<%@ Page Language="C#" %> Just Enough



Just Enough
(c) 2005 by Charlotte Frost


Another wave of her alcohol-rich breath drifted over him. Hutch looked toward the ceiling as he thrust frantically from beneath her, trying to keep his partial erection within her body. His own breath was full of booze, and he knew that was the root of the problem he was having...never mind that he was shying away from wondering what he was doing here in the first place.

Starsky seemed to be having no such qualms. His partner was humping intently, eyes closed as he sought some pleasure within, his weight driving both himself and the girl into Hutch. It's not that Starsky was directly on top of them both, he was thrusting into her behind from a sideways angle, but the force of his movement drove her at that same angle onto Hutch.

There had been too much booze, and as he stole a look at her- -Tammy, he remembered her name was Tammy-- Hutch realized that she was passed out, though she emitted an occasional groan from Starsky's attentions. Her lack of participation made the experience for Hutch totally pointless -- both physically and emotionally -- but the feel of his partner's thick organ driving on the other side of the thin membrane of tissue within her body was enough friction for Hutch to stay somewhat erect.

Starsky's hips were bucking harshly now, and he gripped her arms harder and rested his cheek against her back. His eyes, when they opened part way, faced some far-away wall, and seemed to distinctly avoid the two other occupants in the bed.

Hutch closed his eyes as the thick flesh within her anal channel moved back and forth more powerfully. And then Starsky emitted a deep-throated growl, and then all was still, save his gasping for breath...at first harshly, and then more airy. And then he went slack all over and planted a gentle kiss on her shoulder, snuggling his cheek against her back.

"She's passed out," Hutch told him.

Starsky jolted upright, a guilty look on his face as he stared at Hutch with an open mouth.

That look, in turn, made Hutch feel guilty, because this whole fiasco was because of him.

Abruptly, Starsky was off the bed, holding a towel against his groin as he trotted off to the bathroom.

The smell remaining in the air made it obvious that anal intercourse had taken place. Hutch's own organ had slipped out, now that it didn't have the action of Starsky' s to keep it stimulated. Hutch gently maneuvered himself from beneath Tammy, then spent some time getting her beneath the covers. He patted her hair when she groaned softly.

He straightened, his legs aching from the gymnastics, and looked over at Cynthia. She was naked and passed out on the other bed, which was why a giggling Tammy had invited both detectives to enjoy her own pleasures at the same time. Only slightly less drunk than the girls-- and only because they had more body weight to absorb the alcohol-- both men had indulged without thought or discussion.

Hutch placed a cover over Cynthia, who was sound asleep. Then he pulled a pillowcase from a pillow and wrapped it snuggly around his slick groin, wiping away the moisture. His balls ached with the lack of release; but it was, at the very least, what he deserved.

He found his briefs amongst all the scattered clothing and pulled them on. As he continued to dress, he was aware of a deep sadness that could no longer be held at bay. He had let this happen because the divorce was made final today. He had let Starsky "cheer him up", mainly because he'd felt bad for his partner having put up with his marital problems for so many months. He'd thought enjoying the delights of a stranger would help him get back at Van. But she was not here to observe, and would have probably only laughed at his having had to turn to strangers to pleasure himself.

Dressed, save for his shoes, Hutch plopped down heavily in an easy chair. He couldn't deny the hole inside him. It was a vacuum of deep loneliness. He'd escaped the Hutchinson household­ and all the expectations that he was to be something he was not--by marrying someone who was perfect and beautiful and smart and vivacious, and who loved him. Except... not really. As it turned out, Vanessa had had her own agenda for him, and that was something he could not own up to, either.

Hutch rubbed at his face, trying to summon the energy to put on his shoes. He heard the water go off in the bathroom, and realized his partner had been showering.

His partner. Starsky. A person who was everything that Hutch was not, and who did not pretend otherwise. And who did not ask Hutch to pretend, either.

Hutch sighed heavily and bent to put on his left shoe. Starsky was now the most important person in his life, like it or not.

For God's sake, Hutchinson, he scolded himself as he struggled with the right shoe, don't mess it up with him. You have his respect. If you lose that, you lose him. And then you won't have anybody.

You'll be twenty-seven years old and someone nobody gives a damn about. Then what will you do for the next fifty years?

He swallowed as he tied the shoelace, feeling a headache coming on. He was painfully aware of how much older he was than his years. Most men his age were still enjoying some of the pleasures of adolescence... the illusion that they were going to live forever and always be free of any genuine responsibility.

The bathroom door opened and a weary-looking Starsky emerged with a towel around his waist. Jaw grim, the darker man started gathering up his clothes from the floor. Then he stopped and looked up at his partner.

The guilt Hutch saw there was as stark as his own.

Part One

"Yeah, it was worth it," Hutch quoted sourly as he flung the newspaper and other mail onto the sofa.

Starsky sat down in an easy chair and regarded his partner with concern. They'd finally gotten home after a twelve-hour day, the bulk of which was spent writing up their reports on the murder of alleged rapist Lenny Biggs, at the indirect hand of the once highly respected Lt. Dan Slate, whose daughter had been Biggs' most recent victim. The case had touched deeply into the nerve of the department, for Biggs' murder was, on the surface, the act of a cop-turned-vigilante, and that's how the press viewed it. In reality, it was a father getting revenge for his daughter's trauma and humiliation. And, even as he was cuffed, Slate maintained – in direct answer to Hutch's outraged question – that it had, indeed, been worth it, for Biggs had gotten what was coming to him.

Starsky shrugged and muttered, "Guess it was worth it to him." Throughout the case, his own reactions and feelings had been subdued. Hutch had expressed enough worry, frustration, and anger for both of them. To keep their partnership balanced, Starsky had had to assume the position of one calm and cool, so that Hutch's reactions did not tip the scales too dangerously against them.

It was the way Me and Thee worked most successfully.

But now that the case was over. Hutch was probably tiring of being the one doing all the talking, though he had to instinctively know the reason for Starsky's reticence.

Starsky pulled himself to his feet as Hutch sat down and began tossing the mail from one pile to another on the couch. "I'm getting a beer. Want one?"

"I don't think there's two."

Starsky opened the refrigerator. Indeed, there was only one bottle. "What else do you want?" he asked. He watched the blond head shake as the sound of ripping paper penetrated the room. Starsky pulled the bottle from the refrigerator. As he passed by the couch, he laid a hand on his partner's shoulder and squeezed. Gently, he said, "The case is over, Hutch."

Hutch looked up sharply as Starsky sat back down. "Is it?" he challenged. "Or will it just cycle around to another cop who's had it up to here with the system? Iron Mike Ferguson two years ago. Then Fargo right after that Dan Slate this year. Who will it be next year who compromises their morals? Some day, it could be me. Or you."

"What are you talkin' about?" Starsky asked with a frown, popping the lid.

The blue eyes flared. "You think I wouldn't do what Slate did, if somebody did something to you?"

Softly, Starsky pointed out, "I have had people do things to me, Hutch. And you never took the law into your own hands."

"You're alive. You think I'm going to be able to let the legal system act on my behalf if you ever end up dead?"

Starsky blinked, bothered by how sure of himself Hutch was.

But Hutch deflated, then admitted, "I don't want to think I would be like that. I want to believe that it would be so wrong that I'd never cross that line. Just like I wanted to believe Slate wouldn't cross that line." He suddenly became very interested in the mail, unfolding papers and pretending to read them.

Starsky took a sip of beer. "You're a better cop than that. A better person."

Hutch looked up again, and pleaded, "What about when I don't have anything else to lose? Like Slate."

Starsky grimaced. "That's where Slate was wrong. Dead wrong. He has a daughter in a mental hospital who needs her daddy to help her get better. How much good is he gonna do her while he's serving time in the slammer? That's something he was too selfish to consider. Now he's hurt two lives. To say nothing of losing the respect of the younger cops who looked up to him. And getting Biggs killed. That pervert deserved to rot in prison for twenty years."

Hutch spent a long moment staring at the papers before his eyes, but Starsky knew his partner wasn't really seeing them. After a time, Hutch said softly, "But I wouldn't have anybody else who needed me. If there wasn't you... then I got nothing." He seemed to give up deciphering any correspondence, and tossed all the papers onto the coffee table.

Starsky felt a grin spread across his face as he took another sip of beer. Hutch always wore his heart so boldly on his sleeve. Gently, Starsky pointed out, "That doesn't mean you couldn't ever have nothin'... if I weren't around. You'd still have a future ahead of you. I'd come back from the dead and kick your ass if you just gave up on life."

Hutch met his eye as he shifted on the couch. "I suppose that means you have no doubts about your future if anything happened to me." He stood. "Pardon me, buddy, if my feelings are just a little hurt." He moved to the chair and, from behind Starsky, grabbed a handful of curls and tugged gently, as though in reprimand.

Starsky grinned, knowing Hutch didn't mean it. And knowing that he should have seen the parallel coming. "I dunno, Hutch," he admitted, watching the other move to a window and look out. "I don't believe in spending a lotta time trying to figure out what might happen. I only care about the now. And right now I'm as hungry as a horse."

"Oh, so it's my job to feed you?" Hutch asked incredulously. He'd used that tone a lot in recent weeks.

"I can feed myself if you can convince me there's enough edible stuff in the kitchen to make getting off my duff worth it."

"Let's order out. Chinese."


"I'm sick of pizza."

"All right, then, Chinese." Starsky sighed and got up to find the telephone underneath an end table. He dialed information. "What's the number for Wang's China Kitchen?" As he wrote it down he looked up at his partner, who was still leaning against the window sill, staring out. Starsky wondered what was so interesting outside it, but asked instead, "What do you want?"

"Cashew Chicken. White rice."

"Soda to drink?"

Hutch shrugged without looking back. "I guess. Unless you're going to make a run for beer."

Starsky frowned at him. "Soda it is." Except, he'd really like another beer for himself. Especially since, as he dialed the Wang's China Kitchen, he saw Hutch go to the table where the lone beer bottle was and pick it up. Hutch wore a triumphant expression as he took a healthy swallow.

Starsky couldn't say anything until he was finished calling in their order. When he hung up, he grumbled, "You're so mean."

"I love you, too."

Starsky wrestled into his jacket and left the apartment.

* * *

Yeah, Hutch, Starsky muttered sarcastically to himself, like, if you let something happen to you, because I wasn't around anymore, no one would give a damn. Not Dobey. Not Huggy. Not your family back in Minnesota.

He sighed heavily, turning into a liquor store. His own family was the very reason he'd have to force himself to carry on, if anything ever happened to Hutch. Couldn't do that to Ma. To Uncle Al and Aunt Rosie. Nicky.

Starsky turned off the motor. He sat in the car, trying to imagine what it would be like if the empty seat beside him were a permanent condition. As he'd just told his grumbling partner, there was no reason to worry about what might be, especially when one's hands were full dealing with what is. But tonight Starsky forced himself to carry out the fantasy, searching for the true honesty within, making sure he wasn't kidding himself.

If there were no Hutch, a glow that seemed to shine on him would be turned off. Abruptly. Forever. The comfort and security that was always at his side would be gone. No gorgeous smile. No standing back and watching him with affection. No scolding when he said something stupid. No name calling when Hutch wanted to claim superiority. No pet and cuddle when he was hurt or grieving. No feeling that he was on a pedestal because Hutch loved him -- for Hutch's love would die with Hutch.

Starsky grimaced as he got out of the car. If anything happened to Hutch, he would just become another human being in the realm of things. One of millions in the world.

He frowned as he entered the store and made a beeline for the beer aisle. He tried to tell himself it really wasn't a revelation; he'd just never thought of it in those particular words before: It was Hutch's love that made him the most important person in his own life.

* * *

Hutch had remained grumpy while they ate, and Starsky hadn't felt much inclination to stick around. He started toward home, wondering if Nancy Swanson might be available this evening. He'd seen her a few times and liked her company well enough. They both enjoyed each other a great deal in bed. Now that he had plans for asking a certain patrol cop named Dee O'Reilly out, he felt he should cool it with Nancy. But he had an evening of idle time ahead and if Nancy were available....

Starsky grinned as he thought further of Dee O'Reilly. He did enjoy the games of one upmanship that he and Hutch tended to play. Bedding the traffic cop who had irritated his partner with a couple of parking tickets would be a great tally for his scorecard. Besides, O'Reilly was beautiful and charming and going places. They could be great fun for each other, especially since she knew Hutch's less-glowing qualities, too.

But, tonight, it would be Nancy.

* * *

Hutch pulled into the parking lot behind the Torino and honked. He had a full tank of gas, and Starsky had been whining recently about the abuse his tires had been taking, so Hutch had decided that they were taking the LTD and he wasn't in any mood for complaints. He revved the engine, anticipating his partner's protests that they should take the Torino.

Hutch realized he'd been staring up at Starsky's apartment door for nearly a minute. He honked again.

The door flew open and his partner emerged, trotting down the stairs while inserting his arm into his holster and carrying his jacket.

Hutch reached over and popped up the lock on the passenger side.

Starsky got in and shut the door. "Mornin'."

Puzzled that his partner hadn't said anything about the selection of vehicle, Hutch placed an arm across the back of the seat and looked behind him as he backed out of the driveway. "Mornin'," he acknowledged belatedly. He turned into the flow of traffic.

"We gonna stop by whatsherface first to find out if Joe Beaver has been in touch lately?"

Oh. Hutch had forgotten about that. Now that Slate's case had ended, they'd been put on a murder where a two-bit punk named Joe Beaver was the prime suspect. His ex-girlfriend hadn't been home when they checked late yesterday afternoon, so they had agreed that should be their first stop this morning. Hutch grunted something that was intended to sound like a "Yeah."

Starsky was still adjusting his shoulder harness. He hadn't looked at his partner once since emerging from his apartment.

Hutch watched Starsky as the other now settled back into the seat and looked out the side window. Starsky's expression was neutral, his eyes taking in the activity on the streets that they passed. Hutch belched, then wove the LTD a bit before finally changing lanes. Still, his partner didn't react. "What's eating you?" he finally grumbled.

The dark head turned to him. "Huh?"

"What are you all quiet about?"

Deep blue eyes flicked to Hutch, and the tone was firm. "Nothin'." Starsky began studying the street again.

Hutch decided that blackmail had its uses. "Nothing as in nothing, or nothing as in you can't talk to me about it?"

He watched the jaw firm, knowing he'd hit a bullseye by indicating his own hurt that his partner wouldn't open up to him. Starsky bit his lower lip – an uncharacteristic gesture – and then visibly swallowed. He was now looking out the windshield, and his voice was surprisingly unsteady. "Nothing as in I hope it's nothing."

Hutch reached over and slapped at the other's arm with the back of his hand. He was amazed at the transformation from confident cop to friend in need, though it was hardly the first time he'd seen it. "Hey, what is it? Come on." His heart beat a little faster, fueled by worry.

Starsky filled up his chest with air, then released a deep, slow breath. It helped steady his voice. Then he threw up his hands in a helpless gesture. "Awe, Hutch, Nancy thinks she's pregnant."

Oh, no. Hutch held his own breath a long time, before letting it out slowly. Hesitantly, he asked, "And she thinks it's yours?"

"I guess. I mean, I didn't question her about it. Figure she wouldn't be tellin' me unless she thought it was mine. She's acting all crazy... hormone fluctuations, I guess. I don't want to get her all upset by inferrin' that she's been sleeping with somebody else."

"You'll have to ask her," Hutch said firmly, braking hard to make a turn he'd almost missed.

"I know that!" Starsky said with frustration.

"When is she going to find out for sure?"

The other's voice was calmer. "She has a doctor's appointment Thursday. She hasn't had her period for over two months."

Hutch soothed, "Buddy, that can be for a lot of reasons other than pregnancy."

"Yeah, but I've always believed women have an instinct about these things. She seemed real sure. Plus, like I said, she's got all these crazy mood swings. Cryin' like crazy and stuff."

Hutch made sure he kept any accusation out of his voice. "What were you using?"

"She had a diaphragm." A thick swallow. "Man, nothin's foolproof."

They drove in silence for a while, Hutch's heart beating faster at the images of his partner holding a baby, of dropping him off or picking him up at a house with a picket fence, of watching him kiss Nancy Swanson hello or goodbye. And occasionally inviting Uncle Hutch to stay for dinner. More softly than he'd intended, Hutch asked, "What do you think she's going to want to do?"

In an equally low voice, Starsky replied, "Doubt she'd want to get an abortion. Don't think I'd want her to get an abortion. I mean, we'd really need to talk about it. That's not the kind of thing you decide on a whim. And if she's going to keep it... well," he shrugged and swallowed again, "I guess I'll hafta marry her."

Hutch made a sharp right into the first available alley. His heart was in overdrive as he shut off the motor and turned in his seat. "You don't owe her that," he jabbed his finger at Starsky.

Starsky's eyes blazed in disbelief. "This isn't about owing. It's about responsibility. That's my kid," he jabbed a thumb at himself. "I'm not gonna have it turn out like every lout we have locked up in our jails and prisons, who's from a broken home. I know what it's like to grow up without a daddy. I ain't runnin' away from that kid. Uh-uh. No way."

Hutch closed his eyes, wanting to protest that he hadn't meant it that way. Then he opened them and stuttered, "Y-you can still be a father without marrying her. It was an accident. You and she don't love each other."

Starsky held his gaze, but his voice wasn't as harsh. "Maybe we'll have to learn to love each other. For the kid's sake."

Hutch wanted to protest That never works, but he was too afraid of sounding negative. Starsky had always been so damn loyal; that was one of the very things Hutch admired most about him. And he would do the right thing. No matter how great the sacrifice.

Hutch let another breath exhale, forcing himself to calm. "All right, look," he said, "let's take it one step at a time. The first thing we have to do is find out if she's really pregnant. The second thing we have to do is find out if she's claiming it's yours. Once we know the answers to those to questions, we can think more rationally." He ran a weary hand over his face, then started the motor.

Starsky returned to staring at the window.

* * *

"The first thing we have to do", "The second thing we have to do"... the words played themselves over and over in Starsky's mind, as they had since Hutch spoke them. He was now at the water fountain, despite having already quenched his thirst.

We. It wasn't as if Nancy might be pregnant with his baby; it was more like she might be pregnant with their baby.

Starsky was still trying to fathom his partner's reaction as he continued to drink. Truly, it had been a relief to talk about it. He wasn't sure why he'd been hesitant to in the first place. Probably because he was still trying to sort through it all and recover his shock. He'd expected sympathy and concern from Hutch – which he'd received to a degree – but what he'd been unprepared for was the way his partner was so firmly against his doing the proper thing and marrying Nancy. Not that Hutch didn't have good points about why it was the wrong thing to do. But Starsky didn't know if he'd ever be able to live with himself if he didn't do the only right thing. No child of his was going to be a statistic on broken homes.

Of course, all that self-righteousness did nothing to prepare him for being a father. It was foreign territory. But one where he felt confident that if he loved his son or daughter, that would be the most important thing, and all the other important things would fall in line behind it.

"David," greeted a pleasant female voice.

Starsky looked up, water dripping from his chin. He quickly found a smile. "Hey, O'Reilly. What's shakin'?"

"Just hope I don't have to wait too long for my phone to ring," she replied, straightening her meter maid's hat.

Starsky knew she was only teasing, for he'd taken her out just three nights ago. It had been their second date. "Uh...," he hesitated, not wanting to hurt her feelings, not wanting to lead her on, but also not wanting to let her in on too much of his private life. He placed a hand on her arm and stepped closer. "Look... Dee... uh, something's come up. Real personal. I don't know when I'm going to be able to go out again."

He could see her trying to hide her disappointment. She seemed resolved to being pleasant. "Anything I can do?"

"Unfortunately," he sighed, "I'm afraid not. It's one of those things that nobody can help with." He shrugged. "Sorry." He hesitated, then added, "Depending on how things work out... maybe I'll be able to call you soon."

He'd said too much, for her eyes narrowed. "Is there somebody else?" It was obvious that she was forcing her tone to be neutral.

"No, nothing like that," he said immediately. Then realized it was a lie. "Well, yes, but not like you think." She was looking at him funny, trying to decipher his riddles. "Look, it's one of those things I can't really talk about." He squeezed her arm. "Maybe I'll be able to explain it all someday."

Her tone was short this time. "I'm sure you will." She marched off.

Hutch stepped up next to him. "You ready?"


A frowned formed beneath the mustache. "We're supposed to see Huggy, remember?"

Oh. Right. Huggy had some info on Joe Beaver and Hutch had stopped off first at the men's room while Starsky grabbed a drink of water. Now Hutch was ready to go and Starsky's stomach was uncomfortably full of liquid. And he'd managed to tick off Dee O'Reilly. And hadn't solved a damn thing while alone with his thoughts.

Hutch was already headed for the stairs, and now looked back at him. "Let's go," he said impatiently.

Starsky followed.

They were silent as they made their way down to the basement of the parking garage. Starsky moved briskly ahead to the LTD. He reached for the door handle.

Before he could push in the button, he felt arms surround his shoulders, coming to rest across his chest, and the scent of after-shave was poignant against his cheek, where another cheek pressed against his.

"It's gonna be okay, partner," Hutch said, squeezing with his arms.

Starsky knew that Hutch was trying to convince himself as much as him. But he appreciated the effort, and was almost sorry that he'd made Hutch so concerned about him.

Almost. The arms, which were still comfortably around him, felt good. It had been a while since they'd shared this kind of closeness. And it made him all the more determined to see this thing through. "I know," he said. He tried to turn, and Hutch let him, loosening his grip so that they were facing each other, and now Hutch's hands rested loosely upon each of Starsky's shoulders.

Starsky gazed up into those eyes as rich as the sea... like the Nile, as Anna whatshername had said. "H-Hutch," he found himself stuttering uncharacteristically. "You know, if it turns out that she is pregnant, and it is my kid, and... I do end up marrying her...." He trailed off, unsure how to say what he wanted to say. Then he resorted to the simplest route. "You'll, you know, still be my partner."

Those rich eyes narrowed across from him. Levelly, Hutch clarified, "On the job." He clearly wasn't happy about it.

Of course, on the job, Starsky thought, trying to shy away from the fact that he knew what Hutch meant. Limply, he said, "We'll still be pals."

Hutch sighed heavily as he released Starsky's shoulders. He moved to one side of him, leaning back against the LTD. "You know," he said with his head bowed, "it would be different if you and she loved each other."

Gently, Starsky said, "I know that, Hutch. But that doesn't change the fact that there's an innocent child in all this. It isn't his or her fault that – "

"An innocent child," Hutch interrupted firmly, "who doesn't deserve parents who don't love each other." A glint flared in his eye for a brief second. "I know what that's like. My parents stopped sleeping together when I was eight years old."

Starsky's own head was also bowed, and he listened to the self-pity, not well concealed, in his partner's voice. Somehow, he'd known that Hutch's parents didn't sleep together; surely because Hutch had mentioned it at some point in all their years together. But he hadn't realized the impact that fact had had on his partner.

Starsky looked up and nudged Hutch with an elbow. "Hey," he said gently, "whatever happened to taking it one step at a time?"

Hutch looked up, too, and those eyes were now bright with gratitude for having eased the stress of the moment. He snorted amidst a smile. "Yeah."

Both men pushed away from the car, Starsky opening the passenger door while Hutch went around to the driver's side.

* * *

For probably the twentieth time, Hutch thumbed through the arrest records on Joe Beaver. The man had been picked up numerous times for everything from theft to drug trafficking, but his only convictions had been for misdemeanors and he'd never served time. Hutch kept opening the file again and again, trying to find something they'd missed, some person or prior witness who might now help them find him. The ex-girlfriend had denied seeing him or hearing from him in three years. Unfortunately, Hutch felt her to be telling the truth.

His thumb paused as he came to an arrest record from two years ago. Numerous witnesses had been helpful in that one, when Beaver was arrested for stealing a car. He'd gotten off because of a technicality. Hutch tried to concentrate on the various statements beneath the document, wondering if there was anyone they'd missed whom they could question now. But the names weren't registering on his brain, because his thoughts kept wanting to go in another direction.

Finally, he gave in and looked up from the file. The subject of his thoughts was standing at the file cabinet, where the top drawer was pulled open. Starsky had pulled a file halfway from the drawer, and was trying to read something inside it. Hutch wanted to scold him for being too lazy to put the file back, which is why Starsky hadn't pulled it all the way out in the first place.

His partner was looking pretty haggard these days. Nancy had spent the first few days at Starsky's apartment, before deciding to stay instead with her parents. He knew Starsky felt obligated to put her up, to be there for her, for she had indeed come out and said the baby, if there was one, could only be Starsky's.. Hutch did not question that obligation his partner felt, but he could imagine how wearing it would be, and how it made Starsky all the more determined to do the right thing.

Even now, with Nancy's doctor's appointment not until tomorrow, Hutch could feel a subtle difference developing between his partner and himself. And he knew why. Starsky was one who faced crisis head on, and he was already mentally preparing for being a father and a husband... for putting the needs of his family ahead of those of his work. And his friends. Hutch did not think Starsky would be any less a cop once married, but he would definitely be less a full-time friend. Of course, Hutch knew his partner would be at his side in an instant if he needed him; but what Hutch also knew was what he was going to miss most was having the privilege of his partner's company when he didn't need him.

He hoped that Nancy's parents would convince her to turn down Starsky's offer of marriage if she were indeed pregnant. As is, he wasn't sure what they thought of Starsky as a prospective son-in-law, only that they were nervous about their daughter having a husband involved in a dangerous occupation. But they'd apparently, according to Starsky, already felt that way before their daughter announced that she was probably pregnant with his child.

Hutch furrowed his brow, acknowledging the one fact that had bothered him greatly in all of this. Most women he knew who suspected they were pregnant would have sought a physician immediately, because the waiting would be so unbearable. But Nancy had seemed content to wait a few days between when she told Starsky something was up, and when she'd actually made her appointment. Most women wouldn't tell a man – especially a man they weren't in love with – that they might be carrying his child unless they knew for sure.

The phone rang and Hutch picked it up. "Hutchinson."

The voice was gruff. "I need to speak with Detective David Starsky. It's urgent."

Hutch swallowed. Normally, he wouldn't question the identity of the caller, but his protective instincts kicked in as he watched his partner still fighting to obtain information from the partially-open file folder. "May I tell him what it's regarding?"

The voice was almost angry. "It's personal."

"Uh," Hutch felt the thundering of heart, "just a moment." He took a breath and pushed the Hold button. Then he cleared his throat. "Starsk?" His worry made his voice short and he had to speak more loudly. "Starsky."

His partner turned. "Yeah?"

Hutch held up the receiver. "Line one."

Starsky grimaced, then stuffed the file folder back into the drawer and slammed it shut. He moved to the desk, and just as he reached for the phone, Hutch told him, "The caller says it's personal."

The other's mouth dropped open as he took the receiver and pushed line one. "David Starsky speaking." A moment later he said, "Yes, Mr. Swanson, how are you?"

Nancy's father. Hutch watched his partner as his face went blank, and then his mouth moved as though trying to repeat the words that were being said to him.

Finally, Starsky demanded, "What hospital?"

Hutch waited anxiously.

"I'll be there in ten minutes." Starsky slammed the phone down. "Nancy had a miscarriage." He picked up his jacket and tore out the door.

Hutch slumped in his chair, relief and sadness battling within his conscience. There was no victor throughout the long afternoon.

* * *

Hutch wasn't surprised that he hadn't heard from his partner by the end of shift. He could imagine Starsky talking to the family and to Nancy at the hospital, consoling her, and trying to figure out what this now did to all his noble plans.

Surely, Starsky wouldn't feel any obligation toward marriage now. The whole point had been for the child. And now that there wasn't a child....

There was a lazy knock at his door and Hutch looked up, feeling a weight fall from shoulders. The relief was even greater when the so-familiar voice said, "It's me," from the other side of the door.

Hutch opened it and found his partner standing there, leaning against the door frame with outstretched arms, looking haggard. Then he straightened and went past Hutch.

He watched while his partner stopped in the center of the room. Starsky didn't look visibly upset, just very tired. And contemplative.

Hutch slowly closed the door. Then he said to the taut back, "How you doin'?"

The reply was soft. And distant. "I'm okay."

No, you're not, Hutch wanted to say. He wanted to go up to Starsky, soothe him, but he thought he'd best wait until the other gave signals that that was what he wanted. Instead, Hutch moved to the kitchen. He was about to offer a beer, then thought better of it. "How about some wine?"

Starsky drew a deep breath, then glanced back over his shoulder. "Yeah."

"How is Nancy doing?" Hutch asked as he poured it.

"Okay," Starsky said, removing his jacket "They let her go home." As he slowly draped it across the arm of the chair, he shrugged and said with head bowed, "Just one of those things. You know?" He looked up.

Hutch handed him a wine glass. "Yeah." He managed to meet his partner's eye briefly before the other focused on the glass. "How do you feel about it?" He pushed on the other's shoulder. "Come on, sit down."

Starsky did. He shrugged. "I figure whatever I'm feelin', it's gotta be a lot worse for her."

Hutch snorted. "Yeah, that's what I thought," he said, taking the easy chair next to the sofa.

Starsky looked up. "Huh?"

Hutch realized that he'd probably never mentioned it before. "Van had a miscarriage once."

Starsky's eyes widened. "You never told me that." His voice hinted at accusation.

Hutch tilted his head, thinking back, trying to remember the person he'd been back then. "It was early in the marriage, before I'd known you. She probably conceived on our honeymoon, before we'd discussed how we shouldn't have a family until my career was well under way. Anyway, once it had happened...," he shrugged. "I guess I tried to put it out of my mind. Guess I figured if I didn't think about it much it wouldn't bother me much." He eyed his partner. "And I kept telling myself that the pain -- the loss -- I felt had to be nothing compared to what she felt." He shrugged, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. "We're only men, you know. Heartless." He wondered what Cassie, the friend of Slate's daughter who thought men were insensitive about the subject of rape, would think about a man's feelings on losing his unborn child.

Starsky drew a long, deep breath. "Yeah," he finally said, gaze on the coffee table. "I keep tryin' to figure it out. I mean, at this stage, it was just a lump of flesh. Not even a real person, with a real personality. But...," he swallowed audibly, "some part of me feels like my kid died today." Now a quick snort in what Hutch knew was an attempt to stem heavy feelings. Then a forced smile as he looked up. "Kinda dumb, huh?"

Hutch closed his eyes and shook his head. "No," he whispered.

"You and Vanessa... you ever try again?"

"No. We thought we would later. But by then -- by the time my career was appropriately 'under way'-- things started falling apart." He looked up and pointedly said, "Now I'm glad we never did. The divorce would have been that much messier." For starters.

"Well," Starsky said, putting down his empty wine glass, "the good thing in this is that it solved all those other dilemmas."

Hutch was glad that they'd moved to more positive subjects. It was easy to say now. "Sorry, buddy. Sorry everything turned out like it did... even if it's for the better in the long run."

"Yeah. Thank goodness for the long run."

"How's Nancy doing?" Hutch asked again. What he really wanted to know was how the entire afternoon at the hospital had been spent.

"She's sad. Depressed. And she insisted on she and I talking things through – even though I wanted to wait until later-- and she insisted on the truth, and when I told her the truth -- that I would have been willing to marry her for the sake of the child, but that was the only reason -- she was hurt and upset and her parents were mad at me for upsetting her. But," he looked up, wearing an ironic expression, "the bottom line is that we won't be seeing each other again." Now a dramatic sigh. "I wonder if O'Reilly will be willing to take me back."

Hutch got up and took the empty wine glass from the coffee table. "How about another?"

"I dunno."

Hutch looked at Starsky sitting on the sofa. His partner still had on his shoulder harness, and was sitting up, but with shoulders slumped. He looked worn out, and Hutch knew that his brain circuits had to be even more fried than his body, for having such a difficult dilemma to deal with the past few days. Perhaps now, he was ready for some sympathy.

Hutch put the wine glass down. "Hey, partner," he said as he came behind the sofa. He squeezed Starsky on the arm. "How 'bout letting your buddy take care of you. Huh?"

Starsky perked up as Hutch came around the sofa. "What kind of 'care' are you talkin' about?"

Hutch grinned. Usually food was the best route to boosting his partner's spirits. But he had something else in mind. He reached to the shoulder harness. "Come on, get this off," he said, moving to kneel at his partner's Addidas while Starsky took over with the holster. "Just want to make you more comfortable." He spent some time removing shoes and socks. Then he looked up and said, "Take off your shirt."

"Why?" But Starsky's hands were on the buttons.

"Trust me and quit asking so many questions."

"I'm a detective. I'm supposed to ask questions."

"Yeah, well, you're also supposed to trust your partner."

Starsky removed his shirt. "Now what?"

Hutch got on his knees and straightened. "Okay," he said, taking Starsky by the arm, and pulling it to the sofa cushion, "just lay right down there and relax." Starsky followed his lead, stretching out onto his stomach, closing his eyes. "That's my buddy," he approved, petting the small of Starsky's back. He shifted on his knees, getting comfortable, and then placed his hands on his partner's shoulders. He started moving his fingers, pressing them into the skin that had a good helping of hair and was dotted with moles.

"Mm," Starsky approved.

"Just relax," Hutch whispered. He worked silently for nearly half an hour. During that time, Starsky shifted so that his face was pressed against the back of the couch, giving Hutch easier access to his back.

When his partner was so still that Hutch thought he must be asleep, he removed his hands.

A small voice broke the silence. "Don't stop."

Hutch shifted his cramped legs and placed his hands on Starsky's back once again. "Big baby," he admonished. And began moving his fingers again.

* * *

"Control One to Zebra Three."

Hutch picked up the microphone. "This is Zebra Three. Go ahead."

"See Huggy Bear about a lead on suspect Joe Beaver."

Hutch looked over at his partner, the other's triumphant gaze meeting his own. "Will do. Zebra Three out."

Starsky swung the Torino into a U-turn at the next intersection. "If this lead of Huggy's pans out, we're gonna owe him big-time."

Hutch said, "Let's make sure it pans out first."

It was stating the obvious, Starsky thought, and he felt a small flare of annoyance that Hutch always had to say something negative about a potentially positive situation.

Big grump.

He shifted in his seat, weaving his way through traffic, anxious to get to Huggy's. And wondering why, after all their years together, he was letting Hutch's personality flaws get to him.

* * *

"I got the back," Hutch whispered as he moved off.

Starsky nodded. His own gun was raised as he moved along the edge of the house. According to Huggy, a friend of a friend of a friend had said that Joe Beaver had been staying at the house, but was planning on leaving the state any day... or any moment. If they were lucky, they had arrived in time.

Starsky came up to the door. He hadn't heard any noise from within. He waited until he was sure Hutch would have had enough time to get into position at the back entrance. Then he banged on the door. "Police! Come out with your hands up."

There was no sound.

Starsky banged on the door again. "If you don't come out, we're coming in."

There was a soft "thud" behind him. Starsky swung around. He didn't see anything. He moved quickly along the edge of the house, then saw a man matching Beaver's description tearing out at a run from the side of the house, where he'd obviously jumped out of a window.

Starsky fired into the air. "Hold it! Or I'll shoot."

There was a brief hesitation, then the man took off again.

Starsky aimed and fired.

Beaver went down, gripping his leg. Hutch appeared and took off after him.

"I'll get an ambulance," Starsky called. He went back to the Torino. As he called it in, he watched Hutch yell something unintelligible at Beaver. The suspect was moving backwards on his ground on his rear, as if trying to move away from Hutch.

Hutch grabbed him by the collar and slugged him. Even being some thirty yards away, Starsky could see that the punch had a lot of power behind it. Hutch's angry voice was clearly audible now. "FACE DOWN! HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK!"

Starsky trotted over to them as Beaver obeyed. Hutch was now cuffing him and Starsky said, "You're under arrest for the murder of Stanley Lewis. You have the right to remain silent..." As he continued to voice the speech from memory, he and Hutch turned Beaver over. Starsky tried not to wince at the thick swelling developing on their suspect's face.

* * *

Starsky sighed heavily as he pulled the arrest form from the typewriter. Filling out the paperwork on Beaver's arrest had taken three hours. Now, finally, he and Hutch could go home.

Dobey emerged from his office. "Starsky, Hutchinson. In my office." He didn't sound happy.

Starsky wasn't all that surprised. Nearly a half hour ago, Detective Dale Reeves from IA had walked into Dobey's office. Considering IA's obsession with he and Hutch of late, he wasn't surprised that the visit concerned them. He looked at his partner to catch his expression, but the other had already turned to Dobey's office.

Reeves was sitting in a chair at the far end of the room.

"You two know Dan Reeves from IA," Dobey said by way of introduction.

"Of course," Hutch replied, overly polite. They sat down in the two vacant chairs.

Dobey leaned forward. "I want the both of you to give him your full cooperation."

Again, Hutch responded first. "Of course, Captain." His smile was full of sweetness.

"When do we never not cooperate fully?" Starsky followed up. A part of him wondered if it was really necessary to always be on the defensive when IA was around.

"Knock it off," Dobey frowned. He pointed his pen at Reeves. "Go ahead, Dan."

Reeves leaned forward in his seat. "First of all, let me make it clear this meeting is informal and off the record. I'm here for preliminary purposes only, to see if IA needs to investigate further. You can answer formally in writing when you receive official notices from us."

"Official notices on what?" Starsky asked, though he was pretty sure of the answer.

"The LAPD has received an official complaint from Joe Beaver, via his lawyer, against Officer Hutchinson for alleged police brutality."

Starsky sighed with great exaggeration. "Don't tell me you're gonna believe some two-bit murderer who-- "

"Starsky!" Dobey admonished. "Let him finish."

Starsky made a big show of settling back in his seat. He noticed that Hutch, whose face was turned away from him and toward Reeves, was remaining silent. But he had put his chin in his hand, deliberately showing a casual attitude.

After making sure the two were silent, Reeves continued in a congenial manner. "The fact of the matter is that Beaver has a fractured cheek, which he claims was from being hit by Detective Hutchinson."

Starsky squirmed. "Yeah, well, I'm sure if you measure the fracture, it'll match my partner's hand size exactly. After all, the little twerp was resisting arrest, and I don't think-- "

"Resisting arrest?" Reeves questioned. "That's the part we're having a bit of a problem with, fellas. According to Beaver, he was shot in the leg before being assaulted by Detective Hutchinson. The man was already on the ground, gentlemen."

Starsky deadpanned, "If you knew you were facing murder one, would you let a bullet wound in your leg prevent you from trying to resist arrest? The man was still trying to flee after I shot him."

Reeves nodded skeptically. "Punching him in the face was supposed to prevent him from fleeing? Have either of you detectives heard of something called Methods for Restraining Suspects?"

"Look," Starsky said, "I was calling an ambulance, so I wasn't able to assist in the 'restraint'. He was still trying to get away when Hutch belted him. It's rather obvious, isn't it, that my partner's method was plenty effective in restraining Beaver. The little prick behaved just fine after that."

Reeves' eyes went from Starsky to Hutch. "You're being awfully silent in all this, Detective Hutchinson."

Hutch shifted, and Starsky could see the pale lashes flutter innocently. "Frankly, Lieutenant Reeves, since this meeting is informal, that tells me that you're hoping we'll say something to assure you that it would be pointless to launch an official investigation. So, in deference to that goal, I'm choosing to remain silent and not say anything. Just know that I don't contradict anything my partner has said."

"Uhhhh... huh." Reeves stood. "Your men are well trained, Dobey," he said to their captain. Then his eyes went to the detectives. "Listen, boys, the LAPD has no more desire to make an issue of this situation than either of you. But be forewarned that because you both-- and in particular Detective Hutchinson--have such thick files with IA that you'd better watch your step from here on out, if you intend to keep your badges. Little incidences like this can only be over-looked up to a point." He nodded politely and reached for the door. "Good day, Gentlemen."

Dobey's cheeks billowed as he let out a heavy breath after Reeves had left. "If you're smart you'll listen to what he said."

Starsky only made a face, squelching the automatic instinct to rebel.

But Dobey's expression softened. "You boys did good, picking up Beaver." He shook his finger. "And collars like this are the very reason I'd hate to lose either of you because of an incident with IA. You're too valuable." His voice increased in volume. "So behave yourselves."

"Uh, Captain," Hutch said in a calm voice, "since we 'did good', how about a four-day weekend?"

Starsky looked sharply at Hutch. His partner was looking at their superior and wouldn't meet his eye. They hadn't talked about having days off. He wondered what Hutch was thinking... or needing.

"What are you talking about?" Dobey demanded. "You two have had your share of days off."

Now an overly-sweet smile from Hutch. "It might give us a chance to contemplate 'behaving ourselves'." Starsky could detect the subtle hint of sarcasm.

Dobey grunted, clearly not believing the intent.

"Or would you rather," Hutch batted his lashes, "that we call in sick the next two days?"

Dobey was looking at Starsky, and Starsky merely shrugged, trying to look as innocent as Hutch, and not give away that he had no idea what his partner was up to.

"All right," Dobey relented. Then bellowed, "But you'd better have your tails back in here on Monday!"

Hutch grinned as he stood. Starsky followed him to the door. After he walked out, Starsky did a poor imitation of a salute. "Thanks, Cap'n."

As soon as he was out the door, Starsky rushed up to his partner. "Whaddya mean, four days off? Where we goin'?"

Hutch grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. "Lake Tahoe."

Starsky felt his jaw drop. "Huh? When did this come about?"

"Just now."

Hutch's calm, cool, nonchalant attitude was a charade, Starsky knew. There was something going on. He could only hope that it wasn't serious.

As he put on his jacket, Hutch levelly said, "You can stay here if you have other plans."

Other plans. Oh, no. He'd talked O'Reilly into giving him another chance and they had a date set for Friday. Hutch didn't know that. Not that it would have necessarily mattered....

"W-w-well, when are we leavin'?" Starsky demanded.

Hutch looked at him, his expression still neutral. "Tomorrow. Early. Six o'clock. I'll pick up you, unless you're not going."

It was hard to tell, with the overly bland tone, but Starsky sensed that Hutch very much wanted him to go. "Of course, I'm goin'."

"See you at six." Hutch squeezed his arm and headed for the door.

* * *

Starsky rolled over on the mattress to face the nightstand. 2:15 the illuminated numbers of the digital clock read. He hadn't been able to sleep at all, and he was supposed to be ready to leave the city at six a.m.

First, there had been the ache in his groin, knowing that O'Reilly would probably never want to see him again. He'd as sweetly as possible told her that he had to take a rain check for their date on Friday, but he'd be sure and make it up to her the following week. She had seemed content with that. But before he'd managed to leave the station she'd confronted him with the rumor that he and Hutch were going to Lake Tahoe for a four-day weekend. He'd sputtered it was just the two of them and that she was the only woman he was currently seeing, but that had backfired when she was all the more upset that he was choosing to spend time with the insolent Detective Hutchinson over spending a romantic evening with her.

He'd finally left the station, all the more annoyed with his partner for making his life so difficult. And frustrating. Which turned his thoughts to Hutch... where they'd stayed all evening. And now into the wee hours of the following morning.

Hutch was acting very weird lately. His sarcasm was more biting than in times past. His humor more dark. His complaints more menial. His grumpiness more badgering. His anger more dangerous. His love more shielded.

Starsky sighed. He couldn't lay his finger on any particular past incident when things had changed. It just seemed to be an accumulation over time.

And most notable of all-- and probably a result of everything else-- was Hutch's distance. It was a subtle thing, but felt nonetheless. They used to give so much of themselves to each other. Now, Hutch was holding back.

Starsky was old enough to have been around the block a few times, and he didn't pretend that that distance was one-sided only. He knew he had to have some responsibility for it. More recently, he was sure that his intent to marry Nancy had hurt Hutch to some degree. It was only natural, then, that Hutch would take a step back to prevent himself from getting hurt further.

But the distance existed before the situation with Nancy had ever come up.

Starsky rolled to his other side. The good news in all of this was that Hutch had apparently wanted to get away... perhaps to work things out.

Starsky grinned in the darkness. Hutch apparently wanted his partner with him to help him do it. Things would get better. Starsky knew they would.

Eventually, he drifted to sleep.

* * *

It was very tempting to toot the horn as he pulled the LTD behind the Torino. But it was six o'clock in the morning and other residents in Starsky's building probably wouldn't appreciate it. Hutch thought to hell with them, but something prevented him from following through. He turned off the motor and trotted up the staircase.

He knocked.

Slowly, the door pulled back. His partner stood there, in jogging shorts, bare-chested, unshaven, his eyes squinted open

"Good morning," Hutch said cheerfully, pushing past him. The living room was full of fishing gear and golf clubs. "You packed?"

"Almost." Starsky stumbled to the center of the room. "I was trying to get all my fishin' stuff together." He plopped down. "And then I got to thinkin' about my golf clubs." He looked up at Hutch, eyes widening with accusation. "Then I got to thinkin' that I don't even know what the hell the plan is. Just what are we goin' to Tahoe for, Hutch?"

Hutch ran his fingers along his mustache. "Take the fishing gear, leave the clubs." He knelt down and grabbed some sections of pole.

Starsky sighed heavily and closed his tackle box.

Hutch frowned at him, not liking the way Starsky fussed with the closure on the tin box. "You hung over or something?"

His partner frowned back. "No. Just didn't sleep well. Tryin' to wake up."

Hutch put the pole down and went into the kitchen. He filled a glass with cold water. He took a sip, then went back to where Starsky was tucking the box under his arm in preparation to stand. "Starsk?"

Starsky looked up.

Hutch threw the cold water in his face. "There. You awake now?"

* * *

Starsky was curled up in the front seat for the first few hours of the trip, trying to sleep. For the first half hour of the drive he'd been seething with self-pity that Hutch was capable of such antagonistic behavior. But then he consoled himself with the promise to get even, and he was able to sleep for a while after that.

He drifted awake to the sound of Hutch alternately singing, humming, and whistling along with the radio. The sounds were comforting. The sun felt warm against the side of his face that was pressed against the window, cushioned by a sofa pillow.

He went back to sleep.

* * *

"Hey, lazy bum."

Starsky felt a series of taps on his shoulder. He stirred, realizing the car had stopped. It had stopped before but Hutch hadn't tried to rouse him.

"Lunch," Hutch said.

Starsky squinted at his partner who was getting out of the car. Hutch did look more peaceful. The long body stretched a moment, then stuck his head back in. "Come on."

"Where are we?" Starsky mumbled as he straightened. Food was definitely worth waking up for. Hutch had tried to offer him some breakfast bars shortly after they'd left, but Starsky had been sulking too much to accept them.

The side door opened, and Starsky had just balanced himself on the seat, which was fortunate, or he would have fallen out. He wondered if that had been his partner's intent. When he looked up at the innocent expression on the other man's face, he knew it had been Hutch's intent.

Starsky stretched his muscles, then stepped out of the car. He planted himself in front of Hutch and said, "Don't think for a minute that you're going to get away with any of this. When you least expect it...," he trailed off, letting the threat linger.

Hutch chuckled. "Why, buddy, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Starsky watched him turn toward the entrance of the restaurant. It was a game. And Hutch was enjoying it thoroughly.

Starsky sighed. It was so hard to begrudge his partner his little enjoyments in life... however painful to his person.

* * *

They stopped once more, this time Hutch going into a local market and emerging twenty minutes later with packages wrapped in white.

"What's that?" Starsky asked. He was wearing sunglasses and resting one foot on the dashboard.

"Steaks for dinner."

"Oh. We havin' a barbecue?"

The blond head turned to him as the LTD started forward. "You ever think about becoming a detective?"

Starsky made a face, but his mind started tossing facts back and forth. Then he asked, "You rent us a cabin or somethin'?" He'd assumed the trip was spur-of-the-moment, and he and Hutch would be spending their time in motels.

Those sea blue eyes were upon him once again, the tone this time hinting at admiration. "Really, Starsk, you ought to seriously consider going into police work."

* * *

It was a cabin. They reached it in the middle of the afternoon, stopping there before actually reaching the lake. It gave the illusion of being isolated, but in actuality there was a shopette just ten minutes away, and various other cabins in the area. Still, the surrounding vegetation was lush and the pretense of privacy easy to indulge in.

Starsky was fully awake by now, and as he unloaded the car, he said, "So, just when did you make reservations for this place?" He wondered if Hutch had planned it weeks in advance.

The tall blond had his hands stuck in his back pocket as he watched the unloading. "Last night."

"Last night?" Starsky asked in disbelief as he walked passed him, arms full.

Hutch pushed open the door. "Yeah. I called and they said they'd had someone cancel, so...."

Starsky dropped everything to the floor, and looked at his partner with gritted teeth. "You gonna help, or do you just intend to be ornamentation?"

"What's wrong with ornamentation?"

Starsky brushed his hands off and planted himself in front of Hutch. "Nothing. Unless you want the rest of our stuff, including the steaks, to stay out in the car." He brushed his hands against his jeans. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to check out the plumbing."

Hutch grinned, as though he'd somehow bested Starsky, and headed for the car.

* * *

Hutch was frowning. It was a transformation that had come on gradually, Starsky thought. Now that he was focused on grilling the steaks his expression was far away.

Starsky shifted in the lawn chair that was next to the picnic table in back of the cabin. He'd done his part and made the salad and set out the condiments. Hutch was in charge of the steaks and potatoes. Starsky was enjoying the view into the woods set back from a clearing at the edge of the cabin. He was thinking that this had actually turned out to be a nice idea.

Except for his partner's puzzling expression.

The steaks protested loudly as they were turned over. Starsky watched the smoke billow up as greased dripped onto hot charcoal. Hutch moved around the grill, poking at the meat, shifting them, as into his task as if it were a matter of life and death.

Suddenly, he looked up. And caught Starsky watching him. "What?" he demanded.

Starsky looked away, feeling a protectiveness well up. He felt an affectionate smile pull at his mouth corner. "Nothin.'" Then he amended, "You're just so into cooking those things."

Blue eyes glared at him. "You want yours to end up well done?" Hutch challenged.

Starsky shook his head, wondering where the defensiveness came from, though he suspected the response was more from Hutch's automatic tendency to make a smart remark to anything that was said. A tendency that had become much more of a habit in recent months. Amiably, he replied, "Medium-well will do."

Hutch was already cutting into them. "Plate," he requested in a gentler tone. "Mine's done."

Starsky handed him a plate, deciding against making a remark about how Hutch's preference for medium rare bordered on barbarianism-- something that Hutch had occasionally accused him of.

The preparation was completed within the next few minutes. Starsky noted that their conversation, however brief, had relaxed Hutch somewhat.

He wondered when it was that they'd stopped talking as much as they had in the early years. And wondered, too, if the answer was also a source of his partner's increased frequency of unhappiness.

* * *

They both were silent, except for occasional noises of approval, as they ate. Hutch would often pause and look out at the surrounding wilderness.

Finally, when he was full enough to slow down his eating, Starsky said, "This is the best meal I've had in a long time."

Hutch turned to look at him, a distinct softness settling over his features. "Anything's better than that processed and fast-food stuff you're so fond of."

Starsky wasn't interested in a retort, because he thought it a good time to ask what he really wanted to know. "How come you wanted to come here?'

Hutch shrugged, and the pale features softened further. Then, a bit bashfully, "I thought it would be good for you to get away, after... you know, losing the baby."

That was touching, that Hutch had wanted to do this for him. Except, Starsky didn't quite believe it, especially since Hutch had acted like he didn't particularly care if he came or not. Starsky decided not to press that issue for now. Instead, he assured, "I'm okay."

Those sea blue eyes seemed to appraise him. Hutch took a swig of beer and leaned forward across the table. His voice was gentle. "You were getting ready to make a major lifestyle change, pal. And then you had it all yanked away from you, without having any say-so about it."

If felt good, receiving sympathy from his partner, but his pride bristled against the fact that the sympathy was a bit misplaced. Starsky shrugged again and muttered, "Wasn't the first time."

"Yeah." Hutch bowed his head.

Starsky could see the bald spot revealed at the crown. It made him think of time and aging, of how things in life could never be as they once were. He and Hutch would never be the devil-may-care hellraisers they once were, because caring had extracted a high price, and now their work had the aura of simply clinging to stay alive. Only, whereas they used to cling to each other, Starsky wasn't sure if that were true anymore, and he wondered if that, too, had something to do with the frown his partner wore so often. But Starsky found it difficult to feel melancholy after a great dinner and, after all these years, still great-- if somewhat reticent-- companionship. "Thanks," he said simply.

Hutch looked up, lips moving to form a partial smile.

* * *

Starsky grinned without opening his eyes as he felt the boat rock gently. They were out in a motor boat on a small lake that was closer to their cabin than Lake Tahoe was. The motor had long since been turned off, as they were now supposed to be fishing. Starsky had decided a nap was in order, and he was pleasantly surprised when Hutch hadn't badgered him about it. So, he'd drifted in and out of a genuine sleep while being rocked by the boat, the sun warming his face, and listening to the sounds of his partner going about the activity of fishing.

After a while, Starsky realized that the only interruption of his peace was the occasional creaking of the boat. Wondering if Hutch may have chosen a nap, as well, he squinted his eyes open.

Hutch was sitting on a wooden seat, his fishing pole hanging off the side of the boat. His attention was on something in the distance in the other direction. After studying him a lengthy moment, Starsky realized his partner was focused completely inward. And he was frowning.

Starsky lazily lifted a foot and tapped at Hutch's tackle box, which was against his leg.

Hutch looked at him sharply.

"Hey," Starsky said, still lying down and not wanting to get up unless he had to, "whatsamatter?"

Hutch had the grace to look sheepish. "Just thinking." He suddenly became very interested in his fishing pole.

"Thinking about what?" Starsky wondered. He finally hoisted himself into a sitting position, as he had a feeling this might not be a casual conversation. He was also aware that he had to take a leak.

Hutch had recast his line and, still standing, he turned to face his partner, expression grave. "I didn't become a cop so I'd have to explain my actions to IA every week."

Starsky took a deep breath. Despite all his nonchalance and innocent exterior, the incident with Joe Beavers two days ago had left an impression on his partner. A deep impression. Starsky knew it was his turn to be casual to offset Hutch's seriousness. "Look, Hutch, I figure it's like being a professional sports player. I mean, if you were a basketball coach, would you want somebody on your team who never got called for a foul?"

Hutch stared at him, apparently considering the analogy.

Starsky went on. "If you're good at what you do, you bend the rules, play close to the line. In football, if you're a great defensive linesman, you get called for holding every now and then. If you're a great pass receiver, you get called for offensive interference every once in a while. Players who play it safe don't last very long in professional sports. In you're a great cop, you're gonna have some explaining to do to IA every now and then. If not, they wouldn't have jobs. And you wouldn't be doing yours."

Hutch sat down heavily. "It doesn't wash, partner. We've never had a very good relationship with IA. But it seems they want to talk to us more often, and we're less successful at getting the bad guys than we used to be." He bowed his head. "It feels like such an uphill battle. All the time." He looked sharply at Starsky. "Don't you feel it?"

Starsky lowered his eyes, wondering how to answer. He'd been feeling that things were an uphill battle lately, but mainly because of Hutch. It was hard to separate what was the job itself, and what were his partner's feelings merging into his own. He replied, "I never expected being a cop to be easy. So... I guess... my expectations are less than yours. I wouldn't expect not to be questioned by IA every now and then." He grinned, trying to lighten the mood. "I'd have to really wonder if we were doing a good job if they didn't want to talk to us any more."

Hutch didn't reply, and Starsky found himself wondering if his partner's recent brooding was centered around his choice of career. Genuinely curious, Starsky asked, "What would you want to do if you weren't a cop?"

Hutch shrugged, staring at the edge of the boat. "I don't know," he replied simply. Then, finally, his voice softened as he looked at his partner. "I wouldn't leave the job unless you were leaving, too."

Starsky grinned, feeling a flush spread through his body. In a sense, it made him feel responsible for Hutch's happiness, and that was a burden, but one he didn't mind having. He just wished he were better at keeping his partner happy. Just a few short years ago, it seemed so easy. Just be himself, keep Hutch constantly in his sights, say something silly to make him laugh, or say something stupid so Hutch could act superior and scold him. Or, when the tough façade crumbled, hold him and hold him and hold him until all the bad stuff went away.

Starsky studied Hutch, who was taking a swig of beer while looking off into the distance again. He wondered about the holding part. Wondered if, somehow, he'd been neglecting that aspect of their relationship and that was the root of Hutch's problem. After all, Hutch's dissatisfaction with work-- life?-- had been a gradual thing. There hadn't been any particular recent incidents that had prompted dramatic displays of affection from Starsky. But maybe the building up of all those gradual things had created a need for that affection, and Starsky had missed the signs. He smiled inwardly, wondering if all Hutch really needed was to have the stuffing squeezed out of him.

Hutch had turned his head to look at him. "What?" he demanded.

Starsky decided to keep his thoughts to himself for now, and observe his partner a while longer. He got to his feet, wincing as his sleep-laden muscles protested. "Anyone around? I gotta take a leak."

Hutch gestured to a boat in the distance. "They won't be able to see you."

Starsky turned to face the back of the boat and lowered his fly. While carefully guiding the stream well away from the boat, he looked about the forested countryside. He breathed deeply, drawing in lungfuls of the clean mountain air.

"Somebody's coming!"

Starsky turned sharply at his partner's urgent voice, trying to piss faster as he looked around, but the stream was choking itself off as nature intervened. "Where?" He was already tucking himself inside, having dribbled on his jeans. He couldn't see anybody and looked at his partner as he zipped up his fly.

Like the most wicked of little boys, Hutch clamped his hand over his mouth and snickered so harshly than he had to pull it away and laugh uproarishly instead.

"Dammit, Hutch," Starsky grumbled. His bladder wasn't completely empty, but he couldn't imagine trying again, since now he was too afraid of whatever else his partner might pull from his stock of juvenile stunts.

When he finally quit laughing enough to speak, Hutch pointed and seriously asked, "What are those wet spots on the front of your jeans?"

Starsky gritted his teeth. "I swear, buddy, you're gonna get yours..." he let the threat trail off. In fact, it occurred to him that there's nothing he'd love to do more than push Hutch right out of the boat. But that would be dangerous, even with a life preserver, since they were out in a deep part of the lake. But maybe if they reached shallower water....

Starsky sat down and rummaged through their stuff, coming up with a Twinkie. He decided to put the earlier incident behind them... at least for the time being. Cheerfully, he asked, "Isn't anything biting?"

Hutch went over to his pole and flexed it. "Doesn't seem to be."

Of course, Starsky knew that Hutch wasn't really interested in the fishing. He seemed to be more interested in questioning the point of continuing to be cops.

Now Hutch picked up his pole and started to reel it in. He gestured to a small inlet in the distance. "I'm ready for a break. Let's go over there and have lunch."

It was a little early for lunch, but Starsky wasn't about to protest. He had slapped together some sandwiches that morning while Hutch had gathered their fishing gear. He took Hutch's pole from him while Hutch sat next to the motor and started it up.

Starsky enjoyed the feel of the wind rushing through his hair as their boat made its way toward land. Hutch slowed the motor while they approached shallow water, and Starsky fantasized again about pushing Hutch out, but decided that his big blond would be expecting some sort of retaliation. It would be much better to wait until Hutch thought Starsky had forgotten about it.

Starsky got out the paddle as Hutch cut the motor and disposed of his life preserver. He guided the boat to within a few years of the beach, and Hutch jumped out and pulled it to shore.

Oh, what the hell, Starsky decided. Hutch was already wet almost up to his cutoffs. He quickly pulled off his own preserver and tossed it aside. Hutch was in front of the boat, his back to him, and he would be an easy target to leap on top of. But Starsky didn't want to risk injuring his friend's back.

Starsky jumped to the side of the boat, behind Hutch, and in the same motion flung his arm around Hutch's chest, throwing him to one side. Hutch was caught off guard and landed in the foot-deep water with a grunt. Starsky rushed to capitalize his advantage, leaping on top of the other, straddling him. He pushed Hutch's face beneath the surface, to get him good and wet as adequate retaliation for throwing water in his face yesterday morning. The bodily contact was welcome, and he was all the more pleased when Hutch was pushing at his arm, trying to dislodge Starsky's grip from his face.

He'd got Hutch good and wet, and he'd gotten Hutch riled. For Starsky, that was all the victory he needed, and he was willing to let Hutch take whatever liberties with him that the big blond felt was necessary. Starsky let go.

Hutch rose up, eyes glaring, but not with anger. If anything, he seemed to almost be grinning. "Why you-- "He grabbed Starsky by the shirtfront, and struggled to his feet, dragging his prize up to the beach, which was somewhat sandy, but also had a few rocks and scattered vegetation.

"Uh, oh," Starsky muttered in dread, wondering what Hutch had in mind for him. He'd expected to end up as equally wet as his partner. Instead, his somewhat wet jeans were being dragged along the sand, and he felt them starting to lose their grip on his hips, and his butt crack was being exposed. He grabbed at Hutch's arms now, hoping to stop from being dragged and having his shorts pulled down farther.

Hutch did stop. He was looking down at his partner, his eyes such a clear blue, his grin mischievous beneath the mustache.

Damn, Hutch was beautiful. Especially when he was happy like this. Starsky decided that observation was no longer needed. He raised up a little and threw his arms around the wet form, one hand going around Hutch's rib cage and another around his neck. He laughed as he drew Hutch down to him.

He hadn't realized how badly he'd wanted the contact himself, until Hutch's weight was on top of him, and Hutch's face tucked against the crook of his neck and shoulder. It felt so good, even having the wetness against his wetness. It seemed like old times, when they had been so adept at using the physical to support each other when things were rough. Now, Starsky wasn't sure how rough things were, but he did know that there was nothing quite like having his arms full of Hutch. It was almost as good as being in Hutch's arms... a memory that now seemed sadly ancient.

Hutch grunted and wriggled. Starsky eased his hold, and when Hutch pulled back, Starsky found his partner looking down at him, the grin still lighting his face. Starsky didn't feel any need to hold anything back. "You're the most beautiful person on this earth when you're smilin'."

For a moment, Hutch seemed pleased. But then the smile went away and his eyes narrowed, looking confused. Abruptly, he was up and off of Starsky, slapping his hands together to brush off the sand. "Get the sandwiches."

Starsky struggled to his feet, disappointed that the contact hadn't lasted longer, but grateful to have an opportunity to pull his jeans up around his hips. As he did so, he was aware of pebbles of sand having worked their way along his rear. It was going to make sitting down uncomfortable for the remainder of the day. Unless he got a chance to lower his jeans behind a tree and brush the sand off... not likely with Mr. Every-Chance-I-Get around.

Starsky picked up the spare tackle box that acted as a lunchbox and pulled it out of the boat. As he did so, he noted how nice and private the inlet seemed. Any boat could come upon them, as could any people residing in cabins that were surely nearby; but, as with their own cabin, the illusion of privacy was very strong.

As he turned away from the boat and back to the beach, Starsky wondered where Hutch had disappeared to. Probably takin' a leak behind a tree. As he set the tackle box on a good-sized rock, he wondered why he'd never had the desire to play tricks on Hutch the way his partner did on him. Somehow, he supposed, it wouldn't mean as much. Hutch got so much pleasure out of tormenting him at times; he didn't think he'd find it equally pleasurable if their roles were reversed. Hutch needed the upper hand. It never bothered Starsky to let him pretend to have it.

Starsky opened up the box and picked up the first little bag of potato chips.


He turned at the voice, but still didn't see his partner. "Yeah?" he said suspiciously. Then, "Where are you?"

"Come 'ere a sec."

Starsky thought he saw the movement of an arm behind some bushes. Though he had a feeling it was another trick-- Hutch probably going to trip him or something--he immediately obeyed, leaving the food behind. "What's goin' on over here, Blondie?" he asked as he parted the bushes, a plaid shirt coming into view.

Hutch stood looking at him, his expression unusually soft. "I wanna show you something."

Starsky stepped closer, violating his partner's personal space. "Yeah? What?"

Hutch gripped his chin with surprising force. And then that mustache shot towards him....

Starsky stood there limply as the softest lips pressed full-force against his. He had to take a step back to keep his balance, and a firm hand gripped his arm. He felt the softness, the wet saliva as Hutch's mouth covered his, and was puzzled that he didn't want to pull back and wipe his mouth. Instead, he felt he was an air-pressured chair, like in the dentist's office, and his heart was being lowered in one gentle, fluttering move.

Hutch was going to have fun laughing at him later, but Starsky didn't care that it was a trick. It was too good, and pride meant nothing in light of what it felt like. He pressed back.

His shirt sleeves were tugged downward, and Starsky dropped to his knees, Hutch following him. His hands were limp at his sides, and Hutch was literally taking his breath away, leaving Starsky desperate to breathe. He pulled back.

But Hutch followed him, lips clamping onto his chin as Starsky took a breath. And Starsky realized he wanted those feelings back just as eagerly, so he moved his head, allowing Hutch's lips to find his once again.

A hand was around his back, guiding him to the ground, and Starsky knew then that this wasn't a trick. Hutch wanted this. Desperately. And everything within Starsky said that Hutch must always be given whatever he wanted.

He was on his back now, on the ground, Hutch's lanky body straddling him. Finally, his lips were released, but only so Hutch's could kiss down his throat, into his chest, tearing the buttons of his shirt apart. And then his tiny nipples were being lapped at and nuzzled, Hutch's breath sounding loud and heavy to his ears.

A quiver went through Starsky, and his jeans tightened around his groin. He knew that Hutch had to be feeling at least as eager... suffering at least as much. He reached up and gripped the other man's arms, and was surprised when Hutch easily collapsed to one side, allowing Starsky to now be on top.

Starsky tore at the flannel. As he did so, he allowed his eyes to open. Hutch was lying on the ground, panting, his head thrown back, his eyes squinted, his mouth open, his face incredibly soft... his whole being completely vulnerable. He was giving of himself. Giving of himself completely.

Starsky pushed the shirt flap aside, dived at the tiny protrusions revealed, hungering for them. As he nuzzled, trying to get his lips around the left one, some part of him marveled at what he had in his arms, at his disposal. For so many months now, he'd been frustrated with the walls that Hutch had put up. The way Hutch had used joking instead of directness as a way of expressing his affection. The way Hutch had been so grumpy and dissatisfied with the job... which fed over into every other aspect of their lives. The way Hutch deflected any attempts to cheer him up or speak positively.

Now, like magic, those walls were all gone.

That realization fueled Starsky on, for he didn't know how long Hutch would allow his soul to be so bare. He drooled heavily on the tiny pap, then moved to the left one, lapping at it a moment, then gently pinching it. He moved up Hutch's neck, desperate to seal their lips together once again.

Hutch seemed just as eager, and when they were joined, Starsky thought he knew how the Wicked Witch felt in the Wizard of Oz when she slowly melted. Neither he nor Hutch had had water thrown on them, but the sensation of physical existence disintegrating was just as powerful. He didn't want to ever pull back, ever let go, ever separate their lips for fear of breaking the spell....

Except there was one part of his body that was still very much a part of the physical world. Not knowing how else to satisfy it, Starsky lunged against Hutch, the sensations rippling through him as he met a twin hardness beneath it.

Starsky petted Hutch's hair in apology, then pulled back, his lips numb from the contact. He felt for the snap of Hutch's wet jeans, then lowered his gaze so he could see what he was doing. He had to tug hard, for there was so little room, but finally the fly was lowered. The firm cylinder was there, outlined by white cotton. Starsky tugged at the waistband, and the pale flesh snaked out, leaking fluid at the tip. He tugged at both jeans and underwear now, trying to lower them, to allow more room, deliberately not touching it... prolonging the anticipation.

And then hands were at his own jeans. Starsky moved his hips in any way necessary to assist in the unveiling, and when his pants and underwear were pushed halfway down his ass, an eager hand gripped his maleness and pulled it down.

Starsky felt as though he were drifting in and out of consciousness, for now his hardness was against the nakedness of its twin, and Hutch's hand was gripping them both, stroking them together. They both were gasping, thrusting against each other within the cocoon of Hutch's big hand, and Starsky was catapulted to another time....

He was enjoying her from behind, whatever her name was. She was so drunk that she wasn't participating much, so he had to hump aggressively to keep the friction at an adequate level. But this was unlike any coupling, anal or otherwise, he'd ever had before. For he could feel some semblance of Hutch's erection, which was also inside her body. His hardness against Hutch's hardness, only a thin membrane of flesh separating them....

And then he'd ejaculated, nuzzling against her shoulder as the wonderful sensation of release washed over him. Hutch said, "She's passed out," and Starsky felt a flash of guilt and humiliation like he'd never known before. He'd never believed in having sex with someone who wasn't conscious. It was too much like rape, whatever her giggling intentions initially.

And then, when he'd come out of the shower, the look on Hutch's face, which he knew must match his own. But Starsky was more to blame for their mutual self-disgust, for he was the one who had talked his just-divorced partner into doing this, because he'd thought it would make him feel better.

What a joke.

But surely, this time, their erections rubbing desperately together, the result would be much more positive and wonderful, for it was something Hutch had sought on his own... something Hutch had asked for, had wanted.

Nothing was more important than fulfilling that request.

The hips beneath him arched up high, and Starsky opened his eyes. Hutch still had his head thrown back, and now he groaned deeply, and his hips stilled.

Starsky still thrust, against Hutch's stomach now, and when he felt the spurting stream lower down, he shivered at the knowledge of what they could do for each other, and his own release was triggered.

He held onto Hutch's shoulders as it overtook him, loving that his fluid was bathing the tender skin of his partner's belly.

Starsky relaxed then, not minding the stickiness between them, letting the sun beat down on his cheek as they both lay there, catching their breath.

After a time, he felt shifting beneath him, and he started to pull back. But hands gently held his cheeks, and before he could open his eyes, lips were upon his near-numb ones, and he knew then that this hadn't been a once-in-a-lifetime interlude. Hutch was still hungry.

A bird chirped and Starsky abruptly realized that they were hardly in a private place. Anyone could run into them... from land or sea. "Not here," he muttered around the devouring mouth.

Hutch lowered his head, the full lips slipping away. For a long moment there was only panting. Then the bowed head nodded.

Starsky was reluctant to move, for fear of breaking whatever spell had been cast over them. But move he did, though without looking at Hutch. He quickly pulled his jeans up and fastened them. His shirt couldn't be buttoned, since it was ripped, so he moved back into the beach of the inlet and went to the rock where the food was. He shut the tackle box and trotted out into the water, getting into the boat. Hutch was just a few steps behind.

He sat on the bench nearest the motor while Hutch started it up. Starsky kept his gaze on the dock in the far distance, not daring to look at his partner, but wanting to sit as close as possible to prevent the puzzling spell from dissipating. It had been too special, having Hutch so giving to him, and he was greedy to have as much of it as he possibly could.

The motor was at full speed as they headed for shore where the rentals were kept. Starsky tried to not to think about what was going to happen when they got back to their cabin, for it would be embarrassing being exposed to passersby in his current condition. He, instead, sat hunched over on the bench, and wondered why what happened had happened in this foreign place.

Had Hutch planned it?

Hutch had told him yesterday that this trip was to give Starsky a break after the stress of Nancy's pregnancy. But, this morning, Hutch had been wrapped up in his own thoughts, not caring at all about having success at fishing or trying to cajole his partner into bouncing feelings off of him. But nor had those thoughts been about what had just taken place at the inlet. Hutch had been churning his life as a cop over in his mind, questioning the interference of IA... on a grander level, questioning the worth of it all.

Then how did he get from that point to this point...?

The dock was coming closer. Or, was it--maybe-- a misinterpretation on his part when I was hugging him? There was a moment that he looked so confused. But we've hugged before without....

The motor was cut as the boat was lulled by the waves next to a short pier. Starsky got out and focused on wrapping the rope around the tie there. Hutch was lifting their equipment onto the pier.

An employee of the dock came up. "Back already?" he asked with concern.

Starsky had his shirt hanging open--and he was sure Hutch's was, too-- and he hoped the man wouldn't notice the lack of buttons. He nodded without meeting the man's eye, now trying to gather up the gear that Hutch was unloading onto the pier. "We decided we wanted to do some other things today," he muttered.

With his hands full and already walking away, Starsky was glad that the man was forced to talk to Hutch. "She run okay for you?" he heard the man ask.

"Yeah, great. Like my friend said, we just wanted to do something else."

"Let me sign your rental slip so you can get your deposit back."

"Uh..." Starsky heard Hutch fumbling around, "we'll bring it back tomorrow. We might take her out again tomorrow."

"I won't be here tomorrow," the man said. "So, I need to sign the slip to verify that you brought her back okay."

Starsky was walking quickly ahead, not hearing the rest of conversation. There was a five minute walk through a trail in the woods before they could reach the cabin. Early that morning, Starsky had wanted to drive to the dock, but Hutch had insisted on walking. Now, he was grateful they didn't have to sit in a car together.

It wasn't long until there was the soft sound of footsteps traveling a few yards behind him. For a moment, Starsky had the sensation of being pursued. Of being watched. He could see the cabin through the trees. His was heart was beating faster, and he became aware of a stickiness in his crotch as organs rearranged themselves.

Starsky heard his own breath as the trees parted, revealing the dirt walkway leading to the cabin door.

Hutch strode past him, keys in hand, along with a tackle box, and was unlocking the door. Starsky had all their other equipment, and they now felt very heavy as he anticipated being free of their burden soon. Just another few steps....

Hutch pushed the door open.

Starsky stepped across the threshold and let all the gear crash to the floor. Hutch had already abandoned the tackle box, and he was upon Starsky, pushing him back against the wall, next to the open door.

While yielding to those lips that latched onto his own, Starsky carefully reached out and pushed at the door. It closed with a satisfying noise, sealing their privacy.

The sinking feelings were upon Starsky full force, making him weak in the knees. Hutch was pressing his whole body against him while sucking at his lips, chewing at them, pressing against them.

When Starsky was released a moment--as Hutch moved down to his neck-- he let out a groan.

And then he went to work.

Starsky pushed Hutch back a step, then grabbed him by the arms -- the flesh, bone and muscle firm but yielding beneath his fingers-- and beckoned him sideways, and then forced him back against the wall.

Now it was Starsky who was upon Hutch full force. His lips made loud sucking noises as he worked on various parts of Hutch's face, frequently coming back to the beckoning mouth. He wanted Hutch to know how delightful it felt to be hungered for... a privilege he himself had experienced in just the past hour. Now Starsky was anxious to return what he'd been given.

He brought his hands up and pressed them against the fleshy cheeks, holding Hutch still while he now tongued at the brief hairs of the mustache. But then he realized they could be doing so much more, so moved his hands instead to Hutch's shoulders... and rubbed vigorously.

The shirt was still hanging open, so Starsky pushed it off his partner's shoulders in one impatient move. He bent his head and licked at the pale smoothness revealed, stray hairs tickling his tongue. He drew a wet line between the pectorals, then attacked the left nipple, sucking in the small pap and surrounding flesh. That produced a whimper of delight. Starsky let go with a loud smacking sound. He then stuck out his tongue and slowly ran the very tip of it against the small erection

Hutch drew in a breath and held it.

The saliva along Starsky's tongue thickened in the silence, and he let it drool upon the tiny nub. Then, for contrast, he took his dry fingers and massaged the neglected one on the right.

Hutch's deep exhalation was accompanied by a groan.

Starsky straightened. With one hand he pulled Hutch in the direction of the double bed that dominated the room. With the other, he started pushing Hutch's shirt the rest of the way off. While doing so, he reconnected their lips, amazed at how delicious the contact still felt, even after numerous joinings.

The shirt slipped away. Slowly, brushing against each other with each sideways step, they moved closer to the bed. Starsky's shirt was tugged at from the sleeves, and he felt it fall past his shoulders. More tugging and it was making a gentle descent to the floor.

It had felt so good just a little while ago, when they were bare chest to bare chest. Starsky turned his face away to rest it on Hutch's shoulder, their lips separating with a reluctant noise. He put his arms around Hutch's bare back, hugging him against himself, Hutch's own arms coming around him.

Bare flesh to bare flesh. This, with or without clothing, was well-known territory. It was how they had been together in the past... healing, nurturing, loving, sympathizing, supporting. Starsky felt his heart swell up at the rightness of the contact. But something else was happening, too. The flesh at the center of his body was hesitating, its growth stilted.

As they clung to each other, swaying gently back and fourth, Starsky felt a puzzlement that had been absent up to now in this new frontier. It was as though this particular closeness was something sacred, and feelings of lust were not allowed.

Hutch must have experienced that change, too. He eased his hold and Starsky felt hands on his cheeks. But the touch was light, and butterfly-soft lips touched briefly against his own. When his face was released, Starsky collapsed against Hutch's chest, loving the comfort of its tender strength.

When Starsky let his eyes open while looking up, he found Hutch's eyes looking down at him.

Finally, they had to face each other. But it was apparent that neither wanted to speak, for fear of breaking whatever spell had been cast.

Hutch's eyes deer-soft, his expression so open, some mixture of confusion and warmth and desire reveled there. Starsky was certain is own expression was similar.

One of them had to make the first move, to get them back on track. Starsky tilted his head back and puckered his lips, showing he wished them to continue losing their innocence.

Hutch must have agreed with the suggestion, for his lips--soft now--pressed on top of Starsky's.

"Mm," Starsky made his first noise. He pushed at Hutch, and was rewarded when the lanky form collapsed back to the bed, bringing Starsky with him.

Starsky writhed against the malleable flesh, the ache at his center having returned full-force. He pushed at Hutch's cutoffs, fumbling for the snap between their bodies while locking their lips back together.

Both pairs of hands were working, fingers grasping, both breathing through their noses as they sought air, hot breath against hot skin.

Their snaps parted simultaneously. Now they'd have to find some way to separate enough to get the rest of their clothes off. Starsky felt fingers against his lower belly. He arched up, still maintaining contact at their mouths, wondering why in all these years he'd never sampled how delicious Hutch tasted.

His pants and underwear were gripped in impatient hands and pushed down his hips. Starsky wished he didn't wear such tight clothing, for it was a battle getting it past his rump. But finally Hutch's hands were successful and they both rolled onto their sides so that, after more wrestling, the cloth was down his legs enough that Starsky could kick them off.

He wasn't going to take that long with Hutch's pants. Starsky jumped to his feet, forcing an abrupt separation, and pulled at the ragged edges of the cut-offs, where they slipped easily off the slender, powerful legs, leaving Hutch naked.

Pale skin against even paler hair. Only the thatch at his pubic region had any darkness, in contrast to the smooth barrel that bobbed against it.

Starsky looked up from where he stood, and Hutch was regarding him with yet another open expression, which contained a hint of concern at what Starsky had witnessed.

Starsky felt an affectionate grin break out on his face, wondering how Hutch could even think that he might be displeased with what he saw. It occurred to him that his partner also had a full view of his nude, erect self... a rare thing that the other had not been privy to before.

Hutch held out his arms, his expression blatantly vulnerable.

The affection lodged itself in Starsky's heart as he collapsed on top of Hutch, fitting nicely between the legs that spread for him. Their groins were together once again, hands grasping each other's sides. Starsky kissed up Hutch's throat to his chin, but the action was more deliberate this time. They were both fully conscious now, and what they were doing together was no longer an act of lust, but of love.

They opened their eyes at the same time. Starsky undulated, feeling his inner hardness and outer smoothness create friction against a similar texture. Hutch's face softened with pleasure, and Starsky was having a difficult time deciding whether to keep watching or to resume kissing. But as the next undulation shot through him, and he automatically closed his eyes and dipped his head.

The kiss was gentle this time. Deliberate. His hips lunged more purposely, encouraging the building inferno, but his mouth licked at the swollen lips beneath his own.

Suddenly, Hutch jerked his head away. His hips arched up, and he made a noise of effort that Starsky recognized as one of release.

Starsky raised off and looked down at their bodies, watching the white stream emerge from Hutch's body. There wasn't much to it, but his big blond exhaled slowly, creating a very satisfying noise.

Starsky grinned at him, despite the throb of frustration between his legs.

Hutch grinned back. Then he reached out and gripped his partner's shaft. He dipped the head in the sparse pool of droplets.

Starsky felt his testicles tighten, and he questioned whether this was still reality when Hutch's grip beckoned him forward at the same time he shifted to lie back against the headboard. Starsky rose up to his knees as he moved closer, watching in fascination as his partner's hand guided him toward his open mouth.

It was the rich, pink, outstretched tongue that touched him first, and a bolt went through him--so powerful that he collapsed on his side on the bed, questioning whether Hutch had really done that. And then he couldn't wonder anymore, because Hutch had shifted too, and now was bending to him, taking the top portion of Starsky's shaft into his mouth.

Starsky groaned from disbelief... and the sensation that engulfed him. But the feeling shifted, changed, as Hutch experimented with his tongue... feeling along Starsky's length, pressing against various portions of it.

Shit, Starsky thought in amazement as his eyes drifted open. His cock in Hutch's mouth. He would have never imagined....

Hutch was sucking hard... almost too hard... but then he groaned lustfully and the vibration from his throat transmitted along Starsky's length.

"Oh, God," he gasped as the crescendo was reached. His spurted, hips arching up, feeling Hutch try to keep his teeth away, and then releasing him completely.

It was beautiful when he came, knowing how it had come about. That Hutch had made him do that.

He groaned airily this time while opening his eyes, the most wonderful sluggish sensation drifting through him. Hutch was looking at him... almost bashful now... sparse droplets of white on his shoulder and neck.

Though he had little energy, Starsky held out his arms.

Hutch seemed to melt while still retaining his shape. He collapsed into those arms, and then he was kissing Starsky. It was a different texture this time. Their lips were firmly together, but there was a softness about the contact. A contact that said, "Hello again"... and "Thank you."

Not only their lips, but Hutch's nakedness felt that way, too... all soft and fuzzy and heavy.

Starsky had his hands loosely around Hutch's back, and he now reached down and squeezed the twin buttocks affectionately. They felt both firm and cushiony.

Their lips parted and Hutch chuckled softly.

Starsky had no energy left. He pressed Hutch's head against his shoulder and closed his eyes.

But Hutch moved almost right away. "Cold," he whispered.

Oh, yes. There was such a thing as blankets and sheets and quilts. But Starsky couldn't think about that. He just let Hutch turn him this way and that while keeping his eyes closed. He was vaguely aware of being covered up... first by cloth, then by warm flesh. And then he was unconscious.

* * *

It was the loud squawk of a bird that woke him. Beside him, Hutch shifted, coming to rest with his back to Starsky.

Starsky guessed it was maybe two in the afternoon. Many hours later they would seek sleep again. Many hours to face each other and wonder how this happened.

He looked at the back turned to him. He knew Hutch was awake. One of them had to make the first move. "Hey there," he offered as an opener.

Hutch rolled over, and sat up a little, looking at him. His face was inquisitive and open... and shy.

Starsky felt a mouth corner twitch. "I don't know what the hell happened this morning, buddy, but I think we took a trip to Mars." His grin widened.

Hutch ducked his head. "But we made it back." The statement was in the tone of a question, as though asking if things were normal now.

Starsky wasn't sure if he could handle that just yet. He rearranged the pillow behind him, also attempting to sit up... though, damn, it felt good to just be lying here, in bed on a weekend, in the middle of the afternoon. With Hutch.

Somebody's stomach rumbled. "Was that you or me?" he asked.

Hutch placed a hand against his middle. "Me."

"We missed lunch, you know."

Now a bashful snort. "Yeah," Hutch searched the bedclothes and found his underwear. He slipped them on as he stood.

Starsky watched him, hands folded behind his head. Hutch reached to the back of a chair for his robe. After putting it on, he pulled the sash tight.

Starsky frowned. "You sorry about it?"

Hutch sat down, but his face was hard. "Don't you ever think I'm sorry about it."

That was a relief. Starsky took a deep breath, but kept his tone casual. "Just hard not to notice that you just now moved as far away from me as you could."

"Of course, I moved away from you." Hutch was pulling socks onto his feet. "Because if I don't, it'll start all over again." He straightened. "And we have some talking to do."

Starsky let out a sigh of relief. Hutch was right... about all the things he said. Since the mood was broken, he reached for his shirt. "Maybe we can go get an early dinner? And talk?"

The blond head nodded, but wouldn't meet his eye.

* * *

They were silent in the car, other than swearing at a truck that pulled out in front of them. Starsky felt they should start a conversation, but it seemed any topic would seem to be an obvious attempt to pretend things were as they always had been. And then he wondered why they should bother with the pretense. But upon deciding they shouldn't, he could not bring himself to mention outright what they'd done back at the cabin. There was something precious about their mutual silence... for it would be broken in the very near future, if Hutch were serious about talking.

He wondered what his big blond would say that would explain it all. And felt another pang of regret, of losing something sacred and fragile, for perhaps this was one of those things in life that shouldn't be discussed at all.

* * *

"This okay?" Hutch asked as he turned the LTD into a parking lot.

The sign out front said Hillock's Tavern and Bar. "Sure," Starsky replied, getting out. They'd parked almost directly in front of the entrance. As they came together from their respective sides of the LTD, Starsky felt the urge to place his hand on Hutch's back, or brush against him arm. A gesture that had been natural throughout their partnership. But now nothing seemed natural anymore and he squelched the instinct. And felt as though life now had one less beautiful thing to offer.

He tried not to feel sad about it.

"Non-smoking," Hutch told the waitress who appeared with a couple of menus. "We'd prefer a booth, as private as possible."

"This way," she said as she turned.

Since it was the middle of the afternoon, the tavern had few customers. She stopped beside the last booth on the far side of tavern, next to a window. "Will this do?"

"Yes, thank you." Hutch took the seat that faced the entrance, and Starsky sat down opposite.

"What can I bring you to drink?"

"A Miller, draft," Hutch said.

Starsky held up a pair of fingers. "Two."

She turned away. Starsky picked up his menu, determined to make a decision before things got heavy. But he did glance over the top to see his partner's eyes race quickly over the words and pictures in front of him, too fast for any of it to register. Then Hutch looked up at him.

Starsky grinned as their eyes met. He dropped his menu and shifted in the booth, determined to get comfortable. "Guess I'll have whatever the special is."

Hutch smiled at him, a shy, hesitant expression. But his gaze didn't waver as seconds passed.

Starsky couldn't stand the distance between them. He decided one of them should say something. "You look like you're waiting for me to say something," he accused good-naturedly. But he didn't quite want to lay everything on the other man's shoulders. "Not that I objected to anything that happened, but you are the one who started this thing."

A snort of amusement answered him, as though Hutch thought it was a typical Starsky defense mechanism. It made Starsky feel good to know that he could still behave predictably, for it surely put his partner more at ease.

The waitress appeared with their beers. After placing them on the table, she took out her pad. "Ready to order?"

"What's the special?" Starsky asked.

"Country fried steak with mashed potatoes and biscuit."

"I'll have that."

Hutch held up a pair of fingers. "Two."

After writing on her pad, she picked up the menus and moved away.

Leaning back against the side of the booth, Starsky watched his partner twiddle his thumbs. Then he decided to be bold. "So," he said as casually as he could, picking up a salt shaker so he could twirl it around on the table, "is it like you're going through some sort of premature midlife crisis and questioning your whole life, and part of that includes trying the other side of the fence?"

That caught his attention. Hutch's expression was just shy of hard. "How can anything I do with my partner of eight years be considered 'the other side of the fence'?" he challenged.

Their conversation was now more serious. And more intimate. Starsky knew it was necessary, and welcomed it, but that didn't make this foreign territory any easier. "Not exactly an every day thing," Starsky reminded in a low voice, "even for the best of longtime friends."

Hutch blinked at him, then said, "Starsky, I didn't plan this, if that's what you're thinking."

He made a half-hearted shrug. "I wasn't sure what to think. Not the kind of thing I was expecting." Then, realizing how that might sound, he quickly reminded, "Not that I disagreed with anything that happened." His voice softened. "Just took me by surprise, is all."

Now a gentle snort as Hutch picked up his beer. "Yeah, I guess it did." He took a long swig, eye on his partner.

It wasn't until the other man's glass was back on the table that Starsky picked up his own glass and took an overly-long swallow. He was relieved when Hutch spoke first this time.

Hutch's voice was intense, and his hand formed a partial fist to emphasize his words. "Starsky, I-I-I just... just... sometimes... I think... I-I think...."

Starsky put his beer down, knowing that Hutch's feelings were strongest when he was stuttering. He waited.

It wasn't until Hutch closed his eyes that a full sentence came out. "I just feel, so much sometimes, th-that I want to love somebody. Give myself to somebody." The eyes opened and now they were pained as his voice lowered with intensity. "Sometimes I feel like I'm wasting time. Years keep going by, and I," he gestured toward his chest, "want to give what's inside of me to somebody else. I want to share what I am with somebody else."

Starsky knew what Hutch was talking about. There were times when he felt the same urge to be making a life with someone whom shared all of him as he shared them. But the instinct was tempered by the supreme satisfaction he got from being a good cop. It wasn't until Nancy got pregnant that he thought he was forced to choose between one or the other. And then the choice had been taken away, and he'd been enormously relieved. Not just because he wouldn't have a family to interfere with his job, but because he wouldn't have had to hurt Hutch out of a sense of martyrdom and doing what was right for the innocent life which didn't have choices.

What he hadn't considered in all the turmoil of the Nancy situation, he just now realized, was that making Hutch less than Number One in his life would have been just as hurtful to himself as it would have been to Hutch.

He wondered how he could have ever even considered it... placing Nancy and his child ahead of Hutch. It was the right attitude to have; but would it, truly, have been realistic?

He looked across at the man who was watching him. Though he knew Hutch would know he was only joking, he felt it necessary to stall for time, to give himself a chance to consider what had been said and the feelings that were between them. "Oh," he said with exaggerated casualness, "so I'm just a convenience until somebody else comes along whom you can give yourself to."

Though Hutch had to know he was only teasing, his voice was once again hard and challenging. "Why not you? Why shouldn't I give myself one hundred percent to you? Why shouldn't you be the target of everything I'm capable of feeling?"

Those blue eyes were ablaze with emotion. Hutch giving all of himself. Wanting to give even more, if Starsky would only accept it. Accept him.

Starsky lowered his eyes, his heart beating rapidly in his chest. All the warmth they'd shared earlier today, all those cozy feelings, the ease of being naked together, loving each other. It had only been the tip of the iceberg, Starsky realized now. For, beneath that tip, was a whole dimension of love just waiting for an outlet. Waiting to be allowed to express itself, to make itself known, to give itself to its target. And Hutch was saying that target should be Starsky.

What would it be like? It was difficult to imagine Hutch loving him any more than he already did, than he already had. Hutch was the most affectionate person Starsky had ever known, bar none. But that was the affection that was acceptable in public, acceptable for two who had faced death together. It had an intensity about it that few human beings ever got to experience. It was something beautiful and vibrant and Starsky knew his life would be a shell of what it had been if he'd never known Hutch's love.

And here was Hutch... offering even more. All of himself.

The longing was strong, and Starsky had to shift in his seat again, sitting up as he stared at the salt shaker he twirled about. He had urges, too. He could put his arms around Hutch and not stop there. Hold Hutch and not stop there. Pet and fondle him and not just have it be a passing contact. If he allowed it--and it seemed Hutch was only waiting for his agreement-- then he'd be able to throw himself back at Hutch just as completely. Give Hutch everything that he was. He'd already shown Hutch all parts of himself... but even Hutch did not know just how deep Starsky's passions were capable of running, for he'd never made love to a Starsky in love.

Starsky let out a heavy breath and looked up.

Hutch was watching him, waiting.

The waitress appeared. "Here you go." She set a plate before each of them, then took out her pad. "Is there anything else I can get you?"

They both shook there heads.

She tore of the ticket and left it on the table. "Thanks, fellas. Be sure and visit us again."

"Thank you," Starsky told her retreating back. He reached to the salt but Hutch grabbed it first. Starsky pouted, then took the pepper instead. After sprinkling everything on his plate, he looked up to see Hutch salting his mashed potatoes intently, a distant look on his face.

"They taste that bland?" Starsky offered, knowing that, like himself, Hutch hadn't taken a bite yet.

Hutch looked up, then quickly put the shaker aside. He squirmed in the booth, then looked at Starsky squarely. "I want us to spend two or three months discovering everything wonderful that two human beings can possibly do to each other."

Starsky had to remember to breathe. Here Hutch was, as open as he'd been earlier today when they'd been making love with each other. That same openness that had been sorely missed in recent months. Now Hutch was offering all of himself.

What had David Michael Starsky ever done to be worth that?

No, dumb question. He was worth it. He was the only person on Earth who deserved that from Hutch, who deserved all of Hutch. That was his right. They'd been through so much together that their souls had been sealed together by sheer caring and concern for each other. Hutch belonged to him as much as any one person could ever belong to another.

Just as he had belonged to Hutch. And he had violated that sacred unity when he had been determined to marry Nancy. If he gave Hutch what he was asking for, Hutch would never have to worry about any such thing again.

And neither would Starsky.

Starsky took a bite of the potatoes, which was indeed rather bland. He swallowed, then asked, "So, what happens after we've tried everything wonderful that two people can possibly do together?" He began to cut up his meat with his fork.

Hutch had put his silverware down and was resting his arms on the table. "We repeat over and over the things we enjoyed most."

Ah, Hutch. Starsky swallowed a piece of steak and felt it go all the way down to the pit of his stomach. Without looking up, he asked, "What happens at the next LAPD barbeque when everyone expects us to show up with dates?"

"We go without. Or we don't go at all. Or we go with female friends who understand about us and are willing to be dates." A pause, then, mildly, "Dammit, Starsky, we'll figure that all out when we have to. But that's a damn sorry excuse to not... " He didn't finish, but breathed deeply instead.

Starsky looked up while chewing another bite. Before swallowing, he muttered, "We always have been rebels against the system." And he grinned, trying to tell himself that Hutch was right, and the good times they could have together would get them past the bad times.

Hutch settled back against the side of the booth, with his beer in hand.

Though he liked seeing Hutch finally relax, Starsky nodded toward his full plate. "You're not eating."

"I'm not hungry."

"Eat anyway." He wriggled his eyebrows, feeling he was closing one door and opening another... There was something heady about the idea of an adventure. "You're gonna need the energy."

Hutch laughed. Then blushed.

Part Two

"I'll just be a minute." Hutch got out of the LTD.

Starsky released a quiet breath. It was dark now, and they were parked in front of Freddy's Drug Store. Hutch was going inside. Hutch hadn't mentioned anything about stopping here before pulling into the parking lot. But Starsky could pretty much imagine....

Ironically, their conversation had turned to everyday topics while eating at the tavern. It seemed to be a respite from the discovery of their situation that they both had needed. They hadn't talked much after leaving the tavern, though Starsky knew what they'd do once returning to the cabin. Obviously, Hutch had, too; hence the stop at the drug store.

He had to admire how brave Hutch was, because he himself wouldn't have had the nerve to walk into the drugstore, even by himself, even if the clerk had no way of knowing that the things he purchased didn't have anything to do with sharing female companionship.

But there Hutch was... through the front glass Starsky could see the blond head making its way down the aisles, stopping, pausing, looking, picking something up....

Starsky squirmed. It didn't relieve the pressure, so he unsnapped his jeans and opened the fly a little ways. His flesh was as hard as steel. He stroked the exposed portion with his fingertips, soothing it, and felt the ache in his balls.

Man, when they got back to the cabin....

He wondered who would do whom first. Maybe he'd get to fuck Hutch tonight. Insert himself between those muscular, well-toned cheeks, see the pale aura in the darkness. Push himself up into that tight, dry opening....

Starsky ran his thumb over the fluid oozing from himself and spread it around the straining corona.

Ah, man.

The opening would be very tight, but it wouldn't be dry. There would be a thick coat of vaseline that he'd be pushing through. And when penetration was successful, even if by just a small part of himself, Hutch would make a noise....

Starsky stroked himself. His zipper had lowered more because his erection had grown even thicker and was pointing skyward. He spread his legs, slinking down into the seat, glad the LTD was out of the way of the street lamp.

The noise from Hutch would be like a grunt. A deep grunt. Starsky's flesh would hurt him, but Hutch wouldn't fight against it; for he wanted it so badly. Starsky would wait, let his prick slip almost all the way out, until tight muscles relaxed. He'd feel the yielding, the acceptance. Then he'd thrust firmly, driving himself in deeper. "Yes," Hutch would groan.

Damn it. Starsky quickly pulled his shirt tail out of his jeans and tossed it over his erection. He aimed the head against his covered stomach as the familiar explosion burst through his body.

"Wow," he muttered a moment later, releasing a heavy sigh. Thankfully, the fluid was minimal, because he'd already come twice today. With lassitude washing through him, he struggled to straighten in the seat. He spent a moment tucking himself away, then sighed heavily again while pressing a hand against his shirt, over the drying fluid.

Hutch would never know.

The big blond was at the counter now, smiling at the sales clerk, mouth moving, making casual conversation.

What a charmer.

Starsky's cheeks billowed as he let out another breath. Physically, he felt completely drained. He would be no good to Hutch now.

Hutch was approaching the exit.

Starsky swallowed. And wondered if he was going to get fucked tonight instead.

* * *

They didn't speak as they drove the short ways in the darkness to the little dirt lane that lead to their cabin. The opening and closing of doors sounded loud in the still air.

Hutch entered first, sack in hand, and Starsky was right behind him. As soon as the threshold was crossed. Hutch turned to him, and with one hand on Starsky's cheek lifted his face up to him, with the other holding the sack, Hutch pushed the door shut, enclosing them in darkness once again, while lowering his lips.

That mustache felt powerful, as did his partner's breath. Starsky guiltily realized he'd subconsciously pulled back, for he knew he was spent, and it seemed pointless to lead the other on.

It took a moment for Hutch to get the message, but he finally straightened. "Cold feet?" he whispered gently, though his tone was disbelieving.

"Nah," Starsky quickly shook his head, realizing that, despite their situation, he didn't want that warm breath to move too far away. And how foolish it now seemed that he thought he could keep his little secret from Hutch. "I, uh..." He was thankful it was dark, though Starsky realized with some surprise that he wasn't blushing. "I came in the car."

A beat, then a soft, "What?" Genuinely not understanding.

God, he loved it when Hutch whispered. The sound was so lulling and comforting. "Just now, when you were in the store. I was all turned on thinking about us, and I came all over myself." It seemed so instinctive to exaggerate his masculine attributes.

Still soft, "You're kidding." But with amusement this time.

"No, honest." Starsky took a deep breath and got to the point. "I'm worthless. I haven't come this many times in a few hours since I was a rookie in blue."

Now a soft chuckle.

He was grateful for the humor, but Starsky still didn't want to disappoint this man. "But, you know, you can still..." now he truly felt bashful, and he shrugged, "you know, enjoy me. You know, play with me or whatever." He decided he may as well be straightforward. "Use me." He deliberately softened his tone and let amusement slip in. "I promise I won't mind if things are... sorta one-sided." In the silence that followed, save his partner's heavy breathing, Starsky realized what he'd just given permission for.

His heart beat faster.

Familiar hands touched his face, skimmed down his nose and mouth. They paused beneath his chin, and Starsky sensed hesitation. "What?"

A noise of amusement, then, "I want to carry you to bed, but I know my back won't be able to handle it."

Starsky reached to put his arm around the waist of the silhouette in the darkness, drawing the other closer. "Then why don't we take ourselves to bed and... continue from there."

They walked, taking small steps, Starsky thinking that this physical closeness now had new meaning for them, and he was sure that Hutch was thinking the same.

There was the crinkling of the sack as it was placed on the nightstand. "Uh..." Starsky wondered where his sudden bundle of nerves came from, "maybe I ought to shower up." Be nice and clean for Hutch.

He sensed a shrug. "Doesn't matter to me," a soft voice replied. Then, "I haven't decided for sure yet what I'm going to do to you."

Did that mean if he took a shower it would encourage Hutch to be bolder? Starsky listened to the sound of his own breathing, wondering if he really wanted to get fucked. It would happen eventually, of course, but did it need to be tonight? If they waited, then perhaps it would be he who would do Hutch first. Not that it mattered all that much, but he'd feel more secure being on top the first time. In control.


Starsky began unbuttoning his shirt as he headed for the tiny bathroom. It would be different, doing it with a guy, even with a guy who really wanted it. The act required a certain delicacy in any circumstance, but this would have many far reaching consequences for he and Hutch both. If it didn't work out--if it was too awkward or too painful-- it could put a real damper on their intentions for the future.

Starsky closed the bathroom door behind him. He wanted to be on the bottom first. No question. Because then he could take anything Hutch did wrong and correct all those mistakes when it was Hutch's turn to be on the bottom. He'd let himself be the guinea pig this first time. So that Hutch would know only pleasure when it was his turn later on.

Starsky started the water for the shower, determination overtaking his unease.

* * *

Naked, Hutch slipped between the sheets. He removed his watch from his wrist and stared at the glow-in-the-dark numerals. They didn't register, but the sound of a weak shower from the bathroom did.

He'd as good as promised that they would do everything two people could possibly do to each other. Inadvertently, he'd placed a lot of expectation on himself. Not that Starsky would be keeping a tally. But the thought of disappointing the other....

Hutch took a deep, relaxing breath. Surely, that was impossible tonight. Starsky was spent.

He now shook his head, snorting with amusement. Jerked off in the car. Then sobered abruptly. Thinking about us.

He laid the watch on the nightstand, then rested his hands over his covered lap, feeling the hardening beneath. He was aware that his heart was pounding-- not with arousal, but with disbelief. That this had all come about so simply. Almost as though it were the most natural thing in the world. And all because he'd acted on a whim this morning. No thought, no anticipation, no time to consider the consequences. And it was so easy.

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, he cautioned. It wouldn't always be that easy. Couldn't be. There had to be many stumbling blocks ahead.

But, for now, Starsky was all his. And would continue to be if they worked through those stumbling blocks.

Ah, buddy, he closed his eyes, leaning back against the headboard, I want to take such good care of you. So that you never question that this is right, that we're the best each other can ever have.

Perhaps the first step in that direction should be to not press for anything tonight. Just curl up together and sleep.

Hutch reached under the covers and gave himself a sympathetic stroke.

But Starsky had seemed so eager to please, wanting Hutch to have anything he wanted.

Maybe that'll be our undoing, he considered fatalistically. Maybe our wanting to please each other so much will only cause us nothing but trouble.

Okay. Decision made. He wasn't going to worry about second-guessing and was going to take what he wanted. It was up to Starsky to tell him "No."

* * *

Starsky emerged from the shower with a towel around his waist. Hutch was sitting up in bed with his hand beneath the covers. "Stop playing with yourself," he scolded.

A grunt of amusement. "Like you did in the car?"

Starsky moved around to the other side of the bed, tossing the towel to one side. "Ha, ha." He felt for the mattress, then got beneath the covers. So odd... getting into bed with Hutch, this time knowing what they were going to do. A part of him was tempted to act as casual as possible, to not try to let things get too heavy. But he had to ask: "How ya doin'?" voice tender.

"How do you think?" Hutch countered in the same soft tone while opening his arm to invite his partner to snuggle against his side. "The person I've loved most in my life has given me permission to do with him as I please." The gentle tone also carried a veiled threat.

Humor was easy. "Hey, don't go thinkin' it's always gonna be like that. Just consider this a special treat. Like... a reward for havin' such a bright idea."

Hutch squeezed him closer. "It wasn't an idea. Just pure feeling."

"Ah, ya big softie." Starsky rubbed his cheek against the smooth skin.

"But you wouldn't have me any other way, right?"

"Right." Starsky tilted his face up.

He wasn't disappointed, for soft, luscious lips pressed against his own, the texture gentle and sweet.

They pulled back too soon. "Sure you want to do anything?" Hutch asked.

Starsky was sure of his answer. "Yeah. As long as... you know, you don't take it personal if I don't get a hard-on again." But he was feeling something... from the sheer sweetness of it all. His hand moved along Hutch's thigh, felt the damp tip of the burgeoning hardness.

Hutch groaned and covered Starsky's mouth once more.

"Know something?" Hutch whispered when he pulled back.

"What?" Starsky felt his heart beat faster.

"I think I love you."

He feigned offense. "You think?" And then wondered if he, too, should feel a difference now that this had happened.

Hutch straightened. "Hm. Maybe it's that I've been wanting to make love to you for a long time, and I wasn't able to put it into words until now."

Starsky swallowed, not wanting an intellectual partner on his hands right now. "We don't have to analyze it right this minute, do we?" he asked hopefully. Then jutted his chin out pointedly.

"You imp," Hutch chuckled, taking the chin in hand, and then the lips were upon Starsky's once again.

As it continued, Starsky shifted, and eventually lay back, bringing Hutch on top of himself. There wasn't the stimulation between his legs to encourage the passion to build, and he was more interested in getting to the main event. What he was aware of between his legs was the stout hardness of the other, the undulation, the trembling in the other's arms. When his lips were finally released, Starsky reminded, "Don't worry about a lot of foreplay on my account."

The other's breath was heavy and strong above him. Seriously, Hutch said, "What if I want to fuck?"

Asking, Starsky knew. He shrugged. "Figured you did."

Now tenderness. "You aren't afraid?"

"Of course, I am. You're not exactly a midget, you know."

"Maybe we should spend a while getting to know each other a little better first."

Starsky snorted, even though he knew what Hutch meant. "I don't think there is any such thing, when it comes to us." His voice softened. "'Sides, what's good sex without a good fuck?"

"Sex can be lots of good things without any fucking."

Starsky thought about that, trying to figure out if Hutch was being superior, or if the other had truly had many fuckless, romantic encounters. He decided to stick with his own experience. "Couldn't prove it by me." Then he realized that was a lie, and choked out," 'Cept... 'cept today."

Hutch grinned; Starsky could see the white teeth in the darkness. It was a genuine smile--warm and approving. He wanted all the more to give this man what he wanted. "So... now that you've been proven right, let's finish the day out nice and proper."

He was rewarded for that, with sloppy kisses that went down his neck, into his chest. His tiny nipples were lapped at while his shoulders were affectionately squeezed in large hands.

Then Hutch paused. "You ever done anything like this before?"

Starsky was tempted to roll his eyes at the obvious answer. "Of course not. At least... not with being on the bottom." Then he tapped the broad forehead scoldingly. "You know I ain't never been in bed with a guy before."

"I didn't mean that you had," Hutch replied innocently. "Just wondered if... you know, you'd ever had much activity back there. Dildoes and such."

He did roll his eyes this time. Where did his well-bred partner come up with this stuff? "Never been in bed with a dildo, Hutch. And if you have, I don't want to know about it." He wondered then if he'd hurt Hutch's feelings, for the last line sounded judgmental. If there was ever anything Hutch wanted to tell him, he didn't want to discourage his partner from doing so.

But Hutch seemed to take it in stride, for his voice carried a touch of humor. "Deflowering virgins isn't my strong suit."

Starsky had to smile at the vulnerability. "Then any flaws in your technique will be our little secret." He was aware of how soft Hutch's genitals had become.

And Hutch still wanted to talk... or whisper. "Never done any virgins before."

Starsky blinked, resigned to the conversation. "You mean deflowering young ladies, or ass-fucking somebody?"


Well, all right, so Hutch had never swept any young maidens off their feet, at least not to the point of deflowering them. He wondered why that seemed important now. Then realized that made him Hutch's first deflowering of any kind. "Well, now you've got your first virgin to spoil," he pointed out. "So, enjoy yourself, 'cause you'll never get the chance again." As soon as Starsky finished the sentence, he realized what he'd said and, more importantly, what he'd meant. And then he wondered if Hutch had assumed the same thing he had about a monogamous future. He decided to make his point, while softening it with teasing, so there was no mistake. "Once you deflower me, I own you, you know. You sleep with anybody else, you're a dead man." There, that should lay it on strong enough.

A soft chuckle. And then those lips were upon his in earnest....

This is what is feels like, Starsky marveled as he melted into the mattress, the flesh pressing against his so fuzzy that he wasn't sure where one of them ended and the other began. To be taken, to be devoured, to be swept off one's feet. To be claimed... By someone who will never claim anyone else ever again.

He whimpered at the perfection of it, the noise escaping around the lips sealed against his, even as he felt a growing wave of uncertainty at the huge, steel hardness undulating against his lower thigh.

When next released, he muttered, "Don't make me do anything. Okay?" Now a plea as those deep blue eyes met his in the darkness. "Just let me lie here and be done over. Done over completely."

So selfish, but it was what he wanted most of all right now.

There was a glint from the orbs above, watching him. Then, with satisfaction, the softest of whispers. "You own me. I own you."

Starsky nodded, loving the declaration. "Yeah. You own me. Show me how much you own me, Hutch." Despite everything, he felt a stir at his center... yet another awakening.

Heavy lips brushed against his. He was sinking, sinking... with no concern for his safety. Just a puddle of goo. No responsibilities. Just a tool to be used for another's pleasure. His partner's pleasure. His best friend's pleasure. His... everything's... pleasure.

No other instrument, alive or not, had a more important task. Nor a more self-indulgent one.

Hutch was breathing heavily when he released Starsky's lips. Then the mattress creaked. A hand on Starsky's waist, gripping, applying pressure.

Starsky understood. He turned over and lay facedown. Spread his legs. The strong sense of vulnerability, of being defenseless, was something he paid attention to. So he could tend to it at some time in the future when it was Hutch's turn.

There was the piercing sound of a paper sack being handled. The one from the drugstore. Who knew what was in there. Starsky could imagine in general, but not specifics. Not sure what Hutch would think is important.Certainly nothing to raise the eyebrow of the drugstore clerk. Or maybe Hutch's charm had distracted her enough that she hadn't paid attention to the details of his purchases, only the price.

The famous Hutchinson charm. It had won Starsky over a million times. Guess we're goin' for a million and one, huh, pal?

Pals. Is that what they still were? That simple word had such an innocent connotation it. A part of him wanted very much not to lose it.

The mattress shifted again. Hutch's bare leg was against his own. There was the sound of a lid or cap being loosened. Starsky felt a sudden need for air, and he inhaled deeply, then released it.

A hand on his buttock. Squeezing. Oh, yeah. A large hand. Possessive. Appreciative. Smooth now. Feeling his roundness.

Now the other cheek. Squeezing again... testing. Gonna get a hard-on... A light scratch. Oh, jeesus god. A fingernail catching on something. Must be a pimple... ouch! He flinched.

Smoothness again, soothing. A pause. Soft creaking of the mattress. Then a touch of wetness, near the fading pain. The quietist of kissing noises. Oh, dear sweet god.

Now the other cheek, where there had been no pain. Take me now, Lord. I have reached perfection. No reason to keep on living....

Except... Hutch wanted something. Have to live long enough to give it.

His legs were pushed farther apart. For a moment, there was nothing. Then a moist substance touched the lower end of his asscheek, an inch from the crevice. Feeling around. Come on, Hutch, find it.

The finger did. Moist bluntness against his opening. Harsher now. Threatening to intrude, already feeling so large at the entrance. Gonna hurt like a sonofabitch.

Starsky grunted as it pushed, then turned his face into the pillow, smothering the sound. So damn tight. He squeezed his eyes shut and whimpered.

He hadn't intended to, then realized this was not something they should hide from each other. Now is when communication is most important. And he had demanded that Hutch not ask anything of him. He had intended to suffer any discomfort internally, to experience it all on some inner level by himself. Now he decided to speak, starting with a snort of humor. "Even your damn finger is a monster."

There was a pause, as though Hutch was trying to decide what to do with this bit of information, and then the finger wriggled powerfully.

Starsky's body quivered involuntarily, and a wave of goosebumps developed all across his skin. Wow. Jeezus.

Hutch made a noise that sounded like a grunt of approval. Then he pushed the finger in deeper.

More invasion--almost violation--but not pain this time. The finger was seeking ownership, claiming possession. Starsky realized after the fact that he'd pushed himself back against it.

"Yeaahhh," Hutch drawled from deep within his throat. Definite approval this time. The finger snaked back, then pushed forward. Fucking him.

Starsky grunted, wanting more. Wanted to be filled now with that massive prick. Have Hutch surrounding him, inside of him, shamelessly using him for his own pleasure.

"Like it at all?" Hutch asked in a serious whisper.

"Think I'm getting a hard-on," Starsky muttered in answer.

A brief laugh, probably of relief. The fingers snaked backwards... all the way out. Fumbling. Soft noises. Then his asshole being stroked with a smooth substance. The finger pushed in again, easier this time. Then the bluntness of another fumbling around back there, searching, and then Starsky sucked in a sharp breath when it forced its way past skin that didn't want to stretch.

"That part's not fun," Hutch stated, his tone carrying a distant question.

"Not so bad once they're in," Starsky replied, wanting to be encouraging.

It had the right effect, for Hutch pushed them in deeper. Man, it was heady, knowing part of Hutch was inside of him. A physical part, for they'd been sharing emotional and spiritual space for many years now. The final piece of the puzzle. And we'll be complete.

A wave of... something--perhaps warmth--flushed through Starsky. It was going to be a beautiful moment when they performed that final unity, even if it hurt like the dickens.

But also just a beginning, he reminded himself. Hutch wants us to do 'anything and everything two people can possibly do to each other.' Man... His on-again, off-again erection once again had a new life.

The fingers were trying to move apart, stretching the opening. Such a poignant sensation, having them messing around back there; the assumption that they had a right to be there, that all parts of him belonged to Hutch. He shivered.

Slowly, they withdrew, his asshole reverting back to its prior tightness.

There were more noises of Hutch handling something, the shifting of the bed. Moist fingertips touched his shoulder as a hand settled there. "Turn on your side," came his partner's breathless direction.

Starsky turned on his side, feeling the heat of Hutch's body, the other arm that wrapped around his chest.

"Put your leg up." A firm knee bumped against the back of his thigh.

Starsky pulled his outer leg up toward his chest, exposing himself. He felt Hutch settle more firmly against him, felt the moist phallus against his lower crevice.

A hand was there. Hutch's breath heavy and strong. Moist heat against his asshole. Hutch shifting more up onto his side. Fingers feeling frantically.

A push. Pain. Starsky gasped, feeling it press against the side of his outer asshole, pointing the wrong way.

It moved, was better centered. More pushing. More pain, this time from his asshole being stretched. His gasp this time was more a cry, and he felt his eyes water.

"Damn," Hutch whispered beneath his breath as Starsky felt him pull back. Starsky sensed the utterance wasn't from his complaint, but because Hutch had wanted it to go in without so much effort.

There was silence, other than both their thick breaths, for a few moments. Then Hutch's arm tightened around Starsky's chest. "Gonna push real hard this time," he warned.

Starsky swallowed, knew there was nothing he could do but let it happen. He felt the blunt thickness against him once again. Felt Hutch's arm tighten even more. Felt Hutch push off the bed with a leg. And then a huge thickness forced its way past his tight sphincter.

"God!" he cried out. His protest was vocal only, and he knew Hutch would keep on as long as he didn't fight him. Knew that Hutch knew there was no avoiding the pain.

Hutch pushed again. It was huge, the thick cylinder filling him, forcing him open. He felt the ripping of delicate tissues.

Hutch relaxed a moment, then thrust with a grunt when it threatened to slide back out. This time he went deep enough that it wouldn't fall back out on its own. He rested his damp forehead against the back of Starsky's shoulder, gasping for breath. After a moment, he managed to ask, "Doin' okay, partner?"

It was such a stark contrast to Hutch's selfish actions, that Starsky had to restrain a chuckle. "If you call having your asshole ripped open by Mr. Monster Prick 'doing okay'."

There was another moment of Hutch regaining his breath, then he gasped, "Guess losing one's cherry isn't all it's cracked up to be, huh?"

"Feels like you popped a thousand cherries."

A gruff chuckle, and Starsky felt Hutch relax behind him. Then there was another thrust.

It felt better this time, not as piercing. Only deeper. He relaxed, too, knowing the worst was over.

The hand that had been around him now moved up and patted at his cheek.

"Feel good to you?" Starsky asked.

"Yeah," Hutch gasped seriously. He let it fall back a little, and then he pushed it back in. "Especially that," he groaned. He tried it again, pulling back a little, then pushing in even deeper than before. "Ah, yeah. I like that." He repeated the motion... again... and again.

Shit, it was damn stimulatin', having it move like that. Back and forth. Searing the nerves in his sphincter. Awakening nerves behind his balls, beneath his rectal tract. "Damn it, Hutchinson."

A chuckle of deep satisfaction answered him. Then the taunt, "You like that, don't you, partner?" Hutch's breath was thick as he continued to move. "You like that huge prick up your ass."

Starsky was only going to say it once. "I like your prick up my ass." He shivered as the huge thickness moved over his prostate once again. "Shit, that's making me crazy."

Hutch's arm suddenly wrapped around him, pinning him with the force of sexual arousal... and need. Hutch was thrusting frantically now, gasping with each stroke, tiny cries escaping his lips. "Dear, God," he finally pleaded. "Dear God, I'm going to come. Come huge. Inside your ass. Oh, dear God..."

He cried out above the bed, pushing himself in deeper than ever before, gripping Starsky fiercely. And then the masculine yell gave way to short, almost-sobs. Soft, incoherent words. And then he went slack against Starsky's back. And then his prick slipped out.

In some ways it was a relief to be free of it, in others it seemed it hadn't done quite enough -- though Starsky still thought there was no way he could have come, despite all the stimulation. He lay still, listening to his partner regaining his breath. Determined to fight the feeling that he should run to the john, as he felt it was more mental need than a physical one.

Finally, the arm came back around, loose and gentle this time. A kiss was planted at the back of his neck.

"You always get so religious when you're fucking?" Starsky teased.

"Why not?" Hutch asked, the bed shifting, a lamp coming on. "Fucking is a beautiful gift. You going to turn over?"

It was flattering, that Hutch wanted him near, even though he would have had every right to just roll over and fall asleep. A little warm spot developed in the center of Starsky's chest, knowing that after all their years together-- all the time they'd spent together--there were still things they needed to say to each other. Nice things.

Starsky turned over, feeling the aches in his body. Hutch was resting back against the headboard, golden locks damp against his forehead. He'd just tossed a towel aside to the right of the bed, and now with his left hand he reached out and Starsky wasted no time in snuggling up against him. Man, it felt good. And now a new scent--or, one he'd smelled before but never taken notice of in this particular way. Male sweat. Not his own, but his partner's. It held new meaning now.

Quietly, Hutch said, "You're bleeding. We'd better give you some kind of disinfectant."

Starsky furrowed a brow. He wasn't feeling anything right now and, keeping his weight against Hutch, he sent his finger down to explore. He still didn't feel anything, but when he looked at it, he could see little red streaks.

Arm still around his partner, Hutch was sifting through the sack. He pulled out a plastic tube. "Here. Use this."

Starsky took it and squeezed some out on his fingers. Then sent them back down. As he rubbed it in, he felt he should say something to ease the awkwardness of the moment. Except... he didn't feel awkward. "Guess havin' gay sex means getting to know your own asshole." He put the lid back on the tube and handed it back.

Hutch accepted it, his eyes with a mischievous glint. Those blue orbs looked at Starsky without wavering, making Starsky feel that nothing else in the world existed. "Before long, I'm going to know your asshole better than you do yourself." He turned to place the tube on the nightstand.

Starsky's mouth fell open. He felt himself shiver. And then his groin was begging for touch. He sent his hand down again, this time to soothe it.

Hutch grinned smugly, shifting on the bed while making a big show of yawning. "I'm bushed." He reached to turn out the light.

Starsky slid back under the covers, grimacing at the condition he'd been left in, though he knew there wasn't enough energy there to get anywhere. Still, he was amazed at the affect Hutch had on him. Had had on him the entire day. Such a short time ago we were just... best friends. Partners. He got settled, half a foot from his partner's turned back. With forced casualness, he said, "You know, someday, you're gonna have to tell me what was going through that little blond head of yours that caused us to end up like this." He punched his pillow, then gratefully yielded to blissful exhaustion.

* * *

Hutch listened to Starsky settle. He wondered how he would ever be able to answer that question, since he couldn't even answer to himself.

Love will have to conquer all, he decided. It'll have to be all that matters. It has to.


NOTE:  This story was originally intended to be a novel when I wrote it in the late 90s.  Then I decided to leave S&H fandom, and couldn't publish it, since I could never figure out how to finish it. A few years later, Keri Tomkins, who was the only person who had read it, thought it could be put on the now defunct Me and Thee archive as a standalone.  Since I liked what had already been written very much, I agreed.

Comments to regmoore@earthlink.net

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