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The November air carried a hint of ocean breeze as the slim figure crept around the corner of the sound studio. Darkness had fallen.

The back door opened out into the alley and a man emerged, dressed in black leather. His hair was dark and wavy, and was long enough to obscure the tops of the symbols on the jacket that declared "Jenni" in large, blood-red letters. He stepped leisurely down the alley, hands in pockets, drawing deep lungfuls of air.

The slim figure's steps were soundless as the man in the leather jacket was stealthily followed. Then the man paused. And looked up at the star-filled sky.

A weapon was drawn from the follower's pocket. Legs braced, hands clenched the handle of the automatic. Elbows straightened. The gun aimed carefully at the man in black. The slim figure made a noise.

Startled, the man turned. Then his eyes widened in horror.


Hutch rubbed at the corner of his mustache. "Uhhh," he hesitated thoughtfully, "whatshisface."

Sitting in the driver's seat next to him, Starsky frowned. "You've got to be more specific than that." He was holding a paperback book.

The blond snapped his fingers repeatedly. "I know who it is. Just give me a second."

"One one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand, four -- "

"Starsky, I know who it is," Hutch insisted with annoyance. "It's that guy with the real soft voice. Whatshisface."

"Whatshisface who?" Starsky pressed.

Hutch squirmed in his seat, making sure he never took his eyes off the house in the distance while he continued to think. It was still dark and silent, its owner not having made an appearance yet, even though it was now past four in the morning.

"Time's up," Starsky announced.

"Wait a second," Hutch complained. "What was the question again?"

The curly-haired man sighed as he read from the book. "Who's the actor who played the only character in recent memory to kill John Wayne?"

"Oh, right." Hutch snapped his fingers again. "Yeah, the guy with the soft voice in that cowboy movie with the kids. It'll come to me in a second."

Starsky slammed the book shut. "Time's up. It's Bruce Dern, dummy."

Hutch grimaced, putting a hand to his forehead, as though in pain. "That's who I meant. Like I told you, the guy with the voice."

Starsky handed the book to him. "Tough. That's another one for me. The score is twelve to five. You're gettin' creamed, blondie."

"Yeah," the other grumbled, rapidly flipping pages in the book, "just don't get too confident." He scanned the pages filled with trivia, determined to make a dent in Starsky's smugness. As he looked, he demanded, "How did you get up to twelve, anyway? The last I remember you had ten points." It was an easy argument to make, because there was not a writing instrument that worked between them, and since Hutch really didn't care about the score, he left it to Starsky to mentally keep it. And picking on Starsky's brain always made long stakeouts a little more tolerable.

With one eye on the house they were watching, Starsky scolded, "Don't start with that. I've been calling out the score after every question, and the last thing I said was eleven to five. So, now it's twelve to five. You need to get your head examined if your memory's that bad."

"Stop getting so defensive," Hutch remarked off-handedly, for he was concentrating on a page he'd stopped at. Then he grinned with delight, holding up the book. "All right, smart boy. Name the first filly to ever win the Kentucky Derby, and the year."

The darker man pressed a fist to his forehead. "I know that, I know that. It'll come to me in a sec."

The radio beeped. Hutch picked it up. "Zebra Three here."

"Zebra Three, there's a Code 187 in the alley behind the Edgewood Recording Studio at 1624 Lincoln. Please respond."

Firmly, Hutch said, "We can't respond, we're on stakeout. Confirm with Captain Dobey."

"It's Captain Dobey who has requested your presence, Zebra Three."

They exchanged a glance. "Must be important," Starsky mumbled, "if he's willing to take us off this."

Hutch put the book aside as his partner started the Torino. "Will do. Zebra Three



Other emergency vehicles were at the entrance to the alleyway, their sirens and lights brightening the otherwise bleak area of town.

A uniformed officer greeted Starsky and Hutch. "You the detectives assigned to this case?"

"Looks like it," Hutch replied. "What have we got?" He could see a covered body on the ground just past the yellow tape blocking off the area.

"A young white male who was shot three times in the chest. According to the people we've talked to, he was a fan hanging out at the recording studio there." The officer gestured to one of the buildings lining the alley.

"Fan of who?" Starsky asked.

"Jenni, the rock star."

"Never heard of her," Hutch said.

"Him," Starsky corrected with distaste. "He's the one who has that wild stage act, sings blindfolded and stuff like that."

"That's the one," the officer acknowledged with a disapproving sigh. "He's working on an album here at the studio. According to the people we've interviewed, the victim was a fan who pretty much behaved himself, so they let him hang around, even though Jenni left early to appear on a talk show. No one realized the victim had disappeared until they took a break and went in the alley to smoke. That's when they saw the body."

"No one heard anything?" Hutch asked.

The officer shook his head. "It was noisy in the studio, because they were recording."

When nothing further was said, Hutch muttered, "Thanks," and he and Starsky went to the victim, kneeling beside him. They raised the covering and stared at the young face.

"Think maybe he hung out with the wrong crowd?" Starsky ventured.

"Is this Jenni a creep?" Hutch asked him.

"Don't know," Starsky admitted. "All I know is that I don't like the stuff he calls music."

Softly, Hutch noted, "Our young victim here must have liked it." He pulled at the leather jacket so that more of the lettering showed. "'Jenni.' I'm wondering if idolizing Jenni had anything to do with the reason he was killed."

Starsky released the covering. "That's what we're gonna have to find out."


"It's four weeks 'til Christmas, Hutch."

The blond's gaze remained on the side window as the Torino picked its way through traffic a few hours later, heading toward the Marriott where Jenni was staying; the sun glinting off the brightly-colored finish. "Yeah, yeah," he sighed. "Tell me something I don't know."

Starsky looked over at him. "Do you know what I want?"

Hutch barely cast a glance his way. "Should I care?"

"Well, just in case this time you get me something that I want, keep in mind that I could really use that popcorn popper that we saw back at the department store last week. Just think what a great snack it'd make during football games or when we're playin' chess or somethin'."

Hutch remained silent, gaze still on the window.

The cheerful banter continued. "Is there anything in particular you'd like me to get you?"

"Yeah." Hutch shifted in his seat and looked fully at his partner. "Early retirement, an island of my own in the Pacific, and about a million dollars or so for spending money."

Starsky frowned. Then he said, "Even if I could give those things to you, I wouldn't. Because you don't really want that stuff. That isn't you."

Hutch nodded thoughtfully. "You're right. Forget the early retirement and the million dollars. I'll just take the island."

"All by yourself?" Starsky asked on a high note.

"Sure. It'd be nice and peaceful."

Starsky pouted. "You wouldn't even want me to visit you?"

Hutch shrugged. "Maybe on occasion."

They had stopped at a light; when it changed, Starsky gunned the car forward. He muttered, "You sure know how to ruin a guy's morning."

Hutch chuckled softly.

"I mean," Starsky went on, "I thought we were pals. But you act like you don't even want me around."

"Oh, stop bellyaching," the other replied.

"You saying you'd rather go off and live by yourself on an island than have me for a friend?"

Hutch's brow furrowed and suddenly he was frowning. "Knock it off. You know I'm only kidding."

Starsky glanced over at his partner, the conversation forgotten. Hutch's brow furrowed deeper as he swallowed and looked back out the side window. "Hutch?"

"What?" The blond's gaze remained on the streets.

"You feelin' okay?"

Hutch looked at him. '"Course I'm feeling okay. You're the one who started this nauseating conversation about Christmas."

Since he couldn't seem to win, Starsky shrugged and began whistling "Jingle Bells" and tapping the steering wheel.


Hutch took out a piece of paper as they entered the huge building. "Suite 3280," he said.

Starsky pushed the button for the elevator.

While they waited, Hutch watched his partner from the corner of his eye. He'd decided two weeks ago that he was going to be kinder to Starsky, especially when it came to the subject of Christmas. Yet, on the ride over, he'd ended up feeling genuinely annoyed with his partner's whining during their conversation. He'd known Starsky was only kidding, and he'd kidded back, but when Starsky kept playing the game Hutch found himself losing patience.

And then Starsky had asked him if he was "feeling okay."

Hutch restrained a sigh as the doors parted before them and he and Starsky entered the elevator. He wondered if he might have been better off to have drowned when Monroe had shoved him beneath the water. Then he wouldn't have these problems.

But a glance at the man beside him made Hutch scold himself for the foolish thought. Dear God, what would Starsky do if something ever happened to him? It was almost as chilling as wondering what he would ever do without Starsky.

Such a responsibility it was, to matter so much to a person. Hutch supposed that was part of the reason why he got so annoyed with himself. He could be downright nasty to Starsky at times, and still Starsky stuck with him. He wondered if he'd ever be able to make it up to him.

Starsky shifted uncomfortably against the railing.

"What's the matter?" Hutch asked.

The other released a sigh. "Just not lookin' forward to talkin' to this Jenni guy. He's really weird."

Knowing the answer, Hutch asked, "Have you ever met him?"

"No. But I've seen clips of his concerts."

Hutch managed to keep the scolding tone out of his voice. "Keep an open mind." The doors parted and he led the way out.

The sign that faced the opening doors pointed the way. They turned right and the door with "3280" on it dominated the far end of the hall.

Hutch knocked, and both men took out their badges.

The door cracked open as far as the chain would allow. "Who's inquiring?" a deep voice asked.

They stuck their badges through the crack. "LAPD," Hutch said.

"Just a moment."

The door closed, and they listened to the chain sliding back as they pocketed their badges. Then the door opened fully and a short but stoutly-muscled man with short brown hair and a mustache stood before them. "Come in, officers. We've been expecting you." He wore cotton slacks and a green polo shirt.

"You Jenni's muscle?" Hutch asked. The suite was elaborately furnished, but no one else was in sight.

"Yes, I am. Four years this month."

Starsky looked at the man with a snort. "You don't look like your average groupie. He must pay you well."

"He does. But many celebrities pay more." The bodyguard's stance relaxed. "It's more than money that's kept me loyal."

Hutch stuck his hands in the back pocket of his jeans. "Yeah, like what?"

"Jenni is well-mannered and easy to get along with. I've protected far worse for far more money. I prefer the current arrangement."

Starsky studied the man with a doubtful expression. He exchanged a glance with his partner, then said, "So, where is the famous Jenni?"

"He's on the telephone with Clarissa. I'll tell him you're here." The man moved toward a back room.

"Clarissa?" Starsky questioned.

"His wife." The man disappeared behind a door.

Hutch ran his eye around the room again. "So, Jenni's married. I wonder for how long."

Starsky shrugged. "I don't know. I don't remember hearing about it."

Hutch turned toward the wall and looked at the paintings. He took a deep breath and felt weariness seep through his body from lack of a good night's sleep. He turned toward the opposite wall and found Starsky looking at him oddly.

"Gentlemen," a voice greeted.

They turned and saw a thin, dark, long-haired man, about 5' 6", wearing blue jeans and a worn-out t-shirt, approaching them. "You've already met Trey," the man nodded at the bodyguard following behind. "I'm Jenni."

Starsky blinked. This man wasn't anything like the wild rocker who filled concert halls. Jenni looked downright ordinary. Almost too ordinary. Starsky gestured to his partner. "Detective Ken Hutchinson."

Hutch jerked a thumb. "Detective David Starsky."

Jenni held out his hand. As the detectives each shook it, he asked, "So what's the proper way to address you?"

Starsky indicated himself, "Starsky and," he gestured toward his partner, "Hutch."

"Hutch. I like that." Jenni motioned to the full-length sofa and they all sat down. "I once tried to get the press to call me 'Jen' -- even just 'J' -- and they never picked up on it."

"What was wrong with 'Jenni'?" Starsky wanted to know.

The rocker waved both hands dismissively. "It got old. But I guess I'm stuck with it."

Hutch took out his notepad and a pen. "As you know, the reason why we're here is to find out why Tommy Clarkson was killed outside your recording studio. And if his death was, perhaps, accidental."

Jenni was sober as he stared at the floor. "Yeah, I know. Maybe someone was trying to kill me." He shook his head in amazement. "Too much."

"Do you know why," Hutch pressed gently, "someone might want to kill you?"

An elaborate shrug. "The word is full of loonies. I suppose any of those fans could get doped out enough...."

Starsky asked, "Has anyone specifically threatened you before?"

"Sure, but never with anything more than words. Written words, at that. I've never had anyone threaten my life to my face."

Hutch shifted. "Did you report the threats?"

"No," Jenni replied. "There was never a reason. No one person has ever threatened me more than once, so they never seemed like anything worth getting the police involved for."

"What's usually the reason someone sends you a threatening letter?" Hutch asked.

"You name it. My music sucks. I worship the devil. I must be a faggot. I'm a Commie." Jenni snorted. "One guy even said if he ever met me in person he'd kill me because it was at one of my concerts that his girlfriend met another guy, and they ran off together." He shook his head. "Can you believe someone would blame me for that?"

Starsky managed a smile while Hutch pursued, "What about old friends or business associates who might be jealous of your success?"

Jenni was thoughtful, then shook his head. "I can't think of any. Either my old friends are still my friends, or else I haven't heard anything from them since I got successful."

Trey cleared his throat. "Detectives, have you considered that the murder may have nothing to do with Tommy Clarkson being a fan of Jenni's?"

"It's being considered," Starsky acknowledged. "When we can find some other associates of Tommy Clarkson's to question, we will. In the meantime, it seems like he spent as much time as possible hanging around Jenni and the band."

Jenni gazed at the floor. Distantly, he said, "Tommy was a good kid. He never caused any trouble, so we didn't really mind letting him hang around."

"Did you know him at all?" Starsky probed. "Did you ever talk to him?"

The rock star shrugged. "Not really. Just small talk on occasion. I remember he said he was from South Carolina and he hitchhiked to LA because he didn't think there was anything for him in his hometown." A tiny smile. "He never even talked about getting rich and famous, or being a rock star himself, or anything like that. He just seemed to be... hanging out. Waiting for something to happen to define his life."

In a lower voice, Starsky asked, "Did he do dope?"

Jenni shrugged. "Not when he was around me. But then, he knew better than that."

Skeptically, Starsky asked, "You don't allow dope in the recording studio?"

For the first time, Jenni seemed to squirm. "Occasionally the guys do, but they know I don't like it. I always try to get them to quit when I'm around."

Trey said, "Jenni doesn't do drugs."

Hutch watched Starsky's eyes widen in disbelief. "Not even weed?"

"No," Jenni replied wearily, as though it was an old subject. "I don't do drugs and I don't smoke."

"My, my," Starsky chided skeptically, "aren't you the paragon of virtue."

Jenni pushed off the couch and moved to the wet bar. He snapped, "I'm an alcoholic. Does that make you happy?" He looked over at them and began fixing a martini. "A drink, gentlemen?"

Starsky shook his head. Hutch replied, "No, thanks."

Looking intrigued, Starsky said, "If you can admit you're an alcoholic, then why don't you get help?"

"I'd have to spend time in a clinic," Jenni explained as he came back to the sitting area. "Probably months. I can't afford it. In this business, if you aren't constantly marketing yourself, people forget about you. And then you're through."

Hutch asked, "Jenni, do you have any idea at all why anyone would have wanted to kill Tommy Clarkson?"

The rocker shook his head. "No. But, really, I didn't know the guy. Yeah, we talked a little, but nothin' heavy."

"What about friends?" Starsky pressed. "Did anyone else ever come to the studio with Tommy?"

Jenni shook his head thoughtfully. "He always came alone. I don't remember him even mentioning anyone else. No girlfriend. Nothing."

Starsky looked at Trey. "What about you? Don't you usually accompany Jenni to the studio?"

"I'm with him almost everywhere he goes," the bodyguard replied. "But I never talked to Tommy at all. With my job, I can't afford to let my guard down for a minute. I'm always on the lookout for anyone who might be looking to harm Jenni."

Hutch leaned forward. "Then... if it had been Jenni going out into that alley, you would have gone out, too?"

"No," Trey replied quickly, looking at his boss. "That's the one time Jenni won't let me around."

Both detectives turned their heads to the rock star, who explained, "I always like to go out for an evening stroll. Just five or ten minutes. It's my time," he stressed, poking his chest with a thumb. "I've been doing it for years."

"Then," Starsky said, "if you were the intended target, the killer would have known that was your routine."

Jenni released a deep breath. "Yeah. I guess."

"So, why did Tommy go out into that alley, instead of you?" Hutch asked.

Jenni shrugged. "I don't know why Tommy went out."

"Maybe," Trey said, "he was just trying to imitate Jenni."

"So, why didn't you go out for your evening stroll that night?"

"I did," Jenni replied. "But not in the alley. And I went out earlier than usual, because I had to get downtown to do a radio interview. When I got back, there was all this commotion because Tommy had been found dead in the alley."

They were all silent after that. Hutch stood and Starsky followed. "That's all the questions for now," the blond said, putting away his notepad. "We appreciate your time." He took out a card and handed it to Trey. "If either of you think of anything else that might be helpful, please let us know."

There were murmurs of agreement as Trey showed them to the door.

Starsky turned. "Jenni, are you going to be here awhile?"

"Yeah. It'll take another two months to finish the album."

Starsky nodded, satisfied. "We'll be in touch."

After leaving the suite they made their way to the elevator. Hutch said, "Jenni's not quite what you expected, huh?"

"No," Starsky admitted. "But I still don't like him any more than I did before. I mean really, Hutch," he watched his partner push the elevator button, "why would some guy put on a blindfold while he's singing? It's weird."

"You should have asked him," Hutch replied as they stepped through doors that parted for them.

"Maybe another time," Starsky said. Then, more firmly, "You think he would'a stopped the blindfold thing after that kid got killed."

Hutch looked at him in puzzlement. "Tommy?"

"No, that other kid. Remember a few years back? Some fourteen-year-old kid was trying to be just like Jenni. He was listening to his music and riding his bike with a blindfold, of all the stupid things. Ran his bike right out in front of a car and got killed."

Hutch didn't remember hearing about it. He rubbed at the corner of his eye as he wondered how that news might have affected Jenni.

"Hutch, what's wrong?"

The blond looked sharply at his partner, for the tone had been almost demanding. He found the other staring at him… the gaze so full of concern. His insides softened and he managed a smile. "Just need something to help wake me up this morning."

The doors opened as Starsky said, "Let's get some coffee on the way back."

"Good idea." Hutch followed his partner.


Hutch sped away from the curb after Starsky shut the passenger door. They'd dropped off the Torino the night before for a major tune-up, and now were headed into work in the LTD.

After driving a couple of blocks, Hutch glanced over at his silent partner, who was staring out the side window, a frown at his mouth corner.

"So, how'd it go last night?" Hutch ventured. He couldn't remember the name of the woman Starsky had had a date with, but he knew she worked at a little Mexican restaurant that his partner liked to frequent.

"Okay," came the sullen reply. Starsky wouldn't look at him.

When nothing further was said for another block, Hutch prodded, "Sounds a lot worse than 'okay'."

The other shifted restlessly. "It was all right," he insisted

The blond wasn't mollified. "What happened?" He grinned. "She laugh or something when she saw you with your clothes off?"

Starsky made a "tsk" noise at the bad joke, but it prompted him to look at his partner. "No, it was okay," he said in a more normal tone. "But if you must know, it didn't get that far."

"Oh." Hutch felt in a teasing mood. "Blue balls this morning then, huh?"

"Hutchinson, I swear," Starsky complained. But he was smiling. "You're either the worst grump in the morning, or you have the sickest sense of humor."

Pleased with the grin, Hutch abandoned the teasing. "So, what, you just didn't hit it off?"

Starsky was thoughtful a moment, then, "No, it was okay. We did okay. I'll probably ask her out again."

Now Hutch was sympathetic. "Doesn't go to bed on the first date, huh?"

"It wasn't that." Starsky shifted restlessly. He had returned to gazing out the side window.

"Then what?" Hutch was intrigued now. "Don't tell me it was your decision to walk her no farther than her doorstep."

"Sheesh. What is this, Twenty Questions?"

"Just worried about my buddy's welfare. You aren't ever this sulky after a date unless it was disastrous."

"Sulky?" Starsky questioned in disbelief.

Hutch shrugged. He felt a pinch of guilt that he was bombarding Starsky with questions, especially since it was for his own purposes… to delay something he wanted to ask. He was a bit puzzled at his own shyness.

"So what did you two do?" the blond pursued in a more amiable tone. "Dinner? A movie?"

It was a long time before he was answered, and the tone was very quiet. "We went to a movie."

"Oh, yeah? Which one?"

Starsky's attention was completely focused on the side window, and his voice was still soft. "We didn't have a particular one in mind. So, we just walked down Fifth Street until we found one."

"Yeah? So what did you see?"

Starsky sighed heavily. And finally looked out the windshield. "Making Love."

"That sounds romantic," Hutch approved.

"One would think," Starsky noted sourly. "We didn't study the posters or anything outside the theater, because it was almost time for the movie to start, so we just saw the title and walked in."

Hutch furrowed his brow. The subject matter was disturbing his partner, and Starsky obviously had a need to explain about the movie, so the blond prompted, "Yeah?"

Starsky looked at him. "Do you know what that movie is about?"

"The title makes it sound rather obvious."

"Right. One would think. But you wouldn't guess in a million years what it was really about."

Hutch looked at his partner, his curiosity building. "What's it about?"

The darker man's tone dripped disapproval. "It's about some guy -- a doctor, no less -- happily married to Kate Jackson, who up and discovers that he's really a faggot."

"Really?" It sort of amused Hutch that Starsky was so disturbed, but he was also surprised at the movie's content.

"Yeah. And not only that," Starsky's voice rose in indignation, "but they actually showed them -- the two guys -- kissing on the lips!"

Hutch felt a smile tug at his mouth corner. "Sounds like Hollywood has finally joined the sexual revolution."

Starsky's animation increased. "Hutch, you can sit there all you want and talk about how it's okay for guys to... you know. I don't have anything against them as long as they don't do it in front of me. But can you imagine what it was like?" he pleaded. "I'm sittin' there in the theater, on a first date, thinkin' me and my lady are gonna see this romantic movie, and there's this big scene of these two guys undressing each other and kissing each other on the lips." He breathed deeply. "I mean, what was I supposed to say?"

"It was a movie theater," Hutch deadpanned. "You aren't supposed to say anything."

"Yeah? Well, I didn't. I sat there, uncomfortable as hell. Hell, the whole theater was uncomfortable. Except a few people were sorta giggling, real nervous like. I mean, how were any of us supposed to enjoy the movie after that?"

"Oh, for chrissakes, it was only a movie," Hutch stated reasonably. "You didn't need to feel threatened by it."

Starsky settled back in his seat and looked out the side window again. He muttered, "I knew you were going to react like this, if I told you."

Hutch shrugged. "Why should I react any other way? What's the big deal? A movie is a movie -- a reflection of life. In real life, guys who like other guys kiss each other on the lips. Why shouldn't the movie show that? I think the people who made that movie showed real guts." With interest, he asked, "Who were the actors besides Kate Jackson?"

"I dunno. Some guys I never heard of. And probably never hear of again, since being in that movie will most likely ruin their careers."

Hutch chuckled and reached to pat his partner on the arm. "Oh, Starsk," he scolded affectionately.

After a moment, the darker man shook his head. "I don't think you're being honest," he challenged. "You can't sit here and tell me that if it was you sitting in that theater, with a date -- or even without a date -- that you wouldn't be embarrassed to sit there and watch two guys kiss each other on the lips." He quickly added, "It wasn't a quick kiss, either. It was slow."

"So, what did your date think about it?" Hutch wondered.

"She didn't know what to say, either."

"I bet she wasn't as upset by it as you."

The other was taken aback. "What makes you say that?"

The blond shook his head at his partner's naiveté. "You like seeing or reading about two women in bed together, don't you?"

"Well...." Starsky trailed off in puzzlement.

Hutch chuckled softly. "Come on, it's a well-known fact. Men get turned on by the idea of two women being together."


"So, Einstein, don't you think it only follows then that women can get turned on by the idea of two guys together?"

After a moment of silence, the curly-haired man released a sigh of defeat. But he insisted, "Brenda wasn't turned on."

"How do you know?"

"Because she wasn't. She was real quiet, too, when we left the theater."

"Maybe that's because she picked up on how disturbed you were and thought she shouldn't say anything."

The car was silent for nearly a minute.

Hutch softened his voice. "So, what did the movie have to do with her not sleeping over?"

"You know," Starsky squirmed, "I just felt so weird about the whole thing. I mean, I was embarrassed that I took her to that movie. I didn't know what to say to her after that."

Doubtfully, Hutch asked, "You think she'll go out with you again?"

"I dunno." Starsky glanced at him. "You don't think she'd hold it against me that I didn't like seein' two guys gettin' it on, do you?"

"I guess we'll find out the next time you ask her out, won't we?" Hutch turned into the parking lot at Parker Center.


Captain Dobey waved the two detectives into a questioning room where a woman with dark hair and a midi-skirt sat smoking a cigarette. Her manners were sophisticated, but her appearance had an aura of simplicity.

"Starsky, Hutchinson, this is Denise Willington." Both detectives nodded to her. "She knew Tommy shortly after he arrived in California and is willing to answer any questions."

As both men took chairs opposite her, Dobey said, "I'll leave you to it," and left the room.

"Uh, Ms. Willington," Hutch began, "first of all, we appreciate your coming down."

She blew smoke from her nostrils. "It's no trouble. I'd like to know who did this to Tommy."

Starsky asked, "Just what was your relationship to Tommy?"

"I picked him up hitchhiking when he first arrived in California. He seemed like a nice kid. Friendly, quiet. Didn't want any trouble. I put him up in a spare bedroom at my apartment until he was able to get a job washing dishes. Then he moved out."

Hutch said, "Do you know where he moved to? We haven't been able to find an address on him."

She shrugged. "He never said. He just said he'd drop by on occasion to say hello." She tilted her head with a soft smile. "He never did. But once he sent me some flowers to thank me for putting him up."

"How long ago was that?" Starsky asked. "I mean, since he first came to California?"

She was thoughtful. "Three months ago. I put him up for maybe four weeks. It was maybe a month afterwards that he sent the flowers."

Starsky felt a sense of frustration but kept his voice calm. "Did you have any other contact with him after he left your place, other than the flowers?"

She shook her head. "No, that was the last I ever saw of Tommy." Her voice was wistful.

"So, what can you tell us about him from when he lived with you?"

Another small shrug. "He kept to himself, pretty much. Stayed in his room a lot, listening to Jenni records. He was always polite and never seemed to ask for much."

Hutch said, "Do you know if he was involved in anything -- drugs, numbers, anything -- that might have given someone reason to kill him?"

"No," she replied. "That's why I was so shocked when I heard."

"And how, exactly," Starsky asked, "did you find out about his death?"

"From his parents. They had my number since he stayed there. So, they called me, wanting to know if I knew anything that could have led to this. They were completely shocked." She stubbed out her cigarette in the nearest ashtray. "I'm afraid I couldn't tell them anything more than I can tell you. But if any of it helps...."

Reassuringly, Hutch said, "Sometimes the smallest detail can be the greatest help."

"Did he have any other friends besides you?" Starsky asked.

"Not that he ever mentioned to me."

Starsky shifted in his chair. "What about Jenni? Did he talk to you about his obsession with him?"

She smiled. "Not really. Like I said, he played Jenni's music a lot. I knew he really liked him, maybe even worshipped him. I really didn't think there was anything unusual about it." Her smile widened. "I used to like to pretend that I was Barbara Streisand."

Hutch presented a matching smile. Gently, he asked, "Do you know much about Jenni yourself?"

"I certainly heard plenty of his songs while Tommy was living with me. Of course, I'd heard of him and knew some of his songs before then, but…" she shrugged, "he's really never appealed to me much."

"Did you notice," Hutch continued, "if Tommy ever dressed like him, or mimicked him?"

She nodded. "He wore that jacket all the time, the one that said 'Jenni' on the back. But like I said before, he didn't really ever say much about him."

"Did you know that Tommy used to hang around down at the studio where Jenni's been recording an album?"

"No, I didn't know that. Except I know that's where he was killed. But like I said, Tommy never got in touch with me, other than the flowers."

Hutch looked at his partner, and Starsky shook his head to indicate he didn't have any more questions, either. The blond took out a card and handed it to her. "If you think of anything else about Tommy that you can tell us, please contact us at that number." She put it in her purse and stood. "And thanks very much for coming down."

"Sorry I couldn't be of more help," she said as she exited through the door that Hutch held open for her.

After she was gone, Starsky sighed. "It keeps lookin' more and more like Tommy was just an innocent victim of a hit meant for Jenni."

From where he stood near the door, Hutch started to nod. Then he abruptly turned away and tried to stifle a yawn.

Starsky was out of his chair. "Hutch, you okay?" he asked, hands taking residence on his partner's shoulders.

Hutch nodded. "Yeah." He waved his hand dismissively. "I just feel kind of beat. Been staying up late."

"You havin' insomnia?"

The other shook his head, as though to deter his partner's concern. "Stop looking so serious. I was just up late reading."

Starsky furrowed a brow, then challenged, "Well you must have been stayin' up late and reading a lot, because you've been lookin' beat -- and bein' kinda grumpy lately."

The blond chuckled softly, glad to change the subject. "Of course I'm grumpy; it is close to Christmas, after all."

Starsky let his hands drop. "That doesn't explain why you're so worn out."

Irritably, Hutch said, "Will you stop with the worrying? I'll be fine after I sleep in this weekend."

Starsky's expression didn't ease, but he didn't say anything further.

Hutch's stance softened. "Hey, uh," he felt uncharacteristically bashful, batting his eyelids, "speaking of Christmas...."

Starsky was all ears. "Yeah?"

Hutch spoke haltingly. "Well... do you… you know… have any plans this year?"

Starsky spent a moment thinking, but it was obvious he was pleased that Hutch was asking. "Well, I was going over to my aunt and uncle's early on Christmas Eve to give them their presents. Then they're driving up to my cousin's in Sacramento for Christmas dinner. They invited me to come along, but...." Starsky shrugged, as Hutch knew he'd never been very close to that particular cousin's family.

"Good. I thought I'd fix Christmas dinner at my place."

The first thought that crossed Starsky's mind was 'Just the two of us?' But he stopped himself from asking, because he knew it would come out like he disapproved, which he didn't at all. Hutch fixing Christmas dinner. "Yeah, sure, I'll be there. Want some help?"

"No, no," Hutch quickly held up his hand. "No offense, buddy, but...."

Starsky could barely put up the pretense of grumbling at the insult. Christmas was still ten days away. He could hardly wait.


It had been a long time since Hutch had been to a movie by himself. But he doubted he would have been very good company if he'd brought anyone else along. For he did not enter the theater for the purpose of being entertained. He was doing it as research. After all, something that disturbed his partner as deeply as Making Love deserved his undivided attention.

At first, it seemed to be something of a shallow movie, and slow getting started. Bland faces filled up the screen as two of three characters in the triangle -- Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean from The Rookies, and an unknown named Harry Hamlin -- attempted to speak with profundity about their individual situations. And then things got rolling as the doctor became more attracted to a male patient -- a writer -- while wrestling with feelings of inadequacy from his father and an unhappy cancer patient, and confusion about being drawn toward men. And then the two were alone together, the writer admitting he was gay, the doctor denying he was, but saying that he was "curious". And then they came together, kissed during a long range camera shot, and Hutch found himself thinking in disbelief, "THIS scene is what had Starsky so upset?" But then the characters moved to the bedroom, the camera moving closer. Slowly they took off each other's shirts, then they tilted their heads and their lips came together again....

Hutch was jarred from his trance by snickers and groans of disbelief from the audience. He wished that they weren't so insecure that they needed to voice their protest at this new wilderness being breached by Hollywood.

But the story and fascinating unconventionality of the movie seemed to disintegrate along with the relationships of the characters. The doctor wanted a real relationship like he'd had with his wife; the writer only wanted one-night stands. It was difficult not to sympathize with the doctor. Especially when he had to tell Kate Jackson, who could not comprehend how her husband had suddenly turned into a homosexual, while he tried to explain that it wasn't sudden at all. And then any pretense at profundity was lost completely with the doctor ending up with a long-term lover in New York, and Kate Jackson marrying someone else and having the child she always wanted. A sickeningly sweet ending with everyone glowing about how happy they were.

Real life wasn't like that.

The lights went up and Hutch left the theater. For entertainment value, the movie had little to offer and he wouldn't be recommending it. As an insight into his partner… well, that remained to be seen.


They had their badges out at the entrance to the recording studio. "We're here to see Jenni."

"He's recording."

Hutch presented an over-sweet smile. "We'll let him know we're here."

The man shrugged and stood aside.

They had to follow the music as they turned down various halls. Finally, they came to a partially open door where music was blaring. They poked their heads in and saw a plethora of sophisticated equipment. In front of the row of computerized instruments was a glass wall. Behind the glass, Jenni was wearing casual clothes similar to what he'd worn before and belting out lyrics to a song that was obviously coming through his headphones. There was no one else in the booth.

There were people manning various stations at the instrument panel. One of the men looked up and rapidly approached them. It was Trey.

"Can I help you, Detectives?"

"We need to speak with Jenni," Starsky said, then nodded toward the booth, "as soon as he takes a break."

"When he gets one, I'll let him know you're waiting. It'll probably be twenty minutes."

Starsky cringed at the continuous bombardment of sound. "We'll be outside."

He led the way back to the entrance. Just as they emerged from the studio, they saw a red Porsche parked in front. A young, slim, blonde woman was trying to yank one of many large boxes from the back seat.

Starsky trotted down the steps. "Ma'am, can I give you a hand?"

Hutch was beside his partner. "Let us help with that."

She glanced at them. "Oh, thank you." She stepped back. "Thank you very much. Those boxes are a lot easier to get into the car than out of it."

Her face was kind and she smiled easily. Starsky smiled back while Hutch bent to the back seat to grab a box. "Last minute Christmas shopping?" he ventured.

"Yes," she nodded. "Actually, I consider myself lucky to have gotten it all done two days before Christmas. I can spend tomorrow getting it all wrapped." She took her keys and moved to the trunk as Hutch emerged with the first box. "Into the trunk, please," she said as she opened it. "I thought I was going to have a chance to unload all this stuff before I came to the studio, but some other things came up. So, I need to get this all into the trunk before Jenni sees it."

Hutch dropped the box into the trunk. He looked at Starsky then back at the woman. "All this is for Jenni?"

"Most of it," she replied. "He's my husband."

The detectives exchanged a look of surprise. While Hutch went to retrieve the next box, Starsky nodded admiringly. "Lucky man."

Her smile faded then. "Well, I hope some of this can make up for the fact that, yet again, we have to spend Christmas in a hotel room."

Starsky felt bad that the subject had been brought up. "Sorry."

She sighed. "I keep thinking that, some day, we'll be able to live in a house like normal people. It isn't like he doesn't have the money. But," she shook her head, "duty calls." Another sigh and the smile faded completely. "Either there's a road tour, or there's an album to record, or there's a TV appearance to make. It never ends."

Hutch had placed the final box into the trunk. He closed it and her smile was bright again, this time aimed at the blond. "Thank you. Thank you very much."

Hutch beamed back at her. "My pleasure."

Jenni appeared from the building. Clarissa turned toward her husband, a smile of delight breaking over her face. "Jenni!" she exclaimed.

He threw his arms around her and held her tight while she returned the embrace with equal fervor.

Starsky and Hutch glanced at each other and shifted uncomfortably.

He held her face and, between kisses, he said, "We're off for the next two days. Just us two. Then we finish the album and we have two weeks in Acapulco before the tour starts."

They kissed a little longer, then her eyes indicated the detectives and Jenni pulled back. "Oh, sorry… Officers." He snapped his fingers. "No, it's… uh..."

"Starsky," the darker man indicated himself, "and," he pointed his partner, "Hutch."

"Oh, yeah, Starsky and Hutch." Jenni kept an arm around his wife's waist. "I take it you met my wife, Clarissa."

They both nodded while Starsky said, "Well, we weren't formally introduced, but we've met." He added, "You lucky devil."

"You two are cops?" she asked.

Hutch nodded. "Yes, we need to speak with Jenni." He glanced at Starsky and said, "Perhaps privately would be best."

Clarissa looked at her husband worriedly, but he kissed her and said, "I won't be long. Why don't you go in and say hello to the guys."

She regarded him doubtfully, then nodded. "All right." Before turning, she glanced at the detectives. "Nice meeting you both."

"Nice meeting you," they said in unison.

As soon as she was inside the building, Jenni asked, "What's this all about?"

Starsky replied, "We thought we'd update you on our case."

Hutch said, "From everything we've been able to piece together, there's no reason why anyone would have killed Tommy in that alley. He looked enough like you that it seems likely you were the intended target."

Jenni swallowed. "We've kind of suspected that all along."

"Yeah," Hutch nodded. "Which means that since he missed his intended target the first time, the killer is likely to strike again. Which means your life is in danger."

"I've got a good bodyguard."

Starsky looked around. "Yeah? Where is he?"

"Trey's officially on vacation between now and Thursday, the day after Christmas. He has a right to visit his family."

"Can't you get somebody else in the meantime?" Starsky asked. "It's dangerous to leave yourself unprotected."

"Clarissa and I are going back to the hotel, and we're going to stay there until it's time to return to the studio. No creep is going to be allowed up to our suite. If we do end up going out, we'll make sure we're surrounded by plenty of people."

"I don't know, Jenni," Starsky sighed. "You never know when this guy might hit again. Christmas might be a great opportunity because people are so distracted during the holidays. We could give you police protection."

"Look," Jenni said, "I appreciate your concern. But these next two days are about the only time that Clarissa and I will have to ourselves in a long time. My life is go, go, go. I'm not going to jeopardize that by having a bunch of cops around or hiring some new muscle, a stranger who's going to be sharing our suite during Christmas."

Hutch held up his hands. "All right. We hear you. Just make sure that if anything seems the least bit suspicious, you call the police."

Firmly, Starsky said, "Cops don't get many days off, either. We'll be here."

"Thanks." Jenni turned back to the studio.

As they made their way to the Torino, Hutch said, "I think you've warmed up to Jenni a bit."

Starsky shrugged. "The guy can't be all bad if he has a wife like that." As they got in the car, he grumbled, "But I still hate his music."


Hutch removed the turkey from the oven and placed it on top of the stove. He unwrapped the surrounding foil and poked a large fork into its breast, then made a partial slice with a knife. "Ah, yes," he approved as he observed the moist, white meat. "You're looking great."

There was a knock at the door.

"It's open," he called over his shoulder.

Starsky entered, carrying a bottle of wine and a wrapped box. "Merry Christmas," he announced. He was wearing a colorful pullover sweater and dark blue jeans.

"Great, you remembered the wine." Hutch checked a cookie sheet of rolls in the oven. "Why don't you go ahead and pour it. The food's almost ready."

"Smells great," Starsky noted. He looked around. "Hey, you actually put up a tree."

Hutch shrugged, feeling a little sheepish. "Yeah, well...." It was difficult explaining why he had more of a holiday spirit this year, even though he'd outwardly kept up the pretense of a scrooge.

Starsky examined the colored balls on the small tree. "It's lookin' a little sparse. I could'a loaned you some of my decorations." He put his gift under it, noting that there was another package there.

Hutch didn't respond, as he was too busy moving the supplements for the main course from their pans to serving dishes. There were mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, salad. And rolls.

"Wow," Starsky said, watching his partner put the dishes on the table, which was decorated with a tablecloth and candles. "You really went all out. This is a regular feast."

"Pour the wine," Hutch reminded, handing him the corkscrew. "And you can light the candles. The matches are there on the table."

While Starsky did so, the blond said, "I don't think there's room for the turkey on the table. Just give me your plate and I'll start you off with a drumstick. You want stuffing, too?"

Starsky brought him two plates. "Yeah." He watched Hutch work with the bird. "Stuffing inside the turkey. The best."

Hutch presented a shy smile. "It's been a long time since I've made something like this. Not sure I remembered everything just right."

"Smells great," the darker man assured.

After Starsky's plate was full, he held out the empty one. "There's yours." He waited while Hutch placed a serving of white meat on it, then carried them to the table. "We ready to eat?" he asked anxiously.

"Just waiting on the rolls." Hutch opened the oven and peeked at the browning tops. "Another minute." He closed the door and stood by.

Starsky was already seated. "Well, if you don't mind, I'm gonna serve our salads."

"Go ahead."

"Have Kiko and Molly been by?"

"No, they're out of town visiting other relatives."

"So you didn't do nothin' yesterday?"

Hutch shrugged. "Shopped for dinner." Then he asked, "How are your aunt and uncle?"

"Great." Starsky patted his chest. "They gave me this sweater."

"Looks nice." Hutch turned off the oven and removed the rolls. He placed them in a bread basket and brought them to the table. "All ready," he said as he sat.

Starsky looked around the table, then met his partner's eye. "Uh, I guess we don't need to say grace or nothin'."

Neither of them was actively religious, and it might be a bit ridiculous for them to follow the tradition. But Starsky seemed uncomfortable with the idea of just delving in, so Hutch picked up his wine glass. "Not grace," he said softly. "But a toast." After all, there was a specific reason for having Starsky over for dinner this year.

Starsky picked up his glass, and waited.

Hutch glanced at the table a moment to gather his thoughts, then met his partner's eye. "This dinner is dedicated to my buddy. Who's always been there, whether I knew I needed him or not. Of all the good things in this world, his friendship is what I'm most thankful for." He touched his glass to Starsky's.

Starsky sat looking at him. He blinked. Then he shifted in his chair and muttered, "Didn't know you were gonna get all mushy." After sipping from his glass he noted, '"Sides, I think you're gettin' Christmas mixed up with Thanksgiving."

"Well," Hutch shrugged, laying his napkin in his tap, "since we never had a formal Thanksgiving dinner this year, I guess I've just combined the two into one."

"Good idea," Starsky said. "Let's eat."

Hutch chuckled and they dived in.


Starsky belched loudly. Giving his stomach a pat, he said, "That just made room for more." He reached for the remaining mashed potatoes.

"Starsky, you don't need to stuff yourself," Hutch scolded, surveying the remains of the meal. "What's left will be in the refrigerator whenever you want it."

The other leaned toward his partner. "I will have you know that what's here on this table," he pointed, "is a thousand times better than what you normally fix for me. So, I intend to indulge while I can." He straightened. "Will you please pass the salt?"

Hutch sighed and passed the shaker.

Starsky sprinkled it over his potatoes. "I'd like to see that new Sylvester Stallone movie sometime in the next few days. Wanna come?"

Hutch sat back in his chair, trying to give his own stomach room to breathe. "You're not going to ask whatshername?"

"Brenda?" Starsky picked at his food. "I might. If you don't wanna come, maybe I'll ask her."

"Speaking of Brenda," Hutch regarded his partner carefully, "I saw that other movie that you and her went to."

Starsky's fork stopped on the way to his mouth. He plopped it down and looked at his partner. "Wha?"

"That movie," Hutch repeated, enjoying his partner's reaction. "The one about the doctor who found out he was gay."

Starsky's eyes widened in disbelief. "Hutch, you're kidding."

The blond shook his head.

"Why?" Starsky demanded incredulously. "Why would you have gone and seen that after I told you what it was about?"

Hutch shrugged, legs stretched out in front of him. "I was curious because it had upset you so much. I thought I should see it, too, so I could understand better where you were coming from."

Starsky considered the reply, then quietly said, "Hutch, sitting through that movie was above and beyond the call of friendship."

Hutch laughed. "Starsky, it wasn't that bad. I mean, sure, I've seen lots of better movies in my life, but I didn't find it offensive, for chrissakes."

The other's eyes narrowed in disbelief. "Hutch, those guys were kissing each other on the lips. I mean, it just wasn't natural. I mean...." Starsky trailed off in frustration.

"Starsky, come on," the blond scolded. "Is it really that repulsive? If you and I were to kiss each other for some reason, do you think it would be the most disgusting thing that ever happened in the world?"

The curly-haired man blinked at Hutch, mouth dropping open as though his partner had joined the ranks of the mentally deficient. "Hutch, what do you and me have to do with anything those two guys were doing on screen? I mean -- I mean -- it's not like they, you know, cared about each other or anything. They just wanted to fuck." He reached for a slice of cranberry sauce with his fork. "They didn't care who it was with."

Hutch's laugher disintegrated. Intrigued, he said, "Starsky, are you telling me it would have been okay if they were, say, friends first?"

"Well," Starsky paused to consider, buttering a cold roll, "at the very least, be friends first."

"And then you wouldn't have been repulsed?" Hutch clarified doubtfully.

Starsky took a bite of the roll, then made a face at its coldness. He put it down. "I'm not saying watching two guys kiss is my favorite thing to watch, but at least it would have been more palatable if they maybe had a history together. You know, if I could'a believed that they really, really loved each other. But that writer guy just wanted a one-night stand. And the doctor guy didn't really know what he wanted. Kind of took the romance out of the whole thing, if you know what I mean." He made another face while sipping his wine. "When you think about it, the title didn't match the movie at all."

Hutch snapped a fingertip against his glass. "Well, I'll be darned."

Starsky seemed to decide to finish the cold roll, anyway. After swallowing he said, "I know you like thinkin' I'm some kind of homophobe or whatever you call it. But I'm not, Hutch." He gazed at the tabletop. "Finding out about Johnny Blaine helped put things in perspective for me." He looked at his partner. "I'm not sayin' I understand it. But that doesn't mean I'm gonna stand in the way of anything consenting adults wanna do together."

Hutch felt something warm settle in the pit of his stomach, even as his surprise made his heart beat just a little faster. He gently said, "My mistake."

Starsky shrugged, accepting the apology. Curiously, he asked, "Did you like seeing them kiss?"

Since Hutch had started this conversation, it was only fair that he now answer Starsky's questions. "Yeah, I guess I did. Mainly because it was nice seeing a movie actually reflecting real life and not trying to gloss over it. Though, really, overall I think the movie did gloss over it, with everybody being so syrupy happy in the end."

"Yeah, it wimped out in the end," Starsky agreed. Then he shook his head. "I wouldn't have wanted to be one of those actors. They must have been gay or something, huh, to be able to do that on camera?"

"Not necessarily. They may have just been hungry young actors looking for a job. Or maybe very professional actors who believed in playing the part as believably as possible."

"Well, I don't know about them, but I could never in a million years kiss another guy on cue."

Hutch's tone was scolding again. "Oh, come on, mushbrain. Are you saying that if some pervert held a gun on us and told us to kiss or he'd shoot that you couldn't do it?"

Starsky was pouring himself another glass of wine. "That's different," he said firmly.

"How different?"

"Because you're talking about us," Starsky replied reasonably. "That's different than talking about gay guys. Or just…guys. We're in a whole different league, babe."

Starsky's confidence, coupled with the endearment, surprised Hutch even more. "What do you mean?"

Starsky dabbed his mouth with a napkin. "I just mean that the relationship like you and I have isn't like what gay guys have. It's different. And I don't mean because they have sex and we don't. I mean because we, you know, love each other and stuff. But they don't seem to care much about that. They just wanna score. That movie made it clear that most of 'em don't care about ever even seeing each other again."

Hutch gazed at his wine glass. He felt a little bit embarrassed, and ashamed, that he had misread his partner so completely. The other clearly wasn't against men loving each other, just the crass way the gay population went about it. Or, at least, the majority....

He shifted in his chair. "It's probably not fair to say that all gay couples are like the people in the movie. I'm sure that there are some who have long-term, even permanent relationships, and who love each other as much as any heterosexual couple."

"That's what I mean," Starsky noted impatiently. "'Like any heterosexual couple.' Me and you don't have anything to do with those couples either."

Hutch had to grin at that. "Of course not. Our relationship is hardly a heterosexual one."

"Yeah," Starsky nodded firmly, as though to close the subject. "And that's what I meant by you and I bein' in a whole different league." Now it was the darker man's tone that hinted at scolding. "So, you can stop waiting for me to fly off the deep end while you talk about us kissin' each other, 'cause it ain't gonna happen."

Hutch blushed, creasing his napkin in his lap. He had been read as clearly as any open book.

Starsky stood and began putting empty dishes onto his own empty plate. As he passed by his partner, he smacked the blond on the cheek with the back of his hand. "Big dummy," he said with affection.

The taller man sat for a moment, trying to dream up an adequate retort. The attempt failed so he decided to swallow his medicine. "Sorry," he said as he stood to clear away the remainder of the table.

"Yeah, well don't be," Starsky said while running water over dishes in the sink. "I admit I always had more of a problem with the whole idea than you did. I'm just cooler about the whole thing now." He grouped silverware together and fitted smaller dishes within larger ones so they didn't take up so much room. As he accepted more dishes that Hutch brought, he beamed at his partner. "Dinner was great."

Hutch shrugged, feeling a little embarrassed. "Yeah, not too bad for a bachelor, huh?" He glanced at his partner's meticulous work. "Does that mean you're cleaning up since I cooked?"

Starsky turned away, smacking him on the hip in passing. "Not on your life, blondie. Just letting 'em soak." He paused a moment, then turned back to add, "But I'll help clean up any leftovers the next few days."

As Hutch wiped off the table, he watched his partner move over to the little Christmas tree. He couldn't restrain a smile. How predictable Starsky was at times....

"This one for me?" Starsky asked a bit timidly as he picked up the box that had been under the tree when he arrived.

"No, the cleaning lady."

"Oh," Starsky replied casually. "I suppose givin' her gifts is gonna make her work all the harder on this place of yours."

Hutch washed his hands and dried them on a dish towel. Starsky hadn't been fooled. His instincts were in full gear tonight, reading all the nuances of everything Hutch was saying. "More wine?"

"Naw. Finish it off."

Hutch poured the bottle's remaining amount into his glass. Then he carried it over to the tree, where Starsky was still holding the box. "Go ahead," the blond invited. "Open it."

Starsky sat on the sofa. While he started tearing into the wrapping, Hutch took the box Starsky had brought and set it on the couch.

The paper came away and Starsky grinned. "You may not be very original, but at least you listened."

Smugly, Hutch said, "It was cheap enough that it didn't interfere with my principles." Every year, since that year, there had always been an uneasy tension about his getting Starsky gifts. He'd always done it every year since, and every year he was reminded of the guilt he felt, despite his silent, stubborn rationale that attempted to validate his action when he hadn't gotten Starsky anything.

Starsky opened the box and pulled out the item within. He looked into the main barrel of it and, with delight, said, "You even got popcorn." He said it as though getting popcorn to go with a popcorn popper had been unaccountably gracious on his partner's behalf. He studied the popper a moment longer, glanced at the little instruction book, then looked at Hutch. "Open yours."

"It's a sweater," Hutch announced, starting on the wrapping.

"What makes ya think that?"

With forced patience the blond replied, "Because nearly every year for the last six years you've gotten me a sweater. Except for the ant farm."

"Oh," Starsky said after a moment, as though he hadn't realized that. Then he defended, "Well, you usually won't go shopping for one yourself. If I didn't get you sweaters for Christmas and your birthday you'd be running around in rags."

It was somewhat true, Hutch had to admit, as he didn't enjoy shopping in general, let alone for clothes.

Removal of the wrapper revealed a white box. Taking the lid off the box revealed a sweater. Hutch held it up. It was royal blue, interwoven with streaks of red.

"Matches your eyes," Starsky noted.

And yours, Hutch thought. It then occurred to him that, as with many of the clothes he owned, Starsky was as likely to end up wearing it as he himself.

"Thanks," he said, putting it aside.

Starsky was on his feet. "Let's have some popcorn."

The blond's mouth fell open. "You've got to be kidding," he said with disapproval, though he knew his partner wasn't.

Starsky was already in the kitchen. "Gotta try this thing out."

Firmly, Hutch said, "Starsky, I'm stuffed -- and so are you."

"I won't make very much."

Hutch sat on the couch and watched while his partner glanced at the manual, then tossed it aside, plugged in the popper, and measured out a serving of popcorn. Before long, the small machine was humming, with Starsky leaning over it anxiously. Within a minute it began making telltale noises. "Works great," Starsky announced. "Why don't you get off your duff and melt some butter?"

If Hutch remembered right, the side of the box had said that butter should be melted before turning the popper on, so the machine could add it while the contents were popping. But Starsky obviously hadn't had the patience to wait that long to get started. With a sigh, Hutch was on his feet. He took a slab of butter out of the refrigerator, which had been placed there just a few minutes before and was already soft from being on the table. Unceremoniously, he picked it up with his fingers and dumped it into a saucepan, turning the gas stove up to maximum.

"Don't let it burn," Starsky warned, watching him. The popper was done and Starsky turned it off. "Got any clean bowls?"

Sighing, Hutch dutifully held the saucepan a few inches from the flames, rotating it around so the butter could melt without being burned. "I don't think so. You'll have to rinse one out." He nodded toward the sink.

While Starsky tended to getting the popcorn into a newly rinsed bowl, Hutch finished with the butter. He then handed the pan to his partner, who poured it over the exploded kernels and grinned as contact between the two substances made a satisfying hissing sound. Starsky then sprinkled them with salt.

He shoved the bowl at Hutch. "You get the first bite."

Curious, Hutch extracted a few pieces from the bowl and put them in his mouth. They were warm, salty, and fluid from the hot butter. He nodded his head. "It's good." Then he turned away. "And I don't want any more."

When he'd sat back down on the sofa, Starsky was still standing there, holding the bowl, crunching noisily. "This is great. Let's watch a movie."

Hutch restrained another sigh. "The only thing that's on is Christmas movies."

"What's wrong with that?" But Starsky had caught Hutch's frown. He left the bowl on the counter, as though it was now an old toy, and pulled a beer from the refrigerator. As he approached the sofa, he relented, "Okay, you don't want to watch any mushy Christmas stuff."

"Neither do you, goofball."

"Wanna play chess?"

"Not right now." Though he was comfortable sitting back on the sofa with his feet stretched out in front of him, Hutch made the effort to get up and retrieve his wine glass. It only had another sip and he finished it off.

"Wanna see if that Sylvester Stallone movie is playing anywhere?"

Hutch didn't want to go anywhere, but hesitated to give a third "no" in a row. "The newspaper's right there."

Starsky was standing next to the tree, and he bent down to pick up the entertainment section, leaving his beer on the coffee table.

Hutch set his glass of wine down and took a step toward where his partner was standing with his nose buried in the paper.

Stallone. Movies. Tonight's conversation. Starsky's insistence that he was totally nonchalant about the idea of them kissing each other.

Hutch didn't want to go to a movie.

He put one hand on Starsky's back. With the other, he took the newspaper out of his partner's grasp and let it drop to the floor.

"Hey, what are you -- "

Hutch took Starsky's chin. Bent his own head. Just before he closed his eyes, he saw recognition in his partner's and knew that Starsky understood what he intended to do.

His hand was still on the other's back. Hutch was grateful, for he needed some sort of support as he touched his lips to the other's. It wouldn't count, he told himself, if it was just a simple peck. He pressed more firmly.

Starsky tasted of beer, butter, and salt. He seemed to lean toward him. Press back.

Hutch couldn't believe it, then scolded himself again for thinking such. He inched closer, felt his blood pressure fall with a sinking sensation, and resisted the urge to draw the other closer.

Instead, he stepped back.

Starsky was looking up at him, mouth open, eyes asking a hundred questions. Hutch shrugged. "Just wanted to make sure you weren't pulling my leg earlier."

Starsky exhaled, and Hutch felt the wisp of breath across his chin. "What did you think, I was gonna run away screaming?"

Hutch didn't answer. He bent his head again.

He pressed a little more firmly this time. The lips beneath his responded equally --not pressing back, but meeting Hutch's movement.

The blond's heart quickened and he moved their mouths up and down, a small motion that still did not part them. He stepped closer, feeling their chests touch, their hot breaths on each other's face....

He drew back.

Starsky took a deep breath. "Hutch, I'm not made of steel. You keep this up, we're gonna have a problem to deal with." The tone held no threat or fear, just information.

Perhaps it was the wine. Perhaps it was the way Starsky was reading him so clearly tonight. Perhaps he had been curious ever since the subject of the movie was brought up. Perhaps he was simply waiting for his partner to set the boundary.

Hutch moved against Starsky and joined their lips together once again. The hand on Starsky's back now moved to encircle the masculine frame, and he felt Starsky's hand grip his arm… but only to steady himself, not to push away.

Hutch's head felt light, his heart thundering, his lower body quivering, but in a wonderful way that wasn't distracting. He had done all he could now to explore the other's lips. He nudged more forcefully against them, introducing a slight up and down motion, and felt as though a mountain had been conquered when they parted for him.

He heard his own breath now, felt his own gasps, as his tongue explored along teeth, feeling tiny kernels of popcorn. He pressed closer, trying to reach the roof of that beloved mouth, and then had to grab Starsky with both hands when a tongue brushed against his own.

Hutch swallowed the pool of saliva that was building. His knees were feeling weak, and he pulled one of his hands back and gently pushed it against Starsky's chest.

His partner understood and moved back to the sofa, sitting on it, their lips remaining sealed together.

As Hutch bent to maintain the contact, it suddenly occurred to him that the last thing he wanted was to be on top of Starsky. It was up to the other to set the boundary, draw the line. In one swift move, the blond broke their kiss, then pulled Starsky on top of himself as he lay back against the sofa.

Starsky wasted no time in resuming their activity. One hand rubbed against Hutch's shirt as he rejoined their lips, his legs squirming to find room against Hutch's, and the blond was not surprised to feel the firm heat at the other's center, matching his own… the "problem" Starsky had spoken of.

He felt the quiver in his own flesh, the surrender of all responsibility as Starsky's hand continued to rub his chest. There was also puzzlement that the other wasn't stopping this, was letting his own heat build....

Hutch felt a sinking sensation. He had no desire to push Starsky away, but the blond was only allowing the other's lingering kisses now, instead of participating.

Perhaps, he realized forlornly, Starsky was only responding to his dare, proving that he wasn't going to run away, showing Hutch that he could give as good as he got. Showing he wasn't afraid of what they were capable of feeling for each other, doing to each other.

The regret was sharp, stabbing at the blond's chest. He wished he could take back everything he'd said tonight, so he could know that what was happening now was something born of Starsky's own free will, and not merely a response to Hutch's taunting.

That Starsky was enjoying it, Hutch did not doubt. Just as he knew his own responses were for the man on top of him, and not merely a reaction to a physical stimulus. Everything about Starsky was wonderful… from his sheer willingness to do this, to the warm affection Hutch knew the other held for him, to the nice way Starsky fit against him.

A different league.

But now, Hutch wondered, had he pushed their relationship to the category of the mundane by toying with his partner's feelings?

And he had thought, this Christmas, he would do something special for Starsky.

What a joke.

Coldness touched Hutch's lips, then spread through his upper body, as the warm pressure was removed. He opened his eyes and saw Starsky sitting up in the middle of the couch, his rear barely finding room against Hutch's outstretched leg.

The darker man was hunched forward, elbow on his knees, and letting out a series of deeply held breaths. His face was serious, yet soft. His whole stance spoke of regret and a grudging, yet gentle, acceptance.

Hutch didn't know what had caused the boundary to be reached. He did know that the sooner they talked, the less awkward it would be. Grasping at straws, even trying a bit of humor, he asked, "Did it stop feeling good?"

There was the barest hint of a smile as Starsky lowered his gaze to the floor. Then the other stated simply, "You weren't ready for this, Hutch."

Hutch drew himself up, his back rather than his head now resting against the arm of the couch. He wondered if it was too late to repair the mess he'd made. "Starsky, I-I didn't plan this." He hoped that the other didn't believe it had been a game, a form of manipulation.

Starsky looked at Hutch from the corner of his eye. "Just wanted to see how far I'd go?" The tone wasn't angry, but instead complacent. Accepting.

Before Hutch could gather an answer, Starsky shifted so he was partially facing the blond. "Look. Bottom line," he made a short chop through the air. "I'm willing to take it as far as you wanna go."

Hutch blinked, his voice a bit breathless. "Then why did you stop?"

Starsky presented an indulgent smile, as though humoring a child. He tapped his forehead. "You've got too much going on up here."

Hutch lowered his gaze, wishing he could refute the statement, but knowing that he could not. And realized that he should have known that Starsky would know that he didn't have his partner's full participation.

Starsky crossed one leg over another and pulled off his shoe, wriggling his toes as though he'd been wanting to do that all evening. "There's lots of ways of saying 'no', Hutch," he said tenderly, rearranging his sock. "I've never believed in forcing a 'yes' from anyone."

"It wouldn't be force," Hutch said in a small, hopeful voice, relieved that Starsky was removing his other shoe, indicating he was staying.

Starsky looked over his shoulder at him, those eyes as gentle and caring as Hutch had ever seen them. "Maybe not," he relented. "But if you know what you want, deep down inside, then why are you thinking about it so hard?"

Curious, Hutch asked, "When did you know… what you wanted?"

"When you kissed me," Starsky replied simply. Both feet were now on the floor, but he sat with his legs far apart, as though still needing room for the swelling there. Hutch's own had disappeared. "Except, well ... it's not like it's never crossed my mind before." He looked squarely at his partner. "But I figured out a long time ago that I wouldn't be put off by it if something ever happened between us." He gazed at the coffee table, expression growing intense. Distantly, he said, "Seems kind of natural, in a way."

"A different league, huh?" the blond offered, still feeling the loss of the physical closeness they'd shared only moments ago.

Starsky didn't reply immediately. Then, "I was afraid we were gonna get to the middle, and then you were gonna want to stop. And by then I'd be pretty ticked off." He glanced up. "I thought we should stop now; your brain was going in so many circles."

Hutch was ready with his own confession. "I was afraid that you were only going along because you thought I was teasing you. That's why I was hesitating."

Starsky's gaze lowered once again. In a dry whisper, he said, "Being loved by you isn't being teased."

A huge balloon seemed to inflate within the blond's chest. Such a simple statement. And it seemed to encompass so much. Hutch closed his eyes briefly, savoring it. Then with a tiny smile, he scolded, "Now who's getting mushy?"

"Hey," Starsky whispered with a shrug, "it's Christmas. 'Posed to be enjoying your loved ones."

Hutch reached out. "Ah, come 'ere, you big dope." For a split second, as Starsky moved near, the blond was afraid the other had misunderstood his intent. But then the other settled back against the lanky frame, as though this closeness was all he needed.

Hutch wrapped a grateful arm around Starsky's chest. The weight was back. So was the warmth. Like a hundred times before.

"Think it would spoil it?" Starsky asked.

"What?" Hutch said, though he was pretty sure what his partner meant.

"If we... you know." Starsky fingers brushed at the arm that was wrapped about his chest.

"You must not have thought so," Hutch pointed out, "if you were ready to go further."

"What about you?" the other pressed.

"No," Hutch decided after a moment. Then, softly, "I just was worried that maybe it was for the wrong reasons." He loved feeling Starsky's upper back against his front. So perfect. Would it spoil their unique friendship if they crossed the line? Would they ever again have special little private times such as the evening after Hutch had almost drowned? Or would they always feel an urgency -- an obligation -- to join physically in order for their feelings to be complete?

"Only right reason is love," Starsky pointed out, gently squeezing Hutch's wrist. "We've got lots of that."

It made so much sense. Hutch wished he had his partner's self-assurance. Starsky was so comfortable with the idea. Remarkably so.

"If I promise to stop thinking," Hutch ventured, placing a hand on Starsky's head, fingers burrowing in the curls, "can we go back to what we were doing?"

Starsky turned his head to look at Hutch, his eyes so bright, so clear. And now, finally, there was shyness in his voice. "Think, maybe, we should… move off the couch?" In a soft whisper, he added, "So we have more room?"

Hutch wondered at his own feelings, at how they could seem so intense, and yet still expand further. His heart seemed to swell in his chest, and he couldn't get his vocal chords to even vibrate. He simply nodded.

Starsky's grin widened, softening his face. Then he was on his feet, pulling his partner up by the wrist.

Hutch stood, but stopped there, breaking the grip. "I-I'll g-get the lights." He was stuttering like a teenager. And the other was looking at him as though considering a protest. Then Starsky nodded once and turned toward the bed.

Hutch turned off the lamp next to the sofa. Then he moved to the main light switch next to the door. He put a hand over his chest, feeling the rapid beating of his heart. He left the bathroom light on and moved to the kitchen. He paused, surveying the dishes in the sink.


Was it a sin to do what he and Starsky intended to do on a holy day? Neither of them was very religious; yet, participating in acts that were surely forbidden by any Biblical standard -- especially when enjoying them for the first time -- would surely be frowned upon by many religious leaders.

He turned off the main kitchen light, leaving on the one directly over the sink.

His own intent for having Starsky over this day had been to show him how much he appreciated him, and had appreciated him, over the years. Now, he would be able to add a depth to that appreciation that he'd never even considered achieving. He could add action to all his words, cross all boundaries so that no pleasure, no gratification, was forbidden. He could love freely, and not fear how strong it ran.

Hutch stepped into the sleeping area.

From the kitchen light, he could see that Starsky was sitting on top of the covers, against the headboard. He had briefs on and an undershirt. Hutch suspected the latter had been pulled out of his own drawer, for he didn't think Starsky had been wearing it beneath his sweater. Plus, it looked a little familiar...

"Where you been?" Starsky asked.

Hutch bit down on his tongue to stop himself from saying, "Just thinking." Instead, he replied, "Anticipating."

"Well, hurry and get over here," Starsky growled, "so we can keep doin' what we were doin'."

Hutch obeyed, stepping closer to the bed. Starsky sounded so confident after all, so sure of the rightness of where they were headed this night.

He pulled his own sweater over his head. Kicked off his shoes. Slid out of his jeans. Rolled off his socks.

Now dressed as the other was, he looked up and saw those muscular arms reaching for him.

Hutch knelt on the bed and moved into the outstretched arms. They pulled each other close, and their lips found each other again. Hutch drank greedily, wondering how he had stood the few minutes they were apart. Starsky's flesh was so pliant and malleable beneath his own. He tightened his arms around the smaller, broader form as they relaxed on their sides, their legs intertwining.

Starsky's hand rubbed against the front of his shirt, and Hutch groaned his approval. Starsky was licking at the blond's lips, tickling enough that Hutch let them part, and the determined tongue dived inside, sweeping along his teeth, the valleys surrounding them. Hutch's hands moved up to grip Starsky's head, fingers intertwining with the curly strands, feeling he couldn't press the other close enough.

Suddenly, Starsky pushed against him, and Hutch obeyed, rolling onto his back, bringing his partner on top of him. Their mouths parted. Starsky took Hutch's wrists and pressed them against the pillow, above his head. The grip wasn't tight, but Hutch understood what was wanted and kept his hands there. The illumination from the kitchen allowed him to see Starsky raking his eyes over him, a feral glint in their depths.

And then the shoulders hunched forward, the dark head ducked, and the next thing Hutch knew that he was being attacked with kisses. The lips kissed his eyebrow, sucked in his earlobe, drooled along the bridge of his nose, pulled against his mustache.

Electricity sparked through his bloodstream and Hutch understood, ultimately, this was what he wanted. To have all responsibility taken away. To not have to think. To be devoured.

A wet tongue was drawing a line down the middle of his clothed chest, Starsky panting hungrily....

Hutch's heart was so full it ached. He couldn't bear it any longer and grabbed Starsky and rolled them over so that he was on top. He buried his face in Starsky's neck, slobbered over the flesh there, sucked it back in, held the other tighter when Starsky made an ecstatic noise between a scream and a groan.

The t-shirt in his way annoyed him. Hutch shoved it up to his partner's armpits, sucked in a nipple and its surrounding flesh. But the protrusion was too small to be satisfying. He straightened and pulled at the cotton briefs, gratified when the firm column of flesh popped free. He pushed the underwear down to Starsky's knees, then lowered his mouth on the musky-smelling flesh.

He loved that it filled his whole mouth. He thought he'd been successful at taking it all in until it tickled the back of his throat. He had to release it partway, cough, and then he sucked on the upper half avidly, while holding the lower half with both hands.

A warning hand pressed against his jaw, and Hutch realized that his teeth were brushing along the tender flesh.

Relax, he told himself. Go slow. Make it last. No teeth.

He inwardly flinched at what he had done, knowing how teeth could hurt. He was determined to make up for it immediately. He pulled off the heavy cylinder, sucked his lips around his teeth, and lowered his mouth on it once again.

It was big. Thick. Heavy. Salty at the tip. Hutch worked his tongue along the underside. Bobbed his head back and forth. Sucked it back toward his throat while holding it in place with his hands.

There was a noise. A groan that was almost a whimper. But the gasped words encouraged him. "Oooohh. So good. Soooo good."

It seemed to have grown even larger in the past few moments. The corners of his mouth ached from being stretched so unnaturally. Hutch grasped it more firmly with one hand; with the other he explored lower, feeling the taut testicles, massaging the sac with his fingertips.

There was a hiss, a sharply indrawn breath. And then a hand was in his hair, massaging. It moved down, brushed against his cheek, lightly clasped his jaw.

"Jesus God," were the only coherent words.

Hutch groaned deep within his own throat, wanting Starsky to know that he was enjoying this, too.

The hand released his jaw, drifted down to his throat, rubbed at the muscles working there. A scant whisper penetrated the darkness. "Fantastic, babe. Incredible."

The hand was suddenly on his forehead, spilling into his hair, gripping lightly. Hutch knew what it meant, and both his hands gripped the base firmly once again.

A soft cry began from deep within the other's throat. The hips beneath his hands bounced as best they could. The cry grew deeper, louder. Both hands now gripped his head.

The cry reached a climax; the fingers clenched his skin, then made an effort to let go, fingertips stroking instead. And then there was the feeling of moisture shooting against his tongue and the side of his mouth. Hutch gratefully relaxed his jaw, felt the heavy cylinder withdraw. He swallowed, tasting a potent bitterness while listening to panting in the darkness.

Just when he thought there might be a moment of awkwardness, Hutch felt a hand push against his cotton-clad chest. He let it press him down to the mattress, and the next thing he knew a heavy, moist, overly-lax body was on top of him, applying frantic kisses to his face and neck.

The lips settled on his, and Hutch allowed his own to part, inviting the tongue to sample the remains of what he had swallowed. When it had its fill, it withdrew. And then Starsky's arms were around him, squeezing desperately.

Kisses returned to his face, light and tender.

When they stopped, fingers outlined his features with a feather touch. Then, for a moment, all contact was withdrawn.

A hand touched his belly, brushed down to his underwear. It pressed against the outside, and Hutch undulated against it, just now becoming aware of how hard he was. He groaned at the touch, pleading....

He heard Starsky swallow. "Been neglected, huh?" A pause, then, softer, "Don't know if I can do it as well as you."

It wasn't false modesty. Hutch sensed the hesitation. And for himself, he was sure that holding stationary while he was worked over wouldn't be enough. He wanted something more. Freedom. Abandonment. To not have to think.

He sat up, causing the hand to drop. Then he shifted onto his knees, took his partner by the waist. The other obeyed the pressure, rolling over onto his stomach.

Hutch sensed the hesitation once again, this time stronger. He placed a hand on Starsky's lower back, let it rest there a moment, then rubbed in a small circle. Waiting for a sign of yes or no.

After a long moment, he took the lack of response as acquiescence to proceed. Leaving one hand on his partner's lower back, Hutch slipped partially off the bed and reached to the nightstand He fumbled with a drawer handle, then pulled out a tube of K-Y. He hadn't used it -- for any purpose -- in a long time.

He laid it on the bed, then got to his feet, quickly removing his t-shirt and briefs. He knew the light from the kitchen reflected the paleness of his skin, knew that Starsky could see the sword jutting from him.

Hutch knelt on the bed again, massaged a buttock with kneading fingers, wanting Starsky to want it. He felt the muscles relax beneath his hand. He moved to the other buttock, waited for the same response. Then he opened the tube of gel.

When a dollop was on his fingers, he found himself hesitant to apply it, feeling it would be oddly impersonal despite what it was leading to. He wanted more than his fingers to be touching his partner.

Holding the coated fingers up, Hutch shifted on the bed, stretching out to lie alongside his partner. He hooked his leg around the other's, pressed his front against Starsky's side, then rested his head on the nearest shoulder blade. It was awkward, but he was eventually able to free his other hand enough to rest it against Starsky's head, petting into his hair. It was only then that he allowed the hand with lubricant to rest against the crevice of his partner's buttocks.

Hutch kissed the skin beneath his lips. Then he used his smallest fingers to part the flesh so his larger ones could find the center there. The coated digits stroked the tight recess, and he couldn't help but think how impossibly small it seemed.

He hoisted himself onto an elbow, found the tube, inserted the nozzle where his fingers had been. Then he squeezed.

The hips beneath his hand wriggled. "Feels funny," came the soft chuckle.

Hutch wasn't sure what he should say, but knew saying anything would be better than silence. His own voice was very soft. "Maybe a little massage will make it feel better." Having laid the tube aside, he put his fingers back in that warm place and stroked at the gel there. He pressed it against the sides of the wrinkled opening, gently kneading it along the skin, the lubricating effect allowing his fingers to move deeper into the crevice.

He lay back down, resting his cheek on his partner's shoulder. He kissed it again; then, with minimal pressure, was able to slip his index finger past the muscled barrier. Starsky squirmed a little, and Hutch froze. He waited a beat, then whispered, "Okay?"

"Just feels funny," Starsky replied. "But better than when the doctor does it."

Hutch relaxed again, let his finger massage the walls further. He didn't want this to be like a medical exam. Didn't want it to be like that at all. He wanted Starsky to like it. Yet, feeling the throb of his own hardness, he didn't know how he could do it so it didn't hurt. With women, it had always hurt a little. But they never seemed to care much, unless the night as a whole was a mistake.

The last thing he wanted was for this to be a mistake.

Starsky's legs parted. Hutch felt the buttocks relax and knew he was doing something right. Both his inner and outer fingers were massaging. He could feel the taut muscle relax, the opening becoming more elastic. He paused, stroked there with his middle finger, then tried to force it inside.

The hips bucked gently, and there was an indrawn breath.

"Sorry," Hutch said. The fingers paused, and he felt a throb of frustration.

Starsky had an elbow braced against the mattress. "Go ahead," he said breathlessly. "You can't help it."

Hutch pressed his cheek against the shoulder blade again, kissed it. His middle finger pushed against the barrier, and he kept pushing even as he felt a gasp of pain from his partner. And then it was in. He rotated the pair of digits around the edge, pushing outward, trying to stretch it. He felt Starsky relax again.

After a moment of silence, his partner glanced over his shoulder. "Your prick on fire yet?"

The fingers kept working as Hutch wondered if Starsky was teasing or just asking for information. He realized it had to be the latter. And he had to be honest. "It wants it bad," he whispered.

"Then go ahead."

Hutch closed his eyes, kissed the skin beneath his cheek once again, this time with a delicate tenderness. "It'll hurt," he said gruffly.

"I know. Don't let it make you afraid," came the gentle whisper. "Just let me deal with it in my own way."

Hutch kept his eyes closed. He knew what Starsky was saying. His partner wanted the freedom to express the pain without worrying that it was going to make Hutch stop.

He pushed the fingers in deeper, felt the second knuckles slip past the barrier, causing the hips to wriggle once again. He planted a series of kisses along his partner's flesh. Then, feeling the aching throb of his hardness, he knelt up and removed the fingers.

Hutch picked up the tube of K-Y and squeezed a stream of ointment along his phallus. As he rubbed around the taut cylinder, he watched while Starsky grabbed a pillow and placed it beneath his own hips.

How remarkable it was that Starsky was willing to do this, was going to let him do it, was encouraging him to do it.

And how badly he wanted to do it.

Why hadn't they ever considered it before?

Questions would have to wait, for his straining desire would not. Hutch moved over to the raised buttocks, got between the parted legs. He took a fleshy cheek in each hand and parted them. They tensed, but he stretched out his legs behind him, lowering his hips, letting his erection slip into the crevice there. He let go of the right buttock and used his hand to place the flaring head against the greased opening. He kept hold of it and lunged with his hips, feeling a primitive satisfaction as the rose-colored head disappeared into darkness.

Starsky made a deep-throated noise of pain.

Hutch withdrew, his chest sinking, his heart pounding, his penis aching. "Here," he whispered in a strained voice, taking Starsky's upper arm, "here, on your side."

Panting heavily, Starsky obeyed, and Hutch pulled the pillow from beneath him. The blond lay behind his partner, feeling he could continue now, since Starsky could move away from him whenever he wanted.

Hutch inched closer, inhaling the musky sweat -- such a familiar, comforting scent --and wondered how he could have ever wanted anyone else in his bed. He took his phallus in hand, brushed it along Starsky's buttocks until finding the recess. He aimed it. And pushed.

He had to push some more in this position. Finally the flesh parted, and he held still, listening to his partner gasping for breath. But Starsky didn't pull away, and Hutch yielded to his flesh's desperate yearning. His pushed harder, felt the tight tunnel close around him; and he in turn wrapped his arm around Starsky, wanting to hold him close, wanting him to share the warmth he felt.

The hips molded inside his wriggled and twitched. Starsky swallowed thickly, then his breath evened out, and Hutch felt him relax.

Hutch pressed again. He went deeper this time, while requiring less effort to do so. He pulled back, loving the tingle that started where their flesh met, before radiating throughout the rest of his body. He groaned, thrust gently again, kissed Starsky's upper arm.

"It's okay now," came Starsky's whispered assurance. "Go ahead," he beckoned tenderly, "go ahead."

Hutch let himself slip out almost completely, then he pushed back in -- a little deeper this time -- and then let it fall back again toward the outer muscle. He repeated the process, loving how it felt, and let a groan of pleasure emerge from deep within his chest, let his lips part to voice his gasp of utter contentment, desperate to have Starsky know how much he was enjoying this.

His arm tightened around the furred chest -- how comforting it felt to press it against himself -- and rocked his hips back and forth, establishing a regular rhythm, seeking the abandonment he had yearned for earlier. He continued to voice every wonderful ache that traveled through him.

As the peak neared, he found there was so much more he wanted to say. "Oh, dear, God," he gasped in a trembling voice, gripping Starsky tighter. "Oh, God. Oh, God. Incredible." He felt the sweat break out on his forehead. "So incredible. Jesus God."

When he knew he was there, Hutch tried to hold back -- to delay the inevitable -- but couldn't. As the release claimed him, he fell silent, paying his own private homage to all those wonderful little tubes and vessels of flesh that made for such exquisite sensation.

He closed his eyes and waited until lethargy washed over him. Then he yielded to the fullness in his chest and hugged Starsky closer still against him, dragging his lips across his partner's back, then kissing every bit of flesh they could touch.

A hand reached back and patted him. Then Starsky was on his feet, and Hutch realized that his phallus had withdrawn on its own. His partner headed for the bathroom.

Feeling his bangs plastered against his forehead, Hutch reached to the nightstand and turned on the lamp. There was a towel next to the bed -- something he'd missed while cleaning up in preparation for Starsky's visit -- and he picked it up and used it to wipe himself off.

Uncomfortable with waiting -- and wondering what his partner was thinking -- he got up and turned off the kitchen light, hoping that Starsky wouldn't want to return to his own apartment before the night was over. Hutch found his underwear and pulled the briefs around his hips before getting back into bed and straightening the covers.

There was the sound of the bathroom door opening, then footsteps on the floor. When Starsky appeared he was wearing Hutch's orange robe, loosely tied. His bright eyes regarded Hutch bashfully. He turned his back, removed the robe, then leaned to a bureau and pulled open the drawer that contained Hutch's clean briefs. He spent a moment putting them on, then slipped beneath the covers.

Hutch had been watching him, and now he stared into darkness, unsure of what to say.

For half a minute they lay in silence. Then a hesitant voice whispered, "Hutch?"

Relieved, Hutch glanced over at his bedmate. "Hm?"

"This is the best Christmas I've ever had." The voice held a trace of childlike eagerness.

Hutch reached beneath the covers, found a bare arm. He patted it and felt himself smile. "Yeah, I guess it's the best I've ever had, too." Feeling more secure with the conversation, he shifted onto his side. "You okay? I mean -- "

"Yeah, I'm okay. Just hurt a lot at first. You must have a huge prick or somethin'." Before Hutch could decide what to say to that, Starsky added, "I guess I just never noticed before."

"Why would you have?" Hutch wondered seriously.

Starsky made a noise that was almost a giggle. "Yeah, there was no reason before, was there?"

And now? The question lay in the silence between them.

Hutch decided to ask it another way. "Starsk, did it... did it feel okay? I mean, after at first?"

"Yeah. I mean, especially knowin' how much you were enjoyin' it." His voice dropped an octave. "I really like makin' you feel good, Hutch."

It wasn't the answer the blond was looking for. "But -- " he tried again.

The mattress shifted and a hand patted his cheek. "Yeah, it felt okay. A turn-on. I just sorta wish I could'a participated more." A pause. "Just need more practice."

Hutch let the last line go, realizing there was only one way he'd ever know the answer to his own question. "Want to do it to me?"

"Not tonight." The hand on his cheek now stroked with the backs of the fingers. "That blowjob you gave me did me in." Starsky let out a long breath. "Man, that was somethin'."

"Like makin' you feel good, too." Hutch relaxed further, finally deciding to resort to the honesty that had always served them so well. "What happens now?"

The mattress shifted again, there was the pull of the bed sheets, and then one very familiar-feeling body maneuvered on top of Hutch. He loved the secure feeling it gave him, the warmth that was always so welcome.

Starsky's hands pressed against Hutch's cheeks. "What happens now," he whispered, his breath brushing along his partner's skin, "is whatever we want to happen." The voice grew more earnest. "You're the person I love most in this world, Hutch. I'm thinkin' that this whole thing just seems kind of natural. So maybe we should just let it be. Not make any ultimatums or anything; just take one day at a time. See where it takes us."

Hutch turned his head, kissed Starsky's hand. He nodded, feeling his chest swelling, tightening his voice. "Yeah." He nodded again. "Okay."

He knew Starsky had leaned closer, for the hot breath was stronger. The darker man firmly whispered, "This part's the best part of all."

Hutch's lips parted as they were covered by those of the man above him. He felt the blood stir in his veins, warmth rise up through his body. He pressed back eagerly, thinking that he couldn't deny what Starsky said. If they could be sure the sensations never built... they could satisfy each other eternally just by doing this.

But the sensations would always build, he reminded himself as his sated groin stirred beneath the pressure at his mouth.

Hutch turned his face away. "No more," he pleaded. "Not tonight."

Starsky grunted with satisfaction and shifted to Hutch's side. "Sleep then?"

Hutch reached to pat his partner on the forehead. "Yeah. Sleep." Hutch moved beneath the covers, getting more comfortable. "And... Merry Christmas."

Starsky giggled like one who had gotten away with something deliciously dirty. "Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too." He kissed Hutch on the nose then pulled the covers over his shoulder while turning on his side, away from Hutch.

Hutch shifted into a similar position and draped his arm over Starsky's waist. Eventually, sleep claimed him.


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