Comments on this story can be sent to:


He was hot, hot all over. Everything was sweaty and itchy, totally uncomfortable. A burning heat pressed down his perspiration drenched front. A merciless barrage of light assaulted his left eye, while the right was pushed into whatever that soft furnace was. His head was pounding like he had history's worst hangover, his stomach roiling in teeth-clenching waves.

Starsky took a deep breath to clear his head. The air brought with it the heavy scent of suede and a subtler, tangy, yet sweet fragrance that was immediately recognizable as a sweaty Hutch. Barely able to manage, he lifted his pounding head and opened his eyes, momentarily confused at finding himself clutching Hutch like a teddy bear. Then he remembered last night and . . . and Friday.

God . . . .

His mind balked at the images, horror and self-loathing all but choking him.

What he'd done to Hutch that night was beyond his capacity to handle. That Hutch could have come here last night and comforted him the way he did after being savaged was unbelievable.

His wondering gaze settled on Hutch. His already queasy stomach just seemed to melt at the tender feelings that swept through him. Hutch lay in a rumpled mess beside him. Hutch was still fully dressed, including his cowboy boots and fringe jacket. His face was turned away from the intruding sunlight, facing Starsky, but that didn't stop the morning sun from having its way with him. Around his sleep-flushed face, Hutch's hair was a blaze of gold, almost blinding. Even his scruffy mustache had an almost angelic aura to it in the bright light.

Starsky stared, marveling at the peace on Hutch's sleeping features. Aside from his over-red cheeks, which looked sore and sun-burned, Hutch seemed the same as any other day . . . the same as he had when Starsky had woken up beside him on Friday morning. Then, as now, Starsky couldn't pull his eyes from Hutch's face.

It didn't make any sense. He'd known this man for more than thirteen years. Hutch's Nordic features were as familiar to him as those Starsky shaved in the mirror every morning and yet . . . he felt like he'd never seen Hutch before. How could he have missed how beautiful Hutch was? Oh, he'd known he was handsome in the matter-of-fact way that he'd known Hutch was blond, but he'd never been moved by that beauty before. Now . . . .

Now it made him feel all soft inside.

Only, it was too late for those kinds of feelings. Any chance he'd had of making Hutch his was shot to hell Friday night. You didn't do something like that and get a happy ever after. He didn't have any rights anymore, that he could take nothing for granted. He'd be lucky, and more than grateful, just to keep Hutch's respect and friendship. But, it hurt like hell to lie here beside him and see Hutch this way, knowing what could never be.

If he hadn't already known that Hutch was the bravest man he'd ever met, last night would have proven it to him. The courage it had taken for Hutch to even come here, let alone spend the night trying to console his rapist, astounded Starsky. He didn't know how Hutch could even stand to look at him.

That sufferance was about to be put to the test. Hutch gave a restless toss. His peaceful features creased into an irritated frown. Hutch moaned a little, then rolled onto his back, sure signs of imminent waking.

Starsky held his breath as Hutch's wheat-pale eyelashes fluttered, then parted. For a second, panic gripped Hutch's expression, then his gaze settled on Starsky and the fear receded.


Hutch's sleepy smile was so uncomplicatedly happy that it took Starsky's breath away.

"Hi," he answered, so nervous he could barely hold his gaze.

"Hi, yourself." Hutch's voice was thick with sleep, his brain obviously not fully functional. He couldn't have remembered yet, not and still be looking at him like that. "You been awake long?"

"A few minutes."

"How you feelin'?" Hutch asked, like that was the only thing that mattered to him in the world, like maybe it had been Starsky who'd been put through the ringer instead of Hutch.

The worry in his sleepy eyes made Starsky feel about two-feet tall. Hutch shouldn't be asking those kinds of questions. Hutch was the one who'd been hurt on Friday, the one who needed comforting. Starsky lowered his eyes, trying to find a way to say all that.


As much as he wanted to crawl into a hole and pull the ground in over him, Starsky couldn't do what he'd done last night. He couldn't close Hutch out again like that. He didn't understand it, but it was clear that Hutch needed to be with him right now.

So he forced himself to meet Hutch's concerned gaze and answer, "I feel hung over. My head hurts. Stomach's jumpy."

"Did you eat at all yesterday?"

Eat? He'd barely been able to stand breathing yesterday. He'd come as close to packing it in as he ever had in his life. It was only thinking of the effect that would have on Hutch that had stopped him. Hutch had already been through living hell; he didn't need to have to clean up that kind of mess. He might not give a damn about himself, but he sure as hell wasn't going to screw up Hutch's life anymore than he already had.

But Hutch didn't need to hear any of that right now. Deciding to play this as light as he could, Starsky gave a negative shake of his head.

Those eyes were making Starsky nervous as hell. It was like they could read straight through to his soul and see everything he was attempting to hide. The undeserved compassion at their depths ate at Starsky's guilty conscience like acid, sharp and painful.

"You'll feel better once you've had something to eat," Hutch said, watching him as though Hutch thought he was going to fall apart at any moment.

Since Starsky wasn't so sure he wouldn't, he allowed the attention.

There was so much he wanted to say, so much that needed saying, but Starsky didn't have the words for what he felt. Apologies were absurd when dealing with this level of offense. The only thing that could make this all better was a time machine.

Trapped by the worry in Hutch's beautiful eyes, Starsky looked away. He didn't understand this at all. How could Hutch be this together? How could he even want to breathe the same air as Starsky?

"Hey," Hutch said gently.

Hearing the kindly tone made Starsky's guts do flip-flops. Tensing, he forced his gaze back to squarely meet Hutch's.

"We're gonna be okay, partner," Hutch promised. He sounded confident, but there was something lurking in his eyes that belied that assurance.

Before, Starsky hadn't wanted to know the truth about what Hutch was feeling for him, but now he forced himself to dig past those outer shields of buffering optimism, made himself look at what Hutch was trying to hide from him. It wasn't hard to see. He could almost smell Hutch's nervousness. Under that outer facade, Hutch was just as scared and desperate as Starsky felt himself. He could read it in the way Hutch forced himself to keep a level gaze, from the tilt of his proud chin and the tense lines of his full mouth. Hutch was bluffing for all that he was worth.

The way Hutch's eyes strayed away from his own once Hutch realized what he was betraying only confirmed Starsky's suspicions. When Hutch spoke, he seemed to be addressing something on the dresser top. "We gotta try. Please, Starsk . . . ."

And once again, Starsky felt like a total monster. Here Hutch was practically begging him to act like an adult, to make the effort at healing this horrible situation, but all Starsky wanted to do was hide. He wasn't that brave. He couldn't do what Hutch was doing, pretend like it was business as usual.

Something had broken inside him on Friday night and he wasn't sure if it was ever going to mend. He looked at this beautiful, brave man, and all he could see was the smoking ashes of his most bitter might-have-been—no matter what Hutch might be saying, Starsky could still read the naked fear in his eyes, the uneasiness that not even all of Hutch's considerable courage and acting abilities could mask.

Fear of Starsky, fear of Starsky's touch, fear of Starsky's body . . . that was his reality now, would always be.


The anxious, pleading tone got to him. Even though he felt so twisted up inside that he thought he'd strangle if he didn't break free of this situation immediately, Starsky found himself nodding his assent. He couldn't lay this on Hutch, not after everything Hutch had already been through. If Hutch could tough it out, Starsky was going to have to find the strength to do the same.

"Okay," Starsky agreed gruffly.

"Okay—what?" Though cautious, some of the obvious trepidation had receded from Hutch's features.

"Whatever you need. You tell me what it's gonna take to make this better for ya, and I swear it's yours." Up to, and including, a bullet through my brain, Starsky added mentally. He had the sense to keep the words to himself, however.

"How 'bout I make us some breakfast while you grab a shower?" Hutch suggested as tentative as a deflowered virgin on the morning after.

Starsky couldn't remember a time when they'd had to awkwardly feel their way through a conversation this way. He didn't even know how to look at Hutch now, couldn't fathom how Hutch would want to look at him.

Hutch's suggestion at least offered a temporary reprieve from the deepening tension. So he gave another terse nod and crawled out of the bed. He didn't look back for fear of what he might read in Hutch's face.

He stripped off Friday's malodorous clothes and left them in a heap on the bathroom floor. Then he stepped into the tub, dialed the water up ten degrees hotter than he could take it and scrubbed at his skin with a soaped up washcloth until his flesh stung like sandpaper had been rubbed over it.

But for all that punishment, he didn't feel any cleaner. The stains were still there, maybe not on his red skin, but certainly in his soul. What he'd done was burned into his body now, as irreparably as the scars from Gunther's assassination attempt. No amount of washing was going to help. Briefly, he wondered how hard Hutch had had to scrub to remove the traces of the rape from his body, wondered if such a thing could even be done.

Hutch would carry those invisible stains the same way he would, victim and rapist tied forever together by these unseen scars.

Starsky lingered under the near-scalding spray for as long as he could before jerking the taps closed and stepping free of the tub. Once he'd roughly rubbed the moisture off, he stared around the bathroom, belatedly realizing the he'd failed to bring a fresh change of clothing in with him.

What should have been a minor inconvenience abruptly felt like an unpardonable social gaffe, like another misdeed to add to his other unforgivable transgressions. He'd never had an iota of self-consciousness when it came to Hutch. Like the easy familiarity he'd shared with his brother Nicky, Hutch and he had always been completely at ease sharing bathrooms and other facilities. Only now . . . .

Now the thought of stepping naked from the bathroom felt like a boorish trespass. Starsky hesitated, debating on whether he should redon the stinking clothes or just settle on a towel. Though the clothes felt like the safer choice, Starsky realized that they would only accentuate just how bad things were between them right now. Hutch was struggling to act normal. If Starsky walked out of here in Friday's soggy, smelly clothes, it would undo all the hard work Hutch had put in. So, he settled on wrapping one towel chastely around his hips and draping another so that it fell across his shoulders to conceal his chest, lest Hutch find the sight of any part of him naked disturbing.

In the end, he needn't have worried. The bedroom was glaringly empty.

He chided his own stupidity . . . like Hutch would really want to hang around in his bed after Friday. Was it any surprise that Hutch had high-tailed it out of there the first chance he'd gotten? The only miracle was that Hutch had entered the room at all.

Not knowing why he felt depressed when avoiding the dreaded confrontation should have left him relieved, Starsky crossed to his dresser. Pulling on underwear, socks, jeans and a blue sweatshirt only took up a few moments. All too soon, Starsky was left with no choice but to go find Hutch.

The mouth-watering aroma of frying bacon that was filling the air left little doubt as to Hutch's location.

He came to an abrupt halt as he took in the state of his kitchen. In the twenty minutes he'd been in the shower, his pristine kitchen had been transformed into a war zone. From the number of stains, dirty bowls, pots and pans littering the countertop and table, it looked like an argument between Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet had degenerated into a frat house food fight.

Starsky stood in the kitchen doorway, watching Hutch tend the sizzling bacon and eggs. There was a greased skillet on the other burner, with a huge Pyrex measuring cup full of pancake batter.

The morning light was no less brilliant here than it had been in the bedroom. Hutch's hair was still a blinding, if disheveled, halo around his head.

Somewhere between the bedroom and kitchen, Hutch had lost his suede jacket and boots. The lanky blond was wearing his white socks, blue jeans and yesterday's rumpled black long-sleeved, button-down shirt, which was tucked into the jeans, except for one corner in back where the tails had escaped their confines. The rumpled shirt and stockinged feet made Hutch look absurdly young, less the action-hardened, efficient street cop and more the starry-eyed idealist Starsky had met in the Academy.

There was such a domestic, cozy air to finding Hutch out here cooking breakfast for him, looking like he'd lived here forever, that it stopped Starsky in his tracks. There was a rightness to the scene that almost took his breath away. He tried to remember if any woman he'd ever dated had ever looked like she belonged while making him breakfast in his kitchen and couldn't come up with a one. Not even Terry. There had always been the feeling that those girls were just visiting, playing house with him; whereas Hutch . . . Hutch was home.

Or would have been if Friday had never happened. As it was, Starsky felt like a complete pervert for entertaining those kinds of feelings after what had happened the other night.

It didn't help that Hutch jumped when a stray glance at the door revealed that he was under observation.

Reality crashing back on him, Starsky forcibly evicted the domestic fantasies from his mind. He didn't have the right to those kinds of thoughts, not anymore.

So he straightened his spine, blanked his features and tried to pretend he didn't see the fear lurking in Hutch's eyes. He could feel his mouth tighten into a straight line, his body tensing like it would whenever he entered a funeral home. It felt that way now, like something cherished had died and only the formality of the burial details remained to be gotten through.

"Sorry," Hutch said, flushing, as though he'd done something wrong.

Not meeting Hutch's too-vulnerable eyes, Starsky shook his head and admitted, "I shoulda let you know I was there."

"It wasn't you, Starsk. I was just startled to see someone standing there . . . ."

"Forget it. All right? You don't gotta explain anything," Starsky said less than graciously. Then, to change the subject, he looked at Hutch and offered, "That smells good."


Hating the guilty look on Hutch's face, Starsky stepped into the kitchen. "I'll get the plates. You feel like juice? I think there's a can of concentrate in the freezer."

With a horrible, alien awkwardness, they moved around each other in a hollow parody of their usual camaraderie. They both felt the difference, were both straining to play it normal. Starsky could tell how nervous Hutch was by the number of things he dropped while sorting out the table. The surreptitious glances Hutch kept shooting his way when he thought Starsky wasn't looking told him Hutch was equally aware of his own anxious state.

Silverware, dishes, food, coffee and juice sorted out, they were left with no choice but to sit down across from each other. It was then that the changes became most noticeable, when there was no activity to mask the heavy silences. Normally, they could be stuck together on a stakeout for twenty hours straight and never run out of things to say.

How could the words have dried up so fast between them?

He tried to remember the kinds of things they would have talked about last Wednesday before any of this had gone down. There had to be something safe to discuss. Starsky searched for something—anything—to say and drew a complete blank. All the trivial, gossipy stuff seemed too frivolous to voice with these unstated problems looming in the silence between them. Hutch seemed equally hard-pressed for conversational topics.

So, they ate with that choking quiet between them. Although it had been nearly forty-eight hours since food had passed his lips, Starsky had trouble forcing down the eggs and bacon. Hutch was so distracted that he'd never even cooked the pancakes. The batter was still standing there in the measuring cup on the stove.

Starsky didn't know where to put his eyes, how to look at Hutch without the observation bleeding over into threat.

Hutch finally broke the nerve-rending silence when he said hesitantly, "I, ah, spent the day up at Hank Bouchelle's yesterday."

Something very like relief rushed through him. Bouchelle was the best in his field. If anyone could help Hutch recover from this, it'd be him. Bouchelle had even helped Terry Nash get back on his feet. Though the psychiatrist had never been able to get Terry to remember his lost life, he'd helped the amnesiac carve out a new existence.

"Yeah?" Starsky said, chewing a slice of bacon with slightly more enthusiasm than he had the others. Hutch had spoken to him. Any kind of communication had to beat that weighty silence.

"Yeah. He's got that great beach house, remember? You could hear the waves crashing all through the house. It's like a different world up there."

"Is that where you got the sunburn?" Starsky questioned.

"Windburn, actually. It was pretty windy up there. We spent a lot of time talking out on the porch."

Starsky debated holding back his next observation, then decided to risk the personal comment. "It seems to have done you a world of good."

To his relief, Hutch didn't seem offended. To the contrary, he gave a shy smile and nodded. "Yeah, it sure felt like it. I'm goin' back this afternoon. I, ahh . . . I'd like you to come with me."

Starsky froze. He hadn't expected that. As usual, his mouth operated independently of his brain and he heard himself ask perhaps the stupidest thing he'd ever voiced in his life. "What for?"

Hutch just about choked on the mouthful of egg he was chewing. "You can't be serious?"

Put on the spot, his stubbornness wouldn't allow Starsky to back down. "'Course, I'm serious."

"To stare at our navels and contemplate the meaning of life," Hutch snapped. "What the hell do you think what for! We can't even look at each other without squirming."

"And you think Hank Bouchelle is going to wave some magic wand and make it all go away?" Starsky sneered, not understanding why he was suddenly so angry and on the defensive. His guts had tightened up like he was going into a gunfight, and all Hutch had done was suggest they go visit someone. He knew he was being unreasonable, but he wasn't able to keep those foolish words from spilling out of his mouth.

Hutch angry sure as hell beat Hutch scared any day of the week. Those electric blue eyes sparking fire, Hutch shot back, "No, but I think it'll give us both a chance to unload some crap and figure out how we're gonna deal with this. What're you scared of, partner?"

Caught off guard, Starsky looked away for a moment. He knew what he was scared of, but how could he ever explain it to Hutch? How could you tell someone that you were afraid to look below the happy face they were wearing, scared of seeing the hate, anger and disgust that had to be hiding beneath it? How did you tell your truth-loving partner that you couldn't handle honesty right now, that you were barely managing breathing?

The answer was simple—you couldn't. So, Starsky hardened his features, met those angry eyes and all out lied. "I ain't scared of nothin'. I'm just not goin'."

"Starsk . . . ."

Hutch had obviously decided to change his tactics. Knowing that that mild, reasonable tone was far more dangerous than a snitty Hutch, Starsky quickly interrupted him. "Forget it. You wanna go talk about Oedipal Complexes and the like, be my guest. Just leave me outta it."

Hutch's face drained of all color. Against his sudden pallor, his red cheeks looked fever-bright. The ominous stillness that came over Hutch was almost terrifying. With slow, deliberate care, Hutch lowered his fork and knife to the table. "You can be a real S.O.B. sometimes—you know that, partner?"

Glad to see the fury, knowing that righteous pride could pull his stubborn partner through anything, Starsky pasted his most irritating, offensive expression on his face, and went one better. "Some might even say I'm a real cocksucker. The label would fit these days."

The reaction was instantaneous, as predictable as if they were both following some unwritten script.

Without another word, Hutch lurched to his feet.

It was only here that Starsky wasn't sure what would follow. There was a fifty-fifty chance that he'd end up with a mouthful of knuckles. You could only push Kenneth Hutchinson so far before he left you lying flat on your back in the dust. And Starsky knew exactly which buttons to push to get Hutch beyond the thinking stage to the fighting stage.

Hutch loomed over him, contempt and fury clear in his blazing eyes.

Starsky willed Hutch to lose it. He wanted Hutch to haul off and slug him, wanted Hutch to hurt him. There was some childish part of himself that believed that Hutch beating the crap out of him would somehow even the score.

He met Hutch's fire with his own challenging disdain, giving Hutch the patented look that had catalyzed many a brawl.

But if he knew Hutch, the reverse was also true; Hutch knew him just as well. Hutch stood there breathing hard and loud, glaring down at him.

Finally, Hutch broke the tableau. With a contemptuous shake of his head, Hutch said, "No, we're not playing it this way."

A breath later, Hutch turned on his heel and stormed out of the kitchen.

Starsky sat motionless at the table, listening as the floorboards creaked under Hutch's weight as he blew through the living room like an angry hurricane. There was some rustling as Hutch donned boots and jacket. Hard leather clunks on the carpet replaced the muffled sounds of socked feet, and then the front door rattled open, to slam almost instantaneously shut in Hutch's wake.

It was only when the whirlwind of justified fury had cleared his place that Starsky actually paused to question why he'd done it. Hutch had just wanted to help. Obviously, Hank Bouchelle had been of great assistance to Hutch and, just as clearly, Hutch wanted Hank to help him, too, or he would never have suggested a joint visit. Hutch's suggestion had made perfect sense, while his own response had been almost criminally cruel. Starsky still wasn't sure what had motivated his behavior. All he'd known was that he couldn't face the idea of baring any of this to a stranger, anymore than he could face Hutch's fear. His guilt told him that there were other ways he could have handled it, gentler ways, only . . . if he'd let Hutch talk, Hutch would have persuaded him. He'd've gone out of guilt and then . . . .

Then there would be no more polite pretenses. The bare facts of what he'd done to Hutch would be right out there in the open and there'd be no more hiding from them.

At least now there'd be no more reason to pretend. It wasn't like Hutch was going to be coming back here anytime soon.

Sick at heart at his deliberate cruelty, Starsky let his own fork fall to the plate.

He sat there watching the runny egg yolk congeal on his plate for a long time, before finally rising to stagger back to his bedroom.

He had no idea what he was going to do now, but at least he wouldn't have to worry about keeping up a false front for Hutch's sake. Hell, the way he'd played out that final, dismal scene, he might never have to worry about keeping up any kind of front for Hutch ever again.

The day passed in the same miserable manner yesterday had. Starsky took to his bed and did his best to keep the world at bay. Only problem was, what he was hiding from wasn't out there in the world. It was in his head. The memories from Friday night kept circling around in an endless loop. Nothing he tried seemed capable of excising them. Every time he succeeded in removing his attention from Anderson's horror show, what he'd done to Hutch this morning reared up its ugly head to haunt him.

Damn, but he'd screwed up big time this morning. Maybe he wasn't ready to go bare his soul to Hank Bouchelle, but there had to have been some better way of getting out of it.

He'd reached for the phone about a dozen times to call Hutch and apologize, but . . . .

What was the use? One lame apology wasn't gonna make a bit of difference. He might've saved Hutch's life on Friday night, but he'd pretty much buried their partnership. If not with Friday night's events, then certainly with this morning's savage cruelty. Hutch had been trying so damn hard, and all he'd done was kick his best friend in the teeth. He didn't deserve Hutch's kindness or worry—not that he was going to have much chance to sample either again any time soon, because after this morning, Hutch sure as hell wasn't going to be back for more.

By slow degrees, daylight ceded to gloomy shadows. Starsky's apathetic gaze registered the dying of the light. He didn't bother turning on the bedside lamp; the dark suited him. Suddenly, he began to understand why monsters inhabited lightless places. It wasn't so much to hide from their prospective victims, but to conceal the truth of what they'd become from themselves. Not that there was enough darkness in all of creation to make him forget what he'd become, but it helped, Starsky decided.

Finally, the guilt and grief gave way to slumber. Starsky slept fitfully, tossing in the too hot bed. Each time he'd wake distressed in the dark, he'd press his face into the pillow on the far side of the bed. Hutch had only slept on it for a few hours, so it was probably mostly his imagination, but Starsky swore he could pick up lingering traces of Hutch's shampoo and sweat in the pale pillowcase.

He didn't know how long he spent drowsing between nightmares. Since he hadn't set foot out of the bed all day, except for bathroom runs, he was very thirsty, but he didn't bother getting up to get a glass of water.

His thirst slowly worked its way into the fabric of his dreams. His whole body felt dried out like an old sponge, just aching for moisture as he stepped once again into the nightmare of Friday's scenario. Hutch was lying there, tied naked to the altar, sweat and tears running down his pale skin. Only, this time when Starsky mounted Hutch, he didn't just drink Hutch's semen. His tongue licked the beads of salty sweat from the perfect flesh, and then delved deep into Hutch's succulent mouth to suck in his saliva. He didn't just sip it, he sucked it all into his mouth until Hutch had no more to give. When Hutch's mouth was dry, he went on to lick all the sweat off his neck and the rest of his body, leaving big red sucking marks in his wake. He drank similarly of all Hutch's juices—sweat, saliva, semen, blood . . . he took it all and swallowed it down, drank until he was almost drunk on Hutch's essences, drank until there was nothing left to devour.

When he had slaked his thirst, his engorged penis pulsed to life and he took Hutch's body with the same guilty pleasure he'd experienced Friday, pounding in and out in brutal rhythm until climax. Only then did he sag with exhaustion, dropping down onto his still partner. Eventually, the nature of that stillness penetrated. Slowly, he pulled out of Hutch's body and looked down at his victim. There wasn't any doubt that Hutch was anything but that. Where on Friday night he had beheld a weeping Hutch, tonight his eyes fell upon an ominously motionless form. Frightened by what he'd done, Starsky reached out to touch Hutch's pale skin, only to have it wrinkle into a million creases. Like ancient parchment, Hutch's dry flesh flaked apart, crumbling like a vampire in sunlight. Horrified, he stared at the ashes that were all that was left of Hutch, his closest friend . . . .

"Hutch!" The shriek came out as a sob, muffled against a wet pillowcase.

Starsky ripped his face clear of the suffocating linen and gulped in lungfuls of the cool night air. His clothes were soaked with sweat and clinging to him like a dank shroud. Shivering and shuddering, he tried to pull himself together. It was just a dream. He'd had millions of them; this one would pass the same as the others had. It was just his imagination, he told himself over and over. He hadn't killed Hutch. Hutch was fine . . . but the reassurances felt as empty as his heart.

Who was he trying to kid? Hutch wasn't fine, anymore than he was. Friday night had broken Starsky, in a way that nothing that had happened on the job before ever had. There was no way he was gonna make it like this. Hutch hated him. He hated himself. What the hell did he have left?

Despair overwhelming him, he dragged in another shaky breath, and froze at the scent it carried.

His empty stomach growled, his dry mouth filling with saliva at the delectable smell of steak cooking. That wonderful aroma was coming from nearby. Nearby, like in his own kitchen.

Bewildered, he stared out the open bedroom door, only now noticing the light that was spilling in. The lamps in the living room were both lit.


Normally, Hutch would have been his first guess, but after this morning, there was no way Hutch would be back this soon for a second round. Which left who? He hadn't had a girlfriend steady enough to merit a key to his place since long before Gunther. Hug had a key, but it was really unlikely that Huggy would just drop by to cook for him unannounced like this.

His curiosity winning out over his depression, Starsky hauled himself from the bed and headed for the kitchen.

It was Hutch.

For the longest time, Starsky could just stare. It was like this morning's blowup had never happened. Hutch looked perfectly at ease as he messed with the steaming pots and pans on the stove. Hutch was wearing a red plaid lumberjack shirt and a pair of tight black jeans that Starsky hadn't seen Hutch wear in years. Hutch looked great in them, younger, much more his old self. If it weren't for the moustache, Starsky would have thought that he'd stepped back in time two or three years.

He'd never understood what had brought about the advent of the baggy pants and shirts Hutch favored these days. Hutch's attitude had matched the clothes for the most part, sarcasm and cynicism hiding the idealist Starsky had taken to his heart years ago. That hardened Hutch would never have come back here so soon without an apology from Starsky. It was weird, but looking at Hutch now, it really seemed as if Hutch had dropped the layers of cynicism he'd worn these last few years when he'd ditched the baggy wardrobe a few days ago. It was his imagination, of course, but Starsky couldn't help but think he saw a difference in the way Hutch moved—confident, fluid and graceful, which after Friday was nothing short of amazing.

Something like that was supposed to dent a man's self-confidence, not bolster it. Though Starsky was glad to see Hutch looking so lively and revitalized, the source of the change mystified him.

He rested his hand on the back of the nearest chair without looking. Cool, slick leather brushed his palm. Glancing down, he saw Hutch's black leather jacket and holstered Magnum hung on the chair—sure signs that Hutch was at ease. Hutch never went anywhere without his piece. Hutch physically parted from his gun only when he was completely certain of his safety. The only accouterments of their trade visible on Hutch at the moment were the handcuffs the big blond had hanging from the back right belt loop of his jeans. The overhead light glinted off them every time Hutch shifted position at the stove.

As if sensing the observation, Hutch glanced his way.

Starsky braced himself, but Hutch didn't jump this time, nor did anger fill his features. To the contrary, a shy, tentative expression gentled his handsome face as Hutch said, "Hi."

"Hi, yourself," Starsky answered, hoping his voice didn't sound as scared as he felt. "Ahh . . .not that I mind, but . . . what're you doin' here?"

"I was hungry," Hutch answered in a distractingly soft voice. "Thought you might be, too."

Starsky gulped. He recognized that tone; although it had never been directed at him before. It was that quiet, tender voice Hutch usually used with his dates.

"Are you? Hungry?" Hutch prodded after an uncomfortable silence.

"I . . . yeah, I guess," Starsky finally managed, totally bewildered. Hutch should've been furious with him, not here cooking him dinner. Still, the happy smile his response earned him told him that he'd made the right choice. Seeing this as an opportunity to address his earlier bad manners, Starsky said, "About this mornin' . . . ."

Hutch's features hardened with resolve. "Let's not talk about this morning or Friday night right now, okay?"

This wasn't a complete pardon then, merely a stay of execution. His stomach tightening up on him again, Starsky gave a miserable nod.

Still unbearably thirsty, Starsky crossed to the sink and quickly downed two large glasses of water. It made him feel more human, like he might be able to face whatever was coming.

What came was a mundane request.

"You wanta get a couple of beers from the fridge?" Hutch suggested.

Feeling like he was walking on eggshells, Starsky did as bidden. When he got back to the table with the beers, Hutch was busy dishing the steaks and side dishes out. Despite himself, Starsky's mouth was watering as the French fries, spinach, and onion-drenched steak were placed before him.

"Looks good," Starsky said, at a loss for words.

"Well, it's not there to be looked at. Dig in, buddy," Hutch said with a real grin that didn't seem either forced or faked.

To his surprise, his hunger kicked in. The steak was cooked to perfection, singed on the outside, but rare and juicy in the middle, just the way he liked it. Unlike breakfast, the silence wasn't strained. They both ate like they'd been stranded on a desert island for months, the only sounds grunts of approval or requests for various condiments to be passed. Soon there was nothing but some gristle, a few spinach leaves, a scrawny fry and a ketchup stain left on Starsky's plate. Hutch's was in a similar state, with only the gristle and an overcooked, blackened onion bit.

"God, that was great," Starsky said as he popped the top on another can of beer. His thirst had made the first disappear within seconds. "Thanks."

"My pleasure," Hutch said with a satisfied looking smile.

"No, definitely my pleasure," Starsky tried for humor, not really expecting much. Hutch's hearty chuckle nearly propelled him out of his chair.

"We, ah, got some things we need to talk about, partner," Hutch said after a few comfortably quiet minutes in which they sat there companionably sipping their Coors.

"Yeah," Starsky agreed. He wished that things could be put off, that he could sit here forever with this happy looking Hutch, but sooner or later reality would rear its head. He supposed it was better to get it over with fast. There'd be plenty of time to count his losses later.

"Maybe we should move inside where it's more comfortable," Hutch suggested tentatively.

Starsky followed Hutch into the living room. Hutch sat down on the couch's closest end. Normally, when Hutch took that position, Starsky would sprawl in the middle, but tonight he found himself sitting primly at the far end, his feet firmly planted on the floor, with over a three-foot buffer zone between them. Even with all that space, he could feel Hutch's sudden tension.

Wondering why Hutch was insisting on doing this when it was obviously just as hard for him, Starsky asked the only question he could think of. "Did Hank tell you to come here tonight?" he tried to keep his voice non-combative, but he hated the idea of Hutch being forced into seeing him.

Hutch gave a nervous chuckle at the question. "Hardly. He thought I should let you stew. He didn't put it that way, of course. 'Give him some time to come to terms with the situation,' was the way he phrased it, I think."

"You didn't listen to him," Starsky said, wondering if he sounded as confused as he felt.

"No . . . distance . . . felt wrong." Hutch sighed, leaning his head against the back of the couch until Starsky was left to stare at the sharp profile of his face. "Did I make the wrong choice? You want me to clear outta here?"

Starsky was startled to notice that Hutch appeared uncertain again. Almost afraid, if the bobbing of his Adam's apple were anything to go by.

"No," Starsky said instantly. He didn't need any time to think about his response to that question. "I don't want ya to go. I just . . . don't understand how you can want to be around me after . . . ."

"It all keeps coming back to Friday night for you—doesn't it?" Hutch asked in a quiet, subdued voice.

"Doesn't it for you?" Starsky shot back, not understanding how it couldn't.

"Friday was bad, Starsk, don't get me wrong, but . . . it wasn't the worst we've seen in the thirteen years we been together."

"Name one thing that was worse," Starsky demanded. He was trying to keep a tight reign on his anger and defensiveness, but he was beginning to feel like he was being patronized. Hutch had been there. How could he possibly dispute the severity of what they'd been through?

Hutch answered this one just as quickly. "Gunther's hit on you. Those days that you were in the coma were the worst thing I ever lived through."

Hutch wasn't lying. Though he was still leaning back with his longish blond hair spilling over the bright afghan Starsky's mom had made, Hutch had tilted his head so that his eyes met Starsky's. There was no doubting the truth in their steady depths.

When Starsky made no protest, Hutch went on. "To tell you the truth, Bellamy's poison was worse and so was Forrest hookin' me on horse."

"How-how can you say that?" Starsky asked in a voice that sounded like a confused child's to his own ears. "You . . . you were raped . . . ."

Hutch released a long, sibilant breath before correcting Starsky in a gentle tone. "We were forced to have sex in a manner neither of us was prepared for yet. Anderson may have . . . raped me with his fingers," Hutch's control sounded shaky, as if what Anderson had done was harder to take than Starsky's penis violating him, "but I don't consider what went down between us as rape. I wish you'd try to do the same."

"How can you not . . . ?" Starsky shut his mouth, realizing how stupid he was being. If Hutch had found some peace in all of this, who was he to go blasting it away because he couldn't salve his own guilty conscience?

Hutch straightened up with a sudden burst of movement, as though the topic were all too much for him. "Look, can we change the subject for a few minutes? Please?"

"Sure. What d'ya wanta talk about instead?"

"I want to talk about Thursday night, not Friday," Hutch said in a strangely intense tone.

Starsky felt like a pit full of snakes had just opened up in front of him. There was no place to retreat to, and if he took a single step forward, he was going to go tumbling down into their slimy depths.

"What about Thursday night?" Starsky found himself using the hostile tone he'd been determined to avoid tonight.

Hutch was nowhere near as collected as he'd let on. Starsky saw Hutch's resolve almost visibly waver under Starsky's less than hospitable response.

Good. Maybe Hutch would have the sense to let this particular sleeping dog lie.

But once again Hutch's courage astounded Starsky.

After taking a deep breath, Hutch said carefully, "I guess you could say that we went someplace that neither of us planned on visiting that night."

Somehow this was scarier than talking about the rape. Starsky's mouth dried up in a second, his stomach tightening in a stranglehold he could barely breathe around.

"What do ya want me to say?" Starsky asked at last.

"The note you left me seemed to suggest that you had something you wanted to talk to me about." Hutch's calm was forced. Starsky could see a faint, nervous tremor running through his tightly held, muscular body, like it was taking every ounce of strength Hutch possessed to sit there and ask that question.

For the life of him, Starsky didn't know what Hutch was fishing for. Finally, he settled on a reply that seemed suitable in light of Friday's events. "I, ahh, guess this is my night for insufficient apologies, huh? I know it doesn't mean nothin' now, but . . . I'm sorry: really, really sorry any of this ever happened to you."

Hutch froze, as if the wind had been knocked out of him. "Is that what you planned on telling me on Friday night if things'd gone differently—that you were sorry?"

Without warning, the emotional atmosphere changed between them again. Starsky hadn't a clue as to what he'd said wrong, but there was a dangerous air of controlled fury about Hutch now. It reminded him of that time Hutch had gone for him when he'd told Hutch about Gillian being a hooker. Only, Hutch wasn't distraught now, just silently vibrating with tension.

"Hutch, let's not do this . . . please?" he all but begged.

"Answer the question, Starsky," Hutch snapped, every bit of the hard-edged cynic back in his face. "Were you gonna tell me you were sorry?"

"What does it matter now what I was gonna say?" Starsky shot back, feeling trapped. "Friday blew everything to hell. There ain't nothin' left to talk about."

Hutch's body jerked as if he'd been flicked with the razor sharp edge of a whip. "Is that so?"

Shivering at the cold and dangerous tone, Starsky tried again, "Hutch, please . . . ."

"I wanna hear whatever you were gonna say, Starsky," Hutch insisted.

Starsky searched for the words, ripping his soul apart for a polite way to tell the truth. How was he supposed to tell Hutch that what they'd done Thursday had made him want what Anderson had forced him to take from Hutch? How could he tell this man he'd raped that he'd desired to know him that way—without it sounding like he'd enjoyed what Anderson had made him do?

Maybe there was some way to explain all that, but Starsky couldn't articulate it. All he knew was that he felt like a monster for feeling these things after Friday and if he told Hutch the truth, Hutch was gonna see him as a monster, too.

"I can't do this," Starsky whispered, hauling himself to his feet. "I'm goin' back to bed. Thanks for dinner. Let yourself out."

Before the visibly startled man on the other side of the couch had time to reply, Starsky was back in his bedroom. It was the coward's way out, he knew, but he couldn't face baring these horrible truths to the person he'd sexually brutalized two nights ago. He just couldn't.

So he crawled back into the shadowed womb of his tangled sheets, safe in the dark lair of his lightless existence like all the other monsters.

What he hadn't counted on was the sheer perversity of his contrary, thick-as-a-brick partner.

Starsky wasn't in there two minutes when he saw the tall silhouette outside his door. Hutch paused there, backlit by the golden light of the living room lamps. Starsky prayed that Hutch would have the sense to just let it be, but when had Hutch ever taken the easy route out of anything in his life? The idealist may have turned cynic, but Hutch still had that dreamer's determination—and the pig-headed ability to forge forward, even when common sense and decency demanded a withdrawal.

Hutch didn't just brave the monster's den. He did the unthinkable and flipped on the overhead light as he entered.

Starsky groaned at the blinding barrage, flinging his arm over his eyes to shield them from the merciless glare. "Would you turn that damn thing off?"

"We're through hidin' this in the dark, Starsk. We're gonna talk this through now."

"There ain't nothin' to talk through. Go home, Hutch."

"No such luck. You left me a note on Friday morning sayin' we had to talk. We're gonna talk—now."

"Hutch . . . ." he gave a warning growl.

Most men would have fled at the monster's emergence, but Hutch wasn't most men. Hutch showed as little fear of the monster as he did when the shark inside Starsky surfaced. Like a thirty-three and a third record stuck in an endless groove, Hutch angrily repeated, "Were you planning on tellin' me that you were sorry?"

Furious at Hutch for following him in here and getting in his face like this when all Starsky wanted was to maintain the fragile status quo between them, Starsky found his anger overcoming his better sense. Before he could think of editing his response, the truth came spilling out in an angry, "No, I wasn't gonna say I was sorry. You happy now? Go home."

"What were you gonna say?" Hutch asked in a less argumentative tone.

Starsky couldn't see Hutch because his wrist was still shielding his eyes from the unforgiving light, but he could almost feel Hutch as he slowly approached the bed. Hutch's boots made soft sounds in the carpet as he moved.

"Nothin' that makes any difference now," Starsky answered. It was easier this way, talking without looking at Hutch. Even so, he could feel Hutch's gaze watching him, the way he'd feel the California sun on every inch of his skin.

"Starsk, were you . . . mad about what we did?" Hutch asked in a softer tone that was as seductive as velvet.

His throat too tight to even try speaking, Starsky gave a negative shake of his head. No matter how much he wanted to hide and put Hutch off the scent, he wasn't about to lie about something like that. Better Hutch saw him for the monster he was than that Hutch be misled into thinking his generous gift had offended.

"Did it . . . turn you off when you thought about it afterwards . . . disgust you?" Hutch tentatively probed, as if trying to help Starsky sort out his feelings.

That snake pit was back in front of him once more, only, this time there was a cliff edge at his back. No move he made here was going to be either safe or right.

"Let's not do this, Hutch," he pleaded.

"Answer the goddamn question, Starsky!" Hutch snapped, from less than two feet away.

Starsky tensed at the proximity. "Why? What good'll it do now?"

The silence stretched. Though he was sorely tempted to peek out from under his shielding forearm, Starsky refrained form doing so. Hutch was too persuasive. If he gave an inch here, there'd be no holding his ground. And then . . . Hutch would know what a sick pervert he really was.

"Maybe . . ." Hutch's quiet voice was suddenly so soft and young that it hardly sounded like Hutch; intensely uncertain just wasn't an attribute of Hutch, ". . . maybe I need to hear it. Maybe I want to hear it."

Starsky gulped. It was either that or choke. His heart was suddenly pounding so loud that he couldn't hear beyond its thunderous roar.

Hutch still wanted to hear how he felt about what they'd done Thursday?

He caught his breath. Still hiding behind his arm, Starsky forced himself to answer honestly. "It didn't disgust me. I-I really dug it."

There, that was safe. It didn't belittle Hutch's gift; it wasn't offensive, but at the same time, it didn't reveal too much of the truth, as in how much Starsky had cherished what they'd done.

"I, ahh, don't see the problem here, Starsk. If you liked it and I liked it . . . ."

"Friday ruined everything," Starsky cut in before Hutch could say something he couldn't ignore.


"What do you mean 'how'! They made me rape you."

"Friday had nothin' to do with me 'n thee, babe," Hutch answered in an insidiously mild and reasonable tone. "Thursday is what we're about, not Friday."

Starsky quivered all over at the soft argument. He pressed his arm tighter to his eyes to block out the rest of the room.

"Look," Hutch continued, "if I can try to move beyond Friday, can't you?"

"I don't know how," Starsky confessed, squeezing his eyes shut even tighter, wishing he could do the same with his ears.

"We could talk. We . . . we could try to make like Friday never happened and pick up where we left off Thursday . . . I-I'd really like that, babe."

Hutch couldn't have hurt him more if he'd thrust his fist through his chest cavity and ripped out his still-beating heart. Hutch's confession felt like that much of a vivisection. And it shouldn't have. Friday morning Starsky would have given his world to hear those words. Only now, they were like salt on an open wound.

"I . . . can't . . . ." he hissed, barely able to get the words out.

"Why not?" Hutch demanded.

Starsky couldn't comprehend how Hutch couldn't understand his hesitation. In truth, he couldn't fathom how Hutch would want his touch at all now.

As much as he wished that he could just crawl away from this conversation and die, he couldn't leave Hutch hanging there in this horrible silence after Hutch had been so brave and admitted his feelings, incomprehensible as they were to Starsky. So, he forced himself to be honest again. "I . . . I can't stand myself right now, Hutch. What they made me do to you . . . I don't know how to live with that."

Starsky tensed all over as the bed sagged beside his left hip, the sudden heat announcing Hutch's presence there.

"I know it hurts," Hutch said in that soft, healing tone. "I've felt like hell myself these last couple of days, but . . . we can't let what Anderson did to us destroy us, partner."

Starsky shivered as a warm palm settled gently on his shoulder. There wasn't anything suggestive or sexual in the contact, but it was like that shoulder had a direct circuit to his groin. Starsky's insides liquefied under the sudden heat that pulsed through him. His whole body seemed to throb with need in reaction to the simple gesture. He turned on harder and faster than he ever had in his life, like some hormonal sixteen-year-old about to cream his jeans at the thought of getting laid.

Normally, he would have delighted in such instant chemistry, but tonight it only made him feel more miserable. Hutch might have said that he wanted to pick up where they'd left off Thursday, but Starsky didn't feel it was right for him to get turned on like this by such an innocent touch.

"It ain't what Anderson did, it's what I did that I can't live with," Starsky tried to explain, his body tensing, his lungs constricting as he tried to fight off this nearly irresistible surge of longing. It was ridiculous. This was Hutch; the man he'd worked with every day for over thirteen years. He shouldn't be reacting this way, but even the faint traces of Hutch's manly aftershave was making his stomach do flip-flops.

He raised the knee nearest Hutch up, hoping to conceal his problem and give his straining erection some room. He didn't dare open his eyes now 'cause he'd probably come just from the sight of Hutch bending so close over him.

"Starsk, I know it's hard, but you gotta try to forgive yourself, just like I'm tryin'."

"I don't know how you can forgive me . . . ."

"I wasn't talking about forgivin' you, babe," Hutch corrected gently. "As far as I'm concerned, there isn't anything to forgive. Anderson was the culprit that night. You were just another victim."

"Then what're you talkin' about?" Starsky asked, wondering if his raging hard-on had made him miss a major part of the conversation.

"Forgiving myself."

"For what?" Starsky was still mystified.

"A lot of stuff. For being stupid enough to get caught. For not being able to prevent it from happening."

"Hutch, none of this is your fault," Starsky insisted, unable to believe what he was hearing. He dropped his arm away from his face and opened his eyes to stare up into that nearby face so that Hutch would read the truth of what he was saying. The troubled expression pinching those handsome features squeezed at his heart, even as the sight of Hutch sent an almost electric charge coursing through his groin.

"And it isn't yours, either. I know that doesn't stop it from hurting, but we can't throw everything away just because of one run of bad luck. I really want us to go back to where we were before Friday night happened, Starsk. Couldn't we try, please?"

Starsky abruptly understood where the electricity sparking through his loins emanated from—Hutch's eyes. They were such an incredibly vivid, incandescent blue that they almost seemed to be glowing with an inner light. Every time they touched his own gaze, electric sparks flew between them. Starsky knew he didn't have a chance in hell of resisting them, so he turned away.

He tried to think about this subject objectively, unemotionally, but as much as he wanted Hutch, every time he thought about acting on that impulse, his conscience flayed him with the burning image of raping his bound partner.

"I wish it were that easy, Hutch," he said at last.

"Why can't it be? If we're both willing . . . ."

"Every time I look at you now, I see what they made me do to you . . . ." he met Hutch's eyes again and tried to explain.

He wasn't prepared for Hutch's reaction. The light in that brilliant gaze died as if a switch had been thrown. Hutch looked devastated by that single remark. A bleak despair darkened his face. It made Starsky hate himself all the more. He was almost grateful when the emotions sparked over into anger.

"So I'm ruined for life because of that?" Hutch sneered.

"Hutch," Starsky tried to reason, "please, I didn't mean that you . . . ."

"Do you know what it's been like for me these last two days?" Hutch demanded. "I felt so dirty after what had been done to me . . . so . . . worthless. I was scared to death that you were never gonna be able to look at me the same again. It took Hank two days to come close to convincing me that it wasn't my fault . . . and now you're tellin' me that I was right, that you're never gonna be able to look at me again without seeing . . . God, Starsk . . . ."

"No, Hutch, I didn't mean it like that. It's just . . .they forced me to take something that should've been a gift . . . ruined something that should've been good for you."

"So you think that punishing me for the rest of our lives is gonna make up for what Anderson forced you to do? How's that gonna make it better?"

"Punishing you?" Starsky blankly repeated.

"What else do you call this?"

"Hutch, you can't really want me that way. Not after Friday," Starsky insisted.

"Who says I can't? Wanting you was the only thing that got me through that," Hutch argued. He looked like he wasn't too sure he should have voiced those words, like maybe he thought he was admitting too much with them.

Even reading Hutch's hesitation, Starsky couldn't believe it could possibly be true. "Yeah, right."

"Don't blow me off like that!" Hutch flared.

"Then don't insult my intelligence. There wasn't nothin' in that night you liked or wanted."

"Not the way it went down, but . . . those things you said that night . . . they were true, every one of them. You . . . freaked me out when you said it out loud. It was . . . like you'd read the darkest secrets in my soul or somethin'."

"Said what?" Starsky asked, totally at a loss once again.

Hutch's cheeks flamed a brighter red than even his windburn, but he boldly answered the question. "That deep down I always wanted you to do that."

"Huh? What're you talkin' about?"

Hutch's gaze shied away for a moment, before he seemed to force it back to meet Starsky's. "That's what you said when . . . when you were inside me."

His dinner roiled in his stomach, threatening a reappearance as Hutch reminded him of the stupid, arrogant garbage he'd spewed while in Villar's persona. "Hutch . . . I was just talkin', trying to get you to relax. I didn't mean any of that stuff."

Appearing totally uncomfortable, Hutch nodded slowly before saying, "Maybe so, but it was true all the same."

It was all too much to take in. Obviously, the fact that it was him did make a difference to Hutch, though Starsky couldn't fathom how it could. He'd taken a seminar at the local community college once where a shrink had spoken about a lot of psychological mumbo jumbo. He remembered how the guy had said that when something too horrible happened, the human mind was capable of blotting it out completely or twisting the event into something more manageable—the psychologist had called it denial, Starsky thought. Hutch might be doing that denial stuff, but . . . it didn't feel right.

Too confused to even begin to understand, Starsky took a deep breath and rallied his arguments. "Maybe what you're sayin' is true, but that don't change what I did. I hurt you bad. You-you jumped when I touched you yesterday . . . ."

Hutch winced. "I know. I'm . . . I'm jumpy."

"Hutch, that means that deep down you don't want me to touch you . . . ."

"How the hell do you know what I want? Did you ask me?"

The angry demand sparked off Starsky's own anger and his patience snapped. "Ask you what—did you want another go round with your rapist?"

"Stop callin' it that," Hutch ordered.

"What the hell else can I call it? You were tied down and cryin' . . . and I shoved my cock up inside you and took you by force . . . I can't ever take that first time back or make it up to you . . . never make things even between us again . . . . Whenever I touch you, that first time would always be there. We'd never be . . . equal again. I'm always gonna be a monster . . . ." he looked up at Hutch, hoping that he was understanding what he was trying to say.

The cold, hard features sent an icy shiver straight down his spine. It was almost a stranger sitting beside his hip, looking down at him out of Hutch's eyes—a desperate, angry stranger.

"So what you're saying is that if there was some way to make this even, we could get past this bullshit and get on with life?"

About to protest the 'bullshit' comment, the dangerous glint in Hutch's eye made him think better of it. So, Starsky nodded and said, "If there was a way to make it even again, I wouldn't feel like such a . . . pervert. But there ain't, so . . . ."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Hutch drawled in a deceptively mild tone. His expression was still chilling, his fierce control reining in God knew what.

"Huh?" Starsky questioned, totally unnerved by the super-charged atmosphere. If they were undercover and going into a drug meet, his instincts would have been telling him that they'd been set up. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing up straight, the shark inside sending out a warning burst of adrenaline. Something was seriously wrong here, but . . . there were no hidden dangers here. It was only him and Hutch talking . . . .

"I can think of a way to even the score."

And before even the shark could decipher the meaning of the words, Hutch pounced.

Starsky gasped as both his hands were grabbed and roughly pulled up above his head. Before he could react, there was an ominous snick and he found himself handcuffed to his new brass headboard.

And, God help him, even then he didn't have the sense to be alarmed. When he looked up at Hutch looming above him, it was still mostly confusion running through him.

Hutch had the weirdest expression on his face—resolved, but almost sick at the same time.

"What the hell are you doin'?" Starsky demanded, more annoyed than actively scared.

"Evening the score."

"This ain't funny, Hutch," he protested angrily, unable to believe that Hutch could be serious.

"It's not supposed to be."

"I ain't kiddin'. Let me up! Now!" Starsky ordered, his voice and panic rising in equal measures. He'd seen that expression on Hutch's face only once before, in court that time they'd been forced to shop Lionel Reiger. Rarely in the thirteen years he'd known this man had Hutch forced himself to go against his better judgment.

Biting his lower lip, Hutch's expression hardened to stone. "Sorry, Starsk. No can do."

"Are you out of your mind?"

"Quite possibly," Hutch replied, running a hand through his longish blond hair, looking like he was trying to pump up his courage to actually act now that he'd set the stage.

"You can't do this! This is . . . ." Really beginning to fear for his safety, Starsky gave the cuffs a savage jerk. They were designed to restrain prisoners more than twice his weight. The cuffs held, of course, as did the sturdy brass headboard rung to which Hutch had attached them.

"You're gonna hurt yourself if you keep that up," Hutch advised in a frighteningly normal tone.

"Let me up from here!"

Hutch didn't even look at him this time; he seemed intent on finding something in his side pants pocket.

Furious, Starsky used Hutch's temporary distraction to aim a kick at Hutch.

Hutch intercepted his foot one-handed, calm as you please, and forced his leg back down to the bed. "Don't do that again, Starsk."

"Or what?" Starsky demanded, arching himself up, trying to free a leg. But Hutch just leaned sideways until his torso supported the left arm restraining Starsky, superior weight and position winning out over Starsky's frantic determination. "You've snapped, you know that? Certifiable."

"Probably," Hutch agreed, unperturbed, finally pulling his hand from his pocket.

"When I get up from here . . . ."

"You can shoot me dead," Hutch said in the tone of a promise, looking like he really didn't care if Starsky took him up on the option or not.

Hutch shifted around on the bed a bit, hooking his right leg over Starsky's thighs to hold his legs down, freeing up Hutch's hands.

Starsky's heart was racing a mile a minute, his pulse pounding a deafening beat in his ears as this unbelievable reality began to sink in. Hutch was really going to . . . to rape him. He gulped nervously, fighting back the ridiculous impulse to burst into tears.

Starsky knew he had it coming, in spades, but . . . he'd never thought Hutch would do something like this. It violated all the precepts of trust upon which their partnership was grounded.

Their bodies were pressed closer than lovers in an almost mocking parody of all the times they'd comforted each other with touch. But never before had being near Hutch made his flesh crawl like this.

Because of the enforced proximity, Starsky had no choice but to look down when Hutch brought whatever he'd hauled out of his pocket between them.

Goose flesh pricked up every inch of his skin when he saw the bone-handled scout knife that his clumsy partner was fumbling to open.

"What-what're you gonna do with that?" he questioned as Hutch finally opened the blade. Whatever it was, he didn't want to hang around to find out. He jerked at the cuffs again, fear and hysteria giving him almost super-human strength. All he managed to do was bruise his sweaty wrists. The right cuff actually nicked his skin, so hot blood dripped down among the clammy sweat that seemed to have broken out all over his body.

"Hold still," Hutch ordered in a no-nonsense tone.

Since that shiny, lethal little blade was coming straight for his neck, Starsky did as bidden and froze. Even the air seemed to solidify in his lungs as the weapon in Hutch's hand moved for him.

God, was Hutch gonna maim him? Did Hutch hate him that much for what he'd done Friday? He'd known it was freaky that Hutch hadn't blamed him for what had happened. Had all that repressed fury broken loose in this homicidal burst?

Hutch's left hand settled on Starsky's throat.

Instinct made Starsky press back against the pillows, but he could only move so far with Hutch pinning his lower body to the mattress and those cuffs binding him to the high headboard. Having his arms pulled up so far had been becoming uncomfortable, but it was beginning to look like he wasn't going to be around to suffer that long.

He gulped in fear at the determined light in Hutch's eyes, wondering if Hutch would stab through his recently healed chest or just slice his throat open . . . .

The familiar-featured stranger menacing him did neither. The thumb and middle fingers of Hutch's left hand gripped the collar of Starsky's navy blue sweatshirt and undershirt, lifting them up, away from his chest.

"Hey!" Starsky couldn't help but yelp as the knife cleanly sliced both his shirt and undershirt straight open. The sound of the material shredding sent a shudder through him. Starsky looked down as the ends fell back onto his chest, almost in their original position. There was just the tiniest trace of skin visible between the rent ends.

Holding the open jackknife between his teeth, Hutch reached out to grab the shirt ends. He pulled them far apart, baring Starsky's chest to the cool night air.

The only sounds in the room at all at that moment were that of both their labored breathing.

Hutch retrieved the knife from between his teeth.

Less terrified this time, Starsky silently watched as Hutch cut the clothes from his shoulders and arms. All that was left when Hutch was done was the back of his shirts, which he was laying on. Hutch calmly closed the knife and tossed it away, pausing to stare down at his captive.

Starsky wondered what he saw to interest him so. He looked down at himself, at the lurid collection of bullet holes and suture tracks marring his chest. The scars ran like a mad patchwork from his collarbones almost to his naval, his chest hair seeming to accentuate the damn things rather than conceal them. Suddenly, he was intensely aware that this was the first time he was naked in a sexual situation since Gunther. Thursday night hadn't really been threatening this way because he'd had his clothes on. Why he should care what Hutch thought about his disfigurement when Hutch was about to forcibly rape him bewildered Starsky. All he knew was that he suddenly felt naked and incredibly vulnerable, and with his arms tied like this, he couldn't even cover himself. It was . . . humiliating.

"Guess it's enough to turn even a rapist off, huh?" he asked in a shaky voice. Though this kind of kinky bondage scene was the last thing he wanted to go down between Hutch and him, Starsky seriously didn't know if he'd survive if Hutch turned his back and walked away from him now.

"Don't." The palm that cupped Starsky's cheek belied the gruff tone of the command.

Starsky tried to jerk away and keep his eyes down, but that gentle pressure inexorably guided his gaze back up.

Part of him knew that he should turn his head, dig his teeth deep into that nearby hand and take a piece out of anyone who'd dare tie him up like this, but the understanding and raw pain in Hutch's eyes killed that impulse.

"There's nothin' about you that'd turn anyone off," Hutch whispered, trailing his thumb slowly down Starsky's thickly stubbled jaw and over his sensitive neck.

Starsky shuddered again; only this time it wasn't from repulsion.

Hutch's eyes were focused on his mouth with an intensity that was more than longing, more like actual physical hunger. Hutch was watching his mouth like it was killing him not to kiss him. For a moment Starsky couldn't figure out why Hutch was holding back, but then he realized that Hutch was probably afraid of getting bitten.

Starsky wanted to tell him not to worry and go for the kiss, but pride held him back. As much as he was enjoying this, Hutch had still forced him into it. It wasn't right that he make things too easy for his partner.

After a moment's indecision, Hutch took the safe route. He lowered his head and nuzzled Starsky's throat instead . . . which turned out to be even more devastating to Starsky's battered pride than the kiss would have been. Though he wasn't sure if it would have worked with Hutch, he knew how to hold himself back in a kiss. Years of necking had taught him how to go through the motions without getting totally lost in the experience and retain sovereignty over his body. But when it came to his throat, he was utterly helpless. With the pulsing exception of his penis, his neck was his most sensitive area. No one could touch him there or breathe on the skin there without turning him on hard and fast.

Hutch was already playing havoc with his controls just by being Hutch. When those lips touched the hypersensitive skin under his jaw, Starsky lost it completely.

The hot suction and warm breath playing over his most vulnerable erotic zone reduced him to a quivering heap in seconds. His erection, which had wilted at the sight of that knife coming for him, was abruptly back again, growing harder and needier as Hutch continued to kiss and nibble his neck.

This was supposed to be payback. Rape. He wasn't supposed to enjoy it, wasn't supposed to long for his attacker's touch, but Hutch was caressing him as he had on Thursday night, with that near-worshipful tenderness. By the time Hutch had finished with his neck, there was no pretending that he wasn't affected. Every nerve ending in Starsky's body was screaming out for similar attention.

His partner didn't disappoint him. Hutch moved from the hollow of his throat to the gory patchwork of scars with an eagerness that couldn't be disguised.

Starsky couldn't hold back his groan as Hutch's tongue explored each and every one of the horrid mementos with delicate precision. Hutch's fingertips played over the rough scars with cherishing gentleness, moving like they couldn't get enough of the feel of him.

"God, Hutch," he sobbed as his partner sucked his left nipple into his mouth. Hutch was fingering the incision mark trailing up to the pink nub as though that scar were an incredibly sexy erotic highlight instead of the gruesome disfigurement it was. His emotions were running so high that Starsky felt hot tears sting his eyes as Hutch suckled there. No matter what Hutch did to him after this, Starsky would be grateful for this moment for the rest of his life.

What Hutch did to him was move to the other nipple and repeat the pleasure. As if that weren't enough to drive him crazy, Hutch's fingers got into the act. While Hutch's mouth was occupied at Starsky's chest, Hutch's hands did a little extracurricular exploring of their own.

"Aaaaaahhhh . . . ." Starsky cried out as Hutch's right hand followed the trail of body hair down the center of his chest, over his solar plexus to the waistband of his jeans.

His belly button was right above the denim obstruction. Hutch paused at the fabric roadblock, taking a few minutes for his index finger to investigate the shallow depression of his navel and do its damnedest to drive Starsky out of what was left of his mind.

Then Hutch's mouth was on the move again and sanity was only a fond memory.

Feeling as though he were nothing but a mass of pulsing, tingling protoplasm, Starsky prayed that his partner's succulent mouth would follow the trail that his fingers had blazed. But instead of moving downwards, Hutch wandered to the side. His tongue lapped the curve of Starsky's breast, skimming the muscles of his ribs, which were taut and well-defined because of the way his arms were pinned over his head. Finally, Hutch homed in on his objective—a place Starsky could recall no other lover purposefully touching.

Starsky's eyes snapped open and he focused on his partner's face as the fingers of Hutch's left hand carded through the dark, moist hair of his armpit. Hutch's expression was so intense, so captivated that Starsky hardly knew what to make of it.

Hutch had him trussed up here at his mercy, and the guy was gonna waste his time playing with his smelly armpit?

Unusual as it was, the attention there was exciting. Starsky shivered as Hutch's fingernails lightly grazed the skin below as they carded through the perspiration beaded body hair. Then Hutch lowered his head to suck and nip there and Starsky's nervous system went wild.

While Hutch's mouth was busy getting intimate with the flavor of Starsky's sweat, his fingers played down Starsky's exposed sides—also a place few lovers spent much time investigating, except for chance brush-overs. As with the armpit, the fingertips took their time there, stroking, circling, teaching him that this was a place that could take enjoyment, too.

His lower body bucked up at Hutch like a current of raw electricity had just jolted through him; it certainly felt that way. He was almost thirty-eight years old. It was a hell of an age to discover a whole new pleasure zone. The fact that he was tied here, unable to stop Hutch from exploring these bizarre areas, made the whole thing even more titillating.

He wasn't even surprised when Hutch nibbled up the tender skin on the underside of his bicep and kept going. His partner seemed intent on discovering the taste and texture of every inch of him, no matter how mundane.

He gasped when Hutch licked the crease of his elbow. It, too, seemed to be hotwired straight to his groin. His gasp mutated into a pleading moan under the starbursts of delight that flashed along his neural path. It was all too much. He'd expected pain and angry retribution, not this transcendental ecstasy. Hutch seemed to take body parts that Starsky had been only nominally aware of before and turn them into stunningly sensitive pleasure receptors. When his suddenly vitalized forearm received the same nibbling attention, he was left a needy wreck, twisting helplessly in his bonds as Hutch methodically destroyed him.

It was there that they got to the point where Hutch couldn't comfortably reach much more of him. Thinking that the wonderful journey into previously unexplored territories was over, Starsky closed his eyes and waited to find out what would come next.

This was supposed to be payback, after all. Pretty soon, they were going to have to get to something unpleasant that Starsky wasn't going to enjoy. As much as he appreciated it, he didn't understand why Hutch was being so gentle with him, but it was almost as if tender was the only way Hutch knew how to do sex.

His eyes snapped open as Hutch's weight shifted off his lower body. Their gazes met, both acknowledging the moment of vulnerability when Starsky had the opportunity to kick or knee Hutch in the groin, were he so inclined. Hutch took his time shifting, seeming to give Starsky every chance to make his move, but . . . Starsky couldn't do it, not after how good Hutch had been to him.

Starsky didn't know what this was, but it sure as hell didn't fit his definition of rape.

So he lay there and watched Hutch shift around until his knees were straddling his captive's chest and Hutch could now reach further. The black denim of Hutch's jeans felt hard and coarse against the bare skin of his sides. After all that unprecedented attention, the skin there seemed unusually alert, but he lost all awareness of the small discomfort almost immediately.

He squirmed as Hutch's mouth reattached to his hypersensitive inner elbow, twisting helplessly against his bonds. Hutch took his time there before moving higher up his bound arms. Though not quite as reactive as his inner elbows, a shivery delight coursed through him as his forearms received the same loving attention. Hutch played his fingertips over the pale skin of his inner arm, the tickly touch tracing the trails of blue veins below the translucent skin. Then Hutch's tongue would lightly skim the same path. The cool stream of breath Hutch directed over the slick skin was Starsky's complete undoing. Nothing had ever felt like that. Even his neck didn't have that kind of shuddery response. That this incredible sensation could come from a place no one else had ever even thought of touching totally blew him away.

God, it was like he'd never felt his body before. He felt as if Hutch were introducing him to some exotic narcotic, instead of acquainting him with the same boring flesh he'd inhabited for the last thirty-seven years.

It was only as he approached Starsky's wrists that Hutch hesitated.

Too lost in a sexual haze to be anything but confused, Starsky watched as guilt swept over those passion-flushed features as Hutch's eyes scanned the bruised and bloody flesh under the cuffs. Not liking either the tension or guilt, Starsky was temporarily at a loss as to what to do.

He knew if he opened his mouth right now and asked to be released, the cuffs would be gone in a second . . . but then the sex would probably grind to a halt and Hutch would be off on the granddaddy of all guilt-trips. As much as his arms were hurting like a son-of-a-bitch and he longed for the freedom to touch in return, Starsky wasn't willing to jeopardize destroying this precious moment, but he didn't know how to communicate that without bringing about the very events he feared. So, in the end, he mutely thrust his bound wrists towards his partner. At the same time, he slowly lifted his left leg up behind Hutch, using his knee to press into the small of his partner's back. Exerting the slightest pressure, he urged Hutch forward.

Hutch seemed to be so overcome with remorse that he completely misinterpreted Starsky's message. Hutch's hand jumped to his right side pants pocket, where Starsky knew his friend's key ring resided.

Realizing that speech would be necessary, after all, Starsky shook his head and pleaded, "No, don't."

"Huh?" Hutch abruptly appeared nervous and self-conscious, everything Starsky didn't want him to be right now. He liked this Hutch who had taken control of the situation, tied him down and forced this pleasure upon him. It was kinky as all hell, but thrilling at the same time. He didn't want it to devolve into a guilt fest.

"Finish what you started," Starsky commanded, shivering at the incredulous wonder that suffused his partner's face. Hutch looked stunned and relieved at the same time, like he couldn't believe what he was hearing.

Once again, Starsky offered his shackled wrists, using his knee to propel Hutch forward.

Hutch's chest heaved beneath the still primly buttoned red, white and black plaid lumberjack shirt as Hutch gasped in utter shock. His words visibly knocked the wind out of Hutch. He really looked as though he'd believed that Starsky was still desperate to be freed.

Starsky didn't know who his partner had been sleeping with lately, but he didn't know a human being on the planet with the strength or moral fiber to turn their back on the unmitigated delight Hutch was dispensing. If word ever got out at how good Hutch was at this, there would be riots in the street as people fought to be the first in line to be shackled to Kenneth Hutchinson's bed.

The most incredible part was that Hutch just didn't get it. Starsky had never been able to understand how a guy with his partner's good looks could be as clueless to his sexual appeal as Hutch was, but his attractive best friend never acted like his appearance was anything special. It was one of the things he loved most about the man. From the day Starsky had met him, Hutch had been a virtual Adonis, but Hutch had never once displayed a bit of the arrogance that so characterized the other California golden boys Starsky had run across.

Take now, for instance. Anyone else would have been smug over the obvious conquest they had made by suborning their bound victim's will, but Hutch's expression was one of complete bewilderment as he moved to comply with Starsky's request.

He sighed in relief as Hutch's warm, wet tongue returned to his forearm and the disaster was diverted. The sucking kisses worked their way steadily towards the handcuff. Once he reached the damaged area, Hutch's tongue peeked out again to carefully lap. Starsky shivered all over when he realized that Hutch was cleaning the blood from his abraded wrist.

Starsky thought that Hutch would be finished with that arm when it seemed that the injured area had been thoroughly taken care of, but instead of pulling back, Hutch's tongue just worked its way up into his palm. Hutch began to lick steadily right over his lifeline, lapping rhythmically as a contented cat.

Starsky couldn't recall ever having any particular sensitivity in that area, even though many a lover had caressed him there before, but this time he lit up like a Christmas tree.

"My, God . . . Huuuutchhh!"

He felt the full lips smile against his palm. He closed his hand so that he could cup Hutch's cheek in the closest thing he could manage to a caress.

Hutch's reaction wasn't exactly what he was anticipating. His partner's groin was directly in his line of sight. When Starsky flicked his fingers across Hutch's temple, he saw the front of Hutch's pants bulge forward, as though he'd just blown down Hutch's neck or something equally stimulating.

Starsky eyed that straining erection, calculated the distance involved and decided it was worth giving it a shot. When Hutch's attention seemed to be focused once again on his oral investigation of Starsky's left hand, Starsky leaned his head forward as far as he could . . . and bumped his face into that tempting basket dangled before him.

Above him, Hutch hissed and sat straight up, abandoning his ministrations, while below Starsky's nose . . . the flesh jerked and expanded to impressive proportions. Starsky knew from painful experience that it wasn't easy to tent denim that was as new as the jeans Hutch was wearing.

He pulled back to see how Hutch was doing and sucked in a surprised breath at the stunned joy on his partner's face. Unable to resist, Starsky leaned forward again and rubbed his cheek back and forth against Hutch's erection, feeling the flesh strain and pulse beneath the thick denim against his cheek. The heat there was phenomenal. He was so attuned to his partner that he could almost smell Hutch's arousal through the clothing separating them. The guttural groan Hutch gave from up above was one of the sweetest sounds he'd ever heard.

Next time he looked up, Hutch's gaze was hot and unfocused.

"Open your fly," Starsky ordered gruffly.

"W-what?" Hutch asked with a shocked air about him, as though he weren't straddling a half-naked man whom he'd handcuffed to the bed for the express purpose of forced sex.

"Open your fly," Starsky repeated, wondering what Hutch saw in his gaze to make him shiver so.

Hutch's face blazed bright red. He gave a nervous gulp, then moved his fingers to his pants' fastening to undo the button. A moment later the zipper jdjurred down.

Starsky felt his own pulse pound harder at the flash of stark white briefs that showed through the V of the open jeans. Appearing way too self-conscious for a guy who'd just tied another man to a bed, Hutch slowly pushed his jeans and underpants off his narrow hips, peeling them halfway down his thighs.

Starsky gulped as his partner's genitals bounced free. The blood-flushed cock, heavy pink balls and golden thatch of wiry pubic hair were exactly as Starsky remembered them from the other night—almost too beautiful to be on a man. Starsky had never thought of anything on another guy as particularly arousing, but Hutch was exquisitely formed, like some kind of organic sculpture. Just watching that throbbing vein on the long, thick cock rhythmically pulse made his own blood beat with the same need.

His mouth suddenly dry, Starsky swallowed hard. He licked his lips, and glanced up at his partner's face. His heart twisted at the open doubt there. No one should be that uncertain when having sex, Starsky thought, taking in the pained expression. Hutch looked like he had no idea what to do now with this raging hard-on and his partner tied here at his mercy. Any other man would have been all over him long before now, but Hutch appeared almost embarrassed by his erection. Blue eyes skittering nervously away, Hutch took a deep breath as though attempting to gain some control over his body.

Some rapist, Starsky thought affectionately. Orneriness might've been enough to drive Hutch to tying him down this way, but it just wasn't in his partner's character to go through with it all the way, to force sex upon him. If it hadn't already happened on Thursday night, Starsky would have fallen in love with his partner all over again right then and there. As it was, he felt himself going under for the third time as he rasped out, "Go for it, babe."

"Huh?" Hutch truly looked clueless.

Mentally shaking his head, Starsky leaned forward and rubbed his cheek against the moist cock. It was weird and exciting all at the same time. The bulk and scent of Hutch were unique, as was the fierce longing that rushed through him.

Hutch's hands jumped to Starsky's head.

Starsky squeezed his eyes shut as the fingers dug deep into his curls, gripping them in a death hold. He kept expecting to be forced to give head, but Hutch just continued to hold on to him as he rubbed his cheek against his partner's genitals, almost as if Hutch were using Starsky to keep himself upright.

Knowing what he had to do, Starsky swallowed hard. He'd only done this once, and then their positions had been reversed. Hutch had been tied down and Starsky had had total control of the situation. If he took Hutch into his mouth now, he'd have no way of moderating what went down. But if he kept on going like this, Hutch was gonna come all over his face in about two seconds flat if his leaking cock were anything to go by.

Bracing himself, Starsky pulled back a bit. He winced as Hutch's fingers frantically gripped his hair to hold him in place.

Up close like this, Hutch's cock seemed monstrously huge. Scratch huge, his partner was immense . . . and frightening, because he knew that before this night was over, Hutch was gonna put that thing up inside him.

Starsky shivered. Even if Hutch were willing to release him, there was no way he could ask for an out now, not and be able to face Hutch ever again. He'd taken this from Hutch on Friday; it was only fair that Hutch do the same to him. But, God, just the thought of that monster prick entering him made his stomach clench up in dread.

On the verge of panicking again, Starsky took a deep breath. If he couldn't even give head, how was he ever gonna survive what would follow?

Feeling the anxiety begin to take hold, Starsky concentrated on his breathing, the way he had the other night in Anderson's chamber.

Every breath he took carried the over-whelming aroma of Hutch's need. At first that smell only increased his fear, but after a few moments, his racing panic began to recede. That fragrance was just so Hutch that Starsky couldn't hold onto his mindless terror. That scent had been the background of his life for so long that it was almost like a part of himself. Hutch's smell had come to represent safety to him, and even tied here, it still comforted him on an unconscious level.

After a time, the musky, fresh scent of Hutch's hot flesh began to make Starsky's senses reel. It wasn't half-remembered moments of comfort that musk brought to mind now, but physical reminiscences of Thursday and Friday night. It got into his blood and danced there like some potent amphetamine, making him so hot that Starsky had no problem opening his mouth and sucking that nearby shaft in. His jaw still ached at the stretch, but at least this time his body recalled how to breathe around that major obstruction.

He remembered the flavor from Friday night, but now that he wasn't scared out of his mind, he actually had the opportunity to appreciate it. Hutch was salty, yet sweetish at the same time. He tasted hot. Starsky didn't know how else to describe it. No matter what part of a body you put in your mouth, it had its own distinctive taste, as did people. Teri had been like dark chocolate, bitter and lush. Rosie'd been like soda pop, sweet at the time, but with an after-bite. While Hutch . . . Hutch was just hot, tasty, totally addictive.

Starsky stared at the golden fluff downing the pale belly in front of his face as he made the flavor of that cock a part of himself. It was killing him that he couldn't touch Hutch's balls or butt, that he could do nothing but lay here.

When Hutch began to move, his whole world changed. He had no time to angst about what was going to happen down the line. His only concern became his next breath, which was problematical with the way those pumping hips kept thrusting that huge shaft in and out of his mouth. He also had to think about his teeth. Hutch was pumping into his mouth with such wild abandon that Starsky was terrified that he was going to end up scraping the skin right off of that beautiful cock.

But even though it was hard going, Starsky still found himself enjoying it.

Hutch losing it so completely called to a part of himself that Starsky had always kept firmly in control, if he'd recognized it was there at all. There was something wild and savage about Hutch fucking his mouth like this when he could only lay here and take it. In the few domination fantasies Starsky had indulged over the years, he'd never pictured himself on this side of it. It was always him taking some beautiful, bound, totally hot and willing female. He'd never been powerless in a sexual situation before—the very thought had always creeped him out. The idea that he could get off on his male partner thrusting into his mouth while he lay chained helpless to the bed totally blew his self-image, but . . . he loved it. The rush was unbelievable, totally mind-blowing.

Starsky almost laughed at the bad pun. If Hutch kept thrusting into him like this, it was going to be a lot more than metaphor. What remained of his brains and everything in all parts south was going to be nothing but melted protoplasm.

He didn't know if he'd have felt this way with anyone other than his partner, but the fact that he was totally at Hutch's mercy while Hutch used him like this floated his boat like little else had in his entire life. He wasn't sure if he was going to feel quite this excited when Hutch penetrated him later, but right now, he was hotter than he'd ever been.

His own cock was loaded with every bit of blood in his body. As Hutch thrust into his mouth, Starsky's hips pumped upwards in time, but it just wasn't enough. He couldn't get enough friction to come, so he tried to ignore his own need and concentrate on Hutch's. It wasn't exactly hard to do. Servicing Hutch's cock was the only thing in his world right now.

Starsky couldn't see Hutch's face, but judging from his actions, Hutch was totally gone. Hutch's hips were thrusting into his mouth with a savage selfishness Starsky knew his thoughtful partner would never have employed if he were in his right mind. He'd never seen Hutch so out of control. It scared Starsky a bit, but somehow, he kept up with Hutch and didn't choke.

All too soon, he felt Hutch's body tense. Starsky knew what was about to happen even before he felt the balls beneath his chin tightening up.

The pulsing, fiery seed erupted forth, and it was all Starsky could do to swallow and breathe. It was like getting hit with an unending stream of hot seawater. The slick, mucousy substance was bitter and briny and full of power, just like the ocean. Even though he tried, he couldn't take it all. Hutch's semen gushed out of his mouth around the squirting cock, running over his chin and jaw in hot, slick rivulets.

This was where he really began to resent those cuffs, since he couldn't even move to clean himself up. He just had to lay there while Hutch continued to come. When Hutch collapsed above him with his softening cock still deep in Starsky's mouth, Starsky had to wait until Hutch pulled himself together enough to move, which seemed to take forever and a day.

What was even more frustrating was the fact that he couldn't even touch himself. He was about to drill a hole through the ungiving material of his jeans. He couldn't even adjust his penis to make it more comfortable in the denim vise. The blue jeans were hard, but it wasn't enough to get him off . . . and if he didn't get a little relief soon, he was going to die from the ache of it.

Finally, Hutch stirred. The lax cock pulled out of Starsky's mouth and Hutch was just straddling him again instead of collapsed all over him.

Starsky felt himself blush as Hutch's gaze moved over him. He felt like . . . he didn't know what. A cheap whore, maybe. He still had come and spittle dripping down his face and he couldn't even wipe it off. His hard-on was probably visible from Jupiter.

But Hutch wasn't looking at him like he was a used condom. There was a light in those vivid blue eyes, a sense of wonder that Starsky couldn't equate with the view before them.

Those brilliant eyes got closer and closer. Hutch tilted his head a little to the left, and then their lips were touching. It didn't seem to occur to either of them that Hutch might get bitten now. All there was, was the kiss, soft and tentative at first, growing deeper as no resistance was met. They seemed to just melt right into each other.

Starsky didn't know who opened his mouth first, but suddenly he had a hungry tongue poking around. Their tongues touched and frolicked with each other. Starsky shivered as the saliva was sucked out of his mouth, Hutch seemingly intent on absorbing as much of the bitter aftertaste of his coming as possible.

How long Hutch fed at his mouth, Starsky couldn't say. All he knew was that he needed to be touched and this kiss was feeding that need.

He moaned a little when Hutch's mouth finally pulled away a long time later, the sound of protest turning to one of shock as Hutch's tongue dutifully lapped every bit of lingering semen and dribble off Starsky's chin and neck. His stomach clenched up so tight that Starsky felt as if someone were physically squeezing his guts.

He arched up off the bed, needing more, needing everything. A frantic cry escaped his lips and for the first time tonight, he felt utterly helpless. He couldn't touch either Hutch or himself, couldn't move this any faster, all he could do was try to withstand this precious torture.

He knew this was payback and he didn't have any right to ask for any favors, but he still found himself pleading mindlessly, "Please, Hutch, please," as he shamelessly thrust his erection up at Hutch. If something wasn't done about his hard-on soon, Starsky was sure his cock was literally gonna burst apart from the pressure.

Hutch swung his knee back over Starsky until he was kneeling on Starsky's right side, on the inside of the bed.

Starsky cried out as Hutch stroked down his chest, petting him. Hutch's palm followed the trail of body hair down Starsky's stomach, then skimmed over the waistband of his jeans and continued further down.

Starsky couldn't even describe the sound that came out of him when that hot palm settled over his throbbing groin. A roar, or maybe a scream. All he knew was that it felt as loud as that hand felt hot.

When Hutch began to feel him up through his jeans, it was all Starsky could do to keep from creaming himself.

"Please, please, please . . ." he begged, and, finally, finally, Hutch fumbled his jeans' button open and undid the zipper.

Starsky was almost sobbing as his pants were peeled away. He was thankful that Hutch pulled them all the way off. He already felt too confined to have his legs tangled up in his pants.

Hutch sat back on his heels and just stared at him for the longest time. Starsky should have been nervous, but the gentle expression in Hutch's features assured him that Hutch liked what he saw.

At this point, Starsky didn't care what Hutch did to him, just so long as he got off on it. When it felt like that observation had gone on for centuries, Starsky decided to get things back on track. Thrusting his pelvis up at Hutch, he rasped, "It's in the nightstand drawer."

"What is?" Hutch asked, managing to look both blank and dazed at the same time.

"The Vaseline. You're gonna need it—aren't ya?"

A shiver went through him at the thought of Hutch taking him dry. Even that freak Anderson had provided lube. Hutch had been so gentle with him so far that Starsky couldn't imagine Hutch purposefully hurting him at this point in the game.

Hutch gave a physical start at his words. "Oh, yeah, right."

Without further ado, Hutch leaned over Starsky's supine, bound form to open the nightstand drawer and fumble through its contents.

The contact was too much, too tantalizing for restraint. Of their own accord, Starsky's hips thrust up at the warm body on top of them.

Hutch gave a small, almost bashful smile as Starsky bucked into him. Still hunting through the drawer with his left hand, Hutch blindly reached down to give what was probably meant to be a reassuring pat to Starsky's thigh. What Hutch came up with was a handful of cock.

Starsky's entire body convulsed at the contact. He tried to keep the whimper in, but couldn't. He'd been hard when Hutch followed him in here an hour ago. He was beyond need now, well into the arena of insanity. He honestly didn't care if Hutch fucked him at this point, just so long as he came in the process.

"Don't . . . ." Starsky begged as Hutch pulled back, moving totally off him again. He knew he was over-reacting, but he felt utterly abandoned by the loss of contact. If Hutch got up off this bed and walked away and left him here like this, he'd die. There was just no way he could survive this much wanting. Even if he weren't restrained, his own hand wouldn't have been enough to save him at this point.

"I'm not goin' anywhere," Hutch gently promised.

Starsky took a deep breath and nodded, relaxing just a little. Hutch wasn't going to abandon him . . . which meant that Hutch was going to fuck him now.

The realization brought him to a new peak of intensity.

His gaze settled on the blue and white-labeled jar in Hutch's right fist. Starsky had thought he was beyond caring, but a frisson of nervousness shuddered down his spine now that the moment of truth was upon him.

As much as he wanted Hutch to do him any way he wanted, Starsky still found he couldn't watch it happen. He took another deep breath, screwed his eyes shut and spread his legs.

Although his cock was still hard as an iron pipe, every muscle in Starsky's body tensed up as the mattress shook when he felt Hutch scramble between his splayed legs. He wasn't sure if he successfully held in his shiver as he heard the Vaseline lid open with that distinctive, tinny pop.

A breathy silence was followed by something that sounded like fabric being hastily shifted.

Starsky couldn't have opened his eyes then if his life had depended upon it. He was aware of every millimeter of his body as never before. It was like Hutch had opened the door to his self-awareness. He didn't even want to consider what the pain was gonna feel like with this heightened sensitivity when Hutch pushed up inside him. After how thorough Hutch had been everywhere else, Starsky had really expected Hutch to spend some time preparing him back there, relaxing the muscles and opening him up, but as he lay there in growing dread, Hutch never even lifted his legs to touch his backside. From the sound of the raspy breathing, Hutch was just kneeling there, greasing himself up, probably too far gone to think about trivialities like foreplay and the need to stretch virgin territory.

Well, he'd wanted things even. Payback was only fair. He couldn't really expect Hutch to forget what had been done to him on Friday night. This had been too good to be true so far. Sooner or later it was going to have to get back to the original game plan. Starsky had just begun to hope that . . . .

Starsky literally jumped as a warm hand settled on his right thigh. All thought stopped cold in his brain. His whole body seemed to turn to a block of ice; even the breath froze in his lungs.

This was it, the moment of truth.

He gave an unconscious shudder as Hutch's fingertips skimmed lightly over his hairy inner thigh. Even in this, Hutch was tender.

Starsky spread his legs even wider as more blood flooded his straining cock and he needed more room down there. His erection didn't know what was about to go down. As scared as he was—and he was plenty frightened—he was still fiercely aroused, his body having missed his mental panic attack. He was still nearly frantic with suppressed lust and anxiety. He couldn't figure out what the hell Hutch was waiting for, why Hutch didn't just get on with it. But those fingers kept stroking Starsky's inner thighs, lulling him, easing him, acting like they had all of eternity to get through this.

Starsky gasped as a sticky hand collected his cock. Hutch must have just finished lubing himself up, because his palm and fingers were covered with the petroleum gel. Starsky was practically coated in the stuff as Hutch pumped the tortured organ in his hand.

Lust eclipsing his fear, Starsky just whimpered in need and went with it, his hips surging up at Hutch with all his heart and soul.

Hutch was a genius. He knew exactly how to get Starsky back into that headspace of not caring what happened to him, so long as orgasm was involved. Hutch also apparently understood how close to coming Starsky was, for moments before Starsky was sure he was gonna shower them both, that greasy hand withdrew.

His body tensing up once more, Starsky held his breath as he felt Hutch shuffling around again. After some more clothes rustling, there was a soft whoosh, as if something had landed on the floor. The moment stretched out into eternity, anticipation, anxiety and sheer terror waging a brutal war with waning lust. Starsky tried to mentally prepare himself for the next few minutes. His legs would be lifted up, his buttocks parted, and then . . . and then Hutch would have his revenge and they'd be even.

The bed dipped again and . . . and . . . .

Starsky's eyes snapped open as something totally not in the game plan went down. His legs weren't lifted. He wasn't penetrated by either cock or fingers. He wasn't even sucked off. Instead, a warm, slick, chokingly tight, living heat pulled him in.

Stunned, Starsky looked up to see his squatting partner slowly lower himself onto Starsky's engorged penis. Hutch's clothes were gone. He was as naked as jaybird . . . and as beautiful as an angel.

Hutch's expression was one of intense concentration as he sank down onto Starsky's shaft, like he was memorizing every aspect of the impalement.

Starsky could feel the resistance in his lover's flesh, could hear it in the pain-filled grunts his brave partner couldn't quite hold in. Friday night had no doubt left its mark on his virgin passage. Starsky could see how much that initial stretch hurt by the grimace Hutch gave. Hutch still had to be sore there; this had to be hurting like hell. But Hutch wasn't stopping. When the pain seemed to become too much, Hutch would pause and hold himself still while he sobbed in some air before beginning his relentless descent once again.

Too shocked to even think, Starsky held himself stone still and simply watched. He'd been ready to be raped, but this . . . this was heaven. He'd been certain that Friday night had forever destroyed any chance of this happening ever again, but here Hutch was, willingly giving himself to him at Hutch's own initiative.

Why Hutch would do it at all was beyond Starsky. All he knew was that it was sublime from his end. He'd never felt anything to match this slow absorption.

When he was about halfway in, something happened. Hutch gave a gasp, his sudden stillness somehow different this time. Hutch's eyes lit with a fierce fire and he rocked himself carefully back and forth as he held himself in place.

The grunt this time was definitely not one of pain.

Hearing the startled pleasure, Starsky thrust his hips forward, hitting the spot that Hutch had discovered.

This time the cry from above was unmistakably one of sheer ecstasy.

"Oh, God, Starsk. Yeah . . . therrree!"

Barely able to credit Hutch's ecstatic expression, Starsky watched Hutch's eyes sink closed as the blond focused inwards. Hutch's head tilted back, the harsh overhead light starkly illuminating the unmistakable rapture twisting his features. He'd never seen Hutch look like this, like he was melting with pleasure from the inside out. Sweat beads popped out like diamonds on Hutch's forehead, beading on his moustache as well under the internal meltdown.

It killed Starsky that he couldn't touch Hutch in any other way at that moment. He wanted to hug Hutch tight and drill into that spot until he drove Hutch out of his mind with delight, until Hutch passed out from the feelings. But all he could do was thrust up and hope that he continued to find that magic spot.

And that just wasn't enough. Desperate for more contact, Starsky bent his knees up until they were gripping Hutch's sweat-slick sides, then he fumbled until his feet were flat on the bed. When he thrust up from this position, it put all their combined weight on his shoulders and almost ripped his arms right out of their sockets, but it did give him more maneuverability, which was all that mattered at the moment.

Hutch gave a surprised grunt at that first forceful thrust.

Starsky came up so strong that he seemed to unbalance Hutch. Hutch's arms shot out, his hands landing on Starsky's already stressed out shoulders to brace himself. The pressure on Starsky's back was phenomenal. He'd be lucky if he could walk when he was done with this, but right now, none of it mattered.

It should have been agony, would have been if his cock weren't running his life at the moment, but that thrust had buried him so deep in Hutch's body that he was barely aware of the pain. He was encased in Hutch, and that was as close to heaven as he could imagine. It was certainly closer than he'd ever gotten to it at any other time in his life. This was the perfect connection—his cock, Hutch's virgin-tight ass; they fit each other like they'd been sculpted for this moment, like their whole lives had been lived simply to bring them to this union.

Starsky's mind blanked out on him at that point and all there was, was sensation. The slap of their bodies together, their harsh, ragged breathing and guttural groans filled the room as fucking Hutch filled his reality. That tight, receptive body was all he was living for. There was nothing else that mattered in his world, nothing else that ever would again. Hutch was it for him. Hutch could leave him chained here to perish or put a bullet through his brain as soon as they were done and Starsky would die a happy, grateful man. This moment of ecstasy was worth any price to him. He wanted to hold on to it, make it last forever.

It sounded like a great game plan, and from the avid way Hutch was riding him, it seemed Hutch was equally content to string the experience out as long as humanly possible.

But time and flesh being what they were, the moment passed. You could only suspend time for so long. When it inevitably moved forward again, it came crashing down upon them both like a great sea wall. Starsky had never felt anything like it. Most times the feelings came hot and fast, fading almost as quickly as his body expelled his seed, but this time . . . it was like he'd stoked his pleasure centers with dry kindling and when Hutch sparked off his climax, it just lit the fire. He ignited all over, feeling it from his head to his toes. Every nerve ending that Hutch had called to life sizzled like they were burning up. Above him, Hutch was screaming as though the skin were being ripped off him, like he was dying of ecstasy, and maybe he was, for Starsky surely felt that way.

It went on and on and on, until there was no place else to go, until all that was left was hollow flesh and shaking limbs . . . and the reverberations of what had just passed, and what might be again in time, with proper handling.

Starsky felt like crying as the climax faded and reality sluggishly intruded with its mundane concerns—like the fact that his arms were stretched out like he was on a rack and that their combined weights were about to rip his hands right off. His back was totally wrecked. The least of his concerns was the mess on his chest. He was splashed with streaks of sticky semen straight up to his collarbones, the remnants of Hutch's second climax of the night.

Hutch was slumped over him like he'd lost consciousness. All Starsky could see was the crown of the golden head and the broad expanse of heaving shoulders as Hutch sobbed in deep breaths with his face plastered against Starsky's scarred, sticky chest.

After what felt like forever, Hutch raised his head to look at him. Hutch had this blown-away expression on his features that Starsky had never seen before. It made his stomach flutter and sections further south start thinking thoughts they had no right considering after such an earth-shattering orgasm.

"God, Starsk . . . ."

Knowing exactly what Hutch was trying to say, Starsky gave a bashful smile and said, "Yeah, me, too."

It was weird. They'd just scaled the highest peaks of passion together. He was lying here with his flaccid cock still stuck up inside Hutch's anus, and he felt . . . shy. It didn't make a whit of sense, but it was what he felt and he couldn't deny it.

"I, ah, guess I oughta get off you . . . ." Hutch said, working on self-conscious again, if his blush were anything to go by.

Not wanting the incredible closeness of moments ago to be lost in a maze of post-coital indecision, Starsky consciously worked to change the tone, "Don't do anything on my account. I kinda like it this way."

The blush deepened some, but his gambit worked. Hutch's burgeoning nervousness seemed to die stillborn. "Yeah?"


"Seriously, it's getting' a little . . . uncomfortable like this," Hutch finally admitted.

"Oh, well, in that case, be my guest." Starsky would have added the flourish of a wave to his statement, but his arms were otherwise occupied at the moment.

They both gasped as Hutch detached from him with a vaguely obscene sucking sound. If he'd thought his chest was messy, it had nothing on his Vaseline and semen coated cock. He didn't even want to think what Hutch's backside must be feeling like.

Hutch settled on the mattress by his hip, sitting right beside him, but after the closeness, it felt too far away. Hutch looked a little lost, like he didn't know how to deal with this scene now that the sex was over.

Starsky knew exactly how his lover felt.

But he was feeling something else at the moment that wasn't as welcome. His back and shoulders were in agony.

"Hey," Starsky said softly, letting the affection he felt show as he gave the handcuffs a playful rustle, "is there any chance of you uncuffing me any time in the near future?"

"Jeez . . . I'm sorry. I forgot," Hutch stammered, before turning to find the key.

Amused, he watched Hutch search the tangled bedding for his clothes. After about three minutes, Hutch finally looked over the side of the bed, where the black jeans were apparently hiding.

Starsky held his breath as Hutch scrambled up the bed to release him, his body tensing in anticipation. He'd been here before. He knew the drill.

As expected, as soon as his hands were released and he tentatively lowered his arms, every muscle in his entire body cramped up in reaction. His back was totally stressed out, but his chest was especially bad. The muscles there hadn't been the same since Gunther's attack.

He tried to hold in the groan, but it was literally impossible under the white-hot agony that coursed through him.

"God, Starsk, I'm sorry, so sorry . . . ." Hutch sounded miserable as he hovered over him.

Forcing back the tears, Starsky gazed up at his guilt-ridden lover. "I ain't, so shut up, okay?"

"You're not—what?" Hutch looked like he was afraid to touch him. The normally contained cop appeared a heartbeat away from losing it completely. His guilt-ridden partner was staring at Starsky's bruised wrists in open horror and obvious self-loathing. Hutch was really an absurd, pathetic sight at the moment.

"I ain't—sorry. Any time . . . you want . . . a . . . repeat . . . performance . . . let me know," Starsky gasped out between deep breaths.

"You sound like you mean that." Hutch's expression was beyond shock, well into the realms of disbelief.

"I do." Feeling that he had to say something more, Starsky continued. "That was . . . I never felt anything like that in my life, Hutch."

For once, he didn't mess it up. Every last trace of uncertainty vanished from Hutch's handsome features, something warm and wonderful taking its place. "Me, neither."

Starsky looked up into those glowing blue eyes and had to ask, because he couldn't hold back any longer, "Hutch, why-why'd ya do it that way? Why didn't ya go through with it and even the score?"

"Truth?" Hutch questioned, as though it might not be something Starsky wanted to hear. At his nod his once again uneasy partner explained, "I did it the way I wanted it."

Starsky couldn't get his brain around what Hutch seemed to be saying, "But you coulda . . . had me . . . ."

Hutch's smile was small and gentle, calm, despite his scarlet cheeks. "I did have you, babe."

"But not that way. You coulda . . . taken me," Starsky could feel his own face warming as they discussed details he usually never voiced.

"No, I couldn't," Hutch corrected.

"Why?" Starsky felt like a moron for asking, but he was totally lost here. For once Hutch's motivations were unfathomable, and he usually could read volumes in the flicker of this man's eyelashes. Most days, all Hutch had to do was meet his gaze and he'd know precisely how the complicated blond was feeling. That Hutch hadn't taken him when he was at his mercy completely bewildered him.

"Because that isn't what we're about. What we did here tonight, that's who and what we are. Friday was . . . an aberration, not something we need to repeat."

The words hit him like Hutch had just bounced on his chest and knocked all the air out of his lungs. When he'd gotten his brain around everything Hutch hadn't come clear out and said—like the degree of absolute love this man had to hold for him to be able to just put aside what had happened on Friday night—Starsky felt humbled by Hutch's courage. He didn't know if he could've done this if their positions had been reversed. Hell, he didn't even know if he was ready to reciprocate even now, after he'd taken Hutch twice, but here was Hutch tranquilly telling him that it didn't matter. It made perfect sense to his heart, but no sense at all to his mind.

"You don't understand, do you?" Hutch didn't sound angry or even disappointed.

"I'm tryin'," Starsky confessed, hoping he wasn't blowing everything here.

"Anderson almost ruined something that . . . that I've been wanting to happen for years. I needed to know that it could be good between us like that . . . that it didn't have to hurt or shame either of us. And . . . I guess I still needed to be in control of it at the same time. Hence, the hand cuffs."

"Hence, huh?" Starsky gently teased, hating the nervousness that was encroaching upon Hutch's joy.

Not surprisingly, Hutch flushed again.

That was one thing he did like, being able to get Hutch to blush on cue. It probably wouldn't last, but Starsky was enjoying the hell out of it right now.

"It was stupid, though," Hutch said. "I wasn't thinking about how much the cuffs would hurt. You're still uncomfortable, aren't you?"

He didn't want Hutch feeling guilty again, but he couldn't lie. "A little. Do me a favor, huh?"

"Anything. What . . . ?" Hutch looked like he was waiting to be told to cut off an arm or something, but there was an eagerness there too, like he wanted the punishment.

The need for punishing either Hutch or himself finally gone, Starsky looked up at his friend in complete understanding. He knew how it felt to have hurt the last person on the Earth he ever wanted to see harmed. He'd spent the last two days trapped in that awful reality.

"Would ya rub my arms and chest like you usedta after the surgery?" Starsky requested, feeling utterly ridiculous for asking. Those gentle massages were the only good memories he had of those pain-filled months after he'd been released from the hospital.

That obviously wasn't what Hutch had been expecting. Appearing stunned, Hutch slid closer and murmured, "Yeah . . . sure . . . ."

With painful awkwardness, Hutch reached for him.

Starsky closed his eyes as Hutch's palms settled upon his shoulders and began to carefully rub. He could feel the tension in Hutch's body. It didn't belong there, not after what they'd just shared . . . not after what his generous partner had just given him.

It was weird, but the fact that Hutch had mounted him that way when it was well within his rights to have screwed him mercilessly had turned Starsky's entire world around. He couldn't say why. Friday with all its nightmares was still all too vivid in his mind; only . . . only the loving of the last hour eclipsed even the depravity that Anderson had forced upon them.

Relaxing as Hutch's fingers worked their magic, Starsky decided that it was time to have that talk he'd promised in his note the other morning.



The hands didn't pause in their ministrations, much to Starsky's joy. Those fingers seemed to be reaching into every aching muscle and forcibly extracting the pain. Only now was Starsky beginning to realize that he'd always loved this man's touch, in ways that he probably shouldn't have if they were nothing more than platonic friends and buddies.

"Before, you said that Anderson almost ruined something that you'd wanted for years. Did you mean that?" Starsky asked. He didn't open his eyes, didn't put Hutch on the spot with the added pressure of being under observation.

He didn't need to. He could feel Hutch's hesitation in the alteration of the easy rhythm of his fingers.

"Yes," Hutch answered and kept rubbing Starsky's chest. Even so, Starsky could tell how tense his new lover had become, how . . . on guard.

On guard against him, he realized, like even now Hutch was afraid he was gonna go ballistic on him or something.

"You never said," Starsky remarked. He was careful to keep his tone mild, making it a question, not an accusation.

Even though he wasn't looking at Hutch, he could sense that he'd surprised him, that this wasn't the line of questioning Hutch had envisioned this discussion following.

"I didn't think it was something you'd ever wanta hear," Hutch admitted, all his attention seemingly focused on what his fingers were doing. Even so, his nervousness was almost a physical wall between them.

That had to be the saddest thing he'd ever heard.

Starsky thought about what it must've been like for Hutch all that time: to want to be someone's lover that you saw every day; someone who touched you all the time, but not the way you needed them to; someone who basically lived in your pocket, who you couldn't get away from . . . it must've been torture, every hour of every day. And Hutch had never let on or made a single move on him. Starsky knew that if he hadn't started it on Thursday night that Hutch would have probably gone to his grave with his secret. That was love, pure and simple.

"I don't know that I woulda ever thought of us that way, if not for Thursday," Starsky felt the need to confess. He wished he could say that he would have been receptive to Hutch's feelings before that, but . . . he honestly didn't know. It had taken touching Hutch, loving Hutch, for him to overcome his misconceptions. If Hutch had told him how he was feeling and put him on the spot before that, Starsky knew it would have scared him.

"Starsk, I know that I've . . . said a lot, and a lot's gone down between us these last few days, but . . . that doesn't mean this is the way we've gotta go. I know you never, that this isn't something . . . ."

His heart breaking at the floundering offer, Starsky's eyes snapped open, homing in on Hutch's gaze like a heat seeking missile. The poor guy looked like he was seeing his entire world crumble around him again, and Hutch was willing to let it happen because it was what Starsky wanted or needed.

It wasn't fair that someone should love that much, with so little return. Starsky gulped around his tight throat and found his voice, "I don't know how to unlove you, Hutch. I don't wanta learn how. This is who and what we are now."

Hutch's gaze lowered almost guiltily, "I . . . feel like you've been blackmailed into all this. You didn't choose, didn't . . . ."

Starsky sat up so that they were level and reached a still shaky, aching arm out to raise Hutch's down bent chin. He left his hand there, his thumb gently stroking that strong jaw, causing visible shivers in this incredible man. "Friday morning I was gonna tell you that I wanted to . . . see where this route would lead us. I chose, Hutch. Anderson just threw a monkey wrench into the works."

"Yeah," Hutch gulped and seemed to force himself to meet his gaze. "You, ah, think we'll ever get past what he made you do to me that night?"

Starsky took a deep breath and gave Hutch the truth, "I feel better, but . . . I'm still all twisted up inside, babe."

Hutch nodded, "Me, too. I, ahh, never should've used those handcuffs. I just . . . snapped. I was . . . outta my head."

"Yeah, well, you had some help getting there." Starsky took full responsibility for his own role in what had occurred. He'd been the one who'd pushed all those buttons that had driven Hutch over the edge. He was lucky Hutch was the man he was. Otherwise, Starsky might have driven his already traumatized partner to an act Hutch might never have been able to live with.

"And I'm gonna need some help getting back," Hutch said, firmly adding, "So are you, I think."

"You're talking about Bouchelle again," Starsky latched onto Hutch's thought process faster than light.

Hutch looked like he was scared of losing everything again, but he nodded and held Starsky's gaze. "Yeah."

His insides froze up again at the thought of airing all this before a virtual stranger, but . . . his lover had asked it of him. Hutch had given so much and had so much ripped from him these last few days, that Starsky didn't know how to deny him this time out—not without losing everything they'd found in the past couple of hours.

"All right," Starsky agreed.

"You'll go?" Hutch appeared utterly stunned.

"Yeah . . . I . . . I want this to work for us, Hutch." And, because against all expectations, he did have the right, Starsky leaned forward and covered Hutch's mouth with his own.

There was so much surprise in Hutch that it felt almost like a first kiss, tentative, fragile . . . unforgettable. Starsky's mouth kneaded those startled lips until they softened and molded to him, until they were feeding hungrily on each other, until they couldn't tell whose tongue was whose. Only then did he draw back, breathless and wobbly-limbed.

It still blew his mind that it was his male partner making him feel this way, but the feeling was too right to question, let alone resist.

Hutch sank down onto his back on the bed, the strong hands on Starsky's shoulders trying to pull him down on top of him. Starsky didn't know how much his body would be capable of after that amazing orgasm, but it felt too good to hold back.

Before Starsky allowed himself to be persuaded, he hovered over his friend, staring down into those tired, joy-filled features.

"There's something you should know before we go any farther," Starsky said, not realizing how his words must have sounded till he saw concern suffuse the heat in Hutch's eyes.

"What's that?" Hutch seemed braced for the worst.

His mouth ran dry as he stared into Hutch's eyes. It was . . . hard with a guy. He didn't know how much of a mushy scene Hutch was ready for, how much of what he was feeling that it was acceptable to voice before it would be too much. So, he played it safe and nervously offered, "I'm playin' for keeps here, babe."

All the hastily erected barriers seemed to melt from Hutch face. Looking ridiculously young, ridiculously innocent for someone of his age and profession, Hutch answered, "God, Starsk, I sure as hell hope so."

And then they were kissing again and the words didn't matter any more. Their bodies said it all, and Hutch seemed inclined to listen to anything Starsky's flesh wanted to say to him. Starsky closed his mind to everything else and concentrated solely on that reassuring reality.

He knew their problems weren't gone by a long shot, but right now, they didn't seem so important. Content to live from this type of moment to the next, Starsky gave himself over to the kiss, following Hutch down onto the bed, happy to follow wherever this feeling led them.