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Part Five

Charlotte Frost


Hutch gazed into the shop window, intrigued by the finely-detailed Mexican guitar and the big tuba next to it. Just a few yards down the sidewalk, he could hear the distant sound of his partner's voice on the payphone. They had a new lead on the gas station murder, and Starsky was talking to Dobey about possible ways to proceed, since the lead concerned an affluent family with political ties.

Hutch took a few steps to his right and noted the Scottish bagpipes, a unique contrast to the tuba and guitar. Another step, and his gaze fell on the poster taped to the window.

"Marianne Owens" it read. "Appearing Sept. 15th - 28th at the Players Club." There was a crude black-and-white photo of that face Hutch remembered so well, and two band members in the background.

Hutch turned away abruptly when he heard the phone being hung up. He watched his partner approach. "Well?"

Starsky squinted into the sun. "He wants to try to contact the family and see if he can get the kid to come down on his own."

Hutch sighed. "No doubt with a group of lawyers in tow."

"That's what I figure. But what can we do? At least we can see if he has an alibi for that night."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed distantly as they both got into the car.

* * *

Hutch sat at the back of the bar and sipped his drink. His eyes closed as the rich voice he remembered so well trailed off sadly at the conclusion of the song. Such talent, and so much depth of feeling to draw from. It seemed a crime that more people hadn't heard her sing; if they had, she would have national recognition.

She bowed gracefully, said a soft "Thank you" with that knowing smile, and then she left the stage to the continuous applause. Her band went into a more cheerful melody and some couples went out to the small dance area to take advantage of it.

Hutch tried to take his time and finish off his drink, but the tightness in his stomach made it difficult.

It was no more than five minutes before he could wait no longer and left the table. He slipped behind an obscure black curtain and found himself in a short hallway. A waiter nodded politely and walked past. There was a row of unmarked doors, and he couldn't tell which one she might be behind. He settled on the nearest one and knocked.

"Who is it?" her voice inquired from within.

His stomach tightened. "It's Ken. Ken Hutchinson."

There was a painfully long silence. Then a hesitant, "Come in."

Slowly, he turned the handle. When the door was open far enough, he saw her braced expression as she looked up from her dressing table, holding a newly-lit cigarette.

"Hi," he said, opening the door farther and feeling timid.

"So, we meet again," she said.

He felt a strong urge to explain himself. "I--I was just never able to thank you for putting me up a few weeks back."

"Your partner seemed to want it that way."

Hutch furrowed his brow, wondering for a moment if the statement was a complaint. Then he realized she didn't mean it that way; she was just displaying her usual brutal honesty. The honesty that was part of so much of what he admired in her.

She nodded toward a chair filled with music books. "Please, move those things and sit down."

He shook his head, though the offer was tempting. "I don't want to keep you. I just...wanted to say thank you. For helping me when I needed it." Before she could say something else about Starsky, he added, "For helping him."

He saw that she understood the distinction. "I was glad to help. I loved the solitude of that house, but I didn't mind having the monotony broken for a few hours." There was a touch of humor in her reply.

There was something new about her, a peace to her nature that hadn't been there before. He wanted so much to know what was behind it, to know all of her, to know how she came to be the person she was.

"Hey, uh," he leaned more heavily on the door handle, "could you dinner sometime? No strings."

The twinkle in her eye did not fade, but her voice was firm. "Don't."

Hutch blinked, tempted to play the innocent and ask what she meant. But before he could speak, she said, "Don't pretend we had something when we didn't."

He looked away, wanting to deny the accuracy of her assessment.

Her voice was more pleasant when she spoke again. "Besides, I'm seeing someone right now."

He looked up then, feeling a stab of jealousy but also glad that she had something joyful in her life besides music. "I guess, once again, there's no room for me. Even as the most platonic of friends." He tried to sound pleasant about it.

She puffed on her cigarette. "My 'friends' have to earn the title."

That hurt, though he knew that had not been her intent. After giving himself a moment to recover his dignity, he said, "I'd like a chance to earn it, but I have a feeling you aren't going to let that be possible." He felt like he should present a stronger case. "We both know I have a lot to redeem myself for."

"I don't hate you, Ken." She exhaled a slow stream of smoke. "I did. For a long time. But time does heal almost all wounds. Perhaps, someday, I'll even be able to forgive you." Her expression softened. "I'm glad you're all right." Now an affectionate smile that was almost maternal. "And I'm glad to that you have someone who loves you so." She bent to the mirror, studying her complexion closely while reaching for a jar of cream. "Who knows?" she asked of him via the mirror. "Maybe, someday, my new man and I will have that kind of caring for each other." She spent a long moment rubbing cream into her face, then looked at him again. "I'd like to think so."

Hutch stood silent, part of him annoyed that she wanted to talk about Starsky, another part amazed that his partner had left such a powerful impression.

Lamely, trying to end the conversation that had become uncomfortable, he said, "I'm sure you and whoever the lucky man is will be very happy together."

"We have a good start," she noted, putting the lid on the jar of cream, and adding pointedly, "He has nothing to prove." She picked up a lipstick.

Hutch lowered his eyes, though he didn't understand the dig. Then he reached for safer territory. "Good luck with your album. I hope you won't mind if I ask you for an autographed copy someday."

She stabbed out her cigarette. "Not at all." She nodded toward the direction of the band. "I have to go back on."

Hutch turned away. And didn't look back.

* * *

Someone had once said that when one is most afraid is when one feels the most alive. He was definitely afraid now. And felt very alive. But only because he was so conscious of the fact that in a matter of moments he would be dead.

He couldn't see nor speak nor move his hands. He could only hear. And feel.

Hands pushed roughly on his shoulders. The weight forced him to his knees.

Cold metal pressed against the back of his head. He wanted to cry for the grief he'd leave in his wake. He sought comfort from the fact that he wouldn't be around to observe the suffering when his body was found.

For himself, all problems were solved....


Hutch woke with a start. He lay frozen for a moment, feeling the frantic beating of his heart, and a sadness that seemed to encompass his whole being.

He wiped at the moisture from his eyes and looked over at the clock. It wasn't even eleven thirty yet. He'd fallen asleep quickly and the dream must have come immediately. Starsky might still be awake....

He reached for the phone, holding the receiver within his palm while pushing the sequence of buttons.

It only rang once. "Yeah?"


His partner's voice was very mellow. And accusing. "You have lousy timing."

Hutch's mouth fell open. It hadn't occurred to him that Starsky might have company. His partner hadn't mentioned anything during the day about a date. "Sorry. Never mind."

Now congenial. "What's up?"

"Nothing. Nothing that can't wait."


"Yeah." Hutch smiled, as he liked knowing that his partner was in the arms of pleasure. "Enjoy yourself."

"Orders received and obeyed. Sergeant Starsky out."

Hutch chuckled out loud while hanging up the receiver. It felt good to laugh. And, he thought while lying back against the pillow, Starsky having a date showed that everything was back to normal.

Almost everything.

Don't worry, Champ, he thought as he fondled himself beneath the covers. You'll get your turn soon.

Seeing Marianne again had been a step in that direction. He had truly only wanted to thank her, but he had been foolishly--he admitted now--hopeful that she might be interested in more. Instead, he'd found that, while her hatred had eased, her resentment had not. And she had somebody else in her life now. Somebody who doesn't have anything to prove.

What the hell did that mean? he demanded of the darkness. And shied away from the suspicion that he should already know.

Prove that I truly loved her? he wondered. Or prove that I'm worthy of her love?

He hated the part of himself that asked that question.

He'd felt foolish enough for seeing her, for hoping that she might still want him in some way, shape, or form. But he knew a manipulative, fast-aging cop had no place in her life, a life which had had more than its share of downs, but was now going places.

"Me?" he'd snapped at Starsky during the Fitch case, "There's no room for me."

Hutch looked over at the phone. Even Starsky didn't have room for him. At least, not at the moment.

He loves you so. It was the second time Marianne had said that.

Hutch felt a tiny grin stretch the corners of his mouth. A week or so ago, he and Starsky had been talking so seriously, their cheeks pressed against the edge of the sofa. Starsky had said, "I love you. Like crazy."

Starsky had been saying things like that more often lately. Used to be, he didn't like to put his strongest feelings into such straightforward words. He said what he needed to say with action instead, or backward-assed comments like, "I just don't want to have to break in a new partner." It was his way, and Hutch accepted it for what it was. Outright confessions of love had never been very Starsky-ish.

So, what's changed now, partner? Hutch wanted to know.

He couldn't come up with an answer, and when his thoughts started to drift he felt the poignant horror of tonight's dream coming back to him.

Hutch swallowed and rolled onto his side. He stretched his hand out to the empty space in front of him, wishing Starsky were there so he could squeeze his hand...or his arm...or any part of him that he could hold onto.

He and Starsky and hundreds of other cops had attended a seminar a number of months ago on something called PTSD. It was a fairly new term within the psychological community and stood for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It applied to those who had experienced something beyond what human beings normally dealt with. Such as being shot, being in a plane crash, finding a dead body, or simply witnessing similar incidents. Next to war veterans, cops were one of the most likely groups of people to experience events that would trigger PTSD, even though one might expect them to be "used to it" in terms of observing, and being involved in, the uglier realities of life.

Hutch now wondered if he were suffering from some form of PTSD. There was no doubt that he and Starsky had experienced variations of it over the years. But their experiences of the disorder were usually mild, because they gave each other such constant support...which was really the only cure, other than therapy, for those suffering to an extreme degree. Hutch knew that he was now in better emotional shape than he'd been the first couple of days after Milford. He'd longed for Starsky's presence almost constantly then, feeling a need to be reassured even though, intellectually, he knew he was fine. Needing to talk about what he'd been feeling as the events unfolded...both the assumed sexual assault, and being the potential victim of an execution-style murder. Starsky had been there for him. And had put up patiently with his irritability and badgering when Hutch had tried to force a confrontation about their phantom sexual feelings.

The constant need for his partner's nearness was no longer present. But Hutch still felt it strongly at times. Such as now, when he didn't like the feelings the dream had left him with. The dream which might be another symptom of PTSD, though he'd had variations of it only a few times since Milford's. Although, perhaps, tonight's dream had been his own fault for seeking out Marianne, as she was an indirect tie to what had happened that fateful day.

His outstretched fingers closed around the space on the mattress. Need you, buddy. Hutch looked at the telephone again. Starsky might be done by now. Maybe he'd even rolled over and gone to sleep, that wonderful wobbliness in his legs and sated feeling in his groin.

Hutch lay back again and closed his eyes. Let him be. It'll keep until morning.

* * *

Hutch really didn't want to bring it up, because everything was better in the light of day. But he couldn't contain his curiosity. "Who was she?"

Starsky pulled away from the curb in front of Venice Place. He grinned. "Shelly Newton."

Hutch couldn't put a face to the name. "Don't remember you mentioning a date."

Starsky shook his head. "It wasn't a date. I was feelin' a little lonely and got out the little black book. Struck paydirt on the second phone number." His grin had widened.

"Oh," Hutch said, stretching. Usually, it took a lot of energy and effort to get a companion for the night. But every once and a while it was easy.

"You can borrow it, if you want."


"My black book. Some of 'em will go for you as much as me. They aren't necessarily particular."

"Or they wouldn't be in your little black book in the first place, right?"

Starsky gave him a baleful look. When his attention returned to the traffic, he said, "What was the reason you called last night?"

Hutch shrugged, wanting to let it go because it really didn't matter now. "No special reason," he said with forced casualness.



They were stopped at a light. When the Torino was moving again, Starsky looked over at him and said, "So, what was the not-special reason?"

Hutch faced him squarely to enforce his point. "It doesn't matter now."

Starsky shrugged. "Okay."

Hutch relaxed as they drove a few more blocks. Then compulsion hit. "I saw Marianne last night."

That produced a frown and a tone of surprise. "Why?"

"I saw that she was performing at the Player's Club and thought I'd thank her, since I never got a chance to."

After a long moment, Starsky looked over at him again. "And?"

Another shrug. "That's all."

His partner seemed puzzled by that. Hutch decided to enjoy himself, while also appeasing his curiosity. "What did you say to her?"

Another puzzled look. "Huh?"

"You made quite an impression."

"I made an impression?" Starsky was switching his gaze between the windshield and his partner. "I doubt it was anything like the impression you made."

Hutch swallowed, knowing he'd deserved that. "Yeah," he whispered blandly, staring out the side window.

Starsky's tone was warmer. "No, I mean about the things you said to her."

The hurt was pushed aside. "What things?"

"I dunno exactly," Starsky said. But then contradicted himself. "Things like...owning your own life. Liking yourself. Stuff like that. It's like she remembered everything word for word."

Hutch was amazed. She'd seemed so angry with him that night. Though he'd also wanted to believe, despite the sarcasm in her words, that she had some feelings for him.

After a moment, he realized Starsky was still looking at him expectantly. He wondered again about the conversations he and she had had.

When Starsky was focused on driving again, he gently asked, "Is she the reason you called me last night?"

"No," Hutch said. But then he remembered why he had called, and he found himself puzzled again by the unease that appeared at times in the weeks since Milford. With a gentleness that matched his partner's, he said, "It's nothing. Let it go."

"Wanna go bowlin' tonight?"

Hutch felt relieved at the change of subject. But bowling always reminded him of Gillian, because that had been him and Starsky's favorite diversion after she had died. All those nights when Starsky and his companion of the moment had insisted on babysitting him through his grief.

Hutch looked out his side window, feeling an inner smile.

"How 'bout a movie, then? The sequel to Star Wars is still playing. You haven't seen it yet. You'll be sorry if you don't see it, Hutch."

The smile was external this time.

Hutch hadn't replied by the time Starsky turned into the parking lot at Parker Center. But he knew that his partner knew that his answer was "yes".

* * *

"Is that the wave of the future?" Hutch asked with disgust as they moved from the darkness of the theater to the darkness of the parking lot. "You pay four bucks to see a movie that leaves you hanging until the next sequel two or three years from now?"

"Whaddya mean?" Starsky asked. "It was a great movie. And it increases the anticipation for the next one. You extended foreplay." As they reached the Torino he looked over the hood at his partner. "You did like it, didn't you?"

"Yeah," Hutch shrugged. "It was great."

Starsky frowned, not liking the bland tone. He nodded toward the park across the street. "Let's wait for the traffic to clear out."

The blond's cheeks billowed with a heavy sigh. But then he stuffed his hands into his black jacket and turned toward the street.

Starsky danced beside him as they crossed the street, refusing to let his partner's mood dampen his enthusiasm. "Pretty heavy stuff, don't you think?" he asked. "Luke Skywalker finding out that his real dad was Darth Vader?"

"Yeah," Hutch replied, a touch of sarcasm this time. "Classic. It'll probably rank right up there with Casablanca as one of the greats of all time."

They passed a bench and Hutch stopped and put his foot up, bending to retie his shoelaces.

Starsky squatted to the ground. The grass beside the pavement was wet where it had recently been watered. He pulled up a large handful, determined to get a rally out of his partner.

Just as Hutch was about to straighten, Starsky rammed the handful of wet grass inside Hutch's jacket, down the back of his shirt. Then he turned and ran across the lawn.

"STARSKY!" he heard behind him.

He slowed down, trying not to be obvious, as he heard Hutch coming nearer. And then a heavy weight was upon him, and he collapsed to the wet ground with a grunt.

"You moron!" Hutch accused as Starsky managed to roll onto his back.

Starsky's wrists were pinned as Hutch straddled him. He looked up at the face above him. A nearby street lamp that lit the park's walkway showed the grin and the sparkle behind those eyes.

Starsky giggled. "At least you're smilin'."

"Yeah? If I rub your face in the dirt, I'll smile even more, you prick."

Starsky was about to say "prove it", but Hutch had already grabbed his face. He fought as Hutch tried to turn his head to the dirt, which only had a sparse layer of grass. Then Starsky gave in, laughing loudly, as his cheek was smeared against the wet ground.

Some of the dirt got in his mouth, and it was only when Starsky tried to spit it out that Hutch released his face. He was still spitting when Hutch smugly said, "There. That look suits your crass nature much better."

Starsky rubbed at his mouth with the back of his hand. Through the corner of his eye, he saw that Hutch had an arm behind his back, obviously trying to divest himself of the grass. He ended up pulling his shirttail out of his jeans.

His mouth was as clean as it was going to get without being rinsed, and Starsky ran his hand against his cheek. He realized all he was doing was smearing the dirt across more of his face, so he gave up and dropped his hands to the ground.

Hutch flung some grass away. Then he, too, rested his hands at his sides.

For a long moment they both looked at each other and neither spoke, Starsky wishing the fun didn't have to end anytime soon. He grinned, then thrust upward with his hips, for Hutch was starting to feel heavy.

The blond moved off him, but Starsky, not wanting to stand up yet, grabbed the sleeve of his partner's jacket. "Hey." When his partner looked at him, Starsky yanked on the sleeve hard enough that Hutch's upper body fell against his.

Starsky put his arms around him. The ground was feeling cold against his backside, making him all the more conscious of the warmth within his arms. He reached up and placed one hand against the back of Hutch's head, trying to signal that he didn't want his buddy to move away anytime soon.

His chest swelled when Hutch relaxed against him.

Starsky waited at least a minute. Then he said, "What's been goin' on with you, huh?"

Hutch shifted onto his elbows. He gazed down at Starsky, his eyes still such a clear blue, as though the mischief had not yet faded. He swallowed as though to speak, but only looked at his partner blankly.

"You've been moody lately," Starsky elaborated without accusation. "Kinda distracted."

The blankness in the other's eyes changed into something that resembled sadness. And then Hutch lowered his gaze.

Starsky squeezed his shoulder.

Hutch looked back at him, then admitted, "Everything seems...disconnected."

"What do you mean?"

Hutch moved off him, shifting to sit on the ground, his knees drawn up, arms resting across them. "I don't know exactly," he said with frustration. "It's like I--I--I can't connect with...anything. Everything"

Starsky had also hoisted himself into a sitting position. "Does this still have to do with Milford, or is this something else altogether?"

"I don't know!" Hutch almost shouted. Then, more gently, as his face lowered, "I don't know...don't know what I want anymore."

There was something about the statement that indeed sounded "off". Meekly, for he wasn't sure where it might lead, Starsky suggested, "You don't know what you want, or you're afraid of what you want?"

Hutch looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"

It had obviously pushed a button. But Starsky shrugged. "I don't know. It doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"I hate when you get like this."

Starsky flinched. "Like what?"

"Always playing the innocent. Acting like you don't know anything about what's going on around you when you damn well do. You're the smartest person I know."

At another time, Starsky would have basked in the compliment, for Hutch had never said anything like that to him before. But now, instead of being complimented, he felt that Hutch was being unfairly presumptuous.

"We used to never be like this," Hutch went on.

"Like what?" Starsky asked, wondering if he was going to be wrongly accused once again.

"Having such a hard time just talking to each other. It seems like, the past months--maybe the past year--we have to go around in circles just to get to where we can understand each other."

Starsky swallowed thickly, not liking that analysis at all. He couldn't even deal with if it were true or not. "Hu--"

But he was interrupted. "It's almost like we're afraid," Hutch said softly, his head bowed.

Of each other? Starsky wondered in disbelief. He wasn't sure if that was what Hutch had meant. But his priority was to get his partner out of this funk. Everything would be easier after that. "Hutch, I love you." He squeezed the leather-clad arm. "I love you more than anything."

The blond head came up. As they had in the past the few times Starsky had said that, those blue eyes glowed with emotion. But there was also something else there, and after a long moment, Hutch said, "Sometimes I'm afraid I need you too much."

Starsky blinked. His first reaction was pride...pride at knowing he meant so much to someone who meant so much to him. But then the instinctive need to solve Hutch's problem kicked in. "What's wrong with needing me?" he asked. "I need you, too, you know. It's one of those whachamacallit symbolic relationships."


"There, see? I need you around to straighten me out when I have misperceptions about things."

"Miscon..." Hutch trailed off and was frowning heavily when he turned to look at him.

Starsky giggled, wondering what retaliation he would have to endure. He saw Hutch's arm, on the other side of his body, moving along the ground.

Starsky lunged first, knocking his partner onto his back. The leather-clad arm came up and Hutch made a half-hearted attempt to shove grass into Starsky's mouth.

While wrestling, Starsky maneuvered himself so that most of his weight was on his upper body, which now leaned heavily against Hutch's upper body, his hands pinning the other's arms. The other finally stilled.

Starsky spat a few times to rid himself of the grass. Cheerfully, he said, "You know what you need?"

Hutch didn't even pretend to struggle. "What?"

"You need to get laid, big-time."

The blond head looked away, and he sighed wearily.

"Seriously, Hutch. It's been--what?--at least a few months, right? Before Milford." The other's face was still turned away, and Starsky reasoned, "Come on, you know I'm right. Gettin' laid doesn't solve everything, but it can sure put your problems into perspective." He tugged on the other's jacket, trying to encourage a response. "If you won't try yourself, then let me set you up with somebody."

The other's face snapped back to look at him. "You can't be serious."

"'Course, I'm serious. Come on, Hutch, look at it from my perspective. I've got to work with you every day. It's tough on me when you're so grumpy." Sometimes blackmail was a very useful tool. "Just think how nice it'll be to be with someone all nice and soft and willing who isn't expecting any promises or commitments. Someone pretty who's just as lonely as you are and just wants to spend an evening with a handsome guy who's gonna make her feel real good."

Hutch muttered, "If it was that easy, you'd be getting laid every night."

"Look, I know a few ladies who I've tried to hit on, and they've made it clear I'm not their type but hinted they wouldn't mind gettin' to know my partner a little better. I'm gonna call some of them."

"Forgodsakes, I'm not a charity case."

"No, but I am," Starsky insisted. "I deserve some consideration for having to live with you day in and day out. Just think how nice and mellow you'll feel once you've had a roll in the sack. You'll be smilin' all the next day. Promise."

Hutch sighed heavily.

Starsky patted the blond's cheek, then started to rise. "That's my pal." He held out his hand and they helped each other to their feet.

* * *

Three nights later, Starsky tossed his little black back onto the coffee table. Strike four. Melanie had started dating someone and didn't want to see anyone else. Added to Crystal's phone being disconnected, Sue Lynne's working nights, and Tammy's social calendar being booked up for a solid two weeks...he'd run out of possibilities. So where did that leave his lonely, moody, disconnected partner?

With yet another disappointment, Starsky thought forlornly. Hutch had only vaguely indicated interest when Starsky had kept him posted on his attempt to find him a date. Still, he couldn't imagine that Hutch wasn't enjoying the anticipation that he was going to get laid soon...and without having to make any effort on his own behalf.

Geez, Hutch, all you hafta do is sit your gorgeous blond self down at a bar somewhere, or a park, and something beautiful would be flirting with you in no time. And I wouldn't have to go through all this.

Why wasn't Hutch trying anymore?

Has what happened at Milford's got you that screwed up, pal? Huh?

But why would that have any effect on Hutch's relationship with women?

Or is it seeing Marianne again that's done it? Wonder what happened when you last saw her. That's the night you tried to call me, right? What was on your mind then, buddy boy?

Maybe it was nothing more than sheer guilt. Maybe Hutch still felt guilty about Marianne and he didn't want to risk starting something with another woman and having everything get so complicated again.

But they both had felt that way before about tragic situations with women...and they'd eventually returned to shallow flings so they didn't have to get involved.

But you won't even go for the shallow, Hutch. What are you so afraid of?

"It almost seems like we're afraid," Hutch had said the other night in the park--inferring, Starsky felt, that they were afraid of each other.

Which can only lead back to Milford and all that tangled up stuff. Hutch mad at me for being so concerned about Milford's interest in him. Hutch putting too much emphasis on the look on my face when he told Milford he'd be his plaything. Hutch putting way too much emphasis on that night when we both got hard-ons. Hutch thinking, in addition to all that other stuff, that I was jealous.

Starsky sighed. I thought we had that all resolved.

But what was it Hutch had said when Starsky had told him to "let it go"? "I guess I'm a little disappointed. I guess I'd gotten used to the idea."

Starsky sighed again. He didn't want to examine that sentence more closely, but he knew he had to...for his partner's sake.

Once again, I just let it blow by, didn't I, partner? You were laying your guts on the line, and I was trying to keep it simple. I guess I thought that since you seemed to accept that you'd misread me, that you'd just forget the whole thing.

But maybe you haven't.

Starsky's heart beat a little faster. It's still eating at you, pal, isn't it? All those questions. About sex. And me and you. Is that why you don't think you're fit to see anybody? Is that why you're still feelin' disconnected? You were disappointed when I laid it out on the line, so now those brain circuits in your head are goin' crazy, trying to understand why you felt disappointed? Trying to make sense of it all?

What a mess.

Starsky laid his head back against the sofa and studied the ceiling. Okay, let's resolve this, pal. Point One: You need help, buddy. Point Two: Let's assume that your main problem is me and you and sex and how--ifit's all connected in that over-active mind of yours. Point Three: Let's assume you're still curious. You let your imagination get the best of you before, when you didn't think I was bein' honest with you. And then when you found out I was bein' honest, your imagination had already crossed the line. Point Four: You've been tryin' to get your imagination to cross back to the safe side of the line, but it's not working. You're curious. You can't help it. You want to know what it would be like. Point Five: You're probably needin' to put some closure on the whole bit with Milford. The last time you were about to participate in an act of sex was when it was going to be rape. You couldn't perform. It almost cost you your life. You haven't had any sex since then, let alone any warm, loving sex. Which leads to...Point Six: You're in desperate need of some major Tender Loving Care, which would be all the better if it included a great orgasm to clear out all those cobwebs in your brain. No strings. No pressure. Just warm, fuzzy love.

Starsky could take care of the TLC part himself without any problem. He was also more than adept at handling the warm, fuzzy stuff where his partner was concerned. Hutch always responded well to warm fuzzies whenever Starsky doled them out.

That just leaves the sex part. Someone to give you a nice, uncomplicated lay.

Starsky glanced at the black book on the table and frowned at its lack of cooperation.

But that wouldn't really be solving anything, anyway, would it? It would just be a temporary Band-Aid.

Starsky got up and went to the kitchen. He pulled a beer from the refrigerator. All right, he thought while leaning back against the kitchen counter, let's approach this from another angle, pal.

Let's assume you've crossed the line in your mind. There's nothing to bring you back, nothing to stop you from thinking and wondering about it. The only thing that would bring you back is if you didn't like being there.

So let's have sex so you can see how ridiculous it would be.

Starsky placed his beer on the counter and put his hands to his hair, rubbing at his scalp. Oh, rats, pal. It might be ridiculous, but there wouldn't be anything bad about it. There couldn't be, could there? Not with how much we care about each other. At the very worst, it just might be...nothing special.

Ah, man, Hutch.

Starsky grabbed his beer and moved back to the couch. He sat heavily upon it. Man, Hutch, he thought forlornly, if we start doing something together....

It would be the warmest of the warm fuzzies. He and Hutch would be snuggled up together, and then they would...kiss....

Starsky tried to think "Ick". But couldn't. He and Hutch would melt together, their bodies all pliant. It would feel so good together that they wouldn't want to part.

But how come that's never happened before, considerin' how physical we've always been together. Huh, Hutch?

Maybe because Hutch had never needed sex to help him heal like he needed it now.

It's always been my job to take care of you, Starsky decided. If making you all better includes sex, then I guess that's my job, too.

Starsky took a sip of beer. "Didn't need you after all," he muttered to the little black book.

Instead, he started making plans of his own.

* * *

It was five minutes to eight. Hutch popped the cork on the wine bottle and had to admit that he felt nervous. This was a blind date, if there ever was one. Worse, the fact that it wasn't a "date" at all made it more puzzling.

Starsky had told him that she would be coming at eight. Starsky had also told him that he didn't have to take her out anywhere. That he didn't have to fix dinner for her. He just needed to be showered and look halfway decent, and that's all she required. Starsky kept waving him off when he'd asked for her name.

It sounded so odd that Hutch had accused Starsky of setting him up with a prostitute. Starsky had taken offense to that and denied it vehemently.

Still, though he didn't like the fact that his partner had had to go on the hunt for a companion to cure of him of his grumpiness, Hutch couldn't deny that he was looking forward to it. It all sounded so uncomplicated. Maybe she'd even stay the night and he could enjoy her in the morning, since he and Starsky had the next two days off.

He was carrying the wine and two glasses to the coffee table when the doorbell rang. He smoothed his hair back and brushed a finger along his mustache. Dressed in clean blue jeans and a plaid shirt, he went to open the door, planting on his most charming smile.

It quickly turned into a frown. "What are you doing here?" he snapped.

Starsky was dressed similar to himself. "Well...uh...."

"She canceled," Hutch said, hating the disappointment he felt.

"No, not exactly."

"What does that mean?"

"It means.... Hey, uh, can I come in?"

Hutch would have preferred to sulk in solitude, but Starsky probably felt responsible to act as a replacement and at least keep him company. He stepped back and turned away, wishing he hadn't let Starsky get involved in his romantic life. Or lack of such. He felt as though he were an imperfection on display.

He poured the wine carelessly, and some spilled beside the glasses. "So, what was the reason?" he asked when he looked up, though he really didn't care. He held out a glass. "We may as well drink it."

Starsky took it and stood looking at him.

"What?" Hutch asked with irritation, sipping his own glass.

"Are you gonna sit down?" Starsky asked hopefully.

Hutch sat down, worried now that something awful had happened to the lady who was supposed to meet him. It only served to validate his suspicions when Starsky sat down, too--so close to Hutch that their shirts were brushing.

"Is she...okay?" Hutch asked worriedly.

Starsky put his wine glass down. "Hutch, there never was a 'she'."

That made no sense. "What?"

His partner's face softened. "Hutch, I lied about a girl coming here tonight. But I wasn't lying about any of the rest of it."

"What?" Hutch was too puzzled to be angry. "What do you mean, 'the rest of it'?"

Starsky shrugged...a bit shyly, Hutch thought. "What you thought she was gonna come here to do."

Hutch took another heavy swallow of wine, wondering if Starsky had any idea of how irritating he could be at times. Then he knew the answer. "Starsky's Law" had won many a chess game. In exasperation, he said, "Will you please say something that I can understand?" He put his glass down.

A hand settled against Hutch's ribs. "You know, a week or so ago, we sorta talked things out about where we stood about...things. And you said that you were disappointed that...things stood where they did. Because you'd gotten used to the idea, you said."

Hutch's mouth fell open, his anger diminishing. It was replaced by concern...and fear. Starsky was stepping into foreign territory, where he was a complete stranger and without any defenses, thereby leaving himself completely vulnerable.

While Hutch was trying to figure out how to protect Starsky from this place so foreign to him, the latter said, "I've gotten used to the idea, too, Hutch." The fingers at the blond's ribs squeezed gently.

Hutch felt himself putting up mental walls, trying to keep an objective perspective. It just now occurred to him that one of his partner's most irritating traits was his persistence. This whole subject was supposed to be behind them.

"Starsky, that's impossible," he finally said, knowing he needed to say something. "Don't forget; you're the person who barfs outside porno studios after a homo scene."

The other appeared genuinely irritated at the reminder. "Hutch, come on, when I barfed that time it had nothing to do with what was going on in the movie. It was that stupid milkshake I bought. It had a funny aftertaste and my stomach couldn't handle it."

Oh. Hutch had never known that. He'd been too busy teasing Starsky about it.

"Hutch, I really didn't come here to talk."

"Then what did--" Hutch asked automatically, and then closed his mouth when he realized the answer. Oh, Starsk, don't bring yourself to this.

Starsky rested his head on the back of the sofa. "I mean," he said softly, "we're both wonderin' what it would be like. Let's just...see."

Hutch felt his compassion kick in. "You sure?" He wasn't sure if he himself was, but he was more concerned about his partner.

"You think I'd be here if I had any doubts?" Starsky challenged. And then his face and voice softened again. "I love you, Hutch. All the way. Right down the line."

"He loves you so." Marianne had said it twice.

Hutch swallowed, closed his eyes. He decided to let whatever was going to happen, happen. It could all be sorted out later.

He felt a shifting of the sofa cushions, sensed the other's nearness, felt the hand on his ribs move up to his shoulder, as though to steady itself there.

And then he felt warm instant before softness touched his lips. And pressed.

He expected his partner to react negatively...almost expected himself to react that way. And there, indeed, was a tiny flicker of instinct to push the other away. He told himself to relax. And then the floodgates of desire opened...just as Starsky slowly pulled back.

Starsky was looking at him, his face so soft, his eyes hooded, and then he breathed deeply. A tiny grin, and then Starsky leaned forward again.

This time his fingers squeezed into Hutch's shoulder as his lips pressed again. Hutch was feeling light-headed, heavy-hearted, blood thundering through his veins. He pressed back deliberately himself, tasted the flavor of mint.

They worked at it now. Hutch pushed against Starsky's lips, and when he'd pressed forward as far as he could, he yielded and let Starsky press him back. In the meantime, his veins felt inhabited by tiny butterflies, which traveled throughout his system, creating warm and pleasant sensations.

Starsky's hand was on his chest now, rubbing at the bare flesh left unprotected by an open button. Hutch liked the sensation of the hand against him, felt the proof in his firming groin. He wanted to return the same pleasure and, his lips still against Starsky's, placed both hands on the other's shoulders. He massaged gently a moment, felt the pliant flesh beneath the material, then rubbed more firmly.

They groaned simultaneously.

And parted as if by some mutual agreement, their hands still touching.

"Knew it would be like this," Starsky whispered. He licked his lips.

Hutch felt touched by that. He hadn't had that confidence when he'd thought about it. Though he had hoped.... He swallowed thickly, needing something clarified before things got too intense. "How far do you want to go?"

There was an equally-thick swallow from his partner, then a breathless, "Keep it simple for now."

No fucking, maybe blow jobs, Hutch interpreted. Otherwise, just beat each other off. Or maybe dry-hump.

He leaned forward, and Starsky did as well, but Hutch ducked to kiss the other's chin. Then he whispered, "Bed?"

Starsky swallowed again, then nodded.

Hutch stood first and held out his hand. It then occurred that maybe Starsky wouldn't appreciate being led to bed like a dutiful wife. But Starsky took his hand, let Hutch hoist him to his feet. Their arms went around each other's waist.

Hutch had made the bed in anticipation of his "date". He'd also made sure there were rubbers and clean towels in the top drawer. He wasn't sure how much, if any, of that was going to be needed now.

They paused beside the bed. This time when they kissed it was more tentative, a tender brushing of flesh, while they still held each other at the waist.

Hutch moved his hands around Starsky's back, drew his arms tight, hugging him. Starsky's nose ended up against his neck, and he brought his hand up and pressed his partner's head against his shoulder. He let his swelling heart speak for him. "I love you so much." He introduced a gentle swaying motion, back and forth.

"Big softie," Starsky accused, his breath hot against Hutch's neck. He kissed the corner of Hutch's mouth, not able to reach closer.

Hutch shifted first, moving both hands down past his partner's waist until they gripped the generous formation there. He squeezed and pulled forward, feeling a jolt go through his own groin. "Don't think there's much soft about me right now," he panted, and also feeling that he was giving a warning. Just in case Starsky got inhibited....

"Sure there is," Starsky replied calmly. His hands gripped Hutch by the cheeks. "Your heart is the softest thing I know." And those lips were upon Hutch once again.

Perhaps it was, for his chest felt so light that he thought his whole body might start to float away. The sentiment also served to thicken his throat, and Hutch was reluctant to say anything further. Instead, he stepped back and felt the edge of the mattress against the back of his knees. He bent them, and brought Starsky down with him as he lay back.

The other's weight was upon him now, and it inflamed them both. Starsky pressed more harshly, his groin grinding against Hutch, lips forcing the opposite ones apart, so that Hutch now felt the titillation of the exploring tongue. He worked his hands in between their bodies, found the snap to Starsky's jeans. Parted them while the other continued to gyrate and groan against his mouth.

Their bodies were so pressed together that he couldn't get his hand inside the other's clothing. He was only able to press against the underwear from the open fly. He felt a stiff, powerful lump that moved against his hand.

Starsky pulled his head back and groaned loudly.

Hutch kept working with his fingers, trying to get inside the slit of the underwear. Starsky finally arched his hips back and Hutch was successful. As soon as he gripped the smooth cylinder of flesh, Starsky cried out.

It was fascinating to watch, the expression of relief and exhilaration on the other's face. And fascinating to feel, the warm fluid that made itself known through his pant leg. The creamy droplets that were on his palm.

When Starsky's yell ended with a long, drawn-out purr, he sat up, shoulders slumped.

Hutch released him.

"It's been a long time since I've come with my clothes on," Starsky muttered.

"There's towels in the top drawer of the nightstand."

Starsky looked at him, a relaxed sparkle in his eyes. "How you doin'?"

"Simmering." In fact, he'd throbbed with envy when Starsky had cried out, but now he was resigned to waiting.

"Just keep right on simmerin', 'cause your turn is next."

He wondered what the other had in mind, and there was another surge in anticipation of the pleasure.

Starsky stood and pushed his pants down his hips. He was now unabashedly cleaning himself with a towel. He looked up a moment. "Want one, too?"

Hutch shook his head. He'd already wiped his hand against the covers.

Starsky put the towel down and pulled his pants the rest of the way off. Then he unbuttoned his shirt and discarded it. He'd been looking at Hutch the entire time. "My loss is your gain," he said with a grin.

Hutch wondered what that meant. He saw Starsky kneel and then he felt his shoes being pulled off. The socks followed. His erection strengthened when Starsky reached for the fly of his pants.

"I went too fast, so that means we're gonna spend a lot of time on you."

The promise intrigued him. Hutch raised his hips after his fly had been opened, pushing at his jeans. Starsky was pulling from the other end. When they were off, Hutch put his hand at the waistband of his briefs, then hesitated. Even after everything, he was afraid that Starsky might be turned off by the naked display of his desire.

But Starsky's hand was already there, pulling at them. "Nothin' to be shy about," he said as he rolled the briefs down Hutch's legs. "Gonna make it feel real good, Hutch."

While they were pulled away, Hutch worked on the buttons of his shirt. As he did so, he found himself wondering if someday he might turn over for Starsky. That thought brought a wave of insecurity. There would be only love at his back, but still....

He recalled when he'd been standing in Milford's bedroom. Before he'd known what Milford actually wanted. He'd wondered, then, what it would feel like to have that heavy carcass humping his back, pushing in and out of him, ejaculating into his bowels.

It wouldn't be anything like that with Starsky, of course...assuming the other ever had any intentions of doing that. For one thing, Starsky wouldn't be that heavy. He would be nothing but tender, patient, and careful. His ejaculation would simply be the physical proof of pleasure shared.

Still, the thought of it brought forth the unease that Hutch had been feeling. It always went away. But always came back.

"Hey." Soft and concerned.

Hutch had been staring at the ceiling, and now his eyes darted to Starsky, who was leaning over him. "Where you been?" Such a soft whisper.

Hutch felt an emotion-filled smile curl the corners of his mouth. He reached up. "Love you so much, buddy." As long as they had that, nothing could touch them.

Starsky eagerly crawled into his arms. Hutch held the naked flesh tight against himself. He was still wearing his shirt, but it was open. After being squeezed a long moment, Starsky shifted and applied wet kisses in a circle all over Hutch's face. Then he pulled back. "Ready to feel good?"

Hutch's erection had softened with his wandering thoughts, but now it was surging again. He reached up, traced Starsky's lips with a finger. "I already feel good."

A huge grin. "Does that mean you're not disappointed in your date?"

He certainly had been at first. But now he couldn't imagine how making love to a stranger would be more palatable than being in the arms of one who knew and understood him so well. With whom he could be completely himself.

Hutch brought Starsky back down against him. The other's face was pressed against his neck. Hutch had an arm around his partner's waist, and now he rubbed it across those generous buttocks, gripping at the same time.

Starsky giggled. "Careful. That's startin' to feel a little too good."

"Yeah?" Hutch asked in a whisper. "What's wrong with that?"

Starsky straightened. "What's wrong with it is that it's your turn, blondie." He scooted down Hutch's torso, the inner part of his thighs brushing Hutch's stout desire in passing. His expression became very soft. "I've never, you know, done anything like this before. to me, Hutch. Tell me how to make it good for you."

Hutch swallowed thickly and sought the ceiling again, understanding then exactly what Starsky was going to do, and wondering how the other had ever talked himself into it.

"Want to get all the way on the bed?" Starsky asked.

Hutch raised his head and saw that his lower legs were still hanging off the side. He shifted along the mattress, so that he was completely lying on the bed, and at a more traditional angle, with his head near the pillows. He took a moment to remove his shirt. While doing so, he felt himself leaking and was afraid that Starsky might find it distasteful.

He reached down and brushed at the moisture with a finger.

"There, now I got more room," Starsky said with satisfaction, settling himself between his partner's spread legs.

Hutch closed his eyes, not wanting to witness any hesitation. He felt soft kisses planted across his stomach. Then they started downward. Along his pubic hairs...his erection was bumping Starsky's chin. Kisses against his nuts. Moist softness licking up his shaft.

Then he was enclosed in wetness.

Hutch gasped, both overjoyed and worried that Starsky was doing this. It felt good, and he reached down to put his hand in the thick head of hair, stroking affectionately at the curly strands. But he was afraid that Starsky would try too hard to bring him to orgasm, and it wasn't going to work. Hutch hadn't been able to come from oral sex alone since adolescence. It was only foreplay; he always needed the penetration that followed. But penetration was impossible for now. Though he knew that Starsky would probably give it to him if he asked for it, it would be wrong for them to do something so intense when this was such a fledging part of their relationship.

Starsky was tonguing at him, and he liked that. But the base of shaft was naked. While continuing to pet his partner's head, Hutch moved his free hand down. He found one of Starsky's hands and placed it against his hardness. Starsky gripped the area not covered by his mouth.

"Ohhhh, yeahhhh," Hutch encouraged. "That's nice." He focused on the actions of Starsky's tongue. It never stayed in one place, as though his partner was experimenting. Hutch gently said, "Like it best when it stays pressed against the underside. The suction against there." He usually didn't bother correcting female companions on technique, but Starsky had specifically requested feedback.

The mattress shifted, Starsky moving to get more comfortable while he planted his tongue against there.

"Yeah, partner," Hutch murmured. He was still worried. It felt wonderful, but it still wasn't going to be enough to propel him to the edge.

He closed his eyes. In his mind, he was moving in and out of a wonderful tightness. The snug walls gripped his prick as he moved. It wasn't the silky, moist grip of female muscles. It was a courser grip, caused by the channel itself rather than any muscular movement. The only moistness was artificial, provided by lubricant. He slammed against those powerful buttocks, saw a sparse layer of hair along the back beneath him.

All the good feelings went away from his organ. But only long enough for Starsky to say, "Tell me what you're thinking." And then he was enclosed again.

"I'm fucking you," Hutch gasped. It was so instinctive to obey his partner's command that he'd replied without thought. His sex was still being loved, so he decided to continue until his partner signaled otherwise. "I've got my arms around you, because I need to be close to you." He stroked lovingly at Starsky's hair. "My cheek is against your back. I'm pushing in and out. You're tight. Hot. You're making noises because you like it." Hutch drew a deep breath, feeling himself grow larger and Starsky trying to stay with it. "I'm trying to hold back, because I want you to keep liking it. Don't ever want it to end. It's too good. " He swallowed thickly. "Oh, man, you're pressing back against me, and I go really deep."

He felt the back of Starsky's throat as the other's mouth covered him more firmly. It was exquisite, even if the other choked softly and had to release the extra portion almost immediately.

"It's loud," Hutch gasped, "me slapping against your ass. The bed is rocking. You're beating yourself off. I'd do it myself but I don't want to let go of you. I've got my hands on your shoulders. You feel so strong. Man, I'm gonna come. Gonna come like crazy. Just a matter of time...."

He imagined the building sensation. Felt his balls being fondled. Heard and felt Starsky's deep, vibrating, "Mmmmm."

"Oh," Hutch cried out at the exquisite perfection. "Ohgodalmighty." He arched up, coming with a vengeance, the semen spurting thickly from him. He knew it was a lot, a buildup from months of abstinence.

Starsky had moved off him, but that didn't matter. The coming still sent waves of pleasure through him, and when his balls were drained, he let himself sink into the mattress. His eyes were closed and he realized after the fact that he had groaned.

He let the warm fuzziness settle in. After a while he became aware of cloth rubbing at his stomach.

He cracked an eye open. Starsky had just tossed the towel aside, and was looking at him with a grin of satisfaction.

"Feel better?" his partner asked.

Hutch grunted, amused that Starsky had to know there could only be one possible answer to the question. But he did want him to know, "Can't usually come just from a blow job." He meant it as both a compliment and a way of preventing any feelings of inadequacy on his partner's behalf if the act was repeated in the future.

"You have an amazing imagination."

Hutch's eyes opened fully then. Starsky was leaning over him, and he reached up and brushed his fingers along the other's nose and cheeks. "You okay about it?" he asked tenderly. "That I could think of you like that?"

Starsky settled on his stomach beside him. "That's why I'm here, dummy. It dawned on me that you had to still be thinkin' about it. And since I was thinking about you thinking about it...I started thinking about it. And then it seemed like it only made sense to stop thinking about it and do something about it instead."

Hutch grinned widely, mussing Starsky's hair. "You've always been a man of action."

"Yeah. That's why deep thinkers like you need men of action like me in their lives."

"Good point." Hutch shifted, feeling a chill and wanting to get under the covers. "You gonna stay?" He didn't try to hide his hopefulness.

"I sorta of planned on it. But if--"

"Good," Hutch cut him off. "'Cause I want to hold you for awhile."

Starsky began getting under the covers, too. "That might be a problem. Because I've been wanting to hold you, too."

"I said it first," Hutch insisted. He waited until Starsky was beneath the blankets, then he scooted next to him and put his arms around him. The curly head rested nicely on his shoulder.

Starsky's arm was loosely around Hutch's waist. "Close your eyes, blondie. Enjoy your afterglow."

Hutch did. There were lots of things he wanted to say to Starsky--to discuss with him--but that could wait. Except for one thing.

"Love you," he whispered.

Starsky chuckled, then scolded, "Hush. Go to sleep."

Hutch did.

Part Seven

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