Charlotte Frost



For the third time since they had left the scene of the teen suicide, Starsky bellowed, "I just can't see how anyone that young..." He smacked the steering wheel. "Or anyone at all for that matter... just giving up. Throwing their life away."

Hutch was staring out the side window, trying very hard to keep his patience with the whole subject. "You don't know what his life was like," he stated reasonably.

The blond could feel the driver look sharply at him. "What difference does it make, what his life was like? If it was at its lowest, there was no direction to go but up. It could only get better."

Hutch sighed. "Maybe he'd been waiting too long for it to get better."

"I don't believe that. Are you condoning what that kid did?"

"No," Hutch stated firmly. He realized his head had been turned away for too long, but he wasn't quite ready to meet his partner's glare. He compromised by looking out the front window.

Starsky's eyes kept switching back and forth between his partner and the road. "Then why aren't you pissed off about it?"

Now Hutch shuffled restlessly. "My God, Starsk, I didn't enjoy seeing what that kid did to himself." A gunshot wound to the head was never pretty. "And I am upset about it, but bellyaching isn't going to bring him back." That sounded cold, and in all fairness, wasn't truly an answer to Starsky's question. Hutch sighed again, summoning a degree of patience. He finally glanced over at his partner and said, "l can just imagine what it must be like, that's all. I mean, being that low."

Starsky's expression was contemplative as he watched the traffic. After a moment, he muttered, "Everyone gets low. That doesn't mean they have to throw everything away and go blow their brains out."

Hutch lowered his gaze and his voice. "People have their reasons for doing the things they do."

"That don't make it okay," Starsky insisted.

The blond looked at his partner, whose firm jaw and hunched shoulders matched the agitation of his voice. It had been a long day, and Hutch craned his neck to see the time on Starsky's watch, then gratefully reached for the microphone. "Control One this is Zebra Three."

"Go ahead, Zebra Three."

"Log us out at eighteen-oh-two hours."

"Roger, Zebra Three."

Hutch hung up the microphone.

Slightly calmer, Starsky glanced at him to ask softly, "Do you think he meant to do it?"

"Probably. People who intentionally try to mess it up don't usually put bullets through their skulls."

Now Starsky looked at him fully. "What makes you such an expert?" His attention returned to the windshield.

Hutch shrugged and said softly, "I tried to kill myself once."

The brakes squealed under pressure, and Hutch frantically reached to brace against the ceiling as the Torino came to a shuddering halt, its backend fishtailing. Other cars were heard braking and swerving behind them.

Hutch turned to yell at the driver, "What the—" But he stopped when he saw his partner staring at him, mouth open, eyes wide with a mixture of disbelief, betrayal, and other emotions the blond couldn't immediately identify. But Hutch got over his shock first, and he bellowed, "Jesus Christ, Starsky, are you trying to get us killed?" Other drivers were honking and yelling behind them.

Starsky's chest heaved, and in a deadly calm voice, he demanded, "What do you mean, you tried to kill yourself?"

"For God's sakes, Starsky, it happened when I was a kid—a teenager. Will you either get going or get off the road? We're going to get lynched." He was relieved when Starsky obeyed, ignoring shouted insults and moving the vehicle forward. But the feeling only lasted a moment, for Hutch now realized he had spoken without thought, and by doing so had released a can of worms that had stayed closed for a long, long time.

The darker man's face was pale as he stared at the road. He took a deep breath, and then his quiet, shocked voice demanded, "Why haven't you ever told me?"

Oh, yes, he should have seen this coming, should have thought it through before speaking. But it was too late now, and his partner deserved honesty. Hutch shrugged. "It just never came up, never seemed important." Then, reassuringly, "It was a long time ago, buddy."

The only response was a blink as the wide eyes stared out the front windshield.

Hutch took pity and softened his voice, reaching to lay a hand on his partners shoulder. "Starsk, it's okay now, all right? It's been okay for a long, long time."

He could see the effort the other man was making to relax, for Starsky drew a deep, deep breath. But the shock was still there, the jaw still firm.

The blond's fingers tightened on the shoulder. "I haven't been keeping it from you; it's just...," a shrug, "I just haven't ever even thought about it myself in ages. I mean, even seeing that kid lying there didn't make me remember. It wasn't until afterwards, when you kept talking about it...." He trailed off, not meaning to sound accusing. But Starsky simply continued to stare. "Do you understand what I'm saying?"

The reply was accompanied by a firm head shake. "No."

It wasn't the answer Hutch was hoping for, and he leaned over the seat, slapping the back of one hand in the palm of the other. "Good Lord, Starsky, I'm trying to say that it's not like I've been keeping it from you. I was seventeen years old. It's ancient history."

The car stopped and it wasn't until the driver's door slammed that Hunch realized they had reached Venice Place. He got out, and as the blond shut his own door, Starsky was already trotting up the steps toward the apartment.

Hutch followed him with a sarcastic, "Gee, Starsk, why don't you come up for something?"

The other turned to him with a sharply pointed finger as Hutch reached the landing. Starsky's voice was steel. "You're going to tell me everything about it. Everything."

It was Hutch's turn to blink, the motion slow and puzzled. He watched his partner stand on his toes to get the key and open the apartment. While still on the landing, Hutch found his heart starting to pound. He was beginning to feel that he had done something very wrong, perhaps unforgivable, and wasn't sure why. And, yet, he had no problem with the idea of fulfilling Starsky's demand... except that his chest felt constricted and his throat was getting tight.

"You coming, blondie?"

Hutch started, then entered the apartment, feeling a touch of relief that Starsky had almost smiled while asking the question. Good. Maybe the other really wasn't that mad, didn't really feel betrayed. "Think we should order a pizza or something?"

The smaller man closed the door. "You'll have to pay. I'm broke."

"Excuses, excuses," Hutch muttered. He was grateful for the banter that was a distraction. He went to the phone, found the number from the well doodled pad beside it, and made the phone call.

While ordering, he watched Starsky take a beer from the refrigerator, then sit down on the sofa and kick off his shoes. He said something that Hutch couldn't catch.

The blond put his hand over the receiver. "What?"

"There's only one beer," Starsky pointed to the lone bottle, so get some pop."

Hutch took his hand away. "And two—no make that four—cokes" He watched his partner nod approval. "It'll be cash...thanks."

"What kind did you get?" Starsky asked as soon as Hutch hung up.

The taller man stood and started removing his jacket and gun. "What kind do you think, moron? Your usual poison. Lots of shit piled on top."

Starsky was watching him with an almost sly smile. Then he held out the beer. "This is for you."

Having discarded the outer items, Hutch unbuttoned his shirt halfway, then cautiously reached to accept the beer. Curious as to what his partner's reaction would be, he paused with his fingers around the bottle, then shrugged. "You're the guest."

The sky blue eyes darkened as the voice firmed. "But you're the one who's going to be doing all the talking."

It was ridiculous letting this turn into a big thing. Hutch accepted the beer, turned away to pace a few steps, then turned back. Voice slightly raised, he asked, "Why do I feel like you want to punish me for this, for something that happened before I even knew you?" Eyes on the other, he moved to an easy chair opposite and sat down, taking a sip.

Starsky had the grace to look away. In a nasal tone, he said, "I don't mean it as a punishment. It's just...," heavy sigh, then looking back at Hutch, "it's just something I have to know. That's all."

"Yeah, well, you could have gotten us killed the way you slammed on the brakes like that." He knew it was changing the subject and an exaggeration, but it kept the banter going. He ran his hand through his thinning hair dramatically.

"For goodness' sakes, Hutch," Starsky spread his arms for emphasis, "do you have any idea how that hit me? I mean it's like... like... " the arms waved in the search for an analogy, "like if I'd up and told, you I was adopted. Or that I served time in prison. Or that I'm related to the Pope."


Starsky sighed with impatience. Then his voice became softer as he leaned forward earnestly. "Hutch, if you'd... you'd really done it, you wouldn't be here now. Think about that!"

Such a simple statement, and Hutch found himself lowering his eyes.

The other man gestured to his chest. "All the belief I've had that I know you, it's got a big hole in it right now. Suddenly, there's this big 'something' that doesn't fit, doesn't sound like the man I know. I gotta know now: what made you do that?"

Hutch looked away. Then, timidly, "Of course it doesn't fit. The man I am now is a different person from the kid I was then."

Starsky shook his head. "How could you, at any age, have just given up like that? You're not a quitter."

There it was again, the feeling that he'd done something horribly sinful, disappointed this man who meant so much. Hutch put his hand to his forehead, the elbow resting near his knee. Striving to be as honest as possible—no matter how quickly it caused his heart to beat—he replied, "I didn't see it as giving up. I saw it as a solution to a problem."

"What problem, Hutch?" It was such a precise command, unhampered by sympathy.

Hutch straightened, sighed wearily, then took a large swallow of beer. He realized another big swallow would finish it, so he stood up and ambled toward the kitchen. He shrugged, voice congenial. "It wasn't a problem, Starsky. It was lots of little ones. They compounded each other and I couldn't deal with the weight anymore." He paused near the kitchen counter, then leaned back against it, realizing how silly it all sounded. He shook his head with a hollow laugh. "I wasn't very strong, Starsk. So I kept thinking of ways...," he shrugged helplessly, "to make it so that nothing ever hurt anymore." He tilted the beer back for the last swallow, realizing that his hand was quivering.

Starsky was sitting very still, staring at him with a heavily, serious expression. Then, in that deep nasal tone that Hutch had always envied, the smaller man said, "You're leavin' out a lotta details."

Hutch set the empty bottle down, then tilted his head to one side. "It was a lot of years ago, I'm not sure I even remember anymore." That established, the blond made his way back to his chair.

Starsky was leaning forward with his hands clasped into a fist between his knees. He gazed at the coffee table a long moment, then developed a slightly sheepish expression. "Yeah, I guess I shouldn't push for bad memories that are better left forgotten. I guess some things shouldn't be tampered with."

The blond man's eyes narrowed as he regarded his partner, trying to gauge whether the other was being sincere or dryly sarcastic. He refused to believe the latter, and felt a mixture of relief and disappointment that he was being let off the hook... that it could all be as if he'd never spoken.

Gently, Hutch assured, "Starsky, I can understand your being curious." It was easy to say, now that he wasn't being pushed.

The other man looked resigned as his chin now rested in his hand. "How did you do it?"

"Swallowed pills." That did bring on a deluge of memories. Hutch snorted with a head shake. "Believe me, no one would ever try to do that if they knew there was the slightest risk of being found before it's too late, and having their stomach pumped out."

Starsky's eyes narrowed speculatively. "Were you serious?"

The inner tremor was there again. Hutch quickly looked down, worked his jaw a moment, then said, "Let me put it this way: if there'd been a gun in the house, I wouldn't be here now."

Starsky's eyes dropped to the coffee table. Then they dropped lower to the floor... then moved to the sofa, the wall.... He blinked, staring at a point past Hutch's shoulder.

Hutch couldn't take the silence anymore. "Sorry, buddy. I feel like I've let you down."

"Let me down?" Starsky slowly repeated in a tone of disbelief. "You're the one who was ready to end it all." He drew a deep breath, as though desperately needing air.

Hutch was confused about his partner's point. Instinctively, he noted, "It's not your fault, you know. I was just a kid."

"I know that," the other responded sharply, glaring at Hutch. "Can't you see how hard it is listening to this, knowing there's nothing I can do to go back in time and make it better. Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"

The blond thought his insides were deteriorating, changing from matter to liquid, melting into a puddle. "Aw, Starsk." It was all he could think of to say. Then he sadly reminded, "You said you wanted to hear it."

"l have to hear it. You can see that, right?"

Hutch closed his eyes, heavily admitting, "Yeah." Maybe he could go into all the details. But would there really be anything to gain? After all this time, would the recollection somehow place it all in a different perspective?

The doorbell rang, and both men looked up.

"Shit," Hutch muttered, scrambling through his pockets, "they're faster than usual tonight."

"How much was it? I think I've got a coupla bucks."

"No, no," Hutch held up a hand. "I've got it." He was still trying to count all the loose change as he trotted to the door, then opened it.

Starsky came up to grab the food and drinks while Hutch continued to fuss with the money. Finally, the taller man dumped a mound of paper and coins into the delivery boys hand. "I think there's enough there for a tip," he said, slightly embarrassed at not being certain.

The curly-haired man appeared with a dollar, and slapped it on top of the rest. "That'll cover it for sure."

The delivery boy thanked them and left, Hutch closing the door.

Starsky began humming as he went about he task of getting ice and a glass for his soft drinks, and grabbing a handful of napkins. He placed the items on top of the pizza box, then pranced to the coffee table.

Hutch wanted to say something to encourage the playful mood. "I thought that's what the kitchen table was for."

"Quit grumbling." Starsky sat in the middle of the sofa, sorting through the accoutrements. "I intend to relax and so do you."

The blond had no interest in arguing with the command. He pulled off his shoes, then sat down between the couch and the table, next to Starsk's feet. It struck him funny that, in most things, Starsky followed where he led. Yet, whenever the smaller detective took a stance on something, Hutch rarely felt like disagreeing.

The taller man smiled to himself as he reached to take a slice of pizza. Theirs was a true partnership, true equals...better than a marriage. For, in marriage, even poor relationships sometimes had good sex to fall back on; or the husband needed the wife's ability to keep house and the wife needed the husband's financial stability, so they felt forced to stay together even if, personally, they drew apart. He and Starsky, there was no staying together by default. They simply downright respected each other. Liked each other.

Loved each other.

"What?" Starsky asked around a mouthful of food.

Hutch realized he'd been smiling. "Nothin'."

"Liar." But the tone was congenial.

Hutch took a second slice and rested back against the couch. Why hadn't he ever told Starsky about it? Though it was true that he rarely ever thought about what that troubled seventeen year old had done, he knew there were times when it had crossed his mind, when he'd been in his partner's presence.

He supposed part of it must be shame. He wasn't proud of what he'd tried. But, even now, he understood the desperate need that adolescent had felt to escape . . . even if it meant permanently.

Starsky would surely be able to understand that.

"I'd give you a penny...," came his partner's gentle voice.

Hutch glanced up toward the couch, smiled a bit sheepishly. "I was just thinking."

"No kidding."

Hutch shifted so that his elbow was leaning on the couch, palm supporting a cheek, facing his partner. "Really, Starsk, I don't have a problem telling you about what happened... the parts I remember, that is. I've never felt like it was a big secret or anything." He shrugged. "It's just that I'd put it behind me years ago."

Starsky leaned toward the opposite side to eye Hutch speculatively. "You want to talk about it," he stated curiously.

Hutch fingered the aluminum side of his pop can, tracing the logo. "Yeah, I guess so." He shifted again, now kneeling and settling back on his heels. "I mean, it's all coming back to the surface, since it was brought up."

Starsky took another slice of pizza, then settled cross-legged on the couch, his back resting against the arm. "I'm all ears. Start from the beginning."

Hutch presented a timid smile, studying the sofa cushion. "I'm not sure that I can, because I don't know where the beginning really is. I mean, most of my teenage years I'd thought about suicide every now and then," he glanced up quickly to assure, "just as a passing thought, you know?" He watched Starsky nod, the other man visibly struggling to appear neutral. "I guess I saw it as a way to make my parents sorry." He chuckled softly, feeling his stomach tighten. "I'd... well, you know... fantasize about them finding me dead, being upset, devastated. I guess," A painful smile, "a part of me was aware that if I really did kill myself, I wouldn't be around to enjoy how devastated they were." He laughed at that, a terribly forced sound. He didn't need to glance up to know that his partner was unamused.

Sobering, he continued to stare at the couch, occasionally stealing a glance upward. "It was the spring when I was seventeen that everything went to hell." His voice was soft, but his heart was starting to pound. "You know, I was going with a—a nice girl." He wondered why he felt himself blush.

Now Starsky smiled and held out his glass of cola, as though to toast. "Tanya Holdenfield."

Hutch looked at his partner with a pleased snort. "Oh, I guess I've told you about her."

Starsky nodded firmly. "First love."

"Yeah," the blond drawled longingly. He shifted, but didn't change position. "We'd been going together since the beginning of the semester. Went out nearly every weekend, sometimes even during the week. My parents even liked her." So significant, that. "Anyway, after spring break, things sort of tapered off." He frowned. "I'm not really sure why. But she started seeing other guys. I started looking for other girls, but I wasn't really interested in any of them. I suppose by the time May rolled around we had more or less broken up." Hutch found a loose thread on the sofa, and twisted his finger around it. He wasn't sure why he was telling Starsky this; it didn't really have anything to do with it.

After an overly long silence, he cleared his throat. "I was having a hard time focusing at school. I'd always made pretty good grades; but it seemed, for the first time, I was starting to struggle. I don't know why," he shrugged, "I guess because nothing seemed to have much point. I remember," a sigh, "that in Poly Sci, my best subject, I got a D on an exam." He shook his head, drawing a deep breath. "It really let my teacher down. He was so... so disappointed. I was his star pupil. And I had no explanation. He made me stay after class and kept asking me what was wrong. I had no answer. I just sat there and—and stuttered. Felt like shit, that I had done that to him, almost flunked his test. And then," Hutch had to draw another breath, for now the words wanted to rush out. "I only made second string for the baseball team. First time I wasn't ever first string in baseball." He stared at where the sofa thread had a strangled hold on his finger. "My father was all over my ass about choosing a career. He somehow seemed to think if I hadn't chosen one by the day I turned eighteen, I'd never choose one. And, you know, he wanted me to be thinking doctor/lawyer/CPA. I kinda thought I might get serious about baseball... but after not making first string..."

He watched the finger turn a deep red. "And my mother," a bitter snort, "she... she...," he could only shake his head in disbelief. "her whole world was tied up in cosmetics and horse shows. She was just so... so, you know, phony. All she gave a goddamn about was putting on a 'correct' front." The finger was a fascinating color of purple.


Hutch pulled, feeling the thread tighten even more. Then it broke.

The blond settled back, sighing deeply as he unwrapped the small string, watching with detached interest as the color returned. He stole a glance at Starsky, wondered why the other looked so serious when he still hadn't managed to tell his partner a damn thing.

The other man gave a small nod, and carefully nudged, "Go on."

Now Hutch shifted, reaching to steal a mushroom from a remaining slice of pizza. It tasted cold.

"Anyway," he said after swallowing, "It was a rotten spring. That mutt dog of mine even died on me. My mother was so glad to be rid of the little shit. No breeding, you know." He shook his head, not trying to hide the sarcasm. "Can't have little mixed breeds running around." He gave in and reached for the whole slice of cooling pizza.

Over a minute passed while Hutch chewed, glancing about the house from one wall decoration to the other.

Starsky was leaning back on the sofa, sipping from his glass, an arm behind his head. "So, then what happened?"

"Huh?" Hutch looked at him. "Nothing." He shrugged. "I mean, I tried to do it, and it didn't work. And everything went back to normal."

Starsky blinked, quickly shaking his head. "No, wait a sec. You've lost me, Hutch. Go back," he gestured with a hand. "Go back. I mean, what made you decide to do it?"

Hutch felt like he'd missed something, and he quickly thought it through. Then he replied, "No, I told you. It was just all that stuff. It seemed to pile on. I couldn't take it. I wasn't very strong, you know, when I was a kid. I didn't have much of a constitution when it came to personal problems."

Starsky was still in a relaxed posture, but his voice was firm. "You grew up in that house, with those loving parents, spent all those years there, went on to be the best damn cop this city has ever seen, and you're going to sit there an tell me you were lacking some balls at one point?"

"No, it wasn't that I didn't have balls," Hutch felt inclined to argue, "it was just—just...," he shrugged lamely, "I don't know. You sink low enough, you eventually hit bottom. Then you do something crazy." He shook his head again. "I don't know."

"Sure you do."

Hutch took another breath. He wished he hadn't eaten that last slice; it was having trouble making the journey all the way down.

The other man's voice softened, and he leaned forward awkwardly. "Hutch, tell me about the day you did it. What happened when you woke up that morning? What were you doing? Who did you talk to? Did anything happen that day?"

Hutch looked at the carpet, focusing inward. His heart was in full gear, and his stomach and chest were doing acrobatics. It wasn't Starsky's fault. Answers were somewhere, and he supposed it would be best if they were forced out, laid open. But he had to squeeze his eyes shut at the image of such secrets being stripped to nakedness.

"Hutch." Such a gentle voice now. "What happened that day?"

He knew what the answer to Starsky's question was, had known it all along. And the wonder of how he'd known it, without knowing he knew it, filled him with an intense desire to understand the nature of human beings, and how their various levels of consciousness worked with each other, how sometimes one could—

"Hutch." A hint of worry in that voice?

The nerves of his insides had stretched outward. He felt cold and unsteady, and shuffled to sit with all his weight on the floor, his back against the sofa, arms wrapping around his knees. He made sure he kept his eyes on the wall, for he could not bear to look at his partner.

God, It was so stupid. Had he really been that dumb back then? So dumb that a mere question could become a matter of life and death?

He could hear and feel through the sofa springs, his partner shifting, moving. "Hutch, what happened that day?"

The blond quickly shook his head, eyes on the far wall.

Starsky was sitting on the sofa next to his head. Through the corner of his eye, Hutch could see that the other man was leaning forward, elbows on his knees, giving the appearance of being casual. But Hutch knew, from many years of experience, that such a stance was often when his partner was most dangerous.

"Hutch." Still gentle, but just a fraction more firm. "Was it something that somebody did? Something that was said? Something that—"

"Said," Hutch forced out, realizing his voice sounded like a small, frightened child's. Oh, God.


He nodded, the texture of the far wall seeming to move in and out of focus. He realized peripherally that his was chest was visibly fighting for air, but he couldn't seem to halt it.

"What did somebody say to you?"

Hutch shook his head quickly, weary eyes closing of their own volition as his chin dropped to his chest. "Don't want to tell you." That meek voice belonged to another person, and he didn't seem to have any control over what that person was saying.

"Don't or can't?" So gentle.

"Can't." Easy out.

"Okay. But who was it that said it? Can you tell me that?"

He nodded.

When silence followed, Hutch realized he was supposed to follow up the nod with an answer.


He swallowed thickly, opening his eyes, blinking away the fuzziness, trying to focus on the wall again.

"Your mother?"


"Your father?"

Hutch swallowed again, feeling his Adam's apple protest as it rose and fell.

"It was your father who said something to you?"

His voice actually squeaked. "Uh-huh."

Such gentleness again, as Starsky leaned closer. "And you can't tell me what it was?"

He didn't deserve the sympathy, but Hutch felt trapped by the lulling, persistent voice. He squeezed his eyes shut, and the little boy answered, "No."

"Can't tell me because you're afraid of what I'll think, or because it hurts too much to say it?"

Hutch pinched the bridge of his nose. His insides were in chaos, but his outer body was numb. The apartment seemed so quiet, and only his own breathing could be heard. Finally, he forced his eyes open to stare at the carpet. In a slightly deeper voice, he obediently replied, "Hurts."

"Aw, Hutch." Hands reached for his shoulders.

The blond instantly stiffened, though otherwise didn't move. "Starsky, don't."

The hands paused.


The hands were removed, and Hutch was able to breathe again. He was grateful that Starsky would know better than to take the rejection personally, would understand that he simply couldn't bear that kind of compassion right now.

For nearly a minute, the apartment was deathly quiet.

Then Starsky moved, shifting from the couch to the floor. He rested his weight on a hip on the carpet, an elbow stretching to rest back against the coffee table. He propped his chin in his hand.

Hutch looked up just enough to see his partner's face through the corner of his eye. Starsky was wearing that I'll-stick-it-out-however-long-it-takes expression. It amused Hutch a little. He shook his head and softly said, "It's all incredibly stupid, Starsky."

Levelly, the other asked, "Stupid what he said, or stupid that it made you want to kill yourself?"

"That it—" the blond stuttered, realizing the answer to the question wasn't as important as correcting his partner's impression. "No, it didn't make me want to kill myself. I'd already been thinking about it. It was just the last straw, that's all. If it wouldn't have been that, then the last straw would have been something else."

"Then why are you having such a hard time telling me what he said?"

Hutch fought to restrain a flare of temper. Sometimes Starsky was downright annoying when he was using that calm, overly-patient tone.

"What did he say, Hutch? Did he belittle you? Humiliate you? Call you names?"

Yes and no. "He asked me a question." A snort of bitter amusement as he shrugged. Hutch finally looked at his partner squarely. "That's all." See how silly it is?

Starsky was slowly rubbing a finger along his upper lip. "What did he ask you?"

"A question." Hutch looked down, embarrassed by the stupid answer.

"What question?" Gentle persistence.

Hutch took a deep breath, brows furrowing as he wondered how one small sentence could mean so much. He abruptly straightened, and resisted the urge to get up and pace. It was so comfortable here, in this little spot, with Starsky sitting beside him, waiting for him to speak. The other was going to be so disappointed and confused when he heard it. But Hutch could say it now. He even looked at his partner squarely. "He asked me if I was a faggot." Only, the sentence didn't come out quite as bold as he'd intended; the little squeak was there, too, mixing with the bitterness.

Starsky's jaw seemed to drop to the floor, and he leaned forward, expression battling between shock and compassion. Whispering quietly and distinctly, he said, "Your father asked you that?"

Hutch had to struggle to not laugh at the baffled expression. "Yeah," he replied with a series of quick nods, desperately fighting the anger churning in his stomach. A quick shrug. "That's all." He sipped his lukewarm soda.

Starsky's voice was an intense whisper. "Hutch, why did he ask you that?"

"I dunno," the blond replied, realizing he was slurring his speech like his partner often did. "I hadn't had a real girlfriend until Tanya—and he liked her—and I couldn't keep her very long. I liked baseball more than football. I liked plants more than cars. I had a hard time making decisions about what I wanted to do." He shrugged with exaggeration, desperately fighting off the volcano simmering in his stomach.

Starsky bowed his head, a hand going to his temple. "Jesus," he whispered softly.

Afraid of what his partner might be thinking, Hutch firmly said, "It's not like he meant it literally. I mean, he didn't think I was a queer or anything. It was just an expression." How many times, in all their years together, had he ended up defending one or both parents to Starsky? It was such a strange position to be in.

The dark haired man's jaw dropped further. He slowly shook his head, as though in disbelief, and then seemed to remember what the point of the conversation was. He straightened, then—so seriously, Hutch thought—asked, "How did you answer?"

"I didn't. I walked away." Another exaggerated shrug. "What could I say? 'No' wouldn't have meant anything, because his question carried all kinds of meanings other than just 'Did I like boys more than girls?' I suddenly saw myself through his eyes, saw how he saw me." A quick snort. "It's not like I ever thought he was fond of me or anything, but," his voice became soft and earnest, "it made me realize just how thoroughly, thoroughly disgusted he was with me." His voice hardened, despite himself. "And I hated who I was." He had to close his eyes to add, "So much."

Starsky looked away, seemed to take a moment to recover himself. Then he turned back, concerned eyes watching the blond carefully. "Then what happened, Hutch?"

Hutch thought. The volcano was starting to dissipate. The hard part was over, the rest a breeze. "I decided I was going to do it. I started thinking how and realized I could do it that very night. My mother was always taking all these pills—for her dozens of 'ailments'—and both my parents were going to be out that night, and it was just so simple." He paused, remembering the boy he had been. "And you know something, Starsk?"


"It's really true, what they say. I mean, about how once you've decided to do it, you feel this sense of relief. It's true. Because after having thought about it for weeks, maybe months, I finally had a plan I could carry out. And all my agonizing about 'should I' or 'shouldn't I' and 'how should I do it?' was over with. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. And I was at peace."

Starsky buried his face in his open hands. "Jeesus."

"Seriously, buddy, it didn't hurt anymore after that."

Slowly, Starsky raised his face to look at him. Grimly, he demanded, "You were so desperate to get back at your father that you were willing to kill yourself, and you want me to sit here and believe you didn't feel a damn thing?"

Hutch remained calm, understanding his partner's anger. But also wanting the other to understand his motivation. Easily, he corrected, "It wasn't to get back at my father. Yes, earlier when I'd thought about it, it was to get my parents' attention. But by the time that day came around when I actually did it, what my parents thought or felt was the last thing from my mind." Now, his voice did harden. "I had to get rid of me. That's all I was after. Destroy myself. Destroy the horrible thing I was."

Voice carrying a distant tremble, the smaller man clarified, "That's all you were capable of feeling: self-hate?"

Hutch shook his head, the memory so vivid now. "No," he replied distantly, "not even that." He put a hand near his chest. "I felt empty, Starsk. Totally, totally empty. I was nothing. All gone. There was no me anymore. And I had to destroy the shell. And all that was left was peace that it was finally going to happen."

Raggedly, Starsky pressed, "So then what happened?"

"I waited. Spent the day—it was a Saturday—out walking in the park, feeling totally alien. I was, if anything, feeling satisfied that the world was going to be rid of me. Finally, my parents left to go to their party. I went into their bedroom, got my mother's pills and..." He shrugged with a snort. "I can't even remember what I took. But somewhere along the line I'd done some research, and there was a certain combination I was sure would do the job." He paused, feeling himself in that room, studying the bottles with such detachment. "I think I considered writing a note, then decided not to. I was sure it would be obvious... plus, I just downright didn't care about getting a last word in. I didn't deserve it. So, I took the pills to my room, got a big glass of water, and started swallowing them down. Then I laid on my bed, turned off the light, and just lay there. For a while, I felt a little nauseated, then I just started drifting... and I felt so... relieved."

Starsky clutched Hutch's hand. The blond let him do it, no longer finding a lack of contact necessary. And he understood why Starsky needed to. The curly haired man was swallowing thickly, hand rubbing at his bowed forehead.

Poor playful, fun-loving Starsk. Despite the grisly things they saw in their work, in many ways the shorter man was unprepared for the grown-up world. And Hutch had tried to protect him from it—let him play the innocent child, by having himself playing the watchful, affectionate, scolding parent, but he couldn't protect Starsky from everything. Certainly not from this.

Finally, after a deeply drawn breath, Starsky whispered, "But you didn't die."

Hutch smiled thinly. "A twist of fate. Maria, the housekeeper, had left her pocketbook in the laundry room. So, she came back that night to get it, and while she was there, she thought she'd take a pile of newly dried clothes to my room. She found me unconscious and called the ambulance."

Another deep breath from his partner. "Thank God for Maria."

Hutch presented a tiny, affectionate smile. "Yeah." A small shrug now. "So, the ambulance came. They were able to bring me to consciousness at the hospital while pumping my stomach—not a pleasant experience—and I lived. End of story."

"Wait," Starsky held up a hand, and the blond could see the effort the other was making to stay calm. "What happened afterwards? How did your parents react?"

Hutch had to think a minute. "My father never said much about it. I don't know what he thought. My mother let her friends know what an awful thing she'd gone through—with her son trying to kill himself and all—and she kept her pills locked up after that. Not that I had an interest in them afterwards. I really didn't ever get serious about it again; and if I'd had, I would have chosen a different method."

In disbelief, Starsky clarified, "You mean nothing changed? Everything went on as before; they didn't even try to figure out why you did it?"

The blond tilted his head to one side. The question had never occurred to him. "No," he final replied. "They never asked me. They just sent me to a psychiatrist for three months, which didn't do me a damn bit of good, because he was psychologically fucked up and spent all those $120 sessions talking about himself. And then I was supposed to go to some group teen suicide thing for awhile; but after the first meeting, I ditched the rest. No one ever mentioned it."

"And then what?" Starsky wanted to know.

"Nothing, Starsk. That was it. The summer was over, I went back to school, was voted 'Most Likely to Succeed', the next year I went to college."

The smaller detective shifted until he was sitting back on his knees. He pointed a finger at Hutch's chest. "Buddy, I may not be an expert about this kind of stuff; but it's obvious to me that you were suffering from some sort of depression, big time. Are you going to sit here and tell me that you just up and got over it?"

Starsky asked good questions, that was for sure. Hutch rubbed at the bare part of his chest, realizing he felt drained, but in a good way. After a thoughtful moment, he replied, "I still had a lot of buried anger. But I used it in a positive way. Turned it into determination. I decided 'fuck it' to whatever dreams my parents had for me. I focused on what I wanted, and set out to get it. The rest," he shrugged, "you pretty much know."

After an extended silence, Starsky put his hand to his head once more. "Man," he sighed heavily. "I never would have guessed."

Gently, Hutch noted, "That's why I felt I understood about that kid we found today. It's rotten that he didn't get a second chance, like I did, but he wasn't miserable when he pulled the trigger. He was at peace."

Starsky was firmly shaking his head. "Hutch, I can't believe that. I just can't. Anyone who wants to do that is a sick, sick person. And they need all the help they can get. And I don't know how the hell you found the strength all by yourself to pull out of it, but I'm damn glad that you did." His voice was ragged on the last.

They could argue about it well into the night, but Hutch didn't see any point in trying to convince the other of understanding something he had never experienced himself.

Suddenly, Starsky turned to Hutch, and grabbed the blond's right wrist with a air of desperation; he forced the hand to the left side of the Hutch's chest.

"What are you doing?"

"Hutch," Starsky tapped at a pale cheek, "look at me. Look me right in the eye."

Hutch did.

"Okay. Now, I want you to swear to me, swear to me, that you will never, ever, EVER try to kill yourself again. Swear it."

Hutch's heart turned over. "Oh, Starsk...."


Hutch blinked, feeling a twinge of guilt that Starsky felt such a promise necessary... mandatory. And he understood why he'd never told the other before. "Starsky, this is exactly why—"


Hutch gave in, for it was easy to. And necessary to erase the other's troubled expression. He pressed a little more firmly against his own chest, leaned closer to his partner, and slowly and distinctly said, "I swear I will never again try to kill myself."

Starsky gazed at him, and Hutch saw the brain circuits working, as though the smaller man were wondering if there was a loophole somewhere that his partner could someday slip through. But then the darker man visibly relaxed. "Okay."

"Your turn."

"Wha'?" Hutch almost smiled at the confusion.

"We're partners. You have to make the same promise."

"Oh, Hutch, I'm not the type who would—"

Anger emerged from nowhere. "Dammit, there's no such thing as a type! Don't you know that if I'd really done it—if I'd died—everyone who knew me, including my parents, would have claimed that I wasn't the 'type'. Yeah, I was depressed. But nobody knew it." His voice softened, for Starsky seemed startled by the outburst. "Starsky, there's no such thing as someone who would never kill themselves. Given the right set of miserable circumstances, anybody can be tempted to pull the trigger." He found a smile. "So humor your buddy and make the promise. Please?"

Starsky shrugged, "Well, since you said 'please'..."

Hutch's smile broadened. He helped Starsky place his hand over his chest.

Looking terribly self-conscious, the curly-haired man said, "I promise to never try—"

"Never, ever," Hutch corrected.

"Never, ever to try to kill myself." The hand dropped.

Hutch relaxed back again the sofa. "Thank you."

Starsky was suddenly a bundle of energy, gathering the remains of their dinner.

"You see, Starsk," Hutch said gently as he watched the clean-up process, "that's why I never told you. I realize that now. It seems that, once people know you've tried it, they always think you're going to try it again. They don't trust you anymore."

Starsky had gathered all the trash on top of the pizza box, which he now lifted. "I trust you with my life, Hutch."

"But you don't trust me with my life, now that you know."

Starsky paused on the way to the kitchen. He didn't quite turn around. "Do you blame me?"

Hutch watched him proceed to the kitchen. "No, I guess not. But honest, Starsk, I may have thought about it a few weeks, maybe months, after that time. But then I quit thinking about it. I've never considered it an option—even as a passing thought—since then. Not even after... after everything." He'd better stop right there. Both his and Starsky's losses had been great since they'd joined forces in the name of the law.

Hutch finished the last of the warm soda, then moved to the kitchen and filled a pitcher with water. It was always such a secure feeling, when he and Starsky were doing simple household chores together. He carried the pitcher from plant to plant, giving them each a small drink. It felt good to walk around. There had been a point in his life when he'd realized he'd never tell anybody. But he hadn't counted on his life including a Starsky.

Hutch finished with the plants, then plopped down in the middle of the living room and removed his socks. "Anything good on the tube tonight?" It was such a ridiculous question that he was curious as to what the answer would be.

Starsky had just finished drying his hands, and now approached. "Yeah, I spent all day with my nose buried in the TV guide."

"Wanna see what's on?"

Starsky settled on his knees next to him. "Not really," came the more serious reply. "My head's still spinning from everything you've told me."

Hutch laid back on the carpet, lacing his hands behind his head. "You know, buddy, I really didn't set out not tell you."

"I know, Hutch. I understand. I just hope you can understand how it's sort of a shock I mean, if you'd really done it... and I'd never known you..."

"Aw, Starsk, you can drive yourself crazy thinking like that. We've both been this close to cashing it all in in recent years."

"Yeah, I know."

Hutch wished he had something to drink. "Too bad liquor stores don't deliver."

"Yeah," Starsky automatically agreed. Then his brows furrowed, and he said, "You know somethin'?"


"I hate your parents."

That hurt for some reason. "You've never even met them, Starsk. And everything I've told you over the years is just one side of the story. You might actually like them. Besides," Hutch felt obligated to say, "they did the best they could."

"Yeah, well," Starsky rolled over to straddle Hutch in one smooth move, his hands resting on the blond's shoulders, weight on his haunches. "I wish I could tell them a thing or two. There ought to be laws that parents have to love their kids. What else is a kid supposed to do, otherwise?"

Hutch felt the usual pull to take their defense. "You can't force people to feel what they don't feel. Sometimes pretence is worst of all. Besides, Starsky, I know they each loved me somewhat, in their own way. And I wasn't exactly suffering materially, you know."

"I didn't have much material stuff," Starsky insisted. He slid his hands up the long arms, which had relaxed behind the head, and eventually reached the hands, clasping them and intertwining their fingers. "You would have been raised right, in my family. Even by my uncle Al. I mean, look how I turned out."

Hutch knew he was expected to come up with a clever retort. But his heart wasn't in it. He was too comfortable, and if they started flinging insults, then wrestling would follow...

My God, what other grown man could I ever lay with like this?

Look, Dad, your son does like playing with the boys. Or one particular boy. But not like you think. You and all your golfing 'buddies' who are really just business associates with ugly pants and shoes. You'll never know love like this.

He was surprised to find that he felt a little sad at that.

Starsky gently nudged his ribs with a knee. "What?"

"Still just thinking it all through."

"Yeah, I imagine it's gonna be a while before that brain of yours shuts off." Then, tenderly, "You've had a lot taken out of you today, pal."

"But I'm glad I did," Hutch noted quietly, realizing it was true. "It feels good to have it out in the open." His voice firmed slightly. "You know I wouldn't have told anyone else."

A soft smile replied, "I know." A pause, then, "Hutch, if you've still got something to say, I'm still listening."

The blond made a negative gesture. "All those memories are just running around in my head. It's going to be awhile before I can make any more sense of it all, if there's any left to be made. I really haven't thought about any of it in a long, long time."

Starsky cocked his head to one side. Gently, he asked, "Want some space? Want me to leave you alone?"

Hutch shook his head once. "Uh-uh." Don't you dare move an inch. That established, Hutch warily noted the grin that was beginning to spread across his partner's face. Starsky started to close his eyes and lean forward.

Hutch glanced up at the ceiling, giving in without a fight, except for a feeble, "Starsk."

Wet lips were planted on his lower left cheek. Hutch wriggled slightly as Starsky pulled back, and hands tightened on his wrists. "Come on, cut that out." He knew his words held no conviction.

Starsky's lopsided grin was full of frivolity. He seemed completely pleased with himself. Then, grin widening, he leaned down again.

"Ah, Jesus," Hutch mock complained, making a show of trying to turn his face away.

Starsky found his target—the other lower cheek—- and placed a particularly sloppy kiss there.

"Oh, God." As soon as Starsky pulled back, Hutch screwed up his face and strained to wipe the cheek against his shoulder. "Did you have to drool like that?"

"That drool," Starsky noted distinctly, "is to tell you I love you."

Hutch looked away, muttering, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." But, after a moment, he sighed contentedly. "Sometimes it seems like we're an old married couple."

"Yeah. If we're like this now, imagine what we'll be like ten years from now."

The blond had to chuckle at that thought. "We'll be even more like an even older, more married couple."

Starsky's brow furrowed, then he said, "You know what?"

"Lots of things, moron."

"It doesn't quite figure."

Hutch was intrigued at the others seriousness. "What?"

"After all that shit your father laid on you, you aren't.... Well, you know, I'd tend to think most guys who grew up like you did would have this big complex about trying to prove how macho they are. But you... you aren't running around trying to prove your masculinity."

Aren't I? Hutch wondered. All those girls. Playing the good guy, running around with a gun killing people in the name of Justice. And even with him and Starsky, he'd come to realize over the years that, generally, he liked to have the upper hand. He liked playing the parent to Starsky's child.

"I mean," Starsky went on gently, "it's kind of surprising that you let us do...," he shrugged, a bit sheepishly, "you know... this."

Wouldn't have missed it for the world, pal. But Hutch understood what his partner was saying and tried to find an answer. He shrugged. "Like I said, Starsk, there came a point where I just thought 'Fuck 'em'. I didn't care what my parents thought I should do, or be. I was hell-bent to make my own life, the way I wanted it. I guess I was one angry kid."

A tiny smile answered him. "l didn't have to be told all the other stuff to know that. It comes out in bits and pieces."

Truly, Hutch was surprised that Starsky had ever noticed. The other had never commented.

The blond was thoughtful a long moment. Then, while staring at the ceiling, he said in a small voice, "I have to admit, there's always been a little boy in me who wishes his mother would have given a damn that he did what he did."

Starsky studied him with puzzlement. "After what your father said, it's more important to have your mother care, than your father?"

Hutch shrugged. "Fathers aren't supposed to care, not on the outside, anyway. I never really expected much from him. But mothers...," he trailed off, suddenly finding it hard to speak. He had to take a quiet breath. Then, "Mothers are supposed to be, well, caring and warm and...all that shit." He met Starsky s eye. "I guess a part of me has always been puzzled as to what I did to deserve her indifference."

"Surely you realize by now the fault wasn't with you, buddy. Whatever qualities she lacked as a parent were her shortcomings, not yours."

Hutch's eyes lowered. "Yeah, I know." The blond's muscles were getting stiff, and he shifted barely pulling at the hands locked around his wrists, trying to give a hint.

Starsky grinned wolfishly. "Say uncle."

The taller man studied the other through the corner of his eye. If he gave in, then Starsky would let him up, and he wasn't sure he wanted that just yet. "Uh-uh," he replied easily.

The darker man had to think about that a moment. Then he threatened, "I'll kiss you again."

Hutch didn't really want that either, especially not the sloppy kind. "Uncle," he whispered.

Starsky's grin broadened. His hands released Hutch's, but as he shifted to one side, the blond reached for Starsk's back and gently pressed against his spine.

Starsky got the message, and chuckled softy as his lay beside his partner, letting his head and shoulders rest against the other's chest, part of which was left bare by the open buttons.

Hutch loosely wrapped his arms around the precious bundle of clothing and flesh. Thoughtfully, he said, "I've got to admit, there are times when I wish my parents could see what I've made of my life. See the successful career I've had, see the successful way I've handled my paltry—in their eyes, anyway—salary. See that I'm important, that I make a little bit of difference on the streets out there. See the special friend I've made...and kept."

Puzzled, Starsky said, "But you have told them, right? I mean, I know you don't go back to Minnesota very often, but when you do go back, you have to talk about something."

"They don't get it, Starsk. I've tried to share some of my life with them before, but it doesn't work, because they don't see it. Besides," he shrugged through a stab of pain his chest, "whatever growing respect they may have had for me went out the window after the divorce. They liked Van. When our marriage failed, it just validated everything they'd always felt about me." Hutch rubbed at his eyes. "Damn, I'm tired. Think maybe I'll turn in early. You stayin'?"

Starsky shrugged. "Sure. But I don't think I can sleep yet. Maybe I'll watch TV a while."

Starsky was so good at reading between the lines, Hutch thought. If he found he couldn't sleep and needed to babble some more, he could just come out and pin his partner in front of the tube. "Sorry there isn't any more beer."

"I'll live." Starsky straightened, and Hutch let him go. The darker man stood, stretching. "You ever gonna get off this floor?"

Hutch casually placed a hand behind his head. "No, I thought I'd sleep here while you watched the boob tube."


Hutch finally pulled himself into a sitting position, restraining a grunt. "You know something, Starsk? Your vocabulary is getting very limited these days."

His partner muttered something beneath his breath as he headed for the bathroom. Hutch didn't quite catch what it was, but it sounded somewhat like "dickhead". Chuckling to himself, the blond stood, carefully stretched and proceeded to bed.


Huggy placed two beers before Starsky. "Where's blondie?"

Starsky was fussing with the zipper of his windbreaker. "He had an errand up the street. He should just be a minute or two."

Huggy nodded. "Always looks kind of strange when just one of you sits here. After all, what's a Starsky without a Hutch?"

The curly haired man made a face. "Thanks, Huggy. I appreciate being told I'm only half a man."

"No, not half a one," the black man corrected easily. "It's just that together you two seem to be a third entity."

Finally the zipper was loose. "Jesus, Huggy, you make it sound like having a baby or somethin'."

"And you're making it very hard to be complimentin'. I think I'll just proceed and ask for your order."

"Good idea." Starsky settled back into his chair and put a leg up on the chair to his left. "The special?"

"Chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes and peas."

The detective only had to think a moment. "Hutch'll eat that. Two specials."

"Comin' right up."

Instinctively, Starsky glanced around at the dinner crowd. The Pits wasn't very busy tonight; the place wasn't as smoky as usual. He shook his head. Create a third entity, huh? Yeah, I can see Hutch and I making a baby. Bored, he went on with the thought. The child would, well, be male, curly blond hair, blue eyes, be in between his and Hutch's individual heights, would have Starsky's natural instincts, and Hutch's brains. Hutch's charm. Starsky's charisma.

The curly haired man had to restrain a snort. With the way medical technology was going these days, maybe fifty or hundred years from now it would possible. Of course, it couldn't be a natural birth. Test tube or something. Yuck!

"You order yet or are you just watching dust collect on the walls?"

Starsky glanced up just as Hutch sat down in the chair to his right. "We're getting the chicken fried steak specials. That was fast. All fixed?"

Hutch pulled out the gold pocket watch. "Yeah. Good as new."

"Did it cost very much?"

Hutch shrugged as though the cost didn't matter. And Starsky supposed that was true. The watch had been passed down from his grandfather—the one relative that Hutch had a genuine fondness for.

"Hutch, if it were scientifically possible for two guys to have a kid, do you think you and I should have one?"

The blond blanched, then took on an expression of nausea. "Good Lord, Starsky, where do you come up with this stuff? What book are you reading now?"

The smaller man felt a bit annoyed that Hutch wouldn't take the question seriously. "It's not out of a book. Huggy just mentioned it, that's all, and..."

Huggy walked up with a tray. "I'll have you know that's not what I said, my man." He set plates before them, directing his words at the blond. "All I was sayin' was that you both are stronger together than you are apart."

Starsky looked at up him. "You specifically said we created a third 'entity'. That means person, living thing."

"I meant soul."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "I can't leave you two alone for a minute." Now an overly sweet smile. "If it's all right with the both of you, I'll just eat my dinner."

Huggy retreated, and Starsky called to the slim back, "'Soul' is a living thing, too, like a baby."

Hutch impatiently fussed with his silverware. "Starsky, where did all this baby stuff come from? You feeling maternal all of a sudden, or something?" He salted his food.

"Come on, Hutch," Starsky kicked at the other man's chair to keep his attention. "Humor me. If it were somehow possible, don't you think we should have a kid?"

"Starsky, to have a kid we'd have to have sex, not to mention that we're lacking in 50% of the necessary parts. Didn't anyone ever teach you the facts of life?"

The curly haired man made a face. "Come on, Hutch, you know more about this science stuff than I do. They're saying, just a few years from now, that couples who can't have children will be able to use a 'donor', stuff like that. They do it in a laboratory. The biological parents don't necessarily even have to see each other. So it doesn't have anything to do with sex sex."

Hutch was eating fast, as though trying to stuff down as much food as possible before the conversation made him thoroughly sick. "Starsky, why the hell would we want one?"

The smaller man sighed. Hutch was in one of his disagreeable, ultra-stubborn moods. "Because anyone with our combined best traits would be a great kid, a great person. Don't we owe that to society?"

Hutch grumbled something unintelligible. Then he asked, "Are you going to eat, or not?"

Starsky obediently started in. "I'm eating, I'm eating." He tried his best pout. "Geez."

Hutch shook a finger at him. "I'm not going to put up with that tonight."

Fine. If Hutch was going into his 'scolding parent' routine, then Starsky could whine with the best of them. "Whatsamatter with you, anyway?" His tone carried hurt.

Hutch opened his hands. "Starsky, I'd just like to eat my dinner in peace. That's all. I've had a long day, I'm tired, and I'd—"

"I've had a long day, too. And I'm tired, too. You don't work the streets by yourself, partner."

Now Starsky had his attention, for Hutch looked at him squarely. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Shit. The one comment that was truly half-assed, Hutch would have to take seriously. "Hutch, would you please stop being so sensitive? I'll shut up. Let's just eat." He dove into his food with purpose.

Hutch grunted and followed suit.

* * * * *

Later that night, Starsky hugged his windbreaker to his body, as he leaned back against his car staring out at the lone figure walking along the beach. The crisp, November air felt good to his lungs as he hoped it did to the solitary walker.

He'd dumped an only slightly less grumpy Hutch off at the blond's apartment, and then gone down the block to fill up the gas tank. By the time he'd finished checking the oil and cleaning the windshield he'd noticed a familiar silhouette making its way to the beach. Starsky had waited until the figure was far enough away, then drove to follow. He had no desire to interrupt the blond's solitude, just hoped to share in some of the fresh, sea air.

Starsky sat cross-legged on the hood of his car, chin in his hand, confident that he was well enough away from any lighting that Hutch could look in his direction and not see him.

Starsky, to have a kid we would have to have sex. Starsky restrained a chuckle. Hutch had said it like he expected to shock his partner to his senses, making him shrink back in terror, or some such.

Oh, buddy, if you only knew. Knew what, Starsky hadn't quite figured out yet. He just knew that he loved Hutch so much that sometimes he felt that he might burst. Thankfully, the big blond was needy enough that he could take lots and lots without feeling smothered by all those feelings that Starsky had to give.

At least, he hadn't appeared to feel smothered yet.

The curly-haired man sighed, wondering how much more love he had to give, how much more Hutch could take. It was confusing at times, loving Hutch so much. He took great satisfaction in moments when they could kid around, like when he'd kissed Hutch at the blond's apartment. Then there were other moments, when all the kidding around in the world didn't seem to be quite enough. And Starsky's heart would long to express itself further. But it wasn't sure how.

He wondered if it were possible to have a crush on someone you didn't really want to go to bed with. He supposed it was a moot point. This was one secret he was enjoying keeping from Hutch. For starters, it wasn't something he thought he could ever explain, because he wasn't sure where it had stemmed from or when it had started. He just knew that he wanted to be in the blond's company all the time. Once, a couple of years ago, they'd made a conscious effort to take their two-week vacations separate from each other. Not that they'd been fighting or anything; it just seemed that to truly be away from work, they should also be away from each other. Starsky had gone with a girlfriend to Mexico, and Hutch had taken one his few trips back to Duluth. Starsky had had fun at the beach, but it hit him the second day how much he missed his blond shadow, how much he wanted to share the fun with him. And, of course, Hutch hadn't enjoyed the trip to Duluth hardly at all. After the over-politeness of the first few days, things between he and his parents had been the same as always.

The thought of Hutch's parents turned Starsky's musings to the private little secret Hutch had revealed three months ago. That still hurt, knowing what Hutch had been through, and still not completely understanding how someone could ever allow themselves to get in that state of mind. And not being able to fix it and make it better. Whenever he thought about it too hard, Starsky tended to feel downright hostile toward Hutch's parents. But, then, he'd remind himself that such a cold upbringing contributed greatly to Hutch being the person he was. The person that Starsky loved. Surely, with a happier childhood, Hutch wouldn't want, or need, all the love Starsky had to give. And then they wouldn't have the special partnership they now enjoyed.

Starsky took a deep breath, noting peripherally that Hutch had turned around and was starting back. It would be at least ten minutes before the watcher would have to make his escape.

And the whole thing with Hutch's father... that was another reason Starsky was content to keep his overflow of feelings to himself. While it was true that Hutch seemed secure in his masculinity, Starsky couldn't afford the possibility of destroying that fragile armor by suggesting there might be some truth to what Hutch's father had suggested. Starsky had heard all that stuff about humans being bisexual, and cultural conditioning making them heterosexual, and he didn't know if it were true or not. Nor did he care. He just knew that he loved Hutch enough that if the other ever asked that from him, he was sure he would say yes. By the same token, he was secure in the knowledge that Hutch would never ask.

It would have been different, he decided, if Mr. Hutchinson had said to his son, "Are you a homosexual?" as a request for information, and using the answer as a way to deal with his son's troubles. But to ask if he was a "faggot" had, as Hutch had said, all kinds of negative and humiliating connotations. It was a horrible burden to put on anyone, especially your own kid.

Starsky wondered if Hutch ever agonized over the central meaning of the question. Did Hutch ever ask himself if he were gay! Between the two of them, Hutch was certainly the one most comfortable around gays. When undercover and such, Hutch was the one who received by far the most interest, and he'd always been cool about turning any such interest down. Whereas, Starsky would just get uptight, as though someone merely making a suggestion was in itself an act of rape.

Starsky had to admit he didn't care for the company of gays in general. He couldn't relate. And it wasn't for lack of effort. After John Blaine's death, he had done a little reading on the subject, trying to help himself understand it all more, so that he could treat homosexuality with the same ease that Hutch did. He never obtained the ease he'd striven for, but at least he'd found himself gaining a more educated perspective.

If it turned out that, deep down, subconsciously, Hutch were gay, or at least bisexual, then Starsky's perspective would adapt to whatever was necessary to keep loving him. There was nothing Hutch could do, or be, that would make Starsky turn away from him.

And, Starsky had to smile himself, it wasn't lost on him that his own feelings for Hutch put him very close to, if not right in, the same category that he found so uncomfortable. Well, he'd heard it said on some program once that being homosexual wasn't necessarily the same as "gay", for the latter referred to a lifestyle, not just a sexual preference. And he knew he wasn't gay. If being willing to sleep with Hutch made him bisexual or homosexual or whatever, then fine. Life was full of surprises. And he would take whatever surprises were offered, as long as Hutch was there with him to see it through.

The November air had done its job. Starsky got in the Torino and left the beach to his white knight.


Cindy Tenelli rejoined the two detectives at a table at the far end of The Pits. "Veronica can't make it," she said with disappointment. "Her father's been put back in the hospital with an ulcer and she's staying with him tonight."

Both men made noises of concern. Their plans for a double date were quickly falling apart.

"Is there anyone else you could call?" Hutch asked hopefully. "Do you have any other girlfriends who might be willing to join us?"

Cindy tossed her thick, blond hair and thought a moment. "Christie's studying for finals. And Tammy already has a date tonight." She shrugged with a what-can-I-do expression.

Starsky sighed while rocking back in his chair. "Well, I can be a sport tonight and bow out. I haven't gotten much sleep this week anyway, after all the undercover work I've been doing." He glanced at his partner, who would know the undercover bit a lie. "You owe me, okay?"

Hutch was obviously reluctant as he considered, then finally nodded.

"Hey, wait a minute," Cindy protested, "Dave doesn't have to leave."

"Three is a crowd," Starsky reminded.

Hutch quickly told her, "If you'd rather go with Dave, I can bow out."

Starsky tried not to make a face. Cindy was much more Hutch's type. He'd been looking forward to Veronica, whom he'd liked from a couple of prior dates. He'd rather go without than go with Cindy.

"I enjoy both your company," Cindy said, smiling in a way that made Starsky uncomfortable. "I mean," her voice became a bit coy, "I think I'm woman enough for both of you."

Hutch looked away while clearing his throat and Starsky simply looked away.

"Hey, guys," she whispered, "you know what would be sheer heaven for a liberated girl like me?"

Starsky continued looking away, desperately hoping she wasn't going to say what he thought she was going to say. He heard Hutch encourage her by asking, "No, what?"

Through the comer of his eye, the smaller detective saw Cindy grin leeringly. "I'd love to have you both... at the same time. How 'bout it, boys?"

"Well, uh...," Hutch began.

Starsky whipped around to face them both, expression hard. "No. Absolutely not." He shook a finger at her. "I ain't into any of that."

Her face fell. "Oh."

But Hutch was settling back, coolly sipping his beer. Casually, he said, "I'd hate to disappoint the lady, Starsk."

"Then find another guy," Starsky said firmly, hoping Hutch wasn't really serious. "There's plenty of 'em around, looking for kicks." He realized that his heart was pounding.

Hutch shrugged at him, then looked at Cindy. "I think that counts me out, too. I wouldn't want to do it with another guy." His smile became devious. "Now, if we could find another girl, I can handle a threesome like that anytime."

Starsky found his humor returning, relieved that his partner wasn't considering making it with another man. And he really couldn't believe that the blond was serious about doing it with him. He was probably just being polite by not immediately turning Cindy down. But Starsky knew Hutch would have no trouble with a threesome that was two-thirds female.

Cindy smiled back, but it was somewhat forced. "Well, as we know, I've struck out with lady friends tonight." She was looking around the bar, and then her eyes fell on someone in the distance "But, I think I see a man that I know." She looked from one to the other. "Excuse me, boys." She made her exit.

Silently, Starsky and Hutch watched her go up to a man and talk with him a short time. They left together a few minutes later.

"I think we hurt her feelings, Starsk."

"Yeah, well...," Starsky shrugged while looking at his partner. "Sorry I messed up your evening."

Hutch returned the gesture and the glance. "It's not your fault." He finished his beer. "Guess it's just you and me, buddy. Maybe we ought to go back to my place and catch the final quarter of the game." The football game was on the TV in the corner behind the bar, but their table had been too far away to watch any of it.

Starsky was beginning to feel claustrophobic, and going anywhere sounded good to him. "I'll get the tab," he said, standing and pulling out his billfold. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was already past nine. By the time they had made arrangements with Cindy and Veronica, gotten here and waited for Cindy, waited some more for Veronica, then waited for Cindy to call Veronica, nearly the whole evening had been wasted. The game would probably be over by the time they got home.

He left a pile of change on top of the bill, and he and Hutch made their exit to the back alley. They didn't speak as they got in the car, and Starsky realized he felt uneasy as he started the well-worn journey toward Venice Place. He tried to gauge Hutch's mood through the comer of his eye and couldn't read anything particular.

The blond asked, "Want to catch a flick?"

Starsky shrugged. "I don't think there's anything out that I wanna see." He didn't think he was disappointing Hutch, because the other wasn't really into movies. The question simply meant the other wasn't looking forward to a boring evening at home.

"You okay, partner?"

The question made Starsky smile. Mother Hutch. "Yeah, I'm okay. I've just been feeling a little under the weather." He sniffed, feeling obligated to say something to explain his unease. "Maybe I'm starting to catch that bug that's been going around." Lie, lie, lie.

Hutch leaned against the door and looked at him. "Maybe you ought to go home then and take care of yourself. If you get it in time, you might be able to fight it off."

Starsky nodded.

Hutch sighed. "Well, if you're going to go home, do you mind stopping by a phone booth, so I can see if maybe Shauna is available tonight?"

"Sure. Shauna who?"

The fair-haired man shrugged. "I don't know."

"Tsk, tsk," Starsky scolded. Shauna was obviously good for a lay and nothing more. He'd never understood why Hutch was so hard up all the time. Hutch got it a lot more often than he did, and yet the blond seemed to be the one who felt most deprived.

The driver spotted a phone booth and pulled over. He waited patiently while Hutch spent over a minute fishing through his pockets for Shauna's number. Finally, he left the car and went to the booth.

When Hutch returned two minutes later, he was smiling. "Paydirt," he said as he got in. "She's free for the evening and meeting me at my place in twenty minutes. That ought to give me just enough time for a shower."

Starsky drove off, relieved that Hutch was going to get what he wanted tonight, even if it didn't appear to be from a great source. Doesn't even know her last name. Is she a lady of the night or what?

When they arrived at Venice Place, Hutch reached for the door handle. "Thanks, buddy. I hope you feel better." He got out of the car.

Starsky couldn't bear the thought of them separating for the night when he still felt a sense of unease. Making a quick decision, he also got out. "Hey," he called over the hood.

The blond had just closed the door and turned to face him.

How do I say this? Starsky wondered. "Hey, uh, listen."

Interest piqued, Hutch rested his forearms against the hood. "Yeah!"

"Look, Hutch, about what Cindy said... about the three of us..."

The blond nodded once. "Yeah?"

He's not making this any easier. "Look, I just want you to know... I like privacy and all."

Hutch seemed to consider that, then waited for more.

"I know we've done some... well, you know... sort of kinky things with girls in the past, but that's not really my scene."

Levelly, the taller man said, "I know. So?"

"Well...," Starsky fidgeted, desperately searching for the right words, "I just don't want you thinkin' that I was offended by it, or anything." The blond's expression was still blank enough to be of no help. "I mean, I wasn't put off by, you know, being with you. I just didn't think it was a good idea." He gestured helplessly as he trailed off, desperate for Hutch to catch his meaning.

A tender smile crossed the full lips. "I didn't think you were offended. Or 'put off'. You've never really liked Cindy much."

"Right." He was glad Hutch realized that. Yet, that wasn't the point. "I just don't want any threeways, Hutch. I don't like it like that. I mean, even with two girls."

A lip corner twitched. "Yeah. Whatever. No problem."

Starsky studied his partner a moment longer, reassuring himself that the soft smile was genuine. "Yeah. Okay. Have fun. See ya tomorrow."

Hutch waved and turned away.

Relieved, Starsky got back in the car and started home.


Two nights later, Starsky was awakened by the telephone. His first subconscious thought was He needs me. But following that was the subconscious reminder that it had been over two years since the heroin incident, and Hutch's painful relapses were well in the past.

As he reached for the receiver, Starsk's conscious mind wondered Oh no, who died?

"'lo?" he managed, the bedside clock corning into focus to read 2:10 am.


He sat up as he recognized the voice on the other end. It sounded quiet and hollow. "Hutch? What is it?"

A pause. Then again, "Starsk?"

Voice clearer now, Starsky worriedly said, "Right here, buddy. Is it happening again?" Maybe relapses could still happen years later.

"Huh? Oh. No." The other now seemed embarrassed. "No, nothing like that."

Impatiently, the awakened man said, "What is it, Hutch? Are you okay?"

"Uh, yeah. I'm okay. Uh, listen, my mother called just a bit ago."

Starsky clutched the receiver closer. "And?"

"My father died a few hours ago from a heart attack."

The smaller detective's eyes squeezed shut. "Oh, God. Oh, God, Hutch. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." Memories of his own father's death flooded him, and he hunched over in the bed.

He thought he detected a faint laugh on the other end. "It's okay, Starsk. But, listen, I've made a reservation for a flight to Duluth at six-ten this morning. So, I'm going to be gone a few days—not sure how long I'll be. So if you can just let Dobey know..."

"Sure, sure." Starsky straightened. "Listen, sit tight. I'm coming right over."

"No, don't do that. I'm okay. I mean, it's not like we were close or anything. I'm okay."

"I'm coming over, anyway. Besides, you'll need someone to drop you off at the airport."

"Starsky, don't."

"Hutch, I'm COMING. See you in a sec." Starsky slammed down the phone and began tearing off his pajamas. He was puzzled as to why Hutch was being so stubborn. Surely, it wasn't pride. Hutch had never hesitated to call when he had suffered from residual after-affects of the heroin withdrawal, and that was about as humiliating an experience as a human being could be put through.

Hutch hadn't sounded like himself on the phone, though Starsky understood that it always seemed so hard to give someone else bad news, even when it didn't effect them as much as you.

He didn't bother with grooming, but simply pulled on the pair of jeans he'd worn earlier in the day, and grabbed a t-shirt. Within five minutes, he was on his way through the well-driven path.

Before trotting up the stairs to the apartment, he saw that most of the lights were on. He knocked once, then let himself in.

Hutch was sitting on the couch in his orange robe, bare feet on the coffee table, chin in his hand, the elbow of which rested on the arm of the sofa. "Hi, buddy," he greeted with a soft smile.

No liquor, no tears, Starsky noted as he approached. He didn't know if that was good or bad.

"You really didn't need to come."

'Well, I'm here now," Starsky said firmly, plopping down on the couch beside Hutch.

"I'm really okay."

Starsky didn't want to start that argument. He rested his elbow on back of the couch and conversationally asked, "What about your mother?"

Hutch considered the question. "She seemed... okay. Maybe in shock. I doubt it's really hit her yet. It just happened a few hours ago."

"Did your father have any history of heart trouble?"

"Mm...," Hutch was thoughtful, then sighed. "Yeah, I guess he had a mild attack about three years ago. I don't know if there might have been some problems since."

Curiously, Starsky asked, "When was the last time you saw him?"

More silence while Hutch thought. "I guess two years ago; that time you and I took separate vacations."

"You haven't talked to him since then?"

Hutch's eyes narrowed as he thought harder. Then, distantly, he replied, "I think I did. Yeah, maybe eight or nine months ago, he called and told me about some stock that he thought was a really good deal." The blue eyes looked at Starsky. "It was some new company just getting off the ground, and he wanted all his friends and family to know about it."

"Did you buy any of it?"

Hutch shook his head. "Nah. I meant to check it out, but...," he waved a hand, "I never got around to it."

"Did you talk about anything else?" Starsky hoped he wasn't prying too much. But Hutch didn't seem to mind.

The blond looked at the ceiling. "No, I think that was about it." Then, voice a tad harder, "We never could hold much of a conversation together." Hutch's feet shifted a little on the coffee table.

After a moment of silence, Starsky bowed his head and sighed heavily. "Aw, Hutch, I'm sorry."

The other man glanced away, his sigh quieter. "Yeah, I know." Then he looked at his partner. "It seems kind of funny, me going to Duluth to do the proper family thing... bury my father. But I," he shrugged wearily, "just don't feel like much of a son. It's going to be kind of awkward."

"Your mother needs you right now," Starsky said firmly.

"Yeah, maybe. Maybe not."

"Trust me."

Hutch snorted softly. "You don't know how it is. Your family was always so close-knit."

Starsky shook his head and softly said, "But not perfect, Hutch. All families have their skeletons."

The blond presented a twisted smile. "Yeah, I guess."

They were silent, then Starsky slid next to his partner. He put an arm around the robed shoulders. "Come 'ere."

Hutch shook his head, as though knowing it was no use to protest, and let himself be pulled against the smaller body. "I'm really okay."

"But I'm not," Starsky told him. "It brings it all back—what it was like when my father died. I know it's not the same, Hutch. Still..."

"Sorry, buddy," the blond stated gently. He rested his cheek against the other shoulder. After a moment, he hesitantly asked, "When I called you, did you think I was... Did you think it was a relapse?"

"I wasn't sure. You just sounded... funny."

"Yeah," the other drawled in admittance. "I wasn't sure how to tell you. I knew you'd take it harder than me."

Starsky had to smile at the irony of that.

Hutch straightened and laid his head back against the sofa, staring at the ceiling. "I guess I don't have to wonder anymore if I should ever tell my father I thought he was a son of a bitch."

"Never did, huh?"

A firm head shake. "Nope. I've thought I would, before. But the moment I'm in his presence, I go back to be that weak little boy." He paused. "I guess it's good that I'll never be able to tell him now, huh? Because it wouldn't have solved anything." He slowly shook his head. "I don't even think it would have made me feel better." A soft snort. "It would have just made me a son of a bitch, too."

"You're already a son of a bitch," Starsky told him, then amended, "In some ways, anyway."

The blond looked squarely at him. "That's what I've always liked about you, buddy: your honesty. You cut right to the core of it. No bullshit."

The smaller man grinned. "Somebody's got to keep you in line. Otherwise, your vanity..." He trailed off.

Hutch put on an air of arrogance and blew on his nails. "Vain, you say?" he asked in a poor imitation of a British gentleman. "You don't know the meaning of the word."

Starsky chuckled. "Your British sucks."

"Fuck you." Perfect American.

"Well," Starsky hesitated, relishing the moment, and wishing he wasn't here for such a serious reason, "if you really want to..."

"Buddy, you're crude. Very crude."

Starsky shrugged.

Hutch worked his jaw a moment, then glanced at his partner again, voice quieter. "If you're waiting for a waterfall, it's ain't gonna happen. At least not now. If it hits me later, when I'm back in town...," he shrugged, "I'll give you a call and you can watch the show."

Starsky made a face. He got the feeling he was being pushed away. Softly, he pleaded, "Hutch, come on."

The blue eyes were back on the ceiling. 'You want to know what I'm feeling right now?"


"Really and truly?"

"Really and truly."

Hutch's jaw firmed and his eyes lowered to the coffee table. "I'm relieved that he's gone." He looked at Starsky. "How's that for honesty?"

Starsky shrugged. "It's understandable." And you know damn well it's much more complicated than that.

"I don't have to worry anymore about what he thinks of me. It's over."

"Except for the memories," Starsky reminded quietly.

Hutch thought about that, gaze on a far wall. Then, voice less firm, he said, "And he'll never know about me, that I've done okay with my life." He shook his head in what appeared to be a mixture of frustration and sadness. "He'll never know that I'm really an okay person." Suddenly, a pale foot shoved against the edge of the table, scooting it forward a few inches. "He'll never know."

Starsky watched, wishing desperately that he had the tools to fix it and make it all better. Quietly he suggested, "Maybe he did see all that. Maybe he was downright proud of you and he never had the courage to tell you that. Maybe he didn't know how to say it."

Hutch firmly shook his head, but his voice was calmer. "No, no. I know he never changed his mind about me." A bitter snort. "Besides, if by some miracle he had, I'll never know about it, so what's the difference?"

Starsky had no answer. "Yeah," he finally admitted, wishing he'd had the opportunity to tell Mr. Hutchinson a thing or two.

Hutch took a deep breath, and softly said, "Aw, Starsk, this is all pointless. He's gone, and that's all there is to it."

Starsky kept silent.

Hutch sighed. Then, "Hey, I think I'm going to try to sleep a few hours."

Starsky nodded, well knowing that Hutch was just going to lie there and stare at the ceiling. But, after all, that's probably what the other needed to do. "Okay," he said, kicking off his shoes and lying back on the sofa pillow.

Hutch, now on his feet, watched him. "Want a blanket?"


The blond padded to a closet and pulled out a quilt. He came back over to the couch and draped it over his visitor.

"Thanks." Then, as Hutch turned away, Starsky reached to take his hand. "Hey."

Hutch turned back. "Hm?"

Starsky squeezed firmly.

The standing man's eyes lowered, a tiny smile lighting his face.

Starsky squeezed again, then released the hand. "You gonna get the lights?"

Hutch lightly patted Starsky's quilted chest. "Yeah." He moved to the wall, and the lights went out.

Hutch went to the bedroom, and the apartment was silent the remainder of the night.




Hutch trotted into the bedroom. "What's wrong?"

Starsky was hunched over, desperately trying to pull the snap together on his jeans. He had to take a breath before trying again.

"Did you get it caught in the zipper?"

"No," the smaller man grunted irritably. Finally, he looked at the blond accusingly. "These damn pants have shrunk. As I recall, the last time they got washed was when you were over here doing the laundry."

Hutch leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms. "Maybe you've gained a few pounds, buddy. After all," he paused smoothly, "I washed my clothes in the same load, and they still fit."

Starsky was trying again. "This is impossible," he muttered through a tightly held breath. Then he released the hems, and suddenly pushed the offending jeans down his legs. He plopped back on the bed and viciously kicked them off.

"Come on, partner," Hutch said, moving to the dresser, "we're going to be late." He opened a drawer and pulled out another pair. "Try these. We haven't got all morning."

Starsky took the offered clothing and stood before stepping into them. "These are a little better," he mumbled as he pulled them up his legs. He had to take a short hop to get them over his butt. He felt a wave of relief when, with a firm pull, he was able to snap the two sides together. Just as he straightened, he felt familiar arms come around him, and he froze.

A hand patted along his cotton clad stomach, the mild voice noting, "I think you have put on a little weight, partner."

Starsky didn't comment, too busy wondering if anyone could really tell that way, and thinking, not for the first time, how glad he was that Hutch was taller than him. It was such a secure feeling to have that large body hovering near.

Hutch moved a few steps away, now watching him with hands on hips. "Come on, let's go."

Starsky sat on the bed and began pulling on his shoes. Something seemed missing, and it took him a moment to realize that Hutch hadn't badgered him about the possibility of putting on a pound or two. "Guess I ought to start working out harder," he offered, solely to force a reaction.

The blond's shoulders shrugged. "You can get bigger jeans, moron. Besides, it doesn't hurt to have a little padding. That way, the next time you take a slug, maybe it won't go in so deep."

Starsky finished tying the shoelaces, and he slowly looked up. His partner had been prone to mood swings since returning from Duluth three weeks previously. Now, the blond merely wore a calm expression, except for a twitch of impatience. In a quiet, precise tone, Starsky said, "If that was a joke, it's not very damn funny." Besides, he silently defended himself, he'd been shot in the back of the shoulder at the Italian restaurant two years ago, not in the stomach.

"It wasn't intended to be," Hutch stated seriously. Then he moved a couple of steps. "Come on. We can stop sometime today and get you some new duds."

The smaller detective felt an instinctive pull to follow the command. But he'd been putting up with little comments that didn't seem to make much sense for three weeks now. He turned toward Hutch, putting a knee on the bed, and crossed his arms. "Wait a minute. I want to know what's going on with you. You haven't been yourself ever since you came back from Duluth."

Hutch snorted harshly. "Gee, Starsk, you know my father died a few weeks ago. I didn't know there was a time limit on how long I have to mourn."

The other made a face. "Come off it, Hutch. You know what I mean. You have every right to mourn as long as you want. Never mind that you were insisting before you went that it wasn't a big deal anyway, but I knew it wasn't that simple. But," Starsky's voice softened, "why can't you tell me what's going on in that thick skull of yours? It might help to talk about it. Besides, it's hard being around you when you're like this."

Slowly, the muscles in the pale face fell, and the blond's eyes dropped. He took a deep, drawn-out breath, then looked about the room. He moved to sit hunched over in a chair in a far corner.

Starsky couldn't help but notice the way his partner distanced himself. But he waited without comment.

Hutch picked at a callous on one hand. When he looked up, he softly said, "It really isn't even 'mourning'."

The vulnerable tone pulled at Starsky, and his body relaxed. "Go on."

"I just," another sigh, then a glance in his partner's direction, "wish things could have worked out differently, that's all. I just wonder why it had to be that way between my Dad and I. Why couldn't we have just... talked to each other, understood each other? He really wasn't a bad guy."

"And you weren't a bad son," Starsky reminded gently. "But it sounds to me like he made you feel that you were."

"Yeah, well, maybe some of that was my fault."

"Probably was. But you were a kid, Hutch. Your parents were the adults. It was their responsibility to develop a good relationship with you."

"Yeah, but after I grew up..." The taller man trailed off then sighed again. "I guess I feel like maybe instead of feeling sorry for myself about how things were, I should have made more of an effort to reach out..."

Starsky rushed to assure. "But you did make an effort, considering everything you've always told me once you got back from there. It's not your fault if they didn't pick up the ball you threw them."

"Yeah," the blond agreed, but his tone was unconvinced.

Starsky hated seeing Hutch in these down moods, for they tended to feed on themselves. A brooding partner could lead to a melancholy partner, which in turn could lead to a depressed partner.

But he wasn't sure what else he could say that could penetrate the wall of self-blame.

Hutch worked more intently with the callous. When he spoke again, his voice was softer, and didn't look up. "I did a bad thing, Starsk."

Starsky scooted closer to the edge of the bed. "What do you mean?"

"When I was there in Duluth." Now Hutch straightened. "I tried talking to my mother. I mean, a few days after the funeral, and after things had quieted down a little, she started talking about how my sister and I were all that was left in the family, etcetera, etcetera. Since I'd told you a few months ago about what I did when I was seventeen, it's been on my mind more. And I thought I'd talk to her about it." A touch defensive, he clarified, "I just wanted to talk about it, not blame anybody, or anything like that."

"Sounds like a good idea," Starsky put in quickly.

Hutch shook his head in disbelief. "She just ... just ...." Suddenly the blond looked down, deflated. "She acted like she had no idea what I was talking about. She just brushed it off, almost like she thought I'd made it up."

The intense desire to tell Hutch's parents a thing or two was strong once again. But Starsky had to put his own wishes aside to concentrate on his partner. "Then why do you feel bad?" he asked in disbelief.

"Because," a short laugh, "she seemed to feel like I was attacking her, being 'mean' to make her feel bad." The blond shook his head. "l should have known better than to try talking to her about it. I did know better. For some reason, I thought things might be different. I always think that, whenever I've gone out there." He looked at Starsky hopefully, as though waiting for the other to say something that would make sense of it all.

Starsky complied as best he could, coming to his feet and approaching the seated man. "Hutch, you just answered your own question."


Animated, Starsky explained, "You started out saying you think you should have made more an effort to straighten things out between your father and yourself." He was now standing before his partner. "But don't you see? The same thing would have happened as happened with your mother. Your father would have brushed it off just like your mother did. You wouldn't have accomplished anything." He leaned down to Hutch as a way of driving his point home.

After a thoughtful moment, Hutch laughed softly and shrugged. "If that's true, what you're saying is that I was in a no-win situation."

Starsky nodded firmly, pleased with himself. "Right."

"Then why don't I feel any better?"

"Because they're your parents," Starsky gestured emphatically. "They have a hold on you, whether you like it or not. But for what it's worth, buddy," he knelt on the carpet before his partner, "I think you had the right idea when you were a kid. You walked away from it, made your own life." He reached up, patting a cheek. "And now you got me. So, who needs 'em?" Though Starsky believed the last statement sincerely, he was expecting Hutch to come up with a clever retort.

Instead, the blond merely said, "Yeah," with a soft smile. Then he abruptly rose and headed for the door. "Shit, we're going to be late."


You two are late," Dobey announced firmly as they entered the squad room. The black man jerked a thumb. "Get your tails in my office, now."

Starsky exchanged an apprehensive glance with his partner. They'd never known their occasional tardiness to have serious consequences. Upon entering Dobey's office, they found a slim, authoritative, middle-aged man waiting and understood their superior's tension.

"This is Lt. Jack Skylar from the 14th precinct," Dobey introduced, closing the door behind them. "Jack, Starsky, Hutchinson."

They all nodded at each other, Skylar seeming to have immediately given up on trying to address them correctly by name.

"Sit down, gentlemen," Skylar told them.

Starsky exchanged another glance with his partner then both men took the two remaining chairs in front of Dobey's desk.

The captain sat down behind his own desk. "Lt. Skylar is heading an investigation into the stabbing deaths of patrons at the Sail Away bar."

Starsky searched his memory, only vaguely familiar with places outside their own precinct. "Isn't the Sail Away a gay bar?"

Right," Skylar replied. "Though a little less risqué than most. I've had men undercover for three months, and nothing's turning. There's been two additional deaths since. What I need is more manpower, and Dobey has agreed to loan me you two, hopefully for as long as it takes to wrap this up."

The curly-haired man made an effort not to squirm at the idea of yet another investigation in one of those places. He and Hutch had done it two or three times the past few years, and he still hadn't gotten used to it. "What's the setup?"

"I need patrons. My men are already set up in bartender and janitorial positions. Two others are acting as regulars at the bar, but we need more customers."

Hutch spoke for the first time. "What's the killer's MO?"

"He comes on to couples," Skylar replied. "Apparently makes agreements with them for group sex. They agree on a meeting place, have sex, and then he leaves them dead. Slits their throats, their genitals, and—"

"Jesus," Starsky looked away.

"And what?" Hutch asked grimly.

"And leaves the dismembered parts beside the bodies."

"What's the psych profile?" the blond pursued.

"At first," Skylar replied, "we thought he hated gays. But since all eight murders have involved couples, we're now thinking he has something against relationships."

Starsky could feel the color start to return to his face. "With that many murders from one bar, you'd think all the customers would know better than to mix with someone who wanted to make it with them."

Skylar nodded. "That's probably why there hasn't been one in six weeks. The patrons are scared. Dobey tells me you two have worked well together for years. If you could pose as a couple from out of town, who maybe doesn't know better, we're hoping you'll be an easy target, and he'll move soon."

Starsky looked at Hutch, his professionalism over-riding his discomfort. "Worth a try."

The blond nodded.

"Good," Dobey said, handing Hutch a manila folder, but addressing both detectives. "Here's the case file. Study it, and then meet with Skylar and his other undercover men at four o'clock to fine-tune the covers you'll be assuming. You'll be going to the bar tonight."

* * * * *

"Why are you so uptight?" Hutch asked, looking past his reflection in the bathroom mirror to address his partner, who stood behind him. The blond was wiping residual shaving cream from his face.

"You know how I hate those places," Starsky complained. He was messing with the collar of his tight, silk blouse, feeling like some kind of Las Vegas show girl.

"Yeah, but at least we're going to have to stick together. If anyone lays a hand on you, it'll be to the benefit of our cover for me to belt them one."

"Yeah," Starsky sighed. He was unconvinced that it was going to be that simple, but he was grateful that the assignment required them to stick close together.

When he turned toward the hall, his partner's voice followed after him. "Why can't you just relax and have fun with it? Any other time we go under, you always make the best of it. What's so different about this?"

Starsky returned to lean against the doorframe, crossing his arms. Whenever they'd had this kind of assignment, he always felt like something of an outsider, for he never felt the ease that Hutch did in that kind of company. "Don't you ever get tired of those people pawing at you?"

Hutch shrugged, "Just saying 'no' usually works." He glanced back over his shoulder while opening a bottle of cologne. "Besides, they always 'paw' at me more than you, and I can handle it, so what are you so worried about?"

"Why are they always so much more interested in you?" Starsky asked seriously. He genuinely wanted to know the answer— or at least wanted to know what Hutch thought the answer was.

"Face it, buddy," Hutch patted the cologne against his cheeks, "I'm better looking."

Playing along, Starsky replied, "You'd think those people would be interested in other things besides looks. Like personality. We both know I'm heads and shoulders above you in that department."

Hutch straightened and turned toward his partner, his chuckle overly-sweet. "So says you."

The conversation hadn't helped. Starsky still felt uptight as he followed the blond to the living room. They both paused to put on their shoulder harnesses and jackets.

"Pants fit okay?" Hutch asked.

Starsky glanced down at the new, deep-blue jeans. "Yeah."

True to his promise, the blond had made sure they had gone shopping. Hutch had always been big on providing whatever he needed. Starsky couldn't help but smile fondly as his eyes sought the carpet. He wondered if the feeling in his chest was going to grow into one of those times when he felt like he was going to burst.

"Let's go."

The smaller man looked up to see Hutch with his hand on the door knob. The pleasant feeling disintegrated, for Starsky had more immediate concerns. When they'd visited Skylar and the other undercover men for a more thorough briefing, they were told that they might have to get 'close'— as Skylar put it—to maintain a convincing cover. Of course, they'd both sat there and nodded their heads, professionals to the core.

But now, on the verge of going to do some very important work, they still had some privacy. And it was only under such conditions that Starsky felt comfortable enough to speak. "Uh, Hutch?"

The blond straightened, having obviously detected the vulnerable tone. "What?"

Starsky gestured helplessly. "Well, since we're supposed to be so close and such, don't you think we should... you know, practice. Kissing?" He hoped the other didn't think it a ridiculous suggestion. They'd pecked each other on the corner of the mouth once in a previous assignment, but this time they could be under for days on end, and their acting abilities would be put through a much more difficult test.

Obediently, the blond marched back to stand before his partner. Grimacing, he said, "Just don't slobber all over me, all right?"

Starsky grinned, feeling better all ready. "Okay."

Hutch moved closer. He placed a hand against Starsky's spine, put his other hand on Starsky's shoulder. He closed his eyes and bent his head.

Starsky closed his eyes, too. The hand on his back applied more pressure just as soft lips gently pressed against his own, Hutch's cologne penetrating his nostrils.

Good God, he thought as their mouths moved slowly from side to side. Butterflies danced in his stomach.

Hutch released him, and was grinning smugly when Starsky opened his eyes.

The smaller man took a deep breath, trying to keep a professional focus. "I'm not sure they do it like that in the bars. It's not usually that... you know, romantic, is it?"

The blond's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. Then he abruptly bent, grabbed Starsky's mouth with his own, and, in one hand, grasped the firm rear, and put the other behind the curly head. He pulled back just as quickly. "Better?"

Starsky took another deep breath, looking away. "Yes and no," he replied honestly.

Hutch moved closer, voice gentle. "I'm going to keep my arm around you like this," he rested a hand at the small of Starsky's back, "maybe hook my thumb in your belt, or just inside your jeans. And when I pull you closer," he moved the hand to the other side of the waist, "I'll do it like this." He brought the other against his side, hugging firmly.

Starsky realized that Hutch was trying to make him feel more comfortable and secure. Rallying, he asked, "Want do you want me to do?"

"Just hold onto me a lot, cling to me. That should leave no question as to who you're with." Hutch released Starsky's waist, but picked up his hand, leading the way to the door. "Come on, beautiful."

Starsky followed.


True to his word, Hutch protected Starsky from anyone who showed interest. It was accomplished merely with words and challenging eye contact. They posed as "Larry" and "Mike" from the East Coast, and having hit it big in Las Vegas, they had come to California for a few weeks of fun.

Each day, after the bar closed, MacMillian, an undercover cop who was acting as bartender, met the two in an alley outside a convenience store, which was located between the bar and the motel they were staying at. Their conversations consisted of little that was useful, until the fourth night.

"Someone came up to me, asking about you two," MacMillian stated as the trio stood beneath a small lamp. He was smoking a cigarette. "He was someone I've seen in there on occasion."

"What's his name?" Hutch asked.

"I just know him as Joey. He was watching you two, wondering how long you'd been around."

"Did he ask if we were a couple?"

MacMillian shook his head. "No, but he spent a lot of time watching you."

Starsky said, "What else did he ask?"

"Nothing specific." MacMillian blew out a lungful of smoke. "Listen, you two, I think you need to beef it up a bit. If this is our man, maybe he needs to see you be a little more convincing."

"What do you mean?" the curly haired detective asked in disbelief. "Hutch and me have been hanging all over each other. How much more convincing do we need to be?"

MacMillian grimaced at him. "You mean you have been hanging all over Hutchinson. He's obviously Ken to your Barbie." He ignored the offended look Starsky gave him. "For all anyone knows, you're some little faggot that 'Larry' picked up out the gutter, and who's keeping him happy so you can help him spend his money."

Hutch asked, "What are you saying, Mac? What else do you want us to do?"

"Act like you're in it for the long term, like you've been together a long time."

"We have," Starsky put in, puzzled. "Anyone we've talked to, we've told them—"

"No, no," Mac dumped the cigarette to the ground, and crushed it with his shoe. "You need to prove it, make a statement that's stronger than just words."

Heatedly, Hutch said, "What do you want me to do? Sodomize him in front of everyone else?"

Starsky looked away, shocked that Hutch had the nerve to say the word out loud, and desperately hoping it wasn't want MacMillian had in mind.

"Calm down, fellas." MacMillian held out his hands in a gesture of congeniality. "I'm just saying I think it would help you be more convincing, if, say, one of you strays a little bit, and the other makes it clear he's not going to put up with it. Maybe you can say something about having had some kind of wedding ceremony back East."

Starsky sighed with relief. When Hutch didn't speak, but merely looked thoughtful, he said, "Okay. I'll start checking out other customers, and Hutch can come after me."

MacMillian pulled out another cigarette and lit it. "No, it would be better if 'Larry' strayed and 'Mike' went after him." He puffed quickly, eyes on Starsky. "That way, it would show that you aren't such a Mary Jane. That you have rights to Larry just as much as Larry has to you. It would make it more convincing that you two are serious about your relationship."

Starsky looked at Hutch, waited for the blond to nod, then looked back at MacMillian. "Okay. We'll wait for your signal the next few nights. When Joey arrives, we'll make a scene."

* * * * *

When Hutch's arm went around the burly man's shoulders, Starsky knew it was time to move.

"Hey," he called as he made his way through the crowded bar, watching a tattooed arm go around Hutch. "Hey!"

Hutch turned to face Starsky just as the other reached him. He shrugged with indifference.

"Get your hands off him," Starsky snarled to Hutch's companion.

The burly man, who just now seemed to notice Starsky, looked down at him. "I think Blondie here has decided he prefers real men."

Hutch now shrugged petitely. "Yeah. Get lost, Mike."

Starsky lunged at Hutch, grabbing him by the shirt and throwing him to one side. The blond landed on the floor as onlookers scrambled to get out of the way.

"Hey," the burly man curled his fist, facing Starsky squarely.

The darker detective didn't spare a moment's hesitation. He pulled back and swung at the large man, cutting him across the nose.

The man staggered back, hands reaching to cover his face, eyes squinting shut. Blood started spurting out and the crowd muttered comments of surprise.

Starsky stood with his fist still poised. "You want more?" he taunted. "Larry belongs to me." He held up a hand showing his ring. "We've got this to prove it, courtesy of a special little chapel in Baltimore." The man seemed stunned, and Starsky decided he could risk taking his eyes off him to address the crowd that had gathered. "If any of you others think you prefer blonds, you'd better settle for just looking, and not touching." He slowly spun around, pleased with the impressed looks on the sea of faces. "You California people seem to think you can have anyone you want. Well, it doesn't work that way with us. Nobody lays a hand on Larry... except me."

He waited to see if anyone was going to argue. Everyone remained silent, and he leaned down to Hutch, who was still lying in an exaggerated sprawl. He grabbed the blond again by the shirt, hauling him to his feet. "Come on, we're going back to the hotel." He pulled none-too-gently on the shirt-front, leading Hutch through the crowd. He gritted his teeth. "And I'm going to teach you the meaning of 'Til death do us part.'" The crowd came alive then, "oohing" and "ahhing", but in a way that was encouraging... and envious.

Starsky threw Hutch into the passenger side of their rented car, then got in the driver's seat. He made sure they had driven at least a block before he spoke. "Did you have to come on to the biggest guy in the place?"

Hutch shrugged, delicately stretching various muscles. "You handled him all right."

"Yeah, but not before I saw my life flash before my eyes."

Hutch grinned. "Starsky, he was nothing but a big pussy cat. You probably didn't have to break his nose like that."

A shrug. "I had to be convincing."

"You were."

* * * * *

"Well?" Hutch asked as MacMillian approached them in the alley.

"He watched, that's all I can tell you."

Starsky said, "Did he leave right after us?"

"No, he stuck around until closing time. He didn't drink much, but he seemed real preoccupied."

"Maybe he'll make a move tomorrow," Hutch said hopefully.

MacMillian was thoughtful. "Remember, we don't know what 'making a move' means for him. Since none of the other victims were seen with him, it's doubtful he'll approach you in the bar."

"So, what happens now?" Starsky wondered.

The other cop lit a cigarette. "First things first. Why don't you two make it clear that what happened tonight was just a spat? The next time I give you the signal that Joey's around, beef it up. Maybe start smooching in the corner or something." He nodded after a pause. "Yeah, start playing like you're getting hot and heavy, and I'll ask you to leave the bar, since anything heavy is against the rules. I'll ring you at your hotel room if he leaves before closing."

"Then what?" Hutch asked.

"We'll see how he approaches you. Remember, we don't know how much time passed between his propositioning those other couples, and when they actually got together. It could have all happened in the same night, or he might operate more slowly man that."

"And if operates quickly," the blond pursued, "he could make a move the next time he's sees us, and sees that we've made up."

"If he leaves the bar after you two," MacMillian assured, "and follows you, remember we'll have plainclothes units staying close. If things get rough, we'll close in. Just don't forget to turn on the tape recorder in your room."

"Right," Starsky said.

MacMillian threw the partially smoked cigarette aside and straightened. "Gentlemen, with any luck, if he comes back to the bar tomorrow, we could have this wrapped up by this time tomorrow night."


The next night, from where he was sitting with his chair leaning back against the far corner d the bar, Starsky could see MacMillian's signal that Joey had taken his place at the counter. He nodded once in acknowledgement, then glanced at his partner, who was watching the dance floor.

"Time to smooch," Starsky whispered, feeling nerves come to life in his stomach.

Hutch looked at him and leaned closer. "What?"

"Joey just arrived." Starsky took a deep breath, not able to meet his partner's eye. "Time to get it on." He wished they'd talked about how they were going to do this, but he'd been reluctant to bring it up, especially since Hutch didn't first. If it didn't bother Hutch, it shouldn't bother him.

The sea blue eyes turned on Starsky, and Hutch scooted his chair closer. "How many beers have you had?"


"That should have you mellow enough."

Starsky wasn't quite sure if the blond were serious or teasing. "How many have you had?"

"Still nursing the one." The tone was almost bragging.

Careful to talk beneath his breath, the smaller man said, "Well, mellow or not, you'd better get something going. The sooner we get started, the sooner Mac can throw us out."

Hutch smiled at him. "Your wish is my command," he whispered, leaning close.

Starsky watched his partner apprehensively as a hand was placed on his chest, the chair scooting closer. When the soft face was a bare centimeter from his own, his heart accelerated.

"Just relax and go with it," the blond directed.

That made sense. "Yeah," Starsky agreed, closing his eyes. A moment later so-soft lips pressed against his own. He did as directed, relaxing, letting the pleasant sensation drift through him. The hand on his sweater-clad chest began to rub, and his skin felt fuzzy around the edges.

The lips barely pulled back. "You doing okay?"

It was just like Hutch to show concern by asking, but Starsky wasn't sure how to answer. He couldn't have pulled this off with anyone else; yet, even with Hutch, he was aware that they were in a crowd of people... Impulsively, he replied, "Maybe we should really pet heavy, so Mac can hurry and throw us out." He heard the desperation in his own voice.

But Hutch remained calm. Lips moving to Starsky's ear, he whispered, "He probably wants to make sure Joey gets a good look. Why don't you start kissing back, put your arm around me?"

Oh, yeah. He should be doing something, too. Starsky found himself reluctant, for he felt a lot more secure letting Hutch do all the work. But he straightened slightly, and when the lips met his this time, he pressed back, putting one hand on Hutch's waist and the other behind the blond head. If he could just pretend no one else was around...

The hand on Starsky's chest drifted down, rubbing all the while, and when it came to the top of his jeans, the detective felt himself go light-headed. He shifted awkwardly in the chair, trying to keep a grip on himself. He realized with alarm that Hutch had misread the message, for now the blond's hand swept across his swelling crotch, pressing firmly.

Starsky couldn't restrain a grunt of protest, not sure whether he was embarrassed by his reaction, or angry at Hutch for being insensitive enough to cause it. But a moment later, he was beyond thought, for Hutch's mouth widened, and he seemed to devour Starsky's lips, nibbling at them, sucking them in.

Damn it, this had to stop. Desperately, Starsky's hand shot out, finding a firm stomach. He quickly felt lower, pressing vengefully against the soft pouch there, then lurched in shock when a hand closed on his ass.

"Hey, you guys."

Starsky's hands immediately dropped, but it seemed like forever before Hutch's lips finally released him. He collapsed back in his chair, blood racing through his veins, annoyed and disbelieving that this could happen to him in a place such as this, that it was happening when he was supposed to be a professional undercover cop, with no room for personal feelings. He opened his eyes to see MacMillian standing before them with a firm expression, hands on his hips.

"Hey, none of that in the bar. The owner doesn't like it."

A few of the closer patrons were looking at them. Smoothly, Hutch said, "Hey, pal, we're just having a little fun. We aren't hurting anybody. How about another beer?"

MacMillian pretended to consider. "Look, your business is always welcome. But why don't you two go somewhere more appropriate and finish what you started? You're causing a scene here."

It was a bit of an exaggeration, but through the corner of his eye, Starsky saw a man at the counter staring at them. He straightened, draping an arm over Hutch's shoulders. "Yeah, he's right, Larry. These are good people here. Let's not cause trouble. Let's get back to the hotel and...," he dropped his voice coyly, "you can finish me off in more appropriate surroundings."

Hutch took his hand. Threateningly, he said, "Maybe I'll make you beg for it first."

Starsky sighed wistfully. "You know how I like it, babe."

Hutch tugged on his arm and led him toward the door. Behind them, MacMillian apologetically said, "I appreciate it, fellas. The owner just doesn't like any trouble. He likes a nice, clean establishment."

Hutch placed Starsky in the passenger side of the car, then got in the driver's seat. After starting the motor, he put his hand on his partner's shoulder, then drove off.

Starsky waited a careful 30 seconds, then reached up and pushed the arm aside.

Hutch glanced at him. "What's wrong?"

The smaller man couldn't believe that the other thought it necessary to ask. Jaw tight, he muttered, "Just get us to the hotel, all right?" He was grateful when Hutch didn't speak further, and stared out his side of the window for the remainder of the five minute journey.

The arm went around him again when they got out of the car, Hutch pulling him close. Starsky kept his face lowered, so if anyone of account happened to be watching, they couldn't see him fighting off a scowl.

As soon as the door to their room was closed behind them, Hutch loosened his grip, but squeezed a taut shoulder with his hand. "Hopefully, Mac will be calling to say Joey's following, huh?"

Starsky pushed at the arm again, moving a few steps away. Irritably, he said, "Come on, cut it out."

Hutch put his hands on his hips, expression open. "What's wrong?"

It annoyed Starsky further that Hutch was asking him to explain. Yet, he knew it was better to be honest than obstinate. Face closed, he moved toward the window, "Just keep your hands off me, all right?"

The voice behind him was puzzled . . . and a trifle hurt. "Sure."

If Hutch were truly at a loss, then Starsky knew it was cruel to not explain himself. He turned around, voice tight. "My hormones have a long memory, that's all."

Hutch visibly relaxed then. With a tender smile, he headed toward the door. "Hey, why don't I take a hike for a few minutes? Maybe you can catch a shower... or something. I'll see if I can find some ice cream," he gently added, "maybe cool down your insides a bit?"

Damn, it was hard being mad at Hutch when the other was being so consoling. But the offer put Starsky's mind back on business. "Hutch, we can't separate. Joey could be following, and we don't want him meeting up with just one of us."

Hutch was thoughtful, then nodded reluctantly. "You're right." He moved away from the door.

Starsky watched the sleek form sit on the bed. Feeling the frustration well up, he demanded, "What is it with you?"

The blond looked up, mouth open. "What do you mean?"

Starsky gestured elaborately, dancing about the room. "How come you're so goddamn cool about all this? How come what we did back there didn't get you all worked up?"

Tenderness once again overtook the blond's features. "Aw, Starsk..."

Starsky waited. Then, "Yeah, I'm listening." His hands went to his hips.

Hutch shook his head, voice halting. "I just ... I was just too concerned about you to..." He tried again. "I just thought if you had to put up with doing that, I should try to make it as pleasant for you as I could. All my attention was on you, that's all."

Starsky didn't want to believe him, but that expression was too sincere. He turned away, muttering, "Well, you did a damn fine job."

"Sorry, buddy. I thought you'd be too scared to get that worked up."

The smaller man turned back around. "Scared? For God's sakes, Hutch, with you all over me like that, what difference did it make whether I was scared or not? My glands didn't give a goddamn who was stirring them up, or what the circumstances were." Hutch looked a bit sheepish, but didn't reply. Before his frustration drifted back to anger, Starsky grabbed a robe and went into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.

He undressed while there and, though his arousal had eased, he started a cool shower. When the temperature had done its job, he let it warm up, then stood against the wall, letting the water rush over him.

It wasn't true, what he'd said. His glands wouldn't have responded like that to just anyone. It was his absolute trust in Hutch— to say nothing of the man's skill—that had allowed his reaction. It was wrong of him to blame his frustration all on his partner, or any of it, for that matter. Hutch had done the best he could—had played it superbly, in fact— and they had accomplished the mission at hand.

Surely, a few minutes of personal discomfort was small enough a price to pay for the potential of capturing a mass murderer.

But Hutch's coolness about the whole case still rankled him.

He got out of the shower, briskly ran a towel threw his hair, then put on his robe and came out, carrying a bundle of clothes. Hutch was also in his robe and was sitting back against the headboard of the bed, regarding his partner timidly.

The phone rang, and they looked at each other. Then Hutch reached for the receiver. "Hello?" Almost immediately, the blond said, "Hi, Mac." He listened a moment, then sighed. "Okay, looks like we're going to have to hope for tomorrow." He hung up the phone and looked at Starsky. "Mac said Joey stayed until closing. They had a tail follow him home." He shrugged. "Looks like he doesn't want to move yet."

Starsky threw his clothes to one side. He was getting damned tired of the whole case.

Hesitantly, Hutch said, "Uh, since you're mad at me, does that mean I'm going to have to sleep in a chair?"

Starsky blinked, feeling himself deflate. "No, of course not," he answered quietly, then moved to the other side of the bed. "Besides, you know it's not really you I'm mad at."

Carefully, the blond replied, "No, I don't know that."

Starsky made a face while reaching to a drawer to pull out a pair of briefs. He slipped them on beneath his robe, then discarded the outer garment. He grabbed a t-shirt from another drawer and pulled it over his head. Then he got into bed, slipping beneath the covers. "Well, I'm not mad at you." He propped a pillow behind him, Lying back against it. "There's just something I don't understand."

Hutch, hands folded across his middle, looked over at him.

Starsky turned on his side to face his partner, chin propped on an elbow. "I just keep wondering: is it me, or is it you?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, am I abnormally uptight about being around gays, or are you abnormally relaxed around them?"

"Oh, Jesus, Starsk. How in the world can you define 'abnormal'?"

A typical Hutch response. "Come on, Hutch. You know what I mean. I just can't figure out how you're able to mingle with them so easily. How you can come on to me like a pro, and not even get all hot and bothered yourself?"

"I explained that," Hutch began.

"Only in part," Starsky told him firmly. "I just don't get how you're so cool about it all."

Hutch looked away a moment, sighing heavily. Then he returned his attention to his partner. "What's not to be cool about? I don't have anything against those people."

The smaller man shrugged. "Neither do I. But that doesn't mean I want to hang out with them."

Now Hutch shrugged. "Neither do I."

"But you don't mind it when you have to."

"What's to mind? This is the seventies, buddy. The sexual revolution is on. Everyone has their hang-ups, their special turn-ons. I accept that. Even if I don't endorse it, I can allow anyone else the freedom to be what they want, do what they want. As long as they don't hurt anyone else, what's the harm?"

Starsky refused to let frustration claim him. "That's all well and noble of you, partner, but you still aren't answering the question."

Hutch started to speak, then abruptly closed his mouth. After a moment's thought, he asked, "Just what is the question? What are you waiting for me to say?"

Now it was Starsky's turn to hesitate. He realized it was a legitimate question, for he was guilty of going the long way around, trying to make a point. Still, he found himself shying away from the center of the circle. He shuffled his feet nervously, "Well, you know what the Frudan people have always said about everyone being bisexual, deep down."

Hutch rolled his eyes. "Freudian, dirtball."

"Whatever. But you know what I'm talking about, right?"

"That deep down everyone is bisexual, sure." The blond shrugged easily. "He claimed it was cultural conditioning that makes us choose heterosexuality."

Starsky didn't like those big words. Quickly, he said, "Well, don't you think some people are probably more bisexual than others, even if they don't act on it?"


"Well...," Starsky trailed off, putting a lid on the next question that came to mind, sealing it tight. He wondered what had made him start this conversation.

"Well what?"

"I don't know," Starsky said quietly, settling back and snuggling beneath the covers.

Hutch looked down at him. "You started this conversation, moron."

"I know," came the sheepish reply. "Never mind. Get the light, will ya?"

Hutch's teeth were gritted. "Starsky, I swear." He got up, went to the door, and flipped the switch next to it. He was still muttering as he discarded the robe in the darkness and donned a pair of briefs. "Sometimes I don't know about you, partner."

Starsky didn't reply. He waited to feel the bed dip with Hutch's weight. The other man wriggled a few moments, then was still. Though the motel wasn't particularly expensive, they had been able to obtain a room with a king-sized bed, and they were usually able to sleep without ever disturbing each other with an accidental brush of limbs.

The room fell quiet, and Starsky tried to focus on sleep, but the silence too disturbing. After an anxious ten minutes, he finally whispered, "Hutch?"

"What?" The voice was fully awake.

Starsky rolled onto his back, staring at the ceiling. "Can I ask you something?"

The reply was guarded. "About what?"

"About your father."

A deep breath was his answer. Then a resigned, "What about him?"

Starsky plunged. "How come he asked you what he asked you? About being a faggot?"

He heard the blond head jerk toward him. "What do you mean? I thought I explained all that."

Starsky frowned sympathetically. "I mean, do you think he thought you really were one?"

"I don't know," came the brusque reply. "When it gets down to it," a bitter snort, "I don't know what he thought about anything. Except I know he wasn't very pleased with how I turned out."

Starsky wondered if it were cruel to pursue it. But it had stayed in the back of his mind ever since Hutch mentioned it, and he wanted so badly to understand... "But don't you ever wonder? I mean, if he really thought that?"

A long pause, then a quiet, "I used to. Then I decided it didn't matter. He was going to believe whatever he believed. Anything I said wasn't ever going to change his mind."

"So...how did you feel about it?"

Finally, annoyance surfaced, the tone deadly calm. "Well, psychiatrist Starsky, I thought I made that clear once before. I did try to kill myself, you know."

Starsky fought a twinge of guilt, but the fact that Hutch was answering his questions encouraged him. "But you said you would have tried to kill yourself anyway. You said anything could have been the last straw."

"Yeah, I suppose."

"So, forgetting that, how did you feel about it?"

The mattress moved, and a moment later a lamp came on next to Hutch. The blond leaned back on an elbow, looking at Starsky, blinking rapidly. Then the eyes hardened. "All right, you've got something to say. Why don't you quit pussyfooting around and just come right out with it?"

It was more difficult in the light. But Starsky could hardly blame Hutch for his impatience. The dark haired man met the pained eyes, forcing himself to not look away. But his shrug was feeble. "Well... did your father have a specific reason for asking that?"

Now a tight frown. "How the hell would I know?"

Starsky's gaze didn't waver.

Hutch looked away, sighing heavily. Then he scooted toward Starsky and leaned over him. "I'm not an idiot, pal," he said firmly. "I'm just wondering how long it's going to take you to come right out and ask it."

Starsky's eyes slowly lowered as he gulped sheepishly. But he persisted. "So, why don't you just answer, if you already know the question?"

Hutch straightened, sitting up in bed, looking at Starsky calculatingly.

The smaller man reached up and grasped a pale forearm. "Hutch, it doesn't matter. You know? I mean," he snorted in disbelief that he could ever feel otherwise, "we've been through too much together. There's nothing I can find out now that's going to make me feel any differently about you."

The other didn't move. "Then why is it so important to know?"

"I just need to, buddy, that's all. I just need to understand."

Hutch shook his head, rolling his eyes and looking at the ceiling. Levelly, he said, "I hate to disappoint you, but I'm not gay."

"I'm not disappointed," Starsky replied quickly. He was surprised, however, at the calm, outright denial. And felt a bit guilty that Hutch had, not for the first time tonight, resorted to sarcasm.

Hutch looked at him now, voice hard. "Isn't that what you wanted to hear?"

"I wanted to hear the truth, Hutch."

"Why now? Why didn't you ask me seven years ago, when we first met?"

It was only fair now that the blond was asking all the questions. Gently, Starsky said, "Because I had no reason to. It's just, ever since you told me what you're father said that one day, it seems like little bits and pieces have started clicking into place. Like the way you're so comfortable about the subject of gays. I wasn't sure if you were even aware of it."

The blue eyes narrowed. "You mean like maybe I was gay and didn't even know it?"

"Something like that."

"I'm not, Starsky. That's something I know as much as any man ever knows anything about himself."

Starsky shrugged, accepting. "Okay." He also became aware of a feeling of relief that Hutch did indeed know his inner self that well.

Hutch shifted again, settling beneath the covers. More congenially he said, "Besides, you're the one who got all worked up tonight. Maybe that's a question you should be asking yourself."

Starsky had to smile as he studied the ceiling. He'd never intended to say anything, but nor had he ever expected to be presented with such a perfect opportunity. "I have." He looked over in time to see Hutch's face fall.

"And?" the other asked with poorly concealed anxiety.

Starsky shrugged, feeling good that it was all going to be out in the open. "I've been thinkin' that maybe I could have bisexual tendencies."

The blond's face became an art form of concern. He inched closer to his partner. "Starsk, did—did something happen? Do you want to talk about it?"

Now the smile was almost smug. "Nothing in particular. But, obviously, I can respond to you."

"But, but," Hutch sputtered, "that's different. Any man, who gets his buttons pushed in the right way, is going to respond."

Braggart, Starsky scolded silently. He put his hands behind his head. "Maybe."

Hutch's eyes narrowed. "Starsk, are you... are you okay about it? You don't seem too distressed."

"Why should I be? Like you said, this is the seventies. Gay people aren't exactly welcomed with open arms, but things are changing. And, comparatively, I figure being bisexual is no big deal. I mean, it's not like anyone can just look at you and know."

The sea blue eyes were still narrowed, the faced twisted in the search for understanding. "W-What made you come to this— this conclusion?"

It wasn't often that Hutch tripped over his own silver tongue. Starsky had to restrain a chuckle, for he felt giddy that his revelation had come about so easily. He shrugged. "I've just been thinking about it, that's all. I guess it's fair to say I don't quite know for sure, but..." he trailed off.

"But what?"

"I don't know. I guess I just figure someday the truth will hit me, and then I'll know for sure."

"And then what?"

A brief shrug. "I don't know. I guess I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it."

The blond's jaw flexed, closed, flexed again. "Starsk, are you—are you thinking, you know," an exaggerated shrug, "about— about—maybe experimenting or something to—to help you find out?"

Starsky heart swelled and threatened to flip over. Hutch was trying so hard. "No. That's kind of a cold way to go about it, don't you think?"

Hutch looked thoughtfully at the bed spread, then, "Well, yeah, I guess so."

"When you think about it, even if I am bisexual, it doesn't necessarily mean anything has to change. I mean, I like women, so... I'd just keep having relationships with them. It wouldn't mean I'd have to do anything with a guy, just because the tendency is there."

Hutch's eyes shuffled back and forth, as he absorbed this latest declaration. "You're right. You're right. Nothing would have to change."

Starsky made sure his expression had the proper puppy-dog effect. "Hutch, you aren't afraid of sleeping in the same bed with me, are you? Now that you know?"

Hutch inched closer, a hand coming to rest on top of his partner's blanketed body. "Of course not. Like you said, it doesn't change anything. You're still the person you've always been." Hutch reached behind him, stretching to turn off the lamp. Then he snuggled beneath the covers, pulling his partner against him, as though to prove the truth of his words.

Starsky let himself be maneuvered so that he was resting with his head on Hutch's bare shoulder, facing the blond, his left arm draped across the other's body. Hutch had both arms around him, the blond's protective aura radiating like a beacon. Starsky closed his eyes, let the warm feelings the closeness evoked consume him. One would think I'd just told him I found out my mother was an axe murderer. Aw, Hutch... It was humbling to be cared about so damn much. And good to know that they could still be this close without his hormones acting up.

After many minutes, the firm grip relaxed, and Starsky could sense the aura changing. A soft voice drifted through the darkness. "Starsk?"


"You wouldn't get another partner, would you?" The fear in the voice wasn't well concealed. "If you found someone in the department who had the same tendencies as you?"

Starsky's heart lurched. In a deep nasal tone, he whispered, "What are you talkin' about? Of course not."

Hutch didn't respond.

Guiltily, Starsky shifted to prop himself on an elbow. He reached out, bumped into an ear, and his hand drifted down until his could feel the protrusion of the chin. He gripped it gently, fingers stroking.

"I would never get another partner." He realized that wasn't saying enough, and his voice softened "Hutch, you are the person I love most in this world."

An uneasy laugh. "I don't even run second to your mother?"

Starsky pulled threateningly at the chin, grumbling, "If you want me to make comparisons like that, then you don't deserve an answer."

Another brief, hesitant chuckle.

Starsky leaned close to the other, keeping his voice as tender as possible. "Hutch, I love you." He bent and planted a quick kiss on the smooth forehead. "What I've said tonight doesn't change any of that."

Now I resigned sigh. "Yeah."




A long pause, then a hesitant, "Starsk?"


"You haven't... You haven't been...been uncomfortable around me...right? I mean, you haven't had the hots for me or anything, have you?"

The smaller man felt his heart beat with tenderness, even as guilt that Hutch needed to ask simmered beneath. "No. At least, not like you mean."

A pause, then, "What does that mean?"

"It means I love you."


"And nothing. I love you. But, no, I haven't been hot for your body."

A relieved sigh. Then, "I guess we should try to get some sleep, huh?"

Starsky was uneasy with the abrupt end to the conversation, but they did need to get some sleep. "Yeah." He settled against his pillow, facing Hutch, and closed his eyes. Within moments, he had drifted into an in-between state, dreams just starting to form.


Starsky's eyes popped open. The tone had been just shy of hard. "What?"

The mattress wriggled, and a moment later the sleeping area was illuminated by the bedside lamp. Jaw firm, Hutch looked down at his partner, who was still blinking.

"All those questions about being gay; you were hoping I'd say 'Yes', weren't you?"

Starsky blinked a final time, took a deep breath, and met the gaze of the steel-blue eyes. "I was hoping for the truth. That's all."

The voice was unwavering. "But if I were gay, then everything would be simple, wouldn't it?"

Starsky shook his head, and with firm softness, replied, "No, it wouldn't."

Hutch seemed to consider that, eyes still holding his partner's captive. Finally, he asked, "You ever thought about us doing it?"

This time Starsky's gaze dropped to the mattress, but a mouth corner smiled at the answer that formed in his head. "In a manner of speaking."

The blond's eyes narrowed. "Which means what?"

"Which means it would take a while for me to try to explain it. And Hutch," Starsky shook his head, "this is not the time to get into it." He pulled his arms from beneath the blankets to gesture, hoping Hutch wouldn't argue with his reasoning. "We need distance from this case. We can't have our feelings from playing a couple of gay lovers interfere with how we feel. We've got to be able to separate the play acting from the real thing."

Hutch bowed his head. "Yeah. You're right."


Hutch squatted in the sand and picked up the cone-shaped shell. His blue sweats and t-shirt billowed in the sun-lit breeze as he ran his finger along the smoothness of the exterior. It was a particularly beautiful specimen, pale white mottled with brown, and he considered taking it home, imagined placing it on top of the small bookshelf located beside the stereo.

He stood, rolling the shell within his palm, feeling the sharp points, the dips and valleys. Then he turned toward the ocean and watched a mother take her small, clinging daughter's hand and gently prompt her to get close to the water's edge. He tried to remember being that young, being guided by a parent to the edge of the roaring water.

He had many childhood recollections of the shore of Lake Superior, but couldn't remember the first time he'd dipped his toe in the water. Couldn't remember clinging to an adult's hand.

Hutch knelt and gently dropped the shell to the sand, leaving it for someone else to find.

He straightened again, drawing the salty air into his lungs, and resumed walking. Eyes closing, he searched inward, trying to find the center of self. His imaginary path traveled down the middle of body, stopping when it reached the proof of his maleness.

He'd never questioned that he was male.

And, yet, a stab of impotency disrupted the fantasy, for there was such pain, knowing that he was never a man in his father's eyes.

And he wondered why it mattered. And, at the same time, acknowledged that it did.

And wondered what he could have ever done to change it. What thing he could have said, accomplished, or perhaps simply thought, to see a glint of pride, or even satisfaction, in Stephen Hutchinson's eyes. To take away the questions he saw, his father's occasional stares, the dark eyes asking, "Who is this person my wife and I have created? Where did he come from? Why must he be ours?"

Hutch bit his lower lip, throwing his face to the wind, feeling it race through his hair. He paused, looking off in the distance, toward the city.

A few blocks away—one left, then another, then a right—sanctuary awaited. In the weeks since the conclusion of the case of the gay murderer, he and his partner had drifted back into the same mold as before, their little secrets tucked away as information each knew about the other, and protected with the same determination as everything else.

He wondered why it hurt so much that his father thought him less than a man, but why it didn't that Starsky had suspected the same thing.

Hutch paused, bowing his head, snorting with affection.

Starsky had approached the question with love. And, of course, his partner didn't truly think any less of him. It was ironic that, during the case, the smaller detective had clung to Hutch almost as tightly as the little girl being lead to water's edge clung to her mother. And, yet, had Hutch claimed that he was, indeed, gay, or at least partially so, Starsky would have protected him just as fiercely—if not more so—from all the bad things life would try to throw at him as a result.

Hutch looked out toward the distance again. And began walking toward it.

* * * * *

Ten minutes later he was knocking on the door. He used the pattern that had become a signal between them, without there having ever being an agreement about it. Knock, pause, knock-knock, pause, knock-knock. He was sure Starsky didn't have a date this weekend, for the other probably would have told him about it.

Footsteps, then the door opened. Starsky smiled at him, a dish-cloth draped over one shoulder, and stepped back. "Hey. What are you doing in this neck of the woods?"

Hutch remained standing at the threshold. It felt funny giving a poetic answer to the question, when he really didn't feel anything except numb. "Do you remember," he began softly, glancing down before looking back up, "right after my father died, when I promised to tell you if there was going to be a waterfall?"

Starsky stared at him as the words registered, and then the muscles of the rugged face twisted and turned, settling into an expression of concern. An arm shot out, reaching for him. "Hutch."

The blond moved past, ignoring the arm. He could feel the defenses snapping into place as he halted in the middle of the living room. He wished whatever subconscious part of him was causing it would learn to let go.

He heard the door shut behind him, then the soft, bare footsteps across the short-napped carpet. A gentle voice asked, "What happened?"

Hutch placed his hands in his pockets, staring at the floor. "Nothing."

"Where have you been?"


"And?" Starsky moved to his right.

Hutch turned away, snorting and waving a hand. "Just been thinking, that's all." The quiver was there in his voice. He knew that all he had to do was give in. Allow himself a moment of extreme vulnerability, and he would be smothered in the greatest imaginable strength.

A soft whisper. "Hey." Arms circled about his waist.

Hutch stared at where the hands clasped across his stomach, Starsky having taken a position behind him.

It was such a funny thing about them. When they had met, Hutch had been the toucher, though more quiet and laid-back. Starsky had been energetic, a lightning bolt of movement and sound, more the joker. But also self-contained, less trusting in situations where Hutch was more inclined to reach out, to listen, to understand. But somewhere along the line, the contact Hutch had been so willing to dish out had come back around, to be given in return. Starsky still wasn't a tactile person.... except where it concerned the one person he claimed to love most.

The clasped flesh blurred before the blond man's eyes.

The arms squeezed and a cheek pressed against his back. "Hey, I'm right here."

And then it was easy to give in, for he knew that once love was offered, it was in his nature to take, take, take. He felt himself crumble, and the arms tightened further. He allowed himself, with a mighty heave from behind, to be pulled over to the couch.

They landed in a heap on top of it, Starsky partially lying down, Hutch a tangle in his arms. The taller man grabbed the sides of Starsky's t-shirt with both hands, clinging desperately, pressing his face against the warmth of the other's chest, as a held-in sob emerged in a desperate choke, and the tears gushed down his face.

Arms pressed him close, gripping tightly, a hand reaching to press against the back of his head.

He let the bleakness claim him, knowing that there was a light to guide him back when he was ready. And as sob after sob racked his body, he didn't think it had ever been this bad, even with Gillian. It seemed as if every inkling of grief, bitterness, and hopelessness he'd ever possessed was being ejected from him in the form of choked breaths, runny mucus, and liquid salt.

There was no hurry, and he knew Starsky would wait. And when the time came when he thought each sob might be the last, another wave would gush forth. And when exhaustion set in, and he could no longer move, his muscles still twitched involuntarily, continuing with the purging.

After a time, he realized he had emerged to the surface, and his senses could detect the world outside himself. The cotton he was pressed against was cold and wet, and when yet more tears fell, now silent, they created a stinging sensation all the way down his face.

He swallowed, surprised at how loud it sounded, and felt a rawness at the back of his throat. His arms relaxed their desperate hold on the body that was his anchor, muscles almost sighing with relief. He kept his eyes closed as he tried to move his face higher up the shirt, where it was dry and warm.

The hand pressed against his hair dropped down to his back. It rubbed in large, delicate circles.

He felt the chin above his head move. "Think you're all done?" So soft.

Hutch made the effort to breathe, so he could answer. "Don't know." His voice was as weary as his body. Finally, he opened his eyes, looking in a direction toward the door, and not quite able to bring it into focus. He realized how quiet the room felt.

"Think you can lay down?"

He thought he was laying down, but when he finally made an effort to straighten, saw that he'd been sitting up, upper body curled in Starsky's lap. It seemed to take a moment to send the correct messages to his limbs, but eventually he was able to stretch out one leg, then the other. As he did so, the legs beneath him shifted gratefully, and Hutch realized that a good deal of his weight had been resting upon them.

While one arm supported from behind, a hand pressed on his chest, encouraging him to lie back. He did so, hips shifting again, and ended up stretched out on the sofa, head resting in Starsky's lap, cheek pressed against the softness of the other's stomach.

He couldn't yet meet his partner's eye, so studied the far wall, the ceiling, the coffee table.

A hand was placed on his forehead, fingers entwining into the thin strands of hair, the palm resting over his eyes.

Hutch remembered the first time he'd cried in front of Starsky. They'd been partners a couple of years, and his marriage was falling apart. Of course, Starsky had made all the sympathetic noises the previous weeks and months—making it clear he was on his partner's side—but Hutch knew, deep down, that one who had never been married couldn't ever really understand. After one particularly long, stressful day, they had been alone in the locker room. Despite his weariness, Hutch hadn't looked forward to going home. He and Starsky talked a little, and then all the grief, bitterness and frustration bubbled to the surface. Hutch had turned away, horribly embarrassed, knowing that the only thing worse than crying in front of another man was having to see another man cry, and he hadn't wanted to do that to Starsky. And so, as he had sat hunched over the cold, cement bench, hiding his face in his hands, he had expected his partner to politely turn away and pretend not to notice. Instead, he had felt hands settle on his shoulders, then squeeze. Before he'd had a chance to figure out how to respond, the arms had circled about his chest, embracing from behind.

It was the greatest warmth Hutch had ever known, and it had seemed strange to be receiving it in a time of such distress. Even with Vanessa, that kind of affection only happened right before or right after the sex act. In the difficult weeks that followed, he came to realize that Starsky represented a whole element of existence that he hadn't previously been aware of. For Starsky did not give love casually. The recipients had to earn it.

It was then, Hutch realized now, that Starsky became the most important person in his life. And, five years later, still was.

Yet another tear welled up in his left eye, and his lids were so swollen that it took a long time for it to spill over. He mentally traced the burning sensation as it made its way down, finally stopping at a point where Starsky's hand rested against his face.

The hand started to lift, and Hutch reached to grab it with both of his own, bringing their combined fist to his chest. He squeezed the hand against him as hard as he could, as if by embracing it, he was embracing all of the man to whom it belonged.

When he opened his eyes, which still provided a somewhat blurry view, he saw Starsky looking down at him, a mixture of sympathy and concern on the rugged features.

Hutch relaxed his grip on the hand, but still held it, and continued to watch the face above him. He waited for Starsky to speak, for he was too drained to do anything except answer questions.

The captured hand moved enough to rub at the blond's cotton-clad chest, and a soft, tender voice asked, "Was all that for your father?"

Hutch swallowed thickly, voice still a gruff whisper. "No. For me." His vision was clearing, and he thought he saw a glint of approval at his honesty.

"Because of your father?"


"What else?"

"Everything. Everything that," he searched for the right way to say it, and his tone softened as he did, "that has ever made me doubt myself."

A tiny smile. "You've done pretty good for someone who's been full of self-doubt."

Hutch managed to hint at a nod. "I know."

The sky-blue eyes intensified. "I love you."

"I know. That's why I came here."

"You need to blow your nose."

"I know." In fact, Hutch realized, his whole face probably looked like hell. It certainly felt like hell. It was nice of Starsky to not be repelled by looking at him.

"Think you can move just enough to let me up?"

"Uh-huh." But Hutch had no interest in doing so, so remained where he was, his fingers rubbing at the hand they still held.

Starsky's head cocked to one side, the expression slightly scolding. Then he offered a bribe. "I can take care of ya a lot better if you let me up."

Hutch blinked. Being taken care of was an appealing idea. But he wasn't sure what more Starsky could do. And it didn't change the fact that he didn't want to move. "I love you."

Starsky closed his eyes briefly, smile broadening. "I know."

For some reason, Hutch thought, the three words didn't seem to say enough. "No, really. I love you."

Starsky leaned down and whispered, "Really. I know."

Hutch reluctantly let it go. He wished there were something more he could say, for he still wasn't quite convinced that Starsky realized how deeply he meant it. Maybe, someday, he could throw him a special party, give him a special gift, say just the right thing.

"Hutch, honestly, there's nothing more I'd love to do than let you fall asleep right here, but I gotta move."


Starsky waited.

Hutch wasn't sure how to go about moving, because it seemed like such a long time since he'd done so.

"Let go of my hand, and I'll help you up."

Hutch did, and that break in contact helped motivate him. He pushed with his hands against whatever couch he could reach around Starsky's body.

Starsky grabbed him, helping lift. When Hutch was sitting up, the smaller man wriggled from beneath him, momentarily hoisting himself on the arm of the sofa, then finally standing. He bent forward a moment, rubbing at his legs, then reached to lay a hand on Hutch, who was straightening further.

"Hey, go ahead and lay back down," he said, pressing gently, "I'll be right back." Starsky reached to the other end of the sofa, taking a small pillow. He placed it against the arm of the sofa, then pulled an afghan from the back of the couch. He settled it around his partner, who was stretching back out, having discarded his sandals.

Hutch let the peace surround him as he snuggled against the thick cloth of the afghan, turning away slightly. He had already drifted into a light doze when awakened by Starsky's nearness.

The other man knelt on the floor. "Here's some Kleenex." He held out the box.

Hutch raised up a little, twisting to pull a few tissues from the box. He placed them against his nose and blew, closing his eyes with the effort. A cool, wet wash cloth dabbed about his face. The coolness felt good, and he couldn't restrain a grunt of approval.

He tossed the used tissues behind him, to land on the end table. He started to lay back down, but Starsky said, "Wait a sec. Hold out your hand."

Hutch did, and three small tablets dropped into his palm. He looked at his partner with puzzlement.

"Doesn't your head hurt?" Starsky asked.

Now that Starsky mentioned it, Hutch realized it did. Throbbing, in fact. He nodded, curling his fingers around the aspirin.

"Here, take this." Starsky held out a tall glass of ice water, which Hutch accepted. "And keep drinking it even after you swallow them, so you don't get dehydrated."

Hutch had to pause an instant, for he'd never heard of anyone suffering dehydration from merely bawling their eyes out. But if Starsky was willing to fuss over him, the least he could do was obey without protest. He downed the pills one at a time, taking a healthy swallow of water after each, then took a moment to finish off the rest of the glass. It tasted good.

Starsky took the glass from him, then resumed with the wash cloth. While Hutch lay against the pillow, burrowing beneath the afghan, Starsky wiped gently it his cheeks and eyes. When the cloth scrubbed at his nostrils, Hutch realized he hadn't done a very clean job of blowing his nose. But he let it ride, feeling too peaceful to complain about being treated like an infant.

The cloth was put aside, and a hand was placed against his upper chest. Starsky rubbed a moment. Then, "Is there anything you want to tell me?"

He was too tired to talk, and wasn't convinced that there was even anything left to say. "Not right now." His voice was barely above a whisper, but it had lost its gruffness.

The inquisitive eyes of his partner continue to watch him, as though not quite sure that Hutch was sure.

The blond man thought a moment. Then, in a tone of finality, "I know that I can't change anything about the past." But even as he said the words, he realized that he'd always known that. And Starsky's narrowed eyes encouraged Hutch to stare at the ceiling, try to find the truth... the thing that made a difference now. And the answer was there within a matter of moments, and he smiled at having discovered it in so short a time, and at being able to share it. "I accept that I can't change anything about the past." He supposed all the crying was for his grief at the realization he could never change any of it.

Starsky nodded, smiling kindly. "Good." Then, "Anything else?"

Hutch wanted to say, "I love you" again, but, as before, feared it would be inadequate. Plus, he knew that to do so would strain the line that bordered excessive sentiment. Sighing peacefully, he replied, "No." He met his partner's eye, then rolled away to press his face against the corner where the back of the sofa met the arm.

Hands clasped a protruding shoulder. "A nap sounds good to me, too."

Hutch listened to soft footsteps move toward the bedroom. Unconsciousness claimed him a moment later.



It was another Saturday, two weeks later, when Hutch had to stop cleaning the oven in order to pick up the ringing phone. "Yeah, talk to me," he answered.

"Hey, you alone?" asked the familiar voice.

"Yeah. What's up?"

"Can you come over?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"I wanna talk to you about something."

Hutch's brows furrowed. "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, everything's fine," came the congenial answer. "I just want to talk to you." Then the familiar whine. "Don't interrogate me over the phone."

"Sorry," Hutch chuckled. "Let me finish cleaning up. It'll be about twenty minutes."

"Fine. See ya then."

Hutch looked at the receiver as he hung it up. When Starsky wanted to talk, he usually just talked. Or showed up on Hutch's doorstep. It wasn't like him to schedule an appointment.

He couldn't help but ponder the possible subject matter of the upcoming conversation as he continued the cleaning task. His birthday was still two months away, so it couldn't be anything like that. He thought back to the previous day, when he'd seen his partner last. While Starsky may have been a bit on the introspective side, he couldn't say that the other had behaved any differently than normal.

Probably just needs me to help him balance his check book, he decided. It wouldn't be the first time. And Starsky probably didn't want to come right out and say it because he was afraid that Hutch wouldn't feel like it.

When he reached the apartment, Hutch knocked once as a warning before letting himself in. "What's a matter, buddy," he greeted as he stepped over the threshold, "your bank account messed up again?"

Starsky was sitting back against the arm of the couch, his feet on a cushion, reading the newspaper, which he now lowered. "Uh-uh, nothin's wrong."

When the other didn't elaborate, Hutch shrugged, then pulled off his jacket. He left it on the back of a chair, then moved toward the kitchen. "Got any beer?"

"Yep. Will ya bring me one?"

Hutch noted that Starsky was putting the paper aside and sitting up. Hutch got two beers, gave one to the other man as he walked passed him. He took the easy chair facing the sofa, the coffee table between them, and waited until they both had taken sips. "Well?"

Starsky settled back, crossing an ankle over a knee. "You in a hurry or somethin'?"

A shrug. "No. Just curious."

Starsky smiled without humor. "Okay," he said in an I'll-get-to-the-point tone. "I just thought we should finish our conversation."

Hutch looked toward the ceiling. He tried to rifle back through his memory of the past few days. After a half minute, he had to ask, "What conversation?"

"The one we had when we were on the gay murderer case."

Oh. Hutch's eyes darted about the room as they lowered without permission. But he forced them to look at his partner when he asked, "Why now?"

"Because I'm ready."

Starsky always had been good about getting to the point. Hutch took a deep breath. "What if I'm not?"

Starsky nodded slowly, a calculating grin creasing his features. "I think you are."

Hutch shifted in the chair, a peculiar sensation developing in the pit of his stomach. He tried to settle against the chair back, imitating his partner's stance by crossing one ankle over a knee. "Okay. So talk."

Starsky took a swig of beer, eyeing Hutch carefully. It gave the blond man the sensation that the other was in full control, and he wasn't.

But the curly man's gaze dropped when he spoke again. "I've decided something, Hutch."

The blond leaned forward, concerned by the dry tone. "What?"

Starsky seemed to stare at him for a long time, then shifted, sipping again. "You ever wonder what the point of it all is? I mean, this whole thing we call 'life'?"

Hutch had to work at not reacting negatively. When Starsky got philosophical, it usually meant Hutch was in for a period of confusion. He thought about his answer before replying. "I think I quit asking myself that quite a while back." A small shrug. "Because, you know, I never came up with THE answer." His partner didn't say anything else, and the blond ventured, "Have you... found the answer?"

Starsky thought a moment, then nodded slowly, looking at a point over Hutch's head. "I think, for myself, I have."

Hutch was intrigued. He leaned further forward. "And?"

Starsky shifted and sipped his beer. "I want to ask you something."

The statement had such a sense of purpose that the blond hesitated, then quickly replied, "Sure, buddy, sure."

"Remember, when we were in the hotel room while working on that case, and you asked me if I'd ever thought about doing it with you?"

The peculiar sensation in the pit of his stomach moved nearer to Hutch's throat. "Yeah?" Starsky just looked at him doubtfully, and Hutch reminded, "You said something like you'd 'sort of' thought about it."

Starsky nodded thoughtfully, as though he hadn't been sure what he'd said then. "Hmmm." A pause, then cautiously, "How did you feel, knowing that I had... sort of?"

Hutch had to look away, for his nerves were tingling. "Well, I, uh," he took a breath, "I—I'm not really sure. I guess I feel that everyone has their fantasies, and they can't harm anyone, so... whatever someone thinks about in their own private thoughts..." he shrugged with great exaggeration. "I guess I'm saying there's no way I could be upset about it. It doesn't hurt me." His eyes narrowed. "What the hell did that half-assed answer mean, anyway?"

The elfin grin was there as Starsky glanced toward the floor, then looked back up. "Good question." He sipped his beer, gazing to one side. Then the sky blue eyes were on his partner. "I think what I meant was that I'd considered the idea. But my mind really hadn't gotten as far as the specifics." The grin widened, and he admitted, "I've never jerked off thinking about you, if that's what you're wondering."

Hutch shrugged good-naturedly, bottle poised at his mouth. "I didn't think you jerked off at all." He drank.

Starsky thought about that, then nodded in a distant way. "I've gotta be pretty desperate before I resort to that."

It was a stupid conversation, but the blond couldn't stop himself from playfully boasting, "I haven't done it since I was eighteen."

It had the proper effect, for Starsky seemed genuinely amused. "Yeah, sure. You get laid more than anyone I know, and yet you still itch for it more than anyone I know." He wasn't quite so amused now. "So I figure you're probably milking it in between lays."

Hutch's smile gradually faded. He wondered why it mattered, but accepted that, since Starsky pointed it out, it was going to mean something somewhere down the line. He stared at his beer bottle, then sighed. "Dirty pool, buddy."

Starsky's head was tilted, looking at him sideways. "Is it? You always act like I'm the one who's mind is always on it. Well, fine, I know I talk it a lot. But it's only talk. You do it."

Hutch blinked. He tried to put two and two together, and it seemed to take a long time before he came up with four. In disbelief, he asked, "Are you saying that all this time... you've been jealous?"

"Of your women? Absolutely not."

The blond spread his hands. "Then what?"

Starsky looked away. He made a noise like he was going to speak, then stopped. He stared at the couch a long moment, and when the words finally emerged, they were rushed. "Hutch, I used to fool around as much as you did. You remember what it was like. I'd fuck anything female who threw herself at me, just because it was there. So, I know what it's like. I know what it's like to be horny for the latest conquest, and feel like a real stud when you've got what you wanted." His voice softened. "And I also remember how it feels afterwards, wishing she'd leave instead of spending the night, trying to remember her name the next morning, trying to be polite in the daylight when you really don't give a damn. I got tired of all that, Hutch. I grew out of it. So, a lot of the time, I just pretend that getting it is the most important thing in the world, when, in reality, I'd rather go without than do it with someone just to do it."

There was a sincerity in Starsky's eyes, a passion in his speech, that captured Hutch's admiration, and his compassion. But another part of him was bordering on anger, and that's the part that spoke. "So because you've 'grown up'," he mocked the phrase, "you're going to sit there and judge me."

"Not judge," the other corrected with a firm head-shake. "You asked before if I was jealous. Absolutely not. I want you to have what you want. But..." his voice stalled, and he had to place a hand on his chest, "I can't help but know what it's gotta be like. Afterwards. Later the same night, the next morning. I hate knowing that you have to be feeling all that... that emptiness. I wish... I wish it didn't have to be like that."

"So what's you're brilliant solution?" Hutch asked quickly, uncomfortable with the way he was being talked down to. "And what does any of this have to do with our conversation that night?" His speech slowed on the final words, as realization dawned.

"From that look on your face," the curly man replied, "I'd say you've already figured it out."

Hutch swallowed, wishing his beer had more than a sip left. Quickly, he admitted, "I'm not sure I can trust my instincts right now. Why don't you spell it out for me?" His heart was pounding. He'd been right when he'd first arrived: he wasn't ready for this. But, at least, they could get it out in the open, deal with it...

Starsky put his half-full bottle on the coffee table and leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees. His voice was soft, but earnest. "Hutch, what I was talking about before, about life?"

Hutch nodded, intrigued again.

"Well, when I think about it, the simple truth is, you're It Capital I. Everything that's important ties to you. Nothing else matters."

The blond's gaze dropped to the floor, wondering how it was that Starsky thought so highly of him; and yet, he didn't want to pursue the question, for some things were better left unexplained. And the beat his heart was increasing, driven by something that felt so... good...

"I mean," Starsky went on softly, "I loved Terri. I would have married her. I think it could have been almost as good with Rosie Malone. And there's been others. But, Hutch, they're all gone. And whenever one leaves, you're always there. You're the constant. The thing that never changes."

Hutch watched the nap of the rug blur, not sure if it was from being reminded of Starsky's losses, or of being the recipient of such sincere feeling.

"You know," the other continued, "you were saying once how much we were like an old married couple. And we are. We've been through it all, Hutch. We've built our careers together, built our lives together. We spend more time together than most couplesI've ever known. We know each other's likes and dislikes, each other's passions, each other's irritating qualities. And we accept them, have learned to live with them. We even know all about each other's finances. We've taken care of each other, nursed each other back to health, seen each other at our worst. We know how to play together, how to argue and fight and make up. We know how to say 'I love you'. I mean," his voice peaked, then stopped, then softened, "we're as married as any two people can possibly get."

Hutch looked up then, fascinated by the speech, amazed that Starsky could have orchestrated such a mouthful so that it still made sense. Then he bowed his head, smiling tenderly, though unsure of how to respond, if there was any way he could respond.

The dark eyes met the blond's across the brief space of the room. "There's just one thing, Hutch; one thing missing in this perfect little marriage."

Hutch shifted uncomfortably. He knew, of course, what it was. He rested his forehead in his hand, the elbow perched on his knee. Starsky was trying so hard, and he wanted to let him down as gently as he could, but wasn't sure how. The resulting frustration made his voice tighter than intended. "You didn't paint a very pretty picture of sex a few minutes ago." Guiltily, he looked up to meet the eyes that had, indeed, become wounded and confused.

"Meaning what?" Starsky's voice also carried an edge.

Hutch slowly shook his head. As gently as he could, he explained, "Starsky, I can't fuck you. I love you too damn much."

Bushy brows crinkled in puzzlement. "I can't fuck you, either. What does that have to do with any of this?"

Hutch blinked, body stiffening. Was it possible that he'd actually misread everything Starsky had been saying? He stuttered, "I thought—"

"Yeah?" Anger now.

More confused than ever, Hutch held out a hand, using it to accent his words. "I thought you were talking... about you and I..."

"I was."

"I mean, about us..."

Harshly, Starsky said, "Hutch, when was the last time—the last time—you honest-to-God made love to somebody? Made love, buddy."

Hutch got it now, the point that was being made. And he was surprised at the pain that laced through his chest. And annoyed that Starsky was talking down to him once again, judging him, and had to duck his head because he knew the answer and it hurt so much. Chin pressed toward his chest, he forced out the choked whisper, "Gillian."

The other side of the coffee table got very quiet. Hutch knew Starsky hadn't meant to hurt him. But now that the pain was there, so raw, the memories flooded back. What an irony it was. He'd known that he was truly in love with Gillian because he hadn'talways fucked her, and in the mornings after those nights, he was still madly in love with her. That's how he'd known that his feelings for her were something special. And only, immediately after losing her, to find out that many of the days before those nights she'd fucked other men, for money. Now, nearly two years later, it still confused him. He believed that she truly loved him, and he had truly loved her. Had she lived, he thought he could have forgiven her. But, still, he felt mocked by fate. When he'd been ready for true love, the fairly tale had disintegrated within his hands, revealing the rotting truth.

"Sorry, Hutch." Soft. Sincere.

The blond shook his head again, the opportunity to learn something important desperate to override the ancient sorrow. After a long moment, he whispered, "I've realized something." His gaze was still on the floor.


"That's when," he looked at his partner, "that's when I gave up."

"What do you mean?"

"Trying to find love from sex. After Gillian, I just took the sex. Never expected anything else. Didn't want anything else. I couldn't believe in all that love versus sex shit anymore." He took the final sip of beer.

Starsky was thoughtful. Then, gently, "I'm no shrink and that even makes sense."

"Thanks, partner."

"For what?"

"For helping me understand it."

"And—and now that you do?"

Hutch looked up from his empty bottle. Starsky was regarding him with trepidation now, as though fearing all his carefully laid plans were going to be flushed away. Hutch wasn't sure he could bear to see Starsky's fears realized. He wanted to make an effort. Now that his own soul felt a bit more cleansed, he settled back in his chair. "Tell me something."


"That night, when we were on the case, you were talking about being bisexual."


"Did you ever figure out for sure?"

Now Starsky settled back, as though grateful to have returned to the original subject. "I decided it didn't matter."


The smaller man shrugged. "It's just a label, Hutch. All it's good for is surveys and statistics."

Hutch laughed softly, proud of his partner. "Yeah."

"I do know one thing for sure."

"What's that?"

"I don't have any interest in men, in general. Like you said that night, that's something I know about myself, deep down."

"Then why did you ever think you might be bisexual?"

Starsky's eyes didn't waver, nor did his gentle voice. "Because I love you."

Hutch wasn't sure what one had to do with the other. "But the kind of love we have... it doesn't have to be that way."

"Of course it doesn't hafta be. But that's just it." The voice remained quiet, but increased in intensity. "Because of our fear of being called names, of what it could mean we may be, we don't consider that part for our perfect little marriage." He suddenly perched forward on the couch, driving his point home. "Hutch, we pay the price, suffer all the downs a relationship is supposed to have. We've been all through the bad stuff. And we're strong enough to make it through whatever other bad stuff comes along." He suddenly held out a fist, shaking it. "But we don't ever allow ourselves the one good thing, the special pleasure, that any good marriage has." The fist disintegrated. "We do all the suffering, but we don't allow ourselves the reward."

Hutch quickly looked down. His partner's intensely and desire was reaching out, threatening to draw him in. In addition to being his greatest strength, Starsky was also his greatest weakness. Hutch tended to try to give this most special of men anything he wanted.

"I mean, I know," Starsky continued, "that our relationship, as is, brings us both a lot of satisfaction. A lot of contentment. A lot of love. And lots of other stuff." He settled back again. "But, Hutch, we're still missing the—the special intimacy." Now a passionate whisper. "I want to share with you, as human beings were meant to share, in the way that God, or nature, or whatever you want to call it, intended, when two people feel as strongly about each other as we do."

Hutch tried to breathe, for it seemed he was being verbally boxed in. But he couldn't figure out fast enough if he wanted to find a way out. "Some people would say that only human beings of the opposite sex should share that way." He felt stupid saying it, knowing he was stalling. It was difficult keeping up with his partner's careful explanations, especially while sitting across the table from him. But it wouldn't be a good idea to move any closer, not until they worked this out verbally. That way, neither them could be lured by sensation alone...

"Since when has religion ever stopped you from anything?"

He wished Starsky hadn't taken his statement so seriously, and admitted, "Never."

Starsky threw up his hands, then let them fall to his knees, the resultant noise being one of finality. "I've made my speech, Hutch. For it to go any further than this, it has to be up to you." He stood and picked up the unfinished beer bottle.

Hutch held out his, watched Starsky take it, his eyes following the other to the kitchen. He was grateful for the respite from all the talk, though was uneasy with everything being left on his shoulders. He felt he should feel what Starsky felt. And, yet, the only emotions he could summon were affection for his partner, and admiration at the way the other had so carefully thought it all through. But his lower body seemed to have no interest in the direction the conversation had taken. "Starsk?" he called quietly.

The dark haired man approached with two cups of coffee. He handed one to Hutch, which the blond accepted with the assumption that Starsky felt this was too important for liquor to interfere with.

Starsky sat down. "Yeah?" he asked a bit guardedly.

Hutch wondered if the other were more afraid of him saying "Yes", or of him saying "No." The blond felt relaxed now, in control. He sipped the hot liquid carefully, then held the cup in his palm. Gently, he asked, "Don't you think you might be putting a little too much emphasis on your reaction in the bar that night?"

"No," came the firm reply. "I was thinking about it before then."

Oh, yeah. Something about kind of, sort of... but not outright fantasizing. Hutch studied the floor a moment. Then, hoping his words wouldn't cause pain, he carefully said, "I've never thought about us doing it. Not really." A gentle shrug. "Of course, after that night, and what you were saying, it was suddenly there, and I had no choice but to think about it. But..." he trailed off, searching for the best words, "But I've always been too busy feeling... I don't know, protective of you, I guess. Protective of what we have," he corrected. "I wouldn't want sex to spoil that." As soon as the last words were out, he knew he'd said the wrong thing, for it looked as though Starsky's point about sex versus love hadn't even made an impression.

But Starsky s reply was presented calmly. "You ever wonder why I was able to respond to you that night?"

Hutch's only answer was to wait.

"Hutch, you know I hate those bars. And you know I don't like, you know, getting it on with a crowd, an audience. But I was able to respond to you because I trusted you."

"But you were mad as hell at me for getting your motor running," the blond reminded.

"Only from the frustration. Because I knew we couldn't complete what you'd started." Now a deep throated whisper. "But it taught me something."

Hutch moved from his chair just long enough to place his coffee on the table, not interested in its flavor. "What?" he asked as he settled back.

Starsky gestured to his chest. "That all those feelings I get from you, all that warmth, all that stuff that I wouldn't give up for anything... I've realized that it can be... you know, intensified. In the most wonderful way, Hutch." He took a deep breath. "I know that we can't 'fuck' one another. But I—I think we're cheating ourselves—losing out on something important, something we deserve—if we don't allow ourselves to make love to each other."

His partner was so passionate about it, believed it all so thoroughly. Hutch wasn't sure that he could. And there was one particular problem that was starting to gnaw at him. "I'm not sure I can respond to you, buddy. I didn't that night at the bar."

"You explained that."

Hutch tilted his head to one side, remembering what his excuse has been, that he'd been too concerned about Starsky to give his own feelings any rein. Granted, it had been true enough. And he wondered if his inclination to protect his partner would always wall off any sexual feelings that he might otherwise experience. He wasn't sure why the two had to be separate. Certainly, with Van, the masculine desire to provide a safe haven for his woman had enhanced his desire to make to love to her. Maybe it was that, deep down, he knew Starsky could take care of himself.

Trying to tease, but realizing he was genuinely interested in the answer, Hutch asked, "Are you sure you'd know what to do once we were in bed together?"

Starsky answered seriously, though a touch sheepishly. "Well, I'm not saying I'd have the nerve to leave the lights on, especially at first." He shrugged, "Besides, Hutch, I'm not exactly lookin' to see you in your birthday suit. The stuff on the outside—that's not what I'm interested in."

Hutch furrowed a brow, wondering how Starsky was able to categorize something like that so easily, draw lines and distinctions. He wondered if that was why his groin wasn't interested. He'd been sitting here all evening, looking at his partner. He'd had an eyeful for seven years, so there wasn't much mystery there. And nudity wouldn't reveal anything he hadn't already seen a number of times. Hell, they'd been downright intimate on a physical level numerous times while nursing each other back to health.

But the intent at those times hadn't been to give pleasure, but merely to provide care, and to prevent further pain.

Maybe Starsky was right, and in all his lays in the two years since Gillian, he'd badly missed the boat somewhere. Any fuck could make his cock feel good, but his heart had been locked far, far away from any entanglement with sexual feelings. That kept it nice and simple. There was emptiness, but no pain. Pleasure, but no exhilaration.

But his heart hadn't been deprived, either. All this time he'd spent fulfilling his body's needs with one female form after another, his heart had been getting fulfillment from Starsky, the love growing stronger with each passing year. And, now, he wasn't sure a beautiful female could pry it away, even if he'd had any interest in letting her try.

Hutch felt the air around him soften, felt fragile matter within start to shimmer, threatening to turn to liquid. He wanted to capture the feeling, hold it, enjoy it, for a moment longer. He looked at his partner, who sat still on the couch, almost stiff with fear of what Hutch would say next. Stalling, the blond asked, "Think it's a good idea to really have us be everything to each other?" He couldn't quite meet the other's eye. "Have everything in one basket?"

Despite the fragile stance, the reply was confident. "I believe in going for it all. Playing it safe is for suckers."

Hutch laughed softly, not having any desire to tease further. He was effectively boxed in and was no longer concerned about finding a way out. "Okay."

Starsky's expression was worth a million bucks. "Okay."

"Yeah, let's give it a try. I'm with you."

Hutch had expected a degree of celebration, if not jumping up and down, at least blatant happiness. For Starsky had bared so much tonight, and surely it was a relief to have the issue resolved. Hell, this was the beginning of an adventure. One that, surely, could only hold good things for them both.

But the smaller man's jaw firmed, and he sat rigidly back against the couch. "Wait. There's something we have to agree on."

Hutch couldn't imagine what. "Okay," he replied cautiously.

"If we start sleeping together," the jaw firmed as Starsky wagged a finger, "there's no way in this world I'm going to put up with you sleeping with anybody else." His face became animated. "You can look and flirt all you want. I intend to do my share of that, too. But if you ever, ever go to bed with anybody else," Starsky had to pause for a breath, "I can't promise I'll be able to forgive you."

Hutch's mouth dropped open. He hadn't expected anything like this, and Starsky's passion was almost frightening.

The other was looking off to one side. "If you need time to think it over, then take it. Nothing's gonna happen until you've agreed."

Some insecure, masculine part of Hutch wanted to protest, wanted to threaten to take a long time to think about it, as a way of getting even for such an ultimatum, for trying to shackle him in chains. But another part, the part that was secure in the knowledge that he was loved unconditionally, wanted to rejoice in the restriction, for it took away the pressure of having to automatically respond to anything beautiful that came on to him, or feeling like he had to come on to anything beautiful that attempted to ignore him; took away the voice in the back of his head that said something was wrong with him if he wasn't trying to score every spare evening he possessed, trying to prove to his father what a man he was.

But it hadn't always been like that. "Starsky, I never cheated on Vanessa."

That reply was incredulous. "I never thought you did."

So he didn't think he was an ogre, after all, when it came to sex. Hutch felt some relief at that. "If I agree, then you have to, too."

The curly-haired man nodded once. "Of course."

Hutch glanced about the apartment, then shrugged. "Maybe we should move in together." He realized he was stalling again, and wasn't sure why he felt it necessary.

This time the dark head shook. "I don't think so. We need separate apartments for a front." Starsky's voice softened as is eyes twinkled. "Besides, we really do spend a lot a time together. Maybe it would be a good idea to have a place to go, where we can each get away from each other.... if necessary."

The blond's tiny small was one of admiration. "You've got it all figured out, haven't you"

Starsky nodded. "When I know what I want... I'll do whatever it takes to get it."

"And you want me," Hutch whispered. Having actually spoken the words, he found himself wondering what qualities he possessed that made the man across the room view him with such uncritical eyes. But there was another truth, too. "You know, you've always had me. I haven't belonged to anyone else since Vanessa." He blinked once, gazing at the rug, yet another truth presenting itself. "And I don't want to belong to anyone else."

Starsky presented a tender smile. "Does that mean you accept the terms?"

Hutch nodded. "Yes."

Starsky took a deep breath, looking away. "Oh, boy."

The blond chuckled affectionately. Starsky looked like the little boy he had spent so many years trying to protect. "What's the matter?"

The smaller man's mouth fell open, as his eyes darted about the room, looking everywhere except at his partner. Then a self-deprecating snort. "I—I don't know." He took a deep breath. "I'm—I'm not sure what we should do now. What happens next." He finally looked at Hutch helplessly.

The taller man felt matter within his chest begin to expand. He wondered if, after all of this, they should take a step back, allow themselves a breath. Take a day or two to be really sure, to talk more if they needed to. But he couldn't imagine what more needed to be said. And he didn't want to separate just now, with such a fragile beginning stretched before them.

Hutch lowered his eyes. For the first time in many years, he found himself looking forward to the future. For, now, there actually was one.

And, he realized with a heavy sigh, he was damned tired of them speaking across the blasted coffee table. They normally communicated with touch as much as with words, if not more so. He'd been at the apartment for nearly an hour, and they'd both been confined to their own cocoons all that time.

Being with him and not touching is worse than being apart.

"What do you wanna do?" The question was forced and afraid.

Hutch glanced up quickly. He could almost see the heart pounding in Starsky's chest. The desire to protect flared within. Whatever you want to do, he wanted to reply. But he knew he had to take the upper hand now. Starsky had done all he could.

Gently, Hutch said, "If you want to turn out the lights, it's okay by me."

"Yeah, good idea." Starsky was suddenly a bundle of energy, hopping to his feet He scattered about the apartment, flipping light switches in every nook and cranny. Eventually, the dwelling was pitch black, and an "Umph" was heard when the detective ran into the sofa.

Hutch stood, trying to adjust to the darkness. His arms reached out. "Where are you?"

Hands fumbled along them. "Right here."

The lines, planes, and curves of the other's body were so familiar. Hutch enfolded Starsky, pulling snug, his face burrowing in the strong neck. Arms went around his waist, squeezing, and the blond swayed them back and forth, the motion a gentle contrast to the firmness of their embrace.

A thick swallow emerged from the smaller man. Then the muffled voice confessed, "Hutch, I'm scared to death."

The blond squeezed harder. "I know," he whispered tenderly. "But, really Starsk, what is there to be afraid of? It's me and thee, like always."

"I know. But what if it doesn't work? I'm the one who's gotten us into this."

"Hey," Hutch scolded gently, easing his hold so he could look into the silhouette of the other's face. "We're in this together. And if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. No harm done. We'll just be the wiser, that's all." When he didn't get a response, he prompted, "Okay?"

"Yeah, okay," the silhouette nodded firmly. Then, quickly, "I love you, Hutch."

Hutch pressed his lips against the nearest cheek. "I know. I love you, too." Then, voice heavy, he confessed, "Sometimes I wish there were more words than 'I love you' to tell you how much I love you."

"Aw, Hutch, you've never needed anything else." Starsky's head was pressed against the blond's chest, and his face tilted upwards. "I've never questioned how you feel, because I've felt the same way, too. And, from now on, we'll at least be able to show each other in a more special way."

Hutch's heart swelled all the more for Starsky's belief in them, and he was grateful that the fear was dissipating. He wasn't totally convinced that becoming physically intimate was going to meet all of his partner's expectations, but he wanted to believe that it would. Besides, it had been established tonight that he was way out of practice when it came to making love to someone he loved. In fact, when it got down to it, he had loved very few people in his life.

That realization made him squeeze the precious body all the harder.

"Uh, Hutch, think we should move to the bedroom?"

Hutch knew that what Starsky really wanted was to continue what had happened in the bar... lie back and let Hutch work on him. And at that thought, Hutch felt his hope that this would truly work turn into belief. If he didn't have to do anything except concern himself with pleasing his partner, then his enthusiasm for the whole idea would increase tenfold. Unless things really got hot, he wouldn't even need pleasuring in return.

"Yeah," the blond finally answered. "But you know something, buddy?"

"What?" the other breathed against his chest.

"I think you've already done your share tonight. How about letting me take it from here?"

"Uh, sure," came the hesitant reply, as though Starsky wasn't really certain what Hutch meant.

Hutch firmly stroked Starsky's chin, then maneuvered it so that it was pointing up. Still holding it, he bent and placed his lips over the other's. He kissed very gently... once, twice... then pressed more firmly.

He could feel whatever barriers remained in the other man slipping away. Starsky was already warmed up, his body ready to be molded into whatever Hutch wanted to do with it.

"Oh, man," Starsky whispered raggedly, when his lips were finally released.

Hutch chuckled softly, pleased with the result he could create. And, yet, he was also aware that his own body still had no interest in the activities. He realized, with a silent sigh, that old habits were going to be hard to break. Starsky had been taboo for so long from a sexual standpoint that it was probably going to be a while before the physical part of him learned that it was all right to let itself free. And perhaps that was a blessing, for his love for Starsky was so great that a part of Hutch feared the result when that love was allowed to express itself via the heat of sexual passion.

The blond turned toward the bedroom, maneuvering his new lover to one side. "To the bedroom, buddy." He liked the way his hand fit on the other's waist as he guided him through the darkness. They stumbled only once.

The taller man stopped just past the threshold, and turned to face Starsky. He reached to the collar of the cotton shirt, using both hands to undo the buttons. He moved quickly and efficiently, pulling the shirttail out as his hands moved downward. When both halves hung open, he debated about removing the shirt, but decided to keep it on. It would be more enjoyable to remove it later.

Starsky's hands reached for Hutch's shirt. The blond quickly stilled them. "No, let me do it all," he gently reminded.

The hands dropped to Starsky's sides.

Hutch knelt. His partner wasn't wearing shoes. He lifted an ankle and removed the sock. Then repeated the motion on the other foot. Then he stood, debating about the jeans. He liked the idea of leaving them on, but they, of course, were tight enough to be downright uncomfortable if he intended to have his partner writhing about the bed. Besides, he didn't want to strangle that particularly sensitive flesh within.

He pulled apart the snap, the motion sounding loud in the darkness. As he started to push down the hems, he commanded, "Keep your underwear on."

Starsky obediently took the waistband of his briefs in hand, hanging onto it as Hutch continued to pull the jeans down his legs. When they were pooled on the floor, the blond lifted each leg in turn, then pushed the material away. He stood, then slowly reached around Starsky, inside the shirt, and settled on the warm flesh there. He massaged firmly, circular motions that tried to cover as much area as possible. Then he pressed against the spine while at the same time lowering his mouth to the other's.

Hutch allowed himself a groan of satisfaction, for he was enjoying this, amazed once again at how malleable this special man was in his arms. His hands started rubbing, and his tongue licked along the lips he possessed, and they parted. His tongue delved in, and his partner's groin leapt forward in the search for something to press against.

Hutch abruptly released Starsky, then took his hand, and led him around to the side of the bed. The other was breathing hard, and the blond pressed on his shoulders, encouraging him to sit. Starsky did, and with further pressure, he laid back.

Hutch knelt on the bed beside him, and started unbuttoning his own shirt. He kicked off his tennis shoes while doing so, and then pulled the shirttail out of his corduroys, and let it hang open. He got on the bed on his knees, then slowly straddled his partner. A hand reached for Hutch's chest, and the blond let it rest there, enjoying the heat against his smoothness. Slowly, he lowered his body, first by dropping his forearms to the bed, then stretching his legs out behind him, finally placing his groin within the vicinity of his partner's.

He put a hand behind Starsky's head, twining his fingers in the much-loved hair, and raised it while leaning forward to kiss. As their mouths intermingled, he allowed every inch of his body to press against the other man's. This was the one thing, in all their displays of affection, they'd never allowed themselves to do before. And now it was a reality, and Hutch wanted to make every moment count, make every gesture an act of love.

Starsky's briefs arched against Hutch's cords, and the blond stroked the hair with both hands now. He released the other's lips, and gently whispered, "How you feeling?"

The other panted, "Like I'm about to explode."

Hutch kissed under the chin, then the neck. Pulling back, he said, "I'll help you with that in a minute. But I need you to do something for me." He kissed the collar bone.

"Sure. Name it."

Hutch scooted up a little, so he could look down at his partner. His eyes had adjusted a little, and he could see the outline of the rugged face. "Whatever I do to you, I want you to tell me if you don't like it, or if there's a better way I can do it to make it more pleasurable. Don't hesitate to talk to me, buddy. I need to learn how to make it good."

"Yeah, okay," came the ragged reply. "You're doin' fine so far."

Hutch moved back down, kissed along the collar bone. Then his lips broke a trail down the middle of the hairy chest. Starsky was just so damn... masculine. He'd always admired the man that his partner was, as well as loving the child within.

His mouth kissed to the left, tonguing a small protrusion. He waited until it hardened, then whispered, "You sensitive there, buddy?"

"Sort of," came the doubtful answer.

Hutch very gently nipped at the delicate skin, taking it in his teeth to suck. He loved that kind of attention—and rarely got it—but he'd heard that not all men reacted the same way. With his hand, he kneaded the opposite protrusion, tugging at it with twisting fingers.

Starsky pressed against the blond's chest. "Easy."

Hutch let go. "Sorry." His kisses in the area were now ones of apology.

Starsky's groin lunged against him again.

"Almost there, partner," Hutch soothed. He got up on his knees, to slide back more quickly. His pointed tongue drew a line from the center of the chest, down the furry trail, to pause at the navel. He swirled it around, and Starsky jack-knifed with a giggle.

Hutch sat up, a hand reaching behind to be inserted inside Starsky's shirt. He rubbed soothingly at the back, then dropped lower, carefully delving inside the underwear. The motion of his hand became more aggressive as it slid over one cheek, then another.

Starsky groaned contentedly.

The hand slowed, and a finger drifted down into the seam separating the twin globes. Hutch felt around, finding the recess, but quickly drifting past it. He would have loved to stop to explore inside, but wouldn't dare tempt it without lubricant to ease the way. As was, he could feel a slight tension at the exploration, and knew it was too soon.

He took the waistband in hand, gently whispering, "Ready for these to come off?"

As Starsky rolled onto his back, Hutch pulled at the briefs. The other assisted by moving his legs, and within seconds, they had been cast aside.

Moment of truth.

Hutch felt along a thigh, let it guide him to the torso, drifted over until his hand bumped a moist hardness. He heard his partner draw a breath.

It wasn't as intimidating as Hutch thought it might be. He felt only sympathy for its need, and spread his fingers to press his hand against the firm, smooth column. He looked toward the head of the bed, couldn't see his partner's expression, but he did feel a slight undulation beneath his hand. The hand moved to drift lower, explore furred testicles. He took the sac in hand, rolling it within his fingers. "How's that?"

"Feels good," came the nasal response. Then the groin arched. "I'm real close, Hutch."

The blond shifted until he was kneeling beside his partner, his hand now over the straining shaft. He ran sympathetic fingers up and down its length. While doing so, he leaned forward and whispered, "Buddy, I'm going to do the best I can. Keep talking to me, teach me how to make it good." He scooted back further on the bed, moving in between the legs that spread for him.

"Yeah, okay." The voice was strained.

Hutch had two hands on it now. He held it perpendicular, trying to think about all the things that made this act great, and the mistakes that were most easily made in applying it. Some women were so fantastic, and some didn't seem to have a clue where the sensitive areas were, like they thought merely putting their mouth on it was all that was needed.

Hutch lowered himself in the dark, sticking out his tongue, searching. His aim was perfect, for he encountered the seeping slit first, and felt the gasp of surprise from his partner. The emission tasted bitter and salty, but Hutch was determined not to be shy, for if women did it, there was no reason why he couldn't. Plus, he sampled his own often enough in past years that he knew there was nothing to be repelled about.

He lowered his lips on the head, noting the spongy texture. He paused to work up some spit, knowing how erotic a lubricated mouth felt. As he took in more of the length, he started to swallow, creating a sucking action. When he felt himself start to choke, he knew he could go no further, and was disappointed, for some length still remained outside.

Starsky groaned and reached down with a hand. "Hutch?"

The blond pulled back, mouth reluctantly releasing the straining member.

The other man's breath was heavy, as his fingers brushed against Hutch's along the underside of the shaft. "It feels best on the spot right there."

Hutch couldn't see where Starsky was pointing, but he knew.

"If you can," Starsky panted, "suck against that..."

Eagerly, Hutch gripped the shaft again. "Tell me when I've got it right." He brought his mouth down on it again, feeling Starsky's hand slip to one side. He maneuvered his lips around it, sucking all the while, trying to position the greatest suction against the magic spot just behind the head. He knew from his own experience how frustrating it was to have a lover sucking avidly, but not quite on the most sensitive area.

Starsky was groaning and muttering encouragement. Then, suddenly, he grabbed Hutch's hair. "Oh, God, there. Right there."

Hutch didn't dare move, but went to work, sucking earnestly, realizing a bit guiltily how exhausting this act was for the person applying it. But, unlike women, he also knew exactly how good it could feel.

Starsky was getting vocal now, upper body writhing against the mattress. "Oh, God, Hutch. Oh, baby, that's perfect. That's just perfect." His hand stroked and massaged Hutch's hair. "You're so beautiful," he whispered. "So beautiful... Man, I'm gonna come. I'm really gonna come."

Encouraged, Hutch continued milking it, waiting for the explosion, surprised that he heard Starsky yell before the bitter liquid emerged at the back of his mouth. He swallowed it down, relieved that they'd been able to do this without too much awkwardness, that he was truly capable of bringing his partner that kind of pleasure.

Starsky's body went limp as he was released. "Aw, Hutch." His hand was still intertwined in the soft hair, until Hutch forced it away by straightening. "Did it taste okay?"

The blond smiled in the darkness, doubting that Starsky's female partners were asked that. He shifted until he was again kneeling at the darker man's side, and he laid a hand on the slightly damp chest. "Yeah, it tasted fine," he whispered, scooting forward. "Why don't you see for yourself." He leaned down, took the other man's mouth in his own, purposely forced his tongue inside the twin barriers, introduced it to his partner's dancing flesh.

When he pulled back, Hutch realized that he had a hard-on. He spread his knees to allow more room, and wondered if he should discard the pants. But he felt the barrier might be necessary, and decided he could bear the torture.

He shifted until his weight was on a hip, then ran his hand up and down Starsky's chest, soothingly, realizing that the shirt was the only clothing that remained. He pushed it back against Starsky's arms, and the curly-haired man seemed to understand, for he raised on an elbow, and Hutch was able to remove the garment with little difficulty.

Starsky laid back down with a contented sigh.

Hutch's hand resumed its pattern. Gently, he said, "You liked that, huh?"

"Oh, yeah," the other breathed.

Hutch smiled in the darkness. His hand gradually drifted to a side, feeling the spring of ribs, then drifted to the back. As it massaged more firmly, Starsky started to turn toward him, and the reward was that more of the back was favored. After the smaller man had relaxed further, the hand drifted down to the buttocks. It skimmed them lightly, then teased into the center.

Tenderly, Hutch whispered, "Will you let me put my tongue back there?"

Surprise dominated the drowsy voice. "Huh?"

"I'm real good at it," Hutch promised. The finger continued to gently probe. "It can feel like nothing else."

Starsky shifted slightly, and the blond could sense his partner's unease. Hutch removed the finger, and his hand now rested on a hip.

"Well, uh," Starsky began, "I—I wouldn't want you to do anything like that without, you know, showering or somethin' first."

Hutch moved the hand up to Starsky's shoulder, squeezing with a gentleness that matched his voice. "I really like doing it. It can feel really, really good."

Voice an octave higher, the smaller man asked, "Are you thinkin' you want to go all the way?"

Hutch felt the surge in his groin. Apparently, his body was recovering from its over-protective nature. His hand moved from shoulder to face, the fingers gently brushing along the forehead, nose, and cheek. "That's up to you, partner. One doesn't have to have anything to do with the other."

"I guess I figured we would at some point," Starsky admitted.

"But it doesn't have to be tonight."

"But no reason not to, is there?"

Hutch felt a surge of tenderness. He leaned over his partner, placing his hand in the center of the chest. "Sometimes, buddy, it can really hurt."

After a moment, the other asked, "Have you done it a lot?"

"With women, yes." When there was no reply, Hutch shrugged and elaborated, "Some act like it's no big deal, some get real turned on by it, some say they want to do it until they find out that it can hurt, and still others have practically slapped me for even suggesting it." It never ceased to amaze him the differences in human beings, that the very things some people craved were a repellent to others.

"I've never done it," Starsky announced.

"Really?" The question sounded more surprised than Hutch actually felt. He'd gotten the impression, over time, that Starsky was a man who preferred the basics. His partner's greatest strength as a lover was in his ability to drag out the act until his lady was satisfied, often multiple times, before taking his own pleasure. Hutch had learned that from occasional morning-after bragging by his partner, as well as from women they'd both slept with.


"Well, actually, from everything I understand, it's supposed to feel better to men than it does to women."

"It is?" Starsky asked skeptically.

Hutch stroked the chest again, in a gesture that was purely soothing. "Yeah. It's just the way the male organs are arranged. The prostate gland is supposed to get stimulated when men do... that." He paused, thinking of his own experiences with educated women. "Haven't you ever had a girlfriend put her finger back there?"

"Yeah, a few times." The tone indicated it hadn't been anything special.

Starsky had a lot to learn, and Hutch was looking forward to teaching him. But, still... "Starsk, I imagine it probably seems to hurt more to men, too... just because of the psychological barrier that it's not supposed to happen to them. It's probably harder to relax and accept it."

There was silence, and Hutch knew Starsky was thinking it through. In the meantime, his hand continued to pet and massage, loving the feel of lax body beneath him.

Finally, the nasal tone said, "I trust you, Hutch. If you want to go ahead and do it, I don't have a problem with it."

Hutch closed his eyes, always feeling such a mixture of warmth and pressure when the element of trust came up. He leaned closer, hand resting on a shoulder. "Starsky, that may not change the fact that it might really hurt."

"But it would get better, the more we got used to it, right?"


Then we have to start somewhere."

No, we don't have to, Hutch wanted to remind him. But he didn't want to blow the event out of proportion. He'd like to think that, in time, they could enjoy it a lot... and do it a lot.

His hand rubbed again. "Do you have anything for grease?"

"There's Vaseline in the medicine cabinet."

"Not the best thing, but it'll do."

"I'll get it when I shower." But Starsky just seemed to melt into the mattress.

Hutch smiled gently, deciding there could be something said for waiting. He shifted again, stretching out his long legs, and an arm brushed against the waistline of his cords.

"Hey," Starsky whispered, "how come you have so many clothes on?

Hutch considered before answering. "I like teasing myself."

Starsky chuckled briefly from deep within his throat.

The noise sounded so... familiar, so natural. Hutch lowered himself behind his friend, who was now turned partly onto his side, facing away. He spooned his body around the smaller form, taking the trim waist within both arms. As he lay there, he felt his erection wilt, even as his heart expanded. He laughed softly in disbelief, craning his neck forward to kiss beneath the line of curly hair.

"What's so funny?" came the soft inquiry. Starsky's hands rested where the blond's clasped.

"I've got to learn to untrain myself," the taller man admitted, then buried his nose in Starsky's hair.

"What do you mean?"

Hutch pressed his groin against the curve of the other's buttocks. "My hormones still think you're off limits."

In a sincere voice, Starsky said, "I didn't think your hormones had any limits."

Hutch's hands moved up the beloved body, and his arms squeezed more firmly. "Guess again."

He felt he could lay here forever, absorbing the other's warmth. "I guess it's going to take me awhile to get used to the fact that you're mine. All mine."

Starsky chuckled proudly at that.

The blond kissed the hair again. "I love you."

The darker man sighed deeply, a grunt of contentment emerging.

One hand felt along the furred chest, stroking in small circles. "I've never felt like this with anyone." Hutch heard Starsky swallow, as though the other were going to ask for elaboration, but didn't know how to word it. The blond whispered, "Just being so close, it makes me feel like I'm at the center of everything that's important." His arms squeezed again, gently this time.

Another swallow, then a gruff, "I love you, too, Hutch."

Hutch kissed along the back of the neck. "I've never doubted it. And you're the only person I can say that about." He was surprised to hear himself say the last, for he didn't want to disrupt the mood with bad feelings from the past.

But it looked like it was already disrupted, for Starsky suddenly rolled onto his back. Hutch felt a hand settle on the side of his face.

"It's so hard to believe," whispered the sympathetic voice. "How could anyone not love you?"

Hutch leaned into the hand, then turned his lips to it, planting wet kisses. "Doesn't matter," he finally whispered back. "Your love makes up for everything... a thousand times over." He hesitated, trying to find the right words, then, "Really, Starsk, is what's between us something you ever imagined having?"

The response was firm. "No."

Hutch now reached to take the caressing hand within his own. "Sometimes, life comes up with pleasant little surprises. And, sometimes, the pleasure lasts more than a matter of moments. It can go on for years and years and years."

Now a hint of fear at how much they had to lose. "We have to keep it that way, Hutch."

The blond couldn't imagine otherwise. "We will." To accent his words, he kissed the hand he held, then drew the kisses up the arm. While doing so, he rolled over on top of the nude body, and now the gentle touches included the collarbone.

"You ever going to take those clothes off?"

Hutch paused. "You ever going to take that shower?"

Starsky wriggled beneath the long frame. "If you make it worth my time."

Hutch grunted with a hint of amusement, but the humor was gone a moment later. He had every intention of making it worth the other's time. He looked down at Starsky, noting that he could now see the eyes somewhat in the darkness. And he could detect the outline of the prominent nose... The full lips...

Hutch placed an arm behind Starsky's neck. His other hand pressed against a prickly cheek. Slowly, the blond lowered his face to the other's, and when their lips connected, he pressed with a slow, firm pressure, moving their mouths back and forth. He could feel a tingle in his groin, and it encouraged him to press harder, hands and arm squeezing more firmly.

Starsky arched against him, and Hutch slowly pulled back.

"Okay," the smaller man relented breathlessly, "as soon as you let me up, I'll take that shower."

The blond leaned back down, kissed Starsky again while fingers stroked into the dark curls. After pulling back, he whispered, "Your hair is so beautiful."

"My hair?" Starsky asked in disbelief. His hand shot out in the dark to settle upon the fine strands of his partner's. "My God, Hutch, you're the one who's beautiful. Everyone notices how beautiful you are."

Hutch ducked his head, the old self-consciousness of having the golden boy image returning. And, yet, he found himself, perhaps more than ever, appreciating that he was gifted with such features. For if Starsky found him pleasing, he didn't want to look any way else. But, still, there was nothing wrong with his lover's rugged handsomeness. His brief laugh was forced. "Ah, come on, Starsk, don't tell me you don't think you're good looking."

The finger furrowed more deeply within the blond strands. Seriously, Starsky said, "No, I don't mean that. I mean that, don't you realize how it's made me feel all these years, being next to you, knowing that others see how beautiful you are? It's always made me feel proud to be next to you. Because it made me feel like I had something that other people didn't have." He paused a moment. "I mean, sure, you have other qualities that most other people don't get to see. But the part they do see... ah," Starsky shook his head at the wonder of it, "it's like being on top of the world. People notice you, Hutch. But they can only look and not touch. I can touch."

Hutch was very still, as he continued to lay on top of his partner. He wasn't sure if he should try to say anything, try to explain how much it meant to be told he was downright handsome by his partner's standards. He'd never expected the words to mean so much, corning from one particular person.

He finally straightened, dislodging Starsky's hand. Swallowing heavily, and after a couple of false starts, he finally chose a simple reply, though it had to be stated in a gruff voice. "I'm glad you think so."

His face was taken in firm, strong hands. They held him in place as Starsky raised up and planted quick, powerful kisses all along his lips. Hutch felt his heart beat faster, and his hand was placed on the furry chest, beginning to slide down...

Starsky suddenly wriggled away. "Time for that shower." And he was on his feet, heading for the bathroom.

The blond watched fondly as the silhouette made the journey without bumping into anything. For an instant, that area of the room was illuminated, then the door closed.

Hutch sat with a knee drawn up, an arm draped across it. He really should undress, but there was still a part of him that hesitated. Perhaps, if he delayed until the final moment, the familiarity of clothes would give his partner a greater sense of security. Not that Starsky was being shy, but Hutch was certain that some part of his special man was still terrified beneath at it all—that they had taken this final step, that it was he, normally the follower between them, who had caused it.

Such a remarkable thing, that.

Hutch blinked slowly, staring at the bedspread he couldn't see. If the truth be known, he would prefer that Starsky do it to him first. That way, he would know how it felt, and the knowledge would, hopefully, help him be that much gentler when he did It to Starsky. But he also knew that if he waited for his companion to make the first move, it could be a long time in coming. Starsky had a sensitivity about him that would make it very difficult to do something so harsh, even in the name of making love. In fact, now that he thought about it, Hutch realized that even with Starsky being on the bottom first, the smaller man would not be in any hurry to demand reciprocation. Hutch himself would have to initiate it.

The blond shifted, the second knee and arm positioned to mirror the first. He heard the water go off, tried to imagine what Starsky was thinking about what was ahead, hoped the other hadn't gotten carried away with the cleansing and scrubbed himself raw.

Hutch truly enjoyed what he was about to do. He remembered, while in college, the first time he'd done it to a date. She'd called him "naughty", and the label had thoroughly excited him, for no one would expect an angelic, golden boy to behave in such a way. He had continued to behave naughtily in all the years since. Some women loved it, some just seemed amused, some wouldn't let him... Van, she had gone for it sometimes, not liked it at others. After the divorce, he was free to look for women who liked a naughty man. And had found many.

But it wasn't making love, Hutch reminded himself. He tried to force the sadness back, and examine the fact from a more objective, philosophical perspective. He wondered why he had been so content to participate in all those shallow couplings.

Because Starsk was providing all the love. I didn't need it from anyone else.

Could both pleasures really be drawn together, come from the same person, even if their coupling created a relationship that would be frowned upon by others?

That was how it was supposed to work, wasn't it?

But we can't tell anyone else. That went without saying. Though, maybe, they could drop some hints to Huggy. Maybe even to Dobey. Hutch wanted to think that a few special others could share in his and Starsky's happiness.

Can we really be happy? He knew what Starsky would say: Why the hell not?

Yeah, why not? he asked himself determinedly.

The door opened, the light went off, and thick, humid, air scented the bedroom. Bare feet were heard against the floor. "I've taken that shower," Starsky informed cheerfully. "You got those clothes off yet?"

The blond's chuckle was feather-soft, and a trifle challenging. "No."

The feet stopped. "Why not?"

Hutch held out his arms toward the voice. "Come 'ere."

The bed rocked with Starsky's hesitant weight, and then something cold and hard came into contact with Hutch's arm, eventually finding it's way into his hand.

"That's, uh," the Brooklyn accent was strong, "you know, the uh . . . the Vaseline."

Hutch stretched at an awkward angle behind him, until the jar found purchase on a bureau. As his arms came around the cool body that was maneuvering itself against him, he whispered, "We aren't going to need that yet. I'm going to make you feel real, real good first." The arms squeezed, and he pressed his face against the strong neck. Starsky's hair was damp only at the ends. "I love you so much." He was surprised at how strong his need was to keep saying the words.

Starsky grunted, settling against him. "You keep repeating yourself," he pointed out, stroking along the arms that held him.

The attempt at humor told the blond that Starsky was feeling a bit nervous. He planted a firm kiss in the middle of the nearest cheek. "I'm going to make you feel real good," he reminded in a whisper. A hand drifted down to a buttock. "You aren't just going to feel it here," his fingers danced near the cleavage, "and here," the hand quickly brushed across the soft groin, "but also," Hutch deliberately let his voice get breathless, and now a finger started at the nape of Starsky's neck, and drew a line down the spine, "you're going to feel it all along here."

Starsky shivered, and Hutch laughed gently. He reached to turn the pointed chin toward him, and slowly placed his mouth over the other's. He knew his partner probably wouldn't let them kiss afterwards, and he was desperate for one more thorough drink from this very special well.

Starsky obliged, kissing back, pressing like a man willing to be aroused again. Hutch felt his own groin twitch, and he finally, reluctantly, released the other and straightened. He placed a hand on the other's back, gently beckoning. "Lie down." As Starsky started to, the hand moved to a shoulder, continuing to press. "On your side or on your stomach, whatever's most comfortable." Hutch squeezed the shoulder when his partner became still, lying at a partial angle on his right side.

"Okay," Hutch whispered, slowly shifting behind the nude form, "you just let your buddy take it from here." He could still sense a feeling of foreboding at the unknown, and he leaned down over the body, lips near an ear. "Don't forget to let yourself enjoy it. That's the whole point." He remembered something from their conversation earlier in the evening—had this turning point for them really happened such a short time ago?—and said, "I'm going to make love to you. And it's going to be real special, for both of us."

Hutch thought he heard an in-drawn breath at the promise, and as his groin was getting more and more interested, he couldn't wait any longer. He, too, settled on his right side, and bracing with an elbow, slid down the mattress until he could comfortably place a kiss against an upturned buttock. With a finger, he felt along the tailbone, into the crevice, using only the softest pressure. He paused at the recess, stroked around it, groin surging when he allowed himself to imagine that later he'd be able to stick the finger inside.

But not now. He thoroughly wet his tongue, then scooted slightly forward until his face was pressed against the firm cheeks. He managed to bring his thumbs up and part the south end of the hemispheres. He tasted the exposed flesh, delighting in the furred, wrinkled texture, and his tongue circled around it. He felt the body in his care writhe slightly, and he held it more firmly, so he could press further.

His tongue circled the opening again and again, then wetly laved the center. He paused a second, then kissed the tightness, then leisurely sucked in the excess spit.

A gasp of surprise emerged from his victim, followed by the tensing of muscles.

Hutch licked more purposely, trying to force the other to accept the sensations rather than fighting against it. For him, there had never been anything strange about it. Besides, as far as he was concerned, the whole point of foreplay was to thoroughly explore all those places with his tongue where his cock was eventually going to go. He took great pleasure in imagining comparing textures against his tongue, versus those same textures clamped around his maleness.

And Starsky was tight. He pressed further, forcing his tongue in, dancing all about the sensitive skin. After pausing for breath, he drooled again, then sucked at the lubricated opening.

This time the noise of surprise was a choked cry, and Hutch felt the agile body shiver against him. He reached up with a hand, confirming the goosebumps along the back. It encouraged him, and he pressed more firmly, his pointed tongue darting passed the barrier to reach inside. The tongue made a sweeping circle again, and Hutch strained against the crevice, trying to keep his lubricated flesh within.

Finally, he had to pull back, desperate for air. He'd been so intent on his work that he only now realized how much Starsky was groaning.

He took Starsky's arm, tenderly whispering, "Here, put your arm under your knees and draw your legs up. It'll help me get in deeper." The other obeyed immediately, and Hutch felt a surge of affection for the trust that Starsky had in him. He paused, hand on a now more exposed hip, and said, "I can keep this up all night, partner. You're going to have to tell me when you're ready for me to stop and go on to something else." By the time Hutch was back in position, there hadn't been a response. He was pleased that the other, whose body felt both more relaxed and more excited, wanted more.

Hutch spent the next couple of minutes working his tongue back inside in a leisurely manner, pausing occasionally in his licking to plant a gentle kiss. He felt the surrounding flesh relax further, and the wet orifice was penetrated more easily this time. He felt his tongue go in deeper than before, and he began the wide, sweeping action once again, starting out slowly, than gradually letting the circling flesh build up speed. Then he suddenly withdrew and sucked firmly at the outer skin of the recess, and Starsky bucked so hard that the blond almost lost his place.

Groans, this time of disbelief, sounded from his partner, as Hutch kept his lips clamped against the slippery flesh. Finally, he ran out of air, and he had to let go. He exhaled heavily against opening, forcing another gasp of surprise. Then he withdrew for a quick breath.

This time, when he returned, he worked intently, sucking more than licking, kissing more than drooling. When his tongue penetrated yet again, he used a sharp, stabbing motion, and Starsky's hips wriggled side to side, encouraging the blond further...

"Stop!" came the heavy cry. Starsky tried to squirm away.

Hutch withdrew, breathing heavily, his erection straining against the corduroys.

The smaller man was also gasping for breath. "No more, no more. It's too much. I can't take it." His arms were still locked beneath his knees.

Hutch placed a hand on the nearest hip, feeling a damp sheen. "Okay," he whispered soothingly, then drew a deep breath. "You ready for the rest?"

Starsky's respiration was slowing. "Yeah, we-can-still-do-that-I-think."

If they didn't do "that", Hutch was going to need relief some other way. His voice strained in an effort to not reveal the intensity of his arousal. "I want you to be sure."

Starsky finally released his legs and rolled all the way over to his stomach. "Yeah, I'm sure."

The blond felt a surge of relief. He leaned against a hip. "I'm going to need to see what I'm doing, so I'm going to turn on the bathroom light."

The other made a noise of acquiescence.

Hutch got off the bed and moved to the bathroom. He closed the door partway, then switched on the light. While he wasn't any more anxious than Starsky to have the bright intrusion, his private reason for turning it on was so he could see Starsky's face when he was on top of him. If doing it ended up being more difficult than they'd imagined, he didn't want Starsky biting his lip and hiding it from him.

Hutch decided once and for all that the clothes were going to have to go. He moved around to the foot of the bed, where Starsky was sprawled in the center. The standing man discarded his shirt first, then unsnapped his pants. The lowering of the zipper sounded loud, and Starsky got up on an elbow and glanced back at him.

Hutch lowered the cords and underwear in one fluid motion. His cock sprang free, coming to rest at a ninety degree angle. After stepping out of the pants, and discarding his socks, he straightened and stroked the protrusion soothingly.

"You're so white, you practically glow in the dark," Starsky noted with amazement. "the white knight."

Hutch snorted, not sure if it were meant as a compliment. He did enjoy knowing Starsky was watching him as he moved to the dresser and took the jar of Vaseline in hand. He hoped his straining erection didn't seem too intimidating. For a moment, he considered asking something like, "Think you can handle it?", but he really had no desire to tease. And, especially, if it turned out that his partner couldn't...

He looked forward to the day when they were experienced enough that extreme arousal would be welcomed rather than feared.

He got on the bed next to Starsky, resting a hand on the lower back. "It's just going to be fingers at first, partner. If I start moving too fast, doing too much, just let me know and I'll slow right down."

"Yeah, gotcha," the other replied with forced casualness.

Hutch reached for a pillow. "Here, buddy, let's put this under you." Starsky seemed to understand the idea, for he shifted until Hutch put the pillow in place, then lowered his hips on top of it.

The blond tried not to stare too much at the firm, round flesh, raised just for him, because it was arousing him further. He settled between Starsky's legs and focused on dipping out a large dollop of Vaseline. It wasn't his favorite lubricant, for it was so thick and difficult to work with. He lowered his hand to the moist crevice, stroked the opening there with a dry finger, then gently pushed in with the greased digit. "Okay, pal?"

"Yeah, hardly feel it." The words were lazily muffled.

Hutch stroked inside, trying to spread the gel, then withdrew for more. This time, he inserted two fingers, felt a slight flinch, and paused a moment. When the compact body relaxed again, he pushed the fingers in further, feeling around, and stroked purposely along the bottom of the tract.

After a moment, Starsky wriggled slightly and asked, "What are you doing?"

"Feel good?"

"Yeah." The tone was one of soft surprise. "Especially right... right... there."

Hutch focused his fingers on that particular spot.

The smaller body wriggled again. "Man, that's nice. Where did you learn that?"

"From women who knew what they were doing."

Hutch would have loved to continue the stroking, but his patience was wearing thin. He withdrew the fingers. "Ready for the big time?"

"As ready as I'll ever be."

"Okay, let me just grease it up and we'll be all set."

"Hutch, wait." Starsky got up on an elbow and glanced back. "Can I... Can I touch it first?"

The blond paused, feeling some part of him disintegrate into goo. Gently, he replied, "Sure. Just... just be careful. I'm close."

Starsky reached back with a hand, and Hutch took the wrist, guiding it to his erection. "You can wrap it around there, but you better not stroke." The masculine hand closed around the thick protrusion, and Hutch rolled his eyes to the ceiling. He loved being gripped like that by women; and now, he found that a strong man's hand was even more enthralling. "That feels nice."

"Feels big," Starsky informed him.

Again, Hutch wasn't sure if the other were trying to be complimentary, or trying to indicate that it may be too much to take. He could feel the fingers squeezing slightly, testing the girth.

"Buddy, I'm really, really close." Hutch took a deep breath. "I'm probably not going to need to get in very far."

A shrug answered him. "Whatever, Hutch. Don't, you know, forget to enjoy yourself."

The tender swelling was there once again in the vicinity of his chest. The blond smiled affectionately, even as the hand released him. "I don't think that's going to be a problem."

Starsky settled back against the mattress. "Go for it, Blondie."

He was glad his partner's humor had returned. Hutch scooped out another helping of Vaseline, and with practiced fingers, spread it liberally over the head of his penis, then for good measure, applied a layer a few inches back. He got on all fours, pacing his hands on either side of Starsky. Breathing heavily, he said, "Whenever the pressure gets to be too much, let me know and I'll give you a breather. You don't have to take it all at once. I'm going to go in real slow."

"You got it."

Hutch placed his dry hand against Starsky's spine. "And when it does hurt, don't fight against it. Try to relax and accept it."

"Yeah, okay."

Hutch straightened and took his penis in hand. He scooted forward to press it along the crevice, and it easily found the well lubricated spot. He pushed with his hips, and the head popped forward between the slippery walls. Starsky threw his head up, and Hutch closed his eyes and waited.

"Easy does it," the blond coaxed in a trembling voice. He waited until the curly head laid back down, and then he pressed a little further. The tract was so tight, so moist, so warm. His hips pushed yet again.

Starsky grunted deep within his throat, and Hutch paused yet again, feeling beads of sweat break out on his forehead. He was halfway in, and all he had to do is undulate a few times...

"Okay," the smaller man grunted again. "It's okay now, go ahead."

Hutch bent his elbows and leaned down to rest his forehead against the strong back. In a small voice, he said, "Try not to move, okay? I'm so close, and I don't want it to end yet."

Starsky was obediently silent, his body gradually relaxing beneath the blond's.

Hutch breathed deeply a few times. He wanted Starsky to know what it felt like, and that was impossible until the other took his turn. But in the meantime... "Buddy, give me your hand."

Starsky reached back. Hutch took the hand, then guided it as he asked, "Want to feel where we meet? Where we're connected?" He placed it on top the part of him that was on the exterior of the penetration point. "Feel that?" He encouraged the fingers to slide along the shaft until encountering where they joined. "That's me inside of you." Hutch squeezed his eyes shut, fighting the sensations that his own words caused.

"Jesus, Hutch," Starsky whispered in amazement. Then, "Why don't you put the rest of it in there?"

Hutch quickly shook his head. "Too afraid to move." Deep breaths had helped calm him, and he lowered himself on top of the damp back, causing the hand to dislodge. "It feels really good," he whispered. "Real good. All nice and warm and tight and moist." But that was true with any convenient body. Hutch wormed his arms beneath Starsky, then embraced him. "Love you," he whimpered.

Suddenly, Starsky arched his hips. "Go for it, Hutch. Go!"

Nerves were suddenly at an extreme, and Hutch rammed into the lax body, watching in disbelief as his entire length disappeared inside. He was instantly past the point of no return, and he milked it for all it was worth, humping frantically to intensify the sensation when it hit.

And he was there, screaming to the wall above the bed, all the muscles in his body stretching taut, and then suddenly going lax, as he felt himself sink, sink, sink...

He groaned over and over, his damp body molding against the one beneath it. The heavy coating of Vaseline kept his organ from being too shocked at the chill when it slipped from Starsky's body.

Hutch closed his eyes and drifted pleasantly, until the flesh beneath him began to writhe determinedly.

"Huh?" he asked, then allowed himself to be dislodged to one side.

"Hutch, you were getting too damn heavy," Starsky explained.

The blond kept his eyes closed while he tried to get his bearings from sound alone. He heard a few sighs from his partner, then the sound of bare feet padding to the bathroom. A couple of minutes later, the bed rocked with the other's weight, and Hutch detected than manipulations of the sheets as Starsky got between them.

Hutch opened his eyes and found himself facing his partner, who was facing him. He could see the relaxed expression, the shining eyes, and noted that some of Starsky's bangs were plastered to his forehead. Hutch smiled tenderly. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. The question is: are you okay? I thought the roof was going to cave in with you screaming like that. I even bet the neighbors all heard."

The smile broadened. "It felt good. What else can I say?"

Starsky laid a hand on the blond's cheek. "You don't hafta say nothin'." Then, more seriously, "I love you."

His heart, which had been so mellow the past few moments, now sped up a little. "Aw, Starsk," He didn't know what else to add.

"You gonna to get under the covers? I'm ready for some shuteye."

Hutch gazed at his partner, trying to remember... "Did you come again?"

"Uh-uh. Was I supposed to?"

The blond sighed. "No. But you just seemed to get so into it, I thought you might have."

"Buddy, what I was into was you," Starsky replied firmly. "I told you to enjoy yourself. You just kept holding back. You've been holding back all night."

Hutch made a tiny shrug. "Yes and no." After a moment, he had the energy to explain, "Every time I've felt something tonight, it seemed like it went away. You know, like I said, because my subconscious or something considered you off limits."

Starsky chuckled. "I'm obviously not off limits now."

"No," Hutch agreed, shifting lazily to pull the covers back. "This was one brilliant idea you had, buddy." He slid beneath the sheets, loving the warmth created. He pulled them over his shoulder, then slid next to his partner. Their arms bumped as they tried to take each other in hand. Finally, Hutch yielded and settled his head on Starsky's shoulder, the other's arms wrapping around him.

"You know," the blond said peacefully, "it's like that song."

"What song?"

"That country song. Something about 'after the loving, I'm still in love with you'." Hutch turned to plant a kiss on the broad neck. "I am still in love with you." What a great feeling it was. Tonight, he could sleep with Starsky, wake up with him tomorrow, not have to be overly polite, not have to try to remember his name...

His eyes suddenly watered, and he blinked it away.

But not before Starsky's fingers happened to brush across his lids. The smaller man froze. "Hey, what is it?"

The blond quickly shook his head. "Nothing. I'm just glad you love me, that's all."

"Aw, Hutch." Starsky's arms contracted, and Hutch allowed himself to be pressed closer to this person who had been everything for so long.

"You know something," Hutch said when he was mellow again.


"We go back to the afternoon shift on Monday. So, we've got the rest of the night, all day tomorrow, then Monday morning to be together."

"You thinkin' you want to spend it all in bed?"

"That would be nice, wouldn't it?"

Starsky hugged him hander. "Yeah, that would be nice."


Lying relaxed, with his arms behind his head, Starsky watched as Hutch got out of bed, the blond's big feet creating a heavy "thud" as they impacted with the floor.

"Sure you can stand up?"

Hutch waved a hand dismissively. With a concerted effort, he stood, and reached to pick up Starsky's robe from the floor. Sighing heavily, he wobbled into the bathroom.

Starsky grinned, then settled his eyes on the ceiling. He supposed there was such a thing as spending too much time in bed together. They hadn't been dressed since Saturday night, when everything had changed. Now, it was the middle of Monday morning, and Hutch had some errands to run before they reported for work at two.

The dark-haired man wriggled, feeling the aches and pains from the two poundings he'd taken that weekend. The second time, it had been an admitted bit of manipulation on his part to be on the bottom again. Hutch had insisted it was "his turn", but Starsky was in no hurry to take the top role. Besides, while the peculiar sensation of getting fucked was going to take some getting used to, he relished the idea of Hutch doing it to him. In a strange way, it even made him feel more masculine, taking it from his big, beautiful blond.

They had also done the sixty-nine thing, and that was going to take some getting used to, too. It felt weird putting his mouth on a cock, even Hutch's cock. The kissing—of any part of the anatomy—was the best. Hutch liked doing that, being patient, taking his time. Starsky knew it was going to be a while before he was as skilled as his partner in a lot of areas. But the other hadn't complained. He still seemed to be on something of a high from simply knowing he was loved this much.

Starsky's eyes lowered. There were so many facets to the man who belonged to him. It was difficult reconciling them all... the teenager who had swallowed the pills, determined to die; the man who would forever long for his father's love; the cop who had been completely innocent in his own heroin addiction, but who had to suffer all the harsh consequences of the withdrawal; the man who seemed to have finally found love, only to find out it came in the form of a common prostitute; the man who would be big brother figure to troubled teenagers like Molly and Kiko; the man who wouldn't hesitate to the bust the heads of anyone he saw do wrong; the man who, quite simply, needed lots and lots of love; the man who... loved Starsky.

The curly detective's expression softened. Hutch had been saying "I love you" a lot the past few months. Of course, they'd never had trouble saying it to each other, but the blond had recently seemed to carry such an aura of determination about it. Starsky supposed that, in the years to come, there could always be an argument about who had captured whom. Granted, Starsky had made the first move, but Hutch had been loving him for so long prior to that, that the first move seemed, to its initiator, like a natural extension of what was already between them. Hutch just needed to have it pointed out.

Dumb blond.

Starsky smirked then. Oh, he knew it wasn't going to be easy. They would always have to worry about others finding out, for starters. But the biggest problems would always be those which were merely external. For any problems from within were the same ones they'd been dealing with for years. And they held no threat.

An old married couple, for sure.

Hutch emerged from the bathroom, wearing Starsky's robe and toweling his hair. "What are you lying there grinning about?"

The curly-haired man sighed with exaggeration. "About how, since we're already an old married couple, we have a lot of fucking to catch up on."

The blond shook a finger. "Crude, Starsk. Very crude."

"But true."

"Well..." Hutch shrugged his head.

Starsky couldn't keep up the banter. Seriously, he said, "I love you."

As he knew it would, the statement brought the taller man closer, and he sat on the edge of the bed. Hutch picked up Starsky's hand, kissed it once, twice... a third time. "You know, buddy," he said as he laid it back down, "we can't behave like this at work."

"No shit."

"Even if we think no one is looking."

Starsky sighed. "I know. We just have to make the best of it when we're not at work. Except," he shrugged as a thought occurred, "there's no reason why we can't, you know, do what we've always done. I mean, it's not like we can't touch each other."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed after a moment, then turned his sea blue eyes to his partner. "It's just going to be harder to know where to draw the line."

Quietly, Starsky said, "Just don't go out of your way to stop loving me, so people won't suspect how much you do love me. That would probably seem more weird to people at Metro than if we outright kissed each other."

Hutch was thoughtful, then agreed with a soft, "Yeah."

Unconvinced that the agreement was sincere, the curly man laid a hand on the blond's arm. "Hutch, this," he indicated the bed, "hasn't made us love each other any more than we already have all these years. We're just expressing it differently. So, please, don't start treating me like a leper in front of other people. I don't think I could stand it. We've never been shy about, you know, showing that we love each other. There's no reason to start now."

Hutch snorted with a gentle smile. "Yeah, you're right." He looked at Starsky, eyes dancing mischievously. "Maybe one day I will outright kiss you—right in front of everybody."

Starsky chuckled at that, and he gazed at the mattress as yet another truth occurred. "Ya know," he glanced back up at his partner, "after all we've been to each other, I really don't think anyone would think anything of it."

Hutch thought a second, then smirked. "You're probably right."


This story originally appeared in the fanzine PLAYFELLOWS 6, published by Robin Hood in 1993.

Feedback can be sent to regmoore@earthlink.net


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