This story originally appeared in The Fix no.16, which can still be obtained from In Person Press. Comments on this story can be sent to Flamingo.

If Love Is Real: Colby

...Let me in, I wanna be your friend,
I want to guard your dreams and visions.
Just wrap your legs 'round these velvet rims
And strap your hands across my engines....
'Cause baby I'm just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels.
I want to know if your love is wild,
...I want to know if love is real....
Born To Run—Bruce Springsteen

"I didn't want to tell you until I was sure, Hutch."

Ken Hutchinson watched his roommate, John Colby, pack the last of his belongings into a duffel bag, while he tried to recover from John's unexpected announcement. Both men were police academy students, but right now it looked like only one of them would complete the training. Hutch approached his friend, searching for something to say. "The Air Force? When did you decide to go into the Air Force? You've never even mentioned the Air Force. I don't understand, John...."

Colby wouldn't look at him. "I've been thinking about it for awhile. I started feeling like police work wasn't exactly what I was looking for the day I started. I think the Air Force will give me more opportunities. They were real happy to get someone from the Academy, even if I didn't finish."

"They should be happy. John, you're at the top of our class in every subject. I just can't understand your sudden—quot;

"It hasn't been that sudden. I just played it close to the vest. Maybe I didn't want to have to work through a Hutchinson guilt trip. You've got the damnedest way of making a guy feel like he's abandoning you, Hutch." Colby looked at him then, gave him one of those mega-watt smiles.

Hutch smiled thinly. "I guess I do feel a little abandoned. The Academy's been good for all of us, John. They don't call us the 'Three Corsican brothers' because we don't get along."

Colby shrugged and zipped his bag. "My leaving will benefit you and Starsky both, Hutch. You'll move into the number one position, and with Starsky running second, his nipping at your heels will push you to stay there."

Hutch grew serious. "Your leaving could never benefit us, John. You tutored both Starsky and me through some of the toughest classes. And the stuff you taught us about self-defense and weapons...."

Colby shrugged it off. "Well, you're past the worst of it now, anyway. You'll glide through the rest. Starsky can teach the whole class something on defensive driving techniques, and both of you are better at remembering all those nit-picky laws and procedures than I ever was. I think those were the classes that told me I wasn't cut out for this. There's just too much paper work and not enough action. I think things'll work out for me better in the Air Force."

Hutch blinked, his mind whirling. "John. They'll...send you overseas."

"That's what they promised me, Hutch," Colby said, grinning. "I'll be a fighter pilot, maybe even train for Special Forces. I figure if Starsky can make it through Nam as an regular army Joe, I can surely make it as a fighter pilot or a soldier in Special Forces."

Hutch nodded, still disbelieving. "And that's what you want?"

"Yeah," he said decisively. "A helluva lot more than I want to spend my life writing up meticulous reports filled with piddly details every time I bring in some petty crook on a misdemeanor."

Hutch had nothing to say to that. He'd felt the change in John over the last few weeks, but never imagined it would culminate in his actually leaving the academy. He wondered how Starsky would take it. He suspected he might almost be relieved. The three of them did get along incredibly well, supporting each other throughout their training, but Hutch knew very well that he was the center of the group, that without him, Colby and Starsky would have ended up adversaries—why, he couldn't say. For his sake, they worked at getting along.

Hutch walked around John's side of the small room, eyeing the closet that was now empty, the abandoned dresser, the immaculate desk. He rubbed a hand over his face. "Well, if you're sure this is the right decision for you, John, I guess all I can say is—good luck, partner." He stuck out his hand, in spite of his misgivings, in spite of the bad feeling in his gut.

Colby smiled and grabbed his extended hand. "Thanks, Hutch. That means a lot to me." They clasped hands, each reluctant to let go, but finally decorum demanded they separate.

Hutch tried to lighten the moment. "Well, since you're leaving me at the altar, I guess I'll ask Starsky to move in. He hates rooming with Winchester, anyway, and—quot;

"You're gonna ask Starsky to move in?" Colby's expression stopped Hutch cold.

"Sure. Why not? We spend all our free time together studying anyway. He crashes on our floor three nights out of five as it is."

Colby hesitated. "I, uh, I just know you've mentioned that he's not Vanessa's favorite person, and...."

"Neither are you, John. You always found that more amusing than anything. Besides, he's not going to be rooming with me and Vanessa. You know damn well I keep the Police Academy business out of my married life. Weekends are Vanessa's. The work week is mine." Colby had gone back to examining his luggage, either unable or unwilling to meet Hutch's gaze. "John, what is it you're not telling me? You're going to have to give me a damn good reason to keep me from asking one of my two best friends not to room with me for the rest of the term."

"Can't take it on faith, huh?" Colby asked, with a tone that implied he knew Hutch couldn't.

"I wouldn't make much of a cop if I did, would I? What gives, John?"

Colby shrugged. "It's pretty personal, Hutch...."

"What are you talking about, Colby? You and Starsk are my best friends. We've been through hell together in this place. We've spilled blood, sweat, and tears to get through it, and always together. Now you're bailing out and you want me to dump Starsky in the process? I don't understand."

"I don't want you to dump him, I just think things would go easier for you if you didn't room with him. That's all. Leave it at that."

"Why? What's behind this, John? I know you. You don't come up with something like this without a reason."

"I've got a reason," Colby admitted quietly. "It's a damn good one, too. But you'd be better off not knowing."

"You think so, huh? Would Starsky?"

Colby's head snapped up. "Oh, definitely. He finds out I said anything to you and the Air Force'll be playin' 'Taps' over my casket before I ever start."

Hutch shook his head. "I'm tired of this game, John. Spill it or forget it." He looked meaningfully at the clock. It was almost dinner time. Any minute now, Starsky would come barreling in to convince them both to head out for "some decent civilian food" before they had to spend the rest of the night buried in books. Colby knew that as well as Hutch.

Colby swallowed, then took the plunge. "Look, Hutch, Starsky's not a bad guy, and there's no reason the two of you shouldn't be friends, but as for roomies— It's just—quot; Colby looked exasperated, searching for words. "Hutch, can't you figure it out? He's got the hots for you, dammit!"

Hutch didn't say anything at first, but then the words finally made sense in his brain, and he burst into laughter. "Starsky? Has the hots for me?" Hutch howled. "Colby, did the Air Force give you a psych test? You better hope they don't, boy, because you've got a few loose ones upstairs. You're talking about Starsky—who can't watch a skirt go past without tripping over his shoelaces. Starsky—who has single-handedly nailed every available—and several unavailable—females in a twenty-mile radius, in spite of curfews, in spite of restrictions, in spite of—quot;

"I mean it, Hutch. It's the truth. Laugh if you want, but he's hot for your ass." Colby met Hutch's gaze squarely now.

Hutch stopped laughing. "That's a hell of an accusation, John. Have you said this to anyone else?"

"Of course not. They'd dump him out of here in a minute if there was even a rumor."

"I know that. Then why—quot;

"You're my friend, that's why. And his friend, too. And sometimes that 'gosh, shucks' Midwestern bit goes too far, Hutch. You'd do a lot for your friends. You're too loyal, too caring. And Starsky? He's been around the block. Both blocks. He knows how to work the scene. And I'll be gone...."

"Hold it. Do you mean to tell me you see yourself as protecting my virginity or something?" Hutch was getting really peeved now. This whole conversation was slightly nuts.

"Of course not. You're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself. It's just, if you start rooming with him...." Colby trailed off, the glint in Hutch's eyes warning him away.

"Care to tell me how you know so much about this?" Hutch asked, his tone cool. He couldn't imagine why John would want to blacken Starsky's name at the Academy, but he meant to let him know he wasn't going to get away with it.

"Look, Hutch, I'll be honest. I have, on occasion, visited the other side of the street myself. That's how I twigged on Starsky's interest. It was subtle, but I recognized it. I confronted him on it a few weeks ago. He insisted his 'interest' in you was strictly platonic, but I didn't buy it. I told him I wouldn't say anything to you, but that was when I assumed we'd both be roommates until graduation."

Well, Hutch thought, that explained the cooling relations between Colby and Starsky. It explained it entirely too neatly for that matter.

"I just think, if you let him in here, you'll be taking on more than you can handle," Colby finished. "I'd hate to see you lose your friendship with Starsky and maybe...something else besides."

Hutch ground his teeth. "Look, this whole conversation is absurd. Starsky is my friend. One of my best friends. That implies a certain level of trust. Now you're telling me, based on your assumptions about his—what?—possible romantic interest in me?—that I can't trust him?" Hutch shook his head. "I'm a big boy, John. I think if Starsky tried to jump my bones in the middle of the night, he just might find he'd taken on a little more than he could handle. For chrissakes, you think I've never been hit on by a guy before? I hate to be the first to tell you, but we have gays in the Midwest. You know what? They take no for an answer just like anyone else. I'm a married man. Starsky knows that. Assuming this idea of yours isn't just a delusion. This whole conversation is finished. I never want to hear anything about it again. Understand?"

Colby held up his hands in surrender. "It's your life, Hutch. I'm sure you'll handle it just fine."

At that moment, the door slammed open and Starsky stormed in. "Hey, there's a two-for-one special down at Emilio's pizza parlor and—quot; He spied the neatly zipped and packed duffel in the middle of Colby's bed. "What's goin' on? Somebody die? You both look like you're ready for a funeral."

Before Colby could open his mouth, Hutch announced, "John's quit the academy, Starsk. Bailing out. Going out for Uncle Sam. He's gonna be a fly boy!"

Starsky looked back and forth between Hutch and Colby as if they were playing a practical joke on him.

"That's the truth, Starsk," Colby said. "I've joined the Air Force. Start tomorrow."

"Shit!" Starsky spat and plunked his ass unceremoniously in the nearest chair. "You're leavin'?"

"There's a good side to every thing Starsk," Hutch insisted, not looking at Colby. He was painfully aware of the John's dark eyes boring into his back. "I'll be banging around this palatial abode all alone. How about rooming with me?"

He expected Starsky to whoop with glee at finally being freed from his imprisonment with his obnoxious roommate, but that wasn't the reaction he got. Starsky froze, his face going blank. Then he looked straight at Colby who met his expression with a cool smile.

"Starsk?" Hutch said, suddenly shaken. "Don't you want to get away from Winchester?" He found he was unable to say the words, Don't you want to room with me?

Starsky's mouth moved silently for a moment, then finally, he pulled his gaze away from Colby and met Hutch's eyes. In an oddly subdued tone, he muttered, "Yeah. Sure. I'd—I'd love to leave Winchester, Hutch. If-if you're sure. I mean, you sure you wouldn't rather have the place to yourself?"

"You kidding?" Hutch asked, stubbornly pushing the issue. "If you don't room with me they'll end up sticking me with some green freshman. I'll never get anything done. Come on, Starsk. I thought we were partners."

That seemed to snap Starsky out of it. "Yeah, that's right. That's us. The Cork-si-can...cork-i-screw...cork-si-an...."

"Corsican," Hutch corrected automatically. "Corsican brothers."

"Right. Hey, can we still be those three brothers if Colby leaves?"

"So, we'll be the Dynamic Duo, instead." Defiantly, Hutch stared at Colby.

"Oh, I don't doubt that," Colby said quietly, and Hutch didn't miss the fact that Starsky tensed when he did.


Hutch didn't like admitting it, but he couldn't deny evidence he saw with his own eyes. Since John had joined the Air Force two weeks ago, and Starsky had moved into Hutch's room, Starsky had definitely changed. He'd changed radically, and in ways Hutch didn't like at all.

Hutch would've liked to blame himself, but that wouldn't wash. He'd tried hard not to treat Starsky differently, but he knew Colby's warning had changed him, too. He wondered if his own reactions were as subtle as he liked to believe them to be. It was like being in a constant state of expectation, waiting for something to happen, when he didn't want anything to happen. He had to fight not to reinterpret everything Starsky said into something he never intended.

But even when he misinterpreted Starsky's words, there was no misinterpreting his behavior. Starsky had changed toward him, and Hutch didn't like it.

"We hittin' the library tonight?" Hutch asked as Starsky emerged from the shower, towel over his dripping head, and bathrobe tightly cinched.

Hutch could remember when Starsky used to wander around the community shower at the gym stark nude, the most unselfconscious man Hutch had ever seen, as if his body were a valuable work of art he was proud to display. But since he'd moved in with Hutch, he'd managed to dress and undress completely behind the closed door of the bathroom. Hutch hadn't been allowed to glimpse so much as a bare thigh. From Starsky, this level of modesty was positively weird.

"Yeah," Starsky's muffled voice answered from under the towel. "We got that review tomorrow on that jurisprudence watchamacallit. We better be ready. And this time we don't have Colby to walk us through it."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed, watching Starsky dry his hair. "Sure would help to have him here for this. That man could remember anything." Starsky kept his back to Hutch as he reached for underwear, shirt and pants and prepared to head back into the bathroom to dress. Since he'd moved into Hutch's room, Starsky rarely looked at Hutch, in fact he hardly ever even looked in Hutch's direction. It was weirder than weird. It was bizarre.

Hutch stood and moved directly into Starsky's path, preventing him from entering the bathroom. "Y'know, I'm not easily embarrassed, Starsk. There's really no need for you to change in there. That place is barely big enough to turn around in. It can't be very comfortable...." He placed a friendly hand on Starsky's arm.

Starsky immediately stepped back two paces, out of Hutch's reach. Smoothly, he stepped around Hutch, leaving him there with his hand in the air. Before Hutch could even turn around, Starsky was safely behind the closed bathroom door. The telltale snick was the lock being thrown.

"Wha'd'ya talkin' about?" Starsky asked from behind the closed bathroom door. "There's plenty of room in here. Just tryin' to be polite, Hutch. Didn't your momma raise you right?"

Hutch stared at his outstretched, empty hand. It wasn't just his imagination. On top of everything else, Starsky was avoiding his touch.

He remembered when he first met the curly-haired motor mouth. At the time, Starsky's openness, his glad-handing, got on his nerves. The Hutchinson clan wasn't noted for its warmth, after all, but its reserve. But it didn't take long before Hutch had found comfort in Starsky's casual slap on the back, his playful tugging of "them golden locks" as he usually referred to Hutch's hair, his friendly, unselfconscious hugs. Starsky's masculinity was so secure—Hutch had thought—he'd playfully defied catty comments from the other guys, showing physical affection to Colby and Hutch as if they were his brothers. But since Starsky had moved into his room, he hadn't laid a hand on Hutch, had avoided getting within arm's reach of him. And whenever Hutch had attempted to handle Starsky in the friendly manner Starsky himself had initiated, Starsky neatly sidestepped the contact so cleverly Hutch couldn't possibly feel rejected.

Hutch was pretty damned tired of all the weirdness. And he was tired of the way Colby's last words on the subject kept insinuating their way into his unconscious.

When Starsky emerged from the bathroom, combed and fully dressed, he sidled around Hutch to stow his towel and bathrobe on the coat rack on his side of the room. "Well, we better hit the library, Hutch. I hate having to sit in the back near all the old newspapers. It feels too much like hangin' out at the bus depot—quot;

Hutch moved right into Starsky's path. Starsky attempted to get around him, but Hutch deliberately cut him off, moving closer aggressively so that all at once they were nose to nose.

Starsky attempted a weak grin, then quipped. "You talk about the bathroom—sometimes I think this whole room ain't much bigger than a closet."

"Funny you should mention that," Hutch said, standing as close to Starsky as he could without stepping on his toes.

"Mention what?" Starsky said, looking nervous.

"Closets. I think there's something we need to pull out and look at."

"Pull out?" Starsky said, his voice thin.

"Of the closet," Hutch murmured.

Starsky shut down completely, the way he did whenever he was put on the spot about something he didn't want to deal with. His eyes glazed over; his face went slack. Hutch had seen him do it a million times in class whenever an instructor tried to harass or humiliate him, or get him to say something he didn't mean. The instructors loved to make Starsky play the suspect whenever they were going over questioning techniques, because he never broke, not once. But Hutch had never seen Starsky shut down on him. He didn't like it.

Starsky took one step away from Hutch as he tried to recover. "You are acting mighty strange, Hutchinson."

"I'm acting strange?" Hutch exclaimed.

"Very," Starsky insisted. "You feelin' too crowded in here? I ain't the easiest roomie in the world, Hutch. Maybe it would be better if I moved back in with Winchester."

"Oh, no, you don't," Hutch told him, jabbing a finger in his chest. "You're not running away from this. We're gonna have it out."

Starsky stood his ground, his face still blank. Offering nothing. Waiting. Defensive.

Hutch hated bringing Colby into this, but couldn't think of saying anything better than the truth. "Just before he left, John talked to me about—about having you room with me."

Starsky said nothing, but something flickered in his eyes before he could shut it down. It looked disturbingly like fear, and that rattled Hutch, nearly making him lose his resolve.

"Starsk," Hutch lowered his voice and moved closer again. Deliberately, he placed a hand on his shoulder, as if defying him to shrug it off. "Starsky. You're my best friend. You and Colby both were, but John's out of the picture now. It's just us. Me and thee. But you've changed since you've moved in here. And I can't help but wonder if what Colby said is the root of it."

Without seeming to breathe, Starsky met Hutch's eyes and said softly, "What did Colby tell you?"

Hutch wet his mouth, his throat suddenly tight and dry.

His next few words might ruin the best friendship—hell, the best relationship—he ever had in his life. His marriage wasn't much to talk about, especially since he'd entered the academy. Half the time he and Vanessa were barely speaking—unless they were screaming—whenever she wasn't abandoning him totally to spend the weekends at her mother's. The scary thing was that Hutch found himself preferring those weekends when he had the place to himself and he and Starsky could sit around watching the games, drinking beer and telling each other outrageous lies about their past and their potential future.

"What did he say, Hutch?" Starsky asked again.

"He told me not to let you room with me. He said you...that you...." He heard his voice dropping to barely a whisper. "He said you wanted me."

The color drained out of Starsky's face, but his blank expression never faltered. "And what did you say when he said that?"

"You're my roommate, aren't you?" Hutch realized he was gripping Starsky's shoulder, pinning him in place. He pulled his hand away. "Like I said—you're my best friend. But lately, since you moved in here, you've been like a stranger. All distant and weird, not like you at all. Are you...that uncomfortable with me? Is it because of...what Colby said?"

To his credit, Starsky stood his ground, as if recognizing that the time for dissembling was past. Hutch realized with a distant part of his observer's mind, the part they'd trained in this academy, that Starsky was breathing hard, yet struggling to control it. Fight or flight. His whole body was coiled, ready to spring, but there was no way to escape.

"Hutch," he finally said, his voice soft, subdued, "you're my best friend, too. My best friend in the whole world. That's the truth, no matter what else is. Try and remember that." He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, buddy, I swear I am. But what Colby ain't a lie."

Hutch felt as if the whole room had just tilted sideways. He eased into a chair, all the while staring in consternation at someone he thought he knew, someone he thought he understood. He blinked rapidly and suddenly felt very stupid.

"It doesn't have to mean anything, Hutch," Starsky insisted, holding his hands out in supplication. He looked like he was on the verge of tears. "I swear I would've never said anything, or done anything to ruin our friendship. Hell, man, we talked about bein' partners on the force together. We work together better'n anybody's business and you know it. You think I'd wanna screw that up? No way. I mean it. I thought it was my little secret, something no one would ever know, till Colby nailed me on it. I swore I'd kill him if he ever breathed anything about it, even though I never admitted a thing. But Colby...he thought you were some wide-eyed rube without a clue. I guess he figured without him around there'd be nothin' to save all that blond innocence from the big, bad pervert from New York. Shit! Hutch, you gotta believe me. Your friendship's worth more to me than anything. Anything. You want me outta here, I'll go. You want me outta the Academy...I'll quit in the morning."

Finally he wound down, unable to say anything more, while Hutch's brain slipped into overdrive. Starsky wanted him? Starsky wanted him? Something about this just didn't compute.

"Come on, Hutch, don't just look at me like that. Say somethin'."

He could only shake his head. "I-I-I'm...I don't understand. You-you...all this time, you—"

"You're stuttering, Hutch. Slow down and take a deep breath."

Hutch did as Starsky told him and tried again. "You want me? You? This doesn't make any sense. What about all those girls? Starsky, the other guys call you the stud of the year. They say it with envy. I've seen you date--and score--with two different girls in one day! What's all that about?"

"Exactly what it seems. I happen to like women. Very, very much. Look, I don't know what Colby told you but I'm not some mincin' queen. I'm not even gay. I'm crazy about the ladies, that's no act. I want a wife and kids and the whole picket fence fantasy, just like any other guy. But--" He took a deep breath and Hutch got the sense that Starsky was about to say something he'd never told anyone else. "Come on, Hutch, you remember your first love, don't'cha?"

"Sure. Of course." She'd been a portly little brunette who always made him laugh. He didn't think he'd ever known a woman since who'd ever made him quite that happy.

"Well, my first love was a guy. An older man. He was twelve. I was nine. It was my idea." Starsky smiled fondly. "After that, the second, the third, the fourth, were all girls. And I liked them just fine. But there's always a warm spot in your heart for the first. Every now and then, I meet a guy and I get that feeling again. Not often, just every now and then. So, if there's something to call me, I guess it's 'bi.' I mean, I never cruised the bars, I never solicited anybody in a bathroom in my life, okay? In fact, as I hit adulthood I realized that showing that kind of interest in a guy wasn't the smartest thing I could do. And it really hit home in the army. In Nam, a lotta guys, straight guys, bunked in with their buddies. It was scary over there, Hutch, and there were plenty of days when you were lookin' death square in the face, twenty-four hours round the clock. The pressure was enormous. Lotta guys turned to drugs. Others turned to each other. Nobody wants to die with a hard-on, lemme tell ya. But it was all so furtive, so sneaky, it was all wrong, y'know?"

Starsky looked around the room, and Hutch figured he was seeing different scenery as he talked about the war. "I had a lover there, but in the cold light of day we barely spoke to one another. We weren't partners. Not like you and me. There weren't any thoughts of me and thee, Hutch. We both knew damn well that if it came time for one us to stop a bullet, we were both prayin' it would be the other guy. That's a helluva way to feel about someone you're makin' it with. That's when I decided it wasn't no good, livin' like that. I decided loving men, it was just too much trouble. Me, I like things that are right out in the open, especially something as important as love. And you can't be open about that. That's why they call it bein' in the closet. Well, closets are for clothes. Not for me. So I decided, after the Army, that was the end of it. Just me and the ladies from then on, and I stuck to that. If I saw a guy and I kinda liked him, I just kept it to myself. I haven't acted on it since. That's the truth. I've been keepin' the ladies busy, and I've been happy about it."

He paused, and stared hard at Hutch. "And then Colby called me on it--on my interest in you. I don't know how he figured it out, except, well, except maybe I thought he had it in for you, too, and nailed me to keep his own cover safe. Anyway, I never had any intentions of ever sayin' or doin' anything that would've ever made you uncomfortable in any way, Hutch. You gotta believe that."

Hutch blinked a few times and tried to reformulate the man before him with the one he thought he knew.

Starsky sighed tiredly, and nodded. "Okay. I can dig it. I'll, uh, I'll find another place to stay tonight and I'll clear my things out tomorrow when you're not here. It's been real, Hutch." He reached for his jacket and headed for the door.

It was the slap in the face Hutch needed. He bolted from the chair, shoving the door shut as Starsky started to open it to leave. "Wait. Wait. Just give me a minute, will ya? I-I thought I had this all figured out, y'know? But, I guess I expected you to deny the whole thing. I didn't really think about how I'd handle it if you didn't." Hutch deliberately made himself take Starsky's arm. He's still just Starsky. My friend. A man I'd want to be my partner in the street. A man I'd trust to back me up no matter what. "Look, sit down with me. We gotta talk about this. It's-it's important. We gotta work it out."

Starsky hung back, still reluctant. "It's not important. It's nothing, really, in the whole scheme of things. If Colby made it sound like a big deal, he was wrong. I mean, it's my problem, Hutch, not yours. An' I've worked it out. So, we don't need to talk about it. You just need to forget it so we can get on with our lives--"

"Hold it!" Hutch insisted, cutting off the rapid-fire argument. Now he was pissed off. That was good, Hutch realized. He always thought more clearly when he was pissed. At least, more clearly than when he was in shock. "What are you talkin' about, it's not important? Starsky, we're dealing with the way you feel. Don't you think that's important to me? You're my friend, my best friend. What kind of a friend would I be if I didn't care about the way you feel?"

Starsky got that look again, that softening around the eyes that always made him look close to tears. He still hung back, as Hutch took his wrist and towed him into the room. Hutch sat down on his own bed and pulled Starsky right up to the edge. Before they'd moved in together, they'd spent countless hours in this twin bed together--studying, arguing, planning--without ever feeling self-conscious. Hell, it was one of the two most comfortable surfaces in the room, after all. Now, Starsky just stood beside it awkwardly, as if it were some dangerous place he didn't dare approach.

"Will you stop acting like that?" Hutch said impatiently. "Sit down, dammit, before I knock you down!"

Reluctantly, Starsky perched on the edge, his hands conspicuously clutching his knees, like a kid forced to sit in the dunce chair in kindergarten.

"You must've been really freaked out when Colby confronted you," Hutch said, apropos of nothing.

Starsky glanced sideways at him, then nodded. "I...I thought I'd been so careful. And it wasn't like it was the first thought I'd had about you, Hutch. You gotta believe that. I mean, that's happened to me sometimes, when I see a guy. Once in a while anyway. Just like, you know, when we see a pretty girl, and we all turn to look? Cause there's something about her, the way she walks, the way she's put together? And every guy in the place, all their heads turns at the same time? Well, once in awhile, I see that in a guy. But not you."

Hutch was surprised to realize he felt a little stung. He had enough ego to want to think that if he was going to be attractive to his best friend, then he wanted to be attractive.

"It wasn't like that with you. I mean, there was something. I guess I gotta admit that. The first time I even got a really good look at you was in martial arts class, when Colby came up to me after we sparred that day...."

Hutch had to laugh. "You mean our first time sparring, right? When you and Colby wiped out half the room, then finally had to spar with each other?"

"Yeah, and he knew all that kung-phooey stuff, and all I knew was the little bit I picked up in the army and all that street fighting from New York."

Hutch was really laughing now. "I'll never forget Colby's face when the two of you started circling each other, and you suddenly looked over John's shoulder and yelled, 'Not in the head!' Like someone was just about to bash Colby's brains in."

Starsky chuckled. "I couldn't believe he fell for it. Spun around to face whatever was behind him...."

"And you sucker-punched him out cold," Hutch recalled. "The instructor was furious!"

"Hey, it was that or get my ass kicked. There was no way I could beat that guy fair and square--like the bad guys on the street are gonna be playin' by the Mar-keys of Queensbury rules."

"John really respected you for that. I don't think anyone ever knocked him out cold before--or faked him out so beautifully. When he came to, he decided he was going to cultivate you."

Starsky nodded. "Yeah. Weird, huh? For awhile I kinda waited for him to retaliate, but he never did." Starsky hesitated, then finally said, "For awhile I thought...maybe you and were so close.... But then I realized I was just projecting my own feelings onto Colby. When you both came up to me after the sparring, that was the first chance I'd gotten to really see you. I mean, I'd noticed you the first day of school. Hell, it was hard not to notice all that blondness. But after class that day, after we talked an' all.... It wasn't like lust at first sight or anything. It was more like.... I don't know. Like I thought you were real interesting. When Colby started hangin' around with me, I was glad you hung, too. I wanted to be your friend. That's all, Hutch. Then, I mean. All I wanted was to be your friend for real."

"I believe you," Hutch said quietly. "Look, Starsk, maybe you'd be more comfortable about this if I admitted something to you. This isn't the first time this has happened to me."

Starsky just stared at him suspiciously. "What?"

"This! This isn't the first time a close friend--a guy--has developed feelings for me that...were more than friendship." Hutch didn't want to get too deeply into a conversation about Jack Mitchell, but he felt that if he wanted Starsky to deal with this honestly, then he had to, as well. "I had a real close pal in Duluth. We grew up together, shared everything." Hutch remembered that time with fondness, even though he and Jack were no longer in touch. "We started college together. You're supposed to learn things in college, right? Things about life. A lotta wild stuff went on."

Starsky sat perfectly still, as if he couldn't believe what Hutch was telling him.

"Anyway. We were young. We'd been drinking. It was one of those things."

"He put the moves on you?" Starsky asked, as if he needed more specifics.

Hutch hesitated, then admitted. "Yeah." He shrugged, feeling his face heat up as he remembered that night.

"Wha'd'ja do?"

Hutch considered carefully before he answered. This was no time to lie, no time to embellish or diminish the facts. He wanted Starsky to be open with him. He could do no less. "I went along with it. He was my best friend. I loved him."

Starsky pondered that for a moment, his face carefully neutral. "How drunk were you?"

"I didn't say I was drunk. I said we'd been drinking. I can't sit here and tell you it only happened because I was drunk. It might've only happened because we'd been drinking, but I was no where near being drunk. I knew what I was doing."

"How far did you go?"

That one took him by surprise, but it shouldn't have. Starsky was the most direct person he'd ever met, and he didn't like evasions. Hutch gnawed his lower lip for a moment. Unlike a lot of guys, he never much indulged in the kind of raw sex talk he knew Starsky took for granted. Hutch just wasn't comfortable with it.

"Far enough to discover that a woman wasn't the only person on the planet who could give me pleasure," he admitted finally. "That was a pretty big surprise right there. I mean, the alcohol seemed to enhance everything, but I won't lie to you. He was my friend. He made love to me with all his heart. And I let him. It felt good. But I wasn't in love with him."

"Like he was with you."

"Like he was with me," Hutch admitted. "I mean, it was fun, but I didn't feel that way about him. I guess I went along with it because I loved him, and couldn't think of any way of turning him down without hurting him."

"Ya gotta watch out, Hutch," Starsky said with more than a trace of bitterness. "Those pity fucks will get'cha in a world of trouble."

"It wasn't pity," Hutch said sharply, "and we didn't fuck. We were just kids, Starsk. But what we shared was real. Real enough to rattle us both pretty bad. We had families that expected things from us. All the usual stuff--careers, marriage, kids. It wasn't like either of us was about to go tripping off together as a couple of free-love advocates. He wanted to be a doctor. I was fluctuating between medicine and law while trying to figure out who the hell I was, who I was gonna be. Anyway, afterwards, it was kind of awkward."

"You still friends with him?" Starsky asked pointedly.

"Yeah, I guess." Hutch had to think about it. They'd parted amiably enough, but neither of them made much of an attempt to contact the other. After all they'd meant to each other in their childhood, it seemed kind of sad. "I changed majors soon afterward, and it wasn't long before I started testing for law school. I'd gotten accepted by a college here in LA and decided to move out here. Vanessa and I got married before we made the move." His parents had wondered why he'd been in such a rush to tie the knot with a college sweetheart he hadn't seemed that serious about. She was happy to oblige him. Of course, she was having regrets now, and started having them right after Hutch decided he hated law school, and dropped out after getting his bachelor's degree but before he was eligible for the bar. Then he signed up with the police academy. That had to be the fight of the century....

Hutch realized with some surprise that he'd never strung the events of his college career together before like this--that night with Jack, his changing majors, marrying Vanessa, leaving Duluth....

"So, that's why you're Mr. Open-minded about me?" Starsky said, pulling him into his current dilemma. "'Cause you been around the block enough to know the score, huh?"

"I gotta admit that I get a little tired of that 'choir-boy' label you and Colby were always trying to hang on me. We may have smaller blocks in Minnesota, but I've seen a few, anyway. Enough to know that I don't want to lose another good friend, Starsk. Not over something like that."

Starsky nodded but didn't say anything.

"It's your turn," Hutch prodded.

"My turn for what?" Starsky said warily.

Hutch stared at him. "Your turn to talk about your feelings. We need to get this out in the open, Starsk, if we're gonna get past it. I can't take another two weeks of your undressing in the john, and talking with your back to me. Don't take this the wrong way, but...I miss your hugs. I mean, sometimes, when you tackle me in front of thirty guys it kinda rattles me, but--you always instinctively know when I need one. You haven't laid a hand on me since you moved in here."

"And I'm not going to, so you can just stop worryin' about it," Starsky blurted. "Look, Hutch, where I come from guys don't sit around and discuss their feelings--that's for chicks. Or queers. I can't hack soapy scenes."

"Don't give me that crap!" Hutch snapped back. "You, me, and Colby talked about our feelings plenty right in this room, and you talked just as much as the rest of us. Some of those topics were pretty intense, too. Now, all of a sudden, because it's about the way you feel about me, it's too soapy. I'm not buying it, Starsk." He leaned forward, clamping a hand on Starsky's knee. The man jumped as if Hutch had just hit him with a live wire. "Don't you understand that I care about you, about what you've been going through? I don't want these barriers between us. I want us to be close the way we were. We should've gotten closer when John left, and instead there's this big wall between us. A wall you've put there."

"It's for your own good, Hutch," Starsky mumbled, looking away from him.

"The hell it is! Come on, Starsk. You had to have gone through this before with some other guy somewhere else."

Starsky shrugged. "Sure. Couple of times. But they never knew. It was easier that way. I never dealt with it like this. You know. It's right out there. I don't know if I can deal with that."

Relieved that Starsky was talking it about even in this round-about way, Hutch pushed him on it. "Well, you're going to have to deal with it. 'Cause I'm not going to pretend it's not there, not part of your feelings. And I'm not going to act like I don't know about it. And I'm not willing to be anything less than your best friend. So, how are you gonna deal with that, Starsky?"

"Damn, Hutchinson," Starsky swore, "if I'd had any idea what a pain in the ass you could be, I'd've never fallen for you in the first place."

He looked at Hutch then, really looked at him, blatantly, the same way he looked at women, and Hutch struggled not to squirm under the unusual scrutiny. No one, not even a hooker, had ever looked at him like that.

"But I did fall for you," Starsky continued, "and that's the truth I gotta live with. I never meant for it to happen. I'm not even sure when it did. Unless it was that night-- We were in here studying and I fell asleep on the floor over that horrible book on procedures. Sometime later, I kinda woke up. I could hear Colby snoring in his bed, and you were walkin' around--I guess you just came out of the john. You only had your briefs on, I remember that."

Hutch felt his face go red, and hated his fair coloring.

"You leaned over me, and I thought you were gonna wake me and send me on to my own room, but instead, you put this blanket over me, then real gentle, you stroked my hair."

Hutch swallowed. "I remember. You just looked so, I don't know, so worn out, trying to remember all that stuff, and...I just did it. It was sheer impulse. I-I guess I just loved you at that moment, and I had to do something to show it."

"Yeah, well, at that moment I loved you, too. In a big way. If you get my' I think you do. The expression on your face, the touch of your hand.... I was real glad I was lyin' on my stomach, I'll tell you that." Starsky shook his head ruefully. "I'd'a happily slit my wrists at that minute. I couldn't believe I'd gone and fallen for you. You. My best friend. I felt like the world's biggest jerk. I still do."

"We can't help who we fall in love with, Starsk," Hutch chided him gently. "When I think about your feeling that way about me, well, it's really flattering--"

"Oh, yeah?" Starsky growled angrily. "Flattering, huh? We'll see how flattering you think it is the first time someone calls you a faggot, or a cocksucker. We'll see how flattering you think it is if we get thrown outta here for perverted sex acts, especially when we've never done any. It'll be real flattering if we make it as cops, get to be partners, and then get tossed off the force for unnatural relations. Yeah, that'll be flattering all right. Hey, the world's changing. It's gettin' all kinds'a open-minded. Maybe we won't get canned for bein' queer--we'll just have to function on the street without any back-up 'cause the other cops won't support a couple of queers--"

"Stop it!" Hutch snapped. "What do you think, that I'm just gonna drop it into casual conversation? 'Yeah, this is my partner, Starsky, who has the hots for me?' Give me some credit, will ya? This conversation, the stuff we're talking about, it's between us. I thought that's what me and thee was all about."

"Hutch," Starsky said patiently, "people figure things out. They figure things out even when there's nothing to figure out."

Hutch shook his head, exasperated. "We can't stop people from talking. That problem's existed between friends since the first school-yard bully evolved. You never worried about what people said about us before. We've been called more than just the Corsican brothers, and you know it. Whenever a few guys are tight, people say shit. Hell, when Colby was here, the guys used to tease us about our 'ménage' every time you crashed on the floor. And you used to tease them right back. You let it roll off you then, just like we did. What's the difference?"

"It didn't roll off me," Starsky admitted baldly. "It bothered the hell outta me. But I learned long ago that harder you came down on guys about that, the more convinced they became. I learned to laugh it off as a cover. You and Colby were okay about it cause you had nothing to be afraid of. I couldn't let on how it freaked me out. But now you know about me. That's gonna make it worse."

That made Hutch sit back in surprise. "Starsk, it's just words--"

"It's a brand," he argued back. "A brand you're not ready to wear, Hutch. Trust me on this, I've been here before."

"It's just a label," Hutch insisted. "It doesn't mean anything. Not to me. If you want it to be so goddamned important to you, that's your problem, buddy. It doesn't bother me. Anymore than your feelings for me bother me, except that, well, as your friend, I'm sorry I can't be everything you want me to be. I wish I could."

Starsky's face took on an odd expression. It was almost crafty. Sly. Hutch found himself edging back on the bed without intending to. "That's more of that college psychology crap, Hutchinson. My feelings for you don't bother you because you don't understand the first thing about them."

"So, enlighten me, Professor Starsky," Hutch insisted, but even he could hear the slight quaver in his voice.

The blue eyes searing him darkened, narrowed. Starsky leaned closer. "I ain't your little college sweetheart, blondie. I'm an experienced lover of men. You can't possibly understand what that means. You wanna be enlightened? You think you can handle it? Okay. Maybe this is what it's gonna take to make this all become real for you."

Starsky moved forward on the bed, slowly, rolling onto his hands and knees and stalking toward Hutch one step at a time like a prowling predator. Hutch felt the color draining out of his face at the same time an odd heat began building in his groin. He tried to school his face, but knew the consternation and conflict of feeling was plain there.

"I want you, Hutch, the same way I want those pretty women we all look at. The same way you want those women, the same way you want that lovely wife of yours. Think about that for a minute."

Hutch tried not to, but his brain was all too willing to oblige Starsky. He and Vanessa had been battling for so many weeks, he couldn't remember the last time they'd made love. Starsky's suggestion brought his raw desire for his beautiful wife right to the forefront of his mind. His body reacted to it instantly, flushing all over, restoring the color, too brilliantly, to his face, especially as he tried not to think about Starsky wanting him with that same sexual heat.

"Yeah," Starsky murmured, moving closer. "Just like that. When you think about Vanessa like that you can smell her, can't you, taste her against your mouth? Feel her soft skin under your hands? All that heat and softness, all that sweet woman smell under you? Gettin' hard yet, Hutch?"

Amazingly, he was. As Starsky moved forward on hands and knees, he swung one arm over Hutch's hips, levering a knee between his legs as he started crawling up and over Hutch's body. Hutch couldn't stop himself from pushing backwards towards the head of the bed away from Starsky, until he'd managed to wedge himself tight in the corner with no where to go.

"Well, the way Vanessa makes you feel--that's the effect you have on me," Starsky breathed. "Your smell's everywhere in this room. I've got it memorized. I go to sleep at night inhaling it. The color, the texture of your skin makes me crazy. You're blond all over--believe me, I've noticed--but except for some wispy curls at your crotch, you're not hairy at all. Not like me. You've just got all this real fine blond fuzz all over, like down. Sometimes, I imagine so hard, I can feel it under my palms, feel my hands runnin' all over you, your strong arms, your incredibly long legs, your wide chest, and especially your big, broad, pretty ass. Let's not even talk about your heavy sac, and that incredibly big cock of yours. We start talking about that, my mouth's gonna water. Yeah, I love to imagine touching you everywhere--turnin' you on. I'm good at this, Hutch, I know what I'm doin'. I could make you crazy for it, drag it out all night long."

Hutch understood his friend was not boasting. He'd seen some of those women Starsky had bedded, seen the glazed look on their faces the next morning. The rumor was he was insatiable, with incredible staying power. How he managed, living as he did on almost no sleep and a diet of junk food and coffee, Hutch couldn't imagine, but Starsky's reputation as a lover was formidable.

Hutch gulped and pressed his spine hard against the wall at his back as Starsky moved closer, pressing his knee suggestively against Hutch's crotch. Hutch couldn't believe it, but he was achingly hard, painfully erect. He knew he was blushing like a beacon, that there was nothing he could do to stop that, any more than he could slow the crazed trip-hammering of his heart. He had dim memories of chastising Colby and joking about making Starsky sorry if he tried to jump his bones, but none of it made sense right now. His palms were sweating, and his voice was frozen into stillness. He tried to murmur the word "Don't," and was grateful when it was impossible to do. He told himself he could handle this. He could. He could. Couldn't he?

"I want you, Hutch," Starsky whispered, his face moving closer, his mouth brushing Hutch's ear. Starsky's warm breath blew against the shell and Hutch felt shivers racing up his arms, down his legs. "You. Your whole body. Your whole self. And I don't mean I wanna roll around in the sheets kissin' and huggin' all sweet, though that'd be nice for starters. I don't wanna rub off against you, or make you come in my hand, or my mouth, though I can do that for fun sometimes. I don't wanna whisper soft endearments so you know how much you mean to me while I get you off. What I want, what I really want, is to pin you to the bed so you can't move and fuck you senseless. I wanna fuck you, Hutch."

He shuddered all over and moaned softly, "Oh, Jesus...."

Starsky grinned, pleased with the reaction. "I want you under me, all that blondness, and I wanna penetrate you. For hours. For days. I wanna own you, and make you mine. How does that make you feel, Hutch?"

He couldn't answer, didn't dare answer, he just sat rigidly still until his friend gently cupped his face in one hand, tenderly kissed his cheek, then started to back off.

"I guess it's real enough now, baby blue, huh? So, I'll be leavin' an'--"

He'd crawled down around Hutch's hips and nearly had one leg off the bed when Hutch snagged his arm. His voice was ragged, but he didn't care. "You're not goin' anywhere, gordo. I wanted the truth, and you gave it to me. I'm not complaining."

Starsky met his gaze, seeming surprised at Hutch's quick recovery.

"I wanted the truth, and I got it," Hutch repeated. "I'm handling it. Not all that well, maybe, but well enough. Now, you'd better be ready for the truth, too. My truth." He swallowed, trying to moisten his mouth and fix his shattered voice. "You're good, Starsk. You're good all right. Good enough to make me think I would love it. You could make me love it. You would make me love it--because you love me. Because we're friends, and as my friend, you could treat me no less. And I don't know who raised you to think that fuckin' somebody was a bad thing to do to them, but that's not the way I see it. I think it's the nicest thing you can give someone. You do it right and it gives incredible pleasure to two people at once. It's what we do with people we love. So, yeah, the thought of being fucked by you is not something that would have ever occurred to me on my own, and yeah, maybe the thought of-of-of..." He paused, got hold of himself, started again. "The thought of being under you like that rattles the hell out of me--but it makes me warm, too. 'Cause I believe you, Starsk. I believe you know what you're doing, that you excel at this act. I believe you could make me crazy for it."

He stared at Starsky, at the bald surprise in his dark blue eyes, and Hutch smiled. He traced Starsky's lower lip with his thumb. "But even with all that raw desire for me, even so--I know you'd never even try anything. I'm a married man. And you respect that. You respect me. You respect our friendship. Too much to destroy it."

Hutch leaned forward then, and boldly pressed his lips against his friend's until he felt Starsky tremble and sigh, then open his mouth. They touched tongues lightly, gently, and Starsky moaned and his body lost all its tension. He collapsed in the bed even as Hutch slid down, his long body filling most of the mattress, forcing Starsky to half-way blanket him. They kissed for long moments as they hugged each other tight, both of them hard.

Finally, they broke the kiss, and just lay together, Starsky half-on, half-off Hutch's body, Hutch's arm around Starsky's back, gently rubbing his spine, Starsky's arms wrapped around Hutch, hugging him fiercely. Starsky's head was tucked under Hutch's chin, against his neck. Gently, Hutch stroked Starsky's hair over and over as they lay there, fully dressed, their naked souls staring them in the face.

"I don't understand you, Hutch," Starsky complained. His whole body was trembling violently. "I just don't understand you."

"Sure, you do," Hutch insisted. "I'm your best friend in the whole world. You understand me perfectly."

"You're not in love with me," Starsky said knowledgeably.

"No, I'm not," Hutch agreed. "but I love you." More than I've ever loved anyone, Hutch realized with a start. More than I ever loved Jack. Or Vanessa. Or anyone. I love you with the realest love I've ever felt.

"And you're not afraid of me, either."

"No, I'm not. How could I be? You're my partner, my best friend. You love me. I trust you completely. How could I be afraid of you, just because you want me? It's beautiful, Starsk--if a little sad."

"I don't feel sad right now, Hutch," Starsky admitted. "I feel happier than I've felt in...years. Just horny as all hell."

"I know the feeling," Hutch admitted wryly, his own erection strangling in his pants. He thought about the wall Starsky had put between them, thought that at last it was crumbling, nearly gone. He kept stroking his dark hair. "Starsk. It feels so good to have you hug me again."

"I'm glad, Hutch, glad it feels good to you. Right now it feels to me like if I let go, I'm gonna fall off the earth."

Hutch smiled, and pressed his lips against the top of Starsky's head. "Starsk? I-I know you said you didn't want to, and I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but--you gotta be hurtin' real bad. You wanna...rub off on me, just for relief? Just the one time, so we can get past all this?"

Starsky froze in place and stared at Hutch, and for once his motor mouth was still.

"I swear, Starsky, it's not pity. I swear it."

"I know that," he whispered. "Really, Hutch, I know. Could...could I kiss you, just once more?"

"Sure. People who love each other kiss. That's what they do--"

Before Hutch could take in a breath, Starsky had rolled on top of him, but he didn't panic. He just enfolded his slender frame in his arms and held on tight. As Starsky's blue jeans-encased hard-on slid against Hutch's sweat-suited one, Starsky's mouth came down hard on his. The edge of one of Starsky's teeth sliced against Hutch's lip, drawing blood, making him gasp, even as Starsky's tongue claimed him. Feeling the incredible tension in the lithe body lying over him, Hutch went slack, giving his friend free rein as he threaded his fingers in his thick, dark hair.

Starsky breathed into Hutch's mouth as his tongue searched for its mate roughly as Starsky's fully clothed body danced against Hutch's, his narrow hips seducing, leading, teasing and delighting Hutch, in spite of the barriers between them. It was as delicious as making it in the front of a car, as naughty as copping a feel on his father's couch. And just like those furtive moments, it was over so rapidly, it took Hutch completely by surprise.

He gasped, his eyes opening in shock, as he felt himself ejaculating in his sweat-suit. In seconds, Starsky went rigid all over then sighed, "Oh, Hutch!" against his mouth, then went still. It was crazy. He was married to a beautiful woman, and had pursued beautiful females all his life. Yet, Hutch truly believed this singular, nearly chaste act of sex was the most profoundly moving in his life. Because this time, the love's real. Really real. And it doesn't matter that we can't be lovers, that it would never work out. We can still love each other, like warriors, like brothers. The only way we ever could. With the truest love of all.

He clutched Starsky to him, and stroked his hair. "You okay?" he murmured into his tangled locks.

"Oh, yeah, I'm just fine," Starsky muttered wearily, his body as limp as a dishrag. "And you?"

"Couldn't be better."

"Hutch? I'm sorry. I didn't want you to ever feel like I made you cheat on your wife."

"Don't worry. You didn't. This had nothing to do with her, Starsk. You know I love you, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know. You love me. You're not in love with me. I know the difference."

"Is-is that gonna be enough for you, Starsk? Enough to get you through?"

Starsky smiled at Hutch, and his smile was as warm as he had ever seen it. Hutch hadn't seen Starsky smile like that in a very long time.

"Blondie, you've given me more in one night than all the lovers--male and female--I've ever had put together. You've shown me what it's like to be really, truly loved. And now you ask if that's gonna be enough? Shit, Hutch, sometimes you are really weird."

"Quit hedging, Starsky. Is it gonna be enough? To get you through being my roommate? To get you through working together, if we get that lucky? To get you through everything?"

"Hutch, for a long time now, all I've ever wanted was the same thing everyone wants. A wife. A couple of kids. A house with a nice yard, and a picket fence. A nice, normal life. I didn't count on you, on feeling about you the way I do. I was afraid that feelings like that meant I could never really have that other dream. Now--now I know I can look for that future. Because what we've got--it's gonna be stronger than any affair, stronger than any friendship, maybe even stronger than any marriage. Nobody ever loved me this much, Hutch. I can face anything now, long as I know you're with me, willing to give me so much. Willin' to love me so strong. It's beautiful, Hutch. You're beautiful. An' I swear, I'll never take advantage of it. Not ever."

Hutch hugged his friend, who settled back happily in his embrace. "I know that, babe. Believe me, I know."

They quieted then, just enjoying the moment, feeling each other's heart beats settle into a matching rhythm. There was no wall, now. If either of them ever tried to build one again, the other would tear it down so fast, it would never be completed. Hutch felt a little like a fortune teller, or a clairvoyant, because at this moment he knew he could predict their future. They would finish the Academy at the top of their class, and they'd go into uniform, no doubt in separate precincts. But they'd stay in constant touch. And with a bit of a push, they could make detective in three years. They'd pick their precinct and their moment, and before long, they'd be partners, just like they'd promised each other.

And Hutch knew in his heart of hearts that Starsky would find the right woman and marry. They'd both have kids. But no one, nowhere, ever, not even their wives, would ever come between them, or ever be able to label them, or even understand what it was that bound them. And that was just fine with Hutch.

They lay together in silence for a good half hour, but finally Starsky started fidgeting, and they both admitted the need to change clothes and shower. When Starsky emerged, nude and dripping all over the room, Hutch read him the riot act about wrecking the rug, which Starsky completely ignored, whistling and grinning as he unashamedly appropriated Hutch's towel and his best shirt. They argued every point from their jurisprudence manual over pizza at Emilio's and argued more in the library as they prepared for their test until they were ejected for making too much noise. They spent the rest of the night studying--and fighting--until it was time for their test, which they aced, each of them earning the only perfect scores in that test that had ever been recorded in the LAPD's Police Academy history.

They toasted each other with the worst coffee in the world from the Academy's vending machine, then collapsed across their individual beds to sleep the day away, secure in their relationship with each other, and their relationship with the world.

But as Starsky eyed Hutch from his own bed just before sleep claimed him, he wondered how often personal crises might push the boundaries of their feelings. He knew he could be strong now and ignore the lure of Hutch's bed, because the love Hutch offered him was so complete. But, he knew, too, they were young. Already, Hutch's marriage was rocky. When rough times came, could he stay strong and not try to be everything for Hutch--partner, friend and lover? He knew he'd never have the strength to build another wall again. So, clinging to the memory of Hutch's fierce and beautiful love, Starsky swore he'd never betray this man.

But even so, Starsky was a realist. And he knew the future was a very unpredictable place.

Together...we'll live with the sadness
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul.
Someday...I don't know when, we're gonna get to that place
Where we really want to go.
And we'll walk in the sun,
But till then, tramps like us,
Baby, we were born to run.
Born To Run--Bruce Springsteen


There are currently five stories in the If Love Is Real Series:
Colby (pre-series)
Vanessa (pre-series)
Helen (pre-series)
Starsky (pilot)
Addiction (The Fix)
All are currently available in zines. For information, write Flamingo