Author's note: This is the end. I hope you enjoyed this little story that became an epic for me. Please pay me with comments when you get done! LOL! I treasure each and every comment, my friends. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 15

It had been only a month and a half since the shooting at Starsky's and the case was on its way to being wrapped up. Forest had been out on the street for only four hours before officers had arrested him for conspiracy to commit murder, and murder for hire. Tucker had rolled over on Forest, just like two of the dealers on the list that Hutch had found. Tucker had admitted to working with the hit man on the orders of his boss, and that was the final nail in both his and Forest's coffin. All in all, Starsky found himself feeling better about the future than he'd felt in a long time as he pulled up at Hutch's apartment.

He bounded up the stairs and gave a slight rap on Hutch's door before entering. "Hutch?"

"Yeah?" His partner walked out of the bathroom, shirtless, toothbrush sticking out of his mouth. He resumed brushing as Starsky came in. "You're early."

Starsky glanced at his watch. "Oh, I guess I am." He made his way into the kitchen and found a half-eaten pizza in the fridge. It was vegetable pizza, but beggars couldn't be choosers, he thought as he hopped up on the counter and began on his first slice.

He was finishing his second slice when Hutch came out of the bathroom, tugging on his favorite green tee. He merely shook his head at Starsky and smiled as he strapped on his shoulder holster. Starsky had changed in some ways over the last two months, but in others he was predictably just the same. Hutch knew he would want it no other way.

"First day back on the beat." Starsky said, eyeing his best friend.

"Yeah." Hutch pulled on a plaid flannel shirt.

"You ready?" Starsky asked gently. He realized the both of them had been ready for this day to come for a while. It was time things got back to normal. Busting criminals and cruising the streets—their streets.…It was about time.

Hutch nodded, then met Starsky's eyes, and they shared a silent moment. "Y-you know, I wouldn't be here if not for you, Starsk." He said softly, a smile turning his mouth up at the corner.

"Same here." Starsky replied. He thought back to all they had been through. Physically, they were both fully recovered. Starsky's recovery had been easier than Hutch's in many ways; he had been left with another scar on his chest, to match the others, but no lasting ill-effects.

Most of the lasting mementos of Hutch's second tangle with Forest and his goons were now beginning to be covered with Hutch's honey-colored hair. He'd let it grow longer than before, in order to hide the worst of the scars. There was still a slight stutter to his voice, especially when Hutch got particularly exasperated with something, but Starsky found that he couldn't remember if it was new, or if Hutch had always done that. Their scars had become a part of them, he realized, and incorporating those moments of weakness had made each of them stronger.

"What?" Hutch began to feel a little self-conscious as Starsky sat there, just watching him and not saying anything.

"Just thinkin'." Starsky replied.

"About what?"

Starsky shrugged. "You know I'm not good as good as you with words, Shakespeare." He looked down as he swung his feet slightly.

"Go ahead, Starsk. What is it?" Hutch waited patiently.

"Just thinkin' about scars. I mean, we've healed up, but some things…you can't fix with a band-aid. Maybe that's the stuff that makes us stronger."

"Maybe so." Hutch spoke thoughtfully. Starsky was like a river. Most people only saw his partner's surface, but there was so much more underneath in those deep currents of thought that he hardly spoke about. It still surprised him sometimes. "It definitely makes us who we are."

"I don't like who we'd be without each other." Starsky spoke softly, sliding off of the counter. "I got too close a look at that while you were in the hospital." He remembered his conversations with Leon and Forest. They could have easily turned into more than just talk if he'd been pushed. He'd been walking a fine edge then; being back on the right side of that knife edge made it easy to see how close he'd come to taking a step in the wrong direction.

Hutch nodded, agreeing. It had only been seconds that he'd thought Starsky might have been dead after the hit man shot him, but they were as long and horrible as any nightmare he'd ever had. "I know."

"I almost lost my mind when you were…when we thought you might not…" He couldn't say it all, and the horrible truth of the statement hit him quickly and unexpectedly. It had been over a month since it all had happened, yet the fierce emotion was as raw and as sudden as it had been then. He ran a hand through his hair, trying to regain some control over his wheeling thoughts.

Hutch came over and put a hand on Starsky's neck, pulling him close so that their foreheads touched. He looked into his friend's eyes, blue on blue, each of them staring into the other's heart. "I didn't, though. I'm here. I'm not going anywhere without you, buddy." Reluctantly, he let go and stepped back. It was hard to watch Starsky struggling with the very thing that he, himself, struggled with. The idea of one losing the other was unbearable. It was at once their worst fear and the thing that made them strong. He would die before he allowed something to happen to Starsky and he knew that Starsky felt the same about him.

"Starsk." He had turned to see where he had left his jacket, when it hit him. He turned and met his friend's gaze. "Y-you know…when I was in the h-hospital, I remember hearing your voice. Knowing you were there, even before I woke up." He smiled as he recalled the soft sound of Starsky's voice. He hadn't understood anything that had been said, but the voice had been reassuring. Starsky had been the thread that had led him back to the waking world. "I knew…I knew t-that everything was okay because you were there."

"I…I didn't know what to do, so I talked. I had hoped you could hear me."

"I did." Hutch walked across the room, finding his jacket thrown over the back of the couch. He caught his friend's gaze. "I'll always hear you, Starsk."

Starsky seemed to think a moment, and then nodded, feeling reassured. He followed Hutch to the door.

"Now, I don't know about you, buddy, but I'm ready to go out there and catch some criminals." Hutch opened the door and gestured for Starsky to exit first.

"I've been waiting a long time to hear you say that." Starsky smiled. "Let's go, blintz."

"You bet, partner." Hutch replied, shutting the door behind them.