This story was first published in the stand-alone zine, If Love Is Real Addiction published by In Person Press. Comments on this story can be sent, as usual, to:


If Love Is Real: Addiction


Chapter 3

All you have to do is choose me
And if you would try
An alternative high
Then tell me, what have we got to lose now?
            Drug—Duran Duran

Starsky pulled up outside O'Reilly's bar at Third and Jefferson and switched off the ignition. Hutch was looking out the passenger window, taking in the new location. "What's the setup?" he asked. "New snitch?"

"Maybe," Starsky said. "Depends on how we play it."

Hutch turned back to him questioningly. O'Reilly's was a pretty quiet place. They never had cause to do much business here. The bartender, a big man named Al, was a no-nonsense guy who kept his nose out of most of his customers' business. He wasn't fond of cops or their informants, but he wasn't fond of felons, either. He did a careful job of straddling the fence, and the place was clean enough that they rarely had any business here.

"I made a connection while I was lookin' for you," Starsky explained matter-of-factly. "That little weasely guy Richardson heard I was shakin' the streets for a lead, and figured he could cop a fin so he called me to meet him. His rap was jive, though, so I shook him off and was gettin' ready to leave when all hell broke loose in the bar. This pimp I never saw before broke bad with one of his ladies and started beatin' the shit outta her right in front of me."

Hutch's jaw knotted when he mentioned the brutality, but Starsky ignored it and went on. "So I leap-frogged a table, tenderized the bastard and cuffed him. The hooker was nearly passed out, but she's beggin' me not to take him in. She was so scared, it was sickening. After I put the piece of shit in a black-and-white to go downtown, Al tells me this joker's been in town about three weeks, he's got a stable of maybe ten girls, a couple of 'em way underage, and that they're all in various states of disrepair. Seems he likes them that way. Makes them handle a lotta rough trade, too. Bigger bucks."

Hutch closed his eyes for a moment as if to collect himself, then said quietly, "Al must really hate that guy to give you so much information." They both knew the bartender rarely offered them anything, that only outrage could've fueled this outpouring of cooperation.

"That's an understatement," Starsky told him. "The pimp's got the stable scattered all over, but the little blonde he knocked around in front of me is parked in one of Al's rooms. Needless to say, she wouldn't press charges against the bum, and, in fact, bailed him out less than an hour after I put him in. Case was dropped. I tried talkin' to her, but she wouldn't have anything to do with me since I roughed up her man."

"So, now what?" Hutch asked patiently.

Starsky looked at him, waiting for his partner to meet his gaze. When Hutch did, he said, "She knows me, knows I'm a cop, so I can't get anywhere with her. This one's not a juvenile, she's got miles on her. And a substantial record for soliciting. If you try to initiate some action with her, put her in a compromising situation, we might be able to turn her. One more serious bust and she goes up for real time. I don't think she can handle it. I think it might be the one thing she's more afraid of than him. If we can use her to set him up, find out where he's stashed the underage girls, we should be able to bust him for everything from child endangerment to violating child labor laws and put him in so deep he'll never come out. I know it should be Vice's case, but I got Dobey to clear it with them because I'm already involved."

Hutch nodded, not saying anything, just taking the whole scene in. Then he smiled a little. "You really don't like this guy, do you, Starsky?"

It was a glimmer of the old Hutch, and for a second Starsky thought he wouldn't be able to talk around the lump in his throat. He smiled back and managed to say, "Well, let's just say I've taken him off my Christmas card list."

"How do you want me to play it?" Hutch asked without hesitation.

Dobey's wrong, Starsky thought with a flush of pride. You're the same cop you were before. My partner. The man I can depend on to back me up every day. We'll show him. He gave Hutch a few of the standard phrases he'd been told that the pimp used as signals that a john was a special customer.

"So, you want me to be rough trade?" Hutch asked, but looked away when he did.

"Uh-uh," Starsky told him. "Just the opposite. I want you to turn on all that Hutchinson charm. You're new in town. Don't know anyone. She's gonna wonder why someone like you needs to go to a hooker for action—" Hutch gave him a look of total bewilderment, but Starsky ignored it, "—so you're gonna have to convince her she's got something special you need. Think you can do that?"

"Well, that's her job, isn't it?" Hutch said knowledgeably. "To convince me she can earn my cash. I'll play it by ear, but I'm sure I'll come up with something."

"She's kinda frail, Hutch," Starsky warned. "She's on edge. Once you cement the transaction and hand her the cash, we've got to move fast, press her hard. She's got to be convinced we're gonna send her up for a long ride or she'll never be willing to give him up. She's that scared of him."

"Suppose she won't?" Hutch wondered. "Then what?"

"I can't help but think she'd be better off doin' time than getting whaled on every few days."

Hutch nodded and grabbed the door handle to leave the car. But before he did, he turned back to Starsky one more time. "You ever gonna tell me what Dobey's gripe was, or not?"

Caught flat-footed, Starsky couldn't come up with a quick enough lie. Hutch knew just how to play him like that, and he fell for it every time.

"He's worried about me, isn't he?" Hutch said calmly. "He thinks I can't hack it out here. He's worried I'll let you down."

Starsky ground his teeth. "You don't need to worry about what he thinks! The only opinion you need to worry about is mine. And I know that ain't ever gonna happen. I know I can count on you."

Hutch got pensive but wouldn't look at his partner. "Your faith is touching, Starsk, but...I'm worried that it might be misplaced."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

This time Hutch did look at him. "I've been thinking a lot lately. Maybe—maybe I'm not really cut out to be a cop."

For once, Starsky couldn't maintain the kind of emotionless defenses he often affected when hearing things he didn't like. His jaw dropped, and he went clammy all over. Hutch had never said anything like that before, no matter how down he got.

"Maybe," Hutch continued quietly, "I haven't got what it takes for the long haul."

Without thinking, Starsky slid across the seat and grabbed Hutch by the back of the neck, forcing him to face him. His voice was a choked growl. "Now you listen to ! You're the finest cop this city's ever seen, and I don't wanna hear how you 'can't cut it.' You're my partner, the only partner I ever wanted, the one thing in this whole screwed-up world I can count on. You got more honor, more integrity, than the whole damned department put together, and more guts than anyone I ever knew!"

Hutch was staring at him, nearly nose-to-nose, shocked at his outburst—and clearly disbelieving. "Yeah. I've got all kinds of integrity. That's why I sold out the woman I loved the first time things got tough for me. That's why I used the most personal moments between us to try and force you to give me what I wanted. You think you can count on me? For what? To let you down just when you need me the most?"

Still hanging on to Hutch's neck, Starsky clutched his shoulder with his free hand, giving him a shake. "Cut it out! That wasn't you. Wasn't your fault. You gotta get over that. It's behind us and we gotta move on."

"It's behind us all right," Hutch said, and his voice cracked. "It's standing right behind us, looming like a shadow over everything. Can't you see what's gonna happen? Dobey can, and he's worried as hell. You think I don't know that? Well, I do. And he's right to worry."

Hutch reached up, slowly touched Starsky's cheek with his fingertips, and his worried expression went soft. It was a gesture so intimate it stunned Starsky. It was a lover's touch, and there was no way to misinterpret that. "I'm scared, Starsk, scared of what could happen if I let you down. You're too important to me...."

Starsky realized then the tense tableau in the confines of the car might have been the worst thing to subject Hutch to. He was hard again, and Starsky couldn't pretend he didn't notice. He flushed and released Hutch as if he'd been slapped.

"Sorry, partner," Hutch said, clearly embarrassed as he shifted in the seat, trying to adjust himself. "Well, at least I can use it to my advantage with this hooker. It should be pretty easy to convince her of my need now, huh?"

Starsky closed his eyes, mortified. He blamed himself for Hutch's current confusion. If he'd never told Hutch how he'd felt about him all those years ago, if he'd never touched him sexually, this wouldn't be coming between them now. In some ways, he felt as if the brief moments of passion between them had corrupted Hutch more than Forrest's drugs had. "Don't apologize to me," Starsky ordered him. "It's not your fault."

Hutch just snorted a bitter laugh, then opened the car door.

Starsky latched onto his sleeve. "We gotta talk about this, Hutch. You're keepin' too much inside you. We gotta—"

Hutch pulled his arm away savagely. "That's exactly what I don't need. An intimate evening sitting around spilling my guts to you. I already can't get through the nights without you holding my hand. And every day this-this thing—" they both knew he was referring to his sudden uncontrollable sexual desire for his partner, "—just gets worse. What I need is some time to think. Some time to myself. Now I'm gonna go up to this hooker's room and pretend I'm a functioning cop and do my job. And when this is done and the forms are signed I'm going home to my own house and spend the night alone, like any normal adult. And I'm going to use the time to make some serious decisions about my future."

Starsky stared at him. "You mean our future, don't you?"

Hutch met his gaze levelly. "No. You already know your future. Mine's completely up for grabs at this point." And then he left the car, and Starsky watched him enter the bar alone.


A million magic crystals painted pure and white
Twice as sweet as sugar, twice as bitter as salt
And if you get hooked, baby, it's nobody else's fault
            White Lines—Duran Duran

Could you have made him feel any worse? Hutch berated himself as he walked up the stairs to the prostitute's room. But he had to be honest with Starsky. He couldn't live with himself if his bad judgment ended up causing Starsky to be endangered, and he didn't know how much longer he could spend in Starsky's company without losing control of himself. And these days, his self-control was tenuous at best.

As he climbed the stairs, the touch of Starsky's hand on the back of his neck lingered on his skin. It mingled with bitter memories of Monk and his men—

—restraining him for the shots, pulling his hair, holding the back of his neck, big, powerful male hands wrapping around his throat, restricting his breathing—

It was all a confusing mélange of touch, sensation, and restraint, combined with wild surges of adrenaline-fueled flight response, all of it overlaid with the remembered rush.

—the needle puncturing his arm—the terror—the useless resistance—the surge of pure pleasure—

—The soft murmuring of his captors—

It'll be good, blondie, hold still.

You know cops love to ride the white horse, Goldilocks.

That was as easy as givin' candy to a baby.

He took to that like a baby to a bottle.

Don't think about it! he ordered himself, an order that was becoming harder and harder to obey.

Standing before the prostitute's door, he closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. He'd ruin Starsky's whole setup if he couldn't get his act together. And the last thing he could bear was to let his partner down more than he already had. He spent another moment considering what his story would be, then scrubbed a hand over his face and knocked on the door.

The woman who opened it was prettier than he expected, in a brittle kind of way. She was wearing a clinging dress that accented her figure with an amazingly high hemline. Her ash-blonde hair was fashionably arranged, and her make-up was carefully applied.

Too carefully, Hutch realized, able to see the shadow of discolored bruises around her mouth and cheek and on her throat. He remembered Starsky's warning about her fragility, and found it fairly easy to smile at her.

"Hi," he said softly, wanting to seem as uncomfortable as he really felt. "I'm Ken. Hope I'm at the right place."

She eyed him blatantly, and smiled encouragingly. "So do I."

"Uh—well, Jake sent me over," Hutch told her.

"Oh, yeah?" she said, still smiling, but not opening the door any wider.

"Uh-huh." He glanced around the hallway as if concerned that someone would overhear them. "He, uh, he said you'd be able to help me."

Her smile broadened. "Did he?"

"Yeah," Hutch assured her. He moved closer to the door, but didn't take hold of it. He didn't want to threaten her with his size; he was more interested in seduction. He pitched his voice low and wore an anxious expression. "Jake said you'd help me. He'd have just what I needed."

She seemed delighted as he mouthed the pimp's catch-phrase. "You can take that to bank, Ken. Come on in." She opened the door to the rented room.

He entered hesitantly, hands in his pockets, and she shut the door behind him. The room was cleaner than most hookers' quarters, and held a number of personal touches that told Hutch that this woman considered this place her refuge as well as her work place. It depressed him, in spite of the bright wall hangings and the stuffed toys that had obviously been hugged a great deal.

"My name's Roxie, Ken," she said, as she moved to the freshly made bed, sitting on it cross-legged. She patted the mattress. "Why don't you come on over here and tell me what exactly it is that you need."

He hovered around the bed, acting reluctant to sit with her. He laughed self-deprecatingly. "It's kinda hard to talk about."

Her eyes glittered and she eyed him again. "You can tell me, though. Tell me what you need. Let's get business out of the way first, then we can party, however you want."

"Yeah, well...." he hesitated, hoping she would start to lead him on. He'd have to be careful about entrapment now. If he said too much, it would kill the case.

She slid off the bed, moved close to him. "Am I going to have to guess, Ken? I don't get many shy ones here. You're even blushing a little. That's sweet." She leaned forward and cupped his genitals gently, but the gesture startled him and he flinched. He'd lost his erection on the climb upstairs, but fully expected it to come back up quickly at her manipulation. To his chagrin, nothing happened. Roxie glanced down as she stroked him with a bit more insistence. "The size of you, Ken! This is my lucky day! Don't you like that?"

He waited for his organ to do the job he needed it to do. He could barely keep the damned thing reined in while watching television at Starsky's house but now that it was receiving a pretty woman's undivided attention it seemed to be dead.

Roxie didn't seemed fazed. "Is that it, Ken? Is that why it's hard to talk about? You poor kid." She seemed genuinely concerned that a young, handsome man like Hutch might suffer bouts of impotence, and her sympathy was suddenly humiliating to him.

He wasn't prepared for the touch of her hand on his right arm as she clasped it in a friendly gesture. Grasping him at the elbow, her thumb pressed right over his injection sites. He jerked back slightly before he could control his reaction, and she put two and two together.

"Sure, I understand," she said gently. "This happens sometimes when you're playin' around with—the stuff. Don't feel bad. I know just what to do."

He blinked dazedly, unsure of what she meant. This wasn't going right. He had to get her to agree to illegal acts, name a price. He had to hand over money before— "What can you do?" he asked, sounding a little desperate.

She took him by the wrist and pulled him closer to the bed and he let her. "It's obvious you haven't been doing this very long," she said in a tone that spoke of too much experience. "With guys, sometimes you have to make a choice. Juice or sex. Some guys can take the juice and still get it up. Some can't. Sometimes if you stay off it for awhile, things will start working again." She urged him to sit beside her on the bed. He did.

"What-what can you—?" He was stuttering from nervousness, and couldn't remember when he'd last felt less cop-like. But his fumbling manner just made her more interested in him. And why not? He wasn't here to rough her up or use her in some other degrading way. Whatever he was there for, he was clearly letting her set up the rules.

"Well, I've got a few tricks that could raise the dead, handsome, so we can try that if you want. It's all extra stuff, so it's priced accordingly."

"I-I-I'm not sure I understand. Like w-what? How m-m-m—?"

She patted his cheek, charmed with his shyness. "Depends on how far you want me to go."

He wet his mouth, found his voice. He had to have her give him a price, state what she would do. "I want you to help me—" His own words to Starsky seemed to echo around the room—I need some help. You've got to give me some help—and he shuddered. He started again. "I-I want—everything."

She smiled. "My pleasure. Everything, huh? You want it itemized?" She giggled, and he managed to smile back at her, hoping she'd think talking about it was turning him on. She obliged, her language geared to sound sexy, the terms all standard street slang that could be hard to pin down in court. But Hutch was used to those problems. Some of the offerings really did make him blush, and that delighted her even more. She gave him a price without ever mentioning dollars, and as soon as she did he nearly exhaled in relief.

He was reaching for his wallet to seal the bargain when she pulled open the drawer of a small nightstand.

"I like you, Ken," she admitted, sounding almost as if she meant it. "I can tell this is all kind of new to you, so I want this night to be really special. For an extra twenty, I'll add a little sauce to the party. What do you say?" She placed something on the nightstand, then pulled out a small bag.

Hutch turned and found himself instantly mesmerized by the paraphernalia on the stand.

A full set of works. A spoon. A candle. A baggie full of white powder.



He stared so long at it, she rubbed her fingers gently in the crook of his arm to get his attention. "You're lookin' kinda hungry, there, honey. Thought you might want a little just to start. A taste? Sometimes that can get everything working again."

His mouth had gone completely dry as he sat there, his every nerve ending thrummed.

"I don't usually share my stash with customers," she confided. "But I can tell you need it. And this stuff is good, really pure—"

Hutch forced himself to snap out of it, and turned to her. "This-this is yours?" He swallowed hard and his brain started working. She's holding. I've got her dead to rights, holding. Think about that. Just think about that. Don't think about the stuff just sitting there....

"Uh-huh, so you know it's clean," she went on, blithely. "I had some just a few hours ago. I've got a steady supply, too, so you can count on me to have it for you if you want me to be your supplier. Sometimes if the stuff you're using isn't clean, it can cause all kinds of problems for guys. But when it's clean, that doesn't happen. If it's clean stuff, you can go all night. You'd like that, wouldn't you, handsome?"

Hutch blinked, registering the typical junkie folklore as to why addicts became impotent after taking heroin. Details began clicking into place—why she was willing to take beatings and rough trade in the first place. An attractive woman like this could usually get an easier gig hooking than the one Roxie had chosen. But her pimp had a pipeline into some pure horse and she was a junkie. It all made so much sense, now.

"So, would you like that, Ken? A little taste to start the party? Just an extra twenty? I can cook it up for you. Or if you want we could smoke it or snort it. Your choice, handsome." She seemed so cheerful.

Hutch felt as if he were plummeting head first down the rabbit hole. How could you be a slave to that stuff and be so content with your life? Selling yourself. Willing to do anything, anything sexually with a complete stranger. Enduring brutality. Just to keep the supply coming.

How dare you even ask that question? Look at this woman. She's you. You were willing to give your ass to Starsky, and you would've let him do anything if he'd just score for you. Even before that, you begged those cons for the stuff. Begged them. And after they let you wait for it, you would've done anything for it. For free. Just for the juice. At least this woman has the dignity to demand money in payment.

"Don't be shy, Ken," she urged him. "I told you I'd have just what you needed."

Just what I need—even she knows it. She can see the need in me.

The sudden realization that he was less than two feet and twenty dollars away from having what his body had been craving for the last two weeks made him feel as if his blood had chilled down ten degrees. He stared at the bag again, becoming oblivious to the undercover act he was supposed to be running. "Just twenty for the horse?" he said quietly, afraid of being overheard. He was staring at it again, unable to pull his gaze away.

"Uh-huh," she agreed. "Twenty, added to the other forty for the special party." She cocked her head to one side flirtatiously. "And for you, handsome, a money-back guarantee. Jake never lies. I've got just what you need."

Twenty for the horse. That's all. Just twenty. His mouth watered, and he felt sweat break out on his upper lip.

Then just as suddenly, he snapped out of it. What are you thinking? You're a cop, working an informant! Do your job!

"O-okay," he stammered, and reached for his wallet, extracting the bills and laying them on the bed.

She smiled, seeming genuinely pleased as she scooped them up and put them in the nightstand drawer. "Good. Business is over. Now, it's time for fun."

Before Hutch could respond, the door to the room swung open quietly, revealing Starsky standing in the doorframe, his badge and ID held prominently in his hand. "Not for you, Roxie."

Hutch stepped back as if he'd been caught red-handed. He was shocked at his partner's sudden appearance even though it was standard operating procedure for them. Of course Starsky would be just outside the door listening. It was the best possible way to entrap the prostitute, having Starsky overhear the transaction. They'd done it a dozen times. But the minute the heroin had appeared, Hutch had forgotten all their normal procedures. He felt flushed and unprepared.

Roxie's face twisted in anger. "You again?" she spat. "What are you, my guardian angel? For your information, your help isn't wanted here. This is an old friend of mine, right, Ken? He was just lending me some money. You can't prove otherwise."

Hutch was surprised how much it bothered him to have to extract his badge and show it to her. "Sorry, Roxie."

She seemed stunned. "You're a cop? I could've sworn—" She blinked and closed her mouth, but Hutch heard the words she didn't utter. I could've sworn you were a junkie—like me!

She made a sudden move, lightning fast, grabbing up the nickel bag and turning to throw it out the open window. Instinctively, Hutch tackled her, gripping her wrist, wrestling the bag of dope out of her hand. He closed his fist around it to keep it safe from her. "Sorry, Roxie. That's evidence now."

The plastic of the bag seemed to be melting a hole in his palm as he clutched it way too tight. Distractedly, wanting to be rid of it, he unconsciously slid it into his front pocket, then yanked it back out again as if it burned him through his pants. Snapping, "Here!" he tossed the baggie at Starsky. He had to get rid of it.

His partner snatched it out of the air without even looking at it, then tossed it aimlessly from hand to hand, like it was nothing. Hutch found he couldn't watch Starsky doing that, so kept his attention on the hooker.

She clutched herself, blinking rapidly as if thinking faster, trying to figure a way out. "Go on and book me. Jake'll have me out in an hour."

Starsky moved into the room with that slow saunter that told his opponent just who owned this space right now. He kept tossing the baggie in front of the prostitute. "Not this time, Roxie. Bail will be too high. You're gonna do some serious time. We've got you cold, not just on soliciting, but—" he held the baggie by the corner and shook it for emphasis, "holding and distributing. You know it. Jake'll know it. He'll hang you out to dry. You know that, too."

Starsky moved closer to the bed, wandered around it, finally pocketing the dope, much to Hutch's relief. Hutch pushed the door shut and leaned against it. Starsky positioned himself by the window. There was a fire escape there. Neither of them felt like chasing her down it. Both exits cut off. No escape.

"You know what getting busted means, Roxie," Starsky said ominously. "Cold turkey withdrawal." Hutch had to remind himself that Starsky wasn't talking to him. "Public defense lawyers. Serious time. We're talkin' ten to fifteen. Not just hooking. Pushing."

Roxie buried both hands in her hair, looking like she might fall apart. She shook her head desolately, muttering, "Oh God, oh God." Her hopelessness tore at Hutch.

"It doesn't have to be that way, Roxie," he said softly.

She looked up at him, trembling. Hopeful, yet afraid.

He glanced at Starsky. This was his play. He didn't want to interfere, but.... Starsky gave him a small nod. Go ahead.

"We don't really want you, at all," Hutch said clearly. "We want Jake. You can give him to us."

Her eyes went wide with fear. "No. No way. He'd kill me. He'd get out on bail and I'd never live till the trial."

"Not if we get him just right," Hutch told her. "He's a violent man, and you know that." He reached out, gently touched the healing bruise at the corner of her mouth. Her lip trembled. "We know he has underage hookers. We know he's just as rough with them. He's got them on the stuff, too, doesn't he?"

Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded rapidly.

"All we need from you is information," Hutch assured her. He sat on the bed with her, took one of her hands, held it in his. "We need to know where the youngest hookers are. What his routines are. Where his supply is. Where he's getting it from. If we can tie all this in together, along with his record of violence, we can convince the judge he's a flight risk, and a danger to society, and keep him under lock and key. But the information's got to be good."

She sniffled a little, and almost smiled at him. "You weren't kidding. You really do want everything."

"If you give it to us, Roxie," Starsky said quietly, "we'll forget all about this evening's little interlude. It'll be our secret."

"What would life be like if you were free of Jake?" Hutch asked her, his voice still gentle.

She squeezed her eyes shut. "I'm afraid, Ken. I'm so afraid of him!"

The sound of her fear twisted inside him, and suddenly he wanted this pimp as fiercely as Starsky did.

"Roxie, don't make us lock you up in detox," Hutch said sincerely. He knew he'd never be able to stand the thought of her curled up alone in that cell, giving it up cold without anyone to help her through it. "Help us, and we'll help you."

"Lotta choice I've got," she complained, then seemed to pull herself together. "Okay. Okay. I'll help you. But I won't be able to explain away losing all that dope so easy. Either give it back, or pay me for it. Or the plan fails right away."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, who extracted his wallet. "We'll pay for it." An analysis of the quality would help them build a case. He tossed enough bills on the bed to more than cover the dope and the time she should've spent sharing it with customers.

She nodded her gratitude and collected the bills.

"You don't have to call us directly," Starsky told her. "You can call Huggy's bar," he scribbled the number on a piece of paper and gave it to her. "Talk only to Huggy, and let him know what's going on. He'll get the word to us. I know you've got customers that hang out there. It'll look just like your regular business calls."

She nodded. She quickly ran down what information she already had on the minors Jake was running, and the two warehouses where he usually kept his drugs stashed in unmarked cargo boxes. Starsky took notes in his sprawling, canted script while Hutch held onto Roxie's hand and offered support.

Finally, their business transaction was completed. Hutch smiled and got off the bed. He gave her hand one last squeeze and released it.

She looked him in the eye as she said, "You're some kind of actor, Ken. I thought to myself, 'Well, this sure can't be a cop. He's got the need so bad it's written all over him.'"

He smiled wanly as the blood drained from his face. Before he could respond, Starsky had him by the arm.

"Guess you ain't heard, Roxie," Starsky said glibly, "they're sending us all to acting school these days." And with that he hustled his partner out the door and halfway down the hall before slowing down.

If he asks me if I'm all right, I'll scream, Hutch thought.

But instead, Starsky said, "Hutch, I'm sorry. I swear I didn't know she was a junkie." He sounded stricken.

Hutch looked at him. "City's full of 'em, Starsk. Sooner or later it had to happen."

Starsky stared at him, his eyes full of sincerity. "That was some job you did in there, buddy. The way you played the scene—"

"Don't!" Hutch hissed, suddenly angry. "Don't tell me what a great cop I was in there, how well I handled it. You were right outside the door. You heard me. I was trying to score!"

Starsky looked as if he'd been slapped. "I don't believe that. You're a cop and you were doin' a cop's job."

"If that's what you want to hang on to," Hutch said wearily, "you do that. But the truth is I nearly blew it half a dozen times in there. I was falling apart. And if you hadn't walked in when you did, I would've let her hit me. I can't do this anymore, Starsk. And it's time you faced it." He left Starsky standing there and started down the stairs. But when he got to the next landing, he remembered something and waited for Starsky to catch up with him.

His partner looked at him without saying a word.

Hutch could barely meet his gaze. "Uh—thanks."

"For what?" Starsky asked, sounding baffled.

"For not asking for the dope while I was holding it," Hutch said, and continued on down the stairs.


And the White Knight is talking backwards....
            White RabbitJefferson Airplane

By the time Starsky got to the Torino he felt completely shaken. Nothing about this day had gone right, and nothing he could do could set it right. From the very moment they'd gotten up this morning, things had gone from bad to worse. Hutch acted like he was on the verge of cracking up before they could even scavenge breakfast, Dobey was convinced he needed some concentrated couch time, and now Hutch didn't think he could be a cop anymore. The very concept of that was turning Starsky's whole world upside down. He couldn't handle it. Couldn't accept it. And he felt completely powerless to do anything about it.

He slid into the driver's seat while Hutch sat in the passenger's, both of them staring straight ahead. Finally, Hutch spoke as Starsky put the key into the ignition.

"I can't work this case with you, Starsk."

Hutch's words were one more deep stab wound into Starsky's soul. Before he could collect himself to say anything, Hutch continued.

"I'm not ready to handle being exposed to quantities of dope, or do stake-outs where I've got to watch some low-rent version of Forrest do to those young girls what Forrest did to Jeannie."

Or to me, sat between them unsaid.

"I won't be reliable if I have to do that kind of work. You'll trust me, 'cause you're you, and that'll be a mistake—"

Starsky couldn't stand it. "Trusting you could never be a mistake!"

"It nearly was today," Hutch insisted. He didn't raise his voice, and that rattled Starsky. Whenever Hutch got loud, that meant he was coping with his emotions. This quiet, dead-sounding Hutch scared the hell out of him. He didn't know this man, didn't know what was going on inside him. "If you'd waited in the car, let me run the whole thing, like most partners do, I'd be up there right now, nodding out, not comparing notes with you on how to handle the case! I'm telling you it's no good. Let's go back to the station, so we can write this up. You present it to Dobey and work it out. You can handle the case with Vice."

"It's our case," Starsky protested, but even he could hear how feeble that sounded.

Hutch just shook his head tiredly. "You've got to face the facts, Starsky. I'm an addict. A dope addict. I'm not fit to be on the streets. Now, take me back to the station, damn it, let me write this fucking report and let me go home—to the bungalow in Venice." He'd never raised his voice above a murmur, but the words were like quiet bombs in Starsky's heart, tearing apart his soul.

Hutch turned to face Starsky. "I'm going I need to be alone for awhile. On my own. Do you trust me enough to leave me alone?"

After today? After you just finished telling me you were ready to score this afternoon? Starsky blinked, unable to confess his fears, yet unable to lie about them, either.

"What-what am I supposed to tell Dobey?" The words choked him. He was drowning in the same feelings he'd endured when he'd been searching for Hutch, fearing he'd never find him alive, fearing he'd end up working the rest of his life without him. But he'd found him. Saved him. So how could it be coming down to this anyway? He squeezed his eyes shut tight, fearing he might cry right here in the car.

"Tell him," Hutch said wearily, "tell him he was right. I can't handle it. Tell him I want to hand in my badge."

In utter desolation, Starsky turned the key in the ignition and drove the car toward the station.

Rip tide, we slide, we ride on a deep forbidden sea
Under we go—so slow
And you're hanging onto me
            One More Addiction—Natalie Imbruglia

Chapter 4

Love is like oxygen
You get too much, you get too high
Not enough and you're gonna die
Love gets you high
            Love Is Like Oxygen—Sweet

Hutch sat in the front seat of the battered Ford that Starsky loved to hate and clutched a partially consumed bottle of cheap scotch to his chest like a lover. He stared at the little yellow bungalow he was parked beside as though it were some unobtainable treasure forever lost to him. Perhaps it was.

I loved that place, he thought again, much as he had when he'd first pulled up into his old parking space two hours before.

The first time he'd moved into this house had been a few years ago. He was still married to Vanessa, and had imagined it to be their honeymoon cottage, but she'd never seen it that way. To him it was an enchanted place, with a greenhouse for his plants and the kind of open environment he preferred with few walls and fewer doors. He'd filled it with lush plants, bright colors, and the odds and ends of interesting things that had caught his latent artist's eye. Hutch loved Venice with its canals and street artists and the beach so near, but to Vanessa it had been a cheap bungalow in a run-down neighborhood. She'd never been happy here, and finally insisted they move to a better part of town. He'd hated to leave the little yellow house, but he was desperate to improve their deteriorating relationship.

Of course, the move didn't help. They'd been just as miserable in a new apartment.

He took a long pull off the bottle and wondered how much of it he'd have to down before he'd get drunk. At least a third of it was gone now to little effect.

Well, that figures, he thought bitterly. You're a drug addict. What's a little alcohol to you? He took another sip, enjoying the sharp burn of the cheap brew. Vices should be painful. They should extract a toll from whoever indulged in them. He rubbed the crook of his elbow, feeling the healing itch there.

The next time he'd moved into the yellow house was after Vanessa gave him his divorce papers. Starsky had found out the little house was back on the rental market, and Hutch had been happy to return to it. This time when he'd filled it with plants and driftwood and flea market furniture, there'd been no one to protest his "second-hand junk." The house, the environment, was his. And the only other person who mattered to him was always comfortable in it.

Hutch gripped the neck of the bottle, aching for Starsky's presence and fearing it at the same time. He needed to get out of the car. He needed to go into his home. So far, he'd been able to do neither. At this point, he couldn't even go back to Starsky's, since he'd had too much to drink to drive safely.

You're a mess, Hutchinson! Get your ass out of this wagon and go into your house. Go to bed. Wake up tomorrow and—

And what? Technically he was on leave, since Starsky refused to tell Dobey Hutch was quitting. You want out so bad, hand in your own badge, Starsky had said, knowing Hutch didn't have the stomach for a confrontation with his captain right now. But he couldn't take off forever. Eventually, Dobey would call and demand his presence. Maybe by then he'd be able to quit without his partner's damned interference.

That man's damned interference has saved your sorry blond ass, more than once.

Thinking of Starsky and the word "ass" caused his traitorous cock to stir. Furious with himself, he shoved open the car door and nearly fell out of the car. Regaining his balance, he pulled the car keys from the ignition, and ambled somewhat unsteadily toward the bungalow's front door.

What the hell do you need those keys for? he wondered, even as he clutched them in his hand. House key's over the lintel, where you always leave it.

Is that how Forrest's men let themselves in, he wondered? Or did they just slip into the open bedroom window? He froze on the porch of the house, hand reaching for the knob and stood there, unmoving for long moments, half-considering bolting back to the car. He could call Starsky on the car radio. Starsk would come to get him, take him away from the house he'd once loved and now feared.

He bit the inside of his cheek to break the cowardly train of thought and grasped the door knob. It was locked, so he used his key and let himself in, snapping on the light before he crossed the threshold.

The interior looked so innocent. Just like it had that night. In fact, the house was as neat as he'd left it when he went to work that morning. His clothes were all at Starsky's now, but the furnishings were still here, and the bed—where Jeannie and I last made love—was neatly made. There was a slight film of dust on everything from disuse and the air was a bit stale, but other than that it looked as if he had just left the house this morning.

Except for Jeannie's picture. Starsky took it out of the frame and put it in the back of my photo album. I was going to throw it away, but he said I might want it some day.

Hutch was barely inside the threshold and couldn't find the motivation to move any further into the house.

It'll be hard to sleep in the doorway, Hutchinson. Stop acting like a baby and go inside.

He nodded at his own badgering and took two steps forward. The sense of invasion was thick in the house as his mind involuntarily supplied him with all the details.

I opened the door. Took off my jacket. Hung up my gun. I started pulling my shirt off to shower before I met Jeannie. And they came at me. From the corners, from the dark spaces. They were just there. I fought. They knocked me cold. They took me away.

He'd written it on the report of his abduction, the report that had jailed the men who had survived the gun battle in the alley. He'd written it, but he hadn't actually talked about it, not with Starsky, not with anyone. Because he knew talking about it would make him relive it and he didn't want to do that. He didn't want to think about the attack, or think about the feeling of terror that flooded through him as he realized he was losing consciousness, that he was about to become prey to these men he didn't know for reasons he didn't understand. He didn't want to relive any of that.

He was two feet inside his door, standing on the spot where he'd collapsed in an ungainly sprawl like a giant starfish as consciousness slipped away. They took him like a discarded toy they weren't finished playing with, took him, drove away with him, and left nothing behind to help Starsky find him.

It was the only thing he'd had to cling to when he'd slowly come to, head throbbing, disoriented—blindfolded, tied to a chair in a strange place, in darkness, nothing but strange voices around me, so many voices. He knew within seconds of waking that he was facing death, that these men would never release him so he could find them again. He was a cop. They'd abducted him. They would kill him. He knew that as soon as he'd come to. He knew that every moment tied to this chair could be his last, that anything he said could be the last words he ever uttered.

That feeling of imminent death washed over him like a smothering blanket, making his stomach roil from the fear and the alcohol. He sank to the floor, clutching his bottle, one hand holding his nauseous gut.

So alone. So alone. All those voices yet you were all alone.

Starsky would come looking for him, once he realized he was missing, but it would be five days before he realized that. Because Hutch was taking days off with Jeannie, and in her terror of Forrest and her intense paranoia she'd begged Hutch not to tell anyone where they'd be, and he'd indulged her because of her terrible fear. Five days. Hutch fully expected to be dead long before that.

He couldn't see. But he could hear. He could smell. And he could feel. He was tense with fear when they'd started questioning him but he wouldn't yield, wouldn't give them what they wanted.

Why did there have to be so many questions?

Jeannie. They'd wanted Jeannie. But he wouldn't tell them. She was so afraid of them, and for the first time Hutch really understood why. Men who would abduct a cop would do anything, anything at all. And now they had him, and they could do anything to him. But he wouldn't give them Jeannie. He was determined not to do that. Even when they'd started beating him.

Oh, God, he didn't want to think about that! But it was too late. He folded over his stomach protectively—which he could not do when he'd been tied in that chair—as he remembered the blows, one after another, again and again. One man would tire and another would step in, so there was no end to it. Big men. Big hands. Heavy hitters.

Answer the question, Hutchinson.

Refuse. Tense for the blow. His stomach. His chest. His thighs. His face. Again, again, again. He prayed to pass out, prayed finally for death. It was coming eventually, why not now and spare him their brutality?

Answer the question.

Tense for the blows. His stomach. His chest. His groin. That had made him scream and he fainted. A short respite.

He was sitting cross-legged now, hugging his bottle, rocking back and forth. It was no good. He couldn't stay here. He couldn't sleep here. He couldn't even stand being awake here. The shadows of those men stood in every dark corner of this house. Waiting for him, waiting to take him, waiting to addict him.

No! Not again!

The house creaked around him, and he drew his gun, held it defensively. It glinted a deep black-blue in the dim light of the room. The gun he'd left hanging here when they'd taken him, oh so easily from his home.

He felt the sob escape, knew he'd drunk too much, and didn't care. You're an addict. You've got lots of vices. At least alcohol's legal! Clinging to the gun, he upended the bottle, taking another healthy swig.

But alcohol couldn't help him anymore. Nothing could. He thought of the small white packet he'd held so tightly in his hand just a few hours before. So harmless looking. So simple. Just a little of that powder could take you to heaven. Make you forget that your body was in agony. Make you forget that you hadn't eaten, hadn't had water. Make you forget the careless, almost sexual way they handled you when they held you for the injections. Make you forget all those hands on you, doing whatever they wanted while you were blindfolded and bound. That simple white powder could make you forget everything—even the most important things, like loyalty, decency, love and honor.

He'd kill to have his hands on that little packet now. That's all he wanted, as he sat rocking on the floor of a house he had once loved. He wanted to forget. Forget how he'd betrayed Jeannie, giving her up just for a little taste, forget how he'd betrayed Starsky, treating him as if he could be bought with something as valueless as a sexual romp with a stoned, filthy junkie, forget how he'd betrayed his oath as a cop, betrayed everything he'd believed in.

His face was wet, he realized, as a tear splashed on the hand that held his gun. He stared at it fascinated, then studied the gun some more. This solved problems, too. Big problems. Solved them permanently. He stared at the gun, feeling an empty desolation he'd never known, at least not since he'd met Starsky.

He'll never let Dobey give him another partner, Hutch realized. Not as long as he thinks he can talk me into going back. He'll keep waiting, working the streets alone. He'll be in danger with no back-up.

This new problem—just another in the unending list of crises Hutch's addiction had precipitated—disturbed him more than any of the others. What could he possibly do that would make Starsky stop waiting for him, make him accept the inevitable, find another partner and start his life over? There had to be something—

Hutch stared fixedly at the gun for a long time and started to tremble. Of course.

He was good with his gun. And the Python was one of the deadliest hand-guns in the world. One shot, that's all it would take. One bite from the quickest snake and Starsky would be free. And Hutch would, too.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He brought forth one last image of Starsky from his memory, from just this morning, looking tousled and half-asleep and nearly nude. The most beautiful thing Hutch could possibly imagine, red underwear and all. It reminded him of the drug-induced dream he'd had of Starsky in the white room, lying nude on the green couch. He smiled wanly and surrounded the image with love as he lifted three pounds of steel slowly to his head.

But the gun seemed to grow steadily heavier in his hand until finally he was unable to raise it any higher. Confused, he opened his eyes and realized something was restraining his wrist. He blinked.

A man's hand gripped his wrist, controlling the aim of the gun, which was now turned away from him.

"Wha'd'ya think you're doin', huh?" asked a familiar worried voice.

He blinked blearily. Starsky was beside him on the floor, down on one knee, like a man proposing. He was hanging onto Hutch's gun wrist. He looked anxious, upset, but still beautiful. Maybe more beautiful because of his caring.

Hutch suddenly didn't know the answer to Starsky's question. But he had one of his own. "Why are you here?"

"I thought I'd tuck you in, " Starsky said glibly. He reached into Hutch's lap, pulled the bottle around so he could read it and made a face. "I see you've started the party without me. But I thought you had better taste than to swill down that crap."

Hutch shrugged. "It was on sale."

Starsky smiled wanly, then said firmly, "Give me the gun, Hutch."

He wasn't ready to give it up yet. Maybe he could use it to bargain. "Promise me something first."


"Promise me you'll let Dobey find you a new partner right away. Promise me, Starsk."

"I'm not promising that," Starsky said in a kindly tone.

Hutch thought his heart would break. "I can't stand the thought of you on the streets, all alone, no back up."

"So don't think about it. 'Cause it ain't gonna happen. I've got a partner. The only one I ever want. Now give me the gun, Hutch."

He shook his head. "I need it."

Starsky sighed, and pressed his thumb hard into Hutch's wrist at a sensitive point, surprising him. He gasped and dropped the weapon as his hand went numb. Without releasing Hutch's wrist, Starsky palmed the gun and kept it out of reach. Then, gently, he rubbed feeling back into the wrist to apologize.

Hutch felt his eyes grow wet as he said, "I can't stay here, Starsk."

"I know that, buddy. That's why I'm here. I'm gonna take you home now."

"And you'll stay with me?"

"I'll always stay with you, Hutch. I won't let you send me away any more."

"Oh, good," Hutch said wearily, and sagged against his friend.

Starsky slipped an arm around his waist and hoisted him to his feet. His legs seemed remarkably uncooperative. "Come on, babe. Y'gotta help me here. There's way too much of you to wrestle with."

Hutch tried to support himself with Starsky's assistance, and together they managed to get him into the big red car. Hutch felt an inexplicable rush of nostalgia on seeing the Torino. It had been one of his clearest memories that day Starsky found him strung out in the alley.

Just as he had then, Starsky helped Hutch into the front seat and put his legs in the car carefully before shutting the door. Hutch inhaled the familiar scent, ran his hands over the soft leather, and suddenly wanted to weep. Just then a hand in his hair forced his attention elsewhere.

"Hey, you okay?" Starsky was asking.

Just having Starsky touch him again felt so good, so right, he could only smile and nod. When Starsky's hand left his hair and gripped his shoulder, he let it guide him down till he was nestling his head in his friend's lap. Just like that day....

"Take a nap, Hutch," Starsky told him, gently petting his hair. "We'll be home before you know it."

Curling a hand around the strong thigh pillowing his head, Hutch instantly obeyed and let sleep wash over him as the familiar rumble of the car urged him to relax, to let go, to let Starsky handle everything....

He awoke suddenly, unsure why, but with an insistent feeling that would not be denied. He sat up abruptly and with a rush of vertigo realized the car was still moving. "I'm going to be sick," he announced clearly.

The car lurched instantly over to the side of the road, as Hutch jerked open the car door and leaned out to empty his stomach. A strong hand snaked around his left arm, keeping him from toppling into the street. He moaned and threw up some more. Another hand patted his back comfortingly. Another heave but this one was dry, then finally he was guided back into the seat to rest upright.

"You okay?" Starsky asked. "We're almost home."

Hutch was miserably sober now. His mouth tasted horrible. "Yeah. I'll make it."

"I got some orange juice. That and some aspirin and coffee will help."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed half-heartedly. Why did Starsky always think that coffee cured everything?

Hutch wasn't sure that he could make it all the way up Starsky's staircase, but somehow he managed. Once inside, the lighting seemed too bright and he winced. The crushing depression was on him again, but he knew there was no use in trying to go back to the bungalow or to find a way to enjoy his blues in private. And there was no way Starsky was going to give him his gun back. He saw the Python tucked in the back of Starsky's belt, then his partner took it out of there and put it and his own Baretta in a locked cabinet. Hutch nodded approvingly and got even more depressed.

"Here, try this," Starsky said neutrally, pressing a huge glass of orange juice and a few aspirin in his hand. He didn't have the strength to object, so he downed the pills and drained the glass, praying it would stay down. It did. Moving wearily to the bathroom, he scrubbed his teeth to rid his mouth of the bitter taste of stomach bile.

"Can I put on some coffee?" Starsky asked from the kitchen.

What's he asking me permission for? Hutch wondered as he rinsed his mouth, but before he could say anything, Starsky appeared in the doorway.

"Since you fell off the wagon tonight and decided to have some alcohol, I thought coffee would be the lesser of the two evils."

Hutch nodded and wiped his face. "Yeah. I'll take some coffee."

Starsky went about his domestic chores entirely too cheerfully. He was humming some nondescript show tune and clattering around with the pot and the grounds. Hutch moved into one of the dining room chairs, feeling miserable and unfocused. He held his head in both hands, and realized that the orange juice and the aspirin were beginning to work and he was starting to recover. That just made him more depressed. He leaned forward and supported his head in his hands.

I'm back to square one, here with Starsky. My guardian. My baby-sitter. I'm hopeless.

He felt both of Starsky's hands on his slumped shoulders, kneading. "Coffee will be ready in a minute."

Hutch nodded, yielding to the pleasant sensation of Starsky rubbing his shoulders, easing the tension. His cock stirred traitorously. "Don't," he warned dejectedly.

Starsky ignored him and kept up the sensual touching, as if defying his caution.

"Starsk..." Hutch warned more seriously.

He continued the massage, moving down the part of Hutch's spine he could easily reach, then to his arms.

"I'm going to throw a rod if you keep that up," Hutch said succinctly, tired of dancing around the issue. Yet, he found he was unwilling to move away from that healing touch.

"So?" Starsky said casually. "That doesn't scare me, Hutch. It's not like I haven't seen it before." He stopped then, and Hutch ached for those hands to return even as he feared them.

A cup of hot, black coffee was placed in front of him. "Try that," Starsky ordered. "Go on. It'll clear out some of the cobwebs."

The scent hit him like a powerful perfume, and he lifted the cup to his mouth. After going cold turkey at Huggy's he thought he'd never touch the stuff, but this was strong and bitter, not sweet, and the flavor hit his mouth like a heady brew. He took a strong swallow, then another. A low grade headache he didn't even realize he'd been carrying suddenly dissipated like storm clouds breaking before the sun. "That's good, Starsk," he muttered, and drained the cup.

"Glad you like it." He went back to the massage, working his way up the column of Hutch's neck, into his hairline, rubbing away knots of tension and fear left over from the incident at the yellow house.

Hutch closed his eyes, letting himself enjoy the touch for as long as it lasted. But his depression wouldn't let him leave the topic alone. "How come this isn't against the rules?"

"Hmmm?" Starsky murmured, rubbing Hutch's temples, then the muscles in his tense jaw.

"Starsky's rules. How come this isn't against the rules? What partners can and cannot do in the name of partnership, love, and normalcy." Starsky's hands were back on his neck, stroking his throat, and Hutch had a sudden memory of him doing that when he was lying in Starsky's lap at Huggy's going cold turkey. His cock came up hard, pulsing, choking in his tight pants. He reached down, adjusted it so it would stop hurting.

"It's just a massage, Hutch. You're wound tighter than a spring."

"You've got incredible hands. They're making me hard, buddy. That's got to be against the rules." He opened his eyes, tipped his head back as Starsky cradled his jaw.

His partner's expression was a complex amalgam of worry and devotion. "Maybe I'm ready to throw the rule book out, Hutch."

He went rigid with anger. In three quick strides, he was out of the chair and across the room. "I should've known. You went to all this trouble to throw me a pity party?"

"I don't pity you, Hutch," Starsky insisted. "I don't feel sorry for you. But when you hurt, I do, too. I want to be here for you, any way you need me. I-I love you, dammit!"

As Starsky moved closer, Hutch stabbed a finger in his direction, halting his progress. "You think I want that? You think I want you as some kind of noble sacrifice on the altar of your precious heterosexuality?"

Starsky looked baffled and advanced again. "What the hell does that mean? I'm not offering to sacrifice nothin'! There's no one in this whole world as important to me as you. I've put my life on the line for you a hundred times, just like you've done for me. Well, right now I've got nothing else to give you but myself. You think you need that, so why shouldn't I give you what you need? If it was me standin' there with an aching hard-on and a fucked-up head, what would you do?"

Starsky was toe-to-toe with Hutch now, his expression fierce, his eyes indigo with intensity. "You'd come after me, that's what. You'd make me take whatever comfort from you I could. Just like you've done before."

Hutch had to close his eyes and turn away, knowing Starsky was talking about the warning Hutch had given him after Starsky had loved him back to health when Vanessa had left. Next time you're hurting, I'm coming after you. And then he did, when Starsky was devastated by Helen's dumping him and didn't want any consolation. It had been easy to give Starsky the love and physical caring he'd needed to shore up his broken heart.

But this is different. It's all wrong now. I've ruined it with the things I said to him. The way I treated him. And my need for him, it's not real. It's some sick addiction I've developed. It doesn't have anything to do with love or caring, it's just need. Raw craving.

Somehow, he managed to utter, "I can't, Starsk. I can't just use you. And that's all it would be."

Starsky shook his head in bewilderment. "Hutch, I've been in love with you for a long time, and you know it. You think that's something that just goes away? It doesn't. I keep it locked up inside me, 'cause most of the time, it's not safe to let it out. And I know you don't feel the same way. This thing going on with you, I know it's all passion and need, it's all tied up with all the bad things that have happened to you lately. You might love me, but you're not in love with me, and I know that, too. But what does any of that matter right now? You're fallin' apart, doing crazy things like getting drunk and talkin' to your gun."

Hearing the catch in Starsky's voice, Hutch opened his eyes and saw the pain etched on his face.

Starsky swallowed convulsively and struggled to get his words out. "What the hell am I supposed to do with all this love inside of me if you blow your fuckin' brains out? Who am I supposed to give it to, then, huh? Yeah, I made the rules. I made 'em to keep us safe, to keep IA off our backs, to keep our careers on track, our lives normal. And I made 'em to keep myself together when you fell in love with some lady like I knew you would—like you should. When things are going right you're happy with those rules, and I am, too. But how could you think that stuff's more important to me than you, than your life?"

Hutch was shaking his head, unable, unwilling to accept what Starsky was saying to him. "You're not making any sense. Tomorrow you'll be telling me—"

"Don't talk to me about tomorrow!" Starsky shouted. He grabbed Hutch by the shoulders, gripped him hard. "If I'd'a gotten to that damned bungalow a half-hour later, there wouldn't be any tomorrows for us to talk about. Right now, all I want for tomorrow is to wake up with you in my bed, wrapped around me like a blanket, all warm, safe, alive, and with me."

Starsky's surge of frustrated rage was a catalyst to Hutch's own passion. The erection currently strangling in his pants pulsed and grew and became so painful that he couldn't bear it. His every nerve ending throbbed with unrelieved need—all of it focused on the man holding him, shouting at him, demanding a response. Hutch no longer had any choice. Starsky was here. Hutch wanted him. And Starsky was saying he could have him.

But part of him still couldn't believe. So, he decided to take the one thing Starsky had steadfastly refused to give. Grabbing a fistful of dark curls, Hutch pulled Starsky against him roughly and took his mouth in a determined and possessive kiss. Starsky had never permitted that, so Hutch indulged himself, knowing it would all be over in a moment.

As their lips clashed roughly, Hutch's grip on Starsky's thick hair tightened. His other arm moved around Starsky's slender back and pulled him closer, pinning him. Hutch's hips crushed his aching erection against his friend's groin. An answering hardness responded. Starsky's hands were still holding his arms; Hutch waited for them to push back, fight, reject the kiss. Hutch's tongue traced Starsky's smaller mouth, insisting on entry, which he knew would be denied.

Standing, they wrestled together for a long tense moment.


Starsky gasped in surprise as Hutch pulled him against his body, his strong arms rigid, unrelenting. A powerful hard-on shoved roughly against his own awakening shaft. His mind reeled as it tried to regain its balance, tried to understand what was happening, why it was happening. Because Starsky thought he'd had this all worked out. But this was definitely not part of the scenario.

His carefully scripted seduction had started unraveling the minute he'd found his partner crouched on the floor, drunk, depressed, and seconds away from the afterlife. And now Hutch's frantic passion had taken the entire issue out of his hands.

As Hutch's demanding mouth pressed harder against his, and his slick tongue insisted on entry, Starsky tried to figure out just how he was going to regain control of the situation. He had to get them back on track so he could love Hutch tenderly back to health, get him to talk, get him to—

Hutch nipped his lower lip impatiently, making Starsky grunt. That forced his mouth open, and then Hutch was shoving his way inside, lapping at Starsky's teeth, stroking his tongue.

Oh, God, not that!

The heady sensation of Hutch in his mouth went right to Starsky's head, making him dizzy, making his knees sag. He never could handle kissing him. Not since the first time, in the Academy, when kissing Hutch had made him lose all sense, all rational thought. He'd never let them do it again. He couldn't handle that surge of feeling, that wild, out-of-control, heady sensation that only kissing Hutch had ever given him.

But Hutch was giving him no quarter. He wasn't asking for this, wasn't playing a seductive game, he was taking it. If Starsky dared pull away that would end any chance of getting through to his partner, of finding the way around his pain and hurt to the other side where his sane, healthy friend still existed.

Hutch's tongue invaded him ruthlessly. Trembling under the sense of shock and invasion and the sheer sexual delight of it, Starsky had no choice but to yield. With a throaty groan, he closed his eyes, opened his mouth, buried his own hands in blond hair and kissed him back.

Hutch swallowed his moan with a shudder as their tongues engaged, two practiced warriors meeting for a long denied rematch. Starsky nipped the tip of Hutch's tongue in retaliation for his bit lip and Hutch jumped as his cock surged hard against Starsky's groin.

As the kiss became more mutual, Hutch released his hair. Those big palms slid down Starsky's long torso and brazenly latched onto his ass. Hutch rubbed their straining rods together as he bruised Starsky's lips with the power of his kiss, the force of his need. It was erotic, compelling, completely overwhelming. Before Starsky realized what was happening, his body jerked spasmodically as he came in his pants, pulsing hard, leaving himself covered in liquid heat and numb surprise. He trembled in Hutch's arms, but his erection never subsided. It was nothing more than the initial release of steam from a pressure cooker, just something to keep the whole system from exploding. His heart pounded insanely. He wanted more.

Dimly, Starsky realized they were moving backwards. No, that wasn't quite right. He was moving backwards. He was being moved by an irresistible force. The force of Hutchinson unleashed propelled them both, carrying him backwards, step by step. It was just motion to Starsky as he drowned in the sensations of the devastating kiss, motion like the tide or the wind, not really making sense or having direction or destination. Nothing mattered to him at this moment, only that Hutch might keep kissing him. Then the side of his own bed hit him behind the knees and he was falling onto the mattress. But Hutch was still with him, still kissing him, his mouth fierce and unrelenting, totally unyielding.

Starsky glanced past Hutch's head and looked up at his mirrored canopy, and briefly watched their wild tableau—himself sprawled helplessly beneath his blond partner, Hutch surrounding him, enveloping him, possessing him. Starsky blinked. He had to slow this down, get control. He had to help Hutch, not just give him more reasons to be wracked with guilt in the morning. But he had never seen Hutch like this, wild with need, out of control. He'd seen him enthused, impassioned, ferocious with rage at some injustice, at the abuse of innocents, but Hutch's passion had always been tender, accepting, gentle and loving—no, he'd never seen this.

No, he realized just as suddenly, that's wrong. You have seen him like this before, you just don't want to remember.

And it was there in the front of his mind: Hutch, transformed in an instant from a wheedling, pleading junkie bargaining his body for a fix to a psychotic, infuriated addict capable of doing anything, using anyone, to get what he wanted. The fury, the rage, the uncontrolled passion, had all surfaced like a malevolent spirit as Hutch fought him to get out the door. Hutch had said and done the most hurtful things as he fought viciously, fought dirty, for what he needed.

Starsky had been forced to realize that night that his partner really was a junkie; and now he had to realize that he was dealing with the same man. That knowledge cut as cruelly as a jagged knife, but this time he did not have to refuse Hutch the thing he needed. If he truly were facing a man in desperate need of his fix, this time the fix was something he could provide. Because this time, he was the fix. And whatever mixed feelings he might have about that, he was damned if he would refuse Hutch again.

As suddenly as he'd grabbed him, Hutch just as abruptly released him, leaving Starsky momentarily confused. He took the opportunity to suck in air, needing it as if he'd been drowning. But as Hutch pulled back, Starsky found he was reluctant to release the handfuls of blond hair he found himself gripping. Hutch didn't seem to notice. His partner seemed focused on only one issue at the moment—divesting Starsky of his clothes. Grabbing Starsky's blue work shirt near his belt, Hutch yanked it out of his pants, latched onto the front tails and pulled them apart, sending buttons flying.

"Hutch!" Starsky rasped, still gulping air, still shaking with the aftereffects of his abrupt orgasm. "Babe, listen—"

Hutch shook his head as his hands moved confidently to Starsky's belt. He opened it quickly then unbuttoned the waistband. "No more rules, Starsky! Just me and you. The way I feel. The way you feel. I need you."

It was as heartfelt a plea as Starsky had ever heard, and it pierced whatever armor he had left. As Hutch wrenched Starsky's zipper open then used the jeans' waistband to haul them down his legs, Starsky sat up, stroking his partner's face with a gentle touch. It caught the frantic man's attention, and he paused to look at Starsky. Hutch's eyes were wild, unfocused ice shards set in his determined face. He glared at Starsky, daring him to deny what was happening between them.

Starsky brushed his knuckles against his partner's cheek, and somehow found the voice to promise, "No rules, Hutch. Whatever you need. I'm here for you."

A tremor passed through Hutch, then he was back at work, towing the jeans off, fighting with blue sneakers, red socks, yanking everything off and away, then stripping off his own black turtleneck in one quick move, turning his fine hair into a halo of light waving wildly around his head.

"Hutch, come on," Starsky urged breathlessly, "there's no rush. I'm not gonna run away from you."

He shook his head, denying something, but Starsky didn't know what. Hutch dropped his gray cords to the ground, kicked off his boots, then glanced suddenly at his partner who had not moved, had not dared to budge from where Hutch had put him. Hutch's eyes suddenly focused on Starsky's groin. He halted his rushed activity.

"That damned underwear," he muttered, glaring at Starsky's red bikinis, which only baffled him. Then Hutch's eyes softened, and he reached out a hand to carefully touch the front of the red briefs.

Starsky realized his friend had just noticed the fresh semen stain.

Hutch's icy eyes melted a bit as he seemed puzzled. "From a kiss?" he asked incredulously.

"Your kiss," Starsky specified.

Hutch let out a strangled sound and then suddenly he was back in the bed, sprawled on Starsky again, just as frantic as before.

I gotta slow him down, Starsky decided, as Hutch surrounded him, his hands roving Starsky's body, grabbing at him, struggling to possess him. If anything, Hutch's sense of urgency was worse now.

Starsky wondered if some of this had to be backlash from the experience Hutch had had at the yellow bungalow. He was attacked, overpowered there. And being back at the site of the attack just reminded him of all that again. All the confused, disturbing feelings about the abduction that he'd never expressed. But what course of action should Starsky take in reaction? Should he resist, or yield? What was best for Hutch?

Hutch moved in for another kiss, and Starsky evaded it, knowing he wouldn't be able to think clearly while that was happening. He nuzzled his own mouth over Hutch's cheek to his ear, saying gently, "Easy, boy, easy," and kissed his way to Hutch's throat. When Hutch trembled in response, Starsky placed a palm on his shoulder and eased him over onto his back. Hutch let him.

"I'm here," Starsky reassured him as he kissed his neck lightly. Hutch's hands still gripped him, unwilling to risk release. "I'm not goin' anywhere."

Hutch squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head as if he couldn't speak, couldn't explain the turmoil inside him.

Starsky placed a kiss on Hutch's sternum, felt the frantic pounding of his strong, healthy heart. He could still turn things around here. Seduce his wild man. Ease his pain. Love him so gentle, so right—make Hutch his.

I'll suck him, make him come. He loves that. Then he'll be relaxed and we can take it slow. Make it last. Like I always wanted to.

The vision of himself climbing between Hutch's legs, of teaching him a whole new world of pleasure, was so clear, Starsky had to shut his own eyes so that the fantasy didn't overwhelm him. "It's gonna be okay, babe," he promised. "It's gonna be fine. Just you and me, that's all we've ever needed, isn't it? Right from the start."

Hutch opened his eyes. "You don't understand," he said mournfully. "Starsk, I-I," he closed his mouth, licked his lips, "I need you. I can't help it." The words were whispered. Ashamed.

"It's okay. I'm here. For whatever you need." His hands stroked the bare chest, trying to ease the tension, the hurt inside, the terrible memories.

"Oh, God," Hutch moaned, as if that was the last thing he wanted to hear. With an abrupt surge, he reversed their position, shoving Starsky onto his back and looming over him. "Why do you keep saying that?" he demanded, sounding furious. "We shouldn't—we can't—we—" His mouth descended without warning, took Starsky's again, refusing to allow him to evade the kiss Hutch had to have.

Starsky gave it to him with a sudden sense of foreboding. Davey, you might be in big trouble here.

Then the delight of Hutch's kiss overwhelmed him again and he couldn't think clearly. Distantly he became aware of Hutch fumbling with his tight red briefs, yanking at the waistband, his hands shaking and rough. Cooperation seemed the only sensible course, so Starsky lifted his hips as Hutch's blunt nails scraped his butt and thighs as he dragged the bikinis off his ass. For a moment, his knees were clumsily trapped by the tight fabric, but with Hutch's pulling and Starsky's collaboration the briefs finally ended up around his ankles. Slipping one foot free, he separated his bound legs.

As if they'd coordinated the move, Hutch insinuated a knee between Starsky's spread thighs then moved his body between them. He groaned painfully down Starsky's throat, as if the shock of feeling Starsky's bare skin against his was more than he could endure.

Pulling out of the kiss, Hutch hissed, "What are we doing?"

Staring over Hutch's shoulder at their struggling image in his ceiling mirror, Starsky thought, Don't you know?

The reality slapped him in the face. He wasn't sure he was ready to accept it. It's been a long time for you, Davey. Hope you're ready for this. He wasn't sure he could watch it, and shut his eyes.

Hutch eased away from Starsky barely long enough to shed his own briefs, then settled over him again. The shock of skin-to-skin contact between their dueling erections was so erotic, Starsky almost came again. Sensations ripped through him as Hutch thrust roughly against his hyper-reactive organ. Starsky's hips rocked up, hoping his partner could get off with some frantic frottage. He stroked blond hair now plastered with sweat onto Hutch's long neck, petted his arching back. But Hutch couldn't be soothed.

"Why don't you stop me?" Hutch rasped. He was pleading.

Starsky thought of the wrestling matches they'd had in front of the door in Huggy's upstairs room as he prevented Hutch from escaping. He thought about the way he'd had to deny Hutch the physical display of his caring when his friend was trying so hard to turn it against him. It had torn out his heart to refuse Hutch, to be the obstacle to his needs, even when those needs were wrong. And while he knew he could stop his partner now, he wouldn't.

"I don't want to," Starsky confessed in a whisper.

Hutch tensed, turned his face to see Starsky's. His eyes were wide, uncomprehending.

"I can't say no to you anymore," Starsky said simply.

Hutch let out a sound that was half growl, half sob, and abruptly reached under Starsky's right knee and pulled his leg up high.

The vulnerable position startled Starsky and he tensed. You ever do this before, choirboy? With a man? No, he knew he hadn't. But surely—with a woman? As the blunt probe of Hutch's erection butted against Starsky's tender perineum, Starsky suddenly had his doubts. And it's not like you're up for a whole lotta suggestions right now, are you, blondie? As Hutch shifted his hips, trying to home in on his single-minded goal, Starsky found himself fighting a rising tide of panic.

Scrabbling backwards with one arm, Starsky reached for his nightstand, managing to snag the drawer pull with his fingertips. Hutch didn't notice. Yanking on the knob, he managed to slide the drawer open and fumbled for the tube, barely capturing it before knocking the whole drawer out completely. Hutch never noticed the crash as it hit the floor and condoms and tissues scattered.

Could he even get through to Hutch at this point? Impulsively, he jabbed the cool tube roughly against Hutch's side. Jumping away from the surprisingly hard, cold object, Hutch blinked in confusion. Starsky touched him with the tube again, held it against him where he could pull it away in defense.

"You can't do this without lubricant, babe," Starsky told him when he was sure he had his attention, however briefly. "You'll tear me apart if you try."

Hutch's expression softened and Starsky realized the alcohol still in his system wasn't letting Hutch think things through clearly. And that didn't bode well for him. It had been years since Starsky had done anything like this with a man. Not since the army. Considering the time span, he might as well be a virgin.

Releasing Starsky's strained leg, Hutch fumbled with the tube, almost immediately losing the cap in the bed sheets. His hands were shaking, his whole body trembling. He's a wreck. He can't last long. Just handle it. However you have to. Just get him through it.

He watched Hutch grease himself too quickly. Starsky gripped his arm to get his attention. "Use a lot!" he ordered, needing to get through to him. "On me, too. I'm gonna need it. Put some inside me. Understand?"

Hutch nodded once and went about the task. But while he slathered Starsky's crack liberally, his touch was timid and hesitant, and Starsky realized there was no way Hutch was ready to use his hands to help open him. Tough it out, Davey. It won't be the first time.

Hutch moved back over Starsky's body, dropping the tube of jelly somewhere. He nestled over his partner much as he would the body of woman, hoisting his leg again, settling in. Starsky shut his eyes and blanked his mind, breathing deeply. He was grateful for the brief orgasm that had bled some of his body's natural tension and tried to force his muscles to relax. He told himself Hutch couldn't last but a few seconds as anxious as he was.

As Hutch took hold of his chin, Starsky opened his lids a slit, finding that unnerving glacier-like gaze completely focused on him. "Last chance," Hutch whispered.

Last chance to stop him, Starsky realized. Hutch was shaking, quivering like a man in pain. Almost as bad as when I was holding him in Huggy's bed. Starsky recognized suddenly that he was still holding Hutch, just in a different bed and in a different way. And this time he didn't have to refuse him the thing he craved. He reached a hand up, brushed Hutch's cheek with the back of his knuckles. Then he said simply, "Kiss me?"

Hutch rushed to oblige him, covering his mouth possessively, his moan of desire rumbling down Starsky's throat. Both of his big hands slid down Starsky's spine and took firm hold of the globes of his ass. He jumped as Hutch grabbed him so intimately, holding him with a strong grip. Then the tip of Hutch's cock slid slickly into the crease of Starsky's ass, like a guided missile homing in on its target. As Hutch probed around, Starsky wished he was coherent enough to take direction, but knew he was too far gone for that. Starsky knew he needed time to relax completely, that it would go much easier for him if Hutch would use his hand to open him, remind his sphincter how pleasurable this could be for both of them. But then the crown of Hutch's cock found its target unerringly as if guided by radar, and there was no more time to think, to wish, to second guess.

Hutch's strong legs tensed, driving forward, and Starsky's cry of shock and pain was devoured by Hutch's ravaging, unending kiss. Hutch felt huge, enormous, like he was splitting Starsky's body right down the middle, but Starsky knew his frantic partner had barely begun entering him. Starsky struggled for air around the kiss as he was overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush from the pain of penetration. He needed to breathe, to gulp air by the lungful if there was any hope of getting his body to relax and accept the sudden assault.

Pulling back a bit, Hutch shuddered violently, as if he were the one being penetrated, not Starsky, then he moved into Starsky's body deeper, stronger. Starsky's legs went numb as pain rocketed up his spine like a shot of white-hot lightning. He stiffened uncontrollably, and fought to be released from the kiss. Hutch let him go, but only for a second, so he could mutter incoherently as Starsky fought for air and struggled to handle what was happening to him.

"Starsk! Starsk!" Hutch gasped, as if his partner might suddenly disappear, as if he could dissolve away from under him. Starsky felt tears fill his eyes, spill out the corners while he grabbed all the air he could before Hutch's mouth took him again.

It was an incontestable fact now, something he could never deny.

Hutch is fucking me. How did we ever get here, that Hutch should be fucking me?

All the years, all the fantasies, the desire he wouldn't let himself admit to, he had always imagined it happening at some point, but always with himself on top, riding sweet, riding hot. Not this sharp agony, this need for his own total surrender. Anything but that. Oh, he'd done it before, but always as a reciprocal act, something you gave back after you'd had yours. Something to do in fairness. Nothing like this. Hutch was taking him, plain and simple, and he'd volunteered for it. And somehow, he'd have to find the rationale to live with it later. Assuming he would live through it at all.

Hutch pulled back again, and Starsky knew this third thrust would force him to take it all, Hutch's complete, impressive length and breadth, more man than he'd ever known. As Hutch's sweet tongue thrust into him, claiming him, his cock plunged deep, leaving Starsky speared fore and aft, nailing him to the mattress as powerfully as if he'd been crucified there. His brain spun, and stars spangled in front of his tightly clenched eyes as he was pierced to his heart.

He tried to cry out Hutch's name, to beg him to stop, to wait, to give him the needed moment to accept the pressure and fullness of so much man, but he couldn't escape the relentless kiss, the powerful obsession of Hutch's craving.

For you, he reminded himself.

All of Hutch's need, his driving passion, was focused on the one man he could trust with his love, his complete vulnerability, his very life. Remembering that rocked Starsky for a moment, filling him with a flush of joy that enabled him to relax enough to accept Hutch's cock sheathed within him. He sighed in sudden contentment, and just accepted and everything changed.

As if Hutch realized this, he released his possessive grip on Starsky's ass and reached up to clutch his upper arms. Holding tight, Hutch shifted his weight subtly as his hips started to move, shallowly at first.

Immobilized, Starsky started to feel dizzy as he realized, He's holding me down. Holding me so I can't move. So he can fuck me senseless. Like I once said I wanted to do him. It had come full circle, from that powerful moment in a dorm room as Starsky confronted a young police cadet with his shocking desire for him, to here, in his own bed. Getting fucked senseless by a man I've wanted all this time. More man than I've ever had. Maybe more man than I can really handle.

Hutch was doing what came naturally now, to him or to any man, fucking with long, smooth strokes. He might not have known how to ease his entry into a man, how to prep him for the act, but this he knew how to do. This was his art, Starsky realized, as the blinding pain began to subside, slowly but surely being replaced by a growing pleasure, the likes of which he'd never known. The fullness and pressure was all-encompassing, but now it only heightened the intensity of Hutch's fucking. And the big cock inside him reached deep, rubbing hard against his prostate, each stroke shocking him with jabs and blows of sharp pleasure. He began tightening around the big plundering shaft, amazed that he could still do that, as stretched as he was.

Hutch gasped in reaction and moved even more strongly, his broad back arching, driving the powerful rear, his beautiful legs running the good race.

Needing air himself, Hutch finally pulled out of their marathon kiss. Starsky's mouth was swollen, but his greedy tongue searched for its mate, mourning the loss already. Both men were wheezing for air, gasping to pull in more and more, their bodies starved for it. Hutch's tongue ran the length of Starsky's jaw, found his ear, penetrated that and Starsky shouted his name.

That made Hutch moan and confess, "Starsk. The way you're taking me. Jesus God I can't handle it."

Taking him? Starsky thought fuzzily. What the fuck's he talkin' about? He's nailin' me to the mattress, fuckin' me through the floor. If he doesn't come soon I won't be able to walk for a week.

"You're so hot inside," Hutch whispered. "So tight around me. So beautiful. I need you so bad."

"Take what you need," Starsky rasped back, his voice shattered. "It's all for you, babe."

Hutch choked off a strangled cry and picked up the pace. Starsky arched and cried out, the pressure on his prostate so intense he just wanted explode. He desperately wanted to stroke himself, do whatever he had to, to get off, but Hutch had him pinned down ruthlessly. Starsky's cock, swollen so tight it ached, rode between their bodies, getting stimulated, but maybe not enough. He couldn't be sure. He didn't know anything. Only that his ass was screaming from a morass of sensations he couldn't separate out, that his insides were shrieking with more pleasure than he'd ever felt, and that no man had ever made him love this act before. That wasn't something he was really ready for. To learn to love this, and to love Hutch doing it to him. No. Not that.

Then the tempo of Hutch's thrusts changed, and Starsky began to fear that he might never come, that the sly innuendoes and smirking remarks Vanessa used to make about Hutch's stamina were the barest hint of truth. Hutch drove into him hard, fast, pounding into his body, again, again, again, relentlessly claiming him. Starsky felt his cock rubbing against Hutch's sweaty, smooth belly, felt himself climbing that familiar spiral up and up, when there was nothing else familiar about this moment. He was getting closer, his back arching higher, his own hips rocking in tempo. He clawed Hutch's back and sides, anything his pinioned arms could reach.

"Hutch! Hutch!" He shouted his name, as if they'd been separated in a firefight, as desperate as that.

"What you're doing to me," Hutch gasped. "Can't believe what you're doing to me!"

Addicting you, Starsky realized with a numbing insight. That's what you think. Even though you're injecting me. Like Forrest's men, I'm forcing you into a type of pleasure you would have otherwise never known. And you can't handle it. But you're wrong, babe. Wrong about which one of us is getting addicted.

"Go on, Hutch," he said fiercely. "You're in me so damned deep. Just pull out my heart. Pull it out and keep it!"

The words made Hutch tense all over. Then with a last sudden sharp thrust, he threw his head back and cried out Starsky's name, his voice one pure beautiful note. And Starsky felt the pulsing deep inside him, the liquid heat rushing forth. That was all he could take. With a cry of his own, Starsky felt his body tighten down around Hutch, felt his ass milk the heavy cock which made Hutch shout again. Starsky's cock jerked hard between them and the rush of semen was the most incredible sensation he could ever remember. He felt like a virgin again, like he'd never had sex before, and trembled wildly from head to toe.

The two men quivered and shuddered against each other, as Starsky's emission glued them together in passion. Hutch finally released his arms, but Starsky knew he'd wear handprints there tomorrow. He didn't care. Hutch's arms slid around his back and pulled him tight, as if afraid he might try to escape his human prison. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Starsky moved his hands down Hutch's body as the aftershocks wracked his frame. He cupped his broad ass and held him in place. If he pulled out too suddenly, Starsky feared his entire colon would follow. The pain of his departure would be bad no matter what. He wanted to postpone that. "Don't move," he implored. "Please, babe, just don't move."

Hutch shook his head and held him close. His lips grazed Starsky's face as they shuddered in unison, each slowly coming down from the incredible experience. Starsky didn't want to talk, didn't want to think. Apparently, Hutch didn't either, as he brushed his cheek against Starsky's, the soft blond stubble of his beard feeling just fine.

Absently, Starsky wondered if they'd be able to face each other tomorrow, or would memories of the intense sex-crazed coupling interfere with their own images of themselves. He couldn't work it out right now, it was too complicated. He just wanted to lie beneath Hutch and throb with pleasure and remember this moment forever. When Hutch had needed him more than anything. When Hutch had loved him.

Eventually, Hutch's shaft began to shrink, and slipped out of its abused berth. Starsky winced, but it wasn't too bad. Hutch carefully rolled them onto their sides to take his weight off Starsky, and the two of them snuggled comfortably together in that position, legs casually intertwined. Soon, Starsky knew, he'd need to sit in a warm tub, go to the bathroom, find out if he could walk without losing his insides. Soon, but not yet. His hands idly stroked Hutch's back, as those long arms held him tight, comfortingly close. He felt cherished and didn't look forward to the moment when this feeling might end. Especially if other feelings might intrude. Would he look different to himself when he faced the mirror?

Then, just as he began to think that Hutch might be getting ready to drift off to sleep, that he might be able to ease out of the bed to tend to those necessary bodily needs, Hutch cleared his throat.

"They were waiting for me when I got home from work that night," he said.

Starsky's eyes widened and his whole body went on alert. One of his hands came up to stroke Hutch's blond hair, to reassure Hutch, as he nestled his head between Starsky's neck and shoulder, that he was safe there, comfortable and easy to comfort both.

"I'd just taken off my jacket and gun, and was getting ready to shower. They came out of the shadows, completely surprising me. I managed to punch one of them, plow into another, but the third one, Monk, I think, hit me hard with a black jack and I went down, unconscious. I guess they must've carried me out to the car."

They'd taken Hutch's car, too, but the department eventually found that down by the docks. There'd been no prints in it, no leads. Starsky suspected they meant to drown Hutch when they were through with him, and hoped the car's presence might make them think he'd been a suicide. That thought brought back the image of his partner cradling his gun in the yellow house. Starsky felt a shiver of dread, and prayed Hutch would keep on talking.

He did. The words were halting and hesitant, but they kept coming. About how it felt to wake up tied to a chair, blindfolded, believing these were your last moments. Hutch talked honestly about the fear, able to admit to it now. He and Starsky had just shared the most intimate, vulnerable moment two human beings could, and Hutch must've felt as if there were nothing he needed to hide from Starsky anymore. So he talked. Starsky wanted to weep in a confused joy that Hutch would trust him with his memories of terror and dread, and knew he'd have no trouble looking in the mirror now. He was helping his friend. His profound love had unlocked the door, released the demons, so that Starsky could keep them for Hutch. Free him from them word by painful word.

Hutch talked about the beating, about the pain, the sickening fear of dying, how it felt to be so helpless, at the mercy of such unthinking, ruthless cruelty. He wasn't a man in that chair, he was an object. An object of derision, good for sadistic entertainment and nothing more. The terror was only matched by the degradation.

"And the whole time...the whole time," Hutch whispered, "I kept thinking how you'd feel when you found my body. I knew you wouldn't come looking for days, 'cause I was supposed to be gone with Jeannie, that even at the end of the time you'd probably shrug off the next day's absence as my extending my time with her. You knew how hung up on her I was. I kept thinking how tore up you'd be when they finally found my body and you'd lost all that time you could've been looking. I knew you'd never get over it and that hurt more than the beating, more than the fear. I felt like I'd let you down, because they took me so easily. And you'd have to live with it."

Hutch's voice was choked now, and Starsky felt a tear hit his bare shoulder just as one slid out of his own eye. He contained the emotion, needing to be together for Hutch. But what he'd said was no lie. It would have destroyed him if they'd found his body, beaten to a pulp, without Starsky ever having known he was missing. He wouldn't have been able to live with it. That was the truth.

Starsky stroked Hutch's hair and kissed his cheek. "You didn't die. You lived. You're here with me. Alive."

"Yeah...but...." Hutch must have been thinking of the drugs, thinking of what he'd become.

"No buts. You're alive. With me. That's everything to me, don't you know that?" He held Hutch's trembling body fiercely.

"I was so afraid," Hutch said in a small voice. "I was so ashamed."

Starsky rocked him. There was nothing to be said to that honest admission, so he held his big blond and rocked him like a child. And then he admitted, "When I realized you were gone, when I found your gun at your place, I was scared, too. And as the time kept stretching out, and there were no clues, I got more and more scared." He found it so hard to talk about. "I went through the morgue every day. I had to see for myself. They had your picture, and they'd insist you weren't there, but I made them pull out all the drawers anyway. I had to be sure. And then I'd go outside and throw up my morning coffee, out of relief that you still weren't in there. That's how scared I was."

"You found me," Hutch said. "You found me."

Starsky frowned, and pulled away a little. He took Hutch's chin, made him look at him again. "I didn't find you." He remembered then how out of it Hutch had been, and realized he probably had no clear memory of the events. "You found me. They must have been taking you to dump you somewheres. We don't even know how it happened. But you got away from them somehow. You ran and ran. You knocked over about a dozen pedestrians in the first non-vehicular serial hit-and-run the city's ever seen. You were totally out of it, half high, half comin' down, runnin' on empty, but runnin' none-the-less. You were spotted by a black-and-white, two uniforms I've known forever. One of 'em brought me up when I was a rookie. Bernie. He's the one who recognized you and followed you there. They called it in and I showed up after the great escape was all over. You don't remember any of that?"

Hutch seemed puzzled, his brow furrowed with intense concentration. "Maybe. Some of it. I remember...something about swimming. Monk was talking about swimming off the point— I think...think I kicked one of them in the face...took off.... I remembered needing to run, run as fast as I could. They should've been able to catch me though."

"They must have seen the black-and-white and couldn't risk it. But Hutch, I didn't save you. You saved yourself. You did it. Even pumped fulla pure horse, you still managed to think like a cop and pull your own ass out of the fire. I was last man on the scene."

It was clearly a revelation to Hutch, and Starsky realized he'd just handed Hutch part of his pride back. Hutch smiled tentatively and settled back in Starsky's embrace, holding him close. Softly, he whispered, "I love you, Starsk."

Swallowing the lump threatening to choke him, Starsky kissed Hutch's forehead and whispered back, "I love you, too." Within seconds, Hutch sagged into sleep.

Starsky desperately wanted to hit the bathroom then the tub, but he couldn't bear to run the risk of disturbing the first peaceful sleep Hutch had had since this whole ordeal started. Humming a dimly recalled lullaby, he lay still and held his friend safe from the demons in his soul. As he did, he watched their image in the ceiling mirror, wanting to remember forever how beautiful they looked entangled like this.

I'll make a wish this day
And I'll send it to the heavens
That we will always stay
Entwined like this forever
And though the world may change
Coz nothing stays the same
I know we will survive
            Hopelessly Addicted—Corrs