This story was first published in Cross The Line. This zine is still in print. If you are interested in this zine, contact Flamingo. Comments on this story can be sent, as usual, to:




Now look at me baby struggling to do everything right
And then it all falls apart when out go the lights
I'm just a lonely pilgrim I walk this world in wealth
I want to know if it's you I don't trust
'cause I damn sure don't trust myself
Brilliant Disguise—Bruce Springsteen

Helen rummaged through the top file drawer where the folders on current cases were held, searching for the information she needed. Someone had misfiled—deliberately?—a list of witnesses she had to interview and she'd spent the better part of the afternoon looking for it. This was the last place she could think of to look. If it wasn't in here, she'd have to reassemble the list all over again which would take her the better part of a day and set her case load even further behind.

At least the search through the oddly empty squad room had taken her mind off the appointment she and Dave would have later this afternoon with the department shrink. Look at it as pre-marital counseling, he'd joked with her this morning, trying to jolly her out of her depression. The way we fight we're gonna need it.

She blinked. He wouldn't make love to her this morning, either, he was too worried. After the dream last night, she'd slept, which was helpful. She couldn't afford to be off her guard around the shrink, anymore than she could around the squad of baboons she worked with here at Metro.

She opened the last folder and her heart sank. If it wasn't in here, she was screwed—There! The flimsy yellow sheet with her familiar handwriting, peeked out from behind another form. She moved to touch it, started to smile—at least one thing would go right for her this day—when she felt another body move against her back. Before she could react, she was pushed roughly against the file, a heavy male form pressed inch for inch along her spine. Stale, smoky breath with a tang of old beer blew against the side of her face, making her turn her head away. She could feel male genitals pressing against her ass; the unwanted intimacy nauseated her.

"Well, Davidson, how nice to find you finally doing a job you're qualified for," a rough-hewn voice muttered in her ear, the wet lips entirely too close, "filing."

"You've got one second to get your over-fed, under-washed body off me, Smythe," she warned, "or you're going to find out more than you ever wanted to know about my qualifications."

"Mmmm," the thick-bodied man purred sarcastically, as he pinned her harder against the cabinet, brushing his hand against the side of her crushed breast, "go on, girl, feed my fantasy."

Without hesitation, she stepped back as hard as she could on his foot, while bringing an elbow up into his chin. He yelped as his teeth caught his own tongue and blood spurted from his lips, but he stepped back, allowing her to escape his body contact. She moved into clear space, clenching her fists. He outweighed her by nearly a hundred pounds, but she had to be faster than him, and right now she was so mad, she didn't care about his advantages.

"You bastard," she hissed. "Don't you ever touch me."

His homely, middle-aged face was mottled in rage, as he wiped blood off his mouth with the back of his hand. "You holier-than-thou, bitch," he snarled, "where do you get off playin' the virgin? You're sleepin' between those two faggots from the third floor every night and you're gonna act like a prom queen with me?"

Is that what they think? she wondered distractedly. That I'm sleeping with Dave and Ken, and that when I'm not with them they're sleeping with each other? No, she decided. This was the kind of off-handed remark the guys tossed around constantly. It had taken her awhile to get used to all the sexual humor and deprecating insults, but she learned a long time ago it was what the men left unsaid that dealt with their real beliefs.

"If I felt like sleeping with the entire third floor," she told him, "that still gives you no right to touch me. Next time you do, you'll lose your favorite piece of entertainment. That's a promise."

His face flushed a darker red, as he balled his hand into a fist and took a step forward. She stood straighter, ready to defend herself, when a soft voice made her jump in surprise.

"My money's on Davidson, Starsk, what do you think?"

Both she and Smythe turned to see the third floor's most notorious partners standing near the open squad room door. Ken was slightly behind and to the side of Dave, but Helen could see what Smythe could not from his angle—that Ken had hold of Dave's elbow, gently, but firmly, restraining him. Smythe was a lucky man. And Helen was grateful. As hard as it had to be on Dave not to retaliate, she needed to fight these battles herself. She couldn't get the reputation of depending on him to defend her.

"Oh, yeah," Dave agreed about the betting situation. "Two-to-one odds, easy. He's got the weight, but she's all speed and motivation. Not to mention she fights dirty. He'll go down in the first." Dave's blue eyes had darkened nearly to black as he glared in quiet rage at the man who'd threatened his woman. She knew what it had to be costing him to just stand there.

Smythe's color drained out of his face as he stepped back out of Helen's space. She knew he wanted to threaten her again, if only verbally, but didn't dare in the presence of other officers who could witness his abuse. Trying to appear far more cavalier than she felt, she rescued her suspects list, folded it, and slipped it in her purse. She tried not to think about the trembling that was threatening to overwhelm her.

"Helen," Dave said in that same soft, deadly tone, "we gotta make that appointment." He never took his eyes off Smythe. There was a promise in them, a dark, angry promise and Smythe knew it.

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, just took her purse, and moved toward them.

Casually, they both slung an arm around her and each one ostentatiously kissed her cheek, letting her—and Smythe—know they'd heard the comment about her relationship with them. Then without another word, they started down the hall, holding her protectively between them.

God, she loved them for their bravado. But now they both knew how badly she was shaking.

Ken was the first to speak as they approached the elevators. "You need to talk to your captain. He's a fair guy. He won't put up with this, Helen. We'll make a statement—"

She was shaking her head, "Ken, please, I can't. If I do, it'll just get worse. And the whole squad, all those guys, they'll hate me for it. You know they all stick together. They expect me to just deal with it, and I can. I can handle this."

Dave said nothing, his mouth in a grim line. Finally, all he could do was grumble, "You must really love this job."

As they waited for the elevator, she wondered, Do I? Do I love it that much? And she realized the answer was yes. As much as Dave did himself. Could he ever understand that?


The day had been a loser before it had ever begun. Now, late in the afternoon, she stood in front of her locker, and stared at the bottle of pills the shrink had prescribed for her. To help you get a few nights of dreamless sleep, he'd told her. And he wanted to see her again on Monday. Alone.

Dave wasn't crazy about that idea. He knew he was somehow involved in her nighttime psychological battles, but the shrink was perceptive enough to realize that Helen needed to talk in private.

As she pulled clothes out of the locker to change and tried to stop thinking about her bizarre problem, another woman entered the area.

"Helen! Hi! I've been looking for you," Liz said, approaching her own locker. She took a long look at Helen, then said softly, "Hey, don't take this the wrong way, but—"

"I know," she said, forestalling the inevitable comment about her haggard appearance. "How are you?"

"Oh, fine, just fine." Liz moved near her, standing close as if for privacy. She glanced around the locker room, wanting to reassure herself that they were alone. "Listen, that thing you asked me about the other day? About the guys—?"

Helen nodded. They both knew what they were talking about. Maybe there would be some closure here. Liz would've more than likely heard nothing except for some stupid toss-off remarks like Smythe had given her, and that would be the end of it. Maybe after a few sessions with the shrink she could rid herself of this insane obsession and just try to make things work with Dave. She found what she was looking for in the locker, and closed the metal door.

"Well," Liz continued quietly, "as it so happens, I did hear something—"

Helen felt as if her blood had chilled about 10 degrees. She turned to face the other detective.

"I mean, it's not much," Liz said quickly, seeing the color drain from Helen's face.

Helen wasn't interested in hearing any obfuscation. She latched onto Liz's arm. "What? What did you hear?"

Liz looked grim. She shook her head. "It's just talk, Helen. But—when they were in the Academy, they hung around with this guy named Colby. The three of them were inseparable. Everyone made comments about them, but they blew it off, just like the two of them do now. Officially, Colby was Hutch's roommate, but Starsky spent most nights in their room anyway. He'd sleep on the floor, half the graduating class witnessed that. They used to make jokes about it, that Starsky would sleep anywhere, with anyone, even Colby or Hutch. Even then he was a major lady-killer. Anyway, a few weeks into the term, Colby just ups and quits, no warning, when he was top of the class. Went into the Air Force. Next day, Starsky has become Hutch's roomie, and they've been inseparable ever since."

Helen just listened, waiting for the bad news. "And—?"

"Well, that's it, it's just— They were so tight, Starsky and Hutch, some people thought, well, there was speculation that Colby couldn't handle the scene. That he caught them at it or something, and got out because if he'd stayed in the Academy but switched roommates there would've been too many questions. Hutch was married at the time, but, well, there was a lot of talk. He and Dave were inseparable. Studying, meals, I mean, constantly. Even then they called each other partner, and they were always hugging and touching, just like they do now. It made some of the guys nervous, you know? And the two of them would hold up at night in that little room, and—"

One of her dream images came back in a flash. The two of them in bed, Starsky spooned around Hutch's nude body, Hutch murmuring, "When we were in the Academy, all those years ago, you said then that you wanted to...fuck me." She closed her eyes. It was so real, as if she'd been there. Grinding her teeth, she reminded herself, It's just a dream.

"One of the cops I know," Liz continued, and Helen understood she meant one of the gay cops, "was in their graduating class. He said he would've been convinced they were lovers except for the fact that they were so brazen about everything. He said that when they looked at each other, it was all right there, just all that love, right out in the open, in front of everyone, if you wanted to see it. But this guy, well, he's kind of a romantic, so, I don't know—"

Liz suddenly looked nervous, as if she'd said too much. "I heard, too, that when Hutch's marriage went bottom up, Starsky moved in with him for awhile. For a couple of weeks, they practically went underground, just hanging out at Hutch's place and coming to work, until Hutch moved. Word is, Hutch was pretty shattered by the breakup, and Starsky was glued to him, you know, for support. You can look at that a couple of different ways...."

Helen knew how she looked at it. She could hear Hutch's voice in her head. "Vanessa told me she loved me just this morning—right before she walked out on me."

And Starsky, holding Hutch's back tight against his chest, murmuring back, "I'm never gonna leave you, Hutch. I swear it."

She closed her eyes.

Liz sounded anxious now. "Look. It's just talk, honey. There's isn't a shred of evidence to convict 'em. And most of it's talk from straight men who can't handle guys who aren't afraid to be open with their feelings. You know how most of the older cops are." She wound down then waiting for Helen to say something.

Helen opened her eyes, stared at the detective. "Liz. You understand this. You know them. You're a detective, a good one. And you know a good detective has to play the hunches, go on intuition lots of times. What's your take on it? What do you think?"

The woman looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but there. "Helen—!"

"The truth! The way you see it."

Liz shook her head. "I don't know. I've been thinking about it. They're different from the other guys. It could be possible.... Maybe in the past.... But Helen, I don't know!"

The two women grew quiet, each contemplating what had been said.

Finally, Liz added, "You can't base a life-changing decision on gossip or intuition or hunches. If you're that worried about it, you should ask him."

She blinked in surprise. "Ask him? 'Dave, honey, do you and Ken ever get it on? I'll try not to take it personally, but I think it might affect our relationship.' Are you crazy?"

"No, I'm not. I believe he really loves you, I've seen the way he looks at you. Talk to him. Tell him what you're afraid of. I know you, Helen, and I know what you're going through. I know you well enough to know you're not afraid that he might be having sex with Hutch. Shit, we're talking about a gender that'll have sex with sheep. What you're afraid of is that he might love Hutch—"

Helen shook her head. "I know he loves Hutch—"

Liz stopped her. "You're afraid that he loves Hutch more than he could ever love you. You're afraid he's in love with his partner, the human being he's with eight to twelve hours a day. Any woman would be afraid of that. If you're gonna marry this guy, you've gotta be number one with him. And with him and Hutch, well, I don't know. But if you don't give him a chance to defend himself, hey, that isn't even fair. Talk to him, Helen. You've gotta get out from under this cloud of suspicion and fear. And, frankly, I don't think he could lie to you. So—if it's the truth—and they've ever had anything between them, or still have something going—well, he'll find a way to let you know that. Then you can make whatever decision you have to."

Helen only nodded as Liz patted her shoulder and moved back to her locker. Gathering her wits about her as Liz started for the shower, Helen said, "Hey, listen—thanks. Thanks for going to all that trouble, and, well, just thanks."

Liz only shook her head. "I'm not sure there's anything to thank me for, honey." Then she disappeared into the shower, leaving Helen to contemplate her options.


"Well, this is just terrific!" Dave complained bitterly over the phone. "You go talk to this shrink alone one time and next thing I know you won't even see me?"

Helen pinched the bridge of her nose, fighting the threatening headache. Also, the slight discomfort she was giving herself helped her ignore the terrible heartache she was feeling. "It was your idea for me to see him," she reminded him angrily. "You dragged me there."

"Don't remind me!" he growled back at her. Then softer, "Look, honey, can't—can't we even have dinner? We need to talk. It's not good for us to be apart when you've got stuff to work out. I should be there for you—"

"No," she said firmly. "Dave, the one thing I'm clear on, the only thing I'm clear on, is that I need some time alone. I need some space to just...clear my head. Figure things out."

"I don't like the way this sounds," he said morosely. "It sounds like the stuff you're figuring, that some of that stuff involves me. Don't I get a vote, a say in what's goin' on?"

"I need to work it out for myself first, Dave. Please. Please don't push me on this. Just a little time, okay?"

There was a long silence from the other end, then finally he said, "I can't win on this. If I don't give you the time I'm an A-1 bastard, and if I do—I get the feeling if I do give you the time I'm slittin' my own throat. Helen—"

"Is Hutch with you?" She had to ask, couldn't stop herself from asking. And somehow, she could never manage to call him Ken anymore.

Dave sighed. "Yeah. In fact, I'm at his place."

The little bungalow house Dave helped him find after Vanessa left. Dave always went there to lick his wounds, and right now he wouldn't be able to face a night in his own bed alone. It would remind him too much of her since they'd slept there so often.

Will you sleep with him tonight? Will he help you through this the way you helped him through his crisis with Vanessa? Will he hold you in his arms and promise to love you forever? Does he even need to, or is that so well understood between you now it doesn't need to be said anymore?

She swallowed, thinking of them together, how beautiful they would look, how right, how pure the love between them really was.

The psychiatrist said this was all about her own conflicts about her role as a woman in a changing society, about her concerns over balancing marriage, children—what was expected of her—with her career—what she really wanted. The doctor said her nightmares, her sleeping hallucinations—he'd actually called them hallucinations—were a product from internalized stressors, that they wouldn't go away until she made some major changes in her life. Eventually, he warned, the pills he prescribed wouldn't help either. She had to make some decisions.

She closed her eyes. The headache was warring with the heartache for ascendancy. "Dave? Does Hutch—does he hate me?"

"Huh? What, Hutch?" The question must've taken him by surprise. "Of course he doesn't hate you. He knows damned well you're always cheering for him in pinball. He's the one been tellin' me to back off, to give you room to breathe, that you just need to get your head together. You know Hutch has always been your friend."

"Okay," she said, her voice small. Somehow it was important for her to know Hutch wasn't angry with her, didn't hate her for hurting his partner. "Thanks."

"You're my friend, too, Helen," Dave added quietly as an afterthought.

It was like a knife slicing cleanly through her. "Good. That's good. I'm glad. Be my friend, Dave, and give me some time off for good behavior, okay? Just a little while, a couple of days. Please?"

A very long pause. She could hear Hutch murmuring something in the background.

Is he standing behind you, rubbing your shoulders, telling you it'll all work out, that I'll come around, I'll be okay, anything to get you through this? Is he looking at you with those blue eyes full of love and worry? Will he hold you after we get off the phone? Will he take you to bed...?

"Okay," Dave said sullenly. "You win. You need space, you've got it. No arguments from me. I ain't happy about it, but I guess I got no choice. me, will ya, when.... When you don't need space anymore. I love you, Helen. Will ya remember that? I love you."

Her eyes filled unexpectedly, fat tears sliding down her face. "I love you, too, Dave," she whispered, and hung up the phone.


Starsky's hands were everywhere, running over his bare skin, and Hutch was loving that. He could feel them sliding over his chest, his sides, his flanks, his ass. Funny, but he was never ticklish when they were making love, nude together, in bed. Starsky rolled on top of him, and Hutch pulled him close, loving his weight, the pressure of that long, lean body blanketing his. He spread his legs, letting his partner fit in comfortably, their four limbs nestling together, one blond, one dark, one blond, one dark, until they were like a large single animal, writhing, moving, touching, loving.

Hutch sighed in pleasure, and as he did, Starsky's mouth was there, capturing his breath, stealing it away, breathing it in, mingling it with his own heated, minty air. Then his tongue was there, snaking into Hutch's mouth, captivating him with kisses that captured his heart, stole his soul. Their tongues touched, danced, slid around each other with an intimacy Hutch craved. Their mouths meshed tighter as their groins nestled together, one long blond cock seeking its thicker, darker mate, finding it, sliding against it, moving just right, just so, until the contact was perfect, electric, moist silken skin rubbing against moist silken skin. Hutch groaned and Starsky echoed the sound with joy. For Hutch, there was no greater pleasure than this, no lover finer than this one, this one special man. His body was on fire, burning with an unquenchable need. He arched up, needing more, loving this erotic dance of legs and groins and arms and hips.

Starsky's nails dug into his buttocks sending wicked jolts of delight clear through him. He buried a hand in all that thick dark hair and pulled his lover's mouth harder against his own, making Starsky moan. His other hand spread over that wonderful ass, capturing a lush mound of it, his digits kneading, stroking, digging into it, tracing the luscious separation, finding the gate of pleasure he adored and petting it slow and easy.

Starsky humped against him wildly now, wrapping his legs around one of Hutch's, even as Hutch's free foot stroked one of Starsky's calves. They couldn't get close enough, not nearly close enough, not till they were inside of one another. It didn't matter anymore who did who, when the need for closeness drove them crazy like this. The fierce fire of Starsky's penetration was as joyful to Hutch as his own pleasure of entry into the hot, passionate body of his lover.

Starsky's sounds were a symphony of deep moans and short gasps, the familiar song of delight Hutch ached to pull from him. He could tell by the cadence and tempo that his lover was close, and he was too. He penetrated Starsky's body gently with his smallest finger at the same time Starsky captured his tight sack in that wicked, knowing left hand and pulled just so. They shouted at the same time, against each others' cheeks, their bodies stiffening, hands grasping, feet curling into tight fists, as they baptized their bellies with their own essences.

Their sigh of relief was unanimous, as synchronized as their fierce, urgent passion. There was so much love, so much much....

At least for him. Finally, as Starsky's weight settled over him, relaxing in satiation, comforting in its familiarity, Hutch had to ask, "Is it enough for you, Starsk? Enough to get you through?"

Starsky smiled, and his smile was as warm as Hutch had ever seen it. Hutch didn't see Starsky smile like that often, and lately, not in a very long time.

His voice was amused. "You give me more than all the bed mates I've ever had. You've shown me what it's like to be really, truly loved. And now you ask if that's gonna be enough?"

Hutch still wasn't sure. "But is it enough? To get you through—working together, being together so very much? Is it enough to get you through everything?"

Starsky paused, seemed to think it through. He knew what Hutch was asking. More seriously, he said, "For a long time now, all I've ever wanted was the American Dream—a wife, a couple of kids. But I didn't count on you, on feeling about you the way I do. What we've got—it's stronger than any friendship, even stronger than any marriage could ever be. I can face anything in my life, anything in the streets, as long as I know you're with me. Yeah, it's enough, Hutch."

Hutch closed his eyes and smiled, knowing then, in his heart of hearts, that 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. Finally, secure in their love, he held Starsky close and allowed himself to relax into the satisfied sleep his body craved.

Helen opened her eyes slowly on the dawning new day and stretched, feeling more relaxed, more rested than she had in a long time. She was flushed, her nipples hard, and she was wet between her legs. Sighing languidly, she looked around and realized where she was—who she was, and especially, who she was not. As she did, the euphoria wore off and soon she began to feel empty inside.

It took her awhile to separate reality from dream, and as she did, she groaned in despair, aching to go back to that dream world, to be Hutch again, a man who loved so purely, and who was loved so fiercely in return. Without Dave to wake her during the height of the dream she had experienced it all, not just the cataclysmic sex, but more importantly, the afterglow, the sense of satisfaction from understanding the true depth of that relationship, from knowing what it would be like to share The Partnership.

It no longer mattered to her that it was just a dream, a nighttime hallucination. Pills couldn't keep her from the truth. She was a good detective, with a cop's skilled intuition, and no matter how far fetched it might seem, it had led her to some version of the truth. She knew then, that no matter what she did, no matter who she ever loved, she would never again know a passion like she had experienced in those dreams, never again have that feeling of totally unconditional love and acceptance.

As beautiful and satisfying as the love she shared with Dave was—and she did not doubt that he loved her—it couldn't begin to touch the depth of his feelings for his partner. It no longer really mattered if they'd ever been lovers or if they ever would be lovers. She knew now she had no right to come between them, to interfere with whatever destiny awaited their relationship. The decisions she had to make suddenly became clear.


Now you play the loving woman I'll play the faithful man
But just don't look too close into the palm of my hand
We stood at the alter the gypsy swore our future was right
But come the wee wee hours maybe baby the gypsy lied
So when you look at me you better look hard and look twice
Is that me baby or just a brilliant disguise
Brilliant Disguise—Bruce Springsteen

She tried to remember when was the last time she'd done anything so hard, but couldn't. As he stood there awkwardly in her living room, roses in hand, she felt her heart breaking and hated herself for what she had to do. Would he thank her someday? Would he ever understand? No, she guessed not.

He put the wrapped flowers down on the coffee table, and took her by the shoulders to kiss her cheek. She knew by his body language he feared the point of this meeting, and tried not to be distracted by that.

"I've missed you," he murmured, searching her face as if memorizing it. He touched her hair.

"I've missed you, too," she said, her voice nearly cracking. But it didn't change anything.

"You said you've made your decisions," he said somberly. He never could wait for bad news. "I'm ready to hear 'em." He was braced—expecting the worst?

Her stomach knotted, and she stepped away from him, clutching at her own hands. "Well, for one, I've put in a transfer from Metro. I've talked to Captain Brown over in Rampart. We get along well. I like his attitude. And he's very positive about women on the force, he's always supported the idea of us having full responsibilities. He wants to see women in more leadership positions, and that can only happen if we're given significant work to do. He knows I'm interested in undercover work, and he'd like to give me those opportunities."

She could see him growing tense while trying to hide it from her. He hated the idea of her taking on such dangerous work, but he'd learned objecting to it only started a full scale war, so he kept his own counsel. "Okay," he said. "Maybe it'll be easier on you in some ways if you're in a different precinct."

She nodded. "I think it'll solve a lot of problems. The guys in my squad will need a lifetime of consciousness raising and I'm tired of having to be the one to do it. And sooner or later, being 'Starsky's girl' is going to start causing me real problems."

He inclined his head, acknowledging that that had to be a factor.

"And...about whether or not we'll marry, well—"

He stood stock still, keeping his face from showing his emotions.

"I've got to say no, Dave." Her voice was too soft, she realized and she swallowed convulsively. As much as he tried to hide it, his disappointment showed and it was bitter. She hated herself for hurting him, especially since she knew that it was going to get worse. "I'm sorry, honey, but.... I'm not ready to think about that yet. My career's in a delicate place, there aren't that many women qualified to do what I can do, or willing. If I can make it through the ranks it can help all the women coming up behind me, so they might not have to fight the battles I'm having to fight. That's really important to me right now. I know how much you love being a cop, how important it is to you, how it really defines you as a person. Well, I feel the exactly same way."

He was nodding, following what she was saying. He had to swallow, too, to get a grip on his voice, but it was strong when he answered her. "Okay. I can understand that. We both love the same thing, so how can I deny you? I'm not...happy that you don't wanna get married right now, but—" He sighed heavily. "I can wait, Helen. I'm willing to wait for you."

She closed her eyes. She had to tell him, now. "I don't want you to wait, Dave. That's not fair. Your goals are as clear to you as mine are to me. You want a wife—a fairly conventional wife—and a family. Those are great things to want, and you should have them. I don't want those things, at least not now—maybe never. I mean, someday, possibly... but...." She clenched her hands into fists wishing she could have a heart attack, a fatal brain aneurysm and just drop dead on the spot so she wouldn't have to do this to them. "Dave, I can't make you wait for something I'm never going to give you. So, I think it would be better if we stopped seeing each other—"

"What—?" He looked as shocked as if she'd thrown water in his face. "What are you talkin' about? Why? Just 'cause you don't wanna get married now?"

She shook her head. "That's enough, isn't it? You need to get on with your life. Find a nice girl. Someone who—" Someone who won't ever realize that you're saving the best part of yourself for your partner. Someone who won't ever know she's only second best. "—Can give you what you need—"

He rounded on her, grabbed her by the shoulders, "I don't want another girl, don't you get that? You think I'm one of those guys who see women as a bunch of interchangeable parts? Well, I'm not. I love you. You. You wanna focus on your career? Well, give me the credit to think I'm flexible enough to deal with that. Don't you know that's one of the reasons I fell for you, 'cause you're good at what you do, 'cause you care so much? You don't wanna get married now, well, okay, I'll wait. Give me the credit to think I've got some patience. All this stuff, it'll resolve itself, Helen. We can work this out."

She pulled away from him. She should've known it would go like this. They could spend hours fighting about the most inconsequential things, she should've known he wouldn't give in easily. "No, Dave, it's not that simple. I've got to reduce the pressures in my life, and you're the main one. It's not working between us. It's time to quit."

He was furious now. "Don't give me all that 'pressures' crap. You're the strongest woman I've ever met. You're lyin' t'me. There's something else here, some kinda issue you don't wanna tell me. Something you think I can't handle. You won't even give me the chance to try and deal with it. I don't deserve that, Helen. I've always been there for you, always listened to you, tried to understand. Be fair. What the hell is all this about? It's been goin' on for weeks, and not knowin' is drivin' me crazy! If I'm gonna get dumped by the woman I love at least tell me why!"

She recalled Liz in the locker room telling her the same thing. But how could she?

Then she looked at the hurt and the pain and the confusion in his eyes and wondered, how could she not?

"This has something to do with those dreams, doesn't it? You and that shrink have come up with something because of those nightmares you were haven', some psychological mumbo-jumbo, and—dammit, Helen, I need to know something real—something I can understand, 'cause I can't understand how you can love me and I can love you but we can't be together—"

"It's because—we don't love each other the same way, Dave," she blurted, her voice cracking on his name.

"Well, who in the whole wide world loves each other exactly the same way?" he asked, exasperated.

Her eyes widened. There was only one answer to that. "You and Hutch."

He froze, his face going blank. Not with confusion. With fear. "What? What do you mean?"

Say it to him. Put it out there. "You and Hutch—the way you are—what you've got—it's stronger than any friendship, even stronger than any marriage could ever be."

"We're partners," he said succinctly. "We been through a lot together on the streets. It makes you close. You know that. You've worked with us."

It chilled her to hear the change in his voice. He was being so careful, choosing each word just so, as if he were in court, as if he were on trial. He'd never spoken to her like that before.

"It's more than that and you know it," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Being with you, being around the both of you, it was there, in front of me, every day. It took awhile for me to see it, to figure it out. Really, I didn't figure it out, but my subconscious did. So I started to dream about it. You and Hutch."

"Me and Hutch?" He said it suspiciously, as if she were saying these things just to trap him into admitting something no one could've ever made him admit.

"I dreamt about when you were in the Academy," she admitted, "and later, when Hutch's wife left him. The dreams were so vivid, so real—I know they were just fantasies, something my mind constructed out of the reality it was seeing every day, but what I felt, what I experienced—" She closed her eyes for a moment, remembering.

"What...exactly did you see in those dreams?" he asked softly. He sounded more scared than she'd ever heard him.

She shook her head. "It doesn't matter what I saw. It was what I felt. You love him. And he loves you. More than either of you have ever loved anyone else. More than Hutch ever loved his wife. You love each other with a love so real—"

He moved closer to her, took her shoulders, stared deep into her eyes. He was desperate; he knew he was losing her, and worse, he was beginning to understand why. "Helen, I've had a hundred lovers in my bed, and you know that. But when I'm with you, you're the only one there. Have I ever once called you by anyone else's name? Done anything to indicate I'm thinking of anyone else? Been inattentive? Distracted?"

"No, no, of course not, honey, please—"

"I've never even fantasized 'bout anyone else since I've been with you, I swear it!"

She started to smile, if sadly, realizing that in an obtuse way he was confirming the possible or potential physical aspects of his relationship with Hutch without even realizing it. Maybe they'd been lovers, maybe not, maybe they would be some day, but that didn't matter to her anymore.

She stroked his cheek, felt a tear fall from her eye. "Maybe you've buried it, maybe you think you've forgotten about it, but it's still there, your feelings for him, his for you. It'll always be there. You need each other, both of you, the same way. You don't want to admit it, because it scares you, but it's there, Dave. You and Hutch are forever."

"Helen, Hutch and me are partners, and yes, I hope we'll be partners forever. But you and me, we could be forever, as man and wife. I'd make that vow. I'd mean it. That's something I can never have with Hutch. Something important."

You haven't denied a thing, because you can't. No matter how much you want to hold me, you can't deny him. You're too honest for that. "I know you'd mean it. But you'd never be able to love me the way you love him, marriage vows or not. And I'd never be able to settle for less, because I know how powerful, how wonderful, it could be."

"Helen, this is crazy. You're doin' this 'cause of some bad dreams...?" His argument had run out of steam. These were the last feeble kicks of the body before it stopped fighting and gave up its soul.

"Try not to feel bad, Dave," she said sadly. "It's the purest love you'll ever know, Hutch's love for you, your love for him. What we would have would only be a shadow of that. I care too much about you to let you settle for shadows. I love you that much. Stop being afraid of what you could have. Hang onto it. Cling to it. Be happy you have it."

Finally, somber-faced, Dave kissed her forehead and let her go. He stood with shoulders slumped and turned to walk toward the door. He glanced back at her one last time. "I really do love you, Helen. I want you to know that."

She nodded. "I know you do. As much as you can."

He left without another word.

She walked over to the roses, picked them up, smelled their rich bouquet. That scent always made her think of funerals. She'd take them while they were still in bud and press them in a heavy book as a remembrance.

She couldn't bear to put them in water and watch them burst into full bloom.


Hutch walked into his little bungalow clutching his grocery bag tight, and shut the door quietly behind him. Starsky was lying on the couch, shoes off, ankles crossed, one arm behind his head, staring at the ceiling. He'd been a semi-permanent resident of that couch ever since Helen had stopped sleeping with him.

On the coffee table beside the couch was a bottle of scotch Hutch had never seen before, and a shot glass. The bottle was half empty.

He'd known since lunch time that Starsky and Helen were due to have a heart-to-heart tonight after work, and that Helen had made some decisions. By the presence and condition of the bottle, Hutch had a bad feeling he knew what they were.

He'd called her once, during the initial separation. She'd expressed some concern to Starsky that Hutch was angry with her for hurting his partner. He'd wanted to let her know that he was still her friend, that he cared about her, that if she needed someone to talk to she could count on him. He'd tried to get her to discuss the situation with him, to see if he couldn't somehow find the problem and solve it, but she wouldn't say anything. She was sweet on the phone, assuring him that she loved Starsky, that she never wanted to hurt him, but that things were hard right now. Hutch couldn't figure out what to think. The two of them seemed so suited for each other.

Starsky had been different with Helen than with other women. He'd never told Hutch how serious he was, but he didn't have to. He didn't know if Starsky had proposed or not, but he suspected his partner had been making plans. His closed-mouth attitude about the situation was a dead giveaway. Normally, his partner prattled constantly about his newest conquests, giving Hutch far more intimate details than he would ever want. But not with Helen. He'd get quiet, smile a lot, and for once, never said a single thing about their sex life together. It was as if his feelings for Helen were private. As if he were trying to keep them separate from his life with Hutch.

That was okay with Hutch. He'd been married. He knew how finding that special woman made you want to hide out with her, not share things, even with your closest friends. And Starsky wanted to marry, wanted a wife and all the trappings, just like Hutch had when he'd met Vanessa.

But Hutch was older now. Older and wiser. Vanessa's leaving him had made him that way. He didn't know if he'd ever again have that wide-eyed wonder about finding the right woman, about marriage. He didn't especially care if that ever happened to him again. He tried to be open-minded about it, but a part of him was too wary, too suspicious to believe in happy-ever-after anymore.

Still, he'd hate to see that taken from Starsky.

He approached the couch, rustling the bag so Starsky would hear him. His partner looked up, his blank expression unchanging.

"You started without me," Hutch complained, indicating the bottle. "I brought two six packs. I had a feeling we might need them."

Starsky snorted and glanced at the bottle. "I couldn't wait. Not that it makes any difference. I'm still as sober as a judge. I always did have trouble gettin' drunk when I'm depressed."

"Want a beer anyway?" Hutch asked, heading for the fridge.

"Sure," Starsky said glumly. "Why not?"

Hutch loaded the beers into the fridge and opened one for them to share. He moved over to the couch and set it down on the coffee table. "You have anything to eat?"

Starsky shook his head. "Not hungry."

Hutch wet his mouth. "Gonna tell me what happened?"

"Don't wanna," Starsky said again, eyes on the ceiling.

Slowly, carefully, as if he were approaching a dangerous crossroads, Hutch knelt by his friend's side. It was all so much like when Vanessa left—the sharp pain of abandonment, the sense of rejection, of worthlessness, the loss of love. Pain that was nearly unendurable. Yet, he remembered a night several years ago when this man had turned all that around, and for a short while made him feel loved and cherished and cared for in spite of his loss. And the next day he'd been able to go on—battered, perhaps, but still strong.

Gently, he placed a hand in the center of Starsky's chest. "Don't want to talk about it at all?"

Starsky closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "Can't. Don't make me, Hutch. I just can't."

"Okay," he said softly.

"It's gonna be a long, long time before I date a lady cop again," Starsky said ominously, and Hutch realized that comment would probably be all he'd ever get out of his friend on this topic.

Cautiously, Hutch leaned against Starsky's body, slid one arm around his waist and hugged him as he laid his head against his friend's chest. "I'm here for you, buddy," he murmured. It seemed like such a simple thing to say, when he meant so very much more than that.

Starsky tried to say something else, then closed his mouth and swallowed hard, and Hutch knew he was fighting back tears. He wished his friend would just let them come, but that wasn't Starsky's way. Hutch cried easily, too easily, he thought, but Starsky hated showing that much feeling. The only sign of yielding Starsky gave now was when he slipped his hand into Hutch's hair and gripped it, holding on.

The two of them lay there for awhile, not speaking, not even drinking, until the sun set completely and the entire house went dark. Finally, though, Hutch's back couldn't take it anymore. He stood up slowly, took Starsky's hands and pulled him to his feet. His partner was despondent enough to comply.

Without a word, Hutch lead him to the alcove where he slept and steered his friend to the bed. Starsky was almost there when he seemed to realize what was happening. He balked, pulling back, but Hutch didn't release his hand.

"What's the matter?" Hutch asked softly.

"This is not a good idea," Starsky said.

"Going to bed? Come on, it's late. You need to sleep."

Even in the dark, he could feel Starsky's gaze turn to him, he could sense the worry in those indigo eyes. "What is it?" Hutch asked again.

"I'm-I'm afraid to be alone," Starsky confessed, "but I'm more afraid to be with you."

Hutch had to smile. It didn't matter what Starsky was going through, how much pain he was in, his first concern would always be for Hutch. "Don't be afraid, partner. There's nothing to be afraid of."

Hutch had stopped being afraid while they were still in the Academy and he'd forced Starsky to reveal the depths of his feelings for him. That this man of all men should choose him to be in love with was an honor Hutch rarely felt worthy of. But he cherished it in a special, private place.

He could hear Starsky's hard swallow. "Yeah, there is. There's lots to be afraid of. Why aren't you afraid, Hutch?"

"Maybe I'm not smart enough," Hutch said, as he methodically unbuttoned his partner's shirt.

"You?" Starsky replied in surprise. "Mr. Knows-Everything-In-The-Code-Book-By-Heart, even the animal control act?"

If he were being honest, Hutch would admit that he'd been slightly rattled the morning after the night Vanessa left. A generous amount of alcohol had lubricated his inhibitions enough so that he'd been willing to offer Starsky anything—anything—if he'd just make the pain go away for a little while. Starsky had managed to do that, to somehow ease Hutch's aching heart, without giving him anything to regret in the morning. It was a precious memory for Hutch, the night he learned his partner would never take advantage of him, even when he offered.

Hutch stripped the flannel shirt off Starsky's shoulders, then helped him divest himself of the undershirt beneath it. He pushed his partner's shoulders until Starsky sat on the end of the bed, then yanked off his worn red socks. "Maybe I'm just not afraid because you're with me. And when you're with me, I know nothing bad can happen to me."

Starsky sighed at Hutch's logic, stood, and without being prodded, unzipped his worn jeans, slid them off, then, clad only in briefs, finally got into bed. As Starsky slid under the covers and settled on the far side of the mattress, Hutch stripped off his own clothes, and, in only briefs, got into bed beside him.

There had been other moments of shared intimacy, always when one or the other of them had been hurting, needy of a love they could trust like no other in this world. They were lucky, really, to have each other to fall back on at times like that. As the years went on, the world's disapproval seemed less important to Hutch, even as it seemed to grow more significant to his partner.

Starsky stayed rigidly on his side of the bed, his back to Hutch, and did not move. Hutch pointedly ignored Starsky's clear do-not-touch signals, and slid his arms around his partner's waist and spooned him from behind. For a moment, Starsky was like a board in Hutch's arms, then seemed to sag all at once, as if he couldn't keep up the resistance to his friend's comforting touch that only he seemed to think was necessary.

"What are you so afraid of, partner?" Hutch asked, murmuring the question into the dense curls. He had to wonder, knowing that the man in his arms regularly faced down armed felons with less trepidation.

"You. Me. All the hurting inside me." He sighed again, still fighting the pain. "I miss her already, Hutch. It's like a big hole where my guts were, like my insides are all empty and hollow. God, I miss her."

Hutch held him tighter, pulled him against his chest, wishing he could take all the pain away and knowing he couldn't, anymore than Starsky could take it away when Vanessa left. He could only blunt it, make it bearable. Hutch didn't know if Starsky would let him do that. Starsky believed it was his job to set up all the rules and restrictions in their relationship, then keep them on track, keep them straight and narrow, keep everything all black and white. Hutch closed his eyes. There were so many rules.

"I'm here for you," he whispered in Starsky's hair.

"I know that," his friend whispered back. "That's what scares me."

He nuzzled Starsky's hair, smelling its familiar fragrance, feeling the surprising softness of the dense, curly stuff. "Don't be scared."

Starsky turned in Hutch's embrace, so they were chest to chest, and wrapped his arms around Hutch, holding him tight, almost clinging. Hiding his face against Hutch's neck, he murmured, "It would be so easy to let you be everything to me. To forget about everything else—a family, a future. I can't do that to either of us, Hutch. I can't let that happen."

"Okay," Hutch said reassuringly, "okay." He rubbed his partner's back, the way you would a child you were trying to get to sleep. You want that so bad, your picket fence fantasy. The two of us with matching wives, and perfect lives, right down to the gold watches and Winnebagos in our retirement. If it means that much to you, I'll try to believe in the fantasy, too.

Starsky clung to Hutch tighter, buried his face closer under Hutch's chin, and finally, as he continued rubbing Starsky's back, Hutch felt the smallest drop of moisture hit his chest. Starsky trembled slightly, and Hutch knew he was clinging hard to his self-control. Too hard.

Gently, Hutch rolled his partner over onto his back, blanketing him half-way with his longer body. Starsky gripped Hutch harder, as if he were in danger of falling off a cliff.

"Don't be afraid," Hutch whispered in one curl-covered ear. "It's okay. It's just me. I'm here for you. Just let me."

Starsky shook his head, unable to speak, as Hutch rubbed his back with one hand, and stroked down his side with the other.

Beneath his thigh, Hutch felt Starsky's penis twitch and harden even as his own manhood stirred. He petted his friend slowly down his side, like a skittish horse that needed gentling. His own blood quickened, but he ignored that. My body remembers the excitement of your touch from the few times you've granted it. It remembers and wants more. But that wasn't why they were here. Tonight they were here for Starsky.

Hutch let his lips graze Starsky's forehead, knowing his partner would not permit anything as blatant as a mouth-to-mouth kiss. That would shatter everything, and possibly send him fleeing from the bed, back to the safety of the couch. More rules. More and more rules. Hutch closed his eyes for a moment, wishing they could, for just an hour, be somewhere else, be someone else, some other people who didn't make rules, who didn't enforce rules, and just be themselves. People who loved each other.

His mouth slid down the side of Starsky's face until it found an ear, then, timidly, Hutch tampered with the rules and kissed the side of Starsky's face, then his cheek, then slid the tip of his tongue around the outside edge of Starsky's ear. His partner made a strangled sound, then leaned against Hutch's mouth, silently begging for more. Hutch smiled, and gave it to him. His tongue slid deep into the ear, tauntingly, teasingly, and Starsky shuddered all over. Hutch's hands, which had only been comforting before, now moved more sensuously over the smooth skin of Starsky's back and sides, then trailed adventurously over his front, petting his fur, probing for the hidden nipple, tweaking it between two fingers.

Starsky wasn't sighing now, but panting, moving under Hutch as if to bury himself under the long, fair body. Hutch obliged, rolling over onto the darker form, covering him, as if to protect him from the world, keep him safe from harm, from pain, from fear.

"I've got you," Hutch whispered. "I'm here for you."

"Hutch!" Starsky gasped, his own hands moving now, stroking Hutch's back, his bare skin. "Hutch!"

"I'm here," Hutch repeated, over and over, as he kissed Starsky's jaw, ran his lips down his throat. "I'm here. I'm here. All for you."

Starsky's breath was broken, catching in his throat, half sobs of pleasure and sorrow all intermingled. Hutch kissed all that he could reach and stroked all that he couldn't, while Starsky touched him in return, as if frantic for the contact with his warm, loving body.

Feeling Starsky's organ at full tumescence, Hutch didn't hesitate, but reached into his friend's briefs and extracted the heated flesh.

"Hutch, don't!" Starsky begged, but it was a half-hearted protest, and he ignored it. Quickly, before Starsky could stop him, Hutch found his own erection, and brought it out, matching it with Starsky's and enfolding them together in his large hand.

"Oh, dammit, Hutch!" Starsky cried out, surging up, thrusting hard, sliding himself against his blond counterpart, even as Starsky's strong hands slid under Hutch's underwear and gripped his rear.

The heady sensation of those possessive hands ripped through Hutch's blood, igniting him, and he thrust, too, rubbing their organs against each other as he stroked them slowly in a delightfully sensitive friction. Hutch groaned, and Starsky purred in response.

Slowly, they found their cadence, rubbing, holding, thrusting, rubbing, as Hutch's lips tasted Starsky's salty skin and Starsky kissed the smooth planes of Hutch's chest.

The love-making was so beautiful, so slow and poignant, it nearly broke Hutch's heart.

I can share you with your women, he thought, when they're making you happy, but, when they hurt you like this, then I want you back again, safe in my arms. I don't care if it only happens once a year or once a decade. Times like this, you're mine and mine alone.

There would always be that part of Hutch that loved the fact that Starsky was in love with him. If he were being honest he could admit it was not his noblest part; but it was the part that held that knowledge with a smug joy, even when Starsky loved his women. Because Hutch knew there was that piece of Starsky that would always belong to him and him alone, that Starsky would always come back to him, when he was hurting, when he was needy. And Hutch loved that and never wanted to give that up. But he would if he had to, if that was what Starsky needed. Because he loved Starsky that much. He didn't think he was in love with Starsky, but over the years the significance of loving and being in love all began to blur, and Hutch was no longer sure which was more important.

But right now, that didn't matter. All that mattered was easing Starsky's heart, making him feel loved, and giving him this small bit of pleasure. Anything that would lessen his heartache, even for a little while.

Starsky's hips were rocking faster, and Hutch tightened his grip, stroking them both so smooth, so fiercely. He wasn't sure he could hold out much longer himself when Starsky began bucking under him, making small, soft cries, and Hutch felt heat and moistness splash against his belly. Then it came over him all at once, the orgasm right there, like a sudden shock to his balls as his cock flared and erupted, and his brain went haywire. He called Starsky's name, kissed his cheek, nipped his shoulder, and felt every muscle in his body convulse.

They relaxed against each other with a groan, and Hutch knew that in thirty seconds what had been a wonderful comforting safety blanket would begin to feel like an enormous dead weight. With a final, comforting stroke to both of their shrinking organs, Hutch released them and slid off his partner. But Starsky stopped him from moving too far away, and indicated he preferred Hutch maintain at least half his body contact. The smaller man snuggled down under his friend's length, as Hutch pulled the blankets around them and found some tissues to blot up the worst of their emission.

Starsky was much more relaxed now, no longer struggling to hold back tears, but Hutch didn't kid himself. Jerking his buddy off, as nice as it was, wasn't a cure for a broken heart.

"You okay?" Hutch asked finally, when Starsky remained quiet.

"Yeah, I'm great, just great," Starsky said, sounding half-believable. "That was real nice, Hutch." Then as an afterthought, "I love you."

"I know," Hutch assured him. He kissed his forehead gently, and Starsky brushed his lips against Hutch's jaw. Well within the rules. No mouth to mouth. Are we still safe, Starsky? "I love you, too."

Starsky was clinging to him again, but there wasn't that air of desperation about it any longer and Hutch wanted to congratulate himself for that, but he was afraid it was premature. " feeling any better?"

There was a slight snort of rueful laughter. "Wha'd'ya think, I'm made of stone? 'Course I feel better. You rocked my socks off, partner, how'd'ja think I feel?"

Still, Starsky was so uncharacteristically silent, Hutch needed more reassurance. He nuzzled Starsky's ear. "But...was it enough for you? Starsk?"

Starsky really looked at him then, peered at him in the dim light. He shifted and rolled them over, his hands moving up over Hutch's body, until they cupped his face. Starsky leaned over his partner and looked long into his eyes, as if memorizing him, or trying to find something there he'd never seen before.

Finally he said, "Is it enough? Is your loving me enough? Hutch, I don't care if a hundred women leave me, I don't care how or when or why they do. I can face anything in my life, anything in the streets, as long as I know you're with me, standing at my back, not only ready to give your life for me, but willing to give me so much more besides. Willing to love me so strong. Willing to be there when I need you. Yeah, it's enough, Hutch. It's more than enough. Way more."

Then, as if that speech settled everything, Starsky settled down in Hutch's embrace, pillowing his head on his shoulder. "Let's get some shut-eye, partner. We got work to do tomorrow."

Hutch nodded and hugged the slender frame nestled safely in his arms, and knew that when tomorrow came they'd start all over again with the Rules safely back in place, keeping their lives as orderly and regulated as Starsky needed them to.

But just before he slept, Hutch found himself thinking about Helen, imagining her all alone in her bed, and wondered if ending Starsky's dream had really stopped her nightmares. With Starsky sleeping soundly, warm and alive in his arms, Hutch couldn't help but feel sorry for her.

Tonight our bed is cold
I'm lost in the darkness of our love
God have mercy on the man
Who doubts what he's sure of
Brilliant Disguise—Bruce Springsteen