if they didn't, he would find them anyway.  He wouldn't let Hutch alone with this monster eating him up one minute longer.

Jumping to his feet, he didn't sway even after spending eight hours curled up on the floor with his back leaning back against the door and his knees drawn up.

Checking himself, he verified he still was in his jeans and his white shirt.  He had left his black leather jacket back at Hutch's place, but that was unimportant now.  Feeling his pockets clumsily, he checked for the Torino's keys.

When he already had one hand on the doorknob, he realized he still had Hutch's letter in the other, tightly clutched.  With a self-indulgent snort, he retraced his steps and after carefully putting the papers back in the envelope, he lovingly deposited the letter on his living-room table, with an instinctive parting caress to the words "Dearest Starsk".

Then, completely changing gears, he rushed to the door, turned the doorknob and opened it.

A sudden movement at his feet made him yelp and jump back, as a shape collapsed against him.

With his eyes popping out of their sockets, Starsky saw Hutch toppling over and bursting into his apartment unceremoniously.

When he recovered from the start and his brain began working again, Starsky realized his partner had been sitting on the floor on the other side of his door, leaning against it, in a heartbreaking reflection of Starsky's posture for so many hours.  His eyes filled with tears of tenderness when he saw Hutch was holding his leather jacket to his face.  In fact, the jacket had cushioned Hutch's fall and prevented his beautiful features from smashing against the floor.  He was wearing the same clothes he last remembered having seen him, that gorgeous cotton sky blue shirt and black jeans.

"Hutch!" He got his voice back somehow.  Bending down, he grabbed his friend's upper arms and helped him to his feet.  The big body was trembling, struggling to recover from his unintended and abrupt irruption in his partner's place.

Standing on shaky legs, Hutch looked down and away from him.  Starsky could read pain and embarrassment in every feature, and his full to bursting heart went out to the man he loved more than anything.

"C'mere, babe.  Sit down and get comfy."

Starsky dragged Hutch to his couch and made him sit down.  Giving a crooked smile, he noticed Hutch's strong grip on his jacket, as if he couldn't relinquish his hold on it.  His knuckles were white.

"You look like hell.  I'll make you some tea," he offered, leaving his partner alone to compose himself.

Doing his best to control the vertigo and nausea that had come over him, Hutch took several deep breaths.  So many hours down on the floor, curled up by his friend's door, had stiffened his every muscle and the sudden movement had awakened them all with a vengeance.  His legs had gone to sleep and they were hurting like bitches now.  His hands hurt, too.  Looking down at them, he saw he was gripping Starsky's jacket.  He eased up his hold on it and unable to help himself, brought the leather to his face and sniffed at the scent of his partner on it, as he had been doing for hours, comforting himself while he remained by Starsky's door.

Guiltily, he looked up and saw that Starsky was busy preparing his tea and hadn't seen anything.  With a helpless sigh, the blond brought his arms down and dropped his head dejectedly.

The sight of his letter on the table before him made his heart skip a beat.  That meant Starsky had read it already.  Terrified, Hutch hugged himself and looked up again at his partner, in urgent need to make certain of his presence.

Immediately, Starsky turned about and looked at him.  When he saw Hutch's eyes on him, he smiled softly and winked at him in a comforting and unbelievably reassuring gesture that astonished Hutch at its innocence.

Swallowing the lump in his throat, Hutch did his best to stop the whirlpool of images and thoughts in his head that were tearing him apart. 

Starsky returned with a warm cup of tea and handed it to his partner.  Hutch took it and brought it to his lips, but the sudden shaking of his hands almost made him spill its content.  Starsky quickly placed one hand under the cup, steadying it, and helped him to drink it.  "Easy, Hutch.  It's okay.  Easy, baby," his free hand squeezed the back of Hutch's neck so lovingly that the haunted man's eyes filled with tears.

When he made sure that Hutch's grip was steady enough, Starsky moved away his hand and put it on the blond head, like a benediction.  He slid his fingers through the silky hair, the way he had been dreaming of for years.

Experiencing the most overwhelming feeling of rightness, Starsky sat down on the arm of his couch and caressed Hutch's head and nape to his heart's content.  Then, he wandered down the strong shoulder and long arm.  When he reached the forearm, he began rubbing it soothingly.

A shaky sigh coming from his partner brought both sets of eyes into contact.

"I wanna hold you."  The words were out of his mouth before Starsky could stop them.

Hutch's wistful eyes softened a little.  "And I wanna hold you back," he confessed in a very thin voice, but collected himself swiftly.  "But I can't afford it."  He looked down again and the shivers returned.  "I-I-I'm sorry, Starsk.  I only came here to leave the letter, but...  but then, I just couldn't bring myself to go."  The unsteady voice was full of shame.  "I wanted to run away.  I don't deserve your forgiveness after rejecting you the way I did...  but you're...  you're everything and I..."

"Shhhhh," Starsky stopped the endearing babbling by putting his hand on the soft lips.  "I know we have a lot to talk about.  We've got lots of things to set straight inside that pretty blond head of yours."  He smiled and shook his head helplessly.  "Do you have any idea how much crap you wrote there?" he moved his head in the envelope's direction.

Hutch made a choking sound and tried to smile, failing miserably.    "Yes; but that doesn't change the fact that that's exactly how I feel."

"Okay," Starsky seemed to come to a decision and squirmed his way between the arm of his couch and his partner.  Hutch made room for him and the right side of Starsky's body ended up pressed up against the left side of Hutch's.  "You're convinced that I've fallen in love with a man who doesn't really exist.  That you've been putting up a front all your life and that's the person I became friends with."

Hutch looked down and nodded.

"Okay.  Would you mind telling me who you really are, then?"  Starsky's voice was filled with unashamed affection.

Hesitatingly, Hutch met his eyes.  "You're asking me?"

"Okay," Starsky said for the third time, smiling tenderly.  "You play the piano and the guitar, right?"

Hutch nodded, his features showing a little bit of confusion.

"You like folk, country, rock, jazz and classical music, right?"

Again, Hutch nodded.

"You like playing basket, tennis, chess, monopoly, checkers and pinochle, among other games, right?"

Hutch nodded once more, his eyes becoming suspiciously tiny slits.

"You like goat's milk, blackstrap molasses, desiccated liver, impregnated wheat germ and the kind of food Norman Bates would lick his lips over, right?"

Hutch sputtered despite himself and nodded, blushing a little.

"You like gardening, painting, singing, fishing, walking the woods, wrecked cars and driving me crazy in general, right?"

An eager nod.

"You like helping others, you care about people, you wanna make a difference in the work we do, right?"

Hutch nodded slowly, swallowing hard.

"You love me, right?"

Hutch's eyes misted and turned bluer than Starsky had ever seen them.  They seemed to reach out and encompass him whole, protecting him, cherishing him, worshipping him.  "Yes, I do."  The silky voice raised goosebumps all over Starsky's body and he inched closer, pinning Hutch under his stare.

"All the things I said and many, many more, are you, Hutch."  He smiled lovingly.  "You're not just this or that, you're all those things put together.  And I love every single one of them, even the ones that drive me crazy.  Especially those."  The indigo eyes bored deep into the soul he wanted to mark as his forever.  "I love all that's different about you.  All that makes you the beautiful man you are."

Hutch bit his lower lip, in an explicit blending of overwhelming love and frustration.

"Oh, yes; I do understand, buddy," Starsky hurried to say.  "I read your letter.  I read it and I'm still here," he went cross-eyed for a moment in a most expressive gesture, and he got the smile he was trying to provoke.  He looked up, searching for the right words.  "God, how could I make you understand that you're not a fake if you can't see it for yourself?"  He sighed and let his heart take over. 

"We all behave differently depending on the people we're relating to.  I behave one way when I'm with my Mom, and another when I'm with Dobey or with Huggy.  That doesn't mean I'm putting up a front.  It's just a different side of me I'm showin'.  All of them are me."  His adoring gaze softened.  "You had no choice to but behave one way if you wanted to survive around your parents, or later as a teenager around your posh buddies, or in the end with Vanessa.  They weren't roles you were playing, it was the only thing you could do.  You never had the chance to be yourself all the way, but your inner self was lurking, waiting for the right day and the right person for the real Hutch to show."  He slid his fingers through the long blond strands of hair, his heart bursting with love.  "You think you're the only one with these feelings of not fitting in, but you're not, Hutch.  We're all feeling our way in the dark.  Every day.  We don't know what'll become of us tomorrow or the day after; we can only go on.  We're 20, 30, 40, 50 years old children, trying to survive in this ugly world.  We're all scared.  When the lights are out and we're alone in our bed, we all feel like lost, frightened children.  We only pretend to be tough around the others.  But it's all a front to cover how insecure we are."  He traced one blond eyebrow with his thumbpad reverently.  "It's the way we choose to behave that shows the kind of people we are.  We choose to either use people to our advantage, hurting them if necessary, or treat them with respect and caring, the way we want to be treated.  That's the kind of person my gentle partner is."  He slowly traced the other eyebrow.  "Nobody told you who or how you were supposed to be, that's the way you just *are*."  He cupped the pale cheek in his hand.  "No one can answer the question: 'who am I?'  I've asked myself a million times.  But when I'm with you and you smile at me, then I know I mustn't be that bad, if you love me.  I am what I am because you love me."  He smiled proudly.  "I'm Starsky because you're Hutch."

"Oh, God," Hutch moaned, cuddling his cheek up to the soft palm and closing his eyes.

Starsky swallowed hard, struggling to control the overwhelming need to reach out and crush his partner to his chest.  "What do you think I see when I look at myself in a mirror or I'm alone with my thoughts?  I feel so plain, so simple.  My ideas, my opinions...  everything's so ordinary.  There's nothing interesting about me, nothing worth knowing.  What you see, is what I am.  That's all."  He looked down for a moment.  "I've always wondered why you stand by me.  There are thousands of interesting people out there, people we've met over the years who were more your equals than me.  And still, I'm the one you take out for a beer, a game, a walk in the woods or whatever; I'm the one sharing your life 365 days a year, even on vacation.  And after ten years, I still wonder what's there about me that makes you stay.  You know me inside and out and you're still here."  He shook his head, in wonder.  "If you only knew how small I feel, Hutch."  He looked away with an ironical sneer on his face.  "To use your words, I'm a fake.  We've been having this ego contest for years, competing for everything, girls, cars, wits...  and I see now I was only trying to meet your standards.  I had to be up to the image of you I had in my head.  I had to outsmart you, surprise you all the time, so you wouldn't see how simple I am."  He smiled sadly.  "So, you see, partner.  I've been putting up a front all these years, too."

Hutch stared at his friend as if seeing him for the very first time.  "T-that's...  that c-can't be true, Starsk."  The endearing stutter revealed the blond man's utter bewilderment better than words.  "I've never seen anyone so self-confident in my entire life.  You're so aware of your assets and you always knew how to make the most of them.  I had to work hard to live up to your overdeveloped ego.  And according to your Mom, you've always been like this."

Starsky smiled knowingly.  "Sure I was.  I had to outsmart my buddies at home as a kid, and later when I moved here and I was "Jewish Johnny."  A fleeting expression of pain crossed his features, but disappeared quickly.  "It was easy after a time."  He got a faraway look in his eyes.  "I guess that's a side of me I discovered when I began using it.  So, what started up as a front, turned out it was part of me, after all."  He arched his eyebrows pointedly.  "See?  We both can be accused of pretending to be something we're not."

Hutch took the strong hand cupping his cheek and held it in his.  "I-I find this so hard to believe.  As you said, I know you inside and out, and yet there's this whole side of you I didn't know about."  He looked down at their entwined fingers.  "I-I just...  I never considered myself anything special.  If you were inside me, if you knew how irrelevant I feel...  how scared I am...  I-I just don't..."

"Hutch, you're the most beautiful person I've ever met."  Starsky's face lit up as if he was contemplating a celestial vision.  "And you're even more beautiful inside.  Doesn't matter what you think you are.  I know you.  You're your own worst enemy sometimes.  Trust me.  I'd never lie to you."  He grabbed his partner's hands and held them fervently, desperate to get his point across.  "We'll fight away each other's demons and everything will be all right, as it's always been between us."

The ice-blue eyes raised to his in a heartbreaking display of vulnerability.  Starsky had never seen his partner so open, so absolutely exposed, like a helpless child, unable to fight anymore.  Desperate to believe anything that made him feel safe.

"You really think so?  You think things'll work out between us?"  Hutch bit his lower lip.  "I'd die if I screwed up and lost you, Starsk.  Nothing's ever stayed for long in my life.  Only you."

Starsky shook his head.  "Hutch, our friendship worked out right from the start, why should our love be any different?  I love you and respect you above everyone else.  Nothing's gonna change that.  Nothing!  I feel just as insignificant as you.  But when we're together, I feel as if I could fly.  You're my strength and I'm yours."  He made a short pause, gauging his beloved's reaction to his words.  "In this world, where there's nothing sacred anymore, we found something so...  pure and true.  What we have, is a miracle, Hutch, and as long as we don't question it or back away from it, it'll last forever."  He framed the openly crying face between his hands.  "We brought out the worst in each other because we were keeping a secret that we thought it'd destroy us if the other found out.  We were essentially lying to ourselves and each other.  If we survived even that, we'll survive anything, cause there'll be no secrets anymore."  He brushed the tip of the reddened nose with his lips.  "The words monotony and custom never existed between us."  He smiled.  "It's me and thee, partner.  How could we ever fail?"

They studied one another for a long moment, Starsky drinking from that beautiful flushed face that he wanted to cover with kisses, and Hutch clinging to the strength, determination and certainty his partner exuded.  Finally, driven by an uncontrollable impulse, they grasped each other tightly.  The dams broke for good after years of painstaking endurance.

They hugged until they thought they heard their ribs crack.  And it still wasn't close enough.  Their starved lungs were filled with each other's scent, their empty arms with the other's body and their aching souls with the other's mark.

And still, it wasn't enough.

"Oh, Starsk!"  Hutch exclaimed time and again like a mantra.  His hands were frenetic, stroking, squeezing, caressing, worshipping the man who was the center of his existence, his guiding star, his home.

Starsky didn't know how, but he could understand every tiny message his partner sent with his reverent and passionate touch.  Hutch's emotions were on edge, and Starsky set out to soothe them and sort them out, as he knew only he could.  "You've been with the wrong people all your life, Hutch," he whispered compassionately.  "It was about time you ended up with the right one."  His arms crushed the strong body that returned the pressure tenfold.  "I'm the one for you, babe, and you're the one for me.  I'm staying forever and ever, even if you don't want me anymore."  He held his friend tighter.  "This is perfect.  We're perfect for each other.  God, so perfect!"  He buried his hands in the silkiest hair he had ever touched.  The blond strands slid through his fingers like the softest sigh.  Starsky moaned.

Hutch was lost in a world of warm and sweet love where everything was safe and everlasting.  And he wasn't alone there.  Never alone.  That was what made it perfect.  "So good.  So right.  I never knew it could be so perfect.  I never thought it was possible to feel like this."  He babbled, burying his face in the thick curls.  "You made everything possible, Starsky.  I feel..."

"Just like I feel, Hutch," Starsky sniffed at the fragrant skin.  "We were meant to be like this, since the day we met.  No more fear, no more uncertainty.  Whatever we are, everything we are, was meant to fit the other, don't you see?"  He moaned again in absolute joy.  "Don't you feel how right this is?"

Hutch was beyond words, so he just nodded, pressing himself up to the compact body that made him feel as he had never felt before.  He was all feeling.  His brain shut itself off for the first time since he could remember.  The voice he had been hearing since he was a child that reminded him constantly of his shortcomings, his inadequacy and the goals he'd never fulfill, was silenced by the love of a lifetime.  It didn't matter how dull, unremarkable and imperfect he was, and how uncomfortable he felt within his own skin.  As long as Starsky thought him worthy, he could live with those imperfections and not let them bother him.  At least, not too much.  Starsky would help him.

Right then, his partner's arms hugged him with such intensity that Hutch's spirit soared.  He felt whole, light, and powerful.  The most unbelievable feeling of completion enveloped him in a blanket that freed him from all the fears, insecurities and earthly restraints that had chained him all his life.  He felt like a god, holding all the answers in the strong circle of his own arms. 

This man, this curly-haired miracle, was responsible for his rebirth.  For turning his many weaknesses into strengths.  Once more, Starsky had turned the tables and made possible the impossible.

He prayed to be as good to Starsky as his blue-eyed Jiminy Cricket was to him.  He prayed to be everything Starsky wanted and needed, and prayed to be humble and smart enough to face his fears and not let them ruin the little corner of heaven on earth they had found.

"It'll be okay, babe," he heard the sensual voice whispering into his ear, as if Starsky had read his thoughts.  "If you feel yourself slipping some time, I'll be here to help you.  And you'll be strong and cool-headed for me when I need it."  Soft lips kissed his neck.  "Don't turn everything over and over in your head until it's scary and impossible to meet.  Some things in life are actually simple, only we make them difficult, as if we couldn't believe we actually deserve them.  Stop wondering who you are or who you aren't.  Whoever we are, we'll find out together."

Hutch bit his lips and nodded again, burying his face in the cuddly shoulder.  Starsky cradled his head in his hand as if he was a baby, and Hutch never felt so cherished.  "We'll help each other," he murmured softly.

"Yeah, each other," Starsky agreed absently, caressing his own cheek with Hutch's.  Both of them needed a shave, but never had a touch felt so sweet and utterly beautiful.  He felt Hutch's hands coming up and stroking the back of his neck and he thought he would pass out.  It was as if his body had awakened all of a sudden, and he couldn't hold back the need to...

The two men moved back at the same time, staring into each other's eyes and seeing home there.  Home and forever.

"I need you," Starsky begged.

"I love you," Hutch said, at the same time.

"I wanna kiss you," Starsky replied, thinking of their first, disastrous kiss.  The memory still hurt, and he needed to replace it with the perfect kiss.  He needed it badly.

"Do it, then."  Hutch's soft breath caressed Starsky's lips.  "Make it right and forgive me for ruining our first kiss."

The pain and remorse in the beloved voice cut through Starsky's heart like a knife.  "What are you talkin' about?" he asked at last.  "This is gonna be our first kiss."

The emotion became so overwhelming that Hutch had to close his eyes.  "God, I love you," he whispered in the weakest voice.  "I..."  he was silenced when the most sensual lips in the world settled on his and gave him peace and love as he had never known.  Something inside him seemed to spill and wash away all the ugliness he felt inside.  He whimpered and opened his mouth, enveloping Starsky's and making his partner groan his delight down Hutch's hungry throat.

There was nothing but them.  Nothing but the avalanche of feelings taking Hutch over and making him glow.  Nothing but this all-encompassing love that he was free to express for the first time.  Years of holding back made him frantic.  He roamed the broad back, the curly hair, the strong shoulders and finally, the perfect buttocks that must have been designed to fit his palms.

Starsky's hands were just as busy all over Hutch's body.  Tiny bubbles of warmth burst everywhere Starsky touched him.  He squirmed and moaned endlessly, the pleasure more than he could take.  From the top of his head to the back of his thighs, he burned.  His soul burned with love and need.

He was going crazy, he was dying.  He...  he couldn't breathe!

They separated their lips in unison, gasping and panting, realizing they had been on the verge of suffocating for lack of air.  They leaned on each other's foreheads, tears welling up in their eyes.  Nothing in their entire lives had prepared them for the immensity of loving one another like this.  It was unfathomable, immeasurable, beyond compare.  It surpassed all definition and comprehension.

"This is who I am," Hutch croaked, his voice filled with awe and wonder.  "This feeling is me, it's what makes me what I am."  He framed the flushed face in his hands.  "I am you, Starsk; I am this love I feel."

The tears in the indigo eyes spilled and fell on his thumbs.  Moved to his very core, Hutch wiped them away as Starsky kissed his palms in devoted fervor.

"My golden angel," Starsky whispered, his chin trembling.

"Yours, only yours," Hutch whispered back, tingling all over at the mere thought.  "My gorgeous imp," he smiled playfully in the midst of his own tears.

"Till the end of time, babe," Starsky pledged himself back to his partner, pecking the tip of Hutch's nose.

"I love it when you do that," Hutch said, blushing endearingly.

"Do what?  Kiss your nose?"  Starsky smiled mischievously.

"Uh-huh," Hutch nodded through his reddened cheeks.

"Ah, but your nose's so kissable, Blondie," Starsky flirted unashamedly while running his forefinger down the perfect feature, and pushing slightly when he reached the very tip.

"Just my nose?" Hutch flirted back.

The gleam in the bright eyes was answer enough.

"Come lie down with me and let me show ya," Starsky invited, his eyes giving away the infinite longing that had consumed him for years.

Hutch saw the need, a perfect mirror of his own, and a pang of sadness hit him in the pit of his stomach.  He swallowed it back, filling his heart with the certain, wondrous reality between them.  "Yes," he murmured in surrender, holding the outstretched hand in his own and following Starsky to the bedroom.  After an entire night deprived of sleep, spending all those hours leaning against his friend's door with legs crossed, his body craved the rest of a comfortable cushion.  And Starsky's had become his favorite after sleeping on it for months while helping his partner to recover.  To be honest, holding Starsky's body in his arms during those nights had helped considerably to make that particular cushion his favorite.

The coziness of the room greeted him like an old friend.  He recognized the scent, the warmth of his partner's presence there, reaching out and welcoming him home.  His eyes filled with tears again, but this time they were happy tears.  The happiest.  He sniffled and the next thing he knew, he was in Starsky's arms again, being rocked like a newborn.  Sweet, cooing words in his ear made him feel so loved he wished to never leave those arms.  He closed his eyes and let go.  Whatever Starsky wanted to do with him, he wanted it, too.

When Hutch opened them again, they were lying down on the bed, deep into each other's arms, and Starsky was clumsily trying to undo the buttons of his blue cotton shirt with one hand while raining kisses all over his face at the same time.  Throbbing warmth spread all over their bodies and Hutch reached out too, unfastening the buttons of the white shirt that made the sensual body look so elegantly sexy he couldn't stand it.  Starsky's scent enveloped him completely and he sighed and closed his eyes once more, drawing the compact body closer, almost fearful of it all being just a dream.  The muscular arms embraced him securely.

"Oh, Starsk!"  Hutch moaned.  "So long!  So long..."  he introduced one hand in the shirt and felt the chest he had desired from afar for longer than he could remember.  Starsky's hands pulled his shirt from his pants lazily and roamed his naked back all over, unhurriedly, as soft lips claimed him so tenderly he ached.  He engaged in some leisurely claiming of his own while his lips got blissfully busy as well.

Morning gave way to the afternoon.  The sun continued its slow journey in the sky, until its rays filtered through the bedroom window, falling on the two entwined lovers who had fallen asleep in the process of mutually undressing, their arms wrapped around the other treasured body, keeping one another so close it was impossible to tell where one man ended and the other began.

There was no separating line.  Not for an eternity.

THE END

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