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Nerve Damage

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Starsky, back to near-independent living—Hutch still had to shave him—in a borrowed first-floor apartment in a complex co-owned by Huggy, laughed with delight when he woke up with a very good friend who'd been gone too long.

Quickly, he pulled his T-shirt up a couple of inches, then pushed his pajama bottoms down past his hips. And there his friend was: his penis at full mast for the first time in the four months since The Shooting. Even its ruby-red color was back in force. Another milestone met, he was cocksure the past half-hearted displays of virility were just that—past. In the haste to save his life, less-than-optimal positioning on the OR table had produced nerve damage that interfered with normal function. Pain medications had contributed to the complication. Evidently, the problem had finally—finally—resolved.

Not that he'd been feeling particularly horny anyway. He was still experiencing the libido-anesthetizing effects of mild depression and anxiety and the Valium he took to help him sleep and ease muscle spasms.

Starsky wrapped his hand around the stiffy. Yep, full size! God, this feels good. Normal. He was tempted to stroke his joystick to orgasm but held off. He'd be a good boy and wait for the go-ahead from his urologist.

Carefully, he swung his legs over the side of his bed. He sat there a few moments, letting the drug-induced dizziness pass. He performed his warm-up exercises and a modified sun salutation before grabbing his cane in his left hand and using it to stand. The pajama bottom fell to the floor. With less care than he needed just a week ago, he stepped out of it.

The nerve damage affecting his right leg was getting better, and his left leg was almost back to normal. His goal was to ditch the cane by October 15, five months from the Ides of May, a term he used for the best and worst day of his life. That was looking pretty realistic this morning, or maybe it was his great mood, what with the joystick finally having its wires reconnected.

Starsky, a big smile on his face, made his way to the bathroom, where the mirror was shrouded in black, part of his solution for not seeing the scars.

It had taken weeks to work up the courage to see his bare chest. When he eventually did, his first thought was it looked as if all four railroads on the Monopoly board had converged in a horrific, track-twisting, fiery accident, leaving only patches of runty hair resembling little tufts of burnt grass that had survived the conflagration.

He'd nearly lost his composure and let his vision fuzz over to keep from seeing the train wreck. Through clenched teeth, he'd grouched, "Where's my shirt? Where's my fucking shirt?! Somebody get me a fuckin' shirt!" Thinking, Nobody's ever gonna want me, not even Hutch.

Hutch, loving, patient, supportive, I've-got-your-back-always Hutch, who showered with him to help him stay upright and wash what he couldn't reach, was instantly behind him. Starsky, sensing Hutch's presence, had let himself fall back into Hutch's body. Moments later, the monstrous chest was hidden from his view. From everyone's gawking, pitying view.

After that disaster, he'd vowed never to look at his back, positive that the three exit wounds left an even more grotesque, macabre wreck there.

He tugged off the T-shirt with some effort. The damage to his right brachial nerve plexus made it difficult. The numbness, weakness, and near-constant electrical-shock sensation continued to plague him. However, the neurologist was hopeful that eventually he'd get back most, if not all, normal function.

Though time supposedly healed all wounds, the new one Starsky had acquired on seeing his mutilated chest for the first time was not responding to time's ministrations. He always wore a shirt now, only removing it when he had to, looking away when he undressed, washed, dressed.

Morning ablutions completed, he pulled on the blue short-sleeve henley T-shirt with his eyes averted. He struggled into the hated boxer shorts and elastic-waist cotton pants—my goddamn old-man clothes—because he couldn't yet manipulate buttons and zippers. When he realized he was less exhausted than yesterday and the shocks in his arm hadn't escalated, he smiled again.

This is gonna be a terrific day. Wish I could talk to Hutch now, let him know the good news.

The DA heading up the Gunther prosecution had scheduled an early morning powwow, expected to go into late afternoon, which included some FBI types. It meant no 8 a.m. call from Hutch today, and he missed it.

He missed Hutch period, especially at night. His partner had been his unofficial night guard in inpatient rehab, even shared his bed, but doctor's orders were that Starsky had to be independent once home—no Hutch to step in to do for him except to shave and help him prepare meals.

Simply being with Hutch always made him feel stronger, almost invincible, cared for, loved. Especially the latter…

^S/H^

The Ides of May…

Between busy patrols and reports and depositions on the dance club case, it took them nearly two weeks of long, soul-revealing, honest discussion to reconstruct their frayed partnership and friendship. Two weeks to admit burnout and disillusionment and being slowly strangled by futility. Two weeks to agree to look for police work off the streets. Two weeks to realize they were taking their anger and frustrations out on each other, simply for convenience's sake. Two weeks to recognize that their competitiveness had reached ridiculous levels and had to stop. Two weeks to promise that nothing—especially secrets—or no one could be allowed to come between them again. Two weeks to acknowledge that there was something undefinable they couldn't quite see, hear, touch.

Foreheads touching, they had said simultaneously, "Me and thee." And the words had filled in the holes in the bond that their own faults had made.

Then that fateful morning, Hutch showed up at Starsky's place with fresh bagels, cream cheese, and lox.

Starsky grinned, reshelved the cereal boxes, and poured them both coffee. He was on his second bagel when Hutch said, "No secrets, right, Starsk?"

"Yeath," he replied, tongue curling around an errant creamy morsel. "So, what's on your mind? You got a big, important secret I need to know?"

Hutch drew a deep breath, meeting Starsky's questioning eyes head on. "Yeah, I do. Full disclosure. You know how we both think there's something we're missing?"

Starsky nodded.

Hutch silently re-positioned their chairs until they were knee to knee. He took a slow breath as if it were a dose of aerosolized Dutch courage. "Last night, Starsk, I finally owned up to the main reason I was such a shit about Kira. Why I've been treating you like crap for months. I know what I've wanted, probably for years, but haven't been able… refused to admit it. And I used Kira for my own ends." He stopped and looked away from Starsky's intense yet non-judgmental gaze, shivered ever so slightly.

Starsky swallowed, tingling all over. He laid a hand on his partner's thigh. A touch that had been rare for months, but was rapidly returning to previous levels. "It's okay, Hutch. You can tell me anything."

Hutch looked at Starsky again. "It's hard to say this, Starsk, because I'm afraid I'll lose you."

"Me and thee, babe, no matter what." Starsky paused, gathering strength in the brief lull. "Okay, I'll say it. You're in love with me."

Hutch's eyes widened, his mouth gaped open.

"And I'm in love with you, ya big lummox."

"Wh-wh-what? You nuh-know? And you —"

Starsky silenced his flustered partner with an easy, affectionate laugh and a squeeze of his thigh. "I figured it out last night, too. I think I've been in love with you since the academy, but that's a hard pill to swallow for a guy who loves women. Terry knew, I'm pretty sure. She told me in her own way, but I wouldn't listen. I wasn’t ready to believe her."

Hutch said nothing, only stared.

Starsky cleared his throat. "I realized you loved me, too, and prob'ly have for a while. You went after Kira so I'd break it off with her and be available again. And I fell for her because I couldn't have you. We… had blinders on, which seems fitting since we've been a couple of horses' asses." Starsky placed his other hand on Hutch's other thigh.

A few moments later, Hutch's strong hands covered Starsky's. "So, what do we do now?" he asked, uncertain, almost fearful.

Starsky grinned like the lovestruck idiot he was, leaned closer into Hutch's space, and whispered with an intimacy he'd never used with anyone else. "How's 'bout we take it slow, 'cause this standing-still crap we been doin' for years ain't working anymore, but I am not ready to gallop."

Hutch grinned back and closed the distance between them. Together, they touched lips but it wasn't what anyone would label a kiss.

Then suddenly it was a kiss. Tentative to brotherly to adventuresome to passionate to consuming to heart- and cock-swelling, blotting out the rest of the world. No competition, no struggle to dominate, tongues dancing in perfect choreography to music composed by them, an extension of each self in the other as they'd always been. But now with its fullest expression, it was a completed symphony of unity.

They broke the kiss only to breathe. Another facet of their love was finally unbound, with ecstatic grins and saucered pupils rimmed by thin shades of blues, one pair sunny-sky, the other periwinkle twilight. They maintained eye contact, cementing their expanded relationship. Becoming even more "Me&Thee."

Minutes passed before Hutch spoke with both joy and regret. "If we don't leave soon, we'll be late and threatened with traffic duty. Again."

"Could call in love-sick." Part joke, part suggestion.

Hutch chuckled. "Not sure Dobey would approve of that excuse. C'mon. Two teams are out and we gotta go in."

"Gimme a couple minutes." Starsky's voice was strained and husky.

"Why?"

"Kinda challenging to stand with a huge hunk-a burnin' love between my legs."

Hutch guffawed, closed his hands tightly over Starsky's. "That's what you get for wearing such tight jeans. Mine aren't restricting me… much."

"Smartass."

"I am smart. And you're the ass. Because it's sublime. Magnificent. On second thought, stick with the tight jeans?"

"Promise. Uh, Hutch?"

"Yeah, Starsk?"

"I love you." He said it softly, shyly, truly.

Hutch's grin grew. "I love you, too." Happily, sincerely. "We'll talk later tonight, okay?"

"Maybe a little less talk and a lot more action?" Giddy, sexy, eyebrow-waggling.

"I'll go for that." A quick kiss this time, full of promise. Starsky snickered.

"What? Do my kisses amuse you," Hutch asked with mock hurt.

"Moustache tickles. Ain't kissed nobody with one since my grandma."

Their exuberance carries over into the car and the squad room and the garage, until metal screeching against metal extinguishes it.

^S/H^

…Ides of May. Best day of my life until it became the worst. The first day of my new life was almost my last. At least I got that incredible kiss.

Starsky realized he'd grown hard again. Just thinking of that kiss had given him his second erection. He wished he was wearing the same jeans he'd worn that day, kind of a full circle thing: first acknowledged wood for Hutch, and now first wood months after, brought on by just a memory of their first kiss.

Maybe our first lovin' tonight, Hutch. Maybe we can finally do what we've wanted for years. Get past the safe pecks on the forehead, past the fear of hurting me, past my disgusting body.

Sighing, again tamping down his fear that Hutch's platonic kisses and apparent lack of sexual interest meant Hutch was no longer wanted him that way, he turned his thoughts back to the day ahead of him.

He started the coffee Hutch had ready to go. While it brewed, he blended and drank the bizarrely-colored concoction of healthy stuff, made toast, and ate that along with the coffee.

Starting his second cup, he dialed the urologist.

"Dr. Richards' office. How may I help you?"

"Hey, schweetheart, do you have some time in the schedule for yours truly?"

Starsky could hear the smile in Charlotte's voice. "Bogie! You know we always have time for you. But you were just in for your regular appointment. Are you okay?"

"Everything's comin' up rosy, darlin'. I think I could get cleared today."

"Oh, that's wonderful! Hmm... I can fit you in about 9:30-ish. Can you be here by then?"

"I'll call my chauffeur in early. If he can’t make it, I'll get back to you."

"Sounds good, Dave. See you soon."

He hung up, then immediately dialed Huggy Bear's home phone. While it rang, he was relieved it was Huggy's day and not Mitzi Graham or Edith's turn to drive him around. It was so much less embarrassing to have Huggy with him when he had to see the urologist whom Starsky had dubbed "Doctor Dick."

"The Bear is feelin' like one that's been poked this a.m., so be gentle and quick."

"Rough night, Hug?"

"It's always rough when two waitresses call in sick. And worse, had to cancel the night with my latest paramour."

Starsky chuckled. "Ah, the unpredictable life of a restaurateur."

Huggy snorted. "So what's goin' down, m'man? What can't wait for a couple of turns around the ol' timepiece?"

"More like what's up, Hug. Got an appointment at 9:30 with Doctor Dick. Maybe I'll get cleared today."

"That's great news, Starsky! One giant leap for you and whoever you aim to please. Do you have plans to re-ignite the fire with my beautiful sista Detective Joan?"

Starsky felt his entire body tingle with anticipation of sealing the deal that would make Hutch his partner in all things. He hoped. "Nope. Got someone else in mind."

"It ain't nice to hold out on the Bear, dawg. Your pumpkin'll be there in twenty."

^S/H^

Starsky was abashed at the sheet being pointedly elevated, despite the doc's warning that he would cause an erection. Geez, third hard-on today. Makin' up for lost time. Now all he had to do was jerk off at home during business hours and report any "untoward symptoms" to the doc.

Huggy got him home in record time. "If you don't mind, I'll just wait in the den and enjoy a little daytime drama on the boob tube. With the sound turned to the max."

Starsky laughed. "What, you don't like to listen no more?"

Huggy harrumphed. "I thought we left that behind us, Starsky. Obviously you haven't. Ya know, you still my own personal Peter Pan."

Starsky laughed and hobbled to his bedroom. He winked at Huggy, who pulled a face, as he closed the door.

A few minutes later, Starsky was naked from the waist down, his T-shirt covered with a face cloth, and lotion in his left hand. He muttered, "Here goes… everything."

Conjuring an image of Hutch, bright and loving, Hawaiian-sea-blue eyes reaching into his soul, was enough to get a new erection started. He slathered the lotion on his inflating organ and began stroking it slowly, fondling his balls awkwardly with his impaired right hand.

His mind went instantly to the fantasy he had that night before the Ides of May. Hutch, illuminated and glowing and indescribably beautiful by candlelight in Starsky's bedroom, uttering little moans and words of devotion, holding both their cocks in his large, rough hand, using the other to tweak and pinch Starsky's sensitive nipples. Sharing fevered liplocks and sucking tongues. Thrusting against each other.

Starsky breathed and stroked faster, thumbing the head and spreading the pre-come over it, imagining it was Hutch's tongue. He climbed higher.

"Love you so much, Hutch," he whispered throatily. In his mind, he heard Hutch professing his love in his seductive baritone. Then, Come for me, Starsk, as if Hutch was breathing it in his ear.

Starsky inhaled sharply as he rocketed higher than he ever had before, then arched his back hard and fast when he climaxed and shouted an ecstatic, "Ahhh!" Semen pulsed repeatedly.

In the next second, he screamed in agony from the cramps in his torso. His back stayed bowed. Tears of too-intimately-known pain and of long-awaited pleasure streaked out the sides of his blue eyes. Breaths came in short, labored pants.

Huggy burst into his friend's bedroom. "Starsky! What's wrong?"

"Spazzzzmmm…" He hissed on a forced long exhale.

"Well, well, my satisfied compadre," said Huggy as he squirted some lotion into his hand, "my acutely sensitive olfact'ry prowess detects the not-so-sweet aroma of sex-cess." He pressed his hands together to warm the lotion.

Starsky was not looking forward to this. He hated the mixed sensations he got when his scars were rubbed. What wasn’t numb or tingly felt like the sound of harsh static over the police radio. He had no choice but to endure. Distract yourself, dummy. "Nothin'… you… ain't smelled… before," Starsky gritted out.

Huggy chortled as he laid his thin, strong hands on his friend's tightly drawn and sweaty back. "I ain't sniffed that part of you since high school. You're the only dude I ever knew who thought comin' last in a circle jerk was a win."

Despite himself, Starsky's lips quirked into something that could loosely be interpreted as a smile. "Stamina… always... wins."

Huggy laughed heartily. "You got that right, m'man. Who knew you was so wise in the ways of the world at such a tender and horny age." He methodically worked on the knotted muscles to the sound of Starsky hissing through his teeth. Slowly, Starsky's torso flattened.

"Tha's good, Hug, thanks." Carefully, Starsky rolled onto his back. He glanced down at his soiled towel. He felt exhausted and embarrassed. "Might need you to massage my chest."

"Starsky, you know I love you, my brotha, but that is askin' too much, considering the current… environment."

Starsky sighed. "I know, I know. I think I can do it. Gimme a couple pumps?"

Huggy pfft'd his amusement. "Interestin' choice of words, Kedzierski. Here."

"Thanks, Hug." Starsky rubbed his chest with his left hand beneath the T-shirt. "How'd ya know the Polish nickname for 'Curly'?"

"I asked my new butcher. He hails from your European neck-o'-the-woods. He's edumacatin' me on some choice phrases."

Starsky snickered. "If his kielbasa is good, he can teach you all the Polish he wants."

Huggy pulled up a chair and sat next to Starsky's bed. "How's the cramps?"

"Almost all gone. Just gotta lay low and not move for a bit."

"You want me to call Doctor Dick?"

"Naw, thanks. I better. He'll want to hear it from me."

Thirty minutes later, a dejected Starsky hung up with instructions from Richards to avoid all sexual activity until re-evaluated by his surgeon and physiatrist. For a brief moment, however, he appreciated the reprieve in facing Hutch's rejection of him as a lover.

^S/H^

At the same time Starsky was fantasizing about Hutch giving him a hand job, Hutch felt a fever rush through him and settle in his groin. Blood began filling his cock. What the hell?

"Uh, I could use a break, Aaron," he said, words almost warbling.

DA Fleming checked his watch. "Good idea, Ken. We've been going at this pretty hard." Hutch blushed at the phrase, wondering if Fleming had noticed. "Let's take fifteen."

Hutch rose quickly and slouched his way out of the conference room lined with three huge cork boards and two white boards, filled with the efforts to unwind and make sense of James Marshall Gunther's extensive criminal and legitimate enterprises. He hoped his posture was enough to hide his burgeoning erection.

Damn! Why now? It's been months...

He thought back to an appointment not long after The Shooting.

^S/H^

"What else is on your mind today, Ken?" asked Chas Petersen, his gay-friendly private therapist recommended by Peter Whitelaw.

"Uh, well, it's been nearly three weeks now since Starsky d-d-died—almost died. He's getting better, and I'm actually feeling hopeful. But something's not right with me. With my normal functions."

"Care to be a little more explicit?"

Hutch reddened to his hairline. Now's not the time to be a scaredy cat, you putz, he heard Starsky in his head. "I, um, normally have an erection every morning, but I haven't since that… that morning. And I'm not thinking about having sex at all."

Chas smiled knowingly. He leaned forward in his chair, smiled to himself when Hutch copied him. "You've been under a great deal of stress, Ken. Your partner was so horribly wounded. Everyone can actually see that. But you've been damaged too, just as badly. You two had just expressed your mutual love and desire for each other, and within hours, you're both ripped apart, he on the outside, you on the inside."

"Maybe I was—am—wounded."

"You were, which is to be expected when someone you love is nearly taken from you and continues to suffer. You're still healing. It'll take however long it takes. Stress can rob one of potency and libido, among other things." Petersen paused a moment to give Hutch the chance to think. Then, "Tell me, Ken, have you been having physical pain yourself?"

Hutch gave Petersen a surprised look. "How did you know?"

"In your right chest and back?"

Hutch bobbed his head. "Yeah."

"An educated guess. Since we started our sessions, I see you rub your right chest a lot and grimace occasionally. At times you even move like you hurt. It's not a stretch to consider you have a variation of sympathetic pregnancy. Or empathetic, if you prefer. Regardless, you are experiencing in your own way what your partner is experiencing. And it's obvious, Ken, you are at your core a highly sympathetic person. With Starsky, you've taken that to the power of ten."

Hutch had an epiphany: Maybe we really are Corsican brothers! "I suppose that could be true. But what does feeling Starsky's pain have to do with my… inability to achieve an erection?"

Petersen smiled gently. "It's a sure thing Starsky can't either. And sexual desire is probably the last thing he's feeling. Sympathy and stress, Ken. Once Starsky is better, you will be, too."

"Could it be that easy?"

"Hopefully. Just remember that once Starsky recovers physically, when survival is a given and he can see the end of his hospitalization and convalescence, his psychological wounds will make their presence known more forcefully. In my opinion, both of you will feel them. Once those wounds heal, you'll both be hunky-dory."

Hutch snorted lightly at the juvenile phrase—one Starsky would use. "And in the meantime?"

Chas took a moment before he replied, "You're an artist, Ken. Create something. It's a wonderful way to augment your meditation and ease stress."

The directive sparked an idea and Hutch made plans to visit the art supply store.

^S/H^

Hutch, thankful no one had been in the hallway or in the men's room, chose the stall furthest from the door. He dropped his khakis and briefs, sat down, stared happily at the first full-blown boner he'd had since that May morning. And now that his head was out of the trial prep, he knew Starsky had one at this same moment.

Yes! Maybe tonight

His mind filled with images of Starsky’s smoky-blue bedroom eyes, of them kissing, caressing, thrusting, licking, sucking, growing harder and fevered. He rolled out a large wad of toilet paper and after placing it strategically, he touched himself and climaxed the instant he envisioned dark curls over his lap.

"Love you so much, Starsk," he muttered. We're gonna be so good together.

He took a few minutes to collect himself before returning to the conference room, renewed and anxious to see his partner. He chose to ignore the trepidation he felt about making love to a man and the probability of hurting his still-healing partner who he loved above all others.

^S/H^

"Mangia, Starsky," Huggy said on seeing his friend's ill-concealed attempt to hide not eating the late-morning snack of frijoles and Mexican rice. "Hutch'll tan my beautiful chocolate-hued hide if you lose any weight on my watch."

"Not hungry, I guess."

"Talk to me, Starsky. My shingle's out."

Starsky huffed, knowing he'd talk just to stop Huggy from pestering him. The man was almost as unyielding as Hutch about certain things. "I take one step forward, six steps back, Hug."

"You've come so far, my brotha, pun intended. Jus' gotta give it a little more time, Starsky."

"Think I might be outta time." Starsky regretted that comment as soon as he said it.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean? You ain't thinkin' about doin' somethin' really stupid?"

"Naw, naw. Just tired, I guess."

"That better be it. Now eat so you can take your codeine, or I'll sic Mrs. Walters on yo' bony white ass."

Starsky sighed, tucking into his cooled meal without his customary frenzy, bemoaning the fact he'd sparked a new reason for worry in his long-time friend. But inside, his failure at achieving an orgasm without complications only reminded him that since The Shooting, Hutch had displayed only platonic love for him. Had Gunther's bullets damaged—maybe killed—their fledgling sexual relationship as well?

^S/H^

Later that afternoon, Starsky went through his physical therapy paces mindlessly, not noticing the increase in weight or the brutal range of motion to his right shoulder and hip, his mind increasingly preoccupied with thoughts of Hutch having rejected him as a lover.

Not long after Starsky began his workout on the stationary bike, Gene Babcock, rehabbing from a severed Achilles tendon as the result of a knife fight, crutched over to a neighboring bike.

"Hey, Starsky," he said cheerfully.

"Hey, Babs," he said lifelessly. He smirked leadenly to himself when he saw his colleague's face sour at the nickname only Simmons was allowed to use, just as the use of “Starsk” was reserved exclusively for Hutch.

Babcock set aside the single crutch and mounted his cycle. "Since our partners are on a stakeout together Friday night, how about comin' over for dinner?"

Peachy. As much as I hate stakeouts, I'd give my right nut to do one last one with my partner. "No, thanks. Got plans." Yeah. Readin' a book, not eating domesticated liver and dragonfly digits, and falling asleep during the creature feature. Alone. Forever.

"Come on, Starsky. Etta'd love to see you."

"I said no, Babcock," he insisted angrily. He scrambled off his bike, not paying attention to his movement. He fell, hitting his head on the bike's handlebars on the way to the floor. "Shit!" His constant background pain moved to the forefront.

In seconds, Starsky was surrounded by Greg, his physiotherapist, and two assistants. One held a cloth to his forehead.

"Whattza matter?" he said, slurring the words slightly. His head hurt and his insides felt jumbled.

Greg said, "Your forehead's bleeding, Dave."

Terrifically crappy. "Leave me alone," he snarled like a junkyard dog. "I'm fine."

"Not 'til you stop bleeding. You may need stitches and we have to be sure nothing else is hurt."

After a few minutes, the cloth came off and Greg pronounced the bleeding stopped. The therapists helped him up then took him to the mirrored all-purpose room. By the time he sat on a bench, his insides seemed to have righted themselves.

The physiatrist came in to assess Starsky. After a thorough exam, he said, "Okay, Dave, you have a sprained left wrist and right knee, plus you'll have bruises coming up soon. And it wouldn't hurt to stitch the cut on your head."

The mere suggestion of more thread holding him together sent him to the edge of a panic attack. "No!! No stitches. No more. Use glue or bubblegum or spit, but no stitches."

The doctor rechecked the wound. "I think it can get by with butterfly closures since the laceration doesn't involve your scalp. Now, let's get this cleaned up and get your wrist and knee in elastic wraps."

Getting Starsky fixed up took little time, thanks to three people working on him.

"No therapy for a few days, Dave," said the physiatrist. "Just do your stretches and yoga. Short, slow walks only. And get out of that bloody shirt, or you'll have other patients thinking PT is torture."

"It is, you damn sadists," Starsky mumbled bitterly as he laboriously pulled the T-shirt off. Avoiding looking down at his chest or at the mirror in front of him, he gazed to his left.

And saw himself in the mirror behind him.

The right side of his back reminded him of targets he'd seen carpet-bombed in Vietnam. Irregular, lumpy, red spokes like spider webs splintering out from three craters. More craters from drains. More railroad tracks interspersed with those spokes around his scapula. Appalling, gut-wrenching ugliness.

I'm a goddamn monster. No wonder Hutch doesn't want me.

"Fuck!" he squeaked through a tight throat, catapulting off the panic attack's edge while clumsily tugging his soiled shirt back on.

Babcock hurriedly climbed off his bike and limped to the waiting room to find Huggy, who would hopefully find Hutch.

^S/H^

Without warning or reason, Hutch felt swamped with hysteria, or as Starsky would call it, a "disturbance in the Force." He dropped his pen on the legal pad in front of him. "Starsky," he murmured.

"Did you say something, Ken?"

Hutch's ears heated up. "Uh, no. I just remembered something important I gotta do, Aaron. Right now." Hutch was out of his chair and halfway to the door when Fleming said, "Ken! Nothing is more important than this!"

Hand on the doorknob, Hutch stopped, flung a mutinous glare over his shoulder at the DA. "This is."

^S/H^

"What do you mean, you don't know where he is?" Hutch displayed his anger and fear by grabbing Huggy's bolero jacket by its lapels. "How did he see his back? He's not ready for that!"

"Lay off the threads, Hutchinson, and get outta my grill and I'll tell ya."

Chagrined, Hutch released his grip and stepped back. "Sorry, Hug."

An irked Huggy straightened his jacket. "When I tried to stop him, Starsky pushed me so hard, I fell. Bruised my tailbone. He threatened to cut off my hotrod and feed it to some mangy critter if I followed him. Well, you know the man when he's rampagin'. I believed him." He took a deep breath and continued in a less strident voice. "He don't need me, Hutch. He needs you."

Dear God, I need him more. "Thanks, Huggy. I'll find him."

"You do that, Blondie. Call me when you do. I'm worried about him, too."

^S/H^

Starsky had no idea how he made it to Westside Park, which was a good three miles from the rehab center, without falling or twisting an ankle. Early on in the trek, the panic attack had subsided. With adrenaline pumping at maximum, his subconscious had guided him to the peaceful, isolated duck pond near the tree Hutch had planted in his name a few years ago. After throwing the despised cane to the ground, he had plopped and slumped on a bench, too tired and too rebellious for correct posture.

Now that post-adrenaline jitters had finally dissipated, he became acutely aware of the throbbing ache throughout his body. He shivered. His breathing was returning to his new normal. His sense of hope, however, was MIA. "Came back for him… us. Shoulda just stayed de-"

"Don't you dare say that! Or even think it! EVER!"

The enduring cop in Starsky reached for the gun no longer strapped to his side at the same time he twisted right. Instantly he recognized Hutch, bleak and frightened, standing behind the bench. "Dammit, Hutch! Gimme a heart attack, wouldja!"

Hutch vaulted over the bench's back and sat to Starsky's left, thigh to thigh. He placed his hand on his friend's knee. "Talk to me, Starsky."

Starsky bristled at the command in Hutch's voice. "No," he said, sounding like a recalcitrant child. He dropped his chin to his chest.

When Hutch said nothing for several beats, Starsky knew he was using silence as they both did in interrogations. Starsky's agitation grew, and knew he couldn't hold out any longer.

"I... left, 'cause it hurt so bad, but came back for us. I wanted us, Hutch, in that way, so bad. I'd do anything for that. For us. For you." Starsky took a deep, shaky breath and paused.

"My body sucks, Hutch," Starsky continued, voice quivering. "Ain't nothin' good about it. There's half a hardware store keeping my shoulder blade together. A nipple's migrated north. I'm missing a good chunk of lung, got two short ribs, m'arm feels like it's being electrocuted alla the time, and I hafta wear goddamn loafers 'cause I can't tie my shoelaces!" He sucked in much-needed air. "Oh, and let's not forget my liver's imitatin' a starfish."

Hutch broke his silence. "What?"

"Geez, Hutch, don't you know anything? Starfish can grow back their spokes if they been shot, uh, lost."

"Oh." Hutch blinked several times, as if he was flummoxed by Starsky's trivia knowledge. He put his arm around the slumped shoulders.

A new silence stretched out around them while Starsky settled down.

"I saw my back," Starsky whispered without affect. "It's hideous, Hutch," he said louder, animated again. "And I thought my chest was bad. Did ya know I'm a supervillian now? Yeah, meet, uh, the Abdominal Scarman. Powers are making old people faint and sending little kids off screamin' to their mamas and... and… driving lovers from my bed." Tiny tremors coursed through his entire body. He felt Hutch tense, heard his breathing become ragged.

Still not looking at his partner, Starsky said, hollow and desperate, "I know you don't want me anymore, Hutch. Tha's okay. Nobody would." The tremors changed to full-blown shaking. "Just… jus' don't leave me." His voice sounded like fragile glass shattering.

Hutch sputtered out a cough. "I would never leave you, Starsk. Don't ever give up on me and thee. Ever. How did you come up with that ridiculous idea anyway?"

Starsky was tongue-tied, ashamed that he even had as a passing thought that Hutch would ever leave him. Not after all they'd been through together since The Shooting.

Hutch said, "Look at me."

Never truly able to resist Hutch, Starsky complied. He peered into his partner's eyes as if some truth might reveal itself. Again he heard Hutch's breath hitch. Starsky knew it was because he was telegraphing how forlorn and vulnerable he felt. Even his Adam's apple betrayed him, doing its rapid advance/retreat loop.

"Starsky, why do you think I don't want you anymore?"

With great effort, Starsky croaked haltingly, "Treat me like brother. Distant. Even when we're alone."

Starsky felt miserable as he watched Hutch's expression turn from concern to guilt. Even though they had promised to be honest with each other, even if that honesty hurt.

Hutch touched his forehead to Starsky's, away from the new wound. "I'm so sorry," Hutch began in a quavering voice. "I've been scared, terrified, of hurting you, or asking for more than you could give. Scared of so much, it's been exhausting." Now Starsky could feel the quiver travel throughout his partner's body. "So like a chickenshit, I backed off. I guess you could say my nerve took a powder."

"You got hurt, too, Hutch."

"Yeah, because I almost lost you, and I've had to watch you suffer while I'm powerless to help."

Starsky closed his eyes and reveled in the loving tenderness of Hutch stroking his bristly cheek. He leaned in closer, afraid to miss any part of that longed-for touch.

"I am in love with you, deeply, Starsk. More so every day."

Starsky snapped fully upright, breaking the contact, still unable—or unwilling—to believe that anyone, not even Hutch, could be in love with or desire him. "How? I been nothin’ but a... grouch for months. And I'm ugly now! Damaged goods and it might be permanent! And no action!" He pointed to Hutch's crotch.

Hutch chuckled. "Because we're pregnant."

Starsky knitted his brow, searched for the second head Hutch must've grown in the last few seconds. "What are you talkin' about?"

"I'll explain later. In the meantime, know I love you just the way you are."

"Bullshit, Hutchinson."

"No BS, lover. Threw a rod today, first time since that morning. Got off imagining you blowing me."

"Huh?" Starsky felt confused yet hopeful.

Hutch gave Starsky a short but alluring kiss then stood up. Starsky moaned and attempted to keep the kiss going.

"I got something to show you, partner. It's at my place," Hutch told him.

The kiss ignited in Starsky a raging hunger for sexual intimacy with Hutch, tempered by a heavy dose of doubt. "Whadda we waitin' for! But how the hell am I gonna get up all those steps, Hutch?"

"I don't know, Starsk, but we'll figure it out. We always do."

^S/H^

When butt-climbing didn't pan out, they settled on Hutch augmenting his partner's right side. By the time they reached the landing, Starsky was perspiring and sucking air.

"When I leave, I ain't comin' back 'til I can run up the damn stairs," declared Starsky, once he had his wind back.

Hutch smiled and opened the door. "C'mon, Starsk, sit on the couch. I'll bring the surprise to you."

"Fine," he grumped, doddering with each step to his destination. He groaned loudly as he gingerly lowered his aching, exhausted body to the cushions. “Hell, I even sound like an old codger.”

Once he was sure Starsky was settled, Hutch called Huggy and assured him their friend was okay. Next, he called the DA to apologize profusely and reschedule. Finally he went to the greenhouse to retrieve the project he'd been working on for the past three months. He rolled the cart it sat on into the living room.

"Star—" He stopped when he saw his partner had fallen asleep. He sat next to Starsky, then gently pulled him over until his head nestled on Hutch's shoulder, his arm around the man he adored. Moments later, Hutch was asleep as well, more content and surer of himself than he had been in months.

^S/H^

The setting sun's rays streamed through the front window, waking them with soft yellowish light and gentle warmth. Starsky moaned his discontent on being awakened.

"'S'okay, Starsky." Hutch rubbed his eyes with his free hand. Turning his head to look at him, he said, "Ready to —" and stopped to see Starsky staring, open-mouthed, breathing shallowly, at the sculpture on the cart. Hutch wanted to explain, but dared not, afraid of breaking the spell. "Breathe, Starsk," he said quietly.

Starsky took a stuttering breath, the only change since he'd seen the statue. It took several minutes before he spoke. In an unsettled whisper, he said, "Is that…?"

"It is. I call it My Beloved, Warrior. 'David' was already taken. I like this one much better." He kissed Starsky's temple but Starsky appeared not to notice, so enthralled by what was before him. "This is how I see you," Hutch continued, breathing the words softly in Starsky's ear.

Starsky took cane in hand and stood. He shambled to the three-foot sculpture, stopped in front of it. He held his breath.

Hutch watched his face, his every move, ready to intervene should Starsky need anything.

^S/H^

Starsky focused on the naked front torso, seeing only scars. They were etched into or elevated on the clay tinted the same color as his skin when tanned. Brutal keepsakes of bullets, knives, shrapnel, appendicitis. He exhaled forcefully, shakily.

Not trusting himself to turn the cart, he shuffled around to the back. He inhaled sharply when he saw the disfigurement there. More defects. More harsh mementos.

He took one step back. He recalled how each wound had felt, ripping and exploding his skin, sinews, muscles, bones. He pushed away the tightness threatening to asphyxiate him, the dizziness that could topple him, the heart trying to beat its way into oblivion. I will not panic. At this moment, he wanted to smash the figure, yet he couldn't. He couldn't destroy what Hutch had created. He gripped the cane's handle so fiercely that his hand turned white and cramped and his wrist rebelled.

The next thing he knew, Hutch was facing his right side, embracing him with both arms and kissing the scar on his cheek from a torch.

"This is how I see you, babe," Hutch said softly.

To Starsky, it seemed almost seductive. He turned his head, nagging doubt warring with greedy hope that showed on his face as questioning, vulnerability, and confusion.

Hutch's lips came to within millimeters of Starsky's. "Look at it through my eyes, partner. See the courage, determination, confidence, compassion, power, triumph, devotion to serving others, life," he whispered, kissing him after each descriptor. "Look at what you've survived."

With each word, each kiss, Starsky began to believe that Hutch was still in love with him, still wanted him in his bed. His tension began to soften and fade, his senses, heart, and soul filled with Hutch.

"Take another look?" asked Hutch tremulously.

Starsky looked back at the statue and compelled himself to look beyond the multiple defects. Straight, muscled back. Full, round butt cheeks. Tensed, slightly bowed legs, poised to act.

Hutch spun the cart 180°.

Swirls on the head, bumps near his right eye, on his left cheek. The rest of his features almost real. Wiry, muscular arms. His left hand held a samurai sword, pressed against a sturdy leg. His right hand gripped a Ka-Bar knife. Cock and balls with the fullness they had even when flaccid.

He couldn't believe how accurately Hutch had captured all of him, how the statue exuded energy. Not for the first time, he wondered why Hutch, with such genuine artistic talent, had become a cop.

Starsky reached out, touched it hesitantly. He felt a spark that he recognized as Hutch, something he'd felt every time they'd touched since their first meeting and craved ever since. Somehow, Hutch had imbued this sculpture with his own unconditional love and extraordinary spirit. It wasn't a sculpture of him alone. It was of Hutch, too, of what Starsky held of Hutch in his real body. He had thought it impossible, but he fell more in love with the artist. "Not me."

"It is you, Starsk. How I see you."

"Not me. Us."

Hutch held him tighter, buried his face on Starsky's shoulder.

Starsky finally pulled his tearing eyes away from the sculpted clay to look at Hutch's head. "Why?"

Hutch straightened up. "My therapist suggested I create something."

"To ease your own pain, right? Our pain? I ain't been there for you." The apology was evident on his face.

"God, Starsky. Here you are, enduring more than most people can't even imagine, and you're sorry you haven't helped me with mine. You're incredible." Hutch pressed his hard cock against Starsky's hip. "Come to bed."

Starsky's lips quirked at the half-question, half-demand. Heart now overflowing with hunger, relief, and a little apprehension, turned his body to face Hutch, knocking Hutch's rod with his own. "Scared, babe." Of so much, but mostly of losing you.

"Me, too." Hutch sighed. "And I'm tired of it. What do you say we kick this particular scared to the curb and get on with loving each other?"

Starsky took reassurance in the fact that Hutch was frightened as well. Fuck doctor's orders. He nodded and kissed Hutch timidly at first, but turned passionate as Hutch fully engaged. Even as his knees buckled to the mind-boggling appetite for everything Hutch and the profound emotions between them, he dropped his cane, raised his left hand to touch Hutch's face; his right hand struggled to reach his shoulder. He began to sag, but Hutch was there for him, catching him, as he always was, pressing him tightly to his body.

Their kisses became increasingly fevered. Tongues danced as they had with their first kiss, but now to a faster, almost desperate rhythm. Hutch snaked his hand under Starsky’s shirt and caressed his entire bare back in such a way that Starsky thought his marred skin was singing. Neither was willing to part, until Hutch, breathless, eked out, "Bed… now."

Starsky gasped when Hutch, without warning, picked him up, in much the same way he'd carried Starsky to Giovanni's back room four years ago.

"Hey! I ain't no bride!" Starsky protested as he flung his left arm around his lover's graceful neck.

Starsky followed Hutch's eyes as he looked down at Starsky's crotch. "Absolutely no one can mistake you for a woman, big boy. But right now, you're just too damn slow."

Starsky laughed and kissed Hutch's jawline. "Then hurry up, ya big lug."

Moments later, a red-faced Hutch carefully placed Starsky on the side of the bed. Our bed now, Starsky thought, woozy from anticipation and the strong current that seemed to run through his lover.

Oh, God, this is happening! Starsky thought, heart racing as he rocked side to side to ease his pants off. "Careful with that zipper, King Kong," he teased when Hutch contorted to avoid injury.

"You're one to talk," Hutch retorted. Bending down, he finished undressing Starsky's bottom half. They were naked from the waist down, except for Hutch's socks and Starsky's knee wrap.

"What do we do?" Hutch asked. Starsky barely hid his amusement and gratification on seeing Hutch's widened eyes glued to Starsky's thick cock.

Starsky himself had inhaled audibly on first seeing Hutch's generous length. It was beautiful, just like the rest of Hutch. And he, the Abdominal Scarman, had made it happen. "Uh, sorta lay on me so I can't move around much? Then you grab us both in your big paw and stroke?"

Hutch asked, "Shirts or skins?"

Despite his best effort, Starsky couldn't stop his throat from closing up again. Intellectually, he knew his reaction was almost a conditioned reflex to the horror of his wounds. On the other hand, it was also a consequence of the overwhelming joy he felt that he hadn't lost Hutch's love and desire for him.

"Sssorry, I -"

"No apology, babe," Starsky interrupted. Time to take the same pride in my body that Hutch does. "We're gonna do this right. Skins."

Starsky smacked Hutch's hand away when he tried to help Starsky remove his T-shirt. "I'll do it," he said defiantly. He wanted to grin at seeing Hutch's eyes start to shine from gathering tears. Those tears, Starsky knew, were Hutch's response to Starsky reaching yet another milestone—acceptance of the changes to his body.

Starsky, eyes now closed, slowly wrestled the T-shirt off. He took several slow breaths, which were only partially successful in calming his anxiety. He opened his eyes, focusing on Hutch's reaction. Least he's still hard.

Hutch, shirtless, stood before him. Starsky lightly fingered Hutch’s own bullet scar—the reminder of nearly losing Hutch chilling him—on his broad chest before dropping his hand to unconsciously cover his own chest. He turned his focus to Hutch’s eyes. His heart swelled on seeing those eyes, the blue almost erased by the huge pupils. Starsky's heart fluttered as Hutch scanned his body, finally coming to rest on his eyes. Hutch’s sharp intake of breath came with a plaintive sound that spoke of need and want.

"Dear God, Starsk, you are... breathtaking.” His tongue slowly licked his full lips, as if to tell Starsky he was hungry for what he saw. “Gorgeous."

Starsky, almost overpowered by the reverence in Hutch's voice, found himself holding his breath. Summoning the courage to see what Hutch saw, Starsky ventured a look.

His muscle definition and tone were approaching pre-shooting levels. The scars were less fiery. For the first time since waking up after The Shooting, Starsky had hope for a real life with Hutch at its center, where he’d always been. He looked up into Hutch's eyes, which radiated love, desire, even lust. He was sure his eyes mirrored his new lover’s. "Hutch," he whispered, the name saturated with adoration and intense need.

In seconds, Hutch had Starsky in the bed's center. He aligned their bodies so they leaned into each other, weeping cocks side-by-side. Though on his right side, Starsky ignored the adamant protests in his arm and shoulder; nothing was going to interfere with this moment. Resuming their heated kissing, they added little proclamations of love, moans, growls. Any lingering notion that Starsky had that this was pity sex completely evaporated.

Hutch left no doubt in Starsky's mind that he was worshipping Starsky despite the damage to his body. Starsky barely managed to breathe and move actively under Hutch's ministrations. He hooked his left leg around Hutch and pulled him nearer until a puff of air couldn't pass between them.

"Damn, Starsky," panted Hutch, "you're crushing me. Can't get any closer."

Starsky grinned. "Want you so close that you're in back-a me," he paraphrased in a fair imitation of Groucho Marx.

Hutch laughed. "You nut."

Starsky smiled even wider and captured Hutch's reddened, swollen lips with his. His left hand practically scoured Hutch's velvety skin. Hutch's touch sent lightning through him, even overriding the electrical throbs in his right arm. Again his calloused fingers changed the hypersensitivity of his scars from a nasty nuisance to a sensual pleasure. Hutch's unique scent excited him as no other person's had. Hutch clearly knew exactly what to do and judging from his reaction to what Starsky did, Starsky knew they were as in sync in bed as they were on the street. He wrapped his hand around the long, tumescent cock, almost not believing he'd caused this. "Beautiful and mine," he whispered huskily.

"Right back atcha."

Short minutes later, Starsky became aware he was wheezing. "Hutch, gotta stop—or come—soon, 'kay?"

"Let's shoot for coming then."

Starsky chuckled at the double entendre. "I'm all yours. Always have been." He shifted his hand to Hutch's clenched butt cheek. When Hutch enveloped their weeping cocks in his hand, Starsky squealed, "Oh, God! Hutch! You're doin' this for me!"

"For us." Hutch joined their lips again as he stroked them faster and faster. Too soon and not soon enough, Hutch climaxed, his shout of completion filling Starsky's mouth. He pulled away to rest his head next to Starsky's.

Once he caught his breath, Hutch whispered, "God, Starsk, that was… unbelievable. Sensational. Never experienced anything like it."

Starsky couldn't find the words to express how happy that made him feel. But his own need put a damper on that. Realizing Hutch was unaware that he hadn't come, Starsky squirmed.

"Problem?" Hutch asked, worry apparent in his tone.

Starsky cleared his throat to erase the catch in it. "Nah." He snickered as he kissed his lover's forehead. "Not unless ya think stamina's a problem."

Hutch grinned and resumed stroking Starsky's length while languidly yet fervently kissing his lips and sucking his tongue.

Starsky basked in Hutch's lavish attention and love, wanted to wallow in this new aspect of their relationship for hours. However, his customary endurance became the enemy. Forcing in a deep breath into his aching chest, he let go, baying "Hutch!" as he ejaculated, arching his body against the golden heat that partially covered him.

He relaxed, breathed deeply and rapidly, and became more aware of his surroundings—Hutch, the only surrounding that mattered. Hutch was saying between wet kisses, "My beloved. Mine, all mine," in a voice full of bliss and ecstasy.

As his wits came back to him and his breathing returned to normal, Starsky noticed two things: he was virtually pain-free and his muscles hadn't cramped. He started to tear up, overcome with feelings of being wanted and needed, by Hutch's gifts of a drug-free painless state—albeit sure to be short-lived—and of his immense, unconditional love. A long-absent peace wrapped itself around him. Because of Hutch, he now accepted all the changes wrought by The Shooting. No more hiding. Only pride in what I am in our eyes. "That was… amazing. Love you so much, Hutch."

Hutch shivered. "Love you so much, Starsk."

Starsky was glad he was lying down or he would have crumpled to the floor at the profound emotion in Hutch's words. He then noticed Hutch's eyes begin to glisten. "Hey, what's up, lover? I'm the crybaby of this partnership."

After a brief pause, Hutch whispered, "I'm so grateful you're still in my life, babe, and now that we've added this, well, it's icing."

Pain chose that moment to come crashing back into Starsky's exhausted body, keeping him from responding to Hutch. "Need coupla pain pills, Hutch," he said between pants. He forced himself to take deeper and longer breaths to further calm the wheezing and pain.

"Not surprised. If this is a small part of —"

A deep breath allowed Starsky to say without pause, "Never say small to a man whose dick you're holding."

Hutch belly-laughed then gave his lover a hickey between his collarbones. "Let me rephrase. If you act this vigorously —"

"Better."

"— when you're not up to full speed, I fear for my life when you are."

Starsky chortled, kissed Hutch's nose. "You ain't seen nothin' yet, babe. Now, pills, please, and somethin' to eat."

"Umm. I want to eat my own personal New York strip," Hutch said as he palmed Starsky's sticky cock. "Well-done." He winked at a sated, grinning Starsky.

After a few more kisses and another passion mark, Hutch sat on the bed's edge and sighed. "Gonna call Dobey while I'm up."

"Why?" Starsky asked irritably. He didn't want Hutch away from their bed one second longer than necessary.

"Gotta tell 'im I won't be in for a few days, 'cause I'm love-sick."

Starsky beamed. Together. Forever.

The End
July 2019
Revised 2020