Starsky walked into the living room of the home he shared with Hutch and stopped dead when he saw what Hutch was reading. Ordinarily it wouldn't be surprising to see his partner reading the latest issue of the police magazine they subscribed to, but Starsky had gone out of his way to try to make sure Hutch did NOT read this one. It contained an article on police officers and drug addiction, and it brought up painful memories for him. If the memories were painful for him, how much worse would they be for Hutch?

He tried to act nonchalant. "Hey babe, what ya readin' ?" he asked casually.

Hutch looked up at him. "The latest issue of Police Times," he answered. "Funny thing, I was wondering why I hadn't seen it, then I found it in the garage under a pile of newspapers when I was looking for an article in one of them."

"Wonder what it was doing there?" Starsky tried to sound innocent.

"Starsk," sighed his lover, "you don't need to protect me." He smiled a bit sadly. "I'm a big boy, you know."

Starsky walked over and sat on the arm of his chair. "Did it ever occur to you that maybe I'm trying to protect myself?"

"Protect yourself? From what?" asked Hutch.

"Memories." Even after all these years, the memories were all too vivid. Hutch had been missing for days, and when Starsky had found him his partner had been strung out on heroin forced on him by his captors and going through withdrawal. He'd stayed with Hutch in the small room above Huggy's while the blond detective had ranted and raved, begging Starsky to get him a fix. "Watching what you went through hurt so much, and there was nothing I could do."

Hutch wrapped an arm around his waist. "But you did do something. You were there. You stayed with me through the whole miserable ordeal. No matter what I said or did, the names I called you, the things I accused you of when I was delirious, you stayed by my side. If you hadn't been there, if I'd had to go through that without you, I don't know if I'd have made it."

Starsky lay a finger on his lips. "Shh," he said. "Don't even think about that."

The finger was then replaced by his own lips, and soon the two detectives were together in bed, finding solace and comfort in the physical part of their relationship as they had so many times before.

Later, as they lay in each others' arms, Hutch said suddenly, "I still think about it, you know."

"Think about what?" Starsky asked, not certain where the comment had come from.

"Heroin. Not all the time, just sometimes. Like when we work on a bust with Narcotics, and I see the drugs, I wonder what it would feel like to take some. When we bust a junkie, I think of how that could so easily be me."

"But it's not you," Starsky pointed out. He felt Hutch's arms tighten around him.

"That's thanks to you," his lover told him.

"You ever think about Jeannie?" Starsky asked. It had been Hutch's girlfriend's former lover who had abducted him and forced the drugs on him.

"Not in a long time," Hutch answered. "I know she wasn't one of your favorite people."

"The way she left you right after everything that happened didn't exactly endear her to me." Starsky hadn't been sorry to see her go, blaming her at least in part for what had happened to his partner. But her departure had hurt Hutch, and he had hated to see he man he loved in pain.

"Really? Was that the only reason you didn't like her?" Hutch teased. He knew that Starsky had been jealous of the women he'd dated, just as he had been jealous of Starsky's women. It hadn't been until after the shooting that had almost taken his partner away from him permanently that the two of them had acknowledged their love for each other, the love that had been there all along.

"'Course not," Starsky answered. "I was jealous. I thought she was better looking than me."

"That, my friend, is something you're just going to have to live with," the other man laughed. Then he turned serious again. "I worry sometimes, Starsk. I worry that one day I'll get hooked again. What will we do if that happens?"

"We'll work through it, like we did before," Starsky assured him. He took his lover's hand and kissed it. "Me and thee, babe. No matter what."

Hutch pulled him close. "Do you know how much I love you?"

"Mm, I think I have an idea, but you'd better show me again, just so's I'm sure."

So Hutch did.