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SINK OR SWIM
Hutch studied the watch on Starsky's wrist, feeling a sense of deja vu. How many times in all their years together had Starsky enthusiastically showed him a new watch? But he could stand being charitable this time, for it wasn't for his partner. "Yeah, it's great, buddy. She ought to like that."
Still bubbling, Starsky said, "Only better gift I ever got her was when I helped her buy a new car. I think she'll like this even more than that. It's fancier than the things she's used to having."
Hutch said, "Every Mom deserves a nice watch on their sixty-fifth birthday."
Starsky removed it and handed it to the sales clerk. "I'll take it. And I'd like it gift-wrapped so I can mail it to New York."
"Certainly," the sales clerk replied.
While Starsky took out his wallet, Hutch said, "I'll be outside."
After receiving a nod, the blond moved outside the jeweler's into the bright sunshine. He walked half a block, then sat on a cement bench that circled a small fountain outside the shopette where the jeweler was located.
Hutch rested his hands on an upraised knee and stared at the water emerging from the fountain. This was another typical day in their lives. They had spent a good part of the morning tracking down and questioning two witnesses to the murder of a prostitute. They had stopped for lunch at a ma-and-pa taco stand, one of Starsky's favorites. And now his partner was in a fine jewelry store, enthusiastically buying a gift for his mother's birthday.
A typical day. For some reason, it was typical days that affected Hutch the most. For it was on those days that his feelings seemed to be the strongest...and those feelings were not typical by any possible definition. Nor had they been for some time.
There had never been a turning point, just a gradual shifting. Even now, Hutch hesitated to say that he was attracted to his partner, for he had always been attracted to him--in many ways that went far beyond the normal meaning of the word. It wasn't any different now. What was different was how his feelings had shifted to standing back and watching Starsky with loving protectiveness, exasperation, amusement--whatever the situation called for--to wanting to actively pursue the continuance and expression of those feelings when their typical day was over.
It had taken a while for Hutch to define just exactly what he wanted to do with these newly developed feelings. It had taken longer still for him to admit it. And when he had reached the point where there was only one possible answer, it became a game with himself to decide when he should discuss his feelings with the subject of all his analyzing. Part of him never wanted the anticipation to end. Part of him couldn't wait until it did.
And then three creeps--still on the loose--had changed everything.
Hutch blinked, realizing his eyes were straining from having stared at the fountain too long. He wanted to rest his forehead against his knee, but resisted, not wanting Starsky to find him in such a forlorn stance.
He had almost spoken of his wishes six weeks ago. Now, it was too late. Starsky had recovered well, seemed to bounce back from his traumatizing, humiliating experience to continue on as before. But Hutch knew that any suggestion of his thoughts could only remind Starsky of the hurt those men had caused. Starsky would never be able to separate the two, no matter how much he might wish to.
Hutch did not doubt that Starsky would wish to. His biggest fear, he had come to realize, was that Starsky would agree to whatever Hutch wanted to do. Starsky would allow them to become more intimate because that's what Hutch wanted. Starsky would not be able to separate his own desires from his desire to please his partner.
Hutch closed his eyes, then swallowed. His heart swelled gently, as it always did when presented with that truth: Starsky wanted to please him.
Ah, buddy, Hutch thought now, say "no", so I'll know you aren't doing it just for me; but then somehow--some way--come around to saying "yes".
But even a verbal "yes" wouldn't matter. Those three men had taken something from Starsky that would prevent him from ever giving of himself freely that way. Surely, Starsky would want to overcome whatever ugly feelings those men had created, but the price would be too high. There would be too much heartache, too much frustration. Starsky would want to please him, give Hutch anything he asked for, and if only failure resulted, it might be something that their relationship could not recover from.
Over the past few weeks, Hutch had silently tried to find a solution. Maybe they could just agree to keep things on a manual or an oral level. But he ultimately concluded that doing so would still create a feeling of failure and frustration, for what they weren't doing together would always be something that existed between them.
Things were too perfect now to risk that.
And yet, Hutch had to admit, there would be nothing more wonderful in this world than Starsky walking up to him some day and saying, "I love you so much, Hutch, that I want us to make love together." If Starsky was the one who initiated it, then surely they could overcome anything.
Hutch turned around and his partner was standing there, powerful darkness against the brightness of the sun.
Starsky indicated the small box in his hand, wrapped in brown parcel paper. "We gotta go to the post office so this has a chance to get there in time."
Hutch stood. "I'll drive so you can run in."
Bouncing beside him with that seemingly endless energy, Starsky said, "Mom's really gonna love this."
Hutch walked a little more slowly so that Starsky moved ahead of him to the Torino. He smiled wryly at his partner's eagerness as they both got in.
It was another typical day.
* * *
As was the next day. Starsky parked the Torino in the lot of a Mexican restaurant, but different from the one they had visited the day before. He pulled off his sunglasses and put them on the dashboard. "Remember Josie, who works here?"
"Which one is she?" Hutch asked, folding his own shades.
Starsky drew an outline in the air. "Nice and petite, young little Mexican gal?"
"There's a lot of nice, young, petite Mexican girls working here," Hutch pointed out.
"The pretty one," Starsky insisted as they got out of the car.
The darker man elbowed his partner in the ribs as they moved as one toward the little building. "I got her primed to go out with me. Watch the master at work."
Hutch feigned exasperation. "This is something I've got to see."
As was often the case in recent weeks, he hung back a few steps while his partner moved eagerly ahead to the line at the outdoor counter. They had spoken little of women lately. Hutch wondered if this was his partner's first attempt at a date since The Creeps.
"Josie?" Starsky greeted when it was his turn.
She looked at him and brightened. "David. Hi."
"You remember my partner, right?"
She nodded politely at Hutch but turned her attention back to the man in front of her. "What will it be?"
"Three burritos and a Dr. Pepper for me and a couple of tacos and some water for my partner. And how about Friday night?"
She did a double-take. "Friday night?"
"Yeah. As in date. You and me. My partner's not invited."
She laughed and Hutch chimed in with a "Ha, ha."
"Well, sure," she said, as though she couldn't believe her good fortune. "I get off at six, but I'd want to go home and change first." She took a napkin and a pen. "Here's my phone number and address."
Starsky watched her write it. "I can pick you up at seven. We'll have dinner and a movie and..." he let the thought linger.
"That'd be great!" She went back to her order pad, laughing. "Now, what did you want?"
Starsky repeated the order, while Hutch stood back and observed Josie. She looked very young and he wondered if she was even twenty-one. But she seemed very enthused to be going out with his partner.
He hoped they would have a good time.
* * *
"How's my breath?" Starsky asked, and then proceeded to blow air into Hutch's face.
Hutch closed his eyes as the warm moisture hit him. When they opened he said, "It'll pass. What's the occasion?"
"It's Friday night," Starsky said impatiently. "I gotta leave in the next five minutes and pick up Josie."
Hutch regarded his partner. He'd forgotten about the date that was made three days ago, but there was something endearing about Starsky's enthusiasm. "The way she was looking at you, I don't think you need to worry."
Starsky grabbed his jacket from the back of his chair. "She one hot little number, don't you think?"
The blond turned back to the file open on his desk. "A young, hot little number," he emphasized. Then, with feigned seriousness, "Just don't let the 'heat' burn you."
Starsky leaned toward him and winked. "It's more likely to be a spontaneous combustion."
Hutch chuckled as his partner trotted out the door. Starsky's happiness was the most contagious thing in the world.
He searched himself inwardly, pleased to conclude that the jealousy he felt was minimal. He wanted Starsky to have a good time. A great time. For Hutch's own happiness was so intertwined with his partner's.
He focused on the file in front of him.
* * *
"Come on, honey," Hutch cooed to the LTD. The engine was sputtering and backfiring, and he worked skillfully with the gas peddle, trying to coax a few more blocks from it.
It was Sunday afternoon and Hutch had made a trip to his favorite plant store. Thankfully, the store was in Starsky's neck of the woods. His partner was sure to have some extra ignition points on hand, which should solve the problem...at least for the time being.
Hutch slammed on the brakes as a light turned red. Just as the car came to a halt, the engine died.
"Ah, damn it, honey," he muttered, turning the ignition and babying the peddle. The engine started hesitantly, and he quickly shoved the gear in neutral, so that he could rev the engine while waiting for the light to change.
It turned green, and he slipped into gear and darted out ahead of the other cars. He made a sharp turn onto a side street, the engine dying as he braked. He had to start it up again and breathed a sigh of relief when he finally turned into the parking lot of Starsky's apartment and saw the Torino there.
Most likely, Starsky was either napping or watching baseball games. Hutch assumed the latter and knocked on the door, calling, "Starsk, it's me."
The door opened, and Starsky stood there in his bare feet, but otherwise dressed, and showing no emotion at the sight of his visitor. "What's up?" he asked blandly.
"How about some ignition points?" Starsky stepped back and Hutch entered the quiet apartment. "You napping?"
Starsky shrugged and led the way toward a closet. "Don't think I have any spare points."
Hutch watched the tenseness of his partner's shoulders as the other opened a closet. The dark head shook. "No. Nothing here."
"Damn," Hutch muttered.
Starsky turned to him, scowling, "You know, if you'd buy a damn decent car you wouldn't have to keep patching up that ridiculous piece of crap." He turned away.
Starsky's complaint hadn't been in the tone of a joke. "You get up on the wrong side of the bed?" Hutch asked.
Tersely, and still walking away from Hutch, the other replied, "I'm just sick of that piece of junk never running right." He flung an arm through the air angrily. "Get rid of it!" He went into the kitchen and carelessly tossed dishes into a sink of soapy water.
Hutch frowned. Starsky was tense, wound up. Surely, his simple presence hadn't caused that. "What's eating you?" he asked.
Starsky turned, almost shouting, "Nothing. I just like to have a quiet day at home every now and then--without you comin' over expectin' me to patch up that piece of shit just because you're too goddamned stubborn to get a car that actually runs."
"Quit pretending this is about the car," Hutch countered. "What's going on?"
Starsky came to stand before him. "Hutch, I don't have any goddamned ignition points. Unless you expect me to tow that piece of shit home--which I'm not--just take your tail and leave." He pointed toward the door.
Even though Hutch was certain that nothing personal was meant in the attack, he felt hurt just enough to strike back. With both hands, and knowing it was playing with fire, he pushed at Starsky's chest.
Starsky went backwards a couple of steps. And then his face twisted into rage as his left fist pulled back.
It took every bit of strength Hutch had to quench all the instincts that called for him to defend himself. He didn't understand why, but he knew Starsky needed this more than anything else Hutch had to offer. He kept his hands at his sides.
Starsky's fist shot out and Hutch felt the most incredible impact against his right cheek. It dazed him so much that he didn't remember hitting the floor; he just knew that suddenly he was sprawled upon it, his cheek tingling with shock and the room spinning dizzily.
He shook his head to clear it and realized his tongue was tasting iron inside his mouth. As the numbness went away, throbbing replaced it. And then there was a fierce stinging as his tongue investigated the inside of his cheek.
The rug had stopped spinning and he pulled his hand away from his face. It brushed his mouth in passing and he studied the droplets of blood, feeling more forming inside his cheek.
In retrospect, he realized he should have at least put his hands up to defend himself.
He looked at Starsky.
His partner stood there, his mouth open as he stared at Hutch, a horrified expression on his face.
When their eyes meet, Starsky stuttered in disbelief, "H-H-How come you let me do that?"
Hutch gingerly felt his jaw. It throbbed more with each passing second. He managed, "It seemed to be what you needed at the time."
"Ah, man, Hutch," the other said sorrowfully, springing to the kitchen. He ran a dish towel under cold water for a long moment, then hustled cubes out of an ice tray. He placed the cubes onto the cloth, tied it into a bundle and rushed back to where Hutch was still sprawled next to the couch.
Starsky knelt and pulled Hutch into a sitting position by the shirt-front. "Here, buddy," he said breathlessly, bringing the bundle up, "easy does it." He pressed the ice against Hutch's cheek.
Hutch gasped at the cold and pain.
"Come on, Hutch, hold it there."
Obediently, Hutch replaced Starsky's hand with his own, holding the ice against his cheek. It hurt, and he wished the numbing effect would hurry up and begin.
"Here," Starsky was peeling back his lower lip, "let me see how bad it is."
Hutch held his mouth open, wishing Starsky would hurry up. The last thing he wanted to think about was going to the emergency room for stitches. He grunted to express his disapproval.
"Just hang on a sec," Starsky said, jumping to his feet. He went through the bedroom and into the bathroom, and then emerged with a spray bottle containing red liquid. "Here, hold your mouth open," he said when he was again kneeling before his partner.
Hutch swallowed more blood, then obeyed. Something sprayed against the cut inside his cheek, and a moment later the stinging pain was numbed almost to the point of non-existence. The bottle was pushed into his free hand as Starsky said, "Keep it."
Then Starsky had a hold of his ribcage. "Come on," he said, pulling at him, "off the floor."
Hutch glanced behind him to see where the sofa was, then pushed himself up so that Starsky could sit him on the couch. Hutch laid his head back, glad that the dizziness cleared almost immediately after moving.
Panting from his efforts, Starsky stood back and looked at him. "Big dummy," he said raggedly. "Least you coulda done was defend yourself."
Hutch silently agreed, but that didn't matter now. Trying to keep his tongue from touching the cut, he slurred, "What was that all about?"
Throwing up his hands for emphasis, Starsky said, "I wasn't mad at you!"
"Tell me something I don't know." Hutch swallowed more blood. "What's got you so wound up that you had to explode? You owe me that, at least."
Starsky spun around to the bookcase that separated the bedroom from the rest of the house. He spread his hands, leaning against it, rocking back and forth as though trying to rid himself of some unbearable trauma.
"What happened yesterday?" Hutch prompted, his voice more gentle. He could see from his partner's stance how much Starsky was suffering from...something. "Or this morning?"
"Nothing happened yesterday or this morning," Starsky muttered, not turning around.
Then...."Friday night?" Hutch asked. It seemed the only explanation. Starsky had had a date with Josie. And to think that, whatever was causing so much upset, his partner had had to suffer through it all yesterday and today.
"Ah, Hutch," Starsky was still braced against the bookcase. "We went out together and had a really good time. And then I took her back to her place, and she invited me in...." He trailed off. Then--BAM!--he slapped his hand against the edge of the bookcase, rattling it.
"Starsky, turn around," the blond demanded. "Look at me."
The suffering showed on the other's face as he obeyed. Raggedly, he said, "She was all hot for me. And I was wantin' her all night. And then we were at her place and," he swallowed thickly, "before we even got undressed I just...." He squeezed his eyes shut and with gritted teeth muttered, "Damn."
Hutch felt himself go soft inside. He straightened on the couch, still holding the ice against his cheek, which was starting to numb. Sympathetically, he said, "Just couldn't go through with it, huh, pal?"
"I wanted to go through with it," Starsky jabbed a thumb at his chest, "but," he vaguely indicated his lower body, "the rest of me wouldn't cooperate." He took a breath and meekly said, "The look on her face...felt two inches tall."
"Starsky, it doesn't make you any less a man," Hutch said firmly. "You gotta admit she was barely out of the cradle. She's probably never had that happen with a date before and she didn't know how to react."
"That doesn't solve anything!" Starsky shouted. Then, "I've never had that happen before."
The inside of Hutch's mouth was started to sting again, and he positioned the spray bottle and applied more of the medication. The pain he was suffering reminded him that there was far more going on here than a case of simply not being able to get it up. Starsky's anger and humiliation went very, very deep. And the bastards who were responsible were still at large....
Starsky slammed the flat of both hands against the nearest wall. As he had with the bookcase, he now leaned against the wall, his back to Hutch. Then, in a low voice, he muttered something that the blond couldn't decipher.
Hutch put the spray bottle down. "What? Stop turning your back on me, so I can hear you." His voice gentled. "Come over here and sit down and give me a chance to help."
The other swung around. "You think you can fix what those creeps did?" he challenged. "You think you can give back what they took away?"
Hutch felt relief that Starsky acknowledged the source of the problem, but he also hurt for the other's continued pain. Gently, he prompted, "What did they take away?"
Starsky stared at him for a long moment. Then he threw up his hands. "I don't know!" Then, softly, "That's what I keep tryin' to figure out." Suddenly, he turned and kicked at the wall, dislodging a painting. "I never thought it would matter," he forced out through gritted teeth. He continued to kick a few more times, until he abruptly turned away and prowled back toward the other side of the room.
"What do you mean?" Hutch prompted. "You didn't think what would matter?"
Starsky stopped and looked at him. "What they did," he finally sputtered. Then came a rapid flow of words. "I-I thought I was okay about it. I thought, 'Okay, I can't change what happened. But it's not like they killed me or maimed me or anything like that. They didn't even fuck me'--which would have made it a hundred times worse--knowing they used me to get their rocks off. But they didn't. I didn't even have to go to the hospital. So, what's the big deal? I thought it was over and done with. And then...Friday night...."
He threw himself onto the sofa, sitting hunched forward with his head in his hands.
Hutch was relieved that Starsky seemed resigned to staying in one place. Gently, he asked, "What were you afraid of Friday night?"
Finally, the other's words were calm. "I don't know, Hutch. That's what I keep tryin' to figure out. I mean, it's not like I was afraid she was gonna...violate me. Like they did. I can't figure out the connection." A pause, then, teeth gritted, "I can't stand it that I've given them the power to affect me this much."
Hutch put the ice on the coffee table and turned on the cushion to face his partner. This part he could definitely help with. "Look at me."
Starsky raised his head up and turned to face him.
Slowly, Hutch said, "I know where you're coming from, pal." His insides churned as he prepared to elaborate, as this was bordering on sacred territory. "You know what Ben Forrest's monkeys did to me. I couldn't stop it. It wasn't my fault that they turned me into...." he trailed off, not able to speak the despicable words that came to mind. He took a breath. "Later, I kept thinking that I should have never let it happen. That I should have fought harder, over-powered them. Resisted the substance they injected into me against my will. I kept thinking, 'I should have been stronger. What does it say about me that I wasn't? I couldn't even protect Jeannie.'"
The anger and frustration on Starsky's face transformed into sympathy. "But...," he began worriedly, "you eventually got over all that...right?"
The softness inside turned to liquid. "How could I not? You were there...constantly."
Starsky tilted his head away bashfully, a grin lighting the side of his face. He countered, "How could I not?"
Hutch basked in the silence a moment, then he pointed out, "It was a different kind of rape, partner, but rape nevertheless. I had a foreign substance forced into me against my will."
"Never thought of it that way," Starsky admitted. Then he looked up. "But you never had any problems in the bedroom...?"
Hutch shook his head. "No. But what happened to me didn't have anything to do with sex. Maybe those men didn't technically 'fuck' you, but you know damn well it was a violent, sexual thing for them."
Starsky didn't have anything to say to that. He sat staring at the carpet, elbows resting on his knees.
Hutch didn't want Starsky thinking that, because what had happened was sexually related, that made his problem unique. He pointed out, "My demons came in a different form." When Starsky looked up again, the blond said, "You know how I feel about taking any kind of strong medicine. And you know those drug busts still scare me when that white powder is all over the place."
"But you get through it, Hutch."
"Yeah, I do, because you're there with me."
Starsky took a deep breath and sat back. Wryly, he said, "Well, then that's the answer: I guess you should just start 'being with me' whenever I sleep with someone."
Hutch chuckled, but stopped abruptly when it hurt his cheek. He picked up the ice again.
Starsky watched him from the other side of the couch. "Ah, Hutch, I'm sorry. You shouldn't have let me do that."
"You should have called me to talk before you let everything build up this much."
"Kept wanting to believe it was no big deal. That it didn't happen. Anything but the truth."
Hutch was sympathetic again. "Maybe you're not giving yourself a chance. Maybe you should go out with a few more people and see if the same thing happens before you go beating yourself up over it."
The other's eyes widened. "There's no way on this Earth I'm goin' out with anyone again. Not until...I'm okay. You didn't see the look on her face. How disappointed she was. I can't go through that again."
"So, you're going to live like a monk?" Hutch countered with disbelief.
"You don't know what it was like. If I go out with someone else, I-I'll be afraid that it's gonna happen again...and that'll just make everything worse."
"Maybe you should explain to your date what happened to you."
The other's eyes widened like saucers. "I can't do that! Hutch, you're the only person besides those creeps who knows what happened. You think I'm gonna reveal something like that to someone just because I'm spending the night with them?"
Hutch waited a beat, then offered, "Maybe you should wait to sleep with someone until you've spent enough time with them that you do feel comfortable enough telling them. Give yourself a chance, buddy."
Starsky closed his eyes. "I can't do that, Hutch. Any more than you would tell someone what Ben Forrest did to you."
Hutch put the ice down again. His cheek was as numb as it was going to get. "Touché," he granted.
Starsky sat lacing and unlacing his fingers. "Don't know what to do," he muttered. "Hate being afraid, especially when I don't even know what I'm afraid of."
Gently, the blond offered, "Is it that you think you're less of a man because of what happened?"
Starsky shifted restlessly. "No, that's not it. I've already thought all that through. They humiliated me and hurt me and scared me, but it's not like they cut off my nuts."
"Not even metaphorically?" Hutch prompted.
"No," Starsky emphasized. "That's not what it felt like. I know I'm still the same person."
Voice soft again, Hutch said, "Maybe you're afraid of her touching you back there."
"So what if she does?" Starsky countered, getting up and pacing. "It's not like she's gonna shove somethin' into me. It doesn't make sense to be afraid of it."
The blond watched his partner, evaluating the body language, turning over and examining what he'd said. Finally, he suggested, "But that's what it is, isn't it? You're afraid she's going to end up touching you back there and you're afraid of how you might react, even though you know consciously she can't harm you."
Starsky was back at the bookcase again, leaning against it. But this time he merely sighed. "I don't know, Hutch. I just...don't know." He turned around. "You touched me there, when that was the absolute last thing I wanted, and it wasn't the end of the world."
"Yes, and you were wound up tighter than a drum. But you knew what I was going to do. You were able to control your reaction because you were prepared. But with her, you don't know if or when she might touch you back there--or if she will at all--and if she might even try to put her finger in there. What if you overreact and can't stop yourself in time?" Hutch indicated the side of his face.
Starsky looked away shamefully.
"Buddy," Hutch emphasized, "maybe the reason you can't perform is because you're protecting her from you."
"Because I don't trust myself?" Starsky asked doubtfully.
"More or less," Hutch offered after a moment. "Maybe, deep down, you're enraged because of what happened to you, and you're afraid you'll take it out on her if she does anything to you that will bring that rage to the surface."
Still doubtful, his partner asked, "Are you sure about that?"
Hutch let out a breath. "You're the only one who can know what you're feeling. But you haven't outright denied anything I've said the past couple of minutes." His voice softened. "Maybe because I'm right?"
Starsky sat down on the sofa with a weary sigh. "If that's the case," he muttered wryly, gazing at the coffee table, "then I guess that makes you the only person I can sleep with."
Hutch looked away, all too aware that it was the second suggestive comment Starsky had made in the past thirty minutes. "What?"
The other shrugged. "You're the only person who knows what happened to me--so you'd know what not to do--and you're the only person I really trust deep down. I mean," Starsky's voice became very soft, "I could be afraid with you, and you wouldn't hold it against me."
Hutch waited a long moment, expecting a smile to break out on the other's face, acknowledging the joke.
Silence stretched for what seemed close to eternity. The blond snorted mockingly. "You've got great logic, buddy." He pushed off the couch. "I'll sleep with you because you trust me, and I'll make you feel hurt and violated and humiliated--and use you to get my rocks off--and then I'll be the person you feel the most betrayed by. Great. Fantastic." He headed toward the kitchen. "That'll solve everything." He opened the refrigerator and took out a beer. "Want a brew?" He watched the dark head shake once.
Hutch closed the refrigerator and returned to the sofa. Starsky was still staring at the coffee table. The blond took a swallow of beer, then realized it was a bad idea when the inside of his mouth stung. He put the bottle down and knelt on the couch, propping his elbow on the back and resting his head in his hand.
Without looking up, Starsky said, "I wouldn't feel betrayed if you took pleasure from me. I'd want you to like it. Then it would mean something--something good. Instead of something ugly."
Hutch fought the rapid beating of his heart with as much harshness as he could muster. "That's what you want?" Starsky turned to look at him, and he demanded, "You want me to pin you down on the bed and shove my prick up into your ass, and that's supposed to make everything fine so you can see women again?"
Starsky took a breath, eyes lowering. "I just thought if I could take the bad memory and replace it with something...special...it would help. I wouldn't be mad at you for doing that to me."
Hutch felt a sense of panic building. The irony was so cruel. Here was Starsky, offering him what he wanted most in the world. And he would be his partner's worst enemy if he accepted. Rapidly, he countered with, "But you don't really know, do you? Just like you didn't know what was going to happen when you took Josie home. Sorry, buddy, but I can't risk that." He picked up his beer and carried it to the sink.
He spent a long time pouring it out, and was startled when a nearby, casual voice asked, "How come you just don't say no?"
Hutch looked up. Starsky was leaning against the entrance to the kitchen, his arms crossed. The dark-haired man pressed, "How come you didn't laugh at me, or tell me to go to hell?"
Hutch felt himself start to stutter, and he swallowed a couple of times to make sure his voice was level. "Starsky, I can't stand here and outright reject you, when that's what she did when you couldn't...." He trailed off. At least it sounded good. But the other was still studying him, and he decided to appease those inquiring eyes with a drop of honesty. More gently, he said, "After everything we've been through together, it's not like the idea of making love to you is the worst thing that could ever happen in the world."
Quietly, yet so casually, Starsky asked, "Then why don't we?"
The blond snorted harshly. "Buddy, you don't even know what you're saying. You sound like you're talking about us doing it with each other and yet, just a moment ago, you said I'd know what not to do." Hutch nodded firmly. "You're right. The thing not to do is to hurt you the way those creeps did. That's the last thing I'd ever do to you."
Starsky sighed forlornly and shuffled back to the sofa. He sat heavily upon it.
Hutch watched the dejected figure, feeling that he'd yanked away Starsky's only hope for a resolution to his problem. He moved toward him, "Buddy, it was just one night. Maybe what happened with her has nothing to do with what those creeps did. Maybe it would have happened, regardless. That kind of thing happens sometimes, it just does."
Starsky looked up at the tall figure standing before him. "You don't really believe that," he pointed out. He sighed, then muttered, "I just don't know what to do."
Hutch sat on the coffee table, facing him. "Maybe you should see somebody. Huh?" The other scowled and the blond rapidly explained, "You aren't the only person this kind of thing has happened to. If you saw a professional therapist--someone with experience in treating your kind of feelings--they might be able to help."
Starsky stood and moved away. "Hutch," he said with his back to the blond, "I can't talk about it with anyone else. Any more than you could about...you know."
Hutch swallowed, not having an argument against that one.
"You're the only one who knows," Starsky said again. Then, softly, "Makes all the difference."
Hutch decided to accept that fact. He went to his partner, placed both hands on the other's shoulders, and turned him so they were facing each other. He looked squarely into those hesitant eyes. "Sleeping with you is not the answer."
"Then what is?" Starsky demanded, a hint of desperation in his tone. "I mean, if we did it, it would be like sink or swim. Either I can accept it from you, or I can't. And if I can't..." he gulped, "then I guess there's no hope for me."
"Even if you can," Hutch pointed out with his own sense of desperation, "what does that have to do with performing for someone like Josie? Even if we had incredible sex together, buddy, why would that solve your fear of doing it with women?"
"Because I wouldn't be afraid because it would mean I'd conquered my fear," the other reasoned. Hutch's eyes narrowed in puzzlement at the sincerity of the other's belief. Starsky continued, "If I can accept someone fucking me--and you're the only person I could accept that from--then there's nothing left to be afraid of. A woman just touching me like that would be a piece of cake."
Hutch blinked, amazed at the naïve reasoning. "And what if you can't accept me doing it to you?" he countered, nostrils flaring. "Then I become the enemy. I become the person who destroyed your trust."
"If it doesn't work out, I'd blame myself, not you. I'd know you were only trying to help, because I asked you to."
More like demanded, Hutch corrected silently. He took a deep breath. "Look, do us both a favor and take a step back for a few days. Huh?" he pleaded. "There's no reason why you've got to figure something out today or tomorrow, or next week. Give yourself a chance to get some perspective."
Starsky didn't reply, but he seemed to accept that nothing further was going to be said.
Hutch squeezed his shoulder. "See you tomorrow morning, okay?"
The other didn't look up. But he nodded with a twisted semblance of a smile.
The blond started toward the door, but he didn't like leaving so abruptly. He reached back to squeeze Starsky's shoulder again. "Look, if you still need to talk, I'll be home. Okay?"
He received another nod.
Gratefully, Hutch made his exit.
* * *
Starsky didn't call him on Sunday night. On Monday, his partner looked worn out, but he was in a reasonable mood, albeit on the quiet side. On Tuesday, it was more of the same. After eating lunch, Hutch dropped Starsky off for a haircut. Then he drove to the park up the street and got out. He started walking.
They had not spoken further of that Sunday conversation, but Hutch's thoughts had been rooted there, and it had taken every conscientious effort to keep from attracting his partner's attention with his own distraction. He knew he had to figure out how to deal with his thoughts and colliding emotions before they began to affect his own mood and temper. Starsky deserved nothing less.
Starsky was the kind of person who, once deciding he wanted something, wouldn't let go. He would push and badger until getting what he wanted. Despite his relative silence the past two days, Hutch didn't think for an instant that Starsky had discounted the idea of them sleeping together. The subject would come up again, his partner probably all the more forceful when it did, as he would have had a few days to figure out how best to achieve his goal.
Sink or swim. The phrase made no sense to Hutch with regards to how his partner had used it. Starsky seemed to think that Hutch should just up and fuck him. If it was tolerable, then that meant Starsky was cured of the problem he'd had with Josie. If it were unbearable, then that would mean he would continue to berate himself for having let The Creeps affect his ability to perform. Who knew what would happen then.
It was a chilling thought and Hutch quickly moved to more pleasant territory. He couldn't deny the gentle beating of his heart at the idea that Starsky counted on him to find a solution to his problem. Pain exists/Hutch will stop pain. Starsky's rationale was so endearingly simple.
But how could the pain stop when Starsky was demanding that Hutch do something painful? The image was there before Hutch's eyes: Starsky facedown in front of him. He imagined the curled fist, the closed eyes, ducking his head beneath whatever blankets were available as Hutch lubricated him as thoroughly as possible. And then pressing his aching erection against that tight opening, forcing it in. Starsky squirming, trying to escape the pain and pressure, perhaps crying out....
Hutch picked up a rock and angrily threw it into the ditch that wound through the park. Before The Creeps, when he'd imagined himself and Starsky together, it hadn't been anything like that. In his fantasies, they'd done all sorts of wonderful things to each other over a period of days, so that when they finally Did It, everything was soft and tender and beautiful. Nothing but wonderful feelings were expected or experienced by each of them. Neither had anything to prove to the other. It was simply an expression of love. An achingly intimate expression of love.
Why doesn't he want that, too? Hutch wondered longingly, sitting on a bench.
Maybe because he doesn't realize he can have it, a voice inside his mind answered.
Hutch's brow furrowed as he attempted to follow this new thought.
Starsky had no way of knowing how Hutch had felt before The Creeps. Therefore, he had no reason to believe that Hutch would want to make slow, patient love to him. Starsky could, therefore, only perceive his own needs in the situation, and probably felt that asking Hutch to fuck him would require the least amount of sacrifice on Hutch's part. In Starsky's mind, it would be like a consolation for his partner. I know you don't want to really do it, but at least you'd be able to get your rocks off, in addition to helping me solve my problem, seemed to be Starsky's line of reasoning.
How would Starsky feel about it if I were to tell him everything about how I've felt?
No, he couldn't do that. Starsky only wanted to get past a temporary problem. If Hutch revealed his feelings, it would be burdening the other, shackling him, when Starsky only wanted to be "cured" so he could return to dating women.
Then what if I agree to sleep with him, but not tell him how I feel?
It would mean hiding himself from Starsky, not giving fully of himself when making love to him. Hutch cringed, hating the thought.
Worse, Starsky would know Hutch was hiding something. He'd already been suspicious of what Hutch hadn't said on Sunday, when he wondered why Hutch hadn't outright rejected the idea of them sleeping together.
Does he suspect...? Hutch wondered now. But he found that hard to believe. Starsky had been confused as to why Hutch hadn't laughed at the idea of their being in bed together, which Starsky would have expected Hutch to view as ridiculous. In fact, Starsky's puzzlement at Hutch's lack of rejection was the proof that he hadn't suspected where Hutch's thoughts had been in recent weeks.
Still, the idea of being intimate with Starsky but also hiding from him seemed an impossible task, to say nothing of a too-painful restriction.
I have to be honest, Hutch concluded. He wants to sleep together for completely different reasons than I do, and I have to lay it all on the line. He has to know where I'm coming from. And then he can decide what he wants.
Before The Creeps, Hutch had enjoyed the anticipation of deciding when he should tell Starsky how he felt. Now, there was no joy in waiting, because the stakes were so much different. He had to face this now...and let the chips fall where they may.
Hutch drew a deep breath. As he headed back to the car, he tried not to imagine what Starsky's reaction might be.
* * *
He would have thought making a firm decision to talk about it would have calmed him. Instead, he felt jittery after picking Starsky up and heading back to Parker Center. Starsky kept looking at him curiously, and Hutch finally blurted out, "We need to talk. After work."
"Okay," the other replied after a moment, still staring at him, this time with concern.
* * *
Your place or mine? Hutch wondered when he was driving them home that evening. Mine, he decided. That way, Starsky could leave if he didn't like what Hutch had to say. He'd give him the keys to the LTD.
They were silent in the car for a long time. Finally, Starsky asked, "Do we get to eat before we talk?"
Hutch turned into a drive-up fast food stand.
* * *
Starsky scarfed down his burger and fries before they reached Ocean. Hutch only had a chicken sandwich, and he ate it while driving. It was a light meal, but his stomach felt heavy when he finished.
He felt a sense of irony, of destiny--of being on the verge of a turning point--as they made their way to the second floor of his apartment building. Both of them were still sipping soft drinks.
"Have a seat," he said as they entered the apartment.
Starsky obeyed, sitting on the sofa, watching him expectantly.
After hesitating, Hutch finally decided to sit on the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table, facing his partner.
"Is this about Sunday?" Starsky asked. His instincts, as always, seemed to be in full gear. "Or something else?"
Hutch had already been running possible ways of opening the conversation through his mind. "I need to tell you something," he said.
Starsky placed his hands in his lap, still holding his paper cup of cola, as though trying to show his lack of resistance to anything Hutch needed. "I'm listening."
Hutch bashfully tilted his head away. "I-I-I'm n-not sure how to say this."
"Why don't you just come right out with it?" Starsky suggested helpfully.
That sounded like a good idea, but Hutch didn't know how to word the bottom line. Instead, he said, "Yeah, this is about Sunday. Sort of. It actually goes back to well before then." A thick swallow. "There's something I have to tell you."
"You already said that," the other pointed out patiently.
Hutch nodded, realizing he was going in a circle. He swallowed again, then took a deep breath. Staring at the tabletop, he said, "Before what...happened," he glanced up briefly and saw that Starsky understood his meaning, "I was going to talk to you about something. I-I-It had been on my mind for a while. And a week or so before...I'd decided I was going to talk to you. It was just a matter of picking the right time." The words started coming faster. "But then those creeps did what they did, and it just seemed to..." he trailed off, then, "spoil everything. I knew that how you might react to what I wanted to say would be...influenced...by what those perverts did to you."
The other's voice was soft, curious. "What were you going to say?"
Hutch looked up at his partner's open expression, feeling his insides turn to mush. "Ah, Starsk, we've always been so damn good together. At everything. A-A-And I was havin' such a hard time of it, making a go of any sort of relationship at all with the opposite sex. And I--" his eyes lowered. "It just, over time, started to appeal to me."
"What did?" the other asked breathlessly.
Hutch looked up again. Confusion was now on the other's face, but surely, being a detective, Starsky had a pretty good idea where this was leading. Softly, Hutch replied, "I'd started to realize that I had a real desire to....It eventually got to the point where that's what I wanted more than anything. And I was going to tell you...." He trailed off. Starsky was looking at him blankly.
Suddenly, a smile broke out on the chiseled features. "Hutch, this is great!" Starsky exclaimed.
Hutch frowned. Enthusiasm was the last thing he'd expected. "What are you talking about?"
"What do you mean, what am I talking about? This makes everything perfect. We can go to bed together, and you'll be getting something out of it, too, other than just...you know, helping me out."
Firmly, the blond said, "This makes everything far from 'perfect'."
"But we both want the same thing," the other protested.
"But for different reasons, buddy. You just want to be 'cured' of your problem so you can," he gestured with a hand, "go back to being a lady killer." He took a breath. "I just want...just want...." He looked helplessly at the other.
"You want what I want," Starsky offered after a moment, still cheerful. "You want us to do it together. I want us to do it together. So what's--"
"You want a one-shot deal," Hutch insisted. Again, his eyes lowered. "I want...." He drew a deep, deep breath. Then, almost a whisper, "I want the whole ball of wax."
Starsky blinked, staring at him. He sputtered a moment, then said, "You can have the whole ball of wax. I mean, if we're really good together, it's not like we can't ever sleep with each other again. Why give up a good thing?"
Hutch blinked this time, trying to decide if Starsky was missing his whole point or being deliberately obtuse. He tried again. "Starsky, you want me to love you and set you free. I want to love you and....keep you."
The other seemed just as flabbergasted. "You can! All these years together haven't we been 'keeping' each other? Out of the freedom of our own choice?"
"Starsky, I don't want to go back to women. You do."
"You don't hafta go back."
"But you will!" Hutch almost shouted. "For you, that's the whole point of us sleeping together in the first place."
The other's voice also rose. "Hutch, the whole point of us sleepin' together, for your information, is so that I can..." he hesitated, for it was obviously still difficult for him to talk about it; then, meekly, "get my confidence back. That I can perform. That I won't be afraid of bein' in bed with someone, because I'm afraid of what they might want to do." His face softened. "I trust you, Hutch. If it comes down to sink or swim, then--"
The blond jumped to his feet. "If we sleep together, it's not going to be 'sink or swim'. You've got to understand that right now, or it's never going to happen."
Starsky was wearing a puzzled frown. "But--"
Hutch spoke rapidly to make his point before further interruptions. "Buddy, the only reason a person has to 'sink or swim' is when they're out in a body of water. All alone. You either got to learn to swim to survive, or you sink and die. You aren't alone. I'm here, pal. It doesn't have to be that kind of ultimatum, because I'll help you to swim so that sinking's never a problem."
Starsky's eyes were moving back and forth, as though trying to absorb Hutch's point. Finally, he asked, "You mind translatin' that into English?"
Hutch put his hands in the back pockets of his jeans. Firmly, he said, "I'm not going to fuck you. Not tonight. Not tomorrow night. Not the next night or the next. Probably not the next few nights after that."
The other leaned forward on the sofa cushion, as though anxious to make his point. "Hutch, I gotta face my fear. If what you were sayin' the other day is true, then deep down inside I'm afraid that I'm gonna overreact if someone I'm sleepin' with touches me in a way that I'm gonna feel threatened by. I gotta learn not to feel threatened by it. I mean, I figure, what is it that I'm most afraid of? Getting fucked, right? Someone shoving somethin' into me that's gonna hurt real bad. Like those Creeps did. If I can face lettin' you do it to me, then the worst possible thing will have happened--and if it's you doin' it, it can't be that bad--and then I won't have to be afraid of it anymore."
Hutch sat back on the floor, his head in his hands. Something about the way Starsky so sincerely believed the things he wanted to believe pulled at him, making him want to give the other anything he wanted.
But his own solution was so much better. He looked at his partner, his voice gentle now. "Buddy, if we go about it my way, you won't have to face your fear, because there won't be any fear left to face. There will just be...love. And warmth. And closeness. And pleasure. Good things."
Starsky was silent for a long moment. Then he asked, "How do you figure?"
"It's not a matter of 'figuring'. I just know what...I want to do." Hutch felt bashful now. "How I want to go about it. I know that...that fantasy and reality usually don't mix, but...I do know there can't be any harm done if we...start out slow. Easy. Just peripheral stuff at first. Nothing heavy. And then," he said hopefully, "if we work up to it gradually--very gradually--and only do what you're comfortable with each night...then you'll be able to trust that there's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing is going to happen without your wanting it--really wanting it--to happen."
"That could take forever." The voice was glum, but Hutch could see that there was a gleam in his partner's eye. Starsky was obviously intrigued by what he'd suggested.
"So?" Hutch countered with forced casualness. "As far as I'm concerned, forever with you is a wonderful proposition."
The other man's eyes lowered, as though he didn't know how to receive such sincerity of feeling.
"Starsky," Hutch said more seriously, "that doesn't change all the other stuff we were talking about before. I just-just want you to understand where I'm comin' from, that's all. This all means a lot more to me than just solving a problem you're having." He'd decided against trying to convince Starsky that when they came through this there were going to be consequences to deal with. Since the pain would all be his own, Hutch decided he'd just have to accept it. They'd gotten this far in his book of fantasies...he wasn't about to throw away whatever other chapters he could have.
The other looked up, presenting a shy grin. He picked up a sofa pillow and hung onto it. "If it means that much to you..." he trailed off, letting the thought linger. Then he shrugged. "Then it's only natural that it's going to mean that much more to me, too."
Hutch stood looking at him, amazed at how such simple words could affect him so much, even though he still doubted that Starsky understood the point he'd been trying to make. Hutch knelt back down at the coffee table. "Starsky, I love you."
The grin widened, Starsky's eyes lowering bashfully. "Now you're gettin' mushy."
"I like being mushy when my feelings are this strong."
Starsky managed to look up at him again, the grin still there. But then he raised his shoulders in a hesitant shrug. "What happens now?"
Some part of him insisted they still had some talking out to do, that Starsky didn't really understand where he stood, that he was taking it all too lightly. But Hutch found that he wasn't interested in conversation any more. He swallowed, meeting those bright, curious eyes. "I guess one of us has to make the first move."
There was a small chuckle and then, as though delighted by the game, Starsky slipped from sitting on the couch to kneeling on the carpet. He moved around the coffee table, eyes on his partner's, until he was facing Hutch. And then he licked his lips, as though savoring the anticipation.
Hutch laughed softly, loving the game at least as much.
"I mean," Starsky said in a low voice, "I'd intended all along for there to be kissing and stuff."
The blond felt his chest inflate as he inhaled deeply. "So did I."
Starsky looked away a moment, then asked, "You ever kiss a guy before?"
"You know I haven't, goofball."
The other considered a moment, then, "I have."
Hutch felt a bolt of shock go through him. "When?"
Now a huge grin. "Just kiddin'."
Their knees were only inches apart. Hutch moved the remaining distance necessary to close the gap, so that denim touched denim. "You moron." He leaned his forward, just a little.
Starsky did as well. "Guess we may as well check first to make sure we're compatible."
Hutch felt his heart flutter, his head inching closer to his partner's. "I know we're compatible." He closed his eyes just before contact was made. His own lips felt dry to him and Starsky's did, too. Hutch let his mouth part and pressed harder. Then he was sinking...sinking...sinking....
A hand touched him on the jaw, rubbing at the skin there. His heart vibrated and he pulled back.
Starsky was looking at him, the grin still there. Hutch whispered, "Not really that different, is it?"
"No," the other agreed. "Except, I've never kissed a woman before with hair on her upper lip."
"Want me to shave it off?" After he'd spoken, Hutch realized he was serious.
The dark head shook. "Like you just the way you are." He leaned forward again.
The sinking sensation returned as their lips pressed together once again. Hutch reached out, placed a hand on Starsky's shoulder. The other yielded to the touch, reminding the blond that there was a purpose to all of this.
He pulled back. "Starsk?"
The other's face was soft, his lips kiss-swollen. "Yeah?" he breathed.
"There's a rule. Just for tonight."
Puzzlement and curiosity responded to his statement. "What's that?"
"No matter what, I'm not touching you below the waist."
Dark lashes blinked. "But....How can...?"
"We'll just have to enjoy what we can do above the waist."
Emotions crossed the rugged features: disappointment, further curiosity, intrigue. Starsky obviously decided not to voice them, for he leaned forward once again.
Hutch met him half way.