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You may have seen this story on fiction lists and on internet websites. However, it's a story I love and it deserves publication on paper. That's the joy of putting out your own zine. You get to make your own rules. Flamingo
(* see endnote)
He dreamed of running and calling out, urgently, at the top of his voice, of drawing the heavy Magnum from under his arm and taking that moment out of time to steady and aim it, of the kick into his muscles and the hitch in his momentum as he fired, still running. Of fear, but not for his own safety.
And when he woke panting, he was amazed at himself. It had been so many years since he'd done those things. When he was awake, he didn't miss them. Except running, he did miss running. As he missed changing his own light bulbs in the overhead fixtures. And taking a bath alone, or with Starsky for that matter. But the two of them and soapy wet fiberglass was much too dangerous a combination these days.
As he thought of Starsky, he reached out, without conscious decision. There was a lot to miss about the past, but thank God Starsky wasn't on the list. He was here. Hutch's fingers met the brittle ends of Starsky's hair and pressed farther, felt the velvet edge of his ear and skimmed along it, fingered the big lobe, as soft as butter. "Mmmf," said Starsky, asleep.
He needed his rest, Hutch thought. Neither slept well these days. That damn oxygen tube Starsky wore to bed didn't help though of course apnea hadn't been good for his sleeping pattern either. Or Hutch's. Every time Starsky's breathing caught and paused, Hutch would be wide awake, sometimes with a jolt that sent both of them into panic. And, usually, into each other's arms.
Worse things had happened. Though they'd been grumpy all day long with fatigue after one of those nights.
Hell with it. He wasn't going to sleep any more and anyway he could nap later. Hutch rolled slowly away from Starsky, onto his side, where he could squint at the bedside table and find his nasal patches there. Okay. He fumbled the box open—at least it wasn't child-safe packaging—and peeled one of the little stickers off its backing, and poked it into his nostril. Hairs pulled and he realized he'd need to get them trimmed today. He hoped he'd remember to ask the nurse when she visited. Putting sharp objects up his own nose with his shaking hands was not a good idea.
He breathed deeply and ran a mental inventory of his body. A little ache here, stiffness there. He needed to pee. He shifted slowly to the edge of the bed.
"M'n'ng," Starsky muttered.
"Hey." Hutch paused, then sat up. Then twisted carefully to look behind him. It made his back hurt but he hated to wait, hated worse to seem unresponsive. He'd spent too many years playing head-games, making assumptions, expecting Starsky to always be there and to read his mind. Now time was too short for any of that shit. Now, while the light was still in those sapphire eyes, now was all they had.
Starsky's eyes were smaller than they once had been, the brows bushy and gray, the skin of his face pouched and lined and slack. But the warm mischief that looked back at Hutch was exactly the same. "Get me a V while you're up," said Starsky, wide awake, pulling the tube out, "and we'll start this day right."
"Sure," said Hutch, with no intention of doing it. Starsky's heart wasn't strong enough for Viagra. Hutch didn't take it very often either. "Anything else?" This question was serious.
"Only the usual." There were certainly enough medications in 'the usual' without Viagra.
Hutch got up, steadied himself against the table, and began the trek to the bathroom. The grand morning safari. There was a rail all along the wall but Hutch didn't really need it, not usually. Starsky had relied on it for a year or two, but he'd finally given in and begun using a walker. Hutch was still okay with a cane when they went out, and occasional handles in the apartment.
He'd left his glasses on the bedside table on purpose. Even with the contact-lens implants he needed some fairly thick lenses to read pharmaceutical labels and so forth, but the morning battery of meds were set up already in little pill and liquid dispensers, and Hutch didn't need perfect vision to find the bathroom, use the toilet, get the dispensers, put fresh water in the drinking bottle. He took little pleasure these days in seeing himself in the mirror, and unless he was putting on a tie or something, he didn't look. Even so, as he splashed water on his face and up onto the bare dome of his head, he caught a glimpse of pale skin blotted with age spots. He closed his eyes as he swallowed his own pills with water from the purifier, crumpling the little paper cup afterwards. Strangers might think it was odd to have a purifier in here as well as in the kitchen, but the whole point of this apartment was to make life easier for the two old men who lived in it, not to do what other people thought was logical or normal. He brushed his teeth, filled Starsky's bottle and set it in the little basket with his meds, and then made his way back to the bedroom.
Starsky, who had more trouble getting out of bed, had a plastic bottle to pee in and had used it. Hutch got out the meds and the water bottle and put the bedpan-bottle into the basket on the other side. All organized. They'd never been as neat and focused in their personal lives as they were now. But now staying alive was their career. Starsky had worked up to a half-seated position against the headboard and Hutch gave him the meds a dose at a time.
It wasn't the kind of thing that got featured in sex manuals or in those little 'keep the romance alive' articles. But actually Hutch loved helping Starsky every morning, and he thought Starsky loved it too. It was a quiet time, just the two of them, focused on each other, touching and looking into each other's eyes. And it often ended as it did now. Starsky reached over with a little grunt and put the water-bottle on the table, and then cupped Hutch's face in both hands. "I love you." It could have been either of them saying it; this time it was Starsky. "C'mon." He let go of Hutch's face only to hitch himself away from the edge of the bed. "I want to hold you." Starsky was looking down, working on moving, but Hutch heard the urgency in his voice.
Hutch put his own hands on Starsky's waist, at the top of his boxers. "Get these off first?" he said, and Starsky grinned widely and leaned back on his elbows to lift his hips. Hutch pulled off the boxers, slow only because this was no time to pull some stiff old muscle. Then he stood and stripped off his own pajama bottoms, and then climbed into the space Starsky had left for him.
"I love you," he said as their bodies fit together, perfectly, even after all these years. No one else could have held him like this, skin shifting so freely over bones and so soft and yielding to the touch. Hutch stroked over the sharp ribs and put his cheek against the bony shoulder and kissed the flesh that felt so warm. Starsky kissed the crown of his head, then his forehead, then a hand on his cheek urged his face up and Starsky kissed a closed eye, the bridge of his nose, and Hutch moved up on his elbow and their mouths met.
Still like this, still like air to him, like food he'd starve without. The taste was a little different, the smell of their bodies quite different, sweeter and more sour at once, a tang like dust and another like medicine. Starsky used to taste more like beer and less like cocoa. The plastic bridgework teased Hutch's tongue, the texture of the false teeth different than the real ones below. There used to be more spit to swap. They used to be in more of a hurry. They used to vie for dominance. Now their tongues stroked each other so slowly and gently that they could spend the morning hours doing this alone.
Hutch pulled back a little and swept his lips across Starsky's, licked Starsky's lips and rubbed the moisture away, moved his whole head back and forth and felt every tiny drag against his skin. Starsky traced the edges of Hutch's ears, his eyebrows, ran gentle fingertips across his closed eyes and down the furrows of his cheeks. 'Love you,' his lips moved without sound and Hutch read them without looking. He knew exactly how Starsky's mouth felt in every shape it could make.
Starsky's fingers moved around to the nape of Hutch's neck, up the seam of the skull, down again to its base, and Hutch dragged his lips over Starsky's chin to his ropy neck. Nobody could know how sweet this flesh was, no one who only looked at young skin with desire. Nobody but Hutch licked here, under the curve of the bone, between wings of skin, down to the knob of the Adam's apple as hard as ever. He took an edge of dewlap between his teeth and scraped lightly back up, and Starsky chuckled and the vibration ran through Hutch's whole body.
If they kept this up long enough one of them might even come, though that was hardly the goal any more. For Hutch this was a celebration that they were still alive, that they still found this joy in each other. 'Making love' had never been such an exact description of their intimacies.
Hutch sucked the hollow at the base of Starsky's throat. Starsky petted his shoulders and traced patterns on the skin of his head. Hutch stroked from hipbone to armpit and down, and up again. He kissed the flat pectoral and mouthed a dry, pale nipple. "Hutch," said Starsky, "Hutch." His voice was quiet, not particularly intense, but Hutch felt his eyes sting anyway. He put his face into the soft belly and held the thin hips tightly and knew he could never, never get enough of the sound of Starsky's voice and his breath and his life, here, where he was kissing and brushing his own tears with his eyelashes, tangling them in Starsky's hair.
"Babe," Starsky murmured, stroking Hutch's head. And the inappropriateness of the nickname made Hutch snort with weak laughter.
Or perhaps it wasn't totally inappropriate. "Crying like one," he said into Starsky's navel, not sure his lover could hear. "Bald as one."
"Come back," said Starsky, hand closing on the nape of Hutch's neck and pulling.
When he did, on his own side of the bed again, Starsky put both arms round him and squeezed and their half-hard cocks pressed together. Starsky's face rested against Hutch's chest; they lay like that for some time.
"Nurse visiting today?" asked Starsky eventually. He was slowly pulling his leg up, then pushing it down, ruffling the hair on Hutch's calf.
Hutch didn't answer. He didn't want to have to move at all. Ever.
"Hey," Starsky said.
"I don't remember."
Starsky sighed, and then coughed—little more than clearing his throat—and then said, "That was a yes, right?"
Hutch had to kiss him again before he would admit it. And Starsky certainly didn't resist. He slid a tongue into Hutch's mouth that must have been fifty years younger than the rest of him, it was so agile and so strong, and Hutch smiled at the silly thought even while they were kissing.
"Eleven-thirty," he conceded when he could speak.
"What time is it now?"
If Starsky lived to be a hundred, which now seemed fairly likely, he'd never learn to look at his own watch. Hutch got up on one shaky elbow and leaned on and over Starsky, snagged the watch off the bedside table and dangled it in front of Starsky's nose. Starsky grasped Hutch's wrist and stretched it back almost to arm's length, and said, "Counting sponge baths if we come, we've got about an hour left before we'll need to get going."
"Plenty of time," Hutch said, dropping the watch on the mattress and putting his hand in Starsky's hair, pulling him back where Hutch could feel each breath against his skin. "We've got plenty of time."
*Endnote: The title is from "Rabbi Ben Ezra" by Robert Browning—the first stanza is the most famous part:
Grow old along with me!
This story is for Olga and Helen, because the older I get, the more I miss you.
Thanks to Raven and Nikki and Islaofhope, who gave me suggestions and support with the draft.