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"Hutch? Hutch? Where are you? Hutch."

Starsky doesn't bother to push the door closed. The sight of the blond man slumped on the couch propels him across the room.

Hutch, blond hair tousled, looks as though he's asleep but the items jumbled on the floor by his feet tell a different story.

"Hutch!" Desperate now Starsky pulls his friend up, wrapping one arm around him, with the other he sorts through the empty containers. Please, God, he finds himself praying, don't let any of these have been full. If even one of these were full then it could very well be night night, Hutch, forever.

His eyes are full of tears but Starsky blinks them away. His partner is still breathing, he can save him, time to worry about why later.

One of the vials on the floor is still full. Starsky picks it up, frowns, and tucks it away into a pocket. If Hutch survives then he and Blondie are going to have a serious chat about that vial.

Both hands on Hutch's shoulders and he gives him a shake. His head rocks backward.

"Hutch? Can you hear me? Open your eyes? Please."

A small groan is all the answer he gets and Hutch's eyes stay resolutely shut but Starsky has never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth and, reassured just a little, he reaches out for the telephone.

He has to let go of Hutch in order to reach it and the man flops down on the couch like the Raggedy Andy doll that his cousin had. Starsky swallows his fear and dials a number.

"Ambulance is on its way." He lifts his partner into his arms, pulls him close, chafes his hands. "Hold on, Hutch. Hold on for me."

The man in his arms stirs, just a little, but it is enough to make Starsky smile.

"What were you doing, huh?" He strains his ears to hear the sirens. Hutch is in no state to reply but he asks anyway. From his seat on the couch Starsky does his best to scan the apartment, looking for a clue, something to tell him why Hutch has done this, but he can see nothing out of place.

Finally he can hear sirens. He lays Hutch down. "Hang in there, babe." And he sprints down the stairs, waving at the ambulance. His stomach twists as he leads them back up the stairs but Hutch is still there, stretched out on the couch, and more importantly still breathing.

Starsky hovers while the paramedics do their thing. Arms folded tight across his chest he fidgets and frets and tries not to get in their way.

"You found him like this?"

The fact that one of them is asking him a question finally penetrates through the layer of panic and fear that he has wrapped around him.

"Yes." Starsky nods and it is an effort to make himself stop.

The younger of the pair is busy gathering together the empty containers scattered on the floor, checking the labels as he does so. "Overdose," the paramedic mutters in a tone of voice that Starsky recognises. It is the tone used for deadbeats and drunks and anyone who deserves what is coming to them, but that's not Hutch.

Eyes blazing, he grabs the man's arm. "He's Detective Kenneth Hutchinson, he's my partner and my friend." And my lover, but he keeps those words to himself. A little piece of their partnership that no one else is allowed to know about.

Hutch's face is so pale, no color even in his lips. The two men carry the stretcher down the stairs and out into the street with Starsky in their wake. He climbs into the back of the ambulance and sits down, one hand on Hutch's chest so he can feel the reassuring rise and fall, know that his lover is still alive.

At the hospital a nurse pushes him back when he tries to follow the stretcher. He doesn't want to let Hutch out of his sight. The premonition that brought him to Hutch's apartment is still jangling at the back of his mind. Or is that just the headache that has been kept at bay only by his worry over Hutch?

He should call Dobey. The captain had tried to stop him from leaving the crime scene so precipitously and the man is likely worried about him.

The telephone is at the far end of the corridor, but Starsky is reluctant to move away from the door of the room where he knows a team of medics will be trying to revive his partner. He winces as he moves away from the door, he's a cop, he knows full well what they're doing to Hutch. His hand strays to the pocket where he put the vial and lingers, just for a moment. Where did Hutch get it from and why? Starsky's always thought he knew his partner, even before they crossed the line from friends to lovers, but now? The Hutch he thought he knew would have no use for what's in that vial.

Now he is looking at things anew he can see that Hutch is clearly hurting, has been hurting for a long time. How did he miss that fact, and more importantly, what can he do to fix it?

He dials a number, winces when Dobey barks at him, although he can't really blame him. That falling beam did knock him out for a while. Although Jansen, his temporary partner while Hutch is on sick leave, panicked and called in every back up unit he could. He remembers now what Dobey said to him when he'd sat up, rubbing his head. "Jansen said you were dead."

"I'm fine, Cap," Starsky interrupts the man's tirade. "Yes, I'm at the hospital." He doesn't tell Dobey about Hutch, there'll be time for that later and telling him will only unleash a new storm of words. His head hurts too much for him to want to listen to that.

A nurse is coming out of the door and he drops the handset without even a goodbye.

"How is he? Can I see him?"

"You're his partner?"

Starsky nods and twists his hands together.

"All right, but he's very weak and he might be asleep."

Starsky nods frantically, now is not the time to say anything about the many times he has sat and watched while Hutch sleeps, he just wants to see the man.

The nurse is saying something about observation but Starsky isn't really listening and he pushes his way into the room just as soon as the nurse steps out of his way.

It looks like she was right and Hutch is sleeping. He can smell bleach, but underneath there is a smell which makes his nose crinkle.

Starsky has to pull a chair across so he can sit next to the bed and he reaches out and takes one of Hutch's hands in his own.

A heart monitor on the other side of the bed beeps reassuringly and Starsky is pleased to see that there is finally color in Hutch's cheeks.

"Oh, Blondie." His own cheeks are wet and he takes a moment to wipe away the tears. "You gave me a real fright, ya know. Thought I'd lost you. The thing is I don't know what I would have done if you'd succeeded." He smooths the hair back from Hutch's forehead, the hair is like spun gold. "You're my pal, Hutch. My best friend and you're my love. A world without you..." Starsky pauses when he realises he is crying again. "A world without you would be a very cold place."

"Need me to warm you up?" The voice is hoarse and very weak and it doesn't sound like Hutch, but the blue eyes are open and Starsky grips Hutch's fingers a little tighter.

He's paying attention so he can see the uncertainty in Hutch's eyes, see the fear.

"I thought you were dead."

Those words fill Starsky with a cold rage. And for a moment he wants to go looking for Jansen and show him just how angry he is. But Hutch needs him and so the moment passes.

"It's my thick skull. Beam bounced right off."

There's very nearly a smile and, despite knowing he really shouldn't, Starsky bends down and kisses Hutch.

"Is that why you did it?" They are going to have to talk about this at some point and Starsky figures, why not get it out of the way right at the start.

Hutch looks away and Starsky waits. When Hutch looks back there are tears in his eyes.

"You're the only one who loves me, Starsk. If you die I'll have nothing."

His first instinct is to point out that what Hutch has said is not true, that there are plenty of people in Hutch's life who love and care about him, but something stops him. There's a look of deep hurt in those blue eyes and Starsky wants to find out why so he can erase it, once and for all.

So he waits and his patience pays off because Hutch starts talking again.

"My father's dying. He wrote me a letter."

"You got it today?" Starsky keeps his voice low and gentle. Hutch moves his head back and forth against the pillow.

"Yesterday?"

"No. Two weeks ago."

Two weeks, his partner has been stewing over that letter for two weeks and he had no idea. There are so many things Starsky wants to ask but Hutch is so fragile and he mustn't push him, not just yet.

"Can I see it?"

Somehow Hutch manages to shrug without moving his shoulders. "It's in my pants pocket."

He finds Hutch's clothes, searches for the letter. The paper is crumpled, torn in a couple of places. He brings it back over to the bed and notes how Hutch averts his eyes. It's short, but the handwriting is crabbed and awkward and there are a couple of places where Starsky has trouble deciphering the words.

Once he's finished reading he's angry. He looks at Hutch and doesn't know what to say. He understands now why Hutch did what he did, he understands why his lover couldn't see past Starsky's death. He swallows, breathes and takes a moment to calm himself.

"You know this isn't you?" He holds the letter up in front of Hutch and then crumples it in one hand. "That whoever this is that your father is ranting about, it isn't you."

But Hutch doesn't say anything.

"The fact that he can't see who you are, how wonderful and sweet and funny and talented you are, that's not on you, Hutch. That's his failing." Starsky is doing his best to rally Hutch but it's not working. The man turns onto his side, facing away from an increasingly concerned Starsky.

"I could never please that man, no matter what I did it was never good enough. Eventually I stopped trying. When I went to the academy he cut off all contact." Hutch sighs and his shoulders shudder. "I thought that once he saw what a good policeman I was he'd come round. Now I know that's not going to happen."

"Why didn't you tell me about this?" Starsky can't keep the hint of accusation from his voice. "We could have talked, I could have helped."

That comment prompts Hutch to roll over, back towards Starsky. "It's my problem, Starsk, not yours."

Starsky shakes his head so hard it makes his headache worse. "That's where you're wrong." He presses a hand to his eyes, the light above Hutch's bed seems to be getting brighter. "We're partners, remember?"

"The things in that letter, I couldn't stop thinking about them and then when I got the call from Jansen..." Hutch trails off and Starsky recaptures his hand, squeezes it. "I tried once before."

He is struggling to focus now and his stomach is churning.

"Tried?"

"To kill myself." The words trip off Hutch's tongue as though there is nothing untoward about them. "After I dropped out of medical school." Hutch squeezes his eyes closed. "My father was furious. He spent two hours telling me I was worthless, worse than worthless." Hutch looks at Starsky, and the man knows that there are some things he is not being told. "I emptied the medicine cabinet, took everything."

Starsky stares, unable to speak, although whether that is because of the enormity of what Hutch has just told him or because his head is starting to spin, he isn't quite sure.

Hutch's eyes are wide with alarm. "Starsk?"

Starsky raises a hand, then he realises he doesn't know what to do with it and looks at Hutch, his face is starting to blur around the edges. "What... what happened?" Speaking is hard but he needs to draw the story out of Hutch. He blinks, rubs his eyes and tries to refocus.

"My father hushed it up. He told the hospital I'd over indulged at a party. You know what students are like."

"I'm sorry." Starsky tries to take his partner's hand but instead he realises he is sliding off the chair and onto the floor.

"Nurse!" The response from Hutch is immediate and he's half out of bed by the time a nurse appears.

Starsky smiles and looks at Hutch. Then he groans, closes his eyes and vomits.

___________________________
They've put him in a bed next to Hutch. He's grateful for that, worried that the man's emotions are still too fragile, that the man might try again.

"How are you feeling?" Hutch has reached out bridging the gap between them, and Starsky wills his arm to move so that he can take his lover's hand.

"Dobey filled me in," Hutch continues in a slightly strained voice. "Told me that you ran out of that crime scene like there was a hell hound breathing down your neck. Didn't even let the medic check you before you left."

He wants to tell Hutch about his premonition, about the fact that he knew something was wrong, but there are more pressing matters at hand. "Dobey's here?"

"And he's pissed," the man himself says, rising up from the chair where he has been sitting just out of Starsky's eyeline.

"I'm sorry." He decides to go straight for the apology in the hope that will derail Dobey's anger.

"When you called me and said you were in the hospital I thought that meant you'd decided to be sensible. Instead I find you went racing off to see Hutch. Did you have any intention of seeing a doctor?"

"No," Starsky admits, wincing. He feels a little better but his head is still spinning.

"My fault," Hutch says and Starsky realises they are still holding hands.

"You do realise you'll both be on extended sick leave now."

"Cap---"

"No." Dobey wags a finger at Starsky. "You're not going to talk your way out of this one. I should have realised something like this would happen when I signed Hutch off with his bad back. Sometimes having a job as intense as yours is a good thing, less time to worry and fret."

"Jansen." He is at least partially to blame for what happened to Hutch.

Dobey scowls. "I'll deal with Jansen."

Starsky allows himself to relax a little, and he captures Hutch's fingers between his own, holding on for dear life to the man he almost lost.

Dobey is looking at him and there's a faint smile on his face. "What you do at home, that's up to you. Try to be discreet."

Starsky looks at Hutch wondering if the man has picked up on Dobey's concern.

"I'm tired," Hutch murmurs, his skin is waxen. "You'll still be here when I wake up?"

Starsky nods. Hutch is snoring in next to no time and Starsky eases out of the bed. He checks his clothes, first for the vial, shoved deep in a pocket it is still there and Starsky sighs in relief. Then he retrieves the letter. He reads it again, reading between the lines this time and slowly getting more and more angry as he does so.

The worst thing is that he can picture it all in his mind. He can see the frightened blond boy cowering before his father, see the raised fist. If his stomach wasn't empty Starsky would be throwing up.

Eventually both cops are allowed to go home. Dobey sends a black and white for them and Starsky debates over letting Hutch go back to his apartment. The scene of the crime, but then it's been the scene of many crimes over the years and it's just one more. Except that's not true and it is that part that is killing Starsky.

"Starsk." Hutch puts a hand on his arm, they always could read each other's minds. "Let me go home."

So he does.

The young cop driving the car complains that he was supposed to take them both home, so Starsky points to his Torino parked, badly, outside Hutch's building and eventually persuades the diligent officer that he can leave.

Starsky wraps an arm around Hutch and starts to help him up the stairs.

"I can walk by myself." Hutch is weak still, his limbs tremble, but Starsky lets him walk unaided, he keeps a close eye though, just in case.

"Sit down, I'll get you a drink." He can see Hutch looking around, almost like he's been away for months. The man does sit down with a small sigh.

"Come and sit with me, Starsk. I know neither of us is in the best of health but we can cuddle, can't we?"

That makes Starsky smile and he's all for cuddling but there's something he needs to do first and he begins to work his way around the apartment removing anything that Hutch might be able to turn into a weapon to use against himself.

"Starsky, what are you doing?"

"Trying to make myself feel better." He picks up a bottle of painkillers from a kitchen cupboard and adds them to his growing pile.

"What if I get a headache?" Hutch is on his feet.

"Then I'll kiss it better." Starsky smiles but he's intent on his task.

"Not my razors, Starsky."

Starsky comes out of the bathroom and puts the box down at the top of the stairs. Then he pulls the door shut. He plans to dispose of it once Hutch is asleep.

"Grow a beard. It'll match that hairy caterpillar you've been cultivating." He does his best to keep his tone light but his heart is beating hard in his chest and he wants to sit down. He pulls Hutch down with him, winds an arm around the man and pulls him close, close enough to kiss.

"There's one last thing I have to ask you about." Starsky can hear the strain in his voice, knows that Hutch must hear it too. He digs the vial out of his pocket. "This was on the floor by the couch when I found you. Did you take any of this?"

"I was going to," Hutch admits in a small voice. "But I passed out before I could."

Starsky is stricken. "One thing we can be grateful for at least." That doesn't sound like his voice but his lips are moving so it must be.

"Starsk." Hutch has captured his hands and just for a moment he wants to pull away. "You want me to be honest with you?"

Starsky bites back his first response. Hutch is so vulnerable, he would likely take it the wrong way.

"I've had that... stuff for a long time." Hutch pauses and looks up at the ceiling. "Starsky, when you were a kid did you ever have something like a security blanket?"

"Sure."

"Well, that's what this was for me, my security blanket, my way out."

He does his best to hide his reaction but Hutch knows him so well he must have seen it.

"How long?" He wants to scream, not at Hutch but at himself.

"Long enough." Hutch tries to smile. "You know that old wounds take the longest to heal."

He's had enough now. He pulls Hutch to him, kisses him, tries to put all of his love into that kiss. Maybe it works because when the kiss ends Hutch doesn't move away but settles back against him.

"Maybe we should buy a house."

Starsky hears an echo of an earlier conversation and a smile curves his lips. "Hutch, are you asking me to move in with you?"

"It makes sense, financially I mean."

"Oh sure, financially."

Hutch is getting tired, Starsky can feel the man relaxing into him.

"I want us to be together, Starsky."

"We as good as live in each other's pockets as it is."

"But my way we'd be together, properly together."

The idea is tempting. "If I'd lost you..." But he doesn't want to finish the thought.

"I know and I'm sorry." Hutch yawns and stretches his legs out.

"Nothing to be sorry about, Blondie," Starsky murmurs into Hutch's hair. "I'm here, now and always. I'm like mold, impossible to get rid of."

He feels rather than hears Hutch's laugh and pulls the man closer. He will keep Hutch safe for as long as possible and Hutch will do the same for him. Because that's what partnership is, that's what love is.

"I love you, Hutch." But the man has already fallen asleep. Starsky closes his eyes and tries to get comfortable without waking the man in his arms. Maybe over time he can help Hutch, help him heal. Maybe they can both be happy, together.