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Fools and Kings
(Or, There's Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight)
As Hutch came into Starsky's apartment, he could hear his partner on the phone. He sounded impatient. "No, I'm tellin' you, thanks for callin' but no. All right, goodbye." And then a little embarrassed, "Sorry." The click of the receiver.
"Salesman?" Hutch asked as Starsky turned around.
"Uh, yeah," though Starsky didn't seem really sure of it. He grinned weakly. "Nuisance." And then seemed to get over it, rubbing his hands and grinning. "Pizza's in the oven," he said, "want to start?"
"What about Nancy?"
"Oh, she's meeting us at the bowling alley."
Hutch rolled his eyes, not understanding why Starsky had taken up bowling so persistently of late. It sure wasn't for Nancy's sake—the girl could barely lift a ball and couldn't hit a pin with it except by accident. She was good-humored about the repeated failure, but Hutch didn't see how she could possibly be really enjoying herself.
She seemed a good sort, though hardly the brightest light on the Christmas tree. Good in bed, Hutch supposed, as he moved around the kitchen with Starsky, pulling out plates and napkins for the table while his partner finished the salad he'd evidently been making before the phone rang. Hutch eyed his back speculatively. Salad? What do you know, food therapy.
Starsky had been practically babying him since Gillian's death.
Hutch leaned against the counter, staring into the sink, his eyes fixed on the dark hole of the drain while he dealt with a wave of grief. Gillian. Gillian. Honey-colored hair, sea-colored eyes, smiling, a warm bath of love in that smile . . . the jasmine perfume she wore, the taste of her curving lips, all so sweet. That swelling flying feeling. A roomful of red balloons, she said, and yes, it was like that, like being a floating balloon in a room crowded with them.
Crowded with them. Just one more balloon on Gillian's string. He pounded one hand on the counter. Starsky was there right away, close enough for his body heat to warm Hutch's back but their only contact a hand on Hutch's shoulder. And no words. A mercy, since Hutch couldn't speak.
A lot of the time he could dam the feeling up; sometimes he released it deliberately, when he was alone; but sometimes it just ambushed him unexpectedly. A lot of times, if he was honest.
And Starsky was usually there, hanging on, until Hutch had a mental grip on himself. Now he raised one hand to lay it on top of Starsky's, and they stood like that for a minute or so. Then jumped, both startled by the ring of the phone.
Starsky lunged for it as if it were going to explode. "H'lo?" He frowned. "No, sorry, not on the market any more. Well, that's not my fault. Yeah, a classic, but . . . " The grin that had started in the last few words snapped off like a light switch. "Hey, can the attitude." Then he pulled the phone away from his ear fast, flinching as if from a sudden noise. His mouth quirking, he hung up.
Hutch just looked at him. It hadn't sounded like another sales call . . . and not like Nancy, though they'd both had women slam suddenly out of their lives . . . "Old girlfriend?" he tried.
"Yeah." Starsky looked relieved.
"What was the classic bit?"
"Oh," said Starsky, "uh . . . . " He sniffed ostentatiously. "Pizza's burning, pal. Get it out?"
Hutch did, now thoughtful. Then he dished up a salad for each of them while Starsky cut the pizza with an enormous round rolling cutter that he said he'd learned to use as a kid, something to do with the restaurant his grandmother lived above.
While they ate, he watched Starsky as unobtrusively as possible, but the man seemed perfectly relaxed, even joking about making the salad for Hutch's sake. Hutch complained by rote about the anchovies in it, and they discussed the details of Caesar salad authenticity, Hutch maintaining that the summer squash alone made it just another salad and took away any reason to have to put those horrible little fish in it . . . . All the while he was thinking about the phone calls in the back of his head. Not an undercover detective for nothing, buddy.
Starsky had gotten up to fetch another round of beers and Hutch had just put another slice of pizza on his own plate when the phone rang again. Hutch stood up and snagged it across the table and Starsky, almost to the set in the kitchen, froze. Stared. Hutch stared back as he said, "Hello? Starsky residence."
"Hey, man," said a breezy, stranger's voice, "lookin' to buy that Torino o' yours. Sold it yet?"
"Uh," said Hutch, "no," puzzled. Starsky's immobility wasn't helping.
"Well, don't play with my mind, man, tell me. The Bear said askin' price was three thou? I'll give you thirty-two, the first two thou cash on the nail, pick it up tonight?"
"No," said Hutch, feeling on firm ground about that, at least. There was no way Starsky was selling his car. No way.
"No, man? What'd'you mean no?"
"No, the car's not for sale." Starsky closed his eyes. Then opened them.
"Don't give me no jive, man," said the telephone. "I got this news straight from the Bear. He says you guys are tight—he ain't wrong, is he?"
"No, I mean, yes, Huggy's our—" Hutch remembered the man obviously thought he was speaking to Starsky— "my friend, but you've just got it wrong about the car. He must have meant some other friend, different car, something. Some mistake." He was speaking as much to Starsky's still face as to the telephone by this time.
"No mistake, man! If you sold it just be straight with me—if you ain't, then deal!"
"It's not for sale!" Hutch shouted. "It was never for sale!" He slammed the phone down and swung back to face Starsky. "Right? Your car is not for sale, is it?"
And he saw Starsky pulling himself together, putting on the mask of light humor and astonishment. "Me? Sell my Torino? What was that guy, nuts?" He turned back to the refrigerator, got out the beer and brought it back to the table. "C'm'on, sit down, Hutch."
But Hutch didn't. "Wh-what," he said, "why . . . what's this about?"
"Everybody gets crank calls, Hutch," Starsky said, his voice sincere and the statement grating falsely in Hutch's ears.
"Look," Hutch growled, leaning down to take a handful of Starsky's shirt at the shoulder, "I don't give a flying fuck what you do with that tomato of yours—just as well if you do sell it, far's I can see—but when you lie to me about it, buddy—" The thought was just too close, too sharp, a needle, a blade, and his voice roughened; his eyes closed. "Don't lie, Starsk, don't." The way she lied.
In one movement, Starsky was out of the chair and holding him, hard, as hard as in Gillian's apartment with her body not six feet away. And just as it had then, the sensation of Starsky's strength supporting him, Starsky's caring focused on him, just opened the floodgates and Hutch gasped, sobbing before he knew what was happening. It was wildly frustrating because he had a lot more to say, a lot more to hear from Starsky, and he couldn't get his lungs to do anything but heave, or his voice to work at all.
"No, sorry, no, no lying," Starsky said, and his voice was rough too, as it had been then. "Tell you in a minute, just a minute, all about it," rubbing Hutch's back as the muscles clenched.
After a time, Starsky must have decided Hutch was together enough. The chair was under him, he was lowered into it, and his partner was crouching in front, running gentle fingers back from Hutch's temples into his hair. Hutch shuddered, clenched his teeth, his body wracked with anger and frustration and grief and gratitude while his head was held firmly still. When he opened his eyes, there was Starsky's open, concentrated stare, the look he only got when Hutch was hurting and there was something serious to say.
"Did you really ever think I didn't like her?"
"Gillian. You said, you said," and Starsky swallowed, "that I was making it up that she was a hooker because I never liked her."
Hutch hardly remembered what words he'd spoken over Gillian's corpse, thought that wasn't quite right but didn't have the energy to argue. He shrugged.
"It wasn't true, Hutch. You've gotta understand that. I liked her fine when we met, and I loved—" one hand skimmed down his cheek and up again— "how dreamy and happy you looked about her, and then I saw her in the massage parlor and, man, it was like a gut-punch. I didn't know what to do. And then I had to climb right into the car with you and . . . I should have told you right away." His eyes fell; so did his hands, to rest against his thighs.
Hutch took a deep breath. He wanted to say, of course you should have, you turkey, you moron, how could you keep me in the dark? but really he knew that was unreasonable as well as unkind. He sighed the breath out and said, "What would have happened?"
"You'da punched me right in the car?" Starsky said with a little sad smile.
"I don't know," Hutch said. "I would've gone back in for sure, though."
"Maybe that would've been best," Starsky said. "Nothin' the Grossmans could've done to stop you finding out, not like she told you on purpose . . . mighta," he swallowed again, "kept her alive, you think?"
Hutch hadn't thought about it and could hardly bear to now. Nor, for that matter, could he bear the look on Starsky's face. Hutch's hands went out without conscious decision and cupped his partner's cheeks, cradled his head. He opened his mouth, but had no words for what he wanted to communicate, and closed it again, just gazing. Then he frowned a little, asking, "But what does all this have to do with the Torino?"
"Then, you know, you . . . in the alley . . . " Starsky paused and Hutch shook his head, not wanting to remember how he'd frozen, not covered Starsky when the Grossmans' two bully-boys were shooting at them. "And that was the first time I thought, I was worried, afraid . . . ."
"Spit it out, Starsky."
"I thought I could lose you." The voice was low and full of pain. "So many ways. More than I thought before. I mean, we've known about the guns, the bad guys. But because you might not want to do it any more or be too, I don't know, hurting too bad if she told you, or, well, just too many ways."
Hutch pulled him forward, slowly, until they were hugging again, Hutch perched on the edge of the chair and Starsky still kneeling. It reminded Hutch a little of the day Starsky had been poisoned, the way he'd sagged against Hutch's chest and held on to his jacket. Hutch rested his cheek in the curly hair as he had then, felt the utter importance of the man in his arms. "I hate that I froze up," he said softly.
"Doesn't matter now," Starsky murmured.
Hutch wanted to protest as he had in the alley after it happened, but was aware that he was being sidetracked again. "The Torino, Starsky," he insisted. "Explain to me about selling the damn Torino."
"I couldn't tell you." Starsky didn't raise his head. "I kept trying to work it in and there just never was a time. So I got all the money from my checking account and I told Hug to see if he could find a buyer for the car, and I went to see her."
Hutch shifted his grip, held Starsky off, stared into the shamed eyes. "You took money along and you went to see her," Hutch said, and blood was rising in his face, he could feel the heat and a pounding in his temples. "Y-you, you thought," he got out, "she was that expensive?"
"No, my god, what do you think I am?" said his partner, his best friend. "I took the money 'cause I was, I meant to, I asked her—" He pulled away, stood, a step back from Hutch and half-turned to one side, rubbing his face. "I was buying her off, trying to get her to go away, and I didn't think there was anything worse I coulda gone there to do until you told me so! Jesus fucking Christ, Hutch!"
Hutch leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He wanted darkness and silence.
The phone rang.
Starsky nearly tore it off the wall and snarled, "Will you guys leave me the fuck alone?" And then gulped. "Ohmygod," he said in a totally different voice, and Hutch looked up. "Nancy, I'm so sorry. No, no, babe, I didn't mean it, I thought it was somebody else . . . no, Nancy, sweetheart, don't cry, please . . . . yes, it was wrong . . . no, I didn't think . . . oh, what time is it? Uh, yeah. We're kind of in the middle of something, actually, babe, so if maybe we could . . . no, I do understand, whatever you . . . Bye . . . ." He looked at the phone in his hand as if he were not sure how it had gotten there, then put it into the cradle. Sighed. "Fuck."
Hutch made a sound like a cough, surprising himself—and Starsky, by his expression. And then another one, and by the third they had both figured out that it was laughter. Starsky leaned against the wall and began to chuckle, and Hutch put his face back in his hands and went on laughing.
"T-take it off the hook," Hutch managed at last.
Starsky did, then picked up one of their abandoned beers, walked over to Hutch's chair and collapsed on the floor, leaning against his leg. Hutch put a hand in the slightly-squashed curls and sat back. Starsky drank, wiped his mouth, took a deep breath, and handed the bottle to Hutch, who also drank.
"You know, I hate that car," Hutch said some time later.
"'M not selling it."
Starsky just shook his head and settled his shoulders as if in for a long evening.
The evening had been fairly long, with lots of beer and a really slow game of Monopoly, and Hutch sacked out on the couch sometime between turns, when Starsky had gone to the bathroom. "Hey, your go," Starsky said when he got back, sat in his spot on the floor, and saw that nothing on the board had changed. Hutch just blew out his lips. Really sleeping, maybe not even reacting to Starsky's voice.
"Hu-utch," Starsky whispered, leaning over, bracing himself against the coffee table, imagining the beer-laden air blowing into Hutch's ear, tickling it the way they both liked. Hutch turned his head away a little, then back, rolling onto his side and frowning slightly in his sleep. Starsky watched, close enough to see the lenses under Hutch's eyelids as they moved. Then he sat back down on his heels, one elbow on the table, and watched some more. His own eyes were tired, itchy, achy, but there was all the time in the world for him to ease them, do his own dreaming. They were off tomorrow. Hutch would go quickly, embarrassed about all the emotion and the drunken sleep, and then Starsky would have empty hours enough to get some of his own shuteye back.
Like last night—we didn't even do anything, he remembered Hutch saying about Gillian. We just sat there, and looked at each other. Beautiful, you know?
"Yeah, babe, beautiful," Starsky whispered, his throat tight, staring. "I know."
He knelt up again, then got to his feet, watching the bright still head, listening to the deep even breaths. He reached over Hutch for the afghan on the back of the couch and draped it along the lean form, made sure it covered stocking feet and round bent knees and as far up the top arm as the cloth would go. Not all the way onto the shoulder. For a moment he held the edge of the afghan between his fingers, not quite touching the sleeve of Hutch's shirt. And then he let it go and went to bed with that warmth still in his fingertips.
He laced his hands together behind his head and looked up toward the mirror where he couldn't really see himself, in the dark. He really was a mushbrain, like Hutch said. What a stupid time for his own feelings to go into overdrive. Not what Hutch needed to deal with when he was already dealing with so much. Grief was just poison—look at the way Hutch had let himself think even for a second that Starsky could have wanted to buy Gillian in any other way than to send her to Cleveland or some other end of the earth.
Starsky had liked her, well enough. Hardly knew her, as even when she'd come along bowling she'd stuck to Hutch like glue, gazed adoringly into his face, just plain hung on to him. Not that there was a problem with that! Obviously it was just what Hutch needed. And his gentleness, the way he didn't insist on sex, what a relief that must have been to her after taking the Grossmans' clients one after another. Come to think of it, she had some of the same wonder in her face when she looked at Hutch that Sweet Alice did. Even a call-girl as obviously high-class as Gillian wouldn't often meet a genuine gentleman like Hutch.
Hutch could be wild, too, fierce, loud, deadly fast; he could come on strong; there was an edge to him that Starsky wouldn't have traded for anything even when it came out in harsher ways. Those tender flowerlike girls with their need for protection never saw that. Van had, and not just because they were married and Hutch couldn't hide it. She had a sharp edge herself, did the ex-Mrs. Hutchinson, and little desire to be saved from herself.
It was the best thing Starsky knew about her.
Ah, sometimes, sometimes he wondered why they bothered with women. Nothing but hassle and heartache.
And, of course, some really nice sex, soft voices, pretty features, sweet smells . . . well, okay, he wasn't planning on giving them up any time soon.
Starsky closed his eyes, reminding himself that he needed to call Nancy tomorrow and mend that particular fence.
And slept. Until a dip downward on the bed woke him.
He opened his eyes, then blinked, but the pale glow was still beside him: Hutch's face and hair and light blue shirt, the one with the guitar on the back. The same he'd worn the previous evening. So this probably wasn't a dream.
"Hey," he said, sleep still clogging his voice, "Hutch. What'd'ya need?"
A warm clasp on his shoulder kept him from trying to sit up. "I'm okay," said Hutch. "I just . . . was looking at you, sleeping. So sound."
"Yeah?" Starsky cleared his throat, wished he could see Hutch's face more clearly, the light eyes, the set of his mouth. "Seemed to me you were, too, when I went to bed. What happened?"
The ghostly blur of the head turned, and an even more ghostly blur above copied the movement. "A dream. A-and I, I woke up, thought for a while, couldn't sleep. Kind of wandered around a little. Came in here."
"Yeah?" Starsky knew he wasn't adding much intelligence to this conversation, but he felt like he still didn't know what was going on. What do you need, buddy? He wanted to ask that again too, and give it, whatever it was. He was pretty sure he knew what it wasn't, despite appearances: Hutch knew how to ask for that, and he wasn't asking. No hunger in his touch, no sensual drop in his voice.
Neither of them spoke for a little while. Hutch moved his hand to Starsky's wrist, on top of the covers on his chest, and lay there in a loose clasp, undemanding.
"What did you dream about?" Starsky broke the silence at last.
"Hsh, listen," said Hutch.
As far as Starsky knew, it was as quiet as he'd expect in the middle of the night. But he tried, since Hutch asked, and there was a bird singing, the same few notes over and over. "Sounds like a tiny little squeeze-box."
Hutch's hand closed on the bone of Starsky's wrist and waggled it back and forth.
Starsky sighed. He couldn't possibly get all excited about some city bird dumb enough to be awake when all the lady birds weren't, and all bent out of shape about it. He shut his eyes and wondered about Hutch's dream. Maybe he didn't even remember it. Starsky couldn't remember the one he'd been having when Hutch woke him. Maybe it would come back to Hutch later, when they were bowling, in the noise of the balls rolling down the hollow wood of the alleys and crashing into the pins, people laughing and shouting at each other . . . Starsky would look around and there Hutch would be, all pensive, face soft, and he'd go over in those stupid shoes that always felt strange on his feet and put a hand on Hutch's shoulder. Hutch would look up, a little startled, and then he'd relax and say, 'I remember now, Starsk, that dream . . . ' and the feeling that had been growing so much more intense, since Hutch took up with Gillian, would swell up in Starsky's chest again, like a balloon inside, all he could do to stand still and let Hutch lead.
A warm hand touched the side of Starsky's face and snapped him out of the half-sleep he'd been in, dream and all. Hutch's thumb stroked an arc from mouth to temple and the bed shifted—he was getting up—the hand was gone—"Hey," said Starsky, reaching out himself, "Hey!" He caught Hutch's arm.
"Go back to sleep," Hutch said.
"I don't want to," Starsky said, sitting up, holding on, with both hands now. "I want you to tell me what the hell's in your head."
Hutch took a deep gasping breath and said, "Gillian. Gillian all day long and all night, too. Don't you ever get bored hearing about it?"
"No," Starsky insisted.
Hutch pulled his arm away, folded both of them across his chest, and the set of his shoulders, the tilt of his head, radiated so much skepticism that Starsky didn't even need to see his face clearly.
Starsky was getting irritated. So that wasn't the whole truth, so what? Hutch kept saying he was the brains of this outfit. Starsky shouldn't have to spell out that what he meant was that yes, hearing nonstop about Gillian was not really on top of his list of favorite things, that sometimes Hutch repeated himself, that sometimes it seemed like he was dwelling or working himself up to those bursts of grief that embarrassed him so, that really it was a little hard for Starsky to believe that everything from eating at hot dog stands to hearing birds in the middle of the night reminded Hutch of Gillian when really they hadn't done all that stuff together or anything . . . but none of that mattered in the end. The pain was real. Hutch's pain. "You can bore me for a hundred years if it'll make you feel any better," Starsky said at last, and Hutch's shoulders sagged. He seemed to melt back down to the bed and hunched over, arms crossed on his knees, bent entirely in half. Starsky put his arms as far around his friend as he could and just held on.
"You'd do the same for me," he said. Then, after a pause, "Well, you'd pick at me more, but you'd basically do the same."
Their heads were close enough together for him to see Hutch's lips twitch.
Asleep, Hutch was back again in the flickering dark of a movie theater, Starsky beside him laughing and stuffing handfuls of popcorn into his mouth. If Hutch hadn't known better, he might have thought a cartoon was showing from his partner's reactions.
But instead, on the screen was a deep pink room, rosy and soft everywhere as if it were some sort of body cavity. In the center of the room was a large circular bed, covered in some quilted, shiny material, also pink. Across the bed lay a woman in a pink satin negligee. Honey-colored hair. Big sea-blue eyes. Slim, elegant hands roving her own body, around her breasts, along her sides, across her thighs, fingertips pressing to show the edges of her pubic hair under the satin, pressing in more to define the opening of her labia. Her face showed that smiling blankness of the porn actress. She lifted a languid hand and drew circles around one nipple, then the other, until they stood up distinctly under the sheen of the material.
Hutch had seen this before, he had been here before, and he knew that later, when the man arrived, Starsky would touch him, unzip his fly, suck him off or give him a hand job. He shifted impatiently in the velveteen seat and saw the flash of Starsky's teeth in the corner of his eye.
There was a knock at the door, and Gillian rose slowly, one hand still stroking down her body and the other across the quilted pink bed. As she grasped the knob, she pushed her other hand into her hair, lifting it, letting it fall through her fingers as Hutch had so often done to feel its warm feathery weight.
She opened the door and smiled as Hutch stammered hello, pulling his hands from his overall pockets. "Television repairman?" Gillian asked with a bright, sweet smile, and all he could do was nod, drowning in the jasmine of her perfume.
Taking his hand, she led him across the room to the television; he didn't even look down at it. She wet her lips and smiled again, slowly pulling the string bow that held the top of her negligee.
He reached out, never wondering where the TV had gone (or the movie theater, or Starsky, or the rest of his familiar dream)—he took the warm round breasts in his hands. They filled, even overflowed, his palms, and he was surprised. They never had before. She purred, eyes slitted, the falsely sensuous tone ringing in his ears.
He should have been aroused. Dropping his chin, he saw that he was nude and that he was erect, swollen and leaking, but he felt nothing. No, he was angry. In fact, what he felt, looking down at the writhing naked body laid out across the bed, was rage so strong that his hands were shaking, his heart pounding, and now her throat was between his palms, tendons rigid as he tightened his grip.
—and he woke, breathing so harshly that he was making rasping noises. He held one breath and forced another as if meditating, slow, calm, remembering where he was.
On his couch—why hadn't he gone to bed?
He sat up, wrapping his arms around his quaking body and saw the phone on the coffee table.
If only it would ring . . . if only Starsky would call him . . . but that wasn't going to happen, and Hutch couldn't call to report a bad dream. Anyway, he knew Starsk had been out on another date with that new girl, Tricia, Terry, something like that. Yes, Terry. Smart and warm and pretty, but not stunning—she wasn't a casual bedbunny, Hutch hoped Starsky realized.
But judging from the look on his face after the last date, Starsky realized just fine. That roomful of balloons expression. It felt strange to see it on Starsky's face.
It felt lonely to see it on Starsky's face.
Hutch remembered Starsky saying how glad he was to see—how had he put it?—how dreamy and happy you looked about her, said the voice in Hutch's memory. For all their competitiveness and all Starsky's fiery and possessive loyalty, he was better at that, at letting the bond between them loosen when it had to, when one or both of them found another love.
Sitting on his couch in the dark, Hutch told himself that he had to learn how that was done.
Hutch's hovering was driving Starsky completely crazy.
Hutch had needed this, after Gillian, somebody around almost all the time to hold him when he cried, somebody to listen to every moment of Gillian-time replayed, somebody to make sure he worked and went home and ate . . . . Starsky didn't need it, and having it anyway made him such a bear he couldn't stand himself. Or Hutch.
And he knew it was his own fault, not only because when Hutch had hurt like this, Starsky had needed the comfort of caring for him almost as much as Hutch had needed the care. Because when Hutch had driven them that last time, when Terry was dead, he parked the car in front of Starsky's place and just looked across the front seat. "I'm," Starsky had said shakily, "okay, just wanna be by myself, I gotta . . . get hold of . . . this thing." He'd looked out the passenger window and felt that if Hutch touched him, he'd fall apart in a million pieces.
"If that's what you want," Hutch had said softly, after a pause, and Starsky had nodded and gotten out of the car without looking back. Climbed up the stairs feeling like an old man, stiff all over, into the apartment that was as alien to him as if he hadn't been there for years. Took a shower. Got a sandwich together and sat staring at it for he wasn't sure how long.
His mind was just blank, which was okay when he had stuff to do—worked fine in Nam, mostly—but this time he was just sitting on the couch and looking in the direction of the TV, and he could feel the little squirrel in his brain beginning to run on its wheel, and when it got up enough speed he wouldn't be able to block out . . . what had happened . . . any more. He got up in a rush and put on some music, loud; he got out the vacuum cleaner, turned it on, pushed it back and forth across the floor, sang along with where he knew the music had gotten to, and it was a couple of minutes before he realized that he'd actually not taken a step. Pushing back and forth over the same place, mindlessly repeating.
He shut off the vacuum, a huff of distress coming unexpectedly out of his mouth and sounding like it might be a sob next time. No, couldn't start that. No. He ground his jaw shut, clenched so hard that by the time he'd coiled up the cord and put the machine away, his face hurt. He was breathing hard. Damn it, damn it, damn it to hell . . . . The telephone was burning a hole in his back, like a laser beam was coming out of it, like one of those magic beams in a sci-fi movie pulling him over. I want to be alone, he thought, not convincing himself.
He turned around and looked at it. It was just hanging there on the wall like always.
He gave in and let his shoulders sag, went over and took the receiver in his hand, dialed the one number he knew in his sleep, drugged, whatever. "Hutch?" he said, and stopped.
"I'll be right there," Hutch said, and his receiver hit the cradle so messily that Starsky flinched.
So now when he said he needed to be alone for a while, Hutch obviously didn't believe it. Starsky was lucky to have ten minutes to himself while Hutch ran to the health-food store, and the things he'd had to eat were indescribable . . . well, the casserole had been good. He'd even said so, and Hutch had smiled, a rare expression lately.
Taking a walk by himself in the middle of the night, after Hutch had gone to sleep, Starsky gave in to the nervous, frustrated energy in his body and began to run, then ran harder and faster, for a long time, pumped his arms up high and almost closed his eyes—and heard the Blp-blp of a warning siren, stopped so fast he stumbled and had to grab at a lightpost, then leaned against it getting his breath as the two uniform-cops got out of the patrol car. Nobody he knew. He couldn't talk right away, but he pointed to his pocket and held up his hands so one of the cops could get at it, and though he didn't really remember picking up his shield when he left, it was fortunately there. "Jogging," he told the two puzzled faces, and they said, "All right, Sergeant, sorry," and got back in the car and left.
He didn't tell Hutch about that. Even though the blintz was awake when he got back, sitting on the couch all disheveled and worried. "I'm okay," Starsky said, skipping past hello. "I'm fine. Just wanted some air."
Hutch nodded, his pupils large in the half-light of the small lamp. Or it might have been fear.
God damn it, what right did Hutch have to be afraid for him!
The right Starsky had given him, over and over, until a time like now when it felt as though he'd kept no rights for himself. He walked with a measured step alongside the shelving unit, to the bedroom doorway, and then felt Hutch looming up close to his back, and whirled. "Back off!"
And Hutch did. Two steps, which with those long legs of his put him almost in the middle of the room. He turned his hands palm out by his sides as if to show he didn't have a weapon.
And he finally seemed to have acquired a clue, because he said, "Should I go home for a while?"
But he looked so bewildered and sad when he said it, as if he were the one who'd lost a lover, and Starsky realized it must feel pretty much like that. He sighed. Made himself walk forward, put his hands on Hutch's face, feel the warm skin and the way those big hands settled at his waist. "You're my best friend," he said, and drew Hutch's head down till he could lay a little kiss on that worry-line between his eyebrows. "Best pal in the world," and his voice broke because that was what Terry used to say, that they were best friends, but it was true that the friendship of his life was here. "Now go on home for one night, Hutch, please." If Hutch didn't take his hands away, Starsky was going to really cry, and he didn't want to.
Hutch let him go, then reached out delicately and caught the one tear from Starsky's lashes on the end of a pale finger. "Sleep tight, Starsk," he said, and carried the tear away out the door.
Hutch, leaning against the hood of the LTD with his arms folded across his chest, saw a remote jiggling smudge on the path and knew before he could really see anything that it was Starsky. Running.
As the smudge became a little flailing figure and then a recognizable runner, Hutch realized how fast Starsky was going, how hard he was belting along the path, as if there were a felon ahead of him. As if Hutch were in danger.
As if he were outrunning his own thoughts.
So Rosey Malone must be gone, somehow. Probably going to leave the country with her father. Hutch didn't know how to feel about that.
The path Starsky ran was the same they'd been on when they saw the tall blonde woman for the first time, all coltish long legs and flowing long hair, jogging easily and gracefully. Starsky had slept at Hutch's the previous night, after some frankly unremarkable sex, and the next morning had insisted grumpily on jogging with Hutch to see why he bothered with it. So Hutch had taken him to the park; he couldn't remember why. Often he just ran in the street, especially along Ocean Front Walk. Though he sometimes did run laps in the park, he should have known Starsky would grow bored with it. Maybe he had known. Had he wanted to make sure they wouldn't jog together again? To tease Starsky about being childish and impatient, or out of shape? To work up some sort of competition about something safer than how long they could suck and tease each other and how well they could make each other come?
And then they'd seen Rosey and that old game had kicked in: Starsky had decided she was a prize he'd race for. She was gorgeous—Hutch more than admitted it; he'd wanted her as well. Before they found out who she was, or more accurately, whose daughter she was. Before the Feds popped up in Dobey's office and Starsky went under cover to get information about the gangster boss Frank Malone. Before Starsky fell in love.
Uncomfortably, Hutch shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and though he wasn't directly at the end of the path, he knew Starsky had seen him by the way that even running stride faltered. Slowed, then speeded up again, then stopped.
Hutch felt caught out, and didn't move. Starsky's hands were fists, hanging by his sides, and his whole body was tense. Hutch let his own arms drop, hands relaxed, and as if Starsky were mirroring his partner in some weird way, he folded his arms. He seemed to be looking at a spot on the path a few yards ahead. Stood breathing hard for a while.
It was too fragile a moment to disturb with more than breath, and Hutch grudged even that. He didn't know what he'd do if Starsky turned away. Or didn't turn away.
When Starsky took a step toward Hutch, then another, there was nothing to do but wait. And then his partner's walk abruptly normalized, took back the territory of the park with a familiar swagger; his chin was up and jaw set; his smile was tight. "Didn't know you were tailin' me."
"I'm that good," Hutch said.
"Not bad," Starsky answered after a long pause. "Good thing I taught you—" he cleared his throat— "everything you know."
Hutch leaned back, braced his hands against the car and locked his elbows. The sun fell across his forehead and warmed his scalp and back. Starsky just looked, his eyes narrowed against the sunlight, or emotion, or both.
"Not everything," Hutch said.
"No," but Starsky didn't pursue the joke, or turn it to conversation either.
"Where's the Torino?" Hutch asked after a while.
Starsky jerked his head back and to one side. "Over there. Ain't lost it."
"No," said Hutch, smiling, "you haven't lost it."
"Then let's get back to work," his partner said.
It wasn't over, of course. Rosey and her father didn't even leave town for several days, and then there would be the Senate hearing, and Rosey had her shop to sell . . . . Hutch kept his mouth shut, and watched out of the corner of his eye when Starsky picked up the phone. Sometimes he'd just hold it for a while, looking at the keypad, and then put the receiver down. Hutch knew better than to let on he'd noticed.
But then it happened while they were at Hutch's place, and he just couldn't stand it any more. He went over to his friend and put one hand on each shoulder, and just stood feeling the muscle and bone, cloth and shoulder holster, holding on to the man who seemed as elusive as a shadow even now, under his hands.
Starsky raised his head and stood, not especially resistant, but silent. After about half a minute of that, Hutch began to rub the shoulders, then really massage, up his partner's neck and down to his back. "Strung pretty tight," he said.
"Can't imagine why," Starsky answered. And then tilted his head back as Hutch's thumbs touched the base of his skull again, ruffling the short hair that grew along the nape of his neck. "Ah, you are the good guy," he said. "Like I told Mr. Tires."
Hutch grinned. "Goodyear, Goodson, Goodgoddamn."
"I'll try that one next time."
Hutch cleared his throat. "Take off the holster," he said, as his hand nudged the edge of the hard leather again, "and let me do your back for real?"
"I'll fall asleep," Starsky warned, his eyes already shut. Hutch rubbed his neck again, not bothering to answer verbally, and Starsky stepped forward and began to unsnap the dark overshirt he wore.
They went into the bedroom alcove and Starsky stripped to the waist, kicked off his tennis shoes and lay on his stomach. "Hope this ain't a come-on, Hutch," he mumbled, half his face in the pillow, "'cause I swear to god I'm not up to it."
"See what you're up to later, maybe," Hutch said, sitting with one leg tucked under him and the other foot on the floor. "Right now, buddy, I'm only up to seeing you relax for the first time in a week."
"Two or three weeks, 'less you count . . . well . . . " the voice trailed off as Hutch put his palms against the warm solid back, began first to rub and then to find the edges of muscles, the knots and stiff spots, moving handfuls of Starsky's flesh and drawing firm lines along his bones. He wished he had oil handy, but he didn't use it for sex, preferring a more controllable and thicker lubricant, and it had been too long since he'd needed it for massage. He rubbed circles on each side of Starsky's lower back, riding a long sighing breath, and thought it wouldn't really take all that much massage anyway, to put his friend to sleep.
He hoped Starsky was getting as much pleasure out of this as he was. He thought so, by the way the body under his hands was loosening, almost melting into the bed, face completely slack, lips a little open. Hutch kept rubbing until a little snore came from Starsky's mouth, and then he bent over slowly, carefully, and kissed the nearer shoulderblade. Tugged at the coverlet and pulled the edge over Starsky so he wouldn't wake with a chill.
Hutch sat on the couch with a book, but he didn't read it; it sat open on his lap while he thought about what Starsky might be up to doing later.
But he was doomed to disappointment, that day. When Starsky came out of the bedroom and sat on the other end of the couch, he was sheepish, embarrassed about the nap if not the massage, and soon he got up and said he had to go.
"No, Starsk," Hutch said with a smile. "You don't have to go."
Starsky's eyebrows knit together. "Yeah, I do." He was standing; he looked down at his seated partner and folded his arms across his chest. "It's not over for me, Hutch. I can only—" now his crooked smile mocked himself, with enough pain to make Hutch fold his own arms in empathy— "I can only have one tall gorgeous blond in my bed at a time. And she's not really gone yet. For me."
"Fine," said Hutch, trying not to be put out. "Let me know when she is gone, buddy."
"Oh," said Starsky, "you'll know. Don't worry." He leaned over and touched Hutch's shoulder with just the tips of his fingers. "Later," he said, then left.
The very first time Starsky saw Marianne Owens, in a blurry surveillance photo from her FBI file, she looked vaguely familiar—which was ridiculous. He hadn't worked any case involving these people before, didn't go to jazz clubs himself, and she certainly wasn't his type. Then, as Hutch picked up the photos one by one and Starsky saw the clearer ones, including her publicity photos, the feeling went away. Of course she wasn't anyone he knew.
But whenever he opened the file he got the same little jolt, and he searched his brain. He knew the association wasn't good. The little static-electric arc in his memory was laden with anger, grief, frustration. What was she reminding him of? He combed his memory, and she didn't even look like any of Hutch's women, or any of his . . . he thought back farther . . . not in the Academy, not in Nam, not in high school . . . .
Suddenly a shoe dropped in Starsky's mind, and he grinned; unfortunately at the same moment, Hutch was hanging up the phone, and the snap of the receiver told Starsky all he needed to know about how helpful that informant had been. Not easy to get anything on Joe Fitch, that was for sure.
"What?" asked Hutch irritably.
"What what?" Starsky hedged.
Hutch glared at him across the file-strewn desk.
"Just thinkin'," said Starsky.
"There's a first," Hutch said. "I'll alert the papers." He picked up the phone again.
Starsky smirked. "Be sure to ask for C.D. Phelps."
But Hutch grimaced, unamused by the reference to the reporter who'd ridden with them for a while and written them up so unflatteringly. At first. Maybe he was still irked that she hadn't been bowled over completely by his big blond charms. Or maybe he was just in another one of his pissy moods. Starsky buried his nose in the file again.
Marianne's mug shots were what he wanted this time. The uncompromising black and white showed her dark, straight eyebrows, thin upper lip, and the prominent bones of cheek and jaw. She did look a little like Jackie Rizzo, the boy who'd dated Sharman Crane while thirteen-year-old Davey Starsky looked on, up to his neck in love, a crush the like of which he'd never felt before or even since—a goopy, drippy, wild infatuation. He'd hardly noticed Jackie, really, except as a kind of space next to Sharman that Starsky had wanted to fill instead. He'd been jealous, but then he'd been jealous of the straw in her milk-carton, for god's sake, and he could certainly look at straws now without that little jag in his breathing and tickle inside his spine that he'd had when he first saw Marianne.
If it wasn't Jackie he'd been remembering, then who? Starsky squinted. Marianne looked like a boy to him. A boy dressed as a girl . . . in drag . . . there'd been that bar in Saigon, but no, it couldn't be that either . . . .
The other shoe dropped.
The Green Parrot.
Nick Hunter wasn't a drag queen, just a hustler, a two-bit, scheming, half-witted, dishonest rent boy who'd chatted up John Blaine in the Green Parrot on the last night of his life, dumped him in his hotel room, emptied his wallet, and left the door open for his murderer.
Marianne looked . . . well, not like Nick, not very, but enough to rub that sore spot in Starsky's mind. Even more than a year later it hurt to think of Johnny. John had taught him to fist-fight, helped him with his Algebra homework, lent him and Jackson a lawnmower the summer they made a business of doing lawns. He'd been more of a second father to Starsky than his Uncle Al ever was—even gave him the sex talk. The heterosexual sex talk, of course. But Johnny was also the one who'd caught Starsky with that magazine Jackson found in the trash, with just men in it. Thinking of what John had found to say about that made Starsky hot-faced and embarrassed, even now. And Johnny Blaine had been gay all that time, buying sex from hustlers like Nick.
"What the hell are you thinking about?" Hutch asked. He had a cup of coffee in one hand and put it on the desk as he bent over Starsky's shoulder—then, for a breath, was completely still. Then Hutch stood up again, retrieving the cup, and said in too brittle a voice, "All hot and bothered over Marianne Owens, Starsk? Maybe we set up this undercover job all wrong. Maybe you're the one who should've gone in. Or maybe you're thinking of trying your luck anyway?"
For a moment Starsky wanted to tell him to fuck off. But there was something really strange in Hutch's reaction to Marianne, too—not the first time Starsky had noticed that. "Wondering what you see in her," he said. It was true: he did wonder.
"I see a witness," said Hutch, but Starsky knew that wasn't the whole truth.
In the following days, Starsky could see that Hutch was tying himself in knots over this case. Cutting his temper shorter and shorter, chopping it like vegetables for one of his casseroles, until Starsky could hardly stand to be anywhere near him. And Hutch seemed okay about that distance.
"What is it—what is it?" Starsky asked at last, in the parking lot at Metro when Hutch turned down yet another offer for a meal at The Pits before going back undercover.
Hutch was sitting sideways in the driver's seat of his disreputable car, his hair lifting in a grimy breeze and the fringe of his leather jacket swinging as he shrugged. His mustache moved slightly as if he were chewing on his upper lip. Starsky wanted to shake him. He even got as far as gripping the leather-clad shoulders before Hutch raised steely eyes and said, "Maybe the shoe's just on the other foot for once."
Starsky opened his mouth to ask what Hutch meant, and then realized. Clamped his jaw tight shut with annoyance, and then opened it again to say, "Bullshit. For once? This ain't the first time you've shut me out. And I never did it about the job."
"It isn't the job part," Hutch said, softening a little.
If Starsky had answered right away, he knew he'd still have sounded angry, so he paused, letting his hands slip away from Hutch's shoulders, feeling the suede snag on his skin. And then, forestalling anything Starsky would have found to say, Hutch leaned forward, head bent over hands now clasped between his knees, and said, "She just seems so lost. Drowning. Even when she sings there's that sadness."
She sings the BLUES, Hutch!—he wanted to say it. Knew Hutch couldn't hear it. Kept his mouth shut but only barely.
But Hutch saw most of what he hadn't said, and the glint was back in his eye. "There's no point in going over and over this," he said in the would-be-superior tone that used to be amusing and now just rubbed Starsky the wrong way.
So, "Right," he said. "Fine. Give me a call if you find out anything. For the job."
Later that night Starsky did something he wasn't proud of. He drove to the Sunset Bowl and circled the block until he'd seen Hutch's car. Then he parked the Torino out of sight and walked up to the club door between its two leafy hedges, a little warily, but nobody seemed to notice him. Inside, he lingered in the shadows at the top of the staircase, one hand on the carved paneling of the wall, letting his eyes adjust to the light though he saw the beacon of Hutch's hair at once. Marianne was singing:
She tilted her head toward Hutch with a wink. Her voice was sweet, not high and not low, tremulous on the long notes, and Starsky understood why Hutch had said it was sad.
Hutch bent his own head, smiling, and Starsky knew as if they'd been only inches apart how the pale lashes swept down, how Hutch must have swallowed and let out one expressive breath—
The door opened as the audience began to applaud, and Starsky stepped back against the wall to let the new arrivals past. Then he ducked out the door and between the hedges again, and was on the street, red and white lights passing, the rise and drop of engine noise the only music.
He told himself that the undercover assignment was obviously going well. Hutch, when deliberately chatting up a girl, was sometimes embarrassingly awkward, but Hutch in this bowled-over, semi-bashful mode was lethal. Knocked 'em over like dominos, and it looked like Marianne was falling.
And maybe Hutch, too.
Trouble, trouble, trouble, chanted in Starsky's mind. Trouble on the way—if Hutch fell in love, or even if he didn't. And how could Starsky say a single word, when all Hutch had to do was raise those remembering eyes to bring up Rosey Malone?
They were too close. They were in each other's skins, each other's back pockets . . . yeah, each others' pants, too. It had been years since either of them had a memory the other didn't share. Seventy-five percent of their lives together . . . more.
He was in his own car, driving away from the club, but also in Hutch's, lying in the back seat in the stifling air of last summer while Hutch said, "Starsk, would you consider that a man who spends seventy-five percent of his time with another man has got certain tendencies?" Setting him up, getting back for Starsky's grousing over John's case, Hutch had meant the two of them, but actually Starsky hadn't caught on because he knew it was more than that, counting work. " . . . and you're not even a good kisser."
Two could play that game, so Starsky had leaned over the seat and asked, "How do you know that?" to see the startled look on Hutch's face.
And then, like so many things in that overheated week, it had gotten out of hand. "How do I know that?" Hutch was angry, a reaction Starsky had honestly not expected. "How do I know that? What the fuck are you talking about, how do I know that?"
"I was just windin' you up, Hutch," he said, weakly, but it was too late.
Hutch swerved suddenly, pulling over with his fingers splayed and his palms guiding the wheel, killing the engine and twisting in the seat at the same time. Those big damp hands held Starsky's head, and right there in the empty parking lane, in broad daylight, Hutch kissed him.
If the kiss had been as angry as Hutch's voice, Starsky would have been able to pull away and probably would have belted him one. But instead that generous mouth went all sweet, slow, moving in and out like waves of heat or the pulsing air from the office fan, and Starsky never could resist that. He was nothing to sneeze at himself in the kissing department, and he knew it, but Hutch was amazing. Toying with his partner's lips, finding tiny new erogenous zones that even after all this time Starsky hadn't known about, flicking, tickling, slurping a little and turning Starsky to Jell-O. Warm Jell-O. Except for his cock, which was suddenly iron. When Hutch let him go, he almost dropped his head to the seatback—his knee did thud against the transmission hump on the floor—and Hutch stared into Starsky's no-doubt glazed expression, one hand still in his hair.
"Caught my cold yet?" Hutch breathed.
"Fever," Starsky answered, shaking.
Not your common, everyday thing. Not at all. They'd gone to Venice Place, which tended to be marginally cooler than Starsky's apartment, and made the kind of love usually reserved for the nights after narrow escapes from death. Fierce, and fast, and bruising. Something to contend with, as he'd said, though he hadn't meant this kind of contest. They were different with each other. Not like John and Nick, for chrissake, or John and Mr. Peter Martyr Whitelaw either.
Different than they were with women, too. They fell for women, got infatuated and romantic, which meant, in Starsky's book, that they didn't prefer men. Someday, one of those falls would be permanent, and coping with that would be hard enough without making more out of their own relationship than it could really be.
But Starsky didn't believe this thing with Marianne qualified as 'falling in love.' She was defenseless and Hutch was attracted and guilty. And Starsky's hands were tied; he hated that. Nothing to do but stand back and wait. And worry. From a distance.
When he glanced out the squad room window and saw Hutch sitting like a ghost on the stairs, Starsky almost didn't go out, almost just sat looking through the glass. He'd spent the whole day chasing down leads alone without even a call from Hutch, and now the man was turning up, needy and lost?
But he did look all too solitary. Starsky got up, still too faithful a compass to abandon his personal North. But he didn't have to like the feeling.
He wished, as he passed through it, that he could slam the squad room door, but it was a swinging one.
"How exactly do you care for me?" asked Kira.
"Hmm?" Hutch was half-asleep.
Kira tweaked his nose, which woke him. "You said you'd never been to bed with a woman you didn't have feelings for," she said, her tone conversational, as if they were five feet apart in her living room instead of five inches apart in her bed. "Here we are. So tell me about your feelings."
"Well," he said, "you're beautiful. You have a wonderful smile. Your hair—" he reached for the soft, butter-gold, glowing mass of it, but she leaned away.
"Not that," she said.
"You're intelligent," he offered, "kind—"
But she was laughing. "No, no," she said, "I didn't say why. I said how."
He didn't know what she meant. He tried reaching for her again, and she let him stroke her shoulder and her breast, breathing a sigh that sounded like surrender. But when he got up on one elbow to lean over and kiss her, she held him off with both hands.
"Humor me." Her voice was steady, not angry, and her eyes were brightly curious. "Say you're walking into a room and I'm there. What exactly do you feel when you see me?"
He still didn't get the point, and that was beginning to annoy him.
"Before you check to see if your partner's there," she said. "Come on, that's only a window of maybe ten seconds. Think about it. What do you feel?"
"Don't tell me you're jealous of my friendship with Starsky." And he didn't want to think about his partner right now.
She grinned. "Oh, no, I won't tell you that. Not the way the jealousy is flowing in this situation at all." She laid a finger on his lips when he frowned and began to speak. "No, let's not get sidetracked. You. Me. Emotion. That's what I want to hear about."
He dropped to his back again and looked up at the shadowy ceiling. The curtains were drawn, and anyway the bedroom window was in the shade at this hour, so the whole room had a dreamlike dimness. It had seemed sexy, but now he began to feel shut in. Women, he thought.
"Now you're thinking up something to say to keep me happy and putting out. Don't bother, Hutch. If I wanted a Hallmark card, I'd buy one. And you can't think I'm reluctant to fuck." The crudity made him look at her again. Like her explanation that she slept around just as he did himself, her use of the word bothered him in a way he didn't want to admit to.
"Okay," he said, so she wouldn't keep talking about it. "Okay, I walk into a room and see you, and I . . . I feel . . . glad, because I know I'll be able to get close to you, smell your perfume, touch you. Because we'll flirt, and that makes me feel good. When I see you, I feel energized. Sexier. Stronger."
Now she touched him, a fingertip teasing in his mustache, at the corner of his mouth, and he smiled at the tickling sensation.
"Able to leap tall buildings at a single bound?" she teased.
"You know what flirting feels like. I don't have to tell you that." He set his jaw, then asked, "What about you?" more to return her challenge than because he wanted to know.
"Oh, what any woman feels when she sees you. 'Wow, look at that blond.' And then, because I know you, I think of how much fun you are, what a sexy game you make out of everything, and—well, just you, Hutch. I like you."
"I like you, too."
Her fingers brushed down his chest. "I thought so." Skirting his nipples, tracing a rib, and then another, skimming over his navel. "I want to keep that, Hutch." She fingered the hair above his cock, then brushed gentle circles on his thigh. He shivered. "Oh, yeah, this part of you likes me a lot."
"That part of me still needs rest," he warned.
"Okay," she said easily, with a bare hint of mischief, and she got out of the bed. Hutch sat up. "Don't go yet," she coaxed. "Let me throw something on and get us some coffee. While you're resting."
He lay back down, watching her dress and still feeling the room close in around him; he had no idea why. Wasn't she telling him that she didn't need commitment, didn't want avowals of devotion like the ones Starsky . . . oh Jesus. Hutch squeezed his eyes shut, knowing that explaining to Starsky that he'd read the situation wrong was going to be ugly. 'You see, Starsk, she wants your tender heart but she also wants my flirting and my cock.' Hutch shook his head. Kira'd have to do it herself.
The doorbell rang.
Hutch sprang from the bed, trying to forestall the disaster he was suddenly certain of. Kira looked at him as if she wanted to laugh, and said, "My husband's out of town, you sexy milkman."
"No games," he said, "that'll be Starsky." He grabbed his pants and pulled them on without bothering with underwear, stepped into his shoes, reached for his shirt.
"Did you arrange to meet here?" She obviously had no clue. The doorbell had rung again, and now Hutch heard knocking as well.
"No. Will you get out there?"
She didn't know them, he thought as he pulled the shirt on and she left the room. She had no idea that Starsky would want to know where he stood just as Hutch had. Hutch should have known, too, shouldn't have let her get him into bed, but he'd thought they'd have a little more time—No, didn't think at all.
He went to the bedroom door as to a firefight, tense and irrationally angry.
And he was right, he was too right. Starsky had a gift box in his hand and outrage on his face; he was angry with Kira but furious with Hutch. He struck Hutch, really started a fight with him, and that was something that had never happened before. A solid body blow—he means it, really means it, Hutch thought as he crowded Starsky back against the wall, tried to contain his rage and his strength, knowing it wasn't possible. They could hold each other back from outsiders. Nothing could protect them from each other.
Kira's tears were a temporary stoplight, and they managed to get out of her house. Poor girl, she probably still didn't get it, and Hutch couldn't make real sense of it himself. He tried once more as he followed Starsky down the stairs, to the sidewalk, seeing how the Torino was parked to block traffic and the LTD. "Starsky, I wasn't trying to hurt you. Neither was—"
"Shut up," Starsky gasped, "enough already!"
"Are you okay?" Hutch asked idiotically.
Starsky whirled and grabbed handfuls of Hutch's black shirt, still only half tucked in, and shook him. "Shut up, shutupshutup!" He looked wild with pain, eyes wet and dark, mouth stretched wide and thin. He threw Hutch off and ran to his car, slammed into it and screeched away, and Hutch just stood watching, drawing in breath after breath, harder each time until he was gasping himself.
He looked over his shoulder at the window, but Kira wasn't watching. Turning back toward the street, he walked forward slowly, got into his car, stared at the dash, then dug in his pocket for the keys. Put the right one in the ignition. Leaned his forehead on the wheel for a while, maybe a minute, maybe five. Sat back up and started the car to drive by sheer rote to Venice Place.
Hutch sat in the greenhouse for some time. Then got up and checked over the plants methodically, took a few back to the potting table and took off the geranium's dead blooms, cut back the Wandering Jew.
Cut back the Wandering Jew. Twice, today. Laugh, anybody? My life needs a laugh track. But he didn't laugh himself, not at all.
After Marianne, gardening had helped. Felt good. Fingers in the soil, in the cool smooth leaves and stems. Moisture and good air after all that whiskey-and-cigarettes club fog.
But Starsky had been there, reading the paper. Then.
He took a deep breath, put the plants back in their places, and went to the phone to call his partner.
"Hello?" The familiar voice sounded remote, as if Starsky wasn't holding the phone quite right.
"Starsk, I want to—" Click.
The worst thing about it was that he hadn't slammed the phone down, no big clatter, nothing that sounded upset. Starsky would talk even to salespeople, sometimes chat them up if their voices were pleasant, but he'd just hung up as if Hutch were the weather recording.
Hutch put the phone down just as gently.
By two o'clock, he'd called twice more and been hung up on both times before he got out an entire sentence. He was angry himself, now, so perhaps it was just as well, but exactly how long was Starsky going to act like a teenager in a snit?
The next time he couldn't stand it any longer, he called Kira.
"Oh, I can't believe it," she said when she recognized his voice. "You guys! I'll have to change my number, move out of state, I don't know, maybe run—"
"Hey, calm down," he interrupted. "So Starsky called you? You explained to him?"
"Explain? No. He called, yelled and interrogated and, well—" the indignation seemed to fall out of her voice. "I didn't know he'd be so hurt," she said.
"I don't know why we didn't know," said Hutch.
"I don't have any idea about you," she said, voice rising again, "but I didn't expect him to freak out like that because I do what you both do!"
"Will you stop shouting?"
She said nothing, but her breathing was harsher than usual.
"So you told him that?" Hutch asked again.
"I don't think he heard me. But yes, I tried. He, um," and now she sounded unsteady, "told me to keep the box, you know? I didn't even remember it, not really."
Hutch found he was a little curious. "What was in it?"
She paused, and he was suddenly very curious.
"I haven't opened it," she said quietly. "I keep looking at it, and I pick it up, and then I just can't."
Hutch found himself in total sympathy with her. "Well," he said at last, "look, I'm sorry to bother you about it. He won't talk to me, is all, and I just wanted to know what was, well, what's . . . "
"That's all I can tell you. I'll see you tonight at the dance hall." She sounded tired.
As he hung up, he knew there was only one more thing he hadn't tried, and it probably wouldn't work either. Still, he would have climbed into his car and done it, but then the phone rang, and it was Dobey. Mad as a wet hen. Even the image of Dobey as a wet hen couldn't make him smile right now, while his relationship with his partner was in tatters and another woman lay murdered by the killer they weren't anywhere near catching.
At the murder scene, Dobey noticed how distant they were, told them off—now that was guaranteed to make Starsky shut up like a safe-deposit box. The tirade irritated Hutch, too, even though he agreed with it. After that, Hardy was pretending he could walk off the case, punch out like a factory worker at five, and Hutch let his temper go. Then he was surprised and dismayed when Starsky just allowed him to fly off the handle as if it didn't matter. Not how they'd ever worked before. They stood farther apart than usual, and Starsky's back was to Hutch. Their eyes never met.
Starsky got into the Torino and drove off, not speeding but still obviously getting away from Hutch. Hell with that. Hutch got in his car, drove a longer, more indirect way so Starsky would get there first, but followed him home. Climbed the stairs and hoped he wouldn't be knocked back down them. Leaned on the doorbell.
Starsky opened the heavy door, but not far, and he stood squarely in the gap. Hutch raised his hand without thinking and put his palm against the dark wood, just under the little window, and Starsky raised his chin, his whole face set hard. Obviously bracing himself, as if he thought Hutch would force his way in.
They weren't to that point yet. Hutch dropped his hand.
Really it was all over then, but since he'd driven all the way here he had to go through with it. Try, anyway. "Let me in?" he asked.
Starsky's eyes narrowed. "No, I don't think so," he said calmly.
"We need to talk."
"We tried that. I tried it. Remember? I told you I loved Kira, and you went straight to her place and fucked her."
"It wasn't like that!" Hutch slapped the door in frustration, but Starsky held it almost still. "That's what I'm trying to tell you!"
"Oh, you mean there was somebody else in her bedroom you were fucking?"
Hutch began to think that finishing their aborted fistfight was not such a bad idea. Trying to calm down, he looked sideways, at the mostly dead tree whose massive limbs went right through Starsky's landing and the roof overhang. Hutch wondered why the builders had kept the tree instead of cutting it down. Oddly enough, Starsky didn't close the door, just waited.
Swallowing, Hutch looked back at his partner's frown. "So you won't talk to me."
"I," and Starsky closed his eyes, then opened them, too slowly for a simple blink, "I can't right now. I don't trust . . . either of us."
It was obviously not what he had begun to say, but Hutch felt no gratitude for the tact. He turned to leave, but anger burned hotly in his chest, and he heard himself say, "That's quite a martyred-saint act you've got there, Starsk. Must be nice to be the only one in the right."
The door slammed so hard Hutch heard it shaking in the frame as he ran down the stairs.
He ran down to the LTD and then kept going, past it, up the hill. It wasn't a steep slope, and he'd run it before, the times sleeping at Starsky's and his intermittent jogging program coincided. In fact, he wished it were steeper: he wanted to work hard, feel the air really push and pull in his lungs, the stretch and burn of muscles. He tucked his head down and ran faster, then looked up to make sure he wasn't going to knock somebody over.
He kept thinking, that was the problem.
Hutch had not loved Kira. Not at any point, and he'd known it all along. She was all the things he'd told her she was, gorgeous and kindly and intelligent and sexy—though, to be frank, not much of a cop—and he loved the zing in the air around her when they flirted, the almost-scent of pursuit, conquest, play. It seemed like forever since he'd been able to feel those things so honestly and simply, with no guilt. Not then. Now there was guilt, and it was knotting Hutch's stomach and making his head pound.
But why had it been such a body-blow when Starsky said he was in love? Not like that was the first time. Even the fact that he'd evidently told Hutch before telling Kira wasn't all that unusual.
Hutch tried to think if it had ever happened with somebody they'd both dated. Plenty of those, actually . . . hell, they'd had threesomes, and one night they'd tried a foursome, though Hutch hadn't liked that as much. The next time Starsky seemed to suggest it, after the Nadasy case, Hutch had cut him off, somehow not wanting to try to make love to his own girl while Starsky was so near with another one. Especially not those two, who couldn't keep his and Starsky's names straight and were so much alike that he had the same problem himself. Taking two sex-Barbies to the same bed was the surest way of . . .
. . . of making sure that Hutch would want to touch Starsky instead of either girl.
Well, there was nothing new in that either. They didn't always want each other at the same time. They'd both said no, and both heard it.
And surely that had nothing to do with Kira.
It had been a long time, though. Knowing it was unwise, Hutch still tried to think back to the last time he'd had sex with Starsky. After the Springsteen concert?
Starsky had bought the tickets for himself and Joey, catering to the teenaged girl's crush on him in a way that had made Hutch uneasy, and his unease had made him as condescending as he had accused Starsky of being. Hutch knew he did that but didn't seem able to stop. Like on the stairs just now.
No, he wouldn't think of that. He remembered instead the way Starsky had turned to him in the park, mischief lighting his eyes, and said, "Let's not waste those tickets." The surf beating behind them seemed to match his pulse. When they stood to pack up the cooler, Starsky's hand had reached out, squeezed once above Hutch's wrist, cold and clammy from the root beer bottle, and Hutch had shivered.
"Okay," he'd said, and it wasn't just about the concert.
Then, at Starsky's place, as they put the rest of the root beer back in the refrigerator, Starsky had taken the last one out of the melted ice and painted its chill wetness across Hutch's cheek, down his neck, around to the nape. Unbuttoned the shirt one-handed and then moved the bottle back, down the bare sternum, across to circle one nipple and then the other, then down to Hutch's navel while he squirmed and laughed. "Oh shit, c'm'on, Starsky, cut it out, what a fucking sadist, good thing Joey turned you down—"
Pausing as he fumbled with Hutch's belt, Starsky'd said, "It's illegal to do this with a minor," and the bottle had pressed right against Hutch's crotch, making him jump and harden.
Hutch stopped running abruptly and put his hot face in his hands. Then looked up, saw the empty sidewalk, and almost collapsed on the front stairs of the nearest house before bracing his elbows on his knees and covering his face again. Starsky . . . Starsky . . . what am I going to do?
What have I lost?
The companionship of the trip to the concert, the sidelong glances and chatting that made waiting in line seem—well, not short, but not unbearably long. The jokes about his poncho and Starsky's bleach-streaked t-shirt. The sizzling energy and charisma that had attracted a group of younger people to share their space on the hill, pool their food and drink, hand over their joint. The wicked, challenging grin as Starsky took the roach in his hand and again as he passed it to Hutch. The feeling of being fifteen again, or maybe eighteen. The way it felt to wave his arms in the air and sing along like every other crazy fan in the mosh pit and on the risers and up the hill. The weight and heat of Starsky, all over him in the car while they waited for the lot to clear, just high enough not to care, not to give a tiny damn about anything.
And that was all in just one evening, not even counting the sex.
Eight years of that, more if he went back to academy days, and it was dissolving in his hands. Tissue paper in the rain. Because of Kira, of all people.
No. Not possible.
Hutch got up and started back down the hill, not running now. His mind raced around in circles, raising plans and discarding them. Crazy things like flowers. Embarrassing things like bullhorns. Slow things like letters. Elaborate things like singing telegrams. Rough things like handcuffs. At least he made himself smile, though it was only a little twist of the lips. Couldn't he think of one really plausible idea?
Not really. But by the time he reached his car, he had thought of something to do. He scrabbled in the junk in the back seat until he found a fairly clean piece of scrap paper, went through the glove compartment and then felt along the dashboard for the pen he knew had been there yesterday. Found it. Got out and smoothed the paper against the hood and wrote, then stuck the paper under the Torino's windshield wiper.
Only a few words. Starsky couldn't miss them.
Starsky knew before he even reached the Torino who had written the note under the wiper. He didn't intend to read it. He took the crumpled edge between his fingers, lifted the rubber blade carefully, and began to ball up the paper, but he was looking down and there were so few words that he'd seen them before he could stop himself. 'Watch me tonight before—' and when he'd read that much, he had to see the rest, so he straightened the page, both hands now. 'Watch me tonight before you give up on us. Hutch.'
Before I give up on us! Have you got amnesia, Hutchinson? Then he did roll the paper between his palms, fiercely, until it was as tight a ball as he could make. He shot it away into the street, pulled the door open, drove off with a squeal of tires, and nothing he could do would drain the anger that sat and itched in his joints.
He didn't mean to watch Hutch, either. That wasn't what they were there to do—Starsky remembered their assignment if Hutch didn't—but the blond had hypnotized him somehow, and he kept forcing his eyes away only to realize in a few moments that he was looking again. Hutch was doing his usual sorry job of dancing, and that dark flasher's overcoat swung around him as he moved, concealing the lean body that Starsky had once observed so closely and with such pleasure. The flat dark cap hid much of the flaxen hair, and big aviator shades covered those baby blues. What was there to watch?
Hutch didn't return his gaze, and never seemed to look at Kira either. She was subdued, too, tonight; until now, Starsky hadn't realized how much it had lit her up to flirt with Hutch under his eyes. She'd just been sitting at that little table, looking forlorn, until the vet with the bad leg hauled the backgammon board over and plopped himself down in the other chair. She seemed startled, even dismayed, to have her thoughts interrupted; if she had really been a dance-hall girl, Starsky thought, she could never have gotten away with that attitude. He didn't wonder if his own brooding was credible for a dance-hall patron.
His chest twinged as he glanced from one blonde to the other, and he rubbed it absently while he walked around the periphery of the room. Stupid, sentimental—he only wished he believed, really, what he'd told Kira about just going through life taking things as they came, not expecting much, not wanting to possess beauty and love when they seemed so near, not staking any claims.
On the other hand, this room was full of people who'd done that, and where had it gotten them?
When he and Hutch had been assigned to this case, Starsky had honestly expected them both to stick out like sore thumbs, undercover or not. He'd approved his partner's unattractive garb even though he couldn't quite bring himself to wear anything like that. Then they got to the dance hall, and he found to his surprise that almost everybody there looked, well, normal. Not substantially different from the range of people to be found at your average disco or bar, the kind of place where you paid for the drinks, not the dances.
Still the place depressed him. He felt like the men here had given up, as if they must feel that they couldn't get a woman to dance with them just because she wanted to. Many of these guys were regulars, arriving night after night to take the same girls around the same dance floor, like johns who kept visiting the same whores, pretending that the girls would have chosen them freely, knowing that the motivation was really only money. That sordid. That artificial.
He'd turned to Kira so fiercely because he knew that when they weren't on duty she could just walk away, could see somebody else, so if she chose to be with him, surely it meant something?
Wrong. His teeth rubbed together as he clenched his jaw.
He got a beer, pulled off the tab, the tiny violence no release. After a gulp or two he put it down and started walking again.
Time was running out. Starsky was restless, uneasy, the back of his neck tickling with apprehension as if someone were staring at him. The man was here somewhere, he was certain of it, and they had no idea who he was. Their only information a misspelled note. Their only physical clue a piece of rubber the size of a dime.
Time so short. He felt like that personally, too. Couldn't Hutch see it? There were lines at the corner of his eyes, a droop to the mouth beneath the mustache, and they were both a little slower, a lot more cynical. Older. They could play around like they'd done at the Springsteen concert, but that had been as much of an act as anything he was doing here. The next morning he'd woken up with the headache marijuana always gave him and looked at the translucence of Hutch's skin in the sun, brushed the naked shoulder with his fingertips and then his lips—but thought, this has got to stop. Hutch ought to be able to wake up slowly with somebody he loved every morning; Starsky deserved the same; they had to stop sleeping around like it didn't mean anything before they were two old guys who had to buy it 'cause nobody would give it for free.
He moved up to Susan, the other blonde woman there and thus the other one in most danger from the killer, and they began, awkwardly, to dance while he tried no less awkwardly to find out if anybody had been acting strangely. He couldn't tell whether she was joking or just too stupid to keep track of what she was saying, but anyway she couldn't point out anybody who seemed stranger to her than the rest.
He was looking at his partner again, damn it.
And then Hutch peeled himself away from the clinging attentions of the girl he'd been dancing with and went over to Madame Bouvet's little ticket booth to take the phone. Starsky followed him. Hardy had a couple of ideas about the piece of rubber, none very revealing. Anyway the closeness of Hutch's body was hardly bearable as they talked about it in murmurs. Only once did Starsky look at the face bent nearly to his own, and Hutch's breath hit his cheek and forehead.
He forced his eyes around the room, around and around as they walked side by side back into the crowd, looking for rubber-soled shoes or a cane.
A cane. Starsky's eyes found the vet with Kira, saw the tension in her shoulders and the awkward position of her hand, in his, in the air, nothing romantic about it. It looked painful. Starsky walked closer, tried standing at one of the pinball machines to get a better angle, craned his neck to see, but the man was surging to his feet, knocking the table over, shouting, and in his other hand was—
—how he'd prayed never to see one of those things again. But there it was, and they were seconds away from the worst, Hutch too close with his hand out, Starsky shoving everybody he could grab toward the nearest exit, brain thundering GETOUTGETOUTGETOUT but Hutch couldn't and he couldn't either, moving up on the man, trying to talk him down but he was gone, in country, crazy, wanting to die, was this the end, then, of all of it? Time this short? Was he about to see Hutch blown all over the room? While they were still this angry at each other? Oh no, oh God, Hutch was going to kick it out of the crazy guy's hand, that would be the first part of Hutch blown off, that leg—
—but the grenade was in the air, and above Starsky, coming to him as sweetly as a baseball, so he threw it like one. It went off as it went through the window and blew the other pinball player over the railing onto the dance floor. Hutch brought the vet down and Starsky threw himself over Kira, and when the dust and the silence had fallen, Kira crawled out of his hold to comfort the crazy vet, stroking his face and calling him by name, Joey—weird, he's nothing like Joey, Starsky thought inanely.
Hutch was looking at him, but his eyes were as unrevealing as if he still had those shades on. Starsky's own face was probably pretty blank. Kira was crooning, impossibly tender.
She'd probably say she loved Joey, too. At last he knew her. Must have been the feathered hair that misled him. Ten years back she would have worn it straight under a headband, called herself Moonbeam or Deliverance, and definitely she wouldn't have been a cop. He'd known so many like her, slept with them, loved them for a night, thought of it like that, anyway.
He'd been so young then. She couldn't still be that young, could she? Couldn't she feel that faint self-congratulation under the 'free love,' tying it down, hollowing it out? Had she never loved anyone more than the little beer can of free love would hold?
He got to his feet, still brushing dust from his jacket, and walked on shaky legs to where his partner lay. He held out one hand. Hutch looked at it, then up at Starsky's face, and at last the big, quivering palm settled into his. Starsky pulled. Hutch got up, put his hands through his wild hair, glancing at Joey and Kira and then back at Starsky. For a moment they were as close as they'd ever been. But Hutch stepped back and said, "When the relief wears off, you'll still be angry."
"Probably," Starsky said honestly. "Meanwhile, gimme the cuffs and I'll secure the deer hunter here."
Hutch nodded, reached under his coat, passed him the handcuffs, and then went without a word to the ticket booth to phone Metro.
It was a long night after the arrest. The fluorescent light in the squad room felt harsh, stung Starsky's eyes, or maybe that was still the dust. Coffee tasted terrible; even the candy bar he bought, from the same vending machine he'd been eating out of for years, seemed strange in his mouth. Hours, it felt like, days . . . reports, forms, typing, signing, getting yelled at by Dobey, yelling at Kira.
"You mean you had your gun on him? You had your gun on him and he just pulled out the grenade anyway, showed it to you . . . " Starsky couldn't believe what she'd said, what he'd seen. "What in hell were you waiting for?"
"He had my other hand," she said. "He was squeezing so hard—hurting me."
"I don't think he believed me about the gun. I did tell him, but it was under the table, and—"
"Why? Why didn't you show it to him?"
Hutch looked from one to the other as they fought, as if he were watching a ping-pong match from the middle of the table, and said nothing at all. Starsky wasn't sure whether he was grateful or whether he resented the hell out of it.
"I was undercover," she said. "You know, undercover! Does a dance-hall girl carry a weapon?"
He gazed at her: she was still beautiful, but he wondered how she could possibly say such a dumb thing with a straight face. She'd never been stupid before, not that he'd noticed.
And then Hutch chipped in. "There comes a time," he said mildly, "when the cover is, well, blown. And better that than you and him and half the people in the dance hall."
Starsky had to close his eyes as a wave of dizziness passed through him. Everything he'd imagined, expected, in those awful, slow seconds was back in his head. Light, noise, blood, flying body parts—Hutch—
And those hands clasped his arm and shoulder, the touch he'd know anywhere, while Hutch's voice was speaking, the spurious mildness gone and real compassion scorching through instead. "Hey, Starsk, buddy, it's all right, sit down." He did; a coffee cup was pressed into his hand, and he took a mouthful of the bitter overbrewed swill before he could stop Hutch from feeding it to him. He wanted to spit it out the way Hutch had spit coffee into Starsky's kitchen sink. Gulped instead, and grimaced.
"Was that only this morning?" he said.
Hutch grinned, evidently catching the reference right away. "Yesterday, now."
Starsky set the cup down and rubbed his face. "I gotta go home," he said. "I'm fallin' apart."
"Never," said Hutch.
And now it was Kira's turn to look like a tennis referee. Her face was blank. "If you're finished shouting, I suppose I'd better report to Captain Dobey."
She got up stiffly, absurdly bedraggled in her red clingy dress, and crossed the few feet, knocked—but before she could go in, Hutch took the door from her hand and called in, "Cap, Starsky and me are done, reports in the outbox, okay? Good to go?"
"Tomorrow—" Dobey's voice sounded far away. Starsky sipped the nasty coffee and convinced his hands to stop shaking.
"Sure, sure," Hutch said.
Somehow on the trip from the squad room to the parking garage, Hutch the Good Guy changed back into a pumpkin—or anyway into the man he'd been staring angrily at all evening. Starsky walked away from him, opened the Torino and got in, but couldn't close the door because Hutch had followed and was hanging on to it, both sets of knuckles white.
"I'm coming to your place," he said, a pure threat. "And I swear to you, Starsky, if you slam your door on me again I'm gonna break it down."
Starsky just nodded, eyes on the steering wheel. Hutch hung on a moment more, then let go, and Starsky pulled the door shut, so gently he wasn't sure the latch had really caught.
The LTD was in his rear-view almost all the way home, and his mind was swimming with feelings he couldn't catalog, could barely recognize, except the one that was strangling in his pants, rasped by the seam every time he moved his foot on the pedals. At home, he parked on the street and Hutch pulled up behind him. They both got out, met at the bottom of the stairs, and looked at each other until Starsky got a flat sentence out. "I'm half dead, I feel like that dust got inside my skin, and I'm horny as hell. If you stay, we won't talk. Not till tomorrow."
"Actually," Hutch said, "I was thinking more of fucking you into next week."
"We'll see. We'll see about that." Neither man smiled.
They went up the stairs together, Starsky about half a step ahead. At the turn in the stairs, he caught a sluggish foot under the little lip at the edge of the riser, and toppled forward—Hutch caught him, his grip hard, and hauled him up to the landing, over the tree-branch stretched across it, right to the lintel—even took the keys right out of his pocket, opened the door, and got both of them inside. And Starsky didn't object until after he'd let himself be stripped of his suede jacket; then he wrenched away from Hutch's grip. "Fuck off," he said, forcing his voice into a growl.
"Fuck you," Hutch said, glaring back. There should have been a joke there somewhere but Starsky didn't hear it in the tones of their voices. The blond head turned—Hutch seemed a little at a loss, as if he'd expected to see something that wasn't there; he dumped Starsky's good jacket in a heap near the door and pulled off his own coat, then his shoulder holster.
"What are you doing?"
Another evil look as Hutch pulled up on his white knit vest. "You're not the only one covered with dust," he said, then paused to tug the vest over his head, drop it on the pile. "You want to track it everywhere? Strip off. We can bag the clothes later, take 'em to the cleaner's."
"Who died and left you king?"
"Are you gonna stand there and bitch or are you gonna take a shower before you fall on your face?"
Starsky set his jaw but realized there were other things he wanted to do than argue right now. Stiffly, he began prying open the buttons on his outer shirt. What had happened to the buttonholes anyway? Shrunk? They'd been normal sizes when he put the shirt on. By the time he got it off and started on the next one, Hutch was down to boxers. His hands settled on top of Starsky's, and for all their venomous talk the touch was warm, firm—too good. Starsky didn't raise his eyes, registering instead the bare forearms, stomach, thighs in his line of sight. Gray shorts loose over the heavy cock.
Starsky's hands were pulled to the sides, his red shirt swiftly and silently unbuttoned. He reached for Hutch's arms, cupped his elbows, looked at last at the tired, dusty face and sighed, seeing how even Hutch's eyelashes were clogged and tangled. And so was the short hair in the newly-trimmed mustache. Hutch's mouth moved a little, took a new and uneven line, and Starsky wished he knew what either of them was thinking.
Hutch put his hands inside the shirt to push it off Starsky's shoulders, down his arms, and the palms on his skin felt right—Starsky clutched handfuls of pale skin and solid flesh under it, somewhere near the ribs but not careful of where he was grabbing or how hard. Hutch made a kind of "oof" sound under his breath and his hands stopped. He raised his eyes to Starsky's face. Shadowed, uncertain, distant, evaluating, their expression grew harder rather than softer, and it was painful to watch. Starsky hauled their bodies together and kissed him.
Tasted funny, dusty and bitter, but Hutch was in there somewhere so Starsky just went deeper. Hutch made a sound in his throat and suddenly they were eating each other alive, pushing and shoving, chewing and sucking—Starsky's nose was crushed to one side and he twisted his head but Hutch just pressed harder. His hands were in Starsky's jeans, grabbing his ass with fingers like steel, and there was way too much cloth tangled around the arms and legs Starsky wanted to move. "Uph," he said but Hutch wasn't listening at all, just pulling him in so tight that the buttons and zipper and belt must be hurting him, too. There wasn't room for a thought between them now. No room for their cocks to grow, though they did anyway. Hutch's mouth was fierce on jaw and throat and earlobe, slurping wet and toothy; Starsky jumped at each nip on his skin and held on harder until, dimly, he began to feel too ravished and pushed at the body covering him. Again, harder, almost punching, and that moved Hutch away but not far.
Hands on Starsky's waist, Hutch looked down and back up, and the expression on his face was extraordinary: brows together, eyes dilated, mouth wet and smiling tightly. He shook his head. Starsky pushed again, suddenly, throwing Hutch back a step, and tore the shirt off, hooked his thumbs in the jeans and slid them down, almost afraid to look away lest Hutch should pounce again. Stepping out of the jeans and shoes made him stumble, and Hutch steadied him, then stepped back again.
In the little pause that followed, Starsky rubbed his forearm absently, pulled his watch off and felt the grit on his skin. "You ever taking off those damn trunks?"
Hutch did, smoothly, tossing them onto the pile; he took the last bundle of cloth and leather from the floor and tossed it, too. And then, as casually as that, grasped Starsky's cock and held it, squeezed and rubbed just a little.
Starsky peeled his hand off. "You are not running this," he said. "Not. Anyway I need that shower." He started for the bathroom and glared over his shoulder at his blond shadow.
"What am I supposed to do, read a magazine? Don't be stingy. It's a big tub."
Shaking his head, Starsky kept going. In the bathroom, he dropped watch and necklace next to the sink, slid open the shower door and got in, turning to watch Hutch as he stepped in and closed the door behind them.
"Normally, you turn on the water at this point," Hutch said.
The truth was, Starsky didn't want to turn his back.
After a moment, Hutch said, "Or get out of the way and I'll do it."
Starsky moved to the side and they changed places in silence, Hutch fiddling with the knobs, his own back muscles jumping a little, his buttocks clenched together. Starsky stepped into the edge of the spray and took the hard biceps in his hands, and Hutch stood very still.
Starsky wanted to nail that big smooth-skinned body to the wall, but couldn't while it was this tense. Instead he leaned forward and rubbed his open mouth against Hutch, lips and tongue dragging, not really a kiss. He ran his teeth around the edge of Hutch's shoulder blade, but it was hard bending his head to that angle so he stepped back and bent farther to nibble down the long spine. Hutch grunted and put both hands against the tile, then moved one to the shower knob and held on.
Danger made them both horny, but if it were only straightforward hunger that they felt, jerking off or finding a woman would do. Sometimes they did one or both of those. But when Hutch was the one who'd almost bought it, or both of them, when Starsky had been forced to really imagine their bodies dead or maimed, he never felt right again until he could touch and taste and affirm his partner's reality in the most intimate way. When he needed that kind of sex and didn't get it, he'd have nightmares for days, weeks . . . . He couldn't handle that now, with everything else going on in his head, so even though he thought the make-up sex was premature, he couldn't, wouldn't stop.
Hutch grabbed his wrist and pulled until they were tight against each other and the captured hand was flat over Hutch's heart. Between Starsky's palm and chest, his partner's heartbeat thundered; he pressed his ear against Hutch's back to hear it even more. Strong and fast. The bare smooth stomach was under his other palm and he rubbed circles there, then as he felt the big body give a little, he grinned and held out his hand—"Soap," he said, tilting his face down out of the water that spilled around Hutch's head.
"Soap, come on," and he waggled his fingers.
The bar slapped into his palm. "Aggravating son of a bitch," said Hutch, voice unsteady though Starsky couldn't tell whether that was because of the shower spray, emotion, or Starsky's leisurely scrubbing over his chest and belly, thighs and sides, up to his collar bone, down nearly to his knee, never touching his cock or lingering over his nipples. Hutch pushed back against Starsky, arched his neck and bumped their skulls together.
"That's right," Starsky told him.
Hutch turned contrary, stood up straight and bent his head forward.
"Ah, no," and Starsky rubbed against him, up and down with his whole body, feeling the slow wet rasp of skin and hair and the way his cock dragged along between the cheeks of Hutch's ass. "Blondie, blintz, you gorgeous jerk," Starsky had his chin on Hutch's shoulder, knew Hutch could feel the vibrations of this lowered voice all down his back, "Oh, yes, asshole, I want it, you want it, don'tcha? I don't even have to touch you to know, don't have to see the rod you've got on you now, my eyes are closed, Hutch, but I know exactly how you look. You're losin' it. I could do nothing but talk, here, rub on you and talk to you until you scream." The soap slipped away and Starsky forgot it, grasping and massaging, feeling Hutch gasp for air. Both hands slid down Hutch's thighs. "Look down now." Hands moving slowly, almost more than Starsky could stand either, slowly into warmth and wet tangled hair, and Hutch jumped as Starsky touched his cock and balls at last.
Starsky thrust against the warm flesh, though his cock was angled up and just slid back and forth. "So help me, I want to poke you so hard you won't walk right for a week."
Hutch shifted his weight, moved his foot and took his hand off the knob—
—and slipped, twisting helplessly, and Starsky had nothing to hold on to but the body in his arms, turned so his back was to the frosted glass and had just enough time for the startled fear to rush through him before Hutch caught at the nozzle and the handle of the soap dish—his own calf was pushed hard against the wall and he was squashed into the door but not hard enough to break it or pop it out of its track.
"God damn it!" they both said, and Hutch added, "You dropped the soap, moron."
"Get off me." Starsky pushed and, when they were both upright, slapped irritably at the nearer shoulder; hung on to his partner's hip as he crouched for the soap and got up again; then he moved Hutch against the rear of the stall, back against tile. Pushed the tube of shampoo into his hand. "Wash." He used the soap on Hutch again, much more efficiently, moving down his arms and legs. "Such a clumsy oaf sometimes—most times—when you're just moving around or, god help us, dancing, and then—" his hand faltered. "Then you do something like that kick—" and instead of going on he concentrated on washing knees and calves, kneeling now but he didn't care at the moment. Two whole, healthy, now-clean legs in front of him. Hutch's ankles and feet in his hands. He stroked the left one, the one Hutch had kicked with, once more, and looked up.
Hutch was pushing foamy hair back from his face and staring down. Then he stretched out one hand, his right, and Starsky put his own left in it, standing as Hutch pulled up, until his hand, the one he'd thrown with, was at Hutch's mouth, being lightly kissed.
This time he had the presence of mind to drop the soap in the dish before he buried his other hand in Hutch's half-finished shampoo job and kissed him, soapy water on his lips and the smell of the shampoo in his nose. Hutch's teeth, edge and flat and smooth curve against his tongue. Hutch pulling him in again and sort of rippling, moving against him as if to show off moves nobody in the dance hall had seen.
Except Kira. The thought chilled him and he broke the seal of their mouths.
Hutch looked surprised, then irritated as they just stood there. "Let me rinse, turkey, you're blocking the water," he said and they changed places again. Starsky soaped his hair while Hutch scrubbed under the spray.
He'd closed his eyes against the soap and was working his fingers hard against the scalp, concentrating so he wouldn't remember all the reasons to be angry, and then was jolted by the touch of Hutch's hands, washing his raised arms, his armpits, his chest. He wiped his eyes and looked. Hutch grinned at him, with an edge to it as if he'd played a much bigger practical joke than just making Starsky jump. His hands were not particularly gentle, but they were thorough, and Starsky went back to working through the wet thatch of his hair. Then Hutch moved him like a child, got him under the water and rinsed him. Almost before he knew it, the shower was stopping and Hutch was backing out of the stall, letting in a cold breeze that instantly covered Starsky with goosebumps and brought his nipples up hard.
Hutch's head appeared around the edge of the shower door—and then he closed his mouth, whatever words he'd intended to say unspoken, and just looked, the still attentiveness much more expressive than his features. And then Starsky could move. He paced forward like a cat, holding Hutch's eyes with his own, and brushed past him, out of the shower, ducking around to the towel rack—got a towel and dried busily, wondering if Hutch had turned to salt or something.
But there was Hutch's hand, cupping his ass, dragging his fingers over it lightly, up and down, nail and fingertip, just the faintest of touches, calculated to make Starsky completely crazy. He could feel Hutch come closer, the palm turn on his skin, and then the fingers tickled in between his cheeks, searching, and he wasn't frozen any more—he threw the towel off his head and twisted, catching Hutch's wrist. "No," he said.
"Why not?" Hutch's voice seemed reasonable enough but his eyes were wide and not reasonable at all. He moved in still closer. Starsky ended up against the wall, his neck against the towel rack. "What was that you said, gorgeous jerk, asshole, I want it, you want it?" Up and down his sides went those hands, and back to his ass, rubbing it, and above it, while Hutch kept talking. The fingers dived again, circled, and Hutch's head crowded in, shut out the light—"Asshole," he breathed, touching it.
Starsky felt like every muscle in his body had clamped down, his eyes screwed shut, and his breath wheezed. "No," he rasped.
Hutch's hands retreated to his ribs. "Fuck you. You're still—you're—s-s-" —then there was the faint sound of teeth grinding, and Starsky's hands went to his partner's shoulders, knowing how he hated to stutter. "What made her so different?" Hutch cried out, much louder than necessary.
Starsky shoved him. "No! No we are fucking not! Not now!" While Hutch was still getting his balance, Starsky got out of the bathroom, but then he found himself almost tackled and turned, gripping and wrestling, not really to hurt but in a grim silence.
It was no surprise to find himself in the bedroom though he wasn't sure who had hauled whom in here. They were both barely dry, hair dripping and tangled, skin patched with water, but if either man's erection had faltered in the chill, their close contact had brought it back. Starsky felt almost light-headed, wild with the ache in his balls and cock, and he was on top when they fell onto the mattress. He thrust down onto Hutch, who rolled them over and did the same. They fought for the top position, rods clashing and rubbing, thrusting without even getting between each other's legs. But after being so worked up for so long, Starsky didn't need anything too complicated anyway, and he clutched Hutch harder, feeling the rush build. Hutch's mouth came down, fastened to his as if for breath, and the man was all around, nothing but Hutch everywhere—Starsky shuddered, the gush of fluid hot between them, and Hutch groaned and buried his face in Starsky's neck, working for only a few more seconds before he came, too.
They held on even tighter while they drifted down, breathing hard. Then, suddenly, Hutch rolled off to one side, onto his back. They didn't talk. Starsky slowly raised one hand to his eyes, rubbed them, then put his forearm across them and just waited.
The bed shifted. Fingertips touched his arm, ran to his wrist, lifted away. "You're cold, get under the covers," Hutch said. Touched his hair. Then shifted his weight again, and the bed lifted.
Starsky said, still not looking, "What about you? Where you going?"
"The couch." Hutch took a slightly whistling breath, then sighed it out. "Don't worry, I couldn't go far. I'm done."
Starsky forced his arm down, his eyelids open, and got up on his elbows. Their semen slid down his chest, pooled in his stomach, and a drip made its slow way down one side. Hutch was staring, looking as empty as he had when Starsky had said he and Kira were in love.
Annoyed by the ooze, Starsky reached for a tissue and mopped at himself. Then looked up, and Hutch hadn't moved an inch. "C'm'on," he said, "stay. If you use the couch, I'll have to get up and help you make it up—"
"I know where everything is."
"You act like a guest, I have to act like a host. Get in bed here, Hutchinson. We can be mad again in the morning, when we've got the energy for it." Starsky got up and pulled the covers out. Hutch did the same on the other side, and then reached for Starsky's hair again as they both got in.
"Hey. That'll look like a rat's nest in the morning if you don't do something."
"Nah, I'll get it wet again and blow-dry it."
Hutch snorted. "Never thought I'd hear you admit that." They lay down, not touching.
"Now tell me about your bald spot."
Hutch cuffed his shoulder. Then turned on his side, facing away. Starsky, on his back, looked at the wide pale shoulders in silence for a while, and slipped into sleep without ever deliberately closing his eyes.
The next morning, Hutch woke first, and found they'd both hardly stirred—which made it easy for him to slip out of the bed without disturbing Starsky.
He took a quick shower, combed his hair—it was all in knots—and rubbed some toothpaste into his mouth with one finger. Starsky was still dead to the world.
Hutch remembered some old cut-off sweatpants that his partner wore to wash the Torino, which ought to fit, and an equally ratty, stretched-out t-shirt. He looked quietly through Starsky's dresser drawers until he found the clothes and put them on. It was a little chilly for them, and Hutch wasn't looking forward to putting on his boots. That would give Starsky a laugh. But for now, stocking feet would do.
Wanting caffeine to get his brain jump-started, he found the remains in the Mr. Coffee and grimaced. Just how long did Starsky let the stuff age? He washed out the pot and got a new filter packet out of the generic-brand package in the cupboard.
There was about a quarter-inch of new coffee, and Hutch was sitting staring at the drip, when Starsky said from behind him, "Wasn't there any left?"
Hutch turned. Starsky was nude, scratching his stomach reflectively, and his hair really did look like an old nest, the kind that fell out of the tree in a high wind.
"Nothing I wanted to put in my mouth. That green scum on the top put me off."
"Pretty crappy even when it's fresh."
Starsky waved one hand dismissively. "I get good stuff at home, how do I keep drinking that junk at work?"
This was such typical Starsky logic that Hutch had no reply.
"Found my fancy clothes, I see," with a grin.
Hutch glanced down at the fraying edges of the cut-offs against his skin. "Yeah, well, your tux doesn't fit me."
"With that big split down the back? Sure it would."
"Arms 're too short." Hutch wondered how long the banter would go on before they got back to what they had so vehemently not discussed earlier. "You planning to just stay like that?"
"I thought I'd make a fashion statement at work. When do we have to be in, anyway?"
"Dobey didn't take us off second shift, and nobody's called, so . . . ." he didn't bother to finish the sentence.
"Time enough. I'll go wash, though." He padded off to the bathroom.
Hutch watched appreciatively, but felt like he'd fallen into some sort of science fiction thing, a time machine, and gone back a year or so, to some other morning after. Except that Starsky used to buy better coffee. And for a while Hutch had kept a pair of jeans and a shirt here.
It felt like a long time ago.
In the bathroom, the noise of the water hadn't lasted long, but the dryer seemed to be going on forever. Hutch got the newspaper from the doormat, then went back to the kitchen to pour himself a cup of the fresh brew. It was hot, strong, and nearly as bitter as the stuff he'd refused to drink the other morning. He took a second sip as he walked back to the stool he'd been sitting on, beside the calendar—then he changed his mind, picked up the newspaper, and went out on the deck.
'Deck' was an exaggeration, really. It was more a large bare-wood balcony, with a huge acanthus plant sprawling its broad leaves over one end and a narrow picnic table taking up most of the space. Hutch straddled the bench next to the rail, put his elbow on the table and set the coffee cup there too, while he opened the newspaper with his other hand. The sun was bright and made everything look extra sharp. It was strange, but when he thought back he could barely remember any of these days on second shift, except for the time he spent with Kira. All his other memories seemed to be the dance hall, the dark nights, the squad room—and the morning he'd come here to work things out with Starsky, who fed him bad coffee and worse news.
There was nothing good in the paper. He folded it and got up, leaned on the railing, resting one knee on the bench and looking down the long slow curve of the road. He swirled the coffee in the cup and thought it was probably not the only bitter thing he'd have to swallow soon.
As if on cue, Starsky's voice said, "Hey."
Hutch started, and the coffee splashed, a gobbet of brown falling into the bushy landscaping below.
"Not expectin' me?"
Hutch shrugged, turning. Starsky was in shorts too, denim cutoffs, and a blue short-sleeved shirt with the placket open. He sat on the other side of the table, then shifted and pulled one foot onto the bench, folding an arm around the raised knee. Hutch imagined how, under the table, the shorts gaped and pulled around Starsky's thighs, across his genitals. It wasn't fair to tease without even teasing, for god's sake. A light wind stirred sun-sparks in the dark, ordered curls.
"Talk out here, or go in?" Starsky asked.
Hutch sat, put the cup next to the folded paper, and rubbed his face with both hands, elbows braced on the table. "I hate trying to do this in cold blood like this," he blurted.
Starsky smirked a little, obviously trying to contain his amusement. "We can throw a few punches first if you want," he said.
Hutch folded his arms and looked across at his partner.
"Last night you knew what you wanted to talk about," Starsky prompted.
"No. Last night . . . last night I was just so frustrated that I couldn't stand it." But after a pause he changed his mind. "All right, yeah, start there. What makes Kira different, Starsky?"
"Can't believe you're asking. I couldn't believe it then either, I just didn't want to get into it." The leg dropped and Starsky sat up straight; the smooth composure he'd shown all morning seemed to crack then, and some passion was in his voice: "I told you, y'big blond moron, I said I loved her! That made her different. Of course it did! What're you trying to pull?"
Hutch shook his head.
Starsky stood up and the bench scraped on the deck floor. "What are you trying to pretend?" he repeated, leaning on the table. "You've never been this slow before, Hutchinson."
"I've never," said Hutch, "been quick at accepting claims that are so completely unsupported by facts." He looked up, squinting, at the face now bent in shadow over him.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" Starsky slapped the tabletop with one hand.
"You dated her a month. I dated her, what, three weeks? When I started, did you warn me off? No, you backed off. Then you were back in the running, and I thought it was the game. Like Allison. Like Melinda. Like C.D. and Sally and Wendy Perkowitz." Hutch reached, grabbed Starsky's wrist tightly. "Come on, Starsky, we haven't been saving ourselves for marriage! We fucked Kathy Marshall together, or don't you remember that now?"
"Perky, too. 'Course I remember." Starsky pulled away, then walked over to the rail and looked over it. Hutch stood up too. "We're getting too damn old for that shit. We gotta grow up, Hutch."
Hutch felt very cold, all of a sudden, and would have grabbed the coffee but knew it was cold too. Gotta grow up. It was a denial of the Springsteen concert, the other wild play they'd shared—and last night?
He lashed out, "So you were being grown up, those nights you prowled around the dance hall sulking and scowling? Jesus, the pout on you, I could've left my beer can there. You're gonna tell me about maturity? That's a laugh." He wanted to laugh but knew he couldn't manage it, and frowned instead.
"Oh, here we are." Starsky turned on him, as swiftly as if he really had expected this; his voice was low and deadly. "Now it's time for you to tell me how childish I am, or undisciplined, or hostile, or impatient—use some ten dollar words, Hutch, don't forget to let me know I'm not as educated as you are."
The attack took Hutch's breath away. His eyes dropped.
"Come on." The low voice was closer. "Don't tell me you don't have something all ready."
Hutch felt the blush flood his face, the blood pound hard in his throat. Starsky knew, of course, about the times Hutch practiced what he was going to say in court or before an inquiry board, or even to Dobey or a girlfriend, occasionally. To avoid the stutter, or minimize it, anyway. "S-s-" He clamped his jaw shut and did not look up. Starsky knew. In another second he would say it, in that vicious bad-cop tone, and that would break something. They'd never fix it. Hutch waited.
The silence seemed to last forever.
When Starsky spoke at last, it was in another voice, softer, shaken. "No. No, Hutch, I didn't mean that. Don't—" he took a sudden breath, as if he'd forgotten to before. Hutch took a deeper breath, too. Starsky's cool fingers touched his cheek, quivering slightly.
Hutch owed his partner something for the respite. He raised his eyes, met the gentler gaze, and said, "I shouldn't have gone there. I knew, really. But she hadn't changed to me at all, Starsk, I just didn't get it. I wanted her to tell me, and then I was going to go. But," he swallowed, "that wasn't what she told me."
"No," said Starsky evenly, "she said she wanted to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony."
Hutch stared. A joke? Starsky'd told a joke now?
A smile tugged at Hutch's mouth, surprising him completely. "Well. Actually."
Starsky raised his brows, turned his head slightly, waiting.
"She said she wanted to buy the world a Coke."
Starsky leaned back, his mouth stretching too. "Yeah." It wasn't really a smile on his face, but he looked resigned. "I realized after the grenade. The woman, well, the woman I wanted to be in love with. She wasn't there at all. So . . . actually I'm sorry too." Then after a pause, "I'm still mad as hell that you wouldn't take my word for it," he said firmly. "You were a bastard about that."
"Yeah, well, I'm pissed off that you got us all into this with your midlife crisis and then blamed it all on me."
"Oh, that's back to normal then." Starsky took a step, picked up the newspaper and the cup. "Complete with your natural desire to mess up any space you're in." He left the porch while Hutch was still absorbing what had happened.
It was like being emotionally sideswiped. Dangled off a cliff and then saved, like a cartoon character. Hutch scratched his eyebrow and rubbed his mustache, but everything seemed to be there, just like always. Like normal.
Maybe they were.
Through the French doors he could see the sunlight falling on the armchair, edging the coffee table, almost reaching the couch; the smaller kitchen window to his left showed a dim movement of blue and dark brown, drawing his eyes. Starsky rinsing the cup. Hutch went in, pausing at the end of the counter, and Starsky was watering the spindly young plants on the sill, touching their leaves, picking off a dead one. His face was smooth in the sun and his hands moved fluidly. The line down the back of his bare legs would make an artist weep.
"I can't imagine why you think you're at midlife," Hutch said.
Starsky smiled a little but didn't reply, and didn't turn as Hutch came up behind him. Wrapping both arms around his waist, Hutch leaned his chin on the convenient shoulder in front of him and murmured, looking at the plants, "Don't you talk to them any more?"
Starsky's body was neither rigid nor particularly giving in the embrace, hands resting easily on the edge of the counter. Hutch moved one leg closer, to touch the furry skin of Starsky's, and his stockinged foot met the harder tennis shoe. "Not when anybody's here," Starsky said. "They understand that."
Hutch moved back, his own hands sliding along Starsky's arms, ruffling the hair, then cupping the elbows, a rough knob in each palm. He swallowed, suddenly wanting very much just to bend his head and kiss that spot between tendons at the back of Starsky's neck, the little hollow where his hair was short and soft. But that would ask for sex, and going back to bed right now would be a bad idea. No longer strung out on adrenaline and anger, Hutch could see that, and could draw back.
"Have you got anything to eat that isn't sugar-coated?" he asked, letting go.
"Okay." Hutch went to the refrigerator, and there were eggs, tidily placed in the little pockets that just collected grime in Hutch's refrigerator. "Should I scramble 'em?"
"Sure. Reach me the bread, I'll make toast."
When breakfast was ready, Hutch took his plate to the couch, put it on the coffee table and bent over it. Starsky stayed near the counter, holding the plate in his hands as he ate a forkful of egg, then fumbling awkwardly with the toast and the fork and the plate.
Hutch swallowed what was in his mouth and said, "I won't bite." He nodded at the chair.
Starsky put his plate on the end of the coffee table, moved the armchair forward, sat on the edge of it, elbows on his knees. Looking, apparently, at the plate.
"Starsky," Hutch began, with no clear idea what he wanted to say.
The dark eyes met his calmly. After a moment, Starsky said, "What?"
"Tell me," and Hutch hoped he didn't sound condescending now, "about the growing up thing. What did you mean? What do you want?"
Eyebrows up, Starsky looked back at his plate, then dug his fork into the eggs again. "You know."
"No, I really don't. I, I don't have a problem with how we are now."
Starsky's head came up fast this time, and his stare was incredulous.
"No, not just now, I mean not this mess, but the rest of it, the way we live normally."
"Oh." Starsky crunched his toast thoughtfully, spoke with his mouth still full and crumbs on his lips. "It's just, Hutch," he swallowed, "you know we can't just go on forever this way—we can't sleep around and do the bars and all, until we've got our own canes and the young things just laugh at us. I'm trying to think ahead. We're so good now," with a half-smile, "that it looks like we'll live long enough to worry about it." He ate some egg. "I want someone to come home to."
And Hutch knew exactly how he wanted to answer, but there was a cold lump in his throat, and in his gut too: fear. "Someone," he got out, "new?" and waited. It was the best he could do.
Starsky eyed him sidelong. "Not necessarily."
Hutch wasn't ready, and the opportunity and danger and desire swirled in his head.
"Tell me what you're thinkin', Blondie."
"I'm—" he took a breath— "I'm gonna blow this, Starsky."
Starsky shook his head, pushed the plate farther onto the table. Wiped his mouth. Put the napkin down. "I know you are."
Hutch was startled.
"I know exactly how you'll screw up. Better than I know how I'll screw up, and that'll happen, too. But I also know," and his voice had roughened; he cleared his throat and said, "you're not gonna turn out to be somebody else." He held out one hand. Hutch didn't move, and Starsky waggled his fingers as he had for the soap. "Give it here."
Hutch grasped the warm, lean hand he knew as well as his own.
"Nothing has to happen this second," said Starsky.
"Yes," said Hutch, getting to his feet, "one thing has to," pulling Starsky up, bending to his lips.
As if he'd been living backwards, Hutch felt that of all the times they'd kissed, this was the first. He couldn't remember the real first, anyway. He couldn't remember much of anything with Starsky's sandalwood aftershave and deodorant soap and buttered toast and natural musk in his nose and mouth. He kissed lightly, deeply, lightly again, and Starsky's mouth was wet and pliant, then hard and hungry, then fierce and nipping, as if all the man's moods were here in this single kiss. Starsky's hand squeezed his hard, then let go; Hutch felt his lover's grip on arms and shoulders and in his hair. He was aware, in a way he'd rarely been before, of Starsky's whole body pressed against him, and kept passing his hands over shirt and shorts and upper thighs—Starsky made a stifled sound—back up to the nape Hutch had thought of kissing. He held the short hair between his knuckles and dug his other hand into the waistband of the shorts, finding the other tiny curls of hair that felt so good under rubbing fingertips. The flex of Starsky's ass trapped his middle finger. Between their bodies, tighter together every second, their cocks moved. Starsky let Hutch's mouth go only to latch onto his neck, and he found himself arched backward, held in mid-air above the armchair, one hand flailing a little as it fell free of the stiff denim band. Starsky pulled him up tighter, so Hutch got his weight above his feet again and his arm around the now-tense body.
"Time for the real make-up sex now?" he asked, feeling Starsky's panting breaths against his throat.
"Jesus, Hutch," Starsky said. "'S crazy, I'm goin' up like a rocket."
"You are, aren't you?" Hutch felt calmer, more centered rather than more frantic. "Here," he reached for the shorts' fly but Starsky batted his hands away.
"I'll do it." And he did open snap and zipper, but then paused. "Right here?"
"In the chair."
Starsky got his shorts and briefs off and Hutch pushed the chair away from the coffee table, into the sunshine. "Shirt too?" he asked. "Please? Everything."
So Starsky lay back in the armchair, naked in the sunlight, and Hutch knelt on the floor and bent over him, mouth and hands busy over the long torso, lifting his head from time to time for the sight of Starsky's head tossing, neck arching, arms stretched and bent over the sides of the chair and all his muscles working. Hutch took the two brass coins between his lips and tugged on them lightly, then worked his way down the heaving ribs, stroking all the time back and forth on Starsky's thighs, knowing it made him crazy. And at last he held down those writhing hips and ran his tongue from balls to cockhead, a long hot curve, veins like strings under his tongue, the skin with that taut softness unlike any other. He did it again, curving his tongue carefully so every possible taste bud met skin. Starsky grunted, bucked in Hutch's hands, and a few drops from the tip splashed on his skin. Terrible waste, Hutch thought and took the berry-bright head into his mouth, swirling the flat of his tongue against it, pressing and sucking, pulling the ridge with his lips.
Must be doing something right.
Starsky's enjoyment was like a gift to Hutch, a bonus, because he couldn't get enough, himself. As long as he'd been having sex, he'd liked doing this, and Starsky was reaching new heights of abandon now but had always responded beautifully to it. Hutch took the bottom of the shaft in his hand, moved to ruffle the crisp dark hair, stirring it with his little finger, then tilting to get his thumb around to the tight balls. Starsky was close, gasping, hardly able to say his lover's name though "H-" and "-ch," could still be heard. Hutch moved his lips back and forth, sucking in the length and letting it slip almost away, every inch of skin vivid and dear to him. He felt the tension rush through thigh muscles and balls and closed his eyes, sucking, wanting this, needing the bitter jets on his palate, his tongue, bathing his molars, sliding down his throat. He felt the press of strong legs locked around his body, heels digging into his back, and then Starsky cried out thinly without words and collapsed into the chair cushions as if every bit of strength had just come out of him into Hutch's mouth.
Hutch opened that mouth and covered the wet, shrinking cock with his hand, leaning forward to kiss below the navel, then lay his head on Starsky's belly. Feeling as relaxed as if he'd come himself, Hutch closed his eyes again and savored Starsky's hands playing lazily with his hair.
Some time passed. Hutch's head lifted on a deeper breath of Starsky's, and he raised it so they could look at each other.
"I owe you one, don't I?" Starsky asked.
"We'll work it out."
Starsky's fingers traced over Hutch's face, around his mouth, back onto his cheek. "I'm beginning to think we will."
"I can't do without you, Starsky." There, he'd finally said it, though he buried his face in Starsky's skin right afterward. Then kissed there, as if that were what he'd intended all along.
"Then we'll have to work it out." Starsky didn't sound worried. He went on petting Hutch's hair.
When they went in to Metro, they found two little folded notes, one on each side of the desk, placed unobtrusively to the side. Hutch picked his up and tilted it so Starsky could see 'K.H.' written on it in Kira's handwriting; his own was labeled 'D.S.' It might have been possible not to share them, if they'd really still been at outs with each other. As it was, when Starsky had read his, he reached automatically for Hutch's. They were virtually identical. Dear whoever was asked to meet Kira at The Pits bar at lunchtime tomorrow, so they could talk through their issues and get some closure. Love, Kira.
"We're being dumped, partner," Hutch said.
The public place, the simultaneous invitation, the mention of closure—Starsky agreed, but said out of old habit, "You are. A lady doesn't give up all this—" gesturing down his body— "that easily."
"Did you give her that old jacket?" Hutch asked with a wide-eyed show of innocence. "I didn't know." Then an equally spurious look of confusion. "Why would she want it?"
They were standing fairly close together as Hutch had been comparing the notes over Starsky's shoulder. So it was simple to pull the dark-brown leather collar up and out a bit, lean back, and be nearly in Hutch's face to murmur, "She likes the smell, she said. How about you?"
Hutch made a face, but his eyes had already dilated. Starsky felt he had won that round on points.
After they finished the last of the dance-hall case paperwork, Dobey sent them out on patrol. Almost immediately, they got a call which turned out to be a group of rowdy teenage shoplifters, middle-class kids with the kind of attitude that sent Hutch sky-high with irritation, so that was an hour or two of Hutchinson ranting—felt that long, anyway. Starsky was irritated. Think of coming home to that. Not so easy, is it?
He glanced over at a small sound, to see that Hutch was rolling down the window to hang his arm out, or his elbow, anyway. The afternoon sun made him squint and fired up his hair.
Liar, Starsky told himself. Loving Hutch had always been too easy. "Hey, didn't your mother ever tell you not to do that?"
"Uh-huh. Said a truck would come along and cut it off." Hutch's snit seemed to be over.
Starsky snorted. "That's a good one. She tell you about watermelon seeds?"
"That if I swallowed 'em, they'd grow in my stomach?"
"Yeah. Always liked that one myself."
It was a normal shift. No reason it shouldn't be—plenty of times they'd gotten out of bed to share the bathroom and go to work—but it had been long enough to feel special even without . . . Starsky tried not to think of Hutch's voice gone shaky and hoarse, his face hot on Starsky's skin. Couldn't help it, or the flush that ran through him when he did. I can't do without you, Starsky.
He reached out along the seat back, found the nape of Hutch's neck and gripped it, then fanned his fingers through the fine hair. By the time the light was green, his hand was back on the wheel, no harm done.
"What was that for?" Hutch asked.
Starsky had a left turn to do, so he couldn't look, could he? "'Cause I can't do without you either." His voice was light.
A rich silence fell inside the car.
"Good," Hutch said at last. Then, after another pause, "Starsk—?"
But the radio interrupted. "Zebra Three, Zebra Three, come in."
Hutch was on it. "Go ahead, this is Zebra Three."
"See the man called Marty at the hot-dog stand."
Marty was a snitch they'd used before, and they knew which hot-dog stand he meant. Starsky bought a Chicago-style chilidog for himself, a plain one for Hutch, and barbecue chips for Marty while Hutch talked to the painfully thin, jittery young man.
The little bags of food wanted to slip out of Starsky's fingers, so his eyes were on them as he went back to the table.
"Thanks," Hutch said absently as he took the hot dog. Starsky put down his own stuff and held out the bag of chips to Marty, really looking at him for the first time since they'd gotten there. The pale gray eyes were huge in the cadaverous face, and seemed full of tears.
"Hey, you okay?" Starsky asked, and Marty grimaced.
"He's fine." Hutch was uncharacteristically brusque. "Now, Marty, have you really got anything for us?"
Not much, and it was more for the beat cops than for them anyway. There was a guy who'd been exposing himself and trying to get kids alone at the park where Marty spent a lot of his time. Marty had probably had more experience with that kind of thing himself than he wanted to say, but it was obvious enough why he'd called.
"I don't wanna go to Metro," Marty said.
Starsky answered. "That's where the mug books are, Marty. C'm'on, kid, you wanted to ID this guy."
"Will you be there?" the boy asked Hutch. Licked powdered barbecue flavoring off his fingers.
Starsky had to look away. It was that or laugh.
"You oughta be nicer to that kid," he said when they were back in the car. "He'd identify anybody we wanted if you held his hand."
"Shut up," Hutch said. But he began to smile a little. "'Least he doesn't shoplift expensive lighters like Joey did when we first met her."
"Just don't go buyin' him Springsteen tickets."
"No. Honestly, Starsk, every time I see that kid I want to check inside his elbows."
Starsky thought about it. "Naw, I think it's just living on the street. Doesn't have a lot to eat, isn't very healthy altogether."
"Sells his ass."
"Maybe." After a minute or so, Starsky looked over and saw Hutch gazing out the window, rubbing his mustache and looking morose. "Hey. Don't dwell."
Hutch's mouth widened, curved, and his eyes were alight when he turned them to Starsky. In fact, he looked so happy that Starsky asked, "What?"
"It's been a long time since you did that. Got me out of a mood."
"Hutchinson, the last year's been one long mood for you."
"Well, what d'you expect, mushbrain, if you don't do anything about it?" Hutch smirked out the windshield.
So that round was his.
Later, as they drove down Porn Row, where nothing at all unusual was happening, Hutch said suddenly, "Starsk, how do you want to play it? With Kira?"
He thought about it. "I know what I don't wanna do. Talk it through and resolve all the issues."
Hutch made a soft, half-laughing sound that Starsky took as agreement. He didn't seem to have any suggestions, though.
After a minute or so of silence, Starsky said, "I liked her, you know. Really liked her. She was funny and warm. And really paid attention to you. I mean me. Oh, you know—"
Hutch smiled at the last part, but he looked sort of wistful anyway. "Yeah. I liked her, too."
Starsky gripped his partner's arm, firmly, driving with one hand. "I'm not havin' regrets. That's not what I mean. I'm just . . . trying to think of something that means she won't be hurt and I won't have to talk."
"We've set up enough scenes in our time," Hutch said. "We'll figure something out."
They did, in the end, screwing around a bit with Huggy's mind, too, though it wasn't easy to fool him. Starsky moved away from Hutch and wouldn't look at him, told Huggy, "Ask him what he's doing here," and still Hug asked if it were Hutch who was the 'beautiful blond' Starsky was meeting.
Well, Huggy had known them forever.
Still, the matching outfits might have been too much. Anyway he hated having stuff so snug around his neck. No more turtlenecks.
Starsky felt a surge of affection and amusement when Kira played up to them as if they'd all rehearsed it. She might yet be worth something undercover, if she could learn when to stop the role. And it was great to get the thing over with in a few words—
"No?" said Hutch, his face not six inches from hers.
"No." She looked sure. Then turned to Starsky, who leaned in as well, not to be outdone.
He almost kissed her, he felt so euphoric. Right answer, babe! But he flung his arm around Hutch instead, and they made a fancy exit, leaving two beers on the tab and Kira—no, Starsky could hear her step on the sidewalk behind them.
"Hey," she called. "Just a minute." They turned back, arms falling away. "Wait," and she raised one finger the way Hutch did sometimes. Starsky glanced at him, but the dent between his eyebrows said he didn't know what it was about either.
Kira went past them to her car, opened the passenger door, and got something out. When she turned, Starsky recognized the gift he'd brought her, wrapping and bow and everything still intact. She held it in front of her with both hands, head bent rather shyly, and when she was close, she held it out between them. "I think," she said, "maybe Hutch should have this."
Hutch didn't look eager to take it.
So Starsky did, before the moment could get too awkward, and said "Okay," though he wasn't sure at all. And then he really registered what she'd said, and looked up sharply. She just smiled back, perhaps a little uncertain, but then they'd been playing with her brain and she might just be calling them on it.
"Thanks," Hutch said, as if on time-delay.
"Well, okay," she said, "um, see you around, guys," and backed off.
"Yes, 'bye, Kira," Hutch said, and Starsky echoed somehow, not really listening to himself.
She went back to her car and they both watched her drive off.
"So is it lingerie?" Hutch asked.
"No," said Starsky. The box was surprisingly light; he remembered thinking that before. The gold-patterned paper looked a little scuffed, and there was a tiny tear at one corner.
"What now?" Hutch's voice sounded unusually gentle, which probably meant he was a little freaked. Starsky looked up to check, and sure enough, the sky-colored eyes were rimmed with white across the top.
"Your place?" Maybe that would help.
Hutch nodded, and walked away to his car.
At Venice Place, Starsky parked behind the LTD and got out; Hutch had already gone in. The door with the carved tree on it was never locked, though; Starsky touched the rough stained wood before turning the knob.
At the top of the stairs, Hutch was just unlocking his apartment door, his own hand flat against the plywood branches that echoed the tree on the street door. Starsky, box in hand, bounded up the stairs and ended up right behind Hutch as he went in. Walking straight through the living-room area, Hutch said, "Want a beer?"
"Sure," and Starsky hung his jacket on one of the wooden chairs at the table, setting the box to one side—plopped down into the seat.
Hutch came back, handed him an open bottle, sat down himself, and took a swig from his own drink. Then he got up and took off his jacket, pulled Starsky's off the chair, and took both of them to the hooks next to the door. When he sat down again, his eyes were on the box.
"I was at Kira's," Starsky began, knowing he couldn't put it off any longer. "She was—well, I thought she was trying to get me to say I loved her. She said," and it had moved him, so it was a little hard to repeat now, "she said I had so much love inside, it lit up the room."
Hutch's eyes flicked up. Then down. "Does," he muttered. Cleared his throat. "Sometimes."
Starsky grinned. He couldn't help it—he just beamed, and Hutch looked up again at last and smiled back. "Like now," he said.
It was a moment to savor, and they did. But after a while, Starsky tapped the box and went on with the story. "I'd seen this in a shop, down near your place, actually. One of those little places with half-a-dozen artists, macramé and pottery and wirework and all. This I noticed 'cause I thought Ma might like it. But after that talk with Kira, and thinking I might step it up with her, you know, I went back and got it."
"So what is it?"
Starsky pushed the box at him. "Open it and see."
Looking suspicious, Hutch untaped the ribbon from the bottom and took the bow off, undid the edges and unfolded the paper, turned the white cardstock box over again. Glanced at Starsky. Lifted the top, which stuck about halfway off, and Hutch had to pull on the bottom. Inside lay a roll of loose tissue paper. Hutch picked it up and unrolled it. Looking a little startled, he set the bright delicate thing down on the table, then turned it with careful fingers to examine the other side.
It looked fragile, but it was actually plexiglass, curving pieces melted together to make a pleasingly irregular arch, about four inches at its highest, about ten from end to end. Some parts were colored a glassy blue, like both Hutch's and Kira's eyes; other pieces were clear. Small silvery cups were set over it at intervals, four sloping up on one side, one in the middle, four on the downslope of the other side.
Hutch touched the middle candle-holder, his fingertip large against its small bright edge. "A menorah," he said.
Hutch withdrew his hand. "You were really serious."
He wasn't panicking now, and that was good, but he did look pensive, even melancholy. Half a dozen more or less true and reassuring replies went through Starsky's head. None of them were true enough, complete enough, reassuring enough. So in the end he just held out his hand. "Hutch."
It seemed easier for him this time; Starsky didn't have to ask again before Hutch's hand was in his. But that wasn't enough either, and the menorah loomed between them. "Let's go sit on the couch."
So they stood, hands separating. When they sat again, Starsky faced Hutch, one leg bent under him and one arm on the back of the couch. He reached again and Hutch wove their fingers together.
"Have we ever done this before?" Hutch was looking at their clasped hands. Starsky just shrugged. The blue eyes met his—"I'm not converting to Judaism," Hutch said solemnly.
"Ma'll be disappointed."
Hutch snorted. "I'm sure that will be what she's worried about." Then he sobered. "Would you really tell her?"
Starsky sighed. "I don't know. Yeah, after a while. I guess. It's only yesterday we said we didn't have to rush it, Hutch. Now you're, like, making out a guest list for the reception."
Pulling his hand away, Hutch ran it through his hair, then put it down half on his thigh. He looked toward the windows. "I'm, I don't know what I'm," he said and stopped.
"Me either." But Starsky slid nearer, put his arm around his beautiful blond. "Hey."
"What?" Hutch, relaxed in his hold, still sounded a little irritated.
"If two men are together about ninety-five percent of the time, would you say they had certain tendencies?"
Hutch's mouth twitched. "Well, I don't know, Starsk," he said in his lecturing voice. "How well do they kiss?"
"Mm," and Starsky leaned closer, "remind me."
He started at the very corner of Hutch's mouth, nibbling at the point of his mustache, right where it had moved when he was trying not to smile. Licked back at the place where the laugh-line creased, then forward onto the pad of the lower lip, bare and soft, and gave it several slow, sucking kisses as Hutch returned the favor to his upper lip and held him. Then they switched, and Starsky amused himself with the short bristles, like a child's brush, harsher than Hutch's other hair but still softer than Starsky's beard ever was. They traded shallow, smacking kisses like the ones Starsky had always seduced his women with, teasing and playing until they were the ones to demand more. And Hutch knew that—he knew everything.
One hand on his face, around his chin, the other on the side of his head, pulled Starsky back, and he found himself on his side between couch-cushions and Hutch, whose expression was far too skeptical for someone who'd just been kissing him nearly into oblivion. "David Michael Starsky," Hutch said, as if he were reacquainting himself with his partner from scratch, "you're such a seducer."
"I'm not the only one," Starsky said with a languid smile.
"No," Hutch admitted, but sat up. He rubbed his mouth with his fingers.
"What?" asked Starsky.
For a while Hutch didn't answer, not in words, confining himself to tracing the lines of Starsky's mouth, his eyebrows, the edges of his bones. Then, irrelevantly, he said, "You won't darn my socks either, will you?"
Either? For a moment, Starsky didn't get it, but he remembered that Hutch's ex-wife had made that her benchmark of excessive domesticity. But then, Vanessa thought sexual fidelity was a sign of excessive domesticity.
"You kissed me like a stewardess you took to dinner and danced with until she was ready to put out." Hutch's tone wasn't accusatory—it hardly could be that—but Starsky realized what he was being asked.
"I want to kiss you every way my mouth works. Can't be too many ways we haven't done it already anyway."
"I would have thought so. But there always seems to be something new." Hutch's thumb was back on Starsky's lips, brushing back and forth.
"That's a good thing, isn't it?"
"Oh," said Hutch, absently, "yeah, sure."
Starsky swallowed. "Come back here," he said, and Hutch put his head into the upholstered corner, over Starsky's shoulder, not quite on it.
"Couch is too small if this gets to be a habit." A soft brush of lips on his temple, and then another in his hair, and fingertips dipping into the snug turtleneck.
It was strange to be so familiar, to know the things he did about Hutch and still find the mystery in those blue eyes that Starsky always found with women he'd been in love with. "It never seemed strange to make love with you," speaking out of his thoughts, and Hutch just made a little sound, not quite a grunt, that might have been agreement. But to be in love with you . . . yeah, that is strange.
"Love's weird," said Hutch, lightly; then less lightly, "You always fall fast. Hard."
"So do you." And most of the time they both got over it fairly quickly, though not as quickly as this, with Kira.
"Time will tell, I guess."
A Hutchinson philosophy moment. Starsky held tighter. "We're gonna have time."
"Still," said Hutch, "there's none to waste." He got up on his elbows and looked down. "You look good in black."
"You said that this morning."
"Still true. Think I'll revamp your wardrobe. Redecorate you. Like Metro."
"They're painting Metro black?" A little squeaky at the end, when Hutch pulled up the turtleneck and kissed his stomach.
Hutch laughed against the now-wet skin. Starsky wrapped a leg around his back. They had the night off, and tomorrow, first shift again, all their cases, the repainting at Metro, all seemed a long way away.