Out On a Limb

Type: Slash
Summary: Through helping another, Starsky and Hutch unknowingly help themselves.

Hutch cast an exasperated look at his partner when Starsky yawned for the third time in five minutes.  "Watch it, or you'll finish all the oxygen supply inside the car," he commented.

"Sorry, I didn't sleep very well," Starsky scratched his head absently, leaving several curls sticking out from his usually neat mop of hair, which added to his already rumpled appearance that morning.

"I'm glad to hear that," Hutch replied.

"Why, thank you very much," Starsky cast a bitter look at his friend.

"It's not that.  For a moment, I thought I was the reason why you look like a zombie lately; that my company wasn't stimulating enough anymore."

Starsky closed his eyes for a second, trying to hide the pain that had immediately surfaced.  If anything, Hutch riding beside him in the Torino, with his body so close to his own, was stimulating as nothing Starsky had ever known before.  Patrolling the streets with his partner had become something to dread, and for far too long.  "Don't be silly," he chided.  "I only slept for five hours tonight.  I kept awakening time and again."

A mischievous smile appeared on the blond's features.  "Karen's a restless sleeper?"

"Huh?" Starsky was lost in thought and only half-heard his partner's question.  "No, not really," he hurried to answer.  "It was just one of those nights when you're not comfortable in bed and keep turning about, looking for the right spot, you know?"

"So, you gave Karen a restless night, then?"

Starsky made an ironic grimace that was lost on Hutch because he wasn't looking.  "She's very understanding," he managed to keep the sarcasm from his voice.

"Has to be.  She's been putting up with you for two months in a row," Hutch snickered at his own joke and looked out of his window.  "Ouch!" he exclaimed when he received a smack on the back of his head.  "That hurt, you nuthead!"

"Don't hurt my feelings, then.  I happen to be a lovely person to relate to."

Hutch made a raspberry and shook his head.  Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Starsky's hand approaching from behind and stopped the impending slap with his own hand, without looking.

"Smooth move!"  Starsky commended.  "I can see that your Tai-Chai lessons are paying off."

"It's Tai-Chi, Starsky, and yes, they are.  Thanks for noticin'."

"You could teach me some of those moves.  It'll be cool to fight the bad guys, kicking their asses like Bruce Lee."

"Tai-Chi's not like karate.  It helps to concentrate and regain one's mental and spiritual equilibrium.  It's about harmony, both of the mind and the body," Hutch recited.

"Don't tell me.  Your teacher's name is Caine, and he looks like David Carradine," Starsky cracked.

"Ha-ha!  Very funny."

An unexpectedly awkward silence befell them all of a sudden.  It happened more and more often lately, and it made Starsky frantic.  Whereas before, every time they fell silent it was a comfortable and friendly silence, now there was a tension in the air, so thick that you could cut it with a knife.  Starsky knew very well it was all his fault, but he couldn't help it.  God knew he tried!  But fighting this feeling was like fighting his very nature.  Simply impossible.

"Aaahhh, so," he frenetically looked for something to say, any subject that could relieve the tension.  "How did it go with Rebecca last night?"

"It was nice," Hutch replied promptly.  "We watched COSMOS on TV and then we created some stars of our own."

"Good," Starsky approved with an emphatic nod.  Inside, he felt like throwing up.  'I deserve an Academy Award.  Make that two.  Not even Marlon Brando would top this performance,' he thought ironically.

Another awkward moment followed and this time, it was Hutch who broke it.

"Do you think this'll be another uneventful day?"

"Doubt it,"  Starsky muttered to himself.  But Hutch heard him anyway.

"How so?" Hutch asked, arching his eyebrows in genuine curiosity.

"A feeling, that's all."  Starsky was unable to keep the sarcasm from his voice this time, and he regretted it the moment he lashed out.

Hutch looked down at his hands and began pulling at his fingers nervously.  "Starsk," he said a little while later, his voice endearingly shy and tentative, "I-I think we should talk."

"About what?" Starsky asked, with studied casualness.

"About what's happening to us.  Ever since you returned to the force, you've been acting differently towards me."  Hutch swallowed hard.  "I don't understand it.  I thought I was pretty clear to you that I trust you to back me up in the streets like you did before.  And yet, there's this tension in the air.  This wall you put up between us that I can't get through.  If it's something I've done..."

"You've done nothing!" Starsky stated vehemently, doing a sharp turn to the left that threw them on their sides.

"Okay, man, I believe you.  You don't have to break my backbone!" Hutch complained.

"Stop asking stupid questions, then!" Starsky's irritation was increasing in direct proportion to his heartache.

"Who's asking stupid questions?  There has to be a reason for..."

"All units.  All units.  There's a 10-56A at the corner of Elm Street and Third.  Code Two," Mildred's voice filtered through the radio.

"Another poor devil who wants to leave this world in a blaze of glory and be on the news for the first and last time in his life?" Starsky shook his head sympathetically, feeling guilty for actually being grateful for the interruption.

"Be nice, Starsk.  Maybe he has a good reason to kill himself.  Maybe he has a working partner as annoying as you."

"Kiss my ass," Starsky replied calmly.

"After you," Hutch bit his lower lip while picking up the receiver.

"With our help, he'll be in the morgue by noon," Starsky commented.

"Could be a she, for all we know," Hutch pointed out.  "Zebra Three, we're in the area and responding," he sent through the radio.  Next, he picked up the Mars light and slapped it on the Torino's roof.

"It's a he," Starsky insisted stubbornly.

"Whatever you say, oracle," Hutch let it rest.  He wasn't in the mood to get into another witty repartee, so he remained silent until they arrived at the scene.

Black and whites and some local TV stations had already arrived.  Several traffic policemen had begun to cordon off the street, keeping pedestrians away.

"Terrific, a jumper," Starsky said, exiting the Torino.

"What did you expect?  A housewife sticking her head in her microwave in the middle of the street?" Hutch retorted.

Starsky ignored his partner and walked up to the bandw's, looking for the man in charge.

Suddenly, a big bulk appeared from behind the crowd.

"Cap'n!" Starsky exclaimed.  "What are you doing here?"

"I was on my way to the precinct when I heard it, and since I was very close I figured..." Dobey's expression turned livid all of a sudden.  "Why am I giving you any explanations, anyway?!" he roared.

"You'll have to excuse him, Captain," Hutch butted in when he reached Starsky's side, "he woke up in smartass mode."

Starsky's self-sufficient little smile disappeared instantly.

"Kiss my-"

"-ass, I know." The blond finished his partner's sentence and looked at his superior officer.  "He woke up with a rear end fixation, too."

Starsky looked daggers at his tall friend.

"The psychologist should be here at any moment," Dobey fidgeted a bit, obviously uneasy about the situation.  As a deeply religious man, the notion that someone made the decision to end their own life was very disturbing, despite his many years in the force and the many similar scenes he had witnessed.

"What do want us to do?" Hutch asked.

"I'd suggest we wait for the psychologist, but he looks nervous.  You never know how long's he going to wait..." Dobey trailed off, pointing at the four-story building directly ahead.  A tiny, solitary figure standing on the edge of the roof could be seen against the light.

"How long's he been up there?" Starsky asked.

"An anonymous phone call alerted 911 fifteen minutes ago.  Probably some pedestrian who spotted him.  There's no way to know how long he's been there before that."  Dobey explained.  "Until..."

Whatever he intended to say was interrupted by some sudden screaming.  Everybody looked up at the roof of the building, fearing the worst.  But the man only shifted his position, swaying slightly.

"There's no time to lose," Dobey barked.  "Any sign of the psychologist, yet?" he cried out.

"Not yet, sir," a policeman replied.

"If he's stuck in traffic, we're screwed," Hutch said, taking off his leather jacket.  "I'm going up."

"Wait a minute," Starsky put up his hand.  "Why you?"

"Starsky, you're as subtle as an H-bomb and you have the diplomacy of a rolling-stone.  Plus, you hate heights.  I'm the man for the job."

"I can handle this just as well as you, so don't start all that..."

Hutch had been watching the repeated attempts of a local TV reporter trying to sneak past the police cordon.  Seeing that she was about to succeed, he left his partner ranting into thin air and walked as stealthily as a panther, planting himself right in front of her, making her jump.  "Shouldn't you stay behind the line, miss?" he suggested pointedly.

"I'm doing my job, just as you're doing yours," she replied arrogantly, recovering quite fast.

"That's good.  So long as your 'job' doesn't interfere with mine,"  Hutch's voice dripped with irony.  "Now step back."

"I'm interfering already?  I think you overestimate me, officer," she smiled evilly, not giving an inch.

"This police cordon's for your own safety.  You'll be smart if you stay where you are," Hutch warned.

"My viewers have a right to know."

Hutch's patience came to an end with those words.  "Look, lady, this isn't an undercover police situation, but a plain suicide attempt.  If that poor devil succeeds, you'll have a gory-looking pulp smashed against the pavement very soon, and your healthy, well-educated viewers will have all the blood they crave to satiate their thirst."

Her face went red in a matter of seconds.  "Are you calling us vultures?"

Hutch pretended to be shocked.  "Not me.  You did," he gave her a withering look, showing all the contempt he felt.  "Jeff!" he called a traffic cop nearby.  "Will you take this 'honorable reporter' back behind the ring, please?"

"Sure, Hutch!" the hunky officer said, taking the fuming woman by her elbow and dragging her unceremoniously behind the police cordon.

Swearing under his breath, Hutch returned to Dobey's side.  "Captain, I suggest..." he looked around, immediately noticing someone was missing.  "Where's Starsky?" he spat.

Biting the inside of his mouth to hide his smile, Dobey looked up.

Hutch followed his Captain's eyes to the building ahead.  A blind rage surged up from deep inside him.  "Starsky, when this is over, you're going to kiss my ass!" he vowed, sprinting towards the building.

Starsky reached the roof of the building after climbing all four stories at top speed.  It pleased him to see he was only mildly breathless.  The lung badly damaged during the Gunther shooting seemed quite recovered.  He had lost some lung capacity, but his good lung, the right one, seemed to be backing up the left quite well.  His rehabilitation exercises for the past year were getting results.  He didn't know what would happen when he was older, but right now, he had no complaints.

A couple policemen guarded the roof, just in case some TV reporter or onlooker broke the police cordon and made it this far.  He showed them his badge and they let him pass.  "Don't let anyone else through.  Leave me alone with him for as long as it takes," he ordered.

They nodded.

Starsky walked carefully, unsure about how to face the situation.  He'd have to play it by ear, as he always did.  On the one hand, he didn't want to make much noise, just in case the guy got enraged at seeing him coming; and on the other, he didn't want to startle him when he reached his side, making him topple over into the abyss.  Whatever he was doing, he prayed it was the right thing to do.

He reached the man's side and circled him, studying him intently.

'He's just a kid!' His mind cried out in denial.  He looked 23 or 24 years old.  He had light brown hair, slightly curly.  He was around six feet tall and one hundred and fifty pounds.  He had an upturned nose that gave his face an even more youthful look.  He was very good-looking, but there was no expression on his face.  Starsky could see that the boy's body was there, but not his mind.  It was like standing beside a breathing statue.

He walked closer, letting his presence be felt by the young man.  It took a while, but something in his stance told Starsky the kid knew he was there.  The detective stopped when he was about eight feet away from him, not daring to get any closer.  He cleared his throat softly, not knowing where to start.

It amazed Starsky that the boy didn't move.  He was completely immobile.  Not a twitch, not a blink, he seemed carved into stone.  His skin, his muscles, even his clothes seemed frozen.  It gave Starsky the creeps.  This young man had decided his fate and he was ready to carry it out.

But Starsky knew he had to try.  Every single life was precious and irreplaceable.  Life was a gift to cherish.  And so fragile!  He had learnt that lesson the hardest way, and that only encouraged him to try harder now.  There was always a way out of any situation.  Surely, he and Hutch had proved that time and again.  Well, out of almost any situation, more like.  He winced at his mind's untimely reminder of just what his current situation was - the downward spiral his relationship with Hutch had entered two years ago.  The Gunther case and his shooting had given them a break, but already its effects were letting themselves be known again.  It was just a matter of time before...

No.  NO!  Not now.  He couldn't let his personal problems get in the way.  He was a cop.  This was a life and death situation.  He had to save this kid's life.  Anything else was beside the point.

"Hi," he marveled that his voice had been audible at all.  "I'm Starsky.  Dave Starsky.  What's your name?"  'Well, this is it.  Now, let's pray for a happy ending,' he thought to himself.

A deathly silence rewarded his words.

"Ahhh, would you mind if I stepped closer?" he asked.  "Just a little bit.  I like to look at the face of the people I talk to, and I'm basically speaking to the back of your head."


"I'll take that as a yes," Starsky said, stepping two feet closer, trying not to look down. 

'Don't heights ever bother you?'

'Only when I can't see down.'

He didn't know why that conversation he and Hutch had five years ago popped up out of the blue, but when he looked down and saw the distance that separated him from the street below, he closed his eyes and stepped back instinctively.

Both his fear of heights and the memory of that happy and optimistic time of their lives made his blood boil.  Had there ever been a time when everything had been joyful, enthusiastic and positive?  That time seemed so far away now.  All that remained was pain, melancholy and an infinite sadness.  For what he and Hutch once had and they lost forever.  Because of him.  Him!

"Look, pal, I hate heights, so the least you could do is be so kind as to tell me your name," he snapped.

Hutch's words about his lack of subtlety and diplomacy echoed in his brain, and he winced in reaction.  He swallowed hard.  "Listen, I'm sorry.  This isn't one of my better days, you know." He let out a lopsided, ironical smile.  "I know, this isn't one of your better days, either.  But think about the better days to come.  Losing streaks come and go, and you wouldn't want to miss the streak of good luck that's coming.  Sometimes, you think you'll never see the light at the end of the tunnel, but when the good times come, it's the greatest feeling in the world.  I know what I'm talking about."

The young man remained completely still and detached from his surroundings.  If he was listening to Starsky's words, he was making a great show of hiding it.  He seemed to be in a trance, as if trying to keep the world at a distance, not wanting to be distracted from what he was about to do.

"I hope I'm getting through to you somehow, even though you're not showin' it.  I don't know what your problems are or if there's someone out there who cares about what you're doing; but I'm here, kid.  I think I deserve some consideration on your part," he chided fondly, with a smile in his voice.

A muscle in the young man's cheek twitched and Starsky smiled broadly.  "Hey, you moved a muscle in your cheek.  I saw!  That gives me hope, so if you don't mind, I'll keep talking."  He took a deep breath, trying to control his wildly beating heart.  'You were wrong, Hutch.  I can see down, and that's what bothers me.'

Starsky looked ahead, past the rooftops of the buildings around him, at the whole city from this new perspective.

"It's a nice view, don't you think?  Millions of people everywhere, coming and going, minding their own business, living their lives, and never knowing there are other people around them who have a lot of problems, who need help.  If only people showed their caring..."

"If you don't shut up, cop, I'll take you down with me."

The voice was harsh, as if coming from afar. 

Starsky's heart skipped a beat in his chest, but he recovered swiftly.  "You can talk!  That's terrific!" he said warmly.  But then, he frowned.  "How do you know I'm a cop?"

"You snapped at me right from the word go.  That's not a very professional behavior for a shrink, not to mention wise." 

The young man's voice still sounded distant, toneless, not quite there.

"You're very clever.  What made you talk to me, then?" Starsky asked, curiously.

"When you started reciting from your psychology manual, talking about people's problems and complaining about the lack of compassion and humanity in the world.  That really annoyed me."

"I seem to have that effect on people.  Annoying them, I mean.  Ask my partner," Starsky commented.  "Aside from that, I'm a nice person and I wouldn't want to die today.  I just survived the hardest time of my life and I'd like to enjoy my victory a little longer."

"Bully for you," the young man replied.

Starsky felt the boy was shutting him out again, so he asked the first thing that came to mind.  "Why'd my words annoy you?"

"You talked as if people's lack of humanity didn't apply to you," there was the merest trace of anger in the young man's voice, and that warmed Starsky's heart.  Any sign of emotion was a good sign.

"What do you mean?  I care, that's why I became a cop, that's why I'm up here."

"Despite your hate of heights, I know," the boy's voice showed some contempt now.

"I'm glad to know you were paying attention to me, after all," Starsky smiled.  "What do you mean by that?"

The young man's mouth twitched disdainfully until it became a sneer.  "I bet that when you arrived and saw me up here, the first thing that crossed your compassionate mind was: 'Great, a jumper.'  You automatically turned me into an 'it,' an annoyment that was interfering with the normal progress of your day."

Starsky winced and closed his eyes as his inner voice cried out: 'Touché!'  But at the same time, an irrational anger began surging up from deep inside him.

"You're right, that's exactly what I thought.  I'm part of this insanity too, and sometimes I let it wash me away.  You aren't the first jumper I've tried to help, and you won't be the last.  I've seen things that'd make you lose your mind and make your hair go white.  I've been facing the lowest side of humanity for over a decade and in time, you learn to detach yourself from those scenes.  Either you put up a barrier or go mad.  Yes, I did turn you into an it.  Just like I turned a murdered and raped nine year old little girl into an it two weeks ago, when my partner and I got to the crime scene.  If I started thinking about her when she was alive, when she had parents who loved and cared about her, I'd break down.  And I've broken down more times than I care to count in all the years I've been a cop.  So, you have no right to judge me, just as I have no right to judge you.  I'm here and I want to help you, so please let-me-help-you!  Help me not to turn you into another 'it.'"

Starsky was panting from his passionate tirade, and he covered his face with his hands, trying to calm down.  It took a while.  "L-look, I'm sorry, it's not your fault.  You have enough problems as it is," he swallowed the lump in his throat and put down his hands dejectedly.  "I'm not the right person for this job, today.  My nerves are on edge and I have some problems of my own I can't deal with; but that's the point."  He swallowed again.  "We all have problems, problems that are tearing us apart.  But somehow, we find the strength to go on, hoping that one day, we'll see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This life is all we have, for better or worse, and even if there's no light at the end of the tunnel, there are some flashes of light inside, that make life worth living.  And you have to cling to them."

"And if they're not enough?"  The sudden misery and infinite pain in the young voice resonated within Starsky's soul like a blast.

"You make them be enough," was the cop's heartfelt answer.

There was a long silence then.  For the first time, Starsky felt he was communicating with the man, that his words were getting through. 

Starsky gave a start when the young man's head turned to him.  His hazel eyes seemed to reach inside him, desperately trying to find something to hold on to.

"Is that how you do it?" his voice was hoarse.

Starsky smiled with a helpless blending of irony and sorrow.  "Every single day, kid," he whispered.

The young man closed his eyes and two tears streamed down his cheeks in an awesome silence.  When he opened them again, there was no sign of emotion on his face anymore.  Truth to tell, Starsky had only seen small hints of emotion during their conversation.  Muscle twitches, a sudden waver in his voice, but that was all.  The danger was still there.  He'd better not forget it.

"I envy you," the young man said, out of the blue.  "Despite your problems, you manage to go on.  But not all of us are that strong.  Sometimes, life gives us more than we can take."

Starsky pursed his lips and looked away.  "Someone told me once that God will give us no more than we can handle.  And her son had been murdered a few hours earlier.  It's the way we choose to face life that makes a difference.  That, and the support of our family and friends."

The young man tilted his head, as if seeing right through Starsky.  "And you had that support," he stated more than asked.

"Yes, I did," Starsky nodded, his face lighting up at the thought of his beloved partner.

The man's stare intensified to the point it burned a path down Starsky's heart.

"And when you have no one?  If you've burnt all your bridges and there's no one left who cares?  What do you do then, Dave?"

Starsky bit his lower lip and shook his head, totally floored by the hopelessness beating out of those tired eyes.  "When you've reached the bottom, you can only go up.  Love and happiness will find you again one day, and your life will never be the same."  He didn't know what was happening to him.  This young man's pain was tearing him apart.  There was something in his eyes that felt too close, striking a chord so intimate it was scary. 

He had to know more.  He had to find out what had brought an obviously educated and caring young man to this.  And the way his face had contorted at his mention of the word 'love,' told Starsky he had found the key.  "What's your name?", he asked with a little smile, trying to bring some levity to the moment, before venturing into the shadows of this young man's soul once more.  "You know mine, so I think it's only fair that you tell me yours."

The hazel eyes looked up.  The boy's shoulders sagged and he gave up.


"Hank," Starsky nodded, "now that we're on first name basis, tell me, what's her name?"  His intuition was telling him he was on the right track.  But the notion of a heartache taking this bright kid to the breaking point seemed unthinkable.  There had to be more there than met the eye.  Perhaps his life had started going downhill some time ago, and this final issue had been the last straw.

Besides, David Starsky knew better than anyone what it was like to reach the bottom, with no hope of ever getting up in the love department.  He knew what it was like to give up one's dream of happiness with the love of his life.  He knew what it was like to want to destroy everything, if only to put an end to his suffering once and for all.  The only difference between him and Hank was that it would never cross Starsky's mind going to such an extreme.

Would it?  Hutch was the only thing in his life that had any meaning.  His only light, his only reason to live.  If Hutch rejected him and threw him out of his life, would he consider killing himself?

Yes, he would.  But he wouldn't do it because even apart and at odds with each other, he would never subject his partner to the procedures he had seen parents, children, friends and relatives of suicides go through at the morgue and afterwards.  He loved Hutch too much to make him go through that, even if Hutch hated him.

But if Hutch was dead, would he consider commiting suicide, then?  The immediate visceral answer made his blood run cold in his veins.

Hank said he had no one.  No one to miss him, no one to care about his living or dying.

Something told Starsky that this young man was facing Starsky's worst nightmare.  The scenario that would break him and take him to the point of no return.

His musings were interrupted by the abrupt turn of Hank's head.  He was looking at him with his eyes opened wide, breathless, and Starsky saw a hint of familiar insanity there.  "It takes one to know one," he soothed gently, feeling an eerie bond forming between them.

Hank bit his lips until he drew blood.  Starsky could hear him grinding his teeth so hard he feared he'd break them.

"You can't know how it is," Hank hissed at last. 

"Believe me, I do know.  Names, situations, backgrounds can be different, but the pain is the same.  Please, let me help you.  Let me try," he begged unashamedly, his eyes beginning to sting.

Hank's eyes darted back and forth, trying to decide whether to trust Starsky or not.  And Starsky knew that everything depended on the young man's next revelation and how he took it.  He prayed to be worthy of it. 

"Sometimes, it's easier opening your heart to a stranger than to a close friend.  A stranger doesn't know you and they're not likely to be shocked and change their opinion of you.  I'm realizin' it just now."  Starsky arched his eyebrows in astonishment, realizing he felt insanely compelled to tell his sad and pathetic story to this young man, already on the verge of his own sanity.  But he held back.  He didn't want to give Hank another reason to kill himself.

Here they were, two borderline maniacs facing the abyss of their lives, in more ways than one.  The searing irony of it, and the capriciousness of destiny amazed Starsky.

Hank pursed his lips and fidgeted nervously, not knowing what to do.  He felt a weird bond with Starsky.  His compasion and genuine caring were like a siren call, and he felt the need to surrender and tell him everything. 

But he was here because he had decided his fate.  Nothing was supposed to distract him from his plans.  When he awoke early this morning, he had no idea he was going to end up like this.  But when he found himself standing on this roof, somehow it felt...  right.  An acceptable way out of the no-win situation he had been avoiding for as long as he had been capable of, but had ended up backfiring on him, as it couldn't be otherwise.  Blissful oblivion would be a relief.  Peace at last, after years of running.

As if he had read his thoughts, Starsky took a couple steps closer and reached out one hand.  "Please, Hank.  Trust me.  What have you got to lose?" He gave him a poignant smile, that he hoped Hank would understand.

Hank's eyes softened and half-closed in sad acquiescence.  Yes, why not?  Besides, if Starsky's reaction was like he expected, it would give him the final reason to do what he had to do.  He felt a wicked pleasure in that thought.

He nodded once.

Starsky nodded back at him and took another step closer.  "What's her name?"  He asked again, his voice infinitely gentle.

Hank smiled crookedly and bit his lower lip one final time.  This would be the first time he would say it out loud.  The first time he would admit to himself - and to another - the truth of his life; the reason why he was standing sixty feet from the ground, ready to take his own life.  "Steven," he said softly, his voice sounding incredibly firm and vulnerable at the same time.  It sounded like a caress, a heartbeat, a world, a self-contained universe impossible to fathom.

The last piece fit at last in Starsky's mind.  Now he understood the strange bond binding him to this devastated young man.  He understood now why Hank's pain had resonated so deep inside him right from the start, why those hazel eyes felt so familiar in their unique brand of agony.  Now everything made ironical, crazy, perfect sense.

He couldn't help but close his eyes and let out a short, dry laugh.  This was just too much.

Hank was surprised by his own reaction.  He was ready for Starsky's disgusted face, but instead of feeling like the final blow that would twist the knife in the bottom of his already bled to death heart, he felt a white-hot anger as he had never experienced before.  He felt like grabbing Starsky's neck and squeezing the life out of him.  For being just like he expected, for disappointing him in the face of his last moments.  And for making a mockery of the purest feeling he had ever known.  "What's that laugh supposed to mean, cop?" he spat.  "Disappointed because this healthy, white American boy turned out to be a fag?"

Starsky rubbed his eyes and the bridge of his nose with his fingers, shaking his head.  No words.  Simply, there were no words for this.  "No, pal," he replied, raising his head from his concealing hand.  "Remember that I said it took one to know one?"

Hank just blinked challengingly.

"I meant that it took a heartbroken person to know another.  But I never thought..." shaking his head again with a sigh, Starsky yielded to the beautiful insanity of the situation.  "...his name's Ken," he confessed for the very first time in his life to another human being.  The minute he said it, he felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from his shoulders.  He almost cried at the awesome feeling of relief that came over him.  This truth had been rotting inside him for years, having nowhere to turn.  By his very nature, he was a person who needed to vent his problems, he couldn't rest easy until he had been properly and thoroughly reassured, as poor Hutch could testify.  Being forced to hide this had been doubly unbearable, to the point that his relationship with Hutch was a pale shadow of the glory it had been.  And when you've known heaven, it's impossible to settle for anything less.

The change in Hank's face was dramatic at Starsky's admission.  His eyes bored into Starsky's fiercely, as if defying him to try and deceive him about such a thing; but Starsky saw a hunger and a despair underneath that were heartbreaking.  So, he simply nodded, letting his eyes do all the talking for him.

And in the cop's infinitely sad depths, Hank saw the truth. 

Amazingly, it was Starsky's suffering that broke him.  For the first time, Hank's face twisted with emotion, any emotion.  And it was compassion and a soul deep empathetic pain for the man he had in front of him; at seeing his own pain reflected back in Starsky's eyes.  His eyes misted and his chin began trembling with an agony so profound he couldn't contain.  He had found a kindred spirit when he least expected finding someone.  Anyone.  "I'm so sorry," he said in a tremulous voice, as the tears rolled down his face once more.

Starsky's eyes began to sting and he blinked to relieve them.  When he could focus again, he saw that Hank was handing him something, something he had been holding tightly in his hand all the time. 

Starsky took it reverently.  It was a picture of Hank and a dark-haired, green-eyed handsome young man, about thirty years old.  Both men had thrown one arm around each other's shoulders and they were laughing merrily.  It seemed to have been taken during someone's birthday, since there was a banner right behind them that read: "Happy Birthd-"  Both young men's faces were shining, so lively and happy it was hard to recognize in that sparkling eyes young man the human wreck he had in front of him now.  But before he could go any further in his musings, Hank's voice brought him back to the present.

"Me and Steve," he explained needlessly, his voice getting that dreamy quality that was almost mesmerizing.  The love and sweetness in that accent made Starsky want to cry.

Unable to help himself, Starsky reached for his wallet in the back pocket of his jeans and took out a small, worn black and white picture, and gave it to Hank, along with his own picture.  "Hutch and me," he said with a wistful smile.  "His name's Hutchinson, but Hutch's his nickname," he explained.

Hank looked at it intently.  It portrayed two men, sitting on what he assumed to be their cars' hoods, grinning at each other and shaking hands.  Starsky looked a few years younger.  He had shorter hair and a black knitted cap on his head.

Hank smiled at the joy the picture radiated.  "It's very nice," he whispered with a sigh, giving it back to Starsky.

"Those were happy times," Starsky murmured, lost in thought, while putting the picture carefully away in his wallet.  "The best."  Their first years as cops and partners, when they had believed the world was their oyster and they could make a difference if they tried and worked at it hard enough.  What remained of those days?  Shattered dreams and a broken heart.  Their fall had been too hard.  Merciless.

Needing to get away from those hopeless thoughts and memories, Starsky concentrated on the only thing that mattered, now and forever.  Human life and its infinite value.  "Tell me about Steven," he prompted, genuinely interested in the love story behind the picture he had just seen.

Hank looked up in the most expressive gesture.  He took a deep breath, filling his lungs with air, and let it all out in a dejected blow.  He looked into the distance, trying to put his thoughts in order.  "We met in kindergarten.  We've been together since long before we could remember."

"Kindergarten?" Starsky asked in total confusion.  Judging from the picture, he'd have sworn Hank was several years younger than Steven.

Hank smiled, already knowing the reason behind Starsky's question.  "Don't let my babyface fool ya.  I'm older than I look.  I'm 29."

Starsky's eyebrows skyrocketed in surprise.

"Steven's only six months older than me.  We were an item since our first day at kindergarten.  Our teacher told our parents she could hear something clicking between us the moment we met.  I was an only child and my parents were only children too, so I had no brothers, sisters or cousins to relate to.  School was a whole new world for me, and when I met Steven...  well, everything clicked."

Starsky nodded.  He knew the feeling very well.  He knew how it was when something clicked between two people.  It had only happened once in his lifetime, and he'd never stop giving thanks for it.

"We were like siamese brothers," Hank went on, "always sitting together, playing together, sleeping at each other's places...  Even our parents became good friends, too."  He bit his lower lip, reaching deep into the happiest years of his life.  Memories buried long ago surfaced one after the other at the speed of light.  "We joined the Boy Scouts at eight and that summer, while we were going on an excursion, Steven got lost.  We searched for hours, until it went dark.  Suddenly, I felt a terrible pain in my left ankle and I just knew Steven was hurt.  I-I couldn't explain what was happening to me, I could hardly walk.  And then," he got an intense look on his face, reviving that moment as if it had happened yesterday, "it was if I entered a trance.  I began walking like a robot and twenty minutes later, we found him.  I led our instructors straight to a hole on the ground several feet deep.  Steven had broken his left ankle in the fall."

"WOW," Starsky muttered to himself reverently.

Hank smiled faintly.  "We even spent our measles together in my bedroom one year later, playing battle ships non-stop."  He closed his eyes passionately.  "God, it was the happiest time of my life.  Even being sick with him around was a joy!"

Starsky closed his eyes briefly and nodded.  He knew everything about being sick, wounded and more.  And the only thing that had made those times bearable had been his beautiful partner.  Hutch's caring, his softly whispered words in the night, his gentle caresses and his overwhelming generosity and patience cradling him all the way, were the reasons he was alive and healthy today.  Hutch had been the keeper of his dignity and sanity all the months after Gunther.  He had never known a greater love.

"We went through school and high school together.  When we started dating girls, we always double dated.  It was so funny to make out with them in the back row of the movie theaters!"

Hank's last words surprised Starsky.  Somehow, he had taken for a fact that Hank was gay, since he had fallen in love with his friend.  But from the young man's last words, it was clear he was at least bi.

"We chose the same career, only to stick together at college.  We became industrial designers.  We worked for the same company for five years," Hank went on, oblivious to Starsky's mental guesses.  "When he married Megan, I was his best man.  It was the perfect day, just the way we had been dreaming of since we were kids.  Soon after, he started bugging me about finding my other half soon, because it was his turn to be my best man."  The little smile on his face disappeared and a shadow covered his features.  "Everything went fine at first, but then we started seing each other less and less outside work, and every time we did, Megan made sure it was a short meet.  Three years later, their marriage blew up.  She told him he was nothing without me, she accussed him of not having any aspirations and being a puppet in anyone's hands.  She destroyed his self-esteem completely.  One evening, when he returned home from work, she was gone.  But she was thoughtful enough to leave the divorce papers on the kitchen table.  How considerate of her!"  His voice oozed venom.  "He moved in with me until he sold their house and bought an apartment with his part of the money."  He hugged himself, as if looking for comfort.  "He was devastated for a very long time.  There was nothing left of the man he had been.  He was only an empty shell.  I'd have given anything to bring back the life he wanted, but there was nothing I could do.  Only hold him in the middle of the night when his muffled crying woke me up."  He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head sharply, as if trying to get rid of a malign presence.  "That's when everything changed for me.  I wasn't aware of it at first, but I can see it now."  He fell silent.

"What do you mean?" Starsky coaxed, having a very good idea of what Hank meant.

"Steven bought a small apartment only a few blocks away from mine, but it took him almost six months to move," Hank continued in a clipped voice.  "He still was subdued most of the time, silent, withdrawn into himself.  That's when I suggested a change.  I had been counting lately and talking to our bosses at work, and they agreed it could work out.  We'd be self-employed, but keeping our links with our former company; sort of a subsidiary but still keeping our independency.  In fact, we'd become a link between our former company and minors.  When I proposed this to Steven, he was excited for the first time in a very long time.  I guess he took it as a personal challenge, as a way of proving himself he could do it, that he wasn't the weakling Megan told him he was.  As if I needed any proof of that, or anyone else, for that matter."  His eyes softened.  "He's the most talented man in the world, full of ideas and resources."  He made a short pause, gathering his thoughts again.  "We invested all the money we had and worked our asses off for a year, but it worked."  He made a longer pause and his face fell once more, conveying the same suffering and helplessness of a few minutes before, when he had admitted his feelings out loud.  "But when everything settled down and life returned to normal, I broke down.  Steven had moved to his own apartment three months earlier, but only then I became aware of my loneliness, of how much I missed his presence, the sound of his voice, even his scent.  My place and my heart were empty without him.  Working and hanging out together wasn't enough anymore.  I needed him home, having dinner from each other's plates, watching TV sprawled on the couch.  I missed his soft snoring in our bedroom, his 30 minutes long showers, even his home-made enchiladas that killed my stomach.  I remembered the nights he had cried himself to sleep clinging to me, while I did my best to comfort him.  I remembered the feel of his warm body in my arms." He closed his eyes again, in surrender.  "And just like that, the blinders came off."

Starsky nodded to himself, speechless.  The parallelism between these two men's lives and his and Hutch's was almost creepy. 

He had no words, he was blown away.  He was terrified.

How do you help someone out of the same situation you're been trapped in for years?  What can you possibly say and do that sounds reassuring and convincing, when you don't believe it yourself anymore?

"I was horrified af first," Hank tried to explain.  "I had never looked at another man like that in my whole life.  But if I had fallen in love with a man, that meant I was a fag, a homo."  He made a disgusted face.  "I struggled with it for weeks.  I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat; I didn't know who and what I was, what that made me.  And what scared me the most was how good and right it felt.  How natural, between Steven and me.  It made no sense!  Nothing made any sense!"  He sniffed.  "Until, one day, I understood that if this was what being gay was, then so be it.  It was the purest feeling I had ever known.  It was in my blood, in my soul.  My love for Steven defined me as a human being.  If besides loving him in a platonic way, I desired him physically too, well, it was no big deal."

"But it is a big deal," Starsky voiced the bitter truth.  "It's a big deal for the rest of the world.  And deep down, we know that the moment they find out, the whole dynamics of our relationship will have changed forever.  Nothing will ever be the same.  Can't be."

Hank looked down and closed his eyes.  He nodded slowly, acknowledging the truth in Starsky's words.  The truth that made all the difference and had brought them both to this point in their lives.  "I haven't known peace since then.  Just when I had accepted who and what I was, I was forced to accept the fact that I'd have to take this secret to my grave, if I wanted to keep Steven's friendship.  Better to be his friend than a memory."

"And it got worse," Starsky stated.

Hank raised his head and looked at him.  After a while, and seeing his very situation mirrored in Starsky's eyes, he nodded.  "I should have known that our relationship was doomed from the moment I fell in love with him.  I fooled myself into believing that I could hide it from him.  But it was the beginning of the end."  He covered his face with his hands and rubbed his eyes with his fingertips.  "For the past year, I've been losing everything and everyone I loved, one after another.  When our company started making profits and running smoothly, he returned to his old self.  He was the self-confident man he had always been.  He smiled again, the practical joker was back..." Hank trailed off.

"...And he started dating again." Starsky could see it as clearly as if it was happening to him.

"Yes," Hank's voice broke.  "Big time.  I hardly ever saw him outside work."  He ground his teeth, anger and frustration resurfacing again.  "I kept telling myself it was for the best, that it was good for him and that was all that mattered; that maybe this time he'd find his other half and he'd live happily ever after.  I swear his happiness is all I care about.  Above my own.  I wouldn't mind living in hell for the rest of my life, as long as he's happy.  But..."

"But you're in love with him, and just imagining him with other people made you mad.  You felt lonely, sad...  and angry.  And after a time, anger was the only thing that kept you going, and Steven ended up paying for your pain."  Starsky knew the feeling firsthand.

"I was angry at myself for feeling like this!" Hank cried out.  "But I couldn't stand seeing him jumping from woman to woman, and showing off.  It hurt me, it broke my heart; and I ended up getting mad at him.  He was the reason why I was feeling like this!  I hated him!"

A long silence followed.

"That's when I began snapping at him.  It started at work, since that was practically the only place I got to see him.  At first, he dismissed my outbursts with jokes of his own; but after a time, it began getting to him, too.  Until..."  Hank closed his eyes and bit his lips mercilessly, trying to hold back the crying that wanted to explode from him.

Instinctively, Starsky took another step closer.  He could almost touch Hank now.  "Until?" He prompted.

Taking a long and shaky breath, Hank forced himself to go on.  Spilling it all out was helping him.  This sharing was good.  He thanked heavens for having found someone with whom he could open his heart, even if it was too late to be of any help to him now.  Starsky was right, sometimes it was easier to trust a stranger than your own flesh and blood.  He felt as if the weight he had been carrying for so long he wasn't even aware of it anymore, had been lifted from his shoulders.  At least, his memories would go on living in Starsky when he ceased to exist.  His life wouldn't have been in vain.  It felt good trusting his hopeless love to someone who could understand.  He blinked the tears away and continued.  "Seven months ago, my parents got killed in a car crash," he said in a voice so weak Starsky almost didn't hear him.

"Oh, my God!  I'm sorry, Hank!" Starsky said from the bottom of his heart.  The curly-haired cop felt a searing pain in his chest at the young man's words.  In the middle of all his problems, his parents' sudden death must have been the final blow.

Hank shook his head, putting down his own pain bravely.  "When they died, I had no one left," he explained softly.  "Only some ancient great aunts and great uncles I had seen a few times as a child."  He made a little pause.  "I had Steven, but..."

"You couldn't turn to him," Starsky finished for him again.

"He was beside me all the time, even if things weren't the same between us anymore.  After the funeral, he insisted on moving in with me for a while, sleeping on the couch."  He hissed.  "God, I still don't know how I managed!  I didn't dare to seek him out.  His touch, his presence so close...  I was going crazy.  And when he came to me and put his hand on my shoulder, on the back of my neck...  Oh, God!  I clung to him like the drowning man I was!"  He rubbed his stinging eyes and sobered.  "Anyway, a few weeks later I couldn't stand his presence at home anymore.  I could see I was slipping, and started rejecting his touch and getting mad at him over the silliest things.  I really don't know how he put up with me for so long, but seeing that his presence was upsetting me so much, he left.  For the past five months, we've seen each other less and less.  I became more and more reserved, hard, mocking in my words.  I knew what I was doing, but I couldn't help myself.  I knew where this was leading, too; it was only a matter of time."  His voice dropped ominously.  "And it happened last night.  I was watching the game on TV, with my fourth beer can in hand, and he knocked.  The moment I saw him, I lost it.  I asked him what the hell was he doing at my place, if he didn't have another pussy to fuck.  The rest is a blur.  He said things...  that he was sick of the man I had become, always snapping at him; that he didn't have to put up with me forever, and if I couldn't say a kind word to him anymore, we'd better end it right then and there.  I told him he had been a bit slow in putting two and two together.  I told him to fuck off and disappear from my life."  Hank took a deep breath and touched his right cheekbone gingerly.  "He punched me and looked at me with this face full of hatred and contempt...  and left."  He put down his hand.  "It was the first time one of us laid hands on the other."  His chin began trembling.  "And just like that, it was over.  25 years...  just like that."  Tears rolled down his cheeks in rivulets now, with no restraints anymore.

Starsky made no effort to hide the tears streaming down his face.

"I woke up this morning on the floor beside the couch.  I showered, got dressed and had breakfast like a zombie.  I-I didn't know what was happening to me.  I d-didn't feel like myself anymore.  I felt so detached from everything...  as if someone else had taken control."  Hank blinked a couple times.  "It's funny, all I could think about was how would I face him this morning at work.  I vaguely remember going out...  and the next thing I know...  I was standing up here."  He looked around him nervously, as if wondering what was he doing there.  But all of a sudden, that disturbing gleam appeared behind his eyes again.  That unsettling void stare.  "It surprised me at first, but when I thought about it...  it made sense."  The weird and distant voice was back.

"No, it doesn't!"  The look in Hank's eyes was making every hair on Starsky's body stand on end. "If you do this, there'll be no turning back, Hank.  You love Steven and Steven loves you.  Think about him, what he'll have to go through if you go along with this."

Hank let out a soft, far away smile.  "My brain must have known what it was doing, even if I didn't.  You know why I'm up here?"

Starsky shook his head, thinking frantically, considering his options if Hank didn't listen to him.

"Steven hates heights; just like you, only much worse.  He gets sick just looking out of the window of a two-storey building.  He panics and throws up."  He smiled, momentarily lost in some fond remembrance; but immediately, a shadow crossed his features again.  "I know it's silly, especially after last night, but I don't want to take the chance of him finding me.  I don't want him to identify my body.  You'll verify it was me who jumped."  He turned his head and looked at Starsky.  His eyes were dead.  "Believe me, Dave, it's for the best."

"No, goddammit, it's not for the best!  Maybe it is for you, you lousy coward!"  Starsky cried out.  "What do you think life is like, huh?  Life is pain, and fucking up, and making mistakes and paying for them."  He had to talk, he had to keep on talking until he thought of something, until he bored this young man out of his crazy idea.  "Life is falling in love with your best friend and living with it; making up a girlfriend named Karen to keep him from suspecting, and praying he won't ever ask for a double date.  Life is making a pathetic fool of yourself, no matter how old you are.  Staying alive takes guts!"  He spat.  His heart was beating savagely in his chest, but he went on.  "Life is moving on, even knowing that it'll hurt for as long as you live, because his happiness is all that matters; even knowing that you'll never know that kind of love again."

Hank stepped back, as if Starsky's words had hit him physically.  His eyes opened wide, as if waking up from a dream.

Starsky calmed down a bit.  Just a bit.  "What you're doing is taking the easiest way out, not thinking of anyone but yourself and your pain.  But what about Steven?  Huh?  This will be a killing blow for him, cause he'll never have the chance of making up with you.  Punching you will be his last memory of your friendship.  Do you wanna do that to him?  Is that how much you love him?"

Hank's face contorted in pain and helplessness.  He shook his head.  "No," he choked on the word.  "I'd die for him."

Starsky closed his eyes for a second, summoning up his strength.  "Do us all a favor, kid, and don't die today," he said, softly.  "Life's worth living, despite everything.  Despite knowing that your most cherished dream is never gonna happen.  The love you two have for each other is something precious that doesn't deserve to end like this.  Be brave, for all the love you can still give each other, even if it's not the kind of love you'd desire and hurts more than you can take.  Maybe one day, life'll take pity on us and give us a little peace."  New, fresh tears rolled down Starsky's cheeks, but he didn't bother wiping them away.  "Hold on to your love, man, cause that love's something very few ever know.  That love is life and joy.  And even if it's pain too, it's also hope.  The kinda hope of the person who's got nothing to lose and everything to gain."  Starsky was breathless; he had emptied himself in those words.  They had shaken him to his very core.  And what amazed him the most was that they were true.  He actually meant them!

Hank stared at him, as if reading him inside again, reaching into the deepest recesses of Starsky's soul.  "Do you actually believe what you're saying?" He asked in a tremulous voice.

Starsky closed his eyes with a tiny smile.  This young man was good at reading him.  Too good!  He opened them again and met Hank's.  "I have to, for my partner and my own sanity."  He pronounced the word 'partner' as a prayer, as something holy and sacred.

Hank felt his skin filling with goosebumps at the immense feeling in Starsky's voice.  He studied those caring blue eyes again, and what he saw in them dissolved his already fading resolve.

He didn't know what kept him standing.  Starsky had taken from him his will to die, but who could give him back his will to live now?  He bit his lips and tried to hold back the crying that was threatening to break him apart.

"Hank," a small, frightened voice intruded the two men's world.

Starsky and Hank turned their heads at the same time.  Hank gasped, as if drowning.

"Steven," he practically sobbed, his eyes popping open at the sight of the man he loved on the roof of that building.  "W-what are you doing here?"

The newcomer's deadly pale features were contorted in a mask of fear, sickness, pain and above all, love.  Love brighter than the brightest star.  "Who do you think called 911, dummy?" he answered with something akin to a smile.  "I followed you when you left your apartment."

"A-and you came up here?"  Hank didn't know what he was saying.  Things were happening too fast for him to catch up.

Steven took a couple steps closer and gazed at his friend adoringly.  "How could I not?  I knew I was the only one who could make you change your mind about this."  He reached out.  "I'm sorry I hit you, babe," his voice was full of remorse.

Steven's words broke Hank at last.  He burst out crying.  "Oh, God, Steven!  I didn't want you to see me like this.  I'm so sorry!"  He wept.

Steven took another unsteady step closer, still reaching out.  "Don't worry about that now.  We'll sort this out, Hank.  Now that we know what the problem is, we'll sort it out, together, I promise you!  But you have to stop what you're doing.  Now."  His face was distinctly green.  "I wouldn't want to throw up all over your clothes, but I'm pretty close," he feebly cracked.

Hank laughed despite himself, in the middle of his crying.

"Please, Hank."  Tears rolled down the young man's face.  "Take my hand, buddy.  It'll be okay.  Everything's gonna be okay, you'll see.  I'll make up to you, I swear.  Just take my hand."  Steven begged, breaking down, too.

As if pulled by an invisible force, Hank reached out and grasped the outstretched hand.  As soon as he did, he fell into his friend's arms and they clung to each other for dear life, crying unashamedly, their faces buried in each other's necks.

Rubbing his eyes to clear his vision, Starsky returned to the safety of the roof.  His suddenly trembling legs almost gave up under him, but the touch of an unmistakable, beloved hand on his shoulder, gave him back his strength just as fast as they had deserted him. 

Starsky met his partner's eyes.  He couldn't see Hutch clearly, because of his already misted eyes, but for a moment, he thought there was something strange in those baby blues.

Not wanting to see anything that could disturb the happiness he felt for the two men before him, Starsky turned his eyes to Hank and Steven.  At least, they had gotten their happy ending.  Even if it wasn't the happy ending one of them craved.  Starsky was mesmerized by the sight of Hank holding on to Steven's shirt, his face totally buried in the crook of his neck, and the dark-haired man's big hand stroking Hank's light brown hair, sliding through the wavy strands, and rubbing his face against it.  There was something in the naked tenderness of Steven's caresses that made Starsky's heart skip a beat.

Hank must have felt it too, because he raised his head from his friend's shoulder and looked at him in puzzled confusion.  It was obvious this touching was new to him, too.  "Steven?" he asked in the weakest, most vulnerable voice.

Steven smiled softly and framed the wet face in his hands, caressing the light swelling on Hank's right cheekbone.  Not bothering about who could be watching, he bent forward and bestowed the sweetest, most loving kiss on the pouted lips.

Time seemed to stand still for an endless moment, as the two men got lost in their own world.  Starsky thought he had never seen anything so beautiful.  His Hutch aside, of course.

When he moved back, Steven smiled at the flustered, blown away expression on Hank's face.  "If only one of us had spoken sooner, how much pain we'd have been spared," he whispered into the soft lips of his former friend, and now lifetime companion.  "And to think I almost lost you!"  He exclaimed, hugging Hank for all he was worth.

Hank still couldn't believe what was happening to him, but Steven's overwhelming touch reassured him quickly.  He returned the desperate embrace and Starsky heard him whisper, "Please, take us home," into his beloved's neck.

Steven nodded. 

Slowly, they headed for the open door that led to the building's stairs.  Miraculously, the two cops guarding it had disappeared.

When they were about to reach the door, Hank turned about suddenly, looking for something.  When he saw Starsky, his eyes lit up and reached out one hand to him.

Starsky took it between both of his, and the two men touched for the very first time.

"Thank you, Dave."  Hank's voice sounded on the verge of breaking.  He opened his mouth again, but he couldn't find the words.

Starsky shook his head.  These two men's happiness was all the reward he needed.  There still were happy endings in the world.  The sudden pang of bitterness in the pit of his stomach at the thought surprised him, but he quickly dismissed it, as he was used to doing.  This wasn't the time for being selfish, but for being happy for the couple that had just been born.

Starsky released Hank's hand with a parting squeeze.  The young man looked at him one last time and then, his gaze swept past Hutch beside him.  He did a double take and his eyes opened wide in recognition.  He immediately reached out to him, too.  "Love him good," he told Hutch.

"I do," replied Hutch's shaky voice.

Surprised by the strange accent in his partner's voice, Starsky looked at him, in time to see Hutch shaking Steven's outstretched hand now.

"Thank you for understanding and letting me up," Steven said.

Hutch bit his lower lip and nodded.

When they let go of each other, Steven's hand reached out to Starsky.  "Thank you for everything you've done.  You saved Hank's life and I'll thank you for as long as I live," his voice was full of tears.

"Nonsense, I did nothing.  You did." Starsky said.  Then, he got serious.  "There'll be cops downstairs waiting for you.  There are some standard procedures that have to be taken care of now, but everything will be okay.  Hutch and me will help you in every way we can."  The twinkle in his eyes returned.  "Stay away from any rooftops, both of you.  Okay?"

The two younger men let out a dry laugh.

"You've got a deal, man," Steven promised for the both of them, with a tremulous smile.  He enveloped Hank in the cozy circle of his arms and tried to move him along.  But Hank seemed rooted to the ground, his eyes fixed on Hutch's face.  Steven tried again and Hank obeyed him this time, his eyes turning to Starsky with a new, happy spark in them.

"Live long and prosper," he said with a wink, triggering Steven's knowing laughter.

Deep into each other's arms, practically cuddling one another, the two men disappeared from the partners' sight.

Giving up to his need to sit down, Starsky collapsed on a cement square in the middle of the rooftop.  His every strength seemed to have been drained from him all at once.

Instantly, one strong hand settled on his right shoulder and squeezed it affectionately.  He closed his eyes, trying to get his heartbeat and breathing back under control.

Just then, he felt a soft, warm voice whispering into his ear.

"You're incredible, partner."

Trying to supress the goosebumps raising all over his body, Starsky replied on autopilot, ignoring the feelings his beloved's nearness was arousing in him.  "Yeah, well, I don't feel too incredible right now.  Just scared to death."

"I know," Hutch's hands began massaging the back of his neck and his shoulders.  "What ifs and all that."

Starsky nodded.

"But it didn't happen, buddy.  You saved the day and helped those two men to find happiness in each other's arms."

Something in Hutch's voice made Starsky open his eyes and look at his friend.  What he saw in those awesome blue eyes made him start trembling like a leaf.  His breathing and heartbeat went off the scales again.  "Ho-how long have been here, you two?" he paled, expecting the worst.

Hutch smiled widely and reached up, cupping Starsky's face between his hands and wiping away the almost dry tear tracks on his cheeks.  "Long enough to know that from now on, we'll be sharing one place, my love," he replied, bending forward and kissing Starsky's eyelids. 

The poignant tenderness of the act was too much for Starsky. 

When Hutch moved back and saw his beloved's eyes filling with tears, he again closed the short distance that separated them, and took the starved lips in his own the way he had been dreaming of for so long.  He exposed every feeling he had been holding back for over two years and gave them all to Starsky, trusting them to his care, as he had done with his life, heart and soul so many years ago.  Nothing had ever felt so perfect and beautiful.  He had been waiting all his life for this kiss, this love, this man.  He moved his lips all over Starsky's mouth, learning every feature, every millimeter, every nuance of taste and feel of those soft lips.  He felt dizzy at the glory of feelings taking him over.

When he began to move back, Starsky whimpered in fear and his strong arms came up and held Hutch in place, preventing him from separating them.

They shared the kiss they had prayed for, for as long as they had accepted their love for the other.

Just when he thought he was about to pass out from sheer bliss, Starsky's lips abandoned his own, leaving Hutch cold and bereft.

The blond man opened his eyes to the sight of Starsky's scared ones.  "What?" he asked with his heart in his mouth.

"W-what about Rebecca?" Starsky asked, his voice quivering with fear.

Hutch burst out laughing in relief and hugged his beloved tight.  "Don't worry," he whispered into Starsky's sexy ear once again.  "I'll just send her to Never Land, along with Karen," he confessed impishly.

It took a moment for Starsky to understand what his partner was really saying, so wrapped up he was in his own fear.  But when he did, he sputtered and burst out laughing helplessly too, and sought the comfort of his blond angel's arms; comfort Hutch granted eagerly and passionately.

They lost track of time.  They worshipped each other leisurely, hungrily, desperately.  But finally, they moved back and looked into each other's eyes, clinging to each other's backs, finding a world of love and commitment there.

"Forever?" Starsky asked heartbreakingly, still needing verbal reassurance.

Hutch smiled and reached out one forefinger, drawing the length of Starsky's nose all the way down to the very tip.  "Oh, yes.  Forever's just the time we'll be kissing each other's asses," he joked, quite intentionally, waiting for Starsky to understand what he was referring to.

Starsky did one heartbeat later and he burst out laughing again, holding Hutch's roguish face in his hands and planting a big smooch on his full, sensual lips.  Next, he hugged him again, never having enough.

Hutch returned the embrace tenfold, caressing his back all over.

"I love you," Starsky couldn't hold it back one minute longer.

"I love you, too, Starsk.  I love you so much that forever won't be long enough to show you," Hutch's voice broke under the weight of the feelings he was free to express now.

Starsky closed his eyes and let the warmth of Hutch's body seep into his being and soothe his soul.

They had it all now.