Cheryl M

Later, unable to sleep, Hutch put on a record of soft music, opened a beer and flopped onto the couch. What was he going to do? What could he do but face facts? His mind taunted him. Facts? Oh, there were facts, weren't there? One: Starsky was his best friend. Was certainly was correct, now wasn't it? No! Dammit, he knew Starsky still loved him...that was his whole problem. David Michael Starsky loved him for what he was...not for who he wanted Hutch to be, but for who he was right now. He took a long swallow of beer, forcing himself to face another truth. He loved Starsky, but not enough to have a physical...sexual...relationship. Not with him or any other man. He got up to turn the record over, then came back to lie, face down on the couch. He wasn't really thinking about sex with another man; it just made it easier to deny Starsky's attraction.

Irritated, he flung himself off the couch and into the kitchen to throw away the beer can. Restless, he wandered into the bedroom where he unbuttoned his shirt and tossed it into the laundry. Next he went into the bathroom to rinse his face with cold water, finally pulling on his robe over his jeans. He returned to the couch to face himself. All right, he loved Starsky. That was easy enough to admit. Only... No, there was no only about it; Starsky's kiss had been...comfortable? Was that all? No, it had been like coming home...a haven where he felt safe. He'd responded to the warmth, the sweetness of it. He remembered the heat spreading through him, the tightness in his crotch. God! Did he actually want a sexual relationship with his partner? No! He wasn't like that...wasn't like Fred.

Neither was Starsky. Fred had used Hutch for his own gain and it still hurt...emotionally and physically. What Fred did, and was, had absolutely nothing to do with him and Starsky.

Hutch knew the truth of that. Other memories connected with that time surfaced. He remembered his mother telling him that Fred was sick, that what he had done had nothing to do with love. She had never questioned Hutch's own sexuality. The tension between him and Starsky was caused by love and the physical aspect of that love. He recognized the true depth of his feelings for Starsky and knew he wanted to give the commitment Starsky needed. Why should the actions and fears of thirty years ago come between him and the man who already cared more for him than anyone he'd ever known? For the first time in his life, the knots left and the demon that had plagued him for so long, vanished. He'd have to explain it all to Starsky but, at least now, he knew he could. He reached for the phone just as it rang.

"Just heard from Huggy. He said for you and Johnson to meet him at the Pits in the morning. He'll have someone there to talk to you about your hooker murders."

"Great! Hey, Starsk..." But the receiver clicked and the dial tone buzzed. All the time he was pulling on his shirt, one thought rang loud and clear...even though they weren't together, Starsky was still with him.

When he got to Starsky's apartment, however, the Torino was missing and the windows were dark. Feeling a sudden, deep-seated fear, he dug in his pocket for his key to unlock the door and entered the quiet, empty rooms. A quick search revealed that Starsky's duffle bag was missing as well as clothing and shaving articles. Suddenly Hutch felt very old. All he could do was go home. He left a short note prominently placed on the refrigerator.

Call me, Starsky. I love you. Maybe we can work things out, after all. Love, Hutch.

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Deep inside was a growing anguish that Starsky would never see that note.

"Meet Huggy at the Pits." Okay, I'll do that. I'll close this case, then I'll find you, Starsky.

The next morning Hutch picked up Johnson at Metro, then headed to the Pits and their meeting with Huggy. The thin black wasn't alone. A tiny mulatto girl with blonde ringlets cascading down her back, stood nervously at his side.

"This here is Denise. She used to work for L&M Escort. A friend sent her to me for help. Denise, this is Hutch. You can answer his questions." Huggy moved toward the kitchen and Hutch guided the girl to a table. All three sat.

"How long did you work for L&M Escort?"

"Just...just a coupla weeks." Her voice was little more than a sigh.

"Did you know either of these girls?" Hutch held out the coroner's photo's.

Denise looked at the pictures, then, shuddering, buried her face in her hands.

"Denise, I'm sorry, but we need your help." Hutch said gently. "Do you know either of these girls?"

"Uh-huh, Candi. She sent me away when that man arrived." Her dark brown eyes swam with tears.

"What man?" Johnson asked, pen and notebook open.


"Does he have a last name?"

"I never heard it. He used to protect us, and drive us to and from our clients. We called him Bruce." She shrugged, pulling at her blouse.

"Would you come to the police station to look at some pictures to see if you can find Bruce?"

"You mean mug shots? Like on TV?" Denise was so wide-eyed and excited that Hutch almost smiled.

"How old are you, Denise?" He asked.

"Eighteen..." Hutch raised his eyebrows and just looked at her. "Fourteen," Denise mumbled.

"Can you go home?"

"My dad'll probably kill me, but, yeah, I'd like to go home."

Hutch and Johnson took Denise to Metro and left her with a Juvenile officer to help her with the mug books. She chattered away, her terror forgotten.

"Ray, go down to R&I. See if the name Bruce can be connected with James Gunther in any way. You know what to look for."

"Gotcha. Where will you be?"

"Right here. I'm going to give Starsky a call. See if he's run across anyone by that name."

But Starsky wasn't at his desk and Hutch was informed that Sergeant Starsky had taken emergency leave for personal reasons, and they didn't know when he'd be back. Dobey wasn't in his office, so Hutch called the Pits.

"Huggy, this is Hutch. Where's..."

"Don't ask me 'bout Starsky. I don't know nothing." Huggy sounded agitated, his voice sharp with distress.

"More old debts, Hug?" Hutch felt the cold return; he'd get no help from the only person who could have helped.

"Somethin' like that."

Wel1, if you do hear from Starsky, tell him I've changed my mind."

Hutch replaced the receiver and picked up the current case file. He'd almost finished entering the details of their meeting with Denise, when he was interrupted by a uniformed officer.

"Sergeant Hutchinson?"

"Carter?" There was something about the cop's demeanor that alerted him.

"The desk sergeant sent me up. Said to tell you that Captain Dobey wants you to meet him at the Security Pacific Bank on Wilshire." The young man started to leave.

"Why? Did he say what for?" He was already closing the file, shoving it away.

"Hostage situation. SWAT's already on the scene, but Captain Dobey specifically asked for you and Detective Johnson."

Hutch stood, grabbed his jacket. "Call Johnson in R&I, tell him to meet me at the car."

En route to the scene, Hutch filled Johnson in on what little he knew. When they arrived, the front of the bank looked like the command post for the Sixth Army. He could see Dobey's bulk in the middle of it all and made straight for him.

"What's going down, Captain?"

Dobey jerked around, "Hutch, thank God! One hold-up man, Jimmy Preston. Remember him?"

Hutch thought for several moments, then placed the name, "Yeah, he and Starsky share a mutual hate pact, but that was six years ago. Starsky put him away."

"Right. Well, he was just released on parole. One guard hostage..." Dobey paused, a strange look Hutch couldn't identify crossed his face, "...Starsky."

"Starsky!" Oh, shit, buddy, what've you gotten yourself into? Fear pressed in on him from all sides. Why now? Dobey was talking and he forced himself to listen.

"He persuaded Preston to release the bank employees and other customers. He promised to stay with Preston all the way, if he freed them."

Hutch's mind stalled. Words and voices became jumbled. He looked around him at the ordered chaos that resulted from response to a hostage situation. SWAT team members stood in their strictly functional uniforms; he could see them on the roof of Callendar's next door, and on either side of the bank entrance, but no closer than the street. Stern men intent on their prey. The sun-screened darkened doors and windows of the bank made it impossible to see inside; flashing red and blue reflected back to the black and whites that lined the curb. Uniformed officers crouched behind every vehicle and a huddle of uniformed and suited brass surrounded Dobey. 10-13, officer in need of assistance, had been broadcast and the whole world telescoped down to a single building on a dirty street. Starsky was in the middle.


He snapped back into focus, gears finally grinding in his fogged brain. "You were saying? I didn't catch..."

"I said, what are the chances that Preston will recognize Starsky?"

"About fifty-fifty, if Starsky's gained twenty pounds and grown a beard."

"Maybe we'll get lucky and he won't have shaved."

Not shaved? Come to think of it, his beard had looked a little heavy last night. Was it only last night? Eyeing Dobey suspiciously, he demanded, "Why wouldn't he have shaved? Is he undercover? I was told that he'd taken emergency leave for personal reasons." He found his patience wearing thin. Everyone seemed in on Starsky's secret...except him. He was being shut out on all sides.

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"He's on a forced personal leave that may end in suspension if he can't get his act together." A new voice entered the conversation, and Hutch turned to see District Attorney Davis approaching.

What the hell was he doing on the crime scene? He knew of course. Election year, right. "Why suspension? Starsky's never done anything to warrant suspension." He glared at Davis. Hutch ignored Dobey's snort and focused on the dapper man in front of him. Davis had a reputation for show-boating, but his conviction record was good. He didn't like the man, personally, but he was Starsky's new boss so his presence was marginally acceptable.

Davis turned on Hutch, face so red that it looked like he'd knotted his tie too tight. "He's been under some sort of stress this past week that has increasingly interfered with his work performance. This morning, he showed up unshaved, wearing the same clothes he wore yesterday, and smelling like a brewery. He wasn't drunk, but I think he'd drunk himself to sleep last night and slept in his clothes. Since this is new behavior, I gave him some time off to get himself together." Dismissing Hutch, he turned to Captain Dobey. "What's the situation, Captain? What can I do to help?"

"You can help by going back to your spit-and-polish office and let us handle this," Hutch answered, fists clenched. Johnson hovered just behind him, hands almost on his partner's upper arms.

"That'll be enough, Hutch!"

"Hey, Captain Dobey..."

The familiar voice started butterflies in Hutch's stomach. He hadn't talked to Starsky since last night, but the response to the voice confirmed his decision. Still, he determinedly pushed all personal thoughts away to concentrate on the problem in front of them.

SWAT sharpshooters tensed and crouched lower, fingers tightening ever so gently on their triggers. Oh God, that's Starsky Don't shoot him, please.

"Are you all right, Starsky?" Dobey's voice, sounding tinny through the bull horn, carried over the hubbub.

"Yeah. Preston wants sandwiches and coffee. You have fifteen minutes to get 'em, then I'll meet an officer and give you his demands."

Pulling a twenty out of his wallet, Hutch turned to Johnson. "Go next door to Callendar's and get the food. Put lots of cream and sugar in one of the coffee's," Johnson took the money and started off. "Oh, and get a Danish, too."

Johnson hurried away and Hutch turned back to Starsky. He couldn't keep his eyes off the man. Unshaven, needing a haircut, he still looked like a second chance to Hutch.

"Anything else?" Dobey continued, shifting around to stare at various snipers.

"No weapons. Preston wants to see an empty holster." He stood quietly, hands held at his sides, unnaturally still, his face, even with its shadow, very pale.

"All right, see you in fifteen minutes." Dobey set down the horn and wiped his forehead, expression grim.

"Ten minutes and counting," Starsky stated the obvious before turning back into the building.

"Whatever we do, we've got to be careful. Preston's edgy and he's watching every move." Hutch felt a knot constricting his gut. Preston would never release Starsky.

"How do you know all that?" Johnson returned from the restaurant, carrying two bags.

"ESP," Dobey muttered.

"Huh?" Johnson looked from Dobey to Hutch, obviously bewildered.

"I'm going, Cap." Actions coldly deliberate, Hutch made a show of taking off his jacket and laying his Magnum on the hood of the squad car that was their shield.

"Flak vest," Dobey voiced.

"No way. Preston'll think I'm trying to hide something.

"Then you be damn careful! See if you can get inside, see what Starsky can tell you. Look..."

"I know, sir." Hutch's voice was gentle. He nodded at the two men.

"Be careful, Hutch, we'll get him out of this." Johnson laid a hand on Hutch's shoulder and squeezed.

"Cover me." Unnecessary, but it was what he would've said to Starsky.

Hutch started towards the bank, bags of food and coffee held carefully away from his body in his right hand. Left hand held out so the empty holster was readily visible. He schooled his face sternly to keep a businesslike composure when all he wanted to do was grab Starsky and run. The short walk to mid-way between the curb and the bank doors seemed to drag out forever. The closer he got, the worse and the better Starsky looked. Eyes sunken, surrounded by dark circles, day-old beard, clothes rumpled and loose, but to Hutch, he was a miracle standing there.

"Give up shaving, partner?"

"Fuck it."

Well, that about sums up his mood. Starsky's words were angry but his eyes were bleak. Hutch looked closely at him, but read nothing. "What's your plan?"

"To get outta here alive."

"How many weapons does Preston have?"

"He has a thirty-eight and my automatic, full clip. I told Preston I'd go with him if he let the other hostages go."

What an idiotic thing to do. Anger flared and, for a moment, Hutch was speechless, "That's Jimmy Preston, you ass! He'll kill you the first chance he gets."

"There were kids in there, Hutch. What did ya' want me ta' do?" The deep voice wavered.

Damn. "What are Preston's demands?"

"He has two duffle bags full of money from the vault. He wants a car and an escort to the airport where he wants a plane and pilot waiting. I don't know where he plans to go."

Silently, Hutch handed over the food and took the note from Starsky. He glanced at it but the demands were all that were written on it in Starsky's familiar scrawl. Electricity seemed to arc from Starsky's fingers to his own and Hutch had an insane impulse to grab his partner and run. Where, he didn't know. He could feel the tension building like the weather before the storm. An explosion was coming and Starsky was in the way.

Without another word, Starsky turned and re-entered the bank. Hutch watched him until the door closed, then turned and retraced his steps. His stomach was churning and head pounding by the time he reached the phalanx of squad cars. He handed the note to Dobey and turned back to the bank, shutting off all stimuli surrounding him. The only thing he was conscious of was the closed bank door. He was certain the Mayor would never agree to the demands and he knew Preston was psycho enough to kill Starsky if Dobey even tried to bargain.

Dobey tapped him on the shoulder, and, startled, he turned abruptly. "Do I have to tell you the Mayor's stand on this? "Better to lose a cop than a private citizen. The man will get a commendation for his actions today." I tried, Hutch."

Johnson handed Hutch his Magnum and he shoved it hard into his holster before looking around in desperation. "We've still got thirty minutes to think of something. There has to be a way to..."

Dobey nodded. "You're right, Lieutenant Lincoln..."

The SWAT commander joined them.

"Is there anyway one of your men could get a shot at Preston?"

"Sharpshooters are in position, sir, but with that tinted glass; they can't get a good view of the target."

"What about the back entrance or the roof?" Hutch knew he was grasping at straws, but there had to be something someone could do.

"No roof access, the back is all vault and storage rooms. Desks are in front of the teller's cages, and the employees entrance was blocked off by Preston, according to the bank manager."

"Drive-in window?"

''Isn't one.

"Shit." Hutch was out of ideas. He peered across the street, the distance seemed endless.

"What's your answer, pig?" Preston's watch was fast, or he'd jumped the gun. They could barely make out a form just inside the door.

"Lincoln?" Dobey questioned the SWAT man.

"No, sir. Still unable to get a clean shot, can't tell if we're seeing one man or two. We might shoot Sergeant Starsky by mistake."

Don't do that. Please, don't do that. Hutch shuddered at the idea.

Dobey turned back to the bank. "We're working on your demands. It takes time to free a route to the airport and locate a plane and pilot."

The nebulous form moved toward the inside of the bank, and Hutch started running. He knew exactly what Preston intended and it scared the shit out of him. He couldn't see the hold-up man clearly, but he heard the shot and saw another figure fall. He hit the doors running and was through, Magnum in hand. He barely stopped to aim before firing. Hearing two echoes, he glanced over his shoulder to see Dobey lower his thirty-eight, and one of the sharpshooters looking up from his rifle. They must've been behind him all the time, but their footsteps hadn't registered, and Hutch doubted that he'd even heard them. The whole thing had taken less than a minute. He picked up Preston's gun and felt quickly for a pulse, not surprised when there was none. He raced to Starsky who lay crumpled between two desks. Blood trickled from a wound on the side of his head. Hutch couldn't see the extent of the injury because of the thick curls, but the blood on the rug sent cold shivers through him.

"Officer down! Get an ambulance!" He yelled as men poured through the doors.

"One's on the way," Dobey answered quietly. "How is he?" The captain laid a hand on Hutch's shoulder.

"Alive, but..." Hutch's voice trailed off as he searched for a pulse, shoulders sagging with relief when he found one. He glanced up a Dobey, "He has a pulse, weak, but it's there." He turned back to Starsky, "Wake-up, Starsk. C'mon, buddy, wake-up..." He drew the unconscious figure to him.

Starsky hadn't regained consciousness by the time the ambulance arrived, and Hutch had to relinquish the precious body in his arms to the paramedics.

Lights and siren-matching that on the emergency medical vehicle, he followed it to Memorial Hospital just as he had the day of Gunther's attempt on Starsky's life. Why does everyone always want to shoot you? But he knew the answer. His grandmother had had a bantam rooster on the farm when he was a kid and that rooster would go at his ankles every time he entered the hen-house. Starsky was like that bantam.

"Sergeant Hutchinson?"

Looking up, he saw a nurse standing in front of him, he hadn't heard her approach, "My partner?"

"He's going to be all right. The bullet just grazed his scalp, taking out some skin and hair, but his skull's intact. We sewed him up. The doctor suspects a concussion, but you can see him. He's in Room 112."

Hutch almost ran down the hall, not certain what he would say but knowing he had to see him. He stopped outside the room to slow his breathing. He wouldn't be lying there if we were still partners and we would still be partners if I'd been able to tell him that I loved him. No! Hutch knew that was faulty thinking. It was true that he hadn't been able to tell him that he loved him, earlier. He'd panicked at the thought of Starsky touching him intimately. But that wasn't what had put Starsky in the hospital. Fate; dumb, fickle fate alone had been responsible for today's terror. He still wasn't absolutely sure he could give him what he wanted now, he was only sure that he wanted to try. He remembered the scene in the window and with it came another memory, older, more sinister and this time he didn't put it away. It insisted on playing itself out in his mind; no less painful for all the time that had passed.

"You wanted to talk to me, Kenneth?"

"Yes, Father." His father was so imposing, sitting behind the huge desk, blue eyes almost as cold as the ice they resembled, that the younger Hutch wanted to retreat without another word. Taking a deep breath and swallowing hard, he continued, "May I come to live with you instead of Mother and Fred?"

"Now, Kenneth, we discussed this before the divorce. Your mother has more time to spend with you. If you lived with me, you'd spend most of your time in boarding schools."

"I understand that, sir..." He did understand. He had figured out exactly how many days he'd have to spend with this man who hadn't wanted any children in the first place, and had found them not so many as to be a hardship. "...but, Fred, he...he doesn't like me."

The broad shoulders straightened a fraction and the expression became, if possible, sterner. "It takes time to get used to a new parent. Fred's a good man, give him a chance."

Desperate now, the boy shifted uneasily in his chair. Living with his father was not his first choice, but living with Fred was out of the question. "But Father, he...he comes into my bedroom at night and makes me do things I don't like."

"What kinds of things?"

"Things I think he should be doing with Mother." There, now he'd said it and his father's expression hadn't changed.

"And what did you do?"

"What could I do? He told me if I made any noise or told Mother, I'd be sent away and she'd be very sad."

Silence dominated the room for several minutes as his father stared at him. Those cold eyes looked like lasers and the young Kenneth Hutchinson couldn't turn away, didn't dare move.

"The problem is yours. You have to stop Fred. If you're man enough, you can. You should not have let it go this far. If you're not man enough to stop it, you'll have to put up with it."

Hutch sternly told himself that this was different, that Starsky loved him for himself and, yes, he loved Starsky. Unable to shake the aura of entrapment, he nevertheless gathered himself and entered the darkened room as quietly as possible, stopping just inside the door watching Starsky breathe. Hutch moved closer and stood looking down at him, searching for the words he needed to say. Starsky lay on his back, hands at his sides, and his face almost matched the white bandage around his head. Eyes closed, he looked asleep.

"Go home." His voice, weary but firm, startled Hutch. Starsky didn't move or open his eyes.

"Starsky, I'm sorry, I..."

"Nothing to be sorry for. Go on home. There's nothin' you can do here." He rolled onto his side, back to Hutch, shutting out all further conversation.

A hospital room not being the best place for declarations of undying love. Hutch left, returning to Metro. He wrote up an account of his part in the situation at the bank and a similar report for the shooting board, then was ready to leave. He wanted to talk to Starsky, get back to being best friends, if not partners, but Starsky was out of reach, so all that was left was to go home. But that meant time to think and that he didn't want to do. Detouring by his desk for a couple of aspirin, he grabbed the phone on the first ring, hoping Starsky had changed his mind, "Hutchinson..."

"Huggy. Starsky talked the doctors into lettin' him go home. He promised someone would stay with him, tonight. I played taximan, but baby sittin's your job. Get on over to his place."

"I can't. He doesn't want me around. All I do is upset him and he needs rest." Hutch despised his own cowardice. Was this really what Starsky wanted?

"Thought you changed your mind?"

"I did, but now's not the time..."

"Now's 'bout as good a time as any. I always said you was smart, blondie, but you is 'bout as dumb as they come."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Can't you see what he's doin'? He loves you, so he's giving you the freedom he thinks you want. Now, stop actin' so stupid and get over there. I ain't got all night ta spend on the phone."

It hurt that Starsky had called Huggy but Hutch was grateful it had been their friend and not the other blond. If Starsky was well enough to come home, maybe he was well enough to talk, after all. That is, if Hutch could find a way to convince Starsky that he really had changed his mind and wasn't putting on an act out of pity.

When he arrived at Starsky's, everything was dark. The Torino was parked in front and he could hear slight movement inside. Quietly, in case Starsky was sleeping, Hutch let himself in. He banged his shins several times before reaching a light and clicking it on. Starsky sat on the couch, half full bottle of whiskey in one hand, glass in the other.

"Starsky! What's going on here?" It'd been a long time since Starsky had reacted to pain with booze and Hutch couldn't remember him doing it alone before.

"Supper," He held up the bottle and started to drink from it, but Hutch snatched it away.

"You're gonna kill yourself! Shit, man, you've got a head injury! You sit right there until I get back. Do you hear me?"

"'Course. I ain't deaf."

"No, dumb, I swear..." Hutch mumbled, going into the bathroom and turning on the shower. Returning to the living room, he pulled the unresisting form up, "C'mon, Starsk, into the shower."

"Why?" he said, still reaching for the bottle.

Hutch easily diverted the errant hand, "Because you stink. Didn't they wash you in the hospital?"

"Huh-uh, wouldn' let 'em," he observed owlishly. He said nothing while Hutch undressed him.

Hutch left his partner under the spray and changed the sheets on the bed. He washed the few used dishes scattered around, then started looking for something to cook. Before he got far in the kitchen, Starsky padded out of the bathroom, hair dripping and towel wrapped around his waist. Evidently he'd removed the bandage.

"Now, what? Why're you here, anyway? I called Huggy." The challenge was there, the barriers going up.

"And he called me! Into bed, partner, you need a few hours sleep, then I'll fix you something to eat." Hutch continued his search for food, but found only more beer and whiskey. That wasn't like Starsky. Sure, he'd gotten drunk when hurting in the past, but usually with a friend and he hadn't stopped eating. "What've you been eating? There's no food in the house."

"There's beer. Make soup," he snarled, eyes averted.

Hutch looked at Starsky, then really looked at him. It never took more than a moderate amount of stress to pare Starsky's already lean body down to skin and bones; now was no exception. No wonder his clothes looked rumpled. It's a miracle he hasn't gotten into trouble before now. Suddenly, Hutch realized that Starsky had been putting on an act, probably, since the Sunday before he returned to work. "When did you eat last?"

"Don't know...yesterday, maybe. Haven't been hungry, lately."

"Just thirsty, huh?" Hutch hadn't meant to say it aloud, but Starsky's actions shook him. He didn't like what he saw, didn't know Starsky had such a talent for self-destructive behavior. He didn't miss the flash of fire in the cobalt blue eyes, but the anger didn't stay and Starsky slumped in defeat.

"Why're you doing this, Hutch?" he asked in a small, quiet voice.

"Because I care what happens to you."

"Then love me." His voice was little-boy sad, cutting Hutch through.

"I want to, Starsk, but...I'm not sure..." He desperately wanted to explain, but his mouth was dry and the words wouldn't come.

"Doesn't matter." Starsky moved toward the sleeping alcove, head bowed, totally dejected.

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And the memory of Starsky's kiss flashed into Hutch's head. He remembered the warmth of Starsky's mouth and tongue, how he'd responded...could respond now. When he concentrated on the feelings generated by his partner's touch and not about the act itself, he felt a new contentment. Without conscious thought, he crossed the room and pulled Starsky's warm, damp body close. That he loved Starsky, he'd never denied, but he had rejected the true depth of his feelings because Starsky had voiced the desire for sex. Sex; something he'd taken for granted with women, hadn't allowed himself to think about with men. Had he forgotten that sex was only a part of love and not one of the major parts? Unless you let it be. "I'm sorry, babe. I do love you, have for a long time. But I'm not sure I can give you what you want...what I want." He wrapped his arms tighter around the stilled body.

Starsky didn't move, held himself stiffly in Hutch's embrace. "I don't want a mercy fuck, Hutch, 'specially not from you."

"I'm not offering charity, damn it! I worked this all out last night. I tried to tell you when you called. I even left..."

"A note. I found it. You said we had a chance. Some chance with you still running from me." Starsky jerked free from Hutch and stood facing him, hands on hips, eyes glaring from under lowered lids.

"I do love you...I do want times, but there are things you don't understand." Hutch spoke levelly, putting as much honest feeling into his words, as he could. He knew from past experience, that gentling was the only way to cool the anger.

"What's there to understand? I thought I made myself perfectly clear. I won't hurt you...or did you think I'd force the issue? Did you think I'd rape you? I've never had to resort to that. I've always been able to find what I wanted at the bars or, if I had to, the baths."

That stopped Hutch for a minute. That Starsky knew about the bars and baths didn't surprise him, of course, but the picture of his partner as one of the pitiful souls who frequented the places he'd seen, hurt. He didn't want to think of Starsky like that. He took several steps closer to the cornered man. "No, Starsk, no! When I think about you, look at you, I...I want you, but then..."

"You want me? Do you know what you're askin' for?" He mocked, sliding both hands suggestively down his chest, stopping with both thumbs tucked inside the edge of the towel. "Let me show you." Suiting actions to words, he slowly pulled the towel apart, then dropped it. Standing there facing Hutch, a subtle transformation took place. It wasn't anything Hutch could put his finger on, it was just there, and Starsky was no longer the Starsky he knew, but a cat-man emitting raw sex. He cupped his balls with one hand, stroked his cock with the other. "This what you want?" Starsky purred. "Be damn sure, because if you ask for it, you're gonna get it. Once I get started, Blondie, I don't stop." The voice hardened and chilled the air between them.

Hutch was fascinated and repelled at the same time. He couldn't respond to Starsky like this. He wanted, needed, the loving that belonged there. "I do love you and I do want you, but not like that! I want to make love to you...want you to make love to me, but that's a helluva lot more than you're offering to me, here."

Starsky looked up at him, eyes wide open, face softer, like storm clouds that were thinning, but not quite enough to let the sun fully through. Again the subtle change, and he raised his left hand to caress Hutch's cheek, trace it down the jaw line. "You really do love me?" he murmured.

He was like a skittish colt and Hutch was uncertain what to do next. Following his instincts alone, he simply pulled Starsky into a gentle embrace, pushing the head down so the curls lay soft against his shoulder, and held him.

Starsky seemed to melt into Hutch, and slowly, hesitantly, his arms came up to rest against Hutch's back.

They stood there for several minutes, finally at ease with each other, then Starsky moved away, picked up the towel and replaced it. "Let's sit on the couch and talk."

"I thought you wanted..." Hutch's voice trailed off, puzzled.

"I do, but right now, it's enough to know that you love me. I'll sit here and hold you, and you can tell me why you changed your mind." He suited actions to words, sinking down onto the couch, pulling Hutch with him, and settling them both with his arms around Hutch, and Hutch's head on Starsky's shoulder.

Hutch felt a little awkward, being the taller of the two, but if Starsky wanted to hold him, he'd let him. They sat there, shrouded in silence, content to be in each other's arms without threats or demands hanging over them.

"Why did you transfer? Break up the partnership?"

"I asked you first, didn't I? I tried so hard, Hutch."

"Humor me."

Silence, and Hutch felt Starsky's mouth and nose in his hair; lips and tongue on his ear. "What're you doing?" Voice soft, body still relaxed against his partner.

"Tasting you...ah, Hutch, I do love ya', ya' know?"

"I know." Intrigued by the wistfulness in Starsky's voice, Hutch waited.

"All right, I'll stop avoiding the question. I transferred because I knew I couldn't keep my hands off you anymore, and I saw how terrified you were at the idea of me making love to you. I didn't understand, but I noticed."

Hutch snuggled closer, unsure of what was expected, but loving Starsky all the more. "You left so you wouldn't hurt me?"

Starsky pulled himself out of the embrace and flung himself off the couch, walked over to the window, whole body tense. "That's what I told myself, anyway. I'm not even sure I deserve your love."

Hutch waited, watching Starsky move restlessly around the room, sensing there was more to come.

"But the truth is, I love you too much to let you go without a fight, and I know you too well not to know, exactly, how you would...and did...react to my actions."

"That doesn't explain why you don't deserve my love. I haven't been completely up front with you, either."

Starsky laughed. A harsh, bitter sound that Hutch didn't remember hearing before. "In all the time I've known you, you've never refused me anything that really mattered. The one time that you do, I don't love you enough to accept it." He looked straight at Hutch as he talked; eyes bleak and full of self-loathing. "And I would've just accepted your love and never told you, if you hadn't asked. I'm sorry, babe. You'd better leave before I hurt you more."

Hutch went to him, then and pulled him close, mouthing kisses into the dark hair just under his nose. A pensive sigh escaped Starsky as he sagged against Hutch.

"Come back to the sofa. I've got some explaining to do. You're not the only one who hasn't been entirely honest."

Starsky allowed himself to be pulled to the couch and nestled beside Hutch. This time, it was Hutch who held Starsky and nuzzled dark curls.

"When I was six, my parents were divorced and I went to live with my mother. Good choice, because my father, while he did all the expected fatherly things, never wanted any children at all, ever." Starsky's arms tightened around Hutch at this statement, but he didn't comment and Hutch continued, "Two years later, my mother married Fred..."

"Fred who?" No real curiosity, just gentle interest.

"It doesn't matter. I liked him. We did all sorts of things together...went to the zoo, played know."

"Uh-huh. I didn't know you liked the zoo."

"I don't...not anymore." Hutch paused. The next part wasn't easy to admit in his own mind and he wondered how Starsky would take it; if Starsky would still want him after he knew.

And want him Starsky did, that was evident. Fingers unbuttoned his shirt, one button at a time. Warm hands on his skin, making smooth circles on his chest...the warmth spreading. "Don't. I can't talk with you doing that."

"Sorry, re right. But it's tough to sit still with you so close." Starsky looked and sounded abashed.

"I liked it Starsk, but it's hard enough to tell this without distractions."

Starsky sat up, hands held primly in his lap. "Okay, I'll be good, I promise.

Hutch almost laughed. "You idiot. C'mon back over here." He pulled him back into his arms. "About, oh, I don't know, sometime under a year, Fred started coming into my room at night. It wasn't so first, just him touching me in odd places, and then wanting to kiss and suck my penis...wanting me to suck him. It scared me, but it didn't hurt...not then." The words came out in a rush and he felt Starsky's arms harden like steel bands around him as he moved and shifted to shield.

"It's okay, Hutch. Don' don't have to say anymore. I..."

"Yes, I do. Let me finish, because if I don't, it'll stay between us." Starsky was quiet, but the hand soothing the back of his hair never stopped. "I don't want to go into detail. You've seen as much as I have. I went to my father after the first time Fred...after he sodomized me." It was easier to stay very clinical with descriptions.

"Good, good," Starsky murmured approval into his hair.

"But my father," Hutch heard the bitterness in his voice, the resentment, "...told me it was my problem and I had to deal with it or I'd never be a man worth anything. I'd...I'd end up just like Fred."

"Oh, God, Hutch. How could he say that? You were his son." Starsky looked at him with such shock and horror, that Hutch had to bite back a smile.

"He never wanted children. I was an accident. His cross to bear as the consequences of the marriage bed."

"You were still his son. How could he not love you?"

Without commenting, Hutch picked up his story, eager to be finished, especially with his body leaping to respond to Starsky's crawling all over him. "I couldn't stop him, and I was afraid to tell my mother, so it continued until, after one particularly rough night, she found blood on my sheets and took me to the doctor. After that Fred was gone. My mother was sad for awhile. She took me to a counselor and between the two of them, over a lot of time, convinced me that what Fred did wasn't my fault and that I couldn't have prevented it. I needed my mother's help. We moved out here and I haven't seen my father since."

"Hutch, I..." But Starsky was unable to say anything; he just looked at Hutch and let his love shine out.

Hutch chuckled and ruffled the curls, "I'm not through, yet. When I saw you at the window with that other guy, I was jealous and hurt. I didn't understand why you were with him and not with me."

Starsky struggled and would've moved back enough to look at him, would've said something, but Hutch held him tight. "Shh, let me finish. I wanted you right then. But memories and dreams of Fred's assaults kept interfering. I was letting what he did, and what my father said, come between us. For awhile, I forgot the things my mother taught me.

Starsky stopped him with a kiss. A deep, searching, knowing kiss that left Hutch breathless when they finally broke for air.

"I've more...question, Starsk..."

"No more questions. I can't wait any longer," and the mouth was back, tasting of whiskey and man. He pushed Hutch back until he was lying full on top, erection thrusting against erection, hands roughly pulling and tugging at his shirt.

With an effort, and no little struggle, Hutch managed to push Starsky back, but not away. Heat of budding passion vied with heat of budding anger. " at...that"

All movement stilled, Starsky raised up and looked down at him, confusion clearing for bleak understanding, then an unreadable expression. Fear?

"You don't think I planned that?" Husky whisper and the Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed. "I went to close my bank accounts. I was leaving. I'd decided I was using you and that wasn't the way it should be. I wanted, no, needed, you to want me and you were scared. My resignation was, still is I guess, on Davis' desk. I'd be gone now, if Preston hadn't gotten in front of me in line. You know the rest. Here I am and I ain't ever gonna leave, 'less you want me to."

This time Hutch didn't stop the barrage of kisses his partner covered his face with. He was helpless when Starsky finished removing his shirt and trailed warm, wet kisses across and down his chest. Strangely, Starsky stayed clear of Hutch's groin and the growing bulge. Then the fiery weight was gone and he looked up, startled.

Starsky walked toward the bed. One hundred percent man and rippling with sensuality, making Hutch's breathing ragged as his desire climbed. Once more, he slowly lowered the towel. All Hutch could do was watch. Starsky dressed was enough to send Hutch's pulse skyward, but this Starsky nude, was incredible. Hutch was drawn to the bed like a moth to a flame. Not realizing he had loosened his own pants, he tripped and stumbled his way toward his partner until his ankles freed themselves of the hampering cloth. In the stories and songs of his childhood, love's first kiss brought on the sound of bells, but when Starsky kissed him, this time, Hutch heard a whole orchestra. In his turn, he patted and tweaked and touched as much of his lover as he could reach. At first, trying to mimic Starsky's movements, Hutch was too distracted to pay attention and finally abandoned Starsky's lead to following his own instincts, and marveled at the response he got.

That the bucking, wriggling creature under him was a man, made not a bit of difference. The feel of soft body hair on chest and back and thighs was new, but no less exciting. The smell, taste and sound of Starsky's response to his ministrations, were a symphony of stimuli.

"Oh, God, Starsky,"

Starsky did, he crossed his ankles and pulled Hutch closer with strong thigh muscles. Without a second's thought, Hutch was there and too far gone to resist the pull of Starsky's body. Moist from arousal, Hutch's steel shaft entered Starsky's center and he was lost.

They came together in one incredible orgasm of song. Hutch's voice matched his love's and he sank gratefully into the arms that surrounded and held, stroking his hair and back almost distractedly.

When sensation eased and sanity returned, Hutch became aware of a niggling irritation with Starsky for having ambushed him. All right, so I knew you'd want that someday, but did it have to be now? "Why, Starsk? Why that way the first time we're together?" He mouthed the question into his lover's chest.

"Because I like it 'that way.' And because you had to know just how right, 'that way' can be. I wanted Fred gone, for good."

"Well, you certainly succeeded." And the irritation evaporated. "What do you want, now?"

"To find a place of our own, where we can be together. I want to live with you, Hutch."

"How? IA would crucify us."

The curls bounced from side to side, "Unh-unh, I checked with Dobey. I have a good excuse to need a roommate. Bills from when I was in the hospital are still hanging over my head and everything's going up 'cept our salaries..."

"I gotcha. Want to go house hunting after work, tomorrow?"

"You sure?"

"I'm sure."

Suddenly shy, Starsky looked away, then back, eyes wet with unshed moisture. "I'd...I'd like that." Then to cover his emotionalism, "I've got tomorrow off to recuperate, you take tomorrow off, too, and we'll spend all day looking."

Hutch rolled off him, then pulled him closer, to cradle Starsky's head on his shoulder, a position that was fast becoming a favorite; he pulled a sheet over them, "I'll ask Dobey, but I'm not recuperating."

"The night's not over, yet," Starsky leered.

"Get some sleep."

"Ummmmm, yeah. I love you, Hutch." And he began a leisurely attack on his lover.

lover (luv 'ar) n. one who loves; specif., a) sweetheart b) a paramour c) [pl.] a couple in love with each other.